Religion is uniform over the whole Karningplain (the area of the plains covered by Karnings, and ruled from the Ring). The Word of the Gods was first brought by people from the northern coast, some four hundred years ago. There were numerous Petty Kingdoms in existence then, and one by one the kings were converted to the new religion (before that there were numerous different faiths). When all the Petty Kingdoms had converted, and the Word of the Gods had been brought even into the Ring, a new calendar was declared. The story opens in calendar year 205 of the Word of the Gods.
There are nine Gods, and worship consists of reciting from the book containing the Word of the Gods. Each God has responsibility for some aspect of life, so each plant, animal or inanimate form or type of weather falls under the domain of one of them. Every day, and every hour of each day, is assigned a section of the book to be read repeatedly, and a type of incense to be burned, and an arrangement of bells to be sounded.
Temples are round, and every settlement has one. In the larger ones, in the Karningholds or in the Great Temple at the Ring, worship goes on continuously, with Slaves (priests, literally Slaves to the Gods) walking round and reading the appropriate words while worshippers listen. In villages, worship is more sporadic.
The nine Gods (often just called ‘the Nine’) communicate only to an elite group of Slaves, entitled Those who Serve the Gods, or Servants. Communication only takes place in the Tower of Reception, which sits in the middle of the Glass Lake within the Ring. The Servants ask the Gods for advice on specific matters, and receive their Word, which the has the force of law.
The Servants are rarely seen outside the tower, but when they do, they wear white robes and hoods. They are never seen crossing the lake, they simply appear wherever they need to be. They don’t shave their heads, but the palms of their hands are tattooed. They are also reputed to walk about amongst ordinary people when they want to, wearing ordinary clothes. It is said that when someone is chosen by the Gods, and marked, if they are alone one of the Servants will be with them to comfort them.
The Voices (or the Voices of Those who Serve the Gods) are the next layer of the hierarchy. The Servants convey the Word of the Gods to the Voices, who implement their wishes. They are largely administrative, and live only at the Ring. They conduct interviews with Karningholders and their Companions, they hold investigations into crimes and misdemeanours, they mete out punishment, they determine who marries whom, which children become Highers (the ruling elite), they oversee the education system. They wear light grey robes and hoods, and have shaven and tattooed heads.
The Karninghold Slaves are the next level down. There is one assigned to each Karninghold, and his (or her) role is to ensure the Karningholders follow the law and behave properly. They report to the Voices. They wear light grey robes and hoods, and have shaven and tattooed heads, just like the Voices.
Village Slaves are assigned to individual villages to ensure that the villagers carry out the proper ceremonies and to advise and assist them. They have basic skills in healing, They wear dark grey robes and hoods (although they mostly only wear them in the temple), and have partly shaven heads.
Temple Slaves spend their lives in one of the large temples, reading the Word of the Gods, burning incense or jingling the bells.
Healing Slaves have special training in healing, and wear light grey robes with a white edging.
Acolytes are trainee Slaves. Men and women are equally eligible to be Slaves. Generally they start training at adulthood (age fifteen), but families with more children than they can feed often gift one or two to the nearest temple, (perhaps as young as five). When they begin training, they give up their name, becoming only a number at whatever temple they serve, and their heads are shaved and tattooed. They wear dark grey robes and hoods.
It takes a minimum of nine years as an Acolyte to become a Temple Slave. After a minimum of five years, they may train as a Village Slave or a Karninghold Slave or a Healing Slave. After at least five years, they may train to become a Voice. Only after five years as a Voice might they be considered to become a Servant. Slaves are not allowed to marry or have children, but they may take lovers. Accidental children will be removed as soon as is practicable, and brought up in temple orphanages to be Slaves.
The Silent Guards are rather different. They are all male, and are taken to the Great Temple at the age of five. Their tongues are cut out, and they are intensively trained as swordsmen. They are not taught to read or write, so they are incapable of revealing any secrets. Their role is to defend the temples against any attack. They also stand guard over the funeral towers. Over the generations, they have developed their own sign language, and they have their own beliefs and a prophecy about a time when they will be free. They are kept isolated from everyone else.