"Does it seem to you that there was a lot of boat traffic this morning, Kevyn?"


            Kevyn Edwyrds, first lieutenant of the Charisian galleon Kraken, turned in some surprise at the question from behind him. Captain Hairys Fyshyr had turned in over two hours ago, and, like most professional seamen, he understood the value of getting as much sleep as a man could whenever he could. Which was why Edwyrds hadn't expected him to reappear on deck in the middle of the night when Kraken lay snuggly at anchor in sheltered waters.


            "Excuse me?" the lieutenant said. Fyshyr cocked his head at him, and Edwyrds shrugged. "I didn't quite catch the question, Sir," he explained.


            "I asked whether or not it seemed to you that there'd been a lot of boat traffic this morning."


            "As a matter of fact," Edwyrds frowned, "now that you mention it, there actually seemed to be less boat traffic than usual, all day today. We only had three or four bumboats trying to come alongside this afternoon, instead of the usual couple of dozen."


            "I wasn't talking about regular boat traffic," Fyshyr said. "Although, now that you mention it, that's another interesting point. It's just that after I'd turned in, I got to thinking. Did you notice that every galley left the harbor almost before dawn this morning?"


            "Well, no, Sir," Edwyrds admitted slowly. "I can't say I did — not really. Of course, I didn't have the morning watch, either."


            "I didn't think too much about it, myself," Fyshyr said. "Not then. But like I said, I got to thinking after I turned in tonight, and  I've got this memory kicking around the back of my brain. I could swear I saw at least two or three navy launches rowing into the harbor shortly after the galleys they belonged to left the harbor."


            Edwyrds frowned again, more deeply. He hadn't really noticed that himself, but Captain Fyshyr wasn't the sort to imagine things. And the Delfarahkan Navy, like several navies, allowed its captains to paint their ships' boats to suit their fancies. Most of them — especially the ones who wanted to advertise their wealth — adopted highly individualistic paint schemes which made them readily identifiable. And which also meant that if Fyshyr thought he'd seen launches which belonged to specific galleys, he'd probably been right.


            "That doesn't make much sense, Sir," he said after a long, thoughtful moment.


            "No, it doesn't, does it?" Fyshyr managed to keep any exaggerated patience out of his voice. Actually, it wasn't very hard to do, despite Edwryds' tendency to restate the obvious, given how highly he valued his first officer. Edwyrds might not exactly be the sharpest arrow in the quiver, but he had copious common sense to make up for any lack of brilliance, and he was fearless, unflappable, and totally reliable in moments of crisis. Not to mention the minor fact that he'd held a commission in the Royal Charisian Navy for almost a decade, which made him particularly valuable for Kraken, given that the galleon was no longer the innocent cargo carrier she appeared to be.


            "I think," the captain went on after a moment, "that it might not be a bad idea to very quietly rouse the watch below."


            "Yes, Sir," Edwyrds agreed. Then he paused and cleared his throat. "Ah, Sir. Would you like me to go ahead and clear away the guns? Without opening the ports?"


            Fyshyr gazed at his first lieutenant speculatively.


            Either Kevyn's got more imagination than I gave him credit for, or else I really am on to something, he thought. God, how I'd like to find out Kevyn's just being more alarmist than usual!


            "I think that might be a very good idea, actually," he said. "But quietly, Kevyn — quietly."


* * * * * * * * * *


            "I trust you've impressed your men with the necessity of showing these heretics sufficient firmness, Captain Kairmyn?"


            "Of course I have, Father," Tohmys Kairmyn replied, and turned to look Father Styvyn in the eye. He would have preferred avoiding that particular necessity, but the Intendant was one of those inquisitors with near total confidence in his ability to read the truth in other men's eyes. Which made it most unwise to appear as if one were attempting to refuse him that opportunity.


            Father Styvyn Graivyr gazed into Kairmyn's eyes intensely, as if he'd just read the captain's mind.


            Which I certainly hope he hasn't, Kairmyn thought, given that Sir Vyk's instructions were almost exactly the reverse of his!


            "Good, Captain," Graivyr said after a moment. "Good."


            The Intendant turned away once more, gazing out from the dense black shadows of the warehouse. There was very little to see — yet — and the upper-priest inhaled audibly.


            "I realize," he said, almost as if he were speaking to himself, "that not everyone truly realizes the danger of the precipice upon which we all stand. Even some members of the episcopate don't seem to fully recognize what's happening."


            That, Kairmyn thought, is almost certainly a reference to Bishop Ernyst.


            The reflection didn't make him particularly happy.


            "I suppose it's hard to blame them," Graivyr continued. "All men want to believe in the goodness of other men, and no one wants to believe mere mortals could overset God's own plan for man's eternal well-being. But even the Archangels –" he touched his heart, then his lips "– discovered to their sorrow that sin can destroy any goodness, can corrupt even an archangel herself. These Charisians –" he shook his head slowly "– have set their hand to Shan-wei's own work. And, like their eternally-cursed mistress, they've begun by mouthing pious concerns that cloak their true purpose."


            Kairmyn watched the Intendant's back, listening to the deep-seated anger — the frustration — in the other man's voice.


            "Any man, even the Grand Vicar himself, is only mortal," Graivyr said. "That's what makes their accusations so damnably convincing to those of weaker faith. Yet whatever His Holiness's mortal frailties in his own person, when he speaks as Langhorne's Steward, he speaks with the infallibility of God Himself. There may be . . . imperfections among the vicarate. There may be isolated instances of genuine corruption among the priesthood. That's one of the things the Office of Inquisition was commissioned by the Archangel Schueler to root out and punish, after all, and the Inqusition's tasks will never be completely accomplished, however zealously we strive. But when sinful men challenge the primacy of God's own Church, however carefully they may couch their challenge in seeming reason, it's Shan-wei's work, not Langhorne's, to which they've set their hands. And," he wheeled once more, half-glaring through the darkness at Kairmyn, "they must be stopped. Shan-wei's poison must be cut out of the body of the Faithful as a surgeon cuts away a diseased limb, purged with fire and the sword."


            Kairmyn wished he had the courage to ask the Intendant whether or not the bishop had authorized his presence here this night. Or, for that matter, if Bishop Ernyst even knew where Graivyr was. But he dared not — any more than he'd dared to question Graivyr when the Intendant turned up with a dozen of his fellow Schuelerites to be assigned to the various troop detachments detailed to tonight's operation.


            And for all I know, he's completely right about what's happening in Charis, what it means for the rest of us. I'm only a soldier — what do I know about God's will? About the Grand Vicar's infallibility? What the Charisians say sounds reasonable, given what they say the "Knights of the Temple Lands" really meant to happen to them, and why. But how do I know they're the ones telling the truth when Mother Church herself insists their charges are all lies? Father Styvyn's right about at least one thing, after all — they don't call Shan-wei "Mother of Lies" for nothing!


            "Father," he said finally, "I'm a soldier, not a priest. I'll do my best to follow my orders, but if it's all the same to you, I'll leave decisions about doctrine and theology to those better suited and trained to make them."


            "That's exactly what you ought to do, Captain." Graivyr's voice was warmer, more approving, than anything Kairmyn had heard from him so far. Then the Intendant turned back to look out into the night, nodding his head.


            "Exactly what you ought to do," he repeated softly.