Section I: Gods and Goddesses
Section III: Myths and Religions of other Peoples
“’How can I step on a stage consecrated to Grenage looking like this?’ said the wilted actress, pots of make-up in her hands. ‘Not a one in the audience will believe me young and beautiful! All the paints in the world cannot change this!’
“The priestess raised an eyebrow, while laughing bitterly. ‘Is that your complaint? Fame and fortune are all yours, yet you are aching over youth’s spring wasted? Look at me, if you will. I have consecrated my life to Her who is the Resplendent Light, and yet I am as affected by the passage of time as you are.”
“’There are no songs about your beauty,’ the actress wailed. She flung the pots of make-up back on the table, each shattering, the pain within splattering over the wood with colors of rose and flesh. ‘None pay good money to see you on a stage, cleric! None will –‘
“Her voice broke, her sudden silence underlined by the priestess’ sharp hiss. ‘You are afraid that no suitors will be knocking at your door tonight. That is your true worry.’
“’I beg your pardon,’ the actress said, pulling her chin up to look down on the smaller priestess. ‘I am married, and my husband –‘
“’- has been cuckolded so long he doesn’t stay by your side on your travels,’ the priestess concluded the sentence. ‘Madam, you may be famed for your beauty, and you may believe the joy you find in the nights after a performance –‘ The cleric halted her speech, aware of her poor choice of words, then continued, ‘That joy, madam, is not of Grenage’s making, and it does not please her.’
“The actress drew herself up higher, aided by the high heels of her shoes. ‘Is it then that I am punished by the goddess? I who has brought the joy of the stage to so many hearts? I who has inspired bards to words of greatness? And for what? For those little excitements? They are meaningless when compared with the art that I have created.’
“’I did not say you were punished,’ the priestess shook her head. ‘Though it might serve you well, the goddess rarely chooses any harshness in dealings with mortals. You, madam, were granted a gift from the Resplendent Light, one that you have used both in the deity’s intents, and against them. Think on whether you would deserve special treatment.’
“’I need not think!’ the actress said. ‘My fame is fact enough. I am an actress! With a daub of paint, a costume, I become a queen, a beggar, or a courtesan on the stage, and all who see me believe it is truth. How many can claim this, that the hearts of thousands hang on their every word?’
“’And do they still?’ the priestess countered.
“’Why do you not watch?’ the actress said, her challenge as a blow to the cleric’s head. ‘Attend the performance, and you will see how deserving of the fame I am!’ Straightening her blouse, running a hand through her hair, the actress left the chamber – not forgetting to dramatically pause before slamming the door shut.
“Left behind, the priestess smiled and spoke to the closed door, ‘And thus, despite your pettiness, madam, the show will go on. The audience will enjoy the performance, and that does please the goddess.’ She raised an eyebrow, allowed herself a smile to herself as she glanced to the mirror on the wall, seeing her own aged reflection. ‘As it does please me.’”
from “Anecdotes of the Theater”,
“The curtain fell. Applause filled the hall. Men and women of the varying races stood, clapping their hands.
“’So,’ a young maid in the back of the hall, behind the rows of stairs, said to the elderly couple standing with her, ‘was it enjoyable?’
“The man, slightly bent by old age, leaning on a splendidly carved stick that might have been elfwood, shook his head. ‘My child,’ he said, ‘I have seen falsehood and lies proclaimed as truth. As truth! Dear, only truth holds beauty, not this verisimilitude.’
“Neither of the three had a problem understanding each other, despite the clamor of the hall. The woman, her face radiant, reached out her hand to touch her husband’s shoulder. ‘You are getting as old and crotchety as you look, lover. Despite all the time of your life, there is still the new to explore, and you should embrace it.’
“The elder man harumphed. ‘Sunshine of my life,’ he addressed her, a wry smile on his lips, ‘you should know that embraces are rather more in my sister’s area. And as for the new…’ He cast a disdainful look towards the stage where the actors now stepped forward to take their last bows before the cheering crowd. ‘I shall enjoy it whenever it is fact.’
“’I take it,’ the maid muttered, ‘you didn’t like it.’
“’Oh, now don’t start to pout, daughter of mine,’ the woman groaned. ‘It doesn’t become one of your descent. Your father is simply…’
“’Yes…?’ the man said, an eyebrow raised, and a rather mischievous expression on his face.
“The woman closed her eyes and sighed. ‘Your father,’ she started anew, ‘is being himself, as you should well know, Daughter.’
“’Yes, Mother,’ the maid sighed – the sound a perfect mimicry of her mother’s.
“They stood together, watching as the actors appeared on the stage a second and a third time for their not-so-very last bows. Then, as the crowd started to disperse, the three kept well away from the door, ignoring the few questioning glances cast their way. One man, in the traditional garb of a Darawk priest, stopped for a few moments, studying the bent figure of the elder gentleman with unusual curiosity – then dismissed the odd idea in his head and left.
“When the hall had emptied, and a lone man was extinguishing the lights, the woman smiled at her husband. ‘You might have chosen a better disguise. That priest…’
“The man chuckled. ‘Good Xanderran, yes. I know him well. A librarian who forgoes the pleasures of sunlight for the candlelight to study his books and sift knowledge from them.’
“’Forgoes the sunlight, you say?’ the woman grimaced. ‘It sounds as if you advocate his behavior.’
“’Ah,’ the man smiled. ‘I said the pleasures of sunlight, didn’t I?’ His wife stared at him intently – then her face broke into a smile, and she leaned over to plant a kiss on the man’s cheek.
“The maid turned away instantly, gazing wistfully at the stage and muttering something disgusted about her aunt’s influence on her parents.
“Her parents sighed in unison, but then her father’s face sobered from the smile. ‘Daughter, I honestly do not think that this is the proper venue for you. The theater, it… Well, it is beneath you.’
“The maid sighed, set for another lecture on what is proper for one of her kind, yet none was forthcoming from her father. Instead, the elder man leaned forward more noticeably, the weight of old age resting on his shoulders. ‘That is my opinion, of course. Unfortunately, I remember a time when I was not so set in my own way – as your aunt may attest to.’ He paused, frowned. ‘Your aunt. I still cannot associate my sister with that word. It’s so…’
“’So conservative?’ his wife suggested sweetly.
“’So unfitting,’ he stated, appearing his most dignified. ‘Never let it be known that I say anything disparaging about my beloved sister.’
“The maid harumphed, now mimicking her father. ‘What about me? I don’t really care about Aunty all that much!’
“Both her parents gasped. ‘Aunty?’ her father repeated. ‘Don’t tell me that you actually address that sister of mine like this!’
“’Why wouldn’t I?’ the maid shrugged. ‘She is my aunt. And this isn’t about her, it’s about me! Father, you saw the audience. They applauded, they enjoyed it! How can that be wrong?’
“Her father sighed. ‘Child, people enjoy many a falsehood. Humans would have themselves superior to other races, while elves feel the same way. Alreus…’ He frowned. ‘Well, they have their own favorite falsehoods they treasure. But falsehoods they are, my dear. I do not like this, this theater. But –‘ He held up his hand quickly, to forestall any comments from either his wife or daughter. ‘But, my lovely ladies, I am willing to offer a chance to my beautiful daughter. A man with my past should not judge harshly the young. After all,’ he smiled at a distant memory, ‘once upon a time I was young as well, and there was an old man I knew who kept shaking his head at my exploits. And those of my sister, naturally.’
“’Naturally,’ his wife agreed.
“The maid took a deep breath, doing her best to ignore the awful ways of her parents. ‘So I may continue, right? You don’t order me to do something else, right?’
“Two pairs of eyes centered on her, in that uncomfortable way that parents had when a child tried to assert herself. The woman squeezed her husband’s arm, and he knew that it was his turn to speak or face ill consequences later on. ‘No, we don’t,’ he said – relieved when the pressure on his arm did the same, showing that he was charting the proper course. The father continued, ‘Daughter, use your influence to have the theater strive for rightfulness rather than righteousness. Do not let it sink to the baseness of joy for the sake of joy itself. Add at least a thimble of truth and meaning. If you can achieve that, I…’ He sighed, rolled his eyes. ‘I will give you my blessing.’
“’You will?!’ the maid cheered – and suddenly lowered her head, somber in her mood as she sank to her knees. ‘Father, your blessing means much to me. I will strive to fulfill your task. And, Mother, I will also strive to give them the light of joy, much as you give them the light of the sun. I promise!’
“The man sighed. ‘Promises of the young,’ he whispered under his breath, only to be immediately punished by his wife’s hands digging into his flesh. He coughed quickly, hiding the jolt of pain, then laid his right hand on his daughter’s head. ‘Use knowledge to guide you, my child. The light of truth and the sun shines upon you.’
“The maid rested for a moment under the blessing hand, then she looked up, smiling. ‘I love you, Father, Mother.’
“’That is good to know,’ her father said. This time a cough did not help him hide the pain from his wife’s punch in his ribs. The daughter grinned, as she rose to embrace her parents fiercely.
“Then, before either of the elder people could say anything, she turned away and ran towards the stage entrance, to join the actors and actresses behind and chat with them. Her parents looked at each other. The wife said, ‘I think she will bring great joy to this world. She is our child.’
“The man sighed and smiled at the same time. ‘I know, Sunshine of my life. But I wish I could keep her under our wings for a while longer. She is still so young.’
“’Aren’t we all?’ his wife laughed. He gasped when he looked at her, for she was now a young woman barely older than the maid who had just left.
“He shook his head, leaned on his staff and shook his head again. ‘My dear, youth is not all that becoming to me. As you say, I am getting old and crotchety. Besides, am I not a musky old librarian, too?’
“’You’re all that and more,’ the goddess Atawn told her husband when she turned his head around, wrapped her arms around him and pressed her lips on those of Darawk, god of knowledge. In her embrace, the form of the old man wavered, changed, became that of a youth.
“When Atawn let go of him, she smiled. ‘The theater is a falsehood, isn’t it?’ she chided. ‘We take mortal forms, so aren’t we all actors, too?’
“’Oh, please, don’t let me explain about all that again. We do not take mortal form, it is they who were created in our image, and thus –‘
“Before the god of knowledge could embark on a lecture, Atawn stopped him with another kiss.”
Melt the Divine,
“There was a time when I always stayed close to a stage – whenever one was around, at the time of the great fairs in summer. My village was quite a way off from the major trading routes, and throughout most of the year all we’d see of the great wide world around us would be the occasional peddler – trading pots and pans, cobbled shoes and the like along with gossip. But the fairs… Oh, the fairs!
“That’s when the world came to visit us, our tiny hamlet in the Havencoast. There were all the sights you could wish for – bright clothes, wonderful colors, and the rolls of cloth from which they had been fashioned; vendors offering candied fruits from places that I had only heard about, such as Cayaboré or the Twisted Lands (at least the vendors claimed the Twisted Lands as the origin); booths filled with jewelry (of which I only learned much later that most were magically ensorceled, rather than the valuables they resembled); bards who sang beautifully, to make me cry; and then there was the stage. The stage where ordinary people were transformed into men and women of legend, into the great and mighty as well as the low and powerless. Sagas were brought before our eyes, and I… I could not be pried away from that with a crowbar, as my father was fond of saying.
“My parents used to travel to the fair as early as they could, after taking care of our animals and the other chores of our small farm. And then the Garzya clan descended on the village – all thirty-seven of us, including not only my parents, grand-parents and siblings but also my uncle’s and aunt’s family. That was a thing to see! Three coaches parking next to the village square, filled to the brim with people expectant and joyous, more often than not crooning several songs at the same time.
“I would be the first to bound from Father’s coach, racing towards the sea of colors that had transformed the dull village square into something from a fairy tale. I would run through the crowd – already assembled, no matter that we had set out so early -, and I would shout and wave to all the vendors and travelling folks that I remembered from their previous visits. Sometimes that previous visit had only been two months ago, sometimes winter had been inbetween, but none of that mattered much to me. The world was here! In my home! And I had to see it all!
“But then, invariably, I would see the stage. Workers assembling the wooden planks, setting up the curtain, the barriers and the paying booth. Men and women, in drab clothes, sweating, swearing – yes, the women, too. Jokes were bandied back and forth, some of the crude variety a child shouldn’t hear. Most of the time, as soon as the workers noticed me, they switched to lighter jokes, but some of them didn’t. Oh, my ears are still ringing today from my mother slapping her hands over my ears so I wouldn’t hear any of that awful talk. (And let us not mention that foolish, naïve me repeated many a joke in the coming months in the presence of my mother – unwittingly so, for I hadn’t yet understood the true meaning of the jokes.)
“Those workers might have been farmhands. Or merchants, perhaps. They might have fit into any of the booths around them, or in the crowd before. There was nothing unusual about them, nothing at all.
“And yet they were special. I didn’t understand it in the first years. There were the workers, and they were setting up the stage for something incredible beautiful. Then they vanished somehow, apparently uninterested in the further proceedings, like divine messengers. In their stead, taking to the stage, were the actors, those wonderful people who exuded power, beauty, conviction. They were beyond mortal ken, I thought. They were the world.
“I remember the splendor of jewelry, of clothes – bringing me into royal throne rooms, taking me to battlefields, making me witness to momentous events of history. My mother told me that it was all make-believe, but I was convinced it was true. I believed.
“Until I started recognizing some of the faces on the stage. And to my shock, those faces belonged to the drab workers who had set up the stage. In particular, Queen Dryadyna of Cayaboré bore a striking resemblance to the worker Zencia who had shared with me a candied apple in the morning. How could that be? How could the queen on stage be so alike to the nice but very ordinary Zencia? How could they even have the same voice?
“I was nine years old when I realized that the workers were actors who took to the stage later on. As a matter of fact, it was Zencia who explained the idea of actors to my confused, young self. I think she was afraid I’d lose faith in the stage then, judging by the careful way she picked her words.
“She needn’t have worried. The next year, when Zencia and her troupe returned, I was back, and I was ready to be transported back into another world. (All right, I had been sure she would be Queen Dryadyna again, and I was quite disappointed when Zencia played the lead in Archer Melt’s Etiam – A Fool’s Comedy. Of course, I was ten, and I couldn’t possibly understand the play’s true meaning. I even mistook Etiam for the piece’s villain, rather than the wonderful and oh so real character she truly is.) I talked with the actors afterwards – complaining about this and that, cherishing other things, for as long as my parents permitted me. They were a good bunch of people, especially Zencia. (Later on, I would find out that my mother had had a long talk with her the year before, and again that very morning, charging her to take good care of me. She underlined her intent with five coins of copper, a fortune for simple farmers such as we were, and also one for an actress in a travelling troupe.)
“The fairs became the stage times for me. The other joys of the village square paled as soon as I set eyes on the stage being set up. When I was thirteen, I started helping the actors, and when I was fourteen, I spotted a rusty spring in the trapdoor that the others had missed. The head of the troupe let me replace it with a new one, so that the villain could be dragged into the flaming abyss by demonic hordes properly, rather than stand with a silly look on his face, waiting for the trapdoor to open.
“The ‘villain’, a cheerful fellow named Faylip, thanked me with a hearty clap on my back and told me I could have a future in the theater.
“Me? In the theater? Oh, what a cruel thing to say to a boy who was starting to complain about the boring chores at home, who was starting to get sick of looking at cows’ undersides half the day and spending the other half on the wheat fields. That very evening, in my bed, I began dreaming about travelling with the actors, about becoming one of them, becoming far more than myself on the stage. I went so far as to plan on running away from home the next fair, only three months away.
“No, I never did. Well before the fall fair began, I realized that I was rather fond of a young girl in the village, and for a while the allure of the theater waned. Long enough to keep me tied to my parents’ farm and the village. In all honesty, I am grateful. Many a night’s restless sleep has been troubled by thoughts of the fears I would have given my mother if I had suddenly vanished.
“But the theater remained an important part of my life. The next year a Darawk priest opened a shrine in our village, with a small library at hand (and schooling, a part I’d rather forget). I managed to convince the cleric to get me the texts of plays – some that I had seen before, and a lot more that I had heard the actors mention. To my great fortune I had learned to read, and so I could enjoy more than the illustrations in those books.
“Enjoyment, though, turned to astonishment when I began to see that some of those plays weren’t as wonderful and perfect as I had imagined. Or as I remembered them being performed. Sometimes a character would act strangely, quite unfitting his previous behavior, just to meet the play’s plot. And sometimes the lines were so incredibly flat I couldn’t understand how they had sounded grand on the stage. An actor’s gift, of course, to make dull and plodding words sound like divine inspiration.
“Oh, do not misunderstand me. I loved reading those plays, and some of them were so wonderful that I saw them performed in my head, no matter that I hadn’t seen an actual stageplay. I believe I saw them as the writer intended them to be played, often enough let down by reality – whether due to inept actors, or to a lack of funds.
“I thought much about what made some of the plays work beautifully for me, and why some of them fell flat. What made a play good? What turned it sour? Was it the text, or was it – perish the thought! – maybe the actor’s fault? At first I thought I was betraying my actor friends, considering that they might not be as great as I had thought of them.
“Then I came to realize that they were human beings, after all. Humans (as well as elves, dwarves and others) can err and are mostly imperfect.
“The next year, when the fairs came, I was prepared. And when I saw that the troupe – not Zencia’s, by the way – would perform Ovchek’s The Tulip Garden, I rejoiced. I had read the play only the week before, knew all the lines. And how dismayed I was to see that this performance omitted most of the good parts! They skipped them, put in some additional, self-written lines that woefully jarred with the poetry of Ovchek.
“I stood quietly through the play, seething with anger amidst the raptured crowd. I kept standing while everybody else scattered to find new enjoyment, and the troupe’s manager walked over to me. Unlike the head of Zencia’s group, this one was a priestess of Grenage, but I didn’t know that. Oh, sure, I knew that theaters were sacred to Grenage, and many of the plays I had perused bore dedications to the goddess, yet I hadn’t been all that keen to learn about Her. Truthfully, I held more with my parents’ devotion to Airnté – after all, the goddess of harvest was more of a presence in my daily affairs.
“’What are you gawking at?’ the manager snapped at me. She hadn’t been in our village the years before, and so she didn’t know about me.
“I felt insulted. How dared this woman talk to me like this? I was fifteen, proud, strong, and pretty stubborn, so I let go a tirade about how she and her troupe had mangled The Tulip Garden. I recited some of the lines from memory, performed them as I thought they should have been done on stage. (Doing a rather poor job of it, I assure you. An actor, I certainly am not.)
“My tirade didn’t impress the priestess. She countered by talking about prices, about the audiences who couldn’t possibly appreciate the finesse of the play, obviously convinced that – despite my grand façade – I was only another country clod.
“I became even more enraged, started to shout and to quote from not only this play but others as well – and from an essay on the theater by Berbrecht Tolt. Admittedly, I never quite agreed with Master Tolt, but for the moment his words made a good sword to fight the manager with.
“And that did impress her. Not that it made her any less vociferous, but we stood there shouting at each other for over half an hour, quoting this and that, coming up with ideas of our own, and only when we were starting to get hoarse we took a break. One of the actresses came over with water, grinning at me. (I had been the first to stand up to the manger like that in over a year, and all the actors had enjoyed the display.)
“The priestess and I drank our fill, our throats moistening up for another round. I was very much ready to shout myself hoarse over again, but the priestess wasn’t. ‘You know, boy,’ she said, ‘if you think you can do all this so much better, you ought to go to one of our temples. There’s one at Fowgelstadt, near Milonisi, in the local Darawk Academy. Learn what it really takes to run a theater troupe. Learn how much your precious Berbrecht Tolt really knows about the theater!’ The last sentence was a vicious snarl, her temper boiling up again.
“She brought herself under control again, then continued, ‘At least you do have some wits, boy. It would be a waste to see you till fields to your dying day. Go to the temple. See whether it’s something for you. All right?’ She didn’t wait for me to answer but turned back to the actors, shouting at them to take the stage down again and get ready for travelling to the next village.
“I never saw her again, and I cannot even remember her name. But she planted an idea that I discussed with our local Darawk priest. After all, the goddess Grenage is the Divine Seeker’s daughter, and this cleric had actually attended the Fowgelstadt Academy. He told me that there was far more to serving Grenage than managing a theater troupe, that in fact it wasn’t such an important aspect of the clergy. I think he was trying his best to coax me towards serving Darawk – once he had realized I was seriously considering priesthood. (I hadn’t discussed it with my parents, certain that they would be aghast. The farm needed all the help it could, and my leaving wouldn’t go down well with them. As a matter of fact I was wrong about that, not least of all because the Grenage clergy would send a silver coin to my parents in exchange for my attending classes.)
“Nonetheless, he did arrange for everything the next year, after lengthy talks with my parents. I went to the Grenage temple. I learned. I studied, and, yes, I became a priest myself.
“Did I become the manager of actors I had fancied myself to be? No, I am afraid that I don’t have the organizational talent necessary for that. Nor do I have the qualities of a writer, as some of my colleagues do. But I have found my niche, in the theories of the theater. I write essays on general topics, to assist those who do write and produce plays in their efforts.
“Also, I am rather fond of the fact that my opinion on finished plays – both in written and performed form – is quite esteemed. I am a fair critic of those plays, obviously. Should there be a lack of quality, I will point it out, but as quickly I will underline and cherish a point grandly executed.
“I love the theater. I am a part of it, of the joys it brings, the beauty it contains.
“You might say that I have become part of the whole wide world.”
“Garzya? Yes, I know that fool. Of course I know him. He doesn’t have any idea of true theater! Full of those high-minded ideas of his about how a play should be done, with absolutely no regard for the audience or how difficult it is to write one. Hah! Has Garzya ever written a play of his own? No? I do wonder why. Hah!
“That idiot. You know, last year he tore apart one of my plays.
“What? No, I mean, he literally tore it apart, all the pages. On the stage!
“Critics! The world would be better off without them!”
“I thought that being a priestess of Grenage would be just a marvelously simple way to spend your life. Oh, you have your little beauty shrine where you meet so many women of the city, you can chat with them, learn what is going on, and in-between, you dish out some advice on how to keep your looks.
“As if that weren’t good enough, when the Messenger of Death takes you to the divine realm, you will be welcomed into Grenage’s home, and you can spend all of eternity in her light. And, of course, chat with everybody else.
“Certainly I did know that Grenage is also the patron goddess of the theater and the stage, but honestly it didn’t matter much to me. How could it when you can meet the world in such a wonderful place as a beauty shrine?
“Was I in for a surprise. Believe me, I hadn’t anticipated what was going on at that temple where they put me. Oh, you wonder how I got in? That wasn’t difficult, not one bit, you know? After all, I am the daughter of an earl, and my father has splendid ties with the clergy. Granted that most of them are with the stuffy Darawkians, and those dour Seramians or Haguenites, but it must have been enough.
“I was welcomed at the temple much as I had expected, by a nice lady who showed me around and showered me with praise of how wonderful I looked. Three hours of work, what with the paints and powders and with the clothes. I had to take so much care during the carriage journey to the temple, fifteen miles out from Marsey, but it paid off nicely.
“On the other hand, I should have noticed something was wrong when looking at that lady. She hadn’t taken nearly as much care of herself as I did regularly. Not that she was unkempt or unwashed, no, most certainly not. Yet she had only touched up her cheeks with a light powder, lined her eyebrows lightly, and that was all the makeup she wore. While she showed me around, I was constantly on the verge of telling her how she could improve her appearance so very easily, but I must admit that I was too shy to do so.
“And, looking back, it was probably the wisest thing for me to do. What did I learn afterwards but that I would have to apprentice myself to a cleric – a male! A man who certainly had not the slightest idea of cosmetics! My fears were proved quickly when I learned that this priest occupied – or wasted? – his time with the construction of props for the stage. (The word ‘props’ is rather familiar to me now, but back then it seemed very vulgar.) Make-believe daggers with dull blades that contract into the hilt at the slightest touch; pieces of glass that at a distance looked like exquisite jewelry; powders that, when ignited, made a spectacular showing of light yet had no magical quality to them that I could ever discern. All cheap, and all worthless.
“Worse than that, I would have to spend two years as an apprentice – or acolyte – to the priest, learning his craft rather than what I truly was interested in. In addition, I would have to attend classes much like the ones at a Darawk temple – on a variety of topics that I cared even less about.
“How terrible! Once I learned that, I wanted nothing better than to leave right away.
“The nice lady – who in our second meeting hadn’t done any better on her face – told me that, yes, I might leave, but I would have to consider the ramifications. My father had drawn quite heavily on favors from the clergy, so that my instant departure would reflect badly on him.
“I wasn’t as cowed by that revelation as the lady thought. Surely, I care about my father, but as certainly my departure wouldn’t damage his reputation in any lasting way. So how bad would it be? My hopes were dashed, but, still, I could find something else to occupy my mind. As I said before, I am the daughter of an earl and therefore shouldn’t have faced much of a problem finding a proper husband from the elite circles. So I wouldn’t be the one running the beauty shrine, yet I could still spend many hours there.
“But then, the lady – a priestess, obviously – took me to a part of the temple that was given to the beautician’s order. And there I saw those powders and paints, the wigs and everything that a woman requires for her best appearance. I also saw – to my regret – acolytes and clerics busy preparing those same powders and paints. I hadn’t had any inclination to share in these chores, yet they were a far sight better than learning about stage props.
“When the lady introduced me to the head of the beautician’s order at this temple, both showed me what could be achieved. I paled when I realized that my own knowledge was far inferior to both of theirs, even that of the lady who didn’t use much makeup.
“Hunger awoke in me. I wanted to learn about that. I wanted to know. And, once more, I wanted to run that beauty shrine of my dreams. I wanted it so very much that I might even accept those two years of sufferance with the stage prop priest.
“All in all, I think I did the right thing. Certainly those two years were a spectacular waste for the most part. I did learn a few things that I was able to use later on, surprisingly so, mostly about costuming – that applies to a lady’s valuable dress as well as the cheap rags of an actor, if one can believe that. It took me more than six years, serving as an acolyte here and there, and studying even after being consecrated to Grenage, but finally – finally – I received permission to succeed another priestess in her beauty shrine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t located in Marsey but a smaller city – Leeaun -, yet I made quite a few friends here. The years of suffering are over, and now there remains only a minor nuisance. I still haven’t impressed my superiors enough so that they assign me an acolyte who can take care of mixing the powders and paints for me.
“I am the daughter of an earl, and this little barrier shall not hold me back for long.”
Más, priestess of Grenage,
“Old friend, in your last letter you said, and I quote, ‘Next I know you’ll only speak and write in verses!’. Fear not, I would never do that to you.
“Nor to myself. Trust me, I have spent far too many months studying the intricacies of rhyming, the proper meters, and the ways one may abbreviate or extend a phrase or word. If I desired to make you throw this paper away within a paragraph or two, I could lecture you on it. A thimble’s fill would make you run for the next hill, and then how would I explain to your beautiful wife why her husband absconded in sudden fright?
“No, I won’t do that. I value your friendship (and your wife’s permission for me to stay in your home now and then) too much. Besides, I’m only too glad to be rid of that dusty temple and the equally dusty priests there.
“I don’t mind a bit of dust and grime from travels, the kind thrown up by horses or carriages, or the mud when you slip in a rainstorm, looking for a place of shelter. But not the dust from books and libraries! You know me well enough that I’m at my happiest when I’m on the road. (Except when I have the occasion to quaff a few ales with good friends, and a maid of their acquaintance. Tell me, is Fyona Shee’alum still unmarried? If so, and I most sincerely hope so, perhaps you might labor to keep her from meeting any new suitors. That is, until roundabout the last week of Quorun. I’m hoping that the winter’s sludge will be gone from the roads by that time, and that I can reach your home then. If you will have me, I’d like to spend a week there. Need I mention that I would very much welcome Fyona’s brightening my days – more than either you or your wife could?)
“Ah, well, you asked about my time at the temple. Believe me, it was time well spent, even though I may go on grousing about it for the next century or so. Ten years as an ordinary bard, since my fourteenth year of age – back when I took up with Maklovlyn No’el, my old mentor, remember him? The old man taught me all his songs, all he knew about the good traditionals, the way you ought to step onto a stage and how you could sway the audience towards your performance, no matter whether they are too concerned with their meals or going after a maid of their own. (I was having problems of my own in that department, at that time. I’m sure I mentioned it a few times when I was drunk, didn’t I? My friend, I’m glad you never knew me at that time. Never would you have addressed that shy, foolish boy who looked like a scarecrow on a serious diet.)
“I’d done pretty well for myself after I split courses from Maklovlyn. The villagers and some of the townsfolk cheered for me, I swayed the hearts of a maid here and there – what more could I have asked for?
“Yes, you know what. It still seems odd to me that I should have entered the order of Grenage. Obviously she had been my patron goddess ever since Maklovlyn introduced me to her richness and light. But to go as far as to become a cleric to Her…
“I had heard too much from the bards educated at the temples – those who were accepted and gave themselves to Grenage in return. You may remember that I had been uncertain, and that I had promised myself I would leave as soon as I didn’t like the place anymore.
“Well, I didn’t. Even though it was a rigorous discipline that the clerics imposed upon me, rising with the sun – Grenage’s mother be blessed – and breaking fast with a bit of bread, butter and a glass of milk. Every five days, there’d be a jar of jam passed around, and you’d be lucky to have any jam remaining by the time it got to you. (I soon figured out that the serving girl was liable to be charmed by a nice, young fellow such as myself, and I usually had a good helping of jam soon thereafter.)
“After that, it was off to class. My, oh my, how did I survive that ordeal? Cooped up in a room like that, with nary an instrument around – only a teaching cleric, a blackboard, and the students having to copy down all the explanations on the blackboard. The dust of the chalk – somebody should compose a poem about its terrors! This was worse than the Darawk priest back home and his dry schooling. Absolutely, the Grenage temple was worse. How could they take apart something so beautiful and emotional as music, turn it into a dry, mouldy topic for a class lecture?
“Yet there was something that kept me there. Hidden within the dry words, there were gems of knowledge. I saw that there was a logic underlying all songs, so basic that the mere listener – or singer – hardly can grasp it. Tonalities, lyrics, and – I shouldn’t say too much, lest you be searching for a nice hill to run towards.
“It took me a while to grow accustomed to the rigors. Four hours in the morning, spent at lectures, then taking lunch – somewhat more hearty than the frugal breakfast -, followed by another set of four hours which varyingly took place in that same classroom, or in a large hall where musical instruments were created. Yes, I actually learned how to make them! And I’ll admit it was a lot more pleasant than the drudgery in the classrooms. (I’ll also admit that I would never play on any of the instruments I have made; my fingers are good for playing, but not for creating.)
“By far the most enjoyable were the two hours following that second set of learning, for then we went outside, to a meadow where we exercised our bodies – running, high-jumps, and the like. One of the priests was fond of a certain practice he had witnessed in Tonomat, a merger between combat and a dance. Quite invigorating – also very odd, and I doubt you could use any of those moves in an actual fight. I took to learning that as well, since it gave me a chance to keep my body moving again. I had been used to walking about twenty miles a day (and hope to regain that custom soon), so that I relished this opportunity. Besides, that practice is based on musical rhythms, so it fit in very well with the rest of the studies.
“I am also glad to report that dinners were quite enjoyable as well. We ate pretty well, and it made up for going hungry for so long. (You know me and meals, we like each other a great deal, as my stomach can attest to.)
“I learned so much about the underlying principles of music, I cannot fathom how I hadn’t seen them before. And I learned how to put it all together, how to craft songs of my own – using all those principles and the logic. Of course, as my teachers there were wont to, they managed to make it a laborious chore rather than a joyous experience. (Strange that they serve the goddess of joy, but – as one said so rightly – giving joy to others is hard work.) So, for now and the foreseeable future, coming up with verses, with rhymes is something I’ll avoid as avidly as a demon will steer clear of a Decirius temple.
“Knowing that I can do that, though, I’ve found that it improves my singing. I’ve found new ways to perform the traditional songs (and suspect that Maklovlyn would be disgusted by everyone), and I can stretch my voice quite a bit further than I had been able to before. Then there’s…
“Oh, I could go on and on, my friend, but my money is running out to pay for the magiscribe. I haven’t had much opportunity to make any money here – after all, the competition is quite numerous and rather excellent in a town that holds a Grenage Bardic College. Soon, though, once winter is done with, I’ll go travelling again, wearing my new badge of honor, the sash of a Grenage priest – and I am quite eager to find whether that will enable me to ask for better pay!
“I’ll tell you all about it, old friend. The last week of Quorun, right? Make sure that Fyona is there – and a keg or two of ale, if you please! I’m looking forward to emptying them!”
Ayne, bard and Grenage cleric,
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