"With this, Mara will take care of you." The priestess pressed a heavy pouch into my hand. I shook it. Coins? They clinked lightly together. I appreciated having funds for the road, but I felt guilty. It was clear this priestess didn't have much to give. Yet returning it seemed far more rude.
When I stopped for dinner, I pulled out the pouch as I was seated. I reached in and pulled out two coins, but quickly saw that neither was coin of the realm I'd ever seen before, either in Arcadia or here in the outside world.
I sat them on the table, wondering if they would even pay for dinner.
"Put your coin away," the innkeeper said when she walked by.
When I began to protest, she leaned in close and whispered, "Please, Priestess. My mother raised me in the old ways, but there are those who prefer foreign gods. I will speak to you later, in your room."
I did as she told me, unsure what to make of her calling me 'priestess.' I'd accepted the vocation, but saying the words in the moment was one sort of feeling. Having the title, and the respect, applied to me was a different feeling altogether. Dinner was simple, spiced potatoes, carrots and a little mutton. The men at the next table mentioned it was better than soldiers' rations. The silence as I ate seemed like an ache in my chest. I hoped Inga was doing well.
Afterward, the innkeeper made a loud pretense of showing me to my room and followed me in. I had a sudden moment of fear as she locked the door, but she only looked at me with excitement. "Will you read the coins for me, Priestess?"
"I- I'm still very new," I started to tell her.
"Oh, don't sell yourself short," she said, smiling, as she dragged the empty washbasin over toward the bed and turned it over for the flat surface. "I won't hold it against you if they're unclear. It's just... it's been years since we had a priestess of Mara come through. Not since my mother died."
I nearly mentioned there was one only a day's drive away without thinking, but clearly the woman in the woods did not want her presence known.
I did as the priestess had done, shaking the pouch and then holding it open for the innkeeper to reach in. She plucked out a small handfull of coins, dropping them on the upturned washbasin. For a long minute, I stared at them, unsure what to say, but I realized there was a whisper inside me that knew.
"Mara knows you. She sees you." I pointed to the first coin, one I recognized from Arcadia that was printed with Mara's veiled face. The innkeeper pulled a cord out from around her neck to show me that she wore an identical one. I smiled and relaxed a bit.
The next showed a drummer boy on the back. "There are fights ahead for you. They are not your battles, but you'll be caught up in them."
Then one with a hole in the center and a dragon printed on it. "You will have protection, but you still need to be careful." And on it went, the images on the coins seeming to speak with me. At the end, I looked up at her. "I think the war will come through here. I'm sorry."
"This far?" she sighed and shook her head. "Thank you. I wish I could offer you more for what you've given me."
"Your hospitality is more than enough," I replied, hoping courtly manners would suffice for holiness. I still felt like I was tricking her somehow.
When she left, I dropped the coins back into the pouch, shook it, and pulled one out for myself.
It was Mara's coin again. I had the sense she approved.
I couldn't ask for more than that, could I?