Staynair managed to keep his fresh surprise out of his voice or expression, although the possibility of a letter from Erayk Dynnys to Ahdymsyn and Wylsynn had never occurred to him. Nor had there been any reason for him to suspect one had arrived. At Staynair's own insistence, Cayleb had directed that his "guests" incoming mail was not to be tampered with. The king had insisted that any outgoing correspondence must be carefully examined and subject to censorship, but no one had attempted to restrict messages to Ahdymsyn or Wylsynn.


            "Since the letter appears to be what inspired you to ask for this interview, may I assume you intend to share its contents with me?"


            "You may, Your Eminence." Ahdymsyn's voice was heavy, his mouth grim.


            "Your Eminence," he said, "Archbishop Erayk is dead."


            "I beg your pardon?" Staynair sat suddenly straighter behind his desk.


            "I said Archbishop Erayk is dead," Ahdymsyn repeated. "The news hasn't reached us here in Charis yet. I realize that. However, Archbishop Erayk's letter leaves me in no doubt that he is, indeed, dead by now. Executed by the Inquisition for malfeasance, apostasy, heresy, and treason against God's Church and against God Himself."


            Staynair's face tightened. He needed no one to tell him what penalties the Book of Schueler laid down for anyone convicted of those offenses, far less one of Mother Church's own archbishops.


            "The archbishop's letter isn't lengthy, Your Eminence," Ahdymsyn said. "He was denied access to paper and ink for the purposes of correspondence and had to improvise to obtain even this single sheet. I'm not certain how he managed to get this one note out, either, given his strict confinement by the Inquisition. I feel certain his silence on that point was intended to protect whoever he entrusted it to. But what it does say is very much to the point."


            "And that point is?" Staynair asked quietly.


            "He begins by informing Father Paityr and myself of the grounds for his arrest and the sentence passed upon him. He asks us to forgive him — and to pray for his soul — despite his many failures. He also specifically asked me to leave this letter with you, for you to make use of in whatever way seems best to you, and he apologizes for his failure to protect and nurture the souls of his archbishopric in the way God demands of His priests. And –" Ahdymsyn looked levelly into Staynair's eyes "– he makes bold to give us one last directive as our archbishop."


            "And that directive?"


            "He does not order us, for he says he feels he no longer has that right, but he urgently entreats us to remain here in Charis. He says that he fears that, should we return to Zion or to the Temple Lands, we, too, would be forced to answer to the Inquisition. He accepts his own fate, but as our priestly superior, he enjoins us to preserve our lives against unjust punishment and judicial murder by remaining beyond the Inquisition's reach. And he begs us to do whatever we may to atone for his failure — and ours — as the spiritual shepherds of Charis."


            Staynair sat back in his chair, his eyes thoughtful. He would never have anticipated such a letter from Erayk Dynnys. Yet he had no doubt it was genuine, and he wondered what sort of spiritual pilgrimage Dynnys had experienced in the hands of the Inquisition to produce it. There was good in any man. Staynair believed that as firmly as he believed the sun would rise in the morning. But that good was more deeply hidden, more deeply buried, in some than in others, and he had thought the good in Erayk Dynnys was irretrievably buried under a mountain of careless venality and a lifetime's participation in the Temple's internal corruption.


            But I was wrong, he thought. The finger of God can touch anyone, anywhere, through the most unlikely of avenues. I've always believed that, too. And here at the end of Erayk Dynnys' life, God has incontestably touched him.


            The archbishop closed his eyes while he said a brief, intense prayer of thanks that even at the very end, Dynnys had found his way to God, clear-eyed despite the corrupting lenses through which he had been taught to look for Him. Then Staynair straightened and looked across at his visitors.


            He understood now the peculiar fragility he'd sensed in Ahdymsyn. Like Dynnys — and unlike Wylsynn — Ahdymsyn was a man whose faith had taken second place to his secular responsibilities . . . and opportunities. In Dynnys' fate and letter, he'd seen the mirror of himself, and it must have been a terrifying glimpse. Yet, unlike Dynnys, he had the opportunity to profit from the experience in this world, not simply in the next. He could choose what decisions he would make in the life that remained to him, and it was obvious to Staynair that he found that possibility as frightening as it was exhilarating, as much a matter for shame as for a chance to make some sort of amends.


            For young Wylsynn, however, it must have been quite a different shock. Staynair knew better than most that Wylsynn had entertained few illusions about the way in which the Church's actions so often betrayed the spirit of its own Holy Writ. But the scale of the corruption, and the horrific lengths to which the Group of Four had been prepared to go, must have hit him like a sledgehammer. And unlike Dynnys and Ahdymsyn, Paityr Wylsynn had never forgotten he was God's priest, never allowed the corruption around him and behind him to distract him from his spiritual duties.


            And now one of the most blameless servants of Mother Church Staynair had ever known, found himself directed by a fallen archbishop whose corruption must have been evident to Wylsynn all along, to turn his back upon Mother Church. To deny her authority, reject her demands. A priest of the Inquisition had been commanded to defy the Grand Inquisitor himself by one of the Inqusition's very victims.


            "May God have mercy on His true servant Erayk," Staynair murmured, touching first his heart and then his lips.


            "Amen," Ahdymsyn and Wylsynn echoed.


            "I am shocked and dismayed by Archbishop Erayk's fate," Staynair said then. "And yet, at the end of his life, I believe he rose to a level and an awareness of God which all too few of us ever attain.


            "Nonetheless, I must tell both of you that one point of doctrine upon which I, and the Church of Charis, strongly disagree with the doctrine of the Council of Vicars, is on the right — and responsibility — of any child of God to judge for himself or herself where the right truly lies and what it demands of him or her. The role of the Church is not to dictate, but to teach — to explain, educate, and enjoin. The role of the individual is to exercise his or her freedom of will in loving God and doing that which is right because it is right, and not simply because he is given no other choice."