Father Barnard stared out at the sleepy, small congregation Sunday morning. He noted Bryantt Sands in the back, the man nodding and appearing to be paying attention while his hand casually slipped up and down the thigh of one of his “girls.” The other girl – the priest struggled with her name – Karissa? She smiled softly. She had a way about her…. He shook his head and tore his eyes away.
The countess sat in the front row, trying to appear cheerful but from time to time she would dab away the tears from her eyes. She was clearly stressed and yet had refused to share her problems with the priest. Behind her sat the chemist who kept an eye on the door. He looked as if he’d been dragged there against his will and was making the most of it – or the least of it. There was the shepherd, looking not quite sober; and the woodsman with the dirt still under his nails. There was the baker, smiling cheerfully, grasping the small coin pursethat held the payment for the communion wafers. A few farmers with their wives and children huddled in the middle, the stench of their barns barely disguised by a Sunday morning bathing ritual.
He glanced to the organ, to the reproachful look of Sr. Agatha at the keyboard.
He hadn’t seen the girl from South March, the one he’d originally mistaken for a boy. Perhaps the old wizard had gotten to her and dragged her into his evil plans. Perhaps she was a pagan. The priest shuddered at the thought.
His mind drifted to the wizard and his crazy gypsy girls. That one, he thought, the wild one who looked so innocent, she was the devil in disguise. She had cursed him, he was convinced. She had brought the unholy bones. She had left him sweating and sleepless in the night.
As the fatigue rolled over him, he had to grip the pulpit with both hands to fight off the dizziness. His eyes, half-crazed, went back to the Holy Book before him as he continued with his sermon….