Story time: The First Temple, part 4

Shilloh woke early the next morning, clear-headed and filled with purpose. He took his time with his dry bath, buffing his arms and chest with linen until there was no dead skin left to shed, then dressed with his back to the petitioners.

There's no time for shame when you aim to misbehave.

Pakita paced around him in agitation, shaking her head and glaring at oglers as he tied his rope belt.

"Excited?" he asked her.

The early morning sun hit her face at the perfect angle to light her horizontal pupils a fiery red.

"Thought so," he told her, and thumped the end of his crook on the stone floor with a satisfied grin.

He walked past the lines and the acolytes and pushed through the nearest door.

A row of sickbeds was lined down a long hall, with screens in between. It was a busy place, and robed clerics paced between cots, acolytes scrambling at their heels with towels, trays and bowls of steaming water. Here, a woman crouched on the linens, pulling tight at her birthing rope; there, a cleric cut something slippery and bloody from a shrouded patient, while another laid glowing hands above their form.

It was good work, important work. Shilloh walked back out, ignored the frantic miming of the receptionist acolytes and chose another door.

Nervous people in chairs, other doors. Well, this was more like it. Shilloh closed the door at his back and strode in, Pakita's hooves clicking at his heels.

A babbling acolyte approached, her palms raised in a pacifying gesture.

Shilloh pointed to his ears.

She put her hands on his shoulders and tried to steer him back.

Pakita enthusiastically extricated her from his path.

Shilloh kept on moving, pushing through another door without waiting on Pakita; she would catch up on her own pace. And she did, as other clerics tried to herd him out or otherwise manipulate him bodily, all of them reacting to his perfectly simple mime— earrings— with almost stubborn cluelessness.

He was however many doors inside and thoroughly lost when another acolyte stood in his way, blinking in vague surprise. He looked familiar— the guy who'd tried to squint into his ear, Shilloh recalled— and it was with little expectations that Shilloh once again pointed to his own ears.

The acolyte looked confused.

The acolyte looked understanding.

The acolyte looked furious.

He stepped back and offered the way to Pakita and Shilloh, then matched his pace as they went past; he brushed aside colleagues, sometimes spitting a quick assortment of words before hurrying on without waiting for reactions.

Shilloh didn't stop to watch either. There was no need— agitation now spread before them like a wave, acolytes and novitiates scurrying in and out of side doors to confer with each other and shout nervous questions at his companion.

One group had gathered nervously before a specific door, and when his guide stood pointedly before them, they all but accosted him with beseeching tones and wringing hands. His companion withstood their onslaught with an air of mild contempt.

It was a paladin's duty to be a rude bitch when it was required of one. Shilloh scritched Pakita's head three times as permission to charge the door, and was soon stepping carefully over the crumpled debris of said door.

A nonagenarian lady blinked awake on her cot.


Shilloh waved awkwardly. Maybe he'd just been slightly too much of a rude bitch.

"Kid?" she asked— and it was the strangest thing, really, because she wasn't speaking Hallish, but without a shred of doubt she was speaking Hallish, with even a bit of his own Alderhallish lilt.

"A-adult, actually," Shilloh babbled, meek despite himself. "I'm eighteen."

"Well, what did you go and crush my door for, then, big man?" she asked, rubbing an eye with knobbly fingers.

Shilloh took a deep breath, threw his chest out.

"I'm here for the earrings," he said.

She studied him, then Pakita— lying calmly on the floor waiting for the situation to develop— then the shocked, nervous group outside.

Then she threw her head back and laughed.

"Hah!", said the Prelate, pushing back her covers, "that'll do that and no mistake, for sure!"

She set her feet on the floor, and a couple of the door novitiates raised their hands in concern— but she waved her veiny hand in dismissal, even as her skin gave off a soft glow.

Shilloh was well acquainted with that light. His lower back tingled with the memory of it.

The old Prelate waddled towards a chest at the foot of her bed, healing herself at every step with near unthinking ease; the lid floated open with a gesture, and she crouched down with a small grunt to fish something from the top.

Her knobbly fingers came back with a fistful of gleaming earrings.

The door crowd exploded in noise— some in protest, others with anger or even laughter. The Prelate paid them no heed; she scattered the golden hoops over her sheet, beckoned for Shilloh to approach, then pushed him down on her bed.

Shilloh watched the gawking clerics as the Prelate brushed searching fingertips on the cartilage of his ears. The group had increased in numbers, and an argument was clearly taking place between the nervous hand-wringers and the unamused newcomers.

The Prelate pierced one of his ears. He knew exactly which group was on his side even before she fastened the hoop around his lobe.

"It's never easy, being a commodity," the Prelate lamented, as the cold of metal faded into the settling warm of divine magic; the earring was active. "Being a symbol. Every now and again a gentleman of means and breeding will do something particularly repulsive, then a pox will fall on the upper city, and suddenly we'll be getting spare heirs and donations and a pretense at respect."

She waddled around to Shilloh's other ear as she spoke, needle at the ready; the argument at the door had ceased at some point, replaced by breathless attention. "Your case is special, but everything around it? Same old garbage. I should know— I was the one under that gentleman I mentioned. And those spares had so much to teach me about proper deportment. Dipshits, all and one."

The Prelate pierced his other ear. At the door, the acolytes watched her with subdued faces.

"I did think of leaving on pilgrimage, at first. Leaving the dipshits behind, telling noblemen off, punching a king in the face…" she sighed, fastening the other earring. "But there was nothing I could do. I was only thirteen."

She patted his shoulder with her heavy, aged hand.

"There we go."

"Thank you," Shilloh said, and meant it.

"Thank you too," she said, with a couple more pats. "It's been years and we're still getting donations because of you."

"And dipshits, I presume," he quipped as he rose to his feet. The syrupy feel of magic on his earlobes was already subsiding as the relic settled.

Even as he gauged the new weight on his ears, his very own dipshit came stumbling past the crowded door, eyes wide.

"Prelate!" he cried, and for the first time in their short acquaintance Shilloh saw genuine, heartfelt concern in his face as he saw her standing. "You shouldn't be on your feet—"

The Prelate laid him flat with a single punch.

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