The wind was humid. It should be a lot cooler than the climate she was accustomed to, and yet she wasn’t used to feeling it against her skin. She only knew that the sunlight here was weaker, even from within the building. This afforded a bit more time for her to stroll around than she was used to—she was happy for that.
Around a month ago, she had wondered how many adventures would she have. She was always enclosed in her room, a life where she was only worshipped. She was used to being revered by people, she had taken it for granted, and at the same time, she was tired of it. If there was anyone who sought after it, she was prepared to relinquish it at any time. And yet, due to her existence, she was always bereft of that chance.
Always hailed as Priestess, she ended up forgetting her original name. If she were to surrender her seat, she’d probably be troubled over what to call herself
It was finally over.
Passing the time that could be considered slow. This time, it’s the final stretch, she thought.
In the room covered with countless curtains, there was the sound of rustling fabric. Wondering who, she found the face of a girl peeking at up her. The girl’s name was Jazgül, meaning “the flower of spring”. A girl she’d brought along one year ago; it seems she was mute at birth.
It was probably uncouth to ask how the girl came here. She had a lovable appearance, but the priestess could see signs of malnutrition from her short limbs. She was told the girl couldn’t read, but understood the native language as she could still hear. Conversely, her ignorance was convenient.
When the priestess gestured for her to come closer, Jazgül happily approached. There were no guests today. She had been bedridden for the last couple of days, hadn’t been Jazgül’s company. She had to prepare the girl for it.
The priestess smiled at the girl who came over happily. She slowly moved from the bed to pick up the utensils in the corner of the room. There were paints inside. She scooped out some red paint with a finger and drew on the girl’s brows. The girl happily let her do as she pleased.
Maybe because she didn’t speak with other people, or maybe because she had no education, but Jazgül was more childish than she looked.
After she painted her face in red, the priestess took out a sheet of parchment. She arranged the paints on the table and passed a quill to Jazgül.
“What dreams did you have today?”
At the priestess’ request, Jazgül began to draw with clumsy strokes. Unable to speak and unable to write, her clumsy drawings were her only form of communication.
She became enthusiastic as she drew. But she couldn’t always stay in the priestess’ room. It was nearly meal time.
“Return to your room.” The priestess gathered the paper and paints and passed it to Jazgül. As the parchment was bulky, Jazgül was unable to catch hold of it, dropping a few sheets. As the girl picked up the papers, she looked at the priestess with upturned eyes, pleading to stay longer with her, but it can’t be helped. The priestess patted the girl’s head kindly, more so than usual.
“I can’t always be with you. You can draw on your own.”
Seeing the girl nod, the priestess smiled.
Shortly after Jazgül left, her attendant came in. The priestess called her the oracle. Oracle—the name was similar in meaning to Priestess. Like the priestess, she had forgotten her own name. After succeeding the previous oracle, she had been by her side for close to twenty years.
Priestess was originally Diviner.
(T/N:巫覡: Oracle; 巫女: Priestess; 神子: Diviner. The latter two are pronounced the same in Japanese, miko, and have pretty much the same meaning.)
The priestess recalled the previous oracle’s words. It was fitting for the one who serves the Diviner to be called Oracle. Since it is the duty of both to hear the voice of the divine.
Diviner eventually became Priestess. Was it because only females were chosen, or that only females held the position—which one was it?
The priestess also thought that it was appropriate for her to be Priestess.
She had been selected by the previous oracle when she was young. Before she was old enough to be aware of her surroundings, she was taken away and raised inside the palace.
She was told that she was special. Her white hair, white skin and red eyes. She was told that it was precisely because of her lack of colour that she could hear the voice of the divine.
Every single one of her movements told a fortune—which the oracle then deciphered.
The divination of the white priestess is accurate. The one person who even the king cannot raise his head to—no, can she even be treated as a human?—sat inside the palace as a god.
The priestess did not need education. Her existence itself was supreme. No generation of Oracle ever taught the Priestess. Was the oracle who taught her an exception?
Even so, there was no mistaking her own naïvety.
A Priestess must relinquish her position with the coming of her menarche. What happens to a Priestess after that? Unable to imagine it, the years passed her by. She passed ten, then fifteen.
There were individual differences in menarche. She heard that historically, some Priestesses never got theirs. If it wasn’t unusual after all, she could just continue being the priestess. However, aside from an absence of menarche, she couldn’t help but notice she was different in other ways.
She didn’t have any womanly growth to her at all. Her breasts never swelled, and only her body and limbs grew. No matter how naïve she was, she knew the difference between men and women. When she asked the oracle, she was told that she was special. She was told that, but from then on, she had to eat food that she wasn’t familiar with.
While knowing nothing and understanding nothing, the years passed. As if her popularity as the priestess has risen, more people came, seeking divinations. The priestess behaved however she liked during divinations—she was only told not to make a sound. The speaking was all left to the oracle.
That oracle’s health declined after the priestess reached the age of twenty. The oracle lived a long life, but the priestess, having never witnessed death, did not understand. Replacing the weakened oracle, was the current oracle. It was the oracle’s granddaughter.
The aged oracle spoke to the priestess. About why the priestess had not gotten her first period yet, about why she didn’t have a womanly body.
The priestess was born in a small village. A green, fertile place in the middle of the sandy desert. A place where former Priestesses retired to; many villagers carried the blood of bygone Priestesses in their veins.
There were probably white Priestesses in the past. The priestess received her life there.
As a male.
What kind of joke is this, she thought. It wasn’t funny. She wondered if she was being made fun of.
However, the oracle continued in a hoarse voice.
The king of that time was a flawed one. As Sha’ou prospered as the centre of trade, he spoke foolishly of waging war against another country. His retainers tried to pacify him, but the delusional young king wouldn’t listen.
The one who could control the King was the other pillar, the Priestess. However, the unifying force of the Priestess of that time wasn’t high enough, and she was close to retiring age.
When the new Priestess is born, she will meet with the king. A special white priestess would be all the more meaningful.
The oracle used the priestess to dethrone the foolish king. By not treating the priestess as a male. Like how you would a male goat kid, she had castrated the priestess.
The priestess was made into a female, and brought before the king. It wasn’t unusual for a baby to grumble, she was told that the priestess had cried in the unfamiliar environment. The result of the divination, according to the oracle, indicated the king had been unsuitable.
It was a confession that rendered all of her life to naught. Despite having lived as Priestess for over twenty years, this moment revealed that everything had been a lie.
A pawn that had been prepared to dethrone the king, that was all she was, and yet she lived for all these years believing she had been special.
She had wanted to disparage the oracle who had breathed her last breath. But, the priestess had been oblivious to the point where she didn’t know words of disparagement. What little knowledge she possessed was meaningless. Even the trifling knowledge she had, was probably given to allow the oracle to escape her guilty conscience.
With the previous oracle’s death, the priestess moved to a place near the village she was born in, claiming it was for medical treatment. The previous oracle had been excellent. She manipulated the puppet priestess till the government stabilised. The oracle’s granddaughter was also excellent, but she was lacking in experience. It might have been more correct to say that she had been running away.
In truth, along with the change in Oracle, there was an unspoken request for a change in Priestess as well. Several girls from good families came to the priestess as apprentices. Irene had also been among them.
She was ready to pass on her position at any time, and yet she had no choice but to cling onto it. She was an existence created to fill the role of Priestess, a person who had forgotten even her own name.
Irene became emotionally attached to the priestess, but inevitably, many of the others started to regard the priestess as a hindrance.
It was around the time she decided that she could no longer prolong her recuperation period. A messenger from the village of her birth arrived. Bringing with them a baby in white baby clothes. That baby had skin so white, veins could be seen through it.
The priestess startled at the familiar voice. The oracle stood before her. She had gotten lost in her memories.
“…is this really okay?”
A bowl of congee sat before her eyes. That’s right. She had been preparing her meal for her.
“Wouldn’t it be strange if we delayed this any further?”
“….” The oracle’s face was dark. She should have known everything, but why was she making such an expression. She clenched her fist and cast down her eyes, so their gazes wouldn’t meet.
“I will eat alone. So, go over to there.”
Smile. She could only smile.
“I’ll leave the rest to you then.”
She slowly bought the spoon to her mouth, but she noticed a commotion outside.
She wrinkled her brows and exchanged glances with the oracle, when the door was flung wide open.
“Excuse me!” The bold entrance was made by a short woman speaking in the Rii language. She was a court lady who assisted the court physicians, and had come over many times for doctor’s visits. If the priestess remembered correctly, she shouldn’t be here today.
“H-how rude!” The oracle blocked her path, but the court lady slipped through with ease to stand before the priestess. What happened to the guards?
“Not rude. My job, this!”
The maiden now switched to the Sha’ou language. It was broken. While they stood dumbfounded, wondering what she had said, the spoon was snatched away. And then, she brought the congee to her lips and gulped it down.
The priestess and the oracle went pale.
The court lady smiled, eyes squinting, and looked at the priestess.
“Delicious. Mushroom congee,” the court lady declared with a triumphant look.
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