It caused a loud scandal. Odentalis only got through it with hasty, fast talking scriptural translation that lost everyone. He appeared relieved when the music returned.
Then, a sharp look was given to Koriandra, which she had to answer. Mi’Raah left the table, pretending to be more interested in an troupe of sinewy dancers from Tryst–and it became evident in painful, short order that she truly was. By the time Koriandra had met the High Horse Priest, some joke or other of Mi’Raah’s got a chorus of bawdy praises.
“Hail Goddess of Wheat, she who takes many forms!”
“And looking so good tonight, in silver? Ho, don’t be angry at me for trying boys, ha!”
Odentalis plucked a ring in Koriandra’s nose.
“Gods! Is it really a crime, for a Holy Rider to stare at a good shimmy? You do that again, Odentalis, and I pluck out your eyes.”
He was grave. “Was that her miracle, for tonight?”
“Oh? Do you mean the part where King Baeltheon threatened you for putting a move on his wife and Queen at the brazen center of a holy feast? Or, the part where you conjured a stallion made of black sea-water to impress upon the masses your spiritual virility when compared to Mi’Raah.”
“I DID NEITHER!”
Koriandra smiled and rolled her eyes.
“Was she the one, Koriandra? I’ll summon a whole stampede to get her down off that unnatural soap box, and uncrowned of those laurels–what, is she really plated with silver? Is that how she manages to convince miserable throngs of her supposed worth, on sight? On smell?!”
“Those dark rings really accent your eyes bulging out of their sockets. Have you not slept, High Priest?”
“There wasn’t enough room to lie down,” Odentalis flustered, “I had to do it standing up–why am I telling you? Rider Koriandra, you always worked for me, don’t play these games.”
“I’m not when I have no answer for you, High Priest. Mi’Raah did not confirm anything with me.”
“And yet you chatter like brood mares.”
“We don’t–couldn’t you have said school girls? How are you always mis-phrasing? Horses don’t talk, Odentalis.”
He scratched his head furiously, “If Mi’Raah doesn’t fully trust you then she knows you still work for me.”
“Wrong. Mi’Raah is aware that I’m working for both of you. Odentalis, you are only aware that I work for you, because you are arrogant and short sighted.”
“But I’m in charge, I’m leading you females.” He was lost.
“You’re so reliable, Odentalis, for having trouble with the way actual people socialize in healthy ways that don’t involve books. And so, I’ve managed to insult you. High Priest, if you’re leading, then I’m inclined to go either way. This kingdom is going to revolt against oily Baeltheon and his eleventh pampered Queen-wife one way or another because people are plain sick of everything in Jyst and scores’ too many folks loving Mi’Raah’s parlour tricks like they’re suddenly in heat to convert from the state-faith is proof of that fact. It’s also clear to me now that I will be the one who gets to choose, whichever of you two wins–”
“That’s ridiculous if I’ve ever heard it.”
“I want my horses. I want a ship and a good crew. I want a map of the King’s yet Unknown Isles, and I want ten thousand gold pieces.”
“I never before thought that I’d warn you before striking you, Koriandra…”
“High Priest, if you want Mi’Raah taken care of, then this had all better be promised to me and set up by midnight. I now have a secret worth the price.”
“I’m not yet convinced you or your secret are worth the trouble.”
“It’s about as valuable as your head being attached to your shoulders. Mi’Raah isn’t here on behalf of herself. She isn’t a lucky street-performer, or a talented which. She’s more and she’s worse.”
“Right, she’s here to seduce King Baeltheon, she’s been throwing herself at him for weeks…”
“No, that’s only Mi’Raah’s fail-safe, her second plan. She’s desperate for…” Odentalis smoothed hands over his robe while he listened, and struggled to finish each of Koriandra’s sentences, “A man, any capable man, because… Mi’Raah is, in fact, not even human… she is an immortal… something. Working for… someone.”
“You owe me the ‘something’ and the ‘someone.’ I can’t make anything of that.”
“At midnight. Why aren’t you surprised to hear that she’s immortal. You unravel me more and more each day, Odentalis. The more I sense you know about the world that you aren’t telling any of us, the more you turn my stomach.”
“You’re just leaning to Mi’Raah’s side, because you are a woman-lover.”
“And who do you love? What do you even care about? Do you know why I’m really between the two of you priests? People have feelings, they care deeply about one another and their world. That is where a longing for deities comes from, that is where a hunger to know how the Seas flow and what real strength horses and goddesses might possess derives from. You both deal with religion as if it really were a game. But no, that is just the position that idiot King Baeltheon forced you into. Either of you could do better, either of you could step aside and let people decide for themselves, feel their own way, embrace however they want to believe or don’t–but you fight like cats with their tails tied together in a burlap sack.”
“I’m a hunter. My job is to survive. My god is happy to have me however I am, wherever I am, as long as I am true to the call. When you took my mares away, I was wounded, but I had a fealty to my Chief to honor. I see now that it is not as the Elders teach, the Chief of Fahrwandur is no closer to the Great Hunter god than anyone else is, nor is Mi’Raah really the stewardess of all the Seas–for, if so, she wouldn’t be so bowed–nor are you really the intercessor for Odeon.”
“Don’t you tangle with things you have no knowledge of, Rider Koriandra. That horse and I are one. I know his will. I know what is best for this land.”
“You only know what is best for yourself! The real strength of systems, cults, and religious engines, is what those in charge can do for the people. You and Mi’Raah both, if you cared, you could heal the wrongs in Jyst, save dancing women from prostitution on the beaches ever again, prevent starving in the kingdom, avenge murder, all of it. Do you realize, Odentalis, that you have immense agency, you have the power to make my life better, to relieve me of these terrible obligations that have been tearing me apart, but you refuse? I love those mares, they are my only family after I became a priestess for another god and my tribe turned its back on me. They don’t know or care what the Chief wants–he couldn’t anticipate that or save me from losing the people I love. Ina and Kanna are my friends, the only living creatures I trust, incised on my very skin. So I’m begging you, please let me have them. Forget rank and obligation when you know I can’t give you anything more than myself, Odentalis, at the end of it. I hate all this priest-ing on my best days, and my life is brief. Let me take them, heal my girls and be away! Don’t you care anything about other human beings?”
Odentalis stared. It was not clear whether he was thinking, or simply ruminating on his own anger.
“Koriandra. You are a Rider of the Holy Herd and you are crying.”
She crudely lifted up her long silver skirt and dried her tears.
“Also, you have offended the High Horse and therefore, you will be demoted.”
“Lower than omega rank? Are you worse than heartless?!”
“I am better than you. I don’t answer to you. I am ordained. I changed my name for this. The horse god is good to me. He clearly does not favor you. Thus, you are demoted, Fahrwandrian. Go away.”
“I am losing my sense. I am losing my will to care or live because you are a priest and I’ve been in your care for so very long, but day after day, you won’t help me! You won’t even consider seeing me at midnight?”
“If I can access the courts and the Strictures before then, you will have been kicked to death, by midnight. You did perceive that I might turn completely against you for revealing you have no loyalty, didn’t you Rider Koriandra?”
The High Priest left, and she raged. People walked across one another, singing and dancing. They blurred. Torches set between white columns and night sky sparked, their flames climbed to the ceiling. It burned. Her scalp, where she’d tattooed her horses before leaving the isle of Fahrwandur forever, marked down her back, across her ribs, they bucked and whinnied, their sides so swollen and bruised as she, hating being caught under the heavy, heartless fiend and burned!
Odentalis wore ceremonial regalia this evening. His black hair was tied against his skull in a ponytail. Koriandra watched him strut away and wanted to rip it from his head. Then a flute soared in its solo, and Koriandra seized a fistful of her shirt. The hair, the sheen of it. So familiar…
Koriandra exhaled over hot teeth next, saw a guard and stole a sword from its scabbard.
Divine Dagger, crossing the sun…
Some dance for rain,
We pray for gold.
Next this Holy Rider tangled her clawed fingers into Odentalis’ hair. “Is that why you denied me? It would have been so easy to pay me off and deliver the whole yoke off your shoulders, but it’s really your lust and pride at stake… This is why I’ve been suffering? My tribe disowned me, you took me away from my native soil, Jyst and its religion made my chief desperate and corrupt… all to add to your disgusting harem? You ruined my life for base mating, you flea-bitten son of a–”
Mi’Raah cried the loudest when Odentalis was stabbed. Suppose they began calling him a martyr? And at such a pristine event as this? Damned Arudelle wanting to put trust in wild schemers like the late Bonnis and Koriandra!
As Odentalis lay there on the floor and other Holy Riders clashed swords with Koriandra, disarmed her, dragged her violently off, Mi’Raah could only see Odentalis.
His blood was as silvery-bright crimson as her own. “You are…? But you cannot be my own kinsman? You’re too obnoxious, useless and unattractive to be my own kinsman?”
Koriandra shouted over it all. “Mi’Raah works for King Arudelle himself, you’ll all see! She told me, he’s coming to destroy everyone in mere days! The Black Armada waits for her word, alone. Jyst will fall and I am leaving this prey-forsaken kingdom behind. I’m gonna sail then ride for the free brinks of this world, free of this madness. Give me my MARES!”
The silver-headed Mi’Raah didn’t realize she had come to kneel so closeby the felled High Priest. People clambered to shout down at her too–the murderess’ accomplice, the bloodthirsty zealot. Mi’Raah got instantly to her sandaled feet and thrust a finger in so many terrified and vengeful faces. “My Silver Spade, attack!”
“I see, so they weren’t that kind of secret organization? I don’t suppose anyone else here is interested in helping me overthrow King Baeltheon tonight in cultural revolution?”
The people were frustrated but not that angry, yet. Another thing occurred to Mi’Raah then as well. Arudelle hobbled her efforts on purpose. He always intended for her to be imprisoned, once the bulk of the work was done. It would be exactly as he had written, the revolution was going to happen on his signal.
Mi’Raah gave panicked cry and sprinted away, but then tripped on something. That damned gold bottle again, spinning wild circles on the slick floor. A new message inside–a last word about her fate, from the man himself. She could barely read it through the yellow glass…
Guards caught her, twisted her arms back and pain spasmed at a shoulderblade when it was wrenched too hard against defiant, bucking torso. Mi’Raah scryed one watery, golden phrase:
She cannot be saved, who can never be redeemed.
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