by Chip Dunning
Charles was only seven when his uncle dropped him into the care of the Temple of Light. Charles’ parents were killed during a flood that swept their tiny village away. Charles, who had been staying with his cousin in the next village was the only one still alive. So, with no family that wanted him and not old enough to seek his own path — Charles now stood with the other alter boys behind Father Sebastian.
Father Sebastian was a rotund and short man who bathed irregularly and sweated constantly. Even during the winter he was forever mopping the sweat from his brow and complaining about the “stuffy weather.” Each morning the boys would play spikes with the loser being the one forced to walk directly behind Father Sebastian. Like many days it was Charles that now stood directly behind the Father carrying the chalice of wine.
As the choir sang praises to the gods, the procession led by the Father walked down towards the great alter. Once there each of the boys took their assigned place, with Charles directly to the Father’s right. As the sermon continued Charles knew that Father Sebastian was in a fine mood today. He preached of the fiery end to all things and the gracious land of the gods where the faithful would sup on golden nectar. He pounded on the alter with his meaty fist and invoked the names of both Byrne and Taur as the opposing sides of all life.
After the sermon was over the Father and Charles made their way among the worshipers as the rest of the boys cleaned up the alter. Father Sebastian was known to spill quite of bit of the wine when he would sip from the holy chalice. Inwardly Charles snarled as the Father moved slowly between the people as the rest of the alter boys filed out back where they could play in the courtyard. It was a perfect summer day and Charles hated staying inside while his friends were playing.
The Father had made his way nearly to the door when Charles felt a cold hand brush against his cheek. He looked around to seek who had touched him when the realization of what was happening hit him. Everyone was standing completely still and was surrounded by a blue halo. Charles tried to shake Father Sebastian, but when his hand got near a spark of lightning shocked him back.
“Charles…..,” came a voice from the alter, “Charles,” it whispered hauntingly again.
Charles’ fear sat like a steel bar in a stomach as he slowly turned to look at the alter. Hovering several feet above were two ghostly figures that resembled his parents. Carefully picking his way among the now frozen worshipers, at last Charles stood before the alter.
“Ma..Pa, is that you?” Charles croaked out of his dry throat.
The figures just hovered there as Charles slowly approached the alter. They looked just the way he remembered them when he left the village on the night before the great storm. After what seemed to be only a moment the figures vanished and the voices of the worshipers again filled the temple. Tears were running down Charles’ cheeks as he gazed upon the central painting of Taur judging the dead. In the years since the flood Charles had never once wept over his loss, now the tears flowed without end as the barriers he erected over the years tumbled down and his raw emotions where exposed.
It was when Father Sebastain wrapped his arm about Charles that he was able to gain some sense of composure. When he turned around the his red-rimmed eyes looked up upon the man that was part father to him since he was a boy. Charles buried himself in the Father’s soft gray robes and the tears again welled up inside until they overflowed what little composure Charles had left.
When Charles awoke he found himself in his bed and the sun nearly set. He put on his sandals and went in search of Father Sebastian to explain what happened this afternoon. He found him in the small study and before he could even being to apoligize the Father dismissed his concern with a simple wave of his hand. With a heave he got up from the chair and stood before Charles.
“You have a great deal of compassion for one so young and who has faced such tragedy. I believe today you have seen the path the gods wish you to walk. Even to one who has prayed to them and studied their words cannot begin to comprehend their motives, but I know the path they lay out for me is one that serves the greater good. So, I guess the only decision is will you take the path less traveled?”
With those words Father Sebastian pressed a small book into my hands and left me alone in the study. It was a collection of psalms about the Taur and the afterlife.
So, what path did I take? Well that is a story for another time.
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