‘You’re wrong, your Reverence,’ Sparhawk told him. ‘Those rules don’t apply to the militant orders.’

‘I’ve never heard of any such exception.’

‘You have now. I don’t want any trouble with you, friend, but I’ve been summoned by Patriarch Dolmant and I’m going inside’

‘But –’

‘There’s an extensive library here, neighbour. Why don’t you go look up the rules again? I’m sure you’ll find that you’ve missed a few. Now stand aside.’ He brushed past the man in the black cassock and went on into the cool incense-smelling cathedral. He made the customary bow towards the jewel-encrusted altar and moved on down the broad central aisle in the multi-coloured light streaming through tall, stained-glass windows. A sacristan stood by the altar vigorously polishing a silver chalice.

‘Good morning, friend,’ Sparhawk said to him in his quiet voice

The sacristan almost dropped the chalice. ‘You startled me, Sir Knight,’ he said, laughing nervously. ‘I didn’t hear you come up behind me.’

‘It’s the carpeting,’ Sparhawk said. ‘It muffles the sound of footsteps. I understand that the members of the Hierocracy are in session.’

The sacristan nodded.

‘Patriarch Dolmant summoned me to testify in a matter he’s presenting this morning. Could you tell me where they’re meeting?’

‘In the Archprelate’s audience chamber, I believe. Do you want me to show you the way, Sir Knight?’

‘I know where it is. Thanks, neighbour.’ Sparhawk went across the front of the nave and out through a side door into an echoing marble corridor He removed his helm and tucked it under his arm and proceeded on along the corridor until he reached a large room where a dozen churchmen sat at tables sorting through stacks of documents. One of the black-robed men looked up, saw Sparhawk in the doorway, and rose ‘May I help you, Sir Knight?’ he asked. The top of his head was bald, and wispy tufts of grey hair stuck out over his ears like wings.

‘The name is Sparhawk, your Reverence. The Patriarch Dolmant summoned me.’

‘Ah, yes,’ the bald churchman said. ‘The patriarch advised me that he was expecting you. I’ll go and tell him that you’ve arrived. Would you care to sit down while you’re waiting?’

‘No thanks, your Reverence I’ll stand. It’s a little awkward to sit down when you’re wearing a sword.’

The churchman smiled a bit wistfully ‘I wouldn’t know about that,’ he said. ‘What’s it like?’

‘It’s overrated,’ Sparhawk told him. ‘Would you tell the patriarch that I’m here?’

‘At once, Sir Sparhawk.’ The churchman turned and crossed the room to the far door with his sandals slapping on the marble floor After a few moments he came back. ‘The patriarch says that you’re to go right on in. The Archprelate’s with them.’

‘That’s a surprise. I’ve heard that he’s been ill.’

‘This is one of his better days, I think.’ The churchman led the way across the room and opened the door for Sparhawk.

The audience chamber was flanked on either side by tier upon tier of high-backed benches. The benches were filled with elderly churchmen in sober black, the Hierocracy of the Elene Church. At the front of the room on a raised dais sat a large golden throne, and seated upon that throne in a white satin robe and golden mitre was the Archprelate Cluvonus. The old man was dozing. In the centre of the room stood an ornate lectern. Dolmant was there with a sheaf of parchment on the slanted shelf before him. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘Sir Sparhawk. So good of you to come’

‘My pleasure, your Grace,’ Sparhawk replied.

‘Brothers,’ Dolmant said to the other members of the Hierocracy, ‘I have the honour to present the Pandion Knight, Sir Sparhawk.’

‘We have heard of Sir Sparhawk,’ a lean-faced patriarch seated in the front tier on the left said coldly ‘Why is he here, Dolmant?’

‘To present evidence in the matter we were just discussing, Makova,’ Dolmant replied distantly

‘I have heard quite enough already’

‘Speak for yourself, Makova,’ a jovial-looking fat man said from the right tier. ‘The militant orders are the arm of the Church, and their members are always welcome at our deliberations.’

The two men glared at each other.

‘Since Sir Sparhawk was instrumental in uncovering and thwarting this plot,’ Dolmant said smoothly, ‘I thought that his testimony might prove enlightening.’

‘Oh, get on with it, Dolmant,’ the lean-faced patriarch on the left said irritably ‘We have matters of much greater importance to take up this morning.’

‘It shall be as the esteemed Patriarch of Coombe wishes.’ Dolmant bowed. ‘Sir Sparhawk,’ he said then, ‘do you give your oath as a Knight of the Church that your testimony shall be the truth?’

‘I do, your Grace,’ Sparhawk affirmed.

‘Please tell the assembly how you uncovered this plot.’

‘Of course, your Grace.’ Sparhawk then recounted most of the conversation between Harparin and Krager, omitting their names, the name of the Primate Annias, and all references to Ehlana.

‘Is it your custom to eavesdrop on private conversations, Sir Sparhawk?’ Makova asked a bit spitefully

‘When it involves the security of the Church or the State, yes, your Grace I’m sworn to defend both.’

‘Ah, yes. I’d forgotten that you are also the Champion of the Queen of Elenia. Does that sometimes not divide your loyalties, Sir Sparhawk?’

‘It hasn’t so far, your Grace. The interests of the Church and the State are seldom in conflict with each other in Elenia.’

‘Well said, Sir Sparhawk,’ the fat churchman on the right approved.

The Patriarch of Coombe leaned over and whispered something to the sallow man sitting beside him.

‘What did you do after you learned of this conspiracy, Sir Sparhawk?’ Dolmant asked then.

‘We gathered our forces and rode down into Arcium to intercept the men who were to carry out the attack.’

‘And why did you not advise the Primate of Cimmura of this so-called conspiracy?’ Makova asked.

‘The scheme involved an attack on a house in Arcium, your Grace,’ Sparhawk replied. ‘The Primate of Cimmura has no authority there, so the matter didn’t concern him.’

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