The kohl caked around my eyes has dried—an unkind reminder of my night. My mind is weary from thinking of possible reasons for Lothar’s absence. With every remaining shred of my faith, I pray to the Goddess that he is all right.
Please. Please, let him be all right.
My thoughts swirl in a sleepy haze as I submerge my body, achy from the hours of last night’s wracking sobs, into the inviting warmth of the bath.
I want to wash away the memories of the mating ceremony and throw them out with my bathwater. Then I could start this day new and clean as though nothing has changed. If only I had kept that memory potion.
Maybe nothing has changed. Perhaps he simply…
Could he have really forgotten me?
It is the worst option that I care to think of right now. If my Lothar is safe and well, I’ll take it. And I’ll forgive him for it, just as long as he’s all right. I dress and wash the black away from my face. My chore for today is cleaning the dining hall after breakfast, so I hurry to arrive there early.
I am one of the first to arrive and I can smell the meal being prepared, but it does not lift my spirits. He has a lot on his mind, I try to convince myself. His mother just died, after all. But I have this feeling that I cannot push away. Something has happened. Something has changed.
Fortunately, Keiry does not allow me to sit alone with my thoughts for long. “Good morning,” she greets me as she takes a seat at my table.
Her eyes widen as she says, “You look terrible.”
“I had a rough night,” I say. “How was yours?”
“It hurt,” she answers. “More than I thought it would.”
“Same for me.” I say.
“Have you noticed that Ivaine is still gone? No one has seen her since yesterday’s evening.” I can tell that Keiry is eager to change the subject and I am more than willing to let her.
“Maybe she fell down the well,” I offer.
“One can only hope,” Keiry says with a devilish grin. We both laugh and I feel lighter, if only momentarily. I can’t think of anything that can cheer me quite like the absence of Ivaine.
Keiry I both look up when we hear a tiny sound like a dormouse clearing its throat. There stands Magrid, staring as though she is displeased with our talk. Undoubtedly, before the morning is through, both Ivaine and the Witch Queen will know of our sinful thoughts towards Ivaine’s demise. Magrid is their spy, so witches must always watch what they say when she is near.
“Corynne,” Keiry begins, “it’s such a beautiful day. How would you like to take a stroll with me around the grounds?”
It is actually humid and grey outside, as though the clouds may burst at any moment, but I do not hesitate.
“That sounds delightful, Keiry. I would love to.”
Once we are outside, Keiry says, “I have to admit, I’m surprised at you.”
“Why?” I ask.
“I just didn’t think you would go through with it, is all,” she answers.
I am confused. “Keiry, what are you talking about?”
“My sister told me that when the elders came to clear your tent, you were sleeping with a man. She said that they were all watching you to see what you would do. Some of them even thought you would try to sneak Lothar in, but it wasn’t him. ”
“I may have slept beside him, but nothing else happened,” I say. “The elders can think what they want.”
“Nothing?” Keiry seems surprised. “So what did you do all night?”
“We talked. I met him before the ceremony. His name’s Markius and… well, I guess you could say he’s my friend.”
“I didn’t know you had a friend name Markius.”
“Well I do. And anyway, it doesn’t matter because I would never have sex with a man who wasn’t Lothar. You of all people should know that.”
Keiry sighs. “I suppose I could scold you, but I have a confession to make too.”
“You and Lathian didn’t go through with it either?” That’s difficult for me to believe considering the way they were looking at each other last night.
“Oh no, we did,” she says, “it’s just…”
She leans over and whispers in my ear, “I didn’t give Lathian the forgetting potion.”
“You didn’t?” I ask.
“Shhh! You can’t tell anyone.”
“I won’t, I promise. But why didn’t you?”
“It was his first time too, and I didn’t want him to forget it. I didn’t want him to forget me.
“That sounds so stupid, doesn’t it?”
“No, Keiry,” I insist. “That’s not stupid at all.”
She and I both jump as the door bursts open. Pertessa stands in the doorway with a look that would suggest the whole camp was on fire. “The Witch Queen has commanded that everyone come to the meeting hall immediately,” she rasps. “Come you two, there is no time to dawdle outside.”
“I wonder what’s so urgent,” I say when we are seated in the meeting hall.
“I don’t know,”Keiry says, “but by the way everyone’s acting, you’d think the Goddess Herself was paying us a visit.”
Galaea steps up to the front; the hall silences at her presence.
“Sisters,” she speaks slowly, “today is a brand new day. It is a day of victory. This day shall be written in history not only for witches, but for all of Lyvenia.
“Last night, our enemy King Lothe died in his bed and his power shifted into our hands.”
There is a great cry throughout the meeting hall. Witches clap and others raise their hands and their voices.
In the midst of their joy I feel only grief. So this is why Lothar didn’t appear at the mating ceremony.
“In order for the new way to come, the old ways must change,” Galaea continues. “Change is often inevitable. Our Goddess has assured me that she smiles on these changes. She has shown the way to our success, and I am bound to obey as she commands.
“For this reason, marriage is now permitted.”
This time, the reaction is not so triumphant. A collective gasp sweeps through the hall and whispers follow.
“Why would she want us to marry?”
“How could the Goddess command such a thing?”
No one suggests that perhaps Galaea has lost her mind, but their faces imply the thought.
“This doesn’t feel right,” I say.
“Isn’t this what you wanted?” Keiry asks. “Now you’re free to marry Lothar.”
“But why? What are her motives?”
“Because the Goddess commanded it, you heard her,” Keiry answers.
“Do you actually believe she hears from Jyaell?”
Keiry stares at me in awe for a moment. “You mean you don’t?”
“A few weeks ago, the Goddess Jyaell blessed one of our sisters with a prophecy. When I sought the Goddess for meaning, She confided to me Her divine plan, as well as the role I must play in carrying it out.
“Our sister, Saleri, prophesied that the king would soon die and that after he passed, we would take control of his throne when the new king took a witch to be his queen.”
“I heard that prophecy too,” I whisper to Keiry. “But I thought…”
Galaea looks towards the door of her counsel room and raises her voice even louder than usual. “And now my sisters, it is my greatest pleasure and honor to introduce you to your new queen.”
The door opens and my worst nightmare come true walks through it. There is my Lothar, shining in white and walking hand in hand with Ivaine, who is adorned in a velvet gown fit for royalty. A sparkling crown sits atop her sleek, crimson hair. They are both smiling with the kind of elation that can only be found on the faces of a newlywed couple. Lothar regards the witches as though it is not strange at all for him to be in our camp.
A strangled cry claws its way out of my throat. “What?”
“Young Lothar was the heir of Lothe’s throne, and now that the old man is dead, he is the king. My daughter Ivaine has surrendered her destiny to the Goddess’s plans and she will be richly rewarded for her obedience. I married them myself last night during the mating ceremony, and then they performed their part in the ritual.
“Their marriage is a partnership and treaty between the witches and the royal family. With the guidance of the elders and myself, Ivaine will rule the kingdom as a shrewd and powerful queen.”
“No!” I cry out and run down the aisle, not caring what any of the witches think of me. This can’t be happening. It has to be a dream.
I throw myself at Lothar’s feet and beg him. “Please tell me it’s not true. It can’t be true. Please.”
Galaea looks down on me with disgust. “Pick yourself up, girl.”
I rise to my feet and look into his eyes. “You love me,” I tell him. “We were going to be married. I was supposed to be your queen.”
He looks confused. “I love Ivaine. She is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen and she is my bride. I’m sorry.”
“It is a pity,” Ivaine says. “This poor girl suffers from delusions. Pay her no mind, my love.” She draws out the last two words just for me.
“No! You can’t love Ivaine. You just can’t!” I clench my hands into fists. “Ivaine loves nothing. You’re under a spell.
“What has that bitch done to you?”
Galaea has had enough. “Get her out of here.”
My mother and Keiry step up to the front and take hold of my arms. “Come on, Corynne,” Keiry whispers. “Let’s go outside.” My mother says nothing. They begin pulling me away from Lothar.
“You love me!” I shout. “You said our love was unconquerable. Don’t you dare forget!”
Ignoring my outcry, Ivaine says coolly, “I know that change can be difficult at first, but I encourage all of you to embrace the new way, for it will lead to the advancement of all witches. As the Goddess has said it, let it be.”
My mother and Keiry lead me outside to the well and Keiry draws water for me to drink. I collapse against the stones and consider throwing myself in.
At last, my mother speaks. “Didn’t I tell you this would happen? I warned you it would hurt like nothing you’d ever believe and now look at you. You didn’t listen and you only have yourself to blame.”
“With all due respect, Sister Amea, I don’t think this is what Corynne needs to hear right now,” Keiry says.
My mother sighs. “You’re right. I guess she just had to learn this lesson for herself.”
I stand and look at Keiry. We both start to cry.
I stand and look at Keiry. We both start to cry.
She holds me and there are no words, only the sound of my heart’s deepest groaning. I lean against her and release all of my anger and sorrow onto the course linen of her dress.
My mother lays her hands on me and begins to pray. “Dearest Goddess, hear my plea. Release Corynne from this burden. Heal her heart and make it stronger, I beg of you.”
I wonder if this is my punishment for disobeying the Goddess in the first place. Or maybe this was simply the natural order of things. No passion that intense could survive. Even the brightest candles burn themselves out eventually.
I was such a fool to believe anything otherwise. Of course it had to end, and now it has ended. As much as I hate it, I have to face to truth: the unconquerable has just been conquered.