King Segol could see nothing. Clerics, surgeons, and a hundred worse charlatans would claim otherwise he knew, offer him miracle treatments or pretty lies in exchange for Leidensen silver or royal favor. But Ademar had spoken, and through Him, God. He would never again watch the fog lift over Leidenstad, or see the waves crash upon the cliffs of Trauer. No more sunrises, no more sunsets.
Only the deep and abiding night.
No, King Segol could see nothing, but he could imagine everything. The knives that might wait in the dark could be anywhere when the dark was everywhere, and though he may have lost his sight his ears still heard the whispers that came from distant Tarva. Rumors that he was incapacitated, unfit to rule. How long, he wondered, before such things reached Valter’s ears? How firmly would brotherly love hold then, when the throne was so near for the taking? How would their lady mother choose, between a crippled son and a traitorous one?
These all swirled in his imagination, yet there were some things the King could picture clearly in his mind’s eye. The Cardinal Segolstad, young for a woman of her rank, yet filled with schemes and blood as cold as a shark’s.
“Your Grace must know the Church’s disapproval of this decision.”
“His Grace,” the King ground out the words, “Is above such disapproval. Or has the Church become a body that forgets its own head?”
“The Church merely channels the disapproval of God,” Segolstad’s smooth words came out of that darkness, “And no mortal is above God.”
Segol kept himself from snorting. He held his faith of course, every good Cryrian did. It was a warm flame to guide him even now when every other light was lost. But somehow he did not feel that this was a matter to concern the God-on-Urth.
“You are a holy woman, Cardinal,” the King said, “Tell me, why does God disapprove of the man who has brought His light back to the Mainland?”
“God does not disapprove of Your Grace’s victory,” the Cardinal responded, smooth as ever, “He disapproves of Your Grace’s decision to cast it aside.”
“Do you suggest, Cardinal, that I mean to retreat?” Segol asked drily.
“I think Your Grace means to hand Segolstad over to the Talveri,” the Cardinal said, “And allow Talveri law and Talveri faith to hold sway here.”
Silence filled the room, and the King regretted allowing it to persist as long as he did. The space between words all but confirmed Cardinal Segolstad’s insinuation. She was correct, of course. Given a choice between courting the Church and courting the Talveri, Segol knew which he would choose. Particularly when so many within the Church cared not one bit what happened to this spit of land, while the Talveri claim to Breze had underlain this entire expedition.
But these were not things the Cardinal should have known, not with such confidence that she might make such accusations before him.
But of course, the Church has ears… and eyes.
“The God-on-Urth may be worshiped freely under Talveri law,” the King said, though he knew full well that this alone would never be enough for the Cardinal, “Nor has the Council of Cardinals issued any edict in opposition to this. By what right, then, do you alone claim to know God’s will?”
“It is by God’s will Your Grace has lost your sight.”
Another silence, more deafening than the last. Had Segol not held this audience in private, his court would have been in an uproar. Even now he could sense the tension among his guards. To raise a hand against a masked priest was anathema, yet they might be ordered to avenge such an insult all the same. The King wondered if even the closest of his soldiers would obey such a command.
Today was not the day to find out. Instead, the King gripped the arms of his chair and rose to his feet.
“And it is by God’s will,” he grated out, “That I have survived, and may thus dispense of my duties in Segolstad as benefits the Realm.” Without waiting for a response, the King inclined his head and uttered the line of dismissal.
“This audience has pleased me.”