Chapter XIV.

16 Jun

“I realize that you wish me to speak candidly, sir,” said Ranid to the Mandator at their second meeting in late afternoon. “My past spiritual experience was within the boundaries of Salamandrism, and it ended in great pain and confusion for me. I had to conclude that it was impossible to continue that way. So, my only alternative was to start exploration of the opposite major faith system. I have already studied Anuranism with a local predicant and then with a missioner. But the more I learned, the more I sensed a need to go further in my exploration. Does that seem logical to you? My journey of the spirit has only begun. So, I made a decision to come to Feretrum for my inner edification. My advisors all informed me that Feretrum was my best hope of full enlightenment for my mind and soul.”

“We prize such truthfulness as you have expressed to me,” said Tragus musingly. “Tell me this: do you have metaphysical curiosity about odylogical questions?”

“Indeed I do,” answered Ranid, growing excited and animated. “Such topics fascinate me. Abstract fundamentals often hypnotize me. My mind is always dwelling upon primal theory. I dream of the fullest understanding possible.”

It seemed that at this point the Mandator spoke as if from a high, distant elevation. “I have always considered myself a contemplator, a thinker more than an official or authority. Even today, my evenings are taken up with reading and writing. My main interest has always been in studying the odyle and finding out how to construct a direct relationship to the Absolute. From my starting days, that has been my special concentration.”

“My own curiosity has been drawn to that same area,” confessed the younger man.

Tragus stared fixedly at him.

“I believe you are an acceptable candidate to join us as a softum,” said the Mandator. “We need people of your caliber and interests in our conventiculum. I intend to take direct charge of your study and training. There are too many time-servers and careerists among us. A person with such a strong philosophical dimension could be quite valuable to us. As you know, we have both married and unmarried members of both sexes in our community. Years ago I met my own spouse here at Feretrum. She passed away when my daughter was only a child. My Glia lives with me and is something of a philosophizer herself.” His face suddenly darkened into a gloomy shadow. “She is all that I have, and I am everything to her. It is difficult for a young woman in a community like ours, predominantly made up of males. She has very few friends, even among the female members of our coenobium.”

Shortly, the frater in orange appeared. The Mandator ordered him to take the newest noviciator to a vacant cubiculum right there in the bedehouse.

Ranid realized he would be situated adjacent to the apartment of the father and daughter.

Music from a pneumatic orchestrion filled the evening air with sweet, ethereal notes and melodies. Ranid rose from a small xyloid desk in his room, putting down the Anuran breviarium he had been reading. It was time for vespertine prayers in the oratorium, as he had learned from a lanky brother in orange a little earlier.

All at once, there was a knock at his door. Ranid opened it to find a massive, brawny, athletic person standing there. His square face contained an angular, hooked nose between huge cupreous eyes with a magnetic stare to them.

“You are the new brother-to-be?” asked the stranger in a bluish red fuchsin robe.

“That is correct,” replied the momentarily bewildered newcomer.

“Permit me to introduce myself,” grinned the other. “I am the Intendant of this conventiculum, Iwis Nudum. May I welcome you to our spiritual settlement. We are all glad to have you with us. I have spoken to the Mandator about his plans for your education and enlightenment. Are you ready to go to your first vespertine service? We can walk to the fanum together and talk a little along the way.”

Ranid soon found himself strolling with this important official of Feretrum along a wide pathway leading to the central building of the walled community. His authority was second only to that of the Mandator, Keigo Tragus. That much was plain to the bewildered novice. It would certainly be beneficial to keep on friendly terms with him, reasoned Ranid.

“I see from your biographical questionnaire that you have studied our system of faith at various sites with different instructors. That is a plus that will help you a great deal. But there is one supreme requirement that is more important than anything else. Without it, knowledge would mean nothing to a person at Feretrum.”

“And what could that be, sir?” asked Ranid with an uneasy feeling.

“Perfect obedience,” slowly said the Intendant. “Without it, nothing is possible for any candidate to brotherhood with us.”

The newly arrived wanderer made no reply, not sure what to say.

Nudum spoke in a mumbling whisper. “I may soon have need for you. A kind of testing of your docility will be given, but only in good time. Do not be surprised when you receive instructions that must be obeyed instantly, without questioning.”

The novice said nothing to this, looking ahead to the imposing structure of the fanum.

It was a mammoth stucco building with a testudinate shell as its roof. Verdet green in color, it made Ranid think of a polliwog. Was it given such a shape in order to remind the brothers of a tadpole, the larva of a future frog? he wondered.

The two walkers followed a line of brothers in various colored robes into the oratorium of the great fanum. Iwis Nudum led the new softum to a long bench near the front. The silence was profound and solemn as brothers and sisters filled up all the seating space in the structure.

Ranid made a visual survey of the navis and apsis of the fanum, then the latticed chancel of the Estrada, the stanchions and stringpieces holding up the roof shell, and the spartan collonnettes and columellas along the walls. He had never been in so impressive a templum in his life as a Salamandrite. This was a unique building indeed.

A choir of singers in an upper galleria began a traditional humnoidia dedicated to the sacred frog. At one advanced point, the entire assembly of Anurans joined in. Having memorized the words at the centrum in the swamp country, Ranid was able to add his voice to the rejoicing throng. He felt himself one with the huge congregation.

“Take me to the place where you live,
Let my soul become part of your holy swamp,
Where you live with and unite yourself to
The sacred odyl that grants you its blessing.”

When this was finished, there came forward and stood at a pulpitum a brother dressed in a white robe. Ranid surmised that this was the Invocator for the vespertine service. In a high alto voice, he recited from memory a litany of pleas, supplications, and thanksgivings to the elevated spiritual powers, the frog and the odyl it represented. Antiphonal responses arose from the choir. A number of female sopranos were audible among the voices of the brothers, reminding Ranid that the coenobium consisted of persons of both sexes.

When the time came for a discourse by a sermonic, the person who appeared on the pulpitum was no other than Keigo Tragus, the community’s Mandator. His powerful baritone rang through the oratorium with bell-like clarity. The lecture was short and edifying, based on the principle of truthfulness in all endeavors. His final words made a serious impression on the mind of Ranid.

“Remember, it is your incorporeal soul that decides and shapes the future for you. Just as the invisible odyl animates the great amphibians when we worship them this evening, so your soul and my soul move me and you. That is an eternal, everlasting truth.

“All our souls are mere drops in the sea of being. The endless ocean surrounding us on all sides is the odyle itself, reaching to us through the chosen, supreme creatures, the frogs of our world. We must always remember this blessed connection that the odyl provides for us through the frog. Our peace, happiness, and salvation depend on this amphibian link. It is that which makes life meaningful for us.”

As the Mandator left the pulpitum, the entire conventiculum began to sing an old Anuran anthem of devotion: “The true path to blessed odylic energy is known to us, we have it because our predecessors charted it for us…”

When the singing was over, the crowd rose and left the fanum.

Ranid heard a whispered message from the Intendant next to him. “I hope to talk with you tomorrow. Come to my working cubiculum. Anyone can direct you there. Until then, good evening, my new friend.”

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