Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 06

“That is not the story you’re going to hear from Shan-wei’s slaves and servants.” Lainyr told them. “Already Shan-wei’s claim that the prince and princess were ‘rescued’ rather than kidnapped has set its poisonous roots in the credulous soil of parts of Delferahk. In due time, no doubt, it will become the official lie spread by the so-called Charisian Empire and its eternally damned and accursed emperor and empress. Yet the truth is far different. The Earl of Coris, charged to protect the Prince and to guard his sister, instead sold them to the same Charisians who murdered their father in Corisande. Indeed, some evidence has emerged to suggest it was Coris who provided the blasphemer, excommunicate Cayleb’s assassins with the means to enter Manchyr without detection in the first place. The Inquisition and King Zhames’ investigators have yet to determine how he communicated with Cayleb and Sharleyan of Charis from Delferahk, yet the proof that he did is self-evident, for the ‘guardsmen’ King Zhames allowed him to recruit to protect the legitimate ruler of conquered, bleeding Corisande instead aided in his kidnapping.

“And lest anyone believe for even one instant that it was not a kidnapping, let him reflect upon this. The Charisian agent who led in this crime was Merlin Athrawes himself — the supposed seijin who serves as Cayleb Ahrmahk’s personal armsman. The Charisian agent who, through the use of Shan-wei’s foul arts, massacred an entire company of the Delferahkan Royal Guard who sought only to protect Daivyn and Irys. Guardsmen who were sent to protect those defenseless, orphaned children on the direct instructions of Bishop Mytchail, Delferahk’s intendant, after he was forewarned of the threat by no less than the Grand Inquisitor himself. Father Gaisbyrt, one of Bishop Mytchail’s most trusted aides, and another member of his order, sent to be certain of the Prince’s safety, were murdered at the same time.

“At least two survivors of the Guardsmen heard Princess Irys herself crying out for rescue, begging them to save her brother from the same murderers who butchered her father, but Shan-wei has stepped more fully into our own world than ever since the Fall itself. We don’t know what deviltry she armed her servant Athrawes with, but we know mortal men found it impossible to stand before it. Before he was done, Athrawes had burned half Talkyra Castle to the ground and blown up the other half. He stole the finest horses from King Zhames’ royal stable, he and the traitor Coris bound Princess Irys — bound a helpless, desperately struggling young maiden — to the saddle, and he himself — Athrawes, ‘Emperor Cayleb’s’ personal servant — took Prince Daivyn up before him despite the boy’s cries for help, and they rode from the burning fortress where Prince Hektor’s children had been protected into the night.”

Lainyr turned his head slowly, sweeping the pews with bleak, cold eyes, and Thirsk wondered how much — if any — of the bishop executor’s tale was true. And whether or not Lainyr himself believed a word of it. If he didn’t, he’d missed a stellar career upon the stage.

“They rode east,” the prelate continued in a cold, flat voice. “They rode east into the Duchy of Yarth until they reached the Sar River. And at that point, they met a party of several hundred Charisian Marines who had ascended the Sar in a flotilla of small craft while the Earl of Charlz’ forces were distracted by the wanton rape and pillage — the total, vicious destruction — of the defenseless town of Sarmouth. A single platoon of Delferahkan dragoons intercepted the kidnappers, but they were in turn ambushed by the hundreds of Charisians hidden in the woods and massacred almost to the man. A handful of them escaped . . . and bore witness to the casual, callous murder of yet another consecrated priest of God who’d sought nothing but to rescue a captive girl and her helpless brother from their father’s murderers.

“And then they escaped back down the Sar to Sarmouth, where they were taken aboard a Charisian warship which will undoubtedly deliver them to Cayleb and Sharleyan themselves in Tellesberg.”

The bishop executor shook his head, his eyes like stone, and touched his pectoral scepter.

“It chills the heart to think — to imagine, even for a moment — what may befall those innocent victims in Charisian hands,” he said quietly. “A boy of barely ten years? A girl not yet twenty? Alone, without protectors in the same bloody hands that butchered their father and older brother. The legitimate Prince of Corisande, in the grip of the godless empire which has conquered and pillaged that princedom and given Langhorne alone knows how many innocent children of God over into the grips of its own heretical, blasphemous ‘church.’ Who knows what pressure will be brought to bear upon them? What threats, what privations — what torture — would such as Cayleb and Sharleyan shrink from inflicting upon their victims to bend them to their will?” He shook his head again. “I tell you now, my sons — it’s only a matter of time before those helpless children are compelled to repeat whatever lies their captors put into their mouths.

“And lest anyone believe this was anything other than the outcome of a long, carefully laid strategy, consider the timing. Daivyn and Irys were stolen away from their protectors at the very instant Greyghor Stohnar was plotting to sell Siddarmark to Shan-wei! Can you conceive of the consequences if he’d succeeded? Of how the credulous, the weak, among Mother Church’s children might have reacted to the simultaneous rebellion and apostasy of one of Safehold’s true great kingdoms and the ‘spontaneous and voluntary’ acceptance of the Charisians’ savage conquest of Corisande by its rightful Prince? And what boy of such tender years would withhold that acceptance with not simply himself but his innocent sister — his only living relative — in the hands of heretics and torturers?

“No, my sons, this was a meticulously thought out, organized, and executed strategy, as monstrous as it was ambitious, and while it may have failed in Siddarmark, it succeeded in Delferahk. The future ramifications of Coris’ treason and Charis’ ruthlessness are yet for us to discover, but I tell you now that we must be wary. We must be on our guard. The Charisians have Daivyn and Irys, and they will force them to tell whatever lies best suit Charisian purposes. We have only the truth — only eyewitnesses to murder and kidnapping and arson, to rape and pillage — and Shan-wei, the Mother of Lies, knows how to defile the truth. That’s a game she’s played before, one which led to the destruction of Armageddon Reef and mankind’s fall from grace into the captivity of a sinful nature, and we dare not permit it to succeed this time any more than Langhorne permitted it to succeed the first time. It’s essential that the truth be known, far and wide, and that no one be permitted to spread Shan-wei’s filth unchallenged. That’s the message Archbishop Trumahn sends us in the Grand Inquisitor’s name. As I stand here, the same message is being transmitted to every kingdom, every princedom, every cathedral, every intendant in all the world, and I call upon you as Mother Church’s faithful sons, to do your part in protecting the truth against the foul fabrications of priest-killers, regicides, blasphemers, and heretics.”

Silence hovered, and Thirsk stared back at Lainyr, refusing to look away lest those sitting closest see the disbelief burning in his eyes. Unlike any of the rest of them, he’d met Cayleb of Charis. He’d been only a crown prince then, not a king or an emperor, yet some qualities went to the bone, unchanging as stone and less yielding than steel. Ruthless with his enemies when he felt it necessary Cayleb might be — Thirsk knew that from personal experience, as well — but someone who could dishonor himself the way Lainyr was describing? Someone who would abuse or torture children helpless in his hands? No, not that king. Not that man, whatever the potential prize. That was what Zhasphar Clyntahn did, and Cayleb Ahrmahk would never stoop to Clyntahn’s level. Eternally damned heretic, apostate, and blasphemer he might indeed be, but always a man of honor . . . and never a torturer.

Lainyr gazed out across the cathedral’s pews for at least another full minute, then his nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply.

“And now, my sons,” he said softly, “I ask and charge you to join with me in a mass of intercession. Let us beseech Langhorne and Chihiro to protect their servants Irys and Daivyn even in the very hand of the ungodly. And let us also beseech the Holy Bédard and all of the other Archangels and angels to be with them and comfort them in this time of peril and trial. It is for us, their servants in this world, to free that brother and that sister — and all of God’s children — from the power of heresy and evil, so let us rededicate ourselves to that holy purpose even as we commend Irys and Daivyn to their protection and comfort.”