With Fierce Tears I Pray
Priest uncovers dirty secret and is faced with moral dilemma
"Elil? Elil, if we're late, we'll be on courtyard duty for another week!"
Idhrelin rounded the corner. Perhaps his younger colleague was still in the priests' living quarters even though third bell and thus assembling time had already passed. He was about call again when he stopped short and pressed himself to the wall.
The corridor was lit only by the faintest mineral veins trailing through the stone but Idhrelin still recognized the two figures wrapped around each other in front of Elil's door. One was slim and in all black, the other one tall and stout with red-trimmed robes, his black hair tied with a red ribbon. Their noises didn't leave any doubt as to what they were doing.
Suddenly the smaller figure pushed. "No, please, I don't…"
Idhrelin, who'd been about to retreat, stopped in his tracks.
"With all due respect, High Priest, I can't…"
"Oh, don't be such a cold fish! Don't you want to get promoted?" whispered the other--the High Priest--, cornering the smaller one.
They grappled but Idhrelin could see that Elil was losing against his bigger and stronger opponent. Impulsively, he stepped out into the corridor. "There you are!" he exclaimed, bodily pulling Elil out from under the high priest. "I was looking all over for you! We're late for practice, and we're going over the hunting festival dance today. Since it's your first time, you'd do well to attend every practice from start to finish."
Elil didn't look at him. He smoothed his disheveled robes, mumbled an apology and scurried away to the practice hall.
High Priest Salvarris casually buried his hands in his long sleeves as if he hadn't just sexually assaulted a junior priest. "I shall expect you in my office after practice, Idhrelin."
"Yes, High Priest," Idhrelin said. There was nothing else he could say.
The high priest's office was the only private room in the Deep God's temple that featured a fireplace. When Idhrelin entered, the crackling fire had already warmed the air. As the high priest didn't invite him to sit, Idhrelin stood in front of the black metal desk.
"How much did you see?"
Idhrelin had spent the entire dance practice on autopilot, thinking furiously. He took pride in his dancing skills, his aptitude for the bells. He'd never gotten along well with Salvarris but over the years, he'd still risen from apprentice to one of the best dancers in the temple, one of the trusted few soloists. The Deep God had been generous in His gifts--up until now.
In the end, it boiled down to one question: What could he say without risking everything he'd worked so hard for?
"I'm not sure," Idhrelin hedged, trying to gauge his opponent's reaction but the high priest's features betrayed nothing. He'd always been a swordfish, cold and cutting.
"Well, I advise you not to worry your pretty little head about it," he said in a tone that sent shivers over Idhrelin's spine. "You have been doing well as Elil's mentor. I have been observing his progress over the last month or so. Impressive. You wouldn't want to sabotage a young talent like him, would you?"
Idhrelin bit his lip. The way Elil had avoided his gaze… he prayed to the Deep that the incident hadn't broken him already. "Of course not, High Priest."
"We must take care that he is not… distracted from his duties. I am only giving him additional incentive to do well."
Bile rose in Idhrelin's throat. He forced it back. Save yourself before you save others, a tiny voice whispered in the back of his head. Survive. The words tasted like ash but he spoke them anyway. "Yes, High Priest. I understand."
Salvarris nodded. "I can see that. You were always a clever one, despite your upbringing. Go now, and tell Instructor Venn that you are not to be punished for your tardiness. Both of you."
Idhrelin bowed. His hands were shaking uncontrollably but instead of wiping the smirk from Salvarris' face, he hid them in his sleeves. Survive, he told himself all the way to the refectory. Survive, stay off the street, be prudent, climb to the top. He had to conquer the system before he could change anything. Still, the sour aftertaste remained.
He actually jumped when Elil approached him just inside the refectory doors. "Did you get punished, elder brother?" he whispered, using the respectful address all junior priests owed their seniors.
"No," he admitted, hating himself. "I'm sorry. I can't do anything to stop him."
Elil nodded knowingly. "We're dirty commoners with no family name, no influence. You've achieved so much all by yourself. Please don't sacrifice yourself for me now, elder brother." He shuddered. "I pray to the Deep God that he'll leave me alone once he's had his fill. That's all we can do."
Inside his sleeves, Idhrelin's fingernails dug into his palms, hard, until thick hot liquid welled. "No," he growled. "You've been entrusted to me and as your elder, I will take care of you. He will pay for this, and may the Deep God be my witness."
Elil gasped--vows before the Deep God were serious business. "Please don't, elder brother."
Feeling almost giddy, Idhrelin bared his teeth. "Too late."
“And you, my father, there on the sad height
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
—Dylan Thomas, Do not go gentle into that good night
sexual abuse, blackmail, class discrimination/elitism