“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.