Previously: Setch learns that the High Priestess Este uses the Jade Throne to manipulate her. Because of the Throne, Setch believed that her assignations with powerful Cetza were ordered by the Goddess, Zel (even though such actions violate the laws of the Goddess). After receiving a necklace from Drioux (priestess and midwife), Setch is able to fight the effects of the Jade Throne. In doing so, the memories Este removed return and Setch faced a crisis of faith.
After her revelations about Este, Setch had presented herself to the midwives, the priestesses under Drioux’s direct control, claiming a calling from the goddess herself. Setch knew it would not keep her from Este’s audience room forever, but it would serve to give her some respite from facing Este. Of course, Drioux and the midwives were happy to accept her service.
Today, she ground the pungent herbs used to make the contraceptive potion. She used her anger to help pulverized the herbs. In the last few days, her thoughts constantly turned to all of the acts she had submitted to. Acts she believed had been commanded by Zel herself. But now she knew it was Este, driven by her own ambition, who had commanded Setch. She ground the herbs until her arms ached, all the while her thoughts found no peace.
The rapture I felt while with men, like Tenoch, was it the hand of goddess? Or was it only the influence of Este and her Itz cursed chair?
Setch poured the herbs into a stone jar, and started on the next batch. She did hope Itz, the lesser god of punishments, would curse Este for her sacrilege.
And it is sacrilege, Setch thought, nothing created by Zel would manipulate emotions like that. Worse it steals my memories. It takes my will and my reflection. How am I to know what I feel and what I’ve done? Have I then acted against my goddess?
She pushed her tools aside and laid her head in her hands. Her thoughts ran in circles, always leading back to the question she would not ask Drioux or anyone else, did any part of her truly enjoy her time with Tenoch? When she’d entered the temple, she’d been experienced in the ways of love and bedroom play. Setch had sought service with Zel because of her enjoyment of sex. After entering into service, she had a started a relationship with a minor priest of Itz, and it was she who had introduced Setch to the darker pleasures that Tenoch also enjoyed.
The stone around her neck tapped the table. “Zel’s tear? You now protect me from Este, but can you tell me if it is my will or hers that drives me?” She asked. She wrapped her hand around the stone wanting to feel a frisson, something, from the stone. Setch needed her goddess, but the stone remained a stone.
“Setch?” Drioux questioned from the door.
She hastily wiped at her tears, “I am here Drioux.” She gazed at the older priestess. Drioux’s face was serene, and Setch knew that Drioux had no cause to doubt the goddess. Drioux was secure in her faith while she was foundering.
“We should talk further” Drioux sat across from her. “I know the revelations you had are…” she paused searching for the word, “they are awful. But do not doubt Zel’s love for you.” Drioux laid her hand on Setch’s shoulder, only to have Setch jerk away from the contact.
“Drioux, I do not know what to believe or what I feel.” She wrapped her arms around her stomach. “I have done, I have let my lovers do unspeakable perversions to me – and I enjoyed it” her eyes stung with unshed tears. “Yet I learn that I have acted according to Este’s will, and I have felt according to Este’s will.” Her voice rose to a wail. “Do not seek to ever tell me how to feel, Drioux. I will tolerate no one commanding my emotions again.” Setch glared at the woman, but could not hold on other anger. “Why would She allow Este to rule in Her name?” her voice broke and she began to cry.
“Ah Setch, the ways of the gods are complicated. But she had touched you. I saw you at her altar. She spoke to you there.” Drioux made no further attempt to touch the crying woman. “She needs you, and maybe… maybe she needed you to experience these things to truly understand your role in her plan.”
Setch glared at Drioux, “Her plan!? She wanted this? She wants Her temple defiled by that chair? By that bitch Este?” Her words were broken between her sobs.
“All the gods have gifted us with the will to make our own decisions, you know this. Maybe all of us that serve her have failed by making the wrong decisions. But we need you. The Goddess has told us that you will be the salvation of Her temple.” Drioux’s voice rang with conviction. “We have our own oracles, Setch. Girls sworn to serve Zel, not the schemes of Este. She knows nothing of them.”
Setch took a shuddering breath. She desperately wanted to believe Drioux. She wiped at her eyes wondering if she could believe Drioux. Her thoughts offered her no comfort. The stone still clasped in her hand remained silent. And she despaired that Zel offered her no guidance.
Drioux remained silent watching the emotions play over Setch’s face.
“You said we, what do you mean?” Setch asked.
Drioux smiled, “We are a group of priestesses that remain true to Her will. We have always served, in secret, within the Temple of Dawn.” She paused, watching Setch absorb this information. “We work to unravel Este’s plans, and the secrets of that damned chair she relies on.”
Setch narrowed her eyes, “If you questioned her status, her rule, why have you done nothing to stop her?”
Drioux sighed. “We have. Small things, we realized early on the advantage the chair gives her. You have seen how she can control anyone. We have had to be careful, secret.” She lowered her voice. “And we have been waiting for you. Those of the Sisterhood, tried to keep you from Este’s attention, but we failed. Now we see that maybe the goddess needed you to see for yourself what evils Este weaves.” She shrugged.
“Why me?” She whispered.
“Because the Goddess demands it.” Her voice was firm. “Will you join us Setch?” She glanced at the younger woman, “You know enough that you could destroy us with a word. Tell Este and we are doomed. Keep silent, but without your aid, our oracles say we will fail.” Drioux raised her hand to pull her necklace from her blouse, letting Setch see it was a twin to her own. “You have a choice Setch. We will not seek to coerce you or use you against your will. We ask for your aid.”
Setch closed her eyes. What am I to do? She opened her eyes, and searched Drioux’s face for some sign of a lie. Anything to help her make a choice. She saw only the serene features of her friend. “What must I do?” she whispered. “give me time to seek my own council,” Setch said.
“Do no wait too long,” Drioux cautioned.
Without reply, Setch left the apothecary and the temple.
Since Setch’s last report, Este had spent hours sitting in the chair. The new powers it promised were becoming clearer to her. This chair will facilitate my return to power. With this much power, I can make the King restore me to his side. Her eyes glittered with the thought, I can become his empress. He will not need an alliance with his Suyuian wife. We can rule from the Zanza lands through the Suyu lands. They will all bow before me. She laughed as the chair surged with soothing power. Este knew that whatever powered the relic, agreed with her plans for more power.
No treaties and alliances, only utter destruction, annihilation for anyone who would not bend to the unnamed god’s will.
Este’s eyes widened in shock at the thought. Does a god control this chair? Have I become a superstitious fool?
The chair stung her. God, god, your god. The words seemed to whisper around her. “My god?” Este whispered in response. “Who are you?”
The chair only sent more soothing energy through her.
Este waited for an answer and received only silence. She finally pulled herself from the chair. I have put off my duties for too long. She straightened her gown, and with a last, lingering look at the chair she left the audience chamber.
She discovered one of the young acolytes rushing toward her door. “What is it?” She snapped at the panting girl, and instantly regretted her show of temper. Without a thought, she used some of the stored energy to remove the stinging words from the child’s memory. She glanced at the girl and decided not to waste the effort. She pushed more energy into the girl, beginning the conditioning process. Eventually she would need to begin refilling the ranks of her special priestesses. Maybe if I start earlier, when they are younger, it will make the process stronger.
“High Priestess,” the girl gasped for breath.
Este hid her irritation and waited for the girl to speak. She tried to remember the child’s name, Zantin, she finally remembered.
“My lady, the priest Amox, of the Temple of Noon, seeks an audience with you.” Zantin stumbled over her words.
“Amox,” her eyes narrowed, the priest who stole my Chacon seeks audience with me? She considered sending him away, but decided to hear what he had to say. Maybe he wishes to be rid of Chacon; maybe she has betrayed him too. “Show him to my formal audience chamber.” She spoke and turned toward her own chambers. For a meeting with an enemy, she would need to prepare. In her private chambers, she changed her gown, donning the formal green, gilded gown. The gold plates made the gown achingly heavy, but it reminded all of her station. Instead of calling for a servant, she straightened her already coifed hair herself. She paused to consider her reflection before leaving, and used the chair’s power to cast an aura of power. It made her features sharper, her eyes seem to exude confidence, and it made her appear physically more imposing. She smiled at her handiwork, and sedately made her way to the formal audience chamber.
The formal chamber was a vast room, almost cavernous. The builders had situated in the center of the temple, allowing the ceiling of the room to soar into shadows overhead. The only furniture was a solid malachite stone table graced the center of the room, a table large enough to seat thirty comfortably. Through a marvel of architecture, the room was almost entirely walled in thick colored glass. The huge slabs of glass slanted down from the shadows of the ceiling to the floor. The glass was hued with ambers, oranges, and reds – making the room mimic the vibrant sky at dawn. The sun poured through the glass, making the malachite floor all the more vibrant. She seldom used the room, favoring the presence of the Jade Throne. But former High Priestesses had met with their high council in this room or they had used it to impress visiting patrons. Este had few public patrons and had stripped the high council of any power beyond a title years ago.
Este would have preferred to have the chair present for the meeting with the priest of Mat, but the formal audience chamber was more impressive, and far more appropriate. Eventually, she decided she would have to move the chair into the formal room. For now, keeping it in her private audience chamber, gave her the freedom she needed to experiment with it.
She sauntered into the room, her eyes immediately finding Amox standing in wait. She could understand Chacon’s desire for the man. He was young and well built, but all of Mat’s priests were excellent examples of maleness. He was tall and muscled, with strong features. His hair hung thick and glossy over his shoulders. She noticed he wore the formal kilt of his temple, but eschewed the mantle in favor of a jaguar skin draped over one shoulder, leaving much of his chest bare. She nodded for him to sit before taking her own chair. Yards of stone separated them.
“You dare much in coming here.” Her words rang with the force of the chair’s energy. Even with her new found control of the chair, she would have to begin rationing the energy if it was to last through this entire meeting.
Amox bowed his head in silent agreement. “Chacon sends her regards.”
She glared at him, “Do you only come to insult me?” she snapped.
He smiled a slow languorous smirk.
She assumed that he knew that smile only served to make him more handsome.
But he is a fool if thinks his handsome face will distract me, Este thought.
He continued, “Let us skip parrying with words and veiled threats. Chacon has been initiated into the Temple of Noon. She is now a full priestess to Mat.”
Este shrugged, “Why would I care what that slut has decided to do? She is anathema here.” Her voice was sharp. What games are they playing at, she wondered. To tell me Chacon is one of their priestesses is meaningless. Why would they come to me?
“She told me about your throne, and its Suyuian origins.”
The words hung in the chamber between them.
Este seethed. How did she learn the origins of the chair? “The chair belongs to Zel. Chacon is making up pretty stories to elevate her importance.”
Amox laughed. “So you seek to play with words? She knows the truth of the chair and has told me of its power. I do not come here to expose your heresy” he paused, letting his words remind her of the Temple of Noon’s past charge of heresy against her, “I come to negotiate an alliance between our temples.”
Este barked a laugh. “Why would I seek alliance with you? If what you claimed about the chair is true” she colored her voice with doubt, “why would I need you or your temple?”
“You know the prophecy that one day Mat himself will return to the Cetza? He will walk among us a god and a man?”
Este frowned, “You wish to discuss legends and prophecy? Stop wasting my time.” She snapped at him, but was intrigued by his words. Did he have some plan to claim a god walked the earth? If Mat’s temple could accomplish such a ploy, his temple’s esteem would overwhelm Tez’s once again.
“Our far-seers have seen him walk the earth, Este. He has begun his journey from far across the seas, but he is coming.” He watched her expression twist in annoyance, “Doubt if you will, but he comes and is both god and man. Through fire and annihilation, he will rule us all. Everything will change at His return.”
Este felt a rush of energy, the chair, the unknown god was intrigued. Fire and annihilation, she thought at the throne, the god. Is this what you desire? “If this is true, why involve me?” She asked Amox.
Amox shifted closer to her, “Because your Unnamed God will be his harbinger.”
Este raised an eyebrow and felt the throne clamoring for more. “I serve Zel,” Este snapped, but heard her voice catch saying the goddess’s name. “I know nothing of an Unnamed God…”
Amox laughed interrupting her, “If you continue to dissemble, then there is no purpose to this meeting. The Temple of Noon knows about the relic. Chacon is not are only source.” He leaned over the table, “Our far-seers have witnessed you using the chair’s power.” He paused and licked his lips, “Even if Mitlan, and his Temple of Twilight, are above us in the Imperator’s esteem, our word still carries great weight with the Imperator, Este. While the High Priest wishes for an equitable negotiation, I have no compunction against laying charges of heresy against you,” he paused, “again.”
Este bristled at the threat. It was fifteen years ago that the Temple of Noon claimed heresy against her during the Century War Council. It was their accusations that led the Imperator to exile her to the City of the Jungle. Este did not doubt that the priests of Mat would once again resort to such tactics. She had created a careful background for the chair, even altering some of the Temple of Dawn’s oldest records to suit her version of the throne’s history. But she knew her alterations would not stand up to real scrutiny. Another charge of heresy would end her reign in the Temple of Dawn. She felt her features twist into a scowl.
He ignored her scowl, “With those charges, I can simply take possession of the throne, and Chacon can wield its power.” His voice echoed through the room, and he turned from her beginning to walk from the room.
Este raged, her mind in turmoil. She wanted to pour the chair’s energy into destroying Amox but found it would not let her. “Wait!” her voice rang out.
Accept his offer, or I will destroy you, the Unnamed God hissed at her. Mayhap this Chacon would make a better servant for Me anyway. The voice hissed again.
Amox stopped and turned to her, “I made you a fair offer, and you seem disinterested. Am I mistaken?” He asked with a grin.
Este bit back her rage; he knows that he has won. She seethed. “Chacon does not know enough about the chair. I have spent years with it and am well-versed in many of its secrets.” The chair seemed to send a soothing touch toward her.
“She can learn.” He smiled at her. “She learned quickly enough to surpass you in other venues.”
Este’s eyes flashed, “She does not have a tenth my skill, with the chair or otherwise.” Her fingers gripped the table in a white-knuckled fury. Chacon has outplayed me again. Through the red-haze of her thoughts the Unnamed God reminded her that an alliance would give her a chance to destroy Chacon, and all of her enemies in the process.
All of your enemies will be laid on My altar. The voice whispered to Este.
Amox smirked at her. “So much better than her?” his voice was low, “That I would consider testing.” He stepped towards the table, “But you will strike faster than a snake.” He said as he sat back down.
Este smiled, “You would never see the strike coming, Amox.” She rose from the table, “Go back to your temple. Tell them I accept the alliance, but the Jade Throne remains in my control and Chacon remains with you. I will never allow her to set foot within my temple again.”
Amox nodded, “We will meet again.” He turned from the chamber and left.
Este fell back into her chair shaking. So I do Your bidding now, she thought to the Unnamed God. She saw a flash of images in her mind. The Temple of Noon welcoming a man, a human, who wore the face of Mat. She saw herself standing at the welcoming, to welcome him as representative of Zel. She saw herself destroy him with the power of the chair. “He will be only a man” she whispered, “and men I can destroy with a thought.” Her eyes gleamed as she re-worked her plans. An alliance with Mat is not ill-advised at all. Yes, I can use this.
Setch waited at the small temple of Itz. Unlike the major gods of the Cetza whose temples were all towering ziggurats, the lesser gods favored other styles. Itz’s temple was a square edifice with pillars and quiet alcoves for contemplation and further inside punishment. She used all of her authority as the Second Priestess of Zel to facilitate a meeting with Coliu.
Setch had not seen her former lover in some months. Este had ordered that Setch end the relationship, as she saw no value in a connection to the temple of Itz, after all what need had Este of the god of punishments. Now Setch waited, her stomach churning, and her heart aching at the pain she had caused Coliu in ending their affair.
Coliu entered the chamber, alone. Her hair hung, unbound, thick and black knotted with charms and talismans. She wore the clothing of a priestess, the heavy feathered collar hung around her neck, and she had painted her face in with the blues and whites of her god’s ice.
“Second Priestess of Zel, what do you seek?” Coliu asked, her voice cold and distant.
Setch opened her mouth to speak, and instead fell to her knees. “My love, I cannot ask your forgiveness for what I have done. But I beg you for your help.”
For a moment, the silence stretched between them. Setch kept her eyes locked on the floor, unable to look at Coliu. She jerked her head up startled when she felt Coliu’s hand on her shoulder.
“Setch? What has happened?” Coliu’s voice was soft with concern.
Setch forced herself to look up, to look at her abandoned lover. “Oh Coliu, I have been betrayed.” Setch took the woman’s hand, and she felt the rush of her goddess. “There is corruption in the Temple of Dawn, and I do not know who to trust.” Setch forced herself to look up at Coliu. “I need the guidance of Itz.”
Coliu stared at Setch a moment, and took a breath. “Setch, stand and seek the council of Itz.” She held her voice firm, with all the resolve of a priestess, not an abandoned lover. She tugged lightly on Setch’s hand.
The other woman rose, slowly. Coliu could see the exhaustion etched on Setch’s face, but she knew that Setch required spiritual healing before anything else could be done. Setch followed her meekly to the room’s altar. Itz’s worship was the only of all the Cetza gods that promoted solitary rites. While the temple had a main altar room, it was only used by the priests and priestesses. All patrons here were taken to private chambers and their rituals were preformed alone.
“Come, Setch and remove your dress.” Coliu ordered.
Setch removed her clothing with no art or seduction, rather she let the garnment fall to the floor. She stepped without order to the altar space. She pressed herself against the scarred wooden post, wrapping her arms around it, and resting her cheek on it.
Coliu began the invocations to Itz, begging he purge the supplicant of her errors, her wrongdoings. She set the incense to burning, and great clouds of the sticky, sweet herb filled the room. She continued her chanting and prayers, while she selected her tool. Every altar room held a basket of fresh scourges, made from a large succulent plant. The spines, often used as sewing needles, studded the length of each leaf. They would, if wielded correctly bite cleanly and deeply into the supplicant’s flesh. Both the bloodletting and pain giving were the goal.
Setch stood unmoving, with her eyes closed. She prayed to Itz and to Zel, begging both for guidance to clear her mind of the manipulation of Este and the Jade Throne. The first lash of the spines burned through her, and she let her prayers cease and sunk into the pain. Coliu was skilled at wielding the spines, traveling up and down Setch’s back, bottom, and thighs. Finally Setch began to purge. She spoke, whispering and crying out her everything. She spoke of the throne, of the manipulation. She cried over what she felt was a betrayal of her goddess, and she spoke of shame.
The words poured forth from her, and continued even after Coliu had ceased in the whipping. She stood near Setch listening, her own eyes filled with tears. Finally the chamber was filled with the soft drops of Setch’s blood, and her labored breathing.
Setch sagged against the wooden post. She heard Coliu in the chamber and the splash of water. When it came, the pouring of sea water over her wounds, she managed only a hiss of pain, too wrung out for more. Coliu’s sure fingers rubbed a healing ointment onto her flesh and wrapped the wounds in light cloth. It was the wrapping that forced Setch to move away from the pillar.
Once her wounds were bound, Coliu offered her to the final of Itz’s blessings. Setch raised her eyes, and met Coliu’s unafraid and unashamed.
“Coliu, can we speak?” She asked.
Coliu nodded, and led Setch to her private chambers.
Setch sat around the table with the Sisterhood. Drioux had instructed her go to the midwives’ meeting room just before dawn. The small room contained a plain wooden table, scared from years of use. A large fresco of Zel as fertility goddess graced the wall opposite the window. The Goddess was depicted standing in a flowing river with her arms holding a child. She brushed the sleep from her eyes, considering the fresco. Zel is rarely shown holding a child. I wonder if this is an older image, and if so why is it here? Her thoughts wandered; her body ached from the scourging. She was a peace with herself and her goddess. Her time in Itz’s temple had reminded her that temples themselves were places that breed politics and games of power. None could avoid that. This is yet another game of power, Setch thought looking at the priestesses present.
There are only twelve, which seems a small number to cast Este down. All of the priestesses, she noticed, wore a tear-pendent that matched her own. Of course all they need to do is to get that Itz damned chair out of the temple and we will be fine. Este cannot survive as high priestess without it.
“Setch comes to join the sisterhood.” Drioux’s voice rang in the small chamber. She stood in front of the still dark window. “She knows of our true devotion and has pledged her service. Sisters, do we accept?”
The other priestesses responded in unison, “Yes.”
Setch felt a flood of relief. She needed them as much as they believed they needed her.
Drioux remained standing. “I have already presented you with Zel’s Tear, my little sister. We wear her gem to remind ourselves of our mission. We will restore the sanctity of Zel’s temple.” She raised her hands in veneration as the sun broke over the horizon in a riot of dawn colors. “Now my sisters let us begin the ritual for Setch’s entry into the Sisterhood.”
Setch stiffened. No one had told her of any ritual. And while the Sisters’ acceptance of her made her happy, begin part of a ritual she did not understand disquieted her.
She felt the woman seated to her left rise and place a blindfold around her eyes. The woman whispered in her ear, “Be at peace sister. It will be over soon.”
Setch gave a brief nod and strained her ears to hear. The scrape of eleven chairs sounded much louder while Setch was blindfolded. The twelve women began the chanted invocation to Zel. Setch tried to make out the individual voices, but they had blended into a seamless harmony.
“Rise, Sister Setch” It was a woman’s voice, but Setch knew it was not Drioux’s.
Setch rose, feeling ungainly in the blindfold. She shifted, slightly to face the direction of the voice.
Another voice rose, “The Sisterhood of Zel is as eternal as our Goddess. We are many and we are few.”
Setch wondered if the women she was meeting with represented only a small number of the Sisterhood priestesses. Maybe it is only these priestesses who risk their lives at being discovered, Setch thought.
The same voice continued. “A new Sister seeks to join us in protecting Zel’s temple and her worship.”
The other women called out, “Name her.”
“The priestess Setch once enslaved to the vile power wielded by the Pretender Este.”
The room grew silent. Setch strained her ears searching for any sound. All she heard was the soft breathing of the priestesses.
A third voice rose, “Sister Setch has committed heresy under Este’s control.”
Setch froze. She knew that Este’s special priestesses were not spoken of, but everyone within the temple knew of them. Still, to hear herself named a heretic made Setch gasp.
The third voice began again. “Priestess Setch has been touched by the corrupting influence of the Unnamed One. Setch’s actions, her assignations, outside of Zel’s law, put her acceptance into the Sisterhood in jeopardy.”
Setch felt tears burning behind the blindfold. I believed that I was serving Zel’s will. I knew nothing of the Unnamed God or the accursed Throne’s powers, and I will not be shamed by these women who know nothing of His power. Her angry thoughts were quieted by Drioux’s voice.
“Priestess Setch acted purely out of faith. She has confessed her dobuts to me. Even under the control of the Unnamed One, she began to question Este’s will. Setch has repented of her crimes against Zel’s laws. She seeks redemption. She is a true servant to Zel.” Drioux’s voice rang through the small room.
Setch still flinched at each word. Even Drioux thinks I have betrayed Zel. Oh, Zel, am I to be forever branded a heretic? Setch prayed, and the punctured on her back and thighs burned.
“Now Sisters, do we accept Setch as a true Sister?”
The silence in the chamber was deafening to Setch. She wondered if the women wore expressions of doubt or consideration. Could these priestesses understand the compulsions of the chair? Setch heard the women moving slowly away from her, followed by the soft clink of stones dropping into a pottery vessel. She realized the women voted in secret.
It was common in the Temple of Dawn to use colored stones to allow the priestesses to vote secretly. Each woman took one blue stone and one black stone from a bowl. They then cast their stone into another vessel. Blue for yes and black for no.
“Each Sister has spoken with her stone.” Drioux’s voice rose again and Setch heard the rattle of stones in a bowl. The stones clattered to the table.
Setch ached to remove the blindfold. To see for herself how these women judged her, but she remained standing with her head held high. She waited for the sound of the stones being separated into blue and black piles, but heard only silence.
“Sister Setch, remove your blindfold and face judgment.” The first voice commanded.
Setch removed her blindfold and blinked against the light in the room. The Sisterhood priestesses all stood in a semi-circle between Setch and the window. The table lay between them. Setch forced her eyes down to the table. She wasn’t sure what terrified her more, outright rejection or complete acceptance. Her gaze fell on the stones. Only two black. Her eyes flicked back up, as she wondered which women voted against her. None showed any expression at all.
“Welcome.” The women said in unison. “Welcome Sister Setch.”
The sun broke over the jungle in that moment and Setch felt the dawn sun’s light on her face, its warmth eased the psychic ache in her thoughts. She wondered if it truly mattered that some in the Sisterhood did not forgive her crimes, when she admitted to herself that she, herself, had not come to terms with her crimes.
All the priestesses spent a moment in silence as the sun slowly flooded the room. Finally Drioux turned and spoke again. “Now my Sisters, our ranks are full again. We must put our plans into action.” She gazed at each priestess around the table. “Our oracles have spoken dire warnings. The true power of the chair has awoken. Our allies outside of the Sisterhood have confirmed this as well.”
Setch felt the fear from the gathered priestesses. “Forgive me Drioux,” Setch interrupted, “but the throne has always been active. I have witnessed its effects.” She stifled a shudder remembering her last meeting with Este. She wondered if any of the women who had voted against her had felt the chair’s power.
“That was only a fraction of the relic’s true power. The source of its magic has been sleeping for generations. It seems Este has finally managed to awaken the Unnamed God.”
Setch frowned, “I do not understand.”
“I will explain all to you later, Setch. Our time in private is short. Este has spies even within our temple.”
Setch nodded, and tried to follow the fast paced conversation as each of the priestesses offered her suggestions to stop this new power. A young midwife, a priestess new to the temple finally spoke, “I do not have any suggestions regarding the chair, but I do have news. The priests of Mat have come to see Este. I listened at the door,” She paused a wide smile on satisfaction on her face, “They seek alliance and they know about the chair.”
The room erupted into chaos of shouting voices. Drioux finally regained order. “Chacon must have told them,” she said to them all, “I should have initiated her when I had the chance.” She finished almost to herself.
“She would never have joined you” Setch found herself saying. She was surprised at her own confidence. “Chacon is far to like Este. She does not care for gods, only her own power.”
Drioux and the priestesses considered her words. “This may be something we can use, but first we must consider this new development.” She glanced at the line of the sun on the wall. “Our time is almost up. Este’s spies will soon be able to see through our magic. For now we must continue our current work.” She nodded at each of the priestesses in turn. Each woman quietly left the room.
“Setch, stay.” Again Drioux glanced at the line of the sun. “When the sun strikes the river in the fresco, the magic will end for the day. Please just listen. I will answer all your questions another time.”
Setch nodded gazing at the wall, wondering about the magic Drioux spoke of. Zel does not use magic. Her worship forbids it. Setch was troubled by this revelation, are we all heretics?
“I know what I ask will be difficult for you, but I, we need you to return to Este’s service. She will call on you soon. Even this new alliance will not dissuade her from her goal of bringing the oracle Soshay to the temple. Can you continue your work for her?” She caught Setch’s horrified gaze, “I know it is awful. I would not ask if it was not dire. If she can bring Soshay to our temple, we must be sure she will work with us.”
Setch shook, whether with horror or rage she did not know. “Why Soshay? Why does everyone want her? Is she so important that I must endure the abuses of endless men to get her?” Her voice rose with each word.
Drioux laid a hand on Setch’s shoulder. “Soshay has a prophecy we need. Without it, we may all be lost.” She glanced at the wall.
Setch followed her gaze and watched the sun reach the river. The lapis seemed to glow in the light, looking for a moment like moving water. Setch remained silent.
“We would not ask this, but for the goddess herself.” Drioux’s voice was low.
Setch’s eyes followed the fresco. Zel was depicted with a benevolent smile as she gave birth to the river that gave all the Cetza women children. Is this what you wish? The image gave no answer. She finally tore her eyes from the fresco and nodded her agreement.
Drioux squeezed her shoulder and murmured her thanks. “Now,” she raised her voice again, “the midwives thank you for all your recent help. But, I feel you are correct and this is not the path Zel wishes for you.” She nodded toward the door, seeming to imply someone was listening. “You serve her best with Este, and you have told me yourself how much an honor it is.” She paused and gestured for Setch to respond.
Setch stared at her wide-eyed with confusion. “You must be correct Drioux. My place is with Este.” She said the words, but did not believe them. She would no longer accept the words of a mortal as a command from her goddess. No, she would return to Este’s service to seek out Soshay, but it was not to bring the oracle to the Temple of Dawn.
With all of Drioux’s concern over a spy, Setch expected to find someone in the hall. Instead the stone hall was empty and silent. Are they overly-concerned with Este? She has never mentioned any concerns about Drioux or the midwives to me. Setch made her way through the hallway toward the altar room. Why is it so difficult to simply be a servant of the goddess? All the temples seek political influence, but I only want to do her work. She finally heard someone calling her name. She turned to find a young novice.
“I am sorry, Novice Zantin. I must have been lost in my thoughts.”
The girl smiled at her. “I do that a lot too. But I have a message for you. Este calls for you.”
Setch felt the blood drain from her face and mumbled a thank you to the girl before turning away. Can I do her bidding without the influence of the chair? She forced herself to walk towards Este’s chamber.
Drioux remained in the midwives’ chamber after Setch left. She wondered if she should heed the warnings of her allies in the Temple of Midnight and send Setch to them now. She worried about the young woman. Setch was like a daughter to her, and she despised the work Este forced her to do. But to send her now goes against the prophecies my oracles have decreed. She stared at the image of Zel, seeking some guidance.
Finally she began writing her weekly report for her allies in the Temple of Midnight. She would keep Setch in the Temple of Dawn for awhile longer, but she would begin sending the other priestesses away. I can at least save them from being corrupted by Este and her corruptor god. She thought as she finished the brief note. She folded the paper and with a practiced hand, sealed it with the wax given to her by the Temple of Midnight. They swore it would prevent the note from being read by anyone other than the intended recipient. Once the letter was sealed, and hidden in the contraceptive potions she was sending to the Temple of Midnight, she called for a novice.
It took her a moment to recall the girl’s name, “Papantzin,” she said, “I need you to deliver this package to the Temple of Midnight.” Drioux smiled at her.
“Of course, My Lady.” She took the small box and held it gingerly. “I will delivery it as quickly as possible.”
Drioux smiled, “There is no need to rush back, Zantin. It looks to be a lovely day. After you deliver the box, you can spend a little time roaming the plaza if you wish.”
Zantin smiled back, “Truly?”
Drioux laughed at the girl’s hopeful tone. “In fact,” Drioux hastily searched through the cupboard, “take this.” She handed the girl a few trade beads.
The girl took the beads with wide-eyes.
“Now, go. You may have to wait a little while at the Temple of Midnight. The High Priestess may need you to bring a message back to me.”
The girl nodded, “Anything, My Lady. I am honored to serve you.”
Drioux narrowed her eyes, is it only my imagination, or did the girl really emphasize, serving me over some other? She promised herself that she would keep an eye on this novice. “Go with Zel’s grace, my child.”