This will be the last snippet from By Schism Rent Asunder, since the book should be appearing in the bookstores around now. Eric





            Icy rain pelted down from a midnight-dark sky, although it was technically still an hour or so before official sunset. Wind lifted sheets of water, blowing it into the faces of anyone foolish enough to be out and about in it and weaving delicate veils of dancing mist where it whipped the water cascading from eaves.


            None of the visitors converging on the Church of the Holy Archangel Bèdard had either the time or the inclination to stop and observe the weather. The landscaped shrubbery and ornamental trees around the church flogged limbs to which the last colorful sprays of leaves still clung or waved branches already bared by approaching winter as the wind lashed at the church's solid stonework, and that was a far better metaphor for the visitors than any fanciful visions of dancing water.


            The Church of the Holy Archangel Bédard was quite old. Tradition had it that Archangel Bédard's had been built within only a year or two of the Temple itself, although unlike the Temple, it was manifestly the work of mortal hands. And despite its antiquity, it was little used these days. It lay within less than two miles of the Temple, and any who could preferred to walk the additional few thousand yards to worship at the Temple. Despite that, its age, and the fact that the Bédardists considered it the mother church of their order, meant it was carefully maintained, and like every church, its doors were perpetually unlocked, open to any worshiper at any hour, as the law required.


            Yet the Temple's proximity meant the church was undeniably all but forgotten by the vast majority of the faithful, and so it was left to itself most of the time, drowsing away in the shadows of its larger, newer, and more prestigious brothers and sisters. Indeed, most of the time people seemed to forget it was even there, which was what made it appropriate to the ends of the men gathering within it despite the pounding rain.


            The last visitor arrived, slipping through the heavy wooden doors into the church's anteroom. He surrendered his cloak to a waiting under-priest, revealing the orange cassock of a vicar of the Church of God awaiting, and then walked briskly into the church proper. The residual scent of centuries of incense, of candlewax and the printer's ink of prayer books and hymnals, greeted him like a comforting hand, despite the wet, autumnal chill which could be clearly felt even here, and he drew the perfume of Mother Church deep into his lungs.


            Twenty-odd other men waited for him. Most of them wore the same orange cassock he wore, but there were others in the more modest attire of archbishops and bishops. There were even a couple of mere upper-priests, and all of them turned to look at him as he arrived among them.


            "I beg your pardons, Brothers." Vicar Samyl Wylsynn's deep, beautifully trained voice, well suited to his priestly calling, carried easily through the sound of rain pounding on the church's slate roof and pattering against the stained glass windows. "I had an unexpected visitor — on purely routine Church business — just as I was preparing to leave."


            Several of the other men had tensed visibly at the words "unexpected visitor," only to relax with almost audible sighs of relief as Wylsynn finished his sentence. He smiled wryly at their reactions, then waved one hand at the pews at the front of the church.


            "I believe we should probably be about our business, now that the late arrival is among you," he said. "It would never do to have to explain what the lot of us are doing out here on a night like this if someone should happen by."


            As he'd intended, his choice of words engendered a fresh air of urgency, and the others settled quickly into the pews he'd indicated. He himself walked to the rail around the sanctuary, genuflected to the traditional mosaics of the Archangels Langhorne and Bédard, then rose and turned to face them once again.


            "First," he said gravely, "allow me to apologize for summoning all of you on such short notice. And for asking you to gather for an unscheduled meeting. All of us are only too well aware of the risks involved in improvising meetings such as this, but I believe it's essential we and all other members of the Circle be made aware of the Group of Four's most recent decisions."


            No one else spoke, and he could literally feel the intensity of their eyes as they gazed at him.


            "They're reacting to two new messages," he continued. "One is from Emerald, and strongly suggests that Prince Nahrmahn has elected to align himself with King Cayleb and the 'Church of Charis.' Whether he's done so out of conviction or out of the pragmatic need to survive is more than anyone here in Zion can possibly guess at this moment. Somewhat to my own surprise, I find myself inclining to the theory that it may, indeed, be a matter of conviction, or at least a combination of the two. I base this in no small part upon past conversations with Earl Pine Hollow's younger brother, but I emphasize that it can be only an opinion at this time. Nonetheless, judging from what my sources in Clyntahn's office have been able to tell me, I believe our Grand Inquisitor's interpretation of Nahrmahn's actions is essentially accurate, whatever the prince's motives may have been.


            "The second message is from Ferayd, in the Kingdom of Delferahk. My sources were able to get me an actual copy of the original semaphore message, which doesn't quite match exactly what Clyntahn reported to the other three. According to the original message, the attempt to seize the Charisian galleons in the port turned into a bloodbath after someone in one of the boarding parties shot and killed a woman armed only with a belaying pin. There's no question, according to the dispatch, but that the Delferahkans shot first and that their very first victim appears to have been a woman whose sole 'crime' was to attempt to prevent them from boarding her husband's ship."


            Wylsynn's face was grim, his eyes bleak, and he felt the same anger radiating from his audience.


            "Once the Charisians realized they were under attack and began attempting to defend themselves, it turned even uglier," he told them. "In fact, according to this Father Styvyn's letter, only fourteen Charisians survived to be taken into custody by the Inquisition."


            "Only fourteen, Your Grace?" a voice asked. The shock in Archbishop Zhasyn Cahnyr's voice was mirrored in his expression, and Wylsynn nodded.


            "I'm afraid so, Zhasyn," he said heavily. "Even in a personal message to Clyntahn, this Father Styvyn didn't want to be too explicit, but there's no real question. The Delferahkan troops massacred virtually every Charisian they got their hands on, and from the very careful way 'Father Styvyn' chooses his words, I'm quite certain that one reason the troops 'got out of hand' was because they were being egged on by him and his fellow Schuelerites."


            Wylsynn himself wore the sword-and-flame of the Order of Schueler, and shame made his voice even flatter and harder than it might have been otherwise.


            "May God have mercy on their souls," Vicar Gairyt Tanyr murmured.


            "Amen," Wylsynn agreed quietly, bowing his head. There was a moment of silence, made somehow stiller and more intense by the sound of the autumn storm lashing the church's exterior. Then Wylsynn raised his head once more.


            "No one in the Office of Inquisition is going to admit what actually happened. In fact, Clyntahn hasn't even admitted the full truth to the other three. I'm not sure why. It may be that he's afraid of Duchairn's possible reaction. At any rate, the official position of Mother Church is going to be that the Charisians provoked the Delferahkans who were only attempting to peacefully board and 'sequester' their vessels. It was the Charisians' fault there was any fighting at all, and their resistance was obviously a result of their heretical rejection of Mother Church's legitimate authority to order their vessels detained. Clyntahn is also planning on grossly exaggerating the number of Delferahkan casualties while understating the number of Charisian dead."


            Someone muttered something indistinct which Wylsynn felt quite certain went poorly with the speaker's high clerical rank.


            "In addition to all of that," he continued, "there's the reason they're in such a hurry to get their version of events out. It seems at least some of the Charisians got away — in fact, one of the galleons must have been a heavily armed privateer, judging by the amount of carnage it appears to have wreaked on its way out of Ferayd Sound. That means it isn't going to be very long before Charis starts telling its version of what happened, and the Group of Four wants to be sure it already has its story straight and issued for public consumption before any inconvenient little truths turn up to challenge it."


            "Much as I despise Clyntahn, I can understand his reasoning, Samyl," Vicar Hauwerd Wylsynn said. Hauwerd looked a great deal like his older brother, with the same auburn hair and gray eyes, although he was a member of the Order of Langhorne, not a Schuelerite. At the moment, his expression was just as grim as Samyl's, as well.


            "Oh, we all understand it, Hauwerd," Samyl replied. "And they're undoubtedly correct that almost any of the mainlanders who hear the 'official' version are more likely to believe it than the Charisians' version, especially if they hear the Church's version first and get it set into their minds. Unfortunately, no one on the other side is going to believe it for a moment, and the fact that the Church is obviously lying is only going to be one more nail in the coffin of any hope of reconciliation."


            "How realistic is that hope, anyway?" Vicar Chiyan Hysin asked.


            Hysin had been born into one of the powerful Harchongese dynasties. In the Empire, more than in most Safeholdian realms, the nobility and the traditional church dynasties tended to be identical, and Hysin's older brother was a duke. Despite that, and despite the Harchongese tradition of arrogance and extreme conservatism, Hysin had been a member of the Circle since he'd been an under-priest. There were points in the doctrine of reform on which he and Wylsynn disagreed, but his dual status as secular aristocrat and Knight of the Temple Lands gave him an often invaluable perspective. And unlike most members of the Circle — including, Wylsynn admitted, himself — Hysin had always been skeptical of any possibility of peacefully resolving the Charisian schism.


            "I don't know that there ever was any realistic hope," Wylsynn admitted now. "What I do know, though, is that if there ever was any such hope, the Group of Four is doing its very best to demolish it as quickly as possible. Not only are they planning to declare that every Delferahkan killed at Ferayd is a martyr of Mother Church, but they intend to excommunicate Cayleb, the entire clergy of the 'Church of Charis,' every Charisian noble who accepted Cayleb's succession and Staynair's appointment as Archbishop, and also Nahrmahn, his entire family, and anyone else who may have supported, joined in, or even simply passively accepted his decision to seek terms from Cayleb. And just for good measure, they intend to place all of Emerald and all of Charis under the interdict."


            "They've gone mad, Your Grace!" Cahnyr blurted.


            "It sounds that way, doesn't it?" Wylsynn agreed. "As a matter of fact, the only thing that really surprised me when I heard about all of this is that they've stopped short of simply going ahead and declaring holy war right now. Clyntahn, for one, not only sees that as inevitable but is actually eager to be about it, I think."


            "They didn't go ahead and declare it yet because Trynair, at least, is smart enough to realize they have to prepare the ground for it first," Hysin said. The others looked at him, and the slightly built, dark-haired vicar shrugged. "There's never been a true holy war in all of history," he pointed out. "Not, at least, since Shan-wei's defeat. Even the most faithful are going to have qualms about embracing the Book of Schueler's ordinances where holy war is concerned. Despite the general belief in Dynnys' guilt, there was a great deal of shock and revulsion right here in Zion when they tortured him to death on the Temple's front steps, and that was actually mild beside what Shueler laid down for cases of large-scale heresy." The Harchongese vicar's oval eyes were hard with remembered anger and disgust. "If they expect to treat entire kingdoms to the same sort of punishment, they're going to have to whip up enough hatred, enough anger, to carry the rest of the Church hierarchy — and the common folk — along with them. Which is precisely what they're doing here."


            "And what can we do to stop them?" Tanyr asked.


            "I don't know," Wylsynn admitted. "We and our predecessors have been waiting for over twenty years now for the opening we need, and it's persistently eluded us. We have all the evidence we've collected over those years to prove the corruption and doctrinal perversion of people like the Group of Four. But we still don't have the opening wedge we need to make use of it."


            Several heads nodded in bitter agreement, and Wylsynn managed not to grimace in even more bitter memory. He'd come so close to beating Clyntahn out as Grand Inquisitor, and if he had, he would have been in a position to use all of the evidence, all of the proof, people like him, Ahnzhelyk Phonda, Adorai Dynnys, and so many others had carefully gathered and substantiated. Of course, it was just as probable he would have gone the same way as his ancestor, Saint Evyrahard. But at least he'd been willing to try, and unlike the murdered Evyrahard, he'd carefully built at least a small core of fiercely loyal supporters who would have tried hard to watch his back as he recalled his own order and the Office of Inquisition to their high purpose of policing Mother Church, and not simply terrorizing God's children in the name of Mother Church.


            "We certainly don't have any opening now," Hysin agreed. "At the moment, opinion's setting strongly in the Group of Four's support on the Council."


            "Can't any of those idiots see where this is headed?" Hauwerd Wylsynn demanded. Everyone recognized it as a rhetorical question, born of bitterness and frustration, but Hysin shrugged once more.


            "Frightened men see only what offers them a chance of survival, Hauwerd. Charis' military victories would be frightening enough without adding Cayleb and Staynair's open defiance into the mix. Deep down inside somewhere, all of them must recognize how corrupt we've become here in Zion and, especially, in the Temple. They're terrified of what may happen if the windows are pried open and all of their dirty little secrets are revealed openly to the flock they've been supposed to be shepherding, and the Charisians are threatening to do exactly that. Anything that lets them cling to the possibility of continuing 'business as usual' is bound to attract powerful support."


            "Until they discover that it isn't going to let them do that at all," Vicar Erayk Foryst put in.


            "If they discover it," Hysin replied. "Don't forget how long we've already been waiting for our opportunity. If the confrontation with Charis turns into a full-blown holy war, then the Council as a whole is going to voluntarily surrender what's left of its decisionmaking power to the Group of Four on the basis that fighting and winning such a conflict requires unity and centralized direction. And that, Erayk, is precisely what Clyntahn is counting on."


            "I don't think it's all cynical calculation on his part," Vicar Lywys Holdyn said. The others looked at him, and he snorted. "Don't misunderstand me. Cynical calculation would be more than enough for Clyntahn, but we'd be foolish to risk forgetting that streak of zealotry of his." Holdyn's mouth twisted as if he'd just tasted something sour. "I think he's one of those people who believes the ferocity with which he forces other people to behave buys him a degree of license. The 'good' he does so hugely outweighs his own sins that God will overlook them."


            "If that is what he believes, he's going to pay a terrible price," Samyl Wylsynn observed quietly.


            "Oh, I don't doubt that for a moment," Holdyn agreed. "If God knows His own, so does Shan-wei, and no mere mortal — not even the Grand Inquisitor of the Church of God Awaiting — can fool either of them when he meets them face-to-face. But in the meantime, he's in a position to wreak immense harm, and I don't see a way we can stop him."


            "Unless he and the Group of Four continue to suffer reverses like Crag Reach and Darcos Sound," Tanyr pointed out. "If it's mainly fear which inspires the rest of the Council to follow them — and I think you're essentially correct about that, Chiyan — then still more, equally spectacular disasters are bound to shake the other vicars' confidence in Trynair and Clyntahn. A horrible number of people are going to be killed and maimed in the process, but if Cayleb and any allies he manages to gain can throw the Church obviously back on the defensive, I think the Group of Four's support will vanish."


            "Which is a bit like saying that if the house burns down, at least you won't have to fix the leaks in the roof," Hauwerd Wylsynn observed.


            "I didn't say it was an ideal solution, Hauwerd. I simply pointed out that the Group of Four's arrogance may yet be its own downfall."


            "And if the Group of Four falls," Samyl Wylsynn pointed out to his brother, "then the door will be open for the Circle. Perhaps once the rest of the Council has had a chance to recognize that brute force isn't going to succeed, it will be willing to admit at least the possibility that the true answer lies in reforming the abuses the Charisians have so rightly identified and protested."


            "Even if that happens, do you honestly believe this 'Church of Charis' will ever voluntarily return to Mother Church?" Foryst asked, shaking his head, and Wylsynn shrugged.


            "To be honest? No." He shook his own head. "I'm beginning to come to Chiyan's view of the future, I'm afraid. By the time we're able to convince the Council that the Group of Four is leading all of us to disaster — if we ever manage to convince the others of that — too much blood will have been shed, and too much hatred will have been engendered. I'm very much afraid that whatever else happens, the schism between Charis and the Temple is unhealable."


            The silence in the rain-lashed church was profound as the Circle's leader finally admitted that.


            "In that case, is Clyntahn's determination to forcibly suppress the schismatics really wrong?" Holdyn asked. All of them looked at him, and he waved one hand in the air before his face. "I'm not saying the man isn't a monster, or trying to suggest that his initial solution to the 'Charisian problem' wasn't loathsome in the eyes of God. But if we've reached a point where the Charisians will never return voluntarily to Mother Church, what other option than forcing them to return will lie open to us as the vicars of God's Church?"


            "I'm not certain forcing them to return, by any means, is the right course," Wylsynn replied, facing the issue squarely. "With all due respect for the traditions of Mother Church, perhaps the time's come for us to simply accept that the people of Charis are not going to submit to what amounts to foreign rule of their own church any longer."


            He looked around the other, worried faces and wondered how many of them were thinking what he was. The Church's "traditions" didn't always perfectly reflect historical truth. That was one of the things which made Maikel Staynair's appointment as Archbishop of Charis — and his letters to the Temple — so dangerous. It was enormously ironic that the rebellious archbishop had chosen to base so much of his argument on Grand Vicar Tomhys' writ, On Obedience and Faith. That writ of instruction's true purpose had been to establish the doctrine of the Grand Vicar's infallibility when he spoke in the name of God. Which, as Wylsyn, for one, knew perfectly well had been a new and radically different formulation of doctrine, justified on the basis of "necessary change." And the same writ had moved the Church's confirmation of bishops and archbishops from the archdiocesan level to that of the vicarate itself.


            That had been in the year 407, and in the five centuries since, it had become the Church's tradition that it had always been so. Indeed, most people — including many of the clergy, who should have known better — truly believed that to have been the case. Which was what made the fact that Staynair had used the same writ's authorization of canonical change when events within the world made it necessary to damnably ironic . . . and dangerous. For the Church to deny the authority of Tomhys' writ in Charis' case was to deny its authority in all cases. Including that which, ultimately, had made the vicarate the undisputed master of the Church in the first place.


            From Wylsyn's perspective, that would almost certainly be a very good thing. From the perspective of the Group of Four and those like them, it was anathema, complete and total.


            "All of you know my son was Dynnys' intendant," he continued. "In fact, he understood from the beginning the reasons why I actually helped Clyntahn engineer his 'exile' to Tellesberg rather than trying to fight it. I've shared most of his private letters with other members of the Circle. He's convinced — and I have great faith in his judgment — that whatever else the Charisians may be, they aren't servants of Shan-wei, and that their general hostility towards Mother Church is directed at her hierarchy — at the Group of Four . . . and at the rest of the vicarate because of our failure to restrain people like Clyntahn . So I believe we have to ask ourselves a fundamental question, Brothers. Which is more important? The outward unity of Mother Church, enforced by swords and pikes against the will of God's children? Or the continued, joyous communion of those children with God and the Archangels, even if it be through a hierarchy other than our own? If the only point of true doctrinal disagreement lies in the infallibility of the Grand Vicar and the overriding authority of the vicarate, isn't it perhaps time we considered saying to our brothers and sisters in Charis that they are still our brothers and sisters, even if they refuse to submit to the authority of the Temple? If we let them go their own way to God, with our blessing and continued prayers for their salvation, rather than attempting to force them to act in violation of their own consciences, perhaps we can at least blunt the hatred between Tellesberg and the Temple."


            "Accept the schism as permanent, you mean?" Hysin asked. The Harchongese vicar seemed surprised to hear such sentiments from any Scheulerite, even a Wylsynn.


            "So long as it's only schism, and not true heresy, yes," Wylsynn agreed.


            "That's getting much too far ahead of ourselves," Tanyr said after a moment. "First, we have to survive, and somehow Clyntahn and the others have to be taken out of the decision-making positions of Mother Church." He smiled without any humor at all. "That's quite enough of a challenge for me, I think."


            "To be sure." Wylsynn nodded.


            "Actually, in some ways, I find Duchairn more worrisome than Clyntahn at the moment," Hysin said. Several others looked at him questioningly, and he frowned. "Unlike the rest of the Group of Four, I think Duchairn's actually rediscovered the Writ. Everything I've seen suggests a genuine resurgence of faith on his part, but he's still wedded to the rest of the Group of Four. In an odd sort of a way that actually serves to legitimize the Group of Four's policies in a way Clyntahn doesn't . . . and can't."


            "Because it's obvious that unlike Clyntahn, he's not making cynical calculations — any more, at least — you mean?"


            "That's exactly what I mean, Hauwerd." Hysin nodded. "Even worse, I think he may well prove a rallying point for vicars who might otherwise support the Circle. Vicars who're genuinely tired and heartsick over the Church's abuses may see in him and in his regenerated faith the model for their own regeneration. And I'm very much afraid that whatever we may think about the acceptability of a permanent schism, Duchairn isn't prepared to entertain that concept at all."


            "Perhaps it's time we started thinking about recruiting him for the Circle," Foryst suggested.


            "You may be right," Samyl Wylsynn said after several seconds of careful thought. "But even if it might prove possible to recruit him, we need to be very, very cautious about how we approach him. First, because we might be wrong — he might regard us as traitors, as an internal threat to Mother Church's unity at the greatest moment of crisis in her history. But, second, because he's so close to Clyntahn. And Trynair, of course; let's not forget that our good Chancellor is scarcely an idiot, however mnuch he may act like one upon occasion. But I would be absolutely astonished to discover that Clyntahn isn't using the Inquisition to keep tabs on his three 'allies.' If he is, and if we approached Duchairn even a little clumsily, it could be disastrous for everyone."


            "Agreed," Foryst said. "And I'm not suggesting we rush right out and invite him to our next meeting. But I do think it's time we began considering this possibility seriously, and thinking about ways we might approach him if the time should come when it seems appropriate. Arguments to convince him we're right, and ways of presenting those arguments that aren't likely to trigger any alarms in Clyntahn."


            "I see you haven't lost your taste for formidable challenges, Erayk," Hysin said dryly, and a chuckle ran around the seated vicars and bishops.


            "Very well," Samyl Wylsynn said after the chuckle had died. "We've all been brought up to date, and we've all had a chance to discuss our current thinking where the schism — and the Group of Four — are concerned. I don't believe we're in a position to decide on any new policies or strategies at this point. Not, at least, until we've had an opportunity to see how the Group of Four's version of events in Ferayd, Charis, and Emerald plays out once it's finally presented to the rest of the Council. Between now and then, I think all of us need to pray and meditate in hopes that God will show us our true path."


            Heads nodded gravely, and he smiled more naturally and openly than anyone had since their arrival.


            "In that case, Brothers," he said, "won't you join me in a moment of prayer before we venture back out into all that wind and rain?"