As the evenings feasting drew to an end the sense of anticipation was almost palpable. On this night, Goddesses solstice night, the ancient rites would be enacted by all adults of consenting age, as they had been for centuries.
Dragan Constantin felt a cold knot of tension in his belly, and knew he had to get away from here, and quickly. He looked around to make sure he wasn't noticed, then ducked beneath the table as though he'd dropped something there, and under the cloth he went.
A moment later, Hanna saw a large black cat emerge from under the table and streak towards the woodland at the edge of the formal gardens. Excusing herself to her companion, she followed quietly and quickly.
She reached the tree line just in time to see that disconcerting shimmer in the air around him, as if the world had temporarily gone out of focus, that accompanied his transformation. He sensed a presence and spun round to see her standing there, and the tension drained visibly from him, she saw it and was pleased.
She smiled tentatively. "I thought you might like to get away from the - the, er, festivities...." No answer, so she continued, "I got the impression you'd be as relieved as I to be away from other people's ... expectations, this night."
"What did you have in mind, my Lady Elphinstone?" he asked wearily, and warily. "I've no intention of spending Goddess night in a Warded children's crèche."
"O Gods, not that!" she giggled, and her hand flew to cover her mouth as she did. "But I've made a Warded space for myself, further into the woodland here, if you could bear my company." She arched her eyebrow at this, leaving the decision open but daring him to refuse.
Faced with a choice between Warding his bachelor chamber in the Great House against the psychic bombardment of the sexual passions of the entire Family and servants, and a night in the company of his dear friend, he almost panicked and thought to transform and make a run for the House. He shook off the thought with a wry shrug, he would have company tonight after all, and he smiled almost reluctantly as he accepted her invitation. "Lead the way... please."
They walked in companionable silence for a few minutes, on through the woodland. As they moved deeper into the forest the light from the formal gardens grew dimmer, but the light of the full moon found its way through the foliage above so that they were never entirely in darkness.
Hanna paused and, raising her hand in a simple mystic gesture, caused a lantern to light in the branches above their heads, thus revealing a small clearing. The place was familiar to him from his daytime wanderings, but the mixture of lantern and moonlight made for a subtly different sight. The stocky standing stones and plain alter stone were the same however, so he knew it was one of the ancient places of worship consecrated to the Goddess but long fallen into disuse. He was surprised at her choice, but not averse to taking shelter here.
As they walked into the clearing, the psychic feel of the air around him changed immediately. Instead of the anticipation, urgency and rising sexual need, there was a sense of calm and peace. And something else. He felt Hanna's aura in the Warding spell about the place. Nothing so obvious as a scent or a taste, but an intangible sense of being wrapped and rapt by another's presence. He'd had no idea her control of the Power within her had become so finely tuned as to create and support such a Warding.
"Are you comfortable here?"
The question broke his reverie and he turned to face her, answering "Yes", rather absently it must be said, and realised as he said it that it was true. The knot of anxiety had relaxed and loosed its hold on him, without his conscious awareness.
She nodded. "I wasn't sure you would wish for my company tonight of all nights..."
"Well, I did have plans..." he thought of his empty chamber and, as he saw her face fall, wondered how he could maintain a straight face. Then he couldn't any longer, and his face was transformed by a wide bright smile which quickly changed to laughter. She frowned disapprovingly at his teasing annoyed that she had fallen for it, frowned more at the sight of moonlight glinting on one elongated canine tooth as Dragan laughed, then shook her head to clear it of such negative feelings. She wanted to encourage the calming influence of the Warding spell, not spend the evening in arguing.
Hanna turned away and walked around the altar, and as she came around the far end she was hauling a pile of animal hides with her. Dragan's eyebrow rose. And rose again, as she placed a wine flask and two goblets on the alter surface. The surprises just keep coming, he thought.
"We might as well be comfortable," she said by way of explanation, shrugging her shoulder with fake nonchalance, as she poured the wine and held out one full goblet towards him. As he took the goblet from her their fingers brushed. He felt a moment of self-consciousness and realised she felt it too, but by mutual unspoken agreement the event slipped through the fingers of memory like sand, impossible to hold onto, to grasp or focus on. It was a mind-trick aided by the atmosphere created and maintained within the Warding.
They seated themselves on the altar, side by side, each facing toward the opposite side of the clearing. They raised their cups.
"Blessed be," he made a traditional but mercifully short toast. And she answered him in kind, "blessed be."
"In all your preparations," he began, with a teasing grin, "I'm sure you've forgotten we shall need entertainment during this long night..." He reached into an inside pocket of his coat, she wondered what on earth he had in there. "...so I have come prepared myself." He declared, pulling his six-stringed lute from the implausibly small pocket, with aplomb.
Not meeting her eye, for he caught sight of the look of bemused wonder on her face, he held the instrument in his arms and began to tune it, plucking the strings and tightening the keys at the top of the long neck. As he finally stroked from the strings a perfect chord, he looked up. Again, by mutual decision, the emotions held in that shared gaze were sunk in the sea of well-being within the Ward.
So began an evening of prevarication, in which each partner in the lie tried to out do the other in their proofs that their was nothing more than platonic feeling between them. And under the spell of the Ward, they almost came to belief it themselves. It became easy to sing, or tell tales and recite ballads, or simply to look at the stars as they lay side by side on the fur-covered altar, dozing eventually towards sleep.
~ ~ ~ ~
Dragan was woken, although he had not been aware of falling asleep, by a deep regular purring sound. He lay on his back on the altar with his arms folded behind his head as a pillow, and spent some minutes trying to place that familiar and somehow comfortable, comforting sound. He was eventually startled to realise that the sound was made by himself, and that it was the natural feline response to the regular stroking of a small soft hand from his collar bone to his belly. And yet the whole experience had a dream-like quality - was it induced by the psychic shielding of the Ward, or had he drunk too much wine... surely there had been only one flask? His vision seemed blurred at the edges, so that he felt he was entirely focussed on the soft stroking fingers and the chestnut-brown eyes gazing at him from a frame of red-gold hair. Hanna.
The purring ceased as he struggled against the soft-focus cotton-padded dream he floated in. Hanna's eyes and face and hair, Hanna's scantily clad body reclined beside him, but the personality appraising him with some amusement now was so unlike Hanna he was stunned.
The atmosphere within the Ward had subtly altered too, he noticed belatedly. Hanna's aura was still a part of it, but now there was something else mingled with her. A presence full of Power, raw and ancient, preternatural.
The hand placed firmly in the middle of his chest prevented him from rising from the altar as the knot of anxiety tightened again. A woman's hand he should have been able to brush away easily, but this hand was backed by a weight of preternatural Power, which was so much stronger than his own. He lay still, half propped on his elbows, staring warily into this new creature's eyes.
Hanna's head shook languidly, denying his identification.
"I believe you have a gift for me, my lord," said Hanna's voice, she was speaking to him in his own tongue yet as fluently as a native-speaker, no longer having the accent acquired from learning the language late in life. "And in return I will give you something you desire..."
He shook his head, still not understanding even as she moved to sit astride his thighs further pinning him; not wanting to understand, and yet more than anything wanting her to mean what he thought she meant. The smile on Hanna's face broadened, she understood his dilemma.
"Not with Hanna then... but with your Goddess."
He hesitated not long at all. Hanna's left hand was still planted firmly on his chest, while the other now toyed with the lace no longer securing the front of his trousers, where he felt his body responding to her touch.
"Of course," he whispered hoarsely. How did one address a goddess, The Goddess, he wondered, realising that there was now no doubt in his mind that it was She. He decided it was safest to pay due deference to both women. "I'm yours, my lady."
"My lady indeed," she laughed silkily, as she pulled at the lace at his crotch, allowing his manhood to rise to the occasion. "Now let's see what magick this wizard's staff controls." She grinned and winked at him in a most unladylike fashion. He choked back his surprise, his throat suddenly too dry to make any coherent sound.
Then, as she lowered herself onto him slowly, he gave up trying to reason out the situation, and gave in to a passionate lust which threatened to engulf him. When her body's virgin tightness threatened the goddesses experienced ministrations, he helped her, raising his hips to meet her, touching and stroking her body, arousing her to pleasures never before experienced. Perhaps not experienced even now, the thought occurred to him for a sad moment that Hanna might have no part of this pleasure in the end, but the thought passed quickly in the heat of passion. He wanted to share this with Hanna, he realised, and wanted to make sure it was as easy for her as possible. He also thought, with wry pragmatism that it would be Hanna he would wake up with tomorrow, not his goddess.
The rhythm of their passion was speeding towards climax when a sudden faltering, shocked him from his lustful reverie. The physical connection remained, he was still inside her, just. He bit back a moan of frustration, bit so hard he drew blood. And in that moment realised that the Goddess was gone, Hanna had returned to him. He was relieved and horrified. Her eyes were wide, she drew deep ragged breaths, forced her eyes to focus on Dragan as he lay beneath her holding his breath now in shock. She moaned as passion, frustration and consternation all warred within her. And then the moment passed, and the rhythm of their passion was resumed, harder and faster now.
And when the climax came, he felt his mind open to her and hers to him so that for a few bitter-sweet moments each was fully aware of the other. One body, one mind, one soul, fused together in mystic union. He felt her triumph and her pain, the maelstrom of her emotions crash into him and break over him like a huge and terrifying tidal wave. And he knew that she felt the same from him.
Then it was over, in the blink of an eye. The cool night breeze whispered about them once more, bringing with it distant sounds of revelling. He held her close as the last weakening shudders of release wracked both their bodies. Then they separated, lying side by side, their limbs still intertwined. The heightened emotions and physical sensations gave way gradually to exhaustion. And as the comforting mental touch of the Ward reasserted itself, their breathing slowed, and finally they slept.