July 8th - Alowca
Duke Cathal had been sequestered in the vault of the Temple since before dawn, his piercing eyes scanning the infinite void as he held solitary vigil.
Even now the Lady Aoifa would be marshalling the Templars, preparing them for a desperate and doubtless futile assault on the enemy encampment in Irdalni. The inner vision showed him brief glimpses of the knights taking up their positions, readying their infantry the charge and his senses swam with the taste of blood and the smell of horses, reminders of the simple soldier's life before destiny had fallen upon him in another dark vault, the prison pit of Oritolon.
"Cathal," a woman stood before him in the shadows, the outline of her body limned with a delicate yellow radiance.
"Cathal Dubhaine, arise. Your doom is upon you."
"Who are you?" Cathal's voice sounded sharp and harsh.
"Do you not recognise me?" the room was of a sudden filled with midsummer light, revealing a woman dressed in flowing yellow streaked with red tears of blood.
"My Lady!" his heart pounded in his throat as he gazed upon the Goddess in all her glory.
"The darkness must give way to the light," and once more he found himself looking down upon the lands of the south, watching the heathen armies streaming across the land like black storm clouds, levelling all in their path. Those who stood against them were utterly overthrown, whilst those who sought safety within their citadels starved and raved and bemoaned the fate which had dealt them such misery.
"Do you understand?"
"I understand," and his heart was filled with foreboding, for he knew his death must surely be upon him.
July 9th - Irdalni
Darkness had fallen by the time Cathal arrived at the Alowcan encampment, a cluster of hastily erected tents and limberless wagons huddled in the temple grounds. Here and there a ragged banner sported the mace motif of Alowca and the name of its company, the yellow cloth a stark contrast to the dark raiment of the Templars.
A few men looked up as he passed amongst their campfires, tired eyes bearing witness to the ferocity of that day's fighting, but most were deep in their own thoughts of friends lost and families longed for. They were a grim band, bound together by their faith and the love of their homeland, willing to lay down their lives to defend their beliefs.
These were the professional soldiers, sworn to the service of the Church Militant and equipped with some of the finest arms and armour in the Colonies. And yet as Cathal made his way to the temple gates he was all too aware of how few they were in number, the great bulk of the host being local peasants, armed with improvised weapons and risking their lives to defend their families and farmsteads.
"Who goes there!" the temple guards brought their halberds to the ready.
He cast back the hood of his black cloak, "I'm here to see my sister."
"Your eminence!" the guard who had challenged him took a step backwards, mouth gaping.
The guard's companion had time to gather his wits, "Lady Aoifa is in the refectory my lord, along with the other wounded knights."
"And what of the other wounded?"
"They're being tended in the hospital dormitory. The physicians are hopeful that many of them will recover in the next day or two."
Cathal had half expected a charnel house given the brutality of the day's fighting but instead he found the hospital an oasis of tranquility clean scrubbed, sparsely furnished and leading onto a shaded cloister. Its stone floor was obscured by a thick carpet of sawdust made from local cedar wood, and the beds were dressed with fresh linen and warm blankets. Two dozen of these lined the walls, each occupied by one of the most severely wounded, men and women who even if they survived would be unlikely to ever again stand in battle.
The white-robed monks passed from one to another, tending them with cool compresses and herbal tinctures, relieving their pain and offering much-needed sleep. This was the leechcraft of Alowca.
"Your grace," Lady Aoifa's personal physician met him at the door to the operating theatre, a small well-lit room with two heavy wooden tables for performing amputations and riskier surgeries. He was dressed in a bloody apron and his eyes were deep shadowed sockets.
"Forget the formalities Tycho, how many of the men will pull through?" it was the same easy familiarity he'd used with his men when he was a knight.
"Maybe half, maybe more. We've done all that we can do and now it's in Alluran's hands as to which will live and which will die."
They made a circuit of the ward, the Duke listening to tales of courage from those who were awake and offering warm words of encouragement. His own scars were proof that he knew the pain they suffered.
"Now take me to my sister," his duty completed he was eager to check on his headstrong older sister, the fieriest of the three Dubhaine shieldmaidens.
July 18th - Alowca
The morning court session was in mid-flow, with plaintiffs milling in the great hall of the city council building, their voices raised in a cacophony of surprise, disgust and general outrage over they way they'd been sold lame horses, bad water, or cheated out of a cubit of property by some swindling perjurer.
A pair of unremarkable stout oak doors barred entry to the audience chamber where the Duke and his advisors would hear each case, studying the evidence of both plaintiff and defendant before delivering a verdict. Cathal often found it difficult afterwards to recall the particulars of any one case, which is why his scribes kept copious notes for future reference. They were learned men of the law, professionals who studied the rulings of previous courts and sought for consistency, a goal with which Cathal had much sympathy.
However consistency alone was rarely enough to achieve the true goal of justice: an equitable outcome for those who had been wronged and the opportunity for wrongdoers to see the error of their ways and not repeat them. For this Cathal tried to find the same compassion as Merciful Alluran, but it was sometimes difficult. Very difficult.
Earlier that morning a man had been brought before him charged with rape of his neighbour's daughter. These were always the most difficult cases to judge, sometimes amounting to no more than an outraged father wanting his daughter's lover punished for dishonouring the family, and at others being the blackest of infamies. The evidence would take some hours to hear, and in the latter cases the details were often much more than his stomach could handle - and he'd seen horrors on the battlefield that few men in civil life could imagine.
What distinguished this particular case was that the accused did nothing to deny his deeds, merely his guilt. His victim's family were merchants from Alebad and followers of the Kamido faith, setting them subtly apart from their mostly pagan neighbours. Each night the girl would pray alone in the family's shrine to the Kami, a small open-air enclosure in the courtyard of their dwelling, and each night the accused would watch her and fume at her sinfulness.
You see he was a believer. A very fervent believer. When the Church of the Trinity was at the peak of its glory he'd been a minor priest of the temple, overawed by the splendour and magnificence of the Avatars of the Gods. He saw in this young girl with her foreign beliefs a wilful opposition to those whom he worshipped as divine flesh incarnate, and he knew what he must do.
In his dreams infernal voices stoked his rage, those very same powers to whom the Apostles of the Abyss gave their allegiance came to him in the guise of Merciful Alluran and showed him the clearly path he must take and the rewards he would receive. And this path being that which he most truly desired, the degradation and possession of this unexceptional girl, he questioned not the message but rather planned the outrage for which on this particular day he stood in chains.
His very defence was heresy. As a servant of the Trinity, he claimed, and having been shown by Alluran himself the path that he must take in punishing the unbeliever, he was above the petty justice of the realm and could only be called to account by the highest power itself.
A power much higher than Church or Realm.
The scholars had debated the finer points of the case for the best part of an hour, trying to determine whether madness was heresy or heresy madness, and all the time the victim had sat in silence, her face bruised and swollen, her eyes blank and empty.
Some of the scholars called for the man to be tried by a Church court whilst others insisted that he must be mad and therefore to be pitied and commended to the care of the city infirmary. But what none could bring themselves to see was the pain that the girl suffered, so lost were they in the details of the case and the citing of precedents and learned opinions.
And Cathal sat there, his heart rending at the thought of this young life ruined.
"Silence!" a voice trained on the battlefield cut straight through the discussion, "This court is not competent to forgive a man who clearly does not repent his crimes, nor do I consider his apparent madness anything other than the wanton desire to serve his own pleasure. There is no insanity in doing as one would please but rather a contempt for the natural fellowship which binds each to the other. Does the accused have anything to say before sentence is passed?"
"I AM THE SERVANT OF ALLURAN!!!! WHAT HE WILLS I DO, AND AS I DO SO HE WILLS IT!!!"
"Then let Alluran judge you in person. You will be taken from this place to the place of execution and there hung by the neck until dead. Your body will then be taken down once night has fallen and laid to rest in unhallowed ground, without marker or ceremony. Your name will be stricken from all official records that those you have wronged need never be reminded of your deeds and your property will be confiscated and given into the trust of the city to pay for the care of the destitute."
"May Alluran have mercy upon you, and may you once more remember in His presence compassion and be shriven for your sins. And if the Merciful Judge can find nothing in your heart of merit, may your rotting corrupted flesh bring honour and glory to whomever deals it the true death."
"I WILL SMITE YOU WITH ALLURAN'S WRATH!!! HE WILL SEAT ME AT HIS RIGHT HAND AND I WILL BATHE THE WORLD IN THE BLOOD OF THE WICKED!!!" the man was dragged kicking and screaming from the audience chamber, hurling obscenities at his guards and bystanders with equal venom.
The court was in its final session of the day when there was a loud commotion from the great hall and the sound of hob-nailed sandals and halberd shafts pounding upon the flagstones.
"Who dares disturb this court in session?" the iron voice of Alfhame, the sergeant-at-arms of the Duke's ceremonial bodyguard, could be heard clearly within the audience chamber.
"STEP ASIDE TEMPLAR, I TRAVEL UNDER THE SEAL OF ALLURAN'S WILL, ALMIGHTY DENARIEN THE JUST AND MERCIFUL," the voice was grand, and carried an edge of malice which Cathal recognised. This was surely that same mouthpiece who sealed young Evo's fate.
"Lord Denarien has been declared both Heretic and the Knights of the Temple do not recognise his authority," although Alfhame kept a measured and civil tone, there was no trace of surrender in his tone.
"Have the sergeant admit this messenger, I'm interested to hear what business is so urgent that it cannot wait until this court has concluded its business," he signalled to his bailiff to open the doors.
"Stand down sergeant, the Duke will see this man," the bailiff was a middle-aged man, a veteran who lost his left hand fighting alongside Cathal at the ill-fated raid on Iglavik.
Alfhame and his men snapped to attention, clearing the doorway, but the discipline of their stance did little to conceal their contempt.
"Well serpent? What poison would you spew today?" Cathal dispensed with the civilities, knowing full well that there was only one thing Lord Denarien had the power to command now that his pathetic fine had been thrown back in his face. Did he think a priest a common merchant, his favour to be bought and his obedience commanded with gold? And this the man who aspired to Alluran's seat of judgement?
"Do not mock the office of Almighty Denarien, the Avatar of Alluran. He who is wise and just beyond the measure of man!" the messenger drew himself up to his full height, which was considerable, and drew a proclamation from his robe.
"Cathal Dubhaine, Duke of Alowca, you are hereby declared a traitor and an outcast. You attempt to remove the representative of a God from the Church. Leave Alowca's lands now," and he held the proclamation up for all to see.
"Do you believe in the Trinity?" Cathal relaxed in his chair, studying the man with amusement.
"And are you a member of the Church Militant?"
"I most certainly am not. I follow the rites of the Old Church, and I will see none diminish the glory of the Avatars, for they are the Gods made flesh and must be worshipped."
"Interesting. When I was called to form this new Church I was Denariel's Fury, and thus must the Church be the perfect embodiment of our Lady illuminating the Path to salvation. You may like to consider that in the days to come."
"Begone Heretic, for My Lord Denarien will rain vengeance and blood upon you and all who stand by you!" the messenger's hatred filled the audience chamber.
"Then tell your master that he had better come armed with more than words if intends to overturn the Temple and all who serve her. Now begone, and never darken this city again."