Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 10

Lots of luck with that, Cahnyr thought dryly. It was a matter to which he’d given quite a lot of thought — and devoted much of his effort — during his own exile in Siddar City. Whatever they may want, in the end they’re going to have to choose between finding a way home to Zion or accepting the unavoidable conclusion of the steps they’ve already taken. And the truth is that the Charisians’ve been right from the very beginning. The Group of Four may be the ones twisting and perverting Mother Church at this particular moment, but if she isn’t reformed — reformed in a way that prevents any future Group of Four from hijacking her — they’ll only be replaced by someone else altogether too soon. More to the point, if the hesitaters don’t make up their mind to embrace Charis, they’ll inevitably fall to the Temple, and there won’t be any way “home” for any of them as long as Zhaspahr Clyntahn is alive.

He’d reached that conclusion long ago, even before Clyntahn butchered all of his friends and fellow members of Samyl Wylsynn’s circle of Reformist-minded vicars and bishops. Nothing he’d seen since had shaken it, and he’d spent much of his time during his exile from Glacierheart working to bolster the pro-Charis wing of the Reformist communities in and around Old Province and the capital. Fardhym had been one of the churchmen who’d very cautiously worked with him in that endeavor, which was a big part of his acceptability in Stohnar’s eyes.

And it doesn’t hurt that he had “Aivah’s” recommendation, as well,

Cahnyr thought, smiling faintly at the thought of the redoubtable woman who’d once been known as Ahnzhelyk Phonda . . . among other things. At the moment, she probably has more influence with Stohnar than virtually any nativeborn Siddarmarkian. After all, without her he’d be dead!

“You know, Gharth,” he said out loud, “technically, Archbishop Dahnyld has no authority over me whatsoever without the confirmation of his elevation to Primate of all Siddarmark by the Council of Vicars, which I don’t think, somehow, he’s going to be receiving anytime soon. Even if, by some miracle, that should happen, though, no one short of the Grand Vicar himself has the authority needed to strip an archbishop of his see or order him not to return to his archbishopric. And with all due respect to the Lord Protector, no layman, regardless of his civil office, has that authority, either.”

“Well, unless memory fails me, Your Eminence, the Grand Vicar named your replacement in Glacierheart quite some time ago,” his undutiful secretary shot back. “So if we’re going to concern ourselves about deferring to his authority rather than Archbishop Dahnyld’s, we should probably turn around and head home right now.”

“I was simply pointing out that what we confront here is something in the nature of a power vacuum,” Cahnyr said with the utmost dignity. “A situation in which the lines of authority have become . . . confused and blurred, requiring me to proceed as my own faith and understanding direct me.”

“Oh, of course it does, Your Eminence.” Gorjah frowned thoughtfully for a moment, then slowly and deliberately removed one glove so he could properly snap his thumb and second finger. “I know! We can ask Madam Pahrsahn’s opinion!”

“Oh, a low blow, Gharth. A low blow!” Cahnyr laughed, and Gorjah smiled. He hadn’t heard that infectious laugh out of his archbishop very often in the last year or so. Now Cahnyr shook a finger under his nose. “A dutiful, respectful secretary would not bring up the one human being in the entire world of whom his archbishop is terrified.”

“‘Terrified’ isn’t the word I’d choose, Your Eminence. I have observed, however, a distinct tendency on your part to . . . accept Madam Pahrsahn’s firmly urged advice, shall we say.”

“Diplomatically put,” Cahnyr said , then sighed. “You really are going to be stubborn about this, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Your Eminence, I am,” Gorjah said in a softer, much more serious tone. He reached out and laid his bare hand affectionately on his superior’s shoulder. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but you truly aren’t as young as you used to be. You’ve got to start taking at least some cognizance of that fact, because there are so many things you have to do. So many things only you can do. And because there are so many people who love you. You owe them a willingness to at least try to take care of yourself, especially when so many of their hopes are riding on your shoulders.”

Cahnyr gazed across into the taller, younger man’s eyes. Then he reached up and patted the hand on his shoulder.

“All right, Gharth. You win. This time, at least!”

“I’ll settle for any victories I can get, Your Eminence,” Gorjah assured him. Then he opened the inn’s front door and ushered the archbishop through it with a flourishing bow. Cahnyr chuckled, shook his head, and stepped back inside resignedly.

“Sent you to the right about, didn’t he just, Your Eminence?” Fraidmyn Tohmys, Cahnyr’s valet for over forty years, since his seminary days, remarked dryly from where he’d been waiting just inside that door. “Told you he would.”

“Did I ever mention to you that that ‘I told you so’ attitude of yours is very unbecoming?”

“Now that I think about it, you may have — once or twice, Your Eminence.”

Thomys followed the archbishop into the small, rustic, simply furnished side parlor which had been reserved for his personal use. The fire crackled and hissed, and the valet divested Cahnyr of his coat, gloves, scarf, and fur hat with the ease of long practice. Somehow, Cahnyr found himself seated in a comfortable chair, stocking feet towards the fire while his boots sat on a corner of the hearth and he sipped a cup of hot, strong tea.

The tea filtered down into him, filling him with a welcome heat, yet even as he sipped, he was aware of the flaws in the picture of warmth and comfort. The fire, for example, had been fed with lengths of split nearoak and logs of mountain pine, not coal, and under other circumstances, the cup of tea would have been a cup of hot chocolate or (more likely, in such a humble inn) thick, rich soup. But the coal that would normally have been shipped down the river from Glacierheart hadn’t been shipped this year, chocolate had become an only half-remembered dream of better times, and with so little food in anyone’s larder, the innkeeper was reserving all he had for formal meals.

And even the formal meals are altogether too skimpy,

Cahnyr thought grimly as he sipped his tea. He’d always practiced a degree of personal austerity rare among the Church’s senior clergy — one reason so many of that senior clergy had persistently underestimated him as they played the Temple’s power games — yet he’d also always had a weakness for a savory, well-prepared meal. He preferred simple dishes, without the course after course extravaganzas in which a sensualist like Zhaspahr Clyntahn routinely indulged, but he had had that appreciation for food.