The Coven

“He will be here soon,” Ama said. She tried to remain calm. I remember that. But her voice had that slight quaver she gets when she’s anxious and excited, and her hands shook with a tremble greater than that inspired by her age as she set out the wine and fruit.

My mother took my hand in hers, her fingers tightening around mine, constricting them. In my memory of that moment, I can hear her heart beating, but I don’t know that I could actually hear it at the time. My memories of those hours are dilated and exaggerated by the excitement and nervousness that all of us felt.

“Blessed be his light,” my aunt said. She is the most devoted out of the four of us. She has even bleached her hair to a golden-white, a harsh contrast from the natural, dark brown that runs in our family. She believes that the brightness brings her closer to him. I don’t understand, and I don’t think my mother or grandmother do, either, but nevertheless, we accept it as a mark of her devotion.

“How do we know he will come?” I asked. It seemed so far-fetched to me, at that time, that he would come to our home, and that he would deign to stoop so low as to visit us and honor us with his presence. Why would he wish to lay with me, of all people?

“He gave his word,” my aunt said fiercely, her eyes turning upon me, suddenly sharp and angry.

“Ysele,” my mother reprimanded. The look she returned to my aunt met my aunt’s sharp gaze, parried it, and reflected its power tenfold. My huffed and left the room.

“I’ll start water for tea, in case our Lord desires something warm.”

My mother massaged my hand. “We must trust that he will come,” she said. “Your aunt believes that the Bright Lord will come because he has given his word, but we don’t have his word. We have the word of another coven.”

Despite Aunt Ysele’s devotion, we are new to this world. My grandmother has long believed of the greatness of Hierosal, the Daylit Ruler. Before my grandfather passed away, she worshipped him in secret. She instilled her love in her children. Yet it was only due to Ysele’s fervor that we found out that there are others who hold faith in the Bright Lord, as well. There are others who believe that it is he who will right our world.

Aunt Ysele met with one of these covens. They must, they claim, keep themselves as secret as possible, or their beliefs — our beliefs — will be met unkindly with force. I understand this, of course. Hierosal, like the other Dragons, is despised by most of humanity. People see only his father in him, ignoring his benevolence in favor of the malevolence of his father.

Hierosal is the Daylit Ruler, the Light of Law, and the Father of Order. He works not for his father’s goals, not for the subjugation and replacement of humankind, but for the furtherance of it. He wishes to strengthen the world by enforcing order upon it. Hierosal himself enacted the Dragon Laws upon himself and his siblings. Without those, humanity would be far too weak to oppose them. We would be raped and murdered by the Dragons. We would have fallen out of existence aeons ago.

I trust in Hierosal, but I don’t trust in the fallibility of humanity. I didn’t trust that these people with whom Aunt Ysele met were truly devoted, as we are. I didn’t trust that they have contact with the Bright Lord. I feared that, instead of Hierosal, those who came through our doors today would be men in service of the city’s nobility, here to murder us in the name of their inferior laws.

I could do nothing but wait. I wore a white robe, which my grandmother had made for me. Propped up by pillows, I lay on white sheets in my bed, with the wine and fruit and cheese on a tray beside it, to please our Lord. I hoped that I was waiting for him, but my hope was overridden and driven downward into the depths of my mind, beneath the fear that I would instead die.

In some ways, this was a relief. I could instead have obsessed over the fact that I was soon to lie with one of the Dragons. I don’t think that I really understood what that meant for me, then. I knew it was a great honor. I knew that I would bear his child.

But did I really know what it would feel like to have his hands upon me? Did I really understand the awe I would feel, looking into a man’s eyes as he held me in his arms and realizing that they weren’t the eyes of a man, but the golden eyes of a dragon?

He did come, that day. The other coven told us the truth. We still don’t know how they contacted him, but they did, and he arrived, by the toll of our clock, precisely on time.

I remember how the house brightened when he entered. I remember how I brightened when he looked at me. I felt a flush burn across my skin. It only intensified when he undressed. But I am getting ahead of myself.

There came a knock at the door. We stiffened, my grandmother, my mother, and I. The look we exchanged told me that they, too, feared it would not be Hierosal on the other side of the door.

“My Lord,” I heard my aunt say, from the other room. I remember hearing her drop down in supplication. She is not a fit woman. To prostrate herself before him, and to stand once more, took and effort to which she is not accustomed.

There came a pause. “Enter, please enter,” Aunt Ysele said. She had almost forgotten one of the Dragon Laws: they may not enter your home without permission. I would have thought that, given his meeting here with us, he would have been able to come in. Yet Ysele restated the invitation before he passed over the threshold.

“I hear you have a gift for me.” It was a man’s voice, one I did not know. My heart fluttered in my chest. His voice was deep and sonorous. It seemed to resonate in my very bones.

“We do, my Lord,” Aunt Ysele said. “She is waiting for you in the bedroom. May I interest you in some tea, or…?”

My Aunt trailed off, her voice replaced by the sound of footsteps approaching. The door to my bedroom was already open, and in moments, he filled the doorway. I bowed by head to him immediately, afraid that I would anger him by staring. He was the most handsome mad I had ever seen: tall enough that his hair nearly met with the top of the door frame, with skin in a shade of peach and expensive clothing cut in the most recent style. His hair was a natural shade of light gold, contrasting sharply with my Aunt’s.

“She is to be mine?” he asked, looking not at me but at my mother and grandmother. They nodded, stunned, as I was, at his impersonal behavior. “You may leave us.”

Ama and Mother left the room. He shut the door behind him, and we were alone together. I was alone with a Dragon, with the Bright Lord Hierosal. I realized that, like my grandmother, I was shaking. I couldn’t bring myself to look at him, so I looked downward, at my hands, where I had folded them in my lap.

Hierosal began to remove his clothing. “I can see that you are nervous,” he said.

I swallowed, trying to find enough moisture in my mouth to speak. “I am.”

“There is no need to fear me,” he said, undoing buttons all the while. “I will not harm you.”

“I know,” I said, though my voice trembled.

“Are you of age to bear a child?” he asked.

I looked up at him, glancing at his face. I looked away again immediately. I wasn’t strong enough, yet, to keep my eyes upon him. “I am. Last year…”

“Good,” Hierosal said. He untied his belt, letting his trousers fall to the ground. He approached the side of the bed. “I must ask, before we begin, whether or not you consent to this.”

“My mother…”

“No,” Hierosal said. He put his hand under my chin, forcing me to look upward. I still didn’t want to look him in the eyes, so I looked past him, at the ceiling. He frowned. “Child, no. Your mother can’t speak on your behalf in this. The Laws forbid it.”

“Yes, my Lord,” I said. “I asked for this. I… I consent.”

He released my chin, and I looked downward, attempting to escape his gaze. I blushed even harder at what I saw, embarrassment prickling across my skin like a thousand hot needles. I had never seen a man without his clothes before.

I will not describe what followed. Afterward, he stood. I watched, my shame dulled by fatigue and disbelief about what had just happened. He walked around the bed with the lithe grace of a predatory cat. From the tray, he took a few slices of fruit and cheese, and a small sip of the wine.

“Thank you for your service,” he said, as he dressed. He eyed me in such a way that I felt the need to draw the sheets further up my chest, until they covered my neck, as well. “Take good care of my child.”

We have no choice, of course. The Laws will force us to care for his child regardless. Even without them, we would give it all the love and care we can possibly afford. I suspect that my child will be more often in the care of Aunt Ysele than myself. That’s okay, I think. This was never about me wanting a child. It was about the three of us wanting to serve the Bright Lord.

I can feel it growing inside me already, though only a few weeks have passed. My grandmother has explained that our Lord’s child will grow much faster than a human child. Within a few months, I will bear one of Hierosal’s kindred, and I will have taken one more step toward making the world a more controlled, lawful place.

Praise be to the Bright Lord. Blessed be his light.

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