A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 39


The Temple,
City of Zion,
The Temple Lands

Silent snowflakes battered against the floor-to-ceiling windows like lost ghosts. The brilliant, mystic lighting which always illuminated the outside of the Temple turned the swirling flakes into glittering gems until the wind caught them and swept them to their rendezvous with the window. Hauwerd Wylsynn watched them changing from gorgeous jewels into feathery ghosts and felt a coldness, far deeper than that of the night beyond the windows, whispering, whispering in the marrow of his bones.

He looked away from the transmuting snowflakes at the luxurious suite assigned to his brother. Every vicar had personal apartments in the enormous, majestic sweep of the Temple, and as apartments went, Samyl Wylsynn’s were not particularly huge. They weren’t tiny, either, yet they were substantially more modest than a vicar of Samyl’s seniority might have demanded.

They were more plainly and simply furnished, too, without the sumptuous luxury other vicars required. Zhaspahr Clyntahn, the current Grand Inquisitor, was a case in point. It was rumored (almost certainly correctly) that the art treasures in his chambers, alone, were probably worth the total annual income of most baronies. And that didn’t even consider the fact that Clyntahn had demanded and received one of the coveted corner apartments, with windows looking both east and north, allowing him to survey the roofs, towers, and buildings of the city of Zion through one set and the magnificent dome and colonnade of the main Temple through the other.

Hauwerd supposed that one could make the argument — as Clyntahn obviously did — that such quarters were merely in keeping with the office of the man responsible for overseeing the state of Mother Church’s soul. More than once, he’d heard Clyntahn piously declaiming about the need to properly support the authority and prestige of the Grand Inquisitor. Of the need to emphasize the necessary — always necessary — extent of that official’s authority over all of Mother Church’s children in ways which even the most worldly soul might recognize. To reach out to those too easily impressed by the trappings and power of this world in ways which even they could not ignore. It was never about his own gluttonous, greedy, debauched, power-mongering personal lifestyle or desires. Oh, Langhorne, no!

Hauwerd felt his lips tightening, and acid churned in his stomach as he compared his brother’s chosen simplicity — the absence of statuary, the dearth of priceless carpets, the lack of stupendous oil paintings by the greatest masters Safehold had ever produced — with Clyntahn’s. There were paintings on Samyl’s walls, but they were portraits of both his first and his current wife, his three sons, his two daughters, his son-in-law, and his first grandchild. The furniture was comfortable, and certainly not cheap, yet it was only furniture, selected because it was comfortable and not to emphasize the importance of its owner. And the artworks which adorned his bookshelves and prayer desk were modest and understated, almost all exquisitely wrought, but most of them by lesser known artists he had chosen to support with his patronage because something about the pieces had touched his own heart, his own soul and faith.

If Samyl had only won the election, Hauwerd thought bitterly. He came so close. In fact, I’m still not convinced Clyntahn really won. That lickspittle Rayno, was in charge of the vote count, after all, and look where he wound up!

Of course, if Samyl had won, if he’d become the new Grand Inquisitor instead of Clyntahn, the vast gulf between the fashion in which he would have furnished his apartments in the Temple and the fashion in which Clyntahn had done the same thing would have been the least of Mother Church’s differences.

For one thing, this damned schism would never have happened. Samyl would never have signed off on Clyntahn’s casual proposal to completely destroy an entire kingdom just because it had pissed him off. For that matter, Clyntahn wouldn’t have been in any position to be tossing off suggestions like that, in the first place! Of course, Hauwerd admitted grimly, it’s probably at least as likely that if he’d won he would have been assassinated by now. It’s happened to more than one of our ancestors, after all. So at least we were spared that much.

Not that it’s going to make any difference in the end.

He drew a deep breath, and his hard eyes softened as he glanced at his brother. He and Samyl had always been close, despite the almost twelve years between their ages. He’d always admired Samyl, always known Samyl was fated to do great things for God and Mother Church.

He knew his mother had been dismayed when Samyl chose the Schuelerites. She’d might not have been a Wylsynn by birth, but she’d scarcely been blind to the way in which the heritage of the family into which she had married had pitted so many of its members against Church corruption over the last three or four centuries. She’d understood what had drawn Samyl into the Order of Schueler, recognized his burning desire to do something to fight the evils he saw gathering about the Temple . . . and she’d remembered what had happened to his great grandfather, just over a hundred years ago, now. Saint Evyrahard’s grand vicarate had been the shortest in history, and whatever the official histories might say, no one ever doubted that his “accidental fall” had been the direct result of his efforts to reform the vicarate. And the grand vicarate of Grand Vicar Tairhel, Samyl and Hauwerd’s grand uncle, had been almost as short. There were no rumors to suggest Tairhel’s death had been arranged, but he’d been old and in ill-health when he’d been raised to Langhorne’s Throne, without the vigor and energy which had characterized Evyrahard. His fellow vicars may have felt they could simply wait for natural causes to put an end to his reform efforts. Of course, it was also always possible the “natural causes” which had finally killed him had been nudged along just a bit despite, what anyone might have thought.

Well, Mother, Hauwerd thought now. You were right to worry. I’m just glad you and Father won’t be here to see what happens. I’m sure you’ll know anyway, but the Writ says that from God’s side, all things make sense. I hope that’s true, because from where I sit right this minute, there’s neither sense nor sanity in what’s about to happen. And there sure as Shan-wei isn’t a trace of justice in it!

“What did you think of the wine?” Samyl asked calmly, and Hauwerd snorted.

“I thought it was excellent. Saint Hyndryk’s, wasn’t it? The ’64?” Samyl nodded serenely, and Hauwerd snorted again, louder. “Well, at least that’s one thing Clyntahn won’t get his pig-hands on!”

“Not exactly the reason I chose to serve it tonight, but a thought worth remembering, I suppose,” Samyl agreed so serenely a corner of Hauwerd’s innermost soul wanted to scream at him in frustration. That serenity, that total, always grounded faith, was one of the things Hauwerd had always most admired in his brother. At the moment, however, it rasped on his nerves almost as much as it comforted him. And the real reason it did, however little he might want to examine the truth, was that Samyl’s serenity — his acceptance of God’s will — actually made Hauwerd question his own faith.

He’d fought that doubt with all his strength, yet he’d never been able to completely vanquish it. Surely, a truly just God, archangels who truly served the Light, would never have abandoned a man as good as his brother, one who longed only to serve God and love his fellow man. Not simply abandon him, but deliver him into the hands of a vile, corrupt, evil man like Zhaspahr Clyntahn. Into the hands of a man prepared to slaughter an entire kingdom. The hands of a man who was armed with every terrible punishment of The Book of Schueler . . . and perfectly willing, eager, to inflict every single one of them upon blameless children of God whose only crime had been to resist his own corruption.

Hauwerd Wylsynn knew his own weaknesses, his own shortcomings. He couldn’t really honestly say he thought any of them were so terrible as to justify the fate Clyntahn had in mind for him, either, yet he was prepared to admit that he, too, had been prey to the sin of ambition. That, on occasion, he had allowed the seductive power of his birth and his office to lead him into taking the easy course, accepting the shortcut, using God instead of using himself in God’s service. But he also knew Samyl hadn’t done that. That Samyl truly had been the spiritual heir of Saint Evyrahard, and not just his descendent. What could God possibly be thinking to let the man who should have been His champion, the man who would willingly have embraced his own death to redeem His Church, come to an end like this one?

That wasn’t the sort of question anyone, far less someone consecrated to the orange, was supposed to ask of God. And a vicar of the Church of God Awaiting wasn’t supposed to rail at God, indict Him for abandoning even the most blameless of His servants. That was what faith was supposed to be for. To help a man accept what he could not understand.

He started to say just that. To take his doubt, his anger, to Samyl as he’d done so often before, knowing his brother would listen without condemnation, then offer the quiet words of comfort (or the gently stern words of admonition) he needed to hear. But this time, no words could comfort the questions burning deep inside Hauwerd Wylsynn, just as no words of admonition could banish them. And this time, he would not — could not — add the burden of his own doubt to the weight already crushing down upon his brother.

At least we got as many of the junior members of the Circle as we could out of Zion before the snows really set in, he reminded himself. And along the way, I think, some of the other vicars must have realized what Samyl was doing. I hope some of them did, anyway. That they were able to come up with plans which might give them at least a tiny hope of escaping when the Inquisitors come for us all. That’s the only reason I can think of for so many of their families to have “disappeared,” at least.

His eyes went back to the portraits of his brother’s family. They had vanished, as well, although he didn’t think Samyl had arranged it. In fact, he’d been there when his brother received the letter from his wife, Lysbet, informing him that she would be coming to the Temple this winter after all . . . in spite of his specific instructions that she stay away. He’d seen the way Samyl’s facial muscles had sagged, despite his best effort to hide his reaction, and he’d understood exactly why his brother had just aged five years in front of him. But then, still three days’ journey short of Zion, Lyzbet and the children had disappeared one night.

There’d been evidence of a struggle, but no sign of who the struggle might have been with, and Lysbet, her two boys, and her daughter had simply vanished. At first, Samyl had looked even older and more . . . defeated than before, but then gradually, he’d realized that whatever else had happened, his family had not been quietly taken into custody by the Inquisition, after all. No one seemed to have the least idea what had happened to them, and there’d been at least some expressions of sympathy, but it was Zhaspahr Clyntahn’s barely hidden fury which had convinced Hauwerd the Inquisition truly hadn’t had a thing to do with Samyl’s family’s “abduction.”

Obviously, the kidnapping of a vicar’s family had sparked one of the most intense manhunts in the history of Mother Church, yet not one single sign of the culprits had been discovered. Over the five-days which had followed, Samyl had born up nobly under the strain as day after day passed with no ransom demand, no threat, no word at all. Hauwerd was quite certain the Inquisition was still watching his brother like king wyverns waiting to pounce, hoping for some break, some communication, which would lead it to Lysbet. After so long, though, even Clyntahn’s agents seemed to be giving up hope of that.

And it was probably Lyszbet’s disappearance which had inspired some of the Circle’s other members to make arrangements for their own families. Hauwerd hoped those arrangements had been in time and that they were going to prove effective.

And I hope — pray — the others understand why we couldn’t warn them directly.

In his own mind, Hauwerd had narrowed the suspects to no more than half a dozen. The problem was that he didn’t know which of those half-dozen might have turned informant, betrayed them all to Clyntahn, revealed the existence — and membership — of the organization of reformists. For that matter, he might have been wrong. The traitor might not be one of the people he was convinced it had to be. And they could warn none of the Circle’s members without warning all of them . . . including the traitor.

Had they done that, Clyntahn would have struck with instant, vicious power rather than waiting until what he judged to be the perfect moment. Waiting, Hauwerd was certain, so that he could savor the sweet bouquet of his coming triumph over the men who had dared to challenge his authority.

And so they’d said nothing, using the time while Clyntahn waited to do what little they could to mitigate the blow when he finally pounced. Getting all of the junior bishops and archbishops they could out of Zion where they might be safe. Alerting their network of correspondents and agents outside the innermost circle to quietly prepare the deepest boltholes they could contrive.

Thank God I never married, Hauwerd thought. Maybe that was another way I had less faith than Samyl, because I was never willing to trust God enough to give up those hostages to someone like Clyntahn.

“I understand Coris arrived this evening,” he said out loud, and Samyl smiled faintly at his younger brother’s obvious effort to find something “safe” to talk about.

“Yes, so I heard,” he replied, and shook his head. “That must have been a nightmare of a journey this time of year.”

“I’m sure it was, but I doubt the thought particularly bothered Clyntahn or Trynair,” Hauwerd said sourly. “I suppose we should be grateful they didn’t insist he drag the boy along with him!”

“I’m sure they saw no need to.” Samyl shrugged. “He’s only a little boy, Hauwerd. For at least the next several years, Daivyn’s going to do what he’s told by his elders simply because that’s what he’s accustomed to doing. I imagine Clyntahn figures there’s plenty of time to . . . impress him with the realities of his position, let’s say, before he gets old enough to turn into a headstrong young prince.”

“Assuming he and Trynair are willing to let the boy grow up at all.” Hauwerd’s tone was harsh, bitter, yet it was less bitter than his eyes.

“Assuming that, yes,” Samyl was forced to concede. “I’ve prayed about it. Of course, I’d feel more optimistic if it didn’t seem so evident God has decided to let things work their own way out.”

Hauwerd’s jaw muscles tightened again as he fought down yet another stab of anger. Still, as Samyl had pointed out more than once, God wouldn’t have given man free will if He hadn’t expected him to use it. And that meant those who chose to do evil could do evil. Which automatically implied that other men — and even little boys — could and would suffer the consequences of those evil actions. No doubt it truly was all part of God’s great plan, but there were times — like now — when it seemed unnecessarily hard on the victims.