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Light fell upon the priest. That single ray of illumination, shaped by the ancient master-carved lens in the ceiling of the long and narrow chapel hewn out of the red rock cliffs, bathed the celebrant. His green tunic and trousers, trimmed in purple, shimmered. So did the alabaster makeup that covered his face. The blue-silver threads in the black short-haired wig picked up the light, creating a halo around his face. The black boots, with inset lifts, reflected light as if they too were burnished mirrors.
A long chord echoed through the temple, but the priest did not speak until all was silent.
"When our forebears turned their backs on the True Duarchy, then the One Who Is turned away and let the Cataclysm fall upon Corus…" The celebrant's voice seemed to come from everywhere, yet nowhere.
More than a hundred worshippers stood with bowed heads, heads covered with black scarves of mourning. Only a handful dared to look from lowered heads toward the front of the temple.
"The Cataclysm did not have to happen. The misery and suffering did not have to come to pass. And why did it come to be? How could so many be so blind?"
The only response to his questions was silence.
"The Duarchy of Corus bestowed peace and prosperity upon all the world, for generation upon generation. Never was there so fair a realm, so just a world. Never were so blessed the peoples of a world. Never had so many benefited so much. And then, in an instant, it all vanished…"
In the next-to-last line of worshippers stood a dark-haired figure in gray. He was a head taller than those around him, and his face paler. The weave of the wool of his traveling cloak was somewhat finer. His head was bent slightly less than the heads of others, and his eyes never left the celebrant. The faintest hint of an amused smile appeared from time to time at the corners of his thin lips.
"…as the Mantra of Mourning declares…Ice flowed from the skies. The air that had been so fair, and perfumed, became as thin and as acrid as vinegar. Streams dried in their beds, rivers in their courses, never to flow again…All that had been beautiful and great perished and was lost. And for what reason?"
After a momentary silence, the priest answered, "Because people were selfish and thought only of themselves. They turned their backs on the True Duarchy, and when they did so, they turned their backs on the One Who Is…for the Duarchy was indeed His creation…
"…in this world of transitory glory, when warlord succeeds warlord, and battle follows battle, and evil follows evil, we must persevere. We must have faith in the One Who Is. We must follow the path of righteousness to restore the old truths. For only by the instrument of the True Duarchy shall we be redeemed. Only by restoring the true creation of the One Who Is shall we once more see peace and prosperity, faith and faithfulness…"
The traveler in gray nodded, appreciatively, and continued to listen.
"…even today, the troubles continue. The hills to the north and west have become so dry in your lifetimes that they support nothing but twisted trees and spiky thorn, and yet the unbelievers do not see. Even here in Hyalt, where it is obvious, they do not see…
"…when the only deity is gold, when the only rule is power, when the only law is that laid down by the longest blade, by the deadliest rifle, no man can be safe, and none can find security. There are no arts, no fine buildings, no wondrous words, nothing but gold and blood…"
The traveler continued to listen, until at last came a hymn and the concluding refrain:
* * *
"…for the beauty of the skies and sea,
the full return of perfect harmony,
the blessings of the True Duarchy
and for the One Who Will Always Be!"
* * *
After the hymn, the priest turned to the worshippers. "Praise to the One Who Is! And for His creation of the Duarchy!"
"And for His creation of the Duarchy!" repeated the congregation.
"Praise to the One Who Is! For He will come again in glory!"
"For He will come again in glory!"
"Praise to Him and His True Duarchy! For all that was and will be!"
"For all that was and will be!"
The single ray of light vanished, plunging the cavern temple into total darkness for a long moment. Then, slowly, more indirect light filtered into the temple as the skylight portals, with their gauze-covered panes, were uncovered.
The sanctuary at the front of the temple was empty.
The gray-clad traveler made his way forward, toward the side entrance leading to the chambers of the celebrant. His fingers touched briefly the outer garments over the heavy leather wallet hidden beneath his cloak and filled with golds.
Copyright ©2004 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.