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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Forty Four

       Last updated: Monday, July 7, 2008 20:21 EDT



Telleberg Cathedral,
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Charis

    Tropical sunlight poured through Tellesberg Cathedral's stained-glass clerestory, spilling down over the richly adorned statuary and the towering mosaic of the Archangels Langhorne and Bédard which reared high above the worshipers. Organ music had filled the huge cathedral virtually without interruption since an hour after dawn, and superbly trained choirs, drawn from the entire Kingdom of Charis, had taken their turns, lifting their voices in hymns of praise, of supplication, and blessing. The walls were trimmed with the white blossoms of the mountain spike-thorn which was the traditional bridal flower of Charis, and more of the gorgeous blossoms were heaped and piled in and around the sanctuary.

    Most mountain spike-thorn came in various shades of deep, rich red, but the white spike-thorn's trumpet-shaped blossoms boasted throats of deep, almost cobalt blue, fading to purest white, edged in deep golden yellow, at the trumpet's "bell." It was part of the Charisian marriage tradition for family and well-wishers to bring their own sprays of spike-thorn, and the packed cathedral was filled with drifts of flowers whose sweetly scented perfume overpowered even the incense.

    King Cayleb and Queen Sharleyan had attended a private pre-dawn mass, before the cathedral was opened to the public. Now, six hours later, the enormous structure was packed to overflowing, and a tense aura of anticipation hovered in its air like smoke. The waiting worshipers were a sea of brilliant fabrics, gems, and jewelry, but there were plainer strands woven through that richly textured matrix. By long tradition, a third of the cathedral's seating was reserved for commoners on a first-arrival basis whenever a member of the royal family was married, baptized, or buried. Most of the "commoners" who took advantage of that tradition were themselves at least moderately wealthy, but there were always some who were not, and today, those of humbler status seemed to be in the ascendant.

    Well, of course they are, Merlin Athrawes thought as he waited patiently for King Cayleb and his bride and watched the imagery superimposed on his field of view. The sensors he and Owl had sown so thickly throughout the cathedral in the wake of the failed assassination attempt drove that display, giving him a panoramic view of the entire cathedral which he could manipulate and study as he chose.

    The people of this kingdom genuinely love Cayleb and his family, his thought continued, and Sharleyan's taken them by storm. She's young, she's exotically foreign, she's beautiful (or the next best thing, at least!), and she's come thousands of miles to marry their king, even if that means standing up against the Church and the Grand Vicar himself beside him . . . and them. The balladeers and the newspapers and public broadsides have turned her into the next best thing to an icon, and in her case, it didn't even take a lot of exaggeration. This time, even the poorest people in Tellesberg want to be there, want to see her marry Cayleb.

    He made one last careful examination of the cathedral's  interior, then nodded mentally in approval. The other members of the Royal Guard were exactly where they were supposed to be, the Marine sharpshooters Cayleb had permanently detailed to the Cathedral were in position, and all of the security plans and measures he and Colonel Ropewalk had devised seemed to be in place. It grieved him that they had to take such additional pains to guarantee Cayleb's security, but Staynair's attempted assassination and the fire which had gutted the Royal College's original home left them no choice. And Merlin's position as the commander of Cayleb's personal guard detail made him, in effect, the second-in-command of the entire Royal Guard, despite his relatively junior official rank.

    However much most people may love Cayleb, the ones who don't really don't these days, Merlin reflected gloomily. And I'd be a lot happier if I thought the "Temple Loyalists" weren't getting themselves organized. Or if I at least knew enough about who they are and where they're doing the organizing to keep an eye on them That attempt on Staynair was bad enough, and it came within a whisker of succeeding . . . largely because I didn't (and don't) know enough about them and the people like them to spot it coming ahead of time.

    Actually, he would have preferred not having to spy on any of Cayleb's subjects, for a lot of reasons, including the fact that it felt like a violation, especially when there was absolutely nothing anyone could have done about it, even if they'd realized it was happening. Keeping an eye on political figures like Nahrmahn or Hektor was one thing; playing the role of Peeping Tom on private citizens was something else again, and the fact that he saw no alternative didn't make him one bit happier. In fact, it made him less happy. "Necessity" was a poisonously seductive argument, however genuinely unanswerable it might be upon occasion, and Merlin didn't want to get into the habit of justifying the abuse of his capabilities.

    That bit about "power corrupting" worries me, he admitted to himself. The Group of Four's proof enough that it really does, and, in some ways, my "power" is even greater than theirs. Or it could be, at any rate. It's bad enough knowing that I'm for all intents and purposes potentially immortal without giving myself any easy rationalizations for treating people who aren't immortal as if I'm somehow "naturally superior" to them. I don't want to be giving away pieces of my soul that way . . . assuming Maikel's right about my still having one, of course.

    I wonder if

    His introspection was abruptly interrupted as the door opened and Cayleb and Sharleyan came through it.




    Cayleb was magnificent in white breeches and a traditional Charisian tunic of tawny-amber cotton silk, trimmed in rich green and embroidered with the black and gold kraken of his house. The rubies and sapphires of the formal Crown of State glittered on his dark hair like flashes of red and blue fire; the crimson cloak of his full court regalia, trimmed in the snowy white fur of a mountain slash lizard's winter pelt, was thrown over his shoulders; and the katana Merlin had given him rode at his side in a newly made black scabbard set with faceted gems and clasped in silver.

    Sharleyan had attended the dawn mass in one of the sumptuous, tailored gowns she'd brought from Chisholm, but for this ceremony, she wore a Charisian wedding gown. The decision had been hers — Cayleb had actually been in favor of her wearing a Chisholm-style gown as a symbol of the unifcation of their two kingdoms — but as soon as she'd made her desire known, the seamstresses of Tellesberg had erupted in a virtual death match to see who would be allowed to design and craft the Queen's gown. The competition had been not simply intense, but characterized by scrupulously polite, utterly venomous exchanges. Merlin had been a little surprised when it was all settled without actual bloodshed, and he suspected there were going to be several multi-generational feuds between competing dressmakers and their progeny unto the fifth or sixth generation.

    Despite that, he — and Cayleb — had been forced to admit that the Queen's choice had been an inspired one. Word that she'd insisted on donning Charisian fashion for her wedding had gotten out, and it had quickly become yet another factor in the way her Charisian soon-to-be subjects had taken her to their collective heart.

    Not only that, Merlin thought, absorbing her appearance through the eyes of both the man he had become and the woman Nimue Alban had been, Charisian fashion suited her perfectly. Her hair was arranged in an artfully flowing style which looked simple and unpremeditated, despite the fact that it had taken Sairaih Hahlmyn, Mairah Lywkys, and two assistants literally hours to coax into position. Her gown mirrored the coloration of the white mountain spike-thorn, with a long, paneled skirt of cobalt blue that swirled and danced around her slender legs when she moved, and a bodice of almost eye-watering white, adorned with fine sprays of Charisian pearls and a delicate froth of diamonds. The bodice, like the panels of the skirt, was edged in golden thread, and the cloak over her shoulders was trimmed in the same white fur as Cayleb's, but matched the deep, rich blue of her gown's skirt. The fact that the national colors of Chisholm — and of the House of Tayt — were royal blue and silver was a happy coincidence which she had turned into a deliberate symbolism that was lost on no one. Her embroidered court shoes mirrored the blue and white of her wedding gown and flashed back sunlight from gems and silver bullion thread whenever her skirt's motion allowed them to peep into visibility, while their heels were high enough that the crown of her head just topped Cayleb's shoulder.

    I can't imagine anyone looking more like a queen, Merlin thought while fabric rustled throughout the hallway as the waiting courtiers swept deep bows and curtsies. And she certainly has the figure to carry that tailored bodice and skirt perfectly!

    Unlike the courtiers, Merlin and Sergeant Seahamper, as the two men directly responsible for keeping the bride and groom alive, neither bowed nor curtsied, and Merlin found his lips trying to twitch into a smile.

    Every single one of the Chisholmian royal guardsmen who'd accompanied Sharleyan to Tellesberg was a thoroughgoing professional, completely devoted to their queen. They'd made a deliberate and conscientious effort to fit into the existing Charisian Royal Guard's structure and procedures, and Captain Gairaht, their CO, was young, smart, and hard-working. He'd established an excellent working arrangement with Colonel Ropewalk, the Charisian Guard's commander, and with Merlin, but, just as Merlin was Cayleb's personal armsman, as well as the commander of the king's personal guard detail, Seahamper was Sharleyan's personal armsman, and Gairaht left the day-to-day details of running her guard detail in Seahamper's callused, competent hands.

    Merlin was glad he had. He'd come to like and respect Edwyrd Seahamper, and the Chisholmian guardsman's devotion to Sharleyan was absolute. Not only that, but the fact that he'd been her armsman literally since childhood also meant he was the one member of her detail who could sit her down and lecture her in approved, exquisitely polite finger-waving fashion when it was necessary. Unfortunately, Seahamper wasn't quite as unflappable and impassive as he liked to pretend. In fact, his attitude towards Sharleyan often reminded Merlin of a doting but exasperated parent, especially when she insisted on doing something foolish like walking down a ship's gangplank to a totally foreign kingdom without so much as a single bodyguard.

    At least a few members of the Charisian Royal Guard thought Seahamper was on the fussy, paranoid side. After all, it would hardly have made sense for Cayleb to invite Sharleyan to Charis in order to marry her if he — or his guardsmen — intended to let anything happen to her, and some of them were actually inclined to take offense at his apparent lack of confidence in their competence. Merlin, on the other hand, found it difficult to blame him, especially when he reflected on the fact that Seahamper lacked his own access to things like SNARCs.

    Now he and Seahamper made brief eye contact, nodded to one another, and began diplomatically chivying their youthful charges out of the palace to the waiting carriage.

    And, of course, Merlin thought sardonically, to the rest of the guard detail.



    They completed the short journey from the Palace to the cathedral without incident, which might have owed at least a little something to the hundred and fifty picked Royal Guardsmen of the "honor guard" around the carriage. Those guardsmen offered no protection from the deafening waves of cheers which seemed to come from every direction, however. Banners in the colors of both Charis and Chisholm waved madly, spectators leaned out of open windows, cheering and waving, and the street before the carriage's perfectly matched four-horse team was a drift of flower petals, while still more petals sifted down like rainbow-hued snow. Given the wild fervor of the crowds lining the entire route from the Palace to the Cathedral, Merlin and Seahamper's security arrangements seemed comfortably redundant. While Merlin had no doubt that somewhere in that swirling chaos of cheering, whistling, shouting humanity there had to be quite a few people who were outraged and infuriated by the notion of this marriage and what it represented none of them were foolish enough — or suicidal enough — to make their presence known on Cayleb's wedding day.

    Not that he or Seahamper intended to lower their guard.

    At the cathedral, the king and queen were quickly and efficiently ushered to their places in the royal box. Crown Prince Zhan and Princess Zhanayt were already there, waiting for them, and the Duke of Darcos, in the sky-blue dress tunic and dark blue trousers of a Royal Navy midshipman, had managed to get back to Tellesberg in time for the wedding after all.

    There were three other people in the royal box this day, however, and Adorai Dynnys and her sons stood as Cayleb and Sharleyan entered it. Archbishop Erayk's widow was more richly, though still somberly, dressed than on the night of her arrival in Tellesberg, and her sons seemed less frightened. There were shadows in the boys' eyes, however — shadows put there by their mother's confirmation of how their father had died. Nor were they the only ones who had heard that heart-wrenching tale. At Adorai's own request, Maikel Staynair had made the cathedral itself available to her, and it had been crowded to capacity while she described her husband's agonizing execution not simply to her sons, but to the entire Kingdom of Charis.

    Erayk Dynnys had not been held in universal affection by Charisians, yet as they learned how he had died — and what his final words had been — many of his harshest critics had found themselves echoing their new archbishop's prayers for Dynnys' soul. And several members of the Charisian clergy whose support for their new archbishop and the newborn "Church of Charis" had been at best tepid had found themselves reconsidering their positions in the wake of the atrocity visited upon their old archbishop.

    But the atmosphere in Tellesberg Cathedral was very different this day. As Cayleb and Sharleyan appeared at the front of the royal box, a torrent of cheers overpowered the rich-voiced organ and the choir. The mighty structure seemed to quiver on its foundation, and the tumult redoubled when the king and queen raised their hands in acknowledgment of the thunderous greeting.

    It took quite a while for the cheering to subside. Then, finally, when the packed pews were calm once again, the organ launched into a soaring prelude  which had been composed specifically for this wedding. The cathedral doors swung wide, and Archbishop Maikel Staynair and the assembled bishops of the Church of Charis entered through a storm of music.

    If Staynair was troubled in the least by memories of what had almost happened to him in this cathedral, neither his expression nor his body language so much as hinted at it. His golden crown flashed in the stained-glass-filtered sunlight, the rubies glowing like small red suns in their own right. The richly embroidered and adorned robes of his high office (suitably modified by Owl, whether anyone knew it or not) gleamed with their own thread of gold and silver, their own pearls and gems. The other bishops' vestments were almost as richly embroidered and adorned as his, but as bishops visiting in another's cathedral, they wore their traditional priest caps rather than their own coronets. There was, however, an enormous difference between their normal priest caps and the jeweled and magnificently embroidered ones they wore today.

    The choir's superb voices rose as the clerics processed down the Cathedral's central aisle behind the scepter-bearers, the candle-bearers, and the thurifers. Despite Merlin's soul-deep hatred for the "religion" Langhorne and Bédard had foisted upon the inhabitants of Safehold, even he was forced to acknowledge the sheer beauty and majesty of its pageantry and liturgy as he watched Staynair, still reaching out to touch children's heads in brief blessing as he passed.

    And the fact that all of these people truly believe in what they've been taught is part of it, he thought. There's power in faith, even when that faith is being used and abused, and I can't believe God doesn't listen to these people, however they may have been lied to. All of this faith, all of this belief . . . surely He has to recognize its strength, its passion. How could He condemn anyone for worshiping Him in the only way they've ever been taught?

    The procession of bishops unraveled as the prelates took their positions, and Staynair turned to face the entire crowded Cathedral from the foot of the steps leading to his archbishop's throne. He stood there, until the music finally swept away into silence. Still he said nothing, only smiling, while that silence stretched itself into a perfect and purified stillness. It was so quiet that it seemed as if no one in that entire vast cathedral dared to so much as breathe, and only then did he speak into the waiting hush.

    "My children," he said then, "this is a great and joyous day. It is always a source of joy for the people of a well-ruled kingdom when their monarch weds. Not only does that marriage become a promise and a guarantor of the future succession of the kingdom, but any ruler — be it King or Queen — who finds the spouse of his or her heart, so that they may stand side by side, united against all the world may send against them, is a stronger and a better monarch.

    "King Haarahld, may God and the Archangels smile upon him, found exactly that bride in Queen Zhanayt, and now I may tell you that, of my own knowledge, King Cayleb has found that bride in Queen Sharleyan, as well. Marriages of state are all too seldom marriages of the heart, my children. Never doubt that this marriage is both."

    He smiled up at the royal box, where Cayleb and Sharleyan sat side-by-side, and Cayleb reached out — unconsciously, Merlin was almost certain — to take Sharleyan's hand in his own.

    "This marriage, however, is more than simply the union of a young man and a young woman," Staynair continued. "It is more even than the normal dynastic marriage which secures the inheritance of a title or a crown. In this marriage, we see the union not only of man and wife, but of Charis and Chisholm, of two realms which will become one. Of the commitment and fierce resolve of two peoples to stand for truth and to defend that which all men not blinded by avarice, greed, personal ambition, intolerance, or bigotry know to be worth dying to preserve. And so, we have much to be grateful for this day, much for which to return thanks to God. There will be days of darkness before us, my children, for the struggle to which we have set our hearts, our minds, and our hands will not be an easy one, nor will the battle be quickly won. But when those days of darkness come, when gloom lies all about you and you are most tempted to despair, remember this day. Remember this King and this Queen, who come before you now to consecrate their vows to one another in your sight, and in the sight of God. Remember that they have chosen to promise their lives to one another . . . and to you."

    The silence was even more absolute, if that were possible, and then the archbishop smiled once more — a huge, and beaming smile, flooding the sober silence his words had created with a vast tide of joy and anticipation as he raised both hands and Cayleb and Sharleyan rose. They descended the carpeted steps from the royal box, between sweet-scented drifts of spike-thorn, to stand hand-in-hand before him. For all the importance of this wedding, all the hopes and fears and promises riding upon it, the ceremony they had chosen was very ancient, and very simple. Any young bride and groom, however humble their circumstances, might have chosen it, and there was a message in that, as well. They faced the primate of all Charis, and he looked beyond them to the waiting tide of faces.

    "And now, dearly beloved," he told the people behind those faces, "we have gathered together here in the sight of God and the Archangels, and in the face of this company, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of God and the Archangels, signifying unto us the mystical union that is between God and His Church; which is a holy estate which the Archangel Langhorne adorned and beautified with his presence in his time here upon Safehold, and is commended of the Archangel Bédard to be honorable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God. Into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. If any man can show just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace."

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