"Bless me father, for I have sinned."
There was a long pause and Father Hudriod turned his head slightly to glance at the screen. From the shadow, the man offering confession was still there. He let the silence continue, waiting for the man to fill it. A young man, well-spoken and not one of his parishoners. His accent... northern? A hint of the borders although only a hint.
"Father, three nights ago, I killed a man."
Hudriod swallowed. Not the usual small sins then. Forgive me, Almighty, for praying for something more interesting than daily sins worthy of small penance. "How did this happen, son?"
"It was premeditated, father. I climbed the wall around his home at night and used the branches of a tree to reach the roof of his house. It was quite easy to open the latch of his window shutters with a narrow blade and from there I had access to his bedchamber as he slept." There was something matter of fact about how the man finished: "And then I cut his throat open with the same knife."
"Tell me why you did this," offered the priest in what he hoped, realising his knuckles where white where he clasped his hands.
There was a dry chuckle. "Why I killed him? Why I did it like a thief in the night? And that is hardly the worst of my sins, father."
"From the beginning, to the end, son."
"I admire your composure, father." The man beyond the screen shifted slightly. "This isn't your ordinary confession, is it. I'm sorry."
"This is why I'm here son. God is all knowing, the confession is for your benefit."
"Hmm. Well, I am not here to confess his sins for him. Will it suffice to say that I believe he has given false testimony and that I am quite certain that he arranged the disgrace of an innocent woman who chose to end her own life as a result?"
Hudriod nodded, mind racing trying to think of any recent news of murders and of suicides. "Those would be crimes that can arouse hatred."
"I would like to say that I do not hate him. It isn't quite true, yet, but I think perhaps I can forgive him one day. He faces a higher judge now and that should be enough. My method..." The sound of the chair creaking suggested a shifting of weight. "It was not chivalrous, father. Not what a knight should do, perhaps. He was Deryni though and had I faced him openly I do not know how it would have gone. Badly, I suspect."
"A Deryni." Hudriod felt his stomach sink. Two or three days ride, away. There were already stories spreading about a bold knight having ended the schemes of the sorcerer Viggo, who had deceived Lord Abelard into naming him his cousin and heir. Lord Abelard who had died of a broken heart after his daughter's shameful behaviour disgraced her. But this tale seemed more sordid than those tales.
The priest could think of some of his brothers who would say that it couldn't be a sin to kill a Deryni, no matter the circumstances. Some of his teachers would have said the same. But others would have disagreed. And in any case, the man offering confession was clearly too troubled to accept such a simplistic answer. "I see why that would pose difficulties given your decision to... kill this man. Very well. And you have said there are other sins."
"Aye. These things I have told you are evils I have done. Perhaps needful evils, but nonetheless... Yet there are good things I have not done. I have heard lies said, about myself and also the man I have killed. And I have let those lies stand, rather than telling the truth."
"Why did you do that, son?"
"I think... I was proud, father. And I think I was also afraid."
"Afraid, yes. These lies make me out to be... things I am not. They claim I faced... the man in chivalrous battle. That God aided me in this... which would not be for me to say. I suppose I have at least attempted to steer them from blasphemy in that. But still, they make me out to be a hero and as having slain him for being a Deryni, as if his deeds wouldn't have merited it were he as human as you or I."
"And your fears are because...?"
The man leant forwards. "I know men's hearts, father. They do not take kindly to learning their heroes have feet of clay." Intensity raised his voice. "They burned his body. They heaped his name with so many crimes I doubt they can all be true. And at that same time they hail me for fighting through all his guards and slaying him in single combat. I fear their wrath if they were disappointed."
"Did his guards not tell them differently?"
"His guards fled, for the most part. I showed them their masters head and I told them his silver was unguarded. After that most of them weren't inspired to avenge him. Those two who did... well, father. I gave them every chance to leave. I didn't slay them by stealth. Perhaps I should have said I killed three men, but those two made their own choices and I must believe they were at peace with those choices and where it led them."
"The silver didn't tempt you, son?"
The penitent chuckled drily. "I told them where his silver was, father. Not where he hid twelve new gold sovereigns. I suppose I must add theft to my sins, from whoever is counted as heir to the property in question."
"That sounds accurate, son."
"So. I have committed one murder, one act of theft and numerous sins of omission in the field of challenging falsehoods. I also killed two other men although I can account that in some degree to be self-defense." The knight sighed heavily. "It's not really been a wholesome week for me, Father. For this and for such sins as I may have forgotten, I am truly sorry and ask pardon of God, penance and absolution of you."
Hudriod frowned, trying to think of something suitable. "Sir Knight, you've taken the law into your own hands, and then broken the law yourself and allowed the truth to be obscured. It's clear to me that you are contrite, but these are not small matters." He looked at the carvings on the screen, hoping for inspiration.
As so often happened, the sight of one of the saints and angels did indeed spark a solution. "It's also clear you have a strong arm and a desire to make good your failings. In penance for these sins, I charge you to make a pilgrimage south-east to Djellarda, where the Knights of the Anvil. On your journey you are to offer your protection to fellow pilgrims on the road, as those Christian knights do, and to do so without seeking recompense or reward."
"I will do as you have instructed me, father. May God forgive my sins."
"Go in peace and know that God does forgive you."
Hudriod composed himself as the knight left and then offered a rueful prayer to God, thanking him for delivering to him what he had asked for in the opportunity to direct the knight to what might be a better cause.
When he finally rose and made his way out into the church, he found one of the deacons waiting for him, almost dancing from foot to foot. "Is something wrong?"
"Well, not wrong, Father Hudriod. It's just that... someone's dropped coins into the baptismal font."
"That isn't unheard of, Godwin. Usually it means someone wants to make an anonymous donation."
"Yes, Father. But I think they're gold!"
Hudriod blinked and half-walked, half-trotted to the font. There, before the eyes of the deacon he counted out the coins as he took them from the font: twelve gold sovereigns, each freshly stamped with the face of King Charibert.