I hope that you enjoy it.
The trip was, on the whole, uneventful. There were regular exchanges of blood stock between the two parts of the Bovine Divine Herd and the route was marked with regular camp sites for the cattle and their caretakers. Travel being what it was, they shared several of the sites overnight with other wayfarers but there was only one group that caused real problems. The group of travelling labourers who shared their camp site on the fifth night out from home included several blaggardy young men who assumed that female drovers were available for rough and tumble. Three of them cornered Helire and Eliane on their way back from relieving themselves in private and propositioned them.
The two girls looked at each other and turning back to the men, Helire said loudly, “Well, show us your teeth then.”
“What? The brown haired one who’d been doing the talking looked surprised.
Helire went on, “How can we decide if we want to keep you if we can’t judge what shape you’re in?”
Eliane, one eye on where Second Cousin Herome was beginning to stand up, added just as loudly and as sprightly, “How many children has your mother had? Were they all live births? How many of your siblings are still alive?”
“Look,” said the one with a scar under one eye, “this is the part where you tell us how many coppers it’ll cost us to tumble you. You don’t get to ask personal questions.”
“Coppers?” Helire laughed. “You think that you’re going to get breeding rights with either of us for coppers? Start talking years of household contribution and we might begin to consider your qualifications as breeding stock.”
The one with blond hair almost shouted back, “That’s not we’re talking about!”
“No?” Helire snapped. “It’s the conversation that we’re prepared to have. If it’s not what you want, then go away and leave us alone.”
Eliane added quietly, because she could see Second Cousin Herome and Learned Brother Ruudmund coming up behind the three men who had them cornered, “It would be better if you choose to leave instead of being made to leave.”
“Skilled Sisters,” Eliane suspected that Ruudmund was deliberately projecting his voice to produce that fruity boom, “are you introducing these young men to the tenets of The Mentor of Those That Work in Life? Will any of them be joining us on our way to Prothiarn?”
All three of the labourers looked over their shoulders and saw Herome and Ruudmund standing there. Other members of both groups back around the camp fires were beginning to look in their direction. The three men looked at each other.
With a smile Eliane added, “The principles that we apply to breeding cows can also be applied to people.” She smiled.
“You’re priestesses,” the scarred one almost stammered as he said that. He looked behind him again and added, “Travelling with priests and sacred cows.”
“Skilled Dedicates travelling with family,” corrected Helire.
“I’ll give you the cows,” conceded Eliane. “You were just going back to your friends, weren’t you?” She smiled again.
The brown haired one looked over his shoulder and said, “Yeah, we were, boys, weren’t we?”
They slunk away between Herome and Ruudmund to a lot of head shaking from their friends. “That could have been a risky strategy,” pointed out Learned Ordained Ruudmund, being every inch the group leader and moral mentor.
“It seemed the best option for a situation we didn’t choose,” replied Helire. “If nothing had worked, well the one with the scar looks like he’s got good wound healing capability and that’s not to be sneezed at.”
Ruudmund looked at Helire for a moment and then said, “I still don’t think you realise how dangerous that could have been,” and went back to their campfire.
There was no further friction, although there was some mutual wariness between the two groups until they broke camp in the morning. Everyone seemed pleased that they were not all going in the same direction.
By the time they reached Prothiarn, Eliane knew that Helire was planning to stay there and study for the priesthood. That did explain the amount of luggage that she’d brought along. Eliane kept her envy that she’d been able to openly leave home to herself. Helire, also had no-one among the cousins that she could safely marry, but her section of the family seemed to think that freed her from the obligation to return home.
“Well, there are five of us, plus two lots of first cousins,” pointed out Helire prosaically. “we can’t all stay on our farm, some of us have to leave. Me doing this frees up space all across the family because no-one has to fit me in.” Eliane suspected that at least one of the male cousins along on the trip had similar issues, but she wasn’t having the types of conversations with them that she’d had with Helire.
Eliane had been expecting the temple at Prothiarn to be much like the one at home, a single storey building with a steep roof to shed the snow or rain and with a cupola-topped tower at each corner to house watch posts, bells, and a dovecot. It sat in the middle of the community with the meeting hall and the rarely used clerical hostel, the three buildings arranged like the leaf of a clover. The hostel wasn’t used often because visiting clergy usually stayed with one of the family’s households, the exceptions generating gossip after they’d left, if not sooner.
Prothiarn was like that because it had the same general layout. It was just much larger. The temple looked to be three times the height of the temple at home but built with the same proportions. The meeting hall was longer and wider, as well as having two levels, going by the external windows, but the equivalent of the hostel was a series of buildings linked by covered walkways. The whole thing was surrounded by fields, paddocks and barns, as if the entire complex was one huge farm. Fortunately Learned Ordained Ruudmund knew where they were supposed to go, and he led them through the laneways that divided everything up into functional portions. Eliane could tell what their general direction was, but soon lost track of the route they had taken within the complex. They passed orchards, grain fields, ungrazed paddocks, broad stretches of vegetable, and herds of parti-coloured sheep and golden horned goats.
The first cows they saw, other than their own, were a herd of dark phase heifers sharing a paddock with a light phase bull, his pale grey hide surrounded by caramel coats of his harem. The bull looked up from his grazing to watch the group but as none of the cows were bulling and Smoke made no moves towards the caramel-coloured harem, he did nothing else. Second Cousin Herome and Great Uncle Banning had a conversation on the wagon about the local herd’s condition and conformation, with Great Uncle saying a lot about the pasture the cows were on.
Their destination was only ten minutes beyond that paddock. They swung into a barn complex, and suddenly there were people everywhere who knew Ruudmund and were greeting them, and Eliane was trying to sort out the faces and names of people she’d never met before. It didn’t help that she was becoming aware of the divine spark poking at her for attention. A bustling, golden-skinned member of the Temple Hospitaller’s staff in an Ordained’s robes arrived to organise the new arrivals into accommodation and meals, and then hovered serenely on the edges of everyone getting the cows and Smoke seen to while snatching moments to collect names. Eliane retrieved her bag from the cart, and then grabbed Helire’s bags too while Helire explained to the golden-skinned Ordained that she wanted to study for ordination herself.
Finally, they were led to the rooms they would be using and Learned Ordained Ruudmund made his farewells so he could return to his own quarters. The hospitaller gave some very clear directions on where the baths were and how to get to the laundry, reminded them that there would be a warning gong sounded to give them time to get to the evening service that preceded the day’s end meal, and left them to their own devices. Ten minutes later, Helire and Eliane were in the bath house.
It was glorious with wondrous amounts of hot water.
Then, clean and in fresh clothes, they went to wash their travelling clothes and found that the temple laundresses insisted on taking charge of the chore. They were given beads strung on a string, one bead for each item, and told to come back the day after next. When Elaine asked, she was told that ironing was included.
Liberated from their expected tasks, the two girls went to find the way to the temple from their quarters and then back again. The route involved flower filled courtyards with scents of varying pungency and fragility, and a pond that hosted a type of duck neither girl had seen before.
The warning gong went earlier than they expected, and they hurried back to the temple. Eliane looked around but couldn’t see any of their cousins, and she let Helire drag her inside so they could find good positions. The temple had rows of seats, which Eliane didn’t expect because at home you stood or knelt throughout the service. An usher directed them to a section for visitors and Eliane spent the service entranced as she sat, stood and knelt as required but had her senses loaded with unfamiliar incense, choir singing, and the paintings spaced around the internal walls. In the back of her mind the divine spark hummed happily. Helire had to shake her when the service was over to remind her that they had to go and eat.
They ate a meal as good as the one that Eliane normally got at home, and then they went back to their room to sleep. Elaine expected that it would take her time to drift off but as soon as her head hit the pillow, she was out to the world.
“I expect you want to know,” said the goddess, “now that I’ve gotten you here, how I’m going to arrange for you to stay.”
They were in the place where Eliane had spoken with the goddess before. This time instead of the red heifer there were ducks and chickens gathered around Rhenasanamofa’s feet while she sorted through a basin of fat, brown seeds. Eliane thought that they could have been a type of bean. Every so often a seed went into the clay pot on a table at the deity’s right elbow. About the same number were tossed onto the ground to be eaten by the birds. Most of the seeds remained in the bowl.
The goddess added, “By the way this isn’t a metaphorical thing I’m doing here. I really am sorting seeds for another project I have underway. Speaking of projects, have you seen a man you like yet?”
“I haven’t looked,” admitted Eliane. “I’ve been more interested in getting clean, finding my way around and admiring your temple. It’s glorious!” She threw her arms up and out in a grand gesture to emphasis what she was saying, then remembered who she was talking to and blushed.
“I’m glad you like it,” replied the goddess calmly and kindly. “Getting those reasonable self-care needs out of the way promptly shows that you are a competent adult, something that is likely to prove desirable to anyone considering you as a potential life mate. The project I have in mind for you will take a reasonable amount of time and probably involve some travel.”
“And what is it, exactly, ma’am?” Eliane thought that, perhaps, she might be asked to grow the fat, brown seeds.
“I want you to learn Navreen and then find me an unedited copy of the prophecy in its original language. Do you know that I’ve never seen one?” The goddess smiled and almost looked feral, “I believe that I should know what it actually says, and not what every translator thinks it says. None of the full copies I’ve seen have been in Navreen and the ones I’ve seen in Navreen have either been partial copies or edited.”
Eliane asked, “How do I convince the people in charge here to let me stay and do that? I mean Helire wants to stay and study toward ordination, but I don’t think that’s for me.”
“I’ll do the convincing, replied the goddess firmly. “You just need to drink that mixture they pass around before the sermon in the morning service. Her irises turned yellow and her rectangular pupils made it clear that she was not human. “I believe that they will be very convinced.”
This is now followed by Part 4.
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