The year’s delicate blooms still slept under deep snow as Vivian trudged through. Her formerly-pristine white and gold robes were stained with the wear and tear of winter travel with her companions, and her hair was cropped short and uneven– the legacy of a fight against a hair-pulling troll who fought dirty. Just behind her, two others followed along– a fighter whose usefulness outside of combat was limited named Frederich vonSnau, and a filthy hunchback who couldn’t hold his meals in his mouth, let alone a conversation. His name was Pog.
Vivian refused to look back at them. Their recent bouts of idiocy left her no choice but to return to town for fresh supplies, and hopefully a drink or ten to cry into. This mission from the Father was more babysitting than a holy crusade!
With a hopeless sigh, she showed her papers to the town guard and walked in ahead of the two men, who were allowed in after her. She escorted them to the chapel and left them in the care of the local nuns before she went to a pub for some much-needed drink.
The first mug went down clean and quick. The second followed the same way, and she began to feel warm. Her mood improved after she was halfway done with her third mug, and she was telling the story as she began her fourth.
“I tell you– I tell you what. I don’t think the Father knows what’s he’s doing.” She paused as she stared at the bartender. Sacrilege was always a great story starter. “What he does– he sends me out with a pair of simple-headed dolts.” She sighed; in her mind she was the distressed heroine. “It’s not fair. I am the most powerful user of God’s magic!” Vivian’s mood began to sour. “It’s just not fair.”
“Oh.” The bartender was eager to move on, but Vivian began up again with her story. Patiently, he listened as he served his other customers.
“You see, we just passed through here yesterday-“
“Yes, I recall serving you last night, too.” He tried to cut her off, but it did nothing. Based on last night, she could talk for hours, clearly, until he finally had to call a guard to escort her to the chapel. If he could, he wanted to cut her off before she continued. “We have meals if you’re hungry. On the house for a preacher woman.” If her mouth was full, he was sure she’d not talk.
“Thanks, but I ate on the way in.” She slumped. “I would have had enough for tomorrow morning, too, had those two oafs simply listened to what I told them.” Her tone was mournful. “I sent Fred the Simplehead down to a stream for water, and Pog the Trogg followed along, after I told him to get some wood. Instead, I had two men with stupid grins and buckets of water that they dumped on me! I was carrying all of the food supplies!” She sighed. “And then it reeked of pee, so I had toe bathe, and while I was gone, they dried our supplies by burning them to char.” Tears began to form in her eyes. “We only had some half-ruined cornmeal and scorched jerky to eat, and would have had nothing for tomorrow, if we kept going!” The tears began, and her shoulders shook.
A muscled hand rested suddenly on her shoulder. Behind her, a tall man stood. “I’m sorry for your difficulties, ma’am.” His voice was humble. “I’m not sure drink will help any, though.” He smiled at her. “I run the local supply store. Perhaps I can help ease your troubles.”
The bartender quickly looked away as Vivian looked up with curious eyes.
“Thank you. Any help is appreciated,” she agreed easily.
The supply store owner smiled. “I open bright and early tomorrow. Perhaps until then, we can chat in private? You could tell me more about your troubles. I hear an ear is the best medicine for stress.” His hand remained on her shoulder as he offered his other to help her up.
Vivian smiled and took his hand, grateful. “I’m so glad there are some good men left in this world.” She leaned against him heavily. “I’m only leaning because I feel like I may fall over,” she warned. “I just want a fresh start. A new year will start soon, when the Father sees the first white flower of the spring.” A sigh escaped her lips, and she followed the man, but forgot to pay for her drinks.
The bartender refused to watch them leave.
Once the pair was outside, the man introduced himself. “My name is Lawson. What can I call you?” His smile was warm in the light from the pub’s window.
“Please, call me Vivian.” The warm breeze felt comfortable, and she began to feel tired. “Such a pretty night.” She looked up. “Even the sky is pretty. We should celebrate with a drink.”
Lawson chuckled. “That seems a bit silly, doesn’t it? You’re a woman of the church. Surely, God’s will is enough to get drunk on?”
The woman smiled. “Trust me, it is in the beginning, until you ask one wrong question.” Her eyes became distant. “I only wanted to know why we shun natural magic, but allow the magic of the dead and demons. Isn’t death and demon magic much more harmful?”
He shrugged slowly. “I’ve not thought about that.”
The man chuckled. “Perhaps so.” His hand had not yet left her shoulder, and he used it to slowly turn her to the town gate. “My shop is this way.”
She nodded, content to follow along until well after they were out of the town before she began to notice that they were entering the forest. “Wait, isn’t your shop in town?” She tried to turn, but he stopped her with the hand that continued to rest on her shoulder, and continued to push her along. His firm grip kept them moving forward.
“You have been living in Sin, Sister Vivian. The Holy Father has sent me to punish you properly. For drunkenness, for sacrilege, and for speaking against the Holy Father and disobeying his commands, your punishment is fourfold.” He turned her to face him once they were out of sight of the town. “Do you wish to repent?”
Fear slowly filled Vivian’s belly. “I wish to repent.”
“For those four, you may. For the final sin, you may not.”
With a shaking voice, she spoke. “What is my final sin?”
“You wear your Holy robes, even while you speak against God, the Church, and the Father. You sully yourself and all that is Holy. For that, your punishment is death in smoke, so you will die as filthy as you are. You will atone for your other sins by serving me for a period of four years before you face your punishment. Do you accept, or shall I punish you for all of your sins here and now, and disgrace you publicly?”
Vivian felt like there was a noose about her neck as she spoke. “I accept.”
Four years later, Vivian’s executioner laid a small, white flower on her soot-streaked, weakened body as, with her head restrained over a smoky flame, she suffocated. With careful hands, he planted another flower. The Father would have his spring after Vivian returned to the earth.
With a brief, pained glance, he caught a last look at Vivian while she still lived, before he returned to the supply store for work.