E X O R N A M E N T I S : E P I L O G U E
Completed August 26, 2019 (♍)
Author's notes at the end.
Zalbag stepped into a drizzling mist. He had slept a handful of hours in that room, in that bed, face pressed against sheets damp with their mingled sweat. It had felt like nothing at the time. As he walked the winding city streets in what he thought was the direction of the palace, it was as though he were still afloat in that moment of culminating abasement.
Think of this next time you look to heaven.
Wiegraf had left him with that, barely looking to where he’d lain naked and spent. It was effective. It was the sort of melodramatic, patronizing thing a man in love with his own speeches would say, the sort of thing he should have anticipated—of course it was effective.
He closed his eyes, shuddering at the weight and substance of his own body. All those years of piety and solitude, and it had taken an unhanged criminal less than fifteen minutes of whispering in his ear for him to fall. If he could dissolve, if he could sublimate his corrupt flesh into the unmoving air, he would have done so. Instead, he moved on, thinking of every jolting instant where he’d felt the touch of somebody’s skin against his skin, of all those points of contact between their two bodies and how he’d suddenly been in the real presence of something other than himself and God. More than the memory of Wiegraf’s lips on his, of all their frenzied lust and rank carnality, he was haunted to think of the mundane realities of being so suddenly unalone.
Once returned, he lost no time in heading for Dogoula—and as promised, he did not wait for the permission of the Church. The sun was barely in the sky when he departed, flying down the straw-colored hills that stretched toward Mount Langria. With the battlefield ahead and the threat of death once more immediate, he could almost imagine the night before had been some fevered imagining of his: a dream that would invariably fade into day.
In the long weeks that followed, however, as they strove desperately to press the Nanten back, he remained tethered to it, the constant weight of a wrought iron icon not his own pressing cold against his chest. With that relic of his iniquity, Wiegraf did not leave him, some element of him ineffably transmuted to matter as when pilgrims laid their clothing on the tombs of saints. He found no peace in prayer, for all he prayed often, and threw himself into combat with feverish recklessness.
Word had spread to Dorter regarding him by the time that Wiegraf and Izlude arrived there, and they could not help but overhear talk amidst the bustling merchants of the fury the Northern Sky, whose commander blazed towards Zeltannia like an ill-omened comet. Neither of them commented upon such talk, but at one point Wiegraf, upon hearing General Beoulve’s name mentioned in the midst of tavern small talk, unconsciously traced the filigreed lines of the tarnished gold icon he wore over his tabard.
“Where did you pick that up?” Izlude asked curiously, noticing the article for the first time. “It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would suit you.”
“It isn’t,” Wiegraf replied tersely.
“It didn’t cost you too much, did it?”
Wiegraf wrapped it in his palm a moment, thinking as to how easily he could make a wreck of it should he grip it tight. It felt heavier in his hand than it looked.
“Let’s move on,” he said after a moment. “Our business is with costlier baubles than this, after all.”
Author's Notes: The title of this work, by the way, derives from the general pattern of Latin descriptions of relics. It should translate to "from the decorations," which should hypothetically fit with the idea of relics obtained from the personal ornaments of saints.