Storytelling Time: Coven at Callington – Chapter 1 Part IV
Would you cross a line you swore you wouldn’t?
Our values define who we are. When we’re asked to do something that makes us cringe, those values are being tested.
How we respond to that test will define who we become.
Genre: a Regency fantasy romance (c) Shereen Vedam
Chapter 1 – Part IV
London, England, September 1815
Late for his appointment, he shook away the disturbing thought. “We’ll finish this conversation later.”
“You’ve blood on your coat, milord. Best change first. I brought spares.”
By the candlelight, blood spatters were indeed prominent on his white cravat, and his coat sleeves were ruined.
With an impatient hand, Braden pulled off the neck cloth and shrugged out of his jacket. He tossed both to Garth, though he held little hope that whatever his footman produced would be suitable for White’s.
From his pack, Garth fished out a replacement coat and a strip of pristine white cloth.
Braden frowned at the oddly un-creased garments coming from the cramped pack. Had Garth conjured them up?
Don’t ask. Best if you don’t know.
He shrugged on the new coat. It fit to perfection as if crafted by Gieves and Hawkes of Savile Row. As he tied the cravat in a loosely arranged Mail Coach style, he prayed the magical cloth would not choke him in the middle of a conversation. Satisfied he looked presentable, he strode toward the street. At the alley’s entrance, the air flared and pushed him backward.
“Sorry, milord,” the little magician muttered and slipped to the other side of the invisible barrier without any hindrance. There, he moved some small rocks aside and spit on a larger one before wiping it clean.
Braden watched with a troubled spirit. As an ordained church guard, he had been taught that magic was a tool of the dark, just as miracles were tools of light. Convincing Garth to beware the deadly lure of the dark arts, however, had proved an exercise in futility. One Braden had given up lecturing on.
For his part, Garth often said he owed Braden his life and insisted he was devoted to his master’s missions.
“That’s done it, then,” Garth said and the barrier shimmered and fell away.
Braden headed for the club. “I shan’t be long. Stay close.”
Inside White’s entryway, the butler recognized Braden and said the proprietor had a missive for him. He hurried off to fetch it.
The moment the note was in Braden’s hands, the first thing he noticed was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s secret seal. He opened the note with suppressed excitement. Finally, a new assignment.
The dove must return to the nest.
A coded message. He sent his regrets to Dewer and abruptly left the establishment.
Down the road, Garth sat up on the carriage box beside the driver. Braden gave instructions to speed them to Lambeth Palace forthwith. He’d barely claimed his seat before the carriage lurched forward.
Soon the ripe stench of fish and refuse hinted they journeyed alongside the Thames River. On arrival at Lambeth, Garth flagrantly refused to follow orders to drive into the palace. Instead, he ordered the vehicle stopped ten feet short of the gatehouse doors.
Braden disembarked, pushing back the angry words hovering on his lips. He knew better than to resume a revolving argument. No matter how often he told Garth that the archbishop’s palace was the safest home in the kingdom, he insisted on waiting outside the palace walls. His excuses varied with month, week and time of day.
“Best be careful, milord,” Garth said in a warning tone, from atop the carriage. He pointed to an illusory line running parallel to the open gates. “A ley line. Could get you transported to places you don’t want to visit.”
Braden crossed the imaginary barrier without a backward glance or comment. In the garden, he passed a stately white fig tree heavy with fruit. Harvest time. He’d often climbed its branches as a child, hungering for a taste of those sweet morsels. He now ignored the bounty and headed for the Great Hall. From there, a butler led him toward the Blue Room. Bowing, the man left him by the door.
“Enter!” The summons was as sharp as a slap.
Braden’s pulse ricocheted. He huffed an impatient sigh at his nervous reaction. Why did he let Garth’s fears get the better of him? He went in. Stopping before His Grace, he descended to both knees, head bowed.
“I’m pleased to see my dove returned safely.” His Grace made the sign of the cross and said a quiet prayer before extending his right hand.
Braden reverently kissed the opulent medieval gold-rimmed, amethyst ring on His Grace’s middle finger. The jewel was carved with the symbol of the Green Cross.
“Arise, my son,” Charles Manners Sutton said. “We have grave matters to discuss.” He offered a glass of brandy.
“Thank you.” Braden accepted the drink and swept the orderly, spotless, book-lined room with a fond gaze. He’d learnt his church guard theology here. Entering this room felt akin to removing tight boots and settling before a warm fire with a favorite volume.
“You look worse for wear,” His Grace said, with a look of curiosity.
Braden ran a hand over his hair hoping it wasn’t too disheveled. “Discovered a pack of otherworldly hounds near White’s. I wondered if they’d been waiting for me.”
The archbishop seemed unperturbed by the suggestion.
“Do you know why they would have done so, Your Grace?”
“I suspect they were meant to stop you from being sent to Callington.”
Intriguing. His assignments took him to all corners of the British Isles except for Cornwall or Wales. That was witch and warlock territory. They handled their own problems without church guard interference.
“Callington, Cornwall, Your Grace?”
Manners nodded. “There’s trouble at a parish there. A demon stole a boy brought to the church for his baptism.”
“From inside the church? How did it enter? I understood they couldn’t access holy places. Also, why take a boy?”
“How is up to you to determine and to ensure it never happens again. As to why, who knows why demons do anything in our realm, or who they collude
with on any given day? The rector tells me the happening is beyond his understanding. You must uncover the truth and find and return the boy to his school in Snowdon.”
Braden’s eyebrow shot up. Snowdon? “The warlock school in Wales?”
“Snowdon,” the archbishop repeated, his gaze hardening, daring Braden to question him. “The headmaster, Mattock, is the boy’s father and he has sworn allegiance to the Church in exchange for our assistance. I will not turn away any seeker of God, no matter what guise he appears in.”
Or whatever talent he brings to the table. Braden cringed inwardly at that uncharitable thought. He must not presume to question His Grace’s judgment. After all, Braden housed and harbored Garth, who, though not intrinsically evil, did practice magic.
This sudden change in Church policy toward involvement with warlocks, however, was profoundly disturbing. His intention to ask if Sutton knew what could have caused such a startling reaction from his sword choked and died in his throat. He wanted to get out of here, to find a peaceful place to sit and think. He bowed. “If that is all, Your Grace. As always, I’m honored to serve the Church.”
His every instinct shouted that he would not care for the rest. Spine rod straight, Braden faced the archbishop.
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