[Note: This chapter is sexually explicit and contains a brief mention of CSA]
To conduct one’s own wedding is strange indeed, but what else is left when the last witch takes a man?
We hanged three horses that day, not old nags this time, but three fine stallions. One was for Tyvaz Atta, the great law-giver who oversees all contracts. One was for Freda, All-Mother, who sees all acts of love. And the third, the third was for Godan, God of All Gods, he who looks ahead to read the fates of men.
And we lit great fires, and when the three steeds were quite dead we cut them down and butchered them and roasted their flesh for our feast. We found a few pots of mead amongst our stores, and Behrouz gifted us with barrels of wine and skins of koumis, and we made to have a mighty celebration.
I did not wear my mother’s dress that night, but rather a short string skirt, and I walked bare-chested, holding my ashen staff high and wearing my leather cap with the stag’s antlers. I colored my face with the blood of the dead horses, and as I approached the rude altar we’d fashioned in the back of one of the wains, I threw my head back and howled like a wolf and cried out, “Hai, hai! Make way for him! Make way for Athulf, son of Theodulf, king of Cimmeria, king of the Goths!”
And my love did look the part. He walked up girt for war, wearing his hauberk of steel rings polished to a mirror sheen, a great crested helm on his head, a sword at his waist. When he came near to me, he removed the helm to show off his long hair and his great beard, not wild but neatly combed and braided, and he picked me up as one might pick up a child, and he spun around with me, and he bellowed, “This is the only child of Roderik, son of Wulfrik! This is a princess, the very blood of Ermanerik great and terrible! This is my woman! This is my bride!”
The folk about us cheered, and he put me down, and I took up a horn full of good wine and offered it to him, saying, “Take this drink, dear heart, as a token of my good will and everlasting devotion.”
He drank deeply, and I drank after him, declaring, “By this gift are our houses joined. I will be ever an honor to your household and a comfort to your bed, so long as our bond lasts.”
He unsheathed his sword, then, and stuck it into the earth, and he knelt down before me, taking from his belt a long, cruel knife, his own knife and a possession highly prized, and he offered its handle to me and said, “Let this blade be a token of my devotion, for by steel or by wit or by the strength of my arm, in living or dying, I will ever cherish you and ever keep you safe.”
I took the knife, and I knelt down with him, and we put our hands together over the pommel of his great sword, and I said, “Athulf, son of Theodulf, by my honor and by my mother’s bones I swear to be your wife, to honor and to comfort you for all time.”
And he said, “Alarica, daughter of Roderik, by my honor and by my father’s bones I swear to be your husband, to honor and protect and cherish you for all time.”
And I, tears in my eyes, said, “Then so it is. Before all those here assembled, before the ghosts of our forebears, before the gods in the Eternal Blue Sky and all the devils in Hell, I declare our houses joined.”
We rose to our feet then, hand in hand, and the folk about us cheered, and Athulf took me in his arms and lifted me up again, showering me with kisses, and declared, “Now, let us feast! Let us drink!”
And so we did. Folk rushed up to us and thrust horns of ale and bowls of wine into our hands, and we drank, hailing to their good health and to our fortune. Nearby, over the din of the crowd, I heard someone singing in a tongue I did not speak, and I recognized it as Devjeet’s voice. Pushing through the crowd to an open spot nearer to her, I danced in time to her singing, and the assembled stomped and clapped in time to my dancing, and Athulf, bellowing laughter, declared, “Look at her! Look at my wife! Is she not beautiful?”
I wept for joy as I danced.
When I lost my breath and my head started to swim—which happened quickly, with all the wine I’d been handed—I went back to Athulf, where he, Rigtur, Devjeet, and a few of our fighting men had sat down beside one of the wains, and—save for Dev—gnawed on helpings of horseflesh that were being passed around. I sat with them, at Athulf’s right side, and took an offered portion of meat and jug of wine, and I ate and I drank.
“Why do you not eat, sister?” I asked of Dev. “There is plenty!”
“I eat no flesh,” she said, in a tone that made it clear there’d be no argument, so I went on:
“This was a short ceremony, and informal; a proper Gothic wedding should be far more grand. But these are hardly proper times or circumstances.”
“I thought it was lovely. Your Athulf is a lucky man, indeed.”
“Oh, I’m the lucky one,” I said, and I embraced Athulf and spoke, mingling my Greek and Gothic that all might understand, and I said, “This is Athulf, the strongest, the bravest in all Gothia, in all the world! Slav and Balt and Roman and Bulgar live in terror of his sword, for this man is Armann and Fritigern and very Ermanerik born anew! And he is mine! The strongest, the bravest, the biggest.”
“Biggest?” Dev asked, and I, my head silly with wine, grabbed his thigh and grinned, and I told her, “Aye, like a very beast.”
She chuckled. “You look forward to an eventful wedding night, then?”
“Oh, aye,” I said, taking another few gulps of wine. “Athulf, see, in our tongue means noble wolf, and well does he earn that name. Aye, when we finish here I expect to be thrown down onto my belly and ridden like a very she-wolf in heat, and I tell you that you’ve not known love-making until you’ve been spiked up the arse by Athulf, son of Theodulf.”
Dev laughed, then, and though Athulf could not quite ken our speech he gathered what it was about. Laughing himself, he kissed me and asked, “You’re not drunk already, are you?”
I swallowed more wine, and swayed slightly, and said, “I was just telling my friend here that you’ve a monstrous stallion’s prick and you know well what it’s for.”
He laughed all the harder at that, and I stood up on shaking legs and declared, “This man, this is my husband, this is my man! And he is the greatest! No man fights like my man! No man fucks like my man!”
The fighting men about us cheered, and I collapsed into Athulf’s lap, and he held me, kissing me, and Dev slid closer to us and said to me, “Allie, dear sister, forgive me if this is too forward, for I can feel the wine loosening my tongue, but I must say . . . you and your man delight me, the way you carry on.”
“That is well. This man is my very heart. Save for little Anya, and she you’ll meet tomorrow, he is my only joy.”
Athulf, by now, was ignoring our Greek and conversing in Gothic with Rigtur. Noticing this, Dev slid a bit closer and said, “He’s certainly very handsome. He’s so big, and he looks so strong.”
“He is strong! No man is stronger.”
“That I can believe. The two of you are a good match; he so handsome, you so beautiful.”
“Thank you, friend Dev; you’re kind.”
“And you’re beautiful,” she repeated, and her face was so close to mine I could feel her breath, and I knew what she was saying without needing more words, and I looked into her eyes and felt a strange and unfamiliar stirring in my loins. My words failed me, and I thought only to get Athulf’s attention and to plant a fiery kiss upon his lips, and then—to his surprise—Dev kissed him as well, and she kissed me.
I was stricken, but Athulf, knowing my mind as well as I do and made bold with wine, hauled Devjeet into his lap beside me and wrapped his great bear arms around both of us. Dev kissed me again and gracefully slipped out of those arms, whispering, “You two come find me before you retire, if you’ve a mind to. And lay off the wine; such things are best enjoyed with a clear head.” And before disappearing into the crowd, she bit my ear and whispered, “Allie, oh wild-woman of Cimmeria, there are a thousand thousand ways to make love other than getting spiked in the arse. I’ve a mind to show you all of them.”
And off she went, and Athulf, chuckling, groped my breasts and said, “Aye, I think I can gather what that was about.”
I felt confused, and a bit put out, but giddy, and I leaned deeper into his embrace and said, “Aye, she wants us.” Us. I was quite used to women wanting Athulf, but no woman looked at me as Dev had, nor I at her, and it troubled and excited me.
“And you want her,” my love said. It was not a question.
“I do, dear heart. This is a strange lust, one I’ve not known before, but she . . . she has something about her.”
Athulf kissed me again. “Then we will go to her, when our revelry is done. I look forward to seeing what the two of you get up to.”
Rigtur, his tongue loosened by wine as well, smirked, and he spoke up, saying, “Captain, I must say, you seem to, ah, well, you seem to have a singular taste in women.”
We all laughed at that, and I, wishing to enjoy my drunkenness before it wore off, rose up from Athulf’s lap, and I threw my head back and howled like a wolf.
My lover stared up at me and slurred, “Gods, woman, but I love it when you do that.”
“Oh, do you?”
He rose up, his eyes never leaving me, and he went on: “My woman is wild and uncouth, a witch, a troll-wife, a house-rider, a wolf-mother . . . and she is beautiful.”
He came to me and threw his arms around me, crushing me against his chest, showering me with kisses, and he gripped my arse and slid his hand up my skirt.
“Not now, dear heart, not now,” I chastised. “Let us save that for later.”
I danced through the night, and sang, weaving through the crowds, embraced and kissed and congratulated by the many folk about me, and Athulf played at chasing after me, laughing as he caught me and disappearing back into the throng again. And at times I could hear Devjeet’s sweet voice singing in her strange tongue, and catch sight of her orange robes weaving through the night as I was.
At last, when the moon was high and we were weary, Athulf and I broke away from the throng and headed to our tent, groping and kissing each other and laughing as we walked.
And we found Devjeet standing there, swaying slightly in the night breeze, and when we came up she leaned into Athulf’s other side so that he stood between us and she asked, “So, my dear friends, shall I join you?”
“We would be honored,” I said, my voice far away.
She slipped in front of us and took us each by the hand. “Allie, dear, you seem not yourself.”
“Ah, in sooth, Dev, I . . . I know not what tonight will bring.”
“Have you never made love to a woman, Allie?”
I chewed my bottom lip, not wishing sour memories to darken the moment. “In a way,” I said, “but it was not my will. Nor was she a woman like us.”
Dev smiled and kissed me, and she looked up at Athulf and said, in new and halting Gothic, “Man, your wife does not know of a wife. She has fear. You, ah . . . you help?”
Before I could comment, Athulf laughed, and he threw his great bear arms around me and said, “Dear heart, I am here with you. And I know little of this woman myself, but you’ve spoken highly of her to me. Relax. Moreover, if your heart’s changed about this little adventure, you need but say so.”
I did relax, and I smiled, and drew Devjeet into our embrace, and I kissed her and asked, “So you speak Gothic now?”
“Only a bit,” she said. “Since meeting you, I’ve found a word or two lying around.”
“Indeed. I only . . . I just . . . ah . . .” I felt the same fetter of nerves as when we’d first met rising in me, and fighting it back I blurted out, “So what is it we’re to do, Dev? Do we suck each other’s pricks and take turns on my husband? I am out of my ken, friend, and that more than anything else upsets me.”
She laughed. “Oh, we’ll do much more than just that. Two eunuchs and a man who loves strange women can find much to do together, Allie.”
“Dev, I am not a eunuch.”
She gave me a strange look. “You’re . . . not? But you’ve grown as a woman grows.” And to emphasize the point, she grabbed my waist and ran her hands about my curves.
“I was born in-between. I still have my stones, they’ve just never dropped.”
Her strange look became a rougish, hungry grin. “I suppose we’ll have to compare, then.”
And that disarmed me, and I laughed, and broke away from the embrace to stand with my hands behind my head. “Yes, I suppose we shall.”
And Dev dropped to her knees before me, and my Athulf threw his arms about me and showered my neck with kisses, and soon we were falling in a great heap onto our bedding within the tent, and quickly I could not tell where my body ended and a lover’s began, only that two sets of hands were upon me and all was thrilling, all was new, all was ecstasy.
Near to sunrise, when the moon was low again, we lay together, panting, too tired to move. Devjeet and my Athulf held each other, and I lay clamped between them, my naked body still shaking with the violence of our pleasure.
Feeling Dev’s hot breath on my neck, I watched her hands caress his muscles and scars, and I felt contentment, and not a pang of anger. And so it had been earlier in the night, watching their bodies entwined, watching him ride her; contentment. I’d never begrudged my Athulf another woman, just as he’d never begrudged me another man, and I knew always that he was mine, but still it ever burned my heart to think of another woman in his arms . . . but not now. Here, I felt only peace.
I rolled over to face Dev and kissed her.
She returned my kiss. “Allie, did I not tell you that there was so much more for us to do?”
And I laughed, and said, “You spoke sooth, friend. Ah, Ing’s prick, but where did you learn such things?”
“Back home, before I left, I lived in a village of folk like us on the edge of the city, and there we kept the temple together, and I was one of the temple’s harlots. It was . . . educational.”
“Dev, I want to go with you back to your home. I want to see this place, to meet these people.”
“We would receive you with open arms, dear sister.” She kissed me again. “For now, though, turn over. Attend to your husband.”
Curious, I did so, and found that Athulf looked grim and serious. I held him tighter, and buried my face in his chest, and asked, “What troubles you, dear heart? Did you not enjoy our night?”
“Don’t trouble yourself,” he said.
“Oh, enough of that. Tell me what troubles you.”
“Let me alone, woman!”
Scowling, I grabbed a fistful of his hair, and said, “I know you well enough, Athulf, son of Theodulf, to know you’d never dare speak to me like that if you weren’t troubled.”
He looked away and sighed. “I . . . a man should know best how to please his woman, Allie.”
I blinked as his words sank in, and I thumped him on the chest and laughed and said, “That’s what troubles you? Great gods, but men are all fools!”
“And what mean you by that?”
“You think the way we’ve always carried on didn’t please me? When did we first become lovers, Athulf? I was, what, 15, 16? You think I’d keep you around for half a decade if you didn’t please me?” Summoning some strength, I rolled him onto his back and threw my legs over him. “All those times you climbed on top of me and I thrashed like a landed fish and howled like a she-wolf in heat, you think that that was all mummery? An act I put on, all for your benefit?”
He smiled, then, and I turned to Devjeet and in Greek told her, “My dear, you’ve loved me too well and wounded my husband’s pride. Reassure him, before he’s ruined.”
Dev, laughing, poked Athulf to get his attention, and she flexed her arms and said, in her new and careful Gothic, “Strong.” And, grinning, she held her hands a foot apart and said, “Big.”
And he laughed, and I kissed him and rolled back into my place between the two of them, and laying down on my back I said, “Yes, this . . . this is what’s best in life. To lie here, with my dearest friend to one side and my man to the other.”
Athulf put his arms around me and crushed me against his chest, and he nuzzled my hair and said, “You are a vile, vulgar troll-woman, and I love you.”
“And you are a fool, Athulf, son of Theodulf, with all the sense the gods gave a stone, as dim as the Sunless Sea, and I love you. My husband.”
“My wife. My beautiful, terrible, uncanny, perfect wife.” He kissed me, and his breathing grew heavy. “You are beautiful, Alarica, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, a very child of Freda, and here you are. Mine. My wife.”
“I am yours, dear heart, until the seas rise up to swallow the earth and even the gods die, I am yours.”
I heard him suck in a quick breath, and I knew that he was struggling to speak further. I chuckled and said, “I know you were never one to do your fighting with words, Athulf, son of Theodulf. But I am a teller of fortunes, and I can read truth in the shortness of your breath, the twitching of your muscles; your tenderness is no less warm for its silence.”
“No. I will speak.” He drew in another breath and held me tighter. “You are beautiful, Allie. I love your body, the way you feel in my arms, under my hands. No woman I’ve ever bedded has pleased me half as well as you. Mayhap you are . . . ah . . . different from most women, but . . .”
I laughed. “Dear heart, there’s no need for such tact. Well do I know that most women’s cunts are deeper than a finger’s breadth, nor are their cunts hidden behind a set of stones. I know what I am, and well should you know that I feel no shame in it.”
“Nor would I have my lovely, perfect wife feel such shame! I . . . I . . .” I could tell that our night’s revelry and my encouragements had opened up something within him, and he held me so tightly I could not breathe as he rambled: “All my life, Allie, ever since we were children, all my life I’ve known that I wanted this day to come. Ever since I first heard you sing, first saw you dancing, I knew. And now . . . and now . . . Oh, my wife.” And softly, quietly, my Athulf began to cry.
I squirmed out of his arms and slid up to plant a kiss on his lips. “Oh, my husband,” I said, “oh, my stone-hearted killer. In all the years I’ve known you, never have I seen such truth as this. Even on those nights when you shook and whimpered in your sleep, dreaming of war and death, even then were you too proud to show this in front of me.”
He smiled, then, and the tears came easier, and, chuckling, he said, “Ah, truly you are a witch, a wolfmother, a troll-woman! Look at how you’ve unmanned me.”
“Oh, you great fool. My Athulf, my wolf . . . You are my wolf, dear heart, and is it not the wont of the wolf to keen at the moon?”
“For all your craft, woman, you’ve misread me, for still am I too proud to show hurt in front of my wife. In sooth, these are happy tears. For what in all the worlds would I be mourning on this day?”
I buried my face in his great hairy neck and kissed him. Devjeet began to snore.
“Now, see what you’ve done,” I said, laughing. “We’ve neglected her!”
“She is wiser than us, I think; it will be dawn before much longer, and I . . . I . . .” He yawned.
“And that is the wisest thing you’ve ever said, Athulf, son of Thiudulf.”
We lay down together then, and Athulf was quickly snoring himself, but for all my weariness I could not sleep. Quiet as I could, I slid out of his arms and left the tent to go watch the moon sink into the west.
Devjeet emerged behind me a moment later, and, with a yawn, she squatted beside me in the grass and said, “Dear Allie, there is one thing you told me that I should’ve taken greater heed of.”
“And what was that, friend?”
“How fierce that man of yours is. Rama, my legs are still shaking!”
We laughed together, and I said, “Did I not tell you that he’s a very beast? And to think I’ve had him all for my own these many years.”
“Great gods, woman, how do you shit?”
More laughter, and I moved closer to her, adding, “There is one thing, though. When he was fussing over seeing someone else please me, he came near to some truth, in a small way.”
“And how’s that?”
“Well, Dev, I . . . Athulf knows well how to please me, and he is sweet, but . . . well, fucking is ever something he’s done to me, not with me. You, Dev, when your hands, your mouth, were on me earlier, you . . . gods, it’s as if you know my body as well as I do.”
“And is that so strange? We are alike, Allie. It’s true bliss and transcendent joy when two hijra lie together.”
“That sounds sooth. I . . . I . . . Ah, damn you, there you go, tying my tongue again.”
She grinned. “Allie, for all your boldness and your fierceness, you are adorable. Come here.”
We sat down in the grass together, and she held me, and said, “It’s a long road from here to Kabul and beyond, Alarica. We’ll have much time to spend together.”
“I look forward to every moment, dear friend.”
“Are we yet only friends, Allie?”
“Of course we’re friends. But . . . what do you mean by ‘only’ friends?”
“I mean, dear sister, that I love you.”
And that struck me like a blow. “But we . . . can we . . . can two women . . .?”
“And why not? Two women fucked tonight, and you knew little of that before. Anything can be.”
“But, my Athulf–”
“Does the joy we share make you love him the less?”
“No. No, it does not.”
“And there you are. Here, beyond the circles of the world, all things can be. Indeed, Allie, if a boy on the cusp of manhood can run away to the temple and have his stones lopped off and live as a woman the rest of her days, what else might be possible?”
“Ah, Devjeet, my dear friend, my dear sister . . . my love. Tonight I am a bride, and I will love and honor my Athulf for the rest of my days, and if you speak sooth then it will be joy upon joy to have you sharing that road with me as well.”
We returned to the tent, then, and at last, in her arms, I did sleep, deep and dreamless.
And alas, as Godan all-wise and ever cruel had tried to warn me, a day would come when I would bitterly rue those words.