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A Leap of Faith - Chapter 10

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AnnieUK:
City of Dhassa
March 28th, 1121

We arrived in Dhassa in steady rain and to the occasional rumble of thunder, to find the city in a fair state of turmoil.  People were milling around, soldiers riding out of the city gates, and the word on everyone’s lips was that Saint Torin’s was on fire.  I was stunned: there had been no sign of fire when we had driven past.  Sure enough, as we looked back the way we had come we could see a black plume rising from beyond the horizon, and as the wind shifted slightly we caught a faint smell of wood smoke on the breeze.

A man in black ecclesiastical garb approached.  “Countess Richenda?  I am Monsignor O’Sullivan.  Bishop Cardiel asked me to await your arrival.  He regrets that he cannot receive you in person, as he had planned, but as you can see,” he waved an arm to encompass the confusion, “we have an emergency at the shrine of Saint Torin.  A rider has arrived from the shrine in great haste, and apparently the shrine is ablaze.  Bishop Cardiel is arranging for troops to be sent out to investigate and to put out the fire, if possible.  I dare say he may be busy for most of the afternoon, but I will arrange for refreshments to be sent to your rooms and I’ll let him know that you have arrived safely.”

“Thank you, Monsignor, we heard about the fire on our way in.  Was anyone hurt?  Do you know how it happened?”

“Unfortunately, madam, several men have been killed, but I am unsure of the exact circumstances as yet.  It is all most regrettable.  Saint Torin’s had many unique features and the craftsmanship was remarkable.  If it has been lost...”  He shook his head sadly.  “But if you would care to accompany me, my lady, I will see that you are comfortable and I may be able to bring you more news as reports come in.”

As we crossed the courtyard, Monsignor O’Sullivan told me that my uncle had arranged guest accommodation for Brendan and me, since he was currently arranging the expeditions to Saint Torin’s from his own quarters, and he was hoping to interview eye witnesses later that day, to try to establish the cause of the fire.

“Bishop Cardiel greatly fears that the road at Saint Torin’s will be impassable, at least for the rest of the day, because of the soldiers coming and going, and casualties being brought to the city.  He recommends that you and your children – uh, child - stay overnight in the guest apartments.”

If that was acceptable to us, Monsignor O’Sullivan said, he would arrange for a messenger to ride to the manor to let them know we had been detained, in case they heard of the fire and worried for our safety.  A single rider might get through where a carriage and outriders would not.

The rooms were small but comfortably appointed, and Brendan had soon explored every inch of them.  The promised refreshments kept him happy for a while, and I was grateful for them, for I hadn’t realised how hungry I had become during the time on the road.  Unfortunately, Brendan is not easy to keep occupied at best, as he has a lively and inquisitive mind, and a body that rarely comes to rest except to sleep, so an empty guest apartment with no entertainment became a prison for him in very short order.  We settled for opening the window, which overlooked the main courtyard, and seeing what we could see.  

Of course soldiers and horses are always exciting to a four year old boy, and plenty of those milled around outside.  We counted soldiers and spied horses of different colours, and tried to see as many different banners and heraldic devices as possible.  We watched our carriage being rolled out of the way into the stable block, and as many other diversions as I could come up with to keep him entertained.  Beyond the horizon, the plume of smoke continued to climb skyward, despite the persistent rain that now fell.  There would be little of Saint Torin’s still standing when the fire had burned itself out, it seemed.

In the middle of the afternoon, those that had observed the happenings began to arrive: some riding, two seriously injured soldiers in litters, and then much later some commoners on foot.  Among the first to arrive on horseback was a man in clerical garb, covered in blood and mud, yet shouting furiously at the soldiers attending him and demanding to be taken to Bishop Cardiel straight away.  

We could not make out his words from our window vantage point, but he was greatly agitated and shouted a great deal as he was led inside.

As each group of arrivals came, I scanned them for ‘Alain’.  He had been at Saint Torin’s to receive his pilgrim medal to gain entry to the city, so he would have been expecting to arrive in Dhassa during the afternoon or possibly early evening.  Surely the pilgrims would not be refused entry to the city without a medal, in the circumstances?  Of course it was highly likely that any able-bodied men in the vicinity had been drafted in to fight the fire and stop it spreading to the surrounding woods, so likely he was still dousing the fire or clearing debris.

Some time later, a cart came through the gate.  It was accompanied by some of the soldiers we had seen heading for Saint Torin’s as we arrived, and had a load in the back roughly covered with sacks and cloaks.  With a sudden presentiment of what the cargo would prove to be, I sent Brendan away from the window to get himself a drink and an apple and then watched with horrified fascination as the first body was unloaded and taken inside.  Impossible to tell from this distance, and one muddy cloak looked like another, so I couldn’t tell if it was the leather cloak I had seen at the shrine.  The thought that one of the bodies might be the charming maybe-hunter left me sickened, and I turned away from the window, unable to watch the rest being unloaded.

As the afternoon wore on, dribs and drabs of soldiers and others started to file wearily through the city gates.  Monsignor O’Sullivan visited us in the late afternoon, full of apologies from my uncle.

“He regrets greatly not having been able to see you, my lady,” he murmured “but he has been interviewing people who were present at the shrine today.  As we feared, there were several deaths and he is piecing together an account of what exactly happened.”

“Were they trapped in the fire, then, the men who were lost?”  I shuddered - how terrible, to die by fire.

“Ah, no, actually.  Some sort of fight broke out in a room adjacent to the shrine.  The casualties appear to have been involved in that, but I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to reveal at this time.  You’ll forgive me if I am vague, but Bishop Cardiel wishes to be certain that he knows the details before any news is released.  I am sure that the guilty will be named and brought to justice in due course, though.”

“The guilty? So it was deliberate then?  The fire was started on purpose, by whoever killed those men in the fight?”

“Yes, my lady, but maybe Bishop Cardiel can tell you more later, as he asks that you join him for an early dinner tonight.  He has to celebrate Compline and then another ceremony after, so it must needs be a briefer meeting than he would like, I’m afraid.  He has a nurse arranged to attend to Master Brendan, if that is agreeable to you.”

 “Please thank him kindly for me, Monsignor O’Sullivan.  I shall accept most gladly.”

“I believe he can arrange a lady’s maid for you also, my lady, should you require her services.”

“Thank you, Monsignor.  This is a little embarrassing, but if you might be able to find nightwear for us, I would appreciate it.  We did not expect this delay when we set out, and we are unprepared, I’m afraid.”

“Of course, my lady.  I will see to it.  The messenger who was sent to take word to your manor was instructed to bring back such items as your ladyship’s maids thought you might need for an overnight stay, so I shall see that they are delivered as soon as he returns, but I shall certainly see that nightwear is provided, in case the road at Saint Torin’s is impassable.”  He bowed and excused himself, closing the door gently behind him.  I had to smile at the thought of the worthy cleric searching Dhassa for nightwear suitable for a lady and a four year old boy, but true to his word the items were brought by a maid a short while later, together with a brief apologetic note from my uncle.  It was not in his usual precise script, but written hastily and smudged in places: most unlike him.

The sun started to sink, staining the sky with red and orange in a wicked parody of the flames that had danced through Saint Torin’s that day.  The city gates were left open later than usual, to allow the soldiers and pilgrims to stumble wearily in and to find their way to lodgings for the night.  Shortly before sunset, Monsignor O’Sullivan arrived to escort me to my Uncle’s apartments.  Brendan was already bathed and tucked up in bed in his borrowed nightgown, so I quickly kissed him goodnight, and then allowed the Monsignor to lead the way.

http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=623.0  Chapter 11

Alkari:
Nice to see that Uncle Thomas and his staff are flexible enough to deal with everything from burning shrines to minor domestic emergencies!  ;)

Poor Richenda, coping with an energetic small boy and also quietly looking for "Alain" and worrying.

Evie:
Monsignor O’Sullivan:  "My Lord Bishop, I'm in need of finding a lady's nightgown for one evening."

Denis Arilan:  "I beg your pardon? I'm certain I must have misheard something.  Do we need to talk? Should I get my stole?"   ???

*chortle!*

AnnieUK:
LOL - not a lot of humour in this story - gotta find me some where I can. ;)

Shiral:
Whew, if she'd had any idea how involved "Alain" was in the fire at St. Torin's, how he narrowly avoided being barbecued, and that he rode off with a bad Merasha hangover, Richenda would REALLY  be worried about him! And would continue to be worried about him if she knew he was really the soon-to-be excommunicated Duke of Corwyn.

Fortunately,  we know things turn out all right. =o)

How embarrassing to have to ask for a nightie in the middle of a Bishop's Palace in Dhassa-- No-Woman's Land if there ever was one.

Melissa

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