TEST OF COURAGE

by
Mary Lou Mendum

Chapter 6

A Practical Demonstration

On the appointed day, Rital met the Gen dignitaries personally, as they arrived at the Sime Center and gathered in the main reception area. He had taken special care with his appearance, donning his best non-dress uniform and inducing Den to do the same. When Skaggit had also joined the group, ten minutes late, in a fine show of indifference towards anything the Tecton might have to teach him, Rital welcomed his guests and began his presentation. He spent ten minutes giving a brief (and highly selective) history of the Clear Springs Center. Den, who had often urged his cousin to be less forthcoming with unpleasant political truths, zlinned just a bit smug.

The channel ignored his Donor, and went on to describe the services offered by the Clear Springs Sime Center, and how these differed somewhat from those offered in Centers located in Sime Territory. When he had finished, and managed to field a few questions without saying anything diplomatically awkward, he turned the presentation over to Den with a secret sigh of relief, for the actual tour.

Rital watched his cousin lead their guests away towards the Center's records room, glad that he had been able to get out of that particular chore. Den had actual experience at giving Sime Center tours to out-Territory Gens, gained reluctantly several years before, when he had been unlucky enough to be assigned to a border Sime Center during the Faith Day season. The Donor was thus the logical choice to handle the parts of the tour where sensitive questions might be asked, whatever his own loudly voiced opinion of the matter. That Den freed Rital to attend to his other duties, far away from the untrained, high field nagers of the Gen diplomats, was a mere coincidence.

Quess, too, had remained behind, looking after the foreign guests thoughtfully. "I hope he can get through to them," the Donor said quietly. "Perhaps it was a mistake to hold this conference in a Sime Center, when the existence of Tecton style Sime Centers in Amzon and Zillia is a primary issue under debate."

Rital shrugged. "Den's a bit too outspoken to make a polished diplomat, but he's done pretty well at persuading the local Gens that a Sime Center is an asset to their community. Once they learn we do more than just collect selyn, they can put it in a larger perspective."

"We can't shy away from selyn collection," Quess asserted. "Not when last year's treaty is failing because neither Gen government will promote donating. The Cordonans must have a reliable selyn supply, or the entire effort is doomed from the start."

"They're going to have to change the way they go about recruiting donors, if they intend to rely on volunteers," Rital pointed out.

"Yes, and we must show all three delegations what that requires." Quess looked at the channel thoughtfully. "Are you sufficiently recovered to show our guests a truly voluntary donation? I was going to ask Nerina, but she's teaching our granddaughter. After the trouble we had convincing Bethany to cooperate, I don't want to interrupt them."

"We don't have a collecting room with an observation window here," Rital pointed out. Many of the larger Sime Centers, which offered tours, had at least one collecting room with a selyn insulated window, through which visitors could observe donations without disrupting the process with their untrained nagers. In the absence of such protection, a channel would be at the mercy of the observers' emotions.

"The demonstration will be more effective if the delegates are able to talk to our volunteer," Quess asserted. "I thought the changeover ward's waiting room would be appropriate. It's large enough, and there's a comfortable couch. Don't worry about their nagers. Den and I can shield you from the worst of it."

Rital was not convinced. Quess was still low field from his transfer with Nerina, and while Den was well enough for light duty, the Donor still tired easily. More important, neither Gen was aware of his recent difficulties in handling Gen fear, and so they would not be expecting trouble.

"Who is your volunteer?" the channel asked. "One of the staff?" Most Sime Centers which gave tours kept a roster of very steady donors who were comfortable around Simes, and who wished to show other Gens that there was nothing to fear from donating. Clear Springs had never required such a list.

"I'd rather not use one of our own people for this," Quess said. "The delegates know that in-Territory Gens learn how to handle themselves safely around Simes. The demonstration will be more effective if our volunteer is a local Gen, and thus, just as vulnerable to potential mistreatment by a channel as they are. Can you find someone appropriate?"

"I'll check, but there may not be anyone available who would be willing to help out," Rital said, shaking his head. "It isn't just the epidemic, either. Hank Fredricks published my assurances, but I'm told that some of our regular donors are nervous about meeting Skaggit during their visit. I can't really blame them."

"That's unfortunate." The Donor frowned. "Well, if you can't find another volunteer, drop by the infirmary and ask Bethany's husband. It's a few days early for him, but that shouldn't matter. I've got to catch up with the others, now. We'll be with you shortly."

With a short nod, Quess left in pursuit of his diplomats.

Rital made his way to the Collectorium, trying hard not to let his misgivings dominate his showfield. He'd been finding excuses to avoid it for the past week. Now he was forced to admit, if only to himself, that he didn't want to face the Gens of Clear Springs. Thanks to Skaggit, they now knew that being a working channel didn't make a Sime safe.

Rital didn't want to take a donation from a Gen who doubted his control. He had more than enough doubts of his own, without such potent reinforcement. He particularly didn't want to take his first donation since losing control in the power plant in front of a large and critical audience. Many of the Gen delegates were squeamish about donating when it was a nice, safe, abstract paragraph in a treaty. Faced with the reality, they were likely to react even more strongly.

Skaggit would probably enjoy his fellow delegates' distress. He might even try to goad them into a greater response, just for the pleasure of zlinning it. There wasn't much Rital could do to prevent the Cordonan channel from misbehaving, but if he was to take a donation under such circumstances, he wanted to work with the steadiest possible donor.

Rital didn't share Quess's confidence in the Donor's grandson-in-law. Rob Lifton was a reliable donor in that he gave selyn every month. However, the young Gen had been slow to lose his initial fear of Simes, and still tended to be uneasy around Simes he didn't know well. He had matured a great deal since his marriage, but the channel couldn't predict how Rob would react in front of an audience which reinforced the fears he had never quite lost.

Hoping to find a better candidate, the channel entered the Collectorium the back way, through the records room. Seena was there, pulling a file.

"Have we a steady and experienced donor in the waiting room?" he asked her. "Preferably someone who isn't shy?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Tohm Seegrin just came in." She passed him the file she had just pulled.

Rital took it, grinning with relief. "Tohm would be just about perfect. Thank you." With a lighter heart, he proceeded to the Collectorium's waiting room.

Between the flu epidemic and the bad publicity, there were only three Gens waiting. The shark adorned class jacket was easy to distinguish. Rital waved the budding lawyer over.

"Hello, Hajene Madz," the young Gen said cheerfully, offering his fingertips in greeting. "It looks like a slow day at the store, here."

"I'm afraid so." The channel brushed Tohm's fingertips lightly with a pair of handling tentacles, zlinning as closely as he could without being too obvious about it. Tohm followed politics obsessively, and couldn't have missed Hank Fredricks' coverage of the disaster at the power plant. However, Rital could detect no apprehension in the Gen's nager, only sympathy, and a lively curiosity.

"I hear that one of your foreign guests has been less civilized than you expected," Tohm said, his eyes twinkling with cheerful humor. "Trust a professional diplomat to make a straightforward situation as tangled as possible."

The opening was too good to pass up. "Actually, Tohm, I was hoping that you'd be willing to help me untangle some of the mess."

The curiosity increased. "What have you got in mind?"

Rital briefly outlined some of the difficulties Quess and Nerina were facing, as they tried to convince all three delegations that properly run, Tecton style Sime Centers were preferable to perpetual border skirmishes. "The Cordonan representative doesn't believe that any Gen would voluntarily donate selyn, and most of the Amzonian and Zillian delegates are convinced that donating is degrading and terrifying ordeal for a Gen. We'd like to show them differently."

Tohm cocked his head. "I think I see. You want to demonstrate how civilized folks go about it, in an in-your-face way they can't conveniently overlook?"

"Well, yes," Rital admitted. "If you prefer privacy for your donation, of course, there is no more to be said. The treaty negotiations aren't your responsibility."

The law student grinned broadly, with just a touch of malice. "Was that the Cordonan delegate who was with you the other day? The one who refused to greet me?"

"Yes."

"Was he also the one who gave Mathison such a hard time?"

"I'm afraid so," the channel admitted.

"Then you've got yourself a volunteer, Hajene. I'm going to enjoy showing that supercilious, sneering bastard, how quickly he'll be out of work, once the Gens in his area have a choice of channels."

***

By the time Den ushered the three delegations into the changeover ward's waiting room, Tohm had been fully briefed on his role in the upcoming demonstration. A born exhibitionist, he was far more comfortable with the prospect than Rital.

Den explained the purpose of the changeover ward. The diplomats dutifully peered through the door at the ultra modern, three bed facility, which had been empty since Calvin Nermann's departure with Hajene Bikella. Then Quess joined the younger Donor and said, "The only remaining department of the Center is the Collectorium. Since Section 8 of the treaty, regarding voluntary donations, has been generating some confusion, we have arranged a small demonstration to illustrate our interpretation."

Rital zlinned the delegates carefully as Quess spoke. Skaggit was zlinning the high field Gen delegates hungrily, and not paying much attention to Quess. The low level, throbbing headache of badly managed entran permeated his nager. Rital couldn't muster any real sympathy for the man. Skaggit had brought his Donor with him, and if for some reason Toljee couldn't handle an entran outfunction, there were plenty of Tecton Donors who could. That the Cordonan chose to suffer instead had to be a protest against the well earned restrictions that had been placed on him. Rital found himself hoping, a bit vindictively, that the sight of another channel working when he could not would tie the Cordonan's laterals in knots.

Unlike the Cordonan, the Gen delegates were paying attention. However, when Quess explained the nature of the proposed demonstration, their reactions were decidedly mixed. Some were offended at having a subject that was never discussed in polite society at home brought so forcefully to their attention. Others looked at Tohm with the mixture of sympathy and censure usually reserved for acquaintances suffering from socially embarrassing diseases. An uneven spike of apprehension, pity, and disbelief came from behind Prince Korrin, where his aide Rollin stared at Tohm, wide eyed. Rital hoped that the Simephobe would find the courage to watch, and to understand that Tohm's experience was not at all like his own.

Prince Korrin himself was looking at the law student with unfeigned interest, mixed with a bit of envy. The two were approximately the same age, and they had spent a good deal of time speaking together at the welcoming reception. "You are very kind to give us this opportunity," the Prince said, for the guidance of his less enthusiastic subordinates. "Tecton style Sime Centers must be part of any permanent peace settlement with Cordona, but many are unsure about what that will mean for our people. Please, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your plans for the future?"

Fortunately, Tohm was not embarrassed at being asked to address a roomful of foreign dignitaries. "I'll be getting my law degree from Clear Springs University next month," he said cheerfully. "I'll work for my father's firm for a while; it's good experience, and he's got more big accounts than his current partners can manage. What I really want to do, though, is go into politics. You can do a lot by interpreting existing statutes, but to really change things, you have to reshape the law." The young Gen's enthusiasm was infectious.

Defender Foley, who had previously seemed resigned to the demonstration, was overcome with pity. "My son," he said compassionately, "I believe I understand. You have a brilliant future ahead of you, and you wish to protect it in any way you can. No one here would dream of blaming you for that. However, no secret remains a secret forever, particularly if it involves a public figure, and few youthful indiscretions are so unforgivable that the public will not understand. Is it really worth throwing away your future for a few more months or years of silence?"

As Tohm stared at him in confusion, the prelate continued, "I don't know what you've done, that this seems preferable to public exposure, but it can't be so terrible that your father cannot forgive you. Think how much harder it will be, if you must explain what you did to preserve your awkward secrets, as well. If it would help, I am willing to offer my services as an intermediary between you and your family. You don't have to submit to this Sime's blackmail."

"Blackmail? What blackmail?" Tohm was trying hard to be polite to the elderly Zillian, but his incredulity was clear in his voice, much less his nager. "Do you think Hajene Rital is forcing me to participate in this demonstration, in exchange for keeping silent about some unsavory episode?"

The Amzonian weaver, Elsha Halitono, found her voice. "Well, why else would any young man of good family do such a thing?"

Tohm burst into a peal of laughter. "I'm sorry," he gasped, when he could speak. "But the thought of Hajene Rital, of all people, doing such a thing... Why, he can't even bring himself to use effective, high power advertising to recruit volunteer donors during this selyn shortage, for fear someone will feel pressured to donate and later regret it."

Rital wasn't sure whether Tohm meant that as compliment or censure.

"I'm here because Hajene Rital asked me if I'd be willing to help him out, that's all," the young law student continued, a bit more soberly. "And if it's any comfort to you, sir," he told the Defender, "my father is quite aware of where I am, and what I'm doing. In fact, he would have come with me and donated himself, if he wasn't trying to cover for two of his partners who fell ill yesterday."

"But you want a political career," Halitono said. "A leader should represent the strengths of the people, not share their shameful weaknesses. How can you hope to win an election, if it becomes known that you let a Sime harvest you?"

"Donating hasn't harmed Mayor Kroag's political career," Tohm pointed out, ignoring the Gildmistress's surprise at this revelation. "Oh, there are places in New Washington Territory where people are very conservative, and think Sime Centers are dangerous. But that sort of reactionary diehard wouldn't vote for me, anyway. I'm far too progressive."

As the young law student carefully began to remove his prized, shark adorned jacket, Rital explained to his audience exactly what he intended to do, in much the same way that he would have told a new donor. Tohm, of course, knew exactly what donation entailed, and was completely steady throughout the lecture.

The reactions of the observers were more varied. Prince Korrin was openly fascinated, even a bit wistful, as if he was resigning himself to watching an adventure in which he would gladly have participated. Defender Foley remained concerned, but seemed content to waive his previous objections. Guildmistress Halitono listened to Rital's lecture with interest, although the channel detected a continuing undertone of pity directed at Tohm.

On the other hand, the Zillian, Duke Pollmar and the representative of the Amzonian Clans, Alhonzo Jequehita, were watching Tohm with ill concealed anticipation. There was a cruel, almost sadistic undertone to their emotions that made the channel uneasy. They were prepared to enjoy what they honestly believed would be Tohm's suffering. Combined with Rollin's growing apprehension, and the way Skaggit was zlinning Tohm with a mixture of envy and desire, the ambient made Rital's laterals cringe in their sheaths. It was too similar to that which Skaggit had created at the power plant. Quess and Den moved closer to increase their support, but the two Donors were being careful not to block the visitors' views. Furthermore, they were still too low field to shield him completely from so many untrained nondonors, at such a close range.

The situation did not improve when Tohm lay down on the couch that would have to substitute for a proper transfer lounge, and Rital sat down next to him. Many of the Gens in the audience were empathizing with Tohm, and perceived the move as a threat. The channel felt a trickle of forbidden interest as the dormant beast inside him began to stir in response. It was relatively weak and sluggish without Rital's own need to incite it, and he doubted that Skaggit was able to zlin anything odd through the muddled ambient, but he could not be sure it would remain so innocuous.

The channel hesitated, wondering whether he should call off the exercise. He had assumed that Tohm's steadiness would be sufficient to make the demonstration routine, but he hadn't taken into account the difference between demonstrating donation in a proper, well designed cubicle with an insulated window between himself and his audience, and the current, improvised, situation.

On the other hand, the same audience empathy that was waking the beast in him boded well for the demonstration's success If the diplomats identified closely with Tohm, then they would experience the donation vicariously, more or less as Tohm did, and learn that there was nothing to fear. That was a goal that was worth striving for. Donation was a simple procedure, when the Gen didn't resist. Surely his control wasn't so impaired that he couldn't manage such a straightforward task?

Of course, if his beast broke its chains and he harmed Tohm, they would learn the opposite lesson. Even if the Gen wasn't actually injured, a visible loss of control would destroy any chance of peace, not only in Amzon, Zillia, and Cordona, but in Clear Springs as well. With so much at stake, could Rital justify going through with the demonstration?

Cool Gen fingers closed over his own. Tohm, growing impatient, had taken matters into his own hands. Reflexively, the channel's handling tentacles emerged from their sheaths to secure the transfer grip.

There was a collective gasp, and a muffled yelp of horror. Rital was too busy trying not to flinch from the ambient to determine the source of the last, but Rollin's yammering alarm made him a logical candidate. The beast responded with increased interest. The channel found himself wondering how it would feel if such alarm came from the Gen under his tentacles, perhaps sharpened with a touch of pain. The thought scared him so much that he quickly turned his attention back to Tohm.

Far from being afraid, the young law student seemed to find the situation amusing. "Look," he said, turning his head to scrutinize the observers, "I'm in no danger. There's no reason to get all worked up over this."

"But..." Guildmistress Halitono's eyes were riveting on Rital's extended handling tentacles.

"If I don't mind it, why should you?" When the Amzonian weaver was unable to come up with a convincing reply, Tohm turned back to Rital. "Come on, Hajene. I've got a class in an hour, and I want to grab a bite to eat, first."

Rital recognized an order when he heard it. Chaining the beast down with iron discipline, the channel leaned forward for the lip contact as he extended his laterals. To his relief, when he focused his attention tightly on Tohm's nager, the disruption from the ambient became less troublesome. The law student was relaxed, enjoying the attention he was getting, and Rital was able to strip first the GN-3 level, then the GN-2 and GN-1 levels as well, before bringing the selyn flow to a gentle termination.

He wanted to collapse with relief that his control had held-this time-but he refrained. There would be time enough for that when he wasn't being observed by two Donors, a renegade channel, and a gaggle of high ranking, nondonor Gen diplomats. Instead, he straightened, and gave his audience his most disarming smile.

"I hope you're not too disappointed," he said. He sheathed his laterals and then released Tohm slowly, making sure that the Gens had a chance to notice the law student's unbruised arms. "That's really all there is to a donation, though, when it's done properly."

The channel hadn't meant his words literally, but Duke Pollmar and the Amzonian Clanleader Gillum did actually zlin disappointed. Rital couldn't tell if they feared the demonstration would weaken their political positions, or whether they had simply been looking forward to seeing Tohm suffer. Prince Korrin, in contrast, was envious as he looked at the law student. Rital suspected that the young man would have been in the Collectorium before the day was out, if it wouldn't have cost him his throne. The rest of the audience fell somewhere between these two extremes, as they fell to discussing the demonstration among themselves.

Even Skaggit seemed to have had his confidence in the superiority of his Cordonan ways shaken, at least a bit. When Rital stood, leaving Tohm to unroll his long shirt sleeves, the channel cornered him immediately.

"You took so much!" he said. "At least three times what I would have expected, given the Gen's field strength. It appears your Tecton has some tricks worth learning, after all."

"The only 'trick' I used today is the one we've been advocating all along," Rital denied. "If a general class donor freely offers his selyn, you can often get all three of the GN levels. If he's actively fighting you, you can't even do a really good job draining the GN-3 level."

"So that was it." Skaggit was suddenly angry. "You cheated! This Gen you showed us isn't one of your normal donors, he's one you've specially trained to drop his barriers."

Rital shook his head. "I'll admit that Tohm is among our more enthusiastic donors, but I picked him for his interest in politics, not for any special training he's received. Most Gens who volunteer to donate regularly become comfortable enough to relax the GN barriers by their fourth or fifth donation. It's not something they control consciously, as a Donor would, but it doesn't have to be."

The Cordonan channel was unconvinced. "I have Gens in my hunting grounds that have been harvested regularly for years, and have long since given up fighting. They don't drop their barriers for me."

"Of course not. You're stealing from them, under duress," Rital pointed out. "How can you expect them to do anything but resist, as much as they dare? There's a reason why the Tecton uses the term 'donation' instead of 'harvest.'"

"It shows your weakness, that you would await a Gen's pleasure," Skaggit snarled. "If we did so, our renSimes would die of attrition. That does not change the fact that you cheated."

"You can inspect our donation records if you please, and you will see that I am speaking the truth," Rital said. "Almost all Gens who donate regularly for six months to a year routinely allow access to the GN-2 level, and many are GN-1s. How else could we afford a selyn based transport system?"

"I will accept your offer, and inspect your donation records," the Cordonan said. "I will look at many of them. But I must select the records myself, so I know they have not been altered."

"As you wish," Rital agreed.

Behind the channels, Prince Korrin's aide, Rollin, was edging closer to Tohm. He seemed to have weathered the demonstration as well as could be expected, but he was still agitated by what he had seen.

"How could you do that?" he asked the young law student. "You just...lay there and let him harvest your selyn."

"Well, that is what I came here to do," Tohm pointed out.

"But weren't you afraid?"

"Why should I be?" The right handed law student struggled with his clumsier left hand to secure the button on his right shirt cuff. "Hajene Rital never hurt anyone. Look, Sosu Den's waving. I think he's trying to get everybody moving."

As the Zillian aide obediently returned to his Prince, Rital realized how fragile the bond was between the Tecton and its out-Territory supporters. Tohm was comfortable letting Rital take his donation because he believed the channel would never, under any circumstances, lose control and hurt him. Rital wondered if the young Gen would have allowed the first tentacle to touch him, if he knew that for a brief moment, the channel had wanted to?

Defender Foley hung back as the others left in Den's wake, his nager a muddle of conflicting emotions. As Quess joined him, he clasped his hands. "That was a disturbing demonstration," he murmured. "It seems clear that the young man participated of his own free will. He claims his family supports his choice, and I've no reason to believe that he was dissembling. He didn't even appear to find the process disagreeable. Still, I must wonder if he truly understands what can happen to a Gen who associates with Simes."

"He knows that within these walls, nothing will happen to him without his informed consent," Quess said, with quiet conviction.

"Perhaps that is true, here," the Zillian prelate allowed. "Still, even genuine confidence can be misplaced, and I question whether the Cordonan channels are as trustworthy as your colleague, here." He nodded at Rital.

"If the Cordonan renSimes are convinced they can have abundant selyn with less personal risk by relying on volunteer donors instead of raids, their channels will have to oblige, or lose their retinues," Quess pointed out.

"Channels can't just stop working," Rital added, "so the threat of a mass defection of their followers to other bands is a very real one."

"It is easy to form an agreement with a Cordonan band," Foley said thoughtfully. "The difficulty is to enforce it, when the Sime bands are constantly merging, splitting, and rearranging their hunting patterns. They have no mechanism for making a law that binds all of them, and even a band which makes an agreement with a town, will break it at a whim."

"Surely their actions aren't that arbitrary," Rital objected.

"They may have their reasons, but if so, they don't bother to explain them to mere Gens," the Defender said. "Just after my ordination, I was sent to work with the chaplain of a village not far from the border. Protector Bannik had served there for many years, but he was getting frail, and it was felt that he should have a reliable assistant. I soon discovered that Protector Bannik had helped the people to whom we ministered make a Devil's bargain with one of the Sime bands. In return for five healthy adults handed over to them for harvest each month, the village and the rest of its inhabitants were to be left unmolested.

"Then one day, the Simes arrived in force and announced that the bargain had changed. From then on, twenty Gens would be required. Protector Bannik went out to reason with them, reminding them of their promise, and so, they took him first. There was nothing I could do but run and hide, to avoid sharing his fate." An echo of helpless horror resonated in the Gen's nager, even decades later. "The Simes went on to take every other Gen they could catch, and looted several homes as well. Four families lost their homes to fire that night, but homes can be rebuilt. Protector Bannik had been a priest for fifty years, and it was all destroyed in a moment. He was too old to learn another trade, and so when his priesthood was revoked, he was forced to live on charity."

Quess shook his head in sympathy, as did Rital. Tohm, who had finished dressing and approached the others in time to overhear the tale, was less convinced.

"It seems to me that the Sime weren't the ones to blame for your mentor's misfortune," he said boldly. "All they took was a few dynopters of selyn, which were of no use to him. It was his fellow Gens who took away his priesthood; a far more serious loss."

Fortunately, Defender Foley was not offended by the young law student's impertinence. "Perhaps you are right," he said. "I've often wondered whether Protector Bannik might have continued to serve his people, despite what the Simes did. However, the strength of our Church rests in it's traditions. One of our oldest customs is that our religious and civil leaders must be free of any taint of association with Simes."

"I understand the Cordonans have a venerable custom of stealing selyn," Tohm countered. "Just because something is traditional, doesn't mean it's worth preserving."

The prelate chuckled. "You argue your position well. I can see that any client who relies on you to plead his case will be well represented. Still, the issue of Sime taint is more complicated than you assume, because it is tied to a large body of other customs and practices which have served us well. For instance, forbidding our leaders to interact with Simes, even in seemingly benign ways, has preserved our independence from Cordona for centuries. Then, too, if our traditions are undermined, so is the ability of the Church of the Aggregate to offer our people moral guidance and comfort in times of trouble. Any changes to our religious laws must be made only after due consideration of all possible effects, and slowly, so that people have time to adjust their habits."

"And in the meantime, people like your Protector Bannik get to live on charity." Tohm made no effort to hide his disapproval.

Quess winced at the undiplomatic accusation. "I am afraid Mr. Seegrin is an advocate of radical change," he interrupted, in an obvious attempt to smooth over a potentially awkward situation. "He lacks a deeper understanding of the Church's position, and..."

Defender Foley raised a hand, stopping the Donor in mid-Sapology. "It is a fair question, and deserves a fair answer." He turned back to Tohm. "If you're correct, and there is no spiritual taint to selyn harvest, then Protector Bannik and others like him, have indeed, been treated shamefully by the very Church that should have been their staunchest comfort. However, what if he had been allowed to remain a priest, but the members of his congregation believed he was morally tainted? What would have happened if he had believed himself to be morally tainted, despite a Church ruling to the contrary? He would not have been able to function as a priest must, whatever his official status."

The law student was not convinced. "That line of argument makes it much too easy to perpetuate harmful and unnecessary fabrications."

"So it does," the Zillian Defender agreed, with the smile of a born teacher, whose student has proved precocious. "What is usually required is a compromise. Not with respect to the final outcome, perhaps, but in the process. A slow and thorough consideration makes it clear that the change was not made lightly, and that the rest of our doctrines are sound. It is something to consider, when you are in a position to change your own Territory's laws and customs, just as you have given me much to consider today. I thank you for it, and wish you a smooth journey on your chosen path." With a nod of dismissal, Foley made his dignified way towards the library.

When Tohm had headed in the other direction, towards the Collectorium, Rital looked after the Zillian priest thoughtfully. "That was a very interesting conversation," he said.

"He is the true key to salvaging the treaty," Quess said. "Zillia has always provided more of Cordona's selyn supply than Amzon, because its rural farmers are more vulnerable to raiding Simes than the urban Amzonians. If Zillia backs out of the treaty, I doubt that enough Amzonian donors could be recruited to make up the difference, even if the Clans dropped their opposition." He looked at Rital hopefully. "I don't suppose you could zlin how Foley is leaning?"

The channel shook his head. "He's either a consummate diplomat, or he's very familiar with the limitations of zlinning. There wasn't one statement he made that was less than completely truthful, but I don't have a clue whether our demonstration has led him to view voluntary donations as acceptable. He was genuinely distressed by his mentor's plight, though. That may incline him to view the matter in our favor."

Quess sighed. "Or the opposite, if he decides to blame the Cordonan raiders, instead of his Church. He's said to be a thoughtful and fair man, but his primary loyalty is to the institution that he heads."

"He might not have made up his mind yet," Rital said. "Although if this demonstration didn't convince him donations don't have to be traumatic and degrading for the Gen, I don't know what would."

"Neither do I, Hajene," the Donor said tiredly. "Neither do I."


 Read Chapter 7

 


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