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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Thirty Four

       Last updated: Friday, April 25, 2008 07:22 EDT



The Temple,
City of Zion,
The Temple Lands

    "Very well, Allayn," Zahmsyn Trynair's voice showed rather more irritation than he normally permitted it to as Rhobair Duchairn seated himself at the council table, "we're all here now. Now can you tell us what this is all about?"

    Allayn Maigwair might not have been Trynair's intellectual equal, but he had no difficulty recognizing the asperity in the Chancellor's tone, and his lips tightened briefly. Then he turned his head to look directly at Trynair.

    "I've just received additional dispatches about the situation in the Gulf of Dohlar, Zahmsyn." He permitted a trace of deliberate patience to color his own tone. "I thought you might be interested in what the Duke of Fern has to say about them. I assure you, they made . . . interesting reading. But, of course, if you're too pressed for time . . . ."

    One would have had to look carefully to notice the slightly heightened color in Trynair's cheeks, Duchairn noted. Even that, however, was a revelation of far more anger than he would ever have permitted himself to feel for such a childish provocation under normal circumstances. Then again, these circumstances were anything but normal, weren't they?

    "Of course we have time to listen to any information that seems pertinent and important, Allayn," the Church's treasurer heard his own voice saying. Both of the other vicars looked at him, and he smiled ever so faintly. "I'm sure you wouldn't have requested a meeting of all four of us unless you thought the dispatches you've received are both of those things," he continued. "On the other hand, all of us have sufficiently pressing commitments on our time to make us all a bit more . . . irritable then God would probably prefer."

    Magwair gazed at him for another second or two, then nodded, and Trynair's momentary anger seemed to fade.

    "Thank you, Rhobair," the Chancellor said. "As always, you make a very valid point. Allayn," Trynair moved his gaze back to Magwair, "if I sounded overly brisk, I apologize. Rhobair is right. We do all have far too many things which require our immediate attention, but that doesn't excuse any lack of courtesy on my part."

    "Don't worry about it." Magwair half-chuckled wryly. "To be honest, I've bitten off a few heads of my own in the last couple of months. It's hard to be patient when so many things are going wrong at once."

    "Then it's our job as God's stewards to make sure they go the right way again," Zhaspahr Clyntahn said. As usual, the Grand Inquisitor didn't seem particularly concerned with pouring any oil on troubled waters. "Which, I assume, your request for a meeting has something to do with?"

    "You might say that." Magwair sat back in his comfortable chair. "Or, you might say it has to do with identifying something else that's gone wrong."

    "Then tell us about it," Duchairn said before Clyntahn could open his mouth again.

    "I've had copies prepared for all of you, of course," Magwair said, indicating the sheafs of notes lying on his companions' blotters. "These arrived by messenger wyvern, not via the semaphore, so there's considerably more detail. And it's the details that concern me the most. Especially in conjunction with what we're hearing from other sources.

    "Basically, the situation is even worse than we'd originally thought. The Charisians are operating so-called 'privateers' on both coasts of Howard now, as well as the east coast of Haven as far north as the Passage of Storms. There must be hundreds of them, and it seems as if every one of them has the new-design artillery. So even though they may technically be calling themselves privateers, what they really are is cruisers of the Charisian Navy. And, not to put too fine a point on it, they're wreaking havoc."

    Duchairn frowned slightly. He'd found immense comfort in his renewed personal faith over the past months, which had given him a certain serenity in the face of all the calamities God seemed to be permitting to afflict His Church. Some of the other vicars — those who weren't clamoring for (or the far more numerous vicars who wished they had the courage to clamor for) the Group of Four's dismantlement — appeared to be withdrawing into a sort of insulated cocoon, where they could pretend their world wasn't in a state of violent upheaval. Duchairn's renewed reading of the Writ, however, had actually restored him to a far stronger awareness of his responsibility to meet those violent upheavals head-on. And of the entire Group of Four, he, as the Church's chief financial officer, was undoubtedly the best aware of the implications of the massive onslaught Charis had launched upon the commercial traffic of its enemies.

    "Pouncing on a few merchant ships may be irritating, but it's scarcely likely to pose any sort of true danger," Clyntahn said dismissively, as if determined to illustrate that very point. "And whatever your reports may seem to indicate, not even heretics could put their accursed new weapons on 'hundreds' of privateers this quickly. No doubt people are panicking and exaggerating wildly."

    Magwair started to open his mouth, but Duchairn raised one hand in a courteous gesture and turned towards the Grand Inquisitor.

    "First, Zhaspahr," he said, "no one is saying all of the privateers have the new guns. Most Charisian merchant galleons have always carried at least a few guns, if only to discourage pirates, and it doesn't take a lot of firepower to force a merchant ship to heave-to and surrender. So the 'old style' artillery is probably all the vast majority of them need, and it's not as if old style guns are particularly hard for them to come by these days. God knows there're plenty of them lying around in Charis after Darcos Sound!"

    Clyntahn glowered at him, but Duchairn met his gaze calmly until, finally, the Grand Inquisitor gave a grumpy, irritated nod.

    "Secondly," he continued then, "if it were only 'a few merchant ships,' you might be right about how important the losses are. But it isn't 'a few,' and Allayn is perfectly correct to be concerned over the potential consequences."

    Clyntahn's face tightened, but Duchairn had emerged as the Group of Four's internal peacemaker, and the beefy Inquisitor made himself nod a second time, however little he wanted to.



    "You were saying, Allayn?" Duchairn invited.

    "I was saying that according to Fern's report, the Dohlaran merchant fleet has taken extremely heavy losses. Apparently, these damned 'privateers' are operating virtually at will, despite the fact that they're thousands of miles from any Charisian port. They seem to be everywhere in the Gulf, including Hankey Sound and apparently Shwei Bay, as well. Losses are so heavy insurance rates have gone skyhigh. And even with insurance, many owners are refusing to allow their vessels to put to sea at all. From what the Duke has to say, the kingdom's maritime commerce has effectively come to a halt."

    "So?" Clyntahn's voice was at least moderately courteous this time, Duchairn noted, and the Inquisitor shrugged heavy shoulders. "With all due respect, Allayn, and fully admitting that the impact for Dohlar may be significant, I fail to see what's so immediately threatening about the situation. We always knew that once these damnable heretics started raiding, the consequences were going to be severe for everyone else's merchant fleets."

    "The point, Zhaspahr," Duchairn said, "is that the damage is being far worse than we'd originally anticipated. Despite what I just said, Allayn is quite right that many of these 'privateers' appear to be purpose-built vessels, armed with the best Charisian artillery. Artillery, I remind you, we still haven't managed to duplicate for our own vessels. I'm Mother Church's Treasurer General. I know how expensive our rearming program is being, which means I also have at least a feel for the sort of investment the Charisians must be making to produce the quantities of artillery their own fleet requires. Yet despite his navy's own obvious requirement for more and more guns, Cayleb is permitting privateers access to them. That indicates just how high a priority he and his advisers must place on those privateers' operations. And, again, speaking as Mother Church's Treasurer General, I may have a better grasp of some of the . . . indirect consequences than you do."

    "So enlighten us," Clyntahn invited in a half-growl.

    "Allayn is probably in a better position than I am to address the consequences for our building programs," Duchairn said, "but I already know Charisian attacks have been more than a minor irritation where they're concerned. Many of the items required for the construction of our new galleys are normally transported by sea, Zhaspahr. Spars, masts, timbers, artillery, anchors — anything that's heavy, or massive, or simply big and can't be supplied in the immediate vicinity of the shipyards themselves has to be freighted in, and attempting to haul loads like that overland, even when an overland route is available, is a nightmare. If they can't be shipped by sea, costs are going to rise sky-high, and construction times are going to become far longer.

    "But there's another, more direct consequence. If the Charisians succeed in effectively destroying the merchant fleets of their enemies — and producing a situation in which the surviving merchantmen cower in port rather than daring to put to sea will have the same effect capturing or sinking all of them would produce — the economies of those realms are going to take severe damage. Even our coffers are ultimately limited in terms of the subsidies and loans we can make to offset that sort of damage. And as their economies suffer, the tithes due to the treasury will also decline, with ultimately serious consequences to our own fiscal position.

    "At the same time, the carnage the Charisians are wreaking isn't something realms who aren't actively at war with them are likely to fail to notice. We've all had our concerns about the ultimate reliability of Siddarmark. Well, if they see the Charisians' enemies suffering this sort of devastation, it's going to make them even less inclined to add themselves to the list of those enemies . . . and to the privateers' target list. Besides, I rather doubt that someone like Greyghor Stohnar is going to be exactly heartbroken over watching the commerce of rival rulers being hammered. After all, as their merchant fleets decline, his can expand to fill some of the void."

    Even Clyntahn was listening attentively now, and Zahmsyn Trynair sat back in his own chair. There were times when he found the apparent rebirth of Duchairn's personal piety more than a little wearing. The Treasurer's newfound willingness to "trust in God" and to punctuate discussions of policy and planning with quotations from the Writ and The Commentaries might produce serenity for him, but it didn't do a great deal for all of the red-hot coals Trynair was required to juggle every day. On the other hand, his ability to convince even the increasingly belligerent Grand Inquisitor to stop and actually listen was impressive. So impressive that Trynair himself had actually considered spending some time with the Writ.

    "But even the impact on the thinking of his potential enemies is secondary to what Cayleb is really after," Duchairn continued now. "He's systematically eliminating the carrying capacity of other realms. Effectively, he's doing exactly what we accused his father of — deliberately setting out to secure complete control of the entire world's merchant shipping. And the reason he's doing that, Zhaspahr, is that if all the other merchant carriers are eliminated, the only ones left will fly the Charisian flag. Which means the mainland realms' need for shipping to transport the cargoes essential to their own economies will drive them into using Charisian bottoms. And, in effect, that means they'll be subsidizing Cayleb's military expenses. He'll be driving the kingdoms of Haven and Howard into literally paying for his war against Mother Church."

    "Then stop them from doing that," Clyntahn growled.

    "That's far easier to say than to do," Duchairn countered. "The trading houses need that shipping just to survive, and the rulers of those countries require the taxes and import duties levied on those trading houses to support their economies . . . and to pay their tithes to Mother Church. The entire edifice is far more fragile than it might appear from the outside, and the imperatives of economic survival are going to drive even godly men into the Charisians' arms if that's the only way for them to survive."

    "And that's not the only worry," Maigwair put in. He'd clearly been willing to allow Duchairn to carry the major burden of the explanation, but now he leaned forward, his own expression a combination of anxiety and anger. "It's not just a matter of harming their enemies and bolstering their own economy. There's also the corrupting effect."

    "Corrupting effect?" Clyntahn sat abruptly straighter in his chair as Maigwair captured his full attention at last. "What sort of 'corrupting effect'?" he demanded.

    "There's an enormous amount of money being made by these 'privateers,'" Maigwair said. "Whatever else they may be, they're still Charisians when it comes to finding ways to squeeze marks out of any situation. And they've been spreading some of those marks around. I have confirmed reports that they're managing to dispose of their prizes in mainland ports. That means they don't have to put prize crews aboard them and sail them all the way back to Charis. They only need to crew them long enough to reach one of the ports which are open to them, at which point their prize crews can immediately return to them. And that  means they can take a lot more ships before shortage of manpower forces them to go home and recruit new crews. Even worse, in some ways, it also means they're building cozy relationships with the authorities in those ports. They couldn't be selling captured ships there, or disposing of cargoes from their prizes, without the knowledge and consent of those authorities."



    Clyntahn's jowls darkened, and anger glowed behind his eyes.

    "Allayn's right," Duchairn said. "These privateers are clearly part of a coordinated Charisian strategy. Cayleb's total out-of-pocket expense is the artillery he's allowing them to purchase, and even that's only costing his navy time, since I'm quite certain the foundries casting those guns are showing a tidy profit in the process without any actual subsidies from the Crown. It's not only hurting his enemies and helping his own economy, but also freeing his navy to concentrate on Emerald and Corisande while forcing our allies to focus all of their limited remaining naval power on efforts to protect the commerce they have left. And simultaneously, as Allayn's just pointed out, giving officials of places like the Empire strong personal inducements to actively collaborate with him and pointing out to those rulers who aren't already on his list of active enemies that he can do the same thing to them, if he has to."

    "Then obviously we need a counter strategy, don't we?" Trynair said.

    "I'd say that was a reasonable observation, yes," Duchairn agreed just a bit ironically.

    "That's easy," Clyntahn growled. The other three looked at him, and he snorted.

    "You've just been pointing out how destroying our allies' merchant fleets is going to hurt them, Rhobair. It's not my area of expertise, but it is yours, and I'm fully prepared to accept your analysis. But if shipping is important to them, it's critical to the heretics in Charis. All their damned fleets and all their damned privateers have to be paid for somehow, and the leeches pay for them with the money they suck out of the mainland economies. Cut that income off, and you eliminate their ability to finance their opposition to God's will."

    "That's true enough," Duchairn acknowledged, watching Clyntahn through narrowed eyes.

    "Well, we don't need any 'privateer' fleet to do that," the Grand Inquisitor said harshly. "All we have to do is order all mainland ports closed to Charisian shipping. We don't have to sink or burn their ships to make them useless to Cayleb and his fellow apostates."

    Trynair frowned, his expression thoughtful. Maigwair appeared torn between agreement with Clyntahn and skepticism about his sweeping suggestion's apparent simplicity. Duchairn, on the other hand, shook his head.

    "It's not going to be that easy, Zhaspahr," he said almost gently. "There are too many people and too many livelihoods wrapped up in it. Even the best of men, faced with the need to provide for their own families, are going to find themselves sorely tempted to continue to deal covertly with Charis if it's a choice between that and financial ruin. And make no mistake about it, for a great many of the people involved in any successful exclusion of Charisian shipping from our ports, the consequence will be ruin."

    "If it is, it is." There was no flexibility at all in Clyntahn's voice or expression. "This is a struggle for the primacy of God Himself on His own world, Rhobair. Given that, the financial tribulations of a pack of merchants and shopkeepers is an insignificant price to pay if it weakens the hand of Shan-wei's foul get."

    "It may be," Duchairn responded. "But whether it is or not isn't really the point, Zhaspahr. The point is whether or not we can convince or compel those 'merchants and shopkeepers' of yours to do it in the first place. And, to be completely honest, even if we should succeed in that, the consequences for our own requirements if we intend to take the war to Charis could well be significant."

    "When grass is growing in the streets of Tellesberg because they have no one to buy their goods or charter their ships, we won't need to pay for any 'requirements' to topple Cayleb and his eternally damned advisers," Clyntahn shot back. "What will be an inconvenience for us — even a serious one, perhaps — will be fatal for Charis. How long do you think Cayleb will last once those money-worshiping Charisians of his realize their entire kingdom is going bankrupt, and them with it?" He grunted a hungry laugh. "And once they turn on one another like the rabble they are, how much military power will it take to sweep up the pieces?"

    "He has a point there, Rhobair," Trynair said quietly, and Duchairn was forced to nod.

    "Yes, he does. Assuming we could enforce such a policy."

    "All we have to do is give the order," Clyntahn said coldly.

    "Not this time, Zhaspahr," Duchairn disagreed, facing the Grand Inquisitor's ire from the serenity of his own newly refound faith. "The Knights of the Temple Lands don't have the authority to simply issue orders like that and see them obeyed without question. Not when the temptation — the necessity, even — to disobey them is going to be so powerful."

    "Shan-wei with the 'Knights of the Temple Lands!'" Clyntahn snarled. "It's time we stopped dancing around in the shadows, anyway."

    Duchairn's expression stiffened. The Grand Inquisitor's anger had continued fermenting into fury, and the totally unexpected defiance Dynnys had shown, even in the face of his agonizing death, had goaded Clyntahn's always irascible temper into a white-hot blaze. Worse than that, in some ways, Dynnys' final statement, interrupted though it had been, had called the Group of Four's motivations into question. No one — no one outside the Council of Vicars, at least — was prepared to say so openly, but the fact that Charis' own archbishop had been prepared to indict not Charis, but the Church, from the very lip of unspeakable torment and death, had struck a totally unexpected blow against the Group of Four's authority. Indeed, much as Duchairn hated to admit it, it had struck a blow against the authority of Mother Church, herself.

    And it's also undermined Zahmsyn's strategy for differentiating between the Church and the Knights of the Temple Lands, he thought. Dynnys' didn't charge the Knights with attacking Charis; he charged us, the four of us and even Mother Church herself. And if anyone believed him when he proclaimed Charis' innocence before we attacked her, it's also undermined the argument that this is all the result of some long standing, heretical Charisian plot which has simply strayed into the open at last.

    "I have the authority to order it on the basis of the Inquisition's overriding authority to combat heresy and apostasy anywhere it emerges," Clyntahn continued.

    And since when has any Grand Inquisitor ever had that authority? Duchairn wondered. Within the Church, yes. And the power to summon the secular lords to support Mother Church against heresy in their own lands. But to arbitrarily order them to close their ports to another nation? To dictate the terms on which their subjects are allowed to make the livings needed to feed their own children? No Inquisitor has ever claimed that sort of power! On the other hand, when has any other Grand Inquisitor confronted the threat confronting us?

    "It would be a direct escalation," Trynair pointed out. "It would take the onus for the present situation off of Charis, to some extent at least, and place it upon Mother Church."

    "And," Duchairn added, "if we do that, it will also increase the pressure on us — on Mother Church — to take powerful military action against Charis, and we're scarcely in a position to do that, I'm afraid."

    "For the rest of this year, at least," Maigwair agreed. "Even after we get the ships built, it's going to take time to train crews for them. It's not as if we have the unlimited supply of seamen Charis seems to have."

    "Who cares if it's 'an escalation'?" Clyntahn demanded. "This is a war between God's Church and His enemies. Between the Light of Langhorne and Shan-wei's eternal Darkness. Instead of pretending it isn't, it's time we told all of the Faithful the truth about Charis' carefully planned and long prepared rebellion against the rightful authority of God and His stewards here in the world. My agents tell me there are already whispers in the taverns and the streets about Staynair's defiance and that bastard Dynnys' so-called 'deathbed statement'. It's time we openly admit the true nature of the struggle, time we openly call for all the Faithful to join in holy crusade against that nest of Shan-wei. Better to open the wound to the cleansing air and drain the poisons of doubt before they lead still more into the paths of corruption."



    Trynair's thoughtful frown deepened, and so did Duchairn's. As much as he continued to fear and distrust the consequences of Clyntahn's temper, there was much to what he'd just said. The Charisians, at least, had never tried to pretend they hadn't defied Mother Church's authority. In fact, they'd printed up thousands of copies of the text of Staynair's defiant letter to the Grand Vicar and distributed them in every port city on Safehold. The Inquisition had seized every copy it could find, but Duchairn was positive there were still plenty of them circulating. And the fact that Staynair had couched his defiance in terms of challenging the Church's corruption rather than upon any doctrinal dispute — aside, of course, from the doctrine of the Grand Vicar's paramount authority — hadn't passed unnoticed.

    And coupled with Dynnys' statement, it's truly flicked Zhaspahr on the raw. But the mere fact that there's as much anger as logic driving his reasoning doesn't necessarily make it invalid. And neither does the fact that he's distorting the evidence.

    Staynair is right about one thing. I may hate admitting it — I do hate admitting it — but the Council of Vicars is corrupt. We're corrupt, and it's long past time we cleaned our own house. But however right he may be about that, first we have to preserve that house. We can't let someone destroy the unity of Mother Church which has existed from the very Creation, however justified his anger and his calls for reform may be. And if that's true, then we must openly confront the actual nature of the battle we face. And, he admitted unhappily, if that requires us to . . . misrepresent some of the particulars in order to preserve the whole, what choice to we truly have?

    "So what you're recommending is an open encyclical from the Grand Vicar?" Trynair asked. "Not just for distribution among the bishops, but for dissemination from the pulpit, as well?"

    "That's exactly what I'm recommending." Clyntahn shrugged. "I realize it will have to be carefully drafted, and that's going to take some time and thought. But I believe it's time we laid all of our cards on the table."

    "If we do as you suggest, Zhaspahr," Duchairn said aloud, "it will reduce the scope and flexibility of the strategies available to us. If we draw that line, openly, before all of God's children, then those children will rightly expect us to act. To act as boldly and as decisively as God requires of us. Yet as Allayn's just said, we won't have that capacity to act for months to come."

    "It'll take months for our message to spread and truly sink in, anyway," Zhaspahr retorted. "We can get our directives to the secular rulers involved and get our encyclical to every church on the mainland within five-days, using the semaphore. But even after we do, the common people are going to need time to absorb what we've told them. And Mother Church is going to need time to shape and direct their natural and inevitable sense of outrage."

    "If we declare Holy Crusade," Duchairn said in a carefully neutral tone, "there can be no going back. Any possibility that we might be able to convince the clergy of Charis, or its people, to return willingly and repentantly to the arms of Mother Church will be gone forever. The only appeal left will be to the sword, not to reason or remonstrance."

    "That decision's already been made," Clyntahn said grimly. "It was made when Cayleb and Staynair chose to dispatch their hellish letter and openly give their allegiance to Shan-wei."

    Duchairn winced inside, remembering another conversation, when Zhaspahr Clyntahn, over a bottle of wine, had almost casually brought them to the point of condemning an entire kingdom to fire and destruction without warning. There was no question in Duchairn's mind of their overriding responsibility to preserve the Church and her authority as the final mortal guarantor of the souls of all men, everywhere. Yet Clyntahn's statement bothered him deeply on several levels. First, because of what it implied about who had actually made the initial decision to resort to violence. Second, because it starkly underscored the chasm of death and devastation into which Clyntahn was prepared to cast anyone who stood in his path. And, third, because Clyntahn actually believed what he'd just said.

    That's the truly scary thing, isn't it Rhobair? he thought. This man is Mother Church's Grand Inquisitor, the keeper of the sanctity of her doctrines and the moral rectitude of her priests. Bad enough to think he's still prepared to make decisions at a time like this at least partially on the basis of cynical pragmatism. But if the keeper of God's doctrine is able to genuinely convince himself to believe whatever he needs to believe to suit his own purposes, preserve his own base of power within the Church, then where is the true guarantor of that doctrine?

    He had no answer to that question. Perhaps God would show him one in the end, but He clearly wasn't going to do it before the Group of Four made its decision in the name of the entire Church. And for all his doubts about the wisdom of Clyntahn's suggestion, or what had induced him to make it, Duchairn had no better answer to offer.

    "Zhaspahr's right," Maigwair said. "There hasn't been any going back since Staynair's letter arrived here at the Temple, Rhobair. You know that as well as the rest of us do."

    "Yes, I suppose I do," Duchairn sighed. "It's just the thought of how many people are going to die that makes me wish I didn't know it."

    "Death is better than any heretic deserves." Clyntahn's voice was cold, his fleshy face carved out of granite. "The sooner the lot of them join their dark mistress in Hell, the better for the entire body of God's faithful."

    And what about all the people who aren't heretics, Zhaspahr? Duchairn asked silently. What about the children who are going to be slaughtered along with their parents when you burn Charis' cities? Have those innocents had the opportunity to choose between heresy and the truth? And what about those Charisians who remain loyal to God and the Church and still get in the way of the holy armies you propose dispatching to slaughter their neighbors? And what about the reaction — and the reaction is coming, one of these days — when the rest of Charis realizes Staynair's accusations of corruption were completely justified? Are you going to reform the corruption? Renounce your own position of power and wealth? Begin approaching doctrine and matters of faith with a genuinely open and accepting mind?

    But despite his questions, it still came back to that single, unanswerable fact. To have any chance of restoring Mother Church to what she ought to be, what she must once more become, first Mother Church, whatever her present blemishes, had to be preserved.

    "I don't especially like it," Trynair said with what Duchairn recognized as massive understatement, "but I'm afraid you may be right, Zhaspahr. At any rate, we must take some sort of action against the effects of the Charisian privateers Rhobair and Allayn have analyzed for us. And, you are certainly right about Charis' dependency on its own merchant fleet. To be honest, I want to make no suggestion that Holy War is inevitable — not yet — but you're right that we have to do something."

    He looked around the conference table, his expression somber.

    "Under the circumstances, I believe we truly may not have another option."

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