Talbereth drew himself up, and his eyes narrowed angrily. "Does Your Excellency accuse the Mountain Temple of being unholy?"
"Unholy, corrupt, foul, degenerate--do not forget, Most Reverend Talbereth, that we ourself grew up at the Mountain and learned all its rituals. Furthermore, we have had considerable personal experience lately with Mountain practices. We speak of what we have seen."
"It is most respectfully submitted, Sire, that you may not have been taught the real significance of all that you learned by rote. The words of the rituals are only a small part of them. There is symbolism within symbolism, and what you name black magic has light within it which is not apparent save to the fully initiated."
"The Bright Flame?" suggested Rogelo, and he could feel the tension around the table.
"Some call it so."
"And what do you call it, Most Reverend Talbereth?"
Talbereth's dark face flushed, and his eyes burned with fanatic fervor. "I put no name to the Unnamable, Most High."
"Well, we name it, and we name it damnable!" snapped the Emperor. "Bright Flame! the flames of Alberon!"
Talbereth's lips drew back from his yellowed teeth. "And does Your Excellency propose to quench the flames of Alberon? Have a care, Sire! The Fire God is a powerful god. I pray you, do not blaspheme against him in his own temple."
"Do you threaten us, Talbereth?"
"I caution you, Most High. Not against myself, nor any other mortal, but against much higher powers."
"When the gods act, they do so through mortal agents," retorted the Emperor.
"Not always," interposed Lesno. "There are natural disasters, Sire: storm, flood, fire--such as struck the Mountain--and illness such as laid low the Most Reverend Lamar--"
"Hah! poor examples, Most Reverend Lesno, especially Lamar, who was poisoned by one he trusted. Though perhaps it was the Sky God who struck him first."
"Sire!" exclaimed Talbereth. "Why do you say again he was poisoned?"
"Because we saw it happen. He was poisoned by the Mountain priest Katassin, who sought to win our favor for giving him the cup he intended for us. It is no secret to our Councilors here--" for Talbereth was scanning their faces in dismay. "They all heard Katassin admit it in Council. And in case you or any of your order have wondered, that is the crime for which Katassin was banished from Glay. We would have imposed a penalty more severe on him, but chose to spare his life as he had spared Ours."
Talbereth bowed his head and stared down at his clasped hands on the table. Lesno said gravely,
"This is news to me also, Sire. It is known throughout the Temples that Katassin was escorted to the Koruscan border by soldiers, but not why."
"We meant to tell you sooner. You can understand why we had not the opportunity."
"I also would like to have known," said Talbereth, turning his burning gaze on the Emperor.
"Certainly, you have the right. That is why we now tell you what we have no intention of revealing outside this circle."
"I have a letter from Brother Katassin. He writes that he is in miserable case in Korusco, without money or friends, and begs for relief."
Dorgan snorted, and Rogelo smiled tightly. "He deceives you also. We gave him enough money to live more than a week. But do for him what you please, only for his life's sake make no attempt to bring him back to Glay, nor ask us to pardon him. He murdered his benefactor; for that there can be no pardon."