Devotees of the Beautiful Stranger
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The shrine of the Beautiful Stranger in the City Within is a modest circular stone structure of sloped walls, surmounted by a low, vaulted dome. It stands midway between the city walls and the Court of Three Stones, surrounded by small wooden dwellings, stone-paved paths and garden plots of herbs and unusual flowers.

The sick, injured and dying of Three Stones come to the shrine of the Beautiful Stranger for aid and comfort, there to be tended by a small order of devotees, healers, acolytes and volunteers. The interior of the shrine is lamp-lit and suffused with scented smoke day and night, summer and winter. The vaulted space is divided by wooden screens and platforms to provide some semblance of privacy for folk too ill to leave or who have no other place to go. Supplicants who come to leave coin or other gifts for the Beautiful Stranger - for luck, to give thanks for an unexpected kindness, or to guard against the Farthest - go no further than the weathered stone statue of the Beautiful Stranger in the entrance hall, robed as a healer of the old Ammand and wreathed in dried flowers.

The speaker for the order of devotees - by general acclaim - is Aretole, an unacknowledged daughter of the present Lord Verden, a man who feels he must deny even those past youthful excesses that cannot be hidden. Tending to the sick while also ensuring the needs of the shrine has proven to be a demanding task; the order grows and fades on the strength of the leading devotees. Aretole's determination and selflessness weigh on her, more so than for most devotees, even those who go forth into the City Without to practice the healing arts. Aretole looks older than her years, often appearing more ill than many who rest within the shrine.

By tradition, devotees of the Beautiful Stranger treat all who ask for aid with no concern for history, feelings, cost or coin. The shrine is supported by donations and largess, in coin or kind, and recipients of aid who fail to make an appropriate donation in turn will soon find themselves in poor favor. Cityfolk gossip on these and other matters, and devotees of the Beautiful Stranger are held in high regard in Three Stones.

For all that, little love is lost between devotees at the shrine and the black-armored Watch. Poor, sick folk from the City Without move through the gatehouse to the shrine in the City Within each day - those who can pay the toll, at least. It is no great secret that Jaldra of the Watch would close the great red iron gates of Three Stones to the folk of the City Without - if only the High Priest of the Vessel Ascendant allowed it. It is also no great secret that Aretole would rather the Watch guarded another city somewhere else in Creation.

[ Posted by Reason on May 29, 2005 ]