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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Twenty Six

       Last updated: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 07:50 EDT



Captain Merlin Athrawes' Quarters,
Archbishop's Palace,
and Royal Palace,
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Charis

    June 12, Year of God 143

    Tellesberg Enclave


    "To whoever reads this journal, greetings in the name of the true God.

    "My name is Jeremiah Knowles, and I am an 'Adam.' I first opened my eyes on Safehold on the morning of Creation, and my mind and my soul were new-made, as clear and clean as the world about me. I looked upon the work of the Archangels and of God, and my heart was filled with joy and reverence.

    "Like my fellow Adams and Eves, I met the Archangels. I saw the Blessed Langhorne, and the Holy Bédard. And I knew Shan-wei, the Bright One Who Fell.

    "There are many others who have seen the Archangels I have seen, heard and read the Holy Writ I have heard and read. Many of us have lived out even the span of an Adam or an Eve and passed from this world, yet even now, there are hundreds of thousands — possibly millions — of us, still living in this one hundred and forty-third year since the Creation. But of every one of those souls here in Tellesberg, I alone, and my three companions — Evelyn Knowles, my wife, Kayleb Sarmac, Evelyn's brother, and Jennifer Sarmac, Kayleb's wife — have known what none of those others have known.

    "We know that the 'Holy Writ' is a lie . . . and that there are no 'Archangels.'"

    The being known as Merlin Athrawes sat in the unlit blackness of his quarters in Tellesberg Palace, his eyes closed, looking at the pages stored in his mollycirc brain, and tried to take it all in.

    It was hard. Indeed, in many ways it was harder for him to absorb this than it had been for Nimue Alban to learn she'd been dead for over eight centuries. Of all the things he might have discovered, this was the one which would never have occurred to him.

    He opened his eyes, using his light-gathering optics to gaze through the daylight-bright darkness and out his sleeping chamber's window at the slumbering city of Tellesberg. There'd been no time for him to read the incredible documentary treasure Maikel Staynair and Zhon Byrkyt had shown him at Saint Zherneau's. But there'd been time for him to examine every page of the manuscript journal, and he was a PICA. He had what truly was a "photographic memory," and he had pored over the stored imagery for over six hours now while all around him the rest of Tellesberg Palace and the capital of the Ahrmahks lay wrapped in the sleep he no longer needed.

    "Owl," he said quietly, activating his built-in com.

    "Yes, Lieutenant Commander," a silent voice said somewhere deep inside him as Owl, the Ordonez-Westinghouse-Lytton tactical computer in the hidden chamber where Nimue had awakened, replied, bouncing his signal off the carefully stealthed SNARC high above the body of water known as The Cauldron.

    "Have you completed that data search?"

    "Yes, Lieutenant Commander."

    "Did you find the specified names?"

    "I did, Lieutenant Commander. There are, however, data anomalies."

    "Data anomalies?" Merlin sat straighter, eyes narrowing. "Specify data anomalies."

    "Yes, Lieutenant Commander. The names you directed me to search for appear in both the Colony Administration's official roster of colonists, a copy of which was filed in my memory by Commodore Pei, and in the roster of colonists filed in my memory by Dr. Pei Shan-wei. They are not, however, assigned to the same population enclaves in both rosters."

    "They aren't?" Merlin frowned.

    "That is correct, Lieutenant Commander," Owl replied. A more capable AI would have explained the "data anomalies" in greater detail. Owl, on the other hand, clearly felt no need to do so.

    "Where were they assigned?" Merlin asked, reminding himself rather firmly — again — that Owl's version of self-awareness was still . . . limited. The manual promised him that eventually the AI's heuristic programming would bring Owl to a fuller state of awareness. That he would began recognizing rhetorical questions, responding without being specifically cued, and even start providing necessary explanations or potentially significant unexpected correlations of data search results without being specifically instructed to do so.

    In Merlin's considered opinion, "eventually" couldn't possibly come too soon.

    "According to Administrator Langhorne's official roster, Jeremiah Knowles, known as 'Jere Knowles,' his wife, his brother-in-law, and his sister-in-law were assigned to the Tellesberg enclave. According to Dr. Pei's roster, all four of them were assigned to the Alexandria enclave."

    Merlin blinked. He'd never thought to check Shan-wei's notes on the original placement of colonists against the official record, never suspected there might be discrepancies between them. Now, however, he wondered why the possibility hadn't occurred to him.

    Because the Commodore didn't say anything about it to you in his downloads, that's why, he thought.

    "Are there additional 'data anomalies' between the two rosters?" he asked Owl. "Additional cases in which colonists appear assigned to more than one enclave?"

    "Unknown, Lieutenant Commander," Owl said calmly, with the total lack of curiosity Merlin found maddening.

    "Well," he said with what a human being would have recognized as dangerous patience, "find out if any such additional anomalies exist. Now, Owl."

    "Yes, Lieutenant Commander."

    The AI's tone was completely devoid of any suggestion that it had recognized Merlin's impatience. Which, of course, only made it even more maddening, Merlin reflected.

    But whatever his shortcomings in terms of personality might be, Owl was a very fast worker. His analysis of the two rosters took less than two minutes, despite the millions of names in each of them.

    "There are additional anomalies, Lieutenant Commander," he informed Merlin.

    "Well," Merlin said twenty seconds later, "what sort of additional anomalies did you discover? And how many of them are there?"

    "All of the anomalies discovered fall into the same category as those already known, Lieutenant Commander. They consist of colonists who appear to have been assigned to multiple enclaves. In all cases, the enclave listed in Dr. Pei's roster is Alexandria. In Administrator Langhorne's roster, they are assigned to several different enclaves. I have detected a total of two hundred and twelve such anomalies."

    "I see," Merlin said slowly, his frustration with the AI's lack of spontaneity and initiative fading as he contemplated the numbers.

    I know what she was up to, he thought, and his mental tone was almost awed. My God, she was creating a second string for her bow, and she didn't even tell the Commodore. That's the only possible reason he wouldn't have told me about it in his message. He frowned. Was this something she'd intended to do all along, or did it only occurr to her after they'd officially separated because of their supposed disagreement? And how did she manage to doctor the records without Langhorne and Bédard realizing what she'd done?

    There was no way for anyone to know the answers to any of those questions at this distant remove. But if Merlin didn't know how Pei Shan-wei had done it, he did know what she'd attempted.

    He flipped ahead through the recorded pages of Jeremiah Knowles' journal to the passage he wanted.

    " . . . no more idea of the truth, then, than any of our fellow Adam and Eves. None of us were aware of the mental programming Bédard had carried out at Langhorne's orders. But when Dr. Pei realized what Langhorne had done, she took measures of her own. There was no way for her or any member of her staff in the Alexandria enclave to restore the memories of our past lives which had been taken from us. But, unknown to Langhorne and Bédard, she had secretly retained three NEATs. With them, she was able to reeducate a handful of the original colonists. We were among them."

    Merlin nodded to himself. Of course that was what she'd done. It had been risky just to retain the Neural Education and Training machines, no doubt, given Langhorne's plans and willingness to crush any opposition, and actually using them on the colonists would have been even more dangerous. But it couldn't have been any riskier than her open refusal to destroy the records of the truth stored in Alexandria. Unfortunately, neither had been enough.

    I can't believe this has all been just sitting here for over seven hundred local years, he thought. I wonder if any of her other "sleepers" survived Alexandria's destruction? And if they did, did they leave a record like 'Saint Zherneau's,' or did they simply dive as deep into their cover identities as they could? And how in hell did this journal of his manage to survive when the Brethren finally found it?

    He had no idea how to answer any of those questions, either . . . but he rather suspected that he knew someone who did.



    "His Eminence will see you now, Captain Athrawes."

    "Thank you, Father," Merlin said as the under-priest opened the door to Archbishop Maikel's office and bowed the visitor through it.

    Sunlight poured through the window that looked out across Tellesberg to the broad, blue waters of the harbor. A dense forest of masts and yards grew out of the waterfront, birds and wyverns rode the updrafts, hovering gracefully as the thoughts of God, and weather-stained sails dotted the harbor beyond them. Staynair's office was located on the lofty (for Safehold) Archbishop's Palace's third floor, and Merlin could see down into the busy streets, where people, dragon-drawn freight wagons, and horse-drawn streetcars seethed and bustled.

    "Seijin Merlin," Staynair greeted him, holding out his ring hand with a smile. "How nice to see you again."

    "And so very unexpected, I'm sure, Your Eminence," Merlin murmured as he brushed his lips across the proffered ring.

    "No, not unexpected," Staynair acknowledged. He sat back down behind his desk and a wave of his hand invited Merlin to sit in the comfortable chair on the far side of it. He continued to smile as his guest settled into the chair, but the smile had turned a bit more tense, Merlin observed.

    "May I assume, Your Eminence, that any conversation you and I might have here today won't be overheard by other ears?"

    "Of course you may." Staynair frowned slightly. "My staff understands that unless I specifically tell them otherwise, any conversation I have in this office is as privileged as any other confession."

    "I was reasonably confident that was the case, Your Eminence. Under the circumstances, however, I felt I had no option but to be certain of it."

    "I suppose that's understandable enough," Staynair conceded. "And I'm quite aware that Zhon and I handed you a rather . . . significant surprise, shall we say, yesterday."

    "Oh, you could certainly describe it that way, Your Eminence." Merlin smiled dryly.

    "And I'm sure you have questions," Staynair continued. "Under the circumstances, I think it might be simpler for you to just go ahead and ask them rather than having me attempt to explain everything."

    "I imagine that explaining 'everything' is going to take considerably more than a single afternoon," Merlin said, and Staynair actually chuckled.

    "Very well, then, Your Eminence," Merlin continued, "I suppose my first question has to be why 'Saint Zherneau's' journal and the other documents with it weren't simply destroyed, or handed over to the Inquisition, when they were finally rediscovered?"

    "Partly because they weren't 'rediscovered' at all, Seijin Merlin." Staynair leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs. "The Brethren of Saint Zherneau always knew exactly where all of them were; we simply didn't know what they were. Saint Zherneau and Saint Evahlyn left them sealed, with solemn directions for the Brethren to leave them that way for three hundred and fifty years after their deaths. Their instructions were followed to the letter."

    "And the reason they weren't simply destroyed or regarded as the most heinous possible heresy when they were unsealed?"

    "There, I think, you see the planning — or the impact, at least — of Saint Zherneau," Staynair said seriously. "Most of the religious philosophy and thought of Saint Zherneau and Saint Evahlyn was as orthodox as Mother Church could possibly have asked. For reasons which make perfectly good sense, I'm sure, now that you've had an opportunity to read his journal. You did read it overnight, didn't you, Seijin?"

    "Yes, I did." Merlin regarded the archbishop with a speculative gaze.

    "I assumed that was why you examined each page individually at Saint Zherneau's," Staynair murmured. Merlin cocked an eyebrow, and the archbishop smiled slightly. "The ability of the seijin to memorize things at a glance is a part of their legendary prowess. In fact, I rather suspect that was one of the reasons you decided to become one."

    "I see." Merlin leaned back in his own chair and rested his elbows on its upholstered arms, steepling his fingertips across his chest. "Please, Your Eminence. Continue with your explanation."

    "Of course, Seijin," Staynair agreed with a slightly ironic nod. "Let me see, where was I? Ah, yes. The single aspect in which Saint Zherneau's teachings departed from the mainstream of Church thought was the fashion in which he and Saint Evahlyn both emphasized tolerance and toleration so strongly and made it so central to their thought. The responsibility of all godly people to see all other human beings as their true brothers and sisters in God. To reason and remonstrate with those who might be in error, rather than condemning without seeking to understand. And to be open to the possibility that those who disagree with them may, in fact, prove in the end to be correct — or, at least, closer to correct — than they themselves had been at the beginning of the disagreement."

    The archbishop paused, shaking his head. Then he looked away, gazing out his office window at the roofs and spires of Tellesberg.

    "There is a reason Charis has worried the Inquisition for so long," he said quietly, "and not all of it was simple paranoia on the part of Inquisitors like Clyntahn. Despite the small size of the Monastery of Saint Zherneau, the Brethren of Saint Zherneau have wielded a disproportionate influence here in Charis for generations.

    "Many of our local clergy have passed through Saint Zherneau's at one time or another. Indeed, I've often wondered what would have happened had the Inquisition been able to cross-post our clergy the way it has the mainland clergy. One thing, I suspect, is that it might have learned of Saint Zherneau's . . . influence if more of our homegrown priests had been assigned to mainland parishes. Not to mention what might have happened had the Church's senior positions here in Charis been more completely filled by foreigners. Fortunately, the Inquisition's distrust of Charisian orthodoxy has left the Church disinclined to expose other congregations to our contaminating notions, so very few of our local clergy have been posted to churches outside Charis itself. And the difficulty in getting senior churchmen to agree to serve out here at the edge of the world has worked in our favor in many ways, as well. Not least is that none of the relatively small number of truly senior clergy sent into Charis have even begun to suspect what the Brethren of Saint Zherneau have truly become here in the Kingdom and the Archbishopric."

    "And what have they become, Your Eminence?" Merlin asked quietly.

    "Agents of subversion," Staynair said simply. "Only a very small handful of the most senior Brethren are aware of the existence of Saint Zherneau's journal or any of the other documents. Outside that handful, none of them have ever heard of a book called The History of the Terran Federation, or of a document called The Declaration of Independence. What every Brother of Saint Zherneau has been taught, however, is that every individual is responsible for his or her personal relationship with God. The Inquisition would most certainly find that teaching pernicious, even though it's precisely what the Holy Writ says. Because, Seijin Merlin," the archbishop looked back from the window, his eyes dark and intense, "a personal relationship implies both toleration and questions. It implies a personal search for God, a need to understand one's relationship with Him for oneself, not simply the regurgitation of official doctrine and catechisms."



    Merlin nodded slowly as he felt previously unsuspected puzzle pieces slotting into position. So that was the explanation — or part of the explanation, at least — for the openness, the sense of inclusiveness, which had attracted Nimue Alban to Charis and its society when she first set about seeking a proper base of operations.

    "Almost every Brother of Saint Zherneau is aware that our emphasis on personal relationships with God would not find favor with the Inquisition," Staynair continued. "But not one of them, to the best of our knowledge, has ever brought the philosophy of Saint Zherneau to the Inquisition's attention. And that, Merlin, is because there is something in most men which cries out to know God. To find that personal, direct relationship with Him. The Brethren of Saint Zherneau – all of the Brethren of Saint Zherneau — recognize that wellspring of personal faith and belief within themselves. And, although we never specifically address the point, all of them know it must be both protected and passed on."

    "And it's also the first line of defense, isn't it, Your Eminence?" Merlin said shrewdly.

    "Of course it is." Staynair smile was crooked. "As I say, very few of the Brethren have ever learned the full truth of Saint Zherneau's writings. But by protecting and preserving the portions of Saint Zherneau's teachings of which they are aware, they also protect and preserve the portion of which they are not aware. For reasons I'm sure you can understand, it's been necessary to limit complete knowledge to a relatively small number of people. That's been a problem for many of us over the centuries, because it goes against the grain to deceive, even if only by omission, those who are truly our brothers. Yet we've had no choice, and so the majority of the Brethren have always viewed our purpose as gradual reform — as teaching the clergy to truly serve the souls of God's children rather than the wealth and power of Mother Church.

    "Even that has scarcely been a safe mission over the years, of course. But many of our number, the majority of whom do not know of the existence of Zherneau's journal, have risen to relatively high positions in our local churches, and from those positions, they've sheltered and aided other Brethren of Saint Zherneau. Which is, of course, one reason why such a high percentage of our local priests were prepared to support our break with the Council of Vicars."

    "I can see that, too," Merlin agreed.

    "Don't misunderstand me, Merlin," Staynair said soberly. "When Zherneau's journal was first unsealed four hundred years ago, it was deeply shocking to the then Abbot. Only his own deep-seated faith in the teachings of Saint Zherneau kept him from doing one of the things you'd wondered about. He very seriously considered simply destroying all of it, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Even the 'mainstream Church' has a deep and abiding reverence for written testimony. That goes back to the original Adams and Eves who wrote The Testimonies, I suppose. And, of course, four hundred years ago, there were far fewer literate Safeholdians than there are today."

    Merlin nodded again. All of the original colonists had been literate, but as the decades and centuries passed in a society deliberately locked into muscle and wind power, with all of the hard labor required to support such a society, that universal literacy had disappeared. By and large — there had been exceptions, especially in the Church — only the upper classes had retained the leisure time to become literate. And as the ability to read and write had become less and less common, the reverence of the common (and illiterate) man and woman for the written records whose mysteries they could not penetrate had become paradoxically greater and greater.

    And that must have suited the Council of Vicars just fine, he thought grimly. In fact, 'Mother Church' may well have encouraged the trend, since the illiterate members of the Church became completely dependent upon their hierarchy to instruct them about the contents of those mysterious books they could no longer read for themselves. And that, in turn, became one more tool for strangling independence of thought in its cradle. On the other hand, the fact that literacy's been on the upswing again for a century or so is one of the reasons the wheels are threatening to come off their neat little mind-control machine, isn't it?

    "Despite the temptation to simply destroy the journal and other documents, he chose not to," Staynair said. "It must have been an incredibly difficult decision for him. But in addition to the journal itself, he had the letter Saint Zherneau had left for whoever finally unsealed the vault. And, of course, he had ample historical evidence to support the fact that Saint Zherneau had, indeed, been an Adam himself. That Saint Evahlyn had been an Eve. That, coupled with all of the public writings the two of them had left — including sections in The Testimonies — was enough to stop him from simply labeling the journal the ravings of a mad heretic. And the fact that he knew the books included with the journal had been sealed in the same vault for the better part of four hundred years proved they, too, must date from the Creation itself or immediately after it.

    "Or, of course," the archbishop's eyes bored into Merlin's, "from before it."

    Merlin nodded once again. Personally, he suspected Staynair was probably understating even now the incredible depth of the spiritual struggle that long ago Abbot of Saint Zherneau's must have faced. The degree of intellectual integrity it must have taken to make — and accept — the connections Staynair had just summarized so concisely in the face of every single word of the Church's official doctrine was difficult even to imagine.

    "Forgive me, Your Eminence," he said slowly, "and please, don't take this as any sort of attack. But with this journal, and the other documents in your possession, you've known all along that the Church's entire doctrine, all of its theology and teachings, are built upon a monstrous lie. Yet not only did you never denounce the lie, but you've actually supported it."

    "You would have made a splendid Inquisitor yourself, Merlin," Staynair said, his smile more crooked than ever. "I mean an Inquisitor of Father Paityr's sort, not that pig Clyntahn's, of course."

    "In what way, Your Eminence?"

    "You understand how to direct questions that force a man to look straightly at what he truly believes, not simply what he's convinced himself he believes.

    "In answer to your perfectly valid question, however, we must plead guilty, but with extenuating circumstances. As, I feel quite confident, you already understood before you asked.

    "Had we openly opposed Church doctrine, proclaimed that every word of the Holy Writ was a lie, we would merely have provoked the destruction of Charis centuries earlier. Perhaps the Inquisition might have settled for simply exterminating those who brought the disturbing message, but I think not. I think too much of Langhorne and Schueler's intolerance and . . . thoroughness clings to the Inquisition even today." The archbishop shook his head. "I've read Saint Zherneau's account of what truly happened in the destruction of the Alexandria enclave, what truly happened on the dreadful night when it was transformed into Armageddon Reef. I do not have the background to understand how simply dropping rocks could have had the effect Saint Zherneau describes, but I fully accept the accuracy of his testimony. And if the Inquisition of today lacks the rakurai, the Group of Four has just demonstrated that it continues to command swords in plenty.

    "So, since we dared not openly oppose the Church's lies lest we achieve nothing but the the destruction of the only evidence that they were lies, the Brethren of Saint Zherneau — those of the Brethren who knew the truth, at least — dedicated themselves to gradually building a different sort of Church here in Charis. Even that much constituted a deadly risk. We recognized that, eventually, the Inquisition would undoubtedly react as, in fact, Clyntahn has reacted. We'd hoped it wouldn't be this soon, and it probably wouldn't have been if Clyntahn hadn't become Grand Inquisitor. Yet he did, and we'd already pushed too far, made too many changes of which Mother Church disapproved. The truth of the matter is, Merlin, that Clyntahn has been right all along about the danger Charis poses to his precious orthodoxy. I rather doubt he's felt that way on the basis of any reasoned consideration of the evidence, but his instincts have not played him false where we are concerned."



    "How much of this did Haarahld know?" Merlin asked quietly.

    "All of it," Staynair replied simply. "He read the entire journal, read the history of the Federation. As for all of us, there was much in that history which he didn't understand, for which he had no context. But, also as for all of us, he understood enough. When you asked him why his grandfather had abolished serfdom here in Charis, he answered you honestly, Merlin. But he could have added that one of the reasons his grandfather believed all men were created equal was that he, too, had read every magnificent word of the Declaration."

    "And Cayleb?"

    Merlin asked the question even more quietly, and Staynair frowned gravely.

    "Ever since the vault was unsealed, there have been strenuous rules governing when and how its contents were to be made known to others. One of those rules has been that before anyone could be admitted to the truth, he must have attained the age of wisdom. Which, simply because some firm definition of when that could be presumed to have occurred was necessary, was set at the age of thirty. Another rule is that all those already privy to the truth must agree before anyone else is admitted to it, and not everyone nominated for the truth is actually told in the end. Two of the last eight monarchs of Charis were never informed, for example, because the Brethren of their time believed telling them would have constituted too great a risk. And," Staynair's eyes turned even graver, "in both cases, their own fathers agreed with the majority of the Brethren."

    "But surely that's not the case with Cayleb," Merlin objected.

    "Of course not. We've always — Haarahld always — intended to inform him of the truth as soon as he reached the age of thirty. Unfortunately, the Group of Four refused to wait long enough for that. Now, we have a King whose determination, courage, and wit we all trust implicitly, but who's too young, under the Brethren's rules, to be informed. And, to be perfectly honest, there are some among us who fear his youth and . . . directness. His impetuosity, perhaps. One thing young Cayleb has never been is hesitant about speaking his mind or confronting an enemy. The fear isn't that he would reject the journal's contents, but rather that if he learns the full truth, if he's shown the proof that for almost a thousand years the Church has controlled all of Safehold through the greatest lie in human history, he'll be unable to resist throwing that charge against the Group of Four, as well. And that, Merlin, is something we cannot do. Not yet.

    "Schism within the Church we can contemplate, especially so long as that schism is couched in terms of reforming corruption, decadence, and abuses. But outright heresy — true heresy, easily provable by reference to the Holy Writ and The Testimonies – would put far too potent a weapon into Clyntahn's hands. The day is coming — will come — when that 'heresy' will be openly proclaimed. The Brethren of Saint Zherneau have labored to bring that day for four centuries. But for now, we must keep this a war over the Church's abuses. Over spiritual issues, yes, but spiritual issues secular rulers can grasp in secular terms, not over deeply divisive points of doctrine and theology."

    Merlin unsteepled his fingers and leaned forward in his chair, his expression intent.

    "Your Eminence, since you and Abbot Byrkyt have shown me these documents, informed me of their existence, I must assume the other Brethren who know the full truth approved your decision to do so."

    His tone and raised eyebrow made the statement at question, and Staynair nodded.

    "They have. In no small part, because we want your judgment as to whether or not Cayleb should be told. I believe he should, as do most, though not all, of the others, and all of us realize that at this moment, you're undoubtedly closer to him than any other living man. But I must confess that there's also another reason. Something which was contained in Saint Zherneau's letter, not his journal."


    "Yes." Staynair reached into an inner pocket of his cassock and removed a folded sheet of paper. "This is a copy of that section," he said softly, and handed it across the desk.

    Merlin took it just a bit gingerly, unfolded it, and found a passage copied in Staynair's own hand.

    "We, and the other Adams and Eves Dr. Pei reeducated to know the truth, were to be what she called her 'insurance policy,'" he read. "We were to be the seed, if you will, of a movement among the colonists and children of the colonists if, as she feared, Langhorne, Bédard, and Schueler moved openly against Alexandria. But she had less time than she had hoped, and there were not enough of us when they destroyed Alexandria and murdered her and all of our friends. Yet it is evident that Langhorne and most of his inner circle must also have been killed. Our best guess, especially given the changes in the Holy Writ, is that Commodore Pei must have managed to conceal a vest-pocket nuke and used it. I have often thought, over the years, that the confusion that must have engendered in the 'archangels'' leadership — and, quite possibly, the destruction of much of the colony administration's records — explains how we have been able to pass unnoticed out here in this distant corner of Safehold.

    "But we do not know where else Dr. Pei may have placed others like us. We were never told, for obvious reasons. We do know she intended to place others here with us in Tellesberg, but there was never time, and now she never will.

    "Yet know this, whoever you may be who finally reads these words. We were but one string to Dr. Pei's bow of truth. There is another. I know but little about that second string, and even that I know mostly by accident. It was never Dr. Pei's intention for us to learn about it at all — again, for obvious reasons. But I know this much. She and Commodore Pei have made other preparations, other plans, as well as this one. I will not write even the small amount I do know, lest this letter fall into the Inquisition's hand. Yet you must always remember that second string. The day will come when it sends forth its arrow, and you must recognize it when it flies. Trust it. It springs from fidelity you cannot even imagine, from a sacrifice deeper than space itself. I believe you will know it when you see it, and this is the test: Nimue."

    A PICA had no circulatory system, but deep pain stabbed through Merlin's nonexistent heart as he read that final sentence. He looked down at it for endless seconds. It was almost as if he could hear Pei Shan-wei's voice one final time through the words written by a man seven hundred and fifty years  dust.

    Finally, he looked up again, and Staynair looked deep into his sapphire PICA's eyes.

    "Tell me, Merlin," he said, very, very softly, "are you Shan-wei's second arrow?"



    "What's this all about?" King Cayleb asked, ignoring the throne on its raised dais as he stood with his back to the small presence chamber's window. He looked back and forth between Archbishop Maikel and Merlin, his eyebrows raised, and Merlin smiled crookedly.

    "You may recall, Your Majesty," he said, "that I once told you that when I could explain a certain subject more fully, I would."

    Cayleb's eyes widened suddenly. Then they darted to Staynair's face. He half-raised one hand, but Merlin shook his head.

    "It's all right, Cayleb," he said. "It turns out Archbishop Maikel — and, for that matter, your father — had a somewhat better idea of who I am than I'd realized."

    "They did?" Cayleb's expression was suddenly very intent, and the gaze he turned upon Staynair was intensely speculative.

    "Oh, I think you might say that." Merlin's smile turned more crooked than ever. "You see, Cayleb, it's like this . . . "

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