(OOC: Set shortly after the 1110 Spring Moot. Written by Russ Phillips and Dorian Grey)
The Morning Cloud slipped gently up beside the pier and was quickly made fast. As soon as the gangplank was in place, Fionnuala grabbed her bags and headed for land. Almost as green as she, Elrood followed.
“Oh, how I hate sea travel,” Fionnuala muttered as she made for a convenient bench.
“I know you do,” Elrood retorted. “You’ve told me so at least once every hour for the last two days. And I’m not exactly a fan of it myself, you know.” He joined her on the bench, and the two sat in silence for a few minutes, revelling in the lack of movement beneath them.
After a while Fionnuala sat up from her slumped position. “Sorry,” she said. “Sea-sickness makes me cranky.”
“It does? I’d never have guessed.”
“Carry yer bags, sir, mam?” A boy of twelve or so appeared before them.
“Hello, Marcus,” Fionnuala greeted him. “Yes, please – if you can manage all of them, that would be a great help.”
“‘Course I can,” Marcus retorted, eyeing their luggage with scorn. “Going to the Temple?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
Marcus distributed their bags about his person, and rapidly vanished up the road.
“So,” said Fionnuala as they walked up from Dun na gCaleb to the citadel, “what would you like to do?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” replied Elrood. “My ‘holidays’ usually consist of joining the Bears on campaign. Tends to be pretty busy, but it gives me a break from responsibility because I’m not in charge. I suppose you could show me around?”
“Well, I need to get some supplies, so I can give you a basic tour of the citadel while we go shopping. I’ve made sure I’m not too busy for the next couple of weeks, so we could go exploring tomorrow? Take a picnic, perhaps.”
Elrood smiled at the memory. “Another picnic? Sounds good to me.”
“Thank you, Bríd,” Fionnuala said as she took the parcel.
“You’re welcome,” Bríd replied. “You two enjoy your day, now.” The stallholder smiled as she watched the couple walk away. “About time she found herself a man,” she murmured to herself.
“Pity he’s an outlander,” came the response.
She jumped. “Peig! I didn’t see you there!”
“Too busy watching the High Priestess and her…friend, I suppose,” Peig replied.
“Well,” said Bríd, “you have to admit it’s nice to see her with someone at last. And what if he is an outlander? It’s not as if she ever had much luck with Armengarian men, that I ever heard. And he seems pleasant. And respectful.”
“If you ask me, she’s a sight too friendly with outlanders.” A new woman joined the conversation. “Always gallivanting off to do this and that off the island. It’d match her better to be staying home and seeing to her people like a good Armengarian should.” She nodded firmly.
“Ah now, Maureen, that’s a bit harsh,” Bríd said. “She’s done a lot for Armengar, you know. We’d never have had the help from the Lions’ legions all those times, if she hadn’t been there to get them for us. And you know she’s never shirked her duty.”
Maureen sniffed. “You’re too soft, Bríd. I’m telling you, it’s a disgrace, the High Priestess and her outlanders. And what do we know of this man? Nothing, that’s what. There could be anything in his bloodlines.”
“I heard he’s a Master Healer,” Peig offered. “Armengar knows, we can always use more healers, and he might be willing to teach what he knows.”
Bríd giggled. “The way he looks at Fionnuala, I reckon there’s not much he’d refuse her. Get her to ask him and it’ll be sorted.”
“That’s if they can tear themselves away from each other for more than five minutes,” Peig returned.
“Hmph!” Maureen stalked away from the laughing women, evidently highly miffed by their attitude.
“She seemed all right,” said Elrood as they walked away.
“Bríd’s nice, though she is a bit of a gossip. Still, I suppose it was never going to be long before people started gossiping about us.”
“People have been gossiping about us for the past several months, Fionnuala. Even before there was anything to actually gossip about. Althea even asked if we’d had a tiff when you didn’t come on campaign to Holy Isle.”
“Yes, but people haven’t been gossiping here, at home. It’s…a little odd.”
“I think you may have to get used to it. The Lions’ high healer and the High Priestess? Admittedly I’m not quite a crown prince, but it’s still fodder for the gossips.”
“Yes, and you an outlander, too. There are some would say I should find myself a good Armengarian man.”
“You’re not the first, though. Adienna married Rhapsody, after all.”
“True, but she also left it rather late. Most Armengarian women are mothers by the time they’re 15.”
Later, as they sat in the Wanderly Wagon, Fionnuala explained Armengarian history and religion.
“So, yeah,” she finished. “Now you know why I hate that Ancestor. And he hates us because we’re not slaves any more. He seems to take that personally.”
Elrood took a long drink, looking a little confused. “So Heramacles sold you into slavery?”
“Yes,” she replied, with a hint of bitterness.
“So how come he’s an Armengarian ancestor? Aren’t there Armengarians that worship him? Actually, I’m pretty sure he’s got at least one paladin. How does that work?”
Fionnuala grinned. “Ah, you want the religion rant. Okay.
“Basically, there are two of them. Heramacles was a family name. The one who sold us had a younger brother, whom he sent along with us, as some kind of overseer we think. Somewhere along the line, the younger brother developed some sympathy for the slaves he was escorting. So he told them they were being freed and given the island as a home, which wasn’t true, but he hoped they’d make it true. And he looked after them to an extent, and taught them about being free, and basically became the first Protector. And he became the Ancestor. My best guess is that his elder brother sort of got dragged in to being an Ancestor on his cloak-tail, as it were, because of the name.”
She paused to take a drink. “Now, we didn’t know any of this until about six years ago. As far as we knew, there was one Ancestor, his name was Heramacles, he’d led us out of slavery, blah blah blah. Then we held a celebration of not-fighting-anyone-anymore, and…well, we had gate-crashing Ancestors. Heramacles—the elder brother—turned up first and…was fairly much the antithesis of everything in our teachings. He gave orders, wouldn’t listen to my questions, and eventually, told me we were all slaves and we should do as we were told.
“I renounced him on the spot.”
She paused again, to empty her glass and take a couple of deep breaths. Elrood put his hand over hers, in wordless sympathy, and she turned to smile a little at him.
“Well,” she went on. “It was…difficult. Later, anyway, the younger brother showed up. He explained about there being two of them and so on… I—well, I didn’t want to call on Heramacles ever again, so I asked him to take another name. He asked me to choose one for him. So I named him Armengar…” Her voice trailed off and her expression became distant.
“As to why people follow Heramacles still, I honestly don’t know. He hates us, and he makes no secret of the fact. But he has followers, and a couple of paladins…. People are strange.”
“Well, that at least explains some of it. I knew there was something about slavery in your past, and I had some idea about the Calebii. Still doesn’t explain why people follow Heramacles, but I guess that’s their choice, and as you say, people are strange.”
As he took another drink, Elrood frowned slightly. “Now here’s a thing,” he said. “You’re a high priestess, but you don’t seem to hold Ancestors in particularly high regard generally. I can see why you hate Heramacles, but shouldn’t a high priestess be a bit more…” he fumbled for the word, alcohol having apparently eaten half his vocabulary “…more reverent?” he finished.
Fionnuala laughed. “You think I should be more reverent? I think outlanders take Ancestors too seriously. Like that idiot at the Moot, who wanted to let Xiv do what he liked just because he was an Ancestor.
“Seriously, though,” she went on, “that’s a fairly important part of our teachings. Never do something just because someone tells you to. Always think about it—get more information if necessary. And then make your own decision. I think it’s because of our background as slaves, that that’s so important to us.”
“Well, sure,” Elrood agreed, “thinking for yourself is a good idea, but I don’t see…”
“When I say, ‘don’t do something just because someone tells you to’,” she interrupted, “‘someone’ includes Ancestors. If Armengar asks me to do something and I don’t see why, I’ll ask him. And possibly argue with him,” she added with a grin. “And if he can’t convince me that it should be done, I won’t do it.
“Don’t misunderstand me,” she went on earnestly. “I love my Ancestor. I will follow him, all across Erdreja and beyond, if needs be. I just won’t do it blindly, or thoughtlessly.”
“Right. That all makes sense. I suppose I’m just used to devout people doing what their ancestors tell them, and I assume you don’t get to be High Priestess without being devout.”
“Hmm…” Fionnuala’s expression turned distant again, but she remained silent, apparently lost in thought—or memory.
It was late when they returned, a little tipsily, to the Temple. “Shhhh!” Fionnuala put a finger to her lips as they climbed the steps. “Mustn’t wake the ‘prentices!”
“Because they’re young and they need their sleep?” Elrood guessed.
Fionnuala giggled. “Because if they see the High Priestess coming in pissed in the middle of the night, they’ll think they can, too.”
“Not just that, but with a man. An outlander even!”
“Worse and worse,” she agreed, fumbling with the door-handle. “Terrible bad ezample.”
Elrood laughed. “It’s like being a squire again, sneaking in pissed in the middle of the night.”
Arms around each other, they tip-toed through the main Hall of the Temple so heavily that it was as well there was no-one there to wake. The interior of the Temple was less successfully negotiated, but Molly saw no reason to draw attention to her presence, and watched their slightly wobbly progress in amused silence.
“What happens about breakfast?” Elrood asked, pulling his tabard straight.
Fionnuala shrugged. “We’ve missed breakfast in the dining hall. I’ll go down and wheedle something out of Máire in a minute.” She returned to lacing her boots, then stopped again as a knock came at the door. Standing up, she went to answer it.
The corridor outside was deserted. Puzzled, Fionnuala looked up and down it. Then something on the floor caught her eye. Placed outside her door, right where an unwary person leaving the room would trip over it, was a tray. She picked it up and returned to the room. “Looks like I won’t have to wheedle Máire,” she said bemusedly, putting the tray on a table to investigate its contents. “Someone appears to have brought us breakfast.”
“Is that coffee I smell?” Elrood asked a little plaintively.
“It is.” She picked up the steaming pot. “And…our unknown benefactor has carefully provided two cups, too. And there’s…let’s see…” She began to lift covers. “…fresh bread, butter, honey, cheese, sausage and olives. A positive feast!”
Elrood picked up a cup of coffee, drinking in the aroma. Good coffee, too, he thought to himself. “Breakfast delivered to the door, eh? I guess being High Priestess has its advantages.”
“Breakfast delivery isn’t usually one of them,” Fionnuala replied drily.
Elrood looked up. “No? You mean I warrant special treatment? Maybe I should stay a bit longer. I don’t get treated like this back at the chapterhouse.”
“I don’t normally get treated like this either. Maybe I should have more guests,” Fionnuala replied with a sly grin.
“I should really think about going home,” Elrood remarked. “I was only supposed to have two weeks off, and counting sailing time it’s been nearer two and a half.”
“At this stage, you might as well stay until it’s time for you to go to the GEF,” Fionnuala replied. “It’s only a few more days. And there are probably a few Armengarians who’d appreciate a lift on your ship.”
“Unlike you,” he teased.
“Oh, I appreciated the lift,” she retorted. “Just not the fact that a ship was involved.”
“No, but seriously, I’ll need to get home and check on things, take care of anything urgent that’s come up, before I go to the GEF…but I suppose that wouldn’t really take more than a day…”
“Of course it wouldn’t. So we can have another few days.”
The two of them walked back down to Dun na gCaleb, hand in hand.
“I wish you were coming to the GEF too,” Elrood said as they sat again on their bench.
“No, I need to stay here again. You know what that means.”
“Yes, I know,” Elrood said, smiling. “I’m not allowed to die. Mind you, if all goes to plan, soon I’ll not need laid to rest.”
“That’s not the point,” said Fionnuala sharply. “I will do it anyway. No harm in making sure, and besides,” she continued more softly, “it’d be one last thing I could do for you.”
He turned to her for a last kiss. When they stopped, several loiterers had found some very interesting things to look at, on the ground, in the sky, or out to sea. Fionnuala blushed a little, and laughed a little. “Be careful at the GEF,” she said. “I…I was going to say, I’ll find some time to come visit you afterwards, but…it’s not so easy now…”
“No,” Elrood replied. “But if any Armengarians need a way to get home afterwards, well, the Morning Cloud will be at their service. And I’ll get word to you that way. And now I’d better go.” He hugged her quickly, then picked up his bags and headed for the ship.
At the top of the gangplank, he paused to look back once more. Fionnuala raised a hand in farewell. He returned the gesture, and strode determinedly in the direction of his cabin.