Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 41

And you want to join that quest, don’t you? she asked herself, hazel eyes dark as Tellesberg’s morning breeze teased tendrils of silk loose from her braided hair. That’s what truly frightens you, isn’t it? You see that beauty, want to understand that intricacy, and you’re afraid the Inquisition is right after all, that it truly is exactly the same lure Shan-wei and Proctor used to seduce men into damnation when they first rebelled. That’s what Clyntahn’s saying, after all, and he’s not the only one. You want the people who say that to be wrong, but inside you’re afraid they aren’t. That Shan-wei and Proctor are still using that temptation, that hunger to get just a glimpse of the mind of God, to entice men away from the God they think their quest honors.

“Good morning, Your Highness,” a voice said behind her. “May I join you?”

“Of course you may, Your Eminence.” A smile replaced her brooding frown, and she turned from the railing to greet the speaker. “It’s your balcony, after all.”

“True, in a manner of speaking,” Maikel Staynair replied with an answering, gentle smile. “For the moment, anyway. Personally, I prefer to think I’m simply holding it in trust for my eventual successor. Although, actually, you know, I really miss my rather more spartan little palace over there.” The ruby ring on his hand glittered in the sunlight as he indicated the building on the far side of Tellesberg Cathedral which was home to the Bishop of Tellesberg. It was, indeed, smaller than Archbishop’s Palace . . . and still bigger than any other structure in sight. “A humble little hovel, I know, but the truth is that I really don’t need the extra seventeen bed chambers, the second ballroom, or the state dining room,” the Archbishop of Charis continued, his smile turning almost impish. “Fourteen bedrooms and a single dining room — on the large size, admittedly, but only one — were quite sufficient for my needs when I was a simple bishop, and I’m sure I could get along under such straitened conditions even now if I truly had to.”

Irys’ lips quivered at Staynair’s tone, and that, too, was something she wouldn’t have believed was possible as little as two months ago. The archbishop was the very heart of heresy and voice of apostasy, after all. That was what the Inquisition taught, and Staynair’s ability to seduce the Faithful away from Mother Church, even from among her own priesthood, was legendary. She’d read Earl Coris’ reports about Staynair’s visit to Corisande, about the way he’d drawn her father’s subjects towards him, and she hadn’t understood how it could have happened. What sinister gift had Shan-wei bestowed upon him to allow him to so easily beguile the faithful into accepting his words? To bewitch Mother Church’s own bishops and priests into accepting his authority over that of the Grand Vicar himself? Whatever might have been true about Cayleb Ahrmahk’s reaction to the assault upon his kingdom, his father’s death in battle, Maikel Staynair, the fallen bishop and betrayer of Mother Church, bore the true guilt for the schism, for it was he who had led the revolt against the Temple and the Vicarate from inside Mother Church, splitting all the world into warring camps for the first time since Shan-Wei’s Rebellion.

Yet she’d discovered it was impossible to see that monster in the heretical archbishop’s gentle, compassionate eyes . . . or to spend ten minutes in his presence without feeling the way he reached out almost unconsciously to those about him.

Cayleb and Sharleyan had been meticulous about not requiring her and Daivyn to attend mass in Tellesberg Cathedral. They’d even guaranteed them regular access to Father Davys Tyrnyr, an upper-priest who’d fearlessly maintained his loyalty to the Temple and Grand Vicar. They’d allowed him to celebrate mass privately for them in one of Archbishop Palace’s numerous small chapels, and the sanctity of the confessional had been rigorously observed. It was amazing enough, and totally contrary to the Grand Inquisitor’s version of events in Charis, that Temple Loyalists were actually allowed to practice their faith — their adherence to the Grand Vicar and the Group of Four — openly in the very heart of Tellesberg, without fear of suppression from Crown or Church. She knew only too well what had happened to anyone who openly professed Reformism — far less any suggestion of support for the Church of Charis! — in Delferahk or any other mainland realm. How could it possibly be that here, in the very capital of an empire which had no hope of victory, or even survival, without Mother Church’s defeat, those who remained loyal to her were protected by the Crown even while Reformists were savagely persecuted in other lands? It made no sense — none at all — yet the evidence of her own eyes and ears had forced her to recognize that it was true, and Father Davys himself had acknowledged as much.

Yet it had taken Irys over three five-days to discover that the person who’d actually made certain she and Daivyn had access to Father Davys had been Maikel Staynair himself. She had no doubt — now — that Cayleb and Sharleyan would have granted that access anyway, but it was Staynair who’d made it explicit, ordered his personal guardsmen to admit a known Temple Loyalist and his acolytes to Archbishop’s Palace without even having them searched for weapons, despite at least two Temple Loyalist attempts, one on the floor of his own cathedral, to assassinate him. And he’d insisted upon that because he truly did believe human beings had both the right and the responsibility to decide for themselves where their spiritual loyalties lay. That the human soul was too precious for anyone but its owner to endanger or constrain it, and that no political purpose, however vital, could be allowed to trump that fundamental, essential article of faith.

She’d been stunned by that discovery. She’d grown up a princess. She knew how political reality sometimes had no choice but to transgress even against the letter of the Writ. Mother Church herself acknowledged that, made provision for rulers to confess their transgressions, do penance for the times they’d been forced by necessity to compromise the Writ‘s full rigor. Her own father had paid thousands of marks to Mother Church and the Office of Inquisition for dispensations and absolution under exactly those provisions, and Irys Daykyn knew every other ruler, upon occasion, had found himself or herself forced to do the same.

Yet where personal faith and obedience to God were concerned, Maikel Staynair flatly rejected that concept. He would not compromise his own faith, and he refused to force anyone else to compromise his, and that, Irys had realized, almost against her will, was the true secret of his ability to “seduce” the faithful. The reason even many of the Temple Loyalists here in Old Charis respected him as a true son of God, however mistaken he might be in what he believed God and his own faith required of him.

She’d attended mass in the cathedral three times now, although she’d insisted Daivyn not do so, and she’d heard Staynair preach. And as she’d listened to him speaking from the pulpit, seen the joy bright in his eyes, heard it in his voice, she’d recognized the proof of what she’d already come to suspect. He was, quite simply, the gentlest, most devout, most compassionate and loving man she’d ever met. It might be true, as the Temple Loyalists insisted, that he was doing Shan-wei’s work in the world, but if he was, it was never because he’d knowingly given his allegiance to the Dark.

“I’m sure you could survive even under such atrocious conditions, Your Eminence,” she said now. “Personally, however, I’m much more comfortable here in the ostentatious luxury of your current domicile. I suspect the same is true of Daivyn, as well, although it’s hard to be certain what he thinks when I so seldom have a chance to speak to him. I’m afraid he spends too much time playing basketball on your private court with Haarahld Breygart and Prince Zhan for any long and meaningful conversations with a mere sister. When he’s not swimming with them in the Royal Palace’s pool, that is. Or running madly about the baseball diamond in Queen Mairah’s Court with them, for that matter.”

“It does the boy — I mean, His Highness — good, Your Highness.” Staynair’s smile broadened, then softened. “Forgive me, but it seems to me your brother’s had very little opportunity to simply be a boy since your exile from Corisande. I think it’s important we give some of that boyhood back to him, don’t you?”