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By Aurora

    The Queen was not pleased.
    In a land that prided itself on reverence for the magical arts, and for the Great Mother who gave them this wondrous power, wanton use of magic was considered anathema. Sacrilegious, even. This was even more true for those women specially chosen by the Goddess to bear a measure of Her own power: the Sorceresses.
    And so it was that she who was the greatest of them all, she who was chief among their number and ruler of the land, Sorceress Queen Farzana, sat upon the magnificent, jeweled Peacock Throne of Pan Dora gazing in abject disapproval at her daughter. The usual eerie green incandescence that sparkled in her eyes only faintly masked her discontent.
    Farzana was not alone in either that discontent, nor her disciplining; as always, she was flanked by her younger sisters, no less powerful magically or temporally, and no less upset with their young charge. Standing upon the dais to her right was the Grand Vizier, Sorceress Shirin, her hawk-like eyes narrowed in a glare. And seated upon the dais to her left was the youngest of the Lalasa sisters and High General of the Pan Doran Army, Sorceress Pari, as always draped in red and gold with her ever-present shamshir sheathed at her side. Her expression was somewhat softer than the other two, but she was no less disapproving.
    As for the object of their collective dismay, Princess Ayiana was still soaking wet from the rainstorm swirling outside, her fine saffron garments drenched. She stood in a small puddle on the great carpet before the three-tiered dais, seemingly oblivious to the water she tracked inside soaking into the fine threads.
    "What on earth were you thinking, my Aya?" Farzana's voice was its usual rich, low dignified tone, despite her exasperation. The princess slouched, putting on her best petulant adolescent face, and pouted at her mother.
    "It was just some dancing in the rain! It's not like I could get sick," Ayiana whined. Farzana shook her head vigorously, wagging her finger so hard that the dozens of golden, jeweled bangles adorning her wrists clinked together rather musically.
    "That is not what I meant, Ayiana, and you know it," the Queen retorted. "To use the Gift upon Mobad Behruz, are you mad? It is awful enough that you cannot be bothered to sit through your lessons--lessons that are critical to your education as future Queen--but to wantonly abuse the Gift in such a way? Have you no respect for anything?"
    "Oh, what is so wrong about it?" Ayiana protested. "I did not harm him!"
    "But you could have, you fool!" Shirin snapped at her. "The Mobad is of advanced age, and there is no telling what effect such a spell would have. Particularly with your well known complete lack of sense or restraint."
    "Shirin is right, Aya," Pari said softly, her hand resting lightly upon the jeweled hilt of her sword. "You have not yet grasped the full scope of your power, and such a thing is dangerous. Our Gift must only be used upon another in the act of defense. What you did was careless, you could have killed him."
    Ayiana froze, her mouth slightly agape, and Farzana thought approvingly that perhaps the foolishness of her actions was finally sinking in. The girl was spoiled beyond belief, and stubborn as a Gigas, that much was clear. The Queen decided then and there that action was sorely needed.
    "Which is why you need instruction," Farzana insisted firmly. "You need discipline. You do not wish to study history with the Mobad? Very well. You will spend those hours everyday at the temple, in addition to your regular Handmaiden duties. You will make extra offerings to the Goddess and ask forgiveness for harming Her servant. And you will meditate more upon Her teachings so that you will not stray again."
    "That's so unfair!" Ayiana moaned. "I'm already in the temple all bloody morning--I don't think Lady Chrystalis cares about more incense! It all smells the same after a while anyway!" With an angry toss of her wet red-gold hair, she glared defiantly at her mother. "All those stupid prayers are boring, what happened to 'mirth and reverence be among you'?"
    "Hold your tongue, whelp!" Shirin barked sharply, but Farzana placed a steadying hand upon the hem of her garment. She returned Ayiana's furious stare with a look of absolute calm and serenity.
    "You are correct, little dove," the queen replied, reverting to use of the affection as a disarming mechanism, and Ayiana looked momentarily baffled. "The Goddess does indeed teach that Her people should have mirth and reverence. But I fear that you seem to have willfully forgotten the second half of that phrase, which is, 'in equal measure'. It has come to my attention that you have most adequately covered 'mirth'. However, it is long past time for you to show some reverence. I do this not to punish you. I simply wish you to understand how the Goddess has blessed you and why you should not take Her or Her Gift for granted." Farzana beckoned the girl to the throne with a ring-covered hand, and Ayiana obeyed, kneeling at her mother's feet.
    "I'm sorry, Mother," the girl said sullenly. Farzana bent down, taking her rain-soaked head into her hands, and kissed the top of her head.
    "Go now, little dove. Think on what I have said."
    Ayiana genuflected before the throne, kissing the third step of the dais as was customary, and exited the throne room. When at last she was gone, Farzana let out an exasperated sigh.
    "That girl tests me everyday of her life," she said with a shake of her head.
    "As she does to us all, sister," Shirin said.
    "I should be paying closer attention to her." Farzana sighed again. "I have been too distracted by matters of state, of late. Perhaps she is acting out because of that."
    "Feh! Ayiana is a spoiled peahen, and matters of state are far more important than one pampered girl's irrational tantrums," Shirin scoffed. "The Phir are threatening to withhold the spring tribute again, and that is far more worthy of your attention."
    Farzana raised a weary hand to her brow, massaging her temples. Of course, she did not need reminding of the rumblings of unrest among the island tribes. The Phir always set themselves apart among the Pan Dore, and chafed at Chrystalan rule from the time of the Great Lalasa. They, and the Angar, had never been content with the freedom to practice Elementalism as they chose, nor had they really warmed to the idea of largely autonomous rule under the satrapies. The rogue tribes had proven a thorn in Farzana's side almost from the day she ascended the Peacock Throne. And representatives and elders from both tribes were growing more and more terse, and Farzana feared open rebellion was inevitable. She'd spent nearly all her time putting out fires in the far north, and east, and now she was worried that she'd been neglecting the fire brewing in her very own house.
    "She is my only child, my heart, my life," Farzana said, closing her eyes. "How could she have grown so impious, so impudent?"
    "Ayiana is strong-willed," Pari said with a slight smile. She took her oldest sister's hand, clasping it in a gesture of comfort. "Much like a certain other young Sorceress, if you'll recall. I would not be too concerned. She needs discipline, yes, but I do not think she is lost to us."
    "We should have locked you in the temple also," Shirin muttered under her breath, adjusting her gold-rimmed spectacles.
    "I would have stolen all the soldiers from you there, too," Pari laughed.
    "Harlot," Shirin scoffed.
    "That will do, sisters," Farzana said gently, a broad smile on her face. It was all she could do to keep from joining Pari in her laughter, but she was thankful for the levity. Although their keen insight and adeptness with the Sorceress Gift was remarkable, it was truly their bonds of kinship that kept Farzana strong. She could not imagine bearing the burden of that throne without them by her side. Farzana dearly wished the Goddess would have blessed her with more daughters, that Ayiana could have the same support, and often wondered if that was not the difference. Nonetheless, though the queen's dear Prince Darshad may have passed to Siranoire and left the girl without a father, Ayiana had three mothers, and she was blessed for it.

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