City of Cherayth,
Cherry Bay,
Kingdom of Chisholm

Cayleb Ahrmahk stood once again at the foot of his flagship’s gangway. The weather was different today — even colder, but with a heavy overcast and a raw, wet humidity. Baron Green Mountain had assured him there would be snow by nightfall, and a part of him wished rather wistfully that the snowfall would go ahead and begin. It wasn’t something anyone saw very often in Tellesberg, after all.

Unfortunately, he really couldn’t stay to watch snowflakes. In fact, he’d spent a five-day and a half longer here in Cherayth than his schedule had originally allowed for already. The harbor was less crowded now, since Bryahn Lock Island had taken the majority of the invasion fleet — and the Chisholmian galleys which had been added to its escorts — on ahead. Empress of Charis and the rest of her squadron should be able to overtake the lumbering main body without any difficulty. It felt decidedly odd to look out across Cherry Bay’s waters and not see Charisian transports lying to their anchors, though, and he couldn’t help feeling impatient. The extra delay on his part might not have made any difference at all in the timing of the invasion of Corisande — in fact, he knew it hadn’t — but it didn’t feel that way.
Not that he could begrudge the extra days here in Sharleyan’s capital. He’d spent most of them conferring with Mahrak Sahndyrs, Queen Mother Alahnah, and their closest allies from Sharleyan’s royal council, and he’d sensed the gradual relaxation of muscles and spines . . . especially after his address to Parliament. Even those closest to Sharleyan had nursed inevitable reservations about their new “Emperor.” Cayleb could hardly blame them for that. In fact, he was gratified — and more than a little surprised, if he was going to be honest about it — by how quickly they’d managed to get beyond it. Taking the time to accomplish that would have been worthwhile entirely on its own merits, but that wasn’t all he’d managed to accomplish with Green Mountain and Alahnah’s assistance.
Of course, not everyone’s been so delighted with my visit, have they? he mused with a certain gleefulness.
Despite their outwardly expressed enthusiasm following his appearance in Parliament Hall, his speech had more or less confirmed the Chisholmian nobility’s worst suspicions. But if they’d been dismayed to discover just how completely their new Emperor shared their Queen’s view of the proper balance between royal (or imperial) authority and that of the aristocracy, they’d been careful not to show it too openly. The Commons, on the other hand, had been downright exuberant — one might almost have said jubilant — at the same confirmation. And much of the uncertainty and even fear many Chisholmians had nourished about Cayleb’s own religious views had been ameliorated, if not totally dismissed, by the masses he had attended in Cherayth Cathedral at the Queen Mother’s side. The hard-core Temple Loyalists weren’t going to care what he did, but his obvious piety had greatly reassured those who’d been concerned by the tales of heresy, apostasy, and Shan-wei worship put about by the Group of Four and their adherents.
How little they know, he thought, rather more harshly as he looked up at the dark gray clouds riding above the steel-colored winter waters of Cherry Bay. How little they know.
A part of him had found it increasingly difficult to go through the motions of the Church’s liturgy ever since he’d read Saint Zherneau’s journal. In fact, he often thought, the Church propagandists were far closer to the truth than they ever suspected when they accused him of Shan-wei worship. If there’d been any of the so-called “archangels” worthy of reverence, it had been she and the members of the original colony command crew who had stood with her in their defiance of “the Archangel Langhorne’s” megalomania. Which was why Langhorne had murdered all of them, of course. Knowing the entire Church of God Awaiting was one huge perversion, a monstrous lie, deliberately calculated to bind an entire planet into an antitechnology mindset and based upon the murder of any who opposed it from the very beginning, made it difficult to pay even lip service to its doctrines.
But Maikel was right about that, too, the Emperor reflected. Men can tell all the lies they want about God, but it doesn’t change the truth. And the worship of those lied to by the Church is no less real, no less sincere, simply because they don’t know the truth.
And the brethren were right about “the impatience of youth” where I’m concerned in at least one respect, he admitted grimly. I really do want to yank away the mask, tell everyone on Safehold the truth. It sickens me not to.
Perhaps it did, he reflected now, gazing out across the crowded harbor. Yet however sickened he might be, he also knew Maikel Staynair was also right that they dared not reveal the truth about “the Archangel Langhorne’s” divinity. Not yet. The truth must be told, on that point the Archbishop of Tellesberg and the Brethern of Saint Zherneau were as grimly determined as Cayleb himself. But it could not be told yet. The tyrannical power of the Church of God Awaiting must be broken before the lie upon which that power was based could be denounced. Every single human being on the planet of Safehold had been reared in the Church, taught since childhood to believe the lie, and they did. To attempt to denounce that lie would only give the Group of Four and Council of Vicars a priceless — at almost certainly fatal — weapon.
The Church of Charis’ position in Chisholm was a bit more precarious than its position in Charis itself. That wasn’t too surprising, given the fact that Chisholm had no equivalent of the Brethern of Saint Zherneau. There’d been no one to do the work of preparing the ground, the way Staynair and his predecessors among the brethren had done in Charis. Still, Pawal Braynair, who had become the Archbishop of Cherayth when Sharleyan made her decision to defy the Group of Four, had not impressed Cayleb as much as Maikel Staynair. Of course, Staynair was a hard act for anyone to follow, and the fact that Cayleb had known him literally for his entire life only made that even more true.
Braynair seemed a bit more timid, a bit less willing to confront opposition head on, and less flexible. Cayleb never doubted the man’s sincerity, but Archbishop Pawal lacked that intensely, almost radiantly caring aura which enveloped anyone who came within ten paces of Maikel Staynair.
Well, of course he lacks it! Cayleb scolded himself. Just how many Maikel Staynairs do you think there are in a generation, Cayleb? Spend your time thanking God for the one you’ve got, not complaining about the others you didn’t get! And don’t hold the fact that Braynair isn’t up to Maikel’s weight against him, either.