“Computer, analyze readings from A672E92. How long before star begins to expand and envelope planets in our system?” queried Lady Brigid, her platinum grey eyes filled with worry. The last solar flare to rock A672E92 Quintus knocked out all electrical systems planet-wide with restoration of power only 0.13 shir-ors ago.
“Analysis complete. Solar expansion expected to reach A672E92 Primus in 220 yen-ars.”
“How long before it reaches A672E92 Quintus?”
“Estimated arrival at A672E92 Quintus in 270.486 yen-ars,” recited Brigid’s home office computer.
“Margin of error in estimate?”
“Plus or minus fifty yen-ars.”
“Either way you look at, that is not much time to evacuate an entire world! Something must be done; the goddess Ainisil has shown me we can survive this – but how? I do not believe for one moment that the clans are truly done with their blood feuds, no matter what they say in the Great Council! No! There has to be some way to truly unite us. Otherwise, how are we to survive a migration into the stars that may take generations to complete?” contemplated Brigid.
“Insufficient data for analysis,” replied the computer. “Incoming call from Lady Kendra of house Gurun.”
At the command, the computer projected a three dimensional image of Lady Kendra, her long, nearly black hair braided neatly down her back in stark contrast with her blue-grey eyes and ivory skin. A scoop necklined kirtle in silver-blue framed her petite body as the computer connected the call, “Lady Priestess Brigid, I am glad to catch you in your home office this morning.”
Brigid bowed politely in turn, “Bright blessings to you, Lady Kendra. I hear congratulations are in order?”
Lady Keelia half smiled, half laughed, “Yes! The Great Council of Houses elected me last beinor to chair the council. News must travel fast; I have barely had time to inform my own family to celebrate.”
“If your reputation is accurate, then your election is well deserved. How may I serve the Great Council this beinor?”
“I want you to mediate a dispute between houses Cashmarie and house Xing-li on the isle of Ben-Ar.”
“I am no elder of house Miyoo. Would not one of the delegates from house Miyoo on the Great Council be a better choice? They have far more authority than I do.”
“The parties involved do not trust your house elders – no offense intended. If we still had a high priestess or high priest that might be different. But as it stands, they want someone completely neutral politically. Your reputation is that you are fair minded and devoted to the pursuit of truth.”
“As you wish, Your Honor. Am I to be the only arbiter on the matter?”
“No. I have requested Lord Malvyn of house Balister and Lady Abbess Sareth of house Ten-Ar to join the delegation. My hope is the combined neutrality of your three houses will be enough to end the conflict before more lives are lost,” elaborated Lady Kendra.
“So mote it be then. While I have you, may I inquire as to what the Great Council plans on doing concerning the increased activity within A672E92? My analysis indicates we do not have much time before we need to evacuate our planet. We cannot have more than twenty yen-ars before we start feeling the effects on our atmosphere and climate. All things concerned, a few hundred yen-ars is not even one millionth of a xiao-shir against the age of the universe – or of A672E92 for that matter.”
“Evacuation may be prudent, my lady, but not politically possible. As the only unifying institution for the houses, the Great Council is far too new to exert much authority over the individual agendas and prerogatives of each house. We simply do not yet have the power to order the houses into any sort of unified, much less concerted, effort, even in the interests of self-preservation,” brief Lady Kendra.
“Perhaps, by the grace of the goddess, that might change – before it is too late,” suggested Lady Brigid.
“Perhaps – but only through the charisma of someone all of our world can respect,” hinted Kendra.
The isle of Ben-Ar glittered with the crystalline temple of Ainisil, its many spires and towers weaving together organically out of the island’s craggy cliffs with smoothness and geometric precision. Dormers flowered near the pinnacles of each tower, amplifying the number of windows and usable working space. Twenty zhang张away from one of the spires, a species of falco albus circled, then wringed and stooped, catching a large rodent in her talons to feed to her hungry chicks being watched over by her mate in their nearby nest. Three stories below wound a carefully paved road leading from the docking port for low altitude shuttles one full li里 to the main entrance to the temple, a choice made to reduce the environmental impact of technology upon the area wildlife.
From the elaborately carved portal arch of the main temple entrance, Lady Brigid walked the smooth stone path with practiced precision. Fifty zhang 张 along the path from her starting point at the heavy wooden temple doors she stopped and stood gracefully at attention. Two figures, one male and one female, appeared as growing specks from the opposite end of the path. Brigid smiled as slowly the features of Lord Malvyn of house Balister and Lady Abbess Sareth of house Ten-Ar became clearer to her eyes. As they approached, Lady Brigid noticed six more figures appearing in the distance that too began to walk the smooth stone road.
Lord Malvyn bowed to Lady Brigid, taking her hand and kissing it, “Honor and respect to the lady of many names and to her ambassador in you, my lady!”
As Malvyn’s lips touched her hand, Brigid felt a shockwave of spiritual energy. Her eyes widened and balance faltered barely perceptibly, taking her breath as a presence filled her consciousness. Who was this Malvyn of house Balister and why was his polite kiss of respect, presumably directed at the triple goddess known collectively as Ainisil, affecting her so? Knowing an answer was merited by protocol, Brigid curtsied politely, “Merry meet, Lord Malvyn. House Miyoo greets you in the name of the Lady.” Malvyn smiled chivalrously in turn.
Lady Abbess Sareth bowed in greeting to Lady Brigid, “It is an honor and pleasure to meet you, Lady Brigid. Honorable Lady Kendra praised you highly when informing me of the conference.”
“I shall endeavor to earn your respect then, Your Grace. How fares house Ten-Ar this beinor?”
“Too few choose the healing arts, I am afraid. You speak honorifically to me, Lady Priestess Brigid, but I fear there is precious little honor in my title; it appears to be more of a formality than a true position of authority,” confessed Sareth.
“But surely you are a skilled healer and gifted teacher of the healing arts,” protested Brigid.
“These are not gentile times, my lady. Master knights and generals of war hold the greater prestige. Better a warrior and knight of Ten-Ar than a healer to them- at least for the present.”
“Perhaps we may reverse that trend,” suggested Brigid, her mind still mostly focused on Malvyn unexpectedly even as she applied Miyoo mental discipline towards staying in the present.
“Reverse what trend?” asked Lord Horatio of house Xing-li, his eyes forward so as to avoid noticing the delegation from house Cashmarie immediately behind him.
Lord Malvyn offered Horatio the Balistrian gesture of respect, “Good morning and welcome lord …”
“Lord Admiral Horatio of house Xing-li, at your service,” echoed Horatio.
“A pleasure and an honor, lord admiral. I am Lord Malvyn, master bowman and head of house Balister. Please allow me to introduce the ladies: Lady Abbess Sareth of house Ten-Ar and our hostess, Lady Priestess Brigid of house Miyoo,” presented Malvyn.
“A pleasure as always,” greeted Lady Silmira of house Cashmarie from behind Lord Horatio’s right ear. “I am Lady Mariner Silmira of house Cashmarie and head of our delegation.” Turning towards Horatio, Lady Silmira smiled politely and sarcastically, “A pleasure to see you again, lord admiral. Killed any children lately?”
“The affairs of house Xing-li are none of yours, Mariner. Or should I call you a hapless dimwit of a sailor who cannot navigate her way out of a sea to an ocean?” snarled Horatio.
Lord Malvyn raised his eyebrow with a turn of his body so only Lady Sareth and Lady Brigid could see his expression of mild annoyance and disbelief. The ladies echoed his body language silently. Turning his attention once more to Horatio and Silmira he motioned, “Well then, clearly we have much to discuss. Shall we enter the castle temple then and begin?”
Lady Silmira bowed and curtsied politely, her ocean green kirtle catching a sudden gentle island breeze, “By all means, Lord Malvyn! Let us find the solution to this problem. The sooner we conclude negotiations, the sooner we may all return to our homes.” Horatio nodded consent as Lady Brigid led the way into the castle temple and showed each of her guests their quarters for the duration of the negotiations.
Two shir-ors later, the negotiations began without progress. At the first meeting lasting three shir-ors, the three delegates from house Xing-li shouted insults and insinuations at the three delegates from house Cashmarie who returned them with equal ferocity, trying the patience of all three arbiters and forcing an early adjournment. The next morning talks fared little better as the delegates from each house numerated the flaws they saw in the other, their voices increasing in volume and the cutting of their mutual insults escalating to levels none of the arbiters realized was possible. After four full shir-ors of shouting with barely any breaks for meals, Lord Malvyn left the conference room for some air. Heading to his quarters, he collected his heritage bow, a recurve bow made of a tawny white wood called Nara known for its lightness and strength. Heading outside, he set up two targets, the first twenty zhang 张 from the invisible firing line he drew in his head and the second at sixty zhang 张. Stringing his bow he picked up an arrow from his nearby quiver, nocked it into the bowstring, and drew the string to his ear, sighting carefully at the far target. Releasing the arrow he heard it thump into the ground clumsily, his concentration clearly off. Picking up another arrow, Malvyn tried to quiet his mind. Behind him strode Lady Brigid, “You are angry.”
“Shouldn’t you be at the conference listening to their profanity?” remarked Malvyn.
“I adjourned the meeting three xiao-shirs after you left. It was pretty clear we were not going to achieve anything this beinor.”
“My lady,” began Malvyn, trying to conceal his anger at the stupidity that filled the negotiations, “I – I don’t know what to say or feel or do. I am used to leading women and men; I have certainly heard my share of petty arguments. But this? This I do not know how to handle – do you?”
“Anger and hate is like a gale force wind; sometimes you have to simply endure it and let it run its natural course before you can clean up the damage it has created.”
Malvyn lowered his bow and set it aside gently, “What makes you think anything will survive the ‘gale’ as you put it? These two houses are determined to destroy one another.”
“They are more alike than they are different. But Cashmarian discipline is based on cooperation and mutual respect; Xing-lian discipline is largely about fear and obedience to authority. Until they stop shouting and recognize how much they really do have in common …”
“… This nonsense will continue,” finished Malvyn.
“I am sorry I lost my temper.”
“There is nothing to apologize for, my lord.”
“Please call me Malvyn.”
“Malvyn. May I ask you a personal question?”
“Yes, of course.”
“When you first greeted me last beinor – did you feel anything, notice anything out of the ordinary?”
“You mean beyond simple respect for you as the chosen representative from house Miyoo for these talks?”
Brigid paced nervously, “Yes. I do not know how to put it into words.”
“I am not a man of religion. The Lady Ainisil is a mystery to me; I need priests and priestesses like you to help me understand. Of late I have had dreams, a face and an image that made no sense to me – until I saw your face and recognized you from the dream.”
“What happened in the dream?”
“It is hard to remember. But you were with me, steadying me in some way, I think.”
“Politically? Personally? Do you remember anything about the context?”
“It makes no sense to me. I saw – people I recognize to be on the Great Council. There were people everywhere around us, all dressed in their finest fabrics and brightest colors. There was food and drink being served, then some sort of formal – I do not know – maybe an inauguration or something?”
“I do not remember. But I do remember feeling you close to me and liking that feeling,” blushed Malvyn.
“When you touched me, Malvyn, I felt an energy flowing from you into me. It was unexpected and hard to understand. Something changed in me from that touch. I have no words to elaborate with. In all my training I have never heard of anything quite like that before. But we are taught one thing: the goddess of many names whom we called Ainisil often gives us sign posts on things to come so as to alert and prepare us for some challenge. Do you think it is possible that your dream and my experience last beinor are perhaps connected?”
“I do not know, my lady. But I am willing to see what comes next.”
“As am I.”
“Assuming there is some special significance to all this, may I touch you again?”
“Are you married?”
Malvyn’s grey eyes lit up at the question, “No. I have never actually been close to any woman in any particularly personal way.”
Brigid smiled, “Then you may.”
Encouraged, Malvyn closed the distance between them and brushed a free lock of her hair back behind her ear. Tentatively he brushed his lips shyly upon hers before feeling bold enough to kiss her fully and completely. Brigid reciprocated the kiss. Malvyn kissed her again, “Could it be that you and I are destined to be together? Are you to be my wife?”
“Let’s find out,” blushed Brigid.
Dawn broke over the island of Ben-Ar. Inside Lady Priestess Brigid’s humble apartment Brigid knelt at her altar in prayer, her pale blue bliaut shimmering over her saffron kirtle. Her waist was belted with a long tapestry brocade belt that flowed down past her knees in a running knot-work pattern. From her nearby bed, Malvyn stirred contently, his doublet and kirtle folded neatly onto a dresser on the far side of the room. Rising, he knelt next to Brigid as she prayed silently, putting his arm around her affectionately. Brigid rested her head on his shoulder as she finished. Malvyn stroked her hair, and then kissed her, “Good morning, my lady.”
“Good morning, my lord.”
“Will you get in trouble for last night?”
“It is not forbidden, but it is perhaps the sort of breech of professionalism that the elders in my house may frown upon. We are neither married nor betrothed.”
“Would you like to be?”
“Would you like to be my wife?”
Brigid rose, taken back by the question, “Are you asking me to marry you?”
“Nothing so extreme. But I am asking you if you want to continue this.”
“I have no experience in these matters, Malvyn? What do I know about it? Given your dreams – I am not qualified to say yeah or nay. If we had a high priestess then perhaps – I just do not know,” paced Brigid nervously.
Malvyn rose steadily, “What if you are our high priestess, Brigid? What if that is your destiny?”
“It cannot be! I am no one!”
“No different than I am. Who am I?” questioned Malvyn.
“The king, the leader who will take our people to the stars!” quipped Brigid absentmindedly.
“Oh – I – I spoke without thinking, out of instinct perhaps.”
“You are the high priestess, Brigid, or are meant to be. You see things; you know things without knowing you know them. You clearly have the Sight that house Miyoo is famous for.”
“I am no leader. You at least are a master bowman and the head of your house. You rule others and rightfully so,” protested Brigid.
“If I am destined to be our people’s first king, then so be it. I trust your Sight, Brigid. I need your Sight to guide me.”
“Malvyn, I’m afraid. I see things, I feel things – I do not understand. A high priestess should understand. A high priestess must be more than I am.”
“We all change, we all grow. What if our meeting was not by chance, but by divine providence? What if we are meant to guide our people to the stars? You said last night before we retired that you were concerned about the readings from A672E92, that we have very little time to evacuate our planet. This I well believe. We need to evacuate and yet are in no position to do so – especially with both Cashmarie and Xing-li at each other’s throats. We look to them to guide us through the vastness of space, to their expertise in handling both sailing ships and star craft and their knowledge of the greater universe. And what do they do? Quibble over territory and resources that very soon will be destroyed when A672E92 expands and takes this planet with it. Brigid, listen to me and listen well: I cannot do this on my own. Even if the Great Council of Houses should summon me as soon as the negotiations conclude, I am not able to lead – not without you.” Pulling his kirtle over his head and beginning to lace it closed he added, “I do not want to do it without you. I am asking you, nay begging you to help me.”
“What do you need of me?” trembled Brigid.
“Marry me! Stay at my side for all the yen-ars of my life,” pleaded Malvyn.
Tears of fear streamed down Brigid’s face, “I do not know you. It is not logical to accept a proposal with a stranger save by the command of my house.”
“Do you want me to go to them to ask for your hand?”
“We have work to do, Malvyn. Cannot this wait until this evening?”
Malvyn pulled on his doublet and fastened it, whispering gently in her ear, “As you wish.”
Brigid met his eyes, “Thank you.”
“Why do you still refuse to concede my point, Lady Silmira? We of house Xing-li are clearly the superior navigators. We invest more in studying the stars than you do. We know more about the universe than you do. Concede my point and perhaps we can finally move on,” demanded Lord Admiral Horatio.
“I will concede nothing. How do you rule yourselves? By fear and terror? What happens to the navigator who fails to obey a command precisely and uses her own judgment instead?” countered Lady Silmira, raising her voice.
“Perhaps more would be achieved by not trying to force each other to comply with the customs of your respective houses,” asserted Lady Brigid, her eyes flashing with annoyance as yet another shir-or of yelling started to grate on her nerves.
“Why do either of you need to agree on these internal matters at all? They are irrelevant to your dispute. Moreover, they distract everyone from larger issues that need to be addressed,” added Lord Malvyn.
“Such as?” contended Horatio.
“Such as the very real possibility that we have less than two hundred yen-ars before this world becomes inhabitable from the impending death of A672E92. Yours are the houses most capable of leading us to safety. Yet what do you do? Worry so much about trifles in our present that you are willing to sacrifice all that we are or could ever be? Is this logical, lord admiral?” confronted Malvyn.
“What makes you think our star is dying?” mocked Horatio.
“The lord admiral of house Xing-li is actually asking this question?” asked Lady Abbess Sareth with disbelief. “If you really are unaware of our impending doom, then perhaps you never earned the honors you bear! I earned my title through a lifetime of dedication in the healing arts and countless surgeries performed on our knights. Surely one does not become an admiral of Xing-li without being expert at all manner of ship and star craft operations!”
“At last some sense is spoken!” cried Lady Silmira.
Lady Brigid drummed her fingers on the conference table, her mind almost visibly working through the math on a dozen variables. Malvyn looked at her inquisitively, “What are you calculating?”
“I wonder,” articulated Brigid.
“What is it?” asked Malvyn quietly.
“What if? Hmm! Lord Admiral, what do you consider the top three skill strengths of your house?” pondered Brigid.
Horatio looked at her blankly, visibly puzzled at the question. Malvyn eyed him, “The question is valid, lord admiral. Answer it!”
Horatio closed his eyes to think before answering, “Star navigation, efficient ship and star craft operation, and exploration.”
Malvyn caught Brigid’s train of thought, “And you, Lady Silmira? What are the top three skills of house Cashmarie?”
“Trade, community, and interstellar communications, if I must pick three. That does not make us inferior in navigation, ship operations, or any of skill required to effectively pilot vessels – across our world or across the stars,” asserted Lady Mariner Silmira.
“No one save perhaps Lord Horatio believes to the contrary,” observed Brigid. “But I am asking for reason. Clearly both of your houses possess skills needed badly for an evacuation of our world and a successful migration to another planet where we may in time settle. What makes sense to me is that we should play to the strengths of each house. We are not separate countries, but one people. We have a common government now; why should we not conduct ourselves as peers and colleagues, each of us depending on the other for survival? Whether we claim it or not, that is exactly what we are, especially now that our peoples’ survival is at stake. To that end I propose we put the greater good of our people to the forefront of our efforts. These resources each of you have fought and killed over no longer really exist – or they will not in a generation. Now is the time we prepare ourselves to evacuate. Do we have star craft enough to carry every single person off world for a prolonged voyage?”
“No,” admitted Lady Silmira. “I do not know the full numbers of Xing-lian star craft, but I estimate our current star craft fleet capable of carrying no more than two hundred fifty one thousand eight hundred and thirty five individuals – less if we consider the amount of supplies we require for a journey lasting more than ten yen-ars.”
“It will take more than ten yen-ars to find a suitable home,” observed Horatio. “So far there are no suitable planets in this region of space to settle upon. Nothing in the A672 sector nor in any adjacent sectors. Our people are adapted to blue-white stars; these tend to have short lifespans, meriting we locate a blue-white stellar system that is not too old, but not so young as to lack habitable planets. This is far from an easy task. Our needs are very specific. I estimate a voyage no less than sixty yen-ars and perhaps up to three hundred yen-ars, unless our instruments improve in the detection of systems we do not yet know exist.”
“This is why we need you to stop fighting and work together. No other house can match the expertise of either Xing-li or Cashmarie when it comes to interstellar travel. You are true experts whose skills are called upon now to solve the problem of our survival,” declared Malvyn. “Can you not work together now towards evacuating our world and all that we need to survival a prolonged migration into the deeper universe?”
“I am willing,” declared Lady Mariner Silmira, “if the lord admiral will meet us halfway.”
“We are prepared to draft a contract equitable to all parties if both houses will sign it and agree to its terms,” offered Lady Abbess Sareth.
“One condition,” indicated Horatio.
“That I command the fleet during the evacuation and be permitted to set our course away from A672E92 Quintus,” specified Horatio.
“For the first yen-ar of our voyage, I will agree to that. But after the first yen-ar, all course headings must be approved by a vote of the Great Council,” countered Lady Silmira. “No single house must be permitted too much power in this, let alone a single individual. Command of the fleet and command of our people must remain separate matters lest too much power be weld by one person and through such power, corruption and despotism.”
Horatio snarled, clearly not liking Silmira’s condition, “I will concede to the condition only so long as the Great Council ratifies it.”
“Then we are agreed; let us draw up the papers and be done with this matter,” approved Malvyn.
Two beinors (solar days) later, Lady Mariner Silmira and Lord Admiral Horatio signed the contract outlining the duties and responsibilities of houses Xing-li and Cashmarie towards preparation for and embarking upon what would eventually be called the “Great Migration.” Among its many terms, both parties agreed to the construction of two dozen star craft from their house each capable of carrying no less than two hundred thousand passengers plus an equal number of square zhang张 allocated per star craft for food, supplies, livestock, and other essentials, all of which were to be completed in less than five yen-ars. The contract also specified creation of a sub-committee of the Great Council whose purpose was to oversee fulfillment of each of the one hundred eight two provisions enumerated within its contents. Five beinors after Lady Brigid, Lord Malvyn, and Lady Sareth summited the contract, the Great Council ratified it 98 votes to 2, beginning the first of many yen-ars of preparation to leave A672E92 Quintus forever.
Five yen-ars passed. Lady Brigid sat in her office adjacent to her apartment in the temple of Ainisil on the island of Ben-Ar, her eyes fixed on the data stream in front of her. Touching the screen, she accessed a report detailing progress by houses Xing-li and Cashmarie towards preparing for the evacuation. A line of text from Lady Mariner Silmira notified her that the Cashmarian star craft the Dolerin with its passenger capacity of over 400,000 and livestock capacity of up to two million mammals, fish, and birds neared completion. Estimated time of completion was set for fifteen beinors from current date. The Dolerin was the largest star craft completed in the history of A672E92 Quintus to date; if only they had five hundred thousand of them! The door chimed. “Come,” answered Brigid.
As the door opened, Lady Priestess Miriam stepped forward, her kirtle a rosy pink that appeared pale orange to tri-chromatic eyes. Embroidered on her gown was the heraldry of house Miyoo: a single waxing gibbous moon paired with a twinkling white star somewhat resembling the Xing-lian star heraldic charge. Miriam strode confidently into Brigid’s office and leaned up against Brigid’s desk, intentionally obstructing her view of the data, “Why are you still here? We have guests arriving from across A672E92 Quintus. All the leaders from each house will be gathered at the festival filled with food, music, and tournaments. There is to be a celebration: the star craft Gilráne was finished an entire yen-ar ahead of schedule. They say Lord Admiral Horatio himself will pilot it in a grand display!”
Brigid eyed Miriam with only slightly veiled annoyance, “I have no interest in celebrations, least of all those involving the so-called great and powerful of Beinan. I have work to do.”
“You are not an engineer, Brigid. This data you watch so diligently is not yours to monitor. That task falls to the engineers of Xing-li, Cashmarie, and Slabi. They are the professional scientists, not you.”
“I do not care. I must know our people will be safe.”
“They will be, Brigid, but I sense there is a lot more to your avoidance of people than just worry about something we can only prepare for and not change. Tell me. I am your sister priestess. I can help.”
“Can you make the dreams stop? Can you calm my soul from this terrible foreboding? I see things, Miriam. Terrible things. I do not know how or why or even when. But my soul is tormented.”
“What better distraction from such visions then than to be with people?”
“No – I can’t! I cannot see him again. Please, do not ask me to put myself where I will be forced to see him!”
“Him? Who? Brigid, you have not been the same since Honorable Lady Kendra sent you to arbitrate the peace between houses Xing-li and Cashmarie. Did something happen during the conference?” reasoned Miriam.
“Yes. Since I met him, my dreams and visions have only grown more intense, more frequent. I see things of other times and places, even when waking. Since he kissed me – “
“Lord Master Bowman Malvyn of house Balister.”
Suddenly everything clicked for Lady Priestess Miriam, all of her sister priestess’ odd behaviors and reclusiveness, “So that’s the answer to the riddle! He did something to advance your powers, didn’t he?”
“Yes. I mean no disrespect to the others, Miriam, but I have no control over these new abilities. In private I’ve thought about objects and had them suddenly appear corporeally, as if by thinking about them I made them materialize. Miriam I am terrified. Strange things happen around me that I just do not understand and am certain I do not want to understand. I…” Brigid began to weep hysterically. “Why me? Why can’t She choose someone else?”
“You are called, sister. There is no why, at least among mortals. When She calls, we have but two choices: to answer and obey of our own accord or resist and suffer until we can humble ourselves and do the right thing,” explained Miriam compassionately.
“I do not want this burden!” cried Brigid.
Miriam hugged Brigid tightly, “I know. But you cannot escape it either. You must meet this head-on and embrace who and what you are.”
“I do not think I can.”
Miriam rose, bringing Brigid up with her, “Yes, you can. All it takes is the first step, as terrible and terrifying as it sounds. Then the next and another and another and another until you are not only walking, but flying, free and true to yourself.” Miriam led Brigid into her bed chamber and picked up a brush from her dressing table. Gently and calmly she brushed, then braided and pinned up Brigid’s long dark hair. Finding a surcoat from Brigid’s closet, she eased her sister priestess into it and fastened it together at the neck. “Now, sister, you are ready. Let us take the first step together.” Brigid nodded nervously, and then followed Miriam to the festival outside.
Brigid and Miriam walked along the pathways radiating out of the main temple entrance. On the south side of the grounds gathered a dozen archers from house Cashmarie. As the ladies arrived, the mistress of the lists paused the current round so the ladies could cross safely. As Brigid and Miriam sat down, her arm came down – the signal for fire when ready. Nearest to Miriam and Brigid stood Lord Malvyn, his eyes stern and body tense with concentration as he fired the next volley. This time, without the aggravation of the conference to distract him, his arrow landed clear and true in the heart of the bull’s eye; a perfect score. Brigid tried to relax and simply watch him at his best. Malvyn, for his part, kept his eyes and concentration on the task at hand, intentionally avoiding the spectators. This was more than just about archery for show to him; it was about retaining control over house Balister and ensuring that his agenda of preparation for evacuation was fully carried out. As the mistress of the lists declared the round over and for a brief recess while the judges tallied the scores, Malvyn lowered his bow and looked around, his eyes meeting Brigid’s for the first time in five yen-ars. Malvyn put down his bow and walked over to Brigid and Miriam, bowing as he reached them, “How do you like the tournament, my ladies?”
“You shoot better when Lord Horatio is not grinding your nerves,” smiled Brigid, trying to avoid his eyes.
“It’s been five yen-ars; I am surprised you remember, Lady Brigid.”
“I remember more than you think,” countered Brigid.
“Why then avoid me?”
“I do not want my visions to come true, Malvyn. It is nothing personal,” replied Brigid coolly.
“Nothing personal? I fall in love with you, ask you to marry me, and instead of answering me you flee from my presence for five yen-ars? How am I not supposed to take that personally?”
“Since that night together, Malvyn, my abilities have been completely out of control. Do you really want to be around someone so cursed as I am? I do not know what I am capable of now and I do not want to find out. These things terrify me; the last thing I want is to hurt you, to kill you by accident. I love you!” argued Brigid, unaware of her own feelings. Suddenly aware of what she just said, she sank, almost fainting.
Disbelief and shock filled Malvyn’s face, “I-I-I did not know.”
Lady Miriam eyed Malvyn, “You are a great warrior, Master Bowman, but her courage is the greater. You cannot imagine her torment; she has stayed away from everyone since the conference ended. When we take vows as priestesses, Malvyn, we swear to do no harm to any living being – even food animals must be killed by those who have not taken vows. She loves you, my lord; therefore her vows compel her to avoid you as long as she lacks proper control.”
“Can you sense what she is experiencing?”
“Some. Enough to know the chaos in her soul and mind. This is not something a mind-healer can cure, my lord. It is a battle of the soul that only she can fight.”
Malvyn knelt before Brigid and took her hand, kissing it, “Forgive me! I did not know.”
“But I told you back then…your dreams, mine…” alluded Brigid.
“You are right; I should have listened better.”
Suddenly the herald cried, “Honorable Lady Kendra of house Gurun summons Lady Priestess Brigid of house Miyoo to come before her on the field of honor.”
Brigid trembled. Lord Malvyn helped her rise and escorted her to the field where a gathering of twenty peers stood, Lady Kendra at their center. Brigid knelt before the feet of the leader of the Great Council, “I here and obey.”
Kendra addressed the gathering, “Peers and nobles, lords and ladies from across our world, for four thousand yen-ars our people have been without a high priestess or high priest. Not since the beinors of High Priestess Cordelia the Kind and her husband, High Priest Elendir have we been formally led by the wisdom of the goddess of many names known to us here as Ainisil. This xiao-shir, that changes.” Motioning to one of the gathered priestesses of Miyoo from the Great Council, a coronet was passed to Kendra who raised it up for all to see.
Malvyn raised his voice in interception, “Your Honor, may I?”
“As you wish,” consented Kendra, passing the coronet to him who lowered it upon Brigid’s head as she proclaimed, “Lady Priestess Brigid, in the name of our people I declare you high priestess and spiritual leader of all our people.”
“Your honor, before you salute our new high priestess, there is a question I would ask before her grace rises,” interrupted Malvyn. Kendra nodded consent. “Your grace, high priestess of our people, for five yen-ars I have loved you and needed you. Now I declare that love before all and ask of you, my high priestess, for your hand in marriage.”
Brigid whitened and nearly fainted. Why would he corner her with such a question in front of everyone? Breathing hard and trying to adjust to the weight of the coronet on her head, she felt trapped; to refuse would be to dishonor herself. But to consent would be to throw herself headlong into the very foresight that frightened her most. Hesitating for as long as she could, her eyes met Miriam’s. In her head her she heard Miriam tell her, “You are the chosen of the goddess. When She calls, we have but two choices: to answer and obey of our own accord or resist and suffer until we can humble ourselves and do the right thing.”
Panting, Brigid raised her eyes and met Malvyn’s for the first time in five yen-ars, “I will marry you, Malvyn of house Balister.”
Raising her up, Malvyn kissed her affectionately, then proclaimed, “Long live Her Grace, Brigid, High Priestess of Miyoo!”
In her head Brigid heard Malvyn’s voice merge with a dozen other voices, female and male, “Long live the king,” the cry merging with other voices crying, “Long live the Queen.”
Brigid cringed at the sound, her heart crying, “Why me, Lady? Why choose me?”
Twenty beinors later, High Priestess Brigid married Lord Master Bowman Malvyn in a small outdoor ceremony on the very field where she was crowned high priestess. In this, Brigid accepted her duty, even as her uncertainty made objects fly across the room around her. As a precaution, Malvyn replaced Brigid’s crystalline decanter normally filled with nara wine with one of Beinarian silver for the reception. A silver pitcher at least would not shatter so readily.
In consideration for Brigid’s lack of confidence in her ability to control her powers, Malvyn ordered both wedding and reception to include only their nearest relatives and closest friends, gentles whose affection for them would forgive telekinetic mishaps. As the customary toasts began during the reception, Brigid tasted the mint-chocolate cocoa traditionally served for the toast, “It is too cold.” Suddenly the cups bubbled, the temperature rising steady. Brigid gasped. The bubbling stopped. Sipping the drink again, her mind noted the temperature greatly improved.
Five yen-ars passed. In a small bed near Brigid’s bed in her apartment, a toddler fussed with the first rays of dawn. Brigid rose to console her son. The door opened from the adjacent apartment. Malvyn appeared in the doorway, equally observant of their son’s inability to sleep, “Let me!”
“As you wish,” relaxed Brigid, laying down and closing her eyes. Ugly, terrifying faces appeared in the fiery crimson blaze she saw, energy creatures of malice and hatred that tormented her when she tried to calm and control her powers.
The little boy seemed sensitive to his mother’s pain, “Help momma! Monster bad hurt. Help momma!”
“How do you know about the monsters, Tristen?” asked Malvyn.
“Momma!” replied Tristen.
“Brigid, does he have the Sight?”
“Yes. He can see what I see, at least until he grows old enough to ignore it the way most people ignore these things,” answered Brigid, trying to meditate and quiet her spirit.
“Incoming call from Lord Wyne,” cried the computer nearby.
“Display,” commanded Malvyn.
“My lord! At last I reach you. You have been summoned to appear before the Great Council,” exhaled Lord Wyne with relief.
“When do they want me there?”
“Two shir-ors. They say it is important.”
“When is it not important?” remarked Malvyn. “Any indicator what they want this time?”
“Tell them I shall be there. And Wyne, bring my heritage bow, the one I used to win the tournament the beinor of her grace’s elevation.”
“Yes, Sire, of course sire!” agreed Wyne nervously.
Twenty beinors later, the Great Hall of the Assembly glittered with pomp and circumstance. Banners representing each of the noble houses of Ana, Balister, Cashmarie, Gurun, Miyoo, Shem, Slabi, Ten-Ar, and Xing-li danced in the gentle breeze in unity and pride from every window and through every corridor of the mansion-turned-government office building. On the lawn in front of the mansion a simple stage sprawled with two thrones resting upon it. Two steps joined the stage to the grassy meadow where benches lined up in three columns, enough to accommodate over two hundred nobles. In front of the thrones stood High Priestess Brigid, her crimson gown twinkling with tiny iridescent diamonds sewn into the organza overskirt in contrast to the konyn wool of its bodice and underskirt. Shawms played a triumphant processional as Lord Malvyn strode forward, his crimson cloak embroidered with the Balistrian heraldic bow. High Priestess Brigid motioned for the assembly to sit, “Peers and nobles of A672E92 Quintus, you have chosen your king, the first king to rule in our society. This coronation comes out of the great emergency that confronts our people; unless we leave this world forever soon, we shall perish with it as A672E92 dies and envelopes its planets. Therefore, it is my solemn duty to install Lord Malvyn as our king that we may put aside our quarrels in the interests of survival.” Brigid turned to Lord Wyne who ascended to the platform from a set of side steps. Dutifully, Wyne handed Brigid the newly constructed crown for the Balister dynasty. Brigid raised it over the now kneeling Lord Malvyn, “Malvyn, son of Cordelia and Gregory of house Balister, you are called to serve as our first king. Do you promise to rule with mercy, wisdom, and compassion, putting aside the interests of any single house and committing yourself to service to all – rich or poor, healthy or infirm, powerful or weak, urban or rural? Will you swear to protect the innocent while punishing the guilty through justice, not vengeance, ever humble before that which is greater than all of us?”
“By my life or death, I so swear, forfeiting all I possess should I fail to uphold this vow,” swore Malvyn.
Brigid lowered the crown upon his head, “By the power vested in me as high priestess, I proclaim thee King Malvyn.”
King Malvyn rose, turning to all assembled while holding Brigid’s hand affectionately, “My people, I promise to serve you and serve you well. As my first act as your king, I hereby elevate High Priestess Brigid to the rank of princess consort and claim our son, Tristen, as our heir. Listen well to the words of her highness and her grace which are one and the same this beinor. For hers is the greater power and the greater wisdom than any of us. Hers is the greater burden than mine. For foresight and insight is the gift of house Miyoo and of these, the Goddess has blessed her grace far more than any in our history. Listen well and we shall survive that which comes soon.”
Fifteen yen-ars passed. Finally, all was ready thanks to the wisdom and cooperative leadership of King Malvyn and Princess Consort Brigid. With a clear directive and steady leadership, the peers and nobles of A672E92 Quintus re-doubled their efforts to evacuate their world. With most of the star craft already launched and waiting between A672E92 Quintus and A672E92 Sextus, King Malvyn and Princess Brigid boarded the star craft Gilráne under the command of Lord Admiral Horatio. With a roar from the Gilráne’s engines, A672E92 Quintus disappeared behind them. In all, 80% of all manner of life was able to evacuate, including hundreds of thousands of species of flora and fauna. On the bridge of the Gilráne, Brigid listened as Horatio expertly commanded his star craft as skillfully as his reputation, King Malvyn ever watchful of his conduct. Looking back one last time, Brigid bowed in deference to the world that was their home and the goddess who gave birth to all. With a tear in her eye, Brigid put her hand upon the bulkhead near the window next to her, “Goodbye!”