I’m a big (big, big) believer in organic world-building, by which I mean establishing the setting subtly and progressively in ways that enhance, rather than intrude upon, the story. This necessarily means that not every aspect of the setting — its history, religions, culture — will emerge within the first book. THE BLOODBOUND has quite a bit of world-building in it, but there are plenty of details that haven’t yet received page time. Chief among these is the dominant religion in the Kingdom of Alden (and its immediate neighbours), which involves worship of the Nine Virtues.
Religion doesn’t play as powerful a role in Aldenian society as it does in some of its neighbours — Onnan, say, or the Trionate of Oridia. The nobility almost universally dismiss faith as quaint, and though most do pray occasionally, it’s more a matter of tradition than genuine belief. Common folk are more devout. They revere the Nine Virtues as gods, and generally refer to them as such. Technically, though, the Virtues aren’t deities; you will never hear a priest (or an almost-priest, like Gwylim) mention “the gods”, even colloquially. Instead, the clergy refers to the Virtues, and each Virtue has its own order of priests. Needless to say, the orders compete for influence with one another, though this largely goes on beneath the surface, out of the public eye.
The Virtues may not be gods, strictly speaking, but they do exert a powerful influence on mankind. Every person is born with a dominant virtue, typically referred to as a “sign” — as in, “Let Olan be your sign”. A person’s place in the afterlife is determined by the extent to which s/he lives life in a way that pleases his or her patron Virtue. Not that it’s necessarily obvious to everyone which Virtue rules them. For some, like Alix and Rig, there’s no question: they are true children of Ardin. For most, though, it’s a matter of guesswork and soul-searching, maybe with a little spiritual guidance from a priest. Each Holy Virtue rules over a Domain, and each Domain has both a heaven and a hell. The nature of these Domains, of their heavens and hells, is a matter of fierce debate among the clergy.
So, what are the Nine Virtues?
In no particular order, they are:
Rahl (Strength) Symbol: the sun. Also associated with power, leadership.
Olan (Courage) Symbol: the moon. Also associated with determination.
Eldora (Wisdom) Symbol: the all-seeing eye. Also associated with temperance, experience.
Destan (Honour) Symbol: the stag. Also associated with duty, integrity.
Farika (Grace) Symbol: folded hands. Also associated with mercy.
Ardin (Passion) Symbol: the flame. Also associated with impetuousness, temper, boldness.
Hew (Wit) Symbol: the crow. Also associated with guile, cleverness.
Garvin (Empathy) Symbol: tears. Also associated with respect, compassion, generosity.
Gilene (Faith) Symbol: the star. Also associated with loyalty, truth.
Rahl and Olan occupy a special place within the pantheon. These twin brothers patrol the heavens defending against the dragon, a celestial creature that seeks to destroy the world. Rahl watches by day with his flaming scourge, Olan by night with his battered shield. The dragon passes over the world in regular cycles; as it nears, Olan raises his shield, and so mankind’s view of it goes from a sliver of profile to its full face. These times are the most dangerous, and common folk do not like to be abroad. It is also considered an ill omen when Olan’s shield is visible during the day, as it means the brothers have doubled the watch.
If you’re interested in seeing the symbols of some of the Virtues, they’re right there to the left of the page, based on the stained glass windows in the oratorium of the royal palace.
So there you are. And yes, there will be a quiz later.