Kaliah, Chapter One, The Story Thus Far. . .

Purple-desert-flower

The first 2800+ words so far, 10-26-2010 (my eldest turned 16 today!!!!!! Proud mama over here!!!!!!!)

Kaliah Veradae sighed heavily, wiping at her forehead and neck to remove some of the moisture that had gathered there. The midsummer sun was sapping the strength from her even though it was barely midmorning. She felt as weak as a newborn kitten, shaky and exhausted. The image made her scowl and she twitched the cowl of her summer cloak further over her head.

Her eyes once again properly shaded from the glaring sunlight, she pulled a ripe purple fruit from her knapsack, biting into the firm fruit with relish. Sucking the juice from the morsel first, she chewed slowly so as to procrastinate swallowing; one’s mouth was wetter whilst busy than while empty.

The tart aftertaste seemed to only aggravate her thirst rather than slaking it, as her throat immediately dried out upon her first breath after swallowing the fruit. Pulling a few leaves of mint from her pocket, she took a long swallow from her water-skin, then chewed vigorously on the herb. Relishing the oils that coated her tongue and throat, she finished the fruit and carefully tucked the pit away; someday her trees would help support her and her mother. And, perhaps, someday, children of her own, though she didn’t consider that likely.

Resigned to seeking what comfort was available, she took another swallow of water, reveling in the simple pleasure of moisture slaking her thirst and the mint oils offering the illusion of frigidity.

What was supposed to have been an easy errand had dragged on for hours and her patience had been ground dangerously thin. Wiping the sweat from her brow, Kaliah thought of the cooling baths of the Temple with a fervent desire that was just short of lust. No doubt she would be unable to luxuriate in their cool depths until at least one more errand had been run for the High Priestess and she was relieved for the day, but she could at least hope.

Rolling her eyes, she finished her lunch and resigned herself to a long walk back to the Temple and an even longer afternoon. Head down and shoulders bowed, she trudged along the edge of the narrow road. Carts and wagons carrying meats and produce to the village market passed her, kicking up clouds of dust as their drivers ignored her. Meager protection though it was, she pulled the edge of her hood over her nose and mouth, scowling as a third driver passed, cracking his whip alarmingly close to her ear. She couldn’t resist the urge to scowl and poke her tongue out at his rapidly disappearing back.

Such superstitious fools!

It was just past midday, the sun leaving its zenith and finally starting to edge toward the western horizon, when she finally reached the Temple. The beggars were gathered for their midday handout and Kaliah’s temper frayed further. Most of the people who’d gathered around the charity tables were plumper and better fed than the priestesses and other Dedicates who dwelt within the Temple’s confines. Not to mention better dressed.

Those who weren’t stuffing their faces with bread filled with sausages and vegetables were lined up at the tall clay jugs that stood at the end of each table. With the ease of long-standing habit, the first beggar in line at each jug would pull up a dipper full of wine, gulp it down, and then refill it before handing it to the next person in line.

Kaliah grimaced and hoped her scorn didn’t show on her face.

Even when things had been their most dire, she and her mother had never found themselves standing in the beggar’s line.

When her mother had no longer been able to function as an adult and Kaliah had taken on the role of head of household, she’d never considered asking for help, though there were times when cabbage soup and brown bread were all they’d had to tide them over. For five years, since the hateful day she’d turned ten, she’d provided for her mother and herself. She’d become the parent, and struggled to live up to all the responsibilities that entailed.

She’d found ways to put food on the table for both of them, mostly through the labor of her own two hands. Her troubles and hardships had made her intolerant of the laziness in her fellow villagers. If a child could survive without charity, she thought indignantly, so could the adults who crowded around the tables in the midday heat.

Disgust lit her amethyst eyes and curled her lip as she raised her chin and stared down her nose at the “beggars.” Sweeping the cowl of her cloak off her head, she stood a little straighter, thrusting her chest forward just a little more than she was usually wont to, and shook her head so that her hair flowed down her back in an icy curtain. Multiple gasps echoed off the buildings lining the square as the crowd fell away from her, those on her side of the table scurrying to the opposite side.

The shocking white color that filled most of her neighbors with superstitious fright would serve her in good stead now; she’d be able to reach the door unmolested, since the way was now clear. The guards saw her and uncrossed their spears. The Temple was never closed to her, no matter what time of day. She was the High Priestess’ favorite acolyte and personal errand-runner.

The twins guarding the door stood a little straighter, their spines a little stiffer than they might otherwise have been, as they watched her approach. Their heads nearly collided as they both hastened to open the doors to the Temple for her.

The villagers might despise her for her oddities, but the Guards knew better.

With the slightest possible inclination of her head, she swept past them. Identical down to the freckles on their noses, they had been raised at the Temple after their parents had died at sea one horrible winter, and they were quite familiar with her moods. They knew that when she’d cloaked herself in this particular haughty demeanor they would be wise to tread softly near her. They bowed as she passed, fists to their hearts, and kept their teeth tightly clenched behind closed lips.

As Mishrey, she was accorded the highest honors within the bounds of the Temple, though she was not the Sindai, the High Priestess’s successor.

“Good afternoon, Mishrey Kaliah. Peace be with you and upon you.” A young acolyte, her hair shorn close to her scalp in an uneven stubble in devotion to Cal and Lea, the supreme deities of Ishlia, greeted Kaliah with downcast eyes and outstretched hands. Still cloaked in the haughtiness she’d donned outside, Kaliah swept her cloak from her shoulders and laid it in the arms of the waiting acolyte.

“Good afternoon to you as well, Devoted” Kaliah replied, her voice as cool and remote as an arctic wind.

“The High Priestess bids you welcome and bids you wait for her in the Sanctuary.” The acolyte’s eyes never left the floor as she delivered her message. “I will have your cloak cleaned and waiting for you when you are ready to leave for the day, Mishrey.” Having said more in the past few minutes than she normally did in a full day, the young girl turned and walked quickly away without waiting for a reply.

Kaliah watched as the acolyte disappeared down the corridor that lead to the laundry rooms and the Temple baths. Still sweating from the heat outside, Kaliah took a step toward the bath hall before she could stop herself. Duty warred with desire as she brought herself to a stop. The High Priestess was not such an understanding woman that she would forgive Kaliah’s frolicking in the baths when she should be attending to her duties and waiting for her next errand.

Closing her eyes, she turned from the temptation of cool, cleansing water, and fell into the meditative trance than she had been taught to achieve here at the Temple. Within moments, she felt the anger and hostility draining from her body, leaving her calm and centered once again.

Under control and resigned once again, with her hands laced lightly together in front of her waist, she made her way quietly down the carpeted hall leading to the Sanctuary. Just beyond it, through a narrow, crooked hall that was once merely a crack in the stone wall, were the High Priest Cassandran’s private quarters. No one ever went there, save Cassandran’s deaf and mute servant girl.

Turning her attention from that hallowed hallway, Kaliah surveyed the Sanctuary with a critical eye. As Mishrey, ultimate responsibility for the Sanctuary was hers, in addition to being the High Priestess’ personal errand runner. The two occupations kept food on her table, clothing on her back and that of mother, and afforded her a treasured bit of independence.

The Sanctuary was quiet, deserted, though smoke from freshly lit incense wafted up toward the ventilation hole in the ceiling in tight little eddies. All the acolytes and students were at midday Services. No doubt the room would fill in another hour, as the most pious of the residents would come for devotional time before evening Services.

Kaliah herself would be home by evening Services; Mishrey’s were not required to attend Services more than once a week. Plucking wilting petals from the wildflowers on the altar, she made a mental note to pick some fresh ones when she next found an opportunity.

Time passed slowly, and she knelt at one of the pews, her knees comfortably cushioned on the stool in front of her. Eyes closed and hands pressed tightly together in an air of beseeching piousness, she rested her chin on her fingertips and closed her eyes. While she wouldn’t pray, exactly, she would spend some time contemplating the various problems she had to deal with in everyday reality. If the High Priestess took too long, perhaps she’d find time to contemplate some of the weightier questions from her school days.

Then again, perhaps not. She’d begun to drift off, lulled by the silence of the Sanctuary and the heavy scent of in the incense. Her eyes flew open in a panic when she heard her mentor speak behind her.

“I trust that there were no problems with your last delivery, Mishrey.” Though it was not a question, Kaliah knew that Cassandran, High Priestess of Ishlia Temple, was expecting an answer as though it had been.

“There were no problems, my Lady. Merely a delay, as I was forced to seek Caffran at his Farm, when he was not at his shop at the appointed hour.” Kaliah kept her manner subservient as she reported, and her eyes trained on the floor. “He bade me to give you this,” she said, withdrawing a small paper-wrapped parcel from the pouch sewn into her wide belt. She presented it in the flat of her palm, lifted above her head as she knelt on the floor in front of the priestess. She’d assumed the position as soon as she’d heard Cassandran’s voice, though she’d never lifted her gaze to confirm the speaker.

She kept herself from flinching, barely, as the soft scrape of the other woman’s nails tickled her palm when the package was taken from her. The first and most important duty of a Mishrey was trustworthiness. She must always demonstrate impeccable trustworthiness. No Mishrey ever knew what they carried to and from the Temple.

Kaliah was very careful to never set eyes on even the wrapping of the packages and missives she carried. Her fingers had become very deft in the two years she’d been serving as Mishrey. She could count coins, verify amounts of coin pressed upon her if need be, as well as ensuring that her belt pouch was utilized and secured without ever looking at it.

There was the sound of crackling paper, then silence. Evidently, the package from Farmer Caffran contained a message. Anyone with common sense could deduce that, Kaliah thought with a touch of scorn. Just because she never knew what was in the packages and parcels didn’t mean she didn’t speculate. She was only human, after all.

Just when she thought she’d been forgotten and was about to indulge herself in a little harmless fantasy, Cassandran spoke. “Sindai Tarzia will have a package waiting for you at the door after you’ve eaten. You will take it to the jeweler, Master Volster. After that, the rest of the day is yours. I will not have need of you tomorrow, either, so return the day after.” Cassandran swept away, presumably back to her private quarters as Kaliah slowly rose.

After a small meal of roasted fowl and bread, with sweet wine to quench her thirst, Kaliah met Sindai Tarzia at the front entrance. The other woman, whose long brown hair was pulled back into a tight knot at the back of her head, handed her a tiny package along with Kaliah’s freshened cloak.

Slipping the package into her waist-pouch, Kaliah bowed courteously and slipped the bar on the front door. The disdain on Tarzia’s face had left her with an unexpected chill, and Kaliah was absurdly grateful of the heat of the midsummer sun. One of the twins reached past her and pulled the door shut, prompting her to jump forward as his arm brushed her back, a heated blush staining her cheeks.

Her face set in an intimidating scowl, she set off, pulling her hood up to shield her skin. It was red enough from embarrassment; she didn’t need to add to it with sunburn. Now that the food had been cleared from the tables which had been stacked along the left Temple wall, the main square of the village was crowded with people jostling about on their various errands. Sometimes, it felt as though she never had a moment of true silence outside of the Sanctuary. It was nearly worth that alone to become a Devoted. Nearly.

Sidling close to the buildings lining the lagoon, Fisher’s Row, as the locals pretentiously called the narrow track that ran along the harbor and up into the hills on the other side, Kaliah kept to the shadows as much as to ease her passage through the crowds as to keep out of the sun. Finally, after long minutes avoiding, dodging, and accidentally brushing against her fellow villagers- who, whenever she made contact, spat a little to the side and made the sign of the Protection Ward in her direction- she finally made it to the Jeweler’s Court.

From there, finding Master Volster’s establishment was easy. The brightly tiled doorjamb of his shop shone like a beacon as the sun glinted from the various colors of glass and filigree that had been imbedded in the oak doorframe. It was by far the most elaborately decorated storefront on the street. Perhaps in the entire Jeweler’s Court, though Kaliah had no intention of loitering long enough to make a comparison. She pushed through the birch door, it’s pale wood set off by tiny, diamond shaped panes of glass.

The interior of the building was cool, thanks to the thick stone walls, and brightly lit from reflected sunlight streaming in from windows set high in the walls and glinting off strategically placed mirrors. The clever arrangement offered light with an absence of heat that was much appreciated by shopkeeper and customer alike at midsummer.

“Welcome. May I interest you in a choker to adorn your throat? Or perhaps some earrings to frame your lovely face?” The young woman, no doubt Volster’s clerk, spoke from behind a table of jewels, her eyes leaving the display well after the words had left her lips. When she did lift her eyes, they widened as she blanched at the sight of Kaliah’s white hair, revealed as Kaliah had tossed back her cowl as she entered.

Lifting her chin, she stared down at the shorter woman with her customary icy reserve. “I am here on Temple business to see Master Volster.” Her voice sounded unnaturally loud in the silent shop, and she winced at the slight echo that came back to her.

“Master Volster is not here presently. Perhaps you’d like a jeweled belt? We have a fine collection of them.” One small hand gestured at the arrangement draped over the table in front of her. “I’m sure we can find something you like.”

Kaliah had a moment’s shock; the girl was one she had known in school before she became Mishrey. They’d never passed a civil word between them, and now the other girl was behaving as though Kaliah was normal, as though her visit were not an off-putting event. Even the color had come back to her cheeks and a sparkle positively lit her eyes as she held one belt after another against the fabric of Kaliah’s cloak.

“Master Volster is the only thing that I am looking for at the moment. When will he return,” she asked, frustrated and more confused than she’d like to admit.

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