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Wynne – part 3

Wynne by Mandy Roberts

“For you must be cleansed. Once cleansed, your hunger will be sated.” The herald shouted, a thunderclap punctuated the finale of his sermon, as if the Creator Himself heartily approved. Over the tops of Sanctuary, the clouds were dark with impending rain, the lightning reflecting off the brass tops of the spires. The crowd stirred restlessly, the storm adding its energy to what was normally found among the hungry.

 Wynne was seventh in a line that stretched to more than a hundred, waiting to receive bread. Brother Quennel stood in front of the wagon. He nodded at her, smiling. In front of him was the Test, a thick sop that, as the herald said, cleansed one to receive the Creator’s bread. Wynne had swallowed it before. Its grainy texture similar to vomit would hit empty stomachs hard, but the speaker said the discomfort punctuated the importance of seeking the Creator all the more. Wynne never thought it helped, but it did make her thankful for the bread that followed.

Two mastered the test. The third was a child, maybe five passes old. She took the sop and swallowed hard. She gagged. It wasn’t the first time Wynne had seen a child do so. The girl’s face scrunched and then tears started to flow. She gagged again and then threw up.

The herald looked down at the girl. He bit his lip, shaking his head as the girl clutched her mother in line behind her, burying her face into her mother’s apron.

“I’m….” the herald said and then paused, clutching the bread that was to be the girl’s reward for cleansing herself with the sop. His fingers gripped it as the pace of his head shaking increased, his long brown locks swinging from side to side. He took a deep breath and held it. “I’m sorry, but you must be cleansed to receive the bread. Go and seek what the Creator wants you to change, and then you will be content.”

The mother left her place in line, her gaunt arm cradling the girl’s head as they crossed the street, their feet scuffing across the cobblestones. Somehow, Wynne could not imagine a Creator that would starve a child, and yet, there it was. Again.

Wynne turned her gaze from the girl back to the herald. He still watched the young girl leave, his head still shaking. His eyes misty, he turned from the girl to the next person in line and waved them to come forth to the sop.

Wynne’s stomach growled and twisted as she stepped forward. She felt the pangs of hunger but found another pain beside it, closer to when Larimore propositioned her to join his band. Two people passed their test and received the bread. The one before Wynne, a man a few years older than her, dressed finer than most she had seen asking for the Order’s bread, choked and spat the sop back.

The herald gestured for Wynne to come forward. She took the sop before her. She knew better than to smell, holding her breath to keep the noxious fumes from causing her to start gagging. She did not look at the sop for much the same reason, choosing to glance at Brother Quennel. With another reassuring nod, she swallowed her test. It burned as it always did, tasting like spoiled peppers. It stopped in her throat for a moment. She massaged her neck, relaxing her muscles before it came back up. When it finally hit her stomach, she imagined tying her throat off, not allowing it to come back up even if her body demanded it. She took a hard, cleansing breath, gasping twice before it settled. She held her hand out for the bread. The herald nodded and gave her the bread.

Wynne crossed the cobblestone street, her bare feet cradling each rock. On the other side, Wynne found the girl still sobbing into her mother’s apron. Wynne’s stomach growled, as much from the sop sloshing around in the empty vessel that was her stomach as from the lack of bread. Wynne ignored it and held out the bread toward the mother.

Within sunken sockets, the mother’s eyes widened in disbelief.

“Take my bread,” Wynne said. “For you and your daughter.”

“I–” the mother shook her head as sobs began escaping her frail form.

Wynne did not wait for her to finish her statement, placing the bread against the mother’s arm. Though her hunger cried out all the more, Wynne would find another way, Larimore’s face came to mind. She shook her head, erasing his image, and whispered reassurances to herself again, hoping the spoken words would embolden her.

“Bless you,” the mother said as she took the bread, tears flowing down her face as she broke it to give to her daughter.

“You know the Order does not allow that,” a voice commanded.

Wynne spun to see Brother Quennel. How could he say that? Why did it matter to him or his Order? A thousand questions ran through her mind in the second it took for her to face him and see that it was no use. She searched Brother Quennel’s downcast eyes, wondering if they revealed that he asked the same questions as she, and even the man who preached.

“I can’t let you have it,” Brother Quennel mumbled.

Wynne knew he did not like the questions, or the answers that were likely telling him how wrong this was.

“How can you- -“ Wynne started to ask but the mother gripped Wynne’s shoulder gave the bread to Brother Quennel.

Wynne’s eyes pleaded with her. She did not meet the gaze, grabbing her daughter’s hand and hurrying away. How could she just hand it back? Her daughter was hungry, possibly starving. Wynne’s stare fixed on Brother Quennel. He avoided her gaze for a long moment, then held the bread out to Wynne silently. Wynne stared at the bread. She had forgotten her hunger, except for the yearning for something real, something that the Order promised but did not deliver. She yearned to ask the Creator why His Order allowed people to suffer and heaped suffering on His people? She wanted to know how people could do what they knew was wrong? And she didn’t want to be hungry and alone anymore.

“This is yours,” Brother Quennel whispered.

“Give it to the rats,” Wynne told Brother Quennel, leaving him, his Order, and their bread behind.

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