The Demon Spirit

CHAPTER 12 Unexpected Guests

This cannot be! It makes no sense whatsoever,Abbot Dobrinion Calislas of St. Precious Abbey in Palmaris kept telling himself, trying to convince himself through logic, despite the very real re-ports from reliable monks, that Father Abbot Dalebert Markwart, the leader of the Abellican Church, was waiting for him in the chapel of his abbey.

"Markwart is too old to be traveling to Palmaris," Abbot Dobrinion said aloud, though no one was nearby to hear. He fumbled with his robes as he stumbled down the circular stairs from his private quarters. "And surely he would have given notice of his visit long in advance. Such men do not move helter-skelter about the countryside!

"And such men should not come unannounced!" Dobrinion added. He was no fan of Father Abbot Markwart; the two had been at odds for several years concerning the canonization process of one of St. Precious' former monks. Though it was the second oldest abbey in all the order, behind St.-Mere- Abelle, St. Precious boasted of no saints from its order, a tragic oversight that Abbot Dobrinion was working hard to correct - and one that Father Abbot Markwart had opposed from the very moment Brother Allabarnet's name had been entered.

Dobrinion's voice rose as he finished the frantic thought, the abbot opening the heavy door of the chapel at the same time. His round cheeks flushed, for he feared that the man standing before him, Father Abbot Dalebert Markwart, had heard him.

And it was indeed Markwart, Abbot Dobrinion knew without doubt. He had met the man on more than a dozen occasions, and though he had not seen Markwart in more than a decade, he recog-nized him now. He glanced around at Markwart's entourage, trying to make some sense of it all. Only three other monks were in the chapel, and one of them was of St. Precious. The other two, both young, one slender and nervous, the other barrel-chested and obvi-ously strong, stood near the Father Abbot in similar poses, their arms crossed in front of them, one hand clasping the other wrist. A defensive position, Dobrinion noted, and it seemed to him that these two were more like bodyguards than escorts. On previous oc-casions when the Father Abbot had traveled, whether it was Mark-wart or any of his predecessors, the entourage was huge, no less than fifty monks, and a fair number of them masters, or even abbots. These two were neither, Dobrinion knew, for they were hardly old enough to even have attained half the years of an immaculate.

"Father Abbot," he said solemnly, dipping a respectful bow.

"My greetings, Abbot Dobrinion," Father Abbot Markwart replied in his nasal voice. "Forgive my intrusion into your excel-lent abbey."

"Indeed," was all that the sputtering, flustered abbot could reply.

"It was necessary," Markwart went on. "In these times... well, you understand that we must often improvise with an enemy army marching about our lands."

"Indeed," Dobrinion said again, and he wanted to pinch himself, thinking that he sounded incredibly stupid.

"I am to be met here by a caravan," the Father Abbot explained, "which I diverted on its return to St.-Mere-Abelle, for there is little time."

A caravan from St.-Mere-Abelle this far out? Dobrinion thought. And I knew nothing about it!

"Master Jojonah leads it," Father Abbot Markwart said. "You re-member Jojonah; you and he went through your training together."

"He was two or three years my junior, I believe," Abbot Dobrinion replied. He had met Jojonah subsequently at Church gatherings, and had once spent a night drinking heavily with the man, and with a hawkish master by the name of Siherton.

"Are any other masters with this caravan?" he asked. "Siherton, perhaps?"

"Master Siherton is dead," Father Abbot Markwart said evenly. "He was murdered."

"Powries?" Dobrinion dared to ask, though it seemed from Markwart's tone that the man did not want to elaborate.

"No," Father Abbot said curtly. "But enough of that unpleasant situation; it was a long time ago. Jojonah is the only master on the caravan, though he has a trio of immaculates beside him. They are twenty- five strong, and have with them a most extraordinary pris-oner. What I require from you is privacy, for myself, for my fellows of St.-Mere- Abelle, and most of all, for the prisoner."

"I will do all that I can - " Abbot Dobrinion began to respond.

"I am sure that you will," Markwart cut him off. "Have one of your trusted lessers instruct these two - " He indicated the young monks flanking him. " - concerning our accommodations. We will not likely be here for long. No more than a week, I should guess." His face grew very serious and he advanced on Dobrinion, speaking in low, even threatening, tones. "I will have your assur-ances that there will be no interference," he said.

Abbot Dobrinion rocked back on his heels, studying the old man, surprised by all of this. For St.-Mere-Abelle to even be oper-ating in this region without Dobrinion's knowledge and approval was contrary to Church etiquette. What was this mysterious mis-sion all about, and why hadn't he been informed? And what of this prisoner? With hematite, the Father Abbot surely could have con-tacted him sooner!

Abbot Dobrinion did well to sublimate his anger. This was the Father Abbot, after all, and Honce-the-Bear was embroiled in a desperate war. "We will do as we are instructed," he assured his superior, bowing his head respectfully. "St. Precious is yours to command."

"I will take your quarters for the duration of my stay," Father Abbot Markwart said. "My lessers will help you to move your nec-essary items to other accommodations."

Dobrinion felt as though he had been slapped in the face. He had been the abbot of St. Precious for three decades, and that was no small position. St. Precious was the third largest abbey in the Abel-lican Church, behind St.-Mere-Abelle and St. Honce of Ursal. And because Palmaris was on the edge of the true civilized lands, there was perhaps no abbey more influential to its congregation. For the thirty years of his rule, Abbot Dobrinion had been pretty much left alone - St.-Mere-Abelle was too concerned with the Ring Stones and with general Church doctrine, and St. Honce too embroiled in politics with the King. Thus, Abbot Dobrinion's only rival for power in all the wide northern reaches of Honce-the-Bear was Baron Rochefort Bildeborough of Palmaris, and that man, like his predecessor, in addition to being a close friend to Dobrinion, was quiet and unassuming. Rochefort Bildeborough was a man easily appeased as long as his personal luxuries were secured. Even in thematter of this war that had come to Palmaris, he had turned over de-fense of the city to the captain of the city guard, instructing that man to report to Abbot Dobrinion, while he kept himself secure in his palace-fortress, Chasewind Manor.

Thus Abbot Dobrinion was not used to being talked to in such superior tones. But again, he remembered his place in the Abel-lican hierarchy, a pyramid that placed the Father Abbot at its pin-nacle. "As you say," he replied humbly, bowing one last time and starting away.

"And perhaps we will have time to discuss the matter of Brother Allabarnet," the Father Abbot said just before Abbot Dobrinion crossed out of the room.

Dobrinion stopped, realizing that he had just been thrown a morsel, a teasing carrot dependent upon his cooperation. His ini-tial thought was to throw that carrot back at the Father Abbot, but he quickly pushed that notion away. Abbot Dobrinion was an old man, and though he was not as old as Markwart, he feared that Markwart would outlive him. By his own estimation, all that he had left to accomplish in his life was to see Brother Allabarnet, a monk of St. Precious, sainted, and that feat would not be easy, perhaps not even possible, without the help of Father Abbot Markwart.

"St. Precious?" Brother Braumin's incredulous tone echoed the emotions of Master Jojonah when Brother Francis announced the new destination.

"The Father Abbot does not wish to lose any time in speaking with the centaur," Brother Francis went on. "He will meet us in Palmaris. In fact, he was on his way to that place when he contacted me, and I suspect that he is already settled in St. Precious."

"Are you certain of this?" Master Jojonah asked calmly. "Was it truly Father Abbot Markwart who told you of this change?"

"You imply that others might somehow get into my mind?" the younger monk retorted.

"I recognize that we have been to the lair of the demon," Master Jojonah explained, again taking pains so that his voice was not ac-cusing. If Father Abbot Markwart had indeed come to Brother Francis with new orders, then Jojonah and all the others had no practical choice but to go along.

"It was the Father Abbot," Brother Francis said firmly. "Would it appease you if I contacted him again? Perhaps I could loan him my body that he tell you personally."

"Enough, brother," Master Jojonah said, waving his hand in sur-render. "I do not question your judgment; I only thought it prudent to make certain."

"I am certain."

"So you have said," Master Jojonah replied. "And so our desti-nation shall be St. Precious. Have you determined our course?"

"I have others working with the maps even now," Brother Francis replied. "It is not too far, and once we have crossed the Timberlands, we should find a fairly easy road."

"A road choked with monsters," Brother Braumin put in dryly. "The reports from this area have spoken of abundant fighting."

"We will move too quickly and quietly for them to ever engage us," Brother Francis said.

Master Jojonah only nodded. If the Father Abbot wanted them in Palmaris, then to Palmaris they would go, whatever the obstacles. For Jojonah, though, the greatest obstacle of all would likely find them at the end of the trail, in the person of Dalebert Markwart.

With typical efficiency, Brother Francis completed the plotting and the caravan adjusted its course, wheels humming. They were past the Timberland towns in a couple of days, and though they did indeed find monsters along the way, the creatures never knew of their passage, or realized it too late to possibly catch up to the speeding procession.

"A caravan of monks," Roger Lockless explained. The young man was feeling well again, for Pony had used the hematite exten-sively on his dog bites and other wounds. He had hardly thanked the woman, though, had just grunted and walked away after their two-hour session. Neither Pony nor Elbryan had seen Roger in the four days since that occasion, until now. "I know monks, and am certain!"

Elbryan and Pony exchanged grim looks, both suspecting that Brother Avelyn might have something to do with this, that these monks might be in search of the stones the companions now held.

"Moving swiftly, so swiftly," Roger went on, sincerely awed. "I doubt that Kos-kosio Begulne even knew they were in the area - or, if the powrie did learn of their passing, they were too far gone by that point for him to do anything about it. They must be halfway to Palmaris by now."

Elbryan started to question that, for Roger had only seen this caravan a couple of hours before. The ranger held the thought quiet, though, for he knew that, whether the estimate of the speed was accurate or not, Roger believed what he was saying.

"A pity that we did not learn of this sooner," Belster O'Comely put in. "What aid might these men of God have given us? What comfort? At the very least, they might have taken our most infirm with them to the safer lands in the south."

"You would not even have learned of them at all had I not been so vigilant," Roger replied angrily, defensively, taking Belster's comment as an insult to his scouting prowess. "How come the great Nightbird knew nothing about them? Or the woman who pro-claims to be a great wizardess?"

"Enough, Roger," Elbryan bade him. "Belster was lamenting the reality, not placing blame. It is indeed a pity that we could not enlist the aid of such powerful allies, for if they were moving as swiftly as you say -??and I do not doubt that they were," he added quickly, seeing Roger's expression go sour, "then they are likely strong with magic." The ranger was only half serious, though, for while he would have liked to facilitate the passage of their infirm members to Palmaris, he wasn't so sure that these monks would have proven themselves allies - at least not for him and Pony.

"They were moving even faster than you believe," Roger replied. "I cannot describe their true speed. Their horses' legs were but a blur; one rider at the back of the wagon moved so fast that to my eyes he seemed to be a blend of horse and man."

That perked up the ears of all the folk of the Dundalis region, all the folk who knew of the Forest Ghost, who had fought beside Bradwarden and taken comfort in his hauntingly beautiful piping. Elbryan and Pony deflated their brightening expressions, though, shaking their heads at the thought. They had seen the end of Bradwarden, so they both believed.

"You are certain that the caravan kept moving?" the ranger asked Roger.

"Halfway to Palmaris by now," the man replied.

"Then they are no concern of ours," Elbryan reasoned, though silently he vowed to keep an eye out for the monks. If this caravan had come to the north searching for Avelyn and the stones, and if they had garnered some answers through the use of magic, he and Pony might already be considered outlaws.




The caravan arrived at St. Precious with no fanfare, no recogni-tion; Abbot Dobrinion wasn't even there to greet them. That was Father Abbot Markwart's pleasure, along with his pair of body-guards, quietly meeting the brothers from St.-Mere-Abelle at the abbey's back gate.

Master Jojonah wasn't surprised by Markwart's choice of trav-eling companions, Brothers Youseff and Dandelion, the two monks in training to replace the late Brother Quintall as Brother Justice. Of all the lesser students in St.-Mere-Abelle, Jojonah had come to like these two the least. Brother Youseff, a third-year stu-dent, was from Youmaneff, Avelyn's hometown, but there the similarity ended. He was a small and slender man, a vicious fighter who found every advantage in the training arena, no matter how deceptive and unpleasant. His companion, Brother Dandelion, who had only been at the monastery for two years, was physically the opposite of the small man, a huge bear with arms the size of a meaty thigh. Brother Dandelion often had to be restrained in the sparring matches, for once he gained an advantage, he continued to press it to the point of injuring his opponent. In the days of sanity at the monastery, such action might have led to dismissal, but in these dark times, the Father Abbot only chuckled at the man's enthu-siasm. Markwart had many times dismissed Jojonah's complaints about Brother Dandelion, assuring Jojonah they would find a fit-ting place for the savage man.

Brother Jojonah often wondered how Dandelion, or Youseff, for that matter, had even passed the grueling process of elimination to get into the monastery. Every class was whittled down from one or two thousand to twenty-five, and it seemed obvious to Jojonah that there had to be many among those other hundreds more fitting in temperament, intelligence, and piety.

But both these young monks had been sponsored by the Father Abbot himself. "The son of a dear friend," Markwart had said of Dandelion. Master Jojonah knew better. Brother Dandelion had been brought in for his unparalleled physical prowess and for no other reason. He was Markwart's replacement for Quintall, one of the personal bodyguards surrounding the Father Abbot.

As for Youseff, Markwart had explained that Youmaneff, with the loss of Avelyn, was not represented at all in St.-Mere-Abelle, an oversight that had to be corrected if the abbey meant to retain tight control over the small town.

Master Jojonah could only shake his head and sigh; it was all moving beyond his control.

The caravan was put up in the courtyard, with all the monks shown to their quarters, conveniently separated from the brothers of St. Precious. Master Jojonah found himself in a quiet room in a far corner of the great structure, removed from all the others of his troupe, particularly Brother Braumin, who was all the way to the other side of the abbey. The closest to Jojonah was Francis - to keep an eye on him, the master knew.

Still, that very night, Jojonah managed to slip away, meeting quietly with Brother Braumin on the triforium, a decorated ledge twenty feet above the floor of the abbey's great chapel.

"I suspect he is in the lower dungeons," Master Jojonah ex-plained, running his hands over the details of a statue of Brother Allabarnet, whom the monks here called Brother Appleseed. Jo-jonah could feel the love that had gone into this artwork, and that, he subconsciously understood, was the true work of God.

"In chains, no doubt," agreed Brother Braumin. "A great sin rests on the shoulders of the Father Abbot if his treatment of the heroic centaur is ill."

Master Jojonah quieted the man with a waving hand. They could not afford to be caught speaking against the Father Abbot, no matter how great their ire.

"Have you inquired?" Brother Braumin asked.

"The Father Abbot tells me little now," Jojonah replied. "He knows where lies my heart, though my actions do not overtly op-pose him. I am scheduled to meet with him in the morning, at first light."

"To speak of Bradwarden?"

Jojonah shook his head. "I doubt that subject will be breached," he explained. "We are to talk of my departure, I believe, for the Father Abbot has hinted that I will move on ahead of the caravan."

Brother Braumin caught the note of dread in Master Jojonah's voice, and his thoughts went immediately to Markwart's dan-gerous lackeys. Might the Father Abbot have Jojonah killed on the road? The thought assaulted Braumin's sensibilities, seeming so utterly ridiculous. But try as he might, he could not dismiss it. Nor did he speak it aloud, for it was obvious to him that Jojonah was aware of the situation.

"What do you wish of me?" asked Brother Braumin.

Master Jojonah chuckled and held up his hands in defeat. "Stay the course, my friend," he replied. "Keep true in your heart. There seems little else before us. I do not agree with the direction of our Order, but the Father Abbot does not stand alone. Indeed, those who follow the present course far outnumber those of us who be-lieve the Church has strayed."

"Our numbers will grow," Brother Braumin said determinedly, and in light of the vision he had found at the top of blasted Mount Aida, he truly believed the words. That sight, Avelyn's arm and hand protruding from the blasted rock, had tied together all the words for Braumin, all the stories of Avelyn and the hints that the current Church was off course. In viewing Avelyn's grave, he knew the direction of his life, and that direction would likely bring him into great conflict with the leaders of the Church - a fight Brother Braumin was ready to wage. He squared his shoulders deter-minedly as he finished with all confidence, "For our course is the most godly."

Master Jojonah would not disagree with the simple logic of that statement. In the end, good and truth would prevail - he had to be-lieve that, for it was the most basic tenet of his faith. How many centuries might it take to turn the Abellican Church back to its proper course, though, and how much suffering would the present course facilitate?

"Keep true in your heart," he said again to Braumin. "Quietly spread the word, not against the Father Abbot or any others, but in favor of Avelyn and those of like heart and generous spirit."

"With the centaur as prisoner, it may go beyond that," Brother Braumin reasoned. "The Father Abbot might force our hand, to stand against him openly or to forever remain silent."

"There are degrees of silence, brother," Master Jojonah replied. "To your room now, and fear not for me. I am at peace."

Brother Braumin spent a long while staring at this dear man, his mentor, then he bowed low, even moved to Jojonah's hand and kissed it, then turned and left.

Master Jojonah spent another hour and more up on that quiet tri-forium, looking at the statues of saints past, and at the newest con-struction, the likeness of Brother Allabarnet of St. Precious, who more than a century before had walked the wide land planting apple trees, that settlers might find abundance. The canonization process for Allabarnet was sponsored by Abbot Dobrinion, who dearly wanted to see it through before he died.

Master Jojonah knew well the tales of kindly Allabarnet, and thought the man truly deserving. But given the current conditions of the Church, those stories of generosity and sacrifice would probably work against him.

Master Jojonah's fears about Bradwarden's condition were all too true, for the centaur had been brought to the lower catacombs of St. Precious, and there, in the dark and damp, was shackled to the wall. Still dazed from his brutal experiences in the collapsed mountain, and thoroughly exhausted from the run south, during which the monks had enacted magic spells upon him to make him run faster, Bradwarden was in little condition to resist physically.

And mentally; Bradwarden was caught exhausted and off his guard when Father Abbot Markwart, hematite in hand, came to him that very first night.

Without a word to Bradwarden, the Father Abbot fell into the power of the soul stone, released his mind from its physical bonds and invaded the thoughts of the centaur.

Bradwarden's eyes went wide when he felt this most personal of intrusions. He struggled against the chains, but they would not yield. He fought back mentally - or at least he tried to, for he had no idea where to even begin.

Markwart, this wretched old human, was there in his mind, probing his memories.

"Tell me of Avelyn," the Father Abbot prompted aloud, and though Bradwarden had no intention of offering any answers, the mere mention of Avelyn conjured images of the man, of the trip to Aida, of Pony and Elbryan, of Belli'mar Juraviel and Tuntun, of Symphony, and of all the others who had fought the monsters about Dundalis.

Only gradually did Bradwarden begin to temper and control his thoughts, and by that time the Father Abbot had learned so very much. Avelyn was dead and the stones gone, but these other two, this Elbryan and Pony, had left the devastation of Aida, or at least had left the tunnel wherein the centaur had been trapped, very much alive. Markwart focused on these two as the inquisition con-tinued, and discovered that they were both from a small Timberland town called Dundalis, but had both lived the bulk of their years outside of Dundalis.

Pony, Jilseponie Ault, had lived in Palmaris.

"Ye're a wretch!" Bradwarden fumed when at long last the mental connection was broken.

"You might have offered the information an easier way," the Father Abbot replied.

"To yerself ?" the centaur balked. "Ah, but Avelyn was right about ye, about all o' yer stinkin' Church, now wasn't he?"

"Where did this woman, Jilseponie, live when she was in Palmaris?"

"Ye're calling yerselves men o' God, but no good God'd ap-prove of yer works," Bradwarden went on. "Ye took from me, ye thievin' wretch, and for that I'll see that ye pay."

"And what of these diminutive creatures?" Father Abbot Markwart calmly asked. "Touel'alfar?"

Bradwarden spat at him.

Markwart lifted another stone, a graphite, and slammed the bedraggled centaur against the stone wall with a burst of electricity. "There are easy ways, and there are difficult ways," the Father Abbot said calmly. "I will take whatever path you open for me."

He started for the low, open archway that led to the main area of the catacombs. "You will speak with me again," he threatened. Both Markwart and Bradwarden understood the limitations of that threat. The centaur was strong of will and would not be caught by surprise again, and Markwart would find no easy task in getting into his mind.

But Bradwarden feared that he might have already surrendered too much information about his friends.

"You cannot begin to comprehend the importance of this!" the Father Abbot roared at Abbot Dobrinion the next morning, the two men alone in Dobrinion's study - though it was the Father Abbot who was sitting at Dobrinion's large oak desk.

"Palmaris is a large city," Abbot Dobrinion said calmly, trying to appease the man. Markwart hadn't told him much, just that he needed information on a young woman, perhaps twenty years of age, who went by the name of Pony, or Jilseponie. "I know of no one named Pony - except for one stableboy who earned that as a nickname."

"Jilseponie, then?"

Abbot Dobrinion shrugged helplessly.

"She came from the north," Father Abbot Markwart pressed, though he hadn't wanted to reveal even this much to the potentially dangerous Dobrinion. "An orphan."

That hit a chord with the Abbot. "And can you tell me what she looks like?" he asked, trying hard not to let on that he might know something.

Markwart described the woman, for Bradwarden had uninten-tionally offered him a very clear picture of her, the thick golden hair, the blue eyes, the thick lips.

"What is it?" Markwart demanded, seeing the recognition flash across Dobrinion's chubby face.

"Nothing, perhaps," the abbot admitted. "There was a girl -??Jill, she was called - who came from the north, orphaned in a goblin raid. But that was perhaps a decade ago, perhaps more."

"What happened to her?"

"I married her to Master Connor Bildeborough, nephew of the Baron of Palmaris," Abbot Dobrinion explained. "But it did not consummate and the girl was declared an outlaw for her refusal. She was indentured to the Kingsmen," Dobrinion declared, think-ing that might be the end of it, and hoping it would be, for he was not pleased at all by the Father Abbot's actions, nor by the man's desperate and secretive attitude.

The Father Abbot turned away and rubbed a hand across his pointy chin, only then noticing that he had not shaved in many, many days. The woman had been in the army - that, too, fit with the centaur's recollections.

The pieces were falling into place.

Markwart, and not Dobrinion, remained in the abbot's study after their discussion had ended. The next in line to see him was Brother Francis, and the Father Abbot's orders to the monk were simple and to the point: keep everyone, even Abbot Dobrinion, away from the centaur, and keep Bradwarden exhausted. They would meet later that day in the dungeon, to continue the interrogation.

When Francis left, Master Jojonah entered. "We must discuss your treatment of the centaur," he said without even formally greeting his superior.

Father Abbot Markwart snorted. "The centaur is none of your concern," he replied casually.

"It would seem that Bradwarden is a hero," Master Jojonah dared to say. "He, along with Avelyn Desbris, saw to the destruc-tion of the dactyl."

"You have it wrong," the Father Abbot retorted, working hard to keep the anger from his voice. "Avelyn went to the dactyl, that much is true, and Bradwarden and these other two, Elbryan and Pony, accompanied him. But they did not go there to do battle, but rather to form an alliance."

"So the destroyed mountain would indicate," Master Jojonah said sarcastically.

Again Markwart snorted. "They overstepped the bounds of magic and of reason," he declared. "They reached into that crystal amethyst which Avelyn stole from St.-Mere-Abelle, and with it, combined with the hellish powers of the demon dactyl, they de-stroyed themselves."

Master Jojonah saw the lie for what it was. He knew Avelyn, perhaps better than anyone else at St.-Mere-Abelle, and knew that Avelyn would never have gone over to the side of evil. How he might convey that message over the ranting of the Father Abbot, he did not know.

"I have a mission for you," Markwart said.

"You hinted that I would return to St.-Mere-Abelle ahead of the rest," Master Jojonah replied bluntly.

Markwart was shaking his head before the man finished. "You will leave ahead of us," he explained. "But I doubt that you will see St.-Mere- Abelle before us. No, your course is south, to St. Honce in Ursal."

Master Jojonah was too surprised to even respond.

"You are to meet with Abbot Je'howith to discuss the canoniza-tion of Allabarnet of St. Precious," the Father Abbot explained.

Master Jojonah's expression was purely incredulous. Father Abbot Markwart had been the primary opponent of the process; were it not for his protests, Allabarnet would already be named a saint! Why the reversal? the master pondered, and it seemed to him that Markwart was trying to strengthen his ties with Dobrinion, and also to conveniently get him out of the way.

"In these trying times, a new saint might be just what the Church needs to reinvigorate the masses," the Father Abbot went on.

Master Jojonah wanted to ask how any such process could be nearly as important as the very real issues before them, including the continuing war. He wanted to ask why a lesser monk couldn't carry this message to Ursal. He wanted to ask why Markwart was reversing himself on this issue.

But all of those questions ran into the same solid wall, Jojonah realized. Father Abbot Markwart was following his own agenda, one bent on retrieving the stones Avelyn had stolen and discred-iting the renegade monk at any costs. As he looked at the man now, it seemed to him that Markwart was spiraling down, down, into depths of blackness, that every word the Father Abbot spoke car-ried him further from the path of God.

"I will go and pack my belongings," Master Jojonah said.

"Already done," Father Abbot Markwart replied as the man turned to leave. "They await you at the abbey's back door."

"Then I will go and speak with - "

"You will go straightaway to the back door," the Father Abbot said calmly. "All the arrangements have been made, all the sup-plies secured."

"Magic stones?"

"My friend," Markwart said, standing and moving around the side of the desk, "you will be traveling through civilized lands. You will need no magical assistance."

Master Jojonah felt as though he was at a pivotal moment in his life. To go all the way to Ursal without any magical assistance, and on a mission that could become so very complicated, given the sheer paperwork of the canonization process, could keep him out of St.-Mere-Abelle, where he felt that he was desperately needed, for a year and more. Yet his only recourse would be to challenge Markwart here and now, perhaps to make it a public display, calling the man out concerning his beliefs, demanding proof that Brother Avelyn Desbris had gone to Aida to work with the dactyl demon.

His allies would be few indeed, Master Jojonah realized. Brother Braumin would stand behind him, perhaps even young Dellman. But what of Abbot Dobrinion, and thus the hundred and fifty monks of St. Precious?

No, Markwart had beaten him to that, Jojonah understood. He was leaving to discuss a situation near and dear to the heart of St. Precious, the sainthood of one of their own. Dobrinion wouldn't go against Markwart, not now.

Master Jojonah spent a long time staring at this wrinkled old man, his onetime mentor who had become his nemesis. But he had no answers and no recourse - or perhaps, he feared, it was just a lack of courage. How old he felt at that moment, how beyond his days of action!

He went to the back door of the abbey, then walked, for Markwart had not even secured donkey or cart, down the roads of Palmaris, ex-iting by the southern gate.

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