The rain had continued in fits and starts over the past few days, but this morning was warmer and clearer. Soft light, diffused by moisture in the air fell in shafts through the Chapel’s walls. As if sensing the change, Athellus Borden woke up early. He spent a few minutes just lying there, his fingers interlaced behind his head, watching soft rippling patterns on the ceiling, cast by the sunlight on the ever-pouring water from the font.

Finally, with a huge yawn, he sat up and gingerly swung his legs off the side of the bed. Experimentally, he stretched, bending his spine back. His ribs ached, but the burning pain had gone. He straightened up, then bent over and tucked his fingertips under his toes.

He felt clear-headed and fit.

He looked across to the other side of the aisle, where Kaire’s new friend, Dax, was still snoring peacefully. Athellus decided to leave him be. Instead he walked over to the altar, where there was more space, and ran through a series of stretches to loosen up. Then he went through a quick bare-handed combat drill. That sent some pain down his arms and flanks, but he pushed ahead with it, ignoring it. These exercises had been a part of his morning routine for most of his adult life.

As he finished the last set, the aches in his body woke the memory of what had happened, sending it swimming back before his vision. Blurs, misremembered like the shadows seen in nightmares. Pain in his ribs, his limbs, across his face. Men he had known, however distantly, men he might have commanded under different circumstances, taking turns to kick him or knock him down. And behind them all, a watching figure, as slender and silent and unforgiving as a goddess of war, her red hair dark as blood.

Athellus heaved in a sigh and let it go, wiping sweat off his forehead before going to wash in the font. He had dreamed about her, more than once, and he always saw her as autumnal and beautiful. In those dreams it was so easy, so easy to imagine that she might have come to understand the decisions he had made, that she had come to accept them. But that had been a stupid idea. Adree was kind, in her way; compassionate and loving, too, but she was also incredibly stubborn, with a warrior’s pride, and she was blinkered by her duty. She would never, ever forgive him.

That makes our mission easier, for me at least. If I’m already damned in her eyes, then I can go ahead with a clear conscience.

I guess.

He sluiced more ice-cold water over his face.

Maybe Kaire had the right idea – act without thinking, never look back. But Athellus didn’t think so. He didn’t have that luxury; and not only because he was human, either. It just wasn’t in his nature.

Well, at least one of us has to think about consequences. Consequences like that poor guy sleeping over there.

Time to have a little talk with Kaire on that particular subject. Pulling on his jacket, Athellus headed to the old iron stairs at the back of the cathedral that spiralled up to the Chapel’s bell tower.

 

 

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