Darja’s desk was piled with her notes and copies of ancient manuscripts she’d found. Ausrine found it rather intimidating at first, as if she couldn’t shake the feeling that Darja would classify her and file her away in a curiousity cabinet just as she had the coins and small figurines.
As she answered Darja’s questions and the two young women became better acquainted, however, she found comfort in those notes. There was something of home in Darja’s study, even if it was preserved instead of lived.
After several weeks of Darja’s casual hospitality, Ausrine felt comfortable confessing to her, “I feel so inadequate for this task. If I had known where I would end up, I would have…” Ausrine trailed off.
“What would you have done?” the poet held her pen as if the answer were as valuable as any other she’d been given.
Ausrine shook her head. “I would have paid more attention in the temple during festivals, for one thing. I call myself priestess because enough people have insisted I am one, but I don’t feel like one. I never learned all the poems or the songs. I only remember the shapes of some of the stories, and I only celebrated festivals as a layperson. Mara should have sent someone better trained!”
“I sincerely doubt I am important enough to warrant a spirit sending someone trained to answer all of my questions. I am grateful for what you have to share.”
“But there could be so much more,” Ausrine nearly shouted. She took a deep breath to compose herself. “I don’t know why she should choose me. I’m not an intellectual. I think with my hands and my eyes, not my brain.”
Darja made a note of something Ausrine couldn’t quite see. “Perhaps that’s why she chose you. She seems from all your accounts to be a practical goddess. She doesn’t need lofty thoughts, though I’m willing to give them to her. She needs someone who will get the work done.”
“I do wish I knew what the work is.”
“Well, tell me another story for now,” Darja prompted. “If you’re the right person for the job, I’m sure whatever work you’re meant to do will find you.”
“Do you ever worry that I’m making all this up?”
That was what it took to wipe the smile from Darja’s face. “I’m a poet, Ausrine. I know how truth rings, and how lies sit heavy. Your stories feel right, even if you don’t know where they spring from. Perhaps they come from your temple, or directly from Mara or perhaps you’re just spinning straw and accidentally turning out gold. But it has the weight of gold, not of straw.”
Ausrine relaxed at the thought. “Good. I want to do this correctly. I doubt myself, but I don’t want to lie.”
“Then you shall not lie,” Darja nodded. “Now then, no more philosophy. Another story. You said that Mara herself is your queen, but only some of the time. Tell me about that.”