Howsmyn looked as if he were tempted to spit on the polished marble floor, and Ironhill sighed.


            "I understand, and I was on your side, if you'll recall. But there truly was some point to the argument that yanking everyone under the age of fifteen out of the manufactories is going to cause a lot of dislocation. And whether you like it or not, Ehdwyrd, it's also true that a lot of households who depend in full or in part on the wages their children bring home are going to get hurt along the way."


            "I didn't say it would be easy, and neither Rhaiyan nor I ever argued that it would be painless. But it needs to be done, and Kairee is a prime example of why. Look at him — just look! Do you see a single shadow of concern on his face? And do you think for a moment that he's prepared to pay any sort of pension to those three youngsters' families for their deaths? Why should he? Until the child labor laws go into effect, there'll always be more where they came from."


            The cold, bitter hatred in Howsmyn's voice was stronger than poison, and Ironhill shifted a bit uncomfortably. He couldn't dispute anything Howsmyn had just said. For that matter, he agreed with Howsmyn's position in general, although he sometimes thought his friend might take it to something of an extreme, trying to move too far too quickly. And there were those in the Charisian business community who took a considerably more jaundiced view of Howsmyn's and Rhaiyan Mychail's crusade to improve working conditions in their manufactories than Ironhill did. "Bleeding heart" was one of the terms bandied about from time to time, and many a businessman had been heard to mutter about the disastrous effect the policies they advocated would inevitably have on the kingdom's economy.


            Which, given the fact that Ehdwyrd and Rhaiyan routinely show the greatest returns on their enterprises of anyone in Charis, is particularly stupid of them, the baron conceded to himself. Still . . . .


            "I didn't know about the accident," he said again, quietly. "I can see exactly why that would make you angry. For that matter, it makes me pretty damned angry, now that I know. But how does that tie in with the Temple Loyalists?"


            "You really ought to sit down and discuss that with Bynzhamyn Raice," Howsmyn told him. "I'm sure that by now Bynzhamyn must have quite a dossier on our good friend Traivyr."


            "Why?" Ironhill's eyes narrowed.


            "Because the same bastard who couldn't care less about workers getting themselves killed in his manufactories is outraged by the very notion of our 'godless apostasy' in daring to tell the Group of Four that we're disinclined to let them burn our homes over our heads. It turns out that we've damned every soul in Charis to an eternity with Shan-wei in Hell, to hear him to tell it. Amazing how much more concerned he is over his workers' souls than over their physical well-being. Do you suppose that has anything to do with the fact that he's not going to have to pick up the ticket for their admission to Heaven?"


            The bite in Howsmyn's voice could have peeled paint off a wall, and Ironhill frowned. Traivyr Kairee had always been very much a part of the religious establishment. Given his normal business practices and the way he treated his employees, however, Ironhill had always assumed his attachment to the Church stemmed from the amount of business and patronage it controlled rather than from any genuine sense of piety.


            "Just how openly has he been expressing his views?" the Keeper of the Purse asked.


            "Not quite as openly as he was," Howsmyn acknowledged. "Right after Cayleb arrested Ahdymsyn and named Maikel Archbishop, he was a lot more vociferous. Since then, he's pulled back a notch or two, especially since the assassination attempt. I don't think he's talking about it very much in public at all, anymore. Unfortunately, I can't quite avoid moving in the same circles he does — not entirely — and people who know both of us tend to talk. Believe me, he hasn't changed his position, Ahlvyno. He's just been cautious enough to go at least a little underground with it. I doubt he's fooling Bynzhamyn's investigators into thinking he's changed his mind, but just look at him smiling and nodding over there. I don't like the thought of letting someone with his sympathies into stabbing range of the King."


            "I doubt he's prepared to take it quite that far," Ironhill said slowly. "If nothing else, it would take more guts than I've ever seen him display."


            "Maybe not. But what he would damned well do is to run and tell his fellow Temple Loyalists anything he manages to pick up at Court — or anywhere else, for that matter."


            "Now that, I could see him doing," Ironhill admitted. He frowned across the ballroom at Kairee for several more seconds, then grimaced.


            "Before it slips my mind, Ehdwyrd, let me thank you for how thoroughly you've destroyed my limited enjoyment of the evening."


            "Think nothing of it," Howsmyn said solemnly. "After all, that's what friends are for."


            "And don't think I won't find a way to return the favor," Ironhill warned him. "On the other hand," he continued more gravely, "you've given me quite a bit to think about. Kairee is bidding on several of the Crown's current contracts. In fact, unless I'm mistaken, he's probably the low bidder on at least two of them . . . including one for five thousand of the new rifles. Under the circumstances, I think it might behoove me to consider whether or not I want someone with his attitude that deep inside what we're doing."


            "I think it might, indeed," Howsmyn agreed.


            "I don't know how the King is going to react to the notion," Ironhill warned him. "He's serious about this not penalizing anyone over matters of conscience as long as they haven't violated any laws."


            "Ahlvyno, I respect Cayleb deeply. More than that, I'm ready to follow him anywhere he leads. But he's still a very young man, in very many ways. I understand his logic in refusing to adopt repressive measures, and I understand Maikel's position on the consciences of individuals. That doesn't mean I think they're right. Or it might be better to say I don't think they're entirely right. At some point, they're going to have to start making some precautionary decisions based on what amounts to suspicion. I'm not talking about arrests, or arbitrary imprisonments, and God knows I'm not talking about executions. But they've got to start protecting themselves against others like Kairee.


            "I'll be the first to admit that the intensity of my . . . dislike for him is driving my suspicions where he's concerned, to some extent, at least. And, like you, I don't think he's got the courage to risk dying for his beliefs. But there could be others who do have the courage . . . and who do a better job of hiding just how much they disagree with what we're doing here in Charis. Those are the ones that worry me, Ahlvyno."


            Ehdwyrd Howsmyn looked into his friend's eyes and shook his head, his eyes dark.


            "Those are the ones that worry me," he repeated.