"Yes, Your Grace." Ailysa's stomach clinched more tightly still as Dynnys faced Clyntahn on the platform. "Of your kind permission and Mother Church's grace, I would take this final opportunity to express my contrition and acknowledge my guilt before God and man, seeking God's forgiveness."


            "If that is your true desire, then speak, and may God hear your words and measure the truth in your heart," Clyntahn replied.


            "Thank you, Your Grace."


            Dynnys' voice wasn't as deep, or as powerful, as Clyntahn's, yet it carried well against the breeze. He moved closer to the lip of the platform, leaning on his cane, gazing out across the crowd which had stilled its own shouts into silence as it awaited his public admission of guilt. The grim implements of torture loomed behind him, pregnant with their promise of cleansing agony, but he seemed unaware of them now.


            Ailysa looked up at him, wishing she dared to come closer, yet already half-sick with what she knew was about to happen.


            And then, he began to speak.


* * * * * * * * * *


            "Your Grace, you have asked if I have anything to say before I die for my crimes, and I do. I freely admit my most grievous failure in my duties as an archbishop of Mother Church. It was my solemn charge to be both shepherd and father to the flock Mother Church had entrusted to me in God's name. It was my responsibility, and my privilege, to safeguard their souls. To teach them aright, to keep them in the way of God and the teachings of Langhorne. To discipline, as a father must, when discipline is necessary, knowing that only in that way can those committed to his charge be brought to proper understanding in God's unending love in the fullness of time.


            "Those were my responsibilities to Mother Church and to the souls of the Archbishopric of Charis, and I have most grievously failed to meet them."


            Dynnys never looked away from the crowd in the plaza. Never so much as glanced at Clyntahn, lest it be obvious he was seeking the Grand Inquisitor's approval of all he said. Yet even without turning his head, he could see Clyntahn from the corner of his eye, and the satisfaction hiding behind the vicar's solemn expression was obvious. He knew what was coming next, for he had Dynnys' promise.


            Too bad, Your Grace, the condemned ex-archbishop thought with a sort of grim, cold, terrified exaltation. Some things are more important than what you want . . . and why should any condemned and apostate heretic keep a promise to a lying bastard like you?


            "A true shepherd dies for his flock. As the Archangel Langhorne himself said, 'There is no greater love in any man than his willingness to die for others,' and as Charis' archbishop, I ought to have been willing to listen to Langhorne's words. I was not. I feared the personal consequences of my failures as a child of God and an archbishop of Mother Church. And so, when Vicar Zahmsyn came to me, expressing the concerns, the suspicions and fears, which the reports of others had aroused in Charis' case, I did not tell him that each and every one of those reports was a lie."


* * * * * * * * * *


            Ailysa's head jerked up in astonishment. Surely, she hadn't heard him correctly! He couldn't possibly have said —


            Then her eyes darted to Clyntahn, saw the Grand Inquisitor's sudden dark-faced fury, and knew she hadn't misunderstood a thing.


* * * * * * * * * *


            "Instead of telling him the allegations of heresy, apostasy, and violations of the Proscriptions of Jwo-jeng were lies, false reports spread by Charis' enemies and carried throughout the Temple by corrupt priests of Mother Church in return for gold from those same enemies, I promised to investigate. To make 'examples' of those falsely accused of sin. And I fully intended to keep those promises."


            Dynnys forced himself to continue to speak calmly and distinctly. Sheer stunned disbelief seemed to have paralyzed Clyntahn and his Inquisitors, at least briefly, and Dynnys looked out into the equally stunned silence of the Plaza of Martyrs and made his voice ring out clearly.


            "For myself, I amply deserve the penalty I am to suffer this day. Had I discharged my duties to my archbishopric, thousands might not have already died, and more thousands might not be about to die. But whatever I may deserve, Your Grace, whatever punishment I may merit, the souls you and the Council of Vicars entrusted to my care are, as you know full well, innocent of the crimes you have charged against them. Their only crime, their only sin, has been to defend themselves and the families they love against  rape, murder, and destruction at the orders of the corrupt and greedy –"


            One of the Inquisitors reacted at last, spinning around to Dynnys and driving a gloved fist into the ex-archbishop's face. The steel studs reinforcing the glove's fingers pulped Dynnys' lips, and the blow's savage force broke his jaw in at least three places. He went to his knees, more than half-stunned, and Clyntahn pointed down at him in a rigid gesture of anathema.


            "Blasphemer! How dare you raise your voice against the will and plan of God Himself?! Servant of Shan-wei, you prove yourself, your guilt, and the damnation awaiting you with every word you speak! We cast you out, we commit you to the outer darkness, to the corner of Hell reserved for your dark mistress! We expunge your name from the children of God, and strike you forever from the company of redeemed souls!"


            He stood back, and the upper-priests seized the semi-conscious, bleeding man who had once been the Archbishop of Charis and yanked him to his feet. They ripped the burlap robe from his body, stripping him naked before the stunned, mesmerized crowd, and then they dragged him towards the waiting instruments of torture.


* * * * * * * * * *


            The sewing woman known as Ailysa pressed both hands to her trembling mouth as she watched the executioners chaining their victim's unresisting body to the rack. She was weeping so hard she could scarcely see, but the sobs were silent, too deep, too terrible, to be shared.


            She heard the first deep, hoarse grunt of agony, knew it was only a matter of time before grunts became screams, and even now, she could scarcely believe what he'd done, what he'd said.


            Despite all she'd said to Ahnzhelyk, she had never wanted anything more than she wanted to flee this place of gathering horror. Of horror made still worse by the final gesture of Erayk Dynnys' life.


            But she couldn't. She wouldn't. She would stay to the very end, and, as she had told Ahnzhelyk, she would know what to tell her sons. His sons.


            Sons, she thought, who need never feel shame for the name they bore. Not now — not ever. Never again after this.


            For the first time in too many years, the sewing woman known as Ailysa felt a deep, fierce pride in the man she had married, and whose agonizing death she stood to witness for her sons and for history.