Bartholemew pulled the hood down a bit as he shoveled manure from the church stalls. Two other indigents worked a few stalls down. He could hear them talking between themselves.
“So, Thad… have you seen any more Tieflings raiding your pigs?” The first one chuckled. He was short and fat, with long greasy hair.
The inference that Tieflings did evil things always made Bartholemew angry. He channeled his anger into the shovel, and worked even harder. He and his kind were not evil. Sure, they were descenants of demon/human encounters, but Bartholemew was a peaceful Tiefling. But knowing how they were hated among the people, he always strived to keep his identity hidden for fear of the result.
“Give it a rest, Michael.” Thad scowled as he continued shoveling. “Ya know there ain’t no such thing. They’re myths made up to scare kids to eat their beets.”
“Not true. I saw one five years ago. Ugly beast. Long hair. Dark skin. He was gonna kill me, but I got away. Ran straight into town and got a mob together, but we never could find the bastard. He vanished into thin air without a track or a trace.”
“Likely story. What’ya think, Scar Face?” Thad called over.
When Bartholemew looked across the stables, Thad was leaning on his shovel, staring right at him. He glanced at Chubby, and he froze. He knew that face. He’d seen that man before. Fear ripped through his chest and arms like ice. Quickly ducking his head, Bartholemew shouted back, “My name is Bartholemew. And please don’t bring me into this. I’m just working for my wages.”
“Oh, come on.” Chubby waddled down the aisle toward Bartholemew’s stable gate. “Tell us. Do you believe in Tieflings?”
“If I did, would you shut up and leave me to work in peace?” Bartholemew dropped his shovel, pushed through the gate and past Chubby, briskly walking toward the chapel.
“Awww, you’re no fun, Scar Face.” Chubby called after him. “Get back here and grow a spine. We’re just trying to make the day go faster.”
But it was too late. He couldn’t risk trying to carry a conversation with them. Especially him. Once inside, he marched directly to Priest Donnair’s room, gathered his composure and knocked gently on the door.
“Come in.” The priest’s voice was smooth and practiced.
Bartholemew opened the door and stepped through. The room was paneled in dark, expensive wood, and the floor was covered in an expensive imported rug. After closing the door, he removed his hood and bowed with respect.
“Yes, Bartholemew? How can I help you?”
“Apologies, sir. I’ve come to collect what little I’ve earned today. I did not finish, but the two you’ve assigned to work with me today were insistent on seeing my face and carrying conversation.”
The priest nodded. “I understand. It’s okay. I will pay you a full wage today if you’ll do a few other favors for me.” Priest Donnair pulled three coins from his pocket and handed them across his desk. “I’ll tell the others that the scars from your accident were causing you pain and you had to go to find a salve for relief.”
“That’s the other thing, sir… I don’t think that the story of my disfigurement will hold up to scrutiny any more. People are curious by nature. The more you pronounce me different, the more that they want to see all of the differences. Please, sir. Let me return to cleaning the stables at night, in peace.”
Priest Donnair lowered himself back into his plush chair. “Now, Bartholemew… you know that is not possible. The horsemen will return at night, and the horses are disturbed by your presence. They, too, fear your kind.”
“Then what else can I do for you? I cannot work with these men any more. You, alone, have put trust in me. Everyone else in this entire city wishes me and my kind dead, fearing that we will eat their children and kill their cattle, and stew their innards for dessert. I will serve you humbly, with whatever skill I have. But I just wish to do so in private.”
“I am not alone in my trust of you. And how will they learn, Bartholemew? I’m putting these men with you so that one day they will discover your true face, and realize that your nature is not to harm them but to help. You are a true gentle soul.” The priest’s words were soft and sincere. “How will they ever trust you if they do not work side-by-side with you to know your true nature?”
“You want them to discover me? We’ve already run into this five years ago. You insisted that I step out of my fear and face it head-on. That very man you put with me today was the man that tried to rally the city against me. This experiment has failed my kind over and over through the years. And that day, had you not hid me in the basement of this building, I would be dead. I revealed myself to him as a gesture of good will, and he ran, fearing that I would devour him.”
The priest sat with a solemn look on his face, his hands pressed together at the fingertips and his thumbs resting on his chin.
“Well? Do you have other work for me, or not?”
With a deep sigh, the priest looked up. “You are right, my friend. The people are not ready… not yet. I will speak with Bishop LeRove. There has been an issue boiling to the southeast, and you spend much of your weeks in those woods. Perhaps you could be our eyes and ears there. If he agrees, we could pay you to do some scouting for us. There, you’d be in your home environment, and you would have the privacy that you seek.”
Bartholemew felt his shoulders relax for the first time in weeks. “That would be very nice. Thank you, my friend.”
The priest stood and slowly escorted Bartholemew to the door. “I make no promises, but I will ask on your behalf. He knows your plight, he knows your true origin and most importantly, he trusts you. Now, if you will excuse me, I must prepare the utensils for the festival this week. In the next ten days, there will be much chaos. I need to be as focused as possible.”
Bartholemew donned his hood and shook the priest’s hand, grasping it in both hands he stared directly into the priest’s eyes. “I owe you my life, Donnair. Thank you for all you’ve done for me.”
“You’re welcome. And it is I that is in debt of his life to you. Now go. I’ll send a servant to deliver a message to you at your camp site in two days.”
Bartholemew thanked him again and slipped quietly down the corridor. He checked his tail to make sure it was still securely fastened under his cloak, then slipped into the streets. People brushed by in on either side. They laughed with their friends, haggled with the vendors, yelled at their mates, and continued life as normal… completely un-aware that a Tiefling was walking through their midst. How many times had people of his kind done this? And how many times had they slipped through life unnoticed. Yet they did no harm to the people of the city. Any city, for that matter.
As he past the city gate, a guard approached, shouting for him to stop. Bartholemew held up the church’s symbol and the guard nodded. “Your symbol marks you as damaged to the Order of Truesilver. How are you damaged?”
“Fire upon my face when I was a child. I am ashamed to reveal my scars as they are a mark of my transgressions against Truesilver, sir.” Bartholemew called back. This was a speech that he was all-too-familiar with. “Please have mercy on me and grant me the right to hide my face.”
“What is your name?”
“And upon whose blessing did you receive the mark?”
“Priest Donnair. He has delivered a note of me to all gates.”
The guard looked back toward his counterpart who nodded. “Very well. Go through.”
Once out of sight of the city walls, Bartholemew relaxed again. He slipped into the woods down a small trail. Once sufficiently deep into the woods, he removed his hood and inhaled deeply. The cool breeze carried the sweet aroma of the spring-time foliage. He walked a bit slower, enjoying the connection with nature as he returned to his campsite to await the promised messenger.