One Stone, Chapter 20

Rafe was still completely uncertain as to what, exactly, he was doing at the church. The first few days he’d slept at the church, which had been, in his mind, crashing. There were occasional errands with the fully-armoured Kivis, too, which could mark one or two days in the time since the Praefoco job. The most recent morning, though, he’d woken up, rubbed his hand through his hair, looked up at the bars – bars he’d grown used to – and realised he had been sleeping in this same room, doing minor jobs and staying hidden inside the church for four weeks. Whole days melted away underneath the glossy sun that shone through the high windows of the church, and while it certainly was better than the prison cell life, and the food – bread and water – was at least less likely to be spat in, he was still tethered to the same bed, and slept behind bars.

For four Sundays now, Rafe had seen the church fill up, and then empty again, just once in the day. The people had been adorned about in grey and brown, with a few rare flashes of silver, or a bright purple feather. Children, often with no shoes, had laid on their bellies under the pews, whispering to one another, scribbling on tiny chalkboards, to keep themselves entertained. The sermons had all been short, had begun with a quote from the Books, and had not spoken of the books after that point. Simple hymns, hymns everyone knew, because they didn’t have hymnbooks. The missing fingers, the shuffles and limps, and the slow, steady chorus of coughs throughout the service… Rafe felt his stomach turning as he looked out at them.

Shuffling footsteps left, and then Kivis and Rafe had emerged from their little corner of the church, behind the door which didn’t quite shut properly, and helped stack the pews, pick up the chalkboards, and sort the money that had accrued in the dark purple velvet back, mothworn in the corners. There wasn’t much, which explained why feeding three people was done with bread and water. Thankfully, the city rained enough that they at least always had water, when you scooped that odd floating web of brown and black strands off the top. That just settled on everything wet of a morning, downwind from the trainyards, steelworks, and shipyards.

“Hey, priest,” Rafe said, his hands on his knees, as Brother Fratarelli came down, down into the basement cellar. “What’re we doing?”

The Brother looked down at the little clay plate in his hand and the cup resting on it between two bread rolls and offered an uncertain shrug. “I was bringing you some breakfast. You really don’t sleep well, you know?”

Rafe’s nose wrinkled, his top lip curling back. Really, the sneer was too comfortable an expression to wear. “… Thanks,” he managed to say, not sure if he meant to the concern or the food. He pushed himself to stand, walking to meet the priest, shaking out his hair.

“Aderyn will be coming around today, which will be nice for you,” said the priest, with the tone like it was a play date. “You two do enjoy your little sessions.”

Rafe followed the steps behind the priest, biting into one roll as he went. “It’s not a little session, we train.”

“Yes, I know! It’s really quite remarkable.”

“Why’s that?” Rafe asked, circling around behind the Brother, trying to move past him up the stairs – but it was no good, the rotund monk filled the passage as he went up the spiral stairs.

“Well, you don’t tend to appreciate difficult things.”

Again, Rafe rankled. Everyone seemed intent to tell him things about himself, and it seemed they always were wrong. Still, no point yelling at the back of the priest’s head about it. He’d just figure Rafe was being defensive, that word they liked to use when someone got angry. “Girl comes at you like she’s trying to kill me.” He said.

“That is her job, isn’t it? Not to kill you, particularly, mind, but-“

“Yes, but she’s… a bit good at it.” Rafe managed, lamely. Ever since the Praefoco job, he’d had to re-evaluate the incredibly prim girl. Girl. Young lady? Ugh, no word seemed right. They all seemed to undervalue the sort of person who could drive a fifteen-cim blade into someone’s brain via their jaw.

“Well, get better.” The priest said, at the top of the stairs, holding the door open. “There are some high windows that need washing today – do you think you can give me a hand with those?”

Rafe was holding a bucket when he finally gave rise to the thought. “I think she might be, um, I think she may be crazy.”

“Crazy, Rafe?” Brother Fratarelli’s voice was slightly muted by the glass, as he scrubbed side to side. Of course Rafe had the outside, where he had to stand on the scaffold and scrape off the soot.

“Well, you know… um-“

“Crazier than a boy who goes to prison for murders he didn’t commit?”

Rafe let that pass with just a glare, which, thanks to the white sheen on the glass, was mostly seen by him.

The sunlight dried the sweat on his back, which was good, because it told Rafe that the now-clean windows had at least a little time before the rain sheeted black onto them again, as he wrung out his socks from the dropped bucket. The little step in the vestibule was soft, worn wood. Once it’d been a hard corner, like on the sides, but in the middle now it was worn smooth and shiny.

“Come with me.” Brother Fratarelli said, reaching down to pat his shoulder.

The church was one very large room, surrounded by a half-dozen very little rooms. The cell downstairs, which Rafe liked to pretend was originally just a boiler room. The priest’s garret. The room where Kivis and Rafe and Brother Fratarelli ate in silence. The office, where the priest creaked up stairs to write his sermons – and it was into that that he led Rafe. While Rafe sat on one of the two chairs, the priest sorted down through an old cabinet, producing a thick bundle of tightly-tied papers, script on in black ink.

“Now, Rafe, you’re a young man of analytical mind. I understand you’re a bit on the sharp side. I want you to look at these.”

“What are they?”

“You could look at them and find out?”

Rafe sighed, blowing hair out of his eyes, and undid the stack. Pushing his hand through the sheaf, he regarded an odd form of writing he hadn’t known before. There was a question, cleanly written, printed out on paper in broad script, and underneath it, in a flow of ink that showed a feminine hand, an answer to the question. Then another question, then another answer. At the top of each set of pages there were some numbers, and the name Aderyn Duthane. While he wasn’t sure, Rafe could at least make an ill-educated guess.

“These are Aderyn’s test papers.” Then a beat, as he turned the paper over. “You have her schoolwork.”

“Yes, quite,” Brother Fratarelli said. “It’s to verify a student’s abilities when they apply for positions. You can just request a transcript. They’re made using gummed paper, you see, so you can acquire transcripts for-“

“You have her schoolwork.” Rafe repeated.

“What you need to look for-“

“That is really creepy.” He was dwelling.

Brother Fratarelli cleared his throat and thumbed the table. “Young man, Three weeks ago, you broke into a stranger’s home and stabbed him in the neck with his own window.”

“Oh. Aderyn told you about that? Hang on, it was four weeks.”

“She told me In quite precise detail. And was it really four…? My word.”

Both men sat, and sighed reflectively.

“Very well, now, Rafe. Look, carefully here now. Here is her first written test, six years ago. Look here, the red mark? That’s from a teacher grading it. Look for these scores on the papers.”

“… Seventy-two percent.”

“Out of a possible hundred points, she scored seventy two. You’re familiar with this system, yes?”

“Yeah,” Rafe said, meaning No, but I’ve worked it out from what you just said.

“And here’s her end-of-year one.”

“Seventy two percent.”

“And… well, here are three chosen at random.” The priest cast the papers across the table.

“Seventy… two percent.” Rafe didn’t know why that seemed weird, just yet. But there was the way the priest talked about it. Clearly, you weren’t supposed to earn the same score every time.

“Now then, Rafe, tell me, what do you think is more likely? That this young lady is just always exactly seventy-two percent informed on a topic? When you consider test scores are sort-of-random?”

“… I’d say someone is cheating.”

“Indeed! That’s what I thought. Most of these tests are graded by teachers who have no reason to comment on it, though. If she scored a hundred percent, every time, that would create an obvious problem.”

“Right.”

“What I think happened, and why Aderyn drew my attention, is because her mark is perfectly placed. No teacher will notice a seventy-two on one test out of dozens. No teacher will comment on it to their peers. Nobody will see this pattern. You’d need systemic, deliberate and easily found organisation to make this pattern.”

“Or…”

“Or she chose to hit that score. Every time.”

Rafe surveyed the papers, his eyes scanning across the page. There were errors, errors highlighted in a dull red ink, but they were all small. Sometimes an answer was missed, but then later questions would be answered correctly. Her text was flowing and beautiful. Rafe sat back in his chair and looked over the paper at the priest.

“What’s this meant to mean, then?”

“What it means, young man, is that I am certain that Lady Aderyn DuThane is a kind of crazy. But she is trying very hard to be normal, and I imagine you’d best respect what that says about her as a person.”

*

Brother Fratarelli liked to consider himself a patient man, and a kind man, and a thoughtful man, which were traits he felt gave him great strength while dealing with Rafe. The fifth week of his time at the church, though, Kivis had come into the garret, and upon hearing her report, and all that patience had to reign in him spitting out ‘Fiddlesticks!’ to the ceiling. His hands on the table, he stood, and paced, and then, since pacing wasn’t enough, he stormed out of the room, into the main hall of the church.

Aderyn and Rafe were duelling there, or rather, Aderyn had a knife, and Rafe was trying as artfully as possible to avoid being killed. The pressure was good for him, Brother Fratarelli reflected. Maybe the boy had taken to heart what he’d said a week ago, and tried to challenge himself more. The sight didn’t do anything to stop the fume, though.

“Why, hello, Brother Fratarelli,” Aderyn said, her tone cheerful and even, without even seeming to notice the exertion of sweeping a knife through the air towards Rafe’s head. “That was some harsh language for a priest,” she noted.

Ah, so they’d heard him. The priest tried to think less of his embarassment and more of the matter. “I do apologise, to you and to god. Hopefully it wasn’t too stern.”

“You said,” Rafe grunted, rolling back up to his feet. “Fiddlesticks. That’s not much of a swear far as I know.”

“The way I understand it, Rafe, you haven’t been very well educated.” Aderyn pointed out, with a lunge.

“Says who?”

“Says whom.”

“What?” Rafe’s confused expression leant back sharply as the knife, once more, shot into his personal space.

Brother Fratarelli sat on one of the pews, pushed up to the side of the room, nursing his chin in his hand, while his rear filled all the available space it could. Sweep, grunt, clash. Kick, leap, push. It was balletic to watch, and the priest let himself focus on the spectacle for a few minutes, while he tried to marshal his thoughts.

“It seems that since the death of Praefoco, his estate’s been… ugh. There’s been a lot of purchasing done of what he left behind. No widow to leave the goods to, and his business has been mostly broken into pieces. In the collapse of his estate, however, seems that a man named Luke Cornell has benefited.”

“Is… that a problem?” Aderyn asked, even as she grabbed a fistful of Rafe’s hair, sweeping him towards her other hand, blade pointed at his face – her attention over at the priest.

“Luke Cornell – well, you might know him as the Sinner?”

Rafe skidded onto his knees, tumbling forwards, out of Aderyn’s grip and away from the knife. “Luke The Sinner?” he said, holding up a hand, signalling to Aderyn to stop the fight. She, unsurprisingly, didn’t, lunging at his turned back.

“Yes…” Brother Fratarelli sighed, rubbing his chin even while Rafe was slammed face-first into the ground. “Luke the Sinner is a powerful man in the criminal underground. Apparently, Praefoco’s estate had…” Brother Fratarelli shook his head, and sighed, hanging his head. Then, he drew himself up again. “The Praefoco estate purchased, as curios, several pieces of evidence that would have been useful for implicating Luke Cornell in his criminal enterprise.”

“So what?” Rafe asked. “Luke’s got money, no real reason to expect he’d ever face, you know, consequences.”

Brother Fratarelli sighed, fingertip to his temple. “It’s not quite as easily dismissed as all that, Rafe.”

“Of course,” Aderyn said, stabbing downwards into the floorboards of the church, while the young man underneath her rolled to the side. “With the right judge and watchman, a little evidence would do wonders.”

“So, kill him.” Rafe shrugged.

“What?!”

Rafe stopped short again, this time facing Aderyn, his hands raised, hoping this time she’d understand the signal. Still, the priest’s indignant tone was tangible. “Hang the hell on here, hang on hang on. Did- did you just get indignant about me suggesting we kill someone? You blackmailed me into killing Praefoco!”

“Yes, but -“

“What?! No buts!” Rafe said. “What’s got you squeamish about this one?”

The brother, sweat sheening his temples, had stood, had found himself pacing again, and now he stood, without even realising it, between the young boy and young woman who had between them, one knife. That much, it seemed, stopped Aderyn’s movement.

“Praefoco was doing the wrong thing. He was doing the wrong thing.” he drew himself up, drawing in breath, pulling upon the power of sermon. “But there are any men who do the wrong thing, young man. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be so swift to-”

“That’s quitter talk.” Aderyn murmured.

Brother Fratarelli sagged. “I have no intention of paying for the assassination of Luke Cornell.”

Aderyn “Why not?”

“Because we are not in the comeuppance business.”

“Brother,” Aderyn asked, leaning forwards. “Why does this matter to you?”

“Because there has to be a line. There has to be a rule. Praefoco and Tully were bad men, yes, but there are many, many bad men. I know, I hear their confessions every day. But I cannot just loose you both as a pair of hunting falcons to bring back whatever, whatever wickedness they find! Praefoco was making life almost impossible for thousands of women in the city, and there was no force that could stop him.”

“Not even God?”

“Not- that is NOT the point!”

“Says you.”

“We are in the business of Justice! We commit acts of righteous violence that-“

“Whoah, hold up there old man, we commit? You don’t do SHIT.”

“And that’s where you’re wrong. I loosed you! I hired Aderyn! My hand is as bloody as yours-“

“Oh,” Aderyn said. Then she leapt over Brother Fratarelli’s head, to try and stab Rafe again.

*

A week later, a meal of fish and chips, under a moonlit sky, paid for with a young woman’s allowance from her land-owning parents. Aderyn wasn’t sure what had done it, but for the past two weeks, Rafe had been behaving differently. The dynamic the boy had been using before – where he didn’t respect her, and assumed she was incompetent – had disappeared. Most strangely, it hadn’t disappeared after Cameo Tully, which was when she’d have expected it to. Quite frankly, he was confusing her. Still, she did have an experiment in mind.

Kicking her legs idly at the edge of the rooftop, Aderyn pushed a hand through her hair, the hand that hadn’t touched any of her food. “You know much about Luke Cornell?”

“Cha mean?” he asked, picking the small, crunchy bits of chip out of the paper.

“Do you know where he lives, and what he does?”

“Yeah, most folk know him. Got a river boat, you know?”

Aderyn nodded. River boats. Contained environments. Those were excellent places to work.

“I think that we should find someone who would hire us to kill him.”

“Hire you,” Rafe noted. “I’m doing this shit for free.”

“And some bread rolls.” Aderyn noted, reproachfully.

“Yes, yes, and some bread rolls.”

“Do you think that it would upset Brother Fratarelli? That we would act without his urging?”

“I’m not going to lie to you, I’m pretty ambivalent.” Rafe crunched on some burnt, crunchy potato mess.

“That’s not what that means.”

“What?”

“You’re not ambivalent; you’re apathetic. Ambivalent is holding two different emotional connections to the thing. You might hate and love something, being ambivalent. But you, you just don’t care. So you’re apathetic.”

“Huh. You read a lot, do you, lady?”

“As is appropriate for a young lady to do.” Aderyn said, putting on her smile, and looking up at the moon.

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