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user 27669732
Dekalb, IL
Post #: 12
Ophelia's fourth journal entry.


Praise to the most gracious Mistress of Thunder. May her storms remind us of our service to her.

I was not initiated into a large temple. Indeed, I did not set out to become a servant of the Lady of the Storms. I did not seek her out; she deemed me a worthy candidate and called me to her. I tried to pick someone's pocket and found my hand tangled in the robes of a priestess. She caught my wrist, though not roughly, and I was sure that she was going to call for the town guard. She asked what I was doing. I tried to think of a plausible answer, but simply said that I was hungry and I needed money. She said I looked to be of an age when I should be home with my parents. What was I to say? I did not, at the time, recognize the holy symbol on her belt and had only a vague idea that she belonged to one of the small nearby shrines. The only definite thing I knew was that she was an adult and therefore could not be trusted. Even so, I doubt I could have explained to her exactly why I had been sleeping in a vacant stable stall for the past week.

I do remember that she had blue eyes, as blue as lake water in the sun. She said if I was hungry, then she would feed me, and she brought me back to the shrine's kitchen and asked the cook if any scraps could be spared for an unfortunate girl. At this point I was more than a little confused. I was halfway sure that it was some kind of devious trick, and that at any moment they would ask who I thought I was, and did they really think a thief like myself deserved charity, and then I'd be thrown in jail or sold off. But there was a steaming bowl of soup before me, and a thick piece of bread, and I hadn't eaten since the morning before. At least, I think so; days ran together sometimes. The cook went about her business, but the priestess sat across the table from me and studied me as I ate. Though I was unaware of it at the time, my goddess had marked me as one of her own as soon as my bottom touched the bench beneath me.

Once I had drained the bowl and devoured the bread and came up for some air, the priestess made us some strong tea with a little honey in it. I expected her to start questioning me about what I did running the streets all day, why did I steal, and didn't I know it was a sin. She just sipped her tea and quietly began telling me about the shrine, what she did there, who our goddess was. I was fascinated. I was really too young at the time to grasp my faith properly, but the things the priestess said were like snatches of fairy tales. I had seen storms before, of course, I just had not known that a great queen created them, much less that she bestowed her waters upon us because she loved us so. I could not help asking questions, and the priestess answered them, and a little later she asked me if I would like to see the altar. Now, I smile to think how gently the priestess steered my curiosity, although I am still not certain why she thought I could be an acolyte.

I have come to know my goddess's altar well. I have seen it in many arrangements, some intricate, some not. I tend to focus on the one item always present, which is a basin of rainwater gathered directly as it falls. Sometimes the vessel is glass, or marble, or simply wood. The basin the priestess showed me was a shallow silver dish. She said it was brought to the shrine upon its founding. I remember seeing my face reflected in it, the water so still it was barely there, the bottom of the dish smooth as a river stone. When I looked into the water, it rippled, and the priestess touched my arm and said that our goddess had shown me her favor. She explained that it was unfitting for her to simply turn me out of the shrine, and that the least that she could do would be to offer me a bed for the night. Perhaps in the morning, she said, we could talk a little more.

Later, she laid out the terms. I could stay at the shrine, if I wished, and I could assist in some of the chores that had to be done, for as I learned there is much more to running a place of worship than holding mass and performing ceremonies. I think that many of our detractors in the Church would be surprised at the mundane nature of our lives; to hear them tell it, we spend our days slaughtering small animals and dancing around pits of flame. In any case, my work would pay for my food and board, so at least I would not have to live on my own. Should I find myself curious about the faith, I was free to ask any of the priestesses, as long as I did not disturb them during their studies or meditations. As it turned out, there were not very many priestesses about the place. There was the one I had come to think of as mine, and an older woman who acted as the head mother, and perhaps three or four others of varying ages. As I have said, it was a small shrine.

One day, I was carrying an armload of sheets to the laundry when I spotted a girl not very much older than I was. She was not one of the priestesses. She was carefully cleaning the altar, setting each of the holy items aside and replacing them when she was done. Her movements seemed like a dance, and by the time she had replaced the holy oil in the lamp, I was decided. I wanted to learn those movements, too, and the soft chants the priestesses recited at mass that sounded like the murmurs of doves, and everything else about my goddess.
user 27669732
Dekalb, IL
Post #: 13
Ophelia's fifth journal entry.


Praise to the most gracious Lady of the Rivers. May her streams forever run over the earth.

According to my goddess's teachings, each of her followers is assigned a personal symbol upon her initiation into a shrine or a temple. Usually this is done by the head priestess, and the acolyte is not informed of her symbol until she is presented with it at the official ceremony. As may be expected, these symbols are in keeping with my goddess's iconography and tend to be things such as fish, cattails, and ducks. In my case, the process happened a bit differently.

I had declared my intentions to the head priestess and had begun the task of becoming an initiate. I had not yet undergone my induction into the shrine. Along with my usual tasks, I was being tutored by one of the priestesses and performing some simple holy chores, such as lighting candles for mass. On this particular day, my chore was markedly more secular. I was under orders to take a net down to the river and try to catch a few fish for supper. By this point, I had been living at the shrine for some months. I set out on the short walk under midsummer heat that slopped onto my skin like a wet sheet. Entering the small spar of forest bordering the river offered little relief. The trees provided shade but also blocked most of what little breeze there was. By the time I reached the riverbank, I was slick as a frog with sweat.

The part of the river near our shrine came flowing out of a big, flat piece of farmland, and thus was quite slow most of the year except during heavy rain or snow melt. There was a particular spot where the bank had a kind of notch in it, forming a little cove that begged for swimming. Generally in summer I could count on finding a crowd of village children churning the water to froth. When I arrived, however, I was the only person present, and I decided that fishing could wait a little longer. I left my clothes and the net on the bank and waded into the water. The sunlight broke into patterns on the surface, and if I laid on my back I could see it coming through the leaves in warm, glassy green dapples. There were also little fish, no longer than my smallest finger. I crouched in the shallow water, trying to keep still, watching them swim around my feet and occasionally investigate my toes.

I am not sure how much time had passed when the fish suddenly all darted away. I was puzzled, wondering what had startled them. I had not moved and the river was too shallow here for pikes or catfish. I started to rise and a shadow stretched itself over me. I looked up into flat, yellow eyes, the round pupils regarding me in a nearly reptilian manner. The eyes belonged to the largest heron I had ever seen. It stood as tall as a grown woman and its beak looked sharp enough to open my throat. I could think of nothing but that possibility as I stared up at the giant bird, of the bone-colored beak darting into my neck, blood billowing in the water like smoke. The heron was not slate blue and white but a deep, ashen gray, and I remember that its eyes practically glowed.

Time seemed to halt even as my heart threw itself against my ribs. I dared not move, fearing that trying to run would somehow provoke the bird. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed to my goddess. Mind you, this was not a noble prayer like one said by a knight in a fairy tale. I could not even form words. I simply huddled there, panting, eyes shut, incoherently begging my goddess to spare my life. In the midst of this, I felt something smooth and solid touch the back of my neck. My breath locked in my chest as I realized it was the heron's beak. It rested there like a sword, withdrew, and then nothing. My muscles had turned stiff from fear and fatigue before I had the courage to open my eyes.

The heron stood many yards downriver, well away from me. When I looked at it, it casually turned, head darting like a snake, a fish flashing in its mouth. Then it took a few steps and flew away, banking through an opening in the trees.

I stumbled out of river, snatched up my clothes and the net, and started running. I did not stop until I reached my room back at the shrine, and it was quite a while before the priestesses convinced me to come out from under my bed. When I told my mentor what happened, I was stunned when she simply nodded. I was lucky, she said, because herons were sacred to our goddess. She pointed out that it had touched me without harming me and yet caught a fish moments later. Perhaps, she explained, the heron was a means of our goddess trying to show me a lesson. I could not think of what lesson that might be, other than scaring an acolyte senseless, but I thought it wise to agree.

In any case, the priestess said, it was clear that I had my symbol. I understand why I was formally presented with a heron charm at my initiation; the priestesses took my story as a sign. If indeed my goddess wished to present me with a lesson that day, then part of that lesson is that she is not without a sense of humor. The heron represents patience, cunning, grace, and unexpected fortune. I, on the other hand, seem to have been blessed with a tongue as sharp as a heron's beak.
user 27669732
Dekalb, IL
Post #: 14
Ophelia's sixth journal entry.


Glory to her Holiness of the Waves. May her oceans eternally meet the shore.

It seems that we have concluded the majority of our business in Pembrooktonshire and are preparing to depart. I cannot say that I will be sorry to bid the town farewell. I have found it entirely inconvenient to be compelled to hide my holy symbol and other accoutrements of my faith. Even my vestments have earned me undue scorn. Some especially discourteous residents have remarked that I dress like a lady of the night. I could expound on the myriad problems involved in the very idea of such an occupation being a subject of insult, but I believe the point is that my body is indecent and should therefore be hidden. Perhaps my upbringing at the shrine has caused me to become naive and sheltered, but after being raised among the priestesses I find these invasive comments nothing short of infuriating.

My body and how much of it I choose to reveal or to hide is my own business. If an observer finds the sight of me disagreeable, they are more than welcome to avert their gaze. I am under no obligation to explain my vestments to anyone, and even if I took the time to do so, the unconventional nature of my clothing would undoubtedly be taken as further evidence of the supposed corruption of my faith. I find this sort of accusation especially interesting, considering the current state of the Church. Apparently its priests are allowed to hoard wealth like dragons in the name of their gods but shrines and temples to my goddess are a plague upon the land. In Pembrooktonshire I cannot so much as make a holy gesture without being condemned as a witch.

My thoughts have been turned to such matters as of late because of an encounter I had with a knight of the Church. He was a typical self-righteous bully, filled with holy wrath like a puffed-up bullfrog. Indeed, I'm sure intimidating me in public saved countless souls. I find men such as him amusing. They make pilgrimages through the countryside, living in luxury, while priestesses of my faith track rabbits through the woods and net fish from streams. The farmers whose houses the knights claim for lodging come to us to bless their fields and pray for rain during drought. We accept their thanks graciously, but their thanks is all we have when the roof needs mending or the rice runs out.

The cost of this knight's armor could have fed my shrine for at least a year, with plenty left over. I know this because I had quite a clear look at it as he loomed over me, condemning me for the sin of being visible. I must hold more power than I am aware, for him to be so frightened. I did an admirable job of checking my words and making a strategic retreat. I faithfully serve my goddess but I do not believe she wishes me to die for her, and certainly not at the hands of such a fool. In the course of settling our business here, however, we have been compensated most handsomely. After paying my debt to Minister Irons, I intend to take the remaining money back to my shrine.
user 27669732
Dekalb, IL
Post #: 15
Ophelia's seventh journal entry.


Praise to her Majesty of the Rivers. May her waters always bless us.

It is well before dawn, but I find myself unable to sleep. As far as I can tell, my companions are still resting. I believe that we are all tired, as we have had quite a long journey making our way back from the mountains. Dealing with the foul creatures plaguing this land has not helped matters in the least. Slowly, we have drawn closer to Pembrooktonshire, and last night we sheltered in a farmhouse not far from the town's borders. The countryside is deserted, likely because of the monsters roaming about. We have an addition to our group, a young boy named Reginald. He says that he fled Pembrooktonshire and unfortunately has lost both of his parents, although he appears to have taken a liking to the halfling. Finally, she has a friend no taller than she is.

Reginald told us a disturbing story about the changes that have taken place since we left the town some weeks ago. He speaks of seven women who have seized power, sealing off Pembrooktonshire with a magical barrier. I would like to ask for further details, but Reginald is simply a child and unlearned in the ways of magic. I expect I will have to get a look at this barrier for myself, although I do not think I will be able to dispel it. From what Reginald says, open war has also broken out among the branches of the Church. An inquisitor in Pembrooktonshire tried to condemn the seven women as witches, and was arrested and imprisoned. I cannot quite bring myself to feel sorry for him, exactly, considering how the Church behaves. I may lack proper mercy on that account.

It is not the Church members for whom I fear, but the ordinary people like Reginald and his neighbors. My companions and I may be capable of setting matters right; not so for those who must live under the sway of the Seven, as the women are called. The townspeople are the ones we are trying to save, and while I am confident in my companions' abilities, I worry that I am inadequate to the task. Perhaps my faith weakens with the prospect of what awaits us in town, but despite all that we have survived I cannot help but have doubts. At times, I think that my companions would have better fortune with a priestess who has full command of her powers, instead of a mere acolyte who is clearly out of her depth.

Coming across that child stirred memories for me. At the moment, I do not feel entirely like a brave cleric backed by the strength of her devotion. I wish very much to be at home, and for my companions to be at their homes, and for things to be as they were.
user 27669732
Dekalb, IL
Post #: 16
Ophelia's eighth journal entry.


Glory to the Queen of the Deep Waters. May her currents always lead us.

I have woken before dawn again. The closer we draw to our goal, the more fitfully I seem to sleep. I thought that after last night I would rest more soundly this evening. Instead, I dreamed of the heron, the gray one I encountered at the river when I was girl. Over the years, I have found that I tend to dream of it in times of stress or uncertainty. Circumstances in these dreams differ. Sometimes, I ask the heron questions. It never answers; avatar of my goddess it may be, but it is still a bird. Sometimes, though, the heron is not as merciful as it was in my waking reality. I startle awake from those dreams, hand frantically pressing my belly or chest to staunch blood that is not there.

My dream tonight was less violent but just as unsettling. I stood before the heron on the riverbank, and though it was midday, the woods around us were perfectly silent. Even the river had ceased flowing, the water still as a mirror. The heron was some distance from me, and between us were three rows of seven animals. Closest to the heron were seven fish: carp, catfish, salmon, trout, pike, bass, perch. Then seven birds: robin, sparrow, crow, finch, thrush, wren, dove. Finally, laid out at my feet, seven beasts: rabbit, squirrel, badger, fawn, weasel, mouse, boar. No sign of violence marked the creatures' bodies, but all were deceased. The heron simply looked at me with its unreadable yellow eyes.

I have seen those animals before, but the entirety of their meaning is beyond me. It is clear enough that the number seven has some connection to the women in Pembrooktonshire. I do not, however, know why that number was repeated three times. I find it intriguing that each row of animals represented sea, air, and land, the three major realms of the world. I am certain that my goddess is trying to guide me. I have yet to interpret the message.
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