The priestess knelt by the window, bent in prayer or on thought, where she had been for an hour or more. The roll of parchment beside her knee lay with broken seal, and its runners, scroll and all were torn or snapped neatly in two. The soldier by the door kept vigil.
The contrast between them was ironic. The guard was short, compact, and almost petite; had she been in white and green robes, she would have been indistinguishable from any one of the smiling, earnest, round-faced acolytes with their merry eyes and warm smiles. Only she was not smiling now. The high priestess was tall, remote, a commanding figure even on her knees. Her straight back and broad shoulders seemed more suited to an officer of the mounted knights, and she wore no veil nor wimple, allowing the tight, silver-flecked dark braids of her hair to fall loosely over her shoulders. She prayed like a soldier preparing for battle.
At last the Lady raised her head, face composed and tranquil. "And that is the third this month. One would think me still a maiden acolyte with flowers in my hair."
The guard said nothing. There was little she might say, although her hand tightened around the hilt of an ornamental sword. Her eyes followed the self-contained figure as she moved to the window and drew the curtains, then strode past the silent watcher and barred the door to her office with a sigh. After a moment the priestess turned to face the dark-haired woman standing at attention by the doorframe.
"Maester Kiram this time." Yocun smiled thinly at the warrior's quizzical expression. "Yes, even the Ronso. The hand of Bevelle's high priestess is a ladder-rung to power." Seeing the clenched jaw of the one facing her, the Lady touched her face lightly with a fingertip. "The answer is still no, Lilith. Always."
Yocun frowned. "Lilith, please." Her eyes moved to the door-latch and back to the sentry's face. "I'm too tired for titles today. At ease."
Lilith broke into a smile at once, reaching up to catch Yocun's hand and draw it to her lips for a light, reverent kiss. "I wish it could be easier. What will you tell this one?"
"I have an idea that should put an end to this...foolishness." Yocun gestured irritably towards the latest proposal. "But I will need your help, Lilith. It will be the hardest thing I have ever asked of you."
"Anything, of course!"
Yocun's mouth pressed into a thin line. "No. Do not promise until you know what I intend. I..." she caressed the fine line of Lilith's jaw, a mute apology. "Will you be my Guardian?"
The soldier breathed out. "Are you certain?"
"I should think you would break my arm if I asked anyone else," the Lady chuckled.
Lilith set her gloved hands on the taller woman's shoulders, not quite shaking her, for with or without titles this was her Lady. "You know what I meant! There are less drastic ways to escape these suitors than throw your life away! Take a vow of chastity, if you must!"
"Trading one sacrifice for another?" Yocun said, grey eyes twinkling.
"Well," Lilith amended with a wry smile, "I think the usual wording is that 'thou shalt lie with no man'... no hardship for you, I trust."
Yocun planted a light kiss against her forehead. "Hardly. But I do not intend this merely as a means of escape. I truly wish to do this, Lilith. I put Summoner's training aside when the temple called upon me to lead. I have given Bevelle fifteen years of service, and now I wish to take up my staff and walk the road that has long been denied me."
"Then we will walk it together." Pride and sorrow warred on the younger woman's face. "I will see you safe to Zanarkand, Lady." Before Yocun could chide her, the swordswoman had tipped up her face with so keen a smile that all words of reproach were forgotten. The novice Guardian sealed her vow with the passionate kiss of a devotee.