Title: Trial by Fire
Fandom: Valdemar: Part of a world called Velgarth, created in a series of books by Mercedes Lackey. The land is patrolled by specially chosen people called Heralds, who have special mental Gifts, and their horse-like Companions. There are other lands in the world, including Karse, Rethwellan, and Hardorn. I do not own any of the above!
Taunt: My fandom may or may not be reading your mind.
There were many things Solaris did not claim to understand. What she had to do now was one thing she did grasp, however. First and foremost for the sake of Sunlord V'kandis, may He be praised. It was He who had set this motion, she knew. She had dreamt of it. She would do this for Karse as well, and only lastly would she do this for herself.
Her utter faith in the Sunlord did not keep the tiniest tendril of fear from coiling in her stomach, and she quietly prayed that He would forgive her for it. She was, after all, only human.
The men on either side of her did not look at her, did not seem to even notice she existed. That didn't really bother her, though. They were there to make sure she did not run, to stop her if she did try to escape, and to escort her out to the dais and the awaiting masses. They were simply doing their duty by their God and their country. No one could fault them for following orders.
When the doors parted, she needed no encouragement to step past them and out into the Great Temple, which was filled with people. They were crowded in as closely as space would allow. Glancing over the assembly, she saw many faces she knew. They were the faces of friends, of people who believed in her power and her position. Though her trust in the Sunlord was absolute, the sight of tangible, trustworthy people there set that little knot of unrest at ease.
In the ornate gold pavilion at the highest point of the Great Temple sat the Son of the Sun and his immediate entourage, including the High Priests of V'kandis. Behind the pavilion stood the grand statues of V'kandis Sunlord, wearing the Sun Crown. It was actually the Son of the Sun who had arranged for this little spectacle.
In some ways, the whole thing was amusing, really. She had gathered a great deal of support from those who witnessed the miracles she had been able to perform through the blessings of the Sunlord. With that support behind her and her Firecat, Hansa, at her side, she had finally made herself known to the man who currently sat on the throne as the Son of the Sun and pleasantly asked him to step aside, as he was in her way and thus in the way of what the Sunlord had ordained.
The man was not stupid, though, and had very quickly realized that to get rid of her could cause an uproar the likes of which had never been seen before, and the likes of which could cost him his power. But to step aside for a simple country woman who claimed to have been chosen and blessed by Sunlord V'kandis? He could not do it, even though she had a creature with her who greatly resembled the Firecats of legend, the mark of V'kandis' own favor…
If this was a true Firecat, then this woman was, indeed, the Son of the Sun. And any refusal of her, be it by simple denouncement or by the more permanent execution, could invoke the wrath of V'kandis and bring down His holy might upon Karse. But he could not just step aside. Pride did not permit it.
After some conferring, they had decided to ask her to prove herself. If she was truly the chosen of the Sunlord, then surely He would guard her against certain death in the Flames, would he not? So she would not object to a demonstration of what she claimed.
Solaris agreed on one simple condition: she wished her test to be public, with the people of the city there to see the truth with their own eyes. Hansa had growled when they hesitated, and they had quickly agreed to her request. She was then escorted to a room, little more than a prison cell, to await what the morning would bring.
She slept very little that night, but spent the hours in prayer and quiet meditation.
Now she stood before the crowd, barefoot, and clad in a simple floor-length shift of undyed cotton. The High Sunpriest rose and addressed the masses, telling them that this woman had claimed herself to be the Son of the Sun. There was a quiet murmur at that, and a few audible laughs.
The cauldron was lit at the front of the dais, a large shallow bowl-like structure. It was wide enough for a man to lay down in and have neither his feet nor his head protrude over the edge. In seconds, there was a roaring blaze contained within that cauldron. The Fires of Sunlord V'kandis, the High Priest said, and there was a moment of prayer to the Sunlord for His blessings.
Finally, it was the moment of truth. Solaris stood beside the cauldron, the two guards behind her, one on either side. There was a small block of marble in front of her to act as a step up. This was to be her test. She was to undergo a true trial by fire to prove the glory of V'kandis, and to demonstrate her divine right before the eyes of the Sunpriests and the people.
Solaris cast her eyes skyward and said one final prayer for guidance and protection before she slowly lifted one foot and stepped over the rim and into the cauldron, where the Flames burned as hot and fierce as the Sunlord's rage.
There was a gasp, no doubt from those in the crowd who did not know her, know of her powers and the miracles she had wrought. They expected to see a heretic burning alive in the righteous Fires.
What they saw was a woman standing amidst the Flames, neither flinching nor crying out. She showed no pain; her clothes were not touched or burned. Her hands were clasped in prayer, her eyes still looking towards the heavens.
For Solaris did not feel the pain of burning, as so many had when cast into the Sacred Fires. Where the Flames licked at her, she felt soft touches like the flutter of a moth's wings brushing her skin. Prayers and holy writ ran through her mind in quick succession, a constant call to V'kandis. And then…
It was like someone had come up to her and wrapped her in some sort of a blanket. She was enveloped in a thick feeling of happiness, like the joy of seeing an old friend after a long time spent apart. But it ran so much deeper than that, down to her very core and beyond. One of the Flames jumped higher, across her cheek, and it felt like the brush of a lover's hand.
This was something she had felt before. The first time it had happened, she had been a child, and it had allowed her to save one of the neighbor boys, who had been badly hurt after being kicked by a horse. She had been terribly afraid afterwards, not knowing what it was or how she had done it. People had been thrown to the Fires for less than that on the accusation of witchcraft, and not just adults.
That night, so long ago, had been spent in prayer to V'kandis, seeking forgiveness for any evil she may have inadvertently fallen prey to. Although even as a child, she could not quite understand how saving someone from a serious injury could be construed as evil. A dream had come to her that night of a man, beautiful and resplendent in red and gold, assuring her that she had done no harm.
He asked her what she had felt when she had healed the boy; she told him. He then told her that she need have no fear of that feeling when it came to her again, for she would feel it again, and she would be able to use it to help others. Somehow, she trusted that this man spoke the truth. But it wasn't until much later that she realized exactly what it meant or who the man was.
V'kandis Sunlord was with her, working through her.
The prayers that had been running through her head now ran across her lips in rushed whispers.
There were voices around her, harsh and angry, or perhaps they were frightened, all amidst the ever growing murmur of the people. Solaris wondered what they saw. Had something happened to her physically? Finally she opened her eyes and took in the sight around her.
The guards were standing in a half-circle around her with their weapons raised. They looked frightened, even as one of the High Priests barked an order at them to attack, she was a witch, this was a trick—
The Flames surged and moved.
Solaris felt her eyes widened, and she heard herself cry out. "No!"
The Fires stilled, still arching and reaching towards the terrified men.
She dropped to her knees amidst the Fires, hands already clasped in prayer. She may have spoken the words aloud; she was not sure. Please, Sunlord…no more. No more deaths by fire here. Please. These men have done no wrong, they are merely following orders. I beg of you…
It reminded her of a time that seemed so long ago, when a Black-Robed Sunpriest had informed a regiment after battle that the Fires were being prepared to sacrifice the mortally wounded to the Sunlord, for V'kandis took no pleasure in cold flesh. She had said that she did not understand why V'kandis took pleasure in any flesh, and been sharply reprimanded for it.
As if to prove her point, the Sunlord had come to her side, and given her the power to heal those men, some of them back from the very brink of death itself. The gift had faltered at the very last man, thankfully one who was not seriously wounded and would recover in time. The Black Robe had been stunned when she had told him calmly that now there was no one for the Fires.
The Flames were not there to cause harm or death. They were there to protect, to warm, to guide lost souls through the darkness. That was the true Will of the Sunlord, one that had been twisted and perverted by corrupt leaders across so many years to further agendas of death and fear. And now He was readying the flames to protect her if need be.
Her life and her being belonged to the Sunlord. Her faith in Him and in His actions was absolute. But if there was no need for death, then there should be death. She did not want any more of that.
The flames stayed frozen where they were, reaching out towards the horrified guards. Then slowly, they withdrew, coming back to curl around her in that same comforting embrace. There was no anger at her pleading, but rather a sort of understanding conveyed without words or glances. Solaris' words changed to prayers of thanks to V'kandis for granting her request.
Meanwhile, the men who had been so threatened looked dazed and relieved; several dropped their weapons, and two actually sank to the floor like their legs just would not support them any longer.
On the pavilion, the Son of the Sun looked lost. What should have been at the very least a humiliation for a country woman who dared to challenge him (and quite possibly an execution) had turned on him. This woman stood amidst the Flames without being burned. She called out to the Sunlord to show mercy towards those who threatened her, and the Fires had responded in turn.
This woman was going to snap his throne right out from beneath him. And if he provoked her…
Unaware of the terror she was inspiring in the man she was about to displace. Solaris rose to her feet, ignoring the dull ache in her knees as they protested the movement. As she did so, she felt that same warmth around her, and was prompted by some instinct to look down at herself.
Her clothing had changed. They had given her a plain garment to wear, something she believed was to symbolize her execution. She had donned it willingly. Now she was clad in an elaborate gown of red velvet, the color deep and vibrant and unlike anything she had ever seen on any cloth merchant's cart. Gold braids formed ornate patterns across the bodice and sleeves, with the Symbol of the Sun across her breast, over her heart.
If anyone had any further doubts, she did not believe they would be willing to voice them.
It is time.
She did not so much hear a voice as feel a sensation of the words. Time had taught her that the Sunlord did not always communicate through dreams or avatars. Sometimes it was little more than a feeling, and she had learned to recognize those for what they were.
Lifting one foot, Solaris stepped over the edge of the cauldron and down to the proper floor. The crimson gown was long, and dragged on the floor behind her as she walked. She was only semi-aware of the fact that the Flames were following her, tracing her steps in a narrow path. The Guards moved aside, bowing their heads reverently, their weapons forgotten.
No one impeded her climb to the pavilion where the Son of the Sun still stood gaping. This time, when she pleasantly asked him to move aside, he made no protests. He simply stared at her for a long moment before he moved back with stiff, stilted steps. There was now nothing standing between her and the Throne of the Sunlord.
Hansa appeared then, sitting beside the golden throne. There was no mistaking a Firecat, really, and anyone who thought otherwise was a fool. Those blue eyes were impossible to imitate; now those self-same eyes watched carefully as Solaris stood before the statue of V'kandis Sunlord. She turned to face the assembled people, who had gotten a far different show from the one they had originally expected.
A person could have heard a pin drop on a pillow in the Temple, it was so quiet.
She knew what would happen in the instant before it did happen. Solaris closed her eyes and waited as she heard the people gasp and the High Priests back away in fear and a sound like stone grinding on stone as the statue behind her moved. The entire scene was crystal clear in her mind's eye.
The idol was removing its crown, a relic considered to be the sacred sign of the Sunlord's own favor, and the true mark of the Sunlord's chosen Son of the Sun. And slowly, the idol lowered that crown to rest on Solaris' brow. It was heavier than she had anticipated, but she let no sign of surprise cross her features.
It was only then that it occurred to someone in the crowd to cheer, presumably one of those who had followed her here to support her. Without those supporters, she could have all too easily been ushered out back and done away with. But no, she had come bearing an entourage of followers who threatened outright revolution if she were not listened to or if she were harmed.
After the first cheer went up, another followed. It swept through the room, and in seconds the enormous crowd was making a ruckus surely loud enough to be heard in Valdemar.
Solaris gazed out at her people. There were still many out there, she was certain, who would need to be persuaded. Many would not believe that a woman could lead. But she did not allow herself to be concerned about it that moment. Her fate was in the Sunlord's hands. He had seen fit to bring her this far, and she would place her trust in Him that He would see her through still further yet.
You have done well, Solaris. Now the work begins in earnest.
She prayed of thanks yet again and glanced down at Hansa, who smiled at her as much as a Firecat could smile. It was Hansa who had told her straight out that she would be the Son of the Sun.
There was still much to do, but for this one moment, she was content to simply stand there and take it all in. Hansa's words had proven true in the end, as unbelievable as they had initially sounded.
Solaris. His son who would be His daughter.
PS. One hundred percent fannish speculation and playing around with canon. Fun times! Thanks for reading! Much love!