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By Heresies Distressed: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Monday, March 30, 2009 18:28 EDT



November, Year of God 892


City of Ferayd,
Ferayd Sound
Kingdom of Delferahk

    At least the Charisians were extending full military courtesies to their defeated enemies.

    The thought ran through the back of Sir Vyk Lakyr’s mind as he scaled the steep battens on the ship’s high side, then stepped through the entry port onto HMS Destroyer’s deck. The bosun’s pipes which had twittered painfully (and apparently endlessly) as he climbed fell blessedly silent, and the grave-faced young lieutenant waiting to greet him touched his right fist to his left shoulder in formal salute.

    “The Admiral extends his respects and asks you to join him in his day cabin, My Lord,” the lieutenant said.

    My, how polite, Lakyr thought, acutely conscious of the lack of weight where his sword should have hung by his side. Of course, he hadn’t seen that sword in the last two days. Not since he’d surrendered it to Admiral Rock Point’s senior Marine officer.

    “Thank you, Lieutenant,” he said aloud, and the lieutenant inclined his head in a slight bow, then turned to lead the way below.

    Lakyr tried not to gawk as they descended from the Charisian ship’s upper deck — the “spar deck,” they called it — to its gun deck. HMS Destroyer was huge, easily the largest ship he had ever been aboard, although at least one or two of the consorts anchored off what had once been the waterfront of the city of Ferayd looked larger than it was. What was even more impressive than its sheer size, however, was the number — and weight — of its guns. The short, stubby “carronades” on the spar deck had been bad enough; the monsters crouching on the gun deck were even worse. There had to be at least thirty of them, and he’d already seen the devastation their thirty-eight-pound round shot had wreaked upon the port’s defenses.

    Such as they were, and what there was of them, Lakyr thought.

    Sunlight streamed in through the open gun ports, illuminating what was almost certainly normally a gloomy cavern. Or perhaps not all that gloomy, he reflected, as he and the lieutenant passed through a brilliantly lit, rectangular pool of light, streaming down through the long, narrow grating of the spar deck main hatch. The smell of burned gun powder hovered faintly about him, despite the meticulously clean deck, scrubbed bulkheads, and canvas windscoops rigged to ventilate the ship. The smell was barely there, hovering at the backs of his nostrils, like something suspected more than actually experienced.

    Or perhaps it was the scent of a more mundane smoke, he reflected. After all, there was a large enough cloud of that hovering black and dense above the city he’d been charged to protect. Even though the breeze was blowing towards shore, not away from it, the smell of burning wood had accompanied him aboard Destroyer. Clinging to the folds of his own clothing, no doubt.

    They reached a closed door in a light bulkhead which was obviously designed to be taken down when the ship cleared for action. A uniformed Marine stood guard outside it with a bayoneted musket, and the lieutenant reached past him to rap sharply on the door with his knuckles.

    “Yes?” a deep voice responded.

    “Sir Vyk Lakyr is here, My Lord,” the lieutenant said.

    “Then please ask him to come in, Styvyn,” the deep voice replied.

    “Of course, My Lord,” the lieutenant replied, then opened the door and stepped courteously aside.

    “My Lord,” he murmured, and waved gracefully at the doorway.

    “Thank you, Lieutenant,” Lakyr replied, and stepped past him.

    Lakyr had expected to find his “host” waiting directly on the other side of that door, but his expectation was disappointed. The lieutenant followed him through the door, managing somehow — Lakyr was never certain afterword just how the young man accomplished it — to steer the visitor while still following a respectful half-pace behind him.

    Thus steered, Lakyr found himself leading the way across the cabin towards a second door. His eyes were busy, absorbing the furnishings about him: a woman’s portrait, smiling at any visitor as he entered; armchairs, a short sofa, a waxed and gleaming dining table with half a dozen chairs; a handsome ivory-faced clock ticking away; a polished wine rack made out of some dark, exotic tropical wood; a glass-fronted cabinet filled with crystal decanters and tulip-shaped glasses. They created a comfortable, welcoming space which only made the intrusion of the massive, carefully secured thirty-eight-pounder crouching with its muzzle touching a closed gun port an even greater contrast.

    The lieutenant followed him through the second door, and Lakyr paused just inside it as he caught sight of the ship’s great stern windows. He’d seen them from the boat rowing across the harbor, so he’d already known — intellectually, at least — that they stretched the full width of Destroyer’s stern. That wasn’t quite the same thing as seeing them from the inside, however, he discovered. Glass doors at the center of that vast expanse of windows gave access to a sternwalk which, like the windows themselves, ran the full width of the warship’s stern. Indeed, although he couldn’t see it from where he stood, the sternwalk wrapped around Destroyer’s quarter galleys, as well.

    The cabin into which he had just stepped was awash with light, bouncing up and through those windows as it reflected from the harbor’s wind-flurried surface, and the man waiting for him was a black silhouette against that brightness.

    “Sir Vyk Lakyr, My Lord,” the lieutenant murmured.

    “Thank you, Styvyn,” the dark silhouette said, and stepped forward. There was something awkward about his gait. Lakyr couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, until the other man stepped clear of the windows’ brightness and he saw the wooden peg which had replaced Admiral Rock Point’s lower right leg.

    “Sir Vyk,” Rock Point said.

    “My Lord.” Lakyr bowed slightly, and what might have been the ghost of a smile flickered across Rock Point’s mouth. Frankly, Lakyr doubted that was what had been. Not given the vigor with which Rock Point had executed the orders he’d been given by Emperor Cayleb were Lakyr’s city was concerned.

    “I invited you aboard for a brief conversation before we return to Charis,” Rock Point told him.

    “Return, My Lord?” Lakyr asked politely.

    “Come now, Sir Vyk.” Rock Point shook his head, and this time his smile was more evident. “We never had any intention of staying, you know. Nor,” his smile disappeared, “is there anything worth staying here to keep, is there?”

    “Not any longer, My Lord.” Lakyr couldn’t quite keep the grimness — and the anger — out of his tone, and Rock Point cocked his head to one side.

    “I’m not surprised you find the consequences of our little visit less than palatable, Sir Vyk. On the other hand, given what happened here in August, I’d say my Emperor showed considerable restraint, wouldn’t you?”

    A hot, angry retort hovered on Lakyr’s tongue, but he swallowed it unspoken. After all, he could hardly disagree.



    Rock Point turned and looked back out the stern windows at the pall of smoke swelling above Ferayd. More than a third of the city’s buildings had helped to feed that looming mushroom shape, but Rock Point had allowed Lakyr’s surrendered troops to demolish a semicircular fire break around the portion of Ferayd he’d been ordered to destroy. Emperor Cayleb’s instructions had specified that not a building was to be left standing within a two-mile radius of the Ferayd waterfront, and Rock Point had carried out his orders with precision.

    And also, Lakyr admitted unwillingly, with compassion. He’d permitted civilians whose homes had lain within the decreed radius of destruction to take away their most prized possessions — assuming they were sufficiently portable — before the torch had been applied. And the Charisian admiral had permitted no excesses on the part of his troops. Which, given what had happened to the Charisian merchant crews who’d been slaughtered here in Ferayd when Vicar Zhaspahr had ordered their ships seized, was far better than anything for which Lakyr had dared to hope.

    Of course, he thought, regarding Rock Point steadily, there’s still that interesting little question about exactly what Rock Point’s orders concerning the commander of the garrison who did the slaughtering might be.

    “I’m sure most of your citizens will be happy to see the last of us,” Rock Point continued. “I’d like to think that with the passage of time, they’ll realize we at least tried to kill as few of them as possible. However, there was no way we could allow what happened here to pass unanswered.”

    “I suppose not, My Lord,” Lakyr admitted, and braced himself. The admiral’s last sentence suggested he was about to discover precisely what Charis had in mind for the officer whose troops had committed to the atrocity which had brought Rock Point to Ferayd.

    “The real reason I invited you aboard Destroyer, Sir Vyk,” Rock Point said, almost as if he had read the Delferahkan’s mind, “was to deliver my Emperor’s message to your king. This –” he gestured with one hand at the smoke-choked this invisible to the stern windows “– is a part of that message, of course, but it’s scarcely all of it.”

    He paused, waiting, and Lakyr’s nostrils flared.

    “And the rest of it is, My Lord?” he asked finally, obedient to the admiral’s expectant silence.

    “And the rest of it is, Sir Vyk, that we know who actually ordered the seizure of our ships. We know whose agents . . . oversaw that seizure. Neither my Emperor, nor Charis, is prepared to hold Delferahk blameless over the murder of so many Charisian subjects, hence this.” He waved at the rising smoke once more. “Should more of our subjects be murdered elsewhere, be assured Emperor Cayleb will respond equally forcefully there, as well. Nor will there be any peace between any who attack Charis, or Charisians, at the orders and behest of corrupt men like Clyntahn and the rest of the Group of Four. But our true quarrel lies with the men in Zion who choose to pervert and poison God’s own Church. And that, Sir Vyk, is the real reason I asked you aboard. To tell you that although my Emperor must hold you, as any military commander, ultimately responsible for the actions of the men under your command, he understands that what happened here in Ferayd was neither of your seeking, nor what you intended. Which is why you will be returned ashore after our business this morning is concluded to deliver a written message from Emperor Cayleb to King Zhames.”

    “Indeed, My Lord?” Lakyr couldn’t quite keep the surprise — and the relief — out of his voice, and Rock Point snorted in amusement.

    “No doubt I would have anticipated a rather more . . . unpleasant outcome of this interview if I’d been in your shoes,” he said. But then his expression hardened. “I’m afraid, however, that the unpleasantness isn’t quite over yet. Come with me, Sir Vyk.”

    Lakyr’s nerves had tightened once again at Rock Point’s ominous warning. He wanted to ask the Charisian admiral what he’d meant, but he strongly suspected that he would find out altogether too quickly, anyway, and so he followed Rock Point out of the cabin without speaking.

    The admiral ascended the steep ladders to the upper deck with surprising nimbleness, despite his wooden leg. No doubt he’d had plenty of practice, Lakyr thought, following him up. But then the commander of Ferayd’s defeated garrison found himself standing once again upon the spar deck, and any thought about Rock Point’s agility disappeared abruptly.

    While the two of them had been below, in Rock Point’s cabin, Destroyer’s crew had been rigging halters from the ship’s yardarms. There were six of them, one dangling from either end of the lowest yard on each of the ship’s three masts.

    As Lakyr watched in stunned disbelief, deep-throated drums began to rumble like distant thunder echoing across mountain peaks. Bare feet pattered and boots clattered and thudded as seamen and Marines poured onto their ships’ upper decks in answer to that rolling summons, and then six men in priest’s cassocks badged with the purple sword and flame of the Order of Schueler were dragged across the deck towards the waiting nooses.

    “My Lord –!” Lakyr began, but Rock Point waved his right hand. The gesture was sharp, abrupt, the first truly angry thing Lakyr had seen out of the Charisian, and it decapitated his nascent protest as cleanly as any sword.

    “No, Sir Vyk,” Rock Point said harshly. “This is the rest of my Emperor’s message — not just to King Zhames, but to those bastards in Zion. We know who provoked this massacre, and we know who ordered it knowing his minions would do precisely what they in fact did. And those who murder Charisian subjects will answer to Charisian justice . . . whoever they may be.”

    Lakyr swallowed hard, feeling the sweat suddenly beading his hairline.

    I never even dreamed of this, he thought. It never even crossed my mind! Those men are priests — consecrated priests, servants of Mother Church! They can’t just –

    But the Charisians not only could, they were actually doing it. And despite his horror at the impiety of what was happening, a part of Sir Vyk Lakyr discovered that he couldn’t blame them for it.

    He saw Father Styvyn Graivyr, Bishop Ernyst Jynkyns’ intendant, the Office of Inquisition’s senior priest in Ferayd, among the prisoners. Graivyr looked stunned, white-faced . . . horrified. His hands were bound behind him, as were those of the other five inquisitors with him, and his shoulders twisted as his wrists fought against their bonds. He seemed almost unaware of his struggle against the cords as his eyes clung to the waiting noose, and he moved like a man trapped in the bowels of a nightmare.

    He never dreamed it might come to this, either, Lakyr realized, and yet another emotion flickered through him. He was still too stunned himself to think clearly, but if he hadn’t been, he might have been shocked to realize that at least part of what he was feeling was . . . satisfaction.

    Graivyr wasn’t the only inquisitor who seemed unable to believe, even now, that this could possibly be happening to them. One of them resisted far more frantically than Graivyr, flinging himself against the iron grip of the stonefaced Marines dragging him towards the waiting rope, babbling protests. And as Lakyr stared at the unbelievable events unfolding before him, he heard the rumble of other drums coming from other ships.

    He wrenched his eyes away from Destroyer’s deck, and his face tightened as he saw more ropes hanging from other ships’ yardarms. He didn’t try to count them. His shocked mind probably wouldn’t have been up to the task, anyway.



    “We interviewed all of the survivors before my Emperor gave us our orders, Sir Vyk,” Rock Point said, his harsh voice yanking Lakyr’s attention back to him. “Before we ever sailed for Ferayd, we knew whose voices were shouting ‘Holy Langhorne and no quarter!’ when your men came aboard our people’s ships. But we didn’t rely solely on that testimony when we tried the guilty. It never even crossed Graivyr’s mind that anyone else, anyone outside the Office of Inquisition itself would ever read his secret files. Unfortunately for him, he was wrong. These men were convicted not on the basis of any Charisian’s testimony, but on the basis of their own written statements and reports. Statements and reports in which they proudly reported, bragged about, the zeal with which they went about exhorting your troops to ‘Kill the heretics!’”

    The Charisian’s eyes were colder than northern ice, and Lakyr could physically feel the rage within him . . . and the iron will which kept that rage leashed and controlled.

    “Copies of those statements and reports will be provided to King Zhames — and to the Council of Vicars in Zion,” Rock Point continued coldly. “The originals will be returning to Tellesberg with me, so that we can be certain they won’t mysteriously disappear, but King Zhames will receive Graivyr’s own file copies. What he does with them, whether to publish them abroad, destroy them, or hand them back over to Clyntahn, is his business, his decision. But whatever he may do, we will do nothing in darkness, unseen by the eyes of men. We will, most assuredly, publish the evidence, and unlike the men and women — and children — they had murdered, Sir Vyk, every one of these men was offered the benefit of clergy after he was sentenced. And unlike the children who were slaughtered here on their own ships with their parents, there isn’t one of them who doesn’t understand exactly why he’s about to hang.”

    Lakyr swallowed hard, and Rock Point twitched his head in Graivyr’s direction.

    “For centuries the Inquisition has meted out the Church’s punishment. Perhaps there was once a time when that punishment was true justice. But that time has passed, Sir Vyk. God doesn’t need savagery to show His people what He desires of them, and these men — and others like them — have hidden behind Him for far too long. Used Him to shield them from the consequences of their own monstrous actions. Used their office and their authority in the service not of God, or even of God’s Church, but of vile and corrupt men like Vicar Zhaspahr. Now it is time they, and everyone like them, discover that the vestments they have perverted will no longer be permitted to protect murderers and torturers from justice. These men never dreamed they might face death for their crimes. They are about to discover differently . . . and perhaps at least some of their fellow inquisitors will be wise enough to learn from their example.”

    Lakyr stared at him, then cleared his throat.

    “My Lord,” he said hoarsely, “think before you do this!”

    “Oh, I assure you, I have thought, long and hard,” Rock Point said, his voice as inflexible as his title. “And so have my Emperor and my Empress.”

    “But if you do this, the Church –”

    “Sir Vyk, ‘the Church’ sat by and watched when the Group of Four planned the slaughter of my entire kingdom. ‘The Church’ has allowed herself to be ruled by men like Zhaspahr Clyntahn. ‘The Church’ has become the true servant of darkness in this world, and deep inside somewhere, all of her priesthood must know that. Well, so do we. Unlike ‘the Church,’ we will execute only the guilty, and unlike the Inquisition, we refuse to torture in God’s name, to extort confessions out of the innocent. But the guilty we will execute, starting here. Starting now.”

    Lakyr started to say something else, then closed his mouth.

    He’s not going to change his mind, the Delferahkan thought. Not any more than I would, if I had my King’s orders. And, he admitted unwillingly, it’s not as if Mother Church hadn’t already declared herself Charis’ enemy. And he’s not wrong about these men’s guilt, either.

    A spasm of something very like terror went through Lakyr on the heels of that last thought, but he couldn’t unthink it. It echoed somewhere deep down inside him, reverberating with his own anger, his own disgust, when Graivyr and his fellow Schuelerites turned what ought to have been — could have been — the bloodless seizure of the Charisian merchantmen here in Ferayd into bloody massacre.

    Perhaps, a tiny little voice said in the shadowed stillness of his heart, it really is time someone held those who do murder in the Church’s name accountable.

    That was the most terrifying thought of all, for it was pregnant with the dreadful implication of other thoughts, other decisions, looming before not just Sir Vyk Lakyr, but every living man and woman. As he watched the nooses being fitted around the necks of the struggling men on HMS Destroyer’s upper deck, he knew he was witnessing the seed from which all those other thoughts and decisions would spring. These executions were a declaration that men would be held accountable as men for their actions, that those who exhorted murder, who tortured and burned in “God’s name,” would no longer be permitted to hide behind their priestly status. And that was the true iron gage the Charisian Empire had chosen to fling at the Church of God Awaiting’s feet.

    The last noose went around the last condemned man’s neck and drew tight. Two of the priests on Destroyer’s deck were frantically trying to fling themselves from side to side, as if they thought they could somehow break free of their rough-edged hempen halters, and it took a pair of Marines each to keep them on their feet as the drums gave one last, thunderous roar, and fell silent at last.

    Lakyr heard one of the condemned inquisitors still babbling, pleading, but most of the others stood silent, as if they were no longer able to speak, or as if they had finally realized that nothing they could have said could possibly alter what was about to happen.

    Baron Rock Point faced them from Destroyer’s after deck, and his face was hard, his eyes bleak.

    “You stand condemned by your own words, your own written reports and statements, of having incited the murder of men — and of women and children. God knows, even if we do not, what other atrocities you may have committed, how much other blood may have stained your hands, in the service of that man-shaped corruption who wears the robe of the Grand Inquisitor. But you have convicted yourselves of the murders you did here, and that is more than sufficient.”

    “Blasphemer!” Graivyr shouted, his voice half-strangled with mingled fury and fear. “You and all your foul ‘empire’ will burn in Hell forever for shedding the blood of God’s own priests!”

    “Someone may burn in Hell for shedding innocent blood,” Rock Point said coldly. “For myself, I will face God’s judgment unafraid that the blood on my hands will condemn me in His eyes. Can you say the same, ‘priest’?”

    “Yes!” Graivyr’s voice gusted with passion, yet there was something else in it, something buried in its timbre, Lakyr thought. A note of fear that quailed before something more than the terror of impending death. At least one thin sliver of . . . uncertainty as he found himself on the threshold of mortality. What would he and the other inquisitors discover when they found themselves face-to-face at last with the Inquisition’s victims?

    “Then I wish you pleasure of your confidence,” Rock Point told Graivyr in an iron-hard voice, and nodded sharply to the parties of seamen who’d tailed onto the ends of the ropes.

    “Carry out the sentence,” he said.

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