The Coven- Part XXIX

 

I stayed in my pew as courtiers arrived for the morning service, and then sang the litany with everyone else. After the service was over, I waited until most of the courtiers had left before standing, but as I did, Monsignor Pius caught sight of me, and motioned for me to stay.

I waited while Monsignor Pius spoke to Lord Taris, and then he approached my pew.

“Good Morning, Lady Frey. I am glad to see you at this morning’s service. I hope your husband is well.”

I smiled and curtsied as I worked out a response. Why would Monsignor Pius point out his fellow witch’s impiety?

“My husband is rarely well this early, but he always recovers before noon.”

Monsignor Pius laughed. “A common affliction! Soon after I am coronated, I plan to add evening services for others who suffer as your husband. In the meantime-”

“Grace! I do hope you aren’t bothering the Monsignor,” my father said, sidling up the aisle to my pew. “He’s a very busy man.”

“The Lady isn’t bothering me at all- quite the contrary,” Monsignor Pius replied. “Your charming daughter and I share a common interest in the sciences, and I was hoping that we could continue our discussion of astronomy.”

Monsignor Pius turned back to me with a slight, gallant bow, and my stomach dropped. Monsignor Pius had already destroyed a treatise I’d written on the motions of planets- a work that had turned out to be both unoriginal and heretical. Monsignor Pius had told me that it was forbidden to suggest the earth went around the sun, and forbade me from discussing my ideas with anyone else.

Had he discovered that I had taken my ideas to the oculist guild, I wondered. Did he know I’d kept my original notes? What would a priest, who was secretly a witch, do with a more common heretic?

My father cleared his throat. “Monsignor, His Royal Highness sends you his  regards, but he is unwell this morning. At this moment, he is in private prayer.”

“May the Prince’s recovery be swift, and may he continue in good health. I suspect he will. A mysterious affliction has been going around the court, but everyone seems to recover. Lady Frey and I have just been discussing it.”

I tried to suppress a laugh, and choked.

“Dear Lady Frey, I hope you haven’t caught the affliction, too. Come with me to my office, and join me in my prayers for the health of His Royal Highness.”

My father nodded solemnly, and I continued to cough as Monsignor Pius led me away.

Monsignor Pius lead me to a chamber above the chapel and shut the door. It was a small but comfortably-furnished room, fitted with the same shining wood as the chapel, but with less ornamentation. There were two full bookshelves, a desk, and two chairs pulled up to the hearth.

Monsignor Pius gestured for me to take one of the chairs, and he took the other.

“You are an interesting young woman, Lady Frey- perhaps more interesting than you realize.”

“Everyone is most interested in themselves,” I said.

If Monsignor Pius noticed my obvious evasion, he did not show it. “You are a young woman who has gained the trust and love of Lord Frey, which is no small feat. Experience has made him a guarded man.”

“I did not charm him; I have no such arts. If my husband does trust me, then I hope I have earned his trust.”

Monsignor Pius nodded as though to himself, and then stood, going to his desk and returning with a chart.

“Tell me- what do you make of this?”

I took the chart carefully. It was a star chart, which was neatly done and beautifully illuminated with intricate scrollwork around the perimeter.

“Here is the sun- so this is midwinter?”

“Yes.”

“The last star in the cat’s tail is off by several seconds of arc. I’d have to consult Sir Boromir’s work to confirm the positions of the Red Moon and Tigris. What year is this?”

“It is the year of His Royal Highness’s birth. If you corrected the positions of Tigris, the Red Moon, and the Cat’s tail then all three would be in conjunction. I had to make small adjustments to each; the conjunction is an ill omen.”

“If you say- I can’t begin to understand what the stars portend.”

Monsignor Pius lifted a lofty eyebrow. “How strange- you study the stars with an expert’s eye, and yet you ignore their purpose?”

“I’m not wise enough to know the stars’ purpose. I can see many uses. The stars guide mariners, the sun’s procession through the constellations assists farmers in their planting, and -dare I say- a woman is very familiar with the timing of the Red Moon’s phases.”

“Then you must see the bigger picture; there is a pattern to all of your observations. It is the stars’ purpose to guide us, and show us what will be.”

“Perhaps. The methods I just mentioned are imperfect, but consistent. When it comes to seeing signs and omens, however, I can’t see any logic. For every example I read in history of an omen fulfilled, I see another not fulfilled, or else misinterpreted.”

Monsignor Pius took his star-chart from me. “Your observation is quite correct, but not everyone is as observant as you. As long as people believe in omens, the omens will have some power over their actions.

“I have prepared this star chart as a horoscope for the Prince, and I shall present it to him at my coronation. You can see, now, why I’ve altered it.”

The fire crackled as silence stretched between us. A thousand questions I dared not ask fought for precedence as Monsignor Pius regarded me with keen, dark eyes.

After a time, I swallowed and spoke, though hesitantly. “Please forgive my impertinence, but surely as the new High Priest you could council the Prince and the people against superstition.”

“You are still young, and you see the world through a lens of idealism. When you are older, you will understand that some people cannot be reasoned with, and must be guided in subtler ways. This horoscope is one of the ways in which I mean to guide the Prince’s conscience.”

Monsignor Pius smiled at me with gentle superiority, and I cast aside subtlety.

“Why have you shown me this?”

Monsignor Pius leaned back, running his fingernail along the velvet cushion on his chair’s arm.

“I wished to see how you would react to the revelation. You are surrounded by intrigue here in St. Blanc. Many people wish to use you as their pawn. You seem innocent of it, but I wonder how much you really perceive.”

My blood ran cold. I was certain that he knew I’d discovered the coven.

My first thought was that Hope and I must tell Monsignor Pius about the blood oath, so he would not perceive me as a threat. And yet, Monsignor Pius still radiated such power and danger that I feared how we would react to our deceit. Caution stayed my response, and it occurred to me  that Monsignor Pius might have another intrigue in mind.

“My father told me ‘you will serve your purpose in time.’ Do you know what he meant?”

Before Monsignor Pius could reply, Brother Lux opened the door without ceremony and entered the room, followed closely by Miss Taris.

“I beg your pardon,” Brother Lux said, though his smile did not waiver. “I did not mean to intrude.”

“Nonsense- my door is always open to you.”

Brother Lux blushed and bowed.

“Miss Taris,”Monsignor Pius said gently to the girl who stood half-hiding behind Brother Lux. “Do you seek my counsel?”

“I… I do, but…” Miss Taris’s eyes flickered toward me.

“I was just on my way. My husband will be expecting me,” I said.

Miss Taris smiled a little, and mouthed, “thank you.”

I stood, curtsied, and took my leave.

 

Part XXX

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