“The Envy Of Angels” Excerpt from Chapter 3: “Veneration”


Hello dear friends, hope you’re having a marvelous weekend! I’m still working away on “The Envy Of Angels”, and absolutely loving it so far. This fictional worlds cries out to be expanded into a novel sometime, and for now it’s a project I’m putting on the back burner. That said, here’s a new snippet from the latest…Tristan of Steelbend has earned a new name and title, though some still doubt his humble origins. Pure intent and skill overcome adversity, and draw the adoration of angels. This is our first glimpse at one of the Seraphim–an unsettling experience to say the least. Tristan finds they’re not exactly like what he was raised to believe in. First draft version, so beware of occasional errors 😉
It was a short drive to the Temple grounds. Our party being of priority status, we cleared the security gates with ease.

“Here we are,” Chairman Ness said. “The home of the angels. Have you ever seen the like?”

I swallowed, shook my head. “No. This is…incredible.” Pressing my fingertips to the window glass, my eyes traveled upward, along the bold lines of the fluted edifice. Striated columns of white stone jutted near to the clouds, edged in delicate tendrils of gold and silver gilding. No doors or windows, only the monument of the Archangels adorned its blank perfection. From the loftiest spire, the statue watched over the tumultuous square below, its serenity cast in pristine alabaster against a halo of radiating chiseled bars.

The Chairman handed me my harp. “Today, if you’re lucky, you may see one of the Seraphim. They don’t leave the Temple often, but they love a good festival, especially those thrown in their honor. One thing you’ll learn about angels, young man, is they’re drawn to powerful emotions. Much like a moth to the smoldering doom of a candle.”

“That’s very strange. I was taught angels are above the existence of mortals. To me, emotions are far too capricious for beings as pure as the Seraphim.”

Chairman Ness laughed. “They’re pure of body and spirit. Yet some part of them seems touched by the human condition, as we in the Kingdom have witnessed many a time. Come along with me.”

Swarms of people littered the vast central courtyard before the Temple proper, spilling onto the streets below. Banners of silk and tasseled garlands festooned every corner and aisle, flapping cheerfully between market stalls and pillars. Fresh hints of sea salt, incense, and roasting delicacies caressed the air. Children’s laughter coalesced with the jaunt of a hurdy-gurdy player, his pet monkey wearing a small halo and silver wings.

We climbed wide marble steps to the highest terrace. Chairman Ness presented his authority clearance to the guards at the top, and they politely waved us through. A broad grandstand filled much of this plaza, men and women dressed in formal attire huddled over musical instruments of every kind. Tuning strings and woodwinds droned upon my ears, and I couldn’t hide a smile. I gripped my harp, walking a bit ahead of the Chairman.

“Wait, Mr. Herald. These old legs of mine can’t keep up with your eagerness.”

I fell back a pace. “I apologize, sir.”

“No need to be sorry. I believe you’ll find the Chorus is your destiny.”

A portly man in a featureless black robe turned to greet us. “Most esteemed Chairman, how wonderful to see you on this momentous day.”

Chairman Ness grinned and shook his hand. “Indeed. I have someone you must meet. Conductor Dmitri Elias, this is Tristan Herald, newly titled the Bearer of Beatific Song.”

I bowed my head. “A pleasure to meet you, Conductor.”

The Conductor scrutinized me with a slight frown. “Such a title for such a young person. How old are you, son? And where were you born?”

“Seventeen, sir. Out of Steelbend.”

He sniffed, wafting condescension. “And I see you bear a harp. Are you adept with this most rare of instruments, being from the most spartan of worker settlements?”

“I am. And I sing as well.”

Chairman Ness interrupted. “If I may, Conductor, I came here personally to present Mr. Herald, as his skills are extraordinary. You must hear it to believe so beautiful a sound exists outside of the Host.”

The Conductor lifted a brow. “Truly. Well then, let’s have a show of it. Play your best. A hymn to the Seraphim, as this is their commemoration ceremony.”

I nodded, and sat upon a nearby pedestal, Resting the harp upon my knees, I breathed the heady wind. The sky seemed close, sunset encroaching, blackened by the silhouette of the Temple against the shroud of twilight. I drew upon everything I knew of the Seraphim, and what I hoped to find in their blessed Kingdom. Then I plucked a melody, forming from the bastions of my soul. A hymn of my own spontaneous design, my voice frolicked with the cadence of inspiration.

“Ye breathless guardians watch and sway,
“Upon the blessed edge of day,
“Of joy and love the music rings,
“Calling the kiss of angel’s wings…”

I sensed the gathering crowd, heard their sighs. It sounded as if someone wept, and another prayed. Stirred by their passion, I sang louder.

“Come sing their praise, the blessed few,
“As fleeting as the morning dew,
“Who stand and watch, though ‘ere we sleep,
“And hurl the darkness to the deep…”

Lost in song, as ever I was, the soft rustle of feathers and gossamer robes eluded me–until the Seraph was upon me.

Conductor Elias’ voice trembled. “By the Host…Archangel Izidkiel comes for the boy’s song.”

Snapped into awareness, I opened my eyes, finding myself inches from a masked face. Sharp aquiline features embossed into a veneer of gleaming silver, no openings for the actual eyes and mouth. Only a solid facade, metallic stare locked in what almost seemed an unspoken query.

I was petrified, stopped singing, and my jaw dropped.

“No…keep playing, you fool.” the Conductor hissed. “Don’t invoke its displeasure.”

Transfixed, I could only gape at the creature I witnessed, so unlike what I imagined the Seraphim to be, and yet so familiar–a figment of a dream, or a reflection flashing upon the grasp of moonlit water. It bent before me, searching. Everything about it was preternaturally tall, ambling grace. Its limbs and torso were slender as bare twigs in spring, a miraculous vow of imminent life flushing beneath pale flesh. All white, near blinding, the skin of the angel was smooth, yet appeared rigid as sanded marble. Long pale hair entwined with strands of pulsating silver, curtaining the artificial smile, lips frozen in near mischievous intention. It wore only a misty wrap of cloth around its otherwise nude form, neither distinguishable as male or female The chromed fin ornaments upon its helmet mirrored the hawkish stretch of brilliant ivory wings. It said not a word, only cocked its head in a sharp twitch, much as a bird tilted one eye to evaluate.

Startled by its ethereal oddity, I nevertheless obeyed the Conductor, and finished my performance.

“Fair as stars winking on the wave,
“They linger still, our hearts to save,
“Most blessed angels, hear our plea,
“And guide thy Kingdom By The Sea.”

Silence so heavy it hurt my ears settled over the dumbfounded audience.

The angel remained frozen, stiff as a corpse, though beautiful beyond mortal reckoning. One lissome arm flicked up, its fingers latching to my chin. The tip of its nails pierced inconsequential layers of skin.

Something murmured within the Host, words teasing at the edge of comprehension.

I dared to answer, though I knew not the question, nor if I spoke appropriately. “Praises be, Holy One.”

Long wings branched forward. Wisped plumes brushed my cheek, so shining white they might shame the morning snow. The masked face loomed closer, until I felt its breath. I never fathomed an angel might breathe, but it was soft and warm, sweet as the honeyed rose. Every delight I might conjure was contained within a gentle rush.

The Archangel Izidkiel stroked my face between its exquisite palms, and pressed its cold, metallic lips to my forehead. Then, just as suddenly as it appeared, it flapped into the fading dusk, and disappeared within the pinnacles of the Temple.

Shuddering whispers slurred through those gathered about me. I glanced up, and met the widened eyes of the Chairman Ness and Conductor Elias.

The Custodian nearly choked his words. “You…Bearer of Beatific Song. How worthy you are to bear the title. Welcome to the Sacred Chorus, child whom the Archangels cherish.”

I was as shaken as the others. My heart leapt with rejoicing that I’d received such adoration from the highest of all, yet uncertainty prodded at my gut. The angel’s touch seared into me, and I still felt the tingling remains of it upon my skin. So much love, almost too much, it leaked into my senses as if an uninvited guest.

The adulation I received from the Chorus and the people of the Kingdom thereafter staunched the shameful sensation somewhat. I played with the great orchestra that night, and found the place I’d longed for all my young days. The dwindling dread spun to the bottom of my concerns. I’d secured my position as a favored one of the Seraphim. Now, I had a vow to fulfill. I still had Miss Lee’s ‘face device. As the most true of gentlemen, it was my solemn duty to return it.

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