Excerpt from Chapter 18 of
Stewart and the Legend of Lavros
By James Haselton
The Temple of Kani

List of booksn the diminishing light of day just moments past sunset, a beautiful young woman dressed in a flowing white gown was performing her temple duties as usual on the first evening of the festival of Kani. The opening ceremony of the festival had been inspiring. The young woman's duties included cleaning the altar and refreshing the water supply in the holy urn next to the altar. She had just finished her duties in the innermost chamber of the temple where the holy of holies, the sacred image of Kani, a larger than life statue in white marble resided. She had dawdled longer than necessary in that intimate space, lost in her dreamy devotions to the goddess. This was perhaps understandable since the image was illuminated by just two whale-oil lamps, flickering softly and casting indistinct shifting shadows on the frescoed walls of the temple.

The young woman's mind and imagination were filled with images of the exquisite goddess, her culture's ideal of feminine beauty, and so it is not surprising that it took her some time to realize that something on the altar had changed since the conclusion of the ceremony only a fraction Stewart and the Legend of Lavrosof an hour before. When she finished dusting the altar she turned her attention to the ceremonial chair of the high priestess and that is when she saw it. She was so startled that she let out a little shriek, dropped her duster and fled out the front of the temple. It had been drummed into her that she must not leave the temple under any circumstances while performing her duties but she was not thinking about the rules. When she emerged onto the wide portico of the temple, flanked by its row of white columns, she stopped momentarily to think what she should do; then ran as fast as she could across the courtyard to another stone structure, only slightly less imposing than the temple. When she reached the door, she knocked—she knew the door would be locked—and stood impatiently wringing her hands until the door finally opened. A middle-aged woman, still dressed in the white gown she had worn to the evening's ceremony, opened the door and when she saw the young woman, said, "Why have you left the temple?"

The young woman, having suddenly forgotten most of the usual protocol, blurted out, "Is her holiness, Sister Kalista here? I must speak to her immediately!"

The older woman suddenly became annoyed, "Why would an acolyte such as yourself, need to speak to her holiness at this hour?"

"Something's changed in the temple. It must be important. You must fetch her holiness right away!"

The older woman stiffened at being addressed so brusquely by a mere acolyte, but she could also see that something unusual must be going on. "Calm down. What's changed, girl?"

"It's her holiness's chair. Please, sister, go and tell her holiness to come and see it for herself."

The older woman hesitated but finally she said, "Sister Kalista has retired to her chamber but I will see what I can do. Now, you must go back to the temple this instant!  And do not ever forsake your duty there again or you will be out of the order before you can say ‘praise Kani!'"

The door closed and the acolyte heard the lock slide into place. She turned and ran back across the courtyard to the temple steps where she stopped to wait. She stood in the doorway for several minutes and when no one came right away, she dusted off a spot on the top step next to a fluted column and sat down staring wide-eyed at the door she had just left. After what seemed like an hour but was actually about ten minutes, two women emerged from that door and walked across the courtyard at what seemed a crawl to the young woman. Here she was bursting with news and no one seemed interested. One of the two was the woman she had talked to and the other was not her holiness, Sister Kalista. When they approached, the young woman stood up and waited, this time not speaking until she was spoken to by the second woman who had apparently dressed hurriedly despite the delay, "Lydia tells me you want to show her holiness something important. Well? It had better be important to have left your duty."

The acolyte said, "Yes, Sister Ariadne, I'm sorry I had to leave the temple but I was frightened. I've never seen anything like this before. It must be important."

Ariadne said, "We'll talk about your actions later. Let's have a look at whatever it was that frightened you so."

The acolyte led the two older women into the temple and before they had gone ten paces, Ariadne said, "My word!  Is that what I think it is?"  No one talked while the three of them ascended the steps of the dais and approached the object which for two thousand years had been just a cold uncomfortable chair.

Lydia said, "How is a thing like this possible?"

Ariadne felt the chair cautiously with her index finger and said, "There can be only one answer but I can't believe it. This is actually warm to the touch. I must awaken Sister Kalista and bring her here immediately. You two, stay right where you are."  She turned and quickly walked back across the courtyard leaving the acolyte and Lydia staring at the softly glowing chair.

"Yes, but much more than that, it means that someone has found the home of the ancient high priest, someone who understands the old ways, someone who may even… I wonder…"

Ariadne returned with Kalista, the high priestess of the temple, who was wearing a dressing gown and looking even more disheveled than her assistant. When the two women reached the altar, Kalista went to the chair and placed her hands on the stone, running them along the arm and up the back where she stopped, looking at the plinth above the back of the chair. She seemed deep in thought. After a few minutes she said in a whisper, "This changes everything and to think this is happening in our lifetime!  I must share this with King Thaddeus tomorrow but no one else can see this or hear of it until I say. You three are sworn to silence. Sister Lydia and Acolyte Elaina, you two will stay here in the temple until I arrive here with the King tomorrow. You will prevent anyone else from entering the temple until then. We will bring you a heavy cloth to drape over the chair lest someone should see it from the doorway. For now, you both should stand guard at the entrance until we return. Come Ariadne. We have work to do."

When the two priestesses had left the temple and were crossing the courtyard, Ariadne said, "This can only mean that the news from the mainland is true, that the Enigma is finally gone."

Kalista said, "Yes, but much more than that, it means that someone has found the home of the ancient high priest, someone who understands the old ways, someone who may even… I wonder…" They walked silently in the gathering darkness until they reached the door to the monastic residence where they paused for a moment while Kalista pondered the situation. Finally she said, "Please take a heavy blanket over to the temple and then join me in the chapel."

When Ariadne had delivered the blanket and returned to the residence, she proceeded immediately to the small chapel located in the southeast corner of the building. There she found Kalista standing in front of the railing in the center of the low dais. She was looking at the east wall between two stained glass windows where an ancient fresco of intricate detail had been painted. The scene depicted the goddess, Kani, in the center surrounded by a bevy of admiring priestesses. The goddess was looking at her image in a hand mirror and beneath the fresco a tarnished copper plaque was affixed to the wall which read:

When the power returns to the mountain height,

The Window shall shine with a golden light.

In addition to the two large windows flanking the mural there were also two more windows on the south wall which, during daylight hours, could be appreciated as exquisite works of glass art depicting various early religious scenes. After dark, whale-oil lamps were lit near the windows to display the images to people outside the monastery. When Ariadne entered, she closed the door and joined Kalista at the foot of the dais. She looked at the place where Kalista seemed to be focused and said, "What are you doing, Sister?"

Kalista said, "Hoping. Please extinguish the lamps by the windows. You can leave the one by the door lit; then we will see if our new high priest really has the power."

Ariadne did as she was instructed and returned to the dais where the two women stood in silence for two or three minutes. Once their eyes grew completely used to the darkness, a single faint point of light became visible apparently within the fresco. Kalista withdrew an intricate brass key which hung on a gold chain around her neck and proceeded toward the light. Carefully, she inserted the key into the small point of light and turned, then pulled back slowly on the key. A few flakes of paint and plaster fell on her hand and the floor as the hidden panel opened. Once the small door was open slightly, she put her hand inside and pulled it fully open. Ariadne gasped as the two women saw their sacred upaya and knew that they were the first to behold the precious object in an age of mankind. Bathed in the splendor of golden light which seemed to come from the object itself, light which was reflected by the shiny gold lining of the niche in which it had been hidden, the mystical Window of Ajna invited the high priestess of the times to come and claim it. The two women were overcome with emotion and sank to their knees where they hugged one another and sobbed great tears of joy. In their highly emotional state, they did not register an unseen malevolent presence hovering over them and their newly revealed prize—a presence which was functioning as a conduit between them and the mountain realm.

 

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