BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER – snippet 69:
"How much of this did Haarahld know?" Merlin asked quietly.
"All of it," Staynair replied simply. "He read the entire journal, read the history of the Federation. As for all of us, there was much in that history which he didn't understand, for which he had no context. But, also as for all of us, he understood enough. When you asked him why his grandfather had abolished serfdom here in Charis, he answered you honestly, Merlin. But he could have added that one of the reasons his grandfather believed all men were created equal was that he, too, had read every magnificent word of the Declaration."
Merlin asked the question even more quietly, and Staynair frowned gravely.
"Ever since the vault was unsealed, there have been strenuous rules governing when and how its contents were to be made known to others. One of those rules has been that before anyone could be admitted to the truth, he must have attained the age of wisdom. Which, simply because some firm definition of when that could be presumed to have occurred was necessary, was set at the age of thirty. Another rule is that all those already privy to the truth must agree before anyone else is admitted to it, and not everyone nominated for the truth is actually told in the end. Two of the last eight monarchs of Charis were never informed, for example, because the Brethren of their time believed telling them would have constituted too great a risk. And," Staynair's eyes turned even graver, "in both cases, their own fathers agreed with the majority of the Brethren."
"But surely that's not the case with Cayleb," Merlin objected.
"Of course not. We've always — Haarahld always — intended to inform him of the truth as soon as he reached the age of thirty. Unfortunately, the Group of Four refused to wait long enough for that. Now, we have a King whose determination, courage, and wit we all trust implicitly, but who's too young, under the Brethren's rules, to be informed. And, to be perfectly honest, there are some among us who fear his youth and . . . directness. His impetuosity, perhaps. One thing young Cayleb has never been is hesitant about speaking his mind or confronting an enemy. The fear isn't that he would reject the journal's contents, but rather that if he learns the full truth, if he's shown the proof that for almost a thousand years the Church has controlled all of Safehold through the greatest lie in human history, he'll be unable to resist throwing that charge against the Group of Four, as well. And that, Merlin, is something we cannot do. Not yet.
"Schism within the Church we can contemplate, especially so long as that schism is couched in terms of reforming corruption, decadence, and abuses. But outright heresy — true heresy, easily provable by reference to the Holy Writ and The Testimonies — would put far too potent a weapon into Clyntahn's hands. The day is coming — will come — when that 'heresy' will be openly proclaimed. The Brethren of Saint Zherneau have labored to bring that day for four centuries. But for now, we must keep this a war over the Church's abuses. Over spiritual issues, yes, but spiritual issues secular rulers can grasp in secular terms, not over deeply divisive points of doctrine and theology."
Merlin unsteepled his fingers and leaned forward in his chair, his expression intent.
"Your Eminence, since you and Abbot Byrkyt have shown me these documents, informed me of their existence, I must assume the other Brethren who know the full truth approved your decision to do so."
His tone and raised eyebrow made the statement at question, and Staynair nodded.
"They have. In no small part, because we want your judgment as to whether or not Cayleb should be told. I believe he should, as do most, though not all, of the others, and all of us realize that at this moment, you're undoubtedly closer to him than any other living man. But I must confess that there's also another reason. Something which was contained in Saint Zherneau's letter, not his journal."
"Yes." Staynair reached into an inner pocket of his cassock and removed a folded sheet of paper. "This is a copy of that section," he said softly, and handed it across the desk.
Merlin took it just a bit gingerly, unfolded it, and found a passage copied in Staynair's own hand.
"We, and the other Adams and Eves Dr. Pei reeducated to know the truth, were to be what she called her 'insurance policy,'" he read. "We were to be the seed, if you will, of a movement among the colonists and children of the colonists if, as she feared, Langhorne, Bédard, and Schueler moved openly against Alexandria. But she had less time than she had hoped, and there were not enough of us when they destroyed Alexandria and murdered her and all of our friends. Yet it is evident that Langhorne and most of his inner circle must also have been killed. Our best guess, especially given the changes in the Holy Writ, is that Commodore Pei must have managed to conceal a vest-pocket nuke and used it. I have often thought, over the years, that the confusion that must have engendered in the 'archangels'' leadership — and, quite possibly, the destruction of much of the colony administration's records — explains how we have been able to pass unnoticed out here in this distant corner of Safehold.
"But we do not know where else Dr. Pei may have placed others like us. We were never told, for obvious reasons. We do know she intended to place others here with us in Tellesberg, but there was never time, and now she never will.
"Yet know this, whoever you may be who finally reads these words. We were but one string to Dr. Pei's bow of truth. There is another. I know but little about that second string, and even that I know mostly by accident. It was never Dr. Pei's intention for us to learn about it at all — again, for obvious reasons. But I know this much. She and Commodore Pei have made other preparations, other plans, as well as this one. I will not write even the small amount I do know, lest this letter fall into the Inquisition's hand. Yet you must always remember that second string. The day will come when it sends forth its arrow, and you must recognize it when it flies. Trust it. It springs from fidelity you cannot even imagine, from a sacrifice deeper than space itself. I believe you will know it when you see it, and this is the test: Nimue."
A PICA had no circulatory system, but deep pain stabbed through Merlin's nonexistent heart as he read that final sentence. He looked down at it for endless seconds. It was almost as if he could hear Pei Shan-wei's voice one final time through the words written by a man seven hundred and fifty years dust.
Finally, he looked up again, and Staynair looked deep into his sapphire PICA's eyes.
"Tell me, Merlin," he said, very, very softly, "are you Shan-wei's second arrow?"
* * * * * * * * * *
"What's this all about?" King Cayleb asked, ignoring the throne on its raised dais as he stood with his back to the small presence chamber's window. He looked back and forth between Archbishop Maikel and Merlin, his eyebrows raised, and Merlin smiled crookedly.
"You may recall, Your Majesty," he said, "that I once told you that when I could explain a certain subject more fully, I would."
Cayleb's eyes widened suddenly. Then they darted to Staynair's face. He half-raised one hand, but Merlin shook his head.
"It's all right, Cayleb," he said. "It turns out Archbishop Maikel — and, for that matter, your father — had a somewhat better idea of who I am than I'd realized."
"They did?" Cayleb's expression was suddenly very intent, and the gaze he turned upon Staynair was intensely speculative.
"Oh, I think you might say that." Merlin's smile turned more crooked than ever. "You see, Cayleb, it's like this . . . "