Eve did not mind the uniform Mother Superior Margarethe proscribed for her, Eve was comfortable with gray. And they all took turns scrubbing the dresses and smocks, which seemed fair. Eve never had anyone else help with her clothes before, that was nice. They fed her on schedule along with everyone else, and she had her own bed, enough room to uncross her legs, even. But it was on perhaps the third morning, when Eve saw that they had all been made the same, irrepressibly exact, that she began to feel the onset of madness…
“Oh, you aren’t losing your mind, back in line, Eve. And why don’t you comb through your hair, it’s getting tangled again.”
Eve pushed into Margarethe with her clean plate, going wide and white-eyed. There was light morning chat in the dining hall, though no one else looked so panicked and upset by warm oatmeal and an apple. “But I can’t, don’t you see? It’s the only thing I can do for myself. I thought to hem my skirt once, and Master Arc had a girl tied up to a stake for that—”
“Eve, he would not do that, considering…”
“Well, I suppose not, but he did take a yardstick, and pop! Right over the head. I thought that maybe I’d call a guard but no one even said anything.” she whispered, “I suppose I should have said something earlier, but I was afraid. You aren’t going to strike me now for it now, are you? Or perhaps, you’ll strike me for telling on Arc and not the confession… or twice. Once for the silence and another for the shouting!”
“That is called discipline, Eve. And do you know how your voice is capable of soaring? Quiet now. Didn’t your mother ever box your ears for tramping on her garden? Or, your father have you fetch a switch for fighting the neighbor children? One isn’t ever too old for discipline.”
Eve rubbed her nose and sidestepped back into the food line when she saw it had moved a great deal. “My mother traded me for a pair of darling red shoes that my father used to have and they must have been his favorites—he was so mad that she filched them, he cussed about it for my entire life. It’s also because he couldn’t beat me over anything once I saw her do that, and then dance all over the house in his red shoes. I, like she, just got right away with it too.”
Margarethe reached up into her veil to re-pin it. “Comb your hair and stop telling tales, Eve. Micco will bless us with the rest.”
“But I can’t, because then we will all really be exactly the same, I just know it, and my mother didn’t steal those shoes for nothing?”
It made no sense and so Margarethe folded her hands up into her sleeves and stretched a tight smile. A mumble, “Shoes for a baby? Courtship with dragons? Oh, Father help us.”
Eve found it all vexing. Cymen had promised that she would no longer have any worries, and this held true. But now that she had food and clothing and shelter, and clearly, an abundance of love, well then thoughts became troublesome. She felt her brain working, she’d swear it to anyone who asked. It tingled in places Eve didn’t know there could be muscles in one’s gourd. And they inched and stretched and, damn them, they gained confidence some times, right in the middle of lectures or service work and wanted her to do something. No, not listen. No more note-taking, no! Your script is awful, anyways. Let’s draw. Let’s draw a flower, or a lot of flowers, or no. You’re being influenced by the girls here, and you aren’t a girl, so strange. Why did they put you in a group with children, Eve? They’ve only awakened to cocks, never kissed them. Sure, they reached beneath their wives, like you, to steal your breakfast or bread, or find enough to buy a crown, like you. Filched and shared with Robin… no, not Robin again. What is it about old lovers… Oh, Cymen, he should have asked you, Eve, to steal, and then he would have understood how much you always cared for him. Now, turn the page, Master Arc is watching.
Master Arc was watching because he was compelled to be teaching by Mother Superior Margarethe at last—after she learned that Eve managed to burn up several knights of the Harmonic Golden Order and Cymen Ruecross too, and somehow survived the burns herself which was deeply disturbing as ever… “Wasn’t it your Jone of you who got burned at the stake, Master Arc?” Then he said, “Why do we have to go off on this again, it wasn’t as if it was me who ordered it!” But Margarethe again, “This girl was put up on a pyre before, that we all heard—but then she would have lived through that, you know, because she’s the one who burned Cymen and his boys—it wasn’t that dragon-king or whatever.”
Then he again, “…No, you can’t be saying that.”
“Aye, yes, it’s exactly what’s been keeping me up at night, Master Arc. And worse, she doesn’t know how exactly to repeat it—”
“Just imagine, if Jone could have lived through it—”
“Ah, no, Master Arc, that wasn’t my concern… it’s that she’s bound to combust again spontaneously with no training…”
“Jone would have lived through the flames, never been martyred, got all us our final revenge!”
“But then, she wouldn’t be a saint?”
“No, she would be UNSTOPPABLE!”
“She’d be a tool of the Devil Queen, and become the most annoying woman in the realm if she isn’t already. Oh Master Arc! If you don’t train her, I’ll train you, you foolish, wobbly old…”
It took another hour for them to sort it out, which eventually did put Eve in regular courses, on burnings, that she felt bored in, constantly over and again…
Turn another page of the book. What is this? More of one army shouting at another about Jone? Not fair, no pictures to go with this one. Then how is one even meant to know what is going on?
“Are you listening to the lecture, Miss Eve?”
Yes, Master Arc. No, Master Arc. Go away, Master Arc. I was pondering, wondering… about Cymen. Is he alright? Does he hate me? I shall draw all the places that we traveled together. If he is looking for Micco’s Grail, then he can’t be searching all those again, and I can guess where he is right now. It’s not even been a fortnight, and on foot, that’s not very far away…
And that is when Eve would find herself sitting alone in the room, the lecture ended, and late for her service project.
“You are so studious, Miss Eve. I will be eager to see how you fare on the test this week-end.”
Eve surely looked at Master Arc as if he had two heads. “Well I suppose… if I wasn’t asleep, then one can assume I was at least attentive. Does this map look proper to you? I mean, I know about the Fringe, but even so, I was forced to draw a dragon over every other place I wasn’t sure of…”
She would then have lunch and step back in line to march to the conjurer’s guild hall. She was one of many at long tables with a pile of wooden planks on one side and nails on the other. They did not trust her with the nails.
Color, apparently, could be created by passing one’s hand over the base of the crucifix, and then back across the branches. Some red, some white, some yellow, purple or green. It depended on the season and the miracle being worked. Eve had wanted to know why she wasn’t qualified to work another sort of miracle, the one where the crucifixes got consumed so very fast that almost a hundred more needed to be crafted each day.
“Master Valentine, may I burn the crosses too?”
“No, Eve. And what makes you think that we are burning them?”
“Wait! I know you… so are they decorations for a secret wedding later, instead? Or, are we going to save some religious people from hungry lions with them, I hope?”
Next, she said, “There’s so much smoke coming out of the Miracle Workshop, though. Is that the Hallowed Spirit, they’re making?”
“Do you mean, through its chimney?”
“Well then, I suppose that blessing the crosses backwards is at least nice enough. That’s how it happens, isn’t it? The artisan miracle workers bite their thumbs, and bleed into the wood, snuff mushrooms, sacrifice cows and dance around black fires ringing bells to make these things appear in the sky, all over the realm. I’ve done that sort of thing so often myself, maybe I forgot a step or two. Oh, and yes, then you must chant the true name of the Devil-Queen, six hundred and sixty-seven times?”
Getting put out of the workhouse was fun, especially on the days when the pastry shop made meat pies for the poor. But then, swathed in a stained old blanket, Eve would wonder what the real name of the Devil-Queen was. Could that be why her fertility dances never worked… and the number was six hundred and sixty-seven, wasn’t it? Oh well. Scripture was mostly unintelligible anyways, unless you were forced to exercise your brain-muscle at a terribly young age.
At last, Eve came to a conclusion, no matter if life in GAFE cost not even a copper coin. “Damn it all. I’m too old for this foolishness.”
It rained on the fourth day, because Micco had nodded off during some memorial service. And the altar servants also worried the bad weather would carry through the weekend, when they found out that the sacrificial wine had gone missing again. Eve wasn’t fully sure what that all meant together. But as the heavens cried gently, for its son that dozed and kept good works at bay, and everyone working double-time to get the fires of faith going, the Hallowed Spirit puffing up out of the chimneys, in a labor, and rained upon, ‘poor power, you do your best,’ or so that is how Margarethe always said it, Eve put on her very best rebellious face.
Mane fully built up, and hips handed, the hellion lifted her chin to Damascus the Unicorn.
“I hate it here.”
Eve looked, she had to, very askance. “Well, I don’t want to leave.”
“Then stay, what do I care?”
“Make this worth my stay, you goat!”
Damascus tramped ahead through a row of workbenches and forced his white muzzle between two finely dressed miracle workers, in order to nose through their book.
“I thought it was already worth your stay. There isn’t a witch-trying tree around here, is there? Why, people haven’t been burned for kindling here, over thief-boyfriends or working a bad miracle to bed a man in about a hundred years. Everything is for crossing planks and growing fruit, lucky you.”
Eve fluttered kohl-painted eyes, having filched some for the occasion. “I can’t believe that Cymen told you all of that, but it doesn’t matter, when you haven’t answered my request. I’m too mature for this training. I’m down the hill with children, Damascus.”
“What do Cymen and I look like, mother hens who swap gossip and spit over a shared clothesline into one of the grime-spoilt alleyways of mortal civilization? Oh no, I have better things to do.” She asked how it was done then, and Damascus flitted his bleached lion’s tail in a definite direction. Eve looked from it to a large, shuttered window at the head of the room. “Things in the Miracle Workshop are far more sophisticated than they’ve ever been in the long and annoying history of mankind. Here now, it’s a scarab Cymen wants, not a cicada. Doesn’t he even know the difference? And why would Scripture this old ever hint at something so western, when the book of Palms is so very Eastern, he should know better. Now, someone start it up, I really don’t feel like figuring it, tell him the difference.”
There was some movement at the head of the table behind Eve, and she was torn between complaints and dazzlement, longing to see it, but not to be overlooked by someone so much shorter. And cloven-footed.
“Three white crosses, two yellow, five red!” came the call.
“Five red? Five! Oh no, not on Cymen Ruecross, no. We’ll be out by Endvent at that rate. I beseech you, Tianamus, try again.”
Eve spied them shuffling baskets, writing quickly, rolling up sleeves, shoving each other even, finally, “One white, seven yellow, and a black!”
“Black? Really? Dare we?”
“It’ll just do, sir…”
“That’ll do then, fire it up!” Damascus confirmed.
He trotted past Eve, once more she felt inclined to follow, and several altar servants on either side of the window pulled on green sashes—for they were in the normal season—to pull the embroidered curtains aside. Rings at the top of the frame scraped across the bar, Eve covered her ears, but Damascus pointed his forward. Both spades, attentive and not even the tiny hairs outgrown from deep inside the donkey-things flickered in fear. The pane of glass was cut up by a complex pattern of crosses. Long, proud trunk that divided the window in longitude, another, not as strong, bisected laterally. Damascus reared on two legs and traced the rest with his horn, counting. Three, seven, twelve. Four at the heart, two on the ends of the east branch and the west, and four more of varying lengths, sizes and degrees at the top. The crosses intersected in various places to make symbols and impressions of the main design in a variety of interpretations.
“Aren’t they all crosses, Damascus? Why not use just one?”
“Hasn’t the Hallowed Spirit got many tongues? Aren’t there several chapels in this realm, and still more, with minarets, and some with stars in other places on the Fringe? I’m not going to direct it using one voice, and weren’t you going to abandon us Eve?”
“Ignite the Ruecross!”
Eve started screaming.
They worked even as she fell apart and cursed their names. People went out of a door and stood on the other side of the window, each with a colored cross in hand. Damascus bucked and sent his bells jingling. Incense smoked from boats, swinging. Sunlight broke through a raincloud beyond, they rang a bell nine times, for each fine-robed person who reared back, set his or her hand ablaze and pitched a cross at the window from the other side. An explosion of yellow, then white, no red, black was enough smoke to compete with the rain.
“Damned weather. Every time they bless the wine, it starts to rain. Micco.” Damascus couldn’t have been talking to the King though, when he wasn’t in the room.
“Don’t you dare hurt Cymen—”
“Temper the Ruecross!”
People came running at Eve and she arched her shoulders the way a cat rose its hackles. They slid to a stop, someone tripped and fell, but all came up hefting a bucket and Damascus moved out of the way without warning Eve. Water, cold, pins of it stinging, Eve was instantly soaked when they threw it up, past her, through her, onto the great, burning window. The shower slowed down, trickled down, and cooled the glass so that the purpose might be revealed. An image, focused along what Damascus called a sacred axis shone bright on the glass as if a rainbow was captured there. Some sort of prism for the energy that every person in that room—Eve looked around herself now that she’d wiped her eyes—conjured forth with their hands outstretched in still prayer.
Cymen stood in profile against a yellow landscape. He turned to face them all, larger than life. His face contorted as he seemed to focus, then he drew his sword, and Eve feared he would break the glass.
“Shh!” went Damascus to the woman.
“June bug?” went Cymen, his voice carrying in every crevice and crenellation in the walls.
“No, you idiot! Whose idea was it to try the black cross? It’s a scarab, you dolt! A scarab! Head east at the scarab… oh to Hell and back with it, when we’ve been at this for a week already. I’m done for today.”
Damascus left. Eve stood in wonder at the large image of Cymen pointing down at her with the sword.
“He doesn’t look happy.”
“No, he does not.” This was Margarethe. “Now it is clear why you get yourself tossed out of cross-making, Miss Eve.”
Eve cleared her throat and stuffed her fingertips up into her armpits this time. “Well… isn’t he handsome? But where is he, on a beach? I don’t see any water, and I figured, after what happened with the Commodore, Cymen wouldn’t bear to return to the Sea.”
“That is the Fringe, child. It’s all but dessert.”
“Dessert? There really is such a place?”
“Yes, and people live there. Not easily, but they manage with camels and cactus fruit…”
“Does the Father know about these people? Also, what’s a cactus? It sounds positively delicious, have you ever had one—”
“… Yes, Mother Superior?”
“For infuriating your teachers, stealing food when it isn’t your turn to stand in line for mincemeat pies and you surely aren’t a beggar, and for harassing Master Damascus, there will be a grave punishment. Come, let’s get you to it.”
Eve was afraid to go. She wasn’t sure whether or not it was because Mother Superior Margarethe sounded eager for this discipline, or because Cymen had cupped a hand over his eyes, complaining with cracked, chapped lips that he couldn’t read the fire very easily, but if Damascus wanted the Knights of the Harmonic Gold Order to look for a June bug out in the desert, they might as well…
The Ruecross, it turned out, was a design that captured every aspect and expression of the Hallowed Spirit. Any person who looked at it would see their faith represented, whether he lived on the Fringe, or in the Western Kingdoms, or behind the White Wall, in the Kingdom of GAFE. Eve learned this because she had to draw it on hands and knees, and then when she was done, using her toes, one thousand times.
“Cymen’s very name is a punishment to me…”
“It’s not his name, it’s what Micco decided to call him. Or, rather, said he should be called.” Damascus rested with Margarethe on a bench beneath a veranda outside. Eve was working and sneezing in the mud.
“You don’t think that King Micco will sleep for another three months, do you, Damascus? We just barely saved Cymen with converting that child’s flame into her name as warning, the last time–”
“Hey! So that’s how you all told on me? I thought I was the one who did that.”
Margarethe went on speaking over Eve, “How, when you can’t read nor spell? We may not be able to purchase ourselves another swift way out, if anything goes wrong.”
Damascus snuffed into her hand and she plucked more grapes from the vine growing in the trellis above them. “I don’t know, and I don’t care. I just want to rest and forget about that Cymen—”
“Why would Micco call him that? Does it mean something?”
“You have an awful lot of questions for someone on punishment.”
Eve carved down into the mud with her big toe, then opened her thigh to drag across… an odd feeling made her shiver more than the rain and she glanced backward. Damascus cleared his throat loudly and Eve decided that Margarethe had been swallowing a definite flustered look. “Pervy old Unicorn…”
He changed covert subject, “I don’t know where Micco gets it from, actually. The Ruecross isn’t mentioned, well, not explicitly. It is spoken of, and around itself—”
“Actually, Archbishop, the book of Resolutions speaks of a winged diadem—”
“Do you know who wrote the book of Resolutions, and for whom, and how he was suffering at the time? No, I never consult that for scholarly research. Palms has it, and Osmosis…”
“Osmosis?” went Eve.
“That’s the first book of Scripture, you ninny. I thought your father forced you to memorize it.”
“Oh, did he? Well, yes, but our Scripture book was missing that part. I think he’d torn the cover off, in a rage over shoes. Did you know my father, Damascus?”
“No, who would know your father? No one knows where you were weaned, and with what other piglets. Keep writing. Mother Superior, the Ruecross is mentioned only in references. It was Micco who put his great foot down and asserted that divine inference is the same as tangible writing. To him, everything seen and unseen, plied from sainted hands by miracle workers over the centuries and implied by heaven since the forging of man’s destiny… all those things are relevant. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, and at any time, one message is as useful as another, and supposedly, the book predicts and recalls itself. I call it contradiction, but Micco will fight you blue in the face, sure that Scripture is perfect. Not a thing there to be excluded, according to our Angel-King, but I say that, all things being considered—”
“To him, my Bishop? Only to him? If you’ll forgive me, then I shall remind that Micco is a son of Heaven, and so we all must believe—”
“Only a son, though, not a first generation.”
“How would you know that? His name is Miccolangiolo.”
“Yes, but there could be several Miccolangiolos by now, or Rafaellios, Gajbrielles…”
“Are you mocking the Divine?”
“Again, I say sons of the Divine, descendants. I’d met a few real angels in my prime, Margarethe. I and Giselle both.”
“Oh, only now you mention her. So she does exist to you—”
“But only as much as Miccolangiolo exists for you.” He tossed his head and stood up, horn near-crossed Margarethe’s breast dangerously. “Do you see what I am saying, now? Micco, who’s made himself our King, is very different from all the others—”
“I’ll not hear this!” Margarethe went to fastening and refastening the pins beneath her cloth veil, very quickly.
Damascus remained chewing, though no words came out.
Margarethe huffed down from the veranda and tugged her charge up by the mud-smeared arm. “Eve!”
“But I didn’t do a thing this time, not a thing. It was you two cat-fighting, and I only watched…”
“Eve, a Ruecross is like a sheperd’s crook. All sheep, whether they be white or gray or spotted, horned, lame, young, or old… can by guided by it. Brilliant that King Micco adopted the metaphor and made it physical, brilliant that he blessed a goodhearted man with the name, mind you. Do you disagree, Damascus? Right in front of my face, a hand-picked sister of the order of the Grand and Frivolous Effort? And in front of an impressionable novice?”
“Oh, if you please, Eve is exactly the other way around—”
“Say it again, speak the word, only speak it, and you know that the altar servers will try and wake him up. Micco’s halo hasn’t been off for very long and you’re already vying for a schism in the Chapel. Now, I dare you, sin and say it. We all know who will be taking your confession then.”
Eve balled her fingers deep inside of one palm, and had a hard cake of mud ready in the other. That is how fiercely Mother Superior Margarethe had got hold of her.
Damascus eyed them both with one black bulbous equine iris, not even respecting enough to face either woman.
“Eves, both of you. And don’t be foolish enough to demand, exactly, where Scripture says your apple has fallen. Never far from the tree, never… just because he’s a delicious bite of apple, just because… I shall never eat apples again as long as I live, I swear it.” Damascus stepped neatly onto the Chapel pebble path and sidestepped over puddles until—and it took him far too long to do this on four uncoordinated legs, to be dramatic—he’d found his exeunt at the studded open doors, at last, and made it.
“Never you mind him, Eve.”
“But to whom are you talking? Damascus just called us both Eves and sinners, won’t there be a church-trial for us now, one of those ex… miscommunications? You’ve made the Archbishop so angry, Mother Superior.” Eve grinned.
“Don’t be silly.” Though Margarethe seemed afraid to go in out of the rain.
“Perhaps… if we get excommunicated, we could go and join Cymen. Oh, that would be nice, to feel how warm he is again… Margarethe, don’t spy at me like that, as if you haven’t got a hint of passion about you. You’ve seen Cymen too, and you’re not better than me, you know. I always wanted to say that to you, and now I’m saying it. I have evidence, in fact! Who, pray, is Giselle?”
Margarethe unstamped her fingers from Eve’s skin, one by one. “Chastity is when a woman—or a man, Eve—makes a heartfelt effort to refrain from sexual indulgence through having right thoughts, avoiding those conversations and acts that might tempt them—”
“You’re just starving yourself.”
“I believe what I do because it has opened my heart to a deeper sort of love.” Margarethe glared and Eve sank back into the mud. “Do you think I became a woman-monk through fear?”
“No. I expected brainwashing. My father made me recite the book of Palms ten times a day when I was little—”
“Through love. A love that, clearly, you have never understood or felt in the entirety of your life, Miss Eve.” Evil. Though, Margarethe hadn’t said it. “The Father in Heaven is like my husband, the people of GAFE’s Chapels are my children. Sex is a fruit, created by the Divine, yes, but I have devoted all of my spiritual energy to assuaging and promoting the human condition—your condition. Do not insult me, or belittle my decision, when my real love for men and women, even you, is that expansive. I was glad to make monk vows, though it was not easy. And you are surrounded by people who make these tough choices of the spirit every day, Eve. Not because mankind is so bad, but because we are all made good. I would rather die than give myself over to an act or feeling that would diminish every effort I have ever made to honor and promote human lives. All that is to say, little one, there are far more important things in this life than sex.”
“Then why not just have some and get it over with?”
Margarethe leaned right over. “I have. How else do you think I came to my conclusions? There, now, I am a woman as much as you are, and would have been moreso if I’d made this choice without having been bedded so often and well all about town in my youth. Eve, I understand you very well, never doubt that.” Their eyes connected across the bad weather, and that was new and frightening until lightning crackled overhead. Margarethe cursed and pulled on Eve again. Eve lashed her limbs carelessly about like a child and pulled back, “As for the rest of what you overheard here, I want you to remain a witness and don’t forget a word of what Damascus said to us. Both of us, do you understand me? Get up, Eve, get up right now. Let’s go.” Eve found herself amazed over how buxom and pretty the matron was, with the help of glistening rainslips all over that white, buttoned-fast, up-the-bust robe. Only her elder in years…
Margarethe refused to speak to Eve of the exchange again, however. Eve, likewise, avoided getting into trouble after that. Not because her heart had been miraculously changed by the intense speech. Margarethe frowned when she realized what had—or really hadn’t—occurred in Eve, and observed once, days later, and aloud with difficulty, that miracles were always so much harder to work on Miracle Workers. After hearing of Margarethe’s lewd history and personal sacrifice, Eve had merely learned to be more stealthy with her misdeeds. Which, Eve observed, once and startled at the growing strength of her own inner-thoughts, was the difference between this Eve and the other in white. And Damascus had lumped them all together, hadn’t he? Perhaps that was who Giselle was.
Poor old goat.
The longer King Miccolangiolo slept, the less Eve minded anything or anyone at all. The rain kept everyone inside, and Eve was made to work longer hours at things she had no heart for, and certainly not the spirit to ‘assauge or promote’, as Margarethe had once said. Though she felt like she was sinking back into all the mud around her these days, Eve was unable to forget some things that the people hiding from the world behind White Wall had taught her. For one, before Margarethe became a woman-monk, she’d been as loose and spread-legged in GAFE as Eve herself had been afraid to be—well, she had her pride, she hadn’t done so much that she’d felt it was necessary to become a prude afterwards, Eve imagined. It made Eve wake up in the night and laugh very hard, to know there had been another woman worse off than even her, but then guilt came along with that. Margarethe had suffered, hadn’t she? The woman-monk hadn’t said as much, but to insist that the human condition and Divinity combined were better than sex must have meant she had some terrible partners. Perhaps she’d known Robin too? No, that was impossible. He never left the Forest or Richard’s kingdom at all while he lived. Well then bad bedmates surely existed elsewhere. Eve would come to this part and scratch her head. She wanted to sleep as well, but on one of those nights, her brain moved and the thought of it moving was more frightening than anything else. And her scalp, it itched, it itched! No, Margarethe hadn’t been talking about the taste or smell or smack of sex at all, had she? Not if she hadn’t known Robin. Nor did she have the singular joy of being so attracted to but also so repelled by Cymen Ruecross. Ruecross…
Margarethe, and a smart woman she was, possibly woke up in the night, in a similar fashion, beside a bow-legged beggar no doubt—HA! No, Eve, stay on task… Margarethe surely scratched her head on one night, after one too many times and decided that she had better things to do. Better? Really, better? Cock was best. Wasn’t it? Eve, oh Eve, you poor thing, this is what happens when Micco falls asleep. Halo set aside on the bedside table, no one getting along anymore, and a woman can’t even have a proper philosophical process. Either way, something happened between Margarethe being humped awake by bakers for free mince-meat pies, and fingering prayer-beads at Chapel to ask the Hallowed Spirit to watch over mankind. Because people couldn’t stop being hellions all by themselves. Eve lay back down again when this, newest thought, reached her. Suppose Margarethe had never prayed. Suppose Damascus had never tempered a Ruecross and sent Cymen to the Forest, where he found her. Suppose King Micco never made an effort, however frivolous, to guide all of them, for Heaven’s sake. Eve felt sure that she would still be tied to that stake-and-pyre. Burnt to a crisp. If not because Friar Tucker came back, then because some other hellion like herself would wander by and find it so humorous that she was still whole, that they would torch it themselves. Because, right now, normal people craved destruction, they longed for death, needed it.
That was the first lesson Eve found she could never forget, regardless of whether there was a handsome man around or not, or perhaps, it would stay with her because this idea was stronger than the thrill of men… or wine, or a roast ham, or really, anything thrilling. She was a hellion. It was a terrible and frightening condition, to love pain and to lust after destroying one’s friends—people like dear Cymen—but, yes, it could be helped. She was being helped right now. Suppose Eve could help others? What if all together, the citizens of GAFE could really end the onset of oblivion? How amazing, how exceptional, what a true miracle…
“Are we going to do this or not?” Eve felt shoved awake.
She licked her lips and focused on the person sitting up next to her, a man with sandy hair and bloodshot eyes. “Please tell me that you haven’t lost your courage because if I don’t get a drink soon, after being promised, I’m liable to kill a great and frivolous many people here.”
Oh yes, Dan… Dan the drunk. Something like that. He was born beyond White Wall as well. Some people were brought in, riding on Unicorns, or by valorous Knights of the Harmonic Gold Order. Some, and most, wandered down from the mines of Mount Brax and followed the road until their calf muscles wanted to burst, and then got dragged through humanity’s mousehole by compassionate guards.
“Yes, here. Take these and set them on fire once you hear the bells outside. Are you sure that you have the ability to ignite them? You said that I could trust you—”
“I just want a taste… of whatever King Micco’s been getting into, that’s all. Miss Eve.” Evil. Or was it that Eve had wanted Dan to say it?
She dragged up a bucket of water while scraggly Dan ambled outside of the Miracle Workshop door. After he was done scratching his knee, and Eve rubbed the last of sleep from her eye, she felt the black key in her apron pocket to make sure it was still there. Top of the last shelf in the Library, wedged into verse twenty-two of the book of Resolutions… five pages out from the chewed cover and spine. Certainly, a favorite failsafe for the Archbishop Damascus.
“Seven red, three yellow, a purple, two green, and half a black!” Eve yelled.
His hand blazed several times, the window cracked on impact. Eve threw the water up as high as she could, with all of her womanly worth. Dan was yelling that he wanted some of the blessed wine, and Eve pried up a plank of wood beneath her boot, shoved the golden flask into his shaking palms, and told him to stay quiet.
Cymen, his image bigger than the window, looked over his shoulder. The great ambrosia-colored Chance filled the rest of the scene, and Cymen hefted an embroidered saddle onto the animal’s back.
Eve was afraid to speak.
“The damned tent’s burning… this one is serious. Skun, Arth! Get up, find the others. We aren’t going East anymore.”
No, no, that’s not the message, read it more carefully.
Cymen walked away, crouched low. Eve squealed when the vision suddenly went down and fast, to catch his every movement. He pulled the dragon slaying sword out of its scabbard and stood. So much of the wide blade was in that view, Eve was able to see orange flame reflected on its bright surface, a white tent being singed, and buckling from the inside, broken in two.
“Damascus, did you really have to take the entire tent? You’re lucky that it’s already blazing hot at this hour and we’d all crawled out of it… june bug… no, scarab. Of course, it’s a scarab. Why didn’t I see that before? East… still east…”
Clay went, and he looked very worn for him, “South-east!”
“Right, thank you. Oh, but not that far. That can’t be right.”
Eve pulled the map from her sleeve, studied her own scrawled drawing to check it.
“Miss Eve,” Dan smiled up at her, “that’s backwards. Even if I’m drunk, I can tell you it’s backwards. Don’t you pay attention at all in Master Arc’s lessons?”
“He refused to train me at the outset, and so I refused to learn from him once Damascus got involved and Arc was forced—”
“You didn’t even have to learn from Master Arc really, just read. Can’t you read, Eve?”
Eve pursed her lips. “…No.”
Dan sighed and lay down. He turned up the empty blessed flask and rubbed the neck of it all over his flat tongue.
“Well, there’s a reason why official sorts of maps have got dragons on them.” But he ended sucking on the bottle instead of explaining.
The vision of Cymen began to fade. He was shouting orders. “The Grail is definitely south-east. We ride hard there, and we can have it by nightfall.”
“But that’s at the heart of Vangvad-sharam! Do you think the sheik is really going to miss us?”
“No, it’s slightly east of that. Between dunes, there’s a scarab. This makes sense now, I recall a passage in the book of Palms, it practically sings out to me. We’ve got it now, come on, let’s not doubt Damascus. King Micco is as able as ever, isn’t he? This just feels right. Now, you all form the west flank and I’ll—”
“He’s wrong. There’s a dragon living out there.” Dan tapped Eve’s map. See that? You copied it from the book, right?”
“Sheik Vangvad put the capital of the Fringe in the dragon’s shadow, and downwind. It’s the only reason that red monster doesn’t see or smell the people and kill them.”
“That I’m drunk and I still remember the first day of lessons with Master Assissi? Or, that you’re sober as a… sober, and you’ve never paid any attention to the finest education this medieval world has to offer at all? I’m a spectacular lush, what’s your excuse?!” Dan laughed hard. “Dragons aren’t animals, they live forever like Unicorns, they don’t need to eat or grow, or breathe. Could sleep forever, too. Rules of nonliving things. Heh, I wonder if I can recite the rest? One potato, two potato three and more…”
Eve set down her map and stood before the doors flew open.
“EVIL! Miss Evil… what have you done?” Damascus came prowling in, as much as a Unicorn could, with his horn pointed down and him walking slow and angry, ready to charge her.
“I just… well, I missed Cymen. And I know the book of Palms back and front. The part about the scarab. He needed to go southeast, and the Grail is certainly there. Scripture either predicted or recalled that much, it’s what you and Margarethe said yourselves! It’s not my fault that you missed it. Now, will you make it so that I don’t have to take any more lessons when I’m clearly too old for all of this and know better than the both of you? And then Cymen can come back home.”
“We heard everything on our way up the stairs. Do you know who Sheik Vangvad is? Or why Fanven the Red went to sleep in the first place? Because Vangvad helped the dragon to round up every last sniveling Knight of the Harmonic Gold Order, that’s why.”
Dan said, “Oh, I remember now. Dragons do get hungry, actually. They eat violence. Yes, that and any people–especially hallowed knights who tend to cause it.”
Eve was immediately and hopelessly confused. Mother Superior Margarethe arrived in her nightclothes with many other novices, took in the scene, and backed away. Not even she would touch Eve now, because…
“Yes, Archbishop Damascus? Wait, no, it was Dan’s fault. He’s a drunk who wanted to get into King Micco’s wine—”
“Micco is a drunk!” Damascus yelled. “A stinking, lying, mean drunk. Or hadn’t you noticed, you disvirgined, cocky pea-hen? And that is why the King sleeps, because he knows better than to do anything when he’s like that, which would hurt our cause, and has in the past. Oh, but dearie, we have to wake him up now. We have to wake up the Angel-King and tell him that his beloved little Eve has single-handedly re-started the Crusades and his other love, the precious Cymen Ruecross, is right in the middle of it. Come here.”
Eve got up very slowly, and dusted off her dress. She felt guilty, so very guilty. The pain was staggering, but she knew that she had to go forth and face the cruel punishment that Micco would have for her, and beyond even then, if Cymen survived her foolishness.
That guilt, which demanded responsibility, maturity, bravery is what motivated Damascus to yell for the army to be kicked awake and set on horseback all about the palace. Because Eve had lifted her skirts and run in the other direction so fiendishly fast, that she almost got over the garden wall, kicking and trying to heave herself over, while she clawed at the other side. Years out, people would say the incredible speed gained in that guilty moment was, perhaps, the best miracle Eve had ever worked.
Too bad that they set ladders against the wall on either side of her and pulled so hard on Eve’s skirt that the miracle didn’t really work.
1 Tie Me to the Tree :: 2 But First, a Snack of Strawberries :: 3 Five Love Stories :: 4 Robin in the Hood :: 5 Even Crispy Children :: 6 A Good GAFE :: 7 Last Chance Through the Flames :: 8 On the Rogue, Damascus :: 9 White Wall :: 10 Saint-Makers and Uniform Wearers