‘Nor the Pandions either, I should say Why did you not just alert the Cyrinic Knights and let them deal with things?’ Makova looked around smugly at those seated near him as if he had just made a killing point.
‘The plot was designed to discredit our order, your Grace. We felt that gave us sufficient reason to attend to the matter ourselves. Besides, the Cyrinics have their own concerns, and we didn’t want to trouble them with so minor an affair.’
Makova grunted sourly
‘What happened then, Sir Sparhawk?’ Dolmant asked.
‘Things went more or less as expected, your Grace. We alerted Count Radun; then, when the mercenaries arrived, we fell on them from behind. Not very many of them escaped.’
‘You attacked them from behind without warning?’ Patriarch Makova looked outraged. ‘Is this the vaunted heroism of the Pandion Knights?’
‘You’re nit-picking, Makova,’ the jovial-looking man on the other side of the aisle snorted. ‘Your precious Primate Annias made a fool of himself. Quit trying to smooth it over by attacking this knight and trying to impugn his testimony’ He looked shrewdly at Sparhawk. ‘Would you care to hazard a guess as to the source of this conspiracy, Sir Sparhawk?’ he asked.
‘We are not here to listen to speculation, Emban,’ Makova snapped quickly ‘The witness can testify only to what he knows, not what he guesses.’
‘The Patriarch of Coombe is right, your Grace,’ Sparhawk said to Patriarch Emban. ‘I swore to speak only the truth, and guesses usually fly wide of that mark. The Pandion Order has offended many people in the past century or so. We are sometimes an acerbic group of men, stiff-necked and unforgiving. Many find that quality in us unpleasant, and old hatreds die hard.’
‘True,’ Emban conceded. ‘If it came to the defence of the faith, however, I would prefer to place my trust in you stiff-necked and unforgiving Pandions rather than some others I could name. Old hatreds, as you say, die hard, but so do new ones. I’ve heard about what’s going on in Elenia, and it’s not too hard to pick out somebody who might profit from the Pandions’ disgrace.’
‘Do you dare to accuse the Primate Annias?’ Makova cried, jumping to his feet with his eyes bulging.
‘Oh, sit down, Makova,’ Emban said in disgust. ‘You contaminate us by your very presence. Everybody in this chamber knows who owns you.’
‘You accuse me?’
‘Who paid for that new palace of yours, Makova? Six months ago you tried to borrow money from me, and now you seem to have all you need. Isn’t that curious? Who’s subsidizing you, Makova?’
‘What’s all the shouting about?’ a feeble voice asked.
Sparhawk looked sharply at the golden throne at the front of the chamber. The Archprelate Cluvonus had come awake and was blinking in confusion as he looked around. The old man’s head was wobbling on his stringy neck, and his eyes were bleary
‘A spirited discussion, Most Holy,’ Dolmant said mildly
‘Now you’ve gone and woken me up,’ the Archprelate said petulantly, ‘and I was having such a nice dream.’ He reached up, pulled off his mitre, and threw it on the floor. Then he sank back on his throne, pouting.
‘Would the Archprelate care to hear of the matter under discussion?’ Dolmant asked.
‘No, I wouldn’t,’ Cluvonus snapped. ‘So there.’ Then he cackled as if his infantile outburst had been some enormous joke. The laughter trailed off and he scowled at them. ‘I want to go back to my room,’ he declared. ‘Get out of here, all of you.’
The Hierocracy rose to its feet and began to file out.
‘You too, Dolmant,’ the Archprelate insisted in a shrill voice. ‘And send Sister Clentis to me. She’s the only one who really cares about me.’
‘As you wish, Most Holy,’ Dolmant said, bowing.
When they were outside, Sparhawk walked beside the Patriarch of Demos. ‘How long has he been like this?’ he asked.
Dolmant sighed. ‘For a year now at least,’ he replied. ‘His mind has been failing for quite some time, but it’s only in the past year that his senility has reached this level.’
‘Who is Sister Clentis?’
‘His keeper – his nursemaid, actually.’
‘Is his condition widely known?’
‘There are rumours, of course, but we’ve managed to keep his true state a secret.’ Dolmant sighed again. ‘Don’t judge him by the way he is now, Sparhawk. When he was younger, he honoured the throne of the Archprelacy.’
Sparhawk nodded. ‘I know,’ he agreed. ‘How is his health otherwise?’
‘Not good. He’s very frail. It cannot be much longer.’
‘Perhaps that’s why Annias is beginning to move so quickly.’ Sparhawk shifted his silver-embossed shield. Time’s on his side, you know.’
Dolmant made a sour face. ‘Yes,’ he agreed. That’s what makes your mission so vital.’
Another churchman came up to join them. ‘Well, Dolmant,’ he said, ‘a very interesting morning. Just how deeply was Annias involved in the scheme?’
‘I didn’t say anything about the Primate of Cimmura, Yarris,’ Dolmant protested with mock innocence.
‘You didn’t have to. It all fits together a bit too neatly. I don’t think anybody on the council missed your point.’
‘Do you know the Patriarch of Vardenais, Sparhawk?’ Dolmant asked.
‘We’ve met a few times.’ Sparhawk bowed slightly to the other churchman, his armour creaking. ‘Your Grace,’ he said.
‘It’s good to see you again, Sir Sparhawk,’ Yarris replied. ‘How are things in Cimmura?’
‘Tense,’ Sparhawk said.
Patriarch Yarris looked at Dolmant. ‘You know that Makova’s going to report everything that happened this morning to Annias, don’t you?’
‘I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret. Annias made an ass of himself. Considering his aspirations, that element of his personality is highly relevant.’
‘It is indeed, Dolmant. You’ve made another enemy this morning.’
‘Makova’s never been that fond of me anyway Incidentally, Yarris, Sparhawk and I would like to present a certain matter to you for your consideration.’
‘It involves another ploy by the Primate of Cimmura.’
‘Then let’s thwart him, by all means.’