When the land is dry, fire is an angry god to be appeased with prayers and sacrifice. Rain learned this when she was a little girl in the Garden of Misbegotten Children. A visiting priest taught all the children and their caretakers how human sin in the First Age had made the Great Dragon so furious that he had blasted the fruitful valley to ashes, and only due to his mercy, left any humans alive.
Rain liked her name, which had been given to her by the Mother of the orphanage when she was found on the front steps, a baby in a blanket. Sparrow, one of Mother’s assistants, took special interest in Rain and told her quietly many times how beautiful she was, with her shiny raven hair, her large eyes, and her shy smile. Although she was clearly a child of sin, Rain was destined to be the chosen servant of a priest.
Who wouldn’t want to be the apprentice of a wise man, and hear the secrets of the universe from his lips as she poured his tea? When she was chosen at age sixteen by Father Stalk, Rain looked forward to her new life.
She couldn’t imagine living with only one companion, but during the long journey by wagon, she had time to consider it.
“Little one.” The good father ran a calloused hand over the smooth black hair that lay on Rain’s shoulders. She shivered, ever so slightly, despite the warmth from the red embers in the fire pit that provided the only light in the priest’s hut.
It was their first night together, on the edge of the great desert where the Dragon, Fireheart Himself, was said to appear to true believers from beyond the mountains where He lived. The prophesy said that the friction of opposites—male and female, age and youth, knowledge and innocence, authority and submission—would produce fire strong enough to appease Him, the source of all fire. From the seed and the egg would come the Savior who could extinguish His rage.
Now, she lay beneath her master as he studied her naked body. He cupped her small breasts in each of his hands and teased her nipples by rubbing them. His wrinkled face, so close to hers, was an alarming reminder of how time and dry air change human skin. She closed her eyes, trying to be resigned to what she could not avoid.
“Little one, are you ready? You must answer.”
“Yes, Father,” she said.
As his member entered her, she sighed in relief. It was not as hard as an iron staff, as she had been warned, and it didn’t seem capable of causing damage. Before long, it slipped out of her, and Father Stalk was stroking her entrance, as though trying to excite her to ecstasy. She gently pushed his fingers away, hoping he wouldn’t be angry.
As homesick as she was, Rain knew she would not be welcomed back to the orphanage by the women who had tended her there. She remembered one who had given her pleasure in happier days, one who was neither a girl nor a woman nor a man of authority. Those memories consoled her.
Father Stalk pressed his mouth to Rain’s as though wanting to comfort her for being his vessel, or as though begging her to care for him as a lover—as much as she could. In the dim glow of the fire, his eyes were gentle. The night passed.
A rising wind accompanied the light of dawn, carrying sand-dust into the hut. Rain rose to make a breakfast of tea and roasted insects, for which the father thanked her politely. She loved to feed Bolt, the sacred lizard, by filling his bowl with elixir, and saying the ritual words that acknowledged him as an avatar of the Dragon Himself, Fireheart or Spiritsmoke in Excelsis. Legend had it that every lizard had come to earth on a bolt of lightning.
Rain tidied the hut, eager to wash herself. Tending the animals and the garden took priority, however, so Rain brought precious water from the rain barrel to feed the three scrawny goats, and the hardy edible plants that thrived behind the hut.
On the next feast-day, they might have goat-meat, but that was several weeks away. After washing herself and tying up her hair, the girl kissed her master farewell and took her bow and arrow to hunt for rabbits in the bush or desert rats that could be killed, cleaned, roasted and eaten. If she were lucky, she would find a rain-storing cactus.
Rain did not expect to meet the Dragon himself.
Her duties allowed her to spend much time alone with her thoughts. She understood why foolish human survivors prefer to believe in a fire-breathing Deity than in the cruel indifference of the universe.
Jean Roberta lives on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. She teaches literature, composition and creative writing in the local university. Her diverse fiction (mostly erotic) has appeared in many print anthologies, and in the single-author collection Obsession (Renaissance). Her historical fiction includes The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press) plus The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). A revised, expanded version of her out-of-print erotic novel, Prairie Gothic (set in a pre-millennial world of conflict and dread) will be published by Lethe. She coedited Heiresses of Russ2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction.
Her gothic fantasies include “The Water-Harp” in Underwater (Transmundane), and “Roots” (in the “Treasure Chest,” http://www.erotica-readers.com). Her surprisingly upbeat story, “Innsmouth Blues,” appears in Equal Opportunity Madness (stories based on the “Mythos” of H.P. Lovecraft). Her story about a legendary triangle, “Under the Sign of the Dragon” (based on Sir Thomas Malory’s tale of the conception of King Arthur, 1485) is available from eXcessica (http://excessica.com). She has written stories in the fictional worlds of Shakespeare (“A Well-Placed Pinch,” Forbidden Fiction), Countess d’Aulnoy (in Rumpledsilksheets: Lesbian Fairy Tales), Lewis Carroll (in The Princess and the Outlaw) Edgar Allen Poe (in Slave to Love: Sexy Stories of Erotic Restraint), nineteenth-century operetta composers Gilbert and Sullivan (in Twice the Pleasure: Bisexual Women’s Erotica) and Jules Verne (forthcoming in Journey to the Center of Desire).