The Temple of High Worship in Fulcester

The first time I left home was right after Danan was born. Old enough to be considered irredeemably useless by my lord-father, he had decided I would honour our family in service of the Earth Mother. I was too innocent to realise what it meant, so initially, I felt excited.

Throughout my early childhood I had been betrayed by my body. My constitution was left in ruins after being struck by the bloody flux. Because I spent much of my time bed-bound my lady-mother often had me tended to by the brothers of the Chauntaic order of Fulcester. I always had fond memories of Brother Leobald. He would prepare my food, administer potions, take me to the balcony when it was warm, and read stories to me at night when sleep could not find me.

As far as I can remember Brother Leobald was the first man to ever show me compassion, care and genuine affection. My lord-father never did, and his men followed his example, though I suspect some of whom I suspect felt sympathy for my situation. I looked fondly at the pastoral order of Chauntea, prayed to her at sundown together with Brother Leobald, and was genuinely excited to study at the temple to please my lord-father.

My lady-mother reassured me that with Fulcester being so close to Redgarden I would be able to visit often and watch Danan grow up and become good friends with him. I was aching for a friend and I suspect my mother knew that. This was the carrot she kept dangling in front of me to get me to be compliant. She told me that I would get to know all the new acolytes at the temple, make friends with them and study Chauntea’s grace with them. I think she meant well. It was wishful thinking on her part.

Arriving at the temple, escorted by Brother Leobald, I found a sprawling estate with a large hill in the middle of it. Atop the hill sat the temple – the largest wooden structure in all of Cormyr, it was said – surrounded on all sides by fields and farms. It was truly a magnificent sight to behold as you stood on the hilltop and looked around, Chauntea’s abundance was everywhere. Her life-giving power was on full display with fields of corn and wheat and grazing cattle, berry bushes and herb gardens, apple orchards and stocked granaries.

It was said that the yield from the temple grounds was so high and so optimised, that it fed the better part of Fulcester. As a result, the temple order was very rich. The lands it held was bestowed upon the order by my family and so, in appreciation, the order donated part of its yield to my family. I was afforded my own quarters in appreciation and I was given servants, Olivar and Annarel.

I first met Olivar the day I was accepted to the order. The ceremony was a long and tedious one, and I remember there were many prayers being offered while we had to stand under the hot sun. My lady-mother had insisted that I was given a shaded position for she was afeared I would faint. Olivar had been lucky enough to end up in the shade of the same poplar tree as I. He was a strong-limbed, sandy-haired boy my age, with bright blue eyes and an easy smile. The overwhelming majority of the aspiring acolytes were women, so Olivar and I quickly gravitated towards one another. Throughout the long and exhausting day we quietly chatted in between prayers. He was an orphan from Wolverton and he had excelled in letters under the tutelage of a local scribe. As such he was accepted as an aspiring acolyte.

Because I was a Redwyne, I wasn’t just afforded my own quarters, but I was also provided a tutor; Annarel. She was a few years older and had started her acolyteship a year before and already had the run of things. She explained where classes were held, when to report for supper, which pastors were friendly and which were strict. She proved to be an invaluable source of information in the first few weeks. She was tall, for a girl, with green eyes, a shock of thick auburn curls and a lovely smattering of freckles. She had been born into a common family but had an uncle in the order who had helped her get accepted as an acolyte. She already knew so much that I would get intoxicated by it when she spoke.

The acolyteship was split up between two tasks; study at the different monastic orders of Chauntea surrounding the temple, and working on the farms on the estate. The former came easy to me, the latter did not. Work on the farms was hard and those days wore on longer than I was comfortable with. I started to notice that there was an inherent inequality being propagated; study was often overseen by female priests, while the farm work was predominantly overseen by male pastors. The highest orders were almost exclusively female and Annarel told me that this was due to women having a deeper connection to the nourishing nature of the Earth Mother.

Both Annarel and Olivar were lovely, and while they were initially selected to serve me, we quickly became good friends. We started sharing tasks in my chambers and the boundaries between us started to fade as we shared things equally. They stopped calling me “my lord” and I stopped expecting them to serve me. Olivar enjoyed his time in the fields more than Annarel or I did, and Annarel enjoyed her time at the temple more than Olivar or I did. And I? I enjoyed my time in the libraries and classes more than they did. We helped each other, tutored each other and covered for each other. This was made easy by being separated from the rest of the acolytes. My family name gave me a lot of leeway to do as I please and as a result, my family name afforded Olivar and Annarel the same. It also caused some friction between us and the other acolytes.

The first winter at the temple was a rough one. For weeks, thick snows and harsh temperatures made pastoral work and priestly contemplation impossible and classes were suspended. We were allowed to continue our studies in quarters, which was heavenly for me. I would sneak books from the library and bring them back to my quarters. I would read. Annarel would read from scriptures. Olivar tended to the fire and would work on his wood carving. At night, the three of us would share my bed in order to keep warm. We were young, we were curious, and under the tutelage of Annarel we began to explore each other and ourselves. Once the cold winds of Auril the Frostmaiden had past and Deepwinter was behind us and we were heading for spring, we continued our ways. During the day, we studied and worked together, during the night, we cuddled and slept together. I look back upon those days as the happiest times of my life.

Annarel was quickly progressing through her studies and as a result she would spend more time at the temple. She seemed happy with that, so Olivar and I were happy for her. In turn, Olivar was growing strong and was given more pastoral responsibilities on the different farms. I was given a few tasks in maintaining the library, so we all seemed to grown in different ways. Fortunately, we would all come back home at the end of the day to my chambers and we would talk about all we had learned that day. We were all happy.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that Annarel and Olivar were progressing as quickly as they were, and I was given a lot of space to spend time at the library, other acolytes had been growing envious. I would sometimes hear that questions were asked, especially of Annarel, which were critical of our status within the order. Olivar had been teased about living in such close quarters with Annarel and had even gotten into a fight with one of the farmhands when the farmhand had opened up about what he would do to Annarel if they had lived together. Looking back now, I realise that I could have predicted what came next.

Because the three of us had been growing in our chosen disciplines it meant we were not always together anymore. It meant that often one person would have duties while the other two stayed in chambers. I knew Olivar and Annarel were having sex while I wasn’t there, just I had sex with both of them when the other wasn’t there. Misfortune struck when Olivar and I were seen together in my chambers by another acolyte who came by to run an errand. We were so innocent of the idea that what we were doing was wrong, that I was stunned when Olivar and I were called before a priest to explain ourselves. High priestess Adelaide of Halloughton questioned us on what had been going on between Olivar and I. Annarel was present but looked at her feet. We knew that lying in front of a high priestess would be a sin, so we told the truth.

The high priestess angrily lectured us on Chauntaic ideas on sex. Chauntea was a mother first and two men being intimate with one another could never produce children. I don’t remember much more of that pious scolding. I just remember that Annarel was moved to a different monstary, Olivar was expelled and made to leave with only that which he arrived with – which is to say, being an orphan, nothing at all – and I was expelled to be sent back to Redgarden Keep.

I never saw Annarel or Olivar again. I would occasionally get word from servants at the keep about Annarel. She had rededicated herself to the Earth Mother and was a rising star in the order. I never heard about how Olivar fared. I can only imagine how hard and unforgiving the world must be to a young boy without food, shelter or coin. I hope he is a farmer or a woodworker. I hope they are both doing well. That they are happy. That they think of me as much as I think of them.

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