Siggurd held his sword to the statuette of the false goddess, preparing to dash it to pieces. The goddess gazed back, sorrow in her painted eyes. Her shattered temple sparkled all around but this last act of destruction froze Siggurd.
He heard the words of Father Ulrich, beaten into Siggurd during his year as an acolyte. Idols. False icons. They must all be destroyed. And it was true this goddess meant nothing to Siggurd. Still he hesitated. Perhaps it was simply the beauty of the statuette, the elegant lines of the brushwork. Perhaps simply the thought of all the hours that had gone into making it.
A life can turn on the smallest detail. So it was with Siggurd then, although he didn’t know it.
“Siggurd? Why do you not strike?”
Horst, his fellow acolyte, slashed at tapestries with his sword, reducing them to tattered shreds. He watched Siggurd, suspicion on his face. Siggurd could think of only one thing to say.
“I’m praying to Aednir. To consecrate the act.”
Horst looked unconvinced. Secretly, Siggurd envied his tall, broad-shouldered companion. Horst was never racked with doubts. He didn’t see the beauty of the temple. Didn’t see the gold filigree of the prayer-screens or the glasswork of the windows aglow with sunlight. This was a hushed place of glints and sheens, the air thick with sweet smoke from the swinging brass thuribles, and Siggurd secretly delighted in it all.
“Smash it,” said Horst. “Smash it now, then grind the unholy fragments into dust beneath your heel.”
Siggurd swung his sword. The statuette blossomed into a thousand fragments of brightly-painted plaster.
When they had finished their work, the two acolytes walked quietly from the ruined temple. Siggurd could still taste the dust of the shattered statuette in his mouth. He pulled his brown hood over his face so he couldn’t be identified. The temple’s entrance had been well hidden, down a meandering alley in the slums of Armon. Now the locals lined the dusty lane. None spoke or tried to stop them. They outnumbered the two acolytes thousands to one, could have torn them limb-from-limb. None of them moved. Siggurd noticed the restraining hands of more than one elder on the shoulders of younger, fiercer men. These people might not believe in Aednir but they knew what would happen if an agent of Aednir came to harm. Only the sharp looks in their eyes as Siggurd and Horst walked by showed their true feelings.