Judged by their company
"Ambition, Courage, Fidélité, Fierté, Prospérité, Sagesse, et enfin Vigilance," he said triumphantly.
His five friends - who Ressia was unable to not think of as "the other soldiers from his unit" nodded and muttered their agreement. The Freeborn priest could not help but feel a little threatened. When they clustered close, these large, muscular men and women, he felt a little like he was standing at the bottom of a well. He had been in Nemoria for nearly nine months now, having arrived along with one of the shipments of white granite, and while he was no connoisseur of Asavean fashion he knew enough to recognise the knee-length togas his six guests were wearing as being exactly the kind of thing off-duty soldiers wore.
None of them had made much effort to hide the tattoos on their arms and legs - red and black curving marks. He'd been here long enough to recognise those as well. Campaign marks, drawn indelibly onto their bodies by the priests of their mysterious God of War. He couldn't identify their meaning but the fact they all more-or-less matched up one to another more or less confirmed that these were all soldiers from the same legion at least. Who had simultaneously all decided they wished to become initiés des Sept Vertus - initiates of the Seven Virtues.
They seemed to have only a very vague idea of what that would entail. He was at a bit of a loss. Something about this felt wrong, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
"Dites-moi. Pourquoi voulez-vous. Devenir prêtre?" he asked. He was not adept at this particular branch of the Asavean tongue. It made him homesick for the Empire, where everyone spoke one language and most misunderstandings were down to wilful pig-headedness rather than people being literally unable to communicate with each other.
They looked at one another. One of the women rolled her eyes and made a comment about his atrocious accent.
In broken Imperial, one of the others spoke up.
"Je vais être honnête. We like the way you talk about Courage," he pronounced it strangely, Coo-radj. "And about Fidélité, and Fierté. We know that you can work magic with words and purple liao. That makes people strong, and helps them fight. Sans les cristaux. We would like to have that also?"
The leader nodded and spouted a stream of quick Asavean Français. His - probably his corporal, Ressia mused absently - translated.
"Also, we know that what you can call up you can also send away. We would like to be able to do that."
He moistened his lips, and chewed briefly on his moustache. He looked at his probably-sergeant, and then back at the short Freeborn priest in front of him.
"There is also a special sight that you have which lets you see other Pèlerins, yes? We would like to have that sight."
All six were quiet for a moment.
"Pour trouver nos nouveaux frères et soeurs," said one of the others quickly. All six nodded once, in unison, in a way that was frankly unsettling.
"Nous avons de l’argent," said one, holding up a bag as demonstration. It chinked, It looked heavy. "Beaucoup d’argent."
They all stared at him again.
He took a deep breath, and put on his best smile, his sutannir's smile.
"C’est bien, mais malheureusement...."
He did his best to explain that while he oversaw the day-to-day running of the temple, ordaining Asavean priests was beyond his authority and he would need to ask for guidance from the Imperial Synod. The six definitely-soldiers left with unhappy expressions, after twice attempting to explain to him that he had clearly misunderstood. They had money, did he not see? Lots of money."Everything can have a price," he muttered to himself when he was alone. "But I'm glad it's not going to be up to me to work out what this particular price is going to be..."
Imperial relations with the Asavean Archipelago remain stable and reasonably positive. Far to the west, the ancient city of Nemoria stands as the jewel in the crown of Asavea. Here, the Plenum governs the many provinces, satrapies, and subject nations of the sprawling aristocratic state. Here, the great temples of the myriad Asavean gods send their priests out to minister to their people. Here, the slave-galleys of the richest captains bring the wealth and wonders of the known world for the amusement and prosperity of the Asavean oligarchs. Here, too, come Imperial and Sarcophan, and even Grendel ship merchants, eager to buy fine luxuries, orichalcum, tempest jade, and iridescent gloaming.
Toward the tail-end of 382YE, a major construction project was completed in Nemoria, sponsored by the Plenum and paid for by the Imperial Senate. A grand temple of the seven virtues was raised, the counterpart to the Asavean temple that stands on the shores of the Brass Coast. The first Imperial priests took residence at the temple shortly before the Winter Solstice last year, and 'Franco i Erigo was appointed as liaison to the Temple.
Over the course of the last six months the temple has received many visitors. Some are local pilgrims of the Way, pleased at last to have a true temple where they may practice their faith and receive the services and comfort only true priests may provide them. Many more are interested sight-seers, enthused by the novelty of a new temple to a foreign faith, one that many have heard of but few know much about. There is a frisson of danger or transgression for many of these visitors, of course. In the minds of most Asaveans, the Way is indelibly linked to the zealots of the hated Sumaah Republic, and the the rebellious slaves that periodically seek to sow disruption and cause chaos for the benign Asavean oligarchy.
Note everyone has welcomed the temple, of course. Most of the opposition to the Temple seems to come from priests of smaller temples - perhaps feeling overshadowed by the striking new structure - and from Plenum families with a grudge against the Empire, or who are particularly rabid in their hatred of Sumaah. "This temple is nothing more than a veil for insurrection," they warn. "These Imperial priests will conspire with the Sumaah, and seek to overthrow the Plenum!"
Still, these voices are subdued at the moment, drowned out by vocal support for the Imperial temple from the high priests of several of the major sects of the Asavean religion, especially those of Balo of the Foam, the Black Bull, Lord Isso Mãos, patron of fair handed trade, and from the influential priests of Aseus-who-Tamed-the-Wind, patroness of diplomats. To the surprise of some - given the Empire insisted on overturning Asavean tradition and building their temple with paid workers rather than sensible slave labour, the priests of Baddu the Builder have joined their voices to those of the others, keen to point out that the Empire is in fact at war with Sumaah over matters of heresy and perversion of their shared faith. The highly respected Almodin Oktístis recounts many stories of the many wondrous sights he has seen in the Empire, and of the good sense of the Imperial people.
For now, the voices in favour of the Temple are leading the discussion. Yet that same popularity, and willingness to find a place for the Way in the complex pantheon of Asavean faiths, is causing some trouble of its own.
Des Sept Seigneurs de la Vertu
At the moment, all the priests who currently serve at the Temple of the Seven Virtues in Nemoria are Imperial volunteers, Missionaries and wayfarers primarily from the Brass Coast, Highguard, and the League, they have been chosen for their solid common sense and progressive attitudes. In recent months, however, there have been an increasing number of requests from Asavean citizens eager to learn more about the secrets of the faith, and to become ordained as priests in their own right.
The majority of these applicants appear to be lower-ranking individuals looking to improve their social status by attaching themselves to the Temple. A handful are former slaves, inspired particularly by the virtue of Ambition, while there is also a smattering of younger children of minor Plenum families no doubt seeing potential political advantage in associating themselves with the Empire whose star is on the ascendant in Asavean society.
According to Ressia i Afanera i Guerra, the wise sutannir from Feroz who oversees the day-to-day running of the temple, however, there are several more problematic applicants. A dozen grim-faced men and women of obvious military bearing were particularly insistent on their desire to learn more about the Way. They were especially keen to learn the intricacies of liao use, especially the ceremonies of excommunication, and insight. While they had clearly studied the Way, and could recite the doctrines and the teachings of the virtues, Ressia was deeply concerned that they showed little understanding of what they had mastered by rote. He fears their request to become priests is not sincere. Given that several bore the crimson-and-black tattoos indicative of sworn-warriors of the Asavean God of War, he refused to teach them without first receiving permission from a higher authority.
At the same time, there have been discreet inquiries from a number of higher-ranking slaves, many bearing beautifully calligraphied letters of permission from their owners, petitioning for the right to learn the "unique priestly magics of the Seven Virtues". For the most part these slaves seem interested in the ceremonies that create virtuous auras, and as with the soldiers show little understanding of the philosophy of the Way.
Both these latter sets of petitioners offered monetary incentives to secure access to the skills they desire. There seems to be some mild confusion as to why the temple is not interested in taking on aspirant priests. Soldiers and slaves alike seemed surprised that their requests were not accepted. In some cases, another approach was made a few days later offering more money, and one minor noble sent several florid letters claiming a close friendship with a certain powerful Imperial citizen of the League who would vouch for the virtue of his slave.
Ressia i Afanera i Guerra is uncertain how to proceed, and seeks the guidance. While matters such as this might usually be dealt with by the Liason, there are clearly serious questions about the purpose of the Temple of the Seven Virtues, and the intentions of the Synod toward Asavea, that must be carefully considered. As such, Ressia wishes to receive the guidance of the Imperial Synod rather than only that of his countryman Franco i Erigo.
Permission and Forbiddance
Training a cadre of new Asavean priests will require an investment of liao, but that is not the real problem here. At the moment, as near as Ressia i Afanera i Guerra can tell all the priests of the Way in Nemoria are Imperial citizens. Ordaining Asavean citizens (or slaves) as priests is certainly possible, but at that point they would be able to teach their own disciples, and use the liao ceremonies free of Imperial oversight.
Who, if anyone, will be allowed to learn not only about the Way, but the ceremonial skills that priests in the Empire take for granted.
The Way unites humanity through the Seven Virtues. The ceremonial skills practiced by priests in support of the Way are only a small part of what drives the faith, and helps the souls of humankind pass through the Labyrinth. Virtuous use of liao requires a deep understanding of the Way unique at this time to Imperial priests. We send (named priest) with 10 doses of liao to explain the necessity for Wisdom to the people of Nemoria.Synod Mandate, General Assembly
If this mandate is enacted by the general assembly, the Temple in Nemoria will not accept any aspiring priests and will not share the secrets of the liao ceremonies with the people of Asavea. This will ensure that the Temple of the Seven Virtues remains central to the spread of the Way in Nemoria, but it will also mean that the spread of the faith is significantly curtailed.
The civil service judges that the Asaveans will not be offended by this decision - far from it. Each sect of the Asavean religion has their own proprietary knowledge and the fact that the priests of the Seven Virtues wish to keep a monopoly on the use of liao will be seen as perfectly natural. Indeed it may quiet some of the dissenting voices in the Plenum - presenting a clear indication of commonality between the Seven Virtues and the temples of the Asavean gods, and mollifying those concerned that the Temple is the first stage of an attempt to convert the people of Nemoria away from the traditional worship of the gods.
The Way unites humanity through the Seven Virtues. The people of Asavea will more readily accept the teachings of the Way from their own people; creating Asavean priests will help to spread the faith. Yet only those who show a true commitment to the doctrines of the faith should receive training in the use of liao. We send (named priest) with 50 doses of liao to support the training of new priests from among those judged most sincere in their devotion to the Way.Synod Mandate, General Assembly
The Synod could choose to allow the training of small number of Asaveans, carefully selected by the most Wise and Vigilant priests associated with the Temple. Explicitly, none of those attracted by novelty, none of the military individuals, and none of the slaves will be considered. Only a few priests will be trained in this manner, but they will be Asaveans and more able to reach out to citizens who might otherwise avoid contact with the Temple. The Way will spread more quickly, and more tenaciously, through Nemorian society.
This mandate is not without complications however; it reinforces the perception that there is something secretive and conspiratorial about the faith. The idea that only certain individuals are fit to learn the inner secrets runs counter to the traditions of the Asavean people - where money or influence are considered to be equally effective at opening closed doors as mere talent. Assumptions will be made about what qualities these Asaveans must have to have been permitted to learn the secret lore of the Way - that they are complicit in some Imperial agenda. This will increase opposition to the Temple slightly, and will do nothing to reduce fears that the Way is a religion of rebels and disruptive elements.
The Way unites humanity through the Seven Virtues. Liao ceremonies are valuable tools in helping human souls to pass through the Labyrinth; they are not to be jealously guarded by shared with those who would make best use of them. Those with the Ambition to seek to better themselves, and embrace the Virtues, should be given the opportunity to do so. We send (named priest) with 50 doses of liao to encourage Asavean citizens to aspire to mastery of the Way.Synod Mandate, General Assembly
Alternatively, he Synod could choose to allow the training of any Asavean who wishes to apply, including minor nobles, soldiers, and higher-status slaves. Some discretion would still be applied - there are only so many priests capable of taking on so many students at any given time - but for at least the next year the focus of the temple will be on training Asavean citizens as priests of the Way capable of ministering to their own congregations. This bold move will speed the spread of the faith through Nemoria, bringing Asaveans from all walks of life to the Temple and helping to reduce the perception of the Way as a religion for slaves and rebels. It will also quickly allow the reach of the Temple to stretch beyond Nemoria itself, potentially allowing missionaries (Imperial and Asavean alike) to spread the Way to inhabitants of the provinces and satrapies that look to Nemoria for guidance.
Those with the wealth to do so will expect to pay for the privilege, and while some of that money will be used to purchase additional liao for use in the training, a portion will be contributed to the Virtue fund. The civil service estimate than 10 Thrones each season will be added to the Virtue fund for at least the next year (until the start of Summer 383YE), and perhaps even longer if the missionaries in Asavea prove successful in spreading the faith farther afield.
This mandate is not without potential complications however; the Temple in Nemoria will quickly lose any monopoly on the ceremonial skills used by priests. The majority of the new priests will be reasonably sincere, but it will mean that Asavean citizens with self-serving or nefarious reasons for wishing to learn the secrets of liao will be able to do so. While the new Asavean faithful will look to the Temple in Nemoria for guidance, it is inevitable that they will develop their own ideas about the virtues and the doctrines that may potentially end up conflicting with the orthodoxy of the Imperial Synod - although this may be an inevitable price of making the Way accessible to the people of Asavea.
Conflict, Inaction, and Limited Opportunity
As always, if multiple competing mandates are raised successfully, the one that achieved the highest margin of success will be the one that is considered to have been enacted.
If the Imperial Synod chooses to ignore the situation in Asavea, it is likely that some of the aspirants will become disheartened by their inability to achieve their ambition. Others, however, are likely to become more vociferous and frustrated by the lack of a clear answer from the priests of the Temple. This will certainly contribute to the criticism of the Way in the Plenum, and among the lesser priesthoods.
Also as usual, these mandates are available only during the Summer Solstice 382YE. If the situation in Asavea continues to develop, it is likely that new mandates related to the ongoing situation, may become available. The Synod could guide those mandates by using statements of principle but this would run the risk that the situation would become more volatile, rendering such statements moot.
We request an audience for Inquisition for the Asavean Architect Almodin Oktístis so we can better understand the commission brief and nature of his buildings within the Empire, at the Summer Solstice Summit 382YE, three in the afternoon on Saturday, at the Hub.Synod Inquisition, Veikko, General Assembly, Upheld 1020-31
Closer to Home : Almodin Oktístis
The "Asavean Architect" Almodin Oktístis, priest of the Builder god, has been in the Empire for over a year now. He receives a regular stipend from the Imperial Senate and in return has overseen a number of commissions for the Senate: the Pallas Docks, several great works, a fortification in Varushka, a casino in Temeschwar, and even the newly completed runeforge near Cargo.
Despite some recent controversy regarding the "defilement" of the Varushkan fortification he helped construct, he seemingly remains enthusiastic about embracing any opportunity to design large structures that the Empire offers. Last season, he let it be known that he is having such a fine time in the Empire he is prepared to go further - to bring in additional Asaveans to oversee further commissions in return for allowing them to build a small temple to their builder god.
While there has been no word from the Senate as to whether his offer is being considered, the Imperial Synod has called him for Inquisition. The judgement of Veikko of Sigehold Hall was upheld by a sizeable majority of the General Assembly. Informed of this, Almodin Oktístis was reportedly initially somewhat concerned but once he was made to understand what an inquisition represents, he apparently became more sanguine. He has confirmed his intention to visit Anvil for the inquisition, and has asked that the Ambassador to Asavea, Jarrigk Wegwandelaar, arrange an Imperial priest to accompany him who can answer his questions and provide any legal advice that may be necessary.
The Iron Qanat
The Iron Qanat was the name given by the Isle of Zemress refugees to an incredibly ambitious project to construct a great work that would carry irrigation waters to farms across the Sobral Grasses in Segura. The land here is not fertile - but with the benefits of the Qanat it could be. The proposed system of reinforced irrigation ditches could transform the sandy soils of the Grasses into productive farmland that would rival the best the best farms in the Marches. By centering the design around a vast fortified tower that protects the workings that draw water from the river allowing it to defend not just the irrigation system and the surrounding farms but the entire region and territory.
Everyone in Segura is delighted that the Imperial Senate has opted to pass a motion ordering the commission of the Qanat. However there is one issue that is causing significant concern. The Senate have reportedly chosen Almodin Oktístis to design and construct the Qanat. The foreign architect is highly skilled, nobody disputes that, but his work has become increasingly controversial due to the incorporation of heretical designs in his work. The Asavean decorates everything he builds with symbols of his false gods, incorporating statues and symbols of his blasphemous deities into the very structure of the building.
While the Freeborn have recently demonstrated a very relaxed view to the presence of blasphemy across the Coast, accepting the construction of an Asavean temple on their soil, the Zemress Islanders are clearly not used to such tolerance. They are deeply concerned that their new home is about to be despoiled by the presence of some monstrous effigy of the Asavean gods... a leaping bull, or a squid, or something similarly depraved.
Prominent members of the community have urgently pressed for a solemn assurance from the powers that be at Anvil that this time will be different. They are looking for a guarantee that this time the architect will not construct some wicked symbol of his debased gods. They are clear that they would rather struggle without the benefits that the Iron Qanat could bring rather then gain from the spoils of idolatry.
Thus far the civil service have tried, as politely as possible, to avoid providing any response. However everyone familiar with the Asavean's work knows that there is categorically no way he will proceed with the commission unless he is able to work the symbols of his faith into the very foundations of his designs.
A Primer on the Asavean Gods
Since the Spring Equinox, a popular pamphlet claiming to explain the Asavean religion has been circulating the southern cities of the Empire. While it is not clear where the original document came from, the cheaply printed pamphlet "A Primer on the Asavean Gods" has been traced to a printing house in Tassato Regario, the Honourable Press. The pamphlet is of dubious provenance, but has quickly spread to whatever parts of the Empire the Blood Red Roads may reach. The Honourable Press have defended their production of the pamphlet by arguing that it does not attempt to claim the Asavean gods are real, but merely seeks to arm the faithful with knowledge so that they may better recognise and resist the wiles of their priests. The phrasing of much of the text suggests that it may originally have been taken from a document intended for children, but the printers refuse point blank to reveal who paid them to produce the pamphlet. They claim that to do so would ruin their professional reputation and thus be a crime against both Prosperity and Pride.
Since the original print run - printed (badly) on poor-quality paper - several further copies have been made, many of them by hand. (OOC Note: Anyone who wishes can download and print out a copy of this pamphlet (File:Asavean Religion Pamphlet.pdf) - it has been recopied numerous times so there is consequently no standard appearance.)