Tea did not come on a tray containing teapot, cups, and spoons. Instead, Sir Percival returned to the cathedral bearing a caddy filled with large covered mugs, which he unceremoniously placed on the floor over the map of the midlands.
Pride nodded in thanks before taking a cup, and gestured for Hope and me to take a cup before he continued speaking.
“We are here-” he gestured at the map, “barely outside of Verdant City, at the first of several cathedrals that were built to edify pilgrims on their way to del Sol.”
A yellow line appeared on the map under our feet, marked by a few bright yellow spots, the first of which was a little way outside the area marked Verdant City.
“The tunnel isn’t completely sealed,” Pride continued. “There are places a pilgrim may exit to gather supplies at Rouge Village, Crossroads Village, Bridon City, and Hill Country Village. The tunnel was never finished, unfortunately, so when we reach Hill Country Village it will be necessary to continue to del Sol on foot.”
Hope stepped forward, studying the end-point beside Hill Country Village with a frown. “It is two hours by carriage from Hill Country Village to Rowan Heights, and then another four hours by carriage del Sol- even longer by foot. The inquisition watches the road very carefully for convicts seeking sanctuary.”
“Yes, but there is no other way. My soldiers are ready to defend you from inquisitors on the road,” Pride said.
“If I may,” the man in brown said with a deferential bow to Pride. “Perhaps if we disembark from the tunnels before we reach the village, we may find a path around the inquisitors.”
“I don’t think you will find such a path,” I said, “unless we find a vessel and approach by sea.”
The man in brown did not answer me, but he knelt down and examined the map very closely, tracing the shoreline with his fingers in thought.
I stepped closer and examined the shore as well, absentmindedly taking a sip of tea as I went. I stopped abruptly, however, as soon as the tea touched my tongue.
I choked a little and forced the drink down. It was not like any tea I had ever tasted. It was thick, strong, and unbearably bitter. There was a slightly cloying aftertaste that suggested that the drink had been spiked with wakefulness potion, yet the drink was so strong the potion hardly seemed necessary.
The man in brown looked up at me as I coughed and, standing abruptly, walked back toward Pride.
“Is it really necessary to allow the prisoner and the-” he stopped and then turned to me with a sneer, “the other one to remain here?”
“We must protect Lady and Lord Frey. It is our mission,” Pride said.
“Of course we must protect them, but must we allow them to listen in on our plans?”
“Would you have them wander the halls alone?” Pride asked.
The man in brown remained silent for a time. Then he said, “they do not seem to know their place. They are insolent- especially the girl.”
Pride looked at me for a moment, his expression inscrutable. Then he looked back at the man in brown.
“I will grant that they are insolent, Clarity, but what is their place in our hierarchy? They have no rank as soldier and no clerical rank. Lord Frey has an old title, but it’s one that Reverence might not acknowledge when this is over. Lady Frey is descended from slaves and gentry alike. They are oddly shaped pieces of a puzzle.”
The man in brown, Clarity, turned again to face me. His plain, weather-worn face twisted in contempt.
“They are outcasts- hardly worth the sand under your shoes, Archangel.”
“Yet they are under Reverence’s protection- beloved of his Lady,” Pride said.
Clarity sighed, but bowed his head to Pride. “I will defer to your judgement. Where shall I place them?”
“Let them go where they will. It won’t be long before they are no longer our problem. Speaking of problems…”
At that moment the room was flooded with light once more. The door opened and then shut again, leaving the room in darkness as Raven entered.
“How dare you interrupt these proceedings, demon,” Clarity snapped.
“You told me to come here when I finished cleaning up,” Raven said, crossing her arms. “Anyway- I have new information, but if you aren’t interested, I’ll go.”
“Stay. What is your news?” Pride said.
Raven came forward and stood over the area of the map marked Verdant City. She knelt down and touched both it and the area marked St. Blanc. As she touched them, both areas of the map went red.
“Wisdom has secured Verdant City and St. Blanc. The Prince and three of the bishops have been secreted away, but the rest of the bishops are under arrest, and are being held under guard at the St. Blanc cathedral. All of the Prince’s supporters have either escaped or have been converted.”
Then Raven stood and walked, following the yellow line for a time before walking a little further north.
“Most of the prince’s guard have been converted, and have joined the inquisitor’s army. Wisdom’s troops are marching in this direction, toward the western villages.”
One of the dragoons stepped forward with a salute. “Excuse me, Archangel, but I have intelligence from that area. The western villages are faithful to Order, and there is a good militia stationed there. I suspect the bastard God will find the area difficult to conquer.”
Pride beckoned the dragoon forward. “Please come here, Sir Beaumont. If you were a general at Sancti, what would you advise your Queen?”
The dragoon, Sir Beaumont, stepped forward, holding his pike up as to not disturb the map. He was a well-formed man in his thirties with a round, comely face.
“I would advise my queen to seize Aeterna immediately. There is no hope for reconciliation now that her son is fleeing a greater power. It is best to stop the new power before it has a chance to flourish.”
“Where would you stage your attack?”
Sir Beaumont paced around the map, finally stopping in the north.
“I would send my warships to the eastern shore, where Wisdom is watching, and give as much noise and trouble as I could. While he was thus distracted, I would send my army here, through the northern mountain pass, to infiltrate to the true heart of Aeterna- Bridon City.”
“Would that be wise? The Cathedral Lux is well-fortified.” Clarity said.
“It was well-fortified, in days of old,” Sir Beaumont said. “Since St. Blanc was built, though, it has been neglected. I think that those who believe in Aeterna- who believe in its history- will seek the Cathedral’s protection in these troubled times. If Sancti can take the Cathedral Lux, she will snuff out the lingering spirit of Aeternan sovereignty.”
Pride strode forward and gazed at the mountain pass for some time. Then he looked toward Raven.
“Demon child, escort Sir Beaumont to the nearest mirror. He has my permission to use it.”
“Archangel!” Sir Beaumont said with another bow. “I am honored by this favor.”
“You are to act as my envoy,” Pride said to Sir Beaumont, ignoring his thanks. “Contact the Archbishop of Sancti, and offer him an alliance.”
There was no time to further discuss the plan, no time to consider its implications- no time even to rest our weary eyes. Everyone, from the Archangel to the lowest soldier, filed out of the cathedral and formed ranks in the tunnel. Pride and Clarity led the party at the front, followed by Hope and I flanked by our dragoon guards. The rest of the soldiers fell in according to rank behind us, and we all marched in formation toward del Sol.
Raven and Sir Beaumont separated from the party and went back to the magic mirror with a promise to catch up with us at “B1.” Hope and I watched them go, and then linked hands, unable to communicate any of our thoughts freely with each other.
After a time, however, Hope broke the silence and spoke to Pride.
“I beg your pardon, Archangel, but I am not sure I understand your motive for allying with Sancti.”
“You dare question our leader’s judgement?” Clarity snapped, at last provoked into speaking with Hope directly.
“Not at all; I’m sure he has good reason,” Hope said. “I only comment on my own ignorance. From the outside, it seems strange that a follower of Reverence would ally with the heretic Queen.”
“I am surprised that you consider Queen Benevolence a heretic,” Pride said, “though she did disobey some of Order’s more recent laws. Joy dislikes slavery, so Reverence asked his followers to abandon the practice. Queen Benevolence is dedicated to Reverence, so she banned slavery in her own kingdom. You will find, however, that in Sancti a proper hierarchy is still maintained.”
“The rulers of Sancti had shown themselves worthy of the peasants’ respect, through charitable institutions and the enforcement of just laws. Therefore, the peasants give all due obedience to their lords,” Clarity added.”
In my mind’s eye, I saw a country marching in formation like the soldiers who marched behind us.
“Lack of reverence brought our country to chaos,” Clarity continued, his voice dropping into a cadence reminiscent of a sermon, spoken in rhythm to the sound of marching footsteps. “The lords left their peasants and lands, and went to play the courtly game. The peasants were left without a guide, or help when struck with poverty. They heard tales of decadence, and watched St. Blanc with envious eyes.”
“How would you remedy the situation?” I asked.
Clarity continued as though I had not spoken, until Hope repeated my question.
“Aeterna is beyond saving; she must be subjugated by a stronger land. Queen Benevolence will make sure that Aeternan lords keep to their place instead of trying to usurp each other at court. Sancti’s laws, with a few punitive laws added to them, will keep the peasants bound to the land.”
“What putative measures do you anticipate Sancti will impose?” Hope asked.
“I can’t pretend to know. I’m sure at least taxes will be raised to provide tribute to Sancti. The peasants will be kept busy working to pay their tax, and will not have time to grumble amongst themselves against their betters. Peace will be maintained.”
“I dislike seeing anyone suffer under such burdens,” Pride added, “but there is no other way to save the souls of this nation.”
Hope’s palms were growing clammy and slick with sweat, but his countenance was serene as he murmured his acquiescence. We marched in silence the rest of the way to our next stop, the hidden room marked “B1.”