THE PRIEST VISITS JEHANNA’S HOME
As chill autumn nights passed, the ringing continued, and Jehanna would lie awake in the darkness, listening to the clear, sweet tolling of the bells while her husband and young son slept. She would listen and remember the priest’s words about the reasons which made the ringing necessary, but she could never surmise what they might be.
That day in the church while they sat eating their meager breakfast of bread and hard cheese, the priest told her many things about Orgham the Unseen. He told her much of the church’s history and why he’d come to Reine to cater to the villagers there, but nothing about the Rites or why he rang the bells. So it was, lying beside her husband among the warm blankets, Jehanna could think only of the strange priest in his lonesome vigil within the church.
Before first light each morning, Jehanna was up and about her chores, making simple fare for her husband to take with him as he filled his nets and their bellies with the bounty of the Eastern Sea. She would school her child while she brought water from the communal well, tidied the house, mended nets, or gathered growing things in the hills beyond the village. Sometimes she chatted with the other fisher-wives of the village of Reine while her son and the other children played – but always in the days following her visit to the stone church, it seemed a weariness she could not shake walked with her.
From time to time, Jehanna would see the priest of Orgham in the narrow streets of the village, visiting the sick and the elderly, distributing gifts of charity to the poor, or preaching the statutes and admonitions of the Unseen God. If her path happened to cross with his, though they never spoke directly one to the other, Jehanna and the priest would exchange kind smiles or simple nods of the head before quietly moving on.
But although they never spoke, exchanging only these small, simple gestures, the weariness which had started following Jehanna around would lift somewhat, and her day would be lighter and happier because of it.
Thus, in this manner, the months of fog and brine went by, each day much the same as the last, and soon the damp nights of winter cold began. Lodhen, Jehanna’s husband, and the husbands of the other fisher-wives were forced to move farther out into the Eastern Sea to fill their nets. Sometimes days might go by before the exhausted men would return and often the women could be seen standing by the shore, gazing out into the gray sea, hoping to catch sight of their boats on the horizon.
The bells of Reine grew increasingly silent and the hours of darkness between dusk and dawn were often left undisturbed by their ringing. As bad weather moved in the eastern province of Drusinia, the priest of Orgham came to Reine less and less. When he did come, bent and shivering, in his gray robes and woolen cloak, he would go from household to household in the village, inquiring what might be done to help them in these trying times.
It was during one such visit, when the quiet knocking of the priest could barely be heard over the blowing of the wind outside, Jehanna pulled wide the door and beckoned the shivering priest inside. With hesitation, he did as she bade him and stepped beyond the threshold of her home.
“I’ve come to ask what you might require, my child,” the priest said in his mild way, rubbing his gnarled hands together to warm them. “The others in the village have told me their requests and I have honored them as best I am able. But the weather is growing worse, I fear, and I am uncertain when I might be able to come to Reine again.”
“We have all that we need,” Jehanna said, pulling a chair out from the table, “but you have walked far and no doubt you are tired. Please allow me to return the kindness you once gave to me. Sit by the fire and rest yourself while I prepare some porridge for you. It is simple fare, but I hope that it will warm you all the same.”
The priest might have protested, but another gust of frigid wind caused the oiled window coverings to shudder. He bowed his head in assent thereafter and took the seat she indicated to him.
“Very well,” he muttered, pressing his trembling hands as closely to the hearth fire as he was able. “I am grateful for your kindness.”
As Jehanna went about preparing the porridge, her child entered the room, and upon seeing the priest, the boy ran over to him and settled happily at his feet. Jehanna, the weariness in her body lifting with the presence of the priest, felt quite cheerful and began to hum a tune from her childhood.
“Here now, little one, you’ve grown since last I beheld you,” the priest intoned to the boy. His hands warmed, he patted his robes here and there, as if searching for something. “Perhaps I have something small for a child to amuse himself with…ah yes, perhaps this then.”
From out of some pocket or other, the priest withdrew a carved wooden figure shaped like something between a bird and a dragon. Jehanna glanced over to see her child reaching eagerly towards the small toy and felt the tune die on her lips. A feeling of loss entered her heart at the sight and her eyes stung in remembered pain.
The priest of Orgham, smiling down at the delighted boy before him, could not see the expression of pain on Jehanna’s face. She returned to the porridge and seeing it finished, began to ladle it into a bowl. So it was, the priest began speaking and his words held all the sadness of one giving another unfortunate news.
“You remember a figure like this,” the priest said. “You see it sometimes in your dreams when the sound of the bells has at last left you. As I told you once, my child, Orgham the Unseen knows many things. And at times, when I ring the bells, he deems fit to show me things I could not otherwise know. Like this figure. I carved it for your son, just as a person carved one for you long ago.”
Jehanna had not the heart to speak, being in too much pain. She knew the truth of the priest’s words. The priest took the bowl from her hands, his gnarled fingers closing upon her own for just a moment.
“Orgham has asked me to give you a message, my child, and the message is this.” His graying head rose so that his deep-set eyes met hers. Through the rising steam of the bowl, his face seemed clouded and Jehanna suddenly felt afraid. Even the child at their feet seemed to listen to the priest’s next words.
“Your time here in Reine, like my own, is growing short but our manner of leaving shall not be the same. The journey will be hard and the sacrifices great, but there will be those who walk beside you along the way. You must not be afraid.”
The priest let go of Jehanna’s hands, returned his attention to the bowl of porridge, and began to eat as though nothing had occurred. The child, too, went back to his games with the wooden toy in the warm glow of the fire, but Jehanna stood like one frozen, staring into the flames.
Nothing more would be said between the priest or Jehanna after that, neither the remainder of that day nor any of the days following it.
To Be Continued…
© Copyright J.S. White