tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Rites of Zea

The Rites of Zea

byOnnaDare©

Thylla, an innocent eighteen-year-old farm girl, is called on to perform an important and ancient fertility rite.

*

"Cousin Thylla!" a friendly familiar voice called out from across the market square, "You're here today! I'm so glad to see you. How'd you manage to get away from the farm?"

Thylla's wide, dark green eyes peered over the laden basket of dried fruit she was unloading from the donkey-cart, and recognizing her second-cousin, Zahra, reached her bronzed, work-hardened arms out to her for a hug.

"Zahra!" She whispered in her ear, "Father wanted an extra hand for market. You know how he is - he'd rather visit with his friends than watch the stall himself. My sister's baby is due any day now, and Mother won't leave her side, and everyone else was busy with the late plantings and cultivating, so I volunteered." Thylla held her at arms length, smiling brightly, "It's so good to get away once in awhile. I get so bored at the farm. So much work, and no boys to talk to, unless you count the roosters, my nephews, or my sister's boring husbands!"

"Relatives and roosters don't count, Thylla," Zahra smiled back, "If you ever get a minute away, you should come sit at our stand with me. We've got so much catching up to do! Have you heard about Ahsa? She's betrothed! Can you believe we're just about the last ones left from our clan that aren't promised?" Zahra sighed, "We're old maids at eighteen, Thyll."

"Zahra!" A voice boomed out from across the square, "Get over here -- these rugs won't sell themselves!"

"Yes, Father," Zahra called back, cocking a pretty eyebrow in the direction of the voice, "Come see me, please? I've got some good gossip I'd love to share! And, besides, two girls get the boys attention better than one!"

Zahra scurried away, weaving and dodging through the merry confusion of market day. Thylla went back to her unloading the modest stand, setting the baskets just so, as she tossed her dark golden, glossy waves off her pretty face. Father was off making his rounds, joking and talking with the other men at the market, leaving Thylla blissfully alone on this sunny June morning, the streets alive with the hustle- bustle and the myriad sights and smells of the village market.

"If only I could go to market every day," Thylla mused, "and not have to be locked away at the farm. I should marry a merchant."

Thylla, satisfied with her arrangement, sat back, smiling to the busy shoppers as she took in the scene. There were the wool-dealers, loudly haggling with their customers over the fine, fluffy fleeces, the spice-vendors, guarding their fragrant, exotic wares with a watchful eye, and, most interesting of all, the butchers, with their thick, strongly muscled arms and flirtatious manners, trying to entice the moneyed housewives to purchase their expensively cured sweetmeats.

Their were customers for her stall, of course, ready to drive a hard bargain, but Thylla smiled sweetly and usually got the better of the deal. Her pockets jingled with coins, and the morning passed quickly, so much more quickly than when she was home, tending the fowl or weeding the gardens. Shutting her eyes, she drowsed in the noon-day sun, and loosened her simple white shift off her shoulders, drinking in the warm rays on her skin.

"Excuse me, shop-girl," a low voice snapped her from her drowsy reverie, "Are you the owner here?"

Thylla's eyes opened to a tall, majestically dressed man, his white beard and fine robes gleaming in the bright sun. Did she know him? He looked so... familiar. "No, sir," she replied quickly, "My father is, umm, well, he's here somewhere, if you want to talk to him."

"That's not necessary, for now," the tall man spoke evenly, his eyes searching her, "I can tarry awhile. Would you be so kind as to answer some questions for me?"

"Certainly," Thylla answered, "I'd be happy to show you our wares. We produce all our fruit at our farm from the trees passed down from our..."

"I'm not interested in your fruit, as fine as it may be," he interrupted, and smiled, showing white, even teeth in his lined face, "I'm more interested in you. How old are you, child? Are you betrothed?"

"This is my eighteenth summer," Thylla smiled back shyly, her eyes downcast, "I'm not betrothed. Yet. I mean, I'm sure I will be soon, when we get the money for my dowry. I've got five older sisters...so, my family is a bit...

"Poor?" the tall man laughed, his eyes sparkling, "With six daughters, I can believe your family is in need of coin. Any brothers?"

"No sir," Thylla replied, intrigued by the elegant man's questions, "My older sisters and their husbands live at our farm. We...keep busy."

"Stand up, girl," he commanded quietly, his eyes smiling, "Show yourself. Tell me, what is your name? Turn around, slowly - please, I'd like to judge your carriage, if I may be so bold."

"It's Thylla, sir," she rose obediently, shaking the golden waves from her bare shoulders, as she spun slowly for the stranger, her mind running through the possibilities of this odd request. Was he looking for a bride? For his grandson? Or, dare she say, for him? Or perhaps, was he looking for a servant for his house? And why did he look so familiar?

As if he was reading her thoughts, Thylla heard him say to her back, "Do you know who I am, child?"

"Not really, sir, although," Thylla answered as he turned to face him, slipping up the straps of her shift, "are you a friend of Father's? I think... I've seen you in the village, before."

"Do you keep the gods, Thylla?" He studied her face, noting her high cheekbones and wide eyes fringed by long lashes, "Is...your family religious?"

"Umm, my Mother is," Thylla spoke hesistantly, hoping he'd not trip her up in her fib, "We sacrifice, and try to attend festivals, but, well, there's a lot to keep up with at the farm, and we live so far away..." Her voice trailed off, embarrassed by the question, "I, I mean we, try. We have a shrine to the God of Rain. In our garden," she added hopefully, nodding.

"Then perhaps this will jog your memory," he said, pulling out a priestly amulet of jade and amethyst from under his embroidered robe, "I am Halan, the high priest of Zea. I come with the blessing of the Regent to look for suitable candidates for the enactment of the Ritual of Zea. Surely you're familiar with the rites? You know, it is a great honor to the clan who assists us in this important ritual, don't you?"

"I am sir," Thylla's face reddened, and not from the noon-day sun, "I've... heard of the rites. Zea is one of my... Mother's favorite goddesses. She's very important to farmers like us." That much Thylla knew. The actual rites? Not so much.

"And your Father's name? I'd like to speak with him as soon as possible." Halan smiled, noting her suddenly shy demeanor. "An uspoiled farm girl, close to the earth, she just might make a worthy candidate," he thought warmly as he gazed at her, tall and golden in the bright day, "She seems strong, ripe, and healthy, very likely innocent of men. Although, I don't think I've seen her at the Temple, it would be no matter. Zea would approve."

He continued, his piercing gaze fixing on her, "One last question, Thylla, and you must answer truthfully," Halan's eyes met hers, "Have you known man? At all? Think carefully, child, for this is very important."

"I have never known man. This is the truth," Thylla whispered, wondering why this was asked, unaware of what might be asked of her, "and my Father's name is Wotan, from the clan of the Xoth." Spying him in the distance, she added with a wave, "I see him down at the wine-seller's stand, there. The tall man with brownish hair and the red cloak."

"Thank you, Thylla of Xoth," Halan smiled and took her hand, pressing a coin into it, "You have been most helpful. I look forward to seeing you again, with the goddesses blessing. Peace be on you."

Thylla watched curiously as the tall priest strode off across the square, disappearing into the crowd. Opening her hand, she glanced down, her palm glittering with a gold coin. She turned it over in her hand, marveling at its weight, and what had just transpired. "Is this real?" she mused, the gold coin gleaming in the bright sun, "I wonder what..."

She had lied to Halan, just a bit. She had heard something of the rites, knowing of their importance as a harbinger of good luck for the harvest and beyond into the next years planting. What she wasn't sure of, was exactly what the ritual was -- she'd noticed the girls chosen over the years, proudly walking through the fall markets or at the winter festivals, brown as acorns from the sun, wearing robes of gold and green, their hair adorned with golden ornaments fashioned to look like ripe sheaves of wheat, smiling their secret smiles, seemingly oblivious to the gossip that swirled around them.

Some, a special few, showed ripe, swelling bellies through their rich garments as they strolled through the village, stopping to accept the spoken blessings from the towns-folk. She also knew that very few of these girls ever married, especially the ones who bore the children conceived from the rites, often becoming priestesses of the goddess at the temple of Zea, either by choice, or, because they bore a child out of wedlock, even one who was blessed by the goddess. Not many men were willing to accept them as wives after their service to Zea, despite their high standing in the village.

Thylla furrowed her brow, lost in thought. She had never considered such a fate for herself. All she'd ever wanted was a strong, sweet boy to ask for her hand, take her away from her parents, the farm, the never-ending work and drudgery. She had some idea of what she might be asked to do for the rites -- what farm girl hadn't had ample opportunity to see what animals got up to on a daily basis? And besides, if it wasn't that, how did those chosen girls get those babies? Maybe they got them from Zea. Who knows?

But, as for Thylla, her mother, a pious and controlling woman, kept a tight rein on all her daughter's virtue, keeping them innocently ignorant until their dowries were secured and they were betrothed to boys from good families.

"Thylla! Darling girl!" Thylla looked up to see Father rushing towards her, his arms outstretched. He crushed her to him in an embrace as he whispered in her ear, "Pack up the stall, we're going home! You...I...we... have made us a fortune today!!"

"But it's only past noon," Thylla remarked, puzzled, "And we still have plenty left to sell."

"No need to worry about selling!" He crowed, "I've just made us more coin than we could make in fifty market days! Hurry, girl, I can't wait to tell your mother!"

"What are you talking about, Father?" Thylla's eyes narrowed, "What news?"

"No need to explain now! I'll tell you when we get home," Father grinned broadly, "You'll make us proud -- By the gods, you'll probably make us rich! Now hurry! No back-talk!"

The walk back to the farm was silent, save for the merry whistling of Father as he jingled the fat purse on his belt as they drove the laden donkey cart down the rutted path. Bursting into the modest farm-house, Thylla in tow, Father tossed the money purse on the table, its contents spilling out, and called to the kitchen, "Mother! Come quick! I've got wonderful news!"

"You're back from market already?" Thylla's mother sighed wearily as she stepped from the kitchen. "You couldn't have sold all that fruit that fast..." wiping her hands on her apron, she was taken aback by the sight of the weighty purse and its gold and silver contents glittering on the rough-hewn table.

"Where, in all the gods names, did you get all that money?" She exclaimed, "Did you rob a caravan?"

"I've made us a deal. With the High priest of Zea. For Thylla," he started, his voice rising with excitement, "for..."

"You didn't!" Thylla's mother's face turned white, "Thylla! Go feed the chickens! Now! Leave us!"

Thylla fled the house, hearing Father and Mother's voices rising in anger. She stopped outside the door, straining to hear what was being said. Father was explaining loudly that "She was chosen and it is a great honor to the clan, besides, we had no money for her dowry, anyway!" and Mother was crying about, "The clan be damned! What about dishonor to this house? To my reputation?" and "No man will want her, now!"

Thylla slunk away, crossing the yard to the chicken-coop. Blinking in the afternoon sun, she knew. Her suspicions were right. She was the chosen one. "But chosen for exactly what?" she mused, turning the possibilities over in her head, "For what? For...Zea?"

"Thylla!' she heard her Father call from across the farm yard, "Come in and sit down. We need to talk."

"Yes, Father," Thylla spoke hesitantly as she sat at the table, her mother conspicuously absent from the kitchen, "you needed me?"

"Thylla, you have been blessed with a great honor," Father's voice intoned, "For our clan. For yourself, for this family. You have been selected to represent Zea at the Solstice ritual, and I accepted, as your Father and clan leader. I've been given instructions as how you are to be prepared, and, as your Mother, who should be in charge of these things," he shot a dark look in her direction, "has washed her hands of this, I've left the task to your sister, Aylla."

Rising, he took Thylla's hand in his, his eyes shining, "You'll make our clan proud, promise me, Thylla?"

Thylla, her eyes downcast, whispered shyly, "Yes, Father, you can count on me."

"Good! That's settled. I'm sure your mother will come around, in time," Father smiled warmly, "and Aylla will be taking care of you until the ritual. It's less than a fortnight away."

The next day, Thylla awoke, the sun bright through the window. "I've slept half the morning," she realized groggily, "I'm late with my chores, Mother will be so angry!"

"Good morning, sunshine," she heard her older sister Aylla coming through the door, holding a clean white shift and a glass jar of oil, "I hope you enjoyed your beauty rest. You'll be getting a lot of it," she smiled, sitting down next to Thylla on the bed. "We start on preparations today. Don't worry, nothing strenuous. Actually, you've got a pass on any chores from now on. Come on, we need to get to the spring. We need to bathe you."

Thylla stood naked in the sparkling cool water, Aylla pouring and scrubbing, "There now, your hair is clean," Aylla said, rubbing her dry, " Sit and dry for awhile on that warm rock,." She pointed out a large, flat boulder by the side of the creek, "I'll need to anoint you with the oil, next."

Thylla, shutting her eyes, took in the warm rays of the sun on her bare, damp skin as she dried, her mind reeling with questions. "Perhaps Aylla knows," she thought, "maybe."

"Stand up, Thyll," her sister's voice interrupted, "I need to rub in the oil."

Thylla stood, her breasts proud in the bright sun, her damp hair curving in waves down her back. "Where's my clothes?" she spoke, her eyes darting, "Someone could see me."

"Face the sun, no one will see you, Thyll," Aylla murmured, her hands spreading the fragrant oil over Thylla's back, "They're forbidden. It's just you and me until the ritual. You'll have to eat in your room, and from now until then, only fruit of the earth and grains. No meat," she continued, her voice warm and comforting, "And you'll worship the sun during the noon-day, as much as you can. The browner your skin is, the better the magic, at least that's what they say," she sighed, turning Thylla around to stroke her rounded breasts and stomach, "And you are to meditate on the ritual as you worship the sun, so I'd better tell you...about it. You know the story of Zea, right? Tell me."

"Well, Zea is the goddess of crops, of farms," Thylla blinked against the sun as she turned back towards it, "Zea was a young, struggling goddess, trying to teach her mortals how to grow and cultivate crops, but as she scattered the seeds in the forest-clearings, her plots were over-run with weeds and wildflowers. Because her plots were not very fruitful, it was hard for her to gain worshippers, as most women still clung to the old ways of simply gathering the gifts of the forest-gods where they found them."

She continued, remembering her childhood lessons, "On Solstice day, as she was trying to wrest the weeds and wildflowers from her crops, she saw her brother, Ryll -- the god of war, returning victorious from a battle with a forest-dragon that she had requested he kill for her -- It had been threatening her small band of beloved mortals as they planted and tended their plots in the forest-clearings. Seeing her, he threw down his ax, splitting the earth in a straight row, and, as she greeted him, Zea's plants sprang up magically in the row, bigger and more fruitful than ever before."

"Then, Zea and Ryll joined forces, Ryll splitting the earth in straight rows and sowing the seeds, Zea tending and harvesting the newly-bountiful crops, which was made easier by the neat, planned rows. And that is why men plow and plant the seed, and women cultivate and harvest. The end."

"And when you say Zea and Ryll "joined forces," did you know what they meant?" Aylla's voice was sly, "Did anyone ever tell you how they "joined?"

"No," Thylla answered, her curiosity piqued, "Not really. I figured, they just worked together..." she said, her voice trailing off.

"They "joined," Thyll. Literally." Aylla cooed from behind, her lips close to Thylla's ear, "She was so grateful to him for killing the dragon that she opened her arms and legs to his embrace. He touched her, here. He put his godly member in her." Aylla's fingers, slick with oil, slid over her rounded belly and reached down to slip between Thylla's thighs, parting them. "He planted his seed in her."

"He touched her, like I'm touching you," she purred, her slick fingertips brushing lightly over her mound of damp curls, dipping into her soft folds, "Between your legs. Do you like it?"

Aylla pressed her firm breasts into Thylla's back, her free arm wrapping around her waist, holding her fast, "You'll like the way he touches you -- I'm to show you how much you'll like it. Although I'm not equipped to show you everything," Aylla murmured, her voice low and musical in Thylla's ear.

Thylla, shocked, stiffened against the soft touch of her older sister's fingertips, both aroused and repelled by the feelings they stirred.

"Relax, Thyll," Aylla continued, her voice soft, "That's all for now. Lay down on your back, face the sun, and reflect on the feelings between your legs. You can touch yourself, if you like. I'll be back for you later."

Thylla whirled around, grabbing Aylla's arm, her suspicions confirming, "You mean I'm...I'll...He'll...put his thing in me? That's the ritual? That's it? I'm to know man?"

"Pretty much, Thyll," Aylla's eyes were bright and sly, "The warrior representing Ryll is chosen for his valor...and virility, and usually, his clan status - just like you were chosen for your youth and innocence. The more pleasure he gives you, the better the omen. And if he gives you a child, well, you know how much that means for the harvest - and beyond."

Aylla's voice lowered to a whisper, "Don't worry, Thyll. You'll find that once you know what it's like to...feel pleasure, well, you'll love it. I promise." Aylla's round green eyes sparkled with mirth, "I wouldn't have three babies already if I didn't!"

"And besides, it could be worse," she continued, smiling hopefully into Thylla's wide eyes, "Be thankful you don't have brothers. If one of them was of age, you'd have to perform the ritual... make love... to him."

"And that's why the chosen girls seldom marry." Thylla mused, her eyes narrowing as she watched her sister stride away. "It makes sense, doesn't it?"

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