By Schism Rent Asunder
|Series:||Safehold: Book 2|
|Sub-Genre Tags:||Military SF|
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The world has changed. The mercantile kingdom of Charis has prevailed over the alliance designed to exterminate it. Armed with better sailing vessels, better guns and better devices of all sorts, Charis faced the combined navies of the rest of the world at Darcos Sound and Armageddon Reef, and broke them. Despite the implacable hostility of the Church of God Awaiting, Charis still stands, still free, still tolerant, still an island of innovation in a world in which the Church has worked for centuries to keep humanity locked at a medieval level of existence.
But the powerful men who run the Church aren’t going to take their defeat lying down. Charis may control the world’s seas, but it barely has an army worthy of the name. And as King Cayleb knows, far too much of the kingdom’s recent good fortune is due to the secret manipulations of the being that calls himself Merlin-a being that, the world must not find out too soon, is more than human. A being on whose shoulders rests the last chance for humanity’s freedom.
Now, as Charis and its archbishop make the rift with Mother Church explicit, the storm gathers. Schism has come to the world of Safehold. Nothing will ever be the same.
Princedom of Emerald
Bright morning sunlight glittered on the crossed golden scepters of the green banner of the Church of God Awaiting. The twin-masted courier ship flying that wind-starched banner as she scudded along on the brisk breeze was little more than seventy feet long, built for speed rather than endurance . . . or even seakeeping and stability. Her crew of sixty was small for any galley, even one as diminutive as she was, but her slender, lightly constructed hull was well suited for rowing, and her lateen sails drove her in a rapid flurry of foam as she went slicing across the brilliant sun-splintered water and foaming white horses of the thirty-mile-wide passage between Callie’s Island and the northeastern shore of Eraystor Bay.
Father Rahss Sawal, the small fleet vessel’s commander, stood on his tiny quarterdeck, hands clasped behind him, and concentrated on looking confident while he gazed up at the seabirds and wyverns hovering against the painfully blue sky. It was harder than it ought to have been to maintain the outward assurance (it would never have done to call it arrogance) proper to the master of one of Mother Church’s couriers, and Sawal didn’t much care for the reason he found it so.
The Temple’s messengers, whether landbound or afloat, enjoyed absolute priority and freedom of passage. They carried God’s own messages and commands, with all the authority of the archangels themselves, and no mortal had the temerity to challenge their passage wherever God or His Church might send them. That had been true literally since the Creation, and no one had ever dared to dispute it. Unfortunately, Sawal was no longer certain the centuries-old inviolability of Mother Church’s messengers continued to hold true.
The thought was . . . disturbing, in more ways than one. Most immediately, because of the potential consequences for his own current mission. In the long run, because the failure of that inviolability was unthinkable. Defiance of the authority of God’s Church could have only one consequence for the souls of the defiers, and if their example led others into the same sin . . .
Sawal pushed that thought aside once more, telling himself—insisting to himself—that whatever madness had infected the Kingdom of Charis, God would never permit it to spread beyond Charis’ borders. The universal authority of Mother Church was the linchpin not simply of the world in which he lived, but of God’s very plan for Man’s salvation. If that authority were challenged, if it failed, the consequences would be unthinkable. Shanwei, lost and damned mother of evil, must be licking her fangs at the very possibility in the dark, dank corner of Hell to which the Archangel Langhorne had consigned her for her sins. Even now she must be testing the bars, trying the strength of her chains, as she tasted the overweening, sinful pride of those who sought to set their own fallible judgment in place of God’s. Langhorne himself had locked that gate behind her, with all the authority of eternity, but Man had free will. Even now, he could turn the key in that lock if he so chose, and if he did . . .
Damn those Charisians, he thought grimly. Don’t they even realize what door they’re opening? Don’t they care? Don’t—
His jaw tightened and he forced himself to relax his shoulders and draw a deep, cleansing breath. It didn’t help very much.
His instructions from Bishop Executor Thomys had been abundantly clear. Sawal was to deliver the bishop executor’s dispatches to Bishop Executor Wyllys in Eraystor at all costs. That phrase—“at all costs”—had never before been part of Sawal’s orders. There’d never been any need for it, but there was now, and—
“Deck there!” The shout came down from the crow’s nest. “Deck there! Three sail on the port bow!”
“Well, well,” Commander Paitryk Hywyt, Royal Charisian Navy, murmured to himself as he peered through the spyglass. “This should be interesting.”
He lowered the glass and frowned thoughtfully. His orders were perfectly clear on this point. They’d made him more than a little nervous when he first received them, but they were definitely clear, and now he discovered that he was actually looking forward to obeying them. Odd. He wouldn’t have thought that was likely to happen.
“It’s a Church courier, all right,” he said a bit louder, and Zhak Urvyn, HMS Wave’s first lieutenant, made a distinctly unhappy sound.
“Some of the men may not like it, Sir,” Urvyn said softly. Hywyt glanced sideways at him, then shrugged.
“I’ve got a feeling the men’s attitude may just surprise you a bit, Zhak,” he said dryly. “They’re still about as pissed off as I’ve ever seen them, and they know who that courier’s really working for this morning.”
Urvyn nodded, but he looked gloomier than ever, and Hywyt grimaced mentally. It wasn’t the men Urvyn expected to be unhappy; it was Urvyn himself.
“Bring her three points to port, if you please, Lieutenant,” Hywyt said, speaking rather more formally than was his wont. “Let’s lay out a course to intercept her.”
“Aye, aye, Sir.” Urvyn’s expression was worried, but he saluted and passed the order to the helmsman while other hands pattered across the wooden decks to tend sheets and braces.
Wave changed course, slicing across the water close-hauled on the port tack, and Hywyt felt a familiar surge of pleasure as his vessel responded. The sleek, flush-decked, twin-masted schooner was just over ninety-five feet long on the waterline, and mounted fourteen thirty-pounder carronades. Unlike some of her sisters, Wave had been designed and built from the keel up as a light cruiser for the Royal Charisian Navy. Her revolutionary sail plan made her faster and far more weatherly than any other ship Hywyt had ever encountered, far less commanded, and she’d already taken no less than seven prizes—almost half of those captured by the entire blockading squadron—here in Emeraldian waters since the Battle of Darcos Sound. That was what speed and handiness meant, and the comfortable sound prize money made falling into their purses had helped overcome any lingering qualms his crew might have cherished. They were Charisians, after all, he thought with a gleam of humor. Charis’ numerous detractors were wont to refer to the Kingdom as a “kingdom of shopkeepers and moneylenders,” and not in tones of approval. Hywyt had listened to their rancorous envy for years, and he had to admit there was at least a little truth to the stereotype of the Charisian constantly on the prowl for ways to make a quick mark.
Of course, we’re also very good at it, aren’t we? he reflected, and felt himself smiling as the courier boat with the dark green flag drew rapidly nearer.
He couldn’t be positive the other ship had come from Corisande, but no other explanation seemed very likely. The dispatch boat had obviously approached through Dolphin Reach, which certainly meant it had also crossed the Sea of Zebediah. No courier from Haven or Howard would have been coming from that direction, and Hywyt rather doubted Sharleyan of Chisholm was particularly interested in corresponding with Nahrmahn of Emerald at the moment. And judging from the way the fellow had chosen the strait between Callie’s Island and the...
Copyright © 2008 by David Weber
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