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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Forty Two

       Last updated: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 08:09 EDT



Charisian Embassy,
City of Siddar,
Republic of Siddar

    Sir Rayjhis Dragoner tried hard to feel grateful for his posting as he gazed pensively out the window.

    Usually, he didn't find that a particularly difficult task. Of all the embassies to which an ambitious diplomat might find himself assigned, the one in the city of Siddar was probably the plum. Any Charisian was still going to have to put up with the fundamental, almost unconscious arrogance mainlanders displayed to almost anyone from what even the best of them had a tendency to refer to as "the out islands," of course. The Siddarmarkians weren't quite as bad about that as most of their fellows, but they were still quite bad enough to go on with.

    Yet all minor complaints aside, the Republic was the most comfortable fit any Charisian was going to find among the mainland realms. Siddarmark was firmly addicted to its ancient, republican form of government, and its society and social customs were far less rigidly stratified than most of Safehold's more powerful states could boast. That didn't prevent the Republic from sustaining its own great dynasties — in effect, if not in name, an hereditary nobility as powerful as anyone else's — and although there was considerably less prejudice here against those whose wealth came from "trade" than there was in the other mainland realms, there was still more than there was in Charis. Yet despite all that, Siddarmarkians were more comfortable than most with Charis' sometimes outrageous social notions, and their shared identity as Siddarmarkians included a powerful, self-aware strand of stubborn independence of mind which they embraced consciously and deliberately as a defining aspect of their national personality.

    No doubt, Dragoner thought, that independence explained much of the traditional tension between the Republic and the Temple Lands. Despite the nightmares which obviously plagued the Knights of the Temple Lands from time to time, no Siddarmarkian lord protector had ever been likely to seriously contemplate launching a war of conquest against them, however tempting a target their wealth might make them. That hadn't kept generations of Church chancellors from worrying about the possibility that one day some lunatic lord protector would, however. And even worse, in some ways (mostly because it was a considerably more realistic possibility), was the Church's fear that the stubbornly intransigent Siddarmarkians might someday refuse to submit to some Church decree. If that ever happened, the well-trained, professional, well-equipped pikemen of the Republican Army would make a fearsome foe. And unlike Charis, it would be a foe which literally lived right next door to the Temple Lands themselves.

    That independence of mind was also one of the reasons Siddarmark, traditionally, had maintained close commercial ties with Charis. The Siddarmarkian merchant class was heavily represented in the Republic's elected Assembly of the People. In fact, coupled with the wealthy farming class, they dominated the Assembly, thanks in no small part to the rigorous property requirements of the franchise. The merchants' interest in supporting friendly relations with Charis were obvious, and despite a certain traditional prejudice against bankers and merchants in general, the farmers' interest was even stronger. No one in Siddarmark was able to supply manufactured goods at anything remotely like the price Charisians could offer, and Charis was Siddarmark's largest single market, by far, for raw cotton silk, tea, tobacco, and wheat. It was a lucrative trading relationship which both nations had every reason to preserve.

    All of which explained why the Charisian Ambassador to the Republic had an easier job than most diplomats could ever hope for. Under normal circumstances, at least.

    Circumstances, however, were no longer "normal," and Sir Rayjhis rather doubted they ever would be again.

    He grimaced while he continued gazing out his office window across the sunlit roofs of Siddar to the dark blue, sparkling waters of North Bédard Bay.  North Bédard Bay — normally called simply "North Bay," to distinguish it from the even broader waters of Bédard Bay proper, to the south — was over two hundred miles wide, and the passage between the two bodies of water was little more than thirty miles across. The shipping channels were even narrower than that, and the Republic, at enormous expense, had built Castle Rock Island (and the powerfully gunned fortifications on it) in the shoal water between the two main channels where they approached one another most closely. In many ways, Castle Rock was the Republic's Lock Island, although neither lobe of Bédard Bay had ever been as critical to the Republic's development as Howell Bay had been to that of Charis.

    It still made Siddar a remarkably secure harbor, however. Piracy had never been much of a problem here, and the waterfront and warehouse district were usually bustling hives of almost Charisian-like activity. And as one of the premier ports of West Haven, Siddar was also home to one of the largest communities of Charisians outside the kingdom itself.

    All of which had made the city a prey to conflicting, dangerous tides of public opinion ever since the conflict between Charis and her enemies had exploded into open warfare. Tension had run high enough when everyone had been busy trying to pretend the Knights of the Temple Lands and the Council of Vicars — or, at least, the Group of Four — were two separate entities. Since Archbishop Maikel's denunciatory letter had arrived in Zion (and, so far as Sir Rayjhis could tell, every port city on Safehold simultaneously), that pretense had been stripped away like the frail mask it was. And the level of tension in the Republic had soared accordingly.

    Even people who don't like the Group of Four are worried as hell, Dragoner thought. And it's a lot worse than that where the hardline Temple Loyalists are concerned. The only good thing is that the more extreme Loyalists had already made themselves thoroughly unpopular with the Siddarmarkians before this whole mess ever blew up. Unfortunately, there's no way this is going to get any way but worse. What in God's name did Cayleb and Staynair think they were doing?!

    His grimace deepened as he faced an unpalatable truth. Despite his own reservations about the Group of Four, his own certainty that whatever else they might represent, it wasn't God's will, Sir Rayjhis Dragoner was one of the Charisians who was horrified by the sudden open schism between Tellesberg and the Temple. Conflicting loyalties pulled him in two different directions, and he found himself hoping — and praying regularly — that somehow the inevitable confrontation between the kingdom he loved and the Church he revered might somehow be averted.

    But it's not going to be, he thought sadly. Not with the lunatics on both sides pushing so hard. Still, he admitted almost grudgingly, I suppose it's hard to blame Cayleb, given what the Group of Four tried to do. And whatever else I may think of Staynair's letter, he's right about the abuses and corruption in the Church. But surely there has to be a better way to reform those abuses! Mother Church has ministered to men's souls ever since the Creation itself. Can't anyone see where splitting the Church is bound to lead?

    It was a question which had a certain burning significance for him in more than one way. Like himself, the entire Charisian community here in Siddar found itself split between enthusiastic supporters of what were already being called the Church of Charis and the Temple Loyalists. He suspected that Siddar's distance from Tellesberg had a great deal to do with the nature of the division here. Unless he was sadly mistaken, the Loyalists constituted only a relatively tiny minority of the kingdom's home population, whereas they constituted at least half of the Charisians living here in Siddar.

    Unfortunately, most Siddarmarkians don't seem able to distinguish between one group of Charisians and another one, he reflected glumly. What's worse, I'm not sure the Church can, either. It's bad enough that Charisians, even individual families, are split and divided. That the division is turning into anger, even hatred, between people who used to be friends, between brothers, between parents and children. But if those who want to remain loyal to the Church find themselves lumped in with the Church's enemies by the Group of Four, any possibility of reconciliation is going right down the toilet. And then what do I do?

    He had no answer for that question. No answer besides the oaths of loyalty he'd sworn, the duties he'd agreed to accept when he became King Haarahld's ambassador to Lord Protector Greyghor.

    He was still gazing out the window when someone knocked quietly on his office door. His eyebrows rose, and he turned with a frown. It was late afternoon, and his calendar had been thankfully clear for a change. But the pattern of knocks — two, one, three, two — was his secretary's warning code that he had an important visitor.

    He turned away from the window, crossed quickly to his desk, and settled into the chair behind it.

    "Come!" he called in a pleasant tone, preparing to rise in artful surprise as his unexpected guest was ushered in.

    As it happened, he didn't have to pretend to be surprised, after all.

    "Ambassador, Master Khailee would like a few moments of your time," Zheryld Mahrys, his secretary, said.

    "Of course," Dragoner said automatically. "Thank you, Zheryld."

    "You're welcome, Ambassador."



    Mahrys withdrew with his normal quiet efficiency, and Dragoner settled his professional diplomat's expression into place as he found himself alone with his visitor.

    Rolf Khailee was a tallish man, with the light complexion and fair hair which was common in the Republic but which still seemed odd to Dragoner's Charisian eyes. He was of middle years, with a strong nose which suggested — correctly, in his case, as it happened — that he was related to the powerful Stohnar Clan. In fact, he was Lord Protector Greyghor's fourth cousin . . . and his name was not "Rolf Khailee." It was Avrahm Hywstyn — Lord Avrahm Hwystyn — and he was a mid-level official in the Republic's Foreign Ministry. Precisely what he did there was something of a mystery to most people, although his relationship with the lord protector undoubtedly suggested several interesting possibilities.

    Sir Rayjhis Dragoner didn't need any "suggestions," however. He was one of the relatively small number of people who knew that Lord Avrahm was his powerful cousin's finger on the pulse of the Republic's relations with the realms which were most important to it. And he was also the conduit through which the Republic's ruler sometimes passed particularly sensitive messages or bits of information to someone else's ambassador. Of course, no one, not even — or especially — Lord Protector Greyghor was going to admit anything of the sort, and so Hwystyn's alternative persona as Master Rolf Khailee. Dragoner knew perfectly well that the masquerade never fooled anyone, but that wasn't really the point. It provided a degree of official separation. It was certainly no more farfetched than the pretense that the Knights of the Temple Lands weren't also the Council of Vicars, at any rate, and no one was likely to press the Lord Protector of Siddarmark too hard on any diplomatic fictions he chose to maintain.

    Besides, the real reason Avrahm uses Khailee is to underscore the fact that whatever he's about to tell me is important . . . and that he was never here.

    "This is an unexpected pleasure, 'Master Khailee,'" he said calmly. "May I offer you some refreshment?"

    "That's very kind of you, Ambassador," his guest said. "Unfortunately, I'm rather pressed for time this afternoon. Perhaps some other day."

    "Of course," Dragoner murmured, and gestured courteously at the comfortable chair facing his desk. He waited until "Khailee" had seated himself, then settled back into his own chair. "May I ask what brings you here this afternoon?" he asked politely.

    "As a matter of fact," the Siddarmarkian said, "a rather remarkable message crossed my desk this morning. A message from Chancellor Trynair to Lord Frahnklyn."

    Dragoner managed to keep his face only politely attentive, despite the quiver of shock which went through him. Lord Frahnklyn Wallyce was the Republic's Chancellor, Earl Gray Harbor's equivalent here in Siddarmark. The fact that "Khailee" was here instead of an official messenger from the Chancellor's office sounded all sorts of warning bells. And the fact that "Khailee" was here about a message between Wallyce and the Chancellor of the Council of Vicars was the next best thing to terrifying.

    The hell with the "next best thing," Rayjhis, he told himself. It damned well is terrifying, and you know it!

    "Indeed?" he said, as calmly as he could.

    "Indeed." His guest sat very straight, his eyes intent. "It was transmitted by semaphore for the Lord Protector's urgent attention. Unfortunately, the Lord Protector is out of the city this afternoon. He won't be returning until quite late this evening."

    "I hadn't heard that," Dragoner said, listening very carefully to what "Khailee" wasn't saying, as well as what he was.

    "Chancellor Trynair requested that his message be presented to the Lord Protector as quickly as possible, and with the utmost confidentiality. Unfortunately, that leaves us with something of a problem. Since we're not entirely certain where the Lord Protector is at this particular moment — we know his schedule, but we can't be certain he's managed to keep it — we can hardly send a copy of it racing about, trying to find him. So, in order to comply with the Chancellor's request for confidentiality and security, we've transmitted the message to Protector's Palace to await his return and sent messengers looking for him to tell him that it's arrived."

    "That sounds commendably thorough," Dragoner said.

    "Thank you. However, that's also what brings me here today — as one of those messengers, as it were. It just happens that the Lord Protector had mentioned he might be dropping by your embassy on his way home. Obviously, his schedule isn't exactly written in stone, so I can't be certain he actually will be visiting you. If you should happen to see him, however, would you pass on a message for me?"

    "I'd be delighted to be of service in any way I could," Dragoner assured him.

    "I appreciate that, Ambassador." The Siddarmarkian's mouth smiled, but his eyes never did. "Would you please tell him we've received a directive from the Chancellor, transmitted on behalf of the Grand Inquisitor. Obviously, I can't go into the details of such a confidential communique, but if you could also inform him that we require his authorization for the harbor master, director of customs, and the port admiral to enforce the Grand Inquisitor's directive. And –" he looked directly into Dragoner's eyes "– we also need his instructions as to where and how he would that like us to house the crews and officers of the merchant ships involved in the enforcement of that directive until the Church is able to make her own arrangements for them."

    Dragoner's stomach muscles clenched into a constricted knot. He knew his expression was giving away entirely too much, but his professional diplomat's reflexes had deserted him for the moment.

    "Of course," he heard himself say.

    "Thank you." "Master Khailee" pushed back his chair and stood. "Well, Ambassador, as always, it's been a pleasure. However, I'm afraid I must go. There are several other places I need to leave messages for the Lord Protector, just in case he should happen by. And I'm afraid it's rather urgent. We really need his decision on these matters no later than dawn tomorrow."

    "I understand." Dragoner rose and escorted his guest to the door. "I hope you find him in time, and if I should happen to see him, I'll certainly pass on your message."

    "In that case, Ambassador, I'll bid you good day," the Siddarmarkian said. He bobbed his head in a courteous little bow, then he stepped through the door and it closed behind him.

    Dragoner gazed at the closed door for several taut seconds, then shook himself. He knew — or, at least, he was reasonably certain he knew — why Lord Protector Greyghor had seen to it that he received "Khailee's" warning, despite the very real risk he and his cousin had both run. And, as the Charisian Ambassador, there was no doubt in Dragoner's mind about precisely what he ought to do with that warning. But even as he thought that, the son of the Church within him recoiled from the thought of deliberately sabotaging a direct order from the Grand Inquisitor speaking for the Council of Vicars.

    But he isn't speaking for the entire Council, Dragoner told himself almost despairingly. He's speaking for the Group of Four, and God only knows what their final objective is now! Yet, even if that's true, it doesn't magically absolve me of my responsibility to honor the expressed will and decrees of Mother Church. But, if I do, if I don't act on this information, then . . . .

    He leaned forward, pressing his forehead against the door's cool wood while conscience fought with duty and conviction warred with unwilling recognition. And then, finally, he drew a deep breath, straightened his spine, and opened the door. Young Mahrys was waiting, and Dragoner smiled at him.

    "Find me some messengers, Zheryld," he said. "People you can trust to keep their mouths shut afterward."

    "Yes, Sir. Ah, what message will they have to carry?" Mahrys asked, and Dragoner's smile turned into something entirely too much like a rictus.

    "Let's just say that any Charisian vessel here in Siddar          is about to discover she has urgent business somewhere else. Anywhere else, if you take my meaning."

    Despite himself, Mahrys' eyes widened. Then the color seemed to drain out of his face, and he swallowed hard.

    "Yes, Sir," he said, after a long, tense moment. "As a matter of fact, I think I know just the men we need."




    "This is getting depressingly familiar," Cayleb Ahrmahk said as he turned up the wick of the bedside lamp.

    "I'm sorry about that." Merlin quirked a brief, lopsided smile. "I'm afraid it's getting a bit harder to find opportune moments to pass unobtrusive messages now that you're a king, instead of a mere crown prince."

    "Or, at least, to pass them without anyone else noticing that you're doing it," Cayleb agreed with a yawn. He swung his legs over the side of his bed and stood, then grimaced. "And I imagine it's going to get even worse after the wedding," he said sourly.

    "Cayleb –"

    "I understand!" Cayleb interrupted Merlin's response, and his grimace turned into a lopsided smile of his own. "Little did I think when I agreed to abide by the Brethren's decision about who we could tell that it was going to turn around and bite me on the arse this quickly."

    "No one wants to make this any more difficult than it already is," Merlin began. "And you know –"

    "Yes, I do know you and Maikel both think we should go ahead and tell her. Well, so do I. And, frankly, I'm going to find it very difficult to justify not telling her once we're married. I can't quite shake the feeling that this is going to come under the heading of one of those interesting little secrets of state joint rulers are expected to share with one another, Merlin."

    Merlin nodded. In fact, he knew Cayleb really did understand that Merlin strongly agreed with him. This was something Sharleyan had to be told about, even if it was only the "By the way, did we mention that the seijin has visions?" version. Unfortunately, the more cautious among the Brothers of Saint Zherneau also had a point. However intelligent, however committed, Sharleyan might be — however flexible she might appear, or actually be — they simply hadn't had long enough to get a feel for how she might react to the shattering implications of Saint Zherneau's journal.

    Personally, Merlin felt confident she would handle it far better than others might fear. But that was at least in part because he'd spent the last two years watching her through his SNARCs. He'd seen her, listened to her, and observed her ability to keep necessary secrets of state, and he'd developed a lively respect for both her intelligence and her intellectual resilience. For her moral courage and ability to face even unexpected realities. And, as the man who had once been Nimue Alban, he had an even more lively respect for her ability to do all of that in a kingdom where reigning queens had never before prospered. The Brethren, lacked that particular avenue of insight, however, and they were only too well aware of their responsibilities as the keepers of Saint Zherneau's secret.

    Cayleb had known Sharleyan literally only for a few days. It was obvious to everyone, though, that the two of them were delighted by the mutual discoveries they were making, and Merlin had no doubt many of the Brethren suspected that Cayleb's judgment was . . . less than fully impartial, as a consequence. As for Cayleb, he'd managed to remind himself it was entirely possible the Brethren's concerns were well founded. Getting himself to believe they were was something else, of course.

    On the other hand, he's like his father in a lot of ways, Merlin reflected. Including the fact that when he gives his word, it means something.

    "Oh, don't worry, Merlin," Cayleb said a bit gruffly, as if he'd been reading Merlin's mind. He waved one hand in an impatient gesture, then crossed from the pool of lamplight around his bed to the bedchamber's window. He gazed out through the gauzy, gently stirring drapes for several seconds at a night drenched in moonlight, then turned back.

    "And now that I'm over my waked-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night snit, what did you come to tell me about this time?"

    "It's not good," Merlin said. Cayleb's face tightened at his tone, but he didn't look very surprised, Merlin observed. "Somehow, I suspect you'd already figured that out, though," he added.

    "Let's just say I don't expect you to be dragging me out of bed at this hour to tell me something that's not important. And that I can think of relatively few things we might reasonably describe as both 'important' and 'pleasant news' these days."

    "Unfortunately," Merlin agreed. Then he inhaled deeply. "I've just been reviewing Owl's take from the SNARCs," he continued, reflecting upon what  a great relief it was to no longer worry about circumlocutions when he told Cayleb about something like this. The youthful King of Charis was still working his way through to a genuine understanding of what advanced technology implied, but he'd amply demonstrated his resiliency, and what he already understood only whetted his appetite to understand still more. That was the good news; the bad news was that even with Owl to help monitor, there was simply too much going on in the world for any single being — even a PICA — to keep track of, and it was getting worse as events snowballed. The fact that Merlin still didn't know what those unidentified power sources under the Temple were, and that because he didn't, he didn't dare insert a SNARC into the Group of Four's council chambers, didn't help any, either. Thanks to him, Cayleb's intelligence resources were incomparably better than those of anyone else on the planet, but they still weren't perfect, and he was picking up too late on too many things. Or even missing them altogether, he thought with a harsh self-anger he knew was unreasonable, as the images of massacre and burning ships replayed themselves behind his artificial eyes.

    Too many things like this, for example.

    "There are several things you need to know about," he continued aloud, "but the most important are from Siddarmark and Delfarahk."

    "Siddarmark and Delfarahk?" Cayleb repeated, then snorted when Merlin nodded. "Those two are just a little far apart to be ganging up on us, aren't they?"

    "Yes and no, unfortunately," Merlin said grimly. "And it wasn't exactly their idea, either. You see –"

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