Succession 2: Obfuscation (prologue)

A meeting of the staff of Holy Father John Herbert

Holy Father John Herbert took a seat at the head of the meeting table. While his armchair in his quarters was infinitely more comfortable, he didn’t especially want every member of his staff packed into the humble space. It was still a wonder to him that Samuel had managed to find 15 people who wanted to spend their time working to elect an old traditionalist as the next Archbishop. He checked his pocketwatch before turning to his chief of staff, an ambitious young priest named Samuel. “Were we not to be assembled by the seventh bell?” he asked, confusion colouring the question more than impatience.

Samuel inclined his head slightly as he replied. “With the election so close to hand, Father, every moment has become priceless. Many of our brothers and sisters are still working to secure the remaining votes needed.”

“May our Lord bless their work,” Herbert replied with an amiable smile. “But may he also hasten them.”

Within five minutes, the remaining members of their company had arrived, and Samuel called the meeting to order. “At last count,” he proclaimed, “Father Herbert had nine cardinals firmly pledged to vote for him in the upcoming election.” He glanced down at a piece of parchment he’d left on the table in front of him. “Mother Johnson likely has five, Brother Augustus Revidian no fewer than six, and Father Heel a clear four.” He turned his focus on an older woman sitting near the door, one of the last to arrive. Herbert couldn’t remember her name but thought it began with a vowel. “Sister Hannah, what news from Cardinal Nelson’s office?”

Sister Hannah (Yes, Hannah, that was her name!) made to rise but seemed to think better of it and delivered her report sitting. “The Cardinal assures us she will give Father Herbert due consideration but states that her vote will likely hinge upon which candidate demonstrates the clearest understanding of Canon during proceedings.”

Well, that’s one more for Revidian, Herbert thought to himself. While his staff didn’t acknowledge Sister Hannah’s report as partcicularly negative news, the mood in the room had obviously chilled somewhat.

Samuel recovered quickly by pointing to a balding man Herbert recognized as Brother John something. “And what about your meetings with Cardinals Williams, Gentry and Lanning?”

“Well, Williams was one of Brother Augustus’s sponsors,” he said, rising. “It’s no secret he supports Revidian’s plan to militarize the Church in preparation for a confrontation with Tajan. He says he’ll stand by the Archbishop’s illegitimate son no matter how the first vote goes.” Aides all around the room nodded in acceptance. That had been a longshot. “While Gentry and Lannning find Mother Johnson’s platform of focusing on the love of Tatavul most in accordance with their views, they see Father Herbert’s leadership as a viable compromise in contrast to the more militant candidates. They assure me that if he gets a clear plurality in the first round, then they’ll switch their support to him in the second round.”

That elicited a few muted cheers and even one clap from the assembled faithful. A plurailty of votes in the first ballot was a decent possibility for Herbert at this point, and two additional votes in the second round made victory on the third ballot attainable. Even Samuel had allowed himself a smile at the news. “Excellent words, Brother John.” He turned to a trio of aides far too young for Herbert to have learned their names yet. “Have we heard back from any of Father Heel’s supporters?”

The youth in the center stood, his voice carrying just a hint of nervous tremble as he thumbed the edge of his robe and delivered his report. “While Father Heel may be extreme, his supporters are steadfast. All four Cardinals have openly pledged their support and refuse to discuss plans beyond the first ballot.”

Samuel nodded, and the youth took his seat again. “I’ve spoken with Cardinals Cornyn and Scott just this morning, and they believe they can convince Cardinal Rolston to vote with them when the time comes. She’s been devilishly opaque throughout the process, and this is the first indication we’ve had of where her loyalties may lie. It’s far from a sure thing, however.”

And so the conversation continued, consuming most of the morning as reasonable projections devolved into speculation and hypothetical analysis. Herbert had little enough patience for politics and was content to let Samuel handle the business of the election. If he’d had his way, Archbishop Revidian’s son would have been his successor, a steady hand at the tiller of the Church, continuing his father’s good work. But the boy, while devout, had proven to be more militaristic than his father, leaving no one else but Herbert in a position to continue Alexander’s work. It wasn’t the life he’d choose for himself, but he would serve their Lord in whatever capacity he was called to. For him, the highest office in the Church was the position of humblest servanthood, performing a task he’d rather leave to another.

The meeting finally wound to a close with Samuel encouraging the various teams on the assembled staff to keep up their good work. “Victory is within sight,” he assured them. “We take nothing for granted, but each of the other candidates would rather be in Father Herbert’s position than their own. You all have your assignments. Fight the good fight, and if our Lord is willing, we’ll soon be celebrating the election of the greatest Archbishop of our age. Tatavul go with you all.” He tapped a gavel on the table to signify the offical ending of the meeting. Herbert wondered idly where the gavel had come from. It hadn’t been on the table when they sat down.

After the rest of the room had emptied, Samuel turnd to Herbert and looked quizically at him. “We’ve had generally positive news today, Father,” he said. “Yet you look downcast. Does something trouble you?”

Herbert rose from his seat shakily. He wasn’t a young man anymore, and the challenges of campaigning for Archbishop had taken a toll on him these past few months. Even Samuel’s adept stewardship could only deflect so much of the strain. “I am well, my son, but tired,” he assured Samuel. “I think I’ll take some rest in my chambers for a time.”

“Of course, Father. I have a meeting with Cardinal Rennick after midday and will report to you afterward. Though he firmly supports your bid, I’ve heard a rumour that he’s suggested he may vote differently if a second ballot is necessary. We need to shore up support among the core Cardinals or risk losing them as we pursue undecided votes.”

Herbert tried to add Rennick’s uncertain support to his mental tally but found the numbers already too jumbled. “A noble efort, my son,” he said, attempting to cover his confusion. “Come see me afterward and let me know how it goes. May Tatavul go with you.” Samuel inclined his head silently before turning and leaving the older man alone. Father Herbert checked his pocketwatch one more time before heaving himself to his feet and shuffling toward his personal chambers. Politics were clearly a young man’s game.



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