BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER – snippet 3:
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Charis
It was very quiet in Tellesberg Cathedral.
The enormous circular structure was packed, almost as crowded as it had been for King Haarahld's funeral mass, but the atmosphere was very different from the one which had prevailed on that occasion. There was the same undertone of anger, of outrage and determination, but there was something else, as well. Something which hovered like the sultry silence before a thunderstorm. A tension which had grown only more taut and sharper-clawed in the five-days since the old king's death.
Captain Merlin Athrawes of the Charisian Royal Guard understood that tension. As he stood at the entrance to the royal box, watching over King Cayleb and his younger brother and sister, he knew exactly what that vast, not-quite-silent crowd was thinking, worrying about. What he wasn't prepared to hazard a guess about was how it was going to react when the long-anticipated moment finally arrived.
Which, he thought dryly, it's going to do in about twenty-five seconds.
As if his thought had summoned the reality, the cathedral's doors opened. There was no music, no choir, on this occasion, and the metallic "Clack!" of the latch seemed to echo and re-echo through the stillness like a musket shot. The doors swung silently, smoothly, wide on their well oiled, meticulously maintained hinges, and a single scepter-bearer stepped through them. There was no thurifer; there were no candle-bearers. There was simply a procession — relatively small, for the main cathedral of an entire kingdom — of clergy in the full, glittering panoply of the vestments of the Church of God Awaiting.
They moved through the stained-glass sunlight pouring through the cathedral's windows, and the stillness and silence seemed to intensify, spreading out from them like ripples of water. The tension ratcheted higher, and Captain Athrawes had to forcibly remind his right hand to stay away from the hilt of his katana.
There were twenty clerics in that procession, led by a single man who wore the white, orange-trimmed cassock of an archbishop under a magnificently embroidered cope stiff with bullion thread and gems. The ruby-set golden crown which had replaced the simple bishop's coronet he had previously worn in this cathedral proclaimed the same priestly rank as his cassock, and the ruby ring of his office flashed on his hand.
The other nineteen men in the procession wore only marginally less majestic copes over white, untrimmed cassocks, but instead of crowns or cornets, they wore the simple white-cockaded priests' caps of bishops in another prelate's cathedral. Their faces were less serene than their leader's. In fact, some of them looked even more tense, more worried, then the laymen waiting for their arrival.
The procession moved steadily, smoothly, down the central aisle to the sanctuary, then unraveled into its component bishops. The man in the archbishop's cassock seated himself on the throne reserved for the Archangel Langhorne's steward in Charis, and voices murmured here and there throughout the cathedral as he sat. Captain Athrawes didn't know if the archbishop had heard them. If he had, he gave no sign of it as he waited while his bishops took their places in the ornate, and yet far humbler, chairs which had been arranged to flank his throne.
Then the last bishop was seated, and the silence was absolute once more, brittle under its own weight and internal tension, as Archbishop Maikel Staynair looked out over the congregation.
Archbishop Maikel was a tallish man, for a Safeholdian, with a magnificent beard, a strong nose, and large, powerful hands. He was also the single human soul in that entire cathedral who actually looked calm. Who almost certainly was calm, Captain Athrawes thought, wondering how the man managed it. Even faith had to have its limits. Especially when Staynair's right to the crown and cassock which he wore, the throne in which he sat, had not been confirmed by the Church's Council of Vicars. Nor was there even the most remote hope that the vicars ever would confirm him in his new office.
Which, of course, explained the tension which gripped the rest of the cathedral.
Then, finally, Staynair spoke.
"My children," his powerful, magnificently trained voice carried easily, helped by the cathedral's total, waiting silence, "we are well aware of how anxious, how worried and even frightened, many of you must be by the unprecedented wave of change which has swept through Charis in the last few months."
Something which not even Captain Athrawes' hearing could have quite called a sound swept through the listening parishioners as the archbishop's words recalled the invasion attempt which had cost them the life of a king. And as his use of the ecclesiastical "we" emphasized that he truly was speaking ex cathedra, formally proclaiming the official, legal, and binding doctrine and policy of his archbishopric.
"Change is something which must be approached cautiously," Staynair continued, "and change, solely for the sake of change, must be avoided. Yet even Mother Church's Office of Inquisition has recognized in the past that there are times when change cannot be avoided. Grand Vicar Tomhys' writ of instruction, On Obedience and Faith, established almost five centuries ago that there are times when attempts to deny, or evade, the consequences of necessary change become in themselves sin.
"This is such a time."
The stillness when he paused was absolute. What had been a state of tension had become a breathless, totally concentrated focus on Archbishop Maikel. One or two heads twitched, as if their owners were tempted to look up at the royal box, instead of at the archbishop, but no one did. Captain Athrawes suspected that it would have been physically impossible for anyone to actually look away from Staynair at this moment.
"My children," the archbishop shook his head gently, his smile sad, "we fully realize that many of you are concerned, possibly even angered by, the vestments we wear, the priestly office to which we have been summoned. We cannot find it in our hearts to blame any of you for that. Nonetheless, we believe what is transpiring in Charis today is the will of God. That God Himself has called us to this office. Not because of any special ability, eloquence, or grace which we might, as any mortal, possess, but because it is His will and intent to put His house here on Safehold, and in the hearts of His children — our hearts — into order.
"This is a day of great grief and sorrow for all of us, but it must also be a day of renewal and rebirth. A day in which we — all of us, every man and woman among us — reaffirm that which is true and just and good and reclaim those things from those who would profane them. We must do that without succumbing to the temptations of power, without listening to the voice of self-interest, or tainting ourselves with hatred or a lust for revenge. We must act calmly, deliberately, with due respect and reverence for the offices and institutions of Mother Church. But, above all, we must act."
Every member of his audience hung upon the archbishop's every word, yet Captain Athrawes saw no lessening of their tension, no relief, despite Staynair's calm, rational, almost soothing tones.
"My children, we have, with King Cayleb's permission, approval, and support, brought before you today the text of our first official message to the Grand Vicar and to the Council of Vicars. We would not have it appear that we have hidden in the shadows, concealed from you any aspect of what we do here, and why. You are God's children. You have the right to know what those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of caring for your immortal souls have been called to do by the demands of those pastoral responsibilities."
The archbishop held out his hand, and one of the other bishops rose. He crossed to the archbishop's throne and laid an ornately sealed and signed document in that waiting hand. Ribbons, wax and metallic seals, dangled from it, and the rustle of the thick, expensive parchment upon which it had been penned was loud in the stillness.
Then he began to read.
"To His Grace, Grand Vicar Erek, of his name the twenty-seventh, of his Office the eighty-third, Steward and Servant of God and of the Archangel Langhorne, who is, was, and will be God's deputy here on Safehold, from Archbishop Maikel Staynair, Shepherd of Charis, greetings in the name and brotherhood of God."
The archbishop's reading voice was as powerful and well-trained as his normal speaking tones. It was the sort of voice which could have taken the driest, least interesting of official documents and somehow made people realize those documents mattered.
Not that it took any special talent to make that clear to these people on this day.
"It is with the most bitter and profound regret," Staynair continued reading, "that we must inform Your Grace that recent events here in Charis have revealed to us a great evil which has infested God's Church."
The air in the cathedral stirred, as if every single one of his listeners had inhaled abruptly and simultaneously.
"The Church and Council of Vicars ordained by the Archangel Langhorne in God's name has been corrupted," Staynair continued in that same calm, unflinching voice. "Offices, decisions, pardons, writs of approval and attestation, as well as writs of condemnation and anathematization, are sold and bartered for, and the very authority of God is twisted and abused for the ambition, arrogance, and cynicism of men who call themselves vicars of God.
"We send to you with this message evidence attesting to and confirming that which we now tell you in our own words."
He paused, very briefly, and then looked up, no longer reading, but reciting from memory as his eyes swept the strained, silent faces which filled that mighty cathedral.
"We indict Zahmsyn Trynair, called a Vicar of God and Chancellor of the Church of God, and with him Allayn Maigwair, Rhobair Duchairn, and Zhaspahr Clyntahn, who also call themselves Vicars of God, for crimes against this Kingdom, this Archbishopric, Holy Mother Church, and God Himself. We offer you proofs that they, acting in concert as the so-called 'Group of Four,' did, in fact, organize and direct the recent attack upon the people of Charis. That Zhamsyn Trynair, individually, and all of them, in concert, did, in fact, use their personas as 'Knights of the Temple Lands' to incite and command the Kings of Dohlar and Tarot, the Queen of Chisholm, and the Princes of Emerald and Corisande, to league together for the express purpose of utterly destroying this Kingdom with fire and the sword. That they misused, misdirected, and stole funds from Mother Church's own coffers to finance their plan to destroy Charis. That they, and others like them, have systematically and continuously abused their positions and their authority in the pursuit of personal power, wealth, prestige, and luxury.
"We can no longer turn an ear which does not hear, nor an eye which does not see, upon this ongoing pattern of vile corruption. The high offices of Mother Church are neither the negotiable virtue of some street corner strumpet, nor the plunder of footpads and thieves to be disposed of to receivers of stolen goods in dark rooms, hidden from all honest eyes. They are trusts from God, held in the service of God's children, yet in the hands of those vile men who have been permitted to poison God's own Church, they have become tools of oppression, abuse, and the casual ordering of mass murder.
"We, the Archbishop of Charis, speaking of, for, and with the consent of our dread sovereign, King Cayleb II, can and will abide no further degradation of Mother Church. The Mother of all men and all women has become the Harlot of Shan-wei herself, for she has permitted all of the evils enumerated in this message and its accompanying proofs not simply to exist, but to prosper. Accordingly, we can no longer hold ourselves, or our rulers, or the children of God in our care, slavishly obedient to the men who sell that harlot's favors to the highest bidder. We separate ourselves from them, and from you, and we cast you out, for you have permitted them to flourish like noxious weeds in the garden which God has entrusted to you.
"The Archbishopric of Charis, as the Kingdom of Charis, rejects the authority of murderers, rapists, arsonists, and thieves. If you cannot purge the Church of such cankers and poisons, then we will cleanse ourselves of them, and, God willing, in the fullness of time, we will purge Mother Church herself of those who profane the vestments and rings of their offices with every breath they breathe, every decision they make.
"We do not come lightly to this point, to this decision," Maikel Staynair told the far distant head of the Council of Vicars while his eyes bored into the faces, expressions, and souls of his flock. "We come to it with tears and sorrow. We come to it as children who may no longer serve a mother they have always loved, one whose only ambition has become the systematic enslavement and murder of her own children.
"Yet however it may grieve us, however deeply we may wish that it were not so, we have come to this point, to this decision. Here we will stand, for we can do no other, and we appeal to the ultimate judgment of the God who created us all to judge between us and the true fathers of corruption."