Friday, April 13, 2012

Chapter Seven: The Mating Ceremony

At last, all of my waiting has reached its end. Night has fallen on the eve of summer and the mating ceremony will begin in moments. I try to steady my breathing; I can feel my heart beating in my palms as I wipe them against the silk of my ceremonial gown once again.
This year, a small group of witches has been chosen to lure the men back here. Typically, each woman finds her own partner, but I suspect the Witch Queen might have anticipated my plan. I am not worried because I know my Lothar will come to me.

The lures went out to town at sundown and now the rest of us must wait in a clearing not far from our camp for their return. We each wear fertility charms and carry small vials on our person for the end of the ritual. The atmosphere is thick with perfume, whispers, and anxious energy.
Pertessa, the oldest member of our coven, prays for us and speaks encouraging words. This is my first mating ceremony, but I imagine that Galaea regularly does this part. I wonder where she is.
“All of you beautiful and powerful young women have been given a sacred duty from the Goddess.” Her voice reminds me of dry leaves rustling against aged parchment. “Send your prayers up to her that she may bless you. If you are good and faithful, you will we receive that little blessing.”She adds with a chuckle, “And remember to think girl as you perform your duty tonight.”

Off to the side, I can hear Magrid chanting in prayer, “Please, please, please…”

“Did you notice that Ivaine isn’t here?” Keiry whispers to me. “Do you know where she is?”

I shrug. I neither know nor care where Ivaine is. She is the last person I want to think about tonight.

“I bet she found a way to slither out of doing this,” Keiry says. “Typical.”

“Sister Amea has made a special potion for all of you. It will help you perform tonight,” Pertessa says.

If Keiry’s speculation is correct, then Ivaine is not the only witch who has gotten out of “performing.” My mother has not participated in the ceremony for years, even though she is still well within breeding age. She claims that the touch of a man makes her physically ill, so Galaea allows her to make potions as her part in the ritual.

“Amea also made the potion that you have already been given. Save it until your man has finished, and then convince him to drink it. If you perform well, he will do anything that you ask of him. The potion will make him forget. That is where your duty ends. You can leave getting rid of him to the elders.” With a wink, she says, “We may be old, but we have our ways.”

My mother steps before us with the flask of golden potion and she hands it to me first. “This will make it easier for you,” she says. “I have to warn you, though, it affects everyone a little differently.”

As I drink, the liquid glows pink. It is buttery and rich. Bubbles of happiness rise from my core as the potion flows down my throat, leaving me feeling elated. I know I can’t drink too much although it is hard to stop. After I have my portion, I pass the flask around so that the other witches can take their sip.

The lures arrive with spell-struck men trailing behind them like ghosts from the heart of the forest.

The other witches quickly seize their partners and begin to seduce them. I can tell that the potion has taken effect strongly in some of them. They seem to have lost all of their inhibitions.

I am not so hasty. Then again, if Lothar were here already, I would be just as enthusiastic with him as these women are with strangers. Keiry lingers back with me, as though unsure of what to do. “Do I just… grab one?” she asks. “I don’t know about you, but that potion didn’t seem to do anything for me. I just feel nauseated, I’m so nervous.”

“Me too.” I say. The euphoric bubbles begin to sink as the feeling of apprehension sets in.

“But how can you be nervous?” she asks. “You’ve done this before.”

“I’m waiting for someone.” Where is he?
“Oh,” she says quietly. “Oh, I see.”

From the darkness behind us, we hear a low voice. “Is it really you?”

I jump at the sound. Could it be him?

But no, it is the wrong brother. “Keiry?”

“Lathian?” she gasps.

“You look… so beautiful.”

“Lathian, where is Lothar?” I ask. “Why did you come here?”
His voice sounds far away as he answers, “I don’t really know…”

Keiry has the same distant, dreamy tone. “Would you like me to show you my tent? It’s rather lovely.”

“I’m sure it is.”

She takes him by both hands and leads him. “Come with me.” She is giddy and enraptured. It seems her potion has finally started working.

All around me, women and men disappear inside of tents and others display their passions out in the open as though the ceremony were a feeding frenzy. The drenching carnal need calls to me and turns my apprehension to aching.

I am alone. I do not understand. It seems that every man here is already occupied with at least one woman but where is Lothar?

A twig snaps and I quickly turn around. It seems that I am mistaken. There is one man who has yet to find a partner.

“What… what are you doing here?” I demand. “This isn’t right at all! It’s not supposed to be you.”

I know I am being very rude, but I cannot contain my shock. “How did you know where to find me?”

“Forgive me for whatever grievance I must have caused you, Miss Corynne,” Markius says, “but I wasn’t expecting to find you at all. I was merely out having a drink, trying to forget a beautiful girl who is betrothed, when I heard the strangest, saddest, and most haunting of songs. I investigated and found a most exquisite woman beckoning me.

“I decided to follow this siren in hopes that she would help me get over the girl who will not be mine and yet—that girl stands before me now...

“Do you believe in Fate?”

I am completely taken aback by his question. “No! I mean, I don’t know, but if Fate is real then this isn’t it.

“Lothar should have been here. Why is he not here?” I start to cry and feel foolish for doing so, but I cannot stop.

“I don’t know where he is, Love, but if I knew that a woman who looked the way you do right now was waiting for me in the forest, I wouldn’t keep her waiting.”

My eyes burn as the tears smear the kohl around them. “You don’t understand. Lothar would always come for me. Something’s wrong. Something terrible must have happened.”

Markius puts his arm around me and I cannot stop crying. “Hey, it’ll be all right,” he says soothingly. “Lothar may come for you yet. He may just be running late.”

He pulls me to him. “I will stay with you until he comes, if you like. To keep you company.”

We sit down outside of my tent and he keeps his arms around me. I stiffen to his touch, but I do not push him away. “So why don’t you tell me what’s going on here?” he says.

“I’m a witch.”


“Does that bother you?” I ask.

“Not really. I do not care what you are. I just haven’t met many witches who are betrothed. But then, I haven’t met many witches.”

I sigh. “It’s a secret. Tonight is the mating ceremony. One night a year, the witches mate with a man so they can have daughters. That’s all that they think men are good for—reproduction. Lothar was supposed to come to me so I could lie with him.”

“I see,” Markius says. “I just don’t understand one thing. If you want to be with him so badly, why not leave?”

I sigh again, this time more deeply. “That is a long story.”

“We have time.”

I look across at the surrounding tents where we can hear the animalistic, primal noises from within them. Nothing like Lothar and me. Lovemaking should never be reduced to that.
“I’ll bet you wish you were in one of those tents,” I say. “You’d be having a much better time.”
“Not at all,” he says. “I enjoy being near you, even if you are crying. Although, a face as pretty as yours should never have tears running down it. You deserve someone that will never make you cry.”

“No, Lothar loves me. He loves me…” I wrap my arms around myself and begin to sob. “Our love is unconquerable. He said so himself…”

The minutes pass, as do the hours. It is so late now that I know Lothar is not coming. It will be dawn before long.

Markius rests his hand on my shoulder. “I think we should go inside the tent now. We don’t have to do anything, but we both could use a rest.”
I wearily nod in agreement.

We crawl inside the tent and collapse on the bed within it. I am trembling with exhaustion as he pulls me close to him.

I fall asleep in his arms.

When morning comes and the sun greets me with its harsh glare, I am alone.

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