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Theda looked intrigued. “I’ll exchange one story of our gods for a tale of the way your people look at spirituality,” she said. “We can go on this way until we make camp.”
“I will agree to that, so long as you do not let anyone else call you from my side,” Lilavati said. The latter half of the comment was barely heard, but Theda nodded.
“Then I’ll begin,” Theda said. “And what better place to start than with the creation of our world?”
Lilavati moved unconsciously to allow herself to match the movement of her horse as she turned her attention to the preester. “How do your people say how it was formed?”
Theda’s face grew solemn. “In the beginning, there was the Void.” Lilavati shivered. “Then Bolorrma, Mother of the Darkness, and Ikeena, Father of the Light, joined together and created the sun, the stars, and the moons. They pushed the Void back and sealed it away behind a barrier of light and shadow. Now, there was light in the universe, and some substance, but still no life. So Bolorrma and Ikeena created this world and set upon it twelve beings of the purest form. They gave the care and governing of this newly formed creation into their hands.”
“So those twelve beings are your gods?” Lilavati asked.
“They are. We believe that, when they saw how barren and empty this new world was, they decided to give it life. They covered it with everything they could think of to make it perfect for their children, and then spun our races out of their own essence. They were young gods, so their creations were imperfect, but in their eyes that made us interesting to watch,” Theda said. “So they watched.”
“If they are so pure, why do they allow such things as wars, famine, and disease to kill so many?” Lilavati asked.
“A very good question, and one I asked many times when I first entered my training,” Theda said. “I was told to seek the answer myself and I would find it.” She smiled gently. “I won’t ask you to do the same thing, as you aren’t a preester with access to all the things I did.” Her face grew serious again. “Great Lady, the reason the Twelve let such terrible things happen to us is the fact that they made us mortal. We can die where they cannot. We are also not a peaceful people. By our very nature, we must fight. We’re made up of weak flesh rather than pure form, and our bodies are vulnerable to such things as disease and hunger. They let these things happen so we can be free of our frail flesh and rejoin them as beings of pure form.”
“Why not simply give all people a certain length of time they have to live and in the end let them go in peace?” Lilavati asked.
“Another thing they have given us, Great Lady, is the freedom of choice,” Theda said. “We aren’t mindless creatures, strictly following the orders of divine beings – though they have given us some guidelines. We get to be who we want to be. Unfortunately those who choose the wrong path can cause suffering for others. It’s not fair, it’s not what those who suffer choose, but it’s the way of life. Things aren’t meant to be fair either, Great Lady. I see that question in your face. But the pendulum of power swings always and things balance themselves out in the end.”
“An interesting idea,” Lilavati said.
“So, tell me a bit about your people and what they believe,” Theda said.
“I cannot say much about the Thousand, not because I do not wish to but because I do not know,” Lilavati said. “I was taught little about them, other than their laws and what I am forbidden – as a woman – to do. Many women chafe under these laws, but as the men prefer it as it stands, nothing will change because there are not enough of us who wish to challenge the laws.”
“I’d think there would be many,” Theda said.
Lilavati shrugged. “Perhaps the way we are taught drives all thought of resistance out of their minds. Our spirituality though comes out of our ties to our home.” She fell silent for a moment. “Each day is new to us, with the spirit of the world speaking to us in whispers of what wonders it could hold as we wake. We listen and make our plans. Water plays a very big part in our ceremonies, whether the little ones we do as part of our daily rituals or the great ones to celebrate the turning of the seasons, ancient festivals celebrating events we no longer even have records of. They are traditional parts of our lives, and we must follow the never ending cycle of our lives until they end.”
“That doesn’t sound very spiritual to me,” Theda said. “It sounds more like a forced tradition that you’ve been taught is spirituality.”
“You may be right,” Lilavati said. “But that is the way I view things.” She closed her eyes. “I do not know how much longer I can stand this.”
Manas rejoined them. “Ludger says there’s a good spot another eight spans up the road where we can camp. He’s muttering about how it’s too early, but I told him the life of my dark scholar is more important to me than our progress. We’ll still get to Phiri Hu with plenty of time to spare before it gets too hard to get through the passes.”
Theda nodded. “I’ll continue riding with you for a little longer, Great Lord, if you don’t mind. I think I’m needed to steady the Great Lady.”
Lilavati opened her eyes and nodded. “Please Manas. Let her stay.”
“Of course, Lilavati,” Manas said, using her name for the first time since the exchange that ultimately freed her from her father. “Be calm. Ludger says we’re almost through this area. We’ll be on to a flat stretch known as the Barrier, and then we’ll be good. Can you hold on that long?”
“What’s the Barrier?” Theda asked.
“Somewhere that’s going to be hard on my dark scholar,” Manas said grimly.
to be continued…