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The Council of Elders
At the top of the religious hierarchy, just beneath the Calipha herself, sits the Council of Elders. By tradition, members of the Council are not selected by the Calipha, but elected by the ranks of priestesses beneath them. Once instated, an Elder serves for the rest of her life-neither retirement nor dismissal is possible. (For this reason, Elders found to be 'impure' are almost always put to death, though such a thing has not occurred for hundreds of years.)
The Elders have final say on all matters concerning religious interpretation, and inclusion of commentary within the Tomes. Their word is final, and none may contradict it; however, they have been known to change their minds on rare occasions.
Although they serve the Calipha, the Council's independence is jealously guarded, and conflict between the two has been known to occur. In particular, the strong influence of the Yildun upon the Council can encourage the Calipha's opposition in order to maintain balance. The formation of the Great Family of the Zaniah, for instance, is a case in which neither the Calipha nor the Council contradicted the other's ruling, although the goals of both sides were most definitely at odds.
Known for the strictness of their rulings and their adherence to the Theopneustic Tomes, cases decided before these four elders are likely to be treated harshly, and defendants shown little mercy, even in extenuating circumstances.
Probably the most strict of the Elders, Tamara al Yildun hails from the city-state of Asalah. She specialises in matters of Demonology and the punishment of those who seek after Forbidden Lore. Her interpretation of scripture is strict, accurate, and to-the-letter, and her punishments are severe. Among the populace, she's known as the 'burning woman' or the 'stoning woman.'
She is known to despise Lady Quotana the Wise, as it was Elder Tamara who sought to have the Lady's sister executed for meddling in Demonology. When she was punished instead with 're-education' by the Yildun, a great many people suspected that Elder Tamara made 'retraining' much more painful than it might normally be. Others, however, point out that the lady is known to be harsh but fair, and argue that no defendent receives one iota more from her than she would dole out to anyone else...
Elder Tamara is old indeed, perhaps near death. On the other hand, she has shown no signs of illness or infirmity in old age...
Elder Hikisha, sometimes known as 'Mother Hikisha', is the scourge of straying husbands and the friend of wronged wives. It is known that, long ago, her first husband was unfaithful to her, and she executed both her wife and the lover herself. Immediately thereafter she abandonned married life for the chastity of the Priestesshood.
Not only an Elder but a sorceress of considerable merit, Elder Hikisha specialises in judgements to do with marriage and betrothal. There are whispers (but only whispers) that before her tragedy she was a light and carefree soul. It is hard to believe this, given her permanently dour expression.
Elder Katina, a quiet, mousy woman who rose to the highest levels of her calling through study and piety rather than political acumen, mastered ritual and protocol ages ago. It is she who leads the Elders in important ceremonies, and who keeps the calendar for important religious events.
Her judgements are normally non-controversial, and perhaps not as strict as Tamara or Hikisha. It is said that she votes with her fellow Yildun in the Council more out of convenience than conviction.
The only 'hardline' Elder not of the Yildun family, Masheela's doctrinaire approach to religion can be ascribed to her scholasticism. It's said that she knows the Theopneustic Tomes backwards and forewards, in any edition. The cruel point out that this might be because she lacks original ideas, but others point to her lively and humourous mind: in one trial, she made it through an entire day speaking nothing but quotations from the Tomes.
Elder Katina's speciality is case law--the other Priestesses are almost certain to consult her if matters of history or prior judgement are under consideration.
The moderates take a more nuanced approach to the Shaliquar faith, and are more likely to find 'loopholes' in the Tomes or make decisions without reference to them. They are largely opposed by the Yildun (and less so by the traditionalist Ash-Kenz).
The most popular and outspoken of the Elders, Lady Kallata has often shown mercy and kindness where other Elders would merely have meted out punishment. Often a lone voice in meetings of the Elders, her nickname 'the Courageous' has become a commonplace among the people for her willingness to face down the Yildun. Her theological style, while not quite heretical, has strayed that way at times, and she rarely quotes from the Tomes. "We know only the chapters already written, and must write the rest of them ourselves," she is fond of saying.
Unlike many of the Elders, relations between Kallata and the Court are more than cordial. She is known to be a good friend of Calipha Adara and the chess partner of Grand Vizier Abdul Kabar.
Lady Magdala is the most unpredictable of the Council, and the rumours around the city are that she votes seemingly at random. Cases that come before her often rest upon some characteristic of the defendant which appears, at least at first, to be perfectly at random. Her 'eccentricity' is heightened by her habit of carrying a small model of the Great Temple on her back at all times...
Some of her rulings have, indeed, never been explained. Then again, there is the tale of the three men brought before her, one of whom had stolen from the Calipha, while the other two were innocent. She told each to walk into the courtyard, wash their hands, and pray to Shaliq for guidance after laying their hands on the sacred disc in the Courtyard. They came back in and each again denied the theft. She then sentenced one of them to death, telling him he had 'clean hands and a dirty soul.'
Many objected, as the punishment was far more strict than one would receive for normal thievery. On this occasion Magdala relented and explained herself: both of the other men had dust on their fingers, where their freshly-washed hands had touched the stone disc. The guilty man, afraid to pray to Shaliq, could not bring himself to touch the disc, and so had clean hands. He was executed not for thieving, but for lying to Elder Magdala.
Lady Quotana is most famous for the case in which her sister, Amma, was brought before her accused of consorting with demons. The evidence was gathered and presented, and in the end Quotana determined that her sister had been led astray by others, and never actually practiced Demonology--she was thus suitable for redemption through religious training at the hands of the Yildun. The ruling was sternly opposed by the Yildun elders, but in this case Masheela sided against them, and Amma was handed to Elder Tamara for training. Almost five years ago this way, and Amma has not been seen publicly since.
Second in age only to Tamara, Lady Quotana the Wise bears the reputation for being calm and unflappable at all times. She is well-beloved of by the Izar, and by the common people of Shalazar, but her distaste for the strict pieties of the Yildun, and her antipathy towards Elder Tamara, are well known.