In the Shadow of Leaves 7: The House of Chasseur

If the old swamp priest was being honest with himself, it had started with Friar Bullet. He knew that wasn’t his name, but couldn’t seem to remember names of late. The old priest had asked him about his conviction, and questioned why he had wanted to give up his things (such as they were) and walk the path of the penitent. Henri hadn’t had a good answer then, it had just felt right. There had been a light, just behind his eyes. A light he could only really *see* when it was dark and he shut his eyes. A warmth that he’d always known but never been aware of. It had warmed him and comforted him, and he’d known that it was the right path for him. Not many had understood it, but it had been more than a year now, and ole Henri, Friar Henri now, wouldn’t undo that decision for all the gold in all the world.

The sun had finally burned away the clouds, lifting the oppressive muggy feel and replacing it with the dry feel of a drafty oven. The sky had been a dazzlingly pure blue. The trees a crisp vibrant green that struck awe into him each time he saw them. A lone butterfly beat its seemingly too big wings and floated in an exaggerated up-down of their bobbing stride. In the distance, melodious windchimes danced in the breeze, their clanging bodies creating wordless music that delighted the senses.

It was a fine day, indeed. His ears still rang from the whispers of divinity that had occupied his evening. He often prayed at night, finding the solitude of slumbering bodies comforting. While others slept, he’d prayed. With all his might, he’d prayed. On the nature of sin, of spirits, of God and gods, on the Forest Folk and their Circle, on Primus the weeping god of the feast, on the nature of choice within sin, and on the truth of Heresy. The humble priest had been brought up in a dilapidated moss covered home in the woods, with its slanting floors and leaking roof. Grand questions weren’t ever anything he’d had to struggle with before. He’d listened to his priest, and prayed, and done as he was told. But the truth of the matter was more complicated. In his heart, he knew that the Church of Mankind had formed a sort of shorthand code for sin, making a complicated, nuanced problem into a stark black and white issue. It was simple and straightforward, something a child could easily understand. But the trouble with childish morality is that it stunted the growth of those that cleaved to it. As a people matured, they found the world full of fine colors, not just this or that. It was better to not live in ignorance, and that choice, of all the choices he had ever made in his life had been the most dangerous by far.

As the ringing in his ears had faded, and the colors and sensations of town swirled around him, Nadja Kroozie-more had leapt into his view. She had seemed frantic, hurt maybe? Her words had come tumbling out. At first, they’d made no sense. The forest hated her because she was a Kroozie-more? That didn’t make any sense. They wanted her blood, or Kroozie-more blood, or noble blood? It hadn’t made sense to him, but it seemed genuine to her.

“How can I help?” he’d asked, once he realized that understanding the actual problem was well beyond him. She had blinked at him and said:
“Can I be a Chasseur?” she asks, reaching out to hold his forearm with both of hers. There had been a genuine pleading in her gaze. She’d come to ask honestly. And how could he say no?

And just like that, he wasn’t the only Chasseur anymore. And then Cadence. And then Milo. He’d been alone, and now he wasn’t, and the world was a brighter place for it. It felt right to be a part of a family and watch it grow. It lightened his heart, as if lead had been pumping through his veins and it had been purged from him. He wasn’t certain how his feet remained planted on the ground.

The peace had stayed with him. As he’d ran through the woods to head-off the red-hued huntsman. As folks had argued about the proper course. When the community marched into the mines, shoulder to shoulder. That peace had stayed like a great fluffy cloak wrapped about him. The blood that had trickled down his leg and palm, the fearsome face of the monster that tossed folk around like so much kindling. The poison spewing tree. The bloody visage of Gabriella. The glowing skull of Primus, sad and rejected, speaking in images and feelings. All the while, calm.

Fortified by family, community, and love, the Friar was centered and the light was pure. The faint red that he knew waited for him there was distant again. Like the layered light of a sunset, the dangerous color was just one of the symphonic voices calling him, the others so sweet.

He walked without fear through the night, though he thought that if he wished it hard enough, he could have flown.

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