Novel Ambitions: A #FlashFictionFriday Sneak Peek at My Current WIP

Changeling

Brief Synopsis (ATM): A princess, born with a large facial birthmark at the height of the persecution of witches in Europe, is switched with a servant child born the same night. The servant-turned-princess and princess-in-hiding grow up oblivious to the truth of their lineages.

Chapter 7

Viviane

Viviane brushed her hair, grimacing at the amount of straw collecting on her bedroom floor. The evening finally came, and she returned to her rooms for the night. Her mother was nowhere to be seen, no doubt the Queen had her sewing away in her chambers. Viviane diverted the princess but could never stand up to the Queen in the same way without facing retribution.
As more straw fell, Viviane allowed herself to feel mortified for the first time since fleeing the stables. Lord Christian found her sleeping in a horse’s stable, her hair tousled from sleep and not in the flattering way of Lord Christian’s.
More than that, she had not thought to hide her face, her mark, the evidence of some shortcoming within her soul. Her mask lay beside her in the stable, and she realized with a start she left it in her haste to escape his curious gaze.
She stared at herself in the slightly warped looking glass she and her mother inherited from a deceased castle servant in their small room. She plucked more straw from her long dark hair and gently ran a hand over her cheek in the low light of the evening. She did not often look at her reflection, she knew from the whispering and the way everyone avoided her that her looks fell far short of desirable. She was near a monster to many. She kept half the skin of her face masked, a carved wooden plaque worn smooth inside from the oil of her skin. It clung to her face using an earpiece and a strap wrapped around her skull under her hair. It became second nature to her to wear it, as much a part of her body as her arms and legs.
Viviane had been 12 and just begun her training as a servant in the castle when the mask was presented to her from Dianthe. Ever the intuitive one, though it had been far from subtle, she saw the glances, heard the gossip, noticed the sudden discomfort of the girl who lived in relative isolation and shelter by the other servants who sympathized with the girl, a visible representation of their own lack of freedom. She carved the mask from a fallen ash tree.
Ida frowned as Dianthe showed Viviane how to place the mask correctly over her face but said nothing. Viviane held back tears of gratitude, sadness, and relief as she saw her face for the first-time sans the mark, the wood becoming a blank, light brown plane on her face.
Viviane wore it continuously around the castle, easing the minds of the royal family who no longer noticed her under the mask. The only person who maintained suspicion was Friar Heinrich, a tight-lipped, white-haired priest left over from the Roman Inquisition to direct and dictate the religious lives of the royal family and their subjects. He watched her still, steadily, his eyes narrow slits as they followed her around whatever room she entered that he was in. He kept his cross clutched between him and more than once she had seen him muttering in Latin to himself, a prayer, she thought.
She would have to wait until darkness fell to retrieve it. For now, she was confined to her rooms, her chores for the evening delayed. No doubt she would receive a thrashing from the Mistress of Rooms for dodging her duties though the tenants of the castle would be unlikely to notice with the return of Lord Eden and his dashing friend, Lord Christian. The King demanded a ball for his son’s return, as though he needed an excuse to eat, drink, and make merry. The King’s well-known philandering was a thorn in the Queen’s side and the reason no doubt for the smell of whiskey that hung around her gowns Ida brought back to their rooms to repair.
Viviane fell back on the bed she shared with her mother and glanced out the window at the fading light. It was near dusk, perhaps going on seven. Her mother should surely return soon. Her ill health was well noted and the Queen, though demanding, did take care to not wholly exhaust her, allowing her a manservant to carry the garments she packed back and forth and to sit while making certain repairs or projects.
Everard brought by a tray of a venison stew, the soup richly thick and yellow and crumbling pieces of potato emerging from the liquid-like craggy rocks. No steam rose from the bowl so the soup was not fresh and the crusted ring edging the liquid meant it had remained untouched.
Viviane worried her lip, questioning whether she could leave the sanctum of her room, sans mask, to fetch her mother. She absently pulled her braid around from her back, so her hair hung over the marked cheek. She looked in the mirror, her vision obscured on one side, but the mark was hidden. If she kept her face down and avoided eye contact, she could probably pass unnoticed.
A cold sweat erupted on her forehead when the door eased open quietly, and the wisp of her mother’s figure slipped through the crack like smoke. Viviane sighed loudly in relief, and her mother jumped, panicked eyes catching her daughter’s.
“Oh, Viv, my love.” She placed her hand over her heart and sat down lightly on the bed beside her. “You startled me.”
Viviane looked her mother over worriedly. She had dark circles under her eyes, the lines deepened by fatigue, and she was pale. “Everard brought stew.” Viviane gestured to the tray on the table.
Ida visibly blanched before she schooled her features. “I had some toast with my evening tea.” She replied coolly. Viviane was not convinced.
“Please, Mother.” She whispered. Ida sighed and moved to the table, picking up the heavy silver spoon and bringing it filled to her lips. She sipped slowly, then took the bigger bits of stew into her mouth, chewing even slower. It was painful to watch. Viviane’s own stomach rumbled with her own healthy appetite’s demands, and she wished she could reverse her stomach with her mother. Ida ate two more spoons full before laying her spoon aside and leaning back wearily in the chair, her eyes on Viviane apologetic.

Chapter 8

Rose

The party for Eden’s return carried on deep into the night with no sign of ending as the sunset and the moon rose to take its place, full, bright, and high in the sky. Her father was well renowned for his events, the wine flowed freely like blood was a freshly slaughtered deer, and Everard’s delectable treats were scattered on large trays throughout the ballroom, mysteriously replenished whenever a plate was emptied.
Rose was weary. Her visions often exhausted her, and the one earlier had been particularly vivid. And terrifying. She drummed her fingers against the oak arm of the plush upholstered chair she occupied for most of the evening. She declined to dance with the myriad number of suitors who approached her, each going away disappointed and annoyed.
She had no patience for their frivolous desires tonight. Rose felt Eden’s eyes on her from across the room. Unlike her he constantly danced, flitting from maiden to maiden, no end to his flirtatious smiles. He did not see the red of his blood spilling from his lips, his eyes, his chest. He would not be haunted in his sleep with the knowledge that everyone he loved most was in danger. But he watched her, the worry always under the playful exterior. She knew she had to tell him about the vision. She needed his help to escape the castle, to reach the Sherpardess. It would be her only chance to learn perhaps, of the unseen threat that hung over her family like a storm heavy on the horizon, the static of the lightening prickling the air.
Rose sighed loudly. She looked towards the window, the moon visible in the high arch of the glass pane. It must be nearing midnight. She could escape the party without notice. The party attendees were heavy-lidded with drink and food and lust. King Alessandre was tucked away in one of the curtained cubbies with a young serving maid whose buxom figure was barely concealed under the gray grab all servants wore. Rose saw him slip away several hours ago and did not care to know what was happening beyond that. Queen Ursula had emerged briefly and retired to her rooms shortly after the King’s own disappearance, her face pinched with disapproval, without a single word of goodnight to her daughter.
Briefly Rose wondered if perhaps her family deserved the grisly end her visions portended.
“Ready to retire, sister?” Eden materialized at her side, offering his large palm to her. Rose smiled at him gratefully.
“More than ready.” She replied, taking his hand and rising stiffly to her feet. She was tall, nearly Eden’s height, or as near as any woman could be to his towering frame. He inherited that from his father, the King, another sign of his lineage that could not be denied as the boy grew.
Despite her father’s height, Rose always questioned her own inheritance of that trait. Her mother was slight, the shortest woman she knew, her hair dark. Rose’s curling, blonde locks were often a topic of speculation among the gentry and nobility and needed little incentive to gossip. Ursula wrote it off as a fluke of inheritance from a great, great grandmother who’d been fair-haired. Indeed, a portrait hung in the gallery of an ancient matron of her mother’s line with painted blonde locks, though it was stick straight and a slight dingy hue was washed into it. Rose’s blonde hair was nearly white in streaks and seemed to glow in certain light, especially the light of a full moon.
When pressed on this, Ursula snapped at Rose.
“If you are so undesirous of your place as my daughter and the Crown Princess, please feel free to find a serving girl to trade in your place.”
Rose had not questioned her mother since.
“So, what did you see?” Eden brought Rose back into her body and the chilled night air of the hall they entered from the ballroom.
“What else?” she replied. “I see death. Always.” Her voice was grim, her eyes sparkling with suppressed tears as the vision returned to her. “It must mean something. I have to try to prevent this.”
Eden glanced over his shoulder at the light spilling from the ballroom and the raucous noise with it.
“It must be tonight.” He said. “Under cover of the celebrations, nobody will notice.”
Rose nodded. Of course, it must be tonight. If she waited much longer the visions may cease to be an omen and become a reality. And the party was the perfect distraction for the guards who slipped some wine and maidens from the room and retired to their barracks where the noise rivaled the ballroom’s echoing screams and laughter.
Rose donned a dark roughly woven wool cloak Eden spirited from some unsuspecting servant’s quarters along with the traditional servants’ garb. She raised her eyebrow at him over the fabric, and he shrugged.
“The girl will not mind as long as it is returned by dawn.” He said.
Rose wondered which of his conquests he targeted for the theft. Like his father, he possessed the ability to merely glance at a maiden to capture her heart. Rose hoped this particular similarity to their father would phase out over time.
Dressed in the gown, the cloak over her shoulders, the hood raised to cover her white gold locks Rose could almost believe she was a servant. Almost. She stared at her reflection. She could do nothing about her bearing, the years of etiquette lessons, good food, and medical attention. She slouched her shoulders slightly and thought it would have to do.
Eden wanted to accompany her, but he could not be made to look like a servant, no matter how poorly dressed they could manage to make him. He was too tall, taller than Rose, with glossy black hair too similar to the King’s to mistake otherwise. He would be a target no matter the disguise. Rose would have to go alone. And if she did not return by dawn Eden would raise the alarm and follow. It was the best they could do.
The village lay five miles away, a small collection of stone cottages with thatched roofs, a skimpy market, a smoking blacksmith, and other small services. Many of the servants had family in the village and frequently were seen traveling back and forth to visit. Rose could be one more servant girl going to visit her parents, her sister or brother.
She would need a horse to make the journey and be back before dawn. Promising to be cautious, she left Eden in her rooms, a deterrent to anyone who may check on her in the night, claiming she was ill and would receive no visitors, and made her way quietly to the stable yard. The castle was indeed nearly empty of roaming individuals. The crisp night air bit at her cheeks and bare fingers and she almost reconsidered the journey based on the temperature alone. She was royal and soft, unused to the cold. Or discomfort. But the vision returned to her in full force of the slaughter of her family, and she pressed her lips together in determination. She had to do this, it would be a small price to pay to save them.
Eden told her to take Mariner, the gray-blue stallion favored by her father. He was the fastest and a war horse. He could protect her if threatened. Rose agreed but confronted with his size in person, and the prospect of climbing up that mountain of a back, lest of all having to guide his bulk was daunting. She wished she could saddle her quiet mare, a chestnut named Heather after her favorite flowers to nibble on lazy summer rides. But Heather was not built for speed or protection.
Rose reached out a hand to stroke the muzzle of the sleeping Mariner. His nose twitched at her touch, and he snorted himself awake, moving his feet nervously on the ground at being disturbed so.
“Easy, boy.” Rose coaxed. She patted his nose awkwardly, reaching for the harness hung on his stall door with her other hand. “We are just going to go for a quick trip.”
He whinnied loudly as her hand closed on the metal bit and she jumped back, wildly looking around for anyone who may have heard his cries.
“What are you doing?” A sharp voice cut through the cold night, and Rose squinted into the darkness.
“Who is there?” she replied. A slight figure, shorter than Rose and thinner dressed in the same servant’s dress she wore in disguise stepped forward, not realizing who she addressed, believing her to be another servant in the castle.
“I might ask the same thing.” The girl said, stepping into the low burning torchlight of the sconces. It was the seamstress’ daughter. The girl with the mark. Rose shrunk back, sure she would recognize her. “What are you doing with the King’s horse?” she repeated, her voice cautious but firm.
Rose desperately searched for an excuse to make the girl go away, but she could not explain what she needed Mariner for, why a servant girl would be in the stables past midnight at all. Except…
“I agreed to meet a beau here,” she blurted. She had not grasped the bridle. The girl need not know she intended to take the horse. “I merely was calming the beast who was startled by my presence. Perhaps her maidenhood would be enough to drive the girl away for fear of her own reputation.
The girl raised an eyebrow, glancing from her to the horse who was still snorting in agitation. “A beau?” she repeated cynically. She glanced behind her noting the empty stable doorway.
“Yes, a beau,” Rose replied defensively. She crossed her arms in defiance. Who was this girl to challenge her? She was a servant, same as Rose was pretending to be. Except Rose was not a servant. She was the Crown Princess, and all the authority of her birth was hers to command even in disguise. She stood to her full height and raised her chin.
“Should you not return to your mother? Why are you roaming the stables at midnight? Certainly not to meet a man yourself.” Rose said. It was cruel, and she knew it, regretted it, but needed the girl to leave so she could be on her way.
The girl, Viviane, she thought her name was, cringed visibly. She seemed to shrink smaller, and she tipped her head forward, so her hair fell more in her face to hide the deformity. “I lost something here earlier.” She said, her voice subdued. I only meant to fetch it and return to my quarters.”
The girl fell silent, her eyes on her feet. Rose felt her heart thudding in her chest in impatience. “Well, get it and be gone. I don’t want you here when my…lover arrives.” She almost choked on the word, images of the servant girl her father disappeared with flitting through her mind.
Viviane glanced up, her eyes darting to Mariner’s stall. “I left it in there, madam.” She replied addressing her as an elder though Rose believed they were the same age.
“In his stall?” Curiosity crept into Rose’s mind, and she squinted at the girl.
“Yes, I often spend time with him in my free time. The stables are usually warmer than the servants’ quarters as you know.” Viviane replied, moving forward slowly to slip by Rose and enter Mariner’s stall. Rose noted how he did not react to her presence as he had to Rose, turning to sniff her hair and clothing. Viviane pulled a carrot from her cloak and fed it to him before bending to sort through the hay on the ground.
“Of course, I know,” Rose replied. “That is why I decided to have my liaison here.” She started to tap her foot, watching the girl sift the straws slowly, searching in the low light.
Finally, she stood, a flat piece of wood clutched triumphantly in hand. She put it to her face, under the curtain of hair that shielded her, looping a leather strap around her ear and over her hairline. She turned back to Rose, the mask in place and smiled shyly, sadly.
“My apologies.” She bowed her head and exited the stall, stroking the gray hair on the horse’s flank as she left. He sniffled after her, attempting to follow but stopped but the stall door closing back on him. He shook his head and cried again, his voice shrill and panicked.
Rose jumped back again, annoyed, impatient, and scared.
Viviane looked back, noting Rose’s agitation with the stallion.
“Perhaps you should pick another location in the future. Mariner can be particular in who he trusts.” Viviane offered before bowing her head again and scurrying from the stables.
Rose frowned at her, the horse still whinnying shrilly in her ear.
“Please, beast.” She pleaded after Viviane’s shadowy figure disappeared down the corridor in the stable yard. “I need your help.”
Rose reached a hand out to his nose and attempted to calm him again, stroking the length of his nose. The girl gave him a carrot. Rose glanced around the stable and saw a bag of dried apple slices propped against a post. She picked up the bag and shook it at him, quieting the horse’s noises with the promise of more midnight snacking.
Rose smirked and grabbed the bridle, sneaking an apple slice into his mouth before looping the leather straps over his mouth and ears, forcing the cold metal bit into his mouth. He shook his head and rearranged his jaws to chew his treat over the bar, laying his ears back irritably. Rose worried that the horse would allow her to ride him past the castle gate, least of all ten miles to the village and back.
She managed to saddle him with bribes of apple slices and led him from the stable to the yard, leading him by yanking on his bridle and waving an apple in front of his nose interchangeably. In the yard, she turned a bucket over and took a deep breath.
“Alright, Rose.” She said to herself. “You can do this.” She looked up at the towering horse, crunching quietly on his final treat and then towards the dark farmlands surrounding the castle. The Sherpardess waited for her out there, an answer, perhaps the end to her disturbing visions waited for her. Having no other options, she blew out her breath and climbed on the bucket to hoist herself over the giant horse’s back, settling into the saddle and knocking her heels on his flanks as they took off on a trot into the darkness.

Wicked Women

Wicked Women
 
Mariah
 
Mariah tipped the plastic tumbler up over a purple leafed plant. Water dribbled down the cup, leaving a puddle on the laminate counter top before she was able to tilt it high enough for the water to pour outward from the lip. Droplets of water slipped from the individual elongated leaves and the soil beneath darkened from light brown to nearly black. She emptied the cup and set it down, splashing in the puddle on the counter.
The sun shone on the plants, slanted in the early morning. It was warm on her hand as she rested it on the laminate beside the empty cup, raising a coffee mug in her other hand to take a sip of the dark liquid within.
Mariah’s dark blue eyes flitted over the backyard her kitchen window faced. Small blackbirds pecked at the dew damp grass, foraging for bugs that had surfaced in the quiet, cool air of the night.
She reached up to her neck and touched an iron Celtic cross that hung heavily there, nestled over her collarbone. It felt warm against her fingers and she knew, it was time.
 
Diana
 
            Diana hurriedly parceled out the bread and sliced turkey between three Tupperware bowls. Carrot slices and cauliflower florets set to the side of the hastily constructed sandwiches.
“C’mon, guys! The bus will be here in five minutes!” she shouted as she popped the lids on the bowls and shoved them in her kids’ lunchboxes. Wonder Woman, Lightning McQueen, and Naruto stared back at her from the shiny painted lids as she snapped them each shut with audible clicks.
Miles raced in first, different shoes messily tied on each foot. Diana had anticipated her five-year-old’s mismatched footwear having found the mates to both in her own closet that morning. She forced him to sit at the breakfast table and pulled one shoe off, quickly replacing it with the matching shoe to the one he still wore and retying both in a more secure bow.
Jada strolled in next, her eyes glued to her phone screen but dressed and ready. Diana studied her over the tousled blond of her son’s curls, noting the blush and eyeliner her daughter knew she did not approve of. She tightened her lips, eyeing the clock which was three minutes from striking the time of the school bus’s arrival.
George followed close behind, hair rumpled and eyes still red from sleep, obviously he had only just rolled out of bed. They gathered their backpacks and lunchboxes, making it out the door just as the bus turned down the street.
Diana waved at them from the front porch as they loaded the bus, only Miles waving energetically back.
As they drove away, she turned her eyes to the rising sun, her hand instinctively heading to the thick silver chain hanging from her neck. She pulled the chain from under her oversized sweater, revealing an iron Celtic cross.
They were calling.
 
Lucretia
 
            The hand drawn pictures from Lucretia’s grandchildren were not large or bright enough to detract from the sterile white walls of the nursing home. She lay back on the adjustable hospital bed identical to her roommate’s save for the crocheted blanket with its colorful whirling patterns she had made in her younger days when her hands had been nimble and delicate. They were spotted now, and her joints were so knobby it hurt to squeeze her fingers together. The blinds on her window had been tilted to allow sun to shine through, though they were permanently lowered and could not be raised to allow for an uninterrupted view of the cloudless blue sky without.
Lucretia missed the span of the sky the most. The feeling of insignificance she felt when she laid beneath it and felt like she could fall into the depths and be lost to space beyond. The ceiling in the nursing home was low, maybe 7 feet high. And just looking at the nearness of the speckled tiling made her feel claustrophobic.
Her roommate snorted loudly in her sleep behind the thin white curtain meant to simulate privacy and Lucretia started. Her hand flew to her chest where her heart skipped a beat, shortening her breath. Her fingers grazed a fine silver chain, warm on her skin. An iron Celtic cross hung from it, grazing the top of the neckline of her hospital gown.
Though the link was fading in her old age, she could feel the call of the Goddess. The swollen moon hung between the blinds, visible in the daytime. She had to get to them.
 
A Forest Clearing, Midnight
 
            A circle of large, white stones sat in the center of a cleared section of forest. Old stumps and fallen logs provided ample seating for the cloaked figures entering from the shadows of the surrounding trees. They came like mosquitos to a flame, though no fire had yet been built in the pit of the rock circle. The light of the full moon above lit the glen with a mercury sheen. As the figures uncloaked, their unbound hair, in colors spanning from deep black to white, caught the moonlight like signal fires, lighting one after another, sending a message of assemblage.
One figure hobbled into the clearing, propped by two others. The figure paused as the light hit her head and shook the arms the supporting figures held. They released their hold and the figure reached trembling limbs to pull the hood down. Dark silver hair, still thick and curling despite the decrepit slope of the woman’s spine, the dark splotches on her wrinkled hands, tumbled down over her shoulders and she pulled the bulk of it from beneath her cloak, exposing it to the sky. She looked up, eyes bright with excitement and breathed deeply. The two figures who had also uncloaked, two younger women, one red haired, the other salt and pepper gray made to clasp her arms again, but Lucretia shook her head. She stood taller, forcing her back to straighten and walked forward, no longer hobbling, no longer shaking, tall and beautiful and liquid.
Lucretia glided to the stone circle, a teepee of wood had been erected there, tinder shoved beneath, ready for lighting. She pulled a box of matches from the pocket of her cloak and knelt to strike it on a stone. A hush fell over the clearing with the whoosh of the match igniting. Lucretia looked around wickedly over the light of the flame and winked at a young woman across the stone circle, a new recruit with mousy brown hair that hung limp at her shoulders. She tossed the match at the base of the wood. A much louder whoosh and the teepee ignited in a burst of flame, rising taller than the tallest woman in the glen. A cry of elation rose from the women as they cast their cloaks to the ground, revealing an array of sparse garments beneath. Some had covered every sensitive part of their body while others stood stark naked in the flame light, unashamed.
Lucretia turned to face the crowd of her coven and lowered her own cloak, revealing a thin frame, the spots that decorated her hands covered the rest of her, stretched over dimpled and trenched skin. But she stood uncovered in the midst of the other women, her chin high and proud. She smiled at them and they smiled back, hands raising as they twirled and pounced, a rising drum beat subtly guiding the dancing that began as each woman undressed.
A young woman stepped up beside Lucretia, holding out her bare arms, the brown skin appearing gray under the light of the white moon. “Lucretia,” she greeted, tears glimmering in dark brown eyes.
“Diana,” the older woman replied. She fell into the young woman’s arms.
Diana had been a convert for several years, Lucretia had been in her sixties then, a little younger, but independent. It was just before the stroke that landed her in the nursing home, unable to care for herself in the cottage she had owned since her mid-twenties. Diana had been in her teens, freshly 18 when she found her way into the coven, unmarried and childless. A baby, really. At least to Lucretia who was decades her senior. Lucretia brushed shining black braids back from Diana’s cheek and cupped her face in her aged hands, wrinkled pale skin stark against the dark smooth skin of the young mother.
A newer convert stood quietly behind Diana while the women embraced. She was slightly overweight, her bare stomach swelled slightly over her covered pubic region. She had long hair that reached to her lower back and shone red black silhouetted in the light of the fire. She had fine bones, a long straight nose and stark, green eyes. Diana pulled back from Lucretia, looking to the girl with excitement.
“This is Mariah, my convert.” She introduced her.
“This is Sister Lucretia,” Diana explained to Mariah. “She converted me, and she is the oldest member of the coven.”
Mariah’s eyes widened in surprise and she curtsied awkwardly out of respect.
Lucretia laughed, her voice raspy but pleasant and Mariah smiled in return. “No need to be so formal,” she assured the young girl.
Diana and Mariah flanked the elder woman as she turned back to the bonfire and began swaying to the beat. Diana closed her eyes and spread her arms, flowing like the fire that crackled before them. Mariah watched them, still holding back, not comfortable enough in her skin to succumb to the natural urge to move herself.
There were many other new converts. Each sister was tasked with converting a new member once a year, expanding the coven to encompass as many sisters as could be claimed.
Womanhood was a peculiar sorority, Lucretia thought, her stiff limbs flowing like water under the moon’s soothing light and the comforting heat of the flames. They were all connected by the uniqueness of their anatomy. The necessity of the sacrifice of their bodies to continuing the human race. Millions of women had given their lives to it. The ability itself was nothing short of miraculous. A gift bestowed on their gender.
Lucretia had never had children. Her body sagged with age, the skin of her stomach riveted with lines and stretch marks, but none had been caused by carrying a baby. She had learned at an early age she was infertile and so never married. Yet she praised the Goddess; the maiden, the mother, and the crone. She would never make the middle passage, but she was woman all the same. Instead of mothering children she had devoted her life to a Sisterhood, to caring for the women of the world who were too often weighted down with the cares of their men, of their jobs, of their children, in fact. They needed a place where they could be. Lucretia had provided that.
She was the oldest coven member, because she had formed it. She did not call herself or her converts witches, though society did. They were simply women connected to the Goddess and to Nature. They were Sisters in the highest sense of the word. Though she could not bear children of her own, in her coven, they felt the joy and pain of each individual as acutely as their own. They were able to share their experiences of womanhood even though she could not physically experience some things.
She had created the coven in part for the company. She had been lonely, childless and husbandless in a time when that defined a woman’s purpose, an only child born to a middle-aged couple who had passed long ago. And then she believed in the Goddess, had learned the ways of it from her mother who had learned it from hers. Women were falling away from the Goddess though, and it showed in the gender. They had lost what made them powerful, allowed themselves to be overshadowed by men. In the home and the workplace women were subordinate to their male counterparts. It is like they didn’t know they carried the weight of the world in their pelvis, that they, as women, are the closest to God a man may ever get.
Lucretia allowed her eyes to graze the clearing, Mariah awkwardly following Diana’s movements as she accustomed herself to the group, the other women grouped with their converters and convertees, laughing and free. It was beautiful. She raised her arms once more to the low hanging moon bulging with promise. Her life was nearing its end, she felt even then the skipping heartbeat, her labored breathing. But she had turned these women back to their true purpose, supporting each other and reveling in their femininity. They would carry on her life’s work and teach their daughters that they have intrinsic value not assigned by others.
Diana had grabbed Mariah’s arms, helping her match the rhythm of the drums. They laughed as they took a spin, Diana’s chest was uncovered and her breasts, heavy and slightly sagging from nursing three children, trembled under her movements, swinging wildly. They opened their eyes, laughing, and turned to Lucretia only to find she had collapsed in a heap at the base of the bonfire.
“Sister!” Diana fell to her side, reaching for the elder woman’s wrist, desperate to feel a pulse. Lucretia’s eyes were open, her toothless mouth stretched in a wide, thin smile. She was staring at the moon, but there was nothing of recognition in them. No throbbing met Diana’s searching fingers. The sisters quieted and folded in around them, the drums tapered to a low rumble.