The Spot Writers – “Festival of the Matches” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers, bringing you a weekly dose of flash fiction. Today’s prompt involves a bit of fun: Pick up the two books closest to you. For the first book: copy the first 3 words of the book. This is how your story will start. For the second book: copy the last 3 words of the book. This is how your story will end. Fill in the middle. As an added challenge, turn to a random page in each book. Choose the most interesting word on each of those pages. Include those 2 words in your story.

Today’s tale comes from Val Muller, author of The Scarred Letter, The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and the Corgi Capers mystery series.

Note: My first book happened to be Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, so my opening is “On an evening…” My second book is The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, so my closing is “…had a price.” My random words are “vexation” and “cabinetmaker.”

Festival of the Matches

By Val Muller

On an evening in May, the last evening in May, the sounding of the bell summoned Erin to the town square. She left home bedecked in white, the flowing white dress her mother had been making for the past year, little by little, as time allowed. Her bare feet padded along the dirt path, and she adjusted her crown of flowers, the one young Ella had made her yesterday.

Little Ella, only five, her eyes so full of dreams as she wove the daffodils and daisies and counted the days and months and years until her own Festival. Little Ella, only five, her eyes still full of hope. Erin looked back, only once, to see Ella standing there, mum’s arm around her, gazing longingly at Erin. At the fork, Erin joined three others on the path. The quartet fell into step, their white dresses sweeping the packed dirt.

The evening’s festivities would decide her fate. It seemed so strange, for so much to rest on a single evening. But this was the way. This had always been the way. Besides, the Matchmaker was never wrong, was she?

Erin padded heavily, trying to hide her breathing. She had to remember to stay calm. Confident. Sweating was a bad sign. She wanted the Matchmaker to see her for who she was. For the Choosing. It wouldn’t be long now, just over the bend.

There.

Another line of young women joined them at the town square, forming a group of seven.

Seven. A lucky number.

On the other side of the square, dressed in white tunics and white shorts, stood the seven young men from the neighboring villages. They all looked the same, a blur of nerves and hair and skin starting to bronze from May’s early sun. As tradition demanded, they joined the women and formed a circle around the well, where the Matchmaker, bedecked in capes and robes and flowers, sat in the wicker throne that had been erected the day before.

She clapped her hands, and behind her, the musicians filed in, taking their places around the gathering and struck up a melody. It was hopeful and sad and excited and worried. The melody held all the emotions Erin tried to keep inside on this day of her Festival. Its melody climbed with the hopes of the future and fell with the pain of nostalgia.

She curtsied, and on the other side of the well, the seven young men bowed. Relying on muscle memory, Erin fell into the Dance of Choosing the way she’d been practicing. She focused on their eyes. Her mother said the eyes told all.

Some were dim, some nervous. But one. They sparkled like the stars, they glowed like the sun, they held the mystery of the moon. It was everything mother told her to look for.

He was the one.

The Matchmaker would know.

When they danced together, when their hands touched, his skin set hers afire. She’d seen him before, now that she thought of it. He was the blacksmith’s son. He’d shoed the family’s horse once or twice. He was strong and kind and…beautiful.

Erin glanced at the Matchmaker to make sure she knew, but she was looking away, clapping to the music and smiling at the musicians. Maybe she knew already. Maybe that’s why she wasn’t looking.

The partners changed, and she curtsied to the next young man, a nervous chap. Erin focused on her breathing. In. Out. Just breathe. The Matchmaker had to know, right? She’d matched mother and father, after all. And they seemed happy together. Most of the time, anyway. Except the days when mother seemed so full of vexation that she left for long walks hours at a time. Long walks Erin followed her on once or twice, long walks that ended at the riverbank at a picnic lunch with the miller from the next village.

A picnic Erin left them alone to finish.

But still, the Matchmaker knew.

And so when the festivities drew to a close and it was time for her to announce partners, Erin held her breath. Everyone from the village arrived, all holding torches and candles and flasks of wine for the celebration after the weddings.

When her turn came, the Matchmaker took Erin’s hand and presented her to the crowd. “And this young woman will find her true happiness with…”

The blacksmith, Erin thought. The blacksmith. The blacksmith. Across the flickering torches, his eyes met hers. He stepped forward even before the Matchmaker made her announcement.

“With the cabinetmaker.”

Two hearts sank, and the cabinetmaker’s son smiled and stepped forward to claim his bride. Erin shuddered as she took his hand, her eyes locked with the blacksmith’s. With those eyes that reflected summer evenings and skies ignited by stars and love and hope and the future.

And then she looked away, to the eyes of the cabinetmaker, now her fiancé.

Her mother held up a picnic basket full of celebratory wine and snacks she would serve Erin and her new husband right after the wedding. The music swelled as the ceremony drew to a close, and the couples stood at the town center for the group wedding ceremony. It was a happy but efficient affair. The seven eligible couples from the four surrounding towns would now be wed without incident and become productive members of their respective towns.

Erin looked up at the stars for the last time as a single girl. Then she took the hand of her husband as the ceremony ended and reached for a glass of wine. Efficiency had a price.

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

 

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco. www.dorothycolinco.com

CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/

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