Four days after the Interlude-December 29, 1170-the women of Canterbury again gather, and again speak ominous, foreboding words as they lament "the death of the old" year and the promise only of "a bitter spring" to follow. The priests have been marking the liturgical feasts that come after Christmas-the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, on December 26; the feast of St. John the Evangelist on December 27; the feast of the Holy Innocents, those children of Bethlehem slain by Herod's soldiers in the monarch's mad search for the newborn "king of the Jews," on December 28-but also express doubt that these chronological markers carry much meaning: as one priest states, "Every day is the day we should fear from or hope from. The critical moment. is always now. Even now, in sordid particulars / The eternal design may appear."
In truth, four soldiers of King Henry appear: we will learn later that their names are Reginald Fitz Urse, Sir Hugh de Morville, Baron William de Traci, and Richard Brito (the actual names of Becket's assassins, but here following Eliot's spellings; for alternative renderings, see the "Note on Historical Background" above). These knights demand to see Archbishop Becket, accusing him of treason. They demand that Becket absolve the bishops who, in defiance of the Vatican, participated in the coronation of King Henry's son. Becket protests that he cannot absolve them; only the Pope, who condemned them, could perform that action. Unsatisfied, the knights depart, promising to soon return, "for the King's justice. with swords." Becket's priests urge him to seek his own safety within the Cathedral. Becket, however, realizes that his appointed end has come. His destiny has arrived. Despite the Archbishop's calm and prayerful resolve, his priests, literally, drag him to say vespers. The chorus of Canterbury's women reflect on what awaits human beings beyond death: "[B]ehind the face of Death the Judgment /...