Alan Dare was sitting in the Basilica with his wife, watching the spectacle of the Orthodox rite playing out in front of him, along with Art, what now appeared to be his girlfriend, the American runaway, the other members of the outside teams and their families; even Georgy was there in a wheelchair with his mother and extended family. They were there at the express invitation of the ambassadors who wanted to meet those operating outside the barrier; apparently there was going to be a reception for them afterwards. It really wasn’t his sort of thing, this formality, but he had promised, didn’t want to let the others down by not turning up. He didn’t understand much of it, neither did the others, just tried to look outwardly attentive while his hand sought out his wife’s and his thoughts strolled away.
On his return he had spoken to the Council, unburdened himself of his suspicions about the events in Swindon, his concerns about Samson and Georgy, his desire to retire from this horrible work. That had shocked them, no doubt about it. They weren’t naïve or fools, certainly not the Seigneurs, neither the Abbot, but they didn’t really understand the outside world, its pressures, its confusions. They had said they would consider what to do, then recalled him after the arrival of the Greeks to meet privately with the Abbot, the High Steward and two of the senior equites.
They had hit him with a charm offensive, stressing his importance to the work, his irreplaceability, the fact that he had been chosen partly because of his strong moral scruples, the progress of their plans with their allies, old and new. His suspicions were not proof, however reasonable, of what may have happened; if anyone’s, it was largely their fault, not his. Georgy would be stood down from operations in Logres for the foreseeable future, might be sent to the Vatican or one of their new allies, perhaps to escort the Kurdish girl: he would need to demonstrate improved reliability before entrusted in Logres again. Sam, well he deserved understanding, forgiveness, a young man, troubled past, perhaps excessive zeal, and his relationship with the girl; if he returned he could be recovered, perhaps sent out to escort the girl home.
As for Alan himself, he was essential, their most experienced operator on the outside, his moral sense vital if their work was not to go awry, further mistakes made. What did he need to carry on, more time at home to spend with his family? No problem.
More resources? Agreed: they were going to train up at least four more outside teams; they needed him to oversee this, if nothing else, the other teams were nearly fully ready now. Additionally, the Greeks had sent four volunteers to train beside them, get experience of operating outside, become proficient in English, the Armenians had also sent four, with more on the way to train and learn English.
More money, armaments, technology, were already on the way, the first consignment had just been landed, more bases to be bought and established in Logres too. They needed to find more trainers, experts from outside, like Hendricks, but they needed his help for this, to oversee it all. They needed clear operational leadership for the outside, Logres, too; there was no one else they trusted sufficiently, other than Alan himself. Would he refuse them, abandon the progress he had helped deliver, those he had helped rescue, the happiness of the lost he had found and helped restore, the Kurd, the American, those to whom they had become close? How many more out there could they reach out to now, doing His work?
It was unfair he thought, to put him under this pressure, but subtle, not even mentioning his debt to them; he knew they were confident they didn’t need to. He had spoken of it to his wife, her family, Art, the leaders of the other outside teams, asked their advice, explained his reservations. All, even his wife, finally, had urged him to accept. Yes, even she, the one who had most to lose. He had even been to see the Abbot privately, explained his fears for his soul, his doubts. As ever the cleric had listened, then explained that the burden fell chiefly to him, the one who asked him to do these things. There were no simple answers, no automatic absolutions, but they needed to think of the consequences of stepping back from the conflict, how many lives had they already saved, innocents rescued? It was a fallen world, no course of action was perfect, but they had to do their human best, defend the defenceless, combat the wicked. He knew it was easy for him, the others, to say these words to Alan and the others, safe as they were here in their homes, but the moral risks were even more on them, sending others out to do their work. Would Alan think on it further, there was time, perhaps take up the offer at least until someone else was ready to take his place?
He had looked deeply and questioningly at the Abbot, but he knew he had no choice when it was put like that, what would his fellow citizens think of him if he stepped away? What was it President Kennedy had said at the start of the sixties, ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?’ From there it had all gone wrong; that decade’s attitudinal revolution had been really all about self-indulgence and self-gratification hidden beneath a mask of idealism: hypocrites. Then along came the consumerism of the next decades, selfishness raised to an art form and to hell with the rest. Yes, he had to say yes, at least until another could take his place.
Brother Winwaloe had embraced him, thanking him profusely and then said they had decided to appoint him to a new position, Seigneur for their operations in Logres, temporary until confirmed by the Duke. Why had they not told him before he asked? The monk smiled, they didn’t think him the sort to be bought by promotion, they wanted him to do it for the right reasons. So here he was with the other dignitaries, dressed up, feeling a fool, his wife so proud beside him.
Afterwards, along with the others, he was presented to the Exarch and the other envoys, their volunteers whose training he would help oversee. Pretty speeches were made, oh, he was bored already with this formality, and then they were presented with gifts, small exquisite ikons in gold frames, bolts of Byzantine silk cloth for them and their wives, things unaffordable to all of them, as a mark of the Emperor’s appreciation. He had looked at the High Steward who had nodded his approval, it had been agreed, and then they had left, the ceremonies continuing with other guests. On the way home his wife had whispered how proud she was of him, and other things that made what he must do all the harder. Following behind, Art and the American girl, it was unavoidably obvious now what had grown between them; at least she had her wedding cloth. If he needed any final convincing that was it.
At the Town Hall, for yet another lunch and final discussions, the Abbot couldn’t wait for it all to finish, time to get back to being just a Brother again. He was starting to feel his age, ‘Lord, give me strength to serve for sufficient years to prepare a successor, perhaps Brother Peran, so like a younger me, so unaware of his potential in Your Hands.’ Another thing to worry himself about; it was always all about people, individuals precious to Him, never forget that.
Sunday morning, clean, clean, clean. Sam was obsessed with it, the car, the house, their clothes, at least those he couldn’t persuade her to burn with his own. Get the place sorted in time for the estate agent, who was coming to value it and prepare details for a quick sale, while a decorator would be there the following week to repaint the cleaned rooms. They were even going to dump the bedroom carpet and mattress at the local tip that afternoon. He was also insistent that she sell the car after another full valeting: she would take it in to the dealer this week.
Then back to London tonight. She would work from home tomorrow, make sure everything was ready for his arrival; the firm were going easy on her, one of their star assets, but she couldn’t afford to take too much leeway, create doubts in their minds, at least until she had decided her future, had talked to him again.
She wouldn’t make it to the hospital to see ‘John’ today either, would have to make do with calling him. Perhaps when he came over she could talk to him about the nightmares, how to get some restful sleep; he might know, be able to comfort her.
Stop being so needy, so weak. He’s got enough on his plate, getting better; with everything else he doesn’t need my little concerns as well.
But he was concerned about her, it was obvious when she called him, apologised; he was all about her, not himself, nor even Sam. How was she? Was something wrong? Had he offended her in some way? Is that why she wasn’t visiting? Was she having second thoughts about him staying at her place? It was no problem if she was, he would understand, could go to a service place they had found for him.
No, no, no, the words had stuttered out, it’s not that at all, just pressure of work; want to spend time with you next week. She didn’t like misleading him, but wasn’t going to let him off the hook this time; besides he seemed to have accepted things, at least for now. Don’t mess it up.
Sam keeps stealing sly glances at me as we drive back to the big city; he’s concerned, almost worried, but not sure how to broach the subject, trying to summon up the nerve. Divert him.
“Sam, I think you should go home when you’ve seen him. I’ve spoken to him; he wants to talk to you, help you straighten things out. Your family must be missing you, friends too. See how Lena’s doing, that girl you rescued? It sounds lovely there, peaceful, simple. I know it’s harder in some ways, got its drawbacks, but you need time to recuperate.”
He started, anxious again.
“I know Miss, it depends on him, what he says, but that list of names we got, someone needs to look into them, deal with them if necessary.”
“You can’t put the world right on your own you know, he can’t either. None of us must make the mistake of thinking that we can.”
He didn’t answer, has just lapsed into silence once more, almost brooding.
“Sam, I didn’t mean you to think you can’t stay at my place, you can as long as he thinks it prudent, or we’ll fix you up somewhere else. It’s up to you, but it’s a big hostile city, especially given what you’re trying to do. Just don’t turn your back on those who care for you, please?”
You’re turning into his big sister. Sheena was right though, don’t squander those who want the best for you, don’t be too proud to keep love alive. That’s one thing I’ve learnt these weeks and months anyway. I see that now, with all the clarity of that sunbeam through the church window.
Later, just before bed, she called him again. He must have been asleep, but sounded happy to hear her voice. When she was sleeping, the hand, the face, returned, but this time he was there, but stronger, and the other man came sooner; she didn’t see his face, but something told her she knew him from somewhere. It retreated, disappearing with them again. He would be here this time tomorrow; the nightmare was less intense, she slept better, she couldn’t wait.
© 1642again 2018