A door squeaked as it opened, and the room fell silent.
"Please come with me, child." the priest said as he looked at Alynwen.
She got up, and followed the priest inside. She was lead down a hallway to another doorway in the lower level of the Temple of Light. There were acolytes standing on both sides of the door. The door itself was inscribed with the symbol of the Church of Light, a rich yellow circle with five simple but stylized licks of flame representing the Sun. She'd seen this room many times before, and she knew what waited inside. He opened this door, and stepped aside to allow her to enter .
Unlike the warm wood, bright windows, and vibrant colours of the rest of the Temple of Light, this room was very dark. There was much about this room that was shrouded in mystery for all of the children. For that matter, the ceremony and the room in which it took place made little sense to all of the adults who had completed it many times themselves when they were younger. Today though, was her village's turn for the children to go to the Temple of Light and complete the choosing ceremony.
She stepped into the room. The walls, ceiling, and floor were covered in black tile. There were symbols of light worked into the black tile in patterns around the room, perhaps the only time and place you'd ever see the symbol of light not made in yellow. The black suns added to the enigma that was this entire ceremony. The stylized sun was the holy symbol of the Church, and it was always yellow. While there was no scripture or edict that demanded that it could only ever be produced in yellow, this room seemed to be the only exception..
The sconces around the room held candles, providing the room's only light. A second door on the wall to the left she knew to be the exit, through which all children left when the ceremony was complete. In the centre of the wall behind the table was mounted the rooms only adornment - a ceremonial dagger of the Wyck of Light. The Wyck are the hunters of the Church of Light, and the reason for the choosing ceremony. Everyone knows that this is the ceremony in which the Chosen of Light are found. The Chosen are trained by the Church and later become a hunter, a Wyck of Light. There is no regularity to the event, it is exceedingly rare for a Chosen to be found more than once every few years. The age and genders of the chosen follow no pattern, nor do the chosen seem to come from any village in particular. This is why every child in every village is tested. There is only one commonality to the Chosen, that the Chosen are always under the age of seventeen. For this reason, seventeen is seen as the age of adulthood in every village in Temery. While everyone knows that the Chosen are found in this room, nobody knows how. The dagger of the Wyck is mounted on the wall to remind all who enter of the purpose of the ceremony.
The dagger is a blade about the length of an adults hand from wrist to fingertip. The dagger is plain, save for a symbol of Light engraved on the blade itself offset a short distance from the grip. The engraving itself is remarkable, as the symbol is yellow. The blades were otherwise beautifully crafted, often made by master bladesmiths of the villages served by the temple. The daggers were delivered to the church with plain blades however, and somehow the symbol of light was added in the temple itself. No artisan in any village knew how to inscribe the symbol. Many attempts have been made to duplicate the inscription using all known techniques of metallurgy, but they have all failed utterly. While the shape is easy enough to replicate for ambitious artisans, the inscription itself at best appears like a carving that is a poor reproduction of the symbol. Some master bladesmiths have spent years trying to replicate the effect, though they cannot seem to reproduce the texture of the inscription of the symbol that is so consistent on every authentic blade. Neither can anyone reproduce the colour, as it less a matte yellow than a yellow-gold sheen that seems impossible to dull, tarnish, or scratch, no matter the age of the blade. It is widely whispered that the symbol was inscribed by Sollum himself, the God of Light.
There were no windows in this room, or much of anything else for that matter. It wasn't big enough to hold it in any case. The only things in the room aside from the blade on the wall and the candles providing the dim light were a table (which by area occupied nearly half of the rooms available space), a stand holding a large book, and two chairs. She was instructed to stand in front of the table by the priest that had brought her in. He then moved to and sat in a chair in the corner of the room opposite from where she stood. Across from her on the other side of the table stood another priest of Light. He had gotten out of his own chair as she entered the room. The priest in the corner was watching her intently, as was the priest opposite her. They always did in this ceremony. It unnerved her, as it did most anyone who found themselves in this room.
"Welcome, child." said the priest warmly as he greeted her and sat back down in his chair. He reached for the large book on the stand beside him, and turned to a page that had been marked earlier. "What is your name?" he asked.
"Alynwen of Menhivir", she replied.
The priest looked through the book for her name, and found it. "Ah, yes, and what are the names of your parents?"
"Quenlin and Varen."
"And what is your date of birth?" the priest continued.
"My birthday is the 37th day of spring, 14 years past."
"Ah, so you'll be having a birthday soon then! Happy birthday, Alynwen, a bit early of course." The priests both offered a warm smile.
Her answers matched the records in his book. He recorded in the book that she had attended this choosing ceremony. Careful records are kept for all choosing ceremonies. Every child in every village is brought to a choosing ceremony once every season, and the Church of Light meticulously ensures that no one is missed.
If the child is ill or unable to attend, they will have a date arranged for a private testing when they are well. If the child has passed on since their last ceremony, the records are adjusted. A record of deceased children should have been sent with the village delegation on the choosing ceremony. If a child who is expected to attend fails to appear for their choosing ceremony, the Church of Light spares no effort to locate the child and determine why it is they were absent.
While it is not frequent that children or adults of the villages die, it is tragically not uncommon either. Accidents and especially disease are misfortunes against which there is little protection or treatment. The village menders do their best with what knowledge they have and treatments that reside in the stores of the village apothecaries. For most simple maladies such as colds and cuts and scrapes that are common occurrences in most hard working villages, this is often sufficient. However, infection is a serious problem as little is understood about its causes, and there are few effective treatments available. Anyone who contracts a significant infection is at serious risk of death. More often than not, villagers including children die of infection.
"How are you today, Alynwen?" Asked the priest at the table. He had been conducting the ceremony for many years now, and had seen thousands of children in this room. Most children were not comfortable in the room. Many were apprehensive, some nervous, and some were even excited. He knew as well as anyone that much of this has to do with the mystery of the ceremony. The priest's idle banter is a usually successful method to settle the children.
"I'm well, Priest of Light." She used his formal honorific, which betrayed her remaining apprehension.
"Relax, Alynwen. Please. We're not going to scare you." He smiled, and his humour did work to settle her a little. She let her shoulders relax a little and let out a breath she'd been holding since she entered the room. She priests both noted that she had become more comfortable.
"Thank you. Sorry. I'm just a little nervous."
"Yes, well you've done this many times before, haven't you? You know what we will ask of you. There is nothing to fear here, Alynwen." His persistent and intentional use of her name was a tactic all examining priests employed, as it usually served to calm the children. He could tell through her body language that it was working here also.
"Yes. I remember." she said.
"Alright then," the priest said. "Then let us begin." She nodded. On the table in front of here were many containers, jugs, urns, and boxes of various sizes and shapes. She had already begun to look them over.
"In this room, we have concealed an object. Can you please tell us where it is?"
The priests were both watching her intently, as they had been from the moment she entered the room. There had to be dozens of containers on the table. She recognized some of them from previous seasons, though the arrangement of the objects on the table was seemingly random each time she came to the choosing room. She had made many guesses in the past, from her first choosing after she had turned ten. Evidently, they had all been wrong. No child ever really expected to guess right, as the chosen were hardly ever found. The seriousness with which the Church conducted the ceremony though made each guess somehow a tense event. Everyone wondered what would happen if they guessed correctly.
Alynwen wondered how it was that chosen weren't found more often. There were only so many containers on the table, she estimated 50-60 or thereabout. Even if the containers were randomly distributed and even if they concealed the object in a different container each time, some child of the hundreds of children from the many villages served by this temple would eventually guess right sooner or later. And yet, it doesn't happen. There's nothing else in this room, except for the priests and herself.
She paused. That is an interesting thought that had never occurred to her before. What if the concealed object wasn't in a container at all? What if the priest was holding it? He never said what the object was, nor did he say it was in a container. It just seemed as though that's the only place anything could be concealed in this room. Of course, nobody knew except for the priests themselves. She figured it was worth a shot.
"I think that you are holding the object yourself." she said to the priest.
He looked at her for a moment, surprised, and then laughed. "Oh Alynwen that is perhaps the best guess I have heard in years. You're a very smart girl to think of a place outside of the containers!" The priest in the corner had a warm smile also. He was also quite impressed with her answer. As impressive as it was though, it was not correct. The priests both stood.
"Thank you Alynwen. The ceremony is complete." The priests made a gesture for the sign of Light, waving their right hand in a circle to represent the Sun. "May the Light find you." they said.
The priest who had brought her to the room walked to the door on the left side of the room and opened it.
"Thank you." she said. She nodded to the priest at the table, and again to the priest by the door. She left the room and was escorted by the priest to a large room already occupied by many other children. After the test, all of the children who had completed the test waited separately in this large room in the temple basement from the remainder of the children yet to be examined. Alynwen wondered why that was.
About an hour later, all roughly one-hundred children of the village of age to be tested had completed the ceremony, and all of the children were reunited. The priests then conducted a service for all of the village's children. Church service occurred only after the choosing ceremony, once every season. The service centered mostly around the scripture concerning the Chosen of Light, which she supposed was relevant since that's why everyone was here. The Church imposed little morality or spirituality on the people. Its scripture was almost entirely centred around the Chosen, and the Wyck of Light. The Wyck were the most exalted members of the church.
The hidden were only briefly mentioned in the service. They were the chosen of the night, of the dark goddess. The foe of Sollum. The hidden would steal from villages they stalked. They were dangerous, and tried to abduct children from their homes. Most harrowing of all, they tried to kill the chosen and Wyck of light. Alynwen could scarcely believe it possible that the Wyck could be threatened by anyone, much less a nomadic thief in the night. The reason this ceremony existed was to identify and protect the Chosen of Light, lest they be murdered by the hidden. That is why the church goes to such lengths as to track and examine every child of every village, once every season. A chosen could be identified at any time. If they are not found by the Church before they are found by the hidden, they will surely die.
There were no Chosen found among her village that day. She's not sure when the last time someone from her village had been Chosen. Generations ago at least, she thought, because nobody alive in her village today knew of a time that it had happened. She listened to the service, and for the most part, she was a believer in the scripture as were most people. There was no reason to doubt it, and several bits of evidence to suggest its truth.
The Chosen, for example, seemed to have an ability to track and find the hidden. Again, nobody really understood how they did it. That is why after they had been identified they were trained by the Church and ordained as Wyck of light, the hunters of the hidden. They had to be trained for their own protection, and for the protection of everyone. While the hidden were a direct threat to the Chosen of Light, they were considered a threat to all villages also.
The hidden lived alone, and nobody trusted solitary citizens. To live outside of the acceptance of a village was a virtual death sentence. Life is hard, even in the village, but people survive because of the community itself. Everyone works hard to ensure that food, clothing, medicines, tools, housing, and all other necessities are provided for all members of the village.
Villages are generally self-governed, most often through an elected village council. It is the...The council's responsibility to see that the village has all of the stock and supplies it requires, particularly to last the village through the hard winter months. They also preside over any disagreement between villagers, and decide how to resolve them if the participants cannot come to an accord on their own, which is rare. The village is generally a strong community, because everyone knows how necessary it is to work together. If the stores are not stocked for winter, the whole village is at risk, and it takes the whole village to ensure the village has enough supply for everyone. If an incident such as a crime or theft occurs, it is the responsibility of the village council to determine a resolution.
Only in the gravest of situations is someone banished from the village. It is the harshest punishment the village council may confer, for it means an all but certain death for the outcast. Without food and shelter, medicines, and supplies of the village, most people die within weeks, or even days in the winter. The hidden seem to choose this solitary life and somehow miraculously survive, at least until they are found by the Wyck. Most people believe the hidden to be outcasts from other villages, but nobody knows how they're connected to the Church of Light, or the Wyck that hunt them.
The Wyck are highly respected. If they are seen in a village, they are usually there tracking a hidden. Other times they may just be passing through, following up on the attendance records from the choosing ceremonies, or even just looking around on the random chance that they happen across a hidden. It is true that they're highly trained and have the ability to track the hidden, but luck not only favours the prepared, it also favours the persistent. They are afforded the right of entry into any building or home, and their judgements supersede even the village council on matters of the hidden.
The priest concluded the service with the traditional benediction. "Go, and may the Light find you." With that, children returned to the care of the adult escorts from the village and they began to assemble for a small meal outside before setting out for the return trek back to the village. The spring choosing was over for her village, and already she was looking forward to the spring feast back home.