The chapel in Cambridge Hall was humid and dim. The light radiating through the stained-glass windows absorbed by the dark attire of those gathered. They were seated in the pews so that every spot was filled, while the nonvoting members of the Commonwealth Council stood at the sides and near the doors. Despite the great assembly, there was a strange, quiet air pervading over them as they whispered to each other.

Amos stood with the other nonvoting members by the door, including Jedidiah. Hughes was in the front pews on the right-hand side of the center aisle, his lofty hat marking him as the leader of his unofficial political faction. The heads of the other factions were easily noted by the additional space given by those sitting beside them. The group of corrupt officials were also seated in the front pews near Hughes, on the left-hand side. The number of heads turned toward their leader, Christoph, suggested they had a solid voting bloc, but it was not evident he had more supporters than Hughes or any of the other blocs.

Without any sort of ceremony, the doors opened as the speaker of the Council entered with an armed escort. The Councilmen rose from their seat out of respect as he proceeded down the aisle and took up his place at the pulpit. A hefty book in hand, he opened it up and cleared his throat.

“Before we begin, let us start with a moment of silent prayer in honor of those whose service to this nation through a terrible conflict has allowed us to gather today to determine its future.”

All heads bowed, save for Amos’. He surveyed the chapel and then stared at the wall behind the pulpit. Some men from Hughes’ faction broke from their meditation to look at Amos. He ignored them.

When the moment of prayer was over, the Speaker cleared his throat again. “The first order of business is proposals for a new government. Are there any such constitutions proposed?”

Hughes and Christoph both raised their hands and called out in one voice. The Speaker selected Christoph to go first.

“I propose the creation of a parliamentary constitution, the draft of which has been sent to all voting members in advance of this meeting,” he declared. “As I’m sure you have all read it, the parliament will be made up of appointed members by their respective county governments, who will then elect a chancellor.”

“Does anyone second the motion?” the Speaker asked.

One of Christoph’s men raised his hand.

“The motion has been seconded. Now let us hear any other proposals for another constitution.”

Hughes stood up with his propped constitution in hand. His strong voice thundered across the room. “The Church of Cambridge has been a shining beacon to the whole nation as an example of good governance. It has carried out the will of the Commonwealth. As you have seen from the draft that I also sent to you all, I and the Church Council believe this model should be replicated throughout the nation. We must never again allow the evils that plagued us before to take over again. That will only happen if we accept no less than a Christian government for a Christian people!”

The men surrounding Hughes clapped their hands in support. The other side of the aisle was polite, but silent.

“Does anyone second the motion?” the Speaker asked.

One of Hughes’ men raised his hand.

“The motion has been seconded. Are there any other proposed constitutions?”

No one spoke. The Speaker waited for a little while longer, then pounded the gavel. “All proposals have been made. Is there any discussion?”

Christoph once again was first to speak. “Mr. Speaker, I believe I speak for many members of this Council when I say that there is good reason to avoid conflating the church and government. Many of us would prefer to be ruled people elected to their offices.”

“They would be,” Hughes responded. “Every member of the Church Council is elected to their position.”

“But they must be a member of the church in order to vote, correct? Does that create cause for concern over whether someone might be kept out of church membership to deny their right to vote or hold office?”

Hughes was unfazed. “Such a scenario has already been done in this nation. Do we not require citizenship before people can vote? Merely living in this country has not given people the right to vote. And have we not stripped the citizenship of people born here due to their past crimes? As written in my proposed constitution, the rules for church membership are clearly defined and cannot be altered except by a lengthy process in which any legitimate objections could be heard and a supermajority vote by the church council would be required.”

“Whatever the case, I think such a system would create an unhealthy connection between political issues and worship,” Christoph replied.

“I would remind this council that we fought a bloody war for decades because the exact opposite situation arose. Already, the Commonwealth enforces moral virtues and condemned debauchery. Were the Church to take over, there would be few changes regarding the kind of laws we would enforce.”

“The rules wouldn’t change,” Christoph quipped, “just those enforcing them.”

Hughes gestured at Amos. “Veterans of the Turbulent Era like Mr. Cavendish here have enforced those laws so far.” He then added, with just a slight emphasis, “And that would not change were this government elected.”

“The issue at hand is accountability,” Christoph said, still standing at his pew. “Mr. Speaker, I would submit to all here that the parliamentary system would ensure that those in government office would be held accountable for their conduct. I fear that were men in spiritual authority to wield political power, it would make it far more difficult. It is not hard to see how they might accuse someone opposed to their actions of opposing the Church, and therefore God.”

“No one man is the Church,” Hughes said. “And the Church is not found in any one man.”

“Imagine what troubles two or three Church elders could cause to this entire nation were they to misuse their offices. Dissenters could easily be written off as ‘sinners’ in rebellion against godly authority.”

“Similar accusations were made up in the past by secular politicians against anyone who opposed them. However, instead of calling them ‘sinners,’ they called them ‘traitors, ‘bigots,’ and ‘racists.’ The temptations to abuse power is there…no matter what title you give someone.”

“I would assume that this means you become head of both church and state?” one of Christoph’s supporters said to Hughes.

“I will remain head archbishop of my county,” Hughes said. “However, a new vote would be required for the larger church council that would be formed.”

“Are we wrong to assume you intend to run for that position then?”

“If nominated, I will run. If elected, I will serve. But only if others nominate and elect me. That is the extent of my ambition. Is it the same for you, Christoph?”

There was a pause before Christoph answered. “That will depend on the manner of government we choose today.”

The chapel once again grew quiet. The Speaker then called for any further discussion. Hughes and Christoph studied each other and the men around them, but did not say anything. When no one else spoke, the Speaker closed the discussion.

“Gentlemen, you may now cast your ballot once you receive it, then hand it to one of the clerks,” he said as men moved down the aisle.

One by one, the councilmembers took the ballots they were given, each with a special stamp on the side preventing duplication. Writing down their chosen government based on its official designated name, they then sealed the ballot in a security envelope and handed it to the ushers. After all the ballots were collected, the clerks returned to the front of the chapel near the altar and began opening the envelopes and meticulously recording each vote.

During that time, Amos remained in his place by the chapel entrance. In his hand, he held his tattered Bible close to his chest. His mouth moved slightly, but nothing audible could be heard by Jedidiah or anyone else. Now seated, Hughes glanced back at Amos as if looking for reassurance. Amos maintained a statue-like expression.

“Have the votes been counted?” the Speaker inquired.

“Yes, sir!” a clerk said.

All conversations ceased.

“Will the final tally be announced?” the Speaker asked.

The clerk stood up with a sheet in his hand. In a brief instant, he exchanged looks with Christoph.

“The final tally is as follows: 40 in favor of the parliamentary constitution, 33 in favor of the church constitution. The parliamentary constitution has received the majority vote.”

There was no outburst of celebration to the announcement. Instead, the councilmembers on the left side held themselves with an air of self-assuredness as they leaned back in their seats. Christoph smiled as the Speaker ordered the vote to be recorded in the meeting minutes. On the right side, Hughes and his backers tried not to show their disappointment. But there was an unmistakable air they conveyed that the vote was merely the portent of other things to come.

“Moving onto to new business,” the Speaker stated.

Amos slowly moved to the front of the aisle. “Mr. Speaker, there is something I would like to say to this council. Do I have your permission to speak?”

All eyes in the room turned to him. The Speaker seemed unprepared for the request, but shrugged as he waved him forward. “You certainly are free to speak, sir.”

Walking up the center aisle, Amos stood just below the pulpit near the table where the clerks held the stack of ballots. Still clasping his Bible tight, he spoke loud enough to be heard by all.

“Gentlemen, many of you know who I am. But for those who do not, I am Amos Cavendish. I am one of the many ‘puritans’ who have sought to enforce the will of this Commonwealth since the provisional government was formed. More importantly, I can say something that none of you here can: I lived through the Turbulent Era that you just earlier referenced. I cannot and will not attempt to convey the horrible things that I saw before and during that time. It is enough for you to hear that everything a man can love was taken away from me. It was also not taken away slowly. I was forced to witness and observe atrocities that even now are written off as propaganda. More than that, my friends and I did things in order to survive that I cannot mention here. Winning wasn’t even a thought. We just wanted to be alive and to have a life worth living, a world where all things that are good and beautiful are cherished; we wanted to build a world that loved life and hated death.”

He then held out his Bible, showing those in the pews nearest to him the pages still holding the bullet. “God was gracious to me. Others did not receive such mercy. Many died. And many of those who lived lost that spirit in their eyes that might have allowed them to enjoy peace. But then there were those of us who endured. We kept our spirits alive when all seemed lost or another one of our friends was killed. We refused to surrender or give into despair. What kept us going year after year after year of suffering was a hope that one day, we would see a better world come about. It was such people of stout hearts and perseverance who achieved victory. They are the ones who made this new world possible. They are the ones you ostensibly honored just now. We spent our best years in war. Then, finally, we carved out a moment of peace. Rather than the destruction of our customs and ways of life, our communities celebrate their heritage and faith in God. We come home to find harmony and joy, rather than division and strife.”

Snapping the Bible shut, he placed it on the table in front of the clerks. His eyes narrowed as he placed his hands on his hips. “It was my prayer that today would finally resolve the matter and put us on the path toward long-lasting peace. But I must admit I was terribly mistaken.”

The pews creaked as the councilmembers shifted uneasily in their seats.

“You might be thinking that I am opposed to this new government,” Amos continued. “But that was never the issue to men like me. A government is like a wineskin; if the wine is old, it will burst, and corrupt men will ruin any government they fill, whether it be a parliament or a church council. That is precisely what I see here, gentlemen. A government without justice is no more than highway robbers; if only you had stooped just low enough to merely steal! Rather than be humbled by the great responsibility that has fallen onto your shoulders to carry on the work my generation started, how have you responded? After all the carnage this nation suffered to rid ourselves of the rot within, after the campaigns to restore civil order, you now put all that in jeopardy with your dishonest and crooked schemes! We’ve scarcely recovered from the evil that I fought against and you now seek to infect this government at its birth with that same evil with your plots and schemes for power!”

“Objection, Mr. Speaker!” Christoph protested. “I would demand that Mr. Cavendish present evidence to support his accusations. If not, then I insist he be reprimanded for his comments and his statements be stricken from the minutes.”

Councilmembers nervously murmured in agreement.

The Speaker turned to Amos. “Do you have any proof you wish to bring before this body?”

Amos nodded, then gestured to Jedidiah at the entrance. Grinning, Jedidiah opened the doors as Ronnie walked in. A small group of men near Christoph instinctively gasped as he appeared, while their leader remained aloof.

Ronnie came over to Amos, mimicking his stance. He smiled at Christoph and the others. “Shall I speak, or is my presence enough?”

“This man is a traitor with a bounty on his head!” Christoph insisted. “He should be removed immediately and placed under arrest!”

“He’s not going anywhere,” Amos said.

“It is not for you to decide that!”

Amos turned his head slightly. “Is it?”

He then once more waved to Jedidiah, who then wordlessly signaled to one of the nonvoting members in the back. Two of the other doors in the back of the chapel opened as Amos’ mercenaries entered. All were armed with powerful, high-capacity rifles and thick body armor. Jedidiah also took out his rifle and held it at the ready.

A roar erupted within the pews but was quickly silenced when the mercenaries cocked their weapons as though on the verge of shooting. Hughes and his faction were baffled as they remained seated.

“How dare you!” Christoph exclaimed. “This is a violation of Commonwealth law!”

“I must concede that point, since you’ve become quite an expert on violating that law,” Amos said as he took out his pistol and held it close to his chest. “That is why the order was given to kill Meyer as soon as his location was made available. You didn’t even bother to find out if anyone else might have been caught up in the blast.”

“Mr. Cavendish, these men must leave at once,” the Speaker ordered.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Speaker, but out of necessity, I am compelled to keep them here for now.”

“The army will be called in!”

Amos chuckled. “For such a small army, you should have paid them better. Your bounties that we’ve collected were more than enough to buy the loyalty of those stationed at the city’s base.”

Christoph was speechless for a while. Then he asked, “What do you want?”

“This assembly is a farce and a disgrace. Any new government it approves will be tainted by it. Because of that, this Council is hereby disbanded!”

The command left everyone speechless.

“You can’t do that!” Christoph declared.

“You seem to ignore the fact that I have the floor,” Amos replied, his pistol now at his side. “Anyone who refuses to leave will be considered a traitor to the nation and treated accordingly.”

At first, no one moved. Then Amos ordered his men to escort them out of their pews. Before they could act, Christoph defiantly left his seat and confronted Amos. Ronnie went for his gun, but Amos restrained him.

Now close to Amos, Christoph grinned arrogantly. “What are you going to do? Shoot us? Shoot me? You wouldn’t dare. It would be considered an assassination, not to mention conspiracy to overthrow the Commonwealth.”

“I’m not trying to overthrow the Commonwealth,” Amos replied. “Merely to make sure men like you never rule it.”

“That is not for you to say.”

“He who has no gun should not speak to one who does as though it were the other way around,” Ronnie said.

“Why?” Christoph taunted. “He won’t kill me. He knows what will happen if he does. Does he really want to bring such grief to his family?”

Amos did not respond.

“Face it, we won,” Christoph went on. “This is our government now. You can either accept its rule, or be crushed by it. Choose carefully.”

A shot was fired. Christoph blinked rapidly at Amos, then his eyes went up into his head as he collapsed on the ground in front of the altar. Standing behind the corpse was Jedidiah, his gun barrel still smoking. He holstered his weapon and turned the body over, gazing at the fatal wound in Christoph’s head.

Addressing at the rest of the Council, Jedidiah offered a grim warning. “This isn’t a game. Leave, or you will all join him.”

No one resisted as the mercenaries brought them into the aisle and out the doors. Hughes lingered until he had a chance to break off and approach Amos.

“I pray you’ll do the right thing now,” he said.

“For whom? The nation, or you?”

“Why must they be separate?”

“They are.”

Amos waved him away. Jedidiah took Hughes and led him out, then locked the doors. He turned around and approached Amos triumphantly. “The floor is now permanently yours.”

“Yes,” Ronnie said wryly. “What do you intend to do now, my friend?”

Moving toward the pulpit, Amos leaned against it as the remainder of his men gathered at the front pews beneath him, regarding him with a sense of awe and reverence. With his eyes closed, Amos seemed as though in prayer. The others went to join him, but he abruptly broke away and snatched his old Bible from the table below and moved to the edge of the pews.

“What are your orders, sir?” Jedidiah asked. “What do we do now?”

“You have no choice,” Ronnie said to Amos. “You must take over as chancellor.”

“You mean ‘dictator?’”

“Whatever you want to call it. Emperor. Lord. King. President. Prime Minister. Does it matter what you call yourself?”

“It matters what I am.”

“You are the man this nation needs to keep it intact. You just saved it. You can’t let this opportunity slip away.”

“This is Hughes talking.”

“No. It’s the man who thought there was nothing left to hope for that is talking right now. I’m willing to admit I was wrong, if you prove it. Your choice.”

After a long moment of silence, Amos ordered them all to leave the chapel. They were reluctant at first, until he lashed out in anger. His outburst spurred all but Ronnie through the doors. He remained just inside with his hand clasped around the doorknob.

“What world am I walking out into?” he asked.

“You will find out when I join you.”

Nodding his head, Ronnie opened the door and departed. Now alone, Amos fell to his knees and opened his Bible at random. Whatever passage he came across failed to satisfy him. He closed it and finally prayed with such intensity he appeared to be suffering from a seizure. Eventually, he became still and picked himself up from the ground. Holding his Bible at his side, he walked down the aisle and out the door with a serene look about him that contrasted with the disturbance taking place outside.

***

The disgruntled Commonwealth councilmembers had gathered along the street declaring treason to a bewildered crowd. Most of Amos’ men stood at the front entrance with their rifles pointed at the mass of politicians. Though some seemed persuaded by the councilmembers, none dared to come near Cambridge Hall.

The shouts grew louder and louder until they saw Amos appear at the door.

Quieted, they waited for him to speak.

He looked as if ready to give a speech. Instead, he called Ronnie and Jedidiah to his side.

“Let’s go for a walk in the park, shall we?” he said.

“I’m for it,” Ronnie replied.

The mass of councilmembers parted as the three men moved through their midst and onto the sidewalk.

As they headed to the park, an old woman stopped Amos. “What kind of government did you make?”

With a small grin, Amos gently placed his hand on her shoulder. “None. Let’s see how the people respond. Then I’ll know what kind of government they need, if they need one at all.”

In the park, Mrs. Cavendish was playing with their children near the gazebo. Thomas sat on its steps. His face was still partially bandaged. Amos approached them with a reserved smile.

“Is it over?” Mrs. Cavendish asked.

Amos picked up several of his children and held them in his arms as he kissed his wife, then sat beside Thomas.

“Feeling better?” Amos asked.

“Much better, sir. The doctor said some of the scars should heal completely.”

“I hope so.”

***

For all installments from The Pilgrim’s Digress, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Prologue
  2. Chapter 1
  3. Chapter 2
  4. Chapter 3
  5. Chapter 4
  6. Chapter 5
  7. Chapter 6
  8. Chapter 7
  9. Chapter 8
  10. Chapter 9
  11. Chapter 10