Valerik’s Quest 1

It is said that when a sister of the convent walks, she carries with her the love and guidance of Truth. But when a man of the frock walks, he carries with him Truth's wrath.

Valerik stood in line, waiting. By his side, Rive stood, snorting its frustration at its pace. Were it not for its reins in his hand, the horse would have ploughed its way into the city ahead, regardless of the massive merchant cart before it.

Valerik hated the cities, coming and going, to be precise. It was how it always was in the provinces of the realm; the lines, the city guards, the requirement that he walk with his two feet on stone floors. The merchant cart ahead of him moved forth a few paces and he shuffled along, Rive following right beside him.

Sometimes he wondered who hated it more: him or the horse. Rive had a habit of snapping at the guards whenever they searched them, prolonging their stay at the gates. Today, however, the horse had yet to display the perturbed braying and stamping that always preceded each search.

The guard moved the line along. "Next!"

They always raised their voices for the line to move along. It mattered naught if a person was right beside them or if they had their mouths at their ear. They were the guards of the city, long-swords dangling from their hips with spears in the hands of their comrades, at the ready. The risks that came with their positions afforded them the forgiveness of slight discomforts to commoners.

Before the rise of king Crivers to the throne, city guards were of limited number, and meeting one who had held his post and his life for over four years was a rarity. It made them veterans in their right. The Merdendi raids made certain of it. Now King Crivers had no place for leniency towards such in the realm. Valerik could not recall clearly the last time he'd heard of a Merdendi raid in the cities. Although, the small villages were another story.


Valerik tightened his grip on Rive's reins and stepped forward as the merchant cart wobbled its way along the city's stone grounds and through the archway, the only path into the city save its walls.

"Good noon, Father."

Valerik offered the guard a smile, more as a reward for his ability to keep his fear away from his voice than anything else.

"I will have to check your belongings," the man added, cautiously reaching from the sacks hanging from Rive's saddle.

Valerik smiled again. This time from a genuine sense of entertainment.

The soldier had held a firm grip on his fears with him, yet he had seen it in his eyes. But with Rive, the man could not keep the trembling from his hands.

In truth, a priest's horse was many times deadlier than a normal horse. They were not just bred for transport; they were bred for war. But unlike the war horses in the realm, they were bred for war against greater foes.

Maeldunian soldiers cared very little for decorum except when in the presence of Lords and Nobles. Ransacking was common at the gates, causing a delay beyond it as immigrants arranged their belongings. However, Valerik rarely suffered such troubles. As a priest, his belongings were handled with the utmost care and respect. He knew better, though. There was no respect in how priests were treated, only fear.

Respect was reserved for the sisters.

Once, he had entered a city without Rive, wearing simple clothing. The guard had been impertinent, barking at him at every turn. He had obeyed patiently, and as the man tossed the contents of his sack around, he took pleasure watching the guard's face pale as the fear descended upon him.

There are many ways to identify a priest, but the easiest is always the cassock. And that day, his cassock was well folded in his sack.

Today, he wore it.

His search concluded, the guard ushered him forward. "You can be on your way, Father."

Drawing nearer, Valerik placed a silver coin in the guard's hand. He watched the puzzlement take form in his eyes before slowly being replaced by understanding. To enter a city, a fee must be paid but priests were exempt to the rule by the power of the church.... There is no need for a man of the frock to be asked for a fee when doing Truth's work.

Valerik preferred to pay for all his entry into cities.

"Valerik," he said, then tugged on the reins, and Rive followed without resistance.

He made his way through the archway, passed the raised portcullis, and into the city. Rive's hooves clacked against the ground as they walked.

Valerik had seen a great many places: the red seas of Doorin, the Asazee's haunted valleys. He'd covered distances from the Hagroove mountain peaks to the plateaus of the Merdendis and even the raging waters of Truth's tears. He had been subjected to the cold caves of Agaroth to the north and the scorching sun of the Tafirat deserts to the south. He had seen a great many people and faced a great many torments. But of them all, there was no love lost between him and the city of Dun.

Even at night the city came to life with the bustling of citizens, each ambling their way towards their next destination. The roads were narrow, their width fit for only four men were they to walk side by side. The night was illuminated by the flames from the lanterns hanging from tall iron poles spanning the length of the streets on both sides.

Valerik never liked the noise made from the creaking of wooden wheels as they rolled on their merry way, but it proved worse when the dirt beneath it was covered in stones. He missed the seminary for many reasons. The ground beneath his feet was one of them.

Walking the busy night streets of Dun, he ignored the fearful and cautious eyes that watched him and his horse. How many they were, he could not say. In a year since he last came to the city, it had not changed much. The tailor shops still held their place at the lower floors of the buildings. The barbers' shops still smelled of odd powders. The clothe shops still shared space with the tailors in mild dependency.

As a child he had marveled at how a building was placed atop another without crushing it, going as far as withstanding the treacherous weathers that often came with winter.

The barbers kept their place in the building above the tailors', trimming away at the hair of any who sought their services with such deftness that Valerik wondered how they did not know their way around a sword. And while the stables were situated away from the businesses due to noise, for the businesses' sake or the horses', he could not say. The smithies were very much within reach, rending the air with the rhythmic beating of hammer against anvil. Shaping. Melding. Fusing metals to birth various monstrosities to wage wars in the name of the king.

Valerik's first destination was a smithy. He had traveled a long distance and had last sharpened his blades over two years ago. How many to be exact was a figure beyond his recollection.

Scrulli's smithy, the wooden placard above the building read.

Smithies display an assortment of weaponries at their entrances, longswords, broadswords, shields, armors, chainmail, throwing knives, daggers, and the like. In major cities, such things as scimitars which were far from weapons of the Realm could be found on display. This smithy, however, displayed an assortment of kitchen wares; knives, spoons, even pots. Not the required smithy he sought, but it would have to do.

Rive let out a snort and Valerik patted its neck. The black mane flowing from the horse's neck did nothing to mask the feel of its taut black skin. The muscles underneath bulged against his palm as he performed the gentle action. Rive was a bastardly thing. Its reddened eyes were like the blood of anger. Its muscles strained against its skin. It made it look like a thin vest worn by a muscle bound man. Each sound it made came out as a growl, deep, and menacing. For a horse of the seminary, its strength and appearance was rather unholy.

Rive had been assigned to him while he was still a brother of the seminary, over three years before his ordination at the hand of Bishop Bollis. It is in normal nature that all priests have their own horses. And this was his, one that he had spent three years building a relationship with before he'd learned to trust the horse as much as he'd expected it to trust him; a greater requirement between an Evangelist and his horse that that of any other class.

Evangelist. He smiled. Another word for a wandering priest.

Priests were of various specializations, most of which were confined to parishes in the event that the church needed them. Apart from the Bishop, they answered only to the sisters who ran whatever parish they were placed in. they held no true title in the church. Even Bishop Bollis knew his title to be ceremonious. No. The church was not ruled by the priests. That was the duty of the Sisters, the Mothers.

Theirs laid elsewhere.

Valerik rasped his knuckle against the door of the smithy, feeling the heat emanating from within from his place in front of the door. Three more rasps, each louder than the other, and he heard a shuffling within.

The door swung inward to reveal a portly man whose annoyance vanished along with whatever he intended to say at the sight of him.

Valerik stood a head taller than the man who stood before him with massive arms, sporting burn marks where the molten had no doubt found skin over the years. His head was clean shaven with stubbles of hair running along his jaw, at least a week old, no less. Valerik placed the man to have seen at least fifty years. Considerably more than himself.

"W... what can I do you for, Father?" the words rumbled out of the older man.

Valerik reached behind him to the back of his black cassock, now faded to brown from the torment of the weather it had come to experience over the years. He found the opening with practiced ease. He drew from it a blade as wide as his palm and the length of his hand if placed thrice upon itself from tip to wrist. The blade had a certain curve to it like a scimitar's, but its curve was less pronounced. Where the thickness of a scimitar's blade was thin, it's blade was slightly thicker but its edge no less sharp.

Through it all, the smith fought to hold his composure, his eyes always darting cautiously towards Rive.

He stretched his hand out, placing the weapon in the already outstretched hands of the blacksmith who held it with a certain reverence. Switching rein hands, he pulled its twin from a similar position with the same deftness he did the first.

Veils. The preferred weapons of the seminary. Every priest had a pair, and while they knew their way around almost any weapon, the veils were always their preferred choice, the weapon of the seminary. No other people used such weapons, and no blacksmith within the realm made such. Owning one when one was not a priest was a sacrilege in and of itself punishable by death.

To Valerik they were nothing but sharpened metals and, due to his time with them, an extension of himself. But to the blacksmith, they were divine. Weapons of the seminary with which the priests of Truth brought down his justice upon heretics. He spared the hilts, a polished brown, more from the way to which he had chosen to forge his veils than anything else, a brief glance before refocusing his attention on the man.

"Make them sharp," he instructed simply. "I'll come for them tomorrow."

The man nodded so vehemently as Valerik left that it was a wonder how his head still kept its place atop his neck.

Valerik needed a place to lay his head. While he could drop Rive at one of the stables, he did not care to trouble the stable men with its presence. They would have received the horse in silent discomfort and taken care of it the best they could, despite the torturous nature of the task. But the other horses would have brayed and stumped all the way from here to the realm's borders for as long as Rive remained in their presence which was only expected as normal horses shirked in comparison to priest's, and while horses bred for war stood more ground than them, they stood no chance in a fair fight.

The next import for Valerik was accommodation. He might have spent his nights in worse places such as the open on certain occasions, but in the cities he would sleep on beds with a decent roof over his head. He knew which inn would accommodate him, and he made his way towards it, the sound of Rive's hooves clacking against the stone road, heralding his arrival.

Fairy tale inn was a tad famous within the city. It was an inn of a reputation, and while its rooms were nothing well above average, it gained its fame from its incessant fights. Most of those who came into its bars to drink, came only at the chance to witness a fight or have one of their own. They were never disappointed.

Gallard, the innkeeper and owner, had but two rules: You break it, you buy it, and don't touch the help. Valerik had gotten to meet the man on his last visit. The man lived within his inn as a lord unto himself, but he'd had the decency to display his respect towards the frock when they'd met, and his respect was genuine as against the ones Valerik came across more often. But beneath it was still the fear common to the rest of the Realm. For only a fool did not fear the wrath of Truth.

Valerik tied Rive to one of the poles in the hidden alley between the inn and what he was sure was a shoe mender's shop and a new addition since his last visit and before he left the horse.

"Abeet," he whispered into its ears. The horse stiffened in a likeness akin to a statue.

There were requests, and there were commands. Every man makes a request of their animals and offer commands when they are due. But in the seminary they are taught a different form, one unique only to them.

A priest rarely makes requests. Where a man commands his animal, a priest could achieve the same result with a request. What he used on Rive was a priest's command. Such words bound the animal to himself. It could no sooner disobey such command than it could will itself death from want of air.

Valerik opened the door to the inn and was welcomed to the smell of alcohol and vomit. Its mixture with the bodily odor that he was certain came from the larger number of people that filled the room, threatened a war against his sense of smell. The bar gave smell to grime and a heat uncomfortable enough to send a sane man headed for the furnace of the smithy.

Amidst it all were the noises of men and women alike, chattering away at the night, sitting amongst each other, some coiled around each other so indecently that he found it difficult to tell were one began and the other ended. Even the smacking of lips against the other gave its sound to the environment as well as the wet suction that came from the hands of men hidden beneath the garments of women. It was debauchery given sound.

 Unlike most priests of his generation, Valerik was unperturbed by what lay before him. He found a certain fascination in watching men engage each other in sin. He took his second step and the bar fell into a silence. Those engaged in their acts quickly made themselves presentable, as if they were in a classroom rather than a bar. Even the drunk managed a sense of cognition and, positioning themselves haphazardly on a seat or the floor, hoped to avoid his attention.

The ladies adjusted their garments, made themselves presentable. Some in fear of being struck by Truth's wrath, and a few no doubt in the hopes of seducing a man of the frock. They would make no move towards him but make themselves erotic enough to lure him to them. How they managed such a feat while decently dressed was beyond commendable. He had not fallen for it before and would not now.

A brother of the seminary had once upon a time fallen for such wiles while Valerik was still in the seminary. It had ended badly. The boy's name, Valerik could not remember at the moment, but he was certain it would come to him later, if he tried hard enough.

He placed a Maeldun silver coin on the attendant's table. "I'll have a room for the night," he said casually. "No dinner."

The boy took it without complaint, ushering away from the counter. "R-right this way, Father."

The boy led the way up the stairs in silence and Valerik followed. The boy was young with a scattered mouse of blonde hair on his head. He spoke with an accent that marked him as not of the city. There was a sway to his hips as he walked, one that would have proven seductive had he been a girl.

Valerik held naught against it. The boy obviously did not intend to seduce him. It was most likely a habit formed from his other services save being an attendant. Services Valerik would rather not have thought of, as what it entailed was against the teachings of the credence.

"Your room, f... father," the boy stammered, offering Valerik a single key hanging from a wire before a door.

Valerik kept his eyes on the boy's face as he took the keys from his hand. The boy would not meet his eyes. While Valerik saw fear in his eyes, he also saw something else: shame. The boy did not like the services he so often rendered to develop his sway but, to survive, he did what he had to. Valerik had seen enough in his travels to understand the boy. He could offer a word or two he knew coming from a priest would help alleviate the boy's shame and guilt. He offered none, letting the boy beat a hasty retreat in the direction they had come from. He was of the opinion that when one sinned, no matter the reason or the circumstance, it was their duty as humans to own their sins and suffer the guilt that came with it in its measures. There is no excuse for it.

He knew it all too well.

He fit the key in the hole and turned. There was a click, the door opened with ease and he stepped inside.

The room was well kept with a feint golden glow from a lantern lit at one end of it, the bed arranged, the mattress wrapped in brown sheets. The table in the middle of the room showed signs of age evident in places where termites had taken to occasionally eating it. The floor was left uncovered, displaying the brown brick work with which the inn was built. It reminded Valerik of the sight of mud, something rare in the city during the summer.

Despite it all, he could smell the feint hint of alcohol and dried bodily fluids. It was, however, nothing compared to the bar below. The smells had been so pungent he'd feared he would have tasted it if he'd opened his mouth wide enough.

Blowing out the light, he shrugged out of his cassock, leaving himself in his undergarment. He didn't need the light to know he was well due for a replacement cassock as he laid on the bed and stared at the ceiling covered in darkness, wondering how long it had been since he last saw a priest, a parish, or the seminary. He let out an exhausted sigh, remembering he had not paid for his life. He was at least two months behind. He closed his eyes and let sleep take him.

He would pay tomorrow.

Related chapters

Latest chapter Protection Status