Norn and the Millis Church
N ORN GREYRAT was feeling uneasy, to put it lightly.
A month had passed since her brother Rudeus left to travel to the Begaritt Continent, and life in the city of Sharia was as peaceful as ever. It was very hard to believe that most of her family was in danger in some strange, far-off land.
Still, Norn’s heart was troubled. There had been no word from Rudeus, of course. Not that she’d expected there to be. What was he going through right now? Was it her pestering that had driven him out there, to face dangers he was unprepared for?
If Rudeus died, Sylphie would be devastated. She’d weep and weep, holding a fatherless child in her arms.
Norn was just a child herself, and she might not be as sharp as her sister, but even she understood that Sylphie’s brave smile was only an attempt to hide her real feelings. Deep down inside, Sylphie was suffering even now.
No matter how talented a magician Rudeus might be, there was still a possibility he’d die on his trip to the Begaritt Continent. And Norn had been the one who put him up to it.
If she hadn’t pestered him… if she hadn’t been so selfish…Rudeus and Sylphie would still be living together right now.
It was a painful thought. The anxiety and regret were enough to crush her.
Looking out the window of her dorm room, Norn heaved a long sigh. It was something she did regularly these days.
Outside, she spotted a few students walking in the direction of the school gates.
“Oh, right… I’m supposed to be going home today…”
Once every ten days, she was required to make an appearance at the Greyrat family house. Today was that tenth day.
Rising reluctantly to her feet, Norn started to get ready to leave.
As she walked toward the Greyrat home, her thoughts continued to dwell on the situation at hand.
The resentment or mistrust she’d felt towards Rudeus was mostly gone. She didn’t hate him the way she once had either. But that was part of what made this so scary. What if he didn’t come back home? What if a letter arrived, informing them of his death? She didn’t know if she could bear that now. She wouldn’t know how to apologize to Sylphie. There was Aisha, too…although she didn’t care about her quite as much.
Her mind was going in circles. This was a bad habit of Norn’s. Once she started worrying about something, it was very hard for her to stop.
Noticing something out of the corner of her eye, Norn came to a stop.
She’d spotted a distinctive building standing at the end of a side street.
Back in the Holy Country of Millis, buildings like these were a very common sight. Every section of the city had one of its own. But since leaving that land behind, she’d seen very few of them.
“Is that a Millis church…? I didn’t even know there was one in this city.”
It wasn’t built exactly like the churches in Millis, so it felt a bit odd to her. But its white color and basic design still made its function obvious.
“Come to think of it, I haven’t said many prayers lately…”
Norn was a member of the Millis faith. Back in the Holy Country, when she was in the care of her mother’s family, they’d brought her along to church on a regular basis. She’d learned the basics quickly enough—not something she’d consciously chosen to do herself, but she didn’t feel like her family had forced her into it either. It was important to learn the church’s teachings in Millis. Everyone expected you to know them and obey them.
Still, she wasn’t exactly a passionate believer. After leaving Millis behind, she hadn’t felt the need to wander around looking for churches to say her prayers in.
But today, Norn found herself turning down that side street.
The interior of the church was, in contrast to the street outside, rather tranquil. It certainly felt as if she’d stepped into a sacred space. The hush in the air, the imposing design of the building itself, the hint of warmth—it was all familiar to her.
The ceiling was a bit lower than those of the churches Norn remembered, but the orderly rows of benches were the same. And so was the sacred shrine in the rear.
Feeling a bit nostalgic, Norn made her way up to the holy symbol of Millis, kneeled down, and joined her hands together.
She hadn’t prayed in years now, but her body still remembered how to do it.
“Great Saint Millis, hear my prayer… Please bring my brother home safely. And my father. And my mother. And Lilia, too…”
Norn felt a brief stab of worry that she might be asking too much by naming everyone individually like this. Saint Millis never interceded on behalf of the greedy. It was important to keep your wishes modest.
And yet, she decided only to rephrase her prayer.
“Please help everyone make it back safely.”
If Millis saw fit to grant this plea, Norn’s family would finally be whole again. They could finally live together, for the first time in many years. That was what Norn wanted more than anything.
In fact…at the moment, it was the only thing she really wanted.
If even that was asking too much, she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do.
By the time she finished with her prayers, Norn was feeling a bit better.
Maybe the atmosphere in this church was nice. Or maybe she’d managed to sort out her thoughts by putting them into words.
Either way, she found herself thinking, I should come again.
Norn attended her classes, did her exercises, and then headed to the church after school. This soon became her new routine.
When she prayed, she always felt a little better afterward. It felt like she was doing her part, somehow.
But then, one day, something gave way inside her.
“Please let everyone come back safe…”
When she murmured the same words she always did, a tear trickled from her eye. It ran slowly down her cheek before dropping off her chin. A second followed it, then a third; and all of a sudden, the dam had broken.
Norn knew, of course, that she was only consoling herself by coming here. Praying made her feel like she was doing something, but she wasn’t, really. There wasn’t anything she could do.
That was how things always had been, and it was how things would always be. She was powerless, and she knew it.
Sniffling, Norn covered her face, although there was no one here to hide it from.
She felt pathetic. Pathetic and frustrated. She hated how useless she was.
“Why are you crying?”
The voice seemed to come out of nowhere.
Startled, Norn looked up and around the church. She’d thought she was alone. There was a priest who ran this place, but he often wasn’t around at this hour. That was why she usually had the place to herself.
But today, there was someone else here—a young man who had just emerged from the confession booth.
He looked about the same age as her brother Rudeus. His hair was long enough in front that she could only barely make out his eyes. Something the way he looked at her made her think he was the headstrong type.
“Wh-who are you?”
The young man frowned irritably at the question. “What, you don’t recognize me? I’m Cliff Grimoire. I’m a novice at this church. Just started here this year.”
For a mere novice, this young man seemed a little full of himself. But that arrogant tone helped spur Norn’s memory. She’d met him once before. He was a friend of her brother’s, and a somewhat notorious student at the University of Magic.
Now that she thought about it, she’d seen him at this church as well. When they said mass here, he was often hanging around helping out the priest.
“Oh…right, of course. Hello.” Wiping away her tears, Norn bowed her head slightly.
Cliff snorted and strode closer to her. “Something bothering you, then? Go ahead, tell me all about it.”
“If something is making you miserable for no good reason, I’ll deal with it for you. You have my word.”
Norn was honestly just confused by this sudden offer. This man was her brother’s friend, yes, but the two of them were basically speaking for the first time.
“I think you may be aware, but the woman Rudeus is traveling with is my wife. I’m worried about her, of course, but I have faith in Rudeus’ skills. I’m confident that he’ll keep her safe. So for my part, I have an obligation to protect his family here in Sharia. If he risks his life for Lise, I’ll do the same for you and your sister.”
Now it made a bit more sense. Norn had known that Elinalise woman was once in her father’s party, but not that she was married. It figured, though, considering how beautiful she was.
“I’ve noticed you coming in to pray every day from the confession booth. But this is the first time you broke down in tears, right?”
Norn had no way of knowing this, but Cliff tended to use these quiet afternoon hours to get a bit of studying done inside the confession booth while waiting for the rare visitor. Normally, he stayed in there unless he had some chore to take care of, but he’d revealed himself when he saw Norn crying.
“Go on, you can trust me. I’ll take care of everything,” said Cliff confidently, thumping a hand to his chest. “Is it an awkward problem? We can use the confession booth, if you like.”
Norn was a little wary of the offer. In her experience, it was usually wisest not to trust anyone you were meeting for the first time.
But as she hesitated, she found herself remembering her brother—remembering the day he’d visited her in her dorm room. She remembered the look on his face. He’d been as anxious as she was.
Maybe Cliff, for all his big talk, was feeling the same things as her. His wife, Elinalise, had set off for the Begaritt Continent. He’d probably wanted to go along with her, but he hadn’t been able to. Just like Norn.
In that case…maybe he could understand how she was feeling.
And so, Norn opened up to Cliff.
At first, she explained, her brother had decided not to go to Begaritt. But then she’d pushed him to reconsider, and he’d eventually changed his mind.
There was a chance that Rudeus would die as a result. Sylphie would be heartbroken, of course. She loved Rudeus very much, and they were about to have a child and start their own family. If Sylphie lost him now, it would be a crushing blow. Norn knew how badly it would hurt.
And if this happened, it would all be her fault. Her brother wouldn’t have gone off on this dangerous journey if she hadn’t pressed the issue.
When she heard her father was in trouble, she’d been desperate to help. She’d wanted very badly for Rudeus to go save him. But at the time, it hadn’t even occurred to her that he might not come home.
All she could do now was go to school, attend her lessons, and say a few prayers in the afternoon. But her prayers were just a way of comforting herself. She was powerless. There was nothing she could do to help.
The more she thought about that, the sadder it made her. That, Norn concluded, was why she’d started crying.
“What, is that all?” replied Cliff with a dismissive little snort.
“What do you mean, ‘Is that all?’ ”
Norn had expected Cliff to understand, so his words felt like a kind of betrayal.
But despite her sulky glare, Cliff snorted once again. “Listen. I’m not trying to brag, but I hail from Millis—”
“That’s where I came from too.”
“Let me finish, please. I’m the grandson of the Millis Pope. I was mixed up in a power struggle there, so my grandfather shipped me off to study here. In other words, I can’t just go back home any time soon. No matter how much I want to help my family, I can’t do a thing for them. I’m a lot like you, in other words.”
“What do you think I should do about that?”
“Why are you asking me? I don’t know…”
She didn’t have an answer to that question. That was why she’d been crying. That was why she’d turned to him for advice.
“I see. Fortunately, I’m something of a genius, so I know the answer. Would you like to hear it? Hmm?”
Cliff’s tone was getting on Norn’s nerves, but she did want to hear what he had to say.
“Very well then. First of all, think about the reason why I’m in this city. I was sent here because of the power struggle back home. Why? Because I’m too weak to defend myself. I’m young, inexperienced, and have no real authority. It would have been very simple for them to abduct me and use me as a hostage. My grandfather’s a sharp, ruthless man, but I’m a valuable part of his plans for the future. If his enemies kidnapped me, he would be forced to listen to their demands.”
Norn could understand this. It wasn’t so different from the reason she’d been left behind here. If she were as powerful as Rudeus, she might have been traveling with him right now, or even making her way through the Begaritt Continent on her own.
“Basically, if I want to avoid becoming a hostage, I need the strength to defend myself from violence.”
“Strength? What do you mean?”
“I’m not talking about physical power. In my case, I’m focusing on studying, gathering as much information as I can, and learning new magic. Oh, and making friends counts too…especially if they have unusual skills or might rise into positions of power. When you’ve got strong allies on your side, it’s harder for your enemies to hurt you.”
This last point was something Cliff had only come to realize fairly recently, after falling in love with Elinalise and making friends with Rudeus. But there weren’t many people out there who could tolerate his attitude, so he hadn’t expanded his own social circle very much as of yet. Apart from Rudeus and Zanoba, there was maybe Nanahoshi, but that was about it.
“So you’re training yourself, basically?” asked Norn. “For what?”
“If I’m suddenly called back home to Millis one day, I want to bring new skills, new magic, and new connections with me. I’ll make use of them to help my grandfather and quickly secure myself a lofty position in the hierarchy of the church.”
This was all just a fantasy at this point, of course. But Cliff believed in it earnestly. As long as he trusted in his abilities and worked to develop them, he was sure this future would come to pass.
“That’s never going to happen, though,” muttered Norn, staring down at the floor.
No one was going to call her to the Begaritt Continent any time soon. Even if they did, she wouldn’t be of any use. If her brother and her father couldn’t deal with the situation by themselves, she certainly wasn’t going to be of any help.
“Oh, but it will. Not tomorrow, and not the day after tomorrow. But someday, there will come a day when our strength is put to the test. Perhaps it will be a year from now. Perhaps five, or even ten.”
“Listen, Norn. There isn’t much we can do, now that we’ve been left behind. If we tried to go and help, we’d only get in the way.”
“I know that…”
“Good. This is the very reason why we need to use this time effectively. We need to focus on the few things we can do, and we need to grow stronger. This happens to be a teaching of the Millis Church, by the way.”
Cliff reached into his robe and took out a small copy of the holy scriptures. He proceeded to recite a passage from memory, without even opening the book.
“Atomos Chapter 12, Verse 31. In these times of suffering, the righteous one endured. In these days of hardship, he cultivated his strength. When the weak of heart asked him why, the righteous one told them that the day would surely come for him to strike with all his might. And when the wicked king of demons bore down on them with his great host, the righteous one swung down his holy sword upon him. That blade divided the mountains, the forests, and the seas, and it cleft the wicked king of demons in twain.”
Norn remembered this verse as well. It was one she’d memorized several times at her old church—the story of Saint Millis bringing down his holy sword on the demon army. The power of that weapon was so great that it reached from Millishion to the Blue Wyrm Mountains, and then to the Great Forest, and then across the ocean. It struck the Demon King at the spot where Wind Port now stood, killing him instantly. The place where Millis launched this attack was now known as the Holy Sword Road.
“The stupendous might of Saint Millis is what most people remember about this passage, of course. But its true importance lies at the beginning. Even Millis himself was not omnipotent. He needed to bide his time and gather his strength before he could bring down the holy sword on his enemies. If you look to the history books, you’ll read that the Millis army fought a great battle against the demons on the northern coast during this period. The human army’s commander was Peter Dolior, said to be Saint Millis’ closest friend, and he died in the fighting. Pained as he was by this loss, Millis kept his focus on the future.”
“You mean he abandoned his friend? He left him to die?”
“No. Millis trusted his friend, and his friend trusted him. It was for that very reason that Peter fought to the death to slow the demons’ advance, rather than retreating in defeat. And thanks to that sacrifice, their shared dream of victory and peace was realized.”
With this emphatic lecture at an end, Cliff stared down into Norn’s eyes.
“Now tell me, what is your dream?”
“I just want my family to be reunited. I want us to be happy again.”
“Then do what you can to realize that goal. Study hard and learn your magic. It will be a great relief to your brother Rudeus and your father, wherever they might be.”
“What am I supposed to do after that? After I’ve learned what I can, I mean?”
Cliff nodded, having expected this follow-up question. Turning to the shrine where the church’s holy symbol was mounted, he paused for a moment and then answered.
“In the end, you pray. Saint Millis is always watching over us.”
If Cliff had been speaking to Rudeus, the mage would have rolled his eyes at this. But Norn wasn’t like her brother.
She was moved by these words. For the first time, she felt that the things she’d learned in church truly were meaningful.
Her teachers back in Millis had always told her to end every day with a prayer. It had seemed a bit arbitrary at the time—why not begin the day with a prayer?
But now she understood. There had been a reason for it after all.
“I think I understand. I’ll focus on doing what I can for now.”
“I’m very glad to hear that. If you run into any trouble or need help with your studies, feel free to seek me out. I’m usually here at this time of day, but you can also find me at my laboratory on campus.”
Norn left the church that evening in a newly buoyant frame of mind.
She had a goal now. She would follow the teachings of her faith and grow stronger in her brother’s absence. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.