Ardith pushed open the doors, followed a narrow hallway, pushed open another set of doors, and entered into the sanctuary, which was, at the moment, empty. It seemed that most of the building was sanctuary. Its ceiling was as high as the rooftop, and narrow windows began ten feet above the floor, and extended twenty more toward the heavens. Spaced out on the walls was a series of once-gilt Signs of the Healer, in addition to smaller symbols of Andritha's other three aspects. Chairs and benches in the room were worn with use, and the wooden floor was dirty and dusty under a top layer of polish. Ardith took a seat at the front of the sanctuary, and prayed. Korisca hesitated when entering the room, but then followed Ardith as if she were completely comfortable. The only noise she made was a quiet mumble as she saw each new thing. Instead of sitting with Ardith, Korisca stood and continued looking around.
Kay followed Ardith through her service. When Ardith kneeled, she kneeled. When Ardith bowed, she bowed. Kay had never been in a Temple of Andritha before, and was overpowered by its size and elegance.
After some time of silent or mumbled prayer, Korisca suddenly dropped to the bench and mimicked Ardith's prayer stance as well as she could. Ardith had been surprised that Korisca had entered the temple at all, and was even more surprised at her new activity, until Kay tapped Ardith on her shoulder, and pointed toward the back of the room.
A heavily robed priest stood at the door to the sanctuary. “The morning service has ended. What is your business here?”
Kay was thunderstruck by the robes of the priest. She kneeled before him, and whispered a prayer she had heard Ardith say at mornings.
Ardith put a hand on Kay's shoulder, and whispered, “He is but a priest, as am I. Do not confuse Andritha's message with the messengers, neither this priest nor myself. Keep your own identity, my good friend.”
Ardith stood and bowed, making sure her Holy Sign was visible. “Your Holiness, we are pilgrims in your town. We have come here to pay our respects to Andritha, both myself and these, my acolytes. We pass through this city on matters of state, but know nothing of this town. Perhaps you may find it convenient to instruct us in the ways of the town?”
“Ah, you are a cleric, I see. No, a priestess. You are not dressed appropriately for the Temple, but your circumstances excuse you. I must apologize for my surprise; we do not often receive unannounced guests of your stature.” Despite his words, there was no surprise in the priest's face. His face was, in fact, devoid of all expression. The priest was not tall, but his long head gave the impression that he was. He looked much like many other priests Ardith had seen, no doubt the son of some noble family that had spread its seed across the kingdom.
The priest hesitated, but that fact could be derived only by the amount of time during which he did not speak. “Perhaps, when you have finished, you would like to meet with the apothecary. Eh, the Healer.” Where Andritha's healing aspect reigned, the Healer was Her closest representative. He controlled every aspect of the lives of several apprentices for some time, until they were ready to move on to another aspect, or accept healing as their primary study. Those apprentices lived at the Healer's whim until he decided he was done with them. Healer apprentices were at times the most envied, and at times the most pitied, of all those in the temples.
Ardith bowed. “Yes, we are dressed for travel since we have been many days on the road. My friends and I just arrived in town last night. Yes, when we have concluded making our prayers, it would be a great pleasure to meet with the Healer. Thank you, sir.”
Ardith followed the priest through a door in the front of the sanctuary, down two halls and through two doors. Kay had come to love Ardith like a sister, a sister she never had, so she followed as well. She grew up in a culture that respected the earth and the sea, and the respect that Ardith and others of her religion seemed to have for earth, sea and life was attractive to her. So it was not only for her friendship with Ardith that Kay made obeisance to Andritha.
The farther they walked, the darker and more cave-like their surroundings became, until, past the second door, the stone-walled corridor seemed more like a natural tunnel than the inside of a building, and torches were set only every twenty feet on the walls. They traversed a final long tunnel, and stopped at a heavy wooden door. The priest put his ear against the door and listened. After a long period of silence, he pushed open the door.
Three stone steps led down into a large cave. Torches were arranged in a circle around the curved walls, and their light on the unflattened stone created complex jagged shadows on the walls, ceilings and floors. Wooden doors were distributed unevenly on the walls, and shelves full of books, bottles and jars filled the areas between them, wherever there was a good formation to which a shelf could cling.
A dozen or so apprentices paid no attention to the entering group. Some walked in and out of the side rooms, carrying bottles and jars and bags. Others sat at desks, reading from heavy bound tomes, or stood, hard at work at a variety of tasks.
The master stood, near one of the walls. His robes were blue and black, and dragged dirtily on the floor. He gave a quick glance at the door as it closed behind the priest and Ardith's travelling group.
“We can always use some help down here,” he said in a dry, overused voice. He looked up at Ardith's necklace, and then looked back at a particularly blank wall. “Oh, you're of the Mother. Well, observe then. That's what those of the Mother do, isn't it? Observe Her children to be sure they do no wrong. I'm mixing a salve at the moment,” he said, although he had no rod in his hand. An apprentice was standing over the fire, performing that task.
The Healer's face was long and bony, as if through decades of healing, his own health had been slowly sucked away. The bagginess of old age showed minimally on his tight, concave features, although the Healer was clearly quite old. An elder apprentice would be master of the temple before long.
Ardith favored the aged Healer with a smile and a nod, and watched attentively as the apprentice mixed the salve. Kay stayed a half-step behind her friend, saying nothing, but watching everything.
“Stop that!” the Healer yelled, and the apprentice immediately pulled a smooth wooden rod out of the pot, and shook it off. He then removed a jar from a shelf to his left, and sprinkled from it a pinch of fine powder. “More,” the master groaned, and the apprentice dropped in another pinch. “Well?” he said, not taking his eyes off the wall. No one responded for some seconds, so the old Healer spun around and stared at a point above Ardith's head. “What have you come to do?”
At that moment, the door opened and hit Ardith, who stumbled and fell off the side of the short staircase. Korisca caught her own balance, and immediately drew a dagger. Remembering where she was, she looked around to make sure no one had noticed, and sheathed her weapon.
The Healer paid no heed to the incident, not even bothering to follow Ardith off the staircase with his eyes, but the priest came to her aid. The healer waved a hand, and two apprentices from the other side of the room rushed to the open door.
By the time Ardith had composed herself, the apprentices were carrying an injured man down the stairs. His fine clothing indicated he was a man of rank, perhaps a guildmaster or townsman, and the left leg of his pants was torn off. The naked leg was overwhelmed with blood- covered blisters, and already a third apprentice was running over with a wet cloth. The man did not cry out in pain, but he was awake, and his jaw was tight.
Murmuring her thanks to the priest, Ardith moved closer, but stayed out of the way of the healers.
The apprentice who was stirring the salve suddenly seemed to take notice of the situation. He lifted a jar off of a shelf above his head, and carefully poured enough salve into the jar to fill it half- way. He then walked slowly to the man, who had a tear forming in his eye. The Healer looked at the apprentice, and the apprentice looked at the floor, turned around, returned to the pot, poured the salve back in, and continued to mix it.
Another apprentice took a vial to the healer, who rejected it in a similar fashion. When a third apprentice lifted a jar from a shelf, the healer said, “Hopeless,” and walked out one of the doors lining the sides of the room.
The younger apprentices looked at the man when he emitted a slight cry of pain, and seemed afraid. They took a few containers from various shelves and got to work on his leg, smearing various-colored substances around until parts of the leg were no longer visible under the mess. Finally, the man lost control and cried, “You're healers! Help me!”
Ardith stared in disbelief at the performance she had just witnessed. She exchanged wide-eyed looks with Kay as the master Healer exited the room, leaving what appeared to be completely inept apprentices to minister to the injured man.
Kay was shocked at the obvious lack of skill being shown by these “healers,” and wondered what was going on. She looked at Ardith, hoping to find an explanation on her face, but saw only the same surprise and disbelief written there.
Finally, her wits returned, and Ardith remembered the strange dream she had had on the eve of Meideldaw, and the voice that had insisted that Ardith “was ready,” and that she “must be able to aid the hurt and find the lost.”
Holding her holy symbol in her left hand, she reached out to touch the injured man's leg with her right. In a voice not much louder than a whisper, but which carried a surprising tone of command, Ardith intoned, “Holy Mother Andritha, we pray for this man's healing.” She squeezed her eyes shut and summoned a healing spell.
Kay had heard Ardith pray before, and had heard the power of faith in her voice, but was surprised at the way Ardith's quiet voice filled the room with an almost tangible presence.
Blisters shrank or burst as was their wont, and the redness subsided and became pink, and finally a wrinkled white. The man's first impulse was to shout and grab his leg, but even from his supine position, he could see what was happening, and he was shocked to the point of paralysis.
By the time Ardith was finished, and satisfied that the leg was well on its way to becoming completely healed, a crowd of apprentices had gathered around, all stunned, all speechless, some staring at the scabs on the leg, and some at the mouth whose words had put them there. Korisca also stood in the crowd, unmoving and dagger at her feet.
“What's going on? Get back to work! He's not going anywhere!” the master Healer shouted from outside the circle. No one responded, except for the salve-mixer, who just looked in the Healer's direction.
The circle broke as minimally as possible to let in the Healer, who held a white cloth smeared thickly with red cream. He looked directly at Ardith for the first time, and then at the man.
The turn was getting too long, so I split it up. All notes are at the end of the next turn.