Followers of Galashad Chapter 4

Aerikai's choice

Chapter Four

“If they give the Diviner what she wants then there is no reason for you to leave.” Naree spoke adamantly.

“Naree, you don’t understand…”

“No, I don’t. I just lost my son and now you want to take away my grandson too.”

“Then come with me. What I must do…I will have to leave or lose my life. It is my fate.” Aerikai pleaded. She had been arguing with Naree for almost an hour trying to help her see the course she had to take. Time was running out. “I have made my choice and the High Priest has condoned it, but my life will be in danger.”

“I am too old to leave.” Naree said sadly, but then she bristled. “My home is here. I have made my choice. Priestess or not, I will not let you take my grandson away to fulfill some ridiculous destiny you have put into his mind. Leave here at once.” Naree motioned to the door and then walked away.

Aerikai watched her retreating back feeling defeated. A small hand slipped into hers.

“Mother, Nana doesn’t mean what she said.” Celedand whispered.

“I know. She is hurting right now. I just wish she would see reason, but she just can’t change like you and me, she doesn’t want to. I will have to do this alone.” She sighed

“I won’t leave you alone.” Celedand said bravely.

Aerikai looked down at her son and pulled him into a hug. “Come with me for a moment darling.” She pulled him into the room that she had shared with her husband when they visited and sat on the bed. Celedand sat next to her.

“Celedand, I am placing your first choice before you. There is something I must do today and then I have to leave the mountain and travel very far away. I will probably never come back and the journey will be very difficult and long. I want you to come with me, but I will let you decide.” Her voice broke at the end.

“Will I ever see Nana again?”

“No, darling. Nor any of your friends. We will just have each other.” Tears streamed down her face as she thought about her husband.

Celedand’s brow furrowed and he thought for a moment. When he spoke his voice was serious. “Mother, will you tell me what the Elders said about your Moquie vision?”

She looked into his thoughtful hazel eyes. “Will it affect your decision?”

“No. I have already made my decision, but I would like to know.”

She put her arm around his shoulders and pulled him close. “After the eagle left her nest the Elders talked and waited. I sat watching the southern horizon where the eagle had disappeared, but nothing happened. We waited until sunset and finally the Elders came to me. They sat down on the ground and bid me join them. The oldest had the saddest expression on his face. I remember it so well now. He couldn’t speak so he pointed to the youngest who said to me:

‘Daughter we have read the sign given by the Moquie spirits. The eagle has left her nest and not returned. Your fate tells us that someday you will leave the mountain and the City of a Thousand Lights, but you will not return. But take heart the sign of the eagle means that you will be the mother of a mighty people.’

“I looked at the man with fear and sadness. I had one year to decide whether or not I would accept the fate I had been shown.”

“Why did you chose to accept your fate, Mother?” Celedand asked with wide eyes.

“When I turned eight and the Elders offered me the Symbol of Choice I knew in my heart that what the Elders had told me at my Moquie ceremony was what I needed to do and that I would be watched over no matter what happened.”

“Oh.”

“May I ask what the Elders told you, Celedand?”

“They said I would be the leader of a broken people and I and my posterity would be broken until the chasm healed.” He replied simply.

“So what have you decided?” Aerikai asked hesitantly. Her heart was split in two part of her wanting him to stay with his grandmother and be safe and part of her wanting him to be with her.

“I will go with you, Mother. During the last month since my Moquie ceremony, I felt the same thing in my heart that you did when you turned eight. Though I am still only seven-years-old, I am ready to accept my Symbol of Choice.”

The moment Celedand spoke a vision burst upon Aerikai’s mind. She saw her son as a man. He was the familiar looking man from her vision a month ago. He would be a great leader and the choices that she had made and that he now made would bring that fate to pass. The vision passed and she looked down at her son. He smiled.

“I like it when your eyes do the sparkly thing, Mother.” He held her hand. “I will miss Nana, but Father’s spirit will watch over her.”

“You are wise beyond your years, Celedand. I love you and I am glad of your choice.”

“Me too.” He said with a smile.

“There is work to do, Son, and I need your help to get ready. Do you know where Nana keeps her pack for journeys to the mountain?”

“Yes.”

“I need you to find it and fill it with as much food as you can, but you can not let Nana see. She will try to keep you away from me. At sunset I want you to bring the pack to the river gate. Can you do that?”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Good. Now I must return to the Temple. There are a few more things I must do before we leave.”

“I will be ready.” Celedand said firmly.

Aerikai got up to leave and then stopped as another vision flashed across her mind. “Go to your Nana and comfort her, Celedand. She is very sad right now, but you will help take away some of that sadness before we leave.”

“Yes. I felt that too.”

“We meet at sunset.”

“By the river gate.” He replied firmly.

Aerikai grabbed her satchel and left Naree’s house for the last time. She made her way back to the Temple. The streets were quieter than usual. The day of the Masq was usually the most jubilant for the people, but the hazy air was thick with uncertainty.

When she reached the Temple door Leili stepped aside without asking any of the sacred questions. Aerikai knew things were changing quickly for the people of the mountain. She hurried in and went straight to the High Priest’s prayer room. She listened at the door and when she heard no sound she knocked.

“Come in.”

She entered the room and closed the door quietly. The High Priest knelt on a cushion in front of the prayer alter. Aerikai had never been in his prayer room before. There were no adornings on the walls and no windows. Sraphine sat in a straight wooden chair next to a plain table. Her face haggard.

Aerikai bowed. “I have retrieved the mask for the ceremony Holy One, just as you asked.” Her voice trembled.

“Thank you, Aerikai. Is your family safe.” He asked.

Aerikai looked at the man and her throat closed. “My husband was killed in the Diviner’s liquid earth fire.” She choked out. Tears began streaming down her face as the realization and shock swept anew over her body.

“Sraphine, will you take the mask to the Diviner and help her to prepare for the ceremony. I must give words of comfort to Aerikai. She has suffered a great loss.” The High Priest handed Sraphine the mask. She took it with a glance of suspicion, but Aerikai’s tears softened her face.

“I’m sorry for your loss, dear one.” She said as she left the prayer room.

When the door closed the High Priest got up and sat in the chair Sraphine had vacated. “Your loss is a difficult one, my child.”

She knelt at his knees. “Yes, Holy One.”

He paused listening and then continued his tone urgent. “You have taken the steps to fulfill your task here tonight, Priestess?”

She looked up in surprise at the sudden change in the conversation. “Yes.”

“Sraphine was listening.” He said motioning to the door with his head. “She is gone, but we must work carefully and quickly.”

Another vision whipped across her mind. She no longer paused with the unexpected sight. “Sraphine has turned.” She said in a flat voice.

“The Diviner has promised many things and Sraphine foolishly believes her. There is one thing I would ask of you, Priestess, before you complete your task.”

“Anything, Holy One.” She replied.

“Please deliver these messages to the healer name Zarkayis. He lives in the old healer’s rooms beneath the Temple.” The High Priest pushed three small rolled papers into her hand. She transferred them to her satchel.

Aerikai waited for more, but the man remained thoughtfully silent. “Is there anything more, Holy One?”

“Yes, there is one thing. Take this.” He rolled up two pieces of parchment that had been sitting half covered on the table. “Give one copy to the healer and take the other copy with you. It is a very brief explanation of our lives here in the City of a Thousand Lights. It was all I could write in so short a time.”

“Thank you.” She replied gently placing her hand on his arm.

Another vision came suddenly. She saw the old man confronting both the Diviner and Sraphine.

“Nothing has happened old man.” The Diviner exclaimed.

“Perhaps you are not the chosen one, Diviner.” He replied staunchly.

“Let me see the stone, Great Lady.” Sraphine intoned. The Diviner ripped off the mask and Sraphine pulled the Stone from it and focused on its surface. “I see nothing.”

“You are no longer the Priestess, Sraphine. The sight was taken from you a month ago when the Stone chose your successor. The Stone no longer does your bidding.” The High Priest exclaimed. Aerikai could see the incredulous looks on the faces of those in the Masq gathering.

Sraphine looked enraged, something Aerikai had never seen before.

“He lies! This Stone is a fake!” She exclaimed. “I am still the Priestess. I will chose my own successor. The Stone will do my bidding”

The sadness on the High Priest’s face made Aerikai’s heart break. Sraphine’s path was now dark and clouded.

The Diviner stared at the High Priest and Priestess and then laughed. The argument ceased immediately.

“I have been made a fool, by an old man and a Priestess who has lost her powers. Look in the mirror, Sraphine, he speaks the truth, you are no longer a Seeress.

Sraphine whipped around looking into the glass mirrors surrounding the hall. Her eyes were a plain brown color. “No.” Sraphine whispered. Her face turned white.

The Diviner narrowed her eyes. “The girl. She is the Priestess. Where is the girl with the green eyes?”

“Well beyond your reach, witch.” The High Priest said with a smirk. The Diviner grabbed the replica stone from Sraphine’s hands. She felt it carefully speaking her strange language and then threw it to the floor where it shattered. Everyone in the room gasped.

“What have you done with the Stone, Priest?” The Diviner demanded.

“Listen to your precious elements, Diviner. What do they tell you?” He exclaimed defiantly.

The Diviner held out her arms and closed her eyes and listened for a moment. Then, her eyes snapped open and she screamed. Drawing her fury into herself she spoke and with a blinding flash of light the High Priest was gone.

“No!” Aerikai gasped.

The old man placed his hand upon hers. “It is the fate that I accepted long ago, Priestess. In my Moquie ceremony lightening struck the ground where I stood. I was told I would leave this life in a blinding light. I always thought my spirit would travel to the sun. I guess I was wrong.” He chuckled. Aerikai cried.

“Do not weep for the dead, Priestess. Go. Finish your task and may the Gods of the Stone guard your steps to safety. I have done all I can to assist you on your journey.” He gently kissed her hand and then returned to his prayers.

Aerikai stumbled out of the room in shock. She trembled for the fate of the people of the mountain, but the overwhelming sadness she felt from Sraphine’s choices caused her physical pain. She took a deep breath and scanned the hallway. It was quiet. The breath before the storm. She made her way to the Stone room and slipped inside. The Stone sat as it always did and Aerikai paused out of habit to send a prayer to the Gods.

She went to the curtain at the back of the room and pulled out one of the polishing cloths. Carefully she removed the Stone and wrapped it in the cloth and put it into her satchel. Then she pulled out the replica and unwrapped it. She set it in the votive and began polishing it. When she finished the replica and the votive shined. She only hoped it would be enough.

She slipped out the door and made her way to the stairs that led to the healer’s rooms. When she reached those rooms she asked a young woman where the old healer’s rooms were. The woman pointed to a dark stairwell in the corner. Aerikai took a small lamp and made her way down the stairs. When she reached the bottom she crossed a short hall to a closed door and knocked.

After several minutes the door cracked and a tired voice asked, “Who is it?”

“I am Aerikai Galashad, Priestess of the Temple. I seek a healer named Zarkayis.” She said with confidence.

“Ah yes, come in Priestess. I have been expecting you.” The door opened wide revealing an old, wrinkled man with kind eyes and steady hands.

“I have messages for you from the High Priest.” Aerikai said. She wanted to finish the errand quickly and then move on to her final, most perilous task.

“So Sraphine has finally chosen her successor, I wondered if she would ever be able to do it.” He paused and began reading the notes Aerikai handed him. “Oh.”

“Sraphine was not able to choose, the Stone chose for her.” Aerikai replied softly.

The healer looked up and peered deeply into her green eyes. He beckoned her to a chair and bade her sit. When she did he retrieved a small flask from a cupboard and poured oil onto his hands. Then, he took her hands and turned them palm up. He traced the lines in her hands with his oiled fingers.

“Mysterious things are happening in the Temple. You have been chosen as Priestess and yet you have been with child. This is a most interesting development.” He looked back into her eyes staring into their depths. “The Stone has chosen well. I see courage, strength and kindness in your eyes.” His gaze returned to her upturned palms. “You have a difficult future ahead of you. I wish you peace and prosperity in your task.”

He released her hands, handing her a soft towel and returned to the messages she had brought. She wiped the oil from her palms and waited patiently while he read.

“Oh, Sraphine, you are a fool.” He finally said with a shake of his head. “Do you return to the High Priest, Priestess?”

“No, I have a task to complete and then I must meet my son.”

“Then I will not bother sending word to the High Priest. His instructions will be fulfilled. Do not fear, Priestess, you will not be alone.” He tapped the message he was holding in his palm.

As he spoke an idea thrust into her mind. “Healer, is there a way from here into the mountain. I must go up to one of the cliffs and I haven’t much time.”

The healer nodded and led her through a maze of tunnels and rooms. Finally they reached a passageway that inclined slightly. “This will lead you up to the cliff of Elkai. It is an opening that looks out over the river to the east and the City of a Thousand Lights to the south. When you reach the cliff there is a steep path to the right that goes back down the mountain to the river. Be careful the path can be treacherous.”

She took his hand. “Thank you, Healer. Your help will be noted by the Gods of the Stone.” Her arm brushed the satchel and she heard the crackle of parchment. “Oh, the Holy One also asked me to give you this.”

She pulled the parchment out of her satchel and separated the two copies. She gave one to the healer and rolled the other and replaced it in her bag. “He wanted it preserved through the trials that surely will attend this people.”

Zarkayis’ eyes filled with tears as he unrolled the parchment and read the beginning. Aerikai turned from the healer to the path that ascended to the cliff of Elkai.

“May the Gods be with you, Priestess.” The old man whispered as she left.

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