The moment Lyra and Delshad stepped through the marble archway which led to the ground of the Temple, they were accosted by High Priest Alcides himself. The High Priest was a man of medium stature, and yet still managed to look imposing while decked in the traditional billowing crimson robes. Alcides was in his late thirties, but the well-groomed cut of his hair and beard made him appear to be younger than he truly was. He was one of the higher ranking priests who did not often wear his ceremonial lacquered mask, preferring to allow people to look upon his face instead of at a slab of wood. That was one of the reasons so many held Alcides’ trust – because, when one could see the face of a man, one could much more easily judge his character.
“High Priest,” Lyra sank into a low curtsy, as was appropriate in front of the man who, alongside the High Priestess, ran the Temple. And, as Asshai and R’hllor were near synonymous with one another – Asshai being one of R’hllor’s most sacred cities – the High Priest deserved utmost reverence. Asshai was widely known for its shadowbinders and its Temple and Lyra felt humbled to have been graced by the chance to lead it alongside Delshad.
She felt a heavy hand on the top of her head and stayed still as Alcides gave his blessing, the soft murmur of his voice oddly heavy as it flowed through the morning air. Lyra did not look over to see if Delshad was submitting to the same – she did not have to, as she knew that, by custom, he would be. When Alcides was finished, he removed his hands, and Lyra rose back up to her full height.
“Thank you,” she inclined her head in genuine reverence and was comforted by the smile that crossed Alcides’ face. He was a kind man, and a just one – she had studied under him for a few months back when she had been receiving training at the Temple, and had found him to be someone worthy of respect.
“There is much that must be spoken of, Lord Delshad and Lady Lyanna,” Alcides said as he too, bowed before them, a recognition of authority between theoretical equals. They followed Alcides along the slab-marble walkways which led through the vast Temple gardens. The morning air was sweet from the smell of blooming flowers and Lyra found herself enjoying the day, though she knew that all today had in store would be grave meetings couples with graver decisions.
The meeting was being held within the private chambers of the High Priest himself – rooms which few ever saw in their lives. Around a circular table fashioned out of redwood and polished to a glossy sheen, stood several high-backed chairs – each one of them occupied by a prominent Asshai’i figure. Amongst those assembled there were Delshad and Lyra, as well as Delshad’s parents (who technically still ruled Asshai), as well as High Priest Alcides and a motley of other high-ranking members of the Temple.
“First and foremost,” Alcides said, beginning the meeting, “I wish to introduce you all to Priestess Padme, who will be taking the place of Lavinia as High Priestess, as a pretense to be her, until the time we can get Lavinia back safely to us.”
Priestess Padme, her face covered by a mask, lowered her head for a few seconds in acknowledgement of the introductions, and then raised her chin back up. Behind the mask Lyra glimpsed a pair of dark blue eyes. She knew Lavinia’s eyes to be of the same color, but there was a glint of steel present in those of Padme’s which Lavinia had never possessed.
“We are inching towards the brink of war,” Alcides did not hesitate to continue speaking, “I have seen it in the fire. If we do not assemble our forces, we will lose Asshai.” The words fell like heavy stone and Lyra felt a knot of worry clenching itself in the pit of her stomach. Could they afford a war? Certainly they needed more men for their armies, as well as better defenses – but such things took time to amass…and would they even have that time?
“For my comfort?” Eskandir let out a sardonic laugh, “Oh please, don’t lie to me. I would be more than comfortable with being called by my name – really, it’s you who would be more comfortable calling me by titles. So, really, it’s not my comfort we are discussing right now.” The whole inability of coming to some sort of decision as to what to call him was beginning to chafe Eskandir the wrong way and his urge to be snappy rose up in him.
He tried to shove it back down, not really wishing to ruin a perfectly good dance by acting an ass. They danced in silence for a while, moving along with the music as Eskandir guided her across the floor. His own thoughts drifted to tomorrow as he wondered to himself what exactly he was going to be doing. Going through stocks of goods and putting together a list of financial expenses and profits in the afternoon, as usual, but as of yet he had no plans for either the morning or the evening.
Shirin’s voice broke through his thoughts and Eskandir looked back down at her as she spoke again on the subject of what to call him. He scowled again – but the scowl lessened when she combined her preference together with his, coming up with ‘Milord Eskandir’. He shrugged his shoulders, “Ah, why not.” He doubted he would be able to get her to call him by his first name at any point soon. Ah well, he’d take what he could get.
Eskandir nearly lost his footing, but was able to regain himself and move into the next series of steps before making a fool of himself. The reason for his near stumble was the fact that Shirin had just then decided to begin listing off things that she was good at doing. He cocked an eyebrow at her as she ended the list with saying that she could do anything – almost as if she was looking for a job to be given. Quite frankly, Eskandir really had no idea what he was going to do with her, but he was sure that she would fit into the household in one way or another.
“Well, that all sounds lovely,” he said, chewing on his bottom lip in thought, “based on that I think I can find something for you to do – I’m sure Lyra will have suggestions.” He paused for a few moments, and then a grin came over his face as an idea struck him, “actually, I could use another maid! The old one pilfered some jewels and we had her hands cut off, so that position is free for you to occupy.” There, that ought to do. Eskandir figured that that should bring her some comfort – for now she had some sort of set out job to do, right? He decided that he was being very generous indeed.
After the first dance had ended with the drawn out cry of the violin and Eskandir was about to inquire as to how Shirin was doing when he caught Delshad’s eye. The look that the older man passed to him was a clear statement that Eskandir was expected to finish dancing and take his leave as well – as it was quite visible that Delshad and Lyra were already vacating the party. Eskandir’s eyebrows knitted together in a frown – the revelry ought to be continuing for much longer, but for some reason they had to be leaving right then and there.
‘Strange…’ was all that Eskandir could think to himself as his eyes followed Lyra for a few moments – he was speaking to Lord Fariel and gesturing in a manner that implied she was feeling ill – Eskandir felt worried by that prospect, but knew that if Lyra did have some sort of trouble, she would be more capable than he at fixing it. Finally, Eskandir allowed his eyes to turn back to Shirin.
“We should be leaving, as well,” he said as he stepped out of the waltzing position and motioned for Shirin to follow after him. “If you have any belongings here which you cherish, they will be sent over in the morning, do not worry.” With that said, Eskandir strode off, looking back over his shoulder to make sure that Shirin was coming along.
“My need for something to do that does not involve sitting around all day with a musty tome brought my here, sister,” Crevan said with the beginnings of a smile as he followed his sister’s movements as she walked back farther into her room to tend to her needlework. Though, it was not really tending at all, but more of a half-hearted prodding at it. He raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Aileen used to adore her needle-work, but maybe today was just not a good day for her – just like today was not a good day for him to be cooped up in his study with a heavy book in his lap.
Crevan shut the door behind himself – but not fully, really only moving it back so that only a few inches of an opening could be glimpsed. He could not help but feel a bit like he was stepping into the quarters of a stranger – nowadays at times it felt that he almost did not know his younger sister at all, though they had always been so close. But in the end he knew that it was still his little sister – still the same girl he had chased around in the streets of Braavos, still the same girl who had enjoyed being tickled and playing games.
“There is nothing wrong with your other escorts, Aileen,” Crevan said, one eyebrow raised as he listened to her light complaining. But, the sight of her pouting lips made him crack a grin, “though I must agree that not all of them are…riveting company.” He was deeply considering setting off his work for the day and spending the rest of it alongside his younger sister. Truth be told, he felt like he owed her some companionship, having not spent much time with her ever since the sickness had struck and taken three other siblings away from him.
He had receded more into himself since that day and filled his time with pouring over documents and his studies, forcing himself to strive towards perfecting and honing his knowledge. Crevan had never really been much of a sentimental man and lately he had become even less so – but he did feel a growing sense of guilt for neglecting his family for so long. He really should be putting in more effort to be with them, but he had always felt that his studies were leagues more important.
Ah, but for this once he would allow himself to take some time off and spend the day with Aileen. Yes, for once he would do such a thing instead of locking himself in the library and coming out only to eat, sleep, or spar down in the courtyards. Crevan rubbed his chin in thought, mulling the possibilities over in his mind – he was not quite sure where exactly Aileen would want to go to, and neither did her really have any suggestions on the matter. Crevan decided to just let her choose for herself, as he really did not mind at that point.
“Was there anywhere in particular you wished to go today, Aileen?” He asked her as he went over to the nearest chair and sat down on its edge, arranging his body in such a way so as to allow himself to prop an elbow on his knee and rest his chin in the palm of his hand. He watched her with green-blue eyes as she smoothed her hands over the sky blue of her dress – in an odd motion…as if she almost did not want to have it on. “Is there something that is bothering you about the dress?” Crevan frowned, wondering if it was itching her or something of the sort.
Crevan got back up off the chair with a groan and stretched out his shoulders, rubbing first one shoulder with one hand and then the other with the other hand. He had been craning his neck too much again while reading, and it had made his shoulders sore – as well as his neck, which he had just then moved unto rubbing. He would honestly not mind going for a swim right about now…it was rather hot outside as well, the sort of day to make one long to jump into a cold lake.
Lavinia of the Flame
Her hands closed immediately around the first thing she could grab a hold of to prevent herself from possibly falling back downwards over that cliff and drowning herself in the raging river water. Her hands first clutched at the chest of the man who had pulled her away from the ledge, but soon enough she found herself wrapped her arms around his broad chest and pressing herself closer to him. He was warm – warm and safe and not about to drown her.
The sudden tickle of breath in her ear as the man spoke to her made her wriggle and shudder, but she found herself unable to move much as he held her close. Lavinia stifled a giggle, her shoulders shaking as she tried to bite back the need to squirm – she was rather ticklish in the neck area and his hot breath on her skin made her want to dissolve into squeals of laughter.
“How odd, you’ve put so much effort into things, as you say – and yet I have no idea who you are,” Lavinia said in non-confrontational tones which gave away her discomfort, “someone of some importance?” She tilted her head upwards as best she could, what with his hand being on her neck, and looked up into his dark eyes with a polite smile filled with expectation. She really did not know his name, nor anything else about him. All she had seen of him was what the fires had shown her, and it was from those images that she had pieced her judgments together.
This really was him. This was the man she had seen in the fire – his face just as she had recalled it. “You’re much taller than I expected,” she said in attempt at making light conversation and tried to crane her neck as much as she could.
“What is it – what exactly are you planning on doing now that you have managed to acquire me?” She asked, her voice wavering with a hint of fear. She had no idea what his intentions were for her, but she knew that it would not be something she would be willing to do. If he was the Lord of some nearby city and wished to march upon Asshai, she would have to do anything and everything in her power in order to foil his plans.
It scared her to think of the possibility of her beloved city – the jewel of R’hllor, her wonderful Asshai – falling or being conquered. No, surely R’hllor would spare them of something so horrendous. But there were ways; surely, there were ways in which Asshai could defend itself. Alcides knew of them and Lavinia knew that she could count on the High Priest to do what had to be done to save the city. Allying themselves with the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai was the safest and surest way to make certain that few would dare and raise up arms against them. The Shadow Lands were widely known as a place of uncharted terrain and mystical inhabitants – a place few ever wanted to go near – and, if the bond between the Shadow Lands and Asshai could be renewed, as it had once been in time long past, then they would be safe.
‘The night is dark and full of terrors…’ she thought to herself, swallowing the lump in her throat as her prayers reached out to the city she had left behind out of fear for its safety. “Alcides…you did not go after him because,” she paused, the realization having crept into her mind like an unwelcome visitor barging into one’s home, “…because you need a woman. No man can birth a Shade.” It was only in the womb of a Priestess that a Shade could gestate, and she was sure that this was one of the many purposes that this man had taken her for. She wondered if he knew the intricacies of such a ritual – including the fact that it would be his seed that would aid her in giving rise to such a creature, as was customary.
She shuddered in his arms and was not sure if she wished to lean in closer for bodily comfort or lean away out of inner revulsion. But he was so warm and she was tired – her limbs ached from all the days of running and trekking through rough terrain, and she would herself slumping into him with a soft sigh.