The boy, Isiah, was as silent as her, but not as fixated on the praying. Rina could feel his eyes on her. He was probably as shocked at the difference as she had been the first time she’d seen an Ishini. Her deep blue skin and white hair was the complete opposite of them. She doubted the boy had left his home much.
Her eyes drifted towards the statues once again. “What is the crystal for? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He jolted as if surprised to hear her speak to him. “It is a gift from the God Ishin. A relic from long ago imbued with his power. It keeps the majority of the site warm during mild winters,” he said and looked up at the dark clouds above them. “It doesn’t work as well when the weather is like this.”
“It’s made of fyrite?” she asked. It was the stone the Ishini used to emphasise their powers. She had never seen it before and it wasn’t exactly what she had expected.
Isiah shook his head. “No, not fyrite. It’s made of something else, but I don’t remember what it is,” he answered, a frown pulling at his lips.
Rina said nothing. She had never heard anything like it. The crystals near her own home were imbued with power, but they were made of the stone designed to do so. If she asked her priests about it, what would they say? A gift from Sol, but why give it to people who didn’t believe? She shook her head and tried to distract herself with other questions. “Do you not pray?” she asked Isiah curiously.
“No. I will pray with the other monks tonight. The midday prayer is for the elderly and the children. It is harder for them to pray at night,” he answered in a rumbling voice that didn’t suit his young face.
She hummed thoughtfully. “I see,” she said. “What will you pray for?” A strand of hair fell in front of her eyes and she pushed it away with a huff. The wind was far too strong in winter, not even her maids could tie up her hair tight enough to resist it.
Isiah stammer for a moment. “I- I will pray to Nyat for strength, Belganine for health, and Ishin for warmth during the cold winter nights.”
“Ishin?” Rina repeated. “But I thought he already gave you warmth.”
“Our Gods do not have genders, your Highness,” Isiah said and Rina nodded apologetically. “Not everyone is of the same strength. My powers are quite weak compared to that of my peers and that of the Mother. Surely, the powers gifted to you by Askarune are the same?”
Lune, in her religion, Goddess of the Moon. From what she had learned over the years, Askarune, the Old God equivalent, was the God of magic and illusion. “Yes, you’re right. Some are not as powerful as others. I didn’t realise it was the same in Brenmar,” she replied. Her powers were quite strong, but even so, she was not able to create complex illusions. There weren’t many who could.
“I suppose there are more things in common than most people would think,” Isiah said, staring down at the prayer circle.
Rina hummed again. “I suppose so,” she muttered and shivered at a particularly cold gust of wind. “I hate to cause disrespect while your people are praying, but it is quite cold out here. I would like to go to my room now. I assume it is fitted with a fireplace?”
“Yes, Your Highness. I’ll take you and your party there now. There is no disrespect,” Isiah answered, gesturing for them to follow him. He took them back through the ruins to a group of small wooden buildings. “They aren’t very big, but they should do you well for the night.”
“Thank you, Isiah,” she replied, smiling politely. “We leave at dawn, after our prayers. I’ll expect you to be there on time. We have no horse for you, so you will have to travel in the carriage with me. I hope that is acceptable.” It wasn’t what she wanted, but there was nothing else she could do. It was only to Ishmar, then she wouldn’t have to deal with him again.
Isiah bowed. “That is acceptable, your Highness. Dinner is at sundown, over in the big stone building,” he said. “I’m sure Mother will send someone to escort you.” And with that, he was gone, his robes whirling around him as he walked back towards the field.
With an exhausted sigh, Rina stepped into the tiny room. It was fitted with only a table, a bed, and a fireplace. Enough to last her a night. It didn’t need to be fancy. Her advisor followed her in, waiting patiently as she sat on the lumpy bed.
“I just want to get this over with,” she said with a sigh. She pulled at her hair until it fell down her shoulders in waves. Every Askari wore their hair long. The only ones that didn’t were the warriors. The haircutting ceremony was a prestigious one, one she had seen many times but had been unable to participate in, no matter how hard she trained. She was a princess, she could not be a warrior.
Her advisor cleared his throat. “It is only one night, and then we go to Ishmar. The trip will only take a couple of days,” he said.
“And how long will I be there?”
“As long as King Harudan asks. It should be no more than two weeks,” her advisor answered. “The treaty must be prepared, you both must sign it, and then there will be many ceremonious dinners to attend. Make it no more than three weeks.” And then it would be no more than a month. And longer and longer until she was there for six months and no longer knew what home looked like.
She waved him away. “I need to rest. It has been a long day. Wake me when dinner is ready,” she ordered. The door closed with a dull thud and she lay back on the bed with a sigh.
The treaty had come out of nowhere. King Harudan had done next to nothing during his first year as King and then sent them a raven asking for a treaty. It should have been expected, but both Rina and her parents had expected Harudan to be as ruthless as his deceased father, if not more.
She hadn’t wanted to go. She didn’t like the Ishini, didn’t trust them, not since the Frost. But her parents were busy. They were the King and Queen and winter was upon them. She was the only one who could go. Her brother was far too young to understand what was going on, so he stayed behind.
The treaty was a simple one. No war, no fighting, no more assassinations that couldn’t be blamed on either country. Peace, in exchange for aiding the Askari during winter. At least, that was what she would ask of Harudan. It was what had started their cold war in the first place. Maybe he would accept, or maybe he would decline. Either way, she was going to ask him.
Peace was something she desperately wanted. She’d watched Minisia struggle during the last ten years. Nobles were assassinated by the month, armies were sent to the border to threaten the Ishini away. Threats were sent by raven. Transports were cancelled and resources became scarce. Hopefully, with the treaty signed, all of Vishera would heal and both countries would be happy again.
Even though King Harudan had been the one to propose the treaty, Rina did not trust any of the Ishini. They had been the ones to start the war of words that had been ongoing for the last ten years. They were the ones that continuously crossed the border to kidnap and kill her people. The followers of the Old Gods were peaceful but still, she did not trust them. Even peaceful people could snap sometimes.
With the treaty signed, she would be able to go home. She had spent far too much time away from Minisia. Brenmar was the complete opposite of her home and with the people still thinking there was a threat of war, it was dangerous for the Askari to be there. It would be safer once the treaty was signed, but even so, all she longed for was the familiarity of her home.