by Michael Meyerhofer
The first lie they tell you is that it smells like wildflowers in there. Actually, it's more like
burnt cinnamon. And he's not totally whole, just sleeping, like the priests say. Yeah, he's all
there--no rot, no limbs or digits missing--but that doesn't change the fact that he's been dead
for roundabout six hundred years. His cheeks are all sunken in and his arms look like
broomsticks wrapped in leather. He's kind of grown into his chair, too, so that if you look real
close, it's hard to say where the stone ends and the Saint begins. But he's not a skeleton. I guess
that's what's important.
I still remember when Hughes brought me in to take my oath. It was pouring rain outside.
You could hear the wind howling through the eaves, like it was about to tear the whole damn
roof off the monastery. Not that you'd guess it by the way the priests were acting, though. Half of
them were off meditating or stirring the slices of apple in their porridge. The other half were fast
asleep. So there was no one else in the chamber when I took my oath--besides Abbott Hughes
and the Saint, of course.
I was nervous, sure, but it wasn't like I expected. Growing up, you hear the village priests
talk about the Saint like any second, he's just going to straighten up and get out of that chair and
go back to performing miracles. You see him sitting cross-legged, half-smiling, on every coin
and temple sign, carved into the wooden face of begging bowls. Sure, the priests insist he's not
really a god, but you wouldn't know it by the way they pray to him. When you actually see him,
though, it's different. For one thing, he's tiny, not much bigger than a child. For another, you can
tell right away he's dead.
"Now, my child, swear fealty to he who has gone and shall one day return."
It felt weird to be called my child by a man whose vows meant he'd never undressed a
woman in his entire life, but just the same, I knelt down like I was supposed to, in that chamber
full of candles. The Abbott handed me a sword--not my old bastard sword with all the notches in
the handle, but a ceremonial thing bound in brass and pretty stones. I laid it at the feet of the
Saint and kissed the bare stone floor, which was about as clean as stone gets. The candles hissed
Meanwhile, Abbott Hughes said some words I couldn't understand--Old Frayd, I
guess--while I knelt there with my hands folded and tried to look humble. Really, I was staring
at the Saint's toenails, which looked like tiny ovals of blackened firewood. I wondered if they
still grew. Wouldn't that be a miracle? I figured they must not, because if they did, the priests
couldn't wait to tell everybody about it.
Anyway, when Hughes was done praying and chanting and carrying on, he touched my
shoulder, and I actually had to kiss the Saint's feet. I wasn't looking forward to that, but I did it
anyway. The Saint's skin wasn't warm, like they say--another lie. No, his feet were cold and
clammy, like my Sorah before I buried her.
Still, being that close to somebody that important, alive or no, it gives you the shivers.
When I straightened up, I half expected the Saint to be smiling at me. But no, he was still sitting
there in his gray stone chair, his face the color of bronze in those flickering candles, his eyes
closed. Oblivious. Wise or dumb--I couldn't decide.
"Welcome, my child," the Abbott said, formal as an icicle, and showed me to my