Chapter 4: Flying Fruit and a Oracular Ambush
The master hit her in the head with another orange. “A true warrior can defend themselves blind.”
Artemis, still disguised as Arty, tried to stop thinking about Ezekiel, the Princess, or Didi. What was wrong with her? She’d never been this easily distracted by pretty people before. Blindfolded, she heard and deflected an apple from the master.
“You’re still slow. It’s not the blindfold that has you blind. It’s your distraction, ” the master said and then tutted. “It’s your distraction that blinds you to the universe. Now concentrate.” He launched a grape at Arty.
Feeling the grape flying towards her, she took a deep breath to centre herself, she moved and caught the grape in her mouth. It was sweet but the skin was sour, creating a pleasant contrast.
Maybe it was the forced celibacy of the monastery that made her constantly think about the beautiful people in town.
“Better,” mumbled the master. “Remember that a real man and warrior can suppress his emotions in order to concentrate on the battle. Emotions are what lead you towards distraction and darkness.”
She tuned out the speech, it was the most tedious part of monastery life. The insistence that emotions led to evil was not only ridiculous; it was dangerous. Without the ability to process and understand their emotions, the monks were nearly constantly stressed. It was the reason she tried to sneak out as much as she could.
“You will understand once you become a master. The cleansing ceremony will help you elevate yourself above your emotions.” The fruit kept flying and she wished she had a sword to cut them with; it would have been more satisfying. The cleansing ceremony sounded pseudo-mystical and she couldn’t decide if they had found a way to remove human emotions or if it was just another religious ceremony.
Eventually the fruit stopped flying and she was dismissed. The monks woke with the dawn and were supposed to retire to their quarters for meditation and sleep at sundown. Artemis waited a little and then snuck out.
The same training that had her learn to anticipate what was going to happen and move through it quietly helped her leave the monastery without being noticed. Once outside the gates, she traded her monk’s robes for a pair of comfortable denim pants and a casual button up white shirt.
As much as she wanted to dress as her real self, she was recognized now in town as Arty. If she tried to walk around as a woman, she’d still be recognized. She was thankful for the loose clothing and good breast-band that didn’t bind her but minimized her chest. The telltale shaved head and sun baked skin of the Monks meant that unless she was willing to wear a wig and more makeup than she could afford, she’d be caught right away. So she’d play at being Arty, the monk in training who was blowing off steam. Running away to go to a concert in town was frowned upon, but secretly being a woman would get her killed.
“Hello young man.” The woman had barely made a sound as she started walking next to her.
“Madam. Can I help you?” The woman wasn’t old but wasn’t young. She had smile and frown wrinkles with blond hair that could be going white, or could have been just pale.
“My dear, I know who you are, Ezekiel.” The old woman stopped and waited. When Artemis tried to walk away, the woman put a hand on her shoulder. A crowd formed around them and Artemis started getting uncomfortable. This was too much attention.
“This boy is Ezekiel, the heir to the Apollo shipping company. He shall marry the Princess and their union shall be blessed by the gods!” That proclamation made Artemis realize that this was the Oracle of Espenson.
“I’m not Ezekiel. I’m Arty, a humble monk.”
“Sure you are dear.” She patted her face condescendingly. Her eyes focused on a face in the crowd and she pulled Didi out saying, “This innocent looking girl is in disguise.”
Didi’s face blanched and Artemis thought she was going to faint.
“This girl is actually the great warrior Artemis, Apprentice to the Hero Haus.” It was Artemis’s turn to go pale. The oracle continued, “She will stop the army of Demons from destroying the kingdom and will marry the long lost Prince of Cillian.”
The crowd was obviously entranced and skeptical as they yelled out variations on, “Where is the lost Prince?”
The Oracle held Artemis and Didi’s arms and didn’t let go. Her eyes were glassy and despite the growing animosity of the crowd, she didn’t move. Artemis was about to break free when the Oracle raised and pointed with both hands at a man who was obviously trying to get by the crowd.
The crowd moved the man closer. He was wearing a tight shirt with ripped denim pants and had a guitar case on his back. He wore large wire rimmed glasses and had a goatee. He looked vaguely like Ezekiel, but more glamorous, but that could have been the makeup.
“This boy doesn’t know it, but he is the long lost twin to our great Princess.”
The man looked like he wanted to run away. “I’m just trying to get to my concert. I assure you that I’m not a long lost anything.”
Unperturbed, the Oracle shouted, “He shall help the Princess rule, marry the Hero Artemis, and together with Ezekiel, the four shall stop the dreaded army of demons from destroying all of Cillian.”
A silence fell over the crowd, there was something in the way the Oracle spoke that made everyone listen and believe. Artemis looked at the other two who’d been sucked into this and shrugged. The three of them burst into giggles. The entire situation seemed ridiculous. The Oracle seemed to think that Didi was Artemis, that Artemis (disguised as Arty) was Ezekiel, and that this musician was the lost Prince. Artemis was glad the princess wasn’t there or the Oracle would have thought she was a sheep magicked into the princess or something equally as silly.
The Oracle gave them a dirty look and walked away; Artemis could have sworn the woman winked.
The crowd, sombre and itching to tell anyone willing to listen, dispersed.
Artemis hoped that the Oracle’s warning was as off-base as her identifications.
If you’re enjoying this year’s serial story why not check out those from past years?