Table of Contents and Overview for At the Inlet | Information and ordering instructions for all of our fiction
Norman Cameron came into his office very early one morning later in the week. He was expecting a special visitor who wanted to speak with him in confidence. He heard a knock on his door, and motioned the visitor to come in. It was Julian, who came in, shut the door, and nervously sat down.
“Thanks for seeing me at this unpropitious hour,” Julian said.
“Our work never sleeps. What’s on your mind?” Norman asked. Julian hesitated. “It’s Terry, isn’t it? She’s started something you’re not sure you can finish, hasn’t she?”
“It’s very difficult sometimes,” Julian confessed. “I may be old fashioned, but I’ve never heard of a couple exchanging a kiss before they exchanged first names.”
“You’ve overlooked the fact that she’s Verecundan,” Norman observed. “They tend to be more forward down there. Seems to me you’ve got someone who’s a cut above any other Verecundan I’ve ever met.”
“She’s lived on this end of the Island long enough where she should know better,” Julian retorted. “My time with her shows a person who’s very serious about her faith. But then there was the beach…”
“I first saw my wife on the beach out here when we were six,” Norman observed. “We looked a lot better then than we do now. Maybe she’s making up for lost time—you both seem to have that problem, you know. You may have also overlooked the fact that she’s been married before, so that gives her a different perspective on things.”
Julian breathed a deep breath, then said, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to be put in a position where”—
“—you’ll be forced to do something that you don’t think is right,” Norman finished. “Sounds like something you need to get some spiritual counselling on, instead of coming to this old spy.”
“I spoke with Desmond about it.”
“So what did he have to say?”
“He went into this long speech about the differences between us—who follow the via media—and her—who follows the via extrema. He said that she’s more used to dealing with strong emotions than I am because of her church. But he left it up to me as to how to deal with it.”
“And you didn’t find that very helpful.”
“No, I didn’t”
Norman leaned back in his chair. “I’m not a very religious person—I know you’ve tried to interest me in that, and for that I’m grateful. I’ll never be able repay you for what you’ve done for my and my family. You’ve been a friend when no one else cared. But I’ll also tell you that my first loyalty is to our king—it’s my duty to protect him and our country, and if you ever make me choose between you and king, I’ll choose the king. One reason I’m your friend is because you’ve never made me make that choice, and I don’t believe you ever will.”
“I understand that,” Julian said.
“I did this little preface to get to my point—you’re not the only one who has had your concerns about Terry Marlowe.”
“I’m not?” he asked, taken aback.
“Terry is probably the most investigated person here,” Norman began. “A lot of people were unhappy that His Majesty brought her here. She was, after all, a central leader in the rebellion that literally split our kingdom in half. So we had to leave no stone unturned. That forced us to look at some pretty unsavoury stuff.”
“Like what?” Julian asked.
“We were able to obtain her Verecundan dossier. It had a lot of what we already know—that’s where we got her baptismal and confirmation documents—but it also had all kinds of tittle-tattle about her going to bed with just about everybody she came into contact with. I found this amazing, since Verecundan feminists on the one hand gripe that women are held to a double standard and the other trash a woman they don’t like by showing her as a whore. But we had to investigate it, even before the Drahlans foolishly dumped her as Royal Counsellor.
“So we sent Kyle down to Barlin and elsewhere. He gave kickboxing exhibits in churches, schools and on the streets. Between those he was talking with people about all kinds of things, and the subject of Terry came up quite frequently. We also talked with a lot of other people as well. And we finally came to two conclusions about her.”
“Which were?” Julian asked, eagerly.
“First, we realised that all of this material was a lot of rubbish. The sources didn’t check out. We’ve concluded that all of the sexual exploits in her files—except those when she was a prostitute in Verecunda, and obviously her marriage—were either fabrications or came from her political enemies. I also grilled her pretty intensely the first morning here, and my gut feeling about her squares with this. This was a relief to us, because if any of this had been true, we would have fought her coming here vigorously instead of recommending it.
“Second, in the course of all this, I came to understand something that most people here don’t—that her church expected her to be perfect, and that she’s worked hard to live up to that.”
“Perfect. That little adventure on the beach last weekend was probably her first time in a bathing suit since her husband was killed. He probably never saw her in one until they married—you’re quite the privileged character. You’re also probably her first boyfriend since that time. The only jewellery she’s had in the last fifteen years was her wedding jewellery, which she sold during the war to pay for her house. Her grandfather was the richest man this Island has ever known, and yet she could probably count the number of outfits she owned on both hands.
“Julian, take my advice. Most of us here in Serelia wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the feelings generated on that beach of ours. She’s a good woman. You need to stop worrying about being normal and start thinking about something more permanent.”
Julian sat in silence for a minute. “I supposed you’re right, Norman,” he finally said. He arose. “Thank you for your help.”
“Any time,” Norman replied.
A short time later Julian and Terry gathered after dinner for catechism in the colonnade. Julian wanted to start but Terry closed the Prayer Book.
“There’s something we need to talk about,” she said to him, seriously.
“Oh? And what might that be?”
“It’s about last Saturday.” She looked away, and then back into his eyes. “I overdid it. I owe you an apology. Probably overdid it for our first kiss, too.” She grasped his hand. “I just want you to love me as much as I love you, Julian.”
“If that’s possible, I do,” he said. It was his turn to do some thinking. “How long has it been since your husband was killed?” he finally asked.
“Six years,” she replied.
“Did you court anyone after that?”
“Not until you,” she said. “We had a war to finish. Then we had a nation to build. I don’t know, being both a minister and a head of government, I didn’t feel I was in a good position to open up that part of my life. There were too many complications.”
“Some people say you should have courted Prince William,” Julian observed.
“William wasn’t a Christian at the time,” she replied. “I won’t date anyone who isn’t. That’s why I grilled you so hard on the subject. Besides, I always felt that William wanted someone racier than me.” Julian blanched at the thought. “Now he has everything—both Jesus Christ and the wife.” She looked at him with a slightly sad look. “I know you’re trying to make this easier for me, but you don’t have to. I guess I’m kind of an extremist with stuff like this. Back before I met Jesus, I was either selling myself on the streets or I was known as the ‘Virgin Terry’ in school.”
Julian sat up at that. “Was that unusual?”
“In Verecunda, it certainly was. I lost a few close friends over that. One I didn’t lose was Cathy Arnold—she felt that it was my choice, even though she didn’t agree with it then.”
Julian could see pain coming over her again. “That was a difficult thing to do, wasn’t it?”
“It was the right thing to do,” she replied, “but the social ostracism was hard to take. It seemed to be harder on my mother than me, though—she arranged for my prom date to rape me.”
“You don’t need to relive that,” Julian said.
“Thank you,” Terry replied. “Now you know why Verecundan women have the reputation they do.”
“Girls,” Julian corrected her. “We’re still dealing with a girl here.” That earned Julian a long embrace before they resumed their catechism.
The pattern of life continued for everyone. Adam and George were spending a lot of time together, touring the kingdom and especially visiting their many economic enterprises. Serelia’s economy was very much a centralised business; most of the major enterprises in the country, except those of the remaining founding families such as the Amhersts, were under control of the Crown. This was one of the main things that caused the war with Drahla; now that the Drahlans were gone, the king’s control over the economy was enhanced. The monarchy’s success in maintaining control was based in part of their paternalistic policies towards their people; another important task of Adam and George was to hear petitions from people as they went about.
Terry and Darlene were making good progress at last on their duty. One morning Terry came in as usual. After they had prayer together, they were supposed to have Bible study, but Darlene wanted to chat a bit.
“How are things with Julian?” Darlene asked.
“They’re very good,” Terry replied with a smile. “My catechism is going well—we’re having a good time with it. We had a lot of fun back on the beach last Saturday with you, George, Desmond, Priscilla and the children—that was a nice outing.”
“That was nice,” Darlene echoed. She assumed a pensive look to her, and became silent.
“Is something wrong, Darlene?” Terry asked, worried about her friend.
Darlene took a Bible, opened it, placed it in front of Terry, pointed at a verse, and asked, “What does this mean?”
Terry read the verse aloud: “‘And all the people answered: ‘His blood be on our heads and on our children’s!’’—Matthew 27:25. This verse has always been difficult because it involves the Jews. The thing you have to remember, though, is that at this point the Jews were the only ones interested in Jesus Christ one way or the other. When the Gentiles came in contact with His followers, they often reacted in the same way or worse.”
“That’s the problem,” Darlene sighed.
“What’s the problem?”
“The Gentiles,” Darlene came back. “And specifically, the ones in Beran.”
“What are you talking about? Everyone knows that Christianity was illegal in Beran, as it still is in Claudia and was in Verecunda.”
“It’s more specific than that…In 1829 Beran’s first King Aaron—my ancestor—had set everything up—his throne, the Lodge, slavery, everything. Then he discovered that his Grand Tyler, a man named Edouard Avinet, was a Christian, and was running what we would now call a house church. Aaron became enraged at this; he decided to make an example out of him. So he took Avinet, his entire family, and others in the house church out to a place north of Beran now called Avinet’s Beach, stripped them and crucified them—all twenty-six of them. The youngest was Avinet’s last daughter, who was three. They were so proud of this that they incorporated the whole thing into their version of Royal Arch Masonry—I think the Claudians still do. Then Aaron made crucifixion the penalty for being a Christian. I think they only did that twice after that in Beran.”
“The Aloxans took me to Avinet’s Beach when I was there for their revival and Bible classes,” Terry shared. “They feel it’s a sacred place, even though I don’t think they’re aware of the full story. I think King Leslie does, though. They’re trying to purchase the property for their campground and Bible school—I think they’re pretty close to getting it.”
“You’ve been there?” Darlene asked. Darlene was, though retreating into her thoughts. The more Terry thought about the enormity of the event, the more tearful about it she became. Finally Darlene came out of her near trance and said, “Terry, am I cursed? What about my little one? Doesn’t it also say”—she took the Bible and went back a couple of chapters—“that ‘And the King will reply ‘I tell you, as often as you did it to one of these my Brothers, however lowly, you did it to me.’’ Have I, through those which have gone before me, crucified my Lord, Terry?”
Terry pulled herself back together, took a Bible and went to Ezekiel. “‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die,’” she read. “Everyone who has sinned in any way has crucified Jesus. Darlene, you took the first step to breaking this thing by being saved. You followed up on that step too. There’s a lot of ‘backwash’ from old Beran, some spiritual, and some temporal. We’ll just have to deal with it as it comes. But if we trust God, and follow Him, we can overcome whatever legacy this and all the other evils of old Beran—and old Verecunda too—that come our way.” Terry took Darlene’s hands and they prayed for this to happen, and then resumed their work.
As the days progressed, so did Terry’s catechism. One evening, as they sat in the colonnade, they reached the thirty-first of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Terry read it out: “The offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.”
“I suppose that may be difficult for you with your Roman Catholic background,” Julian said.
“Not really,” Terry replied. “I guess I didn’t give it much thought growing up. After I was born again and went to the Avalon Retreat, the more I read the Bible the more uncomfortable I got with the whole idea of the Mass as a sacrifice. Since then I have always preached that Christ’s work on the Cross is complete. And we seldom said Masses for the dead or living on the Retreat.”
“Interesting,” Julian mused. “Let’s move on to the next one.”
“Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God’s Law, either to vow the estate of a single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore, it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness,” Terry read. She put her Prayer Book down, turned to Julian and said, “That’s something only you can decide.” With that Julian felt those long slender fingers coasting across his back and once again found himself in a long embrace and kiss.