Darid 8, 1014
So this was her team. Mother Julian wished she could be more enthusiastic about it.
Because the trouble with playing hardball was that it was hard. It took skill and finesse, understanding how people worked, what made them tick, and how to get them to tock if necessary. And people got hurt. You had to have a mind like a steel trap to come up with something that would work, and an iron stomach if you wanted to live with yourself after.
She didn’t know if her nuns had that. If Mother Julian was being honest … she wasn’t sure she herself had all that.
But somebody had to do something, and she and her nuns were all that Albion had.
Albion was on, in Mother Julian’s view, a collision course with the Church. It wasn’t just Brother Tuck, although he was certainly part of it. It wasn’t just Brother Galahad’s unorthodox ideas (about teaching, doctrine, and especially about how much of that doctrine to teach). It was also Father Hugh. And it was most certainly King Arthur.
It was just over a year ago that he had sent out the order forbidding any Church money from flowing through Albion to get to Camford. For the sake of the refugees languishing in the border camps. Mother Julian could sympathize with that — truly it was horrible to watch innocent people suffer. Anybody would be excused wanting to do something. But to tangle with the Church so openly … she wondered, was the King mad? Or was he reckless? Both?
And then there was the whole matter with Brother Tuck …
Mother Julian sighed. This mental lollygagging would get her nowhere. She marched around the long dining table — unlike the monks, Mother Julian had no room other than the refectory big enough to fit all her nuns comfortably around a table — and pulled out the chair next to Sister Vyn. “Sisters,” said Mother Julian without preamble, “we have much to discuss.”
“Oh?” asked Sister Angelique. One raven-black brow arched delicately. Mother Julian did her best not to sigh. The minute that Sister Angelique had come home, Mother Julian had rid of her of that ridiculous not-a-habit and outfitted her with a more plain and sensible model. But that hadn’t even come close to taming Sister Angelique’s personal appearance. Without dressing immodestly, or wearing cosmetics (in a way that Mother Julian could prove), or doing anything that Mother Julian could object to, she still managed to exude sensuality and scandal.
“Aye. I’ll admit I should have had this discussion earlier, when you first arrived,” she nodded to Sister Angelique, “but I needed to … confirm some things.” That had involved a bit more subterfuge than she liked, all masquerading under the pretense of a friendly tea and a friendly chat with Sandra Tower. “And now that those things are confirmed …”
“Yes?” asked Sister Angelique, sounding bored already.
“I’m sure we all remember the scandal with Brother Tuck last Jaban,” Mother Julian began. “And I am sure we are all quite glad that Brother Tuck has … stopped his foolish schemes.” Mother Julian stared at the wall so she wouldn’t have to see the patently relieved looks on her nuns’ faces. On the one hand, she understood — on the other, they were supposed to be looking out for needs of children whose parents could not care for them. “But I do not think we would all be as glad if we knew the lengths to which the King and his council were prepared to go in order to stop Brother Tuck.”
“And those lengths would be …?” asked Sister Angelique.
Mother Julian hesitated, but it was only for a fraction of a second. Even if Sandra had not been sure of the details, she knew this much. And the fact that this much was true was a cause for grave alarm. “There was talk of prosecuting Brother Tuck for kidnapping …”
Sister Angelique blinked. Margery gasped. Sister Vyn looked somewhat impressed.
And then Mother Julian delivered the kicker. “In an Albionese court.”
Margery yelped; Sister Vyn gasped, “What?”; and even Sister Angelique’s eyes widened.
“Yes, sisters. Even though the King was wise enough — or perhaps the … woman in question merciful enough — not to walk down that route, the fact that it was presented as an option is and ought to be a cause for grave alarm. For that reason –”
“Is it?” challenged Sister Angelique.
Well, so much for hoping that she would be able to get through the first five minutes of this without an argument from Sister Angelique. Was the girl being contrary on purpose, or was it just her nature? No, Mother Julian ought not lie to herself: the girl was unhappy. Anyone could see that. And as Mother Julian bore part of the blame for that, putting up with Sister Angelique’s unhappiness could only be considered her penance.
“Sister Angelique,” Mother Julian sighed, “Albion has no court ecclesiastic. Do you not think that trying Brother Tuck in a secular court would be damaging to us all?”
“The crime he committed–”
“Committed!” fired back Sister Angelique. “Let’s not be coy here, Mother; none of us agreed with what Brother Tuck was doing. In fact, as I recall, the last time he pulled this sort of stunt, almost every woman in this room worked behind his back to undo it — and the only reason why Sister Vyn wasn’t in on it was because she wasn’t a nun yet.” Sister Angelique nodded to Sister Vyn. “Brother Tuck committed a secular crime. Why shouldn’t he be tried in secular court?”
“Because there are rules, you silly girl,” replied Sister Vyn. Mother Julian winced, but more of that than she cared to admit was for Margery’s benefit. “Churchmen — and women — aren’t tried in secular court. We’re in the world, but not of it. Remember? Or did not they not bother to mention that in Camford?”
“Sister Vyn,” Mother Julian reproved softly. The last thing she needed was for Sister Angelique and Sister Vyn to get into it. Mother Julian might have hoped that misery would love company, but no: these two had to fight like a pair of stray dogs over every last scrap of bone to come their way.
But it was too late for her little intervention; Sister Angelique had already bared her teeth. “Aye, they did teach me that. But by looking and listening around me, I learned that many Churchmen — and women — don’t bother to follow that rule. And if they’re not going to follow that rule, why shouldn’t we treat them like any other Sims who are in the world and bl–jolly well of it, too?”
“Because it’s not always as easy to tell the difference as it is with Brother Tuck,” replied Margery. “Some — some Church members are corrupt and venial, aye. And some are motivated by thoughts so holy, lay Sims can’t possibly understand them. And both types might make trouble for governments — so it’s best to leave Church matters to Church courts, which can best sort out the sacred from the profane offenders, and treat both accordingly.” She smiled at Mother Julian. “Isn’t that right, Mother?”
“Indeed it is,” replied Mother Julian, ignoring Sister Angelique’s scoff and the rolling of her eyes. Let the girl be cynical if she liked; she would soon find that the world was not as black-and-white (mostly black) as she made it out to be. “And that is why, though I agree with you, Sister Angelique, that we all abhorred Brother Tuck’s actions, we must stand with him when it comes to these matters. If he was to be tried — and note, I will not say that I was or am against the idea of trying him in a court ecclesiastic — in a secular court, that would threaten us all.
“And more than that,” Mother Julian continued, “the fact that our King would even consider such a thing — even though he was savvy enough, I think, to convince the … woman in question not to press charges — threatens us all, and in a very different way.”
“How do you mean, Mother?” asked Margery.
“How long do you think that the Robertians, the Agnesites, all the powerful orders, would have let the King — and Albion — be if our King took that step?”
The only reason that the rest of the orders were allowing the King his way on the refugee situation was that they themselves stood to gain from it: since they could not send the proper tithe through Albion to Camford, they reasoned (and since sending it through Glasonland was a laughably foolish idea), it did nobody any harm if they held onto it. The Robertians would have a devil of a time getting all of the other orders to once again pay their fair share into the Church treasury, and everybody knew it, and everybody also knew that the longer the ban on passing Church gold through Albion lasted, the harder the Robertians’ job would be. Plenty of orders resented the tribute sent to the Robertians’ treasury, calling the spending wasteful and the fees too high. The Robertians would spend years cleaning up the mess that, arguably, they themselves had caused — through either poor stewardship of the Church treasury or over-worldliness in regards to the refugees.
However, if the King had prosecuted Brother Tuck … their work might not have been as hard, for the Church would have had a common enemy all could fight against.
“Long enough. Trying to get all the Church to work together is like herding cats,” replied Sister Angelique. “By the time the Robertians managed to get them all to agree on doing something about the King, everyone would have forgotten this scandal in exchange for the newest scandal.”
“Which, if things keep going the way they’re going,” Mother Julian replied — she did not snarl, no matter how much she wanted to — “will probably also come from Albion. We started with the furor caused by King Arthur’s repeal of any laws against users of magic –”
“Does anyone in this room disagree with that?” Sister Angelique gasped.
“Aye,” replied Sister Vyn. “Oh, it’s fine for the noble folks to do what they like — heaven knows they will anyway, and they’re probably damned no matter what –”
“Sister Vyn! Hold your tongue!” Mother Julian snapped. “For once, I agree with Sister Angelique — there’s nothing good that can come of prosecuting people for something they’re born with, and much good can be done if you allow people to develop the talents the Lord gave them. However, Sister Angelique will not disagree with me — since she was not even born when it happened, and so cannot speak to it with any intelligence — that it caused a great scandal and much negative talk when it happened.”
Sister Angelique did not argue. But by the look on her face, she would have very much liked to.
“And then there was the case of Lady Morgause — which, had it gone any way other than it had, could have resulted in Reme and Glasonland for once putting aside their differences in order to wage holy war on us. Then the refugees. And now — Brother Tuck. Or very nearly Brother Tuck. Tell me, Sister Angelique, since you are so sure that Albion has some kind of charm to allow it to skate so close to mortal sin, time and time again, without any fear of repercussions — what on earth gives you cause to think that the next scandal won’t be coming from Albion?”
Sister Angelique grinned, more than a little wickedly for Mother Julian’s case. “Gaul. Let’s not forget that they’ve created a treaty with the Smoors. Why, they won’t even let crusaders through their lands anymore, and they promise to treat any enemies of the Smoors as their enemies. And since the Smoors are infidels, and we’re all supposed to be the enemies of infidels …” Sister Angelique smirked. “Tell me, Mother Julian, what’s Albion done lately that’s on a par with that?”
Mother Julian silently fumed — but luckily that was all she had to do, for Margery jumped into the fray. “Sister Angelique! This isn’t some kind of — race to perdition! I think Mother–Mother Julian has a point. Even if we privately agree with some or all of the King’s actions, we have to admit that they have the potential to make the Robertians, the Agnesites, and many of the other orders very upset. And you should be the most worried about this!” Margery wagged her finger. “Your own nephew and niece are a Prince and Princess! They might be harmed the worst if the King goes too far!”
Without waiting for Sister Angelique to reply, Margery turned to Mother Julian. “So, Mother — we are all agreed that there have been some … worrying trends. Even though I believe the King is doing the best he can with us, he can upset some people. So … why are we talking about this?”
The question was not as much of a non sequitur as it might seem. What Margery meant was: We are not the King, we do not create policy — what can we do about this worrying trend? At least, that was what Mother Julian thought she meant.
Mother Julian nodded. “I am glad you asked that. We clearly cannot trust the secular powers of this country, well-intentioned as they might be, to keep us pure in the eyes of the Church. The monks, thanks to Brother Tuck’s stupidity, have managed to discredit themselves in the eyes of the King and the lords and perhaps even the people. That, Sisters, leaves us.”
“To do what?” asked Sister Angelique.
“Keep Albion on the path of orthodoxy,” replied Mother Julian.
If this was a book, or a story, it would have been a momentous occasion. There would have been silence in the room. The women’s faces would have grown confused, then nervous, then determined as they realized the enormity and the necessity of the task before them. And then one of them — probably Margery — would have agreed for all of them, and the work could begin.
What most certainly would not have happened would have been that Sister Angelique would snort and scoff, “And just how are we supposed to do that?”
“Oh, you foolish girl!” snapped Sister Vyn. “Why, we lead by example, to start! And then … well, we … we must …”
“Aye, it’s the ‘and then’ that’s the trouble, isn’t it?” Sister Angelique crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back, shaking her head. “We have no political power — none, Mother Julian. The King and his council listen only to the monks, and that’s when they bother to listen to the Church at all. And we can tell the people what they ought to think until we grow blue in the face, but the King has pretty much said that he doesn’t care what people think as long as their actions follow the law — hasn’t he?” she finished, raising one eyebrow at Mother Julian.
“That is quite a reasonable position for a secular power to take, given that they have no way of policing men’s thoughts — and once thoughts become actions, why, then they are no longer following the law,” replied Mother Julian. “But you are quite wrong in that we have no political power. We do, after all, have you, Sister Angelique.”
“What?” squawked Sister Vyn.
“Your eldest sister is the Crown Princess. Your next sister is the wife of the heir of quite possibly the wealthiest man in the kingdom, barring the King. Your birth family itself, without the marriages, is of no mean influence. And you yourself, Sister Angelique, grew up with the next generation of Albion’s leaders. You know them all. You are friends with them all. And you say we have no political power, Sister?”
“It’s not real,” replied Sister Angelique stubbornly.
“Oh, it’s plenty real. You have a Camford education, Sister — surely you of all Sims have learned the early history of the Church? Tell me, how many wives, or mothers, or sisters were absolutely instrumental in turning their husbands or sons or brothers to the True Faith?”
“I don’t think anyone in Albion has ever left it,” countered Sister Angelique.
“They are in danger — if not of leaving it, then of being accused of having left it, which is a much more dangerous thing temporally, I find, then actually leaving it, so long as nobody else knows you’ve gone. Are you truly telling me, Sister Angelique, that you would begrudge a few heart-to-heart chats with your sisters and friends, and encouraging them to talk to their husbands, even if doing so means you are putting this whole kingdom in danger?”
Sister Angelique slouched in her chair like a sulking adolescent. In some ways, she still was a sulking adolescent. “Well, Mother Julian, I did vow obedience … so I suppose, if you told me to do it, I wouldn’t have much choice, would I?”
“Oh, cheer up, Sister.” Margery patted Sister Angelique’s hand. “It’s not much to be asked. And it’ll be nice to have some tea with your friends, won’t it?”
“I hope it will be,” answered Mother Julian for Sister Angelique, “for I shall be asking you, Sister Margery, to do the same thing.”
Margery’s eyes widened. “Me?”
“Indeed. You, after all, have the children of … let me see …” Mother Julian counted on her fingers. “The Orkneys — and we may as well count the Gwynedds — the de Ganises, the Wesleyans, and the Towers in your classes. And before the year is out, you’ll have the le Fays and Princess Elise, as well. You shall have plenty of opportunities of your own to exercise some soft power.”
Margery blinked. “I … I suppose I could talk to Dindrane …”
Mother Julian wished she wouldn’t — Dindrane had always been a puzzle to Mother Julian, a locked box full of secrets, and furthermore, she had never understood Margery’s fascination with her. But Dindrane would doubtless have some influence over her brother, and Sir Lamorak would have some influence in the council. It would have to do.
“And what am I to do?” sneered Sister Vyn. “Wipe babies’ bottoms and runny noses, as usual?”
It was wrong, but Mother Julian couldn’t help herself. She patted Sister Vyn’s hand and grinned at her. “And you do it so well, dear. And as for me, I shall be using my soft power with the older generation of ladies — Lady Eilwen, Lady Claire, Lady Guinevere, perhaps even the Queen — and we shall see how far that gets us. And then …”
Mother Julian smiled. “We shall see how far soft power can take us — before we are forced to move to hard.”