“Thank you for coming so promptly, Wyllym,” Clyntahn continued as he ushered the archbishop to one of the Temple’s incredibly comfortable chairs. He smiled as he settled Rayno and personally poured him a glass of wine. The Grand Inquisitor’s normal table manners generally took second place — or even third — to the gusto he brought to food and wine, yet he could be an incredibly gracious and charming host when he chose to be. Nor was that charm false. It simply never occurred to him to extend it to anyone outside the circle of intimates he relied upon and fully trusted. Or, at least, trusted as much as he ever trusted anyone else.

“I realize your message didn’t seem to indicate any immediate urgency, Your Grace. I had business in the Temple to attend to anyway, however, so it seemed best to respond to your summons promptly.”
“I only wish I had a dozen archbishops and bishops who were as reliable as you are,” Clyntahn told him. “Langhorne! I’d settle for six!”
Rayno smiled and inclined his head in a small bow, acknowledging the compliment. Then he sat back, nursing his wineglass in both hands while he gazed attentively at his superior.
Clyntahn was looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the swirling snow and wind. His expression was almost rapt as he contemplated the icy torrent of white for the better part of three minutes. Then, finally, he turned back to Rayno and leaned back in his own chair.
“Well!” he said, with the air of someone getting down to business at last. “I’m sure you’ve read all the reports about the seizures of Charisian merchant ships month before last.”
He arched one eyebrow slightly, and Rayno nodded.
“Good! I was certain you would have. And since you have, you’re undoubtedly aware that there were certain . . . difficulties.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Rayno acknowledged as Clyntahn paused.
Of course the archbishop was aware that there’d been “difficulties.” Everyone in Zion was aware of that much! What had been supposed to be an orderly seizure of unarmed, or at least only lightly armed, merchant ships as the first step in closing all mainland ports against the all-pervasive Charisian merchant marine had turned into something else entirely. Not everywhere, perhaps, but what the Grand Inquisitor was pleased to call “difficulties” was something the Charisians were going to call a “massacre” when word of August’s events in the Kingdom of Delferahk’s port city of Ferayd reached them.
Actually, Rayno corrected himself, what they’re undoubtedly already calling it, given the fact that at least some of their ships got away and most certainly sailed straight to Tellesberg. The archbishop shuddered at the thought of what the schismatic Charisian propagandists were going to do with that many civilian casualties. One thing’s for sure, he thought grimly, they aren’t going to minimize what happened.
And that, Rayno realized, was what was truly on Clyntahn’s mind. The Grand Inquisitor was speaking less of the fatalities involved than he was of the need to put the proper context on the part the Inquisition had played in the seizures. Few of those seizures had gone as badly awry as the ones in Delferahk — or not, at least, in the same way. Personally, Rayno found the implications of what had happened at Siddar City even more disturbing, in many ways. According to the Inquisition’s agents there, everything had been proceeding far more smoothly than in Ferayd . . . right up to the moment, at least, when, for some unknown reason, every Charisian merchant ship had simultaneously decided to . . . expedite its departure. It was undoubtedly a mere coincidence that they’d decided to do that before Lord Protector Greyghor had gotten around to formally issuing the orders to implement the Church’s instructions to seize them.
Of course it was.
There was no proof of who’d warned the Charisians, yet whoever it was, it had to have been someone deep in the Lord Protector’s confidence. The only real question in Rayno’s mind was whether the informant had acted solely on his own, or if Lord Protector Greyghor himself had made the decision to betray the Church’s trust. Given the fact that his staff had somehow been unable to locate their inexplicably missing head of state and deliver Clyntahn’s instructions to him for at least twelve hours, Rayno rather suspected that he wouldn’t have cared for the answer to his own question if someone had provided it.
Whoever the traitor might have been, he hadn’t acted entirely alone, no matter whose idea it had been. Siddar City wasn’t the only Siddarmarkian port where every Charisian merchant ship had mysteriously departed mere hours before they were supposed to be sequestered by the Republic’s authorities. The possibilities that suggested were far more unpalatable than a few score of dead Charisian sailors in Ferayd.
Not that we can expect everyone else on the Council — or even within the Order! — to see things that way, Rayno thought grumpily. The name of Samyl Wylsynn came forcefully to mind, and the Schuelerite Adjutant reminded himself barely in time not to grimace. Not that Clyntahn would have disagreed with his subordinate’s unloving thoughts where Vicar Samyl was concerned. If he decided Rayno’s expression indicated the archbishop’s disapproval of the decision to close the mainland ports to Charis, however, it could have unfortunate consequences.
“Well,” Clyntahn said again, grasping the thread of the conversation once more, “as you and I have already discussed, it’s essential that Mother Church put the true version of events into the hands of the faithful before any Charisian lies can take root there. I believe that in this instance, that may be especially important.”
“Of course, Your Grace. How may I be of assistance?”
“It’s taken longer than I could have wished,” the Grand Inquisitor told him frankly, “but Trynair and Duchairn have just about agreed upon the text of a proclamation setting forth what happened, especially in Ferayd, and granting martyr’s status to those murdered by the Charisians. It’s still weaker than I would prefer. It stops short of declaring Holy War, for example. I suppose it does set the groundwork for the eventual declaration, but certain parties are still waffling. I think Duchairn actually entertains the belief — or the hope, at least — that this can all be patched up somehow. Deep inside, though, even he has to know he’s wrong. It’s gone too far. The Inquisition and Mother Church simply cannot allow this sort of direct challenge of God’s will and His plan for the souls of men to pass unpunished. And the chastisement must be severe, Wyllym. Severe enough to prevent anyone else from even contemplating ever following in their footsteps.”
Rayno simply nodded. There was very little new in what Clyntahn had just said — aside from the confirmation that the proclamation the adjutant had expected for five-days was approaching readiness. On the other hand, as much as Clyntahn enjoyed explaining things, it was unlikely he’d recapped all that history without a specific purpose in mind.
“I have to confess that the thing which is preying most strongly upon my own mind just now, Wyllym, isn’t those damnable Charisians’ open defiance. Oh, obviously that’s going to have to be dealt with, but at least Cayleb and Staynair were rash enough to come out into the open. They’ve declared their allegiance to the pernicious doctrines Shan-wei is using to split Mother Church, marked themselves for the Church’s justice and God’s vengeance. In the fullness of time, they’ll receive that justice and vengeance in full measure, too.
“But what happened in Siddarmark . . . that’s another story entirely, Wyllym. Someone very highly placed in the Republic’s government must have alerted the Charisians. And while I’m fully aware of all the diplomatic niceties which prevent Zhamsyn from coming right out and taxing Greyghor with responsibility, there’s not much question in my mind as to who bears the responsibility. Even if he didn’t give the specific order himself — and I wouldn’t bet a mug of flat beer on that possibility! — it had to be someone very close to him, and there are no indications he’s even remotely close to identifying the culprit, much less punishing him. That sort of insidious rot, the kind that hides behind a façade of loyalty and reverence, is deadly dangerous. Left to itself, hiding in the shadows, the infection will only grow more and more corrupt until we find ourselves with a second, or a third, or even a fourth “Church of Charis” on our hands.”
“I understand, Your Grace,” Rayno murmured when the Grand Inquisitor paused once more. And the adjutant was beginning to understand, too. Had the “culprit” in question been found anywhere except in the inner circles of the Siddarmarkian government, Clyntahn wouldn’t simply have been concerned about any future “rot.” He would have been demanding the head of whoever had done it. Unfortunately, pressing Siddarmark too hard at this particular time was . . . contraindicated. The last thing the Church wanted was to engineer a marriage between Siddarmark’s pikemen and Cayleb of Charis’ navy.
“Unfortunately,” Clyntahn continued, as if he’d been reading Rayno’s mind (which wasn’t something the adjutant was completely prepared to rule out as a possibility), “if Greyghor can’t — or won’t — identify the responsible party, there’s very little we can do about it from the outside. For now, at least.”
“I take it from what you’ve just said that you’ve been working on a means to change that, Your Grace?”