Northermost Temple of Droll
“Do you know how to read?” Veronica asked Alice. It had been two days since the failed attempt at finding the master keys.
“A little, and only in Common,” Alice replied while kneading dough, her arms pumping rhythmically on the battered counter. She tossed a little flour onto the mix before adding, “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, nothing. I’m just curious,” the youngest replied.
“This is about that task Mother Cecilia put on you isn’t it?”
“Partly. I also feel that I should at least learn how to read, if only in Common,” Veronica said while breaking open some eggs for croustades. She was preparing dessert herself, in hopes of pleasing Sister Bernice. The fat Nun was the keeper of records for the Temple. She also was responsible for writing missives and proclamations, not that there are ever any from Droll. If anyone could teach her how to read it would be Bernice. Veronica hoped, with all her being, that she could stand to be around the cow of a woman long enough to learn something. She was measuring sugar when the servant’s door slammed open.
“Where is…oh there you are. Come with me!” Ben, the stable boy, urgently grabbed Veronica’s arm. “I need your help.”
“Why?” asked Alice. “What do you need her for?”
Ben threw the girls a look of desperation, “She’s the only one with small enough hands. Please, come now.”
Casting a look towards Alice, Veronica shrugged and began to remove her apron. The older blond started to do the same when Veronica said, “No you should stay here. If you get behind on dinner, then we will all have to suffer. If I can help Ben, I will…If not, I’ll be right back.”
“Ben, what is this all about?” Alice asked, but the lanky boy was already gone.
“See…whatever it is, it must be important. I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Veronica smiled nervously to her friend as she walked out the door.
“Be careful…” she heard as she started down the overgrown path.
It was mid-morning and the sky was bright and the air crisp. Soon the gardens would have to be harvested, and the bounty preserved for the coming winter. Veronica rounded a bend in the trail and had to blink against the glare of the snowcapped peaks of the Scandarian Mountains in the distance. Already the leaves were turning, the towering boles shivering in the stiff breeze. Soon the biting winds would shift and grip the Northernmost Temple of Droll in a suffocating blanket of snow. The freckled girl turned left, toward the stables, when she heard Ben hiss, “Not that way…down here.”
Puzzled, Veronica looked around. The paths diverged at this point, left lead to the stables and pens where the livestock and mounts were kept and to the right, the gardens and orchards. The girl could see the well-worn path that Ben used when transporting the manure to the gardens, but not the young man.
“Down here. Hurry!”
Veronica jumped and squealed as Ben’s lean face and shock of reddish hair popped out from the base of a derelict fountain. The overgrowth was thick and the stone, moss covered. She had trod past it countless times and never suspected it was anything more than a ruin. Giddy with excitement, she tried to press her way through the brambles.
“Not that way girl! Two paces on the right path, turn left, three paces in and turn left again. Haven’t you ever explored the grounds?”
“A little, but not this close to the Keep. Where are we going?” Veronica asked apprehensively, but with a dash of excitement.
“One of my hiding places. Hurry…please.”
The teen was tall and two of Ben’s paces where more like three big strides for the small girl and she had to look closely to see the path. The stable boy must have been very careful not to leave a blatant trail for the Sisters to find, therefore Veronica tried to follow suit.
“I appreciate the effort, but we need to make haste girl. She doesn’t have much time,” Ben was getting frantic.
Veronica thought to herself as she followed his instructions, what could be so important? He acts like it’s a matter of life or death.
Reaching the base of the fountain, Ben’s flaming hair disappeared between two eroded statues of ominously cloaked figures. Veronica followed the young man to a marble slab that had split and fallen into an entryway of some sort. She collected her breath and slid into the darkness.
After stumbling in the dark for a few moments, strong hands grasped her and pulled her forth. They emerged into a round room, weakly lit by a lamp that cast frightening shadows into the many alcoves. Fresh, clean smelling straw littered the cobbled floor, the odor contrasting to the acrid smoke of the fat burning in the lamp and an unidentified musky scent. Veronica’s senses quickly adjusted and she heard a whimpering sound from the center of the room next to where Ben had crouched down.
“What is that?” she asked.
“Don’t be afraid. She’s my friend and she needs your help.” Ben glanced at her, and she could see the wetness in his eyes.
“But what is it Ben?” Veronica asked again pointing to the massive dark shape on the floor. It had a thick pelt of mottled fur, each strand as long as the girl’s thumb. It was laying on it’s side, so she could only see the profile of long, muscular limbs with sinister looking claws and a solid, slightly bloated body about the size of a pony.
“It’s a Sagarith,” Ben answered, “but like I said, she’s my friend. I rescued her from the fighting pens this spring, when I went to Dellish. She was injured so bad, they was gonna put her down. I offered to buy her from them. I couldn’t stand the thought of her dying because she lost a fight.”
“But they are wild killers Ben,” Veronica whimpered from around her shaking hands. “They hunt people in the forests.”
“The wild ones do, but you can’t fault them for it. She was raised by men, though trained to fight other animals.
Goldy turned out to be nice enough once she learned that I wouldn’t beat her,” Ben spoke in a soft voice while gently stroking the course pelt. The animal whimpered some more, and it’s breathing came in labored spasms.
“What’s wrong with…Goldy?”
“She’s in labor, girl. But somethins wrong, like with the cattle sometimes. I think the cord is caught around the pup’s neck or somethin. I can’t get in…there. My hands are too big. That’s what I needed you fer.”
“You want me to put my hands in there? Are you out of your mind Ben?” Veronica said, squishing up her face in disgust.
“Dammit girl, they’ll both die unless you help!”
“My name is Veronica, Ben. I’m a person, I have feelings, you could at least call me by my name.”
“Veronica, please help. Goldy’s a good girl, don’t let her die juss cause you think she’s a wild animal. She has feelings too…”
The dark eyed girl took a deep breath and steeled herself for what she knew she would do. She wasn’t going to let Goldy die because she wouldn’t help. Additionally, it looked like Ben knew a lot about the Temple. Maybe if she helped him, he in turn would help her.
“What do I have to do?”
“Warsh yer hands in the basin over there. Then come back and I’ll talk you through it.”
Veronica went to the pedestal Ben had directed her to. The gracefully carved stand had a silver bowl, brimming with water. It looked clean and inviting as it reflected her image on its placid surface. She touched it apprehensively, because she had felt a strange energy upon her approach. Her fingers slid into the liquid, yet the contents appeared undisturbed. There were no ripples or droplets, nor any sensation at all. “Ben, what kind of water is this?”
“What do you mean gir…Veronica? Its juss water from a fountain,” Ben sounded annoyed.
“No it’s not,” Veronica replied. “This is not just water. What do you know about this fountain? Was it here before Droll sanctified the Keep as his Temple?”
“What are you talking about? Never mind that! Juss warsh yer hands and come back.”
Veronica shrugged and made the motions of washing her hands. Despite not feeling the water, she did begin to perceive a tingling sensation around the numerous cracks and healing blisters. She pulled her hands free of the phantom fluid and examined them. The years of hard manual labor seemed to have been erased. Old scars from her first clumsy attempts in the kitchen as well as the most recent damages were gone. Her fingers were clean and lovely, like a Lady’s. Veronica gasped in amazement and plunged her hands back into the bowl. She felt the urge to drink the magical waters, a compulsion that could not be denied. She brought up cupped hands, still marveling that there were no drops or disturbances in the bowl and made to drink the fluid. Her lips blossomed as a warming sensation coursed through her, she felt very alive for the first time in her life. This feeling was more intense than even sneaking around after Sister Agatha, it was better than curling up next to a warm hearth, it was better that talking with Alice. Veronica felt truly happy for the first time in her life.
“Veronica, what’s taking so long?” Ben asked anxiously.
“Nothing. I’m coming.”
The slight girl couldn’t help but skip over to Ben and Goldy, but as she neared them, she felt the animal’s pain like a slap in the face. “Oh you poor thing.” she gasped.
Ben looked at her curiously, and she could feel his concern for the animal, his love. “Tell me what to do…”
“You’ve seen the cattle deliver, right?”
“It’s basically the same. The pup is right there in the birthing place, but the cord is wrapped around it’s neck. You are going to have to reach inside and push the pup back. Finding the cord will be easy, it should feel like grabbing a wet eel. Do what you can, but make your movements slow and easy, Goldy’s not gonna like this.”
“Okay,” Veronica’s tone was soothing as she settled into position.
“Shhh…” she added as she pushed her hands into Goldy.
Ben held his breath and cooed to his pet as the girl worked. Her eyes were closed and she had a look of peace. Several long minutes passed, where Ben had to hold down Goldy’s head, the animal’s hot breaths where making him sweat and his hands were covered in drool. Finally, Veronica sat back and said, “I think I got it.”
Goldy resumed her whimpering, but adjusted her massive body and pushed.
“Ben! Come here, I think the pup is coming,” the girl exclaimed.
“Go warsh up again, you’re all bloody. I’ll take it from here. Thank you Veronica.”
She left the youth to tend to his friend. The basin was as she had left it, a moon-like shimmer to the surface. Veronica plunged her hands into the mystical waters and gently scrubbed off the matter, which seemed to simply disappear. She pulled out her tiny hands and they emerged clean and new looking. She took another drink of the pristine fluid, and felt vibrant and healthy. A thought occurred to her, and she cupped her hands and brought them to Goldy. If the water never seemed to get tainted and could make her feel this good, then surely it could help the exhausted dog-like beast.
Goldy had stopped whining, and lay panting in exhaustion. Ben was holding the bluish pup like a mother holding her child, a worried look on his face. “I don’t know if it’s breathin.”
“Try to breath for it. Like blowing on a pollen tuft,” she offered as she bent down to the mother. “Drink Goldy, it will make you feel better.”
The Sagerith lifted her anvil shaped head and licked Veronica’s palms. The animal’s wide tongue felt hot and rough as it abraded her palms. “He-he, that tickles,” she chuckled. “How goes it Ben?”
“The pup is getting better. How did you know what to do?”
“Just seemed like an obvious thing. If something doesn’t know how to do something, then show it. Put it over here by Goldy’s head. I’ve seen the momma cats lick their young, I think it helps.”
Goldy looked like she was feeling much better, and lurched upright once Ben brought the pup into view. She began to tenderly lick the newborn after settling back down in a defensive position.
“I don’t think the pup’s out of the woods yet, but I want to thank you for your help Veronica,” Ben said warmly as he walked to the pedestal and sloshed water all over his hands. The drops that hit the cobbles seemed to ring out like hammer strikes to the young girl. She stared at the basin and at Ben with a look of disbelief.
“How…what…I…?” she stammered.
“What’s the matter?” Ben asked, “you have the strangest look. I told you before its juss water from the fountain.”
“But it wasn’t. I mean when I…there weren’t any…oh never mind,” Veronica felt exasperated and confused. However, the feeling of happiness had not left her, so she shrugged it off and said to Ben, “Let’s go check on them.”
He shrugged and walked to the lamp where he turned up the wick. The gloomy room brightened marginally, however the shadows still claimed the majority. Veronica looked at Goldy and was surprised when she saw two soft yellow eyes following her.
“Her eyes. They are beautiful, like small golden moons,” the girl said in awe.
“Why do you think I named her Goldy?” he chuckled back.
“Ha ha,” she began to laugh, and it was like a dam had broke. All of the repressed innocence of an adolescent girl who walked on edge suddenly dissolved, leaving a happy child that was marveling in the miracle of new life and of new friendship. Veronica, the sad little orphan girl laughed as hard as she had ever laughed. Ben, who was initially taken aback, joined her and the two youths were soon rolling on the fresh straw holding their stomachs. They laughed long and hard until they both shed a tear…and then the world seemed to stop.