The Last Lantern

Chapter 6 - They Stand Between

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2009

Molly was in Grandfather's library late that afternoon, finally freed from Miss Throckmorton's clutching claws.  She sat at a window seat, a book, unregarded, in her lap. Instead she stared out at the darkness. The storm raged on unabated. It was early in the year for such God-born storms, Cook said. It was her considered opinion that The Mother was angry at King's Cross.  She hadn't, wouldn't, say why, but from the frown on her face Molly guessed that Cook believed the Heretic should not have sent one of his Priests here.  This was, after all, Mother's territory. Well, the edge of it anway.  The Father ruled the mountains, and King's Cross guarded the pass that lead through the Whitehart Mountains to the northern wasteland, the Father's by right.

So far as Molly could figure out, again no one would tell her when she asked, the Heretic had no claim on any part of the land. Not even the sea. There was a sea god, she'd been told. But never having seen the sea, Molly thought it must be a very limited sort of kingdom to have its very own god.  Oh, yes, she'd seen maps that claimed it went on for miles and miles, the sea. But you couldn't live there, so how could it possibly count for anything?

Her reverie was interrupted when she spotted a movement from behind her reflected in the dark window pane. She turned to find it was Phillip, whom she'd seen hardly anything of as yet. Only at dinner last night and at breakfast this morning, and after the incident with MIss Throckmorton no one had found much of anything to say during that meal. Molly wondered if dinner would be any easier.

"He's very odd, isn't he?" Phillip said as he walked over to flop into a comfortable wing chair near Molly's window seat.

"Who is?" Molly asked, putting her book aside and turning toward him.

"The Priest, silly."

Molly frowned. Which irritated her worse she couldn't say. Him calling her silly, or him calling her Priest odd.  She pulled up short as she thought it. Her Priest? How had Brother Vaal become her Priest?

"He's nice. Not odd," was what she said, angrily.

Phillip sat back and stretched his legs out in front of him. He had long legs like his father. He was already dressed for dinner, although there was an hour yet before the dinner gong would sound.  "Does he strike you at all like a Mother's Priest?" he demanded.

"Well, no," Molly admitted grudgingly.

"There you have it. For one thing, Mother Priests do not wear fighting leathers and carry a sword. Have you seen it?" Phillip asked.

"Seen what?" Molly asked, knowing full well what he meant, but irritated that Phillip had seen Vaal's sword whereas she had not.

"It is made of what father calls thousandth folded steel. Very rare. Very expensive. How could a mere Priest afford something that most knights, and even most lords cannot?"

Molly shrugged. "Maybe his god gave it to him."

Phillip scrunched up his lips. "Maybe. But I doubt it."  He thought for a time.

Molly fidgeted. She was jealous that Vaal hadn't shown it to her!

"I overheard a discussion between Lord Rosslyn and the Priest, Molly."

Molly frowned harder. "What did they say?"

"The Bastard said he'd been sent to your Grandfather."

"Don't call him that!"  Molly yelled, standing up, her hands making fists as she frowned her worst frown.

Phillip regarded her unfazed. "It's what most people call the Bastard's Priests. If he isn't a bastard himself, then he's worse.  A thief, or a murderer maybe. Maybe he was a hired sword for one of the Southern renegade kings."

"I'll hit you," Molly threatened.

Phillip laughed. "You're too small. I could put my hand on your head and hold you far enough away from me you could not get one lick in."

"Oh yeah?" Molly said advancing.

"Molly," said a voice from behind her. It was Grandfather.

Phillip jumped to his feet, bowing deeply to his uncle. "Sir."

"We've had more than enough angry words in this house the past two days. Perhaps it's the weather. This being cooped up together," Grandfather muttered as he took a seat and waved Phillip back into his.

Phillip sat back down. Suddenly, with Grandfather in the room, Phillip looked younger. After Grandfather was quiet for a time,  he said, tentatively, "I'm sorry my father made you angry. You know he's always felt bitter about the Bastard and anything with regard to him."

"Well, it is hardly this Priest's fault that the Heretic took his sister."

Molly's mouth fell open.  "Took his sister?" How come everyone knew things she didn't!

Grandfather regarded Molly for a moment then said, "Quintilla Manners was called to serve the Bastard. When He did, she had to renounce her name and her family and go to serve him. Reginald loved her very much."

"Why do they have to renounce everything, anyway?  And she wasn't a bastard, Phillip. So the Heretic must call all sorts of people to His service, just like The Father and The Mother do." Molly frowned. It didn't seem to make sense to her. The Mother Priest here in King's Cross was a Mallorn. She supped and visited her relatives all the time. Why then did the Heretic insist that his priests leave all behind?

"Because," Grandfather replied gravely, "the Heretic's priests stand between. They are called upon to broker peace talks, adjudicate disputes between families. Only if they are known to have no allegiance can they do such a thing and be seen as neutral."

"Well, but he uses a sword too," Molly pointed out. 

"Trying to talk sense into people can be a dangerous business."

Molly nodded, allowing as how Grandfather was no doubt right. "But then, why was he sent to you?" she asked, looking up and meeting Grandfather's eyes.

"That I do not know," Grandfather admitted. "And if the Priest knows, he isn't saying."


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