They returned to Cambridge Hall to find a line of men at the entrance, each with a thick document in hand. Amos proceeded ahead of them into the hall, where one of his colleagues was coordinating with one of the elders of the Church. It had unofficially ruled Cambridge County for several years, and was now treated as the legitimate government by the Provisional Commonwealth.

The men outside composed the deacons and elders representing the church government, which consisted of the elders and deacons’ boards. Each church parish elected an elder to serve on the council, with the number of deacons determined by a parish’s population. Only Church members could vote for the deacons, who were the only ones allowed to vote on the elders. The joint boards approved all new church members nominated at the parish churches. However, only married men with at least three children could become members. Although Amos and his puritans controlled the former house of worship, the restored chapel within the hall was used as a gathering and meeting place for the Church Council.

As reach man entered, he presented documents demonstrating his church membership and election as either a deacon or elder. Once Amos’ man and the ranking church elder confirmed their identity, they were ushered into the chapel and shown their assigned place in the pews.

Amos and Jedidiah entered the chapel and took seats in the front that were reserved for them. Above them, the bell tower continued to bellow like an aged hound. When it ceased, an unsettling peace fell over the room.

They waited until the last deacon found his place, before promptly rising at the sound of marching footsteps.

At the chapel entryway, Archbishop Edward Hughes and the ranking elders strove into the room and down the center between the aisle. Hughes was around Amos’ age, yet seemed to possess a more youthful appearance. He was shorter and walked at a faster pace. Like the rest of the men in the pews, he dressed plainly in a modest but well-tailored suit, with an orange sash thrown over his shoulder to signify his position.

The elders walking beside him visibly carried holstered weapons, their trigger fingers dangling in anticipation as they moved.

As he walked past Amos’ row, Hughes looked his way and gestured in a friendly manner. Taking the pulpit, Hughes led the council in a brief prayer before opening the same thick document each man held in his lap.

He could hardly contain his enthusiasm as he spoke. “We are here to approve this constitution proposal for recommendation at the Commonwealth Council, designating the Church as the legitimate government and the archbishop as the head of state. At long last, we will have this matter settled for good and all. I have spoken with other members of the council about our proposal. While our supporters don’t constitute a majority, there are enough for us to force the discussion. Once a motion has been made and seconded, I’m certain we can persuade others to join us.”

The chapel shook gently as the men clapped in their seats, including several of the puritans. Amos kept still.

“Are there any objections to the draft as proposed?” Hughes asked.

No one spoke.

“Do I hear a motion to adopt the constitutional proposal?” Hughes said.

“So motioned,” an elder declared.

“Seconded,” another added hastily.

“It’s been motioned and seconded. Any discussion?”

When no one else spoke, Hughes smiled. “All in favor, say ‘ay.’”

The room thundered. “Ay!”

“Opposed?”

Silence.

Hughes struck the pulpit with a small hammer. “The motion passes.”

As one, the Church Council leapt out of their pews and cheered, shaking hands as they held their copies of the constitution up high, as though wielding a rifle. The scribe copied the notes down and then sent word out immediately.

The men continued to celebrate as Hughes came down from the pulp and approached Amos. “It is a wonderful day, my friend.”

“Yes.”

“We have much to thank from you for all your work here.”

“Yes, sir.”

Hughes seemed intrigued. “You sound awfully composed despite the occasion. I would have thought you would be excited to see this happen.”

“I’m waiting to see how the Commonwealth reacts.”

“Well, let us hope they will look at our county as an example of what such a government would look like imposed on the whole of the nation.”

Amos nodded and patted Jedidiah on the shoulder.

“Well, that was short,” Jedidiah said.

“The meeting was a formality,” Amos replied. “They are eager to celebrate.”

“Will you join them?”

“No. Neither will you. We have work to do.”

“Can’t we take the rest of the day off?” one of Amos’ men asked from farther down the pew. “It’s not every day something like this happens.”

“It’s going to happen whether we celebrate it or not,” Amos said as he got up and headed to the entryway. “Meanwhile, there are people out there with a bounty on their head. That’s how we earn a living.”

He brought his men into the corridor as the church councilmembers emptied out of the chapel and exited onto the street. A small crowd of their wives and children were outside to greet them, dressed in traditional folk clothes. Farther down the street, people were assembling booths and decorations to celebrate the vote. A parade and festivities were planned later that evening.

In a separate room with his men, Amos turned to Laurence, who sat in a large chair in front of a desk swarmed with computer equipment and a wall covered with monitors. He was physically frail, and because of that remained at the chapel collecting crime tips and intelligence while the others went out on raids.

“Have you heard anything new about the illegal theater operation?” Amos inquired.

“I’m getting back with the person who reported the tip,” he replied. “They should get back to me later today with something tangible.”

“If they have a time and location, we need to be prepared to go in immediately. I want our vehicles cleaned and routine maintenance performed before then.”

He then dismissed them and stood by Laurence, handing him the sexbot hard drive. “We’re trying to track the manufacturer of the bots or the software.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

***

Amos stepped into his office and found Hughes standing at his desk.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

Hughes didn’t answer right away. He smiled and looked at the bookshelf, half-filled with titles. The empty space on each shelf was covered with small, random items. Yet, Hughes seemed to recognize their meaning as he picked up Amos’ copy of the Church’s Confession of Faith.

“It’s well-thumbed,” he noted. “I’m pleased.”

“It seems appropriate, sir,” Amos responded.

Hughes put the book down. “Is there a reason you didn’t vote today? You are technically a member of the church council.”

“It’s an honorary title.”

“But you still could have voted.”

“We both knew it would receive full support. The only reason for me to vote would have been for ceremony, or if I was interested in politics and needed my name on that document.”

“You’re not?”

Amos spoke firmly. “No. I didn’t ask for the council membership. I won’t reject it, but I’m not interested in holding office.”

With a troubled look, Hughes sat down at Amos’ desk. “That’s what concerns me, my friend. You are a leader. Everyone respects you, particularly your men. Yet, you have no desire to take on a bigger role.”

Hughes quickly added, “To be sure, you have done so much. You took part in a terrible conflict, and after you survived all that, you’ve fought even harder to make sure our people are protected. God knows I would not have the stomach to do your work.”

“Likewise, I don’t have a stomach for politics, sir.”

“It won’t be like before, Cavendish. This government will be different. Things are about to change. For the first time in centuries, we will be ruled by those whose explicit obligation is to preserve and defend our faith. A Christian government for a Christian people.”

“I know.”

“Then will you at least join us for the festival tonight?”

“I think I will celebrate, at home.”

Hughes stood up, grinning with self-assurance as he held up one of the items from the bookshelf, a small plastic doll. “I have a feeling something will change your mind in due time. Just as it was changed then.”

He set the doll down and, with a short wave, departed, leaving Amos to sit at his desk with an unsettled expression. He picked up the Confession of Faith and put it back on the pile of books by the shelf. He glared at the doll, then turned away to answer a call from Jedidiah.

“We’ve finished routine maintenance on the vehicles. Everything is set.”

“Good.”

“Are you alright, sir? You sound upset.”

“I’ve changed my mind. Once you have put away all the tools, everyone can take the rest of the day off. Enjoy the parade, if you want.”

“Oh, very well, sir.”

Amos threw his wool coat on and hurried through the corridor before anyone could stop him. He muttered something to Laurence about alerting him to any updates, even if it was late at night, before pushing himself out the entrance.

One of the ranking elders still talking outside the hall recognized Amos and called to him. “Won’t you join us for dinner?”

“No, thank you. I’ve already made plans tonight.”

Walking down the street, Amos passed through the crowds forming around the main square in the center of town, where a large cross was erected, a plaque at its base declaring it in tribute to those who had died during the Turbulent Era. The marching band had formed at the end of the street, where it would take a route around the downtown area. In the main square, the young gathered and laughed together as they stood excitedly, the boys in their waistcoats and the girls in their dresses. Dotting the square and maintaining a low profile were a handful of puritans enforcing the church’s civil decrees.

Amos made a long study of the scene as he lit his pipe and smoked, but then put it out when someone identified him by his scars and spoke his name.

Before others realized who was among them, he had disappeared.

***

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

Previous installments:

  1. Prologue
  2. Chapter 1