Brother Hamish refused to believe he had killed a man. Yet, here at Hamish’s feet lay the body of a man with a rusted dagger in his stomach. His eyes were half-closed, his mouth half open, as if in the throes of ecstasy. The man had recognized Hamish and now he was dead.
The Brother’s lips, stained purple with the Wine of the Goddess, quivered as he looked on the body. Hamish could only wonder, Who did this?
Brother Hamish held his hands up to the rain, as an act of supplication. Drops of scarlet beaded off his skin, slipped between the wooden boards of the road, and were swallowed by the swamp. Hamish pulled off his hood and let the water slide down his shaved head. He checked the road to see if anyone was watching, but he saw no one.
He gripped the dead man by the shoulders, and pulled him to the edge of the boardwalk, grunting with effort. He thought about giving the Last Rites, but the rain was growing stronger. The swamp had already started to rise, and Hamish heard thunder rolling over the marsh.
“Goddess, bring this man into your fold. May his mortal sins never stain his immortal soul.” Hamish pressed two fingers to his own stained lips, and made a sign over the body. The thunder was growing louder. With both hands Brother Hamish rolled the body off the boardwalk.
The body fell with a splash into the black water, but it didn’t sink. One limp arm still rested on the wooden boards. Hamish was reminded of Brother Joseph’s arm, and the way it hung off the bunk bed every night as Hamish said his prayers.
Beneath the thunder, Hamish heard a whinny. Hooves clunked on the wooden walkway that carved it’s way through the marsh, and in the lightning Hamish could see the outline of a rider on a horse. The rider was close.
“Shit!” Hamish shoved the body into the water, but the dead man’s hand caught in between the boards, and the body tumbled lazily underneath the boardwalk, making a soft bumping sound. Hamish wrestled the body, drenching his robes in swamp water as the rider approached.
“Hallo! You there!” The rider swung a lantern in Hamish’s direction as called through the downpour, “You alright, friend?”
Hamish stood over the boardwalk, covering the deadman’s hand with his robe. He bowed in the Brother’s Way before the rider, “I’m lost, sir. I’m a Servant of the Goddess and I lost my guide.”
“I don’t know. He ran ahead when the rain started, and I’ve not seen him since.” For a holy man, Hamish found it surprisingly easy to lie.
“I bet he ran off with your money too, didn’t he? Cutthroats everywhere, I say.”
“Yes-” Hamish choked.
“Come, Brother, I am headed back to Black Crest. Will you walk with me?”
Black Crest was the largest settlement in the swamp, and the Goddess had commanded Mother Ama to build a temple here centuries ago, with the hope that the Faithful would gather. But not many marsh dwellers agreed with the Word of the Goddess, and the Faith had struggled to grow.
When Hamish had been assigned to Black Crest, he had come with the zeal of a newly trained recruit, and that zeal had still not left him almost a decade later. He was the only brother who went out every week to another marsh village or bog hovel. Even the heathens should know the Goddess’ love.
Hamish whispered silent prayers through his violet lips. The stone temple had emptied hours ago, and the other Brothers had snuffed out their candles and locked away their books. The last to go, Brother Jacob, left a candle on for Hamish and wandered off to sleep without a word.
The sound of rain on stone muffled Hamish’s fervent whispering, and soon his shaved head bobbed gently in the candlelight. Hamish fell asleep on his knees.
The candle was about to drown itself in its own wax when the temple door creaked open and a gust of wind snuffed out the flame. Hamish was still kneeling, arms on the pew in front of him, and snoring into his folded hands. Shadows rose and fell as the door shut soundlessly.
Hamish’s snorted himself awake, “Wha-?”
A shadow swept across the stone floor and the voice echoed off the stone, “Your deeds are known.”
Hamish scrambled on the bench, banged his knee on the wood, and staggered into an upright position, cringing in pain.
“Who’s there? Who are you?”
“You have been chosen to join us, Brother.” There was a shimmer in the darkness, like the heat from a flame, and a man stepped out of the shadows, “Will you embrace the Gloom, Brother?”
“What in the Holy Name are you talking about?”
The man tucked his long, greasy hair behind his ear and grinned, “You went into the swamp with a guide, but you came out alone. Your deeds are known, murderer.”
“Get away from me,” Brother Hamish stepped away from the pew. The long-haired man followed, lengthening his grin.
“What did it feet like, Brother, to free another soul from his earthly burdens, to feel flesh give in to your blade? Did you see his eyes?”
“Stop it! I never, I never-”
“Did you hear Death, Brother? Did you hear the wings, beating?”
Hamish’s heart was pounding in his ears. His feet got caught in his robe, and he fell backwards, toppling the candelabra and spilling wax over the stones.
There was silence, and for an instant he thought he was waking from a nightmare.
The voice slithered into his ear, “Was it not glorious?”
“NO!” Hamish’s hand closed around the cold metal of the candelabra, and he swung with his entire body.
There was an organic crunch, a breathless sigh. Brother Hamish, devout follower of the Queen of Mercy, had killed again.