Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 03
City of Zion,
The Temple Lands
“I hope you still think this was worth it, Zhaspahr,” Vicar Rhobair Duchairn said grimly, looking across the conference table at the jowly Grand Inquisitor.
Zhaspahr Clyntahn looked back with a face of bland, expressionless iron, and the Church of God Awaiting’s treasurer managed — somehow — not to snarl. It wasn’t easy, given the reports pouring in from Siddarmark, and he knew as surely as he was sitting there that the reports they were receiving understated the destruction and death.
“I don’t understand why you seem to think all this is somehow my fault,” Clyntahn said in a flat voice. “I’m not the one who decided when and where it was going to happen — you can thank that bastard Stohnar for that!”
Duchairn’s lips parted but he stopped the fatal words before they emerged. He couldn’t do much about the contempt and anger in his eyes, but at least he managed to refrain from what he truly wanted to say.
“Forgive me if I seem a bit obtuse,” he said instead, “but all the reports I’ve seen — including Archbishop Wyllym’s — seem to indicate the Inquisition is leading the . . . resistance to the Lord Protector. And” — his eyes swiveled to Allayn Maigwair, the Temple’s captain general — “that somehow quite a few Temple Guard ‘advisors’ wound up assigned to the men who launched this ‘spontaneous uprising.’ Under the circumstances, I’m sure you can understand why it might seem to me you were a bit more directly evolved in events there than anyone else in this council chamber.”
“Of course I was.” Clyntahn’s lip curled disdainfully. “I’m Mother Church’s Grand Inquisitor, Rhobair! As such, I’m personally answerable to the Archangels and to God Himself for her safety. I didn’t want to create this situation in Siddarmark. You and Zhasyn made your . . . reasoning for keeping the traitorous bastards’ economy intact amply clear, and however little I liked your logic, I couldn’t really dispute it. But that didn’t absolve me from my responsibility — mine and my Inquisitors’ — to watch Stohnar and his cronies. If it came down to a choice between making sure marks continued to flow into the Treasury and letting the entire Republic fall into the hands of Shan-wei and those fucking Charisian heretics, there was only one decision I could make, and I’m not about to apologize for having made it when my hand was forced!”
“Forced?” Zahmsyn Trynair, the Church’s chancellor was obviously unhappy to be siding even partially with Duchairn, but he arched his eyebrows at Clyntahn. “Forgive me, Zhaspahr, but while you may not have intended for events to take the course they did, there seems little doubt that your ‘Sword of Schueler’ got out of hand and initiated the violent confrontation.”
“I’ve told you and told you,” Clyntahn shot back with an air of dangerous, put-upon patience, “if I was going to have a weapon ready to hand when I needed it, I could hardly wait to start sharpening the blade until after Stohnar had already struck, could I? Obviously a certain degree of preparation was necessary if the true sons of Mother Church were to be organized and ready to move when they were most sorely required. Yes, it’s entirely possible a few of my inquisitors honed the Sword to a keener edge than I’d intended. And I won’t pretend I wasn’t more than a little taken aback by the . . . enthusiasm with which Mother Church’s children sprang to her defense. But the truth is that it’s a good thing Wyllym and I had started making preparations, and the proof is right there in the reports before you.”
He jabbed a thick forefinger at the folders on the conference table. Duchairn had already forced himself to read the contents of his folder fully and completely, and he wondered what would have happened to Mother Church long since if his Treasury reports had borne so little resemblance to the truth. There were mountains of facts in those reports — facts which he had no doubt at all were true. But the very best way to lie was to assemble carefully chosen ‘truths’ into the mask you wanted reality to wear, and Wyllym Rayno, the Archbishop of Chiang-wu, was a master at doing just that.
It’s to be hoped he does at least a little better job of telling
Zhaspahr the truth, Duchairn thought bitterly. Or is it? For that matter, could Zhaspahr even recognize the truth if someone dared to tell it to him these days?!
“You’ve got the figures, Zhasyn,” Clyntahn went on sharply. “Those bastards in Siddar City were buying three times as many rifles as they told us they were! Just who in Shan-wei d’you think they were stockpiling them against? Could it possibly have been the people — us; Mother Church — Stohnar was lying to about the numbers he was buying? I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any other reason for him to hide them from us!”
The Grand Inquisitor glared at Trynair, and the chancellor glanced uneasily at the treasurer from the corner of one eye. Duchairn could see what little backbone Trynair might still possess oozing out of him, but there wasn’t a great deal he could do about that. Especially not when he strongly suspected that even though Rayno had inflated the figures grossly, Stohnar had been stockpiling weapons as quietly and secretly as he could.
I would’ve been stockpiling them like mad if I’d known Zhaspahr Clyntahn had decided it was only a matter of when — not if — he was going to bring my entire Republic down in fire and blood!
“And when you add that to the way Stohnar, Maidyn, and Parkair’ve been coddling and protecting the Shan-wei-damned ‘Reformists’ — not to mention entire communities of Charisians! — throughout the Republic, it’s obvious what they had in mind. As soon as they thought they had enough rifles for their immediate security, they were going to openly invite Charis into an alliance. Can you imagine what kind of reward they might’ve demanded from Cayleb and Sharleyan for giving them a foothold here on the mainland itself? Not to mention selling the entire Siddarmarkian Army into their possession? Langhorne, Zahmsyn! We’d have had Charisian armies pouring across the Border States and into the Temple Lands themselves by summer, and you know it!”
The Grand Inquisitor’s fire was directed at Trynair, but no one doubted its true target was Duchairn. The chancellor wilted visibly, and Duchairn knew the image of Siddarmarkian armies sweeping across the Border States had been one of Trynair’s darkest nightmares — however little chance there’d been of its ever actually happening — for years. The thought of those same armies equipped with Charisian weapons, allied to the monarchs who’d sworn to destroy the Group of Four forever, had to be the most terrifying thing the chancellor could imagine . . . short of finding himself face-to-face with the Inquisition as Clyntahn’s other enemies had, at any rate.
“Father Zohannes and Father Saimyn had reports from reliable sources that the Army was supposed to conduct an ‘exercise’ closing the frontier with the Border States as soon as the first snows fell,” Clyntahn continued. “An ‘exercise!‘” He sneered and curled his lip. “One that would’ve just happened to put all of those rifles he wasn’t telling us he had on the frontier right across the shortest path from Zion to Siddarmark City . . . or from Siddarmark city to Zion. Obviously they had no choice but to act when they did, whether it was what any of us wanted or not!”
Duchairn’s jaws ached from the pressure it took to keep his teeth closed on what he really wanted to say. Of course Zohannes Pahtkovair and Saimyn Airnhart had reported Stohnar intended to seal his borders! They were Clyntahn’s creatures, and they’d report whatever he needed them to!
“No one could regret the loss of life more than I do,” Clyntahn said piously. “It’s not the fault of Mother Church, however — it’s the fault of her enemies. We had no choice but to act. If we’d hesitated for so much as five-day or two, Langhorne only knows how much worse it could’ve been! And if you expect me to shed any tears over what happened to heretics, blasphemers, and traitors or their lackeys, you’ll be a long time waiting, Zhasyn!” He slammed one beefy hand on the tabletop. “They brought whatever happened to them on themselves, and however bad that might have been in this world, it was only a foretaste of what awaits them in the next!”
He glared around the chamber, nostrils flared, eyes flashing, and Duchairn marveled once again at the man’s ability to believe whatever he needed to believe at any given moment. Yet surely he had to realize he was lying this time . . . didn’t he? How could someone manipulate, twist, and pervert the truth that thoroughly if he didn’t know, somewhere deep inside, what the truth actually was? Or did he simply rely on his subordinates to tell him whatever “truth” he needed to know to suit his requirements?