ELONA (opening, part 2)Lady Elona's mother is in a coma. Elona is being dedicated to the religious order, the Sisters of Taymalin.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Chapter 1, part 2 (age 10)
Elona stepped into the main hall of the castle with Nursey behind, pushing her forwards. The walls were garlanded with spring blossoms, green boughs and the gathered nobility in gay colours. The Patterners and guild leaders stared at her. She saw a man in a big floppy hat who smiled at her with all his face. Her cheeks went red.
Nursey made her walk to where Father stood. The flagstones were hot where the sun shone on them and cold in the shadows, she could feel their smoothness under her bare feet.
In front of the windows waited the line of Sisters, heads bare. The Revered Malea stood in front of them, she stepped forward. Father put his hand on Elona’s shoulder and pushed her ahead. Elona swallowed, her mouth was dry.
A long white flash from behind drowned the sun, Elona saw hers and Father’s shadows clearly outlined on the stones in front of her. All the Sisters blinked when the light stopped but no one said anything.
When the Revered Malea had talked to her before, she said it was always a special thing to be dedicated to the Sisters, but for Elona it was to be done on an extra special day at an extra special time: right at the time when Mother Earth fed the moons.
One of the Sisters sounded a gong.
‘Who brings a novice to the Sisters of Taymalin?’ asked the Revered Malea loudly.
‘I am Taniel, Lord of Corlain. I bring my daughter, Elona, to be novice to the Sisters.’
Father put his hand on her shoulder and pushed her forward until she stood right in front of Malea.
‘Be welcome, Elona, novice to the Sisters of Taymalin. At the beginning of things, we were slaves and we will always remember.’
The Revered Malea unhooked a pair of shears from her belt; they glistened in the sunlight. Holding them in one hand she reached out and took hold of Elona’s hair. Elona choked back a whimper and tried not to cry, but tears formed in her eyes anyway.
The hall swelled with a new brilliance that held steady for a moment then grew stronger. The faces of the Sisters reflected whiteness and they fell to their knees. The light was so bright Elona felt as if it shone right through her.
Elona couldn’t turn to see because the Revered Malea still held her hair, though she too had dropped to her knees so she was face to face with Elona. All around people were chanting: ‘Mother Earth, feed me; Mother Earth, clothe me; as the milk of the Earth feeds her children in the sky, so feed me.’ Elona said the words too but the Revered Malea didn’t say anything, her eyes were wide as if she saw something different.
The light winked out, and everyone sighed. The Sisters stood, blinking, and looked expectantly at Elona and the Revered Malea. Elona looked apprehensively at her but she still hadn’t moved, she held on really tight to Elona’s hair and her eyes wide. She stared at something above Elona’s head.
The silence broke when the shears clattered to the floor.
Elona was pleased that her hair was not cut off, but she rubbed her head where some had been pulled out when they made the Revered Malea let her go. Nursey had helped and pulled her hair by accident. Father had shouted a lot but the man in a big, floppy hat talked to him and stopped the shouting. The floppy hat man had made all the important people come to sit in a room off the main hall, while all the other people talked outside.
‘The child should stay, Taniel,’ said the floppy hat man when her father had called for Nursey to take her out.
‘As you wish, Florian. As long as she is quiet,’ said Father, drinking his wine.
The Revered Malea sat in a chair, sipping from a cup, two other Sisters stood by her. Elona wondered if she would get into trouble because she still had her hair. The Revered Malea had been like someone dreaming and only woke up when two Sisters sat her down in a chair and gave her something to drink; the two waited hesitantly, watching their leader. Elona fidgeted in the corner where Master Florian had put her; she knew she’d made it all go wrong.
‘Well, Malea? You saw something?’
‘War, Arch-Patterner. Shaven-headed warriors invade our land, defeating all who stand in their way: Lords, Princes and King all cut down. Then—’ she lowered her voice and nodded in Elona’s direction. ‘—her, the child, walking onto the battlefield and picking up the Dragonblade. She felled the invaders like corn and drove them back.’
‘What?’ Father growled, and Elona shivered.
‘Be calm, my friend,’ said Master Florian.
‘Across the deserted battlefield the king of the invaders appeared. She battled him. She slew him,’ said the Revered Malea. She looked at Elona then back at Florian. ‘What meaning does the Arch-Patterner divine from this?’
‘Prophecies!’ snorted Father and took another drink. ‘It’s ridiculous! A woman cannot go to war.’
The Revered Malea nodded. ‘I agree. It would be impossible for Elona to do this.’
Master Florian looked like he was thinking very hard. ‘But not impossible for a son. If war were to come, and it is a war where even the King, wielding the Dragonblade, cannot prevail then perhaps, if the House of Corlain were joined to the Royal line, a son of that line can.’
‘You propose she marries Drahail?’ said Father. ‘That decision is yet to be taken.’
The Revered Malea smiled. ‘Lady Metrid of Betlain and her advocate, Lord Tanderlain, will not be pleased if he does not marry Hope. Metrid is desperate to re-establish her dynasty.’
‘Rightfully taken from them,’ said Father.
Master Florian held up his hand. ‘These are deeds a hundred years gone. No one has been promised to Prince Drahail as yet, so none are entitled to be displeased. This would be a liaison with many benefits even without a prophecy. And, if your vision is true, that is so much the better, do you not think? If not, what harm that Elona, and not Hope, should marry Drahail?’
‘Save only Metrid’s annoyance? I think that is quite bearable. We cannot ignore this, I will speak with the Queen,’ said Malea. ‘It shall be arranged.’
Master Florian turned to Elona and smiled. ‘And I think we shall arrange a teacher for you, Lady Elona, to prepare you with all the wisdom we think a future queen should have.’
‘Do they still want to cut my hair off?’ asked Elona.
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