And she, she realized wonderingly, wanted to do the same thing. To face whatever storm might come, whatever odds might be, because it was the right thing to do. Because he and his father, Archbishop Maikel, his nobles and his parliament, had decided it was their responsibility. Because they'd been right when they made that decision, that choice . . . and because she wanted to share in that same ability to do what was right because it was right.


            And the fact that he's not just cute, but probably one of the sexiest men you've ever encountered, has nothing at all to do with it, does it, Sharleyan? a corner of her brain insisted upon asking her.


            Of course it doesn't, she told that pesky corner sternly. And even if it did, this is hardly the time to be thinking about that, you silly twit! Go away! Still . . . I've got to admit that it doesn't hurt, either.


            "Can we really make this work, Cayleb?" she asked him softly, turning back to face him. "Not just us, just you and me — Cayleb and Sharleyan. All of it. After what Madame Dynnys told us this evening, with all the wealth and the manpower the Group of Four command, can we make it work?"


            "Yes," he said simply.


            "You make it sound so easy." Her voice was wondering, not dismissive, and he smiled wryly.


            "Not easy, no." He shook his head. "Of all the words you might use to describe it, 'easy' is the last one I'd choose. But I believe it's something more important than easy. It's inevitable, Sharleyan. There are too many lies in Zion, too much deceit and corruption, more even than anyone suspects. I'm not so foolish as to think truth and justice must inevitably triumph simply because they deserve to, but liars ultimately destroy the things they lie to protect, and corruption, ambition, and betrayal inevitably betray themselves, as well. That's what's happening here.


            "The Group of Four made a serious error in judgment when they thought they could just brush Charis aside, crush one more inconvenient gadfly. They were wrong about that, and the proof of that error, as much as the proof of their corruption, is what ultimately dooms them. They've made the mistake of trying to enforce their will through force and terror and the shed blood of the innocent, and they thought it would be simple, that the rest of the world would continue to accept it. But Maikel is right when he says the purpose of the Church must be to nurture and teach, not to enslave. That was the source of Mother Church's true authority, despite the existence of the Inquisition. And now that authority, that reverence, is gone, because everyone's seen the truth. Seen what the Inquisition did to Erayk Dynnys, what it's prepared to do to entire kingdoms . . . and why."


            "And you really think that makes enough of a difference?"


            "Yes, I do. All we really have to do is to survive long enough for that truth to percolate through the minds of other rulers, other parliaments. In the end, the Group of Four was right about at least one thing. It's our example, far more than our actual military strength or wealth, which poses the true threat to them."


            "That's what Mahrak said," she told him. "And what I said to myself, when I could convince my emotions to listen to my intellect. But it's different, somehow, hearing you say it."


            "Because of my noble demeanor and inspiring stature?" he asked lightly, and she shook her head with a laugh.


            "Not quite," she said dryly.


            "Then how?" he asked more seriously.


            "Partly, I think, because you're a king yourself. A fairly impressive one, too, I'm forced to admit, and not just because of Rock Point, Crag Reach, or Darcos Sound. When you say it, it carries that ring of authority, of coming from someone in a position to truly judge possibilities.


            "But even more, it comes from who you are, what you are. I wasn't prepared for Archbishop Maikel, or for the way the rest of your people are prepared to follow wherever you and he lead. You're scarcely the Archangels come back to earth, but I think that's actually part of your secret. You're mere mortals, and mortals are something the rest of us can understand."


            "I think perhaps you give us too much credit," he said soberly. "Or perhaps I should say you give other people too little credit. No one can drive an entire kingdom into standing up in defiance of something like the Group of Four. That comes from within; it can't be imposed from without. You know that as well as I do — it's the reason you've been able to rule Chisholm so effectively, despite the fact that your nobility obviously remembered the example of Queen Ysbell. It's the reason you were able to come here in acceptance of my proposal without seeing Chisholm go up in a flame of rebellion behind you. Your people understand as well as mine do, and that's the true reason why, in the end, we will win, Sharleyan."


            "I think you're right," she told him, reaching out to touch the side of his face for the first time. Her fingers rested lightly against his cheekbone, against the strong line of his jaw, and she looked into his eyes.


            "I think you're right," she repeated, "and that alone would make this marriage the right thing for me to do. It doesn't matter how I feel, what I want. What matters is my responsibility to Chisholm, and that responsibility is to see my people free of the Group of Four's yoke."


            "And is that the only thing that matters?" he asked softly.


            "Oh, no," she said. "Not the only thing."


            He gazed down into her face for several endless seconds, and then, slowly, he smiled.


            "I have to admit I hoped you'd say that," he murmured.


            "Isn't this the place, in all of those sappy romances, where the hero is supposed to press a burning kiss upon the chaste maiden and sweep her off her feet in steel-strong arms?" she asked him with a lurking smile of her own.


            "I see we both wasted our time when we were younger reading the same frivolous entertainment," he observed. "Fortunately, I'm sure we're both also wiser now, with better judgment and a greater grasp of reality than we had then."


            "Oh, I'm sure we are," she said with a soft little chuckle.


            "That's what I thought, too," he assured her, and then his lips met hers at last.