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Daughter of Chaos
Arielle shook her head as she looked up at the large house Mistress Taniel had led her to for this evening’s entertainment. The estate wasn’t as large as those of the nobles, and it was in the lower part of the Noble Quarter, near the houses of the ranking city administrators. The structure itself was well guarded and a bit austere in its appearance. It was nothing like the home of the Lord of Nydith with its gilded eaves and carved gargoyle guardians. This was the house of a War Hero, and while not one of the nobility was still a person of importance in Nydith.
She studied the emblems on the door as she and Taniel waited to be admitted. Nowhere in the symbols did she see the Scourge of Thynitic. Instead, a representation of almost every other weapon favored by the various gods was there: Scythe, dagger, sword, hammer, and battleaxe. The weapons surrounded various symbols of the gods who favored those who trained in the art of war. Most prominent among those emblems was the crossed swords and shield of Oliaric. Why a person with no true ties to the nobles of Nydith or the Goddess would request their presence tonight was a question that intrigued her.
After several minutes, a tall youth with copper-colored hair opened the door and Arielle had her answer. This was the home of Brygan’s family. His brown eyes went wide when he saw her standing behind the priestess. He cocked his head slightly, but didn’t say anything. Taniel glanced back at her and smiled innocently, a sign Arielle had learned meant the priestess was fully aware of what had happened.
So, did Taniel find out about our meetings or did his father? She refused to meet Brygan’s eyes as she walked obediently behind Taniel into the main hall.
“Mistress Taniel, I welcome you to my home,” Brygan’s father, Joadon, said as they entered the hall. He only glanced at Arielle, his dark eyes dismissing her immediately. Arielle noted a lightness to his step that seemed out of place with his large frame. If it weren’t for the hatred humans of this region had for elves, she would have suspected him of having elven ancestors.
Whether Taniel found out first or not, Joadon obviously knows, Arielle thought. She and Brygan had known the risks if either the temple or his father discovered them. They might not be lovers, but even their friendship was dangerous. As the property of the temple, she was not permitted any personal relationships. In addition to the requirements of the temple, as an elf, no one in Nydith would associate with her or those that did. Joadon was a recognized War Hero, a position that could never be taken from him, but if his family lost the respect that title brought, he would lose power and influence. The scandal that would ensue would also prevent his son from ever being in a position to earn the title for himself.
“I thank you for your gracious invitation, Hero Joadon,” Taniel said offering their host a slight bow. “We are here to honor Thynitic, the Lady of Chaos, and to provide entertainment for you and your guests while doing so.” She turned her gaze toward Brygan. “Allow me to present my acolyte, Arielle.” She held her hand out toward the silver-haired elf.
Acolyte? The bitch has named me as a follower of her Goddess. Arielle glanced at Brygan, and then closed her eyes at the anger she saw on his face before he turned and left the room. She fought back the tears, clenched her fists tightly then turned her attention back to Joadon and Taniel.
Arielle kept her gaze locked on the floor as Joadon led them from the entrance hall to the great hall of his home. She fought to hide the hatred and anger she could feel threatening to break through the barriers she had built to contain it.
“Mistress Taniel, allow me to present my guests from Sajan; Masters Galedric, Thiawin, Rhych, and Mistress Jia.” Joadon gestured to the three gentlemen and one lady seated at the long table. They all nodded politely, but did not smile or speak as they watched Taniel and Arielle.
Arielle’s eyes darted from one impassive face to the next not even noticing the type of clothes or color of hair. After a moment, she risked a brief glance around the room at the various weapons, armor, and battle flags that adorned the walls, before finally forcing her eyes back down in their customary, submissive position.
Taniel returned the nods with a brief smile. Joadon pulled one of the chairs out from the table. “Mistress.”
Taniel’s long multi-colored robes swirled around her as she took the offered seat. She silently gestured to the chair next to hers and Arielle sat down. They faced Joadon’s guests and waited for the meal to begin as their host took his place at the head of the table.
Arielle’s eyes strayed several times to the empty place at the foot of the table. The place Brygan would have been had he not left the room.
There was another empty seat at the table and she wondered if Joadon’s youngest son had deliberately been excluded from the gathering this night.
“Welcome to my home.” Joadon raised his glass in a salute to his guests.
“We thank you for the welcome.” Arielle repeated the words of the traditional greeting with the others then cautiously tasted the wine in the glass. It had an unusual flavor to it, for a brief moment she thought she was back in the ancient forest of Kilenter. Warmth filled her and the light taste reminded her of the scent of the trees and flowers that bloomed in the spring.
Joadon swirled the wine in his goblet, watching in silence as a drop of the red liquid splashed free to stain the tablecloth. It reminded Arielle of blood. “Lorniwen,” he said. “An elven wine taken as spoils last spring when we removed the evil folk from our borders,” Joadon said, as if reading her mind. “I have been assured the wine has not been contaminated by their magic.” He looked straight at Arielle and smiled. “Not very strong, these elves, unlike this drink. They died quickly and honors were few for my warriors. I hope the upcoming campaigns of this spring will provide worthier opponents.”
Arielle raised her glass and smiled as Taniel had done earlier. “Be careful what you wish for War Hero, the Goddess may hear and grant your request in unexpected ways.”
Joadon laughed loudly and returned the salute, but did not reply.
Taniel looked at Arielle and nodded her approval of the verbal jab. Arielle took another sip of the wine and let her memories of Kilenter fill her.
She sat quietly during the meal, only half listening to the general conversation between the guests and their host. She did learn the four were merchants from Sajan, here to sell weapons and armor. She noticed Taniel reaching down and caressing the short whip at her side. Soon it would be time for the evening’s entertainment. Arielle took another long, slow drink of the wine and whispered a silent prayer to Frayrith that she had the strength to continue.
What had only been a few years felt like decades since she had been brought to Nydith by the slave traders who had taken her from Kilenter and her home with Cewyr, the human ranger of Frayrith who had raised her as his own child. There was a time she had even dreamed of trying to escape, but Taniel and the other priestesses of Thynitic had maintained a close watch on her and the opportunity had never come. Now, it was too late to escape this city. Her face was well known after having been used by Taniel and the ranking members of Nydith society during her time here.
She was an elf, a symbol of the magic so feared by the humans, never mind that magic was only rarely practiced by elves for the same reasons the humans avoided it. Even after five hundred years, humans remembered the war between them and elves and how arcane magic had seemed to turn on those who practiced it and those around them. The hatred humans had for elves had grown into a hatred for magic. Many saw elves as creatures of magic—making their hatred for her race even greater.
Her only relief from the suffering she was required to endure had been her friendship with Brygan. Now, that had been taken away. Thynitic would be pleased with Taniel’s actions this night, of that she was positive. The priestess had managed to deal a torment to two people by exposing one’s connection to the temple, even if she lied about the reality of that connection. If the gossipmongers got hold of what had happened, the scandal would ruin Joadon and Brygan. And, Taniel naming her as an acolyte had driven the torment into her own heart as well. With Brygan thinking she wanted to be a priestess of Thynitic, he must now believe she was never truly sincere in her friendship and it was all an act designed to hurt and embarrass him.
She now chided herself for calling on Frayrith for strength. She had called on the Lady of the Forests when she had been abducted. That prayer hadn’t fallen on deaf ears, but the Goddess had told her she would be unable to interfere. In essence, Frayrith had abandoned her then. Why should she care what happened now?
The elf glanced at Taniel and wondered again if Thynitic were truly pleased with the way the priestess treated her property. While the goddess supported suffering and torture, she also wanted there to be purpose to it, even if that purpose was to spread chaos. In her short time at the temple, she had learned that much. By using Arielle as she did, Taniel was providing entertainment to the nobility, but not necessarily furthering Thynitic’s cause.