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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Eleven

       Last updated: Thursday, December 6, 2007 21:31 EST



Galleon Southwind,
Margaret Bay;
Gray Ship Tavern,
Hanth Town, Earldom of Hanth

    "I still say we should make for Eraystor," Tahdayo Mahntayl grumbled as the galleon Southwind left Hanth Town's smoke-smutted skies astern.

    It required a great deal of self-discipline for Sir Styv Walkyr to manage not to roll his eyes heavenward or utter any heartfelt prayers for strength. The fact that he'd at least gotten Mahntayl to finally agree it was time to go somewhere rather than kicking his heels in Hanth Town while he waited for Cayleb to get around to removing his head helped.

    Some, at least.

    "First," he said patiently, "the captain isn't too keen on trying to run the blockade into any of the Emeraldian ports. Second, it's not going to be so very much longer before Cayleb and Lock Island get around to invading Emerald, too. Do you really want to be there when he does that?"

    "I'm not so sure his precious invasion of Emerald is going to go all that smoothly," Mahntayl replied almost petulantly. "Nahrmahn's army is a lot more loyal than those traitorous bastards I had."

    "I don't really care how loyal his troops are, not in the long run," Walkyr told him. "He doesn't have enough of them, Cayleb's troops are even more loyal to him, and I strongly suspect that the Charisian Marines are going to have a few surprises of their own for Nahrmahn. Somehow it just strikes me as unlikely that Haarahld's navy got all the new toys."

    Mahntayl snorted angrily, but at least he didn't disagree, and Walkyr shrugged.

    "It's like I've been saying all along, Tahdayo. There are very few people whose heads Cayleb wants more than he wants yours. Wherever you go, it needs to be someplace he's not likely to come calling anytime soon. That doesn't exactly describe Emerald, and I don't think it's going to describe Corisande very much longer, either. So that only leaves someplace on the mainland. And if we have to go to the mainland anyway, Zion is the only logical destination."

    "I know, I know! You've certainly explained your reasoning to me often enough."

    Mahntayl's jaw clenched as he glanced back once again at the city he'd once thought would be his for the rest of his life. Which was the real root of the problem, Walkyr reflected. Not only was Mahntayl furious over having his prize snatched from his hands, but he'd been so confident of the future that he'd made no provision for what might happen if Charis actually won against the alliance the Group of Four had hammered together.

    And I have no intention of telling him about the provision I most certainly did make, he told himself once more.

    "Well, it's hard for me to think of anyone the Chancellor and the Grand Inquisitor are going to be happier to see than you," he said instead. "The proof that not all of Cayleb's nobles support his blasphemy is going to be welcome, and I'm sure they'll be willing to support your efforts to liberate Hanth as soon as possible."

    Mahntayl snorted again, but his expression also lightened. Despite his truculent mood, he wasn't immune to the reflection that the Temple's purse was more than deep enough to support him in the style to which he had become accustomed. Assuming, of course, that he could become a sufficiently valuable figurehead for them.

    "Well," he said at last, turning his back upon the shrinking vista of his one-time capital with a certain finality, "I certainly can't argue with any of that. And the truth is," he continued with the air of a man making a clean breast of it, "that I should have listened to you a lot sooner than I did."

    You've got that much right, at least, Walkyr thought sourly.

    "It's not easy to convince yourself to cut your losses," he said out loud. "I know that, and it's especially true when someone's worked as long and hard as you did for Hanth. But what you've got to focus on now is coming back again someday. And you might want to think about this, too. I'm certain you'll be the first Charisian noble to reach Zion, the first native son to put your sword at Mother Church's service. When the time finally comes to replace all those traitorous, heretical nobles who've chosen to cast their lots with Cayleb and Staynair, you may well find yourself the most senior of all the available candidates. If that's the case, Hanth isn't all you'll receive as compensation for your losses and a richly deserved reward for your loyalty."

    Mahntayl nodded again, soberly, with an expression of truly noble determination.

    "You're right, Styv. You're right." He reached out and clasped the other man's shoulder. He stood that way for several seconds, then exhaled a long breath.

    "You're right," he repeated, "and I won't forget it, if the time ever does come that I'm in a position to reward you properly, I promise. But in the meantime, I think I'm going below. Somehow," he smiled humorlessly, "I'm not enjoying the scenery very much at the moment."



    "Goddamn that gutless bastard!" Mylz Halcom snarled as he watched Southwind's topsails shrinking out on the dark blue waters of the bay.

    He stood at an upper window of The Gray Ship, a none too prosperous tavern on the outskirts of Hanth Town. Its location and general air of dilapidation didn't do much to attract trade, but at least it was out of the way of most of the shooting he could still hear as the last of Tahdayo Mahntayl's mercenaries tried to get out of town. That was about the best he could say for it . . . and he couldn't say a lot more for his own state at the moment, if he was going to be honest. Very few people would have recognized the powerful Bishop Mylz if they'd seen him. His luxuriant, carefully trimmed beard had disappeared, the dramatic silver at his temples had been darkened by dye, and his exquisitely tailored cassock had been exchanged for the far simpler clothing of an only moderately successful farmer, or perhaps a minor merchant.

    "Surely we've known for five-days that this was coming, My Lord," the much younger man standing with him observed. Father Ahlvyn Shumay looked even less like the Bishop of Margaret Bay's personal aide than Halcom looked like the bishop in question. "It's been obvious from the beginning that Mahntayl's only true loyalty is to himself."

    "And that's supposed to make me feel better?" Halcom growled. He swung away from the window, turning his back on the fleeing galleon, and faced Shumay squarely.

    "Not 'better,' My Lord." Shumay actually managed a smile. "But the Writ does remind us that it's best to face the truth head-on rather than deluding ourselves with wishful thinking, even on God's behalf."

    Halcom glared at him for a moment, but then the peppery little bishop's shoulders relaxed at least marginally, and he produced a grimace that held at least a hint of an answering smile.

    "Yes, it does say that," he acknowledged. "And I suppose I need to keep reminding myself that stripping away delusion is one of your best functions, even if it does make you an intolerable young whippersnapper on occasion."

    "I try, My Lord. To serve a useful function, that is — not to be intolerable."

    "I know you do, Ahlvyn." Halcom patted him lightly on the shoulder, then inhaled deeply, with the air of a man deliberately turning his thoughts away from anger and into some more productive endeavor.

    "At least the way Mahntayl's finally cut and run simplifies our own options just a bit," he said. "Note that I didn't say it improves them; only that it simplifies them."

    "Forgive me, My Lord, but I'm afraid I don't see how anything is particularly 'simple' these days."

    "Simpler isn't the same thing as simple." Halcom showed his teeth in a brief flash of a grin. "On the other hand, there's not much question that if Mahntayl isn't going to stand and fight, we can't either. Not here, not now."

    Shumay's eyes widened ever so slightly. Halcom's insistence that they could somehow build a fortress for the true Church here in his diocese had been as unyielding as stone. The fiery sermons he'd preached in Hanth Cathedral had focused on both their responsibility and their ability to do just that.



    "Oh, don't look so surprised," Halcom half-scolded. "There was never really much hope of holding off Cayleb and that damned traitor Staynair. If I'd ever once admitted that, though, Mahntayl would have disappeared even sooner. And if there wasn't much hope of it, there was still at least a chance . . . as long as Mahntayl didn't run. But as you yourself just pointed out, there's no point deluding ourselves when reality hits us across the face. None of the other nobles in the diocese have the backbone to stand up to Cayleb, either — assuming any of them even wanted to in the first place. And, to be honest, most of them don't want to. For that matter, at least two-thirds of them probably agree with him, the traitorous bastards. At the very least, they're going to take the easy way out and give him whatever he wants. Probably they figure that if — when — Mother Church crushes him in the end, they'll be able to claim they only gave in to force majeure, despite their deep and heartfelt opposition to his apostasy. Mahntayl was the only one of them who couldn't reach an accommodation with Cayleb, even if he'd wanted to . . . assuming someone could somehow give him a sufficient infusion of guts to get him to stand and fight. That's the real reason you and I have been anchored here in Hanth ever since Darcos Sound."

    "I . . . see, My Lord," Shumay said slowly, as he found his brain reordering the events of the past few months, and what his bishop had had to say about them at the time, in light of Halcom's admission.

    "Don't misunderstand me, Ahlvyn." Halcom's face had hardened once again, this time with harsh determination. "There's no question in my mind, nor doubt in my heart, about what it is God, Langhorne, and Mother Church expect of us. The only questions are how we go about accomplishing our tasks. Obviously, Mahntayl's . . . departure strongly suggests that building any center of open resistance to this accursed 'Church of Charis' here around Margaret Bay isn't the way to do it. So the problem becomes what we do next."

    "And may I assume you have an answer to that in mind, My Lord?"

    "I had been thinking in terms of fleeing to Emerald," Halcom admitted. "Bishop Executor Wyllys could probably be counted upon to give us sanctuary, and I'm sure we could make ourselves useful to him in Emerald. But in the last few days, I've come to the conclusion that Emerald isn't our best destination, either."

    "May I ask why, My Lord?"

    "For two reasons, really. First, I'm none too certain the Bishop Executor is going to be in a position to offer anyone sanctuary for much longer." Halcom grimaced. "That pusillanimous worm Walkyr's been right about at least one thing all along, and that's the fact that Nahrmahn isn't going to be able to hold Cayleb off for long. Worse, I'm very much afraid Nahrmahn's been making plans of his own were Mother Church is concerned."

    "Surely not, My Lord!"

    "And why shouldn't he have been?" Halcom snorted. "Certainly not because you think he has some deep-seated moral fiber which is going to prevent him from seeing the same opportunities Cayleb's obviously seen! I've always suspected Nahrmahn was a lot brighter than he's chosen to encourage his enemies to believe he is. That isn't necessarily the same thing as principled, unfortunately, and a smart man without principles is dangerous. Very dangerous.

    "If Narhmahn hopes to reach any sort of accommodation with Cayleb, however unlikely that might seem, he must realize Cayleb and Staynair are going to require him to join their open defiance of Mother Church. And if he's aware of that much, then he has to have made plans to . . . neutralize anything Bishop Executor Wyllys might try to do to stop him. And, to be perfectly honest, the fact that the Bishop Executor's most recent letters to me have all insisted nothing of the sort is happening only makes me even more anxious. With all due respect to the Bishop Executor, all his confidence suggests to me is that Nahrmahn's succeeded in keeping his own preparations completely out of sight. Which means they're likely to succeed, at least in the short term."

    Shumay regarded his superior with horror, and Halcom reached out and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder.

    "Don't make the mistake of thinking Cayleb and Staynair are alone in their madness, Ahlvyn," he said gently. "Look at how quickly, and with how little resistance, the entire Kingdom's followed their blasphemous example. I'm not saying the rot's spread as widely and as deeply in Emerald as it obviously has here in Charis, but the Charis Sea and Emerald Reach aren't broad enough to prevent the poison from reaching Emerald at all. And Nahrmahn's an even greater slave to worldly ambition than Cayleb. He's not going to be blind to the opportunity to make himself master of the Church in Emerald, whatever else happens. When you add that to all of the pressure he's going to be under from Cayleb and Charis, how can you expect anything but for him to strike at the legitimate authority of Mother Church whenever the moment seems most propitious to him?"

    "But if that's the case, My Lord," Shumay said, "then what hope do we have?"

    "We have something much better than mere hope, Ahlvyn. We have God Himself on our side. Or, rather, we're on His side. Whatever may happen in the short term, the final victory will be His. Any other outcome is impossible, so long as there are men who recognize their responsibility to Him and to His Church."

    Shumay looked at Halcom for several seconds. Then he nodded — slowly, at first, and then harder, with more assurance.

    "You're right, of course, My Lord. Which brings us back to the question of exactly what we do do, since a retreat to Emerald seems much less attractive than it did before your explanation. Should we follow Mahntayl to Zion?"

    "No." Halcom shook his head. "I've given this a great deal of thought. In fact, that brings me to my second reason for deciding Emerald isn't our best destination. Where we need to be, Ahlvyn, is where God can make the best use of us, and that's right here in Charis. There are others who'll need us in the Kingdom, even — or perhaps especially — in Tellesberg itself. The ones Cayleb's and Staynair's creatures have labeled 'Temple Loyalists.' Those are the people we need to find. They're going to need all the encouragement they can get, and all the leadership they can find. More than that, they remain the true children of God in Charis, and as the good sheep they need — and deserve — shepherds worthy of their loyalty and faith."

    Shumay was nodding again, and Halcom raised one hand in a gesture of warning.

    "Make no mistake, Ahlvyn. This is another battle in the terrible war between Langhorne and Shan-wei. None of us truly expected it to erupt once again so openly, certainly not in our own lifetimes, but it would be a failure of our faith to refuse to recognize it now that it's come upon us. And just as there were martyrs, even among the Archangels themselves, in the first war with Shan-wei, there will be martyrs in this one. When we venture into Tellesberg instead of sailing to Zion, we'll be stepping into the very jaws of the dragon, and it's entirely possible those jaws will close upon us."

    "I understand, My Lord." Shumay met the bishop's gaze levelly. "And I'm no more eager to die, even for God, than the next man. If that's what God's plan and Mother Church require of us, though, what better end could any man achieve?"

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