The Blessing Of The Guardian
"Mother!" a shrill voice and the incessant rapping of knuckles on wood drags her from her rest. "Mother, come quickly!"
With an agility quite shocking in one so aged she has rolled out of bed and covered the distance to her chamber door in three strides. She yanks it all the way open halting her youngest acolyte halfway through another round of knocking.
"What's happened?." she snaps as she accepts her formal golden robe from the daughter Zinea's hand. She knows that look and the off-kilter pitch of her voice – panic she became quite familiar with during the events of seven moons ago.
"Guards at the doors." Zinea says as she scuttles to keep up with the Mother Priestess. "And Asha want's to let them in!"
"By the Lady, I will flay that girl where she stands," She grabs a torch off the wall of their dormitory and quickens her pace to the end of the hall. "Keep up, damn-it girl, isn't anyone stopping her."
"Three of my sisters Ma'am, Maybe others' if they're up. She's so strong."
Asha had been a shepherd's girl before coming to them, Mother remembers; a country girl just like the damn Usurper. Don't judge a scroll by its handles they said, She fixed her sternest look on her face as she threw open the doors to the main temple. Going against my best instincts.
She flies as fast as her ageing feet can carry her across the main hall of the temple, seeing moonlight spanning in from the atrium and struggling silhouettes against it. Zinea jogs along at her heels.
She storms through the archway into the Atrium, recognizing the silhouettes as the bull-like Asha with a familiar gold-leafed scroll in her hands and three young Priestesses piled on her. One has jumped on her back and thought to get a hand over her mouth, holding it there despite strong teeth biting into it.
She goes to Asha, and the sight of her makes the young woman freeze. The Mother jerks the scroll from her grasp, tucking it into the sleeve of her robe and night gown. Then she whirls around to the doorway. Seven men stand there in the new Palace colors of violet and gold. She stands just beyond the threshold, letting rage power her stance and her tone.
"Does the Usurper now think it appropriate to send his militia to my door at all hours of the night?"
"Watch your tongue when you speak of the King, Priestess!" a young one on her left says. He tries to ram the doorway only to have an older friend hold him back by the collar. Pity, she'd have liked the see him break his nose on the temple's barrier.
"At ease, boy," the man directly in front of her says. He has a gruff look about him (with a salt-and-pepper color to his neat beard and a scar twisting around his eye like a knife just missed carving it out). "Forgive him, Mother. He is full of the hot air of youth. We don't mean to disturb you, but a concerned citizen revealed to us that a dangerous fugitive might attempt to take refuge beyond your doors tonight."
"You mean the Princess," she snaps. She's sick and tired of this carrying on. "That poor girl died in the Old Castle Fire and your traitor knows it."
"No body was ever found, as you'll recall," the man says.
"And precious little of the others were!" She wishes she had the height of years past – she would have towered over him. "That blaze burned for three days. The Princess is ash in the rubble whether the paranoid demon knows it or not."
"That is your King," the young, red faced young man raises his short sword at her.
"He is no King of mine," she counters, glaring at each one of them until sweat gleams on their brows. "And no King of Lady Ra either. Now leave my temple. You shall not be granted entrance as long as Terrio's family rules. Continue this fool's hunt elsewhere."
"You ungrateful shrew!" the youngest hisses.
"SILENCE!" his commanding officer rounds on him. "That is still a priestess regardless of her allegiance." He bows to her, a stiff jerk of his upper body. "I beg you to reconsider, fresh blood shall be good for Elysium and the rest of the realm."
"Leave. My. Steps." She glares as each man turns and walks out of her courtyard, until the only view of them is the glint of the full moon on their armor. Then she closes the marble door firmly and directs her attention to Asha. "You fool."
"You're the fool!" Asha spits. She struggles, but the other priestesses hold fast to her. "All these months giving the cold shoulder to the crown. They are the people's rulers. We chose them. Us! Not some ancient planet magic."
Every one of her daughters gasps when her hand whips across Asha's cheek. "Do you know what your rulers have done?" She whispers icily. "They have cavorted with demons that haunt the fringes of our civilization – monsters the crown beat back centuries ago. They have dealt with that dark power and sacrificed the energy of this Kingdom's people to them – your people Asha – all in the name of a throne that is not theirs. They murdered children in their beds, They burned a whole palace of good people just for the blood of a few. They poisoned a good King when an honourable rival would have duelled him for the crown." Asha does not cower before her, but she takes pleasure in seeing the goose bumps rising on her arms. "All in the name of what exactly?"
"My people starved, five winters ago. No grain came to help our hungry." Asha protests, though she doesn't meet the Mother's eyes. "Sometimes things get messy in the name of good."
She gestures for her Daughters to release Asha and then grabs the girl by the neck of her robe. "If the Usurper is your answer for the hardships of a few, if the good of a Kingdom is worth the price of bodies so burnt you cannot tell flesh from bone, then it is not a good I ever want to see." She pushes Asha back, hating that her old joints wobble. "You will walk yourself to one of our guest quarters in the back of this temple and you will stay there under guard until I receive word from the other Mothers what should be done with you."
"Or I could leave," she challenges.
And Asha walks past her, up to the door, jerks it so hard that her strong arms near rip it off its hinges, and takes the step towards the open courtyard.
A loud boom echoes off the walls of the Atrium as a flash of golden light blasts Asha off her feet and shoulders-first into the stone floor. She stares up at the ceiling dazed.
Mother walks up to her and links her hands behind her back, studying her once promising Priestess with pity. "Ancient planet magic is more than you will ever understand. It cannot always feed the hungry, nor can it solve every wrong, but in the matters of goodness and judgement, it is sound." She turns her back on the girl. "You will walk voluntarily to the guest quarters when you are able and think about what it means that the Lady Ra imprisons you here under her justice.
She hears hesitant footsteps follow her. "Mother what will happen to Asha?" Her youngest initiate – Maeve – asks."She will face judgement for attempting to betray Ra and her disciples," she says smoothly. Maeve was the one who jumped on Asha's back. "How is your hand dear?"
"Bleeding…but I'm fine, I couldn't let her say the words to bring the barrier down."
"And Ra, this temple, and I all thank you for it." She opens the door to the dormitories and waves her daughters through. "Have one of your sisters treat it. Thank you, for trusting my decisions, all of you."
The three who fought Asha bid her goodnight and walk towards their chambers. Zinea lingers. "Mother, I don't mean to seem disloyal."
"But you have questions, as you always do." She smiles at the most bookish of her priestesses. "Ask."
"They only want to know we do not have the Princess…doesn't it seem suspicious if we keep refusing to let them search."
She sighs, they have whispered just this at meals for every moon since the coup. "Yes, it does, to more than just Terrio and his ilk."
"How do you mean?"
"Word gets around – the House of Ra does not condone the new rulers. They do not let those loyal to them beyond their doors. We might be under suspicion, Terrio might if her were actually unhinged threaten our safety. He won't, he knows we are far too popular."
"Because I hope, Zinea." She pinches the bridge of her nose. "Do you know, how many bodies they pulled from the rubble of the Castle?"
"47," she swallows. "Men, women, children, servants, dogs. All of them burnt until there was nothing left but bone. Children I blessed at birth and instructed in pray and morals and even in decorum in Selena's case. All of them suffocated, burned, and died until they could only guess at who they were by the teeth in their blackened skulls."
She looks up at Zinea whose eyes tremble against sudden tears. "He put the family's skulls in the wall of the throne room below the portraits – the ones their mother and father had painted to show just how proud they were. I counted each one when he anointed himself with the crown, and the joy – I cannot describe it to you – of seeing one skull missing." She shakes her head. "I might well be right and a beam could have crushed her charred bones to nothing…but if I'm wrong, Zinea…don't you see I must do everything I can to show that girl that she would be safe here. That the murderer sitting in her parents seat – in her seat – cannot touch her here."
"Don't you think she would know, Mother?"
She shakes her head. "If the Usurper is anything, he is smart. He will have tried to spread word that we are his silent supporters. I must do everything I can to counteract that."
Zinea nods and then surprises her, stooping to wrap her arms around Mother's hunching shoulders. "I shall hope too, Mother."
"Thank you," she pats Zinea on the back and smiles sadly at her when she pulls away. "Now to bed with you," she says. "Before it's time for the dawn prayers."
Zinea bids her goodnight and goes off to bed, and Mother lets the weariness seep into her. She leans a hand on the wall as she makes her way to the Atrium. Asha has vanished – off to a guest quarters surely or perhaps roaming the temple. Mother walks to the front doors and pulls them open, watching the full moon still and calm over her head."Great Lady," she whispers. "Is hope enough?" She closes her eyes, wondering if the moonlight truly is warm on her cheeks or if it's a trick of the summer air.
She awakens to a hand shaking her frantically.
"Come on, come on, come on, wake up." A rough and fast paced voice yells.
She blinks away sleep and glares at the intruder. She notes the purple and gold tunic once – a Terran servant – and glares. "You know you aren't welcome here, boy."
"Not me! Her!" he gestures behind him. Her eyes drift down the steps to the hunched and heavily cloaked woman who has collapsed on the marble. She looks terribly thin save for the bump protruding from her worn cloak. "Help her."
"No palace man is allowed beyond these walls, no matter his cause." She stands and walks over to the woman. "But I shall send some of my girls out to help and why in Ra's name did you not come here sooner?" She pulls the shaking woman to her feet, feeling the tremors that shake her whole body. "How long have these been going?" she askes the hooded stranger.
"Since moonrise." The woman gasps. Her voice is little more than a girl's. "Oh please I thought I was only seven moons along – it's too early."
"No time for that now," she soothes the woman. "Have your waters broken?"
"Just a few streets back," the girl whispers. "Mother please, I must go inside."
"Certainly you do my dear, he'll stay beyond the walls, but I'll take you to one of our guest rooms. My girls have helped women through this many times before.
No," the girl shakes her head. "No I must go to the Cloister of the Guardian."
"Absolutely not," she scoffs. "you've no business speaking directly to Ra, child, and her house can offer you help and shelter, but she shall not listen to those who support Terrio."
The girl chuckles, it ends in a pained whine as another contraction quakes through her. "I am no Terran. I can prove it to you." And she pulls away her hood just enough for the moonlight to catch the top of her head – distinctive golden hair and amber eyes glazed over with pain stare hopefully at her.
She wastes no time. Words so ancient their language has vanished from the realm fall from her lips. She touches her hand to the girl's heart and then against her better judgement, her male companion. "You may pass, both of you." And she pulls an arm around Selena and rushes her inside, a bit pleased when the man goes around to support her on the right.
"Why wait so long to come here?" she murmurs, berating herself that she didn't even recognize the Princess' voice and then her heart saddens realizing it has changed. It is weak and warbles like each word is an effort. Her fingers can feel Selena's ribs through her cloak. She must have been dreadfully sick. "This way," she says, guiding them through the Atrium and the Main hall.
"I didn't want to…endanger you," Selena pants. "Wasn't sure either whose of yours I could…trust."
"It's alright child." She rushes the pair of them to the open hallways that surround the Cloister and turns them to the left towards the entry archway. "We really must get you to a bed. Get you warm water, medicine."
Selena just keeps shaking her head. "I must address Ra."
Mother takes her through the gardens of the Cloister, to tall marble-gold-veined column that glows in the center. She and the young man help Selena kneel before it. The princess wraps her arms as far around the column as she can and presses her forehead to it, eyes closing."
"Let's leave her." She coaxes the panicky man.
"Leave me be, Matteo." Selena whispers. "Please."
She pulls the young man out of the sacred Cloister into the covered walkway that surrounds it. Here they can watch over Selena as she prays, but do not intrude.
Mother puts both hands over her face. "Dear Ra, help her – whatever she needs."
"The Guardianship," Matteo whispers, hoarse voice cracking. "She wants Ra to bless the child with the Guardianship."
"For her protection," Mother murmurs. Not even Terrio could dare kill Ra's chosen, ancient magic protected them from murder by a monarch's hand – whether he knew it or not. She rubbed her forehead. "It's due to a child of this world any day now."
"Selena needs it to be hers…she doesn't think she'll be around to protect her."
"Nonsense," Mother scoffs. "Every woman of her line for the last…nine generations has survived childbirth. Her own mother seven times."
"She's been sick," Matteo presses. "The fire ruined her lungs, the food's been scarce in the commons of the city – Terrio's trying to drive her out – and she spent the past month with fever."
"And the child survived?"' she marvelled.
"Selena did everything she could," Matteo responded.
"Are you the father?" She wonders at him, eye on Selena as light flashes in the middle of the Cloister.
"No," Matteo looks away like he might cry. "My brother was – died in the fire. He's the one that woke them up in time to get her out…. he got blasted in by one of the walls as they were running."
Kegs of flour, and oil, she recalled, had been used to help the flame. Huge barrels of it from the storerooms had helped the Old Castle collapse on its foundations, trapping everyone inside. "I am sorry."
"Yeah, well," he shrugs. "I'm working there for food…and if I ever get the chance to stab that bastard in the heart I'll take it."
She nods, in the courtyard she could swear the gold veins of the column glowed more brightly. "Fetch my girls if you would. In the dormitories the door three doors down on the left and the one all the way at the end on the right."Yes, milady," he rushes off down the covered walk and into the confines of the temple. She waits until Selena has turned away from the column and rested the back of her head against it before approaching.
"My best are on their way," she speaks softly to Selena, noting the creases on her face and the bags beneath her amber eyes.
"Thank you," she whispers. Her hand reaches out for Mother's and grasps it in a bruising, sweaty grip. "I'm sorry for…"
"You've nothing to apologize for," she hushes her. "You brave girl."
"Will you protect her?"
"With my life," she swears. "But you can still pull through this." She coaches the girl even as she pulls in on herself, dress and cloak bunching up over her thighs. "You can't make it this far without being a fighter, Selena."
"It's only for her," she sobs. "I just want to be with them…all of them…Papa, Ma, Thom…" She clutches impossibly tighter onto Mother's hand as a strong contraction rips through her. "But I wanted her to live…a nice fuck you to that bastard."
She bites her tongue on the familiar retort about royalty and language. Selena surely doesn't need decorum now.
Quick footsteps clack on the stone walkway.
"I've got towels." Zinea rushes to kneel before Selena, spreading linens out on the stones and passing a cloth to The Mother to wipe Selena's brow.
"Drink this princess," Maeve kneels by her head on the other side, holding a cup of water to her lips.
"I've got you, Selena," Matteo kneels beside Maeve and wraps Selena's free hand in both of his.
"Can't I push, please?" She begs.
"Not quite yet, milady," Zinea murmurs.
"Oh!" Selena turns her head and burrows it into The Mother's shoulder. "I told her to stay in earlier and she didn't listen and now I beg her to come out and she still won't listen."
"She or he is stubborn like the lot of you then," Mother tells her – anything to distract the girl.
"She," Selena insists. "I just know it." But while she looks like she might insist another contraction hits. She grits her teeth and turns more into Mother's shoulder.
They wait impossibly long hours in vigil beneath the central column in the Cloister of the Guardian. Until at last, just as dawn cracks over the roof of the temple, a change comes over Selena. She brightens, grins around clenched teeth, and looks determinedly at Zinea. "Now?"
"Now," Zinea confirms. Selena bears down with all the might that's left in her frail body, wailing under the lingering moonlight and dawning sun until a new cry mingles with hers – louder, fresh, and small.
"There, there." Mother accepts the towel-wrapped infant, once Zinea has tied the cord, and passes her to Selena whose head is now pillowed in her lap. "Your instincts were right on, my dear."
And Selena looks at her daughter – bright amber eyes, glowing golden hair, and a similarly glowing crescent birthmark on her forehead. "Serenity," Selena proclaims. She nestles her daughter in her arms and lays her head back on Mother's lap. "Thank you, Great Lady," she says as her eyes close.
Tears flow from her eyes and the eyes of all three present as they watch Selena's breathing get shallower and slower. Zinea hangs her head. Maeve reaches out for Matteo's hands, covering them as they continue to clutch to Selena's.
And above them the veins of the marble column glow bright, blinding gold and a sound like a gong reverberates off it into the city beyond. The tall pillar lights up the sky, pulsing as it announces the birth of Sailor Earth to the turbulent realm of Elysium.
"Should we move her?" Zinea asks after the moon has faded from the sky and Priestesses curious why they were not roused for dawn prayers trickle out of the temple.
"No," Mother whispers, brushing hair away from Selena's face and gathering quiet baby Serenity into her arms. "Cover her, and let's bury her here, where Ra can bless her resting place." She rises on shaky, creaking knees. Serenity will need a wet nurse as soon as they can summon one. "Tell Asha she shall dig the grave."