The Demon Spirit

CHAPTER 21 In the Bowels of St.-Mere-Abelle

"You would allow your beloved husband to be tortured for the sake of your outlaw, adopted daughter?" Father Abbot Markwart asked the poor woman.

Pettibwa Chilichunk was a wretched sight. Dark bluish bags circled her eyes and all of her skin seemed to sag, for she had not slept more than a few hours in many days, ever since Grady had died on the road. Pettibwa had been heavy for many years, but had always carried her round form with grace and a light bounce in her step. No more. Even during those times when sheer exhaustion laid the woman low, she was ultimately awakened by horrible nightmares, or by her captors, who seemed as wicked as any dream could ever be.

"We will take his nose first," Father Abbot Markwart went on.

"Right to here," he added, running his finger along the crease of a flared nostril. "It makes for a gruesome sight indeed, and assures that poor Graevis will be forever an outcast."

"Why would ye be doin' such a thing, and yerself claimin' to be a man o' God!" Pettibwa cried. She knew that the old man was not lying, that he would do exactly what he had threatened. She had heard him just minutes before, in the adjoining room in the south-ernmost cellar of St.-Mere- Abelle, formerly a storage area but now converted to hold the two Chilichunks and Bradwarden. Markwart had gone to Graevis first, and Pettibwa heard the agonized screams quite clearly through the earthen wall. Now the woman wailed and repeatedly made the holy sign of the evergreen, the symbol of the Abellican Order.

Markwart was unrepentant and unimpressed. He came forward suddenly, powerfully, moving his leering visage to within a hair's breadth of Pettibwa's face. "Why, you ask!" he roared. "Because of your daughter, foolish woman! Because your dear Jilly's evil al-liance with the heretic Avelyn could bring about the end of the world!"

"Jilly's a good girl!" Pettibwa yelled back at him. "Never would she do -??"

"But she has!" Markwart interrupted, growling out every word. "She has the stolen gemstones, and I will do whatever is necessary - pity Graevis! -??to see that they are returned. Then Pettibwa can look upon her disfigured outcast husband and know that her own foolishness condemned him, as it condemned her son!"

"Ye killed him!" Pettibwa cried, tears streaming down her face. "Ye killed me son!"

Markwart's expression went perfectly cold, stone-faced, and that, in turn, seemed to freeze the woman, locked her in his gaze. "I assure you," the Father Abbot said in even tones, "that your hus-band, and then you, will soon envy Grady."

The woman wailed and fell back - and would have fallen right to the ground had not Brother Francis been behind to support her. "Oh, what're ye wantin' o' poor Pettibwa, Father," she cried. "I'll tell ye. I'll tell ye!"

A wicked smile crossed the Father Abbot's face, though he had been looking forward to cutting off the stupid Graevis' nose.

St.-Mere-Abelle was buttoned up tight, with guards, young monks armed with crossbows, and the occasional older student armed with a potent gemstone, graphite or ruby, patrolling every section of wall. Master Jojonah, recognized by all and liked by most, had no trouble getting back into the abbey, though.

Word of his arrival preceded him, and he was met in the main hall almost as soon as he entered by a very sour-looking Brother Francis. Many other monks were in that hall, as well, curious as to why Jojonah had returned.

"The Father Abbot will speak with you," the young monk said curtly, looking around as he spoke, as though playing to the audi-ence, showing them which of them, he or Jojonah, was truly in the favor of Markwart.

"You seem to have forgotten respect for your superiors," Master Jojonah replied, not backing off an inch.

Francis snorted and started to reply, but Jojonah cut him short.

"I warn you, Brother Francis," he said gravely. "I am sick and have been too long on the road and too long in this life. I know that you fancy yourself Father Abbot Markwart's adopted son, but if you continue this attitude toward those who have attained a higher rank than you, toward those who, by their years of study and the wisdom of simple age, are deserving of your respect, I will bring you before the College of Abbots. Father Abbot Markwart may protect you there, in the end, but his embarrassment will be consid-erable, as will his vengeance upon you."

All the hall went deathly silent, and Master Jojonah pushed past the stunned Brother Francis and exited. He needed no escort to Markwart's room.

Brother Francis paused for a long while, regarding the other monks in the room, their suddenly condescending stares. He re-sponded with a threatening glare, but for now, at least, Master Jojonah had stolen the bite from this dog's bark. Francis stormed out of the main hall, feeling the eyes of his lessers upon him.

Master Jojonah entered the Father Abbot's room with hardly a knock, pushing through the unlocked door and moving right up to the desk of the old man.

Markwart shifted aside some papers he had been studying and sat back in his chair, sizing up the man.

"I sent you on an important matter," the Father Abbot stated. "Surely you could not have completed your mission in Ursal and returned to us already."

"I never got near to Ursal," Master Jojonah admitted. "For I was taken by illness on the road."

"You do not seem so sick," Markwart remarked, and not kindly.

"I was met on the road by a man with news of the tragedy in Pal-maris," Master Jojonah explained, eyeing Markwart closely as he spoke the words, trying to see if the Father Abbot would inadver-tently offer any clue that the death of Abbot Dobrinion had not been unexpected.

The old man was too sly for that. "Not so much a tragedy," he replied. "The issue was settled with the Baron amicably, his nephew returned to him."

A knowing grin made its way onto Master Jojonah's face. "I was speaking of the murder of Abbot Dobrinion," he said.

Markwart's eyes widened and he came forward in his chair. "Dobrinion?" he echoed.

"Then news has not reached St.-Mere-Abelle," Jojonah reasoned, going with the obvious bluff. "It is good that I have returned."

Brother Francis bumbled into the room.

"Yes, Father Abbot," Jojonah went on, ignoring the younger man. "Powries, or a single powrie, at least, entered St. Precious and murdered Abbot Dobrinion." Behind him, Brother Francis gasped, and it seemed to Master Jojonah that the news was a true surprise to the younger man. "As soon as I heard, of course, I turned back for St.-Mere-Abelle," he went on. "It would not do for us to be caught so unawares; it would seem that our enemies have singled out their prey, and if Abbot Dobrinion is a target, it only stands to reason that the Father Abbot of the Abellican Order - "

"Enough," Markwart interrupted, putting his head down in his arms. Markwart realized what had just happened here, understood that Jojonah, ever the clever one, had just turned his feigned sur-prise back against him, had just justified his return to St.-Mere-Abelle beyond any question.

"It is good that you returned to us," Markwart said a moment later, looking back to the man. "And a tragedy indeed that Abbot Dobrinion met with such an untimely end. But your business here is finished, and so prepare again for the road."

"I am not physically able to make the journey to Ursal," Jojonah replied.

Markwart eyed him suspiciously.

"Nor do I think such a move prudent, given the demise of the chief sponsor for Brother Allabarnet's sainthood. Without Dobrin-ion's backing, the process will be set back years, at least."

"If I order you to go to St. Honce, then you shall go to St. Honce," Markwart answered, the rough edge of his ire beginning to show through.

Still, Master Jojonah didn't back away. "Of course, Father Abbot," he replied. "And by the code of the Abellican Order, when you find justification to send a sickly master halfway across the kingdom, I will willingly go. But there is no reason for that now, no justification. Just be pleased that I was able to return in time to warn you of the potential danger from the powries." Jojonah turned on his heel suddenly, putting his smirking face right in front of Brother Francis.

"Step aside, brother," he said ominously.

Francis looked past him, to Father Abbot Markwart.

"This young monk moves dangerously close to a trial before the College of Abbots," Jojonah said calmly.

Behind him, Father Abbot Markwart motioned for Brother Francis to get out of the master's way. Then, when Jojonah was gone, Markwart motioned for the flustered young monk to close the door.

"You should have sent him back out on the road," Brother Francis argued immediately.

"For your convenience?" Markwart replied sarcastically. "I am not the supreme dictator of the Abellican Order, but only the ap-pointed leader, forced to work within prescribed guidelines. I cannot simply order a master, particularly a sickly one, on the road."

"You did so before," the young monk dared to put in.

"With justification," Markwart explained, rising from his seat and walking around the desk. "The canonization process was very real, but Master Jojonah is correct in saying that Dobrinion was its chief sponsor."

"And it is true that Abbot Dobrinion is dead?"

Markwart gave the young man a sour look. "So it would seem," he replied. "And thus, Master Jojonah was correct in returning to St.-Mere-Abelle, and is correct in refusing to go back out at this time."

"He did not look so sickly," Brother Francis remarked.

Markwart was hardly listening. Things had not played out as he had hoped; he wanted Jojonah settled at St. Honce in Ursal long be-fore news of the abbot's death reached him. Then he would have sent news to Abbot Je'howith to use the master as his own, giving a temporary appointment of Jojonah to St. Honce - a temporary appointment that Markwart meant to make last until the portly master had died. Still, this scenario did not seem so terrible to him. Jojonah was a thorn in his side - one growing sharper and longer daily, it seemed - but at least with Jojonah here, he could keep an eye on him.

Besides, it was hard for Markwart to be upset. Youseff and Dan-delion had completed part of their mission, at least, and certainly the most dangerous part in Palmaris. By Jojonah's own words, a powrie was being blamed. One very formidable enemy had been eliminated, and the other had no proof that Markwart had been in-volved. All the Father Abbot needed now was the return of the stolen stones and his position would be secured. He could deal with Jojonah, could crush the man if need be.

"I will attempt contact with the Brothers Justice," Brother Francis offered. "We should keep abreast of their progress."

"No!" Markwart said suddenly, sharply. "If the thief with the stolen stones is wary, such contact might be detected," he lied, noting Brother Francis' questioning stare. In truth, Markwart meant to use a soul stone himself to speak with Youseff and Dande-lion; he didn't want anyone else, including Brother Francis, to con-tact them, to perhaps learn of their doings in Palmaris.

"Keep an eye and an ear bent always toward Master Jojonah," he instructed Francis. "And be wary, too, of your peer, Brother Braumin Herde. I want to know with whom they converse during their free time, a complete list."

Brother Francis hesitated a long while before nodding his under-standing. So many things were going on about him, he realized, things of which he knew so very little. But again, as was typical for the man, he saw the opportunity to impress his Father Abbot, saw the course toward personal growth, and he was determined that he would not fail.

The news was not so disconcerting to Father Abbot Markwart as Brother Youseff had feared. Connor Bildeborough had escaped and could not be found. He had gone underground, into the bowels of the city, or perhaps out to the north.

Go for the gemstones,Markwart telepathically instructed the young monk, and with that, Markwart imparted a clear picture of the woman who went by the various titles of Jill, Jilly, Pony, and Cat-the-Stray. Pettibwa had been quite helpful that morning.Forget the Baron's nephew.

As soon as Youseff's reply of understanding came back to him, the weary Father Abbot broke the connection, let his spirit fall back into his own body.

But there was something else...

Another presence, Markwart feared, thinking that his lie to Brother Francis about Avelyn's protege sensing the magic of the soul stone might hold more truth than he believed.

He relaxed, and quickly, though, for he came to recognize the in-trusion as just another part of his own subconscious. Monks had traditionally used the soul stones for the deepest forms of medita-tion and introspection, though rarely in these times, and it seemed to Markwart that he had inadvertently stumbled down that path.

So he followed the course to the destination, thinking he was laying bare his own innermost feelings, thinking that perhaps in this state he might find needed moments of pure clarity.

In his thoughts he saw Master Jojonah and the younger monk, Brother Braumin Herde, plotting against him. Of course this didn't surprise Markwart; hadn't he just sent Brother Francis to keep a close watch over them?

But then something else came into the scene: Master Jojonah with a handful of stones, walking toward a door, a door that Mark-wart knew, Markwart's own door. And in the master's hand ... graphite.

Jojonah kicked open the door and released a tremendous bolt of energy at the Father Abbot as he sat quiet on his chair. Markwart felt the sudden flash, the burn, the jolt, his heart fluttering, his life rushing away...

It took Markwart several agonizing seconds to separate imagi-nation from reality, to realize it was only insight and not actually happening. Before this moment of enlightenment, he had never imagined just how dangerous Jojonah and his wicked cohorts could be!

Yes, he would watch them closely, and would act against them in a brutal and definitive manner if need be.

But they would grow strong, his inner voice told him. As the war ended, the great victory achieved, the still little-known fight at Mount Aida would be whispered and then spoken openly, and, with Jojonah's prodding, Avelyn Desbris might be held up as a hero. Markwart could not tolerate that possibility, and he understood then that he must move quickly against the memory of the thief and murderer, must paint such a dark portrait of Avelyn - one that put him in league with the demon dactyl - that the whispers would speak of fortunate infighting between enemies at Aida, not the ac-tions of a heroic man.

Yes, he must thoroughly discredit Avelyn and put the heretic in his proper place in the thoughts of the people and in the annals of Church history.

Markwart came out of his trance suddenly, realizing only then how tightly he was clutching the soul stone, his withered old knuckles gone white from the strain.

He smiled, thinking himself clever for attaining such a high level of concentration, then put the stone back in the secret drawer of his desk. He was feeling much better, caring not at all that the bothersome Connor had apparently gotten away - the man could do him no harm in any case. Dobrinion, the true threat in Palmaris, had been taken care of, and now Markwart understood the true na-ture of Jojonah and his cohorts. As soon as the Brothers Justice delivered the stones, his own position would be secured. And from such a position of strength, Markwart knew he could easily deal with any trouble Jojonah put his way. Yes, he decided, he would begin the preemptory strike against Jojonah soon, would speak with Je'howith, who was a longtime friend and a man as dedicated to the preservation of the Order as he was, and through the influ-ence of the abbot of St. Honce, Markwart thought, he could enlist the aid of the King.

At the other end of the broken connection, the spirit of Bestes-bulzibar, the demon dactyl, was satisfied. The supposed spiritual leader of the human race was in his palm now, was accepting the precepts that Bestesbulzibar fed to him as though they were his own thoughts and beliefs.

The demon remained bitter about the defeat at Aida, about the loss of its corporeal form - which it had not yet figured out how to replace or recover - but found this puppet game with the Father Abbot of the Abellican Church, the institution that had ever been the demon's greatest foe, quite pleasant, a distraction that allowed Bestesbulzibar to forget the defeat.





"Why are we down here?" Brother Braumin asked, glancing nervously at the flickering shadows cast by his torch. Rows of bookcases filled with dusty ancient texts were crowded all about the two men, and the ceiling, too, closed in on them, for it was low and thick.

"Because here is where I will find my answers," Master Jojonah replied calmly, seeming oblivious to the tons and tons of rock hanging thick over his head. He and Brother Braumin were in the sublibrary of St.-Mere- Abelle, the oldest section of the abbey, buried deep beneath the newer levels, almost down at the level of the waters of All Saints Bay. In fact, in the abbey's earliest days, there had been a direct exit from this section of rooms to the rocky beach, a tunnel connecting to the corridor and portcullis Master De'Unnero had defended against the powrie attack, but that an-cient passageway had been closed off as the abbey moved upward on the mountainside.

"With Abbot Dobrinion dead and the canonization process at least delayed, the Father Abbot has no excuse to send me out of St.-Mere- Abelle," Jojonah explained. "But he will keep me quite busy, if he has his way, and no doubt Brother Francis or some other will hover about my every move."

"Brother Francis would not be quick to come down here," Brother Braumin reasoned.

"Oh, but he will," Master Jojonah replied. "In fact, he has, and recently. In these ancient rooms, Brother Francis found the maps and texts to guide our journey to Aida. Some of those maps, my friend, were drawn by Brother Allabarnet of St. Precious himself."

Brother Braumin cocked his head, not quite catching on.

"I will assume the role as chief sponsor of Brother Allabarnet for sainthood," Master Jojonah explained. "That will allow me room from the Father Abbot's intrusions, for no doubt he intends to keep me so busy that I have little time for any mischief. When I an-nounce publicly that I will sponsor Allabarnet, the Father Abbot must concede time to me or risk the enmity of St. Precious, thus freeing me even from my normal duties."

"That you might spend your days down here?" Brother Brau-min asked doubtfully, for he saw no gain in being in this place; in-deed, he wanted to run out of there at once, back into the daylight, or at least into the lighter and more hospitable rooms of the upper abbey. This place was too much like a crypt for his liking - and in fact there was a crypt nearby, in several of the adjoining rooms!

Even worse, in the far corner of this very library stood a shelf of very old books, ancient tomes of sorcery and demon magic that the Church had banned. Every copy that had been discovered save these - preserved that the Church might better investigate the workings of its enemies - had been burned. Braumin wished that none had been spared, for the mere presence of these ancient tomes sent a shudder through him, a palpable aura of cold evil.

"This is where I must be," Master Jojonah explained.

Brother Braumin held out his arms, his expression purely incredu-lous. "What will you find down here?" he asked, and subconsciously glanced at the shelf of horrible tomes.

"I do not honestly know," Jojonah replied. He noted the direc-tion of Braumin's glance but thought little of it, for he had no in-tention of going anywhere near the demonic volumes. Drawing Braumin's attention, he moved to the nearest shelf and reverently lifted one huge volume, its cover holding on by barely a strand. "But here, in the history of the Church, I will find my answers."


"I will see as Avelyn saw," Jojonah tried to elaborate. "The atti-tudes I witness now among supposedly holy men cannot be the same as those who founded our order. Who would follow Markwart now, were it not for traditions that root back a millennium and more? Who would adhere to the doctrines of the leaders of the Abellican Church if they could see past their blindness and recog-nize the men as merely men, full of the failings adherence to the higher order of God is supposed to erase?"

"Strong words, Master," Brother Braumin said quietly.

"Perhaps it is time that someone spoke those strong words," Jo-jonah replied. "Words as strong as Avelyn's deeds."

"Brother Avelyn's deeds have branded him as a thief and a mur-derer," the young monk reminded.

"But we know better," Jojonah was quick to reply. He looked back to the ancient tome again, brushing the dust from the battered cover. "And so would they, I believe. So would the founders of the Order, the men and women who first saw the light of God. They would know."

Jojonah fell silent, and Brother Braumin spent a long time di-gesting the words. He knew his place here, though, that of por-traying the worst- case scenario, and so he had to ask, "And if your studies show that they do not, that the Church is as it has always been?"

The words hit Master Jojonah hard, and Brother Braumin winced as the older man's round shoulders visibly slumped.

"Then my life is a waste," Jojonah admitted. "Then I have fol-lowed errantly that which is not holy, but humanly."

"Heretics have spoken such words," Brother Braumin warned.

Master Jojonah turned and eyed him directly, locked his gaze with the most intense stare the immaculate had ever seen from the normally jovial man. "Then let us hope the heretics are not cor-rect," Jojonah said gravely.

The master turned back to the texts, and Braumin again paused, letting the words sink in. He decided that to be enough of that line of questioning - Master Jojonah had embarked upon a course for which there could be no retreat, one of enlightenment that would lead to justification or to despair.

"Brother Dellman has been asking many questions since we de-parted St. Precious," Brother Braumin said, trying to lighten the conversation.

That notion brought a welcome smile to Master Jojonah's face.

"The Father Abbot's actions concerning our prisoners seem out of place, of course," Brother Braumin went on.

"Prisoners?" Jojonah interrupted. "He brought them?"

"The Chilichunks and the centaur," Brother Braumin explained. "We know not where they are being held."

Master Jojonah paused. He should have expected as much, he realized, but in the commotion over Abbot Dobrinion's death, he had almost forgotten about the unfortunate prisoners. "St. Precious did not protest the taking of Palmaris citizens?" he asked.

"Rumors say that Abbot Dobrinion was not pleased at all," Brother Braumin replied. "There was a confrontation with Baron Bildeborough's men, over his nephew, who was reportedly once married to the woman who accompanied Brother Avelyn. And many say that Abbot Dobrinion was in league with the Baron against the Father Abbot."

Jojonah chuckled helplessly. It all made sense, of course, and now he was even more certain that no powrie had murdered Abbot Dobrinion. He almost said as much to Brother Braumin, but wisely held his tongue, understanding that such terrible information might break the man, or launch him on a course so bold as to get him killed.

"Brother Dellman has paid attention to the events, then?" he asked. "He is not closing his eyes and ears to the truth about him?"

"He has asked many questions," Brother Braumin reiterated.

"Some bordering on being openly critical of the Father Abbot. And of course, we are all concerned about the two brothers who did not make the return trip to St.-Mere-Abelle. It is no secret that they were in the Father Abbot's highest favor, and their demeanor has ever been a conversation point among the younger brothers."

"We would all do well to watch closely the hunting dogs of Father Abbot Markwart," Master Jojonah said gravely. "Do not trust Brother Youseff or Brother Dandelion. Go now to your duties, and do not visit me unless your news is most urgent. I will contact you when I see the opportunity; I will wish to hear of Brother Dell-man's progress. Pray ask Brother Viscenti to befriend the man. Vis-centi is enough removed from me that his conversations with Brother Dellman will not be noticed by the Father Abbot. And Brother Braumin, do find out about the prisoners, where they are and how they are being treated."

Brother Braumin bowed and turned to go, but stopped as Master Jojonah called to him once more.

"And keep in mind, my friend," Jojonah warned, "that Brother Francis and some of those other, less obvious hunting dogs of Father Abbot Markwart will never be far away."

Then Master Jojonah was alone with the ancient texts of the Abellican Order, parchments and books, many of which had not been viewed in centuries. And Jojonah felt the ghosts of his Church in the adjoining crypts. He was alone with that history now, alone with what he had spent his life accepting as divine guidance.

He prayed he would not be disappointed.

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