Kostya watched the interplay between the Father Superior and Mother Superior in the Holy Day service. As Fourth Daughter to the Mother Superior, she’d been watching her superiors closely since her first promotion from Acolyte to Sister then Messenger. Today the Daughters and the Sons of both Mother and Father Superior were shooting glares at each other.
Hmm, something going on. She’d been given to the church as a baby, her parents too poor to keep her. In return, the church gave her parents a year’s worth of food. At least her oldest brother would be fed. Now, she was fifth in line for leadership of the women’s church. Her promotion to Fourth Daughter was new and she was still learning the in’s and out’s of the position.
She learned as a child that there were wheels within wheels in the church. Kostya figured out early that she must behave with decorum and study her lessons. A bright girl, she found favor with the teachers and made friends with the smartest girls and boys in class. On her thirteenth birthday, they offered her an acolyte position. She’d snapped at the chance. What did she know about the outside world? She’d had enough of farming and crops as a child working on the Church farms. Kostya knew she could do better.
As an acolyte she learned the higher maths, studied the church’s history along with the history of the kingdom. It was found that she had excellent management skills and as she grew she was given more and more responsibility for planning larger and larger events. Promotions came almost yearly.
She was sixteen when the First Daughter took her under her wing as a mentor. Kostya served as her secretary, sitting in on high-level meetings of the Superiors and their Sons and Daughters. Once, she was in a council with the King, though he never noticed her. There she learned the King’s court worked much as the Church’s. Something she kept tucked in the back of her mind.
Later that Holy Day she was called before Father and Mother Superiors and the Sons and Daughters.
“Kostya, Fourth Daughter of the Church, rise,” Father Superior called out in his beautiful baritone from the head of the table. He sat on the right while Mother Superior sat on the left. Down each side of the table, the Sons and Daughters faced each other. Kostya rose from her place at the end.
She bowed to the Superiors. “Father, Mother, I respond.” She folded her hands in the long, wide sleeves of her habit waited.
“We have an opportunity, child.” Father Superior intoned.
Kostya noticed frowns on the faces of Third and Second Daughters. The Sons looked bored.
Father Superior nodded to Mother Superior.
“On rare occasions, the King decides to create closer ties to the church.” Mother Superior tucked her hands into her sleeves.
Kostya knew why. The Mother had tremors and tucking her hands out of sight made her less vulnerable to suggestions that she retire due to infirmity. There was nothing wrong with Mother’s brain, Kostya knew. She’d been on the receiving end of dressings down for poor judgment.
Mother Superior continued. “It seems the King has a second son and no suitable princess of the proper age with whom the King wants or needs to make alliances. Therefore, he has indicated we should choose one of you.”
Ah, that was it. No wonder she’d been kept out of recent meetings. “I hear, Mother.”
Mother Superior looked to Father. “We have decided that you will be our offering to the King.”
The Sons all looked thoughtful. Daughters Two and Three shot her glances fit to kill. They wanted that marriage, Kostya realized. Ridiculous. The King’s second son is just three years older than me, ten younger than Daughter Three and fifteen less than Daughter Two. She kept her face serene and bowed. “I serve at the pleasure of our most holy Father and Mother Superiors.”
This was a coup! Freed from the confines of the Church, she would have more power than all of the Sons and Daughters combined. She’d be the personal representative of the Father and Mother to the Court.
“The wedding will be in six months. There are things you must learn before the marriage.” Father Superior tapped the gavel on the table. The meeting adjourned and the men left the room. Mother Superior and the Daughters rose.
“You must learn to dance, suitable clothing must be made, gifts obtained for the King and Queen, the first son and his wife, and for your intended. There is much of statecraft we must teach you, as well.” Mother Superior said from her position at the front of the table. “You will meet with me daily.”
Kostya nodded. “I hear, Mother.”
Second Daughter sneered when Mother Superior left the room. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, girl. You will answer to us, even as the wife of the prince.”
Kostya donned her most humble posture. “You give me great honor, Second Daughter. I thank you for your teachings.”
Second Daughter sniffed and left the room. Third Daughter grabbed her by the elbow, a significant breach of etiquette. “You’re to go to the seamstresses immediately to be measured.” She gave Kostya’s elbow a hidden pinch then hurried away. Kostya knew the Third Daughter was vain and wanted those pretty gowns for herself.
First Daughter remained. “Forgive them, Sister. This opportunity comes along so seldom, it was too much temptation for them.
Kostya had always liked First Daughter. She had a keen mind but a gentle manner. “Thank you, Sister. I rely on your support.
The training was intense; social graces, inter-kingdom policy, memorization of all of the notable families and their social and political status. At the end was the wedding. Father and Mother Superiors performed the rites.
Kostya sipped the wine at the wedding dinner and smiled. She was going to make a wonderful spy.
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