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The Sword and the Cross

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Some days the silence was unbearable. Breton scrubbed the marble floors on her hands and knees in silence. She carried the Baron’s meal tray three times a day in silence. She brought the linens to the laundry, carried orders to the Proconsuls, cleaned the Baron’s chambers, and obeyed his every command day after day. All of this was done without ever speaking a single word. Even at night when she went to the Abbey with the other initiates, the silence continued. None of them were allowed to speak since they had joined the faith at age twelve, except for those who had earned tokens for speech. For five years this had been her way of life. For five years she hadn’t been hungry and for that she had very little reason to complain.

The Baron was waiting for her at his personal dining room. Breton was careful not to spill the wine as she poured it for him. He ate his meal as if he were a starving man sitting down to a feast. It was disgusting to watch but Breton was skilled at hiding her feelings in a mask of stoicism. The Baron was far from hungry and had probably never known true poverty in all of his long life. Baron Denver had indeed lived a very long life. Some two hundred years ago he had been granted a taste, a single taste from the fruit of the holy garden. Nothing could harm him now. Nothing could kill him and if he wanted to, Baron Denver could kill her as easily as snapping a twig. All those who had been granted access to the holy garden and the cup of life were as he was. So few ever got to see it let alone partake but it was enough to see the Barons and Bishops and Cardinals and know that the power of God resided in them.

It took the portly Baron almost an hour to eat his meal. Breton stood along the wall behind him while he ate, ever ready to serve him should he require it. She moved twice to pour him more wine and a third time to serve more bread. The Baron didn’t talk to her at all while he ate that day. Some days, if he was in a talkative mood he might rattle on and on about the progress of the lads in the tournaments. The tournaments were all anyone ever talked about. For one hundred years the faith had been searching for the once and future king. The tournaments were the means of finding him and also a means of finding men for the army of God. Young men from all over the world came to enter the fights. They could earn valor and honor of course, but more importantly they could earn a chance to taste the tree of life or the holy cup if they should live long enough to reach a ranking that high. Those that did not survive, earned a compensation for the family they left behind and those that did survive were paid well, far better than most forms of labor. The Baron had no interest in talking about the tournaments that day. He ate and slurped his food noisily and Breton was forced to look on in silence.

When the Baron was finished, Breton went to the table and began to clear the dishes and all the unfinished food onto a cart. It was then that Baron Denver finally took notice of her. He caught her hand as she reached for his half empty wine glass.

“You don’t have to run off so soon,” He said in a manner that she supposed was intended to be alluring. “You might stay a while and keep me company.”

Breton pulled her hand away from him and continued working. It wasn’t the first time he had made such a suggestion. Some of the other girls in her Abbey had heeded his wishes and received all sorts of things as compensation. Though no one took the vows of celibacy seriously and no one enforced them, at least not among the ordinary youth who did not intend to make lifetime vows. However, this was one vow Breton was not interested in breaking, at least not for the likes of him.

“What would it take to change your mind?” The man was still speaking. “You look like a reader. Perhaps a new data card filled with the latest books from the Vatican Publishers?”

Breton raised an eyebrow. It was a tempting offer but not that tempting.

“Fine,” He huffed, “Go on then. Leave me in peace.”

She hurried to finish clearing the table and got out of the room as quickly as possible. She was in such a rush to get out the door that she overturned his unfinished glass of wine, spilling the red liquid all over her brown jeans and brown tunic. Brown was the color of her Order. It was the color of service with silence. She might have chosen a different Order had she wanted to. There was an order of scholars who dressed in gray, a militant order wearing white with a red cross, and many other variations of contemplative and service oriented Orders. Everyone had to join an order if they hoped to escape poverty because every place of business had to be licensed by the church to be legitimate. If a man was caught buying or selling from anyone who had not joined the church and completed a term of service, that person could face severe punishment. A minimum of ten years was what the church required. Breton had five years remaining to serve.

She reached the kitchen with her cart and found everyone bustling about cleaning and cooking as usual. Breton dumped all the half eaten food into the garbage disposal and loaded the Baron’s dishes into the machine. Three other initiates were waiting with carts to clean plates for their own Cardinals and Barons or whomever they had been assigned to. Breton moved quickly to get out of their way. She had to return her cart to the utility room and then change into clean clothes in time for evening mass.

Back in the Abbey, Breton quickly changed into a brown dress. Almost any style of clothing was permitted for all the initiates provided it was modest and stayed to the proper color. She had dresses, jeans, t-shirts, and tunics of all sorts in the approved shade of dark brown. There were times when she longed for the blue of the contemplatives but she knew she would hate the continuous meditation. She needed to stay busy, to have something to do with her hands and that was why she had chosen an order dedicated to service. Dressed in her brown knee length dress, Breton rushed out into the hallway and headed in the direction of the chapel. She was so concerned about being late that she didn’t even hear the footsteps approaching around the corner. She was going too fast to stop in time and ran directly into a young man wearing a white tunic with the red templar cross on the front. She jumped back, wanting to apologize and knowing she couldn’t say a word. Then she looked up at him and all thoughts of apology left her mind. It was him, again.

“We just keep running into each other don’t we, Frankie.” He said with a grin on his face. They had met a few times before. Each time he called her Frankie. The nickname was a reference to the fact that her Order was rooted in what was once the Franciscan Order.

Breton sighed. She didn’t have time for his flirtatious games. It wasn’t that she disliked him. He was handsome enough but the Holy Mother had told her that if she was late to Mass again this week, there would be three extra hours of work in store for her. Breton made an attempt to go around him but he caught her arm.

“Now wait just a second there Frankie,” He said, pulling her back to stand in front of him again. “How come you never want to talk to me?”

She rolled her eyes at him.

“The least you can do is tell me your name,” He joked, knowing very well that she wasn’t allowed to speak. “I know it isn’t actually Frankie.”

Frustrated with his persistence, Breton grabbed the tablet that he carried in his hand and quickly typed in her name. She shoved the device against his chest and let go, forcing him to catch it and then she fled around him down the hallway.

“Breton,” He read aloud as she ran off. “My name is Patrick by the way!” He called after her. “I can see you were dying to know.”

Breton kept moving not looking back at Patrick even though some part of her realized it would be polite to at least acknowledge him by waving goodbye. She made it into the chapel and took a seat in the back just in time for the service to begin. Two rows ahead of her, Margot turned and waved to her. Margot slept in the bunk next to Breton’s. Thought they couldn’t speak to each other often, they spent most evenings playing board games together. Margot was the best friend Breton had in the Abbey. At end of the service, Margot caught up to Breton as she left the chapel. They walked together out into the courtyard, across the grounds, and back to the Abbey. As they reached the dormitory, they each had to stop for an iris scan. Only the young women who belonged to the convent were allowed inside. Once inside, they gathered with a small group of ladies who had stopped to view the announcements on the viewscreen in the entryway.

1. All speech tokens must be submitted by 10AM for use during the games.

That was an ordinary enough announcement. They were given the same one each weekend. Breton had a few speech tokens and generally did spend them during tournaments. One token meant one hour that she was free to speak.

2. Lights out at 11PM.

3. Bishop Randall’s birthday celebration tomorrow at 8PM after the games. Please kindly bring a gift.

4. Cardinal Yancy will arrive for his quarterly visit in four days time. Division of labor in preparation for his arrival will be posted tomorrow evening.

On and on the announcements scrolled over the screen. Once Breton and Margot had read them all, they headed off to the bunk room to go to bed. Breton woke the next morning to Margot shaking her awake. Her friend looked worried. Margot pointed to her watch. 8:18 AM. Not good. Breton was late for bringing the Baron breakfast. She tossed aside the covers, threw on her brown jeans, and brown tank top. She quickly braided her light brown hair into the customary braid, slid on a pair of sneakers, and ran out the door.

The kitchen mistress looked annoyed that Breton was so late. All the other meal carts were gone. No one wanted to be late on game day. Breakfast was supposed to be picked up at 8AM which meant that she was at least twenty minutes late by now. Breton had no idea why she had slept through her alarm or what had happened. All she knew was the Baron Denver was likely to be annoyed or even angry.

Breton pushed the cart as fast as she dared to go without risking overturning it or break any dishes on the sharp turns down the hallways. She was breathless when she knocked in the Baron’s door. Moments later he yanked open the door himself looking red faced and furious.

“You’re late!” He said. “How dare you be half an hour late on game day?” The man demanded.

Breton just stared at him wide eyed. She couldn’t answer him. Not yet.

“Well, get in here and serve me my breakfast,” he said, throwing himself down in his dining chair.

Breton tried to serve the meal quickly but as she took her place to stand along the wall it became clear that the Baron was no longer in a hurry. He ate slowly. He asked for more toast, more coffee, another cup of milk, and before she knew it, the clock was nearing 9:30. If she wanted to get back in time to spend her speech tokens, she would need to get a move on. It would be rude to start clearing the table before he was finished but she couldn’t see another way to make it in time. She stepped forward and started to clear the dishes he had finished with.

“What do you think you’re doing?” The Baron spat out the words.

Breton’s hand paused in midair as she reached for an empty teacup.

“You’re worried about being late all of a sudden?” He said smugly. “No, you’ll wait until I’ve finished. It might do you good to wait. You will learn patience this way.”

Breton went back to stand against the wall, not daring to test him further. Her eyes stung with tears. He was doing this on purpose. He knew very well that she had to submit her tokens before 10AM. He was forcing her to endure another day of silence as punishment.

By the time she had returned the breakfast cart and found the nearest terminal it was 10:07 AM. Breton went to the wall panel anyway and pressed her thumb to the scanner just to be sure.

“Access denied,” The computer voice said. “Please remember that token transfers on game day must be submitted before 10AM.” Frustrated beyond measure she kicked the wall. Then she kicked the wall again.

Breton took several deep breaths to calm herself and then she turned and made her way back to the convent. Margot was waiting for her at their bunks. She took one look at the tears on her friend’s face and could immediately guess what had happened.

“Oh no, were you too late?” Margot asked worriedly. Marot wore the glowing green bracelet showing that she was permitted to speak. When her time was up the bracelet would change color need to be returned to the terminal.

Breton nodded in response and she dropped down to sit on her bed with a sigh.

“Well it’s okay. This means you can spend your tokens at the end of the work day all week. You’ll have enough to do that and still use some next gameday.” Margot pointed out.

Of course she was right. They generally earned one token per day, giving them about six hours of time each week the speak. The rules of the order taught that work done in silence would bring one closer to God. It was meant to be a form of contemplation. Breton had long ago accepted that the silence was useful but like everyone in their order, she looked forward to the times when socializing was permitted. It would be useless to spend her tokens during the work week. There would be no one else to talk to.

“Right…” Margot said, guessing her thoughts. “I guess it wouldn’t be any fun without someone to talk to.”

Breton nodded again.

“Maybe we could go talk to Mother Nancy. She might be able to get you a bracelet anyway,” Margot suggested.

Breton shook her head no, emphatically no. Mother Nancy hated her. Breton was always late, always disorganized and for some reason this got on the old woman’s nerves. It would be useless to ask for her help and would probably only serve to make the woman like her even less.

“Are you sure?” Margot asked, concerned. “I wouldn’t mind asking for you.”

Yes, Breton was sure. She would simply watch the tournaments in silence. There was nothing else that could be done about it.

The lines to enter the stadium were excessively long. Everyone in the city attended the tournament. Each order had their own gate and the citizens of the city, those who had completed their service to the church and now lived secular lives, also had their own gates. As Margot and Breton approached the entrance, Breton saw a familiar figure wearing white with a red cross standing to the right of the gate.

“What is that Temp doing over here?” Margot asked. His order was based in the Knight’s Templar which was the military branch of the church. Everyone called the young men wearing white with Red Crosses, Temps.

Breton shrugged in response to Margot’s question. Moments later they got an answer. Patrick moved from where he stood and walked over to the two of them.

“I was hoping I’d see you here Breton,” He said when he had reached them.

Breton felt herself blushing, not because he’d had to have been waiting hours here in hopes of seeing her, but because after all that effort, she couldn’t even speak to him.

“You know her name?” Margot replied for her.

“I do...is she still not speaking today?” He asked, seeing that she wore no bracelet.

“She was too late to spend her tokens today,” Margot explained.

“I see…” Patrick said, sounding disappointed. “I came to tell you that I’ll be in the tournaments today. I am scheduled to fight in round nine. I had hoped…” He trailed off, apparently not quite as bold as he had seemed when they had met on other occasions.

Breton didn’t need an explanation. She knew what he was asking for. It was an ancient custom that had been revived since the tournaments began a hundred years ago. She barely knew Patrick but he had always been nice the few times she had seen him and it was a simple thing to grant his request. Without hesitation she pulled the elastic band from her hair that held her braid in place and reached over placing it in his hand.

“You’re granting me a favor?” He asked, with a bit of a smile.

She nodded, a little embarrassed that she had nothing better to offer him. Many of the men in the games wore brightly colored scarved tied on their arms to make it obvious that they had been granted a favor.

Patrick put the rubber band on his wrist. “Then I thank you, my lady, I will wear it with pride,” He said and with that he left them to enter the arena at the Templar gate.

“What...what just happened?” Margot asked, confused. “I can’t wait until you can talk to me. I need details!”

The pair found a seat in the stadium some ten rows from the front. It wasn’t anywhere near the season for finals yet so there were plenty of seats available. This time of year was only elimination rounds for those who had entered from more rural areas. Anyone could enter the tournaments, male or female, age 12 or older. Each town and village held their own competitions and the winners were sent to compete in larger populated areas until eventually a final tournament would be held in Rome the week of Easter. If Patrick was competing here in London then that meant he had won in a smaller town somewhere and probably won in his entire district as well.

“Welcome to the week 32 of the Oafk tournament,” A voice boomed over the loudspeaker. Oafk was an acronym for Once and Future King. “Today, in honor of Sir Amati, we will feature 22 rounds of competition.

Twenty rounds of competition was standard. In the year 2222, Sir Amati of the Templar Knights had betrayed the rules of his Order and revealed to the world that the Templars had the cup of Christ and had kept it hidden for more than a thousand years. Sir Galahad had found the cup, just as the legend stated and the Templars had been sworn to secrecy to protect it. They also had a single seed in their treasury from the Tree of Life in eden. When Sir Amati made his announcement, most of the world no longer believed in God. The Vatican had been about to close forever. The church had given itself over to secularism. Of course no one believed Sir Amati’s announcement at first. It wasn’t until the man went on national television, drank from the cup, stabbed himself through the heart, only to heal before the eyes of the world that anyone believed him. After that all the Templars, only nine were left, drank from the cup. They planted the seed from the Tree of Life in Rome and they stood guard day and night, tending the tree. Nothing could kill them and their strength was greater than any living man. And thus people found faith and the church rose to power again.

“For the first seven rounds, jousting! Following that ten rounds of swordsmanship!” The announcer called off. “The day will end with a final five rounds of marksmanship. To begin we have Garret Miller of Belfast facing Kevin Wells of Dublin!”

Breton settled down to watch in silence while Margot chatted endlessly with Sara on their right. As the rounds wore on and some of the men left the arena bloody and bruised, she found herself a little worried about Patrick. She wanted him to win, but if he won enough competitions to go to Rome… well she didn’t want him to die. In Rome it could be a fight to the death. Killing was permitted in the Roman arena. It was actually encouraged in Rome to kill one’s opponent. Those who survived could participate in the harvest from the Tree of Life. The rest would never live again.