Returning to my lodge I spent an age just staring at my reflection in the mirror-stone above the mantle in my room. I thought about my mother, how I was starting to look a lot like her, and I thought of my father and how terribly alone he would be if the Amphis refused to gift me with its magic. I pictured him, standing over twin graves laying flowers for my mother, baby sister and I.
Feeling tears threaten behind my lashes, I pushed them back down and forced myself to go and get dressed in the scratchy ceremonial garb that the village tailor had delivered to our lodge just that morning. The wool dress felt terribly itchy against my skin and I was half tempted to put my usual leather tunic on underneath it. I decided to put up with the discomfort though just in case the Amphis somehow worked out what I’d done and took it as a mark of disrespect against the Goddess.
Steeling my nerves, I took one last look around the lodge, wondering if I would ever stand within its walls again, and then walked out the door into the waning evening sunlight.
The feast was plentiful in food and drink, if not in genuine merriment.
I was never quite sure why we insisted on holding this feast just before the ceremony? It wasn’t like the food and wine would make any of us forget the terrible ordeal that we, our family, and friends would all inevitably have to watch each other face or face ourselves once our time came due.
If anything it seemed a waste of the countless hours of hunting, gathering and preparing which went into providing the overflowing bounty now spread out in front of me. Then again, I suppose that providing the feast afterwards wasn’t really a good idea either.
I ate mechanically, the food falling like lead into the pit of my stomach. Barely tasting a bite of what might prove my last meal on this side of the veil, I watched the other members of the tribe talking solemnly amongst themselves as the light began to dim.
Shari and her family were all absent, just as she had told me they would be, but my gaze finally fell on Solen and his father, who sat about halfway down the long trestle table which had been set up to make room for the whole tribe.
Solen’s mother, like my own, had died in childbirth several winters ago. Solen had been ten at the time but for reasons known only to himself, he had always kept himself separate to the rest of us. He spent most of his days off in the woods nearby the village, and it had been no surprise, to me at least, when my father had assigned him to the hunters rather than to study the healing arts under his father’s tutelage. Solen had one sister Damphe who was a couple of years older than him, and she had already filled the role of apprentice healer with a focus and enthusiasm far beyond her years, even more so since she had received the gift of being able to speed up healing.
I still remember Damphe’s ceremony day.