Keeper Chanta put down her bag in the tall grass. Her sisters did the same and went about their business to prepare their evening meal. It was one of the advantages of being the Main Keeper; she didn’t have to worry herself anymore with such matters. The grassland surrounding them was already yellowing from all the sunlight and the lack of rain. If this kept up, the farmers would have problems in the near future indeed. She’d have to take up the matter with Saule, even though she already knew what the Guardian would say. We do not busy ourselves with such trivial things.
“Keeper Chanta.” The small voice woke her from her thoughts.
“Yes, Lis?” Chanta noticed the girl had put her bags down as well. This was her first trip outside the shrine. Chanta hadn’t even wanted to bring the girl at first. She was still too young and too inexperienced to go on a trip such as this. But that would mean leaving her at the shrine with hardly any supervision, and after Lis had broken that mirror the week before their departure that seemed like an even worse idea.
“Can I help you with anything? Prepare your dinner, maybe?”
Chanta remembered the terrible sandwich Lis had made her earlier on their trip. The lettuce had still been covered with sand. “No, thank you. I’m sure the others have it covered. Why don’t you go see if you can help with preparing the prayers?” Lis nodded eagerly and trotted off. Well, at least the girl didn’t lack any spirit.
The red evening sun hovered on the horizon. It had been a wonderful day to travel, with a nice temperature accompanied by a refreshing breeze that prevented it from becoming too warm. They had left the shrine only six days ago and already Chanta longed for her sober room there with its amazing view. Every morning she woke up to see the Crown bathe in the golden morning sun and it had been her place for her private prayer for years now. She knew this trip was necessary, and she should not resent anything the Guardians requested of them. Even so, she would be glad when she’d be back in her own bed.
A request from the Guardians. It had been a red evening, much like this one only colder and windier. The winter solstice had just passed and the Crown had been covered in a blanket of the purest snow. Aras’ black coat had stood out that day, even more than it usually did. Even as main Keeper, it was not up to her to question the Supreme Goddess, but she often wondered why her only son had such a solemn color while her daughters shone so bright.
He had come to her unannounced, which was rare for Aras. He often sent a messenger, but not that evening. She had been alone outside, while her sisters were busy preparing the evening meal, saying prayers or working on their quilts. Usually Aras came from deep within the mountains, where he had his palace in the natural caverns. This time however, he descended from the sky.
He was magnificent, of course. They always were. His large feathery wings moved with grace, and when he landed a single feather fell upon the white snow. His horn was thin but long, very different from his sisters. Chanta used to wonder if Aras was capable of using any form of magic at all, as she had never seen Him use any. She knew better than to ask, of course.
‘Main Keeper Chanta.’ As the Earth Guardian, Aras did not speak in her mind like the other Guardians did. Chanta had bowed deeply, her nose almost touching the snow.
‘Earth Guardian Aras. Thank you for blessing us with your presence.’ She straightened herself and Aras nodded softly, acknowledging her. Chanta shivered as she remembered his red eyes seeing straight through her.
‘I require an item,’ He had said without any small talk.
He nodded. ‘A silver feather which once belonged to my dear Mother.’
Chanta had smiled. She knew about the Silver Plume of Vitalia. ‘When do you require this item, your Grace?’
‘At the summer solstice.’
Chanta remembered Aras hadn’t said anything else. He had just taken off, trusting her to take care of this errand. She could have simply sent a messenger to the coast, or a group of sisters. But the opportunity to visit the eastern shrine had been too tempting. It had been too long since they had visited their sisters there, and many of her younger sisters had never even left the mountain shrine. So Chanta had arranged this trip. Looking at the ponies hurrying about trying to prepare dinner and prayers, she once again wondered if it had been a good idea. If she’d just sent one of her sisters, the feather would be safely at the shrine now.
“Keeper Chanta, did you see?” Lost in her thoughts, Chanta had not noticed Lis returning to her.
“See what, dear?”
“There was a flock of purple birds resting nearby. They got spooked when sister Wela got too close, and they took off all together like a big purple cloud!” Lis’ eyes were large and full of wonder, reflecting the evening sky above.
“That must have been so lovely to see,” Chanta said, smiling at her apprentice. She remembered the day Lis was brought to them, an orphan with no next of kin. Usually, Chanta let the care of orphans to her sisters, but for some reason she still did not understand she had taken Lis in herself. Not that the girl had proven to be special in any way, so far.
“Oh, it was! I’m so grateful you let me come on this trip!”
“I’m glad you are, Lis. Are you looking forward to seeing the ocean?”
Lis nodded violently. “Yes, oh yes! Will you tell us about the village we’re going to visit after prayers and dinner?”
Chanta sighed. “I will, Lis. Now let’s join our sisters, it’s time for prayers.”
Praying to the Supreme Goddess was not something all keepers did. Some found it not necessary, as the keepers were the ones who were in touch with the Guardians and therefore with the Goddess herself. The Guardians knew what was best, and some keepers felt that they should not bother the Goddess with their own selfish requests. Chanta, however, never asked for anything during their prayers. She just said thanks.
Dinner was sober, as always, but even more so while they were on the road. She did not mind herself, but she could see the younger girls trying hard not to complain about the stale soup and hard bread. After the evening meal was finished and all their things were cleaned and put back into bags, Lis made sure to gather all her young friends. Chanta stretched her legs, annoyed at how stiff they had become already. Was she really getting old?
“Please Keeper Chanta, you promised!” Lis begged when they had all gathered around her. The older sisters were sitting together a bit further away, obviously relieved that they did not have to worry about the younger ponies for once. She sighed deeply. She had promised, even if all she really wanted to do was sleep.
“We’re on our way to the village of Iruld,” Chanta began, “a coastal village where seaweed farmers live. I’m sure we’ll get to eat many of their special recipes! The village is also a known resort for ponies from the Crown to visit in summer, as it’s really beautiful and has many secondary houses.”
“Will we be staying in a secondary house?” Lis asked.
“No, Lis, we will do no such thing. Surely you know that as keepers, we will not live in such luxury! We will sleep in an inn, which will be comfortable enough, I am sure.”
“And there is another shrine there?” another young pony asked.
“Yes, there is. It´s nothing like the one we call home, mind you. It´s much smaller and it has only two keepers tending to it.”
“Only two!” Lis exclaimed.
“Yes, dear. Only two. But that’s quite all right. The shrine is small and the Guardians do not visit it. They do not need more ponies to maintain it, really. But the shrine holds a few treasures, and Earth Guardian Aras has asked us to retrieve one of them for him. And so we shall.”
“Does this shrine feature in any of the legends?”
Chanta laughed. She knew how eager the young ponies were to hear about the old legends. To them, they were like fairy tales that they had been told when they had been frightened as children during thunderstorms, and they still soothed them when they were anxious.
“In fact, it does. It’s a small legend about an artifact that’s said to be hidden in the shrine. It features the Goddess and a gift from her to the ponies living by the shore, to protect them from the terrors of the ocean; a pearl so pure it emitted a radiant light…”