The altar of the church, though gilded and carved of wood, appeared matched to the intricate stone work and flying buttresses of the exterior. It was three-sided and three-faced, with carvings of the Trinquil sisters, immortalized in careful workings of gilded relief around the outside. Each goddess faced a different third of the round church. The artisans who created the cathedral centerpiece seemed to have been determined to eliminate any flat surface, and so the details of the holy place were lost in the almost organic lines of the whole. The stained glass that ran around the outside of the round cathedral was many-hued and depicted scenes from the Common Book of Divinity, with one great window for each of the twelve gods. The mix of colors made the light around the curving pews seem hazy and dream-like, but somehow by the time it fell upon the altar it had become white, adding to the cleanly air of the place. Above those visages in a higher dome three more windows loomed, greater than all the others, depicting each goddess arrayed in light and giving their gifts with bent knee. Upon the highest point in the altar stood a silver statue of Pastorus with animals around him in honor of his month.
The congregation was seated in the pews before the facing of Nostra, leaving the other two thirds of the grand circle empty save for a few silent patrons bent in prayer. The young faces arranged below Nostra’s calming visage, facing the pews of the assemblage as if on display, wore a strange mixture of emotions. Some were painted with fear and anxiety, and others seemed to be disinterested, or even bored. The boys wore white trousers and the girls simple long dresses of green and white. Beside them stood a priestess, wearing robes of white trimmed with muted red and cinched around the waist with a red sash. One of the younger boys at the end of the row began to pick his nose, then quickly snapped his hand away as the priestess looked his way.
“And so, let us each give what the gods compel our hearts to give, for the maintenance of mankind, worked through the divine knowledge that shall be given unto these pledges,” the priestess said. She began to walk down the narrow steps from the tranquiline altar, a narrow smile parting her smooth face. In each hand she held a brass bucket, and when she reached the bottom she handed one to the rows of people sitting on each side. “Some may become doctors,” she said as she walked back up the steps. “Some may become nurses or herbalists, but all shall serve us as trade disciples these next four years.”
“One of these girls could have been me,” Charlotte whispered to Rone as they watched the offering bucket moved down one of the aisles. They sat in the last peopled row, and Rone frequently looked to the church entrance away on their left. “If my maidenhood had persisted but a little longer.”
“Your parents would really demand you, you, ply a trade?” Rone whispered back
“They certainly liked to threaten it. I think it was mostly to inspire me to keep trim and proper, and stay out of the woods.”
“For all the good it did you.”
Charlotte pushed her chin down and cleared her throat as the gaze of the priestess fell upon them. Quietly, she reached into her velvet purse and produced a single silver coin.
“That’s a week’s worth of food, you know,” Rone said quietly as the bucket approached.
“We have plenty more.” She dropped it into the bucket, which she could see was filled almost entirely with rough copper pennies, the scraps that the poorest of peasants produced for change, along with the larger whole cyprals, stamped by the crown. The priestess nodded to her as she saw the gift, then another cleric, a man dressed in simple black clothes, stepped from the back and picked up the bucket.
“I’m just looking the part,” Charlotte whispered to Rone, who wore a frown. “Merchants are also generous.”
“I don’t know what merchants you’ve known.”
“Well, their wives are.”
“Which explains why the men can afford to do so little giving.” He smiled slightly. The priestess moved to a lectern centered on the altar and opened a large book. She began reading from it, slowly and with dry intonation in the way only a cleric could seem to manage.
“Do you think they’re gone by now?” Charlotte whispered.
“We can stay here awhile longer,” Rone said. “You never know. This might be an interesting tale.”
“Unlikely, it’s the fourth cannon.”
“I’ve sat through… perhaps three sermons in my life.”
“A true Somniatel,” Charlotte whispered. She smiled as she said, “Not just a tamed barbarian.”
“As heretical as you need. Prometheus brokers no guilt for dreams.”
“Well, it’s as good a place as any to take a nap.” Charlotte coughed and pressed her hand to her chest as she noticed a pause in the droning cadence of words from the altar and noticed the old priestess looking down upon her again with a furrowed brow.