The woman knelt at the altar, her head bent and her hands clasped in prayer. Dawn was just breaking over the horizon and the cathedral was empty aside from her and the marble monuments dedicated to the form of the gods. It was the only time she was ever going to be alone for the rest of the day, and she treasured every quiet second. She reached out; lifting the last candle left lit, and began to light the other candles as well. There were different numbers of candles at the foot of each monument, each one standing for the prayer that a person had for that god. Some candles had been lit so often that they were a waxy mess, but most weren’t even half consumed.
She felt a stab of pity for those who had lit their candle so many times that it no longer existed—it was hard knowing that the gods didn’t listen, no matter how much they prayed. Her own candle was like that. It was a lump of white wax that had cooled and hardened over the night. The woman scraped off what wax she could, and replaced the wax with a new candle, and lit it. She bent her head in another quick prayer, before standing up stiffly. She gazed at the face of the monument she had placed her candle. It had the face of a middle aged man, the corner of his eyes drooping and his mouth carved into a gentle smile. In her youth, she had preferred praying to the monument of a beautiful woman, or the one of a wizened old man, his eyes cast down onto a thick tome. But now, she found herself in front of this god more than any other.
“Your grace.” A man said behind her. She stared at the face of the god a moment longer, before turning around to face him.
“Is it already time to return to my duties?” She asked, her smile thin.
“Not just yet.” The man said, “I was sent to inform you that Ser Damis has returned.”
The woman’s smile fell, “Is that all?”
“He requests an audience with you, your grace.”
“Very well.” The woman said, “Take me to him.” She followed the man out of the cathedral, shivering slightly at the dawn’s chill, despite the thick cloak around her shoulders. The cathedral wasn’t far from the castle, but by the time she reached it, her dress was wet at the bottom, and her toes felt frozen through. She shrugged off her cloak once inside, and quickly ascended the steep stairs to the top of the tower of the gods, where her chamber was.
When she entered her chamber, a man was standing over her table, his shoulders hunched as he examined the maps laid out on it.
“It has been long, Ser Damis.” She said, drawing up next to the man.
“It has.” The man turned to her, a smile on his face. He seemed more worn than the last time she had seen him, but he was still handsome, with a strong jaw, russet curls, and dark eyes that shone in the candlelight. “It seems that every time we meet, I only serve to bring you disappointing news, my queen.”
“Disappointing news is better than none at all.” the woman assured him. “What is it?”
“Your nephews were not at Hariin—whether they had run even further is questionable.”
The woman nodded, her lips pressed into a thin line, “They were only children. It’s unlikely they had gone across the Great Sea.” She pushed past Damis to trace a line along the map, “Perhaps we missed something.” She murmured.
“That may be so.” Damis agreed, “I have heard rumors.”
“Rumors?” she asked, sharply.
“There has been talk amongst merchants…” Damis hesitated, “Talks of a singer that has a voice that can drive a man insane. They had taken to calling the singer—“
“A siren.” The woman cut him off.”
“Yes, your grace.”
“Where was this?”
“Have you searched for this singer?”
“Everywhere, my queen.” Damis shook his head, “By the time we had gotten there, he had gone.”
The woman sank down into a chair, her head in her hands, “It seems as if they do not want to be found.”
“Perhaps you should rule—stop this mad search for them.” Damis suggested, lowering his voice. “The boys may never be found.”
Her head snapped up, “I am not meant to be a queen, Ser.”
“Yes, but the days where you were Priestess Alynis are long gone, and so are the boys.” Damis said, “The people need a ruler who does not question her place.”
“Then they will have that ruler when we find my nephews.” She said, sharply, “It is not my place to rule while there is the chance that they are alive. The throne is rightfully theirs.”
Damis bent his head in apology, “As you say, my queen.”
Alynis narrowed her eyes, but nodded, “Continue your search, Ser Damis.”
“As your grace commands.” Damis said, turning to leave. He stopped before he reached out to open the door, turning his head, “But as your brother, Alynis, I advise you—be prepared to rule or relinquish the throne.”
“I am.” Alynis promised, “I would rather relinquish the throne to you, however.”
Damis smiled, “I would not take it.”