Clyntahn's jowls darkened, and anger glowed behind his eyes.


            "Allayn's right," Duchairn said. "These privateers are clearly part of a coordinated Charisian strategy. Cayleb's total out-of-pocket expense is the artillery he's allowing them to purchase, and even that's only costing his navy time, since I'm quite certain the foundries casting those guns are showing a tidy profit in the process without any actual subsidies from the Crown. It's not only hurting his enemies and helping his own economy, but also freeing his navy to concentrate on Emerald and Corisande while forcing our allies to focus all of their limited remaining naval power on efforts to protect the commerce they have left. And simultaneously, as Allayn's just pointed out, giving officials of places like the Empire strong personal inducements to actively collaborate with him and pointing out to those rulers who aren't already on his list of active enemies that he can do the same thing to them, if he has to."


            "Then obviously we need a counter strategy, don't we?" Trynair said.


            "I'd say that was a reasonable observation, yes," Duchairn agreed just a bit ironically.


            "That's easy," Clyntahn growled. The other three looked at him, and he snorted.


            "You've just been pointing out how destroying our allies' merchant fleets is going to hurt them, Rhobair. It's not my area of expertise, but it is yours, and I'm fully prepared to accept your analysis. But if shipping is important to them, it's critical to the heretics in Charis. All their damned fleets and all their damned privateers have to be paid for somehow, and the leeches pay for them with the money they suck out of the mainland economies. Cut that income off, and you eliminate their ability to finance their opposition to God's will."


            "That's true enough," Duchairn acknowledged, watching Clyntahn through narrowed eyes.


            "Well, we don't need any 'privateer' fleet to do that," the Grand Inquisitor said harshly. "All we have to do is order all mainland ports closed to Charisian shipping. We don't have to sink or burn their ships to make them useless to Cayleb and his fellow apostates."


            Trynair frowned, his expression thoughtful. Maigwair appeared torn between agreement with Clyntahn and skepticism about his sweeping suggestion's apparent simplicity. Duchairn, on the other hand, shook his head.


            "It's not going to be that easy, Zhaspahr," he said almost gently. "There are too many people and too many livelihoods wrapped up in it. Even the best of men, faced with the need to provide for their own families, are going to find themselves sorely tempted to continue to deal covertly with Charis if it's a choice between that and financial ruin. And make no mistake about it, for a great many of the people involved in any successful exclusion of Charisian shipping from our ports, the consequence will be ruin."


            "If it is, it is." There was no flexibility at all in Clyntahn's voice or expression. "This is a struggle for the primacy of God Himself on His own world, Rhobair. Given that, the financial tribulations of a pack of merchants and shopkeepers is an insignificant price to pay if it weakens the hand of Shan-wei's foul get."


            "It may be," Duchairn responded. "But whether it is or not isn't really the point, Zhaspahr. The point is whether or not we can convince or compel those 'merchants and shopkeepers' of yours to do it in the first place. And, to be completely honest, even if we should succeed in that, the consequences for our own requirements if we intend to take the war to Charis could well be significant."


            "When grass is growing in the streets of Tellesberg because they have no one to buy their goods or charter their ships, we won't need to pay for any 'requirements' to topple Cayleb and his eternally damned advisers," Clyntahn shot back. "What will be an inconvenience for us — even a serious one, perhaps — will be fatal for Charis. How long do you think Cayleb will last once those money-worshiping Charisians of his realize their entire kingdom is going bankrupt, and them with it?" He grunted a hungry laugh. "And once they turn on one another like the rabble they are, how much military power will it take to sweep up the pieces?"


            "He has a point there, Rhobair," Trynair said quietly, and Duchairn was forced to nod.


            "Yes, he does. Assuming we could enforce such a policy."


            "All we have to do is give the order," Clyntahn said coldly.


            "Not this time, Zhaspahr," Duchairn disagreed, facing the Grand Inquisitor's ire from the serenity of his own newly refound faith. "The Knights of the Temple Lands don't have the authority to simply issue orders like that and see them obeyed without question. Not when the temptation — the necessity, even — to disobey them is going to be so powerful."


            "Shan-wei with the 'Knights of the Temple Lands!'" Clyntahn snarled. "It's time we stopped dancing around in the shadows, anyway."


            Duchairn's expression stiffened. The Grand Inquisitor's anger had continued fermenting into fury, and the totally unexpected defiance Dynnys had shown, even in the face of his agonizing death, had goaded Clyntahn's always irascible temper into a white-hot blaze. Worse than that, in some ways, Dynnys' final statement, interrupted though it had been, had called the Group of Four's motivations into question. No one — no one outside the Council of Vicars, at least — was prepared to say so openly, but the fact that Charis' own archbishop had been prepared to indict not Charis, but the Church, from the very lip of unspeakable torment and death, had struck a totally unexpected blow against the Group of Four's authority. Indeed, much as Duchairn hated to admit it, it had struck a blow against the authority of Mother Church, herself.


            And it's also undermined Zahmsyn's strategy for differentiating between the Church and the Knights of the Temple Lands, he thought. Dynnys' didn't charge the Knights with attacking Charis; he charged us, the four of us and even Mother Church herself. And if anyone believed him when he proclaimed Charis' innocence before we attacked her, it's also undermined the argument that this is all the result of some long standing, heretical Charisian plot which has simply strayed into the open at last.


            "I have the authority to order it on the basis of the Inquisition's overriding authority to combat heresy and apostasy anywhere it emerges," Clyntahn continued.


            And since when has any Grand Inquisitor ever had that authority? Duchairn wondered. Within the Church, yes. And the power to summon the secular lords to support Mother Church against heresy in their own lands. But to arbitrarily order them to close their ports to another nation? To dictate the terms on which their subjects are allowed to make the livings needed to feed their own children? No Inquisitor has ever claimed that sort of power! On the other hand, when has any other Grand Inquisitor confronted the threat confronting us?


            "It would be a direct escalation," Trynair pointed out. "It would take the onus for the present situation off of Charis, to some extent at least, and place it upon Mother Church."


            "And," Duchairn added, "if we do that, it will also increase the pressure on us — on Mother Church — to take powerful military action against Charis, and we're scarcely in a position to do that, I'm afraid."


            "For the rest of this year, at least," Maigwair agreed. "Even after we get the ships built, it's going to take time to train crews for them. It's not as if we have the unlimited supply of seamen Charis seems to have."


            "Who cares if it's 'an escalation'?" Clyntahn demanded. "This is a war between God's Church and His enemies. Between the Light of Langhorne and Shan-wei's eternal Darkness. Instead of pretending it isn't, it's time we told all of the Faithful the truth about Charis' carefully planned and long prepared rebellion against the rightful authority of God and His stewards here in the world. My agents tell me there are already whispers in the taverns and the streets about Staynair's defiance and that bastard Dynnys' so-called 'deathbed statement'. It's time we openly admit the true nature of the struggle, time we openly call for all the Faithful to join in holy crusade against that nest of Shan-wei. Better to open the wound to the cleansing air and drain the poisons of doubt before they lead still more into the paths of corruption."