The Demon Spirit

CHAPTER 30 In Search of Answers

"Brother Talumus," Baron Bildeborough went on slowly, calmly, his tone a futile attempt to hide the agitation that bubbled just be-neath the surface, "tell me again of Connor's visit here, of every stop he made, of everything he inspected."

The young monk, thoroughly flustered, for it was obvious he wasn't giving the Baron what he wanted, started talking so fast and in so many different directions that his words came out as a jumble. Prompted by the Baron's patting hand, the man stopped and took a deep and steadying breath.

"The abbot's room first," Talumus said slowly. "He was not pleased that we had cleaned it up, but what were we to do?" As he finished the sentence, his voice rose up again with excitement. "The abbot must be in public state - tradition demands it! And if we were to have guests at the abbey - oh, and streams of them! -??then we could not leave the room all gory and torn up."

"Of course not. Of course not," Baron Bildeborough said repeat-edly, trying to keep the monk calm.

Roger watched his new mentor closely, impressed by the man's patience, by how he was keeping this blubbering monk somewhat on track. Still, Roger could see the underlying tension on Rochefort's face, for the man now understood, as did Roger, that they would get few answers and little satisfaction here. St. Precious, with no ranking masters behind Abbot Dobrinion, was in absolute disarray, with monks running every which way, and discussion of this or that rumor taking the place of even the prayer times. One confirmed bit of news had proven especially unnerving to Roger and Rochefort: St. Precious would soon get a new abbot, a master from St.-Mere-Abelle.

To Roger and to Rochefort, that fact seemed to lend even more credence to Connor's suspicions that the Father Abbot himself had been behind the murder.

"We left the powrie, though," Brother Talumus went on, "at least until after Master Connor had departed."

"And then Connor went to the kitchen?" Rochefort inquired gently.

"To Keleigh Leigh, yes," replied Talumus. "Poor girl."

"And she was not injured other than the drowning?" Roger dared to put in, looking directly at Rochefort as he spoke, though the question was obviously for Talumus. Roger had previously ex-plained to Rochefort that Keleigh Leigh's lack of cuts - for dip-ping berets - had been a primary clue to Connor that the powrie had not committed these crimes.

"No," replied Talumus.

"None of her blood was spilled?"


"Go and find me the person who first discovered her body," Baron Bildeborough instructed. "And be quick."

Brother Talumus scrambled to his feet, saluted and bowed, then ran from the room.

"The monk who found her will likely have little to tell us," Roger remarked, surprised by the Baron's request.

"Forget the monk," Rochefort explained. "I only sent Brother Talumus that we might find a few minutes alone. We must decide upon our course, my friend, and quickly."

"We should not tell them of Connor's suspicions, or of his demise," Roger said after a few seconds' pause. Baron Bildebor-ough was nodding as he went on. "They are helpless in the face of this. Not a single monk here, if Talumus is the highest-ranking re-maining, could possibly stand against the coming master of St.-Mere-Abelle."

"It does seem that Abbot Dobrinion was lax in developing any talents in his lessers," Rochefort agreed. He gave a snort. "Though I might enjoy the sheer tumult of telling Talumus and all the others that St.-Mere- Abelle murdered their beloved abbot."

"Not much of a fight," Roger put in dryly. "From all that Connor told me of the Church, St.-Mere-Abelle would quickly dismantle the order at St. Precious, and then the Father Abbot would be even more entrenched in Palmaris than he will be when the new abbot arrives."

"True enough," Baron Bildeborough admitted with a sigh. He brightened his expression immediately for the sake of the two jit-tery monks entering the room, Talumus and the first witness. On with the questioning, he decided, but only for appearances - both he and Roger knew they would learn nothing more from this man or any other at St. Precious.

The two were back at Chasewind Manor soon after, Rochefort pacing the floor while Roger sat upon the man's favorite stuffed chair.

"Ursal is a long ride," Rochefort was saying. "Of course, I will want you with me."

"Will we actually meet the King?" Roger asked, a bit over-whelmed by that possibility.

"Oh, but King Danube Brock Ursal is a good friend, Roger," replied the Baron. "A good friend. He will grant me audience and will believe me, do not doubt. Whether or not he will be able to take any overt action given the lack of evidence - "

"I was a witness!" Roger protested. "I saw the monk kill Connor."

"Perhaps you bear false witness."

"You do not believe me?"

"Of course I do!" the Baron replied, again giving that customary pat in the air with his plump hand. "Indeed, boy, else why would I have gone to so much trouble? Why would I have given you Greystone and Defender? If I didn't trust you, boy, you would be in chains, and tortured until I was convinced that you were speaking truly."

The Baron paused and looked at Roger more closely. "Where is that sword?" he asked.

Roger shifted uncomfortably. Had he just compromised that trust? he wondered. "Both sword and horse have been put to good use," he explained.

"By whom?" the Baron demanded.

"By Jilly," Roger was quick to reply. "Her road is darker still, and fraught with battle, I fear. I gave them over to her, for I am no rider, nor much of a swordsman."

"Both can be taught," the Baron grumbled.

"But we've not the time," Roger replied. "And Jilly can put them to good use at once. Do not doubt her prowess ..." Roger paused, trying to gauge the great man's reaction.

"Again I trust in your judgment," the Baron said at length. "So we'll not speak of this again. Now back to our primary business. I believe you -??of course I do. But Danube Brock Ursal will be more cautious in his acceptance, do not doubt. Do you realize the impli-cations of our claims? If King Danube accepted them as truth and spoke of them publicly, he might well begin a war between Church and state, a bloodbath that neither side desires."

"But one that the Father Abbot of St.-Mere-Abelle began," Roger reminded.

A cloud passed over Baron Rochefort Bildeborough's face then, and he seemed to Roger so very old and tired indeed. "And so we must go south, it would seem," he said.

A knock on the door cut short Roger's response.

"My Baron," said an attendant, entering, "word has just come to us that the new abbot of St. Precious has arrived. Master De'Un-nero, by name."

"Do you know of him?" the Baron asked Roger, who only shook his head.

"He has already requested your audience," the attendant went on. "At St. Precious this very afternoon at high tea."

Bildeborough nodded and the attendant left the room.

"I must hurry, it would seem," the Baron remarked, glancing out the window at the westering sun.

"I will accompany you," Roger said, rising from the stuffed chair.

"No," Bildeborough replied. "Though I would indeed welcome your impressions of this man. But if the depth of this heinous con-spiracy is as far-reaching as we fear, then better that I go alone. Let the name and face of Roger Billingsbury remain unknown to Abbot De'Unnero."

Roger wanted to argue, but he knew that the man was right, and knew, too, that Bildeborough's answer for not taking him was only half of the reason. Roger understood that he was still young and very inexperienced in matters politic, and Bildeborough feared -??and Roger could not honestly dismiss those fears as folly - that this new abbot might glean a bit too much information from their high tea.

So Roger sat and waited at Chasewind Manor for the rest of that afternoon.

Mid-Calember was not so far away. Not when Father Abbot Markwart considered the preparations he must make for the momentous proclamations he intended. The old and wrinkled man paced his office at St.-Mere- Abelle, pausing every time he passed the window to view the summer foliage. The events of the last few weeks, particularly the discovery at the Barbacan and the trouble in Palmaris, had forced Markwart to change his thinking on many matters, or at least to accelerate his maneuvers toward his long-term goals.

With Dobrinion gone, the makeup of the College of Abbots had changed dramatically. Though he would be a new abbot, De'Un-nero, by the mere fact that he presided over St. Precious, would be granted a strong voice at the College, possibly even third behind only Markwart and Je'howith of St. Honce. That would give Markwart great power to strike hard.

The old cleric smiled wickedly as he fantasized about that meeting. At the College of Abbots he would forever discredit Avelyn Desbris, would brand the man indelibly as a heretic. Yes, that was important, Markwart realized, for if he did not pass such sanctions against Avelyn, then the man's actions would remain open for interpretation. As long as the brand of heretic had not been formalized, all of the monks, even first-year brothers, remained free to discuss the events of Avelyn's departure, and that was a dangerous thing. Would some be sympathetic to the man? Might the word "escape" wriggle into such discussions in place of the commonly described murder and theft?

Yes, the sooner he made the declaration of heresy and it was ap-proved by the Church leaders, the better. Once the brand was for-malized, no discussion of Avelyn Desbris in any positive light would be tolerated at any abbey or chapel. Once Avelyn was de-clared a heretic, his entry into the annals of Church history would be complete, and ultimately damning.

Markwart blew a long sigh as he considered the road to that cov-eted goal. He would be opposed, he suspected, by stubborn Master Jojonah - if the man lived that long.

Markwart dismissed the possibility of yet another assassination; if all of his known enemies began dying, then probing eyes would likely turn his way. And besides, he knew that Jojonah was not alone in his beliefs. He could not strike out that hard. Not yet.

But he had to be prepared should the fight come to pass. He had to be able to prove his point about Avelyn's heresy, for the devasta-tion at the Barbacan was certainly open to interpretation. It was true, and indisputable, that Siherton had been killed on the night of Avelyn's flight from St.-Mere-Abelle, but in that, too, Jojonah might be able to find some argument. Intent, and not mere action, determined sin, and only true sin could brand a man a heretic.

Thus Markwart knew he would have to prove more than his in-terpretation of the events on the night when Avelyn absconded with the stones. To get the complete confirmation of that brand - a brand the Church had never been quick to hand out - he would have to prove that Avelyn subsequently used those stones for ill, that the man's degeneration to the dark side of human nature was complete. But he would never quiet Jojonah, Markwart realized. The man would fight him concerning Avelyn Desbris, would deny his plans to the last. Yes, he saw that now; Jojonah would return with the College of Abbots and would fight him. They were long overdue for that confrontation. Thus Markwart decided that he would have to destroy the master, and not just the man's argument.

Markwart knew exactly where he could find allies to that cause, a preemptive strike against Jojonah. Abbot Je'howith of St. Honce held a position as a close adviser to the King, and could access that power, in the form of the fanatical Allheart Brigade. All that he had to do, Markwart thought, was prep Je'howith properly, have him bring along a few of those merciless warriors...

Satisfied, the Father Abbot turned his thoughts to the issue of Avelyn. He did have one remaining witness to Avelyn's actions, Bradwarden, but from his interrogations of the centaur, both verbal and with the soul stone, he had a fair measure of the beast's consid-erable willpower and feared that Bradwarden would not break, no matter how brutally they tortured him.

With that in mind, the Father Abbot moved to his desk and made a note to Brother Francis that he should work ceaselessly with the centaur until the College convened. If they couldn't trust that Bradwarden had indeed broken and would say whatever they told him to say, then the centaur would be killed before the distinguished guests arrived.

Markwart realized yet another problem as he penned that note. Francis was a ninth-year brother, yet only immaculates and abbots would be allowed to attend the College. Markwart wanted Francis there; the man had his limitations, but he was loyal enough.

The Father Abbot ripped a corner of the parchment and noted a reminder, "IBF," to himself, then tucked it away. As he had broken protocol, due to the emergency of the war, in appointing De'Un-nero as abbot of St. Precious and in sending Jojonah to the Palmaris abbey to serve as De'Unnero's second, so he would promote Brother Francis to the rank of immaculate.

Immaculate Brother Francis.

Markwart liked the sound of that, liked the notion of increasing the power of those who obeyed him without question. His explanation for the premature appointment would be simple, and surely accepted: with two masters sent to bolster St. Precious, St.-Mere-Abelle had been left weak at the top echelons. Though the abbey boasted scores of immaculates, few had attained the credentials necessary for pro-motion to the rank of master, few even continued to strive for such a rank, and Francis, given his vital work with the caravan to the Bar-bacan, would strengthen that stable considerably.

Yes, the Father Abbot mused. He would promote Francis before the College, and then again, soon after, to the rank of master, to replace...

... Jojonah, he decided, instead of De'Unnero. For De'Un-nero's replacement he would look among the scores of immacu-lates, perhaps even to Braumin Herde, who was deserving even if his choice of mentors had left a great deal to be desired. Still, with Jojonah so far away and unlikely to ever return - except for the three weeks of the College -??Markwart figured that he might be able to bring Braumin Herde tighter into the fold by tempting him with the coveted rank.

The Father Abbot's step lightened as he waded through these problems, as solutions became all too apparent. This new insight he had found, this new level of inner guidance, seemed nothing short of miraculous. Every layer of intrigue seemed to fall away, leaving him with answers crystal clear.

Except for the problem of branding Avelyn quickly, he reminded himself, and he slapped his hand against his desk in frustration. No, Bradwarden would not break, would remain defiant until the bitter end. Markwart, for the first time, lamented the loss of the Chilichunks, for they, he knew, would have been so much easier to control.

An image came to him then, of the small library wherein Jojo-nah had been digging for information about Brother Allabarnet. Markwart saw the room clearly in his mind, and couldn't under-stand why - until one area of the back corner, a distant, unused shelf, came clear in the image.

Markwart followed his instincts, followed the inner guidance, first to his desk to retrieve some gemstones, then down from his of-fice, down the damp and dark stairs that led to the ancient library. No guards were posted now, for Jojonah was supposedly far away, and Markwart, glowing diamond in hand, entered cautiously. He went past the shelves of books to the back corner, to the books which the Church had long ago banned. He knew logically that even he, the Father Abbot, should not be perusing these, but that inner voice promised him answers to his dilemma.

He studied the shelf for a few minutes, glancing at every tome, at the labels of every rolled parchment, then closed his eyes and re-played those images.

His eyes stayed closed, but he lifted his hand, trusting that it was being guided to the book he needed. Grasping gently but firmly, Markwart tucked the prize under his arm and shuffled away, and was back in the privacy of his office before he even inspected the work,The Incantations Sorcerous.

Roger expected that the Baron would be gone late into the eve-ning, and was rather surprised when the man returned long before the sun had even touched the horizon. He went to meet Bildebor-ough full of hope that all had gone well, but those hopes were de-flated as soon as he saw the huge man, huffing and puffing, his face red from explosive rage.

"In all my years, I have never met a more unpleasant man, let alone a supposed holy man!" Rochefort Bildeborough fumed, storming out of the foyer and into his audience room.

Roger, following quickly, thought he might have to take a second choice of seat this time, for the Baron plopped into his stuffed chair. But then the huge man was right back to his feet, pacing anxiously, and so Roger slipped in behind him to take what was fast becoming his customary seat.

"He warned me!" Baron Bildeborough fumed. "Me! The Baron of Palmaris, friend of Danube Brock Ursal himself!"

"What did he say?"

"Oh, it started well enough," Bildeborough explained, slapping his hands together. "All polite, with this De'Unnero creature hopeful that the transition would be smooth as he took his place in St. Precious. He said that we might work together - " Bildebor-ough paused and Roger sucked in his breath, recognizing that some important declaration was forthcoming. " - despite the apparent shortcomings and criminal behavior of my nephew!" the Baronexploded, Stomping his feet and punching at the air. The exertion overwhelmed him almost immediately, and Roger was quick to his side, helping him into the comfortable chair.

"The dog!" Bildeborough went on. "He does not know of Connor's death, I am sure, though he will certainly learn of it soon. He offered to pardon Connor, on my word that Connor would be more careful of his behavior in the future. Pardon him!"

Roger worked hard to keep the man calm then, fearing that he would simply die of his rage. His face was puffy and bloodred, his eyes wide.

"The best thing that we can do is to go to the King," Roger calmly said. "We have allies that the new abbot cannot overcome. We can clear Connor's name - indeed, we can put all the blame for these troubles where it rightly belongs."

The reminder did calm the Baron considerably. "Off we go," he said. "To the south, with all speed. Tell my attendants to prepare my coach."

De'Unnero had not underestimated Baron Bildeborough in the least. His forceful demeanor at their meeting had been purpose-fully designed to garner both information from the man and under-standing of the Baron's political leaning, and in De'Unnero's sharp eyes, their conversation had been extremely successful on both counts. Bildeborough's outrage showed that he, too, might prove an open enemy of the Church, more troublesome than either his nephew or Abbot Dobrinion.

And De'Unnero was smart enough to understand the true culprit behind the removal of those troubles.

For, despite his words at the meeting, De'Unnero did indeed know of the death of Connor Bildeborough, and he knew, too, that a young man had brought the body back to Palmaris, along with the body of a man dressed in the robes of an Abellican monk. Again the angry abbot lamented that Father Abbot Markwart had erred in not sending him on the most important mission to retrieve the stones. Had he gone in search of Avelyn, this issue would have been settled long ago, with the gemstones returned and Avelyn and all of his friends dead. How much less a problem Bildeborough would be to him, and to the Church!

For now Markwart and the Church had a problem, a big one, De'Unnero believed. According to those monks of St. Precious whom De'Unnero had already interviewed, and those of St.-Mere-Abelle who had witnessed the near battle in St. Precious' court-yard, Baron Bildeborough had thought of Connor as a son. The ac-cusation of murder had no doubt been laid at the Church's door, and Bildeborough, whose influence went out far from Palmaris, would not be silent on this matter.

The new abbot was not surprised, then, when one of his flock, a fellow monk who had made the journey with De'Unnero from St.-Mere-Abelle, returned from his assigned scouting post to report that a carriage had left Chasewind Manor, riding south, right out of Palmaris, along the river road.

The new abbot's other spies soon returned, confirming the story, one of them insisting that Baron Bildeborough himself was in that coach.

De'Unnero did not betray his emotions, remained calm and went through the few remaining evening rituals as though nothing was amiss. He went to his room early, explaining that he was weary from the ride, a perfectly plausible excuse.

"This is where I hold advantage even over you, Father Abbot," the abbot of St. Precious remarked as he looked out his window to the Palmaris night. "I need no lackeys for my dark business."

He pulled off his telltale robes and dressed in a loose-fitting suit of black material, then pushed open the grate on the window and climbed out, disappearing into the shadows. Moments later he crouched in an alleyway, his favorite gemstone in hand.

De'Unnero fell into the stone, felt the exquisite pain as the bones in his hands and arms began to reshape and twist. And then, spurred by the sheer excitement of the coming hunt, the sheer ec-stasy that he could finally act, he fell deeper, and quickly kicked off his shoes as his legs and feet, too, transformed into the hind legs and paws of a tiger. He felt as if he was losing himself in the magic, becoming one with the stone. All his body jerked and spasmed. He raked a paw across his chest, tearing wide his clothing.

Then he was on all fours, and when he tried to protest, a great growl came out of his feline maw.

Never had he gone this far!

But it was wonderful!

The power, oh, the power! He was the hunting tiger now, in body, and all of that sheer power was under his absolute control. Soon he was running swiftly and silently on padded feet, bounding over the high Palmaris wall with ease and charging off down the southern road.




On the very first pages, the general description of the tome, the Father Abbot understood. Only a few months before, Father Abbot Dalebert Markwart would have been horrified at the thought.

But that was before he had found the "inner guidance" of Bestesbulzibar.

He reverently placed the book away in the lowest drawer of his desk, locking it tight.

"First business at hand," he said aloud, drawing clean parch-ment and a vial of black ink from another drawer. He unrolled the parchment and secured its ends with weights, then stared at it for a long time, trying to determine the best manner of wording. With a nod, he titled the paper:

Promotion of Brother Francis Dellacourt to Immaculate Brother

The Order of St.-Mere-Abelle

Markwart spent a long time preparing that important document, though the final draft was no more than three hundred words. By the time he finished, the day was nearing its end, the other monks gathering for dinner. Markwart swept out of his office, to the wing of St.-Mere-Abelle serving as residence for the newest students. He found the three he wanted and called them off to a private room.

"You will each provide me with five copies of this document," he explained. One of the young brothers shifted nervously.

"Speak your mind," Markwart demanded of him.

"I am not well-versed, nor very skilled, in illumination, Father Abbot," the man stuttered, head bowed. In truth, all three were overwhelmed by the demand. St.-Mere-Abelle boasted of many of the finest scribes in all the world. Most of the immaculates who would never attain the rank of master had chosen the vocation of scribener.

"I did not ask if you were skilled," Markwart replied to the man, to them all. "You can read and write?"

"Of course, Father Abbot," all three confirmed.

"Then do as I asked," the old man said. "Without question."

"Yes, Father Abbot."

Markwart let his dangerous stare linger on each of them indi-vidually, then, after what seemed like minutes of silence, threatened, "If any of you speak a word of this, if any of you give anyone else even a hint of the contents of this paper, you will, all three, be burned at the stake."

Again came the silence, Markwart studying the young monks intently. He had decided to use first-year students, and these three in particular, because he was certain that such a threat would carry great influence. He left them, then, confident that they would not dare fail the commandment of their Father Abbot.

Markwart's next stop was the room of Brother Francis. The man had already gone to dinner, but the old monk wasn't deterred, sliding his instructions concerning Bradwarden under the door.

Soon after, back in his private quarters, in a little-used room to the side of his bedroom, the Father Abbot set about his next prepa-ration. First he removed all items, even furniture, from the room. Then, with the ancient book, a knife, and colored candles in hand, he went back in and began tracing a very specific pattern, described in great detail in the tome, in the wooden floor.

The forest seemed a quiet place to Roger, full of peace and calm. Something about the very air was different here than in the northland, some serenity, as though all the woodland animals, all the trees and flowers, knew that no monsters were about.

Roger had come out from the small camp beside the wagon to relieve himself, but had stayed out as the minutes passed, alone with his thoughts and with the starry canopy. He tried not to think of his coming meeting with King Danube; he had rehearsed his speech many times already. He tried not to worry for his friends, though he suspected they would likely be approaching St.-Mere-Abelle by now, perhaps had already battled with the Church over the prisoners. For now, Roger wanted only rest, the calm peace of a summer's night.

How many times had he reclined on a branch in the forest near Caer Tinella, alone in the quiet night? Most, if the weather was agreeable. Mrs. Kelso would see him for dinner, and then again for breakfast, and though the mothering woman believed him to be comfortably curled up in her barn, he was more often in the forest.

Try as he may, Roger couldn't find that level of calm now, couldn't find that deep, introspective serenity. Too many worries crept into the corners of his consciousness; he had seen and experi-enced too much.

He leaned heavily against a tree, staring up at the stars, lament-ing his loss of innocence. All during his time with Elbryan, Pony, and Juraviel, they had applauded him for maturing, had nodded ap-provingly as his decisions became more based in responsibility. But accepting those responsibilities had taken a toll, Roger under-stood now, for the stars did not twinkle so brightly, for his heart was surely heavier.

He sighed again and told himself that things would get better, that King Danube would put the world aright, that the monsters would be driven far away and he could return to his home and his previous life in Caer Tinella.

But he didn't believe it. With a shrug, he started back for the wagon, back for discussions of important matters, back for responsibility.

He paused, though, before he got near the campsite, the hairs on the back of his neck tingling.

The forest had gone strangely, eerily, quiet.

Then came a low, resonating growl, the likes of which Roger had never before heard. The young man froze in place, listening in-tently, trying to discern the direction, though the low roar seemed to fill all the air, as though it was coming from everywhere at once. Roger didn't move, didn't breathe.

He heard the draw of sword, another roar, this one more em-phatic, and then the screams, sudden and horrible. Now he was moving, running blindly, stumbling on roots, taking more than one branch in the face. He saw the firelight from the camp, silhouettes darting back and forth before it.

And the screams continued, cries of fear, and now of agony.

Roger came in sight of the camp to see the guards, all three, lying about the fire, torn and broken. He hardly took note of them, though, for the Baron was halfway inside the carriage, struggling mightily to get all the way in that he might close the door.

But even if he could have done so, Roger knew that the door would prove a meager barrier against the creature, a gigantic orange-and-black- striped cat that had a claw hooked about his boot.

The Baron spun over and kicked out, and the tiger let go long enough for the man to get inside. But the man never got close to shutting the carriage door, for the cat had only let go that it might settle back on its haunches, and before Bildeborough had even cleared the line of the door, the tiger sprang into the carriage, atop him, claws raking.

The carriage rocked violently, the Baron screamed, and Roger stared helplessly. He did have a weapon, a small sword, barely more than a dagger, but he knew that he couldn't possibly get to Bildeborough in time to save the man, and in any case couldn't possibly defeat, or even seriously injure, the great cat.

He turned and ran, tears streaming down his face, his breath coming in labored, forced gasps. It had happened again! Just like the incident with Connor! Again he was no more than a helpless bystander, a witness to the death of a friend. He ran on blindly, stumbling, brush and limbs battering him as the minutes became an hour. He ran until he dropped from exhaustion, and even then he dragged himself on, too frightened to even look back to see if there was any pursuit.

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.