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By Heresies Distressed: Chapter Seventeen

       Last updated: Thursday, July 9, 2009 00:03 EDT



The Temple,
City of Zion,
The Temple Lands

    “Well, this ought to be an interesting dog and dragon show,” a voice muttered quietly, and Vicar Samyl Wylsynn looked up as his brother settled into the chair beside him.

    “Not, perhaps, the most tactful — or safe — thing to say,” Samyl replied even more quietly.

    “Maybe not, but that doesn’t make it inaccurate,” Hauwerd Wylsynn half-growled.

    “No,” Samyl agreed.

    “Well, then.” Hauwerd shrugged, and Samyl grimaced.

    Actually, there was a sufficiently wide moat of empty chairs around the two Wylsynn brothers that the likelihood of anyone overhearing a private conversation between them was virtually nonexistent. On the other hand, Samyl hadn’t survived this long by running unnecessary risks. Still, he understood his younger brother’s profoundly mixed feelings as they waited, along with perhaps forty or fifty other vicars and senior archbishops, for the tribunal to convene.

    How many years have we been collecting evidence of corruption — especially in the Office of Inquisition? Samyl asked himself. We must have enough of it to fill a dozen trunks by now! Large trunks. Yet with all those years, all that effort, we have yet to secure a serious indictment of anyone. And now this.

    There had been times when Samyl had been sorely tempted to abandon his quixotic quest. The chances of success, even if he somehow, someday, found himself stepping into the office Clyntahn and his successors and corrupted so thoroughly, were slim. He knew that. He’d always known it. And even if he somehow achieve that goal, it would be only to find himself battling literally generations of entrenched opposition and self-interest. Yet he was who he was, and the unending (and generally thankless) task of reforming the Church and purging it of its many abuses had become a Wylsynn legacy.

    And a damned risky “legacy” it is, too! he thought moodily.

    He’d actually preferred charges against at least a dozen of his fellow Schuelerites over the years, whenever he could produce the necessary evidence without exposing the Circle’s broader, covert, and far riskier activities. At least twice he’d had absolutely conclusive evidence that the Inquisitors in question had been using their office (and all the grisly threats associated with it) to extort money out of completely innocent men and women. And once he’d had almost absolutely conclusive evidence of murder. Yet the most severe punishment he’d ever managed to secure had been no more than a one-year suspension from the Order of Schueler . . . and that had been for one of the extortionists, not the murderer.

    It sickened him that his own order, the order charged with preserving the sanctity of the Church’s own soul, was even more corrupt than the other orders it was supposed to guide and police, yet there was no point in pretending that wasn’t true. And the worst of it was that many of those corrupt Inquisitors didn’t even realize they were corrupt. They were part of a system far larger than themselves, performing their duties exactly the way they’d been taught to perform them by Zhaspahr Clyntahn and his immediate predecessors. The thought that they genuinely believed they were serving God’s will was frightening, yet he’d long ago come to the conclusion that — for many of them — it was also true.

    I sometimes wonder if even Clyntahn truly realizes how corrupt he is. In fact, I doubt he does. He doesn’t see it as corruption at all, which is probably the most damnable thing about him. I think he genuinely sees no discrepancy between what he wants and the will of God. They’re exactly the same thing, which is why he’s justified in doing anything — anything at all — to achieve his own ends. Anything that maintains and strengthens the Church’s authority (and his) is good and godly; anything that threatens the Church’s authority (and his) is the work of Shan-wei herself. And no one else, except for the Circle, cares a damned thing about it as long as it keeps working for them, keeps squeezing out money and power and privilege for them.

    The truth was, although Samyl hadn’t told anyone, even among his brothers of the Circle, that he actually agreed with Maikel Staynair and the Church of Charis. The Church of God Awaiting was hopelessly corrupt, trapped in the grip of men like Clyntahn and the rest of the Group of Four. Even if he could somehow topple Clyntahn and Trynair, there was no point deceiving himself into the belief that there weren’t at least a score of other vicars prepared to step into the Group of Four’s place and maintain “business as usual.” It was simply the way things were.

    But there truly are good and godly men among the vicarate, as well, he told himself stubbornly. You know there are. That’s the only reason you haven’t given up and fled to someplace like Charis yourself.

    Perhaps so, but it was getting harder to cling to that belief. And the air of desperation, the sense of men willing to reach for any avenue of escape, which had permeated the Church at her highest level since the Charisians had bidden the Group of Four defiance was frightening. What had been merely dangerous before had become something far worse, and after the ghastly fate handed out to Erayk Dynnys, Samyl Wylsynn was under no illusion about that. Frightened men would turn savagely upon anyone who appeared to threaten their own safety, their own positions, and Zhaspahr Clyntahn was more than prepared to use that fear to support his own ends.

    Perhaps it’s time, he thought. If the key wasn’t given for a moment like this one then why was it given? Surely an internal threat to the Church is just as deadly as an external one?

    Yet it wasn’t the same thing, and he knew that as well as Hauwerd did. Perhaps the time was coming but until it did –

    Samyl Wylsynn’s ruminations broke off abruptly as the members of the tribunal filed into the large chamber and seated themselves behind the enormous conference table. There were eight of them, but only one who really mattered, and Wylsynn’s face tightened as Wyllym Rayno, the Archbishop of Chiang-wu and Adjutant of the Order of Schueler, leaned forward and rapped lightly on the small bell hanging in its stand before him.



    The sweet, silvery notes floated through the chamber, and the quiet buzz of side conversations ended abruptly.

    “This tribunal is now in session,” Rayno announced. “Let us pray.”

    Heads bowed throughout the chamber, and Rayno raised his voice.

    “Oh God, Creator of all men, maker of all things, designer and architect of all that has been, is now, or ever shall be, we come before You in awe and trembling. We beseech You to guide us in this, our solemn task to maintain the sanctity, the purity, and the truth of Your word and your Church as handed down to us by the Archangel Langhorne on the very day of Creation itself. We thank and bless You for giving us that sacred instruction and guiding us in its preservation and teaching, and it is with a heavy heart we bring You the result of the deliberations and decisions to which Your Office of Inquisition has been called by recent events. Be with us, we beseech You, as we contend with the forces of Darkness in Your most holy name. In Langhorne’s name we pray, amen.”

    A chorus of answering “amens” rumbled back, but Samyl Wylsynn’s was not among them. Nor was his brother’s.

    Rayno raised his head, waited for his listeners to settle themselves comfortably once again, then cleared his throat.

    “I’m confident that everyone in this chamber is fully conversant with the events which led to the assembly of this tribunal,” he said. “Since that is the case, there seems little point in summarizing them yet again.”

    One or two heads nodded among the audience, and Rayno looked over his shoulder at one of the aides assembled against the tapestry-covered wall behind the tribunal’s members. The aide, a remarkably young looking upper-priest of the Order of Schueler, promptly handed him a thick folder, and Rayno placed it on the conference table before him. He opened it and leafed through the first few sheets of paper for several seconds. Then he looked back up at the waiting clerics.

    “This tribunal was impaneled to consider the circumstances surrounding the deaths of sixteen consecrated priests of the Order of Schueler,” he said. “There is no question about the causes of those deaths, or who was responsible for them, but certain charges leveled at the priests in question were so serious, so disturbing, that the Grand Inquisitor with the Grand Vicar’s strong agreement, felt a formal inquiry and investigation was mandatory.

    “This tribunal has now concluded that inquiry and investigation to the satisfaction of its members and is prepared to announce its findings.”

    It was scarcely a surprise, but even so a stir went through the audience, like a stiff breeze rustling its way through a field of ripened wheat.

    “According to the allegations published by the so-called ‘Church of Charis,’” Rayno continued, “the sixteen priests who died in Ferayd were guilty of instigating the murder of women and children in that same city last August when King Zhames, in obedience to Mother Church’s instructions, ordered the seizure of the Charisian shipping then in Ferayd. In support of those allegations, the so-called ‘Church of Charis’ has published what purports to be reports written by those very priests in which they openly admitted their complicity in those ‘murders.’

    “This tribunal has considered those reports, including the documentary evidence sent to us by King Zhames of Delferahk. That evidence consisted primarily of what the Charisians claimed were the official file copies of those reports, captured during their vicious attack upon the people of Ferayd.

    “Needless to say, the initial response of any reasonable man must be to reject allegations and charges from those who have blasphemously announced their own defiance of God’s own Church. When those allegations and charges come also from the hands of men who have themselves so recently caused the deaths of so many innocent civilians — including women and children — and burned an entire city to the ground, the reasons to doubt the . . . reliability of their testimony redouble. This tribunal is confident that no one will be surprised to learn that the initial reaction of the Grand Inquisitor and the Chancellor of the Council of Vicars was to pay those charges no heed.”

    Rayno paused, and his jaw tightened visibly in obvious unhappiness and pain. Samyl Wylsynn’s jaw tightened, as well, if for rather different reasons, as he recognized the theater of his order’s adjutant.

    “Even though that was the Grand Inquisitor’s initial reaction,” Rayno continued after a moment, “he was not unmindful of his responsibility as the head of the Office of Inquisition. Even the most unlikely allegations must be tested when they touch upon the integrity of Mother Church and, especially, of the Inquisitors charged with protecting that integrity. And so, despite his own profound skepticism, he ordered this tribunal to convene and to consider the possibility that there might be some basis to the ‘Church of Charis” preposterous allegations.

    “We have now concluded our inquiry, and we must regretfully, with the most profound remorse and dismay, announce that it is our belief that the priests who died in Ferayd were, indeed, guilty of the actions charged against them by the so-called ‘Church of Charis.’”

    Both of the Wylsynns had already known what Rayno intended to announce. To judge by the sudden wave of whispers which hissed its way across the chamber, at least some of those in the audience hadn’t.

    Rayno paused once more, his expression one of bitter regret, until the chamber was once again or silent.

    “Brothers in God,” he said then, “it is, alas, true that even God’s priests can err. Even the best of men is not the equal of the archangels, and the Writ bears ample witness that even the archangels themselves could fall into error. In this instance, there seems very little doubt that the Inquisitors of Ferayd did just that. They did, indeed, assume the leadership of the parties of Delferahkan troops detailed to sequester the Charisian merchant ships in Ferayd. And when fighting broke out, they did, indeed, order those troops to kill the Charisians who resisted the attempt to sequester their vessels, and as a direct result of those orders, what had been intended as a peaceful seizure became, indeed, a massacre of innocents, as well.

    “This tribunal believes the reports forwarded to us by King Zhames were, indeed, written by the priests who died in Ferayd. We cannot, of course, know if these file copies are complete, or whether or not there might be some extenuating or exculpatory evidence which was also contained in the Inquisition’s files and which was not transmitted to King Zhames by the Charisians. Despite that, the tribunal does not believe that any amount of extenuating or exculpatory evidence could excuse the actions of the Inquisitors of Ferayd.

    “No servant of Mother Church can take any pleasure in rendering such a verdict, yet this tribunal has no choice. It is the tribunal’s solemn duty to proclaim the truth, however painful, however much we might wish to avoid that duty, or that the truth were otherwise than it in fact is. The tribunal believes that Father Styvyn Graivyr and his fellow Inquisitors committed these . . . excesses — no, these crimes — not out of any personal animosity or any hope of personal gain. The tribunal believes that their wrongful acts sprang from their own deep and sincere concern over the seriousness and danger of the schism being forced upon Mother Church by the heretical leadership of the so-called ‘Church of Charis.’ In their zeal to obey their instructions from the Grand Inquisitor, they allowed themselves to succumb to the dark side of their own fallible, mortal natures. Men whom Shan-wei cannot corrupt into sin in their own interests may sometimes be drawn into sin even in the name of their most holy beliefs, and that, this tribunal believes, is what happened in this instance.”



    He paused once more, then visibly squared his shoulders and drew a deep breath.

    “It is also this tribunal’s conclusion that at least some of the responsibility for these actions resides not in the priests who actually committed them, but in the instructions those priests were given. The way in which those directives were phrased, the stern injunction to secure the Charisian galleons in Ferayd at all costs which those instructions contained, lent itself to the misinterpretation which Father Styvyn and his fellows placed upon them. There is no question that Father Styvyn and the other Inquisitors in Ferayd grossly exceeded the intent and the letter of those instructions, yet this tribunal has no choice but to observe that the Grand Inquisitor’s own directive to Father Styvyn played a not insignificant part in Father Styvyn’s later wrongful actions. Accordingly, we must assign at least a portion of the guilt for what the so-called ‘Church Charis’ has termed the ‘Ferayd Massacre’ to the Grand Inquisitor himself.”

    If there’d been a whisper of consternation at the announcement of the priests’ guilt, it was as nothing to the reaction provoked by Rayno’s last sentence. There were gasps, hisses of surprise, even one or two half-voiced imprecations.

    Rayno let them die most of the way away, then cleared his throat once again. The sound wasn’t especially loud, but it produced instant silence, and he continued.

    “The tribunal’s conclusions concerning the actions of Father Styvyn and his fellow Inquisitors, and concerning the extent to which the Grand Inquisitor’s instructions may have contributed to them, will be formally communicated to both the Grand Inquisitor’s office and, at his own specific instruction, directly to the Chancellor and the Grand Vicar, as well.

    “In addition to determining the facts about those actions, however, this tribunal was also charged with investigating the deaths of the Inquisitors in question. The Charisian admiral who destroyed Ferayd has confirmed, by his own words, that he personally ordered the executions, and, moreover, that he did so upon the express instructions of the excommunicate Cayleb and Sharleyan of Charis. The tribunal does not intend at this time to issue any formal conclusions about the devastation and civilian death and suffering visited upon the innocent citizens of Ferayd by that same admiral. Those matters lie beyond the scope of this tribunal’s charter, and it is the tribunal’s understanding that King Zhames is conducting his own inquiry, and will share its conclusions with Mother Church when it is completed.

    “Nonetheless, this tribunal is charged with investigating and reporting upon the actual circumstances of the Ferayd Inquisitors’ deaths. And it is the inescapable conclusion of the tribunal that, notwithstanding the guilt of the Inquisitors in question, their ‘executions’ constitute, in fact, acts of cold-blooded and most impious murder. The Holy Writ itself, in both the Book of Langhorne and the Book of Schueler, establishes for all time that Mother Church, and specifically the Office of Inquisition, is responsible for judging the actions of God’s priests, for determining guilt or innocence when those priests stand accused of crimes, and for the execution of judgment upon them if they are found guilty. That solemn responsibility and duty resides solely in Mother Church and the Office of Inquisition. Any man who sheds the blood of a consecrated priest upon his own authority, or that of any mortal entity, stands guilty before Schueler, Langhorne, and God Himself, of murder. Not simply of murder, but of blasphemy. It is an act of defiance not of mortal, fallible humanity, but of God and his Holy Archangels. There can be no doubt, no question, of the blood guilt the so-called ‘Church of Charis’ must bear in the eyes of Mother Church, of all godly men, and of God Himself.”

    His voice was harsh as hammered iron, and he swept his cold, hard eyes across the chamber.

    “It may be that Shan-wei tempted Father Styvyn and his fellows into sin by appealing to and twisting their determination to do God’s will as they understood it upon the basis of their instructions from the Grand Inquisitor. No doubt their immortal souls will pay a heavy price because of their grievous failure, and no priest of Mother Church can condone their actions. Not when those actions led not simply to the deaths of self-professed heretics, but to the deaths of children who had no choice, no voice, in their parents’ actions. The blood of such innocent victims must stain even the most devout of souls.

    “But even though all of that be true, the men who slew those priests were guilty of an even darker and more heinous crime. They hanged Father Styvyn and his fellows — hanged consecrated priests of God — in the white-hot fury of revenge. In the passion of their own blasphemous bloodlust, they overstepped the bounds God Himself has set upon mortal men. There can be no pardon for actions such as that, and the day must surely come when they will answer both to Mother Church and the Inquisition and to God for their unforgivable sins.”

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