The Priestess and the Warrior - The Dutiful Love
Posted By: Jillybean<email@example.com>
Date: 9 January 2005, 2:34 PM
The Priestess and the Warrior
The Dutiful Love
"Oh congratulations!" Jalahass touched foreheads with Solatta. In the middle of the convent hallways, Solatta paused to be thoroughly praised by Jalahass. "My mentor. A Third Level Priestess!"
"Well," Solatta glanced aside, her skin shivering with embarrassment. "You're already undergoing the ceremonies for Third Level." Still, she seemed pleased by her friend's warm welcome. "And to talk again! I missed speech!"
"Oh I'm sure you did," Jalahass laughed. She escorted Solatta through long pink corridors to the food hall. "I was surprised you kept your Oath at all."
Solatta pretended not to hear that.
They chose seats in the busy hall and waited for the Kig-Yar servants to take their order. Holograms of the most famous Priestesses lined the walls, secluded in their own alcoves. Each wore the same beatific expression, some bearing a totem of their faith, others simply watching over the eating Sangheili.
Solatta sighed and pulled at her new azure robes. The stitching on the cuffs showed her previous levels, emerald for seventh, bronze for sixth, amber for fifth, gold for fourth and her robes were the colour of the third level.
At the moment, Jalahass still wore the gold robes of a Fourth Level Priestess, and had the stitching for fifth, sixth and seventh. Some might say that her rapid ascension through the ranks did not merit the wearing of all the accumulated colours, but no one would dare speak such disrespect to her face.
"You know," Jalahass mused, chewing on a stick of flat bread. "The Prophet of Solitude wishes to speak with me about which Oath I am to take?"
"A great Honour," Solatta replied. She clawed at the table, eyeing the idling Jackals. "Will they never bring my meal? I am starved!"
"Be glad you're not taking an Oath of Fasting," Jalahass sighed, setting the flat bread down. "That is one of my options."
"I have taken that Oath," Solatta dismissed. "And you, foul child, teased me the whole way through it."
Jalahass grinned. "All in good fun, my friend. But, coincidentally, how did you find it?"
"A nightmare," Solatta groaned. "One meal a week. My belly ached."
"Priestesses," Fera' Kianall smiled cheerfully as she approached. "May I join you?"
"Of course, Priestess," they echoed, standing and bowing as she sat with them.
Solatta smiled at her. "Are you quite well this evening?"
"I am feeling better, since my illness, yes." Fera' Kianall sighed, pale and gaunt. The tint of sky blue in her skin did not sit well with the cream robes of a senior Priestess. She looked almost like a sea and its clouds.
"I hope you will be resting," Jalahass chided. "You do far too much work, Priestess."
Kianall sniffed. "That is not you place to decide, child."
"You are the second person to call me that today," Jalahass noted. "I tire of it."
Kianall smiled and then again more fully as she spied their meals approaching. "Have you decided upon which Oath you will take, Jalahass?"
"I have thought of one . . ." Jalahass mused.
"Good," Kianall slurped at her worms. "Noble Solitude wishes you to be present to bless our new young hero."
Solatta sat straighter. "The one who single-handedly saved Wisdom and Fury?" She blinked. "Jalahass, that is a great Honour." She pressed forward to whisper in confidential tones. "Priestess Jannas and Greysin tell me he is very much the charmer. They met him at a friends celebration, and they haven't stopped talking about him. I do believe Jannas thinks she may have a chance."
Kianall laughed, throwing her head back and upsetting her head-dress. "Ha! I should like to see them try. Priestesses, it is my duty to inform you that he is betrothed to my daughter, Fera' Talsamee."
"Priestess," Jalahass nodded to her. "I wish them every happiness. I'm sure Talsamee will make a good match with this . . . what is his name?"
Jalahass' mandibles twitched. "Orna' Fulsamee, the Lineage doesn't come to my recollection. Am I that out of touch with the Sangheili?"
"No," Kianall sobered. "He's an orphan, a fatherless, motherless son. My mate took him on as a ward out of the kindness of his heart."
Jalahass smiled a little. It would be nice, even separated forever, to still refer to someone as your mate. "I am sure all will go well with them," she said.
Sangheil, the ancestral home of the Elites, possessed a hot, humid climate. In general it was only the Elites who inhabited the surface, the other Covenant races finding it too uncomfortable. In fact, only one Prophet resided on the planet, and he lived on the highest mountain where the cool breeze would blow through the windows in the evening.
Solitude rested in his sanctum, reading the latest media reports of the celebrations on Sangheil on the holographic display. The Solemn Thunder would be leaving soon, and Solitude would be on board as it bore him to High Charity. On the great city he would bless Orna' Fulsamee and the Hierarchs themselves would speak with him.
He turned, turning the environmental controls down another notch and increasing the dryness of the air. The communications panel lit up, blinking steadily.
"Yes?" he thumbed the controls.
A Brute bowed his head, displayed on the pedestal, no larger than a hand high. "Pray, your attention for the Prophet of Truth."
Truth was a young Prophet, and as such was below Solitude. Still, it was only with the barest of civil greetings that Truth spoke with him. It worried Solitude that Truth looked to be the next in line for the Prophet Hierarchs when Hope passed away. And Hope's passing would not be long now. As long lived as Prophets were, Hope was very old. He had lived through most of the Eighth Age and the Ninth and nowadays he spent all his time asleep. It would not be long before he began his Great Journey.
Mercy was eager for Truth to take up Hope's position and when he did . . .
Solitude feared Truth. The Prophet was not only power hungry, but a genius. His capacity for tactics and manipulation was unprecedented among the Prophet race. Truth would revolutionize the Covenant, and he would do it without them knowing.
Solitude's one ally, Grace, was the third Hierarch. Still, Grace had always been a weakling, even when young and passionate. Solitude had demanded extra protection for the Hierarch, knowing that Truth would not be above an assassination, but if Truth was promoted . . . there would be nothing in his path.
"Solitude," Truth began, turning his nose up at the older Prophet who stood on his own two feet. "Would you care to explain to me why this Orna' Fulsamee has not been transferred to my personal guard like I asked?"
Solitude smiled, and hobbled away from the pedestal. "Noble Truth," he said. His attention was again focussed on the media reports. "Orna' Fulsamee is under Hans' Galatash's command and as such is under my jurisdiction. I refused the transfer because I like him where he is."
"There have been threats made upon my life!" Truth spluttered. "This Fulsamee is obviously the creature we want to defend me, is he not? Or do you deny me this protection?"
"Surely your Brutes will do fine," Solitude drawled. "Leave me alone you worrisome creature. I will speak of this no further."
Truth flickered out and Solitude breathed deeply, shaking despite himself.
These were dangerous times.
Fulsamee didn't have time to ready himself before his mate-to-be launched herself at him. She bumped foreheads and her fingers brushed his armoured chest, flustering him.
"Talsamee, please," he began. He was fully aware of the Thunder's command crew watching him, laughing at the exuberance of his young mate-to-be. The landing pad was blessedly free of Grunt gossips, but the crew could be relied upon to bring this up at the most inopportune time.
"Does it embarrass you that my father watches?" she giggled. Accepting his reluctance she stepped behind him, falling in line dutifully. "I am so sorry I couldn't be here for your promotion," she sighed. They approached the others, who were still grinning like fed Grunts.
"Father," Talsamee nodded formally, still smiling. "I am glad to see you."
"And I you, Talsamee." Galatash turned to Nakaka and the others. "Perhaps we ought to let Orna' escape our dinner plans?"
"Indeed," Nakaka grinned. "Fulsamee, we'll meet with you tomorrow?"
"Hah," another laughed. "I doubt it!"
Galatash touched foreheads with them both. "Please, I do not wish to separate you any longer."
"Thank you," Fulsamee replied. "I appreciate all that you've done for me."
"Speak of it no more."
Talsamee squealed in delight once they reached Galatash's home.
"It's been so long since I've been here," she exclaimed. "It's changed!" She hurried through the wide, airy hallways and peeked into her old chambers. "My sister has altered many of the rooms, I barely recognise the place!"
Fulsamee didn't care about the decorative aspect. He peeled off his new scarlet helmet and set it down. "Where is the Unggoy?"
"Here, Excellency," the tiny female Grunt bowed. "Shall I bring you some informal wear?"
"Please," Fulsamee replied. He stripped off his armour and suit. "See that these are well cared for."
Talsamee was smiling at him, drinks in her hand. "Brandy? I know you share my fathers tastes but I can't drink the stuff. It makes me ill."
"Brandy will be fine." Fulsamee took her arm. "May we move onto the balcony? I miss the fresh air."
Sitting on the chairs, they watched the night life of Sangheil from the villa's vantage point on the hills. The steady purple flair of shuttles kept night from truly setting in on the city, but the stars were still clear.
"I forgot what the sky was like, planetside," Talsamee whispered. "I've spent so long on High Charity chasing after this Councillor's post. Now that I have it, I'm everywhere at once, trying to take on all the Sangheili problems."
"You are the youngest for . . . how many years?" Fulsamee asked.
"Since the Seventh Age," Talsamee finished her brandy. "I'll be back in a moment, I'm hungry. Would you like anything?"
"No, thank you."
Fulsamee felt his eyes closing as he waited, his body relaxing under the safety of an atmosphere.
The soft paws of a Grunt padded up to him. "Excellency?" The Unggoy held out a purple sarong for him to wear.
"Thank you," he said, changing. "Have you served the family long?"
"My Lineage has served the Fera' line for ten generations," the Grunt said proudly. Puffing out her chest, she continued. "My children will serve also."
"Perhaps they will serve my children," Fulsamee said.
The Grunt bounced with glee. "I should very much like that, Excellency!"
Talsamee watched from the eaves, bemused as Fulsamee chatted with the servant. Still, each to his own. She supposed that coming from a nameless background, Fulsamee was unbothered by class and caste. Son of a Grunt, one of the Councillors had jeered when she had announced the news. Her rival stood, mocking her with his mandibles hanging loose as those of the nameless were said to do. 'Will your spawn be a slack jawed as that of the heathen you mate with?' Talsamee had lifted her head high. 'My spawn may look how they wish, so long as the Forerunner blesses them.'
Still, Orna' Fulsamee was certainly not hard on the eyes . . . and she doubted their children would be either.
Galatash had lost his appetite, along with the rest of his dinner mates. Solitude's dire predictions were not easy listening, and the worst of them could have been called Heresy.
The select few from the Thunder sat on the fine Brute pelts, their choice of delicacies laid out on the low tables before them.
Galatash saw now why Solitude had requested only the most faithful joined them for dinner.
"Of course," Solitude sighed deeply. He looked out at Sangheil, stretched out before his palace. "I hope I am wrong."
"You are never wrong, Noble Solitude," Nakaka murmured. He glanced at his companions defensively. "It is true. He is not."
"I wish that he were," muttered another.
Galatash pushed his plate away, watching the meal spoil before his eyes. "Why can we not bring this new race into the Covenant with us?"
Nakaka nodded slowly. "Surely they cannot be as vile as the Brutes?"
"We do not know what they are like," Solitude felt very old. His feeble bones remembered all their years. "They are not supposed to be there. They are desecrating the sacred space of the Forerunner. We believe the Ark to be in that sector."
"We will need to finish with these Brute rebels before we wage war against this infestation," Galatash mused, plucking at his mandibles in frustration. The timing is not perfect."
"Yes. And at what price do we defeat the rebels?" Solitude murmured, still looking out over the planet. "Which of our fine new warriors will the Hierarch sacrifice?"
Solitude shook his head. "An old fool's worries, Galatash. I have become so paranoid I see enemies where exists only the ambitious."
"The Oath of Pilgrimage?" Solitude sat back in his chair, his eyes fixed on the young Priestess on the pedestal. "An ancient, and rarely used Oath. What made you think of that, Jalahass?"
On High Charity, Jalahass smiled. "You know how impatient I grow within the convent, Noble Solitude. I have often wished to leave these walls, but I feel it is only right to serve the Forerunners with my actions." Why did lies come so easily to one raised to speak the truth?
Solitude nodded. The Solemn Thunder was humming all around him, carrying him speedily to High Charity and the convent. As much as he adored living on Sangheil, he had been away from High Charity for too long. Things were getting out of hand there. "Well, Priestess Jalahass. I am glad you have undertaken this Oath on your Third Level. I also have just the escort for you on your travels. You should be under the care of Orna' Fulsamee, he is a noble and honourable Elite. He will serve you well."
"An Honour indeed," Jalahass bowed. "I am glad you approve, Noble Solitude."
"Anything for our young prodigy," Solitude teased. "I will speak with you in person when I arrive."
The pedestal returned to its neutral glow and he pressed a panel, letting its holographic controls fade away. His quarters on the Thunder were spacious and homely, but formal. He felt more aware of his isolation than ever before. In his youth, travelling so far did not phase him. Now High Charity seemed obscenely distant.
And Sangheil so far behind.
All this paranoia was Truth's doing. What did he want with Orna' Fulsamee anyway? It could not be good, of that much Solitude was sure. Many fine Sangheili were being gathered for Truth's personal guard. Gathered and subverted to be loyal to Truth before even themselves. Solitude had never seen such behaviour in Elites before. Young soldiers, plucked quickly and secreted away in Truth's sanctum on High Charity.
He was powerful, yes. Perhaps more powerful than any other Prophet.
Solitude hesitated, there was one piece on the board that Solitude controlled and Truth did not. One piece that was greatly endangered.
"I have been such a fool!" Solitude hissed. He would not risk contacting anyone through open transmissions, but once he reached High Charity . . .
The Honour Guard eyed Saia' Jalahass as she approached Fera' Kianall's private chambers.
"Please," the Priestess waved them away. "Priestess Kianall wishes to speak with me."
They lowered their spears, refusing access.
Jalahass took a step back, raising her eyes to meet theirs. "I know Noble Solitude is with her, he arrived this morning. They have sent for me, now let me in!"
"I am afraid we can not," the Honour Guard replied. "Please. Submit your DNA first."
Shocked, Jalahass did so, muttering about Heresy under her breath. Finally allowed past, she swept onwards into the darkened quarters.
"Priestess?" she asked tentatively.
"In here," Fera' Kianall called from the day bed. She lay there, her skin so hard and blue that she looked more like a shell than a Sangheili. Her robes were not those of a Priestess, but an informal tunic and sarong, made of the softest spun hatchling down.
"Priestess . . ." Jalahass couldn't help but stare. "I had no idea your condition had worsened so! They said at service you were only . . ." she broke off, unable to continue.
"Please," Solitude hobbled from the shadowy antechamber. "Do not overreact. Fera' Kianall is still as beautiful as ever."
Both Sangheili managed a faint laugh at this. Jalahass crouched by her side, sweeping her robes out of the way and removing the cumbersome head-dress. With a silent tear, Kianall reached out to touch the younger Priestesses forehead.
"Kianall must be well again for the ceremony tomorrow or there will be great ramifications," Solitude was saying. He handed the Elite a draught he had made. "It is imperative that she be seen with Orna' Fulsamee."
"Do not interrupt!" Solitude snapped. "Trust me when I say that the fate of many souls hangs in the balance. You will be travelling with Orna' Fulsamee, I have arranged for this already. His betrothed, Fera' Talsamee will be remaining on High Charity. Jalahass . . ." he hesitated, glancing to Kianall. She nodded, the faintest hint, showing her allegiance to him and the Covenant. "Jalahass - you must break their betrothal."
Jalahass stood, her eyes narrowed. "You wish me to break their betrothal? But . . . Noble Solitude . . ."
"Listen to me, Jalahass. Kianall is dying!"
Hearing it so bluntly shook Jalahass to her core and she sat, slowly, on the edge of the day bed.
Solitude took pity on her, hobbling towards the drinks cabinet. "Imagine, Jalahass, we were heading towards a war in the near future. A war which only the Prophets, and their favourites knew about. Imagine that this war would eventually lead to our Great Journey."
Jalahass gasped, her head was spinning.
He handed her a glass of brandy. "If a young, ambitious Prophet thought he could make it onto the Hierarchy in time for the Great Journey, do you think he would stop for the sake of a Brute rebellion? "
Jalahass shook her head. A numbness was creeping over her.
"Fera' Kianall is not easily turned and for this she is being slowly murdered. The only way to defeat the Brutes is numbers. How many Elites will we throw at them to quench our thirst for Glory?" Solitude shook his head. "Jalahass - we must keep Kianall alive long enough for you to ascend the ranks to the level of a Senior Priestess. Then she may pass the mantle of High Priestess to you and we will have another strong piece on the board. If you are bonded to Orna' Fulsamee, he will be untouchable. He is very important and Truth knows that if he cannot turn him now, Orna' will be mine forever." The Prophet swallowed, realising he had let Truth's name slip. "Fulsamee is a very talented young Sangheili. In battle, I do not believe he can be defeated. With a member of the Saia' family as his mate he will be a unifying force, uniting all classes of the Elite. And you will protect him in our arena."
Jalahass glanced at Kianall, her expression unreadable. "Fera' Talsamee isn't powerful enough. Is she?"
"My daughter is Truth's." Kianall closed her eyes. "He got her where she is today. He is the one who convinced her to ask for Orna' Fulsamee's hand."
Solitude took a deep breath. "It is a terrible thing to ask of you, Jalahass, but I must ask it." He raised the glass to his lips.
Jalahass pounced, swiping the glass from his grasp and letting it fall to the floor. The hand made crystal shattered.
"What are you doing!"
"If I were poisoning Kianall," Jalahass murmured. "This brandy would be where I would start." She poured her own onto the floor and flung the glass aside. "If you will excuse me, I believe the Forerunners will send me a vision tonight."
Solitude coughed, composing himself. "I hope that vision is a pleasant one, Jalahass."
The young Priestess paused as she picked up her head-dress. Steeling herself, she clicked her mandibles in the subtlest hint of disapproval and marched out.
Orna' Fulsamee sank gratefully onto the floor of their quarters on High Charity, giving the Grunts a pleasant smile as they delivered their dinner to the low tables. Talsamee and Galatash sat also, Talsamee pulling the softest cushions towards her.
"Ceremony," Galatash groaned, stretching his claws. "I swear this society runs on them."
Fulsamee nodded. "I am exhausted. And tomorrow we have more. The Priestesses were interesting though, and the Convent very beautiful."
Talsamee snorted. "If I were given a blessing for every Priestess I've seen causing trouble in the small outposts, I would be a Prophet by now." She reached over her father to grab at the flatbread. "I was travelling with Truth a few years ago in the outer belt and we encountered a Priestess who was trying to set up an aid centre." She bit into the bread, savouring its salty taste. "Initially I thought this was brilliant, but the ineffectiveness of her!" Talsamee shivered in annoyance.
Galatash huffed quietly, under his breath.
"What do you think that young Priestess meant by your futures being linked?" Talsamee turned to her mate-to-be.
"Priestesses," Galatash snorted. "They are fickle creatures."
Talsamee shrugged. "I do not remember Mother."
Fulsamee choked slightly on his worms. "I do not think that is quite what your father meant."
"It was," Galatash growled.
Talsamee sat back, regarding him. "You have been in a foul mood since we met with the Priestesses, Father."
Grumbling to himself, Galatash stood and left the table.
"I think seeing Fera' Kianall upset him," Fulsamee sighed. "At least I can be assured you will never take an Oath of Privacy."
Giggling, Talsamee shook her head. "No. I won't. Orna', the Prophet of Truth has invited us to dine with him after you meet with the Hierarchs tomorrow."
"I would be honoured."
"Good," Talsamee smiled. "I think you'll like him. I am Honoured to call him a friend."
Galatash tossed over on his bed. These guest quarters on High Charity were not his home on the Solemn Thunder. His body knew this and he could not sleep.
That and Fera' Kianall.
Her illness had unsettled him. The pain with which she moved, the careful watch that her juniors had over her. Even Solitude was concerned. Then she had grasped his shoulder, blessing him as though he were any other Commander. But he knew that look in her eyes.
It was only a half heard whisper as she moved away from him.
What is there to forgive? What have you done that would merit my anger? He was sure that it was not her oath that she spoke of, this was something far more recent.
Restless, he rolled off the cot and stood, crossing to the window. High Charity. The convent towered in the distance, and he knew where he had to go. He had to speak with her.
The Honour Guard nodded to him as he passed them en route to her chambers. They seemed to expect him. Kianall's loyal servants. How kind of her to tell them he was coming.
Was he that predictable?
"Hans'," Kianall spoke warmly. She was laid out on her day bed, attended by the young Priestess from the Saia' family and the Prophet Solitude.
"What has happened to you?" Galtash exclaimed. Here, without illusion and disguise, she looked far worse.
"Poisoned," Solitude growled.
"The brandy." The young Priestess nodded to the drinks cabinet. "I would watch your supplies."
"I . . . Kianall, who did this?" he snarled, clenching his fist.
Kianall laughed, her breath rasping against her throat. "Hans', please. Would you slay the Prophet Truth for me?" She saw the answer in his eyes and sobered.
"Touching as the sentiment is, you would not get close." Solitude shook his head. "I should have seen that Kianall was a target. But I have seen who is next. A strong, capable leader like the one you are sculpting."
"Orna' . . . " Hans' gasped. He almost turned for the door.
"Truth will not defeat Fulsamee by weapons or poison or any method you soldiers comprehend," Solitude shook his head. "No. He will use tricks and subtlety, a gesture far beyond you."
"Thanks, old friend," Galatash replied, wryly.
Solitude nodded. "Please, meet Saia' Jalahass. Soon to be betrothed to Orna' Fulsamee. The Forerunners have decreed it."
Galatash shook his head. "No. No. Orna' is in love with Talsamee. Besides, he doesn't have the dowry for a family as mighty as the Saia'!"
Jalahass folded her arms. "My vision was clear, Hans' Galatash. The Hierarchs themselves would not deny it."
In silence, Hans' regarded the three of them. "Then . . . may I break the news to my daughter and son?"
Solitude bowed his head, regret showing plainly on his face. "Would that it worked out any other way. Go, Hans'. And watch your back."
Fulsamee was led to the Hierarchs inner sanctum, unable to take in the splendour of High Charity or the sheer number of Honour Guard he saw.
Talsamee had been furious, and had hit her father when he had delivered the news. Hans' had let her, saying only that the Forerunners could not be doubted.
Fulsamee would not doubt them. He felt numb because any other emotion would be a heresy.
The vaulted sanctum was darker than Fulsamee would have liked, he felt instantly on edge. The stars twinkled outside, but they were close to the only lighting in the place.
"So this is Orna' Fulsamee!" Grace floated forward to inspect him. He nodded to himself as he circled. "A fine specimen."
"You will serve us well," Mercy added. "I forward Hope's apologies, but he was too busy to attend."
"Noble Hierarchs, I am Honoured enough as it is," Fulsamee droned.
"Yes," Grace settled back in his chair. "We hear of your betrothal to Saia' Jalahass. The ceremony is soon, is it not? You two will be bonded before the Solemn Thunder leaves on its next mission, or so we have been told."
"Yes. The arrangements have been swift."
"Young love is a beautiful gift from the Forerunner," Grace said. "Is it not so, Brother Mercy?"
"It is. Now, begone with you, Orna' Fulsamee. I hope to see much more of you in the future."
Truth watched as the Elite left. He approached his brother Prophets with a smile on his face. "A brilliant soldier. Let us hope, that unlike many others, he will survive the trials of this war against the rebels."
"Indeed," Grace said.
"Noble Grace," Truth began. "May I discuss a new strategy with you?"
Fulsamee stood in the centre of the guest chambers, being pulled this way and that by the Grunts fitting his new armour.
"Try to show some enthusiasm," Nakaka growled from his chair. "All of High Charity has turned out to see this."
Fulsamee groaned, the weight of the worlds settling on his shoulders once more.
From the window, Galatash snorted. "It looks more like all of Covenant kind. This kind of celebration will go down in history."
"Yes. The only Sangheili to ever unwillingly marry a Saia'."
"I am not unwilling," Fulsamee growled.
Nakaka barked with laughter. "No! Then remember to smile for the media, or you shall be misunderstood on your bonding day!"
"This match was made by the Forerunner," shouted Fulsamee, scaring the Grunts and even himself. "I will not dishonour them by refusing it!"
Nakaka and Galatash bowed their heads.
"My apologies, Orna'," Nakaka said. "I did not mean to speak with you so."
Orna' turned, shocked and surprised at the sight before him. Lia' Wuanna stood by the doors, his arms spread wide.
"Fulsamee, you have truly excelled yourself! A Saia'! Tell me," Wuanna grinned as he strutted in. "How did you do it?"
"Divine intervention," Galatash muttered. "Wuanna," he said aloud, welcoming the young soldier. "It is good to see you again."
"And yourselves, Excellencies." Wuanna smiled at his old friend. "No words for me, Fulsamee?"
"You'll understand if I am overwhelmed by todays events," Fulsamee replied wryly.
Wuanna laughed. "I hurried back when I heard the news, jumped ship. I could not miss my Brothers bonding ceremony."
Fulsamee smiled a little, touching foreheads with him. "I am very glad to see you."
"You look beautiful," Solatta stepped back to regard the bright red robes that Jalahass wore. "Who would have thought? It's not been so long since we planned my bonding, and now here we are at yours!"
Jalahass mustered a smile, brushing the red and gold fabric with her hands. "I want you to know that while I am away, I will think of you always."
"I know," Solatta was cheery. "But you'll be very happy with your new mate, I am sure. You always get the good ones. I told you he was a good looking one, didn't I?"
"You did," Jalahass felt her eyes mist up. She trembled, tears welling.
"Saia' Jalahass," Solatta murmured very quietly. She leaned closer. "If you wish to back out . . ." she touched the other Priestesses claws.
"No," Jalahass shook her head. "I will go through with my duty."
"This ceremony is not a duty, Jalahass," Solatta pulled the veils over her head. "Dry your eyes. It would not do for you to be seen this way."
Orna' Fulsamee and Saia' Jalahass met in private for the first time as they waited in the small convent hangar for their chariot to be brought to them.
"Hi . . ." Jalahass murmured.
Fulsamee's cool gaze chilled her. "Priestess Saia' Jalahass. Good Morning."
Jalahass glanced at her hands as they boarded the hovering vehicle. The Honour Guard approached and attached the two beasts of burden that would pull it through High Charity.
"In time," Jalahass whispered.
The doors slid open and the animals moved. The anti-grav cushioned the jerk as they were pulled into the artificial brightness. The onlookers threw down the blossoms of the halli tree, multicoloured eddies spinning in the air.
"You may learn not to despise me."
"I do as the Forerunners decree," Fulsamee whispered back. "They have asked that we bond. And we shall."
Jalahass shut her eyes briefly. Sins that weighed her down before were crushed by this fatal blow. Lies came easy to those fighting Truth.
Solitude presided over the long and hurtful ceremony. He protracted each vow, allowing the Grunts to take several shots of the hand tying. He invited every member of the Covenant to join in the week of celebration, declaring a holiday and a great feast to be held in the Honour of the new mates.
He turned them to face the crowd, holding their hands aloft so each and every soul could bear witness to the red rope that bound them.
"Look happier," Solitude growled under his breath. "Jalahass, you have not just buried your mother and Fulsamee, the world has not ended. Get out there and smile!"
They presided over the feast, neither one eating very much.
"I suppose you two want to escape all this publicity," the Prophet Wisdom called from his end of the table. "Well, your new mission will afford you plenty of privacy I'm sure!"
"Yes, how fortunate!" Fury added. "That Priestess Jalahass would be undertaking this pilgrimage in the stars just before bonding with you, Fulsamee. The Forerunners are not fools. They want their favourite to be well protected!"
Jalahass mumbled something about not wanting to be thought of as a favourite of the Gods.
Those assembled laughed. "I am sure many would kill for your position!" cackled Fury.
"What a terrible thought," Solitude said darkly. "One would hope Saia' Jalahass and her mate are well protected."
"Indeed," Galatash finished his meal and set the plate down. "Still, once on the Thunder we have a long journey ahead."
"Yes," Fury nodded. "Escorting Brother Solitude and Hierarch Hope so far is a perilous task. We trust in our finest."
"We are fortunate to have Priestess Jalahass with us," Galatash bowed his head towards her. "Hopefully her presence will bless us. The Sacred Grounds of the Prophets are not without their own dangers. Hope is brave to try such a journey in his condition."
"He believes it will heal him," Truth smirked. "I would be very careful with such a precious passenger, Brother Solitude."
"I am careful with all of my own," Solitude replied.
"If you will excuse me," Jalahass stood, her long red robes rustling. The crowded hall watched her as she made her excuses and departed.
"Orna'," Galatash said quietly. "We will not keep you from your beautiful new mate."
With a heavy heart, Fulsamee left also. The crowd cheered as he left their sight, delighting in this apparent consummation.
Solitude smiled at Truth. "I notice, Brother Truth, that you have yet to bless the bonding. Would you care to do so now?"
Truth, with a tight smile, acquiesced.