Spring – 1022 YD
Tenenum Temple, Miggest
The Duke of Edeen rewarded Sevína’s guidance with ample coin. She had relinquished her initial offence at offer of payment when news came that the drought was taking its first victims in the north. The gold she gave to Tenenum Temple, as protection for the adherents and children. Winter had brought little rain and crops continued to fail.
__Offerings came daily to the temples. Perhaps, as some whispered, penance was due for waning worship. The Black Dragon would accept their suffering as atonement, and deliver rain—in autumn—in winter—in spring?
Converts were a valued offering, and Vilsonius’ desire to formally join the faith was well received. The High Priest regretted refusing Sevína’s request to administer the ceremony, for while Custodia Galluel could ignore his movements in the provinces, she could not suffer his presence in the capital until he had formally joined the faith. Vilsonius remained in Ona, and prepared for the ceremony at Tenenum.
__The appointed evening arrived. The Lehius, Miggest’s symbol, was embroidered on the left of his shirt. He stood before the altar in the temple, flanked by Sevína and several adherents; an iron cauldron of burning embers simmered behind. The sun had descended some hours ago, and the air was cool. The small audience of Onan nobles stood by the cauldron.
As the priest, Dallon, entered the temple, its occupants straightened their shoulders.
__‘Welcome,’ he acknowledged the nobles with a bow. He rose to face Vilsonius and began: ‘Darkness has again fallen on the Black Dragon’s land, and we are gathered to initiate another onto the path Miggest has lain for us. Vilsonius mac Baird of Iulitha, do you come freely, wilfully, without intent of gain?’
__‘I come to the Black Dragon of my own volition, seeking a true path.’ Vilsonius swore.
__‘Who has instructed you in our scripture, the Charge of Darkness?’
__‘The weaver and former priestess Sevína of Ona.’
__‘Sevína iníon Eryn, do you testify to the purity of the pledge being taken this evening?’
__‘I swear to have brought a true seeker to the path.’
__‘May your words be true.’ Priest Dallon bowed his head. ‘For Miggest binds you to them. You may make your pledge.’
Sevína turned to Vilsonius and bound his eyes with black cloth. The former Duke stepped toward the altar, hands held upright before him. Night pressed against the edge of the open temple.
‘I surrender my journeying to the Father, that in the depth of His darkness I am found and shown the road of His ordainment. I dedicate my service to the wolf-dragon and offer worship to no other. I swear never to denounce or deny His might, for fear darkness take me. I hereby abandon my oaths to the Sapphire Dragon and begin anew as a bairn of the Black Dragon.’
__A black thread struck out from the night, hitting Vilsonius in the heart. He staggered at the unexpected impact, and the audience was shot with fear. The redness in Vilsonius’ hair—though difficult to see in such poor light—was expelled: his beard turned black as coal; his hair the darkest brown. The cord dissipated, smoke in the wind, and a low rumble like distant thunder reverberated through the surrounding forest.
Dallon tore his eyes from the darkness and nodded to Sevína. Pale, she withdrew the blindfold and indicated to the cauldron behind them. Vilsonius approached it with her; she took hold of a metal rod resting in it.
‘Open your shirt.’
He reluctantly obeyed. This aspect of the ritual had not been explained.
Dallon spoke: ‘You have renounced Iulitha to take the Black Dragon’s path, and the Lord will hold you to your oath. So, too, may those who see you bear this mark. Do you consent?’
Vilsonius quickly examined the branding rod, at the end of which was a glowing red Lehius. He summoned a faint film of blue energy across his breast. ‘I do.’
Dallon stood behind Vilsonius and steadied him. Sevína held the rod true, waiting for Vilsonius’ nod of readiness. He gave it, and she pressed the iron below the hollow of his neck.
The mild shield did little to diminish the pain. His roar of agony echoed through the night.