The stones before the altar in the apex of the chapel held the chill of the Dark Moon and brought thoughts of the coming winter. Ulrica steeled herself against the numbing cold and stared into the scrying cup. The still water showed no images of what had been or what was to come.
She breathed deeply and sought to calm her anxiety. A young woman’s fate depended on the answers she received. “Midra, my sister must be swayed to follow the way You would have her walk. The misbegotten must enter your service. If not, there is no one of the clan Keltoi to serve you. This temple will fall the way the others have.”
The water in the cup stirred. Colors appeared. Red, blue, white, yellow. The churning increased. *Beware.*
“Midra, beware what? Does it mean if Norna becomes a priestess she will bring danger?”
Red filled the cup. The Warrior’s color and that of Keltoi. The curfew bell chimed the ninth hour and cut short her meditation. She heard the scuff of boots behind her. Bodlesa’s laughter rose. Ulrica drained the cup and placed it on the altar. She rose to face her sister.
“What said Midra?” Bodlesa laughed.
“I haven’t interpreted the meaning of Her signs. Will you permit Norna to enter the temple as a novice?”
“You know the answer. She is doubly misbegotten and has no place in life except as a drab.”
“Doubly? What do you mean?”
“She is unacknowledged by dame or sire.” Bodlesa sat on one of the benches. “Her first cries were made to the Dark Moon sixteen years ago. Is it not among the teachings of the temples that those born during that lunar bring disaster to all? I believe I am right.”
The impact of her sister’s words washed through Ulrica. As she struggled to find an answer, she heard sounds in the hall. Had the warriors arrived early or was some underpriestess spying in hopes of learning something she could use in a quest for power? Ulrica brushed past the bench where her sister lounged and peered into the shadows. She saw nothing suspicious and turned to her twin. “So be it. Norna will serve the temple as a drab.”
Bodlesa rose. “Then in the morning, I’ll leave for the megara.”
“I’m afraid not. You have a duty to the clan and the temple. You must give birth to two daughters.”
“One childbirth was enough to endure.”
“Then you will remain here until you agree.” Ulrica called to the waiting warriors. “Take my sister to a meditation cell.”
“You have no right to order me to do anything. I am Keltoi of Keltoi.”
“And I am the Voice of Midra. You will do your duty. Until you agree to the demands of the goddess, you will remain in the cell.”
The women grasped Bodlesa’s arms. She spat. “With a man I did not choose.”
“The goddess cares not for who sires your daughters, only that his lines are pure and you acknowledge the infants.” Ulrica smiled. After a few doses of somma, Bodlesa would have no choice except to follow the command.