Previously on Seven Stones: Kobb and Anessa obtain the formal vestments needed to infiltrate the Duke’s hunting preserve. As Kobb prepares to read the lesson at the dusk service, they discover that the Duke will be present in the congregation.
Kobb straightened his shoulders. Failing to give the reading would draw attention, potentially more than standing in front of the altar. Whatever the Duke’s reasons for attending, the best course was to carry on and deal with the consequences. That didn’t mean not taking some precautions though. “Keep your eyes lowered until the service is over. No cause to make it easy for the watchers.”
“Maybe we don’t have to sneak around.” Anessa leaned in close. “If we offer to bless the Tan-Sorda, we can go straight in.”
“Lady Semithros isn’t likely to rely on a single plan. Having the Order publicly support him gives the Duke an advantage. Even if none of the watchers recognises us, they might act if the Duke heads for the preserve with a Reverend. And if we did get there, disappearing in front of the Duke himself will cause my Order issues.” Kobb gave Anessa a small smile. “It’s a good thought, but politics is rarely about good thoughts; that’s one reason I travel so much.”
Setting his face in a mask of calm—if not serenity—Kobb continued to the temple. The heavy scent of incense flooding the corridors confirmed there was little time before the service started.
As he entered the transept, he noticed Eminent Valk seated next to a ruddy-faced man in layers of velvet. Inclining his head in their direction without stopping Kobb processed smoothly yet swiftly to the lectern. Something didn’t fit. The pews in the transept were for chapter, not laity; seating the Duke there was an obvious sign of favour. However, they weren’t visible from the nave, so didn’t display that favour publicly.
After offering a prayer that the Maker reveal the Blessing in it in due time, Kobb gazed over the heads of the congregation, trusting his peripheral vision to detect odd movement without showing his interest. However—apart from the usual skittishness of children and preening of social climbers—the pews seemed to hold the pious.
Moments later, the choir stood. Kobb’s breathing slowed as the exquisite counterpoint of soprano voices and droning lutes filled the air.
After the fourth refrain, one of the lutenists fell silent for a bar before resuming her place. Kobb counted seven notes in his head, then movements matching the beat, stepped forward and threw open the Book of Blessings. Iron-bound leather slammed into the lectern as the choir hit the final note.
Thrusting his arms wide, Kobb cast his voice the length of the temple. “O, Lamentable Descar, Paragon of Iniquity, to thee…” From the corner of his eye, he noted Valk’s lips twist as if he’d mistaken a lemon for an apple.
After twenty verses of black glances in Kobb’s direction, Valk and the Duke rose from their pew and slipped into the chapter house.
Recalling each of his failures and imperfections, Kobb eased from castigation to sorrow as he moved through the final ten verses. The congregation might share Valk’s annoyance without his option to leave, but even the most glass-eyed of audiences could contain someone in need of this seemingly harsh message.
As he lowered his arms again, the choir rose. Whether through the Maker’s hand or the efficiency of the cantor, they commenced a chant of Consolation. Closing the Book of Blessings, Kobb faced the altar and pressed his fingers to his throat. If only there were a way to shed the stultifying structure of temple life while keeping the ritual and the spiritual service.
He turned to face the nave as the choir moved into the final bar. At least he could do his part to return belief to its core simplicity. After a moment of silence, he raised his arms. “Descar was burdened by flaws. But not flaws of a distant land, or of another time. The flaws we see in our neighbours. And the flaws they see in us. If the verses seem detailed, it is to teach that the difference between sorrow and Blessing hides in a single moment. If the verses seem long, it is to teach that the Maker wishes us to act on our own flaws, not sit in judgement on those of others.” Forming fists, he moved his arms in, each sweeping over half the congregation before ending pointed toward the main door. “Rise with new hope, and carry it forth!”
A beat behind the ritual, the cantor lead the choir into the exeunt. For several breaths, a mass of crumpled brows and half-open mouths filled the pews. Then, the laity filed out, at first few then many, whispers growing to chatter as the doors swung wide.
Kobb lowered his arms and bent over the lectern until his forehead pressed against the Book of Blessings. The congregation would no doubt gossip about the brevity of his sermon, but in their hearts many would bless him for it. Resetting his face in a severe expression, he lifted the Book and held it out to Anessa. After a moment, she wrapped her arms around it.
Ignoring the frowns of the choir and off the chapter, Kobb spun on his heel and marched to his temporary room. After a glance into the corridor to ensure no one was in sight, he opened the chest and drew out their weapons. If they were fortunate, they’d reach the garden door before any of the chapter sought them out.
Anessa lowered the Book of Blessings to the bed. “Are services always like that?”
“The Enlightenment of the Province of Descar is not my favourite reading.”
“No. It was…” She waved her hands around. “All those people together. And the singing. It was so joyful.”
“Those who find joy, find the path to the Maker. However, I would be a poor Reverend if I did not heed my own sermon. Let us leave before my colleagues have the opportunity to offer their judgement of the service, at length.”
After twitching his chasuble twice in an attempt to settle it over his rapier, he strode from the cell; the combination of vestment and open armament might prove more effective anyway. Hearing the clatter of sandals in the distance, he sped his feet.
Anessa, less weighted down by formality, kept pace with ease. Fortunately, their unseen pursuer did not. Marching through the empty kitchen and sweeping across the herb garden, Kobb threw open the door.
And froze, the point of a sword less than an inch from his face.