Banahr let his voice trail off, and Halcom snorted.
“At the moment, Father, it clearly suits the purposes of Staynair, Cayleb, and their cronies to . . . emphasize, shall we say, Athrawes’ abilities and accomplishments. After all, he’s Cayleb’s personal armsman. Encouraging people to think he’s some sort of infallible superman is likely to discourage direct attempts on the Emperor’s life. And having someone capable of ‘miraculously’ intervening to save Cayleb, or Staynair, is another way for them to pretend God truly favors their apostasy. After all, would he have sent a protector like ‘Seijin Merlin’ to look after Cayleb, to save Staynair from certain death, if He didn’t favor them? So it’s scarcely in their interests to downplay his accomplishments, is it?”

“I suppose not,” Banahr said a bit doubtfully, and Halcom suppressed a sigh. The prior’s fixation on Captain Merlin Athrawes’ apparently more-than-human capabilities actually only underscored what Halcom had just said. Many of those who supported Cayleb in his insane, arrogant challenge to the authority of God Himself saw in Athrawes the imprimatur of God’s approval, instead. It was tempting to take advantage of the concern Banahr and others like him felt and label Athrawes a servant of demons — or even a demon, himself. In many ways, it might be an effective tool, especially among the more poorly educated and more credulous. But it had been over seven hundred years since anyone had last seen a true demon. Labeling Athrawes as one now would probably lose them as much support among the better educated and informed, and if they were going to successfully combat the schism, they couldn’t afford to lose that support. Besides, the opportunity it would provide for the schismatic propagandists to mock the Temple Loyalists’ “ridiculous claims” was something which had to be avoided.
Mind you, there are times I’m more than half-tempted to sign on to the same belief, Halcom admitted. For example, I have no intention of telling Banahr about the way Merlin ‘just happened’ to turn up in the nick of time to save that bastard Mahklyn from the bonfire we’d arranged for him. But if he really were a demon, he’d have gotten there in time to save the rest of their precious Royal College, as well. The bishop smiled mentally, thinking about the literally decades of records which had gone up in the flames. They’re never going to be able to put all of that back together again, and a true demon would have recognized that and gotten there a half-hour or so sooner. And a true demon would have simply arranged to have our brothers arrested — or killed — before they ever got close enough to strike at Staynair, too. Killing them the way he actually did was certainly spectacular, but letting us get that close first only proved how deep — and committed — the opposition to their precious ‘Church of Charis’ really is.
“Trust me, Father,” he said aloud, “God isn’t going to permit any demonic intervention. Not openly, at any rate. Staynair is right in at least one respect, damn him to Hell. God did create Man with free will. It’s the exercise of that free will by men who have willingly embraced evil that we confront, but God isn’t going to permit demons to openly intervene on the side of blasphemy and heresy. If that were what this ‘Merlin’ truly is, we’d see angelic intervention to deal with him. The Book of Chihiro makes that abundantly clear.”
“Yes.” Banahr brightened visibly. “Yes, My Lord, that’s true. I shouldn’t have forgotten that. I suppose,” he grinned almost sheepishly, “that I’ve been so shocked by what’s happening that I’m starting to jump at shadows.”
“You’re scarcely alone in that, Father,” Halcom said dryly. “On the other hand, in some ways, that only underscores what I was saying earlier about our need for a secure communication network. And, frankly, for what I suppose you might call ‘safe houses’ where those who are openly striking at the forces of the apostate can feel secure between attacks. Someplace where they can gather and recoup their faith and their spiritual wholeness before going back out to face the schismatics once more.”
“Yes.” Banahr nodded, slowly at first, but with gathering enthusiasm. “Yes, My Lord, I can see that. And, however much I might hunger to strike one of those blows myself, it’s clearly my duty to serve in the most effective way possible. Not to mention the fact that, so far as I know, you’re the only legitimate bishop remaining in the entire Kingdom. As such, anyone truly loyal to Mother Church must obviously place himself under your direction.”
“I believe there are more members of the clergy of this accursed ‘Church of Charis’ who would agree with you in their heart of hearts on that point than Cayleb and Staynair dream,” Halcom said in a hard voice. “And the fact that they keep their faith secret, securely hidden, is a good thing, for now, at least.”
Banahr nodded, and Halcom’s nostrils flared. Then he gave himself a small shake.
“Now, Father,” he said more briskly. “I don’t want to get into too many particulars at the moment, but I can tell you that we have at least one or two quite wealthy supporters here in Charis. Some of them are prepared to place that wealth at the Temple Loyalists’ service. Obviously, we can’t permit any one of them to contribute too heavily.”
Banahr looked a bit confused, and Halcom shook his head.
“Think about it, Father,” he said patiently. “It’s unlikely that someone like Wave Thunder isn’t making a list of people — especially wealthy, or powerful people — he might suspect of Temple Loyalist sympathies. If a sizable percentage of one of those wealthy suspects’ wealth should suddenly disappear, it would ring all sorts of alarm bells in Wave Thunder’s mind. So it’s essential that any contributions to our cause be both carefully hidden and not so large as to obviously impact upon the wealth of the contributors.”
Banahr was nodding again, and Halcom sat back in his chair and raised both hands, palms uppermost.
“Fortunately, I’ve managed to make contact with a few people — some of them in Tellesberg, some of them not — who are prepared to channel ‘charitable contributions’ through various monasteries and convents and into our hands. That, to be honest, would be the greatest service Saint Hamlyn’s could provide to our cause at this time.”
No one on Safehold had yet reinvented the term “money-laundering,” but Halcom had the essentials of the practice down pat.
“Of course!” Banahr said promptly.
“Think about it carefully, Father,” Halcom cautioned. “The possibility that, sooner or later, Wave Thunder or one of his spies is going to come up with something that could be traced back to you definitely exists. And for all of Cayleb’s sanctimonious disavowal of ‘repressive measures,’ he’s also made it clear that anyone who lends himself to supporting armed resistance to the Crown or to Staynair’s corrupt régime within the Church will face the sternest penalties.”
“I’m not in love with the concept of martyrdom, My Lord,” Banahr replied somberly. “I’m not afraid of it, either, though. If it’s God’s will that I should die doing His work, then I will have been blessed above all other men.”
“That’s true, Father,” Halcom said quietly, his eyes warm. “That’s very true. In fact, it’s that truth which makes it possible for me to go back into the ‘dragon’s mouth,’ as you put it. And sooner or later, Cayleb and Staynair — and, yes, even Seijin Merlin — are going to discover that no one can ultimately defeat men who remember that. And when they discover that, they’re also going to find themselves giving account to God and Langhorne, and that, Father Ahzwald, is something they’re not going to enjoy.”