After finding his solution, the chains released Malthus, and he ascended the steps to become the first acolyte to claim the white robes. His success was amazing and quick, and the entire priesthood showers him with praise, including the Cardinal, whom had always seemed to be a cold and distant figure before. As time passed, the Cardinal became Malthus’ mentor and helped the young bishop to see his own potential.
Over the next few days Malthus learned that two of the acolytes did not succeed in their tests to receive the white robes. Incredibly, one of them lived through the ordeal without ever resolving his task. That should have been impossible – Sagesse should have drowned if he did not ever find an answer. Malthus rarely saw Sagesse after that. He had not earned his white robes, so he was not a part of Malthus’ immediate group anymore. Still, the newly titled bishop missed the interaction that he had grown accustomed to with Sagesse.
Soon after all of this took place, there was a political shift that had far reaching affects. The king of Westend announced the exile of Prince Aidan Maybourne II, one of his own sons, for willful insubordination of the crown. Sometime later the Queen died unexpectedly. The royal family in Westend then consisted of only King Maybourne and one idiot son. One of the king’s sons was in the new world claiming new lands, and Aiden was in exile far away.
Malthus became one of the first in a new order of priests. His was the Order of the Scimitar, and he was the most skilled student, quickly mastering the weapon and beginning to form his own impressive two handed fighting style. The Cardinal had foreseen dark days in the future which might require the church to defend itself militarily. Of course the Cardinal and Malthus were both opposed to war if at all possible, so they were both interested primarily in stopping any aggression before it could escalate into war; anything to avoid a repeat of the violent war that Malthus experienced as a child.
Malthus spent two years in training with the scimitars, ascending the ranks, and helping to direct and develop this new sect of priestly fighters, the Order of the Scimitar. The main goal of the sect was to display such power that no one would dare attack, and when faced by immanent threats, to make surgical strikes that undermine the forces controlling a threat and cut off any impending war. This sect of fighting monks became Malthus’ single minded obsession, and he gained commanding control of the Order, second in command only to the Cardinal himself. Malthus soon became the Cardinal’s right hand man and most trusted companion.
Malthus was summoned one day to the Cardinal’s chambers. The office that had so often been a comfortable getaway for the two of them was filled with thick books and meaningful offerings that the Cardinal had received from various lords and religious leaders. Plush chairs sat on a thick red carpet that had been meticulously designed with symbols of the Source, including conch shells, stars, and variously shaped and colored moons. Strange measuring devices, including a sextant, sat at the desk’s corners and adorned the bookshelves. As Malthus walked in through the heavy oak door and calmly took his customary seat across the large, heavy desk from the cardinal, he saw that the Cardinal looked very grim. His stringing hair darkened his face and framed his scowl as he spoke.
“Come have a seat, Malthus. I need your help with something; maybe your advice too.”
“What is it, my liege?” The bishop replied.
“I have more clearly foreseen the threat against which we have been preparing; it is solemnly grim.”
“When the Source grants me visions of the future, Malthus, I am sometimes able to change the course of things. Sometimes I can make a change too… For instance, I once received a vision that an important item, the golden conch in the abbey of Stratton, would be stolen. In my vision, the keys to the abbey’s kitchen were left in lock of the door. I simply had the lock changed, and gave no one else a key for the kitchen’s exterior door. Many years have passed since then, and the conch remains safe.”
“This is your grim vision?”
“No, no, of course not,” the cardinal smiled slightly. Then the dark foreboding crept over his features again as he continued. “Other times I receive benevolent visions, as you realize, and they come to pass just as I have foreseen. For instance, you know that I had foreseen that you would be the first student to succeed in the trial at sea so long ago. So I realize that these things will come to be if I do nothing to change the natural course of things.
“Here is my trouble, Bishop Rostern. I regret to admit that I had a vision some years ago that Sagesse Ducréateur would betray our order.”
“How can that be? Sagesse?”
“I know that comes as a surprise to you because we had both always trusted Sagesse. He was a good young man, and his was a noble heart. He was a great student as well. But nonetheless, I know that my visions are accurate. At the time, the king had just announced that he was sending Aiden Maybourne into exile, so I sent Sagesse to accompany him. These two years have passed, and instead of the horrors that I had envisioned, we have maintained the peace and prosperity of Westend that you and I hold so dear.”
“So this is the reason for Sagesse’s absence.”
“The troubling vision that I have is of Sagesse’s return.”
“Tell me, cardinal, what you foresee.”
The Cardinal breathed in deeply, as if to steady himself, before leaning over the desk toward Malthus to speak softly. “The Source has revealed to me that Sagesse is still a danger to the peace of Westend. If we could keep him from returning here, then peace shall be maintained. I need your help in this. I have already sent Sagesse away to a pleasant island where he can reveal the wonders of the Source to native peoples, but for some reason, in my vision… I see that he will return to Westend and the destruction he will cause will be unthinkable. It is too horrid to describe. What do you think we should do?”
Somewhat overwhelmed, Malthus took a few moments to consider the situation. “Your grace, I know your visions have been true in the past, but could you not have been mistaken in the interpretation of the vision? As you have said, we have always trusted Sagesse, and he has never, to my knowledge, done anything to jeopardize the faith or the order?
“I do not mean to question your authority or wisdom but this is unexpected news and I will need a minute to digest it.”
Malthus stood and slowly paced around the room. The depth of his thoughts appeared in the furrows of his brow as he softly mumbled to himself. The cardinal assumed his own contemplative mood, working the moving parts of the sextant that sat upon his desk, and mumbling to himself as well. After a few moments Malthus turned to the Cardinal.
“I apologize again for any disrespect that I may have shown, but as I stated before, this is a shock to me. I do not understand how Sagesse could cause this destruction in Westend, but if you do believe that this vision was a true seeing, I believe we should do everything we can to ensure the peace of Westend holds. We must ensure that we do not let evil, greed, power, or death corrupt the minds of men with the tempting, poisoned fragrance of War.”
Malthus had the cardinal’s undivided attention as he continued, “I would like to go to Sagesse, gain his confidence, and see if he has any plans which would disrupt the peace. If it is found that he is truly the bringer of destruction or it is found that he is being controlled by a greater being or power, then I will remove this threat as I have been trained to do.”
Cardinal Atóinspire slowly smiled, seeming receptive of the idea. “That seems wise, Malthus. And I hope beyond hope that you are right about my vision being inaccurate. Some dreams are only dreams, after all. But the price is too heavy to pay for too many people if I am wrong. Of course I think you are correct, that you should do everything in your power to save Sagesse. And there is no one more likely to help him see reason than you; you are one of his peers. In my vision, it is upon his return to Westend that Sagesse causes such destruction. There may be more than one way to avoid that war. The best way would be your own suggestion. If Sagesse can be kept peaceful; if you can keep him from becoming a war monger, then all is saved. Otherwise, you must keep him from returning to Westend. In my vision, his return here is the lynch pin in the destruction of Westend and the order of the Source. As long as he remains outside of Westend, the destruction in my vision cannot come to pass.
“And of course, you know that I do not want to see Sagesse killed. He is a strong part of the Source, an integral part of the order of things that makes up our world. Sagesse is a priest of the Source, and I know that you would be making the ultimate sacrifice if you ever had to… cause his demise,” the words fell heavy from the cardinal’s tongue. “Each of you lads is like a son to me, and it would pain me to see one of you come to an early grave…” The Cardinal and Malthus fell to contemplation of the pain that they both felt with the loss of Sinneff in the ocean two years earlier.
“If anything can be done to keep Sagesse alive and the world at peace,” the cardinal persued, “it is entrusted to you to do it. But most of all, it is entrusted to you to keep intact the order that the Source has brought to the world. That is, after all, what the Source is: the order of life. That is our job as priests: to preserve the order of the universe. As priests of the Source, we know that peace is a part of that order and that the wars that men create, power hungry struggles, are a cancerous chaos that plagues the order in the universe, the order of the Source. In times of war we have both felt the life ebbing from the universe, so many dieing at once… so much painful destruction and loss of souls, loss of life…”
Malthus thought of a feeling that he had in his youth. When he saw soldiers at killing, he could actually feel that death like a pain in his own chest. When Sinneff died under the ocean, he felt him slip away. That is a power that Malthus shares with the Cardinal. The Cardinal could also feel the painful loss of life physically, and knew that he would not want Bishop Rostern to kill Sagesse if he could find any way to spare him. To those in the Order of the Scimitar, killing is a last resort. Death is the last option, but Malthus was well trained to dispense it. He could remember receiving his white robes two years ago, and, in the same moment, sensing that a piece of the Source, a part of the order of life, had just breathed its last under the salty waves outside. Sinneff was dieing in the same moment that Malthus was ascending into the rank of the bishops. The bishop then shuddered to think of the pain he would feel if Sagesse found himself at the end of his own scimitar.
Cardinal Atóinspire continued, “I can send you to Sagesse. I can ask the king to commend us a ship and crew for the voyage. I want to make certain that we both desire the same things; I believe that we both value the same goals. Just don’t let him return here, and don’t allow him to bring war upon us. Preserve the peace at all costs, and preserve Sagesse if possible. Do you feel that your mission is clearly defined? Are you confident in your goals? What can I provide you to ease your path?"
Once again Malthus’s eyes slightly lost focus as he quickly ran though a mental checklist of the items which would be required. As his eyes again focused upon the Cardinal, he checked off his needs for the expedition upon his immaculately clean but callused hands. “I don’t think much would be required besides some basic equipment, funds to support an extended visit, a set of signed orders which give me a valid reason for going to see Sagesse; and of course, as you have previously stated, a ship to get to Sagesse’s location. Also, I need clarification on what should be done with the King’s exiled son, Prince Aidan, as he may play a significant role in this possible war. As far as my understanding of the mission…”
Malthus closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and after a moment he appeared to steel himself. Crossing to the opposite side of the Cardinal’s desk he firmly placed both hands palm down upon its surface and leaned forward toward the Cardinal with an intense, icy gaze.
“First, I will do everything in my power to gather information and understanding.” Malthus said,
“Second, will proceed to ensure Sagesse does not return to Westend or initiate a war. Third, I want to ensure that you fully understand, I do not believe that “anyone” is worth a disruption of the Source or the current peace. If you are sure of the path you wish me to take, I can leave as soon as travel preparations are secured.”
Malthus stood up straight and brushed an imaginary smudge from his robe, noticeably calming himself. After a moment he continued formally, “Cardinal, I would like to apologize for my outburst, but the thought of a traitor in the order disturbs me greatly. Unless you have anything else for me at this time I need to go meditate upon this and find peace in the Source.”
The Cardinal seemed to welcome Malthus’ impassioned response, replying, “That is why you, Malthus, are the absolute perfect person to undertake this task. I know that your values are in the right. I trust your judgment completely. If you think that a death is necessary, then I know that it was. I will never question that.”
“You raise a good point, too. The prince could be a part of this impending problem, and he probably is. The prince is no doubt bitter about having been exiled, and what’s more, it is possible that Sagesse is bitter about having failed his test so long ago. Perhaps the combination of their two angry dispositions is that which will cause them to conspire against their homeland. I do not know. Your directive regarding the prince should be the same as your directive regarding Sagesse. They are both living beings; they are each especially valuable and unique so their deaths should be a last resort. But I trust your judgement absolutely.”
“As for a signed order, I will have Thomas, write up a directive that says you are going to aid Sagesse with the information he is gathering about the local religions in Baytown. The orders will say that you are going to help him to compile the information for a book for our library. That kind of task could take as long as you need it to, even if your mission takes years. You can edit and compile the work together as a long-lasting ‘mission.’”
“We should get started immediately. Feel free to return to your chambers and meditate as you please. I know how difficult it is to find peace within these troubles. I’m sorry that you have to share this burden with me, but I am glad that you are such a valuable priest and friend, Bishop Malthus. I will send the items you require to you along with information about when you can set sail."
Malthus returned to his personal chambers to meditate. These troubles were difficult to work through, but he came to comfort himself in the idea that he would make the right decision if the time were ever to come, and that the Bishop trusted his judgment without question. That made it somewhat easier. He could not, however, find any equation to make sense of so complex a problem.
Eventually, Malthus began to pack his things. He was able to keep few enough items that he could carry them all on his person. After a while, Thomas, the Cardinal’s scribe, arrived with information about the ship. The vessel would be leaving very early in the morning, when the first rays of the sun were to peek over the horizon. Thomas also brought from the Cardinal a small, very nicely bound book that was completely empty. It seemed to be some kind of journal. He had not had time to write the Cardinal’s orders for Bishop Malthus yet, and promised to return with them as soon as possible – he promised to meet the bishop at the ship with the epistle.
Later that night, the Cardinal came by to see Malthus off. The pair reminisced and the Cardinal bade his spiritual son a misty eyed goodbye, hoping that they would see each other again in a peaceful land. He left with Malthus a medium sized pouch of money.
After the Cardinal left, Malthus was unable to sleep with so much on his mind, the first of many sleepless nights to come. When the morning arrived, he was still wide awake in contemplation. He had been listening to the chirping of birds for more than a few minutes, and saw the first rays of the sun begin to creep over your window sill. Gathering up his tired bones, Malthus headed out toward the pier. By the time he got there, it was just about time to ship out. He was expecting Thomas to meet him there with the document he’d requested. Malthus dragged his heavy trunk to the ship and found a shipmate to help load it. He greeted the bishop with respect and a bowed head, saying, "Welcome aboard, Bishop Rostern. The captain would like to see you in his quarters.” Two shipmates took the trunk, and another led him to the captain’s room. There, the shipmate knocked, and waited at the door with Malthus. “It’s an honor to have you aboard, Bishop.” Malthus thanked the man, and dismissed him as the captain came to the door.
“Ahhh, there he is,” exclaimed the smiling captain. He was a broad man, strong and weathered by the sea. He wore a three cornered hat and the Maybourne family colors, as do all the shipmates from the Westend fleet. “I’m Captain Overton, and I wanted to personally welcome you, Bishop Rostern, and to let you know that we are at your service. Should you need anything at all during this three weeks voyage, you just let me or one of the shipmates know. I want to see that yer treated well." The two exchanged pleasantries and Malthus felt welcome to come to the captain at any time.
Heading back out to the side of the ship, the white robed bishop saw that a shipmate was already untying the ship from its moorings, and Malthus had not yet seen Thomas, the scribe. He shouted to the seaman, asking if they would be setting off immediately, and as the conversation went, he was perturbed to be asked to wait. The bishop could see that he was flummoxed as to whether he should disobey the church or disobey the captain, and he told the bishop that the conflict between his orders and what was being asked of him was giving him trouble. He did so with enough respect, though, and the conversation took up just enough time that Malthus saw Thomas running down the pier toward the ship. The shipmate was greatly relieved when Malthus pointed out that he needed only to wait until he could receive the delivery from Thomas.
Thomas arrived and handed two documents to Malthus, having to stretch high up to where the gang plank had been raised. The shipboard bishop had to stretch to receive them, but finally got a good grasp. Malthus saw that both letters were sealed with the Cardinal’s personal seal, and on the outside one was addressed:
Directive of Bishop Malthus Rostern from the scribe of Cardinal Atóinspire DuSéparerai
The other was addressed:
“Prince Aiden Maybourne II and Acolyte Sagesse Ducréateur, in whom I’ve vested my full confidence, remember the bardic rule of 5 by 2. This message is of prime importance:”
The life at sea was a new one to him, but he soon got used to the rolling of the waves and start to get his sea legs. During the voyage, Malthus made question to the captain and crew about the details of the land he would visit. His curiosity was awake with thoughts of strange new people, tropical seasons, and political interests of a new land. He asked as well if any of the seafarers had ever met Prince Maybourne. Malthus struck up a few conversations with the crew members, but none are terribly interesting to him, and he usually ended up cutting them short so as not to be bored with their drollery. For sustenance, the bishop chewed the leathery dried meats that had been provided for daytime meals, supplemented by an orange or two that he picked at his leisure from one of the two potted orange trees that adorned the outside of the ships forecastle.
When the evening meal rolled around, all of the shipmates headed below deck for stew, but Malthus made his way to the captain’s quarters to dine in a slightly less bawdy atmosphere. A light mist hung from the clouds outside, but the sea was relatively calm. The captain invited Malthus in at his first knock, saying, “Ah, there he is, and welcome Bishop Rostern. I had rather hoped that you would be joining me for the evening meal, and I’ve had an extra portion brought up for you.”
As they dined, Malthus saw that there was a skill to eating from a bowl aboard a rolling ship, and even in those calm waters it seemed more gentlemanly to hold the stew bowl in hand where it could be kept from spilling than to let it slop over every side on the table. The goblets were of glass and specially made so that, if less than half full, they were very unlikely to spill. Of course they had to be tipped back very far to be drunk from, but the good captain underwent the same ordeal to sup his own wine. That made it seem somewhat less embarrassing.
As Malthus pursued his question, the captain was happy tell that “I’ve only really gone ashore a couple of times in the many trips I’ve made there. There’s a little town called Baytown there, and they make sugar, sugar-rum, and they export a strange sort of tobacco called mumbaye. I love to smoke the stuff. Sharpens the senses, they say. Good for you. But it’s expensive and hard to find up North, so I always send a man to get it by the bundle. Sometimes I’ll buy three or four bundles if I think I might not return for a long while. You may have seen some of the sailors puffing on it.” Indeed the bishop had. “All the folk of baytown are black as night. Seems like a good life for them, swimming and drinking and smoking all day. Sometimes I have the idea that they might be better off than we are with all our modern economy. Less to worry about there, I think.”
The bishop asked about the weather and the politics there, and the captain told him a little more; “Seems like there’s some sort of priestess or queen. What’s her name… Tanawa? Tanaya? Something like that. Never have seen her myself. Just heard the name a couple of times. Don’t know much about their politics, but they seem like a happy little group to me. It’s that tropical weather, I think, that makes them all so relaxed. All island people everywhere seem to go about business in a slow sort of way, no cares in the world.” He said that he had only met the prince one time nearly two years earlier, and that since then he had always left that up to the first mate. He described the prince physically, and said that he seemed to be an emotional type – not cut out for life at sea.
Malthus was able to catch up with the first mate a few days later, and he told him that he himself had made most of the deliveries to the prince since his exile. He brings a monetary allowance from the King of Westend to Prince Maybourne. The first mate also said that the prince always gave him “a letter for Princess Christiana.” He never had anything to give in return. “I don’t pay no attention to politics. I just deliver what goods I got. I’ll tell you’bout the prince all right: Drunk. Every time I see him, drunk as a skunk. He’s gone native, looks like. Always layin’ around half naked, stripped to the waste and wearing those Source-foresaken, pardon the curse your holiness, Source-foresaken mumbaye shorts that all the natives wear. Pardon the curse again. Looks more like a bum than royalty.”
After a nearly three week journey, when they arrived at the Bay de Paz at Baytown, there was confusion. There was a ship in the mouth of the bay openly flying a red jolly-roger, meaning that they were a pirate galley that prepared to board and massacre. The captain ordered the ship around to the other side of the island to try to wait out the pirates, but Malthus’ crew spent another two days at sea, sending spies ashore from time to time to seek routes to town from another location. There didn’t seem to be any good way to get to Baytown without passing the dangerous pirate galley. The captain was considering sending a group ashore by rowboat – maybe they could sneak past the pirate ship at night, but it would be a long way to row from the nearest hiding spot for the large Westend ship. The only other way would be to wait out the pirate ship, hoping it would move soon, or to send people ashore and have them walk the perimeter of the island. That might not be safe either. Either Malthus would have to go at night to avoid the pirates seeing him, or he would have to hope to evade them during the day.
“Well, yours is the most valuable neck on the line if I send men ashore, your holiness. I’m sending my first mate and two oarsmen with you. You tell me when and how you would like to do this. We’ve waited a day and a half for those pirates to move, and I doubt they’ll lift anchor tonight. Do you want to take a small boat past the pirate galley while it’s still dark tonight, or would you prefer to go by land,” the captain required, “If you go by land, it’s either tonight or in the light tomorrow. The only other option is to keep trying to outwait them. I’ll let you decide how you want to go about it.”
The options depended on the brightness of the moon and the night. If it wasn’t a bright night or if there were overhead clouds they would try to slip by in a rowboat. If the night was bright, they would try the overland route. As it turned out, the moon was waxing broadly, but there were a few feathery clouds out. Malthus conversed with the first mate about his chances, and he agreed that, “I says it’s dark enough to get by if’n we stick close to the opposite shore from where their ship sets. Let’s give it a go…”
The crew lowered the small shore-going vessel into the water while the bishop cursed the clean white paint that adorned it under his breath. Then a rope ladder was lowered to the tethered vessel, and the oarsmen descended, followed by the first mate. Malthus felt a little jittery on the rope ladder, as it swayed with the gentle swells of the ocean, rocking him gently against the side of the ship as he slowly descended. He had been smelling the salt sea air for weeks, but now that he was only a few inches from the surface, he could almost taste the saltwater on his tongue. The white robed bishop thought back to “the test” long ago, and of days spent among the waves at the beach among his acolyte brothers, working out equations and watching them sift into the sand. In a way, he looked forward to seeing Sagesse again. It would be interesting to find out how he’d changed over these last two years. Although he was a mature thinker, he was just a lad when they were acolytes together. He must have been a young teen, and should be some fifteen or sixteen years old by now. Such a young mind can change so much in two years. Would he still be the Sagesse the bishop once knew?
The oarsmen began paddling the boat in a wide arc toward the far shore of the bay. It seemed impossible that they could be spotted at that distance, but after about half an hour of rowing, the little boat drew close to the rocky part of the shore, and Malthus saw that they were getting very near the mouth of the bay where the pirate vessel was situated. As he hunched down to make a smaller silhouette, he saw that each of the sailors in the little boat had his eyes set firmly on the crow’s nest of the pirate galley. The bishop made out a glint emanating from there, just for an instant.
“Ya see that?” Came a hoarse whisper from one of the men rowing. “There’s a lookout with a scope in the crows nest.”
“He can’t see us from ’ere,” whispered the first mate. “Jes’ keep those oars low and quiet.”
Just then, shouts were heard coming across the water. Malthus’ heart froze, and he strained to hear if it was the sound of a lookout announcing that they were spotted…
It didn’t seem to be. In fact, as they draw closer to the beach, they were sure that it was singing they heard; beautiful singing. But something about that, too, was eerie and frightening. Then, suddenly, the clouds seemed to be much thicker than they had been when they set out. Good, darkness, Malthus thought. Then there was a bolt of lightening, and an immediate roar of thunder just behind the pirate ship! It was as bright as day for an instant, and the sound was enough to push the breath out of the little crew of the dingy. The oarsman next to the bishop let out a short cry of shock, and the first mate gave him a deadly look. If the pirates were on the look-out, they were sure to have seen the little boat in that light. But the group was closing in quickly on the shore. If nothing else, they could beat them to land, and they were not likely to come after the little boat’s crew there.
“Pick up the pace,” said the first mate. “Let’s just get to land quick. Hard part’s over.”
As they drew near, they could hear another song from a little open sided, thatch roofed shelter on the beach. They could also hear laughing and celebration. Seemed to be a party going on. The oarsman waded the boat onto the beach far enough that they could get out on dry sand. The first mate stood and exited, bidding Malthus to follow and saying, “Well, that’s the spot. That little sugar-rum shack is where I’ve always found him when I come. ‘es probably in there night and day, the drunk. That’s who you’re lookin’ for, right? The prince?” They hastily walked inland together toward the little sugar-rum hut.