Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 33

“And that’s why things have been so far from clear-cut for me. But clear-cut or not, we’re called to make decisions, and the Council’s decided. I can’t pretend I find myself in wholehearted agreement with that decision, yet neither can I ignore or deny the arguments of those who pushed for it . . . or that Bishop Trahvys ‘happened’ to find himself called away from Mairisahl Cathedral on urgent business the five-day he knew we’d be debating it.”

He touched his plate, with its half eaten omelet, and his expression was cold, his eyes as hard as Adym could remember ever having seen them.

“It can’t be God’s will for His servants to deliberately starve women and children in the middle of winter. Not children.” He looked up to meet his wife’s gaze, and those hard eyes were haunted now. “Not babes in arms, not children who never had the chance to choose. That much I do know, even if I know nothing else in the entire world.” His voice was deep, with the pain of a clan lord who’d seen malnutrition in his own lands in far too many winters. “And the instructions to destroy that food came from Zion itself. There are enough of our own people in the Republic for me to know Eastshare and the Charisians’ve told nothing but the truth about that, and whatever else may be true, Mother Church would never have given that order. It came from the Grand Inquisitor, and so, in the end, we have to choose — to decide — whether or not Zhasphar Clyntahn speaks for God as well as His Church.

“I don’t know what will happen to the Church in the fullness of time, and no matter what, I’ll never be able to draw my own sword against her. But if someone doesn’t prevent this from continuing, if someone doesn’t stop it, this schism can only become permanent. Mother Church will be broken forever, beyond any hope of healing, because the Reformists will have no choice but to break with Zion and the Grand Vicar completely and permanently. And whatever the Grand Inquisitor may think, he’ll never be able to crush the hatred he’s fanning.”

He shook his head sadly.

“I may not be the theologian he is, but I’ve spent fifty years watching human beings. We clansmen are stubborner than most, and we pride ourselves on it, yet we’re not all that different from others when it comes to it, and not even Vicar Zhaspahr can kill everyone who disagrees with him. He seems determined to try, though, and if he persists, if no one stops him, the wounds Mother Church has already suffered can only become eternal. Only Shan-wei can profit from that, and I fear, fear to the bottom of my heart and soul, that the only power on Safehold that can stop him now lies in Tellesberg . . . and that it can stop him only by the sword I can never draw against her myself. That . . . fills me with shame, in far too many ways, yet all of my grief and all of my shame can’t change the truth into something else.”

Adym Parkair looked at his father, hearing the pain and recognizing the honesty, and he reached across the table to touch Lord Shairncross’ forearm.

“I think you’re right, Father,” he said quietly. “I wish you weren’t, but I think you are.”

“Of course I am.” His father patted the hand on his arm gently as he tried to inject some lightness into his tone. He didn’t succeed in that, but he managed a smile, anyway. “Of course I am. I’m a wise and experienced student of men, aren’t I?”

“That’s what you’ve always told me, at any rate,” Adym responded in kind, and Lord Shairncross chuckled.

“You should always trust your father,” he assured his son, then straightened his shoulders and reached for his teacup once more.

“On a more pragmatic note,” he continued, “telling Duke Eastshare he couldn’t march through Raven’s Land would’ve been . . . ill advised, I think. Our clansmen are almost as stubborn and bloody-minded as they like to think they are, but there aren’t very many of us. Not enough to stop a Chisholmian army, much less a Charisian one, with all those newfangled weapons, from marching pretty much wherever it chooses. And the Charisian Navy doesn’t really need our permission to sail into places like Theralt Bay and land supplies for that army, either. That idiot Suwail discovered that a few years back, if I recall correctly.”

His smile was tart, but this time it held some real humor, Adym noted.

“We could make their march unpleasant, and we could slow them down, and we could bleed them, but in the process we’d take far heavier losses. And” — his expression hardened once more — “we’d turn Raven’s Land into what’s happening in places like Glacierheart and Shiloh Province, as well. I’m not surprised the Council’s declined to do that when we couldn’t stop them anyway. And whatever my own doubts about this ‘Church of Charis,’ I won’t be party to that, either.

“So,” he inhaled deeply, “if we can’t deny them passage, we might as well make the best terms we can and find a way to profit from it.”

“Profit?” Lady Zhain frowned distastefully, and he chuckled, this time with more than a little genuine amusement.

“Love, I realize we Highlanders have nothing but contempt for the soft, decadent luxuries that come with money, but even for us, money can be a useful thing to have. That’s certainly what someone like Suwail’s going to be thinking, at any rate. But there’s more than one sort of ‘profit,’ you know.”

“You’re thinking about Charisian goodwill, aren’t you, Father?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Parkair acknowledged, turning back to his son with an approving nod. “I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever else may happen, this Charisian Empire isn’t going away. And t if we align ourselves with the Charisians’ enemies, it would have to be tempting for them to simply occupy us, the same way they’ve occupied Zebediah and Corisande. I think they’d prefer not to, but there’s no point pretending it wouldn’t be a lot easier for them to seize control of Raven’s Land — especially when all they have to do is march right across The Fence to get to us — than it ever was for them to conquer a princedom as far away, across so much ocean, and with as many people and as much money as Corisande. They might find themselves faced with one revolt after another — clansmen being clansmen — but they could do it. Frankly, they’d be stupid not to do it, if we made ourselves their enemy, and one thing Sharleyan of Chisholm never was is stupid. I haven’t seen much evidence that this new husband of hers is any slower than she is, either.”

He paused, one eyebrow arched, and Adym nodded emphatically.

“So, given all that, it makes far more sense to welcome them in and do everything we can to speed them on their way, minimizing the opportunity for the sorts of unfortunate incidents marching armies frequently encounter, especially passing through hostile territory. And if in the process we get on their good side where things like trade opportunities are concerned while simultaneously staying off their bad side where things like invasions and occupations are concerned, I’ll not complain.”

He shrugged and sipped tea, looking back out the window.

“I wish it had never come to this, and I wish I’d never seen the day I had to help make this sort of decision,” he told his wife and his son. “But we don’t always get what we wish, and the Council knows that as well as I do. That’s why we’ve made the decision we’ve made, and I’m as close to ‘all right’ with it as I suppose anyone could ever be, Zhain. Not happy, not enthusiastic, but definitely ‘all right’ under the circumstances.”

His eyes dropped back to that half-eaten omelet, and he smiled sadly, eyes darkened by the specter of starving children in Siddarmark.

“All right,” he repeated again, softly. “All right.”