Beatrice sat down with Rowan after dinner. She had been talking one on one with most of the men during the day. Tarwen had been talking to her already, but when Rowan had asked him about it, Tarwen had just clamped up. There was no getting out of him what he had encountered, but he had been pensive ever since. So now Rowan’s stomach did somersaults, his hands were sweaty and his heart beat in his throat.
“Do you know why you are here?” Beatrice asked.
“Because I’m supposed to be learning something?”
“That is true. You are supposed to learn many things. One of the most important things you will learn is how you and your village will survive the next years. It won’t be easy, mind you, but we should at least try.”
“What is wrong with my village?”
Beatrice leaned back in her chair. Her dark brown eyes looked so friendly, so open and so sad.
“Your village, among so many others is dying out. It is on the brink of collapse and total extinction because the priests of Gammon have wrecked havoc for nearly two centuries now. They came to our lands with their fighting, their disregard for nurturing and their hatred of women. How many girls are in your village right now? Half as many as boys? Less? How many women have died in childbirth without the company of mothers, sisters, or aunts? How many people in your village have died from illness or injury, because Gammon’s will was fate and not to be interfered with? How many crops have failed and gardens have withered, because hunting and killing were the only honorable pursuits and anything else was heresy? How many books have been burned to take away knowledge from anyone who wanted to pursue it? And all in the name of a god, who is foreign to our lands and our customs, who only values blind obedience and who wants to kill off everyone who isn’t male.”
Rowan felt an ache in his chest. He looked down at his hands. His mind went to his mother, who had died when his youngest brother was born. She had been all alone in her room, because it was a sin to help a woman in labor.
He thought about his sister who was not allowed to leave the house, unless it was in his father’s presence. He thought about the day the village priest had come into their house and taken every scrap of parchment they had, because their house needed to be purified. He thought about how the mayor had sent them off in the depth of night and under sworn secrecy. He had known that something was wrong in his world, but he didn’t think it meant total destruction of everything he knew.
Beatrice touched his hands.
“We will teach you all the knowledge that is deemed forbidden now. You will learn about wound care and healing. You will learn about crop rotations and gardening. You will learn how to make garments and how to cook decent meals. And you will learn how to value the Goddesses in every form. You have already succeeded in the first lessons of respect, for you followed Raina here.”
Rowan looked up and wiped a solitary tear from his eyes. He could not understand why Beatrice was giving him an encouraging smile. Why wasn’t she mad at him? Why didn’t she scream and yell, but talked in quiet tones? He felt so miserable; everything would have been better than her loving understanding. His knees shook. He wanted to run away.
“Lady Beatrice, I didn’t know. I mean, I never thought, I didn’t realize. I never questioned the way things are. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“I know,” she said. “And now you are here and you can listen and learn. You have a chance to fight the rules of Gammon, to return to the way of the Goddesses and to restore balance. This is the temple of life. We are here to turn the world away from death, darkness and destruction. You can do your part by gracefully accepting all we have to offer.”
Rowan scratched his head.
“How do you know I am worthy? How do you know I am not a spy of the church of Gammon?”
Beatrice got up and winked at him.
“You didn’t burn to a crisp in the ring yesterday, did you?”