"Your Majesty!"


            Mahklyn started to spring to his feet — or as close to it as someone his age, with his knees, could manage, at least — but King Cayleb waved him back into his chair.


            "Oh, stay put, Rahzhyr!" the youthful monarch scolded. "We've known each other for years, you're old enough to be my father, and this is your domain, not mine."


            It had, Mahklyn reflected, been tactful, if not precisely accurate, of the king to say "father," and not "grandfather."


            "Your Majesty is most kind," he said, settling back into the luxuriously padded chair Cayleb had provided for him.


            "My Majesty is nothing of the sort," Cayleb said tartly as Merlin Athrawes followed him through the door into Mahklyn's office carrying a leather, accordion-pleated document folder. "My Majesty is a calculating, cynically self-serving sort of Majesty. Seeing to it that you and your colleagues have everything you need to function smoothly and efficiently — and without worrying about smoke inhalation — is entirely in my own best interests."


            "Of course it is, Your Majesty."


            Mahklyn smiled, and the king smiled back. But then his expression turned rather more serious, and Mahklyn's eyebrows rose as Captain Athrawes closed the office door behind him.


            "As a matter of fact, there's quite a lot of truth in what I just said, Dr. Mahklyn," Cayleb said. "More, in fact, than I think you know."


            "I beg your pardon, Your Majesty?"


            "Let me begin this way," Cayleb said, settling into one of the other chairs in the large, sunny office. "I imagine it's safe for me to assume that you've observed a few. . . minor peculiarities about Seijin Merlin here?"


            He paused, head cocked, and Mahklyn's eyes narrowed.


            "As a matter of fact, Your Majesty," he said slowly, "I have."


            "Well, as it happens, that's because he's a rather peculiar sort of fellow," Cayleb said with a tight smile. "And the reason for my unannounced little visit this afternoon is to tell you about some of those peculiarities of his and why they — and you — are so important to what's happening not just here in Charis, but for all of Safehold.


            "I wasn't fully aware of the seijin's oddities myself until fairly recently," he continued. "Not until the day he and Archbishop Maikel walked in to tell me about a little history most people aren't aware of. You see, Doctor, it would appear that several centuries ago –"


* * * * * * * * * *


            Just over three hours later, Cayleb leaned back in his chair and raised both hands, palms uppermost.


            "So that's the truth, Doctor," he said quietly. "I know it's a lot to take in, and I know it flies in the face of everything the Church has ever taught us, but it's true. I've asked Archbishop Maikel, and he tells me he's more than willing to confirm everything I've told you. For that matter, the Brethren would be most happy to make the original documents available to you, for your own examination, at Saint Zherneau's."


            "That . . . won't be necessary, Your Majesty," Mahklyn said slowly. His eyes were huge, glowing with an intense, blazing curiosity as he gazed not at the king, but at Merlin. "Oh, I'll certainly take His Eminence up on that offer — what historian could possibly not take it?! But I don't need to see it to believe every word you've just told me, and not simply because I've never known you to tell a lie, either. I won't pretend that I ever even suspected what you've just told me, but it explains a great many other things I have wondered about, over the course of my life."


            "If you'll pardon my saying so, Dr. Mahklyn, you're the sort of person who always wonders about something," Merlin observed with a twinkle.


            "One tries, Seijin Merlin." Mahklyn shook his head. "On the other hand, looking at you and the knowledge and capabilities your very existence represents, it's obvious I'm not going to finish wondering about all the things I ought to be wondering about before I run out of time."


            "Are you going to be comfortable about this, now that you know, Doctor?" Cayleb asked quietly.


            "A scholar isn't supposed to be too comfortable, Your Majesty."


            "That wasn't precisely what I meant," Cayleb said dryly.


            "I know that, Your Majesty." Mahklyn looked back at the king with a contrite expression. "At the same time, though, my answer wasn't completely flippant. Seijin Merlin and all the history you've just summarized for me is the sort of thing scholars live for. Or that we're supposed to live for, at any rate. I'm sure I'm going to discover aspects of that history which will be disturbing, and attempting to assimilate all of this in the face of what the Church has always taught is bound to cause the odd moment of anxiety. Compared to the fascination quotient, though –"


            He shrugged, and Cayleb's shoulders seemed to relax ever so slightly, as if some previously imperceptible tension had just flowed out of him.


            "I'm also beginning to understand just where Seijin Merlin's odd little caches of knowledge come from," Mahklyn continued.


            "I don't believe I've ever actually lied about that, Doctor."


            "No, I don't believe you have, either." Mahklyn chuckled. "As a matter of fact,I've just been running my memory back over your prefatory remarks each time you unveiled some new, useful technique or invention. You've always been very careful about the way you presented them, haven't you?"


            "I've certainly tried to be," Merlin said soberly, "and largely because I've always known moments like this one have to come. There may be things I've been unable to tell you, or others, but I decided at the very beginning that it was important that I not hold back that information in a way which would undercut my credibility when I finally was able to share it."


            "And if you think he's done some skillful dancing where you're concerned, Doctor, you should have seen him talking to Father Paityr," Cayleb put in feelingly.


            "I rather think I would have liked to have seen that." Mahklyn shook his head with another chuckle. "It must have been . . . diverting."


            "Oh, you have no idea, Doctor," Merlin assured him.


            "Probably not," Mahklyn agreed. Then he sat upright in his own chair, leaning forward and folding his hands on the desk in front of him. "On the other hand, Your Majesty, I'm beginning to understand what you said when you first walked in. Should I assume Seijin Merlin has some additional kernels of knowledge to share with — and through — the College?"


            "Actually, yes," Cayleb agreed. "And we'd also like you to consider additional nominees for the 'inner circle.' Obviously, you know your fellow members of the College better than either of us do. Which ones to you think would be . . . flexible enough to accept the truth?"


            "I'll have to give that some thought, Your Majesty," Mahklyn said cautiously, and Cayleb snorted.


            "If you didn't have to 'give it some thought,' I'd have you committed, Doctor! And remember, the final decision isn't solely up to you or to me. Nonetheless, it definitely would be extremely useful to have additional members of the College who could work with us on this."


            "I understand, Your Majesty," Mahklyn assured him.


            "Good. And now, Merlin, I believe you had something for the good doctor?"


            "I do indeed, Your Majesty," Merlin said with a half-bow. Then he reached into the folder he'd carried into the office and extracted a sheaf of paper. "I had this converted into manuscript form, Doctor," he said. "I thought it would probably raise fewer questions than a properly printed, hardbound copy with a publication fate from before the Day of Creation, should someone else happen to see it. Here."


            He handed it across, and Mahklyn accepted it just a bit gingerly. He opened it, then twitched in surprise.


            "This is my handwriting!" he blurted, looking back up at Merlin.


            "Actually, it's Owl's," Merlin said with a smile. "He's quite a capable forger, and I slipped him a sample of your handwriting before he produced this. I felt it would be best all around."


            "But what is it?" Mahklyn asked.


            "This, Dr. Mahklyn, is something that was written long ago, on Old Earth, by a man called Sir Isaac Newton. I've had it updated slightly — the original English was close to two thousand years old — but I think you'll find it interesting."