The Peninsula

The Fiction and Poetry Archive of Liana Mir and scribblemyname

Chapter 1: Beloved of the Gods

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Four Lands, One Heart

The blood of priests and oracles ran thick in the royal family. Eleya had wakened from night sweats and visions when she was sixteen seasons old and been delivered to the convent furthest from the Royal City at the Heart of All Things. There she was devoted to the gods, and what has been devoted to the gods should not be taken back again.

“The Plague, my Queen.”

Eleya stared unbowed before the royal messenger, but it was not royalty that stiffened her back but the blood of the heavens within her veins. “I am the tithe.”

“The gods wish the tithe to rule.”

She spun her staff in her hand and caught down the last of the vines she had been seeking to harvest, delivering it into her basket. The basket tucked up neatly under her arm, the staff in her hand, she turned to go into the convent, one of many outposts of the Order Beloved of the Gods. She paused only once with a glance backward, that the messenger might understand her wish that he follow her.

None left of the First Royal Family but herself? It was unthinkable. They must have sinned greatly against the heavens to be so punished. Her blood burned and leaves in the canopy overhead whispered, but they did not speak to her, and she did not know why this would be.

She chopped and stirred and poured tea and soup before the messenger, ignoring his stiff back, the clear unwillingness to be served by a member of the royal family. ‘I am not royal,’ she wanted to tell him. ‘I have never been royal.’ But it wasn’t entirely true. She had a precious few memories tucked away inside her of mother, of another little girl she used to laugh with, something fuzzy that made her think perhaps she had had a brother.

She had delayed studying the sitting crown. It was unworthy of an oracle of the gods to avoid discomfort, but she had sought to avoid other things, like an inappropriate possessiveness of what had once been her own life.

“We have no other tea but the brambleberry.” Eleya had yet to send one of the younger novitiates to the village for more herbs, and the garden had been robbed of all it could produce to stave off Plague in all who asked.

The messenger waved aside her concern, as if for a moment he’d forgotten her new status with her plain speaking. He caught himself, looking mildly appalled.

She tapped the bowl closer to him. “Eat. You need refreshment. Do not make of me something I am not.”

He stared at her, suddenly grave, actual emotion and not mere necessity. He had not been trained long enough to be stoic, she considered, but even so, she listened to his words more closely, tasted the regret he imbued them with. “My Queen, I must.

Her mendicant’s staff leaned by the wall. She could feel the prayers of the young girls filling the convent air upon the hour, as if they were the convent’s breath. Her hands were callused and sun had made her skin and hair sticky with sweat. She stretched her arms in front of her as if to gather or wash or work, and the sigils scrawled across her arms burned.

Go, queen. Go, queen, the leaves seemed to whisper through the open windows. The breeze lifted the finer hairs on her arms and at her nape and temples. Go to the Heart.

No, she supposed. He must deny her.

“It is not good to snatch back a gift from the gods,” she said.

Eleya had been trained her whole life to serve the heavens. She was not uneducated. There were sacrifices that could be made to appease them. She sighed. “It is not good.”

But she packed her things and went.

Eleya was the daughter of the previous Southern Queen. Yet it had been the Northern Queen who’d named her and taught her to listen to the wind. They did not devote their children to the gods in the northern mountains. They kept them close and listened to their counsel, but all of their land was to be devoted in service to their people, to their land, and to their gods.

She packed her things and remembered a braided coil of copper hair she used to clutch in the night whenever visions raised her from the bed. She had no such reassurance now, no one to stand between her and the gods but the most senior oracle at the convent. Eleya was being cast out from the order. She could hardly turn to the oracle now.

She paused in packing the tiny satchel. What need had she had for things before now? She looked around the cell that had housed her, a stone room just large enough for the smaller dances with a cutout window to allow the winds to enter. The floor was stone beneath a layer of packed dirt that allowed both humility and a comfortable surface for those dances. She’d been expected to leave this room, to sleep in peasant huts, to devote herself to the service of the land, to offer prayers and supplications and prophecies.

Her staff was against the wall and there was still a dark glow to the embers on her hearth. She snatched up the staff, stretched out her arms, and danced and twirled in the small space as her arms burned, sigils slowly glowing brighter as flames burst upon the hearth. She did not sing aloud but formed the verses in her thoughts that would carry her prayers upward.

‘Guide me and show me your will through this river of happenings.
Do not let me be led astray in the twisting of truth or politics.’

Her feet faltered and her cheeks burned as hot as her blood when the gods moved through her limbs. She picked up her pace and added,

‘Choose for me the ones I will marry.
Let me not be ashamed on my wedding night.’

Her dance complete, she dropped to the earth, closed her eyes, and listened to the soft swish of wind through tree branches, to the crackle on the hearth. The flames sputtered and went out.

It wasn’t exactly reassuring.

The City at the Heart of All Things was not merely a city. It was a sprawling verdant valley at the center of the Four Lands, greeted by the river’s path from the northern mountains and the greater river’s path from the western forest. The eastern plains lay to one side of the Heart and spread all the way to the sea. The southern lands were an archipelago of thousands of islands nestled in a massive bay. The land between the coast and the heart was inhospitably dry, mountainous, and troubled by bandits, lured by the rich trade routes carved into the mountainous land.

Once, almost before Eleya could remember, she had traveled the road from the Heart to the convent in the foothills high above. It was hardly the only order of mendicants or monasteries in the Four Lands, nor was it the only convent of its order, but it was where royal children were taken and gifted when priestly blood expressed in their lines. To say nothing of oracles.

Eleya did not remember the great city walls, the well tilled fields around them, the unending stream of people, foreign and domestic. Even with recent Plague, they could hardly be denied. There would be a royal wedding soon.

“You should be arriving with a procession,” the messenger said glumly.

“Nonsense,” Eleya said coldly, a verbal rap across the knuckles as though he were one of the new supplicants. “It’s safer this way.”

‘Who else would be coming?’ she considered. People who knew what had become of the royal house, who thought the Four Lands would be weak, and the new Queen easily killed.

Cold swelled in her chest. Better to take precautions. Better to remain unknown. But who could hide from the gods?

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