Long before they reach town I see them coming. Bright lights trail behind them as they dance along the road, between fields recently cleared of the harvest. My breath steams the tiny panes of the manor house’s leaded window as I watch in wonder. My heart beats loudly, but sadly its rhythm does not match theirs.
“Come.” Father takes my arm. I am far too old now for him to hold my hand, almost too old to still live unmarried under his roof.
I grab my shawl and walk with him into the street. Most people are already out and waiting, mother and the rest of the temple wardens among them. But I always want to see the Elect coming first.
The ground feels rough beneath the thin soles of my dancing shoes. I hide my discomfort. Father must not know what I have planned.
The Elect are at the edge of town now. The flaming brands along the street dim in their presence, light and warmth sucked into their magic. They are human and yet more than human, these dozen holy wanderers, those who the spirits have touched and who they will save. Not all have a dancer’s build – one is plumply buxom, while another has the hard build of a life-long labourer. Yet all move with astonishing grace.
The power of the spirits flows through them. Ribbons of coloured light trail from the tips of their fingers, their toes, their tailcoats and shawls. As they dance through town they cast a net of beauty across us all. As every autumn, our town is conquered for the spirits once more.
I slip my arm out of father’s. He does not notice. Like the rest, he is caught up in the mix of awe and tension that comes from seeing people so imbued with divinity, more beautiful than we can ever be.
Cautiously at first, I slide through the crowd and out into the street. This is it.
Every year I have studied the movements of the Elect. Every day I have practised them. The desire to be one of them burns inside me. To be one of the beautiful, one of the saved. With growing confidence I follow their movements and join the dance.
There are gasps from the crowd and a cry of alarm from my father. I catch a brief glimpse of disappointment on my mother’s face. I don’t care. I am part of the dance.
Except that I am not. As I weave my way into the dance, the Elect turn their backs on me. I thought my movements perfect, yet I have somehow fallen short.
My confidence wavers and I stumble. I feel my world unravelling. What has gone wrong?
I look again at the dancers. This close I can see that holy light doesn’t just flow from their fingers, it coats their bodies, guiding their movements.
My confidence returns. The attention I paid to spiritual studies is second only to that I paid to dance. I think about the things my mother taught us on the feast days. The ways of the spirits. How to open our minds to them.
I close my eyes, relying on finely honed instincts to keep my movements true, and open up my heart. I feel the sense of something greater, something beyond me. That wordless voice that comes to me in the depths of prayer. I let it take hold of me, and when I open my eyes I can see that my dance is more perfect than ever before – not just imitating but complimenting those of the Elect. The spirits guide me, and laughter bubbles from my lips.
The very nature of their dance now turns the Elect towards me. No light pours from me yet, but in every other way I am one of them. I am part of the dance, and the dance is part of me. I am…
They turn away, and my heart shatters. The dance has me in its hold. It is performing me, not I it, and without that I would drop like a stringless puppet.
The Elect dance on, out of town, their work done and me forgotten. I whirl alone in the road, my neighbours watching me. Some turn away, embarrassed or appalled. Others laugh and point. Tears run down my face.
Then I feel a tingling in my fingertips. My eyes widen as a glow spreads from my hands. Streamers of yellow light trail behind me, short but growing.
Laughing, I dance away from town, not down the road the Elect followed but out into the fields. I will reconquer them in the name of whatever spirit has blessed me. I will follow my steps and feel my power and share my dance with whoever cares to join.
I am not of their Elect. I am one of my own.
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