The Unseen Path – Part Sixty Eight

1642again, Going Postal

Sally’s letter had asked her to attend a meeting the following day at the Civic Offices in St Joseph’s.  She was to be accompanied by Iltud in preparation for the start of business with the Byzantine Exarch on Friday.  The visitors, who were staying in the Ducal fort on Apple Island, were having a day to rest.  The letter explained that there would be a formal reception at the Abbey followed by a series of business meetings and other less formal functions over the subsequent five days.  It went on to say that she would be required to attend all of them; overnight accommodation in St Joseph’s would be provided.  She was in two minds whether to refuse, unhappy at having to leave her young son with Martha if she were away overnight, no matter how happy he might be about it.

He was spending more time with Narin now, enjoying having a sort of older sister figure while being an outlet for the girl’s pent up reservoir of affection with Sam away.  We really are becoming an unconventional extended family, she thought, hurled together by providence.  He was talking about his father less and less, although it seemed to come and go in waves; he was just accepting the new familial arrangements as normal.  She found herself wondering if it were the modern family that was dysfunctional: cousins, grandparents and so forth scattered around the globe, distant from their close kin, even parents increasingly distanced from one another by force of economic circumstance or preoccupation with individualistic self-gratification.  But she couldn’t refuse; she was in their debt and without their active support a reunion of their little nuclear family was impossible.

She had duly arrived, along with Iltud and Brother Peran on the first train of the morning.  All the monks had been summoned to stay at either the Abbey or monastery in St Joseph’s to participate in the various religious and other ceremonies being organised.  Neither could answer many of her enquiries about what would be expected of her, saying that her role today would be mainly one of listening and learning more about relations with the Byzantines, before meeting them in preparation for her potential involvement in a mission to the Vatican.  They reassured her about their response to a woman’s involvement, even in a junior capacity.  Apparently, the Byzantines had an ancient tradition of according women great influence in their counsels, right back to Justinian’s wife Theodora in the early sixth century, with many having significant influence, even exercising regency powers at times.  They would be much more concerned to ensure that she followed protocol as a newcomer, not yet fully deserving of trust.

She and Iltud were ushered through into the Council Chamber while Peran made his way over to the Abbey.  She could see almost the entire Council were there, missing only a few of the younger Seigneurs, including Mark, who were required to continue patrolling the barrier.  Several monks were present at one end of the table, clearly the clerical contingent who helped run the Pocket’s small civil service, with the Town Clerk and Georgy Tredare’s sister Thea, who was there, Iltud explained, as a bilingual speaker to help one of the monks record any Greek spoken by the visitors.  Iltud smiled at the older Theophano, who was seated just behind and between the Abbot and High Steward, again for her language skills and intimate knowledge of her homeland: she was having to stand in for the injured Georgy.  Sally was directed to take a place by the younger Thea to just observe and learn, not speak unless asked.

Mainly out of consideration for her, the discussion was in English.  She really was going to have to learn Brythonic if she wanted to spend the rest of her life here fully accepted by all, although apparently the Byzantines were increasingly conducting their foreign dealings in English as the modern world’s lingua franca, and would do so on this mission.  Brythonic was seen by them as too rustic and Latin as too redolent of their historic disputes with the papacy.  It soon became clear to her that foreign policy was decided outside the Council by a loose inner circle of the Duke, Abbot, High Steward, a handful of the more eminent Seigneurs and one or two of the longer serving Stewards; today was about consultation and consensus.

The High Steward led the discussion.

“Our visitors bring us momentous news, such that the Exarch of the West, one of His Imperial Majesty’s most trusted officials, Alexios Palaiologos, has come to confer with us himself, along with the Archimandrite Anastasios from the Holy Mountain.  The Council will receive them formally tonight at the Abbey and dine with them there as well.  Discussions will begin tomorrow morning and continue for three days to agree common policy on several matters.”

“Firstly, they have noted our activities in Logres, the direct interventions we are undertaking there as previously agreed with them.  They are pleased and wish to provide more resources and encouragement for us to deepen and expand our activities.  They believe that Britain, England and Wales in particular, is the most promising land in Western Europe to strengthen the awakening, lacking a presence in the other lands as they do, bar one possible exception.  We have explained to them our recent set-backs and advances, but they wish to invest more resources in us here.”

“Second, the exception is in the Latin lands of Western Europe. They increasingly believe that a small enclave, protected by a barrier similar to theirs and ours, may exist on the coast of Hispania somewhere.  A refuge granted to the Visigoths when the darkness overran Iberia in the seventh and eight centuries after Our Lord.  They have not yet located it and it may take many years as it did for them to find us.  The existence of this enclave was suggested by a reference in some memoirs of a Visigoth refugee who sought sanctuary on the Holy Mountain in the eighth century; that is all.  But as we know, they are patient.”

“Third, their tentative relations with a small and secretive group at the heart of the Vatican continue to progress.  They have not revealed themselves fully, nor we at all, but they aim to do so later this year and undertake an embassy with us next spring.  As you all know, they have been progressing this for several years now, very cautiously, but believe that the time cannot be long delayed as the hierarchy of the Roman church is more receptive and humble at present; more anxious about the oncoming darkness.  Like the Byzantines and ourselves, they have long memories.”

“Fourth and finally, after over four decades of searching they have established relations with the Armenian refuge on the southern coast of Asia Minor, in the ancient land of Higher Cilicia, which they had long believed existed.  An Armenian envoy, the Archimandrite Krikor, has travelled here with them to open relations with us.  It seems that the Armenian refuge was established as the same time as the Byzantine enclave, when the darkness overran Anatolia, but remained small, until the persecutions grew in ferocity, finally culminating in the attempt to exterminate the entire Armenian people at the time of the second cataclysm, when tens of thousands of fleeing refugees were guided there by His Hand.”

“Their land has continued to grow ever since, such that there are now nearly half a million souls there, but they have been isolated, their lands outside resettled by the denizens of the darkness.  They are fearful and remain distrusting as where we, when first found.  But our allies believe that with their numbers, their diaspora in the outside world, the fragment of Armenia that survived because it had become subject to the Third Rome before the genocide, many new great possibilities are being opened to us by His guiding hand.  Perhaps contacts with the Syrian and Assyrian churches, the Maronites, the Copts, all of whom continue to suffer at the hands of the darkness, perhaps, as we have learned by the Kurdish girl’s arrival here, even the non-Christian victims, the Yazidi, Mandaeans, Zoroastrians…  Who can foresee?”

“They wish us to join with them in these policies, to extend our reach around the globe, to find those who truly see, to strengthen our resources and to develop our presence in Logres.  To penetrate its institutions, defend its people, extend our position in America, gain recruits and new resources and establish ourselves in the other English-speaking dominions of Australia, New Zealand, Canada.”

“They believe that it was His Hand, directing the English speakers, which secured the defeat of the darkness in its other guises during the first three cataclysms, broke what may have been the fourth during what those outside called the Cold War, before it became fully manifest.  Now the English-speaking world has become decadent, increasingly faithless and rootless, heedless to losing its homelands to the returning darkness.  We must help to rouse them, that is, they say, our role.”

“I, like many of you here today, find it ironic that those same pagan Saxons who drove us here, conquered Logres, then became His instrument three, four, times, to defeat the darkness in various guises, may still do so again should Our Lord will it.  Our enmity is past and should now be finally forgotten.  The question is: should we accede to our allies’ pleas, seeing in them His Will for us, to risk ourselves more greatly?  Should we reach out further, prepare more people to go into the outside?  That I leave to you, but would say that this news, the Armenians, the Papacy, removes my final doubts.”

She was astonished, the High Steward had previously struck her as a diffident man, surely intelligent, but not eloquent or passionate, so different to today; looking around, it occurred to her that she was not the only one present to react similarly.  There was a pause as people digested his news, the murmur of quiet conversation between those sitting next to one another.  The High Steward looked nervous, as if fearing that this was too much for his audience, might they choke on a surfeit of revelations?  But the Abbot was smiling gently, confidently.  Always watch him Sally told herself, I’m more and more convinced it’s him behind the scenes, the invisible directing hand, weaving the pattern so well that no one can see any trace of its maker.

Finally, one of the parish Stewards spoke up.

“High Steward, is this the will of His Grace, the Duke?”

There was a new tension in the air, why?  The High Steward hesitated, but the Abbot was there, seamlessly before him.

“Yes, it is.  As you know His Grace,” how did that English form of addressing a Duke establish itself here she wondered idly, “spent his vigour, his health, fighting the darkness: how could he say differently now?”

Bingo, thought Sally, I’m even more certain it’s more him than anyone now, what a clever answer, assuming it’s true.  The Steward nodded, apparently satisfied, but one of the Seigneurs spoke up.  “High Steward, we are few, very few for the outside work, how can we increase our efforts?  One of us was injured badly, as was our ally, and one seems to have left us, the first time such a thing has happened?  Yet you speak of extending us to other countries, continents, when we are already too few here?  What are these extra resources our allies promise?”

The High Steward, his face flushing at this apparent disagreement about something that was clearly close to his heart, almost tumbled the words out, fighting his natural reticence to do so.

“What you say has merit, but lacks faith, in our capacities, of those in the outside who are increasingly waking, our allies old and new, our friend’s guidance and most of all that of Our Lord Himself.  This cause may well still be in its infancy when we have left this world, but we have travelled so far already, after centuries of torpor, how can we lose our courage now when new allies are being found?  Our work in Logres has saved thousands of lives, inflicted defeats on the darkness out of all proportion to our resources.  Our ally and Georgy Tredare, will soon be recovered, and I am sure the young man will be found, may perhaps be only criticised for an excess of zeal and devotion.”

That’s one way of putting it thought Sally.

“Do you doubt His Will?”

The Seigneur was embarrassed; this unexpected eloquence from someone who was once just a glorified parish steward, albeit personally chosen by the Duke himself.

“Forgive me.  I do not mean to doubt, I just wish to ensure that we are methodical, patient, calculated, avoiding excess risk.”

Sally glanced about the room, it looked like that was it, a consensus had been achieved, the Abbot was smiling, he even winked at her.  Yes, you know, don’t you?

He came over to her as the session broke up.

© 1642again 2018

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