Amos could sense the tension awaiting him in the chapel before the hefty wooden doors opened. As Hughes went inside, he looked over at the front doors to the hall, then quickly entered. Curious, Amos did the same, finding a young man sitting on a bench against the wall. Two Church guards in their ceremonial uniforms stood on his left and right, their hands on their holstered guns. Near the man was a woman and two small children crying softly by her side.

Amos said nothing as he entered the chapel and found the elders’ council sitting in the front pews. All of them were in their thirties and, like Hughes, possessed an uncanny youthfulness that Amos no longer had. Although they held themselves in the same solemn manner, it lacked the self-confidence borne from experience as the puritans walking down the center.

Hughes took his place at the pulpit and called the meeting to order. He made a motion to have Amos added as a provisional member for the duration of the meeting. After the motion was seconded and vote unanimous, Amos took a seat in the front pew and warily crossed his arms.

“What is this all about?” he demanded. “I take it that young man sitting out there is the cause for this.”

The elders murmured.

“You’re quite right,” Hughes replied. “His name doesn’t matter. What matters is that he has violated several Church laws concerning public speech. During the festival, he got up and spoke out against our requirement that a man must have three children in order to serve on the councils.”

“That would make sense, since he only has two children.”

“Yet, he caused a terrible commotion in doing so. He harshly criticized several elders personally, including myself. He questioned our motives for the requirement. Things became so bad that it started a feud, and our guards had to intervene.”

“Then what’s the meeting about?” Amos asked.

“The punishment for breaking public speech codes is clear: he is to be put in the stocks in the main square, then fined and his church membership revoked. However, some of us are concerned about whether or not it is appropriate.”

One of the elders cleared his throat.

“There’s more,” Hughes added. “He’s an architect, and a very good one at that. We hoped he would help us design our new church.”

“I’m confused,” Amos remarked. “What is it that makes you reluctant to punish him? You think the punishment is unjust, or are you afraid to punish him because you think he won’t design your church?”

“Both,” an elder said. “We can’t let his behavior go unchallenged. He’s attacked this council and the archbishop. We can’t tolerate such talk, especially when the Commonwealth will assemble here soon for the constitutional vote. If we can’t keep social order in our own capital, what business do we have proposing similar rule over the rest of the nation? On the other hand, some of us wonder if this is the right course to take. This young man has a promising future, but he is sure to leave if we follow the law as written. Also, this information is private, but his wife cannot have any more children after she miscarried last year. Some of us wonder how much of his anger directed at us is the result of that. But then again, we can’t make exceptions to our laws for everyone who merits sympathy. We might as well just abolish the law and be done with it.”

“Which is why I asked you to attend this meeting,” Hughes said to Amos. “We must decide what to do with him. We’ve asked him to apologize, but he won’t. He’s asserting his right to speak his mind. Do you have any thoughts of your own?”

Amos shrugged. “Well, why do you have this membership requirement? I have five children myself, so it is not something I’m personally concerned about. But I’m sure others are wondering.”

“We’ve explained it to this young man repeatedly, but he won’t listen. He thinks it is wrong for disbarring men such as himself.”

“I can’t say I blame him, though I share your concern about him riling people up with offensive rhetoric. That’s my initial thought. Yet, it doesn’t look good for you put him in the stocks. That could make people sympathetic. One thing I’ve learned is it’s important for people to separate ideas from how they are conveyed. It doesn’t seem wise to prevent people from speaking out against the three-child rule.”

“So what do we do?” an elder asked.

“Does anyone know where his wife stands on this?”

“She supports him, but she also wants the matter over and done.”

Amos was silent for a while as he stared up at the ceiling. He then shook his head and got up. “Am I the only one who sees the real challenge here? What are you actually trying to accomplish?”

Hughes gaped at him, but was mute.

“You want to keep this three-child rule intact, right?” Amos continued. “And why do you want to do that? You want the right kind of men on the councils so they will make the right decisions for our faith and our people. The real question is, how do you keep it that way?”

“Tell us,” Hughes said.

“Ultimately, our people need to believe it. You don’t need to convince this architect of yours. They must believe it’s a good rule to keep. If they believe it, it doesn’t matter what one person says. The only way I can think of to accomplish that, without silencing this fellow, is to offer him a chance to debate it in a formal way instead of being put in the stocks. If he’s not anxious to do it, his wife will likely pressure him to accept. Have as many people attend as possible. Encourage people to come. You can still fine him for what he has said and make him apologize, but that has to do with his personal attacks on you and the council. People will understand why that can’t be allowed. The debate will give the Church the opportunity to defend the rule against his criticism. If he doesn’t accept the debate, then make that known when you put him in the stocks. And if he accepts and you can’t defend the rule against what he says, it won’t last anyway. Sooner or later, that will get out.”

The elders seemed pleasantly surprised by his suggestion, muttering affirmatively. Hughes motioned to accept that proposal; it was seconded and passed unanimously. A sense of relief fell across the man’s face.

“We still have to offer the deal to him,” Hughes said. “He may not accept.” He turned to Amos hopefully. “Will you take it to him?”

“If nobody else will.”

“Since you came up with it, it might be best.”

Visibly annoyed, Amos rose and left the chapel. He approached the young man and eyed his guards. Aware of his identity, the guards didn’t question his unspoken command as they withdrew to stand beside the wife and children.

Amos studied the young man, noting his defiant expression and unflinching gaze.

“What are you looking at?” the man demanded.

“A face I’ve seen before.”

“I’ve never seen you before.”

“You know who I am, though.”

“Everyone knows who you are, sir,” the man said, his tone offering reluctant esteem.

“Then listen carefully. Here’s how it going to work. You’re going to apologize for your foolish comments and pay the fine. They won’t put you in the stocks for it, and you won’t lose your church membership…that is, if you agree to debate one of them in more appropriate setting about this rule they have for elders and deacons.”

“What if I don’t agree?”

“Then I say you’re here just to cause trouble and deserve whatever they do to you.”

The man looked over at his wife, eyes full of pleading. He then smiled and waved at his distraught children reassuringly before turning back to Amos. “I’ll do it.”

“Smart move.”

As Amos headed to the chapel to deliver the news, the man called to him. “What about you? Do you think it’s a good rule?”

The puritans kept walking as he answered offhandedly. “What does that have to do with any of this?”


The elders filed out of the chapel as Hughes came down from the pulpit and congratulated Amos. He waited until all others had left before he continued.

“This is why we need you, Amos.”

“Not interested. My work is enough to keep me busy.”

Hughes didn’t argue further as the two walked out of the chapel together. In the foyer, they observed the young man embracing his wife and children. The elders greeted him as he offered an apology to them.

“This could have caused a rift in the council,” Hughes said. “We can’t have any divisions like that right now. We’ve come so far. You can help us stay the course.”

“That’s your job, not mine.”

The archbishop lowered his head slightly. “It was not I who endured the things you did. The council elected me, but no one man can handle these responsibilities. I need your help, your experience. These men are all young.”

“Find other older men.”

“We’ve asked them. None of them want to serve.”

Amos’ voice was stern. “Because they lost that part of themselves winning that fight, so that we could have this conversation.”

“Someone should speak for them and give them a voice on the council.”

“As MacDuff would say, my voice is in my sword, or my pistol. Besides, I’m not used to this.”

“Being on a council?”

“No: the old having wisdom to offer the young.”

Several hours later, Amos conducted work at his desk when he received a call from his wife.

“Will you be working late?” she asked.

“No, I’m planning to leave shortly.”

There was an extended pause.

“Why?” Amos added. “What’s happened?”

“Please come soon.”


Richard was there to take his overcoat as soon as he stepped inside the house. His eldest son concealed anything his face might offer as to his wife’s consternation as he hung the coat up in the closet. Amos moved hurriedly into the kitchen, where his wife had already had supper prepared. He noticed her flushed cheeks as he embraced her.

“What’s the matter, dear?” he asked.

Sniffing in a handkerchief, she motioned to the family room. “It’s Thomas. He’s in there waiting for you. He was disciplined at school today.”

“What for?”

“It might be best if you discussed it with him.”

He gave her a reassuring kiss before moving into the family room to find Thomas sulking in a chair by the crackling fireplace. Amos stood near flames as he held his hands behind his back.

“Is there something you wish to tell me?” he asked diplomatically.

Thomas murmured incoherently.

“I must ask you to speak up, son. What happened?”

Sighing, Thomas offered a paper to his father. Amos took it and read it carefully several times before shaking his head. “Thomas, you cannot speak like this at school. Frankly, you are fortunate they let you off with a warning.”

No reply.

“Do you understand what I am telling you, son?”

“Would they have given me a worse punishment had I not been your son?”

Rather than rebuke him, Amos formed a reserved smile. “You should not put too much stock in what Archbishop Hughes has to say about my influence. He governs the Church, but he does not run its educational institutions. I’d say your teacher was lenient in order to give you opportunity to see what you did wrong and change it.”

“I don’t understand what I did wrong. I merely spoke my mind.”

“It’s not that you speak your mind. It’s that you did so in a way that was not appropriate.”

“Why do they get to decide that?”

“Because they are the Church, and in our county, the Church decides these things.”

Thomas looked up at him angrily, his arms crossed. “I don’t understand why we have the Church as a government. Why does it get tell everyone what to do?”

Amos smiled.

“What’s so funny?” Thomas demanded.

“You remind me of myself. Too much, perhaps.”

“I don’t see how. I also see why the Church gets to tell us what to do.”

After indicating to Mrs. Cavendish that they would not be long, Amos went across the room and sat beside Thomas. “Son, you must realize that these rules are there for a reason. They are not there just to control you. If you want, and if God wills it, you will have a family of your own and be able to serve on the church council. One day, you can be in charge. There’s nothing to stop you from leading our people when you are older. But if you want to get there, you have to learn obedience to just authority.”

His comforting words soothed the tension in Thomas’ face. The boy exhaled loudly.

“I apologize, Father,” he said.

“It would be best if you apologized to your teacher. Tell him you spoke with me about it.”

“Yes, sir.”

Thomas then looked at Amos curiously. “Why aren’t you in leadership? I know Archbishop Hughes wants you to be on the council. You’re smarter than any of them. I don’t care how much better educated they are. You know better.”

“You didn’t sound that way the other night.”

“I’m sorry, Father. I’m…I don’t know. I misspoke. I wish I knew as much as you did so I could understand.”

Amos shook his head. “It’s important that you don’t know. You still have that sense of joy. I can sense it. You must keep it. It’s vital that you do. Never lose it.”

“I just want to know why you see things the way you do. How can I do that if you don’t tell me or Richard? Don’t we deserve to know?”

Studying the fire closely, Amos replied. “You deserve to know that your father went through terrible things so that we could get to this point. We didn’t get here without a cost. And you will never know how much was lost. But that was our role in our time. It was our job to endure and to fight and to win. Now, that fight is about to end, along with my role in this story. That’s what Archbishop Hughes doesn’t understand. He wants me to play a part I was not made to take. It will soon be another generation’s task—your task—to build upon the foundation we laid, to build something that is good and noble and beautiful. It’s your job to make sure our people don’t forget why things are the way they are. Do you remember the story of Moses defeating the Amalekites by holding his hands in the air?”

“Yes, Father.”

Amos patted his son on the knee. “Put your faith in God and keep your hands in the air.”

Supper was served in the kitchen after a quick word of prayer. Amos finished his meal first and sipped on a glass of sherry as he enticed Emily to sing for them once she was done eating. He then told them different stories from historical church history, as well as selected tales from the Brothers Grimm and American folk tales. A favorite amongst his youngest children was that of St. Francis taming the Wolf of Gubbio, while Thomas and Richard preferred recounts of the great battles in history. Yet it pleased him to see their excitement, no matter what story he told. He knew they were impressed by his knowledge, despite his limited education.

Later that evening, they were in the family room enjoying a dessert of homemade pie by Mrs. Cavendish when Amos received a succinct message from Laurence: “Target’s location found. Your orders?”

Emily and Rebecca on his lap, Amos message back to Lawrence: “Can it wait until morning?”

The response: “Yes.”

“Good. Have everyone ready.”

Grinning, Amos tightly hugged his two daughters. Richard was at the fireplace stocking the flames with a bellows, maintaining a reserved demeanor that closely resembled that of Mrs. Cavendish. Thomas was contemplative as he sat on the stone hearth, seemingly content with his father’s explanation.

Emily and Rebecca jumped off his lap and convinced their brother Johnathan to bring out one of Amos’ old board games. They set it out on the coffee table while Mrs. Cavendish served a spiced tea and then sat beside Amos. She laughed amusedly at her children’s antics as they played, but then subtly noticed the tears forming in her husband’s eyes.

“Are you alright?” she whispered as she leaned against him.

Amos gazed at his family for a while and then whispered as if speaking to himself, “I hope they keep their hands up.”


This is an excerpt from T.J. Martinell’s new novella, The Pilgrim’s Digress. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.