“What do you mean?” She asked slowly, a strange feeling growing in her stomach. More silence. “Gran, tell me what you mean!” Silence, then a sigh. Renata eased her old frame, suddenly seeming tired, onto a nearby outcropping of stone and motioned for Deryn to join her. “My dear child, your mother wasn’t killed by bandits.”
Cold shock tingled through Deryn. She stared at her grandmother without actually seeing her, unable to speak. Her mother died when she was still very young, but Lissa told her stories—painted images in her mind of a spirited but kind woman with flame-red hair. She vaguely remembered, echoes really, of their mother singing lullabies at night. Echoes of warmth, comfort, and love. Until now, Deryn had always believed that her mother was killed while travelling to the capital to sell wool and colourful, woven fabrics she would make while sitting before the fire in their home. That was all…a lie?
The explanation continued. “Your mother was an agent, a Scribe of the Serpent…. As was I. We have been connected to the temple of Uraeus for years, since your mother was very young.” Deryn’s mind raced—she remembered stories of the Great Serpent, a deity of knowledge, memory, and secrets. Followers of the Adder devoted their lives to gathering the wisdom of the ages, recording important events, and preserving it all in tomes and tablets. Unlike the halls of other deities of Moineir, temples of Uraeus were often kept secluded, as there was sometimes danger in preserving knowledge. For every story told, there is someone who would change it. Kings and rulers once tried to pressure the temples into recording their own versions of events and would resort to more violent tactics when the priests refused. As a result, they kept their tomes and records out of sight, until the information they so carefully protected was needed. How had her mother come to be part of something like that? And Gran…Gran was a Scribe too? Is it some sort of family tradition?
“Your mother was recording a local election in the south, at Port Farraige.” Gran’s voice broke Deryn out of her spiraling thoughts. “The new lord of the city was one who wished to increase trade with Tashkil, and the people protested. There were cries of foul play, that the lord was secretly being supported by the Tashkili aristocracy.” Tashkil, the kingdom across the southern seas, has become increasingly unstable over the past decade—rumors of families being displaced, academics and magi being arrested, and the ruling family all but provoking conflict with the island kingdom of Ilha, to the east. Deryn recalled hearing the rumors amongst the townsfolk, the often-heated conversations at the inn. Ilha is a close ally of Moineir so, naturally, many of her neighbors sided with what they see to be a prosperous and peaceful friendship, as opposed to an oppressive monarch. “As the protests began”, she continued, “the guards began to use force. Your mother tried to get to safety, but a guard recognized her as a Scribe, and arrested her. After that, her name was listed among those who were ‘subdued’.” Her voice cracked at the end, eyes dry and bitter, as though there were no tears left to shed. “It was to be her last active recording for a while, at least until you were older. When she didn’t return, I withdrew from the temple. I wanted to keep you and your sister safe, out of that world. The Serpent doesn’t take sides, but information carries power and danger with it. Many of our number have been captured over the years, temples discovered and raided, the histories held within stolen and twisted by those seeking power and influence. The temple here is one of a precious few that still stand. The head priest, Memnos Rinn, is a friend. He and I both tried to dissuade your mother from going on that last mission, but she had insisted. She loved being a Scribe, you see. She wanted to record one more event before retiring. I thought it odd that she wished to choose such a risky event, but she just wouldn’t listen to reason.
“When things went wrong, Rinn helped us through that tragedy and was able to help me discover her fate. After that, I wanted nothing more to do with the order and he respected that. However,” she looked her granddaughter in the eyes, reaching for her rain-chilled hand, “it would seem that the Serpent has other plans for you.”
To read the first parts of the story, follow these links!