It was summer High Moon and Zeno stood at the Red House. Everyone was out, to see the girls in procession and hoping that one of them would attract one of the Great Ones. People said that Zeno had drawn a Pan for a time when she was a young girl, but she only smiled and shook her head now. It had been a long time ago.
Every girl of breeding age gathered by the sea-stone where an ancient old pier had once reached out into deep water, also long gone.
Naida had hoped that this moon would be her time, her sharing of the glory. She alone, of all the girls of bleeding age wasn’t flowing yet. Another difference. Her fingers ran over the knots of her belt, still pristine white. She’d add another level of knots this moon. It was already long enough to go around her three times and trail both ends below her knees.
Her breasts had begun to ache and smart and itch, though the nubbins they were steadfastly refused to get any bigger after their first swelling. Her nipples were hardened and all the tissue around. She even had hair between her legs already, some of her childhood angularity softening but her body steadfastly refused to bleed.
“Many women who bleed early have horrid cramps,” Zeno had taught them as they all sat around beginning the work on their own Blood Belts at age ten. “If you never have a child then you might have the pain every moon of your flowing life. I suppose the Goddess wishes to encourage us to breed.”
“I wouldn’t want to have the size of cramps that a Goddess would have,” Scaliana had giggled and the boys had rolled their eyes as their fingers worked on their manhood belts.
“No,” Zeno had answered her solemnly as the children had laughed. “You wouldn’t. Volcanoes and other natural disasters rise out of the Maiden’s pain. And if the Mother should lose a Child then we get the kind of disasters that kill whole cities… and countries.”
Everyone had stopped knot weaving and sat, listening to the spring rain on the roof and gave thanks that the Powers were all happy.
Naida leaned over to Zeno and whispered, “is a Companion… a Great One… sometimes a little goat with a gold foot?”
The old woman ran her hand over Naida’s head, having to reach up. “You’re stretching out like a dolphin weed, Nai… I suppose it might. Did you see one?”
“Once. Just for a moment.”
“Hmm. Hush now. Here they come.”
The girls began their song as they linked arms, a slow, sinuous dance up to the Red House, their voices rising into the night sky, flowers around their heads, cascading over their shoulders, feet gliding through the intricate steps. If they attracted a Great One, the whole village would prosper.
A whisper on the wind as Lesser Ones, the Willow-Whisps and Winged Lights and Spiders drifted over the girls, then the more solid, earthy brownies, fawns and cool shiver of Crowned serpents. They tasted the young women’s scents on the wind, flickered brightly over them and sank away into the darkness under the eaves and the trees. No one was chosen, even by the house spirits this month.
The village sighed then and the older women joined in with the girls, singing. Another moon with only their own spirits and will to manifest on the world. Then Naida’s skin prickled as all the hair stood up on the back of her neck.
The world went strange and green and gold, the flickering of fireflies suddenly held meaning where before they were meaningless. The olive grove seemed to breathe in, the sweet, luscious smell of thyme thickets and rosemary and lavender wrapped themselves around Naida and she realized it was all focused on Zeno.
The woman raised her hands to the blazing slash of red across the milk road of stars and the beltlight turned her into a rose quartz statue in the dark. The sharp tones of flutes and the girls singing faded as the wind roiled off the sea, breathing of salt and iodine and fish and out of the pines came the wild, sharp scent of broken needles and the faint, hollow boom of a grand and cloven hoof.
She slashed her hand for Naida to be quiet and darkness coalesced into a statue of molten gold and shadows, flanks gleaming with fur, his cloven hooves deliberately pacing along the road toward Zeno. His horns shone silver as starlight and his eyes were one moment dark and the next bright, bright spring green. His penis rose proud and jutted out with lust and life, the smile on his face both innocent and knowing.
Naida clapped her hands over her mouth as he stepped up to Zeno and bent – oh, He’s TALL – and gently set his lips against the priestess’s forehead.
Her hands fluttered over his horns and his cheeks like butterflies landing, not daring to touch firmly, only longing. Then he was gone in a swirl of pollen and starlight and dreams. The wind out of the pines subsided, slowly, letting the thick domestic flowers blanket the air once more.
“You saw.” Zeno said, voice husky.
“Yes, priestess,” Naida whispered.
“I haven’t seen Him in years,” Zeno said, with tears in her voice, trailing like silver drops down her cheeks. “I miss Him.” She wiped her eyes with fierce fingers. “You’re close to flowing, girl. Don’t worry about it.”
The night rushed back in around them as though they’d fallen through a bubble of silence and now burst out the other side, just as the girls in their white tunics and red belts, danced up to them.
The real world looked like a flat, painted picture to Naida, the flower wreaths thinly made and wilting, the young voices untrained and untrue. It took a moment before the beauty she’d felt and seen overwhelmed the tawdry feeling and she was able to smile and sing the flowing girls into the Red House for yet another month, while she was left outside.
I don’t need them if the Flow gives me that, she thought, her hands shaking a little as she caught a whiff of pine and musk, male and wild cutting through the flowers. I can wait for that.