Life in the Cathedral started early. Everyone, both nuns, orphans and the priest, were expected to rise at 6am for morning mass, be washed, dressed, and presented for breakfast by seven, chores began at eight and lunch followed at midday. The younger orphans were permitted a short while to play after lunch, while the older orphans were expected to continue their chores, join the Sisters in prayer, or partake in what little tutelage the Cathedral could offer. In fact, the fact that the orphans of the Cathedral of Saint Olette could read and write was something that marked them as more desirable citizens of the great city. One of the Sisters, Briallen, had taken needlepoint lessons before taking her vows, so she managed to provide some sense of entertainment for the young girls. Her opinion that a good wife should always know the basics of embroidery may have factored into her decision to teach it, too.
The eldest orphans, girls nearing their eighteenth birthdays, like Aoife and Niamh, were permitted to leave the Cathedral after their chores were finished, however, and the two friends were often spotted helping each other speed through their work in their eagerness to get outside and smell the fresh air, though the soot filled city could hardly boast of its cleanliness. This day, just two months before Aoife’s birthday, was no exception to the norm. The girl wolfed down her meagre lunch, barely stopping long enough to say her afternoon prayers before she was speeding off back to the dormitories with Niamh, the both of them changing into their less conspicuous clothes and sneaking out of the Cathedral, as had become commonplace for them.
“You’re going to that library again, aren’t you?” Niamh teased as they walked, boot heels clacking against the cobbled streets.
She smiled at each stranger they passed, greeting them with faux pleasantries as she had been taught to do in her youth. She might not have remembered much of her parents, or where she came from—all she knew was that she wasn’t a native of Eturia—but she remembered her manners, and she planned to use it to its full potential. Despite being younger, Niamh had always been the more outgoing of the duo. She was always the one introducing herself to strangers, the one saying hello to gentlemen she thought looked rich enough to buy herself a way out of the squalor she’d be thrust into once she left the Cathedral (and she definitely planned to leave the Cathedral), always the one haggling prices on dresses and trinkets and whatever caught her eye. To say she was ready for the real world would have been an understatement, and wouldn’t have done nearly enough justice to the young woman’s intelligence in matters of social politics.
“You know I like to read, Niamh, and the Sisters only let us read scripture,” Aoife protested, linking arms with her friend as they walked and watching as Niamh cast a man in a flat cap a coy smile before turning her attention from him altogether.
“The Sisters need to learn to relax,” Nimah murmured, the barest glimmer of a devilish twinkle in her eye.
“Whatever you’re planning, leave me out of it. If you get us in trouble, they won’t let us out any more.” That wasn’t entirely an issue for Aoife, she could always take books out of the library and hide them in her room so the Sisters couldn’t confiscate them as they had once done during her childhood, but she would still miss the array of statues dotted around the city, and she knew Niamh would miss her socialising, though honestly she tried not to think too much about the kind of socialising Niamh might have been getting up to.
Niamh rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry, I’m not planning anything yet. What’s so interesting in that dusty old library, anyway? Don’t tell me there’s a boy.”
“Niamh, don’t tease!” Aoife hissed, eyes going wide as she felt a blush creep onto her cheeks. She was interested in boys, sure, but she didn’t like to broadcast that, given she was on the fence about signing away her virginity. If she pretended she had no interest, perhaps it would become truth.
“Spoilsport,” Niamh muttered with a smirk, unlinking her arm from Aoife’s. “I’m trusting you to get back on time today.”
The younger girl pressed a farewell kiss to her friend’s cheek and turned on her heel, heading off to where the man in the flat cap stood waiting, casting a wave over her shoulder in Aoife’s direction. Aoife didn’t mind her friend’s eagerness to join her new acquaintance. After all, Niamh had never been one for the rules and restrictions of convent life. Perhaps it came from spending her first few years in her own home.
She’d never voice it out loud, and part of her knew it was a wicked thing to think, but part of Aoife was almost jealous that Niamh had been given a chance to know another life before coming to the Cathedral. Niamh never spoke of it, but Aoife always found herself wondering where Niamh had come from. Was she from somewhere poor? Or was she some fancy Lord’s daughter? What if she had been the result of a Lord’s affair, and her mother had been killed to get her out of the picture?
Aoife shook her head, clearing the thoughts from her head. She shouldn’t speculate like that, not about her best friend. She’d never said it to anyone, but she couldn’t bear it if Niamh ever found out the childish fantasies that ran through her head when she thought of her friend’s origins. She pulled her cloak tighter around her, risking a glance up at the afternoon sky and the sooty grey clouds that always hung above the city, before her feet carried her off in the direction of the city’s Great Library.
Not many people had time for the library these days, but it still stood out like a glittering gem in the middle of the city. Aside from the Cathedral's spire, the Great Library was the tallest building in all of Eturia, and the stained glass window at her front never failed to cast flecks of colour down onto the street below each sunset. Rumour had it that the library was the oldest building in the city, but both the Cathedral and city hall liked to argue that they were in fact the oldest building, the Cathedral arguing that religion was more important than fiction, and city hall arguing that order and democracy was of greater need to their ancestors. According to the librarian, Elias, it was written down in one of the many non-fiction books, but he had since removed it from the shelf for fear of disappointing either party.
Aoife stopped as she reached the entrance to the library, pausing long enough to pay her respects to the great marble statues that stood before her. They almost seemed to be guarding the entrance, though Aoife couldn't see what good two lifeless pieces of stone would do in a fight. Nonetheless, she paid her respects all the same, following the old custom of kissing the statues' feet for good luck. Unlike Aostre, the library's statues were far more well endowed, and unbeknownst to Aoife had received more than a fair share of complaints of indecency. The truth of it was, most of the city had forgotten who the statues even depicted.
The two gentlemen, clad in little more than light armour on their shoulders, with swords clasped at their sides, almost like a mirror image of each other, were Droga and Brethin, of the first King's personal guard. Half legend and half truth, Droga and Brethin were rumoured to have been able to smell Aostre's enemies from five miles off. It was this talent that owed to their ability to boast of never allowing a threat within more than a few feet of their King. If one dug far back enough in the storybooks, one might even find an account of them never having to bloody their blades in front of the monarchy, though what occurred behind closed doors is a different matter.
Ultimately, it had been the pair’s arrogance that had brought about their demise. If the legends were to be believed, while they could smell Aostre’s enemies, they could not smell their own, and all the would be assassins they had slaughtered over the years had, needless to say, won them more than their fair share of enemies. And so one night, when the brothers were drunk on victory and ale, and the two had slunk back to their beds for the night to sleep off their inebriation, someone snuck into their shared room—they had been adamant that they should share a room, despite being grown men and both married—and taken each brother’s sword, hilts engraved with their initials, and plunged them into their bellies. When the two were found the next morning, the room had been staged to look as if the brothers had fought and both paid the price with their lives, and thus instead of their legacy being told around mead halls and campfires, it was instead used to warn of the evils of alcohol.