By: Timothy Law
They found her in a vegetable crate, pigeons pecking at the scraps around her but somehow not making a single mark upon her podgy, pink skin. The two priests of Luna, Goddess of the Moon, and Tides, whispered amongst themselves, not sure what to do with a child.
“Can we pass it off to the orphanage?” asked Father Geraldin.
He was the oldest of the trio present that morning at the gates to Luna’s church. It was Father Geraldin, Father Francini, and Tom the gardener. The two priests were there to greet visitors, Tom was just trimming the great hedge that acted as a border between the holy grounds of church land, and the common street.
“Is it not a gift from Luna Herself?” asked Tom, aloud, causing the two priests to scowl.
“What do you know of the ways and wonders of Luna?” scoffed Geraldin.
Father Francini raised his hands though.
“Hush, brother, we must not judge so quickly,” he urged. “Although our gardener friend has perhaps spoken out of turn, maybe we should consider his suggestion for at least a moment.”
Tom, who was a good couple of decades younger than the two priests ignored them. Putting down the great, metallic claws with which he was shaving and sculpting the greenery, the gardener shooed away the birds and scooped up the babe.
The two priests argued between each other as Tom dug through the swaddling. Ice-blue eyes and tight blonde curls met his scrutiny.
“Boo!” said Tom, at which the child immediately giggled, gurgled, and then let out a quiet burp.
The pigeons returned to the crate and continued to explore.
“Definitely a girl,” said Tom, matter-of-factly.
“What makes you say that?” asked the two priests together.
“I was there for the births of all seven of my kids,” Tom explained. “Luna blessed me and my Fiona with three boys and four girls, so far…”
“So far?” asked Father Francini in awe.
Luna allowed Her priests to marry, but Father Francini and Father Geraldin had both become too old for this. The idea of having children, let alone seven and still wanting more, such was a challenge for Francini to comprehend.
“I always wanted a child,” sighed Father Geraldin.
“And now you’ve got one, a perfect baby girl,” laughed Tom. “The Goddess truly has showered Her blessings upon you.”
This time it was Father Geraldin’s turn to raise his ancient, gnarled, and knobby hands.
“Now hold, one moment please,” begged the priest. “Who is it that expects me to be responsible for such a… Such a… Such a fine gift..?”
“Here, what’s this?” Tom said, suddenly.
The gardener held the child aloft and the swaddling fell away. Examining her back and bottom, Tom clicked his tongue.
“What is it, man?” asked the priests impatiently. “Let us see what you have found.”
“Look!” cried Tom as he swung the child around so that the two priests could get a clear look at the infant’s podgy bottom.
Bare and cold, the child cried too, loud, long sobs, which the priests ignored. Their attention was focused on the pattern of blue splodges that looked very much like that of the constellation that existed in the night’s sky, the pattern of stars that somehow always seemed to follow the moon.
“We must tell Bishop Wannuluf about this child immediately,” announced Father Geraldin.
Both priests ran into the temple’s open doors, returning a few moments later to retrieve the crying child from Tom the Gardener.
“Well done, Tom,” said Father Francini, patting the gardener on the shoulder. “Keep up the excellent work.”
“Yes, Father Francini,” said Tom. “I shall.”
“Oh, and Tom,” added Father Geraldin. “If you should find any more children with strange birthmarks can you please alert us about them?”
“As you so wish, father,” said Tom as he took up the claws again.
“Immediately,” said both priests together.
The gardener nodded and smiled as he watched the two old men turn and rush away, faster than either had moved in years. They juggled the child between them, the baby girl still crying and still naked to the coolness of the day. Shaking his head at the strangeness of it all Tom finally returned to his task. He did not envy the priests at all, that child was special, and in the gardener’s opinion special children were a lot of work.
There was only one strange delivery that day, Tom ended up finishing the hedging, and catching a handful of the pigeons to take home to his family for supper. Bishop Wannuluf knew little more than his two priests about infants, but he also very quickly recognized the strange birthmark.
“We found the child amongst the pigeons,” explained Geraldin.
“Then we shall call her Dove,” announced the bishop. “No child of this church shall be known by a name like Pigeon, and she has been adorned with the sign of the dovespirit.”
Both priests nodded at such words of wisdom from their leader.
“Hurry, call a scribe and gather the other priests, and the sisters, we must make this official,” commanded Bishop Wannuluf.
As often happened when Bishop Wannuluf gave orders they were swiftly done. With the child calm in the arms of one of the younger priests who did have kids, a naming ceremony was held, and the child officially became Dove, Blessed of Luna.
Dove grew up in the hallowed halls of Luna’s temple in the Capitol of the kingdom. She was beloved by all the priests and sisters, but she grew tall and strong, fast. Childhood proved that Dove was a curious child, but one not suited to the ways of Luna’s sisterhood. She was a dreamer, but so too were Sister Mary-May and Sister Josephine, the difference was that Dove’s dreams had a habit of coming true. Initially this was of a lesser consequence, but quite soon she became a teen and the dreams of those going through the changes of life are far less innocent than those of wee children. Also, the priests and sisters noticed as Dove grew older, the hallowed halls seemed far too small for this bird, a cage, where all who knew her knew that Dove longed to be free. All who knew Dove well also knew of her vivid dreams.
“Father Donnuns,” Dove said one morning. “The great Goddess has visited me again, gifting to me another vision.”
Father Donnuns was an artist as well as a priest and he loved to try to capture Dove’s visitations.
“Pray do tell me of this dream, dear Dove,” requested the priest.
“I had a dream that I stood before the church gates, wearing armor of silver and gold, high in the saddle of a pitch black stallion, my sword thrust towards the sky,” said Dove, her blue eyes closed as she tried hard to recall all of the details while they were fresh. “Dark shadows were trying to get by me, but I was not afraid.”
Father Donnuns, busily sketching out the impressive image of Dove upon horseback, paused as the young teen mentioned an attack.
“I would have been very scared,” admitted the priest. “Are you sure that you were not?”
“No, I was anything but scared,” explained Dove. “I felt as though I was exactly where I was supposed to be, exactly where it was that Luna needed me to be.”
“Do you believe that Luna is guiding you, child?” asked Donnuns.
“Of course,” laughed Dove. “My dream must be a sign from the Moon, Luna’s guiding light.”
“Perhaps we should discuss this dream with Bishop Wannuluf,” suggested the priest.
“That is a very good likeness of me, and the horse,” said Dove, examining the beginnings of the picture. “All that is missing is the shadows, though I cannot recall exactly how they looked although they were most definitely there.”
“Thank you for your compliment, brave Dove,” stated Father Donnuns. “Would you like to keep the picture?”
“I would consider it a wondrous gift,” replied the teen, graciously, accepting the offered sketch. “Should I have again the same visitation perhaps I can add to your beginning, and we can claim it as a joint venture.”
“As you so wish, Dove, the sketch is of you and is now yours to do with as you please,” replied the priest of Luna. “Should you recall the shadows I do hope you keep such sights to yourself?”
“I’d not dream of suggesting my skill as an artist will in any way match yours, Father Donnuns,” stated Dove with a bow.
The priest gave his own bow in return as Dove took the sketch from him.
“I am sure it will not be long before you surpass me,” Donnuns laughed.
Dove was good at everything, and what she wasn’t good at she was great at. The priest watched as Dove swiftly left him, searching for Bishop Wannuluf. Dove as a warrior was not something that he thought would be a good thing. What Luna proposed though for Her Blessed could not be argued against. The priest just shook his head though as he watched the girl go.
“Bishop Wannuluf? Bishop Wannuluf?” called the young, and melodic voice of Dove as she entered the Visitation Chamber of Luna’s temple.
The bishop was always in residence in that part of the temple from dawn until mid-morn. It was where he saw the people, forgave sins, advised upon holy matters, and on occasion sorted out disputes.
“Dove! How wonderful to see you, child,” Bishop Wannuluf said with a smile. “I have a break in appointments so it seems, will you sit with me a moment?”
“Gladly, Your Holiness,” replied Dove, taking the vacant seat beside the bishop’s throne. “I was hoping you would be free for me to speak with.”
“Another dream, sent by the Goddess Herself?” asked the old man.
Since that first day that the babe was brought to him, Malcom Wannuluf, eighty-fifth Bishop of Luna’s holy temple, had held a soft spot for Dove. He had heard many, but not all of her dreams. He sensed that this one would be important.
“Yes, another dream,” said Dove, her blue eyes sparkling with excitement. “Look!”
With that, Dove revealed the sketch that she had been given by Father Donnuns.
“This is a very good likeness of you,” said the bishop as he took the picture and examined it. “You are older though than you are now, and we have no horses in the temple stalls.”
“No, only Daniel, the donkey,” agreed Dove. “He is Father Peters’ friend; Daniel pulls the cart to market.”
“Unless Luna has some powerful magic in store for such a steed I think your future lies beyond our walls, not within them,” suggested the bishop.
“But look, here,” the teen said as she pointed to the likeness of the temple gates. “I return, to save you all.”
“Save us from what, child?” Bishop Wannuluf. “There is a large area of this picture that is unfinished.
“I had another dream last night, a vision of strange shadows that threatened you all,” stated Dove. “I was able to reach the temple gates before the shadows could come in.”
“And how did the dream end?” asked the bishop, curious, and a little bit worried.
“I do not know,” Dove admitted, the excitement fading from her eyes. “All I can tell you is that the dream made me feel like I was fulfilling my purpose.”
“I see,” pondered Bishop Wannuluf. “Did it scare you? Is that why you’ve come to me this day?”
“No, Your Holiness, I felt the exact opposite,” Dove explained. “I felt in dreaming the same as in waking, that I was depicted in exactly the place I was destined to be.”
Bishop Malcolm Wannuluf looked from the sure-faced teen to the image in the sketch he knew had been drawn by Father Donnuns. There was only three, maybe five years difference in age between the two. He felt a moment of sadness fill his heart.
“If this is the dream that Luna has thought necessary to give you,” the bishop began, after a deep breath he continued. “Then I know what I need to do.”
“What is that Bishop Wannuluf?” asked Dove, innocently.
“I have a friend in the king’s barracks, they have fine armor and great steeds,” suggested Wannuluf, slowly, as if he thought he could stall the inevitable. “You have outgrown your home here and it is time for you to learn to spread your wings.”
Dove’s farewell was a saddening affair, but also a grand celebration. She was beloved of all, and many wished she had no need to leave. All though knew of the dream, that Dove was destined for a life beyond the temple, but that that same life would lead to her saving them. To make such a vision come true Dove needed to go, perhaps even beyond the Capitol. Reluctantly they sent her away. Wanting to learn and wanting to follow the path shown by pail Moon’s light, teen Dove bravely left the nest.
The barracks of the Capitol was located in a section of the king’s castle, located in the rear-left corner, far from the palace, the city gates, the market, basically as far from civilization as the royal family could position it. Dove had visited the city on occasion, traveling with Father Peters and Daniel to the markets, and once meeting the king with Bishop Wannuluf for some ball or such. Never had she been to the barracks however, and now the barracks had become her new home.
Such a life was strange. The bishop had introduced Dove to Barracks Commander, Sargent Ithika Wurmtru, a solid specimen of a man who radiated confidence. The pair had greeted each other warmly, but as soon as Bishop Wannuluf had bid his farewells the barracks commander changed into something that was anything but warm.
“I care not for your name, your history, your supposed choseness,” Ithika barked. “You are mine now and nobody else’s.”
“What of Luna?” asked Dove the teen, an innocent question.
“I’m the only god here in this barracks, this is my temple, and you are here to worship me.”
Dove wondered at the wisdom of the bishop’s decision, but she dared not go so far as to question the Goddess. Instead, she said what it was that she knew the man before her wanted to hear.
“As you so say,” stated Dove with a respectful bow. “Barracks Commander, Sargent Ithika Wurmtru!”
“Good!” barked Ithika in response. “Now get out of my sight.”
Over the years that followed, Dove befriended a few of the soldiers that called the barracks home. It was a big change for Dove, living at the barracks, as she was one of only a handful of novice soldiers who were not boys. Her time spent living in the temple of Luna had not been luxurious, but temple living was like a palace when compared with the barracks. Often the novice soldiers were forced to sleep outside the dorms, and when they were let in it was to sleep on the floor, not in a bunk. Where the priests and sisters had a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish, the soldiers were fed on scraps from the palace, cold porridge, and what birds that could be netted and caught. Dove took on all the hardships though, remembering her dream, her vision. Such drove her on, made her stronger, smarter, more resilient, but never did it harden her heart. As with the priests and sisters of the temple, Dove became well-liked by the other novices and the other soldiers, only Barracks Commander, Sargent Ithika Wurmtru seemed immune to Dove’s natural ability to get on the good side of people.
“Dove! A poor strike with a sword, a missed throw with a spear, an inaccurate firing of a crossbow will threaten both you and your fellow soldiers…” the barracks commander would shout whenever he came upon the training field.
Dove would always be singled out for a verbal berating. She much preferred the curved simitar and the ball mace that the priests used, compared with the variety of weaponry that the soldiers of the Capitol would train with. Dove noticed also her energy and concentration seemed to wax and wane with the pattern of Luna’s light. When the sea tides were high so was Dove’s spirits, when the sea subsided, Dove became overwhelmed.
“I’ll not fail you,” Dove would always chant though, especially at those times when her soul felt low.
“Again!” Ithika would bark then, and with steeled determination Dove would do as she had been commanded.
A sword blow would hit closer to the mark, a crossbow bolt would thunk that much nearer to the bullseye, the spearhead would pass through her enemy’s defense. Close was not near enough for Ithika though.
“Again! Again! Again!” the barracks commander would bark, over and over. “Do it until you do it right!”
“Yes Barracks Commander!” Dove would say every time.
Those who loved Dove tried to help her, but teenaged Dove discovered very early on that only she could help herself, with the help of Luna of course, and the occasional visitor from Luna’s temple.
When finally, Dove had left her teen years behind, she had proven herself as a fine soldier in the king’s army. She fought bravely against goblins, orcs, and even singlehandedly defeated a necromancer who had threatened the king. From these experiences she had earnt the fine black steed and the special suit of armor that was reserved for King’s Guard. Still her dream of the shadows and Luna’s temple had not yet come to pass. Dove longed to leave the barracks, to return to the temple and those she loved, but the dream from her teen years persisted and Dove realized that a soldier’s life was one she would need to get used to. It was the will of Luna, and Dove was Luna’s Blessed.