Part Two: Dragon Waking
“Tell me the news sister,” Feliciente asked, “we hear nothing behind these walls. Emelissa tells me you come straight from the conclave at Grana.”
“Peace Feliciente, let me sit first.” Juliette begged. “Have you a fire lit?”
Feliciente pulled Juliette through the Subprior’s office, barely pausing to unlock the door to the walkway beyond.
“Of course, through here. My Subprior lights it for me every night before Allowance, ready for me to retire.”
“She keeps you well, sister.”
“She does her best, old though she is. I urge her to take it easy now she has passed her sixtieth winter, but she refuses to sit still. She trusts no one else to do the job half as well, and hates the thought of training an apprentice.”
“How I wish I was as fortunate with my own subprior.”
“Here,” Feliciente pulled the heavy key to her own chambers from her belt and fitted it to the lock, fumbling slightly in the half-darkness of the hallway. It was practically pitch dark, the only light a faint gleam from the windows that looked down to the hallowed nave beneath. But the two priors were used to such half-light.
Feliciente held the door open for her sister and they entered, the small room filed with the flickering warmth of the fire welcoming them from the grate. “Sit sister”, she cried. “Oh, and are you hungry, I have manchet bread, and even some strong cheese. Not Mianese I’m afraid, but with a fine flavour.”
“I ate sparingly on board. I took what passage would get me here the soonest. And my barge’s provisions would have taxed the strongest constitution, for they were not set up for passengers. A repast would be most welcome.”
Feliciente passed the half-loaf of soft, white manchet bread to her friend, wrapped up in a kerchief, and the yellow cheese in a waxed cloth. As Juliette helped herself hungrily to the provision Feliciente busied herself with pewter cups and a jug of wine.
“To old friends, and to long roads becoming shorter”, Feliciente toasted, and Juliette smiled as she raised her pewter cup and drank from the rich wine.
“If only it were so, but with every year they seem to grow longer instead.”
“It has been too long since I saw you last” Feliciente replied, the reproach in her voice in jest, but, Juliette thought, not entirely so. “You need to travel south more often.”
“And you, my dearest sister, need to travel north more often still.”
“Ah if only I could, but my Abbot has not sent me duties abroad, not for many years.” Feliciente suddenly grew maudlin. “My Abbot has not the trust in me that yours does. He seems to have forgotten I even exist”
“Come now sister, is it as bad as that?”
“He has not visited my Priory for over four years now, and then only a fleeting visit. I was not even sent my invitation to attend the Abbey for the Lightening Feast last winter. Even his provost keeps away; though that, I must admit, is hardly to be regretted.” Her mouth curled up in a smile making her look more like her old self to Juliette.
“Patience sister, patience and hard work will bring reward – as day follows night…”
“…Though the night’s length varies with the season. Aye, I remember that maxim from our girlhood too.”
“And has our dear Sister Annabelle’s wisdom not held true all these years?”
“Maybe so, maybe so. But enough of my troubles. Dearest sister, I am starving for news. The porters bring scraps from the merchants and traders, but they know nothing of the conclave, none of us have heard anything for months.”
“The conclave, ah yes, the Hallowed Conclave. Sister, if I could have wished for anything it would have been that you were there beside me, to have a friendly face to turn to would have been like a cup of water for a woman dying of thirst.”
“What do you mean?”
“I cannot describe to you, sister, the nest of vipers that crawled about that place. I have never seen such ugliness, mistrust and graft. We are supposed to be the Abbey of Sephira, ordered, and hallowed in the light of God. Yet…oh sister, I am exhausted, and eager for home, where peace and good grace prevail.”
“I had heard that the antipathy between the Grae faction and the reformists is bad.”
“If only it had been just them. Disagreements over points of order are one thing. But everyone there was out only for advantage. Nothing could be discussed without raised voices, and wild words. No one could speak without being booed and shouted down. I was there to observe only, and report back to my Abbot, but what could I report? I wrote scrolls of notes so large the pigeons could not carry them. And when I had run out of pigeons I just watched. When I left they were still in debate, but many moderates had left already. Although their presence had had little effect from the start.” Juliette’s face clouded as she recalled the events of the Conclave within the City of the White Forest upriver. She had left much out, the stuff she would not burden her sister with. But even with that elided, the tale was dreary enough.
“I cannot believe there is so much bad feeling within the Abbey. The Peace has held us together for sixty years.”
“You should have heard some of the Abbots speaking at the council sister. There are traditionalist Abbots, and I believe your own Lord numbers himself among them, who hate the peace with a passion, and wish it were never signed.”
Feliciente sighed deeply, and drank from her wine. “I am afraid I know this to be too true,” she said softly. “I have heard my Lord Abbot speak in years past, and I know his heart. Though he is without doubt one of the most pious and true men in all Moaglea,” she said hurriedly, “he…holds such great passion for true Obedience to the Rule, that it oft outweighs his temperance. I think at times that if I only overthrew certain of my friendships, that he would embrace me like my siblings, into his trusted circle.”
“Which friends, not myself I trust?” Juliette asked.
“Maybe even you,” Feliciente sighed. “Your Abbot does not hold fast to the ordainments of the Abbot Superior does she?”
“Not all, but few in Alduin consider Grae’s ordainments to be binding. No Abbot’s ordainments are binding on another Abbot, Superior or not. Our own Obedience to the Rule itself is unquestioned.”
“By you, and by me as well of course. But my Lord Abbot…ah, but what do I know of such matters, I haven’t even seen my Abbot’s face in over a year and a half.” Feliciente stared into her cup. “Was this conclave not supposed to resolve the issues?”
“I hoped so, and so did my Abbot Eleanor. But no one seemed to be there to resolve anything. No one was there to do anything but stop anyone else from gaining ground.”
“Braemor cannot hope for peace within the Abbey without listening to the concerns of the reformers.”
“Aye, I saw little interest in peace there though.”
“Then why did the Braemorian Abbots call the conclave in the first place?”
“I do not know. I hope Eleanor knows more than I do.”
“This is…I am concerned Juliette. I thought…I did not know things were so bad. The peace of Angburg has held for sixty years though. There can be no threat to it now surely?”
“The Peace…it may only have been a mask to hide the problems. Eleanor thinks this antipathy cannot continue indefinitely. The Abbey is losing our standing among the princes of Moaglea. We must be united, or we have no control over the lords, and can little aid their souls, or restrain their own intemperate passions. There has to be a resolution soon. The Abbots who follow Grae’s line are clamouring for action, the reformers are sick of being restrained by a peace none of their current Abbots had a hand in drafting. And between them are people like Eleanor, and Abbot Justin of course.”
“There can be no war while Justin lives surely. And your Eleanor of course.”
“Perhaps. Eleanor does what she can in our own small corner of the world. But it was Benedict who was the bulwark. He had his own influence throughout the Abbey. No one didn’t know his name and all respected him, even if they disagreed with him. But now.” Her face fell, saddened beyond words at her memories of the great man lying on the floor of Grana’s Abbey.
“I heard of his death,” Feliciente spoke softly. “I cannot imagine how it must have been to be there. But, surely Henri remains. He was as firmly behind the reformers as Benedict.”
“They were strongest together. Henri is only one man now. His own hands can only hold back so many. The two of them together were strong enough to prevent outright conflict. But Henri is not cut from the same cloth as Benedict. It may have been only his great regard for Benedict that stopped him from joining the Braemorian Abbots himself. Now…he is like a tree swaying in a great storm, and we shall have to wait and see which side he falls to.”
“Such…such intemperance.” Feliciente looked lost and small in the flickering light of the hearth flame. “How can such ill feeling have taken hold so quickly? We are the Obedient of Sephira, the keepers of the Hallow Flame. Not a village or town from Braemor to Mian is outside the firm hand of our teaching. God will surely protect us from such violent divisions.”
“We can only petition Sephira so, and have faith in her and in God’s glory.”
Feliciente gave a mirthless laugh, and drained her cup of wine, filling it again from the jug. “I have petitioned Sephira every day for favour and have heard nothing from her. Sometimes I wonder…Sometimes I wonder if she even hears us.”
“My dearest sister,” Juliette said with sympathy. “The shadows on your brow are heavy. I have not seen you like this before.”
Felicient gave a mirthless laugh. “You have been away too long, Juliette.” She said. “I am not the merry young girl I was when we first met. My years have aged me, I fear, more than you.”
“You are still young to me sister. And these years will pass. The shadows of intemperance will fade, as they always do. Wise men and women run this land, great nobles and Abbots of renown. And your own Abbot among them. He will soon see your worth again, and be eager for your counsel, as he used to.”
“Will he? Perhaps you are right. But oftentimes these days…I fancy I feel the vultures circling.”
“Sister, my most beloved friend. What are these words of despair? Surely your position here is not so bleak as that?”
“Ah, no, of course, I suppose I am just sad that you have to go so soon. You are right I am sure. My Abbot will come, and call me by name to his chambers. And we will speak together as of old.” Feliciente sighed deeply. “Ah, but if only you could stay Juliette, the talk we could have together, the tales of our younger years we could recount, it would give me such joy that I would feel as twenty years old again.”
“I suppose I could stay another day or so, my sister.” Juliette answered, ignoring her own desperate hurry. “There are always other ships.”
“Oh sister, if you could. I feel my heart lifting at the very thought.”