Thear: Conall: Talking to Sophia

This entry is part 7 of 9 in the Thear collection
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“You don’t have to sit alone,” Sophia said, sitting next to Conall.

“I know,” he replied, “but it’s nice to have some time alone to watch people. At home I used to spend all my festivals people watching.”

“What can you see?”

Conall looked at Sophia. He couldn’t imagine what it was like to be blind, and before he had moved to live with his uncle’s family he hadn’t even known that blind people existed. It was easy enough to understand why. Most people didn’t want a child with any disabilities, whether that was being mixed heritage, being born on the wrong day, or having something wrong with them. Something like that would lower the family’s standing in the village and make everything more difficult. Her family had been doubly unlucky as first she had been born and then her younger sister Aisling had been born on the day of Persephone. Both of those things had lowered the family’s standing, so everything was more difficult for them, but they never stopped being grateful for that they had.

Shaking his head, Conall looked towards the square. “It’s dark,” he started, “so the colours are much more muted than they would be during the day and everyone looks darker than they are. The only reason I can see much at all is the moon, the candles, and the fire in the centre of the square.”

“What’s the moon like?”

“It’s a slim crescent.” Conall drew the shape on the back of Sophia’s hand. “It doesn’t give off a lot of light, not as much as a full moon would, but it’s pretty and I think I like the moon best when it’s this shape.” He smiled. “The candles are probably the reason I can see as much as I can, because they’re everywhere. It’s a strange sort of light. The flame moves, especially when there’s a breeze, so the light and shadows change constantly.”

“Who can you see?”

Slowly Conall looked around the square. “Zander stood on the other side of the square, with a couple of his friends. He looked over here a moment ago and smiled. I think he’s happy that you have another person to talk to.”

“It’s never bothered me that people see me was bad luck.” She shrugged. “I have friends who accept me for who I am and that’s all I need.”

“Sophia…”

“Don’t lecture me, Conall. If I want to be friends with people from the Tein-Igni village then I will, and no one is going to stop me. They don’t care that I’m blind.”

“I wasn’t going to lecture you,” Conall lied. “Neither Zander or I care that you’re blind.”

“You’re family, so it doesn’t count.” Conall opened his mouth but before he could say anything Sophia continued, “Don’t start with that rubbish about not truly being family because you’re only related by handfasting. No matter what you are family. It doesn’t matter about how or why.”

“If you say so.”

“I know it’s hard for you. I’m not stupid, and I know your father wasn’t…” She sighed. “Well, he was Uisdro, I suppose, and leading the life of someone who believes that he is right, even though he’s obviously wrong. That makes people narrow minded. You are a good person and I’m glad you came here. Life would have been very different if you hadn’t.”

“Did Aisling tell you that?”

“Yes, she did.”

“Does it ever bother you that she knows so much about everything?”

“I’m used to it, I suppose. We’ve always written to each other, and from an early age she confided in me, because she didn’t have anyone else. Thankfully people like her did turn up, so she did have friends at the training temple, but until that happened she only had me. And Zander because he read the letters to me.”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get used to someone knowing that I’m going to do something before I do it.”

“Aisling only sees possibilities, Conall, not definites. I knew you might turn up, not that you definitely would. I hoped you would. You would have been a very different person if you’d chosen to stay at home, and I don’t think I would have liked that person, but you came here, so it doesn’t really matter.”

Conall looked at Sophia. “I’m glad I came here. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re better, and I have people here who accept me for who I am.”

“That’s why I have friends in the Tein-Igni village.”

“It’s not safe.”

“I…” She shook her head. “This is going to sound really selfish, but I don’t care. They’ve never acted like there’s something more wrong with me than just my eyes, and I want to be around people who don’t think that I’m stupid because I can’t see.” She sighed. “I have had to deal with that my whole life, because they can’t understand what’s wrong with me, and everyone knows. When I first met those Tein-Igni they had no idea that I was blind and I loved being normal for just a few hours. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t see anything. For a few days I was sure they were going to change when they found out that I was blind, but they didn’t. Even when they knew it didn’t matter and at that point I only had that total acceptance from two people, who were both family.”

“I do understand, Sophia. If I had friends like that I think I would feel the same way you do, but until I came here I never really had anyone I could call a proper friend. I was too different from a typical Uisdro male and they didn’t want to be affected by my differences.”

“That’s what I hate. Being Uisdro doesn’t mean I have to be anything, but everyone else thinks I should be something I’m not because of their expectations. The men fish while the women fix nets and cook meals. Some men trade while their women cook meals. Women become healers, but men don’t. It’s irritating.”

“Can you cook?”

“I doubt I could, but I’ve never tried. Mother thinks that the kitchen is a dangerous place for me because I can’t see anything, so she doesn’t let me in there, even though I’ve tried to explain to her that I’ll be fine as long as she doesn’t move anything.” She sighed. “I can walk through the rest of the house safely.”

“She just doesn’t know what it’s like to be blind.”

“I know, and I understand why she’s worried, but it’s going to affect my life in the future because I won’t be able to do the things I need to do.”

Conall smiled. “You should marry a Dorma male. I hear they can cook well.”

“Do you think I could get away with that, simply by saying I didn’t know what race they were because I couldn’t see them and they didn’t tell me?”

“I doubt it, but it would be an interesting experiment. Some day it might not even matter.”

“To be honest I’m not sure that anyone would marry me, unless it was just because they felt sorry for the blind girl.”

“Don’t put yourself down like that, Sophia. You’re a wonderful person.”

“Who can’t do anything useful.” She shook her head. “The only thing I can do is the laundry, as long as I have someone there to help me.”

“For someone that won’t matter. They will see you and realise that you are blind, but that you are also loving, understanding, kind, and someone who gives good advice even when the person is being a moron.”

“I don’t know.”

“Sophia, I promise that you will get married.”

“I’m not marrying you.”

“I wasn’t offering.”

“Good.”

“All I mean is that you will find the right person and…” Conall smiled. “I think you’ll be a good mother.”

Sophia looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “I can’t imagine having children.”

“Maybe you can’t, but I think it will happen.”

“Have you been talking to Aisling?”

“No, I haven’t. I don’t need to talk to her, because I know you, and if you can’t see past all the negatives then I’ll just have to help you. Being blind isn’t going to stop you from doing everything that you want to do. Opportunities will come you way.”

“Are you sure?”

Conall laughed. “I’m sure.”

“It’s just she keeps telling me exactly the same things.”

“Maybe that’s simply because you need to be told these things.” Conall looked up at the moon, thinking about how to phrase what he wanted to say. “You have this ability to look after people that I have never seen before, and it’s one of the things I appreciate about you, so you seem to spend almost all your time focused on other people. When it comes to you, and how you appear to other people, I think you only see what you want to see, rather than what we see. Being blind is a disadvantage, but I have this feeling you let it be more of a problem than it really is because everyone else sees it as a huge problem. Even your mother.” He sighed. “I’m not saying that you do it on purpose. It’s more that you don’t see the abilities you have because you have difficulty believing you have them, due to how other people treat you.” He looked at Sophia. “I also think it’s harder to see what you can do because you’ve never met anyone else who’s blind, so you don’t see what they can do.”

“I don’t see what I can do. I can’t read or write, I can’t cook, I can’t clean safely, Mother won’t let me into the kitchen because there are knives and a stove, and I feel useless.”

“You’re not though.” Conall smiled. “It’s just a case of finding something you’re good at and can do, but it might take some time.”

Sophia shook her head. “Do you have any suggestions?”

“Give me day or two and I’ll think of something.”

“Conall, I know it might not sound like it, but I don’t mind being blind. It’s not as though I have ever been able to see anything, so I have no idea what it’s like to be able to see. I don’t know what the moon looks like, or the sun, or you, and I’m used to it, even though I do sometimes wish that I had just been given one chance to see what you see.”

Conall reached out and gently squeezed Sophia’s hand. “I wish I could give you my eyes, so you could have that one chance.”

“Thank you.” She smiled. “It is interesting to compare the way you and Zander talk about things. You both have very different ways of seeing things. When Zander described the last winter solstice for me he noticed much less of the detail than you seem to. I never knew that the priest of Poseidon had a symbol on his robes until you told me.”

“Who do you prefer?”

“I don’t know. Some days it’s nice to have Zander describe things because I like hearing his voice, but I know that it’s better that he now has more time to spend with his friends. I always felt guilty for taking up so much of his time. You have a nice voice and I like knowing about all the little details I never got told about before.”

“I like being able to help you.”

Sophia smiled. “If you do ever feel like I’m taking up too much of your time then tell me, please. I want you to make friends here and I think that spending too much time with me might stop that from happening.”

“People don’t want to be friends with me very often.” Conall smiled, even though he hated being thought of as strange because he had learnt how to be a healer. “They look at me and see…” He sighed. “I don’t know exactly. I’ve never bothered to ask. I just know that they think that a male healer is something that shouldn’t exist.”

“The Tein-Igni have male healers.”

“Really?”

Sophia nodded. “I think it’s different for all the races, but as we don’t talk to each other very often it’s not something that’s common knowledge.”

“Sometimes I wish I was something other than Uisdro.” Conall shook his head. “I want to live somewhere else, somewhere that isn’t Thear, because I hate all the division there is between the three races and how everyone believes that their race is the better of the three.”

“I feel like that too, but I think that some day Thear will be a better place to live. It may not be during our lifetime, or ever our children’s lifetime, but eventually people will realise that we can’t work well separately. The three races will work together, sharing their expertise without acting as though one race superior because they can do something that the other two can’t.”

“Maybe you’re right, Sophia.” Conall looked back up at the moon and thought about what Thear would be like if Sophia’s vision did come true. “I can’t imagine it ever happening, but I hope it does.”

Sophia looked at him. Even though Conall knew that she couldn’t actually see him it felt as though she was looking into him and seeing everything. Sometimes it seemed as though she did know everything about everyone, but that was because she listened more than anyone else. People didn’t seem to realise how good her hearing was.

“Aisling is working on something,” Sophia said, almost so quietly he couldn’t hear her. “There’s a town called North Square and she’s been told to look for it by Persephone, because the time will come when we need somewhere safe.” She sighed. “Things could never stay the way they are now, the larger groups all want control of Thear and they will attempt to get it, so something will happen to change everything for good. Aisling doesn’t know exactly what it is yet, and I’m not entirely sure that Persephone does either, but they know it’s coming and they’re planning for it.”

“Why are you telling me?”

“I trust you, Conall.” She smiled. “I did from the moment I met you, but Aisling told me to wait for a while before I told you anything. She said you needed time to settle in, and time to understand that things are really no different here to what they were like in your village.”

Nodding, Conall looked out at the square. The priest of Poseidon was stood in a large group of people, who all seemed to be interested in something he was saying, and Conall almost didn’t want to know what exactly it was. Priests and priestesses had always made him feel uncomfortable, but he never quite knew why they made him feel that way.

“It is slightly different, because your ruling deity is Poseidon rather than Persephone.”

“Unfortunately the priest isn’t truly a priest of Poseidon. Very few of the priests and priestess who exist now are connected to the deity they profess to be a priest of, because I’m not entirely sure that most people even believe that the deity exist.” Sophia sighed. “Aisling saw it happen at the training temple. People chose the deities they were meant to choose if they weren’t a true priest or priestess.”

“Why do people follow him then?”

“He’s charismatic and people want to believe that he’s passing Poseidon’s words on to them, even if they’re not entirely sure that Poseidon, or any of the other deities, really exist.”

“I don’t think he’s charismatic.”

“Then you’re one of very few people. If I didn’t know that he wasn’t a true priest, and I wasn’t blind, I might be someone who believed that he was passing Poseidon’s words to me. I feel sorry for those who do believe him, because it’s so easy to be fooled by someone like him.” She sighed. “Everyone wants to follow him, and the leaders of the other groups, which leads to them looking at people like me and seeing someone who shouldn’t exist. I’m almost as bad as a mixed heritage child.”

“It’s strange to think that the people who follow Persephone and the people who follow Poseidon are actually very alike, but they don’t want to believe they’re alike because they have different deities.”

“If they’re each given a chance to become the type of people they feel they should be, rather than having to be careful because they’re trying not to make it obvious that they exist, I think they will turn into very different groups.” There was a few seconds of silence. “The groups who follow the female deities will become more matriarchal while the groups who follow the male deities will become even more patriarchal than they already are. I know that our priest is in favour of arranged marriages for all the Uisdro women, and it’s entirely possible that it might happen.”

Sophia sighed. “Things will change and I can’t imagine that life will be easy for a very long time, because each of the different groups is going to have to work out how to live alone. Both the Uisdro and the Tein-Igni rely on the Dorma for much of their food, so I hate to think what will happen to the two races.”

“What do you think North Square will be like?”

“I don’t know exactly, Conall, but I know that mixed heritage children will be welcome, mixed marriage will be permitted, and life will be just as hard for us as it will be for everyone else.”
Conall looked at Sophia. “At least if we have all three of the races working together for the same purpose it will mean that we can share knowledge and hopefully nothing will be lost.”

Sophia nodded. “It will make things smoother.” She smiled. “I know that life will be difficult for a long time, because learning to live together in a new place is something we’ve never had to do before, but I do think it will be much better than things are now.”

“I can’t imagine what it will be like to live in a mixed town.” Conall bit his lip. “I hope it will work, I hope all three of the races will be able to work together, but I wonder if it’s possible.”

“There are people who want it to happen, Conall. They want all three races to work together to make Thear a better place, even if it is just one small part of Thear, and those are the people who are more likely to end up in North Square. Of course there will be those who flee to North Square because they have no other choice, because of their bloodline or possibly their beliefs, so it’s not going to be perfect.”

“What does Aisling know about North Square?”

“She doesn’t know a lot. Persephone thinks there are things that Aisling needs to learn herself, so she’s just been given the basic information. It’s north of the Residence, behind two walls, and was created a long time ago by a deity who only has a few followers now.”

“Behind two walls?”

“Probably to keep the town and the people in it safe.” Sophia shrugged. “Aisling will send me a letter once she’s visited and we’ll know more then.”

“How will she get into the town?”

“I’m guessing there are probably people living there. There are mentions in a couple of diaries that have been passed through the family of a town that is known of, but not talked about, and I think they might be talking about North Square. It’s seems to be a town that has been kept hidden for a long time.”

“I hope things do work out.” Conall sighed. “I wish I could have told Mother about North Square, even though I don’t think she’d ever leave Father behind. She doesn’t love him, but she doesn’t know how to live without him, and it’s hard to watch.”

“Life was different when she was younger. Mother told me about what it was like to live in an Uisdro village twenty years ago and I understand why most people live the way they do now. When I talked to Grandmother it made it easy for me to see how things have changed over the years and how they have stayed the same.”

“My grandmother died in childbirth when Mother was six or seven. I can’t remember exactly. Mother was raised by her aunt, who is a lovely woman, but neither of them ever talk that much about the past. It’s hard for them to remember, and they don’t like even thinking about it.”

“My aunts both died in childbirth. I don’t remember either of them because I was young when it happened, but I know it was hard on the family. That’s part of the reason Mother kept me, even though I was blind.”

“It’s hard to think that it could happen to anyone we know.” Conall ran a hand through his hair. “When my brother married and his wife had their first child everyone was worried that it might happen to her, but she was fine. She’d just announced her second pregnancy when I left, so I don’t know if she got through childbirth safely a second time.” He looked over at one of the pregnant women in the square. “During my training I spent hours talking to the other healers about why so many women die in childbirth, or lose their babies, but they don’t know for sure what the reason is. It’s difficult for them knowing that there’s not really a lot they can do.”

“There are those who think it might be because there are too many pure blood handfastings and people are more closely related as there is less movement between villages. Having a mixed heritage gives you a better chance of surviving through childbirth, whether you’re the mother or the child.”

As Conall thought about how long it had been since the fires, when records of all the families were destroyed, he realised that three hundred years was actually a very long time. “Mother got handfasted when she was twenty-two,” he said, “and most handfastings happen between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three. If we go back three hundred years to when we know that this pure blood interest started and make twenty the average age of a woman having her first child then there have been sixteen generations of…” He shook his head. “…inbreeding.”

Sophia nodded. “It’s not a nice thing to think about, but that seem to be what the priests want. They’ve been working towards everyone being pure blood Uisdro and those who believe what the priests say are happy to do what they are told to.” She shook her head. “Some don’t agree and there are mixed heritage children scattered around the country, but the majority of people think that the priests and priestesses are always right because they’re passing on the messages of their deities.”

“Even if it isn’t having an effect on women and children it’s still wrong.”

“The thing is most people don’t stop to think about what they’re doing. Either their parents or their priest have told them that they are doing what is right, not only for them but the Uisdro as a race as well, and that’s all that really matters. It doesn’t make sense to me because I know that none of them are speaking on behalf of a deity and they don’t really know what is right for the Uisdro, but other people do believe them and that really has an effect on us as a race.”

“I did hear once about there being a mixed heritage village somewhere near my village, but I don’t know if it ever actually existed.”

“At one point there were mixed heritage villages, and Grandmother actually lived in one for the first few years of her life after her father handfasted a Tein-Igni woman, but the priests don’t like them. Most of them are kept off the map and they’re moveable, so if someone finds out about them then they can move on.”

“That must be a difficult life to lead.”

“I wouldn’t want to live like that, so I’m thankful that Grandmother decided to move here, but I know both her half brothers still travel the country because they can’t stop for any length of time.” Sophia sighed. “Hopefully North Square will be a place of safety for them too.”

“How do they work?”

“Apparently each one is slightly different, but Grandmother lived in a house with wheels until her father sent her to live with her aunt. I think she was about nine then. Since then she’s lived here and only seen her family once every two or three years, when they have a chance to stop somewhere near and send her a message.”

“That probably doesn’t help your family’s standing in the village.”

“No, it doesn’t. Zander was lucky that he wanted to follow in Father’s footsteps and become a fisherman, because I don’t think he would have got an apprenticeship any other way. Father is from another village and that doesn’t help any more than Mother being the granddaughter of a man who married a Tein-Igni woman or having a blind sister does, and I do feel sorry for my brother having a family on the bottom rung of the ladder.” Sophia shrugged. “Hopefully things will be different in North Square for him, because I want him to be happy. Living here, with all the restrictions that being a part of our family has, will stop him from being happy.”

“He seems happy enough, Sophia. He has friends and there’s a girl who likes him, so I don’t know if it’s as bad as you think it is.”

“Zander will never handfast someone in the village.”

“You don’t know that. The girl’s father may see past all the problems and decide that Zander is the right person for his daughter.”

Sophia shook her head. “Why would someone permit their daughter to marry into our family when they know that their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren will be affected by us for their entire lives?”

“Is that another reason you think no one will handfast you?”

“Maybe a little, but I know that one day I’ll be living in North Square and I will have opportunities I’ve never had before. I just don’t think that anyone will want a blind wife, no matter what race they are.”

“What if North Square doesn’t happen, Sophia?”

“I don’t know what I’ll do then. This isn’t somewhere I want to live for the rest of my life, because I know what everyone thinks of me and there’s no chance of me every getting handfasted, but I don’t think I’ll have a choice if North Square doesn’t happen.” She sighed. “When Aisling sent me a letter telling me of a safe town I didn’t let myself hope too much. It might never happen. I just want it to, because I need to live somewhere I don’t feel like I shouldn’t exist. Mother could have given me up without any repercussions, but she didn’t, so I am the only blind girl in this village, probably the only blind girl alive in the whole of Thear, and everyone thinks she should have done the right thing.”

“Your mother did the right thing.”

Sophia smiled for a few seconds, and then it faded. “I’m glad you think so, Conall, because sometimes I don’t. I hate feeling like that, because I know I’m lucky to be alive, but it’s hard.”

“The people who know you, and I mean really know you, love you, Sophia, and my life wouldn’t be the same if I had never met you.” Conall squeezed Sophia’s hand. “I understand that life has never been easy for you, or your family really, but I’m always going to appreciate the way you took me in. If I had never chosen to become a healer I would have been close to the top rung of the ladder, due to my family’s position, and it’s not somewhere I would like to be, because you all have this amazing amount of love for each other that doesn’t seem to exist in other families, especially my own.”

“Conall….” Sophia shook her head. “Thank you. Sometimes I forget that I do have the most amazing family, and I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have someone like you to remind me that I would never want to be anyone else’s daughter. Mother and Father love me, even though I have a disability, Zander has always looked after me, and now I have you.” She smiled. “You are going to come if we go to North Square?”

Conall looked over at Zander for a few seconds before turning his attention back to Sophia. He saw North Square in his mind, a town where the three races could live together, and knew it was somewhere he could call home, even if it wasn’t perfect. The family he had become so close to would be there, he could hopefully put his skills to good use, and in all honesty it wasn’t really a decision he needed to think about for long.

“Of course I am,” he replied, smiling back at Sophia, even though she couldn’t see it. “When I left home I was looking for something, although I’m not entirely sure what it was, and I found it the day I walked into your home. For the first time I’m a part of a loving family and I want to stay a part of it, no matter where you go or what you do.”

“I’m glad.” Sophia smiled, but quickly sobered. “Now that’s out of the way there are some things you’re going to need to know. We’ll know we need to go when the Residence burns down.”

Conall stared at her, unable to believe what she was telling him was true, even though he knew she would have heard it from Aisling. “My sister says it’s not definite yet, but there are more futures in which it happens than it doesn’t, so it’s very likely and that makes me think it will happen, especially as I recently found out the the leader of the Dorma supremacist movement has a son who is the High Priest of Herne. If I remember correctly Aisling has mentioned this son before and Trey is actually the true Priest of Bast, even though Bast has been chosen by the Tein-Igni as one of their deities, so that makes me think there is at least one person with a reason for setting fire to the Residence.

“We’re going to have a year, at the most, to prepare for what’s coming, although she told me about six months ago. All I know is that I shouldn’t tell anyone I don’t trust about North Square, because it’s important that we have the right people there. I have already told my Tein-Igni friends.” She bit her lip. “They were terrified, Conall. Last time I saw them they were telling me that their priest has gone mad and they needed somewhere safe, so I told them about North Square. I’m hoping they’ve already gone, but I won’t know until I go back to our normal meeting place as they told me they’d leave me a note under one of the rocks.”

“A note?”

“My suggestion – I said that either you or Zander would read it to me.” Sophia shrugged. “It seemed the safest way for them to do it, because they’ll need to go past it in order for them to get to North Square, but I didn’t want them to stop for too long, just in case someone happened to be following them. They also said they go a couple at a time, for safety, as I told them that the town is a sanctuary for those who need it and the last thing we want is for it to be found before Aisling gets there for the first time.”

“Do you know when Aisling is planning on going?”

“She said as soon as possible, but she doesn’t know what sort of duties she’ll have as the High Priestess of Persephone, so it might not be for weeks. There is going to be people already heading there, including some of the true priests and priestesses, and she’s not certain exactly what she needs a year to prepare for, even though she accepts what Persephone has told her.”

“Even if there are people already living there then there’s going to be work that needs to be done. Some, or all, of the buildings might need maintenance – how many depends on how old the town is and how much of it is currently inhabited. There won’t be enough food for everyone and Aisling will need to help them gather more, which is something we can work on as well. I don’t know if there are healers there, but with the influx they might need things that they can’t get from within the walls. Get her to make a list when she gets there that she can send to us, because we’re going to be living there too and if they need help then we do as much as we can while we’re outside the walls.”

“Thank you.”

“What for?”

“Being you.” Sophia laughed. “I should have known that you’d start thinking things through, but I couldn’t help worrying that you’d say you weren’t going to join us, not now that you have a home.”

“Home, Soph, is where my family is, and you are my family. If you were to go to North Square without me I wouldn’t have a home any more, because you’d have left me behind.” Conall shivered. “The thought of that…”

Sophia covered Conall’s hand with hers. “That would never have happened. You’re not just family – you’re one of my best friends. Admittedly the other two are Aisling and Zander, so my best friends are family, but to me that doesn’t matter. I’m just happy to have you in my life.”

“We could, if you wanted, go to your normal meeting place and see if that note’s there tomorrow.”

“I’d like that. Knowing that they’re heading for safety would be a huge weight off my shoulders and I’ll ask Aisling to see if they’ve made it there safely, because she knew I was going to be telling them. Obviously that meant Zander did too, so I got another lecture, even though she keeps telling him that he can’t stop me from being friends with whoever I want, and she’s glad that I have friends in other races. She thinks it shows that North Square can work.”

“The only reason I’ve said anything is because I worry about you. Aisling is right, we can’t stop you from being friends with whoever you want, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry. I don’t doubt you when you say they’re good people, but as I don’t know them I can’t trust them.” Conall shook his head. “I’m not explaining that very well.”

“Even though you trust my judgement that doesn’t mean that you’re automatically going to trust the people that I do. You want to be able to get to know them first, to accept personally that their trustworthy, because you care about me.” Their eyes met and Conall felt again like Sophia could see right into him. “It’s not a bad thing that you want to get to know my friends. I like that you feel that’s important to you and I promise I’ll introduce you to them as soon as we get to North Square, so you can tell me what you think. You might see something that I don’t, because I accepted them from the moment they told me that my blindness wasn’t a problem. Hearing that was so unexpected…” She shook her head. “Maybe I should have thought more, but they seemed like such lovely people and I didn’t want to miss out on the chance of having friends who weren’t my family.”

“Friends are something that I didn’t have until I came here, so I can understand why you made the choice you did, and I hope when I meet them they decide to be my friends too, even though I am a very weird Uisdro.”

“You aren’t weird.”

“Male healer.”

“Being a male healer would be normal if you were Tein-Igni. From what they said anyone can be a healer, as long as they’ve been trained, and I think that’s the best way of doing things.”

“How much do you know about the Dorma?”

“Zander knows more than I do, because he’s been trading with them for years now, ever since Dad realised Zander was better at getting the best deal. Dad wasn’t bad, but Zander once managed to trade two fish, fresh caught that morning, for three loaves of bread, a pat of butter, and a nice block of cheese. When he went back the next day it was the same sort of thing, but we got eggs and some preserved vegetables. It turned out the man he was trading with had a wife who loved fish, we think because there’s some Uisdro in her bloodline, so giving something extra away to get what she wanted made him happy. They disappeared about a month ago – I think Zander told them about North Square because they felt like the Dorma supremacist movement was closing in on them. Of course that wasn’t the only person Zander was trading our fish with and some of the other deals he got were wonderful. I remember the rabbit stew Mother managed to make thanks to him trading a fish for three rabbits.” She shook her head. “I think all Dorma healers are male, but I’m not certain of that.”

“So the Tein-Igni is the most equal.”

“Unfortunately it might not stay that way, but I don’t know what’s going to change as Thear becomes more split. There are more divisions between us and the Dorma than there have ever been before, that we don’t seem to want to fix because it’s good that we aren’t relying on them any longer – because apparently trading is now reliance. It’s getting just as bad with the Tein-Igni, who are insisting that they’re going to become self sufficient, even though they’ve always traded with us to be able to get their food. Of course all the problems are made worse because each of the races is becoming split too, between two deities. The Dorma supremacist movement is very patriarchal and they follow Herne, while the others, who seem just as insistent that the Dorma are the best race although they are slightly more willing to trade, follow Epona, even though I know, thanks to a priestesses of Epona I met, that she is not happy about the way her name is being used.”

“When did you meet a priestess of Epona?”

“At the same time I met my Tein-Igni friends.”

“Seriously?”

“If Trey is a priest of Bast then it’s not exactly unthinkable that a Tein-Igni would be a priestess of Epona.”

“No, it’s not, but it still seems strange to think of Epona’s priestess being anything other than Dorma.”

“One of the letters Aisling sent me was about how the deities became connected with the races, because it was never meant to be like that. Persephone also has a Tein-Igni and Dorma form, but she didn’t have to use the for years, until the true priests and priestesses started connecting with their deities. With some of them it took a lot of convincing.” Sophia grinned. “I would have loved to have been there to see Trey’s reaction when he found out that he was a priest of Bast instead of Herne.”

“Why is he the High Priest of Herne if he’s the true priest of Bast?”

“To be in the right place at the right time. He has to be in the Residence with Aisling during this year so they can work together. Bast told him that he needed to take the position, Herne was fine with it because he knows that Trey is listening to a deity, but the problem is it puts him somewhere he might end up dying, although I know Aisling has plans in place to stop that.”

“Honestly, Soph, I am really really glad I’m not your sister. I can’t imagine what it must be like to know what might be coming, to need to have plans in place to stop certain things, and be working on making the people of Thear safe while she’s taking on the duties of a High Priestess.”

“That’s why she needs us, Conall. We need to support her while she’s doing all this and started planning how we could do that without even thinking about it. You’re one of those people Aisling told me I would meet, because you are one of those right people, but that didn’t mean you would be here now. She was worried that we might not meet until we entered North Square, as she knew for certain that you’d be there – there were just different ways that you’d arrive and the majority of them were with your grandmother’s sister.” Sophia shook her head. “I’m just so happy that didn’t happen.”

“My grandmother has a sister?”

“From what Aisling said she’s been living in one of the mixed villages since she argued with your grandmother about who they should marry. Your grandmother chose an Uisdro and your great-aunt chose a Dorma. Nice man, apparently. Tried to convince her that the argument between her sister was pointless, so she should attempt to make things up to her, but it never happened sadly.”

<<< Thear: Orla: Running to North Square***Thear: Bree: The Residence >>>
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