This bit introduces some of the concepts underpinning the whole work, so I'd be very greatful for views on the style, readability, enjoyment and so on.
This is effectively the start of the third chapter of my current project, so I've posted links below in case anyone would like a little more context. Should just say that they are both in a state of some flux, especially Chapter 2.
Part 1: http://www.writingforums.com/fantasy...apter-one.html
Part 2: http://www.writingforums.com/fantasy...apter-two.html
Compass Dinner, November
Pickled Herring in Mustard Sauce
Smoked Norg Cheese
Roast Lamb with Bilberry Sauce
Spiced Carrot and Onion
Apple Pie with Cream
Bishop Villtr boomed with self-indulgent good humour and left off examining his reflection in the silverware long enough to cast a precursory glance around the table. Dorian, seated opposite, smiled pleasantly as he met the cleric’s glittering eyes.
“Tell us Villtr, how are things in Eastmere? I hear the Archabbey’s been granting special favours in return for donations.”
The pudgy bishop’s voice rumbled with fake amusement. “Ah, I see age has not dulled your keen edge, Dorian. It’s true, we are always careful to reward those who support our condemnation of these unfirstly flying machines we increasingly see about. No doubt Lady Blanda has been informing you of all our latest business.” Dorian smiled disarmingly, though he didn’t miss the warning flicker Villtr directed at a round expressionless woman several seats away.
Someway between Bishop Villtr and the turgid Lady Blanda a sharp mousy woman followed the conversation, her hands compulsively twisting and picking the edge of the white tablecloth. She had a habit of twisting and unpicking things so ingrained it had become almost impossible to hide.
“Father Dorian, I was informed that your daughter would be joining us this evening,” she piped, gesturing at the empty seat next to Villtr. “No doubt she found some excuse as soon as she learnt who she was to be placed beside.”
Bishop Villtr coughed up a single humourless “Ha,” and continued his inspection of the cutlery, while the other members of the table attempted to alleviate their discomfort with bracing smiles. The wiry Sister Tolla answered on Dorian’s behalf.
“Never fear, Mother Skald. Your bishop’s reputation is in no question. Freya allowed herself to be caught in a rainstorm a little earlier and was sent to bed without supper.”
Skald eyed her craftily. “I see. It’s a pity Father Dorian does not keep the girl under tighter control. I suppose at least, not being his actual daughter, one might say his disinterest is excusable.”
A tall saturnine bishop seated between Mrs Germwither and Mother Thornson, held up his hand with a hint of amusement. “Now, now, Mother Skald, we don’t want our kind host to think us impolite, isn’t that so Lady Blanda?”
The Lady nodded automatically and intoned a limp, “I agree,” but Mother Skald was not in least put out.
“What of the girl’s future?” she enquired. “Is her place to be among the academics of Tempus? The last thing anyone would want is for her to develop some sort of unhealthy interest in matters that don’t concern her… say, Akkeri’s newfangled flying machines, for instance.”
Dorian’s eyebrows rose almost in humour at this, though his jaw was clenched and he said nothing. As the starters were cleared away and the main course brought out further discussion of Freya was forestalled by the mouth-watering arrival of roast lamb, vegetables and wine.
After several minutes of subdued application to the food, broken only by approving mumbles, Bishop Villtr seemed more animated. He paused, loaded fork hovering, to appeal to his three Archabbey colleagues. “It is a shame that we must be treated to your entertainment so rarely Dorian. The other abbeys of the Confraternity are never quite so… intriguing. And I can’t think of a better symbol of your uniqueness than this magnificent table, wouldn’t you say, Lady Blanda?”
Blanda nodded vigorously, her mouth too full to permit an answer. Dorian felt an unpleasant sneer in Villtr’s use of the word ‘intriguing’, but he smiled courteously and pointed out details of the circular tabletop with its sixteen inlayed compass points. There was one for each diner to sit at, representing a unity of faith, with the First positioned centrally, where all things originate.
“It’s a shame your daughter’s absence upsets the table’s unity somewhat,” commented Mother Skald, nibbling a roast potato. “Did I hear you say your grandfather designed it? Fascinating…”
The younger Bishop, Knappr, sat back slowly amid the hum of conversation and said quietly, “We’ve been informed you’re going to have another inspection, Dorian.” There was an immediate hush from the diners.
Dorian wiped his mouth slowly with a napkin and took a sip of wine. “You’re quite sure?”
Both bishops nodded. Villtr placed his knife and fork carefully on his empty plate. “I got a letter from the Enlightened Inspectorate this morning, as it happens. None of the other abbeys have been inspected twice in fifty years before. The Compass’ reputation evidently precedes it by some considerable distance.”
“Considerable indeed,” murmured Dr Tattler, the Abbey physician. “When will they be coming down?”
“Couldn’t say for sure; a matter of weeks, if I know fairies.” Villtr folded his arms across his broad chest and stared calculatingly at Dorian. “I trust you’ll make a good impression on the inspector. It wouldn’t do at all to let the side down, when the rest of the Confraternity works so hard for approval.”
Dorian’s mouth was a thin unreadable line, his jaw set firmly and eyes focussed. He removed his small round spectacles and polished them while he thought. Quietly the serving staff removed the remains of the dishes and brought out hot apple pie with crisp golden pastry and heaps of fresh cream. The scent was tantalising, but Dorian seemed almost unaware of it, and the other diners remained still, waiting for him.
“Am I to understand,” he began, delicately cutting through the crust with a silver spoon, “that you believe the authorities of the First and Second Tiers have taken a direct interest in Tempus Abbey?” He placed a spoonful of pie and cream in his mouth and chewed slowly, his grey eyes riveted on the pudgy clergyman opposite. Bishop Villtr nodded, his own pudding forgotten.
“I’ve been holding much discussion with my colleagues and there appears to be a problem with Tempus Abbey.” The foreboding silence deepened at once; several faces flashed a warning glance.
“The problem is evidenced quite conveniently this evening,” went on the Bishop, gesturing to Freya’s seat, “by the empty place beside me. I would hope it’s not too hard to appreciate the reason for the Inspectorate’s visit. They are worried that Tempus is losing its focus. We are worried.
“The problem, I think, lies in this Abbey’s location, which is too close to the Akkeri industry to avoid a degree of influence. I hardly need mention that Tempus has access to the forest south and east of here, a commodity that Emanuel Akkeri is no doubt keen to exploit.
“Now, I must, according to my position, take measures to ensure that no member of this Confraternity falls behind the others. This you appreciate. I have taken the step, therefore, of having a little talk with one of your kitchen staff, whose name I forget, who was happy to inform me of the troubles facing the effective governing of Tempus Abbey.”
Villtr held up his hands placatingly before the outraged expressions. “Now, now, Dorian, I have only your best interests at heart. My colleagues and I pose no threat to your leadership whatsoever; in fact, we hold you in high esteem. Our mutual friend in the kitchens was able to bring to my attention a source of dissent within your delightful community, but fear not, we have found a solution.
“The problem,” he announced with satisfaction, “is Freya. As I understand the girl is headstrong and, more worryingly, fascinated with the unfirstly industry on your doorstep. You and she are close, are you not? Well, that’s only natural, considering the charity you showed in raising her. But I’m told that you entertain and indulge her too much, Dorian, and that she is having an adverse effect on your judgement and sentiments regarding the appropriate stance of this Abbey.
“Now, the solution is simple.” Villtr leaned back in his chair and smiled coldly. “When my colleagues and I leave a little later we will take the girl with us. She may pack what few belongings she needs and then she will return to Eastmere with us to begin a new chapter of her life in the Archabbey. There she will be educated and disciplined in the ways of the First, and we in turn will not be forced to take further action.”
Dorian almost smiled as he set down his spoon and wiped his mouth delicately. “Now, here’s what I propose,” he began after a moment’s thought, his voice deadly soft. “You and your colleagues will stand, we shall escort you to your coats, exchange pleasantries and then you’ll be on your way.”
He appealed to Colonel Alder, a large bushy man seated to his left, though his eyes never left Villtr. “Alder, how are your men doing in the forest? Are the roads safe?”
Alder looked thoughtful as he stroked his moustache, catching Dorian’s drift immediately. “Things aren’t good, Father Abbot. My men are afraid of nothing but they are hard put to keep the main road clear and safe from here to the east. Some of the smaller roads have been lost altogether now, and won’t be usable until spring. I’m surprised your party made it through from Eastmere unscathed, Bishop, and can only wish you the best of luck in getting back.”
“Well, there you have it Villtr,” said Dorian grimly. “As you quite rightly pointed out, Tempus does hold a certain influence in the forest, but there is a limit to the protection we can provide, so I advise you to take care. If for some reason you never made it back to Eastmere I’m sure it would cause some trouble, and the last thing we want is trouble, wouldn’t you say?”
Bishop Villtr sat poised, red and glaring, but the silence extended without a word. After a minute he rose stiffly and stalked from the room without a backwards glance. Dorian rose too, signifying the end of the meal, and muttered to Sister Tolla, “Would you be so kind as to show our guests to their coats and then take them down to the gatehouse. They can wait in there while the carriage is fetched.”
One by one the academics filed out of the Compass chamber, each wondering if they had heard the last of the affair.