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By Heresies Distressed: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Friday, May 8, 2009 06:42 EDT



City of Cherayth,
Cherry Bay,
Kingdom of Chisholm

    Cayleb Ahrmahk stood once again at the foot of his flagship’s gangway. The weather was different today — even colder, but with a heavy overcast and a raw, wet humidity. Baron Green Mountain had assured him there would be snow by nightfall, and a part of him wished rather wistfully that the snowfall would go ahead and begin. It wasn’t something anyone saw very often in Tellesberg, after all.

    Unfortunately, he really couldn’t stay to watch snowflakes. In fact, he’d spent a five-day and a half longer here in Cherayth than his schedule had originally allowed for already. The harbor was less crowded now, since Bryahn Lock Island had taken the majority of the invasion fleet — and the Chisholmian galleys which had been added to its escorts — on ahead. Empress of Charis and the rest of her squadron should be able to overtake the lumbering main body without any difficulty. It felt decidedly odd to look out across Cherry Bay’s waters and not see Charisian transports lying to their anchors, though, and he couldn’t help feeling impatient. The extra delay on his part might not have made any difference at all in the timing of the invasion of Corisande — in fact, he knew it hadn’t — but it didn’t feel that way.

    Not that he could begrudge the extra days here in Sharleyan’s capital. He’d spent most of them conferring with Mahrak Sahndyrs, Queen Mother Alahnah, and their closest allies from Sharleyan’s royal council, and he’d sensed the gradual relaxation of muscles and spines . . . especially after his address to Parliament. Even those closest to Sharleyan had nursed inevitable reservations about their new “Emperor.” Cayleb could hardly blame them for that. In fact, he was gratified — and more than a little surprised, if he was going to be honest about it — by how quickly they’d managed to get beyond it. Taking the time to accomplish that would have been worthwhile entirely on its own merits, but that wasn’t all he’d managed to accomplish with Green Mountain and Alahnah’s assistance.

    Of course, not everyone’s been so delighted with my visit, have they? he mused with a certain gleefulness.

    Despite their outwardly expressed enthusiasm following his appearance in Parliament Hall, his speech had more or less confirmed the Chisholmian nobility’s worst suspicions. But if they’d been dismayed to discover just how completely their new Emperor shared their Queen’s view of the proper balance between royal (or imperial) authority and that of the aristocracy, they’d been careful not to show it too openly. The Commons, on the other hand, had been downright exuberant — one might almost have said jubilant — at the same confirmation. And much of the uncertainty and even fear many Chisholmians had nourished about Cayleb’s own religious views had been ameliorated, if not totally dismissed, by the masses he had attended in Cherayth Cathedral at the Queen Mother’s side. The hard-core Temple Loyalists weren’t going to care what he did, but his obvious piety had greatly reassured those who’d been concerned by the tales of heresy, apostasy, and Shan-wei worship put about by the Group of Four and their adherents.

    How little they know, he thought, rather more harshly as he looked up at the dark gray clouds riding above the steel-colored winter waters of Cherry Bay. How little they know.

    A part of him had found it increasingly difficult to go through the motions of the Church’s liturgy ever since he’d read Saint Zherneau’s journal. In fact, he often thought, the Church propagandists were far closer to the truth than they ever suspected when they accused him of Shan-wei worship. If there’d been any of the so-called “archangels” worthy of reverence, it had been she and the members of the original colony command crew who had stood with her in their defiance of “the Archangel Langhorne’s” megalomania. Which was why Langhorne had murdered all of them, of course. Knowing the entire Church of God Awaiting was one huge perversion, a monstrous lie, deliberately calculated to bind an entire planet into an antitechnology mindset and based upon the murder of any who opposed it from the very beginning, made it difficult to pay even lip service to its doctrines.

    But Maikel was right about that, too, the Emperor reflected. Men can tell all the lies they want about God, but it doesn’t change the truth. And the worship of those lied to by the Church is no less real, no less sincere, simply because they don’t know the truth.

    And the brethren were right about “the impatience of youth” where I’m concerned in at least one respect, he admitted grimly. I really do want to yank away the mask, tell everyone on Safehold the truth. It sickens me not to.

    Perhaps it did, he reflected now, gazing out across the crowded harbor. Yet however sickened he might be, he also knew Maikel Staynair was also right that they dared not reveal the truth about “the Archangel Langhorne’s” divinity. Not yet. The truth must be told, on that point the Archbishop of Tellesberg and the Brethern of Saint Zherneau were as grimly determined as Cayleb himself. But it could not be told yet. The tyrannical power of the Church of God Awaiting must be broken before the lie upon which that power was based could be denounced. Every single human being on the planet of Safehold had been reared in the Church, taught since childhood to believe the lie, and they did. To attempt to denounce that lie would only give the Group of Four and Council of Vicars a priceless — at almost certainly fatal — weapon.

    The Church of Charis’ position in Chisholm was a bit more precarious than its position in Charis itself. That wasn’t too surprising, given the fact that Chisholm had no equivalent of the Brethern of Saint Zherneau. There’d been no one to do the work of preparing the ground, the way Staynair and his predecessors among the brethren had done in Charis. Still, Pawal Braynair, who had become the Archbishop of Cherayth when Sharleyan made her decision to defy the Group of Four, had not impressed Cayleb as much as Maikel Staynair. Of course, Staynair was a hard act for anyone to follow, and the fact that Cayleb had known him literally for his entire life only made that even more true.

    Braynair seemed a bit more timid, a bit less willing to confront opposition head on, and less flexible. Cayleb never doubted the man’s sincerity, but Archbishop Pawal lacked that intensely, almost radiantly caring aura which enveloped anyone who came within ten paces of Maikel Staynair.

    Well, of course he lacks it! Cayleb scolded himself. Just how many Maikel Staynairs do you think there are in a generation, Cayleb? Spend your time thanking God for the one you’ve got, not complaining about the others you didn’t get! And don’t hold the fact that Braynair isn’t up to Maikel’s weight against him, either.



    At least there was no doubt in his mind — or in Merlin’s, for that matter — that Braynair’s espousal of the Church of Charis’ doctrines and denunciations of the Group of Four’s perversions of the Church were genuine and heartfelt. He might not be another Staynair, but he appeared to have his own dogged, unflinching internal strength. If he never struck the sparks of spontaneous love which Staynair evoked so effortlessly from his own flock, he would be there to the very end, shoulders hunched against the blast, facing any storm that came his way. And that, Cayleb told himself, was all that any emperor had a right to ask of any man.

    There was no telling how someone like Braynair would have responded to Saint Zherneau’s Journal, assuming he were ever given the opportunity to read it. Which only underscored the strength of Staynair’s argument against bringing the truth to Safehold too quickly. No. They had to let the lie stand at least a little longer, until the Church of Charis, at least, had been given time to think untrammeled by the Inquisition’s heavy hand.

    But the day will come, Langhorne, Cayleb promised the ghost of Eric Langhorne in whatever corner of Hell it had been banished to. The day will come. Never doubt it. Merlin and I will see to that.

    He glanced sideways to where Captain Athrawes stood waiting patiently, those “unearthly blue seijin eyes” sweeping alertly for any sign of threat, even as his invisible, overhead sensors did the same thing, and felt a familiar rush of wonder and confidence. The mind, the thoughts and the soul, behind those sapphire eyes were even older than the lie. Nimue Alban had already deliberately sacrificed her life to defeat it; Cayleb Ahrmahk had no doubt that the seijin she had become in death would succeed, however long it took, whatever the cost.

    Merlin glanced at him, one eyebrow slightly arched, as if he’d felt the pressure of Cayleb’s eyes. And perhaps he had. Cayleb certainly wasn’t prepared to set limitations upon the esoteric senses of a PICA! Although, now that the Emperor thought about it, it was more likely Merlin had simply seen him looking through one of those invisible “sensors” of his.

    The thought touched his mouth with a fleeting smile, and Merlin smiled back, then returned his attention to the task of keeping Cayleb alive.

    And I should stop wasting time trying to delay the inevitable and get on with my own job, Cayleb told himself firmly. It’s just that . . . I don’t want to.

    He admitted the truth to himself, then turned to the main reason he didn’t want to.

    Queen Mother Alahnah had accompanied Baron Green Mountain to the docks to bid her son-in-law farewell. Now, as he looked into her eyes — northern eyes, as gray and clear as the Chisholm Sea itself — he saw the same awareness.

    “I don’t want to leave,” he told her softly, his voice all but lost in the sound of wind and water and the murmuring sound of the watching crowd.

    “I know, Your Majesty . . . Cayleb.” She smiled at him, those gray eyes misty, and her lips trembled ever so slightly as she smiled at him. “I don’t want you to, either. But if we could order the world in the way we would have it, none of this would have happened , and you and I would never have met, would we?”

    “The Writ says the world works as God would have it,” Cayleb replied. And that much, at least, is true, he reflected. “I think we would have met, anyway.”

    “Perhaps so,” Alahnah said. “Perhaps so.”

    She reached out to touch his cheek gently, and he saw her eyes looking deep into his own, searching for an echo, a reflection, of her daughter. And he saw her expression lighten as she found it . . . even as he found its twin in her eyes.

    “Take care of her, My Lord,” he said, moving his eyes to Green Mountain’s watching countenance.

    “Of course, Your Majesty.” Green Mountain bowed slightly, then straightened with a crooked, whimsical smile of his own. “You might say I’ve had some experience in that direction.”

    “You have, haven’t you?” Cayleb returned his smile, then drew a deep breath. “And now, I really do have to go. If we miss the tide, we probably won’t make our scheduled rendezvous with the main fleet. And if we don’t do that, Captain Gyrahrd and Admiral Lock Island will never forgive me!”

    “Well, we can’t have that, can we?” Alahnah said. Cayleb looked back at her, and she shook her head at him. And then, with absolutely no warning, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.

    Like her daughter, she was a slender, small-framed woman, while Cayleb was a muscular, deep-chested man. That chest still had some filling out to do, but those arms couldn’t quite reach all the way around him even know. Yet if they were slender, those arms, almost frail, still he felt the strength of Chisholm itself in them. His eyes widened in surprise. Then his own arms went about her, and he felt her head resting on his shoulder.

    A thunderous roar of approval went up from the watching crowd, and Cayleb wondered if a single member of the aristocracy would ever believe the embrace was unplanned, unchoreographed. He doubted they would, and he couldn’t have cared less.

    “My daughter chose well,” she told him softly, raising her head and meeting his eyes once more. Tears glistened, and he eased his embrace enough to use the index finger of his right hand to wipe them away. She smiled again and shook her head. “I never had a son before,” she said.

    “Things change,” he told her.

    “Yes. Yes, they do.” Her nostrils flared as she inhaled deeply, and then she released him and stood back once again. “But we really can’t have your captain and your admiral upset with you, can we? Not with a Charisian Emperor!”

    “No, I don’t suppose we can.”

    He touched her face one more time, nodded to Green Mountain, then turned and marched up the gangway to his flagship through the raw northern cold and the roar of the spectators’ approval.

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