I woke in the ceremonial gown, unsure of where I was. I remembered standing in my place, so either I blacked out, or I'm dead. I realized though that I must have just blacked out, since I was lying on a rather luxurious bed. I heard movement. "Who's there?"
"Why were they trying to sacrifice you?" The voice was male and distinct, and though I had never heard it before, it seemed familiar.
"Who are you?"
"I'd like an answer, first."
I sighed. I was obviously not dead, though I might be dreaming. Fine, I thought, I guess telling him can't hurt anything. "I was a sacrifice to our god."
"I bear a mark. The elders couldn't tell what the mark meant, but it was in the same place as the sacrificial marks, so they figured I was a sacrifice." I looked down and noticed the mark was still there through my gown. "In fact, I still have the mark if you wish to see it."
I heard him move closer. The first part to come into the light was golden-blond hair. I had never seen hair so beautiful. Especially since most of our village is dark haired. He was tall, though not taller than Father, and muscular. He had an air about him that said that he was much more powerful than he looked, like he was underestimated a lot. He looked at me with ice-blue eyes that were threatening to swallow me in their depths. "This is not a mark of sacrifice."
I hadn't even noticed that he had grabbed my shoulders to look at the mark. I snapped back to what was happening and realized his face was a mere few inches from mine. I felt the blush start before I could calm down enough to stop it. "It-it's not?"
"No, it's not. This is a mark of betrothal."
"Mark of Betrothal? Why would I receive that?"
"Maybe your god likes you." Just that statement, and I could tell that mostly, he'd been guarding himself. Guarding his voice and actions, hiding something. That one statement was unguarded, unchecked, and the way he tightened his grip let me know that he was upset with himself for it. "Tell me about your village and god."
He let go of my shoulders, stood straight, and offered his hand. I took it and got off of the bed. The gown was short enough for me to walk in, so I was able to stand and walk on my own. He led me through the room I was in, into a hall, and out to a garden, filled with all sorts of flowers in bloom. "It must be spring here."
"Why do you say that?"
"The flowers are in bloom. It was fall in my village before I found myself here."
"Tell me about your village."
"Well, where to begin? Ah, I know. I come from a village of warriors, though they also farm when there are no wars to fight. They fight for our lord, wherever he sends them, they go. The women stay behind and work the fields when the men are away. Children are taught to fight, to help protect the village. Some girls, every 13 years or so, are born with the mark of sacrifice, which is like my mark, but red." The mark I bore was hard to see, just a little off of my own flesh tone. It was shaped somewhat like the sun, but with eight arrows pointing outwards. "These girls are sacrificed on their 13th year. We take them to the temple, they go in to see our lord's statue, and they never come out. Though many go in after to see what happened, there's nothing to see. The room stands empty."
He was nodding through my explanation, not saying anything. I paused, to see if he wanted to say anything. "I see. Go on."
"Well, sometimes the girl dies prematurely. She may get sick, or decide to kill herself. I don't know where the girls go, and neither do any of the other villagers, so sometimes the girls don't like the idea of the unknown. If this happens, another girl will receive the mark. She's usually older, from about the same year as the previous girl, and is instead sacrificed on her 20th year."
"You do not yet look 20."
"I'm not 20 yet, I'm only 16. The elders were unsure what to do with me, since I bore my mark right after my younger sister was sacrificed, so they decided 16 years would probably do. They couldn't find anything on my mark to find what it meant, so they decided to try for the middle or so. Shall I continue my explanation?"
He nodded, and I heard him mutter a "yes".
"Very well. Where was I? Oh yes. So, when I bore my mark, at the age of 14, they did what they do with every girl with the mark. I was no longer to leave the house until the day of sacrifice, and even then, I had to wear a veil. I could not interact with any man, only my mother and sisters. The elders would come for me on the day of sacrifice, and I would be sent to the temple, the elders following behind me. And that's about all."
"And what did the statue of your god look like?"
"Why? Is that important?"
He looked as if he wished to say something, but couldn't. "Just answer me."
Something in how he said that one statement made me tell him all I could remember. "He was tall, muscular, but slender, somewhat like..."
I stumbled back a bit at the revelation. Here, in front of me, was my god, my Lord Arioch. I quickly bowed. "Forgive me, I did not know."
"Of course you didn't. I didn't want to tell you and frighten you. I want you to be happy."
"Why, my lord?"
"I found you interesting. You were happy to do whatever I told you when you lived in the village. I found I fell in love with you."
"Is that why I have this mark? And what happens to the sacrifices?"
"Yes, it's why you have the mark. And the sacrifices come to work here and be concubines."
"Well, that'll have to stop."
"You don't like that idea?"
"You have my little sister as such."
He blushed. "Oh, well, yes. I suppose that I'll just make them maids and nannies."
I blushed. "Nannies? Oh, well...um..." I was embarrassed. "Very well, my lord."
"No. Don't think you must do what I say. You are to be my equal in this. You will have more power than I, really."
"I make you powerless?"
He looked confused and upset by his confusion. "Yes. And though I don't like it, I like hurting you even less."
"Then let us go." I held my hand to him. "I always felt that helping you helped my people. Let us go and figure this out together."
He took my hand, and we made our preparations.