"Sometimes. The most practical thing is to say 'the world', of course..." He paused to look at her before continuing. "I've usually been interested in the reasons behind the names rather than the actual name. Generally some derive it from religion, some don't know where it's from, some... just borrow a name from some esteemed language that is about as good as saying 'the world'."
He smiled a guilty little smile before almost absent-mindedly choosing the last pit. "If it's part of a people's creation lore, it gives me a chance to talk about their religion. If they pick it from some other language, then I can talk about that. If neither, well, there's a lot to talk about with anyone if you just put your mind to it."
The remark about borrowed names made Sylvie laugh.
"'Eodea' was made up to divide, well, it from fae worlds connected to it. It's not widespread, but the closest to a name for the entire world I can think of."
Well, if he suggested it... "Would you tell me something about your religion?"
Sylvie's laughter was met with a smile. "There we go, then," he said and looked at the river. A crease appeared on his forehead even though he still smiled. When he looked at Sylvie again, he seemed a little far away. "My religion or the religions of my home?"
"Whichever you'd rather talk about."
He gave a short laugh, pleasant and appreciative. "All right. I might as well tell you about mine, but let me start by saying that the gods and goddesses of my land are all called Lords or Ladies, although they might go by different names elsewhere." A pause. "Some of them are more spirits than gods, though." Thankfully.
Sebastian stretched his legs momentarily, pulled a knee close to his chest and wrapped both arms around it. "I grew up in the temple of a goddess called the Lady Land: she is something of a rural governor or protector. She isn't particularly hostile toward people, although certain cityfolk think of her as something of a thing of the past, always looking out for the animals or something to that effect. I suppose it has something to do with her distaste for those who hunt purely for sport."
He half-closed his eyes, unwittingly slipping into a completely different style of speech. "Nor does she look kindly upon men and women who exaggerate their needs: their overspread fields will usually become infertile, their cattle may run away. Of course," Sebastian continued in his more relaxed style, "she doesn't condone wild animals crossing certain boundaries either. The Lady Land is something of a border guard."
Then he was quiet for a while as he thought about the game. As his hand snaked out, he continued: "I was still young when I found the Lady Luck. She's the patron of underdogs, the ficklest divine. Favours the bold or those who trust her, such things." He pointed at the game and smiled. "I don't trust her in this, though."
"Oh, it involves luck. The opponent missing opportunities... or a dragon dropping onto the board while you're losing, for example."
After a quick move she looked at Sebastian again, guessing he wasn't finished with explaining.
That got another laugh out of him. "Oh, there's a bit of luck involved in everything. I choose to ignore it sometimes. It keeps my mind healthy," he smiled and squinted sideways at Ayu-Asra while making his move. The silence ran on for a while until he found the thought he had meant to put into words.
Sebastian smiled. "I deal with both. The Lady Land because I owe her and because I remember being very happy living in the rural environment of my childhood. It's a little amusing that I've become a wanderer when I used to be one of those who see strangers as either a boon or a curse. The Lady Luck... well, search me." A shrug. His smile waned a little.
"They don't require much by my standards. A prayer now and then, generally respecting what they consider to be important... that's all right and enough for them."
After a pause Sylvie asked, "So, others of those Lords and Ladies require more?"
"Oh, some. The Lord Law... gods, don't get me started," he chuckled, a twinkle in his eyes. "But there are some, such as the Lord and Lady Indolence, that do not really require anything. They're more spirits... and, at the same time, I saw them once. Beautiful, both of them. But never once do I remember either of them standing or walking. Their church was, uh, interesting to say the least.
"I'd say my Ladies are close to a balance between many and few requirements," he finished thoughtfully. It was just that the Lady Luck's requirements were rather constant...
She wondered if her explanations had made as little sense to him as this, more amused than frustrated.
"I've known local spirits. There was one on Yrn that defended a patch of woodland, as far as its powers reached. But you seem to be talking about something different?"
He shook his head and continued as if he was used to questions of this sort. "I'm not, exactly. In practice, some of them are gods of equivalent power to that local spirit of yours. The Lady and Lord Indolence were a few steps above mortals like us, but they were never born. They're... well, like spirits. Or some spirits. They just are."
He smiled a little sheepishly. "I hope that makes sense."
After a concentrated pause, Sylvie tries, "They don't act because they are spread too thin?"
It was an odd thought. Usually you knew a spirit existed because it did something. Where she came from, that was.
He considered for a moment. "No, inaction is their realm. It's what they do... or, well, rather don't do. I would say their source of power is spread too thin - that being, people who... emulate their ways," he suggested, trying to follow her line of thinking. "They... they're the image of the lazy, hopeless noble who can barely be bothered to lift their head from the pillow without the help of a servant."
He looked away and invited one specific, vivid memory to surface. The two minor godlings were everything the Lady Land considered pitiful. Sebastian had seen the two as an amusing warning example of the stereotypical dandy at first - then he had realised exactly how accurate the picture was...
"Even in a large city," he said after a while, a little more gravely, "it's fairly hard to find someone who lives a life laziness. There are so few of those. And as those people are their source of power, they have very little... but it's hardly as if they need it."
The half-elf studied Sylvie's expression for a while, looking for a sign of understanding or confusion.
Sylvie listened, eyes narrowed in concentration, and arrived at a possible conclusion.
"So a god is not a powerful being that for some reason decides to represent something, but the essence of a... an idea becoming a kind of person?"
He smiled. "I don't know for sure, but that's my personal belief. Although I wouldn't put it past some of them to have inherited or usurped some facets from others. Gods of cities... or city spirits, however you want to call them, certainly do not decide to represent the city."
"But something that's important for the people living there?"
"I think people are proud to say they are a part of something," he said as he counted his seeds one by one. "Yes. It's very important for the people. Like that spirit you mentioned, though, the city gods usually have limited powers." It raised a point he hadn't considered. Did nations have goddesses? And if they did, what did they do and what the devil had happened to the patron god or goddess of the now ruined, dead empire (if it was an empire) his own home had been a part of?
Thinking of the "loyalties" she had mentioned earlier, Sylvie nodded. Even if you chose not to put your family first, but went to follow a different way in life, it leads eventually only to belonging to another group. At least for her it had.
"And are you part of something?"
"Oh, I think so, although some may not see it that way." His long, pale index finger drummed against a knee. "I don't do anything that a peasant or noble would be proud of, nor am I a citizen. But I'm a part of the churches of the Ladies Land and Luck. I could become a citizen of a city if I decide to live in one with the intention of staying for good. I don't see that happening, though."
Then he looked at her. "What are you a part of?"
Now it was her turn with the sheepish smile. She had to consider before she could answer. Officially, her guild, if they did not consider her dead. The ties with her family, at least on her mother's side, were weak, but had been present before she got lost. But where did she belong?
Eventually she shrugged. "The people I feel most comfortable around are scholars and researchers."