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When I was designing this book, I knew I wanted a religious antagonist. Actually, the idea for the Derethi religion was one of the very fist conceptual seeds for this novel. I've always been curious about the relationship between the Catholic church and the Roman empire. While Rome itself has declined greatly in power, the church that grew within it–almost as a side-effect–has become one of the dominant forces in the world. I wondered what would happen if an empire decided to do something like this intentionally.
The early Derethi leaders, then, were a group who realized the problems with the Old Fjordell Empire. It collapsed upon itself because of bureaucratic problems. The Old Empire was faced with rebellions and wars, and never managed to become stable. The Derethi founders realized the power of religion. They decided that if they could get the nations of the East to believe in a single religion–with that religion centered in Fjorden–they would have power equal to, or even greater than, the power of the Old Empire. At the same time, they wouldn’t have to worry about rebellion–or even bureaucracy. The people of the other nations would govern themselves, but would give devotion, loyalty, and money to Fjorden.
So, these men appropriated the teachings of Shu-Dereth and mixed them with some mythology from the Fjordell Old Empire. The resulting hybridization, added to the Fjordell martial work ethic, created an aggressive, intense religion–yet one that was "constructed" with a logical purpose in mind. The Fjordell priests spent the next few centuries converting and building their power base. The result was the New Empire–an empire without governments or armies, yet far more powerful than the Old Empire ever was.
I've only mentioned Gragdets a couple of places. Hrathen never thinks much about them, since he doesn't consider them part of the traditional Derethi structure. In truth, they aren't–but they do have authority over a Gyorn in their own small sphere. I don't think that the reader needs to understand the entire social structure of the religion, however. Hrathen understands what is happening, and knows that he should probably let himself be under Dilaf's authority. That should be enough for most readers.
Hrathen's conditioning is manifesting here. We've always seen him as the leader of the area, but he spent many years as a lesser priest beneath other leaders. In the Derethi religion, you do what you're told by your betters. As soon as it is established that Dilaf is in charge, Hrathen's training would force him to become a follower.
You should notice the comments about unity popping up in religious scenes throughout the book. Omin spoke of it before, and Hrathen often thinks–or mentions–the concept. When designing the religions of this book, I really wanted them to feel authentic. If you look at our own world, one thing is obvious (I think) about the way major religions work. They always fragmented–different sects of the same teachings often rise up and squabble with each other. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity share obvious links. In a similar way, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other eastern religions share some common roots.
So, in designing the Korathi and Derethi churches, I decided to give them a common ancestor–Shu-Keseg. All three religions came from the teachings of a single Jindoeese man. (You might note that the word "Shu," as used in connection with Shu-Korath and Shu-Dereth, doesn't seem to fit the linguistic styles of Aonic or Fjordell. This is an intentional reference to the Jindoeese commonality of their origin.)
The central tenet of Keseg's teachings was unity, and his followers began to squabble about what he meant by "Unity." Hence we have the loving, inclusive Korathi; the aggressive, expansionist Derethi; and the contemplative, didactic Jindoeese.
Of course, Jesker and the Mysteries are a completely different religious line. We'll get more into them later. . . .