• When Marce’s parents had said goodbye the gravity of her fate finally broke through to her. Her mother had managed a frog-like croak before bursting into tears on her fathers shoulder. Her father, the strong man that he was, stood like a statue. She watched as his fists clenched and the muscles in his jaw moved back and forth as he forced his mouth closed in appropriate silence, face pallid. As Marce stepped onto the platform she heard a muffled sound of protest emerge from him and bit her lip to keep her own emotions at bay. Her father would hold in his sobs until he found privacy, likewise Marce would not cry until the veil offered by the priest had fallen over her face to conceal it from the gathered crowd. The ceremony would be too loud to let her small sniffs be heard, but until that moment she had to hold them in. If one memory was left to be remembered by her parents it would be of her brave determination; something that they could take solace in and perhaps use to believe that she had not felt the same grief as them and only the pride of being chosen. It would be her last gift to them.

    If she had known how painful her last night at home would be she would have not declined the priest’s offer to provide a separate space, away from the village, where she could find her inner strength and pride without the prying eyes of others. However, the idea of being alone during her last night in her village, the only home she had ever known, sent a chill through her. She would want to say her farewells, to see the faces one last time. No one had warned her how difficult it would be to know thee was only one more night, one more hour, a few last moments, and only one more goodbye before she left for the river. No one had warned about the strength it would take to not let the fear that had left her hands shaking from the first announcement of her fate show on the surface. It was beyond what she would have thought possible for any human.

    The altar had stood for generations over the river, allowing for every wedding to be witnessed by the ancestors of both parties from the afterlife. The old wood still held a gleam despite its weathering and there still wasn’t a creak to be heard as she crossed to the far corner where the two priests waited patiently, surrounded by several local monks. The altar had always been a happy place in Marce’s memory, and she had always known it would be the place she would meet her handsome fiancé and take her vows. Granted, these plans had included a few more years at home first and a man she loved waiting for her. Now she could feel the danger that such a positioning of the cliff presented. Suspended only by heavy planks and a few support beams that were attached to the sharp cliffs edge, Marce could swear she felt that the beams were giving way as she crossed. Marce did not spare a look up at the man clad in ceremonial robes. He was not her priest, some outland priest had been sent to perform such an important ritual, and therefore she felt no connection to the wrinkled holy-man. This was not how her wedding day should feel. This man looked at her no differently from the other numerous girls he had sent on their ways. His eyes would feel more excitement for the ceremony that sympathy for her impending death as the rope was secured around her neck.

    The veil finally was draped over her by the old, clammy hands and she let the tears begin, finally. The loud chanting from the monks surrounding them drowned out the murmurs from the crowd and her mother’s sobs. It was the greatest relief she had ever felt. The shock of that thought settled in her stomach with a jolt. It would always be the greatest relief she would ever feel, she would never know any relief again. The heavy grey drapes that blocked out almost all of the light from the midday sun captured the streams that began to fall faster, dark spots rubbed her face. She swallowed another wimper.

    Her younger sister’s face danced across her field of vision. How happily the child had chirped her goodbyes, not knowing that it was the last time she would ever be allowed to see her sister again; alive or dead. She was not brought to the ceremony, their parents wanting to spare her the memory, her cherubic face was still beaming as Marce had climbed into the waiting carriage and rounded the bend of her home street. It had felt so surreal; even now she felt convinced someone would come bursting forward before her final moment to save her from this sham of a marriage. The priests could not wed her to a god. Offered to the god of death as a bride and in return he would provide protection for their village from the illness that had spread to and infected the surrounding villages.
    She was the key tool in preventing the death of everyone she loved, but the thought brought her no happiness. She had never been divinely touched like her sister, and felt no closer to the gods than the man in front of her. She knew that past plagues had never entered before, even without the precautionary sacrifice. But the thought of being looked at as a savior by people for generations after she had passed had admittedly given her a few moments of peace from her fear and desperation before the terrifying dropping sensation overwhelmed her as the trap door she had been standing over only moments before gave way and swung open. She plunged through the sudden hole and the open air below.

    Her mother let out an animalistic scream as she fell to the sacred river below; the path, her people believed, leading to the land of the dead. She wondered as she fell, how this could possibly not be a dream and finally came to the conclusion that it had to be. This falling, in fact, the whole week starting with the arrival of the local priests to announce her selection at the most inopportune crack of dawn with their congratulations and the flurry of activity that had followed passed by much too quickly to have been true passage of time. Wasn’t that proof enough? Real time was slower, more enjoyable. For a moment she let herself believe that, knowing all along on the inside that it was a lie.

    Her neck snapped, feet grazing the water of the river, suspended only by the long ropes that lead straight up the precipice and to the crowd watching from above. Her last conscious thought beside the shock and jerk that had overwhelmed her senses and rendered her unconscious had been the meek apology to her family for the pain they would have to endure. The rope began to twitch with both her bodies reaction to its disconnected nerves and the vibrations from the priests sawing in the beginning of his chant, cutting the rope with a small knife to let her body fall into the water with a soft splash; The same river that all of the dead traveled down. She was graced with an uncommonly quick death before the river took her body under with the current, perhaps a final act of mercy from the powers watching over her death as the people would have claimed.

    What was left of the girl Marce felt the feelings of eternity overcome her as the familiar voices and thoughts of her long dead relatives. They welcomed her into her new being as her body was left behind to drag along the riverbed, catching rocks and debris in the empty shell, denied the raft that would have been used to keep the body clean and afloat until out of sight.