22. Down Shadowy Hallways

They step out of the chamber together and walk down a long hallway.

The arched windows that line it open onto the inner courtyard Till saw the night before. It is still raining, and very windy. None of the windows have glass or screens in them, and every time they pass one, Brother Frithil veers toward the facing wall to avoid the rain that pouring into the hallway. At the end, they turn a corner. Another corridor stretches before them, nearly as long. This one is windowless and lit only by flickering torches. There are many doors on both sides, none open. In the dim light ahead, Till sees yet another dark corner. Instinctively, he reaches for the friar’s hand. It seems to him that it would be very easy to get lost in this place.

“How old is the Guardian?”

“Do not let appearances deceive you,” Brother Frithil tells him. “Her Holiness is no more than twenty-three summers of age, but her youth does not diminish the power she holds. She is a commander of armies, a counselor of emperors, and shepherdess to all our immortal souls.”

Till is in disbelief. A girl, commanding armies! His sister still often tells him what to do, and she can send his friends running from her tongue-lashings when they make fun of him. But men don’t listen to girls—much less soldiers, or kings. Still, when he thinks back on the dark-haired woman that sat by his bed in the morning, and how her strange eyes rested on him, he isn’t so sure anymore.

“Why do they call her that, anyway?” Till asks. “Guardian, I mean.”

They turn the corner he saw from afar, and enter a hallway that looks somewhat familiar. Maybe they are getting closer to the room where he had dinner with Lord Osdath and the Abbot.

“Because it is what she does,” Brother Frithil replies. “She is much like the Emperor in that regard, except that the Emperor’s duty is to protect his subjects’ lives, while the Guardian is charged with the protection of our souls, that we may find our way to the Shaper when we pass. Just as the Emperor has soldiers to guard the peace and make sure his laws are followed, so the Guardian has her Parsons to give peace to men’s souls, and teach them the Laws of the Shaper. Does that make sense to you?”

“I suppose. But my sister says the Emperor is no more, and that the Prince is lost. Who is protecting us, then?”

“While the throne of Hestia remains empty, the Guardian has assumed the duties of the Emperor, as well, and watches both over our souls as well as our mortal lives. She is well versed in matters of governance, and she has many wise men to assist her in this task.”

Till isn’t sure what governance means, but it seems that it must be a lot of work for the Guardian to protect both men’s souls and their bodies, and to tell all those soldiers and Parsons what to do, especially since she seems little older than his own sister.

“When will we have an Emperor again?”

Brother Frithil sighs heavily. “Would that I could tell you that. I hear the Guardian has not given up her search for Ansil, whom they name the Lost Prince. If she still has hope of finding him, so must we.”

Till has heard the story of the Lost Prince from Stellia, and how he vanished after his father died on a hunt, because he was so sad that he no longer wanted to be Prince. Till had trouble understanding that part. If anything happened to his father, he would be very sad indeed, but he would never run away! Stellia couldn’t quite explain this, either. Perhaps Brother Frithil can. He seems to know just about everything.

“Why did the Prince go away? And why doesn’t he come back? Is he still too sad?”

“No one knows for sure,” Brother Frithil says. “It is said that our good Lord Thedric had great love for his son, and Prince Ansil for him. Grief can be a terrible thing, and overthrow the strongest spirit.”

Till wonders what that means, but before he can ask, they round another corner, and he sees the great door besides which, the night before, the smiling cook waited in the warm light. Today the door is closed. Brother Frithil lifts a finger to his lips, and knocks. Footsteps approach from inside. The door opens, and Lord Osdath appears.

“I have brought the boy, My Lord,” Brother Frithil says.

Lord Osdath nods, and pulls the door shut again.

A moment later, he steps out into the hallway, followed by the cook and his three kitchen boys, who look even more nervous than the night before. The cook and his helpers bow briefly to Lord Osdath, then they hurry away down the corridor, and around a corner at its far end.

“Once a decision is reached, we will depart quickly,” Lord Osdath tells Frithil. “You had best have in hand what may be needed.”

“I will make the preparations at once, My Lord.” Brother Frithil bows, smiles briefly at Till. He leaves in the opposite direction from the kitchen boys and the cook, and disappears down a staircase.

“Go on inside, my boy.” Lord Osdath places a hand on Till’s shoulder and gently nudges him toward the door. “You must be eager to have your breakfast.”

Then he, too, hurries away down the long hallway.

NEXT: The Dark Ones


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