“Did I push too hard, do you think, Your Eminence?” Sharleyan Ahrmahk asked much later that evening as Archbishop Maikel joined her for supper.

“At the Council meeting, Your Majesty?” Staynair chuckled and shook his head with a small smile. “I wouldn’t worry about that. I’m sure you stepped on a few male toes here and there, but I don’t think you trod on any that didn’t need stepping on. And even those who may still be inclined to discount your ideas because of your youth and sex seem to end up accepting their logic.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it as much back home in Cherayth,” she confessed, leaning forward to reach for her wineglass and then settling back in her chair once more. “Once upon a time I would have, of course, but I’ve had years to . . . polish my relationship with my Chisholmian Councilors.”
“‘Polish?'” Staynair repeated with a deeper chuckle. “Beat into submission is what you really mean, isn’t it?”
“Oh, Langhorne, no!” Sharleyan rounded her eyes and shook her head. “‘Beat into submission’ would be such an unladylike thing to do!”
“I think there’s a very unladylike element to your personality, Your Majesty,” Staynair replied. “And thank God for it!”
“So you don’t think I’m driving too hard to assert my own authority?” she asked more seriously. He crooked an eyebrow at her, and she shrugged. “I’m not concerned about my own ability to control the situation, Your Eminence. I suppose what I’m really concerned about is whether or not I appear to be attempting to undercut Cayleb’s authority. Or, even worse, whether or not it turns out that, without meaning to, I actually am undercutting his authority.”
“Emperor Cayleb’s authority isn’t so fragile as all that, Your Majesty,” Staynair said dryly. “I think it will survive any unintentional chips or scratches you might inflict upon it — especially since it’s obvious to me that you have no intention of ‘usurping’ his authority. And, frankly, I believe the possibility that you might encroach upon his prerogatives — which, now that I think about it, would be difficult for you to do, since they happen to also be your prerogatives — is far less dangerous to us than it would be for you to begin vacillating, or hesitating, for fear of encroaching. Charis — the Empire, not simply ‘Old Charis’ — needs a strong, firm hand on the tiller, especially now. And at this moment, that hand is — must be — yours.”
“I know,” she confessed, then sipped a little wine, as if buying time to sort through her own thoughts. “I know,” she continued, “and if I’m going to be honest, I suppose I should admit that there’s a part of me that doesn’t come truly alive except when I’m dealing with decisions that matter. I’ve often wondered if that’s the sin of pride speaking.”
“And have you discussed your concerns with Father Carlsyn?” Staynair asked in a slightly more neutral tone. Carlsyn Raiyz had been Sharleyan’s personal confessor ever since she ascended to the Chisholmian throne, but Staynair, for obvious reasons, had never even met the man before he arrived in Tellesberg at Sharleyan’s side.
“I have.” She smiled crookedly. “Unfortunately, he’s my confessor; I’m not his. He’s reassured me several times, and imposed a penance or two on the rare occasions — well, possibly not all that rare — when he feels I’ve clearly stepped on someone harder than I had to. Confidence, he says, is a good thing in a ruler. Capriciousness isn’t.”
“Sound doctrine,” Staynair said with a smile of his own. “Good philosophy, too. And, if I may, Your Majesty, could I also ask you if you’ve discussed the schism with him?”
“Not the way we’ve discussed other concerns,” Sharleyan admitted, her eyes darkening. “He hasn’t pressed me on it, which probably says a great deal, right there. But the truth is, I’m almost afraid to ask him how he feels about it. If he’s prepared to accept my decisions without openly condemning them, that’s better than some others have already done.”
Her voice was far more somber, and Staynair’s expression softened sympathetically.
“Your uncle, Your Majesty?” he asked gently.
Sharleyan’s head snapped up. She looked at him intently across the dinner table for several seconds, and then her firm mouth seemed to quiver for a moment.
“Yes,” she admitted softly, and the archbishop nodded.
Very few people in Charis had been particularly well acquainted with the internal political dynamic of Chisholm prior to Sharleyan’s marriage to Cayleb. Staynair certainly hadn’t been, but he’d made it a priority to learn all he could about that dynamic since. And one thing which had become abundantly clear to him was that the Duke of Halbrook Hollow had been far more than simply one of Sharleyan’s senior nobles. Indeed, he’d been more than “just” an uncle. As the commander of the Royal Army, he’d been her sword, even as Green Mountain had been her shield. And now . . . .
“Your Majesty,” Staynair said after a moment, “it’s easier to command fleets and armies than to command the human heart. Your uncle has already discovered that, and if it should happen that it’s a lesson you haven’t already learned, then I fear it’s one you have no choice but to master now. I believe your uncle loves you. I don’t pretend to know him well, especially since he’s kept me — as all of the ‘Church of Charis’ — at arm’s-length or beyond, but I believe he does love you. Yet you’ve asked him to accept something he can’t. When I look at him, I see a man grieving over his niece’s decisions, and one of the reasons he grieves is because he loves her.”
“I suppose that’s reassuring,” Sharleyan said. Then she shook her head. “No, I don’t ‘suppose’ it is; it is. But it doesn’t change the fact that the . . . estrangement between us over the Church is becoming increasingly evident. Or the fact that there are those here in Tellesberg Palace who think it’s dangerous to have someone with such obvious Temple Loyalist sympathies so close to the throne.”
“They may be correct about that, Your Majesty.” Staynair’s expression was serene. “In the end, what your relationship with him is — or becomes — is a matter for your decision, however, not for anyone else’s. And it’s not as if he were attempting to dissemble, to conceal those sympathies. It would appear to me that he is who he is, and what more can one fairly ask of anyone?”
“I’m a queen, Your Eminence — an empress. Can I afford to be ‘fair’ to someone as close to me as he is?”
“Perhaps it does constitute a danger to do so,” Staynair replied. “Perhaps you might even argue that it’s your responsibility as a queen and an empress to put him out of the way, somewhere he can do no harm. And perhaps if you fail to do so, you may face serious consequences in the fullness of time. All of that may be true, Your Majesty. But what I know is true is that you, too, must be who you are. Too much danger, too many threats from others already confront you. I believe that the one thing you dare not do is to permit yourself to undermine who you are, who you’ve always been, with doubts from within. If you love him as deeply as you obviously do, you must listen to that love as much as to the pragmatic caution of the ruler you are. It would be better for Charis for you to risk what harm he might do than for you to maim your own spirit, your own confidence and all the good you have still to do, by hardening your heart and denying that love.”
“But I’ve already taken steps to protect myself against him,” she confessed. “That’s the entire reason I didn’t leave him behind in Chisholm with Mahrak. I couldn’t leave him in command of the Army when he so obviously disagreed with what I was coming to Charis to do.”
“I assumed that was the case.” Staynair shrugged. “And there, I suspect, you see the clearest proof of just how unlikely you are to allow your love for him to blind you to your duties.”
The empress nodded slowly, and Staynair sipped from his own wineglass, watching her and wishing more strongly than ever that he, Cayleb, and Merlin had succeeded in convincing the rest of the Brethren of Saint Zherneau to allow Cayleb to tell her the truth. If she’d known, as Staynair did, how Captain Athrawes could keep an eye on even the most skilled of conspirators, it might have set her mind at ease.
And easing her mind wherever and whenever we can is the least we can do for her, he thought sympathetically behind the serenity of his eyes. She deserves that. And even if she didn’t, simple commonsense would demand that we do it anyway. We need her — need her functioning at her best, using all that intelligence and willpower, not wasting it by belaboring herself over issues she can never hope to resolve, anyway.
“Your uncle, in many ways, is a mirror of Safehold itself, Your Majesty,” he said out loud. “The struggle in his heart and mind is the same struggle going on in the hearts and minds and souls of every man and woman in this world. Each of us must, in the end, make our own decisions, our own choices, and the pain that will bring to altogether too many of us will be terrible. Yet we must choose. The worst sin of all, the one unforgivable sin, is to refuse to choose. And whatever we may think or believe ourselves, we cannot deny that choice to others simply because we believe they will choose differently from ourselves.
“You understand your uncle’s inability to agree with you. Now you must accept his right to disagree with you. Don’t judge him for that disagreement. Take steps to protect yourself against it’s possible consequences, yes, but remember that he remains the uncle you loved as a child, and the army commander who served you so well for so long. If he decides, if he chooses, to allow the breach between you to damage or destroy his love for you, or even impel him to join your enemies, that, too, is his decision. Yet never forget that it truly is possible to deeply love someone with whom you fundamentally disagree, Your Majesty. I’m a Bédardist, and that’s one of the essential principles of my order’s teaching. And another principle is that it’s very difficult to love someone with whom you fundamentally disagree. Difficult, and hard on both of you. Don’t make it any harder than you must, any sooner than you must.”
Sharleyan looked at him for a moment, then inhaled deeply, and nodded.
“You’re right, Your Eminence,” she said softly. “It is hard. But I’ll try not to make it any harder than I have to.”

About Eric Flint

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31 Responses to BY HERESIES DISTRESSED — snippet 35

  1. E says:

    Hm. Wonder if she’ll have to let someone go over. If a former-friend-turned-enemy comes into play then the issues deepen for everyone once the political aspect takes backstage to the religious aspect. Merlin would have every reason to let such a person live, because he would highlight the wrongs that the Church must address, even as he chooses to side with the Church, as one who was in the confidence of and understands better the perspective of those the Church made enemies of.

  2. Karina says:

    Wonderful scene. I wonder which side the uncle will betray?

  3. Peter says:

    It would be fascinating to see this same struggle playing out through the uncle’s eyes, too. Perhaps we will.

  4. wyrm says:

    Perhaps Halbrook Hollow will be the way that Merlin finds out about the Temple Loyalist “resistance”?

  5. Chuck S. says:

    Given the temple’s attitude toward anything or one coming out of Charis is in serious danger at this point, regardless of their beliefs. If Halbrook Hollow flees to the temple he will be betting his life on meeting calculating Clythin instead of killer Cylytin (Or however you spell it-this is one device of DW’s that looked good at first & didn’t work well at all. Too late to change it now, but definitely one for the lessons learned file!


  6. Beat the counselors into submission = recipe for disaster

    at least with great frequency. The Counselor who is wrong and has a backbone might be of interest.

  7. Bob G says:

    I’m wondering if Halbrook Hollow will be the opening the Temple Loyalists will use to attempt to assassinate Sharleyan. It doesn’t require him to actively conspire or even know about it, he could be played by the Temple Loyalists by them saying that they need more intel from the Palace. We have subtle hints that an assassination attempt may occur, why else did we learn that she is really good with a pistol, and here we are reminded of her uncle’s loyalty to the “True Church”.

    OTOH, I would suspect that Halbrook Hallow is actively monitored by OWL, but there is a time lag from the time OWL picks up something until Merlin knows about it, and Merlin is limited in his ability to operate in Tellesburg while with Cayleb.

  8. Maggie says:

    Difficult to see everything right now, but I see Halbrook Hollow as being more of a John Dickinson type. I don’t see him necessarily as an insurrectionist. He’s been too aboveboard regarding his dissent. I think DW may use both HH and Grey Hollow as examples of the Faith/Justice struggle.

  9. E says:

    @7 Time lag is inconsequential. The communication lag is what will frustrate Merlin if he needs to relay information ASAP.

  10. Peter Z says:

    Perhaps DW is recasting Thomas Moore? Will Sharley respond as Henry VIII did or will she follow the doctrinal distinction the Church of Charis used to seprate from the CoGA to its logical conslusion? Will individual conscience indeed be sacrosanct or will it mearly be a political tool used to accrue power?

    By allowing Halbrook Hollow to disagree and yet keeping her personal relationship with him, Sharleyan will cement the idea that the scism is truely ideologically based. Not doing so strengthens the CoGA argument that the only difference between the two Churches is the degree to which each heirarchy is willing sacrifice ideology to serve the persuit of power. Fidelity to this core principle may well be Charis’ strongest shield in the long run. They may have to pay a rather high price time and time again to keep faithful. Sharley may be paying the the first installment here.

    If she does try to keep her relationship with her uncle regardless of this disagreement, she may be taking up the mantle of the Empire’s true political ruler while Cayleb becomes the Empire’s Sword. Talk about an effective use of the main gauche! Here watch Cayleb’s long pointy raipier flashing before you, while Sharley’s dagger comes in low from the left to pierce your heart.


  11. robert says:

    @7 and 9
    That is why I suggested that Sharly would find out about Merlin’s abilities in the same way that King Harold did in OAR when Merlin appeared on the king’s galley one night to tell him of the enemy’s plans. But Harold was already privy to the truth about the Church and existence of Nimue. Sharly will probably have a different reaction. Or will she?

  12. random10118 says:

    Halbrook Hollow = Howard Clinkscales?

  13. robert says:

    @9 “The communication lag is what will frustrate Merlin if he needs to relay information ASAP.”

    Remember how the intel seems to appear on Wave Thunder’s desk? If information urgently needs to get to Charis OWL will transcribe it in appropriate handwriting and drop it off for Wave Thunder. But if the info has to go somewhere else, then he is in a quandry: to magically appear or not?

  14. E says:

    @11 “Pull the other one, it has bells on it.”

  15. @11

    Knowing that he is not there, and shooting him three or four times might be an interesting outcome, especially when she clearly does not miss and the rounds clearly do not do appreciable damage.

    I am more convinced than before that the Empress should be a disaster waiting to happen, except that she has divine protection.

  16. @15

    Leading to the later remark “Cayleb, you really do not want to seriously annoy your dear wife. She is really an extremely good shot.”

    I was a bit surprised they brought Nahrman along. Is he there as living proof you can change sides, or as living proof that he is not yet completely trusted?

  17. Peter Z says:

    @16 Could it be George, that 1 Cayleb + 1 Nahrmahn = 1 Sharleyan? So both need to go just to match the brainpower at staying home?

    Peter Z

  18. E says:

    @17 Nahrman is the new Secretary of Homeland Security, and from a previously foreign homeland. It makes sense that he gets to know firsthand what Charis’ military is physically capable of. His previous work with the League of Corisande also makes him valuable as an advisor to both sides, like his letter writing to Zebediah helped secure them portage without a fight.

    That exile option for Gorjah is looking more and more likely. Wonder if he’ll enjoy a nice vacation in northern Chisholm or maybe a newly founded prison colony on Armageddon Reef. :)

    As to whoever is smarter, I’d say whoever Merlin stands near ends up smarter or shorter depending on how much of a teacher he is for science or swordsmanship.

  19. Drak Bibliophile says:

    E, Nahrman is closer to the new head of the CIA. IE Intelligence involved foreign enemies of the Empire.

    Wave Thunder’s job is internal intelligence on Old Charis. By the way, Merlin’s notes will not be appearing on anybody’s desk when Merlin is not close enough to have delivered them himself.

  20. E says:

    @19 I think of Nahrman as the “intelligence tsar” he gets his information from Wave Thunder and the entire network that Charis has. He’s basically the senior analyst for Cayleb at the head of a single intel community. Charis has three spy networks in place for both internal and external intel – Emerald, Old Charis, and Chisholm – and if they were to each report to seperate commanders then there would be chaos. So Nahrman is the one commander that everyone in charge of those networks reports to so that Cayleb doesn’t spend his days mired in intel reports. The fact that Nahrman enjoys this activity is a bonus.

    And yes, Merlin’s notes appearing in front of Wave Thunder would be tantamount to black magic in the minds of anyone not in on the Truth. Especially given OWL’s uniform writing style.

  21. Bob G says:

    @9 Remember that OWL transmits his summaries nightly to Merlin, so the lag (other than emergency events that OWL is instructed to immediately transmit) can be almost a day.

  22. robert says:

    @20 OWL can do forgery, witness the handwriting on the copy of Newton’s Pricipia Mathematica that Merlin delivered to what’s his name at the Royal College (so many names, written so oddly).

  23. E says:

    @22 Ah yes, forgot about that.

    Wondering when Nahrman will be brought up to the “Merlin has visions” verson of the truth. Probably when he pops the question regarding just how important the Seijin really was to Charis’ survival of late.

  24. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Well, just remember that Nahrman is traveling with Merlin and Cayleb. Maybe that mind of his will spot something that will make him wonder about Merlin.

  25. Peter S says:

    I expect him to both notice that merlin & Cayleb are unusually close in a ‘trust’ sense and also that Cayleb consults Merlin on a great deel more issues than any Guard Captain could ordinarily expect. Nahrman already knows Merlin is amazing at weaponry – it’s a small step from that to noticing that he is amazing at other things too. And that is bound to catch Nahrman’s attention and start his mental cogwheels turning. I wonder what sort of inquiries he will make and how he will connect them to merlin? Nahrman’s not a particularly religious fellow on the surface, but I’d bet the Safehold faith has deep hooks in his soul that even he isn’t aware of. Be reeeeeeeeeel intersting to see how he handles this.

  26. E says:

    Sure, if a small squall results in a man over board and Merlin miraculously swims at 30mph to pick up the sailor and return to the ship. Or if the mast is about to break and Merlin single-handedly holds it to the ship. Or if he tries to get into a staring contest with Merlin. Personally I think the staring contest is the most likely.

  27. robert says:

    @25 But as we have recently read, Merlin and Norm have become kind of buddies. So no staring contest. My impression is that the main character in this book will turn out to be Sharly.

  28. E says:

    @26 Merlin represents something that a person like Nahrman wouldn’t understand, and while what he thinks is there isn’t what’s there (he’s looking for metaphysical things that Merlin should know about when the truth is really mechanical) he’s bound to have frequent talks witht he Seijin if only because of their mutual proximity to Cayleb. Now if that doesn’t occasionally cause Nahrman to stop, stare, and think then he’s not as inquisitive as the ingenious manipulator he’s been made out to be. Things like the “need to know” basis of operations might satisfy him because he gets that the bigger picture rests on those small securities (that feed him all the little details he might want and thensome) but when it comes to something in his proximity that doesn’t seem too big he should be curious about those little mysteries that leave much to be desired as far as explanations go. The inventions have their excuse, the intel has its excuse, and even Cayleb’s unexpected mastery of strategy and politics has their excuse, but not Merlin. At least not yet to Nahrman unless he’s been given at least some cursory explanation for why the supposed Seijin came to Charis, so far he hasn’t looked past “the guy arrived, saved Cayleb, and was given a good but not “trusted” position.” Wonder what he’ll do when he finds out that the least of his worries when the war started turns out to be the greatest cause of his and the Church’s defeat.

  29. Bret Hooper says:

    @12 random 10011110000110: “Halbrook Hollow = Howard Clinkscales?” Could be. What immediately ran thru my mind was “Halbrook Hollow = Hal Holbrook? I don’t know of any other similarity, but maybe that’s just where DW got the name?

  30. E says:

    @29 If they ever get around to mentioning New Halbrook’s kids and they number over 5 then we can assume some basis of similarity beyond naming.

  31. E says:

    It’s 0003… where’s the next snippet?

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