This is written as part of my NanoWrimo 2020 Compendium of Completion.
When Sparrow woke, there was another oracle on the chair. The oracle Aisha, who had been sitting in the chair, was sleeping next to Sparrow, cuddled against him in a way that would probably be considered most unseemly – and perhaps would have, if Transom Achares, the Lead Lesser High Priest, wasn’t sleeping on the other side of Sparrow, cuddled just as closely.
There were three duty scribes – different ones – writing, and three more listening and waiting. There were two other lower priests looking over the whole thing, and more people milling about than this room ever held, except possibly on the Grand Festival days.
Sparrow brought himself to his feet as the Higher High Priest of Evening stepped into the room. “I heard-” he began, and fell silent. He hurried over to Sparrow, this time very mindful of the red line.
“What is happening?” he hissed.
“I just woke up – when the god commands it, you sleep,” he added ruefully.
“Well, then, why did the god command you to sleep? And how – how could you – ah. Well, when the god commands it, I suppose one cannot say no.” The Higher High Priest of Evening cleared his throat. Eostrix Duremes Oster was a good man, if a rather hidebound one, and was known to actually think on occasion. “So, what was happening when you slept?”
“Eralon had – ah. He had an altercation with the Lead Lesser High Priest here – do not be too harsh on him, he was doing his job – and it came to be known that there were, ah.” Sparrow didn’t like this part. “There were those books of faith which Eralon did not know about. So he demanded they be read to him. This, ah. I reminded the god of the frailties of those who act as vessels – something he also had not heard of – and that is about when I slept. There is much that he wishes to learn, our god of the light. It seems that, perhaps, we have not so much strayed from the teachings of the gods of Foros as we have, mmm, embellished upon them somewhat, and that has left him – and me – concerned.”
“And I.” The Higher High Priest of Evening frowned. “It seems there is quite a gathering here, but there ought to be. I, ah, just awoke. I found myself not defrocked, for which I imagine I have you to thank-”
“Well, had I been intending on spreading the information, I’d not have had a moment to do so,” Sparrow admitted, “but Eralon says such that a smiting like that is not meant to remove one from the priesthood, as well.”
“But the books of Callorme say-”
“Ah, and there is the rub.” He brought himself to his feet and looked over the gathered group. At the moment, it sounded as if Eralon was explaining something in depth – ah, he was going through the Restrictions. That was what had started this whole mess, so it was good that he was clarifying those. But hadn’t he wanted the books of Callorme read to him…?
“Ah, friend Sparrow!” the oracle called. This one had a voice like the sunshine. The Lesser High Priest of Evening bowed deeply.
“Your most Brilliant Light, greetings. I thank you for the time of rest, and-”
“And for the cheese and wine you are about to partake in, yes.” The god-in-the-oracle gestured one of the handmaidens over to him; she was bearing a tray carrying those things and more. “I see you are calmer now?”
“I’ve reached a state that could be called calm, yes, your brightness.” Sparrow bowed again. “And you?”
“I am doing quite well. I decided that it would be the most fair to wait for the books of Callorme until you woke on your own, so we have been discussing the questions of those here in the temple, and they have been answering my questions. Ah. I have sent one of your handmaidens to send word to the border that there will be several people – women – coming to the border to come here. They have been Called.”
“You have Called new prophets, your brilliance?”
“New oracles, new vessels. They were always meant to be of the line of the oracle, of Our line of conduits, but because of a border change that We were not aware of – well. I’ve hopefully sorted that out. There are those who can be the conduit to the gods without such pain – although the vessels here I have spoken to tell me that they like this post and do not wish to be sent away from it.”
“It comes with status, your Brilliance, and a good place to live and good food.”
“Ah. Well, all of those of Foros should have those, at least the last two. How long has it been since We have been involved thoroughly enough? It seems there are things that We will need to address.”
All of those of Foros should have… Sparrow considered some of the recent famines, some of the issues with hoarding, some of the problems the temple had attempted to deal with – with variable results at best. He wondered if he was going to be smote next.
“Yes, your Brilliance. I look forward to your enlightenment.”
“Then, friend Sparrow, why do you look as if you are about to be dragged through muddy rocks while being pelted with excrement? Come now, this will be interesting! There are likely things that have changed in the world which We have missed and I look forward to knowing all of them.”
Sparrow gulped. “Your Brilliance, I remind you of your reaction when you found our interpretation of the Third Restriction.”
The god-in-the-oracle laughed. “I confess, you have Me there. That is a very good point. I will not yell at you, friend Sparrow, and I will spite no-one who is simply telling me how things are and why. I understand – I do now, at least – how it can be to be told something and have no context in which to understand it. And I believe We were guilty of a failure of context many times during the Early Days. But that – that is for another time. This vessel has -” The god-in-the-oracle gestured at an hourglass. “Some thirty-seven minutes left before I need to change vessels. It is time to begin the books of Callorme in between your wine and cheese. Come, friend Sparrow! We have much to read!”
Thirty-seven minutes. Sparrow could read for thirty-seven minutes.
He took the chair that one of the Lesser Low Priests offered him – this one was barely able to grow a beard, a child who had been honored to join the temple just a few months before, and he looked terrified, as, perhaps, he well ought to. He took the wine and the cheese and the first book of Callorme; he gestured a spare duty scribe to his side for his own notes, and he began to read.
It quickly became clear that he was in less danger of his throat drying out than the scribes were of their pens running dry of ink. He would read a verse, perhaps half a verse, and then the god would interrupt, either to agree, or, far more often, to disagree. Sometimes it was something in between – he would agree that the tone was correct, or that the message was more or less right, but would point out that large portions of the wording was ridiculous, or say that I have never heard the God Jonnarrin speak in that manner, not in prophecy or in oracle or while taking a walk. It is not a thing that she would say.
She was a word that came up far too often for Sparrow’s comfort – it seemed to amuse and please the handmaidens-slash-oracles who were waiting for their turn, those who were not sleeping, as he could see them looking at the priests, looking at the god, and doing the best to hide their giggles and titters behind their hands.
A goodly two-thirds of the gods that the books of the temple had listed as male, Eralon referred to as she. Several more, Eralon used the pronoun they for. The duty scribes were checking each other’s work, checking each other’s hearing. They would poke one another, point to the page, and then start writing again.
Sparrow, however, had nobody to check with but himself – and the god.