Fletcher bound the hands of his two prisoners with practised ease, and looped the rope through his horse's bridle. He checked that the bindings weren't too tight - he had no desire to be cruel, but he had a suspicion that all was not as it seemed to be on the surface. Until he could establish the truth, he decided to play it safe.
"Not too tight for you, I trust. Just tell me if you can't move your fingers." he said.
Alonso didn't bother to argue or fight, but he indicated the bare feet of his older companion.
"I can walk quite happily, but this man can't - his feet are blistered and bleeding, and you'll be dragging him on his knees before we've gone a mile."
"I'm not intending to, I'm not daft. I was just waiting for you to ask ..."
He helped the old man to mount the horse, and noted the way that the old man seemed to be quite at ease on the saddle. His suspicions about the pair were rapidly being confirmed. He gave his horse a tap on the hind quarters, and she stopped her grazing and set off back for the camp. Fletcher let her walk ahead a little, and loosed Alonso's bindings so they could walk together. He gathered his thoughts for a moment, and then spoke.
"Let's not beat about the bush here. You might be a monk who is accustomed to walking around barefoot, but that old man on the horse is not, by any stretch of the imagination. I passed a monastery this morning that was buzzing like a nest of hornets that somebody had stuck a pitchfork into the middle of - it was still smouldering from a fire last night. I find you pair skulking in a barn a couple of miles away. Perhaps you'd like to tell me the conclusions that I'm supposed to draw in these circumstances?"
Alonso gave a rueful smile.
"It appears that you have the advantage of us, sir. All I can say is that I believe that we are on the side of the angels, and I hope that I can convince you of that fact"
John Fletcher walked in silence for a while, considering his options. He hadn’t reached the age that he had without developing a nose for trouble and knowing how to steer clear of it. Something about this whole situation was very fishy indeed. In fact it was as fishy as the fish market in Venice, on a hot day at the height of summer when the flies buzzed in vast clouds, the sea gulls wheeled over head looking for an easy meal, and that indefinable miasma that was so characteristic of the city seemed to creep up from the water in the canal like a living force.
He had never had much time for the church, or religion in general for that matter. In his home country of England there was still a lingering distrust of the Catholic church, and it was widely accepted that the Anglican church was little more than a politically convenient construct for the benefit of the monarch. In his experience, people who professed a religious belief fell into three distinct camps. There were those who could say their catechisms, attend the services on a Sunday and knew when to stand up and when to sit down, but it seemed to have little effect on their lives beyond a few pious platitudes. Next came those who genuinely believed in the hell fire and damnation and were prepared to lay down their lives for that faith. The final group were the most worrisome and frightening – the cynics and manipulators who were prepared to use religious belief to further their own greed. They would preach poverty and live in opulent splendor, they would preach peace and wage war and they would promise eternal bliss in the life hereafter whilst inflicting tortures and suffering beyond imagination in the earthly realm.
“So, tell me why you joined the church, Alonso. Do you practice what you preach?”
“Preaching is the last thing that I would ever do, sir. My only desire was to live a life of simplicity and contemplation, not to stand in the pulpit and put the fear of almighty God into the common people.”
“You weren’t born to the life though, were you? I can tell by your features and your comparatively soft hands that you had a noble birth and a privileged upbringing.”
Indeed it was true. Whilst Alonso’s hands were starting to show the calluses of manual labour, they still had the softness of nobility to them. John Fletcher compared them to his own hands – scarred, burnt, dirty, and thick with calluses from having used heavy farm tools from almost before the time he could walk. The farm tools – the threshing flails, pitch forks, spades, forks and the like – had long since been swapped for the instruments of war – swords, daggers and match locks, but the effects were much the same.
“Yes, I admit it. I have not been a Cappuchin brother for very long, but I had intended for it to be my life until the events of recent days. Now, I am not so sure of anything any more.”
Alonso thought back to the events that had set him on the course to a life in the Brotherhood …