Recent events, namely the destruction of the Temple, have freed the village of Jebus from the tyranny of its ancient dictums.
All Truth belongs to Illumeos.
Though half dead, and decrepit, the law of Ilumeos was immortal–an undead vampire. Like the temple from which its oppressive principles were espoused, The Standard towered over the people through the ages, casting a shadow with its antiquated axioms, but never sheltering them. It was a vampire reigning from his cursed castle, feeding on the inhabitants–slowly siphoning away their very souls.
“Who shall we praise?” They ask.
Who can the people of Jebus thank, for piercing the heart of that ancient oppressor, and for toppling his canvas castle? My pride would have me speak my own name, for it was I who set the tent ablaze, and I, who shattered the ordinances of injustice inscribed in that hideous clay–The Standard. But I am humble, and when I hear the inquiries of families on the street, or in my shop, I bridle my tongue. I did not tear down one temple, just to raise another.
“Praise whom you wish,” I say, as I gesture to my wares “now, you may choose your gods freely.”
The images on my table are carved by my own hands, mostly from the oak of the Temple. Fragments of that dethroned carcass fashioned into the preferences of each patron. It’s my way of distancing myself from my heritage. I am a Tusan, the blood of the Illumeos priests courses through my veins; I share their wheat-gold eyes. But I’ve set my hands to better work, no longer complict in their oppression and I am fortunate to have a thriving business during these transitional times. Many struggle to earn wages, men beg in the streets for a mere morsel to bring home to their children.
But our poverty is temporary–growing pains. Jebus will thrive in our new freedom.
There is no denying the land was prosperous before. Thousands journeyed to our city to drink from the vine of its produce–but they couldn’t have known about The Standard, or else, they wouldn’t have come so far. But their numbers are few now, even famished travelers refuse to sojourn here. Word mustn’t travel fast–but it will. The tenets are lost to the flame. Now that our chains are broken, and that symbol of tyranny reduced to a heap of wood and ash, foreigners will flock here. The Free City, they’ll call it.
The Voice of Illumeos shall break the bonds.
A shoeless man hopped across the sun-baked streets and ducked beneath the shade of my tent.
“Anything I can offer you, good sir?” I gestured to my table.
A beautiful young woman, with an infant wrapped against her chest in a tattered grey scarf, trailed behind him. Craning my neck to see past the collection of ornate rugs displayed in my neighbor’s stall, I followed the visitor’s eyes to a tent further down the street–sandals dangled from cords in pairs. My tent was nothing more than brief respite for his burning feet. I tried anyway.
“I have pre-fashioned idols,” I gestured to a dozen of the most popular gods: Creshon, Saryth, Grii, Shetemoc, “but," I said, pausing for effect, “I can also create whatever god you like.”
And there it was–a glimmer in his eye. He glanced down at the unformed oak blocks, and the whittling blade I’d strategically posed against it. I said nothing, letting his mind do what it could never do in years past. Wander.
“You do custom work?”
I grinned, “I do. Anything you like. And I don’t just do wood, I do hammered work as well. Bronze mostly, but I can do whatever you want.”
“No,” the man nodded, “wood is good.”
I pretended to drink from my wineskin to hide my smile, whittling was the fastest for me. Except for the most intricate requests, I could finish an idol carving in a couple days.
“Do you have a specific god in mind, or something new?”
“Jelyph,” the woman touched his shoulder, “we can’t afford this right now. Jabi needs medicine. You need shoes.”
The man pulled away from her touch. “Perhaps if we had a god that didn’t curse us, we’d have what we needed.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but shut it when he shot her a look–an unspoken threat that contained a whole book of words. She tried to hide it, but I caught a subtle quiver of her lips before she turned away, looking out into the streets.
“I’ve heard about household gods,” the man said, as he lifted a block of unformed wood from my table, “folks are becoming the priests of their own houses, applying their own hard-won wisdom to craft new laws.”
I nodded. “The liberation of the soul.”
“How does this work?” the man said, handing me the block. “Do I just tell you what I want the design to be, and then you carve it up?”
“Essentially,” I said, “we will work together on the design. The purchase of one household idol, will come with a few small modifications, should it not be to your liking.”
“And the tenets?”
“Entirely up to you.” I exchanged the unformed block for one of my more popular idols, one that I judged the man would appreciate–a sculpture I’d carved especially well. “My only job, Jelyph, is to help you visualize your own gods.” I turned the object toward him. “Take Grii for example, she is the god of a distant southern tribe who’s praised for her respect of men. She represents the humble acceptance of our born role.” I pointed to six oversized breasts I’d expertly carved to represent her role as a mother, then to my depiction of her legs spread. “She knows her place. A thing the Grishon people of the south value. Kings are born to rule, slaves to serve, and women to please.”
At the word, slave, his expression dimmed. I’d set the hook, but as I tried pulling him in I lost him with the mention of servitude, perhaps he was once a servant. But I recovered.
“But that’s the beauty of freedom, we do not need to take the bad with the good.” I clapped my hands together. “Tell me, what kind of god would you want to worship? What do you believe are the commandments of life? What should the rewards of obedience to those tenets be?”
Again, that glimmer in his eye. I’d given him authority–asked him what the rewards should be. By asking the question, I’d made a god out of his own appetite–that compass of the heart, he had never been allowed to follow under the yoke of Illumeos oppression.
It worked every time.
When he left my tent, he did not stop at the stall with the sandals, my custom idols cost a month’s wages. But in a few days, I’d have his household god, Jelyphias, depicted exactly as he envisioned–a young girl on her knees, wrists bound, leash attached at her throat, and a face downturned in agony. He’d leave with a clean conscience, I’d send him away justified by his own god. In that respect, I was a sort of redeemer, a priest of many deities.
Their compass was their craving. Northless.
Autumn should have been upon us by now, but the sun continued to burn cloudlessly for the next few weeks. One night, as I turned-in to sleep, I found my wineskin empty, so I filled it with water from my cistern, which was unusually shallow. The next day, I woke before dawn to draw from the village well before the crowds arrived. My path to the city cut through an olive orchard, that I was surprised to see had not yet flowered. One of the trees–contorted like an old man–bent into my path between the rows. For a moment, it seemed to me a beggar, hunched and reaching out for a sip from my flask.
“What’s wrong with you?” I asked aloud. I knelt and ran my hands through the soil. It was like sand in my palm, dry and coarse.
I knew then, that my tent would soon be filled with farmers, people seeking to fashion for themselves gods of the harvest, or perhaps a new rain deity, who does not demand anything from his worshippers, but showers the land freely, where men can reap even if they do not sow.
The first of these farmers to commission me required an idol of hammered bronze–a bowl, broad, and deep. “Deep”, he said, “to hold the fruit of every man’s labor, but broad, so that all men's hands could draw from it at the same time.”
He named his god, Osheq, for he said, “Why should one man beg for dust, when another eats merrily from his figs?”
Twiddle the thumbs, and hunger will pierce the stomach.
By the end of the week, my workload was full. I’d been commissioned for as many jobs as I could handle, but I did not like turning away anyone, especially those who sought, like I did, to free themselves from The Standard. So, I raised my prices. When that didn’t slow the requests, I raised them again. Several inquirers left unhappy, feeling robbed by my inflated rates, but what was I to do? I had no apprentice, that I should delegate my workload. My commissions only slowed, they did not cease.
I realized then, that people will pay any sum to feel free to pursue what they love. My idols had redeemed the people of Jebus from The Standard, not to it, like so many felt compelled to do in the days of Illumeos. Eventually, I’d finished all the idols, both whittled and forged, but I felt no need to lower my prices, people continued to commission my work.
When the sandstorm came, destroying the pomegranates, and apples, and turning the wells to mud, the customers came. In droves.
To placate the masses, I offered my pre-fashioned idols at a discount. But the droughts, and sand storms, and waning tourism, had caused enough disruption in the lives of the people of Jebus to unsettle them. They feared that they might break the laws, even of the foreign gods, and would not risk incurring any more wrath. They wanted gods of their own, gods that did not condemn their actions, but rewarded them. God’s who supported them.
I did my best to keep up with demand.
“Crime is on the rise.” They say.
Again, just growing pains. It is only temporary. What do you expect from a people who’d been oppressed, unable to express themselves or their desires? The people of Jebus were caged lions, majestic, beautiful creatures. Now that they were released, it is only natural that they would act violently for that brief moment before they recognize their freedom, and sprint gratefully into the wild.
Crime is on the rise. What is crime? Crimes against Illumeos–who is that? Crimes against The Standard–what is that? Did not the Clay itself say, Where there is no Dictum, there is no debt?
All of it is ash now.
Crime is relative. The very word is a device employed by the zealots–the Illumeos troglodytes who treat The Standard like it wasn’t written by humans who squat and shit like everyone else.
All Truth belongs to Illumeos.
My neighbor’s cart was robbed in the night. Fortunately for me, all my wares fit easily in my sack; I bring them home every evening. But each of his rugs represent months, sometimes years, of labor. I’d feel for him, perhaps even give generously to him, if he wasn’t an Illumeos sympathizer. Now that my craftsmanship is coveted across all Jebus, I could fill two of his hands with coin from my coffer, and still want for nothing. But where is his lesson in that?
“It’s a shame,” I said, draping a wet scarf over my neck. “you didn’t deserve this.”
But he did.
“We’re not staying here.” Abris said, as he rolled up the only rugs left behind by the thieves. “Jebus isn’t what it used to be.”
I frowned, wondering what new temple he thought he’d found, that could cast a longer shadow than that of Illumeos. “Where will you go?”
“Rezika has family in Nadil, out East.” He bound the rugs together in twine and heaved them onto his shoulder. “We won’t spend another day here.”
I bowed. “I am sorry my friend, perhaps you will find peace in Nadil,” I offered my hand. “Peace and justice.”
The man turned toward me, but did not take my hand. His eyes glistened, defeated, then he said, “What is justice?”
I did not see Abris again, but I have no doubt he’s happily conformed to the ideal and dogma of some new tyrant. I did miss the shade his rugs cast on my tent during the morning blaze, but the sweat was a worthy sacrifice. I felt freer with him gone, I could breathe. Though he said nothing, I knew in his heart he judged me for my idols. My carvings offended the rules of his precious Standard, and despite his silence on the matter, I resented any man who threatened my autonomy.
They covered their ears to his voice, their eyes to his light.
When the rains came, celebration erupted in the city. It was the first festival since that day I scorched the tent. Everyone had experienced the cruel effects of that long drought, so the shared suffering united us in our jubilation. I was perhaps the most delighted of us all, for unity had arisen without conformity. Without being compelled to a standard, we were propelled to each other.
How proud I was of my people.
Inspired, I called a gathering of the elders, the mightiest families in Jebus, and requested that they declare the celebration a holiday, one that we all shared, and could hold annually–despite our various gods.
“Rain, is rain,” I said. “despite the source. Can we not all rejoice in rain?”
“Celebration is hollow without thanksgiving.” said the elder of the Tusan clan–my own clan. “To whom shall we be grateful?”
“It is on my behalf, that my god has blessed this city.” said Beni, the father of the Benecians. “Let the celebration be held in my honor.”
“It is a sin against Toril,” said another elder, “to revere one day above another.”
“My grandchild was trampled in the commotion,” spoke another man, “this day is forever cursed to me and my clan.”
Their words did not discourage me, our solidarity would come with time.
The cretin commits to his contradictions, the dullard, to his own devices.
The families that embraced their new freedoms began to prosper more than others. Everyone, great and small, who were capable of letting go of the Standard, thrived in their hearts for they did not walk in shame. I predicted that the golden days of Jebus were upon us. Of course, there were rumors, of rivalries between the families, of anarchy in the streets, but it is only the propaganda of bigots–men desperate to control the thoughts and actions of others.
They cite the killings–men and woman found mutilated in the streets. They delcare this the rule, rather than the exception, but they are deceivers, perhaps even the very offenders, who chop the innocent to pieces so they have some evidence to show. But Jebus is becoming enlightened. My kinsman are waking up. We will not be tricked, we will not beg for the chains of Illumeos, or any god for that matter.
We are free. Jebus will thrive.
My new apprentice had just handed me his lasted work–an oaken foot crushing the head of a bronze-skinned Prescian–when two young men, head and shoulders taller than me, entered my tent. They wore blue robes of many layers,trimmed in scarlet–the colors of the house Beni. A gold chain drooped from one man’s ear, to his nose–latched on both ends to bejewled piercings.
“Good afternoon,” I said, returning the idol to the boy’s hand and shooing him away. “Anything I can offer you, good sirs?”
The men looked at each other and grinned.
“A custom job,” one said, his voice was youthful, despite his size.
“I can do that. What do you have in mind?” I lifted a block from my table, my last piece of that toppled Temple.
“We want a Benecian fist,” the man with the gold chains said, “clenching the hair of a severed Tusan head.”
Both men laughed.
I swallowed, my wheat-gold eyes were decidedly Tusan. “I can surely craft anything you like. But I should say that I’ve raised my prices substantially.” I hoped this would deter the visitors, but the diamond crested ring of house Beni on his finger told me otherwise.
“No,” the man said. “money is not a concern.”
“Well, what material would you like? I can do metal work, but my specialty is wood.” I held up the block and smiled uncomfortably.
The men looked to each other and laughed again, more heartily this time.
“Do you have a time frame?” I held up my whittling knife. “If you want wood, I can carve up just about any commission in less than a week, if it isn’t too complex.”
“We’ll need it today,” the Benecian man said.
I chuckled. “I’m good, but complex or not, I can't make any god that fast.”
The man smiled, “No need,” then his companion reached beneath his robes and drew a long curved sword, “in Jebus, we make our own gods.”