The Demon Spirit

CHAPTER 14 Right and Wrong

"Oh, but by yer pardon, master sir," the woman stammered. "I'm just not knowing what ye're wanting from poor old Pettibwa."

Father Abbot Markwart eyed the woman suspiciously, knowing that she was not as dim-witted as she was pretending. It made sense, of course, for she was obviously frightened. She, her hus-band Graevis, and their son Grady, had been pulled from Fellow-ship Way, their small inn down in the poorer section of Palmaris.

The Father Abbot made a mental note to speak with Brothers Youseff and Dandelion concerning their rough tactics. Using brute force and threats instead of subtle coercion, they had put the three on their guard, and now garnering any information might prove more difficult indeed. In fact, had he not arrived on the scene to oversee the arrest, Markwart feared that his two overly rough lackeys might have seriously injured the three, might even have killed the son, Grady.

"Be at ease, Madame Chilichunk," Markwart said with a phony grin. "We are searching for one of our own, that is all, and we have reason to believe that he might be in the company of your daughter."

"Cat?" the woman asked suddenly, eagerly, and Markwart knew that he had hit a chord, though he had no idea of who this "Cat" might be.

"Your daughter," he said again. "The one you adopted, who was orphaned in the Timberlands."

"Cat," Pettibwa said earnestly. "Cat-the-Stray, that's what we called her, ye know."

"I do not know the name," the Father Abbot admitted.

"Jilly, then," the woman clarified. "That's her real name, part of it anyway. Oh, but I'd love to be seein' me Jilly again!"

Jilly.Markwart rolled the name over in his thoughts.Jilly ... Jilseponie... Pony. Yes, he decided. It fit nicely.

"If you help us," he said pleasantly, "you may indeed see her again. We have every reason to believe that she is alive and well."

"And in the Kingsmen," the woman added.

Markwart hid his frustration well. If Pettibwa and her family knew no more than that old news, they wouldn't be of much help.

"But as I telled yer fellow priest, I'm not knowing where they sent me girl," Pettibwa went on.

"Fellow priest?" Father Abbot echoed. Had Brother Justice in-terrogated this woman already? he wondered, and hoped, for if that was the case, then Quintall must have also discovered the connec-tion between Avelyn and the Chilichunks. "A monk, you mean? Of St. Precious, perhaps?"

"No, I'm knowin' most of them from St. Precious - me Jilly was married by Abbot Dobrinion himself, ye know," Pettibwa of-fered proudly. "No, this one was wearing the darker brown robes, like yer own, and his accent was o' the eastlands. St.-Mere-Abelle, ye said ye were from, and I'd be guessin' that he was from the same place."

Father Abbot Markwart was pondering how he might properly identify this man - as Quintall, he suspected - without giving any-thing away, when boisterous Pettibwa rambled on.

"Oh, and a great big fat man, he was indeed!" she said. "Ye must be feedin' them well at yer St.-Mere-Abelle, though yerself could be using a bit o' fattening, if ye don't mind me telling ye so!"

For a moment Father Abbot Markwart was confused, for there wasn't an ounce of fat on the well-honed muscles of the first Brother Justice. But then, suddenly, he understood, and he could hardly contain his excitement. "Brother Avelyn?" he said breath-lessly. "Brother Avelyn Desbris of St.-Mere-Abelle came to speak with you?"

"Avelyn," Pettibwa echoed, letting the name roll off her tongue. "Yessir, that's sounding right. Brother Avelyn come a'askin' about me Jilly."

"And she was with you?"

"Oh no, but she was long into the army by then," Pettibwa ex-plained. "But he wasn't looking to find her; he was asking about where she came from, and how she came to live with me and Graevis. Oh, a nice and cheerful fellow he was, too!"

"And did you tell him?"

"Oh, but for sure," Pettibwa said. "I'm not one to be angering the Church!"

"Keep that thought close to your heart," the Father Abbot said dryly. It was all beginning to fit together, and quite nicely, he real-ized. Avelyn had met this woman, Pony or Jilly, outside of Pireth Tulme after the powrie invasion, and had traveled with her right through Palmaris and to the north, where they had then met the centaur. The woman had survived the explosion at Aida, Markwart believed, and so had this other mysterious fellow, Nightbird, whom Bradwarden had unintentionally described, and they now had the gemstones.

Finding them would not be easy, obviously, but perhaps Mark-wart could find a way to bring Pony and Nightbird to him...

"I could make ye a fine fattening stew," Pettibwa was saying when the Father Abbot tuned back to the conversation. Of course she was preoccupied with such things, Markwart mused, consid-ering her plump form.

"I may just ask you to do that," he replied. "But not now."

"Oh no, couldn't be," Pettibwa agreed. "But ye come by the Way tonight, or whenever ye're getting the chance, and I'll feed ye well."

"I am afraid that you will not be returning to the Way this day," Markwart explained, rising from his seat behind Abbot Dobrinion's huge desk and motioning to Brother Dandelion, who was standing in the shadows at the side of the large room. "Or any-time soon."

"But - "

"You said that you did not want to anger the Church," Markwart interrupted. "I hold you to that, Madame Pettibwa Chilichunk. Our business is most urgent - more so than the health of your pitiful inn."

"Pitiful?" Pettibwa echoed, growing concerned and angry.

"Brother Dandelion will accompany - "

"I'm not thinking so!" the woman snapped. "I'm no enemy of the Church, Father Abbot, but I've got me life and me family."

Father Abbot Markwart didn't bother to reply, had grown quite bored with the woman, actually, and quite frustrated, since she really had only confirmed what he already knew. He motioned again to Brother Dandelion and the man stepped up to Pettibwa's side and took her thick elbow in his hand.

"Ah, but ye just be lettin' me go!" she yelled at him, tug-ging away.

Dandelion looked to Markwart, who nodded. Then he grabbed the woman again, more forcefully. Pettibwa tried to pull away, but the big man's grip was like iron.

"Understand, Madame Chilichunk," Father Abbot Markwart explained in a deadly serious voice, and moved his wrinkled old face right near the woman, "you will go with Brother Dandelion, whatever tactics he must use."

"And ye're callin' yerself a godly man?" Pettibwa replied, but her anger was gone, replaced by simple fear. She tried to pull away once more, and Brother Dandelion tightened his fingers and popped her hard on the forehead, stunning her. Then the monk cupped his hand over Pettibwa's, bending her fingers under his grasp, and pressed in, forcing the fingers back on their knuckles.

Waves of pain washed over the woman, stealing the strength from her legs. Brother Dandelion hooked his free arm under her shoulder and easily held her up against his side, keeping the pres-sure on her fingers every step of the way.

Markwart just went back to the desk, unconcerned with her pain.

As the pair left the room, Abbot Dobrinion entered, looking none too pleased.

"This is how you treat my congregation?" he demanded of Markwart.

"This is how the Church deals with those who will not coop-erate," the Father Abbot coolly replied.

"Will not?" Dobrinion echoed doubtfully. "Or cannot? The Chilichunk family are an honest and decent lot, by every report. If they could help in your search - "

"Inmy search?" Father Abbot roared in reply, leaping to his feet and slamming the desk. "You believe that this is my search alone? Can you not understand the implications of all this?"

Abbot Dobrinion patted his hand in the air as Markwart fumed on, trying to calm the old man. That condescending action only fueled the Father Abbot's ire, though.

"We have found Avelyn the heretic," Markwart growled. "Yes, we found him, dead as he deserved in the devastation of Mount Aida. Perhaps his ally, the fiend dactyl, turned against him, or per-haps he merely overestimated his own worth and power; pride was ever one of his many faults!"

Abbot Dobrinion could hardly reply, so stunned was he by the information, and by the sheer outrage in Father Abbot's voice as he relayed it.

"And that woman," Markwart went on, pointing a skinny finger at the door Pettibwa and Dandelion had exited, "and her wretched family, may hold answers for us concerning the whereabouts of our stones. Our stones! God- given to St.-Mere-Abelle, and stolen by the thief and murderer Avelyn Desbris, curse his evil name! And such a cache, Abbot Dobrinion! If those stones fall into the hands of enemies of the Church, then we shall know war on an even greater scale, do not doubt!"

Dobrinion suspected that Father Abbot might be exaggerating there. He had already spoken to Master Jojonah concerning the stones, and Jojonah wasn't nearly as worried about them as was Markwart. But Dobrinion, too, was an old man whose time in this world was fast passing, and he understood the importance of repu-tation and legacy. That was why he was so desperate to see Brother Allabarnet canonized while he presided over St. Precious, and why he was able to accept Markwart's need to retrieve the stones.

He would have said as much, if he had been given the chance, but the Father Abbot was on a roll then, spouting Church doc-trine, telling of Master Siherton, so good a man, murdered by Avelyn, and ranting about how the Chilichunks might be the only clue in getting to this treasonous woman and the cache of gemstones.

"Do not underestimate my desire for this," Markwart finished, lowering his voice to a threatening tone. "If you hinder me in any way, I will repay you a thousand times over."

Dobrinion's face screwed up with incredulity; he was not accus-tomed to being threatened by one of his own Order.

"As you know, Master Jojonah is already on his way to St. Honce to further Brother Allabarnet's canonization," Father Abbot Markwart said calmly. "I can recall him in an instant, and kill this process altogether."

Dobrinion set his feet firmly in place and squared his shoulders. By his estimation, the old Father Abbot had just crossed a very tan-gible line! "You are the leader of the Abellican Church," Dobrinion conceded, "and thus hold great power. But the canonization process is greater still, and an issue for all the abbots, not just the Father Abbot of St.-Mere- Abelle."

Markwart was laughing before the man even finished. "But the stories I could tell of Brother Allabarnet," he said with a wicked chuckle. "Long- forgotten tales unearthed from the catacombs of St.-Mere-Abelle. The journal of the man's passage through the eastlands, a journey filled with tales of debauchery and woman-izing, of excessive drinking and even one case of petty theft."

"Impossible!" Dobrinion cried.

"Quite possible," Markwart replied grimly without hesitation. "To fabricate and to make them look authentic."

"The lie will not stand the test of time," Dobrinion countered. "Similar lies were told of St. Gwendolyn of the Sea, yet they did not defeat the canonization process!"

"They delayed it for nearly two hundred years," Markwart not so gently reminded. "No, perhaps the lies will not stand the test of time, but neither, my friend, will your old bones."

Dobrinion slumped where he stood, feeling as though he had been physically beaten.

"I intend to gather my information," Markwart said evenly. "By whatever means necessary. As of this moment, Graevis, Pet-tibwa, and Grady Chilichunk are to be held under suspicion of treason against the Church and God. And perhaps I will speak with this Connor Bildeborough, as well, to see if he is a part of the conspiracy."

Dobrinion started to respond, but decided to hold the thoughts to himself. Connor Bildeborough was the favored nephew, treated practically as son and heir, of the Baron of Palmaris, a man of no small means and influence. But Father Abbot Markwart could find that out for himself, Dobrinion decided. The old wretch might just make a very powerful enemy in the process.

"As you wish, Father Abbot" was all the abbot of St. Precious replied, and he gave a curt bow, turned on his heel and left the room.

Markwart gave a derisive snort when the door closed behind Dobrinion, thinking he had put the man in his place.

Dainsey Aucomb was not the brightest light in the sky, the dashing young man knew, but she was observant enough. And besides, Connor Bildeborough was often able to use her dim wits to his advantage. The Baron's nephew had come to the Way that night, as he often did - though, in truth, the relationship between Connor and Pettibwa Chilichunk had been more than a little strained since the annulment of Connor's marriage to Jill. Still, Grady Chilichunk was more than pleased to call the nobleman a friend, and even Graevis couldn't really blame the man for the failure of the marriage; Jill had refused him his marital rights, after all.

And so Connor continued to frequent Fellowship Way, for though a man of his station was welcomed at the most exclusive taverns in Palmaris, in those places Connor was just another nobleman. Among the common rabble in Fellowship Way, he felt important, superior in every way.

He was surprised, as were many other regular patrons, to find the tavern closed that night. The only light showing through the win-dows came from two of the guest rooms on the second floor, from the kitchen and from a small room in the back of the building, the room that had been Jill's but now belonged to Dainsey.

Connor called to her softly as he knocked lightly on the door. "Do come and answer, Dainsey," he bade her.

No answer.

"Dainsey Aucomb," Connor said more loudly. "There are many patrons growing restless in the street. We cannot abide that, now can we?"

"Dainsey's not here," came the woman's voice, poorly disguised.

Connor rocked back on his heels, surprised by the note of fear he detected in that voice. What was going on here?

"Dainsey, it is Connor... Master Bildeborough, nephew of the Baron," he said more forcefully. "I know that you are behind the door, hearing my every word, and I demand that you speak with me!"

No answer came back, other than a slight whimpering.

Connor grew more agitated, more frightened. Something very strange had happened, perhaps something terrible. "Dainsey!"

"Oh, go away, I beg ye, Mr. Bildeborough," the woman pleaded. "I ain't done nothing wrong, and I'm not for knowing what crimes the mister and missus committed to so anger the Church. No sins on me own door, and me bed's been slept in by none but meself - well, except for yerself, and just those two... three times."

Connor tried hard to digest all of that. Crimes against the Church? The Chilichunks? "Impossible," he said aloud, then lifted his hand to bang hard on the door. He stopped himself, though, and reconsidered his course. Dainsey was frightened, and apparently with good cause. If he frightened her more, he doubted he would be able to get any information out of her.

"Dainsey," he said softly, comfortingly. "You know me, and know that I am a friend of the Chilichunks."

"The missus isn't speaking so highly of ye," Dainsey replied bluntly.

"And you know that story," Connor said, fighting hard to hold his calm tone. "And know, too, that I do not blame Pettibwa for being mad at me. Yet I still come to the Way, still consider the place as a home. I am no enemy of the Chilichunks, Dainsey, nor of you."

"So ye're saying."

"Consider that I could be in there if I so chose," Connor said bluntly. "I could have half the garrison with me, and that door would offer you little protection."

"Dainsey's not here," came the reply. "I'm her sister, and know nothing about what ye're saying."

Connor groaned and banged his forehead against the door. "Very well, then," he said a moment later. "I am leaving, and you should be, as well, before those monks now coming down the road arrive." Staying in place right outside the door, Connor lifted his feet alternately, clunking his boots against the wood, more softly with each step so that it sounded as though he was walking away. Predictably, the door cracked open a few seconds later, and the young man was quick to stick his foot into the opening, bracing his shoulder against the wood and pushing hard.

Dainsey was a spirited lass, and strong from carrying heavy trays, and she gave him a good fight, but finally he forced himself into the room, quickly shutting the door behind him.

"Oh, but I'll scream!" the frightened woman warned, backing away, taking up a frying pan as she passed it sitting on her night table, spilling the drippy eggs down her side in the process. "Ye keep yerself back!" she warned, waving the pan.

"Dainsey, what is wrong with you?" Connor asked, advancing a step and then quickly retreating and holding up his hands unthreat-eningly as the pan started swinging. "Where are the Chilichunks? You must tell me."

"Ye're already knowing!" the woman accused. "Suren that yer uncle's part of it all!"

"Part of all what?" Connor demanded.

"Part of the arrest!" Dainsey cried, tears streaming down her soft cheeks.

"Arrest?" Connor echoed. "They were arrested? By town guards?"

"No," Dainsey explained. "By them monks."

Connor could hardly speak, so amazed was he by this informa-tion. "Arrested?" he asked again. "You are sure of that? They were not just escorted to St. Precious on some minor business?"

"Master Grady, he tried to argue," Dainsey said. "Said he was a friend o' yerself and all, but that only made them laugh, and when Master Grady moved to draw his sword, one o' them monks, a skinny fellow, but so fast, got him good and hard, knocked him right to the floor. And then the old one come rushing in, and he was in a fit - "

"Abbot Dobrinion?"

"No, older than him by a cow's life," Dainsey said. "Old and skinny and wrinkled, but wearing robes like Dobrinion, only more decorated. Oh, pretty things, those robes was, even on the old and wrinkled man, even with that ugly look he kept on his face - "

"Dainsey," Connor said suddenly and firmly, trying to get her back on track.

"He, the old one, he yelled good at that skinny fellow, but then he just looked at Master Grady and telled him that if he did a stupid thing like that again, both his arms'd be torn off," Dainsey went on. "And I believed him, too, and so did Master Grady! Went all white in the face, trembling all over."

Connor shuffled over and sat on the bed, thoroughly stunned and trying to sort it all out. He had been in the Way that night a couple of years before when an enormously fat monk, a man of St.-Mere-Abelle, he had heard, and not of St. Precious, had arrived and spoken with Pettibwa. That meeting had seemed calm enough, though the man had spoken of Jill, which somewhat upset the nor-mally jovial woman. Still, on that occasion, the monk had been gentle enough and gracious enough.

"Did they say why they had come?" Connor asked her. "Did they mention what crimes the Chilichunks were being accused of? You must tell me, I beg."

"They asked about the mister and missus's daughter, that's all," Dainsey replied. "They said I was her at first, and then two young ones moved to grab me. But the old one, he said that it wasn't me, and the mister and missus both said so, too."

Connor put his chin in his hand, trying hard, and futilely, to di-gest it all. Jill? They were looking for Jill? But why?

"Then they said the mister and missus must be hiding her, and so they went through the whole place, makin' a mess o' everything," Dainsey went on. "And then they took 'em, all three."

Connor Bildeborough was not without resources. His network of friends and confidants included people from the palace to the abbey to House Battlebrow, the most notorious brothel - and thus, one of the most powerful houses - in all the city. It was time for him to put that network into action, he realized, time for him to get some answers.

If the Church had come so forcefully for the Chilichunks on a matter concerning Jill, then Connor, too, might find himself under suspicion. These were, after all, dangerous times, and Connor, who had lived all of his thirty years in the presence of the ruling class, understood well how serious the games of intrigue could become.

"You stay here, Dainsey," he decided. "And keep that door closed, and do not even offer an answer to anyone's call, except for mine."

"But how'm I to be sure that it's yerself come a'calling?"

"We'll have a secret word," Connor said mysteriously, and he saw that get Dainsey's attention. Her face brightened at the thought, the frying pan went back on the night table and she plopped down on the bed right beside him.

"Ooh, but that's so exciting," she said happily. "What word, then?"

Connor thought it over for just a moment. "Bymegod," he said with a wicked smile that brought a fierce blush to Dainsey's cheeks. "You will remember that one, will you not?"

Dainsey giggled and blushed even more. She had heard that phrase before, had been known to say it repeatedly at certain times when she and Connor were alone in her room.

Connor gave her a little tickle under the chin, then rose and went to the door. "Speak to no one else," he instructed as he left. "And if the Chilichunks return - "

"Oh, but I'll let them in!" Dainsey cut in.

"Yes, do," Connor said dryly. "And then tell Grady to find me. Can you remember to do that?"

Dainsey nodded eagerly.

"Bymegod," Connor said with a wink as he departed.

Dainsey sat on the bed giggling for a long while.

"You believe this to be a game?" Markwart screamed, sticking his face right up to poor Grady Chilichunk, the old man's blood-shot eyes boring into Grady's.

Grady was chained to the wall by the wrists, with the shackles up high so that he had to stand on his tiptoes the whole time. And it was hot down there in the cellar of St. Precious, with a fire pit and bellows set up in the low-ceilinged, tight room.

"I never even liked her," the prisoner sputtered in reply, sweat and spittle flying out with every word. "I asked for no sister!"

"Then tell me where she is!" Markwart roared.

"If I knew, I would," Grady protested, his voice more con-trolled, though hardly calm. "You must believe me!"

Father Abbot Markwart turned to the two monks who had ac-companied him to the dungeons, Brothers Francis and Dandelion, the huge and vicious younger monk wearing a hooded cloak, an appropriate garment for this dark occasion.

"Do you believe him?" Markwart asked Francis.

"He seems sincere," Brother Francis answered honestly. His perspective was biased, he knew, because he simply didn't want to see any more of this interrogation, truly the most brutal questioning he had ever witnessed. He did believe Grady, and hoped that Mark-wart would, as well.

Grady's face brightened just a bit, a hint of a smile turning up the corners of his mouth.

"Seems?" Markwart pressed, sounding incredulous. "My dear Brother Francis, on a matter as important as this, do you believe that the appearance of truth is enough?"

"Of course not, Father Abbot," Brother Francis replied with a re-signed sigh.

Father Abbot Markwart turned on Grady. "Where is she?" he asked calmly.

The man whined as he searched for an answer that he could not know.

Markwart nodded to the hooded Dandelion. "We must be cer-tain," he said, and then he walked away, Brother Francis in tow.

Brother Dandelion was right before Grady in an instant, his huge fist slamming hard into the man's exposed ribs. "Please," Grady stammered, and then he was hit again, and again, and again, until his words came out as undecipherable groans.

"And when you are finished," Father Abbot Markwart said to Dandelion, "do go to an upstairs hearth and take a poker, then lay it in the fire of this room for a bit. We must test this one's sincerity, after all, and teach him a lesson of obedience to the Church."

"No!" Grady started to protest, but his breath was blasted away by another heavy punch.

Markwart left the room without looking back. Brother Francis did pause before following, staring back at the spectacle. Grady Chilichunk wasn't the only one in this room being taught a lesson.

Another punch brought a pitiful groan, and Francis rushed away, skittering to catch up to Markwart.

"You would not really use a heated poker on the poor fool?" he asked.

Markwart's look stole the blood from his face. "I will do what-ever I deem necessary," he said calmly. "Come along, the old man down the hall is near to breaking, I believe. Perhaps we can invade his thoughts once again with the soul stone." Markwart paused, studying the expression on the younger monk's face, recognizing doubts etched there.

"Whenever the business gets unpleasant, all you need do is think of the greater good," he quietly instructed.

"But if they are telling the truth..." Francis dared to argue.

"A pity, then," Markwart admitted. "But not so much a pity as the consequences if they are lying and we do not probe deeper. The greater truth, Brother Francis. The greater good."

Still, Francis was having a hard time reconciling his heart with the spectacle. He said no more about it, though, but produced the soul stone and dutifully followed his superior to the next cell in line.

More than an hour later, a painful hour for Grady and Graevis, Francis and Markwart exited the heavy door leading to the narrow stone stairway to the abbey's chapel. They found Abbot Dobrinion waiting for them on the top step.

"I demand to know what you are doing down there," the abbot fumed. "These are my subjects, and loyal to the Church."

"Loyal?" Markwart spat at him. "They harbor fugitives."

"If they knew - "

"They do know!" Markwart yelled in his face. "And they will tell me, do not doubt!"

The sheer intensity, the sheer wildness, of his tone sent Dobrinion back a couple of steps. He stood staring at Markwart for a long while, trying to get a reading of the man, trying to find out just how far this all had gone. "Father Abbot," he said quietly at length, once he was back in control of his own bubbling anger, "I do not doubt the importance of your quest, but I'll not stand idly by while you - "

"While I begin the canonization process for our dear Allabarnet of St. Precious?" Markwart finished.

Again Dobrinion paused, his thoughts whirling. No, he decided, he could not let Father Abbot use that as leverage against him, not in a matter as important as this. "Brother Allabarnet is deserving - " he started to protest.

"As if that matters," Markwart spat. "How many hundreds are deserving, Abbot Dobrinion? And yet only those chosen few ever even get nominated."

Dobrinion shook his head in defiance to every word. "No more," he said. "No more. Choose your course concerning Brother Allabarnet based on the work and life of Brother Allabarnet, not on whether or not the present abbot of St. Precious agrees with your campaign of terror! These are good people, good in heart and in deed."

"What do you know of it?" Markwart exploded. "When ene-mies of the Church bring St. Precious down around you, or the rot within the Church brings you down inside the walls you thought sacred, or when goblins freely roam the streets of Palmaris, will Abbot Dobrinion then wish he had let Father Abbot Markwart con-duct the matters with a just, but iron, hand? Do you even begin to understand the implications of the cache of stolen stones? Do you even begin to understand the power they might bring to our foes?" The Father Abbot shook his head and waved disgustedly at the man.

"I grow weary of trying to educate you, foolish Abbot Dobrinion," he said. "Let me warn you instead. This matter is too important for your meddling. Your actions will not go unnoticed."

Abbot Dobrinion squared his shoulders and eyed the old man di-rectly. Truly, some of Markwart's claims of the potential calamity had shaken a bit of his confidence, but still, his heart told him that this inquisition of the Chilichunks, and of the centaur, could not be a righteous thing. He had no arguments that would stand against Markwart at that time, though. The hierarchy of the Abellican Church did not allow him, as a mere abbot, to seriously question the authority of the Father Abbot, even within the walls of his own abbey. He gave a curt bow, then turned and walked far, far away.

"Who is Dobrinion's second at St. Precious?" Father Abbot Markwart asked Brother Francis as soon as the other man was gone.

"In line for the position of abbot?" Francis reasoned, and then, when Markwart confirmed that to be what he had in mind, Francis shook his head and shrugged. "No one of any consequence, cer-tainly," he explained. "There is not even a master now in service at St. Precious."

Markwart's face screwed up with curiosity.

"They had two masters," Brother Francis explained. "One was killed on the battlefield to the north; the other died of the red fever just a few months ago."

"An interesting void," Father Abbot Markwart remarked.

"In truth, there is no one in St. Precious ready for such a succes-sion," Brother Francis went on.

Father Abbot smiled wickedly at the thought. He had a master at St.- Mere-Abelle who might be ready for such a position, a man whose hand was no less iron than his own.

"Impeaching him of his title will thus prove all the more diffi-cult," Brother Francis reasoned, thinking he saw where Mark-wart's thoughts were leading him.

"What?" Markwart asked incredulously, as though the idea never crossed his mind.

"The College will never strip Abbot Dobrinion of his abbey, given that there is no logical successor at St. Precious," Brother Francis reasoned.

"There are plenty of masters at St.-Mere-Abelle ready to assume the role of abbot," Father Abbot Markwart replied. "And at St. Honce."

"But history tells us clearly that the College would not strip an abbey of its abbot without another within the abbey ready to assume the title," Brother Francis argued. "The Twelfth College of St. Argraine was faced with just that prospect, concerning an abbot whose crimes were clearly more egregious than Abbot Dobrinion's."

"Yes yes, I do not doubt your understanding of the matter," Father Abbot Markwart interrupted, somewhat impatiently. He looked in the direction in which Abbot Dobrinion had departed, still showing that smile. "A pity," he muttered.

Then he started away, but, as in the dungeon, Brother Francis paused before following, surprised, when he considered it more closely, that Father Abbot Markwart would even entertain such thoughts. The impeachment of an abbot was no light matter, most decidedly not! It had only been attempted a half-dozen times in the thousand-year history of the Church, and two of those were prompted by the fact that the abbot in question had been proven guilty of serious crimes, one a series of rapes, including the assault on the female abbess of St. Gwendolyn, and the other a murder. Furthermore, the other four impeachment attempts had been in the very early days of the Abellican Order, when the position of abbot was often for sale or an appointment made as a matter of po-litical gain.

Brother Francis gave a deep sigh to steady his nerves and duti-fully followed his superior once more, reminding himself that the Church, indeed all the kingdom, was at war, after all, and that these were indeed desperate times.

Brother Braumin Herde was not in good spirits. He knew what was going on in the dungeons of the abbey, though he wasn't al-lowed anywhere near the lower levels. And even worse, he knew he was now alone in his stance, should he choose to take one against the Father Abbot. Master Jojonah was long gone, taken from him as his old mentor had warned might happen. Father Abbot Markwart knew his enemies and had the upper hand, a posi-tion he had no intention of relinquishing.

So Brother Braumin, avoiding monks of his own abbey for fear that they would run to Markwart to report any discussion, spent his hours among the brothers of St. Precious. They were a more jovial bunch than the serious students of St.-Mere-Abelle, he discovered, despite the fact that they had been hearing the sounds of battle not too far to the north for many weeks now. Still, on the whole, St. Precious was a brighter place. Perhaps it was the weather, Brother Braumin thought, for Palmaris was normally much more sunny than All Saints Bay, or perhaps it was the fact that St. Pre-cious was built more aboveground than the larger St.-Mere- Abelle, with more windows and breezy balconies. Or maybe it was the fact that these monks were less secluded, being housed, as they were, in the midst of a huge city.

Or maybe, Brother Braumin mused - and he thought this to be the most likely explanation - the fact that St. Precious was lighter of heart than St.-Mere-Abelle was a reflection of the mood of the respective abbots. Dobrinion Calislas, by all accounts, was a man not unaccustomed to smiling; his great belly laugh was well-reported in Palmaris, as was his love of the wine - elvish boggle, some said - his penchant for games of chance - among friends only - and his love of officiating a grand wedding where no expenses had been spared.

Fattier Abbot Markwart didn't smile much, Braumin knew, and on those occasions when he did, those not in his favor grew very ill at ease.

Late that afternoon, Braumin stood in the carpeted hallway out-side the door of Abbot Dobrinion's private quarters. Many times he lifted his hand to knock on the door, only to let it fall silently by his side. Braumin understood the chance he would be taking if he went in to speak with the man now, if he told Abbot Dobrinion of his fears concerning Markwart and of the quiet alliance that had been forged against the Father Abbot. On the one hand, Braumin felt he had little choice in the matter. With Master Jojonah gone, and on a long road that would keep him out of Braumin's life for years, it appeared, Braumin was powerless to make any moves against Father Abbot Markwart's decisions, particularly the deci-sion that had sent Jojonah away in the first place. Making an ally of Abbot Dobrinion, who by all indications was not having a good time of it on his own against the Father Abbot, might greatly strengthen the cause for both men.

But on the other hand, Braumin Herde had to admit that he really didn't know Abbot Dobrinion very well, particularly the man's politics. Perhaps Abbot Dobrinion and Father Abbot Markwart were bickering over control of the prisoners simply because each wanted the glory of recovering the stones. Or perhaps Abbot Dobrinion's objections were borne on the wings of simple anger that Markwart had come into St. Precious and usurped a good deal of his power.

Brother Braumin spent nearly half an hour standing in that hall, contemplating his course. In the end Master Jojonah's words of wisdom proved the deciding component. "Quietly spread the word," his beloved mentor had bade him, "not against Father Abbot or any others, but in favor of Avelyn and those of like heart."

Patience, Brother Braumin decided. This was the long war of Mankind, he knew, the internal struggle of good and evil, and his side, the side of true goodness and godliness, would win out in the end. He had to believe that.

Now he was miserable and feeling so very alone, but that was the burden the truth in his heart forced upon him, and going to Abbot Dobrinion at this dangerous time was not the proper course.

As it played out in the weeks ahead, Brother Braumin Herde would come to regret this moment when he walked away from Abbot Dobrinion's door.

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