A question I’ve fielded more than once or twice was “how the hell did the Devotees stay hidden all those years?” Let’s tackle it step by step.
First, the persecution of the Devotees began when Tormyn Blackheart ascended the Pearl Throne in the year 4141 SY. The ritual transferring the god-fire to Tormyn jumpstarted the Curse and he emerged from the crater of the gods bristling with power and hubris, and believing in his own divinity. Tormyn wasn’t as delusional as Torval, but his nature was darker and it wasn’t long after taking the throne that he outlawed the Maiden’s worship. At the time, Drusylla was the Maiden’s high priestess and an honored advisor in Tintammil. Tormyn demanded that she renounce her faith, but she refused, and from her steadfast loyalty to the Maiden, the Devotees earned their name.
But, you have to understand, Sangritharians had held the Maiden in high regard, right up there with Thar who was Umbar, for more than four thousand years and that wasn’t something to lightly toss aside. Legionnaires were Sangritharians too, all of them – infantry, cavalry, navy, even the Averchai – and shared the same beliefs. It was one thing for the God-Emperor to order the capture of the Devotees, it was another altogether for the legionnaires to enforce the new law. Most of them had been raised to know and love the Maiden and turning against those who still held her dear didn’t come easy.
Throughout Tormyn’s rule, persecution of Devotees was light at best. Most of those tasked with capturing them couldn’t put their hearts into it, too many of those they’d arrest were friends and family members, and not a few of them still attended services at Tar-Numerath. Not even the Averchai could go near the Maiden’s hilltop shrine with anything but love for the Maiden in their hearts.
After Tormyn came Darmyn the Righteous, who fought long and hard against the curse. Darmyn did not repeal Tormyn’s proclamation, but neither did he enforce it. During his reign, the Devotees could go about their business without fear of Averchai reprisal. It was during the time of Tardyn the Slayer, next after Darmyn, that the situation worsened. Tardyn reinstituted the religious prohibitions and by then (he ascended the Pearl Throne in 4421 SY) nearly three centuries had passed since Tormyn first outlawed the Maiden’s worship. The Averchai hunting Devotees didn’t know the Maiden and had few, if any, reservations about capturing them.
The best thing the Devotees had going for them was Tardyn’s relative indifference. Tardyn’s concerns were chiefly material and he dreamed of conquest, not of people singing his praises as the God Reborn would in Hali’s time. Simply put, neither religion or religious persecution was high on his priority list. It wasn’t until his son, Torval Waverider , came to power that things became uncomfortable for the Devotees.
Torval believed in his divinity strongly, and thought he truly was the God Reborn. To him, a prayer for the Maiden was a vote against him and his divine roots, and he took that personally. He stepped up Averchai patrols and demanded more aggressive enforcement of the laws already on the books.
In the face of Torval’s tactics, the Devotees developed the system of patronage. They needed a way to keep the members of the congregation hidden and safe and masks seemed the perfect answer. In the early days, everyone knew everyone and the masks didn’t do very much, but as time went on and the older Devotees died out, the masks did serve a purpose. Everyone wore a mask to the services to keep their identities secret, believing that with anonymity came protection. New Devotees, or potential Devotees, attended services unmasked. That way, they didn’t know anyone but everyone knew them. Once the initiate proved earnest in his or her belief, their patron (the one who introduced them to the Maiden) presented them with a mask. The Devotees thought that this system of masks and patronage limited exposure should one of them be caught, not unlike how terrrorist cells operate in your world. Only those at the very top knew enough to take down the organization. I guess you could say that Hermyna was the Devotees’ Ace of Spades.
The chart below lists masks and patrons for a handful of Devotees from Hali’s time:
|Mask Owner||Mask Description||Patron|
|Hermyna||Silver cat / None||Celle|
* on Celle’s behalf. Circumstances prevented her attendance.
Two more points deserve mention:
Tar-Numerath was an ancient landmark associated with the Maiden. How is it, you might be thinking, that the Devotees could hold services in the Stones without getting caught? Well, the answer wasn’t simple and straightforward. Part of it was Tar-Numerath’s reputation. Even in Torval’s time, when loyalty to the Maiden wasn’t what it had been, people knew Tar-Numerath to be a supernatural place, a distinction enhanced no doubt by stories the Devotees intentionally spread. The Averchai thought it haunted, like an old manor house on Scooby–Doo, and avoided it like the plague. The Stones made them uncomfortable, giving them that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you know something bad is about to happen. They only ascended the hill when they absolutely had to, which wasn’t as often as you might think.
For everyday prayer, the Devotees stayed home or visited friends’ cellars. They only risked Tar-Numerath on the holiest of days, so the Averchai didn’t have too many chances to capture Devotees at the shrine. For important celebrations, like Jaharnaval or Crone’s Day, the faithful did attend the Stones, but several factors helped keep them safe from prying Averchai eyes. Most importantly, Averchai didn’t know when the Maiden’s holidays fell on the calendar. Too much time had passed since the Maiden was openly worshipped and the details had been forgotten by all but the faithful.
Also, it wasn’t easy to see the Stones from the city streets. The sycamores surrounding the summit were tall and thick and the Stones were inside the trees. Unless you knew what you were looking for, and when, it was hard to know when the Stones had visitors. Lastly, towards the end of Torval’s reign, Avery was responsible for drawing up the patrol schedules and he made sure to keep the Averchai away from Tar-Numerath at the appropriate times.
Hermyna did not wear a mask, nor had Cerynna or Valdynessa before her, or any of the high priestesses. Taking their cue from Drusylla, who had withstood the worst of Tormyn’s tortures, the Maiden’s high priestesses refused the mask, trusting Her to keep them safe.
When the God-Emperor first outlawed the Maiden, Drusylla, held an honored position in Tintammil as the Maiden’s high priestess. When the Maiden’s worshippers were forced into hiding, she was captured and executed, yet she remained steadfast in her faith until the bitter end. The Devotees earned their name from her bravery and every high priestess since had refused the mask.
Without a mask, you’d think it would be pretty easy to capture the high priestess, but it wasn’t. The Devotees were aptly named and none of them would knowingly betray their leader. When Belsor finally captured Hermyna, he didn’t even know who he’d caught. I have always believed, as the high priestesses did, that the Maiden helped her and those before Hermyna avoid detection. I don’t know how, the Maiden was a world away in Ardilun, but she must have had a hand in it. How else can you explain it? Hermyna and those before her went unmasked before the congregation. In all those years, you’d have thought someone would have slipped up.
Well, as you know from reading Hali’s account in The Tale, despite everything written above, in the end Tar-Numerath was not safe. Belsor raided it twice, once during Hali’s march of exile, resulting in Hermyna’s capture, and again on Crone’s Day. It is worth noting that even after the third raid, the one in the garden on Gwynnday (which by the way, was infiltrated without the conscious help of any Devotee), Hermyna’s identity remained unknown to the authorities. Even then, the Maiden protected her.