(122-07-06) A Red Omen
A Red Omen
Summary: Leire receives the Crone's wisdom for Marsei, leaving her with both questions and answers.
Date: 06/07/15
Related: A Word to the Wizened

Private Solar - Crone's Tower - Starry Sept Starry Street

This well-appointed chamber is the private solar of a servant of the Seven. It features an ornate writing desk with a matching chair, a seven-pointed star carved into its backrest. An impressive chandelier hung at the center of the room serves to illuminate it, each of its seven tiers bearing seven tapers.

Built into the far wall is a stone hearth with seven candles arranged upon its mantle, two occasional chairs set out opposite with a small table shared in between.

The solar's crowning glory is the large stained glass window that depicts the Crone's wizened image, bathing the carved walnut kneeler stationed beneath it in soft beams of rainbow light.

When Marsei arrives in search of Leire, she won't find the septa on the floor of the Starry Sept. Asking after her with an acolyte will lead to her being led through the sept to a private stairwell only accessed, generally, by servants of the faith. It's the Tower of the Crone, one of seven-like towers dedicated to each of the faces of the Godhead, and flight after flight of narrow steps eventually gives way to a landing the young girlchild in acolyte's robes seems intent to stop at, having flown past several others on the way up with the exhuberence of youth.

There's a faint, "You may enter," from within the chamber after the girl knocks softly at the door, opening it thereafter for Marsei to step inside. Leire rises from the ornate writing desk she'd been seated at to meet the noblewoman, welcoming her into the private solar with a sweep of her hand. "I was expecting you," she tells Marsei, as if she never doubted that the appointment would be kept.

Marsei is more full of colour, this morn: the pure white of three days past has been replaced by soft hues of violet. She rose higher and higher up the tower without a pause or falter in her step: raised within the highest tower in all the land, she is no stranger to stairs, and though certainly not as young as the acolyte, she still has the stamina of youth. Each step is one of respect, honoured to be guided through the private realm of the faith … and slightly nervous, as she's led to the door of the chamber. She thanks the girl quietly and does not hesitate to slip inside, despite her nerves; she brings the anticipatory, humbled energy inside with her, looking to Leire with a kind, eager smile, a rosy thing against a fair face. She is enchanted by the solar and its Seven decorations and rainbow glass, but keeps her gaze upon the septa. "Thank you," she greets, "for seeing me. I did not expect ever see this part of the sept."

Leire smiles, graciously, as she leads Marsei into the modest chamber, small and cozy but well-appointed. "I trust the Seven have kept you well since our last meeting?" The septa is once more in her soft, velvet robes of dove gray, a color as pale and unassuming as her eyes, a color she seems to favor. There are a pair of chairs before the hearth, and even though there is no fire lit within it, she chooses to begin by sitting there, maybe to put the noblewoman at ease before they set about the business that brings them together.

"Much the same," Marsei replies on her way to the chairs, warm and affirmative, with a glance down after the fact. "Have they kept you well?" she asks in turn in her polite but earnest manner, smiling with a shake of her head before the words have left her mouth, "of course, they must; you are Most Devout." She sits neatly, ever-so-slightly closer to the edge than the back, practiced poise more than discomfort.

Leire chooses one of the chairs, indicating the other to Marsei, and folds her hands in her lap after smoothing out the folds of her soft skirt. She demurs with a slight shrug of her shoulder, though, when Marsei invokes her rank within the faith. "I am a woman like any other, and though I am a servant of the sept, the will of the Seven oft eclipses me as any other. I wondered often, as a child, what we meant when we beseeched them to keep us well, as we so often do. We are but stumbling through our days in the dark, most of us, and cannot know that what renders us miserable today might be part of the longer path to joy."

It's easy to view a septa as a religious figure only, less or more than a person beyond the robes. Although there's a constant respectful regard and a wonder in Marsei's eyes, her curiosity is vivid, too, as Leire talks about herself as a woman, a child. "I thought for the longest time that everything that happens to us is meant to lead us on our path," she agrees. Her voice softens, quiets; her hands find each other in her lap, folding together. "… but is so difficult to… see the path and believe it is there, especially when they way ahead is unlit." Her eyes widen for a split second, a hand lifting from its curl to gesture delicately in a hurry, " — I do not falter in my faith," she's quick to ensure before turning downcast. "… it is only I who falter."

That they enjoy this audience alone in her private solar seems to mean, too, that Leire speaks a little more freely for it than she might otherwise, their conversation kept between the two of them and the Seven above. "And so I know you to be a true and faithful servant," she says, with a reassuring smile, "for you seek the light, rather than take blind comfort from the dark."

Lifting a slender hand, she fingers the seven-pointed star worn at her throat, the physical touchstone of her own faith. "When you burned the tapers, did you see anything in the flame?"

Marsei looks immediately uncertain, a quiver in her smile, when her role as a faithful servant is spoken about as such; she looks, in fact, like she might object, but Leire's reassurance seems to reassure her well enough for the time being. At least enough to set aside the thought. Her shoulders relax, having not realized they were tense. She follows Leire's touch to the seven-pointed star, her expression gaining a hint of wistfulness. Perhaps she should wear a star, too, and feel comforted. "Only l… light," she says, hesitant; should she have seen more? She is no oracle, but… "Light and memories." She might as well have said light and dark.

Leire rises without warning and moves to the stained glass window depicting the likeness of the Crone, resting a hand on the top of the carved walnut kneeler beneath it. "Come," she tells Marsei, intending for her to be the one to sink in supplication upon its padded base, though it seems wide enough to accommodate two, if they were to squeeze together. While Marsei relocates, Leire retrieves a few items from the writing desk, not least of which is another slender taper with an iron base. She sets it on the top ledge of the kneeler, its wick already lit.

Marsei kneels. Down into the morning glow, filtering through the stained glass to fleck and bathe her in warmth and colours. While adjusting to her position of supplication — smoothing her skirts between the padding of the kneeler and her bent knees — already she looks from the flame to Leire for further instruction, brimming with curiosity and implicit trust.

It isn't just the taper Leire carries over from the table; in one palm is a small, slender blade, its tip no less sharp for how delicate the rest of it is, in the other a length of ribbon. She cuts the length in two, dividing it into a pair of identical strands. The cut end on each length is put to the flame, and then they are lain down atop the ledge next to the candleholder, their purpose deferred for the present moment. The silver hilt of her tiny knife still in hand, Leire closes her eyes, still standing at Marsei's side, and begins. "Sacred Crone…" it fills the air, and then there is silence, just the bit of heat from the taper and the sun wafting in through the stained glass to keep Marsei company.

And that of the Crone, and of Leire: Marsei can feel both presences, even if she only knows for certain of one, the septa's intense prayerful invocation sets the tone in which to believe. She's studied everything with respectful fascination, from lengths of ribbon touched to flame to the glint of the blade, but now she bows her head, vivid coppery-red in the solar's light. Only slightly, so as to still glimpse the candle, looking up through half-lowered lashes, anticipating; what, she suddenly would not be able to say.

Leire touches the point of the blade to the inside of her wrist. Just enough to bite the skin, to cause a droplet of blood to well up in its wake. She holds it over the taper's flame, causing it to sizzle with the fat bead rolls off her flesh and evaporates in the fire. She puts down the blade, taking one of the ribbons and tying it flush against her wrist, over the raw spot. "Wizened One, as you keep vigil upon us, so too has your child, Marsei, kept your flame burning in the darkness of night." Leire goes back for the blade; this time it's to do the same, but rather than of her opposite wrist, it's Marsei's slender one she reaches for.

The bloodletting was at the corner of Marsei's gaze, at first, and she did not know what she saw; it's only when the drop of blood falls into the tiny flame that she realizes the true purpose of the knife and, then, the ribbon. A soft gasp builds in her throat in instinctual startle, escaping halfway through lips that are only just now parting. Her delicate expression freezes as Leire reaches for her wrist. She looks up at the calm septa, readying to speak yet saying nothing, not wanting to interrupt her words nor their intent, as if it would be impolite to ask questions. And trivial. This is why she is here. Her wrist goes with Leire's hand, nearly as light as a feather. Solemnly, she turns her focus to the flame, only looking away from it to close her eyes briefly and give her own silent entreaty.

It's hardly enough of a prick to hurt, more of a discomforting pressure and foreign sensation when the tip of the knife kisses the soft, sensitive skin at the inside of her wrist. The flame is fed with a drop of Marsei's sanguine blood just the same way it received Leire's, and then the septa seems finished with the knife and sets to tying the ribbon around the noblewoman's wrist. When Marsei looks to her for reassurance, Leire offers it readily, her gaze steadfast and comforting. While she's still tying the knot, she continues, "Bathed in the morning light, whose radiance is outmatched only by the all-knowing glow of your lantern, we make you this offering that you might both hear our prayer and answer it with the gift of divine knowledge." Ribbon in place, Leire moves to kneel at Marsei's side.

As small as the point of the blade is and as tiny the wound, Marsei seems more susceptible to the brief sting of pain than the heat of candle wax, as during their past prayer. Her breath quickens and holds, and quickens once again as Leire ties the ribbon. Still, her reverent focus is mostly uninterrupted, guided and soothed by the septa's presence and channeling all she can toward the purpose of the words, so much so that she does not move as the septa joins the bench. She looks to the light, wishful.

It would seem Leire has said her piece, at least for now. With the offering of blood and the incantation, she fixes her gaze on the flickering flame, slowing her breathing and opening her mind to whatever there might be to receive. Their shoulders brush together, nestled close on the kneeler, but Leire is silent and still and unwavering, the light reflecting in her pale, grey eyes, her stare looking faraway.

Marsei could speak silently to the gods for hours, praying and imploring for mercy or wisdom, and certainly she has done in the past, but it is more than evident that there is more at work here in the morning light than simple prayer. A shiver goes up her spine, contrary to the warmth she feels. She listens to the septa's close-at-hand breathing, turning her head from the light to where it dances in Leire's still eyes. In a manner, it dances in Marsei's as well, so bright and ready to receive an answer.

Hard to say how long they are knelt there together in companionable silence, genuflecting before the stained glass visage of the Crone. It could be a half an hour, or maybe two thirds of one, just the lull of harmonious breathing disrupting the otherwise perfect silence of the solar. The thick stone walls of the tower mean sound does not carry in or out of the chamber, enclosing them in the solitude of their prayer. The taper has begun to burn low when Leire stiffens at Marsei's side. It's subtle, but then her breath catches in her throat, and that's impossible to miss. Her gaze is fervent, fixed on what's left of the flickering flame. "A taste of glory is not always sweet," she breathes, barely audibly.

It could so easily be incomprehensible, a veiled metaphor, cryptic sage advice.

To Marsei, it is though she has been struck in the stomach. Her breath catches in turn, stilling in her chest until she swallows and remembers to ease air into her lungs. "The Fossoways," she says, quiet as a mouse. A taste of glory. The house words of her family-that-was, spoken so often between the lords of the house and their opposing orchards. Worry simmers up past the calm that had descended, anticipation for the wisdom from Leire's mouth nigh on fearful, now.

Leire turns to meet Marsei's gaze, and this time there isn't much comfort in those pale gray eyes. "An apple, lush and ripe upon the branch. I saw it fall, to rot to return to the earth. But then it spilled open in the lush, fertile dirt, and a worm emerged from its sodden flesh." Her eyes dart all over the redhead's face, searching for meaning in her reaction.

The noblewoman's fine and gentle face is wrought by fine tremors in the effort to keep herself still composed. The light illuminates the paleness of her skin, a sheen of white beneath her freckles, as if she'd spilled far more blood. Her eyes have gone wide and watering, frightened like a prey animal on the verge of panic and bolting as she stares, seeking, at Leire. Her mouth moves silently, and she brings a hand up to her mouth, covering half her face to further silence herself.

And so even if Leire reckons she's received the guidance she sought of the Crone, she lacks the insight to know the true meaning of what she's seen. But Marsei's expression indicates that the blessing has been split between them; one has seen the vision, the other has understood it. It is a darker thing than she anticipated, an ill omen, an strong portent of tumultuous days to come. Leire clasps Marsei by the wrist, unthinkingly taking her stricken companion's hand. She turns, too, to put out the taper in a hurry, as if banishing the flame will undo the horror it's inflicted.

So suddenly tense, it's merely shock more than anything when Marsei gives a tiny, soft cry as her wrist is taken, a squeak, really; she holds almost desperately to the septa's hand, assuring that she wants the comfort. She stares intently at Leire all the more, her brows strained. "Is," she sounds like she's running and leaping, half-whispering, "is there more? What does it mean? Do you think— " Her voice slows while her gaze speeds, looking this way and that, to the smoking candle wick to the image of the Crone and desperately to the septa. "… do you think… that I am damned?" The woman, so innocent of face, sounds as though she has decided so for herself.

The redhead's panic and fear and distress, Leire is pained to witness it, and even though there was alarm in her pale eyes to recount what she'd seen, and even though she is solemn for it, she tries to comfort Marsei. She lifts her free hand, smoothing back some of the hair from Marsei's cheek with the same benevolence as the Mother might press upon a terrified child, making quiet shushing sounds to calm her. "Of course you are not," she says, fingertips stroking through strands of hair. "I must make full communion with the Crone to seek a more fulsome picture. Perhaps this is just a small piece of the puzzle we do not yet understand."

"Perhaps it is not," Marsei replies, lamenting rather than argumentative. She blinks to fend tears from falling, but the opposite occurs, wetting the faint hollows under her eyes. "Perhaps it is as simple as I imagine it to be." That unnerves her anew, and she holds tighter to Leire's hand. She tries to smile, an ingrained, well-intended instinct to thank her for her wisdom and consolation, but the expression struggles to find a hold. Her soft voice is tremulous. "But does the Crone … warn, so I may proceed with the wisdom of foreknowing, or… is She apprising me. Of my fate?"

"The only thing that is certain is that we will one day meet the Stranger. But the path we take to him has hundreds and thousands of forks, constantly branching and twisting and turning with each choice we make. She but lights the way; she does not design it." All that to say: It is a warning, not a condemnation. Leire clasps both of Marsei's hands, the way she did when they burnt the taper together. "Stay as long as you like. I will send for refreshment. When you are ready to return to life beyond these walls, I will turn to the Crone in solitary prayer and see what more there is to divine."

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