Father Brandt's eyes went wide as he realized who stood on his doorstep.

Father Brandt’s eyes went wide as he realized who stood on his doorstep. Had the Princess suddenly taken a turn? Or was it another of the children…?

“Father,” the King said, realizing what the priest must have been thinking, “we are all well. I am only come to speak with you for a moment.”

Brandt stared at him. “So late?”

Sigefrith shrugged awkwardly. “I only just returned. And I thought I had a better chance of finding you here now than during the day…”

Brandt stepped back into the house and waved the King inside. “They come at all hours,” he sighed. “The fevers are worse at night.”

'The fevers are worse at night.'

“Then I am fortunate to find you here,” Sigefrith muttered.

“It is abating,” Brandt said as he lighted a candle. “Nearly all of the babies have either died or had the illness, and they don’t have it twice. There are none left to sicken now.”

“I suppose we should be grateful,” Sigefrith said wearily as he sat.

'I suppose we should be grateful.'

“Now they begin to die of hunger.”

“I came to speak to you of that. Oh, Father,” Sigefrith whispered as Brandt sat before him and his face entered the ring of candlelight. “You look as if you’ve…”

Brandt sat before him and his face entered the ring of candlelight.

“I believe the expression Your Majesty employs is ‘as if I have been dragged face-​​down through hell,’ is it not so?” Brandt asked with a thin smile.

“That’s so,” Sigefrith said a little sheepishly. “I believe that if there is anyone who has suffered more than I this winter, it is you, Father. All these are your people as well. I should not like to be a priest.”

“Nor I a king,” Brandt chuckled. “‘When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone,’” he quoted.

“I have considered ‘departing again into a mountain’ many times over this winter.”

'I have considered 'departing again into a mountain' many times over this winter.'

“As have I,” Brandt said, and he laid his aching forehead in his hand.

“Indeed, that is what I did a few days ago.”

“I was told.”

“I went to speak with the abbot.”

“This was I not told.” Brandt scowled at the mere thought of that vain and avaricious prelate, with his silk robes, and his prancing horses with their gilded bridles, and his feasts and his French wine, and his–

Brandt scowled at the mere thought of that vain and avaricious prelate.

“I am sorry,” Sigefrith said, interrupting his catalog of contempt, “but I shan’t speak of what we discussed. However, I am come to make a request of you: namely, that you open the tithe barns tomorrow and feed our people.”

“Praise God!” Brandt cried. “He has heard our prayers and opened the abbot’s heart!”

“Ah – no,” Sigefrith said. “I shan’t speak of what I think of the abbot’s heart, either. I have simply reclaimed them.”

“Reclaimed them? Is that not a polite way for to speak of theft?”

'Is that not a polite way for to speak of theft?'

“No, I don’t agree. I did not take them from the Church, only from the abbot. You are to have the oversight of them now.”

“I?” Brandt gasped. “I am no abbot! I am but a parish priest.”

“As parish priest, you know better than the abbot the needs of our people.”

“But it is not for me to handle such affairs…”

“In this valley you are the highest ecclesiastical authority, therefore – ”

'In this valley you are the highest ecclesiastical authority, therefore--'

“I am the only ecclesiastical authority, not to say no authority at all!”

“Father, think of this: what has the abbot done for our people? What has he done for our church? He has taken our grain and taken our silver for ten years, and what has he done for us in return? All the work on and of and by the church, all that you give to the poor, it all comes from me, not from my tithes. Those tithes should be going, at least in part, to my church, my people. I am merely ensuring that it is so. If, at the end of the year, you find you have more than you need, you may certainly send it up the mountain to the abbot, if you believe it best.”

Brandt shook his head slowly. “I like it not. It is not how such is done.”

'I like it not.'

Sigefrith thought for a moment. “Father, tell me this: if the abbot ordered you to do something that was contrary to the teachings of the Church, would you be obliged to obey?”

“No. The abbot is only a man.”

“Then if the abbot, by his actions, does something which is contrary to the teachings of the Church, and you may act to correct this thing, would you not be obliged to so act?”

Brandt blinked in confusion. “Forgive me, I am tired this night…”

'Forgive me, I am tired this night...'

“Father, I am only trying to correct a wrong which has been done us. The abbot – and I say the abbot, not the Church – has been taking from us more than he deserves, and giving us less than what he owes. Is that not theft? Now, verily, our people our dying because of this wrong. What shall we do?”

Brandt sighed. “I know not. I must pray for guidance.”

'I know not.  I must pray for guidance.'

“That is right. I shall leave you now. Send to me tomorrow for men to help distribute the grain.”

“Your Majesty knows already what guidance I shall receive?”

“No, but I shall be praying likewise.”

'No, but I shall be praying likewise.'