Introducing "The Priestess"

I teased everyone recently when I mentioned a new character in my fantasy world. This is a fairy tale that introduces readers to Adela, also known as The Priestess.

The woman mesmerized him. Then again, she seemed to have that effect on every male in the tavern. They huddled around her at the table, Kasig standing back and admiring her from a distance. She wore a white pagan dress with a matching cloak over top. Her hood was pushed back and the cloak hung open, revealing more than enough of the woman’s beauty.

Kasig watched as one of the men split off and headed his way. The gentleman looked familiar, but Kasig didn’t know him by name. Kasig grabbed the man’s arm as he went to pass, stopping him abruptly. Bald and sporting a face-full of stubble, the man’s once jovial face turned serious. He locked eyes with Kasig.

“My apologies,” Kasig said. “I didn’t mean to alarm you.”

The man said nothing, his pursed lips barely flinching.

“The woman over there.” Kasig turned his head in her direction.

There was still no reply, but the man’s posture eased as he gazed at the woman, a grin soon appearing. “Ah, yes. Adela.”

“That’s her name?”

He nodded.

Kasig stared at her copper blonde hair. It was curly and extended halfway down her back. “Where is she from?”

“The desert. Says she’s on her way to Ibarus.”

“A priestess?”

“Priestess. Shrine guardian. What’s it matter?”

Kasig shrugged.

The man inspected Adela from afar and then returned his attention to Kasig, his grin fading. “If you don’t mind, I have some drinks to buy.”

“Of course.” Kasig took a coin from the small sack along his belt and handed it to the man. “For your troubles, sir.”

He nodded in appreciation and moved on.

Kasig gawked at Adela. Knowing her name made his blood flow even more. He would still find difficulty in approaching her given his timid personality, but now there was a sense of hope. Lost in thought, Kasig didn’t notice Adela returning his stare until it was too late. He looked away but not before spotting her warm smile.

Something brushed against Kasig’s shoulder, and he spun around to catch a glance. The man he’d previously confronted was making his way back to the table with several mugs in hand. None of the other men at the table even batted an eye as he approached, their minds clearly on Adela and nothing else.

Kasig saw it coming. The bald man was ambitious. Two mugs in one hand. Three in the other. He managed to rest four of them on the table, but that last mug did him in. The contents washed over the side of the wooden boards and into the lap of a burly man sitting diagonal to Adela. Kasig didn’t realize how large the lad was until he stood.

This is going to be bad.

And it was. The bald man backed away and put his hands up, one apology after another escaping his mouth. But it didn’t matter. With ale dripping from his pants, the dark-bearded giant clenched his fingers into a fist. In a single swing, his knuckles made contact with the man’s chin, knocking him to the hardwood floor.

An unmistakable thud followed, and Kasig was certain the man had lost consciousness, assuming he was still alive. The other men around the table quickly disbanded, wanting nothing to do with the situation. Others in the tavern looked on in silence and shock. The brute surveyed the room. He eventually set his sights on Adela, embarrassment setting in.

Expecting to see fear on Adela’s face, Kasig was surprised when he witnessed the opposite. Unwavering, she rose from the bench, paying no mind to the brute. Kasig noticed the sheathed broadsword for the first time. Hung on her left side, it had been hidden from his view because of her position at the table. She knelt next to the victim and closed her eyes, whispering several words that Kasig couldn’t make out. A prayer perhaps.

Whether it was divine intervention or healing powers of her own, Kasig couldn’t be sure, but the man sat up shortly thereafter. He managed to get to his feet with the help of a few others. They tended to the man and brought him into a back room, soon vanishing from sight.

The brute wasn’t about to stick around. Shamed, he headed for the front door and never looked back. Kasig wouldn’t be surprised if the man feared retribution as well. If the crowd chose to retaliate, he wouldn’t be able to fight all of them, even with his size. Several minutes passed, and the once reserved room began to turn livelier.

However, Adela sat alone. All of the men who had fancied her before no longer expressed interest. Kasig couldn’t make sense of it. Surely, based on what the bald man had told him, they were aware that Adela was a devout woman with supernatural powers. Perhaps seeing her capabilities firsthand proved too much to accept.

Even if Adela did possess certain skills, Kasig didn’t mind. In fact, he’d encountered other women with unique abilities, and he never shied away from them. If anything, it only added to their allure. He felt a mysterious and surreal connection to Adela. Like he’d known her all of his life. Despite never speaking a word to the woman, he would be willing to give his life for her. Kasig couldn’t explain his reasoning. It seemed ridiculous on the surface, but it felt true in his heart.

Ever since the death of his closest friend, Kasig had few reasons to stay put. Though he’d lived in Vargrom most of his life, he was no stranger to travel or adventure. The difference now was that he fought to find a purpose, and love still eluded him. Not platonic love, as Kasig cared more for his late companion than anyone else, but the type of adoration and affection that could only come from a mingling of souls.

A random man passed behind Adela, her eyes tracking him from one side to the other. She rested a hand on the grip of her broadsword, whispering something to herself in the process. When the man carried on without incident, Adela relaxed. She took a book from her sack and placed it on the table, removing a quill and small ink bottle next.

Adela opened the book, dipped her quill in the ink, and began to write. Kasig noticed her mouth again. She was speaking. Perhaps to solidify the thoughts in her mind. Adela’s head turned, and she forced a smile as she met Kasig’s gaze. His first instinct, like before, was to look away, but he didn’t want to be rude. Instead, he returned the gesture.

She waved a hand, motioning for Kasig to come over. He studied the room as his heart picked up pace. No one peered in Adela’s direction or his, all of them engrossed in their own conversations. Feeling content, Kasig stood and maneuvered around the table. He thought for sure that all eyes would be on him as he made his way closer to Adela, but no one seemed to notice. Or maybe they didn’t want to be subjected to any mystical events.

Kasig slid down the bench, positioning himself across from Adela. He inspected the room a second time. A couple of random people looked in their vicinity, but their attention didn’t stick. The tavern was muggy and Adela’s hazel eyes warmed Kasig even more, causing him to perspire. He took a breath, waiting for her to speak.

“I figure you’re the shy type,” she said.

Kasig chuckled, the welcome release reducing some of the tension in his muscles. “You’re good at reading people.”

“It wasn’t difficult. You’ve been watching me the entire night. If you were anything like the others, you would have been sitting here long ago.”

He nodded. “You do seem to attract a lot of attention, and deservedly so.” Kasig pondered those words, worried they might be misconstrued by Adela. “Because of your beauty.”

Adela’s lips stretched across her face. She’d likely heard that compliment more times than she could count over the years, but Kasig hoped it appeared more genuine and innocent coming from someone like him.

“Please forgive me for saying this,” she said. “I’m not trying to be vain, but you seem to be very fond of me.”

Kasig shrugged, afraid to admit it at first, then nodded. “I can’t lie.”

“I can see that. I sense you’re a very honest man. Trustworthy and loyal.”

“I’ve been called worse.”

Adela closed the journal and returned it, along with the quill and ink bottle, to her sack.

“It’s none of my business,” Kasig said, “but I heard you’re traveling to Ibarus.”

“You heard correct.”

“Are you a holy woman?”

“To some extent. I’ve been tasked with carrying a number of important scrolls to a shrine there.”

“When will you be leaving?”

“At first light.”

He dipped his head and glared at the table, disappointment consuming him. “I see.”

Kasig couldn’t believe what he was contemplating next. It was irrational, at best, and contrary to anything he’d done before. Adela had some sort of hold over him, though. Kasig couldn’t see it, but her power was evident.

“I can tell you’re a strong woman,” Kasig said, meeting her gaze once again. “One that can take care of herself. Even others for that matter. I say this not out of any weakness of yours, but perhaps because of my own ambitions.” He pursed his lips and then continued. “Would you like company?”

She exhaled, a look of concern on her face. “I receive offers like yours all of the time.”

“I can imagine. My apologies for asking. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

Adela shook her head. “You don’t understand. It’s not that I don’t welcome it.”

“What’s the conflict then?”

“My journey requires me to go alone.” She hesitated, glancing at a passerby. “Even though the Klifendo have taught me how to survive on my own, it doesn’t diminish the fact that it gets lonely on the road.”

“So, what do you do to combat it?”

“Let’s just say I’ve found ways around their rules.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I demand a lot from people. Once they learn my conditions, most change their mind.”

“What are your conditions?”

“It’s complicated.”

Kasig bent over and rested his arms on the table. “I’m listening.”

* * * *

Adela gathered the last of her belongings and secured them in the two saddle bags. The sun had just cleared the horizon, and the morning air brought a slight chill. She pulled the hood of the cloak over her head, the broadsword hanging at her side. Adela inspected the horse one last time.

While its coat was predominantly reddish brown, the desert horse had black highlights along its mane, tail, ear edges, and lower legs. Hardy and athletic, it was bred for riding. Adela glided a hand along his neck and spoke to him.

“Ready, Elijah?” she said.

“Whenever you are,” he replied.

She gave him a good pat before moving on. Adela rubbed the saddle next. “What about you, Delbert?”

“Hop on,” he said.

Adela put a boot in the stirrup and propelled herself upwards. Secure in the saddle, she gripped the handle of her broadsword. “Nice and snug, Harriet?”

“Cozy as can be,” she said.

Adela nodded. “Good.”

A small shield, one she’d acquired in town the previous day, hung from the front of the saddle. Adela put the strap over her shoulder, allowing the shield to rest along her back.

“You doing okay, Kasig?” she said to the shield.

“I have to admit this will take some getting used to,” he replied, “but I’ll protect you with my life.”

Adela smiled. “Like the others, I can return you to human form whenever or wherever you choose, but your journey with me will have to end there as well.”

What Adela didn’t admit to Kasig, or the others for that matter, was that he held a special place in her heart. Given their wonderful evening together, she hoped Kasig would endure the journey. Adela would miss Elijah, Delbert, and Harriet when the time came, but her true affection rested with Kasig.

“Understood,” Kasig said.

Satisfied, Adela took the reins and nudged Elijah. The horse stepped into a trot, sending them on their way.

© 2018 by Kevin Hopson

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