Staynair had begun chuckling himself as he realized what Merlin and Cayleb were talking about. Now he shook his head.


            "Merlin," he said, still smiling, "somehow I don't think a dead woman — or a ghost — would have a sense of humor."


            "I'm not so sure about that, Your Eminence."


            "Then let me pose it this way. What constitutes being 'alive' for a human being?"


            "I suspect most people would think breathing was a reasonably important criterion."


            "Perhaps 'most people' would, but I'm not asking them. I'm asking you."


            "I truly don't know," Merlin admitted. He looked back down into his wineglass. "Maybe it's because I've worried about it so much, chewed the problem up one side and down the other so often that I can't stand back and think about it with any sort of detachment. I've just decided that even if I'm not — alive, I mean — I might as well act as if I were. Too many people made too many sacrifices to put me here on this world, at this particular time, for me to do anything else."


            "And that's why I'm certain you are alive, Merlin. Nimue Alban," Staynair said softly. "You were one of the ones who made those sacrifices. And you haven't done what you've already done here on Safehold out of some lingering sense of responsibility to people who have been dead for almost a thousand years. Oh, those people are important to you, and I understand that for you it hasn't been a thousand years since they died, either. But as Haarahld once told you, a man must be judged by his actions. And for all the lies heaped together in the Writ, there are truths, as well. Including the truth that a man's innermost nature will inevitably be known and revealed by his deeds.


            "You've shouldered your burden out of personal outrage, Merlin Athrawes. I haven't watched you, talked to you, learned from you for two years now without taking the measure of the man — or the woman — you truly are. You feel the pain which is so much a part of life, just as you feel the joys. I've always thought you were a profoundly lonely man, and now I know why. But I have never, for one moment, doubted that you were a good man, and despite what those fools in Zion believe, God is a god of love, Merlin, not a god of savage discipline and mindless rejection. His way may be hard sometimes, and He may demand much from some of His servants, but whatever else He may be, He isn't stupid. He knows what He's asked of people like you, over the ages. And whether you realize it or not, God knows you as one of His own, as well. I have no doubt that when Nimue Alban's physical body died, God had another task, another duty, waiting for her. There are too few great souls for Him to waste one which burned that brightly. And so, He let that soul sleep until the day a machine, a . . . PICA awoke in a cave here on Safehold. You have Nimue Alban's soul, Merlin Athrawes. Never doubt it. Never question it . . . or yourself."


            Merlin looked at the archbishop for endless seconds. And then, finally, he nodded once. He didn't say a single word. He didn't have to.


            The others let his silence linger for a time. Then Cayleb cleared his throat.


            "For what it's worth, Merlin, I agree with Maikel. Maybe it's just as well — no, it is just as well — you didn't try to explain all of that to me aboard Dreadnought before Darcos Sound. But it's like I told you that day in King's Harbor, when you killed the krakens. You may be able to conceal what you are, but you can't hide who you are, what you feel. I'm sorry, but you're just not very good at it."


            "Gosh, thanks," Merlin said wryly.


            "Don't mention it." Cayleb grinned at him. "On the other hand, it's going to be quite some time, I imagine, before I really manage to come to grips with all of this. It's going to change a lot of my assumptions."


            "I'm sure it is," Merlin acknowledged. "Still, it's not really going to change most of the constraints we face. There's still that kinetic bombardment system, floating up there in orbit. And there are still those power sources under the Temple I haven't been able to identify. Between the two of them, I think they constitute a damned good argument in favor of maintaining the secret just the way the Brethren have been maintaining it for the last four centuries. I, for one, have absolutely no desire to turn Charis into a second Armageddon Reef."


            "Granted." Cayleb nodded. "But from what you've said, there's an enormous number of things you can teach us, show us."


            "Yes and no." Merlin took another sip of wine, then set his glass aside and leaned forward in his chair, resting his folded forearms on the table.


            "I can teach you, but I can't just hand you the knowledge. For a lot of reasons, including concealment from the Church and whatever remote sensors might be reporting to those power sources under the Temple. But even if I wasn't worried about that particular aspect of it, I couldn't just replace the Church as the source of all authority. People all over Safehold have to learn to do what you already do here in Charis, Cayleb. They have to learn to think. To reject the automatic acceptance of dogma and restrictions simply because someone else — whether it's the Church of God Awaiting or some all-knowing oracle from the lost past — tells them they must accept them. We have to transform Safehold into a world of people who want to understand the physical universe around them. People who are comfortable innovating, thinking of new ways to do new things on their own. That's one reason — the main reason, in a lot of ways — I've made suggestions, pointed out possibilities, and then stood back and let people like Baron Seamount, Ehdwyrd Howsmyn, and Rhaiyan Mychail figure out how to apply them.


            "And –" he looked Cayleb straight in the eye "– it's equally important for everyone on Safehold, even Charis' enemies, to do the same thing."


            Cayleb frowned, and Merlin shook his head.


            "Think about it, Cayleb. Who's your real enemy? Hektor of Corisande? Or the Inquisition?"


            "At the moment," Cayleb said after a thoughtful pause, "I'm rather more focused on Hektor. I hope you won't find that too difficult to understand." He smiled thinly. "On the other hand, I understand the point you're making. If it weren't Hektor, Clyntahn and the Group of Four would have found someone else to use as their tool."


            "Exactly. And how will you defeat the Church? Can you do it with navies and armies?"


            "No," Cayleb said slowly.


            "Of course not," Merlin said simply. "Your true enemy is a belief system, a doctrine, a way of thinking. You can't kill ideas with a sword, and you can't sink belief structures with a broadside. You defeat them by making them change, and the Church has only two options for confronting the challenge you and Charis present. Either they refuse to change, in which case they can't possibly defeat you militarily. Or they decide they have no choice but to change, to adopt the new weapons, the new technologies. And once they do that, they'll discover they have to change their belief structure, as well. And when that happens, Cayleb, you'll have won, because your true enemy will have committed suicide."


            "You make it sound so easy," Cayleb observed with a twisted smile.


            "No," the archbishop said, and the king looked at him. "Not 'easy,' Cayleb. Only simple."


            "Exactly." Merlin nodded. "There was a military philosopher back on Old Earth before anyone had ever dreamed about spaceflight, or suspected that something like the Gbaba might be out there waiting for us. He said that in war, everything was very simple . . . but even the simplest things were hard to do."


            "Really?" Cayleb's smile eased a bit. "That's interesting. Father said almost exactly the same thing to me more than once. Did he get it from one of those books of Saint Zherneau's?"


            "I doubt it very much. Your father was one of the smartest men I ever met, Cayleb. I don't think he needed Clausewitz to explain that to him."