Coffee Break Read – Relieved of Command

When word of the Church army reached the Sky Temple, the High Priest was delighted by what he perceived to be an opportunity for a very wealthy retirement. He reasoned that he, as the ranking churchman, should assume control of this army, by which measure he would also control the city, and thus have a major say in the election of a new Emperor – which would, he reasoned, result in pecuniary gratitude on a grand scale. Accordingly he called up his personal guard and sallied forth to take command of his army.
The High Priest found the general in command of the Church troops in a noble square close to the palace precinct. A commanding figure in his golden robes and tiara of office, he rode forward on his white palfrey. ‘You’. He addressed the general. ‘Come forward’. The general looked up briefly from the papers he was studying but made no move. The cleric kneed his palfrey closer; ‘I spoke to you knave’, he said severely. The general, a husky-looking veteran in a plain soldier’s uniform only differing from that of his men by virtue of the embroidered insignia on his left breast, cocked a sardonic eyebrow at the pompous prelate, then spoke quietly to a diminutive grey-cloaked figure at his side. The enraged priest urged his mount closer; ‘Come to me at once, lest I relieve you of your command.’ Finally the general turned and gave his full attention to the by now purple-faced priest. ‘You? Relieve me of my command? I think not. Sergeant-at-Arms, this man is irritating me, do something about him.’ Another burly veteran stepped forward and plucking the High Priest from his saddle threw him to his knees on the ground. The grey-clad figure beside the general put back its hood to reveal a young female face of icy beauty before speaking in a low compelling voice.
‘By what right do you address the commanding general of the Church Army?’
‘By the right of my office, and as the ranking churchman in this city.’
‘That would be the churchman who hid in his temple whilst the common people were terrorised by thugs and assassins. The churchman who cowered behind his altar while the whole of the Imperial family lay murdered and unburied. Again I ask you by what right you address this army?’
Stung by the young woman’s tone and her accusations, the arrogant old man raised his face and looked at her. ‘I ask you by what right a mere woman questions a prelate of the church?’
A rustle ran through the ranks of those close enough to hear those words. The young woman laughed low in her throat and raised her right hand towards the cloudless sky. A black speck appeared in the heavens, and plummeted down towards the small, grey-clad figure. As it came closer all who dared look saw it was a great Golden Eagle, which came to rest gently on the woman’s shoulder. The city prelate suddenly bereft of his arrogance prostrated himself on the cobbles, aware that he was outranked and in grave danger. He had just challenged a Priestess of the Sky, a direct representative of the Holy Mother, and would be lucky to lose only his position for such presumption. ‘Forgive me gracious lady, I knew not to whom I spoke.’
‘Do not beseech my forgiveness, rather reach deep into your soul and ask forgiveness of the gods for your many sins.’
She turned and beckoned into the mass of church soldiers, which parted to allow a procession of brown-clad figures to converge upon the priestess and the dumbstruck churchman. The priestess raised her voice. ‘Let all who can hear my voice bear witness. The man now cowering on the cobbles is here stripped of his office, and will be taken from this place to await the judgment of the Holy Mother.’
She paused and two of the brown clad figures hauled the, by now jibbering prelate to his feet. They plucked the tiara of office from his head and one of them stamped on it with a sandalled foot. He then placed the mangled mess of gold and jewels at the feet of the priestess, before he and his colleague frogmarched the sobbing ex-priest away.
The priestess spoke again, only this time her voice seemed to come from the skies all around and everyone in the city could hear her. ‘By the powers given to me and mine from the hands of the gods themselves, I declare a ten-day period of mourning for the Imperial family. During that time the Monks of Chastisement will cleanse your temples. On the eleventh day after this we will inter with all honour such Royal remains as can be found, and a new High Priest will be appointed. On that day we will also announce our decision in the matter of the Imperial succession. In the meantime do not fear to go about your business. The streets will be safe.’
The thunderous voice ceased, and quiet held the city for a moment, as if life itself held its breath for an instant before shaking like a wet dog and carrying on.

From The Long Game by Jane Jago.

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