The Book of Father Dominic
self-portrait asThe City
a broken boyWithin
The Book of Father Dominic
a broken boy
The Book of Father Dominic
self-portrait as The City
a broken boyWithin
a broken boy
The Book of Father Dominic
by Peter Alterman
The Book of Father Dominic
by Peter Alterman
Brother Crispin knocked on the doorpost of Father Dominic's cell and waited to be acknowledged. In his hand was a thick package wrapped in a scrap of freshly-made leather still stinking of the tannery. The old man sat hunched over his desk with his back to the young monk, intent on the books before him. Three separate volumes lay open on his desk. Three more were stacked to one side. A half-rolled scroll covered in inky scribbles sprawled across his cot.
Deep in the problem of deciphering a line of symbols that his gnarled finger followed over and over, the sound of Brother Crispin's voice took some time to penetrate Father Dominic's awareness. Irritated, he twisted around on his stool and glared at the irritant. When he saw the leather package his frown turned to a smile.
"Brother Crispin," he said, waving the young monk in. "What have you got there?"
Brother Crispin hurried forward and handed the package to the old priest. "I found it in a silver box buried under a stone in the turnip field, Father. I know the rule against touching book pages but I just opened it to the main page to see. And yes," he said, "It has the god-signifier symbols you taught us: BY. A very large book, Father, one you can hardly hold in one hand."
"Yes, I see," said Father Dominic, frowning and taking the package. "And all the more fragile because of it." Never before had he seen a book so large.
He placed the leather package on his desk and slipped fine cotton gloves over his gnarled knuckles, then gently undid the rawhide string and peeled the leather away from the book. He forgot to breathe as the package opened to reveal a pristine black pebbled leather cover, a marvel of tanning.
But now, thanks to the luck of the young monk, here was a new book by one of the old gods, left behind for men and women when they departed.
The revelation of a new god through Its book was always a vexed gift for Father Dominic. He grumbled under his breath as his mind fixed on his frustrations. He'd have very little time to study it, though each new book added another piece to the puzzle of what the symbols in the god books meant. And because of its size this one was plainly too long to copy out in the unreadable symbols of the gods.
The scrolls on his desk were duplicates of other god books, those he was allowed to touch and study. The originals were sealed in earthenware jars that resided in separate cubes in the walls of the sanctuary, removed only on the anniversaries of their discoveries. But the jars were never opened. The god books never again saw the light of day.
Brother Crispin would undergo the usual vision quest that revealed the name and attributes of the rediscovered god. The Cardinal would come all the way from her throne to sanctify it. Then young Crispin would be elevated to Priest, bound to the god and to the Temple of a Thousand Gods for life.
So the only time Father Dominic had to work on Brother Crispin's book was the time it took a messenger to travel to the Cardinal's seat and for a retinue to return. After all, it wasn't as though a vision quest could read a book. Whereas he could almost read the god symbols. More and more his dreams danced with the symbols arranging themselves into words.
Early on in his time as Master of Books he'd figured out that the symbols stood for sounds. There were only so many of them. He believed that if he could just sound them, speak the god words into the waiting air, he could summon the gods back to the world. But neither the Cardinal nor this eager monk would spare him the time he needed to see if the new book could help him make that one last leap.
Brother Crispin hovered over Father Dominic's shoulder watching the old man's index finger frozen on the first page of the book. "What does it say, Father?"
Jolted out of his reverie, Father Dominic skimmed over the line of what he thought of as big symbols. These he would puzzle over later. The second, smaller line beneath it contained the god symbols BY. "Yes," he said, "Those are the symbols that precede god names all right."
"Look here, son," Father Dominic said. "Same big symbol twice."
"Yes, I see." Brother Crispin's voice was tentative. He peered closer over Father Dominic's shoulder. Brother Crispin's face lit up. "Oh. Oh, I see. Yes, Father. Same big symbol twice. I'm sure my vision quest will reveal its name."
Maybe vision quests did reveal the names and attributes of rediscovered gods. When Father Dominic was young he'd believed it. He'd gone on his own vision quest once and he'd believed what was revealed to him. But over time he'd turned away from believing in vision quests to believing in the words of the gods as written in their books. These days he hardly paid any attention to the god his younger self rediscovered and that his younger self's vision quest named, not even on the god's Finding Day.
Once again, Father Dominic found he'd slipped into reverie only to be jolted out by the impatience—or worse, concern—of Brother Crispin. He turned to face the young monk.
"Well, Brother," he said. "You can tell Prior Elegeus to send word to the Cardinal that you have found a new god book. And prepare for your vision quest." Father Dominic sighed. A week at most. That's all he would have to work on this new book.
"Thank you, Father. Thank you!" Father Dominic rummaged around his desk for a fresh scroll to start copying this new book as Brother Crispin rushed out of the cell to tell Prior Elegeus the good news.
* * *
The temple sanctuary was a huge square cube of a room. The floor was oak, dark with age and generations of waxing. The ceiling was crisscrossed with thick oak beams, the outer coffers painted with designs of the starry companions. The inner coffers bore the faces of the temple's founding monks. An iron chain hung from the center of each face supporting a candleholder. The room's corners remained in shadow. The two side walls, from floor to ceiling, were covered in cubbies filled with earthenware jars of various sizes that held the original god books rediscovered by generations of monks. The front wall housed tall double doors. A gaping stone fireplace took up most of the back wall. It was never lit since fire was the enemy of god books and because the fireplace was the route whereby prayers to the Thousand Gods, rediscovered and undiscovered, rose to the heavens and where visions from the gods descended to the monks and nuns, priests and priestesses who worshipped in the vast sanctuary.
It was also the place where the finders of god books, monks and nuns, went on their vision quests. So while Brother Crispin underwent his vision quest locked in the sanctuary, worship was held outside the monastery proper. The monks and nuns, priests and priestesses all crowded into the much smaller Lady Chapel that lay on the other side of the village.
After the monks trudged back to the Temple from first prayers, Prior Elegeus and Father Dominic unlocked the sanctuary doors to look in and confirm that Brother Crispin was still traveling along his vision quest. He was. He lay spread-eagled on his back on the finely-woven rug in front of the fireplace, eyes closed, breath slow and regular, either unaware of the two elders or heedless of their presence.
They nodded to each other and withdrew. Prior Elegeus resealed the doors behind them. Once out in the vestibule they separated and went their own ways.
As he hobbled back to his cell, Father Dominic remembered when they'd been young together. He'd known Elegeus almost all his life. Each performed his duties to the god he served. In addition the Prior's life became management of monks, nuns, priests, peasants, animals, crops, land, and to an extent the surrounding village of Wick. Father Dominic's life had become an ongoing struggle with the enigma of the god books. All things considered, Father Dominic preferred his fate. It fit him.
Back in his cell the old priest turned to the copy he'd been able to make of the first full page of Brother Crispin's book. Sounds. The symbols were sounds. The thought ran through his head. He worked on the symbols in the new book, making a list of them, counting them, noting which were printed beside which others, counting groups, comparing them to the symbols in the copies of other pages he kept on his desk along with the complete copy of his own god book, the Book of Lulu-bene.
Although "complete copy" was a misnomer. Father Dominic recovered the Book of Lulu-bene in fragments of what Father Washi, the old Master of Books, eventually decided were three separate copies. None of the pages were complete. All had been water damaged, many little more than scraps of sludge. The most rigorous reconstruction had been necessary to recover the pages, laid out and dried onto the finest linen the monks could manufacture.
The reconstruction was helped by the fact that the book, unlike any other previously found, included drawings that could be strung together to form a pattern of sorts. A picture of the god with a boat-shaped body and a chimney-shaped hat appeared regularly. Wavy lines suggesting water appeared on every recovered page.
After two years of painstaking work, Father Washi finally agreed that a true copy of the Book of Lulu-bene had been recovered. The book was sealed in its jar and Father Dominic was directed to undertake his vision quest. So many years ago.
That night Father Dominic slept at his desk, cheek on a newly-copied page. As he dreamed, years of study and analysis came together and the symbols finally whispered to him the shapes of their sounds and the sounds arrayed themselves into words.
He woke as it was all flying away but he was able to snatch a trailing veil of god words and screamed them out: "Stöppuð Plump Buck Mulligan! Stöppuð Plump Buck Mulligan!" Then the rest were pulled back from forgetfulness and he had them all.
After a lifetime of study, Father Dominic's mind seized the sounds of the god symbols, spoke aloud the first words of the new god book, still not knowing what they meant. But hearing the words of this god in the clear thin air thrilled him beyond reason.
He struggled to his feet and danced around his cell crying "Stöppuð Plump Buck Mulligan, Stöppuð Plump Buck Mulligan!" Anyone watching him would have thought he'd gone mad. And in a way he had. His heart was racing, the veins in his neck throbbing.
Intense emotion was not in Father Dominic's nature. He recovered himself quickly and hurried back to his desk. After consulting his notes, head and hand moving back and forth between scroll and copied page, he slowly sounded out the first full line of words spoken into the book by Brother Crispin's god. Father Dominic's voice following his finger as it slid from word to word along his vellum copy: "kom oor stiginu, ber skal af lather sem spegill og raki leggja yfir." The words were like honey on his tongue and balm to his soul. He could feel the presence of the unknown god in his cell.
And then something even more miraculous happened. He recognized the sound of a word. A word he could read. "Plump." He knew that word, knew what it meant. He could read a word in god symbols. His excitement turned to fear. This was heresy.
But fear was overtaken by curiosity. There were other words he thought he might recognize from their sounds, as though spoken in accents by people from far North. Perhaps if he twisted them around in his mouth—but he pulled back. One word was enough for now. There would be time for the rest. Time for these words to crack open all the jars of all the god books in the sanctuary. There was no telling what knowledge awaited him.
A knock on the door of his cell. A voice cried out, "Are you well, Father?"
He opened the door and smiled at the anxious face of Father Hurvi. "Just a dream, Father. Just a dream. All is well, very well."
The bell for second prayers sounded, so Father Dominic and Father Hurvi walked together to meet the rest of the community and march through the monastery's cabbage field to the Lady Chapel. All the while he followed the service, Father Dominic's mind sparkled with new knowledge and plans for future research. The unfamiliar feeling of blood pounding in the veins of his throat and head distracted him.
* * *
Two days later Father Dominic's excitement had ebbed. Mouthing out the sounds of the words had not summoned the god. Alone among his brethren, he gave no thought to Brother Crispin's impending revelations. While the rest of the community prayed for Brother Crispin's vision quest, Father Dominic spent his time studying Brother Crispin's god book. He came out only for the mandatory daily prayers and to attend to his body's needs, few as they had become.
After Vespers the fourth day after Brother Crispin had begun his vision quest Father Dominic returned to his cell and stood in the middle of the room staring at his cluttered desk. For once he was reluctant to take up his studies. A servant had lit tallow candles. Flickering light illuminated the books and scrolls scattered on desk, bed, floor. He rubbed his face and his burning eyes with his palms.
A boy raced up and tugged on his surplice. "Father, Prior Elegeus says a messenger has arrived from the Cardinal and to please join them in the library with the newly-discovered god book."
Only four days. Father Dominic sighed and nodded. His time for studying the new book had run out. He took it from his desk and shoved it into a leather bag. He slung the bag over his shoulder and hobbled on painful feet to meet the Prior and the Cardinal's messenger.
Father Dominic knocked on the library doors and entered. The room was a smaller version of the temple sanctuary, a cube slightly larger than human scale with shelves lining the side walls rather than lattices. Codices and scrolls filled many of the shelves, though there was room for generations more scholarly writings. Two heavily leaded windows flanked a lit stone fireplace on the rear wall, a luxury. Pale winter light filtered into the room and illuminated the purples and blues of the rugs that covered the oak floor.
Prior Elegeus and the messenger sat at a low table on which a pitcher of ale stood. Each had a mug in his hand. They leaned towards each other, conversing quietly.
The messenger was an important cleric. His scarlet surplice was embroidered at hem and neck with rich blue and white thread. A stylized gilt god book hung on a heavy chain around his neck, sign of his office.
He was no simple messenger. He was Father Fedor, the Inquisitor. Father Dominic's sworn enemy. And his twin. Identical in appearance, opposite in nature.
They turned when Father Dominic entered the room. "Gli dei siano con te, Father Dominic," the Inquisitor said in ancient church talk.
"Et cum tuoi dei, Father Fedor," Father Dominic replied, making the square sign of The Book in the air.
"Father Dominic," the Prior said, "Come sit and take refreshment."
Father Dominic sat and poured himself a mug of ale. "When shall we expect the Cardinal's arrival?" he said.
"Alas, she is unavailable. Her sixth child, I believe. I was nearby on business and intercepted your messenger before sending him onward—" he nodded at Prior Elegeus, "—so I am able to represent her." The Inquisitor's mouth smiled. His eyes did not. "It's been many a year since we last met, Father," he said. "We've missed you."
The Inquisitor's role was to sniff out heresy among the clergy. Father Fedor had investigated Father Dominic three times in the past because the Church leaders were convinced that literacy was the breeding ground of heresy. Monks, nuns, priests, and priestesses were all literate, none more than the Master of Books. Thus all were by definition suspected of harboring heresies.
Father Dominic showed his teeth in a smile that was also no smile. "The gods have been generous to me, Father Fedor, but these days I struggle to walk even the halls here in the Temple," he said.
The Inquisitor shook his head sadly. "As I see, Father. It comes to us all if the gods grant us the years." He held out his hand. "But now let us see this new god book the young monk discovered. I know you covet it for your studies."
And think them a waste of time, don't you? With barely a hint of hesitation Father Dominic pulled the book from his bag and handed it over. "Who wouldn't? Reclaiming a god is a cause for celebration," Father Dominic said.
The Prior's face relaxed. The Inquisitor took the book and turned it over in his hand. "Nice cover," he said. "Binding intact, leather supple. And large. Look how large. Father Dominic, surely this is a book that embodies a powerful god." He turned to the Prior. "The monk is on his vision quest, yes?"
"These four days," Prior Elegeus said.
The Inquisitor said, "I'm anxious to learn more about the god he rediscovered." He opened the book randomly, though with great care, and stared blankly at the symbols printed on the open pages. "Such small symbols," he said. He looked at Father Dominic. "And you believe you can read these?"
Father Dominic shook his head. The obvious trap. "Only the finder's vision quest reveals the god's words. But perhaps we can learn what the gods' words sound like. To aid the vision quest." Lying to the Inquisitor was dangerous business.
The Inquisitor said, "Be careful you don't go too far, Dominic. Man's tongue is unfit to speak god words."
Father Dominic bowed his head. "Of course, Father. Still, the gods left their books for us when they Departed so we could know them better." Obedience was mandatory, yes, but authority with a little intellectual curiosity would be welcome. His twin was not a stupid man.
The Inquisitor frowned at Father Dominic. "Naturally, you believe such things to justify having wasted your life poring over book after book until your eyesight dimmed." Boy and man, Fedor had never seen the point of sitting alone with a book.
The Prior headed off further trouble. "The young monk should be ready for his examination in the morning," he said. "Brother Crispin has a powerful appetite. And a strong faith."
"Yes, of course," the Inquisitor said, turning his attention to the Prior. He closed the book carefully and placed it on his lap. Father Dominic watched the Inquisitor take charge of the book with regret. In all likelihood its covers would never again be opened.
"The young do have such gusto for their meals, don't they?" the Inquisitor said.
"Speaking of which," the Prior said, "may I call for food?"
That was Father Dominic's cue to escape. He pushed himself to his feet and bowed first to the Prior, then to his brother. "Shall I inform the refectory that you wish to eat here in the library?" he said.
The Prior nodded agreement. Father Dominic left the library, closing the doors behind him silently.
* * *
The next day there was great excitement among the community, for Brother Crispin's vision quest was about to be over and he would reveal the name and nature of the new god. Then the Prior would ordain Brother Crispin as Priest of the new god and the book would be interred in its cubby on a wall of the sanctuary. After the ritual came the feast. Two goats were already roasting on spits out behind the kitchen. Organ meat stews bubbled in kitchen cauldrons.
The morning light was feeble, the air colder. The nuns hadn't yet lit fires in the Lady Chapel. Perhaps for that reason or perhaps because the Prior and the Prioress were themselves anxious to discover the name and attributes of the new god, morning prayers took much less time to complete than normal.
With the hurried service over, the Prior, the Inquisitor, and Father Dominic, Master of Books, departed to retrieve Brother Crispin from the sanctuary. The Prioress led the community back to the temple's refectory to await them. As impatient as Father Dominic was to get back to his desk and his studies, as painful as it was for him to walk, he knew his place and his duties. Father Dominic walked behind, holding the earthenware jar with the new god book sealed inside. Over one arm he carried a newly woven priest's surplice, its black cloth still shiny from the loom's polish.
The Prior opened the sanctuary doors and the three senior priests entered. Brother Crispin lay on his back, his eyes gleaming with the last of his vision. When he saw the Inquisitor he was confused for a moment, thinking he was seeing Father Dominic. But the Inquisitor's scarlet surplice and supple movement showed him it was another with the same face and he remembered that Father Dominic had an identical twin. Crispin was reassured by the smile on the Prior's face. The Inquisitor and the Prior crossed the room and lifted the haggard Crispin to his feet.
The Inquisitor began the ritual. "Brother, has the god visited you?"
"Brother, has the god told you Its name?"
"Yes, Father." A broad grin spread across Brother Crispin's face. "The god's name is Mogu Mekka."
There was more, much more, but Father Dominic heard none of it. The new god couldn't have names that began with the 'M' symbol. In the book the god's two names began with the symbol 'J.' And the very first god word he'd deciphered, "plump," had the symbol 'M' in the middle, and the sound of 'M' was the sound of humming. Which was the name of the new god according to Crispin's vision quest. But the symbol on the first page was 'J' not 'M,' so the god's names could not begin with the sound of humming.
Crispin's vision quest must be false.
Still, Crispin was a pious man. Father Dominic was sure his vision quest was authentic. Still—could his reading be wrong? Could he have mistranslated or misunderstood the sound of the symbols for "plump"? It seemed the only answer. Father Dominic didn't think he'd gotten any of it wrong, though. The confidence he had in his ability to read the god books was the greatest source of his fear. It rocked the foundation of his faith. While his lifelong enemy, Father Fedor the Inquisitor, stood in the same room.
Father Dominic didn't notice that the ritual was over and Crispin was being ordained Priest of Mogu Mekka by the Inquisitor in the name of the Lady Cardinal. Prior Elegeus had to jam a shoulder into Father Dominic's side to get him to come forward and put the priest's black surplice over Crispin's brown robe.
"Well done, Father Crispin," said Prior Elegeus. Turning, he led the Inquisitor and Father Crispin to the refectory.
While the men and women of the Temple of a Thousand Gods feasted, Father Dominic instead made his way back to his cell, his heart in as much turmoil as his mind. He lit an extra taper at his desk for light and feverishly reviewed the symbols he'd copied from the first page of, of, he couldn't think of it as the Book of Mogu Mekka.
He pored over his copy of the few pages of Crispin's god book he'd been able to copy out, mouthing words softly, rolling sounds around, lengthening and shortening them, pushing vowel sounds forward and back in his mouth, pressing and releasing consonants against his tongue, his teeth, his palate, looking for word sounds that he could recognize from the language all around him. 'M' was right in the middle of "Plump." It was also in "kom" and "sem," other words from the first line of the book.
Not only did he miss the feast, he was absent from afternoon prayers as well. And during those hours he became convinced of the following, just from the first line of the new book: "Plump" was "plump"; "lather" was "lather"; "kom" was "come"; "ber" was likely "bear," maybe "beer," maybe "bar"; in any case a 'buh' sound and a final 'errr' sound.
He suspected more word meanings but he was still unsure of those since he'd had to twist sounds around a great deal to find fits in dialects he knew. He would only commit to those four, but what illumination was in just those four.
Father Dominic stared at the list of things he was sure of and tears came to his eyes. No matter what Crispin's vision quest revealed, the name of the god of the new book couldn't be Mogu Mekka because the symbol for the humming sound that started both words of the so-called revealed god name was 'M' and the name symbols were not 'M.'
Crispin's vision quest couldn't be true. And if that vision quest couldn't be true, how could any of the vision quests of any of the priests be true, even his own, from the very founding of the Temple? The answer was, they couldn't. Every rediscovered god in every book in every jar in every cubby in the sanctuary of the Temple of the Thousand Gods was still unknown.
So his faith, his whole life, everything he'd believed since he could remember was lost. Doubt and confusion blanketed him. Racing past heresy, he had fallen into apostasy. And Fedor was there to seize him.
His heart pounded hard against his sternum. He panted. He grew dizzy. Spots appeared before his eyes, blue and white, turning to a fog of gray. Loud buzzing in his ears that shivered his skull from the inside. Father Dominic collapsed on the floor of his cell, vomit in his white beard.
* * *
After Father Dominic missed dinner prayers the Prior sent a novice to look for him. The boy found the old priest on the floor of his cell, eyes shut, breath shallow. The boy raced away for Brother Urizen the nurse on clacking clogs a size too big for him.
When Brother Urizen arrived the boy helped him move Father Dominic to his cot. They cleaned Father Dominic's face and covered his forehead and eyes with a cool towel.
"He had a seizure," Brother Urizen said as the Prior entered.
Father Dominic regained consciousness but lay still, barely aware of his surroundings, confused and exhausted. The left side of his face sagged. His left side felt numb. More than numb. Absent.
Father Fedor stood in the doorway. "Too much of that," he said, pointing at the mess of books and notes on the desk. "You should burn the lot of them."
"We'll take that under advisement, Father Inquisitor," the Prior said. To Brother Urizen he said, "Leave him to rest. Pray to the temple gods to heal his wounded body. Perhaps say a special prayer to Lulu-bene for him."
"The boy can sit with him," Brother Urizen said.
"No need," Father Fedor said, "I will sit with him."
"Of course," Prior Elegeus said. He and Brother Urizen backed out of the cell.
The Inquisitor sat at Father Dominic's desk. He began to go through the papers, paying special attention to the pages copied out of Father Crispin's book and to Father Dominic's notes. His fingers traced lines of symbols. From time to time small sounds of surprise escaped him. Soon he was poring through book after book, flipping pages with no regard for their brittle paper, muttering under his breath. Finally, he sat back and stretched.
"Well, you've done it, brother," Father Fedor said. "And look what it's brought you. You followed this pathway to the edge of chaos and jumped right in."
"I followed the path the gods laid before me. It led me to truth," Father Dominic said. There was something wrong with his mouth. It was as if half his mouth wouldn't move, wouldn't make sounds the way he wanted. But he continued speaking. "You followed your path to the Church."
Surprised at his twin's voice, Fedor said, "Dear brother. Half your body seems to have died. Proof of the errors your studies have led you into. I believe in the Faith and what the Faith teaches."
"And if the teachings are wrong?"
"You're no fool. You know it's more complicated than that. All people love stories. All people even dream stories in their sleep. People understand the Faith through stories. You could say that people live for stories."
"So make-believe is more valuable than truth," Father Dominic said.
The Inquisitor laughed. "Truth? What is truth? Until yesterday, even this morning all this," he gestured to encompass the Temple with its monastery, the nearby Lady Chapel, the Faith, all the known and unknown gods. "All this was true. And still is. For everyone but you."
Father Fedor shook his head. "No. Truth is conditional. Faith is permanent."
He lit two of the tapers that stood on Father Dominic's desk, then began tearing pages of paper out of the books on the desk, creating a pile of kindling. He arranged other books and note scrolls so they would catch fire.
"I am sorry, brother, that it has come to this. But you knew all along where it would lead," the Inquisitor said. He stood and reached across the desk for one of the candles that lit the cell. He touched the kindling and the ancient paper burst into flames. In an instant, everything on Father Dominic's desk caught fire.
Reflexively, Father Dominic lurched from his cot towards the fire. Useless, his half-paralyzed body flopped forward, knocking him into his twin. Fedor fell sideways to the floor, taking Father Dominic with him. Burning paper fell all around them. Burning books and scrolls were flung everywhere.
Fedor landed on top of Dominic. They banged hard against a leg of the desk, which collapsed. An edge of the desk fell on the back of Father Fedor's skull, smashing it. Sounding like an ax swung into a tree trunk. The Inquisitor's eyes opened wide. The muscles of his face went slack. Death stilled him.
Father Dominic rolled over and cradled his twin's head with his good arm. A trickle of blood seeped from Father Fedor's nostrils onto Father Dominic's hand.
"Fedor. No. Oh, no." Father Dominic whispered to the corpse with his own face.
He became aware of the flames licking the walls, the desk, the door. But the books. The scrolls. His notes.
Gently, Father Dominic laid his brother's head on the floor. He crawled across the cell grabbing books and scrolls that hadn't been completely consumed, beating flames out with his good hand, jamming whatever he could rescue into his leather bag. He inched across the floor to the doorway to his cell and used the jamb to help him climb to his feet. Without his left side to balance him it took too long. Flames licked at his robes.
By the time he was upright the whole cell was a mass of smoke and flame. Not knowing where he was going, driven by confusion and horror, using his right arm and right leg only, leaning against the walls, he staggered out into the hall coughing, his eyes streaming, and struggled to the door at the end of the corridor that led out to the farm yard. He grabbed a staff that was leaning against the door and used it to stand and walk: step, drag, step, drag, leaning forward with his good side, using the staff for balance.
He made his way to the far end of the cabbage field and stopped to rest, leaning against the stone fence. Behind him dense smoke and flames shot up from the broad thatch roof of the monastery and temple. As Father Dominic watched, transfixed by the sight, the temple bell began to clang desperately.
He turned his back on it all, an old man with singed hands and the face of his dead brother, struggling through the village, half his body dead, his bag of books dragging behind in the dirt, not knowing where he was going, or why. Not seeing the village or the people racing towards the burning buildings. Seeing only the unseeing eyes of his dead twin.
He got as far as the confluence of the river and a mountain brook a few miles above the village before he collapsed. Father Dominic lay on his back on the frost-crisp grass and watched the tower of black smoke rising in the distance.
Fed by winter snowpack the brook burbled over its rocky bed through fields dotted with sheep. It tumbled into the River Wick, joining the broader, slower waters that ran past the burning Temple, past the village, south to the sea and the Departed gods.
Nearby, a little boy and his older sister played in the brook with a toy boat. The boy leaned over and placed the boat in the chuckling water. When he let go the current took the boat and launched it racing downstream towards his sister, who snatched it up and returned it to him. They did this over and over, him releasing the boat, she catching it and racing back to him with the toy boat dripping icy water on her bare legs.
And then, in a moment of overexcitement, the boy released the boat before his sister returned to her spot to retrieve it. Unimpeded, the boat careened downstream towards the confluence with the river. The little boy cried out in dismay. His sister turned to run after it but stopped, seeing the little boat already too far away to catch.
It tumbled along on the current. Just as the boat was about to enter the river Father Dominic pushed himself into the water, reached out and snatched up the toy boat. He crawled out of the water with it. The girl ran up and took the toy from his outstretched hand.
Father Dominic lay on the icy ground, soaked. He looked at his empty hand as if the toy boat still rested in his palm. He looked up at the bright blue sky. He knew. Finally. After a lifetime of labor.
The Book of Lulu-bene was a child's story book about a toy boat. His god was an imaginary toy boat.
As it had done earlier, Father Dominic's brain seized. He crumpled to the ground by the side of the river and died, one hand in the water.
* * *
The monks recovered Father Dominic's body and took it reverently to the Lady Chapel's sanctuary. It was lowered carefully into a plain pine coffin and placed before an altar to the Thousand Gods beside the body of Father Fedor the Inquisitor, the only fatalities of the fire. The jar containing the Temple's true copy of the Book of Lulu-bene was placed on Father Dominic's coffin and special prayers were said to the god on his behalf by Prior Elegeus, who had tears in his eyes.
Heedless of the prayers a little boy and his sister played in a brook with the toy boat their father had whittled for them during idle winter nights.