At least there was no doubt in his mind — or in Merlin’s, for that matter — that Braynair’s espousal of the Church of Charis’ doctrines and denunciations of the Group of Four’s perversions of the Church were genuine and heartfelt. He might not be another Staynair, but he appeared to have his own dogged, unflinching internal strength. If he never struck the sparks of spontaneous love which Staynair evoked so effortlessly from his own flock, he would be there to the very end, shoulders hunched against the blast, facing any storm that came his way. And that, Cayleb told himself, was all that any emperor had a right to ask of any man.

There was no telling how someone like Braynair would have responded to Saint Zherneau’s Journal, assuming he were ever given the opportunity to read it. Which only underscored the strength of Staynair’s argument against bringing the truth to Safehold too quickly. No. They had to let the lie stand at least a little longer, until the Church of Charis, at least, had been given time to think untrammeled by the Inquisition’s heavy hand.
But the day will come, Langhorne, Cayleb promised the ghost of Eric Langhorne in whatever corner of Hell it had been banished to. The day will come. Never doubt it. Merlin and I will see to that.
He glanced sideways to where Captain Athrawes stood waiting patiently, those “unearthly blue seijin eyes” sweeping alertly for any sign of threat, even as his invisible, overhead sensors did the same thing, and felt a familiar rush of wonder and confidence. The mind, the thoughts and the soul, behind those sapphire eyes were even older than the lie. Nimue Alban had already deliberately sacrificed her life to defeat it; Cayleb Ahrmahk had no doubt that the seijin she had become in death would succeed, however long it took, whatever the cost.
Merlin glanced at him, one eyebrow slightly arched, as if he’d felt the pressure of Cayleb’s eyes. And perhaps he had. Cayleb certainly wasn’t prepared to set limitations upon the esoteric senses of a PICA! Although, now that the Emperor thought about it, it was more likely Merlin had simply seen him looking through one of those invisible “sensors” of his.
The thought touched his mouth with a fleeting smile, and Merlin smiled back, then returned his attention to the task of keeping Cayleb alive.
And I should stop wasting time trying to delay the inevitable and get on with my own job, Cayleb told himself firmly. It’s just that . . . I don’t want to.
He admitted the truth to himself, then turned to the main reason he didn’t want to.
Queen Mother Alahnah had accompanied Baron Green Mountain to the docks to bid her son-in-law farewell. Now, as he looked into her eyes — northern eyes, as gray and clear as the Chisholm Sea itself — he saw the same awareness.
“I don’t want to leave,” he told her softly, his voice all but lost in the sound of wind and water and the murmuring sound of the watching crowd.
“I know, Your Majesty . . . Cayleb.” She smiled at him, those gray eyes misty, and her lips trembled ever so slightly as she smiled at him. “I don’t want you to, either. But if we could order the world in the way we would have it, none of this would have happened , and you and I would never have met, would we?”
“The Writ says the world works as God would have it,” Cayleb replied. And that much, at least, is true, he reflected. “I think we would have met, anyway.”
“Perhaps so,” Alahnah said. “Perhaps so.”
She reached out to touch his cheek gently, and he saw her eyes looking deep into his own, searching for an echo, a reflection, of her daughter. And he saw her expression lighten as she found it . . . even as he found its twin in her eyes.
“Take care of her, My Lord,” he said, moving his eyes to Green Mountain’s watching countenance.
“Of course, Your Majesty.” Green Mountain bowed slightly, then straightened with a crooked, whimsical smile of his own. “You might say I’ve had some experience in that direction.”
“You have, haven’t you?” Cayleb returned his smile, then drew a deep breath. “And now, I really do have to go. If we miss the tide, we probably won’t make our scheduled rendezvous with the main fleet. And if we don’t do that, Captain Gyrahrd and Admiral Lock Island will never forgive me!”
“Well, we can’t have that, can we?” Alahnah said. Cayleb looked back at her, and she shook her head at him. And then, with absolutely no warning, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
Like her daughter, she was a slender, small-framed woman, while Cayleb was a muscular, deep-chested man. That chest still had some filling out to do, but those arms couldn’t quite reach all the way around him even know. Yet if they were slender, those arms, almost frail, still he felt the strength of Chisholm itself in them. His eyes widened in surprise. Then his own arms went about her, and he felt her head resting on his shoulder.
A thunderous roar of approval went up from the watching crowd, and Cayleb wondered if a single member of the aristocracy would ever believe the embrace was unplanned, unchoreographed. He doubted they would, and he couldn’t have cared less.
“My daughter chose well,” she told him softly, raising her head and meeting his eyes once more. Tears glistened, and he eased his embrace enough to use the index finger of his right hand to wipe them away. She smiled again and shook her head. “I never had a son before,” she said.
“Things change,” he told her.
“Yes. Yes, they do.” Her nostrils flared as she inhaled deeply, and then she released him and stood back once again. “But we really can’t have your captain and your admiral upset with you, can we? Not with a Charisian Emperor!”
“No, I don’t suppose we can.”
He touched her face one more time, nodded to Green Mountain, then turned and marched up the gangway to his flagship through the raw northern cold and the roar of the spectators’ approval.