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Chapter 20: Sapphire Lake

I left the Chapel in a furious hurry, my shouted words still ringing in my ears. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the massive oaken doors slammed shut behind me. Somehow though, I managed to maintain my air of indignation as I continued stomping my way across the monastic grounds. Conducting a theatrical argument was even more difficult than I imagined it would ... especially in the chapel and standing in front of Unity's alter.

All around me, monks looked up from their labors and conversations ceased in the fury of my wake. They glared at me with white-hot intensity, following me with their eyes as I tromped towards the main gate and the valley beyond. Yes, they all heard the boisterous performance that the Abbot and I put on ... there was no doubting that. In fact, I feared that some of the Brothers might like to put hands on me in an effort to prevent me from leaving. Fortunately for me, Abbot Sextus prohibited any among them from hindering me. He alone would deal with my case.

Out the open gate, I marched, and down the dirt path beyond it. Though I didn't look back to see, I suspected that some of the monks followed me all the way to the threshold. Only their loyalty to the Abbot kept them within the monastery walls when their religious instincts shouted for them to follow me and drag me back to the hallowed ground.

I walked on until the monastery was a small dark lump on the horizon behind me. The sun stood at its zenith now, and I sorely wished I had my waterskin. I forgot my thirst when I noticed the small furry figure sitting on the edge of the path a stone's throw in front of me.

"Uriel," I spoke his name with joy.

"Indeed Companion," his reply thrummed in my mind. He bounded towards me and rubbed against my legs when I finally stood still.

"What have I gotten myself into," I muttered aloud as I continued to ponder the situation back at the monastery.

"All will be made right in time," the cat-dragon insisted. "For now, we must make our way to Sapphire Lake, where Sextus will meet us."

Uriel decided that cutting cross country would save us time getting to the lake, so we left the well-trodden road behind. I soon found that moving through the chest-high grass was a lot more difficult than I imagined. I felt like a swimmer trying to fight against a strong undertow. At least here, I wouldn't drown, I mused sourly. Keeping track of Uriel was another matter, as he kept disappearing into the grassy sea. were it not for our mental connection, I wouldn't be able to follow him at all. How I wished I had Argo with me.

Late afternoon found us leaving the sea of grass at last. I found myself standing on the gently sloping shore of a vast blue lake. I'd never seen a body of water so crystal clear or possessing such an intense blue color before. The ocean near Balthazar's tower, even on calm days, looked a muddy green. In the distance, at the heart of the lake, I could just make out an island.

"That is our destination," the cat-dragon informed me as he stopped to groom the beggar's burs from his coat. I had just as many clinging to my pant legs and would have to pick them off soon before they started to make me itch. "But first, we must find Journeyman's Warf," Uriel insisted as he tugged the last of the burs from his fur.

"A town," I asked hopefully. The sun would soon set and I was without even the most basic camping gear; no food, no kettle for hot tea, and no cozy warm bedroll.

"No, it is a ... well, a warf ... a pier where a boat can be found that will take us to the island." He got up then and started off along the shore. "This way Companion."

By the time I caught sight of the distant wooden structure jutting out into the blue waters of the lake, my feet ached from walking. As we got closer I could see the small boat tethered to the pier. It bobbed gently with the motion of the water. The modest craft wasn't the row boat I was expecting to find, but a sailing boat.

"Now we wait," Uriel purred into my mind.

"Why not go ahead and take the boat across the lake," I offered, though I knew the Abbot asked us to wait for him. "I'm no sea captain, but I've lived on the Isadore Coast long enough to learn to handle a small sailboat."

"Because your deeds must be witnessed," he grumped in reply. "And because the Abbot has offered to give you guidance in your quest."

I sighed as I sat down on the edge of the warf. My stomach growled again, and I tried to find something other than food to occupy my mind. It would have been nice if the Abbot had thought to stash a haversack full of traveling supplies outside the monastery gate.

Smoke from my crackling campfire kept the biting bugs at bay. At least I had the fire, that was a blessing. Uriel was off hunting among the bullrushes that grew along the shore near the warf. At least the cat-dragon wouldn't go hungry I thought as I lay near the fire staring up at the night sky. Above me, the stars winked like tiny living jewels against the black velvet curtain of the heavens.

"I could hunt for you Companion," he offered happily, "there are more than enough crickets and mice about ... frogs too, if your tastes lean towards such things"

While I appreciated his offer, I found the menu offerings considerably less than appealing. "Thank you, Uriel, but I think I'll pass."

"As you wish."

I closed my eyes and fell into uneasy sleep.

"Confounded creature," a stern yet familiar voice roused me from my fitful slumber. "I'm just as weary as you, but neither of us has the luxury of resting until we find your mistress."

I opened my eyes and sat up. A lantern bobbed in the distance, and I could just make out a man on horseback. Abbot Sextus had finally arrived. I was actually starting to wonder if his fellow Brothers had confined him out of fear for his immortal soul.

"Abbot," I called out as I stood, "over here."

"Unity be praised," he muttered. "This horse of yours has quite the stubborn streak. I didn't think we'de ever get here."

"Argo," I spoke his name in a scolding tone, "Have you been misbehaving." He only snorted in reply.

I took hold of Argo's reins and held him steady while the Abbot all but tumbled from my saddle. The venerable monk obviously hadn't spent much time riding. While he acquired his land legs again, I tended to my horse, removing his tack and tethering him to a scrubby tree.

"I apologize for the delay," he told me when we settled together by the fire. "It took a bit of doing to convince Brother Godric and Brother Eadwyn that allowing me to venture after you, alone, was a prudent course of action. "

Brothers Godric and Eadwyn must be the names of the two scowling monks that shared the Refectory's high table with the Abbot. Thinking about the monk's dining hall made my stomach growl loudly.

"If you look in that burlap sack, you'll find bread, cheese, ham, and a small flagon of wine." he smiled knowingly at me. "I figured by the time I caught up with you, you'd be famished."

I helped my self to a portion of the foodstuffs but passed on the wine. Uriel joined us, bumming several slices of meat from me before he was stated. Cold ham and cheese never tasted so good, I thought as I ate my fill.

"You should try and get some rest now," the Abbot instructed me when I'd finished eating. "What lies ahead of you will be taxing business."

Questions regarding exactly what did lie ahead for me swirled like an angry sea in my mind, but the Abbot had a point. I was exhausted and questions could wait until morning. I laid back down on my bed of grass and quickly fell into a sound sleep.

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