Here is part three of Valar’s opening chapter. As I’ve said before, this is all in an early draft, but it should be entertaining for those interested.
Pushing her away, but holding her at arm’s length, he studied her face. “Did you do as I said? Did you close the doors?”
She nodded. “And locked them.”
He nodded and turned toward the alter. The sanctuary was mostly empty now. Either they had seen the foolishness of hiding in a church or they’d fled when the bell had fallen. Both were fine with him. They were safer out there, in the masses, than in here whether they realized it or not. Odds were against this building remaining standing when everything was all said and done.
Only the priest had remained. He stood now, in the center of the alter, glaring harsh words at them. Valar felt sure that had he not been a priest, and not such a self-controlled one at that, those words would have come fast and furious. That was the way with clergy. Probably that also meant he’d have to haul the priest out bodily or let the old man die there.
That was one decision he wouldn’t argue. The priest could come if he wanted, but Valar wasn’t about to force the man to do anything.
“Catacombs,” Valar shouted at the priest as he made his way toward the alter through lines of benches petitioners would have sat during services. “Do you have any catacombs?” His voice carried and reverberated through the vaulted space. On any other day, it would be a joy to. But not today.
The priest leaned forward, bracing himself on the alter to stare as the two of them approached. “Are you the one who destroyed my church?”
“It was for a good cause, Elder, trust me.” The words came breathy as Valar stopped before the old man.
“There is no cause worth enough to destroy a temple to the Immortal Lords.”
“I beg pardon, sir, but this time there is.”
“You mean those crowds out there?” The priest swept a hand toward the direction of the door. “They panic over nothing. Calm reflection could show you that? But instead, you come into my temple and cut down the bell. From here, I can see it’s ruined. It will be years before we can get the funds for an adequate replacement from the Anthaquim.”
“I’m sorry. I really am.” He really wasn’t. This man was blind. Worse than most as far as Valar was concerned. “I will make my dues to you and Her Lordship Lura just as soon as I can. But now we need to leave. You too, Elder.”
The priest snorted in disgust. “Hogswallop. We need not go anywhere. You’ve barred the doors. I saw her do it.” A boney finger jutted towards Senar. “We’re perfectly safe. Now what’s your name? I want a record of it for when this mess is done.”
“Taneid Valar, Elder. Now can we go? Catacombs. Is there any catacombs under this place.”
“No.” Valar wasn’t sure if the old man meant that there wasn’t any catacombs or that they couldn’t leave. Somehow, it seemed to stand for both. “How many times do I have to say that we’re perfectly safe here?” He started pacing around the dais.
“We aren’t. Have you seen people like this before, sir? They—”
“That rabble is nothing to concern yourself with. Right now, they are little more than animals, giving into their baser instincts. But soon enough, reason will restore itself and you will pay for what you’ve done to my temple.”
On any other day, perhaps, that might have held more weight. To destroy temples risked retribution, if not from the courts, then from the masses. But for what he’d done, Valar felt sure that the courts would send him to the gallows. If any courts were to be left after today.
He turned and gestured to Senar to follow him back the way they had come. The old priest squaked and rushed ahead of them. There was surprising speed in those old bones. “You cannot go. I will have you stay here until this mess,” he gestured toward the bell behind him with his head, “is settled.”
“We aren’t safe here.” Valar spoke as slowly and clearly as he could.
The priest shook his head and took two steps backward. “Nonsense. Go sit. Think on your sins.”
Valar sighed and a window broke. It all happened faster than he could see, but old instincts took over. Glass showered down as he turned and grabbed Senar, covering her with his body as they fell to the floor. He could hear the rain of debris onto the stone floor. It seemed to go on for a lifetime and, at the same time, only a second or two. Senar breathed heavily into his shoulder between frightened sobs.
Once the pitter-patter had died down enough that Valar felt safe for the moment, he lifted his head and looked at his daughter. Tears streaked her face through eyes clenched shut, but other than the fear that painted her face, she seemed to be alright. A blessing that, considering the stone floor they now lay on.
The priest hadn’t been so lucky. His body lay in a crumpled heap on the floor, looking untouched. Untouched save for his missing head. That was splattered about the sanctuary. The cannonball which had done the damage lay in a hole in the stone floor, still smoldering. Broken and scattered benches were pushed away from the impact by the force of the blow.
Father and Daughter came unsteadily to their feet. There went that idea. Sure, he could spend time searching for the answer he sought, but to do so would again waste time he didn’t feel he had. As the ringing in his ears died away, he could hear cannon shot landing about the city. That he could deal with. It was said that it was the one you never heard which ended your life. A small voice in the back of his head asked if that was true, then how did you know?
Cries from beyond the temple doors grew louder and Valar turned to look at them as the pounding registered. The plank that Senar had used to lock the doors would hold for a little bit, but it not forever. Already, he could see more and more force applied to the doors. That plank wouldn’t hold long. Senar gripped his arm and Valar glanced at her. Her eyes were glued on the doors.
He growled deep in his throat. Had only the silly girl done what he’d said, he’d only have one neck to think about. No, he admitted to himself, that wasn’t true. I’d still be worrying over her, I just wouldn’t know how bad it actually would be for her.
Valar’s eyes scanned over the damned priest. At least now he wouldn’t have to worry about that one man stretching his neck over that bell. Nor over what he had to do next.
Freeing himself from his daughter’s grip, he reached down and picked up a chunk from one of the benches. It was too long and unwieldy to do much of anything, but several swings against the stone wall of the temple fixed that problem. When he was done, he gripped a stick of wood about the length and size of his arm. A bit of wood he’d been unable to dislodge still clung to the end. It didn’t really matter.
The pounding on the door had stopped. Senar took several steps toward the doors, moving most of the rest of the way toward the entryway. “Father,” she said over her shoulder, “I think they’ve—”
She cut off as an even louder pounding then before started on the doors. This was different, however. Not only was it more forceful, but the attacks were rhythmic rather than the individual attempts made by several hands. No, this was much more organized.
Valar stepped up to the nearest window—a stained glass thing about waist high and depicting Lura’s rising from the sea—and swung his makeshift club two handed. Glass and lead lining cracked but didn’t give way. He swung again and again, each time cracking the panes or lining a little more. A pane even fell out, creating a hole no bigger than his fist, but nothing near large enough to allow escape appeared. Frustrated, he dropped the stick. This was useless.
Then a chunk of bench flew by his head. Wind rushed by his ear at its passing. It crashed through the window, glass and lead providing little in the way of resistance. Turning, he saw Senar grinning from ear to ear.
“You always left the hay for Manura and me while you went and milked the cows. Guess all that work paid off.”
“I guess so,” he said, feeling a smile creep onto his own face. “Glad that I did.” A sudden crack from the doorway brought him back to the reality at hand. He shot a glance at the door and could see a crack in the locking board that hadn’t been there before. Each subsquient hit cracked the board anew. It was only a matter of time now before it completely gave way. Grasping the stick of wood anew, he started knocking loose some of the glass that still stuck to the window frame. Once that was done, he gestured to Senar and they carried a bench over to the window.
Senar went first, using the bench as a stool to help her over the window ledge. She dropped down without a word. Valar went next. His coat caught on an edge of glass as he climbed up and over, tearing a new hole in the shoulder. Just as well that. This coat was long past ruined long ago. Sleeping in it for a week or two would do that.
He let out a grunt as he hit the ground. As he stood up, he saw that the alley that ran alongside the temple dropped at a step rate. The window ledge he had fallen from now sat at eye level. That would teach him to leap without looking. Senar gave him a lopsided grin as she attempted to brush mud off her skirts. Those were also just as clearly ruined as his own jacket. Mud also streaked down her face in single line from beside her nose.
Reaching out, he did his best to brush it away, but only succeeded in knocking off the large chunks. A thin line still ran down her face. She would need a bath to get rid of it.
She reached up and pulled away his hand. “You don’t look much better. A little mud won’t make much of a difference.” A sudden crack, sounding almost as loud as thunder to Valar’s ears, sounded from within the temple. “But I think a bullet or two might. Shall we get going?”
Valar nodded. Should the enemy army reach them, then he doubted that his daughter wouldn’t get the simple pleasure of a quick death from a bullet. Not for some time at least. She was a beautiful girl when she didn’t have mud covering her. No, not a bullet for her. That thought speed up his feet like nothing else could.