Okay, so this is going to be one of the characters in my science fiction-fantasy novel, and it was to be originally written as a character biography for my writer’s “bible” as far as this novel goes. It however grew into a short story of its own and I thought I would share the first draft with you. I hope you enjoy it. Please keep in mind that constructive criticism actually shows ways how to improve things. If you have a complaint or a concern without effective solutions on how to fix them, then it’s not constructive criticism. It’s just criticism, and anyone can do that.
The Darkshadow Chronicles
Paul Darheel – A Priest With A Faith Lost
Why did I do it – become a priest, you mean? It was my mother, Creator rest her soul. My mother believed it her solemn duty to go out of her way to help others. She said that the doctrine of the Second Order… What’s the Second Order? Well, the full name is “The Sacred Church of the Creator’s Holy Second Order,” a somewhat pretentious name, I know. But, it’s been in use for hundreds of years, so what can you do, right?
Okay, so I know what your next question is: What is this Second Order? No? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. Well, doctrine teaches that the Creator and His Word is the First Order, because nothing would exist without Him. We are further taught that we are to see that the Creator’s Will is done here as it is done in His home in heaven. In doing so, we are the Creator’s Second Holy Order. We are led here on this mortal plane by our Holy Mother or Holy Father, called the Archimandrite. Perhaps the greatest Archimandrite of all time was Archimandrite-Emeritus Reinhold Krebs.
What made him so great? Well, he exposed Queen Mary of the Northlands of heresy against the Church. If you know your history, you will know that Queen Mary battled this accusation, so the Archimandrite suggested that her cousin, Princess Victoria, the Duchess of Sheffield assume the throne temporarily while a full investigation was conducted.
Now before I go on, you must understand that it was a different time in those days and a different way of life than it is now. The Kings and Queens ruled the lands and the people, but everyone from commoner to King had to answer to the Creator. And of course in this world, the Creator’s mortal representative was the Archimandrite.
Anyhow, Queen Mary acquiesced, albeit under official protest, and so Princess Victoria was summoned. But before she could assume the throne, she was murdered and all evidence pointed directly to Queen Mary. There was no further deliberation; if Queen Mary could murder her own kin, there was no telling what she would do. Such an immoral person could never be trusted again in any position of authority.
Yes, I know that this logic doesn’t necessarily follow, but you must remember that the Church had the ultimate power over Ruler and State. Queen Mary was executed and her eldest son – King James the Sixth, who was some five years old at the time – assumed the throne.
While I recognize that a five-year old cannot rule a kingdom, continuity of the royal lines was important to the people. The young King had a gaggle of regents and advisors to help him until he came of age. But I’ve got a bit off topic, haven’t I?
Like I was saying, I became a priest mostly because of my mother. Ever since I could remember I would hear my mother telling me to think of the needs of others. “Think of the needs of others before yourself, Paul,” she’d say in that way that she had. Always think of the needs of others before yourself, no matter how selfish and self-serving they were. My books, my toys, and even my clothes were routinely bundled up – still wanted by me – and given to the poor by my mother. When I would protest, she rebuked me sharply, reminding me that selfishness had no place in the hearts and minds of any that followed the Creator’s teachings.
For a time, I was foolish or perhaps naïve to believe that these were teachings, but I slowly learned over the course of many years that it was indoctrination.
We were constantly surrounded by the symbols and trappings of the church, and we’re taught almost from birth the doctrine of the Church. These teachings continue and persist into adulthood. We’re taught to believe that anyone who would think and do for themselves are “sinners” in the eyes of the Creator, and that those who follow the Holy Word without question are the only ones that can have any hope of redemption in the eyes of the Creator. Some people take this so seriously that they view anyone with different perspectives contrary to doctrine as a threat to be eliminated in the most horrible fashions as “befitting a sinner.”
Its just those sort of people that the Order recruits to be Crusaders and knights. They call themselves warriors for the Creator, but in reality they are little more than mere bullies and thugs; criminals sanctioned by law.
Anyhow to end this sort of thing, the Order put into place legislation that required all businesses to be under strict price controls. The Order believed that doing so would enable all to purchase those things that they wanted, and this would reduce crimes of theft.
What was wrong with that, right? People could actually afford to buy the things they needed without having to cater to some merchant’s greed. The problem was that they did not put into place and restrictions on quantity, so this meant widespread hoarding and individuals reselling what they had bought for whatever they could get in a sort of underground market. The Order soon found out about this and those who were caught faced stiff and harsh penalties. Soon, families were issued identification papers, which they had to show when purchasing anything. Merchants were now required by law to keep detailed records of all transactions and persons shown to be hoarding were reported to the Order.
But now there were long lines every day just to get basic necessities. Lines at the baker’s, at the grocer’s… People would begin lining up before sunrise to get into the lines. Most times, they had to go away empty handed as the shops had somehow managed to be sold out, despite the Order’s promises that such a thing would not happen.
While the people were unhappy, no one it seemed considered the plight of the merchants. Price controls only applied to the final consumer, but the merchants still had to pay the normal prices for the wares that they sold. As a result, they were taking in less revenue and could not afford to stock their shops as they could previously. This effect rippled to their suppliers, who had warehouses and barns filled with good and food spoiling because there was no one to buy it. They still had to pay their workers and wagoners to haul the goods to market. Now, they had to release workers as the work they did had to be scaled back. Haulage companies had to release drivers due to a lack of work and unemployment soared. Thanks to this “Consumer Retail Equity Act,” emplaced by the Order, many companies that had been successful in an open market were forced into bankruptcy. It was a vicious cycle of poverty now as there were now fewer suppliers and growers and longer lines at the shops, thanks to this never-ending poverty sanctioned by the state. But the people were blinded by this as time passed and this way of life became commonplace; they knew of nothing else. They just followed blindly doing whatever the Order told them to and never questioning why. Which, if you think about it a little, is probably what the Order wanted. The Order and their followers were so convinced of their correctness in our ways, our lifestyle that we just did what we did simply because that’s what folk had always done, and willingly accepting as fact anything the Archimandrite told us.
Okay, I see that look in your face. Why didn’t the people rebel against the Order? Ah, my friend you forget how efficient the Church was – and still is – at controlling the people. The Order worked in subtlety in the way a great artist works in oil paints. They distracted the people from their daily miseries by blaming others for those same miseries. The Order gave them labels such as “sinners,” or “unrepentant,” “heretic,” and so on. You know, those folks that refused to put blind faith and unquestioning sycophancy in the Order and therefore the Creator as well. Anyone who questioned the Doctrine of the Order were made to be seen as the cause of all of the miseries of the world. Now marginalized, the rest of the people never complained, never questioned doctrine as they would find themselves on the receiving end of the same treatment. Those who questioned and expressed their doubts in the Creator’s (the Order’s) grand scheme for the world, were reviled as being selfish and uncaring for their fellow man.
The hatred for an imaginary scapegoat saw the recruitment ranks of the Crusaders of the Order swell. The Archimandrite was completely successful in conceiving and building a pure hatred for an imaginary enemy of the people.
When King James ascended to the throne, one of the first things he did was to enact legislation to limit the scope of the Church’s powers. Worse, he created the Church of the Creator’s Holy Light and declared that it was to be the official church of London. When the Archimandrite protested about the reduction of the Order’s powers, King James said that the Church for ages past declared that everything that happened was part of the Creator’s holy plan, and it was because of that divine plan that monarchs ascended to their thrones, something that Krebs could not deny without putting lie to all of the Church’s claims.
However in many places the Order remained implacable, such as in Valleria, Andorra, Berlin, and Stratford, to name a few. These places “permitted” the Church of the Light officially, but there were open conflicts between members of the opposite faction that sometimes escalated into physical violence. Stupid, isn’t it? Here we are worshipping the same Creator, the same divine influence present in all things and yet we fought over just who worshipped Him correctly.
Of course in Valleria, things were still just as repressive as ever, thanks to the Order. There were still those that questioned the doctrine of the Order, and somehow the Order more often than not found out. These “subversives” were quickly arrested and charged with heresy, given very public trails and public executions, and it was mandatory that all persons attend to see the “Creator’s Justice at work.”
Well, as happens with folk, Archimandrite Reinhold Krebs died and was buried with full honors and regalia at the grand cathedral at New Valleria, giving lie to his claims that all were equal in the eyes of the Creator. Equal, my foot! No one else was ever given the grandiose funeral that he was; most folk had to have their dead carted off with the refuse and dumped in a mass grave. Anyways, in the same spirit of “equality,” before he died, the Archimandrite declared that his son Hans should be appointed to the post of Archimandrite. While not specifically against the policies of the Order, it was a generally accepted practice that a new Archimandrite be chosen from the Council of the Cardinals and was typically given to the Grand Cardinal, though not always. It was considered to be a great act for the Grand Cardinal to refuse such an ascension and for a worthy successor be selected by the ponderous selection process.
Krebs the younger tried to put a more moderate stance upon the Order. While the arrests weren’t abated, those who were arrested were taken to the Order’s monastery in Sheffield for a special education course in doctrine. At least, that’s what I assume. I’ve never seen what happened to them, but public executions fell dramatically.
Well now, from the time I entered the priesthood until the time I was actually a full priest, I had not heard from my parents, and as monks of the Second Order, we could not leave the monastery at New Valleria, except under special dispensation to collect alms and so forth. Funny, now that I think about it… Most of the people in our corner of the world lived just one step above poverty, but the Church and it’s officials – who generally got the best of everything and lived in the lap of luxury – were always sending out novices and initiates to collect alms because we always needed money and were apparently better at utilizing wealth than the people we demanded it from.
But there I go again, getting off topic. Anyhow, the week I was ordained as a priest, I sought passage to return to my family’s home in Thedford. My father was a leatherworker and metal smith. He made some of the best leather goods anywhere and that’s not just the word of a proud son speaking of his father, it’s also a fact. He only had two major worries in his life: The Order and my mother.
The Order insisted that my father sell his goods to people far cheaper than it cost to make them. So, like a good citizen, he complied because he wanted to do his part. The Order would also commission him to do work for their Knights and Crusaders, but instead of gold, they would pay him with words and wishes for the Creator’s blessings. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but it never paid the bills. My father used to say that “fifty coppers and the Creator’s blessings would get you a cup of tea.” So, with suppliers demanding to be paid for their goods, my father attempted to apply for a hardship stipend from the Office of Consumer and Commercial Affairs. They refused, stating that their mandate was to ensure that retail sector consumers paid prices for goods and services they all could afford. They had also told him that he was blessed by the Creator with the skills necessary to build and maintain a flourishing business, and therefore as ordered by doctrine, it was his sacred duty to sell his goods at those aforementioned levels, irrespective of cost to him. My father countered by saying the Creator had indeed blessed him with his skill and business, but if he did not get help that he needed, the only thing he would be blessed with would be poverty and bankruptcy. He added that he had to buy the materials at full price as he did not have the luxury of paying what he could afford, like his customers. My father was escorted out of their office with a warning – a threat actually – that if he did not immediately cease his complaining, they would forward his name to the Crusaders and he could present his case to the Inquisitors at the monastery in Sheffield. My father relented and went back to the near impossible task of keeping his business going. The next problem he had was my mother.
You see, what little money my father was able to glean from his business by doing work “under the table,” so to speak was set upon by my mother to give to the poor, sometimes even before the household expenses were seen to. My father tried to explain the reality of the situation, but my mother would always accuse my father of being uncaring about his fellow man and was a soulless and greedy creature. My father tried to explain to my mother that unless she stopped her foolishness, that our family would soon be among the poor and homeless she was so fierce in defending. He tried to explain that we were still obligated to paying for things such as the property taxes, fuel to heat our home, food and clothing, and so on, and especially my father’s creditors.
My mother countered by saying that they were big businesses that could afford to help us and others out by reducing or even eliminating the debt that we owed. My mother seemed oblivious to a few things in this regard. First, these businesses were in existence to make a profit and pay their workers a fair wage for their efforts, and they also had bills of their own to pay and relied on people paying what they owed in full. Naturally my mother being the obstinate woman she was refused to hear anything of it. To her way of… thinking, I suppose you could call it, these businesses were greedy and soulless entities more concerned with making money than helping their fellow man as was their duty under the law of doctrine.
My mother was always trying to get my father to hire one down-and-out after another. Naturally, they had little if any skills for the work, unless they wanted to work on the loading docks, but then it was amazing how many of them claimed to have various ailments that would prevent them from doing so. My mother had willfully blinded herself to the fact that the way that my father conducted business made it possible for her to gather with her friends in our drawing room and sip tea and complain for the poor misguided greedy souls in the world, and to look down their collective noses at them.
There I go again, getting off topic!
Well now, I had returned to my home and had gone straight around to my father’s shop and was appalled at what I had found. The entire business was gone, shut down and the building had a sign posted that it was available to be let by the Office of Consumer and Retail Affairs as well as the Office of Housing. All a prospective tenant would have to do was to renovate the building for whatever purpose suited them, but few people had the resources to do that. The building’s paint had been stripped away by the weather and time, and the waterlogged wood had a thin sheen of green in many places where moss and lichen grew. What windows that had not been boarded up were broken, giving the place of many a fond childhood memory all the charm of a smile with missing teeth. I had come to find out that my father’s business had gone bust some three years prior and that he was living in one of the town’s already crowded hostels.
I looked up at the sky and saw a storm heading in from the Eastern Sea. Indeed, the air was becoming quite thick and tinged with salt from the sea and I heard thunder rumbling in the distance. So, I set off in search of my father.
It had been raining for almost an hour, a steady downpour of rippling sheets of rainwater, striking the ground hard and bouncing back up so that even if you held your face down to shield it, it would be of no use. The rain was relentless! It was as though it were a living thing, seeking to blind me, coming in straight down, or from the sides, and now, even up from the ground.
They say that when you look for a thing, that it’s always in the last place you look… Regardless of this simple truth, this had always struck me as a rather foolish expression. I mean, of course when you are looking for a thing, it is only logical that it would be in the last place you look – unless you aren’t observant. Who continues to look for something when he’s already found it? Regardless, I found my father occupying the lower bunk in a leaky barracks in a housing complex on the eastern side of town. His bunk was only a few finger’s distance from touching the ground while rainwater mixed with human effluence sluiced by unconcerned, carrying its foul cargo with it like boats caught in the rapids. I located him by the sound of his wet, rheumy cough. Thedford being mostly a laborer’s town was never the cleanest of places and as of late, it had become something of an open-air sewer with the influx of its rising population. But at least, thanks to the rain, the city was getting a washing of sorts, praise the Creator. Of course, much of that filth was literally washing inches away from my father’s shelf of a bunk.
Anyways, we recognized each other upon sight; his a reaction of joy and mine one of shock. He told me how he had lost his business thanks to the regulated sales prices being set lower and lower every year. He held out as long as he could have before he declared bankruptcy, and so he paid off his debts as best he could after he liquidated his assets. My mother left him shortly thereafter stating that his failure as a businessman was proof of the Creator’s displeasure with him, rather than question the Order’s highly questionable business practices. She went to minister to the poor and needy and completely failed to recognize that her own husband was among those who were now also poor and needy. The last words my father said to me were: Paulie, leave Valleria. Go somewhere else, for this land and any other where the Order holds sway is no place for anyone who wants to work for themselves and think for themselves. This is no place for anyone who believes that they have a right to the fruits of their labors. This is a land of stagnation, slowly sliding into ruin where those who reap the rewards of this system are almost completely isolated from those who have sewn the crop. This is a land of death, where any who questions, who challenges the way things are called blasphemers, infidels, heretics, and sinners. Get out, Paulie, get out while you still can. I said a prayer for my father and returned to Valleria as my travel permit was about to expire, as was my father.
Before I returned to Valleria, I returned to my childhood home and was shocked to see how dilapidated it was. My mother ensured that our house was always neat and tidy inside and out, never boastful or prideful, but presentable in a humble sort of way. The house, paint peeled or faded from the wood siding was a disaster. The little fence and rose bushes that my mother took so much pride in (despite protestations to the contrary) were little more than brambles and the fence had all the charm of an overgrown cemetery. I stepped across the fallen gate and mustering my courage, I knocked on the door.
The door opened suddenly, only a crack and a beady gray eye peered suspiciously out at me.
“Who’re you?” a man’s voice demanded. There was anger in that high-pitched voice and a lot of fear.
“I am looking for Mrs. Glenda Darheel,” I said to him.
“Don’t know who you mean,” he replied. “No one here by that name.”
“She was the former occupant of this house,” I said. “Might you know where she could be?”
I think it was then that he noticed my priest’s robes and his voice took on a nervously hopeful tone.
“Is she wanted for some kind of crime against the people?” he asked. “And if so, might there be some kind of reward for a humble servant of the Creator such as myself?”
You see? This is what life under the Order had reduced people to: Everyone ready to turn informant against anyone else – even a supposedly beloved family member – if for no better reason that to throw suspicion onto someone else.
“Because, I’m a poor man,” he continued. “Just a humble servant of the Creator as are you… We haven’t done anything wrong!” he wailed.
Then a woman’s voice said, “Gregory, that man is a priest of the Order! Open the door and let him in out of the rain before he drowns, dolt!”
He complied immediately and I entered the house that had once been my home.
Gregory himself was a short, dumpy man with several days growth of sandy white stubble on his face, and he wore stained homespun robes, the majority of the stains covering the bulging expanse of his protruding belly. I also noticed that he seemed fidgety and worried. His wife – I assumed – had a hawkish aspect, with cold eyes over a thin slash of a mouth angled in a perpetual sneer. Clearly, there was a pecking order in this relationship and Gregory was clearly at the bottom. Sorry, Gregory, old boy.
Come in, Reverend,” she said with what passed for a smile on her face. “I’m Hilda and this is Gregory. We don’t know the woman you’re looking for. The Housing Office allotted us this house when we came up on the list. We’d been on that list for what seemed like forever, but Creator be praised, we were blessed with this place. We are truly grateful for what we have been given.”
I was only peripherally aware of her near obsequious fawning as I looked at the once-cheerful walls, now vandalized by neglect, with paint peeling in layers, betraying the layers of previous colors formerly hidden. It reminded me uncomfortably of a snake shedding its skin.
“So who is this Glenda-person you’re looking for?” she asked.
“A former acquaintance,” I replied. Not a lie, but not the complete truth either. Unspoken doctrine from the Order implies that complete truth is only required when the Order demands it so.
“Well, we don’t know anything about the folks that lived here before us,” Gregory said. “The Housing Office don’t tell the likes of us such things. I suppose it’s because they think that we don’t need to be asking questions that aren’t any of our business.”
“But,” Hilda added. “They did tell us that the woman – they gave us no name – that did live here gave the Office this house as she went to join the Sisters of Mercy.”
The Sisters of Mercy was well known to the Order but not officially affiliated with it. They travelled throughout Valleria doing charitable works for those in need. Since the Order’s doctrine stated that acts of charity were mandatory by all who were able to do so, and as everyone feared a visit from the Crusaders, they complied.
Did I find my mother? Oh yes, I eventually did. You see, when a priest is first ordained, part of their duties is to accompany a troop of Crusaders when they are dispatched into the field. Our land of Valleria is bordered to the north by the Grand Cambrian range, almost impassable and a rather inhospitable region, however there are a few small settlements there. It’s farm country mostly, especially in the valleys.
Those settlements – Folden’s Corners, Cyprus Corners, and Mann – were all glad to see us when we arrived. The peoples there all stopped what they were doing and turned out to show the proper amount of practiced respect.
The most remote settlement was the village of Northfield and when we arrived, the town was all but gone in every important respect. There were smoldering remains of houses to mark its place… and the bodies. There were bodies everywhere, men, women, young, old, all riddled with arrows or with gaping wounds caused by… I don’t know what. I’m a priest, not a warrior and I don’t know about such things, but I can tell you that I found the Sisters and my mother’s dead body among them. Even in death, she had that stern grimace that I remembered from my childhood.
So what happened? Well now, there had always been legends of trolls in these parts and even greater legends of an ancient troll fortress somewhere in the impassable mountain ranges. I had – as many others – assumed that these were nothing but campfire stories, designed to frighten children at night. And of course these days, we had trolls living in the territory in their own little reserved areas where they lived in peace among themselves. They would always cause a stir among the folks of Thedford when they would come into town to trade, partially out of fear and partially out of curiosity. They’d come into town, do their business and then leave, and part of our history says that when humans first came into this land that the trolls of those days were quite friendly and helpful, showing us which plants could be used as food and as medicines, how to track game, and so on. We lived in peace for generations, but then the first sprouts of the Order bloomed into existence.
One day, a man stood up and said that our ancestors were guided by a divine force through the mountains – where Highway 39 is today – and brought to Valeria. Using this claim, he declared that this land was somehow “reserved” for us by the Creator, to be used as our own. That meant everyone else had to go, and by everyone else, I mean the trolls. Because of our arrogance, we readily accepted this statement as a fact for no better reason than because we wanted it to be so.
As with all statements of complete absurdity, there were those that refused to believe in this concept of “divine intervention”, but there were those who drowned out such voices, mostly because they stood the most to gain. As is the nature of the beast called humanity, those who did not support the majority’s belief in divine intervention were the targets of scorn and ridicule. The followers of divine intervention allowed their greed to rationalize the belief that the Creator Himself said that this land and everything in it was ours for the taking.
The man that had started all this declared that the Creator did indeed speak to him and declared himself the first Archimandrite. Back then, the Order had been a strictly men-only thing, but men and women serve in the Church equally. In fact, the current Grand Cardinal is a woman named Flavia. She is the youngest person – man or woman – ever to hold that title.
But I’m getting off topic again, aren’t I? Well, as the movement grew many saw the trolls that had been our allies and our saviors in those early years now as a threat. Because now the realized that while the trolls had always lived in peace with us, they were now seen as competitors for the same resources, and many people were not content with sharing; they wanted it all for themselves. You see what greed does? Well now, this was the beginning of the Crusaders of the Second Order. A few like-minded folk from the Church decided that the trolls had things too good for too long and they aimed to put a stop to it. If they were foolish enough to help us, they deserve to be repaid for that stupidity in full. And so there you had the Crusaders for the almighty Creator, and the name kind of stuck ever since.
Well now, these “Crusaders” went on a campaign of “liberation” for humanity, but what they were liberating were the trolls from this mortal existence. They went on a campaign of wholesale extermination against the trolls. Naturally, the trolls had always lived in peace with us, so these attacks came as a complete surprise as they were slaughtered. Men, women, young, old – it didn’t matter. If they remained still, they were slaughtered. If they ran, it only made it more sporting for those Crusaders.
Yeah, I know, there were those that said that if the Creator had truly given us this land and if the Creator was truly on our side, then we should be helping the poor, backward trolls assimilate into our society. After a time, these voices gained popularity among the Church and the people and we decided to do just that. But we couldn’t even get that right!
D’you know what we did? We kidnapped their children – the Order called it schooling – and we stripped them of their language and their culture, and we forced them to accept ours. Then we sent them back in the hopes that they would teach their parents, but guess what happened? Those children once they returned had nothing in common with their parents. We stole their children and returned only strangers with familiar faces.
Strange when you look back on it, but I find it odd that no one ever suspected that the trolls would resent us for such acts. We never even bothered to look at it from their point of view. We saw ourselves as liberators of the trolls, bringing civilization and culture to them. We were collectively put out when they attacked us; we saw them as being nothing more than ungrateful wretches. Fancy that! We stole their land, we stole their culture, we stole their children and their way of life and actually expected that they would be grateful for it. We slaughtered not only entire villages but entire clans that had existed for hundreds of years.
Anyways, what few clans that exist fled to the outermost reaches of the Valerian territory and refuse any attempts at what they no doubt see as our attempts to civilize them again. These trolls are extremely reclusive and – when confronted – extremely savage. It seems that their memories run deep. Of course, many humans think that we should all forgive and forget, but then we’re the ones that are in the wrong so of course we’d want the trolls to forgive and forget so that we’d never have to be accountable for what we did to them. It’s easy to be magnanimous when you’re the one that’s in the wrong.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to start a sermon on the evils that humans do. Well now, we tried making amends, but the one thing we knew the trolls wanted was the one thing we’d never give them: Their lands. There were those that still cling to the notion today that the Creator gave us these lands, and that was that. There were others that claimed that they felt for the trolls’ plight, but the world has moved on and they had best get used to the way things are in the here and now instead of living in the past. There were still more – Crusaders mostly – that maintained that the trolls were ignorant savages and we were doing them and us a favor; it wasn’t genocide, it was pest control. They said that the trolls were a bunch of ignorant savages that had benefitted collectively because of our generosity. I suppose that would depend on exactly how you defined generosity in the first place. Of course, when I served with the Order, I was taught a revised version of what is now silently referred to as our “official history,” and I fervently held to what I was taught.
But as I became more… enlightened with the way the real world was – as opposed to what the Order dictated – the more my perspective shifted to one of one who seeks the truth. So I began to look at things from the trolls’ point of view. Imagine that you own your own home free and clear. It’s a modest dwelling and life isn’t always easy, but generally you get by with a minimum of fuss and a lot of diligence. Then one day a couple of strangers show up and they are so inept at even the most basic of survival that your personal honor demands that even though they are so strange and wary of you that you decide to help them. You show them what things they can eat and what to use as medicine; you show them how to farm the land and which crops to plant, and so on, and you invite them to stay in your home (your land).
And they’re grateful. So grateful in fact, that they invite other people to move into your house as if it were their own, without so much as a “by your leave”, and your house is getting more and more crowded with every passing day.
Then one day, your guests inform you that they’ve enjoyed staying in your home so much that they are never going to leave, and instead are going to keep it as their own. But, as you’ve been such generous hosts, they’ve collectively decided that they will allow you and yours to use one room. That is, until they decide that they want that too, and that’s how the trolls see us: uninvited guests that have outstayed their welcome, and I can’t say that they’re completely incorrect and I can’t say that I blame them. Anyhow, since the time when I found my mother’s body, the trolls have been relatively quiet, still coming to Thedford to trade and barter.
Okay, I know what you’re dying to ask: Why did I leave Valleria in the first place. Well, one day I had the honor and the privilege to read some of our ancient texts, and among them were many texts and tomes that Krebs the Elder had decreed to be “contrary to the wishes of the Creator,” and had banned them. Among them was a phrase or two that caught my eye and stuck in my mind. The first said, “ask a man of science a profound question about science and if he does not know the answer, he will be silent. As a profoundly religious person a relatively simple question about his faith, and he will be incensed and you will be reviled as a heretic.”
Another said, “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is labeled as insanity. When may suffer from the same delusion, it is called religion.” And the last one asked five simplistic but not easy questions to answer: “Is God, the Creator willing to prevent Evil but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is God the Creator able to prevent Evil, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. If God the Creator is both willing and able, then from where comes Evil? But if God the Creator is neither willing nor able to prevent Evil, then why worship Him at all?”
It was little wonder that the Order had kept such things hidden for so long. If the people got wind of these books and many like them, they would question doctrine and that would be unthinkable. This is why the Order cracked down so heavily upon anything that could possibly ferment to insurrectionist attitudes. In my case however, it was too late. The seeds of doubt and dissention were planted upon the fertile sand of my mind.
Remember – wait, did I mention how the Order manipulated the people into zealotry? I don’t remember either, but they did, and they did it with masterful skill. My eyes were finally open to the kind of world the Order had wrought: Rampant poverty and abject misery of the common folk while the Archimandrite and his inner sanctum reveled in almost unimaginable opulence. They got the choicest morsels while everyone else simply had to make do with what little they had. To my new way of thinking – which is to say, actually using my intelligence –this conduct was reprehensible. The Order had maintained for as long as I could remember that “all were equal in the Eyes of the Creator.” But now it seemed that when they said “all,” that there were many exclusions to that list.
Shortly after this, I requested and was granted the post of vicar to the priest in Folden’s Corners, and he was the man, that priest, that changed my life forever. At one time, he was in line to be one of the youngest bishops and may have even become Grand Cardinal or even Archimandrite if Krebs the Elder had not seen fit to serve his own kin first. But he refused the offer saying that he could best serve the people while being among them. Krebs the Elder eagerly granted this request I suspect, as he was a kind and tolerant man, filled with a level of compassion for all that I had seldom ever experienced.
His name? Father Myrddin Belenus.
“When the Order says ‘we never shall be slaves’, we pray and pray, and still we work like slaves! While the Order screams, and yells and rants and raves, we work, and pray all right into our graves!”
Covert protest song