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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Nine

       Last updated: Wednesday, November 21, 2007 17:54 EST




Queen Sharleyan's Palace,
City of Cheryath,
Kingdom of Chisholm

    Trumpets sounded and the batteries protecting the Cherry Bay waterfront blossomed with smoke as they thudded their way through a sixteen-gun salute. Indignant sea birds and wyverns made their opinion of the goings-on abundantly clear as they wheeled, screeched, and scolded across a sky of springtime blue. The brisk wind out of the east lofted them easily as it blew across the sheltering peninsula known as The Sickle, which shielded Cherry Bay and the city of Cherayth from the often rough weather of the North Chisholm Sea, and the air was refreshingly cool.

    Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm stood at a window high up in Lord Gerait's Tower on the seaward side of the palace which had been her family's home for two centuries, looking out over the orderly stone houses, streets, warehouses, and docks of her capital as she watched the four galleons sailing majestically into its harbor. The winged tenants of Cherry Bay might be filled with indignation at the disturbance of their normal routine, but they had no idea just how disturbing she found all this, she reflected.

    Sharleyan was a slender, not quite petite young woman who'd just turned twenty-four. Despite the occasional fawning versification of particularly inept court poets, she wasn't a beautiful woman. Striking, yes, with a determined chin, and a nose which was just a bit too prominent (not to mention a bit too hooked). But her dark hair, so black it had blue highlights in direct sunlight and so long it fell almost to her waist when it was unbound, and her huge, sparkling brown eyes somehow deceived people into thinking she was beautiful. Today, Sairah Hahlmyn, her personal maid since she was nine, and Lady Mairah Lywkys, her senior lady-in-waiting, had dressed that hair in an elaborate coiffure, held in place by jeweled combs and the light golden circlet of a presence crown, and those lively eyes were dark and still and wary.

    The man at her side, Mahrak Sahndyrs, Baron Green Mountain, was at least eight or nine inches taller than she was, with blunt, strong features and thinning silver hair. Sharleyan had been Queen of Chisholm for almost twelve years, despite her youth, and Green Mountain had been her first councilor all that time. They'd weathered many a political storm together, although neither of them had ever anticipated one like the hurricane which had swept across half of Safehold in the last six months.

    "I can't quite believe we're doing this," she said, eyes on the lead galleon as it followed a flag-bedecked galley of the Royal Chisholmian Navy towards its assigned anchorage. "We have to be insane, you know that, don't you, Mahrak?"

    "I believe that was the point I made to you when you decided we were going to do it, anyway, Your Majesty," Green Mountain replied with a crooked smile.

    "A proper first councilor would have already taken the blame for his monarch's temporary lapse into insanity onto his own shoulders," Sharleyan said severely.

    "Oh, I assure you, I will in public, Your Majesty."

    "But not privately, I see." Sharleyan smiled at him, but her expression couldn't hide her tension from someone who'd known her literally since she'd learned to walk.

    "No, not privately," he agreed gently, and reached out to rest one hand lightly on her shoulder. That wasn't the sort of gesture he would have allowed himself in public, but in private there was no point pretending his youthful queen had not long ago become the daughter he'd never had.

    "Have you had any further thoughts about what this is all about?" she asked after a moment.

    "None we haven't already discussed to death," he told her, and she grimaced, never taking her eyes away from the arriving ships.

    They had, indeed, "discussed it to death," she thought, and neither of them — nor any of the other councilors and advisers she truly trusted — had been able to come up with a satisfactory theory. Some of those advisers, the ones who had argued most strenuously in favor of refusing this meeting, were certain it was simply one more trap designed to drag (or push) Chisholm deeper into the Charisian quagmire. Sharleyan wasn't certain why she didn't agree with that interpretation herself. Certainly, it made sense. The "spontaneous" return of her surrendered warships must have already tainted Chisholm with suspicious distrust in the eyes of the Group of Four. The fact that she'd dared to receive Sir Samyl Tyrnyr as King Cayleb of Charis' ambassador, despite the minor fact that she was still technically at war with Cayleb's kingdom, could only have underscored that distrust. And now this.

    Somehow, I doubt that rendering formal honors to Charisian warships here in my own capital's harbor while receiving the First Councilor of Charis as Cayleb's personal envoy is going to do a thing for me in that pig Clyntahn's eyes, she thought. The doomsayers are right about that much, at least. On the other hand, how much worse can it get?

    It was a more than academic question, under the circumstances. She had no doubt at all that the Group of Four must have realized she and her admirals had dragged their heels in every possible way after receiving their orders to support Hektor of Corisande against Charis. Indeed, it would have been amazing if Sharleyan hadn't, given the fact that she was probably the only monarch Hektor hated more than he'd hated Haarahld VII, or the fact that she probably hated him even more than he hated her. Still, the fact that so many of her navy's warships had surrendered intact had probably been going a bit too far, even for someone as experienced in the cynical realities of politics as Chancellor Trynair. And Cayleb's "generosity" in returning those surrendered ships to her without even seeking reparations for her part in the attack which had killed his father, along with several thousand of his subjects, had been a shrewd move on his part.

    She wanted to resent the way he'd deliberately maneuvered her into a position which could not but make the Group of Four furious with her. What had started as a simple move to conserve her own military power by 'cooperating' with Hektor as grudgingly as possible started to look dangerously like active collusion with Charis in the wake of Cayleb's "spontaneous" gesture. No one in the Temple was likely to forgive that, which could all too easily have fatal consequences for her own kingdom in the fullness of time.

    But she could scarcely complain over the fact that Cayleb had done precisely what she would have done, had their roles been reversed. Anything which might divert at least some of the Group of Four's attention and resources from Charis had to be worthwhile from Cayleb's perspective. And, again from his perspective, any lever he could use to . . . encourage Chisholm into some sort of active alliance with Charis, rather than against it, had to be tried. Indeed, what she felt far more strongly than any sort of resentment was an unbegrudged admiration for how well Cayleb clearly understood that.

    And be honest, Sharleyan, she thought. From the very beginning, you would have preferred aligning yourself with Charis to finding yourself "allied" with Hektor and Nahrmahn. If you'd thought Haarahld had a single chance of surviving, you would have proposed an alliance to him, and you know it. That's the real reason you accepted Cayleb's "gift" when he returned your galleys. And it's the real reason you let him send Tyrnyr to Cheryath, as well. There's a part of you that still prefers Charis to Hektor, isn't there? And it's just possible Cayleb does have a chance of surviving — maybe even winning — after all.

    She watched the galleons which represented that chance of victory moving sedately towards their anchorage, and wondered what the Earl of Gray Harbor had come all this way to say to her.



    This was Rayjhis Yowance's third visit to Cheryath, although both of his earlier trips had been made as an officer in the Royal Charisian Navy, not as the kingdom's first councilor. First councilors, after all, never left home. That was why kingdoms had little things called "ambassadors" to do the traveling instead, since first councilors were far too busy, and their duties were far too important, for them to go haring off on quixotic quests.

    Of course they are! he snorted mentally. Which is how you happen to be here, isn't it, Rayjhis?

    His lips twitched at the thought, but he suppressed the smile reflex sternly as he followed the chamberlain down the palace corridor. However accommodating Sharleyan had been, it would never do to suggest that he saw anything humorous in her agreeing to meet with him. Especially in her agreeing to meet with him privately, accompanied only by her own first councilor. And especially not when she'd had less than a five-day's notice he was coming, given how closely he'd followed on the original messenger's heels.

    Cayleb's like his father in a lot of ways, but he has his own inimitable style . . . and far too much energy for an old man like me, Gray Harbor reflected. I'm beginning to appreciate what Merlin and Domynyk had to say about trying to ride herd on him at sea. He's not really anywhere near as . . . impulsive as he sometimes seems, but Merlin's right. Given two possible approaches to any problem, he'll always opt for the more audacious one. And once he's made up his mind, he's not about to waste time, is he?

    There were worse traits a king could have, especially when he was engaged in a battle for survival. But it did make keeping up with him more than a little wearing.

    The chamberlain slowed, looked over his shoulder at the Charisian with an expression which had been carefully trained to conceal any trace of what its owner might have thought about his monarch's decisions, and then turned a final bend and stopped.

    There were two guardsmen, sergeants, in the silver and royal blue of Chisholm posted in front of the door, and their expressions weren't quite as neutral as the chamberlain's. They clearly nursed significant reservations about allowing the first councilor of the kingdom whose navy had just smashed a sizable portion of the Chisholmian fleet into firewood into their queen's presence. The fact that they'd been ordered to stay outside the small presence chamber didn't make them any happier, and the fact that they'd been expressly forbidden to search Gray Harbor or relieve him of any weapons made them unhappier still.

    The earl was well aware of what they must be feeling. In fact, he sympathized deeply with it, and he made a quick decision.

    "Just a moment, please," he said, stopping the chamberlain just before the man knocked on the polished door. The chamberlain looked surprised, and Gray Harbor smiled crookedly. Then he carefully lifted his dress sword's baldric over his head and passed the sheathed weapon to the nearer of the two guardsmen. The Chisholmian's eyes widened slightly as he accepted it, and then Gray Harbor unhooked his belt dagger and passed it across, as well.

    The guardsmen's expressions changed as he voluntarily surrendered the blades they'd been forbidden to take from him. They still didn't look especially cheerful about the entire notion of this meeting, but the senior of them bowed deeply to him, acknowledging his concession.

    "Thank you, My Lord," he said, then straightened and personally knocked on the door.

    "Earl Gray Harbor has arrived, Your Majesty," he announced.

    "Then by all means, let him in, Edwyrd," a musical soprano replied, and the guardsman opened the door and stood aside.

    Gray Harbor stepped past him with a murmured word of thanks and found himself in a paneled presence chamber. There were no windows, but it was brightly lit by hanging lamps, and a fire crackled quietly on a hearth. It wasn't a particularly large fire, especially for one burning in a hearth which could easily have accommodated most of a topsail yard, but its heat was surprisingly welcome. It was technically spring here in Chisholm, but Cheryath was over two thousand miles above the equator, and Gray Harbor's Charisian blood found it distinctly cool.

    He made his way calmly down the runner of royal blue carpet, and his eyes were busy. Sharleyan's chair was just too simple to call a throne, but a small platform elevated it just enough to make it clear this was a crowned head of state, even if she had chosen to receive him rather informally. Baron Green Mountain stood beside her, watching alertly as Gray Harbor approached. Then Sharleyan frowned.

    "My Lord," she said before he could speak, her voice less musical and considerably sharper than it had been, "I gave strict instructions that you were to be permitted your weapons for this meeting!"

    "I realize that, Your Majesty." Gray Harbor stopped in front of her and bowed, then straightened. "I deeply appreciate your graciousness in that regard, too. However, when I arrived here, I could tell your guardsmen were uneasy. They couldn't possibly have been more courteous, and neither of them gave any sign, by word or deed, that they intended to disobey your instructions," he hastened to add, "but I felt it would have been churlish on my part to cause them distress. Their devotion to you was readily apparent — I've seen its like before — and I chose to offer them my weapons, even though they hadn't requested it."

    "I see." Sharleyan sat back in her chair, gazing at him thoughtfully, then smiled slightly. "That was a gracious gesture on your part," she observed. "And if, in fact, no insult was offered to you, then on behalf of my guardsmen — who are, as you observed, devoted to me — I thank you."

    Gray Harbor bowed again, and Sharleyan glanced at Green Mountain for a moment. Then she returned her attention to the Charisian.

    "I trust you'll understand, My Lord, that Baron Green Mountain and I must view your presence here with mixed emotions. While I'm deeply grateful for the return of my ships and sailors, for the honorable treatment they were given as Charis' prisoners, and for your King's decision against seeking any sort of reparations, I'm also aware that all his decisions were made with a full awareness of their practical consequences. Particularly, shall we say, where the demands — and suspicions — of certain rather insistent 'Knights of the Temple Lands' are concerned."

    She smiled tightly as she acknowledged openly for the first time that the Group of Four had compelled her to join Charis' enemies, and Gray Harbor smiled back.

    "It pains me to say it, Your Majesty," he said, "but honesty compels me to admit that His Majesty thought about that rather carefully before he returned your vessels. Indeed, he was fully aware that it would have the consequences you've just mentioned. It may have been . . . ungallant of him to put you in that position, but it's also true that when he made the decision, you were part of an alliance which had attacked his Kingdom without warning or provocation and –" he looked her squarely in the eye, his smile fading "– killed his father."



    Sharleyan's face tightened. Not with anger, although Gray Harbor saw anger in it, but in pain. The pain of memory at his oblique reminder of how her own father had died in battle against "pirates" subsidized by Hektor of Corisande when she was still a girl.

    "Nonetheless," he continued, "it is, as I'm certain Sir Samyl has made clear, His Majesty's earnest desire to see Chisholm as a friend and an ally, rather than a foe. Your realm and his have much in common and little cause for enmity, beyond the machinations and demands of those who are the natural enemies of both. To speak frankly, both His Majesty and Your Majesty have ample reasons to hate Hektor of Corisande and to regard him as a mortal threat to your own security. And, to speak even more frankly –" he looked into her eyes once more "– Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn regards both Charis and Chisholm with deep suspicion and distrust. If Charis is destroyed for no better reason than the arrogance, bigotry, and blind intolerance of the so-called 'Group of Four,' it can be only a matter of time before Chisholm follows."

    Sharleyan's tight expression smoothed into total non-expression as Gray Harbor took her own open acknowledgment of how she had been compelled to join with Hektor to an entirely new level.

    "My King has instructed me to be forthright in this matter, Your Majesty," he told her — quite unnecessarily, he was certain, after his last sentence. "For whatever reason, the Group of Four, on behalf of of the Church, has decided Charis must be destroyed. We were not informed of any point of doctrine or practice in which we were deemed to be in error. We weren't summoned to explain any actions,weren't charged with any violation of Church law or of the Proscriptions. Nor were we offered any opportunity to defend ourselves before any tribunal or court. They simply decided to destroy us. To burn our cities. To rape and murder our people. And they compelled you to join with your own Kingdom's worst enemy and assist him in carrying out that onslaught.

    "His Majesty understands why you felt you had no choice but to acquiesce in the demands levied upon you. He neither faults you for your decision, nor believes for a moment that you felt anything but regret and unhappiness at the idea of attacking his Kingdom.

    "But His Majesty also knows that if the Group of Four can do what it's already done, then no kingdom, no realm, is safe. If corrupt and venal men can use the power of God's own Church, whatever legal technicalities they may use to mask the Church's participation in an act of murder and rapine, to destroy one blameless kingdom, then in the fullness of time they will, as inevitably as the sun rises in the east, use it to destroy other kingdoms. Including your own."

    He paused, watching the queen and her first councilor. Chisholm was as distant from the Temple and the Temple Lands as Charis, and Sharleyan and Green Mountain both knew that Clyntahn's automatic suspicion of Chisholm ran almost as deep as his suspicion of Charis. That suspicion, after all, was precisely what Cayleb's return of her surrendered ships had been calculated to play upon, and neither the queen nor her first councilor could possibly be unaware of it.

    "The truth is, Your Majesty," he said after a moment, "that once a kraken tastes blood, there's no stopping its attack. Once the Group of Four — once Vicar Zhaspahr — has broken one kingdom, he'll see no reason he shouldn't apply the same technique to every other realm he distrusts or fears. That's the road upon which the Group of Four has set out, and their final destination lies in the smoldering ruins of Charis and Chisholm... unless they can somehow be stopped."

    "And you — your King — believe they can be stopped?" Green Mountain spoke for the first time, his eyes intent, and Gray Harbor nodded.

    "He does, and so do I. We have this advantage, which Chisholm shares, in that no army can simply march across our frontiers. The Group of Four cannot attack either of us without a navy, and as you and your own 'allies' have recently discovered, the sheer distances involved favor the defense. You and your captains and admirals have seen what our new ships and artillery can accomplish, as well. My King believes that together, Charis and Chisholm can indeed defy the Group of Four."

    "Let's be honest here, My Lord," Sharleyan said, leaning forward, her own eyes narrow. "Whatever Archbishop Maikel's letter to the Grand Vicar may have said, or how it may have said it, we're not speaking solely of the Group of Four. For reasons which undoubtedly seemed good to them, and with which, to be honest, I find myself sharing a certain agreement, your King and his archbishop have effectively bidden defiance to the entire Church, to the Grand Vicar himself. If Chisholm joins with Charis in an alliance against Hektor — and the Group of Four — it will inevitably, in the fullness of time, become an alliance against Mother Church herself. Against the Council of Vicars and the Grand Vicar, Langhorne's anointed steward here on Safehold. Is your King prepared for that? Prepared to defy the entire Church, embrace an unhealable, permanent schism within the body of God's people?"

    "Your Majesty," Gray Harbor said quietly, "Safehold has already selected its own archbishop. For the first time in over five hundred years, a kingdom of Safehold has practiced the ancient right of our forefathers and named an archbishop of its own choosing. If that constitutes schism, then so be it. We do not defy God, Your Majesty; we simply defy the corruption, the decadence, which has infested God's Church, and that we will fight to the death. Indeed, my King bade me say this to you about his decision and all which will inevitably flow from it: 'Here I stand. I can do no other.'"

    Silence filled the presence chamber as Sharleyan and Green Mountain gazed at him. Then, finally, Green Mountain cleared his throat.

    "What you say about our distance from the Temple, about our ability — joined together — to defend ourselves against attack, may be true. The Church's reaction to the defiance you propose to bid it will certainly put that truth to the test, however. And in the face of that storm, only the strongest tree could hope to survive. It's one thing to speak of alliances in the normal sense of the world, My Lord, for the truth is, as we all know, that in the normal sense of the world, there will always be a tomorrow. Interests change, objectives flow, this month's or this year's ally becomes next month's or next year's foe, and so the dance continues, with partners changing as the music changes.

    "But what you propose, what your King proposes, can have only one tomorrow. The Group of Four, and the Church, will never forget or forgive someone who bids them defiance, and not simply because of the calculation of corrupt men. Since the day of Creation, the Church has been the keeper of men's souls, the proclaimer of God's will, and there are men and women of good faith within the Church who will fight to the death to preserve her overlordship in God's name, not the name of corrupt ambition. The war you propose to fight will have to end not in treaties and negotiations between diplomats dancing the measures we all know, but in utter defeat or victory. There can be no lesser end for either side than that, for the Church will never yield, never accept any other victory than the restoration of her supremacy as God's bride, and she will be no normal alliance, with changing partners. Which means that if Charis is to have any hope of final victory, her alliances must be equally firm, equally final."

    "My Lord," Gray Harbor said, "this isn't a war we 'propose to fight.' It's a war which has already begun, whether we ever wanted to fight it, or not. But  even though you're entirely correct about the stakes, about the way in which the Church will view its nature and the way in which she will fight it, we hope and believe that, in time, there can be an end. That it need not continue unabated until all of those on one side are dead or enslaved. What that end may be, or when it will come, is more than anyone in Charis would dare to predict, yet my King agrees that any alliances must be strong and permanent enough to endure that sort of bitter test. In fact, he believes that what is truly needed isn't an alliance at all."

    "It isn't?" Despite her best effort, Sharleyan couldn't quite keep her surprise out of her tone, and Gray Harbor smiled.

    "As Baron Green Mountain just said, Your Majesty, alliances come and go. Which is why I wasn't sent to you to propose an alliance at all. Instead, my King proposes a marriage."

    Sharleyan jerked upright in her chair, her eyes wide, and Green Mountain inhaled sharply. The queen's surprise was obvious, but as Gray Harbor watched her first councilor, he found himself wondering if Green Mountain hadn't suspected where Cayleb was headed from the outset.

    "I've brought with me King Cayleb's personal letters and documents setting forth his proposals, Your Majesty," the earl continued, still watching Green Mountain's expression. "Fundamentally, however, they're very simple. Stipped of all the high-flown legal language, what King Cayleb proposes is the unification of Charis and Chisholm through marriage. You would retain the crown of Chisholm for the remainder of your life; he would retain the crown of Charis for the remainder of his life. Should either of you predecease the other, the surviving spouse would hold both crowns for the remainder of his or her life, and upon his or her death, both crowns would pass as one to the heirs of your joint bodies. An imperial parliament, navy, and army would be created to govern and protect both kingdoms in concert during your lifetimes and afterward. The peers of Charis and Chisholm would be seated in the House of Lords of that parliament, and both Charis and Chisholm would elect members to the House of Commons."

    He paused, once more meeting Sharleyan's gaze levelly, then bowed.

    "I fully realize, as does His Majesty, that no one in Chisholm has ever contemplated such a... sweeping change in the relationship between your Kingdom and Charis. Clearly, this isn't the sort of decision which can be made by a single person in a single day, even if that person be a king or a queen, and the nature of the threat your Kingdom would be embracing is not one to be lightly shouldered.

    "But that threat already looms over both Chisholm and Charis. We can either confront it together, or separately. His Majesty believes our chance of survival and victory is far greater together, and this proposal is the strongest surety he can offer that if, indeed, we face this peril together, we will go on together to whatever victory or other end awaits us."

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