Last time on The Crown of Embers, Storm revealed what lay beyond the gates of life, and Elisa refused to release Hector from her service. Can we finally go on that epic quest now? Find out after the cut.
CONTENT / TRIGGER WARNING: Breast-fondling, lots of talk about teenage sex, and a brief mention of child abuse! You’ve been warned.
Part 1: An Intimacy Tutorial (or, My Name Is Mara, and This Is My Story)
That evening, I send Mara to bed early for some healing rest. Ximena helps me don my nightgown, then leaves for a late night of pouring over musty documents with Fathers Nicandro and Alentín.
While Mara and Ximena are off doing relatively interesting things, Elisa attempts to read scripture before going to bed. She can’t seem to concentrate, though, so she goes to her bathing atrium and admires her naked body.
Okay, admire isn’t really the word I should’ve used above. As you may remember from the last book, Elisa has serious body issues: she was fat, then underwent some epic weight loss during her time in the desert. She’s still somewhat chubby in the thighs and gut, but hey! Her breasts look good! Oh my god, they feel soooo nice.
And then Mara walks in on Elisa fondling herself.
No, Mara isn’t going to get in on the action. Instead, she invites Elisa over to her quarters, and then talks about her sex life. Because that’s what you do when you see your employer fondle herself.
So, Mara’s had sex twice. The first time was when she was fifteen, but her partner completely avoided her afterwards. Mara was afraid that her father was going to find out about it, but he never seemed to notice. Later on, Mara fell in love with a boy named Julio. He wanted to marry her, but then he died when the Inviernos razed their village. Mara considers herself lucky, not just because she survived, but because a) she didn’t get pregnant, and b) her father would’ve beaten her if he found out about her relationship.
Now Mara is afraid that she doesn’t want to love another, for fear that they’ll find her ugly. Elisa sympathizes with her, so she reveals that a) she was in a relationship with Humberto, and b) she’s a virgin. Mara reminds Elisa that she’s expected to produce heirs, and that she can totally take on a lover after marriage. Elisa refuses to take a lover because she remembers how hurt she was when she discovered that Alejandro had a mistress.
After a few more reassuring words, Elisa finally goes to bed. However, she’s afraid of marrying someone for political reasons.
Part Two: You’ve Been Waylaid by Enemies
The next evening, escorted by Hector and several guards, I am hurrying toward my office for appointments with a few more suitors when Conde Eduardo intercepts us.
Elisa never makes it to her meeting.
Reason one: Eduardo confronts Elisa about her meeting with Storm. Elisa doesn’t have a good excuse for this visit yet, and she doesn’t trust Eduardo with the details about her meeting. So she schedules a Quorum meeting for two days later, which she later pushes back to four when Eduardo reminds her that the Deliverance Gala is in two days. Yes, this was on purpose.
Speaking of the Deliverance Gala, Eduardo tells Elisa that Lord Liano (peccary hunter extraordinaire) really wants to dance with her. Elisa reluctantly accepts the offer, which is enough to make Eduardo leave.
Reason two: Elisa’s party is waylaid by enemies!
Elisa’s Danger Sense starts tingling, right when Hector jumps in front of her and takes an arrow to the back. Suddenly, her party is surrounded by mercenary archers!
Hector was critically hit by that arrow, and he’s bleeding all over the place. Elisa remembers watching Cosmé break off arrows during their Malficio days, so she attempts to do the same for Hector. She succeeds, but ends up cutting her hand in the process.
Meanwhile, Tristán and his guards show up and fight off the mercenaries! And thankfully, he’s as good a swordsman as advertised, because he helps Hector kill all the mercenaries except for one, which he knocks out for later interrogation.
Hooray! The battle is over! Unfortunately, Hector collapses immediately after the fight. Elisa and Tristán carry him back to his quarters for medical treatment.
Stuff I Forgot to Mention Above:
Elisa’s Pimped-Out Nightgown: a pale lavender silk nightgown with delicate lace edging.
Mara’s father was a priest. I guess the clergy doesn’t have to take a vow of celibacy in this universe.
You’ll learn more about Mara’s backstory and her relationship with Julio in her prequel adventure.
Why does Mara think she’s ugly? Well, she has scars all over her body: one on her back, one over her left eye, and that burn she got during the siege.
Mara’s first lover was Belén. Don’t worry, she’s totally over him.
Quorum lords wear Pimped-Out Epaulets.
Selvarican guard uniforms are sky blue and ivory.
The mercenaries are equipped with shitty armor and expensive weapons.
All the foodstuffs mentioned in this chapter:
- Goat milk scone with pine nuts smeared with honeyed apricots (Mara used to make these to sell in her village)
Next time: Elisa learns a new spell by accident. Nicandro finds another Generic Fantasy Prophecy.