Continued from In the Shadow of the Colosseum (Part II).
We managed to arrive in one piece. Ctephen’s relief seemed silly to me. There was no hardship along the way, save that it took so long to arrive. Instead of going to an inn, he went straight to the recruitment office, where he was turned down immediately. They did, however, offer to recruit me. I laughed at them.
“You don’t understand. I was told to come by a Father, to atone for a sin in IL’s house. He sent me north to join with a grand host.” He looked so confused.
The two recruitment officers looked at each other. “Fathers have misinterpreted IL’s word before,” one offered gently. “We have a Father here, and he is talented in listening to IL’s words. Go talk to him, and he’ll make everything clear.” The one who spoke pointed back with his thumb, to a curtain-covered doorway.
“Stay here, Abby. I’ll be out before long.” Ctephen’s tone was annoyingly respectful. He walked through the curtain, and I edged closer. As long as I stayed in the main room, I was sure I was doing nothing wrong. I leaned close to the door and waited for the familiar sound of voices.
There they were.
“Father, I have sinned, and the Father back home has told me to come north and join a grand host as atonement. I gave a year of my life, and travelled for two months.”
“I see. He spoke rightly, but the army is not the grand host he spoke of. IL wishes you to join the magi, and though you gave a year, he asks that you stay with them, but gives the choice to leave after the nine months are over. It will take you a month to get there.”
“I see.” Ctephen sounded worried. “I heard the magi are all sworn to celibacy.”
“That is a lie. Only those who wish that oath take it. The Father back in your home understood that you would believe the oath of celibacy is required, I believe. IL tells me he has never been fond of you. I urge you to, if you ever return home, take his words with caution. He will not lie, but he will, by neglect of details, mislead you– just as he led you to the army, and almost led you to destroy your new marriage to she-who-was-once-part-of-Jenisse.” He paused. “On that matter, I must give you a warning, but I think it might be best if she not listen in.”
From that moment, I heard nothing on the other side of the curtain. The two stayed in there for almost an hour as I waited and pondered that name. Jenisse was someone important here, it seemed. Was I her daughter? That wasn’t possible, I quickly decided. I was created, not born. I wandered away from the curtain and sat on a bench to wait. Damn religion-men and their enchantments.
Finally, just as I was beginning to drowse, Ctephen emerged. His expression was hard to read. He didn’t speak as he wrapped one arm around me and led me out. My gut told me to just keep quiet.
A month later, he signed on at a massive building to become a magi. I was carted off to live away from him while he completed his training, and he gave me formal permission to trust my judgement, if I chose to have a lover while he was training, but asked that I not allow my lover to impregnate me. I answered him with a kiss, and told him I would not allow a man’s loins within that area. He looked relieved, and for a brief moment, we kissed. I felt bubbly and warm as we shared such a rare exchange, and then he left.
At the start, living with the other magi-wives was painful. They pecked and sneered at me and my clothing, and they made cruel comments about Ctephen. I punched one who said Ctephen would surely fail the examination, and she kept silent.
Eventually, I became very ill, and the others began to worry when it lasted. Finally, one asked me to explain my symptoms. When I did, her eyes began to shine. “Oh, what happy news! You’re going to have a baby!”
I was shocked. “A baby? I didn’t know I was capable!” I spat. The women looked at me with pity. From that moment, they were very caring, and said only kind things.
Ctephen was able to come visit me the night our child was born, and little Jami looked too breakable to survive. As Ctephen completed his training, our child began to grow stronger.
The year mark passed, and I moved in with Ctephen and other married couples who had passed the examinations. We lived in a group home, so Ctephen felt self-conscious and couldn’t perform until we went out-of-doors.
Two years in, Ctephen was given a mission. He was to capture a dragon who was lurking around the region of his hometown. He was told by the local Father that I was to accompany him, but Jami would perish if we took him. We left Jami in the capable hands of one of my friends, and we left on horseback. Every village we passed, we traded horses. It took only a month to arrive back in the town we met at.
It was covered in frost, and there were some new statues– people frozen in blocks of ice. I led Ctephen to the cave and began to explain.
“To stop a dragon, aim for its head. Blunt force does best. It interrupts its ability to use magic, because it sometimes bites its own tongue.” The stones beneath my feet didn’t cut so much, now that I had boots. “If you break its upper jaw, both it and the rider will have difficulty speaking.”
We arrived, and he hid near the front, to attack from behind. I went inside and found a large pole. It would work perfectly. I grabbed it and spun around as I heard dragon claws on stone. As it entered, I bashed it on the head. The rider was hauntingly familiar, but I didn’t falter. I continued my assault, and the beast cast several spells. Finally, a blinding spell almost stopped me. Just in time to avoid a hit, I realized I could see the edges of objects, and continued.
The beast shrunk itself to more easily maneuver, and I grabbed its jaw and broke it.
The rider howled in pain. It was her!
Bash, bash, bash! I continued. The dragon cowered and backed up into a corner.
“Stop! I yield!” my friend from the arena screamed. “I yield!”
I glanced to the entrance. Ctephen had been too scared to do anything. I looked at my friend, who was lighting a black candle. She placed it against her dragon, who accepted the incoming death with grace.
Suddenly angry, I grabbed on of Ctephen’s shirts from my satchel and beat the fire out. “No. You’re not going to die.”