The stone floor gleamed, polished to a sheen by decades of daily use. Devan hesitated, then walked the length of the aisle, his soft soles whispering on the stone. The silence of the nave unnerved him. He almost bolted - but the thought of facing his persecutors again... Well, anything was better than that. He reached the rail that demarcated the sanctuary and still hadn't seen anyone.
Risking everything he said, "I claim sanctuary." His voice echoed in the spartan space, no tapestries to absorb any sound.
The challenge "Do you, now?" was immediate. "Who are you? What brings you to our humble place of worship? And why do you think we should grant you anything?"
Devan started and whirled around looking for the source of the voice. He wondered why anyone in a place of sanctuary would challenge his presence and his claim. Had he been misinformed all these years, had he been lied to about the impartiality of churches? Where his hand had been resting on the pommel of his sword he now gripped it tightly.
"Please show yourself," he said giving the nooks and crannies of the sanctuary a hard look. "I'm not in the habit of talking to spirits."
"And I'm not in the habit of talking with armed men," came the disembodied voice. "I'd feel ever so much safer if you would unbuckle your sword belt and leave it on the floor. Do that and I will indeed show myself."
Not liking it but not having much apparent choice he slowly undid the clasp and lowered it to the floor. As he straightened he heard a rustle of feet and clothing and found himself surrounded by strapping young friars. Two of them seized his arms. Another picked up his sword and belt and examined it, nodding in satisfaction at something. Devan struggled briefly but soon realized that he was quite at the mercy of the friars and their presumed Abbot.
The fourth friar called out "Father, we're quite safe. We'll escort the young man to you." He nodded to the two holding Devan and they dropped their grips. "This way, your Highness." With a look the friar dispatched one of the others to take care of the prince's mount.
Bemused and unsettled that his ruse had been uncovered, Devan found himself ushered into the Abbot's office. It was only slightly less spartan than the nave and sanctuary. He took the proffered seat, relaxing for the first time in two days. He didn't demand any obeisance from the Father - which was just as well as the Father seemed disinclined to offer any. Devan knew he was in the right place.
After the silence stretched just to the edge of being uncomfortable, the Abbot said, "So, young prince, to what do we owe the honor of this visit? And what of this claim to sanctuary you make?
"Well, Father, I'd like to ask a question of your friar who examined my sword."
Turning to the friar in question, Devan asked, "How did you know I am me?"
Looking very uncomfortable the friar responded, "Well, your highness.." He stopped, uncertain how to proceed. "That is, your name is inscribed on the pommel of your sword. Your highness. After that I recognized you from your likeness on the 1 cen piece and, well..."
Devan blushed furiously. Of course. He'd been a fool to miss that detail. He paled as he realized that it was a good thing no one had stopped him on his flight across the province. He would've been clapped into irons immediately. On balance, though, his disguise had been adequate to get him this far. Finding and making off with the peasant's gelding in place of his stallion had been a stroke of fortune.
Still blushing, the prince turned back to the Abbot, and started in on his story.
"Well, Father, I know news doesn't make it out here very quickly. That's especially so for news that the bureaucracy doesn't want spread." The Abbot nodded. He'd been wondering about the lack of news from the capital.
"I left the environs of the capital two days ago after a rumour had reached me while I was out hunting. I left the hunting camp under cover of darkness taking nothing and no one with me. I have only that which you see before you. I traveled by night even after cutting my hair." He gestured ruefully at his dirty and ragged shock of hair.
"So I see. We have a room you can use while you are here but I warn you - they are nothing more than a friar's pallet and the communal facilities."
"I appreciate that, Father."
"So, what was the nature of the rumour you heard and how did it get to you?"
"The rumour is that my sister has taken control of the capital and is hunting down the rest of the family no matter how distant a relative. One of my closest retainers brought me the news. How he slipped out of the city, I don't know, but I am eternally grateful that he did. If I have not much else, at least I have my safety."
"Are you certain of that last, young prince?"
"Well, yes. A certain as anything is for me these days. Your reputation of being a good and just man has spread far and wide in the kingdom."
"Has it now? Hmmmm.... And if that reputation is not true?"
"Well, then my life is forfeit. But it was that anyway."
"Yes, I see. I am humbled that you put such faith in me." The Abbot bowed his head.