The Defenders' Apprentice
The Defenders' Apprentice
The pale fire tongues of the dragons' realm flickered away as the warmth of the rite receded into the offering place, into the earth. The heat between their bodies flowed into the place where he could never follow. Thorat gazed up at the eggshell dome as he reached out to run his hand along Iola's smooth back. The trance was leaving her, too, leaving them alone together as themselves, at last.
"I'll send for tea," Iola said.
Instead of answering, Thorat pulled her closer. They had so little time together.
She draped the red robe around her shoulders to go out to the garden to summon her attendant. When she danced, that robe became a river of molten fire, but now it was just very fine clothing, separating him from her and reminding them both of her calling. As ambassadress, she had dozens of petitioners, princes and guild masters, wealthy merchants, the governor. He'd come to bring the Defenders' offering, but he wished that he could come just for himself, to be friends again, even ordinary lovers.
When she returned, she went to a quiet alcove, far from the altar where he lay. He pulled away from the last thin traces of dragonfire and went to sit beside her, holding hands, human again. When he edged closer, she pulled away and turned to face him, letting only their feet touch.
"Tell me: what news do the Defenders bring this year?"
"We haven't been down to the shrine yet. I should have waited until after that, but Sunna said that you wouldn't be able to see me after tonight," Thorat said. "There aren't enough of us to go to all the gates every year, either, but those we saw were quiet." The worst news wasn't news at all. They hadn't had a single new apprentice in years. Dragonsight was dying out, and the Defenders with it.
Iola nodded. "The princes tell me that the dragons guard their own gates now, or so they must be doing, to keep the foreign miners away."
"I don't know what keeps them away, but I'm fairly sure it's not the princes."
"Surely, they wouldn't let their trading partners steal the heart of their lands."
Was she so isolated here that she believed that? "At least the foreign miners can't find the gates on their own, so there's that much to keep the dragons safe, even when we can't go," Thorat said.
Iola looked down at her hands and frowned. "Unless a priestess helped them."
She was not utterly ignorant of what was happening beyond her marble walls, then. A long moment stretched between them, and he was about to reach out to hold her hand when she spoke again.
"Who is the Enatel?" Iola asked. "He can't be dragon-blind, so why does he send you rather than come to me himself?"
Thorat hesitated. It seemed hard to believe that after all these years, she still didn't know who the Enatel was, but he'd seen no reason to tell her, and apparently no one else had either.
"Of course I want to see you, more than I want to see anyone else, I really do." She bit her bottom lip. "It's only that I wonder."
Thorat took a deep breath. There was no reason not to tell her. "The Enatel is a woman now, even though she's Enat's heir, so of course she can't come." Sovara was a thin, gray-haired woman who had nothing good to say about priestesses in general, stealing offerings meant for the dragons, lazy in their luxuriant temples.
"She did send our offering, though," he said. "She made it herself."
"She could come to me," Iola said. "The rite is not dependent on the petitioner's sex, you know."
"It isn't? I don't think she knows that. I'm sure I didn't." He didn't much like the thought of Sovara lying with Iola, though it wasn't as bad as the thought of the governor heaving over her, understanding nothing.
"Most priestesses aren't willing to draw from another woman as they would from a man, if they even know how, but you're right; I would rather see you, while we ca