THURSDAY, SECOND WEEK AFTER EASTER
Curse them, just one network remaining intact and the shreds of a second now being reorganised. How long before those captured at the training base began spilling out names of those not taken? We’ve relocated those still free, but even now they might be being followed, traced. Use it or lose it. And those cursed allies, filthy atheists, weren’t taking our calls, were clearly cutting us off suddenly and totally. We’re almost blind and deaf. Well we can still speak; shout out loud with our deeds.
The news feed was full of it: the continued arrests, the civil disturbances as fights between the natives and our people rumble on, the aftermath of the Chilterns and revelations of the arms found in the ruins of the Swindon and Reading addresses, and now a huge upgrading of security at the main central London transport hubs, stations especially. They knew, they had to: taxi ranks were closed; service accesses tightly guarded, minor entrances sealed off; increased armed police presence, military as well, if rumour were to be believed. The dozen or so left of the network intended for central London would be entirely ineffective in trying to undertake a major attack on Euston as planned; sure, there would be lots of casualties, but nothing like the scale originally intended.
So, use them elsewhere, but where? Somewhere different, perhaps connected to the other major attack planned for the fourth network. Something that had the elegance of hurting their ex-allies hard at the same time. Yes, the London centre, while they still hit the provincial base. Sixteen to twenty intended martyrs could create mayhem there, their deeds would resound around the world, inspiring fear, maybe even submission.
He had an idea, had considered it before, perhaps it was time to resurrect it, but change would mean delay, maybe until the following week. Yes, Monday. Yes, you could even book a tour, well that would take care of reconnaissance and the insertion of an initial team; they’re making it easy for us. The more he considered it, the more he wondered why they hadn’t seen it earlier, the beauty of simultaneous and symbiotic northern and southern operations. Yes, divert eight from the north to the south, leaving over fifty for the larger operation in Manchester: it should still be sufficient and twenty or more in London would cause carnage. He picked up the phone.
The day of the first formal discussions with the Byzantines was scheduled to start with a service in Thea’s Orthodox chapel in the Basilica at ten, followed by a meeting between a small group of delegates from both sides which would probably continue through to mid-afternoon. It required an early start for Sally; the first train of the day, sitting there feeling foolish and self-conscious in her Byzantine silks covered in her old country coat given the dampening weather. Fortunately, Martha had decided to travel down to St Josephs with her, bringing Narin and her son along as well; time to give the girl a change of scenery she said, lift her mood, show Josey the bay and harbour, introduce him to Thea and her clan. The girl was distant still, but at least trying to speak English to them again. Once Sally caught sight of her looking out of the carriage window, a single tear on her cheek; Martha noticed it too and glanced anxiously across at Sally. No more needed to be said.
“Narin, have you met any Armenians? Some have come here with the Greeks for the first time; they want to meet you on Saturday.”
“No, all gone, Turks do, like my people.”
That single tear was now being joined by others.
“Many live still, in a land like this near your people. We want them to send a message to your people for you.”
She shrugged, as if it were not her concern.
“When he come back?”
Sally and Martha looked at one another, how often were they asked that question each day? Sally spared the older woman the pain of answering once again.
“When his work is finished, then he’ll come back, see us all, you as well.”
Narin didn’t respond, meaning a solemn journey, broken only occasionally by the laughter of Docco playing games with Sally’s son. She was glad to head to the Basilica leaving the others to visit some of the little shops in the main street on the way to Thea’s café.
If the journey were somewhat sombre, the Orthodox service, conducted by the Byzantine Archimandrite in accordance with the Greek rite, was a thing of solemn beauty. The Pocket’s diplomatic team were all there: High Steward, Abbot, Mayor, three older Seigneurs, Parish Stewards, a team of clerical support staff, the two Theophanos and herself.
The darkness of the sparsely windowed chapel was beaten back by the illumination of dozens of candles reflecting on the golden and metallic pigments of the roof. The candelabra, the vibrancy of the eastern silks and cottons, the heady smell of the incense wafting from the Orthodox censers, the unaccompanied chanting of the priests, combining for a bewildering, captivating spectacle light years from her minimalistic Anglican experience. Her heavy-lidded eyes eased, closed as Lethe like lethargy spread through her, relaxing and losing herself.
The extravagance of the atmosphere filtered throughout her body, brushing past conscious mind, stroking and caressing her subconscious, gently pulling her free of her material impulses, enfolding her in a speckling warm mist, sweet scented – was that lillies? – opening her wide, suppling her soul, her being dissipating, that still small voice penetrating the sensory moment, a hint of frankincense now, a salty minerality on her tongue, the sound of a rustling breeze, the radiance of imminent heat, stoned light on her face, then a tingling loosening, building gently to overload, the drowsiness falling away, a glow of inner sunlight seeping through her, pushing back the fatalism, the despair, the fear, burning them out painlessly so new life could begin, seeding and growing, pollinating, fruiting hope, strength, conviction, clarity, courage, smell, touch, tasting so good, sacred rose scented, lavender honeyed sweetness, delighting, satiating, then, as if of the season, shrinking back, withdrawing slowly, teasingly, the image of a thorn tree retreating to its roots, the echoes of falling leaves, a musky myrrh in the air, the shadow of a cross on a dusty hill, a hot breeze from the East, the lightest pressure between her shoulder-blades as of an unseen hand steadying her, a shaft of a risen warm Sun on her face, its presence allowing her physical senses to register once more, to intrude their noise into that preternatural calm, like a diver returning from the deep ocean, depressurising her, forcing her eyelids apart, her breath returning slowly, light bursting in on her, seeing and hearing again, evenly, deeply, finally.
She looked about.
The Abbot’s eyes were on her; he was smiling and then turned his head to his front once more. Him again, what does he see in me?
Service over, Sally followed the others, in procession into the cool outside, the contrast with… what was it… her internal experience… was too much, too profound to take in, sharpening her, chilling through her, as they covered the short distance to the Council chamber. A small crowd watched them silently as a dozen Seigneurs in their antique ceremonial armour and uniforms marched either side until they reached the Town Hall.
The functionality of the chamber was even more stark now, its sounds hard from their reverberations on the wooden floor, masonry walls and glazed windows, bringing her finally back down to earth, that ethereal moment now faded completely other than in the well of her memory. Hot drinks were served, but all was still formal, the assembly were gathered around the table, High Steward opposite what must be the Exarch, the Abbot facing the senior Greek cleric, three uniformed Seigneurs in front of three uniformed Byzantines, three Stewards opposite three older men robed as civilians, then what must be the Armenian Archimandrite, a couple of aides, one a monk or priest, then other aides, both secular and clerical, Greek and Brythonic arrayed respectively behind, the older Thea just so, the younger with the junior annotating staff and Sally herself.
Both sides -no. three, she later realised – started with the introductions in their own tongues, Greek, Armenian and English, progress slowed by the need to translate everything; no wonder they needed at least three days for any discussion she thought. The High Steward was leading the speaking on behalf of their side, recapping their news, summarising progress and set-backs. Much was new to Sally; the scale of some of the violence and that prevented was appalling, so at variance with what she had seen and heard here, the natures of those she had met. The attempt on the life of their mystery contact in the outside, his survival, the early signs of awakening in a growing segment of the population of Logres, the further revelation of the scale of what they called ’the darkness’, their determination to persevere, push harder, invest more resources in the struggle, her own fortuitous, nay providential arrival, those of others, and now the news of the Armenians, further signs of His Blessing.
Then the Exarch spoke of things: the finding of their Armenian brothers and sisters and the joy of it, the continued growth of their trading networks, now into Australia, Canada and Russia with investments already made. The intention to build a significant organisation in the United States, beginning with the Greek and Armenian communities, setting up businesses and securing supply lines for money, arms, intelligence and recruits. The acceleration of progress, the doubts and debates about whether to establish a presence in other European countries, the starting of a search for the believed Hispanic refuge, the hopes and fears for the Papacy, the desire to invest more effort into their work in Logres, the imperative that he, their bridgehead into the security services, survive. The always unnamed ‘he’ being their means to find others of like mind, not just in the UK, but elsewhere. Most of all though he spoke of the Armenians: their diaspora, their own country, its intimate relations with Russia, its closeness to the fractured Christian communities of the Near East, the Copts and Syriacs and from them maybe one day, others, the Druze, the Yazidi, Zoroastrians, even Alevis perhaps. Finally, the growing confidence of the Emperor, his decision to further develop their networks on the Greek mainland and in Cyprus, providing succour and hope to the many despairing there, more small steps on the longest journey back.
The Armenian cleric then addressed the assembly: wishing all His Blessings, proclaiming their joy at finding themselves no longer isolated. The initial shock of it, the need to adjust, not shrink away, to trust Him, them, have patience, give us time to still our fears, discern our own path, so much to take in and learn, but yes, they would start to reach out into the Armenian diaspora, initially through the Armenian church, and yes, they would join any embassy to the Vatican. They would need the support of their new allies to upgrade their homeland as was being done here, but it also would take many years as it had here. They were many in number and growing quickly, so was their land, but this meant food was scarce sometimes, new land took years to become fully productive, to be settled, so please be patient.
It was clear that an agenda had been agreed in advance; much was routine, trade matters, market potentials. Was tobacco still the best earner? Yes, unlikely to change, sales were still growing but antiquities were also seeing rising demand, also reproduction icons made with traditional techniques, they were in great demand, increasingly fashionable. The routine business discussions continued, with a break for lunch in the adjacent dining room. The parties didn’t mix she noticed; all was formal, diplomatic, three, no four, languages being spoken. She felt very much the spare wheel, had aimed to head for the older Thea, but was intercepted by the Abbot, smiling once more.
“How progresses your understanding, my child?
“Well Father, I’m not sure though that I am of much value here.”
“Have patience. These are but the formal steps; the real discussions will begin later, after dinner this evening, preparing the ground for tomorrow, all must be seen to go well. They see you are here, are trusted by us. They are watching you, how you behave, are you impulsive or reliable, indiscreet or confidential? That is why you are invited today and for the days to come, but surely your three days of torpor have been made worthwhile already?”
“In the Basilica… Such moments are precious, a gift of grace, unfathomable, so rare. Do you think that I did not notice, have not been so blessed myself? I won’t enquire as to details, but your face showed something of that within; truly we are right to trust you, be thankful for your presence among us.”
“I… I can’t explain, words can’t…”
“No, they cannot. Which is why those who live by them solely are lost for all their knowledge; wisdom, sofia, as our Greek friends call it, passes them by. In finding the garnet they overlook the ruby, a truly human failing. So, think on it, try to remember its essence, and trace its path before you. Will the girl Narin join us on Saturday? I wish to raise her future with our friends tonight at dinner.”
“I believe so Father, she’s here in St Joseph’s today with Martha, but she won’t leave until Sam returns.”
“So you said. Then we must ensure he does. I will write to our ally to see if young Samson has been in contact with him, ask him to persuade him to return, to bring him back himself if he can. I will enclose a personal letter for Samson offering him our understanding, a future here for him, our continued love for him as fellow sinners, and speak also of the girl, her need for him in a strange land. Will that be sufficient do you think? The Council is not in a mood to be vengeful as I said before, we share the blame too, must ask His forgiveness.”
“I don’t really know him well enough, but I’ll ask Martha tonight. I’m sure it will help though.”
“Then let me know tomorrow when you return. Now back to work, look wise, but tomorrow will be much more interesting, our and their plans for Logres, America, the Vatican.”
© 1642again 2018