When Rebecca opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was Marie’s face. The girl was hovering over her as she lay in her bed. At first, Rebecca could not remember why she was so tired.
“You’re awake!” Marie exclaimed. “You slept forever. How do you feel?”
“Tired. What happened?”
“Don’t you remember? You channeled the Elder. I told you you could do it. It must have worn you out, though.”
The Elder? Her memory was slowly coming back. Marie kept talking.
“Now that the Elder is going to return, and you’re going to be his vessel, you’re the most important person in the clan. Lots of people want to talk to you. But I can tell them you’re not ready for that yet. Still, we’ve only got nine days to prepare, and there’s lots to do, so you won’t be able to put them off forever.”
The words were coming faster than Rebecca could follow them.
Her friend finally stopped and took a breath.
“What do you mean, I’m going to be the Elder’s vessel?”
“Isn’t it exciting? The Elder agreed to come back and lead through you. You’ll basically be the leader of the clan.”
“I don’t want it.” The words slipped out before she realized what she was saying.
Marie frowned. “Of course you do. Everyone already loves you. And now you’ll get to be even more important to the clan. I’m actually a bit jealous.”
Because Marie was looking at her so intently, Rebecca forced a smile. “You’re right. I’m just tired, I guess.”
Marie returned her smile. “Of course. You get some sleep. I’ll make sure everyone leaves you alone today. Rest up.”
“I will. Thanks, Marie.”
The other girl nodded as she slipped out the door, leaving Rebecca alone with her thoughts.
What would it mean to be the Elder’s vessel? Would he just talk to her? Or would he possess her again? She couldn’t go through that experience – that violation – another time. It was for her clan, her family, but it was too much. Surely they would understand.
That thought consoled her as she drifted off to sleep.
When she woke again, light was streaming through the window, indicating mid-morning. The last time she had been awake in the early afternoon, so nearly an entire day had passed. She felt better, rested and alert. One of the perks of serving as a medium for the clan was her own room, instead of sleeping in the communal room for single women, which meant fewer interruptions in her sleep.
She rose from the bed and walked over to the closet. She selected a simple dress and took off her night shirt in order to put it on. As she was changing, the door opened and closed behind her.
“I’m up, Marie. No need to check on me. Still, thank you for letting me . . .” After the dress was on, she turned around to see Peter standing in front of the door, smiling in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. Shock and embarrassment caused her face to flush. “Oh! Peter . . . I . . . Sorry, I thought Marie had come in.”
“No need for that. I just wanted to come by to congratulate you on your new position. And to offer what assistance I may.”
Shock gave way to apprehension. “Thank you. I’m just getting used to the idea myself.”
Peter took a couple of steps towards her. “I am curious, if you don’t mind me asking, how you managed to arrange this? Assuming that was really my father, I wonder what you said to him to go along with this power grab of yours?”
Rebecca backed away from Peter and bumped into the bed, involuntarily sitting down. “I didn’t . . .”
Approaching even closer, Peter’s smile grew even more unsettling. “It’s okay, Rebecca. It is a brilliant plan. I applaud you. You are a much more impressive and resourceful woman than we gave you credit for. You have my full support.” Standing over her, he reached down and brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. She didn’t think anything could feel worse than being possessed by the Elder, but this did. It felt like her soul was being crushed. Her flinch was instinctual, but Peter seemed not to notice it.
“I should warn you, however. My brother is angry. Say the word, and I will stay by your side to protect you.”
“I . . .” Rebecca faltered. She wanted him to leave, but couldn’t find words to make that happen. “I . . .”
A knock at the door saved her from more stammering. “Rebecca? It’s Phillip. I was hoping we might talk.”
“Send him away,” Peter whispered.
Rebecca grabbed the reprieve she’d been offered. “No. I should speak with him.”
Peter stared at her for several moments, and she had the impression he was weighing the pros and cons of striking her, but he eventually relented. “Of course,” he tipped his head towards her. “But I do hope you’ll consider my offer.”
“I will. Thank you.”
The knock came again. “Rebecca?”
Peter turned to the door and greeted Phillip with a laugh. “Good morning, brother. Rebecca, if you will excuse me. Perhaps we might continue this conversation a little later.” Without waiting for a response, he swept out of the room while Peter stared after him.
After the door closed, Phillip turned back to Rebecca. “I hope he didn’t bother you.”
Relief had flooded through her the moment Peter had left, but she tried to keep it from showing. “No. He was imply offering his help.”
“I can imagine.”
Peter had told her that Phillip had been angry about the situation, but she saw no evidence of that now. He had always been kinder than his younger brother, but she didn’t know what he was thinking. Did he think she had planned all of this as well?
“Anyway, I came to see how you were doing. Marie said you seemed rather worn out from the other day. Have you managed to recover any?”
She nodded. “None of this was my idea. You know that, don’t you?”
“Is that what you’re worried about?” He chuckled softly. “No. I don’t think this is your doing. This is exactly the sort of thing my father would do. In fact, I didn’t want you in the middle of all of this. Peter demanded we use you to consult the Elder. If anyone is responsible for this situation, it is him.”
“I . . . I don’t want to do this.”
“I know. I just said I didn’t think it was your idea.”
“No. I mean, I don’t want to do this. I can’t. I don’t want to be the Elder’s vessel.”
“Oh.” Phillip fell silent for awhile.
Rebecca stayed on the bed and was grateful that Phillip had remained by the door. The room wasn’t large, but it was enough to allow for some distance between them.
“Are you certain?” The suddenness of his question startled her.
“Are you certain? About not joining with my father?”
“Oh. Yes. I . . . I just can’t.” A wave of nausea hit as she thought about the Elder possessing her.
“What are you willing to do to avoid it?”
“Anything.” She said the word without thinking about it. Then she remembered the feeling of Peter touching her cheek and regretted it. What might Phillip ask of her?
“Very well. I need to arrange a few things. I will return after dark. Say nothing of this to anyone. I will find a way for you to escape this fate.”
Before she could ask a question, he was gone. She wanted to trust Phillip; he had never treated her badly. Peter’s touch, however, had taught her a new kind of fear, and now she didn’t know what to think.