9: One More Thing, Before You Go

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It wasn't that simple, of course, but Ever hadn't expected it to be. Bishop Royce curtailed the discussion relatively soon after his revelation, withdrawing to discuss the matter further with his advisors and leaving Ever to explain to her father what had just happened as best she could. Their walk home was awkward; she could see that her foster father was concerned by what had happened and she wasn't sure how to make him feel better—or if she even could. She tried to explain what she had felt when she laid her hands on the Bishop and what had happened when she did. She was shaken herself, however, and her descriptive powers were not at their best. In the end, she supposed, it came down to faith.

Taking his hands before the door to their cabin, as he had taken hers only hours before, Ever looked up at Elder Orton and smiled. She hoped her smile was reassuring.

"Do you remember when I was ten and I asked you how you knew God was real?" Ever asked him. "Do you remember your answer?"

"I said that I didn't know, not in the way that I know that pine is softer than oak, or that any board will warp if left in the rain for too long, no matter what kind of wood it is. But I felt it. I believed. And that was enough."

Once he was able to wrap Ever's experiences inside the folds of his faith he seemed satisfied, for the moment at least. Her father was the least of her problems, however.

When the High Council announced Ever's name among the list of young men traveling into the Maine, all of Bountiful twisted itself into a genuine uproar. Some were shocked, some outraged—mostly older men and boys too young to join the party themselves—and some unexpectedly supportive: the Women's Society in particular took Ever's inclusion as a sign from on high that the women of Bountiful were just as important to the fight for the community's survival as the men that manned its walls. Ever wasn't sure that any reasonable member of the Blessed actually disagreed with that idea, but nonetheless, her sisters seemed to make an unspoken decision to elect Ever their official figurehead overnight.

Elder Cardon was openly critical and more than willing to say so whenever given the slightest opportunity. Not in front of Sister Hales, of course, or Sister Flowers, or any other female of Bountiful, for that matter, but his attempts to sow discord did seem to take root among the older members of the High Council.

Bishop Royce's declaration was sufficient for most of the community, but Ever was not blind enough to the ways of the Elders' Council to miss the fact that he had lost some support over it.

Then there was Ever's mother, who seemed to have decided that Ever going on a journey was a sign of the arrival of the end of days. Elder Orton was remarkably helpful in dealing with her, however, and Sister Orton's doomsaying lightened up remarkably after an incident on the village green involving one of Elder Cardon's devotees and a rotten pumpkin.

Ever hadn't asked any questions, but the story came to her through the rumor mill regardless. One Elder Harward, a crotchety old spindle of a man who was known to indulge in the smoking of certain medicinal plants in the woods behind his cabin, made the mistake of implying that Ever, in going north with the men, had lost favor in God's eyes—for surely no woman beloved of the Lord would find herself tramping across hard country in the company of unmarried men when she could be happily wedded and pregnant at home. Ever's mother, whose fatalism apparently did not extend to brooking external criticism of her children, had responded memorably. Versions of her verbal response varied, though most included the words "imbecile," "sinful," and "backwards," as well as the phrases "mad as a dog in heat," "the Devil's weed," and "your rotten brain."

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