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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Thirty Eight

       Last updated: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 12:31 EDT



Royal Palace,
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Charis

    "Your Majesty?"

    Sharleyan's head turned automatically towards the tall guardsman with the rakishly scarred cheek — Captain Athrawes — as he stepped deferentially into the private dining room. Then she realized Cayleb's head had done exactly the same thing, and she giggled.

    She hated it when she giggled. Chuckles were acceptable. So was laughter. But giggles were invincibility girlish. They made her feel as if she were twelve years old again. Worse, they made her feel as if everyone else must think the same thing, yet she'd never quite been able to eradicate them, and she felt her cheeks heating with embarrassment.

    But then she glanced at Cayleb. She saw the same devilish amusement dancing in his eyes, and that was too much. Giggles disappeared into laughter, and she shook her head at him.

    "I think getting used to the fact that I'm a visitor in someone else's court is going to be harder than I thought it would," she said.

    "Nonsense," he replied. "You may be a newcomer to this court, My Lady, but you certainly aren't a 'visitor.' Not here. What we're going to need is some new protocol so that we know which 'Your Majesty' is being majestied at any given moment."

    "Perhaps so. But at this particular moment, I'm fairly certain Captain Athrawes means you."

    "Indeed I do, Your Majesty," Athrawes said gravely.

    The guardsman bowed respectfully, but there was a twinkle in his almost unearthly sapphire-blue eyes, and Sharleyan noted it with carefully concealed curiosity.

    She'd been here in Tellesberg Palace for barely twelve hours, and she'd spent three of them locked into the inescapable, iron etiquette of the formal mid-day banquet which three-quarters of Charis seemed to have attended. Despite that, however, she'd already realized that Athrawes' relationship with Cayleb went far beyond the normal one of monarch and servant. In many ways, it reminded her of her own relationship with Edwyrd Seahamper, but Edwryd had been her personal armsman since she was barely ten years old, whereas the entire world knew Seijin Merlin Athrawes had become Cayleb's armsman less than three years ago. Besides, there was something more even than her deep personal bond with Edwryd in this one. Sharleyan had learned to analyze relationships with the keen eye of someone for whom the ability to know where people really stood might well mean the difference between retaining a throne and becoming one more deposed — and, quite possibly, disposed of — inconvenient child heir. That was one reason it bothered her that she couldn't put her mental finger on exactly what the bond between Cayleb and the seijin was, and prudence suggested that was an inability she should rectify as soon as possible.

    "What is it, Merlin?" Cayleb asked now.

    "Archbishop Maikel has just arrived at the Palace, Your Majesty," the seijin replied. "He's accompanied by an unexpected guest, and he craves a few moments of your time."

    Sharleyan's mental ears pricked. There was something peculiar about the stress the seijin had laid upon the word "unexpected." And, she realized, there was also something peculiar about Cayleb's reaction to that emphasis. It was as if he'd been particularly surprised to hear it.

    "If you need to speak with the Archbishop, I'll certainly understand, Cayleb," she said, beginning to push her chair back from the private supper table. "I'm sure the time we've already spent together today has taken you away from a great many things you needed to do. So, it's probably time –"

    "No," he interrupted her, shaking his head quickly. "I meant what I said earlier. If the Archbishop believes he requires privacy to discuss some specific matter of the Church, that's one thing, but I didn't propose marriage simply to add one more person to the list of people I can't trust. If we're going to create the marriage — and the unified realm — I think we both want, then the time to begin is now."

    "Of course," she murmured. She settled back into her chair, hoping he recognized how pleased she was by his response. It was easy to say someone was trusted; she'd discovered the hard way, very early in life, that it was harder by far to actually trust . . . and to demonstrate that one did.

    And I know how . . . imperious I can be, she thought with a mental smile. Learning to genuinely share not just trust, but authority, is going to be hard, no matter how badly we both want this to succeed. Succeed on many levels.

    "Please ask the Archbishop to join us," Cayleb continued, turning back to the seijin.

    "Of course, Your Majesty."

    Captain Athrawes bowed once more, then withdrew. A moment later, the door opened again, and the seijin returned with Archbishop Maikel and a plainly dressed woman who was probably twenty or more years older than Sharleyan.

    "Archbishop Maikel, Your Majesties," Seijin Merlin said.

    "Your Majesty." Staynair bowed to Cayleb, then again to Sharleyan. "Your Majesty," he repeated, and Sharleyan's lips twitched at the echo of her recent conversation with Cayleb. But then the archbishop straightened, and the somberness in his eyes banished any temptation to levity on her part.

    "What is it, Maikel?" Cayleb's voice was sharper, more concerned, as he, too, recognized the archbishop's mood.

    "Your Majesty, Her Majesty's ship wasn't the only one to arrive in Tellesberg today, and I'm afraid our worst fears about the fate of Archbishop Erayk have been confirmed."

    Cayleb's face went expressionless at Staynair's sober words, and Sharleyan felt her own do the same. As Cayleb, she was only too well aware of the fate the Book of Schueler prescribed for anyone judged guilty of the crimes upon which the Inquisition had arraigned Erayk Dynnys.

    "Confirmed how?" Cayleb asked after only the briefest of pauses.

    "Confirmed by this lady," Staynair replied, gesturing courteously to the woman beside him. "She witnessed his execution, and I believe you should hear what she has to say about it."

    The pleasant supper Sharleyan had consumed seemed to congeal abruptly in her stomach. The last thing she wanted to hear over a supper table — especially this supper table, on this, of all nights — were the savage details of Dynnys' grisly death. From Cayleb's expression, he felt much the same way. But, like Sharleyan herself, there were responsibilities he could not evade, and she felt a perverse satisfaction when he didn't even ask if she wanted to excuse herself from hearing those details with him.

    "If Archbishop Maikel feels we should hear you, My Lady," the king said courteously to the other woman, "then I'm more than prepared to trust his judgment."

    "Thank you, Your Majesty," Staynair said, then cleared his throat. "Your Majesties, permit me to introduce Madame Adorai Dynnys."

    Cayleb straightened abruptly in his chair, and Sharleyan stiffened.

    "Madame Dynnys!" Cayleb stood, stepping quickly around the supper table and extending his hand. "How in God's name did you manage to get here safely?"

    "I suspect He did have more than a little to do with it, Your Majesty." Madame Dynnys' voice was deeper than Sharleyan's own soprano, and echoes of loss and grief grated in its depths like broken bits of ancient boulders, but she managed to smile.

    "Please," Cayleb said, taking her hand in his and urging her towards the table, "sit down."

    "That isn't necessary, Your –"

    "I think it is necessary," he interrupted her. "And I feel certain Queen Sharleyan would agree."

    "Most definitely," Sharleyan said, standing herself and pulling back a chair with her own hands.

    "Thank you," Madame Dynnys said softly, with a small, sad smile of gratitude for both of them, as she sat in the proffered chair.

    "I can scarcely even begin to imagine what this must have been like for you, Madame," Cayleb said, pouring a glass of wine and handing it to her. "Indeed, given the charges the Inquisition leveled against your husband, we'd all feared you and your children must have been taken into custody, as well." His mouth tightened. "Given Clyntahn's . . . personality, I felt sure he'd assume you must have been 'contaminated' by mere proximity. And as for your sons. . . ."

    He let his voice trail off, and she gave a small, almost convulsive nod.

    "I don't know what would have happened to me, Your Majesty, but I think you're right about the boys. I know he called them 'That eternally damned and damnable heretic's poisonous get,' at any rate." Her mouth was a hard, bitter line. "It's possible his 'colleagues' might have attempted to intervene, I suppose, however unlikely it seems. But we definitely would have been arrested, if certain . . . friends of mine in Zion hadn't gotten warning to me in time." She sipped from the wineglass. "They not only warned me, Your Majesty, but they gave all three of us refuge until they could smuggle us out of Port Harbor."

    "To here."

    "Where else might we have gone, Your Majesty?" There was an undeniable edge of angry despair in Madame Dynnys' voice, Sharleyan realized. And who should blame her?

    "A valid question, My Lady," Cayleb acknowledged, but he met her eyes levelly. "It was never our intent for innocents to suffer, but we can't — won't — pretend we didn't know it would happen. On the other hand, my father and I — and Archbishop Maikel — had no real choice, I fear, given the fate the Group of Four had planned for all of our subjects."

    "I know that, Your Majesty. And I understand both what drove your hand and what it is you hope to accomplish. Or, at least, I believe I do, especially after meeting and speaking with Archbishop Maikel." She used Staynair's title without hesitation or reservation, Sharleyan noticed. "Indeed, that understanding is one reason I came here, instead of attempting to go into permanent hiding in the Temple Lands. But, to be completely honest, another reason was that I believe your Kingdom owes my sons refuge from the many in Zion and the Temple who would kill them simply because of who their father was."

    "My Lady, we owe that refuge not simply to your sons, and not even simply to yourself, but to anyone who finds himself or herself in danger from the corrupt men who control the Council of Vicars. In time, I hope and believe, Charis will become an openly sought refuge for all of God's children who recognize the corruption of men like the Group of Four."

    "Thank you," she repeated.

    "You're most welcome, in every sense of the word," Cayleb told her simply. Then he seemed to steel himself. "But now, My Lady," he continued gently, "may we hear what you've come so far to tell us?"



    Several hours later, Cayleb and Sharleyan stood on a balcony high on the side of King Maikel's Tower, looking out across the sparse lights of Tellesberg proper and the brighter smear of light which was the perpetually busy waterfront.

    "That poor woman," Sharleyan murmured.

    "Amen," Cayleb said softly, and  reached out and took her hand. She turned her head, glancing at him, as she realized the action had been completely unconscious on his part. His eyes were still on the dark sweep of his sleeping capital as he laid her hand on his forearm and covered it with his own.

    "I doubt I'll sleep very well tonight," he continued. "I've discovered that knowing what his sentence was and actually hearing how it was carried out — especially hearing it from his own wife – are two different things." He shook his head, his jaw tight. "The Inquisition has much to answer for. Indeed," he turned to look at her squarely, "if the truth be known, this goes beyond the Group of Four, whatever we may say."

    "I realized that even before Earl Gray Harbor brought me your messages," she said steadily, and squeezed his arm gently but firmly. "That pig Clyntahn is the one immediately responsible for all of this. I've never doubted that for a moment, and every word Madame Dynnys said only confirmed it. But if the entire Church hadn't become corrupt, a man like Clyntahn could never have gained the power he has. It's tempting to blame the man and not the institution, but that's the easy answer, the one that saves us from looking truth squarely in the eye. And," she met his gaze without flinching, "almost the very first lesson Mahrak — Baron Green Mountain — taught me after Hektor paid for my father's murder was that a monarch's first and overriding duty is to face the truth, however ugly it may be. However much she — or he — may long to avoid it."

    Cayleb gazed at her in silence for several seconds, then twitched his head in an odd little half-nod. She had the strange sensation that it was directed to someone else, someone not present, but he never looked away from her.

    "I proposed the union of Charis and Chisholm because it seemed a military necessity," he told her. "I had reports about you and your court, of course, much as I'm sure you had about Charis and about me. From those reports, I hoped I'd find not just an alliance with your Kingdom, but an ally in you." His nostrils flared. "I have to tell you, Sharleyan, that even on this brief an acquaintance, it's obvious to me that the reports of your wisdom and courage failed to do you justice."

    "Indeed?" She tried to keep her tone light as she studied his face as closely as she could in the available light. Then she laughed softly. "I was thinking much the same about you, as it happens. I do hope this isn't a case of two hesitant suitors deciding to make the best of their situation!"

    "If either of us should be in that position, My Lady," he said, bowing with a gallant flourish, "it must be you. Now that I've seen you and met you, I assure you that I've decided this was one of the best notions I've ever had. On a great many levels."

    He straightened, and Sharleyan felt a pleasant tingle inside at the frank desire he had allowed into his expression.

    She squeezed his arm again, then turned to look back out over Tellesberg while she sorted through her own feelings. As the daughter of a king, and then as a queen in her own right, Sharleyan Tayt had accepted long ago that her marriage would be one of state. She'd also realized that as a queen in a kingdom which had shown so little tolerance for a woman's rule in the past, marriage would pose particular dangers for her, and yet there'd been her clear responsibility to provide a legitimate, acknowledged heir to her throne in order to secure the succession. With so many needs, opportunities, and threats to balance, there'd been no room in her life to worry about whether or not she might love — or even like — the man to whom she eventually found herself wed.

    And then this. Barely five months ago, she'd been certain Charis — and Cayleb — were doomed, and that she would be forced to participate in their murder. She'd never imagined, in her wildest flight of fantasy, that she might actually find herself entertaining the possibility of marrying him. Of binding her own kingdom irrevocably to Charis and to Charis' rebellion against the oppressive authority of Mother Church. And to whatever fate that rebellion ultimately produced. Even now, there were moments when she wondered what insanity had possessed her to even contemplate such a union.

    But only moments, and they were becoming steadily fewer.

    It's Cayleb himself, she thought. I've seen so much cynicism, so much careful maneuvering for position, and spent so much of my life watching for the hidden dagger in the hands of supposed friends. But there's no cynicism in Cayleb. That's the most remarkable thing of all, I think. He believes in responsibilities and duties, in ideals, not just in pragmatism and expediency, and he's got all the empty-headed, invincibly optimistic enthusiasm of one of those incredibly stupid heroes out of a romantic ballad somewhere. How in God's name could he have grown up as a crown prince without discovering the truth?

    It was all madness, of course. In the darker moments of the night, when doubt came to call, she realized that with agonizing certainty. Despite Charis' present naval advantage, the kingdom was simply too small, even with Chisholm's support, to resist indefinitely the massive power the Church could bring to bear upon them. In those dark watches of the night, it was all dreadfully clear, inevitable.

    But not anymore. She shook her head, marveling at the simple awareness which flowed through her. Before she'd arrived in Charis, her belief that Charis — and Chisholm — might survive had been a thing of intellect, the triumph of analytical intelligence over the insistence of "common sense." And, she admitted to herself at last, a thing of desperation. Something she'd been forced to believe — to make herself believe — if there were to be any hope of her realm's survival in the face of the Church's obvious willingness to destroy anyone even suspected of disobedience to the Group of Four.

    That had changed now. Changed when she realized Cayleb in person, despite his youth, despite his undeniable charm, was even more impressive in fact than in rumor. There was something incredibly engaging about his flashes of boyish enthusiasm, but behind those flashes she saw the implacable warrior who had won the most smashing naval victories in the history of Safehold. Who was prepared to go on however long he must, to win as many more victories as his cause required, because he truly believed men and women were supposed to be more than the obedient slaves of corrupt men who claimed to speak with the authority of God Himself.

    And even more impressive, perhaps, was the fact that his kingdom and his people believed with him. Believed in him. They were prepared to go as far as he led them, to face any foe — even Mother Church herself — at his side. Not at his heels, but at his side.



    And she, she realized wonderingly, wanted to do the same thing. To face whatever storm might come, whatever odds might be, because it was the right thing to do. Because he and his father, Archbishop Maikel, his nobles and his parliament, had decided it was their responsibility. Because they'd been right when they made that decision, that choice . . . and because she wanted to share in that same ability to do what was right because it was right.

    And the fact that he's not just cute, but probably one of the sexiest men you've ever encountered, has nothing at all to do with it, does it, Sharleyan? a corner of her brain insisted upon asking her.

    Of course it doesn't, she told that pesky corner sternly. And even if it did, this is hardly the time to be thinking about that, you silly twit! Go away! Still . . . I've got to admit that it doesn't hurt, either.

    "Can we really make this work, Cayleb?" she asked him softly, turning back to face him. "Not just us, just you and me — Cayleb and Sharleyan. All of it. After what Madame Dynnys told us this evening, with all the wealth and the manpower the Group of Four command, can we make it work?"

    "Yes," he said simply.

    "You make it sound so easy." Her voice was wondering, not dismissive, and he smiled wryly.

    "Not easy, no." He shook his head. "Of all the words you might use to describe it, 'easy' is the last one I'd choose. But I believe it's something more important than easy. It's inevitable, Sharleyan. There are too many lies in Zion, too much deceit and corruption, more even than anyone suspects. I'm not so foolish as to think truth and justice must inevitably triumph simply because they deserve to, but liars ultimately destroy the things they lie to protect, and corruption, ambition, and betrayal inevitably betray themselves, as well. That's what's happening here.

    "The Group of Four made a serious error in judgment when they thought they could just brush Charis aside, crush one more inconvenient gadfly. They were wrong about that, and the proof of that error, as much as the proof of their corruption, is what ultimately dooms them. They've made the mistake of trying to enforce their will through force and terror and the shed blood of the innocent, and they thought it would be simple, that the rest of the world would continue to accept it. But Maikel is right when he says the purpose of the Church must be to nurture and teach, not to enslave. That was the source of Mother Church's true authority, despite the existence of the Inquisition. And now that authority, that reverence, is gone, because everyone's seen the truth. Seen what the Inquisition did to Erayk Dynnys, what it's prepared to do to entire kingdoms . . . and why."

    "And you really think that makes enough of a difference?"

    "Yes, I do. All we really have to do is to survive long enough for that truth to percolate through the minds of other rulers, other parliaments. In the end, the Group of Four was right about at least one thing. It's our example, far more than our actual military strength or wealth, which poses the true threat to them."

    "That's what Mahrak said," she told him. "And what I said to myself, when I could convince my emotions to listen to my intellect. But it's different, somehow, hearing you say it."

    "Because of my noble demeanor and inspiring stature?" he asked lightly, and she shook her head with a laugh.

    "Not quite," she said dryly.

    "Then how?" he asked more seriously.

    "Partly, I think, because you're a king yourself. A fairly impressive one, too, I'm forced to admit, and not just because of Rock Point, Crag Reach, or Darcos Sound. When you say it, it carries that ring of authority, of coming from someone in a position to truly judge possibilities.

    "But even more, it comes from who you are, what you are. I wasn't prepared for Archbishop Maikel, or for the way the rest of your people are prepared to follow wherever you and he lead. You're scarcely the Archangels come back to earth, but I think that's actually part of your secret. You're mere mortals, and mortals are something the rest of us can understand."

    "I think perhaps you give us too much credit," he said soberly. "Or perhaps I should say you give other people too little credit. No one can drive an entire kingdom into standing up in defiance of something like the Group of Four. That comes from within; it can't be imposed from without. You know that as well as I do — it's the reason you've been able to rule Chisholm so effectively, despite the fact that your nobility obviously remembered the example of Queen Ysbell. It's the reason you were able to come here in acceptance of my proposal without seeing Chisholm go up in a flame of rebellion behind you. Your people understand as well as mine do, and that's the true reason why, in the end, we will win, Sharleyan."

    "I think you're right," she told him, reaching out to touch the side of his face for the first time. Her fingers rested lightly against his cheekbone, against the strong line of his jaw, and she looked into his eyes.

    "I think you're right," she repeated, "and that alone would make this marriage the right thing for me to do. It doesn't matter how I feel, what I want. What matters is my responsibility to Chisholm, and that responsibility is to see my people free of the Group of Four's yoke."

    "And is that the only thing that matters?" he asked softly.

    "Oh, no," she said. "Not the only thing."

    He gazed down into her face for several endless seconds, and then, slowly, he smiled.

    "I have to admit I hoped you'd say that," he murmured.

    "Isn't this the place, in all of those sappy romances, where the hero is supposed to press a burning kiss upon the chaste maiden and sweep her off her feet in steel-strong arms?" she asked him with a lurking smile of her own.

    "I see we both wasted our time when we were younger reading the same frivolous entertainment," he observed. "Fortunately, I'm sure we're both also wiser now, with better judgment and a greater grasp of reality than we had then."

    "Oh, I'm sure we are," she said with a soft little chuckle.

    "That's what I thought, too," he assured her, and then his lips met hers at last.

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