Bells & Blood
The tinkling of the ox’s bell and the din of the gathered guests drew Cyra’s attention away from the stables. She stood half-clothed in an empty horse stall, waiting for Mirabel to figure out the robes for the sacrifice.
The smell of incense and smoke mingling with the outdoors took Cyra back to a time prior, before all of the responsibility was on her to execute this sacrifice flawlessly. She knew that back then, becoming High Princess wasn’t the plan for her life. Halewijn didn’t even exist in her mind; only Gunnar and being his bride was the goal. Beyond that… nothing.
“Finally!” Mirabel turned the garment around and gathered the white fabric in her hands. “I’m going to slip it over your head.” She advised, and Cyra allowed the lady to drape the garment over her thin frame. After a few tugs for adjustment, Mirabel held her hands up, allowing Cyra to look down at the dress.
The white frock was loose but incredibly revealing - Cyra realized - as her chest and back were almost entirely exposed by the v-shaped neckline. The only part that felt covered were her legs, and the dagger resting against her right leg felt just as safe.
“Is this…?” Cyra turned around, and Mirabel grunted softly, covering her mouth with her hand.
“I don’t think it’s too…” Mirabel trailed off, a weird expression crossing her face.
“You don’t?” Cyra wondered, fingering the sheer fabric with care. The sound of crunching hay echoed in the stable, and Cyra looked over the lady in waiting’s shoulder to see Wyndemere approaching.
“I’m just making sure you’re doing… okay…” When he observed Cyra in the sheer white robes, a blush crept up his neck, and he gave her a look of embarrassment. “Halewijn isn’t going to like this.” Cyra scratched her collarbone and grimaced.
“Is it that bad?”
“I mean, it gives me some idea as to why Omar let you change clothes, but—”
“Cyra?” The trio stiffened at the sound of Halewijn’s voice, and Wyndemere made a quick move to shield her from the High Prince’s sight. “My love, everyone is waiting for you.” Hal came closer to the group and attempted to peer over Wyndemere’s frame, but the captain of the guard sputtered,
“She’s still… dressing.” Confusion danced across Hal’s face, and his lips widened into a smile.
“I’ve seen my wife naked before,” He laughed and attempted to push past him, but when Wyndemere stiff-armed him, Halewijn straightened up to his full height, eyeing the man with authority. “Step aside, Wyndemere.” The white-haired man did not immediately do so, which meant Halewijn would either have to repeat himself or back down, but Cyra placed a hand on Wyndemere’s shoulder to diffuse the tension building.
“Your father wanted me to wear this,” She advised before revealing her figure, and at the sight of her in the gown, Halewijn’s face contorted into more profound confusion.
“These are not the correct robes. This is the equivalent of a… a… flimsy nightgown.” He spat, and the disbelief in his tone did not go unnoticed. However, Cyra shrugged her shoulders at the remark attempting to downplay the severity of her exposure, though she knew the possibility of being somewhat compromised by the fake priestess robes.
“There’s nothing to be done now. We should go. I’m sure the guests are getting antsy.” Taking Halewijn’s hand, she silently led him out of the stables, Mirabel and Wyndemere timidly following behind at a distance.
The ambrosia was thick on Cyra’s tongue as she swallowed the bitter, stinging liquid.
“All of it,” Mirabel hissed beside her, and Cyra tilted the cup back, even more, the amber liquid dribbling down the sides of her mouth in little rivers. When she finished, Mirabel took the cup out of her hands and pushed it into a waiting servant’s palm. Omar stood in front of the crowd, orating the story of the battle between gods and men on the Plains of Ghiana. A warmth rushed down Cyra’s spine, and she shuddered as a fuzziness clouded the edges of her vision. With a gentle pat, the lady-in-waiting left her to stand with the white ox, staring at the scythe with trepidation.
“For humanity’s wickedness, the gods demanded a sacrifice for their sustained survival,” Omar read aloud at the podium, right in front of Cyra and the ox. “So every spring, we sacrifice an unblemished ox to the gods so that they might send the rains to water our crops and bring us food.”
Cyra stood to the right side of the bovine, who was undoubtedly unaware that it would be meeting its end soon enough. Cyra touched the ox’s head with a shaking hand and smoothed it down its back; deep down, she felt like the ox, and perhaps that is why she pet it with such fondness now. The large tub beneath its neck would hold the blood, but she wondered how much of the blood would actually make it into the tub. She wasn’t skilled in the art of slitting throats. Not yet.
Inhaling deeply, she closed her eyes for a brief moment, feeling the ambrosia sit in her empty stomach. A slight tremor worked its way up from her ankles to the top of her head, the feeling of fingers crawling up her body unmistakable as Omar droned on.
“The blood of the ox will pay for the bloodshed human-kind brought to the Plains of Ghiana, and the meat from the animal will feed all who are present for the feast.” Cyra hefted the scythe in her right hand, prepared for Omar to speak the words, and command her to kill the ox with a swift blow, terrified and unsure. “And we thank the Gods,” The High King emphasized with a thump of his fist on the stand. “for the bountiful blessings they will give us in this new year. Så være det.”
So be it.
Without any second thoughts and in one swift movement, Cyra cut the ox across its throat. Blood splattered across her waist and feet as the ox gave its last strangled gasps for air, bucking weakly but being held from behind by the male attendants assigned for this matter. Cyra backed away from the dying beast, almost tripping over herself while dropping the scythe to the ground in horror. The sounds, smells, bloody feeling between her toes and fingers… the fact that she had cut it open without even thinking at all terrifying her.
She looked up at Omar, who said nothing as the ox’s blood emptied out into the tub. The beast collapsed to its knees, finally dying, dropping its head into the bucket with one last exhale. Cyra didn’t even realize she had almost backed entirely out of the tent until she felt a pair of spindly hands on her shoulders.
“Finish this,” Armantha hissed into her right ear, almost scaring Cyra to death, but the push Armantha gave her propelled her to where the dead oxen lay. The tremors returned with a ferocity Cyra could not explain - and her mind screamed at her to run away - but as she stared at her reflection in the oxblood, she found her feet unwilling to move. Curiosity gnawed her synapses, and a voice croaked softly,
“Blood, I need blood.”
A male attendant hurried to Omar’s side to whisper some information to him in a harsh tone, but Omar waved him off. “Then pour it over her, Pythias. I don’t care.” He hissed back, and the male attendant scrambled back over to the tub of oxblood. A feeling of dread washed over Cyra as the two attendants hoisted the blood bath up and, as one, poured the thick liquid over her head and shoulders. A hard shock almost bowled Cyra over and to her knees, but the veil of red and gasps of the crowd seemed to stretch into endless time as she remained unmoved.
In that expanse of time, things slowed down. Mouths remained agape. Omar’s smile spread slowly. Armantha turned her head without haste. The blood seemed to stop flowing in mid-air, but Cyra felt it all running down her back, in her hair, down her breasts, as if oils were poured onto her naked body.
In the slowing of time, the voice in her head spoke again, but much more clearly this time.
“My goodness, what a mess this blood makes every time.”
“Usasis?” Cyra whispered aloud, but no one in the crowd deigned to speak back. Things were still moving at half-speed. But Cyra’s mouth moved naturally, her words unaffected by the warping of time.
“Don’t speak out loud. People will hear you.” The voice chastised, laughing a little. Now that Cyra could truly hear it, it sounded much lighter and more alluring than Usasis had been in her dream. “And didn’t anyone tell you? My name is Ghiana, and I get to have your body as a vessel for the rest of the day.”
“The rest of the day?” Cyra cried out, now even more horrified. “You can’t; today is my wedding day!”
“Oh?” The sound the goddess emitted was filled to the brim with excitement. “Even better! This Ostara is already looking up. Just think of all the fun we’ll have tonight, you, your husband, and I.”
Once Ghiana finished speaking, Cyra’s vision went black, and she tumbled into never-ending darkness, losing all feeling and senses in her body as she was confined to silence in an endless black space.