Swords v. Cthulhu is our newest genre-blending anthology of original fiction, and as it shambles toward its summertime publication we’re going to be posting excerpts from each of the stories. Our next teaser is from Wendy N. Wagner’s “Ordo Virtutum,” which introduces the famous abbess and visionary Hildegard of Bingen to another mystic—one who may seem familiar to certain pilgrims…
Hildegard leaned on her walking staff and picked her way around a mound of rubble. Mud and heaps of fieldstone covered the whole knoll of Rupertsberg, obliterating the pleasant hill where she’d chosen to build her new priory. The cost of construction, she supposed. At least the monks’ house was completed, its thatched roof and whitewashed walls in proper order, the whole structure cozy and inviting as it sat on its sandstone outcropping above the Rhine. The river’s waters whispered to themselves as they hurdled over their rocky bed, as if the river was still talking about the man it had brought to the Benedictines.
“It’s only a few more steps, Mother Hildegard.” Sister Richardis took Hildegard’s elbow.
Hildegard eased free of the girl’s grip. “I am well enough, sister. Do not trouble yourself.” She looked around. The green of the untrammeled ground here at the edge of the construction site compelled her with its peace and viriditas—its lively green energy. She wished she could absorb some of that green to help her shake off the effects of her latest illness. She needed to be strong for her nuns. She had brought them to Rupertsberg to help them focus on the beauty of God’s creation, and now their strange guest threatened her hard work.
She took the last few steps toward the monks’ quarters and rapped on the door. It flew open and Marten’s pale, nervous face peered out. He was only nine, and while promised to the service, was not yet a novice. She smiled at the boy. “Bless you, my child. Is Brother Arnold or Father Justin available?”
He shook his head hard. “Father Justin was called back to Disibodenberg. And Brother Arnold is resting.”
“I am awake now,” a reedy voice grumbled. The monk nudged the boy aside and gave Hildegard a solemn bow. He was as much in awe of her as the boy these days. “Holy Hildegard. How may I be of service?”
Hildegard waved Richardis inside and then followed her within the humble cottage. The space felt warmer and more homey than their own—but of course, this house was a permanent structure. The nuns’ more expansive quarters were still under construction.
“Brother, why did the builders do no work today? I saw them arrive in the morning and their cart is still here, but there is no sign of them.”
Brother Arnold took a step backward. “I did ask the man.”
Hildegard brought her walking stick down with a thump. “Asked who?”
“The man from the river,” Marten interjected. He took a quick step behind Brother Arnold, eying Hildegard’s stick.
“The man from the river.” Hildegard sank onto the bench beside the fireplace. Yesterday, the workmen had pulled the stranger out of the rapids, tending him as best they could, but they had finally called for Hildegard in the night, and when she walked into the little infirmary, she’d seen something in the stranger’s sharp gray eyes that made her wish she could turn her back on the man. She felt for the rosary on her belt and squeezed its familiar beads. God had warned her that before this place would be her sanctuary, it would first be her greatest test. And now she knew the test was begun…
For the rest, get Swords v. Cthulhu from Stone Skin Press
Wendy N. Wagner is a Hugo-award winning short fiction editor as well as a writer. Her short stories have appeared in over thirty venues, including the anthologies Cthulhu Fhtagn!, She Walks in Shadows, and The Way of the Wizard, and the magazines Farrago’s Wainscot and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She is also the author of Starspawn (due out August 2016), the sequel to Skinwalkers, both Pathfinder Tales novels. She lives with her very understanding family in Portland, Oregon, and you can keep up with her at winniewoohoo.com.