MONDAY, SECOND WEEK AFTER EASTER
The car had met him at the airport and was taking him straight to a villa away from the city, by the coast, nice and quiet, almost certainly the opposite of the impending meeting to which he had summoned from him from his home in Ankara the previous evening. He had been expecting it of course, had even considered refusing to attend, but that would have been to put personal pride before the cause, something he could never do.
They were disturbed by the news from the UK. Hardly surprising, the media was confirming almost three hundred arrests, with more expected as the authorities widened their net, whole families were being taken into custody, many with no connection to his networks. But the real damage to them was what he had most feared: a major shipment lost, most of the local volunteers and many brought in from outside, a kaleidoscope of nationalities, arrested, weapons confiscated, safe houses blown and even some bank accounts frozen, tens of millions of dollars lost.
This last deeply worrying fact only becoming clear with the morning’s reopening of the banks.
Someone in their organisation had been stockpiling information against all the protocols and somehow the authorities had got hold of it; maybe they had turned someone in one of the blown networks, maybe both. Would they have enough information to bridge across into another cell, rip that apart as well? Hopefully not, besides the later arrests were largely people with no connections to us at all, other suspect figures, but not ours, suggesting that they had largely consumed all their quality intelligence and were now becoming indiscriminate, hoping to stumble across something by sheer volume of effort. No, the two remaining networks in place were intact according to the leaders on the ground. Besides, there were very few locals involved; they were largely from overseas, brought in specially, people likely to be unknown to European security forces.
We have remained organised and will respond quickly: three major attacks, large enough to ring down through the ages, the effect of such things was cumulative after all. His Arab masters, as they liked to think themselves, would not pull the plug yet, they would sit there conveying their disapproval, making threats, taking a vicarious pleasure in his discomfiture, but would still support the reorganised plan.
After all what else did they have? Their own people had consistently proved themselves unreliable, undisciplined, hard to control once the blood had started flowing, unlike us with our centuries of iron Ottoman discipline. No, let them talk themselves out until they are satisfied, what could they do if he ignored them? It was no longer even vaguely their organisation. He would be home tonight and back to work. Those fools, their allies as they called themselves, trying to convince him it wasn’t the authorities, well recent events proved otherwise to his satisfaction; they must be playing both ends against the middle. He would make them pay.
It had been an early start, nothing unusual about that for Abbot Winwaloe, but the news that Alan had brought back from the outside was more than a little disturbing for them all, their first real setback. Him wounded, Georgy Tredare shot, Samson disappeared, suspicions about both of them, certainly a disregard for orders. On the other side of the scales: a young girl had been recovered, many lives in the outside saved and a highly skilled surgeon recruited. Yes, God in His infinite mercy had not entirely deserted them.
The rest of the Council was divided, some wanting to send parties to find Samson, drag him back; others excusing him, wanting to sit tight, withdraw for a while until he had recovered, build up their strength, prepare more teams for the outside. The High Steward was cautious, wanting to take advice from the hopefully soon to arrive Byzantine embassy. This was to the frustration of some of the Seigneurs, the equites, so named from the old Roman knightly class. Increasingly they were all looking to him to try to bring consensus from disagreement, his length in office meaning that he was almost the longest serving on the Council, highly trusted by the Duke.
Sitting there, listening to them question Alan, debate the way forward, it seemed a life away from his vows renouncing the secular world. How little he knew of the world outside, all from books and the stories of travellers, so constrained was he.
Poor Alan, a good man doing a task he found distasteful out of a sense of loyalty to his new homeland, a refugee asked to return to that from which he had fled. That was why he had insisted on him; it wasn’t an adventure or a mission of revenge for him, that kept him balanced, proportionate, calm under stress. He had done well, never panicked, tried to avoid unnecessary ruthlessness. Now they would need Alan more than ever, couldn’t allow him to resign his role, as he wanted. Yes, give Alan time to recover, spend time with his family by the sea, all of them, and having heard from the Byzantines, send an envoy to him, asking his advice, select and train up some more outside teams; there would be sufficient volunteers, and pray to Him for guidance and moral strength.
Now the lady Sally was before them, Iltud beside her, Brother Peran too; he, they, had grown fond of her. It was hard not to, the reports were good; she was stronger than she realised, sympathetic to those less fortunate than her, like the poor Yazidi girl, stable, asked mostly the right questions and didn’t rant when the answers were inconvenient. He smiled; she still didn’t really understand where she was. She had some things they needed if the Byzantines’ reports were true, His ways were mysterious and He had a way of providing, and it would be a boon to have another female voice at their counsels.
There were only three women on the High Council, all elected Stewards. It had taken him over ten years to persuade the Duke and the rest to allow women to be elected; it was a recent innovation but if they were to undertake the work in the outside world they needed to draw on all their collective wisdom and strength, consequently he had prevailed in the end. The Seigneurs, a military caste, would remain exclusively male, as it should be, although they were now training some women for outside work, much to the horror of some of the more conservative Councillors, but it seemed to be His will.
His thoughts wandered back to the discussion.
“Mistress Bowson, the last time you were before us you said that you would help us, use your expertise for the good of all, does that remain the case?”
She had grown in confidence it was obvious; she knew they needed something which only she could provide.
“Yes, it does, but on some conditions.”
Iltud squirmed beside her, Peran smiled briefly; they could guess what was coming.
“And what are those pray?”
“Firstly, you actually try to help me get my husband here, not in the fullness of time, but as soon as is practicable.”
“That would mean abducting him, by force, he would not believe us if we tried to persuade him, surely you see that?”
“I understand, I don’t see how exactly, he would come if he could see for himself, I’m sure.”
Why was she so sure? She didn’t know, but the conviction had been seeping through her, like the sap rising after a long winter’s hibernation in the roots, over the last few weeks. Just as their separation had clarified things for her, had shown her what was really important, she was utterly convinced it would do the same for him; things had become not broken, but distant between them, that was all.
“My husband would be a huge asset to your work, which brings me on to my second condition.”
Iltud was red with embarrassment now, a recent immigrant making demands of the Council, it was almost unprecedented.
“I want to know what you are up to back there.”
She chose not to call it home, knowing it would weaken her case.
“You’ve been evasive, but men with guns, people coming back wounded, missing like Sam, others brought back, people killed, it’s a whole lot more than smuggling isn’t it?”
Brother Peran whispered to her while the Council debated in Brythonic so she couldn’t understand. It was clear from the faces, the tones, that many were angry, insulted.
“Don’t worry, be firm, leave it to Him and the Abbot, they will prevail; they need you more than you know. After all, why else did He bring you here?”
The argument must have raged for a quarter of an hour, slowly calming before the previously silent Abbot had weighed in, more direct, energised, than she could have imagined, but still smiling. Finally, they seemed to reach a consensus of sorts, although some were still muttering, but it was clear that the Abbot had the High Steward onside, probably had before they even started. The High Steward spoke up, in heavily accented English again.
“Our work is, as you say, more than smuggling, more than rescuing a few unfortunates, although that is important in itself. We are trying to help those in Logres who are fighting the darkness, providing resources, a refuge, trying to help the few there who see as we do from going the way of the Byzantines and so many others. The darkness has been stopped before, at Tours by the Franks of Charles Martel, at Vienna twice by the Holy Roman Emperors, in Italy by the Normans, Spanish and Germans and now it is returning, as it always does but so few on the outside see, sunk in their lethargy of possessions, forgetting the lessons their ancestors learned. But there is hope, more are awakening, and we here, privileged by Him, must do our duty, quietly, secretly, because we are few. Our work is slowing the evil so that more may awaken in time and trying to protect the innocent where we can. We do not take life indiscriminately, but where we have no choice, and hope that He in His infinite mercy forgives us our presumption.”
“But where do you get all these weapons? Who is working with you in England? How do you know what to do?”
“The Byzantines, I think you already know, have control of two Greek shipping lines, access to other countries. Together, we have been quietly establishing ourselves in America, accessing their resources; there are more there who see the evil for what it is, want to resist, but do not trust their own government, its compromises for the sake of money. Very few there know fully, only a handful, but that is enough. Many more are sympathetic without fully understanding and we are deepening our positions there, gaining more access to funds, arms, technology, hopefully even intelligence and eventually we hope, volunteers. Perhaps, in time Australia, Canada and others will join us as well.”
“But what of those in England, this mystery man you keep referring to?”
“He alone is perhaps our greatest gift from Him in the struggle. His position enables him to pass on information, guidance, direction, even funds and recruits such as Samson, whom you know, but he is almost alone; recruitment of others has been almost impossible for fear of betrayal. He has met your husband you know, believes him to be a good man, who may, one day, join us.”
Andy, they had access to Andy, her heart leapt in hope.
“Then you can get him here, if he sees for himself, he may join us,” that’s it, use us, not you, show them you’re on their side, “you’ve no excuse to wait.”
The Abbot spoke up, “If you do as we ask, without further condition, we will try to reach out to your husband, but it must be our decision how and when, and you must be patient, better to wait and be successful than rush and miscarry.”
“Then, if I agree, what do you want me to do?”
He was smiling now, joined by the High Steward, and some of the others, they could see she was on the hook. “Word has reached us from the Byzantines that they have learnt, through the offices of the monks of the Holy Mountain, that the Vatican, or some at its heart, may be receptive to a secret approach. Our goal is to work together, put aside old quarrels, to face the common threat. The Papacy is under new leadership, more humble, regretful of past arrogances and it is used to keeping secrets, working quietly over decades; they may even suspect our existence, who knows with their hidden records? With their addition, we would be much stronger, be starting to reunite Christendom as it should be, not by authority but by true communion. We will need to send envoys alongside the Byzantines; your languages will prove invaluable, you can understand the local tongue and others, Latin we know already.”
“But when… my son… I can’t leave him behind?”
“Not until next year, after Easter when you would need to be touched, when further enquiries have revealed whether our hopes are true. Your son could not go, it would be a difficult journey, undertaken in secret and he will be safe here with Martha. Stop! I know what you are going to say! By then, we will try to bring your husband here, but if for whatever reason we cannot, you must still go, but you have my solemn promise, and that of the Council, that we will do everything in our power to bring him here short of forcible abduction. Do you agree?”
Peran was smiling at her. The Abbot had it all planned beforehand, he’d foreseen her demands, worked out how to get her onside, the rest of the Council too, without making a hard commitment that may be beyond their power to achieve? Everybody said he was a saint. Well, if he were he was one of the old school, those who had converted barbarian kings and nations by force of argument and personality, dragging a continent back from the edge of irredeemable ruin in the space of a few centuries by persuasion and example.
“Well Mistress Bowson, do you consent? We can offer no more.”
This place just kept getting more extraordinary, amazing things kept unfolding before her at almost every turn; international reach, ambition allied with modesty, vision even… They could all be mad or deluded of course, but of that there was no evidence. They were serious, Narin was proof of that.
“I agree, thank you.”
What else can I do, but you knew that didn’t you?
On the way out with Brother Peran she passed Gillian coming in with the new Doctor, David Kingsbridge, who introduced them. She tried to reassure him like the veteran she was already starting to feel, asking him how he was finding things. He laughed, but didn’t speak before being summoned upstairs for his interview. “Meet you at Thea’s afterwards?” said Gillian, “She’s commanded us to join her for looking after Georgy, and you can’t possibly head back without dropping in.”
© 1642again 2018