Hand, Head, and Heart
Most of the religious orders in Adalmearc had their largest temple in a major city; the Order of the Bear was one of two exceptions. Originally, their temple in Cairn Donn had served as headquarters, but three centuries ago, the whiterobes had built a monastery south of the city upon a plateau in the Weolcan Mountains. Refusing to use any labour other than their own members, the priests had spent decades hauling stones up the mountain paths to their chosen location; similarly, only brothers of the Bear had been used to hew the stones into place and construct the actual tower.
The conclusion had been an architectural feat to rival any done by the guild of engineers in Fontaine, as the finished tower stood precisely two hundred feet. The reason for its location and height was simple; here, the whiterobes could make unparalleled observations of the night sky, mapping the stars and ensuring the calendar of Adalmearc followed their celestial dance. It was in this tower that Caradoc Whitesark had been educated as an acolyte in his youth, and three decades later, he made his return.
He made the last stretch of the journey in company with a convoy of donkeys and their driver transporting food to the temple. The cortege moved up the long, winding paths along the mountainside; passing around a bend and reaching the plateau, they found the massive tower looming above them. While continuing his casual chat with the driver, Caradoc gave a hand in unloading the goods from the beasts; several whiterobes issued from the tower to perform the same task, and they greeted Caradoc heartily.
“What’s your name and home, Brother, and what brings you here?” one asked.
“Caradoc from the temple at Lochan,” he replied, shaking a few hands. “I need to speak to Brother Conall. If the old wolf is still alive,” he added with a laugh.
“He is, and age might have dulled some of his fangs, but not his wits,” another jested. “You’ll find him at his tell-craft.”
“Much obliged,” Caradoc told them and ventured inside.
Although built like a tower stretching upward, the temple of Ardbeann was wide enough to accommodate hundreds of people, not to mention the wide range of exploits pursued by the whiterobes. At the lowest levels were the kitchens, butchery, and living quarters; passing through them, Caradoc greeted familiar and new faces alike before reaching the staircase to ascend upwards.
Next came the workshops. One floor held those found in any city, where whiterobes with the right skill served as tailors, cobblers, parchment-makers, leatherworkers, and so forth. The floor above was where inquisitive minds tinkered with metal, wood, fabric, and leather, creating many ingenious contraptions and ever improving upon them. The finest clocks in all of Adalmearc were made here, and the sale of these devices provided a stable income for the whiterobes. Since it was necessary to have the foundry, smithy, and tannery outside on the plateau, these floors had large windows with rope systems on the outer wall, allowing for material and items to be quickly transported up or down; it was common among the novices and acolytes to use this transportation device for mischief, and more than one aspiring whiterobe had cracked his head on the ground below.
Before proceeding further, Caradoc paused at a fountain to quench his thirst. An array of pipes collected meltwater from the mountain and funnelled it into the tower; with clever use of the pressure created by the water flowing down the mountainside, every floor had a constant stream of cool, fresh water for any purpose.
The next floors were the libraries, considered the treasure room of the monastery. A few books detailed the history of the temple and the order, and there was one or two books of poetry and verse. The remainder were repositories of knowledge meticulously gathered over many centuries by the whiterobes. Above all, they contained intricate patterns detailing the movements of the stars and how to calculate their positions throughout the year. This had necessitated advanced arithmetic to be developed, and many other books were dedicated to this study. After that followed metallurgy, masonry, and other crafts that required a knowledgeable head to be combined with skilled hands, and much of the lore contained in these volumes was put to use in the workshops and foundries below.
The final levels just below the roof of the tower were dedicated to tell-craft. At night, the whiterobes would stand atop the tower, observing the sky. During the day, they would return to the floor just below the roof, comparing new observations with old and using arithmetic to predict not only how the constellations moved, but also anticipate solar and lunar eclipses, meteor showers, and everything else in the heavenly firmament.
As Caradoc arrived, he found several whiterobes at work scribbling runes, calculating figures, and comparing star maps. All of them had beards and hair as pale as the cloth they wore; considered the finest work that a brother of the Bear could carry out, astronomy and arithmetic were only for the whiterobes held in highest regard.
“Brother Conall,” Caradoc called out. He spoke with a subdued voice as befitted the chamber where minds were concentrating to the fullest; due to their advanced age and accompanied loss of hearing, none heard him. “Brother Conall,” he repeated, approaching the other man.
The leader of the whiterobes raised his head from the complex figures on the parchment that he had been examining. Despite his frail and aged looks, his gaze was sharp. His brow furrowed in thought. “Brother Caradoc,” he spoke slowly, digging the name out. “I thought you were in Lochan.”
“I was until recently, Brother,” Caradoc replied, clasping the high priest’s hand carefully. “I came to speak with you.”
The high priest put down the quill in his hand. “It must be important if a simple missive does not suffice.”
“It is, though I was travelling in this direction in any case,” Caradoc admitted. “In Lochan, I met the son of Arngrim. He sought refuge against the villains that rule Adalrik, but now, he seeks to return. He calls upon every highlander of worth to follow him.”
“If that’s your wish, I’ll not stand in your way,” Conall told the other priest.
“Thank you, Brother, though I did not come for permission. I came to request that the Order of Hamaring stands behind Lord Adalbrand,” Caradoc exclaimed, raising his voice. “Some ten years ago, a tyrant ruled in Middanhal and savaged our land. The time has come to avenge this and dethrone another tyrant!” At this outburst, the other whiterobes raised their heads to send disapproving glances his way.
Conall breathed heavily. “It is hardly the purpose of this order to engage in war,” he spoke slowly. “We are not warriors, nor am I a lord commanding soldiers.”
“Any man who can take up arms is a warrior,” Caradoc countered. “I fought in the war against the drakonians as well as any gallóglach!”
“I am sure you did,” the high priest replied. “But our brothers are here to pursue knowledge or serve our god. Neither of those purposes are met by going to war.”
“We must also serve the people,” Caradoc retorted. “The honour of the high lands was stained by the blood of every one of our people slaughtered by the Order. When the hunter comes, the deer may flee, but the bear has no fear!”
“Quiet!” another priest demanded.
“Still, the hunting hounds will bring the bear down,” Conall pointed out. “We are few people in the high lands, and fewer whiterobes still. Would you have our order lose every brother fighting for revenge?”
“I would have our brothers fight for honour.”
Conall was silent for a moment. “I will not command any of our brethren to risk his life fighting against one drakonian to aid another. But,” he continued with his frail voice, “I will let you plead your case.”
“My thanks, Revered One.”
“And well you should be grateful,” Conall sniffed. “I’ll have to address them in the dining hall.” He stood up with some difficulty. “All the stairs I need to walk, in my age.”
Caradoc lent him an arm for support. “I would think you took this trip each day. Where else would you sleep and eat but at the lower floors?”
“I have food brought to me, and I sleep in an alcove in the next room,” Conall revealed as they moved to the stairs and began a slow descent. “I haven’t been to the lower levels in months. Consider this pilgrimage to the hall below my contribution to your cause.” Caradoc gave a hearty laughter in response.
“Will you be quiet!”
The largest room in Ardbeann was the dining hall, allowing the approximately two hundred whiterobes to take their meals together. The only drink was water; anything else would necessitate transport up the mountain path. In compensation, the whiterobes ate their share in meat, bread, and green. About half a century ago, attempts at planting a small orchard on the mountainous plateau had succeeded, allowing for fruit, and the temple had always had a pigsty and a chicken coop to provide meat and eggs.
As the meal approached its close, Conall rose up to stand. All eyes turned towards him, and silence befell the room. “You are probably all wondering why I took the trip down to eat with you tonight.” His crisp voice echoed through the room. “It certainly wasn’t for the pleasure of your company.” Scattered laughter came in response. “News has reached me, and if they have managed to travel all the way to the top floor, I’m certain you lot heard it long ago. There’s war in Adalrik.” He paused, inhaling deeply. “This war has been going on for more than a year, and you may wonder why I bring it up now. However, as I have been out of breath for the last hour thanks to those damnable stairs, I’ll let Brother Caradoc explain.”
“Thank you, Brother Conall.” Caradoc rose to take the floor. “Some weeks ago, a young nobleman of Adalrik came to Lochan, where my temple is. He sought the refuge of his kin, for his mother was of the túath of Lachlann, and the despotic rulers of Adalrik sought to take his head. They saw him as a threat for two reasons,” he explained, letting his voice bellow. “His success on the battlefield, fighting rebels and outlanders, and his lineage, for on his father’s side, he is dragonborn. He is Adalbrand, son of Arngrim, a name known to many here.” Voices murmured and heads nodded in agreement. “Arngrim died trying to stop the savagery committed against our land, our people, as the Order slaughtered villages and butchered innocent men, women, and children. Old King Sighelm was a tyrant,” Caradoc shouted, “and our people paid the price for it!”
“Hear, hear!” Fists and cups were slammed against the tables.
“It is time to reclaim our honour,” Caradoc declared. “Lord Adalbrand marches to Adalrik against the usurpers in Middanhal, and I march with him. To show the drakonians that the high lands will not suffer in silence. To repay the blood they spilt upon our fields. To make the voices of the tuatha heard!”
Many responded with cheers and shouts, but one whiterobe stood up and raised his hands to silence the crowd. “And what do you expect from us?” he asked. “That we abandon our duties to die in Adalrik, fighting for this Adalbrand’s cause?”
“His cause is ours,” Caradoc claimed. “We fight for justice and to see honour restored in Heohlond.”
Another rose as well. “We are priests of Hamaring. Our heads are for knowledge, our hands are for crafting. Each of us has a purpose here,” he told the assembly. “I fail to see how it serves our god or this order to fight in foreign lands.”
“Our brother has a point,” a whiterobe argued, pointing towards Caradoc. “Many of us stood aside when war raged in the high lands, and our people died.”
“What good does it do the dead to fight now?”
“Nothing, but it tells the living that the Order of the Bear will protect their honour, their homes, and their lives,” Caradoc exclaimed.
“What does our high priest say?” someone demanded to know, looking at Conall. “Do you encourage that our brothers throw their lives away?”
Silence befell the room as Conall slowly stood up. “Each of us has a purpose here, as our brother said.” He gestured to one of the previous speakers. “This very tower exemplifies this. Hands carved and carried the stones to build it. Minds calculated its shape and size. Now it lets us use our eyes to ever understand the stars better.” He paused. “Some of us, like myself, have spent a lifetime standing at the top of this tower, gazing at the night sky. Yet the hands at the foundation that clean the pipes, allowing us all water to drink, fulfil as important a role. We must all serve how we serve best. Hands, minds, eyes, all are subjected to the heart.” He let his gaze sweep over the assembly. “Let each brother serve as he sees fit, whether it is in this temple, in the cities of the realms, or upon the field of battle. I command none to leave and none to stay.”
“Thank you, Brother Conall. I depart tomorrow with every man willing to fight,” Caradoc declared.
“So be it. Tomorrow, our brothers may leave, never to return. Tonight, we shall have no further argument,” the high priest determined, and his brethren bowed their heads in acceptance.
At sunrise, nearly twenty whiterobes gathered outside the tower of Ardbeann. All had weapons of some kind that relied first and foremost on strength and were wielded by two hands, whether hammers, clubs, or axes. The priests looked expectantly at Caradoc.
“Where to now?”
“The army should be encamped north of here on the road to Cairn Donn and Cragstan,” he told them. “They’re a sluggish bunch,” he grinned, “moving slowly. I can’t imagine they’ll have gotten far ahead of us since I left.”
“Army, even?” someone remarked. “From what I heard, this Adalbrand has less than a score of men.”
“When he arrived in Lochan, true,” Caradoc elaborated. “But our people are coming from all the high lands to fight as if Arn himself was giving the call. Our numbers must be counted in the hundreds rather than in scores.”
“Enough talk,” someone growled. “Let’s get a move on.” Grabbing hold of weapons and what else they brought along, the whiterobes began the descent down the mountain path.