The sweet, silvery notes floated through the chamber, and the quiet buzz of side conversations ended abruptly.

“This tribunal is now in session,” Rayno announced. “Let us pray.”

Heads bowed throughout the chamber, and Rayno raised his voice.

“Oh God, Creator of all men, maker of all things, designer and architect of all that has been, is now, or ever shall be, we come before You in awe and trembling. We beseech You to guide us in this, our solemn task to maintain the sanctity, the purity, and the truth of Your word and your Church as handed down to us by the Archangel Langhorne on the very day of Creation itself. We thank and bless You for giving us that sacred instruction and guiding us in its preservation and teaching, and it is with a heavy heart we bring You the result of the deliberations and decisions to which Your Office of Inquisition has been called by recent events. Be with us, we beseech You, as we contend with the forces of Darkness in Your most holy name. In Langhorne’s name we pray, amen.”

A chorus of answering “amens” rumbled back, but Samyl Wylsynn’s was not among them. Nor was his brother’s.

Rayno raised his head, waited for his listeners to settle themselves comfortably once again, then cleared his throat.

“I’m confident that everyone in this chamber is fully conversant with the events which led to the assembly of this tribunal,” he said. “Since that is the case, there seems little point in summarizing them yet again.”

One or two heads nodded among the audience, and Rayno looked over his shoulder at one of the aides assembled against the tapestry-covered wall behind the tribunal’s members. The aide, a remarkably young looking upper-priest of the Order of Schueler, promptly handed him a thick folder, and Rayno placed it on the conference table before him. He opened it and leafed through the first few sheets of paper for several seconds. Then he looked back up at the waiting clerics.

“This tribunal was impaneled to consider the circumstances surrounding the deaths of sixteen consecrated priests of the Order of Schueler,” he said. “There is no question about the causes of those deaths, or who was responsible for them, but certain charges leveled at the priests in question were so serious, so disturbing, that the Grand Inquisitor with the Grand Vicar’s strong agreement, felt a formal inquiry and investigation was mandatory.

“This tribunal has now concluded that inquiry and investigation to the satisfaction of its members and is prepared to announce its findings.”

It was scarcely a surprise, but even so a stir went through the audience, like a stiff breeze rustling its way through a field of ripened wheat.

“According to the allegations published by the so-called ‘Church of Charis,'” Rayno continued, “the sixteen priests who died in Ferayd were guilty of instigating the murder of women and children in that same city last August when King Zhames, in obedience to Mother Church’s instructions, ordered the seizure of the Charisian shipping then in Ferayd. In support of those allegations, the so-called ‘Church of Charis’ has published what purports to be reports written by those very priests in which they openly admitted their complicity in those ‘murders.’

“This tribunal has considered those reports, including the documentary evidence sent to us by King Zhames of Delferahk. That evidence consisted primarily of what the Charisians claimed were the official file copies of those reports, captured during their vicious attack upon the people of Ferayd.

“Needless to say, the initial response of any reasonable man must be to reject allegations and charges from those who have blasphemously announced their own defiance of God’s own Church. When those allegations and charges come also from the hands of men who have themselves so recently caused the deaths of so many innocent civilians — including women and children — and burned an entire city to the ground, the reasons to doubt the . . . reliability of their testimony redouble. This tribunal is confident that no one will be surprised to learn that the initial reaction of the Grand Inquisitor and the Chancellor of the Council of Vicars was to pay those charges no heed.”

Rayno paused, and his jaw tightened visibly in obvious unhappiness and pain. Samyl Wylsynn’s jaw tightened, as well, if for rather different reasons, as he recognized the theater of his order’s adjutant.

“Even though that was the Grand Inquisitor’s initial reaction,” Rayno continued after a moment, “he was not unmindful of his responsibility as the head of the Office of Inquisition. Even the most unlikely allegations must be tested when they touch upon the integrity of Mother Church and, especially, of the Inquisitors charged with protecting that integrity. And so, despite his own profound skepticism, he ordered this tribunal to convene and to consider the possibility that there might be some basis to the ‘Church of Charis” preposterous allegations.

“We have now concluded our inquiry, and we must regretfully, with the most profound remorse and dismay, announce that it is our belief that the priests who died in Ferayd were, indeed, guilty of the actions charged against them by the so-called ‘Church of Charis.'”

Both of the Wylsynns had already known what Rayno intended to announce. To judge by the sudden wave of whispers which hissed its way across the chamber, at least some of those in the audience hadn’t.

Rayno paused once more, his expression one of bitter regret, until the chamber was once again or silent.

“Brothers in God,” he said then, “it is, alas, true that even God’s priests can err. Even the best of men is not the equal of the archangels, and the Writ bears ample witness that even the archangels themselves could fall into error. In this instance, there seems very little doubt that the Inquisitors of Ferayd did just that. They did, indeed, assume the leadership of the parties of Delferahkan troops detailed to sequester the Charisian merchant ships in Ferayd. And when fighting broke out, they did, indeed, order those troops to kill the Charisians who resisted the attempt to sequester their vessels, and as a direct result of those orders, what had been intended as a peaceful seizure became, indeed, a massacre of innocents, as well.

“This tribunal believes the reports forwarded to us by King Zhames were, indeed, written by the priests who died in Ferayd. We cannot, of course, know if these file copies are complete, or whether or not there might be some extenuating or exculpatory evidence which was also contained in the Inquisition’s files and which was not transmitted to King Zhames by the Charisians. Despite that, the tribunal does not believe that any amount of extenuating or exculpatory evidence could excuse the actions of the Inquisitors of Ferayd.

“No servant of Mother Church can take any pleasure in rendering such a verdict, yet this tribunal has no choice. It is the tribunal’s solemn duty to proclaim the truth, however painful, however much we might wish to avoid that duty, or that the truth were otherwise than it in fact is. The tribunal believes that Father Styvyn Graivyr and his fellow Inquisitors committed these . . . excesses — no, these crimes — not out of any personal animosity or any hope of personal gain. The tribunal believes that their wrongful acts sprang from their own deep and sincere concern over the seriousness and danger of the schism being forced upon Mother Church by the heretical leadership of the so-called ‘Church of Charis.’ In their zeal to obey their instructions from the Grand Inquisitor, they allowed themselves to succumb to the dark side of their own fallible, mortal natures. Men whom Shan-wei cannot corrupt into sin in their own interests may sometimes be drawn into sin even in the name of their most holy beliefs, and that, this tribunal believes, is what happened in this instance.”