Mother Liriel, who had, in the world, been called Carlina di Asturien, slept and dreamed. In a vision, she saw a bush of flowering red vallaria flowers entwined with a vine of dark robinia. The black leaves encircled the crimson petals, blending and molding into a single glory.
The young priestess smiled in her sleep. It was good, the joining. Natural and right. The Goddess Avarra would be pleased.
With unmerciful suddenness, the pleasant image shattered, and Carlina sat bolt upright in her bed, her heart pounding, her mind awash in a terror that could not have been her own. She was dying, she felt it, brought down with child-bearing fever. She clutched her slender, unimpregnated body and cried for the child who would never live to its birth.
"Jandria, help me," she moaned aloud, but she knew she had no right to call on any of the Sisterhood of the Sword. She was forsworn.
The nightmare held Carlina so tightly that at first she did not see Anya, who had come running to her aid at the sound of her cries.
Anya set her lamp down upon the solitary table and took Carlina's thin shoulders firmly in her own broad hands, shaking the other woman gently. "Liriel, Liriel, wake up. You dream, my sister. Nothing more."
Carlina stared blankly into Anya's eyes for a moment before coming to herself. She shuddered. "It was so real," she whispered, "so very real."
She swung her thin legs over the side of the bed. Gently refusing Anya's assistance, she walked to the window of her small house, her bare feet cold against the floor. In the autumn sky, only pale Mormallor remained above the horizon; the other moons had set.
"That was no dream," she said at last. "That was a calling, and I must answer."
Wiping the last traces of sleep from her eyes, she turned from the window and took a black robe from its hook on the wall. "First, I must find someone named Jandria who dwells with the Sisterhood of the Sword at Serrais. With her aid, I will find the one I seek."
"You cannot mean to leave now," Anya protested. "If you wait until sunup, a proper escort can be mounted."
Carlina shook her head. "I cannot spare the time."
"Then I must go with you."
"You are generous, sister, but the calling is mine alone. I shall be fine, I promise you." As she spoke, she knew the words were true, although she did not know how she knew.
She finished lacing up her gown and kissed Anya lightly on the cheek. "Tell Mother Luciella I have gone." She slung her cloak across her shoulders, picked up her pack, and walked alone into the night.