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Fantasy Novella -The Choosing - Chapter 2
The Choosing - Part 1 Chapter 2
I was sixteen when a ginger haired boy began to follow Father and me back from the fields every day, causing unfamiliar feelings to rise in me. My heart raced as it did whenever I ran or went riding, and my belly felt odd. The boy stared at me with intense green eyes the colour of emeralds. Tall, he walked with a catlike gait.
Father caught me stealing glances at him, but he did not say anything. His anxious expression made his feelings clear. In Tacta, girls did not give themselves to boys before they married them. Couples caught meeting clandestinely were exiled to the Valley of Flowers, half a day’s journey from the village. You could never come back; it was the law.
I could not help imagining what the Valley of Flowers looked like. It sounded like a beautiful haven for lovers where they could do whatever they wished, but not to see Father and Grandmother any more? That would be too high a price to pay. I decided to tell Grandmother about the boy. I always told her everything. She never judged me.
In the big warm kitchen redolent with the smell of apple pie, I told her about the boy with the ginger hair.
“Little Akaasa is becoming a woman,” she said with a fond smile. "You should be careful, Princess. If you get caught meeting him in secret, you will be banished to the Valley of Flowers and we'll never see you again."
"The valley sounds like a wonderful place, filled with happy lovers."
Grandmother chuckled. "You think love between a man and woman is everything? You think it's forever?"
"I suppose it isn't," I said, thinking about my parents.
She pushed a platter of warm apple pie towards me on the kitchen table and sat down opposite me.
"I've heard about their debauched revelry," said Grandmother. "Excess only leads to frustration and delusion. Sooner or later those who are exiled want to return to friends and family."
"Well, I'm not going to do anything stupid, Grandmother," I said with my mouth full.
“I know you will be careful, Princess. Remember that girls are far more vulnerable than boys. Girls are the fields in which they sow their seeds.”
“Yes, and then the seeds grow into trees and destroy the fields,” Hadn't my birth warped Mother’s body?
She looked into my eyes, her face filled with compassion. “That does not happen all the time. You must not blame yourself.”
“Where is Mother? Father never mentions her. When I ask him, he changes the subject.”
Although I was glad of Mother's departure, I wanted her to be safe. I had, after all, caused her much grief with my unwanted birth and my self-inflicted injuries had made Father take her away. She had made me believe in fairies, woven flower wreaths for my hair and sewed me pretty dresses. Beautiful women are expected to bear beautiful children.
“It’s been months since she left,” said Grandmother. “He doesn’t speak about her even with me.”
“But where do you think she is?” I persisted.
“Only your Father knows, and he won’t talk.”
~ ~ ~ ~
I could not sleep that night. The half moon shining in through my window was too bright, my head was too full of the boy with ginger hair and the Valley of Flowers. I wrapped myself in a cloak and climbed out the window. I would go down the cliffs to the stables and spend a while with Midnight. Perhaps the cool night air would clear my head.
As soon as I reached the foot of the cliffs, the crystal beds ablaze before me, I glimpsed a dark shape and heard a voice say, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
I was seized with terror, and was about to turn around and scramble up the steps when the figure threw off the hood of his cloak. It was the boy with the ginger hair.
“Oh!” I gasped. “You frightened me. I thought you were a ghoul. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
He grinned crookedly. “Shouldn’t you?”
His grin made my belly flutter.
“You are beautiful. What is your name?”
“Akaasa. And what is yours?”
“So you find me beautiful?” I wanted him to compliment me again.
“Beautiful and brave. I watched you the first time you rode that great horse, so much taller than you.”
“But should we be meeting like this? What if someone sees us?"
“No one will see us. We can go to a secret place.”
My palms grew moist with the excitement. A secret place!
“I will come with you if you swear not to touch me.”
“I never swear.”
The breeze whispered around us, carrying the scent of flowers that bloomed only on moonlit nights. I loved the heady danger of the moment. I was about to discover a secret place in the company of a near–stranger. Alone with Llew, I would be completely vulnerable.
“You will not swear?” I was suddenly aware of my plain nightgown beneath my cloak and wrapped the cloak tighter about me.
“I’m sorry, you’ll just have to trust me.”
“Goodnight then,” I said, turning towards the stables below the overhang of the cliffs.
Llew shrugged his broad shoulders. “We can do this another time.”
~ ~ ~ ~
As I stroked Midnight's soft velvety muzzle and he gave me his nudge kisses, I thought of the first time I had gone riding. Llew had been watching me. What would Mother have said of her "ugly little demon" who could make men yearn?
I went back to my room, but thoughts of the secret place kept me awake. Hoping Llew was still out there, I hurriedly changed into my favourite scarlet dress, the one I had worn for my first ride, pinched my cheeks to make them rosier, dabbed some fragrant oil behind my ears, brushed my hair and flinging the cloak about me, climbed out of the window to the ledge below.
He was waiting for me with that endearing crooked grin and an unlit torch in his hand. “Isn’t the moonlight enough to light our way?” I asked him.
“Not where we are going.”
My curiosity aroused further, I followed him to the back of the cliffs. The knot in my belly grew tighter.
Moonlight illumined the entrance of the cave, the beams falling upon the uneven floor.
“A cave!” I gasped.
Llew lit the torch and I could smell burning pitch. “They say a dragon used to live here. No one dares to come anywhere near this place.”
I felt respect for Llew. He was courageous. I had already decided that I would only fall in love with a boy who I could admire. Not so much fall in love, as be loved. I was the one with the power. My heart beat faster as he led me inside. A musty smell pervaded the dank interior. Hordes of bats hung from the roof of the endless cavern. In the torchlight, our shadows moved upon the walls as we went in deeper.
The cavern grew wider and higher. It was easy to see how a dragon could have lived here. A few more steps and we entered a little forest of glittering crystal stalagmites, some of them taller than Llew. Another gasp escaped me.
Llew smiled proudly, as though he knew that only he could show me such wonders. But what if there was a dragon still lurking in the deep recesses of the cavern? I crushed the thought. I heard the gentle gurgling of water. In the dim light, I saw a green stream.
Llew held the torch above the water and said, “Have you ever seen anything like this?”
Albino crayfish and crabs scuttled along the banks, tiny phosphorescent fish streaked through the shallow water. It was a beautiful new world. I would have never discovered it without Llew. Besides the dragon who had lived here so long ago, Llew and I were the only human beings to have stepped into this place.
I threw my arms about him. “It’s a magical place. Thank you for showing it to me.”
I had not meant to touch him. I was the siren with the power to make him yearn for me. When I felt him pressing his body against mine, I hastily disentangled myself.
That sardonic smile again. He was clearly amused by my sudden show of affection and probably took it as surrender. I didn't want him to think that way.
“I never thought I would meet anyone who would come here with me,” he said.
He sat down on a rock upon the banks of the stream, and pulled me down beside him. His warm and exciting aura enveloped me.
“May I hold your hand?” he asked softly, fingers reaching for mine. His touch sent a thrill through me, so intense, it paralysed me with desire. I could not speak.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, his lips temptingly close.
I sat there, unseeing. Then again: “Akaasa? Is anything wrong?”
Only when he removed his hand from mine did I regain consciousness.
“Huh?” I managed.
I was certainly not going to tell him how I felt. It would make me even more vulnerable.
He was about to put his arm around me when I drew away from him. “Don’t touch me, please.”
“Why not? Are you thinking of becoming the Pure One?”
“Didn’t you know? A young girl is chosen by the Unicorn for the Tribe of Sorcerers.”
“A girl can become a sorceress?”
Father had never mentioned the choosing to me. Perhaps because he did not want me to become a sorceress. He wanted me to be a farmer like him.
“The ceremony takes place once in five years. Otherwise, sorcery is strictly a male domain.”
I snorted and immediately regretted it. It was a most unfeminine thing to do, but what was this about males being superior to females?
“A male domain, eh? But it’s the Earth Mother we pray to when we want our fields to yield rich harvests. And it’s women who make babies. Men can’t do that. I think men are just afraid of our power.”
Llew shrugged. “That’s the way it is.”
“Well, it has to change some day. Some day men have to face the truth.”
I was not going to let this opportunity slip by. I wanted to be a sorceress, but was I pure? Was it possible to be without desire when Llew touched me?