On the eve of the Choosing Ceremony, Nyaria had a restless sleep. She woke before dawn with her mother clinging to her arm. Lady Stonebridge did not spare her from her wrath when she learned what Nyaria had done. Agreeing to marry into Lord Thrinn’s family without her mother’s consent was the final indignity for the lady to suffer. But they had no other choice.
Nyaria snuck from the bed and slipped into her heavy robes, quietly leaving her chambers. This early in the day, the temple was still, save for a few acolytes milling around on the lower floors. She made her way down to the praying rooms. Nyaria knelt before Neres, the god of fortitude, closed her eyes, clasped her hands, and prayed. After a time, she heard footsteps approaching.
“It is forbidden. To leave your chambers before you are summoned on the day of the ceremony. Even to pray,” a woman said at her back. “Your presence here might upset the gods.”
“I’m sorry,” Nyaria said and looked over her shoulder. The woman wore the exquisite robes of the high priestesses, but the pattern on her hood was unlike any she had seen before and Nyaria struggled in the low light to make sense of the woman’s features.
“What is it that troubles you, child?”
Where to begin? Nyaria thought.
“Nothing troubles me. I only came to say a prayer for my mother.”
“Ah yes, we have heard Lady Stonebridge has not been well.”
By now it shouldn’t surprise her that their trials in Atkah were well known to all inside the temple—and many outside of it. Nyaria shifted her skirts and pushed herself to her feet.
“Begging your pardon, I’ll return to my chambers now,” she said and dipped to show her respect.
“I knew your father, Nyaria Stonebridge. Everyone knew him as a good man with a great name, but it will be remembered in you, in your actions, from this day forward,” the woman said.
Nyaria raised her eyes to the priestess, found the woman smiling. For a moment, her body tensed, refusing to move. She contemplated asking the meaning of her words but reconsidered. She left the woman in the praying room, racing back to her chambers.
By the time her mother opened her eyes, Nyaria was already laced into her elaborate purple dress. Lady Stonebridge eyed her as she rose, her hair disheveled and her face gaunt. Her mother wore the same smock for days now, nibbled at her food, and wandered the chambers aimlessly. It was cause for concerns.