Monasteries did not impress High Priest Raja. Oh, he saw their necessity. The Dezolian priest had, after all, stood in battle against the Profound Darkness itself, the source of the demon-plague that had assailed the Algo Solar System each millennium. There was evil in the world, and the Church sometimes was called upon to fight it in hand-to-hand combat. Hence, the white-robed monks and nuns, who were honed by an ascetic, intensive training regimen into experts in battle, with will and body both steel-strong. He had no objection to the Church's militant arm.
It was all just so...boring.
There was such a dreadful earnestness about it. Everyone from masters to novices seemed to work every waking hour, whether it was at prayer, at training, or at labor. Religion was serious business for the monasteries, and it would take an act of Heaven itself, it seemed, to get one to smile.
As High Priest of the demesne, Raja was obliged to make regular inspection visits to the sole monastery under his supervision. It generally required several hours of prayer to steel his spirit for the experience—and several cups of wine.
That was another problem with the monastery. If there was a wine-jug in the place, it had probably gone sour from all the grim faces.
Abbot Rith never seemed to notice Raja's displeasure on these visits, or if he did he considered the old priest to be one more trial to grimly endure in the name of faith.
"No doubt you will want to observe the training procedures," Rith said near the end of the tour.
"I'm glad you have no doubts, since I have enough for us both, but lead on. A priest must be strong in the face of adversity."
The training hall was the largest room in the entire monastery. In the giant chamber, its stone floor nearly concealed by woven mats, groups of monks practiced in handfighting and weapons combat. Here a squad of novices trained in forms, there two monks sparred with long, leaf-bladed spears. Grips and throws were practiced, swords and knives wielded, and training bouts carefully studied, all under the watchful eyes of the green-sashed tutors. Raja's eye quickly picked out a tall, thick-set figure wearing a double sash.
"Your training-master is new," he observed, "and I don't recall seeing him in a lesser role before, either."
"You remember the trainers, Your Eminence?" Rith was surprised.
"I never forget a face here. I try and try, but the suffering etches them into my brain. Who is he?"
"That is Prior Yu, Eminence."
"I'm not a Prior, and I'm standing right here," Raja joked.
"Not 'you,' Your Eminence, Yu. His name is Yu," the abbot said with heavy disapproval. He'd have a great career in comedy if he ever gave up the Church, Raja decided. Good straight men were very hard to find.
"So who is this Yu? He looks nearly as old as I am, so he can't be some prodigy jumped up from the novices."
"He was assigned here specifically by Bishop Ngangbius himself, Your Eminence. The Bishop seemed to believe that Prior Yu would add something to our training methods that has been lacking."
"I see. Well, let's go and see what the Bishop thinks Yu has that you don't."
Prior Yu was facing a semicircle of monks. In their twenties and thirties, his pupils were clearly past their novitiate, senior students.
"You just aren't getting it," he told them in a deep voice. "In battle you must always focus on the essentials. The rest is meaningless, wind and illusion to be ignored. Look, let's try a demonstration. Vitel, step forward."
One of the older monks came out from the circle and bowed his head respectfully. Prior Yu held out his right hand.
"This is a very old test my master used to give his students. Try to snatch this pebble from my open palm."
"Try to grab the stone before I can close my hand, Vitel. That's it."
The monk shrugged, then steadied himself, focusing intently on Prior Yu's hand. Suddenly, he moved, and in a blur of speed he plucked the round blue stone from the master's right palm.
The master's left hand clouted him upside the head and knocked him over backwards.
"You see? When you give all your attention to one meaningless point, you end up looking like a fool!"
"I like him," Raja noted.