"I must confess," the archbishop continued, resuming his own seat as the door closed, "that I was somewhat surprised when the two of you requested this meeting. Your message made it clear you had some fundamental point which both of you wished to discuss with me, but it was curiously silent as to exactly what that point might be."


            His tone made the last sentence a question, and he raised his eyebrows politely. Ahdymsyn glanced at Wylsynn, then drew a deep breath, reached into a cassock pocket, and extracted a folded piece of paper.


            "I don't doubt you were surprised . . . Your Eminence," he said, and this time Staynair allowed his eyes to narrow at the bishop executor's chosen mode of address. Ahdymsyn obviously saw it, because he smiled slightly and shook his head.


            "At first, as I sat in my comfortable, if involuntary, quarters in Tellesberg Palace, Your Eminence, I had no intention of granting even the least appearance of acquiescence to your patent usurpation of Archbishop Erayk's legitimate authority here in Charis. Of course, at the time I became King Cayleb's . . . guest, I had no more idea than anyone else in the Kingdom as to why and how such a massive attack had been launched against it. It's become rather clearer since then that the 'Knights of the Temple Lands' must have put their 'allies' into motion against Charis well before Archbishop Erayk could have reached Zion with any formal report of his last pastoral visit."


            He paused, and Staynair cocked his head.


            "Is there a reason the timing of their actions should affect your attitude towards — what was it you called it? My 'patent usurpation of Archbishop Erayk's legitimate authority'?"


            "In itself, no." Ahdymsyn's half-smile guttered and went out. "It did play a part, however. Your Eminence, I won't pretend that many of my decisions when I sat in the chair in which you now sit weren't motivated by . . . pragmatic concerns, let us say, as much as, and even more than, by spiritual or doctrinal concerns. Despite that, however, I trust you'll believe me when I say I never for a moment considered any of the actions and innovations here in Charis, disturbing though some of them may have been, as rising to a level which would require or justify the 'Knights of the Temple Lands'' apparent choice of solutions."


            "I do believe that," Staynair said quietly, and it was true. He'd never considered Ahdymsyn an evil man, although in some ways the very banality of his venal motivations had been almost worse.


            "I'm sure you also realize," Ahdymsyn continued, "that Father Paityr's report to the Inquisition emphasized his own belief that none of the innovations upon which he'd been asked to rule constituted violations of the Proscriptions of Jwo-jeng. I believe he was even more shocked by the attack launched against Charis than I was."


            Staynair glanced at Wylsynn, and the young upper-priest looked back levelly. No doubt Wylsynn had been more surprised than Ahdymsyn, Staynair thought. Unlike the bishop executor, there'd never been any question of the sincerity and depth of Paityr Wylsynn's personal faith. He had to be aware of the frequently sordid considerations which underlay the official pronouncements of the Council of Vicars and the  policies of the Group of Four, but Staynair had no doubt at all that the young priest had been both shocked and horrified by the Group of Four's proposed solution to the "Charisian problem."


            "Despite that," Ahdymsyn went on, "both of us found ourselves in rather uncomfortable positions. Mind you, Your Eminence, no one offered to abuse or mistreat us in any way. Indeed, I doubt two prisoners have ever been more comfortably housed in the history of Safehold, although one or two of the guardsmen were undeniably a bit . . . testy after those lunatics tried to murder you right here in the Cathedral." Ahdymsyn shook his head, as if he could not believe, even now, that someone had tried to assasinate an archbishop — any archbishop — in his own cathedral. "Still, there was no question in our minds that we were in fact  prisoners, however courteous everyone was in pretending otherwise."


            "I can well understand that," Staynair replied. "In fact, that's precisely what you have been, and for several reasons. First, because of your positions in the Church hierarchy here in Charis, of course. Secondly, because there would have been so many reasons — many of them quite valid, even in King Cayleb's eyes — for you to have actively opposed our actions here of late. That opposition would have been inevitable, and, quite candidly, both of you, for different reasons, perhaps, would have carried considerable weight with some of our local clergy. And, third, to be completely frank, and whether you find this easy to believe or not, it's constituted an attempt to protect you, as well. To make it clear even to the Group of Four that you had had no part in those same actions."


            Despite his own open acknowledgment of what the Grand Inquisitor and his colleagues had intended for Charis, the skin around Ahdymsyn's eyes seemed to tighten briefly as Staynair used the term "Group of Four." He made no protest against the archbishop's choice of words, however.


            "No one ever explained that particular aspect of it to us, Your Eminence. Nonetheless, I was aware of it. And, to match frankness for frankness, I was none too confident it would do any good, in my own case, at least. It's the tradition in your own navy, I believe, that a captain is responsible for whatever happens aboard his ship. The Council of Vicars will — quite rightly, to be fair — hold me at least partly accountable for what's transpired here.


            "Despite that, it was always my intention to disassociate myself from your kingdom's defiance of Mother Church. I could scarcely hold your legitimate self-defense against unprovoked attack against you, but in rejecting the authority even of the Grand Vicar, I felt you'd gone too far. Not simply in doctrinal terms, but in terms of the inevitable consequences not simply for Charis, but for all of Safehold.


            "And then, yesterday, I received this."


            He held up the folded paper he'd taken from his pocket.


            "And that is?" Staynair asked politely.


            "A personal letter from Archbishop Erayk," Ahdymsyn said very quietly. "One addressed jointly to Father Paityr and myself."


            "I see."