This story is by Lunaire and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“My people will die, Jarilo!”
“I love you, Morana. I can’t lose you like this. I won’t let them kill you!” Jarilo fell to his knees, crying. “Why can’t they wait for the next Starbringer?”
“Nine Cycles is too much time. My people could be dead by then. There is no other way.”
Her last words echoed in her mind. With them, the soul-crushing weight of her responsibility came crashing down on her already weakened heart. Morana felt her knees disappear. She collapsed into the ground before him. “I’m scared, Jarilo…” She sobbed.
Morana knew there was no way to avoid her fate. She belonged to a long bloodline of powerful women, chosen by the Higher Ones to uphold the sacred balance that made life possible in all of the nine Realms.
“Tonight you will meet your mate, my starling daughter.” Mother said.
Morana sighed in resigned despair while mother finished her dress. She had made a white, crystal beaded, rather revealing bridal gown. It was a wonderful creation.
Morana looked upon it with dread. She knew the moment it touched her naked skin, she would turn into the embodiment of lust for the pleasure of an unknown male, to whom she would have to give her most guarded secret.
“Mother, did it not feel like rape to you? Why can’t I choose my mate?”
“Because then we would not be Starchildren. Our powers would wane and disappear. Our race would perish. Our mates are chosen for us by our Elders because, in their divine wisdom, they can see—“
“The invisible silver thread that connects one soul to another, ensuring a proper bind and thus opening a safe path for a Star to descend and incarnate. I know, mother.” Morana replied in monotone.
The kettle started whistling and mother hurried to the hearth. The smell made Morana’s head spin.
“Here baby, drink this. It will help you relax.”
She took the small, warm cup in her trembling hands and sipped.
Images of Jarilo filled her mind.
They sat under the Grand Tree down by the meadow, enjoying the cool afternoon breeze. Sitting close behind her, Jarilo reached out and pulled on her braided hair. Morana leaned back, savoring an eyeful of orange and yellow leaved sky.
With a swift move, Jarilo blocked her view and before she could respond, his sweet full lips covered hers in a deep, lingering kiss. A strong rush of wind made dozens of leaves tumble and fall around them.
“I love you…” He whispered.
Her heart drowned in grief. An endless abyss settled in the middle of her chest, breaking her down to silent, heavy tears. She felt the fire within her dying, building a column of black smoke that blinded her vision until blackness was all that remained…
Jarilo stayed by the Grand Tree long after Morana had left. The sun had already dusked away, leaving him alone in the dark. He paced back and forth, trying to find a way to save his beloved from her horrible fate…
And then it came to him. He ran down the path to the Elder Village, convinced that he would make them stop the ritual. He would show them how mistaken they were. He loved Morana. They could not take her away from him.
Silence fell around him. Even crickets stopped singing. He stopped running. All his senses spiked awake. A low rustle of leaves came from behind him. Jarilo turned to scan the area.
A loud thud sent him limp into the ground. His vision blurred.
Shadowed figures closed in, blackening his sight…
Morana opened her mind’s eye to the muffled sound of a heartbeat. It was not until she opened her eyes that she realized it was the sound of the drums that announced her arrival.
It was a dark and cold autumn night. The bonfire’s glow sparkled off the orange and yellow trees that surrounded the clearing. Morana felt like she was entering a dream.
Every man bowed as she passed by. The women knelt, lifting their breasts to the full moon in humble offering. Their hypnotic chants filled the air.
As she came closer to the ritual fire, she noticed a horned figure dancing around it.
Her stomach clenched in fear. She wanted to run away, to escape into the swallowing darkness of the forest.
Morana was lowered to the ground. The hooded figures bowed and extended their invisible hands. She stared at their shadowed limbs for a brief moment. Placing her arms upon them, she slowly rose to her feet. She stood tall and strong, concealing and trying to control the overwhelming fear.
As the horned god drew nearer, a sweet, bewitching tune rose above the incessant chanting.
The faun bowed before her. A sudden warmth took hold of her body. Still low, he offered his hand to her. Morana took it and reciprocated the greeting. She bowed low.
Morana lifted her gaze, looking up at the faun’s face. She recognized those full, inviting lips.
The faun, enjoying her sudden shock, smiled. He pulled her back on her feet.
His sweet, familiar scent filled the air around her. They danced around the fire. Her gown sparkled with the light of a thousand suns. Morana smiled.
It was her darling Jarilo.