All things considered, it was a short enough affair. Old man Salix tried his best to keep him off the Temple’s premises, but he was also a citizen of Belacqua, and had to present no matter what. He stood amidst the crowd, straining his neck to see at the best he could, between the streams of confetti and thrown rice, rites from an another time transplanted into this day.
She was beyond beautiful. Lenora walked to the entrance to the Temple, where a large pool had been filled with scalding water. Air was cool enough, even in the middle of spring, for it to cover half of the Temple’s front in rippling vapor. The dress covered most of her body, leaving only her eyes free. He seemed to find a bit of apprehension in them.
Above, three women waited for her: the two old Seers at the sides, and Verna straight in the center, her arms wide and welcoming. That struck him as odd. Surely the wise mother who had escorted them was the one in charge?
But as Lenora reached the Temple’s pool, it was Verna who advanced. She walked on the open pool without even making it ripple. A collective gasp of wonder rose in the air. How much of this ceremony was for Lenora and how much for the blonde Augur? She seemed to revel in their adoration much more than the brunette.
“Rejoice, people of Belacqua!” She said, her voice reaching all the way back as if she was speaking right next to everyone’s ear. As she touched ground once again, she stood right before Lenora. “Rejoice, for you have received a great gift. Wrapped in the veils of sightly matter is the seed of a new future. Today, Augur Karole leaves her seat to Lenora.” She addressed the elderly Vestal. “Do you relinquish your seat?”
“I do,” she replied in a satisfied breath.
“And you, Lenora, do you swear to pledge your blood and your sight to the citizens of Belacqua, until your Eye is blinded or your blood is spilled?”
“Let it then be known: that I am Verna, Augur of Dorsoduro. And I speak on behalf of High Seer Constanza and the Order as a whole as I consecrate you today as Augur of Belacqua.”
She put a kiss upon her brow and began to unrobe her.
At any other moment, seeing a beautiful girl naked might have sent his heart pounding, but this had a completely different feeling, and if anything he winced for what she might be feeling as Verna peeled off the white robe, exposing her fair skin to the sun. Lenora trembled softly, but she managed to keep her limbs straight as Verna pulled her in an embrace and lowered her into the pool, baptizing her with the holy water.
“May your eyes always be keen.” She let her go, but Lenora did not fall. Some unseen force held her. Verna pulled out a white blindfold from her robes and tied it to the back of her head.
When the same unseen force pulled her out, she was the opposite way she had started: with her eyes covered and the rest of her body in full exposure. For the only part that mattered had been hidden. Only the most important one.
The rest went on as usual. Each citizen, in a line, went inside the Temple to receive a vial of water – and though many complained they did not feel the same power as Augur Karole’s water, he did not give an Eerie’s ass about it. All that mattered was how Lenora’s pale faced turned red when she saw him, how she tried to cover her body even as most of it lay below the line of water. She gave him his vial without even looking him in the eyes.
“P-Please accept this blessing,” she said in a wavering voice.
He did with a big smile.
Later on, as the flood of people demanded to receive their own vial (suddenly that it wasn’t the same quality as Karole did not seem to matter so much), he went back to his shed, hung the vial in his spot of precious treasures, and lost three more hours to sit-ups on Salix’s order to make up for wasting the morning like that.
And then it was night-time. As he lay on his bed looking up through the glass (an old pre-war pane of temperate glass Salix had found somewhere), he thought of the last few days, and what it would mean from now in the future. He was only supposed to see her a couple times per year – mostly before winter. The Augur had to live a life separated from everyone else, and that was their purpose in the grand scheme of things, surely not following a poor Venator-in-training like him.
The best thing he could do was to forget about her.
He was trying really hard to forget her.
Looking up at the stars, both the slow and the fast ones, he caught himself each time he thought about her hair. Her eyes. Her smile. The way she blushed. The way she spoke to him. Her voice. The curves of her body hidden by her white robe…
He groaned and turned to his side. Maybe darkness would help him.
That was when something tickled his side.
Honed instincts kicked in and he reached for his knife, pointing it at the unseen threat, aiming at… a red ribbon floating in the night.
He poked at it and the ribbon wrapped around the knife. He looked, amazed, as it pulled him out of his room and out of the shack.
Right in front of a giddy young woman holding the other end of the ribbon, looking at him with big (and uncovered) green eyes.
“Wise Lady?” He bowed his head. “What are you doing out of the Temple?” He whispered, trying to keep his heart from just jumping out of his chest.
“I got a lot of practice at the Monastery,” she replied with a wink. “No need to forget what you learned, don’t you think? Listen, I’m still new here, so… I thought you could show me around? Look, I brought my notes!” She produced a black-bound book and flipped through it. “I bet there’s a lot of fun to be had here! Venexia is so old and stuffy… I can’t even see the stars with all the lamps. Show me the stars!”
And trembling, he took her hand.
“Don’t worry, Verna is covering for me! I owe her a lot. Did I tell you she’s one of my best friends?”
“I… not yet. Maybe…” he was not really thinking straight. He let her hand do the talking. She pulled him away from the shack and towards the forest. It was relatively safe.
And if it wasn’t… she was an Augur. He was a Venator. They could face anything together.
She turned to look at him. Smiling, she reached for his head and pulled away one of his locks.
“Uhm, that was… a bit out of place. Besides, you didn’t even tell me your name yet.”
He raised a hand. The huge Eerie lowered the corpse of the woman from its stalk, until her upside-down wailing mouth was level with his eyes. Her breath was a stench of death and in her ember eyes burned an endless hunger.
“Oooohve,” she yowled with her dead tongue, waggling in her mouth like a dead fish.
Slowly, he pulled away one of her dirty, stained locks.
“That was a bit out of place,” he said. He caressed her cheek, the skin taut like leather. “Oh, my sun and stars. Why can’t you stay dead?”
Her clawed hands reached for him.
And he reached for his knife.
Pic by wuddleAuthor’s Notes: aaaand that’s it for happy times. I enjoyed writing Lenora and a younger Verna. I hope I’ll be able to show more of their happy moments. We’re back to some rougher treatment for the time being. At any rate, thanks again for reading.