By Dan

A peaceful evening, it might have seemed to Opaka, though her heavy heart could take little joy in the sunset. The winds played fitfully over the stone of the temple, every now and again throwing up tiny pebbles as she walked solemnly in the procession across the courtyard. But even those that smattered against her clerical garment, stinging the surface of her skin, could no more draw the attention of her features, careworn beyond her years, as if in premotion of the dolorous care she would later expend leading her people throu the troubles to come, than the fiery extinction of the solar orb. At a young age this devout girl's life was blanched now for the first time of many, by the loss of a loved one.

Ro had been her mother's friend, she knew, from childhood. They grew up together in one of the outlying settlements of Bajor's southern continent, both daughters of prosperous tradesmen. However, when her mother had been not much older than Opaka was now, an itinerant preacher had come through the town, with his fire and brimstone exciting all manner of emotion from the country folk. He called for reform of hearts and minds, and a raising up of morals to suplant the role of the ancient Prophets, who in their antiquity could not possibly speak to today's Bajor. Opaka's mother and her friend Ro had sat at the man's feet, both girls as spellbound by this flowing golden hair and flashing eyes as by his heretical doctrine. But he preacher proved worse than his words, by far. He was no more than a philanderer and common huckster. And when he left the town a few weeks later, under cover of darkness, he took with him not only half the pocket-money of the girls and matrons of the surrounding district, but the maidenhood of Opaka's poor wronged mother as well.

As her belly swelled with unborn Opaka, Ro was the only one to tand by the troubled girl. And when the expectant mother's own harsh father banished her, Ro went forth with her through the high roads, on a journey to the city, where they planned to seek refuge. She helped her through every hardship of travel and childbirth, and finally would join with her and the babe to devote themselves to the work of the prophets in the great temple at the center of the city.

Thus Ro had been with Opaka for every moment of her childhood growing up in the temple, and learning to serve the Prophets. And when Opaka's mother alter married a wealthy lawyer and forsook her own devotion to the faith, Opaka came to depend on Ro's guidance and counsel in all aspects of her life in the temple, visiting her mother in the outer city only on feast days.

And how bright and hopeful had all the people of Bajor felt just a few years ago, when the Kai-ship fell to an unassuming young woman from the country. Ro quickly became one of the most deeply revered of Bajor's Kais. In spite of her little experience, her devotion to the Prophets was strong, even as she was not of any of the powerful families. Moreover, her devotion to the faith had sprung not from ambition for a career, or airs of self-righteousness, but simply from her love of her friend.

Opaka felt as if these past few years had been unreal, as she could sit in awed silence at the feet of the very Kai of Bajor and listen to her spiritual wisdom, but yet know she could still tell Ro her most private of confidences without a tinge in her cheek. But now, she felt almost as if her life was over, and with the people of Bajor she had rent her garments when she heard the news. Surely, no Kai had ever been as wise for her people or as humble before the Prophets as Ro. But as if to add a more fearsome, ill-starred aspect to the Bajorans' new grief, never before had a Kai been taken from them so young.

As they mounted the steps towards the highest place, Opaka thought to herself, "Could the Prophets be failing?" But she was far too stricken by her personal grief to dwell for more than a moment on the omen. All around her though, the elders, slowly forming a circle around the bier as the last rays of the sun illuminated Ro's lifeless body, were thinking that this tragedy might be only the beginning. Surely, if not faltering, the Prophets must have a phase of hard adversity in store for the people of Bajor, of which the death of their young, beloved Kai was only a foretaste.

Thus were the earnest apprehensions of the mourners on the temple mount, and across the planet. But for Opaka they were far outweighed by the personal pain of the loss of her dear godmother, as she stood on the temple in the gathering Dusk over Kai Ro.

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