(Courtesy of Vocal media) The origin of the Spring Rite of Dropping was unknown.
Young Cassandra Ashley listened intently as grandparents spoke with hushed reverence about the tradition which stemmed back to their grandparent’s time, and grandparents before them. What little history that had been recorded, detailed the shire’s fortunes in times of the Rite.
No one dared question the third-eyed wisdom of the King’s Elders and their shamanistic rituals. Questioning the Rite (or any of the King’s whims) was a heretical offense, punished with an ignoble death. Peace had been porous at best; times of famine outweighed feast. According to the King, the Spring Rite of Dropping would reverse their fortunes. A decade into his reign, the villagers waited for his words to ring true.
Cassandra drifted off on her tuft of hay in the ramshackle barn while the legend was reinforced. It was both fascinating, and horrifying.
“Blessed be the farm whose prize sow was chosen for the Spring Rite.”
The prized sow would be proudly displayed in a specially designed pen in the village square where villagers fed the pig in hopes of absolving their sins and bringing good fortune.
Cassandra prayed her beloved Maple wasn’t chosen.
During the summer solstice, the pig would be ceremoniously paraded around the village square, then up the steep stairs that led to the watchtower by four virile young men selected to join the King’s Guard. The King and the Wisest Elder would bless them and their offering. Woe be to the young Guardsman unable to bear the weight during the arduous climb!
As frothing villagers gazed skyward, the Wise Elder would evaluate the pig again, before pronouncing it the savior of the shire. It was blessed and then offered to the King.
With an exaggerated flourish, the King waved the royal sash, and the sow was hurled from the watchtower to the village square below. Anxious villagers jostled to be within the splatter zone; errant drops of blood were considered a sprinkling of good fortune.
Teenagers too young to be Guardsmen dared each with feats of bravery and stood in the path of the porcine projectile. Every few years, neither comprehending the laws of physics nor trigonometry, a reckless teen was maimed or killed outright.
The ensuing mad scramble to retrieve bits and pieces to be made into stews was considered a holy reward. Tufts of fur in clenched fists animated by sour mead ruled the day.
On the Day of Selection, the King’s Elders visited Cassandra’s family. She ran to the pigsty and attempted to hide “Maple” named for the distinct reddish-pink color that reminded Cassandra of the changing colors of the leaves.
Young children were often easily attached to animate objects that showed affection. However, Cassandra knew that Maple was special. She believed Maple understood her and communicated with her. She refused to let Maple be chosen.
Cassandra slathered Maple in mud and placed burrs in her fur and apologized in rapid, reassuring tones. “It’s for your own good!”
Cassandra never heard her father’s approach with the group of Elders.
JonAaron Ashley was a nervous man. Life had not been kind; he needed a reversal of fortune. Maple was a beloved pet, but he needed to provide for his family, and the status of being chosen and the immediate rewards that ensued, were all that mattered.
The Elders spied a muddied Cassandra huddled with a disheveled, feral-looking Maple. One Elder laughed.
“This is the insult the house of Ashley presents?”
The King’s Wisest Elder locked eyes with Maple. He felt Maple’s energy.
It was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
Cassandra bawled as Maple was wheeled away to town. She swore she would never speak to her father again and locked herself in the dusty hayloft that was her bedroom.
At night she stared at the stars through the porous barn’s roof and dreamed of Maple. She knew Maple was dreaming of her and it allowed her to drift off to sleep as her mind reeled thinking of ways to rescue her beloved pet.
She maintained her vow of silence with her father during the weeks leading to the Day of the Rite. Villagers fattened up Maple in her pen and plied her with whatever gifts and offerings they could afford. Truth be told, Maple lived better than any villager. She was bathed twice daily and fed constantly.
Cassandra ran to the village square and spent every moment possible talking to Maple. She devised elaborate plans to help Maple escape. Nary a teen, there was little she could do. Before she returned to the farm, she promised Maple she would save her. Maple stared back, her face almost beatific, putting Cassandra at inexplicable ease.
Sour mead was consumed with gusto as the sun rose on the Day of the Rite. Jesters danced and entertained the gathering crowd as the celebration grew more and more raucous.
The four shirtless King’s Guards were anointed in oil as they prepared to parade Maple around the square and then up the tower. Villagers thrust their best-prized foods and trinkets at Maple as she passed with hopes of the King seeing their magnanimous gestures. Maple remained aloof; an air of serenity enveloped her as she ate selectively from the abundance of fat apples and juicy pears.
The Guardsmen emitted Neanderthalic grunts as they struggled to raise Maple aloft. She had tripled in size since being selected. A pig of such size and stature boded well for the shire’s fortunes.
JonAaron Ashley reveled in his newfound status. If only Cassandra would speak to him. In his heart that was all that mattered.
Cassandra refused to accompany her father to the square.
The King’s Guard labored up the steep stairs to the watchtower while Maple dozed. Each step more draining than the last, the young guard’s exertions echoed to the square below.
At last in the King’s presence, they bowed relieved to be rid of their offering. There were stories of the occasional pig aware of its impending doom, lashing out. A few unsuspecting Guardsmen were unceremoniously knocked over the low wall, beating the pig to the cobblestone square ten stories below.
Maple pranced from her crate with a casual nonchalance.
The Wise Elder sensed the King’s approval and began mysterious incantations of some hitherto unknown tongue as a hush fell over the besotted villagers.
The King addressed the crowd and declared it was a blessing bestowed upon him from God himself. The cheering from the square rose to a feverish pitch. Frenzied villagers whirled like dervishes praying for the slightest splattering of a blessing.
Cassandra emerged from her barnyard loft sensing a change in the air.
As the sun receded into the horizon the King raised his tangerine-colored royal sash. An eerie silence gripped the square.
Tears of joy streamed down Cassandra’s face. She received Maple’s message.
Gazing at the heavens, the King waved his hand.
At that moment, Maple cried out.
“The time for rituals has passed!”
She lurched forward, sending the baffled King to the cobblestone’s cold embrace. Panicked villagers clawed over each other in an effort to flee the square.
Maple startled them again with a resounding voice.
“Cassandra is the only one whose heart is pure enough to rule the shire. She will bring peace and prosperity to all!”
The superstitious villagers were wary of inciting the wrath of the magical pig and declared Cassandra the Queen of the Shire.
Her reign of almost sixty years was noted for its relative peace and prosperity; Maple remained steadfast by her side.
She even mended her relationship with her father. Per Maple’s request.