Eirik surveyed the impressive façade of the Temple of Myralo with concern, brow furrowed, fingers worrying the loose leather strap that kept his dagger in its sheath. It was certainly a pretty building. Everywhere he looked there was beauty to behold – from the intricately detailed vine-and-leaf patterns carved into the cloud-white exterior, to the elaborate mosaic of Prismeryl, Twin Deity of Beauty dominating the archway above the temple’s entrance.
Hanging next to the ornately wrought gate into the temple’s courtyard was a “Help Wanted” sign. It, too, was beautiful, written in a light script by a steady hand, and assuring any applicants that the pay would be more than sufficient. Eirik didn’t doubt it. If there was one thing the Prismeryllian priests and priestesses were known for (and there were many things they were known for) it was being as free with their pocketbooks as they were with their bodies.
Still, he was reluctant. He’d always made it a point to stay away from what he called religious jobs. “Too many people in the faith business barter in ‘eternal salvation,’” he’d say, “and that currency doesn’t pay the bills or buy supplies.” Still, job opportunities had been slim since the war started, and he needed the money. As this thought crossed his mind, he felt the leather strap he’d been fiddling with come away from the sheath, and cursed under his breath. There was nothing for it. His gear was falling apart, his supply of arrows was running low, and he could feel the spots under his heels where his boots were starting to wear thin. He needed the money for repairs. With a sigh, he headed up the path through the courtyard.
The inside of the temple was, if possible, more impressive than the outside. This was due in large part to the presence of a massive circular dais which dominated the center of the chamber, illuminated from above by a brilliant blue-white pillar of light pouring through a circular opening at the apex of the domed roof. On the dais, eight statues showed handsome young men in various poses – some in states of repose, others participating in various forms of physical activity, but each one was designed to highlight the beauty of the male form.
A priest of Myralo appeared from behind the statue and approached Eirik with an easy stride and a knowing smile. “Welcome to the Temple of Myralo, traveler. I see you’re admiring our statuary; see something you like?” As he said this, he leaned against the statue and his loose-fitting robes fell open a little, exposing a hard-muscled but smooth chest. He was in many ways a living representation of the temple’s many statues – but then, any priest of Myralo would have to be.
“No, thank you,” Eirik said with an apologetic smile. “I’m here on business. Your sign outside—“
“Oh, you’re here about the job,” the priest said, his voice falling. “Follow me.” He turned, almost dejected, and led the way across the chamber. Eirik could understand his disappointment. The war had hit everyone hard, cliché as it might sound, and money was tight all around. He imagined that most people probably didn’t have the funds to devote to the more lighthearted distractions the priests and priestesses of Prismeryl were trained to provide.
“So, what kind of job is this?” Eirik asked, curious.
“You’ll need to talk to High Priest Elduin about that,” the priest said over his shoulder as he led the way through the semi-dark corridors. Presently they came to a set of richly engraved double doors, and the priest of Myralo knelt and knocked gently at the door.
“Enter,” came a voice from inside. The priest stood, opened the door, and gestured Eirik inside. The High Priest’s chambers were surprisingly understated compared to the ostentatious central chamber. Well lit by wall sconces at regular intervals, the room was sparsely decorated – a well-made, but not overly decorative desk cluttered with paperwork; a small sitting area with two chairs; a bookshelf. Eirik’s impression of the room must have shown clearly on his face, for the High Priest said, “Not what you thought it would be? You were expecting, perhaps, an orgy of young men writhing at my feet?”
Eirik sputtered out something resembling a reply, eliciting a mirthful laugh from the High Priest. “I can’t blame you. The elaborate decorations, the torches, the scantily clad young men – these all serve a purpose. Visitors to our temple are paying for an experience. But, thankfully, I am under no obligation to endure such excess in my personal space. Myralo appreciates understated beauty as much as he appreciates overt beauty. But, come. What brings you to the Temple of Myralo? Aldau, the priest you just met, is one of our finest. If he didn’t have what you were looking for, then you must be here for some reason other than entertainment.”
“I saw your sign outside. I’m here for work. I understand you’re in need of a courier.”
“Indeed I am.”
“Well, then I’m your man,” Eirik said confidently. “Eirik Fleetfoot,” he said, cringing inwardly as he extended his hand. Fleetfoot wasn’t really his surname, but he’d found out very quickly that the best way to get work was to sound more appealing than the competition. His real surname, Greenwell, didn’t sound like the name of someone who makes his living delivering packages swiftly and safely. Fleetfoot did. It was just terribly cliché.
“High Priest Elduin.”
“So, what’s the job?”
“We need you to deliver a package to our sister temple on the other side of the Mirror Fields.”
“What sort of package?”
“The contents of the package are of the utmost secrecy, but suffice to say the package contains a relic that is sacred to the followers of Their Beautiful Holiness.”
“I must admit,” Eirik said with a grimace, “I am reluctant. I don’t know if I feel comfortable being entrusted with something that you and your followers consider significant to your faith.”
“I understand your concern. But we’re willing to pay very, very well.”
“How well are we talking?” Eirik said. Whatever his other misgivings, Eirik understood business. Money was money, as long as he didn’t have to do anything too far outside of his ethical boundaries.
“. . . ten-thousand . . .”
“Ten-thousand,” the High Priest said firmly.
Eirik was stunned. Ten-thousand anbars. That would be enough to repair all of his gear and pay up a few debts. Hell, that would be enough to buy all new gear and repay all of his debts with a couple thousand anbars left over. Recovering himself, Eirik cleared his throat. “Couldn’t you save a lot of money and hire a local to transport it? Or just send one of your priests?”
“Well, there’s an issue with that. You see, the road across the Fields is . . . not safe. Prior to the war we had a regular contingent of Imperial guards who patrolled the road, keeping it clear of wild animals and protecting travelers. In recent months, however, the guards have been withdrawn to help in the war effort, leaving the road susceptible to encroachment by all manner of hazards.”
Eirik frowned. “What makes you think I’ll fare any better than your priests would?”
“My men aren’t fighters. They’re trained in a very specific set of skills, and those skills don’t include transporting sensitive goods or fighting off wild animals.”
“Fair enough. So, what sort of hazards will I be facing out there?”
“Oh, nothing you can’t handle I’m sure. Sunshell Crabs, Razordogs – things like that.”
“Sounds easy enough,” Eirik said. But still, he thought, why pay so much for such an easy job?
“Good. Do we have a deal?”
Ten-thousand anbars. Ten-thousand. Ten. Thousand. “Yes. Yes, we have a deal.”
“Good. Then sign this,” the High Priest said, unrolling a scroll and indicating a line with an X next to it.
“What’s this?” Eirik said, suddenly suspicious.
“Just a simple contract. You must understand, we must protect our interests. This contract states that if you die on the journey, you are solely responsible for your death, and we are under no obligation to make any sort of compensation to your next of kin or immediate family. Also, should you fail to deliver the package, or should the package or its contents become damaged in some way en route to the Temple of Prisma, you forfeit any claim to your payment.” The High Priest, previously cordial, almost flirtatious in his bearing, was suddenly all-business.
“Fair enough,” Eirik said warily. After giving the contract a once-over, and ensuring himself that he fully understood its contents, Eirik signed.
“Excellent. We’ll prepare the package for you tonight. There’s an inn located in the town. I’ll call ahead and let them know you’re coming and that your tab is paid for,” he said, his demeanor once again friendly. With a gracious bow, the High Priest sent him on his way.
Back outside, in the glaring white light of the noon-day sun, Eirik gazed out across the shimmering plains of the Mirror Fields. He couldn’t escape the nagging worry that he’d made a mistake signing that contract. He took a deep breath and blew it out in frustration. “I suppose I ought to find this inn,” he said to himself.