Home > Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(23)

Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(23)
Jeff Wheeler

“Agreed. I will stay hidden near the front gate and ring the bell if trouble comes. But I will meet you outside the wall at the back of the temple, not the gate, when I ring the bell.”

He nodded and they parted ways. As he approached from the east, Paedrin’s heart filled with warmth when he saw the moldering walls, the broken tiles on the roof. In his mind’s eye, he could imagine himself as a boy, perched up there and overlooking the city. He increased his pace, feeling a sense of restlessness. It was nearly midday and he could not hear the clack of staves or shouts from the students training. That was odd and made him wary.

Paedrin reached the edge of the outer wall, examining the tender vines that snaked the surface and made curving patterns on the stone. The training yard should be on the other side. Where were the students? Where were his friends?

He inhaled and scurried up the side of the wall, ascending rapidly. When he reached the top, he crouched at the edge, staring down at an empty yard below. A few tufts of weeds had sprung from some of the flagstones. There was not a soul to be seen.

Alarm. Worry. Dread.

Paedrin battled his feelings down, studying the training yard for any sign of movement. There was none. He exhaled and lowered to the ground inside, dropping low and watching for clues. Finding none, he rose and quickly went to the sheltered walkway that led to the main building of the complex. As he passed the columns, he could imagine seeing himself in the yard, trying to impress Hettie with his abilities as she walked where he did. He pursed his lips. Something was wrong. Was the temple abandoned?

Paedrin reached the doors and pushed and they opened. There was a smell of death in the air. He felt the skin on the back of his neck prick and gooseflesh went down his arms. It smelled like a sewer. He could hear the sound of buzzing flies. Paedrin began to tremble, his stomach coiling into knots, his face beginning to twitch with raw anger and horrible fear.

He started across the tile toward Master Shivu’s chamber and nearly collided with another Bhikhu, his friend Sanchein.

“Paedrin!” he gasped. Sanchein was Aeduan and nearly his own height. His face was pocked and his eyes were swollen with fatigue. He stared at Paedrin in confusion. “They said you were dead. They said the Arch-Rike executed you!” He touched Paedrin’s arm, shaking his head with disbelief.

“Where is Master Shivu?” Paedrin asked forcefully. “I must see him.”

Sanchein’s look of surprise was stricken with grief. “He is dying. Everyone is sick. The Rikes say it is the Plague. None of us are allowed to leave the temple. There are only four of us left alive.”

Paedrin stared at his friend in horror.

Just then, the gate bell began to ring.

“I have always been impressed by the Bhikhu. They do not rely on ducats or influence for power. Their integrity is their power. The master of the Bhikhu temple, in my opinion, is the epitome of the virtue of humility, which is the foundation of all the other virtues. In the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.”

—Possidius Adeodat, Archivist of Kenatos

The sadness and shock nearly overwhelmed Paedrin. The look in Sanchein’s eyes showed that he was not lying. He had no reason to. The grief in his expression was clear as the dawn. The truth of his words shredded into Paedrin’s heart with full misery. He did not believe it was the Plague. It was the ruthlessness of the Arch-Rike that was to blame. It was revenge, cold and hard. For a moment, he was too stunned to speak. But the tolling of the bell meant that Hettie was warning him to flee. He could not do so yet.

“Take me to Master Shivu,” Paedrin whispered hoarsely. “Quickly, I must see him!”

“But how did you…?”

“I swear I will crush your other toe if you do not take me to him right now!”

A little smile wavered on Sanchein’s mouth as he remembered. “Come.”

The two hastened through the darkened temple. The smell of sickness was everywhere. As their sandals clacked on the tiles, Paedrin stared at the empty corridors. The sound of flies swarming filled the air. He gritted his teeth, preparing himself for what he would see.

Sanchein wavered at the doorstep. “He is in great pain, Paedrin. I’ve never seen a man suffer so. Pain is a teacher, but what lesson this pain teaches is beyond me. His agony weakens him. I can’t believe he’s dying, Paedrin.” Tears glittered on his lashes.

Paedrin pushed his way through the fragile doorway and saw Master Shivu. Or what remained of him. He had shrunken with the sickness, making his body appear like a skeleton. His skin was flushed and he wore no shirt, so that his bones protruded like some reptilian thing. The stubble on his head was growing and he had not shaved in several days, allowing white whiskers to grow on his face. His eyes burned with fever and he sat erect, sweat glistening on his body. A bowl of vomit sat between his legs.

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