Metropolitan Vitellus adjusted his garb. As Primate of the Faith in Tintagel, he held a very high place on the Senate’s Chamber of the Faith--indeed, tradition mandated he open the Session with an Invocation. And that being the case, Vitellus did not wish to cut a poor figure.
“The surplice is such a hassle,” came a voice from behind him. “One never knows when one is getting on right.” Vitellus turned to see Lanval Equitan, the Prince’s Serjeant standing in the doorway.
“Ahh, yes,” muttered Vitellus nervously. “You were a Canon, I believe, before your… retirement…”
“The proper word would be ‘expulsion’,” answered Lanval. “The Faith does not smile on priests who operate as bandits. At least--not as openly as I did.”
Vitellus nodded. “I was aware of this, Serjeant. I was simply trying to be polite.”
“Yes, you are all very polite here, in Tintagel,” said Equitan. “It’s a very polite society. Quite different from Almace in Leonais, where I grew up.” He shrugged. “We’re right on the border of the Easter King’s domains, and that when he isn’t sending troops over to conquer us, we’re dealing with raiders and pirates that he can’t be bothered to stop. Makes a people hard. Austere. My father was a count, you know, with counts in his family tree for twenty-three generations. And we lived in one large manor-house with a few rooms, with dogs in them. Not that we minded. Kept the place warm in the winter.”
Vitellus wondered what he should say to that. “You have my sympathies.”
Lanval’s eyes went wide. “What, for sleeping with dogs as a boy? Naaah! Like I said, I never minded that. In fact, it was grand.” He sighed. “I did mind having to go into the Church, but--well, as my father explained it, I had to. I was a third son, and what’s more, the diocese had been in the family for some time, and we couldn’t afford to lose it. Still--I thought that would be it. No more brave fights against those bastards from the East, and everyone else who wronged us--just sermons and collecting rents.”
The serjeant stepped before the metropolitan, his face oddly grim. “And then Gaston died of the Bleeding Cough. And Father and Guillaume were killed by the Ferraus.” Lanval was frowning now. “Well, someone had to lead the family, and Guillaume’s sons couldn’t--they were just babies. And so, I stepped up. And I did what my family needed of me. That’s how we do things in Almace. You look after your kin, and you do what you have to. It may not always be the sort of life the Seven laid out as proper, but we see no shame in it. Perhaps we’re wrong. Perhaps not. It’s how we are.” He took a deep breath. “Shall I help you with your surplice? I wasn’t joking about the damn things being nuisances.”
Vitellus smiled and nodded. “Of course, sir. I would appreciate your help.”
Lanval quickly got to work. “There you go,” he said after a few moment’s work. “Neat as can be.” He adjusted his hands slightly. “Now just one last thing….” And he plunged the dagger into the old man’s chest. Vitellus fell to the ground swiftly, gasping desperately for air, his eyes looking pleadingly at the serjeant for answers.
Lanval gave a deep sigh. “Now--I bet your wondering why I did that. Well, orders, really. And I felt a fellow member of the cloth deserved a proper send-off. Which is why I’m here, and not one of my men.” He shrugged once again. “What can I say? I’m an odd man in my fashion.” He knelt to look Vitellus in the face, smiling. “Now, I’m going to go out there, and tell your men that I found you like this. And they’re going to believe me, because despite what I was, I’m the Prince’s Man, and that means I can be trusted.” He chuckled. “See, I really did mean what I said about how polite you all are. So polite that impolite things--dirty, awful things, don’t even occur to you.” He rose to his feet. “It’s really quite lovely. Like a glittering soap bubble in the sun.” He turned to head out of the room. “And the most lovely thing about bubbles--the thing that makes them not just pretty but beautiful is--they’re bound to pop. Sooner or later.”