#BlogBattle is a monthly one-word writing prompt that I started a few years ago with some writer friends. Well, we’ve reinvented it and brought it back for our writing pleasure and your reading enjoyment!
I hope you’ll find this MOON flash fiction short story both curious and worthwhile. Feel free to comment your thoughts!
The Binding Moon Festival
Once done there was no turning back. Julian knew it, but he glanced at the shimmery blond anyway. Wherever she threw her rock, the one wrapped in her family’s colors and draped around her neck, that’s where he would dive. Every other male of marriageable age gathered along the shore had set his sights on Dorianna. His chances were slim.
There were others, pretty enough, who would suffice and even bring him the esteem he so longed for, but Dorianna’s girth paired with her exquisite pearly skin were a beacon. The moonlight only enhanced her ethereal glow.
His father might finally take pride in him if he won such a wife.
The low rumble of the other young men’s voices nearby broke through Julian’s thoughts, causing a twinge of guilt to twist his gut.
“Can you believe her? Such gall. No one wants her rock,” a short, round boy said.
His companion, average but muscular, raised a brow. “I hear her father cannot stand the shame of her any longer.”
Julian’s gaze traveled to where they stared unashamedly. Ansette.
The first boy grunted a derisive laugh. “Who could? Her gaunt face is just the beginning. Imagine what she looks like under that sagging tarp of a dress.”
They both hooted, making no effort to disguise their conversation.
Julian cringed, having recognized the shunned daughter of the city’s consul magistrate. He caught the flare of Ansette’s nostrils before her chin dropped an inch and her arms wrapped together, thin fingers gripping the iridescent material of her dress. Her own rock lay hidden beneath the folds of her gown. She’d heard every word.
He looked away before she noticed his scrutiny, but it only showed him how the other girls even kept at a distance from her as if her frailty could infect them and ruin their curves from mere proximity.
He looked back to Dorianna, laughing with her friends, all giddy and excited for the Binding Moon Festival to begin. She was an angel, gentle. Soft. Beautiful.
The holy seer raised his antler horn and blew. The shore erupted in excited giggles and the swish of thirty skirts as the young women pressed to the edge, each looking to catch the eye of her favored. Julian watched Dorianna, but in her shadow, Ansette’s slight form distracted his pleasure. He frowned, pushing away a surge of pity.
In a warbling voice, ancient as the cornerstone of the city, the holy seer bellowed. “By all pleasure and to the future of our people, let fly the colors of your house and make your match!”
Several girls kissed the ribbon-wrapped stones after lifting them from their necks and all threw them, the myriad splashes disrupting the moon’s reflection on the water.
Dorianna, a look of mischief on her face, tossed hers out as far as she could. She threw it to the center of the line of girls where most of their rocks made a watery rest. But it was Ansette who overtook Julian’s attention in a surprising second of hope as the fleeting glimpse of it flashed across her face before she melted to the ground, bowing in a repose of prayer.
For what she prayed, he could not know. Maybe that no young man would pull her rock from the depths. Perhaps she asked for the plump beauty of her peers or the love of a forgiving man. No matter what it was, Julian prayed he not pull her stone. His father would never accept him then. If he had not the prestige of a weighty woman displaying the wealth of her family, his precarious place as fourth son would leave him disowned. His father had made it abundantly clear.
Again, the horn rang out in the chill night air. The ladies bowed to the water and stepped back until the path was clear for the young men to barrel into the freezing current.
Julian shook the morose thoughts from his head and shoved his way through the throng of his own peers all vying for the prime rocks. At first, a mass of men shoved to the center where Dorianna’s rock rested. Julian stopped where he thought hers had sunk, but others crowded. Fists flew as they fought for the space, for the chance to dive for her ruby-red ribbon. None other would do.
In the melee, another young man’s fist connected with Julian’s nose, a hard crack and a flash of black rushed across his vision. He staggered, feeling an ooze of warm blood down his cool skin, over his lip, and the metallic taste of blood upon his tongue.
He touched his upper lip and then leaped at the offender. They tussled, Julian’s anger driving him to the unthinkable as he held his opponent’s head below the water. Realizing himself almost too late, he yanked the other young man up and tossed him away, sputtering and coughing.
To Julian’s dismay, many young men already rushed up on shore, rocks wrapped in ribbon gripped tight and smiling young women shyly accepting the hand of their matches.
“No, no, no.” He moaned through gritted teeth as his eyes searched out Dorianna. To his utter relief, she stood without suitor. Her rock hadn’t been retrieved!
He dove below the surface, his hands searching the blackness at the bottom for any sign of cloth. Twice he came back up for air to see more young ladies claimed in the moon festival rights. But Dorianna remained apart, her face a mask of serenity. How he longed for her.
With a slow, deep breath he slipped under again, his fingers grasping onto a ribbon. Even though too dark to see its color under water, his heart he knew it was hers and rejoiced. He burst from the surface, his face lit by a shivering grin as he gripped the sopping ribbon to his chest.
But what he saw as he turned to face the shore sent a burning anger thundering through his chest. The two men who’d mocked Ansette earlier had gone too far. The muscular one, laughing and jeering, shoved her into the shallows of the river’s edge, and the other small man threw her rock at her, hitting her in the shoulder where she wrestled against the current to kneel. She muffled her cry but did nothing to protect herself from their cruelty. The fat boy spit at her and they walked away.
Julian watched her cradle her rock against her shuddering chest. The tumultuous surface of the river hid her tears. He looked at the ribbon he held, its perfect ruby-red sheen under the moonlit night sky, and swallowed the lump in his throat.
He looked to Dorianna on the shore, but it wasn’t him she stared at. It was Ansette. She appeared heartsick, and when she looked back at Julian, recognizing what he held, Dorianna nodded at him as if she could read his mind. She smiled, pressed a plump fist to her chest in salute and walked away, never looking back.
Julian’s fingers relaxed their hold on his prize, and he felt it slip down his shirtfront before making a soft splash into the water. Exhausted beyond the physical, he knelt in the cold water’s flow in front of Ansette and gently wrestled the green ribbon from her grasp, draping it around his own neck.
Their eyes met, and in that moment Julian saw the quiet fierceness of her spirit.
“I prayed,” she said, her voice barely a whisper, “but I only asked to be free of a cruel future. You … are not bound to me.”
Ansette might have been thin, she might not have Dorianna’s soft roundness, but she was no hag. And beyond it all, he saw in the reflected moonlight of her eyes what he had been missing—what everyone had missed—and he felt no regret for his uncertain future.
“No. I choose you. If you will have me.” His heart clenched as a surprising jolt of fear flitted through his mind. “Will you? Choose me?”
Her eyes widened. He held his breath. Her hand pressed to her parted lips, but it was the small nod of her head that sent blood rushing back through his numb limbs. He leaned forward and rested his forehead on hers.
Sooooo … what did you think of this odd place and these customs? Did it remind you of anything? I had a different idea in mind for the month, but I had this strange setting and civilization wandering around in my head, so I shared it instead…at least this time.
There are more, better, and varied moon stories for you at the Blog Battle!