By Heresies Distressed (Excerpt)

The following is the first chapter of David Weber’s latest New York Times bestselling novel in the Safehold series, By Heresies Distressed. Weber’s Safehold series, which includes Off Armaggeddon Reef and By Schism Rent Asunder, has proven just as much of a hit as his ever-popular Honor Harrington series; a masterful combination of political intrigue, epic naval military drama, and ecclesiastical maneuverings, all against a backdrop of a classic space opera.

* * *

October, Year of God 892

.I.

The Temple,

City of Zion, The Temple Lands

The snow outside the Temple was deep for October, even for the city of Zion, and more fell steadily, thickly only to be whipped into mad swirls by the bitter wind roaring in off Lake Pei. That wind piled thick slabs of broken like ice on the bitterly cold shore, swept dancing snow demons through the streets, sculpted knife-edged snowdrifts against every obstruction, and chewed at any exposed skin with icy fangs. Throughout the city, its poorest inhabitants huddled close to any source of warmth they could find, but for far too many, there was precious little of that to be had, and parents shivered, watching the weather—and their children—with worry-puckered eyes as they thought about the endless five-days stretching out between them and the half-forgotten dream of springtime’s warmth.

There was no cold inside the Temple, of course. Despite the soaring ceiling of its enormous dome, there weren’t even any chilly breezes. The structure reared by the archangels themselves in the misty dawn of Creation maintained its perfect interior temperature with total disdain for what the merely mortal weather of the world might be inflicting upon its exterior.

The luxurious personal suites assigned to the members of the Council of Vicars were all magnificent beyond any mortal dream, but some were even more magnificent than others. The suite assigned to Grand Inquisitor Zhaspahr Clyntahn was a case in point. It was a corner apartment on the Temple’s fifth floor. Two entire sides of its main sitting room and dining room were windows—the miraculous, unbreakable, almost totally invisible windows of the archangels’ handiwork. Windows which were completely transparent from within, yet flashed back exterior sunlight like mirrored walls of finely burnished silver, and which were utterly impervious to the heat—or cold—which passed through and radiated from windows of mortal glass. Paintings and statuary, all chosen with a connoisseur’s exquisite discernment, added their own luxurious beauty to the suite’s interior, with its thick carpets, indirect, sourceless lighting, and perfect temperature.

It was far from the first time Archbishop Wyllym Rayno had visited the Grand Inquisitor’s personal chambers. Rayno was the Archbishop of Chiang-wu in the Harchong Empire. He was also the Adjutant of the Order of Schueler, which made him Clyntahn’s executive officer within the Office of the Inquisition. As a result, Rayno was privy to far more of Clyntahn’s innermost thought than anyone else, including his colleagues among the Group of Four, yet there were places inside Clyntahn where even Rayno had never been. Places the archbishop had never wanted to be.

“Come in, Wyllym—come in!” Clyntahn said expansively as the Temple Guardsman always stationed outside his chamber opened the door for Rayno.

“Thank you, Your Grace,” Rayno murmured, stepping past the guardsman.

Clyntahn extended his ring of office, and Rayno bent to kiss it, then straightened and tucked his hands into the voluminous sleeves of his cassock. The remnants of a truly enormous meal lay strewn in ruins across the large dining table, and Rayno carefully avoided noticing that there had been two place settings. Most vicars practiced at least some discretion when it came to entertaining their mistresses within the Temple’s sacred precincts. Everyone knew it happened anyway, yet there were standards to be maintained, appearances to be satisfied.

But Zhaspahr Clyntahn wasn’t “most vicars.” He was the Grand Inquisitor, the keeper of Mother Church’s conscience, and there were times when even Rayno, who had served him for decades, wondered exactly what passed through his mind. How the same man could be so zealous when it came to rooting out the sins of others even while he indulged his own.

Fair’s fair, Wyllym, the archbishop told himself. He may be a zealot, and he’s definitely self-indulgent, but at least he’s not hypocritical among his peers. And he does draw a remarkably sharp line between sins which are merely venal and those which constitute mortal offenses in the eyes of Schueler and God. He can be as irritatingly sanctimonious as anyone you’ve ever seen, but you’ve never heard him condemning any of his fellow vicars for weaknesses of the flesh. Spiritual weaknesses, yes; he can be utterly ruthless where they’re concerned, but he’s remarkably . . . understanding where those perquisites of high office are concerned.

He wondered who tonight’s visitor might be. All of Clyntahn’s appetites were huge, and he craved novelty. Indeed, few women could hold his attention for long, and once his interest in them waned, he tended to turn to another with sometimes startling abruptness, although he was never ungenerous when he transferred his interest to another.

Rayno, as the Inquisition’s adjutant, was well aware that there were those within the Temple’s hierarchy who disapproved—in some cases, strenuously, if quietly—of Clyntahn’s addiction to the pleasures of the flesh. No one was likely to say so openly, of course, and Rayno had very quietly quashed a few reports of condemnatory comments before they ever reached the Grand Inquisitor’s ears. Still, it was only natural for there to be a certain . . . unhappiness. Some of it could probably be put down to pure envy, although he was willing to concede that there was genuine disapproval of such sensuality behind much of it. Indeed, there had been times when Rayno had found himself feeling much the same sort of disapproval. But the archbishop had concluded long ago, even before Clyntahn was elevated to his present office, that all men had flaws, and that the greater the man, the deeper his flaws were likely to run. If Clyntahn restricted his particular faults to the pursuit of fleshly pleasure, surely that was far better than what Rayno had observed in the occasional Inquisitor who found himself using the cover of his high office to indulge his own taste for unnecessary cruelty.

“Thank you for coming so promptly, Wyllym,” Clyntahn continued as he ushered the archbishop to one of the Temple’s incredibly comfortable chairs. He smiled as he settled Rayno and personally poured him a glass of wine. The Grand Inquisitor’s normal table manners generally took second place—or even third—to the gusto he brought to food and wine, yet he could be an incredibly gracious and charming host when he chose to be. Nor was that charm false. It simply never occurred to him to extend it to anyone outside the circle of intimates he relied upon and fully trusted. Or, at least, trusted as much as he ever trusted anyone else.

“I realize your message didn’t seem to indicate any immediate urgency, Your Grace. I had business in the Temple to attend to anyway, however, so it seemed best to respond to your summons promptly.”

“I only wish I had a dozen archbishops and bishops who were as reliable as you are,” Clyntahn told him. “Langhorne! I’d settle for six!

Rayno smiled and inclined his head in a small bow, acknowledging the compliment. Then he sat back, nursing his wineglass in both hands while he gazed attentively at his superior.

Clyntahn was looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the swirling snow and wind. His expression was almost rapt as he contemplated the icy torrent of white for the better part of three minutes. Then, finally, he turned back to Rayno and leaned back in his own chair.

“Well!” he said, with the air of someone getting down to business at last. “I’m sure you’ve read all the reports about the seizures of Charisian merchant ships month before last.”

He arched one eyebrow slightly, and Rayno nodded.

“Good! I was certain you would have. And since you have, you’re undoubtedly aware that there were certain . . . difficulties.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Rayno acknowledged as Clyntahn paused.

Of course the archbishop was aware that there’d been “difficulties.” Everyone in Zion was aware of that much! What had been supposed to be an orderly seizure of unarmed, or at least only lightly armed, merchant ships as the first step in closing all mainland ports against the all-pervasive Charisian merchant marine had turned into something else entirely. Not everywhere, perhaps, but what the Grand Inquisitor was pleased to call “difficulties” was something the Charisians were going to call a “massacre” when word of August’s events in the Kingdom of Delferahk’s port city of Ferayd reached them.

Actually, Rayno corrected himself, what they’re undoubtedly already calling it, given the fact that at least some of their ships got away and most certainly sailed straight to Tellesberg. The archbishop shuddered at the thought of what the schismatic Charisian propagandists were going to do with that many civilian casualties. One thing’s for sure, he thought grimly, they aren’t going to minimize what happened.

And that, Rayno realized, was what was truly on Clyntahn’s mind. The Grand Inquisitor was speaking less of the fatalities involved than he was of the need to put the proper context on the part the Inquisition had played in the seizures. Few of those seizures had gone as badly awry as the ones in Delferahk—or not, at least, in the same way. Personally, Rayno found the implications of what had happened at Siddar City even more disturbing, in many ways. According to the Inquisition’s agents there, everything had been proceeding far more smoothly than in Ferayd . . . right up to the moment, at least, when, for some unknown reason, every Charisian merchant ship had simultaneously decided to . . . expedite its departure. It was undoubtedly a mere coincidence that they’d decided to do that before Lord Protector Greyghor had gotten around to formally issuing the orders to implement the Church’s instructions to seize them.

Of course it was.

There was no proof of who’d warned the Charisians, yet whoever it was, it had to have been someone deep in the Lord Protector’s confidence. The only real question in Rayno’s mind was whether the informant had acted solely on his own, or if Lord Protector Greyghor himself had made the decision to betray the Church’s trust. Given the fact that his staff had somehow been unable to locate their inexplicably missing head of state and deliver Clyntahn’s instructions to him for at least twelve hours, Rayno rather suspected that he wouldn’t have cared for the answer to his own question if someone had provided it.

Whoever the traitor might have been, he hadn’t acted entirely alone, no matter whose idea it had been. Siddar City wasn’t the only Siddarmarkian port where every Charisian merchant ship had mysteriously departed mere hours before they were supposed to be sequestered by the Republic’s authorities. The possibilities that suggested were far more unpalatable than a few score of dead Charisian sailors in Ferayd.

Not that we can expect everyone else on the Council—or even within the Order!—to see things that way, Rayno thought grumpily. The name of Samyl Wylsynn came forcefully to mind, and the Schuelerite Adjutant reminded himself barely in time not to grimace. Not that Clyntahn would have disagreed with his subordinate’s unloving thoughts where Vicar Samyl was concerned. If he decided Rayno’s expression indicated the archbishop’s disapproval of the decision to close the mainland ports to Charis, however, it could have unfortunate consequences.

“Well,” Clyntahn said again, grasping the thread of the conversation once more, “as you and I have already discussed, it’s essential that Mother Church put the true version of events into the hands of the faithful before any Charisian lies can take root there. I believe that in this instance, that may be especially important.”

“Of course, Your Grace. How may I be of assistance?”

“It’s taken longer than I could have wished,” the Grand Inquisitor told him frankly, “but Trynair and Duchairn have just about agreed upon the text of a proclamation setting forth what happened, especially in Ferayd, and granting martyr’s status to those murdered by the Charisians. It’s still weaker than I would prefer. It stops short of declaring Holy War, for example. I suppose it does set the groundwork for the eventual declaration, but certain parties are still waffling. I think Duchairn actually entertains the belief—or the hope, at least—that this can all be patched up somehow. Deep inside, though, even he has to know he’s wrong. It’s gone too far. The Inquisition and Mother Church simply cannot allow this sort of direct challenge of God’s will and His plan for the souls of men to pass unpunished. And the chastisement must be severe, Wyllym. Severe enough to prevent anyone else from even contemplating ever following in their footsteps.”

Rayno simply nodded. There was very little new in what Clyntahn had just said—aside from the confirmation that the proclamation the adjutant had expected for five-days was approaching readiness. On the other hand, as much as Clyntahn enjoyed explaining things, it was unlikely he’d recapped all that history without a specific purpose in mind.

“I have to confess that the thing which is preying most strongly upon my own mind just now, Wyllym, isn’t those damnable Charisians’ open defiance. Oh, obviously that’s going to have to be dealt with, but at least Cayleb and Staynair were rash enough to come out into the open. They’ve declared their allegiance to the pernicious doctrines Shan-wei is using to split Mother Church, marked themselves for the Church’s justice and God’s vengeance. In the fullness of time, they’ll receive that justice and vengeance in full measure, too.

“But what happened in Siddarmark . . . that’s another story entirely, Wyllym. Someone very highly placed in the Republic’s government must have alerted the Charisians. And while I’m fully aware of all the diplomatic niceties which prevent Zhamsyn from coming right out and taxing Greyghor with responsibility, there’s not much question in my mind as to who bears the responsibility. Even if he didn’t give the specific order himself—and I wouldn’t bet a mug of flat beer on that possibility!—it had to be someone very close to him, and there are no indications he’s even remotely close to identifying the culprit, much less punishing him. That sort of insidious rot, the kind that hides behind a façade of loyalty and reverence, is deadly dangerous. Left to itself, hiding in the shadows, the infection will only grow more and more corrupt until we find ourselves with a second, or a third, or even a fourth “Church of Charis” on our hands.”

“I understand, Your Grace,” Rayno murmured when the Grand Inquisitor paused once more. And the adjutant was beginning to understand, too. Had the “culprit” in question been found anywhere except in the inner circles of the Siddarmarkian government, Clyntahn wouldn’t simply have been concerned about any future “rot.” He would have been demanding the head of whoever had done it. Unfortunately, pressing Siddarmark too hard at this particular time was . . . contraindicated. The last thing the Church wanted was to engineer a marriage between Siddarmark’s pikemen and Cayleb of Charis’ navy.

“Unfortunately,” Clyntahn continued, as if he’d been reading Rayno’s mind (which wasn’t something the adjutant was completely prepared to rule out as a possibility), “if Greyghor can’t—or won’t—identify the responsible party, there’s very little we can do about it from the outside. For now, at least.”

“I take it from what you’ve just said that you’ve been working on a means to change that, Your Grace?”

Rayno’s tone was merely politely inquisitive, and Clyntahn snorted a grunting laugh as the adjutant arched his eyebrows delicately.

“Actually, I have,” he acknowledged, “and the fact that Siddarmark is so stubbornly attached to its ‘republican’ traditions is part of my thinking.”

“Indeed, Your Grace?” This time Rayno cocked his head to the side and crossed his legs as he awaited the Grand Inquisitor’s explanation.

“One of the things that makes Greyghor so damnably stiff-necked and defiant behind that mask of piety and obedience of his, is his belief that the voting citizens of Siddarmark support his policies. And, to give Shan-wei her due, he’s pretty much been right about that. That’s one of the considerations which has prevented us from turning up the pressure on him the way we really ought to have done long ago. But I rather doubt that public opinion in Siddarmark is quite as firmly united in approval of this schism of Charis’ as Greyghor may think it is. And if, in fact, his precious voters disapprove of Charis and of the things he’s willing to do behind the scenes in support of the schismatics, then I suspect he’ll change his tune.”

“That sounds eminently sensible to me, Your Grace,” Rayno said, nodding his head. “Exactly how do we. . . reshape that public opinion in our favor, though?”

“Over the next few days,” Clyntahn said, his tone a bit oblique, his eyes once again straying to the white maelstrom of the October blizzard, “several of the Charisians seized when their vessels were impounded will be arriving here in Zion. Actually, they’ll be arriving here at the Temple itself.”

“Indeed, Your Grace?”

“Indeed,” Clyntahn confirmed. “They’ll be delivered directly to the Order—to you, Wyllym.” The Grand Inquisitor’s eyes snapped back from the windows, boring suddenly into Rayno’s. “I haven’t gone out of my way to mention their impending arrival to the Chancellor or to the Treasurer General. I see no need to disturb them with what are, after all, the Inquisition’s internal matters. Do you?”

“Clearly not at this time, Your Grace,” Rayno replied, and Clyntahn smiled again, thinly.

“That was my thinking, as well, Wyllym. What we need to do is to . . . interview these Charisians. Shan-wei is the Mother of Lies, of course. No doubt she’ll do her damnable best to protect these heretics lest they betray her by revealing her plans and perversions to the true children of God. But the Office of Inquisition knows how to strip away Shan-wei’s mask and reveal the truth behind it. That will be your task, Wyllym. I want you to take personal charge of their questioning. It’s essential that they confess what actually happened, admit their deliberate provocation of the civil authorities who were simply attempting to peaceably carry out their instructions from Mother Church and their own secular authorities. The world must see clearly where the true blood guilt lies, just as it must learn of the perverse practices and blasphemies which this so-called ‘Church of Charis’ has embraced and seeks to enforce upon all the children of God in the name of its own dark mistress. Not only does the redemption of these sinners’ own souls hang upon their full confession and repentance, but once the truth is revealed, it will have a powerful effect upon ‘public opinion’ everywhere . . . even in Siddarmark.”

His eyes continued to bore into Rayno’s, and the adjutant drew a deep, steadying breath. The Grand Inquisitor was right about the necessity of confession and repentance if a soul which had strayed from the path of the archangels was ever to find true redemption. And the Inquisition was accustomed to its stern, often heartbreaking responsibilities. It understood that the true love of the sinner’s soul sometimes required that sinner’s body be dealt with harshly. It was sadly true that it was often difficult to break into that fortress of self pride, arrogance, and defiance and lead the lost soul hiding within it back into the cleansing light of God’s love once again. But however difficult the task might be, it was one the Inquisition had learned to discharge long-ago.

“How quickly do you need this accomplished, Your Grace?” he asked after a moment.

“As soon as possible, but not instantly,” Clyntahn replied with a shrug. “Until my . . . colleagues are prepared to act openly, I doubt that a confession from Shan-wei herself would carry much weight with anyone who’s already prepared to believe the schismatics’ lies. And, to be perfectly frank, I expect that Duchairn, at least, is going to express all sorts of pious reservations and protests at the thought of the Inquisition’s doing what’s necessary in this case. So, for now, this needs to be done very quietly. Keep it within the Order and be sure that, even there, you rely only on brothers whose faith and fidelity we know are trustworthy. I need to be able to produce this testimony when the time comes, but in the meantime, we don’t need any well-intentioned weaklings who don’t understand that, in this case, too much kindness would be the worst cruelty of all, getting in the way and hampering our efforts.”

“I agree with you, of course, Your Grace,” Rayno said. “However, I do have a . . . tactical reservation, let’s say.”

“What sort of reservation, Wyllym?” Clyntahn’s eyes had narrowed slightly, but Rayno appeared not to notice as he continued in the same calm, merely thoughtful tone of voice.

“Everything you’ve just said about controlling the time at which this testimony is made public strikes me as completely valid. But you and I are accustomed to dealing with the pragmatic, often unpleasant duties and responsibilities inherent in attempting to reclaim the fallen for Langhorne and God. If—when—if we obtain the apostates’ confessions, some people are going to wonder why we didn’t make those confessions public immediately. Some of that questioning will be completely sincere and legitimate, from people outside the office of Inquisition who simply don’t understand that sometimes saving the sinner is only the first step in combating a greater evil. But there will also be those, Your Grace, who seize upon any delay as an opportunity to discredit anything we may say. They’ll argue that the penitents were coerced, that their confessions aren’t reliable.”

“No doubt you’re right,” Clyntahn agreed. “In fact, the same thought had occurred to me. But almost as soon as I thought about it, I realized I was worrying unduly.”

“You were, Your Grace?”

“Yes.” Clyntahn nodded. “I have no doubt that once you’ve managed to bring these people to the point of confession and repentance we’ll discover that many of the ‘Church of Charis’’ perversions and abominations are even worse—horrifically worse, in some cases—than anything we could reasonably suspect from here. Undoubtedly, as the painstakingly thorough guardian of the truth I’ve always known you to be, you’ll insist on confirming as many as possible of those outrageous claims before making them public. It would never do to suggest such shocking possibilities if, in fact, it later turned out that the heretics had lied to you. So, obviously, until we have that confirmation, we couldn’t possibly justify presenting our findings to the Council of Vicars . . . or to the citizens of Siddarmark who mistakenly believe that Cayleb, Staynair, and the others must have at least some valid justifications on their side.”

“I understand, Your Grace,” Rayno said, and he did.

“Good, Wyllym. Excellent! I knew I could trust your diligence and discretion in this matter.”

“You can, Your Grace. Definitely. I suppose the only remaining question I have is whether or not you want progress reports.”

“Nothing written at this point, I think,” Clyntahn said after thinking for a moment. “Written memos have an unfortunate habit of being taken out of context, especially by people who choose to take them that way in order to suit their own purposes. Keep me informed, but verbally. When the time is right, I want to produce as many as possible of the heretics who have confessed. And, of course, I’ll want detailed, signed and witnessed written copies of their confessions, as well.”

“I understand, Your Grace.” Rayno rose and bent to kiss Clyntahn’s ring of office once more. “With all due respect, Your Grace, I think perhaps I should return to my office. I need to do some personnel selection and make certain the brothers I choose fully understand your fears and concerns.”

“I think that sounds like an excellent idea, Wyllym,” Clyntahn said, escorting the archbishop back towards his chamber’s door. “An excellent idea, indeed. And when you make your selections, remember that Shan-wei is cunning. If there should be a chink in the armor of one of your Inquisitors, never doubt she’ll find it and exploit it. This responsibility is too serious, the potential consequences are too great, to let that happen. Be sure that they’re fully protected in the armor of the Light and girded with the strength of will and purpose and faith to do that which must be done, however grievous the doing of it may seem. Our responsibility is to God, Wyllym. The approval or disapproval of mere mortal, fallible men cannot be allowed to sway us from the obligation to meet that dreadful responsibility, whatever it may demand of us. As Schueler taught and Langhorne himself confirmed, ‘Extremism in the pursuit of godliness can never be a sin.’”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Wyllym Rayno said quietly. “I’ll see to it that I—that all of us—remember that in the days to come.”

citation

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