After every fasting her mother demanded, the flat bread always smelled divine, even if her stomach remained unsatisfied by how slowly she reintroduced food. Any other time flat bread tasted like crunchy nothing, with just as little smell.
Adriala stood guard by her doorway and Lesara studied her thoughtfully, amused when she dropped her gaze and watched the room with a blank stare, as though unaware of Lesara’s attention. “Where is Lady Ethala’Aman?”
“The Lady retired to her rooms soon after the ritual.” Adriala continued staring forward, her voice as expressionless as her face.
Lesara tilted her head, wondering what training shadow glaives such as Adriala endured. They were named for the new moon’s shadow and the weapon nearly all kaldorei favoured. Always quiet warriors raised, groomed, and trained their whole lives to protect priestesses. She knew they were given over to The Lady from birth. No parents, no friends, no lovers, no relations, no recognizable semblance of personality, just charges. In fact, they occasionally required mind-wipes to prevent enemies from uncovering vital secrets.
Secrets. The order thrived on them. Not even High Priestess Tyrande, leader of the kaldorei people, knew of the order. If she did, she gave no indication. Most priestesses worshipped Elune, the goddess, in her full glory; that beautiful and full white orb set in the sparkling night sky. A time of high activity for the kaldorei; children of the stars.
The Lady of Mysteries demanded more of her priestesses. Time and again her mother said as much. In her kinder moments, Ysareline adopted a motherly persona, one showing regret on Lesara’s rigorous training. Those moments rarely lasted long. Always pursuing knowledge and mysteries, finding the hidden moon goddess where few brave a look. Ysareline was a high priestess among the new moon sect and Lesara, her chosen successor.
Lesara pushed up from the purplish-brown, wooden bench and table, embellished with raised swirls coloured black. She took a soothing drink for her scratchy throat, and crossed to her wardrobe, digging for less intimate clothing than a thin, mageweave sleeping gown.
The Order of Mysteries obeyed the laws, of course, but where others stop, healers of the full moon and judges of the half, the new moon seeks knowledge. The people remain ignorant of much more than they know, despite immortality. Collecting mysteries, obscure knowledge, unveiling the unknown, the business of secrets, all as important as Elune’s other aspects and their purposes. The full moon heals and nourishes, the half balances, the new holds secrets…and dispenses justice.
Lesara shivered and pulled out a simple, brown and green robe with matching pants. Both were made of heavy and thick, woven together plant materials; a local type of moss cultivated for exactly that reason.
“It is nearly dawn, my lady, perhaps you should rest instead?”
Lesara paused, staring at the clothes in her hands. Adriala braved reprisal speaking up. “You have some other orders?”
“Yes, my lady.”
A brief flash of Adriala kneeling for punishment nudged Lesara back to her wardrobe against her desire. If someone saw and reported to Ysareline, Adriala faced punishment. Memories of previous nightmares and restless nights argued back; the herbal garden outside promised a reprieve. The thick too-sweet smell of burning herbs still clung after her cleansing in the hot spring.
Lesara wrinkled her nose and the desire for fresh air won. She began shrugging out of her soft bedclothes, leaving the dyed-purple mageweave puddled around her feet. While the kaldorei built their houses open in front, using natural features, fallen wood, or even carving their homes into the trunks of large trees, the private chambers and studies were frequently closed off. When carved into trees, this was necessary for stability, as well as preventing the tree’s death.
Her grandmother’s workers carved the Ethala’Aman home into such a tree, tunneling upward, with flat chambers; enough for plenty of rooms without making the tree unstable. Druids healed the carvings while builders worked ahead, crafting each room, staircase, and hall more than a millennia ago. They carved each upper room close enough to the trunk for a small, open-air chamber set in the back, blocked only by moss curtains.
Lesara wanted more than a walled balcony tonight. She wanted out in the open sky. No ceiling, no walls on either side of a window room, and she wanted a bit of fresh peacebloom from the garden. She wanted her plants. “Your training requires you protect me where I go, not presume to correct my actions.” She looked over her shoulder as she straightened the new robe over her frame.
Adriala stiffened, her mouth setting in a grim line. She stared at the moss-curtained doorway into the halls and said nothing.
Sympathy and regret pin-cushioned Lesara’s insides. She felt her own deep-set frown and fought a childish temper; an impulse to splinter her mother’s onyx-tipped staff against the altar stone, crumple up a dozen scrolls and then run away from home, take Adriala with her, away from the cold. An image of Tyrande swam in her vision; composed, strict like her mother, but soft, with a presence more like an embrace than hard and unforgiving stone.
The Lady of Mysteries is cold and harsh, but our people need her as much as the aspect of full light. A rehearsed thought, always in her mother’s voice. Lesara believed it, didn’t she? Yes. She forced tension from her fisted hands and rigid posture, breathing out. She turned and faced Adriala. I’m sorry, and I hate this, you’re a person too. “I will notify my mother first thing. You won’t be punished.”
Her glaive continued staring straight ahead. “Yes, my lady. I apologize–”
Lesara waved dismissively at the apology and Adriala broke off immediately, taking the gesture as a command. She crossed the room and ducked under the moss door, held parted by Adriala.
In the halls, the occasional window, punctuated their descent with small circular holes at shoulder level. Down through the maze of loosely curling, gently declining ramps. Three sets of staircases, each heading toward the core, turning sharply, and then heading back outward, interrupted at regular intervals. The last led to a large, open-faced gathering room for guests and leisure.
Both guards on either side of the ramp out stomped their left leg, snapping their heels together in unison and saluted with fisted hands; left arm across the back, right arm over the chest. They held the pose as Lesara walked past, trailed by Adriala. Lesara kept her eyes ahead, fighting the impulse to acknowledge the two women. She learned long ago that the slightest misstep always ended in a report to Ysareline, and Lesara paid for each one during training. She might pay for this as well, despite never hearing Ysareline’s direct orders. Better me than Adriala though.
She veered left and walked into the closest herb garden and off the path. Morning dew already dampened the grasses under her bare feet. She bit back a content sigh while her posture melted. Distant fear kept her from collapsing on the ground without ceremony and snuggling the wet ground. Instead, she kept walking until she reached the small white flowers curling around their yellowed centers, sleeping in the pre-dawn light.
She pulled a small, but sharp dagger free from her pockets and unsheathed it, then knelt in front of the peacebloom. She silently thanked each section she sliced free, humming a healing hymn of Elune as she brushed her fingertips over the severed ends, willing them soothed and closed.
I want to sleep out here in the grass. She thought as she tucked the gathered peacebloom into a separate pocket from the resheathed dagger. She snuck a glance over and up at Adriala. The glaive stood stiff and ready, eyes alert for danger. However, her expression seemed more peaceful than before.
The glaives, even the military guards, the sentinels, represented more than protection. They highlighted vulnerability. While the kaldorei, thanks to an old bargain, were immortal, that only prevented death from old age. It also required the druids sacrifice long stretches of life, sleeping in magic stasis while their souls worked as caretakers for Ysera’s realm, The Emerald Dream.
A light rain began falling and Lesara looked skyward, letting it run rivulets along the curves of her face, into her ears and down to the pointed tips. She bent her ears back toward the ground, blocking the rain from falling directly inside, then looked around the grounds and up the large trunk of her ancestral home. Her window overlooked the gardens, Ysareline’s overlooked the ritual grove on the opposite side. No one else in sight. Lesara collapsed backwards, her hair snaking through the grass in several directions.
“My lady?” She heard a panicked shift of metal-studded armor near her feet, but kept her eyes closed.
“I’m fine, Adriala.” Then she remembered Adriala reported directly to Ysareline. “Don’t tell,” she whispered.