The door to the Bishops office opened, and the large monk who guarded me gestured for me to go forward. I swallowed, the fear having dried my throat. I stepped forward into Bishop Cristo's chambers. The monk closed the door behind me, as if to signal that there is no escape for me now. My stomach clenched painfully as I peered about the room.
The room was darkened save but for a single candle on large desk at the opposite side of the chambers. However, the light did show the outlines of the various holy items that were placed around the room, I could see the barest form of the painting "Urous's Last Sermon." I could make out the shape of shelves piled high with musty old tomes of sacred knowledge. The flickering light of the candle struck a small statue of Urous, the savior, and made His gentle face look like a devilish mask. Perhaps that was just my fear. A raspy voice then came out of the shadows, "Acolyte Jervios?"
"Yes, Bishop Cristo," I replied as I gave the customary bow from the waist. The old man then walked forward from the shadows into the dim light of the candle. His bent frame was hidden by a mass of thick, gold-threaded robes. His aged face was pale and thin. Strands of gray, wispy hair were uncombed and tangled. His left eye was blind and watery, but his right seemed to burrow into me from behind thick spectacles. Here stood before me the last surviving companion of the chosen one, but more importantly the man who would cast me out of the church for my sins.
"You are the boy who was involved with the farm girl, correct?" The bishop then sat slowly down in the hard wooden chair in front of his desk. His gaze remained unbroken.
"Yes, holiness." I averted my eyes; I could not look him in the face.
"I am sure you know that the teachings of Urous tell us that His priests must devote all of their love to Him and the Creator. That is no room in a true priests hearts for any other." His voice was a near whisper.
It was difficult for me to respond, and several silent moments passed as I built up resolve. "Yes, holiness."
"You are a promising young cleric, you know the scriptures well, you understand the clerical magic well, and the people of Santeem like you. They would be willing to listen to you if you went forth to spread the holy word. Your devotion to the Lord is praiseworthy, and a good life is before you. Yet you risk it all for the love of a woman?" His voice was mild.
Again there was a pause before I answered, "Yes, Bishop."
The Bishops eye ceased its focus on me and shifted to the statue of Urous. A flicker of relief spread up within me as the gaze shifted, but my nervousness quickly overwhelmed it. The Bishop spoke once more, "Acolyte, chances are that you have heard from many that I am saint-like. People sing my praises to this day. They claim that I am pure, a chosen one, a great hero. It is true that I did help in the defeat of a great evil alongside Ragnar, Taloon, and the Chosen one. I am proud of that, and glad that Urous chose me to do so. However, the tales of my purity are greatly exaggerated."
"It is a difficult life, the life of a cleric. One must always be careful of what one says, what one does, what one thinks, and what one feels. I have suffered under the restrictions of the cloth, but I have always felt Urous's love and it made most sin easy to resist. However, the sin of love is different. A woman can cause all else in a young man's mind disappear. It is a wonderful feeling, love." The Bishop was confusing me. I was expecting a fire and brimstones speech, this tone of understanding was most strange.
His Holiness then continued, "It is a horrible feeling also, it makes priests question their faith. Only great tragedy and love can cause a true priest to question his choice in becoming a man of the faith."
At this point I was quite flustered, I had always though that Cristo was almost as pure as Urous himself. It sounded to me almost like Cristo had committed the sin of love himself. I then foolishly spoke out of turn, "What are you saying, Holiness?"
Bishop Cristo's gaze then turned to back to me. He spoke, "Boy, you are not the only one in this room that has committed the most pleasant of sins. I fell in love with a woman, also. I loved a woman so much I went to the ends of the world for her. I was so devoted to her that I left my parish to follow her when she ran away from her home. I was in love with Princess Alena." The Bishop then paused, and took a deep, shuttering breath.
"She was lovely, and strong-willed. She had so much life. I was just a dull, young acolyte when I met her. However, I was the only boy her age when was allowed to talk to, for I was a holy man. Because of that, she would visit me frequently, especially when she was trying to avoid Brey's lessons, or some affair of the state that her father wanted her to attend. She was so full of spirit. She would light up my dull days of research and praying with her presence. I did not even realize it, but I was in love." This revelation shocked me greatly. This was Bishop Cristo, a man who most men consider a saint, admitting that he had fallen in love with a woman! I could not believe what I was hearing.
"When she ran away from the castle to avoid being a princess, Brey followed out of concern for her well-being, I followed because I could not bear to be away from her. Throughout the whole quest I could not admit to myself that I loved her. I kept denying it. I claimed I was wholly devoted to the Teachings, all the while I only thought of her."
"As you well know, in the process of our journey we found Santeem castle abandoned, the people missing and monsters running amok. While I should have been mourning for the lost people, I could only feel relief that Alena was not among them. It was then I realized what had happened to me. As a cleric, I must love all equally, as Urous would have us do. I failed to do so." The old man's good eye had begun to water as he spoke in quieter tones. It was difficult to hear him.
"I attempted to repent every night thereafter. To stomp out my feelings for her, but I continually failed. My faith was not strong enough. In my mind I worried that my clerical magic would be taken from me, that I could no longer help the Chosen One. However, in my heart I worried that I would not longer be able to help Alena." I had never thought that my Bishop could have these feelings for my late Queen. I was beginning to feel better, knowing that the best amongst us had committed the same sin that I had.
"After we defeated Necrosaro, as I'm sure you know, Brey, Alena and myself retuned to Santeem castle in hopes that the people had returned. Sadly, there was no one. The next several months were spent bringing in people from the surrounding countryside and rebuilding the kingdom. Alena suffered much during that time. She never liked having to rule, but the people wanted her. Brey helped her much during this time, he was wise and knew what needed to be done. When he died, Alena was crushed. She depended much on he old tutor. She began to confide more in me, she said that I was the only true friend she had left. She dropped her tough exterior when we were together, and let herself be human. No matter how much I tried I could not stop loving her." A tear rolled down across the Bishop's craggy face.
"I should have left the castle. The only way for me to renew my devotion to Urous was to be away from my precious Alena. I did not leave fast enough; however, for as I was building up my resolve to leave the castle, she came to me late at night. I was in the chapel, going over some scrolls when she came to me. I much rather not go into the details of that night. I will tell you this much, she told me that she loved me. She wanted me to leave the church and join her on the throne. I was thrilled; I had never felt any sort of joy like I had felt that night. I wanted to say yes, but then I saw the face of Urous in my mind. I said nothing." This was history I had never heard about, I had always thought that King Alexander had been Queen Alena's only love. That is what the bards had always said. If only they knew what I did.
"She said nothing also, and we embraced. I should have stopped it then. I should have, but I did not. We kissed, and went to Alena's chambers. I stayed the night∑"
"Bishop Cristo! You should have been banished from the church for that!" In my shock I had forgotten my place. I may have fallen in love with a woman, but Bishop Cristo had made love to one. That is an unforgivable sin for a cleric.
"Yes, lad, I should have. You are the first person I have told this to in the seventy years since it happened. I do this because you remind me of myself. I want you to know that you should not make the same mistake I did. The next day, in my guilt, I left before my queen awakened. I gathered my things and left Santeem. I could not stay with her. I had disregarded all I had been taught. I had repressed my love for so long, that when I finally allowed it to show I could not take the guilt of giving into temptation. I fled like a coward."
"All I could hope then is that Alena would tell no one, so that I might continue being a cleric. I found it odd that my clerical magic was still with me; I assume it was Urous showing me that fleeing was the right choice. I did not feel that way, though. I just kept thinking about what I left behind, a beautiful queen who wanted to be mine. I spent the next few years wandering from small parish to small parish across the land. I avoided returning to Santeem castle. I then heard she married another, a Baron Alexander. I feel into a deep depression after I heard that." Cristo paused afterwards and took a deep breath.
"Anyway, you don't want to hear anymore about what I did then. I simply spent the rest of my days pretending to be wholly devoted to the church, hoping that I would forget Alena. But, I never did."
"Acolyte, I did not set foot in Santeem castle until well after Queen Alena's death. I went to meet her son, which she had a year after she married King Alexander. I wanted to see the kind of man he was. He was strong like his mother, and a wise ruler. I did not tell him of what had occurred between his mother and I. I did not want to ruin his memory of her. I know that no son of mind would have been as great a man as King Brey. Alena must have made a wise choice in husbands. I'm sure Alexander was a better man than the lying coward I am."
Cristo sighed and said, "Acolyte what I am trying to say is do not do what I did. May Urous forgive me, but the priesthood will never make up for the love a wife can give you. I have lived a lie for so long, because the church is all I have. You still have time to lead a real life. If you truly love this girl, go to her. Now, leave me be."
I turned and opened the door to his chambers. The cold stone stairway down from Bishop Crito's chambers was long and cold. As I decended the tower, I made up my mind. I could not do what his Holiness had done. I must live a real life. I then went to my chamber and removed my robes, and put on and old pair of trousers and a tunic. I decided that I would become a family man.