“Who may it be that demands account so roughly of a consecrated Abbot?”
“A consecrated Abbot? A consecrated peacock, a tumultuous, turbulent, traitorous priest, a Spanish rogue ruffler who, I am told, keeps about him a band of bloody mercenaries to break the King’s peace and slay loyal English folk. Well, consecrated Abbot, I’ll tell you who I am. I am Thomas Legh, his Grace’s Visitor and Royal Commissioner to inspect the Houses called religious, and I am come hither upon complaint made by yonder Prioress of Blossholme Nunnery, as to your dealings with certain of his Highness’s subjects whom, she says, you have accused of witchcraft for purposes of revenge and unlawful gain. That is who I am, my fine fowl of an Abbot.”
Now when he heard this pompous speech the rage in Maldon’s face was replaced by fear, for he knew of this Doctor Legh and his mission, and understood what Thomas Bolle had meant by his cry of, “In the King’s name!”
“Who makes all this tumult?” shouted the Commissioner. “Why do I see blood and wounds and dead men? And how were you about to handle these women, one of whom by her mien is of no low degree?” and he stared at Cicely.
“The tumult,” answered the Abbot, “was caused by yonder fool, Thomas Bolle, a lay-brother of my monastery, who rushed among us armed and shouting ‘In the King’s name, stay.’”
“Then why did you not stay, Sir Abbot? Is the King’s name one to be mocked at? Know that I sent on the man.”
“He had no warrant, Sir Commissioner, unless his bull’s voice and great axe are a warrant, and I did not stay because we were doing justice upon the three foulest witches in the realm.”
“Doing justice? Whose justice and what justice? Say, had you a warrant for your justice? If so, show it me.”
“These witches have been condemned by a Court Ecclesiastic, the judges being a bishop, a prior and myself, and in pursuance of that judgment were about to suffer for their sins by fire,” replied Maldon.
“A Court Ecclesiastic!” roared Dr. Legh. “Can Courts Ecclesiastic, then, toast free English folk to death? If you would not stand your trial for attempted murder, show me your warrant signed by his Grace the King, or by his Justices of Assize. What! You do not answer. Have you none? I thought as much. Oho, Clement Maldon, you hang-faced Spanish dog, learn that eyes have been on you for long, and now it seems that you would usurp the King’s prerogative besides——” and he checked himself, then went on, “Seize that priest, and keep him fast while I make inquiry of this business.”
Now some of the Commissioner’s guard surrounded Maldon, nor did his own men venture to interfere with them, for they had enough of fighting and were frightened by this talk about the King’s warrant.
Then the Commissioner turned to Cicely, and said—