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!”

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