By Jamie Angevine
The night had descended, moonless and still, with a swiftness that foretold the onset of winter. They gathered together for midnight to attend the Trial of the Maidens, seven in all, and Lyalinn waited among them, sick with fear. This was the first time she had been deemed worthy enough to be included with the innocent to see the Ancient’s desire fulfilled. It was the 43rd year of winter and the 13th of Lyalinn’s life.
All at once the village torchlights were extinguished, leaving bright afterimages that stung her eyes. Every heated breath condensed into clouds that lingered above the holding pen. She and the other girls shivered together for warmth. A linen shift dress that barely covered their thighs was all that had been provided.
Inside the ceremonial cottage, male laughter and the clink of silverware filled the room as ravenous villagers feasted on lust and meat. Candles shone in wall sconces and on the alter by the fire pit. Greed glimmered darkly in their faces as they beheld the soft feather bed covered with silk.
Lyalinn’s eyes darted to the others like a hummingbird. Only Thea caught and held her stare. She shook her head, indicating that escape was not possible. Then she raised her index finger to the sky. One, it reminded her younger sister. Only one would be chosen. Only one would have to endure.
A frightening silence snaked through the wall at the stroke of twelve. It was time. Men rose to their feet and began chanting with urgency.
The coming of Solstice
With quickfall of night
Awakens His primal need
The circle of seven
With virginal light
Exposes Her will to concede
The purest submitting
With soul taking flight
Receives the lifegiving seed
The Elder released the holding pen door. One by one, the maidens proceeded inside to meet their fate.