Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 32

Suwail hadn’t cared for his position, or for his own certainty that Shairncross had been privately delighted by what had happened to him, but he hadn’t been particularly popular with his fellow clan lords even before he angered Charis. The Council had accepted its new Lord Speaker’s advice, which hadn’t done anything to improve relations between Clan Shairncross and Clan Theralt. Still, all of that had been eleven whole years ago, so of course all the bad blood had been given plenty of time to dissipate, Adym thought sardonically.

“I thought Suwail was opposed to the idea, Father,” he said out loud, and Parkair laughed harshly.

“Suwail’s been opposed to the anything coming out of Charis ever since he got his fingers burnt along with his waterfront. Say what you will about the man, he does know how to hold a grudge. Probably because there’s nothing else in his head to drive it out. But, give Shan-wei her due, he’s greedy enough to set even a grudge aside for enough marks. In his case, at least, it was never about anything remotely approaching a principle, at any rate!”

Lady Zhain made a soft noise which sounded remarkably like someone trying not to laugh into her teacup. Her husband glanced at her, then looked back at his son.

“I’m sure he’s going to hold out for as handsome a bribe as we can screw out of the Charisians, but once he’s paid off, he’ll be fine with the idea. And Zhaksyn’s been in favor of it from the beginning. He’s the logical one to serve as our liaison with Eastshare. As long as he doesn’t end up letting the Charisians buy us too cheaply, anyway.”

Adym nodded, but his eyes were thoughtful as he reflected upon what his father hadn’t just said. He knew Lord Shairncross had been badly torn by the request the exhausted Chisholmian messenger had carried to Marisahl, and he respected his father’s position, even if it wasn’t quite the same as his own.

Weslai Parkair was a loyal son of Mother Church, and he’d raised his heir to be the same. The thought of openly permitting a Charisian army to march across Raven’s Land to enter the Republic of Siddarmark for the express purpose of aiding Lord Protector Greyghor against a Temple Loyalist uprising had caused him immense pain. A Lord Speaker was traditionally neutral in any matter brought before the Council of Clan Lords, and he’d observed that neutrality this time, as always. Yet no one who knew him could have doubted how difficult he found the decision.

Poor Father

, Adym thought. Such a good man, and so loyal to such a bad cause. And the real hell of it, from his perspective, is that he knows it’s a bad cause.

They’d talked about it, just as Adym had discussed it with his mother, and his father knew they didn’t see eye-to-eye on this particular topic. But Lord Shairncross was too astute a student of human nature not to understand the very thing his faith and loyalty to Mother Church insisted he deny.

And it helps that Bishop Trahvys knows it, too

, Adym thought. Of course, he’s more like a clansman than a mainlander these days himself!

Despite its impressive size, Raven’s Land’s tiny population was too miniscule to support an archbishopric. Instead, it had been organized into a single bishopric, and its climate, combined with its relative poverty and lack of people, meant it had never been considered any prize by Mother Church’s great dynasties. Trahvys Shulmyn was the scion of a minor noble in the small Border State duchy of Ernhart, who’d never had the patrons or the ambition to seek a more lucrative post.

And he was also a very good man, one Adym suspected was much more in sympathy with the Reformists than his masters in far distant Zion realized.

“I know this is a hard decision for you, Weslai,” Lady Zhain said now, setting down her cup and looking into her husband’s eyes across the table. “Are you going to be all right with it? I know you too well to expect you to be comfortable with it, no matter what the Council says. But are you going to be able to live with it?”

The dining room was silent for several seconds. Then, finally, Parkair inhaled deeply and nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “You’re right that I’m never going to be comfortable with it, but these aren’t ‘comfortable’ times.”

He smiled faintly. It was a fleeting expression, and it vanished as he looked back out at the slowly thickening snowfall.

“I never thought I’d see a day when the sons and daughters of God had to choose between two totally separate groups of men claiming to speak for Him and the Archangels,” he said softly. “I never wanted to see that day. But it’s here, and we have to deal with it as best we can.”

He turned away from the window and his eyes refocused as he looked first at his wife and then at his son.

“I know both of you have been . . . impatient with me over this issue.” Adym started to speak, but Parkair’s raised hand stopped him. “I said ‘impatient,’ Adym, and that was all I meant. And, to be honest, I’ve been impatient with myself . A man ought to know what he believes, where he stands, what God demands of him, and he ought to have the courage to take that stand. But I’ve been wrestling with myself almost since this war began, and especially since the Ferayd Incident and what happened in Zion last winter. What should be clear’s been nothing of the sort, and even if it had been as simple and clear-cut as I wanted it to be, a clan lord has obligations and responsibilities. A man can take whatever position God and his conscience require of him and accept the consequences of his actions, but a clan lord, responsible for all the folk who look to him for leadership — his decisions have consequences for far too many people for him to make any decision this important impulsively. And in the quiet of his own thoughts, he has to ask himself whether or not he has a right to take all of those other folk with him to wherever he ultimately decides to go.”

It was very quiet in the dining chamber, and his eyes were dark as he looked back and forth between the two most important people in his own life.

“Mother Church was ordained by Langhorne himself on God’s own command. We owe her obedience, not simply because Langhorne created her, but because of the reason he created her — to be the keeper of men and women’s souls, the guardian of God’s world and all of His children’s hope of immortality. And yet . . . and yet. . . .” He shook his head, his expression sad. “Mother Church speaks now with Zhaspahr Clyntahn’s voice, and what she says has driven a wedge into her own heart. Bishop Trahvys has done his best to mitigate that here in Raven’s Land, but not even a man as good as he is can hide the harshness of that voice. Or the fact that he finds himself in disagreement with so much of what it says.”

He shook his head, his expression sad.

“I don’t know how it started, or why Clyntahn and the others” — even here, even now, he avoided the term “Group of Four,” Adym noted — “sought Charis’ destruction. But I do know that if I’d been Haarahld Ahrmahk, I would’ve responded exactly the way he did. And there’s no question in my heart or mind that it’s Vicar Zhaspahr who’s truly driving this schism. Maybe he’s right to do that, and Langhorne knows a true servant of Shan-wei must be dealt with severely, as Schueler commanded. Yet the doctrine he’s announced and the policies he’s set are only widening the schism. They’re justifying this ‘Church of Charis” defiance of the Temple, and I understand how someone like Maikel Staynair or Sharleyan of Chisholm or Cayleb Ahrmahk can see only the hand of Shan-wei herself in the Inquisition’s actions. None of which changes the fact that by defying the Grand Vicar’s authority, they threaten to completely splinter Mother Church.