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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Thirty Seven

       Last updated: Monday, May 12, 2008 21:24 EDT



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

    "Forgive me, Your Eminence."

    Maikel Staynair looked up from the latest stack of paperwork as Father Bryahn Ushyr opened his office door. Given the tumult and excitement of Queen Sharleyan's arrival this morning, the archbishop had managed to get very little done this day, and some of the documents on his desk simply had to be dealt with as expeditiously as possible. It hadn't been easy to carve the necessary couple of hours out of his schedule to deal with them, and Father Bryahn knew that as well as Staynair did. On the other hand, the under-priest hadn't been chosen lightly as the archbishop's personal secretary and aide. Staynair trusted his judgment implicitly, and, in normal circumstances, Ushyr was as unflappable as any archbishop might have asked. Yet there was something peculiar about his voice this afternoon. Something very peculiar.

    "I'm sorry to disturb you, Your Eminence. I know how busy you are. But . . . there's someone here I believe you should see."

    "'Someone'?" Staynair's eyebrows rose quizzically. "Would it happen that this someone has a name, Bryahn?"

    "Well, yes, Your Eminence. It's just that –" Ushyr paused most uncharacteristically, then shook his head. "I believe it might be better if I simply showed her in, if that's acceptable, Your Eminence."

    Staynair's curiosity was well and truly piqued. He couldn't imagine what could have flustered Ushyr this way. From what his secretary had just said, the visitor in question was obviously female, and Staynair couldn't think of a single woman in Charis — with the possible exception of Queen Sharleyan — who could have engendered that reaction in him. But he'd known the young priest long enough to accept his request, even if it wasn't exactly the normal protocol for visiting the primate of all Charis.

    "Very well, Bryahn. Give me a moment or two to tidy this up," he waved one hand at the report he'd been perusing, "and then show her in."

    "Yes, Your Eminence," Ushyr murmured, and the door closed quietly as he withdrew.

    Staynair gazed thoughtfully at that door for several heartbeats, then shrugged, inserted a slip of paper to mark his place, and began jogging the sheets of the report into order.

    Whatever might have caused his secretary's almost flustered reaction, it hadn't affected Ushyr's sense of timing, or his ability to estimate how long his archbishop needed. Staynair had exactly enough time to set the report aside, brush his desk into a semblance of neatness, and straighten himself alertly in his comfortable chair. Then the door opened, and Ushyr stepped back through it with a plainly dressed woman whose dark hair was lightly touched with silver, accompanied by two boys. The boys' features made it abundantly clear they were her sons, yet there was something else about them, as well. Something . . . familiar, although Staynair couldn't put his finger on exactly what it was. The older of them looked to be somewhere in his teens; the younger perhaps ten or eleven. That was the first thing that went through Staynair's mind, but another thought followed it almost instantly.

    They were terrified. Especially the boys, he thought. Their mother hid it better, but despite the strength of character in her face, there was fear in her eyes, as well. And something else. Something dark and passionate and ribbed with iron pride.

    "Your Eminence," Ushyr said quietly, "may I present Madame Adorai Dynnys."

    Staynair's eyes went wide, and he surged to his feet without even realizing he had. He was around the desk and across the office to her in three quick strides, and he held out his hand.

    "Madame Dynnys!" He heard the astonishment in his own voice, and it was as if he were listening to someone else. "This is most unexpected!"

    Her hand trembled slightly in his fingers, and he looked into those eyes, saw the exhaustion — and the desperation — behind the fear and the pride. How she could possibly have managed to travel all the way from the Temple Lands to Charis without being identified and taken by the Inquisition was more than he could begin to imagine.

    "Truly," he told her, squeezing her trembling hand gently as his own astonishment began to ebb at least a little, "God works His mysteries in ways beyond human understanding or prediction. You and your family have been in my prayers ever since Bishop Executor Zherald and Father Paityr received your husband's final letter, yet I never imagined that He would be gracious enough to allow you to reach Charis!"

    "Letter, Your Eminence?" she repeated. He heard the fatigue and tension in the depths of her voice, but her eyebrows rose and her eyes sharpened. "Erayk got letters out?"

    "Indeed, indeed he did," Staynair said. He extended his other hand, gripping both of hers, and shook his head. "At least one of them. I have no idea how he managed it, and I will not pretend Archbishop Erayk and I often failed to see eye-to-eye. Obviously, what's transpired here in Charis since his last visit is proof enough of that. But from the final letter he somehow arranged to have delivered to the Bishop Executor and Father Paityr, I can tell you that at the end of his life, your husband remembered the true touch of God." He shook his head again. "We've had no confirmation of his death here in Charis, but from the letter he sent — and from your own arrival here — I must assume the end he foresaw has indeed overtaken him."

    "Oh, yes," she half-whispered, chin trembling at last, tears sparkling in her eyes. "Oh, yes, Your Eminence. It has. And you're right. I believe he did feel God's finger, despite all that it cost him."

    "What do you mean?" Staynair asked gently, for there was something in her voice, in her manner, that said more than her words. She looked at him for a moment, then glanced at the two boys, who were watching her and the archbishop with wounded, anxious eyes.

    "Your Eminence," she said obliquely, "these are my sons, Tymythy Erayk and Styvyn." Tymythy, the older of the two, bobbed his head, his expression wary, as his mother introduced him, but Styvyn only stared at the archbishop. The younger boy's grief and tension cut Staynair like a knife, and he released one of Madame Dynnys' hands to reach out to the youngsters.

    "Tymythy," he said, and gripped the lad's hand in the clasp of an equal before he released it to lay that same hand lightly on the younger boy's head. "Styvyn. I know what's happened in your lives over the last few months has been frightening. I can't begin to imagine how your mother managed to get you to Charis. But know this, both of you. You're safe here, and so is she. No one will harm you, or threaten you, and I know I speak for King Cayleb when I tell you all three of you will be taken under his personal protection. And mine."

    Styvyn's lower lip quivered. Tymythy's expression was more guarded, more wary, but after a moment, he nodded again.

    "May you and I speak privately for a moment, Your Eminence?" Adorai requested. Her eyes darted once more briefly towards the boys, both of whom were still looking at Staynair, not her, and the archbishop nodded.

    "Of course." He stepped to the office door and opened it, looking out into Ushyr's office space. "Bryahn, would you please take Tymythy and Styvyn here down to the kitchen and see if Cook can't find them something to eat?" He looked back over his shoulder with a smile. "It's been quite a while since I was your age, boys, but I seem to recall that it was impossible to ever really keep me fed."

    The briefest of answering smiles flashed across Tymythy's face, then vanished. He looked anxiously at his mother for a moment, and she nodded.

    "Go with the Father," she said gently. "Don't worry about me. As the Archbishop says, we're safe now. I promise."

    "But –"

    "It's all right, Tym," she said more firmly. "I won't be long."

    "Yes, Ma'am," he said after one more moment of hesitation, and put his hand on his brother's shoulder. "Come on, Styv. I'll bet they've got hot chocolate, too."



    He walked Styvyn out the door. The younger boy's head turned, keeping his eyes fixed on his mother until the door closed between them, and Staynair turned back to face her himself.

    "Please, Madame Dynnys," he invited. "Be seated."

    He ushered her to a seat at one end of the small sofa in a corner of his office, then sat at the other end, half-turned to face her, rather than resuming his place behind his desk. She looked around the chamber, biting her lower lip, obviously seeking her composure, then returned her eyes to him.

    "My boys know their father is dead," she said, "but I haven't told them yet how he died. It hasn't been easy, but I couldn't risk their betraying themselves until I had them someplace safe."

    "They're safe now," he reaffirmed gently. "You have my promise, both personally and that of my office."

    "Thank you." She looked at him steadily, then her nostrils flared. "I'm truly grateful for your promise, and I know nothing you've done was done out of personal enmity to Erayk. And yet, I hope you'll forgive me, but I can't quite separate your actions from what happened to him."

    "Nor should you be able to," he replied. "Not yet, at any rate. And no one could blame you if that separation never comes to you. I won't pretend your husband was universally loved here in Charis, because he wasn't. Yet he was never hated, either — or not to the best of my knowledge, at any rate. For myself, I never considered him an evil man, as I do the Grand Inquisitor. I only felt he was weak and, forgive me, corrupt. Corrupt with that taint of corruption which clings to the entire Council of Vicars and all of the senior members of the episcopate."

    "He was weak," she agreed, her eyes once more brimming with tears. "But he was stronger than I ever guessed, too. Certainly stronger than he ever suspected he might be. That strength came to him at the end."

    "Tell me," he invited softly, and she drew a deep, ragged breath. A tear broke free and ran down her cheek, and she squared her shoulders like a soldier facing battle.

    "I was there." Her voice was low, hoarse. "I had to be there. I saw every single thing they did to him before they finally let him die. It took hours, Your Emminence. He wasn't even a human being anymore at the end, only a broken, flayed, bleeding thing, and 'Mother Church' called that justice."

    Her voice hissed as she delivered the final word like a curse. More tears broke free, but there was a fierce, blazing anger in those wet eyes as she looked at the man who had replaced her husband as the Archbishop of Charis.

    "You're wrong about one thing, Your Eminence," she told him flatly. "Not every member of the Council of Vicars is corrupt. Not even every priest of the Inquisition, despite Clyntahn's poison at the very heart of the Office. That's how I know he was offered an easy death if only he would confirm the Group of Four's version of what happened here in Charis.

    "He refused to do that." She met his eyes, and her chin rose with pride even as the tears spilled down her face. "My husband and I never had much of a marriage, Your Eminence. You're right, he was a corrupt man, and weak. But I tell you this, I will never be ashamed of Erayk Dynnys. There is nothing those lying monsters at the heart of the Church can ever say, ever do, to make me forget the choice he made, the death he died. At the end of his life, he was anything but weak."

    "That accords well with his final letter," Staynair said softly, pulling a spotless handkerchief from the sleeve of his cassock and passing it across to her. "I didn't know any of the details of his death, obviously. But I did know he'd found the strength you speak of. And that whatever his faults may have been, at the end of his life, he saw clearly, and spoke the truth — not simply to others, but to himself. Every Wednesday, since his letters arrived, I have conducted a memorial mass for God's servant Erayk."

    She nodded convulsively, clutching the handkerchief. It was several seconds before she could speak again.

    "I need to tell the boys," she said then. "They have to know, and it won't be long before someone tells them anyway. Our ship left Port Harbor the evening of his execution, and the crew had none of the details. They knew he'd been executed, and the boys did, too, of course. And even though the crew didn't know the details, some of them . . . speculated about what it must have been like. They had no idea who we were, never guessed they were speaking of my sons' father. I told them I thought it was inappropriate for such young boys to hear, and I have to admit they tried to avoid speaking about it in front of them after that. But it wasn't a very large ship, Your Emminence, and I know both of them heard . . . some of it. I couldn't prevent that, although I believe — pray — that I managed to protect them from the worst. But I can't do that forever."

    "Of course you can't." He leaned forward and touched her on the knee gently. "I realize it may be difficult for them to separate me, in their minds, from what happened to their father, given the fact that I'm the one who's assumed his office here in Charis. But one of the responsibilities of that office is to minister to all of God's children, so if I can be of any assistance when you tell them, please allow me to be."

    "I think that perhaps if you can explain to them, or at least try to explain, why this is happening, it might help," she replied. Then she shook her head. "I don't know if anyone can explain that to them, Your Eminence. Not at their ages."

    "Not so very long ago," Staynair said, "King Haarahld had to explain to his own cousins — two boys, both younger than your Tymythy — why their father was dead. Had to explain that their father had attempted to assassinate the Crown Prince, murder the King, and been killed by their own grandfather in the process." He smiled sadly. "Children have burdens enough without believing their fathers could be traitors, could be corrupt. Without having to accept their deaths in dishonor. From what you've said, at least your sons' father died speaking the truth, facing his executioners with the courage of true conviction and speaking for that conviction, despite the injustice of his execution. At their age, that will be cold comfort for his loss, especially when they learn the nature of the death he died. But they have nothing to be ashamed of. You're right about that, My Lady, and in time, they'll come to understand that. It won't erase the pain, but perhaps it will at least help them to feel the pride in their father which he so justly earned at the very end of his life. And although God knows they — and you — will need time to heal, I promise you we'll give you all of the time, all of the support, we possibly can."

    "I'm glad," she said softly, and he quirked one eyebrow. She saw it, and shook her head.

    "I'm glad," she repeated. "I hoped, prayed, that Erayk hadn't died for nothing. That the Group of Four truly was lying, and that the man who'd replaced my husband here in Charis truly was a man of God, not simply someone seeking political advantage, however justified he might have been to do exactly that in light of the Church's own abuses. I'm glad to see that the man who replaced him is a man of God."

    "I try to be." He smiled at her with a mix of sadness and humor. "There are times when I'm not as confident of my success as I'd like to be. But I do try."

    "I can tell." She looked at him for a moment longer, then drew a deep, steadying breath. "Father," she said, "I have sinned, and it has been three months since I last attended mass. Will you hear my confession?"

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