THIRTY-THREE TALES OF WAR V: THE PRIESTESS
Civil war rages in the black-blooded nation of Kandrisev. Its citizens grow restless. They demand their voices be heard. These are their stories laid out in thirty-three tales of war.
Fog had gathered in the valley overnight. It clung to the trees, the ground, the air: a blood-white cloud so thick it choked the morning sun. A village stood beneath these mountains once. Mavska. Most knew it as the sole settlement for spans and spans. A lantern in the gloom. It, like the sun, had succumbed to darkness.
A priestess stood where the village once had. The fog curled away as she whispered to the Void, revealing a field of flattened wheat to her north. In her hand, a red candle. On her lips, a prayer.
She walked amidst broken bodies and the shafts of spears, lone shoes with no feet to wear them, and scattered, dented shields. The ground, glutted with filth and blood, threatened to suck her in with every heavy step. Yet, she carried on.
Nine times she paced the field until black blood saturated her leather turnshoes. Black blood, not red. All this had begun with the redbloods. Then the caste-whore queen. The priestess turned her mind from such treacherous thoughts. There was work to do.
In the burlap sack at her side she collected things for the dead: beads and talismans, iron tadril coins, scraps of tattered banners and cloth. She kissed each item and set it delicately in the bag. A quiet joy quelled the mournful murmurs of her soul. Here laid her altar. So many souls returned to their mother, the Seamstress of Souls, here in this very field. How lucky was she to be Her priestess. How lucky were they to find their path home.
At the tenth turn of her pacing she paused and raised her candle skyward. The flame trembled. Searching for the stars beyond the fog, the priestess bowed her head.
"In anger you called to Her, She who avenges your wounds."
Tendrils of fog slithered across her lips.
"In sorrow you prayed to Her, She who felled your friends and foes."
A hole in death's cloak. She cast her sight to the sky. "In death you came to Her, She who ends all things."
Red wax pattered against her feet. The candle hissed as it melted onto her palm. She knelt and set her sack at her knees, reaching inside to find the first offering; she kissed the helmet she collected from within, pulling sticky blood and tissue away as she withdrew her lips. "In her sight," she whispered.
One by one she drew their possessions from her bag and arranged them on the ground. When each item laid about her in a circle, she took a bundle of sage from her skirt pocket and lit it with the last flicker of the candle. She placed the bundle in the palm of a worn leather glove.
"Rest now, sweet children, and be at peace, for in hope the shards of your soul ran to Her, She who will set them free."
A divine pulse shuddered across the valley. Gradually, the fog thinned until it was nothing more than crisp autumn air. The priestess stood. Hundreds of spears and work-hardened swords quivered up to their hilts in the bloody ground. How lucky were they to no longer suffer. Hundreds fell here, but this battle did not end the war. Thousands had drawn their last breath the two years past. Thousands of souls, shattered. Her countrymen, her friends.
Yet, the priestess lifted her arms to the sky. The Seamstress' mercy was a gift to them all, no matter which side they fought and died for. And, for that alone, she was thankful.