The streets of Wheeler’s Heath were largely deserted after the early evening’s spectacle an hour before. All that remained of the Grand Inquisitor’s bonfire-cum-funeral-pyre was a twisting vine of smoke curling upwards to the sky from a bloom of soot and ash in the town square. The black, crisped skeletons of heretics slumped amongst the smoking coals of their earthly doom.
Among these misfortunates was General
Helmut von Lukenstrife, a celebrated national hero of the Three Years War
against Null, the despotic Mad Prince of Krath.
The general had sparked the ire of the Osselis Imperial church with his
outspoken support of religious tolerance in the ethnically-diverse
Grand Inquisitor Rexen Avrigorn and his Talons of Light had burned a clear and unmistakable message into the minds and hearts of this besombered township: No man was above the authority of God’s Law… not even a king’s most prized general.
The shadows swelled, the light grew weak, and scattered pedestrians crossed cobblestone streets in haste for home. Stray dogs fought for scraps in darkened alleys. Even the taverns – occupied though they were – were unusually sullen and quiet. Wheeler’s Heath was a place accustomed to merriment and laughter, not the harsh and humorless ways of the Imperial Church.
A few miles north of Wheeler’s Heath rested the secluded walls of Blanchewood Abbey.
A rounded tower on the eastern side glowed with orange light. Within, the Grand Inquisitor—Rexen Avrigorn--stretched to subdue the soreness in his joints and bent over his candlelit desk. In the shadowy recesses of his preoccupation, he was dimly aware that just beyond his wooden door he heard the hushed movements of his attendants and staff organizing supplies, arranging paperwork, and counting donations.
A half- thought—and its progeny-- formed in his mind:
There were so many acolytes and seminarians now. So many, in fact, that even though many of them interacted with him on a daily basis, he did not recognize their faces. He did not know their names….
The Church was prospering in a time of plenty—and certainly, offered more of a haven than life in these uncertain—no, dangerous--times. And the supply of young eager men who would serve God, his holy work—or themselves--seemed endless. As endless as the paperwork that sometimes seemed like the reincarnation of hell on earth and brought him out of prayer or meditation or troubled sleep with his heart beating too fast and the sense that he had overlooked something important yet again.
Details…always there were delicate matters and details to attend to and there was never enough time….
Avrigorn dipped the quill of his pen into the inkwell and concluded his letter to the Cardinal.
‘…Without question, making an example of the general was the wisest of moves on our part. The populace of the general’s homeland has been effectively frightened into compliance with the Word of Truth. Glory to God. The common man’s sins, once hidden in the darkness of his closet, have been thrown into the brilliant light of day as neighbor turns against neighbor, each hoping the sins of the next will eclipse his own. Many wayward souls have been cleansed by Purity’s righteous flame, and tenfold the more given correction by way of example. The Lord’s kingdom grows by the day.
Word of the general’s purification has no doubt reached the crown of Voorgoth. No word as yet regarding the King’s reaction. He clearly has nothing to gain by opposing our sacred task; his obedient compliance is all but assured.
The road is long and arduous; nonetheless, the Church will persevere.
I thank you for your prayers; and, of course, your generous support in this, my most solemn and urgent duty.
Glory to God.
In His Light and Truth,
Grand Inquisitor, Talons of Light
Osselis Imperial Church
Damme! Now look! His hand had quivered—scarcely—but there was a blot on the flourish under his title. Avrigorn held the letter up and scrutinized it more closely. The smudge wasn’t immediately discernible…still, if the Cardinal or his assistant…
Somewhere he knew—just at his left hand—was the blotter, and he could make amends. Then he would have to melt the thick glutinous wax over the candle flames, drip it onto the parchment, apply the heavy brass seal—
The door to Avrigorn’s private study clanked open and a robed assistant cowered meekly at the threshold.
Avrigorn scowled without looking up as he gave his signature another close look.
The acolyte cleared his throat by way of address.
“I gave specific orders not to be disturbed,” the Grand Inquisitor said.
“Forgive me, Holy Father,” the assistant said, bowing in reverence.
“I deliver a message.” From under his robes, he brought out a small scroll, sealed with red wax. “It requires your most urgent attention.” The assistant moved as if to enter the room, then wavered and balked, unsure of proper decorum and petrified of the Grand Inquisitor’s wrath.
Avrigorn, patience wearing thin, waved the assistant in. “Come, then. Let’s have it,” he said. “But shut the door first. Too much noise from outside.”
“As you wish,” the assistant said, closing the heavy door and muffling the dull commotion of the Inquisitor’s staff.
The assistant gave Avrigorn the sealed scroll and stood quietly at the Inquisitor’s shoulder, with eyes lowered and hands folded.
Avrigorn broke the seal – that of a neighboring province’s bishop. Even at first glance he could tell it was hastily penned; the cramped, rigid hand told him it was written by someone in an overwrought state of mind. He nearly said aloud that it was criminal how in these days the details of things were being overlooked…and he was scarcely aware that the acolyte had taken some few steps closer to him…and he read on--
Most Honorable and Holy Father, be advised that King Kulnor has learned of General Lukenstrife’s demise at the hands of God’s servants. The Crown of Voorgoth has issued no word of condemnation as of yet. Unusual, given this kingdom’s permissive ways; its endorsement of immorality and heresy in the name of ‘tolerance.’ We of the True Faith are frustrated shepherds as the flock scampers away, wandering into the arms of pagan unreligions, perversions of the One Truth, yes, even the ultimate travesty of utter unbelief. This cannot stand. We the faithful of the One Church here in Voorgoth are grateful for the Holy City’s support – reinforcements, as it were – as we wage spiritual war for the souls of Man.
In the Name of St. Yeshan, whose mercy endureth for ever and ever, I wish you health and strength, and bid you welcome to the kingdom of Voorgoth.
Bishop Tamerlane Rel
Post Scriptum: Now go to Hell and take your sanctimonious, boy-loving lot with you!
With hushed outrage Avrigorn whispered, “What trickery is this?”
For answer, the acolyte’s swift hands dropped over Avrigorn’s head.
A beaded choking cord constricted the Grand Inquisitor’s neck. Avrigorn’s hands clawed at the garrote’s cold iron pearls. The apple of his throat strained in vain to open his windpipe. His mouth gaped and twisted, but only an impotent croak crossed his lips.
“Don’t bother,” the imposter
said with honeyed malice. “This is not
the time to waste precious breath.”
Avrigorn’s eyes bulged wide and
white; his face darkened to a dangerous red and long ragged sounds poured out
Then, though his lids stayed wide to oversee
the details, he was unable to suck in the air he so desperately needed.
The false acolyte quickly shifted the ends of the choking cord so that his left hand held them both. He gave them a slight twist and Avrigorn gasped again.
“Voorgoth is a free land of free men,” he said, “and we do not roll over like groveling mongrels when kicked. Your pompous, would-be dictator will learn this well enough in due course. As for you…having just used the General as a deterrent… it’s now your turn to serve as an example to the others. I’m sure you understand.”
Avrigorn’s hands twisted into misshapen, white-knuckled fists.
The unmistakable sing of polished steel drawing from leather sounded
Avrigorn made a wet clicking sound in his
“His Majesty sends his regards,” the acolyte said tonelessly.
Then his blade opened a red smile in the Grand Inquisitor’s throat.
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