Sow the Seeds
It was dark in the back room of the Sanctum. Young women flitted and scurried about, pulling and tugging to make final adjustments to hair and clothing. Their robes were a white, gauzy sheer that fell to the ground in great folds. Underneath, a skin hugging silk that clung to every curve protected the wearer from a stiffened corset. The women chatted and bubbled, discussing the upcoming ceremony. A group in the center fussed over a single young woman, who clearly held status.
Her long sleeves obscured hands that flicked and picked at themselves in agitation. As she moved, small bells on her headdress tinkled. It was huge and weighty: giant curved horns were set into a tiara that rose from a cloud of sunshine curls on top of her head. Long threads of tiny glass beads that obscured her vision were suspended from the top of her forehead down to her chest, each turn of her long neck causing them to ripple and part, allowing her to see small snippets of the scene before her. She saw the other young women of the temple, her attending vestal virgins, finishing their duties and taking their place in formation. The shape was familiar; the past few years she was an attendant to this ritual, filling the position the younger girls were filling now.
A long line of novices ahead of her stood ready with bundles of autumn flowers in their hands. Each girl wearing a crown of wheat and metallic fibers intertwined into a halo of light. She in silver and they in gold, she was a lonely moonbeam in a harvest field standing alone. Furtively glancing to the right she spotted one of her only friends, her personal handmaiden, through her bead veil. Always easy to spot because of her long flaming orange hair, Kammia turned her head back and gave a sad smile and a nod. Her warm brown eyes glowed and she took a deep breath.
“This is your last chance. Are you sure I cannot convince you to run?” she asked. She parted the beaded veil and leaned her forehead against her friend’s. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I want to do this. I’m happy to be married. Just give me another glass, and I’ll be fine.” Althea, Princess of Cessage, and High Priestess of Galeed drew herself up and stood straight. She snapped imperiously at one of the young novices, though her long sleeves obscured the gesture. “Kallum. Now.”
A serving girl presented her with a chalice full of dark burgundy wine from the large metal fountain in the room. She lifted it high above her head, and all the women in the chamber turned towards her. She spoke softly.
“Galeed, guide our steps.” The others repeated her. She toasted the cup to the sky and took a small sip.“Today, we take the pains that others cannot. We offer ourselves so that others may thrive. This is our duty, to be ready when we are called.” She looked about the room, willing her heart to race. Any sane person would be terrified of the fate that awaited her, but these women were far from sane. She remained impassive.
“My sisters, I go willingly into the home of Galeed. I will give myself to him, willingly. I could not ask for a better husband. Whatever happens, my sisters, know that I love you. Know that Galeed loves us.” She drank down the rest of her wine in one go, feeling the relief that the alcohol provided. As she handed the chalice back to a serving girl, a deep and low drumbeat began. The women squealed in anticipation and ran to find their positions. Althea stood unmoving, allowing them to rank and file around her. A long line of novices in front, handmaidens with offerings of wheat and flowers, then the subordinate priestesses, then her personal retinue. Kammia stood in front and to the right. Holding her large golden scythe in her right hand she reached back with the left and took the Princess’s hand. The handmaiden on her left reached her hand back as well, and through the gauze fabric she gripped the hands of her temple sisters. Althea, daughter of the long-dead King allowed herself to be guided through the archway and into the main hall. There was no turning back now.
It was time to die.