Previously: Soshay had her first lesson with Ohili. She believes that her god, Tez, has commanded her to learn Far-Seeing the ability to send one’s spirit vast distances to watch and perhaps spy on others. She learns from Keron’s assistant, Telmax, that these lessons were arranged by Keron without the blessing of the Council.
Once alone in her room, she found herself pacing. Her thoughts were churning over the events of the last few days.
First Keron’s attempt at friendship, now the realization of the risks he took for her. But what did Telmax mean about them needing me? Am I only a tool to them all? Her thoughts quickly moved in circles. Either Keron was genuine or he was not. She could find no answer. She didn’t know if she could trust anyone in the temple.
The far-seeing itself left her confused. The blue light, the surreal feeling of it all had shaken her. It was too close to her dream of the council meeting. Was that far-seeing too? Was the strange cat one of the creatures Ohili warned about? She chastised herself for wanting to sound mysterious and only hinting at these questions when she was with Ohili. Next time she promised herself that she would tell him about the dream, and even the council.
She forced herself to stop pacing. She was no longer tired or perhaps just too restless to calm her thoughts. She shifted the mattress aside and pulled out her small sheaf of paper and the box of ink and a stylus. While under Neldo’s control, she had started transcribing what she could remember of her prophecies. She hadn’t trusted him to record them in to her book accurately.
Tonight, she recorded her far-seeing. She wrote in tiny characters. It was not that she was concerned with using it, after all she mused Keron would probably give her paper if she asked. But she did not want him to know she was copying her own prophecies.
The codices were carefully guarded and while she could look at her own, she was not allowed to write in it herself. No Oracle was allowed to record their own visions. She was supposed to call a priest to record her prophetic dreams, even in the middle of the night. She had long ceased to do that. None paid heed to her reoccurring dream of the new god.
She finished her writing and set the pages on her small desk to dry. Flipping through the pages, she looked for the dream in the council chamber. Her description of that dream was almost identical to her far-seeing.
As she gazed at the page, an suffocating need to keep these pages, all of them, near her pressed on her. She glanced at her chest. Inside contained only a change of daily clothes, her ritual gown, and her tilma. She rarely wore the beautiful ritual clothing or the plain tilma. But, the tilma, was if she remembered correctly, lined. She dug through the chest, pulling out the clothes to find the black tilma folded at the bottom. She shook it out.
The black fabric was still as deep as when it was first dyed, and the inside lining was the same deep indigo as her blouse and skirt. The pages could easily be slipped inside the lining, and if she began wearing it more often, no one would notice. With the constant chill in the temple, she would have a ready excuse for the extra clothing.
With a practiced hand she unstitched a small section about midway up the tilma. If she wore the cloak-like garment it would make the opening easily available to her hand. Retrieving items would be more difficult, as they would fall straight to the bottom, but she did not plan on having to get anything out of the tilma with an audience. She carefully rolled the pages that contained her prophecies and slid them inside one at a time. They shifted to the bottom, but left no tell-tale bulge. Satisfied she hung the garment on the small hook next to the door.
The suffocating feeling lessened, but the sensation of being ready to leave the temple haunted her. She wasn’t sure if it was Tez who sent this feeling, but the tilma filled with her prophecies, something she could grab at a moment’s notice made her feel safer.
She heard a soft knock at her door. She froze. No one came to see her at this hour. The door opened and Keron stood in the doorway.
“Soshay, may I come in?” His voice was a whisper.
“Yes, of course.” She watched him slip inside and close the door quietly behind himself. She also noticed his eyes widen slightly at seeing her in her nightclothes. She also noticed that he wore only a kilt, which was not unusual for most men outside of the temple, but inside the temple, she rarely saw any man without the customary mantle to cover his chest. His face still bore the paint from a formal ritual, and it made his face a living skull.
She quickly grabbed the tilma she had hung near the door and wrapped it over her shoulders. “Is everything alright?”
He nodded and began pacing the room, each step causing his black hair to sway and the small charms and bones to click together. She wondered for a moment if she would be required to knot such things in her hair when she became a full oracle.
“Yes, everything is alright. But I needed. No, I wanted to speak to you.” He pushed his hands through his hair, sending the charms into another frenzy of clacking.
She noticed his eyes glittered from liuqui. “Did you have a vision tonight?” It felt strange to ask him this question.
He nodded brusquely, and finally sat next to her on the bed. “I should not be here.” He whispered letting his head fall into his hands. It smeared the skull makeup, and somehow it made his face more ghoulish.
She was not sure what to do. He sat so close to her his bare leg brushed hers, and she could feel the warmth of his skin. The physical closeness discomfited her. “Mayhap you should return in the morning? When the liuqui has worn off?” Her chest felt tight, and she struggled to breathe.
He turned to stare at her, as if he had forgotten she was in the room. He raised his hand to touch her face. His hand cupped her cheek. “It was you.” His voice sounded distant and his fingers traced the line of her cheek. His finger paused a moment before running over her lips.
She stiffened at his touch; his finger seemed to burn and sooth her at the same time.
“I should not be here.” He whispered again.
She felt him shift on the bed, and he held her chin and leaned down to kiss her.
She felt his lips, soft but urgent on hers. Her hands clutched at the blanket on the bed. Her senses whirled. She wanted this feeling to continue, her skin tight with anticipation. The kiss deepened and she felt the hesitant caresses of his tongue against her lips.
She moaned into his mouth. Her body felt both weightless and rigid.
He pulled away from her.
“Why did you stop?” Her words were quiet, but her breathing was labored.
He kept his face turned from her. His hands clutched the blanket in a white-knuckled grip. “Because if I do not stop, I will not stop.” His voice was deep and thick with emotion.
She laid her hand on his back, marveling a feel of thick muscle. “I don’t understand.”
“That is why I stopped.” He buried his hands in his hair again. He sat like stone upon the bed. His warring emotions played over his face.
“Keron?” Her voice was soft, the confusion overtaking the desire.
He reached for her. His arms pulled her close to him.
She could feel his heat through the thin shift she wore. She was practically in his lap, and he kissed her again.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, tangling her fingers in his hair. She pulled his mouth closer to her. Her unschooled desire flooded her senses. She wanted to taste him, to touch him, to feel more. She shifted position, trying to get closer. She straddled his legs, and in her motion she felt the wetness between her own thighs.
He moaned and moved his mouth down her neck, running his tongue down her neck. She shuddered and gasped at the touch. His hands tugged at her shift, pulling at the knot behind her neck. She finally brush his hands away, untied the knot herself.
She felt the thin fabric fall from her chest. She pressed against him, her breasts rubbing against the hard planes of his chest.
She knew this was forbidden. All novices were forbidden carnal pleasures until after their initiation, and she thought of the rumors that Neldo had spread, ones that claimed Keron brought her to the temple for sex, not for her abilities. She thought these things, but she could not manage to care. All she could feel was the rising tide of desire sweeping over her.
Keron ran his hands up her bare sides, his hands cupping her breasts. His fingers slowly teased her hard nipples. She leaned into his hand, gasping. She felt his mouth replace his fingers, and she whimpered. Her fingers dug into his shoulders. His mouth continued to taste her, to lap and suck at her flesh.
She ran her hands down his arms, exploring him. The paint from the ritual was thick and smeared as she touched him. He paused in his attentions, his eyes finding hers. It was clear to her that he was still partially under the sway of liuqui, half with her and half seeing visions she did not share.
He kissed her again, his fingers tangling in her hair. She moaned into the kiss, and when they broke apart, she whispered his name.
Keron pulled away from her. He pushed her away and she fell jumbled on the bed, staring up at him the hurt and confusion clearly stamped on her face. “I am sorry Soshay. This is not – this is not my vision.” His words stumbled.
His rejection was almost unbearable. To know that he had touched her so intimately and had created such emotions in her, frightened her.
“I was wrong. My vision, it was not of now.” He closed his eyes remembering. “It was not this room, not these clothes. “Please forgive me.” His voice sounded broken.
“You came because of a vision?” Her voice trembled. “For a vision, not for me.” She blinked back her tears as she felt her heart breaking. She pulled her shift back up, tying it roughly behind her neck again. Her hands shook. “So you would use me to.”
“No, never.” He reached for her, but she jerked away. “Soshay, please…”
“Get out.” She whispered, broken.
“Soshay, please listen to me.” He begged. She turned away from him.
Then she felt the blinding rage wash over her in her. “Go now” her words were tight. She cursed herself for her foolishness realizing that nothing he had told her was real. It was all part of a vision, part of his desire for the temple and not for her. Her hands itched to tear at him. “Get out.” She growled.
He stood and moved toward the door. “The vision was an excuse Soshay. I came for you.” He said as he stood at the door.
She did not hear his words, only the roar that tore from her throat. She did not register the shock and fear on his face, she felt only the rage coursing through her limbs. She leapt from the bed, hissing and spitting.
She hit the door as he slammed it behind him. She growled in fury, pacing the room. Liar. Liar. The thought kept repeating, fueling her fury. An angry shriek filled her ears, and the inhumanness of it shocked her. She froze then, in horror and confusion. Her mind flashed back to the story of the jaguar woman, and cook’s claim of her being Tez’s bride. She glanced down and saw her body, tense but human. She crumpled to the floor.
She huddled on the floor. “Would You curse me so? Am I to become Your avatar of death, Tez?” Her words rang out in the small room. “Have I not served You well?”
The room remained silent. She stayed on the floor and sobbed with fear and unspent passion.
Keron slid to the ground outside of Soshay’s door. He heard her yowl and shuddered. He knew the story of the Cetza woman who spurned Tez’s affection. Still muddled from the liuqui and he torrent of desire she had unleashed, he wondered if behind the door, Soshay had become a jaguar. He ached to hear her sobs and realized that if she was a jaguar, he would deserve to be torn apart by her claws.
He sat on the stone floor, the cold leaching into him. He knew then that he should never have come to her. He questioned if the vision was wrong. If it was his own desire, his own feelings for her that had clouded his sight. He knew that being too connected, to emotionally invested, in a vision made interpretation a risk. His thoughts called forth the images from the vision. Soshay pale beneath him moaning his name. He shook with desire, but Soshay was bound to Tez, to be His bride. But the vision. He had never questioned Tez’s will, before now. “Does the vision give me permission? Tez, is this really Your will?” He prayed quietly.
He rested his head in his hands, and heard her rage become a low sobbing. He wanted to return to her, to comfort her – to explain. He remained on the floor. The images from the vision rising to the surface of his thoughts; she had worn a gown made of black feathers. He tried to forget the images and the aching desire they created in him. She was laid on the altar, he thought, not now, but soon – after her initiation. He rose slowly when her crying subsided.
He rested his head on her door. “I am sorry, Soshay.” He sighed, “The gods use us all.” He turned and headed back to his own chambers.
Soshay lay on the cold stone floor of her chamber still shaking from Keron’s visit. Did we almost… She cut the thought off. Did I really almost forsake my vows for Keron? Gods, he came here for me, to… she could not even think the words, with me? Would Tez really send such a vision? Her thoughts ran in circles, always coming back to the physical sensations that Keron’s touch had ignited in her.
The cold floor seemed to take some of the burning need out of her. She turned over onto her back, and stared at the ceiling, willing her breathing to slow. She forced herself to focus on sleep and pretending the encounter had only been a dream.
Soshay slept. She saw the figure of a man who seemed to grow in size until she stood above the jungle. The man stretched, as if waking from a long sleep. Soshay followed the line of the towering figure and recognized that he stood over the City of the Jungle, seeming to rise from the Temple of Dawn. The man looked over the land, and Soshay assumed that the massive figure could see the length of the Cetza Empire. A spear appeared in the man’s hand, and a massive snake slithered from the jungle to climb up the man. The man took a step, and the Temple of Dawn crumbled around her. Soshay watched the man walk across the land and her footsteps left behind blood and fire.
Soshay awoke still on the floor. She could still smell the smoke from her vision. She shuddered thinking of the man she had seen. I will record the vision later, she thought. But that thought led to her realization that Keron would be the one to record the vision. How will I face him, she wondered feeling a blush rise to her cheeks. She shook off her embarrassment. “Time enough to worry about that later,” she muttered and rose from the floor, wincing as her muscles protested a night spent on the cold, hard stone floor.
She washed her face in the basin. Her brush caught in every snag and tangle in her hair. She jerked it through even as her eyes watered from the pain. She pulled on her clothing and finally took a breath. I cannot run about the temple like this, she thought taking in her appearance. She carefully retied her skirt, forgoing her normal sac-like choice. Instead she allowed the cloth to cling to her hips and fall to swirl about her calves. It is time for me to stop hiding what I am. If Keron responds to me when I wear a sack, there is no point in pretending to be other than female. She pulled the brush through her hair one last time, making sure that she had conquered all of the snarls, and her hair hung neat and straight.
She wished for a moment she could bind it up, like adult women did. In thick coils and braids, leaving her neck bare, but the rules of the temple demanded that priests never cut their hair, and leave their hair loose, except for charms that may be bound into it.
She realized that she needed allies. Both Ohili and Telmax had both been hinting as much yesterday. She suspected neither man would see much value to her friendships with the servants, like the cook and his assistant Pelo.
Of course, the story of the True Bride and the significance of her mark had spread to the servants with surprising alacrity. Now instead of greeting her as a friend with smiles and stolen treats, they all lowered their heads in reverence when she passed. It made her uneasy that they treated her with such reverence. She reminded herself to speak to Pelo about the change.
“Good morning, True Bride,” a senior priest said as she entered the line for food. She did not know his name, but returned his greeting as politely as she could.
With her plate of food in hand, she scanned the tables for the novices. One of the boys, Neza waved her over, and she noticed that some of the novices slid over on the bench to make room for her. She had not seen the other novices since her marking, since the lightening. As she sat, they all descended into silence.
“Good morning, Soshay,” Neza said, attempting to restart the conversation at the table.
She offered a weak smile, “’morning,” she mumbled in response. She realized that meeting the other novices was a terrible idea. All the boys looked uncomfortable in her presence.
Neza must have notices the pained expressions everyone wore. He sighed. “She is one of us too,” he said pointedly looking at each novice.
She noticed that the boys were quick to respond to Neza, and most of the boys looked chagrined. One boy, whose name she could not remember, was trying to look surreptitiously at her arm.
“If you want to see the mark, please just ask,” She finally said to him. When he blushed in response she finally remembered his name, Coco.
“You’d allow me to see it?” Coco asked in hushed tones.
She shrugged, “The mark is emblazoned on my arm, I can hardly hide it.” She tried to soften her words with a small smile, but Coco kept his eyes trained on her arm.
Soshay noticed the other boys also took this opportunity looked at the mark. Their curiosity satisfied, the boys quickly became disinterested in the mark. They cheerful chatter slowly returned to the table.
Soshay felt the knot in her stomach loosen as the boys returned to their normal behavior. Eventually everyone finished eating and the novice Coco began collecting their plates. The boys began to drift from the table and Soshay followed them.
Neza began telling her his plans, “Once I pass the trials, I am requesting a post at the new temple in the Lakit territory.”
She nodded and asked, “I envy you the adventure. I will either remain here, or be sent to the capital.”
The boys in the lead opened the door without hesitation. The sun flooded in, blinding Soshay for a moment. She squinted and felt her eyes water. She stepped back and let the boys go outside first.
Once the boys raced off into the bright light, and had begun a ball game. Soshay squinted to see the makeshift rings the boys had hung in the courtyard. They kicked and kneed the ball around the courtyard, trying to launch the toy through the vertical rings, without using their hands.
Soshay felt her head spin seeing the vastness of the sky and her chest tightened. She felt as if someone was watching her. Her breathing became shallow and she felt faint. She forced herself to breathe. She forced herself to take another step into the courtyard, angling toward the trees.
The wealth of citrus trees bordered the walls of the stone courtyard and promised shade and shelter from the sky. The adobe flagstones paving the ground seemed to glow in the sunlight, reflecting warm tan tones. Benches, slabs of wood placed on stone bases littered the area.
She took a deep breath, and continued toward the trees. The sky seemed endless above her, sending a shiver of fear through her. It took her a minute of focused breathing to stop her head from spinning.
Then Neza was at her side. He took her hand and led her to a bench placed in deep shade. “Are you alright?” Neza asked, gazing at her.
She shook her head.
Neza laid a hand on her shoulder. “Stay here. I am going to find you a drink. Just remember to breathe while I am gone.”
She watched him walk into the square of sun in the courtyard and become a dark shape in the glare. Something was watching him. She could feel the eyes of something searching the courtyard.
She focused on her breathing, taking long slow breaths. She felt a headache growing behind her eyed. Overhead, the branches of the lemon tree swept over her, blocking what she had come to view as the awful searching thing in the endless sky. The dark, glossy leaves allowed some sun to filter through, but distilled the brightness and offered her a hiding place.
Tez, she prayed, what is happening?. And then she realized, it was not His time. He ruled the twilight hours, the liminal space between day and night. In the midday sun, he could not come to her, but what she wondered had? Was this one of the things that Ohili warned her about? Had my trip into the otherworld released something into the world?
She closed her eyes, and leaned back on the bench, letting the breeze carry the tang of the lemon trees to her. She tilted her head back and the muted sunlight felt deliciously warm on her face. Mat, she prayed, I am not your chosen, nor your servant. But you protect the Cetza, you are our warrior. Help me now. She sat very still, as once again she felt the presence in the sky.
“Oh Sister, what have you done?”
Soshay jerked up, and looked frantically for her sister. She knew the voice was Chacon’s. But the boys continued their game, and her arbor remained empty. And she realized that sky was once again empty of the searching thing. Only the endless blue sky remained overhead.
“Soshay?” Neza had reappeared carrying two cups.
She took one and smiled her thanks. The tart sweetness of lime flooded her mouth as she drank. For a moment, it felt like she was home again, still a child in her parents’ household. “Thank you, Neza. I think I am still recovering from my time in the oracle’s seat.” It was a lie, as she had not sat as oracle for some weeks, but he wouldn’t know that. “You were telling me about your plans, why the Lakiti lands?” She wanted to distract him, to process what had happened.
He spoke at length about his goals within the temple. He sought to model his own path on that of Tenoch, the second priest. Tenoch had begun his rise in the temple after a posting in Suyu. It was rumored that he and the High Priestess of Zel, Este, had brokered the marriage alliance between the Imperator and the Suyuian princess.
Soshay considered this, Este became high priestess, yet Tenoch did not. “So you do not aspire to become high priest?” she asked him.
Neza laughed, “No, I do not wish a role in politics. I wish to serve Tez and the spiritual needs of the Cetza, just like Tenoch.”
Soshay nodded, noting how practiced his answer was. Had he memorized these words? Before she could ask another question, he turned his attention to the ball game.
He gestured toward the ball game, “I guess children’s games no longer interest you.”
She shrugged, “That game never did. But you should play,” she said. “I’ll watch you.” She smiled at him.
He left the bench and went to join the other boys.
She watched the game for awhile, but quickly grew bored when she realized that Neza played to show off for her benefit. Have a suddenly become a woman to everyone in the temple?
She turned from the game and rose gracefully from the bench, and she felt the boys’ eyes follow her movement. And she was annoyed. Their attention she decided was worse than the veneration of the servants. She walked slowly around the courtyard, stopping to look at the various plants and trees.
It was not a large courtyard, maybe a little larger than the one in her parents’ home. She continued keep her path under the trees, even if the presence was gone, her skin itched under the open sky. Is there a gate or a door that opens to the outside? Does this courtyard open to the outside? She had walked the length of two walls, and wished she could see over the walls, but they extended at least twice the height of a man. All she could see over the top of the wall were the tops of the other three temples.
At the back wall she found an altar to Tez. A small shrine, much like those kept in most homes. A statue of Tez seated on his throne of skulls, was nestled into the vibrant green foliage. In front of the statue was a small square slab of shiny, black stone, the altar. She stopped in front of the shrine, her knees automatically bending to kneel before it. She could feel the heat seep into her bones from the sun-warmed stone. She assumed it look like she was praying, but she continued to gaze at the statue and the altar. She noted the dark stains on the stone from blood sacrifices.
The statue of Tez stared cold eyed over the courtyard, sitting sternly on his pile of skulls. One hand rested on a skull the other held an upraised knife. She knew the symbolism now, the skull to remind the worshiper that Tez ruled death, and the blade to remind that he also ruled when death occurred.
She wondered who prayed at this altar. She had not found a gate or doorway leading out, so it would only be used by those in the temple. But they could worship in the temple itself, so no priest would need to worship at this small shrine. She heard the voices of the boys carry across the courtyard, the dull hum of conversation, to low for her to hear words.
Sun dappled the ground and her face as she knelt. She realized she finally felt warm. She felt someone come to stand behind her, but ignored the shadow cast over her.
“Oracle,” the voice was familiar, “We meet again.”
She glanced up to see Telmax.
“Your piety is a wonder. Given the chance to be outside, to revel in all nature’s bounty, I find you in worship.” He winked at her.
She slowly rose. “I am as pious and devoted to my calling as Tez commands” she replied.
He laughed, “Well spoken, little sister.” He nodded toward a bench, “Come sit with me. I think you and I need to talk.”
Intrigued she followed him over, glancing at the novices. Some watched in interest, others exchanged confused looks. She kept her expression empty as she sat. Let them wonder why he seeks to speak to me.
Telmax began, “We share a secret, you and I.”
She nodded thinking of Ohili. “I have told no one of my new lessons. Besides, who would I tell? I find that I can trust no one in the temple.”
Telmax winced at her words. “I speak of Keron.”
Her heart pounded. Was Telmax here to destroy me? Or Keron? “What of him?” she fought to keep her voice from shaking.
He sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “Please do not dissemble with me, little sister.” His words were strained, “I know,” he stressed the word, “I have been his under-priest for more years than I care to remember.”
Her eyes widened, “He told you?” She choked on the words, feeling the blush burning her face.
He dropped his eyes to the ground, “Not willingly, that I swear to you.” For the first time, Soshay realized Telmax looked serious. “I found him just before dawn, sleeping in front of you door.” He ran his hands through his hair, and Soshay noticed for the first time that he did not wear the many charms and bones knotted in his hair.
She searched his face looking for some indication of his intention. She realized that he too was blushing. “Will you destroy us, then? Do you seek his position? Or mine?” Her voice wavered.
He blinked at the accusation. “I think you misunderstand. I came to see you because I was worried about you.”
She felt her heart drop. Telmax worries about me, but not Keron? No longer willing to trust him, she put as much bravado into her words as she could. “Worried I would tell someone? I’m not a fool. To tell anyone of his visit would betray us both,” she paused and looked into his eyes, “and you as well big brother.” She watched the fear melt from his eyes and be replaced with wariness. “Oh for the gods’ sakes, I will not and would not speak of that night, for any reason.” She spat, exasperated with him and the situation. To her, he appeared shocked, either by her language or her tone; she could not tell and did not care. She was too hurt by Keron’s betrayal. That he would tell anyone about what had almost happened between them was too awful to consider.
“It is for the gods’ sake I ask, at least for Tez’s sake.” His eyes flickered over to the novices, as if trying to gauge how much longer obedience would keep them from coming over.
She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Keron is a good man, and he is a great oracle. He believes.” He glanced at the shrine. “While he is a good man, he is still a man and subject to the follies that plague us all.”
Soshay blinked feeling the tears burn in her eyes, “So his visit was folly?” her voice dropped, “a mistake?”
Telmax shook his head and shrugged, neither conveyed anything definitive to Soshay. “Only the timing as wrong. He had a vision of you both.”
She felt the blush return to her cheeks. “He saw that?” She felt her voice grow louder, “and he told you about it?”
Telmax nodded. “He didn’t have much choice when I found him curled up against your door like a whipped dog.” He lowered his voice, “He was almost broken by what happened.”
Soshay frowned, “Broken?” She was concerned , but also felt her heart beat a little faster knowing that Keron had slept at her door.
“Soshay, if he hadn’t been so distraught, he wouldn’t have told me anything.” He glanced at her, “And don’t think that he sent me to speak to you. I was sworn to secrecy, but I know Keron. And I fear that he’ll make a bigger mess of this than he already has.”
Soshay was still blushing furiously, but having someone to confide in was also comforting. She wanted to believe that Telmax was truly concerned about her and Keron. “Do you mean what almost happened between us?” She whispered.
Telmax nodded. “I do not pretend to have the understanding of the ways of the gods that Keron has. He sees farther than any oracle, well accept for you,” he smiled at her, “but he doesn’t understand people, particularly women.” He smiled ruefully. “He cares for you more than is wise, certainly more than is permitted.” He sighed, “He went to you last night, knowing it wasn’t Tez’s will. I think he deluded himself because he wanted it to be, because he wants you.”
Soshay narrowed her eyes, “You speak heresy. I am still a novice, and” she paused, “I am Tez’s bride.”
Telmax shrugged, “I do not pretend to understand Tez’s will the way you and Keron do. And I come from the City of the Lake. Temples there are not like these. Here it seems piety rules. There it is politics. Of course, I think the two mix more than either you or Keron realize.” He turned to look at the boys before continuing, “I do know that his desire for you is real. His love for you is real.”
She sputtered, “But Keron believes. For him it is not a veneer of piety. It is genuine.”
He nodded, “And that is why his feelings are tearing him apart.”
She cocked her head at him considering his words. “He would defy the will of Tez, for me?”
Telmax sighed, “Little sister, I fear he would defy the gods, the Imperator, and the earth itself for you.” Telmax paused, “But he understands the patterns of the gods’ plans. And he knows that you are part of that pattern.” He watched her face shift from understanding to a confused frown. “When you see a vision, do you know why?”
“I don’t understand. There’s no why, only the visions. I guess they’re sent to avert disasters, to help us all.” The words sounded naïve even to her, but she was glad that he had stopped talking about Keron’s visit.
“Not always. Often then are sent to shape the events of our world. Through us, priests and oracles, the gods can act upon the world.”
“Why would they need us, and what does this have to do with Keron?”
Telmax shook his head. “Whenever the gods have acted directly upon the world, they have destroyed it. You know the stories. We are in the fourth world because of their actions.” His tone had turned deadly earnest. “Keron understands that the visions are sent to allow Tez a way to re-shape the world, without destroying it or us.”
Soshay stared at him in wonder and confusion, “Why have I never been taught such a thing?”
“Because to even speak of this has been declared the vilest heresy by all but one of the temples” his eyes flickered toward the boys again.
She nodded understanding finally sinking in. “So Keron can see the pattern, see the intention behind the visions?” She continued not bothering to wait for him to acknowledge her questions, “And he believes, that we must…” her words trailed off, “that Tez wants that?”
Telmax nodded. “He does. I know he probably frightened you last night.” He did not meet her eyes, and she noticed he carried a faint blush.
So the mischievous Telmax is embarrassed by something, she noted. “Frightened?” she shook her head, “surprised and confused more like.” She was surprised at how much easier it was becoming to talk to him. Maybe it is just that he is the only one I can be honest with?
He looked down, the blush deepening. “He handled things poorly, but he did not intend to. Please, little sister, do not be angry with him – he is too ashamed to come and see you himself.”
“I cannot image him ashamed or afraid of anything, much less me. I do not know how it will be, knowing what Tez intends for us. We both may spend a great deal of time blushing.” She offered a wry smile, “But remind him that he asked to be my friend. If he truly seeks friendship, he should be able to speak to me and explain.” She tried to sound firm, but inside her emotions roiled. Embarrassment fought with anger and betrayal and heartbreak.
Telmax smiled at her, “You are stronger than any of us guessed.” He rose, “Enjoy your time in the sun, little sister. Tonight, I’ll come to take you to your lessons.” He lowered his voice, “And don’t forget, that Keron is just as confused and unschooled as you are.” He turned toward the milling novices and shot them a look of reproach look before walking away.
The novices all looked abashed for their nosey efforts, but she knew that before dusk the entire temple would wonder why Keron’s under-priest had come to her. She sighed and gazed back at the shrine, just for one day, I’d like to be a normal girl.
Telmax returned to Keron’s room. He entered the chamber without knocking. He knew that Keron didn’t want luxury, but as he was always struck by the austere nature of Keron’s rooms. Only the beautiful mosaic of running jaguars indicated Keron was more than a novice himself. Telmax guessed the battered chairs and table in the sitting room were the leftover furnishings from Keron’s time as a novice.
Telmax pulled the charm from his neck, the small bone pendent carved into a human skull hung from a silver chain. Keron took the pendent and put around his own neck before either man spoke.
Telmax nodded toward the pendent, now hidden under Keron’s mantle, “Ohili has tested that again?”
Keron nodded, “Ohili tested it yesterday. It still prevents any far-seer from spying on me.”
Telmax sat heavily in the chair opposite Keron. “Have we come to depend so much on magic?”
Keron offered a tired smile, “I fear, even if it violates temple law, that we should have been using magic long before this, my friend.” He glanced at the young priest, “But where have you been that you needed this?” He gestured to the necklace.
Telmax sighed, “Don’t be mad.” He paused, “I spoke to Soshay.” He watched Keron turn pale. “She is not angry about last night” he leaned forward, “Now will you stop acting like a love-struck boy?”
Keron glared, “I am not love-struck.”
Telmax waved the words away, clearly dismissing the claim, “She is upset that you asked to be her friend, but now you won’t speak to her like a friend.”
Keron groaned, “How can I face her?”
Telmax shrugged, “Hopefully with more dignity than you are currently expressing.”
Keron laid his head in his hands, “So she doesn’t revile me?”
Telmax hurmphed, “No, but she is confused and very hurt. You are going to have to face her eventually, and it would be wise to do so before you are her teacher again.”
“I will see her after she meets with Ohili,” Keron said without raising his head. “Maybe then I will know what to say to her.”
Telmax rose, “Are you going to tell her about her initiation? We both know that Neldo plans something heinous.”
Keron snapped his head up, “Without evidence, what can we do? We know that someone else in the temple pulls Neldo’s strings, but we don’t know who or why. I have spoken to the Keeper of Ritual about my concerns. He claims her initiation will not be tampered with” he looked at Telmax, “And Mitlan will be here to preside over her initiation. I have seen her consecrated to the temple, it will come to pass.”
Telmax nodded, “Then let us hope it passes without breaking her. We need her whole, sane and with a will of her own. She is our best hope against the evil that grows within the Temple of Dawn.”
“I know.” Keron said shaking his head, “I know.”