Birettas & Poison: The Novel III


Here is the third installment of Birettas & Poison: The Novel.  This section was written by the Rt. Hon. Mr. Christopher McQueeny.  Sorry for the delay in posting, I know all 12 of you who read this blog have been sitting on the edge of your seats.

Mr Reginald Bates, the Sexton of the Cathedral, and a well-spring of ecclesiastical gossip in Mercia. To look at he was the perfect image of a kindly old man, as he hobbled over to greet the Monsignor; but as any Bergensian clergyman knew, this old man could destroy a man’s career with a few well-placed words. Indeed, it was precisely the Sexton that the Monsignor had most feared would be on the premises. No-one was more likely to upset his plans. Remembering the excuse he had prepared just in time, he forced a look of grave sorrow onto his face, even as he beamed inside at his triumph. After years of practice, the false tears came easily.

“Ah… Bates. The fact is that I was here to return the Reserved Sacrament… I’ve just been… Well, I’ve just given an old friend of mine the Last Rites.”

“Oh, I see. Begging your pardon for the disturbance, Sir, I really had no idea.

“No, you couldn’t have known. Now, I really must be going… my private grief aside, work goes on, and I must do my duty. Goodbye, Bates.”

Giving a perfunctory nod, the Monsignor darted out of the door, and into the haven of Ellicott Square, where he beheld the first light of the new day. Already the night’s drunks and prostitutes were being displaced by the rushing merchants and carters of dawn, as the city prepared itself for business. Ignoring all of this, the Monsignor made his way across the Square, where a narrow lane led him to another church. This one was no match for the grand Cathedral he had just rushed through; after a century of inadequate funds and small congregations, it was in veritable disrepair. Above a squat wooden door of the old-fashioned sort was a tarnished stone engraved with the legend, The Church of Saint Sebastian.

Opening the door quietly, St Sebastian’s was never locked, he entered the cold, silent church, lit only by a few votive candles and the light of the new sun creeping through high windows of stained glass. It was here that he was to bear his precious letter, and deposit it where only the Brotherhood would expect to find it. Striding down the familiar aisle and past the old stone altar rail with its threadbare kneelers, he stepped up to the High Altar and opened the tabernacle. Inside of this holy sanctuary, he knew, had been precious artifacts, stolen relics, documents in cypher, and at least one death warrant. He knew all of this, because he had put them there. What happened to them afterwards was not his concern; the Brotherhood required them, and it was his duty to find them.

In the small compartment, which lay carefully concealed in the otherwise dilapidated tabernacle, he placed the letter, quickly making the sign of the cross in thanks for a difficult job now completed. Here, he knew, there was no pesky Sexton to interrupt his business. Until the daily Mass in a few hours, the church would be empty. Secure in this knowledge, he re-sealed the compartment, closed the tabernacle with care, and walked away at a leisurely pace. Espying a collection box on his way out of the church, he pulled out a crisp 100-Talen note, and dropped it in, murmuring, “let that be some small measure of my thanks.”

Now, he realized, he must start hurrying again. By this time, he knew, the candle he had lit in the Cathedral would have been noticed by the right people… or rather by the wrong people. It was from a bundle which had mysteriously appeared in his vestment room some years ago; the moment he lit one, and saw the distinct effect of a thin copper wire wrapped into the wick, he knew immediately what they were for. This candle was a signal to the Brotherhood, a way at last of contacting it directly, for hitherto it had never condescended to allow two-way communication. Within a few minutes he was back in the Cathedral, and back in the confessional, although on the other side of the screen this time. Knowing that time was of the essence, he began the ritual of identifying himself, speaking the familiar code-phrases from memory.

“Though much is taken, much abides,” he whispered. Immediately, a smooth voice replied, “and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are.” But it was not as simple as that. The Monsignor continued: “One equal temper of heroic hearts, make weak by time and fate, but strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” finished the voice. After a moment seemingly lost in contemplation, it continued, “Old words, but a spirit which alone can save the Church. Good morning, Monsignor McGrady.”

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