Jaban 20, 1013
It had been a week since the arrest of the whore Marigold. Tuck had spent most of it tending his parish duties as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. That would, he thought, be the best strategy. Keep quiet, lay low, hope it all blows over. He was only waiting for Lord Pellinore to contact him about the charges, at which point he could argue for mercy. If he played his cards right — Father Hugh might not even have to hear about this.
He hoped. He prayed. For Father Hugh had just sent Tor running over to the cathedral to summon Tuck to his office. It could easily be nothing; Father Hugh often asked for Tuck’s help with the accounts or troublesome parishioners.
Or it could be something. Something big. Something bad.
Tuck put away his breviary as he mounted the steps to the men’s wing of the abbey. He knew what he would say if Lord Pellinore had come to talk to Father Hugh about the whore Marigold and the charges she faced. He would say that he had not wanted Father Hugh to worry about it, that he wanted the matter dropped as quickly as possible so the woman could return to her life. If Lord Pellinore asked him why he didn’t want to prosecute, he would say it was because he thought mercy was a better course for a churchman than vengeance.
He would not say that he did not want Marigold prosecuted because he saw that if she was, public opinion, always a potent weapon, could turn in his hands. If he couldn’t stop the prosecution — as he couldn’t stop the arrest — then to be always counseling mercy and forgiveness ought to keep him on the right side of public opinion. But he was already skating on ice that was growing dangerously thin.
He should have removed the child. He had been so flustered and caught up that day, trying so hard to maintain the vestiges of control, that he had not. Ordering the two guards back into the house would have just eroded his authority even more. And since the one had been babbling on about demons and the other strangely silent … how could he have brought a child who could be dangerous to the orphanage? And how could he have trusted Sister Margery to remain silent about it?
That was his thinking at the time. Now, he thought he was more likely to have weathered the scandal if he had taken the baby. He could have shown that the Church’s love fell equally on those who were impure and unclean — although he was pretty certain that the Order of St. Pascal didn’t regard the Plantsims as either, still, the people did and that was all that mattered.
He had reached the door to Father Hugh’s office. He knocked. “Come in,” called Father Hugh’s voice. Brother Tuck came in.
It wasn’t Lord Pellinore in there.
Tuck was very much afraid that it was worse.
“Sir Lancelot … Sir William,” Tuck said, nodding to the father and son. This was … difficult. If it was just Sir William, Tuck would have felt much more sanguine. It could have been simply that Lord Pellinore sent him instead of coming himself. That was hardly difficult to believe. But if Sir Lancelot was with him …
The brothel was on Sir Lancelot’s land …
This could not be good. But Tuck made sure to keep his face even and composed. “You sent for me, Father?”
“Aye.” Tuck had never heard Father Hugh’s voice so clipped and strained at once. He watched as the good Father turned a distressed glance to the du Lacs. “We … I have heard some troubling reports, Brother. And I’d like to get to the bottom of them.”
“Of course, Father,” Tuck replied. He moved to stand by Father Hugh–
But Father Hugh waved him away as he got up — slowly, shakily. Tuck hadn’t seen him move like that since he came back to the monastery after the birth of those … things. Tuck itched to dart forward and offer Father Hugh his arm. “We’ll sit on the bench — do you mind, my lords?”
“Of course not,” replied Sir William. That was troubling. Not that Sir William was being polite, but that it wasn’t Sir Lancelot who had answered. Tuck risked a glance at the elder knight …
Sir Lancelot returned it with a glare that almost made Tuck recoil. He’d never seen Sir Lancelot so angry. He’d never seen any du Lac so angry! Clearly Tuck had crossed the line.
But how to recover? That was the question, wasn’t it?
“Brother Tuck,” Sir William said, “I don’t want to waste your and Father Hugh’s valuable time, so I will try to make this as quick as possible. Could you please tell me, in your own words, what happened on the morning of Jaban the thirteenth?”
Tuck glanced sidelong at Father Hugh, who was staring at him with an expression on the border between incredulity and dismay. But if Sir William was asking … there was no getting out of it, was there? At least, not in the end. He could, however, register his protests. “I hope you’re not planning to charge that poor woman. I told the captain that I did not want her arrested, but he did not listen to my request.”
“Tuck, are you saying …” Father Hugh started, but could not go on.
Sir William watched Father Hugh, cracked a knuckle, and turned back to Tuck. “Captain Turner’s conduct is not what is at issue here,” replied Sir William. “Please, I’d just like to hear what happened in your own words.”
Sir Lancelot’s glare didn’t flicker. That worried Tuck more than anything.
But none of that would get Tuck anywhere. So he took a deep breath, nodded, and told everything that had happened on that morning from the time he arrived at the brothel.
He left nothing back — nothing that he could remember, at any rate. Trying to lie or omit verifiable facts would get him nowhere. The more honest he was now, the better change he would have to manipulate events down the road, or at least emerge unscathed from the scandal.
But there was one thing he did not do. He did not look at Father Hugh. He … couldn’t.
And throughout his recital, Sir William’s expression barely twitched.
When Tuck reached the end, he coughed and repeated, “As I said before … I do hope you don’t charge that poor woman. She–she was unfortunately deluded when it came to the care of her child, but her assault was harmless, as far as I can tell, and I would hate to be responsible for the death of any Sim.”
“Then you’ll be pleased to learn that Marigold Thatcher was released three days ago,” replied Sir William.
Three days ago? And they didn’t even consult me? “The–Lord be praised!” Tuck forced out.
“And you’ll also be pleased to know that the King and council have decided to repeal the old law against assaulting churchmen,” Sir William went on. “This ought to prevent abuses in the future, don’t you think?”
“It’s–it’s now legal to assault churchmen?!” Tuck squeaked, looking at Father Hugh in disbelief.
“Oh, of course not. It’s no more legal to assault you or any other brother or sister than it is to assault any other Sim. And should you ever be assaulted — actually assaulted, that is, not this … sneeze that Marigold Thatcher did to you, I hope you’ll report it immediately. Albion certainly won’t stand by and allow its monks and nuns to be abused. But the King and Council were of the opinion that the Church hardly needs the special protections that Glasonland gave to it in the early days of conversions and persecutions.”
“Well, I am hardly an expert here, but –” Tuck tried to protest.
“And Reme never had a law like that,” Sir William continued. “So you can understand why we thought it was quite unnecessary to have a law that prescribes harsher penalties for attacking a certain class of people — a class that may have, once, needed special protection, but no longer does.” Sir William smiled, a smile that sent chills down Tuck’s spine. “After all, I’d say that the boot is on the other foot now — wouldn’t you?”
Tuck could think of no reply.
But Father Hugh could. “What–what do you mean, Sir William?” he croaked. He pulled at his collar and fingered the cross hanging from his neck.
Sir William didn’t look at him. He instead raised an eyebrow at Brother Tuck. “I think Brother Tuck could probably explain what I mean best.”
Tuck took a deep breath. So Sir William was objecting to putting children into morally sound homes. Well, he could deal with that. He could probably even convince Father Hugh. “My lords, I–“
“What the hell were you thinking?” shouted Sir Lancelot.
Tuck recoiled. His gaze went, almost by instinct, to Sir William. He remembered what the du Lacs’ adolescence had been like. They had spent most of it in a haze of embarrassment at their parents’ antics. Surely Sir William, now that he was a man, would calm his father down before he humiliated the both of them.
What Tuck saw, though, was not embarrassment, but was instead an anger banked, kept under firm control, but for all that, just as strong as Sir Lancelot’s. His thought upon realizing that was decidedly un-monk-like, but was probably the only rational response to the situation.
“You tried to rip children out of their own mothers’ arms! No wonder Marigold Thatcher assaulted you! If you had tried to take my children, I’d have bloody well run you through!”
“Sir Lancelot!” Tuck squealed. “That’s–that’s hardly necessary!” He turned a frightened glance to Father Hugh for support.
Father Hugh wouldn’t look at him.
“Is it?” Sir William asked. Brother Tuck turned to him. “You stepped onto private property — Marigold Thatcher’s own property, left to her by my grandfather — without any just cause or indeed legal right to be there. You frightened these poor women by dragging guards to their door when they had committed no crime. And then you attempted to remove a child from their home. If that isn’t kidnapping, I don’t know what is.”
“Kidnapping?” Tuck gasped. “I was removing those children–“
“Those children?!” yelped Sir Lancelot. “There’s more than one? What the hell else have you been doing?”
“I–I–” Tuck turned to Father Hugh in a panic.
Father Hugh did look at him. But he said nothing helpful. “I think Sir Lancelot’s question deserves an answer.”
Tuck ran a shaking hand through his tonsured hair. “There–there was another child. Several years ago.” Several–good Lord, that little boy had to be older than Tor. What had happened to him? After the unpleasantness of removing him, Tuck hadn’t thought of that boy in years. Where was he? “His mother would not give him up to the orphanage, as was her duty. So, rather than put Mother Julian or Sister Margery through any … unpleasantness, I took care of it myself.”
“And that child is still here? While his mother pines for him?” Sir Lancelot gasped.
“No,” Sir William replied. “The child was … taken in by a loving family.” He shot a glance at his father that said, clearer than any words, We’ll talk later.
Sir Lancelot seemed willing to accept that. So was Tuck. He had bigger problems. Like saving his own skin.
“My lords,” Tuck continued, “I–I do think the idea of kidnapping is — is –” Ludicrous! “Perhaps an overstatement of what happened,” he hedged. “I don’t think anyone would disagree with me that–“
“We do.” It was the closest Tuck had yet heard to a snap coming from Sir William.
“I don’t think I can make this clear enough, Brother Tuck,” Sir William interrupted. “You had no right to enter that house without the permission of its owner or tenants. You certainly had no right to remove any children from it. There is no court ecclesiastic in Albion. There are no laws granting you any jurisdiction over the welfare of the children of the kingdom. And there was no system set up for the parent or parents to challenge your interpretation of your rights.”
“We–” Father Hugh started. Sir William turned to him with raised eyebrows. “Father Gregory and Mother Hildebrand and I always thought it would make more sense to use the courts ecclesiastic in Camford, if … if there was any trouble …”
“A good idea,” Sir William nodded. “But you would need to get royal permission to bring any case to that court that involved a citizen of Albion — that is, if that matter wasn’t purely Church-related. I don’t know if the King made that clear in the past, because as far as I’m aware it’s never come up, but he wants it to be clear now.”
“Of course,” Father Hugh croaked.
“But none of that is really the case here, is it?” Sir William asked, looking again at Tuck. “Brother Tuck acted on his own initiative. He either removed or attempted to remove children from their homes with no authority to do so. He gave guards and soldiers of Albion orders he had no right to give them. He–“
“Wait!” Tuck protested. “It’s always been known that the secular forces of the law stand ready to defend the Church’s rights! I asked for assistance that I had every right to request!”
“No,” Sir William answered, “you did not. It’s true that Church authorities in Glasonland and sometimes even Reme have a … tendency to be high-handed with the secular authorities. But that stops here. Today. If the Church ever has actual need of secular authority to help her, then she is perfectly free to ask the local lord or else the King himself and of course we’ll assist. But we will not be pawns in the schemes of any rogue monks or nuns. The King wants me to make that very, very clear.”
“I–I don’t doubt that,” Father Hugh gasped.
“And any more attempts to remove children from their homes — unless the case has been brought to the attention of secular law enforcement and gotten their approval — will be treated as kidnapping. Just as the attempt to remove the child of Marigold Thatcher was attempted kidnapping.”
Tuck’s heart started to pound in his ears. Kidnapping — the King had been willing to execute his own sister for that! She might have killed herself to escape the sentence — but that was only what people said, what if …
Sir William put a finger against his lips. Tuck stopped thinking and started listening. “Though, in a way, you’re lucky,” Sir William murmured. “Marigold Thatcher was merciful enough to decide that she wouldn’t press charges for the unlawful kidnapping of her child.”
Tuck gasped out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. He fell forward, barely remaining on the bench as he shuddered, gasped, and choked.
“Thank–thank her, for us,” Father Hugh said. “We owe much to her mercy. And I assure you, Sir William, Sir Lancelot — while I have charge of these monks, nothing of this nature will happen again. Ever.”
Tuck sat up. What–what was the Father thinking?
He wouldn’t look at Tuck. He kept his eyes focused on Sir William. “And I hope you will accept my apologies for — for these horrible incidents.”
Horrible. Not “regretable.” Not “unfortunate.” Horrible.
What–what had just …?
Tuck watched his abbot in a daze as the du Lacs appeared to accept his apologies and all bid their farewells. He got up when they left, as was polite. But he couldn’t move to see them to the door. He could only watch as they left the study, the door quietly clicking behind them.
Father Hugh hadn’t gone with them, either. As soon as the du Lacs were gone, he was standing by his fireplace, one hand on the mantel, breathing heavily.
“F-Father …” Tuck started.
Father Hugh spun on one heel. “What the hell were you thinking?”
Tuck reeled. “Father! I–“
“Kidnapping? Taking defenseless children away from their defenseless mothers? Tuck, how could you? How could you? Do you have any idea how — how –” He choked, one hand on his heart, shoulders quaking. “It’s the worst pain imaginable!” he finally gasped out. “Even if you choose it! Even if you know it’s for the best! I can’t–I can’t imagine what those mothers–“
“Father, I thought–“
“You thought? You didn’t think! Or if you did think, you didn’t think about those children — or, Lord forbid, those women! You–you used them like pawns in a chess game! Living Sims, Tuck! How would you feel if someone used them for that?”
“Silence!” Father Hugh roared. He started to pace. “I should have put a stop to this years ago,” he snapped. “I should have–damn it, I knew what you were trying to do! You were trying to be Father Gregory all over again! Gaining power, seeking influence — but at least he did it wisely! And he certainly never tried to do it by trampling over people so much weaker than he was. He just peddled favors with the nobles and — argh!
“And I indulged you!” Father Hugh howled. “I knew what you were up to, and I let it happen!” He rounded on Tuck. “You were the closest thing I had to a son for years, Tuck! Until–and even after–how could I have been so blind? No–I know. There is none so blind as him who will not see!”
“SILENCE!” Father Hugh roared. “I mean it, Tuck! As your penance, you will keep silence until I bloody well decide you’re ready to speak again!”
Tuck could only watch his abbot with his jaw hanging open.
“No more sermons! No more stirring the people into a frenzy against those weaker than they are! No more manipulating, no more string-pulling! We’re monks, Tuck, not politicians. We’re put here to serve the people, not ride roughshod over them. And until you learn that — if you ever learn that — you won’t speak a word!”
With that, Father Hugh pushed past Tuck, his shoulders still quaking. And Tuck could only watch him leave. Speechless.
He couldn’t even say he was sorry.