How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 40


Archbishop’s Palace,

City of Tellesberg,

Kingdom of Old Charis


          Winter in Tellesberg was very different from winter in the Temple Lands, Paityr Wylsynn reflected as he stepped gratefully into the shaded portico of Archbishop Maikel’s palace. Freezing to death wasn’t much of an issue here. Indeed, the hardest thing for him to get used to when he’d first arrived had been the fierce, unremitting sunlight, although the climate did get at least marginally cooler this time of year than it was in summer. The locals took the heat in stride, however, and he loved the exotic sights and sounds, the tropical fruits, the brilliant flowers, and the almost equally brilliantly colored wyverns and birds. For that matter, he’d acclimated well enough even to the heat that the thought of returning to Temple Lands snow and sleet held little allure.

Especially these days, he thought grimly. Especially these days.

“Good morning, Father,” the senior of the guardsmen in the white and orange of the Archbishop’s service said.

“Good morning, Sergeant,” Paityr replied, and the other members of the guard detachment nodded to him without further challenge. Not because they weren’t fully alert — the attempt to assassinate Maikel Staynair in his own cathedral had put a conclusive end to any complacency they might once have felt — but because they’d seen him here so often.

          And I’m not precisely the easiest person to mistake for someone else, either, I suppose, he reflected wryly, looking down at the purple sleeve of his cassock with its sword and flame badge. I doubt there are half a dozen Schuelerites left in the entire Old Kingdom by now, and most of them are Temple Loyalists hiding in the deepest holes they can find. Besides, I’d stand out even if I were a Bédardist or a Pasqualate.

          “Welcome, Father Paityr. Welcome!”

The solemn, senior, and oh-so-superior servants who’d cluttered up the Archbishop’s Palace under its previous owners had become a thing of the past. The palace was vast enough to require a fairly substantial staff, but Archbishop Maikel preferred a less supercilious environment. Alys Vraidahn had been his housekeeper for over thirty years, and he’d taken her with him to his new residence, where she’d proceeded to overhaul the staff from top to bottom in remarkably short order. A brisk, no nonsense sort of person, Mistress Vraidahn, but as warmhearted as she was shrewd, and she’d adopted Paityr Wylsynn as yet another of the archbishop’s unofficial sons and daughters. Now she swept him a courtesy, then laughed as he leaned forward and planted a kiss on her cheek.

          “Now then!” she scolded, smacking him on the shoulder. “Don’t you be giving an old woman the kind of notions she shouldn’t be having over a young, unattached fellow such as yourself!”

          “Ah, if only I could!” he sighed. He shook his head mournfully. “I’m not very good at darning my own socks,” he confided.

          “And are you saying that idle layabout Master Ahlwail can’t do that just fine?” she challenged skeptically.

          “Well, yes, I suppose he can. Poorly,” Peter said, shamelessly maligning his valet’s sewing skills as he hung his head and looked as pitiable as possible. “But he’s not a very good cook, you know,” he added, actually getting his lower lip to quiver.

          “Comes of being a foreigner,” she told him, eyes twinkling. “Not but what you don’t look like he’s managed to keep a little meat on your bones.” Paityr sniffed, looking as much like his starving seminarian days as he could manage, and she shook her head. “Oh, all right. All right! You come around to my kitchen before you leave. I’ll have a little something for you to take back to your pantry.”

          “Bless you, Mistress Ahlys,” Paityr said fervently, and she laughed again. Then she turned her head and spotted one of the footmen.

“Hi, Zhaksyn! Run and tell Father Bryahn Father Paityr’s here to see His Eminence!”

          Anything less like the protocol in a typical archbishop’s residence would have been all but impossible to imagine, Paityr thought. Of course, so would the footman in question. The lad couldn’t be much older than sixteen or seventeen years old, his fuzzy beard (which needed shaving) just into the wispy silk stage, and his head came up like a startled prong buck’s as the housekeeper called his name.

          “Yes, Mistress Vraidahn!” he blurted and disappeared at a half-run.

          Not, Paityr noticed, without darting an even more startled look at him. And not just because of his Schuelerite cassock, he felt sure.

Paityr had always been more than a little amused by the typical mainlanders’ perspective on the provincialism of the “out islands” as they dismissively labeled Charis, Chisholm, and Corisande. Tarot (which was the least cosmopolitan of the lot, in Paityr’s opinion) got a pass from mainland prejudices because it was so close to the mainland. Still, the Tarot Channel was over three hundred miles wide, and more than one mainland wit had been heard to observe that good cooking and culture had both drowned trying to make the swim.

And what made that so amusing to him was that Charisians were actually far more cosmopolitan than the vast majority of Safeholdians . . . including just about every mainlander Paityr had ever met. The ubiquitous Charisian merchant marine guaranteed that there were very few sights Charisians hadn’t seen, and not just their sailors, either. Every nationality and physical type in the entire world — including the Harchongese, despite the Harchong Empire’s insularity — passed through Tellesberg eventually. Despite which, Paityr Wylsynn still got more than his share of double takes from those he met.

His fair skin had grown tanned enough over the years of his service here in Old Charis to almost pass for a native Charisian, but his gray eyes and bright red hair — touched to even more fiery brilliance by all that sunlight —  marked his northern birth forever. There’d been times he’d resented that, and there were other times it had simply made him feel very far from home, homesick for the Temple Lands and the place of his birth. These days he didn’t feel homesick at all, however, which had more than a little to do with the reason for this visit.

          “Paityr!” Father Bryahn Ushyr, Archbishop Maikel’s personal secretary, walked briskly into the entry hall holding out his hand. The two of them were much of an age, and Paityr smiled as he clasped forearms with his friend.

          “Thank you for fitting me into his schedule on such short notice, Bryahn.”

          “You’re welcome, not that it was all that much of a feat.” Ushyr shrugged. “You’re higher on his list than a lot of people, and not just because you’re his Intendant. It brightened his day when I told him you wanted to see him.”

          “Sure it did.” Paityr rolled his eyes, and Ushyr chuckled. But the secretary also shook his head.

          “I’m serious, Paityr. His eyes lit up when I told him you’d asked for an appointment.”

          Paityr waved one hand in a brushing away gesture, but he couldn’t pretend Ushyr’s words didn’t touch him with a glow of pleasure. In a lot of ways, whether Archbishop Maikel realized it or not, Paityr had come to regard him even more as a second father since his own father’s death.

          Which is also part of the reason for this visit, he reflected.

          “Well, come on,” Ushyr invited, and beckoned for Paityr to accompany him to the archbishop’s office.

* * * * * * * * * *

          “Paityr, it’s good to see you.”

          Maikel Staynair rose behind his desk, smiling broadly, and extended his hand. Paityr bent to kiss the archbishop’s ring of office, then straightened, tucking both his own hands into the sleeves of his cassock.

          “Thank you, Your Eminence. I appreciate your agreeing to see me on so little notice.”

          “Nonsense!” Staynair waved like a man swatting away an insect. “First, you’re my Intendant, which means I’m always supposed to have time to see you.” He grinned and pointed at the armchair facing his desk. “And, second, you’re a lively young fellow who usually has something worth listening to, unlike all too many of the people who parade through this office on a regular basis.”

          “I do try not to bore you, Your Eminence,” Paityr admitted, sitting in the indicated chair with a smile.

          “I know, and I really shouldn’t complain about the others.” Staynair sat back down behind his desk and shrugged. “Most of them can’t help it, and at least some of them have a legitimate reason for being here. Fortunately, I’ve become increasingly adroit at steering the ones who don’t off for Bryahn to deal with, poor fellow.”