"Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren."
The inside of the pulpit was dark and mildewed, though the few faces in the congregation could not see it. The Reverend Tom Mitchell peered out from behind his glasses at the familiar few. Old, grey heads nodding in their rhythm.
The fire had long since gone from his oratory. Age had broken his voice, arthritis gnawed at his wrists when the summer storms broke, his mind sometimes tumbled back to older sermons, remembering faces long dead, long past. The old grey heads, if they ever noticed his slips, had never mentioned it or seemed to mind. His eyes...could still read the book in front of him.
"And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant."
Wrinkled hands closed the book as he stared out at the crowd, the last row a blur. Yet there seemed to be more people there, filing in. Tardiness means nothing to the Lord, he thought to himself, so long as they all should get there.
"The Curse of Ham," he began the sermon, "was when Noah set one of his own number apart. Like, but not alike. So that they might all know their crime, and serve in their place..."
There were more people in the church now. The back row was nearly full - though he could make out few of the details, they seemed fairly well-dressed in white suits or...robes? Was there a choir rehearsal that he had forgotten about? Well, no matter, they could wait to the end of the mass.
"We today have forgotten our place, as others have forgotten theirs. Ours has become a mongrel society!" A spark of the old fire caught in the voice. He remembered standing before a different sort of pulpit, in a cool cavern - the klavern - lit with electric lights, the steady hum of the generator. Before him spread rank upon serried ranks of chivalrous ghosts in their pale habits. He crossed himself.
"The love of God set down rules for mankind, even as for Adam. 'Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.' Confusion! And would not Noah be confused to see the world we live in now?"
The Reverend slipped back into the present, and the church really was filling up. The choir or whomever had filled the back two rows completely, and were still filing in.
On the pulpit before him, the younger Reverend with the fiery voice had read aloud from two books, laid side by side. His voice had echoed in the cavern and shook in the souls of those present. Good men, family men, good Christians; police officers and doctors, lawyers and farmers, even the odd politician... ten dollars and an official robe bought fraternity, if not salvation.
In the chapel, the grey heads were lost in a sea of nodding white hoods, and for the first time the quivver of fear found its way into the old priest's voice.
"It was different, in that time. People lived apart. There were laws for it. You could live back then, and call yourself a good man for following those laws...those laws that kept people in their place..."
A horse, draped in white, strode into the chapel, carrying a white rider, a long sword by his side. The hooded figures parted to make way down the aisle, their hands gently brushing the sides of the horse as it clopped. The grey heads never rose to watch him pass.
"...even as in the time of Jesus. How long, oh Lord, how long did we dwell in the house of bondage?"
The figure stopped before the pulpit. The reverend stared at the sword - which flickered between an old curved cavalry saber and a straight-bladed fraternal sword, the two images wrestling superimposed. It was like watching a film of an old memory. The robed man on the horse. Yes, he remembered. He had been dubbed, like a knight. They had all been knights. The reverend stepped away from the pulpit and came up to the altar rail, the warm breath of the horse on him as the blade came down toward him.
"Do we dwell in it still?" Asked the last kludd, as the blade fell.