Burdens Of The Dead – Snippet 03

Mario shrugged. “We saw no insignia. No flag. Pirates, I suppose.”

The sibling looked at him. “But did you not sail in convoy?”

Mario nodded. “But three ships were no match for fifteen, Brother.” He looked nervously around. “Are there other doors? I am scared they will come for me here.”

“I doubt it,” said the Hypatian Sibling calmly. “The only other entrance leads by a passageway to our cloister. I think I will take you there, so you can tell this to our abbot.”

Mario nodded eagerly. “I want to be with many people around me, please. Not that that will stop them. But…I am not a good man, Brother. I, I am scared to die unshriven, like Tomaso. I am scared to die. I prayed while I hid. Will you hear my confession?”

The sibling looked up at the ceiling; then, looked around. “Indeed. But inside the cloister, I think. There is someone on the roof. Follow me.”

*   *   *

The Hypatian abbot was a wizened old man with bright eyes and a scar across one cheek. He listened carefully. For a saintly looking old man he had a shrewd grasp of naval matters. He also had objections to people on his roof without his permission. He sent two of the siblings up to have look.

“But…they’re dangerous,” protested Mario fearfully.

The abbot nodded. “Yes, roofs are dangerous. Those pan-tiles can be especially treacherous. And difficult to replace.”

“No, I mean the Baitini. They…”

“Shouldn’t wander about on roofs,” said the abbot, with what might almost have been a wink. “It’s the kind of thing best left to roofers or thieves. The Hypatians draw all kinds to their ranks, friend. We will warn them. It is the right thing to do.”

“But they’re good people…the siblings, I mean,” said Mario, thinking an un-armed sibling would merely be killed, but not wishing to say so.

“And if those who walk about on the roof are good people, they will heed the warning and be told of the safe way off.” The abbot stood up.

“Come,” he said, leading the sailor to a spiral stair which went up into the steeple. This entire building was of stone, more like a fortress than a cloister, but this was not a place where the Hypatians were common. Nor Christians, really. There were narrow slit windows looking out from the parapet below the bells, and Mario could see the moonlit roof below and the people on it. Three of them were attempting to climb up onto a cistern. Well, two men had lifted the third up.

Mario watched as a little attic door under the roof-tree opened, and two siblings came out.

“Our abbot has sent us to tell you that the roof is dangerous and to guide you to a safe way off it, if you choose to follow the instructions we will give you,” said one of the two siblings, a woman.

The three Baitini turned from their climbing.

“Kill them,” said the one to his companions.

“The roof is dangerous, you really should go back,” said the sibling, as the Baitini stalked toward them. “Your lives and souls are at peril if you do not go back now.”

“Be still, woman,” said one, raising a knife to throw, stepping forward as he did so. Then, with a scream, he slipped and fell, sliding down the steep roof, the knife in his hand skittered off the tiles, before he lost it, fighting for a hold. There was nothing there to stop him sliding, though, and he flew clear over the edge. It was a long way down to the cobbled street below.

His companion, after a look of horror, advanced more slowly.

The sibling spoke again. “I tell you again, it is not safe. If you do not retrace your steps precisely, all I can do is pray for you.”

“I need no woman’s prayers,” said the assassin disdainfully. “Your infidel god will not protect you.”

The woman-sibling was not at all disturbed by his threats. “We believe that God has many forms and that tolerance is all-important. Thus far, you have not harmed anyone here. Therefore, I will pray that you go back carefully, now.” She bowed her had over clasped hands.

The killer didn’t listen. Suddenly he too lost his footing. He clawed at the roof, dropping his knife and somehow managed to cling despairingly to the very edge.

“Abdul, help!” he panted desperately. His surviving companion looked up from where he had levered the lid off the cistern. Hastily, he poured something into it, before turning to go to his companion’s aid.

“Poison. I suspected as much,” said the old abbot. “It won’t do any harm in that cistern. Unless he falls into it, of course.”

Which was exactly what happened, a moment later.

“What happened?” Mario asked, dazed by how suddenly the situation had reversed itself.

“There are weak and strong slats. We’ll have to go and fish him out. I do not think we can get to the man hanging on the edge in time,” said the abbot, sadly. “We did warn them.”

Mario looked at the abbot, his eyes big. Had he been the witness to a miracle?

The abbot smiled at him. “The original abbot — this cloister was built in early days when times were even more uncertain — had been a knight, before he got the call, and he felt the roof was our weak point. The tiles pivot. Those men came onto the roof via the Chapel, which was built later.” A moment later, the man still clinging to the roof lost his grip, and fell to the cobbles.

“How will you get the last one out of the cistern?” asked Mario, despite his horror…and relief.

“A long pole. We’ll leave him to climb out by himself.” The abbot chuckled dryly. “It seems a dire price to have paid for poisoning a cistern which is kept for fire-fighting. The drinking ones are kept safe within the roof, and are much harder to get to.”

“I hope he doesn’t get out of there too fast and still angry,” said Mario worriedly.

“It’s a fair climb,” said the abbot, with no sign of worry.

But in the end they had to send one of the siblings down to the harbour to borrow a long gaff, of the kind used for large sturgeon.

The Baitini shouldn’t have swallowed some of the water he’d fallen into.

The abbot just sighed and said that God moved according to His plan.

The Baitini would have agreed. They also believed they were guided by God, but that he had words and gifts for them and them alone. They were also quite mad enough to have believed that God had chosen to give them martyrdom, though dying unheralded because of a trick roof seemed a poor sort of martyrdom to Mario.

The bodies were given a respectful burial, although the Baitini probably wouldn’t have agreed that it was respectful, or that they should be buried on the grounds of the house of another faith. But the sailor Mario saw it as a message, and applied to the abbot for a novitiate on the spot. Even the wise and kind Siblings of Saint Hypatia of Alexandria could use a pair of strong hands and a faithful heart.

And word was passed via a devout merchant to some of those who could get word to the Podesta.