Read The High King of Montival: A Novel of the Change Online

Authors: S. M. Stirling

Tags: #Fiction - Science Fiction, #Alternative histories (Fiction), #American Science Fiction And Fantasy, #Alternative History, #General, #Regression (Civilization), #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction - General, #Dystopias, #Fiction

The High King of Montival: A Novel of the Change (62 page)

BOOK: The High King of Montival: A Novel of the Change
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“Most Reverend Father,” he said, bowing to kiss the older man’s ring, then standing at the Order of the Shield’s version of parade rest. “I give thanks to God that we meet again.”
The words were conventional, and his face remained calm, but he could not keep all emotion out of the tone.
“At ease. I also thank God,” Dmwoski said, and after a slight pause: “My son.”
They both looked down for a moment in silent prayer, their hands folded in the sleeves of their habits.
“Or perhaps I should say
my lord Chancellor
,” the older man said, with a slight smile.
Ignatius felt himself flushing a little. “My acceptance of the office was of course conditional on your approval, Most Reverend Father.”
Dmwoski chuckled. “Which you have.”
“I confess . . . I am not altogether sure that I should have accepted. Apart from doubts as to my capacity, we are enjoined to avoid
the near occasions of sin
. This will be a post of great power, and hence, of great temptation.”
The Abbot-Bishop shrugged. “You swore poverty, chastity, and obedience; my command is that you accept this position, which means that it fulfills obedience rather than violating it. Even the Cardinal-Archbishop in Portland agrees that having a cleric in such a post will be most advantageous to the Church. I do not think that you will be tempted by riches, or that chastity will become harder for you in a high office. Power, though—power itself can be a temptation. But then again, so can anything else in this fallen world.”
Ignatius bowed his head. “I can only try my best and throw myself on God’s loving mercy,” he said quietly.
“And He has blessed you, my son. You have brilliantly fulfilled the mission I assigned to you so long ago,” Dmwoski said warmly. “I have made many errors in my life, but that, I think, was not one of them. I do not doubt that you will fulfill future missions as well.”
His square face was more lined than Ignatius remembered, and his fringe of white hair would never need to be tonsured again. He’d begun to stoop a little, noticeable in a frame that had always had a soldierly erectness, but the eyes were still very shrewd, calm and blue and penetrating beneath the tufted eyebrows.
“Fulfilled it and more besides,” he went on. “Our brethren have been greatly heartened by your reports in this time of war and trial.”
The older man shook his head slowly and turned to look at Ignatius’ sword, hung on the rack beside the door. It was of fine steel but plain and in an equally plain black-leather scabbard, an Order-issue cross-hilted longsword a little under a yard in the blade, with the Raven and Cross on the fishtail pommel. The elder cleric reached one hand out and almost touched the double-lobe grip.
“I have seen our High King’s Sword,” Dmwoski said. “And it is, mmmm, most impressive. Terrifying, even. But this . . .
she
touched it?”
“Yes, Father. The hilt, and my forehead. And . . . it was cold, the air was thin there on the mountain above the high white valley, and there was light, so much light, and . . . no, it is impossible to describe completely. Words themselves break and crumble beneath the strain.”
Dmwoski nodded and sank to his knees before the cross-shape, taking his crucifix between his hands and bowing his head. Ignatius followed suit, remembering the feeling of being
illuminated
.
“It was astonishing,” he said softly after a moment. “I saw myself more clearly at that instant than ever before in my life, and the weight and stain of sin and error I saw in me and woven through me should have been enough to break my mind. Yet there was a . . . how can I say it . . . such a
tenderness
in her regard, a fire within her greater than suns, which yet warmed and comforted while it burned, as if it flamed away the dross but left me unharmed. I knew my own failings, and wept for the shame of it. But I saw what
she
saw in me as well. I saw what I
could
be, what God had made and meant me to be, and knew what I must strive to be every hour of my life thereafter.”
Dmwoski surprised him by chuckling. “Brother of the Order, have I ever told you why I am so glad to be a son of the Church, rather than a Protestant? Or a Jew or Muslim, for that matter.”
“Ah . . . because ours are the true doctrines in accordance with the truths set out in Scripture, by the
magisterium
of the Church, and by reason? And of course that ours are the forms of worship most pleasing to God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost?” Ignatius said.
It wasn’t a question which had ever occurred to him.
Perhaps because I was a man grown, albeit a young man, before I ever really spoke at length with anyone who was
not
a follower of Holy Mother Church? Things were otherwise before the Change.
“Of course,” the Abbot-Bishop said. “But the reason
I
find most comforting is that we have the bright legions of the Saints and the mercy of the Blessed Virgin to intercede for us before the terrible majesty of the Godhead.”
“It was . . . terrible enough, Father. Not frightening in the way a physical danger might be, of course, but terrible as a storm or a sunset is. To see a soul that was human, so very human, but truly filled with the divine Light, freed from sin and soaring to heights I could not imagine or grasp.”
“You have been granted a very great honor, my son,” Dmwoski said meditatively. “One such as few men have known. Yet as you say, a frightening one as well. The higher a man rises, the lower he can fall. The Adversary himself was once closest of all created things to God, and so closest to Him in knowledge and power and virtue.”
“I can only strive to be worthy,” Ignatius said; the words were grave, but he felt himself smile at the memory of that mixture of awe and joy. “Worthy to be the Knight of the Immaculata.”
“Inspiring that a knight-brother of the Shield of St. Benedict was chosen,” Dmwoski said. “And especially to the younger members of our Order. Their faith was strong before, but it
burns
now. Which is of course the purpose of miracles; they show a possibility.”
“And my report of the events on Nantucket?” Ignatius added. “I have eagerly awaited your thoughts on the matter, Most Reverend Father. It was far less . . .
straightforward
is not the correct word, but I confess I am at a loss for a better one.”
Dmwoski sighed ruefully. “Now there, my son, you have touched on mysteries too deep for this hard head of mine. Reports have been dispatched to the Curia in Badia and I have requested that they be brought to the immediate attention of the Holy Father and the Church’s most learned theologians. But to be granted the experience of the Beatific Vision
as well as
a call to her service from the very Mother of God . . . it is almost excessive!”
“A glimpse of the Beatific Vision, yes. Or as much of it as my limited perceptions could grasp; a . . . a metaphor, perhaps. But...” Ignatius said, and signed himself, then touched his fingers to his forehead. “But
you
were most definitely the voice I heard and the person I saw. Yet . . . you assured me that you were still alive; that what I beheld was not bound by Time, for it was already partly in Eternity. Most Reverend Father, I assure you it is beyond
my
comprehension as well.”
“How could it not be beyond our comprehension?” Dmwoski laughed. “Are we not servants and celebrants of a Mystery? I confess to both fear and longing at your description; but those are the emotions that the contemplation of Eternity is
supposed
to arouse. Only when it is achieved can joy be unmixed, and as I grow closer to the end of my days the longing grows stronger. Yet I have work to do first; and hopefully a long life of effort and struggle awaits
you
, Brother.”
“And there is the matter of the marriage,” Ignatius said, as they signed themselves, rose and sat on the hard wooden stools. “I am troubled by that as well. Torn between joy and doubt.”
He smiled. “And it is so
good
to have someone to turn to, someone older and wiser than I to share my thoughts and advise me! If I had to say what most comforted
me
about being part of the body of the Church, Father, it is that I need not always face these matters alone. If the service of God is perfect freedom, then the service of His Church is a great comfort.”
Dmwoski’s brows went up. “The marriage has been long contemplated. Contemplated since they were children, I suspect, by their mothers. At the very least since the end of the War of the Eye, possibly earlier.”
“Most Reverend Father, the Immaculata
herself
entrusted the Princess to my care. And I have come to feel for her as a person, as I might a beloved younger sister; I have learned to admire her intelligence, her courage, her earnest desire to do right, and her devotion to Holy Church. Not to mention her cheerfulness through all our trials and dangers and—harder for one of her birth—the hardships and inconveniences.”
Dmwoski nodded. “A remarkable young woman. But why do you feel the marriage is questionable? She has no vocation for the life of a religious; and therefore she should marry. Even as a private citizen, much less a monarch with the fate of a dynasty in her blood. We are not all called to make the same sacrifices or to carry the same Cross.”
“But . . . no, you are right. Though she is very devout. My principal concern as her confessor and spiritual counselor has been to warn her against the danger of scrupulosity.”
Dmwoski chuckled. “I am not surprised. That is the besetting temptation of pious youngsters, and pious young women in particular. That her duties will lie in the secular sphere should help her guard against it. Yet her destiny is a throne; and so she must marry for reasons of state, and there is only one obvious choice. The High King—”
“Yes, our High King is a fine man, one worthy of her, as few could be. A man of almost intimidating qualities, in fact: a true hero, but no man of blood by his own choice either, not hungry for power in itself, and a good and loyal friend as well. And I think God has made him His instrument against the Cutters. Also the two of them love each other deeply. But he is pagan.”
A grave inclination of the head. “Do you think marriage to him will shake her faith?” Dmwoski said. “For that would indeed be reason to oppose it, regardless of consequence.”
Ignatius paused. “No . . . no, not that. She loves him, but she loves God with equal passion.”
“Then I do not think we need fear excessively. Mixed marriages are permissible under canon law, and have been for some time, my son—unlike some ordinances of the late pre-Change era, those were
not
rescinded by the Third Council.”
“If she is blessed with children, which God grant—”
“We must insist that they be taught the Faith, certainly.”
“His Majesty has agreed to that. You can guess his reservations, I think.”
“That his unspoken intent is that they be exposed to
his
faith as well, and decide for themselves when they come of age whether to follow the Church’s teachings or the so-called Old Religion? That would accord with Mackenzie custom. They are tolerant, if anything tolerant to a fault.”
“Yes. He remarked, in fact, that his mother had been raised a Catholic, and laughed good-naturedly at my silence. It is important to remember that his physical talents are matched by a very keen mind, Father.”
Dmwoski spread gnarled, battered hands. “I do not think we can legitimately object, then. Particularly when this marriage is so essential to the defense of the Church against the CUT’s heresy and diabolism. Remember to take a long perspective on these matters, my son; we are bidden to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves.”
“Yet the Immaculata called me a
miles
of Christ, Most Reverend Father.”
Dmwoski chuckled indulgently. “And a soldier of Christ must learn His virtues as well! You are still a young man, and the desire to beat down opposition to God’s will with hammer blows burns hot in you. Yet Holy Mother Church has won many battles by persistence, by endurance, by humility and above all by
patience.
She is wise with years, and knows how to bide her time.”
“My heart tells me that much good will come from this union, yet . . . perhaps much of the good will take generations to unfold. Well, we serve the Church Militant, not the Church Triumphant. Not yet.”
He smiled wryly as he went on: “I think that it will also make the two people concerned very happy indeed. I feared that would cloud my judgment, Father, for they are both very dear to me.”
“Then you are once more privileged, my son, for you will be able to give them deep and abiding joy through your service as a priest in sanctifying their union.”
“God is good,” Ignatius said, crossing himself again.
Dmwoski laughed wholeheartedly at the slightly dubious tone.
“Yes, He is!” he said, and shook an admonishing finger. “So you need not fear He is . . . ah . . .
setting you up
. Lugh might; but Lugh is a fable.”
Ignatius flushed and nodded. “I have been much among pagans, Father.”
BOOK: The High King of Montival: A Novel of the Change
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