Many kings and queens were matched without so much as a meeting, but even by those standards this ritual was unusual.
Five young women clustered around the wooden statue of Mara inside the temple. All had been chosen as children, of the right blood to be ratha and of the right age to match the prince. They were raised in the temple, these Maids of Mara, with appropriate names and lessons. Now it was time for Mara to choose who she would ride to marry Adalric.
One of the five hung back. Tamara’s steps were careful and deliberate. Her eyes were sometimes wide and sometimes closed in rest, but she knew the grounds of the temple well enough that no one would guess she was so nearsighted as to be functionally blind.
All five of them raised their voices. Together they sang that they were ready to submit to Mara’s choice.
The silence that followed felt infinite. Tamara waited, wondering what she would do with her life after one of the other young women was chosen. They would have the option to leave, and former Maids were generally considered excellent wives. Tamara expected that she would stay in the temple, however. It was comfortable, to be somewhere where she knew every step.
-Are you so sure you would not be suitable?- a voice echoed in her head. Tamara didn’t startle – she was used to being snuck up to – but she was surprised.
-It’s only that we are told you choose to ride only those you find clever and beautiful.-
-And you are not those things?-
-I cannot speak to my beauty, as it is difficult for me to judge what I have not seen. But I don’t read and I can barely figure; it was all but impossible to learn when I could not see. So I cannot be clever enough for you.-
-Have you not learned the songs and stories, and the domestic arts of quick hands?-
-I have,- she agreed, -but I know the others have learned much more.-
No words came, and Tamara thought the goddess had indeed gone on to someone else. After only a few minutes, however, she felt a weight settle into her body as if instead of merely standing on the earth, she were about to be pulled into it. The room grew bright and then suddenly lapsed into focus. The statue, the stones, the other Maids’ robes, all seemed to be almost glowing in the light, each with a subtle pattern of details that threatened to distract her.
“I have chosen,” she heard her voice say, and her body stood. The other Maids looked away. The one nearest her looked relieved. Another sobbed. Tamara had grown up with these girls and wanted to comfort them, but it seemed Mara had other ideas, because her body was already moving toward the door of the temple, and beyond that, the castle where Adalric waited.