The Coven, Part XIX

This part is a bit shorter than usual,  but since Pokemon Sun and Moon just came out, I’m afraid it can’t be helped. Thank you for your understanding. 

 

codex

 

“Do you weep still, Grace? I wish you would smile.” Hope said.

“I’m not weeping,” I said truthfully. My eyes were dry as I sat on the edge of a cot and stared out of the window at the village below.

We’d stopped in a pretty village at the crossroads of the Rue de Blanc and the Rue de Soleil. I watched the bustle on the cobblestone street below- couriers with arms full of parcels, ladies in colorful frocks, and liveried carriages seemed to dance together below. In my cramped room at the Inn, the sunset scene outside inspired nothing. I felt as numb as I had the day before, when Monsignor Pius had burned my treatise.

“Perhaps if we let Monsignor Pius into our secret, you can present him with your telescopic evidence,” Hope said eagerly.

I turned to glare at him.

“I’m sorry- I know my motives are obvious,” Hope said. “Even so, I’m glad you can recognize them. I’m glad that you’ve never been moved by flattery. I think you will do well at court.”

“My telescopic evidence doesn’t matter, now,” I said. “Sir Boromir was the greatest astronomer of our age. If he says my theory is nonsense-”

I stopped and stood, pacing the room. “If only Monsignor Pius would let me see Sir Boromir’s critique, I would be satisfied. I must know where I went wrong.”

Hope smiled. “As long as you pursue this, I won’t worry. This is the Grace I have come to know and admire.”

I spun to face him. “Admire?”

“Don’t allow Monsignor Pius to frighten you away from your puzzle, either,” Hope continued as though I hadn’t spoken.  “He must appear loyal to the church, as long as he suspects that you are.”

Hope’s certainty did nothing to alleviate my fears, but I said nothing. I took Hope’s offered arm, and accompanied him down to the Inn’s tavern.

#

Dinner at the Inn was a novel experience, though I knew I was the only member of my party who thought so.

Dinner was served in the tavern- a large common room where men and women of all classes mingled, but for a small group of slaves who ate behind a folding partition. The tavern’s air was thick with the scent of peat smoke and ale, but our table was laden with cold ham, salad, and local fruit, as one might eat at a summer picnic. There was also bread that smelled like the tavern ale, a stale meat pie, and cheese so ripe it seemed to be moving, which I didn’t try.

Hope and Brother Lux were swapping childhood stories between bursts of merry laughter, but their low, refined voices did not carry well in the crowd, and I did not hear half of their words. Instead, a woman at a nearby table who complained of her daughter’s behavior in shrill tones, and a nearby adventurer who was reenacting a sword battle with wild gestures, competed for my attention.

“The little slut grows more like her father every day. I swear, if she doesn’t shut her stupid mouth, one of these days I’ll-”

“-pierce my blade right through the rascal’s throat, the next time we meet! Like so; heave-ho!”

“I told the girl to be respectful, but-”

“The coward ran away. I’ll track him down, if it’s the last thing I do.”

Monsignor Pius leaned across the table, toward me, putting his wine goblet down with a loud clink.

“I can tell what you are thinking, Lady Frey,” Monsignor Pius said in a whisper so rich I could hear it clearly through the din. “You are thinking that must be little love or kindness in the wider world.”

“Oh no- I wasn’t. It’s just that the cruelty seems a bit louder. Hope and Brother Lux’s affection is plain enough, but you must strain to hear.”

Monsignor Pius leaned back again, and picked up his goblet. “It can be dangerous to seek those isolated moments of happiness. I’ve been blessed with a haven at the monastery for the past ten years. It will be difficult for me to face the world, again. Why do you smile, Lady Grace?”

“I’m sorry.” My cheeks burned again, and I regretted that I could not control my expression. “It’s just that you seem so confident and so commanding that I am surprised to hear you suffer from fear.”

“You shouldn’t be. We are all part of the brotherhood of man.”

“Or woman,” I amended. I took another sip of wine, and when I looked up again, the tavern door opened.

Several white-robed figures entered the tavern, each one carrying a large brown pack on their backs. I blinked in astonishment when I recognized that the lead figure was Mr. Filius, but the man winked at me and put a finger to his lips. Hope’s voice suddenly stopped, but then he continued speaking again in his low voice.

Monsignor Pius turned to follow my gaze, and then smiled. “A party of pilgrims has joined us. Welcome, brothers! Come, let me give you a blessing.”

Mr. Filius led the pilgrims to our table, with his head bowed in reverence. “Monsignor! This is a blessing, indeed. Well-met at the crossroads.”

“Well-met, pilgrim.” Monsignor Pius stood and made the sign of order over the pilgrims’ heads. “May peace be upon you on the road to del Sol, and may you be blessed by Order, Chastity, and Reverence.”

Monsignor Pius made the sign of order again, and then sat.

“Thank you, Monsignor,” Mr. Filius said with a bow. Then he took a small wooden bowl from his robes. “Would anyone be willing to give alms to del Sol?”

“Of course,” I said. I took a gold coin from my purse and placed it into the alms bowl.

“Thank you,” he said. He reached into his bag and took out a flower, which was folded out of yellow paper. “This is all I have to give in return, I’m afraid. The terra flower is a symbol of del Sol.”

“Thank you,” I said, accepting the flower. I placed it in my purse, and Mr. Filius went to the next table with his alms bowl.

“It’s good to see the old traditions continue, isn’t it, Lady,” Monsignor Pius said.

“Oh, yes,” I said, still staring after Mr. Filius in puzzlement. I’d never known Mr. Filius to be a religious man, and yet here he was, making a difficult pilgrimage. When his assistant had given me Mr. Filius’s message about del Sol, I’d suspected it to be a clue to Lystra’s puzzle. Now, however, I saw that was not the case.

#

Hope escorted me back to our room after dinner, and then closed the door carefully.

“I’ve been told to lie to you, and make some excuse for leaving you here with Mercy. Can we assume I’ve done so?”

“I suppose. If someone inquires, where should I say you’ve gone?”

Hope put a hand to his chin. “Well, there are several lovely tavern girls downstairs-”

“Do be serious. What husband would tell his wife that particular lie?”

Hope laughed. “True- I should lie to conceal my dalliances with tavern girls, under usual circumstances. Choose a lie for me, then; you need the practice.”

I sighed. “You want to have a hand at cards, and you know I despise gaming.”

“Do you really?”

“Yes- I do. I will stay here and read while you go.”

“Thank you,” Hope said with a small bow and a wink. “I will be in the woods with my brother and the Monsignor. Mercy is in the next room- she’s quite unhappy with me at the moment, so try not to disturb her unless it is an emergency.”

Hope pointed to the wall furthest from the mattress and window.

I nodded, and Hope departed.

I lit the lantern and took it to the table with a book- a collection of romantic verse I’d chosen to take my mind off of my recent disappointment. I’d reached the climax of verse one during the carriage ride, when the brave knight was to battle with a hideous beast to save the princess, but the tale failed to engage me. I found myself looking away from the book, back toward the purse I’d thrown carelessly on the rough Inn mattress.

Mr. Filius, I suddenly realized, had presented me with another puzzle. He had put his fingers to his lips, as though signalling that I should show no sign of recognition, and he had shown no other sign that he recognized me. If he was really been taking a pilgrimage, why would he insist on such a charade before Monsignor Pius? And I knew Mr. Filius was acquainted with Hope, as well, but Hope had barely looked at him.

I took the paper flower from my purse and examined it closely in the lamplight. It was folded and twisted in an intricate shape, and the paper was thin enough that, when I looked closely, I could see some black markings showing through in one or two places.

I unfolded the flower, and flattened out the paper. Inside was a note written in elegant script.

Move your bed aside and open the door.  On the other side, you will find the light of knowledge.

 

The Coven- Part XX

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