Her mother broke off her conversation with the high priest and fixed her with an icy glare. “You may leave now, and take the bucket with you.”
She scrambled to her feet, happy to comply. Her mother and the high priest had gone back to their conversation of which she only caught the high priest’s phrase “the temple can not afford-” as she left the room.
She went straight to the infirmary, following the cloister walk around the courtyard and its herb garden as walking on the grass was forbidden. The infirmarian had known her aunt, the previous seer, and he liked to cluck and tut over her, sighing as he made notes on the doses of tincture she had taken. Now she was throwing up afterwards he was keeping an even closer eye on her.
The infirmarian was the only member of the temple staff who thought she should do fewer prophetic trances, not more.
He took the bucket from her and tutted over its contents before disposing of them. “No blood,” he said, “That’s good. But it’s getting worse. You’re the seer, can’t you refuse? They can’t keep demanding more prophesies all the time. Your aunt did no more than twenty trances a year on much smaller doses of tincture and she was doing more readings than her aunt.” He sighed. “I worry that they’ll come to the end of you or of the goddess’ grace if they’re not careful and I don’t know which is more likely.” He handed her a cup of water. “Now rinse and spit over the basin.”
She took the cup with a smile. “Every time I think I can’t do it, the petitioners are people who’ve scraped their last coin together or we’ve already spent their donation.” She walked over to the basin, followed his instructions and then added, “Let’s face it; I’ve been trained to obey. Mother just has to glare at me and I fall into line.” She handed the cup back. It was time for her to go back out into the temple to all those other little tasks designed to fill her time and give her occupation between her dutiful foreseeing. She smiled at the infirmarian, he was one person she would miss when she left here. Where had that thought come from? She couldn’t leave, she was the seer. The seer never left the temple grounds, that had been drilled into her and her sister ever since she could remember, from before she and not her sister had been identified as her aunt’s replacement. “I had better go see to the robing room,” was all she said, keeping any quaver from her voice. “Will I see you at lunch?”
“Yes, but you should eat again before you go do anything else,” he said firmly. “It’s not good for you to lose a meal then go straight into a day’s work.”
“I will, I promise,” and then she went out into the day.
She did sit with the infirmarian at lunch, as well as with the third librarian, the deputy mistress of works and the sacristan’s two youngest assistants. Looking at her friends she had the same thoughts that had been floating through her head all morning, that she would miss them after she left...
At the end of lunch as she was beginning to rise and go to her afternoon’s work when she was tapped on the shoulder by a supercilious blonde a few years her elder in the daily dress of a full priestess. “Seer,” the word was as chilly as ever from her lips, “The Mistress of Duties desires you to attend on her in her office.” No-one had used her name since the day she, the younger sister, had been identified as the seer and not Dulcine. Dulcine’s non-use had always been so very much more pointed than anyone else’s.
“Of course,” she rose, “I will go and see our mother at once.”
“It is not our mother who wishes to speak to you,” Dulcine corrected, glancing with a disapproving eye at her work dress, “But the Mistress of Duties. You should not keep her waiting.”
“I will not. Thank you for the reminder, Dame Dulcine.” She tucked her hands in behind her work apron and made an appropriate half bow. “I will go now.”
In Mistress of Duties’ austere and tidy office that dame had been pacing but stopped when her younger daughter obeyed her instruction to enter the room. “Sit,” she ordered, gesturing at a chair and doing so herself behind her desk. “Important visitors will be arriving here at the temple later this afternoon.” The seer had never known her mother to waste her pleasantries on either of her daughters. “They intend to take the seer away with them,” her mother continued talking over her start of surprise, “But they will not be permitted to do so. We will give them your sister instead and she will use their leader to sire the next seer and her sister. You,” her mother instructed firmly, “Will stay out of sight until all of them leave. The infirmarian should be happy,” she said with a glimmer of humour, “Because you won’t be able to perform the trance ceremony again until after they leave. You will eat in the lower refectory, use the back corridors and take your recreation in the eastern garden for the duration of their visit. Those measures should keep you out of their way. If you should encounter a member of their group you will give them no reason to think you anymore than a deaconess or even a subdeaconess. Do you think you can do that?”
“I believe so, ma’am.” She looked at the polished board between the toes of her shoes.
“Your duty,” her mother reiterated the demarcation in an iron clad voice, “Is to serve the goddess as her seer. Your sister’s duty is to provide the next generation of our line. This plan allows for both. I do not expect,” she folded her hands on the desk in front of her, “That we will speak again until after your sister leaves. I am sure we will both miss her, but she will return here for the birth of her children and we will have the girls to care for as they grow up. I am thinking,” she shot a sharp glance at her younger daughter, “Of promoting Ofiliga to replace her.”
The seer murmured, “I’m sure Ofiliga would do very well as assistant to the Mistress of Duties.”
“You don’t want the position for yourself?” Her mother had what she thought was an inscrutable expression on her face but the seer took it as a warning to tread carefully.
“As you have said before, Mother, the requirements of being seer may mean that I would be unable to give my utmost to any other formal post within the temple hierarchy. I would however,” now for the other side of the coin to balance her position between hubris and lack of ambition, “Appreciate the opportunity to complete my studies for priestly orders.”
“To what end,” there came the beginning of that sneering, belittling tone she hated because of its sting, “If you cannot take any other position within the temple hierarchy?”
“I agree that ordination is neither here nor there for my duties,” she’d thought about this and was about to produce what she hoped was her clinching argument, “But the aim of my studies is to better understand my role in the goddess’ service. I would have thought that could only be good.”
The Mistress of Duties gave a small smile. “A cogent argument,” she conceded, “I will approach the Master of Studies after our guests depart and see if you can be slotted into the Third Tranche classes.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” She kept her face straight. If she celebrated too soon her mother could decide not to approach the Master of Studies after all and she would remain ignorant of the higher mysteries her earlier classes had rote taught her she was part of.
“I know you have duties to attend to, do not let me detain you any longer.” The Mistress of Duties uncovered her ink well and picked up her pen.
The interview was obviously over so the seer rose, gave a silent bow of filial obligation and left the room. Outside she walked quickly to the first of her afternoon of sweeping tasks, if either Dulcine or Ofiliga saw her she wanted to give no basis for negative reports to her mother.
It was obvious that something was going on that ought to involve her but she had no idea what. Thinking back, her mother had taken some care to not tell her who the important visitors were, hadn’t she? With the change in her dining arrangements she wouldn’t even be able to ask her friends, if they were allowed to tell her anything. The only thing for it was for her to listen to the conversations around her and perhaps she would pick up enough to work out what was going on.