If you are reading this, I offer my congratulations. It requires uncommon character and talent to be recognized by a Chaplain and invited to begin the Trials. You have begun a great journey today, seeking knowledge that so many before you have sought and so many after will seek.
Acolytes like yourself may come from many backgrounds. While many acolytes have spent much time previously in worship and learning before being invited to join the College of Apostles, not all have. I have written this letter for all Acolytes, but especially those of uncommon character, who, although not well-read or learned in the Word of Ae, display the moral, mental, and physical fortitude that makes one worthy of apostledom but would benefit greatly from an introduction before being thrust into the Trials.
What you are likely to encounter first, and perhaps have least knowledge of, is the need to understand the function of the Temple of Ae. The Temple is the mortal extension of Ae’s will. Ae, the divine, is powerful beyond our imagining, yet she does not touch the minds of mortals—to do so would be to deny them what makes them mortal and alive. So those of us mortals who have received her light are duty-bound to act on it. And her will, given that she has remarkable power over the earth and the wind and the seas, is that we bear her message, her Word of peace and grace.
The College of Apostles is a body of people. Extremely rarely does it meet all in one place. The “College,” such as it is, is spread across the Seven Kingdoms, throughout the mighty mountain ranges, across the Throan Veld, and over the great seas. At the top of the College of Apostles, there are the Fourteen: the Seven High Apostles and the Seven Kings and Queens. It is the fondest hope of the College that more monarchs and even emperors might be added to this number. The Fourteen debate matters of the Word: how best to spread it, how to protect it, and how to see its edicts through. Yearly, they hold court with Ae herself, to perform rituals and coronations and to receive guidance.
Beneath the Seven Kings and Queens are their Chaplains, and beneath the High Apostles, their High Priests. The Chaplains and High Priests serve similar functions: to counsel their superiors and to ensure that the Word is upheld in the ranks below. The character of their service does differ slightly, however. Chaplains are often called upon to wage war. When they do, they are charged with ensuring that the war is just and conducted justly, and if so, they bring Ae’s own fire to the battlefield. The High Priests, on the other hand, are agents of peace. They bring healing and succor, no matter the circumstances. There are hundreds of Chaplains and High Priests, each answering to one of the Fourteen. The challenge of overseeing potentially dozens of agents on the part of the Fourteen has caused them to introduce certain peerages and ranks amongst their Chaplains and High Priests, but that is a topic for another time.
Beneath the Chaplains and the High Priests are the Champions and the Priests, which you are assuredly familiar with.
In introducing the Temple Hierarchy, I believe I have covered a few of the points of dogma that some acolytes find surprising or difficult. But there are a few more worth discussing.
Ae is the source of all authority in the Seven Kingdoms. She crowns the Monarchs; she vests in them their power to administer justice and raise armies. This is often a source of confusion: why does she not rule herself? Why, if their power derives from her, do they wage war against each other, as Ferrus has against Duranlach? Understanding lies in history. Ae founded the great Ivian League as a bulwark against the conquests of Hyngvaryr, and later, Os-Kedis. She raised the sword and fought against the brutality of war for its own sake. And when the war ended, the Ivian League was peaceful and prosperous. But after Os-Kedis withdrew its last armies, it was not a year before the Kings and Queens of the league were fighting amongst themselves.
Ae had thought she had conquered evil forever, but in fighting her war, she had only turned back one evil while another arose behind her back.
Ae fought against this, but the campaigns were ruinous, enervating. In time, even as Ae claimed victory after victory on the field, the alliances that formed the League fell into ruin, and Ae withdrew into mourning and contemplation. Centuries later, she returned to crown the Dawn King, and she has crowned each monarch in the Seven Kingdoms since. She, herself, has forsaken the sword, preferring instead to see that mortals rule themselves justly and ably. Mortals may fight—they may even war—but Ae herself cannot prevent this without directly touching mortal minds. Instead, she ensures a measure of justice, and has promised woe to those that betray the oaths of the coronation.
The Word of Ae can be complicated. Her world, beautiful as it is, is complicated! But her Will is that we comprehend it, we understand it, and that we live and breathe it. So we shall.
I wish you the best during your Trials. You would not have been invited if the Chaplain had not seen that you would be capable of it.