Stiff-backed, he stood, staring at the carved statue behind the alter, blinking as he ordered his thoughts. Finally, he turned; raised both eyebrows at the priest standing behind him and off to the side.
The man gulped. One was always careful to speak respectfully to the King, even if he was… well, a word the priest would not use. He knew, however, he could not brush this away like he might have done before. Damn the boy. What, by the All-Mighty, could have gotten into his head?
“I am sure, Sire,” he started, hands clasped behind his back. He must, he decided, speak sternly to the boy once they were done here, perhaps even instill the lesson further with a silver-birch branch to the hide. “He meant no disrespect.”
A frown. “God means no disrespect?” His eyebrows rose further. That look; skeptical with the dark rumbling of a storm deep inside. “I allow no disrespect. I was led to understand that God was of a higher calling?”
“Yes, of course, Sire…” he stumbled on, “I meant.. this must surely be a test of faith.” He kept his eyes cast downwards. Men had been killed for less.
“Yes. There have been many times when humans…”
“Yes, yes,” he scowled, waving a hand to silence the priest. How he hated priests, the arrogant assurance they, of all people, held the direct line to a god he’d long suspected did not exist. Until now there had been no way to discredit the church without people rising against him. Now, he had his own God to follow.
“Hummm,” he mused, tapping a finger against his bottom lip, “if it is, as you say, a test then all is well. If I was mistaken to trust him, however, I suppose then I have no need for his help. Or his church.” Or priests, left unsaid.
“Perhaps this is a test as you say. Perhaps not. I shall have to ponder these thoughts for some time.” Stepping outside, the King stopped on the steps, looking down at the Captain of his Guard. The man bowed his head.
“It is done, Sire.”
“Good.” He strode down the steps, dusting the stench of the church off his hands. Reaching his Captain, he paused, taking in the ring of guards surrounding the Church, a torch held aloft by each man.
Another man, dressed in common clothes, appeared round the side of the church. “It is done,” he said eagerly as he bowed. “I said just what you told me to say.”
“I told you nothing to say.”
The man frowned then bowed again. “Of course not, Sire. I was mistaken.”
“And the boy behind the statue?”
“He will never be found, Sire.”
“Good.” The King looked around once more, satisfaction swelling in his chest. This was how one ruled a kingdom.
“Do it,” he ordered.
Behind him, soldiers moved to the church, thrusting torches into the dying bushes tucked around the base. Tinder-dry wood burst to flames.
He walked away, events of the morning already done and forgotten.