Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 05
City of Gorath,
Kingdom of Dohlar
“Therefore, with angels and the Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we glorify your glorious Name, evermore praising You and saying, holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, creator of all the world, Heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Glory be to You, O Lord, our maker. Amen.”
Lywys Gardynyr, Earl of Thirsk, signed himself with Langhorne’s scepter, rose from the kneeler, and seated himself in the richly upholstered pew with a suppressed grimace for the soft depth of that upholstery.
He’d been raised on his family’s estates, far from the Kingdom of Dohlar’s capital city and its cathedral, and he really preferred the plain, wooden pews of his youth to the glittering luxury of Gorath Cathedral. Of course, he preferred a rather plainer and less ostentatious lifestyle in general than that to which the wealthy and powerful of Gorath treated themselves. He’d found that distaste for ostentation becoming steadily more pronounced where religion was concerned and he felt it now, even though he had no choice but to acknowledge the magnificence of the cathedral’s architecture, statuary, and stained-glass. There was no denying the glitter of its altar service, the smoothly gleaming perfection of its floor, paved in the golden stone for which Dohlar was famed and set with the Archangels’ personal sigils, the majesty of its twin scepter-crowned steeples. He’d made his obligatory visit to the Temple in far-off Zion, and he knew Gorath Cathedral was but a smudged copy of the very home of God on earth, yet despite its smudges, it towered high into the heavens to the glory of God and the Archangels. And despite his cross grained preferences, its beauty was almost enough to help him forget, at least momentarily, the war being waged for the heart and soul of Mother Church.
Now he watched Bishop Executor Wylsynn Lainyr lower his hands from the upraised position of supplication and turn from the altar to face the sparsely occupied cathedral. He crossed to the pulpit and stood behind it and its gold and gem-encrusted copy of the Holy Writ. But instead of opening the splendidly illuminated volume, he simply folded his hands upon it.
Thirsk looked back at the bishop executor stonily, face carefully expressionless. He didn’t like Lainyr. He hadn’t especially liked Ahrain Mahrlow, Lainyr’s predecessor, either, but he’d found himself deeply regretting Mahrlow’s heart attack, especially when he’d found himself increasingly at odds with Lainyr’s policies and the way the bishop executor had insisted upon treating the Charisian prisoners who’d surrendered to him. He’d heard the details of what had happened to those same prisoners after he’d been ordered to surrender them to the Inquisition, as well, and those details had filled him with a cold and bitter self-loathing. He’d had no choice. It had been his duty, and triply so: as a noble of the Kingdom of Dohlar, charged to obey his king’s commands; as the commander of the Royal Dohlaran Navy, charged to obey his lawfully appointed superiors; and as a son of Mother Church, bound to obey her commands in all things. And then there’d been his duty as father and grandfather to do nothing that might give Ahbsahlahn Kharmych, the Archbishopric of Gorath’s Schuelerite intendant, an excuse to cast his family to the same Inquisition which had butchered those prisoners of war.
He knew all of that, and none of it made him feel any less unclean. Nor did he expect what was about to happen here in this glittering cathedral to change that.
He glanced to his right, where Bishop Staiphan Maik, the Navy’s special intendant, sat between the Duke of Fern, King Rahnyld IV’s first councilor, and the Duke of Thorast, Thirsk’s immediate superior. Maik’s face wore as little expression as his own, and he remembered the auxiliary bishop’s advice to him the day the peremptory order to surrender his prisoners had arrived. It hadn’t been the advice he would have anticipated out of a Schuelerite, but it had been good.
Better than I realized at the time
, the earl thought grimly. Especially since I hadn’t realized — then — just how closely the girls and their families are being watched. Purely for their own protection against crazed Charisian assassins, given my role in handing the Charisian Navy the only defeat — modest though it may’ve been — it’s ever suffered. Of course.
He felt his jaw muscles ache and forced himself to relax them. And the truth was, he didn’t know which infuriated him more — the discovery that the Inquisition and the Royal Guard had decided to “protect” his family to make sure they remained hostages for his own obedience, or the fact that he couldn’t truly decide even now whether or not he would have continued to obey if his family hadn’t been held hostage to ensure he did.
It’s supposed to be clear-cut. Black and white — right and wrong, obedience or disobedience, honor or dishonor, godly action or service to Shan-wei. I’m supposed to
know where my duty lies, and I’m supposed to do it without fear of any consequences I may suffer for doing what I know is right. And in any other war, it would be almost that clear-cut, almost that simple. When one side tortures prisoners to death and the other treats its prisoners decently, without abuse or starvation or the denial of healers, it should be easy to know where honor and justice — yes, and God and the Archangels! — stand. But this is Mother Church, the keeper of men’s souls. She speaks with Langhorne’s own authority in our mortal world. How dare I — how dare anyone — set his merely mortal, fallible judgment in opposition to hers?
That was a question too many people had been forced to confront in the last five years, and the sheer courage — or arrogance — it had taken for so many of them to decide against Mother Church filled Lywys Gardynyr with mingled horror and awe. A horror and awe made only deeper by the growing hunger he felt to make the same decision.
he told himself harshly. Not against Mother Church. Against that sick, murderous son-of-a-bitch Clyntahn and the rest of the “Group of Four.“ Yet how much of that anger of mine, that hatred, is Shan-wei’s own snare, set before me and all those many others to seduce us into her service by perverting our own sense of justice? The Writ doesn’t call her “the seducer of innocence” and “the corrupter of goodness” for nothing. And —
“Brothers in God,” the bishop executor’s voice interrupted the earl’s thoughts. All eyes focused upon him, and he shook his head, his expression grim. “I have received directions from Archbishop Trumahn, sent from Zion over the semaphore, to speak to you about fearful tidings. It’s for that reason I requested all of you to join me here in the cathedral this afternoon. Partly because this is by far the best place for me to give you this news, and partly so that we might join in prayer and supplication for the Archangels’ intervention to protect and comfort two innocent victims of Shan-wei’s spite and the machinations of sinful men who have given themselves to her service.”
Thirsk felt his jaw tighten once more. So he’d been right about the reasons for this unexpected gathering of the kingdom’s — or, at least, the capital’s — highest nobility . . . and the senior officers of the Dohlaran army and navy.
“I’m sure that by now all of you, given your duties and your sources of information, have heard the wild tales coming out of Delferahk,” Lainyr continued harshly. “Unfortunately, while there may have been little truth in much of what we’ve heard, there has, indeed, been a basis for it. Princess Irys and Prince Daivyn have been kidnapped by Charisian agents.”
A rustling stir ran through the cathedral, and Thirsk snorted as he heard a handful of muttered comments. What is it actually possible some of these men hadn’t heard the “rumors” Lainyr was talking about? If they were as poorly informed as that, the kingdom was in even more trouble than he’d thought it was!