Critique Tuesday: John and his Enemy

I just finished this excerpt from my wip Legacy of Faith this afternoon.

This is an imagined encounter based on a real life enmity between John Mackilligen, the Covenanter (illegal Presbyterian) and John Paterson, the Bishop of Ross.


1670: Ballachraggan, Ross, Scotland. 
John Paterson, the Bishop of Ross looked down his prominent nose, narrowing his heavy-lidded eyes across the desk.  John would like to think he’d made no enemies in the course of his life, but despite the utmost care, he had.  And here was the chief of them.  
The Bishop of Ross had made some show of sympathy on his arrival, posturing as a fellow man of God.  Though John made no attempt to judge where the man stood with the Almighty, he certainly stood a great deal farther from John’s camp than he would have him think.  
“I understand,” the Bishop said, rubbing his knuckles, “how difficult it is to navigate the choices of these complicated times.  It was hard for me to turn away from the Covenant.”
John clamped his lips shut on his thoughts regarding that matter.  Paterson had balked against the Covenant from the first–running away to Holland rather than signing it.  He’d only joined the cause reluctantly when he realized power was not forthcoming otherwise.  No doubt he’d been only too glad to renounce the Covenant and take the king’s part, especially with a prize as pretty as a Bishopric.  
“But you must understand,” Paterson continued, “that God’s anointed king …”
John could no longer keep silent.  “The king is not the issue, here.  Ask anyone you wish.  I have never given the king cause to doubt my loyalty.”
“As you say.”  Paterson conceded the point with a nod, though he eyed John shrewdly, no doubt looking for any chink of treason in his righteous armour.  “And yet, the king has required conformity in his Church.”
“Christ’s Church, you mean.”  John kept his tone carefully mild.
“Just so.  Christ’s Church.”  Paterson’s eyes narrowed a degree more.  “But you must agree that to keep order, the king must exert control over the Church …”
“I agree with nothing of the sort.  On principle I cannot agree.  The Church must be free to follow the will of God.”
“No one is forcing you to preach doctrine you do not believe.  The king merely asks that you refrain from preaching against it.”
Here lay the treacherous path.  If John admitted to preaching, he fell afoul of the laws against the Covenanters.  If he denied preaching, he told a falsehood.  John took the middle ground and remained silent, though he had in mind several choice words he might have shared.  Paterson went on as though John had agreed with him.
“Now I’ve heard rumours that ye’ve been preaching up and down the Highlands and the coast, from here to Aberdeen.  Ye ken well enough that such unauthorized preaching is punishable under law.”
All the well-meaning sympathy had all but vanished now, replaced by a naked lust for power.  Paterson enjoyed his Bishopric and all the privileges it entailed, and none more so than holding a man helpless in his will.  But John was far from helpless.
“Ye’ve witnesses that saw me preach?”  He kept his tone mild.  “I’d be verra surprised if ye did.”
The Bishop abandoned all vestige of good will now.  “Mark me, Mackilligen.  I dinna care for your smug arrogance.  I mean to root out every insurrectionist in Ross–in all the Highlands, even.  You, most of all.”
John met Paterson’s gimlet eye with a steady gaze.  “Careful, sir, or ye may subject yourself to charges of libel.  Ye wilna find a trace of treason in me.”
“Not only will I prove you a traitor, I’ll see ye hang for it.”
“If ye’re quite finished, I’ll see you out.”  John stood abruptly.  “I’ve an estate to run.”
With a last fixed glare, Paterson stood.  “I shall see myself out.”  
But as his shoulders filled the doorframe he turned back, his jutting profile in silhouette and his hooded eye piercing.  “Ye may consider yourself safe, but one day ye’ll make a mistake.  I can wait until then.”

Please feel free to give me feedback and critique this, as well as provide your own excerpt for critique.  🙂



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