- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
The morning was brisk, despite the brilliant sunlight streaming in from the east. The breeze was not stiff, but Pony felt it keenly across every inch of her bare skin as she dancedbi'nelle dasada among the falling many-colored leaves. She was not with Elbryan this morning, nor had she been for many days, preferring to dance alone now, for a time, as she used these moments of deep medita-tion as an escape from her grief and her guilt.
She saw Pettibwa and Graevis, even Grady, as she twirled about the piles of leaves. She remembered those days of her youth, faced them squarely and used them to put the events that had come after into a proper context. For, despite the very heavy burden of guilt, Pony rationally understood that she had done nothing wrong, that she had taken no road which, given the option once more, she would not now take.
And so she danced, every morning, and she cried, and when the grief finally began to lift and her common sense began to take the edge from her guilt, she was left with only...
The leader of the Abellican Church was her enemy, had started a war from which Pony had no intention of running. Avelyn had given her the gemstones, and through that act of faith she felt well-armed.
She pivoted and turned in perfect balance, throwing a pile of leaves high with her fast-stepping feet. The meditation was deep and strong, a similar sensation as when she fell deep within the em-brace of the gemstones. She was getting stronger.
She did not mean to maneuver around that wall of rage; she meant to smash right through it.
Winter came early that year, and by mid-Calember the ponds north of Caer Tinella already showed the shine of ice, and morn-ings were often greeted by a thin white coating of snow.
Farther to the south, the clouds hung heavy over All Saints Bay, the winter gales beginning to threaten. The water loomed darker, with the whitecaps rolling in against the cliffs contrasting starkly. Only two of the thirty abbots convening for the College at St.-Mere-Abelle - Olin of St. Bondabruce of Entel, and Abbess Delenia of St. Gwendolyn - had come by sea, and they both planned to stay as Markwart's guests throughout the winter, for few ships would brave such perilous waters at that time of year.
Despite the gathering of so many Church dignitaries, and reports that the war was all but over, the mood at the abbey was somber, as gloomy as the season. Many of the abbots had been personal friends of Abbot Dobrinion. Also, there was the general feeling, spurred by many whispers, that this College would prove eventful, even pivotal, to the future of the Church. Father Abbot Markwart's appointment of Marcalo De'Unnero to head St. Precious, and the recent news that a ninth-year brother had been promoted to Im-maculate, were not matters without debate or opposition.
And everyone knew that other "guests" would be hovering about the College, a contingent of soldiers from Ursal, men of the fierce Allheart Brigade, by all accounts, on loan from the King to Abbot Je'howith of St. Honce. Such an accompanying force was certainly not without precedent in the Church, but it almost always signaled that some serious trouble was afoot.
Tradition dictated that the College would convene after vespers on the fifteenth day of the month, with all the participants, abbots and masters, spending the whole of the day quietly in reflection, preparing themselves mentally for the coming trials. Master Jojo-nah took this duty particularly to heart, closing himself in the small room afforded him, kneeling by his bed in prayer in the hopes that he would find some divine guidance. He had been quiet and impassive in his months under De'Unnero at St. Precious, taking no ac-tion to anger the new abbot or to even hint of the subversion that was in his heart. Of course, he had been scolded for leaving De'Unnero on the road, but after one brutal confrontation, nothing more had been said of the matter - to Jojonah, at least.
Now was his chance, he knew, perhaps his last chance, but could he find the courage to speak out openly against Markwart? He had heard little concerning the agenda of the College, but he strongly suspected -??especially considering the companions the abbot of St. Honce had brought -??that Markwart would use this opportunity to get a formal brand against Avelyn.
Markwart apparently had allies in this matter, powerful allies, but still, Jojonah knew what course his conscience dictated should Markwart's declaration against Avelyn come to pass.
But what if it did not?
Jojonah's midday meal was delivered outside his door, with only a single signaling knock, as he had instructed. He went to re-trieve the food, and was surprised indeed when he opened the door to see Francis standing in the hall, holding his tray.
"So the rumors are true," Jojonah said distastefully. "Congratu-lations, immaculate brother. How unexpected." Jojonah took the tray, but held the door with his free hand, as if he meant to close it in Francis' face.
"I heard you," Francis said quietly.
Jojonah cocked his head, not understanding.
"In the dungeons," Francis remarked.
"Truly brother, I know not of what you speak," Jojonah said po-litely, falling back a step. He started to close the door, but Francis slipped into the room quickly.
"Shut the door," Francis said quietly.
Jojonah's first instinct was to lash out verbally at the upstart young man, but he could not ignore Francis' claim, and so he gently closed the door and moved to his bed, placing the tray on the small table.
"I know that it was you who betrayed us to the raiders," Francis said bluntly. "I have not yet determined who opened the wharf doors for you -??and then closed them behind you - for I have wit-nesses as to the whereabouts of Brother Braumin Herde."
"Perhaps it was God who let them in," Jojonah said dryly.
Francis turned on him and didn't seem to much appreciate the wit.
"Who let you in, you mean," he stated firmly. "I heard you before I lost consciousness, and I assure you that I recognize your voice."
The smile left Jojonah's face, replaced by a determined stare.
"Perhaps you should have let the man kill me," Francis stated.
"Then I would be just like you," Jojonah quietly replied. "And that I fear worse than any punishment, worse than death itself."
"How could you know?" Francis demanded, trembling with rage and advancing a step, as if he meant to strike out at Jojonah.
"Know?" the master echoed.
"That I killed him!" Francis blurted, falling back and breathing hard. "Grady Chilichunk. How could you know that it was I who killed him on the road?"
"I did not know," a disgusted, and surprised, Jojonah replied.
"But you just said - " Francis started to argue.
"I was speaking of your demeanor, and no specific actions," Jojonah interrupted. He paused to study Francis, and saw that the man was torn apart.
"It does not matter," Francis remarked, waving his hand. "It was an accident. I could not know."
The immaculate didn't believe those words for a moment, Jojonah understood, and so he did not press the point as Francis staggered out of the room.
Jojonah didn't even bother to eat his meal then, too consumed by Francis' words. He knew what was to come now, and so he went back to his bedside and prayed, as much the confession of a doomed man as any request for guidance.
That night, the College began with long and uneventful intro-ductions of the different abbots and their escorting masters, all pomp and ceremony that was expected to last through the dawn. This was the only event to which all the monks of the host abbey were invited, and so more than seven hundred had gathered in the great hall, along with the soldiers of the Allheart Brigade who had accompanied Abbot Je'howith.
Jojonah watched it from the back rows of seating, near the exit. He tried to keep an eye on Markwart, who, after the initial prayer and greeting, had retired to the shadows at the edge of the room. On and on it went, and Jojonah even considered running away on more than one occasion. How long might he be gone before Markwart and the others even realized that he had left? he wondered.
Truly that would have been the easier course.
He expected that the night would prove uneventful, and antici-pated another long day in his private room, praying, but then held his breath when, just before the dawn, Father Abbot Markwart again took center stage.
"There is one matter which should be breached before the break," the Father Abbot began. "One which all the younger brothers should hear openly addressed before they are dismissed from the College."
Jojonah was on the move, swinging around the back of the seats and down the outside row, moving toward the central area. He took the course because it would bring him right past Braumin Herde.
"Listen carefully," he instructed the immaculate, bending low as he passed. "Record every word in your memory."
"It is no secret to you all that a most important matter, a most im-portant crime, has plagued St.-Mere-Abelle and all of our Order for several years now, a crime that showed the true depth of its wicked-ness in the rising of the demon dactyl and the terrible war that has brought so much misery and suffering to our lands," Markwart went on, his tone loud and dramatic.
Jojonah continued his slow walk toward the front of the hall. Many heads turned to regard him, many whispered conversations began in his wake, and he was not surprised, for he understood that his sympathies toward Avelyn were not secret, even beyond the walls of St.-Mere-Abelle.
And he saw Je'howith's soldiers, Markwart's stooges, gathered at the side and seeming eager.
"It is the most important declaration possible of this College of Abbots," the Father Abbot finished powerfully, "that the man, Avelyn Desbris by name, be branded openly and formally as a criminal against the Church and state."
"A call for heresy, Father Abbot?" asked Abbot Je'howith of St. Honce, sitting in the front row.
"Nothing less," Markwart confirmed.
Murmurs erupted from every corner of the hall; heads shook and heads nodded, abbots and masters bending low in private conversations.
Jojonah swallowed hard, recognizing that his next step would lead him to a cliff face. "Is this not the same Avelyn Desbris who was once given the highest honor in all the Abellican Church?" he asked loudly, drawing the attention of all, particularly of Brother Braumin Herde. "Was it not Father Abbot Dalebert Markwart him-self who named Avelyn Desbris as a Preparer of the sacred stones?"
"Another time," Markwart replied, keeping his cool and calm tone. "More the pity, then, and farther the fall."
"Farther the fall indeed," Jojonah retorted, moving powerfully to the center stage to face his nemesis. "But it was not Avelyn who fell from grace."
In the back of the room Braumin Herde dared to smile and nod his head; from the whispers and reactions of those nearby, it seemed to him as if Jojonah was doing quite well.
"Not only Avelyn, you mean!" Markwart said suddenly, ferociously.
Simple startlement made Jojonah pause, and that gave Mark-wart the opening he needed to sweep his proclamations back out to the entire audience. "Be it known here and now that the security of St.-Mere-Abelle was again breached this very summer," the Father Abbot cried. "The prisoners I had secured to speak to you against Avelyn were stolen from my very grasp."
More gasps than whispers came from the audience now.
"I introduce now Immaculate Brother Francis," Markwart ex-plained, a name that was not unfamiliar to the gathering - indeed, one of the points of contention that was expected to be raised later in the College concerned the man's premature promotion.
Braumin Herde chewed hard on his lip as he recognized the pain on Jojonah's face. He remembered his promise to his beloved Jo-jonah, though, pointedly telling himself again and again that this was exactly the scenario Jojonah had predicted. Out of love and re-spect for Jojonah, he had to remain silent, though if he had gotten one hint that this College might be swayed Jojonah's way, he would have run down to stand beside the man.
That hint never materialized. Markwart's questions were quick and to the point as he prodded Francis for information concerning the escape of the prisoners. Francis described Elbryan in great detail, and went on to confirm that demons had apparently inhabited the bodies of the Chilichunk couple.
And then he looked Jojonah right in the eye.
And then he fell silent.
Jojonah could hardly believe that the man had not betrayed him!
But Markwart still clung to his superior edge as he thanked and dis-missed the brother, for he had only used Francis to set up his next wit-ness, one of the guards Elbryan had overpowered, one who had crept up a bit along the side passage to get a glimpse of the intruders, and who could, and did indeed, identify Master Jojonah as a conspirator.
Jojonah fell silent; he knew that he would not be heard at that time no matter how loud his protests.
Abbot De'Unnero came next, detailing the events on the road that had allowed Jojonah to sneak away, opening a timetable during which the master could indeed have gone to St.-Mere-Abelle. "And I spoke with the merchant, Nesk Reaches," De'Un-nero insisted, "and confirmed that Master Jojonah had not returned to their encampment."
A strange sense of calm began to wash over Jojonah, an accep-tance that this indeed was a fight he could not win. Markwart had come here well- prepared.
He looked over at the fanatical Allheart soldiers and smiled.
Next Markwart called for one of Jojonah's companions on the road to Aida, a monk who would no doubt explain to the gathering how Jojonah had manipulated the group away from Avelyn's body.
Every piece seemed to be falling in place against him.
"Enough!" Jojonah cried, breaking the momentum. "Enough. I was indeed in your dungeons, evil Markwart."
The gasps came louder, accompanied by more than a few shouts of anger.
"Freeing those imprisoned unlawfully and immorally," Jojonah asserted. "I have seen too much of your wickedness. I watched it exact a toll upon gentle - yes, gentle and godly! - Avelyn. I saw it most keenly in the fate of theWindrunner."
Master Jojonah paused with that last statement and even laughed aloud. Every abbot, master, and immaculate in this room understood, and approved of, the fate of theWindrunner, every leader in this room was complicit in the murders.
Jojonah knew he was doomed. He wanted to rail out against Markwart, to show the ancient texts that described the previous method of collecting stones, to scream out that Brother Pellimar, who had been on that journey to collect the stones, had also been murdered by this supposedly holy Church.
But there was no practical point to it, and he did not want to give everything away. He looked to Brother Braumin Herde then, the man who would take up his torch, and he smiled.
Markwart screamed again for a declaration of Avelyn as a here-tic, then added that Jojonah, by his own admission, was a traitor to the Church.
And then Abbot Je'howith, the second most powerful man in the Order, rose tall and seconded the motion, and with a confirming nod from Markwart, motioned to his soldiers.
"By your own words you have committed treason against the Church and the King," Je'howith proclaimed as the soldiers sur-rounded Jojonah. "Have you any offering of defense?" He turned about to face the congregation. "Will any others speak for this man?"
Jojonah stared up at the gathering, at Braumin Herde, and the man dutifully remained silent.
The Allheart soldiers swarmed over the master, and with Mark-wart and Je'howith's blessings, so did many monks, beating him, dragging him away. As he was ushered out the door, he saw Brother Francis standing quietly, taking no part, seeming dis-tressed and helpless.
"I forgive you," Jojonah said to the man. "As does Avelyn, as does God." He almost added the forgiveness of Brother Braumin, but could not go that far in trusting Francis.
And then he was gone, dragged from the room as the mob gained momentum.
Many were still in their seats, sitting quiet and stunned, in-cluding Brother Braumin. He caught sight of Francis staring up at him, but had only a glare to offer in return.
Later that same cold Calember day, Master Jojonah, stripped naked and placed in an open cage on the back of a wagon, was taken through the streets of St.-Mere-Abelle village, his porters crying out his sins and crimes to the nervous townsfolk.
Insults became spit, became stones hurled Jojonah's way. One man ran up to the cart with a sharpened stick, stabbing the monk hard in the belly, opening a vicious wound.
Brothers Herde, Viscenti, and Dellman, and all the other monks of St.- Mere-Abelle, and all the visiting abbots and masters, watched it solemnly, some with horror, some with satisfaction.
For more than an hour Jojonah was carted about the streets, and he was a battered and broken man, hardly conscious, when the Allheart soldiers at last dragged him from the cart and lashed him to a stake.
"You are damned by your actions," Markwart proclaimed above the frenzy of the excited crowd. "May God show you mercy."
And the pyre was lit beneath Jojonah's feet.
He felt the flames biting at his skin, felt his blood boiling, his lungs charring with every breath. But only for a moment, for then he closed his eyes and he saw...
Brother Avelyn, reaching for him with outstretched arms...
Jojonah never screamed, never cried out at all.
It was, to Markwart, the biggest disappointment of the day.
Braumin Herde watched the whole of the execution as the flames climbed higher, engulfing his dearest friend. Beside him, both Viscenti and Dellman turned to leave, but Herde grabbed them and would not let them go.
"Bear witness," he said, and they were the last three monks to leave the awful scene.
"Come," Braumin Herde bade them when at last it was over, when the flames had died away. "I have a book you must see."
In the crowd of villagers, Roger Lockless also watched. He had learned much since his flight from the road south of Palmaris, from the monster that had destroyed Baron Bildeborough. In the last few hours alone, he had learned of Jojonah and the freeing of the half-man, half-horse prisoner, and while the news had given him hope, this sight had brought only despair and disgust.
But he watched, and understood then that the Father Abbot of the Abellican Order was indeed his enemy.
Far from that place, in the lands north of Palmaris, Elbryan held Pony close on an empty hillock, watching the rise of Sheila. The war with the monsters was over, but the war with the greater enemy, they both knew, was only beginning.
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold