Chapter Eight

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The Grand Cleric wasn’t so much imposing as he was commanding. His easy smile and his free-flowing charm were amongst the greatest weapons in his political arsenal-for make no mistake, life on the Island Temple was certainly a political affair.

Before joining the privileged few whose service granted them entry into the clerical elite, he’d been a missionary in the Dahr. It hadn’t been easy; the natives were dedicated to their pagan ways and he’d spent a lot of time merely trying to understand the appeal of believing in “the Zhaunil”… As though it were a conscious thing.

Ista was a conscious thing. He was a god.

 

Now the Grand Cleric stood with his arms outstretched above him, praying to his god for enlightenment. For in his absence, just as had been expected, Botha had broken into the inner temple structure and stolen the scrolls. To out Botha would mean revealing his distrust of his fellow clergymen and women. To let it pass would risk emboldening the younger man in his perverse mission. Yes, life on the Island Temple was political indeed.

He spoke the requisite praise chorus before beginning his actual plea for wisdom and guidance, ended with the praise chorus and kissed the massive statue of Ista’s holy symbol which stood before him. Being in charge had perks, he smiled. Other clerics had to go into the temple to have access to such a magnificent relic yet here in his very chambers stood one of the most ancient of holy things. Its beauty was a true testament to the power of his god. This thought calmed the cleric, and he knew his prayers had been heard. A sense of clam resolve once again washed over him and the Grand Cleric continued his preparations for the day.

His plan was blessed by Ista; it couldn’t fail. He took the paper on which he’d been writing the night before and folded it into a neat diamond shape. He then carelessly tossed it to the ground below. The paper flitted about in the mild breeze before finally landing in a patch of white roses. None of the people walking the garden on that morning thought anything of a stray sheet of paper, nor of the gardener who picked it up.

 

Zolamee was Phaistian, born and bred. Both his mother and father had been members of the order and had sworn the sacred kinship, which they’d honoured unto their deaths mere years earlier. From a young age Zolamee had learnt about the honour amongst kin, the bonds of brotherhood and the meaning of loyalty. Those were lessons he’d never consciously taken to heart and yet they held him with a grip so tight it choked out any doubts he may have considered having.

He enjoyed his latest assignment whole-heartedly, not least because it entailed something at which he had always been very gifted: hiding in plain sight. As far as anybody was concerned he was simply a gardener from the mainland whose only secret was growing healthy and vibrant roses. It helped that Zolamee had always liked roses and the fact his messages from the Grand Cleric tended to drop in the most inopportune places, such as fragile petals, irked him.

The note was perfectly folded into the crude shape used to designate The Eye Which Sees; the designated title of such assignments as these. It instructed him to continue to observe the middle-aged cleric called Botha and to report what the man was planning to do with his stolen scrolls. Zolamee smiled. He’d first thought that men of faith would have loftier goals than the retention of station but it seemed he’d been mistaken.

You can paint a pig pink but it’ll still smell like dung.

The saying was proving truer and truer with each assignment Zolamee took on. He thanked the memory of his mother’s wisdom and moved from the row of roses beneath the Grand Cleric’s quarters to his own at the far end of the garden. The workers’ quarters weren’t nearly as ornately built as those of the clergy, though they were very comfortable, as far as workers’ quarters went.

Zolamee placed the note, written side down, on his desk and opened the top desk drawer to bring out a small brown leather bound notebook. His assignment log book was well-maintained. No pages were torn, scuffed or stained, despite the many places the little book had been.

Things of power must always be well-kept…

He thanked the memory of his father’s caution and opened the book to a fresh page. With systematic efficiency he mentally coded the message and rewrote it. Each member of the Phaistian order was encouraged to create their own codes but most were too lazy to create anything other than simple variations of the coding styles they’d learnt in their academy years. Zolamee, however, was dedicated to his craft and was confident that no code like his had ever been conceived of in the history of the order. Of course this was not a theory he could test, but still he was sure.

When he’d finished he burnt the original note and made his way to his bed. The cleric Botha had proven to have a liking for doing his ‘clandestine’ activities in the dead of night, so Zolamee would sleep his requisite four and a half hours in the late afternoon and wake not too long after sundown to observe the man.

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