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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Thirty One

       Last updated: Friday, April 4, 2008 07:22 EDT




House of Parliament,
Kingdom of Charis

    It was the first time Merlin had seen the interior of the Charisian House of Parliament with his own eyes. Well, his own visual receptors, he supposed, if he wanted to be strictly accurate.

    The chamber's plastered walls were paneled to above head height in the exotic tropical woods with which Charis' more northern forests abounded. Ceiling fans mounted on the exposed beams turned slowly and steadily overhead, pulling the heat upward, and the louvered panes of vast skylights were opened to the morning sunlight, assisting in the cooling movement of air. More sunlight streamed in through the windows set into the typically thick, heat-resistant walls of Charisian architecture. Despite the building warmth of the young day and the number of bodies gathered into one place, it was still surprisingly cool here in the chamber, which said a great deal for the skill of the men who had designed and built it.

    There was no separation in Charis between the official homes of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Each of them had its own council chambers, where much — indeed, most — of its business was accomplished in small committee meetings, but those were Parliament's working space, not its home. Merlin wondered how long that would last, or if it would be carried over to the newer, larger Parliament waiting over the horizon. It seemed unlikely, if only because that newer and larger Parliament would have too many members to accomplish anything efficiently without dividing itself internally into its official branches. For now, though, he found the arrangement oddly reassuring. And, if neither House had its own individual Chamber, there was a distinct difference between the seating on the left and right sides of their shared House as one stood at the Speaker's lectern.

    The seats stretched away in a multi-tiered horseshoe with the lectern between the open ends of the shoe, and the Commons sat to the Speaker's left, on comfortable benches behind individual desks well appointed with inkwells, blotters, and carafes of water. But their desks were unornamented — finely crafted and polished, to be sure, but without carving or other embellishments. They were the desks and seats provided for men who held their parliamentary office on the basis of election, not inheritance.

    The Lords sat to the Speaker's right. Their benches were no more thickly padded than those of their common-born colleague, but each of the desks on that side of the House bore on its front panel the coat of arms of the man — or, in a very few cases, the woman — seated behind it. Some of those coats of arms were simple wood carvings; others were heavily gilded and painted; and a few of them were cast in gold or silver and embellished with cut gems that caught the light from the skylights and windows with dancing flickers of red, green, and blue fire.

    Despite all of that, the House wasn't really as impressive as Merlin's emotions insisted it ought to be, given his awareness of what this embryo would someday become. Of course, the British House of Parliament had always struck Nimue Alban as conspicuously modest for what had quite rightly been known as "the Mother of Parliaments." This structure, on this world, was going to claim that same title for itself, in centuries to come, assuming Charis managed to survive, so he supposed it was only appropriate that it, too, should eschew the sort of self-conscious grandeur the "archangels'" architects had designed into the Temple.

    Not that Parliament actually needed a huge home in Charis, anyway. Not yet. Despite the last few monarchs' awareness of the true history of the Terran Federation and their deliberate policy of moving in that direction, Charis was still a society which had only recently moved beyond outright feudalism. The franchise remained extraordinarily restricted, by the standards of Nimue Alban's birth country, with both property and literacy requirements. It was far larger, in proportion to its population, than that of any other Charisian realm, including the "Republic" of Siddarmark, but it was still a small body. In fact, the House of Commons, despite its nominally far larger base of representation, was only a little bigger than the House of Lords.

    Of course, Merlin thought sourly, gazing out across the assembled Parliament over Cayleb's shoulder as the king, in full court regalia for the first time since his coronation, moved regally towards the Speaker's lectern, there's a reason the Lords have so many members.

    A full third of the upper house's seats — for the most part, those with the most spectacular coats of arms of all — were held not by secular nobles, but by the bishops and senior abbots of the Church of God Awaiting. Despite whatever Haarahld or his immediate predecessors might have desired, there'd been no possible way in which they could have created a parliament without providing for the Church's massive representation within it.

    Some of the men sitting in those particular seats were not the men who had sat in them prior to the battle of Darcos Sound, however. Most of those who'd been replaced by Archbishop Maikel's new nominations and ordinations had resigned in furious protest when their fellows opted to support Cayleb and Staynair in their bid for independence from the Council of Vicars. Two of them, however, had been removed on Royal Warrant and were currently in reasonably comfortable cells awaiting trial. That was what tended to happen when the Crown had irrefutable proof that the men in question had been actively plotting the assassination of the king.

    Irrefutable proof I steered Wave Thunder to, Merlin reflected with grim satisfaction. I wish it hadn't existed — that there hadn't been any plots to kill Cayleb — but I might as well wish the sun wouldn't shine. And at least the rest of the Church took the arrest of two of its senior members by secular authorities on secular charges which carry the high probability of the death sentence, if sustained, far better than I was afraid it might.

    Cayleb reached the lectern, carrying the State Scepter (which, in Charis' case, was an ornately gilded and jeweled but still uncompromisingly effective mace), and Merlin suppressed an internal chuckle. That "Scepter" would undoubtedly have served quite handily to open any door which anyone might have had the temerity to close against its bearer. Which only underscored the fact that there was no nonsense here in Charis about who was whose equal. No requirement for the monarch to formally "request" admittance to the House of Commons. Haarahld VII and his immediate ancestors might have recognized their responsibility to prepare for a different day in Charis, but they'd been very careful to conserve the true power in the hands of the monarchy for now. Which was why every man, and the handful of women, in that chamber stood and bowed as Cayleb set the Scepter in the waiting brackets on the front of the lectern.

    "Be seated, My Lords and Ladies," the king invited after a moment, and feet and clothing scraped and rustled as Parliament obeyed. He waited until everyone had settled once more, then turned his head, surveying all of those waiting faces with a calm Merlin suspected he didn't quite feel.

    "We have summoned you in order to share with you the content and consequences of a letter we have but recently received from our trusted servant the Earl of Gray Harbor," he said then. "It concerns a decision upon the part of Her Majesty Queen Sharleyan to a proposal we committed to her by Earl Gray Harbor's personal hand."

    He paused, and every person in that entire chamber sat very, very still. That stillness was the confirmation security had held, Merlin thought. Everyone knew Gray Harbor had gone to Chisholm as Cayleb's special envoy, and it had been obvious to even the least perceptive political dullard that the first councilor himself would not have been sent unless Cayleb had something significant to say to Sharleyan. But no one outside Cayleb's immediate circle of advisers knew what that something significant had been, and Parliament's eagerness to find out was palpable.

    "We now announce to you," Cayleb said clearly, "Queen Sharleyan's acceptance of our offer for her hand in marriage."

    For a heartbeat or two, it didn't seem to register. Then it did, and the wave of astonishment rippled through Parliament like a high wind through prairie grass. Merlin could actually see it sweeping across the seated representatives and peers, and despite the king's presence, despite the solemnity of the Parliament itself, a chorus of amazed voices went with it.

    It was impossible even for Merlin's enhanced hearing to sort any individual remarks out of that spontaneous bedlam, and Cayleb didn't even try. He simply waited for several seconds, letting his audience's questions and exclamations run their course before, finally, he cleared his throat and raised his own voice.



    "My Lords and Ladies!" he said sharply. "Is this interruption seemly?"

    The king's voice cut through the hubbub, which ceased with remarkable rapidity. More than a few faces looked embarrassed by their owners' outbursts, but even in those cases, surprise and intense speculation were the overriding emotions.

    "Thank you, My Lords and Ladies," Cayleb said as quiet fell once more. Then he allowed himself a small smile. "We can hardly blame you for your surprise, we suppose. Her Majesty's agreement to our offer of marriage was not an easy decision. It required a high courage, and great wisdom, to look past the inevitable rage her decision will evoke in those corrupt individuals who currently control the Temple. There can be no doubt that in her acceptance, she has irrevocably wedded –" he smiled again at his own choice of verb "– the fate of her realm to our own. She has agreed, of her own free will, to stand with us and our people in the death struggle for the soul of Mother Church and our own survival. Make no mistake, this is a battle she has chosen to join, and there will be no going back from this moment for her, or for Chisholm, anymore than there can be for Charis. All of this she has knowingly and willingly accepted along with our hand in marriage."

    The stillness and silence was profound.

    "Under the terms of our proposal to her, which we intend to disclose to you today, and which will be made available to each of you in written form, following this address, the crowns of Charis and Chisholm shall be coequal to one another for the remainder of Her Majesty's life and our own. Upon our deaths, those crowns will be united, in the persons of our children, into that of a single Charisian Empire.

    "In the meantime, we and Her Majesty will be submitting to both kingdoms' parliaments the terms upon which we propose to create a new, common and shared Imperial Parliament to advise and assist us in the equitable governance of both kingdoms in their new imperial relationship to one another. The Navies and Armies of our respective realms will be merged into a new Imperial Navy and Imperial Army, and commissions within the common armed forces of this, our new and greater realm, will be open to Charisians and Chisholmians alike. There shall be an Imperial Treasury, to which both kingdoms shall contribute, and our law masters, in concert with those of Chisholm, shall so reconcile the law of these two realms that the subjects of one shall enjoy all the rights, privileges, responsibilities, and duties of subjects of the other.

    "And because there will always be the threat of the relationship our realms becoming an unequal partnership, in which one kingdom becomes — or believes it has become — the servant of the other, rather than its equal, Tellesberg and Cherayth shall be coequal as capitals. For four months of each year — that is, for half the year, allowing for voyage time between Charis and Chisholm — Her Majesty and I will reside in Tellesberg, and govern both kingdoms from that city, and for four months of each year, she and I will reside in Cherayth, and govern both kingdoms from that city. No doubt it will be a difficult adjusment for both cities, but it will happen, My Lords and Ladies."

    Cayleb paused, looking out into the stunned silence, and his face looked far less young in that moment. His eyes were as hard as his face, and when he spoke once more, his voice came crisply, clearly, ribbed with granite determination and iron purpose.

    "Understand us well, My Lords and Ladies," he told his Parliament. "This will be no union of unequals. We did not offer marriage to Queen Sharleyan as anything less than a full and complete merger of our realms. As our Queen, she will share our authority in Charis, as we shall share hers in Chisholm. She will be our regent, if we be called away by war. She will have our full authority to act here in Charis as she, in her own good judgment, advised by our Council Royal and this Parliament and its imperial successor, shall see fit, and her decisions and actions shall stand approved in advance by us.

    "This is no figurehead we bring you, My Lords and Ladies. This is a Queen, in all the power and accomplishment of her own reign, in her own kingdom. One who, like us, and like our father before us, has matched herself against powerful foes, and who has met the stern test and demands of the throne to which she was called, at an even earlier age than we were, with wisdom, courage, and determination. She will be greeted, deferred to, and obeyed as if she had been Charisian born."

    The sound of a tumbling pin would have been deafening, Merlin thought, watching the youthful king's words sink home.

    "We feel sure that even a little reflection will make clear to all of you the military advantage this brings to us. The impact Queen Sharleyan's willingness to stand with us in our denunciation of the corruption of the Council of Vicars must have upon the thinking of other realms and other rulers will also require no explanation, no embellishment, from us. The advantages this will bestow for operations against our common enemies in Corisande must be equally obvious, as must the fashion in which the strength and power of our merchant marine will be reinforced and broadened.

    "All of those things are true. Yet we would have you know that in our view, the greatest advantage of all which this marriage will bring to us, to our realm, and to all of Safehold, in days to come, will be the courage, the wisdom, and the intelligence of our Queen . . . and yours. Never doubt it, My Lords and Ladies. And rest assured that if any of you should doubt, those doubts will vanish quickly in the face of experience."

    He paused once more, gazing out at the silent ranks of representative, noble, and priests.

    "Great and terrible days are upon us all, My Lords and Ladies," he said then, quietly. "Times to test and try the mettle of any man or woman's soul. Times in which each of us — king, bishop, noble, or commoner — must stand for those things which we hold sacred, those causes for which we will lay down our lives, if God so requires of us. In our hands lies the future of Mother Church, of Safehold, of the lives and souls and freedom of every man, woman, and child in God's vast creation. If we falter, if we fail, then the corruption which has already enveloped the Council of Vicars, already tainted Mother Church with the hunger and secular ambition of the Dark, will conquer all.

    "We, Cayleb Ahrmahk, King of Charis, will die before we see that happen. We would not have brought you any Queen whose determination and courage we feared might prove unworthy of this moment, this time, in this place, and we have no fear that Queen Sharleyan's will. As Charis stands against the Darkness, so will Chisholm. So will Queen Sharleyan. And, as God is our witness, we will not cease, nor pause, nor rest, until those who would unleash warfare, rapine, and destruction upon peaceful realms out of vast and corrupt personal ambition, cloaked in the authority of Mother Church, have been purged forever from this world. To that end, we pledge our life, our fortune, and our sacred honor."

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