865 CE “2nd Season, 1st Moon, 3rdWeek, 4th Day”
Southern Kingdom, Sacred Grounds Of The Aria
~The Priest’s Of The Aria
Belairus stood stiff as a fence post. A circle of trees illuminated by midnight fires surrounds the young neros girl. Her ears twitch while a fresh breeze blows slag smothered smoke away from a burning log whispering strange tales. The warm glow reveals ancient writing carved into the surrounding trees. Belairus wraps her arms around a muscular warrior, her father, Lymric, burying her face into his stomach while his great arm curls around her back. It did little to comfort her pounding heart.
With uneasy eyes, she glances to Fenrir, a stranger who accompanied them, one that has an unhealthy fascination with her. He is a shady person and a dirty warung at that. His robes are black as the ash-covered soil that encircles. A few people had called him a mystic during their travel, most, a witch.
Peeking past her father’s side, Belairus looks up the head of an incline. Atop the cliff frightening people masked with red cloaks drenched in golden trinkets watch, silent, reminding her of hanging stars; their shadows, giants dancing in the bonfire’s flare. Her eyes dart to the sides of the cliff. A pair of naked white furred beasts stood. Both held torches that stir up thoughts of strange beasts spewing fire out of their open mouths. What bothers her more is the tall pointed red hoods that cover their faces. Worse is the huge swords stabbed deep in the earth. She doubted anyone could swing mighty weapons like that. Not even her father had the strength to fight with blades of that size.
“Snap!” a branch in the fire directs her sights. Her heart skipping a beat as she notices a shadow inside the flames. “Is that someone in the fire,” she says in a quiet whisper. Her eyes must be lying she thought to herself. Another snap of a branch tells her that the impossible image is real. Her eyes didn’t lie, the shadow in the fire stirs through the flames. Her arms latch onto her father’s side. She shakes him screaming “Someone is burning in the fire! Father do something!” Lymric’s reply is a swift harsh shush. How could he shush her? To her absolute amazement a cloaked man with a wooden birds mask walks out of the blaze, unharmed from its heat and fury. “Is he a ghost?” she thinks to herself. This alone was enough to make her want to turn tail and run but her father held her in place. If she ran, her flight would disappoint her father and she did not want that.
Desperately she wants to look away though she found herself unable. A mix of fear and enchantment turns her once thin irises into large black spheres. The massive iron stave he held is half taller than himself suggesting he was a high priest. The priest’s clothes extinguish unburned as though the fire never touched his beautiful robes. That large stave must be hot Belairus reasons.
“I don’t like this place,” she whispers to her father with a childish hope he would just take her home. Sadly she receives her answer from the familiar pet of Lymric’s hand on her head. With that gentle stroke, she realized what it meant. “We have to stay.” Her tail brushes against the ground moving back and forth, her pointed snowy ears turning sideways.
Her heart sinks as a rather dull and monotone voice from behind the black and red wooden mask calls “Belairus come forward,” Her tail bushes out much like a duster while sheepishly taking a step as if dipping her toe in cold water. She looks back up to her father who bends down pushing her. With a deep breath, she walks across the warm ash-covered earth painting her pale feet as black as the twilight sky.
The masked man limply motions with his hand. “Come now, child.”
Not wanting to upset the elder she leaps over the dust. The golden detailing of the mask shimmers in the firelight. The man is taller than she expected. Maybe taller than her father. She crossed her arms as a chill ran down her spine, at the same time she could feel the intense heat on her face. He lowers his hand with an exposed palm wrapped in cloths. Belairus raises her youthful hand, the high priest’s long bony fingers curling around her dainty appendages. “He is cold,” Belairus thought to herself. “But how? I am sweating from this heat. How can he be cold?”
“Old friend, why have you brought this child here?”
Fenrir spoke up. “As you know the pride lands had rumors of a sacred child being born. I have followed these stories and was led to Belairus. I believe Belairus is a perfect avatar. I have tested her, and she is able to hold the spirit of the Lumaria within her. Her image alone could unify the tribes. She should be trained to become the high priestess and prepared to become the avatar.”
The high priest straightens up not saying a word. His hand grasps Belairus’s face gripping her lower cheek. His fingers clutched her jowl forcing her face to the side. He inspects her left cheek, then her right. Gazing into her royal blue eyes, a smile develops as he examines her, nevertheless, no one could see it behind the mask.
All Belairus could hear was the beating of her own heart as the ambience of fire drew out. “Child,” Belairus hears a voice call out to her. The voice is close, too close. It felt violating. Her irises turn to slits as she realized the voice came from inside her own mind. “I see you hear me. You speak as we do. Interesting. I did not expect this.” Another voice entered her mind.
“Belairus.” says the High Priest from behind the mask. Then back inside of her head, she hears another voice ask, “Have you learned to speak like this?”
“No.” Belairus thought to herself.
A small chuckle comes out from under the high priest’s mask. “That will do,” he says out loud. “Belairus do you understand what that man, Fenrir, wants with you?” the high priest asks her in a soft, calm voice.
“He tells me I am the avatar. That you will teach me the ways of the Arian priests.” Belairus thought.
The high priest turns his head to glance at Fenrir. “Do you understand what it means to be the avatar Belairus?”
“Are you willing to give yourself up to another? To a stranger, you don’t know. Are you willing to allow someone else to control and speak for you in your own body?”
“No. That sounds scary.”
“Indeed, it is.”
“I will do what I must to make my family proud.”
“I have made my decision.” the high priest says with a warm voice. “I see. So the rumors are true. She looks like the goddess. Looks alone prove nothing. She is a girl. Don’t let suppression rule you Fenrir. You should not lead a young lady like this astray. Belairus tell me of higher things. Where do we come from?”
The question struck her, she did not even learn what higher things were. Trees? But that can’t be right. Maybe he means the birds, he seems to like birds a lot to wear a mask like that, still, she knew nothing about birds. The sky she ponded. She knew nothing of the sky either. She shrinks back a little before saying “I, I don’t know, about higher things. I know we come from Lumaria, the goddess and she is our homeland.” Her ears lower as shame sank into her mind.
With those long fingers, the high priest pets her head. “If you speak as we do, no doubt you have met many spirits, what do the spirits tell you?”
Belairus glances over to her father who was now giving her a raised eyebrow. “The same thing as everyone else, to stay away from their domains.”
“Domains?” the high priest asked now sounding interested.
“Yes, the sacred places in the woods,” Belairus replies.
“See Fenrir,” the high priest says with a warmth in his voice. “She is a girl. Now let a child be a child.”
“You would not know the spirits of the Lumaria if they were incarnate in front of you.” Fenrir barks in a snappy tone.
“Are you suggesting I would let an opportunity slip away?” mentions the high priest. He points his rod towards Fenrir, the rings rattling. A wind blew causing the fire behind him to go into a blazing rage. Belairus clings to the high priest burying her face in his robes as the fires burn around the high priest swirling, diving with a mind of its own. “We don’t bow to the Tempest here Fenrir. Nor will we walk among the Maelstrom like heretics. Young child, you are safe.” The priest’s hand pats Belairus’s back.
“You have become a fool. You would deny our queen her right?” Fenrir says in a low voice.
The high priest shakes his head. “Watch your tongue or I will have you cast into the fires.” Fenrir swallows. Belairus assumes Fenrir knows he went too far and has now angered the priest. Lymric looks over to Fenrir with concern, with a grimace. “Your little scheme is not welcome here.” Fenrir went quiet knowing his place.
The high priest bends down to Belairus’s level lifting his mask to reveal his wolfish warung face. “Belairus, I see great things in you. Don’t think wrong of me. I do not deny you your queen-ship if there is one to be held. Lo though you are not the avatar. I have a feeling you will play an enormous role. Just not one that serves the Aria.”
Belairus turns her head to watch her father stare off with a wide-eyed expression his mouth agape. He gawks over at Fenrir and then back at the high priest. “I was denied, how could this be happening,” Belairus thought to herself.
“Please,” her father says causing the High Priest to lower his mask and turn his head towards Lymric. “Please reconsider. At least, allow her to train with you,” at this, the high priest stood to his full height. There was silence for a moment as he stood ajar in Lymric’s orientation. “Train her in the ways of being a high priest like yourselves. I beg this of you.”
“There is nothing I can do,” he spoke in an indifferent tone. Belairus raises a finger to her mouth nibbling on the tip of her claw. Lymric opens his mouth to speak again but the priest barks out. “Nothing! Belairus learning mystic ways, is not for the priests to do. Have your mysterious Fenrir train her; he thinks himself higher than us as it is. Though, I would suggest it would be a grave mistake to teach her in such ways. She is better suited to train as a warrior. Not in the ways of priestly duties. The Hukoten have a proud heritage of being the noble warriors of the tribes.” he looks down at Belairus’s overwhelmed expression placing his finger on her cheek, she could not help but smile. “It is up to you to prepare her for what is coming. I have seen a great struggle in her life. Prepare her for it or the stream of time for her shall run dry. Now go…” says the high priest. His bony hand presses on Belairus’s back. She runs back over to her father. The look on his face is one of pure disappointment. She had done something wrong and dishonored her father.
A look of shock and shame drips from her expression. Lymric kneels down hugging her. He grabs her hand leading her to a dark wooded path. Fenrir turns to walk with the two when the high priest calls out “Fenrir you stay,” The three stop and turn to peek back at the priest. He stood with his arm outstretched, a long claw pointed at Fenrir. “I have meant, to find you, and I am not through Fenrir.” Fenrir faces the high priest and scowls baring his teeth with a small growl. “There is another matter I must speak to you about.” The high priest then motions with his hand toward Lymric and Belairus waving his fingers to go.
“And what might that be?” Fenrir snarls. Lymric places his hand on Belairus’s back pushing her along to continue down the path. Belairus takes one last glance at the mystics. Their voices trail through the woods quite a distance speaking in strange tongues she did not know.
The red priest stood looking at Fenrir’s shadowy form. The fires snap. “As to your comings and goings as of recently. I am curious. What are you doing? Why bring me this child? We both know she is too young for such responsibility. Avatar or not why reveal that to her now?” questioned the priest.
“Oh. So you have been watching me.” Fenrir says under his breath walking back towards the fires. Each step Fenrir took a small black plume of ash flew up with his stride. A measured snicker escapes his mouth before continuing “You would not allow a man to his privacies,” Fenrir grits his teeth as he stood in the midst of the high priest. “If you had any sense at all, you would have trained her. When I first found her in the Hukoten’s village I found myself impressed. You cannot deny that her image alone is enough to convince others she is a true avatar. Regardless of if she is or is not, we can use her to gather and rally the armies together. We need to consider the movements of the humans. Those folk from the Golden Kingdom are expanding eastward every season. We will be at war and we must unify the tribes if we hope to survive. I will train her myself, and when she sits upon the restored throne of the Aria, it will be you who is cast out of the temple.”
The high priest chuckles. “Bitter words my friend; angry words. You and I have a history. We both appreciate this. Back when you were a lad, we did not accept you either, and now you spin tales with the surrounding tribes. You convince them you’re an ancient seer, but you are far from it Fenrir. I still remember you when you were just a child. I chose the right path by refusing you, Fenrir. No, you have opted for a darker path, and it is one not to be trusted. You have aligned yourself with foul spirits. I have been watching you wandering many places these days. I am no fool, you’re searching for something; even within our lands. Are you campaigning?”
Fenrir jerks his head back his mouth agape as he glares at the priest. “Are you suggesting I am a traitor?” Fenrir says with a howl.
The high priest lowers his head. “That remains to be seen…”
Belairus felt safe in Lymric’s arms, the soft wolf pelt carpet beneath her held the heat from a small fire pit in the center of the leather tent. The mask of happiness covers her face as the two snuggle together, though, she could tell her father saw right through the transparent smile. “Something on your mind my girl?” he asks her.
At first, Belairus shook her head. Lymric just gives her a stern gaze, and she knew all the well her ruse is over. Her ears fall to the sides. “Father did I do something wrong?” disappointment, shame, pain, fear etched on her face. The entire walk home she slumped, unlike her usual perky, cheerful self. So much so her tail dragged behind her. It must have been clear the whole ordeal bothered her deeply.
Her father held her close to him playing with her hair getting a small smile out of her “I am so proud of you. You have done nothing wrong. The elders do not believe you’re the avatar, but rather destined as a great warrior. That alone is something to be proud of.” Lymric chuckles with a slight amount of tears forming in his eyes.
One question on her mind is tugging and the meeting with the mystic just added weight to it. “What is the avatar anyways?” Belairus asks.
“A sign for our people. The avatar shall be the goddess in the flesh among us.” Lymric explains.
“I don’t understand… how could I be that?” She ponders the impossibility of being a god made her head hurt and stirred more confusion. “Wouldn’t I know if I was the avatar?”
“Yes Belairus, I supose you would.” Lymric pauses rubbing Belairus’s pointed ear. “I believe Fenrir may have been mistaken. He is a driven man, eager to see the Aria restored. He must have been blinded by his own ambition, to his fault.”
“Is that so.” Belairus turns to peer into the fires. She felt her smile creep across her face, her fangs poking out just past her rosy lips.
“The elder believes you have potential Belairus. You will have to choose for yourself. If Fenrir will allow it, I will let you train with him. While he is not a priest of the Aria, he is a talented mystic. He can guide you in learning about such things far more than anyone else from the tribe. Or I can allow you to train under your uncle with that spear of yours, learn the ways of the hunt and the warrior spirit.”
“That priest, he commanded the bonfire and he can speak with spirits. Fenrir must know such things too. However, if I train under Fenrir, I would have to have the tribe protect me. I do not want that father.” Belairus says turning her head to stare into his chili yellow eyes. “If I trained with Uncle, I could protect our kin and feed them when hungry.”
“Thinking of replacing me already.” Lymric laughs.
Belairus raises her hands to her face. “No father! I did not mean,”
“I know little one.”
She calmed herself blushing from her outburst. Belairus did not like Fenrir very much. He seemed wrong. The thought of being around him more turned her stomach into knots but her uncle, Asgar, was another story. Such a fun person. He often would take her into the woods and show her all kinds of animals. He even taught her how to tan leather and when he comes back from long trips, he always brings her a gift.
“Why is uncle Asgar training me and not you, father?” Belairus’s curious voice breaks the silence.
Lymric let out a long weathered sigh. “I don’t have the courage to train you Belairus. I could never let you fail,” he remarked. The fires snap now and then. This is comforting to Belairus ears, not like the blaze at the tribal council.
Belairus asks grabbing a stick to poke into the burning embers at the edge of the rock circle. The small flames become alive and dance. She lets out a gentle breath to cause the fires to sway back and forth. Her smile grows warm. “And uncle would?”
Lymric’s thick fingers rub through Belairus’s hair, the twigs in them tangling. She bats at his hand trying to brush it away. “He wants to ensure you are the right chieftain to rule. One with strength and power.”
It had never occurred to her she would take her father’s place as chieftain. If she would be ruler one day, then she would be the greatest leader her tribe has ever known. She would be cunning as the fox and wise as the serpents. For her people, she must learn from Fenrir, as foul a taste it left in her mouth. “Can I learn from both?”
Lymric nods his head with no hesitation. “It would be a lot of work. Training under both means you won’t be able to play with your friends too often.”
“So, if Fenrir is wise as everyone says… why has he not learned to hold his tongue,” she asks with all the bluntness of a young child.
Belairus’s short words provoke a belly laugh from Lymric “That is a mighty good question. Speaking of which, it is late, and you should be sleeping.”
“But I don’t want to bed.” Belairus frowns with a kind of disappointment so exaggerated it became almost comical.
Lymric grins and pats her head. “Silly. I will see Fenrir before we sleep. You lay down and be good. I don’t want you getting lost.”
“We are in Aria! There is no one to harm me.” Belairus says with a smug smile.
Lymric uncurls his arms and stands. “No, you stay here. There is something to discuss. Also, you don’t want to be sleepy tomorrow. We got a long walk back home.”
“It takes seven days to walk back from here,” Belairus moans still arguing.
“Seven days, if you don’t get your sleep it may take eight or even nine.”
“Fine… I will sleep, but if I wake up early, you need to get up with me, so I am not bored.” Belairus chirps with a toothy grin.
Lymric nods his head “Of course, my queen.” At his comment, Belairus gave him a bashful glare.
Morning came swiftly for Belairus. She awakes abruptly. Her eyes peer over the empty tent seeing the blankets her father slept in already rolled and packed. The fire that warmed her through the night is dead. Light pierces through the small hole at the top of the tepee and fills the room from the open doorway. She looks outside seeing that her father is nowhere to be seen.
Fenrir, however, is sitting on a log in front of the lifeless outer campfire. Belairus slowly pushes herself up. She rubs her messy hair and face with her ash-covered hands. Her makeup smeared, and the moon crescent no more. Just a black mark on her forehead.
“Morning mystic,” she says in a groggy voice as she sat up inside her tent.
Fenrir looks over with his hood down. A toothy grin appears on his muzzle. “Ah, child you are awake. Good. Your father is hunting.”
“Why are you not hunting?” Belairus asks confused by Fenrir’s lack of work ethic.
Fenrir chuckles. “Your father is far more suited to such a task. Come now, child. I am supposed to teach you. We’ll have your first lesson now.”
Belairus slowly crawls out from under the tent and over to the log that Fenrir sat upon. “O all right. I am just waking up. I hope I’ll be a good student.”
“This is a perfect time, child. Look, tell me what do you see.” Fenrir points into the cinders.
What an odd question Belairus thought to herself as she looks at the empty campfire. She looks seeing if any detail she was missing. Her expression downcast as the question grew absurd in her mind. “What kind of game is this,” she pondered, she didn’t know, but it was one she did not like.
“A burnt out fire.” Glancing up she sees Fenrir smile.
“Keep looking.” he snaps at her.
Still, it was a burnt out fire. “It’s still a fire pit.”
Fenrir shakes his head. “Look past it.”
Belairus watches the center of the stone circle turn dark like ink. The ash overtook the ground until it was blackness in the circle. She could see faces of rotted things. It frightens her. “The dead! I see the dead!”
“These are the old ones. Seek wisdom from those who lived longer than yourself Belairus. These are the most sacred of guides.”
“The child has seen,” says a deep voice out of the darkness. “The child has seen.” comes another whisper. “The child is a witness. She is the witness,” says more voices from the darkness. Belairus shrieks and closes her eyes.
“I don’t want to hear them anymore! I don’t want to see them,” she yells. Fenrir strikes the ashes with his rod sending a plume of dust into the air. Belairus opens her eyes to see the burnt out campfire. “I didn’t like that.”
Fenrir smirks. “I was frightened the first time I saw the old ones myself. They are drawn to fires. See they can’t show themselves without a source of power. The fire is the source that allows them habitation with us.”
“But they are dead. The dead should stay with the dead,” she says as her chest raised and fell with each breath.
“Occasionally, even the dead should be given life to gain knowledge. Remember that Belairus. It is how we get the wise counsel of our ancestors.” Fenrir stands up. “Lymric, what have you brought for us.” Belairus glances, still shaken by what she had seen, to see her father walking down from the path, several water otters hung from a stick perched on his shoulder.