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.Either the God and Goddess had abandoned him, or they had never existed in the first place.The latter idea was unthinkable to his people, so he had concluded that for whatever reason, the Hands that had created him had left him to suffer at the hands of cruel humanity and turned Their backs on him.He hadn’t had to think about it much since then.The day-to-day hell of survival took all his will, and after that, he lived in the Agency base where, if there was any religion going on, it was behind closed doors.He kept an altar in his bedroom but gave little time to it, and once he and Jason moved in together he’d spent even less time in meditation—just enough to keep a check on his powers and to stay centered.After 150 years of similar experience—seeing too much evil and never the good to match—Jason had declared that God was a figment of the desperate human imagination.Rowan had never been able to bring himself to agree; the world was still full of spirit, in his experience, but he had come to doubt whether that spirit actually gave a damn about individual lives.But if all of this was true, it was possible he and Jason both were very, very wrong, and the prospect, which should have been wonderful, scared the hell out of the Elf.He sighed.He was spending far too much time afraid these days.As he steeled himself to go into the Temple, one of the heavy oak doors swung open, and the High Priestess, Deisa, walked out to meet him.She wore a light robe and cape against the coolness of the forest morning; she had hair down to her knees, as was the fashion among the priesthood even now, with the sides braided with ribbon and wrapped around her head.A silver chain around her neck held the leaf-shaped insignia of her office, and there were matching leaves hanging from her ears.She was willowy and tall and brought to mind a gazelle or other graceful pale animal.“Rowan,” she said warmly, her voice deeper than her appearance would suggest.“Are you going to come in, or shall we talk out here?”He shook his head and approached her, bowing.“I’m sorry, my lady.I was…having a weird moment.”She smiled.“We all have our weird moments.Please, come in.”She held out her arm, gesturing for him to pass her into the Temple, and as he did he caught the scent of lavender.Neneva had favored the same scent, and he was overwhelmed, for a minute, with memory.Again, Deisa seemed to understand how he was feeling, and waited for him at the entrance, saying quietly, “So much lost, so many gone.Sometimes I wish the Goddess weren’t so mysterious in Her ways, and that I could see, even for a second, the greater design behind all our suffering.”Rowan looked at her.“What if there isn’t one?”One thing he had always appreciated about Elven clergy was that questions never threatened them; they were perfectly willing to hold a differing opinion from others, for the most part, though many—his mother included—would argue their points for hours if given the chance.Though dogma did exist, there was no holy book, and no ecclesiastical law.Clan Yew had been the dark exception to the shining soul of Elvenkind.Deisa considered his question, which was really more of an accusation, then said, “If there isn’t one, then it is up to us to create our own.We were given free will and the power to change things.”“Aren’t free will and a divine plan inherently contradictory?”She led him through the Temple vestibule and into the sanctuary itself, a large open room very much like a human church but with a subtle difference in energy and open windows instead of stained glass.Branching off from the main room was a number of smaller niches for personal devotions, each with a cushion and shrine; to the back were doors leading to the Priestesses’ offices and quarters.Deisa spoke again as she led him toward the back.“I like to think that a person’s highest will, as opposed to a momentary whim, is always in line with the divine plan, and that we have a choice to listen to our highest will or to our whims.The choice to act in accord with the Goddess—with nature—is always ours to make, but turning away from Her will lead us farther from our sanctity and closer to evil.As with everything there are beneficial choices and detrimental ones.But I believe you have come to talk history, not theology, yes?”They crossed the sanctuary into one of the side rooms that served as her office; it, too, had an abundance of light and air, and the floor had been tiled in a mosaic of spirals and leaves.Deisa saw him admiring it.“We’ve been slowly but surely embellishing the plain building materials the Agency gave us,” she said, beckoning him to sit across the modest desk from her.“We may never reach the grandeur of the Temple you grew up in, but I think what we lack in opulence we make up for in sincerity.”“I agree,” he said.“I would feel much more at home here nowadays than I would in the Temple of Oak.”She offered him tea, and he accepted [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]