Rayno’s tone was merely politely inquisitive, and Clyntahn snorted a grunting laugh as the adjutant arched his eyebrows delicately.

“Actually, I have,” he acknowledged, “and the fact that Siddarmark is so stubbornly attached to its ‘republican’ traditions is part of my thinking.”
“Indeed, Your Grace?” This time Rayno cocked his head to the side and crossed his legs as he awaited the Grand Inquisitor’s explanation.
“One of the things that makes Greyghor so damnably stiff-necked and defiant behind that mask of piety and obedience of his, is his belief that the voting citizens of Siddarmark support his policies. And, to give Shan-wei her due, he’s pretty much been right about that. That’s one of the considerations which has prevented us from turning up the pressure on him the way we really ought to have done long ago. But I rather doubt that public opinion in Siddarmark is quite as firmly united in approval of this schism of Charis’ as Greyghor may think it is. And if, in fact, his precious voters disapprove of Charis and of the things he’s willing to do behind the scenes in support of the schismatics, then I suspect he’ll change his tune.”
“That sounds eminently sensible to me, Your Grace,” Rayno said, nodding his head. “Exactly how do we. . . reshape that public opinion in our favor, though?”
“Over the next few days,” Clyntahn said, his tone a bit oblique, his eyes once again straying to the white maelstrom of the October blizzard, “several of the Charisians seized when their vessels were impounded will be arriving here in Zion. Actually, they’ll be arriving here at the Temple itself.”
“Indeed, Your Grace?”
“Indeed,” Clyntahn confirmed. “They’ll be delivered directly to the Order — to you, Wyllym.” The Grand Inquisitor’s eyes snapped back from the windows, boring suddenly into Rayno’s. “I haven’t gone out of my way to mention their impending arrival to the Chancellor or to the Treasurer General. I see no need to disturb them with what are, after all, the Inquisition’s internal matters. Do you?”
“Clearly not at this time, Your Grace,” Rayno replied, and Clyntahn smiled again, thinly.
“That was my thinking, as well, Wyllym. What we need to do is to . . . interview these Charisians. Shan-wei is the Mother of Lies, of course. No doubt she’ll do her damnable best to protect these heretics lest they betray her by revealing her plans and perversions to the true children of God. But the Office of Inquisition knows how to strip away Shan-wei’s mask and reveal the truth behind it. That will be your task, Wyllym. I want you to take personal charge of their questioning. It’s essential that they confess what actually happened, admit their deliberate provocation of the civil authorities who were simply attempting to peaceably carry out their instructions from Mother Church and their own secular authorities. The world must see clearly where the true blood guilt lies, just as it must learn of the perverse practices and blasphemies which this so-called ‘Church of Charis’ has embraced and seeks to enforce upon all the children of God in the name of its own dark mistress. Not only does the redemption of these sinners’ own souls hang upon their full confession and repentance, but once the truth is revealed, it will have a powerful effect upon ‘public opinion’ everywhere . . . even in Siddarmark.”
His eyes continued to bore into Rayno’s, and the adjutant drew a deep, steadying breath. The Grand Inquisitor was right about the necessity of confession and repentance if a soul which had strayed from the path of the archangels was ever to find true redemption. And the Inquisition was accustomed to its stern, often heartbreaking responsibilities. It understood that the true love of the sinner’s soul sometimes required that sinner’s body be dealt with harshly. It was sadly true that it was often difficult to break into that fortress of self pride, arrogance, and defiance and lead the lost soul hiding within it back into the cleansing light of God’s love once again. But however difficult the task might be, it was one the Inquisition had learned to discharge long-ago.
“How quickly do you need this accomplished, Your Grace?” he asked after a moment.
“As soon as possible, but not instantly,” Clyntahn replied with a shrug. “Until my . . . colleagues are prepared to act openly, I doubt that a confession from Shan-wei herself would carry much weight with anyone who’s already prepared to believe the schismatics’ lies. And, to be perfectly frank, I expect that Duchairn, at least, is going to express all sorts of pious reservations and protests at the thought of the Inquisition’s doing what’s necessary in this case. So, for now, this needs to be done very quietly. Keep it within the Order and be sure that, even there, you rely only on brothers whose faith and fidelity we know are trustworthy. I need to be able to produce this testimony when the time comes, but in the meantime, we don’t need any well-intentioned weaklings who don’t understand that, in this case, too much kindness would be the worst cruelty of all, getting in the way and hampering our efforts.”
“I agree with you, of course, Your Grace,” Rayno said. “However, I do have a . . . tactical reservation, let’s say.”
“What sort of reservation, Wyllym?” Clyntahn’s eyes had narrowed slightly, but Rayno appeared not to notice as he continued in the same calm, merely thoughtful tone of voice.
“Everything you’ve just said about controlling the time at which this testimony is made public strikes me as completely valid. But you and I are accustomed to dealing with the pragmatic, often unpleasant duties and responsibilities inherent in attempting to reclaim the fallen for Langhorne and God. If — when — if we obtain the apostates’ confessions, some people are going to wonder why we didn’t make those confessions public immediately. Some of that questioning will be completely sincere and legitimate, from people outside the office of Inquisition who simply don’t understand that sometimes saving the sinner is only the first step in combating a greater evil. But there will also be those, Your Grace, who seize upon any delay as an opportunity to discredit anything we may say. They’ll argue that the penitents were coerced, that their confessions aren’t reliable.”
“No doubt you’re right,” Clyntahn agreed. “In fact, the same thought had occurred to me. But almost as soon as I thought about it, I realized I was worrying unduly.”
“You were, Your Grace?”
“Yes.” Clyntahn nodded. “I have no doubt that once you’ve managed to bring these people to the point of confession and repentance we’ll discover that many of the ‘Church of Charis” perversions and abominations are even worse — horrifically worse, in some cases — than anything we could reasonably suspect from here. Undoubtedly, as the painstakingly thorough guardian of the truth I’ve always known you to be, you’ll insist on confirming as many as possible of those outrageous claims before making them public. It would never do to suggest such shocking possibilities if, in fact, it later turned out that the heretics had lied to you. So, obviously, until we have that confirmation, we couldn’t possibly justify presenting our findings to the Council of Vicars . . . or to the citizens of Siddarmark who mistakenly believe that Cayleb, Staynair, and the others must have at least some valid justifications on their side.”
“I understand, Your Grace,” Rayno said, and he did.
“Good, Wyllym. Excellent! I knew I could trust your diligence and discretion in this matter.”
“You can, Your Grace. Definitely. I suppose the only remaining question I have is whether or not you want progress reports.”
“Nothing written at this point, I think,” Clyntahn said after thinking for a moment. “Written memos have an unfortunate habit of being taken out of context, especially by people who choose to take them that way in order to suit their own purposes. Keep me informed, but verbally. When the time is right, I want to produce as many as possible of the heretics who have confessed. And, of course, I’ll want detailed, signed and witnessed written copies of their confessions, as well.”
“I understand, Your Grace.” Rayno rose and bent to kiss Clyntahn’s ring of office once more. “With all due respect, Your Grace, I think perhaps I should return to my office. I need to do some personnel selection and make certain the brothers I choose fully understand your fears and concerns.”
“I think that sounds like an excellent idea, Wyllym,” Clyntahn said, escorting the archbishop back towards his chamber’s door. “An excellent idea, indeed. And when you make your selections, remember that Shan-wei is cunning. If there should be a chink in the armor of one of your Inquisitors, never doubt she’ll find it and exploit it. This responsibility is too serious, the potential consequences are too great, to let that happen. Be sure that they’re fully protected in the armor of the Light and girded with the strength of will and purpose and faith to do that which must be done, however grievous the doing of it may seem. Our responsibility is to God, Wyllym. The approval or disapproval of mere mortal, fallible men cannot be allowed to sway us from the obligation to meet that dreadful responsibility, whatever it may demand of us. As Schueler taught and Langhorne himself confirmed, ‘Extremism in the pursuit of godliness can never be a sin.'”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Wyllym Rayno said quietly. “I’ll see to it that I — that all of us — remember that in the days to come.”