This is written as part of my NanoWrimo 2020 Compendium of Completion.
Some oracles of the temple were suspected to be not that well connected to the deities, if at all. Some of them used a voice that, among the cloisters of their dormitory, they called The God Voice – that was, those who were remotely in control of themselves during their time on the Oracle’s chair.
Some, however, were truly taken by the god.
The one sitting in the chair tonight was a completely different person than she was when, for instance, serving dinner to the high priests. The Lesser High Priest of Evening made a note to himself: They should not have the voices of the gods doing such work. It was efficient, sure, in terms of the number of people they had working at the temple at any given time, but that did not mean it was right. Make the acolytes do it on their off time, if efficiency was required, or novices, as he’d heard were used in other temples in other countries.
She leaned forward, elbows on knees, and looked over the small group of gathered people: two acolytes (there had been three; there were always three, by tradition, but the third had thrown the Higher High Priest of Evening over his shoulder and carried him out of the room, hopefully to his rooms and not to the crypt, after said Higher Priest had offended the god), the Lesser High Priest of Evening, the duty scribe, and a secondary scribe. A handmaiden – no, an off-duty oracle again – stood by with water and had just refilled the on-duty oracle’s glass.
“The Third Restriction.” The oracle – no, Eralon, the god, in the body of the oracle, the Lesser High Priest of Evening corrected himself – hummed thoughtfully. “This one, I have to admit, I thought was rather self-evident. Beings of flesh are beset by fleshly weaknesses. That part of your education still holds?”
The Lesser High Priest of Evening cleared his throat. “Yes, your greatness. In the Book of Doneravve, Chapter 5, verse 3, it is said that you said unto Doneravve, so are being who are made of flesh, though they are vessels for the spirit, made vulnerable to fleshly ills. Mind where you place your feet, so that you step not in the path of another ill. There’s been some debate in recent years about exactly what sort of fleshly ill you were speaking of, with at least one sect believing you meant things such as lust-”
The Lesser High Priest of Evening didn’t hold to that belief, but with the god-in-the-oracle’s-body leaning forward such that her chiton was hanging loose, the worries about lust were rather forward in his mind.
“Doneravve. Doneravve. Oh, yes, I remember her. She was a good one, I have to say. I did enjoy chatting with her.” The god in the oracle smiled fondly. “Of course it would be to her that I left that restriction.”
The Lesser High Priest of Evening was doing a decent job of not staring, but he could hear the duty scribe’s pen scratching behind him. This was going to start a whole new War of the Book, wasn’t it? And there was no-one who could say that the god had not spoken on the matter-
Even as the thought crossed his mind, the Lesser High Priest of Evening knew he was wrong. Yes, people would say the god had not spoken. People who had been there would say the god had not spoken. He had not seen happen, not in a situation where he was as absolutely sure as he was now, but he’d heard of it, more than a few times, in the classes he’d taken to become a High Priest of Evening.
“However, I do believe that Fazemis, She Who is Hope, also spoke to someone about the Third Restriction? When we were laying these down, we did try to make sure they were heard by engaging in some redundancy.”
“Beg pardon, most holy lord Eralon, he from whom all knowledge flows-”
“Now I’m pretty sure that’s not one of my titles, and it’s inaccurate at least twice, but you were saying-”
“Could you please repeat – for the duty scribes you see – what you just said about redundancy? It will serve to clear up any number of arguments and debates – although it will likely cause a few as well.”
“Ah, yes. Prophets were never my chosen method. You lose so much in translation, and while this language you are using now has more nuance than it did back then, there is always that problem, that the language we speak is ill-suited for your people’s mouth-shapes and vocal chords, and there are concepts we have for which you have no words – and in the other direction, too, I believe. But let me see.”
The oracle turned to the duty scribes. The Lesser High Priest of Evening turned, too. Duty scribes were so rarely called on to handle such a fraught and complicated situation.
But now both were sitting, the handmaiden – the off-duty Oracle – leaning over their shoulders to look at their writings. Both had paused, pens up, looking at the Lesser High Priest of Evening and at the god-in-the-oracle.
“Are you ready? Put this apart from the rest, as I believe you write down everything that comes from My oracles’ mouths when they sit here?”
One duty scribe wrote that down. The other nodded and marked, quickly but, the Lesser High Priest of Evening had no doubt, very beautifully, a line between the previous text and the long scroll of paper fitted into his lap desk.
“Good. Now. When We, the gods of Foros and the Cloud Kingdoms, lay down the Restrictions originally, we chose to ensure a better chance of retention and of comprehension by using redundancy.”
“That sounds – ahem. Thank you, your most graciousness.” It sounded very well organized, the Lesser High Priest of Evening hadn’t said. It was not his place to judge the gods of Foros.
“That doesn’t sound like one of my titles either, but I’ll take it. Now, Fazemis, She Who is Hope, and her commentary on the Third Restriction?”
The Lesser High Priest of Evening had to struggle to remember. The books of Fazemis were not among the more favored in the temple at the moment.
While he was trying to remember, one of the acolytes stepped forward, carrying a hand-copied version of one of the treatises of Porallo, to whom Fazemis had given many prophecies.
“Ah, thank you.” That was – was – well, he was an acolyte. Stecker. That was his name, or at least the name until he chose what his long-term role in the temple would be. “Thank you, Stecker.” He was about to flip through when Stecker opened the little pamphlet to a little past mid-way. “Thank you,” the Lesser High Priest of Evening repeated, and made a note to ask why the acolytes were studying the books of Fazemis. Later.
“Let me see.” He cleared his throat twice and studied the pages. “Ah. And it came upon the night that Fazemis came to the prophet Porallo again, and I, the scribe Dosmuz, I had sat up with Porallo as was my duty.”
That was one of the reasons the Lesser High Priest of Evening disliked the books of Fazemis. Most scribes kept themselves out of the work, but the five who had followed Porallo around seemed like they were trying to create the books of Dosmuz et al rather than of Porallo. “Ah, ahem, this is the Second Book of Porallo, Chapter 15, starting with verse 12.”
“Get to it,” the god-in-the-oracle muttered. “There’s too much padding.”
“We’re taught, your most brilliant light-”
“I like that one.”
“-that even the placement of a comma can have great meaning, and to read all of the words, not just those we deem important. But as these words come from the gods, where would you like me to begin?”
“With the part that says this restriction is.”
“Ahem.” He ran his finger above the text – damn Dosmuz and his desire to write seven verses about himself and three about Porallo for every one about the speech of the gods. “This restriction is meant to keep you safe in those times when the world is unsafe. Be mindful of your waste, and be mindful of that which you ingest, and put not the two in the same place. Ah, but there is some discussion that this was a metaphor, because Porallo was known to be fasting and thought about food all the time then, and some of his more colorful prophecies have turned out to be, well, only accurate if you strip away the food discussion.”
The god put both hands over his face; that is, the god-in-the-oracle put both of her hands over her face.
“We do everything in our power to make sure that very basic instructions are made clear, and what do you people do? You turn it all into something about lust and something – some sort of metaphor. No. No, no, no. The third restriction does not mean to avoid lust. It is not any sort of metaphor. It means – have you heard you don’t shit where you eat?”
The Lesser High Priest of Evening choked on a startled gasp and then lost his breath on a genuine cough that threatened to bend him over until he coughed himself right over the red line in the tile. An acolyte – the other one, Yobu – grabbed him by the hips and pulled him back until he could be handed a glass of water, and until he could get the water down and straighten out again.
“Yes, your eminence-”
“Where do you get all these titles? No, don’t answer that now. I will ask again later.”
The god had liked your most brilliant light, so the Lesser High Priest of Evening settled on that one. “Your most brilliant light – as the book of Danshô taught us to call you,” he snuck in, “yes, I have heard that phrase. Generally it suggests you keep unsavory activities away from your place of business and your home.”
The god-in-the-oracle stood up and waved his – the oracle’s – hands at the Lesser High Priest of Evening. “You people!” he shouted. “You people!”