A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 24

Which is the biggest surprise of all, really, he thought. And where does that leave you, Klairmant?

He thought about that carefully. He was the consecrated Archbishop of Corisande, as far as the Church of Charis was concerned. Which, of course, made him an utterly damned apostate heretic where the Church of God Awaiting was concerned. After what had happened to Erek Dynnys, as Ahdymsyn had just reminded him, there was no doubt in his mind what would happen if he or Ahdymsyn or Mahkhynroh ever fell into the hands of the Inquisition. That was a thought fit to wake a man wrapped in the cold sweat of nightmares, and it had, on more than one occasion. In fact, it had awakened him often, making him wonder what in the world — what in God’s name — he’d thought he was doing when he accepted his present office.

And now this.

As archbishop, he was Ahdymsyn’s ecclesiastic superior. Of course, Ahdymsyn wasn’t assigned to his archbishopric, so he’d properly come under Gairlyng’s orders only when those orders did not in any way conflict with instructions he’d already received from Maikel Staynair. Still, in this princedom, in this archbishopric and this office, Ahdymsyn could neither give Gairlyng orders nor pass judgment upon him. All he could do was report back to Staynair, who was thousands of miles away in Chisholm, assuming he’d met his planned travel schedule, or even farther away than that, in Emerald or in transit between Eraystor and Cherayth, if his schedule had slipped. Yet Ahdymsyn was Staynair’s personal representative. He was here specifically to smooth the way, prepare the ground, for Staynair’s first pastoral visit to Corisande. Despite everything, Gairlyng had expected a far more overtly political representative, especially given Ahdymsyn’s hierarchical pedigree. But what he’d gotten . . . what he’d gotten raised almost as many questions in his own mind — questions about himself — as they’d answered about Zherald Ahdymsyn.

“My Lord,” he said finally, “I’m honored by the honesty with which you’ve described your own feelings and beliefs. And I’ll be honest and say it had never occurred to me that you might have . . . sustained that degree of genuine spiritual regeneration.” He raised one hand, waving it gently above his desk. “I don’t mean to imply that I believed you’d accepted your present office solely out of some sort of cynical ambition, trying to make the best deal that you could out of the situation which had come completely apart for you in Charis. But I must confess I’d done you a grave disservice and assumed that that was much of what had happened. Now, after what you’ve just said, I find myself in a bit of a quandary.”

“A quandary, Your Eminence?” Ahdymsyn arched one eyebrow, and Gairlyng snorted.

“Honesty deserves honesty, My Lord, especially between men who both claim to be servants of God,” he said.

“Your Eminence, I doubt very much that you could — in honesty — tell me anything that would come as a tremendous surprise,” Ahdymsyn said dryly. “For example, I would be surprised — enormously surprised — to discover that you had accepted your present archbishopric solely out of a sense of deep loyalty and commitment to the Empire of Charis.”

“Well,” Gairlyng’s voice was even drier than Ahdymsyn’s had been, “I believe I can safely set your mind to rest upon that point. However,” he leaned forward slightly and his expression became far more serious, even somber, “I must admit that despite my very best efforts, I felt more than one mental reservation when I took the vows of my new office.”

Ahdymsyn cocked his head to one side, and Gairlyng glanced quickly at Mahkhynroh. This wasn’t something he’d admitted to the Bishop of Manchyr, yet he saw only calm interest in the other man’s eyes before he looked back at Ahdymsyn.

“First, I would never have accepted this office, under any circumstances, if I hadn’t agreed Mother Church — or the vicarate, at least — has become hopelessly corrupt. And when I say ‘hopelessly,’ that’s exactly the word I meant to use. If I’d believed for one moment that someone like Zahmsyn Trynair might demand reform, or that someone like Zhaspahr Clyntahn would have permitted it if he had, I would have refused the archbishopric outright and immediately. But saying I believe Mother Church has been mortally wounded by her own vicars isn’t the same thing as saying I believe the Church of Charis must automatically be correct. Nor does it mean I’m somehow magically free of any suspicion that the Church of Charis has been co-opted by the Empire of Charis. Mother Church may have fallen into evil, but she was never intended to be the servant of secular political ambitions, and I won’t willingly serve any ‘Church’ which is no more than a political tool.” He grimaced. “The spiritual rot in Zion is itself the result of the perversion of religion in pursuit of power, and I’m not prepared simply to substitute perversion in the name of the power of princes for perversion in the name of the power of prelates.”

“Granted.” Ahdymsyn nodded. “Yet the problem, of course, is that the Church of Charis can survive only so long as the Empire of Charis is able to protect it. The two are inextricably bound up with one another, in that respect, at least, and there are inevitably going to be times when religious policy is shaped by and reflects political policy. And the reverse, I assure you.”

“I don’t doubt that for a moment.” Gairlyng reached up and squeezed the bridge of his nose gently between thumb and forefinger. “The situation is so incredibly complicated, with so many factions, so many dangers, that it could hardly be any other way.” He lowered his hand and looked directly at Ahdymsyn. “Still, if the Church is seen as a creature of the Empire, she will never gain general acceptance in Corisande. Not unless something changes more dramatically than I can presently imagine. In that regard, it would have been far better if she had been renamed the ‘Reform Church,’ perhaps, instead of the Church of Charis.”

“That was considered,” Ahdymsyn told him. “It was rejected because, ultimately, the Group of Four was inevitably going to label it the ‘Church of Charis,’ whatever we called it. That being so, it seemed better to go ahead and embrace the title ourselves — I speak here using the ecclesiastic ‘we,’ of course,” he explained with a charming smile, “since I was not myself party to that particular decision. And another part of it, obviously, was that mutual dependence upon one another for survival which I’ve already mentioned. In the end, I think, the decision was that honesty and forthrightness were more important than the political or propaganda nuances of the name.”

“Perhaps so, but that doesn’t magically expunge the unfortunate associations in the minds of a great many Corisandians. Or, for that matter, in my own mind, and I was scarcely born here in Corisande, myself.” Gairlyng shook his head. “I don’t claim to understand all of my own motivations myself, My Lord. I think any man who pretends he does is guilty of self-deception, at the very least. However, my primary reasons for accepting this office were four.

“First, my belief, as I’ve already said, that Mother Church has gone too far down the path of corruption under her current hierarchy to be internally reformed. If reform is even possible for her at this late date, it will happen only because an external threat has forced it upon the vicarate, and, as I see it, the Church of Charis represents that external threat, that external demand for change.

“Second, because I desire, above almost all other things, to prevent or at least mitigate the religious persecutions and counter-persecutions I dread when I look at a conflict such as this one. Men’s passions are seldom so inflamed as when they grapple with issues of the soul, My Lord. Be you personally ever so priestly — be Archbishop Maikel ever so gentle — violence, vengeance, and counter-vengeance will play their part soon enough. That isn’t an indictment of you, nor even an indictment of the Church of Charis. The Group of Four began it, not you, when they launched five other princedoms at the Kingdom of Charis’ throat. But, in its way, that only proves my point, and what happened at Ferayd only underscores it. I do not wish to see that cycle launched here in Corisande, and when this office was offered to me, I saw it as my best opportunity to do something to at least moderate it in the princedom which has become my home.”

He paused, regarding Ahdymsyn steadily until the other man nodded slowly.

“Third,” Gairlyng resumed, “I know there are far more members of the Corisandian priesthood who share my view of the state of Mother Church’s soul than anyone in the Temple or in Zion has ever dreamed. I’m sure I need hardly tell you this, after what you’ve seen in Charis, and in Emerald, and in Chisholm, yet I think it deserves to be stated anyway. The Group of Four, and the vicarate as a whole, have made the serious, serious error of assuming that if they can suppress internal voices of criticism — if they can use the power of the Inquisition to repress demands for reform — then those voices and those demands have no strength. Pose no threat. Unfortunately for them, they’re wrong, and there are pastors in this very city who prove my point. Bishop Kaisi is already aware of several of them, but I hope, My Lord, you’ll take the opportunity to attend mass at Saint Kathryn’s soon. I think you’ll hear a voice you recognize in Father Tymahn’s. I hope, however, that you’ll also recognize that what you’re hearing is a Corisandian voice, not that of a man who considers himself a Charisian.”

He paused once more, raising one eyebrow, and Ahdymsyn nodded again, more firmly.

“A valid distinction, and one I’ll strive to bear in mind,” the bishop acknowledged. “On the other hand, I scarcely thought of myself as ‘a Charisian’ when all of this began. I imagine that, in the fullness of time, your Father Tymahn may actually make something of the same transition on his own terms.”

“He may, My Lord.” Gairlyng’s tone conveyed something less than confidence in that particular transition, and he grimaced.

“I’ll be honest,” the archbishop went on, “and admit that the sticking point for quite a few Corisandians is the assassination of Prince Hektor and the Crown Prince. Whatever his faults from the perspective of other princedoms, and I’m probably more aware of them than the vast majority of Corisandians, Prince Hektor was both respected and popular here in Corisande. Many of his subjects, especially here in the capital, bitterly resent his murder, and the fact that the Church of Charis hasn’t condemned Cayleb for it makes the Church, in turn, suspect in their eyes. And, to be brutally honest, it’s a point upon which those trying to organize opposition to both the Church and the Empire are playing with considerable success.”

“The Church,” Ahdymsyn said, and for the first time there was a hard, cold edge in his voice, “hasn’t condemned Emperor Cayleb for the murder of Prince Hektor because the Church doesn’t believe he was responsible for it. Obviously, condemning the rulers of the Church’s sole secular protector for an act of cold-blooded murder would be politically very difficult and dangerous. Nonetheless, I give you my personal assurance that Archbishop Maikel — and I — genuinely and sincerely believe the Emperor had nothing at all to do with Prince Hektor’s assassination. If for no other reason than because it would have been so incredibly stupid for him to have done anything of the sort! In fact –”

He closed his mouth with an almost audible snap and made an angry, brushing-away gesture before he sat back — firmly — in his armchair. The office was very still and quiet for several seconds, until, finally, Gairlyng stirred behind his desk.

“If you’ll recall, My Lord,” he said, and his tone was oddly calm, almost mild, considering what had just passed between him and Ahdymsyn, “I said I had four primary reasons for accepting this office. I fully realize that what you were about to say, what you stopped yourself from saying because you realized how self-serving it would sound, is that you believe it was Mother Church who had Prince Hektor killed.”

Ahdymsyn seemed to stiffen in his chair, but Gairlyng met his gaze levelly, holding him in place.

“I do not believe Mother Church ordered Prince Hektor’s murder,” the Archbishop of Corisande said very, very quietly, his eyes never wavering from Ahdymsyn’s. “But neither do I believe it was Emperor Cayleb. And that, My Lord, is the fourth reason I accepted this office.”

“Because you believe that, from it, you’ll be in a position to help discover who did order it?” Ahdymsyn asked.

“Oh, no, My Lord.” Gairlyng shook his head, his expression grim, and made the confession he’d never intended to make when these two men walked into his office. “I said I don’t believe Mother Church had Prince Hektor killed. That, however, is because I’m morally certain in my own mind who did.” Ahdymsyn’s eyes widened, and Gairlyng smiled without humor. “I don’t believe it was Mother Church . . . but I do believe it was Mother Church’s Grand Inquisitor,” he said softly.

“You do?” Despite all of his formidable self-control, and all of his years of experience, Ahdymsyn couldn’t quite keep the surprise out of his voice, and Gairlyng’s thin smile grew ever so slightly wider without becoming a single degree warmer.

“Like you, My Lord, I can imagine nothing stupider Cayleb could possibly have done, and the young man I met here in Manchyr is anything but stupid. And when I consider all the other possible candidates, one name suggests itself inescapably to me. Unlike the vast majority of the people here in Corisande, I’ve actually met Vicar Zhaspahr. May I assume you’ve done the same?”

Ahdymsyn nodded, and Gairlyng shrugged.

“In that case, I’m sure you’ll understand when I say that if there is one man in Zion who is simultaneously more prepared than Zhaspahr Clyntahn to embrace expediency, more certain his own prejudices accurately reflect God’s will, and more confident his intellect far surpasses that of any other mortal man, I have no idea who he might be. Prince Hektor’s murder, his instant transformation from one more warring prince to a martyr of Mother Church, would strike Clyntahn as a maneuver with absolutely no disadvantages, and I’m as certain as I’m sitting here that he personally ordered the assassinations. I can’t prove it. Not yet. In fact, I think it’s probable no one will ever be able to prove it, and even if someday I could, it wouldn’t suddenly make the notion of being subordinated to Charisian control magically palatable to Corisandians. But knowing what I know of the man, believing what I believe about what he’s already done — and what that implies about what he’s prepared to do in the future — I had no choice but to oppose him. In that respect, at least, I’m as loyal a son of the Church of Charis as any man on the face of the world.”

Zherald Ahdymsyn sat back once more, regarding him for several silent moments, then shrugged.

“Your Eminence, that’s precisely the point at which I began my own spiritual journey, so I’m scarcely in a position to criticize you for doing the same thing. And as far as the Church of Charis is concerned, I think you’ll find Archbishop Maikel is perfectly prepared to accept that starting point in anyone, even if it should transpire that you never reach the same destination I have. The difference between him and Zhaspahr Clyntahn doesn’t have anything to do with their confidence they’ll someday reach God’s goals. Neither one of them is ever going to waver in that belief, that determination. The difference is that Clyntahn is prepared to do whatever he must to reach the goal he’s dictated to God, while Archbishop Maikel trusts God to reach whatever goal He desires. And,” the bishop’s eyes warmed, “if you can actually meet Archbishop Maikel, spend a five-day or two in his presence, and not discover that any Church he’s responsible for building is worthy of your wholehearted support, then you’ll be the first person I’ve met who can do that!”