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A Mighty Fortress: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 07:32 EST



Archbishop’s Palace,
City of Manchyr,
Princedom of Corisande

    “So, My Lord,” Archbishop Klairmant Gairlyng kept his tone rather lighter than he actually felt at this particular moment, “now that you’ve been here for a five-day, what do you think?”

    “In what regard, Your Eminence?” Bishop Zherald Ahdymsyn responded blandly as the archbishop and his two guests stepped into Gairlyng’s study.

    “Zherald . . .” Bishop Kaisi Mahkhynroh said, raising one chiding index finger, and Ahdymsyn chuckled. Then he looked back at Gairlyng.

    “Forgive me, Your Eminence.” There was an edge of contrition in his voice. “I’m afraid my sense of humor sometimes betrays me into unbecoming levity. I think that’s at least partly a response to the fact that I used to take myself much too seriously. And, as the Writ says, God made Man to smile, as well as to weep.”

    “That’s true enough, My Lord,” Gairlyng agreed. “And sometimes, laughter is the only way to avoid weeping, I think.” He walked around the desk to the comfortable swivel chair behind it, and a courteous sweep of his right hand indicated the even more comfortable armchairs facing it. “Please, My Lords. Make yourselves easy. May I offer you any refreshment?”

    “Not for me, thank you, Your Eminence.” Ahdymsyn seated himself in one of the indicated chairs. “After we’ve finished our discussions here, I’m dining with Earl Anvil Rock and his son. I understand Earl Tartarian and at least one or two other members of the Regency Council will be joining us, as well.” He grimaced humorously. “As a bishop executor of Mother Church, I developed a remarkably hard head. Now, as a lowly bishop once more, and given to somewhat more abstemious habits, I don’t seem to have quite the capacity where alcohol is concerned before my jokes become a bit too loud and my judgment becomes somewhat less reliable than I think it is.” He frowned thoughtfully, rubbing one eyebrow. “Or that’s one possibility, at any rate. Another is that I never was quite as immune to its effects as I thought I was, but no one had the nerve to point it out to me.”

    He smiled broadly, but then his expression sobered and he looked very levelly into Gairlyng’s eyes across the archbishop’s desk.

    “Odd, isn’t it, how no one seems to want to challenge the judgment of Mother Church’s senior clergy?”

    Silence hovered for a moment or two, and then Gairlyng looked up at the aide who had escorted him and his guests from Manchyr Cathedral to the Archbishop’s Palace.

    “I think that will be all, Symyn,” he said. “If I need you, I’ll call.”

    “Of course, Your Eminence.”

    The dark-haired, dark-complexioned young under-priest’s brown cassock bore the Scepter of the Order of Langhorne, as did Gairlyng’s orange-trimmed white cassock, and there was a sort of familial resemblance about them, although the under-priest was obviously a nativeborn Corisandian. Had he been several years younger, or had Gairlyng been several years older, he might have been the archbishop’s son. As it was, Ahdymsyn was relatively certain it was simply a case of a young man modeling his own behavior and demeanor upon that of a superior whom he deeply respected.

    And it would appear there’s quite a bit to respect about the Archbishop, Ahdymsyn thought. Rather more than there was to respect about me in the good old days, at any rate!

    His lips twitched again, remembering certain conversations which had once passed between him and then-Bishop Maikel Staynair. It was, he reflected (for far from the first time), a very fortunate thing that Staynair’s sense of humor was as lively as his compassion was deep.

    The door closed behind the departing aide, and Gairlyng returned his attention to his guests. He’d gotten to know Mahkhynroh surprisingly well over the past month or two. Or perhaps not surprisingly well, given how closely he’d been compelled to work with the other man since his own elevation to the primacy of Corisande and Mahkhynroh’s installation as the Bishop of Manchyr. He wouldn’t have gone quite so far as to describe the two of them as friends yet. “Colleagues” was undoubtedly a better term, at least this far. They shared a powerful sense of mutual respect, however, and he’d come to appreciate that Mahkhynroh had been chosen for his present position at least in part because he combined a truly formidable intellect with a deep faith and a remarkably deep well of empathy. Despite his installation by a “foreign, heretical, schismatic church,” he’d already demonstrated a powerful ability to listen to the priests — and laity — of his bishopric. Not simply to listen, but to convince them he was actually hearing what they said . . . and that he would not hold frank speaking against them. No one would ever accuse him of weakness or vacillation, but neither could any honest person accuse him of tyranny or intolerance.

    Ahdymsyn, on the other hand, was so far a complete unknown. Gairlyng knew at least the bare bones of his official history, yet it was already obvious there were quite a lot of things that “official history” had left out. He knew Ahdymsyn had been Archbishop Erek Dynnys’ bishop executor in Charis before Dynnys’ fall from grace and eventual execution for heresy and treason. He knew Ahdymsyn came from a merely respectable Temple Lands family, with considerably fewer — and lower placed — connections than Gairlyng’s own family could boast. He knew Ahdymsyn, as bishop executor, had more than once reprimanded and disciplined Archbishop Maikel Staynair when Staynair had been simply the Bishop of Tellesberg, and that he had been imprisoned — or, at least, placed under “house arrest” — following the Kingdom of Charis’ decision to openly defy the Church of God Awaiting. And he knew that since that time, Ahdymsyn had become one of Staynair’s most trusted and valued “troubleshooters,” which explained his current presence in Corisande.

    What Gairlyng did not know, and what it was becoming rapidly evident to him he’d been mistaken about, was how — and why — Zherald Ahdymsyn had made that transition. He thought about that for a few seconds, then decided forthrightness was probably the best policy.

    “Forgive me, My Lord,” he said now, returning Ahdymsyn’s level regard, “but I’ve begun to suspect that my original assumptions about how you . . . come to hold your present position, shall we say, may have been somewhat in error.”

    “Or, to put it another way,” Ahdymsyn said dryly, “your ‘original assumptions’ were that, having seen the way the wind was blowing in Charis, and realizing that, whatever defense I might present, the Grand Inquisitor and the Chancellor were unlikely to be overjoyed to see me again in the Temple or Zion, I decided to turn my coat — or would that be my cassock? — while the turning was good. Would that be about the size of it, Your Eminence?”

    That, Gairlyng decided, was rather more forthrightness than he’d had in mind. Unfortunately . . .

    “Well, yes, actually,” he confessed, reminding himself that however he’d become one, he was an archbishop while Ahdymsyn was merely a bishop. “As I say, I’ve begun to think I was wrong to believe that, but while I don’t believe I’d have phrased it quite that way, that was more or less my original assumption.”

    “And, no doubt, exactly the way it was presented to you here in Corisande before the invasion,” Ahdymsyn suggested.

    “Yes,” Gairlyng said slowly, his tone rather more thoughtful, and Ahdymsyn shrugged.

    “I don’t doubt for a minute that the Group of Four’s presented things that way, whatever they truly think. But neither, in this case, do I doubt for a moment that that’s exactly what they think happened.” He grimaced once more. “Partly, I’m confident, because that’s precisely the way they would have been thinking under the same circumstances. But also, I’m very much afraid, because they’ve spoken with people who actually knew me. I hate to admit it, Your Eminence, but my own attitudes — the state of my own faith — at the time this all began ought to make that a very reasonable hypothesis for those who were well acquainted with me.”

    “That’s a remarkably forthright admission, My Lord,” Gairlyng said quietly, his chair squeaking ever so softly as he leaned back in it. “One I doubt comes easily to someone who once sat as close to an archbishop’s chair as you did.”

    “It comes more easily than you might think, Your Eminence,” Ahdymsyn replied. “I don’t say it was a pleasant truth to face when I first had to, you understand, but I’ve discovered the truth is the truth. We can hide from it, and we can deny it, but we can’t change it, and I’ve spent at least two thirds of my allotted span here on Safehold ignoring it. That doesn’t give me a great deal of time to work on balancing the ledger before I’m called to render my accounts before God. Under the circumstances, I don’t think I should waste any of it in pointless evasions.”

    “I see,” Gairlyng said. And I’m beginning to think I see why Staynair trusted you enough to send you here in his name, the archbishop added silently. “But since you’ve been so frank, My Lord, may I ask what actually led you to ‘face the truth,’ as you put it, in the first place?”

    “Quite a few things,” Ahdymsyn replied, sitting back in his own chair and crossing his legs. “One of them, to be honest, was the fact that I realized what sort of punishment I would face if I ever did return to the Temple Lands. Trust me, that was enough to give anyone pause . . . even before that butcher Clyntahn had Archbishop Erek tortured to death.” The ex-bishop executor’s face tightened for a moment. “I doubt any of us senior members of the priesthood ever actually gave much thought to having the Penalty of Schueler levied against us. That was a threat — a club — to hold over the heads of the laity in order to frighten them into doing God’s will. Which of course, had been revealed to us with perfect clarity.”

    Ahdymsyn’s biting tone could have chewed chunks out of the marble façade of Gairlyng’s palace, and his eyes were hard.

    “So I hadn’t actually anticipated that I might be tortured to death on the very steps of the Temple,” he continued. “I’d accepted that my fate was going to be unpleasant, you understand, but it never crossed my mind to fear that. So I’d expected, at least initially, that I’d be incarcerated somewhere in Charis, probably until the legitimate forces of Mother Church managed to liberate me, at which point I would be disciplined and sent to rusticate in disgrace, milking goats and making cheese in some obscure monastic community up in the Mountains of Light. Trust me, at the time I expected that to be more than sufficient punishment for someone of my own exquisite epicurean tastes.”

    He paused and looked down, and his eyes softened briefly, as if at some memory, as he stroked one sleeve of his remarkably plain cassock. Then he looked back up at Gairlyng, and the softness had vanished.

    “But then we learned in Tellesberg what had happened to the Archbishop,” he said flatly. “More than that, I received a letter from him — one he managed to have smuggled out before his execution.” Gairlyng’s eyes widened, and Ahdymsyn nodded. “It was written on a blank page he’d taken from a copy of the Holy Writ, Your Eminence,” he said softly. “I found that remarkably symbolic, under the circumstances. And in it, he told me his arrest — his trial and his conviction — had brought him face-to-face with the truth . . . and that he hadn’t liked what he’d seen. It was a brief letter. He had only the single sheet of paper, and I think he was writing in haste, lest one of his guards surprise him at the task. But he told me — ordered me, as my ecclesiastic superior — not to return to Zion. He told me what his own sentence had been, and what mine would undoubtedly be if I fell into Clyntahn’s hands. And he told me Clyntahn’s inquisitors had promised him an easy death if he would condemn Staynair and the rest of the ‘Church of Charis” hierarchy for apostasy and heresy. If he would confirm the Group of Four’s version of the reason they’d chosen to lay waste to an innocent kingdom. But he refused to do that. I’m sure you’ve heard what he actually said, and I’m sure you’ve wondered if what you heard was the truth or some lie created by Charisian propagandists.” He smiled without any humor at all. “It would certainly have occurred to me to wonder about that, after all. But I assure you, it was no lie. From the very scaffold on which he was to die, he rejected the lies the Group of Four had demanded of him. He rejected the easy death they’d promised him because that truth he’d finally faced was more important to him, there at the very end of his life, than anything else.”

    It was very quiet in Gairlyng’s study. The slow, measured ticking of the clock on one of the archbishop’s bookcases was almost thunderous in the stillness. Ahdymsyn let that silence linger for several moments, then shrugged.

    “Your Eminence, I knew the reality of the highest levels of Mother Church’s hierarchy . . . just as I’m sure you’ve known them. I knew why Clyntahn had the Archbishop sentenced, why for the first time ever the Penalty of Schueler was applied to a senior member of the episcopate. And I knew that, whatever his faults — and Langhorne knows they were almost as legion as my own! — Erek Dynnys did not deserve to die that sort of death simply as a way for a hopelessly corrupt vicarate to prop up its own authority. I looked around me in Charis, and I saw men and women who believed in God, not in the corrupt power and ambition of men like Zhaspahr Clyntahn, and when I saw that, I saw something I wanted to be. I saw something that convinced me that, even at that late a date, I — even I — might have a true vocation. Langhorne knows, it took God a while to find a hammer big enough to pound that possibility through a skull as thick as mine, but He’d managed it in the end. And, in my own possibly long-winded way, that’s the answer to your question. It’s not the answer to all of my questions — not yet — I’m afraid, but it’s something just as important. It’s the start of all my questions, and I’ve discovered that, unlike the days when I was Mother Church’s consecrated vice regent for Charis, with all the pomp and power of that office, I’m eager to find answers to those questions.”

    Ahdymsyn drew a deep breath, then he shrugged.

    “I’m no longer a bishop executor, Your Eminence. The Church of Charis doesn’t have those, but even if it did, I wouldn’t be one again. Assuming anyone would trust me to be one after the outstanding job I did last time around!”

    It was no smile, this time. It was a broad, flashing grin, well suited to any youngster explaining that fairies had just emptied the cookie jar. Then it faded again, but now the eyes were no longer hard, the voice no longer burdened with memories of anger and guilt. He looked at Gairlyng from a face of hard-won serenity, and his voice was equally serene.

    “I’m something far more important than a ‘bishop executor,’ now, Your Eminence. I’m a priest. Perhaps for the first time in my entire life, really, I’m a priest.” He shook his head. “Frankly, that would be far too hard an act for any high episcopal office to follow.”

    Gairlyng gazed back at him for a long, thoughtful moment, then looked at Mahkhynroh. None of that had been the answer he’d expected out of Zherald Ahdymsyn, yet somehow it never occurred to him for a moment to doubt the other man’s sincerity.



    Which is the biggest surprise of all, really, he thought. And where does that leave you, Klairmant?

    He thought about that carefully. He was the consecrated Archbishop of Corisande, as far as the Church of Charis was concerned. Which, of course, made him an utterly damned apostate heretic where the Church of God Awaiting was concerned. After what had happened to Erek Dynnys, as Ahdymsyn had just reminded him, there was no doubt in his mind what would happen if he or Ahdymsyn or Mahkhynroh ever fell into the hands of the Inquisition. That was a thought fit to wake a man wrapped in the cold sweat of nightmares, and it had, on more than one occasion. In fact, it had awakened him often, making him wonder what in the world — what in God’s name — he’d thought he was doing when he accepted his present office.

    And now this.

    As archbishop, he was Ahdymsyn’s ecclesiastic superior. Of course, Ahdymsyn wasn’t assigned to his archbishopric, so he’d properly come under Gairlyng’s orders only when those orders did not in any way conflict with instructions he’d already received from Maikel Staynair. Still, in this princedom, in this archbishopric and this office, Ahdymsyn could neither give Gairlyng orders nor pass judgment upon him. All he could do was report back to Staynair, who was thousands of miles away in Chisholm, assuming he’d met his planned travel schedule, or even farther away than that, in Emerald or in transit between Eraystor and Cherayth, if his schedule had slipped. Yet Ahdymsyn was Staynair’s personal representative. He was here specifically to smooth the way, prepare the ground, for Staynair’s first pastoral visit to Corisande. Despite everything, Gairlyng had expected a far more overtly political representative, especially given Ahdymsyn’s hierarchical pedigree. But what he’d gotten . . . what he’d gotten raised almost as many questions in his own mind — questions about himself — as they’d answered about Zherald Ahdymsyn.

    “My Lord,” he said finally, “I’m honored by the honesty with which you’ve described your own feelings and beliefs. And I’ll be honest and say it had never occurred to me that you might have . . . sustained that degree of genuine spiritual regeneration.” He raised one hand, waving it gently above his desk. “I don’t mean to imply that I believed you’d accepted your present office solely out of some sort of cynical ambition, trying to make the best deal that you could out of the situation which had come completely apart for you in Charis. But I must confess I’d done you a grave disservice and assumed that that was much of what had happened. Now, after what you’ve just said, I find myself in a bit of a quandary.”

    “A quandary, Your Eminence?” Ahdymsyn arched one eyebrow, and Gairlyng snorted.

    “Honesty deserves honesty, My Lord, especially between men who both claim to be servants of God,” he said.

    “Your Eminence, I doubt very much that you could — in honesty — tell me anything that would come as a tremendous surprise,” Ahdymsyn said dryly. “For example, I would be surprised — enormously surprised — to discover that you had accepted your present archbishopric solely out of a sense of deep loyalty and commitment to the Empire of Charis.”

    “Well,” Gairlyng’s voice was even drier than Ahdymsyn’s had been, “I believe I can safely set your mind to rest upon that point. However,” he leaned forward slightly and his expression became far more serious, even somber, “I must admit that despite my very best efforts, I felt more than one mental reservation when I took the vows of my new office.”

    Ahdymsyn cocked his head to one side, and Gairlyng glanced quickly at Mahkhynroh. This wasn’t something he’d admitted to the Bishop of Manchyr, yet he saw only calm interest in the other man’s eyes before he looked back at Ahdymsyn.

    “First, I would never have accepted this office, under any circumstances, if I hadn’t agreed Mother Church — or the vicarate, at least — has become hopelessly corrupt. And when I say ‘hopelessly,’ that’s exactly the word I meant to use. If I’d believed for one moment that someone like Zahmsyn Trynair might demand reform, or that someone like Zhaspahr Clyntahn would have permitted it if he had, I would have refused the archbishopric outright and immediately. But saying I believe Mother Church has been mortally wounded by her own vicars isn’t the same thing as saying I believe the Church of Charis must automatically be correct. Nor does it mean I’m somehow magically free of any suspicion that the Church of Charis has been co-opted by the Empire of Charis. Mother Church may have fallen into evil, but she was never intended to be the servant of secular political ambitions, and I won’t willingly serve any ‘Church’ which is no more than a political tool.” He grimaced. “The spiritual rot in Zion is itself the result of the perversion of religion in pursuit of power, and I’m not prepared simply to substitute perversion in the name of the power of princes for perversion in the name of the power of prelates.”

    “Granted.” Ahdymsyn nodded. “Yet the problem, of course, is that the Church of Charis can survive only so long as the Empire of Charis is able to protect it. The two are inextricably bound up with one another, in that respect, at least, and there are inevitably going to be times when religious policy is shaped by and reflects political policy. And the reverse, I assure you.”

    “I don’t doubt that for a moment.” Gairlyng reached up and squeezed the bridge of his nose gently between thumb and forefinger. “The situation is so incredibly complicated, with so many factions, so many dangers, that it could hardly be any other way.” He lowered his hand and looked directly at Ahdymsyn. “Still, if the Church is seen as a creature of the Empire, she will never gain general acceptance in Corisande. Not unless something changes more dramatically than I can presently imagine. In that regard, it would have been far better if she had been renamed the ‘Reform Church,’ perhaps, instead of the Church of Charis.”

    “That was considered,” Ahdymsyn told him. “It was rejected because, ultimately, the Group of Four was inevitably going to label it the ‘Church of Charis,’ whatever we called it. That being so, it seemed better to go ahead and embrace the title ourselves — I speak here using the ecclesiastic ‘we,’ of course,” he explained with a charming smile, “since I was not myself party to that particular decision. And another part of it, obviously, was that mutual dependence upon one another for survival which I’ve already mentioned. In the end, I think, the decision was that honesty and forthrightness were more important than the political or propaganda nuances of the name.”

    “Perhaps so, but that doesn’t magically expunge the unfortunate associations in the minds of a great many Corisandians. Or, for that matter, in my own mind, and I was scarcely born here in Corisande, myself.” Gairlyng shook his head. “I don’t claim to understand all of my own motivations myself, My Lord. I think any man who pretends he does is guilty of self-deception, at the very least. However, my primary reasons for accepting this office were four.

    “First, my belief, as I’ve already said, that Mother Church has gone too far down the path of corruption under her current hierarchy to be internally reformed. If reform is even possible for her at this late date, it will happen only because an external threat has forced it upon the vicarate, and, as I see it, the Church of Charis represents that external threat, that external demand for change.

    “Second, because I desire, above almost all other things, to prevent or at least mitigate the religious persecutions and counter-persecutions I dread when I look at a conflict such as this one. Men’s passions are seldom so inflamed as when they grapple with issues of the soul, My Lord. Be you personally ever so priestly — be Archbishop Maikel ever so gentle — violence, vengeance, and counter-vengeance will play their part soon enough. That isn’t an indictment of you, nor even an indictment of the Church of Charis. The Group of Four began it, not you, when they launched five other princedoms at the Kingdom of Charis’ throat. But, in its way, that only proves my point, and what happened at Ferayd only underscores it. I do not wish to see that cycle launched here in Corisande, and when this office was offered to me, I saw it as my best opportunity to do something to at least moderate it in the princedom which has become my home.”

    He paused, regarding Ahdymsyn steadily until the other man nodded slowly.

    “Third,” Gairlyng resumed, “I know there are far more members of the Corisandian priesthood who share my view of the state of Mother Church’s soul than anyone in the Temple or in Zion has ever dreamed. I’m sure I need hardly tell you this, after what you’ve seen in Charis, and in Emerald, and in Chisholm, yet I think it deserves to be stated anyway. The Group of Four, and the vicarate as a whole, have made the serious, serious error of assuming that if they can suppress internal voices of criticism — if they can use the power of the Inquisition to repress demands for reform — then those voices and those demands have no strength. Pose no threat. Unfortunately for them, they’re wrong, and there are pastors in this very city who prove my point. Bishop Kaisi is already aware of several of them, but I hope, My Lord, you’ll take the opportunity to attend mass at Saint Kathryn’s soon. I think you’ll hear a voice you recognize in Father Tymahn’s. I hope, however, that you’ll also recognize that what you’re hearing is a Corisandian voice, not that of a man who considers himself a Charisian.”

    He paused once more, raising one eyebrow, and Ahdymsyn nodded again, more firmly.

    “A valid distinction, and one I’ll strive to bear in mind,” the bishop acknowledged. “On the other hand, I scarcely thought of myself as ‘a Charisian’ when all of this began. I imagine that, in the fullness of time, your Father Tymahn may actually make something of the same transition on his own terms.”

    “He may, My Lord.” Gairlyng’s tone conveyed something less than confidence in that particular transition, and he grimaced.

    “I’ll be honest,” the archbishop went on, “and admit that the sticking point for quite a few Corisandians is the assassination of Prince Hektor and the Crown Prince. Whatever his faults from the perspective of other princedoms, and I’m probably more aware of them than the vast majority of Corisandians, Prince Hektor was both respected and popular here in Corisande. Many of his subjects, especially here in the capital, bitterly resent his murder, and the fact that the Church of Charis hasn’t condemned Cayleb for it makes the Church, in turn, suspect in their eyes. And, to be brutally honest, it’s a point upon which those trying to organize opposition to both the Church and the Empire are playing with considerable success.”

    “The Church,” Ahdymsyn said, and for the first time there was a hard, cold edge in his voice, “hasn’t condemned Emperor Cayleb for the murder of Prince Hektor because the Church doesn’t believe he was responsible for it. Obviously, condemning the rulers of the Church’s sole secular protector for an act of cold-blooded murder would be politically very difficult and dangerous. Nonetheless, I give you my personal assurance that Archbishop Maikel — and I — genuinely and sincerely believe the Emperor had nothing at all to do with Prince Hektor’s assassination. If for no other reason than because it would have been so incredibly stupid for him to have done anything of the sort! In fact –”

    He closed his mouth with an almost audible snap and made an angry, brushing-away gesture before he sat back — firmly — in his armchair. The office was very still and quiet for several seconds, until, finally, Gairlyng stirred behind his desk.

    “If you’ll recall, My Lord,” he said, and his tone was oddly calm, almost mild, considering what had just passed between him and Ahdymsyn, “I said I had four primary reasons for accepting this office. I fully realize that what you were about to say, what you stopped yourself from saying because you realized how self-serving it would sound, is that you believe it was Mother Church who had Prince Hektor killed.”

    Ahdymsyn seemed to stiffen in his chair, but Gairlyng met his gaze levelly, holding him in place.

    “I do not believe Mother Church ordered Prince Hektor’s murder,” the Archbishop of Corisande said very, very quietly, his eyes never wavering from Ahdymsyn’s. “But neither do I believe it was Emperor Cayleb. And that, My Lord, is the fourth reason I accepted this office.”

    “Because you believe that, from it, you’ll be in a position to help discover who did order it?” Ahdymsyn asked.

    “Oh, no, My Lord.” Gairlyng shook his head, his expression grim, and made the confession he’d never intended to make when these two men walked into his office. “I said I don’t believe Mother Church had Prince Hektor killed. That, however, is because I’m morally certain in my own mind who did.” Ahdymsyn’s eyes widened, and Gairlyng smiled without humor. “I don’t believe it was Mother Church . . . but I do believe it was Mother Church’s Grand Inquisitor,” he said softly.

    “You do?” Despite all of his formidable self-control, and all of his years of experience, Ahdymsyn couldn’t quite keep the surprise out of his voice, and Gairlyng’s thin smile grew ever so slightly wider without becoming a single degree warmer.

    “Like you, My Lord, I can imagine nothing stupider Cayleb could possibly have done, and the young man I met here in Manchyr is anything but stupid. And when I consider all the other possible candidates, one name suggests itself inescapably to me. Unlike the vast majority of the people here in Corisande, I’ve actually met Vicar Zhaspahr. May I assume you’ve done the same?”

    Ahdymsyn nodded, and Gairlyng shrugged.

    “In that case, I’m sure you’ll understand when I say that if there is one man in Zion who is simultaneously more prepared than Zhaspahr Clyntahn to embrace expediency, more certain his own prejudices accurately reflect God’s will, and more confident his intellect far surpasses that of any other mortal man, I have no idea who he might be. Prince Hektor’s murder, his instant transformation from one more warring prince to a martyr of Mother Church, would strike Clyntahn as a maneuver with absolutely no disadvantages, and I’m as certain as I’m sitting here that he personally ordered the assassinations. I can’t prove it. Not yet. In fact, I think it’s probable no one will ever be able to prove it, and even if someday I could, it wouldn’t suddenly make the notion of being subordinated to Charisian control magically palatable to Corisandians. But knowing what I know of the man, believing what I believe about what he’s already done — and what that implies about what he’s prepared to do in the future — I had no choice but to oppose him. In that respect, at least, I’m as loyal a son of the Church of Charis as any man on the face of the world.”

    Zherald Ahdymsyn sat back once more, regarding him for several silent moments, then shrugged.

    “Your Eminence, that’s precisely the point at which I began my own spiritual journey, so I’m scarcely in a position to criticize you for doing the same thing. And as far as the Church of Charis is concerned, I think you’ll find Archbishop Maikel is perfectly prepared to accept that starting point in anyone, even if it should transpire that you never reach the same destination I have. The difference between him and Zhaspahr Clyntahn doesn’t have anything to do with their confidence they’ll someday reach God’s goals. Neither one of them is ever going to waver in that belief, that determination. The difference is that Clyntahn is prepared to do whatever he must to reach the goal he’s dictated to God, while Archbishop Maikel trusts God to reach whatever goal He desires. And,” the bishop’s eyes warmed, “if you can actually meet Archbishop Maikel, spend a five-day or two in his presence, and not discover that any Church he’s responsible for building is worthy of your wholehearted support, then you’ll be the first person I’ve met who can do that!”

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