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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Twenty Three

       Last updated: Friday, February 15, 2008 07:50 EST



Archbishop's Palace,
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Charis

    Archbishop Maikel Staynair listened to the soft hum of the cat-lizard in his lap as he stroked the short, silky white plush of its fur. The cat-lizard lay on his back with all six feet in the air, and his golden eyes were half-slitted in shameless bliss as the archbishop's long fingers caressed his belly fur.

    "Like that, do you, Ahrdyn?" Staynair chuckled.

    The cat-lizard didn't deign to acknowledge his remark. Cat-lizards, after all, as every cat-lizard obviously knew, were the true masters of creation. Human beings existed for the sole purposes of feeding them, opening doors for them, and — above all else — petting them. At this particular moment, the world was in its proper place, so far as Ahrdyn was concerned.

    The archbishop smiled at the thought. He'd been Ahrdyn's pet (and there was no point thinking of the relationship in any other terms) for almost ten years now, since shortly after his wife's death. At the time he'd acquired Ahrdyn, he'd thought the cat-lizard was female. Even cat-lizards found it difficult to tell males from females until they were a couple of years old, and he'd named his new pet after his wife. By the time he'd realized his mistake, Ahrdyn had settled into his name and would undoubtedly have refused, with all the monumental stubbornness of his breed, to answer to anything else.

    Fortunately, Ahrdyn Staynair had been a woman of rare humor, and Staynair had no doubt she was amused by the mixup. Certainly her daughter, who now shared her name with the cat-lizard, was. The furry Ahrdyn had been her gift to her lonely father. She, too, had assumed he was female, and she knew enough of cat-lizards to refuse to waste time trying to change this one's mind. So did Staynair's son-in-law, Sir Lairync Kestair, although he had been heard to remark — mostly when his wife was absent — that Ahrdyn the cat-lizard was far less stubborn than his two-legged namesake. And that both of them were less stubborn than any one of Staynair's four grandchildren.

    The archbishop's smile softened at the memory, but then it faded into a pensive frown as thoughts of his own grandchildren reminded him of the enormous threat looming over the entire Kingdom of Charis and all of its children. Those grandchildren were hostages to fortune, and whenever he thought about them, he understood exactly why some men dared not raise their hands against the Church's corruption.

    But it's also the reason other men can't refuse to raise their hands, he thought. And neither Ahrdyn nor Lairync has ever questioned my decision.

    Knuckles rapped discreetly on his door, and Staynair stirred in his chair. Ahrdyn's eyes opened fully as his mattress shifted under him, and the archbishop picked him up.

    "Time for work, I'm afraid," he said. The cat-lizard yawned, showing off its pink, forked tongue, then gave his cheek a quick, affectionate lick.

    "Bribery will get you nothing, you furry little fiend," Staynair told him, then lowered him to the floor. Ahrdyn flowed down and padded off towards the basket in one corner, and Staynair cleared his throat.

    "Enter!" he called, and watched thoughtfully as the two unlikely visitors were escorted into his office in the archbishop's palace.

    The two men were studies in physical contrast in many ways, and other differences went far deeper. Yet the two of them had requested a joint meeting with Staynair, which suggested several interesting possibilities.

    None of which, he reminded himself, is likely to be accurate, given how little information you have upon which to base any of them.

    Bishop Executor Zherald Ahdymsyn was well past middle age, and prior to the recent . . . unpleasantness, he'd had a solid, well-fed look. In fact, he'd always enjoyed the comforts of a good table, and he'd been carrying a bit more weight than the Order of Pasquale's healer-priests would have approved. He'd been very careful of his physical appearance, as well. He'd been aware that looking the part of a bishop executor was a significant advantage, and his grooming had always been impeccable. Now, although he was still attired in the white cassock of his episcopal rank, he was leaner, and there was an odd fragility to his movements. It wasn't precisely that he'd aged, but rather that he had been forced to cope with something totally unexpected, and, in the process, had discovered that the world was not in fact the neat, well organized, controlled place he'd thought it was.

    The man with him, Father Paityr Wylsynn, was much younger, no more than a dozen years, at most, older than King Cayleb himself. Ahdymsyn's hair was dark, where the silver of age had not overtaken it, but Wilson's was a curly shade of red which was as rare as his gray, northern eyes here in Charis. Where Ahdymsyn was almost as tall as Staynair, Wylsynn was a head shorter than the archbishop, and where Ahdymsyn moved with that strangely fragile air, Wylsynn was as poised and energetic as he'd ever been.

    They were accompanied by two armsmen in the orange and white of the Archbishop's Guard. The armsmen in question walked a respectful pace behind the visitors, yet their presence was not the simple ceremonial act of respect it might have been. Especially not now, after the assassination attempt had come so close to success. Staynair's armsmen and guardians were in no mood to take addition chances where his safety was concerned, and the archbishop felt confident both his visitors were aware of that.

    Ahdymsyn and Wylsynn stopped in front of his desk, and he rose to greet them.

    "Bishop Executor," he said, inclining his head very slightly to Ahdymsyn, and then looked at Wylsynn. "Father."

    He did not offer his ring to be kissed.

    "Archbishop," Ahdymsyn replied for both of them.

    Staynair's eyebrows didn't arch, and he managed to keep any sign of surprise from touching his expression. It wasn't easy. Granting him that title, even in a private interview, would have serious consequences for Ahdymsyn if word of it ever reached the Temple.

    "Please, be seated," Staynair invited, waving at the chairs in front of the desk behind which Ahdymsyn had once sat as Erayk Dynnys' deputy here in Charis.

    Staynair had appeared before that desk more than once to be "counseled" — and reprimanded — by Ahdymsyn, and the bishop executor's awareness of the change in their respective fortunes showed in the other man's slight, ironic smile. Father Paityr, on the other hand, simply sat, with a composure and something very close to serenity which seemed almost unaware of the earthquake upheaval the Church of Charis had undergone since his last visit to this office.

    Staynair gazed at them for a moment, then nodded to the armsmen. They hesitated a moment, eyes unhappy, and the archbishop raised both hands and made shooing motions at them until they finally gave up and withdrew from the office, closing the door silently behind them.



    "I must confess," the archbishop continued, resuming his own seat as the door closed, "that I was somewhat surprised when the two of you requested this meeting. Your message made it clear you had some fundamental point which both of you wished to discuss with me, but it was curiously silent as to exactly what that point might be."

    His tone made the last sentence a question, and he raised his eyebrows politely. Ahdymsyn glanced at Wylsynn, then drew a deep breath, reached into a cassock pocket, and extracted a folded piece of paper.

    "I don't doubt you were surprised . . . Your Eminence," he said, and this time Staynair allowed his eyes to narrow at the bishop executor's chosen mode of address. Ahdymsyn obviously saw it, because he smiled slightly and shook his head.

    "At first, as I sat in my comfortable, if involuntary, quarters in Tellesberg Palace, Your Eminence, I had no intention of granting even the least appearance of acquiescence to your patent usurpation of Archbishop Erayk's legitimate authority here in Charis. Of course, at the time I became King Cayleb's . . . guest, I had no more idea than anyone else in the Kingdom as to why and how such a massive attack had been launched against it. It's become rather clearer since then that the 'Knights of the Temple Lands' must have put their 'allies' into motion against Charis well before Archbishop Erayk could have reached Zion with any formal report of his last pastoral visit."

    He paused, and Staynair cocked his head.

    "Is there a reason the timing of their actions should affect your attitude towards — what was it you called it? My 'patent usurpation of Archbishop Erayk's legitimate authority'?"

    "In itself, no." Ahdymsyn's half-smile guttered and went out. "It did play a part, however. Your Eminence, I won't pretend that many of my decisions when I sat in the chair in which you now sit weren't motivated by . . . pragmatic concerns, let us say, as much as, and even more than, by spiritual or doctrinal concerns. Despite that, however, I trust you'll believe me when I say I never for a moment considered any of the actions and innovations here in Charis, disturbing though some of them may have been, as rising to a level which would require or justify the 'Knights of the Temple Lands'' apparent choice of solutions."

    "I do believe that," Staynair said quietly, and it was true. He'd never considered Ahdymsyn an evil man, although in some ways the very banality of his venal motivations had been almost worse.

    "I'm sure you also realize," Ahdymsyn continued, "that Father Paityr's report to the Inquisition emphasized his own belief that none of the innovations upon which he'd been asked to rule constituted violations of the Proscriptions of Jwo-jeng. I believe he was even more shocked by the attack launched against Charis than I was."

    Staynair glanced at Wylsynn, and the young upper-priest looked back levelly. No doubt Wylsynn had been more surprised than Ahdymsyn, Staynair thought. Unlike the bishop executor, there'd never been any question of the sincerity and depth of Paityr Wylsynn's personal faith. He had to be aware of the frequently sordid considerations which underlay the official pronouncements of the Council of Vicars and the  policies of the Group of Four, but Staynair had no doubt at all that the young priest had been both shocked and horrified by the Group of Four's proposed solution to the "Charisian problem."

    "Despite that," Ahdymsyn went on, "both of us found ourselves in rather uncomfortable positions. Mind you, Your Eminence, no one offered to abuse or mistreat us in any way. Indeed, I doubt two prisoners have ever been more comfortably housed in the history of Safehold, although one or two of the guardsmen were undeniably a bit . . . testy after those lunatics tried to murder you right here in the Cathedral." Ahdymsyn shook his head, as if he could not believe, even now, that someone had tried to assasinate an archbishop – any archbishop — in his own cathedral. "Still, there was no question in our minds that we were in fact  prisoners, however courteous everyone was in pretending otherwise."

    "I can well understand that," Staynair replied. "In fact, that's precisely what you have been, and for several reasons. First, because of your positions in the Church hierarchy here in Charis, of course. Secondly, because there would have been so many reasons — many of them quite valid, even in King Cayleb's eyes — for you to have actively opposed our actions here of late. That opposition would have been inevitable, and, quite candidly, both of you, for different reasons, perhaps, would have carried considerable weight with some of our local clergy. And, third, to be completely frank, and whether you find this easy to believe or not, it's constituted an attempt to protect you, as well. To make it clear even to the Group of Four that you had had no part in those same actions."

    Despite his own open acknowledgment of what the Grand Inquisitor and his colleagues had intended for Charis, the skin around Ahdymsyn's eyes seemed to tighten briefly as Staynair used the term "Group of Four." He made no protest against the archbishop's choice of words, however.

    "No one ever explained that particular aspect of it to us, Your Eminence. Nonetheless, I was aware of it. And, to match frankness for frankness, I was none too confident it would do any good, in my own case, at least. It's the tradition in your own navy, I believe, that a captain is responsible for whatever happens aboard his ship. The Council of Vicars will — quite rightly, to be fair — hold me at least partly accountable for what's transpired here.

    "Despite that, it was always my intention to disassociate myself from your kingdom's defiance of Mother Church. I could scarcely hold your legitimate self-defense against unprovoked attack against you, but in rejecting the authority even of the Grand Vicar, I felt you'd gone too far. Not simply in doctrinal terms, but in terms of the inevitable consequences not simply for Charis, but for all of Safehold.

    "And then, yesterday, I received this."

    He held up the folded paper he'd taken from his pocket.

    "And that is?" Staynair asked politely.

    "A personal letter from Archbishop Erayk," Ahdymsyn said very quietly. "One addressed jointly to Father Paityr and myself."

    "I see."



    Staynair managed to keep his fresh surprise out of his voice or expression, although the possibility of a letter from Erayk Dynnys to Ahdymsyn and Wylsynn had never occurred to him. Nor had there been any reason for him to suspect one had arrived. At Staynair's own insistence, Cayleb had directed that his "guests" incoming mail was not to be tampered with. The king had insisted that any outgoing correspondence must be carefully examined and subject to censorship, but no one had attempted to restrict messages to Ahdymsyn or Wylsynn.

    "Since the letter appears to be what inspired you to ask for this interview, may I assume you intend to share its contents with me?"

    "You may, Your Eminence." Ahdymsyn's voice was heavy, his mouth grim.

    "Your Eminence," he said, "Archbishop Erayk is dead."

    "I beg your pardon?" Staynair sat suddenly straighter behind his desk.

    "I said Archbishop Erayk is dead," Ahdymsyn repeated. "The news hasn't reached us here in Charis yet. I realize that. However, Archbishop Erayk's letter leaves me in no doubt that he is, indeed, dead by now. Executed by the Inquisition for malfeasance, apostasy, heresy, and treason against God's Church and against God Himself."

    Staynair's face tightened. He needed no one to tell him what penalties the Book of Schueler laid down for anyone convicted of those offenses, far less one of Mother Church's own archbishops.

    "The archbishop's letter isn't lengthy, Your Eminence," Ahdymsyn said. "He was denied access to paper and ink for the purposes of correspondence and had to improvise to obtain even this single sheet. I'm not certain how he managed to get this one note out, either, given his strict confinement by the Inquisition. I feel certain his silence on that point was intended to protect whoever he entrusted it to. But what it does say is very much to the point."

    "And that point is?" Staynair asked quietly.

    "He begins by informing Father Paityr and myself of the grounds for his arrest and the sentence passed upon him. He asks us to forgive him — and to pray for his soul — despite his many failures. He also specifically asked me to leave this letter with you, for you to make use of in whatever way seems best to you, and he apologizes for his failure to protect and nurture the souls of his archbishopric in the way God demands of His priests. And –" Ahdymsyn looked levelly into Staynair's eyes "– he makes bold to give us one last directive as our archbishop."

    "And that directive?"

    "He does not order us, for he says he feels he no longer has that right, but he urgently entreats us to remain here in Charis. He says that he fears that, should we return to Zion or to the Temple Lands, we, too, would be forced to answer to the Inquisition. He accepts his own fate, but as our priestly superior, he enjoins us to preserve our lives against unjust punishment and judicial murder by remaining beyond the Inquisition's reach. And he begs us to do whatever we may to atone for his failure — and ours — as the spiritual shepherds of Charis."

    Staynair sat back in his chair, his eyes thoughtful. He would never have anticipated such a letter from Erayk Dynnys. Yet he had no doubt it was genuine, and he wondered what sort of spiritual pilgrimage Dynnys had experienced in the hands of the Inquisition to produce it. There was good in any man. Staynair believed that as firmly as he believed the sun would rise in the morning. But that good was more deeply hidden, more deeply buried, in some than in others, and he had thought the good in Erayk Dynnys was irretrievably buried under a mountain of careless venality and a lifetime's participation in the Temple's internal corruption.

    But I was wrong, he thought. The finger of God can touch anyone, anywhere, through the most unlikely of avenues. I've always believed that, too. And here at the end of Erayk Dynnys' life, God has incontestably touched him.

    The archbishop closed his eyes while he said a brief, intense prayer of thanks that even at the very end, Dynnys had found his way to God, clear-eyed despite the corrupting lenses through which he had been taught to look for Him. Then Staynair straightened and looked across at his visitors.

    He understood now the peculiar fragility he'd sensed in Ahdymsyn. Like Dynnys — and unlike Wylsynn — Ahdymsyn was a man whose faith had taken second place to his secular responsibilities . . . and opportunities. In Dynnys' fate and letter, he'd seen the mirror of himself, and it must have been a terrifying glimpse. Yet, unlike Dynnys, he had the opportunity to profit from the experience in this world, not simply in the next. He could choose what decisions he would make in the life that remained to him, and it was obvious to Staynair that he found that possibility as frightening as it was exhilarating, as much a matter for shame as for a chance to make some sort of amends.

    For young Wylsynn, however, it must have been quite a different shock. Staynair knew better than most that Wylsynn had entertained few illusions about the way in which the Church's actions so often betrayed the spirit of its own Holy Writ. But the scale of the corruption, and the horrific lengths to which the Group of Four had been prepared to go, must have hit him like a sledgehammer. And unlike Dynnys and Ahdymsyn, Paityr Wylsynn had never forgotten he was God's priest, never allowed the corruption around him and behind him to distract him from his spiritual duties.

    And now one of the most blameless servants of Mother Church Staynair had ever known, found himself directed by a fallen archbishop whose corruption must have been evident to Wylsynn all along, to turn his back upon Mother Church. To deny her authority, reject her demands. A priest of the Inquisition had been commanded to defy the Grand Inquisitor himself by one of the Inqusition's very victims.

    "May God have mercy on His true servant Erayk," Staynair murmured, touching first his heart and then his lips.

    "Amen," Ahdymsyn and Wylsynn echoed.

    "I am shocked and dismayed by Archbishop Erayk's fate," Staynair said then. "And yet, at the end of his life, I believe he rose to a level and an awareness of God which all too few of us ever attain.

    "Nonetheless, I must tell both of you that one point of doctrine upon which I, and the Church of Charis, strongly disagree with the doctrine of the Council of Vicars, is on the right — and responsibility — of any child of God to judge for himself or herself where the right truly lies and what it demands of him or her. The role of the Church is not to dictate, but to teach — to explain, educate, and enjoin. The role of the individual is to exercise his or her freedom of will in loving God and doing that which is right because it is right, and not simply because he is given no other choice."



    Wylsynn stirred slightly in his chair, and Staynair looked at him.

    "I tell you this, Father Paityr, because I refuse to mislead you or any other man as to my own stance upon this point. No man or woman can truly choose to serve God unless they are equally free to refuse to serve Him, and God desires for His people to come to Him clear-eyed and joyously, not cringing in terror of the Inqusition and the damnation of Hell. I intend to make it clear to all that I refuse to abuse the power of this office to dictate to the consciences of priests or the laity. That way lies the very corruption and casual abuse of power 'in the name of God' which has led us to this current break with the Council of Vicars. When Mother Church decides she may command whatever she desires of her children, then the feet of her priesthood are set firmly on the path into darkness. As archbishop, at the head of the Church's hierarchy here in Charis, I may order policy, make decisions, and instruct both the episcopate and the priesthood. And, should those instructions be violated or ignored, I have the right and responsibility to remove those who cannot in conscience obey me from whatever offices they may hold within that hierarchy. But a priest is a priest forever, Father. Unless he be found incontestably guilty of sin and the misuse of his office, no man may take that office from him or deny him his vocation. Nor do I — or any man — have the right to excommunicate, torture, or kill any man or woman who simply does not or cannot believe that which I believe."

    Wylsynn said nothing for a moment, then he inhaled deeply.

    "Your Eminence, I'm a servant of the Inquisition. I believe you must recognize that I've always attempted to exercise the powers of my office in a way which meets my pastoral responsibilities and tempers discipline with love and understanding. Yet I've dedicated my entire life, my faith in God, to Mother Church's responsibility to preserve God's children from corruption. Not simply to 'convince' them of what their actions should be, but to protect them from the lures of Shan-wei by whatever means may be necessary."

    "I realize that, Father. That's the very reason I've been so explicit in defining that doctrinal difference. I have great respect for your personal faith and for your character, both as a man and as a priest. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see you become a part of the process of reforming the Church's abuses  all of her abuses — here in Charis and elsewhere. I fully recognize what a tower of strength you could become in that daunting task. But this isn't a cause upon which any man, be he ever so much a priest, can embark unless he feels confident that it's his cause, and God's, as well as mine. Do you feel that confidence, Father?"

    "I don't know," Wylsynn said simply, quietly, meeting Staynair's level gaze with eyes of clear gray honesty. "I know the abuses of which you speak, of which Archbishop Erayk wrote, are real. I know what the Grand Inquisitor and Chancellor intended to happen to Charis, and I know it was wrong. Worse than wrong, it was evil, a betrayal of everything Mother Church is supposed to stand for and defend. Whatever else it might have been, I know it could not have been the will of God. Yet there's a great difference between agreeing that what they've done is wrong and agreeing that what you've done is right."

    "I appreciate your honesty, Father. And I trust the clarity of your spiritual vision. I won't try to convert you to my view today. Obviously, until your own faith and your own conscience convince you that what we're trying to accomplish here in Charis is right, no one could expect you to lend yourself to it. But I ask you to consider what you yourself have seen, what Archbishop Erayk has written to you, the words and deeds of the Church of Charis, and the touch of God upon your own heart. Approach it in prayer and sober meditation, Father, not in a white heat. If you find in time that God moves you to embrace our efforts, then we will welcome you as a brother and a fellow servant of God. And if God doesn't move you to join us, we will respect and accept that decision, as well."

    "And in the meantime, Your Eminence?"

    "And in the meantime, Father, I would be most grateful if you would continue to exercise the office of Intendant here in Charis. As you say, no one in this Kingdom has ever entertained the least doubt of your determination to apply the Proscriptions honestly and fairly. It would be immensely reassuring to all of our people to know you continue in that position in this time of turmoil and change."

    "If I were to agree to any such thing, Your Eminence, then I would continue to exercise that office in the way I see fit."

    "Which is no more and no less than I would wish of you, Father."

    "Even if it brings us into conflict, Your Eminence?"

    "Father," Staynair said with a gentle smile, "given the way you've met your responsibilities in the past, I see absolutely no reason to believe that you would find yourself in conflict with me over the matter of the Proscriptions. If we disagree, then, obviously, each of us will attempt to convince the other, but I've never seen you make a capricious decision, or, for that matter, one with which I disagreed. I see no reason to expect you to make any such decision now.

    "It's true that we may have some differences of opinion upon the proper use of the coercive authority of your office. As you say, you believe that the Church's responsibility is to protect against corruption by 'whatever means are necessary,' whereas I believe her responsibility is to teach and convince. That external compulsion cannot generate the internal strength to resist darkness and evil when they come upon each and every one of us in our daily lives. I suspect you may now find yourself somewhat more leery of the term 'whatever means are necessary' than you were before the Group of Four's invasion attempt, but I have no doubt we may yet find ourselves on opposite sides over some issue of doctrinal enforcement. If that time comes, I'll certainly attempt to convince you to accept my view of the situation, but you will always have the right to resign your office — and to publicly state your reasons for doing so. And I will never attempt to compel you to accept or publicly endorse my position on any matter in which your conscience cannot agree with me."

    "With your permission, Your Eminence, I will say neither yes nor no today," Wylsynn said after a long, thoughtful moment. "As you yourself have suggested, this isn't a decision, a choice, which should be rushed into. I would prefer to meditate and pray that God will show me my direction before I give you an answer."

    "I can ask no more than that of any priest, Father." Staynair smiled at the young man, then looked back to Ahdymsyn. "Nor can I ask more than that of any bishop executor," he said with another smile. "Obviously, I would welcome both of you for political reasons, as well as spiritual ones, but neither I nor King Cayleb will attempt to dictate to your consciences. How can we do that, when so much of our quarrel with the Councuil of Vicars lies in its attempt to do just that to all of God's children? Whatever your final decision, however, know this. On my own authority, in the full expectation that King Cayleb will agree, but even if he does not, I grant both of you sanctuary. Whether or not you find it in your hearts and souls to join with us in our effort to transform Mother Church back into what God would truly have her be, you may remain here, in Charis, under the protection of the Church of Charis, for however long you choose."

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