Not far behind the rocks stood a group of armed horsemen, ready to launch another attack. They stood beside a troop of horses, some of which were pack horses that carried travel necessities for the desert, but the majority were warhorses. Their owners all died in the bloody encounter not long ago.
Morton muttered, “It’s impossible! A woman, alone, eliminated our best men, and Priest Jeremiah! …… My lord, we did not invest enough men into the ambush!”
Lord Schmul’s face twisted with frustration, “We cannot order the legions of the state to attack Rod’s caravan openly. That’s a declaration of war. We can only disguise ourselves as roaming bandits. Besides, we don’t have enough time to assemble the legions. I’ve done my best with the plan to ambush them.”
Priest Cosman eyed a disapproving look at the governor when he talked about the disguisement. His eyes seemed to say that those were the worst disguised bandits ever. He turned his gloomy face in the direction of the caravan and said, “She must be one of the Twelve Great Guardians of the Isis Shrine, what a surprise!”
The quaestor refused to give up, “She’s just a woman! Look, she’s exhausted, and probably wounded. If we charge now, there is still a chance that we get the Gods’ Tear.”
Meanwhile, Gabriel returned to the caravan and lowered herself on one knee before Maria’s carriage, her sword stabbed into the sand. A trace of blood leaked from the corner of her mouth, making her face seem even paler. She prayed silently. The parangons on the crossguard of the sword glowed, covering her with soft white light. That was a primary curing magic. She was hurt during the battle, mainly from bearing the heavy blow of the haul with her shield.
Rod Drick sent his men to clear the battlefield. The bodies were buried in sand, and the weapons and armours were collected and taken away with them. They were the trophies and clues to trace the identity of these ‘bandits’.
The men in the shadow of rocks watched them quietly. Schmul said with hesitation, “The warrior is wounded, but Rod’s men did not even lose a single strand of hair. Their cavalrymen were still in battle formation and we have already lost half of our men. Even Priest Jeremiah is gone.”
The quaestor encouraged him, “We still have Priest Cosman and two primary mages. If we charge from the front and keep the mages protected with a formation consisting of heavily armoured soldiers, there is still a large chance of victory.”
Priest Cosman approved, “The defeat of our ambush was unprecedented. We did not expect a Great Warrior here. The Adoratrice of Isis Shrine fell decades ago in that crisis brought on by the sorcerer. They even lost the Gods’ Tear with their sceptre. It’s been years since their authority over the Lower Ejypt was challenged, and that is what we’d like to see.”
“The Gods’ Tear is as important to us as it is to them. Please do not forget about the legends. The people of Hittite also believe that it should be the blessing of the gods. If we have it, it would not be a blessing to Ejypt from Isis but a blessing to Hittite from Enlil. And we can consolidate more power against Ejypt.”
Lord Schmul was still hesitating, “I don’t need you to remind me. But you just saw the battle. We can’t do it unless we are absolutely certain about our chances to defeat them without leaving any clues.”
Priest Cosman frowned and pleaded, “My lord. Priest Jeremiah died today. Please think about our loss. What would we tell the Shrine if we went back empty-handed?” He suddenly turned back and said surprisingly, “There’s nothing to worry about, my lord. Our dear supreme master has arrived!”
They looked at the back of the hill and saw an old man drapes in a white robe coming. He walked leisurely but had the speed of a flying arrow, and within a few seconds, he arrived by the side of the three. He was of medium build and sported a white goatee. A scarf wrapped his head. His face was seamed with wrinkles, but his eyes were clear and sharp like he hadn’t lost his youth.
He was Golier, the first priest and oracle of the Enlil Shrine of Syah. In most states, the governor was also the oracle of the shrine. Syah was an exception since it was at the border of Hittite and had immense strategic importance. The main shrine of Hittite had sent a supreme mage as the chief of the state shrine. The three vice oracles, or high priests, were Schmul, Jeremiah and Cosman.
Schmul was also the governor of the state. Jeremiah had just expired in the desert at the hands of Gabriel.
A supreme mage was supreme in all aspects. Golier, as a supreme mage of the eighth level, did not intervene in ordinary affairs. He was often between the capital of Hittite and Syah since he had business in the capital as well. Golier was not at Syah when Governor Schmul decided to ambush Rod Drick, but he had managed to arrive in time. It was indeed a surprise for Schmul.
The horsemen could not dismount, so they bowed on their mounts and saluted with their weapons. Schmul and other two also saluted respectfully and asked, “My dear great mage, what an honour to meet you here. All difficulties will be resolved. Please allow us to explain what has happened here.”
Golier looked at the battlefield, waved his cane and said, “I already understand what happened here. You can explain it in the city.”
The quaestor kneeled in shock and said, “My dear great mage, we can surely obtain the Gods’ Tear with your might.”
Priest Cosman kneeled as well, “My dear chief priest, we fight for the fate of Hittite. We lost Jeremiah and half of the governor’s guards. How can we go back like this? ”
A trace of regret flashed in Golier’s eyes. He sighed, “I will speak for you. I know the value of the Gods’ Tear, but the chance is gone. Look at the number of wagons and carriages, and the number of people and soldiers. Do you know of the consequence if we were to kill the great guardian of Isis Shrine and Lord Rod Drick?”
Golier continued in silence, “Don’t think that you can hide this. Who else has this level of power? The only possible culprits are the Hittite authority. Hittite is accumulating its power in the dark, and it needs to maintain a peaceful relationship with Ejypt because Ejypt is seeking every excuse to destroy this power. You may trigger a war at the wrong time when Hittite is not ready. The time of victory that god Enlil promised us has not yet come…”
He suddenly stopped and turned to the direction of Rod Drick’s caravan and gave a low exclamation, “Gods’ magic!”
Cosman looked back, “It looks like a basic theurgy. Why are you so surprised, my master?”
Maria came to the first carriage and mumbled towards the sky, her hands folded before her chest. A light golden glow emanated from her palms and gilded her body with holiness. The glow spread like a mist and shrouded Gabriel, who was on one knee in front of the carriage.
This was a Blessing from Isis, the simplest and most fundamental magic of the Isis Shrine, the theurgy. Only with the help of the Gods’ Tear can one perform it. This was the final test of the Isis Shrine for the Adoratrice. The theurgy can heal wounds and illness, ease pain and fatigue, recover the body, give one strength, faith, courage and even miracles. In brief, it replaced all bad things with good.
What Maria could give was the basic effect of the theurgy. It was faint and nearly helpless. It was just symbolic, but now that was the point.
Everyone greeted the glow and praised the miracle given by Mother Isis. Rod Drick was more than surprised now. He finally realized why Gabriel had stayed three more days in Duc. Maria did it. She was the Adoratrice now!
In the shadow of the hill, Golier sighed, “Maybe it’s too far for your Detection Eyes. That is not just a basic theurgy. It is a theurgy that can only be performed by the Adoratrice with the help of the Gods’ Tear, the Blessing from Isis. The girl on the carriage is the Adoratrice of Isis. I did not expect a new Adoratrice so soon.”
Cosman’s eyes widened, “How could that be possible? The report said that the Gods’ Tear was extracted three days ago; it was not even in Memfis. How can there be an Adoratrice?”
Golier shook his head, “I cannot know everything. Maybe only the gods know. But I am sure that only the Adoratrice can perform the Blessing from Isis. So she must be the Adoratrice! We cannot do anything against them now. Taking away the Gods’ Tear from the Adoratrice will bring us hatred from the entirety of Ejypt. Ejypt would have to declare war even if they didn’t want to.”
He sighed and continued, “The new Adoratrice is so weak now. What a pity! Who knows how strong she will become in the future.”
Schmul was pragmatic, “What should we do, my dear master? Should we leave now?”
Golier shook his head again, “Order the state to dispatch more supplies here as fast as possible. Clear the battlefield and we will catch up with them tomorrow. There have been terrifying bandits frequenting the desert in recent days. We come to protect and escort them until they reach Ejypt.”
Schmul nodded, “I will send the high priests in Memfis some lavish gifts. Hopefully, they won’t look too seriously into this incident.”
“That,” said Golier, “is what a governor of the state should think about.”
[List of Characters]
Fermien Schmul: The governor of Syah. Advanced mage. One of the three high priests and vice oracles of the Enlil Shrine of Syah.
Jeremiah: Advanced mage. High priest of the Enlil Shrine of Syah.
Cosman: Advanced mage. High priest of the Enlil Shrine of Syah.
Golier: The supreme mage and oracle of the Enlil Shrine of Syah.
Mist Morton: Quaestor of Syah and Schmul’s lieutenant.
[List of Deities]
Enlil: Patron and Major God of Hittite and Assyr. The grandfather of Mourrin in the legends.