Listen, and you may hear the whispered conversations. In homes, in taverns, around the campfires of travelers, people speak in tones mixed with both scorn and forbidden anticipation. Few speak openly of Eshara, even fewer would be so bold as to offer praise to her. Yet everyone has at least some cause to beg the favor of the Mistress of Secrets, some deed of theirs they would rather the world remain ignorant of.
The goddess Eshara holds sway over somber, mysterious things: darkness, secrets, and the winter. For this reason many deride her, but she possesses a certain inevitability that prevents her exclusion from the common pantheon.
Worship of Eshara has historically been met with trepidation. Temples dedicated to her do exist, but they are few, and typically found in remote regions. Lay followers of the goddess are not always forthcoming with their devotion, preferring to worship in private or in small, select groups of like-minded individuals. Esharan clergy wear robes and veils, keeping their identities safe from easy detection.
Small groups of worshippers are the norm, with semi-secret gathering places in most population centers. Those who find themselves in need of an Esharan tend not to have much trouble locating them, but most turn a willful blind eye. The more devout among the Mistress of Secrets’s followers provide discreet shelter, no questions asked. Naturally, thieves, murderers, and other unpleasant folk occasionally find this useful. Esharans are not in the business of meting out “justice,” but this does not mean they foolishly welcome everyone with open arms. For safety’s sake, many of these safehouse keepers have a healthy amount of suspicion for their own well-being at the hands of their “guests.”
One major, public service Eshara’s clergy offer is the Telling. Practically all moderately-sized settlements have a small area dedicated for this event. Once a week, priests and priestesses of Eshara listen to others tell them their secrets, usually in the evening. They do not offer judgment or advice, their holy duty is merely to listen. Most of what they hear are minor, petty conceits that are so typical in day-to-day life, though many people find it relieving to be able to get such things off their chest without being found out. Big or small, however, all secrets are welcome.
The Listener sits, veiled, in a small, quiet room with two chairs and no windows. One at a time, anyone who has secrets to tell is welcomed inside, and has the opportunity to say whatever they need to. At the end, the Listener lays hands upon the teller and offers a blessing, assuring him or her that the Lady will keep their secrets safe.
Followers of Eshara are subject to the same foibles as other mortals, and the truth is that not all secrets remain safe after the Telling. Extortion by Listeners is considered heresy, and the penalty is harsh. Nevertheless, there are cases of clergy who have spent time as Listeners turning to blackmail. Despite this, the lure of the Telling remains.
While the Telling is mostly a private affair, and not typically spoken of, there is one occasion where the much-maligned goddess is actually a cause for celebration: the Grand Masquerade, held every year on the winter solstice. Nobles gather in their manors, the citizens in their halls and squares, and a festive celebration of hidden identities takes place. Esharan clergy help organize the event, but much of the preparation is in the hands of the people themselves. The costumes of the well-to-do are predictably gaudy affairs. Out in the less fortunate areas of the cities and in the countryside, outfits are a bit more sparse, though with delightful splashes of color.
The dark winter night is full of light and laughter. In the shadows, however, darker deeds have been known to take place. Such is the province of the Lady of Winter.