Earl Thirsk's "avoidance" of duty
Weelllll... if you insist.
Ben Franklin once said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
I agree with him. Except I might go a bit further. I might say "or even life itself".
The nobility of Dohlar, and especially Thirsk, have given up an essential liberty in search of temporary safety. He's trying to buy his life and the lives of his family, but the price of doing so is submission to a monstrous evil. In his shoes I'd be looking for a way to extractmy family, not merely protect them. And I would get out or die trying. So despite his kindness in getting the letters out, I hold him just as responsible for the atrocity as every other member of the Dohlaran nobility and every Schuelerite member of the Dohlaran clergy.
The peasants and serfs and enlisted/impressed members of the military are not responsible. Even the non-noble officers aren't, not really. They were all powerless to stop things. Even if they participated, they were still simply following orders without ANY mental training in the reasons why thinking for themselves is necessary. They need to be warned, not punished. Yet, at least.
I'm not quite sure what means I would choose to use. Probably assassins. As appealing as an invasion sounds at times, it's likely beyond Charis' capabilities. And even if it's not, they need to help Siddarmark a bit too badly. I don't know if I would use scout-snipers or Merlin or some other form of elite forces, but I would figure out a way to do it. Plus I'm thinking in terms of teaching a lesson. Too many mostly-innocent enlisted men would die resisting an invasion.
I would eliminate every Schuelerite in Gorath and every member of the nobility over the age of 13-16 or so. Each of them who had slept on his back would be found in the morning with a long knife stuck up through their jaw into their brain; stomach and side sleepers would find their spinal cord severed right below the medulla instead. More or less instant and painless death in every case. I would show them that much mercy. And Thirsk's final kindness to the men of getting out letters might buy his son clemency. But not him.
In every case, near the body there would be a note. That note would read: "Mistreat our people, or even acquiesce to orders from others to allow them to do so, and we will kill you. Not your military. Not your civilians. You. Personally. This man can no longer learn this lesson. Any who read this note now have that opportunity. Learn, and teach your countrymen, or next time this may be you."
After Gorath, I'd have to play things by ear. But at least in one city, the city with the highest of the nobility (and probably also the greatest numbers of Schuelerites), the lesson would be given in terms nobody with ANY brainpower whatsoever could fail to comprehend.
Thirsk is not avoiding his duty solely to save his family's life.
Thirsk is genuinely a faithful son of Mother Church. He is also a Charisian [I think he meant Desnairian -Ed.] noble, who has sworn a personal oath — as both a peer and a naval officer — to his king. He is trapped in what has clearly become (and not from his perception alone) a war for the very survival of Mother Church. The Writ specifically tells him that the men who run Mother Church at any given time may be wrong, venal, or evil, but that the Church herself, is the inspired creation of God via the archangels, and must be preserved. His resistance to the order to turn over the POWs to the Inquisition would have gotten him killed, would have added yet more proof for Clyntahn of the "corrupting" effect of the Charisian heretics, would have deprived the military leadership of Dohlar of any voice of sanity or reason, would have precluded any future possibility of his doing anything at all effective about Clyntahn and the Inquisition at any future date, and would have gotten his family killed. Obviously, it was that last element which finally pushed him over into not trying yet again — as he had already been fighting, for months, with every weapon at his disposal — to save his prisoners from the Inquisition, yet it was far, far, far from the only factor in his decision, and his personal survival or immunity from the Inqusition didn't even come into the equation at all.
I'm not saying that Thirsk is a perfect man. I am saying that he is in a hell of a spot, that his motives (including his undeniable anger at Charis for what Cayleb did to his Navy and to him personally at Crag Hook) are both mixed and complex, and that he is basically a good man trying to find a way to do what he believes is right in a moral, political, military, and religious holocaust.
I would also suggest that you go back and look at what Maik actually said to him in that final conversation before he summons Manthyr to personally tell him what's about to happen. The bishop's words could — could, I say — be interpreted as deliberately pointing out that unlike his oath to his King, Thirsk has never sworn personally to obey the Grand Inquisitor. And I might also point out that Thirsk never for one moment (after Maik cited scripture to him) interpreted the bishop's words as threatening his family in order to force him to obey Clyntahn. Indeed, it might — might, I say — be suggested by the more paranoid among us that what Maik was really doing was advising Thirsk how to most effectively position himself for future resistance to the Inquisitor.
I would also point you at the conversation between Narhmahn and Cayleb about Thirsk and the reasons to/not to manipulate the information flow so that the Inqusition blamed Thirsk for the leak of the POWs letters home and went after him for Charis. You may not agree with the logic expressed there, but it is a large part of what is guiding Charis' position.
I would also point out that there is legitimate to ask which would be the more moral choice? To allow men you know are innocent of heresy be handed over to the Inqusition to be tortured and burned alive? Or to consign your own, equally innocent, children and grandchildren to the same fate when your efforts to save the POWs would fail anyway? I'm not saying the first decision is moral; I'm simply pointing out the nature of the answers he has to balance.