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Chapter Eight

The entire east end of Harrington Cathedral was a single, enormous wall of stained glass. The morning light pouring through it drenched the cathedral in gorgeous, luminous color, and Honor sat at its heart, enveloped in the swirl of incense.


The choir's glorious harmony swept through her, and she closed her eyes to savor it. The choir sang without accompaniment, for its superbly trained voices needed none, and the artificiality of instruments, however magnificent, could only have detracted from their beauty. Honor had always loved music, though she'd never learned to play and her subjects would have greeted her singing voice with pained politeness. Classical Grayson music was based on an Old Earth tradition called "Country and Western" and took some getting used to, but she was developing a taste even for it, and she was delighted by Grayson's popular music, while its sacred music was breathtaking.


The choir completed its selection, and Honor heard Nimitz mirror her own sigh of pleasure from his cushion in the pew beside her. Andrew LaFollet stood behind them, head uncovered but still on duty, even here, and she felt a familiar, wry amusement as she glanced to the left and saw the other two armsmen standing before the unoccupied Steadholder's Box. As someone who was not a communicant of the Church of Humanity, she was required by Church law to sit in the Stranger's Aisle, even in Harrington Cathedral, which had posed a problem for Harrington Steading's architects.


Honor made a point of attending services regularly. Member of the Church or not, she was obligated to protect and defend it, and there were other, equally pressing reasons to be here. Her public respect for the Faith was an answer to her critics' charges that she disdained it, and her willingness to take her place in the Stranger's Aisle rather than insist upon occupying the box set aside for the steadholder in any steading capital's cathedral had won her even more acceptance. Her subjects' native Grayson stubbornness respected the honesty of a ruler who accepted the stigma of the Aisle rather than pretend to embrace their Faith. And the fact that she, who wasn't a member of the Church, was a regular attendant underscored the fact that she, in turn, truly respected the Faith which was not hers.


Those were the political reasons. On a personal level, she was here because she had learned to respect the Church and because it was so central to the lives of her people. She needed to share it, even at one remove, to understand them. And even if that hadn't been true, she found the solemn majesty of the Church's liturgy and music compellingly beautiful.


Honor had been raised in the Third Stellar Missionary Communion (Reformed), but her family, like most Sphinx yeomen, had always been low church. The Third Stellars emphasized each individual's direct, personal relationship with God, with a minimum of structure. The high church had become more formal over the last few T-centuries, but low church services tended to be quiet, introspective affairs, and Honor had been unprepared for the sheer pageantry of the Church of Humanity. She supposed Mother Helen, the priest who'd confirmed her so many years ago, would have sniffed at all the "unnecessary fol-de-rol." She'd certainly regarded the formalism of her own denomination's high churchmen with enough reservations! But Honor suspected even Mother Helen would admit the beauty of Grayson's liturgy, and no one could doubt the personal faith of the people who followed it.


Still, Honor's decision to attend regularly had put the architects in something of a quandary. The Stranger's Aisle was always to the left of the nave and immediately adjacent to the sanctuary. Traditionally, this was to make the people who sat in it feel welcome by placing them in the very heart of the congregation rather than isolating them like pariahs, but it had the effect of putting them under everyone's eye, as well. It was also clear across the church from the traditional location of the Steadholder's Box, and the architects had decided that having Lady Harrington so obviously separated from her "proper" position would invite invidious comment. Honor wasn't too sure about that, but it was scarcely a decision in which she'd had a voice, so she'd let them work it out to suit themselves, and they'd compromised by making two changes in the accepted layout of every other cathedral on the planet.


Instead of placing the pulpit in its usual position at the sanctuary's extreme right, they'd swapped it with the choir loft. That put the pulpit to the left, which, in turn, required them to move the Steadholder's Box to the same side to maintain its proximity to the pulpit. All of which just happened to put the box directly adjacent to the Stranger's Aisle and meant Honor could sit right beside the seat which was nominally hers.


Honor would never have requested the changes, but she was touched by the way her Harringtons accepted them. They could have chosen to be affronted; instead, they went out of their way to compare their church to other cathedrals—always to the detriment of the more "traditional" churches. Besides, they claimed, the acoustics were better.


Honor smiled in memory, but her smile faded as Reverend Hanks genuflected before the altar and crossed to the pulpit. Each of Grayson's eighty steadings had its own capital cathedral, and by ancient tradition, the Reverend celebrated service in a different one each Sunday, working his way through every steading in turn. It must, Honor thought, have been an incredibly wearing cycle once, though modern transport had made it much easier. But Reverend Hanks had rearranged his entire schedule to be here today, and she—like everyone else in the cathedral—wondered why he had.


Hanks stepped up into the tall pulpit and looked out over the congregation. His white surplice seemed to glow in the light spilling through the stained glass, and the scarlet stole of his high office was a slash of color as he opened the immense, leather-bound book before him, then bent his head.


"Hear us, oh God," he prayed, his voice carrying clearly even without amplification, "that our words and thoughts may be always acceptable to You. Amen."


"Amen," the congregation replied, and he raised his head once more.


"Today's scripture," he said quietly, "is taken from Meditations Six, chapter three, verses nineteen through twenty-two, of The New Way." He cleared his throat, then recited the passage from memory without glancing at the book before him. " 'We shall be known both by our works and by the words of our mouths, which are the echoes of our thoughts. Let us therefore speak the truth always, fearing not to show forth our inner selves. But let us also forget not charity, nor that all people are God's children, even as we. No man is without error; therefore let him not assail his brother or sister with intemperate words, but reason with them, remembering always that whatever our words may show forth, God knows the thought behind them. Think not to deceive Him or to preach divisiveness or hatred cloaked in His word, for all who are clean of spirit—yea, even those who remain strangers to the New Way—are His children, and he who seeks with malice or hatred to wound any child of God is the servant of corruption and abhorrent in the eyes of He Who is Father to us all.' "


The Reverend paused. Absolute silence enveloped the congregation, and Honor felt eyes turning towards her from every corner of the cathedral. No one who'd heard or seen the demonstrations against her could possibly misinterpret the challenge of Hanks' chosen text or doubt the Reverend had selected it deliberately, and she realized she was actually holding her breath.


"Brothers and Sisters," Hanks said after a moment, "four days ago, in this city, a man of God forgot the duty laid upon us by this passage. Filled with his own anger, he forgot to assail not his brothers and sisters and that all of us were created the children of God. He chose not to reason, but to attack, and he forgot that Saint Austin himself tells us that men—and women—may be godly even if they know Him in a way different from our own. Remembering that can be difficult for anyone filled with the Faith, for we know our own way to God, and unlike God, we are neither infinite nor omniscient. We forget, all too easily, that there are other ways. Nor do we always remember how limited our perceptions are compared to His, and that He, unlike us, sees to the hearts of all people and knows His own, however strange and different they may appear to us."


The Reverend paused once more, lips pursed as if in thought, then nodded slowly.


"Yes, it's difficult not to equate 'different' with 'wrong.' Difficult for any of us. But we who have felt God's call to serve Him as His clergy have a special responsibility. We, too, are fallible. We, too, can—and do—make mistakes, even with the best of intentions. We turn to Him in prayer and meditation, yet there are times when our fears can become intolerance, even hatred, for even in the stillness of prayer, we may mistake our own distrust of the new or different for God's.


"And that, Brothers and Sisters, is precisely what happened in your city. A priest of Father Church looked into his heart and took council not of God, but of his own fears. His own hatred. He saw changes about him which he feared, which challenged his own preconceptions and prejudices, and he mistook his fear of those changes for the voice of God and let that fear lead him into the service of corruption. In his own hatred, he closed his mind to the most fundamental of all Saint Austin's teachings: that God is greater than the mind of Man can comprehend, and that the New Way has no end. That there will always be more of God and His will for us to learn. We must test any new lesson against the truths God has already taught us, yet we must test it, not simply say 'No! This is strange to me, and therefore against the law of God!'


"Brother Marchant," Hanks said quietly, and a soft sigh went up as he spoke the name at last, "looked upon the immense changes our world faces, and those changes frightened him. I can understand that, for change is always frightening. But as Saint Austin also said, 'A little change from time to time is God's way of reminding us we have not yet learned everything,' Brothers and Sisters. Brother Marchant forgot that, and in his fear he set up his own will and judgment as those of God. He sought not to test the changes, but to forbid them without test, and when he was unable to forbid them, he fell into still more dangerous sin. The sin of hate. And that hate led him to attack a good and godly woman, one who showed forth her thoughts by her works four years past, when she confronted armed assassins with her bare hands to defend our Protector against murder. When she placed herself between our entire world and its destruction. She is not of the Faith, yet no one in the history of Grayson has more valiantly defended it or our people from those who would destroy us."


Honor's cheeks burned brilliant scarlet, but a vast, soft rumble endorsed Reverend Hanks' words, and its sincerity suffused her link to Nimitz.


"Your Steadholder, Brothers and Sisters, is a woman, which is new and strange to us. She is foreign born, which is also strange to us. She was raised in a Faith which is not ours, and she has not changed that Faith to embrace Father Church. For all those reasons, she seems a threat to some of us, yet how much more of a threat is it to forget the Test? To turn away from change simply because it is change, without first considering if, perhaps, this foreign-born woman might not be God's way of telling us change is required? Shall we ask her to pretend to embrace Father Church? To pervert her own Faith to deceive us into accepting her? Or shall we respect her for refusing to pretend? For revealing to us what she truly is and thinks and feels?"


Another, deeper rumble of agreement filled the cathedral, and the Reverend nodded slowly.


"As you, Brothers and Sisters, and as Brother Marchant, I, too, am fallible. I, too, feared the changes which might come upon us if we allied with foreign worlds, with planets whose faiths and beliefs differ radically from our own. Yet now I have seen those changes coming to pass, and I believe they are good ones. Not always pleasant and comfortable, no, but God never promised the Test would be easy. I may be in error to believe the changes we face are good, yet if I am, surely God will show me that as I continue to test them. And until he does, I must continue to serve Him as I swore to do when I first accepted His call, and again, when the Sacristy elevated me to Reverend. Not in the assurance that I will always be right, but in the assurance that I will always try to be right . . . and that I will always oppose evil, whenever I perceive it and wherever I find it."


The Reverend paused yet again. His face hardened, and his voice was deeper and more deliberate when he continued once more.


"It is never an easy thing, Brothers and Sisters, to tax a priest with error. None of us likes to believe a servant of Father Church can be in error, and for those of the clergy there is an added dimension. We flinch from opening the door to schism. We are tempted to take the easy road, to avoid the Test and conceal our divisions lest we weaken our authority in your eyes. Yet our authority is not ours to protect. The authority of Father Church springs only from God, and Father Church deserves that authority only so long as we strive earnestly and without flinching to know and to do His will. As such, it is our solemn duty to put aside such fears, to set the temple of the Lord in order when we see disorder, and to do our best, trusting in God's guidance, to distinguish between those who truly serve His will and those who but think they do. And because that is our duty, I have come among you this Sunday to publish to you a decree of Father Church."


An acolyte laid a sealed scroll in his hand, and the quiet crackle of parchment was ear-shattering as he broke the seal, unrolled it, and read aloud.


" 'Let it be published among all the body of the Faithful that we, the Sacristy of the Church of Humanity Unchained, being assembled to know and to do God's will as He shall give us to understand it, have, by our solemn vote, petitioned Benjamin IX, by God's Grace Protector of the Faith and of Grayson, to remove Brother Edmond Augustus Marchant from the rectory of Burdette Cathedral, and from the office of Chaplain to William Fitzclarence, Lord Burdette, pursuant to the findings of the High Chancery of Father Church that the said Edmond Augustus Marchant has turned aside from the Test of Life into error. Let it also be published that the former Brother Edmond Augustus Marchant is, by the High Chancery of Father Church, suspended from and deprived of all offices of Father Church until such time as he may satisfy this Sacristy of his true repentance and his return to that spirit of godly charity and tolerance beloved of God.' "


Not a breath disturbed the quiet as Reverend Hanks looked out over the hushed cathedral, and his deep, quiet voice was tinged with ineffable sorrow yet measured and stern.


"Brothers and Sisters, this is a grave step, and one not taken lightly. To cast out any child of God wounds all children of God, and the Sacristy knows well that to condemn error in another is always to risk error in oneself. Yet we can but act as we believe God calls us to act, acknowledging always that we may act wrongly yet refusing to turn aside from the Test God sets before us. I, as every member of the Sacristy, pray that he who was Brother Marchant will return to us, that we may welcome him once more into Father Church's arms and rejoice, as any family must rejoice when one who was lost is found once more. But until he chooses to return, he is as a stranger to us. A child who by his own will becomes a stranger is a stranger still, however deeply our hearts may ache to see him estranged from us, and the choice to return, as all choices God sets before us in the Test of Life, must be his own. Brothers and Sisters in God, I humbly beseech your prayers for Edmond Augustus Marchant, that he, as we, may know God's will and love and be sustained in this, the hour of his Test."


* * *


Honor gazed pensively out the window as her ground car rolled away from the cathedral. She'd been as stunned as any native-born Grayson at the speed of the Church's actions, and deep inside, she feared the consequences. The Sacristy, as the Church's highest governing body, had every legal right to act as it had, yet the defrocking of a priest could not but be the gravest of steps. And, she thought, one which would goad every reactionary on the planet to fury. Few of them would believe she hadn't had a thing to do with the decision . . . and none of them would care. They would see only that the off-world corruption they feared had reached even into the Sacristy, and the potential for a violent reaction from fanatics who already viewed themselves as a persecuted minority was terrifying.


She sighed and leaned back in the luxurious seat. The timing was another problem, she reflected while Nimitz purred reassuringly in her lap. This had been the last service she would be able to attend for the foreseeable future, for she was due to report aboard GNS Terrible tomorrow. No doubt there were arguments in favor of getting her off-planet while the Church dealt with the furor the Sacristy's actions were bound to provoke, yet there were counter-arguments, too. Her enemies could see it as a sign of cowardice on her part, as flight from the just anger of God's true servants at the part she'd played in the martyrdom of a priest. Conversely, they might choose to see it as a sign of contempt for them—a sort of swaggering insolence that no longer saw a reason to pretend to respect the Church now that Brother Marchant had been struck down.


And even if she left those possibilities out of the equation, how would Steadholder Burdette react? She had no idea how many of Grayson's other steadholders sympathized with him to one extent or another, but that Burdette himself would be livid was a given, and if other steadholders had shared his views in silence, the Church's declaration of war on the forces of reactionism might bring them out into the open. Even if it didn't, Burdette Steading was one of the five original steadings. It was densely populated and immensely wealthy, by Grayson standards, and the Fitzclarence family had held steading there for over seven centuries. That gave the current Lord Burdette immense authority and prestige, whereas Harrington was Grayson's newest and, so far, least populous and poorest steading. Honor was realist enough to admit that whatever authority she possessed sprang from who she was and the way mainstream Grayson opinion regarded her. That was a much more fragile thing than the dynastic prestige Burdette was heir to, and with her off-planet and out of mind, there was no telling how public opinion might be swayed. And whatever the public might think, she had no doubt Burdette's previous, behind-the-scenes opposition to her had just been transformed into implacable hatred.


She closed her eyes, caressing Nimitz, and a small, self-pitying inner voice railed against the universe's unfairness. She'd never wanted political power, never asked for it. She'd done her best to avoid it when it was thrust upon her, for whatever anyone else thought, she knew only too well how unfitted for politics she was. Yet it seemed no matter what she did or where she went, she took a vortex of political strife with her like a curse, and she wondered despairingly if there would ever be an end to it.


She hadn't meant to infuriate the Liberal and Progressive Parties back home when she was sent to Basilisk Station. She'd simply done her best to do her duty; surely it wasn't her fault that doing so had made the Liberal and Progressive leadership look like fools?


But it had, and the hatred that had earned her had only intensified when her grieving guilt over Admiral Courvosier's death had combined with disgust for Reginald Houseman's order to withdraw her forces and abandon Grayson to Masada. No doubt his powerful Liberal family would have been furious enough with her for simply ignoring his orders and underscoring his cowardice, but, no—she'd had to lose her temper and strike him! He'd had it coming, but a Queen's officer had no business giving it to a Crown envoy, and her actions had cast the Opposition's fury with her in ceramacrete.


Then there'd been Pavel Young. His court-martial for abandoning her in the Battle of Hancock had created the bitterest political fight in the memory of the House of Lords, yet that paled beside what had followed. Paul's murder and Young's death at her hands had almost brought Duke Cromarty's Government down—not to mention getting her exiled to Grayson.


And now this. The demonstrations had been bad enough, but God alone knew where this latest twist would end. She tried and tried to do her best, to recognize where her duty lay and meet her responsibilities, and every time she did, the galaxy blew up in her face, and she was sick unto death of it. Not even the knowledge that the people whose respect she valued supported her seemed to balance the exhausting strain of fighting political battles for which she was supremely unsuited. She was a naval officer, for God's sake! Why couldn't they just let her be one without all these endless, bickering attacks? Without the unending pressure of making her somehow responsible for the political and religious turmoil of two entire star systems?


She sighed again, opened her eyes, and gave herself a stern mental shake. They were about to let her be an officer again, and Reverend Hanks and Protector Benjamin were eminently capable of fighting their own battles. Besides, it wasn't as if the universe were truly out to get her, however it felt from time to time, and she had no business losing her perspective this way. All she could do was the best she could, and as long as she did, she could face whatever came with the knowledge that she had. That, as her Grayson subjects would say, she'd risen to her own Test.


Her lips twitched at the thought, and the bleakness faded in her eyes. No wonder she and her Harringtons got along so well. Whether she shared their Faith or not, they were too much alike not to get along. The Church of Humanity didn't demand an individual triumph in the tests God sent her; it demanded only that she try. That she give it her very best shot, whatever the cost or outcome, and that was a code any warrior could appreciate.


She straightened her shoulders and glanced back out the window as the car moved past the entrance to Yanakov Park. She let her gaze rest on the soothing green welcome of the park, savoring the beauty of the sight, but then her eyes narrowed and she paled. Good God—was it starting already?


Nimitz's head shot up, ears pricked and whiskers quivering as he sensed her sudden alarm. Both of them stared for one more instant at the group of men moving purposefully through the park gates, and then she whirled to LaFollet.


"Get Colonel Hill on the com! Now, Andrew!"


"My Lady?" LaFollet stared at her for a heartbeat, then whipped his head around to peer quickly through all the car's windows. He was reaching for his portable com in reflex obedience to her barked order, but his face was a study in confusion. "What is it, My Lady?" he demanded as he keyed the com.


"Tell him to get hold of HCP and then get a platoon of the Guard to the park!" The major gaped at her, and Honor slapped an open palm on her armrest. It wasn't like Andrew to be slow on the uptake, she thought furiously, so why had he chosen today, of all days, for his brain to go to mush on her?!


"Uh, of course, My Lady," LaFollet said after a moment, so soothingly she wanted to scream. "May I tell the Colonel why?"


"Why?" Honor repeated incredulously. She stabbed an index finger at the men just vanishing through the gate. "Because of them, of course!"


"What about them, My Lady?" LaFollet asked cautiously, and she stared at him. His confused perplexity flowed to her over Nimitz's empathic link, and she was stunned by his obtuseness.


"We've had enough people banged up in riots without their taking clubs with them, Andrew!"


"Clubs?" LaFollet's confusion was complete, and he darted another look out her window just as a second group of men headed into the park. Like the first, they, too, carried long, slender clubs over their shoulders, and the major's eyes narrowed. Honor began to relax at the evidence that he finally recognized the threat, but then, impossibly, he began to laugh!


It started with an incredulous chuckle, and his face worked with his desperate effort to stifle it, but he couldn't. It got away from him, erupting in a choked bubble of relieved hilarity that filled the car's interior. Honor and Nimitz stared at him in disbelief, and their expressions only made him laugh harder. No, not laugh—they made him howl, and Honor reached out and shook him hard.


"C-c-c-clubs, My Lady?" The major gasped for breath, holding his aching ribs with both hands, and tears of mirth gleamed in his eyes. "Those . . . those aren't clubs, My Lady—they're baseball bats!"


"Baseball bats?" Honor repeated blankly, and LaFollet nodded as he freed one hand from his ribs to wipe his eyes. "What's a baseball bat?" she demanded.


"My Lady?" He was plainly astonished by the question, but then he shook himself. He wiped his eyes again and sucked in a deep breath, trying to force the echoes of laughter from his voice. "Baseball bats are what the batter uses in a baseball game, My Lady," he said, as if that explained something.


"And what," Honor asked through gritted teeth, "might a baseball game be?"


"You mean people don't play baseball on Manticore, My Lady?" LaFollet seemed as confused as Honor was.


"Not only do they not play baseball—whatever it is—on Manticore, they don't play it on Gryphon or Sphinx, either. And I'm still waiting for you to tell me what it is, Andrew!"


"Ah, of course, My Lady." LaFollet cleared his throat and nodded. "Baseball is a game. Everyone plays it, My Lady."


"With clubs?" Honor blinked. She'd always thought rugby was a violent sport, but if these people went about whaling away at one another with clubs—!


"No, My Lady, with bats." LaFollet frowned at her, but then his expression cleared. "Oh! They don't use them on each other, My Lady. They use them to hit the ball—the baseball."


"Oh." Honor blinked again, then smiled sheepishly. "I take it, then, that they aren't planning to go out and stage a riot after all?"


"No, My Lady. Although," the major grinned, "I've seen a few games where the losing side did just that. We take baseball seriously on Grayson. It's our planetary sport. That's just a pickup game," he jabbed a thumb at the gate through which the . . . baseball players had disappeared, "but you should see one of the professional teams. Every steading has a franchise. Do you mean they really don't play it at all in the Star Kingdom?" The notion seemed to be beyond his grasp, and Honor shook her head.


"I never even heard of it. Is it anything like golf?" It didn't seem very likely. Golf was hardly a team sport, and the thought of trying to tee off with one of those bat things appalled her.


"Golf?" LaFollet repeated cautiously. "I don't know, My Lady. I've never heard of 'golf.' "


"Never heard of it?" Honor frowned, but then her brow cleared. Of course Graysons didn't play golf any more than they swam. The mere thought of trying to maintain a proper golf course on a planet like this was enough to make her dizzy. None of which brought her any closer to understanding what in heaven's name Andrew was talking about.


"All right, Andrew," she said after a moment. "We're not going to get anywhere swapping the names of sports neither of us ever heard of, so suppose you explain just what baseball is, how it's played, and what the object is?"


"Are you serious, My Lady?"


"Of course I am. If 'everyone' plays it, then I should at least know what it is! And, speaking of that, if 'every' steading has a professional team, why don't we?"


"Well, teams are expensive, My Lady. A club's payroll can run fifteen or twenty million austins a year, and then there's the equipment, the stadium, the travel expenses—" The major shook his head in turn. "Even if the league were prepared to accept an expansion team, just paying for it would be impossible for Harrington, I'm afraid."


"It would, would it?" Honor murmured.


"Yes, My Lady. But as to what baseball is, it's a game between two teams of nine men each." LaFollet leaned back beside his Steadholder and slid his com back into his pocket, and his face glowed with the enthusiasm of the true aficionado. "There are four bases, arranged in a diamond pattern with home plate and second base at the top and bottom, and the object—"


The ground car rolled steadily onward, leaving the park behind, and Lady Dame Honor Harrington actually managed to forget about defrocked priests, political crises, and even her approaching return to space while she listened to her personal armsman begin her initiation.


 



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