Nahrmahn continued to gaze out the window for two or three more minutes without speaking. Pine Hollow knew the prince's eyes were following the grayish-tan pyramids of the Charisian galleons' weathered sails as they glided slowly, slowly across Eraystor Bay.


            "You know," Nahrmahn said finally, "the more I think about how we got into this mess, the more pissed off I get."


            He turned away from the Charisian warships and looked his cousin in the eye.


            "It was stupid," he said, and that, Pine Hollow knew, was the deepest, most damning condemnation in Nahrmahn's vocabulary. "Even if Haarahld hadn't been building all those damned galleons, with all those damned new guns of his, it would still have been stupid. It's obvious Trynair and Clyntahn never even tried to find out what was actually happening in Charis, because they didn't really care. They had their own agenda, and their own objectives, and so they simply said the hell with thinking things through and started moving their chess pieces around like blind, fumbling idiots. Even if things had worked out the way they'd expected, it would have been using a sledgehammer to crack an egg. And the way it did work out, they only pushed Haarahld into smashing everyone who could have hurt him! Oh," he made an impatient gesture, "we didn't know what he was up to, either, before he handed us all our heads. I'll admit that. But we at least knew he was up to something, which was more than that idiot Hektor seemed aware of! And who did Trynair and Clyntahn decide to back? Hektor, that's who!"


            Pine Hollow nodded, and Nahrmahn's lips worked as if he wanted to spit on the floor. Then the prince drew a deep breath.


            "But there's another reason it was stupid, too, Trahvys," he said in a much softer voice, as if he were afraid someone else might hear him. "It was stupid because it shows all the world exactly what 'the Group of Four's' precious members really think."


            His eyes had gone very still, dark and cold, and Pine Hollow's stomach muscles tightened.


            "What they think, My Prince?" he asked very carefully.


            "They think they can destroy anyone they want to," Nahrmahn told him. "They whistled up — what was it Earl Thirsk said Cayleb called us? Ah, yes. They whistled up a pack of 'hired stranglers, murderers, and rapists' and ordered us to cut Charis' throat. They couldn't have cared less what that meant — for us, as well as for Charis. They decided to burn an entire kingdom to the ground and kill thousands of people — and to use me to do it, Shan-wei take their souls! — as if the decision were no more important than choosing what bottle of wine to order with supper, or whether to have the fish or the fowl for the main course. That's how important the decision was for them."


            He'd been wrong, Pine Hollow thought. Nahrmahn's eyes weren't cold. It was simply that the lava in them burned so deep, so hot, that it was almost — almost — invisible.


            "Nahrmahn," the earl said, "they're the Church. The vicarate. They can do whatever –"


            "Can they?" Nahrmahn interrupted him. The pudgy prince of Emerald raised his right hand, jabbing his index finger at the window. "Can they?" he repeated, pointing at the Charisian galleons' sails. "I don't know about you, Trahvys, but I'd have to say their plans didn't work out exactly the way they'd intended, did they?"


            "No, but –"


            "It's not going to end here, you know." Nahrmahn's voice was calm again, and he seated himself on the padded window seat with his back to the wall, gazing up at his taller cousin. "Given even the Church's purely secular power, the odds against Charis' survival are high, of course. But Cayleb's already proven Charis isn't going down easily. I would rather have preferred being here myself to see how it all works out, of course. But even though I won't be, I can tell you this much already. It's going to take years for anyone to overcome the defensive advantages Charis already enjoys, and it's going to take a lot more ships, and a lot more men, and a lot more gold than the Group of Four ever imagined in their worst nightmares. Cities are going to be burned, Trahvys. There are going to be murders, atrocities, massacres and reprisals . . . . I can't even begin to imagine everything that's going to happen, and at least I'm trying to, unlike the 'Group of Four.' And when it's all over, there won't be a single prince or king in all of Safehold who doesn't know his crown depends not on the approval of God, or even the acceptance of the Church, but on the whim of petty, corrupt, greedy, stupid men who think they're the archangels themselves come back to Safehold in glory."


            Trahvys Ohlsyn had never before heard anything like that out of his prince, and hearing it now frightened him. Not just because of its implications for his own power and survival, either. He'd always known, despite the way his rotund little ruler's allies and opponents alike persistently tended to underestimate him, that Nahrmahn of Emerald was a dangerously, dangerously intelligent man. Now it was as if his own impending defeat and probable demise had cracked some inner barrier, loosed some deep, hidden spring of prophecy, as well.


            "Nahrmahn, think about what you're saying, please," the earl said quietly. "You're my Prince, and I'll follow wherever you may take Emerald. But remember that, whatever else they may be, they speak with Mother Church's voice, and they control all the rest of the entire world. In the end, Charis can't –"


            "Charis doesn't have to," Nahrmahn interrupted again. "That's the very point I'm making! Whatever happens to Charis, whatever the Group of Four may think, this is only beginning. Even if they manage to completely crush Charis, it's still only beginning. This isn't God's will, it's theirs, and that's going to be obvious to everyone, not just to someone like me, or like Greyghor Stohnar in Siddarmark. And when it becomes obvious, do you really think the other princes and kings are simply going to go back to sleep, as if this never happened? As if Trynair and Clyntahn hadn't proved no crown is secure, no city is safe, if it's foolish enough to rouse the ire of the Group of Four or whoever replaces them on the Council of Vicars?"


            He shook his head slowly, his expession grim.


            "The one thing in the entire world the Church simply can't afford to lose is its moral authority as God's voice, His steward among His people, Trahvys." His voice was very, very soft. "That's been the true basis for the world's unity — and the Church's power — since the Day of Creation itself. But now the Group of Four has just thrown that away, as if it were so unimportant, so trivial, that it wasn't worth so much as a second thought. Only they were wrong. It wasn't unimportant; it was the only thing that could have saved them. Now it's gone, and that, Trahvys — that — is something they will never, ever be able to get back again."