Chapter 6
The City on a Hill

The Sanctuary, The Grey Plains, Pendragon

For those who knew the peace of the Sanctuary, the world without was scarcely tolerable. By no means was the mission to the world at large left forsaken, but it was not a task all were suited to bear. Indeed, much to his shame, Abel Pendragon feared he was one such person ill-suited to the task. He would do his duty as bishop and as Prince, but part of him longed for the humble life of an anchorite. Perhaps near the end of his days when he was full of years, he could pass his burden on to the next generation and finish his last days in quiet devotion.
His brother meant it as a kindness to hold the Tripartite Councils and elevate his two elder brother to a status resembling equals, but it did not change the fact that the younger brother, the half-brother, was raised up by their father ahead of his firstborn. Every time they were brought together was a stark reminder of this. For Abel it made little difference. As the second son, he never expected the greater portion of the inheritance, but Cain was bitterly vexed in spirit. No matter how well he could hold his tongue in public, there was no denying it. Perhaps Seth knew it as well, which was why Cain was charged with the not entirely tamed lands of the west. Had he been given stewardship of the High City instead, no doubt he would have declared himself king years ago.
Would that peace could reign in this troubled land. Not false peace that threatened to break out in open war at the slightest provocation, but true peace and rest. Perhaps it was something that could not be. Seventeen petty kingdoms, a proud old city-state and the savage tribe of the forest, all were subdued by their father when he came to this land and all strained against the yoke placed on their necks. The Council served as a reminder of how delicate the false peace was. It would not hold much longer.
Even though peace would one day fail, so long as the walls of the Sanctuary held, a remnant would be preserved no matter the calamity that might befall the land. Twenty feet high and nine feet thick, stretching over nearly thirty miles north, south, east and west. Impressive as this feat of construction was, the physical wall was but an outward symbol of their true protection. It was their faith that would defend them. With but a word of prayer from a heart that truly believed, ten thousand legions of angels would come down to vanquish any foe.
"We have arrived, Your Grace," a voice said from outside the carriage.
It was Captain Thames. In consideration of his rank and age, he had every right to ride in the carriage himself, but just as the leopard cannot change his spots, neither can a knight change his ways. So long as he could still ride among his men for the defense of the convoy, he would. No doubt he would cede his title the day he could no longer do so.
Thames served his father faithfully in the wars to subdue this land and after that had been accomplished, he was sent to distant Antioch to join the fabled order of the Knights of the Temple. He performed honorably there, but when his apprentice betrayed the principles of the order, it seemed that he would have been lost. It was a hard thing to mete out the punishment due to one he had trained from boyhood like a son, but that was his burden, his own punishment for what the order saw as his failure as a teacher.
Thankfully when, Abel was ordained to the bishopric, he made a point to seek out the faithful old knight for the sake of the Sanctuary. In spite of his reservations, Thames answered the call and founded the order of Lesser Templars in the model of the High Templars of Antioch. Though it was true that they had faced no greater test than the occasional attack by marauding bandits, the Lesser Templars proved to be a trusty sword and shield to the people of the Sanctuary.
There were some who took to calling the entrance to the Wall Heaven's Gate, but Abel went to great pains to discourage the practice and sternly instructed the priests and lay leaders to do the same. While the Sanctuary could indeed seem like a taste of Heaven compared to the wild lands outside the Wall, it was at best but a foretaste of what awaited them in the new life.
Thames personally went to the head of the convoy to call out to the gate guards.
"Make way for His Grace the Bishop! Open the gates!"
The gate guards echoed his order. "Open the gates! Open the gates!"
Once they passed through the gate, the carriage came to a stop. The driver knew well that it was Abel's practice to walk the rest of the way. Prioress Rosamond, Father Marcius and the Prioress' attendant Sister Gratiana exited the carriage as well. Captain Thames then called the Lesser Templars escorting them to dismount and hand off the reins to their squires.
It was a journey of some seven miles from the gate to the Basilica of Penitence. Abel would meet many supplicants along the way, blessing them and laying on hands as he went. In truth, he doubted his own spiritual gifts, but it was no power of his own but the strength of the supplicant's faith that would bring God's blessing. Just as the aqueduct does not bring water of itself but merely provides a means of its delivery, so too did he merely serve as the vessel through which the believers might receive the grace of God.
The day was nearly spent by the time they reached the Basilica. They had just time enough to refresh themselves before vespers. After vespers were concluded, most left to retire for the evening while others tended to whatever duties remained. Abel tarried there a while longer.
He approached the altar and bowed before entering the chancel. Built into the wall that bound the chancel were the cells of the anchorites. Facing the chancel, each cell had a small hole for receiving the Host during Eucharist. In many churches, an anchorite's cell had only the single hagioscope as they are called, but to preserve the sanctity of the chancel, Abel insisted on a second window being constructed on the opposite side for the mundane needs of the body. This way the hagioscope remained dedicated to holy purposes. The anchorites were supposed to be effectively dead to the world, to the point where Abel would perform funerary rites before they were sealed into their cells, but there was one anchorite he took a particular interest in.
As he approached the anchorite's cell, a rumbling voice whispered, "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned."
"I would not think you could do much sinning in there," Abel replied teasingly.
"I beg you, Father," the voice pleaded, "do not jest about such things, not here at this holy altar."
Abel checked himself. His flippancy was his own sin, but he did so out of love for the poor creature within. Ever since he was old enough to reason, he was sorely vexed in spirit and Abel only wished to lighten his burden. It was to his shame to think an idle jest would do more than the Savior's proclamation of forgiveness for the penitent sinner.
"Forgive me, my son," Abel said. "It was wrong of me to speak lightly. I forget myself at times. Such is the folly of Man..."
"Then how much greater my own folly," the anchorite replied, "a monster, a misshapen beast spat out from the depths of Hades itself..."
"You did not come from Hades," Abel told him. "You may not be a man, but you are a creature of the earth as we all are. I do not know what dispensation God has apportioned for your kind, but in all these years, I am convinced that you do indeed have a soul and that soul can be saved."
The anchorite extended his hand through the hagioscope, a large hand with brownish green skin and thick blunted claws for nails. An ordinary anchorite would shun physical contact from another, but this one needed the comforting touch of a friendly hand upon his own.
Twenty-eight years passed since Abel first found Igor as an infant and was moved by pity to take up the burden of a little life left to the mercy of the elements. It would seem that Orcs and Goblins exposed their unwanted infants much in the same fashion as the heathen folk of old. Poor Igor was malformed even by the standards of his own kind, but even though Abel was little more than a boy at the time, he saw a possibility. Could such a creature possess a soul and if it did, could that soul be saved?
For nine years he raised the child in secret. Only a select few trusted servants were allowed to know of his existence. If Abel's father knew, the child would have been killed without hesitation. Though his body was misshapen, Igor's mind proved to be rather keen. Not brilliant by any means but apt to learn. He proved to be more intelligent than any would imagine his kind to be, but few were left to live long enough to truly say how intelligent they were. Perhaps there was untapped opportunity squandered by the late King's propensity for wanton slaughter.
Of course Abel could not bring Igor with him when he made the pilgrimage to Antioch for his training to become a priest. And in those three years he was away, he feared some misfortune would befall poor Igor, though admittedly it was not the first thought on his mind as it was the murder of his father that prompted his escape abroad. He feared Cain would fight Seth for the throne and did not want to be in the middle of the conflict. It was a wonder he spared thought enough to make provisions for Igor in his absence.
When Abel returned, Igor was still alive, thankfully, but he did bear the marks of mistreatment. Igor himself insisted his caretakers only did what was necessary to tame his savage nature, but Abel was not entirely convinced it was all just punishment. It was part of what led him to make the decision to have Igor dedicate himself as an anchorite. It was a lonely existence, but spared him much anguish and kept people safe from the times his temper would overtake his better nature.
"Can there be salvation for one like me, even me?" Igor asked.
"Yes, my son," Abel reassured him. "We are all bedeviled by our sinful nature, but God offers forgiveness to those who turn to Him with sincere contrition and a desire for reform in their hearts."
"But, Father, long have I been afflicted with this spirit of wrath that rages within me. What must I do?"
"Do not heed the call of your blood but rather seek out the voice of God," Abel told him. "Only when you learn to quiet the riotous voices within you will you incline your ear to the Spirit's guidance. Then and only then will you learn what you must do."
Within his heart, Abel feared that his words were empty and no true help to poor, troubled Igor. After all, what did he know about Orcs other than what he had observed in his most unusual ward? Was an Orc's heart no different from a man's? He wanted to believe so, but ill-suited as it was for the bishop of the kingdom to think so, believing in a thing did not necessarily make it so.
Thankfully, in spite of Abel's hidden doubts and regardless of whatever actual use could be made of his words, Igor managed to find comfort in them and perhaps that was enough.
"Thank you, thank you, Father," he said, tightly gripping Abel's hand with his own. "I will do as you say. Bless you, bless you."
Abel made the sign of the cross and blessed Igor, saying, "Go in peace, my son. God be with you."
Igor released his hand and Abel exited the basilica. The more he thought about it, the more his doubts gnawed at him. He feared he spoke nothing more than mere platitudes, but so long as the hearer is comforted and the doctrine preached is sound, what difference does it make what is spoken to whom? If only he could convince himself that was true...