M Part 2

My first encounter with the so-called Historian was not my last, but when we met a second time our situations were nearly reversed: his life was in my hand, and I was closing that hand upon him.

This disgraceful tale begins, little children, with an event no one could have foreseen: the conversion of the Golias.

The story told was that the Golias had a vision: during a desperate battle to defend our homeland, an angelic being appeared to him, bearing one of the sacred symbols of our faith, and told him to adopt this symbol for his banner; when he did so, the tide of the battle turned miraculously against our enemies, whom he then overthrew and annihilated.

Upon returning in glory to Golia, he struck down the ban under which we had been persecuted for so many years.

Although his belief was fervent, he knew little of our origins, rituals, and tenets. The Eparch himself undertook to instruct the Golias in the fundamentals of our creed, and, if you will believe it, appointed me to do the same for the Inquirer General, who enforced proper reverence for the deities.

The Eparch was enormously excited by this development, for he felt sure that now not only would we be able to worship as we were called to do, but we could spread the good news throughout the realms of the Golias without fear of retribution. He had dreamed of this day, he told me, and had many plans.

His enthusiasm was irresistible — I never saw such change in a man: what was once a quiet, overcautious hoarder of hard-fought privileges became a bold, almost reckless crusader on a mission to convert the world. Had I known then what I know now, I might have said he acted in terror that his good fortune would not last...

When I met the Inquirer General, his first act was to kneel before me and confess that it was he who was responsible for the torture and execution of my beloved Master, for which he humbly begged my forgiveness. I was not prepared for this stratagem — and that was all it was, of course — but afterwards I understood well enough that, at the very beginning of the game, he had trapped me before I could make a move.

Today, I believe that the only safe thing I could have done, in that moment of my life, was to turn and run, and to keep running and running, until I had run so far from that corrupt and savage world that I could never find it again. But the moment passed, and I did not run. Instead I asked myself, and do so still, what would that accomplish? except to squander whatever gifts I possessed for bringing great good to others, as I fervently longed to do.

Vanity, little children.

My new master was very curious about the specific beliefs of our faith, and he required me to go over and over certain points of doctrine in great detail. He explained that this was necessary in order to be certain that, when we contended with an unrepentant heretic, we were always strictly in the right, because the penalties were severe for refusing to respect the deities, and especially for spreading wicked ideas about them — as well I knew, he reminded me — and we must take every possible precaution to avoid wrongly imposing them upon an innocent person.

You will have noticed that I say "we". The Eparch had appointed me only as an advisor to the Inquirer General — in theory, the Eparch was still my master — but over time it simply came to be understood that in reality I served the Inquirer General. And in time I was obliged to witness, and then to conduct, what were called Interviews of Clients, but were in fact interrogations, which could become quite harsh.

One day followed another with not much change: each morning I went to the Office of Inquiry and performed my work; each evening I returned to my quarters and slept; one decision led to the next, and the next, and the next. Thus it was, little children, that, by inches and by hours, as the Remnant say, I became something I abominated, but could never quite see my way clear to the decisive act that would stop my slide into iniquity.

Of course, this is how I see it now. For the most part it never occurred to me then that I was doing anything but laboring for the good. I cannot think of one particular instance in which I felt it necessary to examine my conscience, even when inflicting agony upon another person: I persuaded myself that any action was justified if it promised to lead to the desired outcome, which was the unity of the faithful. And our faith did in fact prosper and spread throughout the domains of the Golias, just as the Eparch had hoped.

Years passed, and then the Golias suddenly died; some whispered that he was murdered in a coup. Whatever really happened, there followed a violent struggle for the succession; finally his younger son — the dark-eyed man I had met my first day in Golia — gained the upper hand and restored order to the realm, which he achieved with singular savagery.

In the course of the battle for his father's throne, the new Golias had become a convert to our faith — complete with the new convert's zeal and intolerance. Specifically, once he had consolidated his power, he decreed the expulsion of what he called "schism-causers", and directed that the Office of Inquiry take charge of this task.

The Eparch survived the purge that followed the accession, though I was never to see him again. The Inquirer General simply disappeared.

I was reassigned to Mountain House, a remote cenobitic community watched over by a small garrison of soldiers. My duties were trifling: I acted as secretary to the Superius Frater, a bitter man with grandiose delusions of his *real* importance in the world, who loathed his job, despised the brothers under his ostensible safekeeping, and in particular hated me — it was no secret that he regarded me as a spy imposed upon him by the new Golias.

Only one creature in the entire community did this odious man seem to trust, and that was a servile little toady named Egderus, whose true relationship with his abbas was impossible not to infer. Incredible as it is even now to conceive, this despicable young man became my savior.

Egderus was a prodigy of ruination. He first secured the horrific murder of the commander of the garrison, a terrifying monster of a man named Gig, then set in motion the assassination of his erstwhile benefactor, the Superius Frater.

I knew nothing of Egderus' criminal proclivities until after I became his victim myself. It was, however, his sabotage of my career that brought me to you, little children. In this respect I owe him the deepest gratitude.

After three years of wretchedness at Mountain House, I was recalled to the Office of Inquiry, and given a higher position than the one I had left: I was made Prior over all Examiners, second only to the new Inquirer General himself. This man was a remote, fastidious bureaucrat whose loyalty to the new Golias was total and inflexible. He had but one directive for me to enforce: secure the application of doctrine. The Examiners under my authority were given no license to interpret in any way the findings of the interviews they conducted. That was my responsibility; I was given charge over determining the penalty to be imposed upon all deviants from the true way.

Although the Superius Frater at Mountain House had tried to oppose my transfer — for reasons I cannot imagine, other than sheer perversity — he yet retained enough influence to require that I take Egderus with me. I believe he wished only to promote his young protégé's career; or he may have rightly suspected that Egderus had evil intentions toward him, and was trying to remove the source — which, in the event, only delayed the unavoidable.

Egderus did write a pretty hand, so he was useful as a secretary, but I never trusted him enough to employ him as my sole assistant, and restricted his duties to the merest clerical work.

Despite my taking significant precautions against his meddling, however, Egderus connived to gain access to the full archives of the Office, and I believe it was on this basis that he brought about my downfall.

Perhaps inevitably, it one day came about that a Procedure was initiated against the self-styled Historian, my former opponent in debate, who had apparently fallen out of favor with the Young Golias, now that the latter was in power. I myself considered the charges against him nugatory; however, no Examiner seemed capable of persuading him to confess his error, and thereby free himself from our attentions.

I took over the case in order to settle it quickly, and for the first and only time brought Egderus with me as scriptorthere being none other available — to what I was sure would be the only Interview with the Historian.

The man's condition had decayed since our previous meeting; he did not recognize me at first, but seemed struck by Egderus, for a reason I could never divine — there was certainly nothing about the boy's appearance to recommend him to anyone's notice, except for the fact that he was deformed and limped badlyfrom a childhood injury, I was told.

In any case, Egderus was not slow to perceive the Historian's interest in him, and soon, when he thought I wasn't looking, began making moony eyes at him. It was true that the Historian still retained a few shreds of his former raffish appeal, although, as I said, it was much degraded, but, for certain susceptible types, that only makes such people irresistible. I was immediately angry with myself for not foreseeing that this would happen with Egderus.

The Historian mulishly rejected the proposition that he should confess anything: he had done nothing wrong, he said, and disdained to tell a lie just so we could clear our books.

And then he realized who I was, and addressed Egderus directly. "Did you know," he said insolently, "that your Master and I are old friends? Well, old debating partners, anyway, in the courts of our beloved Golias, when he was but a princeling."

I felt Egderus go still beside me.

"I always hoped," he said, turning back to me, "that we could resume our suspended disputation. I must say," he continued, before I could stop him, "that what impressed everyone even more than your skill in opposing me was your integrity. What happened to that?"

Without thinking I signaled the Rectifier to break his thumbs.

I saw instantly that I had made the misstep we were all warned against in our earliest training as Examiners, the fatal action that solidifies the Client's resistance, after which no means of persuasion can possibly work.

And it made an implacable enemy of Egderus, whose talent for treachery I all too soon would measure to the full.

I stood and watched my adversary writhe upon the floor, while I wrestled with myself to keep from having him flogged as well. When at last I brought my temper under control, I said, as mildly as I could, "Very well. Where did we leave off...?"

He could do nothing but shriek, as much in horror as in pain, which is of course the purpose of the maneuver. I assumed a puzzled expression. "I don't recall that topic. Indeed, my memory of the meeting to which you refer is very dim. Perhaps you could remind me of the circumstances?"

Beside me Egderus was becoming agitated, and I saw he was going to be sick, so I sent him from the room. Then I turned back to the Historian. "But you are hurt. We will continue our conversation later. I am upset that this misunderstanding has persisted for so long. Let us resolve it as soon as we can." The Rectifier wrenched him to his feet. "Gently, my friend," I said to him, but he paid no attention, and threw the man bodily out the door. With mixed feelings I listened to the Historian's screams as he was dragged away.