Being a partial account of the visit of a Peonian Bishop of Shorkyne to the Kingdom of Kaldor on Hârn, and the Peonian temples therein.
1st Maerme of Galaon, 1319 SA
Day of Saint Arslesa
I arrived today at Tashal, one of the largest towns in this kingdom. I was, of course, accompanied by my two faithful scribes and helpers. The journey was a pleasant one - the land hereabouts is well settled and well governed, so there was little to fear. Though it is normally my custom to spend time at the villages I pass through, I did not pause today, for I strongly desired to reach Tashal before nightfall, in readiness for the ceremonies on the morrow. I am also greatly looking forward to meeting Brigyne, about whom I have heard so much.
That I was welcomed with a formal, but enthusiastic welcome bodes well. Marnyle of Ludos, the Pelnala of the temple, greeted me, apologising on behalf of Brigyne, who was still out tending a possessed man at the nearby village of Artoen. I declined her offer for the Bishop to meet with me when she returned, for I knew we would both be suffering from tiredness, and there is plenty of time yet.
1st Yselde of Galaon, 1319 SA
An exhausting day! The two orders that reside in the town immediately made me most welcome, and in some style. After morning prayer and meditation, I was asked first to lead the first lay mass, and then to participate in a rather unusual event - a parade through the streets of Tashal, in costume! The mass was a mixed affair, as my apparent accent was all that offset the apparent disappoint by those attending that this far-off priest did not look like a monkey, or have four arms!
After this, all departed for their rooms, while the Solana of the Irreproachable Order, Korin of Ornelt, brought to me such an outfit as I have rarely seen in all my travels. It was a massive papier mache head (made, it seems, from scraps of parchment too worn for further use) in the shape of an ox, and attached to it was a long brown skirt, picked out with yellow stars. While Korin helped me into it, he explained the forthcoming ceremony.
The procesion was, he said, a tradition that had begun long ago, after an outbreak of plague in the area. At that time, the priests had taken it upon themselves to collect the bodies of those struck down by the plague, and would wander through the streets in search of such. Often during those dark days these priests were the only ones to venture out of doors, all others kept inside from fear.
It was while walking about the corpse-ridden streets that a senior priest saw in wonder the figure of a great bronze ox, struggling down the street towards the graveyard. Behind it's immense body it dragged over a dozen bodies of those newly fallen. The next day, no more bodies were found, and the plague had passed.
Ever since that time the priests and citizens celebrated the relief of the town and the intervention of Peoni by holding a ceremony which re-enacted the events. I was, it became clear, to play the main part, that of the Bronze Ox, while the local priests would help me drag and carry obliging citizens to the graveyards outside the walls. It turned out that that this was not all, but first I shall describe the procession itself.
>From the temple the assembled priests, dressed as formally as our faith allows, moved out into Kald Square, where we found a number of laypeople, dressed in grey, already gathered. Everyone but I, it seemed, knew what to do. Small carts had been drawn up, and while some grey men and women lay themselves down on these, others quickly scattered through the streets of the town. The Ebasethe then took up positions at the front, sides and rear of the carts, and began pulling and pushing them along. I, the only one who seemed to be wearing extravagant costume, was soon bustled into place at the head of a long line of priests who were dragging a heavily laden cart. It seemed only appropriate, then, that I give forth a call to proceed, and we filed out of the square and through the ways of the town.
Everyone, priests and laypeople alike, sang as we made our way slowly - the weight of the carts was no show! - through the streets, winding vaguely southwards towards the gates. Everywhere we went there were throngs of people watching, and many flowers were thrown, over myself, over the priests, and over the "dead" we carried. The singing was for the most part drowned out by shouts and cheers; the whole town seemed to be celebrating with us!
Eventually we made our way through the crowds, out the gates (from which more flowers were thrown), and at last wound down to the cemetary. Here a greater shock than all before met my eyes - standing on a makeshift platform just outside the hallowed grounds was a tall figure, dressed in robes of the palest yellow, whose huge face was that of a beautiful woman, of middle years, smiling. Her hair was flowers, and vines coiled around her neck. With ridiculously thin arms she beckoned the procession forward.
As we approached, the woman raised her hands to her head and lifted off the mask which was a complement to my own. After she had lain it to one side, I could see that it was Brigyne herself who had taken on the appearance of Our Lady Herself. Somewhat shocked by this display of presumption, I had half a mind to protest then and there, but the activities of those around me swept me on. From out of the carts the "plague-dead" tumbled, rapidly taking places in front of the dais, while the priests did likewise. I was rather left wondering what to do, but a gentle push on my back gave me the idea. Standing tall, though my legs ached after so much strain, I walked forward through the crown, towards the stage where my counterpart was still standing. Once directly below her, I removed my own mask, an action greeted by enormous cheers by all. I had barely time to place the ox head on the stage when I was helped up by a smiling Brigyne.
To cut a long story short, what followed was another mass, said especially for all those who have died in the town's history, then a return to the temple and a more usual fare of prayer, meditation, and lay ceremonies. Though still concerned about the portrayal of Peoni Herself on this earth, I decided to leave the issue to another day. I am weary after all that pulling, and my hand aches from this writing.
2nd Tirrale of Galaon, 1319 SA
Day of Saint Frin
The longer I stay on this western isle, the more variety I see in even those customs which I had thought laid out through the practice of the ages. Today I was asked to accompany two Ebasethe to the village of Holdan, to the north of Tashal. Word had been relayed to the temple by a Reslava who had recently passed through that hamlet, to the effect that a plague of demons had attacked and possessed some of the villagers. The village priest felt herself unfit to deal with the situation alone, and had requested aid. Little did the good woman realise that a Sulaplyn from another continent was to be among those sent to help her!
We arrived in Holdan to find a shocking situation. While there seemed no evidence of the physical ravages of demons (though we were assured that hordes of them had ripped through the village like a storm wind), a number of the farmholders were terribly afflicted. One rather portly man no longer spoke with a human voice, and ran about on all fours, covered in mud. Another man was permanently cross-eyed, and a third seemed to lack any control over his head, which dangled forward from his shoulders, his face set in a snarling grimace.
My colleagues and I, with the resident priestess also in attendance, set to work at once, to rid these unfortunate men of their sufferings. The exorcism of evil spirits is no light matter, even for those blessed by the Holy Mother. To bring forth the purity in another, in order to drive out impurity, requires strength of purity in the performer. For this reason we undertook, at my instruction, a purification ritual for ourselves. The other Ebasethe seemed a trifle unsure of themselves when I directed them to disrobe and rub the dust of the road on themselves. However, they knew well enough the next step of washing off the earth with water (on this occasion furnished by a well, since there was no stream nearby), and everything proceeded satisfactorily.
The next step was, of course, the exorcism itself. I decided that in a case such as this, where so many were struck seemingly deliberately and at once, it would be sensible to combine all our prayers in treating each victim. As the most senior priest, I lead the others in the rituals, while they accompanied me with chants and acolyte-work. With many prayers, great use of holy lotions, and the usual repetitions and calls to Peoni, the spirits were moved, and the men restored to their former selves, hardly the worse for their experiences.
One thing that did catch my eye, or rather my ear, while we refreshed ourselves after our exertions, was a reference by the local priestess to the fifth field. I thought nothing of it at the time, but it intrigued me, and later I asked Janor of Torelin, the deputy Pelnala of the Irreproachable Order about this, during the course of our first substantial conversation. He has quite a reputation, and indeed I knew him as one of the attractions of the Tashal temple before coming here. On this matter of the fifth field (though not on any other, I hasten to add) he was unhelpful and abrupt, dismissing both the priestesses words and my interest. He said only that even priests occasionally picked up nonsense from untrustworthy travellers. I sense mystery.
2nd Yselde of Galaon, 1319 SA
Day of Saint Din the Lawgiver
Today was my first opportunity to delve further into the matter of the "fifth field". I assumed that it was a religious reference, and so I approached Serilia of Arikor, the Avisana of the Balm of Joy and the temple as a whole, for help in finding books which might give me some clue. I forbore to reveal the specific interest I had, but instead asked to delve into the temple records. I spent a long morning going through the lists of priests both former and present who had trained or stayed here at Tashal, in the hopes of stumbling across something useful. In particular, remembering Janor's words, I looked for those priests who were not originally from the area, or who had later travelled widely, perhaps as Reslava.
After a late lunch, I had still not found anything concrete, though I hardly expected to do so. I had had Torrel, my scribe, make a list of those who stood out against the mass of acolytes and priests from Tashal and its environs. To make the search at all feasible, I restricted myself to the last fifty years, and even so there were many names on that list. Though it is perhaps small by comparison with some of the Lythian temples, the Tashal temple is an important centre here on Hârn, and many priests have stayed here. Thank goodness that I confined my search to those who stayed at this temple for some time - checking the visitors' book would have taken much more time than I could allow myself for this idle curiosity.
It was mid-afternoon when I realised that I might perhaps have made the job easier on myself and Torrel if I had thought to check when the originator of this entire matter, the priestess of Holdan, had been at Tashal (if indeed, the thought then struck me, she had trained or stayed here at all). Thankfully, she had trained here. Once Torrel had gone through his list removing those who were contemporary with her, the number of names was much reduced. However, by then I had spent as much time as I could on this curiosity, and put it aside and returned to more important matters.
3rd Belsirase of Galaon, 1319 SA
Day of Saint Iresena Today I was a witness to an interesting rite
which I have not seen before. Purification is of course an important issue
in holy matters, and there are a number of ceremonies associated with the
function of sacred cleansing. Until now I had thought variation was limited
to minor points of accepted rites, but what I saw (and am about to describe)
is an elaboration on a grand scale. A most impressive performance, like much
that happens here, yet remaining simple in spirit.
The occasion was my presentation to the assembled priestesses and priests of the Order of the Balm of Joy and the Irreproachable Order of the bone ring of the prophet Iresena. With this gift I sealed once more the friendship of all holy Peonians, and in honour of this it was decreed that this day, the third Belsirase of Galaon, will forever more be celebrated in Tashal as the Day of Saint Iresena.
For such a presentation, there was of course a great deal of preparation, for everything had to be purified. All of this went much I expected, except when it came time for the garments of the host to be cleansed. I shall write here a bare outline of the procedure that was followed, but I fear it will do little to convey the richness of the experience.
As the bell struck the hour, everyone assembled in the entrace hall of the temple, dressed in plain white robes, without belt or sash. Clearly all had been in their quarters to change, for two Ebasethe, one from each order, was carrying a woven basket containing the formal robes.
At a gesture from Marnyle, a young man left the hall, reappearing only a minute or two later carrying a towering pile of stacked wooden bowls. None moved to help him, though he had to lean his head awkwardly around his burden in order to see where he was walking. At another signal by Marnyle, the congregation, as it were, left first the temple, and then the temple grounds. As we did so, all about me started singing, though the exact words of the hymn to the Everliving Daughter of White Virtue was unfamiliar to me. In a short time we had passed through a gate of the city, and were quickly at the banks of the Kald River. There the man carrying the bowls set them down, and Brigyne stepped forward. Taking each bowl in turn, she went down to the riverbank and filled the vessel with the river's clear water, before returning and placing the bowl before a priest.
The chanting had now stopped, and when there was a bowl in front of all there assembled (excluding myself, for I was not an active part of this ceremony, having undergone my own ritual of purification), in silence each priest washed their own garments, which they had collected from the baskets. Once this was done (and I noticed that several Ebasethe seemed to be mouthing prayers), we returned to the temple; only one priest remained with the clothes, to recite prayers until they were dry, I was told. At the end of this vigil, we returned to the spot, collected the now dry clothes, and went to the ceremony proper.
There is only one final detail to relate of this extraordinary rite. Very soon after the ceremony in which I presented the ring, everyone departed to their quarters once more, removed their robes, and changed into less formal attire. The robes were once again collected in the baskets, by what seemed to be the same priests who accomplished this task earlier, and taken away. Their fate I am unsure of, though I imagine that they were either burnt (as is the custom elsewhere) or stored for another day. All in all, this was a ritual worthy of the holy brothers and sisters I have met here.
3rd Maerme of Galaon, 1319 SA
It is almost the end of my stay here at Tashal. Tomorrow I leave this holy
temple and journey back south, the way I came. In this one place I have learnt
much of how different customs can be - Thay is closer to Perna than to Tashal
in these matters - and while some have shocked me, others are no less holy
and good than the practices on the continent. I have much to tell my fellows
in Shorkyne, when at last I return there.
There is, however, one final matter of business. Torrel, wonderful man that he is, has tracked down a possible lead in my search for the meaning of "the fifth field". Within the space of a year, two priests, both from the Thay region in Melderyn, came to this temple, and stayed here. At that time, 1287 SA, a man going by the name of Dalfo was preaching at Thay, and inciting riots. He was later burned, though Torrel was not able to find any more details than this. A burning of a Peonian priest is not something I would expect in a land such as Melderyn, and so another mystery presents itself. I do not believe that Our Mother delights in coincidence, so I must for the moment assume the two are connected.
While I cannot myself return to Thay, I shall consider allowing Torrel to leave my company for a time in order to pursue this further. The independence will be good for him, I think, and if he performs well it may increase his chances of becoming a full priest in the new year.
HRT : Peoni
Last updated: 27 February 2001 by Jamie 'Trotsky' Revell