Night had long since fallen. The secluded meadow was lit only by a ring of tall pillar candles and the moon, which hung fat and low in the sky. Lamora stood within the circle of candles, shivering slightly in a strappy sundress as she waited for the ritual to begin. Across the field her friend and mentor, Diana, smiled her encouragement.
“You’ll be fine!” Diana mouthed.
Easy for you to say, Lamora thought.
Named for a witch, Diana was born a witch, like her mother before her and her mother before her and so on and so forth all the way back to the days when people lived off the land and counted their days by the path the moon cut across the sky. She was what they called a hereditary witch – a rare thing, even in a coven the size of this one.
Lamora reminded herself that most of the people present were just like her, witches by choice rather than birth. Every one of them, even the hereditary witches like Diana, had gone through the same initiation ceremony Lamora now faced. The thought calmed her nerves a little.
A very little.
The coven’s High Priestess spoke, voice rising loud and clear in the still night. Facing North, she began by summoning the element of earth.
Lamora became keenly aware of the grass beneath her feet as the Priestess called the Guardians of the North. She imagined roots growing downward from her, reaching deep into the soil. Like the trees standing tall in the distance, she was both separate and one with the earth.
The Priestess turned, calling on the Guardians of the East to witness their rite. The wind rose in answer, lifting the loose strands of Lamora’s hair from her shoulders. She gave herself over to it, throwing her head back and letting the breeze caress her bare throat like the breath of a lover.
The cool wind swept away her uncertainty, her self-doubt. Lamora filled with confidence when she breathed deeply, drawing the wisdom of the world deep into her body.
Next, the Priestess called out to the Guardians of the South, entreating them to join in their ritual. Even before she spoke, Lamora felt the heat of fire bursting to life in her veins.
All around, the candles flared up; their tiny flames danced impossibly high. The fire in her own blood beckoned to Lamora, calling to her, urging her to dance with the flickering flames. She felt certain that, at that moment, she could walk through fire and not be burned. She was fire.
Lamora found herself turning with the Priestess, calling out wordlessly to the Guardians of the West, beckoning them with her soul.
They answered in a rush of water that swept away all negativity, all fear. Lamora did not fear the wave that crashed into her because she was the wave. She dove into it and allowed herself to be carried away by its purifying tide.
She blinked the world back into focus only to find all the members of the circle staring at her. The Priestess’s gaze was mildly curious, Diana’s openly concerned. Lamora felt a blush creep up her neck; she had never been one who liked attention. Her newfound confidence wavered.
Why did they stare? It took Lamora a moment to realize they were waiting for her. The time for her initiation had come.
The High Priestess held out a hand. Lamora closed her eyes. She out to find a connection with the Elements once more. They rose up in answer, filling her, supporting her, soothing her. Opening her eyes, Lamora took the offered hand and allowed herself to be drawn into the center of the circle. Though she felt every eye upon her, she was no longer afraid.
Lamora drew strength from the elements. She was part of them. They were part of her. The ground beneath her feet steadied her; the cool breeze cleared her mind; the water in her body sustained her; the flames lit her way. She had made her dedication to Mother Earth, become one of Her chosen daughters. The words were just a formality.
Another person stepped forward. Wearing robes of the darkest green and a horned mask that concealed the top half of his face, the coven’s High Priest was the embodiment of the Horned God. Lamora tried to marry this image with the shy, softly spoken librarian she’d met days before and failed. Whatever he was in the ordinary world, here in the circle – in the world of magick and twilight – he was the dark hunter, master over animals, lord of the forest.
She didn’t have to be told to go to him. Lamora couldn’t have stayed away if she wanted to. Like an ancient maiden of yore answering the irresistible call of Pan, Lamora was drawn irresistibly to the Priest.
She barely heard the High Priestess speaking, telling the gathered witches that Lamora would be initiated in accordance to the tradition of their coven, through a symbolic reenactment of The Great Rite. The words seemed to come from an immense distance and held little meaning for Lamora. Her whole being was focused on the man before her.
He held Lamora in place with a gaze so intense it took her breath away. Eyes the color of oak leaves in the summer bore into hers. He looked into her, saw her soul, and through her, into the endless span of time. At that moment, Lamora was more than one untried witch, she was every witch that had stood in her place. More than that, she was the most recent embodiment of the Great Mother that gave birth to them all.
In him, Lamora saw her Consort. In her, he saw the Goddess.
The Priestess’s voice continued.
“Blessed be thy feet, that have brought thee in these ways.”
The Great Rite was supposed to be symbolic. They’d gone over their parts many times: The High Priestess would speak the words and the High Priest would pretend to perform the Fivefold Kiss on Lamora. It was like a well-used play, rehearsed and acted out by countless initiates.
It was supposed to be symbolic.
She’d done her homework. Lamora knew that once – a long, long time ago – The Great Rite was something more powerful than a chaste peck on the cheek. Back when sacrifice rather than pesticides ensured a bountiful harvest, a man and woman would be chosen to unite under the watchful eyes of their tribe. The magick raised through their coupling would benefit all.
Diana had only laughed when, wide eyed, Lamora had repeated this information over coffee the day before. “They haven’t done that since the invention of the wheel,” she’d joked. She swore that she’d never known anyone who hadn’t fought giggles during their initiation.
Lamora didn’t feel like laughing.
Not at all.
She couldn’t describe how she knew, but Lamora knew that night was different. The look in the High Priest’s eyes confirmed her belief. A shiver ran up her spine at the desire she saw there. Tonight, there would be no pretending.
As the Priestess spoke, the Priest sank to his knees. A fine tremor that had nothing to do with nerves started in her limbs as he lowered his head to place a kiss on each of her bare feet. His hands circled her ankles, then slid up beneath her loose summer dress to caress the skin of her calves.
“Bless be thy knees, that shall kneel at the sacred alter.”
The Priestess did not speak alone. When she spoke, she spoke not just with her voice but with the voice of every Priestess that had stood in her place. Her voice rang with the authority of ages.
The Priest placed a kiss on either of Lamora’s knees. She made a sound of disappointment without realizing it. It felt wrong somehow that the fabric of her dress should be between her flesh and his lips. As if sensing her dismay, he looked up, meeting her eyes. He slowly bunched the fabric up in his fists until her knees were bared to the wind.
And his mouth.
“Blessed be thy womb, without which we would not be.”
The wind increased. It picked up the Priestess’s words and carried them around the meadow.
The Priest hiked Lamora’s dress still further. Bare to the waist, the wind blew across her flushed skin, making her shiver. His lips kissed her stomach and traveled lower, stopping just short of the hair that hid her womanhood. Blind to watchful eyes, Lamora found herself wishing that he wouldn’t stop. That he would kiss her lower, that he would put his lips-
“Blessed be thy breasts, formed in beauty.”
The voice of the High Priestess – the voices of every High Priestesses – rose with the wind, joining with the voices of the coven to create a wonderful harmony. Her words did not end when she stopped speaking but, instead, hung in the air, swirling in the currents, blending together in a song as old as time itself.
The High Priest rose to his feet, Lamora’s dress still bunched in his clenched fists at her waist. His eyes met hers and held.
Yes, she thought. They had gone so far beyond symbolic… but she didn’t want it to end. They had not gone nearly far enough.
He lifted the dress above her head and it was gone, tossed aside with the last shreds of her inhibitions. Lamora stood naked before the people who would be her coven.
Any other time, Lamora would have been mortified to have her naked body on display in front of one person, let alone dozens. But not tonight. Tonight, she didn’t care that she could stand to lose five pounds. She didn’t care that she could barely fill a B cup. Tonight, Lamora was more than beautiful.
She was a Goddess.
Lamora felt the fire in his gaze as the Priest looked her up and down. A slow smile spread across his face, beneath the mask of green. Then, he lowered his head.
The earth under her feet rocked as his mouth found her nipple. It was no chaste kiss, but a fierce mating. He drew her nipple into his mouth, sucking and teasing until the little bud was pebble hard before turning his attention to the other one.
When Lamora went weak at the knees, his strong arms were there to catch her and lower her to the soft grass below. Looming over her, haloed by the full moon above, the High Priest seemed a giant – more like the Green Man of the forest than a retiring librarian. He was larger than life. When Lamora opened her legs in welcome to him, she welcomed not just her Priest but all the Priests whose blood flowed through his veins, and all the Gods they served.
Voices danced upon the wind. An age-old chant of sex, power, and magick in a language long forgotten filled the clearing. Lamora did not know whether their voices were real or if she heard them only in her mind, but it didn’t matter. She knew their meaning well.
The High Priest released the cord that held his robe in place, letting it fall in a pool at his feet. Beneath it, he wore only a pair of baggy cargo pants that hung low on his narrow hips. He made short work of them, then it was Lamora’s turn to give him the once-over. What she saw made her wet her lips in eager anticipation.
How does a librarian end up with abs like that? she wondered. Not that her gaze lingered long over his abs. A certain other part of his anatomy required – no, demanded – her attention.
It was no wonder he had been chosen as the representative of the God. If that body couldn’t please a goddess, none could.
He lowered himself over Lamora, settling between her legs. She gasped. Up close, his face seemed to alter the longer she looked at it. One moment it was the face, half concealed behind a mask exquisitely worked in leather, of the High Priest but the next, it was the shining face of a god, bursting with vitality beneath a mask of fresh leaves.
He slipped a hand between her legs and found her wet and ready. His answering smile was so radiant Lamora was afraid her heart would fail.
“Blessed be thy lips, that shall utter the Sacred Names.”
He spoke the final words of The Great Rite along with the High Priestess. His voice – the voice of a thousand thousands – resonated deep within Lamora. It left in her a kind of quivering wildness. Her body a bow strung too tightly, she all but hummed, one touch away from shattering into a million pieces.
The Priest seemed to sense her need. Before the words had even been swallowed up by the now howling wind, he claimed her.
Something snapped inside Lamora. A flood of sensation claimed her, sweeping away all rational thought. It didn’t matter that she was mating with a man she hardly knew, in front of dozens of people. Nothing mattered but the feel of him as he moved against her. Within her.
There were vague shapes in the distance. Leaping, writhing forms danced on the edges of her vision as Lamora tossed her head back and forth in complete abandon. The voices rose in a crescendo and the wind roared as their tempo increased. All this she heard – and the crackle of the candles too, as well as the rush of life giving blood pounding through their veins. They were one, not just with one another but with the world. With everything that had been and was yet to be. They were infinity.
For one blissful moment, they were one. And all.
When completion finally claimed them, the Priest buried himself deep within Lamora and filled her with the seed of the God. And Lamora, crying out His many names, welcomed Him into her womb where He would slumber for some months yet. With that, the howling wind vanished, and the candles winked out as one.
It was late morning when Lamora finally woke. Squinting, she saw that the sun just coming over the tops of the trees that surrounded the meadow. She grumbled to herself and snuggled deeper into her warm pillow – and gasped when that pillow wrapped an arm around her, pulling her closer.
Lamora’s eyes flew open. She saw first a well-defined chest then, as her eyes traveled up, the vibrant green eyes of the High Priest. He smiled down at her.
“Welcome to the coven,” he said by way of greeting.
A million thoughts tried to cross Lamora’s mind in a panicked rush, peppered with wild images of dancing shadows and a mask of oak leaves. Last night… Did she really… With… And…
Her mind suffered some sort of overload at that point because all the thoughts that were fighting for dominance disappeared. They left the instant his warm palm landed possessively on her belly. In that moment, Lamora knew that she could either spend the rest of her life trying to make sense of that night, or she could choose to accept it for what it was: a gift to be cherished.
Her gaze swept the clearing. The rest of the coven – her coven, her new family – were scattered around the large circle. She noticed the grass within the ring of candle stubs was beaten flat, as if a thousand thousand feet had danced upon it.
Lamora sought out Diana. She found her friend sitting cross-legged, sharing a loaf of homemade bread with another woman. They both smiled and lifted their hands in greeting when they saw that Lamora was awake. Diana lifted one finger to her lips as she pointed to another couple sleeping soundly nearby.
The entire coven was there, thirty or so men and women, strewn across the meadow. Some slept still, heedless of the dew that clung to their clothes and, in some cases, bare skin. Others sat up, looking rumpled and a little confused as they rubbed the sleep from their eyes. Lamora’s heart swelled as she looked on them. She realized, maybe for the first time, that she was part of something bigger than herself, something as big as the world.
And as small as the tiny life growing in her belly.
Was there really any choice to be made?
Returning the High Priest’s shy smile, she linked her fingers with his and reached over to pull the discarded green robe over them both.