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Chapter 29 - A Battle of Parables, Part I

Art woke early the next morning with his veins throbbing in a mix of anticipation and dread about the upcoming meeting with the bishop. Hey lay in his bed, listening to Taril's snoring on the ground beside him, and looked over at the sleeping form of Warriv in the opposite bed. Today was the day Warriv and what remained of his once proud caravan would be heading on out, and he… well, the hectic events of the previous night had prevented him from giving this much thought, but… after that last fight in the brothel, where he'd been beaten by Natalie, he had to admit that his faith in his fighting skills had been badly shaken.

He looked at the stump of his right arm, and it brought tears back to his eyes. If only he hadn't lost it! He would have beaten Natalie hands down, or so he thought. But without it, without the ways of the whirlwind and the monolith, and with several of his other ways greatly weakened like they were? He'd never be able to fight as he'd done at the monastery. It would be much like how he'd fought the first battle after that engagement; the one at the hamlet before he arrived at Thistledown, the way he had to worry so much about getting killed, because he couldn't be assured of the strong defensive abilities that he used to have. Was he going to be relegated to that of a second rate fighter?

And it wasn't just the latest battle with Natalie that was grating on him. In truth, he'd lost the previous fight as well, with Jezebel electrocuting him such that he'd only survived because he knew the way of living death. If he hadn't… well, the lightning adepts supposedly possessed ways of shocking a person with a stilled heart back to life, but that wasn't a sure thing, and it would have put him completely at her mercy. Which he already had; with him lying still on the ground in the way of living death like that, Jezebel could have easily thrust her sword through him and killed him, way or no way.

In a fight with the redskins, they'd not show any mercy to him, a human and a paleskin in their eyes. He'd seen what happened to the one man who they'd caught back in the monastery…. An unbidden memory of them hacking the screaming man into bloody pieces and then engorging themselves up on his flesh, came to mind. He didn't quite feel like wanting to throw up; he'd seen plenty of equally unsettling and disgusting things in the battles he'd been in; but that was none too pleasant a memory, and if he was to be honest with himself, going back into battle, he stood a good chance of getting killed or captured, and for something like that to happen to him…

Should he even continue with this fool's errand, putting himself at continued risk despite having little prospect of gaining much by it? Surely with a wound like that, the loss of his sword hand, he had a better reason than anyone to abandon the fight; and yet, the thoughts of the night before, the tears he'd shed as he listened to Taril's retelling of the story of the fourth prince and of the words of the saint in response… He'd lost much, yes, but if he abandoned the fight now, he'd still have failed. He couldn't leave them, Selena and the Bedfords…

And this fight with Natalie… This time he'd only survived because Jezebel's words, spoken to Natalie in the heat of the battle, had managed to get to her just in time for her to spare Art's life. By all rights he ought to bow before Jezebel and thank her for saving his life, and release her from her indenture. That would be the least he could do. But if he did that, then Jezebel would leave, since that was the only reason she was staying with him and he'd yet managed to convince her to support the sisterhood. So he'd have to put up with this none too honorable course of action, and it made him feel a bit uncomfortable; but she'd have to bear it for now. Maybe he would make it up to her later.

He stood up, got himself dressed in the fine tunic Nathan had given him, the green one with fine golden embroidery, taking care not to disturb the others' slumber. Today was their meeting with the bishop. He'd wait to see how that turned out before making his decision. And if the bishop also refused to help, well, then the sisterhood was as good as lost, and Thistledown and the other outlying villages along with it. If that was the case, then he would leave with Warriv and his caravan, and forget the sisterhood. Yes, that was it. He'd forget all about them.

At the ground floor of the inn he saw not only Roland, Jezebel, and Natalie in their tunics, but also Liene and Amplisa. "Ah, we're all here, and just in time," said Roland.

Liene turned around to see Art. "You again. You're going with these three?" -- Art sighed. "Liene, this is us doing you a favor. If you don't want us to go through with this, we can always cancel our appointment. It's up to you."

"No, that's not what I meant," said Liene, face turning flushed. "I… I think I misspoke. You all are of course doing us a great service, and we would wrong you not to think highly of you for it. I was only a bit startled." -- "Apologies accepted." -- Liene shot him a face. "Don't get carried away, Art; that wasn't an apology." -- He smirked and stared up at the ceiling as he replied, "certainly looked that way to me."

Amplisa held out palm over fist before her as she bowed to the foursome. She looked like she'd spent all night crying over the injuries that had befallen Ryann and Elexa. "Thank you for going to speak with the bishop on our behalf… We wish you best of luck. As you know, you're now our only hope."

Art, Jezebel, Natalie, Roland, each of them put palm over fist and bowed to both Amplisa and Liene. "We will not disappoint you," said Roland, and led the way down the street, with Art and the others following right after, to the cathedral standing proud in the center of town.

"So that we're on the same page," said Roland, "Let me introduce us to ourselves. I'm bishop Edward Verens of Kingsport, and I had arrived just two days ago at the town, intending to meet with the bishop; by the way," he said, looking at Natalie and Jezebel, "Would the bishop recognize your face?" -- Shaking of heads. -- "Good, then you two are your regular names, but not you, Art, you're Roland, and you had come here yesterday to arrange for a meeting on my behalf. You're a swordsman as before, but not accompanying Warriv's caravan since people will know that that caravan had come into the town from the east and I supposedly came from Kingsport which is to the southwest; so you're just an itinerant swordsman that I hired when I set out from Kingsport to guard my little group on our travel here. Jezebel, Natalie, you also arrived in town with us; we picked you up along the way, let's say, at Duncraig. Now, introduce yourselves to me?" -- And Art, Jezebel, and Natalie repeated their fictitious backstory back to him.

"Any last thoughts, things we need to get out of the way, before we meet with the bishop?" asked Roland.

"As a matter of fact, yes," said Art. "Roland… You're leading us to meet with the bishop, to convince him to send his templar to support the cause… But what about you?"

"If he asks whether I will be dispatching templar of my own to fight? That's preposterous, no one can expect templar to march that long except on a Holy Quest."

"No, I meant you personally." -- "I'll be traveling with Warriv's caravan, Art, we've been over this." -- "Hypocritical much?" Art stopped, bringing the others to a halt. "Telling the bishop to dispatch his troops to fight in a war you're walking away from?" -- "Art, you know I can't fight." -- "You fought pretty well last night, Roland; we've talked about this. So the question is, why aren't you willing to help the sisterhood?" -- "Art, why are you so caught up about getting me to fight? I'm only one person, I won't make a difference in the grand scheme of things."

"Thus said the prince who'd lost all his guards," said Art, grinning at Roland. Let's see how Roland squirms out of this one, he thought to himself. -- "Oh, snap!" said Jezebel, sounding positively delighted at seeing Roland squirm.

"Oh no, you are not pulling the six princes on me," Roland said, glaring at him, indignant.

"Why not?" asked Art. "Aren't you precisely in the position of the fourth prince? And you remember what the saint did in response to that excuse."

"It's not anything like that! I was never a commander of men to begin with. And if you want me to fight myself, haven't I told you already that I can't do it?"

Art nodded. "Yep, I totally get you, your highness."

"God damn it."

"Art chuckled, then patted Roland on the shoulder. "Face it: I got you hoisted in your own rope trap. Unless you want to contest that? Go on, we'd like to hear how the bishop would respond. Gives us an opportunity to come up with a counter-argument against the bishop -- I meant him, not you."

"I'm not doing it," said Roland, staring down at the ground, fists clenched. "I'm not half the hero you think I am, Art."

Art opened up his arms wide. "So make the counter-argument."

"I don't really have any answer to that. I… I just don't want to get killed."

"Then you'd do well to remember what happened to each of the six princes."

"Art, reality doesn't work that way. The redskins'll be killing those who go to fight against them, not the other way around; or do you think they'll intentionally march in a circle around all their enemies to catch Warriv's westbound caravan? And there's no saint here to drop lightning strikes."

"You're not afraid of being damned to hell, Roland? Because if I were devout like you, I'd worry about your eternal soul a lot more than what happens to you in this life. Did I tell you, how I died and went to hell and came back? Why, Jezebel here can tell you all about it. Would you like to hear about the gnashing of teeth everyone over on the other side seem so fond of doing? I can elaborate."

"Damn you, Art."

"Funny that, coming from the damned. Don't forget you already got excommunicated; if you don't take this opportunity to make up, you'll never get another chance. Besides, it's not like Tyrael'll be interested in hearing any excuses, not when you've clearly demonstrated that you already know the story."

"I… I can't, I just can't do it." said Roland, turning away. "It doesn't matter how much you try to use words to convince me, Art. It's futile. Much like this whole war effort the sisters have going against the redskins with what little they have," he said, starting to choke up. "You remember what Amplisa said. You were right there with me. That's all the sisters had; and then they lost the backing of Count Traben, and now we're going to disappoint the sisters again with the bishop--"

"You don't know that," interrupted Natalie. "We might get through to him." -- "I'm pretty damn sure we won't." -- "Not with that attitude, we won't," chided Art.

"I don't even know why I bother," said Roland, throwing up his hands. "You know what, forget it. I'm leaving."

"Wait, what?" said Jezebel. "Just like that? Was it something Art said?" -- "What? What did I say wrong?" Art asked. -- "Shut up, Art." -- "What?" Art protested. -- "Shut up," Jezebel and Natalie said in unison.

How dare they, Art thought in righteous indignation. He was just doing his best to convince Roland to help, and we was only doing that because the sisterhood needed every last ally it could get. Clearly Roland was in the wrong, to abandon the sisterhood like that after having promised that he would speak to the bishop on their behalf; and yet they were teaming up against him, accusing him of having made a mistake? He shouted back, "What did I say, huh? What did I--" -- Natalie clobbered him in the cheek, almost knocking him off balance. He clutched his face, fallen silent. -- Jezebel face-palmed.

Roland had started walking back toward the inn, Natalie following shortly after, calling, "Wait up!"

Massaging his cheek, Art turned to Jezebel, who stood by his side, and said, "Oww." He gestured after those two with his head. "Alright, I guess I messed up. Care to tell me where?"

"For want of a sentry, the army was lost."

He understood the inference, of course. In his attempt to convince Roland to join them in the fight, he'd instead gotten Roland to abandon his attempt to meet with the bishop; which meant the sisterhood's sole remaining chance to recover and find allies was lost just like that. "Wise words." Art stared down at the ground as the gravity of his failure began to sink in. "Well fuck."

"Well don't just stand here, go apologize!" said Jezebel.

Art trudged after Roland, with Jezebel in tow. Amongst the throng of other passersby, he saw Natalie had gotten him to stop and was speaking to him animatedly: "…Don't mind him, he's an idiot. Oh, you've caught up, Art? You'd better be here to apologize," she said, crossing her arms to glower at him.

"I'm not interested in hearing them," said Roland, turning his face pointedly away from him. Meanwhile, Art thought: him, apologize? Hah! Art never thought himself as one good at making apologies, and didn't think he had done anything wrong to apologize for.

Jezebel walked to Roland's side. "Fourth Tenet: Help those in need."

Roland stopped in his tracks, then sighed. "I hate you sometimes, Jezebel, I really do."

Art mentally slapped himself for not having throught to say that. Of course! He'd misread Roland and tried to use something that didn't resonate with him. He ought to have tried using an argument concerning something Roland cared for. Jezebel must have considered that. She must have remembered that from when Roland was applying the way of channeled vigor to Elexa, and seen how it had clearly mattered to him. Art had seen not only that, but also when Roland mentioned it to him the first time that morning; and yet he'd not thought of it. Why hadn't he?

To all three of them, Roland said, "Alright, let's just get it over with." -- Art followed up with, "And what about joining the sisterhood?" -- Roland looked away from Art to look at Jezebel, who'd just invoked his Fourth Tenet back at him. He sighed again. "Oh all right, tell you what Art, if this will get you to stop nagging me: If we convince the bishop to provide aid, meaningful aid, not a scattering of pennies like with the count, mind you, then I'll personally join them in helping out your damn sisterhood."

Art beamed. Roland as good as promised that he'd join the sisterhood if the meeting with the bishop went well; that was progress. Now he just had to ensure that the meeting with the bishop did go well. It seemed an awful lot was starting to ride on the outcome.

Natalie looked to Jezebel in utter confusion. "How did you-- Why did you speak for him? It was Art's mess in the first place, you ought to have let him apologize," said Natalie, giving Art a reproachful glance. "You let him off too easily." -- "Agreed," said Jezebel, looking pointedly at Art. "Since I got you out of having to apologize, what do you say?" -- "Thank you, Jezebel," Art replied, making a palm-over-fist gesture and giving an exaggerated bow. -- "Is that it?" -- "Uhh… what more did you want?" -- "How about that indenture," said Jezebel.

No way, thought Art. On second thought, for want of a sentry an army was almost lost, and he could do with her aid instead of her ire. "Huh. Well, you've got me out of a bind just now, and a good deed can't go unrewarded. So how about this? If we convince the bishop to send a few templar to the sisters' aid, let's say at least two dozen, then we'll cancel the indenture." He figured that if the bishop agreed, then having Jezebel's aid on the battlefield wouldn't matter nearly as much; plus, then he'll also have Roland. -- Jezebel beamed. "Really? No takebacks." -- "No takebacks."

Roland led the way to the cathedral, and before long it loomed before them. As they approached, they set eyes upon a pair of guards decked in mail standing before the gates, their spears held tall. Art spoke. "Greetings. I'm Roland Tarth, here to meet with his lordship the bishop Arevain as prearranged." -- A nod from one of the guards. "And the others are?" -- Art gestured Roland forth. "His lordship the bishop Edward Verens, of Kingsport, on whose behalf I had arranged this meeting; and also, Jezebel Lyrassia and Natalie Ingusetia, of Duncraig."

The guards waved them in, where another pair of guards patted them down and took their weapons from them, before they led Art and company upstairs and waved inside a study to meet with the bishop, who stood within. In the center of the study was a square mahogany desk, with a pair of chairs along each side. A pair of bookshelves stood to the sides, and candelabra provided lighting.

The guard announced, "His lordship the bishop Edward Verens, of Kingsport; Roland Tarth; Jezebel Lyrassia and Natalie Ingusetia." At the announcement of the first, the bishop, a fat man wearing all pure white robes who sat at a chair at the far side of the table, perked up. He set down his holy book and stood to greet them. -- "Ah, greetings, brother! You have come a very long way to arrive at our humble town. I pray your travels have gone smoothly?" he said, putting forth a hand, and he and Roland grasped each other's hands warmly. "Come, have a seat! I have a great many matters which I hope to discuss with you regarding our prior correspondences, as you must no doubt be aware."

Oh crap, thought Art. Did the bishop doubt Roland's claim of being a bishop, and was testing him with something like that? If he was, and Roland fell for it and implied that there had indeed been correspondence, the charade would all be over.

Roland waved a hand at the bishop. "Such matters will need to wait until a later time, seeing as how I bring with me three acquaintances that I met along my journey, and who are not fellow brothers and sisters of the cloth, but which I desired that they should meet with you as well. Ar-- Roland here is a swordsman I had recruited back when I first left Kingsport; and these two ladies are Jezebel and Natalie, who accompanied our caravan as we passed Duncraig."

"Oh? And how is it you had the opportunity to make their acquaintance?"

"Due to… unexpected circumstances, my brothers could not accompany me on this visit I had intended to make. But I did not put it off, seeing as I had already tarried enough in visiting the other, more remote dioceses. Now in my travels I had need for guards and company, and it just so happens that in the course of our conversations, these two indicated an interest in meeting with you alongside me, so I brought them along."

"Are your practices in Kingsport all that different from what we have here?" asked the bishop. -- "Whatever do you mean?" -- The bishop indicated Jezebel and Natalie with his head. "I am surprised you would have their company, and am even more surprised that you would bring them here. This is not a thing that is done, here in Tristram."

Shit, thought Art; did they mess up by their very act of bringing the two women here? That was almost certainly what the bishop was objecting to.

"Ah, forgive me," said Roland, such a thing is indeed generally not done. I told them as much, but they insisted, and with such a fervor that I gave in. After all, if it be all that major a concern to you, you could always refuse to meet them." -- "It is not a matter of whether I forgive you, or whether I may refuse to meet with them," the bishop chided Roland. "My understanding is that this is a transgression against Heaven. You should know better… That is, unless your reading of scripture teaches you otherwise? I grant that might be the case, because of your being of the same rank as mine. But if so, I would have you enlighten me, and we can discuss the matter at length."

Art and Roland turned to see the two women struggling to hold back their indignation at hearing the bishop's words; then Art and Roland looked to each other. Art didn't make any gesture to him, letting Roland decide what to do next since he would be most familiar with customs. Besides, if he gave any kind of sign the bishop might pick up on it and grow suspicious at why Roland -- the supposed bishop of the group -- as taking his lead. But he doubted Roland had the kind of knowledge to debate a real bishop on matters of theology, nor any intention of going there, since that would just put him at odds with Erend. And if Roland didn't acquiesce to the bishop's demands, that would just make the bishop raise his hackles and view them with suspicion.

Roland turned to Jezebel and Natalie. "Well what did I tell you? Told you this was a fool's errand. Go and meet up with the rest of the caravan, we'll be back soon." -- Art recognized that as Roland's decision to cut their losses. At least this way the two of them might still have a chance.

Jezebel and Natalie glared at Roland and Erend, before exiting the room and heading downstairs.

Art figured this was most certainly not looking well for them. If this was a battle, well, the bishop had eliminated half of Roland's forces in the opening salvo. Two on one? Well, it could still be done; but whereas the bishop would certainly know his subject matter and debate it at length, Art had gone to sleep last night thinking that if the bishop were to say something he didn't have a reply for, that either Jezebel or Natalie could still respond. The way they'd planned for things to go, Roland himself couldn't really be making the arguments himself; he was just there to force the debate. That meant it was all incumbent on Art to win it. If he knew this was going to happen, he would have stayed up late thinking up potential things that the bishop might say and coming up with responses to them, so that he'd be more fluent with them. As he was now, he felt woefully underprepared.

"Come, Bishop Verens, let us chant the prayer of greetings," said the bishop. Art stood to the side as Erend and Roland got on their knees before a prayer mat at the far side of the room, before an altar upon which stood a shale sculpture in the form of the templar descry.

Art clenched his hand. This seemed like some kind of standard prayer that a bishop ought to know. Was Roland going to have to say it out loud? And if so, did Roland know what to say? But then bishops true and false began chanting a prayer in unison, and Art unclenched his hand in relief.

That had come too close. One misstep, one failed trial, and they'd be exposed. Thank goodness he hadn't pressed Roland to have Art himself play bishop, or he'd be exposed for a fraud already, and then his head might go on the chopping block. As the three of them sat down at the table, Art felt his hands and feet starting to grow cold. He hid his maimed right arm under the table. If the bishop questioned how he remained as a swordsman without his sword arm, what was he to say?

"I have to say, I hadn't expected to be meeting with a bishop right now," said Erend. "The roster only said a certain Roland." -- "That was my bad," said Roland; I told Roland to schedule a meeting for us, but neglected to mention that he ought to put my name down." -- "Yes, that seems quite the oversight," noted Erend. "But I would have expected one would not need such an instruction to know what to do." -- "Well, we can't expect everyone to know what we require," allayed Roland. -- "Hence the swordsman bit, eh?" -- "Quite." -- Art bristled.

"I see you're not wearing the usual vestments," said the bishop. -- Crap, thought Art; he's on to us! -- "One would not be well advised to travel a thousand miles attired as you are now, or people would know who would conspire to do one ill. I wonder what the ransom on a bishop is nowadays; but then again, I surely wouldn't want to find out." -- Save! thought Art.

"But you didn't just put it in your chest and bring it with you, that you could wear it for this occasion?" -- "And thank goodness I hadn't; I put a certain of device on the lock of my chest which discreetly notes if it were picked, and I found it had been offset one night. Someone had picked my chest open while we'd stayed at the caravanserai, and if they'd found my robe and knew my true rank, I would most likely not be able to meet with you today." -- "Ah. Then I suppose that also explains your missing your holy book?" -- Roland shook his head. "How can a man of the cloth go without the book? That is just not done. No, I just left it in my wagon, seeing as I figured you'd have one here anyway." -- Save! thought Art.

"I trust you will have little need to worry of such matters here in Tristram," said the bishop Arevain. "How was your journey?"

"It went well," replied. Roland. "Though, things don't seem to be as safe as you imply within the walls of the town itself. Why, just yesterday I came upon a funeral -- rather, a mass funeral -- and when I asked around, I heard the most outlandish thing. I heard that redskins had been allowed to wander within the walls, to buy things at market, and that some of the sisters of the Sightless Eye had picked a fight with them, which resulted in numerous fatalities. Are they at war with each other?"

"You may not know, brother, but seeing as you have but recently arrived here, but the Sightless Eye have been at war with the redskins on and off for quite some time now. This is just the latest continuation of it. Worry not; we have had the measure of the redskin tribes to the north, and they pose little threat to us."

"Has Count Traben taken a side on the matter?" -- "No he has not; but I spoke with him just last evening, and he has expressed his displeasure with the sisterhood."

Well that's no good, thought Art. That would make it just that much harder to attempt to convince the bishop of anything. And when was Roland going to give him an opening to start making his case?

"Oh? Then what is to become of them? Are you expecting them to emerge victorious?" -- "Oh, I most greatly doubt it. The sisterhood has lost its monastery, and most of their assets along with it. They're a far cry from what they once were." -- "And just how sure are you of this intel? Could they be attempting to fool us?" -- "The count seemed convinced. Why, the one they sent to parley with him, by the end of it she was picking up his pennies like a common beggar," said Erend, chuckling. -- "My, have they fallen so low?" mused Roland. -- "Aye, of a certainty. And they shall trouble us no longer."

As good a moment as any to jump in, thought Art. "Your lordship, if I may have the presumption to speak?" he said to Roland. -- "Go ahead," said Roland, before Erend could refuse.

Art spoke as if explaining to Roland: "I had just gotten caught up on the news concerning this last night, knowing potential threats in the area being part and parcel of my profession. And what I hear is somewhat alarming. The sisterhood's monastery had fallen; and in the wake of that, redskins had been assaulting the outlying villages to the east. I gather that the bastion there had presented a flank to these up till recently, and that was what had prevented them from launching attacks into the west. Now that they have taken it, they no longer need to divert their attention, and troops, and feel free to strike the defenseless villages at will."

"Is this true?" Roland said to Erend, looking surprised. "Redskins, attacking our villages! Surely you would act to prevent such atrocities from occurring." -- Erend seemed unsure how to reply. "… Well we've only recently heard of this development--" -- "I'm sure your highness would take all necessary action to stave off any such threat," Art said to Erend. If he could goad the bishop into agreeing to help out the sisters, there wouldn't even need to be a debate. -- "Why of course we would, taking care of my flock is my responsibility after all," the bishop replied. "Our templar will be dispatched to guard our villages."

"And what about the sisterhood, then?" asked Art. "It seems to me that they would be doomed to die out. Such a long, two-centuries-old order, dying out just like this…" He shook his head as if disappointed. "I would have though they'd deserved better than to fade into obscurity in such a manner. Why, word on the street is that no one in Tristram cares for their fate, as if they could possibly know your lordship's intentions! But you wouldn't allow such a fate to befall them, now would you? The sisterhood and Tristram have long had amiable relations, and this city has only grown so prosperous with the wealth brought here by the pass." Here; he'd said it. Art felt a burden lift off his chest at the same time he felt his hand clamping, feeling cold.

"If you're trying to get me to commit my forces on the sisterhood's behalf," said Erend, looking sharply at Art, "I suggest you save your breath. We will not be going to their aid, and my mind is made up on the matter."

As he'd expected the bishop would reply. Art responded, "Ah, as expected of one in such a high stature as yours! I am sure you must have very fine reasons for doing so, which I can only guess at; but my acquaintances seem to be convinced that it's just because you -- or the church in general -- don't care for the order's survival. If I happen to broach this topic again with them, and they say this--"

"You presume to question me?" said the bishop, shooting Art a hard stare. -- "Ah yes, it does seem that I had made an error in bringing him here," said Roland, clearly trying to placate the bishop. -- "Apologies, I have misspoken, that was never my intention," said Art, clenching a fist under the table. He hated having to apologize when he didn't feel like he ought to. -- "Surely it wouldn't hurt to enlighten him about this?" interceded Roland. "Otherwise he might leave here with quite the wrong impression."

Erend shot Art a glaring look, but Art could practically sense the logic going through the man's mind as the bishop glanced back at Roland. "If you must know," said Erend, acquiescing, "There are of course several reasons for this. Firstly, the sisterhood has never been a particular friend of the church. I have on multiple occasions remonstrated to their spokespeople, asking that they show a bit more fervor -- just a bit more! Is that too much to ask? But no, they'd said; they couldn't attest to the truth. For the good of securing merchant traffic, they said. Well, as the wise reverend once said, 'he who receives not his reward on earth, shall receive them in heaven; and he who receives his reward on earth, can expect not to receive them in heaven'.

"There are other reasons, of course. Note that the king of Entsteig is not pleased with the sisterhood's lack of subservience to the crown; hence his having declared them rogue. Now, are we to ally with those declared thus by his majesty? How will I present this to the templar, whose lives I would have to put on the line for this? And there is the matter of defending the faithful from the pagan redskins; now that they have stepped up the assault, this becomes of greater concern than ever."

"Most wise," remarked Roland, which Art didn't take to task for that; he guessed that this was just Roland's way of playing his role as a bishop, and trying to earn his way into Erend's good graces so as to better convince him of the matter later. Roland turned to Art. "Surely those are reasons your acquaintances had not thought of?"

"Aye, these are good reasons," Art said to Erend. "My only concern is, that when news gets out that no help is forthcoming for these piteous sisters, that others will place the blame of the inaction squarely at your lordship's feet. After all, they wouldn't know of these very good reasons you have mentioned, but focus solely on the fact that nothing was done. It is, after all, the end result that matters; and when sisters are found slaughtered to the last sister and without any allies by their side, they would think that the true reason for your inaction is that you desire to see the sisterhood destroyed and replaced by your own templar, and that all your words are but mere excuses."

"How dare you… How dare you call them excuses! -- Be gone from my presence!" -- "My lord, I would never dare to make any such accusation," Art protested. "These are but what I fear others--" -- "You're not fooling anyone," Erend retorted, pointing a finger at him. "Now get out, before I summon my guards!" -- Roland put out his hands, palms down, to allay them. "I beg your pardon on my guard's behalf. He is but a crude man, poorly read of scripture."

"That I would admit," said Art. "I may be familiar with little more than the Ten Tenets, but what I know of it tells me that one of them urges us to help those in need. I'm sure many others know of these tenets as well; and it is they who will not buy your rationales, and it is they whom you need to convince. After all, at first blush it seems that your decision to go contrary to the Ten Tenets."

"As if you would know what scripture would say on the matter?" spat Erend. -- "Roland, have you heard of the siege of Thaar's Convent?" asked Roland, looking at Art. -- "I… no?" -- Erend humphed, muttered to himself, "He doesn't even know…" Then he spoke out loud, "Thank you, brother Edward. That was exactly the one I wanted to bring up." Turning to Art, he said, "Let me enlighten you." -- Hook, line, sinker, thought Art.

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