Mi’Raah, once again somebody’s high priestess–though, all over Jyst, they weren’t yet clear whose she was–enjoyed this fresh new status the contest gifted, with an elegant morning.
At present, however, Mi’Raah was beginning to question whether it was a bath in milk-and-honey hallowed female politicos were used to? Or, was it just the milk by itself? No, the blood of a thousand virgins?
“Don’t look at me like that, I can’t help you.”
Mi’Raah blinked at Koriandra, who’d spoken. In her silver-headed morning haze, it was suddenly vague which of them had the power to sense mortals by their auras or shifts in heart palpitations. The bath was in an ancient style, a sunken tiled floor with a platform by edge for servants or… spectators? How odd.
“What, can’t you read minds, Mi’Raah?”
“No, I cast scientific perceptions and then I work miracles based on a womanly instinct. There’s a difference, you’ll see.”
“I am stuck guarding you through this contest, but I don’t believe in you Mi’Raah. There’s yet another difference.”
“And such thorough guardianship it is…” Mi’Raah frowned that her bath was starting to stick and curdle. Worse, a strange, loud bubbling started at the far brink of the sunken base. Koriandra drew her sword. Mi’Raah shouted for Koriandra to stop being so aggressive for once, and just leave it be. And then Mi’Raah begged, cried, for Koriandra not to engage dislodging the cork plug, but the other woman was already arm-deep in caramel muck.
“Gods and Seas, this is awful. Mi’Raah, why can’t you just bathe in water, like a normal person who’s fooled the King of Jyst and his man-pet Odentalis into handing power over, on a silver platter… This is stuck tight–”
“Remove your arm, Kori, or you may lose it!”
The clog was on the wrong side of what should have been a simple drain. Water was only meant to flow down and out, but now it fired up. Koriandra got blasted in the face. She tripped and fell in the pool of bathwater, armor and all. Mi’Raah caught her round the shoulders and made a spectacle of it, as if they were both drowning, and then tried to force her captor onto the aqua tiled floor, so that they could both ‘escape’, Mi’Raah said.
“Blame you and skin cats!” Koriandra spat out sugary milk and wrestled Mi’Raah back into the brewing water–you haven’t bathed in weeks, I can still smell it. The clog’s gone, and so I’m definitely going to see that you finish, Mi’Raah!”
“But it’s more that I’ve been afraid to…”
Upheaval, rage and miasma! Both women shielded themselves from the far end of the bath when suddenly some object burst free, flew past them and crashed on the opposite wall. The wild object blasted a classic mural of three dancing woman to crumbs, beheaded them.
“Damned thing…” Mi’Raah waded to that end, grasped the slippery edge, and reached through debris for a gold bottle.
“Was that the clog? It didn’t break?”
“It never does. It shows up in my soup, or in a puddle b’neath my sandals… which is why I rejected dinner and refused to go out into the rain. Oh, but now I learn, it isn’t opposed to finding me in a damned bath–with no water in it. And here I believed I was being ridiculous, for preferring to stink.”
Within the familiar gold bottle was a letter:
After discussion, the other captains and I have concluded that there must have been treachery where Prince Bonnis was concerned. If he was murdered, then a true enemy to the Crown and its horse god may still be in the castle and able to help you. Do you see how we might still use Bonnis–the late Bonnis–to our advantage? Therefore, the plan has changed. I order you to find the schemer and exploit his plot to our cause.
(And then there were several more small pages during which Arudelle berated Mi’Raah for trying to leave, then fawned over her, a sentiment which completely withered at the tail end.)
…Does this mean we can get back together?
Mi’Raah angrily ate the paper when Koriandra wanted to read too.
“There’s that look again. You’re an odd woman, Mi’Raah.”
But Mi’Raah realized that she was not looking at Koriandra, but through her, behind her. Feeling the anger behind the woman’s pleasantness. Enforced pleasantness. Koriandra was always so wary because she was exhausted. She felt she couldn’t trust anyone. So then, why did she stay so nearby? How could Koriandra stand it when there was a very storm in every artery around her heart, thundering? Soon, the bile and blood were going to broil and break forth to mark everyone, like the milk and honey still trickling down the walls and dripping from the ceiling.
Mi’Raah, as slick as if she’d been born, grasped Koriandra’s jaw and looked into her eyes. “Don’t move. I think I need a sample of your saliva.”
“For what, you crazy witch? Nobody touches me like that–”
“I am going to work a miracle. And, I am already beginning to sense… that you may like it.”
A week earlier (while you were on paperclip safari)…
Rider Koriandra did her usual whistling hard when she came within view of the Royal Livery. Odentalis would know she was there in time enough for chores, but Koriandra hoped it might also mean the obnoxious High Priest wouldn’t feel a need to actually see or speak to her.
But on this morning, the seventh since the Holy Gymkhana started (it was what those in the Jystian Court had started to call Mi’Raah and Odentalis’ religious show-down), the Royal Livery was not just left wide open, but it was desolate. All the stable hands were off doing something Odentalis must have wanted. Something grand, wasteful and stupid, like shouting at the farrier’s to fit gold horse shoes, probably… Koriandra rubbed her middle finger in idle circles over her scalp, rather than be seen scratching the tattoo all over her shaved head–was everyone, truly the entire priesthood and Odentalis’ stooges, really gone?
No one had told her, the foreigner, the omega priestess. She’d been left behind.
A bird sang. Korianda stole fistfuls of her shirt. A pulse of fresh air came too, as she began to walk again, this time, west. How many years had it been? Odeon might really be out there, through so many rows of abandoned halls. No one at all, mucking out stalls, brushing down coats, or glaring at her tattoos, though Koriandra did miss the cowering. She dared breathe again at a second turn, a wider corridor, then walked faster. What of the horses? The whole herd must have been turned out, with god Odeon and his consorts.
Go faster, girl. Run–or, don’t–suppose there are animals left, and they spook. No, fly, flee! Inna and Kanna should be just out there. So good to see something Fahrwandrian and unspoiled. Her heart could sail on clear, for about another age, if her girls were really out there.
The bright wood architecture began to frame green pasture beyond. Koriandra never imagined that her eventual trespass would be silent, in daylight and direct. She spied two of only a few training saddles kept for newer horses or untrained foreign-breeds and managed to heft at least one down from the wall.
Now, out in the air and those sun-kissed fields at the brink of sea-cliffs, the world was big and hurtling out in all directions. Koriandra felt empowered to run like the horses did, to scream and laugh about how there had only really been a hundred and eighteen steps between an omega priestess’ regular chores at the head of the Royal Livery, and the animals she so loved and missed riding.
“Ina?” Koriandra called, then, “Kanna?” A tangle of mares far out lifted heads, but went back to grazing. Not a one came to her. “They can’t have forgotten their names? Unless, Odeon is there with them.” Koriandra crouched, for fear. No monstrous black stallion. Only round, gently hovering things. Careless of the stable hands, to have rushed out war-mares to join the broodmares and consorts.
The horses intent on grazing could not be moved, but Koriandra at last found two bay mares. Koriandra covered a smile. Yes, those were the brands. A stylized black horse, and then its other half, a white skeletal temple drawing. Together, they made the very tattoo covering her head and slipping down her back. Her girls.
But something was wrong. Koriandra approached the horses from the side, petted who should have been Ina, along the belly. Kanna, barely within reach of her fingertips, had the same problem. Both horses looked exhausted, with grossly distended flanks. Where was their water? Both mares were sweating hard. So they had become Odeon’s mates?
“Where are you?” Koriandra yelled at the top of her voice. So many horses startled around her, “You son of a bow-legged dam–come out! I see what you did to them… Oh, how could you do this to them?”
Odentalis was found soon after, whether he was usually wanted at this hour or not.
“You promised me a great many things when I came here, Odentalis, and I pledged so much in return–but I never, ever gave you permission to over-feed and then breed my good Fahrwandrian mares into the ground!”
Where was her sword? Where were her arrows? Koriandra was going to find that sniveling Odentalis or his false god and tear them to pieces…
1, Mi’raah’s Virtue :: 2, The Dancing Beaches :: 3, On His High Horse :: 4, Off His High Horse :: 5, Bottled Message :: 6, Horse Huntress :: 7, Rider Koriandra :: 8, Oh No He Di’int :: 9, Talking Horses :: 10, That Damned Bottle Again :: 11, Believing is Seeing :: 12, A Choice Between Two Lovers :: 13, Last Vortextual Process :: 14, End of the Prose