The Fenjitzas, now that I had sat back and actually recovered my balance a bit, I would never have recognized. I’d only seen him in his full priestly regalia that glittered enough to nearly blind someone if he were standing in the sun.
Here in the golden, late-night lighting of the Temple he had his hair tied up tight and wore nothing but kilt and gloves. He was even barefoot. I saw he had some scars. Perhaps he fought as a field-priest of Aras when he was young? The oddest scar I could see on him was a ring of proud flesh around one thigh, just above his knee, that looked as though one of Grandfather’s gigantic yellow-legged worms had wrapped around and dug into the skin.
“Radas…” I just had to ask. “I know about this humility before the Ten kind of thing… but why… scrubbing the floor on hands and knees?” I wasn’t sure exactly what I was asking.
“You mean why am I doing this in the middle of the night instead of where others can see? Why don’t we go back to somewhere a trifle more private and have a cup of chocolate?” He got up and I picked up his bucket and waited for him to show me where to dump it. “Over behind that carved screen.” I carted the bucket over and dumped it into the floor drain. “Just leave the bucket there, please.”
He showed me to a room off to one side of the main Temple Hall, the door and the handle hidden in the elaborate carvings. The room itself was small and lined with honeywood. There were a few plain red cotton cushions on the floor and a Presence light and that was all. “To answer your question,” he said as he sat down, nodding at the seat opposite him. “I… am more comfortable scrubbing floors at night. It is my pride, you see.”
“Your pride? How do you mean? How is hiding your humility, pride?”
“Ha! Well I am personally torn two ways. First of all, if I did the humble work before a crowd of people it would almost be like standing up and bellowing ‘LOOK HOW HUMBLE I AM!”, which is anything but. I had too many superiors who attempted to teach their congregations how to be humble by parading their arrogance in this reverse way.” A soft knock at the door and a Temple novice entered at his word, set a tray down for us and bowed his… no… her way out. The Fenjitzas wasn’t served exclusively by boys any longer? He nodded at me to choose a cup and took up the other, sipping quietly, then smacking his lips with satisfaction. “That’s not humility, that’s arrogance. Of course there is the other reason, which IS my pride. I feel shame sometimes doing menial work and that shame is a very old teaching for me. What if anyone should actually see me doing THIS?” His smile was still clear.
“But you’re the Fenjitzas… how can you still be struggling with things like that?” I was almost affronted. Wasn’t he supposed to be the wise one? Why tell me that? I… deflated. In the face of his smile my emotional reaction just splashed against it and sublimated into the silence. Oh. The room was silent. It cut out all sound from outside, the choir, the Tempilion, the murmured occasional prayer or tear or laugh. I hadn’t noticed before.
“You struggle with it until you realize that the one you are struggling with, is yourself. Yourself, younger mostly. And when you realize that, you realize why Mikas laughs so much.” Rather than try and say anything I took a sip of chocolate, smooth and rich and sweet on my tongue. Perhaps it was the sweetness that unlocked it and I found another question sliding out before I could censor it.
“So… which was it tonight?”
“Oh, neither,” he said and laughed very much like Sukala, but in deep men’s tones. “You see, I’ve been doing it long enough that it no longer matters which emotion comes up, though they both do... they no longer matter. I scrub when I feel the need and forget what other people think.” He chuckled again. “I’ve not yet felt the need to scour the floor in the middle of any of the rites. So far my fellow priests have been spared the sight of me cleaning, in the God’s Presentation robes and mirrors. I think the two lowest Gods and Mikas would all think it was perfectly hysterical if I did.”
“And Aras and Muunas?”
“Aras would probably be concerned about my discipline, which would make Mikas laugh harder… and the High God… He would know why I did it.”
“Um… and approve?”
“Who am I to beg approval of a God? He will approve of me, or not, and I would prefer to be the kind of child of the Divine who doesn’t keep whining into his Parents’ ears. Not that I always succeed, and often I must run to the Ten bearing the prayers of the congregation and the Empire. In that sense I am Arko’s divine donkey.”
I nearly snorted chocolate through my nose. “What? You bear the people’s spiritual burdens to the Gods as if they were barrels of cooking fuel?”
“Exactly. And sometimes they are as volatile and as inflammable as cooking fuel. So tell me your experience of the Ten.”
This time I did choke on the liquid. Did he plan that? “Err… I really don’t remember much of what happened in the Imperial Chapel… I felt…” I almost wanted to wave my hands in a frustrated, Yeoli way and twitched enough to almost slosh out of my cup. I set it down. “It is too big to describe in words… unless they are poetry and I am no poet…” He didn’t say anything but was leaving space for me to go on. I’d hoped he would fill the silence with something, free me of the need to try and explain the unexplainable but he just sat and watched me.
I drew a deep breath and closed my eyes. There was that space in my chest, that light feeling, perhaps… I opened my mouth and what came out surprised me. It was a single note… long drawn out and rising. It ran around the inside of my head and was followed by a harmonic note. Three or four more tones and then…
Words that flew like sparks and free dancing flames unfettered to the burning coal below poured out of my mouth.
“All the words, all heard and sung and read…
Or tasted, drunk or smelled…
Sung to the living and the dead…
All things that flow from hands ungloved and gloved
From human hearts both innocent and wounded, scarred,
Are new conceptions: greatly loved.
And gifts: glorious faint notes, shining flung
To singers oh so far away
That they can only hear the faintest thread of sound
Creation’s flames and in ceaseless dark abound
Eternal course of Selestial drink,
Pouring through us from God’s cup brink."
My eyes flew open and my hands up to my mouth as if to control them, to hide those odd words. Or perhaps catch them before they fled away into the air and were gone, like sparks going out once separated from the main fire. His eyes shone. “Thank you for being the allusion of the Gods’ voice,” he said.
I panted as if I had just run a long race. “But I’m not a poet!” I wailed as if I was young as Ili.
He just nodded. “That’s all right. The Gods are.”