The Forest House

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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley
and yet she was not even considered nor given any trial at the hands of the gods. Why not? No doubt you know better than I. The priests make the final choice. What I say about my successor will have little weight—unless I am careful to name someone acceptable to them.”
    "Yet,” said Ardanos, "it could be arranged—that your choice would be theirs.”
    She said, "Your choice, you mean.”
    "If you will.” He sighed. She was simply too quick to see through him, he could hardly resent that—certainly not now.
    "I tried that once,” said Lhiannon wearily, "with Caillean; and you know how that experiment turned out.”
    "Do I?” he asked.
    Lhiannon looked at him oddly. "You should pay more attention to what is happening in the Forest House. I suspect you would find it hard to trust her; she has the extremely awkward habit of thinking, usually at precisely the wrong time.”
    "But she is the senior priestess. If you were to die tomorrow you know Caillean would be chosen—unless,” he added with emphasis, "she were to die in the hour of trial.” Lhiannon paled, and he went on, "You know best if she would be acceptable to the gods…”
    She was silent this time, and he added persuasively, "But if there were someone else, less well known, whom you could train. If the Council…never suspected prearrangement—”
    "If the girl was suitable and intelligent I cannot see why it should be thought a crime or a blasphemy to prepare her for the choice of the gods…or even for the ordeal at their hands,” the old High Priestess said thoughtfully.
    Ardanos was silent; he knew he could drive her only so far. Outside he could hear wind soughing in the trees, but there was no sound but their breathing within the room.
    "Whom have you chosen for me to choose?” Lhiannon asked.
    For the three days preceding one of the festivals at which she was to serve as the Voice of the Goddess, the High Priestess lived in seclusion, attended only by her chosen priestess, resting, meditating, and purifying herself. Caillean, who almost always stayed with her, welcomed this time of separation. The shelter of the Forest House could be constricting, and whenever so many women, however holy, lived together, there were bound to be conflicts from time to time.
    But now she found it hard to put memories of the outside world behind her. She spooned oat porridge—made more nourishing by the addition of nutmeats, since the High Priestess might have no animal flesh during her time of purification—into a carved wooden bowl and offered it to Lhiannon.
    "What did Ardanos want of you?” Caillean heard the bitterness in her own voice, but could not stop the words. "I did not expect to see him here until the day of the festival.”
    "You must not speak so of the Arch-Druid, child,” Lhiannon shook her head, frowning. "He has a heavy load to bear.”
    "So have you,” Caillean said tartly. "And he makes it no lighter with his demands on you.”
    Lhiannon shrugged, and Caillean thought once more how fragile those shoulders were to bear the weight of so many hopes and fears.
    "He does the best he can,” the High Priestess said as if she had not heard. "He worries about what will happen when I am gone.”
    Caillean looked at her in alarm. It was said that a priestess, especially one of high degree, would know her time. "Have you seen some omen—has he?”
    Lhiannon shook her head fretfully. "He spoke in general, but someone must take thought for these things. No one is immortal, and whoever is to succeed me will have to begin her training soon.”
    For a moment Caillean looked at her. Then she laughed.
    "By that am I to understand that none of us who are already trained is acceptable—especially me? Do not bother to answer,” she said then. "I know that you will only defend him, and in truth I do not mind. The title of High Priestess is not

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