The Last Lantern

Chapter 3 - The Heretic's Priest

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2009

The main dining room table was too large for such a small group, so grandfather was seated at the head of it, and Molly on his left rather than way down at the far end. She'd expected her cousin Sir Reginald to sit at the place of honor at her grandfather's right hand. Instead, that was where the priest was seated.  As she was directly across from him she could hardly help but stare.

A kick on her shin made her remember herself. Phillip winked at her, when she looked over at him.

Molly paid attention to the conversation in an effort to understand what was going on. No one ever explained anything to her. It was as if she were expected to pick it all up through osmosis or something. Osmosis. A great word she'd only just learned, and she was now getting a practical demonstration of its meaning.

The rooms had all been filled at the Last Lantern, she gathered from listening. So grandfather had offered the priest a room. Why him, and not the grand ladies and their knights, Molly wondered. And why was the priest sitting above her cousin who was a knight himself?  It was all very confusing, as most people spoke in embarrassed whispers about the Black Order Brothers and their god. Yet here, in public, this one anyway, was being granted great courtesy.  She wanted to understand why, but knew better than to ask just now.

"It was most kind of you," the priest was saying.

"Only your due," grandfather replied. He sounded ... embarrassed? Molly wasn't certain.

The priest's face twisted into a look Molly thought might be rueful. Another favorite word of hers that she seldom got to use. Yes, rueful.  He'd be handsome, the priest, except for a fine scar that ran from his eyebrow down his cheek to just short of the edge of his lips. Well, she admitted to herself, even with the scar he was handsome. He wore his hair short except for a cue that hung down his back. Rumor had it that the brothers were sworn not to cut their hair. Molly wondered why. It seemed rather silly. He'd removed his robes and cowl for dinner and she was fascinated to see he wore black leathers under it. Fighting leathers. She wondered if he carried a sword.  She had no idea the Black Order were warriors. She'd always thought of them as .. as what?  Scary mostly. And that mostly because no one seemed to know very much about them. Well, no one who'd tell her anything anyway.

Another kick in the shin made her jump and almost spill the soup she had on her spoon. She looked up and realized everyone was looking at her. Someone had addressed her and she hadn't heard it.  She was near to panic. She was embarrassing her grandfather.

"Sir Reginald asked how your studies were going." her grandfather supplied gently.

"Oh. Well. But Miss Throckmorton doesn't know enough maths. Nor science," Molly replied.

"Not the sort of studies a girl in your position should find of interest anyway," Reginald replied.

Grandfather frowned but said nothing. The priest, however, commented, (it had to be his first real comment for, Molly was certain, her attention would have been caught by his accent and by the deep yet soft sound of his voice),  "You enjoy such pursuits?"

"Oh yes," Molly replied. "I hate the piano and dancing and my needlework is horrible, even grandfather admits that. I'm not cut out for it," Molly added sadly.

The edge of the good side of the priest's mouth quirked up just a hair. He might have said something in return except cousin Reginald was off on a tear about girls not being raised properly and how wild Molly was and that grandfather should send her to live with him so he could have his own daughters' governess teach her how to be a proper lady and have it beaten into her should she balk. Then Sir Reginald flushed as he realized he'd just insulted grandfather, and his voice died away.

Grandfather looked furious, and Molly had paled. Is that why they'd come?  Did grandfather intend to send her away?  To them?

"Not all of us fit the molds we were born to," the priest uttered softly, as he regarded Molly with renewed interest. "Sometimes our strengths are needed elsewhere."

Then, thankfully, Rupert the witch was bringing in the main course and the tide of the conversation was successfully turned.

After dinner they all adjourned to the drawing room, even Molly allowed to stay (and given a glass of spiced wine!).  She curled up on a window seat and did her best to blend into the woodwork.  She only wanted to listen.  She didn't like questions she wasn't supposed to answer truthfully.

Phillip glanced back at her several times, but the three grown men ignored her utterly. Their conversation was primarily about the safety of the kingdom and about a war that might be looming all too soon. Conscripts, supply lines, provisions....

Molly jumped when a hand was shook her shoulder.

"Wake up," grandfather said quietly. "Time to go to bed. Long past time, really."

"Oh, grandfather! I'm so sorry if I ..." Molly began.

"Hush, child,"  he said stopping her outburst.

"Grandfather," Molly began as she got up from the window seat and began walking toward the stairs with him.

"Not tonight. If you have questions, tomorrow is soon enough."

It was a long time before she fell back to sleep. The storm cried in the eaves and her mind refused to stop worrying that grandfather would send her off to live with her cousins. He shouldn't live alone!  She and he were doing just fine, thank you very much.  She wondered if she dared pray the Mother for Sir Reginald and Phillip to leave in the morning.

And what of the priest?  What was his business here?



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