BY HERESIES DISTRESSED – snippet 20:
“My Lords and Ladies,” Cayleb said after the Speaker’s fulsome, flowery introduction had finally ended, “I greet you in the name of Charis, and I bring you a message from your Queen and Empress.”
He paused for a moment, letting his eyes sweep over the assembled members of Parliament’s houses. Even those who undoubtedly least wanted to hear what he was about to say were listening attentively, and he smiled as he pitched his voice to carry to every one of those ears.
“Your Empress — my wife — bade me tell you that she wishes she could be here to speak to you in person. Unfortunately, the great challenges and tasks which our new Empire faces do not always let us do what we would like to do. Queen Sharleyan — Empress Sharleyan — remained behind in Tellesberg because she, and only she, has the power and authority to make binding decisions in both our names. While I take the field against our common enemies in Corisande, she has assumed the heavy burden of governing both our realms, and I need not tell you that those realms could not in better hands.”
He paused again, waiting while what he’d already said sank home. There was nothing new in it, not really. Yet this was the first time he had formally enunciated to Chisholm’s Parliament his acceptance of Sharleyan’s full equality as his coruler.
“At this time, as we face the Group of Four and the mainland realms under its sway across the Anvil and the Gulf of Tarot, Her Majesty finds herself confronting not simply political and financial decisions, but the military decisions required to defend our people against our enemies, as well. Even now, our forces will have completed their operations against Delferahk in punishment for the Ferayd Massacre, and it will be her responsibility to decide what other actions may be necessary. It is not a task anyone else could conceivably have undertaken, and it is one which I implicitly trust her to discharge successfully, but we must not delude ourselves that she will find it an easy one.
“My Lords and Ladies, the dangers which we face, the decisions we must undertake, the prices we must pay are unique.” His eyes swept slowly across the seated peers and the members of the House of Commons. “No one else in the history of Safehold has faced the enemy we face. No other realm, no other people, have found themselves at war with the Church which was meant to be mother to us all. We, the combined people of the Kingdoms of Charis and Chisholm, know our enemy. In Charis we were forced to defend ourselves against a totally unjustified — and unjustifiable — onslaught ordered by the corrupt men in Zion who have perverted everything Mother Church was ever meant to be. Thousands of my father’s subjects — and my father, himself — gave their lives stopping that attack, defending their homes and families and the belief that men and women are meant to worship God, not bow their heads at the feet of four corrupt, venal, arrogant, blasphemous men whose actions profane the vestments they wear and the very air they breathe.”
He paused again, for just a moment, then continued in a softer voice, clear and yet pitched low enough his audience was forced to listen very carefully to hear him.
“Oh, yes, My Lords and Ladies. Thousands of Charisians died. But so did thousands of Chisholmians. Chisholmians whose only ‘crime’ was that the Group of Four had ordered Queen Sharleyan to join her own kingdom’s worst enemy in an attack upon a friend who had never harmed Chisholm in any way. She had no choice. They spoke with the authority of God — or so they claimed — and all the coercive authority of the Inquisition and Mother Church. And so she was forced to bend to their will, and how many of your father, sons, husbands, and brothers died with my father because she had no choice?”
Dead silence reigned in Parliament Hall, and he let it linger. Then, slowly, he drew himself up to his full height.
“My Lords and Ladies, never doubt the courage your Queen showed when she accepted my proposal of marriage. It was not a decision she reached lightly, but it was the right decision. It was the decision of a queen who will not see her people’s lives sacrificed, thrown away as if they were no more important than deciding which shoes to wear today, at the whim of four corrupt and evil men. The decision of a queen who knew that if the Group of Four’s ambition was not checked, if their corruption of Mother Church was not cleansed, the Kingdom of Charis would have been but the first of many victims, and the keeper of men’s souls would have become the means of their destruction.
“I know there are those here in Chisholm, as in Charis, who fear the course upon which we have found ourselves forced to sail. Do not think your Queen and I don’t understand those fears. That we don’t share them. To set our own mortal wills, our own mortal hands, against the might and majesty of Mother Church? To set our understanding of God’s will against those who wear the orange? To set our defiance against those who grip eight in ten of all Safeholdians in the iron fist of their power? Of course we have tasted fear of our own. Of course we came to this moment in trembling, and only because those vile men in Zion left us no choice . . . and because the other men in Zion did not stop them. Only because we will live and die as men and women who worship God joyously, not as the cringing slaves of a corrupt clique who have set their own power, their own greed, in the place of God’s will. Make no mistake; we will never bow the knee to Zhaspahr Clyntahn and his cronies!”