Fires of the Faithful
“Here, boy. Here is a coin. A fine piece of silver, and I give it to you but with one condition. You may not spend that coin nor profit from its use before you die. Why do you look at me like that? Is the coin not still worth the same as before?
Alas, you are correct. It is worth no more than a piece of lead. In fact, a slug of lead would be worth more, as you could melt it and shape it into a fine bullet for a sling, and possibly bring down a hare to feed your family. This gift, which would normally be of great value to you is well and truly worthless.
I would not restrain generosity so. Take the coin and do with it as you wish. Ahh…already I see your face light up. That coin really is valuable, is it not?
And yet everyone here holds their lives in the same condition as that silver coin when first I offered it. You live, you toil, you survive, you love, you marry, you build and you pray. Yet your Dark Mistress tells you that all these things are worthless. In the ultimate goal for all of us, there is nothing you can do with your life while you still have it. Not one moment of this day will go towards earning a place in eternity!
But I watch, and I see what you do. I see you common folk living each day, enjoying the company of your fellows and offering community to them. I see famers work hard to bring in the crops that feed everyone…including the priests. I see you face off the orcs when they come through, and I see many among you who would not hesitate to die so that your family can live on. I see young lovers flush with the joy of romance, and the energy their budding love brings back to this village. I see those same young lovers marry and bring shining children into the community – and those children, newborn and helpless are told that they owe everything to Maras and they spend their whole lives under that debt. I see you build strong, sturdy buildings that match the character of the fine people I see here – many buildings built for the Dark Mistress. And I see you pray fervent prayers of devotion that go unanswered and move your goddess not to mercy or favor.
Everything you do…everything! And none of it is enough to merit you even one day in paradise after your toils! Instead, when your body is worn out and collapses under the weight of years, or when you valiantly sacrifice yourself to save those you love, only then do the priests come and see if you have some way to serve and gain the afterlife.
But there is a Lady who values you even as you stand here. Each breath you take, so long as it is a good and righteous breath, brings you one step closer to eternal happiness. By living and living well you gain merit in her eyes. And when you are tired and your body must rest forever, you will instantly be granted the relief of the ages.
If you would learn of my most merciful Lady, come to the meadow in an hour. If you wish your life to be silver, instead of base, black lead, come and I will offer you a way.”
“Let me tell you a story from my homeland and tell me what you think. It is a trifle…something I picked up while riding aimlessly through the countryside, but I think there was a reason even then that this story stuck in my mind.
I met an old peasant named Ramas, and complimented him on his fine plow, and wondered how he came by it. ‘I got it when that old fool Henri finally died and lived up to his promise.’ I was intrigued, so I asked about the village and discovered the story.
Henri was a peasant who worked a fine parcel of land down by a river. His land was rich, and he managed to earn enough after his obligations that he could eventually afford a fine steel plow. It was a masterfully-wrought plow, and it’s sharp blade cut the soil even more easily. He was able to continue meeting his obligations easily for many years. Everyone in the county knew about Henri’s fine steel plow.
One year, the spring rains were strong and hit full flood. A massive torrent of water washed away Henri’s barn and with it the steel plow. He was distraught.
Now, downstream, a young peasant boy named Ramas saw Henri’s fine steel plow caught in a tangle of branches, but it appeared it would soon be swept away forever. The boy quickly hitched a rope to his mule, clambered out across the branches and pulled the plow to shore. Moments after he was safe, the branches washed downstream.
He was proud of himself, and took the plow back to Henri, hoping for some small reward and some thanks. Henri thanked him profusely, and then said the following:
‘Without your efforts, my fine steel plow would be lost forever, therefore it is yours. I ask only that you let me use it until the end of my days, and then I will happily see that the plow is turned over to you to use as you see fit.’
Ramas was thrilled. He immediately accepted the terms and went to waiting for the day when Henri’s fine steel plow would be his. Henri lived for 20 more years, but true to his word, when he passed the plow was given to Ramas.
Now, you and I would expect that Ramas would be grateful for the plow, but how could we reconcile this with the man I met in the fields?
Over time, he began to harbor a resentment. And each year as he planted in his own rocky fields and harvested his poor crops, he watched as Henri again pulled in a great harvest. He spoke to himself, and said, ‘If it weren’t for me, Henri wouldn’t have that plow. And if not for that plow, his crops would not be so fine. He owes all that he has to me, and yet I scrape by.’ Even as two more floods took the plow downstream, and two other men rescued it, he thought, ‘If not for me, they would have not have had the opportunity to rescue it. They owe part of their reward to me.’
Ramas rescued the plow for Henri, hoping for a small reward and some thanks. He was rewarded with rights to the plow and readily agreed to the terms. And yet he was not grateful, but grew spiteful of the man who bequeathed such a fine implement to him. He felt this way because he felt that the plow was owed to him.
The Dark Mistress tells you that you owe your life to her, and for this reason, you owe her your body after death. But do you believe that she really values this gift, or does she look upon you as Ramas looked upon Henri? And the next time a successful merchant is Called to Service, ask yourself if his call was motivated by his true best service, or whether it was motivated by envy, resentment or other small-mindedness.
I bring word of a grateful Lady to whom you owe nothing. Anything you give she will return many times over, and she will be genuinely happy for your gifts. If you would learn of this Bright Lady, I will speak of her at noon at yonder pond. I will gladly welcome all who would offer their ears.”
“Slavery is a despicable condition. Would any here dispute that? The Dark Mistress states an undying hatred of slavery, and this is a good thing. I can find no fault with that statement.
Slavery is an abomination whereby a soul is crushed, degraded and invariably destroyed if the situation is not corrected. Some bold or brave persons may find their way out of slavery, taking a daring course to freedom. Often they do so at the risk of their very lives and undergo extreme hardships. Some are fortunate to be rescued from bondage, as were these fine ladies you see arrayed around me.
Sadly enough, I helped to free these ladies from slavers who were hired by the Archpriest Mavliso of Prodosia. My Lady guided me to them, and she guided my blade as I cut down one of the slavers. They had taken a many young ladies into bondage, and we even tracked another slaver down. He was witnessed with Mavliso, and Mavliso admitted to the man working for him, and working in that despicable trade.
Why do I hear sounds of dismay? Are you truly shocked that a priest of the Dark Mistress would do such a thing? But why?
The Dark Mistress claims to hate slavery, but the fact is she only hates slavery that is not under her direct control. Each of you hold your lives in trust, and at any moment you could be Called to Service. And you know as well as I that the call may not be merited. Step on the wrong priest’s toe and you’ll be called. Fall in love with the wrong priest’s object of obsession and you’ll be called. You live your entire life wearing shackles of which you are unaware, and you are never more than a breath from having real shackles placed upon you.
And not content with merely keeping you held close in life, when you die she will enslave your tired bones as well.
I bring word of the Lady of the Lake. She has sent me here with one simple goal: to free every soul in the Protectorate of Maras. And I intend to see her will done. A free soul has nothing to fear from the Lady, and she will offer a key that will free you from all bondage.
If you wish a life free from slavery, and a promise that when you die your bones will be allowed to rest peacefully, then speak with me at yonder glade after sundown. Or speak with these fine ladies and learn of their dedication to oppose slavery. In all its forms.”
On Nobility (addressed to the Nobles)
“I speak today with the authority and backing of she who is the font of all that is good and righteous, the Lady of the Lake. She has bade me address you and her words are not gentle. I am not here to offer pretty promises and cajole you. Those who are worthy will hear my words and seek to redress the wrong because their own virtue tells them this is proper. Those who are threatened by what I say are right to feel so, and will find the Lady of the Lake to be an implacable enemy.
The root of all nobility is merit. In my native land, we are blessed that in ancient days, those most worthy to serve were raised to lead. And those who were ennobled knew it was their sworn duty to ensure that their descendants would learn to be worthy of their titles. Those who failed to learn would be cast out. Thus, would the tree of nobility be well-tended and continually pruned, and illuminated by the rays of our glorious White Lady this task was made easier.
I must assume that in days of old, your ancestors were originally raised because they served the people and protected them, for such is the origin of all nobility. But where my folk were blessed with the shimmering light and guidance of our Lady, your noble trees here were cursed and forced to grow within a tainted darkness. Because of this the shoots withered and, while some grew true and straight, most shriveled and twisted, turning round the trunk to choke the best of your nation offered and set the dead branches upon the altar of the Dark Mistress.
I am here today to call you to account. This is true. But I also believe that some here are worthy of their titles. The worthy will understand what I say and work to prove their merit and the unworthy will fly back to the darkness. Woe to those who hold their position only through heredity and not through character!
And here is the account I call you to settle. You, or your ancestors, sold your people once long ago. As the inheritors of their titles, you also are responsible for their debts, and I do not excuse you from them. If you would prove yourself, then it is up to you to repair that most grevious of all debts.
I have heard the story of Trogon Zoi, and I understand how his offer may have seemed gracious at the time. However, the moment that you first allowed him to force your people into undeath so that others might live, you abdicated your role as protectors. You purchased a few years of life in servitude for your people by giving up on their eternal happiness. You meekly accepted the notion that it was better to die quietly tomorrow than to die valiantly today doing what was right.
To compound the matter, you let the priests of the Dark Mistress, that Black Bitch, threaten and cajole you, so that rather than protect your people – the ones your ancestors were bound to serve – you would sacrifice them so that you might buy another day of life. You sacrificed good people for a wicked, worthless day of life. And I know, far better than you, the true depravity of the Church of Maras. I have read her text on how Martyrs are created. It is a thing of pure evil, and she tortures unto death her most faithful servants, promising a life eternal in her service. But many will never see a moment of that future life and only suffer incredible anguish before expiring and being cast out. Each time you cheer at the procession of a new martyr, or scheme so that your rival is the next chosen for such an honor, your account grows and your debt is greater.
There is but one remedy. The Lady of the Lake has sent me here to offer her hand and guidance. I am merely the beacon by which you can steer, or the voice in the distance leading you out of the darknes with her words. Accept the Lady’s generous offer, and free your people from the Church of Maras! While a single peasant toils waiting for his Call to Service, your debt shall remained unpaid.
There are innocent men and ladies in this land, and the Lady will be gentle upon them. There are wicked men who have followed the path to folly for themselves, and the Lady may show them mercy. But you are neither! You claim authority by your title, and because of this she who is good and righteous lays responsibility upon you. Commit now to redress the wrongs you have laid upon your people, or know that the Church of Maras will be no protection.
As I said before I am not here to persuade you with gifts and promises and kind words. That has been the way you learned under the sway of the Dark Mistress. I am here to speak truth and call upon the righteous to honor their debts, and on the unworthy to scuttle back to the darkness like all roaches do before the light!
Search your heart and decide where you stand. It is time for you to decide if you will honor the obligations of your title, or again abandon them. The Lady will be harsh to any who cling to their title while forgoing their responsibilities.”
On Nobility (addressed to the Peasantry)
“Gather about if you will and hear the pronouncements of the Lady of the Lake from her most humble servant, Sir Guy le Gui. I bring a call of redemption composed in equal parts of freedom and duty.
Perhaps you have heard whispers of me already and wonder about various rumors spread about me. Some are certainly true, and rumors being what they are, some are certainly false. So I will first tell you in brief who I am and you may judge my words yourself and no longer have to rely on rumor.
You have perhaps heard that I am a dangerous man, with dangerous ideas. I am. But the danger is only to those who misuse others. I oppose all that is evil with every breath in my body. And the Lady of the Lake has blessed me with sight to easily see evil, even in things that may on their surface appear fair. A man with such a sight, in such a place, is indeed a dangerous man.
I understand how the Church of Maras may have seemed a fair option at one dark point in the past, but I instantly divined that it is as foul as a fetid swamp and as black as the Dark Mistress’ name would imply. As soon as my foot set in this land, I knew I would have to oppose the Church of Maras. I could not do otherwise, for my shining Lady guides me to drive out all evil. I was raised to do so. At the moment of my birth, this sword was given to me, and my parents swore that I would follow the Lady and smite the unjust and protect the innocent. That was ever the way in my home of Bretonnia. Bretonnia.
I am from Bretonnia, a land much like yours and yet in so many ways different. Certainly you can hear in my speech evidence of this difference. It is a land far away. Indeed, so far away that I could not point to it if I had to, save to point to the ground where I stand and say, “wherever I tread, Bretonnia will exist through my example!” I am a noble there, although I easily confess that I am of no great title, and happily and loyally served a lord greater than myself, and he did the same. In Bretonnia, all such as myself, all knights, followed the Lady of the Lake and worked to prove ourselves by following her will. And in so doing, her will and blessed insight placed me here, in the Protectorate of Maras.
When she placed me here, the first thing I realized was that, in one grave respect, your Protectorate and Bretonnia were very different. In Bretonnia, nobles were raised to their station in order to protect the weak, the helpless and those who paid them homage. I spent many years just travelling around our fair land looking for wrongs to right and people to protect, and I was frequently thronged by thankful families and villages for doing no more than was expected of me.
But here in the Protectorate, this black and debased land, I have seen how the common man shuns the Lord and seeks at all costs to avoid his gaze. I have heard the tales of Lords misusing peasants in all manner of horrific ways, and I have heard of the many deceits played upon hard-working men and women. I have seen how nobles who might stand up for their citizens are brought to heel by the Church of Maras. And when I learned of these things, I knew immediately that one of the gravest threats in this realm is that the land is sick to its very soul because you cannot rely on those who should be sworn to protect you above all else!
The time is coming though, when they will all be challenged. Perhaps you’ve heard what is happening in Prodosia. There is one noble who is beginning to work again for the people. He was the first to respond to the Lady’s light, although he still works with too much subtlety. But he will come around and be an example to all other nobles
As to those other nobles, I will call all of them to answer their true service and serve the people, or I will see them cast down! But I am merely one man, with one blade. Though the Lady would no doubt strengthen my arm to the task, I would avoid unnecessary bloodshed. After all, once a man dies, he can no longer be of service. No, I can serve best as a beacon, a summons, a guide.
As I call the nobles of the Protectorate, some will support the Church for they are craven, cowardly sorts who live in fear of punishment and seek to avoid death, rather than avoid indignity and disgrace. But others, others will feel something stir within them and they will once again reclaim their rightful roles as your protectors. And among you, the common men, the peasant classes, some of you will realize that you have been miscast while under this Dark Mistress and her infernal church. You will recognize that you too are protectors and the Mistress has tried to crush that nobility within you so that you might never oppose her evil.
So watch. Learn. The Lady demands only that each of us do the best of which we are able. See which nobles are standing up for your interests and support them. And those who strive against you? The Lady of the Lake calls upon you to see them removed. Look to your heart and see if your best service is at home, or if you would join me on the road to your freedom from fear and oppression.”