Vozhdya High Temple
The solemn shadows of the Church of True Light temple are kept at bay by the soft glow of oil lanterns that flicker and gleam in iron frames attached to the walls of quarried gray stone. Parishioners enter through an arched doorway from the town of Marble Grove, passing tapestries of blue, green and yellow velvet on their way to the biinwood columns that flank the aisle that leads into the main worship chamber. Within that chamber are twelve pews, six on each side of the aisle.
The aisle ends at an open area for the temple leader to give his condemnations of the Shadow and his praise for the Light.
The hour is late and the air cold, but the Temple of True Light lies warm and glowing at the outskirts of Broselov Circle, an inviting haven to those seeking solace or consultation with the Dean and priest here. Brother Yain is here, sitting in the front row by an elderly woman to whom he speaks in low tones and friendly gestures.
Damiante Nillu enters the Temple at Vodzyha and gestures for her guard to remain near the door. Her steps are quiet and unhurried, not wishing to disturb those in devotion. Her skirts softly swish and she searches the room for a priest or acolate to speak with.
Be it by good perception or chance, but Yain notices the Baroness upon her entering. He does not abandon the old woman he is speaking to to hasten to the noblewoman, however; only after another lengthy and hushed exchange does he get up, laying one hand on the woman's shoulder as a reassuring gesture in parting. Then he crosses the aisle with deerskin-silenced steps, approaching Damiante while his hands habitually flow into opposite sleeves.
Damiante removes her cloak and folds it neatly over her arm, her movements betraying little of her impatience. Seeing a priest approaching, she curtsies. "Pardon, Brother," she says in a low voice. "I seek the Dean named Yain Zahir."
Yain Zahir bows deeply and humbly, smiling vaguely as he straightens. "You have found him," he says, perhaps betraying a hint of amusement. Glancing doorwards to the guard and back, his expression changes from mild bemusement to one of understanding, and he nods. "Baroness. Yes... I received your letter. How might I help you?"
"Yes," says the woman. "I am Damiante Nillu, Brother Zahir. If it is not too late to speak to you about my concerns, I am anxious to hear your advice on the increase of Shadow in our Realm." She looks up at him, though she stands at her full, nearly 5 foot height. A smile dances across her lips and eyes.
"Please," Yain says with a small gesture of his hand, which he withdraws from the sleeve for that purpose. "It is simply Brother Yain. I hold no ties to a House safe for having been born with noble blood in my veins. And even that is secondary when one takes the robes." He makes a thoughtful face, and eventually motions aside to a pew. "Let us sit while you explain what it is exactly you seek the advice of the Church in."
Damiante inclines her head and settles into the pew Yain has indicated. "The Baron Lomassa, my husband said he spoke to you recently when he was here for the Duke's tournament," she explains. "I was unable to attend since there are so many details left to finish at our new home. Although he meant the story in passing, I took it to heart, and a sign that perhaps I should speak to you. These are dark times, and I have only recently come to the dias of Hawk's Aerie. I am anxious to guide and protect my people, but this new threat does bring me concern."
Yain Zahir quietly sits next to the Baroness, folding his hands and settling them in his lap. He nods silently while Damiante speaks, taking her words in. "Yes, I spoke to your husband," he confirms. "There was an unfortunate misunderstanding involved due to which he mistook me for speaking with hidden threats to him, which I was unable to clear up then. To find a Tainted in one's closer circle of relatives -- and your husband is, after all, of East Leg lineage -- is a shock, and the unsuspectedness of this upsets one's mind such that for a while it will percieve dangers where none are as though to make up for having not noticed the other more imminent danger before. It is very common, your Ladyship; but he is not to blame for feeling thus, of course."
A look of relief passes over the Baronnes's face and she nods her head. "Thank you, Brother," she says. "That does set my mind at ease. I did not know Dianna very well when we lived near East Leg, but I will admit that it was with great sorrow that I heard of her plight. Tell me, are the rumors true? Is she Tainted? She seemed such a sweet child when I knew her."
The priest nods, lifting his folded hands from his lap to rest them on the pew in front. "The fact that she enticed not only her uncle, of whom such behaviour may have been expectable, but also the Duke of Vozhdya, a close cousin to the Emperor himself, as well as the Surrector, Lord Mikin, and swayed these men from acting in common sense to partaking in such haphazard actions to her own benefit, is strong evidence for her using Shadowy powers to influence their minds. First her uncle, the Duke of East Leg himself, who held her as we know as his favourite; and so on, aiming ever higher, until she even aimed to overcome the will of the Emperor himself. Light bless that she failed, for Fastheld would be in grave danger otherwise."
Damiante's eyes darken, trouble lacing their edges, yet she also nods. "Light keep us," she murmurs, placing a hand over her heart. "What can I do to prevent such from happening in my city, Brother? I am not well versed in Church teachings being a simple noble woman, and not one called to serve more directly."
"In truth, your Ladyship," Yain says solemnly, "There is little you can do to prevent such things. The Taint may slumber in someone you seem to know well, and completely startle you; such as happened in this incident. It is the Orders who stand in vigil against these things, but though the arm and eye of Mother Church never tires, she cannot be everywhere at once. Therefore is it important that you do not dismiss strange tales you might hear from the common people of your domain; though superstition often gives us wrong leads, it is better to find one's fears unfounded than not investigate and then be surprised."
Damiante is attentive as Yain gives his advice. "Superstition," she repeats. "Yes, that concerns me too. I don't want a holy crusade to start in my city because one neighbor is jealous of another neighbor's good fortune and blames it on the color of the moon." She taps a finger to her temple as if in deep thought. "Tell me, I've often wondered, if there is an order of precedence between the Church and the Emperor. Does the Light Maiden hold equal or greater power in our land?" She seems sincerely interested, her face open and curious.
Yain Zahir lifts his hands in a defensive manner, though he smiles. "I cannot speak on topics of politics that are beyond my reach," he says simply. "But Light Maiden Iestyn is but the head of the Orders, not Mother Church herself. She -- and her Right and Left Hand -- sits in the Corona with the five Patrons and their two advisors, representing the Guilds and the Emperor respectively; and of course, the Aurora, Light bless him, presides over the Corona."
Damiante blushes and drops her head a bit, staring first at the pew before her, then to the altar. "Forgive my impertenance, Brother," she says. "Who is it then that leads the Mother Church? The Emperor? I only press you so I may understand. I was taught to lead once my mother passed from this world, and find comfort in knowing rank in addition to character." She purses and licks her lips, a nervousness evident on her reddened cheeks.
"Why, the Aurora, of course," Yain explains patiently, though with a slightly chiding air. "Aurora Manellas has been leading us since well before my birth; and, if I recall his disposition, he would be pleased to know he was nearly forgotten. 'To lead the way gently' was the motto under which he put his elevation to this position."
"Forgive me, Brother," she says quietly. "I barely understand the workings of the nobility, let alone the Church itself. Both hold such great power in this land, in economy and in military. Power I hope that is greatly tempered by wisdom, for in these dark times, split second decisions could mean the creation or destruction of our people." Damiante turns back to Yain and leans forward, her braid falling over one shoulder. "My mother Siobhan was a great leader whose wisdom I wished I had taken more to heart when she was alive. I sometimes wish I could speak to her still." Her eyes become troubled again. "Is it wrong to wonder if she still exists, somewhere beyond our ken?"
Yain Zahir gives Damiante a deeply serious look, bordering on slight disdain. "Your Ladyship, I see that theology was not given the proper place in your upbringing, which would lead me to question the wisdom of your late mother, bright be her light, were it not unbecoming to doubt the deceased. Your mother's inner light, Baroness, has gone back and rejoined the larger Light that guides us all. She, like all who have gone before her, is in every guiding torch and every warming fireplace, every consoling candle and every cleansing pyre."
Damiante bows her head and clasps her hands in her lap, a feeling of chastisement surrounding her. "My mother was a great woman," she says quietly. "But I was not raised by her, given her duties at Hawk's Aerie. I was fostered to another noble family and only saw her a few times a year. I loved her, craved her company, and I seek to be like her, but it is true. My education had great gaps, but this is not her fault, but my own, I am sure." Damiante sighs, then looks back to Brother Yain, pain in her eyes, but also a determination. "I will remember your words, Brother, when I am lost and at a crossroads of decision."
"You would do well in doing so," Yain says with a nod, returning to one of his earlier thin but warm smiles. "You will find great solace in the simplest teachings of the Church, like the simplest fire can warm you the most when you feel chilled to the bone."
Damiante visibly relaxes and she nods. "You have been most kind, this night, Brother," she says. "Patient and wise. If I may ask one last question of you? I wish to bring some comfort to my husband about Dianna."
Yain Zahir nods, gesturing briefly before folding his hands again. "Go ahead," he says, "Ask."
Damiante heaves a sigh, as if gathering strength. "When Dianna's life ends," she says slowly. "And if she is truly Tainted, will Light forget her even as the Dawn forgets Night? Or in finally paying the ultimate price for her transgressions can she finally be at peace with Light?"
With a drawn-out exhalation Brother Yain leans back in the pew. "That, your Ladyship," he says solemnly, "is a matter of much debate among the clergy. Some say the one; others, the other. Personally, I think that once the Taint has been burned away and the inner light rekindled, it goes to where it ought to go after death. In some cases, when the Taint is too strong, has had too long to fester, then that man's light is truly lost forever, and his fate deserves to be subject of mourning."
Damiante nods. "Thank you, Brother Yain," she says. "You have brought me much comfort this night." She stands and curtsies. "I should retire for the night. I hope to visit with his Grace in the morning, since I was not able to see him at his event last week." She smiles and looks around the Temple. "A beautiful place. I shall visit again when I am in the City."
Yain Zahir rises as well, brushing his robes out as he inclines his head in response to the Baroness' curtsey. "You are more than welcome to do so, your Ladyship," he says, smiling. "I welcome all who come to seek the Light."
With a swift arc of her hand, Damiante settles her braids back to where they belong, then sweeps her cloak over her shoulders. "Light Keep and Guide Thee," she says repeating an oft heard phrase from her youth, now layered with new understanding. She gestures to her body guard who steps forward, bows as she passes, then follows behind her near her left shoulder. Together they walk the remainder of the hall, where the guard pushes the door open and allows her to step into the night.