BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER – snippet 97:
Several hours later, Cayleb and Sharleyan stood on a balcony high on the side of King Maikel's Tower, looking out across the sparse lights of Tellesberg proper and the brighter smear of light which was the perpetually busy waterfront.
"That poor woman," Sharleyan murmured.
"Amen," Cayleb said softly, and reached out and took her hand. She turned her head, glancing at him, as she realized the action had been completely unconscious on his part. His eyes were still on the dark sweep of his sleeping capital as he laid her hand on his forearm and covered it with his own.
"I doubt I'll sleep very well tonight," he continued. "I've discovered that knowing what his sentence was and actually hearing how it was carried out — especially hearing it from his own wife — are two different things." He shook his head, his jaw tight. "The Inquisition has much to answer for. Indeed," he turned to look at her squarely, "if the truth be known, this goes beyond the Group of Four, whatever we may say."
"I realized that even before Earl Gray Harbor brought me your messages," she said steadily, and squeezed his arm gently but firmly. "That pig Clyntahn is the one immediately responsible for all of this. I've never doubted that for a moment, and every word Madame Dynnys said only confirmed it. But if the entire Church hadn't become corrupt, a man like Clyntahn could never have gained the power he has. It's tempting to blame the man and not the institution, but that's the easy answer, the one that saves us from looking truth squarely in the eye. And," she met his gaze without flinching, "almost the very first lesson Mahrak — Baron Green Mountain — taught me after Hektor paid for my father's murder was that a monarch's first and overriding duty is to face the truth, however ugly it may be. However much she — or he — may long to avoid it."
Cayleb gazed at her in silence for several seconds, then twitched his head in an odd little half-nod. She had the strange sensation that it was directed to someone else, someone not present, but he never looked away from her.
"I proposed the union of Charis and Chisholm because it seemed a military necessity," he told her. "I had reports about you and your court, of course, much as I'm sure you had about Charis and about me. From those reports, I hoped I'd find not just an alliance with your Kingdom, but an ally in you." His nostrils flared. "I have to tell you, Sharleyan, that even on this brief an acquaintance, it's obvious to me that the reports of your wisdom and courage failed to do you justice."
"Indeed?" She tried to keep her tone light as she studied his face as closely as she could in the available light. Then she laughed softly. "I was thinking much the same about you, as it happens. I do hope this isn't a case of two hesitant suitors deciding to make the best of their situation!"
"If either of us should be in that position, My Lady," he said, bowing with a gallant flourish, "it must be you. Now that I've seen you and met you, I assure you that I've decided this was one of the best notions I've ever had. On a great many levels."
He straightened, and Sharleyan felt a pleasant tingle inside at the frank desire he had allowed into his expression.
She squeezed his arm again, then turned to look back out over Tellesberg while she sorted through her own feelings. As the daughter of a king, and then as a queen in her own right, Sharleyan Tayt had accepted long ago that her marriage would be one of state. She'd also realized that as a queen in a kingdom which had shown so little tolerance for a woman's rule in the past, marriage would pose particular dangers for her, and yet there'd been her clear responsibility to provide a legitimate, acknowledged heir to her throne in order to secure the succession. With so many needs, opportunities, and threats to balance, there'd been no room in her life to worry about whether or not she might love — or even like — the man to whom she eventually found herself wed.
And then this. Barely five months ago, she'd been certain Charis — and Cayleb — were doomed, and that she would be forced to participate in their murder. She'd never imagined, in her wildest flight of fantasy, that she might actually find herself entertaining the possibility of marrying him. Of binding her own kingdom irrevocably to Charis and to Charis' rebellion against the oppressive authority of Mother Church. And to whatever fate that rebellion ultimately produced. Even now, there were moments when she wondered what insanity had possessed her to even contemplate such a union.
But only moments, and they were becoming steadily fewer.
It's Cayleb himself, she thought. I've seen so much cynicism, so much careful maneuvering for position, and spent so much of my life watching for the hidden dagger in the hands of supposed friends. But there's no cynicism in Cayleb. That's the most remarkable thing of all, I think. He believes in responsibilities and duties, in ideals, not just in pragmatism and expediency, and he's got all the empty-headed, invincibly optimistic enthusiasm of one of those incredibly stupid heroes out of a romantic ballad somewhere. How in God's name could he have grown up as a crown prince without discovering the truth?
It was all madness, of course. In the darker moments of the night, when doubt came to call, she realized that with agonizing certainty. Despite Charis' present naval advantage, the kingdom was simply too small, even with Chisholm's support, to resist indefinitely the massive power the Church could bring to bear upon them. In those dark watches of the night, it was all dreadfully clear, inevitable.
But not anymore. She shook her head, marveling at the simple awareness which flowed through her. Before she'd arrived in Charis, her belief that Charis — and Chisholm — might survive had been a thing of intellect, the triumph of analytical intelligence over the insistence of "common sense." And, she admitted to herself at last, a thing of desperation. Something she'd been forced to believe — to make herself believe — if there were to be any hope of her realm's survival in the face of the Church's obvious willingness to destroy anyone even suspected of disobedience to the Group of Four.
That had changed now. Changed when she realized Cayleb in person, despite his youth, despite his undeniable charm, was even more impressive in fact than in rumor. There was something incredibly engaging about his flashes of boyish enthusiasm, but behind those flashes she saw the implacable warrior who had won the most smashing naval victories in the history of Safehold. Who was prepared to go on however long he must, to win as many more victories as his cause required, because he truly believed men and women were supposed to be more than the obedient slaves of corrupt men who claimed to speak with the authority of God Himself.
And even more impressive, perhaps, was the fact that his kingdom and his people believed with him. Believed in him. They were prepared to go as far as he led them, to face any foe — even Mother Church herself — at his side. Not at his heels, but at his side.