How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 33
Republic of Siddarmark
“One would have expected God’s own, personal navy to fare better than that, wouldn’t one?” Madam Aivah Pahrsahn remarked, turning her head to look over one shapely shoulder at her guest.
A slender hand gestured out the window at the broad, gray waters of North Bedard Bay. Madam Pahrsahn’s tastefully furnished apartment was on one of the better streets just outside the city’s Charisian Quarter, only a block or so from where the Siddarmark River poured into the bay. Its windows usually afforded a breathtaking view of the harbor, but today the normally blue and sparkling bay was a steel-colored mirror of an equally steel-colored sky while cold wind swept icy herringbone waves across it.
A bleaker, less inviting vista would have been difficult to imagine, but that delicate, waving hand wasn’t indicating the bay’s weather. Instead, its gesture took in the handful of galleons anchored well out from the city’s wharves. They huddled together on the frigid water, as if for support, managing to look pitiful and dejected even at this distance.
“One would have hoped it wouldn’t have been necessary for God to build a navy in the first place,” her guest replied sadly.
He was a lean, sparsely built man with silver hair, and his expression was considerably more grave than hers. He moved a little closer to her so that he could look out the window more comfortably, and his eyes were troubled.
“And while I can’t pretend the Charisians deserve the sort of wholesale destruction Clyntahn wants to visit upon them, I don’t want to think about how he and the others are going to react to what happened instead,” he continued, shaking his head. “I don’t see it imposing any sense of restraint, anyway.”
“Why ever should they feel ‘restraint,’ Your Eminence?” Madam Pahrsahn asked acidly. “They speak with the very authority of the Archangels themselves, don’t they?”
The silver-haired man winced. For a moment, he looked as if he wanted to argue the point, but then he shook his head.
“They think they do,” he said in a tone which conceded her point, and her own eyes softened.
“Forgive me, Your Eminence. I shouldn’t take out my own anger on you. And that’s what I’m doing, I suppose. Pitching a tantrum.” She smiled slightly. “It would never have done in Zion, would it?”
“I imagine not,” her guest said with a wry smile of his own. “I wish I’d had more of an opportunity to watch you in action, so to speak, then. Of course, without knowing then what I know now, I wouldn’t truly have appreciated your artistry, would I?”
“I certainly hope not!” Her smile blossomed into something very like a grin. “It would have meant my mask was slipping badly. And think of your reputation! Archbishop Zhasyn Cahnyr visiting the infamous courtesan Ahnzhelyk Phonda? Your parishioners in Glacierheart would have been horrified!”
“My parishioners in Glacierheart have forgiven me a great deal over the years, ‘Aivah,'” Zhasyn Cahnyr told her. “I’m sure they would have forgiven me that, as well. If anyone had even noticed a single lowly archbishop amongst all those vicars, that is.”
“They weren’t all venal and corrupt, Your Eminence,” she said softly, sadly. “And even a lot of the ones who were both those things were more guilty of complacency than anything else.”
“You don’t have to defend them to me, my dear.” He reached out to touch her forearm gently. “I knew them as well as you did, if not in precisely the same way.”
He smiled again, squeezed her arm, and released it, then gazed out the window at those distant, anchored ships once more. As he watched, a guard boat appeared, rowing in a steady circle around them, as if to protect them from some shore-based pestilence.
Or, perhaps, to protect the shore from some contagion they carried, he thought grimly.
“I knew them,” he repeated, “and too many of them are going to pay just as terrible a price as our friends before this is all ended.”
“You think so?” The woman now known as Aivah Pahrsahn turned to face him fully. “You think it’s going to come to that?”
“Of course it is,” he said sadly, “and you know it as well as I do. It’s inevitable that Clyntahn, at least, will find more enemies among the vicarate. Whether they’re really there or not is immaterial as far as that’s concerned! And” — his eyes narrowed as they gazed into hers — “you and I both know that what you and your agents are up to in the Temple Lands will only make that worse.”
“Do you think I’m wrong to do it, then?” she asked levelly, meeting his eyes without flinching.
“No,” he said after a moment, his voice even sadder. “I hate what it’s going to cost, and I have more than a few concerns for your immortal soul, my dear, but I don’t think you’re wrong. There’s a difference between not being wrong and being right, but I don’t think there is any ‘right’ choice for you, and the Writ tells us no true son or daughter of God can stand idle when His work needs to be done. And dreadful as I think some of the consequences of your efforts are likely to prove, I’m afraid what you’re set upon truly is God’s work.”
“I hope you’re right, Your Eminence. And I think you are, although I try to remember that that could be my own anger and my own hatred speaking, not God. Sometimes I don’t think there’s a difference anymore.”
“Which is why I have those concerns for your soul,” he said gently. “It’s always possible to do God’s work for the wrong reasons, just as it’s possible to do terrible things with the best of all possible motives. It would be a wonderful thing if He gave us the gift of fighting evil without learning to hate along the way, but I suspect only the greatest and brightest of souls ever manage that.”
“Then I hope I’ll have your prayers, Your Eminence.”
“My prayers for your soul and for your success, alike.” He smiled again, a bit crookedly. “It would be my pleasure, as well as my duty, to commend a soul such as yours to God under any circumstances. And given the debt I owe you, it would be downright churlish of me not to.”
“Oh, nonsense!” She struck him gently on the shoulder. “It was my pleasure. I only wish” — her expression darkened — “I’d been able to get more of the others out.”
“You snatched scores of innocent victims out of Clyntahn’s grasp,” he said, his tone suddenly sterner. “Women and children who would have been tortured and butchered in that parody of justice of his, be they ever so blameless and innocent! Langhorne said ‘As you have done unto the least of God’s children, for good or ill, so you have done unto me.’ Remember that and never doubt for one moment that all that innocent blood will weigh heavily in your favor when the time comes for you to face him and God.”
“I try to remember that,” she half-whispered, turning back to the window and gazing sightlessly out across the bay. “I try. But then I think of all the ones we had to leave behind. Not just the Circle, Your Eminence, all of them.”