By: dharmamonkey & Lesera128
Disclaimer: So, we're still here, and by now, we know as well as you do that we don't own anything. However, we are looking into ways to take control of this sandbox by adverse possession. ::blinks:: Okay, not really. But, you get the gist.
Epilogue: The View from Calais
Six Months Later
The cold, damp wind blew off the Channel and bit hard at Seeley Booth's cheeks as he gazed across the water at the chalk-white cliffs of the Kentish coast, which glittered under the rare, shallow-angled winter sun as they sat a mere twenty-one miles in the distance. It had been just over the span of six months since he sailed from England and stepped off the merchant vessel onto the quay at Calais, his heart heavy with a sadness that he did not, at that point, completely understand. But he'd known even then that he'd never be able to shake the image of Mistress Temperance Brennan's face—and her entrancing blue-gray eyes—from his mind...even if he wanted to, which, as more and more time had passed, was the one thing he could definitely say he didn't ever want to do.
As he stared at the coast, Booth sighed, his warm breath streaming from his nostrils and falling as a cold vapor on his upper lip. Another gust of cold wind, flecked with salty spray, blew off the sea as he cautiously nudged his horse closer to the edge of the bluff. The waves of the roiling sea crashed hard and angrily against the rocks at the base of the cliff. Booth's dapple gray mare snorted in frustration, her thick, white breath puffing from her nose as she stubbornly twisted against the bridle, clomping her hooves against the dry sea grass as she twirled around and away from the edge of the bluff.
"Easy, girl," he whispered to her, reaching up with one hand and pulling his thick burgundy woolen cloak more tightly around his shoulders as he fisted the reins tightly in the other. "There's not much more to our journey, I promise you. With any luck, in the next day or two, I'll sell you for a silver franc or deux to a horse broker at the port, and you'll be on your way to a gentler pasture than I've been able to give you."
Booth took another deep breath as he turned the mare back to face the sea once more, noting her willingness to respond to the light touch of the rein to her neck now that they were several feet away from the edge of the bluff. She was an excellent horse, bred from Camargue stock with a healthy infusion of Arabian blood, as evidenced by the mare's refined facial structure and clean, tight throatlatch, solid hindquarters and a particularly strong gaskin, and a generally calm, steady temperament. But, Booth noted with a smirk, she was clearly a product of the Burgundian plains from which she'd come since it was very apparent she was unaccustomed to being ridden near cliffs of any kind.
He hunched his shoulders as he leaned over the saddle and turned his head slightly into the hood of his cloak as yet another gust of wind railed against him. The cold made his nose run and his eyes water, and he reached up, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, then looked at the streaks left on the soft black calfskin as he rested his hands on the pommel. He shook his head as he thought of the number of nights he'd laid in his bed—at first, a borrowed bed in one of twenty-odd different friaries he stopped at along his thousand-mile ride from Calais all the way through France and over the Pennine Alps into Italy before finally arriving at the Vatican, five weeks after leaving England. Then, later, it had been a bed assigned to him in the friary at the Dominican complex adjacent to the Basilica di Santa Sabina all'Aventino in Rome. Each night, no matter where he'd been, he'd often fallen asleep shedding silent tears as he struggled to make sense of all that had happened to him in the weeks since he had met Brennan.
But, as time had passed, he'd come to realize that as the weeks turned to months that his eyes had welled up with tears in the dark of night not simply because of how his well-ordered life had been so suddenly upended by this woman. No, the ache and sad loneliness he felt was more keen because he felt the pain of her absence from his life. One morning, quite simply, he came to realize that he'd missed her. He missed Brennan. He missed her terribly, missed her so much he felt an ache in his chest every time he thought of her. And the missing nearly overwhelmed him to the point that he was miserable.
In all his life, he'd never had felt this way about anyone, not even when his parents had sent him away to the monastery at the tender age of twelve. Booth had made friends and formed bonds with people throughout the course of his life's journey—among the boys he'd studied with at the Benedictine priory in Kent to the universities in Padua and Paris, during his time as a well-regarded doctor legis in the curiae in Rome, and even after his return to England, among the Dominican brethren who were his colleagues and with whom he worked after his appointment to the office of Inquisitor by Reginald de la Pole, the Archbishop of Canterbury. But now, in the months since he'd been forced to leave Brennan behind in the short-term so that they might have something together in the long-term of a future he hoped to fashion with her, all of that seemed so strange to him—that life that he'd known before her. It didn't feel familiar or comforting, as it once had. Instead, it felt foreign and strange, and as he sat that January morning atop his restless steed on the bluff at Cap Gris Nez, he felt both anxious and excited that he was finally so close to leaving it all behind.
He was a single boat ride away from finally going home, and leaving everything that had separated them behind. He would find Brennan, and he was going to make a new home with her wherever she wanted him to settle. It didn't matter where they went, or what they did, as long as they were together.
Cardinal Pole—Booth's benefactor and longtime mentor, the man who had sent him to Rome as his personal messenger—was dead, as was Queen Mary, who'd died childless of the very cancer that Pole had mentioned the last time he and Booth spoke in his office at Lambeth Palace. Pole had died on the 17th of November, and word of his death—and the death of Mary, who'd escaped the mortal coil of this world just a scant twelve hours before Pole did—made its way to the Vatican within a few weeks thereafter, carried to Rome on a merchant vessel carrying English wool into the port of Civitavecchia. Booth was in the Vatican Library, reading a thirteenth-century treatise on falconry, De arte venandi cum avibus, when another Dominican brother had come into the library with the news.
At hearing word of his mentor's unexpected passing, Booth had been inundated with a flood of emotions: sadness at knowing that he'd never again enjoy the company of the man whom he'd admired since the early days of Booth's studies at Padua, nervousness at what Pole's and Mary's deaths meant for the future of the Holy Church in England, and happy (if somewhat guilty) excitement in knowing that Pole's passing might set in motion the process by which he would be released from his vows and dispatched back to England. Although Booth knew such feelings of schadenfreude constituted the sin of delectatio morosa, he couldn't help but feel that the news of Pole's and Mary's passings marked a new and blessed beginning for him, even if it did not bode well for the Church itself.
In the days following the news of Pole's death, Booth learned that Cardinal Pole kept his promise to him. Booth glanced down at his feet in the stirrups with a faint smile and noted how strange it still seemed to wear pants, a tunic and a vest with his tall black leather riding boots—the normal clothes of a layman—instead of the white linen robe and black hooded cloak that he wore every day for the ten years he was a member of the Ordo Praedicatorum, the Dominican Order of Preachers. Those clothes he'd shed in Rome, along with the initials and titles that together had made him Father Seeley Booth, O.P. Now, granted a dispensation by the Holy Father himself releasing him from his vows as a priest and a mendicant brother, he was merely Seeley Joseph Booth, an ordinary man.
As he looked out on the bright chalk cliffs across the Channel, Booth was reminded of the way Pope Paul IV's fine white robes had shimmered in the bright sunlight on the morning when he'd been called before the Holy Father to be dispensed of his sacred vows. The old Italian pope seemed tired—his features drawn, his eyes framed by dark circles, his cheeks sunken and his hand unsteady—when he placed his palm on the crown of Booth's head as he'd granted the dispensation and had given Booth his blessing.
"Though you are hereby released from your vows, as has been requested by our recently dearly departed brother, Cardinal Pole," the old Pope told Booth, "you must be steadfast in your faith and never waver in your love of God's Holy Church. The Lord's work lives on in the hearts of the men and women who nourish their faith each day, steeled against the shifting winds that howl around them. No matter how you serve God in this world, my son, you must always remember that and strive to hold true to such an important belief."
At dawn the following day, Booth began the long journey home, the Pope's words echoing in his mind as he rode north, praying that the mild winter would hold and allow him to reach Paris by Epiphany.
Forcing himself to concentrate on the present, Booth let his mind fall away from his memories of what he hoped would be his last visit to the Eternal City and the literal bosom of the Holy Mother Church. He looked up once more at the glimmering white cliffs in the distance and wondered if she had waited for him—if she had believed him when he wrote in his hastily-penned letter that he would return for her—indeed, if she still wanted him, which he hoped and prayed for, despite having had no contact with her in the six months since he had left her cell at the Dominican house in Westminster. His heart ached more and more each day he went without contact with her but he knew that, for her sake as well as his, he could not risk exposing them by trying to get word to her lest his actions inadvertently possibly jeopardize his one clear chance at happiness with her.
He swallowed and crossed himself, mouthing a silent prayer in the hope that he would find her when he returned, and that they would be able to pick up and resume the thing that had flourished between them—whatever it was that they, a brilliant young Inquisitor and the accused witch and heretic whom he was charged with adjudging, had cultivated between them—now that the chasm of circumstances that separated them was now changed. He was an ordinary layman, no longer bound by the vows of chastity that made their affair illicit and, so long as he remained a priest, condemned her to being no more than his mistress, and she was free, cleared of the wrongfully-laid charges of witchcraft. He closed his eyes and thought of her, remembering how beautiful her skin looked under the bright, warm daylight, and looked forward to seeing her face, her long arms and bare bosom illuminated by the same light he'd seen shine on her high cheekbones and square jaw.
Bren, it's been nigh two hundred mornings since last I saw your face, he thought. A couple of more such mornings and, God willing, your sweet, lovely face shall be the first thing I see when I open my eyes each morning until the dawn of the day I draw my last breath on this earth.
Soon, in a matter of a few days, he would be back in London, he'd find her, and he would finally make good on his promise to her: I will come back. I will return.
The mare snuffled again and Booth nodded at her, giving her a nudge in the side and gently tugging the reins to the left as he made his way back down the bluff and headed towards the port in Calais. He blinked and felt the searing cold of the wind blowing against the tears that dribbled down his wind-burned cheek.
Soon, Bren, he thought as he glanced one last time at the chalk cliffs shimmering in the distance. Soon you'll see that I am a man of my word.
Soon, you'll see. Soon.
~The End~ (for real)
A/N: As we promised from the very beginning, "The Inquisitor" has a sequel. It's called "The Return" and has begun to post under dharmamonkey's profile.
As we mark "The Inquisitor" complete and continue our work on its sequel, "The Return," we'd be grateful for any parting reviews or comments you might have for us concerning "The Inquisitor.'
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