Mairissa shivered in the dawn light with the rest of the novitiates. The High Priestess chanted at the well at the top of the hill. Mairissa didn’t have a good vantage point from the last row of the gathering but she could see Mother Superior raise the chalice high, a wisp of steam coming from the cup to touch the first ray of the sun. They were supposed to be adding their power to the priestess’s own for the ceremony. Mairissa only knew that she was cold to the bone and wished for a warm mug of tea.
In the dining hall Mairissa’s hands circled her mug of tea, her face in the steam, a bowl of oatmeal in front of her. She had just taken that first, satisfying sip when Sister Yahlin touched her shoulder.
“Mother would like to speak with you.”
The girls around the table sent her silent looks of commiseration. Mairissa was often called into Mother Superior’s office for one offense or another. She wan’t disobedient, but full of life and she saw no reason to be all glum and dumb as she called it, all of the time.
She took a last, defiant sip of her tea and got up. She followed Sister Yahlin to the High Priestess’s office. The sister closed the door behind Mairissa, who walked to stand in front of the Mother’s table. She wasn’t sure why she was here. There was no prank, no missed class time, no shirking of her tasks, in over a week.
Mother looked up from the parchment in front of her. “I missed you this morning.”
“Missed, Mother? I was at the morning ritual, then in the hall to break my fast.”
“Do you know why we had that ritual this morning? It wasn’t a normal gathering.”
“To try and halt the year from freezing.”
“Yes. You learned about it in class. The band of mages called The Aladrin are slowly freezing the planet. They’re mad, of course, but their magic is strong. I know every mind in the convent, Mairissa, and I could not feel yours this morning.”
The girl gaped. It never occurred to her that the priestesses could do that. “But, but I’m just a novice, Mother. What help could I be? I’m only in my third year here.”
The priestess rose from her stool and leaned over the table to stare at the girl. “You have the potential to be the strongest mind of us all. That’s why you were brought here.”
Mairissa shook her head. “My parents sold me. It was a hard year, the crops failed, and there was no dowry for a marriage.”
Mother Superior laughed and stood, folding her hands into the pockets in her deep-sleeved woolen robe. “We paid, certainly. But it was because we could feel you broadcasting for twenty miles around. You had to be brought in before the Aladrin could pick you up. The convent is shielded, girl, protecting you and the rest of us in this fight.”
Mairissa’s head whirled as she rearranged all of her preconceptions. “So this morning?”
The old woman sighed. “We are close. The battle is on the edge. We’ll have another ceremony tomorrow morning. Perhaps we can push back their black magic and bring the year back from the freeze.” She walked Mairissa to the door. “Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year. It will make the dark magic that much stronger.” She rested a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “You, and all of the rest, must focus in the morning or we shall surely freeze this winter.”
Mairissa nodded and left. She spent the rest of the day talking to the other novitiates and even the youngest priestesses. She didn’t know if she believed the High Priestess but at the very least, everyone she knew would understand that tomorrow they had to focus.
In the dark morning the priestesses assembled in their amphitheater, the Mother Superior at the top of the hill at the well. The wind was whipping and tiny crystals of ice bit into exposed faces and hands. Tears formed in Mairissa’s eyes from the cold but she let them run. She was focused on the High Priestess. Every lesson she’d ever had on controlling her magic was brought to bear.
The wind whipped the woolen cloaks and gowns and the freezing air circled her legs. The tears froze on her face. It was as though the mages were doing their best to distract her. She refocused, sending energy to the Mother Superior. This time, it seemed as if the chalice glowed. Mairissa renewed her effort.
The clouds roiled in the pre-dawn sky. The breath of the sisters rose in the cold air and was snatched away by the wind. Tendrils of hair escaped their hoods but still the sisters and even the novices, focused on the chalice. The sky brightened. First one small pale blue patch appeared, then another. Mairissa could feel the others in her thoughts. She linked with them, pushing her power to the High Priestess. More of the sky broke open and the chalice became too bright to look at. Each priestess began to hum with power until every woman and girl there began to vibrate.
The clouds disappeared and the first ray of the rising sun touched the sacred chalice. A wave of light and sound exploded from the High Priestess’s hands and washed over the assembly. The High Priestess slumped and two priestesses ran to support her. They carried her to the front of the assembly. Mairissa wiped the ice from her face, her body trembling with the cold and sudden absence of power. As the sun’s rays touched the women, Mother Superior called out. “The Sun has arisen.”
“The Sun has arisen,” the priestesses cried out.
Mairissa didn’t know for sure that the mages had been beaten back but if not, they’d been dealt a severe blow. “The Sun has arisen.”
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