Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Forty Six

       Last updated: Friday, July 25, 2008 19:44 EDT



The Temple,
City of Zion,
The Temple Lands

    Rhobair Duchairn wondered if he would ever again cross the Plaza of Martyrs without recalling the bloody horror of Erayk Dynnys' execution. The chill bite of fall lay heavy on the city of Zion, despite the sunniness of the day, but his shiver had nothing to do with the temperature as he gazed up at the soaring colonnade of the Temple of God and the mirror-polished dome beyond it, with the heroic sculpture of the Archangel Langhorne raising the scepter of his holy authority high, and remembered that dreadful day. Then he paused in place, eyes closing in silent prayer, although he could not have said exactly what it was for which he prayed.

    Troubling times, he thought to himself as he opened his eyes once more and continued across the Plaza towards the Temple. Troubling times . . . and frightening ones.

    The triteness of his own thoughts was irritating, yet that made them no less accurate. The strength of his newly refound faith helped, and he'd found many passages of the Writ of tremendous comfort, but not a single scriptural passage told him what he ought to be doing.

    Well, Rhobair, that's not quite accurate, is it? he thought sardonically. You know exactly what you ought to be doing. The only question is how you go about doing it.

    He paused again, the spray of the countless fountains chilly as the brisk breeze blew it across him, and gazed at the very spot where Dynnys had died. The fallen archbishop's execution had been the most horrible thing Duchairn had ever seen, ever imagined. He was no Schuelerite. He'd read the penalties the Archangel Schueler had ruled must be meted out to the apostate and the heretical, yet he'd never allowed his mind to dwell upon them. They'd been one of those unpleasant aspects of life, something the Writ called for, but which Rhobair Duchairn had never expected to actually see, far less help to inflict. And he had helped. There were times, especially when the dreams came in the middle of the night, when he longed to pretend he hadn't. But the decision to execute Dynnys had been made by the Group of Four, and so Rhobair Duchairn bore his share of the blood guilt. Worse, he was fully aware that the initial decision to execute the former archbishop of Charis had been made as a matter of pragmatism, an act of expediency. And Dynnys' final words, his defiance of the Grand Inquisitor from the very lip of the grave, those worried Duchairn.

    The man had been promised an easy death — or, at least, an easier one — if only he'd played his part. Duchairn hadn't been supposed to know about that arrangement, but he had, and that made Dynnys' defiance even more perplexing. Unless, of course, the most obvious explanation was also the correct one and the man had actually believed what he'd said.

    Which he undoubtedly did, Duchairn told himself, gazing at the spot where the tortured wreck of a human being had finally been permitted to die. That's what truly torments you about it, isn't it, Rhobair? Whatever's happening now, you — you and the other three — set it into motion. Whatever Charis has done since you and your friends orchestrated the attack upon it, you were the ones who began it. You pushed Charis into its damnable actions. Any animal will fight for its life, for the lives of its young, if you push it into a corner, and that's exactly what you did to Charis, and Dynnys knew it. Not only knew it, but had the courage to proclaim it even after the Inquisition had decreed his death.

    It was a thought which had come to him frequently of late, and with the strength of his reborn faith, he made himself face it head-on once again. He'd prayed to God and to Langhorne, begging them to forgive him for the disastrous decisions which had provoked the unthinkable, but the fact that he deeply and sincerely repented his responsibility for them did nothing to relieve him of his responsibility to do something about them. It would have been his duty to confront the disaster and to somehow bring the Church of God Awaiting victoriously through the ordeal which faced her no matter how it had come about; the part he'd played in provoking that ordeal only made his responsibility deeper.

    And however difficult the journey may be, he told himself once again, ultimately there can be only one destination. This is God's Church, instituted by the Archangels themselves for the salvation of all men's souls. Whatever those misguided souls in Charis may believe, Mother Church must be preserved intact. And because she must, she will. There can be no other outcome . . . as long as we who defend her remain true to her, to the Writ, to the Archangels, and to God.

    He believed that. He knew that. What he didn't know was whether or not God would ever forgive him for the acts to which he had already set his hand.

    He looked one more time at the spot where Erayk Dynnys had died his gruesome death, wondering how many others the Inquisition would send to the same dreadful fate before the challenge to Mother Church's rightful supremacy had been dealt with. Then he shook his head, tucked his hands into the warm comfort of his cassock's full sleeves, and continued on his way.



    "Well, I see we're all here . . . at last," Zhaspahr Clyntahn said waspishly as Duchairn walked into the conference chamber.

    Warm air flowed easily, effortlessly, throughout the chamber, maintaining the temperature at its customary level of perfect comfort. The imperishable conference table — the work, like the entire Temple, of the archangels' own hands — was as perfect and unmarred by use as it had been on the very day of Creation, and the illumination radiating from the ceiling itself flowed down with a shadowless brightness no candle or lamp flame could ever hope to challenge. As always, that irrefutable evidence that he was, indeed, in the presence of the Divine, reassured Duchairn that whatever errors mere humans might make, God was capable of setting them all right in the end, as long as His servants were only true to their faith.

    "I'm sorry I'm late," he said now, crossing to his place at that mystic table. "I had several pastoral matters to deal with, and I'm afraid the time got away from me."

    "'Pastoral matters,' was it?" Clyntahn snorted. "I'd think preserving Mother Church would take precedence over almost any other 'pastoral matter' I could think of."

    Zahmsyn Trynair stirred slightly in his chair at the head of the table. Clyntahn had become even more caustic and abrasive since Dynnys' execution. It was as if the ex-archbishop's final defiance had goaded the Grand Inquisitor into even greater belligerence and vengefulness. And in some peculiar fashion, Duchairn's obviously resurgent faith actually made Clyntahn even more inpatient with the Treasurer General. It was almost as if he feared Duchairn's faith would further soften the resolution of the vicar he'd always regarded as the least resolute of the Group of Four to begin with.

    Or perhaps it was simpler than that. Perhaps what had happened with Dynnys had made him wary of what Duchairn might yet do in the name of his refound faith,

    "Whatever you need to talk about, Zhaspahr," Duchairn said serenely, "my arriving here five minutes early or five minutes late isn't going to have any world-shattering consequences. And since that's the case, I saw no need to cut short the counsel and advice one of my bishops required."

    "And how do you –" Clyntahn began irately, but Trynair raised his hand.

    "He's right, Zhaspahr," the Chancellor said. The Grand Inquisitor turned his glare upon him in turn, but Trynair only looked back at him calmly. "I agree that a certain degree of urgency in responding to this sort of thing is undoubtedly in order, but we can't afford to simply drop everything and come running whenever some . . . unfortunate bit of news arrives. First, because even with the semaphore, whatever it is that brings us together must already have happened quite some time ago, and our response to it is going to take just as long to reach out from Zion. So frantic haste on our part isn't going to affect things very much, one way or the other. Second, however, is the fact that as vicars of Mother Church, we have many responsibilities, like the ones Rhobair was dealing with this afternoon. We can't allow the schism Charis has created to distract us from all of those other responsibilities. And, third, because it's essential we not allow anyone to believe we've been distracted from those responsibilities by it. Never forget that there are those who are merely waiting for the best opportunity to assail us. If we allow them to believe we've been so badly panicked that the schism crisis is the only thing we can think about, those weaker brethren among the vicarate may be tempted to openly defy our guidance."



    Clyntahn's jowls had darkened, and he'd opened his mouth to retort angrily, but Trynair's slow, calm, reasonable tone had stopped him. Now he glowered at the Chancellor for another few heartbeats, then shrugged.

    "Oh, very well," he growled.

    Duchairn simply folded his hands in front of him on the table and waited patiently. He remained wary of the Grand Inquisitor's power and increasingly irascible temper, but he no longer feared Clyntahn. Which was probably at least a little unreasonable of him, given what Clyntahn had already done to Erayk Dynnys. And, he realized as he sat waiting, the fact that he was no longer afraid of the Grand Inquisitor quite probably explained Clyntahn's increasing impatience with him. Zhaspahr Clyntahn didn't like the thought of not being feared.

    There's something I need to consider more deeply in that, the Church's treasurer thought. It says something about him, but it says something about me, too.

    "At any rate, we are all here now," Trynair continued. "And since you were the one who requested this meeting, Zhaspahr, why don't you go ahead and tell us why?"

    "Two things, really," Clyntahn replied. The Grand Inquisitor's irritation remained evident, but he straightened in his chair and some of the petulance faded from his expression. "One is a message from Bishop Executor Wyllys, and the other is a message from Father Styvyn in Delferahk."

    "Father Styvyn?" Allayn Maigwair repeated the name, then grimaced. "Which 'Father Styvyn,' Zhaspahr?"

    "He's Bishop Ernyst's intendant in Ferayd," Clyntahn said, and Duchairn's weren't the only eyebrows which rose in surprise.

    "And what exactly makes this message from . . . Father Styvyn, was it?" Trynair looked at Clyntahn, who bobbed his head in a curt nod. "Well, what makes this message from him so important?"

    "I'll get to that in a moment." Clyntahn waved his right hand as if he were pushing something aside on the table in front of him. "It's important, but I think we need to look at the Bishop Executor's message first."

    Trynair nodded, and Duchairn braced himself. He had no illusions about any message Wyllys Graisyn might have sent. Given the tenor of the Emeraldian bishop executor's recent correspondence, it was obvious Emerald's military position was about as close to hopeless as mere mortals could expect to come. And Graisyn's more recent analyses of Prince Nahrmahn's options — and inclinations — hadn't exactly provided cheerful bedtime reading.

    "Well, it isn't official yet — or, at least, it wasn't when Graisyn composed his message — but there's not much question that Nahrmahn's turning his coat," Clyntahn growled. All of his listeners sat up in their chairs, eyes narrowing, and he shrugged heavy shoulders. "I know Graisyn's been telling us for months that Emerald wouldn't be able to hold out long once Cayleb put his troops ashore, but I don't think even he saw this coming."

    "How good is his information?" Maigwair asked.

    "That's always the question, isn't it?" Clyntahn showed his teeth in a tight grin. "Apparently, neither he nor his intendant could confirm or deny the rumors swirling around Eraystor, but they were able to confirm that Pine Hollow's been sent off somewhere. And most of the rumors agree that there's only one logical place for Nahrmahn to be sending him. And now, apparently, Nahrmahn himself has sailed off somewhere, as well. Would any of you care to place a small wager on what his destination might have been?"

    Duchairn's face tightened in dismay. As Clyntahn said, there'd been little doubt the Charisians could conquer Emerald anytime they got around to it. But having Emerald conquered, bad as it might have been, was a very different prospect from having Emerald voluntarily align itself with the House of Ahrmahk's defiance of Mother Church's authority.

    "I can't believe Nahrmahn would do such a thing," Maigwair said, but his tone was that of a man trying to convince himself, and Clyntahn snorted again.

    "I can." The Grand Inquisitor's eyes glowed with anger. "Why shouldn't Nahrmahn follow Charis' example? They're right next to each other; they're both halfway around the world from Zion, which leaves them ripe for any heresy that comes along; and Nahrmahn's always had the moral character of a dockside whore."

    It was typical of Clyntahn, Duchairn reflected sourly, that he could condemn someone else's moral character with absolutely no sense of hypocrisy.

    "I'm afraid Zhaspahr has a point," Trynair said. "And, in some ways, it's probably difficult to blame Nahrmahn if he has sought an accommodation with Cayleb."

    "I can damned well blame him," Clyntahn retorted.

    "I didn't say he shouldn't be condemned for it, Zhaspahr," Trynair pointed out. "What I said was that it's difficult to blame him, and on a purely secular level, that's nothing but the simple truth. In fact, that's what's truly dangerous about this."

    "The fact that it neatly removes one distraction we were counting on to keep Charis occupied is scarcely a minor consideration, I'd think," Maigwair put in.

    "Actually, it is," Trynair disagreed coolly. Maigwair bristled, but the Chancellor shook his head. "Think it through, Allayn," he said. "Emerald was never going to be a serious 'distraction' for Charis without a navy to prevent its invasion. Not really, or not for very long, at least. But now Nahrmahn — assuming Graisyn's suspicions prove accurate — has made a political accommodation with Cayleb. I'm not sure how well it's going to work out for him, but I'm assuming that since he sent Pine Hollow ahead, and then followed himself, the terms have to be at least livable. As a matter of fact, if Cayleb is as clever as his father was, he'll probably have offered Nahrmahn remarkably generous terms. He's got a big enough stick in this new navy of his that he can afford to offer some very juicy carrots with his other hand. And if he does, then he's going to make it increasingly tempting for other potential Nahrmahns to reach understandings with him instead of trying to fight him."

    "Zahmsyn has a point," Duchairn said unhappily. The other three turned to look at him, and he shrugged. "If Nahrmahn's really done this, then it strikes directly at the reliability of all of the secular lords. He's made a political calculation and acted upon it in what can only be construed as deliberate, open defiance of Mother Church. He's put politics and his own personal survival in front of his overriding duty to protect Mother Church's sanctity and authority. Don't think for a moment that there aren't other secular rulers who'd feel exactly the same way in his place. And now they're going to have an example of someone who actually did jettison his loyalty and responsibilities to the Church out of pure political expediency. Do you truly think, assuming he gets away with it, that his example's going to be lost on the next 'Nahrmahn' on Charis' list?"

    "Exactly." Trynair nodded vigorously. "This is something which was probably going to rear its head inevitably, whatever happened. Given all the reasons for bad blood between Charis and Emerald, I didn't expect to see it quite this soon, but that only makes the example even worse. If Nahrmahn does this successfully, especially when all the world knows Haarahld and Cayleb both held him responsible for attempting Cayleb's assassination, it's going to tell everyone that Cayleb is willing to be 'reasonable.' And if we can't punish Nahrmahn effectively for it, that example is going to generate a lot of temptation to do exactly the same thing when the Royal Charisian Navy comes calling on other princes and kings."

    "Then stop it in its tracks," Clyntahn growled.

    "And precisely how do you propose to do that, Zhaspahr?" Trynair asked, and his tone was rather more tart then he normally used when addressing the Grand Inquisitor. "If Graisyn's correct, and Nahrmahn's already sailed, he's already accepted Cayleb's terms. He'd hardly sail off to Tellesberg while he's still at war with Charis if he hadn't already accepted them, now would he? And do you truly believe he wouldn't have taken precautions against anything Graisyn might do in his absence? In fact, I'm astonished Graisyn got a message off to us at all."

    "Don't be too astonished," Clyntahn told him. "The despatch boat from Emerald to Hammer Island left from Shalmar Keep, not Eraystor."

    The Grand Inquisitor grimaced, and Duchairn knew why. Shalmar Keep, the capital of the Duchy of Shalmar, was at the extreme northern end of Emerald Island, more than nine hundred miles from Nahrmahn's capital. 

    "And Graisyn's message wasn't even complete," Clyntahn continued in a harsh voice. "The transmission was interupted somewhere between Eraystor and Shalmar . . . assuming it wasn't cut off in Eraystor itself."

    "Wonderful." Maigwair expression could have been used to ferment beer, Duchairn thought. "So now you're telling us Nahrmahn's seized the semaphore in Emerald."

    "At the very least," Clyntahn agreed. "And I think we can safely assume he wouldn't have seized just the semaphore towers, now can't we?"

    "I'm sure you're right about that, too, Zhaspahr," Trynair said. "Which makes my own point even more urgent."

    "Agreed." Duchairn nodded. "On the other hand, Zhaspahr, you said you had two messages — one from Emerald and one from Delferahk. Why don't we set Nahrmahn aside for the moment? We're going to have to make some hard decisions in his case, but it might be as well to let that pot simmer away in the backs of our brains for a few minutes. Besides, if these messages are going to have an impact on one another, we probably need to hear both of them before we get too deeply involved with figuring out what to do about one of them."

    "That makes sense," Trynair agreed, and turned back to Clyntahn. "What about this message from Ferayd, Zhaspahr?"

    "I'm not sure it has any bearing at all on Nahrmahn and Emerald." Clyntahn sounded irritated all over again, as if he resented having his ire redirected.

    "Perhaps not," Trynair said patiently. "On the other hand, we have to hear it sooner or later, so we might as well go ahead and hear it now."

    "Oh, very well." Clyntahn leaned back in his chair. "According to Father Styvyn, the seizure of the Charisian merchant ships in Ferayd didn't go what one might call smoothly."

    "What does that mean, exactly?" Duchairn asked, feeling a familiar unpleasant tightening sensation in his stomach muscles.

    "It means the frigging heretics were too fucking stupid to do the smart thing," Clyntahn grunted. "When the Delferahkan troops tried to board their ships, they resisted. Which was stupid of them. Terminally stupid, as a matter of fact."

    "Some of them were killed, you mean?" Duchairn pressed.

    "No, I don't mean 'some of them' were killed," Clyntahn half-sneered. "I mean all of them were."

    "What?" The one-word question came from Trynair, not Duchairn, and Clyntahn looked at the Chancellor.

    "I mean that once they started killing Delferahkans, the gloves came off," he said, and shrugged. "That's the sort of thing that happens when you're stupid enough to piss off armed troops in someone else's port."

    "Are you saying there were no Charisian survivors at all?" Duchairn demanded.

    "There may have been a handful." Clyntahn shrugged again. "According to Father Styvyn, there couldn't have been any more than that. Not aboard the ships the Delferahkans managed to keep from leaving port, at any rate."

    "You mean some of them got away?" Trynair sounded even unhappier than he had a moment before.

    "A half-dozen or so," Clyntahn confirmed. "Apparently, they were the ships anchored too far out to be boarded directly from dockside. And at least one of them was apparently one of the Charisians' damned privateers, presumably in disguise. At any rate, it was heavily armed with the new artillery, and it covered the others while they ran for it."



    Trynair looked at Duchairn, and the Treasurer General understood the Chancellor's dismay perfectly. Any escapees from Ferayd must be well on their way back to Charis by now, complete with their version of what had happened. And despite Clyntahn's cavalier attitude, Duchairn was sickly certain the Charisians would be able to describe what had happened as a "massacre" with complete accuracy. Worse, many of the ships involved would have been family-owned enterprises, and given traditional Charisian practice where crewing such ships was concerned, a lot of those dead Charisians would have been women and children.

    Has it come to this so quickly? Duchairn demanded. And why is the message about this from this Father Styvyn, and not his bishop?

    He could think of at least one reason for the intendant to have sent his own messages independent of the bishop, and he didn't like that reason one bit. But if Clyntahn suspected that the Inquisition's agent in Ferayd was getting his report in early in an effort to put his own spin on a disaster at least partially of his own creation, no sign of it crossed the vicar's face. For that matter, Clyntahn seemed totally oblivious to the potentially disastrous consequences of the incident.

    And for all we know, this isn't the only "incident" like it, either, Duchairn thought. It could be simply the first one we've heard about. So far.

    "This is very serious news," Trynair said, with what Duchairn privately considered to be dizzying understatement. "Once word gets back to Charis, they're going to denounce this entire unfortunate affair as a deliberate massacre carried out at the Inquisition's direct orders."

    "It was nothing of the sort," Clyntahn said. "On the other hand, I'm not going to pretend I'm shedding any tears for a batch of heretics who got exactly what their own heresy and stupidity deserved. For that matter, they got off lightly."

    "I'm not asking you to pretend anything." Trynair kept his voice level, his tone even. "I'm simply pointing out that Charis is going to proclaim to the entire world that we ordered the deliberate slaughter of merchant seamen — and their families, Zhaspahr — as part of our campaign against the schismatics. They'll use it to justify their rebellion . . . and whatever counter-atrocities they decide to stage."

    Clyntahn looked at the Chancellor as if he were speaking a foreign language, Duchairn thought. And from the Grand Inquisitor's perspective, perhaps Trynair was. After all, they'd been prepared to unleash fire, slaughter, and devastation on the entire Kingdom of Charis from the outset, so why should anyone get particularly upset over the deaths of a few dozen — or a few hundred — Charisian sailors and their wives and children?

    "All right," Clyntahn said after a moment. "If you're so worried about how the Charisians can use this, then let's use it ourselves. Father Styvyn's dispatch makes it abundantly clear it was the Charisians who began the fighting. And, I might add, the Delferahkans' casualties weren't exactly light. Since they started it, I think we should tell the world exactly that. The Delferahkan authorities attempted to peacefully sequester their vessels, and instead of submitting to the instructions of the legal authorities, they resisted with deadly force. I'm sure the Charisians are going to hugely exaggerate their own casualties, so I don't see any reason why we should downplay the Delferahkans' losses. In fact, I think we should probably declare that anyone who was killed attempting to carry out Mother Church's orders to sequester those ships should be declared a martyr of God."

    It wasn't "Mother Church's" decision to close the mainland ports against Charis, Duchairn thought grimly. It was yours, Zhaspahr. And it was done on your authority. Amazing how your new formulation of what happened gets you off of that particular hook, isn't it?

    But that wasn't the worst of it — not by a long chalk. If they declared the dead Delferahkans martyrs, then they moved an enormous stride closer to declaring all out holy war against Charis. No doubt that was inevitable, in the fullness of time, but Rhobair Duchairn was in no hurry to embrace that cataclysm.

    And is that simply moral cowardice on your part, Rhobair? If that's our inevitable destination, why hesitate? It's God's will that His Church's authority be maintained in accordance with His plan, so how can you justify trying to avoid doing whatever is required to accomplish His ends?

    "I don't know . . . ." Trynair said slowly.

    "I think Zhaspahr's right," Maigwair said. The others looked at him, and it was his turn to shrug. "The smartest thing we can do is to use the semaphore to see to it that our version — the true version –" he actually managed to say that with a straight face, Duchairn noted "– reaches all the mainland realms before any lies Charis may choose to tell. And if these men were killed carrying out Mother Church's orders, then what are they, if they aren't martyrs?"

    "Exactly!" Clyntahn agreed vigorously.

    Trynair looked at Duchairn again, and the Treasurer General knew exactly what the Chancellor's eyes were asking him. He started to open his mouth to disagree with Clyntahn and Maigwair, then hesitated.

    "Besides," Maigwair continued while Duchairn wavered, "when you look at this news alongside Nahrmahn's decision to betray us — Mother Church, I mean — there's a pattern."

    "A pattern?" Trynair didn't quite manage to keep his incredulity out of his tone, and Maigwair's lips tightened.

    "What I mean," he said, "is that as you pointed out just a few minutes ago, other secular rulers are going to be tempted to seek some sort of accommodation or understanding with Charis if they find themselves between the rock and the hard place. I think we need to give them a reason to think long and hard about that. And we need to make it clear to everyone in Charis exactly what stakes they're allowing their king to play for."

    "How?" Duchairn asked with a distinctly sinking sensation.

    "I say we formally excommunicate Cayleb, Staynair, and every single person who signed Staynair's appointment as archbishop, or Cayleb's writ of succession, or Staynair's letter to the Grand Vicar. We excommunicate Nahrmahn, Pine Hollow, and anyone else who reaches an 'understanding' or 'accommodation' with Charis. And we place all of Charis and all of Emerald under the interdict."

    Duchairn's sinking sensation accelerated abruptly, but Clyntahn's eyes flashed.

    "That's exactly what we ought to do," he agreed harshly. "We've been tiptoeing around from the outset, trying to avoid 'inflaming the situation,' when we've all known all along exactly where it has to end! What we should have been doing instead was putting the damned schismatics on notice, telling them exactly where they're going to end up if they persist in this defiance. And we need to tell every single one of Cayleb's subjects what sort of disaster their precious king is leading them directly to!"

    "This isn't a step to take lightly," Duchairn cautioned. "And if we do take it, it isn't one we'll be able to take back later."

    Excommunicating Cayleb and the others would be bad enough. Under Church law, it would absolve every child of God from obedience to them. Indeed, it would make continuing to obey them an act of defiance against the Church and against God. Assuming most Charisians were prepared to follow Church doctrine, it would in effect dissolve all legal authority in the kingdom. Yet, in many ways, the interdict would be even worse. As long as the interdict was in effect, all Church sacraments, offices, and functions within Charis would be suspended. There would be no baptisms, no weddings, no masses, no burials. And that would continue until the interdict was lifted.

    Inflicting such severe and weighty punishment was, as Duchairn had said, never something to be undertaken lightly. Its consequences for the souls of those caught up in it might well be dreadful.

    That was bad enough, yet it was scarcely all that might follow from Maigwair's proposed actions. The declaration of excommunication and the interdict was only one tiny step short of the declaration of holy war, and once holy war was openly declared, there could be no stepping back from a life or death grapple between the Church and those opposed to her.

    And the one thing this isn't going to do is convince Charis to return willingly to the fold, he thought. Cayleb and Staynair would never have gone as far as they have already if they weren't prepared to go all the way, and even Zhaspahr's reports make it clear the overwhelming majority of Charisians agree with their king and their new 'archbishop.' So even if we declare Cayleb excommunicate and all of Charis under the interdict, they won't care. Or, at least, they won't pay any attention. They'll continue in their allegiance to him, which will mean we've created a situation in which they'll be in direct, open defiance of Mother Church. And that will leave us with no choice but to declare holy war in the end, whatever we might wish.

    I wonder if that's exactly why Zhaspahr and Allayn are so in favor of this? Because it will commit us once and for all, before the entire world, to the complete destruction of Charis?

    "It may not be a step to be taken lightly," Clyntahn said, "but it's a step we'll have to take sooner or later, Rhobair, and you know it. Given what Zahmsyn's already said, I think we have no choice but to go ahead and do it now. Take the offensive and preempt whatever distorted version of events Charis might choose to publish to the world. Unless, of course, you have a better idea?"




    Icy rain pelted down from a midnight-dark sky, although it was technically still an hour or so before official sunset. Wind lifted sheets of water, blowing it into the faces of anyone foolish enough to be out and about in it and weaving delicate veils of dancing mist where it whipped the water cascading from eaves.

    None of the visitors converging on the Church of the Holy Archangel Bèdard had either the time or the inclination to stop and observe the weather. The landscaped shrubbery and ornamental trees around the church flogged limbs to which the last colorful sprays of leaves still clung or waved branches already bared by approaching winter as the wind lashed at the church's solid stonework, and that was a far better metaphor for the visitors than any fanciful visions of dancing water.

    The Church of the Holy Archangel Bédard was quite old. Tradition had it that Archangel Bédard's had been built within only a year or two of the Temple itself, although unlike the Temple, it was manifestly the work of mortal hands. And despite its antiquity, it was little used these days. It lay within less than two miles of the Temple, and any who could preferred to walk the additional few thousand yards to worship at the Temple. Despite that, its age, and the fact that the Bédardists considered it the mother church of their order, meant it was carefully maintained, and like every church, its doors were perpetually unlocked, open to any worshiper at any hour, as the law required.

    Yet the Temple's proximity meant the church was undeniably all but forgotten by the vast majority of the faithful, and so it was left to itself most of the time, drowsing away in the shadows of its larger, newer, and more prestigious brothers and sisters. Indeed, most of the time people seemed to forget it was even there, which was what made it appropriate to the ends of the men gathering within it despite the pounding rain.

    The last visitor arrived, slipping through the heavy wooden doors into the church's anteroom. He surrendered his cloak to a waiting under-priest, revealing the orange cassock of a vicar of the Church of God awaiting, and then walked briskly into the church proper. The residual scent of centuries of incense, of candlewax and the printer's ink of prayer books and hymnals, greeted him like a comforting hand, despite the wet, autumnal chill which could be clearly felt even here, and he drew the perfume of Mother Church deep into his lungs.

    Twenty-odd other men waited for him. Most of them wore the same orange cassock he wore, but there were others in the more modest attire of archbishops and bishops. There were even a couple of mere upper-priests, and all of them turned to look at him as he arrived among them.

    "I beg your pardons, Brothers." Vicar Samyl Wylsynn's deep, beautifully trained voice, well suited to his priestly calling, carried easily through the sound of rain pounding on the church's slate roof and pattering against the stained glass windows. "I had an unexpected visitor — on purely routine Church business — just as I was preparing to leave."

    Several of the other men had tensed visibly at the words "unexpected visitor," only to relax with almost audible sighs of relief as Wylsynn finished his sentence. He smiled wryly at their reactions, then waved one hand at the pews at the front of the church.

    "I believe we should probably be about our business, now that the late arrival is among you," he said. "It would never do to have to explain what the lot of us are doing out here on a night like this if someone should happen by."

    As he'd intended, his choice of words engendered a fresh air of urgency, and the others settled quickly into the pews he'd indicated. He himself walked to the rail around the sanctuary, genuflected to the traditional mosaics of the Archangels Langhorne and Bédard, then rose and turned to face them once again.

    "First," he said gravely, "allow me to apologize for summoning all of you on such short notice. And for asking you to gather for an unscheduled meeting. All of us are only too well aware of the risks involved in improvising meetings such as this, but I believe it's essential we and all other members of the Circle be made aware of the Group of Four's most recent decisions."

    No one else spoke, and he could literally feel the intensity of their eyes as they gazed at him.

    "They're reacting to two new messages," he continued. "One is from Emerald, and strongly suggests that Prince Nahrmahn has elected to align himself with King Cayleb and the 'Church of Charis.' Whether he's done so out of conviction or out of the pragmatic need to survive is more than anyone here in Zion can possibly guess at this moment. Somewhat to my own surprise, I find myself inclining to the theory that it may, indeed, be a matter of conviction, or at least a combination of the two. I base this in no small part upon past conversations with Earl Pine Hollow's younger brother, but I emphasize that it can be only an opinion at this time. Nonetheless, judging from what my sources in Clyntahn's office have been able to tell me, I believe our Grand Inquisitor's interpretation of Nahrmahn's actions is essentially accurate, whatever the prince's motives may have been.

    "The second message is from Ferayd, in the Kingdom of Delferahk. My sources were able to get me an actual copy of the original semaphore message, which doesn't quite match exactly what Clyntahn reported to the other three. According to the original message, the attempt to seize the Charisian galleons in the port turned into a bloodbath after someone in one of the boarding parties shot and killed a woman armed only with a belaying pin. There's no question, according to the dispatch, but that the Delferahkans shot first and that their very first victim appears to have been a woman whose sole 'crime' was to attempt to prevent them from boarding her husband's ship."

    Wylsynn's face was grim, his eyes bleak, and he felt the same anger radiating from his audience.

    "Once the Charisians realized they were under attack and began attempting to defend themselves, it turned even uglier," he told them. "In fact, according to this Father Styvyn's letter, only fourteen Charisians survived to be taken into custody by the Inquisition."

    "Only fourteen, Your Grace?" a voice asked. The shock in Archbishop Zhasyn Cahnyr's voice was mirrored in his expression, and Wylsynn nodded.

    "I'm afraid so, Zhasyn," he said heavily. "Even in a personal message to Clyntahn, this Father Styvyn didn't want to be too explicit, but there's no real question. The Delferahkan troops massacred virtually every Charisian they got their hands on, and from the very careful way 'Father Styvyn' chooses his words, I'm quite certain that one reason the troops 'got out of hand' was because they were being egged on by him and his fellow Schuelerites."

    Wylsynn himself wore the sword-and-flame of the Order of Schueler, and shame made his voice even flatter and harder than it might have been otherwise.

    "May God have mercy on their souls," Vicar Gairyt Tanyr murmured.

    "Amen," Wylsynn agreed quietly, bowing his head. There was a moment of silence, made somehow stiller and more intense by the sound of the autumn storm lashing the church's exterior. Then Wylsynn raised his head once more.

    "No one in the Office of Inquisition is going to admit what actually happened. In fact, Clyntahn hasn't even admitted the full truth to the other three. I'm not sure why. It may be that he's afraid of Duchairn's possible reaction. At any rate, the official position of Mother Church is going to be that the Charisians provoked the Delferahkans who were only attempting to peacefully board and 'sequester' their vessels. It was the Charisians' fault there was any fighting at all, and their resistance was obviously a result of their heretical rejection of Mother Church's legitimate authority to order their vessels detained. Clyntahn is also planning on grossly exaggerating the number of Delferahkan casualties while understating the number of Charisian dead."

    Someone muttered something indistinct which Wylsynn felt quite certain went poorly with the speaker's high clerical rank.

    "In addition to all of that," he continued, "there's the reason they're in such a hurry to get their version of events out. It seems at least some of the Charisians got away — in fact, one of the galleons must have been a heavily armed privateer, judging by the amount of carnage it appears to have wreaked on its way out of Ferayd Sound. That means it isn't going to be very long before Charis starts telling its version of what happened, and the Group of Four wants to be sure it already has its story straight and issued for public consumption before any inconvenient little truths turn up to challenge it."

    "Much as I despise Clyntahn, I can understand his reasoning, Samyl," Vicar Hauwerd Wylsynn said. Hauwerd looked a great deal like his older brother, with the same auburn hair and gray eyes, although he was a member of the Order of Langhorne, not a Schuelerite. At the moment, his expression was just as grim as Samyl's, as well.

    "Oh, we all understand it, Hauwerd," Samyl replied. "And they're undoubtedly correct that almost any of the mainlanders who hear the 'official' version are more likely to believe it than the Charisians' version, especially if they hear the Church's version first and get it set into their minds. Unfortunately, no one on the other side is going to believe it for a moment, and the fact that the Church is obviously lying is only going to be one more nail in the coffin of any hope of reconciliation."

    "How realistic is that hope, anyway?" Vicar Chiyan Hysin asked.

    Hysin had been born into one of the powerful Harchongese dynasties. In the Empire, more than in most Safeholdian realms, the nobility and the traditional church dynasties tended to be identical, and Hysin's older brother was a duke. Despite that, and despite the Harchongese tradition of arrogance and extreme conservatism, Hysin had been a member of the Circle since he'd been an under-priest. There were points in the doctrine of reform on which he and Wylsynn disagreed, but his dual status as secular aristocrat and Knight of the Temple Lands gave him an often invaluable perspective. And unlike most members of the Circle — including, Wylsynn admitted, himself — Hysin had always been skeptical of any possibility of peacefully resolving the Charisian schism.

    "I don't know that there ever was any realistic hope," Wylsynn admitted now. "What I do know, though, is that if there ever was any such hope, the Group of Four is doing its very best to demolish it as quickly as possible. Not only are they planning to declare that every Delferahkan killed at Ferayd is a martyr of Mother Church, but they intend to excommunicate Cayleb, the entire clergy of the 'Church of Charis,' every Charisian noble who accepted Cayleb's succession and Staynair's appointment as Archbishop, and also Nahrmahn, his entire family, and anyone else who may have supported, joined in, or even simply passively accepted his decision to seek terms from Cayleb. And just for good measure, they intend to place all of Emerald and all of Charis under the interdict."

    "They've gone mad, Your Grace!" Cahnyr blurted.

    "It sounds that way, doesn't it?" Wylsynn agreed. "As a matter of fact, the only thing that really surprised me when I heard about all of this is that they've stopped short of simply going ahead and declaring holy war right now. Clyntahn, for one, not only sees that as inevitable but is actually eager to be about it, I think."

    "They didn't go ahead and declare it yet because Trynair, at least, is smart enough to realize they have to prepare the ground for it first," Hysin said. The others looked at him, and the slightly built, dark-haired vicar shrugged. "There's never been a true holy war in all of history," he pointed out. "Not, at least, since Shan-wei's defeat. Even the most faithful are going to have qualms about embracing the Book of Schueler's ordinances where holy war is concerned. Despite the general belief in Dynnys' guilt, there was a great deal of shock and revulsion right here in Zion when they tortured him to death on the Temple's front steps, and that was actually mild beside what Shueler laid down for cases of large-scale heresy." The Harchongese vicar's oval eyes were hard with remembered anger and disgust. "If they expect to treat entire kingdoms to the same sort of punishment, they're going to have to whip up enough hatred, enough anger, to carry the rest of the Church hierarchy — and the common folk — along with them. Which is precisely what they're doing here."

    "And what can we do to stop them?" Tanyr asked.

    "I don't know," Wylsynn admitted. "We and our predecessors have been waiting for over twenty years now for the opening we need, and it's persistently eluded us. We have all the evidence we've collected over those years to prove the corruption and doctrinal perversion of people like the Group of Four. But we still don't have the opening wedge we need to make use of it."

    Several heads nodded in bitter agreement, and Wylsynn managed not to grimace in even more bitter memory. He'd come so close to beating Clyntahn out as Grand Inquisitor, and if he had, he would have been in a position to use all of the evidence, all of the proof, people like him, Ahnzhelyk Phonda, Adorai Dynnys, and so many others had carefully gathered and substantiated. Of course, it was just as probable he would have gone the same way as his ancestor, Saint Evyrahard. But at least he'd been willing to try, and unlike the murdered Evyrahard, he'd carefully built at least a small core of fiercely loyal supporters who would have tried hard to watch his back as he recalled his own order and the Office of Inquisition to their high purpose of policing Mother Church, and not simply terrorizing God's children in the name of Mother Church.

    "We certainly don't have any opening now," Hysin agreed. "At the moment, opinion's setting strongly in the Group of Four's support on the Council."

    "Can't any of those idiots see where this is headed?" Hauwerd Wylsynn demanded. Everyone recognized it as a rhetorical question, born of bitterness and frustration, but Hysin shrugged once more.

    "Frightened men see only what offers them a chance of survival, Hauwerd. Charis' military victories would be frightening enough without adding Cayleb and Staynair's open defiance into the mix. Deep down inside somewhere, all of them must recognize how corrupt we've become here in Zion and, especially, in the Temple. They're terrified of what may happen if the windows are pried open and all of their dirty little secrets are revealed openly to the flock they've been supposed to be shepherding, and the Charisians are threatening to do exactly that. Anything that lets them cling to the possibility of continuing 'business as usual' is bound to attract powerful support."

    "Until they discover that it isn't going to let them do that at all," Vicar Erayk Foryst put in.

    "If they discover it," Hysin replied. "Don't forget how long we've already been waiting for our opportunity. If the confrontation with Charis turns into a full-blown holy war, then the Council as a whole is going to voluntarily surrender what's left of its decisionmaking power to the Group of Four on the basis that fighting and winning such a conflict requires unity and centralized direction. And that, Erayk, is precisely what Clyntahn is counting on."

    "I don't think it's all cynical calculation on his part," Vicar Lywys Holdyn said. The others looked at him, and he snorted. "Don't misunderstand me. Cynical calculation would be more than enough for Clyntahn, but we'd be foolish to risk forgetting that streak of zealotry of his." Holdyn's mouth twisted as if he'd just tasted something sour. "I think he's one of those people who believes the ferocity with which he forces other people to behave buys him a degree of license. The 'good' he does so hugely outweighs his own sins that God will overlook them."

    "If that is what he believes, he's going to pay a terrible price," Samyl Wylsynn observed quietly.

    "Oh, I don't doubt that for a moment," Holdyn agreed. "If God knows His own, so does Shan-wei, and no mere mortal — not even the Grand Inquisitor of the Church of God Awaiting — can fool either of them when he meets them face-to-face. But in the meantime, he's in a position to wreak immense harm, and I don't see a way we can stop him."

    "Unless he and the Group of Four continue to suffer reverses like Crag Reach and Darcos Sound," Tanyr pointed out. "If it's mainly fear which inspires the rest of the Council to follow them — and I think you're essentially correct about that, Chiyan — then still more, equally spectacular disasters are bound to shake the other vicars' confidence in Trynair and Clyntahn. A horrible number of people are going to be killed and maimed in the process, but if Cayleb and any allies he manages to gain can throw the Church obviously back on the defensive, I think the Group of Four's support will vanish."

    "Which is a bit like saying that if the house burns down, at least you won't have to fix the leaks in the roof," Hauwerd Wylsynn observed.

    "I didn't say it was an ideal solution, Hauwerd. I simply pointed out that the Group of Four's arrogance may yet be its own downfall."

    "And if the Group of Four falls," Samyl Wylsynn pointed out to his brother, "then the door will be open for the Circle. Perhaps once the rest of the Council has had a chance to recognize that brute force isn't going to succeed, it will be willing to admit at least the possibility that the true answer lies in reforming the abuses the Charisians have so rightly identified and protested."

    "Even if that happens, do you honestly believe this 'Church of Charis' will ever voluntarily return to Mother Church?" Foryst asked, shaking his head, and Wylsynn shrugged.

    "To be honest? No." He shook his own head. "I'm beginning to come to Chiyan's view of the future, I'm afraid. By the time we're able to convince the Council that the Group of Four is leading all of us to disaster – if we ever manage to convince the others of that — too much blood will have been shed, and too much hatred will have been engendered. I'm very much afraid that whatever else happens, the schism between Charis and the Temple is unhealable."

    The silence in the rain-lashed church was profound as the Circle's leader finally admitted that.

    "In that case, is Clyntahn's determination to forcibly suppress the schismatics really wrong?" Holdyn asked. All of them looked at him, and he waved one hand in the air before his face. "I'm not saying the man isn't a monster, or trying to suggest that his initial solution to the 'Charisian problem' wasn't loathsome in the eyes of God. But if we've reached a point where the Charisians will never return voluntarily to Mother Church, what other option than forcing them to return will lie open to us as the vicars of God's Church?"

    "I'm not certain forcing them to return, by any means, is the right course," Wylsynn replied, facing the issue squarely. "With all due respect for the traditions of Mother Church, perhaps the time's come for us to simply accept that the people of Charis are not going to submit to what amounts to foreign rule of their own church any longer."

    He looked around the other, worried faces and wondered how many of them were thinking what he was. The Church's "traditions" didn't always perfectly reflect historical truth. That was one of the things which made Maikel Staynair's appointment as Archbishop of Charis — and his letters to the Temple — so dangerous. It was enormously ironic that the rebellious archbishop had chosen to base so much of his argument on Grand Vicar Tomhys' writ, On Obedience and Faith. That writ of instruction's true purpose had been to establish the doctrine of the Grand Vicar's infallibility when he spoke in the name of God. Which, as Wylsyn, for one, knew perfectly well had been a new and radically different formulation of doctrine, justified on the basis of "necessary change." And the same writ had moved the Church's confirmation of bishops and archbishops from the archdiocesan level to that of the vicarate itself.

    That had been in the year 407, and in the five centuries since, it had become the Church's tradition that it had always been so. Indeed, most people — including many of the clergy, who should have known better — truly believed that to have been the case. Which was what made the fact that Staynair had used the same writ's authorization of canonical change when events within the world made it necessary to damnably ironic . . . and dangerous. For the Church to deny the authority of Tomhys' writ in Charis' case was to deny its authority in all cases. Including that which, ultimately, had made the vicarate the undisputed master of the Church in the first place.

    From Wylsyn's perspective, that would almost certainly be a very good thing. From the perspective of the Group of Four and those like them, it was anathema, complete and total.

    "All of you know my son was Dynnys' intendant," he continued. "In fact, he understood from the beginning the reasons why I actually helped Clyntahn engineer his 'exile' to Tellesberg rather than trying to fight it. I've shared most of his private letters with other members of the Circle. He's convinced — and I have great faith in his judgment — that whatever else the Charisians may be, they aren't servants of Shan-wei, and that their general hostility towards Mother Church is directed at her hierarchy – at the Group of Four . . . and at the rest of the vicarate because of our failure to restrain people like Clyntahn . So I believe we have to ask ourselves a fundamental question, Brothers. Which is more important? The outward unity of Mother Church, enforced by swords and pikes against the will of God's children? Or the continued, joyous communion of those children with God and the Archangels, even if it be through a hierarchy other than our own? If the only point of true doctrinal disagreement lies in the infallibility of the Grand Vicar and the overriding authority of the vicarate, isn't it perhaps time we considered saying to our brothers and sisters in Charis that they are still our brothers and sisters, even if they refuse to submit to the authority of the Temple? If we let them go their own way to God, with our blessing and continued prayers for their salvation, rather than attempting to force them to act in violation of their own consciences, perhaps we can at least blunt the hatred between Tellesberg and the Temple."

    "Accept the schism as permanent, you mean?" Hysin asked. The Harchongese vicar seemed surprised to hear such sentiments from any Scheulerite, even a Wylsynn.

    "So long as it's only schism, and not true heresy, yes," Wylsynn agreed.

    "That's getting much too far ahead of ourselves," Tanyr said after a moment. "First, we have to survive, and somehow Clyntahn and the others have to be taken out of the decision-making positions of Mother Church." He smiled without any humor at all. "That's quite enough of a challenge for me, I think."

    "To be sure." Wylsynn nodded.

    "Actually, in some ways, I find Duchairn more worrisome than Clyntahn at the moment," Hysin said. Several others looked at him questioningly, and he frowned. "Unlike the rest of the Group of Four, I think Duchairn's actually rediscovered the Writ. Everything I've seen suggests a genuine resurgence of faith on his part, but he's still wedded to the rest of the Group of Four. In an odd sort of a way that actually serves to legitimize the Group of Four's policies in a way Clyntahn doesn't . . . and can't."

    "Because it's obvious that unlike Clyntahn, he's not making cynical calculations — any more, at least — you mean?"

    "That's exactly what I mean, Hauwerd." Hysin nodded. "Even worse, I think he may well prove a rallying point for vicars who might otherwise support the Circle. Vicars who're genuinely tired and heartsick over the Church's abuses may see in him and in his regenerated faith the model for their own regeneration. And I'm very much afraid that whatever we may think about the acceptability of a permanent schism, Duchairn isn't prepared to entertain that concept at all."

    "Perhaps it's time we started thinking about recruiting him for the Circle," Foryst suggested.

    "You may be right," Samyl Wylsynn said after several seconds of careful thought. "But even if it might prove possible to recruit him, we need to be very, very cautious about how we approach him. First, because we might be wrong — he might regard us as traitors, as an internal threat to Mother Church's unity at the greatest moment of crisis in her history. But, second, because he's so close to Clyntahn. And Trynair, of course; let's not forget that our good Chancellor is scarcely an idiot, however mnuch he may act like one upon occasion. But I would be absolutely astonished to discover that Clyntahn isn't using the Inquisition to keep tabs on his three 'allies.' If he is, and if we approached Duchairn even a little clumsily, it could be disastrous for everyone."

    "Agreed," Foryst said. "And I'm not suggesting we rush right out and invite him to our next meeting. But I do think it's time we began considering this possibility seriously, and thinking about ways we might approach him if the time should come when it seems appropriate. Arguments to convince him we're right, and ways of presenting those arguments that aren't likely to trigger any alarms in Clyntahn."

    "I see you haven't lost your taste for formidable challenges, Erayk," Hysin said dryly, and a chuckle ran around the seated vicars and bishops.

    "Very well," Samyl Wylsynn said after the chuckle had died. "We've all been brought up to date, and we've all had a chance to discuss our current thinking where the schism — and the Group of Four — are concerned. I don't believe we're in a position to decide on any new policies or strategies at this point. Not, at least, until we've had an opportunity to see how the Group of Four's version of events in Ferayd, Charis, and Emerald plays out once it's finally presented to the rest of the Council. Between now and then, I think all of us need to pray and meditate in hopes that God will show us our true path."

    Heads nodded gravely, and he smiled more naturally and openly than anyone had since their arrival.

    "In that case, Brothers," he said, "won't you join me in a moment of prayer before we venture back out into all that wind and rain?"

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image