“Princess are you ready?” My handmaiden Thandie asked gently placing a hand on my shoulder. I knew she wasn’t really asking if I was ready, but signaling that it was time to head into the grand sept.
My Father the king stood with my siblings behind me and what felt like half of the city behind them. It was the morning of my 18th name day and the celebrations were to begin after I had my cards read by the high priests as was customary for members of the royal family when they became of age.
I clasped my hands in front of me to keep them from shaking as I walked through the large ornate doors of the sept my footsteps echoing on the marble as the doors closed behind me.
The beauty of the grand sept never ceased to amaze me. When I was younger I used to hide in the pews and watch the way the sunlight danced across the stain glass window and reflect on the floors. I’d told father once that I wanted to become a priestess so that I could spend all of my days in the sept. He of course told me that I was being ridiculous Princesses, and most certainly the firstborn Princess, did not become Priestesses. It was just as well because I didn’t have the temperament Priestess. Although I didn’t really have the temperament to be a Princess either. I’d always been somewhat of a wild child. Before I my illness had begun I’d spent all of my time out in the countryside on my horse Angus. Now I was confined to my chamber most of the time except for boring state events and balls hosted at the castle.
A pretty dark haired priestess in red robes led me to a small alcove covered in cushions and tapestries lit by candlelight.
“Welcome, Princess Caitriona. I have waited a long time for this” the high priestess welcomed me gesturing to the cushion across from her. I gathered up my skirts and tried to arrange the ceremonial cloak in a way I hoped looked regal.
In the candlelight, the high priestess looked like a phantom and I had to fight the urge to run back out of the sept. There was something unnerving in the way she studied me. She handed me a thick hand painted tarot deck and told me to shuffle the deck and then chose five cards.
I ran my fingers over the deck unsure of what to look for after running my fingers over the cards she had spread out I felt a strong pull towards one specific card towards the edge. I pulled it out and handed it to the priestess who turned it over placing it on the table. It was the lover's card. The card depicted a man and a woman standing next to each other with the sun and an angel above them. The lovers reached toward each other longingly, but not touching. Despite the bright colors and seemingly happy depiction on the card, something about it made me profoundly sad.
The next four cards were easier to pick out of the bunch. The first one was the magician, then the fool, then the moon, and finally death. I looked up at high priestess knowing that the death card almost never actually meant physical death, but represented more a death of one situation and the birth of a new one.
Her face was pale and her hands trembled as she stood. “Excuse me princess, but I must speak to your father immediately,” her voice wavered and she sounded as weak as I had looked lately.
She swept out of the back door. Leaving me alone with the other Priestess who looked as astonished as I felt. Now she too studied me as if I was a completely different person than I had been just moments ago. She moved to help me up, but I waved her off. I was more than strong enough to stand up by myself.
I plastered a serene smile on my face before I stepped out of the Sept to the cheers of people watching. I joined my brothers and sister who waited at the bottom of the steps leading up to the Sept by the carriages that were going to take us back to the castle. I frowned noticing that my father wasn’t standing with my siblings as was customary.
“Sorry Cait, father had some urgent business he had to attend to,” My oldest brother Rohan said through his smile as he helped me into the gilded carriage along while Tarian, Quinlan, and Aofie went into the carriage behind us.
“So what did the High Priestess say? Are you destined for greatness?” Rohan teased smiling brightly now that we were hidden for the most part.
“Actually the strangest thing happened,” I sighed “After I picked the cards she became very pale and left to go talk to father.”
“How odd,” Rohan mused “What cards were drawn.”
“Well the lovers was first, then the magician, the fool, the moon, and death,” I ticked off on my fingers.
“All of your cards were major arcana?” He asked astonished.
“Yes is that unusual?” I asked quizzically.
“It’s unheard of,” Rohan said aghast “The most I’ve ever heard of in a reading is three. I only had two in mine and Tarian had one.” He looked at me worriedly. “How are you feeling? If you feel even the slightest bit unwell I think we should cancel the ball tonight.”
“I’m always unwell Rohan, but I feel no more so than usual,” I rolled my eyes “Besides this is my ball and I don’t get out enough as it.” There was no way I was going to be denied the company of someone outside of my immediate family and our servants.
“Ah yes and what was the ridiculous theme you choose for tonight’s festivities?” My brother rolled his eyes as if he didn’t already know.
“Tonight’s to be a masquerade ball,” I smiled happily. While all the same rules for me would still apply, but it would at least let me pretend for the night that I was another girl not bound by rigid rules that bound me.
“Speaking of which I’ve heard that father has received another batch of marriage proposals in light of your birthday,” Rohan laughed at my pained expression. I knew that father wouldn’t put off choose a husband for me much longer. Most girls my age had already been married for several years and we’re working on producing a small army of children.
“Including one from the king of Wessex,” Rohan teased.
“Don’t be silly the king of Wessex is married and an old man,” I waved my hand away dismissively.
“He died a fortnight ago. His son James is king now and he intends to suit for your hand,” Rohan smiled wickedly knowing how much I detested James.
“Father knows I will never marry James. I made him promise as much after the first time I met him,” I frowned.
“That was several years ago Cait. Before you fell ill,” Rohan said carefully “He probably thought you would be married by now and the number of suitable men who are pursuing your hand is starting to dwindle.”
“As long as there are still other options,” I cringed knowing that Rohan was right.
Despite my father’s best efforts he had been unable to hide my fragile condition from the other kingdoms. I doubted that any and wanted a broken thing. I was just glad no one knew that my mind was as broken as my body.
I’d started hearing what I thought were other people’s voices when I was thirteen almost exactly a year before I started to get sick. It had turned out that I hadn’t been hearing voices, but I was hearing people’s deepest desires. It had been a nightmare to always know what people wanted so I had gone to the Sept to escape from the desires that were always clawing at my brain. I could still hear the priestess's desires, but they didn’t feel so desperate or pound in my skull as all the others did. And the priestess never desired me the way some of the men and even some of the women at court did.
Eventually, I learned how to block out the desires. Now I only heard them when I chose to stop blocking them out or when someone touched my skin. When that happened their desire seemed to try to completely consume me.
Fortunately, my father had put a law there was a law that no man could ever touch me, and no one except for a member of my family could have direct contact with my skin. The law had been created to ensure the purity of the King’s firstborn daughter and while it worked out well it was extremely isolating.