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 Bishop Edmund

   

 

By: Melissa
Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 1999

 

 
Loris strode rapidly down the torch-lit corridor toward the double doors at the end of it. He ignored his panting chaplain who trotted behind him, and the two monks at the chamber door barely had time to open it before Loris was in the room. He stopped just inside, chilled to his soul to see all his Episcopal and priestly brethren gathered within the Archbishopís sitting room, their faces somber. Alexander Darby, Archbishop of Rhemuth sat in his carved armchair before the fire, his face filled with bitter sorrow. The dread news that Oliver de Nore was on his deathbed could only be true then.

"His Excellency, Bishop Edmund Loris of Stavenham," one of the monks announced in a low voice before closing the door.

"Bishop Edmund," Archbishop Darby said in a clear cold voice. "It is fortunate indeed that you have deigned to join us in this dark time."

Loris bit back the retort he would have made to any other man in this room, for he revered Darby only a degree less than he did the dying Primate. He came to kneel at the Archbishopís feet to kiss the manís ring. The old Archbishopís hand was cold and dry, and it shook so violently that Loris had to steady it with his own before he could kiss his ring.

"I beg your pardon for my tardiness, Your Grace," Loris murmured. "In truth, I only heard the news a few hours ago. I made the best time to Rhemuth that I could." Loris took a deep breath. "Is he..?"

"I gave His Excellency the Blessed Sacrament with Father Goronyís help an hour ago, and he in is a State of Grace." The Archbishopís watery pale blue eyes were hard as stone as he looked down at Loris. "But he wonít see Compline, let alone the morning. Go to him, Edmund. He was most emphatic about the need to speak with you privately before the end. You and I can speak later."

Loris climbed to his feet and bowed to the Archbishop before going to the door of the sickroom, a new fear in his heart. Darby had changed much for the worse since Loris had seen him last year. **A generation will soon pass, and who will lead the Church when men such as deNore and Darby are gone?** He was puzzled too by the Archbishopís anger, much of which he knew was directed straight at him. Why? He had never shown either man the least whiff of disobedience or disloyalty.

Loris shook his head as he slipped inside the sickroom door, dismissing Darby for the moment. de Nore lay in the great bed, a coverlet of Episcopal violet velvet drawn up to his chest, his clenched hands lying at his sides. When he saw de Noreís face, the last particle of hope left Loris. The homely but beloved face was a terrible, grayish-yellowish white, and damp from perspiration. His closed eyes lay in two sunken purple circles, and his prominent Roman nose jutted away from the sunken cheeks. de Noreís breath was a painful rasp in his chest.

"Your Grace," Loris whispered when he reached the bed. He lifted de Noreís hand and kissed the Episcopal ring with far greater reverence than he had shown even to Darby. Lorisí sorrow was a great stone balanced on his back. He must be very careful lest it crush him before he and his patron had exchanged their last words together on this side of the grave.

"I prayed you would come in time, Edmund." de Nore squeezed the hand Loris still held, but that clasp was only a loose curling of thick, clammy fingers around Lorisís hand rather than the firm clasp it had been in better times. De Nore opened his dark eyes, which were filled with pain, but quite lucid. The fire of the great manís faith was now reduced to the last live coals.

"Help me sit up," de Nore whispered. "Easier to speak that way. I havenít much time left, and I have important things to say to you."

Loris obeyed, piling cushions at the dying manís back, then drew a chair close to the bed at de Noreís direction.

"Your Grace, surely you should be resting," Loris said.

"No, Edmund," de Nore whispered. "My course is nearly run, and if a man canít face the truth on his deathbed, then he wasnít fit to have lived. My strength is going fast and we must speak while I can." De Nore took a deep breath. "I spoke to Darby and to the rest of the Synod earlier this evening. I made it clear to them that you are to succeed me as Archbishop of Valoret and Primate of Gwynedd."

"But Darby!" Loris gasped. "Your Grace, the plan was that he was to be the next Archbishop, and then me after him."

De Nore shook his head slowly.

"Darbyís too ill, and too old, Edmund. He wonít survive me by many years, perhaps not even by many months. He hasnít the strength to stand against the King and knows it. Heís too honest a man to deny a truth when his nose is planted directly in it. If the Church is to remain clean and untainted by heresy, or even a tolerance for heresy, we need a young, strong Primate and we need him now. In short, the Church needs you."

"Domine, non sum dignus," Loris whispered.

"Nonsense!" de Nore said roundly. His voice was weak but clear. "For an intelligent man, you can be exceptionally thick-headed, Edmund. Why do you imagine that Iíve spent the last ten years favoring you if not to groom you to take my place?"

Loris brushed his wet eyes with his free hand, feeling the stone of his sorrow grow heavier. It was so like de Nore to combine praise and censure in the same sentence.

"Darby has agreed to this?" Loris finally wondered aloud.

"He has agreed to step aside and remain Archbishop of Rhemuth," de Nore said. "Furthermore, he will support you with his vote when the Synod meets to elect their new Primate. Where he leads, others will follow."

"Are you sure of this, Your Grace?" Loris asked, frowning in his bewilderment. "Just now, I could have sworn he was angry with me."

De Nore chuckled very feebly.

"Come now, Edmund. Alexander Darby has agreed to give up a cherished ambition in your favor for the sake of the Church we all serve. AND he has promised to support you when I feared he might refuse. Itís really asking too much of him to expect him to be happy about it on top of everything else! Just let him stew for a while and heíll come around when heís over his disappointment. Keep it in mind, youíll need his support to be elected Primate."

"Yes, Your Grace."

De Nor closed his eyes for a moment, his face tense with pain.

"No sinecure, you know Edmund, being Archbishop." He opened his eyes again. "You must stand against the King in all matters of faith." De Nore scowled suddenly, his heavy brows almost meeting at the bridge of his nose.

"Defender of the Faith!" DeNore spat. "A fine Defender of the faith he turned out to be! With that miserable heretic of a pet Deryni at his side, busily poisoning him against us!"

"You fought against him nobly," Loris soothed, watching the dying manís glistening white face anxiously. "As I shall whenó" He stopped.

"When you are Primate," de Nore finished in a weaker voice than before. "íS a game of Cardounet with the Haldanes, Edmund. You can disagree with your King and not be a traitor, and he can disagree with us and still be a dutiful son of the Church, but only so far in both cases.. . Kingís a cunning bastard... Be on your guard against him. If thereís any flaw in your logic or your argumentsÖ heíll find it.... likes to make a fool of us...when he can."

"Iíll make him work hard to make a fool of me," Loris muttered fiercely. "The Church must be respected, and Iíll make him respect us."

De Noreís eyes drifted shut, but he smiled. "Thaís...why...youíll be next Primate," the dying man wheezed. "NeverÖ underestimate...him....youíll...regret it."

All at once DeNoreís eyes flew open and his weak clasp became a grip hard enough to hurt. The other hand flew to clutch his pectoral cross.

"Aaaauuuuuughhhh!"

"Lord God, have mercy and take him soon!" Loris begged. He took out his silk handkerchief and blotted the perspiration from the Archbishopís forehead and cheeks.

"Lord," De Nore whispered in the faintest voice yet. His eyes were now those of a frightened small boy faced with severe punishment. "Not there...mercy....I only meant to serve You...please You...Why?...." The last exhalation rattled in his throat, and de Noreís head lolled to the right, the eyes half-closed. But the expression on the dead face was still one of abject fear.

Shaken, Loris bowed his head over the slack right hand, feeling the great amethyst press into his forehead as he wept for the passing of his mentor. It was a brief storm of grief, and he soon sat up to blot his wet eyes on his sleeve. It wasnít only sorrow, but bewilderment and bruised faith. "Not there, pity," de Nore had whispered. What had he seen at the moment of his passing? Why should the pure soul of Oliver de Nore cower with fear when meeting the Almighty? Surely he was at Godís side now, yet the dead man had died in terror. Loris had never seen Oliver de Nore terrified by anything in all the years he had known the man. So why just now? Unless he was overcome with awe at the Majesty of their Maker? Loris shivered. What could de Nore possibly have done in his exemplary lifetime to earn him any punishment after death?

Loris stood suddenly and folded de Noreís hands on his still chest, right below the ornate pectoral cross. He straightened the dead manís head, and closed his eyes the rest of the way. What lay Beyond life was unknowable to him. All he could do was to follow de Noreís teachings and be a righteous, upstanding Archbishop, one worthy of his predecessor. Loris lingered for another minute for a last farewell, eyes on the dead face, his hand resting on the two folded ones, then squared his shoulders and went to face his brethren.

His Synod, now.

 

 

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