The path I take is a dark one. It is narrow and cold, even in the days of summer. Forged of rock and mortar, it has been worn smooth by tender hands feeling their way through the void.

I need no wall or candle to guide me. I know the way by heart. I count 193 steps from the kitchen to her tower room. I carry her meals, mostly broth and bread. Sometimes, when Suora Agnese allows — or when she is not looking — I bring the abbess her favorites: fruit, honey, and mead. It is the job of a converse but to me it holds the greatest honor in the abbey. For the woman I serve is the closest soul to God I have ever known.

160 … 161 … 162 … 163 …

The older suore say each rock in the wall is payment for a sin committed by the men who built the abbey. They say the battered souls are entombed in the walls for all eternity. Sometimes, when I cannot see before me, and the only sound I hear is my own heart, I imagine that the men themselves are buried within the walls and it quickens my step.

180 … 181 … 182 …

When I reach her door I knock softly and wait a few moments for her reply: “Come in, child.” The voice is softer this morning but it still holds the highest power in the abbey. The abbess always says, “A man shouts to be heard but God whispers and is heeded.”

I pull the iron ring on the heavy wooden door and step into her room. It is simple with few items of comfort. The sun streams brilliant light through a tiny window as though it enjoys rankling the darkness. I see that her bed curtain is drawn open and she is sitting up. Her hair brushed. Her face, fresh and clean. She insists on washing herself, still. The burden of having to be washed by another is one she does not yet have to bear.

“Good morning, Mother Abbess,” I say as I set her tray on the table beside her bed.

“Good morning, Elisabetta. How does the day find you?”

“Very well. And you? There are roses in your cheeks.”

“Do you feel you are witness to a miracle?” she says with a sly smile. I have become accustomed to her humor. At one time the same remark would have stopped me in my tracks.

“I pray the surprise I have for you will make you happy.” I take a pear I have hidden under my cloak and hand it to her. “I took it when Suora Agnese turned her back.”

“That’s stealing, Elisabetta. And thank you.” She smiles as she holds the sweet, fresh pear in her weathered hands. She takes a deep breath of the fruit’s smell and closes her eyes and suddenly she feels lost to me.

“Are you alright, Mother?” She does not hear me. “Mother?”

“It was so very long ago and yet …”

“What was?”

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