BY HERESIES DISTRESSED – snippet 6:
“We interviewed all of the survivors before my Emperor gave us our orders, Sir Vyk,” Rock Point said, his harsh voice yanking Lakyr’s attention back to him. “Before we ever sailed for Ferayd, we knew whose voices were shouting ‘Holy Langhorne and no quarter!’ when your men came aboard our people’s ships. But we didn’t rely solely on that testimony when we tried the guilty. It never even crossed Graivyr’s mind that anyone else, anyone outside the Office of Inquisition itself would ever read his secret files. Unfortunately for him, he was wrong. These men were convicted not on the basis of any Charisian’s testimony, but on the basis of their own written statements and reports. Statements and reports in which they proudly reported, bragged about, the zeal with which they went about exhorting your troops to ‘Kill the heretics!'”
The Charisian’s eyes were colder than northern ice, and Lakyr could physically feel the rage within him . . . and the iron will which kept that rage leashed and controlled.
“Copies of those statements and reports will be provided to King Zhames — and to the Council of Vicars in Zion,” Rock Point continued coldly. “The originals will be returning to Tellesberg with me, so that we can be certain they won’t mysteriously disappear, but King Zhames will receive Graivyr’s own file copies. What he does with them, whether to publish them abroad, destroy them, or hand them back over to Clyntahn, is his business, his decision. But whatever he may do, we will do nothing in darkness, unseen by the eyes of men. We will, most assuredly, publish the evidence, and unlike the men and women — and children — they had murdered, Sir Vyk, every one of these men was offered the benefit of clergy after he was sentenced. And unlike the children who were slaughtered here on their own ships with their parents, there isn’t one of them who doesn’t understand exactly why he’s about to hang.”
Lakyr swallowed hard, and Rock Point twitched his head in Graivyr’s direction.
“For centuries the Inquisition has meted out the Church’s punishment. Perhaps there was once a time when that punishment was true justice. But that time has passed, Sir Vyk. God doesn’t need savagery to show His people what He desires of them, and these men — and others like them — have hidden behind Him for far too long. Used Him to shield them from the consequences of their own monstrous actions. Used their office and their authority in the service not of God, or even of God’s Church, but of vile and corrupt men like Vicar Zhaspahr. Now it is time they, and everyone like them, discover that the vestments they have perverted will no longer be permitted to protect murderers and torturers from justice. These men never dreamed they might face death for their crimes. They are about to discover differently . . . and perhaps at least some of their fellow inquisitors will be wise enough to learn from their example.”
Lakyr stared at him, then cleared his throat.
“My Lord,” he said hoarsely, “think before you do this!”
“Oh, I assure you, I have thought, long and hard,” Rock Point said, his voice as inflexible as his title. “And so have my Emperor and my Empress.”
“But if you do this, the Church –”
“Sir Vyk, ‘the Church’ sat by and watched when the Group of Four planned the slaughter of my entire kingdom. ‘The Church’ has allowed herself to be ruled by men like Zhaspahr Clyntahn. ‘The Church’ has become the true servant of darkness in this world, and deep inside somewhere, all of her priesthood must know that. Well, so do we. Unlike ‘the Church,’ we will execute only the guilty, and unlike the Inquisition, we refuse to torture in God’s name, to extort confessions out of the innocent. But the guilty we will execute, starting here. Starting now.”
Lakyr started to say something else, then closed his mouth.
He’s not going to change his mind, the Delferahkan thought. Not any more than I would, if I had my King’s orders. And, he admitted unwillingly, it’s not as if Mother Church hadn’t already declared herself Charis’ enemy. And he’s not wrong about these men’s guilt, either.
A spasm of something very like terror went through Lakyr on the heels of that last thought, but he couldn’t unthink it. It echoed somewhere deep down inside him, reverberating with his own anger, his own disgust, when Graivyr and his fellow Schuelerites turned what ought to have been — could have been — the bloodless seizure of the Charisian merchantmen here in Ferayd into bloody massacre.
Perhaps, a tiny little voice said in the shadowed stillness of his heart, it really is time someone held those who do murder in the Church’s name accountable.
That was the most terrifying thought of all, for it was pregnant with the dreadful implication of other thoughts, other decisions, looming before not just Sir Vyk Lakyr, but every living man and woman. As he watched the nooses being fitted around the necks of the struggling men on HMS Destroyer’s upper deck, he knew he was witnessing the seed from which all those other thoughts and decisions would spring. These executions were a declaration that men would be held accountable as men for their actions, that those who exhorted murder, who tortured and burned in “God’s name,” would no longer be permitted to hide behind their priestly status. And that was the true iron gage the Charisian Empire had chosen to fling at the Church of God Awaiting’s feet.
The last noose went around the last condemned man’s neck and drew tight. Two of the priests on Destroyer’s deck were frantically trying to fling themselves from side to side, as if they thought they could somehow break free of their rough-edged hempen halters, and it took a pair of Marines each to keep them on their feet as the drums gave one last, thunderous roar, and fell silent at last.
Lakyr heard one of the condemned inquisitors still babbling, pleading, but most of the others stood silent, as if they were no longer able to speak, or as if they had finally realized that nothing they could have said could possibly alter what was about to happen.
Baron Rock Point faced them from Destroyer’s after deck, and his face was hard, his eyes bleak.
“You stand condemned by your own words, your own written reports and statements, of having incited the murder of men — and of women and children. God knows, even if we do not, what other atrocities you may have committed, how much other blood may have stained your hands, in the service of that man-shaped corruption who wears the robe of the Grand Inquisitor. But you have convicted yourselves of the murders you did here, and that is more than sufficient.”
“Blasphemer!” Graivyr shouted, his voice half-strangled with mingled fury and fear. “You and all your foul ’empire’ will burn in Hell forever for shedding the blood of God’s own priests!”
“Someone may burn in Hell for shedding innocent blood,” Rock Point said coldly. “For myself, I will face God’s judgment unafraid that the blood on my hands will condemn me in His eyes. Can you say the same, ‘priest’?”
“Yes!” Graivyr’s voice gusted with passion, yet there was something else in it, something buried in its timbre, Lakyr thought. A note of fear that quailed before something more than the terror of impending death. At least one thin sliver of . . . uncertainty as he found himself on the threshold of mortality. What would he and the other inquisitors discover when they found themselves face-to-face at last with the Inquisition’s victims?
“Then I wish you pleasure of your confidence,” Rock Point told Graivyr in an iron-hard voice, and nodded sharply to the parties of seamen who’d tailed onto the ends of the ropes.
“Carry out the sentence,” he said.