86. Doing God’s Work by Digging Privies

Inglorion’s kneeling there, hands clasped, when Father Nate pokes his head in the tent flap. The priest says, “I can come back later, or I can join you in prayer. Whichever you prefer.” His expression isn’t what you’d call gentle, but he seems kinder and more human than he has before.

“I’m done praying, but please join me anyway. I could use some spiritual guidance.”

Father Nate ducks down and crawls into the tent, which is low and cramped for Inglorion, and absurd for a six-foot human. They sit Indian-style on the floor. Father Nate says, “This is the first time an elf has asked me for spiritual guidance.”

“I’m an ecumenical kind of guy. I have to be. I’m half-Drow, half-gray.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m not sure it can be explained to a human. Elves believe there was an apocalyptic struggle that split us into separate races: gray, Drow, wood elves. The Bringer of Light triumphed and cast out the Demon Queen of the Underworld and her followers. Gray and Drow have been mortal enemies ever since. It’s our founding myth, how both civilizations came into being.”

“Like Catholic and Protestant, but with pointy ears and exotic coloring.”

“I guess. I don’t know who humans worship, though I hear you have a single all-purpose god, which seems odd.”

They sit silently for a moment. Inglorion’s not sure why he asked Father Nate to join him. It seemed rude to send him away. Finally Father Nate asks, “What were you praying for just now?”

“Guidance. Clarity. My first oath was to the Bringer of Light, and he’s still my go-to in times of trouble.”

“What did you learn?”

Inglorion sighs deeply, rubs his hands over his face, cups his palms over his eyes, and very Drow gesture. “I felt compassion for my father in a similar case. I had contempt for him before, but now, when I’m here, with no good choices and lives at stake, I feel close to him. His mistake cost six lives. Two families — my sister’s and Valentine’s. I forgive him now.”

Father Nate nods. “What will you do here and now?”

“I honestly don’t know. I’ll have to think it through, then ask for the team’s help putting a plan together.” Inglorion rubs his face again. He’s near tears. “I just wish….”

“What?”

He says fiercely, “That I had some fucking clue — that I were better at all of this — that I could save them all. I’m weak and foolish and I don’t know shit.”

Father Nate nods, looks solemn. “I can’t fix that, but I can tell you a story. It may help.

“I was ordained at 21. Coming out of divinity school, I was a hot-shit classical scholar, good at math, a decent fencer. Imagine 15 of us kids, the Archbishop intoning solemn words and laying hands on us, enjoining us to go do God’s work.

“My family didn’t have enough pull to get me a decent parish, so I was sent to a Catholic mining town to the north — a cold, harsh, working-class area. People die young up there — cave-ins, black lung, disease. They drink themselves to death. The women die in childbirth.

“My parish consisted of a handful of minor gentry, starving in a genteel fashion outside of town, plus any miners I could lure in with the promise of a Sunday breakfast and open Communion. They didn’t give a shit about the 39 Articles or defying the Pope, or anything else. They came to me because their children were starving, their wives had childbed fever, a fox had killed their chickens and they had no eggs for baking and no meat. And there I was with my clean vestments and classical education and conic sections. Whatever they needed, I didn’t have it.”

“What did you do?”

Father Nate shrugs. “Whatever I could. It wasn’t much at first. A wealthy landowner proposed enclosing part of the commons. I fought him, and lost. I bought a family a flock of pullets out of my salary. I taught two men how to read and write Common, and how to add and subtract. I sheltered a woman whose husband beat her, and found her a position as a parlormaid three counties over. I showed up and preached every Sunday, whether or not anyone was there to listen. I buried paupers and people without families, who were far from home. I learned to set bones and stitch wounds. I built a little congregation, though I can tell you right now that in a company town like that, for every friend you make, you tend to get an enemy.”

He smiles at Inglorion, a shy half-grin. “There is a point, I promise. It’s this: It’s easy to worry that you’re not doing God’s work fast enough. But God knows us. He made us. If he required speed and efficiency, he wouldn’t use such flawed tools. What do you really want, Inglorion?”

“To end the slave trade.”

“And then?”

“To bring about peace between the gray and Drow, and among the different Drow tribes — to end this constant, smoldering conflict.”

Father Nate nods. “Those are noble goals. God could create that world tomorrow if He chose. You may bring peace, Inglorion, just like I built a congregation and saved souls. Until then, you’re doing God’s work by seeing that the privies are dug, and people get buried, and that people die in comfort, with a nurse and a bit of water instead of locked in a caravan.”

Inglorion laughs, drops his face into his hands. “Of course. Of course I am.” He looks up grinning, though his eyes are bright with tears. “It’s easy to forget.”

Father Nate cocks his head. “Remember that when you’re back in civilization. People will ask what the hell you were up to, just like the Bishop asked how many souls I saved, and if I left them eagerly testifying to the truth of the 39 Articles.”

“Did you?”

“Oh, dear, yes. If the Bishop should ever travel up that way, I’m sure he’ll be impressed with the correctness of the common people’s doctrine. I told them exactly what to say, and most of them would be glad to do me a good turn.”

For the first episode of Inglorion’s adventures, click here.

For a linked table of contents, listing all of Inglorion and Valentine’s adventures, click here.

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