Liora dodged one of the cooks carrying a pot of boiled water in the busy kitchen. She wanted to deliver her tray back to them. It had taken her a while, but she had gotten the confidence to ask one of the servants where the kitchen was.
It wasn’t a question she was able to ask Caldor. He would have told her to leave the tray in the hall. Everyone who wasn’t on staff did that, but for Liora, it felt rude.
Leaving a tray in a clean hallway would have upset her if she had worked so hard to keep the castle tidy. Seeing the trays outside peoples’ doors would have made her frustrated, and so for the past three days she had been delivering her trays back to the kitchen. The cooks had been surprised by her at first, confusing her for a scullery maid until she correctly introduced herself.
“Li,” the jolly Chijin cook, with the braided beard called to her across the room, “take a biscuit, my girl. They’re fresh.”
“Thank you,” Liora sang, trying to reach for the plate in the middle of the wide counter. One of the other Dermite cooks slid the plate across the wooden surface towards her. Liora grabbed a biscuit.
“Take two,” the balding Dermite suggested, passing her another. Liora wasn’t going to refuse such sweet treats.
“Thanks,” she called, hurrying out of the crowded kitchen.
The stoves had made the room stifling and drops of sweat beaded her forehead. That changed when she climbed up the stairs into the long dining hall, where she was met with a rush of cool air. It gave her a chill and she tightened the thick wool cloak around her shoulders.
Fall was fading and many of the trees were beginning to look bare. Liora had been able to see Bay’s Lake from the courtyard clearly that morning. There were fewer boats on the lake than usual, but with the first signs of frost on her window, it was likely the fisherman were preparing to end their season.
Taking the last bite of the remaining biscuit, Liora paused when she heard singing. The voices were coming from the hallway with the tall glass windows. Liora peeked down the hall, spying a set of doors. She had explored many places in the castle, but didn’t notice that there was a set of doors at the end of that hall.
Wandering down the hallway, she stopped before the oak doors. They had been opened just a crack. If they had been fully closed, the singing wouldn’t have gotten her attention.
Opening the door enough for her to slip through, Liora took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim room. The smell of sage was in the air, as was the strong scent of sandalwood. The smoke from the incense was dancing from two burners by the platform where the Sisters were.
There were eight. Four were kneeling on the first step and the other four were standing. Their voices echoed through the vaulted ceiling of the temple. The archways were carved with faces and hands holding onto the wooden beams that stretched across the room. The Sisters were the only people in the temple.
The pine benches faced the platform in perfect rows were empty. Her eyes followed the rows to the platform where she felt the breath catch in her throat at the sight of the idol.
Darkel was carved out of the trunk of an ancient western oak. The head almost touched the ceiling of the eighty foot high room. He had no face but the rest of the idol was decorated with detail in His armour, cape, and wings. His hands clasped a sword made from the same trunk that rested with its point before His feet.
The idols in the garden of Morza weren’t so large. They were around Foe’s height, and made of white alabaster. The Morzi had idols for all three of the Gods, but that was an uncommon practice.
The North worshipped Darkel, since He was the Gods of Wind and Earth. After creating those elements, Darkel wished He had children to enjoy His hard work. Yes, the North paid homage to Sirphan, since in their eyes the Goddess was the mother of all people. She was the Goddess who brought the first light and water to the world, granting life to every living creature.
The South worshipped their God, Kidoss. He was said to be the first of the three Gods, and creator of the monsters that roamed the lands of Gaitan. As the keeper of fire and God of Chaos his worshippers feared and thanked Him for sparing them from the disease the God was known to inflict on those that angered Him.
The Chijin weren’t believers so much, but respected the traditions of their ancestors. Liora had read how they still celebrated the birth of their people with the First Light celebration at the beginning of the spring. The Chijin had been the first people of Gaitan. They had learned to rely on knowledge and science instead of the Gods.
Caldor was much like his people in that way. He believed the Gods had been important at one time, but not anymore. His trust was in knowledge, and if nothing else, Fate.
So, of course, it had been strange for the little man to hear that Liora worshipped the three Gods. In Morza, each God had a purpose, and the world wouldn’t work without the others doing what they were meant to do. Sirphan gave the water and animals that helped feed her people. Darkel helped with harvests and brought the warm southern winds to break the cold in the fall and spring. Kidoss gave them fire and the dragons that had become what Morza were known for.
As a Morzi she had to be grateful to the Gods for all they had done, and though no one had seen them, she believed they were watching. They had cared for her people in small ways, like they had with all the people in Gaitan.
Others wanted larger signs.
Like the light Caldor had mentioned? Liora hadn’t heard much outside what her mentor had told her, or from what that chaos singer had said. Had they truly come to Gaitan?
The 200 Year Moon was meant to be the time the Gods would visit. Her people had decorated the city with colourful material and painted on the streets. The pyres were larger than previous years, and they had fire dancers gifted by the South for entertainment. Everything had been going so well. The people had been having so much fun. Until the first explosion.
“What yah doin’ here?” she heard a shrill voice, as the singing stopped. The eight Sisters glared at her. Their judging glares were cold as ice.
“I heard singing and-”
“Westy Snakes are not to taint the inner sanctum of the temple. Go. It’s bad enough yar in the city. Go!” the oldest and tallest of the women took two steps before shooing the girl like a dog.
Anyone had been welcomed in the gardens of Morza, but this place wasn’t home.
Jumping back into the hallway, Liora closed the door. They didn’t have to be so rude. They could have asked her nicely to leave without saying it was because of where she came from. She didn’t choose to be born Morzi, yet everyone blamed her for being one.
Stopping to look out at the apple tree in the garden, Liora felt a weight on her shoulders. She ran her fingers through her hair, moving the wild locks out of her face before making her way across the bright atrium. The two guards stood before the entrance, one nodding to her as she waved. The other guard turned his face, ignoring her acknowledgement.
This place was nicer than the other places she had stayed, though it wasn’t without its issues. Maybe she could talk with Cáel regarding what had happened with the Sisters. He was Dermite and might know how she could show the Sisters that she wasn’t the beast they believed her to be.
Hopping up the stone steps to the walkway, she made her way to the hall leading to the second floor stairwell. Around the corner she halted at hearing the familiar voice of Foe coming from one of the rooms. His voice was hushed, drawing her closer to stand beside the door. Caldor’s voice was a whisper.
The crack in the door kept most of the conversation from her ears but there were parts she was able to hear clearly. The girl leaned towards the opening, resting her back against the cool wall.
“It’s a two day ride,” Foe scoffed, “with winter ‘round the corner, are yah sure yah don’ wanna wait ‘til sprin’ to take her?”
“No, it is best we take her before. Leaving that river rat wondering about her well being would not be good, and she wanted to see him before the snow,” Caldor said.
“Winter should hold for a few more weeks. Long enough for yah to take her and come back,” Marcia remarked, “it won’ take yah long. Just go and come back. She doesn’ need a long goodbye.”
“Hopefully she will be finished the translations. I honestly did not believe it would take her this long,” Caldor commented. She could hear him pacing across the floor.
Liora lifted her hand to grip the side of her head, her fingers tangled into her hair, pulling at the roots. Her scalp burned with each tug, her inside cheek ached at she chewed on it.
Weeks ago during one of her lessons, she had mentioned to Caldor that she had wanted to see Pellar. The wild man would have been preparing for a long winter, and she wanted to go there to help him. She had thought maybe she could go for a few days, but she hadn’t meant the old sage to think she wanted to live there.
The way the adults spoke, they sounded excited about the idea of her departing from their care. They had wanted her for the translations but she had thought over these months of being under their care that they had wished her to stay once her task for them was complete.
If that’s what they want. Liora’s chest ached. I’ll leave as soon as I’m done the translations.
She turned on her heels and headed for the stairwell leading to the prince’s quarters. If no one else wanted her around, she at least knew Cáel did.
Liora sat leaning against the footboard of the prince’s bed. She sank into the soft padding of the feather mattress like a small bird in a nest. The doors to the balcony were closed, and a fire was lit on the other side of the room close to the cabinet that held all of Cáel’s medications. He hadn’t needed any of them since he had stopped screaming, but they were there just in case.
The boy sat across from her, propped up on his pillows while he tuned his lute. He didn’t like reading so much, but would read if Caldor had ordered him to. The books Cáel would read were about knights and Gryphon Guardians. He had told her stories about the famous Dermite force, known for riding their winged beasts in the most difficult of battles. Cáel was a good storyteller, and when he accompanied his stories with music the tales became magical.
Today wasn’t a day of stories though, since he had broken two strings during the last visit. He had been repairing and tuning since she had arrived, which was fine. His repairs gave her time to work on the almanac. There were only two chapters left.
The boy played two chords before stopping and adjusting the knobs at the top of the neck. His brows were knotted in concentration, and he bit his tongue. Ginger curls fell over his eyes, but he was able to see what he was doing.
“I think when I’m done I’ll go back to Downrow,” Liora muttered, rocking back and forth to keep her legs from falling asleep.
Cáel’s fingers plucked an untuned string before he glanced at her. His eyes burrowed into her; searching her face to see if she was speaking the truth.
“Why? Yah don’ like it here?” Cáel’s heart sunk. Liora was the only good thing in his day. With her, he didn’t feel useless. With her, he felt normal.
“No, I like it… it’s just…” Liora placed her hands on her lap and began to fiddle with her fingers.
“If it’s me da, don’ worry about him. He’s got a stick up his arse,” Cáel blurted. Liora shook her head.
“No, it’s not just your father. I just don’t belong here. The more time I spend here the more I feel I don’t belong,” Liora sighed. “I should leave before winter, which works out since I’ll be done translating soon.”
“Ya’ll be warmer and better fed here. Foe’ll make sure,” Cáel knew that was a silly reason to stay.
“Pellar will take care of me. So will Talia,” Liora said, tucking her hair behind her ear. The pewter earring glimmered in the light that pooled from the balcony door.
“Just…” Cáel glimpsed down at his lute, “just don’ go without saying goodbye. I want to be able to say that to my only friend.”
The girl smiled, glancing up from her hands to look at him. He was a good friend, and she would miss him, but she was sure he was going to be fine without her. The prince had a lot of people that cared about him.
“Guilting me? Really?” Liora said.
The boy shrugged.
“Can yah blame me?” he chuckled. “I don’ want things to change back to how they were. I’m not alone anymore.”
He wasn’t alone. The boy had his father and there were others that cared for him. Liora knew what true loneliness was.
“I promise to say goodbye before I leave,” Liora muttered. “You’ll be the first one to know.”