Pathway of the One God
Spirits of Rock and Sky > The Servants' Path

Purple sheets and whorls of the Light of the One God rippled through the Sky above a cluster of black-inked leather tents and Itmos walking wheel carts, huddled against the sidewall of the Pathway of the One God. Pilgrims and traders, intent on their own journeys, passed by, but Lotun and Jeu 4 left the flow of travelers to approach the Itmos tents. The wind carried a thin line wood smoke and the sound of prayer; Lotun paused for a moment, leaning deeply on his staff. He glanced across at the acolyte and gestured towards the Itmos camp. "Does it not offend you, friend Jentik, that they burn the Divine That Grows as an offering to the One God?" His robe caught in the chill wind, flapping as he wrapped it more tightly about himself.

Jeu 4 halted, surprised. "My spirit was elsewhere, friend Lotun. Should I be offended? Tumnil 146 taught me that the Divine Will of the Provider is free of obligation. You have said that our God is no jealous and demanding gift-giver." She looked at the elder Wohken inquisitively, holding her hair aside as the wind tugged at it. "Is this to be another lesson?"

"Youth is ever impatient." Lotun smiled and turned from the cold air to adjust the sling containing his Gift. "I had no lesson in mind, but we have traveled far this wake. My legs are no longer young, and they demand that we rest." Neither Initiate nor acolyte cast shadows onto the Pathway rock. During their wakes of Lightward travel, the Light of the One God strengthened and spread over the Sky until only the deepest hollows and overhangs were shadowed.

Lotun had taught Jeu 4 while crossing rugged Enierd territory from Naskal to the Pathway. "Lecturing," she called it. While the Jentik acolyte was familiar with rituals and ceremonies of the lower Circles, she knew little of politics and theology within the Order. Discussion seemed to speed the long journey. The two Servants of the Provider had passed through many small Enierd communities, nestled amid crags and deep valleys. Jeu had been the last of these, built on the floor of a broad ravine. The Chieftain was friendly, and Jeu 4 had been reminded of her brief stay in Basir.

"Perhaps the pilgrims will offer us a tent for the next sleep." Jeu 4 indicated the Itmos encampment. "The air chills me. This wind reminds me of the Plateau."

Lotun shook his head. "It has been many tens of cycles since you descended the Stairway, I see. The Pathway will become colder yet, but you will grow used to it. You have more fat on your bones than I." He stared along the length of the Pathway, clutching his robe tightly against the wind. Hills and mountains rose to great heights to either side, placing the travelers at the base of an imposing valley pointing to the distant Temple. The Temple itself, Avatar of the One God, appeared as a distant, thin mountain where the Sky touched the rock, lit by the Light of the One God. "Yet we will speak with the pilgrims." Lotun continued. "I, too, feel the chill, and more so than I used to."

"It is truly an honor to have such guests stand before us. The Basei Family is humbled by your presence." Ger Basei, a bearded Itmos of indeterminate age, scented with wood smoke, swept elegant and flattering bows to both Lotun and Jeu 4. The intricate array of bone ornaments sewn to his leather traveling clothes rattled as he moved.

While Lotun and Jeu 4 had waited politely for the Family head, other Itmos had emerged from their tents to see the newcomers. A multitude of ornamented, curious Basei Family Itmos now surrounded Lotun and Jeu 4. Most talked to one another, quietly and sidelong, while eyeing the Servants of the Provider. Their padded, elaborate traveling clothes bore carefully mismatched decorations in tens of different styles. Jeu 4 was about to speak, but Lotun placed a hand upon her shoulder. He bowed to Ger Basei. "Your honorifics are far from necessary, friend Itmos. We are all equal before the Provider."

"But some are more equal than others, neh?" Ger chuckled and smiled broadly, clattering as he spread his hands. "Allow me to thread the first needle and offer you shelter. I see that you carry no tents, and I am sure I am not alone in feeling it to be colder every time I set foot on this Pathway."

"We would be..." Lotun was cut off by a thin voice from the small crowd.

"The Pathway of the One God, Ger Basei, not 'this Pathway.'" An elder Itmos, clad in the leather robes of a Wanderer, emerged from amid younger members of the Family, given respectful space by those around her. Her deeply lined face and thin lips bore an expression of disapproval. "It is the Time of Quiet Worship." The elder priest's voice was sharp, but her hands wavered as she supported herself on an untrimmed, engraved Uk branch. "Why are we standing and working our jaws, when we should be making our devotions?" She swept the younger Itmos with an unblinking stare, ignoring Lotun and Jeu 4.

"What? Now we are not allowed guests?" A woman muttered from the assembled Itmos. Others voiced similar sentiments in low tones, but most avoided the Wanderer's gaze. Jeu 4 caught Lotun's eye, but the old Wohken touched her shoulder once again. He held up one wrinkled finger to indicated they should wait.

"Feus, Maneet, see to a tent for our visitors." Ger spoke loudly, over the head of the priest. Two muscular young men reluctantly left the group, grumbling as they made their way towards the walking wagons beyond the ornately decorated tents.

The Wanderer briefly glanced at Lotun and Jeu 4 before fixing her stare upon Ger. "Ger! I believe it was you who was complaining about the shortage of leather for the Family only last cycle." The elder Itmos turned to Lotun, omitting any sign of respect or greeting. "With regrets, honored servant of the Provider, Ger forgets himself."

Ger folded his arms and cleared his throat. "But Ger remembered to trade for six skulls of leather in Uv, not twenty wakes ago. Perhaps you do not recall, Keun, busy as you have been with preparations." Several of the watching Itmos smiled and whispered at this, but straightened their faces quickly enough when Keun turned back to face Ger. "You are more than disrespectful, Ger! When I consider that I foolishly agreed..."

"...to my partnership with Rusi?" Ger raised his voice over that of the aged priest, waving a hand towards the nearest tents. "I know, I know, enough!"

"Why are you shouting my name?" A woman called in a tone of some irritation from the doorway of a tent adorned with faded Tun abstract figures. She brushed hanging statuettes from her way and started towards Ger and Keun. The three raised voices of Ger, the Wanderer Keun, and Rusi quickly became four and then five. Other members of the Family watched, talked amongst themselves, or wisely decided to drift away.

As the argument escalated, Lotun sighed. "This may take longer than I had anticipated."

"They are not all like this, are they, away from Tumnil?" Jeu 4 seemed quite shocked.

"Fortunately not, but there are few Itmos I would choose as traveling companions. Perhaps, friend Jentik, we should seat ourselves until they are done."

"Or at least exhausted." Jeu 4 watched the Itmos with a reluctant fascination. Younger members of the Family added their voices to the noisy altercation. It showed no signs of dying down. "How can they be so nasty to each another?"

The two sat side by side on the smooth rock to wait for the Itmos to recall they had guests. Lotun crossed his legs, set his staff across his lap and tucked his robe against the wind. Jeu 4 loosened the straps securing her leather pack. The cold air pulled at her hair. "The answers to that question, friend Jentik, are too many and too much for one wake. But that you ask it explains why peaceful men prefer the company of Jentik." Lotun watched the arguing Itmos; Jeu 4 set down her pack.

Ger pulled at his beard. "I must apologize once again for our poor sense of hospitality." He gestured expansively around himself to the group of seated Itmos. His partner, Rusi, a pretty woman in the first swell of pregnancy, nudged him none too gently in the ribs. "And to honored servants of the Provider, at that," she said. "We must all be fools," she added with a little more emphasis. She shoved her partner harder, grinning. Ger smiled fondly at her.

Lotun and Jeu 4 sat facing the Itmos partners, surrounded by the rest of the Basei. Feus and Maneet knelt on traveling clothes, stealing clumsy glances at Jeu 4. The Itmos possessed an ample store of food and water; Ger had insisted the two guests eat and drink from his supplies. He would not hear of Lotun troubling himself or the Provider to bring forth more food when none was needed.

By the time the earlier argument had died down, most Basei Family members had prudently returned to their devotions. Keun retreated to her own tent, a traditionally sparse Wanderer design, out of place amid festooned leather. Feus and Maneet eventually returned from the walking wagons with sewn sheets of leather, twine and short bone supports. As younger Itmos unpacked and arranged engraved wooden bowls for the meal, Feus and Maneet erected a new tent beside Ger and Rusi's elaborate leather dwelling. The Family emerged once more to sit on the smooth pathway Pathway and talk amongst themselves, bowls in their hands. The elder Wanderer did not join them.

"What about Keun?" Feus spoke up. "You have only apologized once for her, three times already for the rest of us!"

"She has her eye on you Feus!" A younger Itmos called, eliciting muffled laughter from the children, wrapped against the wind in thick, inked traveling clothes. Feus scowled.

"Quiet, the lot of you!" Rusi shouted crossly. "The least we can do is show our guests," she indicated the young Jentik and elder Wohken with a motion of her bowl, "that we are capable of civilized conduct!" The conversation paused, leaving only the melodic clatter of wind-blown ornaments hung from nearby tents.

Lotun coughed politely and placed his bowl in his lap. "Your apologies, friend Itmos, are hardly necessary. The hospitality of your Family does you an honor."

From her position next to the elder Initiate, Jeu 4 watched the Itmos with great interest. She chewed on a strip of divine food from the Basei Family stores, her bowl half-filled with water from the same source. Like the Naskal Enierd, these Itmos were a far cry from the courteous and well-spoken supplicants she met at Tumnil. Jeu 4 was beginning to think that Jentik were the only people who were the same everywhere. As Lotun engaged the effusively good-humored Ger, the acolyte turned to Feus and Maneet. "You travel widely, do you not, friend Itmos?" Maneet, caught staring, gaped at the sudden attention. Feus nodded slowly. "So you must have an idea - why do people not act the same way in different places?"

The loud tapping of a staff on rock and the thin voice of Keun came from behind the Jentik. "You waste your time. Philosophy may as well be another spirit in the Sky for those two." Other conversations slowly came to a halt once more. The elder Wanderer made her slow way between younger members of her Family, leaning heavily on a crooked staff grasped with unsteady hands. On reaching Feus and the embarassed Maneet, she glared. "Move yourselves! Show respect for your elders and grant me the rock to seat myself." Both young men quickly shuffled across the flat Pathway rock, displacing younger children and almost upsetting hastily snatched bowls of divine food.

Keus arranged her leather robes to seat herself. Rusi rose to aid the frail elder, but was waved away. With the aid of her staff, Keun slowly, and with difficulty, sat to face Lotun and Jeu 4. Rusi knelt down once again beside her partner, concerned.

"I had thought you tired, Keun," Ger declared, with sincerity. He gave his partner a worn bowl, engraved inside and out with faded Midrin expressive characters. It passed from hand to hand to Keun.

Lotun inclined his head and touched forefingers to the rock in the oldest Wohken greeting of equals. "What would be the answer to the question posed by my companion?" he inquired. "I would be curious to hear the words of the One God that pertain to this matter, friend Wanderer."

Keun turned the wooden bowl in her wrinkled, unsteady hands. "Do you wish to hear the words of the One God or the words of Keun, Servant of the Provider? The words of the One God reach the ears of only the most devout."

"The words of Keun will suffice for this poor Servant." There was a light tone to Lotun's voice, but his lined face was serious. He leaned forward.

"Do not mock me." Keun spoke thinly and deliberately. "Old as you may be, I served the One God while you were still nursed by your Family."

"Served His Divine Will well, I have no doubt. But what of the question of my companion, friend priest?" Lotun sat up straight and put his bowl to one side. The other Itmos watched the Initiate and the Wanderer, some whispering to each other.

"Really," began Jeu 4, "it is of no consequence if..."

"Yes, the question!" Maneet exclaimed in an over-loud voice, seemingly as surprised as anyone else at his outburst. He flushed, looking at the Sky and then the rock beneath him.

Lotun smiled at Jeu 4, who had turned to look to him for guidance. Keun pursed her lips and eyed Maneet sidelong. "Very well." She rapped the Pathway rock with her staff, looking around to make sure she had the attention of her Family. "The Jentik asks why it is that we do not act as ourselves in different places, under different circumstances." Keun did not look towards Jeu 4 for confirmation. "Only a Jentik would think to ask such a question, but there lies a lesson for the devout Itmos."

Keun paused for a moment, and Lotun interjected. "Jeu 4 is of the Jentik and thus is closer to the Gods. Her connection to the divine leads her to act with consistency and concern for her true self. I have heard this argument before, friend Wanderer."

Keun frowned and sucked in her cheeks before replying, in cutting tones, "My Family has not, Servant of the Provider. You show a lack of respect for my faith and you explain yourself tritely." After a moment, the priest continued in a more level manner. "The Jentik are indeed closer to the creator of us all, the One God. Their behavior is divine in its consistency and they possess an innate appreciation of spiritual truth that others must strive for. The Jentik among us now is an innocent, an excellent example. It would not occur to her to disguise her spirit or change her actions whether we were Itmos, Susyan or outcast Dispossessed. She is her true self before everyone."

Jeu 4, like Maneet, stared at the rock she sat on as the priest spoke, twisting the leather of her pack between her fingers. Lotun leaned forward to interrupt again. "Well put, friend Wanderer. But if you are to hold up my companion as an example, you should at least have the courtesy to use her name."

"You are not one to talk of courtesy, Initiate," Keun snapped irritably. "Act as a guest, and I will act as a host." Lotun spread his arms in a conciliatory fashion and briefly inclined his head before waiting for Keun to continue. The Itmos raptly watched the priest, Initiate and Jentik acolyte.

Keun tapped her staff against the rock before speaking further. "All who dwell in the world, even Jentik, are sometimes untrue to themselves. But the One God desires this truth of us. The brightest stars," the old woman raised a wavering hand to the Sky above the Pathway, "are the spirits of priests and the faithful who guided themselves honestly and forthrightly. For if you listen to the inner voice, to the part of you closest to the One God..."

"Or to the Provider, friend Wanderer." Lotun spoke quietly but firmly. He placed one thin hand upon his Gift, nestled in its leather sling. There was silence for a moment as the two elders regarded one another. Ger coughed nervously and low conversations broke out amongst the assembled Itmos.

Keun finally broke the silence, her voice as firm as Lotun's despite the constant quiver in her hands. "All Gods are the One God, Initiate." She regarded Jeu 4 for a moment, and then returned her gaze to the Wohken. "I see where you wished the words of Keun to lead. Very well, but we will speak no further this wake. When we speak again, it will not be of faith."

Lotun inclined his head politely. "As you wish, friend priest. It will be my loss and regret." Keun scowled as she examined the Initiates's lined face for signs of insincerity. Finding none, she struggled to her feet before walking slowly towards the tents beyond the gathered Family. Her staff tapped on the rock as she departed, that noise accompanied by the wind and the rattling of Itmos bone ornaments. It was not until Keus entered her tent that the Family began talking again. Ger struck up a conversation with forced cheer, while Rusi sat silently beside him. She and Jeu 4 seemed lost in thought for the rest of that wake.

"Are all priests of the One God like Keun when not at Tumnil, friend Lotun?"

Lotun shook his head and leaned thoughtfully upon his staff. "No, friend Jentik. Most are less wise, less devout, and less tolerant." A hint of sadness entered his voice.

"I took nothing to heart, friend Lotun, and you should not worry. I am still thinking about her answer to my question." Jeu 4 paused for a moment. "Will we be journeying to the Temple?"

"Once again, no. It has been a time since I have traveled there. I had thought to do so for your sake, but there will be generations yet in which you can stand beneath the Avatar of the One God."

Jeu 4 shook her head. "I am not devout, friend Lotun. In my heart and spirit, I am a Servant of the Provider. I may pray to the One God, but I do not need to stand inside the Great Temple to do so."

Lotun smiled at the acolyte. "Good, Jeu 4, good. I did not want to disappoint you. You have seen the true feelings of priests for our God; that is something that all Initiates should remember."

"I will remember, Lotun. It does not discourage me." Jeu 4 adjusted her pack, settling it against her back. The two Servants of the Provider walked away from the decorated Itmos tents, retracing their steps to the base of the Pathway and thence to the territory of the Lightward Susyan.

[ Posted by Reason on January 26, 2005 ]