"In Cayden's name, I bless this brew. May it give strength to the weak and solace to the weary."
Jeddah Cailean tore a piece of bread off the loaf under his arm and tossed it into the vat of cooled barley tea before him. He then picked up a small barrel containing the last dregs of a previous batch of finished ale, swirled some water in it, and dumped it in as well.
"Father, why do we mix the dregs with the new?" asked Gantren, Jed's twelve-year-old son. "Isn't that ale stale?"
Jed eyed his son up and down with a smile. He'd been learning the trade for only a short while now, and always had a question in him. That's good—Cayden teaches his people to question everything, after all. Jed could see his lanky, blond-haired son would be a very good questioner, and hopefully his successor one day.
"These dregs contain drops of the ale before it, and the ale before that one, and so on. Why, this could have a bit of the very same brew that Cayden himself drank the night he ascended to godhood!" Jed said. "It's that connection... that's Cayden's blessing. Without the dregs, it would take forever to ferment, if at all. The ale needs to know where it came from."
"And the bread? Is that part of the blessing, too?"
"No, Gant, that's just me trying to get it to ferment faster, because I've got a temple to run and thirsty patrons who want to celebrate the god's bounty," Jed said. "Now, head on downstairs and help your mother. We're opening in a bit."
Gantren nodded and, taking care not to disturb anything, left the room. Cayden's Rest, a temple of Cayden Cailean in Augustana, was a sprawling affair full of comings and goings. But this room, where the vats of barley tea were transformed into ale, had to be kept in a very specific state, free of outside influences. It was the heart of any Caydenite brew-temple, and it had just the right mix of protection from the elements, fresh air, and musty cobwebs needed to create the best ales.
Yes, the cobwebs were important. Jed's adoptive father—an orphan himself and the temple's former priest—had told of a time when one of his predecessors had cleaned the Chamber of Cayden's Blessings after several decades. The ales made thereafter went from exemplary to pedestrian, and thus the chamber was never cleaned again.
A wizard friend once speculated to Jed that the resulting mold and dust in the room could lend flavor to the brews. Personally, Jed simply assumed Cayden was a slob, bless his name.
With a final, silent prayer, Jed left the chamber and walked through the rest of the brewhouse. It was a large warehouse, lined with barrels both empty and full, along with the fireplaces and vats used to make the barley tea. Sacks of grain and hops were stored on lofts in the high-ceilinged room so as to better discourage vermin.
Jed paused by the casks nearest the door, scanning the shorthand markings chalked on the wood. He quickly counted backward, away from the door, and made a few scribblings in the small notebook he kept in his pocket. They were running low on the dark ale, and they might have to go a few days without the amber next month. The last of the past year's wheat beer would probably be gone within a week.
Some days, it seemed winter wouldn't arrive fast enough. And that reminded him to send Gant down to the market for cinnamon and cloves from the spice vendors. People seemed to like that in cold weather, for whatever reason. Another note, and then the notebook and pencil returned to his pocket.
Jed pushed open the doors leading from the brewhouse to the kitchen, where a couple of workers were busy chopping vegetables. They waved eagerly at the priest, and Jed said a very quick blessing over them. The workers were destitute, and like most of Augustana's poor, they knew that there was always a chance for work at Cayden's Rest. Aside from Jed and his family, the workers were almost all beggars and orphans. Jed paid a fair wage and offered a place to sleep in the brewhouse lofts. More than a few former workers at the Rest had gone on to better things, which made Jed proud.
Finally, in the main temple area—which the uninformed might mistake for a large tavern—Jed found his wife setting up tables with Gantren. Before he could speak, Maeve Cailean launched into business. "Deggin stopped by with your hops while you were in the chamber, love," she said, pointing to a large burlap sack in the corner. "Good crop. Smells like lemon and pine."
Jed rushed over and, bending over the bag, inhaled. "Oh, that's nice. Deggin's hops are the best this side of Almas." He lifted the bag over his shoulder, sagging slightly under the weight. "Might add some to the next batch. Maybe at the ten-minute mark? Or five?"
Jed tromped to the back of the temple, muttering to himself and leaving Maeve smiling and shaking her head after him.
Cayden's Rest was a joyful cacophony that night. Sailors fresh from plying the Inner Sea came to celebrate dry land once more, and several of them were funded by a small group of bankers from the Forester's Endowments—someone's ship had, quite literally, come in. Then there were the locals and regulars, along with the rural folk who had brought their harvest to market, and the small, huddled groups of armed and armored strangers—adventurers, no doubt, and perhaps a Pathfinder or two.
While Maeve managed the kitchen, ales, and servers, Jed wandered among the revelers and drinkers. He toasted their successes, bestowed Cayden's blessings on those who wished it, and occasionally mediated a dispute so that it would not come to blows. Brawling wasn't forbidden in the temple-tavern, of course—Cayden himself loved a good bout—but it was ultimately bad for business.
Then there were the harder cases. Jed convinced one regular that, yes, he really ought to make amends to his wife for the past night's drunkenness, and another that her shop's lack of profit was ill-served by the woman finding the bottom of her fourth tankard that night. Occasionally, Jed would point to the Placard of Wisdom hanging on the wall by the hearth, hoping the simple messages there might help those in need.
All in all, it was a fine night. Until the screaming started.
One of the serving women was the first to let loose with a shrill cry of terror. Jed quickly turned and reached for the dagger at his belt—enough of a precaution, he felt—and saw an armored man staggering in the center of the room, his hands clutching at his throat. Then a gout of blood burst forth from between his fingers, spraying the patrons all around him.
Then the man collapsed.
Jed rushed over, shouting for everyone to clear out of his way. He knew Maeve would immediately stop serving, call the watch, and summon the strongest workers from the brew-temple, leaving Jed to attempt to heal the wounded man. Jed slid to his knees next to the prone man and started praying.
"Cayden, hear me. Harm has come to one under your roof. Send your power through me and bind his wound before it's too late," Jed whispered, closing his eyes and laying his hands over the man's bloodied body. Cayden Cailean was not one for rote prayer.
Unfortunately, Jed was indeed too late, or Cayden was. Either way, the man's hands slid from his throat as he breathed his last.
The stranger had been slit ear to ear. A deft cut, and one that apparently went unseen by anyone else around the poor sod; otherwise, there'd be a massive brawl going on right now.
"Lock the doors and summon the guard!" Jed bellowed. He turned a woman crouching next to him and the dead man, and chanced the question regardless: "What did you see?"
"Nothing," said the woman, a half-elf with a distressed look on her face. "A flash. A bit of shadow. And then Rafe gasped and got up and started bleeding. He's dead?"
"Afraid so." Jed placed a hand on her shoulder in solace. "I'm so sorry. You knew him?"
She nodded as a tear fell down her cheek. "We'd been companions a while. Our priest. Lots of jobs. This... this is no way to go."
A large man in light chainmail knelt down next to them. "Nothing. No track, no trace. Not even so much as a blood spatter."
Jed looked up and saw a half-orc wearing the regalia of an Eagle Knight of Andoran. "You sure? There's a lot of blood here."
The half-orc frowned. "My friend is dead, priest."
"I meant no offense," Jed said quickly. "Just surprised. Maybe they used a spell to cloak themselves."
Jed rose and walked over to Maeve, who stood looking worried behind the bar. "The watch is on the way. The boys aren't letting anyone out." She took his hand. "This isn't just a brawl, is it, love?"
"No, this is far worse," Jed said. "This was murder."
An hour later, the watch had come in and cleared the tavern, questioning the thirty or so people therein. Nobody had seen anything, of course. It was a thorough job, and the watch commander seemed doubtful about finding the murderer.
"They're questers," the commander said, nodding toward the half-orc and half-elf, who sat in the middle of the now-empty room staring silently into half-full tankards. "Likely went afoul of someone who carried a grudge."
Jed nodded. "I've fifty gold to use for reward money," he offered. "Will that help?"
The commander smiled sadly. "This was a professional job. Doubt any reward will help."
Once the commander and his men left, Jed went over to the two adventurers and took a seat, placing fresh ale before them. "I'm so very sorry," he said quietly. "No one has ever defiled the temple like this."
The woman took the ale and quaffed half of it in one go. "Yeah, well, they just did. And Rafe just paid the price. You need better protection, tavern-keeper."
The half-orc reached over and whacked her on the arm gently—mostly gently. "Show respect, Silvestrae. This is a priest of Cayden Cailean, and his temple has suffered as well in this."
She shoved the knight's hand aside. "Yeah, well, we suffered more, Corogan. We'd been together, the three of us, for, what... four years? And now we have to head back to Almas with our tails between our legs."
"We are not heading back," Corogan said. "We must continue with our mission."
"Without a priest," she said dully. "That's going to go really well. This is the Nogortha Necropolis we're talking about. We need someone who can turn undead."
A sinking feeling stirred in Jed's gut, and he reluctantly looked over toward the Placard of Wisdom on the wall, as if it were eyeing him back.
Then he went and opened his mouth, knowing he'd come to regret it.
"What do you mean you're going with them?" Maeve said late that night, once all the revelers were dispersed and she and Jed had retired to their room above the main temple. "When's the last time you even left Augustana?"
Jed stood, hands on his hips. "I went to the fair two years ago!"
Maeve's eyes flared wide as she sat up in bed. "That is not exactly a quest with an Eagle Knight and some half-elf tart. I know, Jed. I did that sort of thing once, before I met you and settled down. I like being settled down. I thought you did, too. When have you not been settled down?"
"It's not about liking, or even wanting," Jed said, his defensive stance sloughing off into a slouch. "This... this is what Cayden is all about. Yeah, he's about ale and revelry and helping the unfortunate. But he's also about adventure and being spontaneous. We're talking about someone who became a god on a drunken whim—and he demands that kind of spirit from all his followers."
With a sigh, Maeve slumped back down under the covers. "Look, I love you, Jed, but your religion's tenets are written on a placard. A placard that hangs in a tavern we call a temple. I can't..." Maeve's voice caught, and she angrily wiped away a tear. "I don't want to lose you. And let's face it, you're in no shape for weeks on the road and fighting undead."
Jed sat on the bed next to her and smiled. "Thankfully, I can just turn them, right? I'm a cleric of Cayden Cailean, one of the greatest forces of good in the world. I can do this."
"But you don't have to," she replied. "You really don't."
"No, I don't. And that's exactly why I have to."
Jed stood over the trunk that had been stored in the attic for years, the key in his hand. Long had he feared that opening the chest would release pure chaos into his world. And yet...
He set the candle down on the floor and worked the key into the lock. The chest opened with a stubborn groan, and a musty smell filled Jed's nostrils. He pulled out an old, heavy cloak—the vermin hadn't gotten to it, it seemed—and a battered but still-whole backpack. Three vials of clear liquid followed, and Jed couldn't remember if they were holy water or potions.
Then there was the chain shirt, which seemed to catch every bit of the guttering candlelight. And the rapier, of course. Jed grasped the hilt and pulled it partially out of the scabbard. The blade gave off a soft blue-white light of its own.
These were his father's things, garnered from years of questing and exploring and generally being a ne'er-do-well on behalf of a drunken god. Jed's father ultimately had settled down and taken over the Rest, but Jed loved his father's tales by the fire.
The gleaming shirt had been a gift from the dwarves of the Five Stone Mountains in honor of his father's valor in battle against orcs. The rapier—one that heightened its wielder's accuracy considerably—was from a cache kept by a tribe of hill-dwelling giants somewhere... else. Jed couldn't remember.
He sheathed the blade and dropped it into the chest. "I can't believe I'm doing this," he muttered. "Dammit, Cayden. Is this a test? Some sort of trial? A bloody joke?"
The darkness around him didn't yield an answer. He didn't expect one from Cayden anyway.
Coming Next Week: Menace in the foothills in Chapter Two of Michael J. Martinez's "Crisis of Faith."
Michael J. Martinez is the author of the Daedalus trilogy of Napoleonic space opera novels, the most recent of which, The Venusian Gambit, came out in May. He also has short stories in the forthcoming anthologies Cthulhu Fhtagn! and Unidentified Funny Objects 4. Visit him online at michaeljmartinez.net.
Illustration by Marek Madej.