The next morning, Bremi gently shook Avi's shoulder to wake her. “Wake up,” he said. “I've got breakfast here. Hot cakes and tea, some stewed apples, too. I'm going to see if I can't get an appointment with Father Toliver.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” Avi sat up, rubbed her eyes, and yawned widely enough that her jaw cracked.
“No, it's alright. He knows me.” Bremi flashed her a tiny smile. “Knew me. Hopefully he'll recognise me again. Just stay up here in the room. I'll be back as soon as I can.” Avi nodded and he left the room, shutting the door firmly behind him.
Avi slipped out of her bedroll and retrieved the tray from where Bremi had left it atop the dresser. She took it back and sat down on the bedroll, picking apart the hot cakes with her fingers and dipping them in a little ramekin of warm honey. Everything was delicious and filled in the empty spaces.
When she'd finished, there was a knock at the door. Avi stood up and peeked out into the hallway, around the edge of the door. An apple-cheeked, buxom woman smiled, showing off quite a few missing teeth. “Take your tray, love?” she asked.
Avi opened the door wider and handed the woman the tray with her breakfast dishes on it. “Might I have some hot water?” she asked. At the woman's blank look, she said, “To wash with.”
“Oh. Yes, of course, love. Right away.” The woman scuttled out the door and shut it behind her. Moments later, a small girl with bright coppery hair and grass-green eyes lugged in a large wooden bucket filled with steaming water. She set it down next to the hearth and produced a clean rag and a cake of soap. Then she bustled about the room, straightening things and building up the fire again. Avi thanked her and the girl dipped a curtsey before leaving again.
Avi stripped off her clothing and gave herself a sponge bath. The soap wasn't what she expected; it was soft and delicately fragranced with sweet peas. She had been expecting something harsh, made with rendered pig fat and lye. When she was clean—well, cleaner than she had been before—she dressed in Bremi's clothing again, wishing she had something that fit her better, and sat down on the very edge of the bedstead, mourning the lack of a comb or hair brush. She made do with finger-combing and then quickly braided her hair, tying the plait with a bit of cord she found in one of Bremi's saddle bags.
Then she sat and stared out the window. Her view was mostly of the sky, but she could see the top floors of other nearby buildings. The red-headed girl came back and took away the water bucket, soap, and the rag Avi had used to wash with. Avi tried to draw her into a conversation, but the little girl's answers were rushed and monosyllabic. Avi let her leave the room and get back to her chores. She turned back to the window, but quickly became bored with watching clouds go by. She slid off the bedstead and dug in Bremi's saddle bags, looking for a book to read. She found one and settled on her bedroll again after dragging it next to the hearth.
After thumbing through a few pages, she determined that the book was a Bible of sorts. It was stories about the Unelmite religion, beginning with Unelma Anheyma's arrival in Oshetavalen, fifteen hundred years prior. Avi quickly became engrossed in the stories, learning much about the culture she'd abruptly found herself in.
There had been a war of words between Unelma and her closest friend, Malit. They were both sorcerers, both talented with dreaming magic. Unelma was a better student and quickly outshone Malit. He was jealous of her abilities and made life hard for her. Unelma and her family and followers fled their homeland, sailing for many moons across the western sea, until they reached Oshetavalen. They were welcomed by the people already living on the continent, and Unelma quickly established herself as a leader of the tribes, uniting them under her banner and teaching those who showed aptitude the ways of the Dreaming.
Malit showed up some seventy-five years later. There was an argument that escalated into a fight and Malit killed Unelma. With her dying breaths, she cursed Malit to immortality. Then she split her soul into three parts. One part, the part that could only take magic but not produce it, she sent into Malit, negating his power and taking away the one thing that he loved above all else, the Dreaming. The second part, she sent into a crystal globe, which came to be known as Unelma's Sigh. The globe was the storage place of her strongest magic, the Dreaming, and was attached to a golden chain and given to Unelma's grandson, the second ruler of the Anheyma Dynasty. The Sigh was handed down from king to king, and the health of the land was tied into the magic. If the magic ever failed, or if the king lost the Sigh, the land would wither, crops would fail, and livestock would sicken and die.
The resting place of the last part of the goddess's magic was a source of some confusion for the writers of the book. Much like some of the stories from the Christian Bible, there were inconsistencies and contradictions between versions. Some writers of Unelma's story said the final part of her magic was sent through a Travelling Dream, to become human again in another body. Some other writers said it died with Unelma. Still others said that there never was a third part, that the goddess had only split her soul into two parts.
Soon after Avi finished reading the story of how Unelma split her magic and was contemplating what it all meant, Bremi came back. He was bearing another tray, this one covered with soup bowls, a hunk of bread, and some more sour ale. Avi hadn't realised how hungry she was until she saw the food. Her stomach growled alarmingly, and she gave Bremi a sheepish smile. He chuckled and handed her a bowl and a spoon. The soup was delicious; Avi thought perhaps it was beef with some barley-like grain and root vegetables.
“How did it go?” she asked as they ate.
“Fine. We're to see him tonight, after this evening's Dreaming.” He spied the book on the bedstead and nodded towards it. “Interesting reading?” he asked, one of his brows quirked. Avi couldn't quite tell if he was angry with her for digging through his belongings again or if he was just being careful with his reaction to her impressions of his religion.
“Yes. Quite. We have holy books like that, too. I think they're fascinating. I have some questions, though.”
“You'll make Father Toliver happy by asking them of him. He's the expert; I'm just a follower.”
“I will. What's he like?”
“He's very intelligent,” Bremi said. “And warm and kind. He treats everyone with respect, whether they're the king or the cooper. He loves to talk about Dreaming and Unelma. He thinks too many people don't read the Book of Dreams. They just take what the Fathers have to say, and who knows if they've read it themselves?”
“I often wonder that about priests back home, too.” She smiled and polished off the last slice of bread. “So, what will we do until our appointment?”
“I thought perhaps we could go to the market. If we find a good street corner, we can make a good day's wage. Are you up for it?” Instead of answering, Avi stood and slipped her feet into Bremi's too-large boots. He chuckled and followed her out the door, his lute strapped across his back, his sword at his side.
The courtyard in front of the inn was filled with people. Most of them seemed to be doing their laundry in huge cast iron cauldrons, sudsing things up with paddles that could have doubled as boat oars. Various already-washed garments were spread over lines that were tied at one end to the huge tree in the centre of the courtyard and to buildings at the other end. Red-faced women nodded to Avi and Bremi as they made their way through the cauldrons, while their children played something that slightly resembled baseball, with sticks and a ball of rags.
Bremi and Avi turned left at the end of the inn's alley and headed up to the next tier in the hill. This was one of the sections of the city that Avi had seen from the road; one filled with shops and tradesmen's homes. Right in the middle of the tier, directly beneath the castle, was open to the air and filled with stalls, kiosks, wagons, and small handcarts. People were selling just about everything imaginable—fresh meats and fish, vegetables and fruits, cheeses and breads, cloth, leather goods, wooden goods, books, weapons, tools. There was cooked food, too, and Avi made Bremi stop for a slice of what looked like cherry pie. It was delicious, much better than anything she'd eaten before.
Bremi picked a spot between a cheese maker's stall and a wagon selling bolts of cloth. He tuned up his lute and began a light, airy nonsense song with a catchy chorus line. Only a handful of people stopped to listen, and only two or three of them tossed coins into the hat Bremi produced from his lute case. After the nonsense song ended, he launched into one of the bawdy songs Avi recognised from their night at the Strawberry Inn. Summoning up her courage, she joined in on the choruses, clapping her hands and passing the hat around while doing a little two-step. This doubled the number of people stopping to watch and their coins increased as well.
Bremi sang two more songs and then pushed Avi forward. She found her throat was so dry it was almost glued shut, and Bremi handed her a cup of something sweet and cold. She drank it down hungrily, and then began telling the story of Cinderella, the Disney version with the talking mice and birds. This drew an even larger crowd—including quite a few children who giggled with joy whenever Avi did different voices for the mice—and people were jostling each other to get closer so they could hear better. When Avi finished with her story, the hat was overflowing onto the stones that lined the marketplace's streets. The crowd begged for another story. Avi curtseyed and told the tale of Beauty and the Beast.
When Avi had finished her stories, Bremi began singing again. As the sun sank in the west, his songs shifted from loud and bawdy to love songs with beautiful lyrics and music. Soon all the stalls closed and the crowds went home. Bremi put his lute back in its case and scooped up all the coins.
“This is more than I've ever seen!” he said, his eyes wide with shock. “And it's all due to you!”
“Hardly,” Avi demurred. “It was your songs that drew them in.”
He chuckled and stuffed the coins into a purse at his waist. “Let's go see Father Toliver now. He'll be expecting us.”
“Is there anywhere I could buy a dress first?” She glanced down at the too-large clothing and boots. “I feel more than a little ridiculous in this.”
Bremi shook his head. “I'm sorry, lass. I didn't even think...” He glanced around and grabbed her hand, tugging her in the direction of a row of shops. There was firelight flickering in most of their windows and Avi saw a dressmaker's dummy in front of one of them. They hurried across the open space, hand in hand, weaving through the few remaining people.
Luckily, the dressmaker's shop had yet to shutter their doors and Avi was able to find an outfit that fit her much better than Bremi's clothing. The shift she was provided had long, belled sleeves and was made out of a soft cotton. To wear over that, Avi was given a bodice made of cream-coloured cambric, embroidered with green thread. The floor-length skirt was the same shade of green and made of sturdy cotton. She was also given brown leather shoes and a light veil to cover her hair.
Once she was dressed, Bremi presented her with a woollen shawl that he settled over her shoulders with a great amount of ceremony. The garment was warm and covered her entire upper body, down to her hips, and was the same green as her skirt. “You look lovely,” Bremi said. “Like a proper lady.” Avi smiled and thanked the dressmaker copiously.
After leaving the shop, they climbed another tier and headed south along a broad avenue that was lined on both sides by tall poplars, their leaves turned bright yellow. At the end of the avenue was one of the large white stone buildings Avi had seen from the road. It was blocky in shape and had symmetrical windows flanking great, tall wooden doors. The windows were filled with colourful glass, in shades of blue, green, and white. Firelight flickered behind them, giving the scenes in the windows a life of their own.
“It's beautiful,” Avi said as they grew nearer. “The windows look like the sea on a sunny day.”
“Yes, that's exactly what they're meant to represent. Father Toliver is the best Manifester. Land Over Water Day is coming up soon, and the Temple's windows reflect the current holiday.”
“Manifester? What's that?”
“Father Toliver will answer all your questions, Avi. I promise. He's waiting for us.” They entered the Temple, and Avi was surprised to find that the interior of the building strongly resembled St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Both buildings had amazing vaults soaring above long, straight aisles, which were lined with pews and intricately carved columns. The only difference was that while St. Giles was constructed of stone, the interior of the Temple was wooden. There was an expectant hush filling the interior, as if something—or someone—was waiting a call to worship. The air smelled vaguely of salt water and cedar, a combination that Avi found calming.
The front of the church was a wall of windows, all filled with a free-flowing design in the same colours as the windows flanking the doors. There were four large chairs with blue cushions sitting on a dais in front of the windows, which faced east. Avi could only imagine how breath-taking the Temple would look during the morning, with the sun streaking through the windows, casting pools of coloured light over the stone floors and the wooden ceiling.
A diminutive, elderly man dressed in a light blue robe girdled with a silver cord sat in the front row of pews, directly opposite the dais. His eyes were closed and there was an open book on his lap. Bremi and Avi approached him silently and waited next to him until he opened his eyes. He stared at Bremi, first with a frown and then with dawning realisation.
“Armel?” the man asked, his voice filled with wonder.
Bremi nodded. “It's me, Father Toliver.” Avi caught his eye and he shrugged, seemingly a little embarrassed by being called a different name. She wondered at it for a moment, then decided it made sense that he would be going by a different name now. He was in hiding, after all. He probably didn't want a lot of people—or really, anyone—knowing that he was the erstwhile Crown Prince.
“Oh, thank the goddess!” The priest carefully set the book aside on the bench next to him and climbed to his feet. He wrapped one of his arthritic, gnarly hands around one of Bremi's—no, Armel's—shoulders, staring intently at him, as if he didn't quite believe what he was looking at. His eyes swept Armel from head to toe before he folded him into a rib-crushing hug. Avi thought perhaps she saw tears of joy in the old man's face. “You've come back to us. Thank the goddess!”
Armel returned the priest's hug and then awkwardly disengaged himself. He took a step back and cupped Avi's elbow, urging her forward. “Father Toliver, this is my friend Aveline. Call her Avi, though. She prefers it.”
Father Toliver's warm brown eyes turned to Avi and he gasped. He raised his hand to his mouth, curled it into a fist against his lips, and pressed a kiss against it. The he climbed down on to his knees and prostrated himself at Avi's feet. “My Lady,” he said with his brow pressed to the temple's cold stone floor. “What a great blessing your return is for your people.”
Armel and Avi exchanged a confused look. Maybe Father Toliver was in his dotage and thought he'd met Avi before. Armel bent down and helped the old priest to his feet, though Toliver still wouldn't look Avi in the eye. “Father Toliver, this is the first time Avi has been here,” Armel said gently.
“In this body, yes,” he said, raising his face to meet first Armel's for a long moment, and then he turned to Avi and said, “But you are no stranger to this land. Indeed, it is you we have to thank for bringing your people here.”