The Demon Spirit

CHAPTER 16 To the Father Abbot's Amusement

"Abbot Dobrinion grows increasingly uneasy," Brother Francis of-fered to Father Abbot Markwart. The younger monk was obvi-ously agitated; every word that came from him was strained, for in speaking them, Brother Francis was caught somewhere between fear and horror. Of course Abbot Dobrinion was uneasy, he real-ized, for they were torturing the abbot's subjects in the very dun-geons of this holy place!

"It is not my place to say, perhaps," Francis went on, pausing often, trying to gauge impassive Markwart's reaction, "but I fear - "

"That St. Precious is not friendly to our cause," the Father Abbot finished for him.

"Forgive me," Brother Francis humbly said.

"Forgive?" Markwart echoed incredulously. "Forgive your per-ceptiveness? Your wariness? We are at war, my young fool. Have you not yet realized that?"

"Of course, Father Abbot," Francis said, bowing his head. "The powries and goblins - "

"Forget them!" Markwart interrupted. "And forget the giants, and the dactyl demon, as well. This war has become much more dangerous than any matter concerning mere monsters."

Brother Francis lifted his head and stared long and hard at Markwart.

"This is a war for the heart of the Abellican Church," Markwart went on. "I have explained this over and over to you, and yet you still do not understand. This is a war between traditions which have stood for millennia, and usurpous ideas, petty contemporary be-liefs concerning the nature of good and the nature of evil."

"Are those not timeless concepts?" a very confused Brother Francis dared to ask.

"Of course," Markwart replied with a disarming chuckle. "But some, Master Jojonah among them, seem to believe they can rede-fine the terms to fit their own perceptions."

"And what of Abbot Dobrinion?"

"You tell me of Abbot Dobrinion," Markwart instructed.

Brother Francis paused, contemplating the implications. He wasn't quite sure how the Father Abbot viewed Dobrinion, or anyone else, for that matter. Back at St.-Mere-Abelle, Markwart had argued often with Master De'Unnero, and often violently, and yet, despite their differences, it was no secret that De'Unnero was the Father Abbot's closest adviser, next to Francis himself.

"Brother Avelyn the heretic used to analyze every question," Father Abbot Markwart remarked. "He could not simply speak what was in his heart, and that, I fear, was his undoing."

"Abbot Dobrinion will fight us," Brother Francis blurted. "I do not trust him, and think him more akin to Master Jojonah's defini-tions of good and evil than to yours... ours."

"Strong words," Markwart said slyly.

Brother Francis paled.

"But not wholly untrue," Markwart went on, and Francis breathed easier. "Abbot Dobrinion has ever been an idealist, even when those ideals fly in the face of pragmatism. I thought that his craving for the sainthood of Brother Allabarnet would allow me to keep him in line, but apparently he is possessed of greater weak-ness than I believed."

"He will fight us," Brother Francis said more firmly.

"Even as we speak, Abbot Dobrinion petitions for the release of the Chilichunks," Markwart explained. "He will go to the Baron of Palmaris, likely to the King himself, and of course, to the other abbots."

"Have we a right to hold them?" Brother Francis dared to ask.

"Is the Abellican Order more important than the fate of three people?" came the curt response.

"Yes, Father Abbot," Brother Francis replied, bowing his head once more. When Markwart put it that simple way, it was easy for Francis to put aside his private feelings about the treatment of the prisoners. Indeed the stakes were high here, too high for him to let foolish compassion get in the way.

"And what, then, shall we do?" the Father Abbot asked, though it was obvious to Brother Francis that the old man had already made up his mind.

Again Brother Francis hesitated, thinking through the problem. "An Abbot College," he began, referring to the gathering of all the Church hierarchy, a process necessary if the Father Abbot meant to remove Abbot Dobrinion.

"There will indeed be such a gathering," Markwart replied. "But it will not convene until mid-Calember."

Brother Francis considered the words. Calember was the eleventh month, still more than four months away. "Then we must leave St. Precious at once," he reasoned at length, guessing, cor-rectly, that the Father Abbot was fast running out of patience with him. "We must take our prisoners to St.-Mere-Abelle, where Abbot Dobrinion shall have no say in their treatment."

"Well spoken," Markwart congratulated. "Indeed, we must be gone from St. Precious tomorrow, the centaur and the Chilichunks in tow. See to the arrangements, and plot our paths."

"A straight run," Brother Francis assured him.

"And make it public, very much so, that we are leaving," the Fa-ther Abbot went on. "And see to it that Connor Bildeborough is taken, as well, for that is news which will spread wide."

Brother Francis wore a doubting expression. "That may invite trouble from the crown," he warned.

"And if so, we will release him," Markwart replied. "Until that happens, the gossip may reach the ears of the woman we seek."

"But she may not care about Bildeborough," Brother Francis reasoned. "Their union was short, and unpleasant, so it is said."

"But she will come for the Chilichunks," Markwart explained. "And for that ugly half-horse creature. The arrest of Master Bilde-borough will only serve to publicize our other prisoners."

Brother Francis considered the reasoning for a moment, then nodded. "And what of Abbot Dobrinion?" he asked.

"A smaller thorn than you would believe," Markwart replied quickly, and it seemed to Francis that the man already had a plan in mind for the venerable abbot of St. Precious.

Connor Bildeborough paced the small room - a rented flat in the lower section of Palmaris. Though the man was of noble blood, he preferred the excitement of the docks and the rougher taverns. The only adventure he found at his uncle's palace was the occa-sional fox hunt, and those he considered foolish, an ego-proppingexercise that did not even qualify, in his mind, as sport. No, Con-nor, quick with his wits and quick with his sword, preferred a good fight in a tavern, or a brush with would-be muggers in a dark alleyway.

To that end, he had been spending a considerable amount of time in the fields north of Palmaris, trying to earn a warrior's reputation in skirmishes with the many monsters to be found up there. His uncle had presented him with a magnificent gift at the outset of the war, a slender sword of unmatched craftsmanship. Its blade gleamed of some silvery metal that could not be identified, and inset along its golden basket pommel were several tiny magical magnetites so the weapon could be used beautifully for parrying, practically attracting an opponent's blade. Its name was Defender, and where his uncle had ever found such a blade, Connor could not know. The rumors about the sword were many, and impossible to confirm. Most agreed it had been forged in the smithies of the first King of Honce-the-Bear - some said by a cunning powrie who had deserted its kindred on the Weathered Isles. Other tales claimed that the mysterious Touel'alfar had helped in its creation, and still others claimed that both races had played a role, along with the best human weaponsmiths of the day.

Whatever the truth of the blade's origins, Connor understood that he now possessed a most extraordinary weapon. With Defender in hand, just a week before he had led a contingent of Kingsmen against a horde of powerful giants, and though the re-sults had been somewhat disastrous - as can be expected in a fight with giants - Connor had done quite well, could even claim two kills by his sword. What glories he had found in the north!

Now, though, in this room with his good friend Abbot Dobrin-ion, Connor understood that he should be keeping his attention a bit closer to home.

"It is about Jill," the abbot insisted. "Father Abbot Markwart be-lieves she is in possession of the gemstone cache which was stolen from St.- Mere-Abelle."

Jill.The name hit Connor hard, tugged at his memories and at his heart. He had courted her for months, wonderful months, only to have their marriage disintegrate in a matter of hours. When Jill had refused him his marital rights of consummation, Connor could have demanded her death.

But of course he could not have done that, for he had indeed loved the spirited, though troubled, woman. He had settled for the judgment that she should be indentured to the King's army, and how his heart had broken when his Jilly left Palmaris.

"I had heard that she was far, far away," the young nobleman said somberly. "In Pireth Tulme, or Pireth Danard, serving in the Coastpoint Guards."

"So she may be," Abbot Dobrinion conceded. "Who can tell? The Father Abbot is searching for her, and believes she was in the north, back in Dundalis, and even farther, accompanied by Avelyn of St.-Mere-Abelle, who stole the sacred gemstones."

"Do you know this man?" Connor asked suddenly, again won-dering about this first monk who had visited Pettibwa Chilichunk.

"Never met him," Abbot Dobrinion replied.

"A description, then?" Connor pressed.

"A large man, big of bone and, they believe, big of belly, as well," the abbot replied. "So said Master Jojonah."

Connor nodded, digesting the information. The monk who had visited with Pettibwa was indeed large, of bone and of belly. Could it be that Jill had come back through Palmaris in this man's com-pany? Could Jilly, his Jilly, have been so close, without him ever knowing it?

"The woman is in trouble, Connor, very great trouble," Abbot Dobrinion remarked gravely. "And if you know anything con-cerning her, where she might be, or if she is indeed in possession of the stones, the Father Abbot will seek you out. And his techniques of interrogation are not pleasant."

"How could I know anything about Jill?" Connor replied incredu-lously. "The last time I saw her was at her trial, when she was sent away to join the King's army." His statement was true enough - the last time he had seen Jill was on the occasion of their annulment, and her indenture - but of late Connor had traveled out of Palmaris often, to the north to do battle, to make a name for himself in what many agreed were the waning days of the war. He had heard tales of a rogue band operating farther to the north, near the towns of Caer Tinella and Landsdown, using tactics and magic to wreak havoc with the monsters. Might Jill and the monk Avelyn, with their stolen gemstones, be the source of that magic?

Of course, Connor meant to keep his suspicions private, even from Abbot Dobrinion.

"The Father Abbot means to find her," Dobrinion said.

"If Jill has made more trouble for herself, then there is little I can do to rectify the situation," Connor replied.

"But by the simple fact that you were once wed to the woman, you are involved," Dobrinion warned.

"Ridiculous," said Connor, but even as he spoke the word, the door to the room burst open and four monks, Youseff and Dande-lion, Brother Francis, and the Father Abbot himself, entered.

Dandelion went right for Connor; the man moved to draw his slender sword, only to find it lifting of its own accord from its scab-bard. Connor grabbed at the handle, but when he caught it by the pommel, he found his arm pulled up high, and in a moment he was standing on his tiptoes, and for all his strength and all his weight, he could not bring the sword back down to a defensive posture.

Dandelion hit him a short, sharp blow, then yanked his hand from the sword hilt and wrapped him in a tight hug. The sword drifted away, weightless, and Connor couldn't comprehend it until he noticed that the fourth monk, Brother Francis, was using a green-ringed gemstone.

"Do not resist, Master Connor Bildeborough," the Father Abbot instructed. "We wish to speak with you, that is all, on a matter of tremendous importance, a matter concerning the security of your uncle's holdings."

Connor instinctively tried to break free of the hold, but found his efforts futile, for Dandelion was too strong and too skilled to allow him any openings. Besides, the other young monk, Youseff, was standing at the ready, a small and heavy club in hand.

"My uncle will hear of this," Connor warned Markwart.

"Your uncle will agree with my decision," the Father Abbot replied confidently. He gave a nod to his two lackeys and they dragged Connor away.

"You tread on dangerous ground," Abbot Dobrinion warned. "Baron Rochefort Bildeborough's influence is not to be taken lightly."

"I assure you that one of us is indeed treading on dangerous ground," the Father Abbot calmly replied.

"You knew that we were looking for Connor Bildeborough," Brother Francis accused, walking over to take the sword from midair. "Yet you came out to warn him?"

"I came out to find him," the abbot corrected. "To tell him that he must come in and speak with you, that any information he might have - and he has none, I can assure you - might prove important to winning the war."

Father Abbot Markwart chuckled snidely throughout Dobrinion's halfhearted protest. "Words are often such pretty things," he re-marked when Dobrinion was finished. "We use them to speak the truth of facts, yet to hide the truth of intent."

"You doubt me?" Dobrinion asked.

"You have made your position concerning this matter quite clear to me," Markwart replied. "I know why you came looking for Connor Bildeborough. I know what you wished to accomplish, and know, too, that your goals and my own are not in accord."

Abbot Dobrinion huffed in reply and strode defiantly past the pair. "The Baron must be informed," he explained, moving to the door.

Brother Francis grabbed him roughly by the arm, and he spun, glaring in disbelief at the young man's brazen action.

Francis returned that look with a murderous stare, and for a mo-ment Dobrinion thought the brother would lash out at him. A motion from Father Abbot Markwart ended the tension of the mo-ment, though, and Francis let go of the abbot with his hand, if not with his glare.

"The manner of the telling is all important," Markwart said to Dobrinion. "Do explain to the Baron that his nephew is not charged with any crime or sin, and had merely volunteered to answer our questions on this important matter."

Abbot Dobrinion stormed away.

"His report to the Baron will not be flattering," Brother Francis remarked as Youseff and Dandelion dragged Connor away.

"As he will," the Father Abbot conceded.

"Baron Bildeborough could prove a difficult adversary," Brother Francis pressed.

Again Markwart did not seem overly concerned. "We will see what happens," he replied. "By the time Rochefort Bildeborough is even informed, we will have discerned what Connor knows, and the mere fact of his arrest will publicize our presence and the iden-tity of our other prisoners. After that, this man means little to me."

He started away then, and Brother Francis, after a short pause to consider the ramifications of this meeting, to consider the strain be-tween Markwart and Dobrinion and the dire consequences that ri-valry might hold for the abbot of St. Precious, turned to follow.

"Are we to do battle in the streets of Palmaris?" a frustrated Brother Francis fumed at Abbot Dobrinion. They had barely be-gun questioning Connor Bildeborough - using polite and friendlytactics - when a host of soldiers arrived at the gates of St. Precious, demanding the man's release.

"I told you that arresting the nephew of Baron Bildeborough was no small matter," the abbot shot back. "Did you not believe that his uncle would react with force?"

"Enough, enough, from both of you," Father Abbot Markwart scolded. "Bring to me the emissary of Baron Bildeborough that we might settle this."

Both Dobrinion and Brother Francis started for the door, then stopped, glaring at each other.

"And you, Abbot Dobrinion," the Father Abbot went on, draw-ing the man's attention, then motioning for Francis to go and com-plete the task. "You are needed with the centaur. He wishes to speak with you."

"My place is here, Father Abbot," Dobrinion replied.

"Your place is where I deem it to be," the old man said. "Go to the pitiful creature."

Abbot Dobrinion stared hard at Markwart, not pleased at all. He held no reservations about speaking with Bradwarden, but the cen-taur's cell was far below, perhaps the farthest point in all the abbey from their present position, and by the time he got down there and back, even if his conversation with Bradwarden lasted but a few words, the meeting with Bildeborough's men could be long over.

He did as he was instructed, though, bowing to his superior and storming out of the room.

Brother Francis entered a moment later. "Brother Youseff will bring the emissary presently," he explained.

"And you will go right off to Connor Bildeborough," Father Abbot Markwart said, tossing a gray soul stone to Francis. "Or near to Connor, though not where you can be seen. Go to him in spirit only, at first, and be not gentle. See what secrets his mind might hold. Then bring him to me. I will delay the Baron's soldiers for as long as possible, but they will not leave here without Connor."

Brother Francis bowed and ran off, and had just exited when an-other man burst in.

"Where is Abbot Dobrinion?" the gruff soldier asked, pushing past Brother Youseff to stand before Father Abbot Markwart. He was a burly man, dressed in the overlapping leather armor bearing the house insignia, the eagle, of House Bildeborough. That em-blem was emblazoned on his metal shield, as well, and on the crest of his shining helm, a tight- fitting affair that pulled low over his ears, with a single strip running down between his eyes to fit over his nose.

"And you are?" Markwart prompted.

"An emissary from Baron Bildeborough," the man said imperi-ously. "Come to secure the release of his nephew."

"You speak as if young Connor had been arrested," Markwart remarked casually.

The burly soldier rocked back on his heels, taken a bit off guard by Markwart's cooperative tone.

"The Baron's nephew was only asked in to St. Precious that he might answer some questions concerning a previous marriage," Markwart went on. "Of course he is free to leave at his leisure; the man has committed no crime against the state or the Church."

"But we were informed - "

"Erroneously, it would seem," Father Abbot Markwart said with a chuckle. "Please, sit and take some wine - fine boggle from Abbot Dobrinion's private stock. My man has already been sent to retrieve Master Connor. They should join us within a few minutes."

The soldier looked around curiously, not really knowing how to react to it all. He had come out with a contingent of more than fifty armed and armored warriors, ready to do battle, if necessary, to pull Connor Bildeborough from his imprisonment.

"Sit," Father Abbot Markwart bade him again.

The soldier pulled a chair from a side table, while Markwart re-trieved a bottle of boggle from a cabinet at the side of the room. "We are not enemies, after all," the Father Abbot said, again in an innocent tone. "The Church and King are allied, and have been for generations. It amazes me that you would be so impetuous as to come to the gates of St. Precious thusly armed." He popped the top from the bottle and poured a generous amount in the soldier's glass, then just a bit for himself.

"Baron Bildeborough wastes no effort where young Connor is concerned," the soldier replied, taking a sip, then blinking repeat-edly as the potent wine washed down.

"Still, you came here looking for battle," the Father Abbot went on. "Do you know who I am?"

The man took another sip - a larger one this time - then eyed the wrinkled old man. "Another abbot," he answered. "From some other abbey, St.-Mere- Able, or something like that."

"St.-Mere-Abelle," Markwart confirmed. "The mother abbey of all the Abellican Church."

The soldier drained his glass and reached for the bottle, but Markwart, his expression changing dramatically to one of outrage, pulled the boggle away. "You are a member of the Church, are you not?" he asked sharply.

The soldier blinked a couple of times, then nodded.

"Then you should be aware that you are now addressing the Father Abbot of the Abellican Order!" Markwart screamed at him. "With a snap of my fingers I could have you banished and branded! With a word to your King, I could have you declared an outlaw."

"For what crime?" the man protested.

"For any crime I choose!" Markwart yelled back at him.

Brother Francis entered the room then, Connor Bildeborough right behind him, the nobleman looking somewhat unsettled, though not physically harmed.

"Master Connor!" the soldier said, rising so quickly that his chair toppled behind him.

The Father Abbot rose as well, and moved about the desk, coming to stand right before the obviously intimidated soldier. "Do not forget what I told you," the old priest said to the man. "With just a word."

"Now you threaten the soldiers of my uncle's house?" Connor Bildeborough said. His presence and the forcefulness of his tone bolstered the soldier's resolve, the man straightening and looking Father Abbot Markwart in the eye.

"Threatening?" Markwart echoed, and that laugh came again, but this time it held a sinister edge. "I do not threaten, foolish young Connor. But I think that it would do you well, would do your uncle well, and would do the soldiers of your uncle's house well, to understand that these are matters quite beyond their understanding. And interference.

"I am not surprised that a willful young man, so full of pride, such as yourself, would not look past his own importance to com-prehend the gravity of our present situation," Markwart went on. "But it does surprise me that the Baron of Palmaris would act so foolishly as to send an armed contingent against the leaders of the Abellican Order."

"He thought that those leaders had acted improperly, and dan-gerously," Connor stated, working hard to keep from seeming de-fensive. He had done nothing wrong, after all, and neither had his uncle. If there had been criminal conduct in all of this, it was perpe-trated by the old man standing before him.

"He thought... you thought," Markwart said dismissively. "It seems that all of you make your own judgments, and act upon them as though God Himself blessed you with special vision."

"You deny that you came and took me?" Connor asked incredulously.

"You were needed," Markwart replied. "And were you mis-treated, Master Bildeborough? Were you tortured?"

The soldier puffed out his chest and clenched his jaw.

"No," Connor admitted, and the burly man relaxed. "But what of the Chilichunks?" he asked. "Do you deny that you hold them, and that their treatment has not been so kindly?"

"I do not," Markwart replied. "They have, by their own actions, become enemies of the Church."


"We shall see," the Father Abbot replied.

"You mean to take them from Palmaris," Connor accused.

No answer.

"That I will not allow!"

"You hold jurisdiction in such matters?" the Father Abbot asked sarcastically.

"I speak for my uncle."

"How pretentious," Markwart said with a snicker. "And tell me, Master Connor, are we to do battle in the streets of Palmaris, that all the city might learn of the rift between the Church and their Baron?"

Connor hesitated before responding, realizing the potentially di-sastrous implications. His uncle was held in high regard, but most of the common folk in Palmaris, and in any other city in Honce-the-Bear, truly feared the wrath of the Church. But still, the fate of the Chilichunks was at stake here, and for Connor that was no small matter. "If that is what is necessary," he said sternly.

Markwart continued to laugh, his agitated trembling hiding the movement as he slipped his hands into a pouch on the sash of his voluminous robes, drawing forth a lodestone. Up came the hand, and a split second later the magnetite shot out to smash the sol-dier's helmet on the nose guard. The burly man yelped and grabbed at his face, blood pouring freely from both nostrils, waves of pain rolling over him, driving him down to one knee.

At the same moment, Brother Youseff leaped forward, tight-ening his hand as though it were a blade and driving it into the kidney of unsuspecting Connor Bildeborough, dropping him to his knees, as well.

"Possess him," Father Abbot Markwart instructed Brother Francis. "Use his mouth to instruct the soldiers to let us pass." He turned to Youseff. "The prisoners are ready for transport?"

"Brother Dandelion has all the caravan loaded and readied in the back courtyard," Youseff replied. "But Abbot Dobrinion, be-fore he went down into the dungeons, set many guards about that yard."

"They will not battle us," Markwart assured him.

The soldier groaned and tried to stand as the Father Abbot re-trieved the lodestone, but Youseff, the alert watchdog, was right there, launching a series of vicious, snapping blows to the man's face that laid him low on the floor.

Markwart looked to Brother Francis, who stood staring at Connor but apparently taking no action. "Brother Francis," the Fa-ther Abbot prompted sternly.

"I did get into his thoughts," Brother Francis explained. "And learned some things which might prove valuable."

"But..." Markwart prompted, recognizing the hesitant tone.

"But only when he was caught unawares," Brother Francis ad-mitted. "And only for a second. He is strong of will and readily expelled me, though he knew not the nature of the attack."

Father Abbot Markwart nodded, then stepped closer to the still-dazed Connor. Out shot the old man's fist, brutally snapping Connor's head to the side, and he crumbled to the floor. "Now pos-sess him," the Father Abbot said impatiently. "It should not prove too difficult!"

"But I will learn nothing when he is in this state," Brother Francis argued. It was true enough; an unconscious or dazed man might be relatively easily possessed, but of body only, with no in-vasion of memory or desire. When consciousness returned, the fight for control would begin anew.

"We need nothing more of this one's mind," Markwart ex-plained. "We need only his body and his voice."

"Evil doings," Brother Braumin whispered to Brother Dellman as the two stood solemnly in the courtyard of St. Precious, sur-rounded by their brothers of St.-Mere-Abelle, and with the four prisoners close by. Brother Braumin was not surprised by the sudden order to ready the wagons, for he had been watching the Father Abbot and his lackey Francis closely in their interactions with Abbot Dobrinion, and knew their welcome at St. Precious was wearing quite thin.

What did surprise the monk, though, was the presence of armed soldiers at all of the abbey's gates, a force sent to contain them, he realized, and particularly to contain their prisoners. Whispers among the ranks had spoken of a new captive, a nobleman, though none save Markwart, Brother Francis, and the Father Abbot's two personal bodyguards had been allowed anywhere near the man. Still, given the appearance and the demeanor of the soldiers, it wasn't hard to understand that the Father Abbot might have over-stepped his bounds here.

"Why have they come?" Brother Dellman whispered back.

"I do not know," Braumin replied, hot wanting to involve this promising young monk too deeply in the intrigue. Brother Brau-min feared that he and his brothers would be leaving, and if the sol-diers tried to stop them, Palmaris would see a display of magical devastation heretofore unknown in the city.

What should I do? the gentle Brother Braumin wondered. If the order came from Father Abbot Markwart to battle the soldiers, what course should he follow?

"You seem distressed, brother," Dellman remarked. "Do you fear that these soldiers will attack us?"

"Exactly the opposite," Brother Braumin replied in exaspera-tion. He growled and smacked his hand against the wagon. How he wished that Master Jojonah were here to guide him!

"Brother," Dellman said, putting a hand on Braumin's shoulder to calm him.

Braumin turned to face the younger monk squarely, took him by the shoulders and locked his gaze. "Watch closely the coming events, Brother Dellman," he bade the man.

Dellman stared at him quizzically.

Braumin Herde sighed and turned away. He wouldn't openly ac-cuse the Father Abbot to this young man. Not yet. Not until the evi-dence was overwhelming. Such an accusation, such a declaration that so much of what Dellman thought holy was a lie, might break the man, or send him running to Father Abbot Markwart for comfort.

Then Braumin Herde's heart would be known, and he, like Master Jojonah, would quickly be neutralized.

The monk knew then what he would do if the order came. He would fight with his brothers, or at least would give the appearance of fighting. He could not reveal his heart, not yet.

"Forgive me, Master Jojonah," he mumbled under his breath, and then, on impulse, he added, "Forgive me, Brother Avelyn."

Soon after, the grim-faced guards of Baron Bildeborough stood aside, on orders from the man they had come to rescue, as the caravan from St.- Mere-Abelle rolled out of the abbey's back gate. The three Chilichunks were bound and gagged in the back of one wagon, with Brother Youseff standing dangerous guard over them, while Brother Dandelion sat atop the back of battered Bradwarden, the centaur's upper, human torso covered in blankets. The monks had tied Bradwarden close to the wagon in front of him, and brutal Dandelion forced the centaur to bow low and forward, so that nearly all of that telltale human torso was inside the leading wagon.

Father Abbot Markwart and Brother Francis were likewise hidden from sight, the Church leader not wishing to be bothered with common soldiers, and Brother Francis deep in the throes of maintaining his possession of Connor. When the caravan was safely away, moving steadily to the eastern dock area of the city, then turning north, Francis walked Connor's body back into the abbey and relinquished control, and the man, still dazed from the pounding Markwart had given him, slumped to the floor.

The caravan encountered no resistance as it exited the city alto-gether, moving through the north, and not the east gate. Markwart turned them east almost immediately, and soon they were running clear of Baron Bildeborough's domain. Again the monks used their levitating malachite to cross the strong flowing waters of the Masur Delaval, avoiding any possible trouble at the well-guarded ferry.

From the moment he reached the lower dungeons, to find that Bradwarden had been removed by Markwart's men more than an hour before, Abbot Dobrinion knew that trouble was brewing up above. His first instincts started him running back for the stone stair, crying for guards.

Pragmatic Dobrinion calmed and slowed, though. What could he do? he asked himself honestly. If he even managed to get to the courtyard before the caravan's departure, would he lead the fight against Markwart's men?

"Yes, my Abbot!" a young monk, a man barely more than a boy, whom Dobrinion recognized as a newcomer to St. Precious, cried enthusiastically, skidding to a stop right before the tired old abbot. "At your bidding."

Dobrinion pictured this young man as a smoking husk, a charred corpse left in the wake of a magical fireball. Markwart carried such stones, he knew, and so did Brother Francis. And those two younger men, Youseff and Dandelion, were trained killers, or, as the Church called such assassins, Brothers Justice.

How many dozens of Dobrinion's flock would be slaughtered this day if he went above and refused to allow Markwart to leave? And even if they proved successful in defeating the monks from St.-Mere-Abelle, then what?

Dalebert Markwart was the Father Abbot of the Abellican Order.

"There is no reason to guard these empty cells," Dobrinion said quietly to the young monk. "Go and find some rest."

"I am not weary," the monk replied, wearing a wide and inno-cent smile.

"Then rest for me," Dobrinion said in all seriousness, and he started a long and slow walk up the stone stairs.

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