Burnt chamomile seemed to be the only scent in the room. William opened his eyes blearily. Thin shafts of light rested on the wood floor in the middle of the room where it fell through the closed shutters, dust motes dancing within them.
Pain throbbed in his side. For a while, watching the dust motes, he didn’t think of anything.
He closed his eyes again, breathing out slowly. He rubbed his abdomen. Cloth wrapped tightly around it. The quilt rested heavy on him, but his arms felt limp and weak.
There had been preparations for the influx of visitors for Maim’s Day. They should be audible, even behind closed doors…
William shot up with a start, gasping in pain and putting a hand on his side as though that would somehow lessen the pain. If it wasn’t Maim’s Day… He pushed the scratchy blanket away, putting his feet over the edge of the pallet. Dizziness washed over him, the dim shapes in the room moving like the deck of a boat in a storm. Pain shot up his side. His stomach churned.
His uncle must think he was dead.
The door opened and a robed figure entered. She stopped, then walked to him quickly and put a supporting hand on his shoulder. “You ought to take it slow.”
William closed his eyes, shaking his head. His lips felt numb and his voice was hoarse. “I think I need to leave.”
The woman released him. “You can talk to Adaellae about that, I s’pose. I don’t know if she’d be willing to do that, though. I--”
“Adaellae?” William’s brows knitted together and he opened his eyes to look at the robed woman. Half her head was shaved; the bald portion was tattooed with a bushel of wheat laying on a pile of gold coins. Finishing the tattoo, the green pendant of a fairy on a silver chain fell partially onto her temple. “As in the high priestess, that Adaellae?”
The woman nodded. “Yes, that Adaellae. Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to interrupt?”
William paused, frowning, then shook his head.
She rolled her eyes. “I’m Priestess Thea. Let’s grab you a shirt and then we’ll talk to Adaellae. Alright?” The priestess walked to a chair in the corner. A basket sat on it, and she ruffled around a few seconds before grabbing a white tunic. She offered it to him.
He struggled a moment to find all the holes, then pulled it over his head. Pain shot through his side and chest at the movement.
Priestess Thea nodded. “She’s eating breakfast now. We’ll get you something, too.”
William nodded, staring at the shafts of light. Food had been the last thing on his mind, but now that she’d brought it up, his mouth salivated at the possibility of food. It felt like he hadn’t eaten in days.
The priestess offered him an arm for support. He grabbed it, standing up, and she grabbed his wrist. She led him out of the room and down a narrow hall, forcing him to walk at a slow pace.
The scent of burnt chamomile seemed to be throughout the abbey. There were no decorations on the stone walls and the floors were a worn grey color. There were several doors in the narrow hall.
“How long was I here, anyway?” William asked.
“A few days. We think--” Thea snorted. “We think it got a bit of poison in you.”
William’s brows knitted together. “The beetle?” he shook his head. “It never bit me.”
She brushed a cut on his neck with her fingers. “The high priestess and Mr. Timmons think it got you there.” She nodded. “You’re lucky this didn’t end up worse.”
William’s fingers hovered over the scab on his neck. It was still a bit tender. “I take it the high priestess is to thank?”
“Partially, yes.” Priestess Thea nodded, leading him through a doorway. A fire crackled against one wall and a trio of robed figures sat at the end of a long table, conversing over bowls of… something delicious-smelling. “Hello all,” the priestess said.
The trio looked at her.
“Well!” said a pale woman, standing. “Look who lives!”
Trying to focus on the woman walking towards him instead of the smells of warm food, instead of the pangs of hunger in his gut, William said, “Hi.”
The woman offered her hand. “I’m High Priestess Adaellae.”
William stared at her hand in confusion. He blinked hard. “Oh!” He cursed himself, grabbing her hand weakly and shaking it. “I’m William.”
“He’s a little dazed still,” Priestess Thea commented. “But look at the color in his face.”
Adaellae nodded, stepping away. “So I see. Help him sit and I’ll grab a bowl for him. I imagine you’re hungry, sir.”
Thea led him to the bench and helped him sit, then left to speak with the high priestess.
William wrapped his arms around his abdomen. He was more than hungry. He started to murmur a prayer to Adaer, then stopped. He looked at his arms. The sleeves only fell just past his elbows; ink charms and runes dedicated to Adaer and her sons covered nearly every inch of visible skin. Everything about his body, his soul, felt like blatant offense. He stared at the swirls around his wrists, trying to think if he knew a prayer to Maim, or at least J’kah.
A hand placed a bowl in front of him. “Thea tells me you want to leave,” High Priestess Adaellae said, sitting down across from William.
Priestess Thea exited the room with a cheery goodbye to the others.
William swallowed, rapidly uttering a prayer to Adaer to bless the food and grabbing the spoon. “Yes, well.” His hand trembled so that the thin porridge fell back into the bowl before he could lift it very far.
“Unfortunately,” Adaellae continued, “I’m not sure that you should leave. The city is a dangerous place for a healing wound, and I’m not convinced that you have the materials to care for it properly.”
At last, he managed to keep enough food on the spoon that something actually made it into his mouth. It had a faint blueberry flavor and it warmed his stomach. “Why do you think that?” he finally asked, finding it easier to steady the spoon enough to scoop the porridge into his mouth.
“Mostly, I don’t know you very well,” Adaellae admitted, placing one hand on the other. “But also, I don’t know if you actually live anywhere.”
William frowned, swallowing the food in his mouth. “I live in an apartment. What’s this?” He gestured to the food with his spoon.
“You’d have to ask Adam. You like it?”
He nodded. “Very much.”
The high priestess nodded. “I’ll tell him.” She gestured at him. “I tried to locate your spouse, as well.”
William froze, staring at the woman.
“I used the names on your tattoo to look around the immigration files.” She shook her head. “I had no luck, though.”
William blinked, then shook his head. “No. I’m not married.”
Adaellae frowned. “No? It’s a shame.” She shrugged. “Have you been here long?”
“A few years,” William said, scraping the bottom of the bowl.
“You’re with the city guard?”
He swallowed the last bite of food, licking his lips. How impolite would it be to ask for more? There didn’t seem to have been much in the bowl to begin with. “You’re asking a lot of questions.”
Adaellae let out a slow breath. “If you’re with the city guard, then people should’ve stopped here looking for you. I even asked about you to Mr. Fram, who said he’s never heard of you. I convinced him to talk to another sergeant, see if they recognized you, but I’ve heard nothing back.” Adaellae’s brows furrowed. “It almost feels to me that you don’t have anybody to come looking for you.” A moment’s silence. Then she shrugged, her face relaxing. “That’s none of my business. I’m not letting you leave until at least the day’s end. I truly think you ought to stay overnight, at least.”
How many days had it been, though? How many days would his uncle tolerate his disappearance before he started making assumptions? “You can make me stay here?”
Adaellae raised her brows. “Mr. William, I cannot force you to do anything, but I can tell you that if you want to be sure you recover and don’t die, you need to remain.”
For a fleeting second, the thought crossed his mind it might be better for him to die. “I see,” he murmured. He rubbed his eye.
Adaellae held out a hand. “Can I see?”
She nodded at him. “Your hand.”
William frowned, but offered his trembling hand to her. It was steadier than earlier.
Adaellae grabbed his hand and stared at it a moment. She let go and set her hand on the table, facing him again. “The poison isn’t all out of your system, I don’t think,” she explained. “Unless this is life-or-death business, I truly think you need to stay for at least one more night.”
William ran a hand through his hair. His side ached.
Adaellae stood up, taking the empty bowl from him. “Why don’t we redress your wound, I get you a tonic for the pain, and meanwhile you relax and get your thoughts around?” She carried the empty bowl to the hearth, then walked back to him. “I assure you, you have plenty of time to worry about this.”
Time. It seemed to be slipping through his fingertips. But he stood up, supporting his weight on the table a second, then standing on his own feet. “Alright.”
Adaellae held her hand slightly away from her body, and as they started walking back to the hall, she held pace beside him.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” William said, tracing his fingers along the stone wall as they walked down the long hall with what must be personal chambers on either side, “but did you always live in Wakegloom?”
Adaellae smiled a little, shaking her head. “Oh, certainly not. When I just turned into an adult, I realized I wanted to go into the service of Maim, that I wanted to make a difference in the world.” She shrugged lightly. “There’s only so much you can do in a small place with few resources, so I thought, I should go to the City of Maim.” Adaellae nodded once. “Here I am. It’s been over a decade, now.” She pushed open the door to the room William had woken up in and stood just inside the door.
William stopped, studying her. “Then where’d you come from?”
Adaellae raised her brows. “Let’s just say I’m not from Teslal and leave it there.”
William frowned. “You’re not from Puclad…?”
Adaellae shook her head, chuckling. “I just said we’re leaving it at my not being from Teslal, but no, I’m not Puclase. And if I was, I wouldn’t tell you.” She gestured for him to enter.
That’s true. William entered. She followed, walking past him and grabbing the basket off the chair. She opened the shutters and light flooded the small room. Snippets of voices and the clatter of wheels on cobblestone filled the room.
Adaellae nodded to the chair, setting the basket on the ground. “You can sit here.” She sat next to the basket, sifting around in it.
William winced as he sat. His eyes felt heavy. “How many days have I been here?”
“You got here Maim’s day, so…” she shrugged. “Three days? Go on and take off your tunic for me.”
“Oh.” Three days. William lifted his shirt up and pulled it off slowly, letting out a long breath. His uncle certainly wouldn’t be pleased.
“You weren’t unconscious the whole time,” she continued, “but you weren’t exactly sensical most of the time, either. If you weren’t praying, you were muttering about something I had no knowledge of.”
William’s eyes widened at the mention of prayer. “Oh--!” Thoughts of his uncle disappeared as he realized that for those three days, he probably hadn’t made any offerings.
Adaellae started unwrapping the gauze around his abdomen. “What?”
“Do you have an altar in here?” Well that… was a weird question, then.
“Ah.” She nodded. He swore she was smirking. “We don’t have sage and I don’t believe we have an altar in here that hasn’t already been dedicated to Maim or J’kah.”
William ran a hand through his hair, swearing under his breath. What had he expected from this abbey, exactly? “Well, is there an herbalist near here?”
“Tell me, Mr. William,” Adaellae said, pulling the bandage over his side off. He winced when the air touched it. “Would Adaer really be that angry if you didn’t have offerings for her when you were healing from a deadly wound?”
“No, but I’m not dying now, am I?” William said, staring at the gash. The stitches were mostly even; the cut nasty looking.
“Sir, you are very much still healing and it would be easy to return to a state of near death.” Adaellae grabbed a small bowl and pulled off the top. She gestured at the wound. “It’s healing nicely.” She dabbed her fingers in the bowl and then rubbed something yellowish around and overtop the wound.
William bit his lip, focusing on the sound of breathing. They said Wakegloom Abbey had the largest garden in Teslal on this side off the Toll Bridge. “What about-- ow-- if you don’t have sage, have you got monster’s claw?”
“You use that for Adaer?” Adaellae asked curiously.
“If I have to.” William watched the high priestess begin to rebandage his abdomen. “It’s a little more complicated, but…” If she refused to let him leave until that evening, anything would do.
Adaellae finished rebandaging and sat on her knees, rubbing her hands against her thighs. “I don’t have any fresh flowers, no. But it’s not safe for you to leave yet.” She shook her head and studied him. She sighed. “If it makes you stay another day or two, then I’ll have a novitiate fetch some sage. I’m sure we have extra candles in here somewhere. If your Adaer doesn’t appreciate it, then you need a new patron.”
William stared at her. All this to keep him here another day? “Really?”
“Yes, really!” Adaellae threw her hands in the air. “If you’re on death’s door and your goddess isn’t happy with what offerings you’ve given her, then your goddess isn’t worth your time.” She shook her head and offered a small glass bottle to him and spoke before he could. “Here’s that tonic I promised for the pain.”
It dawned on William that the tonic would’ve been more useful before she went about touching the wound, but he accepted the tiny bottle. He swallowed it in one swig, coughing on the bitterness. It burned the back of his throat. Wrinkling his nose, he handed the bottle back to her.
Adaellae stood up. “Lay down. Try to rest. You need it still.”
If he was to remain here another day, then he needed to contact his uncle some way. “Do you have any letter couriers? I’d pay for the costs, naturally--”
She waved a hand. “I have paper and a quill for you to borrow. The rest, you can pay me back when you’re able.”
William stared at her, then nodded vigorously. If the letter could not be delivered, then he must leave tonight, but until that time, he had no reason not to accept this woman’s kindness. “Thank you, High Priestess. Truly. I’ll repay you.”
Adaellae nodded once. “It is only my duty.”
tbh this chapter has been killing me because I need to introduce the arc with William's uncle smoothly but we probably don't see William (or, at least, his POV) again for another ~3-4 chapters. Which brings me to my biggest thing: do you feel that his uncle is introduced smoothly?
Also, I feel like his thoughts kind of jump around a lot. Maybe not, maybe so. :P
I think there was something else but maybe that's just me being over critical.
Next chapter we learn about Adaellae, so that's something to look forward to :)
(For reference, "monster's claw" is known IRL as "devil's hand".)
I think yes, William's uncle is introduced smoothly. And yes, William's thoughts are pretty jumpy, but considering his state, I feel that it works pretty well.
Again, nice job describing those tattoos, my dude.
And lastly, Adaellae is the best and I am very much looking forward to learning more about her. :)
I think one thing I was worried about with William's jumpiness is that it would be disorienting/confusing, mainly.
Adaellae's chapter will be fun. :) she says misleadingly, because she still isn't 100% sure what is going to happen or how
@typical_demigod I didn't find it confusing at all and I'm very easily confused, so I think you're good there. :D