If the wheel is fixed
"It's not as simple as that." said Laloc earnestly, leaning forward. "Firstly, of course we signed a pact that we wouldn't enslave orcs. Slavery is abhorrent to those who follow the Way of Virtue. No virtuous human has anything to do with slavery or with those people who practise it. It has always been plain that orcs are more intelligent than dogs or other animals."
Nightfall Rukkur shook his head. "How Wise - to notice that we aren't dogs!" he said sarcastically.
Laloc made a face. Rather than say anything more he offered the orc a top-up of his mug, which Rukkur did not refuse. The thick, sweet liquid that flowed sluggishly from the brightly painted jug was surprisingly tasty and brought with it a pleasant narcotic effect that calmed and relaxed without dulling the wits. The orc felt he could develop a taste for it.
"The point is nobody sane disputes that orcs are people. The question is whether orcs are capable of virtue. If you don't reincarnate, then you don't have souls as we understand them. The essence of virtue is the choices that you make and it's not clear that orcs are capable of that. If you're simply doing what your ancestors tell you - how can that be choosing to be virtuous?"
Rukkar laughed. "My ancestor is telling me to punch you in the face... but see? I've chosen not to!". He was mocking the Sumaah, but his laughter was genuine. Perhaps it was the drink.
Laloc seemed to take the threat in good humour, and his voice remained even. "Our Houses are studying your doctrines, the Howling Abyss and the Ancestors. Our präster who spoke with your... " He paused for a moment as if tripping over his words before continuing "...preachers, spoke well of them. They were convinced that Bonewall Rek and Bonewall Cole understood virtue - that they had chosen virtue. But not everyone is convinced of that yet - three centuries of learning are not so easily over-turned."
"You still dispute the ancestors are real?" Rukkar's voice was incredulous, the contempt on his face plain to see, drink or no drink.
"Not neccessarily. But look," Laloc paused to rap his knuckles soundly on the table, "I accept that this table is real. I don't feel a need to alter doctrine to acknowledge the existence of a table."
Rukkur interrupted sourly, pointing at himself and saying, "Not a dog - also - not a table." He slid the plate of biscuits slightly closer to the Sumaah priest. Laloc took one and ate it in between speaking.
"No of course - sorry - my point is to distinguish between the philosophical question of whether orcs are capable of virtue and the deeper question of what happens to you after you die. If we accept that you are capable of virtue - and that is by no means certain - but if we do, then there is still the question of whether there is any place for you in the Way. Our faith is built on the sure and certain knowledge of our eventual reincarnation from the Labryinthe of Ages. Accepting that your howling abyss and your ancestors are real, this is not the same as accepting you as part of the Way."
He paused, frowning slightly, looking at some internal vista.
"We have never doubted that our fellow humans were people and since the beginning we have given them the same choice - embrace the Way or pass on to your next life before you accumulate more weight of darkness on your soul. The pursuit of human destiny requires nothing less. If we accept that orcs are capable of virtue but know they cannot pass through the Labyrinth, then they cannot embrace the Way, so why would anything change?"
"You mean you're just going to go on slaughtering any orc you encounter?" said Rukkar incredulously. "Despite speaking to Bonewall Rek, despite saying that there is wisdom in the two orc doctrines, despite embracing the Liberty Pact, you're just going to continue to kill orcs?"
Laloc finished his biscuit and shrugged expansively.
"Not just orcs. Accepting that your sealfolk and the Commonwealth daeva are people who cannot be enslaved does not mean that we must change how we treat them. Unless we can find a way to reconcile these conflicting doctrines, we cannot allow orcs to be numbered among the faithful. We will not enslave them, but they are by their nature a threat to human destiny. Exile simply delays the problem, and feels like cowardice and poor vigilance. So that seems to leave us only one solution. Total eradication."
"You can't just wipe the orcs out because they're not like you!"
The two stared at each other across the table for several seconds. Rukkar was unable to conceal his incredulity. Laloc treated him to a sad, wry smile, and then helped himself to another biscuit.
"Strange... I haven't noticed a marked change in how your Empire treats the Druj since they accepted the doctrine of the ancestors..."
Missionaries from the Sumaah Republic have been dispatched to spread that nation's strongly orthodox version of the Way. They have been preaching that the Imperial Synod has lost its way, and is unsuited to lead the faithful. Their efforts have not been focused solely on the Empire - missionaries have been active in several other nations as well - and they have clearly stated that Timoj, not Bastion, is the heart of the Way.
During the Winter Solstice, the Synod debated various approaches to this situation. In the end, Jorma Steelhail was sent to enact a mandate that would urge the citizens of the Empire and the Sumaah Republic alike to seek common ground and focus on our shared Ambition in spreading the Way to the world.
The mandate encouraged Imperial and Sumaah citizens to view Timoj and Bastion as equals in the Way, with a shared single faith. While they may disagree on elements of their faith, they are still ultimately united in the pursuit of virtue. It urged Imperial citizens to reach out and embrace Sumaah with a view to developing a shared understanding of a shared faith, recognising that Timoj and Bastion sharing equal status in the eyes of the faithful.
The mandate has been enacted; it now remains to be seen how the Sumaah respond.
The Houses of Virtue
- Penalties to Imperial congregations from missionary work have ended while the Sumaah decide how to respond to the Imperial mandate.
While the Sumaah Synod - the Houses of Virtue - differ in some ways from their Imperial equivalent, they still use broadly the same process to make decisions. With the growing openness of the Republic, news reaches the Empire of Sumaah judgements relevant to the Empire's priests. As well as discussions regarding the Liberty Pact, the Sumaah Synod has been discussing how to respond to Jorma Steelhail's manate.
There is news of a statement of principle in the House of Courage that the Sumaah that calls for missionary work in the Empire to pause until a unified response to the Synod's mandate can be achieved. This statement gained a greater majority - albeit by a tiny margin. The immediate result has been that the missionaries in the Empire have pulled back a little, and ceased preaching open opposition to the Synod. As a result, the penalties experienced by congregations along the Bay of Catazar have ended - for the moment.
Likewise, shortly before the Spring Equinox, the Sumaah House of the Way (which shares equivalent power to the General Assembly of the Imperial Synod) passed a statement of principle with a greater majority - but by another tiny margin - that proposes that the Sumaah Synod will recognise no new paragons and exemplars, and propose no change of doctrine. They propose this restriction will last for the next year, or until the relationship between the Houses and the Imperial Synod can be conclusively determined.
The Sumaah are generally cautious about recognising new paragons and exemplars, and have not been known to make any changes of doctrine in recent history. The impact of this statement is largely symbolic as it shows the Sumaah are interested in seeing if some compromise can be reached with the Empire.
An Appropriate Response
Laloc, pilgrim of Courage, is the priest chosen by the House of Courage to support and organise the Sumaah missionaries in the Empire. Where the diplomatic staff at the Sumaah Embassy in Necropolis concern themselves more with relations between the House of the People and the Senate, Laloc has been charged with representing the Sumaah Synod. In this role he lays out what the Houses of Virtue in Sumaah believe should happen next.
If the general assembly of the Imperial Synod can pass a similar statement of principle then the Sumaah will commit to sending delegates to Anvil to talk candidly with their counterparts among the Imperial priests. The statement of principle would need to commit the General assembly to upholding no judgements of recognition or change of doctrine for the next year or until the conflict between Timoj and Bastion can be resolved.
The statement would not have any legal standing, so it would be up to the Synod to voluntarily abide by it. If they pass the statement and then still go ahead and pass a recognition or change of doctrine the Sumaah would take that as clear evidence that the Imperial Synod cannot be trusted. There is no requirement for this statement to achieve a greater majority, but if it does it may lead to further responses as with any such statement.
The time scale is tight. If the Empire can achieve this by the end of the Spring Equinox, then delegates can be determined at the Summer Solstice, and a meeting held at either the Autumn Equinox or the Winter Solstice. If the Empire cannot achieve this by the end of the Summer Solstice (allowing delegates to be chosen during Autumn), the Sumaah will assume that there is no possibility of any actual change. Laloc intimates that the mood among the präster is that any potential for reconciliation between the two faiths will be lost if this happens.
The Sumaah Issues
There appear to be five basic concerns expressed by the präster of Sumaah, as related by Laloc.
First, that the Empire enacts changes of doctrine without considering the opinion of other priests of the Way. If Timoj and Bastion are to be considered equals, then neither the Sumaah nor the Empire may unilaterally decide to change the basic foundation of their shared faith.
Second, the Empire appears to lack commitment to the idea that the Way is the only true faith. They compromise constantly with false religions, and accept false virtues, and appear extremely inconsistent on their treatment of false spiritual powers. This is the basis of accusations that the Synod has abandoned true virtue in pursuit of secular power and political convenience. The Sumaah accept that understanding of virtue and the human spirit is incomplete, and that the faithful should strive constantly to improve that understanding but without a commitment to orthodoxy there can be no concord. What the Empire and Sumaah allegedly share is a common understanding of doctrine and a commitment to it - without that there is nothing to discuss.
Third, the Empire and the Sumaah have differing opinions of the importance of paragons and exemplars. The recognition of not one but two orcs as exemplars, before the question of whether this is idolatry or not has been resolved, is just one example of this. If the Sumaah and the Empire are to be equal, then the role of inspirational figures must be discussed and settled.
Fourth, the Sumaah and the Empire have diverged in their understanding of the virtues. In particular, the Sumaah are concerned that Imperial priests insist on attempting to tell the faithful who they should be loyal to, or chastise them for insufficient loyalty when they act in a way the priest does not approve of. Only the individual may determine who they are Loyal to in their hearts, just as only the individual can express Courage by being true to the truths they hold in their souls.
Finally, the role of orcs in the Way must be resolved. The Empire has blithely allowed them to lead congregations, even going so far as to recognise one as a cardinal. Yet their own doctrine - the Doctrine of the Howling Abyss and the Doctrine of the Ancestors - recognises that orc souls are entirely different from human souls. By exalting orcs, by putting them in a position of authority over humans, then by strict reading of doctrine the Empire has been guilty of idolatry for up to fifty years. The orc question must be answered if Jorma Steelhail's call for understanding is to have any hope of success.
The Orc Question
With access to the port at Zemeh - and more crucially with Imperial pilgrims welcomed to the capital city of Timoj - the business of the Sumaah Houses of virtue has become a little more transparent to the Empire.
Alongside the question of what to do about the Imperial Synod, and Sumaah's role in the wider world of the Way, an argument has been raging for nearly two years now over the Doctrine of the Howling Abyss and the Doctrine of the Ancestors. Following the inquisition of Bonewall Rek and Bonewall Cole by Utredare Tipoa of the House of Wisdom, and months of argument and debate, the Sumaah have acknowledged that these two doctrines seem to have some validity. Unfortunately, the Houses are unable to seek a consensus on what to do about them, much less whether they should accept them. The idea that the orcs can benefit from embracing the virtues - that they can consciously understand the port of virtue - is especially divisive.
Now the House of the People has ratified the Liberty Pact. Part of the pact includes a shared definition of a person that includes orcs alongside humans. This point has made a resolution to the debate even more pressing. While the actual pact uses definition only for purposes of slavery - which the Sumaah do not practice anyway - it places orcs on a similar level to humans. The implication - at least in the minds of many Sumaah - is that that only makes sense if you view orcs as being capable of being virtuous.
At present the Sumaah exterminate orc tribes they encounter. The Pact has highlighted the growing need to resolve the question posed by the new doctrines and the encounter with the civilised, virtuous Imperial Orcs. If Orcs are genuinely capable of virtue, does that then mean they can be part of the Way or not? If they can then the Sumaah will presumably need to offer the same opportunities to convert to the true faith that are offered to human enemies of the Republic.
No clear consensus has been reached. The Houses are divided, and while several statements of principle have been raised in various Houses, it appears that none have achieved a greater majority. The issue may be slightly less pressing for the Sumaah - after all there are no orcs actually living in their nation. Visitors such as Bonewall Rek are accorded a modicum of respect but they are not allowed to preach, or undertake any priestly duties.
While Jorma Steelhail has enacted his mandate, there is no requirement for the Imperial Synod to respond to the Sumaah request for a satement of principle. Preaching against the Synod has ceased for now, and the Sumaah have presented their response, the conflict between Timoj and Bastion is still far from a lasting resolution.
Any major judgements passed by the Synod could have a significant impact on the situation. At least with Laloc and the other missionaries in the Empire, and Timoj and Zemeh both open to Imperial pilgrims, each side is likely to have a better idea of what is actually being debated and agreed by their respective Synods.