Excerpt: The Trial of Three
Through her window, Celandine could see the sun shining merrily over green fields and rolling hills, but she was only three chapters into New Interpretations of the Goddess’s Great Speech.
“Celandine, my dear friend. How long will you remain at your books? Don’t you know it’s a beautiful day outside… and you could be spending it with a beautiful woman?” With her short dark curls and acrobat’s figure, Ria looked like a pixie. She could be as mischievous as a pixie, too. She pressed her small breasts against Celandine’s shoulder.
“The goddess commands those who are hers to read her words every day,” Celandine replied calmly.
“Yes, yes. Except you’re not the goddess’s lover, you’re her priestess.”
Celandine turned a page. “Is there really a difference?”
“Today there is. Because a deity can’t take you outside to feel the warm sunlight on your bare breasts. And you can’t punish a deity for distracting you from your studies, can you?” She entangled her fingers in Celandine’s long, magpie-dark hair.
“Do you want to be punished?” Celandine teased.
“If you’re doing the punishing.”
Nodding, she closed her book and placed it back on the stack. “Pick what you want to be punished with, get the picnic blanket, and pour me some tea, perhaps. I’ll meet you outside when I’ve finished reading through my notes.”
Celandine’s cottage was exactly equidistant between the two main villages, but off the main road, hidden by lush, rolling hills. They could be unashamedly naked in the open air.
Celandine finished spreading the blanket out on the lush wildflower-strewn grass and cast an appreciative gaze over her best friend’s body. Ria, never able to sit still, squirmed with anticipation. Like Celandine, she had tan-golden skin and dark hair; but while Celandine’s long ringlets tumbled over her full breasts, her hair was cropped above shoulder-length to highlight her delicate features.
“So,” Celandine said with an idle grin, swinging the paddle Ria had chosen by its strap. “Do you promise that once you’ve been thoroughly chastised, you’ll let me read?”
“Oh, yes,” Ria replied, wide-eyed. She leaned back with her legs spread, toes curling and flexing.
Not bothering with preamble, Celandine swatted her right on her glistening cunt. Ria’s body jerked as she struggled to contain the noises spilling from her mouth. Needing to assuage her own burning desire, Celandine brushed a hand over her nipples before resuming a rhythm of swats on the now whimpering Ria.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Celandine asked teasingly, leaning down to kiss Ria’s smooth stomach.
“Yes,” Ria managed breathlessly. “Will you fuck me? Please? I’ll be good, I promise—wait, Celandine, do you hear footsteps?”
“Excuse me,” a voice called from behind the trees. “This is the cottage of the priestess, Celandine Lyn, is it not?”
“Yes,” Celandine called back. She tugged her dress over her head and hastily pulled back her curls, Ria doing the same. They shoved their discarded underclothes beneath the picnic blanket.
“Is Elanaria here?”
“Yes,” Ria said, trepidation in her voice.
Celandine bit her full lower lip. No one in the village ever used spunky little Ria’s real name—not unless she was in serious trouble. “Ria, what did you do? Please tell me you didn’t egg the blacksmith’s again.”
“I don’t know,” she said faintly.
“Are you both decent? I’d like to tell you this in person, not shout it from behind a tree.”
The woman who hurried towards them was Maritza, a milkmaid from the village. Last spring, Celandine had said healing blessings over one of Maritza’s cows.
“Elanaria Valorine,” Maritza said haltingly, twisting a length of yellow hair ribbon in her trembling hands. “Due to her previous servant being found unsatisfactory… the Countess Forsaken has called you to her service. She wishes you to proceed to Castle Bleak at once.”
Ria’s scream of horror pierced the air. Her knees gave out under her, and she fell to the grass.
“I’m sorry,” Maritza whispered to Celandine, “but someone had to tell her.”
“I’m not angry at you,” Celandine reassured her. “It’s that gods-damned countess… stealing the loveliest maidens of our village and giving them back with all their life and beauty sucked away.”
The Countess often called for the lively young women who’d been the first to dance at a village party or the fastest quilters. When they returned from her service they all wore listless expressions and had dark circles under their eyes. The energy they’d once had had gone from them; it never returned, so far as anyone could tell. Celandine hated it.
“I don’t want to be a shell,” Ria said, fighting back tears. “I’ll never enjoy anything again. Not sex… Not life…”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Maritza asked, wringing her hands.
“Maritza, go into my cottage and make her some tea. Half a teaspoon of the dried lavender, two teaspoons of honey.”
“And you? What will you do?” Maritza asked as she helped the shaken Ria to her feet.
There was only one thing she could do in such a bleak situation. “I’m going to pray.”
Some people thought the voice of the gods would be like booming thunder, like a tree that burned and blossomed all at once. But for Celandine, the goddess had always been a still, small voice in the back of her mind. Like her conscience, only clearer.
She knelt atop the picnic blanket, her palms turned up to the sunlight, and let her eyelids flutter closed. She knew if she focused on her breathing, she would hear that voice inside her.
When it came, it left no doubt about what she needed to do.
“It’ll be all right,” Maritza was saying as Celandine walked into the cottage. “She never keeps women long, and at least you’ll still be alive.”
“Don’t worry, Ria. I have a plan. You’ll face no danger.”
“What is it? Please tell me the Goddess is going to smite that woman!”
“The Goddess has suggested I go in your place.”
With a gasp, Ria flung herself at Celandine and caught her in a hug.