Winter Rose

Winter Rose (part 1) – 26/03/12

The cloister was cool after the heat of the day, the lower courtyard beyond the shadows lit by the late afternoon sun. Two women overlooked the courtyard, standing in solemn stillness. “Whilst you are here you will abide by our rules” the stiff backed woman in red folded her hands across her stomach, gazing out at the sunlit space where two girls in pale red robes were hauling water from the well. There was a tight edge to her companion’s voice as she growled her acknowledgement. She did not want to be here, but she had little choice.

The tone in her voice, defiant yet bending to the will of the other, made the red woman turn her head sharply. “You are not one of our Lady’s faithful, are you?”

They began walking along the arched corridor as the woman in leather scowled. “The Lady of Battle has been good to me”

“Whilst within our care you will keep your opinions to yourself. We are all devoted followers of the Seven, but we are daughters of the Lady. You will remember that” The second woman glanced across at the woman but held her tongue, earning her a brief smile from the priestess. “You will have separate quarters from the other girls so you may keep your privacy, but you will not leave the compound alone. You will not leave the cloisters without another of the Sisters and you will not enter the forester, no matter how urgently it calls to you. Do you understand me?”

“You intend to keep a guard on me at all times. I understand”

The priestess turned and held her companions by the arms. “We must all make sacrifices upon entering the service of the Seven. This is but a test of your character, one in which I know you will suceed.” She released her and they continued walking in silence.

“Whilst you are here you are welcome to train to learn our way of battle and honour. You are a little old to be placed with our novices, they are too young to be left alone with an experienced adventurer, but you are not advanced enough to be placed with the other Sisters. I will assign you one of our Devoted to teach you our ways”

“You are too kind, Sister” The edge returned to her voice, a disgruntled bite that did not hide the speaker’s true feelings. She did not want to be here. This was an acto of desperation and they both knew it. It was only a matter of time.

“You will be protected here” the priestess in red told her companion firmly, but her companion merely twitched her lip and looked away, gazing down at the two girls in pale red robes hauling water from the world. Innocents all, blissfully unaware of the danger she could have brought with her.

*

Holy Mother Constance tapped her fingers against the tabletop as she considered what the mage had told her, the mage still sat in her office sipping tea from her best china and having the casual audacity to state in a matter of fact way that the girl he and two others had brought to the Order was bound to some tainted magical object. “You have no way of severing this bond?”

“We daren’t try. Who knows what that unholy pair may have done to it” The mage put down his cup and plucked at loose threads in his robe.

Holy Mother Constance’s frown deepened and she rose slowly to her feet. “Master Tailor, you are telling me that this … child … has been placed in the care of the Order of Roses in the thrall of a tainted magical object that you do not dare attempt to sever her from. Am I correct, Master Tailor?” She paced around the edge of the table in a slow, deliberate way as she spoke until she stood over the mage in his chair.

She was not a large woman but something about her made the mage cower back, his hand fluttering between the threads of his robe to hover fretfully around his neck.”The Guild is looking into it. I swear, no one will come to harm.” He rubbed his neck and ran a finger under his shirt collar. “I don’t think she is even aware that something has gone wrong or that the item has anything wrong with it. We took it off her as soon as we could.”

“What am I dealing with, Master Tailor? What are you expecting my girls to deal with? Demons? Monsters? Undead? Magical problems that your guild has neglected to warn us about, yet again?”

“Mother Constance, I swear to you, we are doing everything we can to solve this. But we don’t know what’ll happen and IF something comes after her, only the Roses have a chance at protecting her.” Master Tailor was craning back from the Head of the Rose Order, almost falling out of his seat as he cowered away from her disapproving glare. “Honest”

Holy Mother Constance looked away, releasing the mage from her stern gaze. “If she obeys our rules, follows our instructions and proves to be untouched by any … taint … then we will protect her. But if you fail or if you have put my girls in unacceptable risk … you will be very sorry indeed.” She opened the door, indicating that it was time for him to leave.

“I will encourage my fellows to redouble their efforts. I swear we will solve this.”

“You had better, Master Tailor. For her sake.” Holy Mother Constance closed her eyes and sighed softly. “For by the Lady’s name, I will not sacrifice my girls for this.”

“I understand. Thank you, Holy Mother Constance.” He knelt before the Head of the Rose Order and kissed the ruby ring on her left hand as she laid her right hand on his head and murmured a brief blessing. The two devoted Roses in their blood red tunics and platemail armour, escorted him down to the Greater gatehouse where he rejoined his fellows and left the Order’s compound, heading for the high road.

When she was sure he was long gone and no one was around to hear her, she raised her ring to her lips and kissed it, whispering “No, my child, I think you do not understand what you have asked me to do.”

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