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 Archbishop’s 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
"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 Archbishop’s feet to kiss the
man’s ring. The old Archbishop’s 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
Gorony’s help an hour ago, and he in is a State of Grace."
The Archbishop’s watery pale blue eyes were hard as stone as he
looked down at Loris. "But he won’t 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
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
Archbishop’s 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 Nore’s 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 Nore’s breath was a
painful rasp in his chest.
"Your Grace," Loris whispered when he reached the
bed. He lifted de Nore’s hand and kissed the Episcopal ring with far
greater reverence than he had shown even to Darby. Loris’ 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 Loris’s 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
man’s faith was now reduced to the last live coals.
"Help me sit up," de Nore whispered. "Easier
to speak that way. I haven’t much time left, and I have important
things to say to you."
Loris obeyed, piling cushions at the dying man’s back, then drew
a chair close to the bed at de Nore’s direction.
"Your Grace, surely you should be resting," Loris
"No, Edmund," de Nore whispered. "My course
is nearly run, and if a man can’t face the truth on his deathbed,
then he wasn’t 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
De Nore shook his head slowly.
"Darby’s too ill, and too old, Edmund. He won’t survive me
by many years, perhaps not even by many months. He hasn’t the
strength to stand against the King and knows it. He’s 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 I’ve 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
"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. It’s 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 he’ll come around when he’s over his disappointment.
Keep it in mind, you’ll need his support to be elected
"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
"You fought against him nobly," Loris soothed,
watching the dying man’s glistening white face anxiously. "As
I shall when—" He stopped.
"When you are Primate," de Nore finished in a weaker
voice than before. "’S 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.. . King’s a cunning bastard... Be on your
guard against him. If there’s any flaw in your logic or your
arguments… he’ll find it.... likes to make a fool of us...when he
"I’ll make him work hard to make a fool of me,"
Loris muttered fiercely. "The Church must be respected, and
I’ll make him respect us."
De Nore’s eyes drifted shut, but he smiled. "Tha’s...why...you’ll
be next Primate," the dying man wheezed. "Never…
All at once DeNore’s eyes flew open and his weak clasp became a
grip hard enough to hurt. The other hand flew to clutch his pectoral