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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Nineteen

       Last updated: Monday, January 21, 2008 11:29 EST



Royal Palace,
City of Eraystor,
Princedom of Emerald

    Prince Nahrmahn looked up from the latest dispatch and grimaced.

    "Well," he said mildly, "that's irritating."

    The Earl of Pine Hollow couldn't quite hide his disbelief as he looked across the table at his cousin. Nahrmahn saw his expression and snorted in harsh amusement. Then he laid the dispatch on the tabletop beside his plate and reached for a fresh slice of melon.

    "I take it you were expecting a somewhat . . . stronger reaction, Trahvys?"

    "Well . . . yes," Pine Hollow admitted.

    "Why?" Nahrmahn popped a bite of melon into his mouth and chewed. "Aside from the fact that Bishop Executor Wyllys' permission to use the church semaphore network means we got the news a little quicker than we might have, there's no real surprise here. Is there?"

    "I suppose not," Pine Hollow said slowly, trying to analyze Nahrmahn's mood. There was something . . . peculiar about it.

    "Militarily, burning North Bay to the ground — although, mind you, I expect we'll find the damage is less extensive than these first reports might indicate — doesn't make a lot of sense," Nahrmahn acknowledged. "Politically, though, it makes perfect sense."

    "Meaning what, My Prince?"

    Personally, Pine Hollow couldn't see any sense in the attack at all. Aside from two small war galleys which had been anchored there, and a half a dozen of the merchantmen Commodore Zhaztro had been converting into light cruisers for commerce-raiding purposes, most of the damage which had been inflicted struck him as pure, wanton destruction. The merchant ships tied up at North Bay's wharves and the idle warehouses, filled with goods which were simply collecting dust in the face of the Charisian navy's blockade, hadn't been what he would have considered militarily important targets, at any rate. Not only that, but North Bay was the next best thing to seven hundred miles from Eraystor, and not exactly the largest and most important town in the princedom, either.

    "Meaning that Cayleb — or, more probably, Admiral Rock Point, acting within the general scope of Cayleb's instructions — is sending me a message."

    Nahrmahn cut another piece of melon and regarded it critically for a moment before sending it after its predecessor. Then he looked back across at Pine Hollow.

    "They're demonstrating that as long as they have control of the sea, they can do this to us whenever they want. You might think of it as a pointed reminder that despite everything Commodore Zhaztro can do, we can't really hurt them, but they can certainly hurt us. It's a point I was discussing with Bishop Executor Wyllys just yesterday, as a matter of fact."

    "Really?" Pine Hollow's eyes had narrowed speculatively. He'd known about the meeting between Nahrmahn and Bishop Executor Wyllys Graisyn, the highest ranking churchman in the princedom, given Archbishop Lyam Tyrn's abrupt decision to return to Zion to . . . confer with his colleagues as soon as word of Darcos Sound reached Eraystor. But his cousin hadn't told him what that meeting had been about. Until now, at least, he thought as Nahrmahn gave him a somewhat off-center smile.

    "The good Bishop Executor is concerned about the degree of our commitment to the ongoing war against Charis."

    "Commitment?" Pine Hollow blinked, then shook his head in disbelief. "He thinks that after Darcos Sound and Haarahld's death we think Cayleb is going to welcome us as allies?" he asked incredulously, and Nahrmahn chuckled mirthlessly.

    "I think that letter from Archbishop Maikel — excuse me, from the apostate heretic and traitor, Maikel Staynair — to the Grand Vicar has Graisyn a bit . . . rattled, let's say. I don't think he put any more credence in the reports about Haarahld's violations of the Proscriptions than we ever did. Not, at least, as long as it was supposed to be a nice, simple matter of wrecking Charis from one end to the other accordng to Clyntahn's timetable. Now that the boot is on the other foot and those idiots in the Group of Four have managed to drive Cayleb into outright public defiance, he's feeling just a tad exposed here in our welcoming bosom."

    "Nahrmahn," Pine Hollow's tone was as worried as his expression as his initial incredulity faded into something else, "it's not safe to be –"

    "What?" The prince's eyes challenged him across the table. "Honest? Straightforward?"

    "I'm only saying I'd be astonished if the Inquisition didn't have ears closer to you than you know," Pine Hollow said soberly.

    "I know exactly who the Inquisition's chief agent here in the Palace is, Trahvys. In fact, he's been reporting exactly what I wanted reported for about three years now."

    "You bribed an agent of the Inquisition?"

    "Oh, don't be so shocked!" Nahrmahn scolded. "Why shouldn't Clyntahn's spies be bribable? Only a drooling idiot who was also blind and deaf — which no agent of the Inquisition is likely to be, I think you'll agree — could be unaware of the graft and bribery that goes on every day in the Temple itself! When the entire Church hierarchy is as corrupt and venal as a batch of dockside pimps selling their own sisters, why shouldn't their agents be just as corruptible as their masters in Zion?"

    "You're talking about God's Church," Pine Hollow pointed out stiffly.

    "I'm not talking about God, and I'm not talking about His Church," Nahrmahn shot back. "I'm talking about the Church that's been taken over by people like Zhaspahr Clyntahn, Allayn Maigwair, and Zahmsyn Trynair. Do you really think for a moment that the Group of Four gives a good goddamn what God wants the Church to be doing? Or that anyone else on the Council of Vicars is going to risk his own sweet, rosy arse by standing up to Clyntahn and the others just because they happen to be lying, self-serving bastards?"

    Pine Hollow was considerably more than simply shocked. Nahrmahn had grown steadily more open in his disgruntlement with the Temple since Darcos Sound, but he'd never before expressed himself that frankly about the Church and the men who controlled its policies. Oh, he'd never made any secret of his opinion of Vicar Zhaspahr and his cronies, either, at least with his cousin, but he'd never openly extended his contempt for the Grand Inquisitor and the Group of Four to the entire Church hierarchy!

    "What's the matter, Trahvys?" Nahrmahn asked more gently. "Are you shocked by my lack of piety?"

    "No," Pine Hollow said slowly.

    "Yes, you are," Nahrmahn corrected in that same gentle voice. "You think I don't believe in God, or that I've decided to reject His plan for Safehold. And you're afraid that if Graisyn or the Inquisition figure out the way I actually feel, they'll decide to make an example out of me . . . and maybe out of you, as well, since you're not only my first councilor but my cousin."

    "Well, when you put it that way, you may have a point," Pine Hollow conceded even more slowly.

    "Of course I do. And I'm not surprised that you're surprised to hear me say it, either. It's the first time I've ever expressed myself quite this frankly to anyone, except possibly Ohlyvya. But I think it's time I discussed the matter with someone besides my wife, under the circumstances. Well, someone besides my wife and Uncle Hanbyl, I suppose, if I'm going to be completely accurate."

    "Under which circumstances?" Pine Hollow asked warily, and there was active alarm in his eyes now.

    There was a reason his anxiety level had just soared to entirely new heights, because Hanbyl Baytz, the Duke of Solomon, was not simply his and Nahrmahn's uncle. Despite the fact that he was over seventy, Solomon remained vigorous and sharp as a razor. Physically, he was very nearly Nahrmahn's antithesis; in every other sense, he and the prince were very much alike, except for the fact that, unlike his nephew, Solomon abhorred politics. Little though he might like the "great game," though, there'd never been the least question about either his competence or his loyalty to the family interests, or to Nahrmahn himself. Which was why he was the commander of the Emeraldian army. It was a post to which he was well suited, and one which allowed him to spend as little time as humanly possible in Eraystor, dealing with politics.

    Which, Pine Hollow reflected now, has served Nahrmahn well upon occasion. Uncle Hanbyl is the dagger in his sheath, but he's so much "out of sight, out of mind" that even clever people have a tendency to leave him out of their calculations.



    "There are two separate things to consider here, Trahvys," Nahrmahn said, in response to his question. "Well, three, actually."

    He pushed his plate aside and leaned forward, his face and body language both unwontedly serious.

    "First, from a political and military standpoint, Emerald is fucked," he said bluntly. "And, no, I didn't need Uncle Hanbyl to tell me that. Any time Cayleb wants to put troops ashore, supported from the sea, he can do it. That's one of the things that little business in North Bay was supposed to bring to my attention, in case it had managed to escape me this far. For the moment, he's probably still building up his troop strength; God knows the Charisian Marines are good, but he didn't have a lot of them when this whole business started. On the other hand, we have even less in the way of an army, don't we? Especially given how much of it was serving as Marines when our navy suffered it's little mishap. It's not going to be all that much longer before he's ready to come calling here in Eraystor, probably with a siege train of artillery in tow to knock on any doors that get in his way, and I doubt very much that Uncle Hanbyl is going to be able to do much more than inconvenience him when he does.

    "Second, from a diplomatic standpoint, our good friend Hektor isn't about to stick his neck out to help us in any way. And I'll be deeply surprised if Sharleyan doesn't decide she'd rather be allied to Charis than to us or to Hektor, under the circumstances. Which means we're . . . 'swinging in the wind,' is the term I want, I believe. We're the most exposed, we're the ones who tried to assassinate Cayleb, and we're the ones who don't have a single hope this side of Hell that anyone is going to come sailing to our rescue.

    "And, third . . . third, Trahvys, every single word Staynair and Cayleb have said about the Group of Four, the Grand Vicar, and the Church herself is true. You think that just because I recognize the corruption of men like Clyntahn and Trynair and their sycophants on the Council of Vicars I don't believe in God?" The prince's laugh was a harsh bark. "Of course I believe in Him — I just don't believe in the bastards who've hijacked His Church! In point of fact, I think Staynair and Cayleb have the right idea . . .  if they can make it stand up. And that's exactly why Graisyn is so concerned, the reason he keeps pushing us so hard to figure out some way to take the offensive, keeps probing to see how 'loyal' I am to Hektor."

    "And how loyal are you, My Prince?" Pine Hollow asked softly.

    "To Hektor?" Nahrmahn's lip curled. "About as loyal as he is to us – which is to say I'm just as loyal as it will take to get into reach of his throat with a nice, sharp knife. Or do you mean to the Church?"

    Pine Hollow said nothing. He didn't need to, for his expression said it all.

    "My loyalty to the Church extends exactly as far as the reach of the Inquisition," Nahrmahn said flatly. "It's time we stop confusing the Church with God, Trahvys. Or do you think God would have permitted Charis to completely gut the combined fleets of an alliance that outnumbered it five-to-one if Haarahld had actually been defying His will?"

    Pine Hollow swallowed hard, and the pit of his stomach was a hollow, singing void. Deep inside him somewhere a schoolboy was repeating the catechism in a desperate gabble of a voice while he hunched down and stuffed his fingers into his ears.

    "Nahrmahn," he said very, very quietly, "you can't be thinking what I think you're thinking."

    "No?" Nahrmahn tilted his head to one side. "Why not?"

    "Because, in the end, Charis is going to lose. It can't be any other way. Not when the Church controls all of the great kingdoms completely. Not when its purse is so deep and so much of the world's total population lives on Haven and Howard."

    "Don't be too certain of that." Nahrmahn leaned back, his eyes intent. "Oh, I know the 'Group of Four' sees it that way. Then again, we've just had a rather pointed lesson in the fallibility of their judgement, now haven't we? I suspect they're about to find out that the world is less monolithic than they'd been assuming, and that's going to come as an even more unpleasant shock to them. All Cayleb really needs to do is to survive long enough for his example to spread, Trahvys. That's what has Graisyn running so scared. I'm not the only ruler or noble who understands what's going on in the Council of Vicars right now. If Charis is able to defy the Church, others are going to be tempted to follow Cayleb's example. And if that happens, the Church is going to find herself much too busy putting out local forest fires to put together the kind of fleet it would take to break through the Royal Charisian Navy. And that assumes Charis is trying to stand off the Church all by itself."

    "But –"

    "Think about it, Trahvys," Nahrmahn commanded, overriding Pine Hollow's attempt to object. "It's not going to be long before Sharleyan becomes at least Charis' de facto ally. For all I know, she may choose to make it official and join him in openly defying Clyntahn and his cronies. When that happens, Hektor is going to find himself flanked by enemies, cut off from anything the Church could do to help him. And when Sharleyan and Cayleb split Corisande and Zebediah up between them, and when Cayleb adds us to Charis, proper, he and Sharleyan between them will control over a third of the total surface of Safehold. Of course they won't have anywhere near as large a fraction of the world's people, but they will have most of the world's naval power, a lot of room to expand into, and all of the resources they'll need for their economies . . . or their military power.  How easy do you think the Church is going to find it to squash him after that?"

    Pine Hollow sat silent, his eyes worried, and Nahrmahn waited while his cousin worked his way through the same logic chain. The earl, Nahrmahn knew, was cautious by nature. More than that, Pine Hollow's younger brother was an upper-priest of the Order of Pasquale, serving in the Republic of Siddarmark and about due to be elevated to the episcopate. It was entirely possible that Nahrmahn's frankness was more than Pine Hollow was prepared to accept.

    "No," the earl said finally. "No, the Church isn't going to find it easy. Not if it works out the way you're predicting."

    "And should the Church find it easy?" Nahrmahn asked softly, deliberately pushing his cousin still further.

    "No," Pine Hollow sighed, and his expression was no longer uncertain, although Nahrmahn doubted the profound sorrow it mirrored struck Pine Hollow as an improvement. "No. You're right about that, too, Nahrmahn. The Group of Four aren't the true problem, are they? They're the symptom."

    "Exactly." Nahrmahn reached out and placed one plump hand on Pine Hollow's forearm. "I don't know whether or not it's possible for the Church to reform herself internally. I do know that before the Group of Four and the other vicars like them allow that to happen, there's going to be bloodshed and slaughter on a scale no one's ever seen since the overthrow of Shan-wei."



    "What do you want to do about it?" Pine Hollow managed a wan smile. "It's not like you to drop something like this on me across the breakfast table unless you've already got a plan in mind, My Prince."

    "No, I don't suppose it is." Nahrmahn sat back again and reached for his temporarily abandoned plate. His eyes fell to his hands as he meticulously sliced the remaining melon into bite-sized pieces.

    "I need to send a message of my own to Cayleb," he said, never looking away from his knife and fork. "I need someone who can convince him I'm prepared to surrender to him. That he doesn't need to keep burning my cities and killing my subjects to make his point."

    "He's made it pretty clear he wants your head, Nahrmahn. From the tone of his comments, I don't think he's going to be very happy about settling for anything short of that."

    "I know." The prince's smile was more of a grimace than anything else, but there might have been a little actual humor in it. "I know, and I suppose that if he really insists upon it, he'll undoubtedly get it in the end, anyway. It's a pity Mahntayl decided to run off to the mainland rather than coming here. I might have been able to convince Cayleb of my sincerity by offering him the 'Earl of Hanth's' head as a substitute, as it were. Still, I may be able to demonstrate to him that a man of my talents and experience would be more valuable working for him than fertilizing a garden plot somewhere behind his palace."

    "And if you can't?" Pine Hollow asked very quietly.

    "If I can't, I can't." Nahrmahn shrugged far more philosophically than Pine Hollow felt sure he would have been able to manage under the same circumstances. "I can always hope he'll settle for life imprisonment in some only moderately unpleasant dungeon somewhere. And, even if he doesn't, at least Cayleb isn't the sort to carry out any sort of reprisals against Ohlyvya or the children. Which," he looked up and met Pine Hollow's eyes squarely, "is about the best I could hope for anyway, if he has to land an invasion force. Except that, this way, we get to skip the bit where thousands of my subjects get killed first."

    Pine Hollow sat looking into his cousin's eyes and realized that, possibly for the first time since Nahrmahn had ascended to the throne of Emerald, his prince had abandoned all pretense. It came as something of a shock, after all these years, but Nahrmahn was serious.

    "You can't just make peace with Cayleb, even surrender to him, without Graisyn and the rest of the clergy going up in flames behind you," the earl said. "You know that, don't you?"

    "Graisyn, yes. And probably most of the bishops, at the very least," Nahrmahn conceded. "On the other hand, most of our upper-priests — even our itinerant bishops — are Emeraldians. We're almost as bad as Charis in that respect. Frankly, that's one of the things that has Graisyn running so scared, and I strongly suspect he has good reason for it. At any rate, I've . . . discussed this matter with Uncle Hanbyl at some length."

    "I see." Pine Hollow leaned back, the fingers of his right hand drumming slowly, rhythmically, on the arm of his chair while he thought.

    Nahrmahn's point about the composition of the Emeraldian clergy was well taken. Whether or not the division between the lower-ranking, nativeborn clergy and their foreign-born ecclesiastical superiors would even begin to translate into the sort of support for schism which Cayleb had discovered in Charis was another, more complicated calculation. And, the first councilor admitted to himself, it wasn't one to which he himself had given the careful consideration it no doubt merited.

    Probably, he acknowledged to himself, because I didn't want to think about this possibility at all until Nahrmahn rubbed my nose in it.

    But if Nahrmahn had discussed it with Duke Solomon, and if Solomon had said what Nahrmahn appeared to be suggesting he had, then Pine Hollow was prepared to assume that the prince's estimate of how the clergy would react — and whether or not Nahrmahn could survive their reaction — was probably accurate. And when it came right down to it, the Church's reaction was the only potential domestic opposition he truly had to fear. Like the Ahrmahks in Charis, although for rather different reasons and in rather a different fashion, the House of Baytz had centralized political power in its own grasp. Nahrmahn's father had deprived the feudal magnates of their personal standing armies (not without a certain degree of bloodshed, in some cases), and Nahrmahn had gone even farther in subordinating the aristocracy to the Crown. Not only that, but the Commons in the Emeraldian parliament, such as it was and what there was of it, had strongly supported both Nahrmahn and his father in their efforts to restrict the power of their nobly born landlords. That tradition of support would probably carry over to Nahrmahn's response to the present crisis, as well.

    And in this case, both the aristocracy and the commoners of Emerald would almost certainly find themselves in general agreement. If the religious elements were subtracted from consideration, both of them would undoubtedly support a settlement with Charis — probably even an outright surrender to Charis. Despite the traditional rivalry between Emerald and Charis, the Ahrmahks had a reputation as reasonable rulers. It would be difficult to convince anyone, on a purely secular level, that finding themselves under Cayleb of Charis' rule would be any sort of personal disaster. And completely rational self-interest and the desire to avoid the destruction and bloodshed of an outright Charisian invasion would make convincing them of that even more difficult.

    That was obviously Nahrmahn's reading of the situation, at any rate, and the prince had an impressive track record when it came to assessing and accurately predicting the reactions of Emerald's usual power brokers.

    On the other hand, he has been wrong a time or two before, Pine Hollow reminded himself. Not often, though. And unlike some people, he doesn't have a tendency to convince himself that what he wants the truth to be automatically is the truth.

    Assuming he wasn't wrong, and assuming the preparations Pine Hollow had no doubt Solomon was even then very quietly making were effective, then Nahrmahn could almost certainly survive negotiating with Cayleb. Whether or not he could survive the outcome of those negotiations with his head still attached to the rest of his body was another question entirely, of course. And in all honesty, Pine Hollow wasn't prepared to offer any better than barely even odds in favor of the possibility that he could, which could have most unpleasant consequences for the first councilor, as well. Still . . . .

    "If you really mean all of that," the earl heard his own voice saying, "then I suppose you should probably send the most senior diplomat you can to open the negotiations. Someone highly enough placed in your confidence that Cayleb might actually believe anything he said for at least five seconds or so."

    "Really?" There was a most atypical warmth in Nahrmahn's smile. "Did you have anyone in mind, Trahvys?" he asked.

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