"All right," Cayleb said, after a moment. "I guess I can see what you're saying. Speaking purely as the King of Charis, I'm not especially enthusiastic about it, you understand, but I see what you're saying and why. On the other hand, if the 'inner circle' of the Brethren already know the truth about how we got here, and why, can't we at least begin spreading some of your additional knowledge around among them?"


            "For those who already know about Saint Zherneau's journal, yes." Merlin shrugged. "The fact that the Inquisition didn't burn Charis to the ground years ago is pretty convincing proof that they, at least, know how to keep a secret. In fact, I'm tempted to use them to set up some additional caches of books and documents, just in case the Church gets lucky. I'm not sure that's a good idea, mind you, but I think it at least bears thinking on.


            "The problem is that once we get beyond the group we already know has managed to maintain good security, every person we add to that 'inner circle' of yours constitutes a fresh risk. Whatever we may think, we can't know how someone is going to react to the truth, and it would take only one person who went running to the Inquisition to do enormous damage — quite possibly fatal damage — to everything we're all trying to accomplish."


            "All right, that's obviously a valid point." Cayleb cocked his head to one side, scratching the tip of his nose gently while he thought hard. "At the same time, eventually you're going to have to start making the truth known to a larger number of people. I can certainly recognize the reasons for being cautious about that, but there are some people here in Charis who I think could probably weather the shock better than you might expect. And some of them could be far more useful and productive if they had more of your knowledge to work from. I'm thinking about people like Seamount, and possibly Howsmyn. Or, for that matter, Dr. Mahklyn."


            Merlin nodded slowly, remembering his conversation with Cayleb the night the Royal College was burned.


            "You're right about that. And you are the King of Charis. It's your kingdom, they're your people, and you're the one responsible for their safety and survival. I have my mission, over and beyond the survival of Charis, but you have yours, as well."


            "I may be King, but I'm not arrogant enough to believe my judgment is infallible. If it were, I wouldn't have gotten quite as many beatings as a boy." Cayleb chuckled again, then sobered. "Fortunately, there are other people here in Charis who've already demonstrated good judgment — not just about how to keep secrets, but about when to reveal them, too."


            "You're thinking about the Brethren," Staynair said.


            "That's exactly who I'm thinking about, Maikel. I have a proposal for you and the Brethren — and Merlin. I believe it's time you set up a formal process designed to actively identify and vet possible candidates for admission into the 'inner circle.' Perhaps what we really need to do is to borrow from Saint Zherneau's model and set up both inner and outer circles. I don't know about that. But I do know some sort of process needs to be in place, one that lets me make use of the Brethren's collective judgment about this sort of decision the same way I make use of the Council's, and of Parliament's, for other decisions. Except that in this case, I'll pledge to be bound by the majority recommendation of whatever 'Council of Saint Zherneau' we set up."


            "There may be instances in which there's no time to ask anyone else," Merlin pointed out. "For example, I had no choice but to show you at least a part of the truth the night I took your message to your father."


            "No system is perfect, Merlin. All we can do is the best we can do. Beyond that, we'll simply have to trust God."


            Merlin gazed at the youthful king thoughtfully.


            "What?" Cayleb said after a moment.


            "I'm just . . . pleased," Merlin said.


            "Pleased about what?"


            "Well, one of the things I've wondered about — and worried about, to be honest — is how this planet is going to react when everyone finds out that the Church of God Awaiting has been a total fraud based on a stupendous lie."


            "You're concerned that having discovered the Church is a lie, they may decide God Himself is a lie," Staynair said softly.


            "Exactly, Your Eminence." Merlin turned his eyes to the archbishop. "While it may not seem likely to someone raised in a theology like the one Langhorne set up, there were plenty of people back on Old Earth — many of them good, moral, compassionate people — who rejected the existence of God for a whole range of reasons they found convincing. From the Church's perspective, that's the one downside of encouraging the sort of freedom of conscience and thought you've been proclaiming here in Charis. And in a lot of ways, rejecting God's very existence would be an intensely logical reaction once the truth finally comes out. After all, these people — your people — will have had the most convincing evidence anyone could possibly imagine that religion can be used as the most devastating tyranny in the universe."


            "That's a point we've considered at Saint Zherneau's over the centuries." Staynair's slight shrug was eloquent. "Some of the Brethren have been deeply concerned over it, to be honest. But, for myself, I have no real fear on that head, Merlin."


            "In that case, I envy the depth of your faith, Your Eminence."


            "It isn't a matter of faith. It's a matter of logic." Merlin's eyebrows rose, and Staynair laughed softly. "Of course it is! Either God exists, or He doesn't, Merlin. Those are really the only two possibilities. If He does exist, as I believe all three of us believe He does, then, ultimately, anything which promotes truth will only tend to demonstrate His existence. And even if that weren't true, if He exists, then whatever happens will be what He chooses to allow to happen — even if, for some reason beyond my comprehension, what He chooses is to have mankind turn against Him, at least for a time."


            "And if He doesn't exist?" Merlin asked quietly.


            "If He doesn't, He doesn't. But if He doesn't, then none of it will matter, anyway, will it?"


            Merlin blinked, and Staynair laughed again.


            "I'm quite confident about which of those two possibilities apply, Merlin. But as I believe I've already told you, men must have the right to refuse to believe before they truly can believe. And if it turns out I've been wrong all my life, what have I really lost? I will have done my best to live as a good man, loving other men and women, serving them as I might, and if there is no God, then at the end of my life I'll simply close my eyes and sleep. Is there truly anything dreadful, anything to terrify any man, in that possibility? It isn't that I fear oblivion, Merlin — it's simply that I hope for and believe in so much more."


            "Your Eminence, I don't know about the rest of Safehold, but I'm coming to the conclusion that you are almost disturbingly sane. And you remind me of an old folk saying from Earth. I believe you have a variant of it here on Safehold, as well. 'In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man will be king.'"


            "We do, indeed, have that particular cliché," Staynair agreed. "And, of course, we have the corollary. 'The one-eyed man will be king . . . unless all of the blind men decide to kill him, instead.'" The archbishop smiled whimsically. "It puts rather an interesting perspective on things, doesn't it?"