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The Devil's Advocate (Prologue)
Desperate. He’d told her to hurry. She was trying. Her feet quickly thumped the pavement as she ran, breathless. He said that they were coming for her baby, that the only safe place for him was the Priesthood. The streets were slick with the deluge of rain. Her heart skipped a beat when the echoing clash of thunder clasped like an angry god. Please don’t let them catch him. She couldn’t bare for that to happen. Good gods, who knew what they would do if she couldn’t get there fast enough.
Her chest stung something fierce and her legs felt like deadweights but the sound of oncoming hooves drover her forward still. Wet clumps of her hair stuck to her face and obscured her already blurry vision. The haze that the heavy rain was creating wasn’t helping either.
She knew she was slowing down. No matter how hard she pushed her body, the stamina was gone and adrenaline was fading away. The towering shadow of the temple grounds ahead gave her a flicker of hope. She was so close now. She could save her baby. She could save him if she just reached the doorstep. The woman found her last ounce of strength and pushed towards those looming doors.
That was her safety. Rather, she knew she was going to die so it was her son’s safety. Heart pounding, legs flailing, she finally reached the doorway.
“Please someone! Open the door!” she screamed.
The hoof stomps came closer. She could hear the splashing of water and the horse’s haunting cry. Her pleading shouts were deafened by the pouring rain. But her voice had to pass the barrier if there was going to be any hope. She shouted and pounded on the door furiously until finally an old man opened.
Without explaining herself or thinking twice, the woman shoved her way inside, still clutching her child, and slammed the door shut behind her. There was still a possibility that her pursuers could break in and she didn’t want to take any chances. The man who’d opened the door stood astonished when she grabbed the metal bar sitting vertically connected to the door frame and dropped it into its place as a useful blockade.
“What are you doing, young woman?” the man demanded.
Panting, she turned to him with wild eyes. More than sounding angry, he seemed concerned. She forced herself to think logically, level-headedly. The scary men couldn’t set foot on these temple grounds. She was safe now. Her chest heaved and she was about ready to collapse. The weight of her crying babe made her arms scream in protest.
“Please…take him…He’s…” she gasped.
Seeing that she was about ready to faint, the man took her child in his arms. Immediately, all the adrenaline she’d had a moment ago was gone. The floor was cold and she winced when she crashed onto it, still gasping for breath. Her arms were trembling and her drenched clothes and dripping hair formed a puddle on the stone.
“You aren’t a thief are you? Those men out there looked pretty opt on catching you,” the man commented suspiciously. He was wearing simple brown robes. Good, then this was the right place.
“I know you must have stray, homeless people coming in all the time…asking for shelter,” she took a painful swallow and breathed raggedly before continuing. “But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because the prophet said this was the only place my boy would be safe. These men out there are working for someone. I don’t know who but I know they’re after him,” she indicated the child, whose blankets were now soaked.
“Don’t worry, I can tell you’re sincere.”
She was so relieved she could’ve died right there. “So will you take my baby in? He said you were the only ones who could protect him. He said that if he stayed with me, we’d eventually be killed.”
“Come. I’ll get you both dry clothes,” the man kindly invited. She was so tired that she didn’t care if she was soaking or not. Then again, now that she’d stopped running she could feel how cold she was. The icy feeling chilled her to the bone. She couldn’t stop her teeth from chattering. At least the inside of the building was warmer.
Now that she could breathe more naturally, she could take a second to look at her surroundings. It didn’t look like the main sanctuary but the architecture was divine nevertheless. No place she’d ever gone to was this finely built. Candle chandeliers hung from the arching ceiling and lit up the large room. Colorful tapestries lined both walls, their faces beautifully sewn with the bold figures of prominent people.
She forced herself to her feet and grunted. The tight pain in her leg must be a stretched muscle. She tried to ignore it as he followed her savior, shivering and wet like a stray dog. Around her, the people on the faces of the vibrant cloth stared down. Their eyes spoke judgment on her. The tension it gave made her uncomfortable, more uncomfortable than she already was.
“This way,” the man called when he noticed her dumbly looking around.
“Ah…yes” she mumbled and followed him through the halls until he entered a small rom. She assumed it was his because of the small bed and assorted belongings. In the far corner of the room, leaning against the wall, she spotted a sword. Her suspicion rose for a second and then faded. He was a nice man who opened the doors when she’d needed saving. Unless he was faking kindness, it should be safe with him at least for now.
“Make yourself at home and put these on,” the man set the baby on the bed and handed her some clothes from his drawer.
They’d be a little big but they would do. She changed as he stepped out of the chamber momentarily, and was glad to have dry clothes. The fabric was somewhat thick and durable so it must’ve been his winter clothing. Maybe they only had one kind though. He was wearing the same outfit as her so she couldn’t tell.
They wrapped the baby in another of his shirts and waited for him to fall asleep. The poor thing had survived a rough, stressful day. No wonder he could greet slumber so easily. Compassion and sorrow built up in her chest and tears watered her eyes. How could she leave her first son with a stranger? Should she really trust that prophet? After the chase it felt like she had no choice. It was all happening so quickly though.
“So why do you come to drop off your son?” the man broke the silence. She owed him a complete and honest answer.
The room was warm and dimly lit by a couple of candles. It was okay to leave her baby in a clean, sheltered house with scholars teaching him literacy. It was a life she could never give the beloved child. But beneath the prosperity, she remembered the foreboding darkness of the prophet’s words. There was nothing she could do to change the fate placed upon the boy.
“The prophet told me to bring him here—“
“You’ve said that,” he interrupted but she held up a finger.
“I wasn’t finished yet. He told me to bring my boy here to become the Devil’s Advocate.”
The man’s face, once humble and caring, darkened gravely. What was wrong? What was a Devil’s Advocate anyways? It sounded dangerous. That’s why she’d doubted the prophet. That’s why she needed to know.
“What is it? Please tell me!” The worry from before rose again, bringing new troubles. She felt all the more exhausted because of it.
“I can’t tell you,” the man spoke, his voice suddenly like a painful crack that echoed in the small room.
“Why not?” Anger and panic spiked at the secrecy. “What is my son going to have to do?”
“It is the Priesthood’s business. Not yours. I’m sorry but we’ve all sworn to Shira not to tell. I wouldn’t break my own oath only to put you at more risk. No, I won’t. It’s actually best that you leave by morning so no one gets suspicious.”
Why so quick to get rid of me right after you save me?” she challenged.
“The other brothers wouldn’t want…stray women wandering in the temple. I’m sorry but this is honesty all I can do for you,” he replied.
Seeing as he wasn’t going to be persuaded, she sighed, forcing her wet bangs away from her eyes with her fingers.
“I can tell you, though, that your son will become someone important. He’ll be taught by the best, taught of our ways, practicing charity and humble worship. He won’t ever go hungry. He’ll have clean robes on his back and a roof over his head. I promise I’ll make sure to take care of him. I’ll raise him like he’s my own son. I swear it by the holy name of Shira,” the man raised his hand in solemn oath.
This stranger would raise her son. HER son, not his! “Is there…any way I could visit him?” she fought back rising tears.
“I honestly doubt it. If the brothers found out that his mother was constantly breaking onto the grounds and interrupting his training, they’d ban you from the temple all together. This night is your last with him.” His eyes appeared sympathetic. It was the truth.
“Oh gods,” she burst into tears and sobbed. “My son, my son…” She lovingly caressed her boy’s face with a wet hand as hot tears ran down her face, obscuring her vision again. “His name is Ishmael. Tell him…that his mother wasn’t just some whore and she didn’t abandon him,” she pleaded, her body quivering as she cried. “Swear it to me!”
She felt him place his hand on her shoulder as he calmly answered, “I swear.”