Archprelate Dolmant had listened in silence as Sparhawk and Emban made their report of the events in Tamuli. The ascetic churchman looked more than usually severe as they recounted Zalasta’s monstrous alliance with Cyrgon and Klæl. Despite his proposal to Emban that they should tell the Archprelate everything, more than once Sparhawk had found himself wishing that he might elide some of the more theologically challenging details, but had he done so, Dolmant could simply have commanded him to be explicit, and it was probably better to do it this way.
Dolmant sighed. ‘I sometimes wonder why I entered the church. Life would have been much simpler as a Pandion. Thank you for your honesty, my sons. I don’t suppose you gave any thought during your voyage as to how I am going to explain this to the Hierocracy?’
‘Sparkhawk did,’ said Emban jovially. ‘I believe it was something like ‘During the Queen of Elenia’s state visit to the Tamul Empire, Prince Sparhawk’s military expertise rendered the Emperor aid in dealing with some internal unrest.’
‘It wasn’t quite that bad,’ protested Sparhawk. The fat little churchman grinned.
‘Would you rather tell them everything, Sarathi?’
Dolmant’s face looked pained. ‘Perhaps not everything, but the Church must live in the world, and some of my brothers are apt to be complacent. We could do worse than shake them up a little.’
‘A little? Sarathi, what you’re talking about would set off an earthquake under the basilica!’
‘I shall pray for guidance. You brought this business to me, and I shall take it to God. That’s only fair, wouldn’t you say?’
‘Eminently,’ agreed Sparhawk. ‘Will you come and join Ehlana and the others for dinner? She’s dying to see you.’
The two men made their way through the palace to the suite allotted to the Queen’s party. Emban had left them to pay a surprise visit to his offices, explaining that he wanted to see the state of the place before the clerks knew he had returned, and Sparhawk seized the opportunity to raise a more personal concern.
‘What are you going to tell the Hierocracy about Vanion and Sephrenia, Dolmant? Vanion understood that you’d have no choice but to excommunicate him, but I’d rather not see him humiliated in public.’
They had reached Ehlana’s empty sitting room, and Dolmant went to stand by one of the windows.
‘Why should I do that? Vanion’s done nothing wrong. He can keep his knighthood with my blessing, although I agree it’s time that the Pandions had a permanent Preceptor who isn’t living on another continent.’
Sparhawk raised his eyebrows. ‘You won’t be offended if I say that’s not exactly what I was expecting you to think.’
‘You don’t pay enough attention in church, Sparhawk. I always thought that if Lord Vanion had a weakness as a churchman it was in his knowledge of some of the finer points of doctrine. There is nothing in this marriage that goes against the church’s teaching; he ought to have known that.’
‘Emban certainly thinks there is. And it’s against the laws of all Eosian states.’
‘But Vanion isn’t in an Eosian state, is he? Just because a marriage couldn’t be conducted here, doesn’t mean we don’t recognise it. We wouldn’t require Emperor Sarabian to pick one wife before he stepped across the border.’
‘He might thank us if we did,’ Sparhawk remarked.
‘You’re changing the subject, my son. I take it that Vanion still worships our Elene God, and that – this matter aside – he holds to the doctrines of our mother Church?’
‘Well, yes,’ agreed Sparhawk. ‘He even gave a couple of sermons to the Pandions. Early morning ones to inspire them before a march, that sort of thing.’
‘I’m glad to hear it. And Sephrenia hasn’t become an atheist?’
‘Definitely not, though I’m not sure that I see the relevance.’
‘Sparhawk, church law, which I strongly advise you to read more closely in future, does not prohibit marriage between Elenians and members of different faith, but between Elenians and the godless. Sephrenia is a Styric, but we certainly know that she isn't godless.’
‘Sometimes it seems we know it all too well.’
Dolmant smiled. ‘Be nice.’
‘Doesn’t the fact that the Church doesn’t admit the existence of other gods amount to more or less the same thing?’
‘It might present a difficulty in some cases. I don’t think I’ll be hurrying to bless marriages with the Zemochs. But since the entire Pandion Order all but worships Aphrael and our spells wouldn’t work without her, protesting her non-existence rings a little hollow, wouldn’t you say?’
‘I suppose so.’
‘That’s that objection taken care of. As for Vanion’s position as a churchman, members of the militant orders are free to marry with the approval of their Preceptor. As a Preceptor of a Militant Order and Patriarch of the Church, Vanion ought to have asked me first, but that’s a matter of church discipline, not faith. Besides, you reported that he’d insisted on resigning the role to you, which makes him a Church Knight again, and you as Preceptor – I must confirm you in the role before you leave Chyrellos – able to approve. I take it that you did approve?’
‘Sarathi, you’re a sophist.’
‘I know,’ said Dolmant complacently. ‘It goes with the job. If I couldn’t chop logic with my brethren I wouldn’t keep my throne for five minutes. As a matter of fact I believe everything I just told you. I’ve known how Vanion felt about Sephrenia for decades; if I were going to be shocked by it, I’d never have recommended him for Preceptor in the first place.’
‘I’ve misjudged you, Dolmant.’ He smiled wryly. ‘Sometimes it’s too easy to see the rank and not the man.’
‘I forgive you, my son. Now why don’t you go and tell Ehlana we’re here? I’ve lent her my best chef and he doesn’t like his dinners to be kept waiting.’
‘I have got one question,’ Sparhawk said several days later, as he read a draft of the speech the Archprelate was preparing for the Patriarchs. ‘What are you going to tell the Hierocracy about Vanion? I suspect some of your brothers might not quite read things the same way as you.’
‘Quite possibly,’ Dolmant admitted. ‘However, I am sure that they will be delighted to hear that Lord Vanion has recovered from his illness, although a few lingering symptoms prevent his returning from Daresia to take up his old role as Preceptor.’
‘That’s one way of putting it. I suppose you’ll also say that he’s married a local woman from one of the Elene kingdoms?’
‘Thank you, Sparhawk, I confess I had been wondering about how to manage that part.’
‘Don’t mention it,’ said Sparhawk, sourly. ‘Is there anything else you’d like me to do while you’re in this mood of religious tolerance, Sarathi? A mission to Zemoch, perhaps?’
‘I’m not that unfeeling Sparhawk; no man deserves to go to Zemoch more than once in his lifetime. But you gave me a lot to think about last year, when you told me about the failure of our missionaries in Rendor. I took your advice, pulled out the men we’d sent, and replaced them with moderates. They’re less good at theological debate, but better at setting a religious example and the reports say things are going well. I think that next year could be time for me to pay Rendor a visit. If the people could see that the Archprelate isn’t a demon with horns and a tail it might help to reconcile them to the Church. I shall need an appropriate escort, of course. Do you think that Ehlana would possibly spare you to come with me?’