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The Rithmatist (Page 36)

Melody’s insistence that he try again dug up all of the old fears.

Father Stewart finished his preaching. Joel bowed his head for the ritual prayer. He didn’t hear much of what Stewart said. By the time the “amen” was spoken, however, he’d made up his mind. If there was a chance for him to become a Rithmatist, he was not going to lose it. Not again.

He shoved down his nervousness and stood up.

“Joel?” his mother asked.

“Just a second, Mom,” he said. “I want to talk to the vicar.” He rushed away, Melody quickly joining him.

“I will do it,” Joel said. “You don’t need to.”

“Excellent,” Melody said, for once not wearing her school uniform. Instead, she wore a white dress that was quite fetching. It came down to her knees, showing off quite a bit of leg.

Focus, Joel thought. “I still don’t think this will work.”

“Don’t be so pessimistic,” she said, eyes twinkling. “I’ve got a few tricks planned.”

Oh dear, Joel thought.

They arrived at the front of the nave and stopped before Father Stewart. The vicar glanced at them, adjusting his spectacles, the miter on his head waggling. The large headdress was yellow—like his robes—and was marked with a nine-point circle circumscribing a cross.

“Yes, children?” Father Stewart asked, leaning forward. He was growing quite old, Joel realized, and his white beard came almost all the way down to his waist.

“I…” Joel faltered momentarily. “Father, do you remember my inception?”

“Hum, let me see,” the aged man said. “How old are you, again, Joel?”

“Sixteen,” Joel said. “But I wasn’t incepted during the usual ceremony. I…”

“Ah yes,” Stewart said. “Your father. I remember now, son. I performed your inception myself.”

“Yes, well…” Joel said. It didn’t feel right to outright accuse the aged priest of having done it wrong.

To the sides, other people were lining up—there were always those who wanted to speak to Father Stewart after the sermon. Candles burned atop candelabra near the altar, flickering in the wind of opening doors, and footsteps echoed in the great hall of the building. Beyond the altar, at the back of the cathedral, sat the chamber of inception, a small stone room with doors on either end.

Melody nudged him.

“Father,” Joel said, “I … don’t want to be disrespectful, but I’m bothered by my inception. I didn’t go into the chamber.”

“Ah yes, child,” Stewart said. “I can understand your worry, but you needn’t fear for your salvation. There are places all over the world where the church isn’t prominent enough to warrant a full cathedral, and they have no rooms of inception there. Those people are just as well off as we are.”

“But they can’t become Rithmatists,” Joel said.

“Well, no,” Stewart said.

“I didn’t have a chance,” Joel said. “To become one, then. A Rithmatist.”

“You did have a chance, son,” Stewart said. “You simply were unable to take it. Child, too many people dwell on this issue. The Master accepts both Rithmatists and non-; all are the same to him. To be a Rithmatist is to be chosen for service—it is not meant to make a man powerful or self-centered. To seek after such things is a sin that, I fear, too many of us ignore.”

Joel blushed. Stewart seemed to consider the conversation over, and he smiled warmly at Joel, laying a hand on his shoulder and blessing him. The priest then turned toward the next patron.

“Father,” Joel said, “I want to take part in the inception this week.”

Father Stewart started, turning back. “Son, you’re far too old!”

“I—”

“That doesn’t matter,” Melody said quickly, cutting Joel off. “A man can be incepted at any age. Isn’t that true? It mentions so in the Book of Common Prayer.”

“Well,” Stewart said, “that usually refers to people who convert to our Master’s gospel after the age of eight.”

“But it could refer to Joel,” she said.

“He’s already been incepted!”

“He didn’t get to go through the chamber,” Melody said stubbornly. “Don’t you know about the case of Roy Stephens? He was allowed to be incepted during his ninth year since he was sick the Fourth of July.”

“That happened all the way up in Maineford,” Stewart said. “A completely different archdiocese! They do some odd things there. There’s no reason to incept Joel again.”

“Except to give him a chance to be a Rithmatist,” Melody said.

Father Stewart sighed, shaking his head. “You seem to have studied the words well, child, but you don’t understand the meanings. Trust me; I know what is best.”

“Oh?” Melody said, voice rising as he turned away again. “And why don’t you tell Joel why it really is that you didn’t let him into the chamber of inception eight years ago? Perhaps because the north wall was being worked on due to water damage?”

“Melody,” Joel said, taking her arm as she grew belligerent.

“What if the Master wanted Joel to be a Rithmatist?” she continued. “Did you consider that when you denied him the opportunity? All because you were renovating your cathedral? Is a boy’s soul and future worth that?”

Joel grew more and more embarrassed as Melody’s voice rang through the normally solemn chamber. He tried to hush her, but she ignored him.

“I, for one,” Melody said very loudly, “think this is a tragedy! We should be eager to encourage a person who wants to be a Rithmatist! Will the church side with those who are turning against us? Won’t its priests encourage a boy who seeks to do the will of the Master? What’s really going on, Vicar?”

“All right, hush, child,” Father Stewart said, holding his forehead. “Enough yelling.”

“Will you let Joel be incepted?” she asked.

“If it will shut you up,” Father Stewart said, “then I will seek permission from the bishop. If he allows it, Joel can be incepted again. Will that satisfy you?”

“For now, I suppose,” Melody said, folding her arms.

“Then go with the Master’s blessing, child,” Father Stewart said. Then, under his breath, he added, “And whatever demon sent you my way will likely be promoted in the Depths for giving me such a headache.”

Melody grabbed Joel’s arm and towed him away. His mother stood a short distance down the aisle between the pews. “What was that about?” she asked.

“Nothing, Mrs. Saxon,” Melody said perkily. “Nothing at all.”

Once they had passed, Joel glanced at Melody. “So, that was your big plan, eh? To throw a tantrum?”

“Tantrums are a noble and time-tested strategy,” she said airily. “Particularly if you have a good set of lungs and are facing down a crotchety old priest. I know Stewart; he always bends if you make enough noise.”

They passed out of the cathedral. Harding stood conferring with a few of his police officers on the landing. A couple of springwork gargoyles prowled across the ledge above the door into the building.

“Father Stewart said he’d ask for permission,” Joel said. “I don’t think we’ve won.”

“We have,” Melody said. “He won’t want me to make another scene, particularly considering the tensions between Rithmatists and ordinary people right now. Come on; let’s go get something to eat. Being irate sure can build a girl’s appetite.”

Joel sighed, but let himself be towed across the street and toward the campus.

Chapter 20

The circle is divine, Joel read.

The only truly eternal and perfect shape, it has been a symbol for the Master’s works since the ancient Egyptian Ahmes first discovered the divine number itself. Many medieval scholars used the compass—the tool by which a circle is drafted—as a symbol of the Master’s power of creation. One can find it scattered throughout illuminated manuscripts.

Before we landed on the American Isles, history entered a dark period for the circle. The Earth was shown to not be a flat circle at all, but a sphere of questionable regularity. The celestial planets were proven to move in ellipses, further weakening belief in the divine circle.

Then we discovered Rithmatics.

In Rithmatics, words are unimportant. Only numbers have meaning, and the circle dominates all. The closer one can come to perfection in its form, the more powerful one is. The circle, then, is proven to be beyond simple human reasoning. It is something inherently divine.

It is odd, then, that something man-made should have played such an important part in the discovery of Rithmatics. If His Majesty hadn’t been carrying one of Master Freudland’s new-style pocket watches, perhaps none of this would have ever occurred, and man might have fallen to the wild chalklings.

The chapter ended there. Joel sat in the empty workshop, back against the wall. A few thin ribbons of sunlight crept through the windows above, falling through the dusty air to fall in squares on the floor.

Joel flipped through the pages of the old tome. It came from the journal of one Adam Makings, the personal astronomer and scientist of King Gregory III, founder of Rithmatics. Adam Makings was attributed with discovering and outlining the principles surrounding two-, four-, and six-point Rithmatic circles.

The book came from Joel’s father’s collection, and was apparently quite valuable, since it was a very early copy. Why hadn’t Joel’s mother sold it—or any of the books—to pay debts? Perhaps she hadn’t known the value.

The book contained Makings’s theories on the existence of other Rithmatic figures, though he’d never come to any definite conclusions. That last part, however, proved more interesting to Joel than any other.

If His Majesty hadn’t been carrying one of Master Freudland’s new-style pocket watches, perhaps none of this would have ever occurred, and man might have fallen to the wild chalklings.…

Joel frowned, flipping to the next chapter. He was unable to find anything else on the topic of the pocket watch.

Very little was known of how King Gregory discovered Rithmatics. The church’s official position was that he had received the knowledge in a vision. Religious depictions often showed Gregory kneeling in prayer, a beacon of light falling around him and forming a circle marked with six points. The inside cover of the book had a similar plate in the front, though this one showed the vision appearing in front of Gregory in the air.

Why would a pocket watch be involved?

“Joel?” A feminine voice rang through the brick hallways of the dormitory basement. A few seconds later, Melody’s face appeared in the open doorway to the workshop. She wore a book bag on her shoulder and had on the skirt and blouse of a Rithmatic student.

“You’re still here?” she demanded.

“There’s a lot of studying to—” Joel began.

“You’re sitting practically in the dark!” she said, walking over to him. “This place is dreary.”

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