For some weeks elders spoke of this and that regarding our future. It was decided that I would do one Rite, every year during my birthday. The order in which girls went was the same in which they had spoken during the meeting, with Meriden being one to give me her power on our eleventh birthday. There were more preparations to come, if I would loose my mind now, nobody could guess what would happen. Two marriages at once happened before, two Rites had not.
I had a small wish to make the Rites harder each time, elders gladly complied. They knew why I asked for that and they took my wish to heart.
While others prepared, so did I. I could not stop training, so we resumed spars with Zern. He was beaten to the pulp, even if I was merely ten, my new power was too much. We decided to add more partners to our spars. At first Elaya joined. Then Meriden, with her superiors skills. Aedim began to use her magic to hinder my movements.
Leah and Lilith also joined, with their own special way of fighting. They both employed twin daggers with their style, their combat was similar but not an exact match. Feints were commonly used, but differently for each one. Lilith would fight head on, while trying to find or make an opening in my stance. She expertly used feints, often changing her attacks mid swing or using her environment to the fullest. She was tough to fight with, but wouldn’t be a problem if not for Leah.
The fox girl would strike from the shadows, unseen and unhindered. Her strikes often reached some critical point and they would be fatal if not for my improved physique. She posed great difficulty especially when combined with others.
Eleanor also wished to join, but she wasn’t much of a fighter. She learned to use throwable knives and needless and served more of an annoyance in battle, but she proved invaluable once she began to devise the strategies to defeat me. She head the mind of a tactician, perhaps little unbefitting a future head of the tribe. Through observing me, she learned my weaknesses and strengths and devised various plans of battle. With all of them working together, some spars would come to a stalemate. I was never defeated, but if they managed to stand till the end, it was something to brag about, no one could withstand my unholy strength on their own.
Throughout this time, there were also changes in girls’ behaviors. They learned to show their affections towards me, with hugs and hand-holding becoming very common. Furthermore, Meriden and Aedim became as open about their feelings as Elaya, and perhaps Lilith. Simply put they enjoyed kissing. Leah was somewhat restrained with open showing of love and Eleanor would simply panic. If she saw any others trying to kiss me, she would turn red and look away. She clearly didn’t overcome her previous feelings towards me. Her inner battle of love and resentment proved difficult for her.
We were still young, so I was never the one to make any advancements on them. I was very open, but restrained about my actions. I also didn’t let them go too far before the time was right. They often were pouting about it, but their eyes were somewhat thankful. Maybe it was their inexperience and fear that pushed them on when it was too early.
There was also once again the issue of bathing. After group fights, Frez would round us up and send to the spring to wash ourselves. Elaya was already used to me so she had to problem. Lilith showed long ago that she was ok with mutual nudity, she threw herself at me as soon as I was naked and tried her best to tease me. Strangely, she succeeded in embarrassing me and took joy in my reaction.
Meriden had little difficulty at first, but then she stood up, one hand on the hip, another clenched in a fist, eyes closed and her body fully exposed. She said something about pride as a warrior and overcoming obstacles and whatnot, it was hard to make sense as my head was in Lilith’s arms pushed into her flat chest.
Aedim just stood up with a knowing look. She was the wise one amongst us. Although she was not without an embarrassed flush showing on her cheeks. Still she endured.
Leah was very restrained, although not at all embarrassed. She kept her distance from me, not that I complained. I later learned that she did it to not compromise her resolve of waiting to show affection after marriage. That, and she had hard time controlling herself in my presence. Who knew knew that little minx had both a pure and twisted side all in one.
Eleanor was, well, Eleanor. She sat down, her arms around her legs, facing away from me, very much like Elaya years ago. Not wanting to make it difficult for her, I turned away and and showed her my back. Not that I could see her anyway, Lilith did Not want to let go of my face.
“I turned away, you can feel free to wash yourself, I am not looking.”
“Why…” came a low whisper from her.
“What?” I was confused.
“I know you hate me, you don’t have to act like you don’t. I treated you like dirt for years, stop pretending to be nice to me.”
Previously cheerful atmosphere instantly vanished then. Her voice clearly showed pain and sorrow. There also was contempt, but now no longer directed at me, but at herself. I was at a loss, trying to come up with something to say. I was thankful when Elaya came to the rescue.
“Eli, you love Zern don’t you?”
“What!? Of course not! I mean, he is not royalty, how could I? I mean he is special and strong, but you know he is not right. I mean we are fated and all, but how could I be with such boy. Before I thought it was cruel that my fated was a mere commoner, and there were five others and he was weak and I was a princess and… I mean, how could it be? You know, and now he is so strong, and all of you will be with him and I treated him so bad? You know how could I deserve love, he hates me clearly, he only accepted me because we are fated, I mean, why would he do it otherwise… I mean, I hated him, how could he not hate me…”
Her speech was quick and barely coherent. She was confused and lost in her own emotions.
Elaya walked up to her and hugged her, she quietly whispered in her ear.
“You love him, one day you will love him as much as I do, and you will know him as I do. And I know, he harbors no grudge against you. Zern is not the one to hate a child for something silly like that. You were small, but now you are growing up. You have to face him, otherwise you’ll never be able to truly be with him…”
Elaya sounded very mature then. If I didn’t know any better I would immediately set out to look for real Elaya. Apparently me passing on some wisdom was not in vain, Sensei is proud. Sniff…
Eleanor turned to me and looked at me with her eyes red and tears pouring down. I didn’t have a heart to refuse or resist, I walked up to her and hugged her just like Elaya.
“Eleanor, I don’t hate you. You are a sweet girl, who is a little misguided. But how can I fault you for who you are. It is not good for a lion to play with a stray cat. How could you know that the stray was little more than what you expected? You are a lioness, Pride is in your nature, and now you learned that pride is not everything. I won’t forgive you for there is nothing to forgive. You are my fated, and from this moment on we will grow up together.”
I couldn’t say that I loved her, it was too early and I didn’t want to lie to her. I just hoped that whatever limited meaning my words had would reach her. We just stood like that for few moments, and then others came to us to give her a hug. We all were a group, and now with Eleanor, all seven of us were as one. She could really feel each of us and our wish for her to feel comfort. We stood there like that a little longer.
She looked up to my face, tears still in her eyes, but with a smile and a bright glow about her.
She reached up to me and gave a small kiss on the lips. Our first one, but not the last. From then on, we were always as one. There was no longer any discomfort or any strain between us. We grew accustomed to one another and Eleanor was able to open up her heart to me.
Others also did their best to make her feel welcome. Our group was now inseparable. I must also mention that naked group hugs are awkward, although not as awkward as they would be in a few years, when the blood available to me will be easily diverted from my brain. Puberty is such a cruel thing.
After that group baths were comfortable for all of us. The girls were still only starting to develop, so there was no tension between us, we were still just kids. Even later on, we would remain comfortable around each other, despite their developing bosoms and curves. I had a little discomfort in my early teens, when I began loosing control over certain parts of my body, but the girls just laughed at me. Oh how I would pay them back for that!
Of course, the bath time outside of group fights was Elaya’s alone. She clearly stated that right now only me and her had joined together, private time is for us only, as she didn’t want to share me with “strangers”. Meriden only became eager to complete the rite of passage faster. As if her unyielding concentration could speed up time. If only.