The city of Dacia and the village of Asser burst into celebration as word of the victory at the Black Sands of the south came. Mina continued to sleep within her chamber. It was six days that she had lain unconscious. The best of Julara's healer priestesses attended her and did their best to wake her but nothing came of their efforts. They brought water from the sacred river Is, the very tears of Julara herself, and sprinkled it upon her face, but Julara's daughter did not stir.
When the sword-bearers of Ashur passed through the city gates, they were given a hero's welcome. The general was greeted with equal exuberance but he was indifferent to it. Zalaz was tired from his journey and wanted to go home. He wanted to sink into Yaeli's arms and sleep until he was no longer sore from riding. As they drew closer to the courtyard before the temples of Julara and Ashur, Zalaz found himself suspicious for reasons he couldn't place. Something about the celebration seemed off to him.
They entered into the courtyard and were met by the Silent Sisters, the lower order of priestesses of Julara. There were many veiled women in white about the courtyard. Zalaz was surprised by the sight, recalling that the last great congress of the priestesses of Julara came when Mina's predecessor was fatally ill. Marcos saw the priestesses and his heart clenched with fear. Sorenan, who didn't understand the significance of the number of priestesses in the courtyard, was filled with annoyance that he couldn't just ride across to where one of the acolytes of Ashur would take his horse and he could get a cup of wine to quench his dust dry throat.
Marcos dismounted halfway across the courtyard. Sorenan followed his lead, as did Zalaz. They lead their horses through the press of women. Three priestesses dressed in blue so dark it may as well have been black stood upon the steps of the portico of the great temple of Julara. Their veils were richly embroidered about the hem with a recurring pattern of water droplets and lilies. The healer priestesses had come to greet the sword-bearers of Ashur when an acolyte had seen them enter the courtyard.
As Marcos's little party stopped at the steps of the temple, Sorenan looked towards the temple of Ashur. The eldest of the blue priestesses walked down the steps and looked solemnly up at Marcos. A small woman, the wrinkled hands with their blue tattoos seemed as though the size of a child's as she reached forward to take Marcos's hands. "She sleeps," she said, "but Julara's daughter will not wake. She has slept now for six days. You must come to her. If it is her mother's will, the Empress will awake for her Emperor." Sorenan's attention had snapped to the priestess when she spoke.
Now he looked troubled. He started forward when the old priestess fixed him with a dour glare. "He comes," Marcos said in a tone that would have no argument. The priestess scowled but said nothing. Zalaz took the reins of the horses and watched as the husband and the lover of his Empress went to her. As he did so, Zalaz felt a tremor of fear for what would become of the empire of Mina died.
Sorenan struggled with the urge to push the priestess aside and sprint to Mina's bedchamber. The sedate pace the old woman had set had more to do with the length of her legs and the frailty of her bones than any desire to irritate the man in his dingy white armor. She couldn't help, however, a sense of satisfaction as she watched his frustration grow out the corner of her eye. As they walked, Marcos had fallen silent. Sorenan attempted to ask questions and the priestess refused to speak a word to him.
At the doorway to Mina's bedchamber, the two men found other blue priestesses. One held a bowl of blood to be cast away. The other had fine linen bandages in her hands, stained with Mina's blood from an earlier bloodletting. Sorenan's anger rose up white hot. He found himself ready to demand to know why the healer's were slowly killing his lover when Marcos looked over. He gave a slight shake of the head and Sorenan glowered, but said nothing.
Within the bedchamber, Mina lay upon a narrow bed covered with a thin blanket. Her hair was fanned out over the pillow beneath her head. Upon her left arm, a bandage was wound over where the elderly priestess had done the bloodletting earlier. Her right hand laid upon her stomach, ominously still. Marcos walked to the head of the bed and leaned over. He spoke quietly in Mina's ear. Mina gave no signs of hearing him, she did not stir or make even the slightest of sounds.
Sorenan thought of the man who died in a fashion similar to how Mina appeared to be. He was struck upon the head and fell to the ground unconscious. The man died after six days of sleeping sickness. Sorenan looked at Mina, seeing how still she lay, and he felt his strength fail him. Sorenan hit his knees at the foot of the bed. He reached blindly forward and grasped Mina's left foot. Speechless with grief, the mercenary bowed his head and silently wept.
Sorenan didn't lift his head at the feeling of a warm hand on his shoulder. He covered his eyes with his left hand and shook with the force of his ruthlessly repressed sobs. Marcos, however, straightened abruptly at the feeling of a hand on his shoulder. He was painfully aware that it was but the three of them in that chamber. Thus, when a cool hand fell on his shoulder, Marcos turned to face the one who touched him. Marcos's eyes widened at the sight of a slight woman with dark hair, olive skin, and dark eyes looking at him. Her gown was almost iridescent and threw abstract reflections of the candle light about the room.
Julara gave him a kindly smile. Marcos looked over at Sorenan and found Ashur standing at the foot of the bed. "This is the first of the tests that shall come for you," Julara said behind him, "My daughter shall live, but she shall be changed. The change is working within her even now." Sorenan raised his bleary eyes and looked at Julara. He couldn't see the goddess clearly through his tears, but he didn't care.
"You have loved her as I have loved her mother," Ashur said, squeezing Sorenan's shoulder lightly, "This proper and blessed. As the next months move forward," the god continued, "Her weakness shall require your strength. Keep the blades sharp, for Temna will rise again. And they shall call your wild kinsmen to their support. She lives and shall for as long as Dacia remains free."
Marcos turned his gaze back to Mina. Julara reached past him and set a cool hand on Mina's brow. Ashur reached past Sorenan and set his warm hand upon her ankle. Mina's eyes flew open and she drew a deep gasping breath. As she arched beneath the weight of the gods powers, visions of the future and the past rolled through her mind. She collapsed back to the bed, shuddering. Sorenan bolted to his feet and rushed to the head of the bed. Mina turned her weak gaze upon Marcos and then Sorenan. She smiled.
"I have waited for you, my beloveds," she said.
The touch of the power of the gods was not lost upon Dacia. The wind rose up strong and blew in off the desert in what would prove a terrific storm that lasted three days and three nights. The river Is overflowed its banks, washing away the gardens of the wealthy. When the desert born storm passed away, a powerful rainstorm fell upon Dacia city. The people of the city noted these storms and feared for the future.