Chapter XVI: The Offering

The supplies, that the Bishop had been hoarding, did not turn out to be for an army that was marshalling. In fact, in the coming weeks, the city was abuzz with whispers of war and battle, people vowing revenge against the Woodlanders, but others whispered about the wealth of Umberlyn sitting there, untouched and waiting for them. Merchants drooled over untapped markets, farmers imagined forgotten fields, smiths and crafters pictured untouched workshops waiting for expansion. Imperial thoughts filled the minds of everyone in Trennon who thought about Umberlyn.

Word was that the Woodlanders were starving, having eaten through their loot and stores. There was nothing left in Umberlyn for them to feed on, like the parasites that they were. Others said that there were hungry for blood and violence, that their horrid gods demanded more sacrifices to be satiated. But what was more talked about was the idea of where the Woodlanders would go next. Would they march East for Highwood or Valen? Or would they head west for Dorothea? Trennon had a fierce reputation for surviving sieges apparently and that made people feel encouraged that they wouldn’t dare attempt to attack Trennon, but Henry remembered people in Umberlyn saying the same thing.

No matter their reasons, Bishop Albert was called to the City Council that began to discuss what the options were that the city had. Bishop Albert and Bishop Roderick, of the Bernardines, both preached that patience and caution were to be employed. The farmsteads and the surrounding countryside was to be evacuated under an armed escort of the Watch. Food was collected in the storehouses and granaries within the walls and shelter was to be given to any looking to flee the Woodlander raids. As there were no lords or nobles in Trennon, there was no one who could command the people to arm themselves and march. They would need to appoint protectors, train the militia and prepare, all things they could do through the winter.

Ultimately, Bishop Albert won over the Council and the angrier and more bloodthirsty members of the city’s elite. No one, after all, wanted to end up dead at the hand of a Woodlander.

Besides, who would govern Umberlyn? Would the banner of Trennon hang from the walls and the standards over the city? Would Trennon declare itself a kingdom in violation of the Accord they had signed generations ago with Tyrantium? Would they declare war against their liege city? Henry didn’t understand the politics of it, but he knew that it would be a dangerous move and Trennon was not prepared to become a multi-city kingdom, no matter what the City Council’s more aspirational members declared.

But, word was spreading through the streets that Faolan Brogan was pushing for arming the citizens of Bogland who had fled to the city of Trennon from their ruined home. According to him, it was their city and they should take it back from the invaders. Henry, nervously, heard others in the Penny Market and from Bogland who had the poor sense to agree with them. They were a starving band of poorly dress and poorly fed refugees and no amount of sharpened sticks and dented shields would save them from the well fed, entrenched Woodlanders. The thought of it made Henry’s stomach churn.

As Frosting arrived, snow threatened on the horizon, the clouds fat and pregnant with their arctic bounty. Henry awoke to the sounds of Father Borden hammering on his door and moving on down the corridor, marshalling the Initiates to hurry and prepare for the day’s events. There was something different in his deep voice, a sort of haste that made Henry crane his head and look at his door.

He was holding the coin between his thumb and his index finger, staring at it in the pale light of dawn that was peeking through his window. His other hand was resting beneath the book that Henry was using as a pillow, having finished the Sermons of Cardinal Karkow of Arenja and completely spent on the ranting of religious men who did nothing but spend their days thinking and twirling their thumbs. He clutched the coin tightly in his hand and sat up, letting the cool morning air wrap around his bare chest.

Washing and dressing, Henry pocketed his coin and made sure that the stolen kitchen knife was hidden in the rafter beam that he had carved and hollowed from the top to hide his little stolen possessions. He didn’t dare leave his coin. The coin was part of him, as necessary as his own skin. Walking out into the corridor, Henry was glad to see that he hadn’t been the only one to be caught off guard by this early summoning. Groggy and sleepy eyed Initiates stumbled out of their doors, looking for some sort of explanation that wasn’t there.

“The hell is this all about?” Hubert asked Henry. Doyle and Nairn joined up behind Hubert, his perpetual shadows.

“Think there was a battle?” Nairn asked. “They might need us to help clean up the mess.”

“Nah,” Doyle shook his head. “We would have heard the Watch bells tolling.”

“Then what’s happening?” Nairn frowned.

Henry didn’t say anything. Soti joined them as they wound their way around the staircase that led down into the bathhouse where the steamy veil had evaporated and everything was as calm and still as if they had never bubbled before. Something was wrong, Henry could feel it in the air. The tension and confusion was palpable as Henry looked across the chasm of the Chapel’s bathhouse where the ladies were coming down from their dormitories as well, winding down into the bathhouse where the Fathers and Mothers instructed them to proceed through the entrance out into the Chapel square where the Brothers and Sisters stood by looming stockpiles of bags with vegetables or bread, or piles of clothing and blankets.

“Divide up evenly,” Gaullie shouted from one of the Chant boxes. “Everyone pick your share and prepare to stand by for the Bishop to address you. Keep it orderly and keep it quiet!”

Henry stood in front of the line that was being handed out laden backs of canvas filled with potatoes or turnips, maybe even gourds. Henry was handed his sack and he felt the weight of it before slinging it over his shoulder and lining up as Glenda instructed him and the others. The piles diminished and eventually were gone, each Initiate, Brother and Sister, and Father and Mother holding something in their hands. Everyone formed ranks, like they were soldiers, the Watch standing around them in a loose ring. Henry looked around, spotting the strawberry blonde woman that had seen him in the streets months ago. He had already forgotten her name, if she’d even told him. When he spotted her, he saw her staring straight at him and he quickly looked away. He had the distinct feeling that she wasn’t fond of him.

At the top of the steps that barely put the Bishop above them, Albert stood next to Bishop Roderick and Watch Commander Gerwen, with his balding pate and thick black mustache, flanked by Watch Captains. Henry felt his stomach churning. Were they going to support some march on Umberlyn?

“My friends,” Bishop Albert said. His voice rolled across the square as citizens gathered around in flocks, their eyes narrowed and their poises suspicious about what it was they were seeing. They gathered to listen and hear what it was that brought the Chapel of Mirna to assemble like an army. “I have spent my life dedicated to the Holy Order of Saint Mirna and I have taken the vows of compassion, mercy, and love. I take my vows seriously and I have done my best to give back to Trennon in any way that I can.

“However, it has been brought to my attention time and time again, that we find it prudent to dictate who is truly worthy of compassion and care. Those who seek us out, those who live upstanding lives, those who can afford it, those who can better help us, and anyone who we deem worthy. This is not the teachings that we are taught. This is not what we have been commanded to do. We are commanded to take compassion to those who hide from it, those who are in desperate need of it.

“Therefore, I have decided that for the past two months, our offerings, and our tuitions, and our services would go toward those who need it most. Every year, hundreds freeze to death or starve in Bogland. These our citizens in our city who are required to pay their taxes, to report when enemies stand before our gates, and who are cast off as unwanted members of our city. Today, we apologize for how we have treated them. Today, we show them that though they are impoverished and desperate, they are not alone. We will take these goods, as meager and basic as they are, to them as an offering and beg for their forgiveness. Today, our words become actions.

“I do not expect this to be a welcomed decision, or a popular one, but we did not take up the mantle of servants of Holy Mirna to be popular or in agreement with the ideas of man. We are here to do what is right and I will be the first to lead us there and I will be the first to say that I am sorry for this oversight.”

The whole host of the Chapel watched as their Bishop reached down and picked up a pile of blankets and clutched them in his knobby fingers and stepped down the steps, the Watch Commander following him as the other higher ranking members of the Chapel followed him, their faces somber and stern. The Initiates watched, unsure of how to proceed, cautiously and nervously walking with the flow of bodies heading across the bridge for the West Docksides and the Craftsmen’s Court, heading straight for the Ironworks. While others were whispering and murmuring about how wrong this was or how strange it was, Henry’s eyes were on the members of the Watch that followed or walked with them.

What was that about? Were they expecting trouble? The Watch didn’t care about Bogland and they didn’t care about the Chapel either. All the Watch cared about was taxes flowing in, people keeping out of trouble, and Lord’s Hill being happy. Henry suddenly wished that he had brought his knife. If there was going to be trouble, Henry wanted a fighting chance.

“You know a lot about Bogland?” Hubert asked and Henry’s blood chilled.

“What?” Henry asked. Had Hubert seen him sneaking out? Henry had tried to keep quiet, tried to stick to the shadows. He tried his best to be discrete about his dealings, but maybe Hubert had seen him.

“You’re from Umberlyn,” Hubert pointed out and Henry let out an exhale. “Soti and you do the Chants out in the Penny Market. I figured you’d know a thing or two about it.”

“Not really,” Henry lied. “It’s not like we get invited to Bogland.”

“I suppose so,” Hubert shook his head. “This is weird. This is dangerous.”

“Yeah?” Henry nodded toward the Watch. “Dangerous enough to need protection?”

“Pretty much,” Hubert nodded. “You have gangs in Umberlyn? Sure you did.”

Not really, actually. Henry didn’t recall there being gangs or a slum like Bogland. Umberlyn had been more involved with their districts. The city was strict on criminals and the Watch was everywhere. Percy had talked about Thatcher’s Corner where the poor citizens of Umberlyn lived, but none of them were considered outcasts. There were occasional thieves and pickpockets that the Watch would catch or go hunting. There were not gangs like the Brogans, who terrorized and demanded their own tax for “protection” from the poor and impoverished. Trennon was unique in that aspect.

“My father had a run in with Faolan once,” Hubert shared, refusing to let Henry slip out of his grasp now that they were forced to spend time together. Henry endured it, letting Hubert have his moment. “Faolan runs the West Docksides and my father started bringing in stone for repairs on the walls. The man is a cutthroat to the heart. I’d hate to piss off his crew.”

Henry wondered what it was that Hubert’s father did, but wasn’t interested enough to ask. Asking questions formed a sort of debt that needed to be repaid. If Henry asked what Hubert’s father did, then it would be expected that Henry would answer the same question from Hubert. That was a slippery slope.

But, Henry couldn’t help feeling like this was a triumphant moment for him. They were going to help Bogland, or New Umberlyn as they were calling it now, to help them. They were making an effort to help those in need, to show the compassion and the change that Henry could never do. The Penny Knight was more of a legend and reality anyways. Henry had knocked maybe ten men unconscious, offered a handful of different seeds and gave them a chicken. That wasn’t something Henry could sustain. But this, this was the change Henry hoped to bring about.

Or at least he did until he saw the fire in the Penny Market. The procession began to slow, spilling out and widening as they hit the entrance to the market through Toiltown, a place Henry and Soti recognized all too well. The wood that had been dragged into a heaping pyre burned hot and was surrounded by dozens of filthy looking scoundrels, all of them armed, but not brandishing their weapons. They had their daggers tucked in their belts or clubs leaning against the market stalls as they stared with arms crossed and folded, glaring at the monks who had invaded their corner of the city. The pyre roared and crackled and Henry couldn’t help but stare at it.

“What is the meaning of this assembly?” Watch Commander Gerwen shouted, a band of his Watchmen joining him as he took to the front. They held their truncheons and staves ready for a brawl, but Henry couldn’t help but notice that they were up against a lot more men than they had with them and the shady criminals that faced them were all armed with iron. “Who is to answer for this?” Gerwen shouted louder.

“Apologies, Watch Commander Gerwen,” a man called in a singsong accent that drifted over the crowd. It was the accent that Pad spoke with and Ciaran before him. Henry searched from behind the heads of those in front of him and saw a man stepping forward near the pyre. He was a large man, but there was more muscle than fat on him. His chest was wide and his stomach thick, but his arms were meaty and bound in round muscles that made Henry think of a hammer striking an anvil. One swing from him and Henry would be down for weeks. The man had a mustache and a band of hair that wrapped around his jaw. His eyebrows were thick and hung over his burning blue eyes as he grinned a smile that was more threatening than it was welcoming. “Me and the boys here were wondering if we might offer our assistance with the Bishop and his fine lads and lasses.”

“We are capable by ourselves,” Bishop Albert stepped forward. “We thank you for your offer, but we are here for the barge.”

“Funny thing, that,” Faolan Brogan chuckled as he paced. Henry didn’t like this. The Watch Commander had played the role of a barking dog, but he had held his men back. What were they waiting for? Why weren’t they demanding that the Brogans get rid of their men, that they disperse or face the gallows? Henry knew the answer, but he didn’t want to face it. It was too terrifying. “We heard that the Bog Rats are cold. We figured that we’d build them a fire. Saints know that it’ll keep them warmer longer than those blankets you have. Those poor cretins will probably dunk them in the Yavas and try to catch catfish with them. They’re simple folk with simple minds, you see?”

“Enough,” Bishop Albert declared. “You stand in the way of the Saints and their work. Be gone.”

Faolan was silent, watching the Bishop with his cold eyes, the eyes of a dog that you knew was more than willing to bite. Faolan was not Gerwen. Henry believed that if Faolan wanted to, he could give the order and they’d have an army of cutthroats at them, filling the streets with blood.

“Me Da and Mum were like that lot once,” Faolan said. “The Faithful, bless their souls, called a Holy Conquest on my homeland and the Isle turned red with all the killing and the butchering. My Da cut a man’s throat to steal his skiff to sail us to the shores of Fenkland, but the Fenkish didn’t want us neither. So, we kept walking south and we kept walking until we found Trennon. I lost me Mum on the march, me sister too.  Three of me nephews died of the bloody lung as well. But, we never gave up. When we reached Trennon, we worked every job we could, working until we were so sore we couldn’t move. Hard work, Bishop, that’s what my family believes in and the man I worked for ended up passing one day. So inspired by me dedication, he left the Stag Post to me and mine.”

“Was that before or after you poisoned his eldest?” Bishop Albert cut him off. “I grow weary of this, Faolan. You are a criminal, a blight upon Trennon. You may scare the Council, but you cannot intimidate the men and women of Saint Mirna and Bernard. Stand aside, or I will call down the fury of the Rock on you and yours.”

Faolan was silent, staring at the Bishop with eyes that grew colder still. There was unholy fire in those eyes and Henry couldn’t help but feel like this was going to get out of hand. He wasn’t the only one. There were Initiates stepping backwards and sharing nervous glances. Henry suddenly felt worried for Tyla. He knew where everyone was except for her. He kept track of them in his mind as he looked around at the coming brawl.

“So be it, Bishop,” Faolan said. “But you see this fire? It’s going to need feeding soon and you’ve got an awful lot of great things that burn. I suppose you best ask yourself whether you think the Bog Rats’ stuff should burn, or yours.”

It was Bishop Albert who took the first step, making his way to the barge where there were members of New Umberlyn standing on the planks, nervously eyeing the armed criminals who stood near them, never looking away from them. If there was to be bloodshed, they would be one of the first to die.

While the Bishop walked, there were few who were willing to move. Those around Henry stood still, waiting for others to gather the courage that they did not possess. Henry did not need the encouragement. He took his first step, pushing past Nairn and then past another and another. He wiggled his way through the mass until he was out in front, one of a handful that followed the Bishop. He looked at Faolan as he walked, never being important enough to draw the man’s gaze. Henry wished that he could lock eyes with him. He wished that he could look into the eyes of the man who tortured and robbed from the impoverished and weak. But he never earned the value worthy of a glare. He was insignificant and worthless.

The only person that looked at Henry was the Bishop, who handed his blankets to the ferrymen and turned to see Henry standing in line. The look in the old man’s tired eyes was one of understanding and respect, one of appreciation. Henry had never been looked at that way. No matter what came, Henry knew that he had been given the opportunity to make the stand and the change that he had hoped for.

It was only a shame that it was the last time Henry would see the Bishop alive.

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