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By Heresies Distressed: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Friday, April 10, 2009 07:48 EDT



Priory of Saint Hamlyn,
City of Sarayn,
Earldom of Rivermouth,
Kingdom of Charis

    “Excuse me, My L — sir,” the rather plainly dressed young man said.

    The almost equally plainly dressed older man looked up with a chiding expression, but he permitted the self correction to pass unremarked.

    This time.

    “Yes, Ahlvyn?” he said instead.

    “There’s a messenger from Tellesberg,” Ahlvyn Shumay told him.

    “Really?” The older man, who tried very hard to remind himself that he was no longer Bishop Mylz Halcom — officially, at least — sat back in his chair and quirked an eyebrow.

    “Yes, Sir. From . . . our friend in Tellesberg.”

    Halcom’s raised eyebrow smoothed magically. As a matter of fact, he’d discovered quite a few “friends” in Tellesberg — more, really, than he’d hoped for, after his hasty departure from his own see in Hanth Town. At this particular moment, however, there was only one of them for whose messages Shumay would have interrupted him. And if his aide sometimes had trouble breaking the habit of addressing Halcom as a bishop, he’d demonstrated a much greater ability to remember never to mention names unless he absolutely had to.

    “I see.” Halcom gazed thoughtfully at Shumay for a handful of seconds, then shrugged very slightly. “Is there anything I need to do about it immediately, Ahlvyn?”

    “As a matter of fact, no, sir,” Shumay replied. “I just thought you’d like to know that he seems to have experienced no undue difficulty in making the arrangements you asked him to see to.”

    “Thank you, Ahlvyn. That’s very good news.”

    “Of course, sir,” Shumay murmured, and withdrew.

    Halcom gazed after him for a moment, then turned back to the brown-bearded man in the white lamp-badged brown habit of an upper-priest in the Order of Bédard. That robe was girdled by the white rope belt which marked him as the head of a monastic community, a fact which had a great deal to do with Halcom’s presence in this remarkably spartan office.

    “Please excuse the interruption, Father Ahzwald,” he said. “I’m afraid I may have overly impressed Ahlvyn with the need to deliver messages promptly.”

    “Please, My Lord.” Father Ahzwald shook his head. “Don’t concern yourself. Father Ahlvyn has been with you in the dragon’s mouth. If he thinks you need to know something, then I’m quite content to leave that decision in his hands.”

    “Thank you,” Halcom said, managing not to frown as the other man used his ecclesiastic title.

    Actually, he supposed, it didn’t really matter that much in this case. Father Ahzwald Banahr was the head of the Priory of Saint Hamlyn, and the priory was located in the city of Sarayn, well over two hundred and fifty miles from Tellesberg. It was unlikely that Baron Wave Thunder, King — no, Emperor — Cayleb’s spymaster, had infiltrated any of his agents into a relatively small priory that far from the capital. And particularly not into a priory of the same order which “Archbishop Maikel Staynair” called his own.

    Still, good security was a matter of developing the proper habits, and as Banahr had just pointed out, Halcom had survived more than a few five-days in the dragon’s mouth in Tellesberg, itself. And, once his business here in the Earldom of Rivermouth was completed, that was precisely where he’d be returning.

    “Well,” he said, “to return to our earlier discussion, Father. I fully realize how eager you are to strike a blow in the name of God and His Church, but I’m very much afraid that, as I said, your value to His cause is much greater where you already are.”

    “My Lord, with all due respect, neither I nor the brothers I’ve called to your attention are afraid of anything apostate heretics might do to us. And the fact that we’re members of the same order from which the author of this abomination sprang gives us a special responsibility to do something about it. I really think –”

    “Father,” Halcom interrupted, his tone as patient as he could make it, “we have the swordarms we need. We have a plentiful supply, actually, of good and godly men prepared to do God’s will in opposing what you’ve so rightly described as an ‘abomination.’ What we need more than anything else, is a support network. A community of the faithful — of those the schismatics have so disdainfully labeled ‘Temple Loyalists’ — prepared to gather supplies, stockpile weapons, offer shelter, serve as message conduits, pass funds as necessary. To be totally, brutally blunt, we need that sort of network much more than we need additional fighters.”

    Father Ahzwald couldn’t hide the disappointment in his expression, assuming he’d actually tried to hide it.

    Well, that’s just too bad, Halcom thought, because everything I just told him is the absolute, literal truth. Although I do hope we can instill at least a rudimentary sense of security into Father Ahzwald! I’m confident Wave Thunder isn’t wasting time looking in his direction yet, but that can always change, especially once we start staging our operations through the monastic community.

    “I understand what you’re saying, My Lord,” Banahr said after a moment. “And I suppose, if I’m honest, that I can’t really argue with your logic. Still, I can’t help feeling that a ‘fellow Bédardist’ might well be able to get close enough to Staynair to settle the business.”

    “It wasn’t a case of failing to get close enough, Father,” Halcom responded, and his voice was much grimmer than it had been a few moments before. “Believe me, our brothers got close enough to do the job easily enough. Or, they would have been close enough, if not for ‘Seijin Merlin.’”

    The bishop showed his teeth in an expression no one could ever possibly have confused with a smile.

    “We owe the good seijin quite a debt,” he continued, recalling the reports of Emperor Cayleb’s personal armsman standing balanced on the rail of the royal box in Tellesberg Cathedral, smoking pistols in hand, as he shot down the three volunteers who’d actually gotten close enough to physically lay hands on the apostate ‘archbishop.’ “Without him, Staynair would be dead this very moment. The time will come when we settle with him, too, Father.”

    “We’ve heard rumors about him, even here,” Banahr said, his expression troubled. “Some of the things he’s supposed to have done sound . . . preposterous. Impossible.”

    “Oh, I don’t doubt that for a moment,” Halcom replied. “He’s extraordinarily handy with a sword — and, obviously, with these ‘pistols’ Cayleb and his cronies have invented — and he has an incredibly irritating knack for being in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.”

    “Is it possible he has . . . assistance in managing that, My Lord?” Banahr asked in a very careful tone.

    “Is he receiving demonic assistance, do you mean, Father?” Halcom asked in reply, and chuckled. “I suppose anything is possible, but I’m inclined to think the superstitious give him rather too much credit. Most of the ‘impossible’ things he’s supposed to have done are much more probably the products of overactive imaginations than of reality! Strangling krakens with his bare hands? Single-handedly slaughtering two hundred, or three hundred — or was it five hundred? — Corisandian sailors and Marines aboard Royal Charis?” The bishop shook his head. “Athrawes is definitely a seijin, Father, and it would appear that the ridiculous legends about the martial capabilities of seijins in general have a solid core of truth, after all. But sooner or later, he’s going to arrive too late, or someone is going to manage to get a sword — or an arbalest bolt, or an arrow, or a bullet — through his guard, and that’s going to be the end of Seijin Merlin.”

    “I’m sure you’re right, My Lord, but still . . . .”



    Banahr let his voice trail off, and Halcom snorted.

    “At the moment, Father, it clearly suits the purposes of Staynair, Cayleb, and their cronies to . . . emphasize, shall we say, Athrawes’ abilities and accomplishments. After all, he’s Cayleb’s personal armsman. Encouraging people to think he’s some sort of infallible superman is likely to discourage direct attempts on the Emperor’s life. And having someone capable of ‘miraculously’ intervening to save Cayleb, or Staynair, is another way for them to pretend God truly favors their apostasy. After all, would he have sent a protector like ‘Seijin Merlin’ to look after Cayleb, to save Staynair from certain death, if He didn’t favor them? So it’s scarcely in their interests to downplay his accomplishments, is it?”

    “I suppose not,” Banahr said a bit doubtfully, and Halcom suppressed a sigh. The prior’s fixation on Captain Merlin Athrawes’ apparently more-than-human capabilities actually only underscored what Halcom had just said. Many of those who supported Cayleb in his insane, arrogant challenge to the authority of God Himself saw in Athrawes the imprimatur of God’s approval, instead. It was tempting to take advantage of the concern Banahr and others like him felt and label Athrawes a servant of demons — or even a demon, himself. In many ways, it might be an effective tool, especially among the more poorly educated and more credulous. But it had been over seven hundred years since anyone had last seen a true demon. Labeling Athrawes as one now would probably lose them as much support among the better educated and informed, and if they were going to successfully combat the schism, they couldn’t afford to lose that support. Besides, the opportunity it would provide for the schismatic propagandists to mock the Temple Loyalists’ “ridiculous claims” was something which had to be avoided.

    Mind you, there are times I’m more than half-tempted to sign on to the same belief, Halcom admitted. For example, I have no intention of telling Banahr about the way Merlin ‘just happened’ to turn up in the nick of time to save that bastard Mahklyn from the bonfire we’d arranged for him. But if he really were a demon, he’d have gotten there in time to save the rest of their precious Royal College, as well. The bishop smiled mentally, thinking about the literally decades of records which had gone up in the flames. They’re never going to be able to put all of that back together again, and a true demon would have recognized that and gotten there a half-hour or so sooner. And a true demon would have simply arranged to have our brothers arrested — or killed — before they ever got close enough to strike at Staynair, too. Killing them the way he actually did was certainly spectacular, but letting us get that close first only proved how deep — and committed — the opposition to their precious ‘Church of Charis’ really is.

    “Trust me, Father,” he said aloud, “God isn’t going to permit any demonic intervention. Not openly, at any rate. Staynair is right in at least one respect, damn him to Hell. God did create Man with free will. It’s the exercise of that free will by men who have willingly embraced evil that we confront, but God isn’t going to permit demons to openly intervene on the side of blasphemy and heresy. If that were what this ‘Merlin’ truly is, we’d see angelic intervention to deal with him. The Book of Chihiro makes that abundantly clear.”

    “Yes.” Banahr brightened visibly. “Yes, My Lord, that’s true. I shouldn’t have forgotten that. I suppose,” he grinned almost sheepishly, “that I’ve been so shocked by what’s happening that I’m starting to jump at shadows.”

    “You’re scarcely alone in that, Father,” Halcom said dryly. “On the other hand, in some ways, that only underscores what I was saying earlier about our need for a secure communication network. And, frankly, for what I suppose you might call ’safe houses’ where those who are openly striking at the forces of the apostate can feel secure between attacks. Someplace where they can gather and recoup their faith and their spiritual wholeness before going back out to face the schismatics once more.”

    “Yes.” Banahr nodded, slowly at first, but with gathering enthusiasm. “Yes, My Lord, I can see that. And, however much I might hunger to strike one of those blows myself, it’s clearly my duty to serve in the most effective way possible. Not to mention the fact that, so far as I know, you’re the only legitimate bishop remaining in the entire Kingdom. As such, anyone truly loyal to Mother Church must obviously place himself under your direction.”

    “I believe there are more members of the clergy of this accursed ‘Church of Charis’ who would agree with you in their heart of hearts on that point than Cayleb and Staynair dream,” Halcom said in a hard voice. “And the fact that they keep their faith secret, securely hidden, is a good thing, for now, at least.”

    Banahr nodded, and Halcom’s nostrils flared. Then he gave himself a small shake.

    “Now, Father,” he said more briskly. “I don’t want to get into too many particulars at the moment, but I can tell you that we have at least one or two quite wealthy supporters here in Charis. Some of them are prepared to place that wealth at the Temple Loyalists’ service. Obviously, we can’t permit any one of them to contribute too heavily.”

    Banahr looked a bit confused, and Halcom shook his head.

    “Think about it, Father,” he said patiently. “It’s unlikely that someone like Wave Thunder isn’t making a list of people — especially wealthy, or powerful people — he might suspect of Temple Loyalist sympathies. If a sizable percentage of one of those wealthy suspects’ wealth should suddenly disappear, it would ring all sorts of alarm bells in Wave Thunder’s mind. So it’s essential that any contributions to our cause be both carefully hidden and not so large as to obviously impact upon the wealth of the contributors.”

    Banahr was nodding again, and Halcom sat back in his chair and raised both hands, palms uppermost.

    “Fortunately, I’ve managed to make contact with a few people — some of them in Tellesberg, some of them not — who are prepared to channel ‘charitable contributions’ through various monasteries and convents and into our hands. That, to be honest, would be the greatest service Saint Hamlyn’s could provide to our cause at this time.”

    No one on Safehold had yet reinvented the term “money-laundering,” but Halcom had the essentials of the practice down pat.

    “Of course!” Banahr said promptly.

    “Think about it carefully, Father,” Halcom cautioned. “The possibility that, sooner or later, Wave Thunder or one of his spies is going to come up with something that could be traced back to you definitely exists. And for all of Cayleb’s sanctimonious disavowal of ‘repressive measures,’ he’s also made it clear that anyone who lends himself to supporting armed resistance to the Crown or to Staynair’s corrupt régime within the Church will face the sternest penalties.”

    “I’m not in love with the concept of martyrdom, My Lord,” Banahr replied somberly. “I’m not afraid of it, either, though. If it’s God’s will that I should die doing His work, then I will have been blessed above all other men.”

    “That’s true, Father,” Halcom said quietly, his eyes warm. “That’s very true. In fact, it’s that truth which makes it possible for me to go back into the ‘dragon’s mouth,’ as you put it. And sooner or later, Cayleb and Staynair — and, yes, even Seijin Merlin — are going to discover that no one can ultimately defeat men who remember that. And when they discover that, they’re also going to find themselves giving account to God and Langhorne, and that, Father Ahzwald, is something they’re not going to enjoy.”

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