Trynair's thoughtful frown deepened, and so did Duchairn's. As much as he continued to fear and distrust the consequences of Clyntahn's temper, there was much to what he'd just said. The Charisians, at least, had never tried to pretend they hadn't defied Mother Church's authority. In fact, they'd printed up thousands of copies of the text of Staynair's defiant letter to the Grand Vicar and distributed them in every port city on Safehold. The Inquisition had seized every copy it could find, but Duchairn was positive there were still plenty of them circulating. And the fact that Staynair had couched his defiance in terms of challenging the Church's corruption rather than upon any doctrinal dispute — aside, of course, from the doctrine of the Grand Vicar's paramount authority — hadn't passed unnoticed.


            And coupled with Dynnys' statement, it's truly flicked Zhaspahr on the raw. But the mere fact that there's as much anger as logic driving his reasoning doesn't necessarily make it invalid. And neither does the fact that he's distorting the evidence.


            Staynair is right about one thing. I may hate admitting it — I do hate admitting it — but the Council of Vicars is corrupt. We're corrupt, and it's long past time we cleaned our own house. But however right he may be about that, first we have to preserve that house. We can't let someone destroy the unity of Mother Church which has existed from the very Creation, however justified his anger and his calls for reform may be. And if that's true, then we must openly confront the actual nature of the battle we face. And, he admitted unhappily, if that requires us to . . . misrepresent some of the particulars in order to preserve the whole, what choice to we truly have?


            "So what you're recommending is an open encyclical from the Grand Vicar?" Trynair asked. "Not just for distribution among the bishops, but for dissemination from the pulpit, as well?"


            "That's exactly what I'm recommending." Clyntahn shrugged. "I realize it will have to be carefully drafted, and that's going to take some time and thought. But I believe it's time we laid all of our cards on the table."


            "If we do as you suggest, Zhaspahr," Duchairn said aloud, "it will reduce the scope and flexibility of the strategies available to us. If we draw that line, openly, before all of God's children, then those children will rightly expect us to act. To act as boldly and as decisively as God requires of us. Yet as Allayn's just said, we won't have that capacity to act for months to come."


            "It'll take months for our message to spread and truly sink in, anyway," Zhaspahr retorted. "We can get our directives to the secular rulers involved and get our encyclical to every church on the mainland within five-days, using the semaphore. But even after we do, the common people are going to need time to absorb what we've told them. And Mother Church is going to need time to shape and direct their natural and inevitable sense of outrage."


            "If we declare Holy Crusade," Duchairn said in a carefully neutral tone, "there can be no going back. Any possibility that we might be able to convince the clergy of Charis, or its people, to return willingly and repentantly to the arms of Mother Church will be gone forever. The only appeal left will be to the sword, not to reason or remonstrance."


            "That decision's already been made," Clyntahn said grimly. "It was made when Cayleb and Staynair chose to dispatch their hellish letter and openly give their allegiance to Shan-wei."


            Duchairn winced inside, remembering another conversation, when Zhaspahr Clyntahn, over a bottle of wine, had almost casually brought them to the point of condemning an entire kingdom to fire and destruction without warning. There was no question in Duchairn's mind of their overriding responsibility to preserve the Church and her authority as the final mortal guarantor of the souls of all men, everywhere. Yet Clyntahn's statement bothered him deeply on several levels. First, because of what it implied about who had actually made the initial decision to resort to violence. Second, because it starkly underscored the chasm of death and devastation into which Clyntahn was prepared to cast anyone who stood in his path. And, third, because Clyntahn actually believed what he'd just said.


            That's the truly scary thing, isn't it Rhobair? he thought. This man is Mother Church's Grand Inquisitor, the keeper of the sanctity of her doctrines and the moral rectitude of her priests. Bad enough to think he's still prepared to make decisions at a time like this at least partially on the basis of cynical pragmatism. But if the keeper of God's doctrine is able to genuinely convince himself to believe whatever he needs to believe to suit his own purposes, preserve his own base of power within the Church, then where is the true guarantor of that doctrine?


            He had no answer to that question. Perhaps God would show him one in the end, but He clearly wasn't going to do it before the Group of Four made its decision in the name of the entire Church. And for all his doubts about the wisdom of Clyntahn's suggestion, or what had induced him to make it, Duchairn had no better answer to offer.


            "Zhaspahr's right," Maigwair said. "There hasn't been any going back since Staynair's letter arrived here at the Temple, Rhobair. You know that as well as the rest of us do."


            "Yes, I suppose I do," Duchairn sighed. "It's just the thought of how many people are going to die that makes me wish I didn't know it."


            "Death is better than any heretic deserves." Clyntahn's voice was cold, his fleshy face carved out of granite. "The sooner the lot of them join their dark mistress in Hell, the better for the entire body of God's faithful."


            And what about all the people who aren't heretics, Zhaspahr? Duchairn asked silently. What about the children who are going to be slaughtered along with their parents when you burn Charis' cities? Have those innocents had the opportunity to choose between heresy and the truth? And what about those Charisians who remain loyal to God and the Church and still get in the way of the holy armies you propose dispatching to slaughter their neighbors? And what about the reaction — and the reaction is coming, one of these days — when the rest of Charis realizes Staynair's accusations of corruption were completely justified? Are you going to reform the corruption? Renounce your own position of power and wealth? Begin approaching doctrine and matters of faith with a genuinely open and accepting mind?


            But despite his questions, it still came back to that single, unanswerable fact. To have any chance of restoring Mother Church to what she ought to be, what she must once more become, first Mother Church, whatever her present blemishes, had to be preserved.


            "I don't especially like it," Trynair said with what Duchairn recognized as massive understatement, "but I'm afraid you may be right, Zhaspahr. At any rate, we must take some sort of action against the effects of the Charisian privateers Rhobair and Allayn have analyzed for us. And, you are certainly right about Charis' dependency on its own merchant fleet. To be honest, I want to make no suggestion that Holy War is inevitable — not yet — but you're right that we have to do something."


            He looked around the conference table, his expression somber.


            "Under the circumstances, I believe we truly may not have another option."