Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Eight

       Last updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2007 19:56 EST



June, Year of God 892


The Temple of God,
City of Zion,
the Temple Lands

    The atmosphere in the conference chamber was less than collegial.

    All four of the men sitting around the fabulously expensive table with its inlaid ivory, rock crystal, and gems wore the orange cassocks of vicars. The silken fabric was rich with embroidery, glinting with the understated elegance of tiny, faceted jewels, and the priest caps on the table before them gleamed with gold bullion and silver lace. Any one of them could have fed a family of ten for a year just from the value of the ruby ring of office he wore, and their faces normally showed the confidence and assurance one would have expected from the princes of God's Church. None of them was accustomed to failure . . . or to having his will thwarted.

    And none of them had ever before imagined disaster on such a scale.

    "Who the fuck do these bastards think they are?" Allayn Maigwair, Captain General of the Church of God Awaiting, grated. By rights, the thick, expensive sheets of parchment on the table before him should have burst into spontaneous flame under the heat of the glare he turned upon them.

    "With all due respect, Allayn," Vicar Rhobair Duchairn said harshly, "they think they're the people who just destroyed effectively every other navy in the world. And the people who understand exactly who sent those navies to burn their entire kingdom to the ground."

    Maigwair turned his glare on Duchairn, but the Church of God Awaiting's Treasurer General seemed remarkably unfazed by his obvious anger. There was even more than a hint of "I told you so" in Duchairn's expression. After all, he'd been the only member of the "Group of Four" who'd persistently advised against taking precipitous action against the Kingdom of Charis.

    "They're fucking heretics, that's what they are, Rhobair," Zhaspahr Clyntahn half-snapped in a dangerous voice. "Don't ever forget that! I promise you the Inquisition isn't going to! The Archangel Schueler tells us how to deal with Shan-wei's foul get!"

    Duchairn's lips tightened angrily, but he didn't reply immediately. Clyntahn had been in an ugly mood for five-days, even before the messages from Charis arrived. Although he was famed for his bouts of temper and his ability to hold grudges forever, neither Duchairn nor anyone else had ever seen the Grand Inquisitor as furious — or as persistently furious — as he'd been ever since the Church's semaphore system reported the disastrous consequences of the battles off Armageddon Reef and in Darcos Sound.

    Of course we haven't, Duchairn thought disgustedly. This entire disaster is the consequence of our letting Zhaspahr rush us into his damned "final solution of the Charisian problem!" And no wonder Maigwair's just as pissed off as Zhaspahr. After all, he was the one who made it all sound so simple, so foolproof, when he laid out his brilliant plan for the campaign.

    He started to say exactly that aloud, but he didn't. He didn't say it for several reasons. First, however little he wanted to admit it, because he was frightened of Clyntahn. The Grand Inquisitor was undoubtedly the most dangerous single enemy within the Church anyone could possibly make. Second, however much Duchairn might have argued initially against taking action against Charis, it hadn't been because he'd somehow magically recognized the military danger no one else had seen. He'd argued against it because, as the Church's chief accountant, he'd realized just how much of the Church's revenue stream Clyntahn proposed to destroy along with the Kingdom of Charis. And, third, because the disaster which had resulted was so complete, so overwhelming, that the Group of Four's hold upon the rest of the Council hung by a thread. If they showed a single sign of internal disunion, their enemies among the vicarate would turn upon them in a heartbeat . . . and the rest of the vicars were just as frightened as Duchairn himself. They were going to be looking for scapegoats, and the consequences for any scapegoats they fastened upon were going to be . . . ugly.

    "They may very well be heretics, Zhaspahr," he said instead. "And no one disputes that matters of heresy come rightfully under the authority of your office. But that doesn't make anything I just said untrue, does it? Unless you happen to have another fleet tucked away somewhere that none of the rest of us know anything about."

    From the dangerous shade of puce which suffused the Grand Inquisitor's heavy face, Duchairn thought for a moment that he'd gone too far, anyway. There had always been a dangerous attack dog (some had even very quietly used the term "mad dog") edge to Zhaspahr Clyntahn, and the man had demonstrated his utter ruthlessness often enough. It was entirely possible that he might decide his best tactic in this instance lay in using the power of his office to turn upon the other members of the Group of Four and transform them into his own scapegoats.

    "No, Rhobair," a fourth voice said, preempting any response Clyntahn might have been about to make, "it doesn't make what you've just said untrue. But it does tend to put our problem rather into perspective, doesn't it?"

    Zahmsyn Trynair had an angular face, a neatly trimmed beard, and deep, intelligent eyes. He was also the only other member of the Group of Four whose personal power base was probably as strong as Clyntahn's. As Chancellor of the Council of Vicars, it was Trynair who truly formulated the policies which he then slipped into the mouth of Grand Vicar Erek XVII. In theory, that actually made him more powerful than Clyntahn, but his power was primarily political. It was an often indirect sort of power, one which was most effective applied gradually, over the course of time, whereas Clyntahn commanded the loyalty of the Inquisition and the swords of the Order of Schueler.

    Now, as Duchairn and Clyntahn both turned to look at him, Trynair shrugged.

    "Zhaspahr, I agree with you that what we've seen in the past few five-days, and even more what's contained in these –" he reached out and tapped the parchment documents which had occasioned this particular meeting " — certainly constitute heresy. But Rhobair has a point. Heretics or not, they've destroyed — not defeated, Zhaspahr, destroyed — what was for all intents and purposes the combined strength of every other navy of Safehold. At this moment, there's nothing we can do to attack them directly."

    Maigwair stirred angrily, straightening in his chair, but Trynair pinned him with a single cold stare.

    "If you know of any existing naval force which could possibly face the Charisian Navy in battle, Allayn, I suggest you tell us about it now," he said in a chill, precise tone.

    Maigwair flushed angrily, but he also looked away. He was well aware that his fellows regarded him with a certain contempt, even though they were normally careful about showing it. The truth was that it was his position as the commander of the Church's armed forces, and certainly not his inherent brilliance, which made him a member of the Group of Four. He'd enjoyed his chance to take center stage when it came to coordinating the attack on Charis precisely because it had finally allowed him to seize the limelight and assert his equality among them, but things hadn't worked out quite as well as he'd planned. Trynair watched him coolly for a handful of seconds, then returned his attention to Clyntahn.

    "There are those on the Council, as I'm sure we're all well aware, who are going to seek any opportunity to break our control, and Staynair's 'open letter' to the Grand Vicar hasn't exactly done anything to strengthen our position, has it? Some of those enemies of ours are already whispering that the current . . . unfortunate situation is entirely the result of our own precipitous action."

    "The Inquisition knows how to deal with anyone who seeks to undermine the authority and unity of the Council of Vicars in the face of such a monumental threat to the soul of every living child of God." Clyntahn's voice was colder than a Zion winter, and the zealotry which was so much a part of his complex, often self-contradictory personality glittered in his eyes.

    "I don't doubt it," Trynair replied. "But if it comes to that, then we may well find ourselves replicating this . . . this schism within the Council itself. I submit to you that any such consequence would scarcely be in the best interests of the Church or of our ability to deal with the heresy in question."

    Or of our own long-term survival, he very carefully did not add aloud, although all of his companions heard it anyway.

    Clyntahn's puffy, heavy-jowled face was like a stone wall, but, after several tense seconds, he nodded minutely.

    "Very well." Trynair managed to show no trace of the profound relief that grudging acquiescence engendered as he surveyed the other three faces around the table. "I think we have two separate but related problems. First, we must decide how Mother Church and the Council are going to deal with these." He tapped the parchment documents again. "And, second, we must decide what long-term course of action Mother Church and the Council can pursue in the face of our current military . . . embarrassment."

    Duchairn wasn't quite certain how he refrained from snorting derisively. Trynair's "separate but related problems" just happened to constitute the greatest threat the Church of God Awaiting had faced in the near-millennium since the Creation itself. Hearing the Chancellor talk about them as if they were no more than two more in the succession of minor administrative decisions the Group of Four had been required to make over the past decade or so was ludicrous.

    Yet what Trynair had said was also true, and the Chancellor was probably the only one of them who could genuinely hope to manage Clyntahn.



    The Treasurer General reached out and drew the nearest document closer. He had no need to consult its text, of course; that much was already branded indelibly into his memory, but he ran his fingertips across the seals affixed to it.

    Under other circumstances, it would have been unexceptionable enough. The language was the same as that which had been used scores — thouands — of times before to announce the demise of one monarch, duke, or other feudal magnate and the assumption of his titles by his heir. Unfortunately, the circumstances were anything but normal in this instance, for the monarch in question, Haarahld VII of Charis, had not died in bed.

    And there is that one minor difference between this writ of succession and all the others, Duchairn reminded himself, letting his fingers trace the largest and most ornate seal of all. By both law and ancient tradition, no succession was valid or final until it had been confirmed by Mother Church, which was supposed to mean by the Council of Vicars. But this writ of succession already bore Mother Church's seal, and Duchairn's eyes slipped to the second — and, in his opinion, more dangerous — succession writ.

    Neither of them could have been more politely phrased. No one could point to a single overtly defiant statement. Yet the seal affixed to the first writ of succession belonged to the Archbishop of Charis, and in the eyes of Mother Church, there was no Archbishop of Charis. Erayk Dynnys, who had held that office, had been stripped of it and was currently awaiting execution for the crimes of treason, malfeasance, and the encouragement of heresy. The Council of Vicars had not yet even considered a replacement for him, but the Kingdom of Charis clearly had . . . as the second writ made abundantly clear.

    It was, for all the blandness of its phrasing, a clear-cut declaration of war against the entire Church of God Awaiting, and just in case anyone had failed to notice, there was always the third document. . . . the original copy of Staynair's letter to Grand Vicar Erek.

    Duchairn was certain that the blandness of the two writs of succession, the contrast between their traditional phraseology and terminology and Staynair's fiery "letter,"  was intentional. Their very everyday normality not only underscored the deadly condemnation of Staynair's accusations, but also made it clear that Charis intended to continue about its own affairs, its own concerns, without one iota of deference to the desires or commands of the Church it had chosen to defy.

    No, not simply defy. That was the reason the writs of succession had been written as they had, sent as they had. They were the proof that Charis was prepared to ignore Mother Church, and in many ways, that was even more deadly.

    Never in all of Safehold's history had any secular monarch dared to name the man of his own choice as the chief prelate of his realm. Never. That was the Council of Vicars' official position, although Duchairn was well aware of the persistent, whispered rumors that Mother Church's traditions had not always supported that view of things.

    But this was no hypothetical age which might have existed once, centuries ago. This was the present, and in the present, it was a patently illegal act. Yet the writ of appointment naming Maikel Staynair Archbishop of all Charis carried not simply Cayleb Ahrmahk's signature, but also the signatures and seals of every member of his Royal Council, the Speaker of the House of Commons . . . and of nineteen of the twenty-three other bishops of the Kingdom of Charis. The same signatures and seals had been affixed individually to Staynair's "letter," as well, which was even more frightening. This wasn't one man's, one king's, one usurping archbishop's, act of defiance; it was an entire kingdom's, and the consequences if it was allowed to stand were unthinkable.

    But how do we keep it from standing? Duchairn asked himself almost despairingly. They've defeated — as Zahmsyn says, destroyed – the navies of Corisande, Emerald, Chisholm, Tarot, and Dohlar. There's no one left, no one we can possibly send against them.

    "I think," Trynair continued into his colleagues' angry, frightened silence, "that we must begin by admitting the limitations we currently face. And, to be honest, we have no choice but to confront openly both the failure of our original policy and the difficulties we face in attempting to recover from that failure."

    "How?" Maigwair demanded, obviously still smarting from Trynair's earlier remarks.

    "The charge which is most likely to prove dangerous to Mother Church and the authority of the Council of Vicars," Trynair replied, "is that the attack directed against Charis has somehow pushed Cayleb and his adherents into this open defiance and heresy. That had we not acted against Haarahld's earlier policies as we did, Charis would not have been lost to us."

    He looked around the table one more, and Duchairn nodded back shortly. Of course that was what their enemies were going to say. After all, it was true, wasn't it?

    "I suggest to you," Trynair said, "that these documents are the clearest possible proof that there is no accuracy at all to such a charge."

    Duchairn felt his eyebrows trying to arch in astonishment, but he somehow kept his jaw from dropping.

    "It's obvious," the Chancellor continued, still sounding as if what he was saying actually had some nodding acquaintance with reality, "no matter whose name is signed to this so-called 'open letter,' that the hand truly behind it is Cayleb's. That Staynair is simply Cayleb's mouthpiece and puppet, the sacrilegious and blasphemous mask for Cayleb's determination to adhere to his father's aggressive and dangerous foreign policy. No doubt some people will see Cayleb's undeniable anger over his father's death and the attack which we supported as impelling him to take such defiant steps. However, as has been well established, it was not Mother Church or the Council of Vicars, but the Knights of the Temple Lands who supported the resort to arms against Haarahld's overweening ambition."

    Clyntahn and Maigwair swallowed that, too, Duchairn noted, even though it just happened that the "secular " magnates of the Temple Lands also all happened to the members of the Council of Vicars, as well. It was true that the legal fiction that they were two separate entities had served the purposes of the vicarate often enough over the years. Yet the very frequency with which that particular ploy had been used meant everyone recognized it as a false distinction.

    None of which seemed to faze Trynair, who simply went on speaking as if he were making some sort of genuine differentiation.

    "Nowhere in any of the correspondence or diplomatic exchanges between the Knights of the Temple Lands and any of the secular rulers involved was there any discussion of Crusade or Holy War, which would surely have been the case had Mother Church moved against apostates and heretics. Clearly, Cayleb and his supporters are in possession of much of the correspondence between the Knights of the Temple Lands' secular allies and their naval commanders. As such, they must be aware of the fact that Mother Church was never involved at all and that, in fact, the entire war had its causes in purely secular motives and rivalries. Yet their immediate response has been to impiously and heretically name an apostate bishop to the primacy of the Archbishopric of Charis in defiance of the Council of Vicars as God's chosen and consecrated stewards and to flatly reject Mother Church's God-given authority over all of God's children."

    He leaned back in his chair, his expression suitably grave, and Duchairn blinked. He'd never heard such a heap of unadulterated claptrap in his entire life. And yet . . . .

    "So what you're saying," he heard his own voice say, "is that the actions they've taken prove they were already lost to apostasy and heresy before anyone ever moved against them?"

    "Precisely." Trynair waved one hand at the documents. "Look at the number of signatures, the number of seals, on these writs and Staynair's letter. How could anyone have possibly generated such a unified, prompt response to any perception of Mother Church's hostility? At least some of the nobles of Charis must be aware of the fact that the Council of Vicars and Grand Vicar Erek never authorized, far less demanded, any attack on their kingdom. And even if they weren't, Mother Church's own bishops must know the truth! Yet here they are, supporting Cayleb's illegal and impious actions. If, in fact, it were no more than a response to the attack of a purely secular alliance, Cayleb could never have secured the support of such an overwhelming majority in so short a time. The only possible explanation is that the entire kingdom has been falling steadily into the hands of the enemies of God and that those enemies have seized upon the current situation as a pretext for open defiance of the legitimate stewards of God and Langhorne here on Safehold."

    Duchairn sat back in his own chair, his expression intent. It wasn't just claptrap — it was, in fact, outright dragon shit — but he saw where Trynair was headed.

    And so, apparently, did Clyntahn.

    "I see what you mean, Zahmsyn." There was an unpleasant glow in the Grand Inquisitor's eyes. "And you're right, of course. No doubt Cayleb and his lackeys were as surprised as anyone by the scale of their naval victories. Obviously the overconfidence and arrogance that's generated has led them to openly embrace the heretical attitudes and goals which they've been secretly nuturing for so long."

    "Precisely," Trynair said again. "Indeed, I think it's highly likely — almost a certainty — that the Ahrmahk dynasty, and others who have fallen into the same sin, have been headed in this very direction ever since Haarahld insisted Archbishop Rojyr name Staynair Bishop of Tellesberg. Obviously that insistence was part of a long-standing plan to subvert Mother Church's loyalties in Charis . . . as the rest of the Council is well aware that Zhaspahr has warned everyone so many times might be the case."

    Duchairn's eyes narrowed. He couldn't very well dispute Trynair's thesis, since Erayk Dynnys' failure to remove Staynair from his see and purge his archbishopric's ecclesiastic hierarchy of its Charisian elements had been one of the many crimes of which he had been convicted.

    On the other hand, of the nineteen bishops who had concurred in Staynair's illegal elevation, only six were nativeborn Charisians, which left the question of how Haarahld, and now Cayleb, had influenced the others into supporting the Ahrmahks' criminal actions. That was a fact to which the Group of Four would undoubtedly be well advised to avoid drawing attention, he thought.

    "Even so," he pointed out aloud, "that leaves us with the problem of how we respond. Whether they've been secretly planning this for years or not doesn't change the consequences we have to deal with."

    "True." Trynair nodded. "However, despite the gravity of the situation, there's no need for panic or overly precipitous action. Although we may not currently possess the naval strength to act directly against Charis, Cayleb has no army. His fleet may suffice — for now — to keep the armies Mother Church may summon to her banner away from the shores of his kingdom, but he cannot threaten Mother Church's own security here in Haven or Howard. And let us not forget that Charis is a small kingdom, when all's said and done, while nine in ten of all the human souls of Safehold are found in the kingdoms and empires of Haven and Howard. Even if Cayleb controlled every ship on God's seas, he could never raise the troop strength to attack here. And so, ultimately, time must be on our side. We can always build new ships, in the fullness of time; he cannot somehow create the manpower required for him to raise whole armies, however much time he may have."

    "Building fleets isn't something to be accomplished in a day, or even a five-day," Duchairn pointed out.

    "Allayn?" Trynair looked at Maigwair. The captain general straightened a bit in his chair, and his eyes lost some of their earlier sullenness. "Do we have the capacity to build a new navy?" the Chancellor continued. "And if we don't, how long will it take to create that capacity?"

    "If you're asking whether or not Mother Church and the Temple Lands have the capacity to build a navy, the answer is no, not immediately," Maigwair admitted. "We could almost certainly build that capacity, but it would require us to import the carpenters, designers, and all the other skilled workers shipyards require. Or enough of them to train our own workforce, at least." He shrugged. "The Temple Lands have never been a naval power, for obvious reasons. The only 'seacoast' we have is on Hsing-wu's Passage, and that's frozen every winter."



    Trynair nodded. So did Duchairn. Despite his personal opinion of Maigwair's intellect, the Church's treasurer had to admit that when it came to implementing tasks, the captain general frequently showed the traces of genuine ability which had gotten him elevated to the vicarate in the first place.

    Of course, he thought sardonically, the fact that Allayn's uncle was Grand Vicar the year he was elevated to the orange also had just a little bit to do with it. And the problem' s never been that Maigwair can't carry out instructions; it's that he's pitiful when it comes to deciding which tasks ought to be undertaken to begin with.

    "I was afraid you were going to say that, Allayn," Trynair said. "I believe it might well be worthwhile to begin building up that workforce as quickly as possible, but I'd already assumed we'd be forced to look elsewhere in the short term. So what are our prospects in that direction?"

    "None of the mainland realms have the concentrated shipbuilding capacity Charis possesses," Maigwair replied. "Desnair certainly doesn't, and neither does Siddarmark."

    "Umpfh!" The irate grunt came from Clyntahn, and everyone looked at him. "There's no way I want to rely on Siddarmark for naval support, shipyards or no shipyards," the Grand Inquisitor said bluntly. "I don't trust Stohnar as far as I can fart. He's likely to take our money, build the ships, and then decide to throw in with Charis and use them against us!"

    Duchairn frowned. The Siddarmark Republic and its growing power and apparent territorial ambitions had concerned the Group of Four and its predecessors for decades. Indeed, Siddarmark had been considered an actual, immediate threat, potentially at least, while Charis had been regarded more as a long-term cancer which must be excised before it became a threat. And Lord Protector Greyghor Stohnar, the current ruler of Siddarmark, was a dangerously capable man. Worse, he'd been elected to the protectorship. That gave him a much broader base of support than would have been the case for many an hereditary ruler who might have aroused the Church's ire. Against that backdrop, it was scarcely surprising Clyntahn should react strongly against the possibility of actually increasing Siddarmark's military potential. Still . . . .

    "If we obviously exclude Siddarmark from any shipbuilding programs," he said in a painfully neutral tone, "Stohnar, for one, is unlikely to misconstrue our reasoning."

    "Fuck Stohnar," Clyntahn said crudely, then grimaced. "Of course he's unlikely to misunderstand," he said in somewhat more temperate tones. "On the other hand, he already knows we don't trust him. God knows we've never made any great secret of it among ourselves or in our correspondence with him. Since the enmity's already there, I'm in favor of depriving him of any additional weapons he might use against us rather than worrying about how the injury to his tender sensibilities might turn him against us."

    "Zhaspahr has a point, I think," Trynair said. "And we can still . . . soften the blow, I suppose, by spreading some of the gold we're not using on ships in Siddarmark around to Siddarmark's wheat farmers. For that matter, they have plenty of excess pikemen we could hire when the time comes."

    "All right, then," Maigwair said, "excluding Siddarmark, and leaving Desnair and Sodar aside because they have almost as little naval capacity as we do, that really leaves only Dohlar, the Empire, and Tarot. And, of course, Corisande and Chisholm."

    The last sentence was a sour afterthought, and Duchairn snorted mentally. Corisande's shipbuilding capacity was going to become a moot point as soon as Cayleb and Charis got around to dealing with Hektor, which was probably true for Tarot, as well. And unless Duchairn much missed his guess, Chisholm's building capacity was more likely to be added to that of Charis than brought to the support of Mother Church.

    Dohlar and the Empire of Harchong were very different matters, however. Dohlar, at the moment, no longer had a navy, courtesy of the Royal Charisian Navy, but King Rahnyld had been attempting to increase his shipbuilding capacity for many years. And Harchong — the largest and most populous of all Safehold's kingdoms and empires — had the biggest fleet of any of the mainland realms.

    "Rahnyld is going to want revenge for what happened to him," Maigwair continued, putting Duchairn's thoughts into words. "If we agree to subsidize the rebuilding of his navy, I'm sure he'll jump at it. And he'd be even happier to build ships expressly for Mother Church's service, since Dohlar would get to pocket every mark of their price at no cost to his own treasury.

    "As for Harchong, most of its navy is laid up. I have no idea how much of it may be serviceable and how much of it's hopelessly rotten by now. But the Empire at least has shipyards, which we don't. And I don't think any of us would have any qualms about the Emperor's reliability."

    Which was certainly true, Duchairn reflected. Harchong was the oldest, wealthiest, largest, and most conservative realm in existence. It was also arrogant, disdainful of all outsiders, and run by an efficient but deeply corrupt bureaucracy. From the Group of Four's perspective, however, what mattered just now was that the Harchong aristocracy's allegiance to Mother Church was ironclad. That aristocracy could always be relied upon to come to Mother Church's defense in return for Mother Church's validation of its privileges and power over the hapless serfs who drudged away their lives on its huge, sprawling estates.

    "I'll have to do some research before I could give you any hard and fast numbers," Maigwair said. "I believe that between Harchong and Dohlar, we could probably come close to matching Charis' present building capacity, though. Charis will probably do everything that it can to increase its capacity, of course, but it simply doesn't have the manpower — or the wealth — to match the extent to which we could expand Harchong's and Dohlar's shipyards."

    "What about Trellheim?" Clyntahn asked, and Maigwair's face tightened in scorn, or possibly disgust.

    "None of those lordlings have more than a handful of galleys apiece," he said, "and the lot of them are nothing more than common pirates. If they had the ship strength to make their raids on Harchong's coastal shipping more than a nuisance, the Emperor would already have conquered them outright long-ago."

    Clyntahn grunted again, then nodded in agreement.

    "So it would appear to me," Trynair said in his patented summarizing fashion, "that we're in agreement that one of our first steps must be to undertake a major naval expansion through Harchong and Dohlar. Until Allayn's had an opportunity to conduct his research, we don't know how long that's going to take. I'd be surprised, however, if it takes less than a year or two, at the very best. During that time, we will remain secure against attack here, but we'll be unable to take the offensive against Charis. So our immediate concern is how to address that period in which we can't effectively attack them — with fleets or armies, at least — and how to deal with our fellow vicars' reaction to these . . .  tumultuous events."

    "It's clearly our responsibility to prevent any weaker souls among the vicarate from overreacting to the current  provocation, despite the undoubted seriousness of that provocation," Clyntahn said. "Charis has bidden defiance to the Church, to the Archangels, and to God Himself. I believe we must quench any sparks of panic among those weaker souls by making it clear to the entire vicarate that we have no intention of allowing that defiance to stand. And that we intend to deal . . . firmly with any additional outbreaks of defiance. That will be the Inquisition's task."

    The Grand Inquisitor's face was hard and cold.

    "At the same time, however, we must prepare the entire Council for the reality that it will take time for us to forge the new weapons we need for our inevitable counterstroke," he continued. "That may be difficult in the face of the deep concern many of our brothers in God will undoubtedly feel, and I believe your earlier point was well taken, Zahmsyn. We must make it clear to those . . . concerned souls that Charis' apparent strength, and Charis' initial victories, are not a threat to us, but rather a sign to Mother Church. A warning we must all heed. Indeed, if one considers the situation with unclouded eyes, secure — as one ought to be — in one's faith, the hand of God Himself is abundantly clear. Only the achievement of such an apparently overwhelming triumph could have tempted the secret heretics of Charis into openly revealing themselves for what they are. By permitting them their transitory victory, God has stripped away their mask for all to see. And yet, as you say, Zahmsyn, He's done this in a way which still leaves them unable to truly threaten Mother Church or undermine her responsibility to guide and protect the souls of all His children."

    Trynair nodded again, and an icy quiver ran through Duchairn's bones. The Chancellor, he felt certain, had evolved his explanation as if he were solving a chess problem, or perhaps any of the purely secular machinations and strategies his office was forced to confront daily. It was an intellectual ploy based on pragmatism and the naked realities of politics at the highest possible level. But the glitter it had lit in Clyntahn's eyes continued to glow. Whatever the Chancellor might think, and however capable of cynical calculation the Grand Inquisitor might be when it suited his purposes, the fervent conviction in Clyntahn's tone was most definitely not feigned. He had embraced Trynair's analysis not simply out of expediency, but because he believed it, as well.

    And why does that frighten me so? I'm a Vicar of Mother Church, for God's sake! However we came to where we are, we know what God demands of us, just as we know that God is all-powerful, all-knowing. Why shouldn't He have used our own actions to reveal the truth about Charis? Show us how deep the rot truly runs in Tellesberg?

    Something happened deep in Rhobair Duchairn's heart and soul, and another thought occurred to him.

    I have to think about this, spend time in prayer and meditation, pondering the Writ and The Commentaries. Perhaps the people like the Wylsynns have been right all along. Perhaps we have grown too arrogant, too enamored of our power as secular princes. The Charisians may not be the only ones whose mask God has decided to strip away. Perhaps this entire debacle is God's mirror, held up to show us the potential consequences of our own sinful actions and overweening pride.

    It was not, he knew, a suggestion to be brought forth at this moment, in this place. It was one to be considered carefully, in the stillness and quiet of his own heart. And yet . . . .

    For the first time in far too many years, in the face of obviously unmitigated disaster, Vicar Rhobair Duchairn found himself once more contemplating the mysterious actions of God through the eyes of faith and not the careful calculation of advantage.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image