People should not eat alongside horses. The noise is terrible. But, clearly, the Jystians had resolved this for generations by having music at their feast days. Nothing that might startle the equine creatures, but enough to eliminate the smack and cud-chewing of animals arranged at troughs on all four sides of the banquet hall.
As for the smell, it’s been possible to avoid that issue so far in the story, and I’ll be damned if it’s going to be addressed right now.
The tables for people were much further inside the decorated, open-air livery. These were sheathed in white table cloths that blew in the wind and flared up at twills of flutes daring to put any excitement into the graceful melodies. Or, perhaps that would be how the Holy Riders would be fated to sweeten it to penitents later, at temple.
Koriandra startled out of being bored with chin-in-palm for a moment to snatch down a candle that’d been blown out and rolling across the table, during one such crescendo.
“I’ll kill Odentalis for you.”
She was able to say, because they were seated a whole other table. High Horse Priest Odentalis and his followers ate at the other end of the livery. King Baeltheon enjoyed a seat at the north set of columns along the edge of the hall.
“No, that might make him a martyr. I’m getting very drunk right now, but I still know better than that, I guess.”
“It suits, I suppose. I’m presently terrified of both religions. Not only was Odentalis right about you, when I fully believed him a dolt and easy to ruse, but your trick with that gold bottle was too good.”
“I hate that damned thing!” Mi’Raah flared, ruddy-cheeked. “Do you know, I wanted to convert the entire capital city by now but obnoxious, piratey him and that bottle he stole from the bowels of temple my the Siren says I can’t. I had that indestructible piece of junk stowed away, for a reason. My sisters wouldn’t stop sending me irritating messages at odd hours… All those great miracles I worked over this last month, enough to inspire flies off of dung forever, but instead I’m stuck relying on you.”
“Do you mean myself and the Fahrwandrian cobbler, the Trystian scribe, and several dancing boys from the Sun Islands? That’s aside from the obvious beach-women you’ve been recruiting. I’m proud of the Silver Spade–”
“Really? I hoped you’d pick something nautical.”
“You asked me to pick a name for them, didn’t you? All of the ones you had me recruit are here this evening, not in conspicuous silver dresses like you’ve forced me into, and paying close attention to anyone who might slip anything over the loud smell of music.”
“I thought this venue was placed downwind? Perhaps I’ve got a cold and my nose is stuffed up.”
“Can you fall ill, Mi’Raah?”
“A girl can dream of mortality, can’t she? I’d rather be able to get sick than get heartsick. I’m starting to sense I’m capable of suffering for a man.”
Koriandra should have been whispering in the first place, but now she adjusted the loose straps of her robe, leaned in, and really did, “Is it Arudelle? But I thought he committed… well, an unspeakable act against you? It unsettles me, the way you jest about it.”
Mi’Raah’s eyes wandered. “I have a cruel sense of humor. He disgusts me, but I can’t ever say it to his face. I’ll write it, I suppose, but I don’t dare make that mistake wherever he might hear. Nor do I wish to get out of practice–one doesn’t want to be punished by Arudelle.”
“Why don’t you just kill him?”
“Oh, I love you, my bald darling, murder’s your answer for everything. You completely misunderstand, however. I do all this because I am Arudelle’s protector. I am responsible for his life while here and everywhere else. This island must be safe enough for him to even set greaved-foot upon. The man is not ignorant, in the least. He knows exactly how to use his enemies and his allies. Imagine, that I am his greatest weapon.”
A server came by, refreshed Mi’Raah’s drink and left the bottle. It happened to be a very pretty gold one.
“Dammit!” this silver-headed woman got to work blowing at the familiar glass neck and fishing its paper note out fast, fearful of notice. “I don’t know which is worse, that it found me even here at a party, seduced a scullery-simpleton, or that it would dare be wine-stained and punish me when I can’t afford to miss anything in it…” she began reading, “Dear Love, your sisters are doing well in their collars–I know because I wrote them.” here, Mi’Raah set it down a moment, and smoothed nervous fingers down either side of her neck while she re-captured steady breathing. “…Therefore, I hope you still don’t harbor any real designs of leaving me.”
“Poor thing, he knows about your other mission, to seduce the King of Jyst.”
“How can the Queen have turned out to be so much younger than me? I’m a charming, completely prone, exotic, immortal creature made to ruin the world if I don’t like it–and King Baeltheon’s not even attracted? Ugh, it must be the cultural translation, I’m not hippy or leggy enough or… whatever men like on this side of the Vastest Sea.”
“It’s why I tried for Prince Bonnis, actually.”
“Not that I was looking forward to sleeping with Baeltheon, but I’d prefer a man who’s due to fall asleep afterward–”
Arudelle breathing plans of world domination into my ears at every hour of the night! And here’s more… ‘Now that you have cohorts from all the Known Seas well in hand, through The Wench–that’s you, Kori dear–you should engineer a fall of their defenses exactly on my signal.'”
The Feast of Foaling was held one the summer solstice, to christen horses born at the first of the year for having survived so long. High Priest Odentalis rose now from his seat to call out their many silly horse names in ceremony. While an incense boy walked alongside him, swinging smoke up from an elaborate golden burner-on-chain, titles such as ‘Stop-Man-Stop’, ‘Peace Admiral’, and ‘Broadside’ were called over pairs of pointed ears.
Koriandra was not drawn into the ceremony for a number of reasons. “Is that what you are? Really some kind of god!”
“Shush. I’m sitting here trying to think of a way to still get away from Arudelle, though he’s pegged my actions down to the moment, for all practical purposes, with this new plan. And no, I was exaggerating.”
“You were not! You said you could destroy the world, then so why don’t you?”
Mi’Raah blinked. “End and destroy are two different things. The first involves my sisters who are far away, being held hostage. The second is not something I ever want to see again–I’d take my own life before…” she trailed off, “Besides, you would die and then my sisters and I would have to start all over. I need mortals in order to live… it’s complicated. Better for my sisters and I to, heh, place our bets on somebody who won’t screw up existence itself so that we can win the race alongside the mortal winner for as long as we can. Understand?”
“Not a word of it.”
“Fine by me. I make as much sense to you as that ass Arudelle does to me, and so this should all stay safely secret. What in three worlds is that Odentalis doing?”
“Oh, that’s my horse, Kanna. He’s showing off that I won’t be able ride her or do anything for her, not until I deliver you. Inna is there on the other side. They’ll be having foals by the first day of next year. The new mothers–broodmares–are always blessed last.”
The two women watched while Odentalis spoiled both with long strokes down their necks and a real hug for each, with arms around their whithers.
“That man is weird.”
“I swear he puts on Odeon’s tackle when no one else is watching. He gives me longing for a justified murder by the Divine Dagger like nothing else.”
Mi’Raah snickered. King Baeltheon, and his tiny-waisted waif of a Queen wife stood to very, very light clapping, for the horses’ sake. “This is also a special day for this kingdom,” Baeltheon announced, “because it marks the final hours of an entertaining contest between the High Horse Priest and High Priestess Naah Maah Mi’Raah.”
People whistled and cheered for her. A great many were different stages of tan according to their flesh tones–indicating the volume of important people who coincidentally won free voyages to the Sun Islands at Mi’Raah’s last worship service. Then she and Koriandra looked, and were also able to see a great deal of the impoverished Jystian dancing women now well-accompanied by men of standing at the royal court. Keeping their surprise make-overs after Mi’Raah’s Outer-Reincarnation series really had changed their lives. Koriandra laughed and budged Mi’Raah with an elbow.
Odentalis noticed as well from across the livery, and he was not pleased.
“But who has won?” Baeltheon gave his grand smile. “Believe it or not, my scribe says the score is even. But he’s also a Trystian scribe, so I can only trust an obsession with numbers and a bias for beautiful godly women without a head start in the race oh-so-much.” they all laughed, “I shall call the contest neck-and-neck then, and it’ll feel far more Jystian, won’t it? Odentalis, she’s really giving you a run for all you’re worth, isn’t she?”
“Hrmhmr.” Odentalis made this sound.
“He’s letting me get ahead, he’s fond of me, I’ll admit that now.” Mi’Raah called out. So many loved it, but Koriandra was confused and tugged on her shoulder.
“I thought you wanted to win?”
“No, I need for him to lose. That is far different. That is what Arudelle does not understand about this. Faith is not a manipulation. I am dealing with people’s hearts. They won’t believe in something better unless they are sure it is better. And what else is more convincing than the truth?”
“Are you suddenly noble?”
“I love the sea and I am a good actress–but I never said that I was a liar. In fact, it is impossible for me to lie, I wasn’t made for that.”
Baeltheon said a lot of other ritualistic things, but managed to emphasize with a great amount of personal interest, that he hoped either Mi’Raah or Odentalis would convince him this very night, with more miracles.
That was when Odentalis stood and presented the King with a scroll. “Within, my King,” he told everyone, “Is the name of the latest progeny by Odeon and out of Inna, a purebred Fahrwandrian mare.”
The king was delighted. “It’s named after me.”
Koriandra dug nails into the tablecloth.
“It’s a yearling now, and promising. I kept him out of his event precisely to surprise you. Surely, some trick of extra rouge can’t compare to the most stunning example of horse breeding in ages–flaws in conformation have been corrected, he’s passed all the rites and won every single race in foreign sees that I could manage without your hearing.”
The scribe marked down another point, to heartfelt congratulations when a rare white stallion was brought forth. Its hide almost shone silver in the faint light.
Mi’Raah dipped a finger into her wine glass, swirled it.
Baeltheon went on bragging, and Odentalis smiling harder. Beyond the fields, the sea began to crash harder against the cliffs, truly roar.
Then, the horses were turned out to entertain themselves at the dark, far reaches of the fields and the people were released to walk on the stone floor at the center of the livery. Drums and hard flutes ignited the real summer solstice celebration.
High Priest Odentalis was doing so well, that he was granted a dance with the Queen though, he hadn’t asked for it–and oddly enough he didn’t seem to want it either, though he was polite.
Mi’Raah bit her bottom lip, lifted finger and let a lone red drop return to her goblet. Korianda eyed her.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m not speaking to my High Priestess because I don’t wish to disturb her and so make it into a miasma… you should do the same.”
Just as the sun began to set, the waves climbed higher and louder. White fray burst over the far rock edges. Holy Riders were curious and more vigilant, to see the horses tramping back.
Odentalis was a terrible dancer. He kept his back to the others and this romantic view of the cliffs. As the glittering music raised, and it was necessary to dip the Queen off her toes, every ebb in the changing weather put him off. People pointed and cried out.
A wave larger than the others had coalesced and spread across the red sky. Everyone feared they would be crushed. But then, it formed legs, an arched neck and the sun shone through flared nostrils and two pointed spade ears. The Queen saw it at its worst from her lowered perspective and screamed. Odentalis slipped in water–it must have been–and collapsed ontop of her.
“High Horse Priest! What is the meaning of this? A stallion made of water rears up above the sea and the towers of this castle, then you crush my wife?”
“But, your majesty, I didn’t– That is not the power of the horse god, nor can I control it!”
“Put that wave down, immediately, this is a sacrilege and disgraceful. Should I duel you to have it done away!”
Odentalis kept swearing he could not, but then it all splashed into nothing and died down like a fountain. Here, Mi’Raah showed Koriandra her wine goblet. Tilted, but the liquid refused to do so. It stayed flat against the other polished edge of the gold cup, like a cut slice of cake, standing obedient on its own.
Odentalis and Mi’Raah locked a glare across the room, as guards were called.
“I think he believes he can cover this fair kingdom, all by himself. He doesn’t need you, my King Baeltheon.”
And Mi’Raah was the only one left laughing. She slapped the table again and again and lay her head down, guffawing like a maniac.
Koriandra confided, “Was that really your miracle? Your sense of humor really is cruel. I’m so sad for you, Mi’Raah…”
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