Trynair looked at Duchairn, and the Treasurer General understood the Chancellor's dismay perfectly. Any escapees from Ferayd must be well on their way back to Charis by now, complete with their version of what had happened. And despite Clyntahn's cavalier attitude, Duchairn was sickly certain the Charisians would be able to describe what had happened as a "massacre" with complete accuracy. Worse, many of the ships involved would have been family-owned enterprises, and given traditional Charisian practice where crewing such ships was concerned, a lot of those dead Charisians would have been women and children.


            Has it come to this so quickly? Duchairn demanded. And why is the message about this from this Father Styvyn, and not his bishop?


            He could think of at least one reason for the intendant to have sent his own messages independent of the bishop, and he didn't like that reason one bit. But if Clyntahn suspected that the Inquisition's agent in Ferayd was getting his report in early in an effort to put his own spin on a disaster at least partially of his own creation, no sign of it crossed the vicar's face. For that matter, Clyntahn seemed totally oblivious to the potentially disastrous consequences of the incident.


            And for all we know, this isn't the only "incident" like it, either, Duchairn thought. It could be simply the first one we've heard about. So far.


            "This is very serious news," Trynair said, with what Duchairn privately considered to be dizzying understatement. "Once word gets back to Charis, they're going to denounce this entire unfortunate affair as a deliberate massacre carried out at the Inquisition's direct orders."


            "It was nothing of the sort," Clyntahn said. "On the other hand, I'm not going to pretend I'm shedding any tears for a batch of heretics who got exactly what their own heresy and stupidity deserved. For that matter, they got off lightly."


            "I'm not asking you to pretend anything." Trynair kept his voice level, his tone even. "I'm simply pointing out that Charis is going to proclaim to the entire world that we ordered the deliberate slaughter of merchant seamen — and their families, Zhaspahr — as part of our campaign against the schismatics. They'll use it to justify their rebellion . . . and whatever counter-atrocities they decide to stage."


            Clyntahn looked at the Chancellor as if he were speaking a foreign language, Duchairn thought. And from the Grand Inquisitor's perspective, perhaps Trynair was. After all, they'd been prepared to unleash fire, slaughter, and devastation on the entire Kingdom of Charis from the outset, so why should anyone get particularly upset over the deaths of a few dozen — or a few hundred — Charisian sailors and their wives and children?


            "All right," Clyntahn said after a moment. "If you're so worried about how the Charisians can use this, then let's use it ourselves. Father Styvyn's dispatch makes it abundantly clear it was the Charisians who began the fighting. And, I might add, the Delferahkans' casualties weren't exactly light. Since they started it, I think we should tell the world exactly that. The Delferahkan authorities attempted to peacefully sequester their vessels, and instead of submitting to the instructions of the legal authorities, they resisted with deadly force. I'm sure the Charisians are going to hugely exaggerate their own casualties, so I don't see any reason why we should downplay the Delferahkans' losses. In fact, I think we should probably declare that anyone who was killed attempting to carry out Mother Church's orders to sequester those ships should be declared a martyr of God."


            It wasn't "Mother Church's" decision to close the mainland ports against Charis, Duchairn thought grimly. It was yours, Zhaspahr. And it was done on your authority. Amazing how your new formulation of what happened gets you off of that particular hook, isn't it?


            But that wasn't the worst of it — not by a long chalk. If they declared the dead Delferahkans martyrs, then they moved an enormous stride closer to declaring all out holy war against Charis. No doubt that was inevitable, in the fullness of time, but Rhobair Duchairn was in no hurry to embrace that cataclysm.


            And is that simply moral cowardice on your part, Rhobair? If that's our inevitable destination, why hesitate? It's God's will that His Church's authority be maintained in accordance with His plan, so how can you justify trying to avoid doing whatever is required to accomplish His ends?


            "I don't know . . . ." Trynair said slowly.


            "I think Zhaspahr's right," Maigwair said. The others looked at him, and it was his turn to shrug. "The smartest thing we can do is to use the semaphore to see to it that our version — the true version –" he actually managed to say that with a straight face, Duchairn noted "– reaches all the mainland realms before any lies Charis may choose to tell. And if these men were killed carrying out Mother Church's orders, then what are they, if they aren't martyrs?"


            "Exactly!" Clyntahn agreed vigorously.


            Trynair looked at Duchairn again, and the Treasurer General knew exactly what the Chancellor's eyes were asking him. He started to open his mouth to disagree with Clyntahn and Maigwair, then hesitated.


            "Besides," Maigwair continued while Duchairn wavered, "when you look at this news alongside Nahrmahn's decision to betray us — Mother Church, I mean — there's a pattern."


            "A pattern?" Trynair didn't quite manage to keep his incredulity out of his tone, and Maigwair's lips tightened.


            "What I mean," he said, "is that as you pointed out just a few minutes ago, other secular rulers are going to be tempted to seek some sort of accommodation or understanding with Charis if they find themselves between the rock and the hard place. I think we need to give them a reason to think long and hard about that. And we need to make it clear to everyone in Charis exactly what stakes they're allowing their king to play for."


            "How?" Duchairn asked with a distinctly sinking sensation.


            "I say we formally excommunicate Cayleb, Staynair, and every single person who signed Staynair's appointment as archbishop, or Cayleb's writ of succession, or Staynair's letter to the Grand Vicar. We excommunicate Nahrmahn, Pine Hollow, and anyone else who reaches an 'understanding' or 'accommodation' with Charis. And we place all of Charis and all of Emerald under the interdict."


            Duchairn's sinking sensation accelerated abruptly, but Clyntahn's eyes flashed.


            "That's exactly what we ought to do," he agreed harshly. "We've been tiptoeing around from the outset, trying to avoid 'inflaming the situation,' when we've all known all along exactly where it has to end! What we should have been doing instead was putting the damned schismatics on notice, telling them exactly where they're going to end up if they persist in this defiance. And we need to tell every single one of Cayleb's subjects what sort of disaster their precious king is leading them directly to!"


            "This isn't a step to take lightly," Duchairn cautioned. "And if we do take it, it isn't one we'll be able to take back later."


            Excommunicating Cayleb and the others would be bad enough. Under Church law, it would absolve every child of God from obedience to them. Indeed, it would make continuing to obey them an act of defiance against the Church and against God. Assuming most Charisians were prepared to follow Church doctrine, it would in effect dissolve all legal authority in the kingdom. Yet, in many ways, the interdict would be even worse. As long as the interdict was in effect, all Church sacraments, offices, and functions within Charis would be suspended. There would be no baptisms, no weddings, no masses, no burials. And that would continue until the interdict was lifted.


            Inflicting such severe and weighty punishment was, as Duchairn had said, never something to be undertaken lightly. Its consequences for the souls of those caught up in it might well be dreadful.


            That was bad enough, yet it was scarcely all that might follow from Maigwair's proposed actions. The declaration of excommunication and the interdict was only one tiny step short of the declaration of holy war, and once holy war was openly declared, there could be no stepping back from a life or death grapple between the Church and those opposed to her.


            And the one thing this isn't going to do is convince Charis to return willingly to the fold, he thought. Cayleb and Staynair would never have gone as far as they have already if they weren't prepared to go all the way, and even Zhaspahr's reports make it clear the overwhelming majority of Charisians agree with their king and their new 'archbishop.' So even if we declare Cayleb excommunicate and all of Charis under the interdict, they won't care. Or, at least, they won't pay any attention. They'll continue in their allegiance to him, which will mean we've created a situation in which they'll be in direct, open defiance of Mother Church. And that will leave us with no choice but to declare holy war in the end, whatever we might wish.


            I wonder if that's exactly why Zhaspahr and Allayn are so in favor of this? Because it will commit us once and for all, before the entire world, to the complete destruction of Charis?


            "It may not be a step to be taken lightly," Clyntahn said, "but it's a step we'll have to take sooner or later, Rhobair, and you know it. Given what Zahmsyn's already said, I think we have no choice but to go ahead and do it now. Take the offensive and preempt whatever distorted version of events Charis might choose to publish to the world. Unless, of course, you have a better idea?"