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"Mother Fire, guardian of the sun that spins our world through the heavens and Light That Existed Before, have pity on thy creation, made in thy image. Have mercy on me, O Noble Wife, for I am to be married against my will."

"She won't grant it," her servant whispered. Leani tried to ignore her, but she could hear the growing desperation in her voice as she continued.

"O Bright One, I have no hatred of marriage itself. But these men who fight over me are willing to destroy the lives of innocent farmers and servants in their battle over my heart. A battle I neither foresaw nor encouraged. Surely, men such as these would think to rule over me with equal passion. Surely, they would later forsake me and break their covenant."

Or I would, she thought, feeling every youthful dream slipping away.

"Have mercy on me, Mother Fire. Send me one I can love and I swear I will do my duty and enter into those covenants Thou has proclaimed are most holy. Until then," she couldn't help it, though she knew she shouldn't say something so disrespectful, "save me from these pigs masquerading as men."

It was the first time Leani had revealed the depth of her hatred. She heard Niial gasp, and knew once they were home, all the servants would be chattering about her ingratitude. Leani didn't care. She didn't care if Husa was a prince, or Secol heir to his father's throne. She didn't care how many battles they'd won or men they'd killed. She'd rather die than be counted as one of their conquests.

"Hear my prayer, Holy Matron," she whispered, her gaze never leaving the fire in front of her, "and keep my father's hearth bright."

Leani didn't move. She held her breath so Niial could witness that the answer came from the goddess, not some stray puff of wind from Leani's lips, formed by her imagination. If her prayer was heard, the fire would blaze, and if it was an acceptable request she would see the flames form into a face. Of course, it wasn't really Mother Fire's face. The image in the flames was a metaphor to explain truths that went beyond her comprehension.

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