The camp is quiet after the battle with the barbarians and delve into the temple of Gorum. The exhaustion of the day and the body of the dead noble girl cast a pall across the gathering. The campfire blazes, chasing away the chill of the spring evening. Faisal stares into the flames, fascinated as always by the antics and faces of the tiny creatures within. The warrior is distracted from his reverie as Scarlet excuses herself and leaves the circle of light. The young man takes a deep breath and stands, nodding to his companions as he joins the young woman away from the camp.
“Ten thousand pardons for intruding on your meditation time, Dawnsister. I have an important matter to discuss with you in private.”
Faisal interprets the priestess’ deep sigh as assent and seats himself on the ground opposite her rocky seat.
“It is a matter of the heart that is distracting me, and I am uncertain how to proceed. I have little experience in these matters and find them not only perplexing, but frustrating. I am hoping that your wisdom and clarity might be able to help, as they have in the past for so many issues of faith.
“Acolyte Deirdre had expressed feelings for me some time ago, having worked up the courage to approach me. At the time, I was surprised, although pleased, but refused her advances because of my devotion to…someone else. To someone who cannot return the feelings. Someone to whom I could only be near, but never closer.
“But as Deirdre has studied the Karain and shown her devotion to The Goddess, I find myself ever more attracted to her kindness and beauty, to her devotion and strength. I look forward to her presence, and feel saddened when she leaves for her duties each week. She has learned much of Qadiran culture, and can converse on many topics of interest such that I often find myself almost believing that I am speaking with a Qadiran lady.
“Yet I am troubled by these feelings. Not only do I find it difficult to set aside my feelings for another, but Deirdre is my acolyte and student. While such pairings are not uncommon in uncultured lands, they are looked upon with shadowed eyes in Qadira, as an insult to the talib’s dedication, and a denial of the mualim’s wisdom and control. She is soon to complete the tazkiah and become a member of the Brethren, which would resolve this taboo, but I am uncertain of my acceptance of this easy solution.”
Faisal looks up to the silent priestess, his brow wrinkled with indecision.
“Dawnsister, I am lost and ask for your Wisdom and Guidance.”
Scarlet drifts into a blissful reverie of her own. The joyous hallelujah chorus plays in her head realizing her prayers have been answered.
“At last I will no longer be tormented by that heartless, two-faced, manipulative, treacherous wench. ”
A conflicting thought occurs to her.
“Well I suppose that witch will finally get her way and by no means does she deserve Faisal. Yes, he can be thorn in my behind, but despite his self-righteousness, he is an honorable man and a kind gentle soul. I would much prefer him with someone holier- like Beppo’s mother or even crazy…err Lady Soletha.”
Suddenly an unpleasant thought worries her. “And if he courts Deirdre, he will be in for a rude awakening…eventually.”
She dismisses it and resumes her positive thinking, “But right now she makes him happy and they have so much in common so who am I to get in their way, right? Yes, a win-win situation for everybody…”
She grins as she imagines herself officiating their wedding on a glorious sunny day, witnessed by the entire town, everyone looking so cheerful.
Another image comes to her mind of the towns people smiling and waving goodbye to the newly wed as they prepare to leave Tuskany to start their new life in Qadira. Ildrim would then teleport them to some distant swamp land miles away from civilization leaving the couple to find their way to Qadira.
Scarlet envisions herself rolling down a grassy knoll surrounded with flowers basked in the sunlight shortly after their departure.
“Oh, yes -what a glorious day it will be!”
Faisal grows concerned about the length of delay in the Dawnsister’s reaction. She has been doing this often of late, reminding the holy warrior of a friend’s sister who developed fits and eventually went mad.
Scarlet snaps out of her dream and answers the paladin while suppressing her giddiness.
“Faisal, why must everything be difficult for it to be rewarding, pleasurable or guilt-free. You are good man and must not deny yourself love and you must not forget you are no longer in Qadira. We, the “uncultured” land you speak of, are more accepting than Qadira. But in the event you wish to return to Qadira, your relation with Deidre is of no concern to anyone else. And most of all you have my blessing. After all it is what the Goddess of Compassion and Light would want for you.”
An idea dawns on Duchess and her face lights up with glee.
“In fact why wait until Deirdre completes the tazkiah. Why not marry her upon our return. It will be my honor to perform the ceremony.”
Scarlet continues her thought process and says eagerly.
“Then afterwards I am sure she would want to see Qadira, the glorious land you speak so much about. I imagine it would be lovely this time of year and this will be an excellent opportunity for you to introduce her to your parents. Take as much time as you need there. Perhaps she will fall in love and decide to spend the rest of her life there… with you. If anything, it will be an escape from the harsh winters in Tuskany… do you think?”
Faisal sits stunned for a moment, surprised by the Dawnsister’s enthusiasm for the idea. He had been worried that the two women did not like each other, beginning to believe some of the rumours that had come to his attention. Those concerns now quashed, he smiles broadly and drops to one knee, grasping the priestess’ hand in both of his.
“Thank you, Dawnsister! Once again, your wisdom and clarity help to guide the way. I shall speak to Deirdre as soon as we return, although she will likely be about to complete tazkiah when we return. At any rate, The Karain forbids marriage between any member of the Orders and an Uncleansed One, so it must be completed.
“I would be honoured beyond measure if you would preside over the ceremony, and I am certain that Deirdre would feel the same way. If I could presume upon your good graces for one more request, I would ask that you also preside over the final rites of Deirdre’s tazkiah, as you did for Dawnbrother Jonas. I believe that it would greatly raise the acolyte’s spirit to have her most treasured mualim conduct the prayers before she steps into the Cleansing Flames.”
With that, Faisal rises and strides back to the camp, nearly bouncing with happiness. Not only had the burden of his decision been lifted, he had discovered that he was wrong about two of the most important women in his life hating each other…