The village of Wheems began its life as a minor military outpost and trading center on the outskirts of a large city. After the establishment of the empire under Kartannus the Great, four trade roads converged to create one of the strategic central routes into Wrenstatten – a town that eventually rose to become the capital city of the Kingdom of Vorhalla. The inn, way station, and army barracks erected at the beginning of the great emperor’s rule blossomed into a small village that prospered due to its close proximity to the capital and an influx of population as the inevitable camp-followers settled there.
Over time, as Wrenstatten’s power, population, and prestige grew the provincial, rustic village slowly merged with the capital city, becoming one of its many suburbs. As with most towns in the shadow of a great city, the influence of the capital was strongly felt in Wheems. Politics, fashion, local customs, and traditions were largely dependent on what happened in Wrenstatten until the founding of Sarjanism – the empire-wide religion that would come to dominate the continent.
Sarjanus’ first successor was Galaxon, a renegade slave and the leader of the rebellion. It was Galaxon who overthrew Axil, the king of Aradamia and the man responsible for Sarjanus’ martyrdom. But much to the surprise of his political followers, Galaxon abdicated the throne of Aradamia only one year after taking the crown. Brilliant and astute, the former slave came to realize, how influential a powerful centralized church could be. Rallying the followers of Sarjanus around himself, Galaxon’s goal was to reunite the continent just as Kartannus the Great had done, but by utilizing the power and influence of the church instead of the armies and endless wars the great emperor’s successors had so often relied on. Donning the black robe of a monk, shaving his head, and proclaiming himself Sacred Father, Galaxon began building a formidable religious structure that came to rival and eventually surpass any form of government the kingdoms had ever been able to create.
The aftermath of the plague from the age of Enlightenment, coupled with hundreds of years of unrest, civil war, and political infighting after Kartannus’ death had weakened all of the kingdoms, and Galaxon was able to take advantage of the power vacuum three centuries of war and political intrigue had created. Establishing his seat at Wheems, Galaxon founded a structure that spread across the continent and rooted itself firmly in every capital and major city throughout what had once been Kartannus’ mighty second empire.
By choosing to settle in Wheems, Galaxon took advantage of its sleepy, backwater location. Hidden in the shadow of Wrenstatten, most activities in Wheems rarely attracted attention and by the time the rulers and aristocracy realized what was happening, it was too late. Galaxon established a series of abbeys, schools, and churches in strategic population centers. After that, his zealous followers were quickly able to convert a population weary of war, hunger, and oppression. At the same time Galaxon expertly – albeit stealthily – built up stores of great wealth and political influence.
As the church grew in power and prestige, so too did Wheems. After Galaxon formed the Sacred Diet – made up of nine of the most powerful and influential arch abbots of the church with himself at its head as Sacred Father, Wheems underwent a dramatic transformation – a form of dark renaissance. Its architecture, art, philosophy, and commerce abounded, all with one singular goal – to concentrate the greatest amount of wealth, power, and influence possible at Wheems.
Although Wheems officially remained a part of Wrenstatten, in reality it became a city-state and kingdom in its own right. Wheems imposed its own taxes, legislated its own laws, regulated its own government without answering to any secular king. What’s more, under a score of clever and ruthless Sacred Fathers who succeeded Galaxon, Wheems’ authority and control became unprecedented in its scope and influence.
Eventually everything in Wheems turned its attention and energy to one all-important task: advancing and preserving the power of the church. Commerce, art, music, philosophy, science, and education all turned to things ecclesiastical. Gone forever was the small backwater town established on the outskirts of Wrenstatten. In its place, the dark, turreted walls and battlements of the holy city grew.
Churches, and monasteries supplanted shops and houses. Large, black edifices filled with church bureaucrats and bureaucracies dotted the landscape. The residential palace of the Sacred Father and the fortress-like Monastery of Saint Jansum – home of the Sacred Diet – dominated the town’s skyline.
In a cavernous room deep inside the walls of St. Jansum’s, ten black robed figures sat at a long, oaken table. Before them stood an eleventh figure, also dressed in a black robe. Arch Abbot Gude remained silent as he carefully examined the black-hooded figures, while wringing his hands in his characteristic fashion.
“Two failures,” one of the figures said, shaking his head.
“No Kerin, more like two complete disasters,” another replied, pounding his fist angrily on the table, creating a low vibrating echo that rang out through the darkened vault.
“But Sacred Father, we had no way of knowing. It was a chance series of bad luck,” a third figure said, turning the man who had pounded his fist on the table. “That idiot cook looked in the wagon and the assassins were discovered before they had a proper chance to get into the building. And the attack in the parade ground…”
“That was an unmitigated disaster. Everyone forgot to take into account that some of the targets could actually fly!” the angry man interrupted. “That’s in the past now, but I want to start seeing results. They’ve been exposed to the population of Konassas, and instead of being terrorized as they’ve been taught, the people appear to be accepting them. On top of that, word arrived this very morning that a delegation of them has journeyed to Tahkor. Xannameir has always been a problem for us, and we all know the Zakaria family has never been a friend to the church. Presently, their attitude has turned from indifference and quiet subterfuge to open hostility.”
Looking around the table, the man pulled back his cowl, and carefully adjusted it to lie neatly between his shoulder blades. The face that appeared was that of an old man, but certainly not a frail one. Sacred Father Torban Honore’s steely blue eyes scanned the other occupants of the table. He easily projected the appearance of a natural leader and although some wrinkles appeared on his face and the lines natural to aging were present, his high cheek bones, prominent jaw, and full head of pure white hair gave testimony to the former striking beauty of his youth and his handsome countenance as a young man.
Looking down at an unfolded parchment laying on the table before him, his eyes quickly scanned it. Although he had read it numerous times and even memorized it, he took one final glance. Slowly raising his head, he looked up and across the table, staring intently at Abbot Gude.
“When I received this, Geron, I was skeptical,” he began, narrowing his eyes at Gude, “but in light of two debacles, I decided to call you here to discuss it.”
“My gratitude and thanks, Sacred Father,” Gude said, reverently bowing.
“But, my brother, I must admit I’m still not convinced this is a job for the Knights. Granted, they have served us… well,” he said, pausing and looking around the table. “But this is a much different situation than they’ve usually dealt with.”
“I can assure you, Sacred Father,” Gude began, wringing his hands with even greater vigor, “Galen Sharp has the skill and talent you and the Sacred Diet are most in need of at this time. The knight commander and I have talked at length on this, and I feel he will be most reliable. I’m confident this plan has every chance of success.”
“Very well,” Sacred Father Honore said, once more scanning those seated at the table with him. “Are there any objections?” Met with silence, he continued, “In that case, you are hereby given the authority to carry out your plan.”
Pausing to savor the Sacred Father’s approval, Arch Abbot Gude, still wringing his hands intensely, executed a deep bow – far deeper than one would have expected from a man his age. “I am honored by your confidence, Sacred Father,” he said as he rose from his bow.
“My confidence be damned,” Torban Honore said with a sneer, “Just do it Geron, and do not fail.”
Bowing once more to the Sacred Father and the Diet, Gude turned and left the room full of excited anticipation and filled with hope that his actions might some day find him a seat at the table he had stood before – maybe even the very seat of Torban Honore.
As Gude departed, Honore’s eyes narrowed to slits as he followed the Arch Abbot’s progress from the room.
Reaching back, he pulled the cowl back over his head. “That one,” he thought to himself as he heard the door close behind Gude, “Will need further watching.”