Excerpt: Good-bye A672E92 Quintus
The isle of Ben-Ar glittered with the crystalline temple of Ainisil, its many spires and towers weaving together organically out of the island’s craggy cliffs with smoothness and geometric precision. Dormers flowered near the pinnacles of each tower, amplifying the number of windows and usable working space. Twenty zhang张away from one of the spires, a species of falco albus circled, then wringed and stooped, catching a large rodent in her talons to feed to her hungry chicks being watched over by her mate in their nearby nest. Three stories below wound a carefully paved road leading from the docking port for low altitude shuttles one full li里 to the main entrance to the temple, a choice made to reduce the environmental impact of technology upon the area wildlife.
From the elaborately carved portal arch of the main temple entrance, Lady Brigid walked the smooth stone path with practiced precision. Fifty zhang 张 along the path from her starting point at the heavy wooden temple doors she stopped and stood gracefully at attention. Two figures, one male and one female, appeared as growing specks from the opposite end of the path. Brigid smiled as slowly the features of Lord Malvyn of house Balister and Lady Abbess Sareth of house Ten-Ar became clearer to her eyes. As they approached, Lady Brigid noticed six more figures appearing in the distance that too began to walk the smooth stone road.
Lord Malvyn bowed to Lady Brigid, taking her hand and kissing it, “Honor and respect to the lady of many names and to her ambassador in you, my lady!”
As Malvyn’s lips touched her hand, Brigid felt a shockwave of spiritual energy. Her eyes widened and balance faltered barely perceptibly, taking her breath as a presence filled her consciousness. Who was this Malvyn of house Balister and why was his polite kiss of respect, presumably directed at the triple goddess known collectively as Ainisil, affecting her so? Knowing an answer was merited by protocol, Brigid curtsied politely, “Merry meet, Lord Malvyn. House Miyoo greets you in the name of the Lady.” Malvyn smiled chivalrously in turn.
Lady Abbess Sareth bowed in greeting to Lady Brigid, “It is an honor and pleasure to meet you, Lady Brigid. Honorable Lady Kendra praised you highly when informing me of the conference.”
“I shall endeavor to earn your respect then, Your Grace. How fares house Ten-Ar this beinor?”
“Too few choose the healing arts, I am afraid. You speak honorifically to me, Lady Priestess Brigid, but I fear there is precious little honor in my title; it appears to be more of a formality than a true position of authority,” confessed Sareth.
“But surely you are a skilled healer and gifted teacher of the healing arts,” protested Brigid.
“These are not gentile times, my lady. Master knights and generals of war hold the greater prestige. Better a warrior and knight of Ten-Ar than a healer to them– at least for the present.”
“Perhaps we may reverse that trend,” suggested Brigid, her mind still mostly focused on Malvyn unexpectedly even as she applied Miyoo mental discipline towards staying in the present.
“Reverse what trend?” asked Lord Horatio of house Xing-li, his eyes forward so as to avoid noticing the delegation from house Cashmarie immediately behind him.
Lord Malvyn offered Horatio the Balistrian gesture of respect, “Good morning and welcome lord …”
“Lord Admiral Horatio of house Xing-li, at your service,” echoed Horatio.
“A pleasure and an honor, lord admiral. I am Lord Malvyn, master bowman and head of house Balister. Please allow me to introduce the ladies: Lady Abbess Sareth of house Ten-Ar and our hostess, Lady Priestess Brigid of house Miyoo,” presented Malvyn.
“A pleasure as always,” greeted Lady Silmira of house Cashmarie from behind Lord Horatio’s right ear. “I am Lady Mariner Silmira of house Cashmarie and head of our delegation.” Turning towards Horatio, Lady Silmira smiled politely and sarcastically, “A pleasure to see you again, lord admiral. Killed any children lately?”
“The affairs of house Xing-li are none of yours, Mariner. Or should I call you a hapless dimwit of a sailor who cannot navigate her way out of a sea to an ocean?” snarled Horatio.
Lord Malvyn raised his eyebrow with a turn of his body so only Lady Sareth and Lady Brigid could see his expression of mild annoyance and disbelief. The ladies echoed his body language silently. Turning his attention once more to Horatio and Silmira he motioned, “Well then, clearly we have much to discuss. Shall we enter the castle temple then and begin?”
Lady Silmira bowed and curtsied politely, her ocean green kirtle catching a sudden gentle island breeze, “By all means, Lord Malvyn! Let us find the solution to this problem. The sooner we conclude negotiations, the sooner we may all return to our homes.” Horatio nodded consent as Lady Brigid led the way into the castle temple and showed each of her guests their quarters for the duration of the negotiations.
Two shir-ors later, the negotiations began without progress. At the first meeting lasting three shir-ors, the three delegates from house Xing-li shouted insults and insinuations at the three delegates from house Cashmarie who returned them with equal ferocity, trying the patience of all three arbiters and forcing an early adjournment. The next morning talks fared little better as the delegates from each house numerated the flaws they saw in the other, their voices increasing in volume and the cutting of their mutual insults escalating to levels none of the arbiters realized was possible. After four full shir-ors of shouting with barely any breaks for meals, Lord Malvyn left the conference room for some air. Heading to his quarters, he collected his heritage bow, a recurve bow made of a tawny white wood called Nara known for its lightness and strength. Heading outside, he set up two targets, the first twenty zhang 张 from the invisible firing line he drew in his head and the second at sixty zhang 张. Stringing his bow he picked up an arrow from his nearby quiver, nocked it into the bowstring, and drew the string to his ear, sighting carefully at the far target. Releasing the arrow he heard it thump into the ground clumsily, his concentration clearly off. Picking up another arrow, Malvyn tried to quiet his mind. Behind him strode Lady Brigid, “You are angry.”
“Shouldn’t you be at the conference listening to their profanity?” remarked Malvyn.
“I adjourned the meeting three xiao-shirs after you left. It was pretty clear we were not going to achieve anything this beinor.”
“My lady,” began Malvyn, trying to conceal his anger at the stupidity that filled the negotiations, “I – I don’t know what to say or feel or do. I am used to leading women and men; I have certainly heard my share of petty arguments. But this? This I do not know how to handle – do you?”
“Anger and hate is like a gale force wind; sometimes you have to simply endure it and let it run its natural course before you can clean up the damage it has created.”
Malvyn lowered his bow and set it aside gently, “What makes you think anything will survive the ‘gale’ as you put it? These two houses are determined to destroy one another.”
“They are more alike than they are different. But Cashmarian discipline is based on cooperation and mutual respect; Xing-lian discipline is largely about fear and obedience to authority. Until they stop shouting and recognize how much they really do have in common …”
“… This nonsense will continue,” finished Malvyn.
“I am sorry I lost my temper.”
“There is nothing to apologize for, my lord.”
“Please call me Malvyn.”
“Malvyn. May I ask you a personal question?”
“Yes, of course.”
“When you first greeted me last beinor – did you feel anything, notice anything out of the ordinary?”
“You mean beyond simple respect for you as the chosen representative from house Miyoo for these talks?”
Brigid paced nervously, “Yes. I do not know how to put it into words.”
“I am not a man of religion. The Lady Ainisil is a mystery to me; I need priests and priestesses like you to help me understand. Of late I have had dreams, a face and an image that made no sense to me – until I saw your face and recognized you from the dream.”
“What happened in the dream?”
“It is hard to remember. But you were with me, steadying me in some way, I think.”
“Politically? Personally? Do you remember anything about the context?”
“It makes no sense to me. I saw – people I recognize to be on the Great Council. There were people everywhere around us, all dressed in their finest fabrics and brightest colors. There was food and drink being served, then some sort of formal – I do not know – maybe an inauguration or something?”
“I do not remember. But I do remember feeling you close to me and liking that feeling,” blushed Malvyn.
“When you touched me, Malvyn, I felt an energy flowing from you into me. It was unexpected and hard to understand. Something changed in me from that touch. I have no words to elaborate with. In all my training I have never heard of anything quite like that before. But we are taught one thing: the goddess of many names whom we called Ainisil often gives us sign posts on things to come so as to alert and prepare us for some challenge. Do you think it is possible that your dream and my experience last beinor are perhaps connected?”
“I do not know, my lady. But I am willing to see what comes next.”
“As am I.”
“Assuming there is some special significance to all this, may I touch you again?”
“Are you married?”
Malvyn’s grey eyes lit up at the question, “No. I have never actually been close to any woman in any particularly personal way.”
Brigid smiled, “Then you may.”
Encouraged, Malvyn closed the distance between them and brushed a free lock of her hair back behind her ear. Tentatively he brushed his lips shyly upon hers before feeling bold enough to kiss her fully and completely. Brigid reciprocated the kiss. Malvyn kissed her again, “Could it be that you and I are destined to be together? Are you to be my wife?”
“Let’s find out,” blushed Brigid.