Part 8) Asta
There was a temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy in Carskot, with a small library and a modest hospice. As well, south of the temple was a monastery of Thray, while west of the Temple of Mercy, on the river’s edge, was the large temple complex of the East Sister. There were also a handful of shrines dedicated to various other gods and goddesses. Asta liked Carskot partially because of the variety of clergy that resided within the town walls, but also the architecture. Like many freehold towns, Carskot had a wide variety of buildings from various eras. Elquin, and the more modern freeholds buildings were most prevalent, but one could find Tannican and even some new Maldorn structures in addition to the older freeholds styles and plenty of signs of the megalithic past, especially that of the river folk. The base of the River Goddesses’ temple was huge with a somewhat more modern rebuilding of the temple, dated to over two thousand years ago, built on top of the more ancient base. There were also sections of walls and two ancient wharves from the long-ago, made from massive pieces of stone.
To go along with the ancient remnants of the River Folk structures were numerous stories of tunnel systems and a great underground city that was said to run for many yateer, south of the town. Asta loved the old tales and there were many locals with interesting and often unbelievable yarns going back many generations. The one she heard earlier today was interesting. She had been talking with one of the local elders, a fisherman, his story would be easy enough to verify. The temple records would have reported on the drought he mentioned, four generations ago, likely around a hundred years, or so.
The old man had told her that in his grandfather’s time, the people of Carskot, during the seventh summer of a terrible drought, had seen ancient ruins in the river. The river had dropped to such low levels that some of the ancient structures had been as much as three feet above the surface of the water, as well a number of islands were revealed by the receding water levels and many of these had ruined foundations and the detritus of the past civilization. The locals had started treasure hunting, and as artifacts of silver and gold were to be found, soon the Lord of Carskot initiated a concerted effort. The townsfolk dredged along the banks of the river and through the shallows created by the drought. Some dived down to the larger, partially intact, structures that remained below the river’s surface. This had gone on for over a year and much wealth was recovered from the river. So much wealth in fact, that the Lord of Carskot was able to fund numerous projects and expanded his influence well beyond his predecessors holdings.
She had asked the old man who had been the builders of this ancient town and though he could not say for sure, some of the artifacts had been similar to that of the river folk and the hill people. He had also said that until the drought revealed the ruins no one had known about them, not even his grandfather’s grandfather. Also, the ancient temple of the River Goddess, which seemed to have once been part of the ancient town, contained no records of a time when the river did not wash against its base. The oldest records in the temple went back nearly four thousand years.
Asta finished drinking her tea, sitting in the shade of an old dulmak tree on the rooftop garden of the Temple of Mercey. The day was bright, the sky cloudless with a slight breeze. After passing along the messages from her own Cira-di to the local head of the order, she had little else to do with her time, other than wait for her companions to finish their business with the present Lord of Carskot. It had been three days since they had arrived with the remainder of the Maldorn caravan and the prisoners Marshal Thoddem had charged Flint to deliver to the lord’s justice.
Flint and Loden had gone to the keep shortly after their arrival. As of yet Asta had not heard anything from them and there had been no execution of the bandits, at least not publicly. The area around Carskot and Cof Crossroads, even along the Southern Trade Road had been increasingly pressed for over two years now by Wol the Fox and her bandits. They had been attacking caravans and homesteads throughout the region. The attack on the Maldorn caravan had revealed how extensive the problem was. It seemed that Wol commanded two hundred or more bandits, and they had built a sizable village deep within the Linklow Forest. Marshal Thoddem was hoping Lord Gambonti would send soldiers to help him hunt down the bandits. Asta had no idea how long it would take to sort things out, she was also not overly concerned with that particular fact.
She did know that the Goddess had sent her visions relating to Flint and Loden and that Asta would be travelling with them for the foreseeable future. She felt a strong connection to both men despite only knowing them for a bit over two eight-day now. Loden was a refugee from the west, fleeing the Tannican armies, he was full of hurt and outrage, scarred from the violence and deprivations of war. Flint was a loner, proud and capable, he lived by the Old Ways and he sought something that had been lost, though Asta knew not what.
She found both men to be attractive, Flint was compelling, perhaps even commanding and the Goddess of Mercy was not the only goddess to turn her attention towards him. Loden was more easy going, possessing a casual nonchalance and while he sought peace, Asta knew that the man had more trials ahead of him. She would aid and provide comfort for them, as she could, for as long as the Goddess wanted her with them. Her only hope was that both men would find what they sought.
Asta clearly remembered the visions and dreams from the Goddess of Mercy regarding Flint and Loden, they had started about a month ago, before either of the men had made their way to Cof Crossroads. She knew that she was intended to travel a considerable ways with the men, northward and eastward, through the vast width of the Linklow Forest. Somewhere the other side of the forest they would find an ancient ruins and within said ruins a mystery would be revealed. After that the visions were less clear, but she suspected that after the ruins it would only be her and Loden travelling together. The was no clear indication as to what might happen to Flint, but she had not seen his death, for which she was thankful.
Since meeting them she had often had other sorts of dreams involving one or the other and sometimes both. Though she did not think these dreams were a foretelling from her goddess. Instead, they were much more likely an indicator that she had spent too much time absent of the intimate companionship of men. The Goddess did not demand celibacy from her followers, though many of the priestesses and initiates of the order chose a life absent of such relationships. As well, many within the order tended to prefer the companionship of other women.
As she sat under the old dulmak, daydreaming about the two men the goddess had charged her to protect she saw the local Cira-di enter the garden and was surprised when the woman came to her directly. Unlike the Cira-di of Cof Crossroads, the local leader of the Temple of Mercy was modest in dress and seemed to loath much of the formalities of her position. Plain faced and matronly she wore unadorned blue robes and moved about without entourage nor attendants. Her greying hair was short cropped and she spoke to the point at hand. Nearly the opposite of Asta’s own Cira-di.
“Stay seated dear.” Said the woman, just as Asta had been about to stand and greet her. “Do you mind some company? I’ve news from the north that I thought you should hear.”
“No, Cira-di, please join me.”
The woman sat, adjusted her robes and took in the scene for a moment or two before returning her attention to Asta. “I’m unsure of what you have heard in Cof these days, given how difficult the bandit situation has been these last couple of years. Events from the Swampdon area, related to the war against Tannica, have lead to a widespread reformation of sorts.”
“Oh? This is news to me.”
“It should be, given the local situation. Yet, there is also the fact that much of what I have to tell you is not commonly talked about outside of the leadership of the order.”
“This sounds serious.”
“I think it likely is, but sadly I don’t have that much information on the situation. Over the past two years there has been a handful of messages from the High Seat in GreensBridge that contained bits and pieces of the news I intend to share with you. None of this is suitable for idle gossip however and I will have to trust that you will be careful to whom you speak of these matters.”
“Of course, Cira-di.”
“Let me start first with some background, to make sure you have context.”
Asta listened and although she had heard some of the information, much of it was news to her. The Cira-di started with her mission to Willik’s Hold after the Ghoulst Rebellion, talked of how the Goddess called her to the north to help the people in the regions around Willik deal with the aftermath of their little war. When they had arrived there had been a bad fever and many people died, despite the help of the Goddess of Mercy. She also talked of the expansion of the Temple grounds in Willik and the building of an orphanage. Then she related how she had witness the beginning of the Pwhanna migration the summer before she completed her mission to Willik. Most important was the fact that a great war-leader by the name of Nah-tuk-ma had visions that caused him to gather his people and head to the northern plains to the area outside of Swampdon. It was not only the Pwhanna that heeded this call, a warning of the coming war with Tannica, but also freeholders from all over and especially a large and diverse group of the clergy of the various freeholds gods. This lead to her main point, that a schism was underway. Many of the clergy that had gone to Swampdon and been fighting the Tannican armies for the last few years were calling for a unification of the faiths. As well, there was a call for a great crusade to gather in Swampdon with the intent of excising the Tannicans from the continent. Even the peaceful orders, like the Sisterhood of Mercy, were becoming more militaristic.
It was an uncomfortable revelation for Asta and she withdrew to the inner sanctum of the temple to meditate and give thought to what she had learned.