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By Heresies Distressed: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Monday, May 4, 2009 07:42 EDT



Parliament Hall,
City of Cherayth,
Kingdom of Chisholm

    It’s a good thing Sharleyan warned me, Cayleb thought wryly as he and his mounted bodyguard arrived outside Parliament Hall.

    Chisholm’s Parliament had a much more magnificent home than its Charisian equivalent. Unfortunately, that owed rather more to the Chisholmian nobility’s delusions of grandeur (and appetite for power) than it did to any reverence for popular participation in the kingdom’s government.

    The sprawling building’s windows flashed back the cold northern sunlight, and its white marble gleamed like chilled alabaster under a sky of palest blue, burnished with a few high puffs of cloud. The kingdom’s banner snapped and popped from two of the flagstaffs above it, flanking the tallest, central staff, which bore the banner of the new Charisian Empire: the traditional black field and golden kraken of Charis, quartered with the blue and white checkerboard of Chisholm. An icon of the Archangel Langhorne in his role as Lawgiver crowned the roof above the Hall’s portico, scepter raised in stern benediction and admonition; gold leaf glittered; and deep, detailed bas relief sculptures decorated the Hall’s enormous bronze doors. Doors whose sculptures, by the strangest turn of fate, seemed oddly dominated by heroically posed nobles on their prancing chargers, with precious few peasants, merchants, sailors, mechanics, or manufactory owners anywhere to be seen.

    The more I see, the more impressed I am that she managed to survive, much less retain her throne, Cayleb thought much more soberly as he took in the monument to the aristocracy’s traditional domination of political power here in Chisholm.

    He’d always known the political equation in Chisholm was fundamentally different from the one in Charis. He hadn’t realized before becoming privy to the Brethren of Saint Zherneau’s hidden influence just why Charis was so different from so many other kingdoms and principalities, but he’d always realized that commonly born Charisians had far more say than commoners in other lands when it came to the way in which they were ruled.

    Chisholm had been one of those “other lands,” at least until Sharleyan’s father had taken the throne. The Chisholmian aristocracy had secured a firm grip on the levers of power when a not-quite-rebellious alliance of his most powerful nobles forced Sharleyan’s great-grandfather, Irwain II, to “graciously grant” the Charter of Terayth. According to Merlin, the terms imposed upon the Crown at Terayth had been similar to those of something called the “Magna Carta” back on Old Earth, except that they’d been substantially more restrictive of the Crown’s prerogatives.

    The situation probably still wouldn’t have been irretrievable except for the unhappy (from the Crown’s perspective, at least) fact that her grandfather, Irwain III, had been a well-meaning but weak monarch. Sharleyan had once told Cayleb that her grandfather would have made a truly excellent minor baron back in the hills somewhere, but he’d been a disaster as a reigning king. Instead of regaining the ground his father had lost, Irwain III had sought compromise rather than conflict. He’d dreaded the thought of what open warfare would have cost his subjects and refused to inflict it upon them in defense of royal prerogtives . . . and so he’d seen the nobility make even more inroads into the king’s authority. By the time he died, the great nobles had reduced him to little more than a figurehead.

    Unfortunately (from the great magnates’ point of view, at least), however, they hadn’t quite completed the process at the time of his death . . . and Sharleyan’s father, King Sailys, had been made of sterner stuff. The fact that he’d grown to young manhood watching his own father’s humiliation as he kept steadily losing ground had probably had something to do with it, but he’d also been aware that factionalism among “his” nobles threatened to split Chisholm into warring fragments. That civil war would soon inflict all the bloodshed and horrors his father had bartered away the Crown’s authority trying desperately to avoid . . . unless he made it his business to prevent it. He did, and he’d found the two men whose support he needed to accomplish his seemingly hopeless task. Mahrak Sahndyrs had been Sailys’ chief adviser and confidant, but the king had been ably assisted by his future brother-in-law, the Duke of Halbrook Hollow, as well.

    Irwain III had been stripped of everything the nobility recognized as a source of power, but he’d retained his status as the head of state . . . and the Crown had retained the power to summon — and dissolve — Parliament. When the old king died, and Crown Prince Sailys assumed the throne, the law of the kingdom required that Parliament be summoned to confirm the new monarch and to swear fealty to him.

    Everyone had known it was a mere formality, of course, but they’d been wrong. What none of Irwain III’s aristocratic masters realized was that Sailys and his friend Mahrak Sahndyrs had spent the last ten years of King Irwain’s life planning for the day that summons would be issued. Along with a few very carefully chosen and recruited members of the House of Lords, they had steered the new Parliament in directions no one else had anticipated, and they’d done it so quietly, so skillfully, that their intended victims had never even seen it coming.

    That first Parliament of King Sailys was referred to now as the “Parliament of Love” in most of Chisholm’s histories. Ostensibly, that was because everyone had been so carried away with their enthusiasm for their charismatic new king that they’d gladly acquiesced in the “modest changes” he’d requested. Foremost among those “modest changes,” although Sailys and Green Mountain had been careful to bury it as deep in the underbrush as they could, had been the formation of the core of a small standing army. That particular proposal was justified on the basis of the growing threat from Corisande, and — according to those same official histories — Parliament had gladly supported such a farsighted request. In fact, the Lords had seen the miniscule authorized strength of the new “Royal Army” as little more than giving their youthful monarch a shiny new toy with which he could amuse himself rather than interfering in the serious business of running the kingdom.



    Some toys were more dangerous than others, however, and before the great nobles had awakened to their danger, the king and his handful of trusted advisers had created a genuine royal army, one which was both rather larger than the nobility had anticipated and answerable directly and solely to the Crown. And one which was independent of the feudal levies upon which previous monarchs had been forced to rely.

    They should call it the Parliament of Idiots, Cayleb thought bitingly. Not that I mind the fact that they were idiots, but how in God’s name could they have let him get away with it?

    Actually, he had a pretty shrewd notion of exactly how it could happen. Chisholm’s military traditions had been so backward by the standards of the great kingdoms of the mainland that it had still relied on feudal levies on the rare occasions when an army was required. That was the way it had always been, and Sailys’ nobles had been so accustomed to thinking in terms of those same feudal levies — which they controlled, not the Crown — that it had never occurred to them that a professional standing army could actually pose a threat.

    Unfortunately for them, they’d been wrong. The Royal Chisholmian Army might not have been particularly large by the standards of mainland realms, but it had been large enough. And its troops had all been volunteers, raised from the ranks of commoners. That had made them a dragon of a different color compared to the conscripted peasants who had filled out the ranks of the traditional levies. Among other things, they’d had a cohesiveness, an awareness of themselves as servants of the Crown and as voluntary members of something far greater than the usual noble’s drafted levies ever attained. More than that, they’d had a very good idea of who was most likely to get ground into dust in the course of any fighting between their betters’ competing factions, as well, which probably helped to explain why they’d been so impervious to aristocratic blandishments or threats once the nobility finally woke up to what was happening.

    With Sailys shrewdly playing the nobility’s factions off against one another to prevent them from combining against him while Green Mountain adroitly managed the kingdom’s financial affairs and Halbrook Hollow commanded the army, the king had broken the three most powerful of those factions, one by one, within six years of taking the throne. The other factions, made wise by the misfortune of their fellows, had finally combined against him and attempted to cut off funding for the Army through their control of Parliament, rather than face it in battle. But, while they’d been looking at Halbrook Hollow’s campaigns in the field, they’d missed Green Mountain’s rather quieter yet ultimately more deadly efforts inside Parliament Hall. Until, that was, the traditionally browbeaten Chamber of Commons had suddenly defied its rightful lords and masters and ranged itself at the Crown’s side under Green Mountain’s leadership. Even worse, the alliance Sailys and Green Mountain had quietly concluded with a sizable chunk of the lesser nobility (who had resented the great nobles’ self-aggrandizing monopoly of power just as much as the Crown had) made common cause with the Chamber of Commons. Instead of depriving the Army of funding, Parliament had actually voted to increase its size!

    Ten years after assuming the Crown, King Sailys had made himself the master of his own house. In the process, he’d established the precedent of the Crown’s alliance with the Commons which had been maintained during Sharleyan’s reign. The Chisholmian aristocracy was far from resigned to the permanent curtailment of its power, but it had at least learned the rudiments of discretion. The fact that Chisholm had become progressively more powerful and prosperous under Sailys had probably helped it swallow the painful medicine he, Green Mountain, and Halbrook Hollow had forced down its collective throat. Unfortunately, that power and prosperity had also posed a threat to Prince Hektor of Corisande’s plans, which explained Hektor’s subsidization of the “pirates” who had ultimately succeeded in killing Sailys.

    The more disgruntled of Sailys’ nobles had publicly mourned their king’s death even while they laid quiet plans for dealing with their new child-queen as their own great-great-grandfathers had dealt with Queen Ysabel. But if Sailys had been killed, Green Mountain and Halbrook Hollow were still very much alive, and Sailys’ daughter proved even more capable — and, when necessary, ruthless — than he had been himself . . . as the Duke of Three Hills and his allies had soon discovered.

    There was no doubt that the aristocracy retained a larger share of political authority in Chisholm than its Charisian counterparts did in Tellesberg, but that authority had been drastically reduced. And it was only a shadow of that which the nobility continued to enjoy in most other Safeholdian realms. Yet the trappings of its four-generations-ago dominance remained in Parliament Hall’s decoration and procedures, and Cayleb made it a point to keep reminding himself that the Chisholmian tradition of royal authority was younger — and probably weaker — than the Charisian tradition.

    On the other hand, we’re establishing all sorts of new traditions, aren’t we? Cayleb thought. And — so far, at least — Alahnah and Green Mountain have the situation in hand. Probably — his lips twitched in an involuntary smile — at least partly because these people really don’t want to see Sharleyan coming home to deal with any . . . unruliness herself!

    As always, the thought of his wife’s proven capabilities was deeply comforting . . . and sent a tremor of loneliness through him. It was still a marvel to him that someone should have become so deeply, almost painfully, vital to him in so short a time. And not just on a pragmatic level. In fact, if he was going to be honest with himself, not even mostly on a pragmatic level, any longer.

    He glanced over his shoulder to where Merlin rode at his back in the uniform of the new Imperial Charisian Guard. The blackened armor remained, as did the black tunic, but the golden kraken on Merlin’s breastplate now swam across a kite-shaped shield in the blue-and-white of the House of Tayt. Sharleyan’s personal guard detachment wore the same uniform, except that hers bore Chisholm’s doomwhale in place of the kraken.

    “Impressive, isn’t it?” the emperor said quietly, twitching his head at the building looming before them, and Merlin snorted.

    “So is the Temple,” he pointed out, equally quietly. “The wrappings are less important than the contents.”

    “Is that one of those wise seijin proverbs?” Cayleb asked with a grin.

    “No, but it probably should be.” Merlin cocked his head, studying the Hall’s imposing façade. “I wish Her Majesty were here to play tour guide,” he added.

    “So do I,” Cayleb admitted, then stopped speaking as they reached their destination and halted in the space a cordon of halberd-armed Royal Army infantrymen had kept clear before Parliament Hall.



    The emperor swung down from his saddle, accompanied by the sharp-eyed, handpicked Imperial Guard troopers of Merlin’s detachment. Those guardsmen were even more alert than usual, Cayleb noticed. None of them were oblivious to just how convenient certain parties would find it if something fatal were to overtake one Cayleb Ahrmahk.

    Despite the cold temperature, which struck Cayleb and the majority of his Charisian-born bodyguards as outright frigid, a substantial crowd had assembled outside Parliament Hall. The overwhelming majority of the spectators standing there amid steamy clouds of exhaled breath were commoners, probably because most of the nobles in the capital were already sitting snugly in their seats inside the Hall, Cayleb thought just a bit enviously as the cheers began to rise. The crowd’s enthusiasm meant he had to proceed slowly, graciously, acknowledging their greetings rather than scurrying towards the Hall’s waiting warmth.

    His guardsmen almost certainly shared his desire to get inside and out of the wind as quickly as possible, but they allowed no sign of that eagerness to distract them from their duties. They formed a loose ring around him, wide enough to keep anyone who might break through the Army cordon from getting to him with a knife. Ranged weapons were more problematical, of course, but Cayleb took a certain satisfaction from the knowledge that Merlin and Owl, the seijin’s computer henchman, had provided him with garments made out of the the same sort of “antiballistic smart fabric” (whatever that was) from which they’d made Archbishop Maikel’s vestments. Even if some unfriendly soul with an arbalest or a rifle were crouched behind one of the windows overlooking Parliament Hall, nothing he could do was likely to leave Cayleb with anything more than a painful bruise or two.

    Well, that and the need for some fairly inventive explanations, I suppose.

    His lips quirked at the thought, and then he heaved a surreptitious sigh of relief as he managed to get inside the building’s comforting warmth at last.

    It was much quieter inside Parliament Hall than it had been outside, although he wasn’t certain it was all that much of an improvement. However happy the members of the Commons seated on the western side of the Hall’s grand meeting chamber might be to see him, the Lords seated on its eastern side appeared to find it remarkably easy to restrain any unseemly enthusiasm they might be experiencing.

    I suppose it’s hard to blame them for that, Cayleb thought as the Speaker came towards him to offer formal greeting. They must have been unhappy enough with only Sharleyan to worry about. Now there’s me, as well . . . and any of them who have been awake enough to smell the chocolate have to be aware of how Charis’ Parliament operates. Whatever else they may be expecting out of me, it’s not going to be anything that will improve their position here in Chisholm.

    “Somehow,” he heard Merlin murmur very, very softly into his ear, “I don’t feel all warm and loved.”

    “You don’t?” Cayleb snorted back, then adjusted his face into an expression of proper formality as the Speaker bowed to him in greeting.

    “Welcome! Welcome, Your Majesty!”

    “Thank you, My Lord Speaker,” Cayleb replied graciously.

    “Both Houses await your pleasure with eagerness,” the Speaker continued more diplomatically, Cayleb was certain, than accurately, at least where the Lords were concerned.

    “Then let us not keep them waiting,” Cayleb said.



    He looks like an emperor, Mahrak Sahndyrs thought from his place among his fellow nobles as the Speaker ushered Cayleb to the lectern which had been draped in the new imperial flag to await him. Personally, Sahndyrs would have preferred to be seated on the western side of the Hall, among the commoners who were his staunchest allies. Unfortunately, he was a peer of the realm, and tradition demand that he be seated among his fellow aristocrats.

    Besides, it gives them all the opportunity to remind themselves — and me, of course — that while I may be First Councilor, I’m also still a mere baron.

    Sharleyan had offered several times to do something about that, but Green Mountain had always declined. He could put up with the pretensions of snobbish earls and dukes all day long, if he must, and his decision to remain a “mere baron” was important to his commoner allies. They understood that the Queen’s senior minister had to be a nobleman, but they found a “mere baron” far more acceptable than they would have found an earl or a duke. Now he watched the young man in the embroidered thigh- length tunic and loose-fitting breeches which still looked undeniably exotic to most Chisholmians standing where Sharleyan had stood so often, the emerald-set chain of a Charisian king flashing about his neck, and leaned back comfortably in his own chair. He’d half-expected Cayleb to come in full imperial regalia, and he still wasn’t sure the younger man’s decision not to hadn’t been a mistake, but the baron had to admit that he’d never seen a more kingly young man in his life.

    Clothes don’t make the man, nor a crown a king, he reminded himself. Not really, whatever certain other people my think. That has to come from within, from a man’s own strength, confidence, and willpower, and this young man has those qualities in plenty.

    Somehow, he expected to enjoy the next half hour or so rather more than one of those earls or dukes he wasn’t one of.



    “My Lords and Ladies,” Cayleb said after the Speaker’s fulsome, flowery introduction had finally ended, “I greet you in the name of Charis, and I bring you a message from your Queen and Empress.”

    He paused for a moment, letting his eyes sweep over the assembled members of Parliament’s houses. Even those who undoubtedly least wanted to hear what he was about to say were listening attentively, and he smiled as he pitched his voice to carry to every one of those ears.

    “Your Empress — my wife — bade me tell you that she wishes she could be here to speak to you in person. Unfortunately, the great challenges and tasks which our new Empire faces do not always let us do what we would like to do. Queen Sharleyan — Empress Sharleyan — remained behind in Tellesberg because she, and only she, has the power and authority to make binding decisions in both our names. While I take the field against our common enemies in Corisande, she has assumed the heavy burden of governing both our realms, and I need not tell you that those realms could not in better hands.”

    He paused again, waiting while what he’d already said sank home. There was nothing new in it, not really. Yet this was the first time he had formally enunciated to Chisholm’s Parliament his acceptance of Sharleyan’s full equality as his coruler.

    “At this time, as we face the Group of Four and the mainland realms under its sway across the Anvil and the Gulf of Tarot, Her Majesty finds herself confronting not simply political and financial decisions, but the military decisions required to defend our people against our enemies, as well. Even now, our forces will have completed their operations against Delferahk in punishment for the Ferayd Massacre, and it will be her responsibility to decide what other actions may be necessary. It is not a task anyone else could conceivably have undertaken, and it is one which I implicitly trust her to discharge successfully, but we must not delude ourselves that she will find it an easy one.

    “My Lords and Ladies, the dangers which we face, the decisions we must undertake, the prices we must pay are unique.” His eyes swept slowly across the seated peers and the members of the House of Commons. “No one else in the history of Safehold has faced the enemy we face. No other realm, no other people, have found themselves at war with the Church which was meant to be mother to us all. We, the combined people of the Kingdoms of Charis and Chisholm, know our enemy. In Charis we were forced to defend ourselves against a totally unjustified — and unjustifiable — onslaught ordered by the corrupt men in Zion who have perverted everything Mother Church was ever meant to be. Thousands of my father’s subjects — and my father, himself — gave their lives stopping that attack, defending their homes and families and the belief that men and women are meant to worship God, not bow their heads at the feet of four corrupt, venal, arrogant, blasphemous men whose actions profane the vestments they wear and the very air they breathe.”

    He paused again, for just a moment, then continued in a softer voice, clear and yet pitched low enough his audience was forced to listen very carefully to hear him.

    “Oh, yes, My Lords and Ladies. Thousands of Charisians died. But so did thousands of Chisholmians. Chisholmians whose only ‘crime’ was that the Group of Four had ordered Queen Sharleyan to join her own kingdom’s worst enemy in an attack upon a friend who had never harmed Chisholm in any way. She had no choice. They spoke with the authority of God — or so they claimed — and all the coercive authority of the Inquisition and Mother Church. And so she was forced to bend to their will, and how many of your father, sons, husbands, and brothers died with my father because she had no choice?”

    Dead silence reigned in Parliament Hall, and he let it linger. Then, slowly, he drew himself up to his full height.

    “My Lords and Ladies, never doubt the courage your Queen showed when she accepted my proposal of marriage. It was not a decision she reached lightly, but it was the right decision. It was the decision of a queen who will not see her people’s lives sacrificed, thrown away as if they were no more important than deciding which shoes to wear today, at the whim of four corrupt and evil men. The decision of a queen who knew that if the Group of Four’s ambition was not checked, if their corruption of Mother Church was not cleansed, the Kingdom of Charis would have been but the first of many victims, and the keeper of men’s souls would have become the means of their destruction.

    “I know there are those here in Chisholm, as in Charis, who fear the course upon which we have found ourselves forced to sail. Do not think your Queen and I don’t understand those fears. That we don’t share them. To set our own mortal wills, our own mortal hands, against the might and majesty of Mother Church? To set our understanding of God’s will against those who wear the orange? To set our defiance against those who grip eight in ten of all Safeholdians in the iron fist of their power? Of course we have tasted fear of our own. Of course we came to this moment in trembling, and only because those vile men in Zion left us no choice . . . and because the other men in Zion did not stop them. Only because we will live and die as men and women who worship God joyously, not as the cringing slaves of a corrupt clique who have set their own power, their own greed, in the place of God’s will. Make no mistake; we will never bow the knee to Zhaspahr Clyntahn and his cronies!”



    Spines straightened throughout Parliament Hall, and Cayleb nodded to them slowly.

    “That was the reason your Queen agreed to become my wife. The reason she agreed to merge our realms into a single greater whole. The reason she, too, has drawn the sword of resistance. This is not Charis’ war. It isn’t Chisholm’s war, or Cayleb’s war, or Sharleyan’s war. It is everyone’s war. It is the war of every child of God, of every man and woman who believes in justice. That is the war your Queen had the high courage to join when she might have tried to close her eyes to the truth and avoid that dreadful decision.”

    Even some of the peers seemed to sit taller in their seats, eyes brighter, but it was in the eyes of the Commons that Cayleb saw the true fire.

    “There is not a single soul in Tellesberg, or anywhere in the Kingdom of Charis, who does not recognize the decision Queen Sharleyan made,” he told those burning eyes quietly. “No one who fails to understand the danger she chose to face with her eyes wide and her head high. And that, My Lords and Ladies, is why the Kingdom of Charis has taken her to its heart. They, as you, have come to know her, and in knowing her, they have come to trust her. To love her. Perhaps the subjects of another realm might question whether or not they have. Might be unwilling — or unable — to believe anyone could win the heart of a strange and new kingdom so quickly. But you already know her, have watched the girl who was forced to take her father’s throne untimely grow under the challenges she has faced. Seen her grow from the sorrowing child into a queen who is Queen indeed, in the full power and majesty of her reign. You know what the people of Charis saw in her — what I see in her, every time I look at her — and because you know her, you know how she could have won her new subjects in Tellesberg so quickly.”

    There was sober agreement and satisfaction in faces throughout Parliament Hall, and nods, and — here and there — smiles of memory and pride, as well. Cayleb saw them, and smiled back at them.

    “We have not yet been granted the time to complete the arrangements, the reorganization, which was a part of the marriage agreement between Queen Sharleyan and myself — between Charis and Chisholm. The press of events, the threat of our enemies, has forced us to move more quickly even than we had expected. But those arrangements are too important, too fundamental, to be put aside, and so I charge you, My Lords and Ladies, to select from your number those who will represent you in our new, imperial parliament. You must choose them within the next month, and you must send them to Tellesberg, where they will sit with the men and women chosen by the Parliament of Charis, under Empress Sharleyan’s personal direction, and forge that new Imperial Parliament. I entrust this vital task to your hands, to the hands of Queen Mother Alahnah and Baron Green Mountain. I do not fear that you will fail me, or Her Majesty, in this essential duty.”

    He saw astonishment in the faces of many members of his audience, and disbelief in not a few of them, as they realized what he was saying. When they grasped the fact that he would allow Sharleyan to create the new institutions of imperial government without even looking over her shoulder the entire time. That he truly trusted her that much.

    “For at least the immediate future, My Lords and Ladies,” he told them with a crooked smile, “my own time bids fair to be more occupied with tasks of the sword than with tasks of the council chamber. I wish it were not so, but what I wish cannot change what is. Yet never doubt that whatever Empress Sharleyan does, whatever decision she makes, it will also be my decision, and if I cannot join her in the council chamber, I can — and will — support her outside it.”

    His voice hardened, turned grim, almost harsh, with the final sentence, and his brown eyes were dark. He turned those eyes on the assembled peers of Chisholm, and no man or woman in Parliament Hall misunderstood his meaning . . . or his warning. Here and there one or two of Sharleyan’s nobles sought to meet his eye with defiance. They did not succeed.

    “A mighty challenge and a daunting task lie before us, My Lords and Ladies,” he said quietly into the intense silence, “and I do not believe God sends great challenges to the unworthy, or that He chooses weaklings for the burdens He lays upon men and women. He expects us to meet those challenges, to straighten our backs under those burdens, and so we shall. We face the sternest test that any have ever faced since the days of the Archangels themselves, and we shall be worthy of the challenge He has sent us, of the trust He has shown in us. Here we stand. We can do no other, and we will not retreat or yield. We will prevail, however long the journey, however great the cost, so help us God.”

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