The Red Bishop
By Steve Donoghue
Chapter 4: Waiting in the Dark
He woke in darkness, his hands shackled and his head throbbing. He could feel dry stone at his back. The pulse of his own blood thrummed in his ears.
Slowly, he recalled the morning. The trio of grotesque things, revenants of the men he had killed on the road, now mottled and unbreathing, shuffling and halting in response to some unseen hand guiding their motions. And worse: the muffled sense of distance he’d felt between his peril and his Lord, an estrangement he’d never felt before. He had prayed for aid, and aid had only grudgingly been granted, a trickle where he’d always known a steady, life-giving stream.
Even this imprisonment, a castigation: at any other time, in any other danger, his Lord would have warned him of an attack from behind.
He shifted his weight, wincing at the pain in the back of his head. His manacles creaked in their sockets; he was chained to a wall, but he guessed the chains and their bolts were old. Perhaps a basement holding cell, long unused.
As his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he could discern the faint line of light outlining the bottom of the basement door. Concentrating past the pain in his head, he strained to hear any hint of movement beyond his cell. He thought of the creatures he’d destroyed in the courtyard. Could he be certain that dead things were truly destroyed? If they or things like them came for him now, he would be helpless.
He turned his attention to his shackles. Quieting his mind, he drew a calming breath and addressed the infinite. ** Lord, I am imprisoned as was once Your great disciple, whom You ordered angels to set free. I am unworthy of Your mercy, but I beg You: do not forget Your servant in this dark place.**
In all of his faith-life, since the day of his awakening to the Lord, such prayers had never been mere silent wishes in his mind; they had always had tangible results in the real world. His faith had always had visible rewards – until he entered this accursed city, with its shifty-eyed citizens and its choking ochre dust. Ever since his arrival here, his faith had felt smothered under a thick blanket, his Lord unaccountably distant.
So it was now; his prayer fell into a soft and unfriendly darkness. His chains remained.
He tested his manacles, hoping for a loose bolt in the rough stone of the wall. But there was no movement. Straining to see the details of his surroundings, he gradually discovered that his cell was scarcely bigger than a closet and completely empty: no furniture, no fellow prisoners, no
other chains on the walls. He had faced such confinement before in his life, but never since accepting his Lord. And the desolation of that abandonment felt far worse than the desolation of this dusty little room.
** Lord,** he prayed again, wishing the length of his chains allowed him to kneel, ** Lord, why are You silent? How has my poor faith offended? I beg, do not forsake Your servant in his hour of need; I am beset by enemies and need Your strong arm holding me up .
A trickle of vigor swelled in his muscles, and he thought he felt a lightening of his chains, but both reliefs dissipated after only a few moments. He felt that his heart might break.
He did not count the time, shrugging off his pain and stiffness as he absorbed this new inner loneliness. Ever since he had adopted the Faith, years ago, he had known it as a living current of affirmation inside him, unseen by doubters and heathen unless it was his duty to wield it against them. It had gradually supplanted the devotion he had felt for his friend and Emperor. When his friend had betrayed him and sent him on this mad flight, his Faith had been the only thing to sustain him.
Now it was gone, the stream of it dammed at some unseen point, and all the wretched choices of the last few years returned to him as accusations.
A sound at the door brought his attention back to his surroundings. The shadows of feet blocked the strip of light at the base of the door, and the sound of a key in a lock sounded loud in the barren cell.
The door swung open, and the Saint was momentarily blinded as daylight flooded in. He shielded his eyes as much as the reach of his chains would allow, and gradually he saw a single figure standing in the doorway, looking down at him.
“The Bishop will question you now,” the figure said, and the Saint was struck by the weird gurgling tone of the voice he heard, as though each word were being dragged through thick phlegm.
His vision cleared, and he saw it was the traitorous innkeeper standing there. But even to his unaided sight, the man had changed. Gone were the round, jovial features, and gone the smooth, ingratiating demeanor; they were replaced with carvings of horror. The jaw was thinner, the skin unhealthily bright like that of a burn victim, and the jaw was a rictus.
The Saint looked closer and was appalled: across the innkeeper’s entire face was painted in dark red a crude cross, with the beams meeting directly between the man’s eyes.
And those eyes were terrified: a horrible, living wrong had been done to the innkeeper, and he was more frightened by it than anybody.
“The Bishop will question you now,” gargles the stricken man again, and he lurched into the cell.