Isobel & The Underground Kingdom

Take a look. Older novel I am dusting off.

People were already gathered in a circle when Madame S. led Isobel out of her tent. As was the custom on one’s Telling Day, they all bore a braid of Elder leaves around their wrists. A thin switch from the same tree was held in their hands. It was said that Elijaeh had often taken the form of an Elder tree long ago, when the gods still walked upon the earth.

Isobel wore a white smock that symbolized the purity of childhood. Her feet were shod with white cloth slippers, which one of the seamstresses in the troupe had made for her. Her long black hair, now free of knots, fell to her shoulders. A trickle of sweat ran down her back. She looked around at the assembled troupe and picked out Ox Bells, the strongman, her most trusted friend. He had been with Isobel and Madame S. for as long as Isobel could remember. Her earliest memories were of the mustachioed strongman lifting her over his head with one arm as she screamed and dangled in the air above him. He wore a silver ring through his nose and she would often rub his bald head for luck. She also tugged on his mustache, which he kept waxed, making the ends curl up in little curlicues. At his side he wore a gleaming silver sword in a black leather scabbard that he once showed to Isobel, but, much to her dismay, she could barely lift it.

Madame S. held up her right hand for quiet, which fell in an instant. Many here remembered their Telling Day and the nervousness that came with it.

“Friends,” Madame S. began, her slender arms held out in welcome. “We are gathered here in the presence of the Gods to mark the Day of Telling for our friend and sister, Isobel. By the hand of Elijaeh, she shall be Marked this day and her path in life will be revealed. Isobel, come forth.”

Isobel took a deep breath. Her palms were sweaty. She walked into the assembled throng and stood beside Madame S.

“Calwyn,” Madame S. called firmly.

Isobel’s scanned the crowd and saw a small girl with dusty, brown hair, much younger than herself, come forward, holding a stone bowl of water in both hands. She handed it to Madame S, who dipped her fingers into the cool ceremonial water. Isobel closed her eyes.

“In the name of Elijaeh,” Madame S. said, and dabbed Isobel’s forehead. “By the will of Xaan,” she continued, now touching Isobel on one cheek. “By the strength of Aout,” she said, as she touched the other cheek. “By the grace of Mirriel,” touching an eyelid, “and by Paan’s eye,” she touched her other eyelid, “today, you ascend to womanhood.”

There was a pause. Isobel heard wind sighing through the trees. Madame S. made an intricate sign with the fingers of one hand and stepped away from her. “By the Five,” she said solemnly.

“By the Five,” echoed the crowd.

Isobel opened her eyes and looked around. In those few moments, night had fallen and the light of the moon cast a silver glow over the camp. She turned both palms up, wondering if the Mark would appear there. She looked at her right forearm and then her left. Nothing. She glanced at Madame S., startled. Would her Mark not appear? Did the Gods not love orphans? Madame S. walked toward Isobel and took her hands in hers. She turned them over, studying her palms. She lifted Isobel’s black hair away from her neck and ran her finger along the smooth skin at the nape of her neck. The crowd was beginning to grow uneasy. Isobel looked at Ox Bells and his eyes seemed to say that everything would be all right.

“Where is it?” Isobel asked, her voice trembling. “Madame S., where is my Mark?”
“Shh,” whispered Madame S. reassuringly,” it will be all right, child. Come with me.” She took Isobel by the hand and led her to her tent, the crowd now murmuring as they walked away.

Madame S. poured Isobel a small drink of absinthe. She gulped the warm, green liquid down and immediately felt calmer.

“Let us get a closer look,” said Madame S, “take off your smock, child.”

Isobel was not bashful in the least, as Madame S. had raised her from the time she was an infant. She pulled the smock over her head and Madame S. stood and walked around to her back.

“By the Five.” Madame S. whispered.
“What?” cried Isobel. “What is it? Is it my Mark?
“Yes, child, you have been Marked…by the Five you have been Marked.”
“What is it? Tell me!”

Madame S. traced her slender fingers along the great tree that spread out from the center of Isobel’s back. A Rowan tree, if she guessed correctly, with gnarled branches rising to her shoulder blades. Red flowers burst forth into tiny five-pointed stars like drops of blood.

“It is a tree,” Madame S. said, her voice full of wonder. “Your Mark is a tree. A Rowan.” She paused and, with a slight tremble in her voice said, “What strange omen have the Gods revealed?”

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