Soshay was distracted after the strange conversation with Keron about friendship. In the past five years, nothing about him led her to expect this gesture. Her feelings were even more muddled by the strange dream of the High Council and his fervent defense of her.
Keron would come today for her next lesson, and she found all of the confused emotions surging around her again. She had toyed with her hair and clothing for an hour, until she realized she was acting like a woman awaiting a lover, rather than a novice awaiting her teacher.
This is foolishness. She told herself. I must seem a child to him, he is near thirty. Maybe he just wants to make this place more bearable for me. The time for her lesson came and passed, and he did not arrive. She waited awhile longer and finally walked down to the records room, wondering if she was supposed to meet him there, but the room was empty. She stood at the door to the records room, lost. A friend who does not arrive when he should, she thought. She did not know where his rooms were nor where his duties took him in the temple. We can be friends when it is convenient for him, she thought and turned to head back to her room.
She began walking back to her room, not angry she realized, but hurt. She was lost in her thoughts when she bumped into a priest. She mumbled an apology.
“True Bride” he nodded his head in respect, “I went to your room, but obviously you were not there.”
She stared at him taking a moment to realize that he was speaking to her. He was young, only a few years older than her, but he was not a priest who she had met before. She immediately noticed that he was handsome, and she silently chastised herself for gaping at him like a love struck young woman.
He cocked his head at her, “You are Soshay, aren’t you?” He grinned, “You are the only girl I have found in the temple all afternoon.” He did not wait for her to reply. “I’m Telmax and I’m to escort you to your lesson.”
She blinked, “What lesson?”
“The High Oracle sent me. He had intended to take you himself, but he had unexpected duties.” He paused, “So, will you follow me, please?” He offered her a formal bow that he turned into a jest with his sly wink at her.
She stared at him. “You are irreverent for a priest.”
“Thank you” he said with a grin. “So, shall we go?”
She nodded, confused by this priest. This priest’s attitude seemed far too flippant. I wonder what position he holds in the temple, and does he behave this way in front of other priests? She tried to picture Keron interacting with this jovial man, and found she could not see the two of them together at all. She could not picture this Telmax as part of the somber temple at all. He seemed more like one who would be Zel’s service.
She noted the path led them past the door to the council room. She shuddered to remember the dream and the unearthly blue light. She had kept this dream locked away, afraid of the truth of it. She remembered Keron’s words in defense of her and remembered their last lesson, when he called me his, she thought and she felt her skin begin to tingle.
Telmax continued to talk to her as they walked. Stopping to tell her a joke or, what she found even stranger, he would stop to point out particular friezes that he found especially beautiful.
By the time they reached the staircase, Soshay was half convinced the man was an imposter, but found herself enjoying his company. His manner is so free of worry she realized.
They took a staircase and based on the number of steps she knew they were well-above ground. She stopped in awe at a window. Her mouth gaped open to see the city and jungle from this height. The sun was slowly sinking below the jungle, and the upper part of the sky had already become black. The lower sky was a riot of colors, burning red of the setting sun, glorious yellows, indigos, and pinks painted the sky. She was so enraptured that the first time Telmax called her name, she did not hear him.
“Please, allow me this for a moment” she whispered, unable to tear her eyes from the vista. She savored the colors of the sky, and breathed deeply catching the scents of the outside world. The cool night air was redolent with the scents of the jungle. The rich smell of loam and green, growing plants, was mixed with the spicy smell of the thousands of dinners being cooked or served in the city. The touch of moving air was like a caress. With a deep breath, she tore herself away from the view. “Thank you, priest Telmax,” She whispered, and bowed her head in respect.
“Are you so pious that the sunset affects you so?” He asked turning to glance out the window.
She offered a wan smile, “It is not piety that draws me to the sky. It is simply the vantage point.” With effort, she turned from the window and kept her gaze from the endless sky, afraid if she looked again she would never leave.
Telmax turned to her, “Neldo kept you bound to the seer’s stool too long.” He scowled.
She shrugged, “It was how he said I was meant to serve.” But she felt the familiar prickle of anger creep through her.
He shook his head. “We should all be judged for allowing him to mistreat you for so long.”
“Thank you” She stuttered, a little surprised at his concern.
Telmax laughed, “We should go. If you are late, your new teacher will blame me.”
She could not decide if Telmax was actually concerned with this teacher’s displeasure or not. His attitude was so mischievous she was not sure if anything he said was serious, except when they had spoken about the friezes and the sky. He had seemed genuinely angry about Neldo’s treatment of her. She had to admit to herself, that she found his playfulness refreshing after so many years with only seriousness.
She followed the sinuous path set by her guide, until they reached what appeared to be a meditation room. Cushions in vibrant colors were piled on the stone floor. The walls were freshly whitewashed, but otherwise unadorned. On the west side there was a window, she subtly twisted to glance outside, but all she could see was a sliver of a quickly darkening sky.
“Ohili?” Telmax called.
Soshay jumped at the footsteps behind them.
“Is this my new student?”
She turned and knew immediately that this man was not of the Cetza, nor did he appear to be from one of the vassal states. His skin was sun-darkened, but carried a far more ruddy hue than anything she had seen before. But it was his hair that marked him as something other. It was short, hanging around his ears in tousled curls. She wondered how he made is hair act in that way. She tried not to stare at his strangeness.
“Yes Ohili, this is Oracle Soshay.”
Ohili ignored Telmax and turned to her, “Shall we begin?” He asked her.
She quickly noticed that his language was stilted, accented in some indefinable way. Not like the Zanza to the far north, who lived in cities carved from cliffs, nor like the Lakiti to the south. The accent tugged at a memory from childhood. She wondered where he came from and how he ended up in Tez’s service.
“Leave us, Telmax,” Ohili waved a hand at Telmax. “I will take good care of her.”
Telmax rolled his eyes at them both, and gave a small bow that was both perfectly correct yet oddly irreverent.
Ohili laughed, “Come back at the moon’s zenith and not before.”
Ohili waited for Telmax to leave, before turning back to her. “So you are the one everyone gossips about” he looked her over. “I guess we will see what you are made of. Sit,” he gestured to the cushions.
She sat gingerly on the cushions, crossing her legs under skirt. She gazed at his strangeness, his alienness, from under her lashes and wondered what sort of teacher he was.
“Well little priestess, do you know what a far-seer does?” he asked.
Finally the lesson made sense to her. Keron had promised he would find her a teacher. She considered her answer to his question; the skills of a far-seer were still outside the edicts of Tez’s temple and she did not want to break some temple law in speaking of it to lightly. “It is, as I understand it, the ability to watch other people from afar. To send the spirit outside of the body and observe events in distant places.” She paused trying to gauge his response, he remained stoic. “It is not considered one of Tez’s gifts though; it is under the rule of Tzi and Maxtli.” She finished in a rush hating that her words became hurried and jumbled.
He raised an eyebrow at her, “so much academic knowledge, yet you seek to learn a skill that some in this temple may declare heresy?”
She raised her head and met his gaze, “I have been commanded by Tez, Himself, to learn this skill.” She met his eyes and hoped her own eyes reflected certainty, not the doubt she felt.
His face broke into a wide grin, “So the little priestess is not broken. Willful as a cat, unlike so many here.” He gestured outside the room at the entire temple with scorn. “I have never had a truly successful student in this temple; mayhap you will be the first?” His gaze seemed to be gauging her worth again. “Will you consent to this training?”
She hesitated, in the temple no one asked for her consent. She was given lessons whether she willed it or not. To be asked was something new. “Yes, I consent priest Ohili.” She bowed her head in accord.
“Not priest, just Ohili. I serve here at my will and for pay – not out of devotion.”
She looked up at him shocked.
“Do not look so surprised, Soshay, it is not uncommon as all that. Many within the temples serve out of desires other than piety. Mayhap I will teach you about that too.” He smiled again, “but our time is short tonight and I would see how a True Bride fares in this training. We begin.”
Soshay found his teaching to be different, unlike the structured methods that Keron used, and certainly unlike Neldo’s training of abuse and belittling words. Ohili spoke to her. If she had questions, he stopped happily to explain. When she faltered in her breathing or her concentration, he gently corrected her, and even offered to take a break. It was a wondrous experience to Soshay. For the first time in the temple, she felt like she was learning. Not being commanded to memorize facts without thought but given a gift of knowledge and understanding.
It seemed a simple thing to breathe, but Soshay learned that night that there were many ways to inhale and exhale. She felt her body slowly begin to respond to the new ways of breathing, noticing how they distracted her from the outside noise, the breeze of cool night air, from the ache in her back from sitting for so long. Each breath became purposeful drawing her farther from the temple around her. Only Ohili’s voice seemed to penetrate the distance. His soft words corrected her breathing, explaining the names and uses of each type, and led her farther and farther from her body.
“Where do you wish to be, little priestess?” his words seemed to come from a distance.
Her thoughts immediately went to her sister, but she said, “My mother, I would like to see her.”
“Then go. Let go of everything and picture your mother. Hold the image in your mind. See her and go.” his voice seemed to fill her mind.
She pictured her mother. In her mind’s eye, she saw her mother’s bronzed skin and wide dark eyes, so like her own and her sister’s, yet so filled with regret. She pictured her mother’s finely chiseled features stamped with the lines of nobility. Soshay could almost smell the oil her mother smoothed though her hair before she, bound the heavy locks in complicated twists and buns. Soshay could see every detail. Soshay felt herself drift, lost in the image.
“Hold the image, Soshay. No matter what you feel, hold on to it.”
She felt herself seem to stretch, her awareness of her body almost gone. She heard Ohili’s words grow fainter. Hold the image, she thought. She felt a rending, a sharp tearing, and again heard Ohili’s words reminding her to breathe. Each breath became an effort as the pain threatened to overcome her consciousness. The tearing became an agonizing pain, and suddenly ceased.
She stood in her mother’s room, yet the light was wrong. It was not the warm light of the sun, nor the silver light of the moon that filled the room. It was a glowing blue light, unlike anything in nature, but very much like her dream of the High Council. She reminded herself to ask Ohili about this later, and pushed the thought away to focus on the room around her.
She could see that the candles and torches were lit, but they seemed to cast no light, they only burned with eerie green flames. This is the last place I saw my mother, she thought. She spun around at a sudden sound, like the soft mew of a lost cat. She saw nothing, but the deep violet shadows seemed to move. Then, she saw her mother sitting at her dressing table.
Soshay moved toward her and called her name, but her mother continued to brush her long black hair without turning. She looked older. Fine lines crept from her eyes, and encircled her mouth, but Soshay still saw her as beautiful. Her mother hummed softly, singing a song of unrequited love that Soshay remembered as a child.
“Mother,” she called and felt herself falter and felt a tightening around her chest and a sharp pull in her heart. “Mother?”
The pain clouded everything for a moment and her mother’s room flickered in her eyes. The blue light dimmed and her mother’s movements slowed until she seemed frozen. The room went dark and the pain shot through her chest. For a moment, she heard the rumbled growl of a jaguar, and then, the pain overcame everything.
She opened her eyes, her hand absently rubbing her chest. The pain was gone, but the memory of it still radiated through her body. She blinked at the sudden brightness of the room, the clear, warm light of witchlights almost blinding her after the azure half-light. “I saw her” she whispered.
Ohili’s rose gracefully and brought her water. She felt him place the cool, clay cup into her hand. “So tell me little cat, what did you see?”
She ran her fingers over the cup. The tactile feel of the rough clay absorbed all of her attention. At Ohili’s prompting, she drank from the cup. The water slid down her throat, unleashing another torrent of sensations. It was like she had never tasted, touched, or smelt anything before this moment.
She considered the texture of the water in her mouth before swallowing. Her eyes lost in every detail in the simple clay cup.
The sound of Ohili walking across the room assaulted her ears. He returned with a plate of fruit. The sweet smell of mango almost overwhelmed her.
“Eat,” he pushed the plate toward her. She took a piece of fruit and marveled at how strange it felt to touch something again.
He took her hand and pushed it toward her mouth.
She felt the fruit at her lips and slowly took a bite.
“Soshay, I know after time in the otherworld, our world seems different.” He paused and waited for her to swallow the fruit. “The world becomes more alive, everything feels more, but it will pass.” He directed her hand to her mouth again. “Can you tell me what you saw?”
It took a moment for her to realize the sounds of his voice, so rich and full of vibrations, actually formed ideas. “It was strange… the light,” she searched for the words, trying not to become lost in the sound of her own voice. “It was blue. It was like the High Council meeting… and the cat. But it didn’t hurt in the dream.” Her thoughts drifted, forming the words seemed like a great effort, “But I saw her. She has grown older.” Speaking seemed to help her break the spell of her re-awakened senses. “I tried to speak to her, I called her again and again, but she did not hear.” She looked questioningly at Ohili.
“So many questions, Soshay. First, you cannot speak to anyone while in the otherworld” his golden eyes watched as she held the fruit. She reveled in the feel of the sticky juice sliding down her arm. “Little priestess, eat.”
She bit into the fruit; the sensation of her teeth passing through the pulpy flesh was jarring, the sudden, overwhelming burst of sweetness made her mouth ache. She struggled to chew, to swallow.
“You did well. The first true student I have had in the Temple of Tez.” He waited until she looked at him before continuing. “The pain comes from untethering your spirit.” He continued to watch her, making sure she focused on him. “It gets easier with time. The pain will lessen.”
Soshay nodded absently, feeling an echo of the pain again.
Ohili continued, “You will come back to your senses slowly. The strangeness will fade and become easier to manage. Do you understand?”
She cocked her head at his words. His voice sounded richer than before, strong and deep like a drum. “Yes?” Her voice seemed to chime in her ears like a bell. She felt Ohili lay his hand on her arm. His touch was soft.
“Soshay you must focus.” His voice was stern.
“I… I am sorry” she shook her head, still feeling half in a dream. She tried to hold his gaze, and was instead fascinated by the hues of his eyes.
Ohili nodded, “It is dangerous. Some Seers become lost in the otherworld, or maybe they choose to stay,” he shrugged, “others return, but not fully. They are trapped halfway between. This is what you are experiencing now. You must force yourself to fully come back.” He watched her face as she struggled to overcome the empty dreaminess. “Soshay, come back. You must anchor yourself here and now. Picture something in the temple that makes you happy.”
Keron’s name resonated through her being. She pictured his rare smile – and allowed the complicated emotions he invoked to fill her senses. With the riot of feelings came wakefulness. The room around her became solid again.
Her muscles ached from the prolonged sitting, but rather than wonderment, this was simple pain. She glanced up at Ohili, noting his interest. “Why Keron?” she whispered dropping the half-eaten fruit to the plate. The sticky juice on her arm was now an annoyance. “Why him?”
Ohili shook his head, “You chose. I cannot say why.”
He asked to be my friend. She thought, but remained silent.
“As you will, little cat, but remember I am not a priest. I have served many temples, but not so many gods. Maybe all these rules are not made by the gods at all? I claim no gods, yet still have the power to far-see.” He shrugged and watched her consider his words. “But fear not, I will not gossip like these bored priests. What you do,” he smiled at her scowl, “or do not do, is your business. But Keron worked as an anchor. His name brought you fully back to the real world. Remember that priestess, for I believe, you will need him.”
She considered what Ohili said. His honesty appealed to her. “I think… I will come to like you Ohili.”
He laughed again. “You already do, pet. You just do not trust me. You are wise to be wary. These priests play deep games of power, and you are a powerful tool. Ah, the things you could do.” He gazed at her musing.
She felt a growl rise in her throat, and choked it off feigning a cough. “I am not a tool, nor a slave. I will be my own master.”
He raised an eyebrow, “That I do not doubt, little cat.”
The door opening distracted them both. “Soshay, are you still alive?”
Soshay looked to find Telmax waiting. “Yes,” she smiled, “a moment please?”
He looked her over, noting her tired appearance. “Only a moment, you look tired.”
“Ohili, may I return for more lessons?”
He laughed, “Soshay, you are the only true student I have found in this temple. You may return, but do not attempt to far-see alone. Without guidance you can easily become lost in the otherworld. And do not think the otherworld is free of danger. You are never alone there. And the otherworld has become a stranger place these last few moons.”
“That I already know. I think I have been there before, at least in a dream.”
She was pleased to see he was surprised. She rose attempting grace, but failing as her stiff limbs protested.
He shook off his surprise and grabbed her hand. “You are a mystery, but you must promise you will never attempt to see alone. I do not wish to discover your body empty and your soul lost in the otherworld.” He smiled.
“I promise. When may I return?”
He nodded toward the door and her waiting escort, “I will send Telmax for you.”
“Thank you, Ohili” she said as she left.
Telmax escorted her in silence, until they reached the stairs. “So what do you think of the far-seer?”
She paused to consider her words, but decided to be honest with Telmax. “I think I like him. He is a good teacher.”
Telmax let out a barking laugh, “A good teacher? That isn’t a description I’ve ever heard of him. But he is good at what he does.”
“How did he come here? He claims to not be a priest.” She asked.
Telmax shrugged, “That’s his story to tell. But, no, he isn’t a priest.”
They arrived at her door. Soshay realized she did not want to be left alone again. Joking with this priest had been fun, something she so rarely had here.
“Don’t tell anyone, except Keron of course, that Ohili is teaching you.” Telmax said abruptly. His expression was serious. “Better yet, don’t even mention Ohili’s name. You have no reason to know that he exists at all.”
She looked up at him, “Why would it matter?”
“For the True Bride, you’re incredibly naïve. Keron didn’t get the council’s permission for these lessons. There are many in the temple who would use your lessons to harm Keron.” He suddenly grinned at her, “Of course you could just ask Tez to smite the entire council, and then, you could do as you pleased.”
Instead of being hurt or angry at his blithe words, she found herself laughing. “Maybe I will. Thank you for your warning.”
“Oh, it’s not my warning. I would tell you to stay away from Ohili entirely.” He paused, “And I would certainly tell you to stay away from me.” He paused as if he was considering telling her more, but continued without explanation, “Keron charged me to warn you.” He turned serious again, “But you must understand that with this knowledge, you hold Keron’s standing in the temple in your hands. Maybe even his life. He has taken many great risks for you, don’t forget that.”
“How are you, or even Ohili, dangerous to me? And why does Keron take these risks for me?” Soshay asked in a jumbled rush. She was tired of never getting answers from anyone.
Telmax smiled, “Ohili is not of the Cetza, and you know how foreigners are viewed here.
Soshay nodded. “But you are clearly Cetza, what harm could you be?” She smiled at the question, but was surprised to see he stiffened in response.
Telmax’s smile faded, “I served first in the City of the Lake. I was very popular with the female supplicants,” He shrugged, “And one too many important husband or father complained.”
Soshay blushed even with his innuendo, his meaning was clear. She wanted to ask how it was that he was still allowed to serve, but she was far too embarrassed to ask such questions. “And Keron? Why does he take such a risk on me?” Even as she asked the question, she realized that wanted to ask about far more than just far-seeing. She knew Keron was risking his position in the temple on her success.
Again Telmax grew serious, “He believes that we need you. Now I must go. It’s late, and tongues already wag about you.” He winked at her, “My presence here won’t allay the rumors.”
From her door, she watched him disappear into the shadowed halls.