Prophecy's power

By Emma Moesswilde | Jul 07, 2010

"The wolves are outlawed." They were the last words I heard my mother say, before the fever claimed her, and she was gone. I felt something shudder, but maybe it was only the breeze ruffling the curtains in her bedroom. The scent of herbs, honey and, most recently, wine to dull the pain of the splitting headaches that accompanied the fever filled my nostrils and my heart began to ache.

For a time I just sat there, the fire flickering on my tear stained face and my mother's cold hand in mine. I must have fallen asleep, for I was woken by rosy evening light. After a last, long look at my mother, I turned and left the room, shutting the heavy wooden door behind me.

The funeral was held on a gray day, heavy with mist and dewy grass that soaked my lilac colored dress. The dress had been my mother's favorite: she always said it made me look like the Herald of the Dawn, the great goddess Karra herself.

A balding man said words about loss, and returning to the earth, and her spirit staying with her beloved family, and remembrance. People cried. I didn't: I had nothing left. My mother had been the village herbalist, and she was loved and respected by all the mothers in the village, for she had helped many of them through one difficult childbirth or another. Some said she was like a magician, the way her touch could soothe and her teas and tinctures could mend. But magicians were pretenders and my mother was real. She had met my father in the woods: her gathering, him hunting. He thought she was a nymph of the wood, rosy cheeked, hair bedecked with flowers. She was beautiful, and she loved the strong, witty man who could charm diamonds out of stones with his jokes and songs.

I cried myself to sleep for three nights. The fourth night, Father didn't come home til dawn. Then he was in the arms of the searchers and there was blood on his face. A hunting accident, they said. He had stepped on an overhanging bit of turf with no rock underneath. There were rocks below him though, sharp like monsters' teeth.

So I cried myself to sleep, there was another funeral, and on the morning of the 10th day since Mother had left us, the Daughters came for me.

The Temple of the Moon took in orphaned and unwanted daughters from many families to train as initiates and priestesses. They were kind, spiritual women who pledged themselves to the moon and stars, the one and many. All that life required them to do was worship, care for others, and weave, and that was what they did best. As such, they helped girls and women in need. I had joined that happy company; I was a girl in need.

As the two women, one dark, one fair, helped me gather Father's bow, my clothes and keepsakes, and Mother's silver pendant, I looked around at our cottage. A bedroom for me, a bedroom for them, a sitting room, and our big kitchen with its massive fireplace and comforting wooden table. A door out back led to the privy and our garden, just bursting forth with the young shoots of spring. I blinked back tears and went to join the initiates at the door. They pulled it shut and I clicked the big iron bolts into place. The rest of the family belongings had gone to the temple's poor boxes, ready for someone else to cook stew in Mother's favorite pot, someone else to chop onions with our best sharp knife, someone else to sit in Father's favorite chair next to the fire.

As I walked away from the only home I'd ever known, the rich mud sucking at my feet, I thought back to the last words to pass my mother's lips, just 10 short days ago. "The wolves are outlawed."

Chapter 1

A single bell tolled in the chilly air, shaking my dream to the bottom of my mind. I curled closer under my blankets, relishing the warmth, savoring the sensation of rest I would have to give up in a moment for the unpleasantly cold flagstones of the temple dormitory. Already I could hear the rustlings and sleepy groans of my bedfellows. They wouldn't be up for another 15 minutes at least. I had the hot water all to myself.

I slid out of my bed, the flagstones chilling my toes immediately. Scurrying over to the door, I dragged the heavy iron tub of water inside. Splashing my face and combing my hair revived me somewhat. I pulled a tunic and leggings from the trunk beside my mattress. Gratefully, I dressed, pulled on my leather boots and twisted my dark red hair into a heavy braid.

I stepped out into the corridor as I heard the other girls begin to stir, glad I was up before their primping began. As I tiptoed toward the hall, I heard the birds' morning chorus of cheeps. It had been nearly two months since the spring equinox; after the hard northern winter, spring was finally setting in in earnest.

Novices were not required to help with food preparation, but I liked to. It reminded me of Mother. And I always got morsels before breakfast.

I turned down a hallway and entered the steamy kitchens, already bustling with cooks and initiates preparing food.

"Lia! How'd ye sleep, lass?"

That was Bertie, head cook at the temple and special caretaker of me since I'd come here seven years ago. She was from the far North, round and jolly, and her gooseberry pies were praised the length of Lenëa and farther.

"As well as I always do, Bertie," I replied. I slept very soundly, and was notorious for it throughout the temple. She grinned.

"I thought as much, but I had to check. Why don't you get started slicing potatoes? Mara's got a place free next to her."

The slender, gray haired scullery maid smiled and patted the seat next to her. I took it, grabbing a knife and a pot of potatoes. Mara turned back to her neighbor, Initiate Salma. Salma was a kind old gossip, fond of prayer, small glasses of port wine, and news.

"Gray old clothes, looked like a traveler to me."

Mara looked interested. "What's his name?"

"Murrow. Strange name, but he's a strange man. Alfonze in the stables says he's known as a sorcerer in the Southlands, where he's from."

I knew sorcerers were rare. They were born, not made, and had extraordinary powers beyond many people's comprehension. Those who knew little about them also feared them.

"... Says he's passing through, traveling up the country, but I wouldn't be surprised if Mother Elan invited him here for stories."

Tales from the outside world were always good; we didn't hear much of it. We'd heard hardly anything since the fire raising, late last summer.

"Speaking of news," gushed Salma, "did I tell you what Theodora said to Alec last week?"

I sighed. The romances of villagers did not interest me in the slightest. News from the outside world would not be thought of again for a long while, if ever.

I turned to my potatoes and began to peel.

*****

Two hours and two mounds of potatoes later, I was seated in the hall with Hanna, my best friend, and a large portion of my favorite pie on a plate in front of me. Hanna was short and slim, with long, tangled black hair that she kept tied on her head in a bun. She had been the child of a cook and her master, who was a lawyer in Beft, a city far to the east of the temple. Her parents had been unable to keep her, but Hanna didn't mind. She saw them occasionally and knew they loved her. Hanna was cheerful and joking, and could always make me smile. She and I had known each other since I had come to the temple, and we shared everything, including -- I looked down in dismay -- my breakfast.

"Mother Elan says we may gather in the hall at lunch for the news. There is a traveler coming up from the South who must have many stories. He's a friend of Mother Elan's." She took another bite of my pie. "I doubt there will be anything interesting, but we should go, if only to see this man. They say he's a sorcerer."

I shook my head and drained my water tumbler. "Salma and Mara already told me. I'll go, but don't blame me if I fall asleep. That last peddler even had Elan dozing off."

She smiled. "Fine. But I have weaving duty for the rest of the day, and I could do with a laugh at least, goodness knows."

I gestured to the dripping windows. "At least it's inside! I pity whoever's doing garden duty today."

The rain pounded on the high stone roof as the hall swelled with chatter. Hanna grabbed one last apple and stood up from the bench, surveying the rows of long tables. "I should go. Sari doesn't like it when I'm late. You have kitchen duty again?"

I nodded. I was a good cook, helpful to Bertie, so the kitchen was where I spent most of my days. "See you at lunch?"

"Of course." She grimaced and waved. I waved back, watching her skip off, between the stone archway, away into the main corridor and Initiate Sari and her looms. Grabbing another apple for myself, I crunched into it, walking down the rows of tables, toward the kitchens.

As I stirred the soup and pushed the hair out of my eyes, I wondered why a Southern sorcerer was at our temple. With the thought of the South came an image: tall, dark trees, howling wind and rain, and a figure traversing toward a rocky cliff.

The figure had stopped and shaken his head back, his hooded cloak flying away from his face to reveal a pair of piercing iron-gray eyes, a craggy face with a hooked nose, and a thin mouth, set in a scowl. He said something I couldn't hear, and began walking again, resolutely bent against the wind, toward the temple just over the hill.

"Lia, the soup's burning." Bertie clucked in disapproval.

"What?" I asked groggily, jolted from my reverie.

"The soup, dear."

"Oh." I stirred furiously, trying to dislodge burnt clumps that had formed at the bottom of the pot. That man, I thought. Do I know him? Surely not. I had never known a man like that, a sorcerer -- the word sprang to mind. How did I know this stranger was a sorcerer? I moved the spoon listlessly in the pot. Why did he look so familiar? He didn't, I told myself sharply. It had been a meaningless dream. Dreams weren't real. But I couldn't shake the feeling that I was missing something important, something I should know.

Time had passed. I removed my apron and exited the kitchens, wanting to get to the dormitory and freshen up before lunch. I hurried up the stairs and into the dormitory, glancing in the looking glass, combing and re-braiding my hair. Making sure my blue wool tunic hung correctly over my leggings, I rushed back downstairs, not wanting to miss a second of the tales.

 

 

 

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