BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER – snippet 49:
Those closest to the nave saw the archbishop walking past them, alone, followed only by the single grim-faced, blue-eyed guardsman, and waves of relief rippled outward from them, following on the heels of the shocked confusion and anger which had already swept the Cathedral. Staynair's face was less grim than Merlin's, and he seemed to find it rather easier than Merlin would have to keep himself from flinching as more hands than ever reached out, touching him as their owners sought physical reassurance that he was unharmed.
Letting those people reach out to the archbishop, actually touch him, was one of the hardest things Merlin had ever done, yet he forced himself not to interfere. And not just because he knew Staynair would not have thanked him for the interference. Merlin would have found it remarkably easy to live with the archbishop's subsequent ire, if only he hadn't realized Staynair was right about that, too.
It's not even as if he'd reasoned it out, Merlin thought. It's who he is — what he is. Pure instinct. Well, instinct and faith.
Staynair reached the sanctuary rail, unclipped the gate in it — probably the first time in at least a decade that one of his acolytes hadn't performed that task for him — and stepped through it into the chancel itself. Merlin stopped at the rail, turning back to face the rest of the Cathedral, but he also watched through the remotes his SNARCs had deployed throughout the enormous structure as Staynair genuflected to the enormous mosaics of Langhorne and Bédard, then stood to face the assembled congregation himself.
The bedlam faded slowly and unwillingly as the worshipers saw him standing there. The blood spray from his would-be killers showed dark across his vestments, and there was still blood on his face, as well, yet it was obvious that none of it was his blood, and several people cried out in relief as they realized that.
Relief, however, did nothing to cancel anger, and Merlin could feel the rage crouched in the hearts and minds of those hundreds of people as they realized how close to assassination their archbishop had truly come. There were more shouts, now — shouts of more clearly articulated, more sharply directed, anger.
"My children!" Staynair said, pitching his own powerful voice to break through the gathering storm swell of vengeful outrage. "My children!"
His words rang out, cutting through the background noises, and quiet descended upon the Cathedral once more. It wasn't silence — there was still too much anger, too much shock, for that — but at least the noise level dropped, and Staynair raised his hands.
"My children," he said in a marginally quieter voice, "this is a house of God. In this place, in this time, surely vengeance must be His, not ours."
A fresh ripple went through the Cathedral, as if the people listening to him couldn't quite believe what they'd just heard, and he shook his head sadly.
"Whatever others may believe, my children, God is a god of love," he told them. "If justice must be dealt, then let it be dealt, but don't poison yourselves with vengeance. Surely it's tragic enough that three of God's children should already have died here in His house without the rest of them staining themselves with hatred!"
"But they tried to kill you!" someone, lost in the vast depths of the Cathedral, shouted back, and Staynair nodded.
"They did," he acknowledged, "and they have already paid the price for that." The regret, the sadness, in his voice was completely genuine, Merlin realized. "The men who made that attempt are already dead, my son. So who would you have us take vengeance upon for their crime?"
"The Temple Loyalists!" someone else replied hotly, but Staynair shook his head once more.
"No," he said firmly. "We know only that three men made this attempt. We know nothing as yet of who they were, why they attempted such a thing, or of whether or not they acted on their own. We know nothing about them, my children, not even — whatever some of you may think — that they had any connection whatsoever with the Temple Loyalists here in Tellesberg. In the absence of that knowledge, there can be no justification for striking out at anyone, and even if there could, vengeance is not the proper province of any child of God, under any circumstances. Justice may be, but justice is the province of the Crown. We will leave justice to our King, confident in his ability to know and to do that which is right. We will not seek vengeance. We will not turn ourselves into something we would never wish to be."
Voices murmured, some of them still with more than a hint of rebellion, yet no one dared to disagree with their archbishop.
"My children," Staynair said more softly, "I know you're angry. I understand why. But this is a time for sorrow, not anger. Whatever you may think of the men who made this attempt today, they were still your fellow children of God. I have no doubt that they did what they did because of their own faith in God. I don't say I believe it truly was what God desired of them, but it was what they have been told God wants. Shall we condemn them for acting as their faith demanded, when our own faith has demanded that we turn our faces away from the Council of Vicars and the Temple? We may find it necessary to oppose men who believe as they believed. In the war which the Group of Four has declared against us, it may even be necessary for us to slay men who believe as they believed. But despite that grim necessity, never let yourselves forget that they who oppose you are just as human, just as much God's children, as you yourselves. What they do may be evil in our eyes, and wrong in God's eyes, but if you let yourselves be filled with hate, if you turn them into something less than human in order to make it easier to kill them, then you open yourself to the very evil which you have condemned in them."
The murmuring voices had faded into stillness as he spoke, and he gazed out at them sadly.
"We live in a time when godly men and women must make choices, my children. I beg of you, as you love me — as you love yourselves, love your wives and husbands and children, as you love God Himself — make the right choices. Choose to do that which must be done, but do it without poisoning yourselves, your souls, or your ability to love one another."
The silence was almost absolute now, and Staynair looked to where the stalled procession still clustered about the bodies. A half-dozen of Merlin's fellow guardsmen had joined the procession. Now, as they stooped to lift and remove the bodies, Staynair beckoned to the acolytes and under-priests.
"Come," he told them, standing before the congregation, splashed with the drying blood of the men who had attempted to kill him. "Come, we have a mass to celebrate, brethren."