As agreed at the feast, I went to the temple at noon the following day. The temple was a pale grey, its stones interlocking neatly to form complex patterns near the floor and the start of the roof. Lord Torru had paid a great deal to have masons from Landisi come to build the temple, and it was certainly the most ornate building in the village even compared to the Lord’s Mansion itself.
I walked past the heavy oak doors that seemed to always be open, through a bead curtain to the cavernous, domed chamber within. The walls were painted a dark purple dotted with stars, and two stone pillars stood almost at the centre of the room, not reaching more than half way to the roof and flanking a small pool of water between them. Above the pool, directly in the centre, was a small and perfectly round hole in the roof. As it was noon, a shaft of sunlight shone directly upon the altar at the far side of the room, where stood a pale blue sphere made of coloured glass and set with a band of gold around its middle.
Selli was already there with Darro, who was no longer wearing his crown. The pool in the temple’s centre was more truthfully an indoor pond that Darro would tend to. It was perhaps a metre across and its bottom was a thin layer of soil. Plants grew around the edges. Small fish swam about in it, and it was these that has Selli enraptured. Darro was helping her feed them.
The bead curtain rattled as I walked through it, and Darro looked up.
“Hello Jorj!” he said. “Make sure you take off your shoes before you come further in. You can leave them there. Selli and I were just feeding the fish.”
I never knew quite how to talk to adults other than my parents, so I just smiled and walked over. The fish were all pale blue, only a few centimetres long. They came up to the surface to nibble at the pellets that Selli was throwing to them.
“Here,” said Darro, offering me the small tin of pellets. “Feed them a handful, then we’ll get on with some reading and writing.”
I took a handful, remembering to say thank you a little bit too late. I fed the fish as slowly as I could, getting down to throwing individual pellets to put off the boring lesson that little bit longer. If Darro knew what I was doing, he politely said nothing and waited patiently for me to finish.
Perhaps it was simply that I was quite a bit older than when I had last had a lesson, but it wasn’t as boring as I remembered. Maybe it was also because now that Selli was having lessons too, I wasn’t alone with Darro. Indeed,perhaps Darro himself was just getting better at teaching. I had been his first pupil a year ago. I could still just about remember how to write, although I couldn’t remember how to spell many words. Darro had me and Selli read from his copy of the Chronicle one word at a time, then cover up the word to write it out ourselves.
After an hour, we stopped to have some lunch. Darro got up to find the meat pies he’d promised us as a reward.
“Darro,” I said, feeling brave, “why didn’t you have to join the levy?”
“Because my job as a priest is of special importance,” he replied sitting back down with us at the table and sliding us a paper-wrapped pie each. “I’m needed here.”
“But what do you do?” I asked.
“How impertinent!” he said, his eyebrows raised in mock-indignation. Selli giggled. “My job,” he said, more seriously, “is to be a leader when Lord Torru can’t be here. But they choose me to stay behind rather than Maruk or Dyamma because I also offer spiritual guidance to anyone who needs it. It’s maybe difficult to understand at your age what that means, but… hmm. You remember what I taught you about God, don’t you?”
I nodded. So did Selli, who seemed much more interested than I might have had expected her to.
Darro continued: “Well I help people understand what God is trying to tell them. Sometimes, when bad things happen, people can feel very sad and down. It’s my job to help them see how God can help them.”
“With the Chronicle?” I asked.
“The Chronicle is just a collection of stories,” said Darro. “They’re true stories that really happened to the Refugees, but if you were to read it, it would just be a list of things that happened without a spiritual meaning behind it. When I learnt how to be a priest, I was taught how to see the meaning.”
Selli’s brow was furrowed.
“The Evil One is really called Thessalon Nanyev,” she said.
“That’s right,” said Darro. “He lived across the stars in a place called Ti Yuwenna, which was once a place of freedom and peace before the Evil One led his army and made it a place of tyranny and despair. And do you want to know something else? He’s dead! He died hundreds and hundreds of years ago.”
“So the new star can’t be him, then?” I said, tangentially. I had nearly finished my pie whilst Darro talked.
“Well, we don’t know what it is. But do you know what I think? I think it’s just a new part of the sky. The moons and the planets move through the sky, but they move very slowly. And shooting stars move very quickly. I think the new star is just something in between. But there are a lot of clever priests and high priests in Landisi trying to find out.
“Actually,” he said, “all this talk of such things makes me think I should give you a science lesson instead of more reading and writing this afternoon.”
So after we had finished eating our pies, Darro got a piece of paper to draw on, and showed us how the moons moved around Tiqual, and how Tiqual moved around the sun with the other planets, and how the sun carried all the planets and moons through space. It was far better than any lesson he had given me before. I found myself no longer thinking of Darro as just a ridiculous and boring old man with a silly hat, but as a person I could respect. I started to see why Lord Torru liked him so much.