Of The Prayer
By Lynette Bacon-Nguyen
To the most esteemed prior,
While I have served the priory diligently for the last ten years,
a recent event has made The accident that When she d
Dots of ink splattered off the end of the metal tipped quill. Breathing ragged, she dipped her head forward as she set down the quill and pushed up her glasses to rub at her eyes. Breathing in deeply through her nose, she pulled back that which threatened to drip onto the parchment. Granted, it didn’t matter, she’d probably already ruined it when she didn’t immediately wipe away the ink. The stray dots had completely sunk into it now, staining the paper, not that those were the only ones.
As she lifted her head, the tears dripped off her nose, splattering the attempted missive with even more stains. She crumpled up part of the parchment before pulling in a deep breath and flattening it out again. Ana would have scolded her for wasting money if she just threw it away. Her mind lingered on that thought, of hearing her voice lamenting for the hundredth time that they had to save as much as possible if they wanted to keep all the apprentices fed and clothed. Keyah would have taken the scolding right then and there, if it meant really hearing Ana’s voice again. To feel her hand on her shoulder, leaning down as she wrote, instructing her on how to keep the messages brief so as not to waste any ink. Not that she could talk, with how often she used the ink to leave little notes to help remind Keyah of those things she missed when she let her mind wander.
She wished that was such a problem now.
Wiping her nose on her sleeve she tried to readjust her focus on the task at hand. Even if it hurt, she had to go through the proper channels, they had to know why she couldn’t do this anymore. There might be disappointment, they might even reassign her somewhere new, or at least she hoped they did. This place was too familiar, too many memories lingered, it made her mind wander, made it hope that if only she looked up Ana would be there like she had been a thousand times before. It was a poisonous thing that brought her deeper into despair every time, she couldn’t keep living like this, not without…
The door opened and her heart leapt into her throat as she looked up, expecting something, but instantly disappointed at the figure that stood in the frame.
“Prioress, you must come quickly.” The voice came out in a rasp as George stepped forward. His hair was damp and stuck to his forehead. His robes dripped on the stone floor. She almost yelled at him for bringing the damp into the office, but she held her tongue as she gazed into the panic in his eyes.
She slid out of her chair and moved to the door. George had already started down the hallway. Water slicked the grey flagstones on the walkway that encircled the courtyard as the wind shifted and blew the falling rain into them as they ran. Keyah had to pull up the skirts of her blue robe just to keep up with George’s pace. This must be serious, the only thing George usually ran for were meal times.
Turning the corner of the open air corridor she nearly slid on the slick walkway, but caught the wall and followed as George opened a doorway. The smell hit her first as she entered the infirmary. Sage, burning in at least three braziers, filled the air with its cool mint scent and a heavy warmth that helped to counteract the wet of her damp robes. Not that it was a comfort, since she knew what that meant.
“Who was brought in?”
“It’s a- blue- a blue…” George wheezed as he leaned forward, palms on his knees to help steady himself. He really needed to let up on the meals and get some walking in if this much got him… No, focus. “Blue baby, it’s a blue baby.”
Keyah’s breath seized as she spun on her heel and searched the room. She found Flora in the corner, her hands clasped in prayer as she leaned over a basin. It only took two long steps before Keyah was at her side, looking down to properly see.
Half submerged in water lay a squirming baby girl. Face squashed with soft features, a head layered with a poof of delicate hair over closed eyes, and skin tinted bluish purple in the light of the lanterns. No flush of red came even as the baby’s chest tried to heave in air as fast as it’s little lungs could hold.
Dropping to her knees she snapped her fingers, “How old?”
“Few days,” George responded as Flora continued her prayer, “Born on the road, the parents said, why they didn’t have a priest on hand for the birth.”
Flora finished her prayer a moment later, her hands filled with water at the end, which she tipped into the basin over the baby’s body. Yet still it struggled, its little brain not understanding even as the body knew perfectly well that something was terribly wrong.
Flora started another prayer, but Keyah grabbed her hand, “It’s inside, outside prayers won’t help.” The words came out gravely, “Get me a box and the carving set, we have to do a cut prayer.”
Flora’s brown eyes widened, “But prioress, she’s too young. Even if we heal it, she might not live if we do a cut.”
“She won’t live as it is, now move!” Keyah shoved onto the priestesses shoulder to get her going. She’d have sent George, but the man still looked about to keel over. Dipping her hands into the water she every so slowly lifted the baby girl up. Her long brown fingers could have engulfed the infant’s head entirely, it was so small. The feel of the soft newborn’s skin was warm despite it having been set into water, “You’re fighting so hard, you want to be here.” She held the legs up even while she supported the head. The baby coughed a few times before it continued it’s deep breathing to try and pull in as much air as it could.
“Water down a numbing draught, we should have at least one left.” Keyah gave the order without looking away from the baby.
“Yes prioress,” George replied. His breath seemed to come back to him at last. Or maybe it was just relief that he could do that without leaving the infirmary.
When Flora returned with the tools, they administered the draught and set the infant on clean linens as they purified their hands and wrapped their faces. Flora had to retie her long hair to make sure it didn’t get in the way as they worked.
The other branches of the churches would never cut open an injured person to fix an injury, but prayer magic simply didn’t work on internal injuries if you didn’t know what you were fixing. Some problems could only be fixed if you saw them first hand. Taking the sharpened knife, freshly cleaned in purified water, Keyah took in a deep breath as she slowly parted the blue skin.
Even as the baby had become still with the effects of the numbing draught, when they parted the skin and broke apart the delicate tiny ribs the heart was beating fast, tinted blue as it tried so desperately to keep the body alive. “Keep fighting, we can do this.” The words came out softly under her breath as Keyah put her hand in the purified water once more before she slowly sunk two fingers in the chest and searched for the problem.
For a few moments in the warmth of this infant’s tiny chest she found nothing, and her mind raced at what the problem could be, what could she do to prevent death, a death rapidly coming to someone so young, someone who hadn’t even lived yet.
A death that came through no fault of their own, just like the falling pot that had killed Ana on such a leisurely walk through the market.
Her mind came back to the present when her finger found the issue and breath left her lungs. A hole, there was a hole in the heart. Such a simple thing, yet it caused so many issues. Cupping her hand she opened her mouth and said her prayer, “Aoiria, she who watches over all new lives, spare this child and heal the ailing heart that caused her so much pain.” The short prayer was accompanied by silence, but only for a second as a small spout of water appeared from her palm and moved down her fingers, guided to the hole and touching upon it, mending the tear and closing it shut.
As the water stopped the heartbeat started to slow and Flora gasped, “Is something wrong?”
Keyah pulled out her hand, dipping it in the purifying water as the heartbeat continued though less rapid. “We won’t know until later. But,” As she looked from Flora she turned her head to the infant’s face as the blue started to drain away and was replaced with a flush healthy pink. “I think we managed it this time.”
The baby girl woke up hungry. Keyah had heard that cry enough times to know it instantly and she almost laughed as she grabbed the bottle with the leather topped spout to sit in her mouth. Latching onto it hungrily, the baby took deep gulps of the goat’s milk. They’d sent for a wet nurse but they wouldn’t be able to get one in until morning, especially with this weather. The spring rain had gone well into the night and would probably slick the roads up from the town. She seemed fine enough to take whatever she could get, though, as Keyah rocked her close to her chest. “You’ll want to live a long time I bet.” But then that’s what everyone wanted, it’s what her parents had wanted. Even giving her a name that means good health.
Which made it all the more ironic when her beautiful dark skin got the white splotches which labeled her as unmarriable in her early teens.
She waved away the thought as she continued to rock the baby. That wasn’t something she needed to linger on. If things hadn’t happened as they did, would she have been here? Here in this place, to help this baby girl? No, probably not. She also wouldn’t have met Ana. Wouldn’t have had that best friend for most of her teens. Eventually becoming a partner when they both made it to adulthood. It had been thirty two years, thirty two wonderful years, but she still wanted more. “I guess that’s all we all want. You wanted to be alive after all, didn’t you, little one?”
“Prioress,” The words came from the door, George again. Less out of breath, probably took a more leisurely stroll. “They’ve gone. The parents, they left.”
“Did they?” Keyah stood, keeping her posture even as she fed the child. “When did that happen?”
“During the night. Flora told them there was no guarantee and they must have decided to just give up.” He looked at the baby with sad eyes, “If only they had waited.”
“Well, I suppose that’s their choice. At least she won’t have any memory of who they were.” She continued to rock the infant. It wasn’t terribly uncommon for young children to just be left at the priory even if they hadn’t been ill. Some people just weren’t ready for children or maybe they thought they’d have a better life here. That was probably true for some of them. It wasn’t her place to judge. “Well I suppose we’ll have to figure out what we’re calling her. They didn’t give you a name before they left, did they?”
“No, they didn’t.” George shook his head. His eyes raised, “Did you, I mean, she looks similar, did you think maybe we should call her Anabelle?”
“No,” Keyah let out a breath, “We won’t do that. She’s no Anabelle.” The ache from her heart pounded in her chest. She wouldn’t want to hear that name used, even for such a pretty little girl. “Though I suppose, considering how we saved her, something like that. I think I know of a name, it’s Kamerian, I know I’ve heard it before, it means something to do with Prayer.”
“Arabella?” George supplied.
“Yes,” Keyah smiled as she rocked the baby girl, “Arabella, of the prayer, I think that’s appropriate.” Stepping forward, she paused and held the baby out to George. He hesitated before gently taking her into his thick hands. Arabella didn’t protest, she just continued to greedily drink.
“Should I put her with the others?”
“Keep her separate for now. Flora can watch over her, or maybe Din if Flora needs a break. I’ll have to add her to the registry.” Keyah started towards the hallway.
“I see. Did you want us to send that with the other letter you were writing? You did request to have a messenger here in the morning for it.”
“No,” She shook her head, “We can send the registry off with the other mail in the week.” Taking a deep breath she strode down the corridor towards her office. As her eyes roamed around the courtyard she smiled as the memories came. A thousand stolen moments had happened in this courtyard, a thousand little happinesses. It stung to see them all, but there were still things for her to do. After all that little girl would need to be registered with all the other orphans and of course some of the apprentices would have to get some learning on how to properly handle a baby.
She’d have to try her best, because Arabella had just started her journey and however long she had she was sure that the little girl would be fighting every step of the way.
Long month, lots of things happening. Here’s a short story in the SOTB universe.