This is written as part of my NanoWrimo 2020 Compendium of Completion.
The god Eralon in the oracle’s body was angry. He was shouting.
The Lesser High Priest of Evening took a prudent step backwards, making sure that Yobu, Stecker, the clerks, and the handmaiden were also well back. The god-in-the-oracle was not supposed to be able to smite anyone past that red tile line, but then again, there were a lot of things the god-in-the-oracle wasn’t known to do and speaking conversationally with a priest and standing up to shout at that priest were definitely on the list.
(The oracles were not supposed to be able to stand up while under the drugs used to summon the gods unto them at all. That was, the Lesser High Priest of Evening knew, although it was not common doctrine, part of the point of the drugs which were used. If one was going to speak to one’s gods, it helped to protect oneself in case the gods were irked with one.)
“If I gave you a commandment saying do not stare directly into the sun, you would look at the literal sun while claiming that somehow what was meant was you shall not look at the high priest or something stupid.”
The Lesser High Priest of Evening cleared his throat. He did not want to be smote. He liked living, and he liked being a Priest of the Evening, and if Eralon did not take the first from him, the shame of being smote might take the second from him, and then where would he be?
He was rather too old to start over again as an acolyte or a water-carrier, and rather too attached to the life of a priest to start over as a layperson. The oracles were always female, and the Lesser High Priest of Evening rather enjoyed being male. And the Duty Scribes – well, they would not have him if Eralon had shown him displeasure.
“The book of Hadoirn, your most brilliant light, Chapter One, Verses four and five. It’s not said to have come from you, but from Kokaru unto the prophet Hadoirn.”
“Of course, of course. Of course there is, by the Clouds Themselves. Please tell Me that there is at least a sect which believes in a literal interpretation of Our Words.”
“There is indeed, most brilliant light. The Textualists. I could – I could find one for you…”
“No, that would not be so helpful. They already know that the Words of Our prophets were meant to be literal. No, it’s you to whom I should be-”
The grand doors to the chamber of the oracle slammed open, interrupting the god-in-the-oracle. The Lesser High Priest of Evening took a polite and cautious step backwards and to his left, so that he could look at the oracle while still seeing who – or what – came through the door.
First, he saw Yobu and Stecker turning to face the door, their spears coming down. They were acolytes of the sort who might always be acolytes, but they were very good at that job.
Then their spears came back up and they bowed and, a moment more slowly, stepped out of the way.
“What exactly is going on here?”
The Lead Lesser High Priest strode through the room as if there was not a god in the room. The Lesser High Priest of Evening bowed deeply and hoped that there would be no smiting.
“Ah, Enlightened One, the God Eralon speaks through his vessel, the oracle, to enlighten us on the matter of the Third Restriction.”
He thought it would be unwise to mention and how we’ve gotten it all wrong, at least until the copies of the duty scribes’ notes could be made and filed in the appropriate places. It was harder to vanish truth when it was in triplicate.
“Today was not for asking questions about the Restrictions!” The Lead Lesser High Priest was a man of very simple beliefs and even simpler temper.
“There is an order to these things, and this is not the correct order!” He was very nearly shouting. The Lesser High Priest of Evening frowned but said nothing. Interrupting a higher priest was a good way to gain a demotion, and getting in between a god and anyone was a good way to be permanently demoted to gone. “Today is a Fazemday, and on those days we ask about the nature of being. Only on Afeosiday do we ask about Restrictions!
“It’s her,” he continued, his finger pointing shakily at the oracle. At the god in the oracle.
The Lesser High Priest of Evening tried to make himself move. He had to do something. Something. Otherwise, this could become a horrible mess, and possibly worse, Eralon might stop explaining matters.
One of the Duty Scribes was still writing, dutifully. The other was moving his desk back to the edge of the room.
“It’s her,” the Lead Lesser High Priest repeated. “She is the one who interrupted a perfectly good prophecy to speak about the Second Restriction.” He sneered the word as if it were dirty, tainted. “And now she’s here again, and what is she speaking of? Restrictions again. This is just an underhanded attempt to-”
There was no mistaking the sound of the god within the oracle. The Lead Lesser High Priest stopped. For a moment.
Then, against all sense, he opened his mouth and spoke again.
“There is an order to things. Today is Fazemday. On Fazemday, we ask the oracles about the nature of being.”
“-my most brilliant light,” the god-in-the-oracle put in.
“Ah? I am generally called Enlightened One by those below me in the order.”
“That’s very good for you, although you don’t appear to be earning that title in the slightest. No – who are you, anyway?”
“I am the Lead Lesser High Priest.”
“The – the lead lesser high priest? Now that is a mouthful. This assumes there are other lesser high priests that you govern?”
“Well, yes, of Evening and Night, Dawn and Morning, Noon and Day. But today is Fazemday, and we are here to ask about the nature of being.”
The god-in-the-oracle looked at the Lesser High Priest of Evening. “Is he serious? Does he mean to stand here and tell me what I should be speaking of?”
“Oh your ever more brilliant light, the every-flowing Eralon to whom we pray at Dawn and at Evening,” the Lesser High Priest of Evening began, hoping that the Lead Lesser High Priest of Evening might take the hint, “the Lead Lesser High Priest, Transon Achares, as he is called when in lay times, is of course correct as to the protocol of the Temple. On Fazemdays, we ask questions of the oracles and of the bones regarding the nature of beings. However, I do not believe that the Lead Lesser High Priest-”
“What’s your title, then?”
“I am the Lesser High Priest of Evening, your most brilliant light.”
“And the one who irritated me earlier?”
“He is – or possibly was – the Higher High Priest of Evening, gracious one.”
“Was?” The oracle-body leaned forward again, frowning
“Generally, your brilliance, it is considered a mark against one to be smote by a god.”
“Oh, that.” The oracle’s hand waved dismissively. “I thought you meant that I had killed him. I am not generally that inaccurate with my smiting – am I?”
“Ah.” The Lesser High Priest of Evening cleared his throat. “No, your most brilliant light-”
“You do not need to say that every time, you know. I accept that you know that I am your god Eralon.”
“I am not sure I am capable of addressing you, most holy one, without some form of honorific. It is, ah, ingrained into us from the very beginning of our training.”
“And this Lead Lesser High Priest? He did not seem to know that I should be addressed so.”
The Lesser High Priest of Evening cleared his throat again. Someone handed him water. He drank it without thinking, murmured a thank you, and continued. “It is possible that he did not realize that there was a god inhabiting the oracle, holy one. It is not always the case that the oracle is so blessed.”
“It isn’t? It always has been when I am here – ah. Well, that would be the case, wouldn’t it?”
The god laughed with the oracle’s tinkling giggle. The Lesser High Priest of Evening did not dare look at the Lead Lesser High Priest.
“It is not always, no. We do not know if there is not a god who is interested, or if some oracles are not as well-attuned, or if the oracles do have a god inhabiting them but the god does not choose to tell us. There are many questions-”
“Which are of the highest level of theological discussion and not for the ears of handmaidens and acolytes!” snapped Transom Achares, who clearly did not truly process what was going on here. “Lesser High Priest, you understand your role and you should stick to it!”
“Lead Lesser High Priest, the god Eralon is speaking to me. I do believe that precedes all protocol.”
“There is nothing that -”
“Excuse me, I am sitting right here.”