It was a time in history that would come to be known as The Dark Ages. It was a time before organized religion swept the superstitious blindfolds away from the eyes of the heathen masses and brought the faith and hope of a pious, guilt-free, sinless life to the world. At least, that’s what history would say. To the Borgia clan, however, it was a time of mystery and enlightenment, a time ruled over by the gentle hand of a Goddess rather than the fierce fist of an omnipotent God.
Rodrigo Borgia was the leader of this particular band of unlearned ‘heathens’. His mate, Vannozza, was high priestess of their clan and the voice of the Goddess on Earth. They were blessed with many children, chief among them, their eldest son, Cesare, who would inherit the leadership of the clan after his father, and their only daughter, Lucrezia who was learning at her mother’s knee all the knowledge that she would need to one day become high priestess of their sect.
Life for the Borgia clan, and for their people, was hard at times. They lived very simply and modestly, taking great care to always be pleasing to the Goddess in everything they did. The Borgia clan worked the land alongside other villagers of the day. They hunted and made use of all that they took from the Goddess’ abundant forests. And they raised their children to trust in and worship the great mother Goddess as countless generations passed had done before them.
Lucrezia, like all of the other young girls of the village, was being prepared for one of their two main yearly celebrations. The festival of Samhain (Sow’-in), which is celebrated when the leaves turn gold and red and the days begin to grow short and cool, had always been a favorite for Lucrezia. The harvests were all but over and families were beginning to settle in for the cold winter months ahead.
It was this time of year when Lucrezia knew that her family would all be together, her brothers finally home from the fields and home from the hunt. Their larder was, hopefully, full from the harvest and there would be songs to sing, clothing to mend, medicinal stores to replenish and, at the end of each day, stories to be told by the fire in the greathouse which served as the meeting place for their people.
But it was not Samhain that occupied so much of Lucrezia’s mind of late. It was not the fall of the year, nor were the leaves taking on their bright colorings before submitting themselves to the beckoning of the forest floor. It was springtime. Flowers and trees were bursting fully into bloom now and the days were growing longer and warmer, although there was still a chill in the early morning air. It was the time of the festival of Beltane and every young virgin in the village had been coached and prepared since birth, should they be so chosen, to fulfill a role in the festival.
There would be great feasting and celebrating during Beltane. The women of the village would gather flowering boughs to decorate their homes, weave wreaths for their heads and plait flowers into their many braids. The celebration was to honor the Goddess who brought to her people a bountiful harvest and fertile wombs.
Such singing would there be as well as dancing around the sacred pole which stood tall and proud in the center of the village. And for one night, wedded couples could dispense with their marital vows and give their bodies in pleasurable sacrifice to the Goddess. These couples could choose to lay with someone else for one night only, veiled and masked under the guise of anonymity. And should a child result from that coupling, it was considered the ultimate blessing of the Goddess and the child was loved and raised with gentleness and kindness by the mother and her husband.
Each year an unwed girl between twelve and eighteen was chosen, by lottery, to represent the Goddess in her sacred festival of Beltane. Likewise, a young man of the same age range was chosen to represent her partner, her God. The lottery was a blind drawing so no one knew who the young man or woman was who was to participate. The clan chieftain, Rodrigo Borgia, drew the name of the young man who would represent the God for the Beltane ritual and his mate, Vannozza, drew the name of the young woman who would represent the Goddess. Neither, however, told anyone else the name that had been drawn, not even each other.
Lucrezia, who was just thirteen years old, was to be included in the lottery this year. Though thirteen, the time of her birth had fallen such that she had not been eligible to be put forth in the lottery last Beltane. As such, she was both anxious and overjoyed at the prospect of representing her village at last for the paying of their respects to the Goddess. Whomever was chosen to play the part of the Goddess or the God knew that they were to do so with the utmost somberness and humility. It was not a charge to be taken lightly, for the well-being of the entire village that year may very well lay upon the shoulders of two young people and how they would perform that one sacred night.