From an early age, he was shown all that he stands to inherit (550-word fiction)

Orvec Pallias is the first-born child of Eitrem, Orsthai’s wealthiest merchant, and Albalia, high priestess of the Orsthis: one of the two religious sects that dominate the continent of Aarai, as well as boasting sizeable overseas empires.

The rival sect, the Meithsis, largely consider themselves to be the older, more traditional and therefore more valid faith, while the Orsthis, for their part, regard the Meithsis as antiquated and rigid. The centuries-long history of the two sects has been marked by violent skirmishes and outright warfare, but they now tend to settle their differences through a bloodless war of wealth, of academic prowess, of technological advancement.

Guenneth is considered, as a matter of official record, to be an Orsthic; she passed through the necessary rites upon her birth. All peroi are required to join the faith professed by their families’ employers, but as is common among inhabitants of Plaithses, she has little patience for the elaborate doctrines of either sect, and only attends ceremonies and gatherings when she must. As a servant of the Orsthis’ high priestess, she is required to accompany her in her duties at times.

The two women were born in the same year, but their lives and prospects could not have been more different. When Guenneth first began to work for Albalia’s family, she knew the future high priestess as outwardly graceful and soft-spoken, yet possessed of a burning desire to return her family’s legacy to the great respect in which it had once been held. In those days, their fortune had largely been squandered by successive generations of poor management – Guenneth had heard all the stories from her own mother before entering Albalia’s service as a maid.

Eitrem, as heir to a large commercial fortune, was chosen as Albalia’s husband in order to secure her long-term leadership of the Orsthis religion. Orvec’s arrival was perfectly timed, with all of the pertinent stellar alignments carefully checked in advance, as those of upper-class births always are. From an early age, he was shown all that he stands to inherit and brought on numerous tours of far-flung lands held by troops loyal to the Orsthic creed, where he was treated with deep deference by even the most hardened military commanders.

Over the years, Guenneth watched him acquire an ever-growing attitude of entitlement: explosive tantrums as a child; misbehaviour in school; open defiance of his tutors; frequent reports of bullied classmates and girls he had cast aside – such rumours were always swiftly investigated by his mother, lest an illegitimate heir should emerge one day to derail her carefully crafted plans for the family legacy.

Guenneth can still vividly recall one peroi girl who became pregnant after a brief fling with Orvec, and was removed from the house in disgrace as soon as Albalia got wind of it. She and the other servants on duty that day had no choice but to look on, helplessly, as the girl was dragged out of the kitchens by the high priestess’ guards.

She first suspected that Josliehn had become involved with Orvec a few moons ago, when she was cleaning some of the upper corridors and spotted her leaving his chambers with her face flushed and her hair in slight disarray. She caught a brief glimpse of Orvec too, before the door closed behind him: bare-chested, a silk robe tied around his waist, a smirk on his face.

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