The Priestess and the Warrior - To the Convent Born
Posted By: Jillybean<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 26 December 2004, 8:16 PM
The Priestess and the Warrior
AN: Since Saia' and the Arbiter were taking over Parcel o' Rogues, I've given them a showcase in here. Hope you like :D
Also - it upsets me that I don't know the Arbiter's name, so I took a wild stab at it. If it turns out to be wrong I'll cry.
To the Convent Born
The Prophet of Solitude had a genuine smile on his face when he met with High Priestess Fera' Kianall. He waited for her protracted bow to finish, before he clasped her hands and kissed them.
"It is good to see you again, Kianall."
"And you, noble Solitude." Kianall beckoned him through to her private sanctum on High Charity.
Solitude sat, watching as the Honour Guard escorted the first daughter of the prestigious Saia' Lyeeum family into the room. The tiny Sangheili was overawed at the vastness of the quarters, something that even her privileged upbringing could not rival.
"This will be Saia' Jalahass," Kianall mused. She nodded to the little Sangheili and was graced by a nod in return. "Would you like a drink, noble Solitude?"
"I would." Solitude accepted the crystal beaker full of the emerald Jiralhanae Brandy that Kianall favoured so much.
"One of my guilty pleasures," Kianall sat opposite him, smoothing her long amber robes.
Solitude noted the pallor of her grey skin, and the gauntness of her flesh. "One would think you had taken an Oath of Fasting, you do not look so well Kianall."
The High Priestess laughed. "Why is it I look so much older than when we first met, but you are exactly the same?"
Solitude waved it away, laughing. "I was old when we met, Kianall."
"Yes," Kianall nodded. "Yes you were. I remember you taking me to meet a Junior Priestess when I was not much older than Jalahass here."
"About that," Solitude cleared his throat. "Saia' Lyeeum's death was a great loss to the Covenant. Her mate has not recovered."
"No. Jua' Sagath was a devoted mate, more than any Sangheili could wish for." Kianall trained her gaze on her hands.
"Indeed," Solitude handed the crystal beaker to the Honour Guard. "And the Council suffers for his grief."
"This child is her first granddaughter, is it not?" Kianall mustered herself to say. "I have heard the honour of her father is great."
Solitude inclined his head to agree.
"My father?" Saia' Jalahass piped up, her voice still struggling to comprehend the language of the Prophets. "Is my father here?"
Regarding the tiny Sangheili with a cold gaze, Kianall shook her head. "Silence, little one. You must not speak out of turn."
Solitude turned, beckoning her closer. "You have been awarded a great Honour to be trained with Fera' Kianall. She is one of our greatest Priestesses. Do you understand?"
"I want my mother and father," Saia' Jalahass grumbled.
"No more of that. Speak of them again and you will bring great dishonour on their names."
The little child sniffed, and stayed silent.
"I spoke with Supreme Commander Hans' Galatash yesterday," Solitude straightened, watching for Kianall's reaction.
"I will not go back on my Oath," she murmured quietly.
"That's politics," Solitude spat. "You are punishing yourself for Mercy's sake. His folly was the loss of that fleet, not your own."
"My advice led him there. The Forerunners did not guide me with the surety they ought. I had thought that region important, yet it resulted in many lost lives."
"It may yet be important," Solitude replied. "We will return with better ships, and perhaps Hans' Galatash may be given a second chance, Priestess?"
Silently, the Priestess inclined her head. "The mistake was mine, Noble Prophet, and mine alone. His Excellency may do as he pleases, but he is my mate no longer."
Saia' Jalahass was the youngest Priestess in the dormitory. The other Sangheili watched her with glee, delighting in their newest Sister. They were aware of the connections a good friends could foster in the first granddaughter of Saia' Lyeeum.
Jalahass curled on her cot, pretending to sleep. Beneath her all of High Charity sprawled in its glory. The many denizens of the city were going about their lives, placing faith in the Forerunner that their Great Journey would save them.
Jalahass had thought the High Priestess would be much happier. She was the closest any Sangheili could hope to get to the Forerunner. Why then, had she seemed so sad?
"Who's your father?"
Orna' Fulsamee looked at the two much older Sangheili before him and gritted his mandibles together. "My father is Gul' Tarmassan."
"Who is that," laughed the eldest child, elbowing his companions. "I've never heard of him! What honour is there in being Gul' Tarmassan's son?"
"I've never heard of the Fulsamee family either," braved the second child. "I doubt Fulsamee will get far in this training course. This is for Covenant Elites, not pathetic, minor family -"
"Take it back," Fulsamee grated.
"Or you'll do what?"
Fulsamee charged the oldest boy, sending both of them flying to the dirt. Fulsamee pummelled the face of the child relentlessly, ignoring the scrabbling hands of his ally trying to drag Fulsamee off.
"What is this?" A gravelly voice sounded throughout the grounds of the training compound. Strong hands pulled Fulsamee off, dragging him through the air. "Fighting on your first day?"
"He started it!" yelled the antagonist.
"He insulted my father!" Fulsamee screamed, still trying to reach his bloody opponent.
His Excellency laughed, setting the youngest Sangheili down. "You three . . ." he began, "will go without food tonight. And tomorrow we shall see how much like fighting you feel."
"Scrapping already?" Gui' Natanna watched his companion return from the grounds. He chuckled. "My, they are eager this year. Who was it?"
"Orna' Fulsamee and Lia' Wuanna." His Excellency joined Natanna in a stroll to survey the new recruits.
"Fulsamee . . ." Natanna tried to think of a female who bore the name Fulsamee, but came up short. "I'm not familiar with that Lineage."
"No," his Excellency paused, watching the children as they played battles. "Orna' Fulsamee is of no genetic inheritance. He got through to this unit because of his incredible scores."
Natanna was suitably impressed. "Well, if the Priestess at his naming ceremony chose to name him Orna', then perhaps he too will earn a place in the stars, as the legend tells."
"First he must learn to hold his tongue in the presence of his betters. Though Wuanna will go hungry tonight also."
Fulsamee's belly ached. He watched the other children scoff their dinners
Wuanna clicked his mandibles from across the table, his own stomach rumbling also. The son of a wealthy aristocrat, Wuanna did not deserve to be treated this way. Fair enough that the wretch be starved, but Wuanna was worth something. Wuanna should have been allowed some flatbread at the very least.
"This is not my fault," Fulsamee growled, his eyes fixed on the sloping table.
Wuanna gripped the edges of his seat. "It is, Orphan."
"My parents are alive."
"Then they are Honourless."
"What is going on over there?" Natanna's voice rang out over the heads of the recruits. "Do I see troublemakers?"
"No, Excellency." Fulsamee and Wuanna could not tear their eyes from each other.
"Are you sure?" Natanna laid a hand on Wuanna's shoulder, guiding him out of his seat and onto the floor. Beckoning Fulsamee over, he turned to all the recruits. "You must learn that in battle, the only Honour which matters is your own." Stepping back, he allowed the antagonists their space. "And sometimes even that is not enough."
Fulsamee hesitated, unsure what to do. Unfortunately his opponent had no qualms about charging him. The older child sent Fulsamee to the ground and began scratching and biting with all his fury.
Pain radiated from his vulnerable chest as Wuanna scored a deep weal into his rib cage. Instinctively he curled into a ball, managing somehow to bring his knees up underneath Wuanna. He did not miss the opportunity to kick out at the older Sangheili, winning a much needed respite.
Wuanna skated across the floor, crashing into a chair. Fulsamee sprung towards him, balling his fist and punching upwards into the cavern of Wuanna's mouth, left open by the gap in his mandibles. The older Sangheili roared in pain, using valuable time to express his rage.
Smaller, faster and smarter, Fulsamee kicked him in the guts, grabbing Wuanna's skull an driving it down onto the ground.
"That's enough," Natanna pulled him off. He stood, glaring around the silent hall. "Do you see? The only Honour which truly matters is the Honour you call your own. Orna' Fulsamee may not be as powerful as Lia' Wuanna, but unless Wuanna learns his lessons, Fulsamee will kill him."
Lifting his head, Fulsamee sat back in his place. Hunger didn't matter. He had won.
"And that which may be done, I give my thanks that my soul be borne, pray my Lords that I be forgiven my sins in all their wretchedness. Hold my Honour and my Glory in your great wisdom and hold my family in your esteem. Give my sons great opportunity and give my daughters great power, let my children be blessed, let my mate beholden to me in our great faith."
"What is she doing?" Saia' Jalahass whispered to Junior Priestess who had been caring for her.
Hera' Solatta turned, her ornate head-dress jingling as her head moved too fast to be gainly. Gritting her teeth and taking the time to compose herself, Solatta reached down to silence her young charge. "That is a second level Priestess," Solatta whispered. "She broke her Oath of Fidelity."
"Oath of . . ." Jalahass repeated, her mouth finding it difficult to make the words sound right in the tongue of the Prophets.
Solatta tugged at her hand and retreated into the side chambers of the cathedral. "Her Oath of Fidelity. As a second level Priestess she had to take one of the Oaths of the Prophets to make it to the first level. The Commander of the Graceful Treasure proved too much for her to resist." Solatta crouched, sweeping her long scarlet robes aside. "Jalahass, if you reach second grade, I advise any oath, but the Oath of Fidelity. I'm told the ship commanders take it as a personal challenge."
"If I reach second level," Solatta told her, "I plan on taking the Oath of Fasting. Starvation is the least of the evils."
Jalahass peered around her minder, watching the kneeling Priestess in her robes of finest azure.
"Bless my Great Journey and bless my Lineage. I beg for my blood to run pure, I beg for my Honour to be bestowed on my children. Let my name be remembered by the generations down my Lineage and give my faith my all, my soul, my blood, my glory, my honour,"
"Jalahass," Solatta tugged on her arm again. "Do not stare. Her dishonour is great enough."
The Priestess led her to the antechamber where the classes were beginning. The rest of the seventh grade priestess' were already seated before their teacher and they stared at Jalahass as she entered. She was easily the richest of all the students there, perhaps more prestigious than their teacher.
"I will be back to fetch you after class ends," Solatta told her. "Do not go off without me."
"I shall not," Jalahass promised.
Class was extremely boring, thought Jalahass, she didn't care about the Oaths of the Prophets, or the faith that they demonstrated. It didn't matter to her how many Prophets had been killed in the war with the Sangheili, nor how many ages had passed since the Great Journey had been discovered.
She thought about the Priestess in blue, laid before the altar and quoting endless words.
Jalahass quoted scripture every day. They prayed often, far too often in her opinion. The words didn't mean anything to her. Though, she would certainly have considered it a punishment if she had been sentenced to it.
If Jalahass was a God she'd be doing far more important things that listen to boring old words. She would play all day and sneak into the kitchens to eat sweet foods.
"Saia' Jalahass, what do you think of the Oath of Poverty?"
Jalahass stared at her teacher.
Fera' Kianall glanced around the class, all of them very interested in what the aristocrat would have to say about this. "The Oath of Poverty, Saia' Jalahass. What do you think of it?"
"I think . . ." Jalahass' mind raced. "That the Prophets would not have . . . sworn the Oath . . . if the Forerunner did not need it from us." She remembered something she had heard the older Priestesses say. "And may it please me to serve my Gods."
Priestess Kianall smiled. "An excellent answer, Jalahass, you are wise beyond your years."
Solatta frowned at the young trainee. "You are a very quiet child, aren't you?"
Jalahass shrugged, peeling off her robes and diving into the baths.
"Full of action," Solatta commented wryly. She eased herself into the pool, sighing as the hot water lapped over her. "Ah I miss this."
"The bath at home is much larger," Jalahass surfaced, blowing bubbles.
Solatta chuckled. "Bigger than this? It must be huge."
"It is." Jalahass dived back under, surfacing with a coral. "My Great Grandmother designed it."
Stretching out, Solatta let go of the side and paddled to the middle. "Really? I'm impressed."
"It's the biggest Sangheili bath." Jalahass grinned. "Only the Prophet Hierarchs have a larger one, and everyone knows they don't use baths anyway."
Solatta smiled, taking the coral off the young girl and squeezing the water from it. "I have often wondered why the Prophets spend so much, yet use so little."
"The Prophets don't bath," Jalahass pointed out. "It's against their faith. But they deserve the biggest baths anyway."
Changing tact, Solatta asked her about the classes.
"They're very boring. But the teacher said I was wise beyond my years."
"Your parents will be very pleased," Solatta smiled.
"May I tell them?" Jalahass asked. Her eyes lit up and she clung to Solatta's arms.
"They will be told at the end of the year, I am sure." Solatta eased her claws away. "But you know you cannot speak to them."
"I want to speak with them," Jalahass whimpered. "I haven't spoke with them for a whole cycle . . ."
"The Oath of Privacy is the first that Priestesses must endure. Jalahass," Solatta's eyes filled with sympathy. "My dear, you will be able to speak with your family and friends, and be allowed out of the convent once you reach the sixth level."
The door hissed open and a fourth level Junior Priestess stumbled in, leading a Sangheili warrior by the hand. His black armour glinted in the soft lighting, showing no battle scars.
"Find somewhere else, Priestess," Solatta warned. "Saia' Jalahass is under my care and I would prefer not to report this transgression."
"Oh!" Properly humbled, the Priestess who was technically superior to Solatta, bowed and apologised profusely. "I beg forgiveness, Saia' Jalahass. Had I but known . . . come on, Excellency," she giggled, tugging her lover away.
"Once you grow older," Solatta turned back to her charge, "you will enjoy life at the convent."
Wuanna shook Fulsamee by the shoulders, holding a hand on his throat to muffle any noise he might make.
"Wake up, Fulsamee!"
"What?" Still groggy, Fulsamee sat up, looking at the small cluster of trainees around his bed.
"We go to the kitchens," Wuanna shook him again. "Aren't you coming?"
Fulsamee stretched, wincing as his muscles ached. "We ought not to, Natanna will be furious if he catches us again."
"He won't . . . come on, Fulsamee," Wuanna pleaded. "It's no fun without you."
"If we get caught this time, Wuanna . . ."
"Oh what have you got to worry about," emboldened by his friends's inclusion on the escapade, Wuanna dropped his grovelling routine. "You never get into trouble. Hurry up, I'm starving!"
Fulsamee led the way to the door, nodding to the two weakest trainees to take their flanks as they hurried through the hall. "Perhaps if you won more games, Wuanna, you would not be so hungry."
"We cannot all be God-like," Wuanna retorted. He hushed up as they reached the purple military corridor. He waited at the rear to make sure all their strike team had made it through the long hallway.
Fulsamee ducked low past the guard, knowing that they would need some sort of distraction. He nodded to the others, gesturing that they should crawl on the floor past the office.
As they fell to their bellies and slid silently past, Fulsamee entered the guard's room. The guard was a boring old Grunt, far too fat to really be of much use. Already Fulsamee was the height of him and could take him in a fair fight.
Unfortunately, Hoa Kap was armed with stunners and authorised to use them on disobedient trainees.
Fulsamee crept to the other side of Hoa Kap's workstation, surprised to see that the Grunt wasn't sleeping for once, instead he was watching some sort of theatrical performance. He was heavily engrossed, so it was easy enough for Fulsamee to program a small glitch in the perimeter watch, enough to warrant Hoa Kap's attention, but not enough to alert anyone else.
The female Grunts in Hoa Kap's viewer appeared to be at war with each other, it didn't interest Fulsamee. He made his escape and hid around the corner, waiting until he heard the cursing that accompanied Hoa Kap's every move.
"We were beginning to think Hoa Kap got you," Wuanna said, ushering him inside the kitchen. "Worms?"
"I prefer fish," Fulsamee replied, vaulting to the worktop surface. "Hey! Sweetened flatbread!" He divvied it out among his comrades, delighting in their admiration of him.
Back in their bunks they did not share with those who had been too cowardly to come with them. Sipping the last of his crushed berry juice, Wuanna turned his attention to the others.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
There was silence while they contemplated the question.
"I want to be a Ship Commander," was the general consensus until Saahny thought he would like to be an Arbiter. Even those who wanted to be Special Ops were swayed by that thought.
"Fulsamee?" Wuanna looked up at the boy who sat on his cot. "Would you like to be an Arbiter?"
". . . can I be anything at all?" Fulsamee questioned.
After some deliberation, Wuanna nodded. "Anything you'd like."
"Then I want to be a Prophet."
"That would be wondrous!" The others all agreed.
"Except," Saahny hesitated. "I'm not sure we'd be allowed to be Prophets. And they don't like to swim. I love to swim."
"I'd be a swimming Prophet," Fulsamee decided.
Jalahass kneeled before the altar, daydreaming as she recited words of penitence.
She thought about home. Her mother, Saia' Sorenza had been carrying when she'd left. The child would be well hatched by now. Jalahass wondered if it would be a little brother or a little sister. At the Naming Ceremony, had the High Priestess picked a name of Fortune, or Glory, or Honour?
Jalahass had been named for Fortune, taking the name of the first Saints of the Sangheili. Her name, given to her by the Forerunner's vessel, was meant to indicate her lot in life. Had she been a male, the Priestess would have chosen her first name and her mother would have passed along the second name.
'Saia . . . Talsamee, if it was a girl. Talsamee, the Glory of the first Sangheili to die in service to the Prophets.
Or if it was a boy . . . Karte' Sorenza, the Honour of the first Arbiter.
"Jalahass," Solatta stood before her. "Have you paid for your acts?"
"I have, Priestess," Jalahass replied.
"Good. You may rise." Solatta smiled. "And don't tease those who have taken the Oath of Silence. If you're not careful, you will have to take that Oath and then I hope a terrible little child will come and upset you!"
"Yes, Priestess," Jalahass feigned shame, knowing it wouldn't fool Solatta one bit.
"The new Priestesses are arriving today," Solatta told her as they walked from the altar. "To begin their seventh level."
"Would that mine was over," Jalahass groaned. "I feel as though I have never seen the outside of these walls. I want to feel fresh, uncycled air!"
"I know it feels as though you'll never escape, but your time will come, I promise you that."
"Five years is a very long time," Jalahass glanced up at her ward. "See? I have grown to your shoulder in the time it has taken for me to grow bored of this convent."
Confronting her, Solatta folded her arms and glared. "Many Sangheili would kill for your place in the Great Journey. You should not treat it so lightly."
"Bless my soul and let it live forever," Jalahass repented.
Giggling, Solatta stopped to right her headdress. "And it's 'Bless my lineage and let it live forever'!"
"Forgiveness is thine to allow," Jalahass teased.
"How your teachers mark you so highly I will never understand."
"I make it all up," Jalahass confessed. "Every bit of it. Every test."
"And this is how you race up your level." Solatta shook her head. "We are here. Are you ready to welcome the young ones?"
Jalahass smoothed her grey robes and nodded. "I am ready."
"Good. Let's go then."
Ten and fifteen new Sangheili daughters were being inaugurated on this eve. Ten had earned their way and fifteen bought their places. They stood in rows of seven, with the most aristocratic standing alone.
Jalahass eyed her. She didn't recognise the new recruit, but five years ago the youth wouldn't have been allowed to any social function Jalahass had attended with her family. Her first name turned out to be one that Jalahass considered to be a minor lineage, but compared to Saia' most were.
And now for the day long prayers. Seeing the dismay on the little ones faces, Jalahass hid a smile. They had better get used to it. There were occasionally entire weeks of prayer, as horrible as the thought was.
"And so it begins," Solatta whispered, then, with the rest of the hall, "for the Forerunners Honour!"
Exhausted, dirty and grumpy, the young Priestess whirled on the intruder to her silence and was shocked to see a Prophet stand before her.
"You do not recognise me?" Solitude asked, amusement flickering over his features. Standing behind him, Fera' Kianall shot a stern look over his head to bring Saia' Jalahass back under control.
"Why . . ." Saia' Jalahass fought to remember what she should say. "Noble Prophet, thine is not a forgettable face." Blast, that should have been spoken with far more respect.
Solitude laughed. "Well you look far older than when we first met!"
"You do not," Jalahass cursed mentally. This was not going well.
"I trust you are keeping healthy?"
"Why, yes Noble Prophet, I am." She walked with him around the great hall. "Though after the prayers, I confess to some tiredness."
"Ah yes. Youth so often does not appreciate the Forerunners."
"It is not that!" Jalahass exclaimed. "Not that I contradict a noble Prophet, but that I . . . I do not know what I speak, Noble Prophet, forgive me." She kneeled before him. "I deserve punishment for such insolence."
"I do not think so," Solitude mused. "Fera' Kianall tells me you excel in all your studies. You are far above the rest of your playmates in your level."
Jalahass didn't know what to say.
"I think it is time you sat your First Rites."
Fera' Kianall puffed up with pride, reaching forward to touch Jalahass' forehead. "This is a great Honour. You will be one of the youngest Priestesses of our Age to sit the First Rites."
"An . . . an Honour indeed," Jalahass managed.
"Go to prepare," Solitude told her kindly. "You leave tonight."
Jalahass wanted to bathe, she didn't want to have to prepare for the most trying seven weeks of her life. Her stomach rumbled, but her mind kept throwing up statistics.
Only twenty eight percent of those inaugurated survive the First Rites.
Suddenly she found the air leaving her lungs.
"Oh, Jalahass," Solatta was by her side, guiding her into a private antechamber. "It's okay. It's okay, my love, you will be okay."
"I will die!"
Solatta pulled back, taking Jalahass' face in her hands. "I have never known a more resourceful child in all my years in the convent. Nor have I ever met a cleverer Sangheili. The First Rites are not impossible."
"I have been given no time," Jalahass sobbed.
"You have been given this time," Solatta corrected. "Use it."
"I need to bathe, I need to sleep . . ."
"You will feel worse by the end of the Rites," Solatta glanced around, checking they were alone. "Eat as much as you can now, sleep as you travel. Bathing is not a necessity."
"Jalahass you must listen to me! If you are to survive you must not think like a Priestess. In all seven of my weeks I was not visited by a vision once. All you must do is survive, you don't need to do anything else. And you will survive, Jalahass. You must!"
The sand was whipped into little flurries as the Phantom lifted off the dune, reaching a safe altitude then soaring into the horizon.
Jalahass stood, in all her finery, feeling despair rise in her throat. Finery was pretty, but it would not protect her from the wild beasts that roamed the desert. Nor would it give her food or water.
How could they do this to her? Most Priestesses were given at least three days to prepare. She had been given a few hours.
The fresh air she had craved so much bit into her skin, flapping her robes and rustling the beads on her headdress.
Fury overtook her, she flung the crown away from her, ripping at her useless robes until they were shorter in the length and in the sleeve. Hesitating, she inspected the thick fabric she had worn. The headdress glinted ahead of her, its sharp prongs sticking into the sand.
Swallowing the rants in her throat, she approached the jewelled ornament. She crouched, taking a firm grip of the gold, already hot from the suns beating down on her shoulders. With a soft prayer, she started to bend the gold, working away at it until a point twisted away. Holding her new blade in her teeth, she hefted the rest of the metal and started down the dunes.
Lia' Wuanna was silent, giving his friend the time he needed to watch the funeral pyre.
Gul' Tarmassan's body burned, his thick blue armour melting in the heat of the plasma flames.
The meagre group of spectators watched this, all sober, but none so wracked with grief as the only son standing at the head of the pyre. Orna' Fulsamee watched the flames, tears in his eyes. His light build seemed dwarfed by the two soldiers stood beside him, dressed in their finest regalia.
The Priestess sprinkled some halli blossoms into the fire, to mark the start of Gul' Tarmassan's Great Journey. "And bring my Honour into your light as I undertake the last steps of my Journey," she prayed.
With the ceremony complete, the other Sangheili began to make their departure, speaking quietly among themselves and avoiding the bereft son.
"He was your father?" A tall, well dressed Elite approached Orna' Fulsamee.
"He was. I am his only son to Asa' Fulsamee."
Nodding, the Elite glanced to the fire. "He spoke of your mother often. Asa' Fulsamee may not have been a prestigious Sangheili, but none other held his heart."
Lifting his head, Fulsamee extended a hand. "I am Orna' Fulsamee."
Gripping his elbow in the age old gesture, the Elite smiled. "My name is Supreme Commander Hans' Galatash. And your father saved my life."
"I am sure a young thing like you will think that I am a fool," Galatash spoke as they walked by the lakeside. "But my mate took an Oath of Privacy to repent for a mistake she made. The Oath would last the rest of her life. She was not allowed out of the convent and of course, mere Supreme Commanders are not allowed in."
Orna' Fulsamee nodded to show he understood, Galatash had been effectively cut off from his mate.
"Your father was a great support to me. He had lost Asa' Fulsamee many years ago, but the pain was still new to him. I owe him my life several times over, though I could never prove it to a council. Your father was worth more than the rank he achieved. I am sure that had he the strength of a Lineage behind him he would have gone far."
"He served the Prophets as best he could," Fulsamee replied, clasping his hands behind his back. "It is all any of us ask for."
Turning to face him, Galatash seemed to see something he liked. "You will be nearly finished your basic training, I assume?"
"Only two more years, then I will be posted on a ship."
Galatash nodded. "Yes. I don't suppose you have earned a patron yet?"
"No, Excellency, I have not. Natanna tells me, I apologise for the lapse your Excellency, Gui' Natanna says he is always on the search for willing patrons."
"Indeed he is, of that I am sure. Yet, for those unsponsored, it is far more difficult to rise through the ranks. Your friend, Lia' Wuanna has his family to back him. What have you?"
"With respect, Excellency, I have my skill."
Galatash laughed. "Your skill, as great as it may be, is nothing compared to a seasoned Elite." He placed a hand on the young Sangheili's shoulder. "Do not bristle like that, lad, I assure you I meant no disrespect. If you would accept, I would like to be your patron, and to offer you a place on one of my ships when the time comes."
Fulsamee was speechless. "I . . . Excellency! Are you sure?"
"Of course I am, Orna' Fulsamee. The son of Gul' Tarmassan is not to be denied his place in the stars."
"I . . . I do not have the words to thank you, Excellency."
Galatash stared out over the lake. "Will you do me one thing?"
"Will you always remember your father as an Elite with great Honour, and understand that though his armour did not show it, he was a better Sangheili than both of us."
Saia' Jalahass hefted her bone spear, just in case the Phantom before her was an illusion and the Prophet she saw approach was in fact a beast.
"Well . . . Priestess," Fera' Kianall stepped forward, easing the haft from her grip. "I am very glad to see you are alive."
"Saia' Jalahass," Solitude smiled, thumbing his chair forward. "You are now a Sixth Level Junior Priestess. How do you feel?"
Jalahass lifted her aching head, her vision swimming from a blow she had received what felt like a lifetime ago. Her skin was peeling from the relentless sun and more than anything she wanted to rest her limbs down and sleep for longer than a few minutes uninterrupted.
Solitude watched her, expecting an answer.
With as much dignity as she could muster in her tattered robes, Jalahass bowed before the Prophet. "I feel Honoured."