Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fiction Friday: Messenger

Rubario of Foln was born to the merchantess Joira in the last days of a brutal merchant's war. When he was five, Joira went to the Lensgrinder's Guild and commissioned for him a marvelous telescope to spy out the stars. Young Rubario treated it with a sedate kind of reverence. The telescope lived in Joira's quarters, which smelled of paper-must and woodrot. When his lessons were done and the bilious sun bowed its head to leave and the sky was spread out like a picnic blanket, Rubario perched on a stool beneath the window and stared up and up and up. He kept notes in charcoal on crinkled vellum (another present) of how the stars moved. Joira wondered at his strange obsession. What began as a momentary gift consumed his nightly hours.

From time to time, Joira took her family to the Messian Cathedral in Foln. It was the biggest church in the city, high atop Foln's Hill, which was widely believed to house the tomb of the city's legendary founder buried somewhere under the rubble of centuries. There in the Cathedral, Rubario watched sermons broadcast on a thousand screens. They spoke of the old days, when the ships still came from Sol-that-was once a generation. "They were strung across the galaxy like a necklace of silver, a chain of arks that linked Sol-that-was with all our worlds. We were not alone then, for messages could travel by bottle to arrive after centuries of voidflight. We were one people, one race, all the myriad worlds of the galaxy. But something changed. The ships came less and less. No one knew why, even their passengers. Now, Sol-that-was sends us nothing, and our own shipyards lie fallow. This is the hour of the Messenger. This is the hour of the Church."

It was true. No one had seen a ship from Sol-that-was in six generations. Wars had swept the planet of Thoule, and great religious upheavels. Reformation and counter-reformation. Rubario was taught of each of these by his tutors. "Remember the Purging of Vax," they would say, or "You must never forget what became of Emperor Hortmann, my boy, for his lesson is a lesson to us all." But never did they speak of Sol-that-was or the other planets in the great galactic net. They said only, "This, now, is the Fourth Wave. The Third Wave has ended. No more star arks will come. Perhaps we will build our own some day, eh Rubario?"

This was a dream that intrigued young Rubario. He was slow of foot and thick about the waist, cursed with heavy breathing and hair perpetually limp with sweat. When he was twenty, his hair would thin and begin to fall, leaving him bald and fat by the time he was a grown man. Even anti-geriatric treatments at the church could not cure him of his defects. But the stars...? To travel among the void and see other worlds, other places where mankind had spread... this was a dream.

Joira was worried about Rubario. She needed someone who could take her place as chief merchantess of her line, not a daydreamer. She needed an heir with a keen eye for numbers, with a nose for silver, and with the will to run a commercial empire. The tutors made sure Rubario understood numbers well... but the only silver he ever cared for was the silver of the stars. He did not have the drive to replace his mother.

There was only one thing to do, then, and it was this: Joira sought out a high-status donor and conceived a second child. The Messian priests puttered and mooned over her for months before they finally declared that she was fit for the archaic procedure. She had no joy in letting some withered old crone stick fingers inside her, but Joira knew that Rubario would not be able to bear the burden of the family name. This was why, when Rubario turned twelve, Joira gave him a sister.

Nothing could have been better for Rubario. He was free of expectation and given reign to follow where his heart led. There was only one place: Tolcross University, Foln's oldest and one of the gravest and most respected institutions on Thoule. It was a heady time for Rubario; there was much quaffing of wine, and many a jerkin was spoilt by late night revels. But Joira was pleased that her son finally seemed happy, even if he was running to fat. When he spoke, he smiled easily and often. Several brief and unfruitful affairs between Rubario and his classmates proved to his mother that the boy's libido was in tact and that, all in all, she had not created something wholly displeasing.

As he grew, Rubario learned to hate the church, the state, the noble families of Foln, and the sorcerers. He spoke out against the rulers of Thoule at every turn, first denouncing the powerful of Foln, then castigating the Republic of Miromar for their excesses, then spitting bile against the Kingdom of Arr, and finally cursing the Messian church itself. He was widely lauded for this attitude amongst the more intellectual members of the University, but there existed always the unspoken fear that the Archeobishop would hear of Rubario's speeches.

The Archeobishop of Foln was an old man who long since should have died. He was kept alive by Messian sorcery and church science. Tolcross taught at the sufferance of the church, and each member of its faculty was given the bishop's imprimatur—or not. The fear of church censure ran deep in the bones of each academic. So, Rubario was cautioned and watched with a wary eye. Though many thought him brave or clever (or both), they knew all too well that he might draw the ire of the Messian faith. To Rubario, this was slavery, madness, and complete capture of the philosophically inclined Academy to the idiotic and gibbering Church.

For Rubario, there was only one path to take. He studied with the Master of Astrologics and, after many years of dedicated service, became a Reader, and was appointed Rector of Astrologics himself. He was forty-one when he took the golden pendant and the honors associated with it. By then fully rotund, Rubario informed his sister Myra by letter.

My dearest Sister and heritor of all that is Good in Foln, he wrote, I am unaccountably pleased, pleased beyond all reason, to tell you that I have been appointed Chair of Astrologics at Tolcross. My suggestions for additions to be made to the Telescope Tower have been well considered, and even the Sorcery department must admit that I am close to a breakthrough on how we view the skies. It would be magnificent if the Church permitted us access to their satellites, but for now we must make use of humble lenses. I am thrilled, as well, to hear of the coup you secured over Arr's chief negotiator! May the family silver grow! This was a not-so-subtle plea for money, for he went on, My hosen have grown faded and torn and my jerkin and tunics are all in tatters. I wonder if they will provide me with something to wear during the ceremony...

This was how Rubario became one of the most celebrated names in Astrologics across most of Thoule. Of course, he had detractors. At Hartmass University he was accused of criminal idiocy by the Provost of Astrological Studies in a series of blistering letters directed to the entire faculty. When he wrote The Nature of the Celestial Bodies and their Travel, the Provost retorted with his volume On Rubario of Foln's Mistakes. Thus there was born between them an enmity which would last until the day they died.

Thus, upon discovering the dilation, it was Rubario's first thought that he would silence forever the caustic rantings of his archrival the Provost. He had been watching the skies, as was his wont, and making use of the improvements he himself had installed at the Telescope Tower. He had a goblet of wine at his elbow and an autopen mushed between his fat fingertips. He was studying a constellation he knew well and making notes on it with his face glued to the eyepiece when it happened.

This was Orgas, the constellation of the Wizard, initially named not by Astrologists but by those accursed sorcerers. His eye was fixated upon Orgus' hood when the stars moved. No, it is not right to say that they moved, for they did not crawl across the sky. From one moment to the next, they were simply in one place, and then in another. This was the dilation. Rubario yelped and began to scribble. He would need calculation after calculation to prove what he had just seen. The distance from Orgus' navel, yes, triangulated from his position in northern Thoule. The distance from the hood, now, had grown, even accounting for the viewing position of Foln. Yes, yes, yes. He yelped again and drank down all his wine.

Huge braziers of tar and coal were set out for the meeting. Letters were carried by footmen and valets across half a dozen cities and through the halls of Thoule's most prestigious universities. Even Messian ambassadors from the Melodic Palace came to witness Rubario's thunderous and stunning announcement. Tolcross chose a huge amphitheater outside of Foln and spent tons of silver repairing it. Lime lamps were built, and silvered mirrors made to reflect the light of the braziers. Three hundred servants were recruited to hold smoky torches aloft to light the aisles. Even the Provost was invited, for Rubario wanted to humiliate the man once and for all.

"The stars have moved," he announced before the crowded auditorium. Fires smoked gloomily against the brickwork. The night sky overhead was wrong, but only Rubario knew it. "I can prove to you that the stars have moved. They look... very different today, than they did just a month prior." Rubario twiddled the golden chain around his neck. "If you look up the sky with the instruments... with the precision! that I have... you will discover that things are different. I do not yet know why... but I will."

"Madness!" screeched the Provost. "Heresy! The stars do not move! They are fixed in the sky. Else how could we send ark ships from Sol-that-was?"

But Rubario held up a hand for silence, and his rival fell quiet beneath the combined weight of the eyes surrounding him. "Orgas has changed. I have had a pamphlet printed by the presses of Foln for all of you. It waits only—" and here he choked on his own hatred of the church, but managed somehow to press on, "Only for the Archeobishop to authorize its release."

The old man brooded. He had overseen Rubario's thesis defense when Rubario was a boy and, regardless of the rumors that swirled about him, thought of the portly astrologist as generally a good fellow. "Very well," he said. "Pass them about. It is only theory, after all."

"Only theory!" the Provost screamed. "It is rank heresy!"

Rubario loomed up at the edge of the stage. "It is truth!" he thundered.

In the three years that followed, Rubario became something of a local celebrity. Of course, long-distance communication on Thoule had long ago been shackled to the control of the Church of the Messenger, so it was only by gothic-lettered pamphlet, printed in batches at various offices throughout Foln, that Rubario's name spread. But spread it did, and eventually even the Provost had to admit that Rubario of Foln was the first to spot the dilation.

Theology became involved. Anything this strange was bound to tangle up in theology on Thoule. Rubario was summoned to the Holy See. Flagellants beat themselves in the streets with electric coils as he rode by in his sedan chair. Strange lights twinkled in the tower garrets as noblemen and women directed their pet sorcerers to spy on his approach. The doors to the Melodic Palace were opened for him by hulking and sinister guardsmen, each armed with a long rail-rifle and a vibroblade. He was brought before the Messian himself in the utmost pomp.

But the Messian wanted to speak with him in private. The hundreds of priests were excused from the rose-colored hall. The Messian urged his underlings to sweep the chamber for listening spies. In his groggy voice, he told Rubario, "One can never be too certain."

"No," Rubario agreed. "I suppose not."

From there the interview proceeded along predictable lines. The Messian asked if the shift in the stars heralded some great cosmic event. Rubario told him that it might be a joke, perpetrated by an errant God. The Messian did not like this taste of humor, and so the little old man sank very deeply into his purple and white robes and glared at Rubario from behind his bony cheeks.

"What does this mean for the Church?"

Rubario shrugged. He was not one to be impressed by power. "The same thing everything else does, I guess," he told the Messian. "That you'll find a way to make people more afraid, to put them further in your power." He gave a nonchalant shrug. His belly wobbled.

With those words, Rubario sealed his fate. Celebrated he might have been, but within a fortnight he had completed his fall from grace. His Rectorship was revoked by Tolcross. He was permitted to keep the title of Reader, but not to read any longer. He was ejected from the University and sent out into a cold world. He had no skills to keep him fed. He was not one of the toiling masses of farmers. He could not sell or buy product if his life depended on it, so he was not fit to be a merchant. He did not have noble birth. He despised the church. What was left for a man of his station?

Exile. He took, from Tolcross University, a single telescope and a vibroknife, before he was thrown from its august and esteemed halls by the Archeobishop's guard.

The kings, queens, and emperors of Thoule were instructed by the Messian not to give him shelter or relief. Even the little plucky Miromarin Republic dispatched a strongly-worded letter urging him not to come, or they would be forced to "turn you over to the Messian's machinery, to grant you a permanent home in the engines of the faith." This was a not-so-subtle code which warned Rubario that he may be bound up and executed for his crime, or worse, kept alive—barely—by Church sorcery to be paraded around as a heretic.

This was how Rubario entered the forty-eighth year of his life without a groat to his name. All he possessed, he carried with him in a sack. His golden pendant was long since sold. His tunic was tattered and stained, and his fine hosen had been ripped in half a dozen places, and this time for true. He looked like a highwayman, and in truth he may well have been one. He carried a vibroknife in his waistband and from time to time he waylaid those who he considered wealthy enough to bear the sacrifice.

After all, was he not in need? And when they came traipsing down the lonesome roads in his corner of the world, were they not flaunting their wealth in his face? Once, he was attempting to rob the train of a pompous Archduke when he made the miscalculation of leaving the duke's slave-sorcerer unchained. The woman nearly fried his brain in his skull before he got away. That night he cursed himself, all sorcerers, all dukes, and all the world of Thoule where he lived.

"In the old days," he railed at a distant windmill, "gods came down from the sky in chariots! Now, we live in the mud like dogs. Look at us, grubbing! Pfah!" But of course, he dreamed not of the gods coming down from the heavens, but of the cushy days of his faculty appointment when he could lounge in the musty reading rooms or scriptoria of the University and not be disturbed. He knew he never should have published, but his pride drove him on.

Just as it drove him to write while he was in exile. Sheafs and reams of parchments, papers, and vellums were filled with his rambling thoughts on the dilation. He found a cave with good light where he could write for several hours each day. He lived on the edge of a swamp and ate the many fungi that grew on its verge. Sometimes he invited travelers in to share a meal with him. Other times, he drove them off and hoped to grab their silver or their gold.

Then Rum attacked.

Time flows differently out between the stars, cramped and backwards-like, so that no two worlds can ever be in congress. This is why they remain lonely eyots in the great cosmic stream. There can be no bridges nor long-lasting byways, only the briefest of rafts cast adrift in the river of time. Because, you see, in the years between Rubario of Foln's discovery of the first dilation and his current and most lamentable exile, eons had passed in parts of the galaxy. In those dark and dismal eons, men learned to slip the bonds of space as one might shrug off a cloak. The translation of matter from star to star was no longer a fevered nightmare, but a bubbling reality.

It began in the orbit around Sorghun, where the technocrat-barons discovered dilation. They twisted the populous of an entire world to find the solution to travel through the stars. They hoped to effectuate an empire of the sort dreamt of in the nascent days of Old Earth; one that could span lightyears and stride through the nothingness of the galaxy. What they got was something different. The first ship that left Sorghun on a mission of exploration returned three centuries later, though no time at all had passed onboard.

That glimmer of light in the sky, that strange shift of the stars, was what Rubario of Foln had seen before his exile. To Rubario, the ship's centuries-or-minutes-long journey took one month, by which time the strange blemish in the sky over Thoule had vanished. In the years of Rubario's exile, great changes were wrought near Sorghun. The techno-barons slaughtered one another in despair and greed, and a new threat was unleashed upon the scattered colonies of man: the Corsairs of Sorghun, those winsome murderous warriors born of the conflict.

Chief amongst the Corsiars was the pirate Rum. He was born on a latifundus, a farm-holding that covered half a continent. His father was an engineer who serviced the machinery of Baron Grot. His mother was a sacred prostitute of the Sorghic Rite, a priestess of fertility and plenty. He was raised in the ways of the Sorghun Temple, but soon grew to understand the true rule of the universe—that strength does not justify, strength itself is justice. This he learned from the cruel teachings of Baron Grot, who worked Rum's father nearly to death out in the wheat fields. The Baron Grot's punishment? Nothing. No feeble finger of "justice" could stop him.

Until the great riots after Grot was, one summer, too harsh on his labor-tax and too stingy with the technological gifts he was meant to bestow. Rum saw true strength that day, for the Baron Grot was dragged outside by his own security and lashed to a harvesting unit, to ride his vast domain until he died of thirst. This was, by Sorghic time, some five hundred years after the return of the first dilation-driven ship.

Rum, like Rubario, became a highwayman, but of a different kind. He was followed by hundreds of the baron's old serfs. They stole not coin or grain, but machinery. And, when he had assembled weapons enough to claim a fiefdom of his own, Rum carved a piece out of the Baron Grot's old lands and declared himself a landholder. The next step, he knew, was to leave the clinging embrace of Sorghun and venture out into the galaxy. So he would need a ship.

Many of his followers did not wish to leave Sorghun. They were content, having won land of their own. To these, Rum promised them all that he had accumulated when he left. For those who were willing to fly with him, Rum christened one of the very first Corsair crews. All over Sorghun, similar things were happening. Pirates were being born from the forge of that dying world. The glittering ship Silence was finally ready; Rum trained his crew in orbit for two years. They left.

Before coming to Thoule, Rum looted the treasuries of a thousand worlds. He called himself the Ravager. From time to time, Rum met with other Corsairs. Time flowed differently on each ship, for each had gone to different parts of the galaxy and spent more or less time in the strange no-space between dilations. So while some of those who had set off at the same time were old men, or the sons and daughters of the first Corsairs, others had aged barely a day. They would trade news high above the worlds of prey, play dice to see who would get the bigger share of the loot, and then move on: that, or else they would engage their nuclear lances and rail guns, spray the void with electronic countermeasures, and blast each other out of the sky.

By the time Rum reached Thoule, he was a years-seasoned Corsair. He carried a shock-saber at his hip and wore a suit of shimmering mercury, to deflect slugs. He smiled the smile of a cunning and cruel killer. From time to time he played the electric lute, much to the amusement of his crew. They knew they had done well to follow Rum, the best and most powerful of the Corsairs. They would be remembered on a dozen worlds, and wasn't that a kind of immortality?

Rubario was watching the skies on the night Rum appeared. He would often climb to a hill just outside Foln, unfold his stolen telescope, and examine the heavens. It reminded him of his days in the University—but more, it reminded him of his childhood in the house of his mother, a powerful merchantess of Foln. He remembered the musty smell of her bower. Many a night he spent before the telescope that peered from her window. The merchantess, his mother, Joira, had the thing made especially for him, by contract with the Lensgrinder's Guild. The resin smell of pines and mushrooms filled his nose upon that hilltop, but his eyes and limbs felt that same old room.

Rum appeared with a great blink of light, a shattering of space like a thousand gleaming shards. A stone smashed a mirror of liquid mercury. Rubario watched as the sky vomited up Rum's ship, a glittering monstrosity that shone like a star.

On that night, Rum broadcast his demand to Thoule. His ship jacked into the old satellite system that was maintained, failingly, by Church authorities. Rubario was already half drunk at the roadside tavern by Foln's west gate. They knew he was an exile, but they served him all the same. "Silver's silver," they murmured to each other as they watched the flabby bandit picking at greasy chicken with his fingers.

He drank himself far drunker than he intended, so that by the time midnight rolled around and the great clocks began to toll, Rubario could barely rise. But he didn't need to rise on his own; two Messianic knights gripped him by the shoulders and hauled him upright. "You're the astrologer called Rubario," one growled.

"What of it?" Rubario asked. "I may very well be the second messiah myself!" But they ignored his blasphemy and hauled him bodily behind them.

Slung cross-wise over a saddle, Rubario was made subject to much hard travel. Before the night had come and gone, he found himself once more in the Cathedral of Foln, seated before the greatest screen at the high altar. The Messian's face gazed down impassively at his humble form, and the old man peered at him from within his deep white velvet hood. "You discovered the messenger first, Astrologist," the Messian proclaimed. His voice was the crack of thunder and the whisper of mice, reflected and refracted through all the speakers within the ancient stonework. "You will understand what it wants."

Rubario glowered. "After all this time, your sacred Messenger is finally here, and you're asking me what it all means? I'm not a sorcerer or a theologian. Go find someone from Tolcross to stroke your ego."

This time, the Messian didn't allow Rubario's vulgarity to get the better of him. Instead he smiled faintly upon that tattered man and switched the channel over to display the frowning lips of the pirate Rum.

"Who is this?" Rum asked. His voice was a hiss and a prayer. The smell of old stone crawled into Rubario's nostrils as he stared at the first face from another world.

He drew himself up. "I am Rubario of Foln," he said, "Astrologist of Tolcross and a student of the stars. Who are you?"

"I am the Corsair Rum!" said Rum with pride. "I want the gold, the platinum, the oil, the spices, the luxuries of all your cities. I have come across the void for these things, and my sorcerers are ready now to unleash sidereal chaos upon your pitiful planet."

"I know nothing of sorcery. I know nothing of platinum, gold, or oil. But I know of the stars, and the void." Rubario frowned at him. And I know that you cannot have come from some distant world. It takes too long. The ships have stopped. Sol-that-was is forgotten."

"Curse Sol-that-was!" Rum shouted. "I am Rum-that-is! I command a dilation engine, and I cross space and time as I will!" The knights behind Rubario murmured "the Messenger!" frantically to themselves. "They are abstractions to me, do you understand? I can go where  I wish, and my crew takes what we can."

"Then you're no different from the priests," Rubario said.

Rum scowled. "The difference is, I will annihilate you if you refuse."

Rubario thought about that. Yes, that was a difference. Then, he said slowly, "For the past years I have lived as a highwayman, a bandit, and an exile."

The Corsair Rum began to laugh. "You too, you mean, are a pirate." And it was true. Rubario had been those things. Rum was those things. "I can give you something, then, friend Rubario of Foln. Will you join us? Will you travel the void, searching out the wreckage of the old worlds, with me? I need only know where to strike."

Now the knights drew their swords and advanced on Rubario. But Rubario had his vibro-blade ready. With a snicker-snack, he undid them. They never had a chance to use their coil-sabers. Rum began to laugh. Rubario did not look at the screen. Instead, he peered out of the Cathedral window. He looked up, and up, and up.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Fiction Friday: Wolfsblood

Amalric of Thornwood was bone-tired. Everything hurt. He'd spent the week hauling bodies, lime, and fuel for fires. His clothes were torn to shreds and covered in the spew of the sick. Bertar and Rye alone still lived from their once merry company. Millon's face had been black on the day he was tossed into the tomb-pit. Amalric's eyes betrayed the broken silence of his heart, but the plague had passed. "What will we do now?" asked Bertar as they chewed on old black bread. Amalric couldn't focus on the question. He stared at the flagstones below his feet.

They were seated on the far steps of the temple yard, facing the river. Behind them, the last vestiges of the plague's misery was winding its way through the temple grounds. The last to fall ill were busy noisily dying in its shadowy halls. It was Rye who cautiously spoke the dark words nesting in Amalric's soul. "Your father was with the Highlord... like as not, you are the Lord of Thornwood now, Rick."

This awful realization, once spoken, could not be taken back. It was a cloak of muffling darkness that threatened to smother them. Amalric hung his head. His father was probably drowned in the Rudd. He stared at his boots. The smell of burning wood washed over them as the wind changed direction.

Bertar threw away his bread, tossing it into the river. Amalric turned to him angrily, but before he could reprimand his friend, Bertar fell to one knee. Rye suddenly surged to his feet and did the same. Fat tears rolled down Amalric's cheeks. "I'm not yet even a knight," he croaked. His voice was hoarse.

"You are our lord," Rye said. "We swear you service as your men."

Amalric placed his hands upon his friends' shoulders. "Get up," he whispered.

Bertar shook his head. "First take our pledge, lord."

"I do. Of course I do." Amalric tightly closed his eyes. His whole body shuddered. He sank back down to the broad steps. "Priest and prophet."

For Robart, the news of Highlord Marten's defeat was no more devastating than anything else that had come and gone within the past months. His life had become unmoored from everything that made sense to him. Two days after Troylus recovered, Robart went to him for advice. The astrologer had taken up residence in the high temple with the sick. He had joined the legions of prelates and canons aiding those afflicted by the flux. As a survivor, it was known that he could not be infected a second time.

"Teacher Troylus," Robart greeted him. The canon was busy washing the body of a shivering woman. Robart turned his eyes away, diverting his gaze from her sickly breasts and trembling hands. "I came to ask your advice."

"Go on, goodman Robart," said Troylus. Already he was looking better. The empty flesh of his face was beginning to fill out. His eyes had lost their haunted glassiness. "Ask away." His hands were steady as they laved the woman's fevered form.

Robart bowed his head and took a deep breath. "I don't know what to do. But I fear my use here is ending. If Highlord Marten is dead then there's nothing holding me here... or at Oldcastel."

Troylus nodded. His eyes were only for his work. Gently, gently, he moved the cloth over the woman's arms. With tender care, he scrubbed off the stains and dirt. "Aye, Robart, that's so."

"So what do the stars say?" Robart asked at last. He felt a surge of shame well up in his breast. Star-seeing was frowned upon as a tool of the daimoni and the vanished drakeir, something evil to tie the Faithful soul to the chains of the World of Sorrow. Still, Troylus was a teacher himself, blessed by the Faith. Surely it couldn't all be evil.

The older man laughed softly at Robart's question. "The stars do not speak. They move us, whether we will or no. But if your question is what you should do, goodman Robart, then mine to you is thus: What is it in your heart to do?"

"Go home." Robart spoke almost without hesitation. A part of him wanted to stay near Sister Soera, but the greater balance simply wanted peace, quiet, and the familiar feel of earth in his hands. "If there's still a home to go to."

The canon didn't seem surprised.

Robart thought on this for hours beneath Ogust's Stone. His eyes crawled over the ancient monument, touching each crevice but seeing nothing. The columns of morning light illuminating the plaster ceiling above slowly tilted and shifted, until they were falling straight down upon the stone. At last, more troubled in heart than before, Robart rose and wandered outside.

Kingsbrook had been two cities before the plague: the sacred close and the town without. Now, the pilgrims were mostly in the tombyard or the lime pits. The close was deserted save for the surviving priests and the few townsfolk who'd made it through. Most were gathered on the flagstones or the steps before the massive double doors of the temple. The High Prelate was standing in their midst, dressed in all his finery.

Coren the Younger wore a heavy white robe and a brilliant purple mantle. Both were made with Eastern brocade and sewn through with gold and silver. A solar circle of heavy red gold, inlaid with garnets and a single bloody ruby, hung from his chest. His fingers clung to a fine staff of inlaid wood with a silver head. Robart blinked at the gaudy display: here was gathered more wealth than all the gold tilled up in all the fields in all kingdom.

"The miasma has passed," said he, in a stentorian voice. The columns of the close echoed back his words. "The fires of sickness have burned out. From this moment on, the pilgrims are welcome again in Kingsbrook. And more, the wounded fleeing the Skraeling menace will be given permanent homes here. By my decree on this day, the guesting houses will be turned over to their use until the invaders should be driven from our shores. More, three new such will be built. And the relics smashed beneath Gaudulf's dome will be translated here to Kingsbrook." Robart glanced at Archprelate Corricus, to see if he was fuming. The old man's eyes were closed.

"In return," said the High Prelate, "We shall send to Saint Gaudulf's none other than Gaudulf's skull and crown, to be properly venerated by pilgrims on their way to Oldcastel. The Faith will not die out here, in this dark hour. A candle has been lit, and fostered by the Hieros and the Autarch, which shall never perish." The High Prelate raised his staff and clacked it three times against the stone. On the third, the bells of Kingsbrook Temple began to peal, thundering across the countryside. The Faith was unbent in its struggles.

Tables were laid for the survivors. The close was opened to traffic from the town. Robart was served fish soup with black bread, eels, and turnips. Vinegar-boiled leeks and cabbage were spooned into his bowl at the end of the line. He searched for friendly faces to sit by; the squire Amalric was too morose to trouble, Troylus was not out and about... and there was Sister Soera, angelic and daimonic both, with her fair hair cropped short behind her ears, her wimple in her lap. There were other canonnesses with her. Robart hesitated.

"Goodman Robart!" she called. She made eye contact with him. A thrill of fear shivered through his heart and troubled the cage of his chest. He waved weakly at her. He was forced to wind through the knots of seated eaters: canons, prelates, pilgrims, townsfolk, wounded soldiers. When he reached Soera and her sisters, his heart thundered fit to burst. What would he say to her? Nothing, nothing, nothing yet, he decided. He would wait and hold the line like an Eastern shieldman until the last moment arrived. Only then would he tell her his plan.

They ate in silence. Though Robart would once have found this unnerving, weeks in the service of the High Prelate had taught him patience during mealtime. The sisters were used to it. They followed the old Bagahnic rule in Saint Gaudulf's and all the houses of archprelates throughout the kingdom. The low hum of conversation washed over him as Robart dreamed, eyes open, of returning to Hazelby. In his waking dreams, Robart saw himself happy and content on the land. There was no more Dominion gold to shatter his peace.

At last, when the meal was done, Sister Soera took him by the arm and led him through the enclaves and cloisters of the pilgrim's city. It was slowly coming back to life with the end of the plague. Already, there were pilgrims shuffling through its outer walks, between the High Prelate's palace and the guesthouse. The telltale glimmer of silver changed hands as they purchased badges from the canons. Visitors to Kingsbrook Temple were given a little cloak-broach in the rough unhewn shape of Ogust's Stone to remind them of their journey.

"I see that you've made friends with Master Teacher Troylus," she said gleefully. A finger poked him in the ribs.

Robart grunted. "He's an astrologer. I thought that wasn't allowed?"

Sister Soera shrugged and sat her wimple upon her brow. "What is and isn't allowed depends on who and where you are. The whole Faith is busy attacking Piers of Swornstone these days. They don't have time for people like Troylus, who don't really upset anyone."

"Who's that?" Robart asked.

Sister Soera stopped and gave him a sidelong look. It was one of those strange, clever looks that she sometimes saved for him. They felt like hot knives sliding into his heart. Her smile, little, secret, was a blazing beacon. "I sometimes forget the world you come from," she confessed. "He's a priest in the king's... the queen's service. He wrote a book that many find troublesome." There was a pause as Robart tried to digest this information, but it was as far from his experience of life as wearing a sword and calling on ladies.

"What will you do, when the plague subsides?"

Soera looked around sadly at the grounds. "Return to Saint Gaudulf's with the archprelate, I suppose, though I am loathe to leave this place." It took her a moment to realize that Robart's future was not so clearly staked out. "And you?" she asked, her voice betraying her excitement. "What will you do?"

Now that it came to it, he did not want to say those words to her. He did not want to tell her that he was going to return to Hazelby, come daimon or darkness, and pursue the hand of Aethelwyn. The words stuck in his throat. They clung to him like imps. "I—" he began, and failed again. I, what? Will go into the maw of the Skraels because that is where I've always been? It seemed so feeble. "I was hoping I could accompany you." His heart was singing, tuned tight as a bowstring.

"With me? To Saint Gaudulf's? I know the archprelate would be glad of your service." She giggled. "I'd not have taken you for a canon, Robart, though now in those robes..." She plucked playfully at his cord belt.

"A canon?" He frowned. "No, I meant..."

It was Sister Soera's turn to pause. She stopped, half-turned, the light falling on her temples. Her hair was all aglow, as though the Divinity shone from within her. Her eyes searched his face. "What... did you mean, goodman Robart?"

"I meant," he said again, and now these words too caught, but he forced them through. They raked his throat like claws. "I meant that I care for you, Soera, and I'd be honored to go where you go..."

Soera pushed away from him. He could see her breast rising and falling in quick, shallow breaths. "Do you jest with me, Robart?" she asked. He shook his head, but he already knew that was the wrong answer. His eyes were filled with tears. She looked away. "I... I know not what to say. Except that this attention is unlooked for, unasked for, and cannot be returned."

"I do not know what to do without someone to care for other than myself," he blurted. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry! I did not, I know you're a canonness, and even where you not I am a farmer who should know better than—Soera. Soera!" She fled him, as the hart flees the hunter. Her sandaled feet slapped against the stones. It was the sound of drumming rain. It is no more than I deserve.

That made up his mind for him. His place wasn't here. It was at Hazelby. He turned away and bowed his head. Though he was decided, he didn't know he was to make his way back. He had no food, and no traveling companions to boot. So it was that he ran into Amalric full tilt. The young squire, startled, held him out at arm's length. "Robart," the boy murmured vaguely. "Goodman," he added after a moment.

"Master Amalric. I'm... have you seen Teacher Troylus? I need to go back home. To the farm."

Amalric stared at him. "Home? To your town at Hazelby? But what of the Highlord?"

"The harvest..." Robart said lamely. But Amalric wasn't listening. He was simply nodding to the two boys that lurked behind him.

After a moment, Amalric turned back and clasped Robart around the shoulder. "We're going to Seapoint, Robart. You're in luck. We can go with you as far as Hazelby, or until we discover the Lady Sorrel and her knights."

Amalric, Rye, and Bertar were intent on leaving the city within the week. Troylus helped them gather enough food and wine for the journey. Archprelate Corricus gave Amalric his blessing. Robart avoided talking to him, so fearful was he that the prelate would chastise him for his words to the sister. When the cascade of bells rang out dawn on the third day, Amalric and his train were ready to go.

"Good thing to travel with a big stout farmer," Bertar said to Robart. "You'll probably scare off any Skraels just with the look of you. Oughta get you a walking staff or length of wood. You'd be enough to knock any knight down."

"My thanks," Robart said, confused, as they passed through the Highgate of Kingsbrook close. The High Prelate's palace loomed over them, all pilasters and filigreed stonework. Robart ducked his head when they passed beneath the statue of Ogust that adorned the lintel. First High Prelate of Yewland, he who spread the Faith to the Southold. His belief in the goodness of the church fathers was simple, uncomplicated, and pure. Ogust was a saint, like good King Gaudulf. He, Robart of Hazelby, was a sinner propelled by lust and infatuation, his very body a gateway to the daimoni.

Reports from the wounded were confused and tangled. No one knew where to begin looking for the remains of the highlord's army. Some said he had tried to cross into Ruddsmouth. Others insisted that they had been marching into Redmarket or Clerkenwall. "Why would the highlord cross the Rudd, though, Rick?" Rye asked as they threaded through the old brick buildings of Kingsbrook. "I haven't heard of the Clerk raising his forces."

Highlord Lyden of Clerkenwall was not known for his bravery in war. Even Robart knew his reputation. The man was a cowering cleric, dragged from his cloister when his elder brothers died in the Skathi raids of the 1090s. "Can you believe, of all the good men who died at Crowstone, that Lyden survived?" Bertar asked, a sneer on his lip.

Robart had no interest in this. He watched his leather shoes tread upon the old Dominion streets as they left the city. Amalric seemed to grow taller as they approached the road back to Seapoint. He wore his sword with pride. "This is all my land, now," he said softly. Robart perked up his ears.

"Your land?" asked he.

Amalric nodded solemnly. "I would ask you to stay, as my servant, Robart, if I could. But I think you'd not appreciate going into battle with me. My father," he said by way of explanation, "was Lyle of the Thornwood. This was his demesne. Well, all that which doesn't belong to the temple."

"Your father is dead, lord?"

Rye looked hard at Robart, his face set in a grim line. "Most likely, friend Robart. He fought with the Highlord at the Rudd crossing. You heard those men back there. If not dead, at least captive."

"If he is a captive," Amalric said firmly, "I will redeem him. But first, we must find Lady Sorrel and rally to her banner. If the highlord is alive, we must bring him safely to Oldcastle. Either way, we must uncover the lay of the land."

Robart nodded. The concerns of lords were military and dynastic, far outside his limited experience. He was, at heart, a simple man, and he longed to return to the time before his involvement with the doings of the great and good.

They went quickly through the little towns of the Pinedown. Amalric displayed the highlord's seal as they went, and announced himself as lord. His father's seal he did not have, but the town fathers recognized his dress and the lord's badge, the pine surmounted by three crowns. They were given lodging in barns and knight's halls each night. News of the battle grew more confused as they traveled east. What became clear, however, was that Highlord Marten had attempted to cross the Rudd to escape a pursuing Skraeling army from Seatower. This, Amalric determined, had to have been at Tidewater, the only place where the river could be crossed east of Redmarket.

"The Tidewater crossing only appears when the water is drawn out to sea, and then only part of the month," he told the others. "It lies just before the borderland with Seapoint, and would be a fine place for a pirate ambush, if that's truly what happened." What worried them was that there was no news of the highlord's army in retreat. That could mean only a handful of things: that they had escaped north of the Rudd and were now in Clerkenwall, that they had been utterly destroyed at Tidewater, or that they had fled with such speed to Oldcastel that they were no longer in Pinedown or Seapoint at all.

One evening around the fire, when they were far from any town or ville, Rye turned to Robart and asked him, "What made you decide to go back?" Amalric was staring deep into the embers while Bertar snored in a pile of wet leaves.

"To Hazelby?" asked Robart. The last crackling tongues of flame smelled so thickly of autumn that, for just a moment, Robart could pretend he was a child again. That rich aroma reminded him of the house of his father, long long ago.

Robart frowned and looked into the darkness to gather his thoughts. "I don't know. Hazelby is my life. I don't suppose you'd understand it." He shook his head. "My farm..." Sire Gaumont's farm. No, Lord Seatower's. Whoever Highlord Marten chooses to replace him. "You know my meaning. The land I worked. It's in my bones." The sigh he breathed was powerful enough to send a whirlwind of sparks into the night sky.

The young nobly born lad eyed him strangely. "That's all? Seems a fool's reason to go beneath the Skraeling yoke. You'll excuse me if I'm a bit harsh, goodman. But I see a dark future ahead for you if you go down that road. Come instead with us, to meet the Lady Sorrel. The Wolfsblood is a dangerous man. This Sarkus, the king of the Skraeling invaders... he's no friend to you."

Robart fell the truth welling up inside him like a great bubble. It quickened his breath and sped his heart along its path. "I've chased after two women this autumn, and both have run as fast as they could away from me." Once the words were out, Rye's face split into a smile.

"Is that all? Priest and prophet, man, I could tell you a hundred similar stories!" He clapped Robart on the back and thrust a wineskin under his nose. "Drink, drink. It will make things well."

So Robart unburdened his conscience to Rye while Amalric watched on. When he was done, he felt as though the cavern of his heart had been scraped clear. Rye shook his head at the end of the tale and said, "You chose two women you knew would reject you. Perhaps you did it of a purpose, Robart, or the Divinity guided you so. Did you think of that?"

"How do you mean?" grumped the farmer.

Rye, drummed his fingers against the hilt of his sword in thought. "I mean, you chased a widow and a canonness. You knew from the start that neither would be excited for your affection. The Divinity was testing you, mayhaps."

"Or you didn't want to be with anyone," Amalric said. He was still shaken. His life had lurched so dramatically out of kilter that he could not, yet, come to grips with himself. To Amalric, the world was no longer upon its axis. His lordly father, Lyle of the Thornwood, was as solid as stone. He was a monument of the earth, as much a part of Erden as the ground, the sun, the sky. To imagine him lifeless, drowned, mutilated by foemen... "Perhaps you set traps for yourself."

This sounded like foolishness to Robart, who ignored it. In the morning they were going east again. Bertar began singing a song of courtly love, which Amalric silenced by throwing a stone at his back. All of a sudden, Robart began to recognize the land. "We're not far from Hazelby," he said in a wonder. He'd been walking in a mist for days. The thing that finally jolted him out of the strange half-dream of the journey was a tree trunk. It was an old and knotted plane tree, whorled with time. There, at its base, just below a bole the size of his head, were the stick-figure knights Robart had carved an eon ago with his brothers.

Amalric frowned deeply and drew his sword. Robart flinched from the sound of the blade. "If Hazelby is near, it's like as not that the Skraels are as well. Damn it, we've come all this way with no sign of the highlord or Lady Sorrel."

Bertar and Rye drew their blades. "Skraelings," Rye said, brow raised.

"We're only a little way from the village," Robart confirmed. "Maybe twenty minutes on foot."

Bertar gave Robart a level look. "You look wooly enough, goodman—you go and come back with the news, eh? You could pass for a Skrael if you braided your beard, I think. Come, you're half a warrior-god already." It was true. Robart hadn't shaved for months, and by now boasted a beard like those of the early desert saints. He could be a fresco on a temple wall.

He gave them a nod. "I will go. If I do not return come nightfall, there are Skraels in Hazelby and you must move on in secret."

"We'll not leave you, if they're in your hamlet, man!" Bertar said, pushing him playfully.

Robart shrugged and shouldered his rucksack. Yes, this was country he knew well. Each turn in the trail, each stone and root, the curve and sweep of the low Seapoint hills, even the distant smell of the sea... these were the senses of Robart's entire life, the memories that silted down into his bones over the long years. There, just there at the moss-covered boulder in the trail, was where Robart once pretended to be King Roald and fought off Aedric. Their blades were simple sticks, their shields wicker basket lids. But where was Aedric now? What had become of his father and brother? Gone, gone, down into the earth. Robart shuddered.

Next came the fields. They were well-tended and groomed, as all the farmlands of the Southold. The harvest was long over, and the stubble of the scythed corn jutted from the black earth. As Robart stumbled through the trees, he caught a glimpse of the new field on the hillside where once he'd plowed up the Dominion gold that set him on his journey. The ruin beyond was barely visible over the treetops.

When at last he came to the village, he saw it was much changed. There were watchmen set upon the trail, three men in knee-length tunics of deep crimson, each wearing the pelt of a wolf wrapped about his shoulders. Robart bowed his head and approached them, his mind racing for explanations. The Skraels would know that he hadn't been in the village. Who knew how long ago they'd captured it? But the men on the trail hardly spared him a second look. One, with a long and braided beard, glanced over Robart to confirm that he carried no weapons. That was all.

Robart's home was in good repair. The months of absence hadn't harmed it at all. He was glad for it, and ducked down through the doorway. His stores were gone, that was one thing, and it looked as though someone had been rummaging through his belongings. He frowned. How would he make it through the winter without the proceeds of the last harvest? This, he hadn't counted on.

Surveying the remains of his life, the overturned kettle and smashed barrel, the empty sacks where wheaten flower was once stored, he heard a thickly accented voice floating on the breeze. "The godsmen have decided that you can keep your faith, but you don't need your temples. After all, your god is a blind man!"

Robart clambered from his house and peered around the village. Aethelwyn's house was gone, as were a number of others. Burned timbers were all that remained. The shouting Skrael stood hard on the little stone temple, in its porch, and railed against a gathering of townsfolk. "You owe your lives to Haringer Keelwrite, and you'll do as he says. The temple will be given to the godsmen!"

He didn't know who or what these godsmen were, but he didn't much care for the Skrael's harsh words. The speaker was dressed like the Skraels upon the road—wolf's pelt over his shoulders and a long fur cloak. His hair was slicked back, glistening with pig's fat. He wore a long axe at his hip. Robart grunted. There were probably more of them up at Hazelby Hall. He couldn't stay, as much as he wanted to. He couldn't find out what had become of his Hazelby. If he did, Amalric and his companions would surely be hunted by the Skraels before nightfall.

Instead, he gathered his things. He took, from the tossed remains of his house, a few small mementos. There was silver hidden beneath a posthole by the door, which he dug up and scooped into his purse. His wife's comb, his son's little leather shoe, and a handful of spilled seedcorn from the grain barrel that the Skraels had burst. He took his three knives, and the long-handled scythe he'd spent a fortune on. The blade was rusting, but it would do in a pinch. With that, Robart left Hazelby for the second time, and this time he had no intention of returning.

The watchers eyed him again as he left, but again they said nothing. Robart came back to Amalric just before sunset and told his fellows the lay of the land. "The town is under the Skraels. It looks as though they've taken most of the harvest, from what I saw. They went through my house and stripped it bare of food."

"Then you'll come with us," Rye said. "You'll not stay here, with Sarkus Wolfsblood's men?"

Robart nodded slowly. "Aye," said he, "I'll come with you."

Friday, January 1, 2016

Fiction Friday: The Hour of the Dog

For the earlier Robart of Hazelby tales, head to the Fiction Friday Index.

Those afflicted by black flux burned, then froze. They could not catch their breath and spent their days gasping for air as though being hounded by all the daimoni of hell. As the sickness raced through their veins, their limbs arched painfully. They shit black bile and vomited yellow bile. Their eyes were jaundiced, their pupils narrow and fixed on some distant point, some saving grace beyond the mortal pain that wracked their feeble decaying forms. One in five survived the sickness once it gripped them.

It seemed to strike at random, without thought or conscience. The prelates at first thought it might be carried in the miasmic vapors exhaled by the dying, or in their bile, but many who worked with the sick never felt its sting. The High Prelate of the island himself, the Priman of Wyranth, the Lord-prelate of Kingsbrook, Coren the Younger, tended the ill each morning before he withdrew to pray and study the ancient scripture for signs. He was never once afflicted with even a cough. Some said it was the Divinity, but the priests were comforted that they might see to the needs of the mortally stricken without fear that they too would fall.

Though it appeared, at last, to be subsiding, the flux lay in wait.

Those cursed with the flux were now housed in the temple itself. "If we do not move them inside, the rain will kill them," Corricus told the High Prelate. Coren relented and permitted the sick to be nursed in the halls of worship. Sickly-sweet clouds of incense perfumed every chamber. Ogust's Stone, standing proudly in the chancel, watched over hundreds of bandage-wound patients. Some stroked its ancient surface, hoping that some of the Divinity's power was still pinioned within it. A few who touched the stone survived, and spoke of it as a cure delivered by Divinity. Many who's calloused fingertips caressed the rock died.

"This superstition is like Gaudulf's arm all over again," Corricus complained. But there was no dissuading the healed from their belief in the sanctity of the site.

Coren the Younger advised his brother prelate not to be troubled. "The Divinity may not see us and may be unable to give us aid, but is it not in a way divine that so many are inspired by what they see as miracles? Let them turn their eyes to the World to Come, Corricus. What matter the means?"

Robart's days attained a near-perfect regularity. He woke each day before dawn. He joined the prelates as they sang the morning's praises to the Divine, their offices interrupted by the moaning of the ill. The chorus' seats had been removed to make more room for sickbeds. The chief cantor was forced to stand on a little wooden stool before Ogust's Stone to lead the mass. When morningsong ended, he went with the prelates into the sacristy to bathe in cold springwater and dress for the day. His own tunic and hosen were worn well through and quickly replaced with a cord belt and robe from the vestry.

After ablution (and a short prayer, these prelates seemed to pray at every step of every day) they immediately went to work. That was the first time Robart would see Sister Soera. Until then he could pretend his wife was still alive, or even wonder whether Aethelwyn was safe and well. They walked between the low sickbeds in pairs or trios. They lanced pustulant boils, rubbed flax oils on the burning flesh to dry it, fed the ill melon which a teacher called Thomis told Robart was "a cold food, and dry, inclined to shift the humors of the sufferer away from heat and wetness, as the black flux seems to run."

When this first feeding and treatment was done, the prelates and Robart broke their fast. Autumn rains were common that Amaan, so more often than not they dined under the covered tile roof of the refectory rather than in the open gardens. Thomis said, "'Tis a pity we must eat indoors, for I much miss the sunshine." Robart wondered that the man could be so attuned to the passage of weather when fire and sickness were stalking the land with the sword and the torch.

Fed, the prelates resumed their care. There were more ill altogether than healthy, at the beginning, but as the flux ran its course and many died, their numbers dwindled. They were refreshed from time to time by pilgrims stricken with the disease who came from downstream or the little hamlets that ringed Kingsbrook. There was a second break for supper in the afternoon. Another service followed, which Robart sometimes attended and sometimes avoided in favor of wandering the temple grounds.

Kingsbrook Temple was the finest palace Robart had ever seen. Hazelby Manor, Saint Gaudulf's, even Oldcastel itself didn't hold a flame to the great center of the Faith in Yewland. It was a sprawling construction, composed of several huge buildings, each intermingled with the others through courtyards and half-enclosed galleries of echoing stone. The outer walls, facing the town, were sheathed in marble, giving the temple a glorious Eastern presence. Within, there were domes covered with beaten bronze, a dormer for the prelates, even water that ran from a hidden wellspring to flow into the Kingsbrook, but not before providing the washing and drinking water for the cloister entire.

The only thing Kingsbrook was missing was monks and an abbot. Instead, there were the canons and the High Prelate himself. Coren was lame in one leg. His face was all jutting eyebrows and thin lips. He was the younger only in relation to his father, old Lord Coren Comber of Deeping Fell, who had been buried decades ago at the sight of the ancient battle. The canons were half-monk, half-priest, though Robart knew that many left the cloistered life with the gifts they had learned—history, literacy, theology—married, and made good for themselves working under some noble. Here, rather than an abbot prescribing the old rule of the East, was the master prelate of the entire island. Here was the chief school for clerics in Yewland, also. Hundreds of canons who had come to study where now engaged in very real acts of faith.

Robart first knew that the flux had taken a second flight when a young prelate named Andrau collapsed in the refectory. The stillness of silent contemplation was shattered by the boy's fall. His trencher spattered hot grease and porridge over the enamel-tiled floor. By that evening, the black boils had begun to form. This marked a change in the course of the sickness. From that moment on, no one was safe any longer. Uncaring, the sickness was, to rank or station. Humble and proud alike were felled.

An archprelate from Waterdeep died in agony. Fifteen canons in eight days were brought low. Some recovered and went back to work, weakness now deep in their limbs. Most went on to the World to Come. The great silence was broken in the refectory: at each meal, High Prelate Coren read from the sacred books. "Persevere," read he, "in the knowledge that your suffering cannot tie you to the world."

They began to dig great pits for the dead. No longer could they be interred one by one in the Kingsbrook tombyard. There were simply too many. Fifteen or twenty might die in an afternoon. The High Prelate sent Amalric to gather quicklime from the granite pits south of the town. The dead were piled in the earth and left to dissolve under the lime's fire. Let them not be taken by the daimoni.

This nearly broke Robart's spirit. Even cannonesses were not held safe from the sickness. The town entire was emptying in fear. Kingsbrook had been the center of the Faith on the island for centuries. Now, it was the heart of darkness. The oppressive bleakness weighed on Robart's soul. He tried to hide it from the others, but even the young squire Amalric was bowed over and bent with the burden.

He could not unburden himself to Sister Soera. She was already stricken, watching her sisters die left and right. Thank the Divine that the flux did not touch her. He began to speak with the dying instead. They would carry his secrets with them to the World to Come. It was in this way that he found Troylus, the prelate.

Troylus was a sickly looking man before he was felled by the flux. Laden with excess fat that melted from his bones like butter under the withering heat of his fever, he was a canon teacher who dressed all in black. He lay near to Ogust's Stone in the hall, his head turned toward it. "It's beneficial influences will wash through me," he explained to Robart. He was a learned man, if not a particularly pious one. When Robart confessed his fear to Troylus that first evening, Troylus replied, "There is nothing that can be done. The celestial thrones sit in bleak alignment. Now is the hour of the dog, my friend."

Robart grasped Troylus' wasted hand. It had been reduced to bone and skin. "What do you mean, master Troylus? Surely the Divinity wouldn't—"

The priest laughed. His voice was like a hacking summoned up from the depths of hell. "The Divinity doesn't care. Look around you, friend. The stars govern the world. They send their rays down to us, which affects the humors in our bodies. Your spirit—the stuff sloshing around in your —"and here Troylus dissolved into a fit of hacking. Robart cradled his head and fed him spiced wine. Troylus thanked him and drifted off into a peaceless sleep.

Over the next few days, Robart spoke with Troylus again and again. "The dog-star," the astrologer-priest told him, "sends its poisonous rays down upon us. Normally it waits until the heat of summer, but this year it must have come early. If only I could use my tools, I would be able to determine when this cursed plague would end."

But it didn't end. It went on and on. And as they tended the dying, men came from the battles in Seapoint. Highlord Marten was defeated. The Skraels were here to stay for the long winter. Amalric joked that they would be frozen out of Seatower before too long, but Robart wasn't so sure. Neither was Troylus. "Skraeling folk are from the frozen lands already. What do they care for a little snow? Without someone to deny them food, some force abroad in the land, they'll pluck the farms bare and live in their halls till the snowmelt and spring."

The survivors from the Highlord's army who came to Kingsbrook, mostly knights and men-at-arms, were housed in the new chapel. It was a little building, put together at the urging of the last king, Roald, and bore his name over the doorway. Its candles were meant to benefit Roald's soul in the World of Forms where he must yet be purged of his intellectual sins. Robart declined to mix with the gore-covered men of the Highlord's folly. They scared him.

He learned, through Troylus, that the Highlord's army was ambushed and routed near the River Rudd. The rains had swollen the banks and washed away many of the old fords, but the Skraels were adept at moving across water in their knife-ships. While Marten was crossing his army from one side to the other, Skraels had descended on both the van- and rear-guards and obliterated them. Few had escaped. Some doubted whether the Highlord still lived at all. Many more were drowned in the river when they could not make for the shore.

"What of Lady Sorrel?"

Troylus coughed up a gobbet of blood. "She lives still, leading raids against the Skraeling holds in Seapoint. Many of the men here are seeking to join her. Those who aren't tucking tail and heading home."

And then, one morning, Troylus was gone. He was not there upon his pallet, head turned to Ogust's Stone, when Robart woke in the morning. Robart reasoned that he must have died in the dark watches of the night. To see yet another fall—this one a friend—was too much for him. Aethelwyn, everyone in Hazelby, his wife, his son, Highlord Marten, all in whom he'd placed his love and his trust... He broke down and wept by the altar. No one disturbed him. It was not an uncommon sight.

When Sister Soera asked him what troubled him, he told her: "Troylus. He's gone." The sister smiled secretly and led Robart to the refectory. There, beneath the stone pulpit from which the High Prelate read the Life of Calomanis, was seated Troylus. His great empty jowls sagged like the cheeks of a hunting hound. His eyes were sunken and hollow, but the rheumy cough was gone. Though he clutched a walking stick in one boney hand, he ate with vigor and liveliness. When he saw Robart he laughed. His eyes crinkled.

"Goodman Robart! The hour of the dog has passed me by," he said. Robart wept tears of joy. "I live! And so do you! And so does Sister Soera here." The haggard astrologer winked at Robart, who felt himself turn brilliant red at the implication. Of course he'd told Troylus of his unnatural attachment to the healing-sister.

The provost of the temple, seated down the table, banged his fist upon the wood for silence. The old man glared at them, as if to shame them into peace. But Robart was too happy to be fearful of withered priests. He embraced Troylus with abandon, crushed the man to his breast. Troylus groaned and laughed, all at once.

The hour of the dog had ended. There were only a few more who took ill. The deaths mounted, but soon there were more survivors than corpses. Little by little, the flux gave way. Whatever its mysterious cause, fire and lime had stamped it out. The tension in Robart's heart began to relax. He would survive. The sister had survived. Troylus was alive! And then, as he began to realize his position, Robart once again began to wonder: what could he do? Where could he go? His home was under foreign yoke, his family dead and buried, his dreams crushed down to frigid earth by the vicissitudes of war and time.

So he sat in thought, troubled, but alive.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Fiction Friday: A Time of Greater Darkness

For the earlier Robart of Hazelby tales, head to the Fiction Friday Index.

"The falling of Saint Gaudulf's dome heralds destruction," Archprelate Corricus whispered to the night. The chapter had yet to meet, but he knew it was coming. "We are moving from a time of shadows into a time of greater darkness, when there will be no light for men. His majesty's war against the Mascoliri ended in tragedy. Now his majesty, King Carliman, is gone. Thus, we have reached the very terminus of the Confession in the West. We are a doomed people, suffering our last throws of misery. Soon, very soon now, the Dunlanders and Timbarmen will regroup and come south to conquer. Soon, the daimoni will have their victory."

News of the dome's fall, and Provost Lanbert's death beneath its weight, raced ahead of the travelers. Before they ever left Oldcastel or even the close of Saint Gaudulf's temple, half the Southold seemed to know of the freakish accident. No damage by fire or leak could be found amongst the piers that held the dome in place. "It was the Divinity's will," Archprelate Corricus pronounced with grave authority. Who would gainsay him? Not Robart of Hazelby.

The troupe was, in whole, Robart of Hazelby, Amalric of Thornwood and his companions—Rye, Millon, and Bertar—the Archprelate Corricus of Oldcastel, a host of canon clerics and prelates in his train, and Felex along with a handful of men-at-arms. They were all subordinated to the Archprelate, of course, who gave the orders. They purchased a number of ox-drawn wagons from the people of Oldcastel, spending the Temple's silver. "The plague is foremost on my mind," the archprelate told them. As though the handful of dragma used to buy the ox and wagons might have been enough to repair the dome, Robart heard the canon clerics howling at their prelate at the chapter meeting.

It was a prophetsday when they were scheduled to leave for Kingsbrook. Eiday, prophetsday, was also the time of chapter meetings amongst the lay-clerics of the temple chapter. Even from where he stood outside the chapterhouse that morning, Robart could hear their cries. "You cannot mean to depart, archprelate, when the temple more than ever needs your support!" screamed one of the teachers. Robart could not make out the prelate's slow and measured reply: the walls of double-course stone forbade it.

Saint Gaudulf's was in a turmoil after the collapse. The mason who built the dome was long dead, and could not be questioned. Highlord Marten was away fighting, and could not be called upon to grant the province's good silver to repair it. Knight-Commander Orawn was unwilling to broach the royal chests and coffers that remained in Oldcastel. "I am under strict orders to allow no one access," he told the archprelate.

The canon priests were out of their minds with worry. Chapter erupted again and again. "Archprelate! There is a hole in the sacred fabric of Saint Gaudulf's! The altar has been smashed to dust. The people cannot come in to pray. The saint's reliquary has been buried beneath the stone!"

That was something Robart had learned in the day's after the collapse: Saint Gaudulf's was not merely named for the ancient saintly king of the South, but also contained his withered right arm hidden in a secret cache of the altar. It was that reliquary that the lay brothers bemoaned. "This was the very arm with which Saint Gaudulf smote the unbelieving pagan lord Wyred!" someone called, "And now it has been claimed by the very daimoni who strove against him." This was the most common thread—the canons were convinced that the fall of Gaudulf's dome was due to no inbuilt flaw nor outside buffet, but rather had been caused by a daimon, a spirit of malice that resided in the land.

The archprelate silenced the canons with reminders of where the true troubles lay. He scolded them for their selfishness. His voice raised to such a pitch that even Robart, standing without, could hear it through the half-open door. "...your selfishness and shortsightedness astounds me, and I'm certain it astounds the Divinity above! You, divine men, who fear the evils of this world and are meant to be enlightened with the Light to Come—you are the men weeping and wailing and gnashing your teeth over a pile of stone and a long-dead arm! There are men and women dying in Kingsbrook. Dying! Do you hear? And you weep because the fabric of your temple has been rent. Provost Lanbert is dead. You will elect a new provost for me to approve when I return. The Divinity willed it. I will hear no more! NO, brother! I will hear no more!"

When the archprelate emerged from the chapterhouse, his face was streaked with tears. Nothing about the chapter meeting had been easy for the archprelate. Robart lowered his eyes so as not to offend the weeping prince of the church. Corricus said, in a husky voice, "Let us go, Master Amalric. The people of Kingsbrook await our aid."

So they went, four wagons laden with salve, unguent, bandages of linen, barrels of tempered ypocras, flour for bread, and tuns of salt-beef, all jolting and jarring behind them. To Robart's surprise, he saw Sister Soera among the canons and canonnesses journeying with them. He thought at once to make excuses to this nobly-born boy that would let him fall back amidst the traveling companions so he might speak to her, but his heart stilled his limbs and he walked from the temple close not with Sister Soera, but with Amalric Thornwood.

They passed through the city like the last specters of the Dominion leaving the city. Robart knew their road, in theory, though he himself had never made the Kingsbrook pilgrimage. Westward and north they must go, skirting the great Skraeling army. West of the River Warking, they went, and east of the Flooding.

The signs of Highlord Marten's army were everywhere. Villagers clustered along the rutted trails to watch them pass. It was clear that the Highlord had already scavenged food from the countryside. It was Archprelate Corricus who ordered some of their stores be distributed at each stop along the way. "It is our duty," he told the clerics. Amalric scowled at him, angry that the Highlord's orders were being countermanded, that precious resources were being wasted, but Robart approved. The stricken faces of children lit up when he passed down handfuls of salt-beef or bread. The smile on a little girl's lips was reward enough, and damn the Highlord.

During the entire journey, Robart was aware of Sister Soera. She didn't approach him or even so much as glance in his direction. He felt as though he might not exist. Still, even when he didn't watch her from a distance (which he did more than he cared to admit, even to himself), he always knew just where she was standing and what she was doing. She's a cannonness, he reminded himself. That was but one of the many reasons why he should leave her be. Still, his mind wouldn't allow him the pleasure.

Eventually, he approached Archprelate Corricus. It was late one evening when they were drawing very night to Kingsbrook. The caravan had camped beneath swaying shield pines and leafless hornbeams. At first Robart thought he might trouble one of the lesser prelates. There was no need to seek advice from someone as powerful as Corricus himself. After all, Robart was not nobly born or endowed with any of the traits of nobility. Corricus should hear the doubts and tribulations of the mighty, not poor Robart of Hazelby.

The Archprelate was standing outside the circle of campfire. He was clad only in the simple frock of a lowly prelate and the white linen coif of the humble, worn by women and priests. Robart thought him one of the few prelates on their journey when he began to talk. It wasn't until the Archprelate turned, a slow and sad smile in his eyes, that Robart realized his mistake.

"I am troubled, Divine, and I do not know how to stop up my doubts."

"Each of us, my child, bears the same doubts. They grow and fester in this World of Sorrows. It is only through meditation and careful thought that we can surmount them."

Robart hesitated. "My lord archprelate," he begged, "I didn't mean to disturb you. I thought—"

"Go on, child," the old man urged.

Robart found himself bowing his head and knotting his fingers together like rope. "That's just the problem, Divine. It's not something from the world. It's something in my own head. How can I solve it if it comes from within?" Corricus said nothing. For a moment Robart thought he hadn't heard, but when he looked up it was clear that the old Archprelate was waiting for Robart to go on. "Well... it's my thoughts, archprelate. They wander again and again to sinful things. To... Sister Soera."

"Is that all?" Corricus chuckled. "Our flesh is home to many infirmities, my child. Now, truly, it is normally the place of woman to feel the keen bite of lust. Even the pagans knew that, it may surprise you to hear. But man, too, may be troubled by it. The flesh is heir to this sin—it desires nothing more than to make more of itself. But come, should you not be wed and find yourself a wife to satisfy the urges of your flesh?"

"I had a wife, Archprelate," said Robart. The cool night air smelled of the campfire and dry wood. Something tickled his eyes—whether it was shame or soot, Robart did not know. "She died. But is it not unholy for a man to have the same feelings for other women? Before I came to Oldcastel, I dreamed of a lady named Aethelwyn... Can such love be anything but twisted?"

Corricus studied Robart's face. The old man's eyes were serious, his mouth grave, and his countenance severe. "My boy," he said sadly, "There is no true love to be had in this world. Now, it may go against the teachings to speak of such deep theological arguments as this with a layman like yourself, but Highlord Marten sees something in you. I confess, I have not gathered it myself, but Marten is a shrewd man, and it is his word that you are clever, and loyal besides. So let me tell you this. The only true love in this world is the love of one soul to another, and it is a sexless thing. That is but a shadow of the yearning of the soul for the Divinity; when you truly love another, you sense in them the shard of themselves that is itself divine and strives for reunification. These 'loves' you feel for your Aethelwyn or Sister Soera or your wife... they are but phantoms."

He placed a kindly hand on Robart's shoulder, but Robart felt no kindness in those words. Rather, they seemed to rob him of his very joys. The prelate's reassurances sapped his spirit. "Then I should tell my heart I do not care?"

"It does not matter what you know in your heart," said Corricus softly. "It matters what you know in your mind, and in your soul. 'Woman is a drink more bitter than poison. Her heart is a chain that winds. She takes possession of the very soul of man.' And that is from the Life of Calomanis, my son. You can take those words as truth."

It didn't matter to Robart if the words were spoken by the Prophet himself. They were cold comfort. They were wrong. Yet, who was he to question the word of an archprelate of the Faith? So he said nothing. Corricus blessed him and returned to the dark, to muse at shadows. Robart slept fitfully, dreaming of Sister Soera.

They arrived at Kingsbrook a scant few days later. It was worse than Robart dreamed in his darkest nightmares. Hundreds of the sick and dying choked the steps of the mighty temple. Rivers of bile, piss, shit, and thick, clotted blood flowed across the flagstone courtyard. The town was empty, or nearly so. The camp of the sick, which had been confined beyond the Algol Bridge when the outbreak began, now stretched all the way to the temple gate. Hundreds of priests in white and canon-teachers in black tended the crowd.

"By the Divinity," Robart whispered.

It was Amalric who gave orders when they arrived. He sounded like a true knight, rattling off instructions to the caravan. Archprelate Corricus pressed his prelates to obey, and soon they were setting up blocks behind the wagon wheels and unloading their supplies. It seemed useless to Robart. The tiny wagons were soon overwhelmed by clerics from the great temple. The need was simply too deep and urgent. He closed his eyes to those stricken with the flux and tried his best not to breathe the miasmatic air. "Let me not catch the plague, Divinity," he murmured.

The temple was impressive, even draped as it was in the stricken. Its walls were lined with marble, its domes plated with brass. Columns and pilasters marched along its edges. There were herb gardens and places for quiet reflection visible through open archways. Huge braziers burned incense and whole logs, puffing clouds of sparkling scent into the iron-gray heavens.

For a time, Robart was too busy to remember his troubles. Archprelate Corricus gave him work to busy his hands, and as he placed liniment upon winding-bandages, he could think of nothing but the labor. His eyes did not wander to Sister Soera while he heard the groanings of townsmen lost in the throes of the flux. He washed often, for Corricus would not allow him to wander about the wounded with black bile on his tunic. He held his hands steady and was taught how to use his dagger to lance festering boils, and how to strip dead meat from living.

He lost track of the days, though each night his weariness returned to him and, in the shadowy alcoves of the great temple his mind returned again to Sister Soera. Why doesn't she see me? he wondered.

Rains came. Rumor followed. Highlord Marten, beaten at Seatower, in full retreat to Oldcastel. Prince Edwerd, arrived safe in Swornstone. The Queens vacillations: to send her Eastern phalanxes south, or to keep them guarding the recently won northern borders? But autumn rains had turned the trails to cloying mud and there would be no more great armies crossing the land.

Perhaps a week passed, perhaps two. But in that time the work grew dull and repetitive and Robart found himself thinking more and more often of Sister Soera. They worked in close confines to one another, he realized. Often, when he was tending the wounds of some poor benighted soul, she was only a few hundred feet away across the courtyard. Each night he would work up the courage to approach her on the following day... and each day, the resolve evaporated like the first frost at dawn.

One afternoon he found himself trailing her almost instinctively. He knew he looked mad, and he felt the eyes of a few teachers on his back. He made pretense to be where he was, asking after the comfort of the dying penitents or pretending to inspect their flux-borne wounds. She must see me, soon, he told himself. He would simply follow behind her until she had no choice, then proclaim his surprise at the coincidence.

He knew this ruse could never work. His heart warned him of the sin. His soul balked at his determination. But he did not abandon the plan: he had already committed himself, and now she was only a handspan away. He could smell the sweat on her brow and her arms. Her hair was unkempt, spilling from beneath her wimple in corn-blonde waves. It had grown since last he saw it; still short, far shorter than Aethelwyn's, but long enough now to touch her jaw. The sweat, the grime, it only made his heart race faster.

You are a fool, Robart of Hazelby, he said. He turned away. He clutched his blood-stained knife in one hand, a relic of his excuses. There was still time to hurry off and pretend he wasn't following her. There was still time to retreat to the safety of the temple. Maybe he would go and pray before Ogust's Stone, or ask the Divinity to return Gaudulf's arm unharmed to the temple at Oldcastel. Anything but standing here, doing nothing, playing the fool so that this cannoness might lay eyes upon him. Since when was his whole life twisted and contorted around women? He had not thought of a woman since the death of his wife. Surely, this was a kind of treason.

"Robart?" her voice came to him from behind.

He didn't turn. "Eh?" he asked. Yes, fool, pretend you don't know who it is. Pretend that you weren't shadowing her like a base beast. Divinity, you'd serve the world better if you had hanged yourself... or let justice run its course when they found you with the gold.

"I'm sorry, Robart, I didn't want to disturb you. I've been trying not to. I don't want you to feel beholden to me. I mean, as some are, when they've been treated."

Now, he turned. Sister Soera smiled. "Oh, sister!" he said. "I didn't see you there." That's right. Dissemble to her. Nothing is quite as charming as a lying man. This was not his nature. It had all begun with the gold, finding the hoard in the field. Before that he had never sought to hide who he was to anyone else. He had been a straightforward, stolid man. Loyal. Reliable. That was what Highlord Marten had seen in him. He'd stood up for Lady Sorrel. Who was he now? "I didn't... I thought it would be somehow improper to bother you, sister." Well, at least that was true as far as it went. His confusion as to Soera's coldness had given him that impression.

"Not at all! But you were always in conversation with Squire Amalric or Lord Corricus... You've a great mantle of importance upon you now, one that I daren't disturb." She looked down between her feet. Embarrassed, herself? But of what? "I've thought of seeking you out these past days, but you were so peaceful..."

And she disturbed that promise of peace. "I much the same, sister," he said. His voice was running away with him, speaking things better left unsaid. "But I'm glad you changed your mind. This work shouldn't be borne by anyone alone."

Just like that, standing in the great morass of suffering before the Kingsbrook Temple, things were easy again. They were somehow safe and solved. Robart knew that he couldn't pursue Sister Soera. She was a sworn canonness. Still, he could be near her. That made him... well, not calm, but at least... happy.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Kyrian Confession: A faith template for Hârn

The Kyrian Confession has its roots in ancient Manachem theology and draws upon such sources as Kreska and Haismora for its own philosophical roots. Confessionalism took root in Manachem lands some time in the 4th century after the Founding. It spread to southern Khorassis by means of Manachite trade routes and preachers. Unlike the very insular Manachemic Faith, the Faith of Kyria (the word means Principle in Spyran) was welcoming to converts. In the year 412, the Prophet Calomanis declared himself in Temeth Ai and began openly vying for converts from among the Spyran and Khorassin population. At the same time, Manachem Anchorites founded the monastery at Bagahn and efforts were made to translate the Maroetic Texts into Spyran—this work would finally be accomplished only in the 7th century by Origentus of Bagahn.

The core tenants of the Kyrian Confession are similar to those of the Manachi faith. Confessionals recognize the existence of all other gods in the world but name them, like the drakei of old, false idols. In Manachi they are called halakhim and in Spyran daimoni, but both mean the same thing: spirit. According to the Maroetic Texts, the world is a sort of delusion: a necessary emanation of the Divine Principle. For the Divine Principle was the First Cause, being One and Utterly Simple, but necessity caused the concept of Oneness to fracture—for it was both One and Thought, Whole and Unified, the Chiefest Light. This inevitably led to the rise of the second principle, Action, and the third, Matter. These lesser Lights diffused the unity of the One and thus was the World of Suffering Born.

Daimoni are said to be these lesser Lights, obsessed with the World of Suffering and intent on keeping the poor souls of men imprisoned there. The Confession teaches that reaching for intellectual purity will allow those who die to ascend from the World of Suffering to the World of Forms. There they must wait for the time of the final battle, when the World of Forms may overtake the daimoni and release those trapped in the World of Suffering and all may return to the One.

PRAYER [20%/1PP]
Kyrians are encouraged to pray and meditate on their own time to help attune them to the World of Forms and, beyond that, the Divine Principle. If this prayer is done in a temple, there is a 30% chance of piety gain instead.

FASTING [60%/2PP] One roll is made at the end of each full day of fasting, which cannot include any other activity except prayer and sleep. The chance of accrual increases by 5% for each successive day. The maximum chance is 95%. Fasting castigates the body and brings the spirit closer to the World of Forms.

CONFESSION [80%/2PP] The Confession of grave sins may result in their alleviation. Part of Confessional Kyrianism details the forgiveness of the Divine through his agents, the prelacy. Ordained prelates must hear confession for it to count (else it is merely a prayer).

DAILY MASS [30%/2PP] Daily mass in the Faith is held at sunrise and sunset each day and lasts for thirty minutes. Services may be attended by anyone.

MONTHLY LOW MASS [60%/2PP] The monthly low mass is called the Day of Mourning and attendance at monthly low mass is expected from most laity. There are no daily masses on this day.

HIGH MASS [80%/3PP] This type of prelacy-only mass may be performed by a prelate once a month, at the prelate’s determination.

FEAST OF SOULS [90%/5PP] The first day of each year is the Feast of Souls, when the Confession celebrates the Divinity’s granting of intelligence to each and every higher soul. It lasts all day, and is accompanied by food granted by the local secular authorities.

OTHER FEAST DAYS [30%/2PP] The various listed feasts of the Confession are also chances to gain piety, but only if the penitent attends the religious portions of the feast.

TEMPLE SERVICE [90%/3PP] If the temple specifically requests the services of a penitent to do something (whatever it may be: the establishment of a safe place for the bones of a saint, or the defeat of someone in a lawsuit standing against the temple), this will trigger a temple service roll.

DONATION [90%/variable] Donations are made by lords and laity alike for the care of souls. Donations of less than 20d are usually rewarded with 1 piety. Any donation above 20d should be calculated individually based on the hardship it presents to the giver and what exactly is being given. Land is generally worth quite a bit of piety, as are repairs to the temple fabric or material to build with.

QUEST [95%/variable]

PILGRIMAGE [95%/variable] Feasible targets include Kingsbrook Temple, Clerkenwall Spyra, Bagahn, and other such holy sites. The distance of the pilgrimage will affect the number of piety points gained.

Base chance: -50%
Conditions: 0%
Retribution: 99%

Piety may only increase the chance of intervention to a maximum of 25%.

50 piety may be spent to gain a +10% bonus on a single combat skill when facing a pagan, heathen, or heretic.

100 points of piety may be spent to gain a +5% bonus on all rolls during a single combat against any pagan, heathen, or heretic foes.

50 piety may be spent to gain a +5% bonus on any one roll.

For each 50 piety spent during a mental conflict with a daimon, the penitent may gain a +10% bonus on their check. These points must be spent BEFORE the roll is made.

Ritual SB
Voi Int Aur

Skills: Drawing 2, Mathematics 3, Law 3, Heraldry 3, Second Language 2, Second Script/70+SB, Astrology 1

Teachings of the Confession
Where did the world come from?
In the beginning, there was only the Light. This was the Divine Principal, which suffused all places and things. The Divinity was thought, and thought itself. From the form of this Principal there inevitably sprang a second: the Darkness or Shadow, which is the Principal of Being and Becoming. Thus, was the world created by the natural emanations of the Divinity. The One was made into the Many, and contaminated by Action rather than Thought.

The Void was given Mass, which obeyed the Form of the Divinity. Some of the Forms took on Being from the Darkness, and they became the Daimoni, the false gods of the now-created world.

The Three Worlds
The Confession recognizes three worlds, based on the Manachite vision of the universe. There is the World of Sorrows, which is our world of gross matter. There is the World of Forms, which is where the Daimoni dwell and the world from whence sorcerers draw their power. There is, lastly, the World to Come, which is undivided union with the Divinity.

When a body perishes, its soul (its form), returns to the World of Forms. It may thence be devoured by a daimon, making them stronger. Perhaps strong enough to challenge the Divinity itself! But if they are Faithful, their pure thought will carry them on winged steps through the daimoni and to the World to Come.

The Daimoni
Daimoni exist throughout the World. They are evil spirits that seek to mislead, trick, and tie mankind to the World of Sorrows. They convince us to reproduce, to fight, and to be bound to earthly pleasure. Some of them are powerful enough to masquerade as gods.

Sorcerous Damnation
Sorcerers are guilty of a deep and abiding sin. They tie themselves to the World of Sorrows by manipulating the World of Forms for their own ends. They are, in a very real sense, usurping the position of the Divine. Their brilliant souls draw daimoni to them like moths to a flame. When they die, their souls are consumed by the daimoni… or they become new daimoni themselves, if they have done great evil.

Sorcerers may be moral people, but their sin is unforgiveable in the eyes of the Divine.

Canon Law
Disputes of Canon Law are decided by great Conclaves of the western Metropolitans and Archprelates in meeting with the Divine Hieros. There are consistory courts throughout the Temple controlled lands, where violations of canon law are treated. New decretals must come from the Hieros or the Conclave in full regalia.

What of the other Faiths?
The Manachem are our ancestors, and their faith is akin to ours. They are mistaken about a great many things, but their thinkers are wise and their people are well accepted amongst us.

The Rûmiloi are a dangerous and awful heresy born from their Manachite brothers. If they weren’t so powerful, we would exterminate them.

The Skraeling Gods and the native gods of Wyranth are daimoni. Their worship must be discouraged, undermined, and exterminated so the Confession can rule the West and prevent more from becoming food to the false gods.

The Father of Fire is a strange faith that should be suppressed.

I  -- Laity
II – canon cleric
III – prelate
IV – master prelate
V – archprelate, lord prelate
VI – metropolitan, Eastern archprelate
VII – Hieros

The Hieros, the Divine Light
The Church Elders
The Conclave (Eastern Metropolitans and Archprelates)

High Prelate (primate)
Archprelate (Bishop)

The Chief Prelate or Master Prelate
The Provost
The Prelates
The Canon Clergy or Teachers

Teachers wear black robes. All prelates wear white robes trimmed with gold. Monks and nuns wear roughspun. Archprelates wear whatever they desire.