A priest ponders the inscription on an ancient artifact (flash).
The young groom jumped and the bride nearly dropped her posy. But at least the giggling and the sideways glances stopped. Behind them in the dim body of the church the congregation shifted restlessly and a baby began to cry.
"If we might continue? Thank-you."
He took a deep breath.
"Do you Michael Nachtag take this woman Candy Altenberger..."
The intonation of the the familiar formula occupied but part of his mind. Another part scrutinised the young people. Smartly dressed yes but no manners. Their faces were unfamiliar. That was the problem these days, he reflected. So many strange people since the new mill opened, coming in from the country to find work. The pace of life made ever faster by all this new technology and machines.
And these two? Were they of the faith? Or were they marrying simply for the economic benefits that status brought?
The couple spoke their vows and with that the climax of the ceremony was attained.
"And now you shall partake of the sacred sharing of the water..."
Agara turned to the altar and crossed himself. His trembling arm extended and grasped the holy vessel. As always he marvelled at the workmanship. What modern artisan could fashion such a thing?
A type of ivory perhaps? A material pure and white and thin as eggshell yet strong and unbreakable.
And what of the strange but beautiful symbols, undecipherable marks made in the old lost tongue? Another insoluble mystery.
He dipped the vessel in the stone font snd a stray sunbeam from one of the narrow windows glinted on the pure clear water. Hesitantly he passed the cup to the groom who drank.
Really it made no sense, he thought, to allow the laity to handle such a holy relic, a thing whose secrets belonged to a lost an ancient age.
The groom passed it to the bride, who also drank. Agara took it back and gave a silent prayer of thanks.
He nodded to the choirmaster and the choir launched enthusiastically into the final hymn, Gloria in rem fictam.
When they had filed out, he entered the vestry, pulled on his rough cotton shirt and trousers and slipped away by a small side door. Outside the wedding party were throwing rice and they didn't look his way. He walked down towards the port. The air smelt of fresh pinewood and in the distance he heard hammers pounding. The march of progress might have its downside but still there was something uplifting about all this building. The town must have doubled in size since he was a boy.
How many people lived here now? Almost too many to imagine. Two hundred? Three hundred?
He sat on a bench and watched a boat unload its cargo into a truck. In a few minutes it trundled off up the dusty street. It was one of the new ones that seemed to be everywhere these days. The oxen were hardly breaking a sweat, not like with the old sleds. What did they call those round things underneath it? Wheels?
The question of the inscription still hung in his mind. If only, he thought, we could retrieve that ancient lost wisdom then we might truly walk as gods. He blushed at such a heretical idea. But still his mind returned to those mysterious symbols that he knew at once so well and yet understood not at all. He pictured them in his minds eye.
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