Priory of Saint Hamlyn,
City of Sarayn,
Earldom of Rivermouth,
Kingdom of Charis

“Excuse me, My L — sir,” the rather plainly dressed young man said.

The almost equally plainly dressed older man looked up with a chiding expression, but he permitted the self correction to pass unremarked.
This time.
“Yes, Ahlvyn?” he said instead.
“There’s a messenger from Tellesberg,” Ahlvyn Shumay told him.
“Really?” The older man, who tried very hard to remind himself that he was no longer Bishop Mylz Halcom — officially, at least — sat back in his chair and quirked an eyebrow.
“Yes, Sir. From . . . our friend in Tellesberg.”
Halcom’s raised eyebrow smoothed magically. As a matter of fact, he’d discovered quite a few “friends” in Tellesberg — more, really, than he’d hoped for, after his hasty departure from his own see in Hanth Town. At this particular moment, however, there was only one of them for whose messages Shumay would have interrupted him. And if his aide sometimes had trouble breaking the habit of addressing Halcom as a bishop, he’d demonstrated a much greater ability to remember never to mention names unless he absolutely had to.
“I see.” Halcom gazed thoughtfully at Shumay for a handful of seconds, then shrugged very slightly. “Is there anything I need to do about it immediately, Ahlvyn?”
“As a matter of fact, no, sir,” Shumay replied. “I just thought you’d like to know that he seems to have experienced no undue difficulty in making the arrangements you asked him to see to.”
“Thank you, Ahlvyn. That’s very good news.”
“Of course, sir,” Shumay murmured, and withdrew.
Halcom gazed after him for a moment, then turned back to the brown-bearded man in the white lamp-badged brown habit of an upper-priest in the Order of Bédard. That robe was girdled by the white rope belt which marked him as the head of a monastic community, a fact which had a great deal to do with Halcom’s presence in this remarkably spartan office.
“Please excuse the interruption, Father Ahzwald,” he said. “I’m afraid I may have overly impressed Ahlvyn with the need to deliver messages promptly.”
“Please, My Lord.” Father Ahzwald shook his head. “Don’t concern yourself. Father Ahlvyn has been with you in the dragon’s mouth. If he thinks you need to know something, then I’m quite content to leave that decision in his hands.”
“Thank you,” Halcom said, managing not to frown as the other man used his ecclesiastic title.
Actually, he supposed, it didn’t really matter that much in this case. Father Ahzwald Banahr was the head of the Priory of Saint Hamlyn, and the priory was located in the city of Sarayn, well over two hundred and fifty miles from Tellesberg. It was unlikely that Baron Wave Thunder, King — no, Emperor — Cayleb’s spymaster, had infiltrated any of his agents into a relatively small priory that far from the capital. And particularly not into a priory of the same order which “Archbishop Maikel Staynair” called his own.
Still, good security was a matter of developing the proper habits, and as Banahr had just pointed out, Halcom had survived more than a few five-days in the dragon’s mouth in Tellesberg, itself. And, once his business here in the Earldom of Rivermouth was completed, that was precisely where he’d be returning.
“Well,” he said, “to return to our earlier discussion, Father. I fully realize how eager you are to strike a blow in the name of God and His Church, but I’m very much afraid that, as I said, your value to His cause is much greater where you already are.”
“My Lord, with all due respect, neither I nor the brothers I’ve called to your attention are afraid of anything apostate heretics might do to us. And the fact that we’re members of the same order from which the author of this abomination sprang gives us a special responsibility to do something about it. I really think –”
“Father,” Halcom interrupted, his tone as patient as he could make it, “we have the swordarms we need. We have a plentiful supply, actually, of good and godly men prepared to do God’s will in opposing what you’ve so rightly described as an ‘abomination.’ What we need more than anything else, is a support network. A community of the faithful — of those the schismatics have so disdainfully labeled ‘Temple Loyalists’ — prepared to gather supplies, stockpile weapons, offer shelter, serve as message conduits, pass funds as necessary. To be totally, brutally blunt, we need that sort of network much more than we need additional fighters.”
Father Ahzwald couldn’t hide the disappointment in his expression, assuming he’d actually tried to hide it.
Well, that’s just too bad, Halcom thought, because everything I just told him is the absolute, literal truth. Although I do hope we can instill at least a rudimentary sense of security into Father Ahzwald! I’m confident Wave Thunder isn’t wasting time looking in his direction yet, but that can always change, especially once we start staging our operations through the monastic community.
“I understand what you’re saying, My Lord,” Banahr said after a moment. “And I suppose, if I’m honest, that I can’t really argue with your logic. Still, I can’t help feeling that a ‘fellow Bédardist’ might well be able to get close enough to Staynair to settle the business.”
“It wasn’t a case of failing to get close enough, Father,” Halcom responded, and his voice was much grimmer than it had been a few moments before. “Believe me, our brothers got close enough to do the job easily enough. Or, they would have been close enough, if not for ‘Seijin Merlin.'”
The bishop showed his teeth in an expression no one could ever possibly have confused with a smile.
“We owe the good seijin quite a debt,” he continued, recalling the reports of Emperor Cayleb’s personal armsman standing balanced on the rail of the royal box in Tellesberg Cathedral, smoking pistols in hand, as he shot down the three volunteers who’d actually gotten close enough to physically lay hands on the apostate ‘archbishop.’ “Without him, Staynair would be dead this very moment. The time will come when we settle with him, too, Father.”
“We’ve heard rumors about him, even here,” Banahr said, his expression troubled. “Some of the things he’s supposed to have done sound . . . preposterous. Impossible.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt that for a moment,” Halcom replied. “He’s extraordinarily handy with a sword — and, obviously, with these ‘pistols’ Cayleb and his cronies have invented — and he has an incredibly irritating knack for being in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.”
“Is it possible he has . . . assistance in managing that, My Lord?” Banahr asked in a very careful tone.
“Is he receiving demonic assistance, do you mean, Father?” Halcom asked in reply, and chuckled. “I suppose anything is possible, but I’m inclined to think the superstitious give him rather too much credit. Most of the ‘impossible’ things he’s supposed to have done are much more probably the products of overactive imaginations than of reality! Strangling krakens with his bare hands? Single-handedly slaughtering two hundred, or three hundred — or was it five hundred? — Corisandian sailors and Marines aboard Royal Charis?” The bishop shook his head. “Athrawes is definitely a seijin, Father, and it would appear that the ridiculous legends about the martial capabilities of seijins in general have a solid core of truth, after all. But sooner or later, he’s going to arrive too late, or someone is going to manage to get a sword — or an arbalest bolt, or an arrow, or a bullet — through his guard, and that’s going to be the end of Seijin Merlin.”
“I’m sure you’re right, My Lord, but still . . . .”