HEART OF FIRE
What is a beginning but a single place in time? For this beginning a young child is about to meet their destiny, in the form of a tiny new life.
The frightened shrieks of a newborn babe split the midwinter air. The new heir to the Blood Rotheseyn was born. The mother lay nearby exhausted and glowing with pride and all the while a pair of bright fawn-brown eyes watched in rapt attention. The watcher was a small girl-child barely past her eighth year. She was bird-boned and thin with long gangling limbs that promised an uneasy growth, she would be tall. Her nose was curved lending a hawkish bent to her face that was further accented by high cheekbones and a thin mouth. Her eyebrows were relaxed in an unconcerned manner under a short copper hairstyle, high at the back and tapering down to points at the front---the warriors mark.
“What name will you give him my lady?” The midwife held the squalling infant carefully and sat in the oak-heart chair on the right to show him to his mother. The woman in the bed tried to sit up and was pushed down gently by a firm hand on her left. She frowned lightly. An ancient crone, a priestess by the round indigo mark painted high on her wizened forehead, stood bent over a spindly cane that was smoothed with age. Her hand was the one pressing down on the bedclothes. She shook her head slightly and the mother, sighing, turned back to the midwife.
“Solan-Ma,” her whispery voice shuddered out of her lungs warmly, “Ashar Solan-Ma.” Her voice cracked with sadness and pain.
“After the lord? Are you sure?” The midwife’s expression clouded over. It was considered bad luck to name a child after a dead man in fear that spirit may become jealous and steal the newborn’s soul. The woman on the bed nodded slowly and lifted a weary arm to stroke the babe’s still damp skin. It quieted almost instantly. “Gift of Asha it is then,” the midwife sighed, staring into the child’s face, “the naming’s your right my lady Shailenor, but you do him no favors, what with the way my lord Ashar was killed.”
“I knew that,” the lady winced, “I did know that…” She trailed off as a sleep took her. The air was heavy with steam and quiet for only a moment before the priestess snapped her fingers loudly in the murky room. The midwife jumped and the baby began to cry again.
“You there, girl, bring the child to me.” The crone commanded imperiously, making it very clear that this was not a request.
“Yes Great Mother, Immediately.” The short, stocky woman heaved her weight off the chair with a grunt. She was getting to old to be hopping about to her holinesses crank-pot tune. She glanced down at the little girl seated cross-legged on the floor and smiled. That one would never hop come flame or war. She’d seen the girl at practice with the other lads in the Wodanga Pagoda, barely eight and already wielding a stave with deadly accuracy and spark. She shook her head and skirted the bed, handing the still crying child to the holy woman. The crone wore the twin peaked habit and shawl of a high priestess, though her exact rank and the reason for her presence was a mystery as was the girl-child, what was her purpose here?
The priestess scowled at the screaming scrap of life in her hands. She was old but her ears were still keen and the smallness of the stone room only amplified the sounds. Sharply she glared at the midwife.
“Have you no sense?” She spat. “Fetch the birth-clothes!” Startled, the other woman flinched and nodded quickly, bustling hastily out of the room in retreat from the priestess’ livid expression. Those unnatural yellow-tinted eyes followed the midwife out of the room and down the hall, as if peering through solid stone. Finally the priestess turned back to the infant in her arms and crooked a finger at the girl beside her, beckoning. The Arch Priestess of the Faith, Ingarami Yayoi could begin the rite that would cement the babe as the Rotheseyn heir, the future of Tan’ Gaia, and beside her stood the youngest Woreseyn in centuries.
For a few seconds she scrutinized the girl that had risen to the silent command. She had yet no name, being an un-bonded, and was a quiet, unreadable creature. This special class of the People was born only once every generation, appearing in select families when a new heir was about to come into the world, and this girl-child was from the extinct Jailethor family, a cursed bloodline inflicted with the misfortunes of sonless births. Only men save for the women born of the Faith were able to master the lines that spread out from the Godspire. Ingarami swore inside her mind. A girl! The first Woreseyn of the generation was a girl! And a Jailethor no less!
A cloud of black omens seemed to follow the birth of this Rotheseyn son. Ingarami was concerned, it could mean the ruin of everything; nevertheless, this girl was the only un-bonded available and that meant that she must be bound to the newborn whether the Arch Priestess willed it or not.
“Stand there,” she ordered. Wasting no time, without warning her withered hand flicked out at the forehead of the girl and drew a diamond shape with one claw-like fingernail, drawing blood. Suddenly there was a quick flash and the red-fluid began to smoke with heat, burning.
As she was trained, the girl did not move, face placid and emotionless though pain skittered over all her nerves. Like all Woreseyn she was conditioned from birth to complete obedience, almost puppet-like. This one however, shook with an undeniably anxious tremor that the Arch Priestess could feel through the brief touch. Interesting. Briefly, she collected the scalding blood that dripped from the Woreseyn’s open wound with one hand and painted a mirror of the diamond shape over the infant’s heart. In one infinite second, time seemed to slow down and race on in the same moment. There was another flash and then all was still.
Twin marks, indigo diamond shapes adorned the spots where the blood had been. The Woreseyn’s wound was closed, healed without a scar and the little boy in the priestess’ arms was silent. His black eyes were wondering with a new and eerie intelligence that matched the shocked sense that the young girl felt. The Arch Priestess grunted in disdain, it was no great match but it would have to do.
“You are one of the Bonded now girl, these marks are the symbol of your office and duty. You will be forever bound to the fate of this child to guard him and become a shield or weapon in his name, and, if need be,” Ingarami looked at the girl squarely, “the vessel of his heirs.” She watched closely for any sign of refusal. The girl stood as still as ever, but a thin sheen of sweat had broken out on the side of her neck. She was obedient if not male, Ingarami mused to herself. “From now on,” she continued, “you are female in form only. Your body belongs to this family and your skill to its honor. If you are ever caught consorting with a man I will have you put out, do you understand?” The girl nodded. “Good, now both of you require new names. That silly chit Shailenor had the gall to fix her own brat with a birth-curse. Sentimental fool! Your name will be Kaliel for the matter, I leave it to you to give the heir his own. Think carefully girl! I won’t have a botched christening in my midst.”
Ingarami placed the baby boy in the girl’s small arms and bade her to mind his head and stepped back, observing carefully. The newly christened Kaliel peered at the tiny being with genuine curiosity and the child gazed back at her with the same sense. What a strange little creature, her thoughts told her. Her natural instincts told her he should still be crying, instead those minute features held the same intelligence she’d felt when the old woman had wounded her, but it was more than just that, Kaliel could feel him. Even with her eyes closed she could see him, not his physical form but his existence. A small tugging feeling had developed in her navel, the center of the ether inside a person. It pointed towards the child like a compass, willing her body to be close to him, and then it moved.
Kaliel gasped involuntarily as a steady pull in the tugging developed into a warm sensation that enveloped her ether core. Her emotional conditioning was a distant memory in the face of it, completely obliterated as the wave of a pure unblemished thought washed over the connection. Safe. That was the only way Kaliel could describe it to herself, the intense feeling of comfort and trust that radiated from the child she embraced was almost overwhelming. She let her mouth relax into a smile, her fear dissipated. She was Bound, and it was the most wonderful feeling in the world.
Kaliel could not find a fault with the lady’s name though. Solan-Ma Ashar was a perfectly respectable name despite it belonging to the late Ka Ashar, but namings were powerful things, the wrong one could mean disaster. What was she to do? The holy woman was demanding a name from her and something as important as that deserved to be strong but…She regarded the little boy peacefully and through the bond she felt his nature, it was kind. The ether in his core swirled slow, deliberate, and lightly, unlike her own harshly churning mass. Kaliel almost frowned at herself. She was born with a wild, chaotic core that hardly ever behaved properly. Each day she struggled to keep her ether in line as she learned the ways of the Woreseyn, but this new bond with the steady little Rotheseyn son had brought a balance to that chaos…Balance! That was it!
“His name is Dan-Solan Leth, Great Mother, that is what I feel.” Kaliel looked up and stared honestly at the aged Arch Priestess and was met with a serious expression. Wrinkled brows had snapped together in a white line and the corners of her mouth were tight.
“What you feel?” Ingarami said sharply. “You are certain?”
“Yes,” Kaliel responded in kind, “that’s what he feels like to me.”
Ingarami stifled a sigh. Gods save her from the reasoning of children. For certain the little Rotheseyn would never become a war-leader because of this, tradition dictated it. She raised her arms to the ceiling and cast her yellow ether tainted eyes skywards and began to call in raised tones. “Hear me Asha! Kelos! Gracious gods! This heir of the Blood Rotheseyn shall be the Gift of Balance unto the People, Rotheseyn Dan-Solan Leth who may be Ka Leth, the stave of ruling and clear judgment. Bless him this day with your favor until the end of days! Ae yunn alim sa!”
“ And so it is,” she clapped her hands together once, telling the gods that the rite was complete. Ingarami nearly choked on the absurdity of it all. The war that had killed Ka Ashar would likely come to an end now, all at the whim of a female Woreseyn. The Arch Priestess snorted in amusement and left the room stiffly. Her job was done.
Kaliel shivered and listened to the faint sound of the returning midwife down the hall. Somehow, the prayer hadn’t been pleasant in her ears and she could only think in her limited experience that it was wrong. She kept quiet and bowed to the Arch Priestess who clutched her cane and shall tighter about her as she left. The midwife popped in the room with much more cheer now that the imposing matron was gone and frowned briefly over the still unconscious body of Lady Shailenor. Kaliel let the busy woman take the baby and wrap him in warm birth-clothes and helped clean up. This would be her home now, the Rothesar Keep, with the Lady and the little heir. But she couldn’t help wondering as she peered at the sleeping woman, why it was that the content she had felt just moments ago was thrown into such a panicked state.
Lady Shailenor lay silent and beautiful with her dusky skin and long black hair, perfect in repose even after giving birth, and in the morning Kaliel would know why that image disturbed her so much and the wrongness of the Arch Priestess’ prayer.
Mid-morning of the next day, in the third hour, a knot of servants clustered nervously around the body of the Lady and whispered in hushed tones. Kaliel looked on with grim knowledge, she knew even before the medicine men were called that the Lady would never wake up. The sudden wail of an anguished cry confirmed it. The young Woreseyn stood by holding the forgotten heir in her arms, out of the way, out of mind as a band of priests came and carried the breathless body away to the family funerary chamber where it would be burnt later to prevent the soul from lingering. Kaliel didn’t think the soul would have stayed anyhow. Lady Shailenor had gone to be with Ka Ashar, leaving her only son behind.
A small figure holding what looked like a doll was all anyone saw that day when they looked at the Woreseyn in the corner of the room. It was only after the midwife returned to collect her wages and identified the Rotheseyn heir that the family guard and servants recognized the diamond-mark on Kaliel’s temple. Most stared in disbelief and others already in calculation. A Woreseyn meant that the child was marked for succession, one of many candidates, all of them older ones, existing from the previous generation. But, being Bonded so near to the selection time could mean only one thing: that the Priesthood had already chosen, and this would be the new Ka.
Kaliel moved blankly through the days after, learning how take care of a baby with grim determination. The servants and staff muttered uncomfortably in her wake. Such a serious look on so young a face couldn’t be natural. Kaliel ignored them. She felt detached from the world, everything centered on the little baby boy she carried nearly everywhere and the importance of his well-being. His tiny little heart understood in a way that something had been lost. In the beginning the staff sweetly told her that an adult should take care of the heir and so, the first night after the Lady’s passing, Kaliel made the mistake of leaving him with a wet-nurse. He didn’t stop crying until she returned in the morning and snatched him from the confused and irate woman.
There were bruises on his pudgy arms.
After that no one questioned whom the caretaker of the heir was. From the cook Kaliel out found how to make a goats milk and herb mixture to replace the nutrients that the child would usually get from his mother. It wasn’t a solution, nothing could replace the protection Shailenor could have provided, but it was too late to dwell on such useless thoughts. From the tailor she got a sling to carry him in. It would have been comical, the way her tiny body lurched about the keep with the newborn strapped to her chest or back, had it been another child. Nobody ever laughed. The baby never cried in Kaliel’s arms, the bond between them communicated every sense and need.
Then on the third day when the Funeral Rites were to be performed by the Arch Priestess in the Temple of the Faith, Kaliel made sure she was standing at the front of the procession, flagrantly visible. She said nothing, kept her expression neutral, stood perfectly still and stared at no one as the crone climbed the dais to deliver the Rites. If Ingarami noticed her, she never showed it. Only one thought played endlessly through the mind of the Woreseyn child, numbing and laced with a hitherto unknown emotion.
You knew the Lady was weak, that’s why you didn’t pray for her too.
You knew, you knew, you knew!
Woreseyn conditioning had made her smarter than her eight scant years should allow, but knowledge is a double-edged sword and can work in unexpected ways. The intelligence of the Woreseyn Blood sang in Kaliel’s veins, roared in her ears and made the arms that clasped at her sides shake. The baby squirmed uncomfortably in the sling on her back, disturbed by the sudden flow. She calmed her self but a simmering rage boiled just below the surface.
Ingarami Yayoi finished the Rites smoothly and stepped down from the dais. Kaliel followed her hunched form wherever she walked, fixing the drooping visage into her mind like a brand. The Lady could have been saved. The child strapped to her could have had a living breathing mother and the Arch Priestess had done nothing.
She would never, ever forget.
- Title: Heart of Fire
- Artist: Felinicus Mow
- Description: The world of Yune is harsh, pitted with pockets of strife and small wonders in curious places. In one nation a web of treachery is unfolding, and caught in the midst of it is a small child whose legacy will shape the face of the future.
- Date: 04/24/2012
- Tags: heart fire felinicus
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