Previously on Seven Stones: Kobb and the others defeat the thugs’ ambush, but realise it is only a matter of time before the gang attack again in greater force. Haelen reveals his plan for Kobb to impersonate a Reverend sent to bless the animals, then use the Stones to transport the Tan-Sorda away. However, for it to work, Kobb must obtain suitable vestments from his Order without revealing why he needs them.
Kobb emptied his bags on the floor. When he’d set out in search of the source of his dreams, he hadn’t expected to lead a congregation; and those rituals he did perform would be in mountains and woods. None of his clothes disgraced his calling; however, none seemed other than practical and hard-wearing. Pushing them back into the bag, he opened his credens and pulled out his stole. A waft of must rose as he let it unfold; yet, Blessedly, the iron box had protected it from stains. He might not be ready to convince Duke Torvan he was a Reverend Eminent, but he could prove he was a Reverend. “If I hurry, I can reach the temple before dusk service.”
“Might be better if we arrived during.” Haelen nodded his head toward the other room. “Easier to hide in a crowd if we have to.”
Kobb pressed his forehead against the hem of his stole, then placed it inside his jacket. “Getting the vestments without raising suspicions will be hard enough. Calling someone away from devotions would make it worse.”
“Do we need to ask? If everyone’s at the service—”
“I’ll not steal from my Order.”
“But borrowing without explaining’s fine?” Haelen quirked an eyebrow. “Are perfect records that much a virtue?”
Anessa rested a hand on each of their shoulders. “Kobb’s right. But Haelen’s right too; stopping evil’s most important. Won’t the Maker—?”
Kobb raised a finger to his lips as a plank creaked outside.
A moment later, someone tapped on the door. “Honoured guests? You’ve a visitor.”
Sword drawn, Kobb eased the door open. The hostler jumped back, revealing one of the guards from earlier, still clad in a cloak.
“How may I help you, townsman?” Kobb lowered his sword point an inch.
The guard thrust a scroll toward Kobb. “Times and routes. Send your apprentice to the south gate if you need to contact Borig.”
“Our thanks,” said Kobb to the man’s back. After staring at the hostler until he scurried away, Kobb closed the door.
“Send a message?” Haelen snorted. “Him turning up just after we did screams they’ve got us watched. So, best do nothing that don’t look like Semithros’ plan.”
“Going to the temple’s fine, isn’t it?” Anessa picked up Kobb’s Book of Blessings. “Weren’t popular at home, but enough people in towns go to see a Reverend it ain’t odd, right?”
In Kobb’s experience, faith became rarer the more civilised a place was. However, that might be an advantage; it meant the watchers probably wouldn’t know the intricacies of liturgy and vestment. “Enough her guards will think we want a bit of extra luck. We don’t need to get an Eminent’s chasuble either; I can requisition a Militant’s vestments.”
“Might work to disguise you so we lose the watchers,” Haelen said. “But the Duke’ll spot the difference straight away.”
Kobb shook his head. “The Duke’s not a hunter. He isn’t going to visit the beast pens. And all the guards will see is what I am: a Reverend performing his duties. They won’t know what my rank is, and they won’t dare keep me waiting while they seek permission.”
“What if Haelen heads off now?” Anessa crouched next to Kobb’s bag. Pausing, she pressed her forehead to the book before tucking it away. “Might lead the watchers off.”
“No. We want them to think we’re staying. If Haelen remains until we’ve left, they’ve less time to realise something’s wrong. Best we don’t wait though. They’ll expect us to do something. Haelen, head down to the taproom; make it seem you’re settled in.”
Haelen sauntered out, every inch a person with nowhere to be.
Anessa frowned. “What about me? They’ll see you’re a Reverend, but why’d the guards let me in?”
“I’ll tell them—” Kobb raised his fingers to his throat. “You’re right. It’s past time anyway.” He unclipped his pendant. “Anessa Tanton. Do you accept the Maker has placed Blessings in his Creation?”
“What…? Err, yes.”
“Do you accept we should seek for these Blessings?”
“I… I do.”
Kobb clipped the pendant around her neck. “Having proved yourself worthy of it, I gift you the Blessing of Unity that your faith might be seen by all persons.” For an instant, the world seemed to still. He stepped back as the next breath came. “Best tuck it away for now.”
Her fingers shook as she lifted the pendant. “This’ll fool the guards?”
“It’ll convince the Sacristan that you’re entitled to lay robes.”
“Oh… and then you can have it back.”
Kobb patted her shoulder. “That’s yours now. You’ve more than earned it.”
“I…” Anessa peered at her boots. “Thank you.” Cheeks red, she rushed out the door.
Kobb followed her from the hostelry. The streets were every bit as packed as he’d feared. Even with the townsfolk’s joy-fuelled willingness to give directions, dusk loomed perilously close by the time they reached the temple.
Kobb paused in the vestibule, hand rising to his throat. “Stay two steps behind me. If anyone talks to you, bow and keep walking; they’ll assume you’re my apprentice and leave you alone.”
Shoulders back, Kobb strode up the nave. After pausing facing the altar for three breaths, he headed along the transept to the chapter house. Second left, then first right, and they reached the Sacristy. Blessings on the strictures of architecture.
A wild-haired, yet impeccably tidy, woman in a white soutane smiled at them. “Blessing on your day. I am Sacristan Obedience Is a Candle Unlit Elviga. How might I assist, Worthy…?”
“Reverend. Reverend Militant Absolution is like the Silence of the Waterfall Kobb. This is Worthy Tanton. We have need of formal vestments.”
“A Militant?” The Sacristan frowned and squeezed her chin. Peering around, she scratched her head. “I’m not sure there are any Militant chasubles in storage. Your calling are so enamoured of pomp I barely have time to clean them before they’re out of my hands again.” She crouched and opened the bottom drawer of a cabinet. Purple cloth bulged up. “You’re in luck. It seems some remain.”
“Your preparation does you credit.” Kobb held his tone flat. “I will be certain to tell any of my calling that you hold more than enough to meet their needs.”
Elviga straightened, arms draped in embroidered cloth. Eyes bulging for a moment, she surrendered to a chuckle. “Indeed. Although, not all would find my humour so to their taste.”
“In all things reside joy.” Kobb tipped his head toward a wide-eyed Anessa. “Perhaps we’d best reclaim decorum though, before my companion loses her respect for our offices.”
The Sacristan laid the vestments across Kobb’s arms. “Truly is it written that the serious youth perceives hidden troubles.”
“Reverend?” A sharp voice came from the doorway. “I was not notified of your arrival.”
Kobb turned. An Eminent in full regalia peered at him, the jut of his chin revealing him a man who’d continued to point out even the smallest of hidden troubles in later life. “I did not wish to bother anyone, Eminent. Events separated me from my vestments. I intended merely to replace them and move on.”
“So, you are not called here for any special cause?” The Eminent’s chin rose. “Nor racing after some evil?”
“We but pass through. Once vested, we shall depart without troubling you further.”
“Nonsense. We will not send you into the night. The hospitality of the chapter-house is yours.”
“Our thanks, Eminent.” Kobb bowed his head. Whatever ended the conversation fastest. By the time the Eminent realised they weren’t in the dormitory, they’d be back at the Stones; and if he did meet the Eminent again in the future, he’d come up with an excuse then.
“A Blessing for us both. Our Lector has an inflammation of the throat. Had you not arrived I would have had to give the readings. Now I can devote my time to more important matters. Your acolyte will assist you… after she’s scrubbed the filth off.”
More important matters? Kobb reminded himself that the Eminent might not mean it the way it sounded. He might merely be careless in language rather than careless of souls. There was no way to avoid the request without raising suspicion, though; and no time to warn Haelen the timing had changed.