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.The dragon was vanquished, never seen again.The grateful citizens offered the Mistress the wealth of the kingdom.They offered her the kingdom itself, but she refused.She would not become their king.She would become their goddess.She built a temple on the mountainside and placed inside it the stone bowl known as the Watchful Eye.She asked for nine maidens, virgins all, to volunteer to serve in the temple and learn the art of dragon magic, so that when the Mistress died, she would leave another to keep the kingdom safe.Down through the centuries, many women assumed the mantle of Mistress, ascended to godhood.The monastery grew in size and in power, so that now twenty-five women, sixteen of whom were virgins, served in the temple.The most senior of the Sisters of the Eye, as they were known, was the High Priestess, the woman responsible for keeping watch for the ancient foe.When the Mistress died, the High Priestess would assume that position.Her services were still needed.Several times, over the years, the kingdom of Seth was attacked by dragons.The worst assault had been twenty years ago, when eighteen enormous dragons had laid siege to the monastery itself.The battle against them had been fierce.Many of the Sisterhood had died, as had many of the valiant warriors.Dragon blood fell from the skies on that day and so it was known in the annals of history as the Day of Black Rain.In the end, the dragons were repelled.Never again had the dragons attacked in such numbers, but, every so often, one or two would appear.“They come to see if we maintain our vigilance,” said the Mistress.The vigilance of the sisters never faltered.The people of Seth lived in peace and prosperity in their isolated valley, looking to the Sisterhood to guard them.Ten years ago, the Mistress of Dragons had chosen Melisande to be High Priestess.At eighteen, Melisande was the youngest to be selected for the honor, but few disputed the fact that she deserved it, for she was reputed to be the most powerful in dragon magic of any woman yet born in the monastery.The current Mistress was very old, nearly seventy, and in poor health.Melisande was aware that the mantle of god-hood could fall upon her at any moment and she strove always to be worthy of the honor.This day would see if the Mistress’s faith in her protege was justified.The monastery proper, consisting of four buildings, was built in a square around a central courtyard.In the middle of the courtyard stood two gongs—one enormous gong made of iron and another, smaller gong made of silver.If the iron gong were sounded, the deep booming call would be heard in the city far below and in the farms and forests beyond that, warning the people of Seth that they were under attack, giving them time to flee for their lives into the caverns in the mountains.The other gong was smaller and made of silver.This gong alerted the Sisterhood to the coming of their foe.Melisande lifted the silver hammer, prepared to strike.She could hear, in the distance, Bellona bellowing commands.Feet pounded as the warrior women raced to their posts.A few of the Sisterhood, hearing the unusual commotion, peered out their windows, wondering what was going on.Melisande did not leave them long in doubt.She struck the silver gong, sending a shivering peal of alarm through the monastery.More heads looked out the windows of the monastery’s east wing that was the dortoir, where the sisters lived.“Make haste!” Melisande called to them.“I am going to the Mistress.”The heads disappeared, as the women hurried to don their sacred garments.Melisande returned the silver hammer to its stand.The gong continued to vibrate, the notes dying away slowly.Warriors ran past her, heading for the south side of the monastery, where lived the nine mothers.The mothers—or “cows” as they were known disparagingly among the warrior women—were those sisters chosen by the Mistress to bear children, sacrificing their virginity in order to perpetuate the Sisterhood.Babies were taken away from the mothers shortly after birth.The male babies were given to families in the kingdom who had been denied a male child and needed an heir.Girls were kept in the monastery to be raised by the Sisterhood as sisters or mothers or warriors, depending on the bent taken by the magic in their blood.This wing also held the “mating” rooms (used once monthly) and the birthing rooms.The warriors emerged from the south wing, escorting the children and mothers to the catacombs beneath the monastery.Melisande hurried past the west wing that would be empty now.Here were classrooms, where the sisters were taught the sacred magic that kept their kingdom safe.This wing also housed the kitchen and dining hall, the schoolrooms and playrooms for the little girls.The fourth wing, the north wing, belonged to the Mistress.Here were her chambers.Beneath this wing was the Sanctuary of the Eye.The Mistress of Dragons lived apart from the Sisterhood, as was right and proper for a goddess.She came among them only rarely.Her life was devoted to the magic and she spent a large part of every day in the Sanctuary, working her powerful magicks that kept the kingdom safe.Two bronze doors barred entry to everyone in the monastery except the High Priestess and chosen members of the Sisterhood, and even they could enter only by invitation.The elite of the warrior women stood guard.The warrior women saluted as Melisande approached.They had heard the silver gong and, although they had not received direct orders from the Mistress, this was an emergency and they had standing orders to allow the High Priestess to pass.Melisande was not strong enough to shove open the huge bronze doors; the warrior women performed that office for her.“Good hunting, High Priestess,” said one, as Melisande entered the Mistress’s residence.Daylight entered with her, shining down a long narrow corridor of wood and painted murals.The eyes of the dragons portrayed in murals gleamed with borrowed life in the sunlight.The light vanished as the bronze doors closed with a dull boom, stealing away the life briefly granted them.Windowless, the corridor was lit only by small cresset lights placed at intervals along the wall.Part of the task of the warrior women was to lower the lights, fill them with the oil that kept them burning.The darkness was redolent with the scent of incense, and had a thick, warm, comforting feel.Running was not permitted in the chambers of the Mistress.Nor was shouting or talking.One was expected to enter with bowed head and sacred thoughts, move with seemly decorum.Melisande had to force herself to slow her steps.She wished that she had not forgotten her shoes.The Mistress would think she lacked discipline.Calming herself with prayer and the thought that the dragon was yet far distant, she decorously walked the shadowy corridors to the Mistress’s bedchamber.She was surprised to find the Mistress’s door closed.The opening of the bronze doors tripped a wire that rang a bell in the chambers of the Mistress, alerting her to the presence of a visitor [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]