A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 14

“No. In fact, the Bishop Executor and Father Aidryan apparently managed to get out of Manchyr, despite the siege lines,” Baron Larchros answered for Storm Keep. “No one seems to know exactly how they did it, but the fact that they seem to’ve done it suggests ‘Emperor Cayleb’ isn’t quite as infallible as he’d like us to believe!”

“Then who –?”

“Bishop Klairmant. Or, I suppose, I should say ‘Archbishop Klairmant,'” Larchros said bitterly, and Yair blanched visibly.

Klairmant Gairlyng, the Bishop of Tartarian, one of the Princedom of Corisande’s most respected prelates, came from the Temple Lands themselves. To be sure, the Gairlyngs scarcely constituted one of the truly great Church dynasties. If they had, Klairmant would undoubtedly have ended up with a more prestigious bishopric. But he was still at least a distant cousin of several current vicars, which had always given him a great deal of moral authority within the ranks of Corisande’s clergy. Worse, he’d served his see for sixteen years now, without taking a single vacation trip back to Zion, and earned a reputation for unusual piety in the process. Having him acknowledge the primacy of the heretic Staynair constituted a serious blow to the Church’s authority, and one of Yair’s hands rose. It signed the scepter of Langhorne, and Baron Larchros barked a laugh which contained very little humor.

“I’m afraid the good bishop isn’t the only servant of Mother Church who’s turned his coat — or should I say his cassock? — Father,” he said flatly. “In fact, I think that may’ve been the most disturbing thing about this ‘Special Parliament’ of Cayleb’s, when you come down to it. Over a third – almost half, really – of the Princedom’s bishops were prepared to proclaim their loyalty to the ‘Church of Charis.'” His lips worked in disgust. “And where bishops led the way, is it any surprise the rest of the priesthood followed suit?”

“I can’t . . .” Yair shook his head. “I can’t believe –”

He broke off, and Storm Keep reached out to pat his knee with a comforting hand.

“It’s early days yet, Father,” he said quietly. “Yes, I’m afraid Gairlyng truly intends to . . . reach an accommodation, shall we say, with Cayleb and Staynair. I don’t pretend to know what all of his motives are. On the one hand, he’s known Tartarian for years, and as far as I know, they’ve always been on excellent terms. That might be part of it. And, to give Shan-wei her due, I suppose it’s possible he’s at least partly trying to head off any sort of pogrom here in Corisande. The Charisian version of the Inquisition is hardly likely to treat any open resistance by ‘Temple Loyalists’ gently, after all.”

Although, he admitted to himself a bit grudgingly, this “Viceroy General” Chermyn’s Marines have been a lot “gentler” than I would have expected . . . so far, at least. Musket butts and bayonets are bad enough, but bullets are worse, and he’s been mighty sparing with those, under the circumstances.

“And maybe Gairlyng, Anvil Rock, and Tartarian all see an opportunity to feather their own nests, and Shan-wei with heading off any ‘pogroms,'” Larchros said bitingly in response to the earl’s last observation.

“And maybe that, as well,” Storm Keep conceded.

“You said over a third of the bishops have accepted Staynair’s authority, My Lord,” Yair said to Larchros. “What’s happened to those who refused?”

“Most of them have gone into hiding like Bishop Amilain, I imagine,” the baron replied, and this time there was at least a hint of genuine humor in his thin smile.

Amilain Gahrnaht, the Bishop of Larchros, had ‘mysteriously disappeared’ before Larchros set out for Cherayth. The baron didn’t officially know exactly where Gahrnaht had taken himself off to, but he knew Father Airwain did. So did Storm Keep. That, in fact, was the main reason the earl was prepared to speak so frankly in front of a mere chaplain he scarcely knew personally.

“With the semaphore stations in the hands of Gairlyng’s sycophants,” the baron continued more somberly, “it’s hard to know what’s really going on, of course. A lot of bishops and upper-priests refused – like Bishop Amilain – to obey Cayleb’s summons at all. In the case of bishops who refused, he and Gairlyng appointed replacements before he left, and ‘Viceroy General’ Chermyn’s announced his intention to send troops along with each of those replacements. He says there will be no mass arrests or persecutions of ‘Temple Loyalists’ as long as they refrain from acts of ‘rebellion.'” Larchros snorted viciously. “I can just imagine how long that’s going to last!”

“But . . . but Cayleb and Staynair have been excommunicated!” Yair protested. “No oath to either of them can be binding in the eyes of God or man!”

“A point I bore in mind myself,” Larchros agreed with a grim smile.

“And I,” Storm Keep said. “In fact, I imagine quite a few of Prince Daivyn’s nobles were thinking about that. For that matter, I’m quite certain Bishop Mailvyn was, as well.”

“Indeed?” Yair perked up noticeably. Mailvyn Nohrcross was the Bishop of Barcor. Unlike Gairlyng, he was a nativeborn Corisandian. In fact, he was a cousin of the Baron of Barcor, and his family wielded considerable influence both within the Church and in secular terms, as well.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve actually discussed it, you understand, Father,” Storm Keep said, “but from a couple of ‘chance remarks’ he managed to let fall in my presence, it’s my belief Bishop Mailvyn believes it will be wiser, for now, to pay lip service to this Church of Charis. At any rate, I feel reasonably confident he’ll do his best to . . . buffer the blows to those who remain privately loyal to Mother Church.”

“In fact,” Larchros looked at his chaplain rather pointedly, “if anyone were to have the opportunity to discuss it with Bishop Amilain, I suspect Bishop Mailvyn would be prepared to quietly extend his protection to a fellow prelate unjustly deprived of his office.”

Yair looked back at him for a moment, then nodded, and Storm Keep shrugged.

“The truth is, Father Airwain, that no one really knows what’s going to happen. My understanding is that Cayleb intends to leave affairs here in Corisande in the hands of the Regency Council . . . ‘advised’ by his Viceroy General Chermyn, of course. Apparently he cherishes the belief – or the hope, perhaps – that now that he’s taken himself off to Chisholm, people may forget he had Prince Hektor murdered. That’s the real reason we all spent so many five-days parked in Manchyr even after he sailed for Cherayth. Anvil Rock, Tartarian and the others were busy hammering all of us over the head with how deeply committed they are to doing their best to preserve the Princedom intact and defend its ancient prerogatives. They say Cayleb has promised them he’ll leave Corisande as much self-rule ‘as possible.’ I leave it to you to judge just how much ‘self’ there’s going to be in that ‘rule’!”

The priest’s nostrils flared with contempt, and the earl nodded.

“Precisely,” he said. “For now, at least, though, he’s left Anvil Rock and Tartarian to deal with maintaining order while he dumps the . . . thorny problem, shall we say, of settling the Church’s affairs into Gairlyng’s hands. There were rumors swirling around Manchyr that Staynair himself may be visiting us in a few months’ time. For now, two or three upper-priests from Charis are playing the part of Gairlyng’s intendants, and no doubt keeping an eye on him for Staynair’s version of the Inquisition. Unless I’m seriously mistaken, Cayleb figures his best chance is to at least pretend he plans to ride Corisande with a light rein, if only we’ll let him.”

“You think that’s why he’s agreed to accept Daivyn as Prince Hektor’s heir, My Lord?”

“I think that’s part of it, certainly.” Storm Keep waved one hand slowly, like a man trying to fan a way through fog. “To be honest, though, I don’t see what other option he had. He’s made it clear enough that whether we want it to or not, Corisande’s just become part of this ‘Charisian Empire’ of his. That would have been a hard enough pill to force down the Princedom’s throat under any circumstances; after Prince Hektor’s murder, it’s going to be even harder. If he’d set straight out to put one of his favorites in the Prince’s place, or claimed the crown directly in his own name, he knows the entire Princedom would have gone up in flames. This way, he and the ‘Regency Council’ can hide behind Daivyn’s legitimacy. He can even pretend he’s looking out for the boy’s best interests, since, after all, he never had anything to do with Prince Hektor’s assassination, now did he? Oh, no, of course he didn’t!”

The earl’s irony was withering.

“And then there’s the consideration that with Daivyn safely out of the Princedom, he’s neatly deprived any potential resistance of a rallying point here in Corisande,” Larchros pointed out. “Worse, Anvil Rock and Tartarian can claim they’re actually looking after Daivyn’s claim to the crown when they move to crush any resistance that does arise! Look at the cover it gives them! And if Daivyn is ever foolish enough to come back into Cayleb’s reach, he can always go the same way his father and older brother did, once Cayleb decides he doesn’t need him anymore. At which point we will get one of his damned favorites on the throne!”

“In a lot of ways, I don’t envy Cayleb the mouthful he’s bitten off here in Corisande,” Storm Keep said frankly. “Murdering the Prince and young Hektor was probably the stupidest thing he could have done, but Langhorne knows enough hate can make a man do stupid things. I can’t think of any two men who hated one another more than he and Prince Hektor hated each other, either, especially after Haarahld was killed at Darcos Sound. And let’s not even get started on how Sharleyan felt about the Prince! So maybe he simply figured the personal satisfaction of vengeance was going to be worth any political headaches it created. And if he didn’t know Daivyn was already out of the Princedom, he probably figured controlling a little boy would be easier than controlling someone young Hektor’s age, so killing the Crown Prince may have seemed sensible to him, too . . . at the time. For that matter, as you just pointed out, Rahzhyr, he could always have had Daivyn suffer one of those ‘childhood accidents’ that seem to happen to unwanted heirs from time to time.” The earl’s expression was grim, and he shrugged. “But now he doesn’t have Daivyn in his hands, after all, and that leaves the entire situation in a state of flux.”

“What do you think is going to happen, My Lord?” Yair asked quietly. “In the end, I mean.”

“At this point, I truly don’t know, Father,” the earl said. “If the Regency Council can keep a lid on things for the next several months, and if Gairlyng and the other Church traitors can cobble together some sort of smooth-seeming transition into this Church of Charis, he may actually make the conquest stand up. I think the odds are against that, and, to be honest,” he showed his teeth in a smile which contained absolutely no humor, “I intend to do everything I can to make them worse, but he might manage to pull it off. For a while, at least. But in the long run?”

He shrugged.

“In the long run, as long as Daivyn stays free, there’s going to be a secular rallying point for resistance. It may be located somewhere else, and any sort of direct contact between us and him may be all but impossible to maintain, but the symbol will still be there. It doesn’t matter if the ‘Regency Council’ claims to be acting in his name or not, either. As long as he’s outside the Princedom and ‘his’ council is obviously taking its orders from Cayleb, its legitimacy is going to be suspect, to say the very least. And the same thing is true for Bishop Executor Thomys, as well. As long as the true Church’s hierarchy remains, even if it’s driven underground, then any effort to replace it with the ‘Church of Charis’ is going to be built on sand. Eventually, Cayleb and his cat’s paws are going to find themselves face-to-face with a genuine popular uprising, Father. When that happens, I think they’ll find their authority runs a lot less deeply than they thought it did. And it’s the nature of that sort of thing that one uprising plants the seeds for the next one, whether it succeeds or not. So when the day comes that Cayleb is forced to pull his troops off of Corisandian soil, and recall his ships from Corisandian waters, to deal with threats closer to home, I think those of us who have been planning and working and waiting for that day will be in a position to give him a most unwelcome surprise.”