Steve looked at his wound in the handheld mirror. The cut was about three inches long, starting below his ear and ending just before where he guessed his windpipe would be. According to Dr. Rivell, it was healing normally, but Steve thought it was healing a bit faster than that. He made a note to ask what exactly was in that herb stuff the doctor kept putting on him. Probably make a fortune on it back home, he thought. He resisted the urge to pick at the scab, and set the mirror down. "All right, Doctor," he said.
Rivell put a fresh bandage over Steve's neck. "Did you experience any light-headedness or nausea yesterday, Sire?" he asked.
"No, actually, I felt fine. Well, considering the fact that somebody tried to kill me again, that is."
Rivell shook his head, and Marcellus put a hand on his shoulder. "I am sure they will find him soon, my Lord," he said. "Captain Martinez already has soldiers and scouts scouring the area."
"In the meantime, the Captain suggests that you remain inside the palace until we are sure the danger has passed."
Steve sighed. "Well, there you have it, Dr. Rivell," he said. "This is about the only way you're going to get me to sit still."
Rivell chuckled. "Ironically enough, my Liege, since your color has returned, and your balance appears to have been restored, now is the time that I would have said it would be safe for you to increase your activity."
"Great, now you're rubbing it in," Steve said with a smile.
Steve shook his head. "I don't think there will be anything else, Doctor," he said. "You may go if you're finished."
"I am, Your Majesty. Good day."
"Has anyone told the Queen what's going on?" Steve asked when the doctor left.
"Yes, Sire. She was, of course, concerned about Annette being near when the archer attacked. Lord Edward explained the situation to her, and told her what is being done. For now, even though the attacks were directed toward you alone, Lord Edward suggests that both the Queen and the Princess also remain inside the castle and under heavy guard until the perpetrator is caught."
"That's probably best," Steve said. "I don't want anything to happen to either of them because of all this."
"I could not agree with you more. Later today, we shall see to your protection. I sent a messenger to the High Priestess of San Francisco early this morning. If she comes immediately when she receives the message, she should arrive some time after breakfast."
"Okay, I'm a little nervous about this," Steve said. "We didn't talk about how I'm supposed to behave around a Priestess. I mean, is there separation of church and state? Is she my superior?"
"Priestesses and Priests keep the wisdom of the Spirit of the Waters. They study the precepts developed by Queen Alexandria after the Scourge, which were the foundation for Aquanism. They are teachers, spiritual advisors, and they preside over religious ceremonies. They are also your subjects. The High Priestess will treat you with the respect due to her king, and you should treat her with the respect due to one wise in the knowledge of the Great Waters. There are guidelines in your etiquette book."
Marcellus trained Steve in the proper ways to address the High Priestess, letting him know the adaptations that would be made if a lesser priestess or priest were there instead. Breakfast arrived, and as Annette had practically begged Marcellus to let her eat with them, they were forced to stick to safer subjects than Steve's lessons in the obvious. As soon as breakfast was over, Annette was told that they needed to prepare for the Priestess' visit. Reluctantly, she left them alone and Marcellus tested Steve on the rules of conduct until Steve felt comfortable enough to be able to handle himself. Steve wanted to ask a question about the actual process of having a spell put on you, but before he could get the question out, a messenger came to announce that the High Priestess had arrived. "Let her enter," Marcellus said. He stood up, and Steve followed his example.
A girl and a boy of about fifteen entered first, both wearing sky blue gowns and earth-toned sandals. The boy carried a large wooden chest with an ornate silver latch, and the girl carried a slightly smaller version of the same box. They bowed deeply to Steve, then stood aside while the High Priestess came in. Steve's eyes widened. He'd expected some tall, austere looking elderly woman with a serious expression. The Priestess was austere, but she was a couple of inches shorter than Steve, and he didn't think she could have been more than thirty-five, and that was pushing it. She wore a long navy blue dress with white sashes criss-crossing at her waist, and the middle of her long, flowing sleeves. She had on a silver head dress with blue and white ribbons falling down the length of her curly, waist-length blond hair. She curtseyed, and Steve bowed slightly. "Greetings, Mother Tatiana," he said, feeling a little strange calling her "mother" when she was probably younger than him.
"Greetings, Your Majesty," the Priestess replied. "Greetings, Your Highness. It is a pleasure to see you again, despite the unsettling circumstances of this meeting."
"We share your feeling, Wise One," Marcellus said.
"Thank you for coming on such short notice," Steve said.
"You are quite welcome, of course, my Liege. Considering the sequence of events thus far, I felt that your urgency was quite well-founded. In fact, I think we should begin as soon as possible." She beckoned for the two teenagers to come forward. They did, bowing again to Steve as they approached. "My assistants, Laurel and Christopher, will attend us during the ceremony, Sire. Has a carriage been already prepared to take us to the coast?"
"I'm afraid not, Mother," Marcellus said. "It has been deemed too dangerous for the King to leave the castle. We must perform the spell indoors."
The Priestess frowned slightly. "That will make the casting difficult, but it can be done. May I see the room where you wish the spell to be performed?"
"Certainly," Marcellus replied. He led them both to the room where Steve bathed every morning. "Will this be sufficient?"
The High Priestess looked around the room and inspected the tub. She nodded. "This will do. The bathtub must be thoroughly cleansed, then filled with fresh water from the nearest spring. While that is being done, I will prepare myself for communion with the Great Waters." She turned to Steve. "You may spend this time clearing your thoughts and opening yourself to the Waters' aide, Your Majesty."
"Okay," Steve said. They went back to the bedroom, and the High Priestess beckoned to her assistants and led them back into the bathing room. "What do I do now?" Steve whispered.
"The Priestess means for you to take this time to meditate. Take deep, slow breaths, while focusing on calming images such as a sparkling stream or a still lake. I know that you are not an Aquanist, but you should try to open yourself to the working of the spell. While you are meditating, I will see to the preparation of the bathroom."
"Oh. Okay, Your Highness." Marcellus left, and Steve sat down on a couch with a sigh. He'd never had the chance to ask what was supposed to happen during this spell casting, and he was getting more and more nervous about it. He tried to relax. It's probably just some chanting and incense or something, he thought. Nothing to worry about. He closed his eyes and started his deep breathing. He followed Marcellus' advice and concentrated on bodies of water. It might be important to the spell.
Steve was startled out of his self-induced trance by the sound of a door slamming. He opened his eyes to see one of the water bearers looking at him with wide eyes. He bowed and said, "Please forgive me for disturbing you, Sire."
"It's okay," Steve said. The boy bowed again and headed for the bathroom. Steve looked around to see Marcellus standing beside the couch watching him. "Am I taking too long?" he asked.
"Of course not," Marcellus replied. "You may take as much time as you need to prepare. When you are ready, one of the novices will help you complete you preparation."
"I think I'm ready now," he said. He was still nervous about the spell, but he didn't think he could put it off any longer.
Marcellus peeked into the bathing room, and almost immediately, the male novice - Christopher - came out, carrying the wooden box that Laurel had brought in earlier. He bowed to Steve, and set the box on the floor. "Please allow me to help you out of your regular clothing, Your Majesty," he said.
Steve nodded and let the novice help him out of his boots and shirt. Steve went behind his screen to take off his pants. "All right," he said, peeking around the screen. The novice held up a blue cotton robe, and Steve moved to put his arm in. The novice stepped back a pace, frowning slightly. "What's the matter?" Steve asked.
"Forgive me, Sire," he said. "But all of your ordinary garments must be removed before the ceremony can begin."
Steve cringed, not least because he was going to have to undress completely with two other people in the room. He was also upset because he'd made a mistake that the king probably wouldn't have made. "Sorry," he said, with a worried glance at Marcellus. "I don't know where my head is today."
"Please do not concern yourself, Majesty," Marcellus said. "You have had a stressful time."
Steve smiled, reassured by Marcellus' kind tone. He went back behind the screen and took off his undergarment, then let the novice help him into the robe. The novice pulled out a pair of slippers and put them on Steve's feet. He gestured for Steve to precede him into the bathroom, where the pages were pouring the final buckets of water into the tub. Steve's eyes widened when he saw how the room had been changed for the ceremony. There were several tall stands surrounding the tub on which dark blue pillar candles had been placed. The female novice was walking around the room carrying a stick of incense in her hand, and wafting the fragrant smoke throughout the room. The High Priestess stood at the foot of the tub, wearing a midnight blue robe with waves embroidered at the collar, hem and on the edge of the sleeves, which flowed all the way down to the floor.
When Steve stepped into the room, the High Priestess bowed slightly, then beckoned him forward. Steve stood in front of her, and she held out her hand. Almost immediately, the female novice handed her a large silver goblet. The Priestess held the goblet in both hands and raised it. "May the Spirit of the Waters bless us with Her divine presence, within and without." She drank deeply from the goblet, then handed it to Steve. He was almost sure it was saltwater, and prepared himself for the taste so he wouldn't make faces. He took a sip, and was surprised to taste regular water. Maybe they'd used fresh water to fill the tub, so they used fresh water for this. He drained the cup, hoping that he wasn't supposed to be saving any, then gave it back to the Priestess. She handed the cup to Laurel, then gestured toward the tub. Steve went to where Christopher stood, waiting to take his robe.
Steve sighed. He wasn't comfortable getting naked in front of all these people, especially with the Priestess standing directly across from him, watching patiently. However, it seemed like the normal practice for these ceremonies, and he couldn't afford to balk. Blushing, he let the novice remove his robe. He noticed that Laurel had lowered her eyes, but his blush got even deeper when he saw that Marcellus had done no such thing. He stepped out of the slippers and put one foot into the tub. Cold! Apparently, they planned to simulate a real outdoor body of water as much as possible. Wonderful. Steve forced himself to step in and lower himself into the frosty water. When he was seated (and shivering slightly), the Priestess opened her eyes wide and began to speak.
"Spirit of the Waters, hear our humble request. Send your divine energy through these waters to protect your son, Stephen Pereira, from harm. Shield him with your strength and power until the danger from his enemy has passed. We ask these things with humility and gratitude, in the certainty that our prayer will be answered." The Priestess folded her hands together, lowered her head and closed her eyes. Steve sighed. That wasn't so bad. It was more like a prayer than a magic spell. He looked around for Christopher, but instead of holding his robe open for him, the boy was standing off to one side of the room, head bowed. Marcellus' head was lowered as well. Steve assumed that the Priestess was praying silently, and lowered his head as well.
After a few moments, Steve gasped and opened his eyes, thinking something had fallen into the water with him. The surface of the water was rippling slightly, but he couldn't see anything in the tub. Weird. Then, weird turned to frightening when waves began to appear. In moments, the water's surface looked just like that of a lake on a windy day. Steve's heart started to pound rapidly as the little waves grew choppier and more violent. Suddenly, the Priestess' head snapped up, and she opened her eyes. Steve gasped again. Her eyes were blue. They had already been blue, but now they were darker, and they were just blue. No whites, no pupil. Just blue. Steve gripped the sides of the tub and fought the urge to jump out of the water and run away. The waves got more and more violent, until Steve felt sure that water would start to spill over the edge. Then the Priestess spread her arms wide, and the water parted and shot straight up, stopping about three feet above the edge of the bathtub. Steve cried out in fear and folded his arms around himself, trying to stay away from the two reversed waterfalls on either side of him.
Unfazed by Steve's outburst, the Priestess raised her arms above her head, and the water formed itself into an arch above him. Slowly, the water moved to meet itself in front and behind, until Steve was completely surrounded by water. He huddled in the center of the tub, trying to get as far away from the water as he could. Then, to his ultimate dismay, the water began to close in on him. His breathing started to speed up, and he closed in on himself as much as possible. The water continued to close in, sneaking into any spaces he'd left open, and forcing him to move until it could mold itself to every part of his body. Unable to huddle in and protect himself, Steve's trembling advanced to violent quaking. The water moved closer and closer, until it was almost touching him. He tried to hold his breath, but his heart was racing too fast to allow it for long. When even his fear of drowning couldn't stop it, he took a breath. To his amazement, water didn't fill his lungs. It didn't even get into his mouth. The fact that he could breathe freely even though he was completely encased in water did nothing for his fear levels.
Finally, when he thought he couldn't take it anymore, the water moved closer so that it was actually touching him. He could still breathe, and he began to feel a tingling sensation on his skin. It increased, and he felt as if warm, gentle energy were being infused into his entire body. Along with the feeling came the sense that whatever power was behind the feeling was benign. He got the feeling that someone or something was trying to soothe him - telling him not to be afraid. It only partially worked. The energy seemed to reach all the way inside of him, to the very core of his being. It vibrated within him for a few moments, then seemed to settle down. The water rolled slowly off of him, and he could see the Priestess standing with her head bowed, arms at her sides. He sat in the tub, still shaking hard, waiting for permission to move. After a few moments, the Priestess raised her head. When she opened her eyes, they looked normal again. She smiled, looking a little tired. "The Spirit of the Waters has granted our request, Sire" she said.
No kidding, Steve thought. He just smiled. "Thank you. Thank Her."
The Priestess nodded. "You may now rise, Your Majesty."
Steve stood slowly, unsure of his legs. Immediately, Christopher wrapped a large towel around him and helped him dry off. He was glad the water was cold, so he didn't have to explain his trembling. When he was dry, the novice put the robe and slippers back on. Steve went back into the bedroom, where an attendant was waiting near a chair with a cup of something steamy. Steve sat down, and the servant presented him with the drink - hot chocolate. Steve thanked him and took the cup. His hands shook so much that he could barely handle it without spilling. He took a sip of the chocolate, which tasted like it had been spiked with something akin to Khalua. He felt warmer, but the shaking didn't stop. Marcellus looked worriedly at him, but didn't draw any attention to it. Instead, he began to speak to the Priestess.
"Thank you again for coming, Mother," he said.
"Yes, thank you very much for your help," Steve said.
"You are welcome of course, my Lords. Now, the King need no longer fear danger, magical or physical, from this mystery assailant."
"That's wonderful," Marcellus said.
"Will you be needing any other assistance from me?"
"I don't think so," Marcellus said. "You are welcome to stay at the palace and rest before your journey home. An attendant will show you to a room if you like."
"Yes, thank you, Your Highness." Marcellus nodded at the attendant, and she bowed to the Priestess.
"Please follow me, Wise One," she said. The Priestess followed her, walking slowly. The novices packed up their boxes, and excused themselves as well, presumably to find out where their Priestess had been taken.
In the meantime, Steve had finished his cocoa, and was attempting to pour himself more from the pot the attendant had left. He was having a hard time because his hands were still shaking, and Marcellus took the pot from him and poured the drink himself. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"I'll be fine, I think," he said. "I just... didn't know it was going to be so... real. I mean... I'm not saying I thought your religion was fake or something," he said hastily.
"It's all right. I understand."
"I've just never experience anything like that before."
"I must apologize, then," Marcellus said. "I should have told you more of what to expect."
Steve just shook his head. "I'm okay now. And at least I don't have to worry about that evil bastard attacking me with something."
"I am pleased by that as well," Marcellus said. "I... I would not want anything to happen to you."
Steve looked up and smiled. Something in Marcellus' tone made him think that the Prince hadn't just said that because it would be dangerous for King Stephen if Steve were hurt. The idea pleased him more than he'd expected. "Thank you," he said.
"You're welcome." Marcellus smiled at him for a moment, before ordering that an attendant bring fresh clothes for Steve to wear. After he was dressed, and the attendant had been dismissed, Marcellus launched into yet another lesson.