Chapter 4:

White Crows

Through the Christmas Glass

“Sleep for a few hours bosu; we have some way to walk and you'll need your strength. We will not return to my place because the Bigot Mob found out where I live and will surely be watching it.
Curufinwë has eyes everywhere. Due to your little... ‘adventure’ last night we will have to visit Cardinal Laicolassë a bit earlier than planned. So go on then, sleep! I will keep watch.”

Kuro had just eaten his black rabbit with the Vulcan-ish blood. It was fine for breakfast, but he would have killed for some yummy steamy rice to accompany it. Beggars can't be choosers though.

“Thank you kindly Laura, I am dead tired and sleepy and I think I need at least 6 hours of sleep to fully recover. Please?”
“You have 4 hours bosu. In 4 hours sharp we depart. You're losing sleep time already,” Kuro pouted but Laura did not seem to care.

“Why do we need to walk all day to reach Minas... however the Cardinal's city is called? Can't you teleport us there instead? You can do that, that's how you brought me here!”

“I could Master Kuro, but I no longer have a way to focus that kind of magic. While I was pursuing your hunters I tripped and cracked my wand crystal,” she pointed to the purple gem of her wand.

“I can perform simpler magic spells without it, but teleportation magic needs to be focused precisely with a magic crystal or we might end up having an extra hot bath in the lava of an active volcano. I'm going to have it replaced at the Church of Diversity, our destination. Sleep now, the way to Minas Táril is long and full of perils.”

Kuro mumbled something but then he finally got to sleep. He was dead asleep in just a few minutes. He had a deep and dream-less sleep. No Blue Santas, violet grasses or glasses full of pitch black milk haunted his dreams.

“.........Bosu.... bosu... wake up!”
“..sigh... wake up bosu or I'll throw water on you again!”
“Let me sleep a bit more mom... It's Christmas...”

“I'm not your mother and I have no idea what Christmas is. Yesterday it was Samtsirch Day. Is that what you mean?”
‘Even the holiday names are reversed? Who the frack thought of that?’ Kuro thought.

“Samtsirch Day?! Kami-sama... What on the Goddess of Anime's name is that? It sounds like an anagram of Christmas made up by a 5-year old.”
“We have no Goddess of Anime either; what kind of Goddess is she?” Laura seemed curious.

“She is one of the highest ranked Goddesses of our world. For some she is even higher ranked than her sister, the Goddess of Manga, but for most she is second ranked.

They both keep us entert... er... happy  when we need it most. Particularly after a hard day's work.”
It was unclear if Kuro was pulling Laura's leg or if he was telling her about his world using concepts she would understand.

“They both sound very interesting, I hope I'll be able to summon them one day. But for now we need to get going bosu. If we stay here longer Curufinwë's men will catch up to us, and this time they will bring reinforcements!”

“Fine, we'll go. Just after I do my... thing. You know, nature calls,” Laura looked puzzled. “You know, the thing you do after you drink a lot,” Laura nodded and pointed him to a clearing in the woods close by.

While Kuro was walking toward the clearing he noticed two snow-white birds. At first he didn't recognize their species, but they seemed familiar. When he got a bit closer he realized they were crows. They almost looked surreal in the black snow, like someone splashed some white paint on it to disrupt its uniform blackness.

‘I suppose even Snow White will be called Snow Black here,’ he chuckled.

When the birds took a better look at Kuro they seemed like they were startled and both flew away.
“Even animals are scared of how I look,” he whispered moodily. “So what chance is there for the Bigot Species?”

Kuro completed his business and got swiftly back to Laura. They were on the road to Minas Táril before Kuro had the chance to breath a word about the birds. Laura was clearly in a hurry; she wanted to put some distance between them and Curufinwë's dogs.

She knew that he had more powerful men under his employ, a couple of whom were powerful mages, but she did not want to upset Kuro yet. He needed to be calm and focused for his goddess summoning ritual. If all went well tomorrow morning Cardinal Laicolassë already would start training him. But they needed to get to him in one piece first.

“Hey Laura, talk a bit more about your world. You said yesterday that both rival churches operate in the same country, Ambarussa. That your country is very large, almost half the Continent in size. And that the neighboring smaller countries do not represent any real threat; that your problems are internal. What else?”

“The key issue that you need to understand is the strife between the two churches. It has been like this for centuries. We are one country with one King and two predominant religions. Each Church is run by an Archbishop, and both have the ear of King Entulessë. Each Archbishop tries to outsmart and outcompete the other for greatest influence on the King.

However when Entulessë rose to the throne he took an oath to be religiously neutral. He supports neither Church - or both equally. That oath was designed by his great-great-great-grandfather King Finwë in order to prevent a civil war.

Which is why the Archbishops and their men are explicitly forbidden from having any contact with the princes and princesses. King Finwë realized that the Archbishops would try to flip the royal family if the King or Queen themselves were unmoved.  So he signed a royal decree forbidding them or their men to talk to the royal heirs; under penalty of death.

Kuro was intrigued. He was a Tolkien fan beside being an anime & manga fan, and this high fantasy political stuff excited him.
“Wow, King Finwë was not messing around was he? Was anyone ever executed for talking to the royal family? And what about the population? Which is the largest religion in terms of number of faithful?”

“No, he was not. Only once was that law broken. A royal guard caught the right hand man -a powerful Cardinal- of the Archbishop of the Church of Diversity sneaking into the Crown Prince's chambers.

That was two kings before our current king. He had cloaked himself with magic, but royal guards can see behind most cloaks; they are well-trained in most forms of magic, and they're spy magic specialists.

The guard eavesdropped outside the door of the Prince -King Entulessë's father- and heard the Cardinal talk to the Prince. The Prince told him to go away but he did not listen.

The guard entered the Prince's chamber and arrested the Cardinal on the spot. After a quick trial the Cardinal was hanged. He claimed that the Archbishop did not command this and was unaware of his actions.

However when the Archbishop was interrogated, with the aid of the Goddess of Truth, it was disclosed that he ordered the Cardinal to talk to the Prince. Hence he was hanged as well. This was the darkest and most shameful chapter in the history of our Church.

Even today it is considered a taboo to utter the name of that Archbishop,” Kuro noticed that Laura's face got a bit darker toward the end. Was she... anti-blushing?

“As for the number of faithful it is roughly split equally between the two Churches. So, at that level, the two religions are in check as well.” Kuro wondered if Laura employed a chess or shogi analogy or if her magic translation glitched a bit.

“That is quite intriguing stuff. I wonder if I'm meant to restore the balance of the for... er... Churches or something. And how on Earth am I supposed to do that when you're at each other's throats for centuries. Anyway, will we go directly to Minas Táril?”
they reached a stream and filled their flasks with water. The water was very cool and crystal clear. Beyond the stream a crossroad could be seen.

“No, we will make a stop at Opelë village first. We both need to have some proper lunch and rest. It is not very far from here; it's a slight detour but we have no other choice. We will also buy two horses there so that we reach the city of Táril faster. Can you ride a horse?”

“Nope, I have no idea. I have only seen horses on TV,” Kuro said.

One horse then. It will take us a couple of hours more but it's OK.” Kuro nodded.

Kuro and Laura found a spot of the stream that was narrower and jumped over it to get to the other side. It appeared Laura used magic to jump a longer distance and so her feet remained dry.
Not Kuro's though, who landed in the water and cursed silently. Then they reached the crossroad and took its right path, which led to Opelë village.