The priestess looked up from the farmer she had been tending to. It was hot in the temple, despite the cold outside, and she did not wear the hood of her robes inside. She used the back of her hand to brush aside the tendrils of her long hair that stuck to her forehead.
"Thank you," the farmer muttered weakly. "I feel so much better."
She smiled as she tipped a shallow bowl of herbal water into his mouth. "You must rest now."
Tucking the blankets up to his shoulders, she rose and turned to the rest of the dim temple. Here and there were cots containing injured or sick citizens. Most of them slept soundly, finding long-sought relief for their pain at the healing hands of the priests and priestesses.
A figure stirred in the darkness. The priestess was surprised to see that the woman still waited for her. It had taken her a long time to tend to the farmer's injuries. The woman's patience surprised and pleased her.
The raven-haired woman approached her, moving silently and smoothly through the quiet temple. Behind her, on the bench she had been sitting on, a little girl had curled up and was fast asleep.
"You are still here," the priestess murmured.
"I am." The woman's eyes, so unique and lovely, stared back at her with a peaceful blankness.
"One of my sisters has informed me that you have already been examined," she said. "You are expecting a baby. Congratulations."
The woman looked away, past her. "Yes. I am. And I need this to…go away." Her mouth was a tight line.
The priestess was not taken aback. It was not uncommon to be visited by young, pregnant women that did not wish to become mothers. She looked past the woman at the sleeping child; if she already had children, it would not be so bad to give this one back to Aetherius.
"I understand." The priestess took the woman gently by the arm and guided her to a room in the back that would be more private. "It is not too late for me to give you a special tea to drink."
The woman said nothing, only pulled her arm away. She followed behind her until they reached the room where the tea was waiting for her next to a soft bed lined with linen sheets.
The priestess ushered her in. "You must remain in the temple until your body has completed the process. It should take no more than a day, and then after that you will continue to bleed. You will experience some pain, but it will not be bad. My sisters will come to check on you in the hours to come, and you must let them know if you require aid. We will care for your daughter."
The woman nodded her understanding at her.
Hesitating to return to the temple, the priestess turned around. "You are sure of this?"
"Yes." Copper eyes met her own blue ones. "I am sure."
"Very well," she said.
The woman crossed the room and stood over the tea. She picked up the cup, and the priestess closed the door.
A/N: The adventure continues in the intermission, "Shadows and Secrets" and the following sequel, "Reaching for Higher Ground." See my profile for the links!