"Heal me," I said, but Issildra held up a finger for me to wait and continued talking to an old woman, hunched in her chair, her old eyes lined, face wrinkled. It was becoming night and the whole shrine was in frenzy—a frenzy almost too large for the small building to handle—for a full moon was in the sky. More worshippers poured in than ever, because the moonmaiden's power was at its fullest.
I waited by the door, my arms crossed, staring through a throng of people at Issildra, who had rested a hand on the woman's shoulder and said something so soft I couldn't hear. But then she spoke louder. "Selune will be with you in everything. My sisters and I will pray for your tonight."
Issildra has a strange way with people, you could say. In her eyes, so blue, she gets this gentle, gentle look and people feel comforted by her, as if they were surrounded by love. Most people sing her praises, saying she's "something too pure for the world. A beautiful, beautiful thing." They say she is as close to Selune as any mortal can be.
Something funny happened a while back. Some poor schmuck, uneducated and unaccustomed to churches, came in begging for coins. Issildra spoke to him and gave him a meal. By the end he was kissing her feet and mistaking her for Selune herself. If he knew better, if he weren't so entrenched in ignorance, he would know that she's not sinless, not perfect. She's simply better at hiding her sin than most. I know things she's done that would make her pedestal crumble.
She's had a child. An illegitimate brat. And no one was allowed to know because mother's dear reputation would blacken and the church would lose its best member. Vow of chastity, indeed.
What of the child? Abandoned in an orphanage.
"So, what are you going to do with it?" I had asked her a while back, when all of this had begun to happen.
She had been in her room, sitting on her bed, looking out the window, seemingly seeing a great distance into Suzail. Usually she and I lived in Marsember—she at the Shrine and I in the guard barracks— far away from our mother and her mansion, but these strange circumstances drew us back. I was only visiting, of course. Issildra was stuck there for at least nine months.
When I asked the question, she had looked stricken, sick, and held her swollen stomach as if she were afraid she would bust right there. "Selune would not want me to end its life."
"What are you going to do then? Bringing a child like that into the world? They'll call you a whore. You are a whore. All you need is to slather some make-up on and cut your shirt real low. Who the hell did you sleep with, anyway? What did he give you? Where's the bastard now?"
"Don't lecture me. I know. I've thought of all that. I've prayed. I've lied prostrate before my goddess. I don't know what else to do…I haven't left the house in months. I just can't face them looking at me, seeing me. They'd think horrible things about me. Imagine the talk! Oh Selune, Selune, what can I do?"
Her face had twisted so that she looked sick, and those eyes of hers were clouded. That was the one thing I hated about her: she cared too deeply for what people thought of her. She cared more deeply about people's opinions than the people themselves; her kindness came from wanting to keep up appearance, of wanting to seem compassionate. Because she was afraid of sin; but most of all she was afraid of herself, afraid of being seen for what she was: a person, flawed, yes, but real, alive and beautiful. Real and alive in a way this "image" she projects never will be.
"You're so wise. Wise enough to get pregnant by a man who just ran off in the wind. Gone!" I snapped my fingers. "Just like that."
"Be quiet, Kaiyel."
"Are you getting angry? Finally, we get to see a crack in that façade."
"You're a cruel woman who couldn't possibly understand."
"Okay, I'll try to understand. Why did you sleep with him?"
She avoided my gaze and said nothing.
"Go ahead, tell me. Why?"
And again silence.
"Can't you speak? Well, what is it?"
"I was lonely!" The scream came sudden and loud, coming from a deep reserve, hidden for so long. She covered her mouth and looked shocked. Her next words were soft, fading whispers. "Just—just leave me be, Kaiyel. Leave me be." She bowed her head and cried tears that had been a long time in the coming. To me her remorse was worth more than a thousand good deeds, for at least one was real and true.
I left Suzail and came back to Marsember. I barely said goodbye to mother.
Later, when the child was born, it was tossed to rot in an orphanage because Issildra just couldn't bear to take care of it, couldn't bear to be seen with the child or, worse, what people might say about her. Because the baby was born of sin, of a passion that should not have been, a horrible carnality. It was an embodiment of all the darkness in her heart, darkness she tried to hide.
The whole thing was covered up and never mentioned again. Oh, but I remember. I remember it all.
Yet Issildra is still the main draw to the shrine. Before her, the shrine had done poorly mostly because in Cormyr people could give a damn less about Selune. No, they love the shine off gold, the thrill of money, the glory of Waukeen to the waxing, waning moonmaiden.
Some people would say it all in the past. I say not. Because the past matters. It matters dearly. It reveals fakers for her they are.
But speaking of hypocrites, I watched as Issildra came over to me, smiling serenely. "My dearest sister," she said. "Are you all right?"
I showed her my hand and removed the cloth I had on it to clot the blood. She examined it for a moment, lips pursed, before saying "It's a bad scrape, but I can heal it. No worries."
She touched my hand and there was pain as the wound grew back together, followed by a chill feeling, a numbness, before she withdrew her hand.
"How did you get this particular injury, anyway?" she said.
"Doing the usual business."
"Oh, yes, that." She frowned. "There should be more to life than just…disposing…of people left and right. There is such a thing as redemption and the church always accepts those who come to us seeking it. Perhaps you should send them our way from now on."
"Of course I will. The next rapist I run into, the next child-beating bastard, I'll send them your way and you can redeem them. That would be wonderful, wouldn't it, Issildra? Reforming criminals…how sweet. Come to Selune's open arms, all you rapists, murderers, wife-beating, abusive, damned monsters! She accepts all! Before you tell me anything, take a step out of this stupid temple. See what evil is like before you reform it. Because you know nothing. You've seen nothing."
"Kaiyel, we both know your actions are less-than-good."
"I'm only doing what's right."
"Your idea of right is cruelty!" I was thrilled to see her scowl, to see her lose control of her temper.
I didn't say another word, but left the shrine with a smile, knowing the hypocrite had lost control, even if just once.
But before I left, I heard her say, "I fear for you."
Nobody should fear for me. Ever.