Chapter V

It had been just after dawn when all the men were roused by a servant of Lord Emon. Gravely, he told them they were to report to the Holy Temple immediately, that the High Priestess had had another vision. At last, the Ritual would commence! As everyone filed in to the vast temple – priestesses and Guardians alike – Wander looked with awe upon the unimaginably high arches and parapets, all made from massive stone blocks. How on earth could men build such a structure? Wander pondered as he followed the other men to stand before the Great Altar, where Lord Emon stood. Beside him sitting on an impressive stone throne was the High Priestess, who looked much more pale than before. With a wave of his hand, the hall grew silent.

"The High Priestess has confirmed the two who will perform the Ritual and bring forth the new life that will unite our people against our enemies. A new era will dawn – that which has plagued us since the beginning, shall finally be defeated." Emon took a step down from the throne, gesturing to Wander and Mono to come forward. "In a sacred marriage that will bind Guardian with Maiden, their joining will produce an heir to this kingdom that will bring forth victory, and finally peace. Wander and Mono, you have been gifted this rare and crucial opportunity to give yourselves to the One Who Knows All. May your bond stay true and holy," Emon bowed his head to them, as did the High Priestess and everyone else present, then joined Mono's hands with Wanders, blessing them.

"Tonight," Emon continued, "we shall feast and celebrate these two in this divine occasion. Let us now prepare."

Mono and Wander stood looking at each other, feeling both astonished and elated; so this was to be their destiny. Fate had brought them together again in the most reverent way. They were to become man and wife…

That afternoon, Wander was called to Lord Emon's chamber to be dressed in his wedding garb, which consisted of a green signet cloak, an owl mask and an intricate, silver wedding band to give to Mono. Emon then led him into the courtyard where one of the stable-hands led out his white horse, on which Wander was to carry Mono to their new quarters after the wedding. Unlike normal weddings though, the Ritual was to be performed the next morning, likely after the two had consummated their marriage. For a young man who had barely passed his rite of passage into manhood, Emon wondered for a moment if he should impart a few words of wisdom before letting him go to the altar.

Wander was startled when the old man placed a hand on his shoulder and said, "Let thy heart move you and thy body follow. Do not burden your conscience with questions, for you both are blessed." A small smile wrought upon Emon's thin lips as he led Wander to his fate.

Meanwhile in Mono's chamber all was abuzz with the preparations for the wedding ceremony. Since the girl was much too small to fit any of the ready-made dresses, the other priestesses-in-training swarmed around her like bees to a flower. Sewing and stitching together a radiant gown of shimmering pale yellow, with sleeves that kissed the floor and a modest train that sparkled like fabled sylph wings. Freshly picked flowers adorned her plaited hair that was made to cascade down her back. Once they were finished, the High Priestess came to her and placed the wedding band of plain gold into her delicate palm.

"Do your duty – as Priestess first, as wife second. Never forget all that I have taught you, nor of the hardships of the future you must face. Be strong, and happiness will be sure to follow." Gently, she stroked Mono's cheek, as would a mother to her daughter. Then, taking her by the arm, she led her back to the Great Altar.

It was evening when the ceremony was finished, and both Wander and Mono grew restless as one after the other they were blessed with good fortune or longevity by the members of the Order. At long last they were greeted simultaneously by the High Priestess and Lord Emon, who blessed them in turn and escorted them to the entrance of the great hall where the festivities had been going on. As Wander took Mono's hand to help her onto Emon's white horse, he caught her eyes for a moment. He swallowed hard and averted his gaze once more, noting the same nervousness reflected in her eyes as he felt fluttering in the pit of his stomach. This night he would truly be made a man.

The path was a long one. As he led the horse by the reins towards the small tower overlooking a magnificent waterfall, he suddenly stopped in his tracks and ran into the thicket. Mono's drooping eyes snapped open and she nervously called out to him but was only met by silence. A moment later, he came bounding excitedly back onto the path towards her, his hands cupped over something.

"See here," Wander said breathlessly, opening his hands over Mono's lap. A firefly hovered over his palms, then flitted up to her face, startling her. Quick as lightning, Wander reached out and grabbed her by the waist to steady her before she fell off the horse. "Whoa there, steady now," he cautioned, his face so close to her chest that his breath caught in his throat. Blushing, she looked away shyly, muttering an almost inaudible 'thank you'. Reaching for the reins once again, they continued their way down the path. It wound down the side of the cliff face towards the waterfall, and after passing through a small forest of evergreens and beeches, the at last saw the tower's entrance.

Helping her dismount at the front door, he tied the white horse to a fence that stood erect along the edge of the courtyard. Then, offering his arm to her, they both entered the tower. On the inside was only a spiral stair that led up to a bedchamber, where a table was set with an appetizing meal awaiting them. The servant ordered to prepare the small but elaborate supper had already gone and they were left to themselves for company. For a moment they both stood there, seeing who would sit down first. Wander decided to make the move, as it was custom for the husband to sit down before his wife. Relieved, Mono followed suit and began to serve his plate and fill his goblet with sweet wine.

She had been carefully trying to hide it, but he noticed her hands tremored slightly as she refilled his goblet. The honeyed wine was making him feel hot and quite irritated at what he did not know. Unthinking he tapped his fingers on the edge of the table impatiently, although he knew they had all night to get to know each other as husband and wife. He stole a glance at Mono while she was busy eating a bit of one of the various desserts. He noticed how she instinctively licked her lips just before taking the smallest of bites into the pastry, her pink tongue gliding ever so gracefully over her full lips, wetting them until they appeared red. How he longed to taste those lips… His gaze traveled down to the creamy white skin of her neck, and then ever so carefully down to catch a glimpse of the soft curve of her breast. So small, so delicate… How would it feel to hold her fragile body in his arms?

"Husband, are you ill?" Mono's voice snapped his attention back to her face, where his eyes met hers. The intensity of her ignorant concern made him hastily tear his eyes away, his heart hammering away in his chest. He shook his head, but only stayed where he sat, deciding to gaze into the fireplace instead. As he willed himself to calm down, he absentmindedly reached for his goblet but missed, knocking it over and spilling its contents to the floor. Instantly Mono rushed to his side and proceeded to take her cloth napkin to wipe up the spilled wine. At the same time, Wander, cursing himself, took his own napkin and started mopping up the wine. In their panic, Wander's arm brushed against Mono's shoulder and they stopped short, their faces mere inches apart. Wander was almost sure she could hear his heartbeat pounding in his chest. A drop of sweat trickled down the side of his neck making him shiver.

It was almost as if his body had been possessed – his hand moved to cup Mono's chin and bravely drew her lips to his. Quivering, he could feel her emotions runs through him as his tongue instinctively parted her lips, delving into her mouth. He was in awe at her complete trust in him as he slowly deepened the kiss, making both of their faces flush. The fire crackled beside them in the hearth, mimicking Wander's tongue as it flicked and wrapped its way around hers. The pleasure it gave them made her moan in his mouth, her body arching into his hesitant caresses. His hands roamed shyly at first, but grew bolder as his body began to ache, demanding more. Breaking the kiss, he scooped her up into his arms and made his way over to the gaily decorated, canopied bed.

As he lay her down he noticed that her eyes seemed to be glazed over, enraptured by their first kiss. With trembling fingers, he loosened the ties on the front of the dress, then pulled off his shirt and sandals. Kneeling down on the stone floor, he bent over her feet and divested her of her thin slippers, gently stroking each foot. The bed creaked under his weight as he crept onto the bed, positioning himself beside her. Despite his fear of his own inexperience, he dipped his head down to her now exposed shoulder, his lips and tongue eliciting a small whimper of pleasure. Suddenly he felt Mono's small hand at the back of his head, her fingers running through his auburn locks. Lovingly he planted kisses down her should to her breasts, where he felt her already stiffened nipples under his needy touch.

Loosening the last of the front laces of her dress, he slowly pulled it down her slender frame, exposing her nakedness to his hungry eyes. Letting it slip over her feet and onto the floor, he gave her body his full attention. With his hands, he played, tweaked and massaged her breasts as his mouth sucked and his tongue teased. Rolling her onto her stomach, he explored her back, hips, buttocks and thighs, trailing light sucking kisses along the inside of her thigh. Never had he even dreamed of such pleasure; of such fierce wanting. His loins throbbed and threatened to burst as Mono's hands ventured to stroke him just he had first discovered the summer she had left his village. Those dark eyes had appeared in his dreams more often than not, making him wake in the morning to quite a messy twist of sheets. Now she wasn't a dream; she was his reality.

Removing his last bit of clothing he positioned himself above her, his strong arms enclosing her in his warmth. They looked into each other's eyes and realized that all of their lives had been leading up to this moment. In his heart, Wander understood for the first time what true love was, and felt that he give up his life to protect Mono's happiness. With one swift movement of his taught hips, they would become as one. Leaning down to kiss her so as to take the edge off the pain of tearing through her virginity, his lips tenderly met hers, as if saying all that he felt. His hips bucked, piercing through the final barrier between them. He could feel her cry out under his kiss and tried to comfort her further by lowering himself down to wait until she was over the shock. Warm blood oozed between them onto the white linen sheets, providing proof of their joining.

Gazing into her teary eyes, he kissed her tears away, slowly moving in and out of her, instantly building up his arousal anew. A fire was pooling between his legs and his powerful hips revved into dizzying pace, making him delirious with desire. Mono felt it too and began to grind with him, making the fire burst into a blinding white heat of ecstasy. Wander's entire body stiffened as she felt him release inside her, and with it a wave of relief and exhaustion.