Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 09


The Siddar River,

Shiloh Province,

Republic of Siddarmark

“Will you please go back inside, Your Eminence?”

Archbishop Zhasyn Cahnyr looked over his shoulder at the much younger man who stood in the inn courtyard, hands on hips, glaring at him. The younger man’s breath flowed out in a cloud of steam as he sighed in exasperation at his superior’s deliberately blank expression. The icy wind whipping across the flat, gray ice of the Siddar River snatched the cloud into fragments almost instantly, something else of which Cahnyr deliberately took no notice.

“I simply wanted a breath of fresh air, Gharth,” he said mildly.

“‘Fresh air,’ is it?” Father Gharth Gorjah, Cahnyr’s personal Secretary and aide, took his hands from his hips so that he could throw them up in the air properly. “If this air were any fresher, it’d turn you into an icicle the instant you inhaled, Your Eminence! And don’t think I’m the one who’s going to go home and discuss your foolishness with Madam Pahrsahn when it happens, either. She told me to take care of you, and standing around out here until you catch your death of cold isn’t exactly what she had in mind!”

Cahnyr smiled faintly, wondering exactly when the last vestiges of control over his own household had slipped from his fingers. It was kind of all of them to pretend (to others, at least) they still deferred to him over such minor matters as whether or not he had the wit to come in out of the rain — or the cold — but they weren’t really fooling anyone.

“I’m not going to ‘catch my death of cold,’ Gharth,” he said patiently. “And even if I were, Madam Pahrsahn’s a fair-minded woman. She could hardly hold my stubbornness against you. Especially with so many witnesses prepared to testify you nagged me absolutely unremittingly to behave better.”

“I do not ‘nag,’ Your Eminence.” Father Gharth crunched through the crusty snow of the inn yard towards him, trying not to grin. “I simply reason with you. Sometimes forcefully, I’ll admit, but always with the utmost respect. Now, would you please get your venerable, highly respected, consecrated and ordained arse inside where it’s warm?”

“Can I at least walk as far as the stable first?” Cahnyr cocked his head. “I want to see how they’re coming on the repair of that runner.”

“I just talked to them myself, Your Eminence. They say it should be done by suppertime. Which means we’ll be able to get back on the trail after breakfast tomorrow. I have to admit it doesn’t break my heart to think we’re going to be able to sit you down by a fire this afternoon, keep you under a roof tonight, and wrap you around a hot meal in the morning before we set back out.” He stepped up onto the veranda with the archbishop and folded his arms. “And now that you’ve had that reassurance, please — I’m serious — go back inside where it’s warm, Your Eminence. Sahmantha isn’t happy about the way you were coughing yesterday, and you know you promised to listen to her before Madam Pahrsahn, the Lord Protector, and Archbishop Dahnyld gave you permission to come along.”

Cahnyr cocked his head quizzically at that particularly underhanded blow. Sahmantha Gorjah had left her infant son Zhasyn in Siddar City to accompany her husband — and Cahnyr — back to Glacierheart. True, Zhasyn was in the personal care of Aivah Pahrsahn, one of the wealthiest women on all of Safehold, who could be trusted to guard him like a catamount with a single cub, but she’d still left him behind. And she’d done that because she and her husband regarded themselves as the children Cahnyr had never had. They’d flatly refused to let him make the journey without them . . . and especially without Sahmantha’s training as a healer. She’d never taken vows as a Pasqualate sister, but she’d been intensively trained by the order, and she had every intention of using that training to keep the undeniably frail archbishop she loved alive.

Of course, under the circumstances, she was only too likely to find other uses for those skills. Ugly ones he would not for the world have exposed her to, and his expression darkened at the thought. Not that it had been his idea, or even Gharth’s in this case. No, it had been Sahmantha’s, and there’d been no dissuading her. She’d always been stubborn as the day was long, even when her sainted mother had been plain old Father Zhasyn’s housekeeper. He’d never been able to make her do anything she didn’t choose to do, and this time she’d had help. Lots of help, given the way the Lord Protector and Aivah Pahrsahn — and that young whippersnapper Fardhyn! — had made the inclusion of a personal healer a nonnegotiable condition of their agreement to allow him to make the trip.

If the truth be known, he was considerably senior to Archbishop Dahnyld Fardhym, the newly created Archbishop of Siddarmark. The previous archbishop — the only legitimate archbishop, as far as the official hierarchy of the Church of God Awaiting was concerned — was Praidwyn Laicharn, but Laicharn had enjoyed the misfortune of being trapped inside Siddar City when Clyntahn’s “Sword of Schueler” failed to take the capital. He was a polished, distinguished-looking, silver-haired man, every inch the perfect archbishop, but he was an absolutely fanatic Temple Loyalist — less, in Cahnyr’s opinion, because of the strength of his belief than because of his terror of Zhaspahr Clyntahn. Had refused to have anything to do with Stohnar’s “apostate and traitorous government” following his capture, and he’d denounced any member of the clergy who did as a faithless, treacherous servant of Shan-wei.

Cahnyr had known Laicharn for over twenty years. That was one reason he was convinced it was terror, not personal faith, which made the other archbishop such an ardent Temple Loyalist. And another reason for that ardency was that Laicharn understood perfectly that unlike Zhaspahr Clyntahn, Stohnar and the Reformists were unlikely to torture their opponents or burn them alive over doctrinal disagreements, which made it much safer to defy them.

Nor was Laicharn’s attitude unique. The entire Siddarmarkian ecclesiastic hierarchy was in what could only be called acute disorder. Personally, Cahnyr thought “utter chaos” probably hit closer to the mark.

At least a third — and quite possibly closer to half — of the Church’s clerics had fled to the Temple Loyalists. Losses were substantially higher among the more senior clergy, with a far higher percentage of younger priests, upper-priests, and very junior bishops openly embracing the Reformist position. That left all too many holes in very senior positions, which accounted for much of the disarray. Stohnar, Fardhym, and other prelates and senior priests in the provinces which had remained loyal to the Republic were laboring ferociously to restore at least some order; unfortunately, they had quite a few other pressing concerns at the same time. Even more unfortunately, there was a great deal of uncertainty as to just how far toward Reformism the Siddarmarkian church as a whole was prepared to go. There’d been a lot of Reformist sentiment in the Republic even before the Sword of Schueler, and the excesses of the Temple Loyalists who’d planned and executed Clyntahn’s attack had hardened attitudes and strengthened that Reformist sentiment quite remarkably. Atrocities did tend to have a . . . clarifying effect when it came to choosing sides. Yet even some of the most enthusiastic Reformists hesitated to actively embrace the schismatic Church of Charis. That was going a step too far for many, even now, and they were trying desperately to find some halfway house between the Temple and Tellesberg Cathedral.