Probation

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After Edgar Shybear provided Sartael with the specifications and procedures for copying the Golden Gift, it would take nearly a year for the engineering division on Palato to get tooled up to produce them. In the meantime the High Lord Patriarch took Edgar into his household as an adopted son.

The four widows of the late, unlamented Hogarth were also taken into Sartael’s household, but only as servants. They were ordered to provide Edgar any service that he wished or needed, except (and they were strongly counseled on this point) for the one thing a healthy young man of his tender years really wanted and thought he really needed.

Since Edgar was not emancipated under the law of Mastema, he was not required to attend weekly worship.

Worship among the White Beards did not carry the same meaning that it did on Earth. There was something more direct and honest about it. Edgar learned the essence of Mastema worship from reading the sacred scriptures of House Gerash:

Five days are appointed, with names after the names of the Five Families. They are Larunday, Anteroday, Bellonday, Saladay, and Gerashday.

Three days you shall eat, on Larunday, Anteroday, and Bellonday, and on the fourth day, or Saladay, you shall eat a double portion. But on the fifth day, or Gerashday you shall eat nothing, and drink only water. For this is the fast appointed by Mastema. Only soldiers on campaign are exempted from the Fast of Mastema on Gerashday.

Three days you shall work, and the income thereof shall be for your own use. Saladay you shall work also, but the income thereof shall be for the temple.

But Gerashday is the day of worship, you shall not work on that day, neither you nor your whole household.

On that day you shall enter the Temple of Mastema if you dwell nigh to the Mountain of Mastema in the Middle Land, or you shall enter the local shrine of Mastema if you dwell in the colonies in the Westlands and Eastlands or far away from the Mountain of Mastema in the Middle Kingdom.

There on Gerashday you shall worship Mastema. None shall be exempted. The elderly or infirm shall be transported to worship Mastema by their families. Only soldiers on campaign shall be waived from worshiping Mastema on the fifth day.

And this is the essence of worship: You shall give one-fourth of your income to Mastema. A holy priest of Mastema shall receive your worship on behalf of Mastema.

And the procedure for worshiping Mastema shall be to present to the priest your worship card made of crackerwood sealed in a leather pouch, together with all the money you have earned on Saladay.

The priest shall inspect the seal, unwrap the worship card, and inspect the pattern of recent punches. If the money and the punches are in order, the priest shall make a new punch using one of five different punches drawn by lots, a star, a square, a triangle, a circle, or a rectangle.

Then he shall store the worship card back in the leather pouch, add a seal, and return it to the worshiper, but the money he will put in the temple treasury.

Women however, shall not worship, nor shall a woman be found in the Temple of Mastema nor any shrine of Mastema, upon pain of death. Neither shall a woman or a girl be permitted to earn income. The head of a household shall count a boy’s income as his own for worship purposes.

If a man’s worship card is falsely punched, and it is proven that he did not worship by consulting the temple accounting books, that man shall be put to death.

If any man loses his worship card and no audit is pending, then there is no guilt; the man’s worship card shall be replaced.

But if a priest of Mastema suspects wrongdoing and requests to examine a man’s worship card, and the man claims it is lost, then his guilt shall be assumed; he shall be put to death.

Sixty-four punches shall fill the worship card. In the five festival days of New Card Week the priests of Mastema shall issue new worship cards. New Card Week shall be a time of re-dedication to Mastema, and the new year shall be met with fresh hearts.

Employers shall send to the Temple or to the local shrines of Mastema information on the wages of every man and boy in their employ. The priests of Mastema shall use this information to ensure that each man is worshiping Mastema in the correct amount.

For Mastema knows that men are faithless and weak and do not always seek to conform with the will of Mastema in all things. That is why the Eyes of Mastema must always keep watch. They are the sentries of the priesthood of Mastema.

The House of Gerash was indeed organized as something of a republic, as High Lord Patriarch once indicated to Queen Aurra at her council.The Middle Land was divided into three provinces, and the whole land of occupied House Bellon to the west was taken to be the fourth. In two thousand years the ice bridge that had separated Rumbek from Salem had melted away, leaving no physical barrier between the White Beards and the Brown Beards they had conquered.

Each one of the four provinces was governed by a Popular Assembly comprised of three Freelords and one Lord Advocate, except Mastema Province, where the High Lord Patriarch presided in place of the Lord Advocate. The Popular Assemblies conducted the daily business of the Republic.

The four provinces were further divided into three departments each. Twelve Freelords, with one vote each, presided as chief judges over their own departments and voted with the Lord Advocates to elect the successor to the High Lord Patriarch in the event of his death. Inevitably their choice became possessed by Mastema (or by that entity that still called itself Mastema) so the whole affair amounted to a hereditary monarchy in substance.

Freelords were elected by the people, directly.

The Lord Advocates had two votes each. One Freelord in cahoots with the Lord Advocate could dominate the Popular Assembly. Conversely, all three Freelords arrayed against a Lord Advocate could swing the province their way.

In the State Council, which conducted war and distributed taxes, the Lord Advocates only had a single vote. The High Lord Patriarch had two votes as the Head of State, except in the event of the passing of a Lord Advocate, and electing a new Lord Advocate from among the Freelords, when the Gerash Patriarch only had a single vote to prevent a tie.

One Lord Advocate allied with the High Lord Patriarch could sway the State Council. Alternatively, all three Lord Advocates combined against the High Lord Patriarch could steer things their way, at least on paper. Generally it was not a healthy thing to do so. The dreaded Eyes of Mastema, the secret police, served only the current incarnation of their god.

In the theoretical republic of White Beards, every citizen was theoretically on a level one with another. In practice, some citizens were more equal than others.

The right to elect freelords was conditioned on military service, either in the Army, the Eyes, or more recently the space-going Navy of Mastema. And military service in the House of Gerash was a twisted combination of incest, polygamy, and an ancient, pervasive death cult.

When a boy reached the Age of Initiation and chose to serve Mastema in the armed forces, he entered the rites of the Cupel system of testing. Under the Rites he wagered his sister in a ritual fight to the death with another boy. This combat was called Laraji. The boy who survived Laraji took the sister of his opponent, and his own sister, to be his wives. And he became one of the ishim in the lower echelon of the armed forces of Mastema. Later the ish could advance to malak and even ravmalak based on his valor in combat.

Mastema didn’t set this up on a mere whim. There was a certain logic to the system. The incest brought out to the surface any genetic defects, and the death combat eliminated the boys who carried those defects. After two thousand years of this artificially accelerated evolution the people of Barbelo had diverged sharply from the humans of Sol. Mastema now called his people the nephilim. They were not truly a separate species from man, for they could still interbreed, but the nephilim were well embarked on the road to speciation.

If a ravmalak desired to attain to the middle echelon of the forces of Mastema he was required to wager his two wives against the wives of another ravmalak in the second ritual killing of the Cupel system of testing. The man who survived the second Laraji took the two wives of his opponent, and retained his own two wives. He was called a sar in the middle echelon, and again he could advance to erel and hashmal based on his valor in combat.

If a hashmal desired to attain to the upper echelon he was required wager his own four wives against the four wives of another hashmal in the third and highest ritual killing of the Cupel system of testing. The man who survived the third Laraji took the wives of his opponent, and retained his own wives, for a grand total of eight wives. And he became an ophan in the upper echelon of the armed forces of Mastema. The way was clear for him to advance to cherub and even seraph based on his valor in combat.

For the span of time that Edgar lived as a son in the house of Sartael there were many opportunities for candidates of every rank to advance based on meritorious service, for it was an eventful year.

The Beaters started throwing rocks. In a devastating large-scale surprise attack, the Beaters caused a large meteor to all but destroy Dartarus in the eastern kingdom of the Gerash Middle Lands. This was a city of three hundred thousand people which lay on the southern shore of the estuary of the river Kelang, where it flowed into the Eastern Sea.

At the same time, they invaded Palato and took possession of it. They were able to do this because Sartael had chosen to take nearly the entire Navy deep into the Eggbeater in a show of force to remind the colonists there of their obligations under the True Religion.

The avatar of Mastema remained, and took to the skies of Palato, but Mastema could do very little. The Beaters used the largely Gerash population of Palato as nephilim shields to protect their ships and ground forces from retaliation. Some of these captives were the wives of Hogarth. Edgar Shybear was not present, he had gone along with the fleet as an observer.

The grounded and camouflaged Beater ships, reduced now to little more than expensive pillboxes, beat off several attempts at orbit-to-surface precision strikes against them. Finally Mastema withdrew his avatar to provide cover when the first elements of his navy returned from the Eggbeater.

With his avatar, Mastema could repel any ship-to-ship attack, but the gun and rocket emplacements clustered all over Palato took a terrible toll on the warships when they drew near.

Still, a sufficiently large fraction of them survived to enable a counter- invasion of Palato with infantry. The Beaters succeeded in burning their ships before the Army of Mastema could seize them, and the surviving attackers took to the hills in vacuum suits.

In Beater propaganda, they claimed that more Gerash cities would now be destroyed in retaliation for the Patriarch’s attempt to reclaim Palato by force. In reality, the meteoroids had been set in motion weeks before, because Mastema was utterly predicable.

The cities of Ganelon and Sastrom in the mountainous areas of the central Middle Lands were subsequently destroyed. The nephilim of the city of Mastema fled into the countryside in a great panic, for they could only be next on the Beater target list.

Although none of the other families had been threatened by the Beaters, Family Sala considered themselves safe due to a fundamental change that had been initiated by Queen Aurra two millennia prior. The people were reorganized into “Faith Communities” of about twenty-five people each, spaced at regular intervals across the plain irrigated by the river Loenna. Each Faith Community was self-supporting in most things, and for those goods they could not obtain, they would trade with neighbor cells.

The entire nation had abandoned urban conglomeration and spread itself out so thinly and evenly there remained no viable targets to hit. A meteor would destroy at most a handful of random Faith Communities. It was also not lost on Family Sala that they were similarly protected from Mastema’s nuclear weapons. They farmed the breadbasket of Barbelo and embraced Talishi as a feminine creative spirit, having turned their back on Mastema worship once and for all.

There was little Mastema could do to reverse what Queen Aurra had done at the behest of Talishi. Family Sala remained quite capable of defending their lands fiercely through guerrilla warfare, yet there were no high-value targets the Gerash Patriarch could threaten to extort compliance. The best he could hope for was to contain the spread of Talishism, and prevent the concept of Faith Communities from taking hold in the other families. But in years to come there were many secret adherents of Talishi among the nephilim, even in the upper ranks of Mastema’s military forces.

Aided by the strikes from orbit, the citizens of Palato revolted from Beater occupation and pursued the invaders into the rugged mountains between the major settlements. Remnants of the Beater forces were hunted down for months. Some vengeful men who had lost entire families in the strikes on Barbelo sought Beater stragglers out personally and devised particularly gruesome forms of justice.

Yet there would be many more Beater attacks, and still more cities would be destroyed. In time it was begrudged to the Salas that their strategy of radical decentralization was probably the wisest course.

The extended period of general peace that had existed since the Techno War was transformed into the Long War as House Gerash settled down to an endless period of low-level conflict against the Beaters, punctuated by brief spasms of total chaos. Under these circumstances the existence of the Imperial Navy and the harsh Cupel system of military training he had decreed was more than justified. And that suited Mastema just fine.

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