He walked Styvyn out the door. The younger boy's head turned, keeping his eyes fixed on his mother until the door closed between them, and Staynair turned back to face her himself.


            "Please, Madame Dynnys," he invited. "Be seated."


            He ushered her to a seat at one end of the small sofa in a corner of his office, then sat at the other end, half-turned to face her, rather than resuming his place behind his desk. She looked around the chamber, biting her lower lip, obviously seeking her composure, then returned her eyes to him.


            "My boys know their father is dead," she said, "but I haven't told them yet how he died. It hasn't been easy, but I couldn't risk their betraying themselves until I had them someplace safe."


            "They're safe now," he reaffirmed gently. "You have my promise, both personally and that of my office."


            "Thank you." She looked at him steadily, then her nostrils flared. "I'm truly grateful for your promise, and I know nothing you've done was done out of personal enmity to Erayk. And yet, I hope you'll forgive me, but I can't quite separate your actions from what happened to him."


            "Nor should you be able to," he replied. "Not yet, at any rate. And no one could blame you if that separation never comes to you. I won't pretend your husband was universally loved here in Charis, because he wasn't. Yet he was never hated, either — or not to the best of my knowledge, at any rate. For myself, I never considered him an evil man, as I do the Grand Inquisitor. I only felt he was weak and, forgive me, corrupt. Corrupt with that taint of corruption which clings to the entire Council of Vicars and all of the senior members of the episcopate."


            "He was weak," she agreed, her eyes once more brimming with tears. "But he was stronger than I ever guessed, too. Certainly stronger than he ever suspected he might be. That strength came to him at the end."


            "Tell me," he invited softly, and she drew a deep, ragged breath. A tear broke free and ran down her cheek, and she squared her shoulders like a soldier facing battle.


            "I was there." Her voice was low, hoarse. "I had to be there. I saw every single thing they did to him before they finally let him die. It took hours, Your Emminence. He wasn't even a human being anymore at the end, only a broken, flayed, bleeding thing, and 'Mother Church' called that justice."


            Her voice hissed as she delivered the final word like a curse. More tears broke free, but there was a fierce, blazing anger in those wet eyes as she looked at the man who had replaced her husband as the Archbishop of Charis.


            "You're wrong about one thing, Your Eminence," she told him flatly. "Not every member of the Council of Vicars is corrupt. Not even every priest of the Inquisition, despite Clyntahn's poison at the very heart of the Office. That's how I know he was offered an easy death if only he would confirm the Group of Four's version of what happened here in Charis.


            "He refused to do that." She met his eyes, and her chin rose with pride even as the tears spilled down her face. "My husband and I never had much of a marriage, Your Eminence. You're right, he was a corrupt man, and weak. But I tell you this, I will never be ashamed of Erayk Dynnys. There is nothing those lying monsters at the heart of the Church can ever say, ever do, to make me forget the choice he made, the death he died. At the end of his life, he was anything but weak."


            "That accords well with his final letter," Staynair said softly, pulling a spotless handkerchief from the sleeve of his cassock and passing it across to her. "I didn't know any of the details of his death, obviously. But I did know he'd found the strength you speak of. And that whatever his faults may have been, at the end of his life, he saw clearly, and spoke the truth — not simply to others, but to himself. Every Wednesday, since his letters arrived, I have conducted a memorial mass for God's servant Erayk."


            She nodded convulsively, clutching the handkerchief. It was several seconds before she could speak again.


            "I need to tell the boys," she said then. "They have to know, and it won't be long before someone tells them anyway. Our ship left Port Harbor the evening of his execution, and the crew had none of the details. They knew he'd been executed, and the boys did, too, of course. And even though the crew didn't know the details, some of them . . . speculated about what it must have been like. They had no idea who we were, never guessed they were speaking of my sons' father. I told them I thought it was inappropriate for such young boys to hear, and I have to admit they tried to avoid speaking about it in front of them after that. But it wasn't a very large ship, Your Emminence, and I know both of them heard . . . some of it. I couldn't prevent that, although I believe — pray — that I managed to protect them from the worst. But I can't do that forever."


            "Of course you can't." He leaned forward and touched her on the knee gently. "I realize it may be difficult for them to separate me, in their minds, from what happened to their father, given the fact that I'm the one who's assumed his office here in Charis. But one of the responsibilities of that office is to minister to all of God's children, so if I can be of any assistance when you tell them, please allow me to be."


            "I think that perhaps if you can explain to them, or at least try to explain, why this is happening, it might help," she replied. Then she shook her head. "I don't know if anyone can explain that to them, Your Eminence. Not at their ages."


            "Not so very long ago," Staynair said, "King Haarahld had to explain to his own cousins — two boys, both younger than your Tymythy — why their father was dead. Had to explain that their father had attempted to assassinate the Crown Prince, murder the King, and been killed by their own grandfather in the process." He smiled sadly. "Children have burdens enough without believing their fathers could be traitors, could be corrupt. Without having to accept their deaths in dishonor. From what you've said, at least your sons' father died speaking the truth, facing his executioners with the courage of true conviction and speaking for that conviction, despite the injustice of his execution. At their age, that will be cold comfort for his loss, especially when they learn the nature of the death he died. But they have nothing to be ashamed of. You're right about that, My Lady, and in time, they'll come to understand that. It won't erase the pain, but perhaps it will at least help them to feel the pride in their father which he so justly earned at the very end of his life. And although God knows they — and you — will need time to heal, I promise you we'll give you all of the time, all of the support, we possibly can."


            "I'm glad," she said softly, and he quirked one eyebrow. She saw it, and shook her head.


            "I'm glad," she repeated. "I hoped, prayed, that Erayk hadn't died for nothing. That the Group of Four truly was lying, and that the man who'd replaced my husband here in Charis truly was a man of God, not simply someone seeking political advantage, however justified he might have been to do exactly that in light of the Church's own abuses. I'm glad to see that the man who replaced him is a man of God."


            "I try to be." He smiled at her with a mix of sadness and humor. "There are times when I'm not as confident of my success as I'd like to be. But I do try."


            "I can tell." She looked at him for a moment longer, then drew a deep, steadying breath. "Father," she said, "I have sinned, and it has been three months since I last attended mass. Will you hear my confession?"