How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 22

That was an interesting change in perspective on Clyntahn’s part, Duchairn thought. It had probably been brewing ever since the Inquisitor decided Mother Church had no choice but to adopt the Charisians’ innovations themselves if they hoped to defeat the heretics. Odd how the line between the acceptable and the anathematized started blurring as soon as Clyntahn realized the kingdom he’d wanted to murder might actually have a chance to win.

“Very well, I’ll accept that,” Trynair responded, although from his tone he still cherished a few reservations. “Convincing the common folk of it may be a little more difficult, however. And ‘deviltry’ or not, the shock of it — not to mention its obvious destructiveness — undoubtedly explains how Bishop Kornylys and his warriors were overcome.”

“I think that’s almost certainly what happened.” Maigwair’s voice was unwontedly quiet. The Group of Four’s least imaginative member clearly realized how thin the ice was underfoot, but his expression was stubborn. “There’s no way Haarpar could have seen this coming. We certainly didn’t! And, frankly, I’m willing to bet the Harchongese got in the way more than they ever helped!”

Clyntahn’s glare grew still sharper. The Harchong Empire’s monolithic loyalty to Mother Church loomed large in the Grand Inquisitor’s thinking. Harchong, the most populous of all the Safeholdian realms, formed an almost bottomless reservoir of manpower upon which the Church might draw and, geographically, it protected the Temple Lands’ western flank. Perhaps even more important from Clyntahn’s perspective, though, was Harchong’s automatic, bone-deep aversion to the sort of innovations and social change which had made Charis so threatening in the Inquisition’s eyes from the very beginning.

Despite which, not even he could pretend Harchong’s contribution to Bishop Kornylys Harpahr’s fleet had constituted anything but a handicap. Poorly manned, worse officered, and in far too many cases completely unarmed thanks to the inefficiency of Harchong’s foundries, they must have been like an anchor tied to Haarpar’s ankle when the Charisians swooped down upon him.

“I get a little tired of hearing about Harchong’s shortcomings,” the Grand Inquisitor said sharply. “I’ll grant they aren’t the best seamen in the world, but at least we can count on them . . . unlike some people I could mention.” He made a harsh, angry sound deep in his throat. “Funny how Searose ended up in Siddarmark of all damned places, isn’t it?”

Duchairn managed not to roll his eyes, but he’d seen that one coming. Clyntahn’s aversion towards and suspicion of Siddarmark were just as deep and automatic as his preference for Harchong.

“I’m sure it was simply a case of Bedard Bay’s being the closest safe port he could reach,” Trynair said.

“Maybe so, but I’d almost be happier to see them on the bottom of the sea,” the inquisitor growled. “The last thing we need is to have our Navy — our surviving Navy, I suppose I should say — getting contaminated by those bastards. The embargo’s leaking like a fucking sieve already; Langhorne only knows how bad it’d get if the people responsible for enforcing it signed on with that pain in the ass Stohnar!”

“Zhaspahr, you know I agree we have to be cautious where Siddarmark is concerned,” the Chancellor said in a careful tone. “And I realize Stohnar is obviously conniving with his own merchants and banking houses to evade the embargo. But Rhobair’s right, too. At this moment, Siddarmark and Silkiah have the most prosperous economies of any of the mainland realms precisely because the embargo is ‘leaking like a sieve’ in their cases. You know that’s true.”

“So we should just sit on our asses and let Stohnar and the others laugh up their sleeves at Mother Church?” Clyntahn challenged harshly. “Let them flout Mother Church’s legitimate authority in the middle of the first true jihad in history and get rich out of it?!”

“Do you think I like that any better than you do?” Trynair demanded. “But we’ve already got one slash lizard by the tail. One war at a time, please, Zhaspahr! And if it’s all the same to you, I’d really like to take care of the one we’re already fighting before we start another one with Siddarmark.”

Clyntahn scowled, and Duchairn heaved a mental sigh. The Church had already lost the tithes from the scattered lands which had joined or been conquered by the Empire of Charis. That was a not insignificant slice of revenue in its own right, but of all the mainland realms, only the Republic of Siddarmark, the Grand Duchy of Silkiah, and the Desnairian Empire were managing to pay anything like their prewar tithes, and it was questionable how much longer that would be true in Desnair’s case.

The only reason the Empire was making ends meet was the depth and richness of its gold mines, and that gold was running like water as the rest of the Desnarian economy slowed drastically. The result was a drastic rise in prices which was crushing the poor and the limited Desnarian middle class, and in the end, far more of the total tithe came from those two classes than from the aristocracy. If they could no longer make ends meet, if their incomes dropped, then so did their ability to pay their tithes, and Duchairn could already see the downward spiral starting to set in.

All of that made the fact that the Republic and the Grand Duchy were able to pay their full prewar tithes even more important. And the reason they were, as Trynair had just reminded Clyntahn, was precisely because they were the only two mainland realms continuing to carry on a brisk trade with Charis. In fact, even though the total level of their trade had dropped significantly because of the need to evade Clyntahn’s prohibition of any commerce with Charis, Siddarmark in particular was actually more prosperous than it had been three years ago.

Everybody knows Siddarmark’s always been the main conduit between Charis and the Temple Lands, whether Zhaspahr wants to admit it or not, the Treasurer thought disgustedly. Their farmers have been cleaning up out of the need to provision all our armed forces, of course, but now that Charisian goods can’t be imported legally into the Temple Lands — thanks to Zhaspahr’s stupid embargo — Siddarmark’s merchants and banking houses are making even more on the transaction. And it’s still costing us less to buy Charisian than to buy anything manufactured here on the mainland. So if we break the Siddarmarkian economy, we break our own!

He knew how much the situation infuriated Clyntahn, but for once the Grand Inquisitor had faced the united opposition of all three of his colleagues. They simply couldn’t afford to kill the wyvern that fetched the golden rabbit — not when Mother Church was pouring so much gold into building the weapons she needed to fight her jihad. That was the argument which had finally brought him — grudgingly, dragging his heels the whole way — into accepting that he had no choice but to close his eyes to the systematic violation of his embargo.

And the fact that it’s his embargo, one he insisted on decreeing without any precedent, only pisses him off worse, Duchairn thought. Bad enough that they should defy God’s will, but Langhorne forbid they should dare to challenge Zhaspahr Clyntahn’s will!

“I think we need to turn our attention back to the matter at hand,” he said before Clyntahn could fire back at Trynair and back himself still further into an untenable corner. “And while I know none of us wanted to hear about any of this, I’d like to point out that all we have so far is Father Greyghor’s preliminary semaphore report. Reports over the semaphore are never as detailed as couriered or wyvern-carried reports. I’m sure he dispatched a courier at the same time he handed his preliminary message to the semaphore clerks, but it’s not going to get here for a while, given the weather, so I think it’s probably a bit early for us to be trying to decide exactly what happened, or how, or who’s to blame for it. There’ll be time enough for that once we know more.”