“On this day the 14th October, in the year of our Lord 1888 . . .”
Maddeson squirmed against the unforgiving wooden pew. The weight of eyes that ought to be locked on the vicar, not on him, did wonders to keep him burning up when the church made an already-cold October’s day positively glacial. Why did they insist on removing hats anyway? Respect? If he’d been able to keep his on, he’d have escaped their horrified stares and keep his own sense of it a little longer.
It’d help if the vicar didn’t also keep casting quick, shocked glances his way. When he’d removed his hat the man’s mouth had fallen agape and only delivering the sermon saved them both but Maddeson had no doubt that the moment he was done he’d descend on Maddeson like the judgement of God, ready to save Maddeson’s inevitably-doomed soul.
And from the way even the churchgoers on the pews in front of him kept twitching and twisting to glance at him from the corners of their eyes, the possibility of escaping the ancient building before this awful fate occurred looked less probable than the apocalyptic doom the vicar espoused from the pulpit. If said apocalyptic doom could descend before the sermon was over and spare him the inevitable gawping stares, he would be most grateful.
At least, if he was lucky it’d be restrained to simply gawping.
“Sir! Sir, if I may have a word with you!”
Alas, it wasn’t restrained to the gawping.
His escape thwarted, Maddeson paused mere feet from the grey stone church with his hat clutched protectively to his chest as the vicar hurried over, his bible in much the same position. Mutual warding against one another; Maddeson was very almost amused. “Can I help you, sir?”
“Well, sir,” the vicar said, coming to a halt a respectful distance from him that Maddeson couldn’t help noticing was significantly more respectful than it was with his regular parishioners. “I couldn’t help but notice you are new to our little congregation and wondered,” with a glance he no doubt didn’t intend at Maddeson’s ears, “if there were any spiritual matters I could help you with?”
When Maddeson was younger he’d self-consciously reached up and tugged at the prominent point of one ear or another whenever someone stared. As an adult he restrained the urge — but only just.
He kept a firm hold on his hat. “Is there a problem, sir? I simply wanted to attend a Sunday service.” And the church was surely a picturesque one with its roses creeping round the door, but his visit wasn’t religious as much as it was to show himself a normal man, for all the good it had done.
“Oh, no problem at all sir,” the vicar said hurriedly, demonstrating Maddeson’s silent accusation with another glance at his ears that, this time, could not be accidental. “But a gentleman such as yourself — I confess, I didn’t expect to see you in church.”
“Why, may I ask?” Maddeson did nothing to keep the ice from his voice; unlike most, the vicar failed to recoil, or apparently even notice. “Is there some reason you would expect otherwise?”
“Well, sir, it’s not often we get your kind in our small town—”
Maddeson didn’t hear the rest of the sentence: he’d set off as soon as the vicar reached ‘your kind,’ cheeks burning with fury and an embarrassment he was sure coloured the tips of those same hated ears. The vicar’s interminable drone cut off but Maddeson didn’t turn back. God! This was all he needed. All he’d wanted was a short break from life, a week’s holiday by the coast, but within a day of his arrival he was being ministered to by a vicar he didn’t know, and who did it not out of concern for a stranger but to pat himself on the back for saving the immortal soul of the accursed half-elf.
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