Rose and Calvin had made their first set of vows and read from the sacred book with the rising of the sun, and they had two more ritual vows to go. That was what a fated couple did when they made a life bond.
They now sat at a table in the dining hall, enjoying breakfast with close family and neighbors, before the next ritual got underway.
"Our mothers are talking,” Rose said, leaning her head on Calvin’s shoulder. “I think they’re trying to come up with the best plan to separate us for the purification vows at noon.”
"They’ll have to pry me away from you."
“Don’t think they won’t,” she said. Her mother was now heading their direction.
"Well, look at my cute, soon-to-be newlyweds," Rose's mother said. She approached with Rose's father in tow, and he was carrying a wide rectangular box with a ribbon on top. "I expected you to look giddier, Cal."
"This wouldn’t be the best time for me to start proclaiming how much I love your daughter. We wouldn't have enough time before the final vow."
“You’ve told us enough about it over the past ten years,” said Rose’s father, placing the box down.
Rose asked, “Dad, what’s that? We’re waiting for tonight after the final ceremony to do gifts.”
“Apparently, it's something for the ceremony, so it’s requested that you open it now," he said.
Rose gently lifted the lid off the box. Calvin opened the note that said, ‘to the happy couple.’
He said, "Someone heard that we’re having a life bond ceremony and bought us purification and ceremony clothes."
"There’s no signature."
"How did they know our sizes?"
A smile came to his face. “The note says they bribed the seamstress’ shop girl for the measurements."
Rose lifted a flowy, light blue purification gown out of the box, and Calvin pulled out the matching outfit meant for him. A middle-aged woman who often brought them pies, came near, eyeing Rose’s gown, and said, “I recognize these. Both of these are made by a very popular seamstress from the city. It’s almost blasphemous that you’d get this wet during the purification vow.”
“I’m sure the designer knew what she was doing," Rose said.
Rose continued to discuss the dresses with the pie lady, until she caught sight of one of the village elders coming toward them. She looked pale and startled. Calvin stood up from the table and rushed to her. He put his hand under the elder's arm and asked, "Are you alright?"
"Come with me," the elder said, gesturing to the couple and her parents. "We have something very important to discuss."
“Is everything alright?” the pie lady asked.
"Don’t worry. I’m sure we can deal with it," Rose said, following the elder into a side room.
As soon as they closed the door, the elder turned to Rose's father. "I realized we ignored something very important. Your great-grandfather was a faery, wasn't he?"
"Yes, why?" her father asked.
The elder said, "Had I realized in time, I would have insisted we'd done the ritual in secret, rather than have a public ceremony. A person with faery blood who has absorbed energy from the spirits is a target for a dark witch. Generations ago someone with fae blood tried to form a life bond, only to be attacked once they were alone. By the time the villagers reached him, he was drained lifeless. He never made it to the spring for his purification vow.”
“Did you catch whoever did it?”
“I was a small child then. I only heard secondhand, but no. People searched, but the witch came and left without us finding a name or a face. There was nothing. There was always the chance this person was keeping tabs on you, hoping you would choose a life bond.”
Rose's mother asked, "Can't they just postpone everything until we can take the right precautions?"
"The ritual has already begun. Stopping now could cause the spirits not to bless their union. If we can complete the ritual, she won’t be in danger anymore.”
"The purification vows would be the easiest step to catch me alone," Rose said, feeling fear build in her.
"You won't be alone. I’ll be there,” Calvin said.
"But you’re not supposed to see me,” Rose replied.
"The ritual doesn't say that I cannot be nearby, or talk to you. As long as I don't look at you, it’ll be fine," he said. "I didn't want to be away from you anyway, so this is a little blessing in the curse."
“We don’t want to cause a panic, so maybe we should keep this quiet,” Rose said. “We need to start getting ready for the next vow anyway. It’s a shame that we were given those beautiful clothes, but they might not be safe.”
“I was the one your gift was brought to first,” The elder said, "I didn’t feel any magic tied to it. I think it came straight from the seamstress."
It raised Rose’s spirits just a little, as they left the room, but then they were immediately greeted by Calvin’s concerned looking parents.
"We know something is wrong. If you need help, let us know," Calvin's father said.
Calvin looked at Rose. She gave a slight nod, so Calvin said, "There’s someone that might want to attack Rose."
Calvin's parents tensed, and his father asked, "Who?"
"We don't know, but the elder says there might be a dark witch waiting to get Rose alone, so she can take her energy," Calvin said. "You know this ritual cannot be stopped, but the next part bans me from seeing her. I’ll stay as close as I can, but it will make it hard for me to protect her."
"We will be with her, so she won’t be alone," his mother said, gesturing to Rose’s mother.
“Thank you,” Rose said, and they took her to prepare for the purification vows.
“You look like a princess,” her mother said, tearing up, as she helped Rose into her dress.
"Please don't cry,” Rose said.
There was a knock at the door and Calvin said, "Before we officially start, can I see you?"
Mercifully, their mothers gave them some time alone before they had to spend hours apart. The two sat embracing on the couch and Rose lost count of the times Calvin told her she looked beautiful. She didn’t even try to count the kisses in between the words. With his hand on her cheek and his lips barely leaving hers, she couldn’t even tell him how good he looked in his own clothes.
"Don’t mess me up too much," she whispered, "You know I have to go.”
He said. "Our fathers are making sure the spring is safe. They’ll leave, but I’ll be right behind you."
He left the room, and their mothers returned to escort her to the spring, with her head covered in a veil and flowers in her hand. They reached the spring, and before their mothers went off so that the ritual could be completed, Calvin said, "Wait. Though I’d want nothing more than for you to go first, it's better if you go after, so that you’re not left vulnerable while I am in the spring."
It made sense. Their mothers made sure that Calvin could pass by without him seeing her, then they went off just far enough to give them privacy, but still be able to return when needed.
Rose stood behind a tree, and listened to Calvin go into the water to begin his vow. He said, "I asked the spirits to grant me the strength to keep my Rose safe, and provide for her a life where she is never left wanting and never has to fear. May I always remain the man that she loves, and may that love never change."
Rose looked down, smiling. Minutes passed, and she heard him call to her. "Rose?"
"Give me a second. You almost made me cry," she said. "I think this might be why we’re supposed to stay apart when we ask for the blessing. It could inspire some things that would prevent us from finishing the ritual in a reasonable time-frame."
She heard him laugh, and he said, “Don’t let your mother hear you talking like that.”
They carefully switched places, and she waded into the cool waist-deep water, to the tiny patch of land in the center. She placed the flowers in the dish before the group of little stone spirit carvings. She leaned back and let herself float on the water's surface. She gazed up at the sky and whispered, "I am one with nature, and I ask your forgiveness for bending the rules. I ask your protection."
The water began to glow. She felt the energy fill her. The very energy that would make that day the most dangerous one of her life. But she wasn’t afraid. She felt the pull that said the spirits were behind her, and even if they hadn’t made their support known, Calvin was waiting for her. She smiled to herself and said, "I ask the spirits to bless me with a happy union. I ask that I always be the support Calvin needs, so that he never has to carry the weight of the world. Let us do everything together, so that we have balance and love each other honestly, for as long as we shall live."
She felt the spirits receive her request and she left the spring, before making her presence known.
"I didn't hear your vow,” Calvin called from behind a tree, as the mothers arrived to escort her back.
"It’s supposed to be a secret conversation with the spirits, you know,” his mother said. He waited out of sight for them the pass, and then followed.
The mothers and a couple other women helped Rose prepare, and Calvin talked to her through the door until he was forced to go make his own preparations. Before he went to wait at the bottom of the stairs for the start of the official ceremony, he said through the door, “This may have been the craziest and most unexpected day of our lives, but it’s one of my happiest. I love you.”
“I love you, too. Now go downstairs. I can’t wait to start.”
His mother went down shortly after to start giving instructions to prepare for the ceremony. Rose’s mother left the room to confirm that Calvin was in position, and the pie lady—who was passing by—stopped and peeked into the open door.
"You look so pretty in that dress," she said. "I’d have a fit if you got this one wet."
"I don't intend to," Rose said. "I just have to make sure I don't get tears on it during the vows."
Rose knelt to smooth a flipped-out hem, and her flower crown fell off. She picked it up, and suddenly, the pie lady's feet came into view. Rose stood and leaned back, before putting the crown back on her head. She looked at the woman in confusion, and said, "The ceremony’s about to start, you should go in."
"Your crown's crooked, dear," she said, with exasperation, reaching toward Rose's head.
Rose gave a small laugh and bent a little. As she was leaning down, her eyes caught the woman's icy expression, and she straightened again, quickly. The ceremony was downstairs. The woman shouldn’t have happened across the room she was in, and her mother would’ve turned her away if she had seen her. Rose said, "Don’t worry, I’ll have my mama do it. She loves these moments."
"I'm right here. It's no problem."
"Don't worry about it. She’ll be back"
"Dear," she said, reaching still.
"Ma'am," Rose said, voice raising, as she stepped back. "It’s alright. Please, go join the celebration."
"Rosy?" she heard her mother calling, as she came in. "Are you alright?"
The pie lady grabbed her arm roughly, and Rose felt as if she was about to pass out. She curled her hand as she fell to the ground, and in a clawing motion, scratched at the woman who had revealed herself to be the dark witch.
The witch reared back and Rose’s mother swung a flower vase into the back of her head, breaking it.
"Cal!" Calvin's mother—who had been on her way back—called, as she tore down a curtain and dropped it over Rose. Rose heard feet stomping and the door banged against the wall.
“The pie lady?!” Calvin exclaimed. Rose could see his shape through the curtain, and he was sent flying when he tried to rush the witch.
The witch came toward her and she rolled on to her knees and started to crawl away. The curtain slipped from over her head, and—to her surprise—the witch shifted, preventing any chance of Calvin seeing her. She said, “Oh no, we can’t have that power going back to the spirits and wasting a decade of my efforts.”
“You watched me grow up. Why are you doing this?”
“There’s no better power than this. I can play the long game for it.”
Rose rocked backward on her knees, preparing to lunge forward and look at Calvin. The witch made a panicked waving gesture that froze Rose in place. The witch asked, angrily, “Are you stupid?”
“I love him regardless of the spirit’s blessing,” Rose said.
She saw a hand grab a shard from the vase, and knew Calvin was about to attack.
“Don’t,” a voice said, and a woman stepped through the door, with what looked like a cane in her leather gloved hand, but she wasn’t using it to walk.
Rose couldn’t tell her age. She could’ve been twenty-five. She could’ve been forty. What Rose did know was that she had magic. It was confirmed, when the woman held out the cane and the dark witch went flying away from her and into a wall.
Rose's heart sank at the fear that another witch had arrived to take her life. To Rose's surprise, the stranger didn't even look at her. She just went to where the witch lay sprawled. She said, "Don't mind us. You have vows to do."
Rose heard Calvin crossing the room, and he said, "Cover your face."
She quickly dropped the curtain further over her face and she was scooped up. She clinched her teeth, concerned about being dropped on the way down the stairs. She could hear the stranger's voice echoing in the stairwell as they went down.
"I have been waiting to see you for a long time. You will pay for your crimes against my family," the stranger said. "I'm going to drain you like you did my brother. You won't live to regret ruining that life bond or trying to ruin this one."
They got down the stairs, and found their fathers coming to their aid, but they jumped out of the way as Calvin came down. Calvin carried Rose over to the alter, by the elder and said, “We need to hurry this along so that the witch can’t get Rose.”
Then Rose felt her energy returning, and tapped his arm so that he would put her down. "You know, I don't think we have to rush too much now. I think it’s taken care of.”
“You’re sure?” She nodded in response, and he started to laugh. Rose asked why. He said, “You are standing on the alter wrapped in a curtain.”
“Well, then, take it off.”
“Not exactly the veil removal at most marriage ceremonies, but it’s memorable,” he said. He pulled the curtain away and his smile faded, as he stared at her. He said, “I feel like I’m seeing you for the first time. Is this the blessing by the spirits?”
“We’re all still standing right here,” the elder said. "I didn't tell you to start your vows.”
“I haven’t even begun my vows,” he said.
They went through the ceremony without further issue, and said their vows with their hands over each other’s hearts. They exchanged energy and they felt a sense of peace settle. They did not think of the stranger again until they saw her standing at the back of the room.
Rose rushed over to her, with Calvin's hand held in hers. The woman's face was stern, but her eyes were kind. Rose asked, "Are you the one that sent the clothes?"
"I am," she said. "I doubt I'm what you expected. You thought I was the dark witch, didn't you?"
"Yes. I'm sorry," Rose said. "But why did you help me?"
"You heard the story of the half-fae whose energy was absorbed?" she said, and Rose nodded. "He was my half-brother. I never knew who had attacked him, but I knew the same witch would come for you. I have been watching over you. I was the one that sent the tip about the witch coming to find you. My maid said it near your elder, so that she would remember and place you in safe keeping."
“The witch’s energy has been dispersed, and I feel the spirits energy returning to balanced levels in you,” she said. “You should be fine now.”
“What are you going to do now that you got rid of the witch?”
“You’re not the only partial fae I watch over,” she said. “This just happened to be a matter I took very personally. If you need me again, I will know. May the spirits bless you.”
The stranger walked out. Calvin turned Rose toward him and placed a kiss on her forehead. He said, “Well, that’s over, but the ritual isn’t truly complete until the clock tolls midnight. I don’t think passing the time will be a problem, since everyone’s been keeping you from me all day.”
“Something tells me there is more to come,” Rose said. “I wonder what other surprises this life bond will bring us.”