He paused once more, then visibly squared his shoulders and drew a deep breath.

“It is also this tribunal’s conclusion that at least some of the responsibility for these actions resides not in the priests who actually committed them, but in the instructions those priests were given. The way in which those directives were phrased, the stern injunction to secure the Charisian galleons in Ferayd at all costs which those instructions contained, lent itself to the misinterpretation which Father Styvyn and his fellows placed upon them. There is no question that Father Styvyn and the other Inquisitors in Ferayd grossly exceeded the intent and the letter of those instructions, yet this tribunal has no choice but to observe that the Grand Inquisitor’s own directive to Father Styvyn played a not insignificant part in Father Styvyn’s later wrongful actions. Accordingly, we must assign at least a portion of the guilt for what the so-called ‘Church Charis’ has termed the ‘Ferayd Massacre’ to the Grand Inquisitor himself.”

If there’d been a whisper of consternation at the announcement of the priests’ guilt, it was as nothing to the reaction provoked by Rayno’s last sentence. There were gasps, hisses of surprise, even one or two half-voiced imprecations.

Rayno let them die most of the way away, then cleared his throat once again. The sound wasn’t especially loud, but it produced instant silence, and he continued.

“The tribunal’s conclusions concerning the actions of Father Styvyn and his fellow Inquisitors, and concerning the extent to which the Grand Inquisitor’s instructions may have contributed to them, will be formally communicated to both the Grand Inquisitor’s office and, at his own specific instruction, directly to the Chancellor and the Grand Vicar, as well.

“In addition to determining the facts about those actions, however, this tribunal was also charged with investigating the deaths of the Inquisitors in question. The Charisian admiral who destroyed Ferayd has confirmed, by his own words, that he personally ordered the executions, and, moreover, that he did so upon the express instructions of the excommunicate Cayleb and Sharleyan of Charis. The tribunal does not intend at this time to issue any formal conclusions about the devastation and civilian death and suffering visited upon the innocent citizens of Ferayd by that same admiral. Those matters lie beyond the scope of this tribunal’s charter, and it is the tribunal’s understanding that King Zhames is conducting his own inquiry, and will share its conclusions with Mother Church when it is completed.

“Nonetheless, this tribunal is charged with investigating and reporting upon the actual circumstances of the Ferayd Inquisitors’ deaths. And it is the inescapable conclusion of the tribunal that, notwithstanding the guilt of the Inquisitors in question, their ‘executions’ constitute, in fact, acts of cold-blooded and most impious murder. The Holy Writ itself, in both the Book of Langhorne and the Book of Schueler, establishes for all time that Mother Church, and specifically the Office of Inquisition, is responsible for judging the actions of God’s priests, for determining guilt or innocence when those priests stand accused of crimes, and for the execution of judgment upon them if they are found guilty. That solemn responsibility and duty resides solely in Mother Church and the Office of Inquisition. Any man who sheds the blood of a consecrated priest upon his own authority, or that of any mortal entity, stands guilty before Schueler, Langhorne, and God Himself, of murder. Not simply of murder, but of blasphemy. It is an act of defiance not of mortal, fallible humanity, but of God and his Holy Archangels. There can be no doubt, no question, of the blood guilt the so-called ‘Church of Charis’ must bear in the eyes of Mother Church, of all godly men, and of God Himself.”

His voice was harsh as hammered iron, and he swept his cold, hard eyes across the chamber.

“It may be that Shan-wei tempted Father Styvyn and his fellows into sin by appealing to and twisting their determination to do God’s will as they understood it upon the basis of their instructions from the Grand Inquisitor. No doubt their immortal souls will pay a heavy price because of their grievous failure, and no priest of Mother Church can condone their actions. Not when those actions led not simply to the deaths of self-professed heretics, but to the deaths of children who had no choice, no voice, in their parents’ actions. The blood of such innocent victims must stain even the most devout of souls.

“But even though all of that be true, the men who slew those priests were guilty of an even darker and more heinous crime. They hanged Father Styvyn and his fellows — hanged consecrated priests of God — in the white-hot fury of revenge. In the passion of their own blasphemous bloodlust, they overstepped the bounds God Himself has set upon mortal men. There can be no pardon for actions such as that, and the day must surely come when they will answer both to Mother Church and the Inquisition and to God for their unforgivable sins.”