Merlin nodded slowly as he felt previously unsuspected puzzle pieces slotting into position. So that was the explanation — or part of the explanation, at least — for the openness, the sense of inclusiveness, which had attracted Nimue Alban to Charis and its society when she first set about seeking a proper base of operations.


            "Almost every Brother of Saint Zherneau is aware that our emphasis on personal relationships with God would not find favor with the Inquisition," Staynair continued. "But not one of them, to the best of our knowledge, has ever brought the philosophy of Saint Zherneau to the Inquisition's attention. And that, Merlin, is because there is something in most men which cries out to know God. To find that personal, direct relationship with Him. The Brethren of Saint Zherneau — all of the Brethren of Saint Zherneau — recognize that wellspring of personal faith and belief within themselves. And, although we never specifically address the point, all of them know it must be both protected and passed on."


            "And it's also the first line of defense, isn't it, Your Eminence?" Merlin said shrewdly.


            "Of course it is." Staynair smile was crooked. "As I say, very few of the Brethren have ever learned the full truth of Saint Zherneau's writings. But by protecting and preserving the portions of Saint Zherneau's teachings of which they are aware, they also protect and preserve the portion of which they are not aware. For reasons I'm sure you can understand, it's been necessary to limit complete knowledge to a relatively small number of people. That's been a problem for many of us over the centuries, because it goes against the grain to deceive, even if only by omission, those who are truly our brothers. Yet we've had no choice, and so the majority of the Brethren have always viewed our purpose as gradual reform — as teaching the clergy to truly serve the souls of God's children rather than the wealth and power of Mother Church.


            "Even that has scarcely been a safe mission over the years, of course. But many of our number, the majority of whom do not know of the existence of Zherneau's journal, have risen to relatively high positions in our local churches, and from those positions, they've sheltered and aided other Brethren of Saint Zherneau. Which is, of course, one reason why such a high percentage of our local priests were prepared to support our break with the Council of Vicars."


            "I can see that, too," Merlin agreed.


            "Don't misunderstand me, Merlin," Staynair said soberly. "When Zherneau's journal was first unsealed four hundred years ago, it was deeply shocking to the then Abbot. Only his own deep-seated faith in the teachings of Saint Zherneau kept him from doing one of the things you'd wondered about. He very seriously considered simply destroying all of it, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Even the 'mainstream Church' has a deep and abiding reverence for written testimony. That goes back to the original Adams and Eves who wrote The Testimonies, I suppose. And, of course, four hundred years ago, there were far fewer literate Safeholdians than there are today."


            Merlin nodded again. All of the original colonists had been literate, but as the decades and centuries passed in a society deliberately locked into muscle and wind power, with all of the hard labor required to support such a society, that universal literacy had disappeared. By and large — there had been exceptions, especially in the Church — only the upper classes had retained the leisure time to become literate. And as the ability to read and write had become less and less common, the reverence of the common (and illiterate) man and woman for the written records whose mysteries they could not penetrate had become paradoxically greater and greater.


            And that must have suited the Council of Vicars just fine, he thought grimly. In fact, 'Mother Church' may well have encouraged the trend, since the illiterate members of the Church became completely dependent upon their hierarchy to instruct them about the contents of those mysterious books they could no longer read for themselves. And that, in turn, became one more tool for strangling independence of thought in its cradle. On the other hand, the fact that literacy's been on the upswing again for a century or so is one of the reasons the wheels are threatening to come off their neat little mind-control machine, isn't it?


            "Despite the temptation to simply destroy the journal and other documents, he chose not to," Staynair said. "It must have been an incredibly difficult decision for him. But in addition to the journal itself, he had the letter Saint Zherneau had left for whoever finally unsealed the vault. And, of course, he had ample historical evidence to support the fact that Saint Zherneau had, indeed, been an Adam himself. That Saint Evahlyn had been an Eve. That, coupled with all of the public writings the two of them had left — including sections in The Testimonies — was enough to stop him from simply labeling the journal the ravings of a mad heretic. And the fact that he knew the books included with the journal had been sealed in the same vault for the better part of four hundred years proved they, too, must date from the Creation itself or immediately after it.


            "Or, of course," the archbishop's eyes bored into Merlin's, "from before it."


            Merlin nodded once again. Personally, he suspected Staynair was probably understating even now the incredible depth of the spiritual struggle that long ago Abbot of Saint Zherneau's must have faced. The degree of intellectual integrity it must have taken to make — and accept — the connections Staynair had just summarized so concisely in the face of every single word of the Church's official doctrine was difficult even to imagine.


            "Forgive me, Your Eminence," he said slowly, "and please, don't take this as any sort of attack. But with this journal, and the other documents in your possession, you've known all along that the Church's entire doctrine, all of its theology and teachings, are built upon a monstrous lie. Yet not only did you never denounce the lie, but you've actually supported it."


            "You would have made a splendid Inquisitor yourself, Merlin," Staynair said, his smile more crooked than ever. "I mean an Inquisitor of Father Paityr's sort, not that pig Clyntahn's, of course."


            "In what way, Your Eminence?"


            "You understand how to direct questions that force a man to look straightly at what he truly believes, not simply what he's convinced himself he believes.


            "In answer to your perfectly valid question, however, we must plead guilty, but with extenuating circumstances. As, I feel quite confident, you already understood before you asked.


            "Had we openly opposed Church doctrine, proclaimed that every word of the Holy Writ was a lie, we would merely have provoked the destruction of Charis centuries earlier. Perhaps the Inquisition might have settled for simply exterminating those who brought the disturbing message, but I think not. I think too much of Langhorne and Schueler's intolerance and . . . thoroughness clings to the Inquisition even today." The archbishop shook his head. "I've read Saint Zherneau's account of what truly happened in the destruction of the Alexandria enclave, what truly happened on the dreadful night when it was transformed into Armageddon Reef. I do not have the background to understand how simply dropping rocks could have had the effect Saint Zherneau describes, but I fully accept the accuracy of his testimony. And if the Inquisition of today lacks the rakurai, the Group of Four has just demonstrated that it continues to command swords in plenty.


            "So, since we dared not openly oppose the Church's lies lest we achieve nothing but the the destruction of the only evidence that they were lies, the Brethren of Saint Zherneau — those of the Brethren who knew the truth, at least — dedicated themselves to gradually building a different sort of Church here in Charis. Even that much constituted a deadly risk. We recognized that, eventually, the Inquisition would undoubtedly react as, in fact, Clyntahn has reacted. We'd hoped it wouldn't be this soon, and it probably wouldn't have been if Clyntahn hadn't become Grand Inquisitor. Yet he did, and we'd already pushed too far, made too many changes of which Mother Church disapproved. The truth of the matter is, Merlin, that Clyntahn has been right all along about the danger Charis poses to his precious orthodoxy. I rather doubt he's felt that way on the basis of any reasoned consideration of the evidence, but his instincts have not played him false where we are concerned."