Fr. Barnard approached the crowd gathered in the village courtyard in the late afternoon of the day. The sun was setting over the horizon and the sky had taken on a pinkish hue. The breeze had died to barely a whisper and the voices of the group could be heard distinctly.
Father approached from the side, behind the well with it’s heavy ropes and thick poles. His face was heavily bruised from the beating he’d taken in the bar several nights before, but all in all, he was recovering. At least the physical part of him was. Seeing karissa there in the crowd, standing next to Bryant, talking casually as if nothing at happened – that part still hurt.
The man Drago was going on and on about his love and devotion for Baylee, something the priest found odd given the girl’s state of mind the night before. She had been hysterical, screaming and crying that Drago had attacked her, bound her, drugged her. Now she was angry, stomping her foot and yelling at the Warden and brothel owner Bryantt to believe her side of the story while Drago continued to plead his case.
The priest was about to turn and slink back to the abbey when the Countess caught sight of him. “Father! What happened to you?” she demanded to know.
He reached inside his pocket and pulled out the small bag of coins as she grasped his arm and pulled him closer to the group. He found himself face to face with Bryantt Sands, the coins in his hand. “This is for the damage to your bar,” he said, offering the sack.
Bryantt stated that he could not accept money from the priest.
Karissa spoke up saying, “That bill has already been paid.”
“By whom?” the priest asked, turning to face her. He could feel the old anger surging as he concluded that she had used her own funds to cover the costs.
“By a strange man in a cape,” she said.
Him. Ar. The one who had beat him. Uncomfortable, the priest slipped the coins back into his pocket.
The discussion turned back to the night before – the girls struggling in the woods, the wolves, the brilliant light that had left Karissa temporarily blinded. It had been Fr. Barnard’s turn to kneel at her bed as she recovered. He had held her hand. As the voices interrupted his thoughts, the father pushed that memory away. Another moment between them, lost in the light of day.
“All I can say for sure is that Baylee was truly terrified,” the priest told Bryantt. He could not personally vouch for what had happened in the woods.
“I told you we need some protection at the brothel,” Karissa was saying to Bryantt. “If you were there more often.”
Bryantt gave her a warning look.
Drago quickly offered his services but the Warden was more interested in another – the highlander. Fr. Barnard nodded. It was true that Gregor Young would make a fine guard for the brothel. It also didn’t hurt that Gregor was the priest’s long time friend.
As the group spoke, the priest kept glancing at Karissa. He noticed how Bryantt grabbed her wrists and yanked her closer to him. Fr. Barnard had no doubt that Bryantt had heard the rumors about the priest and the brothel girl. It was a small town and word spread fast. Bryantt was claiming his property and letting Fr. Barnard know it.
“Karissa is right,” he told Bryantt. He was angry at himself for not coming to her defense. He wanted to pull her away from the Warden, to stop what was happening, but he held back, seething internally. “You do need a guard down there. Someone who can fight. Someone who can protect your investments.” He glanced at Karissa.
Drago boasted his accomplishments as a shaman warrior, but Bryantt’s mind was set on Gregor, and for that the priest was happy.
The Countess, clearly upset at the discussion of such inappropriate things as guarding wenches at a brothel, decided it was a good time to slip away.
“I have the paperwork,” Bryantt said. “The original was not available so I sent to the Queen. She has drawn up whatever I need.” Karissa pried her wrist from Bryantt’s grasp as he spoke.
Fr. Barnard wasn’t sure what made him angrier – Bryantt’s hold on Karissa or the fact the man did not understand the power of the church or its requirements.
“Drawn up?” he asked.
“She has drawn up papers to verify her intention that I marry her cousin.” Bryantt nodded in the direction of the Countess.
The priest glanced at karissa again, feeling a burn on the back of his neck. “Her intent cannot override church law, sir,” Fr. Barnard stated. “If you are unable to procure the baptismal papers, I can simply baptize you myself, prior to the wedding.”
Bryantt sounded at first as if he was going to argue the point, but then stated that he would do whatever was necessary “to wed my Vivienne.”
Karissa, now burning with anger herself stepped back. The wedding was a sore subject with her.
As the Countess approached, she asked if Bryant was done talking of “business,” and when he said yes, she began to discuss the wedding. “I have spoken to the Cardinal, Countess,” Fr. Barnard told her. “He has offered to do the ceremony, if you have no objections.”
“I do object!” she stated. “I wanted you to do the ceremony.”
The priest tried to dissuade her, claiming his recent illness and his current state of mind, but she was stubborn in persisting that he officiate at the wedding. Finally, he was able to persuade Bryantt to speak to him alone. Leaving the women behind, the two men mounted the steps to the castle.
As the two men entered the large room and the heavy wooden door slammed shut behind them, Bryantt took a seat, stretching his legs out territorially, an arm over the back of an adjacent chair. “Sit down,” he said. The priest declined.
With little hesitation, the priest explained that he could not perform the wedding because he knew that Bryantt would be binding himself to Karissa, and that the relationship they shared would make the marriage null and void. “It would create an impediment,” he said. It took a few minutes before Bryantt understood the priest’s point. “I cannot in good conscience marry you to one woman when you are obviously in love with another. That is an impediment – an obstacle to the marriage.”
While the priest would not perform the wedding, another could, one who did not know about Bryantt’s relationship with Karissa – the Cardinal. It would be Bryantt’s job to convince the Countess to have the Cardinal officiate.
But there was more on Bryantt’s mind than the wedding. The warden stood and moved closer to the priest. “Is that the only reason you won’t do the wedding, Father?” he asked, his voice low and menacing. “I have seen the way you look at Karissa. I have seen the way she looks at you. Is there something going on that I should be suspicious of, Good Father?” There was a heavy tone of disdain to his voice, but the priest didn’t blink.
“She works for you. You know her. You claim to love her. Then why not marry her? Why put her through this hell?” The priest asked. The last thing he wanted was for Bryantt to bind with or marry Karissa, and yet here he was arguing the point.
“Hell?” Bryantt asked, angry.
“Yes – to watch you wed and bed another.”
“Where do you come from? Where is that, exactly?” he priest asked. It had been a question that had come up a number of times in discussions around town.
“I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, Father,” Bryantt said, dodging the question. “I was born poor and I made something of myself. Karissa has been at my side a long time.”
“In THIS land,” the priest countered, “a man has one wife, and if he doesn’t, then the one he has is not his true wife. Understand?”
“You approve of my taking Karissa’s hand? And marrying the Countess?” Bryantt asked.
“Of course not,” Fr. Barnard stated. “You know better.. But that is her decision, her choice.”
“Right, it is HER decision,” Bryantt agreed. “I will talk to the Countess and I will change her mind. I will also be watching you, Father, closely.”
“Watch all you want, Warden,” the priest said. “I have no illusions about who or what I am. and I have wrestled with worse demons than you.”
Bryant found himself listening to another person talk of demons and he sighed. “I think we are finished then, Good Father,” he said, by way of dismissal.
“We are,” Fr. Barnard replied, then he turned and headed back to the abbey, not noticing that Karissa was hiding nearby, listening.