Hundred Kingdoms

The Pilgrim: The First Letter

Sankt Volto
the Thirtieth day of Febus
in the Year of Our Penance 501

At last, beloved,

I have reached a verdict about my penance. Here, in the prison of my own making, near the end of four fortnights of fasting, my soul clad in prayer to shell my guilt much like my body was clad in the grey cloth of the penitent to cover my dignity, here is where finally Theos’ will was revealed to me. ‘In the poise of all is where the Lord’s voice whispers’, as the Saint writes and indeed it was so.

It was dusk. I would know it not, sunk in the darkness of covered windows as I was, but for the first hymns of Vespers, which reached me in my seclusion, piercing walls and soul alike. The familiar notes made my mind race to the image of the heavens at sunset. It was so clear, beloved, the image, this vision, the experience so complete! I was there, at the top of the steps of the Cathedral, looking west, so much so that I could feel the night breeze against my cheeks and dancing with the end of my robes, its light chill making my skin shiver. I remained there for some time, staring at the setting sun while continuing my prayer but then I sighed as my eyes followed the colors that seemed to flow from it; gleaming, glorious light sharpening the rim of clouds, glowing against a sky of melting gold, turn crimson then magenta as the river of colors flowed further east, only to fall, still, cold and dark, into the night sky’s black. I never let my eyes reach that far.

Fear clutched at my throat, stealing my breath with boney fingers, a fear powerful, familiar and old. I have spoken to you of this, beloved, in those early stolen afternoons, when youthful elation still made happiness seem possible. Where others saw glory and majesty in the setting sun, where the romantic saw their melancholy embodied in the colors before dusk (oh, how dramatically you sighed, I remember!), where all saw beauty, I ever saw just dread and the coming of darkness. I saw the silencing of hope, the stillness of joy, and an urge would besiege me, to flee, to run in the opposite direction, as if running east would help me meet the sun the earliest. It was so in my vision as well.

My penitent prayers were halted, my eyes stuck right on the line where the magenta sky turned to black without end. The wind fell silent, as did my thoughts, drowned by the presence of a terror I could not see, and I could hear nothing but my own breaths, hasted as if they were my last. Yet, for all the intensity of the dread that shook my body, there was no threat, no crux behind its hold over me, save, perhaps a force of custom before every sunset ever witnessed. The Vespers prayers reached me once more, softly, distant, whispered almost from another world, and I recognized the verses and their meaning. And at last His will was known to me and I knew my fear without reason to be the awe before His presence and my urge to flee to be His call.

Three are the Paths of Pilgrimage of our faith: the Path of Blood, from Velonest, the birthplace of Saint Nicholas the Martyr, to his resting place in Königstadt , taken usually by the Crimson Monks and those faithful that pray for an end to a loved one’s suffering; the Path of Spears, from the shores of the Bitter Sea to the Mount of Zahn, where Saint Gheorg slew the Beast, taken by faithful warriors and the Sicarii. And finally, the greatest, the Path of Penance, from Argem to the Claustrine, taken only once per one hundred years, on the century anniversary of the Transiens Tenebris.

Theos willing, I am to leave at first light tomorrow with the other pilgrims. I know this to be what I must do. It is in the poise of things, beloved. Between the night sky and the day’s fleeting light, between the silence of my solitude and the hymns of Vespers, at the end of my four fortnights of prayer asking for forgiveness, my vision would have me run to the east… One day before the Path of Penance would be taken, at the dawn of the new century. It cannot be chance, beloved, it can only be His will and I…

I am sorry, beloved. I know my religious ardor sometimes vexes you. You always thought my faith was coming before you. The hollow stare you wore the day before my anointment still haunts me. Know that I was only thankful, in the end. Even now, I do not think I would have found the strength to take my vows otherwise. You must know that I may at times know elation in my faith but I will never know happiness without you. I feel that leaving Sankt Volto would help us both. In His infinite wisdom, the Lord knows this too and called me. I am only sorry for the pain I caused you. That and only that I feel as sin above all else, for I never betrayed our love. I carry it still at heart, as I carry you, beloved.


P.S.: I do not wish this letter to end in such a manner. I promise I will write as often as I can and write of all I see! I will write to you of Argem, next, beloved.

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