When Eliane woke she thought she felt surprisingly rested for someone who’d had an important conversation with a deity in her sleep. She and Helire decided to go and see the cows before breakfast and found Second Cousin Herome in the cowstalls checking on his ox. Eliane offered to help the team who were doing the shovelling out, but was waved away with their thanks because, they said, all the shovels were in use. A turn past the muck pile was ruled out because Herome, who’d joined them after he’d finished with Smoke, wanted to try and catch Great Uncle Banning at breakfast. According to Herome, Great Uncle had left their room after dinner to catch up with some old friends and not returned since. Apparently Eliane’s great uncle had asked Herome for space on the cart on the way home for some seed, and Herome wanted to clarify as soon as he could whether ‘some’ meant a few pounds or several hundredweight.
Breakfast was in the same communal dining hall as dinner and far more informal. Instead of servers bringing platters and bowls to the dining tables, the food was placed on a side table running the length of the room and everyone served themselves before sitting down at a dining table. That was the intention, but Eliane saw one poor man eating his entire meal standing just out of reach of the dining tables because people kept talking to him. She was considering whether she was bold enough to rescue a stranger from other strangers when the gong sounded to warn everyone that it was almost time for the morning service.
Eliane found herself a seat on the wall end of a row, under a carving of sheep and goats. Helire and Herome were with Great Uncle Banning near the aisle of the row in front of her but the people already in the row Eliane was sitting in had refused to shuffle down and she’d had to push past their knees to get a spot. Once she was seated, she realised why no-one had moved – the spot she was in had half its view of the sanctuary blocked by load-bearing architecture. She sat quietly in her place and listened to the choir sing the morning order, recited the day’s prayers with everyone else, and passed the serving salver of devotional elixir on quickly when it came to after taking her a sip cup for herself.
Like everyone else, Eliane held the sip cup on the palm of her hand to warm the liquid in the small bowl-shaped vessel through the thin porcelain. The priest leading the service, who was also the man Eliane had considered rescuing at breakfast, intoned the standard introduction to the sermon, and everyone raised their sip cup to their mouth. At this point most people simply inhaled deeply and let the fumes clear their mind so they could pay full attention to the sermon that they were about to hear. You could however, if you wished to truly open your mind to the goddess, drink the elixir. Eliane had done it before, once when she’d asked to be considered for dedication as Skilled and then again at the actual dedication. She’d found it an interesting experience that had left her senses more receptive and her mind better at processing new information for half a day, but she hadn’t thought it had brought her closer to the goddess….
Rhenasanamofa stepped into her fully awake mind.
“I’ll need you to let me run your body for a little while,” said the deity calmly. “I didn’t mention this part of the plan to you earlier so you wouldn’t get anticipation anxiety about it. Don’t worry, by all that may bind me, I swear that no harm will come to you from this. If necessary,” she added calmly, “I will provide stout and timely physical intervention on your behalf.”
Eliane felt herself moved aside out of the goddess’ way. “What are you doing, ma’am?” She could still see and hear what was going on in the temple, but she knew that she was no longer in control of her limbs or her voice.
“Manifesting myself in you, not that anyone else has noticed yet.” The deity added conversationally, “Theologically speaking, that means you are currently my avatar. If any of my theologically learned devotees ever start being difficult, you should remind them of that, and that this is the first time I’ve done this in about five of your generations. What I’m doing with you is a big deal and none of you should forget it.” She stopped to listen. “Learned Skilled Ordained Lammarac is giving a very sound sermon – I believe we can let him finish before we call attention to ourselves.”
“Ma’am, while we’re waiting may I ask a question?” Eliane had noticed a change in what she was seeing.
“Certainly you may ask,” the goddess answered kindly. “If I don’t want to answer, I’ll tell you and that will be that. You’ve given me access to everything of you, so you should at least get to ask questions.”
“Alright then, why does everyone look so…blurry now? With different hair colours all at once, and somehow with scales and fangs as well as skin, and,” she trailed off. “I’m not explaining it well, am I?”
“What’s happening,” answered Rhenasanamofa, “is that you are picking up some of how I normally see living things, and you don’t have the experience or the information processing ability to interpret it and understand it. The other side of the coin is that I’m finding my usual perceptions of the living world somewhat restricted because you don’t have the senses to receive the information about it that I do. That fuzziness you’re seeing is the surface physical manifestations of each individual body’s possibilities if there were some tweaks in the way processes you can’t perceive work.”
Eliane pointed out, “Some of those possibilities don’t look human.”
“A lot of what your kind are and perceive themselves to be is because of a few internal processes being turned on or off,” replied the goddess. “It’s more complicated than that, but your people need to do some more concept development so that you have the language for me to explain it better. Change those process settings inside a human body and you could wind up with someone who looks like a different person, a different type of being, or whose body doesn’t work at all so they’re dead.”
“Is this related to the way different bits of the brain control different body functions?” Eliane knew a very little bit about the subject, and most of that knowledge was that there were big discussions about how you could investigate the subject without slipping into monstrous behaviour.
“Partly,” replied the goddess, “but a lot of it is in systems that underlie gross body functions like that.”
“Wait, systems that underlie brain function…?” That was new concept to Eliane.
“And liver function, kidney function, and the way your gut works. Some of them are in the things that make cheese or inhabit your muck piles, but those are much tinier creatures than you. So small that you can’t see them. Ah, Lammarac is finishing.” The goddess added brightly, “Let’s do this.”
They stood when everyone else stood for the blessing and then followed everyone in the row when they made their way into the aisle to walk towards the doors and the rest of the day’s business outside. Great Uncle Banning and Eliane’s cousins had already moved towards the main doors with the press of the congregation behind them. The goddess brought Eliane to a stop at the end of the aisle and had her wait. When everyone else had moved on, the presiding clergy progressed down the aisles towards the doors, splitting into a group for each aisle to do so.
As it happened, and Eliane suspected that it wasn’t accidental, Lammarac was the principal Ordained on her aisle. As he drew level with her, and Eliane had received some questioning looks from his attendants, the goddess said loudly, “Nice sermon, Lammarac. Been working on your delivery?” To Elaine it didn’t sound like her own voice, more like a chorus. The priest turned to look at Eliane, his face went white, he dropped to his knees and then he prostrated himself on the floor in front of her.
Eliane heard him gasp out, “Divinity!”
Beside Eliane in her head the divine spark said enthusiastically, “Isn’t this fun? Actually, he doesn’t look half bad from this angle – good muscle development…”
His attendants looked at him, looked at her, one of them swore, and they all copied Lammarac’s position on the floor.
Eliane commented to the goddess, “That looks rather uncomfortable, doesn’t it?”
“I am trying to get their attention,” returned Rhenasanamofa. “Ah, here come the others.”
The rest of the presiding clergy arrived to see what their colleagues were doing, looked at Eliane, and also assumed the prone position on the floor.
“Now that we’ve established that you acknowledge my presence here today within this young woman,” said the goddess, “you may stand and look upon my avatar, the chosen bearer of my divine spark in this generation and thus my vessel in the prophecy.”
The clergymen and women climbed to their feet. Eliane noticed that about half of them kept their eyes downcast. Lammarac and the priest who’d sworn weren’t among them.
The goddess said, “Excuse me, who didn’t understand the instruction to look at this person? She is fully clothed and neither of us has any intention of disrobing. Your job is to confirm with your own senses that I am here and to be able to recognise her later when I have left her person.” The downcast eyes were carefully raised. “There,” Eliane could feel her face smiling as the goddess spoke, “none of you have been struck blind, now have you?”
“Divine lady,” that was one of the other senior Ordained, a woman with steel grey hair, “aside from being able to recognise the person of your avatar, what do you want us to do?
“Help her do what I need her to do. The prophecy embodied in the Chambourian Verses is moving, at long last, and my divine spark needs to be in place to play its parts. For now, it is my intention that the bearer of my spark will be based here. You will facilitate this. I desire that the bearer learns to read, write and speak Navreen in preparation for something else I want her to do. She has certain other tasks that you need not concern yourselves with, unless she chooses to involve you, but you might ask her about her skills and interests before assigning her chores.” The goddess seemed to be looking significantly at people as she finished speaking.
“Chores?” That was strangled sounding male voice belonging to someone who hadn’t wanted to look at Eliane.
“Of course chores,” replied the goddess. “She is used to physical activity and she has skills that the goose barns, for example, could use. Almost immediately in fact. After lunch will be too late.” Eliane noticed some alarmed looks being passed between a few of the attendant clergy.
The divine spark commented, “Oh, so it’s an on-going problem, is it? And some of you have been hoping it’ll get better without you doing anything?”
Eliane considered her skills and the goddess’s words. “Their muck pile is about to catch fire, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is. Please save my geese, I’m very fond of them and I’ve put almost as much work into them as I have into you.” The goddess smiled at her and then said to everyone, “Now that you all know what you’re supposed to be doing, I’ll go and leave you alone together. Please keep in mind, ladies and gentlemen, that if I decide my spark’s bearer isn’t safe among you, I will have her removed to a place of safety. And I’m the one who decides if her safety is threatened. I’m sure that I’ll be dropping in from time to time, just to check up on you all, you understand.”
Then the goddess was gone.
Eliane looked at the very senior clergy looking at her, took a deep breath, smiled and said in her own voice, “Well, that was an experience, wasn’t it? Perhaps we should do something about that manure pile fire before it starts?”
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