Modern Crusaders: Adeptus Major

By PsiDraconis

For disclaimers see Chapter 1

"Flóki, son of Vilgerd, was the name of a renowned Viking. He went to seek Gardar's Island… He went first to Shetland and lay there in Flóki's Bight… From Shetland Flóki sailed to the Faeroes and from there put out to sea. He took three ravens with him. When he freed the first one it flew away aft, over the stern. The second flew up into the air then returned to the ship again. But the third flew straight away over the bow, in which direction they found land."

- Landnámabók

Chapter 17

Major Lantree, of the Royal Atlantlan Army (Covert Operations), raised a clenched fist suddenly. The rest of his well-oiled team instantly halted behind him in near-perfect silence. They remained still, alert and wary, with weapons at the ready, while their team leader scanned the nearby area, trying to determine if the faint sound was a waiting ambush, or just one of the many rats which made the warehouse their home. But, apart from the faint but clear sounds of several workers in a different area of the building, there was only silence.

However, the sensation of unseen eyes watching his every move persisted, as it had since the Major had entered the warehouse. If it had only been himself, Major Lantree would have dismissed the feeling as simple nerves, despite his fifteen years' military experience, but many other soldiers, as well as Customs agents and police officers, had reported a similar sensation of being watched. It had never been officially reported, of course, as there was no real evidence, and the Major had scoffed at the rumours - until tonight.

Now, though, he was remembering the talk which had claimed that a very few agents and police had actually seen a dark flitting shadow out of the corners of their eyes. It had been dubbed "The Angel" by several of the more superstitious officers.

Certainly something appeared to be assisting the authorities while they executed a string of the largest drug seizures in Atlantlan history. The smugglers themselves were organised and well-armed, but seemed to be suffering from a widespread case of terrible luck. Shots fired at agents would miss, doors would stick as they tried to escape, and several criminals had apparently knocked themselves out by running into crates, boards, tables, and - in one memorable case - each other.

It had not been a flawless operation, of course, but then, nobody had expected it to be. Two Customs agents, three police officers and a soldier had been killed, and a number of others had been wounded. Still, the raids had netted over a hundred and fifty suspects. The drugs seized had exceeded even the best estimates, and no less than four cargo ships had been raided and impounded. Even before the operations were complete, they were obviously putting a pinch on somebody's pocketbook, if the number of protests coming from several "respectable and legitimate" businessmen and companies in Europe, the Americas, and Asia were anything to go by. Many of the suspects already captured were providing a lot of information which would likely see the downfall of a number of prominent figures.

Major Lantree had absolutely no compassion for such businessmen, however. The raid he was currently engaged in was on the last of the targets provided by "The Informant", and the smugglers had been getting progressively more desperate as the operations proceeded. Right now the Major's only goals were to keep his squad alive and kill or capture as many Bad Guys as possible. In that order. Other teams had also penetrated the warehouse - which normally stored a variety of goods for export - and a full platoon of Regular Army troops were backing up the Customs agents who surrounded the building.

This location had been saved till last, partly because it was the largest suspected cache. Those in charge had speculated that after the initial raids, the smugglers would become desperate enough to try to remove all the drugs at the same time, at which point most could be captured. It seemed to have worked, too. Other intelligence sources and infrared imaging had located the bulk of the smugglers near the centre of the warehouse, loading the drugs into trucks to be moved to another venue.

It was towards the concentration of criminals that Major Lantree's squad was slowly making its way. There was always the threat of wandering guards, thus creating the need for stealth.

Finally deciding that the noise was not a threat, Major Lantree signalled his team forward, and they continued their slow creep through the tall stacks of crates. They stopped several more times to scan for ambushes before moving on at a careful, patient pace.

At last the squad reached the place where the crates gave way to a large, will lit open area. Within the open space the Major could see a number of men, some engaged in loading large, obviously heavy boxes into the backs of five trucks, and the others standing guard. The guards were armed with an assortment of deadly weapons, from automatic pistols to full machine guns, and Major Lantree cursed silently as he saw the arsenal.

He keyed his mic and spoke softly, knowing the throat-mounted pickup would transmit his words clearly. "Command, this is Charlie. Over."

*Charlie, Command. Over.*

"Charlie in position. Be advised Target is well armed. Estimate threat level Eight. Over." To qualify for threat level Nine, the Target would have had to have a hand-held rocket launcher.

There was a pause as Command considered this information. *Understood, Charlie. Query: Proceed. Over.*

Major Lantree thought. As the first squad leader to reach the scene, he had the authority to continue with the current plan, or fall back and bring in the Big Guns. "Charlie says Proceed. Over."

*Understood, Charlie. Stand by for unit confirmation. Over.*

The Major turned and nodded to Sergeant Ykindes, who responded by unlimbering the big tear gas launcher from his back. Seeing this, the rest of the squad took turns donning their gas masks. They had just finished when another voice came over the radio.

*Alpha in position. Over.* The transmission was repeated three more times as Bravo, Delta, and Echo squads took up position around the open area.

*All squads, this is Command. Charlie is point. Proceed. Over and out.*

Major Lantree checked his squad once more, then said, "All squads, Charlie. Give Go, No Go."

*Alpha, Go.*

*Bravo, Go.*

*Delta, Go.*

*Echo, Go.*

Major Lantree nodded decisively. Sergeant Ykindes readied his gas gun. "On my mark. Three… Two… One… Mark!"

With a heavy "Phut", the tear gas canister launched from the gun and arched gracefully towards the middle of the working men. More canisters flew from four other locations. Tear gas was not generally recommended for use in enclosed spaces, and could be very dangerous in high concentrations, but none of the soldiers were taking any chances against the weaponry arrayed against them.

The five canisters hit the ground nearly simultaneously in a ring around the smugglers and immediately began spewing thick, choking fumes. The workers and guards all reacted with varying speeds. Some, obviously confused, stood and just looked, not comprehending what was happening. Several whirled about and tried to detect from where the gas had been fired. And some took off towards the doors and surrounding crates in a bid to escape.

They ran into various members of Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, and Echo squads, who moved forward in near silence. Only Major Lantree bellowed, "Crown agents! Get down, now!" Having been officially identified, the rest of the assault team didn't pull any punches. Fists and rifle butts flashed out with precise efficiency, and men who had been struck did not get up. Outnumbered, at least inside the warehouse, by two to one, the soldiers were taking no chances. A number of smugglers did drop to the ground and cowered, their hands behind their heads.

Unfortunately, other men reacted instead by opening fire, though their aim was thrown off by their surprise and the growing clouds of tear gas. Still, Major Lantree saw two of his men go down, one from a bullet through the leg, while the second was struck in the chest. His body armour had probably stopped the projectile from penetrating, but the force of the blow was enough to wind him. The shooter, however, had no such protection, and his torso sprouted red patches in three places as three soldiers took him down.

The air was filled with cries and gunfire, but Major Lantree noticed that his troops were rapidly gaining the upper hand. The smugglers were too surprised, disorganised, and increasingly incapacitated by the choking gas to put up an effective resistance. He saw a man crouched behind a crate, firing wildly at some nearby soldiers, and took him out with a shot through the shoulder. Orders were to take as many prisoners alive as possible.

Suddenly the scene was much quieter. Most of the criminals were either dead, unconscious, or being heavily sick. Three members of Bravo squad were subduing a screaming gunman by sitting on him, literally, while another bound his hands and feet, and others were being restrained as well.

The Major keyed his mic. "Command, move -" His request for reinforcements and mop-up was cut short when he saw, standing on a catwalk above him, a lone gunman. The man's eyes were wide and his face white with panic as he brought up his machine gun. Major Lantree cursed inside his own head for not checking the gantries, and yelled a warning to the rest of his troops, even as he tried to bring his own weapon to bear. Time seemed to slow, and he knew he was too late.

Suddenly, the crazed shooter's eyes widened even more as his feet slipped out from under him. That was the only way the Major could describe it. The gunman's feet shot out from under him as if he was in an old movie and had stepped on a banana peel. His finger tightened reflexively on the trigger, but the shots flew harmlessly towards the roof of the warehouse. Falling backward, the gunman's head cracked into the catwalk's rail and he slumped to the gantry floor.

Major Lantree suppressed a disbelieving sigh of relief as he barked an order to his soldiers to keep an eye on the catwalks for further shooters. He felt a sudden desire to offer up a prayer of thanks to The Angel, or whoever had saved his ass just now. He put that on hold for a few moments while he completed his earlier aborted transmission. "Command, move in."

A minute later, further gas-masked troops were pouring in through the doors, assisting in subduing the prisoners and providing medical aid to soldiers and criminals alike. The Major finally did breathe a sigh of relief when he saw that all of his soldiers appeared to have made it through the operation alive, if not quite unscathed. He was still tense and alert, though, adrenaline still quickening his reactions, when a scratching sound behind him amongst the crates sent him whirling around, gun automatically aiming.

He relaxed slightly when he saw that it was only a small grey cat, obviously a stray from its bedraggled fur, sneezing and coughing from the slowly dissipating tear gas. Though he was not a cat person, the Major felt sympathy for the poor creature. A shout from a group of Customs agents near the trucks distracted him momentarily, and when he looked back, the cat was gone.

Shrugging, Major Lantree turned and jogged over to the trucks, where the agents had opened one of the boxes the smugglers had been loading onto the trucks. Though their expressions were hard to read through the gas masks, their body language screamed surprise.

When he got close enough to see into the box, the Major understood.

There were no drugs inside the crate. Instead, neatly packed inside were ten 7.62 mm light machine guns. Major Lantree's gaze roved over the dozens of other boxes that had been in the process of being loaded, and, despite his years of military experience, felt fear ice his stomach.

Evelynne rang the doorbell again and mused on just how domestic it felt. Prior to Ally's purchase of her house, the princess had likely never rung a doorbell in her life, and this was the second time she had done so at this same house. It made her feel... normal.

There was still no answer, and Evelynne frowned. Turning to her companion, she asked, "I did schedule this visit, right? This is the right day?"

Her brother, Patrick, was not wearing his typical monk's robe, but was instead outfitted in a simple, casual outfit. The only mark of his calling was the clerical collar around his neck. "I don't know, Evy. You're the one who arranged everything. I just came along for the ride."

Evelynne shifted the bouquet of flowers in her arms and frowned at the door again. "Well, it is Friday, and I'm pretty sure I arranged this visit for today. I -"

She was cut off as the front door suddenly opened to reveal the house's owner. Like the last time Evelynne had visited, Ally was dressed very casually, but this time she seemed to have taken it to even further extremes. Again wearing track pants and a tee shirt, these ones were liberally soaked with water. Ally's hair was also damp, and a smudge of soap marked her cheek.

"Hi, Evelynne," she said. "Sorry about that. I was just… dealing with something." She rubbed her arm, where the princess could see a long scratch. Noticing Evelynne's brother, Ally exclaimed, "Patrick! I wasn't expecting to see you. Please, come on in."

"Thank you." The siblings entered, and Ally closed the door.

Now that she was closer, Evelynne could see that, in addition to her dishevelled appearance, Ally's eyes were red and puffy and she kept sniffling. "Ally, are you okay?"

"What? Oh, yeah, I'm fine. This just started last night. I think I ran into something," the other woman replied vaguely. "I must be allergic to something. I also haven't got a lot of sleep the last few nights." Changing the subject, she asked, "What, no bodyguards?"

"Not inside," Evelynne answered. "Actually, Uncle Arthur and Maïda are enjoying a little… quality time on their own." She giggled. "I think they're cute. Anyway, this is a purely social call, and I guess they trust you with us."

"Actually, they trust you with me," Patrick interrupted, "since I am a man of the cloth, after all, and therefore incorruptible. They're likely hoping I'll be able to keep you away from Evelynne." He grinned widely as both women blushed furiously.

"Riiight," Ally said, recovering her composure. "Well, come on into the living room."

This time the lounge was clean and tidy, a far cry from its condition the last time Evelynne had visited. The princess and her brother took seats on the couch, and Evelynne held out the flowers to their hostess. "Here you go," she said. "These are for you."

"Thank you," Ally said. "You know, someone has been sending me flowers every few days for the last two weeks." She cast her gaze meaningfully around the room to the blossoms which seemed to take up every available space, before returning it to Evelynne. "They've all been sent anonymously. You wouldn't happen to know anything about this, would you?"

"Me?" Evelynne asked innocently. "Now how would I know anything about that?"

"Well, come to think of it," Patrick said, "James the Groundskeeper has been complaining lately about the thief who seems to be making off with his favourite blooms. Maybe Evmmph -"

Evelynne had clapped a hand over his mouth. "What Patrick means to say is that he knows nothing about it. Right, Patrick?" She used her hand to force his head up and down. "See? I thought so."

Ally laughed as she observed her friends' playing, and wondered for a moment what it would have been like to have a sibling. Then she remembered that while Evelynne had a brother, she had lost a parent, and decided that she would be happy with what she had.

"Well, while you two sleuths study this mystery," Ally said, "I'll go and put these into some water. Then I'll just go and get -" Her words were abruptly cut off by a mournful howl coming from somewhere upstairs. Her guest started. "Oh, hell, Cassie! I'll be right back." She hurried out of the lounge towards the stairs.

Evelynne and Patrick looked at each other. "Cassie? Does Ally usually have other women in her house?" Patrick asked.

His sister shrugged. "Not that I know of. I mean, last time I visited there was Mila'a, but Ally really isn't the type." Now that she knew there was nothing serious between the other two women, Evelynne was able to speak her rival's name without jealousy. Or much jealousy, anyway.

"Well, whoever it is," Patrick said, wincing as another yell echoed through the house, "she is not happy."

Well, I wouldn't be happy if Ally was ignoring me, Evelynne thought. I don't think I'd shout like that, though. Although… it's certainly attention getting.

Fortunately for her guests' curiosity, Ally re-entered the room a few minutes later, carrying a small object wrapped in a towel. Walking closer to her guests, Ally said, "Evelynne, Patrick, I'd like you to meet Cassie. Cassie, these are Evelynne and Patrick."

For a brief, completely irrational moment, Evelynne thought that Ally was carrying a baby, but then reason returned, and informed her that, among other things, the bundle was too small to be even a newborn. This conclusion was reinforced when the princess managed to peek into the towel and saw a tiny, triangular, and above all fur covered face. The cat was obviously little more than a kitten, and was currently a very unhappy one at that. Wide yellow eyes set beneath a pair of enormous ears looked out indignantly from a grey face. The cat's fur was wet and sticking out in clumps, giving it a thoroughly pathetic appearance.

Predictably, Evelynne cooed, "Awwww. She's so adorable! I didn't know you got a cat."

"I, uh… found her yesterday," Ally replied. "Be careful, I don't know how she'll react to strangers."

The warning was unnecessary, as Cassie, obviously deciding that she had had enough of being wrapped in a cold, wet towel, squirmed free and launched herself at Evelynne's shoulders. The princess yelped as tiny claws dug in for purchase, but the kitten possessed excellent balance, and was soon sniffing her hair and ears.

Evelynne giggled. "Well, hello, Cassie." She turned her eyes back to Ally. "Is that her full name?"

"Actually, I decided on Cassiopeia," Ally replied, "but that's a bit of a mouthful, so 'Cassie' for short."

Patrick was leaning forward to examine the cat, who was still finding Evelynne's hair fascinating, and he sniffed gently. "Ally, I don't mean to insult your friend, but she… smells rather strongly." In fact, his eyes were beginning to water from the odour.

"I know," Ally said wryly. "I think she must have… come into contact with something. I think that might be what's got me all stuffy. I've been bathing her all morning."

As if she could understand, Cassie shot Ally a baleful look and proceeded to determinedly make a nest for herself on Evelynne's shoulders.

"Well, were just going to have to buy some air freshener then, aren't we?" Evelynne asked, addressing her new occupant. Speaking to Ally again, she said, "In this case, how about if we stay around here today? I know we were supposed to go to the beach, but with that pool you have in your back yard, this could be just as good."

"If you don't mind," Ally agreed diffidently. "I really wasn't looking forward to leaving a new cat here on its own."

"No problem at all," Patrick said. "In that case, I'll go and tell the Guards outside, and bring in our swimsuits and equipment."

Ally and Evelynne suddenly pictured each other in a bathing suit.

"Swimming suit?" Ally asked weakly.

Ally stood in front of the full-length mirror set in her closet door and eyed herself critically. The simple green one-piece swimming suit hugged her body revealingly, and she was painfully aware of just how little there was to reveal. She didn't exactly fill the suit in any kind of sexy or alluring way. The knowledge that Evelynne was changing into her own suit in the bathroom down the hall brought with it the image of her friend's much more voluptuous figure, emphasising Ally's own perceived inadequacies. Then she wondered why she was so bothered by the idea.

Because despite everything I've tried to do, a part of me still hopes she'll find me attractive, Ally answered herself.

Ally had in fact tried to put her own attraction to the princess behind her, and had partially succeeded, especially when they had been largely out of contact for two weeks. The diversion with Mila'a had helped, and Ally had found herself thinking of a possible future relationship - one that might actually work - with a kind of cautious optimism. Then Evelynne had come back into her life, and she found all of her carefully constructed distance evaporating like mist, as the princess insinuated herself relentlessly back into her life.

Though Evelynne had been too busy to visit Ally's house since that morning two weeks ago, she had called at least every couple of days just to talk and catch up. Due to her own "extracurricular activities" Ally had missed a few of those calls, and had returned home one afternoon to find a brand new answering machine waiting for her. That had not been the only gift. Several pieces of art now hung from her walls, and a signed first edition of The Lord of the Rings rested on her bookshelf. It had begun to get a little overwhelming, and when she had hesitantly spoken to Evelynne about it, the princess had apologised and promised to restrain herself. Despite everything, the flowers had kept on coming.

While Evelynne had not had a chance to come to Ally's house, the taller woman had been invited to the Summer Palace several times. During those visits, the two women had found themselves slipping easily back into their old friendship routine. There was something else added to the equation, though, some quirk or distraction in Evelynne's manner that had not been there before. Ally had firmly suppressed the impulse to find out what was behind it more directly, and had settled for simply enjoying her friend's solicitous company.

The thought of company reminded Ally of her own, and that she was supposed to be the hostess today, bringing her mind back to her current situation. She looked in the mirror once more, trying to see what Evelynne would see, when the attack hit her without warning.

Several minutes later, Ally found herself huddled on the floor, the soundless taunts and jeers fading from her mind. She fought to get her breathing back under control, and realised that her already irritated eyes were streaming with fresh tears.

"Shit," Ally cursed softly. She was beginning to get worried. This had been the third panic attack in as many months, where previous to coming to Atlantl she had suffered perhaps as many in a year. She had thought that she had dealt with and buried the incident, and wondered what had changed to bring it back to the surface.

Now, though, she had guests to attend to, and got back to her feet. Wrapping a large towel about her waist, the young woman scrubbed the tears from her face. Hopefully, Evelynne and Patrick would think that her redder eyes were simply a continuation of her "allergic reaction", and not the result of several minutes spent huddled, crying, on the floor.

Ally lounged in a comfortable deck chair, enjoying the sensation of her body soaking up the warmth of the sun's rays. Despite being early November, this area of Avalon tended to stay much warmer than the rest of the island, with the result that even in late fall there were occasional days of twenty-five degree weather. Today was such a day.

With a sigh, the young woman shifted slightly to maximise her exposure to the sunshine. She always felt as though she had more energy after a day in the sun, and didn't know if the solar radiation was actually feeding her abilities, or whether the effect was purely psychological. Right now, though, she had no desire to experiment to find out, and simply let herself relax even more bonelessly.

Splashing from the pool drew Ally's attention, and she looked in that direction to see Evelynne in the pool splashing water at her new cat. The kitten would dodge away from the spray, then turn and bound back to the pool's edge and meow until the princess splashed once more. Finally Cassie miscalculated a dodge and caught a steam of water full in the face. With a yowl of protest, the cat leapt back and glared accusingly at her playmate before sitting down to wash herself.

Evelynne laughed, and Ally noticed again just how appealing her friend was, especially dressed in a revealing - though not excessively so - blue two piece swimming suit. Ally had been noticing the suit - and the body beneath it - throughout the afternoon, and sometimes, if she hadn't known better, she could have sworn the princess was deliberately flaunting her body to attract Ally's attention.

Whether it was intentional or not, it was working, and Ally turned away as she caught herself staring. Turning her head to look at her other companion, she couldn't help but laugh at the sight of Patrick, dressed only in baggy swimming trunks, lounging in the chair next to her, his nose coloured bright yellow with sunscreen.

Patrick turned his head in Ally's direction at her laugh. "What?"

"Oh, I was just thinking of how you looked. No offence, but you really don't look like a priest right now."

"Oh? And what should a priest look like?"

"Oh, you know. Robes, staff, one of those pointy hats. In a church somewhere mumbling and communing with God."

"Ah, I see. In my case, I think it is just as effective to commune with God where I am right now. If I was in, as you put it, a church somewhere, I would have lost this opportunity to enjoy God's beautiful creation on this day." He swept an arm to encompass the entire world.

"Well, good for you," Ally said. She paused a moment. "You know… there was something I've been wanting to ask you, but I'm not sure how to say it."

"As the Good Book says, 'Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.' So speak, and I will be swift to hear."

Ally hesitated. "In a way, that was what I wanted to ask you about. You're a priest… I was wondering what you thought of me… liking women."

Patrick smiled benignly. "Before I answer, could I ask why you want to know?"

"Well… if it was just you, I probably wouldn't care," Ally replied honestly. "But you are Evelynne's brother, and she is my friend. You're obviously important to her, and… I guess I just wanted to know if me being friends with her was going to come between you. The last thing I want is to push you apart."

"A good answer. And I can put your mind at ease, at least in that respect. I personally have no problem with your homosexuality. I cannot speak for every member of my Order, of course, but I believe most of my Brothers feel similarly."

Ally let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. "Oh. I guess I'm a little surprised. Happy," she hastened to add, "but surprised. I mean, you're Christian, right?" Patrick nodded. "It's just that… people like me haven't had a really great reception from Christians. Or Jews or Muslims, for that matter. Even the Bible says we're corrupt, doesn't it?"

"Actually, there is much debate on the subject, even among the most fervent theologians. In the entire Bible, for example, there are only eight passages which condemn homosexual behaviour. There are others verses, of course, but they are repetitions of those same eight. Of those eight, at least six have been translated incorrectly from their original forms at some point. Consider, for instance, Romans 1:26. 'For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.' The word 'against' in 'against nature' is an obvious and well-documented mistranslation. The original Greek word is 'para' which, far from 'against', actually means 'in excess of'. In this case, the passage becomes a warning of excess or wanton sexual behaviour, both heterosexual and homosexual. The other passages have similar interpretations."

Ally was surprised. "Really? I got the impression that there was some fire and brimstone condemnation of gays and lesbians."

"Not at all. In fact, neither Jesus, nor any of the Old Testament prophets said anything at all about homosexuality. One would think that if it was such a great sin as it is perceived today, the Son of God would at least have warned his disciples of its perils. There are actually parts of the Bible which, while not explicitly homosexual, have definite… what is the word? Ah, yes, subtext. I would recommend reading both Books of Samuel… let's see… especially First Samuel, Chapters Eighteen through Twenty, I believe. The relationship described between David and Jonathan is particularly… intense. I would also recommend the Gospel according to John, Chapter Thirteen, around Verse Twenty Three for some suggestive imagery which may shock you. Or the Book of Judith, if you are looking for a female protagonist."

Ally frowned, trying to remember. "Judith? I'm hardly a Bible scholar, but I don't remember a Book of Judith. I know there's a Book of Jude."

"No, not that one. The Book of Judith is one of the Apocrypha." At Ally's blank look Patrick explained. "One of the 'Hidden Texts' which have been removed from the Bible for whatever reason over the years. There are a number of them. Generally only the Roman Catholic Church includes them as part of its dogma these days."

"Oh. So Judith was, what, a lesbian?"

"It's not stated explicitly, of course, but she was hardly a typical woman for the time. She sneaked into an enemy camp, cut the head off its leader, and generally raised merry hell while protecting Israel. Once she was finished, she retired to her own house and lived the rest of her life with her maidservants, refusing all male suitors."

"Really?" Ally was slightly shocked.

"Apparently so. I think you might be able to figure out why that particular Book was removed from the Bible." Ally and Patrick shared a laugh. "Seriously, though, from my own studies, there are only four sexual transgressions which are distinctly and consistently spoken of in the Bible." He ticked them off on his fingers. "Rape, either hetero- or homosexual; adultery, which is given the most attention by far; bestiality; and ritual prostitution, such as the Canaanite religion practised."

"And that's it?"

"That's it. Even polygamy, while rarely explicitly recommended, is certainly not discouraged, at least in the Old Testament. So to answer your original question, as long as your sexual practices do not include those four I listed, I have absolutely no problem with them on religious grounds."

"Ha," Ally barked, "not hardly." She hesitated. "So why do you know all this? I mean, I know you're a priest, but I've talked to priests and ministers before and they didn't know… all that."

Patrick smiled. "Ah, that is largely to do with my Order. I belong to the religious arm of the Order of the Illuminated Word. We have an attached Knightly Order." Ally nodded, remembering her discussion on the Orders with the King. "The Order's Charter is to translate the Word of God, so that His children may understand Him more clearly. I am personally taking part in a project dedicated to translating the Bible into the modern languages from its earliest original form, usually Hebrew or Greek. We wish to provide the most accurate possible translation from the Words which God spoke through His prophets. However, we are also aware of the fact that much of His Words may only be understood in their historical context, so we are also writing a commentary based on the known history of the area, and how it relates to the Bible."

"That sounds fascinating."

"Oh, it is. Even just going through the various editions of the Bible and examining their differences is interesting. Not to mention sometimes very amusing. For example, one edition printed in 1631 had to be recalled, as a single word had been omitted as a typographical error. That Bible unfortunately had a Seventh Commandment which read, 'Thou shalt commit adultery.'"

Ally burst into laughter. "Oh, no! You're kidding!"

"Unfortunately, no. But that example alone justifies the work my Order is doing. What if that typo had been missed? How many other mistakes, deliberate or accidental, have occurred throughout the centuries? How much has God's Word been distorted?"

"I understand, and wish you good luck. When you're done, be sure to put a copy aside for me-eeek!" Ally squealed and jumped as something cold and wet dripped onto her chest above her breasts, where the swimming suit exposed her. She looked up in shock to see Evelynne standing next to her, a bemused expression on her face, and holding a dripping arm over Ally's body.

Satisfied that she had gained Ally's attention, Evelynne dropped her arm. "You two were talking so seriously I had to see what was going on," she explained. "So what were you talking about?"

"Oh, Ally was just concerned that I was going to try her for heresy and burn her at the stake," Patrick said airily. "I told her I was still considering it."

"Sure, Patrick," Ally shot back. "Right." Shifting her attention, she looked around the poolside. "Do you happen to know where my cat went?"

Before anyone could reply, Cassie jumped up onto the end of Ally's deck chair and sat down, looking about with a curious gaze. Ally looked down at the cat between her legs and blushed. She shot a look up and Evelynne and saw that the princess was red also.

Patrick cleared his throat, and Ally needed no telepathic ability to know what he was about to say. Before she could speak, she whipped a finger in his direction. "Don't say it," she ordered. "Don't even think it."

The young priest grinned insolently. "What?" he asked innocently. "All I was going to say was that your pussy… cat is right there." He pointed between Ally's legs and laughed uproariously as both Ally and Evelynne turned the colour of ripe tomatoes.

To be continued in Chapter 18

Author's note: I'd like to thank the excellent, informative, and provocatively named website for the Biblical information. I'd highly recommend it to any person of nonconventional sexuality (or their friends) as a source of ammunition for when you do run into some Bible-thumping redneck preacher type. Ladies, gentlemen and those in between, lock and load!

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