tagNovels and NovellasThe Balance Ch. 10-12

The Balance Ch. 10-12

byGlaze72©

Hello. Here are the next chapters in Ariana and Abiron's Story. As promised, this story is branching out and taking some unexpected turns. Feedback and/or votes are always appreciated.

Chapter 10

The next several weeks were among the happiest of their lives. Their lives fell into a predictable and pleasurable routine. They worshiped in the morning, followed by whatever small chores the short hours of fall and winter left to them. The hours of late afternoon and evening were filled with lovemaking. As the Deity had predicted, Abiron grew into a prodigious lover, ever eager to explore a new opportunity for carnal knowledge. Ariana's hearty lust knew no bounds, as she wallowed in the hedonism which she had unnaturally denied to herself so long. She exulted in the thrill of introducing her son and husband to new delights. Unbeknownst to them, each were in the prime of their sexual prowess, Abiron driven by the need to sire a child, Ariana in the full summer of her years.

It was a chill evening in early winter when the messenger came. Abiron was weary, having just topped Ariana, with her hearty participation, when he heard the pounding at the doors of the temple.

"Who, in the name of the Deity, could this be, at this time, in this weather?" The season had turned for good, and a cold rain, promising to turn to snow at nightfall, had been soaking the surrounding area for hours.

Abiron levered himself to his feet, and looked in despair at his clothing. When the desires of the body had overtaken them, he and his wife had been preparing the evening meal. A casual squeeze of his wife's buttocks had turned into a full-fledged romp on the floor of the kitchen, and his breeches and tunic were soiled by flour, dust, and other, less mentionable stains.

"Quickly, my husband," smiled Ariana, still lolling on the floor of the kitchen. "It must not be said that the temple of the Deity was less than courteous with its visitors."

"If you care so much for the honor of the temple," grumbled Abiron, unhappy at leaving his spot, warmed by both the kitchen fire and his wife's body, "You can go and answer the door yourself."

He quickly put on his clothes, hoping that their sad state would go unnoticed, and went to the front door of the temple.

He opened it to see a novice of the Deity shivering in the rain. Her cloak was spattered with mud, and water from the soaked hem drizzled on the stone steps.

"My lady! Please, come in," Abiron opened the door wide to allow her entry. When she passed, he saw a horse, looking quite as miserable as the novice, standing near the steps leading to the temple.

"Wait here a moment. I will notify the High Priestess of your arrival," Abiron walked quickly to the kitchen, and was relieved to see Ariana dressing.

"What news, my husband?"

"A novice, soaked to the skin, on a horse that looks like it has been ridden long and hard. I am going to stable it, and if you could get the girl into some dry clothes, that would be a blessing."

"Of course. Send her in here and I'll sit her down and get her warm, dry, and fed. When you are done with the horse, meet us here, and we will see what drove this girl to come all this way in such foul weather."

Abiron went back to the front door. The novice had removed her cloak and hood. She was smaller than Ariana, her body slim and well-proportioned. Her clothing seemed drier underneath, but she was still shivering with cold. She had shoulder-length brown hair, brown eyes, and her pleasant-featured face was showing her obvious weariness.

"May I ask your name, my lady?"

"I am Adelpha, my lord. You are the High Priest, are you not?"

"I am, but call me Abiron. My lady wife and I do not stand on ceremony. With only two of us here, our titles are somewhat superfluous. I will take you to Lady Ariana. She will care for you, I will care for your poor beast, and when I return you can tell us what brings you here tonight."

Abiron left Adelpha with Ariana and went into the courtyard. The rain was changing to snow, and by the time he had led the horse to the stables, he was drenched and freezing. His estimation of Adelpha, already high, rose several notches. She was obviously very dedicated in order to ride as long and hard as she obviously had. He wondered what could possibly driven her to ride so swiftly to the temple. His curiosity tempted him to slack on the care of the horse, but he stamped on his desire to learn the news, and did his job as well as he could.

After some time, the tack and saddle had been removed, the horse had been dried down, and bedding had been laid. The horse had been fed and watered and Abiron sprinted back through the snow and mud back to the temple. Changing into clean clothes, he went back to the kitchen. There he found Ariana and Adelpha. The latter was dressed in one of Ariana's robes and had a mug of hot tea in her hands. Abiron looked at Ariana. Beneath the placid surface, he could see that she was tense. Obviously, some of the news had already been told, and it was not good.

"What news, my lady wife?"

"As I feared. But it is not my tale to tell. Adelpha, would you please tell the High Priest what you have already told me?"

"Yes, my Lady," Adelpha looked down, and then at Ariana and Abiron. "The king summons the both of you to court. The Christian priests have sent an embassy to our land, seeking permission for their religion to be taught, for places of worship to be built and maintained, and for religious communities to be established. The king would have the high priest and priestess of the Deity to be on hand before permission is given or refused, so that their counsel may be ready to hand."

Ariana's voice was like a whipcrack, "And by what right does the king summon us? Are we recalcitrant children, who are brought heels-dragging from a hiding place to be punished?"

Adelpha flinched, but looked Ariana in the eye. Abiron admired her bravery to face head-on a high priestess who was obviously incandescent with rage. "The king summons you without discourtesy. He asks that ancient pledges be kept, that your wisdom be taken into account, and that you have the opportunity to confront those who are arrayed against us," she paused, and then went on. "My lady, I think the king wise in this. Here, in this house, you may be unaware of the forces arrayed against him. Pressure is mounting from many fronts. King Benedicte is not strong enough, either in his own court or in the world outside, to issue a flat refusal against the Christians."

Ariana nodded once, sharply. "My apologies, Adelpha. My anger was not against the king, but to those who forced us to such a pass. Tell us, what of the embassy the Christians have sent? Who do we have to contend with?"

Adelpha took a long swallow of her tea, and sighed in pleasure. "They are four, my lady. The first, the leader, is a man of some years. He has been in the service of their Christ for many years. He is a diplomat of many years and holds some standing in their hierarchy. He is called Bishop Lambert.

"The second I have no liking for. He is an ill-favored sort and speaks harshly. He is called Father Ulf."

Ariana smiled faintly. "An old ploy. They show us the stick. Where is the carrot?"

Adelpha bowed her head in respect. "Even so, my lady. There are two more. They are strong in their faith. It shines from them, even as from you and my lord the high priest. If permission is granted for the Christians to stay, it is said these two will form the beginnings of their church in our land. They are young and pious. Brother Paul and Sister Angela are their names."

Ariana looked up sharply, "Sister Angela? The Christians send a woman with their embassy?"

"Yes, my lady."

Ariana frowned. "This is odd. Women count for little in their world. What could be behind this?"

"My lady, if I may? I think they may seek to sway the prince. My Lord Alan is of a marriageable age, and his blood runs hot, if tales be true. They could be trying to swing him to their side with the beauty of their ambasadress."

"Really? They are more clever than I thought. Is she comely?"

Adelpha shrugged. "Who can tell? Her face and voice are certainly appealing. But her body? I cannot say. They guard her so firmly that if she emerges to bathe I would be surprised."

"And Brother Paul? Do they play the same trick with the queen and the ladies of the court?"

Adelpha shrugged again, even less concerned than before, "Perhaps. My eye is not for male flesh. He is presentable enough, I suppose," She blinked, ignoring Abiron's slack-jawed look of surprise, and went on, "My lady, my lord, do I have your permission to retire? It has been a long ride in beastly weather, and I long for a soft bed and a night's respite."

"Of course. My apologies. We are lacking in hospitality. Abiron will show you to a chamber. It will not be fancy, but I think it will suit your needs."

"As long as it has a fire and a bed, my needs will be well met."

"Adelpha, if we are not here when you wake, do not take it amiss. Follow us back as swiftly as you may. We will travel hard and swift, and we may have to leave you here."

"I understand, my lady. I would think less of you if you did not."

At Ariana's nod, Abiron led Adelpha to one of the guest chambers. He sighed in relief when he saw that it was clean and dry wood was already laid in the grate. He had not looked forward to bringing in wood that had been soaked to the pith by the rain and snow outside. Lighting the tinder from a taper he had brought with him, he wished Adelpha a good night and returned to the kitchen.

He found all in a state of turmoil. Ariana had saddlebags and satchels open on the long stone counter, and was throwing all manner of foodstuffs into them. Her eyes were wild and she was clearly only just containing the fury that had shown itself only moments before. He could clearly see that trying to contain her at this moment would be just as effective as trying to harness an earthquake. Silently he went to her side and assisted her in packing cheese, bread, dried fruit and vegetables, and the rest of the supplies she had brought out of the pantry.

"Milk?" he asked, breaking the silence.

"It would either freeze or spoil. Here is a skin of wine, though," She ignored the face that he made. "If you don't like it, you can drink water. What condition are the horses in?"

"If you are speaking about the poor beast that Adelpha brought in, he won't be ready to ride for at least a day. Our two geldings are in good shape. We have exercised them enough to be ready for a long ride."

"Good. I didn't think that Adelpha would be ready to ride tomorrow, in any case. I would rather not feel guilty about leaving her behind. Make sure you have sufficient clean clothes for at least a fortnight. Pack both work-a-day clothes and your finery. We are going to court."

Abiron's lips twitched. "Yes, mother. Have you any other advice for me?"

"Yes," Ariana raked her hands through her hair, and stood, at once achingly vulnerable and furious to her core. "We are going to be fighting for the very soul of our land. Keep your wits about you. Open your heart to the Deity. Think! I have served this land since my birth, and I am not going to let it fall into heathenism without a fight!"

Much later, in the small hours of the night, they finally retired to their own room. The supplies and clothing had been made ready, and they were going to leave before dawn. In their bed, Abiron drew his wife and mother close. Her arms came hard around his neck and she pressed her body close against his own.

"Abiron?"

"Yes, Ariana?"

"I'm scared. Will you hold me, please?"

He help her, cradling her close against his body, as she wept hot tears of fear into his shoulder. Slowly she sank into a restless sleep. He stayed awake, thinking long and hard about the time ahead of them.

Chapter 11

They were up before dawn, and by first light they had their horses saddled and were on the road. According to Ariana, they were eight days' ride from the capital, but she hoped to cut the time by riding hard and swift. Abiron had never been there, and Ariana not since before his birth. They pushed the horses as hard as they dared, not risking foundering them, but making as swift time as could be accomplished given the season. They ate in the saddle at noon, and twice camped in the open, when nightfall saw them out of reach of any village or town.

Near midday of the sixth day from the temple, they saw the towers of the capital before them. They passed through the gates, the gold necklaces of the Deity granting them safe passage. They rode up even to the gates of the palace, and gave their horses over to the guard, and were shown a suite of rooms within the palace.

When the servant had guided them left, Ariana looked around approvingly. "Very nice. It seems the king has anticipated our coming and is giving us the honor that we are due. This puts some of worries at ease. If he had shunted us away to an out-of-the way section of the palace, I would have been concerned. But it appears that the wolves of Christ have not leashed his will as of yet."

Abiron frowned. Ariana's overt antipathy toward the Christians worried him. He put those concerns aside for the time being and admired the suite. It was, as Ariana said, very pleasant. There was a bedroom, a sitting room with a comfortable set of chairs and couches, a small dining area, and a separate room for bathing. He and Ariana were busy putting the clothes they had brought from the temple in the wardrobes when there was a knock at the door.

Opening it, Abiron found himself face to face with a man a few years older than himself. The newcomer was slightly smaller than he, with a thin, wiry build. He had dark hair and clever blue eyes.

"May I help you?" Abiron asked.

"Perhaps. Do I have the honor of addressing High Priest Abiron?"

"You do." Abiron's lips twitched in a smile.

"That is well. You have the honor of addressing Prince Alan." The stranger smiled, "May I enter?"

"My lord Alan, of course. Please come in," Abiron stood aside to make room for the prince.

Prince Alan entered the room, and his eyes widened as he saw Ariana for the first time. He bowed deeply. "My lady High Priestess, be welcome here. My father asks me to send his deepest regards."

"Then why is your father not here himself?" Ariana's voice was pleasant and courteous, but there was an edge to her words. Abiron remembered her anger at the summons, and hoped she would be able to control her temper. He would not wish to be on the receiving end of her wrath.

"If my lady and my lord priests would care to join me, I will explain. Have you had your mid-day meal yet?" As they shook their heads, Alan smiled, "Well then, let us eat and I will attempt to be useful, as my father asks."

A short time later, they were dining on turkey, bread, turnips, and peas, and Prince Alan was explaining the situation.

"My lady, my lord, please know that my family and I hold you in the highest respect and regard. However, our situation may be more precarious than you may think. There are powerful forces at court that wish to yoke their wagons to the growing power of this new religion. They see our neighbors shifting away from their ancient gods and godesses and embracing the new power in Rome, and they wonder why we do not as well. There is an element of fear as well. Some speculate on our fate if these neighbors, whom we have always been able to deal with piecemeal, made alliance with each other due to their new-found common religion.

"And what do they ask that is so terrible? A few of their order, free to wander our lands, preach their religion, establish a church or two? What harm could that possibly do? That is what those who favor the christians ask."

Ariana snorted. "Before the the knife pierces the heart, the point must enter the flesh. I fear that these four are only the point. If four are allowed, fourteen may be granted admittance within a few months. Then forty. Then four hundred..." She sighed, "I will not go on. The thought depresses me. Prince Alan, what is the will of the king?"

Prince Alan nodded. "You are wise, my lady. For now, he asks that you merely be here, be seen at court, make your presence known. For some, the christians are only a novelty, and they have no real attachment to them. He believes that with the Deity's assistance, you will be able to see into the hearts of those to whom the christians are only of passing interest, as opposed to those who would actively flout his will in this matter. Also, he believes that you and the lord high priest will be able to devise means with which to deal with the christians themselves, so that he may be able to deny their request without risking conflict with either our neighbors or the church itself.

"I see hope in such an approach. There may be conflict within the ranks of the christians. The two younger ones, Brother Paul and Sister Angela, are as sweet-spoken a pair as I have ever seen, and Bishop Lambert is as courteous as the day is long, but Brother Ulf," here his mouth twisted with distaste, "dwells overmuch on the pain and torments that await those who do not accept his god. I am not sure how much the others like him. He nearly drove Lady Evaine into hysterics a few days ago, and I heard Bishop Lambert chastising him afterwards."

"Dissension. Well, that is a start," stated Ariana. "Prince Alan, I thank you for your time. Please allow my lord high priest and myself time to consult before we make our first appearance in the court. Are there any festivities or parties planned for the near future?"

"Indeed there are. Since it is winter, you have arrived at the height of the season. If this were summer, many of the nobles would be on their separate estates, but now you have the opportunity to see and be seen by many of the most influential houses in a short period of time. Once your presence becomes know, I would not be surprised to find that you have received invitations to several gatherings within the next few days."

"Splendid. One last question, and then I will detain you no further. As you may, know, my lord high priest and I share a...unique relationship. How widely is this known among those at court?"

Alan leaned back in his chair and fiddled with his wine glass. For the first time, he seemed discomposed. He raised his glass, and looked through it, as if searching for impurities in the wine.

"A unique relationship. Well, that is one way to put it," he frowned, "I will speak honestly, Lady Ariana. I know of this relationship, and I am disturbed. How much of it is due to what I have been taught is unnatural, and how much is due to jealousy of your son the high priest on my part, I cannot say." Abiron frowned at Alan's choice of words. "How many know? My family in the royal house, to be sure. Some of those who deal on a regular basis with you and the high temple, for they have access to the historical records, and it would be hard to hide the fact that for many generations, the fathers and mothers of one generation of high priests or priestesses have been the sons and daughters of the previous generation. And those of the noble houses who take an interest in the history of our land will also know, or suspect. However," he said with a shrug, "those may not be many. It has been some time since the high temple took an direct interest in the affairs of our nation, and your reticence to leave your own sphere of influence may prove to be beneficial in this case."

After Alan had left, Ariana spent some time thinking quietly in their bedroom. Abiron, with a lifetime of experience in his mother's moods, knew well enough to not interrupt her thought. He was, therefore, not terribly surprised when she called him in to join him.

Report Story

byGlaze72© 0 comments/ 4629 views/ 1 favorites

Share the love

Report a Bug

Next
2 Pages:12

Forgot your password?

Please wait

Change picture

Your current user avatar, all sizes:

Default size User Picture  Medium size User Picture  Small size User Picture  Tiny size User Picture

You have a new user avatar waiting for moderation.

Select new user avatar:

   Cancel