This is an entry in the 2011 Literotica Halloween Contest.
This story is fantasy, set in a world of magic.
The muted light of an autumn morning filtered through the window as Danica pulled out one of her heavier red robes from a trunk at the foot of her bed. The floorboards were chill beneath her bare feet, and her nipples pressed against her blouse, still protesting the shock of leaving a warm bed.
She stayed well out of sight of the window, knowing that the farmhands would already be hard at work, despite the lean harvest. An unusually dry growing season meant that this would be an unpleasant and hungry winter for many. The Harvest Festival, always a high point of the season, already appeared as though it wouldn't happen this year. People were simply too depressed about what was to come, and unwilling to splurge in celebration what might be needed for survival.
Danica wrapped her robe around her and breathed a sigh of relief as it warmed. She hooked the buttons, tied the belt, and then selected a pair of stockings that would ward off the chill of the long walk to the school, but wouldn't be too warm within the close quarters of the small building. Once she pulled them and her shoes on, she finally felt comfortable for the first time since rising.
Either her hood or the wind would end up reversing most of the effort, but she sat down at the dressing table to brush out her auburn hair anyway. She reached for her brush, which always sat in the same place, and wrinkled her brow in confusion when it wasn't there.
Once, the reason why it wasn't where it was supposed to be would have been easy enough to figure out. Her sister had frequently grabbed whatever was closest at hand, and dropped it wherever she was when she was done with it. Devan had left for Destindale years before, though.
Danica glanced around her dressing table, moved a few things that might have hidden the brush, and let out a frustrated growl when it was nowhere to be found. She pushed back the chair in preparation to dig up one of Devan's old ones from the trunk of her things in the room, but then she spied the elusive brush.
Upon picking it up, she stared curiously at it, wondering how it had ended up on the windowsill. She couldn't recall even touching it since her bath the night before, let alone carrying it anywhere. She shrugged, and returned to the dressing table to finish the task at hand.
The house was quiet when she descended the stairs, which could only mean that Daniel was out with their father in the barn. The sound of humming from the kitchen made her smile, because it meant that her mother was feeling well this morning — something all too rare of late. The smell of coffee and sizzling pork drew her into the kitchen, her stomach rumbling.
"Morning, dear," Danica's mother greeted her, even as she sat down a cup of coffee on the table.
"Good morning," Danica responded, gratefully picking up the cup and letting the steaming brew warm her from within.
"Don't you dare think about running off to school without eating this morning."
"Trust me, Mom, I won't. It smells wonderful."
"Ready, too. I'll fix you up a plate before the menfolk herd in here."
"Thank you, Mom. I'm starving."
A minute later, a plate heaped high with eggs and bacon settled on the table in front of her. "No arguments. You're not eating enough lately. You're too blessed up top to be all skin and bones."
"Yes, Mom," Danica said and rolled her eyes. Her growling stomach was making it impossible to resist, anyway. She decided that she'd just have a light lunch to make up for it.
With her plate clean and her cup empty a short while later, Danica reluctantly pushed her chair back and stood up. After such a filling meal, all she really wanted to do was sit at the table for another hour or two.
Her mother's tone was conversational when she asked, "Have you decided whether you're going to stay on and teach at the school, Danica?"
It was really the last thing she wanted to do. Her sister had set the example, going away to study at a magic school in Destindale. Ever since then, Danica had dreamed of doing the same, though she wanted to go to Freeland. Rumor had it that some of the greatest teachers in the world resided there. The problem was that such grand aspirations required coin she simply didn't have.
Not wanting to ruin her mother's good mood, Danica answered, "For now, at least."
"I'd wager that your handsome young man would like you to stay around."
Danica couldn't help but blush. At some point during the last year, her mother had decided that she was officially a woman. With that decision had come frank and frequent discussions of marriage, sex, and all manner of other topics that Danica hardly felt comfortable talking about with her mother. It did mean that she didn't have to sneak around quite as much as her sister had to at her age, but it still made her skin crawl at times.
She suspected that the discovery she was barren might have influenced her mother's decision to give her more freedom. So far, that was a secret from everyone except the immediate family.
"I don't have a lot of choice right now, anyway," she said, and shrugged.
Her mother came over and reached down to take her hands. "Dear, you don't give yourself enough credit — in anything. You are beautiful. You have your magic. You'll find your place. Just give it time."
"I know, Mom," Danica responded, even though she didn't really believe it. She hugged her mother, and then said, "I need to get going."
"If the menfolk aren't already headed this way, yell at them when you go past the barn."
"I will," Danica said as she left the room and headed for the front door.
Her father, brother, and the farmhands were already on the way toward the house when she left, so Danica simply offered them a wave and continued on her way. A blast of autumn air made one decision easy for her. She shivered and pulled up her hood, her steps quickening toward the tree-lined path to the school, where the wind wouldn't be quite so fierce.
The gale was indeed stifled amongst the trees, but a sense of uneasiness washed over her soon after setting foot on the path. Disturbed by the feeling and still cold, she picked up the pace, her robes swishing and thrumming in the wind. The familiar sight of the school filled her with a sense of relief shortly thereafter. She hurried inside, leaving the cold and the odd sensation behind.
Danica winced at a horribly mispronounced word, as most of the apprentices headed toward the door. "That's enough for today. Keep practicing, and we'll try again tomorrow."
"Okay," the student said as he closed his spellbook, and then went to join his friends filing out the front door.
Danica shook her head and rolled her eyes as the students left. If you would pay attention to what you're trying to learn instead of staring at my boobs, you would have learned this spell by now.
Even the thick robe she wore couldn't really hide her doubly-blessed bosom, as her mother often called her breasts. Though she'd more or less grown used to not making eye contact with any male beyond puberty, it was still irritating.
"Well, Danica, did you have any luck today?"
She turned toward the grey-bearded master of the school and shrugged. "Adina will probably be ready to cast the fireball tomorrow. After that, I won't be of much use in teaching her."
"Danica, Danica," he admonished, and then clucked his tongue. "You have a great deal of knowledge in both magic and life that you can pass on to another young woman. Be confident. It matters not if you're the most powerful in magic. Where you excel, you continue to amaze m e. In those areas where you struggle, you persevere. The best teachers are forever learning, themselves."
The argument was one that she could never win, much the same as disagreeing with her mother, so Danica simply nodded. "Of course, Master." She reached for her enchanted bag of holding, which she'd left hanging on a chair nearby, and found it gone.
A quick glance around the room revealed the bag hanging from a cloak hook, which she knew that she hadn't gone anywhere near all day.
The old master puzzled out what was wrong when she let out a sigh and walked toward her bag. He chuckled and said, "Ah, yes. The mischievous ones are certainly active this year. I am forever finding my things misplaced these last few days. I surely welcome the Harvest Festival, which will see them locked away for another year."
Danica turned toward him with a look of confusion. "You haven't heard? There probably won't be a festival this year, because of the drought."
Somehow, the pale old man turned even whiter, his eyes going wide. "No festival? No, no, this simply will not do."
Slipping her bag over her shoulder, Danica said, "I doubt there's any changing it. Everyone is just too worried about surviving a lean winter to make merry."
"There is far more to it than that, Danica," he said. "Come, I have an important lesson for you that is too long in coming."
Curious and perplexed, Danica followed her master into his private quarters at the rear of the school. As always, she marveled at his library. Though humble by the standards of a wealthy wizard, it was the greatest collection of magical works for miles around.
"Please, sit down," he suggested, and let out a groan as he pulled out a chair for her.
Danica took her seat, and her master walked to the shelves to select a book. He flipped through the pages of the aged tome as he returned, and then stopped when he found what he was looking for.
"The Harvest Festival is no simple celebration, though that is how those who know the truth present it." He laid the book in front of Danica, and then took a seat as well.
Danica studied the yellowed page, which bore the heading, The Ritual of Harvest. To her amazement, she discovered that the traditions always known to her as decoration and fun activities for a party were in truth parts of a ritual spell. Her cheeks warmed when she saw that even the 'secret' tradition of young couples sneaking away to enjoy some private time during the festival was part of the magical ritual.
The master explained as she read through the page. "Long ago, when my grandfather's grandfather was but a babe, the ritual was created, as a barrier against the night.
You know that the night which begins the Harvest Festival is one of great magic — especially dark magic — but the truth is far more disturbing than that. The veil that stands between the worlds of the demons and the dead grows thin that night. In times long ago, it was a night of horror, and of death."
Danica looked away from the book, finding her master's telling far more engaging than the words on the page.
"Those who served the gods of light and those who shunned darker magics found that they could not stem the tide of evil, which grew stronger each year. In a spirit of cooperation never seen before — or since — they put aside their differences for the common good.
Even then, their efforts were not enough. It was only when a witch approached them, having had a vision of their effort, that hope found purchase in the world."
That stunned Danica. While those who worked magic were sometimes mistrusted, those who practiced witchcraft were almost universally persecuted, no matter the nature of their deeds. To have three such disparate and often opposing groups come together was astounding.
"The rituals brought by the white witches and warlocks form the heart of the magic that is the true purpose of the Harvest Festival. It allows those of good heart, though unskilled in magic, to aid the guardians of the veil."
"So, what happens if the festival is cancelled this year?"
"Perhaps little, though I fear that the hordes of the night wait in anticipation, after so long kept from sating their hunger. It is a risk we cannot afford to take. As long and hard as the winter might be, it will be longer and harder still, if the Ritual of the Harvest is not observed."
Having studied with the master since she was young, Danica knew to trust his knowledge without reservation in any matter related to magic. His dire warning was enough to make her stomach go sour. "What can we do?"
The old man scratched his chin and stroked his beard. "Let me speak with some old friends. We could do little alone, but perhaps the spirit of cooperation that once saved us from the encroaching night might yet be reawakened."
He waved a hand in a dismissive gesture, trying to look a little less concerned — and not doing a very good job of it. "For now, just..." His eyes lit up with genuine pleasure as he trailed off. "Oh! I nearly let it slip my mind yet again. Wait right here my dear."
The elderly wizard stood up with a cracking of joints and a quiet groan. "I meant to give this to you some time ago, but I only just completed it. I'm not as young as I used to be." He crossed the well-worn wooden floor for a few steps to his work table, and picked up a small ivory box.
"I gave one of these to your sister just before she left. It is a special gift that I give to those in whom I see great promise. Whether you believe it or not, you are deserving. I would ask that you not speak of it with other students, past or present."
Danica accepted the box, more than a little surprised that the master had given Devan something that her sister didn't brag about. When he gestured for her to open the box, she removed the lid and gasped.
Within rested a ring, set with a translucent blue gem. Though simple in construction, it was nevertheless beautiful. Danica now recalled a similar ring that Devan wore, set with a gem the color of flame.
The master explained, "It is not a great magic, but useful. Once — and only once — this ring will turn away a spell intent upon doing you harm. The ring can also act as a spell vessel."
Danica's mind boggled at the power of the ring. The ability to turn away harmful magic was enough, but the spell vessel enchantment would allow her to cast a spell on the ring, and then release it with a thought a short time later, even if she wasn't wearing the ring at the time.
She knew better than to say that she was undeserving of such a gift, and so slipped it on her finger. "It's beautiful. Thank you."
"Even more beautiful now, I think," he said and then winked, making her blush.
Danica closed the ivory box and slipped it in her bag of holding, though she doubted that she would remove the ring very often. On a whim, feeling giddy from the gift, she leaned in to kiss his cheek.
The old man smiled, color rising into his face. "Tomorrow. We will speak more of the festival then."
That sobered her a little. "Tomorrow. Goodbye, Master."
"Fear not. I have confidence that all will be well. Goodbye."
She couldn't help but admire the ring on her finger as she walked home. As with everything else in her life, she wondered what Jared would think of it. He should be returning from a week-long hunt this evening, and she was eager to see him.
Thoughts about her handsome beau of two years put a little extra spring in her step, and pushed away the dark musings of what the aged wizard had revealed. She hurried home to pick out something pretty to wear for her man.
The wind had mercifully died down during the day, which gave Danica a little hope that her hair wouldn't be a disaster by the time she reached town.
Normally, she would have seen wagons laden with sacks of grain, pumpkins, and squash all along the way as she walked the road to town. That absence and the unusually high winds having stripped the trees of leaves early this year made the walk lonely and gloomy. What she'd learned about the importance of the Harvest Festival didn't help, either. On top of everything else, she felt as if someone was watching her as she walked. It was similar to the feeling she'd experienced the day before, but stronger — more focused.
If not for the promise of seeing Jared after a long week apart, she would have turned around and gone straight back home.
Few people were in the square when she reached town. A few die-hard couples and hopeful teens had left the warmth of their homes, but most had apparently chosen comfort over flirting and courting. Danica saw only a single pumpkin lantern on a porch, with virtually no other signs of the Harvest Festival evident. She couldn't imagine what anyone could do to save the festival at this point, with the traditional beginning only a few days away.
The sight of Jared's house finally cut through the melancholy descending on her to lift her spirits. She stepped over the first step up to the porch out of habit, even though Jared had finally fixed it a month ago. A smile crossed her face as she looked at the bench on the front porch. Before he'd left on his last trip, she'd given him a going away present with her mouth. Though the hour had been late, she'd found the possibility of someone catching them surprisingly exciting. She could still hear his stifled groans as he exploded in her mouth with his father sleeping only a few feet away.
A glance in the window revealed two important things. Jared's bow was hanging from its rack, which meant that he was home. His father's bow was also missing from its place, which meant that he wasn't.
Danica shivered as her nipples stiffened. She had expected Jared's father to be home, and the weather discouraged sneaking away into the woods, something the couple did frequently in warmer weather. The possibility of a much more intimate reunion than she'd expected quickened both her breathing and her steps.
As soon as she opened the door, Danica could hear splashing from the mud porch at the rear of the house. She let out a little moan, knowing what the sound meant, and crept on her tiptoes through the house. She unbuttoned her woolen jacket along the way, and draped it over the back of a chair in the front room. After a quick adjustment of her breasts, well displayed by the low neckline of her blouse, she stepped into the short hallway leading to the mud porch.
A shudder ran through her as she peeked through the doorway. Jared was standing next to the wooden washtub, his head covered by a towel as he dried his hair.
His head was the only thing that was covered up.
The muscles in his chest, made hard by drawing his longbow and hauling deer up into trees to field dress them, rippled as he worked the towel. His cock swung back and forth in the most hypnotic way, making her tingle all over. He turned away just before he whipped the towel off his head, giving her a perfect view of his gorgeous butt. Despite being damp and fresh from the towel, his blonde hair stood up in spikes, looking artfully mussed as it always did.
She was still admiring him with a sultry grin when he turned around and saw her.
"Shit!" he exclaimed as he started from her unexpected appearance.
Danica chuckled as she walked toward him and said, "Sorry. I can't believe you let me sneak up on you like that."
He let out a nervous chuckle as well. "I guess it's a good thing you weren't a bear or a big cat."
With his eyes falling directly into her well-displayed cleavage as he mentioned cats, Danica thought, I know my pussy is hungry for you.
Whatever he planned to say vanished into her needy kiss. Far from the virgin he'd deflowered two years ago, Danica had matured and gained confidence in her sexuality — at least when she was with him. She knew exactly what turned his knees to water, and he knew her body as well as she did.
Jared's hand found her bottom as their tongues danced, and Danica's hands roamed all over his bare, muscular back. She soon needed more, and stepped back to stroke her fingertips over her tightly bound breasts.