The rook alighted on the old woman's hand and she bent down to whisper in the bird's ear. First she told the bird its name, then she asked for its name. Second she told the bird her name, and then she asked for a name. Finally she gave the bird a name and at this it flew away.

When it returned, it was carrying three feathers in its beak. The first was long and bloody-crimson in colour and the calamus tapered to a fine point. Zorea took the feather, thanked the rook once, moved it twice over her head and then cast it to the East Wind.

The second feather was dark and heavy, for this calamus was made of black iron. Zorea took this feather, thanked the rook twice, and cast it immediately to the West Wind.

The vanes of the third feather were the colour of the sun, and they glistened as it moved. Zorea took that feather, thanked the rook three times and then held the feather aloft, calling to the North Wind by name.

At that, a great howling began and the rook flew off in terror. But Zorea planted her feet in the snow, and still holding the third feather aloft, she waited for Father Wind to answer the summons.

The Tale of the Blind Archer

Overview

Zoria is an inspiring figure from Varushkan history who was recognised as a paragon of Wisdom in the early days of the Empire. As is common with some of the oldest figures from Imperial history, there are no details of her birth or background and only scant details of their life. At one time the Empire maintained a detailed collection of the more epic stories or Zoria's life and accomplishments, but much of this was lost when Nicovar burned the great libraries.

The only common knowledge that remains is the barest details of her story. According to this she was old when the Ushka were still a young people. It is said she was a sorceress possessed of great insight and knowledge who learned the names of all the creatures of the wild; bird and beast, fish and fowl. Using their names, she could command them and they served her. One day, in return for a kindness done to her by a hunter lost in the wilds, she commanded the beasts to serve the hunter by carrying burdens, providing wool, food and companionship. The hunter went on to be the first farmer.

Despite what little remains, Zoria endures as a popular figure in Varushka where she is something of a patron figure for many wise ones. Many vales across Varushka have a story or two of Zoria - if they could be collected and compiled then it might be possible to piece together the information that has been lost about this important figure.

There has been comparatively little interest in attempting to learn more about Zoria in recent times. But then at the most recent summit, without warning, two separate judgements were passed.

Zoria Paragon of Wisdom and mother of Varushka taught the Empire the wisdom and animals rests in Gniejezo. We recognise the maze in this vale as her first and original shrine, for to walk this brings calm and clarity of mind.

Nisha Strascovich, Varushka Assembly, Spring Equinox 383YE, Upheld (172- 0 Greater Majority)

The Wisdom Assembly recognise that the final resting place of Zoria Paragon of Wisdom, is in the Vale of Gniejezdo, Miekarova, Varushka. We also recognise that her shrine there was the first and original. We encourage any efforts by the virtuous of the Empire to develop her shrine and support those pilgrims that wish to travel to the shrine.

Starac Sijed, Wisdom Assembly, Spring Equinox 383YE, Upheld (138- 0)

Zoria's Maze

Zoria's Maze is a strange creation, a vast circle of trees with dense plants and vines wrapped between them makes the maze impassable to those who do not know the right route to tread. Some strange magic lingers here still ensuring the maze must be traversed alone and though each pilgrim can only find a single route through the maze, no two individuals can agree upon what that route must be. According to local legend, Zoria created the Maze using powerful magic.

Pilgrims who are inspired by Zoria will seek out the maze. It is considered to be one of her legacies, a test of Wisdom for those confident enough to try it. Most people assume that the quicker you can complete the maze, the wiser you are. But the opposite has also been said - that the longer you spend in contemplation of the maze the more judicious you must be.

The maze is located in the Vale of Gniejezdo, in Miekaravoa. Starac Sijed knows the location well, for he was once entrusted with the care of the site, but he passed on the responsibility to another when he and his family departed Varushka for Dawn. Guardianship of the maze was passed from person to another in short order but the most recent guardian was a young man named Domagoj Gnietzen but he disappeared more than two years ago. According to the more fanciful claims he entered the maze late one winter's night seeking Zoria's wisdom and never managed to escaped. However the wise ones note that the wolves were thick in the forests that year and more than one young man was caught out after nightfall and never returned.

Since then the maze has languished, forgotten and somewhat unloved.

Zoria's Cave

Despite the claims of the Varushkan and Wisdom Assemblies, the maze is not the only site associated with Zoria. In the far north of the Empire, the Opascari mountains separate Varushka from the lands of the Thule to the north. Nestled between five great peaks is a tiny peak, Black Hill, so small it is barely a mountain at all. Some say it is black because of the rock of which the hill is made, others that it is dark because the surrounding mountains are so high that the sun can never fall on Black Hill.

At the foot of Black Hill is a cave which leads deep into the mountain where it opens out into a set of winding twisting caves. This is no true labyrinth, just a long twisting passage that will occasionally open out into a majestic cavern filled with strange purple and blue columns that rise up to the ceiling. It is arduous going but relatively easy to find your way through the cave to the heart of the mountain.

The centre is unmistakable, a vast cavern, hundreds of feet across. Here the stalagmites have grown so thick and twisted that passage between is difficult and the traveller must pick their way with care lest they are forced to turn back and find another route. At the centre is a great stone tablet carved with hundreds of Wintermark runes.

According to locals the cave was once the final resting place of either Zoria or her belongings. But it was attacked and looted by a Thule raiding party over a century ago and everything of value from the cave was taken. In truth nobody alive remembers exactly what was supposed to be kept here, and nobody has ever been in a position to ask the Thule what they took.

Inspirational Tomb

If Zoria ever had an inspirational tomb, no-one alive now knows where it lies. There are no records of such a tomb and is questionable if anyone could really claim to know where Zoria lies. She likely lived more than a thousand years ago - so it is doubtful that anyone can be certain of what became of her. But both the maze and the cave have some claim to be the ideal site for an inspirational tomb to memorialise Zoria's Wisdom. Either could easily be consecrated with true liao if a dose could be obtained and that would almost certainly ensure a new generation of pilgrims that would come to bear witness to the paragon's Wisdom.

Perhaps a more realistic prospect is that a large shrine might be built to house what knowledge the Empire has left of Zoria's teachings. 20 wains of white granite and 5 thrones would allow the creation of a well-appointed building that would serve the purpose well. The Empire would need to appoint a guardian to look after the shrine, but they would receive an additional 9 liao and 18 votes in the Imperial Synod to account for the visiting pilgrims. The constitutional court suggest that the title could either be appointed annually, or with tenure, and that the ideal electors would be either the Varushkan National Assembly or the Assembly of Wisdom. Both assemblies have some claim to Zoria's legacy.

If such a shrine were built, it would help to renew interest in Zoria across Varushka and the Empire. If the Senate chose to make the guardian of Zoria's shrine responsible for collecting tales about the paragon, then accounts and stories of her life could be collected from visitors to the shrine. Eventually those stories could be compiled and published, so that everyone across the Empire could know and remember Zoria better.

Although either site could serve as an inspirational tomb, the Maze of Zoria is slightly better suited to the task. The structure has a small chapel nearby that was only recently expanded (barely five years ago). It would need to be made much bigger, to serve the purpose laid out above, but as a result it would cost only 18 wains of white granite and 36 crowns (4 thrones, 4 crowns) to construct the shrine at this site rather than 20 wains and 5 thrones.

A Footnote

In recent times, the Empire had cause to scout out the Mountains of the Moon, the territory that lies between the Empire and the Axou. Entry into the territory is incredibly difficult, for it is protected by an incredibly elaborate maze of twisting passages, that blocks the way. Apparently the maze is known locally as the Maze of Zora.

It is almost certainly a complete coincidence that has no connection to Zoria of any kind.

Resolution

During the Summer Solstice, the Imperial Senate commissioned the transformation of Zoria's Maze into a shrine.