Cartel’s blue eyes smiled as she stood and walked past Helyanwë her hand reaching out and patting her shoulder gently.
“I go to the baths now my dear. You may come along or you may wait here.” came Cartel’s words as she grabbed a simple robe and wrapped it about her body.
Helyanwë was stunned. “Tarien you mean the public baths?” At Cartel’s nod her face went white and her lip quivered. “T..Tarien…I have never bathed in public. It is not permitted for a priestess.”
Cartel looked over her shoulder as she threw her hair over her back. “You say I am a priestess and I am going so come along.” Mischief was in her eye as she added. “Besides it will be your first adventure.”
Inside the bathhouse was a tropical forest, lush and verdant green, compared to the landscape outdoors of temperate forests.
The noises of waterfalls and the talk of patrons almost drowned out the raucous noise of the birds singing and calling about the many tiered canopy above.
As they came to a small clearing inside with smaller paths off of it they heard from behind a small table a man’s voice. “One moment I am refreshing the towels.” As they stood there waiting Helyanwë turned to Cartel, “Tarien..”and Cartel put her finger to Helyanwë’s lips. “I am not Tarien, I am not An’ar…I am simply…”
Her reply was drowned out as the man had stood back up and his exclamation was loud as he came around and fell to his knee before Cartel. His long black hair, warrior knots and beads tinkling, his bronzed skin showing his moon elf heritage. “Forgive me Tarien Ar’Cartel d’Hune.”came his words. “It is an honor to meet one who fought truly for all our people.”
He stood and his green eyes locked with Cartel’s his words coming in the ancient words of the people,
“Faerl Meril! Pain galu am lin faer!” The words came and with them ancient habit and ritual as she embraced his shoulders with her hands and placed her forehead upon his. “Faerl glenn! Pain galu am lin faer.”
Cartel released him and his broad smile returned and widened. “All are with you my Lady of Hune.” He turned and spoke over his shoulder. “We will set a bath for you and your sister and…”
Cartel stepped after him her hand resting on his shoulder. “No brother. Just some towels a jug, some brushes and direct us to the warmest bath.”
His smile not fading he nodded. “So it will be Lady of Hune. May I tell others you are here?”
Cartel’s face seemed to agonize for a moment and then her head nodded slowly. The bath servant-warrior made a happy gesture and then stepped to the table and proffered a jug. “The brushes are inside My Ladies.” He turned and grabbed towels from below. “And here are the finest towels we have.”
“My thanks and may she Dance and sing for you always.” her hands came up and made the shape of a sword and moon in front of the man, who smiled all the while.
As he disappeared amongst the trees, Cartel led Helyanwë along the path until they came to a huge pond or mayhap a small lake with many rocks and small well crafted log resting places anchored below. The water was steaming softly and all about Helyanwë saw men and women talking either in the water or out, all were naked.
Helyanwë felt her cheeks and ears redden as she was used to the separate baths of the temple and seeing women naked was familiar though no less embarrassing, yet seeing men.
She bumped into Cartel who had stopped and was looking at her with a bemused smile on her face. She took the jug from Helyanwë gently. “Well time to take your bath. Put your clothes over there they will be washed also.” She pointed to a small table with baskets and tags on each basket.
She went to say something but her mouth clamped shut as Cartel raised an eyebrow and her eyes seeming to get a stern look. Hanging her head Helyanwë went to the baskets and slowly began to disrobe.
By this time the talking had ceased for all were staring at Cartel. No other here was of such dark skin her brown almost seeming a dot of darkness in a world of light.
Helyanwë turned about trying to cover herself with the small towel and shuffled toward the water. Before her the Tarien sat her hair let down, long it was and floated about her in the water. As Helyanwë watched she reached back with her hands and flipped it up and bent over as her hands went forward and laved water over her hair.
The gasp escaping Helyanwë’s lips was audible and for but a moment the Tarien’s hands stopped then continued. For the Tarien’s back, while expertly tattooed to try and hide them, was a literal maze of scars, as if she was whipped yet none could survive what Helyanwë was looking at.
She stepped forward her hand out and gently her hand touched the tarien’s back and she felt her body stiffen beneath her touch. “Cartel…..” she whispered as her fingers traced along the scars. “None have ever spoken of this.”
And as she finished her words the Tarien pushed away and slid under the water to rise a few feet away.
“It is because mortals do not know of it. Even our people do not know, even the dragons do not know.”
As Helyanwë looked at her, blue tears began to fall from Cartel’s eyes and her hand went to her chest.
When Cartel held her hand up to her eyes she twisted her lips and then bit her lower lip. Helyanwë went to ask her what was wrong and she disappeared the only thing to show her passing were the ripples upon the water where she had been standing.
The darkness inside the temple was broken only by the many candles all about. Incense burners wafted the scent of holy offerings. The chorus of the adherents rung softly through the high vaulted living trees that made up the temple.
The wet foot prints that traced inward from the entrance annoyed the Abbess who was passing by. Motioning to her assistant they followed them. To their surprise they entered into the great hall and they heard the soft chorus of the adherents stop as they also stepped past the entry.
There before the fane of the moon knelt sobbing a softly glowing figure. Her dark skin contrasting starkly with her silvery hair. Around her the puddle of water stretched out and seemed to sparkle with the same soft glow.
The adherents looked to where the Abbess was and as her assistant went to move forward his mouth open to speak her arm crossed his chest. “No. Let her be this is her temple as well as ours and she is in pain.”
She turned to her assistant. “Get the adherents out quietly and quickly. Then fetch me the High Priest I think he and I maybe needed.”
“Yes abbess.” came the man’s reply as he moved off to do her bidding.
The Abbess watched as the adherents silently left and she heard the doors ways softly click shut and she watched and counted as they came down the stairs to either side. Motioning for silence as they filed out the doors behind her.
She turned back to look then stepped and closed the doors and latched them from the inside. She felt a large amount of trepidation for she knew this woman. She remembered her from her youth when she was but new to everything in this world and the others.
Even then, she could sense within this woman the grace and power she had, yet she was never to old to play or teach or have fun. She thought back to those years fondly as she stepped forward even as the sobs began again and tinkling she heard the tear drops becoming solid before they hit the floor of polished stone.
“Why?!” she heard come from the woman sobbing as her fist hit the floor and made the entire place shake. “Why must I love then have it taken away each and everytime?”
She stepped softly forward again as a hand slapped the floor and the nails drew across the stone with an unholy screech. “Is it not enough I have lived interminably? That I have served one and all that entire life?” Her head snapped up and hissed skyward through the open roof. “Is it not enough that I am now here to answer for things done by those long dead and forgotten except by petty minds?”
The Abbess stopped for she was closer then she thought she should be, within three sword lengths at least, and softly whispered. “Holy one, I am sad to see you like this. Never before had I seen the one who taught us so in pain.”
The head snapped around and the Abbess felt the full weight of the stare of the solid white eyes and the anger and hurt behind them.
She felt herself blanch and step backward for she had never seen the eyes of blue gone to be replaced with what she saw.
She saw the fingers dig into the stone as the eyes turned away and the head dropped. The woman’s body heaved with a great breath and the great scars that made up her back became visible.
“Sehanine’s grace.” the abbess whispered as she made the moonsign before her. Realizing too late it would not help.
She heard laughter after she whispered. “Sehanine’s grace is part of what has made me, little flame.”
“Oh aye. I remember the bright eyed little elf of the Jertomiir quite well.”
“I remember the day I found you in the ash and flamed filled woods that were once the home of your people. The bright smile and arms reaching up when you heard the words, “Come little one lets get you someplace safe.” The dark woman spoke as the tears dropped from her face to tinkle and skitter across the floor stones.
“Yet even now The Silver Haired Maiden is gone to all but a few and Sehanine has been shown to who she truly is.” the dark woman sat up on her knees her hands flopped to her sides her body shivered again. “Yet I am still here I am still the same.”
The abbess stepped closer still afraid of this woman who was one of the eldest teachers they knew of. “Holy One what hurts you so? Why do you seem so lost? It is disconcerting to see such from you of all our people.”
The woman’s head turned slowly to the abbess and it seemed now as if her skin began to heat or cool she was not sure yet thin tendrils seemed to snake into the air from her body, whether smoke or vapor she could not tell and the white eyes focused on her.
“I cry and scream at one who is sometimes greater, lesser or equal then me. One who helped make me what I am now Little Flame.”
The dark woman though stopped and doubled over. Her arms and hands going about her body. She looked up from under her silvery hair that was being traced with red as she spoke through gritted teeth. “I do however have a gift Little Flame. One I trust to you and no other, do you understand?”
The abbess nodded dumbfounded. “Yes Holy One I understand. No other but me.” And with that the temple became black. Even the eyes of the abbess could not pierce it nor could those who were watching in the temple and from without. And when the darkness lifted no water, no abbess, no tears and no Cartel were to be found in the temple.
“Damn her how can she do such!?” the man whose black hair was streaked with grey. He watched amused as the constables and priests from Corelleon’s temple came to the temple of Sehanine.
He knew she was gone yet he did not know where and would not try any means other then physically looking in this place.
The Abbess panicked slightly yet it did not show outwordly. She could see nothing and she could feel nothing but solid ground beneath her feet. The air though was warm even as she could feel small wisps of intense cold. And those wisps of cold….frigid as if that air never knew warmth.
“Little Flame.” she heard the holy one speak softly. “I am keeping your vision clouded and your hearing to my voice for your safety.” She felt the touch of a hand grasping her firmly. “You may hear one other voice, for I can not block that now as I used to do so.”
They took several more steps and the hand grasping her left her. She felt alone and vulnerable and felt fear creep in until the hand grasped hers again. “Little Flame do as you would in temple. Clear your mind, protect it. If you let the fear and doubt creep in you may leave my protection to your detriment.”
As she did and her feet slowly moved with the gentle pull of the hand she could feel them all around. The baleful gazes and feel the weight of the absolute maleficent thoughts all about her. She felt something get too close and the hand shifted and she was blinded in her mind.
All about she felt the many presences move away to the very edges of where she could sense them. “Worry not Little Flame, I will not let them get near. I know too well their minds.”
“Yes holy one I know you will protect me.” And she felt her words seem to echo to quickly be swallowed in a vast emptiness.
They soon stopped. And she felt something dark, immense, brooding and its thoughts far beyond anything she could fathom. Then she heard it the voice. Soft baritone, melodious full of all one could wish to hear in a voice. It made her seem to swoon even though the words she did not understand. If she just did as the voice asked, let go of the Holy Ones hand all her dreams and desires would be true.
She felt the tug of the hand holding hers and she quickly snapped back to reality. “Little Flame concentrate.”
She heard the Holy one’s voice and it was clear, loud precise and she detected a slight tone of warning even though the words were strange to her.
“E lyviely hozzory, E ozn sa xy hadesy. E qedd wojy es yeswyl qou. Uai nfaq E pof ka swez.” the Holy Ones words ended and the echo of the words played in her mind sharp and evil as they reverberated away and for the first time she trembled. Where had she let the Holy One take her? Were the rumors really true she was but a temptress, completely and thoroughly evil after all her time away?
The words of the baritone voice came, the same language and they seemed amused and annoyed at the same time. She heard, no she felt objects moving and something immense moving about them yet staying a proper distance from them as it circled.
“Dessdy zezsyl E kyfu fas uai pof ka zipw swefrz, wojy qy fas xyyf kaqf swez hosw xybaly? Uai wojy toky raak yopw sety E wojy lyvielyk. Za uai nfaq swez sety E zsedd fyyk sa lypyejy zatyswefr xu dyssefr uai hozz hyopybiddu.”
She felt the Holy One’s grasp tighten around her hand and her voice in the strange language answered the tone resigned to something. It brought fear to her mind and she began to shake.
In her mind Cartel looked upon this visage of virility and fought even against her own thoughts. Her eyes going always back to the horns and hooves to jolt her to her purpose. Their minds touched and felt for safety for both before they spoke after their exchange of words.
His thoughts came swiftly and powerfully. Almost overwhelming as she sneered at his obvious discomfort.
“Damn you Hunter. You have played an excellent game and I have been amused watching. I was wise enough not to play it and you were wise enough not to involve me beyond asking passage.” She felt his laughter even as his body smiled. So disarmingly, so cute and heartwarming.
She shook her head even as she responded and felt his surprise at the long forgotten depth of her ability his body reflexively stepping backward and hand coming up swiftly as if to ward off a blow.
“I am not here to bandy words with you. I am in a rush and this is simpler then taking your countless minions and getting them to a countable number for you. Out with what you require and we shall bargain.” came her thoughts.
He could feel it…she was stretched. Her power thin yet, he also knew if he tried something she was not against abandoning other places to be whole. He knew she could feel his new found status and smiled some letting the aura flow outward. Surely it was just to feed his ego for such meant nothing to her but it ebbed and flowed around the one she had a grasp of. His eyes darted to her and looked he frowned and his eyes darted to the Hunter. Her face hardened and she shook her head in a quite definitive negative and he sighed.
“It was but a thought and a hope that just maybe, you had slipped again. My requirement is this and it is simple. Move your place from beneath my domains so I no longer have to deal with you and the eternal spies who report and cause me endless problems with your appearances.”
The Holy One laughed it was bright music in this place where she felt horror would be if she opened her eyes. “You know I can not do that.” she laughed again. “You have even tried after your slight attempt to end the Blood War, it seems to have ended it is just postponed.”
The Abbess felt the snarl of rage and anger sweep over them both. It was powerful and she felt as if the presence they were before was as if Corelleon himself had turned evil and uncaring.
His hand reached out to grasp her and he knew it was a mistake as he did it. She reached out with hers and caught his hand in hers and the light and heat began betwixt them. He could not move as she sneered and he felt her grow stronger. “After all these countless ages..” came her voice purring seeming to change to the one from his ancient dreams, the pleasure in her voice at this pain he was granted. As she continued, “Truly do you really desire your end now?”
He shook his head vigorously then his agonized voice came. “No….no…noooo. Stop. Stop.” He felt his hand thrown away and his arm was numb and his body still would not respond. Yet her voice came again. “For this affront to my servant there will be no bargaining. Is this agreed?”
She watched as the great head nodded even as his eyes looked balefully up at her.