Janôra, Tríerzòn, 7 Savôr TR706 (Day after the Kesémè)
Tára looked up at the roof of the temple’s massive main hall. It was studded with countless jewelled 'stars', interwoven with metallic patterns that were so complex that following them often led one to confusion. She had often considered these patterns, and wondered at the work that had gone into them, as well as their meaning.
Today the hall was empty, but yesterday it had been full with priests and adherents of the church of Sávè-K'nôr in Janôra, celebrating the Kesémè or High Holy Day of the church. It had been Tára’s birthday, and after a private celebration of her fifteenth year, her family had joined the worshipers for the afternoon session, when the tales of the saints of the church had been recited. She always listen intently to the stories of those who travelled to the far reaches of the world, discovering unknown wisdom and knowledge, and returning with news of it to their fellows. The more dramatic tales, such as the disaster of the Great Temple of Shátrah interested her less; it was the true pursuit of the unknown and the mysterious that drove her.
Her sponsor, Náreloan, noticed she was dropping behind, and gestured to her to follow. Tára forced herself to focus. This was an important day; not a time to ponder the mysteries of the patterns on the roof.
She followed Náreloan to the end of the hall and down a side corridor that led to one of the temple’s study rooms and libraries. The Janôra temple of Sávè-K’nôr was full of libraries, each crammed with fascinating information that Tára had read voraciously; at least in those she had been permitted to visit.
She felt her excitement build as they reached the great doors of the western library. She could hear a quite hum of voices from beyond although a slight hush had fallen as Náreloan pushed open the doors and led her into the room.
The great domed hexagonal room of the western library arched up and away above her. All around the walls were shelves and ladders, with each self stacked with scrolls, codices and folios. The smell of wood, parchment and age-old knowledge filled her senses.
A group stood in the centre of the room, most of them robed and hooded, but three others were in plain dress as Tára was. There were sixteen in all, as well as the candidates and their sponsors. At the centre of the group stood an elderly man well known to Tára. He was one of her teachers, Dérlanes, who she now knew was not only one of the temple Rowánti, but also a leader within the Order of the Searchers, the Oránosim. As she had been instructed, Tára said nothing, and made no acknowledgment of her teacher, or any of the others present, many of whom, in any case, she could not recognize under their hoods.
Dérlanes gestured for the assembled group to sit, and they took their places on six benches arranged to form a hexagon beneath the high dome of the library. Each of the four candidates sat on one bench, with their sponsor behind them. Rowánti Dérlanes remained standing.
There was an uncomfortable silence for what seemed like several minutes as the old loremaster examined the four candidates carefully. The young man beside Tára fidgeted, and she would have glared at him if she hadn’t remembered Náreloan’s instruction to focus on her own candidacy, and ignore the others.
“You can leave, Kéran”, said the old man, at last. “You are clearly not ready.”
Tára did not dare turn to see the look on the face of the young man beside her, but she knew he would be devastated. He had wanted to join the Searchers ever since he had discovered their existence; in fact, it was Kéran’s hints that had led Tára herself to discover the Order. Without him, she may not have been a candidate at all.
She kept looking firmly forward, but she could hear him choking back his emotions, and his sponsor trying to comfort him in hushed tones. The floorboards creaked as Kéran walk out of the library, accompanied by his sponsor.
“You were warned,” Dérlanes glowered at the three remaining candidates. “The Order of the Searchers requires discipline; focus; dedication. Our task is no trifle, and the risks are great. We have no room for those unable to maintain discipline.”
Tára nearly shivered, but held herself rigid. She would not fail the final test.
“Only one of you can join us, as you know,” said Dérlanes. “Which of you shall it be?“. He walked slowly towards the three remaining candidates. Tára knew the others, of course. To her left was Shérales, a girl she did not like much. She was far too full of herself, even though Tára had to admit she was smart. Further to the left was Hârlens, a boy she didn’t know as well as Kéran. He was quiet, and worked hard, and that worried Tára. She focused on keeping any emotion out of her face as these thoughts raced through her mind.
Dérlanes suddenly turned with a speed that surprised Tára, and pointed a bony finger at her.
“What is the first rule?”
The answer leaped into her mouth, but she caught herself, just in time.
“Good, candidate”, said the old loremaster. “The first rule. Don’t speak unless instructed to.”
Tára sensed her sponsor’s pride behind her. She was sure that many had fallen for the trick before, despite its obviousness, or perhaps because of it.
“Candidates. All members of the Order are tested. The tests you will undergo today will be as nothing compared to those you will face in the wide and perilous world beyond the temple walls.”
The old loremaster returned to the centre of the group, and turned his back to the candidates. “I do not know you. Answer the questions of the Order, so that I may know you and admit you.” With that he lifted the cowl of his cloak, and folded his arms.
Now one of the hooded figures to Tára’s left stood, and the questioning began.
“Candidate Hârlens. What is the mission of the Order?”, was the first question, spoken in a hushed voice that Tára could not recognize.
Hârlens stood and faced his questioner. “The mission of the Order is to seek that which is lost, find that which is hidden, and gather that which is perilous, in the service of the Keeper.” With this, Hârlens and his questioner bowed to each other, and both sat down.
Immediately, a second questioner rose, and spoke. “Candidate Shérales. What is the purpose of the third rule?”
Tára heard the girl next to her rise, and respond. “The purpose of the third rule is to preserve the secrecy of the Order, and ensure the security of Church.” Tára saw Shérales out of the corner of her eye as she bowed and then sat down once more.
A third questioner rose. “Candidate Tára.” The questioner paused, and as they did, Tára was struck by the strangeness of the voice of the speaker. It was hard to tell if it was a man or a woman, but it was certainly not a native speaker of Tríerzi, nor someone she had heard before in the temple.
“Why do we search?”
Tára’s heart pounded. This was certainly not one of the ‘standard’ questions that she and her sponsor had rehearsed hour after hour. She knew she had some time to consider; the Order valued consideration over haste, but she could not leave it too long.
“We search… “ Tára hesitated. She had been about to say ‘for knowledge in all its forms’, one of the standard responses, but she realized that that was not what the questioner had asked.
“We Search”, she said again, “to Find”.
Tára glanced up at her questioner, and saw that they were bowing to her, and she quickly follow suit, then sat down, her heart racing.
A fourth questioner rose. “Candidate Tára.”
Tára looked up. She had not expected another question immediately, but she composed herself and rose.
“What do we seek to Find, and why?”
Again, a question not in the list of prepared subjects, which had focused on the rules and procedures of the Order. Why was she being asked these philosophical questions? Her mind raced as she considered the best response.
“We seek to Find the Hidden, the Perilous, and the Lost. We seek these so that we may Know them, but also so that we may keep them Safe.”
Tára half expected the loremaster to turn and ask her to leave, but instead her questioner bowed to her, and she responded. She sat down again, and felt Nárolaen’s hand squeeze her shoulder.
Two formulaic questions followed for Hârlens and Shérales, then a tall questioner rose, and turned towards Tára.
“Candidate Tára. What is most Perilous?”
Tára almost frowned, but managed to keep a blank expression. She thought for a moment, then replied.
“Knowledge is Perilous“, she said. Then, despite herself, she risked to add, “But that which is unknown, which is hidden or which is lost is yet more perilous...”
Her questioner paused, and stood silently. The questioner did not bow. Tára's heart fell. She had failed. And then, to Tára’s despair, she saw that the old loremaster was turning.
“Candidate Tára”, he said.
She remained rooted to her feet, certain that he was about to dismiss her.
“Will you accept admission to the Order?”
For a moment she wasn’t sure she had heard him correctly, but she felt a small nudge from behind her, and she found her voice.
“Yes, Loremaster, I accept admission to the Order”, she managed to croak out.
“Then let it be so. Tára al Amánes, be it known amongst the companions of the Order, that you are admitted to this Order of the Searchers, having passed the tests and proven your worth. May your Search be True.”
Tára heard a strangled noise from beside her, and the loremaster turned to the other two candidates.
“Only one can be admitted at each Test. Do not take this as a failure. Your fellow candidate has simply led the questioners to a new truth, and found her place amongst the companions. Be grateful to have shared in this event. You have not failed; you must simply search further and longer until you find your place.”
All of the companions bowed to the two unsuccessful candidates, and their sponsors led Hârlens and Shérales from the room. When they were gone, the attention of all the room turned back to Tára. The Loremaster strode across the room and held out his hand in greeting.
“Welcome to the companionship of the Order, young Tára”, he beamed. “You may relax now”, he whispered.
Tára grasped his hands, and then releasing them, tuned to Náreloan, whose’ face was streaming with tears of joy. Tára threw her arms around her sponsor, thanking her over and over again for all of her support. The other companions gathered round her, congratulating her.
When matters had calmed down somewhat, the old loremaster raised his hands, and there was silence.
“There is one more matter to attend to. Náreloan, would you please present our new companion with her cloak?”. The loremaster handed a folded cloak to Náreloan, who, beaming with pride, unfurled it and clasped it round Tára’s shoulders.
“Welcome! Thrice welcome, my companion-sister!”, Náreloan whispered in Tára’s ear. At this, a new round of congratulations began, as each of the questioners threw back their hoods and individually welcomed Tára to their membership.
All, that is, save for one, who had quietly slipped away from the group during the commotion. Strangely, no one seemed to notice the figure’s departure, or that one of their number was missing. The tall figure’s pale face was briefly highlighted by the flickering of lamplight has he opened a side door, and after a last glance at the happy group, slipped out of the room.