The Guiding Light

Posted: April 18, 2017 in 1. Norasburg, Rears Its Ugly Head, Tall Tales
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She could just make out the red glow of the sun on the horizon as it crept into the morning sky.  The light from the rising sun shone through the leaves of the forest to the east giving it an ominous orange glow.  A river separated the forest from the farmland that occupied the majority of the local’s time, when the sun broke over the tops of the trees its light would sparkle across the crystal clear waters.

This was her favourite time of day.  It was a time of renewal, the detritus of the previous day had been washed away by sleep and the new day was still a dream full of hope and promise.  The day’s potential was almost palpable, especially from her overlook in the tower.

There was a bit of a mystery to the tower.  No one knew who had built the tower, one of at least thirteen known to the nation.  This one that Norasburg had grown up around, eleven others that made up the country’s population centres, the last was a ruin far to the east beyond the forest.  The towers were identical in layout and stood twelve stories above the population that sprawled around it.  Each tower was the home of a Guiding Light and served as the centre of both the spiritual and governmental needs of each region.

The Guiding Lights were the political and religious leaders of the people.  Twelve women were chosen from among the faithful, chosen by their closeness to the Goddess, they ruled for the length of their respective lifetimes.  The twelve were the ultimate voice of their respective regions, their influence in the larger nation based primarily on their region’s population size.

Norasburg was a provincial region.  The town had grown up around the tower and its grounds as all the cities had but it had yet to achieve critical mass.  The people of the Norasburg region were rural in nature; farming, hunting, fishing, and forestry were the careers pursued by most.  The town itself had few amenities, it was too far away from the more densely populated lands and sat at the edge of the wilderness.  The occasional caravan would arrive to purchase wood and food surpluses but the locals were too wide spread for the growth of a luxury district.  The people were hard working and simple folk with simple needs.

There was a quiet to this time of day that just didn’t exist at any other point.  Even from her balcony, eleven stories up, there was a constant murmur throughout the bulk of the day.  It was only now after the late night revellers had retired and the early morning workers had yet to rise that the world entered a hushed state.  It was a phenomenon that was missing in the larger cities, it was her favourite aspect of her current home.

She had been born into a wealthy family in Marton, a larger and more cosmopolitan city than Norasburg.  It had been a world filled with innumerable sights, sounds and smells.  There was constant excitement and newness to the world she grew up in.  Her family’s wealth provided the education and freedom to pursue whatever struck her fancy.  She had decided at a young age that she had no desire to live under anyone’s rule other than her own.  The logical choice to her mind was to join the Temple and become one of the faithful.

It had worked out well for her.  She had spent a couple years as a faceless devotee to the Mother Goddess when she was called in front of the council of Guiding Lights.  One of the Lights had been taken into the Goddess’ embrace, they were only mortal, and they needed to fill the vacant position.  They informed her that she had been personally chosen by the Goddess to be the Guiding Light to the people of Norasburg.

She suspected a donation of gold from her family had more to do with it than a closeness to a deity she had never felt particularly close to.  Being chosen would allow her family to add a Guiding Light to their history, sending her to Norasburg would remove what they saw as an embarrassment from their immediate lives.  They had never approved of her joining the Temple, they would have preferred she enter the family business, but they were never unwilling to turn anything to their advantage.  Whatever the reason for the selection she now had more freedom than most people would ever see in their lifetime.

She shivered as the chill of the early morning breeze caressed her skin.  She was draped only in a thin silk robe, a luxury she had brought with her from Marton.  She felt invigorated by the chill, it was a shock to her system that immediately woke her and made her alert.

Among the various smells of a small town brought to her by the breeze she was sure she could smell the fragrance of the river that marked the edge of her domain.  There was a hint of life and death to it, a pungency that was stripped from the bath’s underneath the tower.  The ponds in the gardens that surrounded the tower had a milder lived-in scent but lacked the sense of privacy a swim in the river brought with it.

It had been some time since she’d been to the river.  The thought of visiting the river for an afternoon brought a smile to her face.  She would need to make that happen.

A muffled knock came from the door to her chambers.

She sighed softly and took one more moment of peace before leaving the chill of the balcony for the warmth of the tower.  She had crossed halfway to the door when it opened and a woman appeared.

“Good morning, Shan,” she greeted the newcomer.

“Your Eminence,” Shan nodded from the doorway.

“You’re so somber this morning,” she observed.  “I take it the day is starting out poorly.”  She shuffled absently through her wardrobe, so many outfits and yet there never seemed to be anything to wear.

“Yes, Your Eminence.”

She selected a white tunic with matching trousers, a simple solution.  It would match her attendants who, like Shan, would be clad in unadorned white robes.  She straightened her outfit, shook out her hair and exited the room.

“Fill me in,” she instructed, without looking she knew Shan would be following behind her.

“There was an attack on one of the logging camps during the night,” Shan explained.  “There was only one survivor.  He arrived at the tower early this morning.  He is waiting for you in your audience chamber.”

“Do we know who attacked the camp?”

“No, Your Eminence, he was escorted to your chamber immediately.  He hasn’t spoken to anyone.”

“Bring us food and drink,” She instructed the attendant waiting outside her audience chamber.  Shan followed her into the chamber as the attendant left.

“I present Her Eminence Welsley Koarl,” Shan announced as they entered the room.  The waiting man rose to his feet and bowed to the women.

“Your Eminence,” he stumbled out while he kept his eyes averted.

“Sit,” Welsley gestured to one of half a dozen chairs that sat around a solid wooden table.  She seated herself at one end of the table while Shan took a seat by her right hand.
She patiently examined her guest as he nervously fumbled for a seat.  She expected a certain degree of nervousness from her subjects, her word was essentially the same as if the Goddess had spoken.  Men tended to be more nervous than other women, but the Goddess’ words were very clear on just how little value there existed in the male of the species; breeding and dying were all they were good for.

He looked like a typical woodsman decked out from head to toe in animal hide, both treated and untreated.  There were signs of wear and tear on the clothing that included stains of dirt and blood.

The man himself was massive, his body more muscle than anything else.  It was a body built from many years of swinging an axe, felling trees and carting logs.  It was a solid body suited to a lumberjack’s hard life.  The hair on his head was matted and unkempt, his beard fared no different.  His sweat smelled of exertion and fear.

She waited silently with Shan.  She was in no hurry, she could let him have the time he needed to collect himself.  She didn’t really want to being a conversation with him until she had had a chance to eat.  From the look of him he’d probably appreciate a meal as well.

The attendant arrived with a large platter of fruit and a pitcher of cold water.  She quietly poured a glass of water for each person who sat at the table.

“Thank-you, Morah,” Welsley acknowledged.  “Please wait outside the door for further instructions.”

“Yes, Your Eminence.”  She shut the door behind her as she left.

“You must be famished,” Welsley observed.  The man seemed unable to decide what to do first.  “Have something to eat and then tell me what happened.”  She took an apple off the platter and took a bite.

“Thank-you, Your Eminence.”  He cautiously pulled some fruit from the platter and tested it on his tongue.  He thrust a larger piece into his mouth and chewed it slowly.  “We were attacked last night after most of us had put down for the night.  It was a slaughter, blood everywhere.  I managed to escape with a horse and rode straight here.”

“Who attacked you?” Shan asked.

“I’m not sure,” the lumberjack shrugged.

“Was it bandits?” Shan prodded.

“I don’t know,” he replied.  He paused before adding, “Bandits rough us up but don’t normally kill.  They just want the valuables.  People died.”

“Okay.  Thank-you,” Welsley raised her voice and called for Morah.  “Please bring this gentleman to the baths and get him a change of clothes,” she instructed the attendant.  She waited until they had left and she was alone with Shan.

“Care for a trip?” She asked Shan.

“My time is yours to command, Your Eminence,” Shan responded.

“Good.  I need to know what happened at this camp.  You are to act as my eyes and ears.  Go with this woodsman and see for yourself.  Take some soldiers with you for safety.  Make a circle of the other camps and check on their well being.  Bring me back as much information as you can.  Dismiss nothing as beneath notice.”

“How many soldiers?” Shan asked.

“We are operating blind,” Welsley replied after a moment’s pause.  “Let’s err on the side of caution.  Take two dozen footmen.  If it is bandits that should be a strong enough show of force to cow them.”

“I’ll leave immediately.”

“Be careful,” Welsley nodded.  “Safe and speedy travels,” the Guiding Light walked from the chamber to begin her day.


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