Previously on Seven Stones: Kobb realises most people won’t know the difference between Militant’s and Eminent’s vestments. Kobb and Anessa reach the Sacristy without incident, and acquire replacement robes for Kobb. However, Kobb’s attempt to hide the urgency of their journey is so successful that they are asked to perform the lesson at the dusk service. Unable to think of a way to refuse without raising suspicions, Kobb agrees.
Kobb bowed his head to the Eminent, then turned to Elviga. “If my companion is to assist, she will need formal vestments.”
“See to it, Sacristan. Then escort them to one of the guest cells to change; the Reverend has no time to dawdle.”
Kobb sighed as, chin cleaving the air, the Eminent swept from the room. It was hard to find the Blessing in this. At least today wasn’t holy, so the service would be shorter. Even better, the Eminent hadn’t told him the Lector’s reading; and they only had a short while to robe before dusk, so there wasn’t time to check. Today’s verses could be ones that fitted Kobb’s purposes. But which? Istrid’s Gamble suited any circumstance—but needed an explanatory sermon to show its relevance. The Parable of Unrecognised Talent was among the shortest—but an itinerant Reverend giving a sermon on the worth of all to a congregation of the rich and noble might draw attention.
Maybe the answer was to avoid the standard lessons altogether. If an Eminent asked a Reverent Militant to give the lesson, then no one could complain if it were stark rather than elegiac or comforting. None could find anything other than the Maker’s Truth in the Laying of Hands; and few would obstruct a warrior who’d just preached we were blessed with two hands and only one head that we might apply ourselves to issues not devote our time to contemplation or debate.
Elviga draped a simple robe across Anessa’s arms. “Follow me, Reverend. We’ll have you vested before you realise it.”
“Deep breath, and then one foot after the other,” Kobb whispered as he strode past Anessa. He set his face in a severe frown in the hope of further discouraging anyone they met.
A few moments later, they rounded the corner to the cells. As Kobb hoped, the curtain of each hung open. The chapter were either at tasks or already in temple.
The Sacristan paused a third of the way down. “These two are unoccupied. Your acolyte will be close.”
Neighbouring cells was better than being corridors apart, but still risked someone addressing Anessa while they were separated; and made it harder for him to explain the duties everyone expected his acolyte to already know. “We would not impose on your hospitality. Having her sleep on stone will be good practice for the road. We shall share.”
“You know her flesh best.” Elviga’s expression remained innocent.
Knowing it only supported her suspicion, but seeing no way to avoid it, Kobb steered Anessa past her. “No doubt our arrival has taken you from duties. I’ll not delay you further. Anessa can vest me.”
“As you wish.” The Sacristan tugged the curtain across the doorway. Her footfalls receded.
Anessa shifted her gaze between him, the vestments, and the stone walls. “How am I…? What…?”
“Your weapons go in the chest at the foot of the cot. The alb… the long tunic goes over your clothes, then wrap the cord around your waist twice and cinch it in front of the left hip. My vestments will be the same then the chasuble and stole over the top.”
“I meant…” Anessa stepped to the chest, then turned back and laid her robe on the cot. “…all of it. I’ve never even been to a service. How can I assist?”
“Faith is the only requirement of service.” Kobb rested his pile next to hers. “Follow behind me, head bowed. When we reach the lectern, stand at my left side. The choir will sing a greeting. When that ends, I’ll rest my fingers on the start the lesson so you see where it is. There’ll be a small silver hand-bell beside to the Book of Blessings. When I ring it, read the rubric… the sentence of red text after the verses I’ve spoken. Then I read, and you read the next rubric. The choir will— What’s wrong?”
Anessa stared at her feet. “Can’t read.” She stumbled backwards. Cheeks flushed, she pressed herself into the corner. “I should have told you, but I wanted to help you and I thought… and now I’ve made it worse…and…”
Kobb cursed himself. Why would a shopkeeper’s daughter need to know more than simple tallies? Lambart had even complained she spent too long off in the woods, not the shop.
He’d already decided to avoid a common lesson; this merely changed which one he picked. “It’s not your fault. The Enlightenment of the Province of Descar has no rubric. I’ll read that.”
“And I just stand next to you in silence?” Anessa looked up. “No one’ll think it’s strange?”
“The Enlightenment lists the mistakes of the people of Descar and the costs they bring in extensive detail. It’s not my favourite section, but it is appropriate for a Militant. Walk in after me. Listen in respectful silence. Follow me out. The only issue is the Enlightenment is longer than I’d hoped. The longer the service lasts, the more risk someone recognises us.”
“So I’ve put us—”
Kobb stepped closer and rested a hand on her shoulder. “You’ve done more good than most already, and done it gladly. If we are recognised, then it is because there is a Blessing in it to be found. Now, haste, we must vest ourselves.”
Faced with a practical issue, Anessa moved purposefully again. After adding his rapier to the chest, Kobb took a moment to appreciate the Blessings that came from difference; he’d spent years considering formal vestments a problem to avoid, yet Anessa found in them a way to avoid her distress.
Swathes of purple cloth grabbing at his arms, Kobb flailed into the chasuble. Being recognised felt more unlikely by the breath. Any spies in the congregation would expect people of stealth and action, not tapestries on legs. A final wriggle settled the vestments in place.
After tugging his stole straight, he pushed the curtain aside and processed along the corridor, reminding himself to step rather than stride. He slowed further and moved to the side as sandals clattered ahead.
Definitely not counting a measured pace in her head, Elviga scuttled into view. “Blessings I’ve caught you, Reverend. The Duke has a meeting with Eminent Valk tonight. He’s in the congregation. I wanted to warn you.”
Questions flooded Kobb’s mind; however, before he could speak them, she flapped back around the corner.
The Duke was present. Elviga’s words sounded as if it were not a common occurrence. But was the Duke here to avoid seeming rude before his meeting, or to impress his subjects? A man wishing to appear powerful might leap at the chance to be publicly seen in conversation with a Militant; and the Eminent would not doubt appreciate the advantage that came from ensuring such a conversation happened.