“And thus, when the sun rises, we see the dawning glory of The Goddess in all her magnificence. But, we must always remember…”
Scarlet’s sermon is interrupted as the shrine doors burst open, causing the congregation to gasp and turn in unison. Faisal stands silhouetted in the doorway, holding a young acolyte by the scruff of his neck. The boy looks terrified as the holy warrior drags him up the aisle to where the High Priestess stands. The pair are followed by a crowd of townspeople, murmuring excitedly as they pack into the tiny building. The chaotic din of nearly one hundred murmuring voices falls silent as Scarlet raises her voice to be heard.
“What is the meaning of this, Faisal?”
The warrior bows deeply still holding the young man’s shirt.
“Ten thousand pardons, Dawnsister. I would not interrupt your teachings were it not important. This man is the thief who took the statuette of The Lady of Light and Glory from the shrine last week. The Warden’s officers identified him, recovered the statue, and relinquished him to Her custody for punishment.”
The young priestess glances down at the thief, frowning slightly. “And why is it necessary to deal with this right now, Faisal?”
The young warrior look surprised at the question, and bows his head to hide the flush of embarrassment. Before he can reply, Deirdre steps from the crowds and speaks.
“Forgive me, Dawnsister, but given the seriousness of his transgression, would it not be proper to dispense The Goddess’ justice immediately? The theft of Her likeness was an affront felt throughout your congregation. It would be fitting for them to witness Her justice being meted out.” A murmur of agreement ripples through the crowd at the young woman’s words. “And The Karain is very clear on the need for swift and decisive justice in such matters.”
Scarlet frowns at the mention of the Qadiran holy book, but refrains from voicing her opinion on the foreign scripture’s applicability.
“Very well”, she says, turning to the frightened thief. “What do you have to say for yourself? How are we to decide your punishment?”
The whimpering boy looks up at the priestess, his dirty face streaked with tear lines.
“Please Holiness, I meant no disrespect for the goddess or yourself. I only wanted to be able to provide for my family. My father was killed when the great feathered monster attacked the city, and my little brother is too frail to help with the chores. Mother tries her best, but there isn’t enough for all of us…”
A sympathetic murmur rises within the watching crowd at the boy’s plea, but Deirdre interrupts, her voice harsh and cold.
“Marcus Porter, your father ran away last year with a woman from one of the traveling caravans. And your brother is a fine boy whom everyone picks to join Marshal Nicholas’ Rangers when he comes of age.”
The crowd’s restlessness increases, angry mutterings coming to the fore. Turning back to Scarlet, the younger woman bows deeply.
“Dawnsister, I believe The Karain is very clear on the sentence for a theft from The Goddess herself. Beheading is the only fitting punishment for such a direct insult to Her compassion and loyalty.” She turns to Faisal, “Would you not agree, mualim?”
Shocked murmurs run through the crowd at mention of the harsh punishment. Several angry shouts about foreign devils come from the back of the shrine. Scarlet raises a hand to silence the crowd as Faisal nods in agreement.
“Yes, talib. The Karain is very clear on this matter, but interpretation of specific cases in the prerogative of the High Priestess. Dawnsister Scarlet must decide how The Lady of Eternal Light and Justice would have us deal with the transgression.”
The air itself is alive with the tension as the entire congregation turns to the red-haired priestess, awaiting her response…
The tension grows awkward as everyone continues to stare at the High Priestess, waiting for a decision. Deirdre quietly smiles at her inability to make a decision.
Wise and beautiful? We’ll see how long he thinks so…
The young woman turns back to Faisal, trying to keep her expression neutral.
“Perhaps the honoured Dawnsister does not agree that this matter requires her direct attention, mualim. May I propose that the offender be returned to the custody of Warden Garess while you and I consult the Karain ourselves to determine an appropriate course of action?”
Faisal looks back and forth between the two women, uncertain what to do. Coming to his own decision on Scarlet’s ongoing silence, he grabs the boy by the collar and bows to the High Priestess.
“One hundred thousand apologies for disturbing your work, Dawnsister. Talib Deirdre and I shall deal with this matter of justice ourselves.”
The crowd murmurs angrily as the warrior drags the pleading young man from the shrine, many of them following as Faisal makes his way toward the castle. Deirdre pauses at the entrance, looking back triumphantly as Scarlet resumes her sermon.