BtQC-Part I, Chapters 1&2
Brenna hurried down the hall as fast as her slippered feet could carry her. Being summoned to Mother Yoshiko’s private chambers was rarely good, and keeping her waiting would only make matters worse. Brenna could only remember being summoned to the private chambers of the Abbess a few times in her 20-odd years at the Abbey and for the life of her, she couldn’t imagine what she might have done this time to require a private meeting. She stopped outside the heavy, oaken door to catch her breath, straighten her mantle and smooth down her silver-streaked hair. Screwing up her courage, she rapped on the door and entered when bade by the room’s occupant.
Yoshiko was sitting at her desk facing the door, and she smiled warmly, rising to greet Brenna as she entered the room. “Brenna, dear. Thank you for coming so quickly. Sit down,” Yoshiko moved to a window seat overlooking the Abbey’s herb garden and motioned for Brenna to join her. “I’ll get right to the point because time is of the essence. King Alfonse is nearing his end of days and Queen Alamara has requested that you attend him as he crosses.”
Brenna was dumbfounded. She and Alamara had been best friends growing up, and had even entered the Abbey together before Alfonse had swept Alamara off her feet and made her his queen. Alamara had been so torn over whether to stay with Brenna at the Abbey or to go with a man many years her senior who promised her a life very different from that which she’d known growing up, but when deciding between a future full of austerity and spiritual pursuits or a life of privilege, wealth and royalty, the choice had been easy for her friend. Alamara left the Abbey less than a month into her service, and Brenna hadn’t seen her in well over two decades. They had corresponded over the years, of course, and Brenna knew of Alfonse’s steadily failing health, but in her wildest dreams she never would’ve imagined that Alamara would send for her. Brenna was a healer – all the women at the Abbey were trained in both the physical and spiritual healing arts – but there were several others who were far more qualified to attend the king as he crossed. Besides, the castle at Locallen was at least three months’ journey away, and there were many Abbeys nearer who could provide that service. Brenna turned the idea over in her mind, at once intrigued by the possibility of a journey to the castle and perturbed by the thought of being gone from her beloved Abbey for so long.
She realized that Yoshiko was waiting for her response. “Oh, forgive me, Mother. I don’t know what to say. Wouldn’t it be better to send for a healer who is closer?”
“The matter is not open for discussion, Brenna. The queen has requested you by name and it would not do to incur the ill will of Their Majesties, especially in these times.” Mother Yoshiko rose, indicating that their conversation was over, and Brenna rose as well. Although her mind swirled with unanswered questions, it was not her place to argue with the Abbess. “You will leave at first light and stop in Streestown to hire a guide for the journey.” Seeing Brenna’s look of protest, she added, “My decision is final. Even if Her Majesty hadn’t requested you personally, there is no one at the Abbey I’d trust more to complete this task. May the blessings of the Goddess be upon you, my child.” Yoshiko placed her hands on Brenna’s head in benediction, and Brenna bowed low to receive the blessing.
“Thank you, Mother,” Brenna said. “I will do as you bid.” She left the chamber and headed toward her room.
Brenna spent the rest of the day and most of the night in a rush of preparations for the journey. There were Abbey duties to reassign, provisions to pack, charts to be consulted, and letters to be written. When she finally made it back to her room for a few hours of rest before departing, she found she was unable to sleep and lay worrying about what preparations she might have forgotten until Lorianne, her roommate, spoke into the darkness. “Oh, Brenna, what will become of your herb garden? Who will take care of it while you’re away?” Lorianne’s voice cracked and Brenna knew she was trying not to cry.
“I was hoping to ask you to look after it for me, Annie. You’ve always loved the herb garden and you’re much better at tending it than I am.” Brenna’s voice caught too, and a swell of sadness washed over her. She would miss her friend, whom she’d shared this small room with for many years.
“Only until you return, Brenna.” Lorianne was at her side suddenly, sitting on the edge of her cot and clutching her hand in the darkness. “Promise me you will return.” She was crying now, and Brenna sat up to hug her friend tightly to her.
“Of course I will be back, Annie,” she soothed, “this is my home. By this time next year, most likely, we’ll be sitting in this exact spot and I’ll be regaling you with tales of my journey to the castle and of the Grand Court. Besides, you don’t think I’m going to let Francine keep teaching my Defensive Arts class permanently, do you?” They both giggled at the image of small, wiry Sister Francine teaching the newest members of the Abbey how to properly defend themselves with their walking staffs. Of all her duties, Brenna enjoyed that one the most, but there was the very real possibility she would encounter several dangerous creatures on her journey to Locallen and she worried that her staff skills would be enough to protect her.
“Promise me, Brenna. Promise me you’ll be back by Ostara.”
“Annie, I cannot promise such a thing. Only the Goddess knows what is in store for each of us. I will promise you this, though,” Brenna said as her friend began to sob softly, “if the Goddess wills it, I will come home.” The room was beginning to lighten and Brenna could just make out her dear friend’s tear-streaked face and the small, black, crescent moon tattooed on her right cheekbone, the mark of office that all ordained priestesses bore. Lorianne stood then and pulled a knitted shawl from her shoulders, pressing it into Brenna’s hands.
“I want you to have this. It has kept me warm and safe for many years. I pray it will do the same for you.”
Brenna started to protest that she couldn’t accept such a gift, but seeing the look in Lorianne’s eyes, she kept silent. She could feel the love and power knitted into each strand of the shawl as it settled around her shoulders. She stood up, embraced her friend one final time, shouldered her pack and staff, and headed out the door.