Norna scurried out of the bathing room. After the evening meal, she’d come here to luxuriate in the baths the way she’d never been able to in the megara. The curfew bell startled her. Would she be punished for being out of the sleeping chamber after the bell chimed?
In her haste to reach the room, she turned the wrong way. She halted at the top of the staircase. Her mother’s voice raised in anger caused her to back away. Then she saw her aunt on the stairs. Norna turned and ran down the hall.
As Norna crawled into bed, she pulled the covers over her head to muffle the excited chatter of the other occupants of the room. For them, the end of the lunar of the Dark Moon would bring joy. Her future was unsettled. She had no desire to become a priestess and remain in the temple for the rest of her life. Nor did she want to return to the megara and be dragged into Prasutus’ bed the way her mother had threatened.
A scrap of conversation reached her. “The chapel is interesting. There’s a wonderful tapestry on one wall and a map of the nomes made of tiles on the other. Did you know we’re almost to the ocean here?”
The bells chimed again. Her companions settled on their cots. Norna listened as their breathing took on the rhythms of sleep. With care, she rose from the narrow bed. If she could see this map, she could learn how far ’twas to Bethsada.
She slipped into the hall. Eternal torches set in brackets along the walls softened the deep shadows. She crept toward the stairs. When she heard her mother’s voice, she pressed against a door.
“Leave me alone. I won’t drink your vile brew.”
“Will you allow me to train Norna as my successor?”
“A drab nursed her. A drab raised her. A drab I have named her and as one, she will remain.” The frost in Bodlesa’s voice chilled Norna.
“What if Midra wants her? The signs in the cup were strange. Four colors, followed by red. That is the color of this nome.”
Bodlesa’s wild laughter made Norna shiver. “And the color of death and war. Has the goddess marked her? When I dragged her to the baths before we left the megara, her skin was unmarked. She is mine to give or hold. She will have no high place in the temple or the megara. As one doubly misbegotten, she must pay for the life the Healwoman gave to her.”
“Will you return to the megara and willingly take Prasutus to your bed and produce the daughters who are needed?”
“You ask too much.”
“Until you agree, the cell will be your home.” The iron in Ulrica’s voice made Norna ease away. “Dear sister, your will is strong, but mine is as firm as the surface on the roads throughout the nomes. Hold her while she drinks.”
Norna fled along the shadowy hall and returned to her cot. Tears flowed down her cheeks. What could she do? Twice misbegotten. A drab she’d been named. She couldn’t accept that fate. She had to escape and find a refuge. Would the Healwoman give shelter to someone like her?
Post a Comment