Northern Heart, Home

Chapter III

Allen was awake at dawn. He’d slept on one of the spare beds in the infirmary to keep an eye on Kilin and Jaella. When he woke, the two of them were still sleeping. There was little he could do to rush them toward consciousness, but he would stop by later and check on them. The physicians would take care of them until then.

He returned to the barracks and jumped into the cold showers that served the barracks from a cistern on the roof; then shaved and dressed and headed to Supply to tell Captain Felim of his orders for the day.

When he arrived, not long after dawn, the Captain was already in place and sifting through the interminable piles of paperwork that served the legions. He seemed to be a fixture behind the desk, as much a part of the room as the walls and the floor.

After hearing about his orders to report to the Secretary that morning, the captain dismissed him with a nod and a wave.

“Come back if you have time. These forms come in faster than I can send them back out.”

“Yes, sir.” Allen saluted and left.

The Secretary’s offices were near the rear of the palace, on the northern side. The northern wing was a long sprawling hall built some centuries before that served as the older section of quarters for palace officials. There was a newer wing attached to it, on the northeast, but the older wing had the better view of the palace grounds and larger, more opulent rooms. Allen had been to both wings many times since he had arrived to Rylar, carrying messages or forms for the 9th Legion, but he had never visited the Secretary before.

A stone arch of a doorway held a wooden portal that was decorated and reinforced by brass and iron moldings. It was currently open, and Allen walked through.

A deep red carpet with abstract designs covered a hardwood floor that must have been laid over the natural stone, and half a dozen chairs surrounded an oblong table to the left of the door. Straight ahead of him was a wall. Wooden pedestals and decorative weaponry decorated the room, set into alcoves or mounted on the walls.

Around the corner from the doorway itself, he found a polished desk with a clerk sitting behind it who looked up as he approached. The clerk was a thin middle-aged man with short brown hair and the distinctive bearing of prior military service.

“Lieutenant Delais?” the clerk asked, although it did not sound much like a question.

“Yes,” Allen replied. “I’m here on the Secretary’s orders. I was told to pick up a message here to take to the College of the Priests.”

Before he was finished speaking, the clerk held out to him a brown envelope with a red seal.

“Here’s the message, Lieutenant. Just give it to the porter at the College. He’ll see that it goes to the right place.”

After he took it, the clerk nodded to him, and went back to the ledger he was writing in.

Allen slipped the message into the pocket of his uniform’s coat and nodded to the clerk as he left. The Secretary’s help seemed a little abrupt, but he was at least efficient.

The College of the Priests was still in the inner wall of Rylar, but it was almost as far from the palace as was possible. It was a towering edifice that held sway over a large park filled with walking paths and statuary of the Gods. Many of the areas in the park were shrines to specific deities, with either a statue, a plaque, or at least a name carved into some piece of stone or wood. Petitioners would leave small offerings at the shrines and the acolytes of the priests would collect them and tend to the park and the shrines. Access to the College itself was closely kept, and rarely offered to anyone who was not either a noble or a wealthy merchant.

Throughout the town there were many temples and shrines, and most of them were connected to the College, but the College itself was the training ground for Aciel’s priesthood and the center of religious studies. If knowledge of the deity who had given Allen his mark were to be discovered anywhere, it was nowhere more likely than in the archives of the College.

He had occasionally thought about visiting the College, but had always rejected the idea in favor of visiting specific temples. He had not thought the College would help him without either a hefty donation or a noble lineage.

Now, with the King’s order, the College presented the best chance of understanding the ivy vine in leaf that wrapped around the corner of his left eye. Perhaps they would even be able to tell him something of his past.

When he presented the Secretary’s seal to the porter at the entrance to the College, he was led inside and asked to wait in the foyer on the other side. The double doors that barred the College were heavy wood nearly a foot thick, reinforced with steel bands and grooves for a bar that could drop in place. He wondered what the door was designed to obstruct. The people in the town were unlikely to attack the College. It was known for its learning, and the stigma of ill favor from the gods offered a better protection than any wood and steel. Perhaps the College had been originally built for a more militant purpose than collecting knowledge.

The foyer was a long hallway that stretched thirty paces from the doors until it ended in a blank wall. Side doors and pillars ran in orderly progression toward the far wall and the foyer was decorated along its length with statuary and pedestals, some of which held urns of flowers. Paintings and tapestries hung on the walls displaying scenes of divine acts. Images of holy wars and conquerors riding astride through the streets of the town while the people cheered and scattered flowers seemed to be as common here as scenes of divine favor and healing.

The tapestries along one section of wall caught his attention. Seven tapestries were set side-by-side, nearly touching. The scenes from each continued into the next.

In the first scene, a white charger bearing a muscular golden-skinned man reared into the air. Warriors were scattered on the ground beneath his hooves and weapons lay broken across the earth. Only the blade the man held high and victorious was whole and flames spread out around it. His hair was shoulder-length and dark, and wind-swept. A gold coronet held it back from his brow. A gold sunburst dominated the sky above the battlefield.

The sunburst and the martial atmosphere were key enough to whom the tapestry represented, although Allen had never seen the image before. The sunburst was the symbol of Solen, Telorian God of War. His sunburst was popular on amulets among the Guard, as it was with all fighting men. The other six tapestries had to be other gods. But there were far more than seven gods worshipped in Aciel. Was there something special about this tapestry and the other six that singled them out or was it simply a choice of the artist?

The next tapestry showed a woman with green hair and pale skin, dressed in a simple, long white gown embroidered along the sleeves and hem with roses and tangles of thorns. In front of her was shattered earth and scattered flowers, yet behind her a trail of red roses sprang up in her step, and the earth was green and verdant. She held one hand at waist-height, and in it a rose blossomed. Her name was Anya, and she was the Goddess of Healing. Her symbol was the rose. She was very popular in the city, and everywhere in Aciel. There had been a small shrine to her in the Guard infirmary where he’d left Kilin and Jaella. And the beds of those who fell ill were carved with roses to encourage her favor.

The border of roses on Anya’s tapestry trailed into the next. The red roses shifted to blue, and the green leaves to white. Sunny fields speckled with farmers and green growing grains stood behind the woman foregrounded in the image. She wore a white dress slashed with blue, and around her waist was a blue and white sash that was tied with a complex knot. Children joined hands and danced around her in a ring. Pairs of doves swooped in the air. As with the first two, Allen knew her. She was Alyssa, the Goddess of Peace. She was a constant figure in Aciel’s prayers, and almost as popular among the Guard as her brother Solen. Her symbol was a blue and white knot.

The birds and fields of her tapestry gave way to forests and glens, to falcons and stags. Another massive man clad in green and black sat astride a black horse, and he bore a quiver bristling with arrows on his back. He held a bow in his hands. A javelin, a boar spear, and a sword were driven into the earth by his mount’s hooves. A leather bracer covered his left forearm, and a single long leather gauntlet hung from his belt. He wore a helm behind which his eyes and face were only dark spaces, and great stag’s antlers branched from his brow. Black and white dogs lay at his mount’s hooves, and a slain stag was slung across the back of his saddle. Cerias, the God of the Hunt. He was not known for his kindness to strangers. And it was said that to enter his woods at night was to become his prey.

Allen had asked more questions about Cerias than any other god, when he had begun searching for answers to the mark above his eye. He had seemed the god with the closest connection to the forest where Allen had arrived; the one most similar to the ivy above his eye and the hawk that was always in his dreams. But Cerias’ symbol was a stag’s antlers, and everything Allen had heard about him made him sound like an unpleasant companion. He was popular among the nobles for his patronage in hunting.

Then the shadowed forests gave way again to sun-lit fields burgeoning with ripening crops. One man worked in them alone, but the fields stretched into the horizon. He was deeply tanned, and wore a dark bronze tunic and trews. Sheaves of harvested grain stood in the field behind him, and he held a sickle in his hand. He was bent toward the crops and his back was toward the viewer, but his head was turned to look over his shoulder and he had a welcoming smile on his face. Corian, the God of the Harvest, patron of farmers. He was worshipped in every corner of the land.

The sixth scene was of Kaisa, the Goddess of Passion and Luck. She was golden-skinned with long, dark hair, and wore a close-fitting red dress slit up the leg. A mischievous smile tilted her lips. She reclined on one side atop a red couch in the center of a hazy glade. Mists rolled across the ground and swirled around her legs and the trees. A gold flame danced above her outstretched palm. She was prayed to for passion, for inspiration, and for luck. And she was cursed as often as she was praised. There was a saying, “to be as fickle as Kaisa,” that was often uttered by those who worshipped her.

The last tapestry was somber, and the colors of the first six faded here to stark black and white. The forest gave way to tombstones scattered across barren earth, and a great white gate towered unsupported into the sky. Grey and black mists rose from the earth and swirled around the tombstones and around the hem of a dark robe worn by a pale man. He was young, but tall and gaunt, and his eyes were wild, without white or color. They were spirals of grey and black. His skin was pale, and his hair was the striated color of ash and charcoal. One handed rested on the gate. Yoneth, the God of Death and Fate. He was said to be without humor or mercy…and completely mad. He could see the future and the past, and he knew the limit of all things. The only company he was said to favor was that of other immortals, for only they would not die. His mists were the smoke of funeral pyres, bearing the souls of the dead to his gate. Allen had no interest in meeting him.

The gods depicted on these tapestries were some of the most respected in Aciel, but it was a strange selection. Why Corian, but not Holter, the God of Planting? Or Alyssa, but not Bosel, the God of Physicians? There were easily a hundred gods worshipped in Rylar alone, and more in the countryside and the South. Why had the artist chosen these seven to depict?

He had wandered closer to the tapestries when a woman’s voice spoke from behind him. “Beautiful, aren’t they?”

His muscles jumped at the noise, and his hand reached toward his sword belt, but he restrained himself immediately and tried to hide it. He had temporarily forgotten about the rest of the room. She must have come through one of the doors on the opposite wall. He turned slowly to greet her.

A woman, probably a priestess given that he was in the College, was walking toward him from across the room. A door behind her stood ajar. She was older than her voice had sounded. From the timbre, he had expected a woman in her middle age. But this woman’s hair was nearly all grey and lines edged the corners of her eyes. Despite the lines though, her face was smooth. She was wearing a simple white dress and a she had wrapped a shawl patterned in reds and browns around her shoulders. There was a sharp and precise air to her movements as she approached and watched him, a bit like a teacher lecturing who would not accept any nonsense from her students. Her head was tilted at a slight angle that said she was examining him.

“Fantastic work,” he agreed. “But why these seven and not the other gods?”

She stopped beside him and ran her eyes over the tapestries. “Only here for a minute, and already you search out our secrets?” She paused, but didn’t wait for him to reply. “It’s a simple answer to your question, and one that should be better known.”

She nodded at the tapestries in front of them. “Those seven tapestries depict the seven true gods of Teloria. The others are nothing but figments from the imagination of their worshippers.”

She turned to face him and her eyes rested for a moment on his face. Then she frowned at him. She reminded him a bit of his grandmother.

“Easily shown, as you should have known before you came here; and as the king should have known before he sent you to us.” She walked closer to him and reached up to rub her thumb over the mark by his eye. She scowled at him. “Every mark ever given has come from one of those gods. We know of the gods’ symbols because we know the marked, and we keep track of their whereabouts if we can.”

“Yet my mark is not the symbol of any of those seven gods,” Allen replied. Nor was it the mark of any god recognized by any temple that he had visited.

“So it would seem.” She hadn’t yet moved her hand from his face, and she rubbed harder at the mark by his eye, causing him to jerk his head away from her. She might have been elderly, but she had strong hands.

“Stop moving,” she snapped at him, and caught his head with both hands. She went back to rubbing at the mark, and after a moment muttered something under her breath.

Allen suffered it in silence. This seemed a strange sort of divination.

He had thought she was a friendly, if stern priestess when she arrived, but she had become agitated and intent on the mark at the corner of his eye. It seemed she was trying to rub the mark off his skin. What was bothering her so much about it?

He jerked himself out of her grip when she scratched at the mark.

She moved closer to him and reached for his head again, but he grabbed her wrists in his hands. The other priests and priestess he’d met in the town had been interested in the mark, and despite their lack of knowledge had tried to answer his questions about it. None of them had ever attacked it before.

“Ma’am, please…stop,” he said. “I don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, but it doesn’t seem to be doing anything.”

She tugged on her wrists to free them from his grasp, but half-heartedly. “Impertinent scoundrel. Release me. I will report you to the King’s court as soon as I get that paint off. I do not know how you fooled him into sending you here, but you are patently a pretender. There has never been a mark like that, and there never will be. There are seven gods! Seven!” Her voice escalated as she spoke until she nearly shouted the final words at him.

Allen blinked at her tone, and dropped her wrists. Strange, and vehement…. Did she have some vendetta against other gods? He felt the mark stir beneath his skin, stretching its tendrils through his body, as it did when he was blessing something. It was proof enough for him.

“Ma’am, whatever else I may be, I am not a pretender.” Far from it. The god who had marked him might be unknown, but there was little doubt that the mark was real. At least to him. He refused to accept the alternate explanation that he was absolutely crazy and just imagined everything that happened to him.

“I have had this mark for three and a half years, and it has caused me trouble the entire time. If I could get rid of it and return home, I would.” In a heartbeat. If he were able to see his mother and sister again, and return to his home and old world where there were no gods or marks, he would have done it. “I do not know how I can prove to you that it is true, but I have felt it live beneath my skin, and I think it has been the cause of other things that I have felt or seen.”

“Pfah!” she spat at him. Then she shuddered slightly as she struggled to calm down. She turned and strode away from him across the room. “Follow me,” she said over her shoulder. “We will see what the council thinks.”

This was hardly how he had expected his visit to the College of the Priests to go. He had thought a solemn acolyte would conduct him to a dusty archive, where there would be a small army of priests poring over their tomes in bad light, and after a lengthy duration of muttering and discussion, they would tell him what they knew about the mark. A crazy old priestess trying to rub his skin off had not been part of the plan. Despite her reaction to the mark, he followed her. He had the King’s order to carry out. And despite her response to his mark he was still hopeful that the College might offer him an answer.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 17th, 2008 at 11:35 pm and is filed under A Northern Heart. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

18 Responses to “Chapter III”

  1. anon y mouse Says:

    YAY! An update.

    “… Paintings and tapestries hung on the walls.” I wonder what comes next! 😀

    A part of me is glad there is an update, no matter how short; a part of me wishes that you had waited and posted the whole thing. But, ultimately, the choice of when to update is yours. Thanks for this (partial) installment.

  2. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    I’ll get the rest up in a bit. Summer job is very distracting. Think of this fragment stopping in the middle as you having been interrupted while reading. 😉

  3. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    There. More or less in a respectable form.

  4. nabi al-raml Says:

    Excellent. One of my favorite parts of any new universe I read about is the history and the religion. I like that your descriptions not only include names and provenience, but also colors and symbols. And the way the difference between the tapestries gets blended in between. Also, yay for crazy priestesses; they always prove interesting. Is she a heretic (slash fundamentalist/purist) for saying there are only 7? Is the whole College? Why didn’t any of the priests in the street say anything about it?

    I am, of course, eagerly waiting the next update.

  5. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    All shall be revealed!

    No, wait….

    “Most” shall be revealed!

    Scratch that…. Edit: “Most of the events necessary for this next chapter will be revealed!”

    What would be the fun in telling the whole story now? Finding out is half the entertainment.

  6. anon y mouse Says:

    It took me a bit to find my place, but that’s ok. I liked the analogy of being interrupted while reading, very apt. 🙂

    “Wars and conquerors born on horseback”, that sounded weird until I figured it out; I think it needs an “e” on the end to mean
    what you intend.

    “It seemed she was trying to rub the mark of his skin,” off his skin?

    It would be interesting to know the symbols for all the gods. I don’t think they were all clearly stated: symbol = this. But, it’s probably not important.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    Fixed that “of” earlier. Changed the first sentence around again; maybe it makes clearer sense now. Verb at the end does draw it out.

    Symbols not mentioned explicitly: Yoneth: a grey spiral. Corian: a sheaf of grain. Kaisa: a gold flame.

  8. anon y mouse Says:

    Thanks! Like I said, the symbols probably aren’t important, but it’s nice to know.

    I loaded the page a while ago, and then got distracted by something else. Ironically, I’m not a good speller, but can sometimes spot things that look wrong. I try to point them out the way I’d like them pointed out to me.

  9. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    Oh, I don’t mind. Half the time I’ve just forgotten or been distracted while writing it and wrote something I didn’t intend. I don’t read closely while revising immediately; it takes a couple of days before I really go back and pay attention to things like “born” versus “bourn” or “borne.” So thanks for pointing them out.

  10. anon y mouse Says:

    You’re welcome. It was kind of weird that I even noticed the “born” thing; I just wasn’t sure if it was the right one and did a search to check. I understand just wanting to get it written, and then editing it later.

  11. Gudy Says:

    I’m not sure the priestess is crazy. Shaken? Absolutely. Scared? Possibly. I read her accusation of Allen being a fraud as a form of denial…

    IIRC, there was supposed to be an eighth god, banned, and forever prevented from communicating with potential followers. If Allen’s mark is real and doesn’t belong to any of the other seven, that might mean the impossible has happened and number eight is coming back. Seeing as he was kinda disruptive the first time around, I can see why the priesthood of the remaining seven would Not Be Amused…

  12. MeiLin Miranda Says:

    Well done! Me with the mythology, you know. 🙂 Go Chad!

  13. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    Thanks, MeiLin. 😉

  14. nabi al-raml Says:

    Chad- Well of course I don’t want you to reveal everything…I just like to ponder. And who doesn’t like rhetorical questions?

    Gudy- I didn’t mean crazy like mental institution crazy, but more like aaaaahhh!crazy, if that makes sense.

  15. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    Oh, I was just being funny, Nabi. 😉 I like the questions. I actually wrote that comment in a series of edits, since I kept changing my mind…perhaps I should have noted that.

    I called her “a crazy old priestess” myself, in the last paragraph. We’ll have to see if she’s well-intentioned or not.

  16. Ryan Says:

    A fun chapter. The priestess is rather too believable, unfortunately. Religious people who’d rather affirm their own rectitude than see the evidence before them are a curse.

  17. Robert Gould Says:

    Glad to see an update!

    I also enjoyed reading about the gods and history of the world you’ve created. I think it is the most important aspect of world-building – creating believable (in as much as fantasy can be believable..) structures and characters, which is what you’ve done here.

    As for my own story, God knows when it will be updated 😉

  18. V Says:

    Near the start of this chapter I had the idea to queue up some Lord of the Rings soundtrack.

    GREAT idea. Incredible. LOTR:ROTK “The Fields” was a beautiful match for this chapter. I expect the soundtrack will go well with the rest of the story, too 🙂

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