"Do we seriously have to go to this thing?" Midas asked. "How many times has Daniel warned us about Christianity?"
"You don't have to come if you don't want to," Raven said, "but this was the best part of my childhood, so I'm going."
"You aren't really giving me a choice. You know that, right?" Midas asked. "If you go, I'm going to have to go too, to keep you safe."
"Right, because people who put up tree decorations and take care of orphans are a huge threat," Raven said sarcastically.
"What?" Midas mouthed to his brother.
"It's a long story," Leopold said. "Don't ask."
They were nearing the entrance to the manor's great hall and Raven stopped and turned around to look at her friends.
"Look, I don't care if you come in with me or not, but if you do tag along, I'm going to expect you to behave yourself," she said. "That means no shouting, loud talking, or laughing at the people or the way they do things."
"When was the last time that we did something like that?" Midas asked in a hurt voice.
"Every time you encounter something new," Raven shot back. "You two can be pretty rude when it comes to such things. Even I know it and I've only known you for what, two years?"
"She does have a fair point there, brother," Leopold said. "I tend to behave like an angel but you're like the devil!"
"If you're going to start that now, don't even bother coming in," Raven said angrily. The two brothers could tell that she meant it.
"Fine, we'll behave," Midas said. Raven gave him a look of suspicion before turning around and heading for the great hall.
It appeared that the whole town had turned out to come to this service, just as the man at the orphanage had said. What seemed like every bench and chair in the whole place had been brought to the hall, but even so, it was standing room only when Raven, Leopold, and Midas walked through the doors. Midas gave a low whistle of surprise. He had certainly not expected this many people to be here. Leopold nudged Raven and pointed to the front of the room. Sitting cross-legged in front of the first row of chairs were the children. Those from the orphanage were surely there but couldn't be located among the throng. It seemed like every child in the entire village was here.
Raven's eyes began to water, so Leopold took her hand. Raven gave him a squeeze of appreciation for his emotional support and wiped her eyes with her free hand. On the other side of her, Midas stared open-mouthed at all of the people. He still couldn't get over the number who had turned out for this service. Everything he knew about Christianity had come from Daniel who described it among other things as a religious crutch only a handful of people relied on. Right here right now, it seemed like he was very, very wrong.
The service started almost immediately. A man walked to a podium, the only thing at the front of the room, opened a large book on it and began to read.
"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them."
Leopold looked at Raven and saw that tears were streaming out of her eyes. She whirled toward the door and forced her way through the crowd and out into the night. Leopold followed right behind her. Once outside she took a half dozen steps from the door before she sat down on the ground and cried. Leopold sat beside her, unsure of what to do. After a moment he put his arm around her shoulders.
Midas finally arrived. It had taken a moment for him to notice that his friends had left, and then the crowd had given him more trouble than the others. He pulled up in front of Raven and Leopold, slightly out of breath.
"What's wrong?" he asked. "I didn't think the story was supposed to be sad."
"It's not," Leopold said.
"Good, because I thought it was happy if nothing else," Midas said. "A little presumptuous and improbable perhaps, but happy."
"Midas," Leopold stopped his brother. "You're not helping."
"Well, what am I supposed to do?" Midas asked.
"Stop talking, sit down on the other side of her, and let her know you're always there for her when she needs it," Leopold said.
Midas shrugged and sat down on the other side of Raven. He looked uncomfortable and turned to Leopold to say something. A glare from his brother shut him up. The three friends sat like that for so long Leopold lost track of time. Eventually the service inside ended and the villagers began to file out of the building. Raven looked up at them.
"You guys must think I'm an idiot for crying like that."
"Do you want the truth?" Midas asked.
"We just don't understand," Leopold cut in. "We don't get what upset you, that's all. We're behind you completely."
"Jesus was the Son of God, according to Christianity," Raven said. "Do you know why He came down to earth?"
"Why?" Leopold asked.
"To show people the way to God," Raven answered. "He taught what was right and wrong. Taught people to love each other."
Midas gave a dry laugh.
"That would explain why Daniel isn't a fan of Christianity."
"What do you mean?" Leopold asked.
"Think about it, Leo," Raven said. "What do we get paid to do?"
"I guess assassinating people and starting wars isn't exactly on the 'good list'," Leopold said. "Well, what can we do about it? Anything for the money, right?"
"But is it worth it?" Raven asked. "Do you know what a war will do to these people?" She motioned toward the villagers still pouring out of the great hall.
"I don't know," Leopold said slowly. "It's always been me and Midas versus the world. Now it's us three against the world. It never occurred to me to care what happened to the world."
"A war will destroy them; it doesn't matter if they win or not," Midas said. "Their young men will die in battle, more will starve when their crops are burned; It'll be a slaughter they might not survive either way."
"We can't allow that to happen to them," Leopold said. "We'd be monsters if we did." In an instant, the truth revealed itself to him. He looked at his friends. "We've done this before. We are monsters."
"Yes, we are," his brother agreed. "But that doesn't mean we have to make that choice here."
"We can't do this job, not if that is the result," Leopold said. "What do we do now?"
"We give the money back to the baron and tell him we won't complete the contract," Midas said. "It'll be the first time we've ever welched on a job, but I guess there's a first time for everything."
"Before we make any decisions, we need to talk to Maria," Raven said, standing suddenly to her feet.
"And tell her what?" Leopold asked. "We can't very well say that we were contracted to start a war that would decimate her people."
"Leave it to me," Raven said. "It's all politics and negotiation. We're in my territory now; I'll handle it."