T H E I M P U R E K I N G
Completed December 29, 2020 (♑)
Content Warning: The pairing is Cúchulainn/Isilud, but this is probably not the fic for you if you are here for graphic monsterfucking involving Ivalice's grossest Lucavi. Things do happen that are very bad, but references to those bad things are generally ambiguous. In addition to the central instance of rape/assault in the piece, there is also a passing reference to rape in warfare, some allusions to human sacrifice, and an instance of canon-typical fatherly backhanding.
Author's Notes: Written for Jaydee_Faire; uses War of the Lions names. This is something of a companion piece to The Fugitive Serpent. Observant FFT players may recognize the figure of Count Minimas from the game's side quests.
It was the deep winter season, and Lionel glittered with lantern lights, the roofbeams of inns and the facades of shops having been decked with ribbon and rowan berries. While every saint's feast drew celebrants in a province led by priests and stuffed with merchants, the feast of St. Balias was one held in particular esteem here. The life, works, and death of the Beloved Disciple were etched into Lionel's hillsides and valleys. It was plain sense that the Lionelese would find more cause than the rest of Ivalice to drink to him, and they drank and ate in great excess each winter on his behalf. If a pilgrim had an inclination to gourmandize on religious feasts, he would do well to head towards to Lionel in late December after battening at Ajora’s Mass in the Mullonde autumn.
Isilud Tengille, however, who had grown up used to all the pomp of the Holy See, was still bewildered by seeing such an ostentatious outpouring of ritual over some saint other than Ajora himself. It struck him as almost verging on idolatry, although he reckoned that perhaps he estimated such things poorly, given his father’s love of austerity. He imagined that there might be some lecture on it all later: a discussion as to whether laymen could be trusted to value true devotion more than their nuts and sweetmeats.
They were not there for feasting, of course, and Isilud would have had little stomach for it even if they had been. The Templar had departed for the mainland a month earlier than anticipated.
Isilud was about to see action, and he felt ill-prepared for it.
There had been some complication in the High Confessor's plans: something serious that his father had not yet explained to him. He had been told it was important that somebody move quickly to make certain that Mullonde's arrangements with Cardinal Delacroix were not thwarted, and Isilud and Wiegraf had been the only knights at hand to follow Formarv into Lionel. The passage out of Mullonde had been swift, and Isilud had never fully reckoned his anxieties about the journey. He had barely set foot on the mainland over the course of his whole life.
Isilud had done his best not to show fear; fear had never helped him. When he had been asked if he wished to see the sights of the city, he had declined, thinking it would do him credit to seem uninterested in anything worldly. Wiegraf had made no such show. He seemed glad to be rid of both Tengilles and had asked rather tersely if he was still permitted to drink now that he was clergy. Isilud feared Wiegraf chafed at being yoked to him as a travelling partner and did his best not to betray this as he wished him farewell.
As the snow cluttered thick on the high windows of the castle, Folmarv told his son it was wise for him to remain. There had apparently been a request from the Cardinal that he be present at some point, and it would do well to have him close at hand for their audience. Isilud had thereafter retreated to busy himself somewhere else, stifling any urge he had to ask after further details. He understood that his father would have given them to him were they his to know.
He made his way to the keep’s ornate chapel and walked there awhile amidst the carvings and stained glass as he wondered how best to conduct himself with a Cardinal. He knew little of Delacroix beyond the most general details of his history and patronage. He had been one of many who won honors out in Ordallia, and he was noted for his love of antiquity. The man had apparently been one of the few devout who had petitioned the Examiners for access to Pharist religious texts—having such impeccable credentials as to preclude him from any suspicions they might corrupt him. Isilud had no real idea of him beyond that, save that he ruled a seventh part of Ivalice and answered to Mullonde before the Crown.
He had no clue—of course—as to what his eminence might want of him in attendance. Isilud had no great deeds to his name and no real claims to rank outside of being his father’s son. The thought as to what his importance might be in this affair left him uneasy, and the dim lighting of the chapel did little to help. The whole sanctuary was a testament to the skill of Lionel’s stoneworkers rather than its glassblowers, with the walls being thick and the windows narrow. There was nothing here like the delicate lead-glass or bright-lit halls of Mullonde. Even the Icon before the altar was compact and bulky—as though it had been built for a battlefield and not for a church.
Isilud eventually decided to spend his time looking over the bas reliefs that ran in a low band around the room, noting grimly that there was an awful lot of martyring happening across them. On the right side of the room, he could trace the path of a gaggle of bearded Ydorans dragging poor Balias up a hill. On the left, he could see them throwing him off of it to catch in a rowan bush and feed the beasts beneath it. Manticores, griffins, hydrae—the scene was rife with all those composite animals that danced across the region’s heraldry. It was fascinating: the sort of detail work one might miss if you went about chapels looking at their windows.
Isilud traced the progress of the gruesome scene closely, taking note of the way the artist had filled in the gaps in the scenery with little grotesqueries: more strange animals working their way into the scene. He wondered a little at how such a morbid event had given rise to such a gaiety-filled holiday. Isilud considered, of course, that it was morbid to celebrate saints with feasting at all; they all seemed to die horribly.
He ducked behind the big squat icon to see if the frieze continued behind it, and was surprised to find that there were figures hidden behind the shadow of the altar. He found himself in for a greater shock when he realized what they were.
The Ydorans who marched along both sides of the altar seemed to join here, all kneeling as if they bowed to what must be some sort of Pharist idol. It was a great beast that was all covered with mouths: mouths spitting fire, mouths devouring adherents, mouths speaking in blasphemies carved into the surface of the stone. There were writ things there that were vile: words Isilud did not want to let pass even over the surface of his thoughts. In the glut of bodies and letters, there were men and women naked and torn apart, reassembled into shapes worse than the beasts that decorated the rest of the band. It was no wonder that such a thing should be hidden—even if it were a wonder that it should have been carved in the first place.
Isilud tried to tell himself that this must be some Lionelese irregularity, that there was some explanation for this that was in accord with a godly man’s house. He sat in one of the dark walnut pews after that, and breathed deep, trying to efface the image from his brain. He tried to pray. When he heard the fast approaching footfalls of somebody approaching from the outside hall, he realized how fast his heart had been racing as it found a way to race even faster.
Isilud stood up some moments before Alphonse Delacroix opened the door to stand before him. Folmarv was in the shadow of the door behind him.
"Is this the young Isilud, then?" the Cardinal asked with a warm familiarity that did not fit their circumstances.
"I am, your eminence." Isilud tried to keep his voice measured and calm, so as to hide his disquiest. There was an awkward pause before he remembered he should bow.
"Your father tells me that you are a firm adherent of the faith and a promising new member of your order."
Isilud did not know whether or how he might answer that. He was uncertain if it were even a question. He nodded instead, and thereafter approached both men when they gestured that he do so.
The Cardinal smiled as he drew closer.
"I have just been discussing matters pertaining to both the Church and the Crown with your father, and he has told me that you will be heading north to Orbonne in a little while as a part of the High Confessor's plans. Is that right?"
Isilud nodded again.
"And you agree with the designs of Mullonde?"
"Of course I do, your eminence. Who does not want to see the will of the Saint made manifest?"
Delacroix stepped very close to him then, and Isilud instinctively looked to his father, who now leaned against one of the chapel doors. Folmarv did not return his gaze, but he gave a little nod, and Isilud was uncertain as to whether it was intended for him or for the Cardinal.
"What if I told you that there were other means for you to fulfill your obligations to Mullonde?" Delacroix continued. “What if I told you there was a way to serve her without the use of a blade?”
"What if I told you that some—perhaps—were desirous that you should carry another burden?"
Isilud looked to his father once again, but his face was turned away. He blinked quickly a few times as the carving behind the altar intruded into his thoughts unbidden.
"It is a damned inconvenience that your host had such demands, you know," Folmarv said to the echoing hall behind them. "While it matters little what becomes of him, it will be a waste and a nuisance to cover over."
"We were promised that all such appetites might be filled, Hashmal. We promised this body that it might have its meat and drink."
“If you feel the need to keep to such pacts, it is up to you. I would be wary of indulging a mortal's yearnings too deeply however."
When Delacroix next spoke, his voice had changed. The register was deeper, and there was something in it that carried the quality of an animal’s growl.
"Perhaps, Hashmal—” he said with slow deliberation, “—perhaps, I yearn too."
Isilud was increasingly afraid. He had no reason why it should be that this man should call his father Hashmal, and he had no idea what fate it was they had in mind for him that they would not name. When Folmarv finally moved into the room proper, he instinctively backed away from the hand he would put on his shoulder. He was not surprised when his father struck him.
"You shall entertain the Cardinal as he sees fit, Isilud,” Folmarv said in a low hiss. “Please do not prove a disappointment to him."
He was swift in leaving after that, and before Isilud had the presence of mind to move again, the great oak doors to the chapel swung closed. He heard the sound of a bolt sliding into place behind them.
Isilud looked to the Cardinal, suddenly terrified. He tried to quiet every thought he might have of those dark slanders as regarded clergymen and their crimes—to blot out the shape to which his thoughts kept returning. He shuddered as Delecroix stepped in back of him and set a hand on his shoulder.
"Tell me, my child,” his voice had clearly altered now. “Would you say that you are an innocent?"
Isilud dared not look behind him. He did not want to contemplate where this question would lead.
"I would say, your em—eminence,” he stammered, “I would say that I am no more innocent than any other man."
"Tell me, young Tengille, what sins has your flesh known?"
Isilud felt his throat close as he tried to find words with which to answer. He tried to think that this was some test—that he would be freed from the terror of whatever this was and be delivered back to the mission he had been promised. It was only when he was led to the altar and made to kneel there that he had a full sense that this would be an ordeal he should not escape.
Something spoke then—some voice he could not take to be human. He did not understand it, but it brought to mind all those words he knew lay engraved on the stone behind the icon, words that described the Saint and the martyrs in terms too terrible to countenance.
Before he could close his eyes, there was something that changed in the air around him. The faint, resiny smell of a room so often glowing with incense gave way suddenly to blighted rot, as though he were in the presence of something long dead.
Isilud would have gagged then, but he found could not move. He could not speak. He could not even redirect the line of his sight. When he felt hands upon his body, they ached with a sort of coldness to which he was not accustomed. It was as though a magician’s fire had been forced beneath the skin. Isilud managed to whimper slightly as the Cardinal’s hands pressed down on his shoulders as if to keep him kneeling. His throat and eyes itched as he found he could not sob, and he found he could not shudder as Delacroix’s fingers made their way then under the fabric of his tunic and his tabard. He was just able to force a sharp breath through his throat when they pulled apart the fabric like so many knives—when he realized he was being stripped.
“Perhaps we shall test the question ourselves—perhaps we shall find where sin lies in a mortal frame?”
Isilud kept breathing—hard and ragged. The rot upon the air was overwhelming now, as though the grey walls around him were carved out of so much flesh left to spoil. The voice that spoke to him seemed to come from out them, from out the air, from out the taut fibers of his own terrified body.
“The fool who once owned this poor flesh was told he should feast on whatever piece of purity would whet his appetites. We intend to keep that compact and exceed its terms.”
Whatever force it was that held Isilud in place finally loosened its hold on him just enough that he could flinch. He did so as the thing behind him moved its bladed hands along his thighs to pull them apart.
“We are going to make an altar and a shrine out of you. You will know what it is to hold divinity, and we will mould and ornament your flesh until it holds it in abundance.”
There was flesh pressed against his flesh then. Isilud tried to will the muscles of his thin body into motion and failed. The thing behind him drew its fingers along the jutting points of his ribs, prodding their underside as though it were about to rip the two halves of him asunder, and he found it at last in his power again to weep.
He looked to the icon in front of him and tried to focus his gaze on the tiny rectangle of light that one of the windows permitted to shine upon. He thought it a very terrible thing—for some reason—that whatever was about to happen must happen by day.
When Wiegraf returned to the castle, he was told very perfunctorily that he would be assigned a new companion for the journey north. Isilud had been detained with other business and would be staying in Lionel for a while.
Wiegraf, despite having only become acquainted with the youngest Tengille a few weeks prior, liked the prospect of heading to Orbonne with some other Templar very little.
It was not that Isilud had made a particularly pleasing impression. Wiegraf had—he admitted to himself—been somewhat insulted that he was meant to be tending some green lad who had barely set foot off of the island. It was evident to him that Isilud was only a Templar because his father was a Templar, and it was sadly not his place to tell Folmarv that his house would be better served in letting his son serve in a library somewhere rather than on the field.
What made him doubtful about the present situation was what always left him uneasy about anything having to do with Folmarv. The man had the demeanor of a damned adder. Had the head of the Templar manifested the slightest mote of concern, condemnation, or care about whatever the reason was that his son was unfit to travel the continent, Wiegraf might have been able to take the reassignment in stride. It was Folmarv’s complete absence of anything like a personal investment in his son’s removal that left Wiegraf ill at ease.
As he paced around the great hall, pretending to admire the tapestries, he thought of how little he liked the prospect of working with any of the other members of the order. Loffrey and Cletienne both discomfited for very different reasons, and Barich—for all he ought have liked a man so devoted to the dismantling of rank and class—was boorish and awkward. He knew also Folmarv’s other child had been set to work in the upper portions of Zeltennia, and despite having no grievances with her, they had never quite gotten on.
He liked none of this. He liked none of it, and he determined that he would not like it until he had a farewell from Isilud himself. Wiegraf, although he little knew what he expected to find, started to walk towards the narrow, dark halls that stretched out from the heart of the keep like so many veins. Whatever awkwardity it might produce, he was going to seek the boy out if he was still in the castle grounds.
Wiegraf managed, in the hour that followed, to disrupt the work of several dometics, to get caught in an awkward ten minutes of conversation with the seneschal, and to have a honey cake shoved into his hands by a cook eager to see him out of the kitchens. By the time it was evening, he was nearly ready to abandon his search. It was then that he chanced by the doors of the castle’s chapel and noticed they had been bolted.
He took this as a sign that it was somewhere he ought not be, and as that was precisely the place he wished to go, he listened at the doors, unbolted them, flipped the latch on the other side with his dagger, and walked inside.
He nearly fell to the floor with retching once he’d entered. The whole place smelled of rotten meat, cloying to the point it made his eyes water. He stumbled around trying to find its source, knowing the whole time that this was most definitely something he did not wish to be discovered investigating. Eventually, he came to the altar, and thought to himself that the scent of decay lay thickest there.
Looking at the covering upon it, he saw a red stain along one of its edges—something that was drying to brown and not to violet as communion wine would. He glanced at the door and pushed the cloth aside. A hinge along one edge of the altar made it clear that it was capable of being opened.
He threw back the lid then, and did his best to stifle any impulse to make a sound.
Isilud lay before him, curled up in the hollow of the altar like a crumpled sheet. His naked body was pale in the candlelight save where it was streaked with blood. It took the better part of a minute for Wiegraf to realize his chest was moving.
He didn’t have time to think then—at least not beyond the particulars of getting them out of there. He pulled the boy from where he’d been hidden, gripping his hand over his mouth tight as he began to moan. Somehow, he fumbled the altar cloth around him and after that his own billowing winter cloak, trembling as his hands slipped over the blood slick places where the boy’s flesh had been pierced. He had no idea what he was going to do or how he was going to do it, but he did his best to fold Isilud into as nondescript a bundle as he could and tried to remember where the nearest turret stair was.
Running through a plan that was not yet formed, he grabbed a cassock or three from a nearby vestibule, and several branches of rowan that hung on the window frames. He hoped he could make it out into the city proper looking like he was carrying something he was supposed to be carrying. Who wasn’t stumbling about tonight with a bunch of god-knows-what covered in rowan berries? The scent that was in the air had seemed to dissipate the moment he’d opened the altar, and he hoped to whatever contemptible god might be watching that it wouldn’t cling to them on the way out.
He walked with a firm, direct confidence out of the chapel, and took care to re-bolt the doors without looking like he was in a hurry. Wiegraf had learned back in the brigade that the trick to doing impossible things was to look as though you were surely meant to be doing them. He recalled how Gustav had once made it into one of Minimas’ storehouses by donning livery and acting as though he were there to inventory the gold.
Wiegraf didn’t hasten his step when he heard movement in the hall behind him; Wiegraf greeted a guard with a polite “hullo” timed to drown out a sharp moan from his bundle; Wiegraf carried himself as though it was quite the fashion to haul about some poor injured boy for Saint Balias’ glory. And then, somehow, Wiegraf ended up at the not quite reputable inn where he’d spent a generous lot of the Church’s money tipping an overworked barmaid that evening. He took Isilud to an unoccupied room, hoping that whatever invisibility his brazenness had bought him would keep up until he was ready to pay for the lodging.
Wiegraf realized, as he gently lay Isilud on the floor, that he himself was shaking. He hadn’t reckoned how cold the winter would be to a man with only a tunic around him. He exhaled deeply once the door was closed.
He pulled the impromptu wrappings off of Isilud’s body and tried once more to still any reaction he might have. Wiegraf was glad to find him still breathing, but it was not clear to him yet that the boy would awaken. He touched his skin and was grateful when he had the reactiveness at least to pull away from him.
Even in the dark of the unlit room, he could now make out the horrific extent of his injuries. Isilud sobbed as he palpated the edges of the wounds, and Wiegraf hoped that they were the sort of thing that could be fixed without dragging him to a professional. He was terrified as to what could have done this, what could have left such markings: two long rows of punctures drawing lines across the muscles of his back, as though he had fallen into the maw of some great beast.
“Ajora’s cunt, what have they done to you?” he hissed.
He locked the door and spent nearly half of his generous stipend in paying for the room, for a bottle of brandy, and for somebody to find a chemist’s shop still open and get him dressings and whatever was in the big blue bottles they kept on the top shelf: the sort of fast-acting alchemical nonsense that could bring a dying man back from the grave and into a week of hangovers. After that, he asked after a basin of water and a candle, and he returned to see what he could do about Isilud in the immediate present.
The boy groaned as Wiegraf tried to prop him up as best he could, the candlelight allowing him to see all the blotchy bruises developing across his pale skin. He took the edge of the already ruined altar cloth and began to wash him.
“Easy,” he said in a low voice. “I’m going to try to get you cleaned off. We’re going to need to move out soon.”
He realized he was talking like a soldier again.
“I’m done with this, you know. You’re done with this. Fucking Mullonde. Fucking Lesalia. It’d be more civilized to go run with the coeurls out in the deadlands—Gods’ rotted tits, what did they do to you?”
The blood had gummed over most places, and Wiegraf could see where it had intermingled with something else. He tried not to dwell on whether or not the boy had been defiled before he’d been mutilated, but he’d seen enough in the northlands to suspect as much. The Romandans’ religion did not make so many distinctions between man and maid when it came to their sins, and it showed in the wake of the villages razed in their push through Fovoham. Good Glabadosian knights were more discreet.
Isilud moaned sharply as he wiped at the edges of his injuries, and Wiegraf closed his eyes. Everything about this was wrong, more wrong than the bare facts seemed to betray. Even putting aside the injuries, this seemed far more terrible than a rape. There was something in touching the boy’s flesh that made his own crawl.
“I’m sorry…” Isilud groaned faintly. “I’m sorry I could… I could not hold.”
He dissolved into hysterical sobbing then, and Wiegraf tried to sooth him, glad he could speak even as he wished he damn well wouldn’t. He needed to get them clear of all this. However little he knew Isilud, he’d be drawn and quartered before he let whomever had done this get him back.
There was a rap on the door, and he managed to open it just wide enough to see a very friendly barmaid come back with some linen and whatever the potion it was that they’d been able to bring him. Wiegraf gave her a wink as he tipped her again, and promptly shut the door. He told himself to be less liberal with his gil in the future. He needed a new cloak, and Isilud would need something thicker than a cassock. They were already short of what they’d need to hire a bird.
He uncorked the bottle, and after it fizzed, he brought it to the boy’s lips, warning him that he should endeavor to keep it down even if it tasted like it had been brewed in a pisspot. Isilud managed to swallow.
“That’s good,” he whispered. “That’s good—you’re going to be fine.” He stroked his cheek, hoping it would help him to sound convincing.
“I didn’t mean to—” he said feverishly after suppressing a gag. “I did not mean to be displeasing… I did not...”
“You haven’t displeased anyone, Isilud.”
“He said I was not as I should have been. He said I would—”
“Whomever ‘He’ is, he can go rot beneath the Tor,” Wiegraf said through clenched teeth. “You are here; you are safe; and we are going to leave both this accursed city and your damned father’s accursed order tonight.”
It was a very grand sort of statement. It would have doubtlessly sounded quite heroic if it had the force of his own belief behind it.
“I cannot betray my station, Wiegraf” Isilud said, his eyes wide as saucers as he opened them suddenly and pushed himself up to a sitting position. “I cannot—”
“I’ll fucking betray it for you,” Wiegraf snapped. “Unless you can tell me what happened and convince me very quickly that you are not the half-addled victim of some devilish atrocity, we are heading south the moment I get you patched up enough to stumble out of here.”
Even in the candlelight, Isilud’s expression was hard to read. Wiegraf wondered for the slenderest of moments whether or not he might actually have some explanation for whatever had led to him being found as he had been. He was not ready when the boy fell weeping against him, but he caught him nevertheless.
Wiegraf held him there for a while, letting him sob convulsively as he ran his hands gingerly over his back, trying to feel for the rapid-forming scabbing that should be there if the elixir had done any good.
He did not resist as Isilud pressed his face into the crook of his neck. It was no doubt a blessing that the boy could not see his own expression.
The night passed swiftly, and somehow he kept making it work. Somehow he managed to move out from the inn before Gryphons stopped to ask questions. Somehow he managed to scavenge enough supplies to get them at least a few leagues towards Warjilis. He wondered if there was some charm upon him that night—if the saints had granted him a miracle during the one point in his miserable life where he had to save someone who meant nothing to him. Isilud was generally useless, although he grew more lucid in graying hours of the dawn. He spoke little, but when he did speak, it now had some semblance of sense.
Isilud claimed that he had no recollection of what had happened the day before. Wiegraf did not press him hard about it.
He had dressed the boy’s wounds as best he could, but they had not—in fact—begun to heal as they ought. He told himself it could not be helped and did his best to prod Isilud along on the road south, hoping that they might disappear into the throng of other celebrants departing the city.
They walked most of the day without catching attention. Isilud, who was pale as a ghost and sick as a dog, carried on better than could be expected. Wiegraf diverted them from the main road long before he had reason to think he heard the talon falls of knights riding. He did not want to tempt fate more than he already had at every other point of this misadventure.
When they stumbled their way towards Balias’ Swale—it was not lost on him that the landscape had a poor history of helping the persecuted hide from religious authorities. He resolved not to be superstitious about it. He fumbled his way to the hollow of a little hill and made them a small fire. The snow was still on the ground, but the sky that night was clear.
He bade Isilud rest, and the boy obeyed, sinking down into a patch that had been cleared for him as Wiegraf tried to bundle him in what coverings the last of his money could afford. He felt very stupid. Whatever he had uncovered at the heart of the Templar was beyond him, and he did not know how he could hope to move against it. He had thought more than once that it would have been best to flee by himself once he had found what he had found—to have disappeared back into the wild Gallione countryside that had sheltered him as an outlaw.
Isilud flinched suddenly, and gave a stifled cough.
“You swear you don’t recall anything?” Wiegraf said cautiously, drawing near to him.
Isilud shook his head. Wiegraf ran a hand over his brow, trying to make out if he had a fever. He smoothed his hair back as he did so.
“We’ll pawn these damned rocks they gave us once we make it into the city,” he said matter-of-factly. “We can figure the rest out once we’re at the sea.”
“Wiegraf,” Isilud said weakly, his eyes glinting in the dying light of the evening. “Are you returning me to Mullonde?”
They looked at one another then but said nothing. Wiegraf realized how deeply Isilud’s suspicion stung.
“I am not taking either of us anywhere near fucking Mullonde.”
“Do you think I’m an innocent?”
Something in his tone set the hairs on the back of Wiegraf’s neck on end.
“I do, Isilud,” he said after a moment, trying to stifle his disquiet. “I do.”
It was in the darkness past midnight when Isilud awakened, his body slick with sweat as he choked on the winter air. There was a sudden clarity to his thoughts that let him trace them back to that moment of crisis, to that instant when he had been made to face such excruciations and writhe in the truths they imparted. Perhaps some nightmare still clung to him as he felt himself come alive to all the pains of his poor body. Perhaps the Lord to whom he’d been tribute had bade him remember.
He nearly gave in to the urge to scream as he felt the warm weight of Wiegraf’s body curled around his own. He remembered the pressure of the Cardinal’s taut frame pressed against him—of how he had remained a man until he had surfeited on all those appetites men might have. The whole of that miserable prelude seemed so little now; all of those initial torments blurred together. Isilud remembered the feel of cold flesh against his mouth, his thighs, his buttocks. Everything seemed to be one violation: indistinct and uniform. The moments that stood out barely moved him now. There was the taste of salt on his lips, the pressure of hands around his neck, the slick trail of a tongue lapping at his tears.
It was after that—after he lay there weeping and sick and certain he should die of burning shame—that he had truly been brought to agony. It was after that that his eyes had been opened, and he had been made to greet the true keeper of the shrine. Isilud had been finally shown the true face and visage of the thing behind the altar. He was finally given that awful benediction of a living god’s embrace.
Isilud did not cry at first, but as he glanced to the dark sky above, he was filled with a sudden terror that each star set within it would open into a new mouth and that they should descend upon his body to finish its corruption. When he did give himself over to panic, Wiegraf was quick to awaken and stifle his shouts, telling him over and over that whatever terror had befallen him was far away now—telling him to lie still and take what rest he could.
Isilud tried to obey, and much to his relief, he found that his recollections seemed to evaporate as the older man held him: that these ill dreams plaguing him receded back to a great nothing in the immediacy of another creature’s embrace. He shuddered against Wiegraf's grip, but as the minutes wore on, he knew less and less what drove him to struggle.
“Please believe me when I say I won’t abandon you,” Wiegraf whispered in his ear.
Isilud breathed deep, his throat stretched taut against the soft leather of a gloved hand.
Wiegraf’s voice began to crack. “I’ve abandoned too many others to bear it again.”
Isilud did not wake again until it was near dawn, when the sound of a sword being drawn brought him to full alertness. Wiegraf stood between him and the bank of the waters cutting through the vale, where two knights waited for them on the other side. Their gold livery shone bright against the fresh fallen snow, and Isilud was suddenly full of a stupefied wonderment as to what they might want of them.
You place too high a priority on appetite, Cúchulainn… why did you not dispose of him!?
He shall keep a while, shall he not?
This risks discovery.
There are many pieces in play, and too many of them roam about these halls.
Discovery depends on memory, Hashmal—and what is memory but the function of an organ subject to decay? If he should be discovered, what of it? There is no quarry in this province my men cannot hunt, and it shall be all the more voluptuous a delight to follow the banquet by feasting on poor mortals’ memories of it.
It seems almost that you wish him to be found.
My dear keeper of laws, bear in mind you stand where my wishes have primacy.