NOTES: Thanks to all you cool cats who reviewed. And S., you are right-on about that being a Freddy Daddy (even...the Freddy Daddy?).

WARNINGS: Religious themes, flagrant usage of Latin. Um, ominous foreshadowing.


ii. Agnus Dei

NOVEMBER 1, 1936
(The Solemnity Of All Saints)

Hundreds of candles flickered golden, warm, sole illumination in the otherwise darkened sanctuary. The air was heavy with frankincense and sandalwood, and she watched silver, curling wisps of incense swirl through the dim glow.

"Misereatur vestri omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam..."

Anywhere but at the altar, Father Raguel spoke in frail whispers as befitted his eighty years. But now, intoning the Communion of the Faithful, his voice was a strong tenor that rang out clearly to the last pew, lingering among the rafters. It echoed somewhere inside her, and Amanda shivered.

Perhaps she should have felt nervous, even scared; impossibly small in the face of these ancient rituals, this tremendous commitment looming before her. But inside the house of God, she had no fear. Instead, she was filled with peace, security, and quiet joy.

"...tributat nobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus," Father Raguel lifted the Host, cradling it reverently, as if it were his own heart.

The rightness of it all soothed her. This was where she belonged, her purpose.

"Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea..."

This was her calling.

"...sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea..."

This was God's will for her.

"...et sanabitur anima mea..."

Amanda worked to focus her thoughts on contemplation of the Divine, as she awaited Holy Communion. But the more she tried to hold them, the more they slipped from her grasp, like sand.

Four months she had waited for this blessed day to come, and now at last it had. Elation bubbled up inside her, and she touched the medal hanging at her breast, tracing the familiar image of St. Francis until she calmed. None of the sisters had told her it would be so difficult to contain her excitement.

Mass went on, flowing by her barely noticed, until the congregation began to leave, and she was startled to realize the service was over. It was now time for the rite of investiture. Mother Marguerite rose up to full height, impressive without her veil but even more so with it, and beckoned her forward. She hastily obeyed, and knelt before Mother Marguerite and the other sisters. The taste of bread and wine was strong in her mouth.

Her heart pounded so loud in her ears, it was nearly impossible to make out what was being said to her. It didn't matter, though, because the words were already etched into her soul. "What does your heart desire?"

The expected traditional answer came without hesitation, lovingly dwelled upon as it had been. "Reverend Mother, I desire to spend my life at the Feet of Lord Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament."

Mother Marguerite smiled, one of the sisters already slipping a gleaming pair of shears into her hand. Father Raguel was given a carefully folded bundle of cloth (her pulse jumped at the sight of it), and as he chanted a blessing over it, the Reverend Mother gathered Amanda's long, dark hair and slowly began cutting. Sister Marie Angelica held a white bowl beneath, to catch each heavy lock as it fell.

When it was done, Father Raguel dutifully relinquished the habit to Mother Marguerite. Silent, she made ready to dress Amanda.

In her mind she named each part, her mouth busy repeating Psalm 40 ("Then said I, lo, I come...I delight to do thy will, O my God...yea, thy law is within my heart...").

Coif. Bandeau. Guimpe. White to symbolize her thoughts not of the world, but of the Kingdom to come, her body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and her place in the worship of God.

The habit, shaded purest untouched snow, slid easily over her head, then the Franciscan cord was looped around her waist, knotted once (vow of poverty), twice (vow of chastity), three times (vow of obedience). Over that they placed the mantle, in honor of the Blessed Mother and her protection.

Mother Marguerite gifted her the veil last, and smoothed its drape with mother's tenderness. She smiled again, her eyes glistening.

The honey scent of melting beeswax filled her nose, and Father Raguel came forward, holding a lit candle. His weathered face was crinkled happily. "You shall no longer be Amanda," he passed the candle to her, his skin warm and like paper. "But Sister Mary Helena of the Immaculate Conception, your name in Christ."

She closed her eyes as he anointed her with holy water. "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti," he said, his breath cool against the still damp patch of her forehead.

Wax dripped from the candle onto her hand, rolling to a stop between her knuckles. It burned, badly, but she concealed her flinch. "Amen."

Immediately the others rushed to encircle her, swarming her with congratulations and blessings. Sister Marie Angelica let out a joyous whoop, and - with her strong, stocky Nordic build - snatched her up like a doll and crushed her in an enthusiastic hug. Her accent was even thicker in the excitement. "I am so pleased for you, little sister! You will do many good things for God, I am sure."

By contrast, Mother Marguerite was more circumspect, though no less genuine, in quietly pressing a hard, cloth-wrapped shape into her hands. It was a rosary, carved entirely from heartwood; each bead shone deep, rich purple, polished to a liquid gleam.

It was the most beautiful thing she had ever held.

Her lips parted in shock, but she didn't feel them. She looked to the Reverend Mother with wide eyes.

"It was my grandmother's," she said simply, pulling Amanda's mantle straighter. "And now it is yours."

All Amanda (Sister Mary Helena, she reminded herself) could do was nod, unable to speak for the lump in her throat.

Everything after was a blur of smiling faces, well wishes. Finally she had a moment to catch her breath, to look around her at her friends, her teachers, her sisters. Serenity settled over her like a soft, fleece blanket, in the knowledge that this was exactly where she was meant to be, and what she was meant to be doing. Her heart felt swollen to bursting with happiness.

How fortunate she was, to serve God and her fellow man with these women - she shut her eyes in fervent prayer that He would let her do so forever.

Thoughts crept into her mind of the way things had been, before Mother Marguerite and the convent. The slum where she'd been born, caked with soot from the processing plants. Her father who had died in a cave-in, slaving like a dog in the mines to try and get them by.

Her poor, sick mother, lost inside her own mind, and that awful year before it got so drastic, she...

Amanda remembered the orphanage, the nuns who had taken her in; fed her, clothed her, taught her. Loved her.

She thought of how far she had come, and felt almost dizzied by it. But she felt something else, too: resolution. Yes, the work the sisters did was difficult, even dangerous at times, but after all she had survived to get here, she had faith in her ability to overcome whatever may lie ahead.

The Lord was with her now.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

"Amen," she murmured.