The flames roared as Amos rushed of the vehicle and ran toward the large conflagration. The intense heat seared his scarred face as he attempted to get near it.

Jedidiah and the others jumped out the side doors as soon as the vehicle stopped. Their weapons drawn, they hurried to cover Amos, terrified he might try to run inside.

However, Amos proceeded no further beyond what he could ensure from the heat. His hand cast out protectively, he lowered it so he could get a clear view of the inferno where his house once stood.

A fire brigade had already arrived. Its members fought frantically to control the flames from spreading to the nearby homes. However, it was clear that there was no hope they might save Amos’ residence. He could see nothing except the contortion of red and orange waves as though pounding against a beachhead. The powerful streams of water sprayed from the fire engine could scarcely do more than evaporate as it smashed against the mass of flame.

Beholding the inferno as one would the body of a dear relative or friend, Amos dropped to his knees with disbelief. He silently watched as the fire consumed everything he owned; all his belongings and possessions; all his artwork and crafts; all his children’s poetry and music that had brought him laughter and joy; all his wife’s clothes and furnishings; the totality of their family culture and heritage. No more.

Staring at the fire like a murderous foe, Amos got up and returned to his men. Jedidiah was suppressing tears, as if it had been his home, too.

“Sir…”

“I know. Where is my family?”

A fireman heard Amos and pointed to one of their engines. Seeing Mrs. Cavendish wrapped in a large blanket, he ran to her and held her fiercely.

“Praise God, you’re safe!” he exclaimed. He then saw his youngest children in the engine. They jumped out and clutched his knee. He picked up Henry and wiped his tears away.

“It’s alright,” he said. “God was good to us, even now. He has kept you all safe.”

His words failed to reassure his boy, or his wife and other children. He then looked around and realized his eldest two sons were missing.

“Where’s Richard and Thomas?” he asked.

No one spoke.

“Where are my sons?” he asked Mrs., Cavendish.

Unable to control herself, she fell into his arms and wept. A horrible look fell across his face.

“Where are my sons?” he repeated.

Mrs. Cavendish gestured to another engine. A medical unit was there.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Oh, Amos?”

“Tell me?”

“It’s Thomas!”

The children wept. Maintaining his calmness, Amos kissed her and then the young ones. He waved off his men as he went to the medical unit and found a cluster of EMTs moving about. There he found Richard kneeling in front of a coy. When he saw Amos, his eldest son came to him and fell at his knee and sobbed.

“Command yourself!” Amos ordered. “Stand and hold yourself like a man.”

Richard obeyed; his cheeks were flushed as he brought Amos to the cot. Thomas lay on it, a blanket covering him from his feet to this neck. Bandages covered his face. An IV line was in one of his arms.

A medic came to the cot and checked on his vitals.

“Is he alright?” Amos asked. “I am his father.”

“He’ll live,” the medic said. “He’s been badly burned, though.”

Whispering a prayer, Amos hugged Richard, then knelt next to Thomas.

“Thomas? It’s your father.”

“He’s unconscious,” the medic said. “The shock from the burns was severe.”

“How did he survive?”

He jumped through a window. By that time, the fire had already consumed the outside of the house.”

“Why didn’t he get out with you?” Amos asked Richard.

Hesitating for a moment, Richard brought his father to the side of the medical unit and pointed to an object covered in a cloth. Amos approached it with equal hesitation and touched the cloth, but would not take it off.

“He went back inside for it,” Richard said.

Amos then ripped the cloth away. When he saw the painting underneath, he lost all composure. He wept so hard the medics and firemen came to see if he had been injured. Hearing his cries, his men also ran to him. The sight of their leader in such a despondent condition was more than they could bear. They left as Richard embraced his father.

“Why?” Amos said as if to himself. “Why?”

“He knew you wanted it saved.”

“Of all the things to save…and what did it cost him?” He waved at his own face. “I never wanted this for him.”

As the medics lifted Thomas into the vehicle, Amos ordered them to take him to Cambridge Hall. “He’s safer there. I will not have him out of my care or sight.”

No one attempted to argue. “Yes, sir.”

Amos and Richard returned to comfort the rest of their family. Huddled together, Amos told them they were all to come with him back to Cambridge Hall. “You’ll be safe there,” he said.

“From what?” Mrs. Cavendish asked.

“From whoever did this.”

“How do you know someone did this? It could have been an accident.”

Eyeing the flames for the last time before withdrawing, Amos spoke ominously. “I’ve seen enough houses burn to recognize someone’s handiwork.”

***

In his office at Cambridge Hall, Amos leaned against his desk with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. Thin rays of sunlight seeped through the window high up on the wall behind him as dawn approached. His prayer book was open on his desk, his scribblings on the edges. In the hallway beyond his closed door, there was a commotion, but he paid no attention to it.

He glanced over at his bookshelf, studying the mementos displayed. He then abruptly stood and grabbed the plastic doll, wiping the dust from its eyes before he wiped his own. He set it down, regarding fondly the other items in his collection before returning to his desk. Behind it was the painting Thomas had saved, still wrapped in the cloth.

He silently prayed for another minute before the commotion outside came to his door. Someone knocked, gently but firmly. The door opened, revealing Christoph, along with two other Commonwealth officials. They had sympathetic, yet restrained expressions as they entered.

“We extend our deepest condolences,” Christoph said.

Amos nodded.

“How is your son?” Christoph continued.

“He’s still unconscious, but recovering. The others are here and safe.”

“We will provide additional security around this neighborhood.”

“Who did it?”

“We are certain it was Meyer. He escaped from our custody yesterday.”

“How?”

“We’re still investigating, but we believe it was members of his terrorist faction. Once he was free, they set your house on fire in retaliation for his arrest. We’ve recovered evidence from the scene of the fire, and several witnesses saw people near the home before the fire started.”

“I suspected as much.”

“It’s not just an attack on you, Mr. Cavendish,” Christoph said. “This was also an assault on our nation and all its people. It was a treasonous act.”

“I wouldn’t give Meyer or anyone of his ilk such dignity. To be a traitor is to have once been one of us. They never were one of us.”

“Regardless, this crime must be dealt with quickly. We cannot allow it to go unpunished. We are doing what we can to temper the news, but at some point, the full extent of the incident will come out. I fear it will lead to societal instability. If some weak group can do such a thing and not suffer, then what kind of government is this?”

“What do you intend to do?” Amos asked.

Christoph tossed a document onto his desk. “This is a death warrant for Meyer and any member of his terrorist group you encounter. It’s not just a bounty; you are authorized to execute him once you find him.”

Amos glanced at the warrant, then pushed it back towards Christoph. “This is not appropriate to give me. I want justice, not revenge.”

“This isn’t vengeance. You aren’t acting on your own. The Commonwealth has determined this. You are carrying out its will, and if you like, one of your men can perform the deed.”

“Are there not any other puritans who can do it?”

“None that we trust to do it right,” one of Christoph’s colleagues stated. “No one is as good or as competent as your group. We know this will be handled shortly. Who knows? If Meyer is not dealt with soon, he may initiate another attack elsewhere. Do you really want to have that happen after we handed this job to another group, so you can wonder whether or not you might have prevented it?”

Giving him a displeased glare, Amos snatched the document and stood up. “Very well. If this is the Commonwealth’s desire; I will see that it is carried out. As per usual, I will keep you informed of my status on the situation.”

The three men bowed their heads slightly.

“We again offer our condolences,” Christoph said. “We trust the payment you receive for this bounty will be sufficient to rebuild your home and replace the lost belongings.”

“It would, if what I had lost could be replaced with money.”

Christoph seemed perplexed as he left the office with his two friends. Amos wasted no time further in retrospection. He messaged Laurence to gather what intelligence he could on Meyer’s whereabouts as he put on his field outfit and ordered Jedidiah to get the men ready.

He was fastening his holster to his hip when Archbishop Hughes entered unannounced. “You’re going after Meyer?”

“The Commonwealth has issued a death warrant for him. They’ve given it to me.”

Hughes stiffened. “Have you found him?”

“Laurence is tracking him as we speak. Meyer is clever, but not that clever.”

Checking the hallway warily, Hughes closed the door and sat close to the desk, drumming his fingers on its edge. “Is there a way you could bring him in alive?”

“Meyer? Why?’

“He’s committed crimes against the Church, too. He has much to answer for.”

“You can only execute a man once, sir.”

“I don’t want his head so much as I want information from him.”

“What kind? I might be able to get it from him before he’s executed.”

Hughes gave Amos a very peculiar look. “Can you please bring him here alive? It’s important that I get to question him.”

Amos slipped his handgun into its holster and then faced Hughes boldly. “I have prayed long about this, sir. I have sought God’s help in this matter as to what I should do. I have forgiven Meyer and those who burned my home. But my sense of justice demands that they be punished and prevented from doing it to another man and his family. The Commonwealth wants him dead, and if I were to refuse and he somehow escape and kill or harm anyone, I would be responsible.”

“As head of the Church, I will take full responsibility for whatever happens.” Hughes rose and extended his hand with a large signet ring on his finger. He took the ring off and gave it to Amos. “You may keep it until this matter is resolved.”

Amos stared at the ring for a while and then reluctantly put it on his finger. He then leaned on his desk. “Alright, sir. I’ll do it. But I have two demands. The first is that this be allowed on display with the other items I have here.” He retrieved the painting from behind his desk and then hung it on the wall so that it was kept partially out of view.

Hughes winced at it, but shrugged. “Very well. And the second?”

“Come with me.”

***

Ronnie squinted his eyes as his cell door opened. Amos entered with Hughes. The Bible they had given Ronnie was off to the side, though it appeared to have been opened. On the small table was Ronnie’s most recent meal, only half-eaten.

“You want to stretch your legs?” Amos asked him.

“I might.” He then recognized Hughes. Rising slowly, he melodramatically bowed in a sweeping manner. “As always, my liege. I am so honored to have you visit me here. Though I suppose that’s what Jesus told you to do about his followers in prison, isn’t it?”

“Such impertinence is why you never went anywhere,” Hughes replied. “I see it hasn’t changed.”

“We don’t have time for this,” Amos snapped at them both. He then addressed Ronnie. “Meyer burned my house to the ground. As it would seem with you, the Commonwealth wants him dead, but the Church wants him alive. We’re going after him soon, and I want you along. Will you come?”

Hughes was alarmed. “He’s a wanted man. If the Commonwealth finds out…”

“They won’t.”

He repeated himself to Ronnie. “Well? Are you coming or not?”

Ronnie grinned mischievously. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world. It’ll be like old times again, much more than you think.”

***

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