Eirene was a lot more content now she had reconciled more properly with her mother and High Priest Eldwin, but the issue of Annexa bothered her still. She had meekly made her apologies before the other girl and High Priestess Giolha, but Annexa had merely looked upon Eirene with disgust, despite being chided by the High Priestess for being spiteful.
It was a shame for Eirene, and it had been on the tip of High Priestess Giolha’s tongue after the event to advise the young girl that such spitefulness should hardly warrant her worrying about it. But the Priestess knew Eirene well enough to know that such words would fall on deaf ears. Eirene was a girl who worried a little too much about what others thought of her, so saying such a fact would not help the matter, perhaps it would even provoke it further. In any case, Eirene resolved to be better than that if she could, whether or not the likes of Annexa deigned to forgive her.
What she did not expect the next morning, however was to find Ynys waiting for her outside of her’s and her mother’s chambers when she made ready to go to her lessons.
“Good morrow, Mistress Nielaa.” The boy greeted her brightly, nothing like the shy thing Eirene had befriended yesterday.
“Good morrow, Master Kaldviel.” Eirene replied uncertainly. “May I help you?”
“Oh, no. I thought we might walk to lessons together - if you wish to, of course.” Ynys faltered a little. The plan had panned out differently than he had imagined, he now wondered if he had made mistake. Eirene didn’t look overly enthusiastic at his proposal.
Seeing Ynys’ smile wane, Eirene felt a little guilty for her first response. She had not meant to upset him. In her defence, the lack of friendships in her life had left her a little socially illiterate, for she questioned whether it was usual for friends to spend the most mundane moments of their life together? It made some sense, she supposed. Walks to lessons were boring with just one’s own head, so she made about resolving her error quickly.
“It would be a pleasure to walk to lessons with you.” Eirene replied with a smile, hoping desperately now that she had not ruined a friendship that was just in its budding stages.
Immediately relieved that she agreed and not appearing at all like he had spotted a blunder on her part, Ynys’ face retuned to its initial cheer. “Then let us not tarry, I believe we have High Priestess Giolha first.”
The two children made their way in companionable silence, for neither felt the need to make conversation just yet. Ynys was pleased to have company, and Eirene for her part was containing her surprise at how elated she felt. She had not expected to be so delighted at making a friend, or at least one she hoped would last long. Most childhood companions that she had when she was younger had been children from the nearby villages, or children of travellers, both of whom visited so infrequently that she couldn’t call these liaisons anything close to friendship. Ynys, on the other hand, was studying with her and that meant he was in for the long run.
Soon the children reached High Priestess Giolha’s classroom and quietly made their way in. At first Annexa and her group had begun to whisper as Eirene entered, and then felt into shocked silence when Ynys joined her at a desk.
“Well that makes a pleasant change.” Ynys quipped in a murmur, looking in Annexa’s direction.
Eirene bit her lip and giggled as quietly as she could manage. It was true, Annexa and her gaggle did often like to talk and in great volume, regardless of whether they were in study or not. Their silence was most definitely a welcome occurrence.
High Priestess Giolha, otherwise known by her first name Jhamy, began the lesson by loudly clearing her throat and declaring the subject matter in a booming voice. It had not escaped her eye that Eirene had finally paired properly with another pupil. She had long thought that Maridi and Eldwin isolated the girl to themselves and her studies, much to her social detriment. Although it was unacceptable that the other children - especially Annexa - would occasionally pick on Eirene, it was no secret why this happened either. The girl had little clue how to deal with them all because she never spent much time with them other than in lessons.
There was much more to life than scrolls and for a girl with a fierce spirit like hers, it would be good for Eirene to have another her age, like Ynys, to really teach her how to control herself and live well among others. Added to which, Jhamy quite liked the boy of choice. Ynys was a calm, good humoured pupil of great wit and intelligence. He and Eirene together would make a find scholarly team and friendship, indeed. But could they be more in the future, she wondered? That was another worry she refused to address right now. Eirene and Ynys weren’t her only pupils to watch out for.
“Now, children, we shall learnt the delicacies of potion making now you have reached ten in years. Heed me when I say it is a delicate skill.” Jhamy began the lesson, producing an empty vial from her robes as she spoke. “Your potions now at beginner’s level will require little at the moment, but should you need more complex potions to your arsenal in the future, even the smallest ingredient and how you mix it can be the difference between success and failure.”
While Jhamy continued to teach, both Eirene and Ynys paid close attention and thrived. Annexa on the other hand could not concentrate on her teacher, for she was so filled with jealousy and anger that her hands began to shake. Who did she think she was, that perfect little Eirene, she thought with snarl. Then she caught the eye of Jhamy and was only slightly chastened by the glare sent her way. Annexa would find another way to beat Eirene, all she needed was a little time to think.
The lesson finished in no time for the pupils who worked hard. Eirene and Ynys especially dazzled in the classroom, for they had made a near on perfect potion and thus were given praise from Jhamy that she rarely gave to any of her pupils. Beaming still, the children all but skipped out of the classroom. Eirene for her part was giddy. It was for, perhaps, the first time she felt like she belonged within the temple, that maybe someone could like her for her peculiar ways. And it was all thanks to Ynys. The gratitude, the elation and the hope she felt was immense, and she clung to these fiercely, all the while struggling to keep these contained within herself. She did not want to scare Ynys off with any emotional outbursts. In any case, she wondered if he could ever understand how she felt in that moment. Unlike her, Ynys was clearly well liked among his classmates. How could anyone like that have experienced feeling lonely?
“I do declare we make a fine team.” Ynys proclaimed proudly as he all but ran ahead of Eirene in the corridor, his smile so bright that she couldn’t help smiling back.
“It was my hope to be a decent partner to you.” Eirene said gently, suddenly feeling shy.
Seeing that she needed the reassurance, Ynys was quick to come back. “Would you like to be my partner from now on?”
“I would like that very much.” Eirene answered earnestly. This time, the children walked to their next lesson full of chatter.
Eldwin was awaiting his class, hoping that there would be no drama like there was the day before. He looked up from writing a scroll and his eyes near on left their sockets when he saw Eirene walk in with Ynys Kaldviel. How much had changed in the last day, he could not believe. Perhaps the Beloved Healer had granted his and Maridi’s prayers after all. He kissed his sapphire ring and silently thanked her, his heart full from seeing Eirene smile so much more brightly than he had seen in months.
Jhamy however was not quite as satisfied with Eirene’s progress, even though she conceded that progress was better than no progress. She knew Eirene could do better than that what she was doing with her social circles as well as her lessons. As far as Jhamy could see, Maridi and Eldwin simply weren’t challenging the child enough and it was about time someone told her so. She knew that as a High Priestess, that alone would mean Maridi would at least have to take some stock in what she said.
It wasn’t often that Jhamy used her position to throw her weight around, but on this occasion, she felt it was warranted, although she softened the deal somewhat by first inviting Maridi and Eldwin to dinner. Maridi, for all that Jhamy lay a good portion of the responsibility at her door for Eirene’s lack of discipline, was still a good friend and colleague as well as a loving mother. Jhamy had to bear in mind that she never had children of her own and Eirene perhaps was the closest she had to a child or even a granddaughter. She would have to be honest yet careful proceeding forwards as well. Maridi was no less prideful than her daughter.
A knock at Jhamy’s quarters’ door signalled Eldwin and Maridi’s arrival.
“Come in.” She called.
Eldwin held the door open for Maridi as she entered. No bows or curtseys were required in the privacy of Jhamy’s rooms. This was still a gathering among friends, however difficult the topic was to pass.
Maridi smiled warmly at Jhamy. “I must say we do dine for tea far too little nowadays together. What a treat.”
“I cannot imagine that having a child allows for much time. Who is watching Eirene?” Jhamy asked.
“Priestess Karro was more than willing to offer. She had heard of Eirene’s progress in your lessons and wished to mentor the child a little before bed.” Eldwin replied with an air of pride. He was of course exceptionally pleased to see Eirene rebound so quickly from a disastrous day before, and with a friend who by all accounts was an equally talented boy, no less.
Maridi smiled, although Jhamy could see it was tense. “I am not sure she should be studying so much after hours. I believed she already has been doing well in her lessons.”
“That she does.” Jhamy confirmed, pouring three goblets of wine for the adults in the room, which Maridi and Eldwin took one of each and sat the table ready to sup.
Now Jhamy felt was the time to raise the issues she had been keen to impart to Maridi and Eldwin for some time.
“But I must confess she is still a little lacking in places.”
The expressions on Eldwin’s and Maridi’s faces were a little amusing to Jhamy, yet she kept her face quite serious, for the matter at hand was no laughing matter. No doubt she had injured Eldwin’s initial pride in Eirene, and most probably injured Maridi’s confidence in being a mother. It had been no secret that Maridi was often found stressing that she was doing well by her daughter. There had been countless days and evenings where Eldwin, Jhamy and many other priests and priestesses of Astrum had made great efforts to reassure her. Perhaps, Jhamy reasoned, that had been her first mistake as a colleague and friend, that she had not been as blunt and honest earlier.
Maridi cleared her throat, took a sip of her wine and all but stammered, “Your assessment comes as a shock to me, truthfully.”
Eldwin however was not as shocked, for he had sensed Jhamy’s reservations for years now, little hints here and there that of what she thought needed adjusting when it came to Eirene and her growing up.
“I mean not to put you out of place, dear.” Jhamy continued a little more gently, patting Maridi’s hand. “But you have a tendency to want to spoil the child and keep her wrapped in your apron strings. All I ever see the child do is fiddle with scrolls under your watchful eye and then wander along among the grounds in a daydream. She has little to no independence at all.”
Maridi now began to look a little more than agitated and scoffed, “They must be delicate strings indeed, the child yanks on them so.”
Jhamy’s mouth pursed and Eldwin sank into his seat a little.
“But still she is not free of them.” Jhamy persisted.
“She is only ten in years.”
“Yet she is treated as though she were still four.”
“I hardly find that a fair assessment. And in any case, she is lucky to still have her mother with her, most of the children have no parents around them to speak of.”
“Which is precisely why she is spoilt and completely unaware of the world.” Jhamy snapped, flaring as she all but smashed her goblet on the table. “Will you not listen to reason for once rather than always trying to insist you know best?”
Maridi, equally wound up, suddenly rose up from her seat as though she were ready to strike, and perhaps she might have done, were it not for a gentle hand from Eldwin.
“Peace, ladies, we all want the same thing for Eirene.” He reminded them wearily, sitting down and taking non too big a gulp from his goblet.
The two women grudgingly ‘hmmed’ their agreements, but still glared at each other a little.
Maridi was beyond stung and for two very good reasons. The first was that she considered Jhamy a dear friend, someone who she could trust to be honest with her about anything at any time, and to only hear of her criticisms (for they could not be called anything kinder) now was the first insult. Why wait to tell her that perhaps she could take a different direction with raising Eirene? This notion then led to the second reason which riled Maridi even more: Jhamy had no children of her own, so just who was she to approach Maridi like this? What on earth would a childless spinster know about child rearing? Only she, Maridi, had any clue what it was like to raise child within the sacred walls of the Eistr Mariskh, and she would be damned if she would be seen to simply take any comments about her child and the way she raised her lying down.
On the other hand, as far as Eldwin was concerned, he could see Jhamy’s point clearly with a more level head: Eirene was being stifled because Maridi held onto her as a child might hold onto their favourite toy, and this would undoubtedly lead to more harm than good. What Jhamy was saying was not exactly what he hadn’t heard whispered around the corners of the Eistr Mariskh, that Maridi all in all was a good and loving mother, but the love she showed was possessive and little misdirected. He understood that Maridi was hurt that no one had been brave enough to approach her sooner and he felt even a bit guilty for not stepping in sooner himself. Now Maridi would probably doubt the few good friends she has, for why should she trust them now, if she thought they were whispering about her behind her back? Everyone who knew Jhamy well enough would know that she spoke whatever people dared not to say to one another’s faces.
But there was plenty also that was whispered behind Maridi’s back that were positive notions of her and the love she clearly bore for her daughter, which was going to be the hardest thing to keep Maridi convinced of if Eldwin and Jhamy wanted any hope of a positive outcome to this conversation. This would be hard for Maridi to swallow, but he loved Eirene as much as she did, and his eyes, the best way now for the pair of them to show the truest love for the girl, was to let her be a little more free, a little more independent, so that she could make the mistakes still, but learn from them better. Eirene could not be allowed to continue in too much comfort, lest she got complacent of the privileges she had.
After a moment, Maridi picked up her goblet and took a drink, not bothering to wipe away the tears that began to slide down her cheeks.
“Your love for the child is not in question, Maridi.” Jhamy started again, having composed herself enough. “I have a great fondness for the child, almost as though she were my own granddaughter. But like the rest of us, she has to grow up in a way that will allow her integrate with the rest. She is a special girl, indeed, but we cannot treat her as such forever.”
“I am aware.” Maridi replied still tersely, the tears now falling more strongly.
Eldwin laid another comforting hand on Maridi’s and gently said, “I am in agreement with Jhamy, yet I do think we can introduce some freedoms and independence…slowly at least to start with. You cannot easily adjust ten years of almost single-handed child rearing.”
“No, I suppose not. I just cannot help feeling as though I have failed my little girl now. I see she is so much stronger than I in so many ways and growing up so quickly. I do not want her to grow too old too quickly. She is my world.” Maridi confessed in a murmur. Then she wiped her tears away with a handkerchief.
“I think any soul within these walls would be foolish to think you have failed, Maridi, that thought you must rid yourself of quickly, do you hear me?” Jhamy remained firm, but the anger of which a hint had been shown earlier had disappeared entirely. Seeing the mother’s tears had reminded Jhamy of her intentions earlier: that the goal was not to make Maridi doubt herself, but to give her some solid advice that might save a lot of trouble with a daughter who will soon fast approach adulthood.
“I apologise for my outburst, I have always been sure your intentions are honest and pure, and I know you love Eirene well enough to make sure she will reach her full potential.” Maridi smiled a little meekly, her apology mostly meant.
“It is not just Eirene’s potential that would be at stake, my dear. I am not so callous to simply view a child for their usefulness. I want Eirene to be happy and to reach adulthood with some strength of character, although one can hardly doubt the child has character. That Annexa must have had a shock yesterday.”
“That is putting it mildly.” Eldwin stated ruefully. “Nevertheless, I suppose we should thank you, Jhamy. Any hand in her upbringing is received most gratefully.”
Jhamy waved the appraisal away with her hand and replied, “I would see my contributions repaid by seeing the girl actually begin to venture out properly. That boy Ynys is a good start, I am sure he will not see her staying put for long.”
Eldwin and Maridi would have made some reply, but Jhamy did not give them an opportunity to. Enough had been said and now was the time for what had been said to be actioned. She finished her goblet of wine and rose from her seat, Eldwin and Maridi followed in tow.
“Be sure to stop by, my High Priest, I have some new concoctions that might interest you.” Jhamy said.
Eldwin smiled. Ever the first to get down to business, High Priestess Giolha was a force to be reckoned with. “I am sure you will impress me as ever, Jhamy. Good night to you.”
“And to you.” Jhamy turned to Maridi and put a surprisingly gentle hand on the mother’s shoulder. “Do not fret, dear. I still have very high hopes for our Eirene.”
Usually Maridi had a habit of saying ‘my daughter’ whenever anyone seemed to utter the word ‘our’, but out of love and respect for Jhamy, Maridi swallowed this and smiled. “Thank you and rest well, Jhamy.”
The adults bid each other farewell and awaited the night to finish to see what a new day would bring for Eirene.
The new day seemed a lot brighter to Eirene as she awoke the next morning. She wondered what she and Ynys would get up to. Then her heart sank. Although there were no lessons today, she would probably be expected by her mother to either maintain her scrolls or do some other duty that meant she wouldn’t leave her mother’s watchful eyes. But given that she had resolved to as much as she was told to by her mother Eldwin, she decided she would not complain.
As she approached the dinner table in the quarters, Eirene found her mother scribing intently by the fireside.
“Good morrow, Mama.”
Maridi looked up to see her daughter and smiled. “Hello, my sweet. Did you rest well?”
“Good. Come then. Break your fast and then we will begin your scrolls.”
More scrolls. Eirene enjoyed learning, although she could not summon as much enthusiasm when it was with her mother and when she knew the other children would be playing outside by now. As she promised herself, however, she did not say a word in protest.
Mother and daughter supped in silence. Eirene could tell her Maridi was not quite herself this morning, and she could not work out why. She had not misbehaved, there were no deaths to speak of recently, save for an elderly lady who had a funeral due in days, there was no mishap with the quarters that would need sorting, no disturbance from the other children if they came running down the corridors…on and on the possibilities went in Eirene’s mind, yet she had not hope of guessing what it was that had thrown her mother off kilter.
All thoughts were interrupted by an unexpected knock at the door. Frowning slightly, Maridi went to the door to investigate. When she opened it, she found Ynys stood there with a polite smile on his handsome young face.
“Good morrow, Lady Nielaa.” He greeted brightly.
“Good morrow, Ynys. How may I help you?” Maridi then smiled warmly. She liked polite children.
“I wondered if Eirene perhaps would be allowed out to play today?”
“Oh. I see.”
Maridi turned to her daughter, who was watching the exchange intently. Usually she would have shooed Ynys away to make sure Eirene focussed on her scrolls, but today, the exchange with Jhamy and Eldwin from the night before plagued her. She badly wanted to keep her daughter indoors all to herself, for she had deeply missed the connection she and Eirene used to share, yet the Healer herself would probably strike Maridi down for even trying. This was golden opportunity for Eirene to cultivate a proper friendship and Maridi needed to see for herself that Jhamy had a point, that the whole exchange last night was not a mountain from a mole hill.
“I think we can forego scrolls for a day.” Maridi smiled at Eirene, then contained her laughter at the look of shock that followed.
“Truly, Mama? I can go out for the whole day?” Eirene all but stammered with joy.
“You may. But I do not want you to go beyond the Eistr Mariskh where I can’t see you. I also want you back before sun down.”
It wasn’t quite the compromise Eirene had hoped for, but she would take any compromise over none. She quickly leapt from the table and grabbed her cloak, barely remembering to bid her mother farewell before running out of the quarters excitedly with Ynys in tow. Eldwin came by as the children left, pleased to see Eirene had been allowed out. He peeked into the quarters to see Maridi clearing up the dining table, looking a little distressed.
“I trust you are pleased?” Maridi asked stiffly without turning to look at Eldwin, knowing full well he was behind her. She did not want him to see her crumbling.
“Of course. That is the first time I have seen Eirene so excited for a while.” Eldwin responded good naturedly. He wandered over to Maridi and halted her frantic cleaning. Her eyes were glistening with fresh tears.
“She will have no need of me soon enough. And then what will I be good for? Mending her clothes and cooking her dinner?” Maridi huffed.
“Come now, that is childish self-pity and you know it.”
“I cannot help how I feel, Eldwin. Just as I have started to get her back to the sweet little babe I used to carry in my arms, she is swept off somewhere without me, and I cannot keep up with her.”
“You are not surely jealous.”
“Of course I am!” Maridi suddenly threw a plate onto the ground with a shriek. “She is mine and everyone is trying to take her from me when she is all I have!”
A tense silence befell the room and it took Maridi a few moments to realise what she had said and done.
“I am sorry.” She whispered exasperatedly, before saying, “I just…she is all that I have, really. Nothing has been the same since I became pregnant with her and she is - everything to me. I do not want to lose her.”
Eldwin finally understood now. He had taken for granted that Maridi seemed to have settled into her station as the only mother to ever reside in the Eistr Mariskh, that her position was so unusual that it must have been lonely throughout the years. Because she was a mother, she could not practice her duties as High Priestess in the same way as those that were childless. Often she had to exclude herself to look after Eirene, which of course she would not complain of, given how much she loves her daughter. But that didn’t make it any easier for her. Perhaps her loneliness made her blind to the fact Eirene was her daughter, not her friend, which was likely what she was in desperate need of at this moment.
Taking her into his arms, Eldwin held Maridi and felt her cling to him tightly. “She will come home. She always does.”
Eirene and Ynys played outside on the temple grounds for a good while before they began to grow tired of it. There were only so any places to play hide and seek before the game lost its appeal and the grounds inspired little other thoughts in the way of play. They lay on the ground outside and watched the clouds, bored.
“It is a shame we cannot venture out beyond the temple. I hear the Ootoe beach is a great place to play.” Ynys sighed in longing, looking out towards the distant cliffs.
The resolve to remain faithful to her mother’s instructions was beginning to strain on Eirene, for she too longed to go the Ootoe beach. She had not been swimming for so long. Even as a toddler, she vaguely remembered floating in the water with Eldwin holding her tightly. Water was home. Water was where she most belonged.
Perhaps I should have been born a fish instead, Eirene thought wistfully.
She looked around and saw no one nearby, not even another child or priest or priestess in sight. And her mother had said to return to her by sunset. The sun was nowhere near sinking in the west yet either. Perhaps, just perhaps…
“We should go there.” Eirene declared, standing to her feet.
Ynys stared at her in shock. “But your Mama gave strict instructions.”
“She did. But she cannot punish you or I if she does not know, does she?”
“Come now, Ynys! You did say the Ootoe beach is a good place to play.”
“I did, indeed.” Ynys smiled sheepishly. “I just fear the wrath of your Mama if she finds out, if her temper is anything like yours.”
Eirene frowned, but Ynys kept his resolve. He would not be swayed from speaking the truth, even if Eirene did look a little hurt.
Seeing that he meant what he said, Eirene then muttered, “Maybe we should not go then.”
“Oh, but we are going now! I have just had a marvellous idea!” Ynys suddenly sprung to his feet with a big smile and started skipping towards the path to go the beach.
“I thought you feared my Mama’s wrath a moment ago?” Eirene shouted after him, following him at pace to try and keep up.
“I do, but as you say, so long as she does not know we are safe, yes? Quickly, follow me!”
Ynys started running off down the path towards the Ootoe beach, dust kicked up by the slaps of his leather sandals. Eirene took off to pursue him, throwing caution to the wind. She needed some adventure in her life and who knows what she and Ynys would get up to on the beach. One day of complete abandon, even if it did mean getting caught in the end, seemed like a reasonable trade off in the ten year old’s mind.
The children ran and ran as fast as they could, not even stopping to giggle at the passersby either heading to the temple of the nearby villages. Some of the elderly could be seen smiling with delight as the children ran by. One old woman shook her head with concealed delight as Eirene nearly crashed into her.
“Careful now, young one! You have all the time in the world.” The woman cautioned Eirene with a bright smile, who looked at her feet with embarrassment.
“My apologies, madam. I will be more careful next time.”
“Oh bless you, child. Run along now and enjoy yourself. The tide will be in soon enough.”
Eirene did not need telling twice. She smiled meekly at the woman and ran off to catch up with Ynys. The old woman chuckled softly. It was always a pleasure for some to see youth at its most energetic, for her own young years were long gone. She continued her journey towards the temple.
Soon the beach came into sight and the children came to a halt. They were not the only ones to feel awed by the beauty of the beach, yet they felt so small, almost lost in the grandeur of it all, especially when looking from the beach to the sea and beyond that, to a world that one could only imagine if they never left the Isles of Astrum…
Ynys smiled at Eirene when he saw her eyes become vacant, wandering off into their own world. He asked, “How about a swim?”
Of course, being in her own mind for only a moment, it took Eirene a moment to realise that Ynys had just spoken to her.
“I asked if you would like a swim.”
“Oh.” Eirene pondered. The Loi sea had always beckoned her forth and she had spent many years wishing to dive deep down and see what was underneath the surface. Yet here she was before the Loi and she was almost afraid now. She looked down at her robes and said, “Where should we put our robes?”
“On the rocks, of course.” Ynys exclaimed, his smile ever brighter before. “Follow me, my lady!”
Both undressed until they were stood in their linen underwear. Luckily the breeze was minimal to be stood out in little else, although it did cross Ynys’s mind that the spring day was a little cool to be going swimming. He looked over to Eirene and she had no trace of any goose pimples on her skin. If anything, she had a red flush on her, though whether this was from warmth or delight he would yet to find out.
“Ready?” Ynys asked. Eirene nodded and the two of them ran for the sea.
The water was a little cool to begin with but Eirene took it in her stride and began to feel wonderment in her being as she swam with Ynys not too far away from the rocks. Luckily the waves were minimal and there was little chance of them being swept out, although this was a thought that did not come to either of their minds. The children giggled and splashed each other a little as they went, before coming to a halt near enough to each other that they could feel the ripples of water from their kicking legs.
Eirene looked down at the water and saw sparkles underneath the surface. Her curiosity peaked and before Ynys could ask her what she had spotted, she took a big swoop downwards.
“Eirene!” Ynys cried out in some panic, yet he needn’t have worried long, for almost as soon as he called her name, Eirene rose back to the surface, her eyes now so blue that they almost matched the colour of the water.
“Come with me.” She said, taking a deep breath and diving down again.
Not as alarmed this time, Ynys did as she commanded and dove down with her.
Very little could be seen underneath the water for it blurred her vision, but to Eirene this was bliss. Fishes of all colours swam past her face as she went downwards, dancing together in a rainbow that reminded her of the festivals on the land above. The feeling of the water as it seemed to seep into her very being was magical to her, she felt so at one with it all. Each direction she swam in, the water seemed to carry and caress her. Then she turned over onto her back and watched the surface above, where the sun could be seen casting sparkles and shadows onto it. This was the freedom she had longed to taste, to simply swim and feel like there was no time in the world, even if time was only short before she needed to come up for air.
Ynys caught up with Eirene and tapped her on the shoulder, pointing upwards. She nodded and the two swam upwards, both gasping as they reached air and filled their lungs with it.
“That was incredible.” Eirene proclaimed breathlessly, a smile so wide on her face that she thought it might split her apart.
“It certainly was something down there. We will have to search for ships when we are older.” Ynys grinned when Eirene looked at him with a wistful look on her face.
“Are there many, do you think?”
“I would be surprised if there were not some, if not many. Imagine all the treasure too.”
“Treasure!” Eirene laughed a little. “We would likely find more cockles than treasure.”
“That does not mean one cannot try and look. I fancy myself a ring of gold and ruby.”
“I think I should like to find some scrolls. I should like to find out what may have led the souls on board to this place.”
“We will one day.”
Eirene did not stop smiling for the rest of the day until. Even with the prospect of returning to her mother, who would likely box her ears for venturing far from the Eistr Mariskh against her wishes, having that swim with Ynys was entirely worth it. When she opened the doors to her’s and her mother’s quarters, she braced herself. Instead, she found her mother quietly stitching by the fireplace. Her face was sombre.
“Good afternoon, Mama.” Eirene greeted quietly.
Maridi had barely heard the door open before her daughter started speaking. She turned to Eirene and smiled sadly, before looking back down at her stitching.
Eirene frowned. “What is it Mama?”
“Jhamy’s sister has come to pass this afternoon. She came by the temple this afternoon and her heart gave way.” Maridi explained.
It had been a terrible affair. Maridi had not seen Jhamy’s sister, Lutiyya, for some months, for the poor woman had been ill for a while. Somehow, Lutiyya had gathered her last strength to come to the Eistr Mariskh.
“I have come to see my dear sister, just one last time.” Lutiyya had said delicately as she stumbled upon the doors of the temple. Jhamy came by immediately and was there to hold her sister’s hand as she slipped from this world. Maridi had never seen much emotion from Jhamy before, but this day, the dam broke and the sound of Jhamy’s broken sobs still rang in her ears.
Eirene was stunned. She did not even know High Priestess Giolha had a sister still living. Worse, poor Jhamy had to watch her own sister die in her arms. Lutiyya may have been ready to die, and no doubt this was why she staked a journey so far from her village to come and see her only living relative, but all the same, Eirene felt Jhamy’s and her mother’s sorrow. She hesitantly approached her mother and took her hand in hers. Maridi squeezed it gently, grateful as ever for her daughter’s company.
“Did no one see or know Jhamy’s sister was coming? Perhaps someone could have been sent to help her for the last part of the journey.” Eirene asked, beginning to feel slightly helpless as to what to say to comfort her mother, but at the same time quench her curiosity of the woman she had never known of until today.
“Lutiyya spoke of a pretty blue eyed girl she bumped into, heading towards the Ootoe beach, following some young boy she said. She said it gave her great joy to see this girl.”
Eirene’s stomach flipped and sank. The old woman she saw earlier today. She let go of her mother’s hand non too abruptly, refusing to look at her suddenly. Maridi noticed instantly and gently pulled her daughter back to her. “My sweet, what on earth is the matter?”
“I saw her.” Eirene blurted out, guilt taking a choke hold on her before she could stop herself. “Ynys and I - we were only going for a swim - I know you said not to go anywhere but the temple, I just - I wish I had known it was her - I could have helped her, I -”
She could not say anymore and she needed not to. Maridi could not have been angry with her daughter now, even if she had just cause to do so for finding out that Eirene had deliberately flouted her instructions. What should have been a day where Eirene had enjoyed one of the best afternoons she had ever experienced with a newly found friend, had now been shattered all too soon by the tragedy of Lutiyya’s death and the fact that Eirene, unwittingly, had been one of the last few people to see the woman alive.
Maridi took her daughter by the arms and looked her in the eyes. “Hush yourself now, my sweet, what is done is done now. At least you gave Lutiyya some last happiness in her last hours, even if you did not know it. You have nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about.”
Eirene nodded, calming down a little.
“What will happen now?” She asked.
“There will be a funeral in the coming week which we will attend. The ceremony is…unusual to most outsiders away from Astrum, but it will be what Lutiyya would have wished for.” Maridi explained.
“I understand, Mama.” Eirene bit her lip. “I am sorry I did not listen to you today.”
Maridi chuckled and stood up to kiss her daughter on the head. “I accept your apology, although I will admit I was a little overbearing when I know you have just gained a proper friend. Perhaps I should be grateful also that you were not near the temple when all of this happened. I would never have wished for you to see such a thing so young.”
“I will have to one day, though.”
“One day.” Maridi agreed. “But in the meantime, I need to help High Priestess Giolha and you had best attend to your scrolls for now.”
Eirene did not need instructing twice. Maridi left to do her duty by her friend, and Eirene stayed to do her duty by her mother. She did not leave the table until her mother returned, and when the two retired for bed, Eirene crept from her own bed to her mother’s, and held the weeping woman all night.
The day of the funeral was like most others: sombre. Eirene felt completely out of place here on the Ootoe beach, like she was an intruder in an event where the only people who should be privy were those who knew and loved Lutiyya Giolha. No other children were there, not even Ynys. Most of the attendees were villagers, priests and priestesses who had either known Lutiyya for years, or who had come to pay their respects to Jhamy, who for once was looking pale and worn out in comparison to her usually stern countenance towards daily life.
Lutiyya’s body was laid on a wooden plank in the middle of the beach, with processions of water lilies and ivy laid to each side of her. Everyone stood around in an arch, with Eirene stood in the middle and to the front. Above the body she could see the Loi sea, more grey this time under the cloudy sky. Eldwin stepped forward and began the ceremony.
As Eldwin read the rites, the breeze picked up. The more Eirene gazed at the sea, the more she thought she could hear it calling Lutiyya’s name. She wriggled her toes in her shoes and focussed on Eldwin as he finished the last lines, his voice carrying on the wind.
“May ye rest in peace, Lutiyya Giolha. May the waves carry you to our Healer.” Eldwin then bent down and placed a lotus flower on the dead woman’s folded hands upon her chest.
Eirene did not know much about funerals on the Isles of Astrum, so it puzzled her when a few young men stepped forward and began dragging the plank by some ropes towards the sea, with Maridi walking along side. Eldwin came to stand by Eirene and gently took her to his side.
“What are they going to do now?” Eirene whispered to him, her eyes still fixed ahead at her mother and the body of Lutiyya now suspended on the water. Maridi began guiding both herself and Lutiyya further out into the water.
“We are taking her home.” Eldwin whispered back, squeezing her shoulder by way of comfort.
“Some say the Isles of Astrum is our home, but I believe the Loi Sea is where we truly belong. It is where we all go when we come to pass. That is what our ceremony means, Siraeldori - it means when the time comes, we all get taken back to the same home from where we began.”
“But how will she get down there?” Eirene asked.
“Your mother will guide her.”
Just as she looked back ahead, Eirene say her mother gently pulled Lutiyya’s body from the plank and down the pair of them went. The concept was strange to Eirene, yet it made sense. Lutiyya, who had been born on these Isles and had lived and breathed the very air the Loi Sea provided, may too have felt this is where it would all end, as a drop in a place far bigger than she. To be guided down in the sea in death was to accept the cycle that the Loi Sea represented, and Eirene had no doubt that Lutiyya was now in another place, waiting for the next life among the stars to begin.
Eirene took a deep breath for her mother. As Maridi rose to the surface, so did the lotus that Eldwin had laid.