The Coven, Part LXXXVIII

Read from the beginning.


“All hail the Eagle! All Hail the rightful king!”

The last cry was drowned out by a chorus of boos and hisses from the Nobles nearest Miss Taris. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead, and her expression became more strained.

The Inquisitors and the Prince’s guard sprung into action, forming themselves into a wall that separated the shouting factions.

“We must go,” Brother Amicus whispered to me. Two inquisitors came forward to flank me.

I stepped away from the inquisitors, however, looking wildly around me. The Prisoner’s box was already empty, and the last of the prisoner’s escort were filing through the courtroom’s side door. Prudence’s guards were leading Prudence through the opposite door.

Lady Frey,” Brother Amicus said urgently.

I waited until Prudence was through the door, and then I stepped back and allowed the guards to escort me away.

The guards took me around the edge of the courtroom, away from the fringes of the agitated crowds, and through the same door the prisoners had used. As I stepped through, I heard a crash in the courtroom behind me- the sound of wood breaking- and the roar of the crowd amplified before the door shut and muffled it.






Inside the infirmary, the air was filled with the sound of rattling chains.

Lady Willoughby and Chastity both sat very tall, watching the others, as they fussed with the chains that bound their feet. Captain Goode was pacing in a small half-circle around his bedpost, which was as far as his chains would allow him to walk. Lord Willoughby slapped his chains against his cot, as though slapping reigns against a horse’s back to urge it forward.

Hope was the only prisoner that sat still. His hands were folded in his lap, and his posture was reminiscent of the pose the Sisters at del Sol assumed when in deep meditation.

Captain Goode paused in his pacing and narrowed his eyes at Hope. “What do you make of this madness, Frey,” he demanded. “Why would those fools in the gallery rally around a damned soul?”

Hope took a deep breath before he responded. “It seems that the people still believe the old stories,” he said.

“How long have you known?” I asked quietly. “In your letter…”

Hope sat a little taller, and his lips twitched into a half-grin.

“I’ve learned the tales since I was a boy, though I had no idea at the time the implications of what I was hearing. My father raised my brother and me on the old stories of Uriel and Asmodeus. In retrospect, I think the tales gave him a sort of misguided hope that perhaps we had been descended from the good brother instead of the evil, and that the tales of the eagle and the rose foretold our family’s vindication.”

“I spent enough time in your family’s home, and I never heard your father speak of such things,” Captain Goode said.

“My father told the tales when we were alone- huddled together on a dark winter’s evening. Father said that the tales were meant for my brother and I, because Uriel and Asmodeus were identical twins, like us. Lux and I would sometimes switch places to amuse ourselves- what if Asmodeus had done the same thing? Were they so talented that they could fool the gods themselves?”

“Oh- I remember hearing a story like that,” Chastity said suddenly. “My mother told my sister and I the tale.”

Hope nodded, and then began to speak, his voice taking on a soothing cadence as he recited.

“Once upon a time, at the dawn of man, two boys were born of the same woman- the first twins. These boys were beautiful, strong, and blessed beyond all other children. The first twin to be born was named Asmodeus, and the second Uriel. Uriel was a kind and gentle soul, able to charm animals with his voice, and Asmodeus was clever and skilled at fighting. The two boys worked together to tame the most free and noble of all creatures- the eagle. Thus, they were able to use the eagle’s sharp eyes to watch their enemies, and the eagle’s wings to bear messages to heaven.

“Order received the messages that the two boys sent, and their words moved him. As the boys grew, Order grew to love them beyond all other humans. He watched their accomplishments and rewarded them with arms, land, and men to lead. Uriel’s gentleness won his men’s hearts, and Asmodeus’s strength and wisdom won his men’s respect. Order elevated Asmodeus above all the other chieftains, making him leader among leaders- the first high king.

“Asmodeus’s rule was marked by prosperity and peace, but this peace was interrupted when the Ancients rose up and waged war against the Gods. Order charged Asmodeus with the task of leading men in the Ancient war, but in spite of all of his wisdom and strength, Asmodeus lost battle after battle.

“Order looked into Asmodeus’s heart, and he saw that Asmodeus had grown prideful. Asmodeus believed he was as great as the Gods themselves, and he was resentful of Order’s commands. Because of this resentment, Asmodeus had lost the will to fight for Order’s glory.”

“In the version I heard, Asmodeus stopped fighting because he’d fallen in love with an Ancient woman,” Chastity said.

Hope smirked a little, and reached out for my hand. I took it, and he continued.

“As punishment, Order stripped Asmodeus of his crown and his salvation, giving both to Uriel in his stead. Then Order banished Asmodeus from the kingdom, leaving him to wander the earth alone.

“Asmodeus, ashamed at how far he’d fallen, took great pains to avoid they scornful eyes of his fellow humans. As he wandered, he would send his eagle ahead of him to warn him of any people or settlements he may accidentally encounter. One day, the eagle spotted Uriel walking through the hillside, speaking to the wild beasts.

“On Asmodeus’s orders, the eagle descended to meet Uriel, crying, ‘your brother asks for mercy! Your brother asks for mercy!’

“’Oh, how I wish I could grant my brother mercy! But I cannot defy Order,’ Uriel replied. ‘I have prayed for Asmodeus’s soul, but Order will not relent.’

“’If you cannot persuade Order, will you give your brother what you can?’ The eagle persisted.

“’I will give my brother all I can,’ Uriel promised.

“So the eagle flew away, and returned again on Asmodeus’s shoulder.

“Uriel cried tears of joy at their reunion, and tears of sadness at his brother’s fallen state. He presented his brother with food and wine, and he removed his own cloak and used it to cover his brother’s nakedness.

“’Your kindness has moved me, brother,’ Asmodeus said. ‘I repent that I ever defied Order’s will. Will you pray to Order on behalf of my soul?’

“’I swear to pray to Order on your soul’s behalf,’ Uriel said.

“’I have suffered in the wilderness without food or water. Will you promise to help restore my comfort?’

“’I swear that I will do everything I can to restore your comfort,’ Uriel promised.

“’I have been away from my people for so long that my heart breaks for them. Will you swear, upon your crown, to do everything in your power to restore me to my people?’

“’I swear, upon my crown, that I will do everything I can to restore you to your people.’

“As Uriel removed his crown to swear upon it, and as soon as the oath was spoken, Asmodeus snatched the crown and placed it on his own head. The eagle swept Asmodeus up in his talons and carried him away to the palace, leaving Uriel alone in the hills. Uriel could not expose his brother, or steal back the crown, because he had already given his oath to restore Asmodeus. Thus, Uriel made his home in the hills, and Asmodeus returned to the palace to rule under Uriel’s name.”

The clattering of chains had ceased while Hope told the tale, and as his voice drifted off, the room filled with a heavy silence. Then Lord Willoughby spoke.

“I heard something like that story at court,” he said, “but it was only told in whispers when the Prince suffered his accident, and the whispers stopped when he recovered.”

“The tale is told openly among the common folk,” Chastity said. “I’ve heard the story since I was a girl. Such stories are taken more seriously among us than among the learned men and their histories.”

“So the nobles support the Prince while he has strength, and the people look elsewhere for leadership,” Captain Goode said. Then he turned to one of the silent monks.

“What about you, Friar? Where does the clergy stand in all of this?”

“We leave politics to the laity. No king reins but by Order’s will, and the High Priest is Order’s voice on Earth,” the monk muttered.

“Then the scales are tipped,” Hope whispered in so low a voice I could barely hear him.

At that moment the door opened, and Brother Amicus stepped through.

“All is well, for now. The soldiers have separated the rabble-rousers and prevented violence.”

“For now-“ Captain Goode said, raising a skeptical brow.

“We will see what happens. Father Pius remains steadfast in his belief that the public has the right to witness this trial,” Brother Amicus said.

Captain Goode scoffed and returned to pacing.

“Father Pius offers his assurance that you will remain safe from the crowds. His protection is upon you.”

“He has protected us so well,” Captain Goode said, raising his handless arms.

Hope held my hand tight, but he did not repeat his desire that I leave for my own safety, and for this I was grateful.

Brother Amicus went to Captain Goode, speaking placating words that only seemed to agitate Captain Goode further. While they argued, I slipped Prudence’s note from my pocket and read.

I cannot write a long note, but be assured that we are well. Tonight, I will sit by my window and watch Lystra set, and I will think of you.

      The intended message was immediately clear. It was not a secure message- anyone who had intercepted the note might be able to discern that she’d asked me to meet her. However, I was one of the very few who could bypass the magical protection Pius had placed on the annex to reach her.

I placed the note back in my pocket and kissed Hope’s hand. Then I dropped his hand and stood as though to stretch, and paced to the room’s only window. Through the pane of warped glass, I could make out a patch of soft purple sky. The sun was setting, and it would be a moonless night. I stepped closer to the window and examined its immediate surroundings. The window was high, but because the infirmary was in the cathedral’s basement level, the window was level with the grassy lawn outside. There were shrubs on either side, which partly shielded it from view.

A plan began to formulate in my mind. I paced a bit more, stretching my arms casually before I returned to Hope’s bedside. Hope’s expression betrayed intense concentration- he was listening to everything around him- but he said nothing when I sat and took his hand once more.

“You have the right to your anger,” Amicus was conceding. “But- don’t let it cloud your judgement. The time is coming-”

“My judgement won’t be clouded by your pretty words,” Captain Goode interrupted. “I can protect myself.”

Brother Amicus bowed slightly and turned to go.







I waited with bated breath while the agitation in the room rose and then died down again. At last, the chains ceased rattling, and one by one the prisoners fell asleep. I watched closely as the monks dispersed, my heart sinking just a little when I saw one tuck the keys to the prisoners’ chains in his pocket and exit through the front door. One monk remained in the room, but after extinguishing the lights he sat in the corner, head nodding over his chest.

I briefly considered an alternate plan to the one I’d concocted. I could disable the monk before he made a sound, search for a way to break everyone’s chains, sneak them through the window…

The chains were my biggest obstacle, and no matter how long I sat in thought no idea came for how I could break them. The keys were gone, and I did not know how to pick locks. The chains were thick and heavy enough to thwart Chastity’s supernatural strength, so my strength alone would be useless. I could perhaps disassemble the beds where the chains were attached, but if the prisoners were still wearing the chains when they made their escape, the rattling noise would soon give them away.

One small, quiet person may be able to slip past the guards, but not five chained escapees.

“The sun has set,” I whispered to Hope. “I must go, but I will return shortly.”

“Go- where?” Hope whispered, clutching my hand tightly.

“I’m going to her,” I said simply.

Hope’s grip immediately relaxed, and he sighed. “Oh! Tell her-“

“I will,” I whispered, pressing a kiss against his lips before I let go of his hand.

I moved quietly past the monk to the interior door, which opened as it had on my last midnight outing. I moved swiftly down the hallway to the laundry, where I found what I sought- bundles of scarlet inquisitor’s robes.

I found a set of robes short enough not to hinder me, rolled them up, and placed them under my arm. Then I went swiftly back to the infirmary, where I changed behind a section of curtain near the window.

I climbed up on a table and opened the window as quietly as I could. I stopped when I heard someone stirring behind me, but the stirring soon ceased, and when nothing else happened, I hauled myself out onto the grass outside and then closed the window, leaving it open just a crack. Then I peeked out from behind the bushes, waiting until the nearest guards’ backs were turned before I emerged.

I folded my hands and bowed my head as though I prayed, but I walked to the annex quickly, striding with purpose. My hair was loose, and I let it fall forward to hide my face. I walked unnoticed to the annex, where I turned sharply and went to the western wall of the annex.

As I rounded the corner I heard a rich, warm voice call my name.

“Grace- I’m up here!”

I spun around and saw Prudence in the upstairs window, framed by the ornate windowsill and haloed in lamp light.

“Prudence,” I whispered, going to stand underneath.

“What in the world are you wearing?” She laughed. “I thought you were a guard.”

“I had to find some way to get past the guards,” I whispered hoarsely.

“Don’t strain your voice- we won’t be overheard,” Prudence said with a wink. “Come closer.”

I looked around and spotted a tree that grew near the open window. I had never climbed much in my youth, but the branches were low and strong, so I hiked up my robes, stepped up on the low crotch of the tree and hoisted myself onto the first branch. I continued to climb until I perched on a limb that nearly touched the window.

“Celeste would be proud,” Prudence said.

“How is Celeste? Where is she?” I asked, peering into the room behind Prudence. In the soft lantern glow, I could see a small, sparsely furnished room with a single bed, table, and a grate with glowing embers, but no sign of any other occupant.

“She is asleep now,” Prudence said. “I wanted to ensure we were alone. I have so much to tell you, but not much time. Do you trust me?”

“Of course,” I said.

Prudence leaned forward, her eyes glittering in the starlight. “Lux didn’t want me to speak to you. He’d said it would be fruitless but- oh, I must tell you everything I’ve learned. Everything is going to be alright in the end, Grace.”

I tested the branch’s strength, and then cautiously scooted closer to Prudence. “What have you learned?”

“I will start with the obvious. Lux and Pius are controlling everything- the trial, the witnesses, and the political happenings on the council of bishops.”

“Yes, that has been obvious,” I said with a sigh.

“They are powerful, Grace. Everything is proceeding according to plan, and I have Lux’s assurance that the prisoners will live!”

“This is nothing new,” I said. “We know that Pius plans to use Hope to help him seize power. Even I the trial goes well, though, Pius will still be a threat.”

“I thought you would say so,” Prudence said. She shut her eyes for a second and sighed. “This will be difficult to explain; how can I convey what I know to someone who has no soul?”

“Just tell me how you feel.”

“This goes beyond mere feeling,” Prudence said, “though it is something like awe- like feeling the crack of thunder, or the roar of the ocean. It’s a power beyond anything.”

“Did Pius threaten you?” I asked. “Did he frighten you?”

“No- it’s nothing like that at all. Pius wouldn’t try to hurt me, now.” Prudence sighed. “Lux said you wouldn’t understand.”

“Then make me understand,” I reached out and found I was close enough to touch her hand. “Did Pius give you a reason to trust him?”

“Pius saved me, Grace. We thought Lux had only healed me, but the truth is that I died in prison. Pius resurrected me.”

“How do you know?”

Prudence blinked, and then sharply pulled her hand away from mine. “What do you mean?”

“I only ask a question you’ve asked me a hundred times- how do you know what you know? You were in suffering in prison, you fell unconscious, and when you woke you were healed. Either Lux healed you after you passed out, or you died and Pius resurrected you. If you are unconscious, you have no way to tell the difference, but you know which one is more probable. What evidence did Pius give you to convince you otherwise?”

“He told me-“ Prudence said, and clutched her head.

“Pius and Lux are the ones who betrayed you. Even if you did die, and Pius resurrected you, he was still responsible for your death.”

“No- it was my fault for betraying Pius, but he forgave me,” Prudence whispered. “Pius will bring Hope back to me. I will be Hope’s guide- I will guide him to the crown…”

“That’s the reason Pius brought you here, isn’t it?” I said. “He wants you help him win Hope’s loyalty.”

Prudence dropped her hands and looked up. The glitter in her eyes died away from a moment, leaving a familiar, blank expression.

I reached out for Prudence’s hand again. “He’s hypnotized you, Prudence. I can help you. Give me your hand.”

“Stop! You’re hurting me.” Prudence shrieked and shied away from the window. I tried to climb closer, but something caught my foot, and I slipped from the tree branch.

My first lessons with Mercy flashed through my mind as I fell. She had tripped and pushed me to the ground over and over until I was covered in bruises. Now I hardly had to think as I hit the ground- my body dispersed the weight evenly, and I rolled to absorb the shock automatically. Still, it was a long fall, and it hurt. Badly.

I was barely able to roll away from the butt of Mercy’s staff in time.

“Prudence told you that you’re hurting her,” Mercy spat. “Leave now and don’t come near her again.”

“I was just trying-“

Before I could finish my defense, Mercy’s staff spun again. This time, it clipped my shoulder as I rolled away. It stung, but the pain was bearable, and I managed to stumble to my feet.

“So be it,” Mercy said.

Then Mercy attacked me with the full extent of her fury.


The Coven- Anti-Update

Good Morning, and Happy Holidays.

I hope everyone is enjoying the season. I certainly have been, so much so that I left town for a bit and haven’t been able to update The Coven. Now I’m desperately behind on Christmas obligations, so I probably won’t update again until the holidays are over.

Here’s to holiday cheer and holiday stress.

The Coven, Part LXXXVII

Read from the beginning.


As the night grew old and the young morning stirred, Hope’s heartbeat seemed to grow louder and stronger, until it seemed like a drumbeat on the battlefield. I grew too restless to sleep, and slipped out of the bed.

I crept through the infirmary, looking for some way of escape. I dare not try the front entrance to the infirmary again, knowing that if the guard caught me again I may be punished. Instead, I went to the back and found the brown door the monks used to access the rest of the cathedral.

The monks were dozing, and the door was unlocked. I opened the door and found myself in a narrow hallway, which fed into a wider hallway in short order. The wider hallway was made from rough-hewn grey stone, and was plain but for two rough wooden doors on the far side, and a set of double doors on the end.

I opened the two rough doors, but found nothing more interesting than a broom closet and the laundry. I almost opened the double doors with the same abandon, but I hesitated, and leaned cautiously forward to place my ear against the door. I heard muffled voices- the other side, it seemed, was guarded. My uninteresting adventure came to an abrupt end, and I hurried back to the infirmary before I could be discovered.

When I returned to the infirmary very little time had passed, and everyone was still asleep- or at least appeared to be asleep. There was a small patch of pale, purple light on the far side of the room, under a high window where the pre-dawn light filtered through the dirty glass. I stood under the patch of light and, turning my back to the room, pulled Miss Taris’s handkerchief from my pocket.

The handkerchief was embroidered with the symbol of del Sol, delicately worked in Miss Taris’s elegant style. When I unfolded the handkerchief, I discovered a silver pendant bearing the symbol of Wisdom.






“How long have you worked with Brother Domitian” Bishop Septimus asked, pacing the floor in front of the Bishop’s bench.

I was back in the courtroom, and the aside from the current witness, the scene was so much the same as the day before that is was as though no time had passed. The crowd pressed around me and my attorneys, and only Brother Amicus stood to guard me. Prudence had come in late again, and she stood in her former place across the courtroom, flanked by inquisitors.

Behind me, my Father sat with only a footman to guard him. I had spoken to my father before the court reconvened, and he’d assured me that he’d seen Lady Fairfax off safely before the sun rose.

Bishop Septimus had been verbally sparring with the latest witness, Brother Antonine, since court had reconvened. Brother Antonine, a strong-jawed inquisitor approaching middle-age, seemed to be reveling in the experience. The more agitated Bishop Septimus became, the more affable and relaxed Brother Antonine was.

“What do you mean?” Brother Antonine said smoothly. “How long did I work with him as an inquisitor, or how long have I worked with him in all?”

“Both!” Bishop Septimus ground out through clenched teeth.

“Well, in that case- I worked with Brother Domitian ten years ago at the Monastery of the Wood. Four years ago, Brother Antonine left the monastery to join the inquisition, and one year ago, I joined him as a fellow inquisitor. If you need time to work through the figures, I will wait,” he added with a smile.

“That is quite sufficient, thank you,” Bishop Septimus said.

“Brother Antonine,” Bishop Benedict interrupted in a mild voice. “With Brother Domitian’s assistance, were you able to able to extract a confession from any of the prisoners present today?”

“Brother Domitian and I only interrogated Lord and Lady Willoughby,” Brother Antonine said. “But no- we were not.”

“Did you see any evidence of magic?”

“No, but I believe Brother Severus did. Perhaps you should question him, instead.”

Titters rose from the Noble’s section behind me.

“Your Holiness, this line of questioning is getting us nowhere.” Brother Septimus said, sitting back on the bishops’ bench with a thud.

      “Mr. St. Roch,” Pius said, looking into the crowd toward us. “As this is your witness, perhaps it would be best if you questioned him.”

“Thank you, Your Holiness,” Mr. St. Roch said. He gathered his papers and pushed through the crowd until he stood next to the Bishop’s bench. The old Bishop on the end of the bench, who had been snoring, sat up, looking around in momentary confusion before he turned an incredulous eye on the commoner who’d had the temerity to come forward and stand beside him.

“If it please the bishops-” Mr. St. Roch said with with a deferential bow toward the bench. Then he turned to Brother Antonine, who stood under the dais. “Brother Antonine, in the course of your interrogations, were you ever obliged to protect the prisoners from excess damage inflicted by Brother Domitian?”

Brother Antonine stood in silence for a time. Then he lifted his head and fixed Mr. St. Roch with a withering glare.

“I do not think such a question is relevant. Brother Domitian is not on trial.”

“Indulge us, Brother Antonine,” Pius said.

Brother Antonine took a deep breath and swallowed, as though he were trying to force the words down. Then he said, “Yes.”

“How often?”

“I was forced to stop him from excessively damaging the prisoners twice,” Brother Antonine said shortly, and then clenched his jaw.

“Can you describe the instances for us?”

“The first time, Brother Domitian held Lord Willoughby’s head under water for an excessive amount of time. I stopped him because we were ordered not to kill the prisoners, and I was afraid Lord Willoughby would drown. On the second occasion Brother Domitian had tired of beating Lady Willougby, and he went toward her with a dagger, as though he meant to stab her in the lungs. I grabbed Brother Domitian from behind and disarmed him before he could.”

“Are you certain he was going to stab Lady Willoughby?” Bishop Septimus asked. “Is it possible he was only trying to frighten her into using her powers?”

“Lady Willoughby was facing away from Brother Domitian, and so could not see him approach with the blade. Brother Domitian, however, later explained that he thought the demon would be able to see the blade, even if she could not.”

Mr. St. Roch remained silent for a long time, standing like a statue even as everyone present leaned forward in anticipation. Then he spoke again.

“Were those the only instances you were forced to restrain Brother Domitian?”

Brother Antonine looked up to the dais, and Father Pius gave him a slight nod.

“I once left Brother Domitian to interrogate the Willoughbys alone, and he-“ Brother Antonine’s breath hitched, but he cleared his throat and continued. “He violated the sacred vows of the brotherhood, and forced himself on Lady Willoughby. When I returned and discovered what was happening, I had to intervene.”

“But earlier, you said there were only two instances where you had to intervene,” Mr. St. Roch said with a frown.

“You asked me if I had to intervene to protect the prisoners from ‘excess damage.’ In that respect, I only had to intervene twice. The only damage done to Lady Willoughby on this occasion was to her virtue, and a witch has no virtue worth protecting.”

Lady Willoughby’s face flushed, but she sat still and silent. Lord Willoughby reach around to take her hand once more.

“The point, however, is that Brother Domitian’s attack on Lady Willoughby was part of a pattern of excessive violence and disregard for duty.”

Brother Antonine rolled his eyes. “To my knowledge, Brother Domitian had never violated his vows before. Lady Willoughby must have used her magic to charm him.”

Up in the gallery, someone hissed.

“Where is Brother Domitian, now?” Mr. St. Roch asked.

“Brother Domitian is in the Monastery of the Woods, serving penance for violating his vows.”

“If he is serving penance,” Mr. St. Roch said slowly, “then it would seem that Brother Domitian’s superiors did not believe that he had been charmed, but rather that the sin was his.”

Bishop Septimus stood from the bench once more, and shouted, “who are you to question the motives of superiors in the church? Really, I cannot abide this pointless questioning any further.”

“Very well,” Father Pius said. “Brother Antonine, Mr. St. Roch, you may both be seated. Bishop Benedict, please see me for five minutes’ conference before we call the next witness.”






As Mr. St. Roch made his way back to his seat, Pius descended from his dais, and Bishop Benedict followed him through a door at the side of the room. In a matter of seconds, Bishop Benedict emerged again and gestured for Brother Lux and Bishop Septimus to follow him back into the antechamber. Soon the door shut behind all four, and whispers swept the courtroom.

The crowd pressed, shifted, and parted behind me. My father emerged from the crowd and approached me, pressing my hand with uncharacteristic tenderness.

“My daughter, that exchange must have been difficult for you to hear.”

“Yes- of course. It would be difficult to hear such things had been done to any woman, and in this case it’s even more difficult. Lady Willoughby has always been so kind to me.”

My father took his hand away, leaving a folded piece of paper pressed against my palm.

“Thank you- very much,” I said, clutching the paper.

Father leaned closer and whispered in my ear. “Mark my words; Pius will emerge from that room and announce an independent inquiry into the inquisition’s activities. I’d bet money that Bishop Benedict will lead the inquiry- he is the obvious new favorite.”

Father put a finger to the side of his nose, and then went back to his seat.

Soon the four emerged from the antechamber, and Brother Lux, instead of returning to where he’d stood between the Bishops’ bench and the dais, went to stand with the bulk of the inquisitors at the side of the courtroom. Pius ascended to the dais and spoke to the assembly.

“In light of these disturbing revelations, I am ordering an independent inquiry into the conduct of the inquisition, led jointly by Bishop Benedict and Bishop Septimus. The inquisition exists to protect the nation from sin and corruption; if we allow it to remain corrupt, there is little hope for the rest of us.”

He paused as the whispers in the courtroom died down, and then put up a hand as though to halt them.

“However, as Brother Antonine rightfully stated, such matters have no influence on whether the accused are innocent or guilty. Let us proceed with our inquiry into the truth of that matter, and not allow these troubling revelations to prejudice our judgement.”

Father Pius sat and gestured to Brother Benedict, who called Brother Severus forward.






“I’m not sure I understand,” Bishop Benedict said patiently. “Lord Willoughby confessed to the crime of witchcraft, but he never spoke?”

Brother Severus was a pale, thin young man, who fiddled with the edge of his crimson robe as he stood under the dais.

“Lord Willoughby was mute,” Brother Severus said. “He only communicated to the inquisitors through gestures.”

A murmur rose through the courtroom.

“I’m sorry,” Bishop Benedict said. “You are subject to the litany of truth, so you must believe what you say is true, but surely you, like everyone else, heard Lord Willoughby speak yesterday.”

Brother Severus looked out at the crowd, pulling a loose thread on his sleeve.

“I am as confused as you are,” Brother Severus said. “At least- I was when I heard Lord Willoughby speak to his wife. He never spoke to any of the inquisitors or his fellow prisoners. I made inquiries among some courtiers, and they confirmed he never spoke at St. Blanc, either.”

“Even so- you got a confession?”

Brother Severus dropped his frayed sleeve and stood a little taller. “I am certain he meant to confess. He nodded very plainly when I asked if he was guilty.”

Bishop Benedict paced slowly to the prisoner’s box.

“Lord Willoughby, if you meant to confess, why didn’t you speak?”

“If I did not speak, then you must assume I did not mean to confess,” Lord Willoughby said without hesitation. He had not let go of Lady Willoughby’s hand since Brother Domitian’s testimony, even though Chastity had been obliged to lean back and pull against he chains to give them room. His eyes had taken on some of the steel that had been in Lady Willoughby’s eyes, and he looked at Bishop Benedict unflinchingly as he answered.

“Then why did you gesture as though you did?”

“I hardly knew what was happening at the time. I was distressed by what had happened to my wife, and I hated myself for not being able to save her. I was almost consumed by that self-loathing.”

“Why didn’t you ever speak?”

“Why would I speak when anyone might twist my words against me? It is better to remain silent- the same rule applies in prison and at court.”

A small laugh rose from the crowd, which both Bishop Benedict and Lord Willoughby ignored.

“Why do you speak, now?”

“Circumstance has forced me to break my silence. Brother Lux performed a final act of violation against my wife; he cut out her tongue. Now I must speak for her.”

A horrified gasp rose from the crowd.

Bishop Benedict spun back to Brother Severus, his white robe sweeping the stone floor.

“Why was Lady Willoughby’s tongue cut out?”

“We did so to protect the inquisitors and guards. We had evidence that Lady Willoughby could see into people’s hearts, and charm them with her tongue,” Brother Severus replied. “It’s the same reason we cut out Lord Frey’s eyes- we knew he could charm people with his gaze. Captain Goode can curse people with his hands, and Lord Willoughby-“

“Yes?” Bishop Benedict said shortly, his patience seeming to wear thin. “Lord Willoughby seems to have been left unscathed.”

“We attached bells to him because he can make himself disappear. This was the evidence I found that led to his confession. After his wife- after the incident- he went missing. I searched for hours- I had all the other inquisitors search every corner and crevice for him- but none could find him. Then, just as though nothing had happened, he was in his cell once more.

“This was evidence enough that he and the others posed a real danger to the guards, so Brother Lux took precautions.”

“I see.”

Bishop Benedict turned and paced back to the Bishop’s bench. “Do any of you have questions for our witness?”

Bishop Septimus stood. “How many men assisted in your search for Lord Willoughby.”

“Four- and -twenty,” Brother Severus replied.

“I have no further questions,” Bishop Septimus said.






The hands on my watch ticked their way toward five o’clock, and I shifted uncomfortably in my seat as I replaced it in my pocket, tired and cramped from sitting, but there was no time to recess for tea. The crowd behind me seemed to be growing restless- rustling and mumbling amongst themselves. I could not make out the crowd’s words, but they felt dark, like the rumble of thunder in the evening air.

“Brother Gaius, please come forward,” Bishop Benedict directed.

Brother Gaius came forward and stood under the dais. He was tall and wizened, with a beard that was so long that his girdle had been tied around it. He did not look at the crowd, but he nodded to Bishop Septimus as he came forward, who nodded cordially in return.

“It is good to see you again, old friend,” Bishop Septimus said. “How have you been?”

“I am in good health, thank you,” Brother Gaius replied.

“I am glad to hear it,” Bishop Benedict gently interrupted the conversation. “Please, let us get to the business at hand. State your name for the Bishops.”

“I am Gaius, inquisitor first class and Brother of the Circle of Order.”

“That is an impressive title,” Bishop Benedict said. “You must have been an inquisitor for many years.”

“I have been an inquisitor for twenty years. I might have been given the title of Grand Inquisitor if our former High Priest had not met his untimely end at the hands of these villains.” Brother Gaius looked over to the Prisoner’s box.

Father Pius lifted his eyebrows, but otherwise did not react to Brother Gaius’s grumblings against his choice of Grand Inquisitor.

“What is your current role in the inquisition?”

“I am an investigator. While the young pups flex their muscles, trying to extract confessions by brute force, I collect clues and search for hard evidence of witchcraft. For the last couple of months, I have been combing the Frey estate and Willoughby Lodge for evidence.”

“What evidence have you found?” Bishop Septimus asked, sitting forward with an eager light in his small, watery eyes.

“From the time I entered Rowan Heights, which is the Frey estate, it was obvious that the house was a den of demonic activity. Captain Goode and Miss Chastity Evans, who were residing in the house at the time, attempted to keep out the inquisitors, and Miss Evans herself- a woman!- fought several inquisitors single-handedly with an unnatural strength. During the fight the library combusted, and its contents were destroyed before any of my men could examine them. The library’s destruction occurred at an auspicious time, and I regard it as highly suspicious.

“Still, I was able to find documents in Lord Frey’s study that show a connection between Lord Frey and the forces of darkness.”

“Please, come forward and present them,” Brother Septimus said, taking a pair of spectacles from his robes. Brother Gaius went to him, opening his satchel.

“The first is a stack of letters, each addressed to Lord Frey and signed by Prudence Goode. While nothing heretical is written in the letters, they demonstrate a very strong attachment between Lord Frey and a woman who was later condemned as a witch. The language contained the letters is intimate, confirming the rumors that Lord Frey had taken the witch as his mistress.”

“I wish to object,” Mr. St. Roch said, standing. “It is true that Prudence Goode was arrested for witchcraft, but she was not condemned as such. She died in custody before coming to trial.”

“Then the Gods themselves have condemned her,” Brother Gaius said with a sneer.

“I have one piece of evidence I would like to submit, as well,” Mr. St. Roch said, ignoring Brother Gaius. He stepped forward and bowed low first to Father Pius, and then to Bishop Benedict. “It is a piece of evidence that will be useful to you in your inquiry into the inquisition’s activities.”

Mr. St. Roch looked around, as though to see if anyone would stop him. When it was clear no one would, he presented the letter Brother Gaius had written to me. “Upon hearing how her husband’s estate was being managed, and how the staff and tenants were being treated, Lady Frey wrote directly to Brother Gaius to inquire about the estate. The letter she received in return was an insult to Lady Frey’s station and her honor. Brother Gaius states very plainly that, though he was using the servant’s labor, he would not assist their families in any way, nor pay their wages. Lady Frey offered to pay the servant’s wages herself, but Brother Gaius refused Lady Frey access to her husband’s assets, leaving the poor tenants, who relied on the Frey’s charity, without any assistance.

“Even so,” he pulled out a second letter, “Brother Gaius continued to collect rent and tax in Lord Frey’s stead. This is a letter from the steward of Rowan Heights, Mr. Poe, detailing the situation.”

“I have never heard such nonsense,” Brother Gaius said. “Would you have me pay the servants of a witch for the privilege of being interrogated? I am not in the business of providing charity; I am an agent of justice.”

Brother Gaius turned to Bishop Benedict. “Have this lawyer removed from the courtroom.”

Bishop Benedict, however, did not reply. He read the first note with a grave expression, and then passed it to Bishop Septimus. Bishop Septimus glanced at the note, and then tossed it aside.

“I see nothing so insulting in this letter,” Bishop Septimus said. “I see nothing untoward in Brother Gaius’s handling of the Frey estate, either. It is perfectly legal to freeze an imprisoned man’s assets.”

Bishop Benedict picked up the letters and placed them in his pocket. Then he nodded to Mr. St. Roch, who returned to his seat.

“Let us return to the matter at hand,” Bishop Septimus said. “What other evidence have you gathered against Lord Frey, Brother Gaius?”

“This is the most damning evidence of all,” Brother Gaius said. Gingerly, he drew forth a sheet of snow-white paper. “I have in my possession a document bearing the High Priest’s seal, and though it is an ancient decree, it has remained unaltered through the centuries.”

“What is it?” Bishop Septimus asked, standing to see. The other Bishops rose from the bench, and gathered around to look as well.

“It is the Frey family’s darkest secret. According to this document, signed by High Priest Domitian I, the Frey family line has been condemned to hell since the time of the Ancient War. There is no path for redemption; only eternal servitude to the true church. One son must produce at least two heirs, and one son must dedicate himself to the brotherhood each generation. No one tainted by Frey blood can ever ascend to heaven. This is the punishment decreed by the Gods themselves because the first Frey would not fight against the Ancients.”

He pulled a second paper out of the satchel, and I thought perhaps Brother Gaius was going to present the Goode family condemnation, as well. I was unable to hear his next words, however, because the crowd in the gallery began shouting.

“Confirmed! It is confirmed!”

“Lord Frey was born a witch.”

“He is one of the fallen six- he is the son of Asmodius.”

“Can it be- someone born from the Eagle’s line?”

“It is!“ someone else cried. “Lord Frey is the heir of Uriel!”

I glanced around the Noble’s section. All around people were standing up, muttering among themselves, and looking around in confusion- everyone except Miss Taris, whose eyes were shut, and whose lips moved as though in silent prayer.

Then, all at once, a deafening cheer boomed from the Gallery. “All hail the Eagle! All Hail the rightful king!”


The Coven, Part LXXXVI


Read from the beginning.


Hope and I talked in whispers until his voice dropped, and from the rhythm of his breathing I could tell he had fallen asleep. I had been holding his hand as we spoke, and though every instinct I had screamed in protest of the act, I slipped my hand from his, taking care not to wake him.

He shifted a little, and then his breath fell back into its steady rhythm. I watched him sleep until tears came to my eyes and blurred my vision. Here it was- real evidence that I had in some way changed his fate. At least one spell had been broken.

I wiped my tears away and kissed his cheek. I turned away from him then, feeling as though I were being pulled in two directions at once. I knew I must stay with Hope, who was battle-scarred yet still facing his biggest fight yet, and yet I knew I must go to Prudence and Celeste, to make certain that Pius and Lux had not broken their oath.

Circumstance resolved my conflict, in the end. I managed to sneak past the guards who stood around the entrance to the infirmary, but when I reached the annex the guards were many, and an iron portcullis had been drawn down, barring the door. I could find no way inside, and was obliged to return to the infirmary. When I arrived, the inquisitor who guarded the entrance spotted me, and pushed me back inside with a curt order not to leave without permission again.






“Lady Frey, how good it is to meet you again!”

Miss Taris’s unnaturally bright voice interrupted my reverie as I scanned the courtroom, looking for Prudence.

I had been roused before the sun and taken from the infirmary so that the inquisitors could prepare their prisoners for the courtroom, and though I’d asked Brother Amicus to take me to the annex, he’s insisted that it would be much more convenient to bring me to the courtroom before the crowds gathered. People had already begun to gather, though the crowd was much thinner than it had been the night before, but there was no sign of Prudence.

“Lady Frey, are you well?”

I turned reluctantly away from the doors to see Miss Taris, standing before me in her snowy white gown and looking radiant. She had lost all of the pallor she’d shown at del Sol- her cheeks and lips bloomed with pink, and her blue eyes sparkled as though with dew.

“I am,” I said. “And you seem to have recovered since yesterday; I have never seen you look so well as you do now.”

“I am remarkably well,” she said, and she leaned down to grace both of my cheeks with a kiss as though we were old friends reunited.

As she straightened I could see that her reed-like figure had lost all of its awkwardness. She moved her formerly stiff limbs with an easy grace. She no longer wore her spectacles, but her sparkling eyes showed no sign of fatigue or strain.

“I come bearing good will from del Sol. Abbess Joy sends you her love, and the sisters all send their well-wishes.”

“I do miss them. Was everyone well when you left del Sol?”

“Oh yes- del Sol continues as peacefully as ever. I was grieved to leave, but I have decided against taking orders. I believe I may do more good for the world elsewhere.”

She turned and smiled significantly at Brother Amicus, who stood guard nearby, and then turned back to me.

“The sisters miss Celeste, and of course Sister Jubilee. Where is Sister Jubilee, by the way?”

“Sister Jubilee is with Celeste, now,” I said. “I came early because…”

Before I could formulate an excuse, I caught sight of my father, who was making his way up the aisle with Lady Fairfax. Miss Taris followed my gaze.

“Oh of course- you needed to speak with your father. Pray do not let me interrupt. I only wanted to give you this for luck.”

She pressed an embroidered handkerchief into my hand, and then leaned forward to whisper in my ear.

“All of Wisdom’s people stand behind your husband; he will be free.”

The she straightened again and turned, nodding briefly to my father before gliding past to her seat.

Father approached me. As I slipped the handkerchief into my pocket, I could feel something hard tucked inside of it.

“Well, Grace- I hope you are sufficiently prepared,” Father said gruffly. “What a circus this is! The crowds are backed up all the way to 2nd street, and all the events that occur are shouted from pressman to pressman in a chain until they take on the most outrageous character. Some have said that young Miss Taris died of fright when she saw the ‘witches,’ and still others say that Bishop Septimus has put all the prisoners to the rack before our very eyes, trying to extract a public confession.”

“The rumors will only agitate the crowds,” I said. “I wish you would both go to Willowbrook for your safety.”

“I wouldn’t miss the conclusion of this for the world. I must not rely on any witness but my own,” Father said. “But, Lady Fairfax, perhaps you should go. Smith can travel with you, you know- there is no one more trustworthy- and I will tell you everything that has happened when the trial is over.”

Lady Fairfax faltered, looking from my father to raised dais at the front of the courtroom and back again.

“If the trial as important as you say, then I hate to go,” she said.

“The importance of this trial is where the danger lies,” I said, lowering my voice. “The crowds will only grow more restless, and when the verdict is delivered, no matter which way it goes, conflict may erupt.”

“Then hadn’t I better go home to Winter Estates?”

My father shook his head. “Your estate lies too close to Sancti’s borders, and I think Sancti will join the conflict soon enough. Willowbrook is outside the lines of conflict, now that Bridon City is no longer the capital. Plus, if the need arises, you can take sanctuary in the Cathedral Lux, which is the most well-fortified place in the country.”

Lady Fairfax’s eyes went wide. “Do you really believe it will become so dangerous?”

My father only shrugged. “I don’t know. If I’m estimating the scale of powers properly, the conflict should be brief but intense.”

Lady Fairfax shuddered.

“I would not recommend going back out today,” Father continued. “Stay to witness the trial today, and set out early tomorrow from Bridon place, traveling along the avenue to the south. Take Smith and Greene- the footman- with you, and travel post-“

“Post!” Lady Fairfax said, as though shocked.

“Your carriage will draw too much attention,” Father said. “My servants will be ready to receive you at Willowbrook, Lady Fairfax, so do not fear. Wait there until I return for you.”

Lady Fairfax nodded, her face white with fear. I stepped forward and took her hand, speaking gently.

“I do agree with my father that you should go, but don’t let his rough way of speaking frighten you. Things may not be as bad as he states; this is really a precaution more than anything else.”

Lady Fairfax nodded. “Thank you for everything you’ve done, dear Grace, and may the Gods protect you and your husband. When I think of everything you’ve done for your father, I am quite ashamed of how I behaved at court.”

      “What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean all the scheming I went through to repair your relationship with your father, of course. I was so dismayed when I saw the coldness- even hostility- between you. I knew, of course, that your father was eager for a grandchild, so I thought that if you were to give him one, everything would be well between you.”

I sighed. “Lady Fairfax, did you start the rumors at court?”

Lady Fairfax’s cheeks colored a little under her powder. “Your husband seemed so much in love, and you were so lately married, that I didn’t see any reason why the rumor wouldn’t soon be made true, if it wasn’t already. What was the harm in reaping the benefits of the happy event as soon as possible? What was the harm in trying to help things along?”

“You were the one who placed the drugged incense outside our rooms, weren’t you?”

“The incense was perfectly harmless, I assure you. It is a recipe my grandmother concocted- like the witchbane potion. Please forgive me. I only had the good of the family in mind.”

Lady Fairfax hung her head, looking so uncharacteristically humble that my anger melted entirely.

“I know your intentions were good. I forgive you. In the future, come and speak to father and I about our problems, instead of using deceit to solve them.”

“I will,” she said. Then she gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, and sat beside Father.

The crowd was growing thicker, and I was soon joined by Mr. St. Roch and Mr. Sutton, the latter of whom happily relayed that he’d completed his commissions from the day before. He had found Chastity’s sister as well as reported, and he had taken the opportunity of being amongst the crowds to gauge where public support lay. I listened to his report, still scanning the crowds but seeing no sign of Prudence.

The Bishops assembled, Bishop Benedict led the opening prayer once more, and then the prisoners were led into the courtroom.

The prisoners appeared quite different from the previous day, though it was due much more to their new, white robes than the effect of a single decent meal and sleep in an infirmary cot. The robes were loose enough to hide their emaciated frames, and the sleeves were long enough to hide Captain Goode’s handless arms. Even Lord Willoughby had been dressed in the plain white robes, though bells still hung around his neck and clanked against his heavy chains. Hope’s eyes had been wrapped in fresh bandages, and Lady Willoughby wore a white cap, as though a woman’s shorn head had been deemed just as unseemly.

Captain Goode looked sharply at me and then leaned in to whisper something to Hope, turning his gaze to the opposite side of the room. I followed Captain Goode’s gaze and saw Prudence seated at the far end of the noblesse section flanked by two inquisitors. She gave me a short wave, which I returned before the court was called back to order.

“Sister Happiness, please stand before the court,” Father Pius said.

Sister Happiness came forward, and Brother Lux bade her stand under the Dais, facing the assembled Bishops. As she repeated her oath from the previous day, I took out a pencil and two sheets of paper, dedicating the top sheet to notes on the proceedings and the second to a letter for Prudence.

I finished the note to Prudence in short order and folded it into a tight square. Then I turned my attention back to Sister Happiness. The Sister looked very small under the dias. She wrung her hands together, and her eyes darted here and there among the crowd.

“State your name for the bishops,” Brother Lux said.

“I am Happiness, Sister of the Abbey de Lune,” she said in clear, steady voice.

“What is your relationship to the accused?” Brother Lux continued.

“I was Lady Willoughby’s teacher when she was a young girl. At the time she still went by the name Miss Patience Fairchild.”

“How long did you tutor young Miss Fairchild?”

“Lord Fairchild brought her to be raised at the abbey when she was five years old- shortly after her mother died. She stayed with us until she was fifteen.”

Bishop Septimus waved his hand, as though he were trying to brush Brother Lux aside, and then he spoke. “How would you characterize Miss Fairchild, Sister? Was she a good pupil?”

“She was an indolent and defiant child. I was obliged to use the strap on her almost daily, and she still would not attend her studies. The only subject she excelled in was music, though she was often saucy toward her music instructress. As Miss Fairchild grew older, she exhibited a voluptuous nature, so I wrote to her father to advise he get her a husband as soon as possible.”

“When you say ‘voluptuous nature,’ what precisely do you mean?” the old Bishop wheezed from the end of the bench.

“Miss Fairchild was only interested in earthly pleasures- music, dance, food, and wine. She did not attend her prayers, and was more apt to read novels than books of an instructive nature. Her healthy appetite assisted her precocious growth, and she grew so strong that she quite disregarded the sting of the strap, or even the cane. When I wrote to Lord Fairchild, I advised him that she would need a husband with a strong hand manage her.”

Sister Happiness seemed to have lost all of her nervousness as she spoke. Her voice took on a hard, authoritarian tone, and she turned a grim eye toward the prisoner’s box more than once.

“Did you ever meet Lord Willoughby?” Bishop Benedict asked.

“I met Lord Willoughby twice. The first time I met him was when he brought his petition to marry Miss Fairchild to the bishop of the Cathedral Lune- the now late Bishop Julian. Lord Fairchild forbade the match, so the petition was denied. Then, a year later, Lord and Lady Willoughby were married at the Cathedral de Lune, and I attended.”

“Within that year, I take it, Lord Fairchild had relented?”      Bishop Benedict continued.

“He had,” Sister Happiness said, “though I believe he was not in his right mind when he did so. He was ailing, and he seemed somewhat addled. His daughter, under the auspices of caring for him, dictated everything to Lord Fairchild. I am convinced that Lady Willoughby took advantage of her father’s poor health to trick him into signing the marriage contract.”

“What lead you to believe that Lady Willougby had tricked her father?” Bishop Benedict asked.

“How could I believe otherwise?” Sister Happiness snapped back. “How could anyone who had seen Lord Fairchild the year before believe otherwise? Lord Fairchild’s contempt for Lord Willoughby’s weak and decadent nature would have been enough reason in itself to forbid the match, but there was a long-standing enmity between the Fairchild and Willoughby families that allowed for no possibility he would ever lend his consent to the marriage.”

Sister Happiness’s voice rose almost to a shout, but then her pale cheeks colored slightly, and she lowered her voice again.

“Not that- not that enmity is something to be encouraged. But in this case…”

A low murmur rose in the gallery. Bishop Septimus rose from the bench and cleared his throat, as though to silence the crowd.

“Do you have any idea what sort of ‘trick’ Lady Willoughby used to manipulate her father?” he asked.

“It must have been something dark and unnatural,” Sister Happiness said, her voice dropping dramatically. “Lord Fairchild’s health was good and his will was like iron when he forbade the match. I believe nothing short of a demonic influence could have overcome him.”

The murmurs grew louder, and people eventually began to shout over each other, some calling out “lies! Lies!” while still others called “hang the witch!”

“Silence, please.” Father Pius hardly seemed to raise his voice, and yet it carried over the noise. “Justice will be served. The trial has only just begun.”

When the crowd quieted he turned to Sister Happiness. “Many strong men have been felled by illness, poison, or vice. Why so you think that demonic influence was so necessary to overcome Lord Fairchild?”

“Lord Fairchild showed no signs of illness when he forbade his daughter’s marriage. He was a pious man, and in full command of his household- all except her.” Sister Happiness turned from Father Pius to Lady Willoughby, an ugly sneer twisting her lips.

“Defiant, slatternly, and voluptuous- sin is in that girl’s very nature.” Sister Happiness took a step toward Lady Willoughby, whose face grew red. “I’ve heard rumors of her dealings at St. Blanc- how she has descended into decadence and degeneracy, behaving like a whore. Everyone knows what kind of woman she is. Everyone feels sorry for her milk-sop of a husband. Her association with this coven only confirms what I’ve always suspected. She belongs to the demons, and the demons may have her.

“Lady Willoughby is a witch.”

Sister Happiness thrust her finger at Lady Willoughby as the last notes from her rant echoed through the courtroom.

The crowd was silent, many of them staring at the scene with hungry eyes. Lady Willoughby’s composure had broken. Tears were visible on her red cheeks before she turned her face away from the crowd.

Then, through the rapt silence there came the tinkling of bells.

Lord Willoughby lifted his head to look at Sister Happiness, not with an expression of fear or bewilderment, but with unmistakable anger. He leaned forward, reaching around Chastity who was chained next to him, to take Lady Willoughby’s hand.

Lady Willoughby turned back, looking at her husband with wide eyes as she clutched his hand.

“My dear Patience,” Lord Willoughby said in a low, clear voice, “pay no attention to this bitter old woman.”






“Sir Nighthawk’s testimony was a bit underwhelming, wasn’t it?” Hope whispered later that evening.

I was sitting beside him in the infirmary, strangely exhausted after the day’s events, even though I had only sat and watched the proceedings. In my hands I held a tightly folded piece of paper- a note that Prudence had passed back to me shortly before the court recessed and the inquisitors had led her back to the annex.

I clutched the note like a talisman, as though its presence could ensure me of its author’s safety. Thus warded, I was able to keep my tone optimistic- even cheerful- when I spoke to Hope.

“Sir Nighthawk was certainly not credible,” I said.

When Sir Nighthawk came forward, it was clear that he had prepared to testify that he had not seen Captain Goode at camp the night of Father Sauris’s death. Upon questioning, however, Sir Nighthawk immediately conceded that he had confused the date, and that he actually had seen Captain Goode briefly at dinner the night of the full moon. He went on to inform the bishops that he was suspicious of Captain Goode because Captain Goode rarely drank with the other officers in taverns, and that he had been promoted too early for Sir Nighthawk’s liking.

“He sounded like nothing more than a jealous fool. I wonder why he was called to testify at all?” Hope said.

“Sir Nighthawk probably sounded more credible before he was put to the litany of truth,” Captain Goode, who was listening nearby, replied. “He does not have much ability on the battlefield, but Sir Nighthawk is usually well-spoken and sensible.”

“The litany does more than prevent lies,” Lord Willoughby said in a tone so soft it commanded everyone’s attention. “It brings forth the things most people hide. Sister Happiness wears a meek, humble face in public, but today she showed us all the viciousness she usually reserves for her pupils.”

Lady Willoughby nodded firmly in agreement.

“Lady Willoughby, I am awed at how well you comported yourself today under such slander,” I said. “To anyone with discernment, your dignity was far more impressive than all Sister Happiness’s vicious noise.”

“I agree. Now we must hope that those who sit in judgement have any discernment,” Chastity added.

“I have yet to see any evidence that they do,” Captain Goode said.

“I wonder what we would learn if my brother were subjected to the litany of truth,” Hope whispered in a voice so low that only I seemed to hear.






The night wore on, and the room grew quiet as, one by one, the occupants fell asleep. The lights were all dimmed but for a single lantern, by which I poured over Prudence’s note.

The note was written hastily, and yet the handwriting was unmistakably Prudence’s. The words, however, seemed not to be entirely hers, as though some if it had been dictated to her.


Dearest Grace,

      I am sorry I could not sit with you today, but when I arrived in the courtroom the crowd was already so thick that I was forced to find seating wherever I could. Rest assured I am well, and though Celeste is bored, she is as healthy as ever and is very well protected. The inquisitors that guard us are all loyal to Pius, and they seem ready to guard us with their very lives, just as Pius promised while we were at del Sol.

      I am still filled with anxiety, of course, but I have faith that the trial will go well, and we will all be reunited in the end-


      There was the sentence that filled me with such anxiety. Faith had never been a favorite word for Prudence. She had always put more stock in evidence, in analysis, and in action. Perhaps, I thought, this was a time of such suspense, and where so little could be done, that faith was the only thing she had to sustain her. As the letter continued, it was clear that Prudence was still very much herself in other ways.


      If not for your absence, I would be quite content with our arrangements in the annex. But your absence is not a trifle, however many books or cups of tea or warm rugs we are given. It has been only one night, yet I already miss your conversation. I have the strangest longing to start an argument with you, the subject of which does not matter in the least. I need a foil to make me feel as though I can still struggle against something.

      The last line was so thoroughly Prudence that it brought a smile to my lips. I finished the letter, re-read it, and then folded it again, mulling over the contents.

As the paper rustled, Hope stirred a little and sat up.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I did not mean to wake you.”

“You are still awake, Grace?” he asked. “But- you often used to stay up nights, didn’t you?”

“My habit has only grown worse over time,” I admitted. “I was just reading a note from Pr- from Sister Jubilee. She and Celeste are safe and well, if a bit restless. They send their love.”

“When you get the chance, convey my love, as well,” he said. “Grace…”


“Stay up with me. Tell me- tell me everything you can. Not about the trial or the estate, but about… life.”

      I folded the letter and placed it back into my pocket. Then I slipped into the cot beside him. Hope’s body was ice cold, though the room was warm and close, so I pressed our bodies together, took his hand, and began to talk.

I told him about the seashore at del sol, where the air was filled with the sound of crashing waves and the call of gulls. I told him about the tide pools where Celeste had discovered a tiny, populated world. I told him about Celeste’s discovery of the strange phenomenon of the tides, and her journey to uncover its mystery. I told him about warm evenings by the fireside in the calefactory, where Prudence and I had read books over tea, connected in our silence. I told him about the journey from del Sol, and the hampers that Abbess Joy had laden on us for our journey so filled with bounty from the sea that it had gone half-uneaten.

I whispered for a long time, uninterrupted, into the still night. When I spoke of the attic at Bridon Place, and the kingdom of books I’d discovered in my youth, Hope’s hand went slack in mine. His breath grew soft and steady in sleep.

I leaned close and pressed my head against his chest. His breast bone jutted through his robe, and his ribs were hard ridges against me, but though he felt so light and fragile, I could hear his heartbeat, strong and steady in my ear. That primal sound, more sacred than the most powerful liturgy, held me fast. I barely dared to breathe, lest I miss a single beat.



The Coven, Part LXXXV

Read from the beginning.

“I don’t like this.”

The noise of the crowd as people filled the galleries; the noise of bishops as they hurried to and fro, gathering materials and shaking hands of colleagues who sat on the long, elevated bench; and the noise of the noblesse who filed into the seats behind me made it almost impossible to hear Prudence. I could discern what she’d said, however, because I’d anticipated she would say it. I felt the same way.

Brother Amicus had escorted Prudence and I into the courtroom early and placed us in an isolated section, where he stood guard with another inquisitor. Mercy was not present because she guarded Celeste, who had been placed in the Cathedral annex away from the chaos of the crowds.

“I should not have let Lux take her there,” Prudence said. “And yet- where else could she have been guarded? She cannot be exposed to this.”

      Despite our isolated position, the crowd seemed to press in on me. My father and Lady Fairfax nodded in acknowledgment before sitting just behind me, and then a small commotion began and the crowd became even thicker. A man was shouting over the noise of the crowd, trying to push his way through the sudden swarm of inquisitors that surrounded him as he approached me.

“Let me pass- you cannot keep me from my client,” the man growled.

“Mr. St. Roch! Please, Brothers, do let him through,” I said. “It’s alright- he is my attorney. Oh! And Mr. Sutton, too.”

The inquisitor on my right side raised his eyebrows skeptically for a moment, but then he stepped aside and gestured to the other inquisitors to allow the men through.

“This is chaos, Lady Frey,” Mr. St. Roch said as he bustled past the inquisitors. “The crowds are spilling out into the streets and down the block. Two fights have already been broken up. Who knows how dangerous things will get before this is over?”

Mr. Sutton, who had followed, leaned close to whisper to me.

“Strange enough, it was not the inquisitors or the Prince’s guard who broke up the fights.” Mr. Sutton subtly gestured with his head to the rough gallery railing above us, where a row of men dressed in black stood facing the crowd. One of the men turned slightly to view the rest of the courtroom, and I saw a glint of silver on his chest- the symbol of Wisdom.

I looked around and saw several more black-clad men standing at the back of the section reserved for the noblesse. They were less obtrusive than the men in the gallery, but they still stood in a cross-armed pose like guards, watching the crowd as they filed in.

A chill went down my spine when I saw them, but I turned my attention to matters closer at hand.

I whispered to Mr. St. Roch as quickly as I could, telling him everything Chastity had told me about Brother Domitian and Brother Antonine. Then I passed Mr. Sutton two notes I had written that morning- one was a letter instructing him to withdraw funds from my account to assist for the construction of the second airship, and the second was a letter for Chastity’s sister, along with instructions to help her family in whatever way was possible.

Mr. Sutton nodded cheerfully and immediately plunged through the crowd to undertake his commissions. Mr. St. Roch, for his part, wrote down the information I’d given him, and rearranged his notes.

Then silence hit the room like thunder.

The crowd had stopped talking all at once. Even the shuffling of feet and chairs stopped, and all eyes turned to the side door from where Father Pius entered.

Father was dressed in nothing more than his customary white robe, without any jewel or adornment, with his hair unbound. He walked unattended to the front of the room and then ascended a set of white marble steps toward a dais that was raised so high that it was level with the top of the gallery.

When he reached the top of the dais everyone in the crowd rose to their feet as one.

Pius gave the sign of order, and then took the throne-like seat on the dais.

Everyone sat.

“Many blessings upon you on this beautiful spring day,” Father Pius said, smiling benevolently on the crowd. Then he looked down on the bishop’s bench. “Bishop Benedict, please do us the honor of leading the opening prayer.”

A bishop on the far right had already risen as though to give the prayer, but Pius gestured to a bishop in the center, who immediately stood and raised his voice in song.

“Thank you, Benedict. You did very well for your first time to lead,” the bishop on the right said gruffly once Benedict had finished. “Now- I move that our first order of business be to determine whether the entire coven,” he spat the word, “has been arrested. We have five, but isn’t six the traditional number of witches?”

“I assume, Bishop Septimus, that if the charges are true we caught the sixth almost two years ago- Prudence Goode,” Bishop Benedict replied.

“They must have replaced her since she was caught,” Septimus said, waving this aside.

“If I may interrupt,” an old, white-haired bishop wheezed from the far left. “I have done much research on the subject of late, and I have concluded that a coven powerful enough to take down a High Priest must have exactly seven witches. Seven is, numerologically speaking, the most powerful number.”

“Twelve is the most powerful number,” the bishop next to him objected. “It is the number of full moons in a year.”

“No no- my research is quite clear. Seven is the number of archangels.”

“Five is the number of major demons,” Benedict interjected in a calm tone. “It would make more sense that a coven would honor demons than angels. Perhaps we have caught one too many.”

More bishops added their opinions, and the ensuing argument lasted for several minutes- bishops shouting over each other to be heard. I watched in dismay. I didn’t know whether to laugh of cry when I thought of the careful case my attorney and I have been constructing.

“Did you really expect anything but a cadre of fools?” My father asked me when I discussed the scene with him later. “The Bishops have constructed their theology in such a way that they may twist the truth to their own ends at any time. Now they’ve been ensnared by their own trap.”

Pius remained silent on his dais, far above the fray. His eyes glittered maliciously even as he watched the scene with a placid smile. He allowed the argument to go on for some time, and then he finally spoke.

“The inquisitors are still investigating claims that there may be other witches,” Pius said in a clear, strong voice. “If evidence for other witches arises during this trial, then the inquisitors will, of course, take the evidence into consideration. In the meantime, I believe it is best that we examine those already accused.”

The bishops fell silent, and Bishop Septimus nodded in agreement. Then Pius gestured to the bailiff, and the prisoners were led into the courtroom.

A murmur rose in the courtroom as the prisoners entered. The prisoners’ emaciated forms were clearly visible through the sack-cloth they all wore- except Lord Willoughby, who limped in, bent and broken, wearing patchwork and bells. All of the prisoners were chained together at the waist, and their hands and feet were all bound to heavy weights except for Captain Goode, whose arms were tied at the elbow to his waist.

Hope was at the front of the line, and the bailiff held his bound arms as he led him to the box and assisted him in sitting. When Hope faced forward a collective gasp arose. The bandages had been removed from Hope’s face, and two harsh, red gashes crossed his face where his eyes should have been. When Captain Goode faced forward, his bandaged, handless arms were fully visible to the court.

“They have maimed them,” a voice cried from the gallery.

“It’s what they deserve,” a voice replied from the circle of nobles. Then a scream rang out, and one of the ladies sank into a faint.

“Brother Gaius, please assist any ladies who require it,” Pius ordered one of the inquisitors. “Escort them to the antechamber if they are too overcome to stay.”

The inquisitor bowed, and then went amongst the nobles. When he helped the Lady who had fainted to her feet, I heard Prudence gasp slightly beside me.

“Miss Taris,” Prudence whispered.

The lady was indeed Miss Taris, who had returned to court and was dressed not in del Sol’s robes, but in a simple, white gown.

“I will be fine,” Miss Taris said in a trembling voice. “Pass me my salts, if you please. I will stay and witness the Gods’ justice.”

“Such a courageous young woman,” someone near Lady Fairfax whispered.

“Silence, please,” Pius said, though he smiled at Miss Taris. Then he beckoned to Brother Lux, who stood among the other inquisitors.

“Brother- please read the charges,” Pius said.

Brother Lux raised a scroll and read in a clear, high voice. “Lord Tranquil Willoughby, Lady Patience Willoughby, Miss Chastity Evans, Captain Justice Goode, and Lord Hope Uriel Frey; you are all hereby charged with conspiracy against the holy office, willful contract with unclean spirits, the use of unholy magic and the summoning of demons, and the murder of our former High Priest, His Holiness Father Sauris. If you confess to your crimes now, before the council of bishops and His Holiness Father Pius, the Gods may choose to have mercy on your souls.”

The entire courtroom fell silent- each spectator seemed to hold their breath in anticipation. Hope, Captain Goode, and Lady Willoughby all wore expressions of stone. Chastity seemed to sink under the heavy chains that bound her, but she did not speak.

Lord Willoughby raised his bowed head enough to peek out at the crowd, and I shifted in my seat a little, hoping to catch his eye. It worked- his eye fell on me, and I gave him an encouraging smile.

His eyes widened fearfully, but he lowered his head once more and did not speak.

“So be it,” Brother Lux said. “We will hear the evidence against you. The witnesses are as follows: Sister Happiness of the Abbey de Lune- character witness against Lord and Lady Willoughby; Sir Nighthawk, character witness against Captain Goode; Brother Severus, who found evidence of magic during interrogation; Brother Gaius, who searched Rowan Heights and will present evidence against Lord Frey and his servant Miss Evans; Lady Grace Frey, who lived amongst the accused at the time the crimes took place; and Mrs. Charity Auber, the accuser.”

Brother Lux turned to the crowd. “If any assembled have borne witness to any of the alleged events, or know the names of any relevant witnesses, please speak now.”

Mr. St. Roch stood, and the crowd murmured amongst themselves.

“Your Holiness and Brother Lux,” Mr. St. Roch said with a bow. “I humbly request you call Brother Antonine to the stand.”

Bishop Septimus spoke before Pius or Lux could respond. “I have read the inquisitor’s reports; Brother Antonine found no evidence worth examining.”

“If it please the court, I wish to present the evidence that Brother Antonine and his disgraced partner, Brother Domition, did not find,” Mr. St. Roch continued. “Given the methods these men employed in their interrogation, I believe the lack of evidence they gathered is quite relevant.”

“Ridiculous,” Bishop Septimus scoffed. “What is the point of examining evidence not found?”

A scattered laugh rose from the crowd, but Mr. St. Roch stood silently and kept his eyes fixed on Father Pius.

Father Pius gazed back at Mr. St. Roch with unshakable serenity. “Mr…”

“Amity St. Roch at your service,” he said with another bow.

“You wish to advocate for the accused, Mr. St. Roch?”

“I do.”

“This is a matter of sacred truth,” Bishop Septimus said. “Not a matter of technicalities for lawyers to quibble over.”

“I only wish to present evidence that may have otherwise been overlooked. I leave the ultimate judgment of truth in your capable hands.”

“Let ‘em speak,” someone yelled from the gallery.

Bishop Septimus turned to look up at the gallery, as though trying to see who had called out. All of the prisoners, save Hope, looked up as well, wearing expressions of surprise.

“Order in the gallery,” the bailiff called.

“Thank you, bailiff,” Father Pius said. Then he turned back to Mr. St. Roch. “I admit that I am as curious as the crowd must be to hear the evidence Mr. St. Roch has to share. I will call Brother Antonine as a witness. Brother- are you here?”

Pius gazed into the crowd, and a scarlet clad man stepped away from the line of inquisitors who stood guard.

“I am, Your Holiness.”

“Good. Witnesses, come forward to swear your oaths and be subjected to the litany of truth.”

Prudence gave my hand a quick squeeze, and then I stood.

An inquisitor stepped forward and took my arm, navigating me past the crowd of people to the front of the dais. I stood between an elderly Sister in white robes and the scarlet-clad Brother Antonine. Mrs. Auber, all in black, was on Brother Antonine’s other side, and Brother Antonine stood tall with folded arms as though to guard Mrs. Auber from me.

Brother Lux stepped forward and made the symbol of order over our heads, and then Father Pius stood up, looking like a giant upon the platform, and began to sing.

I had often heard Father’s voice raised in anger, but his voice sounded as though it came from another person entirely when it was raised in song. It was, as I would have guessed, powerful enough to fill the entire courtroom, yet there was also a surprising gentleness in its timbre, and an almost sad quality to the way it rose and fell that brought a chill to my spine and tears to my eyes. The song had a profound effect without the assistance of the litany’s magic.

It was obvious from the crowd’s reaction, however, that he had fully used the litany’s magic. I could hear many in the crowd weeping openly. Beside me, Sister Happiness fell to her knees, crying into her hands.

I placed my hand gently on her shoulder. “Sister,” I whispered. “Brother Lux approaches to take our oaths. Can you stand?”

For a few moments she did not respond, but then she took my hand and, trembling, allowed me to help her stand. Brother Lux smiled at me before he turned to the Sister and, gently but firmly, led her through the oath.

The Sister still wept as she spoke, but her voice did not so much as crack, as though she was compelled by an outside force to speak. Then Brother Lux made the sign of Order over her head once more, and turned to me.

I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes, and gave my oath. I had thought my voice would quaver as I spoke the lie, but it did not. It was, I realized, a lie sincerely told.

“I, Lady Grace Frey, Countess of Coteaux, solemnly swear before Order, Chastity, and Reverence, and under the witness of Gods and the witness of men, to speak the truth in my testimony upon the destruction of my mortal soul. So shall it be.”

Brother Lux nodded as though in approval, gave the sign of order, and passed to the next witness.






The court recessed, the Bishops dispersed, and the prisoners were led away long before Brother Amicus deemed the crowds thin enough to allow Prudence and I to move about safely. He and a fellow inquisitor flanked Prudence and I as we walked out the side door, through the cloisters, and to the Cathedral Annex.

When we arrived, Brother Lux was already awaiting us outside the squat, square building wearing a smile so apologetic that my sense of danger spiked.

“The crowds on the roads all around here are thick, and will remain so as long as the trial continues. It would be pointlessly foolhardy to convey you and Celeste back and forth to Bridon Place.”

Brother Lux turned to Prudence. “I’ve made arrangements for you to stay the night with your charge here in the annex. Do you or Celeste need anything from Bridon place?”

“I-“ Prudence turned her veiled face toward me for a moment, and then turned back. “There is a white trunk in the nursery- it contains all of our important things. Oh! And please bring the patchwork quilt on Celeste’s bed. She cannot sleep without it.”

Brother Lux nodded, and then turned to me expectantly.

I took a few moments to consider. I had a valise under my arm, filled with all of the papers, letters, and documents I had anticipated I would need to present the court. To these I had added any items I may need in an emergency, and a set of spare clothing for Hope. I had even cut a slit into the valise’s lining, and inside I’d placed Pius’s damning love letter to Lux and the rough map I’d made of the Cathedral dungeons. If I was not allowed to return to Bridon Place, the other things I’d placed inside the trunk would be lost. Still, if I could not return to Bridon place, It was probable I would have little need for a heavy trunk.

Finally, I shook my head. “No- I have everything I need.”

“Are you certain?” Brother Lux said, raising his eyebrows in surprise.

I nodded.

“Very well.” He gestured to the inquisitor who held Prudence’s arm.

The inquisitor bowed slightly and left to perform the errand.

“Come with me, Sister. Celeste is waiting inside,” Brother Lux said. “Brother Amicus- if you would be so kind, I believe there is something Lady Frey would like to see before she retires.”

“You are separating us?” Prudence said sharply.

“Not for long. Come-“ Brother Lux said, and before I could I object, he swept Prudence inside.

I moved to follow Prudence, but Brother Amicus stepped swiftly in front of me, blocking the door. He let loose a nervous laugh and rubbed the back of his neck apologetically.

“I’m sorry, but you will be glad you came with me. I promise.”

I could tell that from his uneasy stance and his wiry yet boyish frame that I would be able to best Brother Amicus easily in an altercation. Still, I could not fight every inquisitor in the place to get to Prudence, and I would gain nothing from the attempt. I pushed down my anxieties regarding Prudence and Celeste, reminded myself of Pius’s vow not to harm them, and acquiesced.

Brother Amicus led me back through the cloisters, but instead of taking me through the large doors that led to the courtroom, he led me around the side of the building and down a set of cellar steps.

“Bishop Septimus did not like the way the prisoners appeared,” Brother Amicus explained as we went. “He demanded that they be made well enough to continue the trial, and not further shock the ladies.”

The steps led to a wide, open room lined with neat cots covered in white linens. Brown-robed monks bustled around, attending to the prisoners who were chained to the cots by their feet.

Each prisoner had a tray of gruel and bread propped up in front of them. One of the monks attempted to assist Captain Goode with his dinner, but Mrs. Goode was present, and appeared to be arguing for the right to assist her son herself. Another monk stood beside Hope’s bed, attempting to lend his assistance.

“Leave me. I can manage to get the spoon to my face,” Hope growled angrily.

“Please,” I said, stepping forward. “Allow me.”

The monk, a tall, thin man with a mournful face, shook his head, but I persisted.

“I am Lady Frey- his wife.”

The monk sighed and stepped back, handing me the spoon.

“Grace-“ Hope said. “They allowed you to come. Oh! But you must not look.”

Hope covered the unbandaged scars with his hands, but I put the spoon down and gently prized his hands away from his eyes.

“It is alright- I’ve seen them already. I was in the courtroom.”

Hope sighed and allowed his hands to drop. “I didn’t wish for you to see the scars so closely. There were ladies in the courtroom who fainted at the sight of me.”

I looked closely at the scars, which were angry red gashes that extended all the way from eye to temple. Where his eyes should have been were sockets that seemed to be fused shut into lumps of red and white flesh, but there was no open wound, and no sign of festering or fever.

“It does not look so bad- not frightening at all,” I said. “There is only one lady who fainted, Miss Taris, and she has lately gained a flair for the dramatic. No doubt she was carried away by the- the circus of the courtroom.”

“Miss Taris was present?” Hope said in a tone of surprise.

“The whole of Aeterna was present. Your wife was quite correct to call the proceedings a circus, and we are the main act,” Captain good interjected before turning to his mother. “Please- I do no need to be petted like a child. Let the Brother do his job and assist me.”

Mrs. Goode clucked her tongue impatiently, but she turned to pace among the cots.

I turned back to Hope and placed the spoon, bread, and crockery within his reach and, after guiding his hand to each item to show him where it was, left him to eat on his own.

“Are you alone, Grace?” he asked.

“Yes- Celeste and Sister Jubilee are in the Cathedral annex. It is away from the crowds, and they are with Mercy, so for now they are safe.”

Hope could not see the anxiety in my eyes when I remembered Prudence being swept away from me at the annex, where Celeste and Mercy were waiting alone. I raised my voice in false confidence, and the effect seemed to satisfy Hope, who sighed in relief.

“I am glad you are all safe, for now. I would rather you were all far from this circus, but I imagine you would not go.”

“I cannot- not while you still need my help. I know that Sister Jubilee shares my views.”

“An admirable sentiment,” Mrs. Goode said, pacing toward us. “I am not surprised to find that you are brave; you seem an unusually sturdy and plain-spoken young woman. I am surprised that Sister Jubilee has agreed to stay, however.”

“She is a dedicated Sister from del Sol. Why would this surprise you?” I asked.

“She seems a good sort of woman,” Mrs. Goode said, her voice lingering on the word good. “But she is very shy. She always hides her face behind that thick veil, and she has not spoken aloud to me once.”

“You may have only seen her during times of silent contemplation,” Captain Goode said. “Many sisters observe such rituals, even away from their abbeys.”

“Perhaps,” Mrs. Goode said. “And it is plain that Lady Frey trusts Sister Jubilee. I wonder, however, how much Lady Frey really knows about Sister Jubilee’s past.”

“There are no secrets between us,” I said.

Mrs. Goode shot me one of her searching looks, and I met her gaze unflinchingly. After a few moments, she spoke again.

“Yes- I can see you believe it,” she said. “Whether you’ve been led astray is another matter.”

She shot a significant glance toward Hope, and then turned back to me. “You should have not formed such an intimacy with the Sister, Lady Frey. It is unnatural.”

“Mother!” Captain Goode snapped.

“Never mind. Everything will work out as Wisdom wills.”

Mrs. Goode nodded politely to me and went back to attend her son. I felt my blood chill as I watched her go, and within me grew the conviction that Brother Lux had separated Prudence and me on purpose.


The Coven, Part LXXXIV

Read from the beginning.


Did Hope look stronger since I’d seem him last, or was it only my imagination? His cheeks were still sunken, his eyes covered in bandages, and his clothes and skin covered in grime. Yet he seemed to stand a little taller, and to be steadier on his feet as Brother Lux led him into the room.

Beside me, Prudence stiffened and clutched my hand, holding me fast in one spot just as I wished to go to him.

“Hope- I am here,” I called.

“Grace,” Hope said. “Oh! Brother, take me to her.”

Before Brother Lux could respond to the request, I dropped Prudence’s hand and went to him. Brother Lux stepped aside, and I took Hope in my arms.

“Each time you come, it is like a dream,” Hope said. “I can hardly believe you are real until I touch you.”

“Then your dreams have been good?” I asked.

Hope laughed. “Oh yes- a free mind can escape any prison or hell. Thank you for teaching me this.”

He drew me nearer and kissed the top of my head.

I would have let myself fall into the bittersweet sensation of his embrace, had I not been keenly aware of Prudence’s presence in the room. I could almost feel her gaze burn into my back as I embraced her former lover- the father of her child- and provided him comfort that she could not.

I took a deep breath and broke the embrace.

“We are not alone,” I said. “I’ve brought a dear friend with me. Her name is Jubilee. She is a sister from del Sol, who has been an invaluable friend and companion to me since I was in seclusion there.”

Having given my line, I stepped back to allow Prudence to come forward.

“I have come to offer prayers of redemption from del Sol,” Prudence said in a trembling voice.

Hope’s mouth formed an “O” of surprise and he stepped forward, feeling for Prudence with his hands outstretched until she stepped forward and took his hands in hers.

“Your name was…”

“Jubilee,” Prudence said. “It is an almost forgotten word for a time of salvation and liberation.”

“Jubilee-“ Hope whispered as though in wonder. Then he cleared his throat and spoke. “You have come to a dismal place, Jubilee. Some may even say it is a dangerous one- for young ladies, I mean.”

“I am not so young- not as young as I once was,” Prudence said. “I have lived in safety and seclusion for too long.”

Though Hope’s blind eyes were covered in bandages, and Prudence’s face covered with a veil, they stood face to face as though they could look deeply into each other’s eyes. As I watched, my heart trembled with a sensation I could not discern as either joy or pain.

“You are brave to come here,” Hope said. “Is it really worth entering this hell, just to pray for someone as wretched as I?”

“I am a sister of del Sol; it is my duty to bear light into dark places. When I heard of your plight, I could not-“ her voice caught. “I could not stay away.”

“You are kind as well as brave,” Hope said. “But your prayers are wasted on me, for I have been condemned from birth. Could an angel of mercy really forgive someone like me?”

“I do not believe you are beyond forgiveness. We are all sinners- myself more than most, for in my past I have abandoned those that I loved. Yet… I still hope for forgiveness.”

Prudence’s last words were spoken like a question, and her back stiffened slightly, as though she were awaiting judgement. Hope, however, shook his head and clutched Prudence’s hands even tighter.

“I’m certain that someone so kind- so brave- only acted according to necessity. Those you loved should have protected you. I am not an angel or a clergyman- I have no power to forgive the sins of others- but I suspect that you do not require forgiveness.”

“You are too good. I-“ Prudence stopped and took a shaky breath. There must have been tears beneath her veil, but her voice was steady when she spoke again.

“I wish I had more to give, but all I can offer is my prayer. Grace-“

I felt as though I had been watching Hope and Prudence from afar, but when Prudence spoke my name I was called back to earth.

“Please, Grace, join us in prayer,” Prudence said.

She dropped Hope’s right hand and offered her left hand to me. I stepped forward, taking Prudence’s delicate hand in my right, and Hope’s strong, sinewy hand in my left. Something clicked into place as I did, as though by taking my place in the little circle, I had completed a puzzle.

Prudence raised her voice in song, and Hope and I fell into harmony with her.


Warmth and sunlight surround you,

      Alleilu. Alleilu.

      Strength of earth beneath your feet,

      Alleilee. Alleilee.

      Luna guide your way to truth,

      No blade cut you, nor cord bind you,

      May this song to heaven lift you,

      Alleilu! Alleilu!


      How right it felt, to stand and lift my voices with those I loved most in the world! How the music melted away my petty fears and jealousies! My heart no longer trembled- it danced.

Was this, I wondered, the feeling of magic? No- when the song ended the spell did not break; there was no spell to break. What I felt was real- the warmth of their hands, the strength of their voices, and the knowledge of every battle we had endured and won. What could I possibly have to fear with Hope and Prudence beside me?

Long after the litany’s last note faded, the three of us stood, hand-in-hand, in perfect silence. Then Brother Lux spoke.

“I am sorry, brother. Your time is up.”

Was it my imagination, or did Brother Lux fall back when I looked up at him?

“Hope- the battle begins tomorrow,” I said as though Lux had not spoken. “Is there anything you need me to do in preparation, or any message you wish for me to convey?”

“Give Celeste my love,” he said. “Tell her- tell her I look forward to seeing how much she’s grown.”

“Oh! I will. I will.” I said, and I brought his hand to my lips, kissing it again and again.

“I will meet you on the battlefield, my brave little soldier,” he said to me. Then he turned his face toward Prudence.

“Pray for us, Jubilee.”

“I will, and I will be watching over you.”

“Then I have a warrior to protect me and a guardian angel to watch over me. I am not wretched after all; I am blessed above all men.”

Hope let loose a shaky laugh, and then he pulled both Prudence and I into his arms. The three of us laughed and cried and embraced until the guards pulled Hope away.






“You acted far too familiar with Lord Frey,” Brother Lux scolded. “We told you to behave as a sister- just to pray and say nothing else. If you are discovered, it will be your own fault.”

“Did you hear something, Grace?” Prudence said, turning her veiled face to me. “I think perhaps the carriage wheels need oil.”

“I didn’t hear anything at all,” I replied.

“Do you forget you are here at my indulgence?” Brother Lux said, his voice dropping into the cadence and timbre reminiscent of Pius. “Give me one reason why I should not send you back to del Sol directly.”

“You’re the only one who really knows the reason I’m here,” Prudence said. “I suspect that the reason hasn’t fully played out, yet.”

“You won’t remain here a minute longer than necessary,” Lux promised.

I was about to retort, but the carriage suddenly jolted as though it had hit a bump in the road.

Brother Lux groaned and rapped the front window. “Slow the carriage; there is no hurry,” he called to the coachman.

There was no response, and the carriage continued as before.

Brother Lux sighed. “I know the pain I’ve caused you, Prudence, and maybe that knowledge has made me too lenient. I promised not to harm you while you were under my protection, but-“

The carriage jolted again.

Brother Lux rapped on the front window once more. “Reign in the horses,” he called.

The carriage, however, rattled harder, and the dim lanterns that were visible through the side window passed with even greater speed.

I stood and went to the front window, pulling the curtain back to see the coachman, slumped over on the box seat with a black arrow jutting out the side of his neck.

“The coachman has been shot,” I said. “The carriage is out of control.”

Brother Lux sat up and turned to look out the window.

“Stop,” he whispered, stretching out his hand, and the carriage jerked to a halt as the horses froze in place.

Brother Lux put his finger to his lips and gestured for Prudence and I to back away, and then he opened the door.

We had stopped on the darkest part of the street, but in the moonlight I could see 5 archers and three swordsmen crowded around the vehicle with their weapons at the ready.

Lux grinned, and the men all collapsed to the ground.

“Damn you,” a man’s voice growled, and I saw a cloaked figure emerge from the alleyway. The cloaked man approached the carriage, stepping over the prone bodies of the attackers. As he passed them they stirred and started to stagger to their feet.

“Damn you, whore of the usurper,” the cloaked man spat at Brother Lux. He tossed his hood back, revealing long, straight hair and a haughty face full of harsh, angular features. The man raised his hand as though to cast a spell.

The archers, now on their feet, drew back their bowstrings, and then let loose a barrage of arrows.

Lux’s eyes flashed white and the arrows stopped abruptly mid-flight- as though they had struck an invisible barrier- and then clattered to the street.

The cloaked man narrowed his eyes in concentration, and the archers nocked another round of arrows. This time, when the archers shot, one arrow got through the invisible barrier and struck the side of the carriage.

Prudence gasped.

Lux’s eyes continued to glow, growing so bright that I could no longer look at them directly. The archers fell to the ground once again, and even the cloaked man fell to his knees. He cried out as though in pain, and clutched an amulet that hung on a cord around his neck.

“So- you reveal yourself,” the man gasped, “Wisdom, the bastard God.”

“And you, angel of…” Lux trailed off and narrowed his eyes at the pendant the man was clutching. “Angel of Reverence, is it? Tell me, has your God awakened?”

The man- the angel- clenched his jaw, but Lux made a gesture and the man spoke again through gritted teeth.

“Not… yet…”

Lux smiled.

“If Reverence does awaken, please be so kind as to give him this message: He is too late.”

The cloaked man collapsed to the ground.

Brother Lux went around to the front of the carriage, where he removed the arrow and healed the driver’s wound. The driver sat up, shook his head as though clearing it of sleep, and took the reins.

“Take us to the house as quickly as the horses will take you,” Lux ordered.

Then he got back into the carriage. As he was closing the door, I caught a glimpse of red hair at the alley entrance.







The carriage seemed to fly the rest of the way home. When we arrived the house was quiet, and Celeste was wrapped in her colorful patchwork quilt, fast asleep.

Mercy sprung to her feet when Prudence burst into the nurse’s room, but upon recognizing us, she dropped her fighting stance and yawned.

“You scared me. I thought you were an intruder.”

“Don’t go back to sleep,” Prudence snapped. “There may be an intruder here already, and you need to stay on guard. Brother Lux is searching the house.”

“We were attacked on the road,” I explained to Mercy. “The attackers had a holy mage with them- a powerful one, from what I understand.”

“He was immensely powerful. He managed to tear at least two holes in Pius’s defenses- two arrows breached the shield and struck the carriage.”

“You seem to have come through the battle unharmed,” Mercy said, eyeing me approvingly.

“I didn’t have a chance to enter the fight. Lux- well, Pius I suppose- took down five archers, three swordsmen, and a holy mage with hardly a gesture.”

“Pius? But I’d thought that Lux was with you,” Mercy said.

“Lux was physically present, but it was Pius’s power,” Prudence explained. “Pius has put us all under his protection. The house and carriages are all surrounded by his- his aura, for lack of a better word.”

“You can see this magic aura?” Mercy asked, her eyebrows raised as though she were impressed.

“I can’t see the magic itself. Instead, I see the boundary between magic and non-magic. I can see distortions in reality where magic is present, and when magic is removed my vision clears. Sometimes I can even see something of the magic’s intent by the way it distorts reality. For instance, the magic that guards this house will wrap any uninvited guest in a fog of confusion, so that they will pass to the other side of the street without even noticing the house is here.”

“I see. That explains why we haven’t been overrun with political malcontents and assassins. I’ll be able to sleep a bit better, now.”

“No- we must not sleep. There are two people who can break through the barrier, and one of them attacked us tonight.”

“I believe that both parties were present during tonight’s attack,” I corrected.

“You mean you saw- damn it!” Prudence swore. “I knew she was dangerous.”

“Who do you mean?” Mercy asked.

“I saw our inept stalker- the redhead,” I told Mercy.

Mercy groaned and put her hand to her head. After a few moments she nodded as though to herself and began to pace the perimeter of the room.

“The attackers may not try to come after us,” I said. “They only seemed interested in Lux.”

“Assume everyone is out to get you,” Mercy said sharply. “You can never be paranoid enough. We should all stay in this room for the night. Celeste is the most vulnerable, and therefore the most likely target for anyone with ill intent.”

Mercy turned to Prudence. “You must watch the magic barrier. Alert Lady Frey and I with this hand signal if you see a breach,” Mercy held up a fist. “Don’t make a sound that may alert the enemy. I will defend Celeste while you and Lady Frey hold off their attacks, you using magic and Lady Frey using physical attacks. I believe you have magic resistance, Lady Frey?”

“Yes, I do. I can break their spells if I concentrate, as well.”

Mercy nodded approvingly. “Concentrate on using defensive spells and maneuvers. The goal is escape. The back nursery door to the servant’s stairwell is the quickest exit.”

After Mercy concluded her orders there was a knock on the door, and Brother Lux entered.

“The house is secure for now,” he said. “Father Pius is sending two inquisitors, Brother Amicus and Brother Julius, to come stand watch. If anything occurs, they will summon him here.”

Mercy folded her arms and glared up at Brother Lux.

“Do you have any objections?” he asked coolly.

“Only that I have to guard against two more threats,” she replied.

“Father Pius could not have sent two brothers who are more honorable, though I don’t expect you to believe me. Regardless, you may take any precautions you deem necessary.”

He turned to Prudence. “Tomorrow, we will discuss how to best guard Celeste during the trial. I will see you in the morning.”






When Brother Lux had gone, and the two inquisitors had taken their watchposts outside the house, Mercy retreated to the nursery where she could act as a final defense for Celeste while she watched for Prudence’s signal through the peephole.

Prudence and I sat together in the nurse’s room, back to back, with Prudence watching the outside wall for breaches in Pius’s defenses while I watched the inside door. I held her right hand so I would know if she made her signal, but I also drew strength and comfort from her presence.

We were quiet for a time, but our silence no longer marked distance between us. Rather- we were content with each other’s presence. However, as the night wore on, and my eyes grew weary from watching, I was glad when Prudence broke the monotony by speaking.

“It’s strange- I’m no longer afraid of what happens next,” she said.

“Fear is useless. When we must, we will act,” I agreed.

“I’m not just speaking about the trial or our escape, either.”

“I know.”

We were quiet for a little while longer. A pale, purple patch slowly coalesced on the wall opposite the window as the dawn approached.

“No matter who he chooses,” I said, finally putting words to the unspoken thought, “or if he cannot choose, and we must decide-”

“No matter what, you will always have my love,” Prudence said.

“Forever,” I promised.

Prudence and I fell into silence again as the patch of light went from pale purple to pink, and remained so until Mercy emerged from Celeste’s room.

“It’s time to get ready,” she said.


The Coven, Part LXXXIII

      Read from the beginning.

      Dearest Grace,

      Peace is sometimes difficult to maintain, but for now it endures.

 The Abbey del Sol remains a sanctuary from the chaos of the world, and though the Pilgrims have begun to whisper discontent among themselves, they do not often speak their grievances aloud. The sisters continue to work, heal, and pray for the good of all, and few visitors can maintain political strife among such overtures of goodwill.

      The borders of del Sol remain peaceful, as well. The islands continue pristine and untouched, and the merchants and fishermen in the shipyards are most concerned with the practical work their businesses require. Trade is good, and new business ventures are springing up everywhere. In fact, I believe our mutual friend, Mr. Filius, has written to convey news of the enterprise he has entered into with Sir Silas. They plan to use the ships you admired at del Sol to engage in trade with the wildland natives. It is an enterprise that shows much promise, and I believe it will succeed, for the newly-formed company’s equipment and business plans are sound.

      Every day, amidst the signs of impending trouble, I see omens of hope. A child will soon be born at del Sol- an event which is always celebrated as a blessing. The cathedral will be decorated, and we will sing the litanies of life as we did the day you were born.

      Though you are not here with me, you are always in my heart. Please remember me and the sanctuary I keep for you. Though you cannot see me, I have been keeping watch over you in my own way. My prayers are with you, with your husband, and all your friends. May the imprisoned be freed and the sick healed, and may you have the strength to endure until the day of liberation comes.

      All my love,




I looked up from my letter, and saw that Prudence was still reading the letter that had been enclosed in the packet addressed to Sister Jubilee.

She bit her lip as she turned the letter over and continued to read. Then, after a time, she folded the letter again with a sigh.

“I’m certain Abbess Joy is having more problems with the pilgrims than she would ever admit, but at least we can trust that our most important secrets have remained hidden.”

“I would love to know how,” I mused. “Mr. Filius writes that the first airship is complete, and he believes it is ready to undertake the south sea passage to the wildlands. But how could they have tested the Maelstrom without notice?”

Prudence took a stack of paper from my desk and moved closer to the hearth.

“They must have moved the construction project from the north field to the Ancient Temple,” Prudence said as she sat by the hearth and spread the papers around her. “If Trusty paints the canvas black, like he did with the balloon, he should be able to test the airship at night without attracting notice from anyone on shore, and the Ancient temple is far enough from the merchant bay to avoid the notice of any other ships.”

“Then when the ship is the complete, the Ancients will be able to flee immediately. I must send funds as soon as possible.”

I sat near Prudence, carefully avoiding the papers she had stacked around her, and continued. “If the ships are complete before the trial concludes, then perhaps we can use them to flee, too- to take Hope from Pius’s grasp.”

Prudence looked up from her paper as though surprised, but then nodded.

“Yes- we must escape with Hope as soon as we can. It will be difficult to get to del Sol, though. Remember that I spent a decade trying to evade the inquisition on my way there- and I began my journey at Rowan Heights, which is very close. Inquisitors guard the paths to del Sol carefully to prevent fugitives from reaching sanctuary, and the inquisition is even more active than it was when I was running.”

“Perhaps the inquisitors will be distracted,” I said. “There is a lot of civil unrest, and when his plans come to fruition, Pius may need every available inquisitor to keep order in town.”

“Perhaps, but this may just be wishful thinking. Pius has made his plans carefully- he must know we will try to flee.” Prudence sighed and put her paper down, closing her eyes.

“All roads lead to del Sol…” she sighed. “I’ve heard rumors of a hidden path to del Sol, but I was never able to find it. Perhaps we should ask Raven how she traveled here.”

“Does this mean you’ve begun to trust her?” I asked.

“No, but we have few other options.” Prudence said. She picked up her paper once more, wrote a few lines, and then tossed the paper into the flames.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m working on my grimoire. I performed some experiments at del Sol while you and Honest were trying to capture starlight, but I have hardly had time to examine my results, let alone discuss them with you. It’s maddening to turn the results over in my head without my book here to permanently record my ideas. I must write everything down, memorize what I’ve written, and then immediately destroy it.”

“Then that means you are the grimoire,” I said.

Prudence smirked, and then beckoned me closer. “Come here, then, and I will make you a copy. I did promise to share my results, after all.”

I crept closer, though the stacks of paper, and settled down at Prudence’s side. She placed a clean sheet in front of us and began to speak in a careful, authoritative voice, as though imparting a lesson to Celeste.

“My experiments focused on the only physiological difference I was able to find between ancients and humans- the strange cells that reside in our blood, which are star-shaped and silver in humans, and black in ancients. First, I cast a simple spell on the human cells while examining them through a microscope, to see if they would react. I observed a pattern of oscillation in the cells, the frequency of which was proportional to the intensity of the magic performed.”

She sketched a rough chart on the paper in front of us, upon which she traced a standing wave pattern.

“My guess is that the ancient cells did not react to magic,” I said.

“The ancient cells did not react to weak magic,” Prudence confirmed. “They did react to stronger magic, but interference patterns appeared in the oscillations.”

She traced another wave pattern beneath the first, this time with low peaks interspersed throughout.

“I took as long an observation as I could while maintaining the spell, but no reasonable pattern emerged- the interference emerges seemingly at random. This suggests that the ancient cells are not dead, as you first thought- just different.”

I nodded thoughtfully. “This seems consistent with what I’ve discovered about my abilities. I’d be interested to see if I could affect the ancient cells using the techniques I’ve learned.”

“What I wouldn’t give to have a microscope with me,” Prudence sighed, tossing the paper into the flames. She watched, her expression inscrutable as the paper came to life, flailed, and then died.

“Prudence-“ I finally ventured in an attempt to end the unnatural silence.

“I’m sorry. Ask questions- distract me from thoughts of tomorrow. I wish I could close my eyes and open them on the sunrise, but I know sleep will be impossible.”

“I had not thought to ask, but to go to the cathedral now-“

“Please don’t ask. There are a hundred fears regarding the cathedral and what I will see inside that I wish to avoid. Distract me.”

I nodded. “How do you think the cells’ oscillations are connected with magic?”

“I’ve only reached a tentative conclusion; much more testing is needed. My current hypothesis is that the oscillation that human cells demonstrate is a caused by resonance between them, which may provide a medium of communication. Usually, there is a barrier between the blood and the brain, but guild research suggests that sound waves may assist with breaching this barrier- why not the cell’s oscillations, as well? I hypothesize that a mage learns to manipulate the resonance through prayers or spells, and can therefore create illusions that their subjects believe they experience, hypnotize their subjects, read their subjects minds, and otherwise experience the ‘oneness’ I’ve often felt I experienced while performing magic.

“Since the cells reside in our very blood, it is possible that manipulating the cells’ oscillations may cause the cells to manipulate our bodies in turn. This may explain Lux’s healing magic, or Chastity’s supernatural strength. This hypothesis is much more tentative, however- I will need to examine how human cells react to such spells in order to tell.”

“It seems a reasonable hypothesis,” I said, “but in that case, how can magic affect physical objects? Pius, for example, once enchanted a lute to play alone, and it was no illusion- I could hear the lute play until I touched the lute and interfered with the spell.”

“I was able to perform a preliminary experiment to explain such a spell,” Prudence said. “Usually, when manipulating a physical object, the mage will need to either touch the object or draw a sigil on its surface, so I thought that perhaps we were contaminating the objects with the human cells when we did so. To test this, I stole a quill from your room, touching it only with a clean handkerchief, and took several swabs that, when viewed through the microscope, proved to be clean. Then I enchanted the quill to write alone and then took another swab. This sample proved to be full of cells that all resonated with the same frequency as my own blood sample when I cast the spell.”

“Pius did strum the lute before he let it play alone,” I recalled. “Have I ever told you, Prudence, that you are brilliant?”

“Not often enough,” she said with a grin that quickly faded. “My hypotheses may be wrong, however. I have planned a whole course of experiments, but I can’t perform them. It is frustrating to be unable to work so soon after I’ve had a breakthrough, especially considering my work had been stalled for over a decade. I’ve spent enough time assisting others with their research- now I need assistants and subjects of my own. I need to test angels and demons to see if they contain the same cells as humans, and if their cells resonate the same way. I need you to help me generate alternative hypotheses and to test the null hypothesis on your ancient blood. I need-“

Prudence stopped and sighed, tossing the rest of the paper into the flames all at once.

“I need to stop being self-absorbed, when so many of those I love are suffering the worst kind of earthly hell.”

“You aren’t,” I said. “If engaging in your work will help you, then do so. You will still be here in the morning.”

“Maybe, but it still seems a foolish sort of escapism. I can’t distract my problems away.”

“Then tell me-“

“I can’t,” Prudence cut me off. “It’s foolish, but I can’t. I’m afraid I won’t be able to walk through the cathedral doors, tomorrow, even with you by my side. I’m even more afraid that I will be able to walk through them.”

She watched the paper curl into black cinders, and the look in her eye grew far away once more.

I made a few attempts to get her back, to re-engage her in her work, or to reassure her about the next day’s visit, but each time I spoke, she only gave cursory responses and fell back into brooding.

I could provide no more distractions. We sat silently, side by side, as the dawn approached.






“Remember, Prudence- don’t speak until Lady Frey has introduced you. We must give the prisoners your alias before we surprise them with your voice.”

“Of course,” Prudence said distractedly.

She was staring out of the carriage window, and though she wore her thickest veil, I could tell her mind was as far away as it had been in the early morning hours.

Prudence had come out of her stupor long enough to prepare for our journey, and to attend Celeste. Prudence and I had both watched Celeste carefully for any sign of anxiety. Celeste, however, had not shown a trace of fear for her mother’s return, even when we stood from the breakfast table and put on our wraps. When Brother Lux arrived, she even smiled and wished him a good morning.

I worried about Celeste, who was left alone in the large house with no one to comfort her and only Mercy to protect her. Prudence may have been occupied with the same worries, but I could not tell. Once we’d left Celeste, Prudence had barely spoken.

“The wood does not extend far,” Brother Lux said with a tolerant air as Prudence continued to stare out at the trees. “We will re-emerge on the St. Blanc road, soon.”

Prudence did not respond, and Brother Lux did not speak to her again. As he’d promised, we soon emerged from the wood, and shortly after drew up the Cathedral door.

Prudence exited the carriage on her own, and though she took my hand as we made our way up the cathedral walk, she did not tremble. When Brother Lux left us in the stone room near the dungeon entrance, she continued to clutch my hand and bowed her head as though in prayer.

The awful silence stretched for a long time- even longer, it seemed, than it had the last time I’d visited the Cathedral. Then, finally, the door creaked open, and Brother Lux brought in the first set of prisoners.






Prudence and I stood to meet them, and Prudence’s hand did tremble briefly before she dropped my hand. Two waiflike creatures entered the room behind him, one significantly taller than the other, but both thin, shorn, and dressed in sackcloth.

The taller prisoner was bound in huge lengths of heavy chains, cuffed to her hands and ankles, that dragged the ground as she walked. Even so, as she entered the room she sighed deeply, and her stooped posture relaxed and straightened as though a weight had been lifted from her.

“Lady Frey! What a relief it is to meet you, here.”

“Chastity,” I went to her and took her hand, and then turned to the other prisoner.

The other prisoner was much smaller than Chastity, but her back was rod-straight as she walked and her eyes contained a look of steel. I had never seen the face bare of makeup, but I knew it at once.

“Lady Willoughby,” I said, taking her hand. “Come and sit with me. I have much to tell you, and I have brought a friend who wishes to offer comfort from del Sol.”

Lady Willoughby opened her mouth as though to speak, but instead of words all she emitted was a hollow cry, half forming words with her lips.

“Maaa- aah-“

“Lady Willoughby cannot answer- I’m sure she means to thank you, as do I,” Chastity said. “I have not seen a friendly face in… I don’t know how many weeks.”

Prudence’s veil brushed my arm as she hovered very near me, and I recalled the line that I must deliver.

“Allow me to introduce my friend. This is Jubilee, a sister from del Sol, who has been an invaluable companion to me during my time of exile. She asked to accompany me today so she could offer prayers of grace from del Sol.”

Lady Willoughby turned to Prudence with a hostile, defiant look in her eyes, but Prudence stepped closer and spoke.

“I am here to offer my friendship- not just the friendship of del Sol. I know the weight of oppression, and when I learned what had happened to all of you, I was deeply moved.”

Lady Willoughby stepped back, her eyes going wide in shock. Chastity, however, came forward and took Prudence’s hands in her own.

“Oh! Bless you- bless you,” she said. “Thank heaven for you.”

Prudence nodded to me, and I took one of Chastity’s hands, and then Prudence and I offered our free hands to Lady Willoughby to close the circle. Lady Willoughby looked to me, and when I nodded she turned and stared at Prudence for a long time, her eyes narrowed as though in concentration.

Then, Lady Willoughby smiled, tears shimmering in her eyes, and took our hands.

We bowed our heads while Prudence sang the litany of redemption. While she sang, I concentrated first on Chastity’s curse of pain, which easily shattered under my will, and then Lady Willoughby’s curse of truth. Even though Lady Willoughby could not speak, I could still feel the curse’s presence resisting my will- black and heavy- oppressing a part of Lady Willoughby I could not see. When I burst through it puffed away like clouds in the wind, allowing the light of liberty in.

It was not only a curse of truth- it was a restriction of her freedom of thought.

Lady Willoughby’s hand tightened, and she let loose a soft gasp, but she did not interrupt the song.

After the song was done, the four of us sat and talked. I gave Chastity and Lady Willoughby information about the case that the attorneys were building, and asked if they could remember anything that we could add. Lady Willoughby tried several times to mouth muffled words before she gave a helpless shrug, but Chastity leaned forward and spoke in a low voice.

“Tell the attorney to ask questions about Brother Domitian. He was recently sent to the Monastery of the Wood to perform penance for…”

Chastity trailed off and looked at Lady Willoughby, who clenched her jaw.

“Brother Domitian is the inquisitor who interrogated Lady and Lord Willoughby,” Chastity continued. “No matter how cruel he was, he never uncovered any sign of witchcraft. He deserves to be punished for what he did, but it seems terribly convenient he will not be able to testify.

“Tell your attorney to question Brother Antonine. Brother Antonine witnessed some of the extreme methods that Brother Domitian employed, and he was forced to intervene a couple of times. I can only hope that, when the bishops learn how brutal Brother Domitian was, they will understand that Lord Willoughby’s current state was caused by trauma instead of guilt.”

Brother Lux cleared his throat and stepped forward.

“Your time is up. Please, say your goodbyes.”

Lady Willoughby stood, her hands clenched into fists. Prudence stood with her, and lay a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Lady Willoughby, is there anything we may do for you on the outside? A message you would like to send to a friend, perhaps?”

Lady Willoughby shook her head, but she embraced Prudence tightly before she turned to press my hand.

“And you- Chastity?”

“I have a sister, Gentle Browne, who lives with her husband on Steele Row. She has already visited me, and she says she is well, but-“

“I will check on her,” I promised. I took Chastity and Lady Willoughby’s hands in mine.

“The trial begins tomorrow. Please, stay strong until then. I promise that we will do everything we can to free you.”

“Thank you, Lady Frey,” Chastity said, her eyes filling with tears.

Lady Willoughby squeezed my hand, and then Brother Lux and another inquisitor stepped forward to escort them from the room.

As the door closed, Prudence sat down hard.

“Are you alright, Sister Jubilee?” I asked. “Are you fatigued?”

“I am a sister of del Sol; I cannot think of myself when there are others who need my help.”

I sat beside her. “Even so, I will not stop thinking of you.”

Prudence looked up sharply, and I tried to see her expression in the shadows behind her veil. I was unable to make anything out, however, before the door opened again, and two more prisoners were led inside.

“I have nothing to say to you, Lady Frey” Captain Goode said immediately as he entered. “I told Lux I did not wish to see you, but he insisted I come.”

Before I had a chance to respond I heard the tinkling of bells, and my attention was drawn to Lord Willoughby. I could not contain my surprise when I saw him. I had expected him to be dressed in sackcloth like the other prisoners, but instead, it seemed as though he had been dressed solely to add insult to his injury. His shirt and breeches were made of bright red and yellow scraps of cloth sewn together, and bells were strapped around his ankles and wrists that, although he took slow, shuffling steps, still jingled with his every movement. It was the sad parody of a jester or a fool, designed to draw both attention and ridicule to the broken man.

I ignored Captain Goode’s stony gaze and stepped forward, putting my hand on Lord Willoughby’s shoulder. Lord Willoughby shied away at first, and then looked up at me with dull, brown eyes.

“If you don’t wish to speak with me, I understand,” I said. “Stay, at least, to hear sister Jubilee’s prayer, and receive del Sol’s blessings.”

Captain Goode scoffed. “I have no interest in-“

“Please, allow me to provide what little help I can,” Prudence said, the slightest tremor in her voice. “It is my mission to ease the suffering of the oppressed.”

Captain Goode spun to face Prudence, narrowing his eyes. He examined her for a long time, gazing at her as though he were trying to see under her veil. Then he spoke.

“How do I know you aren’t trying to trick me- to try and get me to lower my guard?” he said pointedly.

“I understand your caution,” Prudence said, taking a step toward her brother. “But I ask you for no confessions – the grace of del Sol is given to all with no strings attached.”

“I’ve heard that del Sol is a miraculous place,” Captain Goode said, “but surely, there are limits to its power. It cannot give life to one already condemned.”

      “That is not the case here,” I said. “You will have your chance to defend yourself.”

Captain Goode ignored me, but Lord Willoughby blinked up at me, something lightening in his dark eyes. I took his hands and closed my eyes as though in prayer.

I did not hesitate to fight Lord Willoughby’s curse, despite the danger that he would use his voice to confess. How could I deny someone broken something that may give them hope? Even Pius had not forbidden it.

“If Lord Willoughby speaks in court, his confessors will look like fools for hanging their case on his every nod and gesture,” Pius had said with a laugh.

Lord Willoughby’s breathing quickened as I worked, as though he were afraid, but he did not fight against my will. I recited the litany of redemption as I worked, so that my prayer-like stance would not seem strange, and in the meantime Prudence and Captain Goode continued to speak. Because my attention was so divided, it took me a longer time than usual to find the curse’s resistance and break through.

“Why did you come here? Why seek out condemned prisoners instead of staying safe in the Abbey?” Captain Goode was saying.

“My father used to say that life was motion, and where motion ceased, life also ceased,” Prudence said. “I cannot spend the rest of my life in a sanctuary, no matter how safe and how beautiful that sanctuary may be. I must bring the hope that del Sol gave me to the world.”

“That is still no reason to come here,” Captain Goode said. “You can do good in far less dangerous places.”

“I will not pretend I was not afraid, but I know how to conquer my fears,” Prudence said firmly, “especially when I have the chance to help those I love. Lady Frey befriended me at del Sol, and has earned both my trust and my love, so I did not hesitate to follow her here.”

At that moment, I found the curse cowering in a dark place, and I pushed through. The curse shattered, and Lord Willoughby let loose a whimper.

“Don’t be afraid,” I said softly. “You needn’t speak to me, if you don’t wish, but if there is anything you want to say or ask, you may.”

“Patience” he said in a halting voice. “My dear P-Patience…”

“I just saw her,” I said. “She is strong- amazingly strong- but she cannot do everything alone. We must be her voice now, since she cannot speak for herself.”

“I would do anything to save her,” Lord Willoughby said. “But I’ve failed- failed…”

“Where there is life, there is hope,” I said, “and she is still alive. You must speak for her at the trial, if you are given the chance. You must speak to her innocence, and to your innocence as well. Can you do this?”

“If I could die in her place-“

“Don’t be afraid to defend yourself, as well as your wife,” I said. “Your death will not help her; she needs you.”

“As much as I hate to say it, I agree with Lady Frey,” Captain Goode said. “You must be your wife’s strength, Willoughby. You must endure.”

Lord Willoughby nodded, but did not speak again.

Captain Goode turned back to Prudence. “You say that you love Lady Frey, sister, but allow me to caution you. I believe Lady Frey is part a conspiracy- one that has put my friends and me in this dreadful place. If you knew half of what I knew about her-“

“There’s nothing about me you can tell Sister Jubilee that she does not already know,” I said. “Flaws, virtues, and past alike. There’s very little I could tell Sister Jubilee about myself that she does not know, at this point.”

Captain Goode turned back to Prudence with a look of surprise. “And you still love her?”

“You are wrong about Lady Frey. She has been working tirelessly to assist her husband and friends. I admire Lady Frey’s candor,” Prudence said, “and when I view Lady Frey through the lens of wisdom the years have given me, it is obvious she is still an innocent.”

Captain Goode sighed deeply, as though in frustration. Then he spoke again.

“I cannot join hands with you in prayer,” he said, nodding down at the tattered bandages that were wrapped tightly around the ends of his arms. “But I would still like to hear you sing, sister.”

Prudence nodded and came closer, placing her hand on her brother’s arm. She sang the litany of redemption once more. As Prudence’s voice suffused the stone room with warmth, I saw tears gather briefly in Captain Goode’s eyes before he shut them tightly.

Lord Willoughby gripped my hand tightly.

“Patience loves music,” Lord Willoughby faltered when the song was done. “But she cannot sing anymore.”

“Then we must put a lute in her hands as soon as we can,” I said, squeezing Lord Willoughby’s hand in return.

“It is time- you must go,” Brother Lux interrupted.

“Wait.” I turned to one of the guards, who came forward to grab Lord Willoughby’s arms. “Can’t you remove the bells, and give Lord Willoughby- give everyone- proper clothes?”

“Lord Willoughby is fond of hiding, and we cannot afford to lose him again. He only did this to himself,” the guard replied.

“Please-“ Prudence said to Brother Lux. “Do not torment them any longer.”

“The trial begins tomorrow- their fate will be decided soon,” Brother Lux said shortly.

“Thank you for everything, sister, but do not trouble yourself about us any further,” Captain Goode said. “Live your own life. Seek happiness where you can.”

Captain Goode nodded to the guard, who stepped forward to lead him away.

“Wait here,” Brother Lux instructed Prudence and I, “and I will bring Lord Frey.”