which retreated backward, neighing.
One of his followers instantly placed an arrow on a crossbow and fired in the direction of the assailant in the belfry. The short metal arrow cut the air with a low whirr and landed deep in a wooden shutter that had been shut an instant before. The feathered shaft stood trembling in the wood.
John Craxton walked onto the pavement, the veins in his neck and temple swollen and his face red with agitation. He held the crosier in one hand and waved it in the direction of the priest, who was still on the back of his horse.
“How dare thee, Father Jon Palsson, add to thy earlier transgressions by coming at us with weapons?! Thou wast summoned here to answer to accusations of large-scale default on the tithes of Grenjadarstadur church, but turn up here not only as if thou wert a thief, but also as a blasphemer and invader!”
“The Lord will receive His due, as they say, and the king will receive his due. But at this time here in Iceland, the payments due to God as well as our hereditary king in Copenhagen happen to go straight into the coffers of English traders and pirates,” Father Jon answered, his voice calm and steady. “I have merely withheld the tithes of Grenjadarstadur Parish at the bidding of my lord Aslak, archbishop in Nidaros, and, I might add, I have been fully within my rights in doing so. They shall be paid in the proper annates to the archbishop. I have merely ensured that they go into his hands, rather than into the vaults of the English, and thus helped ensure that our just and rightful authorities are able to strengthen the defenses of this country and maintain the trade ban. All of this has been iterated repeatedly, most recently last summer by King Henry himself.”
“You would do well, Father Jon, to continue scribbling your poetry in praise of Holy Mary rather than encourage unrest against a justly appointed bishop, who is here by mandate of the pope.” It was Thorkell who spoke, his demeanor arrogant. “Or is the power of Aslak Bolt in Nidaros now greater than that of Pope Martin in Rome?”
Jon Palsson looked down his narrow nose at him for an instant, seeming to judge him unworthy of an answer, and then addressed the bishop.
“Thou nurturest a serpent at thy breast, Bishop Craxton, in the person of Thorkell Gudbjartsson. That will become clear to thee as the full force of his ambition…” Father Jon broke off. No one saw exactly how it happened, but in a flash Thorkell had pulled him from the horse and flung him down into the wet grass. Men leapt out from the doors of the church, and in a heartbeat both his sword and whip had been taken. His own soldiers had no time to react except to urge their horses, yet they were instantly forced to yank on the reins since Thorkell put one knee on Jon’s chest and his razor-sharp knife at his throat. The men retreated, shouting reprovals and threats at the steward of Holar, and banging halberds and pikes into their shields to add emphasis to their words. A few of the horses neighed and reared, alarmed by the excitement of their riders.
“Now both of us are on the ground, old fox, and more equal than many times before,” said Thorkell through clenched teeth. “Make one move to oppose His Grace the bishop and you’ll be on the road to hell before you know what’s hit you!”
“The Lord will punish your soul, Thorkell Galdur of the Dark Arts,” Jon groaned, speaking with difficulty after his harsh tumble. “All your curses shall turn against you.”
“Do not make your humiliation worse with careless talk,” Thorkell said quietly, pressing his knife a little harder against Father Jon’s throat. Ragna saw a small drop trickle out from beneath the sharp blade of the knife.
“It should be perfectly clear to thee, Father Jon Palsson, and to thy entourage, that whoever rises against his bishop with threats and violence shall be subject to excommunication major on account of his actions,” said Craxton.