Read Me the Story:
“Blessingmother… they have arrived.” Kadaret murmured, respectfully.
“Is it so?” the old woman rose from her knees, and with the certainty of long practice, took the three steps to the hard plastic chair, and sat.
“They can wait,” she said comfortably. “It is time for my pranska. Did you bring it?” The veil turned in Kadaret’s direction.
Kadaret felt her jaw drop. “N-no, Blessingmother… I thought…”
The old woman chuckled. “You bring it, daughter. I’ll need it.”
Kadaret made a respectful knee-bob. Blind as she was, the old woman had an uncanny sense for such things. “Yes, Blessingmother.”
It had never occurred to her that anyone—anyone—! –would make the Cardinal Prelate’s own maiter wait!
She sped down the narrow corridor, past rows of the tiny cubbies that each provided a Vowed Daughter of the Weeping Handmaiden with a narrow sleeping pallet, a kneeler, and a small chest to hold her worldly goods. At the end there was a much broader cross-corridor and the arched doorway that led to the Garden Cloister. Kadaret did not spare a glance for it; she turned for the kitchen, and in very little time was back with a small dish, a spoon, and a clean napkin. She tapped the door frame.
“That was quick, very good. Very good.”
The old woman folded back the lower half of her veil, and fumbled for the spoon, digging it in to scoop a small mound of moist golden fruit.
Blessingmother Nanamet lived the most austere of lives, except for this one indulgence—one pranska, each Holyday, in the place of midday pottage. Everything about life at the Divine Mercy Monastery had been an invariant routine, including that.
With the news of the Conflagration, changes had come. But Blessingmother Nanamet still had her fruit. “Ahhhh….” The old woman sighed a little, and lifted the napkin to dab at a trickle of juice on her chin. “So delicious. Like the flesh of a beloved.”
What a strange thing to say. What would old Nanamet know of that, Kadaret thought? Everyone knew the Blessingmother’s story. She had been here, at Divine Mercy, since her very birth, more than sixty years ago. Her mother had been a Relict, Vowed here on the occasion of her Renunciation by her Ecclesiast husband who had heard the miraculous Call to Celibacy before he knew he’d engendered a child. Such cases were difficult, of course, but the Church could not deny a true Renunciation.
Born here, raised here, probably she’d expected to die here, like all the Relicts and Renunciates Vowed to the service of the Weeping Handmaiden.
Kadaret knew better than to let the slightest hint of her feelings show on her face, in her breathing, in a small movement. She knew the flesh of a beloved. Had thought herself beloved. Had believed that the Creator laid her path in the most abundantly joyful of places. Had quickened with her husband’s child, even. The miscarriage… it hadn’t been her fault! She had done everything, everything the birthwife had said!
Then Lankar had decided that the miscarriage was a divine leading, and he would heed the Call, and renounce Kadaret, and enter the prelacy.
Nanamet had spooned up the last bit of the pranska, and wiped her mouth daintily. Her face, still half-veiled, was turned in Kadaret’s direction and tilted slightly. The corners of the soft old mouth were tucked in with something that might have been compassion… or amusement.
“And what do I know of a beloved’s flesh, is that it?”
Kadaret tried not to start, but did swallow. The old woman probably heard it, with that preternaturally acute hearing, but she only shook her head a little, and let down her veil. “You still have so much to learn, daughter. All right. I shall keep the Holiest One waiting no longer.”
She stood, and replaced the chair under the little table, and turned to make a knee-bob to the ikon of the Bride on the wall above her kneeler.
Kadaret stood aside from the door. She knew better than to offer the old woman any assistance. Nanamet knew every millimeter of the Divine Mercy, moved about her daily rounds as adeptly as though she’d never lost her sight from the infection that had been diagnosed too late, and treated here with only the minimal facilities of the monastery’s Infirmary.
Beside the doorframe hung the long staff of the Blessingmother’s office. She put her hand to it unerringly, and preceded Kadaret to the Cloister Gate, where the Cardinal Prelate’s own private bounce shuttle waited, to take her to Pykalt for an Ecclesiastical Convocation. It was an unprecedented thing, to invite the Blessingmother of a monastery to such a gathering, even though technically such a rank was equivalent to Archprelate, in the Church’s eyes.
But these were unprecedented times.
“Well, come along, daughter.” Nanamet paused, and gestured to Kadaret to accompany her. “You don’t think I’m going alone, do you?”