It took the better part of a week to reach Austrvegr. Janne saw the polished marble spires of the Cathedral peering up over the horizon a full day before the rest of the town came into view. It was beautiful, there was no denying it – slender white spires silhouetted against dark blue mountains. In the early morning sun they glittered like shards of sunlight; in the sunset they glowed like flickering candle flames.
Asgeir watched Janne curiously the first night as she stared at the distant edifice. “You’ve at least seen the Cathedral before, milady, yes?” he questioned her softly after a few moments. Janne shook her head silently. Asgeir sighed a little, shifting to move near the small campfire they were stoking to life. “You are a confusing one, milady. How is it that someone comes to wear the tabard of a hospitalier, take lead of a battlefield, and accompany an Archbishop – and yet never see the Cathedral?”
Janne slumped down for a moment, the weak flames casting cold shadows across her sorrowful face. “I had the chance once, but I chose not to go.” She leaned over and pulled a worn leather book from the top of her bag. “My sister was getting ordained. She had wanted to be a hospitalier for as long as either one of us could remember. She spent years working for others in the Church – messenger, caretaker, anything that needed to be done. Finally she was going to be ordained, given the Hospitaliers of Fjall to lead.”
Asgeir nodded. “That’s a high privilege.”
“She thought so too.” Janne absently flipped through the small book, gazing over the flowing script. “Then she started seeing battles. Goblins dragging the dirt of the earth around their bodies and slamming into ranks of unprepared recruits. Ogres that swung tree trunks the way I might swat away a fly. And after the battles…” She shuddered. “Seeing people with whom she’d broken bread shambling about, mindlessly obeying whatever command had been given them at their revival.
“Then I heard she was coming to the Reach.” Janne stared up at the stars. “I decided to see her then, but by the time I came it was too late. I found her on the field, pierced by a massive shard of rock. Everyone was scrambling and panicked, and the hospitaliers were looking for her, and I…I did what I thought was right.”
Asgeir pondered a moment. “You were twins.”
“It’s really the only way I could have managed it.” Janne looked back down to the dirt. “I wasn’t going to stay long, just long enough to help, but there was so much – and they knew what to do, the real bishops knew, they just needed someone to say yes, to tell them it was going to be all right. And then the Archbishop came…”
“I think I understand better why you did it.” Asgeir prodded the fire, sending a shower of sparks upwards. “Your heart was in the right place.”
Janne snorted. “I wish that was true. Maybe I’d have some justification for my actions. I went to the Reach hoping to convince my sister to leave. The rest was just a scared little girl making one wrong choice after another. And now she’s not even…” Janne fell silent, shivering slightly.
“The Archbishop revived her with the other soldiers,” Asgeir finished for her. “You should be pleased – she won’t fail her oath to the Church.”
Janne looked up to meet Asgeir’s eyes. Tears built up, trickling down her face. “And now she’ll never fail the Church, and she’ll never have any rest, and she’ll be stuck obeying whoever happens to be in command until her body collapses to dust. No, she won’t fail the Church – the Church that has condemned her to an endless living death under oath. Tell me the truth – if it were your wife dragged back from death, how would you feel? If it were your son, how would you feel?”
Asgeir was silent for a moment, and when he spoke again he didn’t meet her desperate questioning gaze. “I would trust the Church, milady. I have no other choice.”
“There is no other choice you need to make.” Valgard’s voice startled them both as he came up behind them, dragging a small deer. “The Church is everything. To doubt the Church is to doubt God Himself – the same doubt that led to the First Oath. You would do well to remember that when you step into the Cathedral, heretic.”
Janne pursed her lips, but said nothing. The Archbishop was right in his own twisted way. Her fate was in the Church’s hands whether she wanted it to be or not.