Deirdre struggles to retain her composure as she gently trickles the warm water over Jonas’ blackened hands. The poor man had screamed himself hoarse as the frozen flesh rewarmed, and has now lapsed into delirious moaning, broken by the occasional incomprehensible cry. Some of the skin closer to his body is merely a waxy gray color, covered in places with blood blisters and sloughing skin.
Faisal, Scarlet and the acolytes had spent days arguing over the tazkiah, and how to satisfy the holy warrior’s expectation of an equivalent rite in the absence of the blistering desert central to Qadiran custom. Deirdre had been instrumental in pushing for an ‘authentic’ cleansing, arguing fiercely against Scarlet’s attempts to scale back the severity of the trials.
Now, looking on Jonas’ suffering, the young woman is horrified, feeling as if every blister and lesion were directly caused by her anger at the red-haired woman, instead of the result of the harsh winter cold. Even worse is the anticipation that she too will have to endure this trial, having insisted so vehemently on its specifics.
The young woman looks up from her task as Scarlet enters the room to begin the final stages before Jonas must step through the Cleansing Flames. The look of horror on the Duchess’ face mirrors Deirdre’s feelings and then transforms into a visage of anger and resentment aimed at the dark-haired woman. For once, Deirdre feels no anger or pique in response to Scarlet’s naked hatred, only terrible regret and shame.
As the former High Priestess begins her final rites, the acolyte continues gently bathing the young man’s ravaged body, trying to avoid causing more pain. She pays close attention to Scarlet’s intonations and gestures, uncertain if the other woman has read the Qadiran scriptures closely enough to understand the unspoken meaning of their directions. Deirdre had quickly come to the realization that success in the Cleansing Flames was determined by the presiding Dawnbrethren finding the candidate worthy, and protecting them with The Goddess’ magics, not by some random act of divinity. The young woman is not sure what she will do if the Duchess has not realized this, but she cannot bear the thought of poor Jonas suffering any further.
As Scarlet completes the ritual, Deirdre nearly collapses in relief as she recognizes the effects of protective magic surrounding the young man’s blistered body. She manages to remain composed as she helps lift Jonas from the water and painfully shuffle his way from the room. The young woman hangs back as the others pass through the doorway into the makeshift ritual space with its blazing bonfire.
As the doors close, Deirdre’s legs give out and she collapses against the pool, her rebellious stomach finally triumphant.