Goosebumps prickled to attention across Zora’s bare skin. A chill entwined serpent-like with the warm summer breeze flowing across the deep purple skies of the northern steppes, evaporating her sweat as quickly as a drink at the beach. The northern horizon glowed with the midnight sun, a ruddy-gold highlighting the amber cast of her eyes and illuminated her still form.
Her breath came slowly as she calmed herself. Delicately covering her nakedness, Zora turned and studied Cyr as he stood wrapped in his own tight circle of shockweed.
“Some friends,” Zora eyed the dozen paces separating them, calculating.
“Don’t forget our family,” Cyr’s dark laugh echoed across the breeze-tickled field. “I sure won’t forget our wedding night.”
Zora reached for the shockweed perimeter with a look of determination. A blue spark leapt greedily to her fingertip, eliciting a yelp of pain from the delicate bride.
“How are we getting out of this?” she sucked at her finger while trying to maintain her dignified covering with her other arm.
Cyr, modesty an afterthought, scowled with arms crossed and surveyed the field.
* * *
Zora’s family threw a simple and beautiful and perfect wedding.
Into the carven wedding hall her father and brothers had crafted by hand, Zora walked with purposeful steps. Before the doors to the sanctuary she paused and looked down at the golden swirl of cloth woven to mirror the purity of the dusky, golden-purple skies of Yodniv Seven. A youthful smile played across her features. Spinning once, she watched the material billow out like a kaleidoscopic top.
Taking a deep, steadying breath she placed a delicate hand on the carved door to the sanctuary. Her father had carved scenes from her life in the light, marblewood façade. She studied her first step, her first day of school, and in the crowning position, the day she met Cyr. At ten years old he had saved her from a monkey-cat down in the valley at the edge of the family lands.
Cyr had saved her.
The carving terrified her as much as the day it depicted. Somehow her father captured the ferocity the monkey-cat possessed and infused it into the wood.
“Bigger things to worry about,” she whispered to herself. “Family and friends all together in one place. They’ll have something planned.”
“Don’t worry, Zor,” her sister whispered from her side as she arranged Zora’s gown. “Everyone’s here from the valley because they love you. Now go enjoy your wedding.”
Her sister gave a sly wink as she stepped back to join the other girls in her party.
Zora scowled at the door and wondered why they had not chosen to elope. She wanted to spend her life with the boy she had grown up with, the boy who had been her companion through the thick and thin of childhood, but she feared what the night would bring. Wedding nights on Yodniv Seven ranged from deeply embarrassing to deadly and anywhere in between.
Knowing their friends, deadly nestled in her mind as silently as a coiled viper.
But, she pushed the door open with a grim set to her shoulders and stepped across the threshold into the cheers, claps, and hoots of their company.
* * *
Zora and Cyr stood a dozen paces apart. Isolated on a small island of earth as bare as her skin, Zora looked across the gulf of shockweed at her fresh spouse. If she stood on her toes she could see the spires of their town, nestled in the arms of the Laish River. Nearer to them, but still beyond reach sat the raised road that marked the boundary of the field. The packed dirt marked sanctuary. It allowed safe passage through the flowing, bluish fields of thigh-high shockweed.
“What are you thinking?” Cyr stretched up, trying to map the shortest, safest route from the field.
“We just have to get to the road,” she replied distantly.
“We could just run for it,” Cyr gave a barking laugh.
“And we pass out from the pain before we make it halfway. You know as well I I, that shockweed will overload our systems.”
“Ya ya, so it kills us if we make a run for it.”
“The shockweed will kill us if we’re not smart,” she crossed her arms and thrust out her jaw defiantly.
“We could just wait for dawn. You know they’ll come check on us.”
“Shame,” Zora shook her head. “You want to spend the rest of our married lives living with that one? You want to be the newlyweds who couldn’t make if out of their shivaree?”
“Not really,” Cyr knelt, disappearing from sight.
“What are you doing?”
“Are there any parts of the plant that won’t shock you?”
A yelp of pain, followed by Cyr leaping to his feet answered his question. Zora hid a smirk as she sat down and hugged her knees to her chest.
“I just tried that,” Cyr called out.
“I’m just thinking,” she replied. She sat in the dirt, running scenarios through her mind as quickly as a flickering slideshow. Cyr left her peaceably to her musings.
* * *
The wedding flowed along like a riotous river of love. The feast quickly followed. As soon as they exchanged their vows people rose with roars of approval and began shifting benches to clear room for tables. And food followed in a flow of platters heaped with steaming delicacies.
Tears of joy, dancing, food, and drink all mingled and swirled in a mélange of exotic new emotions and sensations as Zora occasionally sat at the head table with her new husband. An elated drunkenness descended on her soul, even though she managed to politely decline most of the offered toasts. During their first dance, Cyr held her tenderly and as she spun Zora noted a tear hanging at the edge of her father’s eye. His turn followed and the tears ran freely as he closed out his last dance with his daughter. Her mother joined them as the musicians ended with a flourish, leaving the three clinging to one another as childhood ended.
Then, in a moment, in a blink, it past. The reception, the feast, the joyful and tearful parting drew to an end.
Whisked away, Zora allowed Cyr to lead them to a small cabin where they would spend their first night as husband and wife. In anticipation she let him slowly undress her. Innocence made fumbling fools of his fingers and Zora patiently took over.
Just as they stood in passion’s purity before each other the dim lights of the cabin winked mischievously out and a cacophonous din filled the air. Pots and pans dashed together in an all out assault of cookware. Startled, Zora lunged into Cyr’s arms and looked wildly about the dusky shadows cast by the midnight sun of the northern latitudes.
Without warning the door crashed open and a dozen men from both sides of the family swept in as unstoppably as a perigean spring tide and hoisted the naked couple up on their shoulders. Out into the cool night they carried the pair amid songs, jeers, and shouts. Flanking the parade, the women of the families danced and skipped along, maintaining the din as they beat out a lively tattoo on their kitchenware.
Cyr fought for a time, but Zora chose stoic resilience as she tried to maintain the barest shred of her naked dignity.
The group carried them past the edge of town. There, with the aid of heavy rubber waders, the men deposited the newlyweds in the middle of the shockweed field as the women looked on with smug glee.
* * *
Without warning, Zora leaped to her feet and plunged headlong into the field. Blue sparks flashed behind her like a ship’s wake in the South Pacific.
Fire lanced through her legs as the soft leaves delicately caressed her in anger.
Fighting the pain, she stumbled into Cyr. Away from the assaulting plants, the pain receded, leaving behind a numb tingling.
“You’re insane,” Cyr clutched her closely, protectively. She lost her modesty in a sea of pain as she clung to him.
“Just testing a theory,” she gasped as her breath returned. Zora pulled his head down and kissed him passionately. “I think we can do this.”
She cut the kiss short.
“Quickly, before I lose my nerve. Up on my back.”
“I can go a ways further before my legs numb up. I’ll let you know when I get to that point and we can switch. You know I can carry you,” she added with a coy wink.
Cyr shrugged and with trust climbed onto her back.
Taking a deep breath she plunged into the blue sparkling field.
They traded several times, each of them carrying the other forty or fifty steps. Eventually they reached the safety of the road. There, standing passively, they found their cleric.
“You now understand that you are stronger together than you ever could be apart,” he spoke, oblivious to their nakedness. “Know that if you ever part you will lose that strength. Neither of you can live and survive in this world without the other.
“Love is strength,” he said solemnly.
Turning, he walked into the night and left the newlyweds to their recovery.
“And put some clothes on,” the cleric’s voice rang out from the steppeland’s half-light night.