She looked up at the sky.
It was a cloudless blue sky, the clearest she had seen in a long while. Without warning, a flock of birds took to their wings, interrupted by something she could not see. They were a beautiful sight, the white against the blue. Doves, she whispered, birds that could fly while I cannot. Raising her hand to the sky, she thought to reach for it. All she saw though, was her white hand outlined against the sky, a sky she could not reach.
“Lady Rivka, what are you doing out there? The sun’s too hot! Come into the shade before you burn yourself!” the voice of an old lady interrupted her thoughts.
She turned away from the sky to the old lady, a wistful smile on her face. Yet when she saw the two guards next to her, her smile dropped. She spoke in a very serious tone.
“Palace Guards? In Celeste’s temple? Do you have news then?” she was no longer an innocent girl pining for the sky. In her place was the Priestess trained by the temple.
“Lady Rivka, as ordered by the Queen Divona, your name change has been granted. You are now known as Lady Rivka of the House of Celeste,” the man between the guards spoke, his voice formal.
She pitied him. He was a man of small stature, with a large chin and jutting belly. The way he carried himself was not of self-importance though, but with the deep respect of the responsibility he bore. Such pronouncements were given rarely, but often sincerely. In respect for his formal tone, she bowed her head deeply, allowing her blond hair to fall from her shoulders past her face, to appear beyond the simple head covering she wore.
“I hear and accept. Thank you, Lord Messenger,” she intoned formally, her voice musical and harmonious.
“You are welcome, Lady Rivka. Congratulations,” he saluted her and made to turn away.
“Please, stay a moment, you and your guards,” she called out to them. “Mother Taedop, do we have some tea we may serve these guests?” she turned to the wrinkled old lady.
“Yes, we do, child. Please wait a moment,” the crone turned away without waiting for the man and his guards to reply. The two guards looked at each other in consternation.
“This tea will take but a moment, Lord Messenger. I cannot let the bearer of such good news go away unrewarded,” she smiled winningly, but did not leave the sunlight.
“My Lady, we cannot… It is not..” the man began, but she raised her hand for silence.
“I do not wish to bribe you, good sir. Merely wish that you join me in a brief cup of celebration of this event. Please, will you join me for a drink at least? It has been a long time since I have heard news of the outside world…” she gave her best imitation of a young girl now, and the two men who were his guards nudged the lord messenger with their elbows. She could see from their parched lips they were thirsty.
“Very well, then my lady. We humbly accept your hospitality,” he bowed in acknowledgement as the old crone returned. Behind her were two other acolytes bearing trays of tea and sweet cakes.
“Please, sit at the edge of the stairs, but mind your feet. The grounds here are holy,” she warned them as they sat on the landing of the raised platform of the temple, allowing their feet to dangle slightly over the edge. On her part, she did not move from her spot in the sun.
“Thank you, My Lady,” the man’s tone was far more respectful than she had expected, while his silent guards accepted the tea offered by the novices. They were careful to sip quietly, even though they still wore their ridiculous plume hats.
“What news of the court, Lord…?” she accepted a cup of tea from the crone, who served it to her in a handle-less cup, with animals worked in blue around the cup.
“Raichen, my Lady. The survivors of the Acoma nights made their appearance two days ago at the Court. They got the King to announce that all survivors of the Acoma nights henceforth be allowed to continue their lives three years after the night have happened. The Priests of Karma have petitioned their Goddess for a change, but from what I’ve heard, the Goddess has refused to say anything. There’s something about the Promises a Goddess makes a mortal, from the rumours we hear, but that’s something you would know more, my Lady,” he said, taking a deep sip of the tea. His eyes were on her though, calculating, and watching her reaction.
“No, I do not know of any agreements Karma has made between mortals and herself,” she took a sip of the tea, allowing the coolness of the mint tea to burn her tongue in the heat, “But I imagine the nobles must not be happy.”
“They would not be, my Lady,” the man laughed bitterly. “The Acoma nights are the only nights where the King does not post his guards to look after the streets. It is the night that Karma decrees those who displease her must be completely wiped out from the Kingdoms, their estates destroyed. This is done to ensure that there are no mixed bloods; we heard that the family had a daughter who was the scion of a God and a mortal, and another who was of a demon. What kind of calamity would that have fallen on us?” the man shook his head.
“How can children between demons or gods and mortals bring such calamity?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“You do not know the legend, My Lady?” at the Priestess’ wide eyed shake of the head, he leant back to tell a story.
“It is said that when a child of a demon and a child of a god appears in the same household, then all such families should be killed. They have created an abomination, disrupting the balance that lies in our world. If they are not killed, then our world spins out of balance and is thus destroyed. The Gods exist to keep us from such a calamity from happening, and the demons exist to remind us that we are beings of a higher nature. That is how the world works,” he drained his tea.
“Do people truly believe that?” the Priestess raised a hand to her lips in shock and surprise.
“So they say, my lady. These are merely talk in the streets though, so I would not put much stock in them. They are not something I would trust with my life, my Lady,” he bowed deeply in thanks for the tea towards the old crone.
“And yet you would destroy a family for such hubris,” she whispered softly.
“Your Grace?” Raichen had caught her whisper, though he did not seem to have heard her words.
“Thank you for your fortrightness,” she bowed to him, and him to her.
“No, thank YOU, my lady, for the drink. It was wonderful, and my men and I are refreshed. Your hospitality is very appreciated,” he got to his feet, as did his men.
“Thank you for your time and patience, regardless, Lord Raichen. I have learnt something new today,” she smiled pleasantly.
“Not at all, my Lady. I am always glad to help,” he grinned, turned and left.
When they had left the temple and the acolytes cleared the plates, only then did she release the breath she had been holding. Followed very swiftly by certain curses. For all that she was raised as a lady, she could curse well.
The old crone who was her minder remarked on this.
“Oh, enough, Mother Taedop! I do love you but argh!” she released a sigh of frustration before sitting on the ground in defeat.
“You rarely let such things get you down, Mistress. Why now?” the old crone replied, sitting on the edge of the platform.
“It maddens me to sit here while things are happening outside, Mother Taedop! I know I should be patient, but…”
“Patience is usually afforded to the old, who have learnt its value, my daughter,” there was a laughing voice in the garden, and both the old crone and the maiden immediately went to their knees, heads bowed deeply on the floor.
“Lady Celeste, welcome home,” the Maiden, now known as Lady Rivka, greeted the newcomer.
“My Lady, it has been a long time,” the crone said, her voice quivering.
“Be at peace, my daughters. The Scythe has not yet spun for either of you yet,” they then looked up at the speaker.
The sun’s rays bounced off the woman’s skin like soft marble reflecting the rays of the sun, so white was her skin. Her long hair though, was so dark it was as though the night sky had been pressed into it. In addition, she had a very thin figure, one that could be passed off as a man if it were not for the shape of her body. She was a woman, but one would be forgiven if they thought she was a young boy.
It was a mistake she let pass often.
“You have heard then, my Priestess, what your siblings have been up to?” the Goddess moved to sit on a bench in the garden, shaded by the temple.
“I have, my Lady, though I do not have the details. How many men has my brother already duelled?” the maiden enquired, moving to sit at the Goddess’ feet.
“Three, so far. Would you like to know the score of your sister?” there was an amused smile on her face. Rivka nodded.
“Four, it was apparently. Three grievously wounded, but their sons and heirs have promised reparations for the undue grief their fathers had caused. For the last, she paid a personal visit to him, and apparently terrified him so much that he has agreed not to haunt her any further,” the Goddess was very amused. Her smile was small though, not large.
“I believe she is terrified of him, and not the other way around, my Goddess,” the maiden corrected her Goddess gently. “There’s something about the man that scares her,” she did not mention how she knew this.
“Perhaps, child. I am no Goddess of Love to peer into the bedrooms such,” she smiled gently at the young woman before laying a hesitant hand on the covering of the blond head. “Your penance here will be continued for a short while yet, my daughter. The Priests of Orias still seek your blood, and I cannot protect thee yet from outside these walls,” the Goddess’ voice was sorrowful.
Rivkareached up to take the Goddess’ hand from her head and kissed the pale hand gently. Next to her skin, the Goddess’ hands could have passed for marble.
“My Lady, I understand the reason. Your generosity in allowing me to remain alive instead of joining my parents is more than I could hope for,” she said.
“Know my daughter, that Karma had always planned for your siblings to survive. It was you alone that she had intended to be the sacrifice,” the Goddess gently caught the maiden by the chin and raised her face to look at her own.
“I suspected as much, my Lady. What will happen when she finds out?”
“I hope to buy you as much time as I can before that happens, my child. Know this; I cannot take another innocent life at her whims any longer. I depend on thee to stop this,” the Goddess said, unaware of how her words would be taken.
“My Goddess, it would be a pleasure to do so,” had the old Crone seen the smile, she would have shivered in fear, for she knew the smile well. It was the smile of plans being made and hearts being broken.
That was the kind of child they had rescued.