Incident at St. Laurita’s
by Kochava Greene
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
“Mother Angelita, there is a... lady here to see you.”
Mother Angelita swept her needlework to the side. She was a tall, large woman and moved with great elegance. “Thank you, Sister Selina. I will go to her at once.”
Mother Angelita walked briskly down the stone and adobe corridor of the convent, her sandals gently tapping and her habit creating a breeze behind her. At the end of the corridor, she turned a large key set into a stone door, moving a series of gears and bars to open the door to the reception room. Once, the convent had been a refuge for escaped slaves, and the sisters found the defenses useful against the desert’s unwanted visitors.
The woman waiting in the parlor was plain, wearing a practical traveling dress and brown boots. She held a hat in her hands; her fingers were long, with short nails.
Despite her unadorned appearance, she had an air of grace about her: was she a minor member of one of Texas’s newly resident royal families from Cape Verde or Senegal? the daughter of a rich Ceutan family? the widow of a Tanzanian merchant?
Mother Angelita smiled warmly at her. Opening her hands in a gesture of welcome, she asked, “How may we help you?”
The woman spoke directly: “I understand you admit novices of any age. I wish to join the convent.”
Mother Angelita took in the woman in front of her more closely: she appeared to be in her late thirties, with twisted ropes of long hair gathered into a thick coil at the nape of her neck. A small scar stood out near the corner of her mouth, pale and raised against her dark skin.
Her voice had the soft accent of a Carolinian, but Mother Angelita would have sworn the woman was African; few Carolinian women were so dark-skinned or had the almost-hidden tribal body markings of many African nations that Mother Angelita could make out just behind the woman’s ears.
Then she noticed the woman’s thinness, the way she had covered as much of her body as possible, the slightly-tattered edges of the shawl that fell over her shoulders. Still, she was surprised: this woman had the bearing of a noble, not a class usually found in the brothels under any circumstances.
“Are you coming here from... life... in the city?” Mother Angelita asked delicately. She knew that St. Laurita’s had gained, mostly fairly, a reputation for accepting women from the city’s brothels.
Currently, there were two former prostitutes from the city’s Rose Room, and one who had come all the way from the Rocky Mountain Territory by automated carriage train among the convent’s sisters. She herself had never worked in the life, but her aunt had, becoming a famous courtesan in Culiacán, where men of every race had found her irresistible, despite a general preference there for pale, blonde women.
“I’ve come from Carolina,” said the woman. Carolina did not border on Texas; the woman had made a significant journey. When Mother Angelita looked at her expectantly, the woman continued. “I made a vow that when my daughter finished school, when she was settled, I would... retire here.”
Mother Angelita didn’t know quite what to make of this new postulant. Other women usually humbly knelt, or begged admittance, citing stories of abuse, poverty, or tales of other hardships, often along with professions of religious fervor.
Mother Angelita fingered the plain stone carved with a spiral that hung around her neck, the holy symbol of the All-Mother. There was no question that the woman would be accepted: the order never turned away a woman wishing to join or, for that matter, held it against a woman who wished to leave.
She did wonder, though, why a Carolinian woman would have left that wealthy and civilized Eastern land for the barren desert surrounding St. Laurita’s. Then again, non-white women were not always as well-treated there as they were in the country of Texas, where men and women of a variety of social and racial backgrounds had made alliances almost since the country’s founding. “You realize that our lives here are very difficult,” she said. “We live plainly, serving the All-Mother.”
“I welcome this,” said the Carolinian quietly. She smiled very slightly. “My mother said the All-Mother freed her from her life on a plantation. And the All-Mother has... saved me more than once. I want nothing more than to work for Her here.”
The woman declined to provide her name or that of her daughter, or the location of her daughter, even in case of an emergency or death. “She is safe and independent,” said the woman, “and we have said our farewells.”
Mother Angelita pressed further, and found that the woman had last lived near the city of San Lazare, located where Carolina territory curved up against Louisiana, situated precariously between the gulf and a large lake.
San Lazare was well-known for its dangerous location on the water and its rough ways. Unlike inland Texas, where beautiful cities had risen from the deserts, San Lazare was a place for adventurers, opportunists, criminals, and unsavory elements from across the continent.
Mechanical constructs roamed there, created to clear the marshes and waters of the foul creatures that lived in the depths. Engineers entered the city to repair these Gulfmen and left quickly.
While automated carriage trains ran to and from San Lazare twice weekly, and airships could dock at an extravagant facility north of the city. It contained a casino, armorer, and sundry other businesses such that airmen might never need leave it. Few members of the upper or middle classes of Carolina — or anywhere else — ever ventured there, sending proxies for business instead.
Mother Angelita had never known anyone from San Lazare, and tried to suppress her curiosity. She called for Sister Carlita to take the woman to her cell and see her appointed and settled before afternoon work began.
As the woman rose, Mother Angelita saw that she walked stiffly, as though her knees were affected by severe arthritis. The buckles of the woman’s boots gleamed as she passed by the older woman, and she bowed her head in gratitude and respect. Mother Angelita called out to stop her at the edge of the room as Sister Carlita worked the locks on the door to the convent’s inner chambers.
“Sister,” Mother Angelita said. “Will you choose a new name before you go to be robed?”
The woman paused, her boots clanking slightly. “What is the custom?” she asked.
“Any woman’s name,” replied Mother Angelita. “Often we take names for Her aspects — Selina, for example — or try to reclaim names taken by followers of the Unnatural Sect, to restore them.”
Worshippers of the All-Mother were diametrically opposed to the religions of the non-natural, particularly the sect of the Unnatural Man, who was said to have circumvented the laws of nature and its elements, even death. Its followers were mostly men, who used the myth to oppress natural philosophy and its traditional religion of nature worship.
The new woman thought for a moment, her fingers playing over the buttons on her high collar. “There is a St. Amelia, is there not?” she asked, recalling a Louisiana story of a cunning woman who built silver wings to escape suspicious and ignorant men who were chasing her with dogs raised to hunt humans. When Mother Angelita smiled, inclining her head, the woman said, “If you will, then, I will be Sister Amelia.”
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Copyright © 2015 by Kochava Greene