As the Priestess’s words pierced the fog of my mind, I realized that, no matter the outcome, my Beloved was blessed. If he returned to me, that blessing would be shared with me and mine. If he did not, then his blessing was to be freed of the bonds of flesh that kept him from being truly one with the Lady. I knew that as his life seeped into the land, that She would take his spirit into her loving embrace. I remembered that the other name for this occasion was the Sacred Marriage. I saw an eagerness, a look of desire come over Aiden’s face. He was ready, for whatever fate the Goddess chose for him. I was satisfied.
And then the speeches, the long-drawn-out goodbyes. My connection with Aiden is such that I can nearly read his thoughts. Indeed, when we are apart, it is as thought we sit in each other’s heads and hearts, thinking, feeling the same. I felt the fire of his passion beginning to rise as each of the villagers touched him, a clasping of hands, a long embrace, kisses gentle or filled with desire. When all had come forth and bestowed their blessings upon him, the crowd fell silent. The Priestess came and took his hand. I still held the other. He was crackling with energy. We began walking into the parched fields. The villagers fell in behind us, quietly humming. Now and then, a phrase would seep into their harmonies: “we love you”, “you honor us”, “we are grateful”, “go in peace”.
My eyes were filled with tears when we reached the place prepared for Aiden. We stood there, my eyes taking in the desolation of the land, the dry and sandy soil, and I knew in that moment that I would give anything, anything! To bring the land to life again. Even my Beloved.
Aiden offered his hands to the Priestess, and the villagers made a circle around us. Mothers and babies and grandmothers and brothers and fathers, all looking at Aiden with hope and longing. They were sad and solemn and beautiful, their faith shining around them like a halo around the entire circle. The Priestess spoke: Aiden, you have carried the energy of He Who Dies and is Reborn for this village for the past year and a day. On this one day, you have shared this honor with he who now replaces you. The Old King and the New King have walked together upon this earth only this one day. Do you have any words for him now?
Conor stepped forward. Aiden gazed at him long before speaking. “There is no greater honor than to serve the tribe, with your very life, if need be. At times you will forget that, as I have, and become caught up in your longing to remain with your loved ones. You may find yourself ashamed of your longing and your fear. Know this: The Lady loves you. In your fear, your shame, your desire, your nobility. You cannot betray Her, in thought or deed, for She knows your deepest heart, and She loves you anyway.”
Conor’s eyes filled with tears. “My brother, my self, I honor you above all people this day. I only hope that I will be as strong as you are when the time comes for me to stand in your place.”
I looked around the circle and saw many weeping, and yet, there was a fervor to the crowd. They could feel now, as I could, the heat moving off Aiden in waves. He was ready. The Priestess brought me forward and I stood in front of my Beloved. His face was as beautiful as I’d ever seen it, shining from within. There were no words for my feelings in that moment, so I simply opened my shields wide for him and let him into my heart. The connection was immediate and intense. We became one for the space of heartbeats, and I nearly swooned with the depth of feeling within him. We understood each other now. He would let me be with him until he could hold the connection no longer. It was all I could ask. One last kiss and I drew back.
We walked silently. Inside, I could feel Aiden, his thoughts still strong and clear. I wanted to hurry, to come to a place where I could be alone and focus on the thin thread that bound us together. When we entered the village, I went straight to our home, leaving the children to play with the other little ones. I sat in the doorway, in front of the fire and stilled myself.
I could feel him, feel the earth under his body, feel him moving against Her, making love. There was a sweet fire in him. He was speaking, quietly, passionately, and my eyes again filled with tears. I had always known that his first love was for the Lady, as was mine, but to hear his words of endearment to Her brought this home to me. I listened as he shared with the Goddess his most sacred treasure, his life-force. I felt the heat rising in my own face. He was moving more quickly now, becoming confused. I recognized this from him. Our lovemaking was often this way, but this was far heightened. The Lady was taking him into Her arms, I could feel that. There was a flash of fire, a brilliant delicious light filled him and me, through him. The connection was broken.
And so I sit here, around the fire with the others, alone with so many of my loved ones. I have sent my spirit wide, but I can find no sign of Aiden. I will not go to the fields, not until the sunrise has come and gone and him not returned. Then and only then will I know his fate. I draw my children close to me, wrapping them in my cloak, taking comfort from the warmth of their small bodies, the innocent trust that lets them sleep easily, no worries. They are hungry. We all are. Perhaps my Beloved has already given our message to the Lady. Perhaps even now, the clouds are gathering rain. We will know in the morning.
This story originally appeared in a different format in The Seed Magazine, 2003.