Madeline sat on the white carpet of her living room, looking out at the lights of the city below. She thought about Hadi, and she thought about love.
She knew love, but her love for Hadi was like nothing that she knew. It was wild and warm, at once intoxicating and fearsome. There were moments of fierce joy, moments of doubt, and gulfs of miscommunication. She loved him truly, and he loved her, but the shifting nature of their love threw Madeline into confusion. She wanted to love him purely, without faltering or doubt. She wanted him to understand her.
The phone rang, breaking her train of thought. Madeline went to the breakfast bar to answer it.
"Madeline," was the reply, "how are you doing, darling?"
Madeline's mother always pronounced her name with a French accent (mah-deh-LEHN), and hearing it always gave Madeline memories of childhood.
"Good," Madeline said.
"Wonderful, dear, wonderful," Mother went on. "And how is Hadi?"
"Very busy," Madeline said. Her tone, she was proud to note to herself, was perfectly even and content.
"Don't worry on that, darling," Mother replied. "You know he loves you very much."
"I wasn't worried," Madeline said.
"I wasn't," Madeline said. Then, "Would you be?"
"Of course not," Mother said. "It's just the time of year."
"Father would never be too busy for you," Madeline said.
"Not everyone is your father, dear. Hadi takes his business very seriously. It makes him a good provider. And he's just so much better than that last one," Mother said. "You do remember the last one?"
"Better isn't perfect."
"Perfect doesn't exist, Madeline."
"What about you and Father?"
"We're very lucky," Mother said. "Relationships like mine and your father's don't happen every day, darling." She paused, then said, "I called to tell you we've made plans to spend Christmas in Europe. You don't mind, do you?"
"No," Madeline said. "Not at all." Madeline noticed a spot on the white carpet, near her left foot in front of the bar. She bent down nearer to examine it.
"I know we'll be missing your party, but we just feel that we needed some time to ourselves," Mother was saying. "You seemed to be fine with Hadi..."
"I am fine with Hadi," Madeline broke in. The spot was deep rust red, a round splotch on the perfectly manicured carpet. "I have to go."
"All right, dear," Mother said. "Don't be afraid to call me if you need anything." Madeline hung up the phone and set it on the bar, without looking up from the spot.
It was small, almost unnoticeable from standing height, the width of a dime, no more. Madeline sank down to her knees and pushed her nose to the floor. She sniffed the spot, nose fractions of a centimeter above the carpet fibers. It smelled.... She sniffed again, to make sure. So faint, whatever scent was left. But it smelled coppery, and just slightly heady.
Blood. Madeline raised her face and grinned a hunting wolf's grin to the empty living room, to the city lights beyond. She closed her eyes and started to hum.
She had waited so long.
She rushed to her feet and scrambled for the kitchen shears. She picked up the shears, hunted for a plastic bag. Armed with both items, she went back to the spot. She knelt down and cut the few stained fibers out of the rug. Hadi was always so careful, but she had him now. Madeline clutched the plastic bag to her chest and remembered.
When she was twelve, after her first menstruation, Father came to Madeline in her bed late one night and woke her up with gentle, polite hands.
"Come, Madeline," he said. He too spoke her name with an accent, but it was a delicious burr halfway between the English and French pronunciations (MAH-deh-lehn). "I have something more to teach you." It was late in the year, and cold in their brick house. Madeline bundled up and followed Father down the unfinished stairs to the cellar, where the bright industrial lights that were strung up over the work table were turned off, but a delicate oil lamp was burning.
The cellar was Father's domain. He had painted the cement walls and floor with the deep ochres of pigment made from the earth. Swirls of color outlined the faces of his ancestors, told the histories of his people, showed scenes of wars fought so long ago the names were forgotten, and showed scenes of long travel and meetings of peace. She would sit on a rough-hewn stool finished in thick polyurethane in front of the work table, and Father would stand on the other side and teach her things like the healing properties of the winter rain and the rite of the Year of Closing. And he would remind her to never speak of these things to Mother. He would paint her face in hues of blue and green and his own in red and brown, and would smile his special Madeline smile, the one she only saw on him at the work table in the cellar.
"Is something wrong?" Madeline asked as she pulled herself onto the stool.
"Not at all," Father said. He began laying out herbs and powders and bits of animals.
"I've learned the three hundred and ten rites of the celestial calendar," Madeline said. "I've learned the histories of the speakers of our people, including the story of how Grandfather came to America. I've learned to draw the sacred symbols of the hearth, and all the designs of protection and luck. I know how to break the heart of an amethyst and read the shards to find hidden things."
"It does not do to be proud, Madeline," Father said in the same mild voice. "It is our duty to know all the ways and stories of our people."
"I was just wondering what could possibly be left," Madeline said, in the indigent tones of a misunderstood teenager. "And why we need to do it now."
"Some things are best done in the night," Father said.
"What kinds of things?"
"Magic," Father replied. "It's time I taught you the blood rites, Madeline."
Hadi's voice rang out across the apartment, waking Madeline from memory. She retreated to the kitchen and hid the bag with the fibers deep in a drawer, and called out to Hadi.
"I'm in here!"
He came around the corner, smiling. Hadi was not tall, but perfectly groomed, from his wiry black curly hair to the tips of his polished shoes.
"I missed you today, lovely," he said. He had a slight accent, a lingering touch of exotic Arabic syllables dancing through his speech. But he called her Madeline after the American fashion, with no softening of the vowels (MAD-eh-line).
He missed her every day; the same words of greeting were hers again. She softened for his welcome-home hug, and said:
"Do you know I can change the course of a storm at sea?" Her voice was dreamy and unfocused, as she was thinking of the rite.
"Of course you can, my lovely," Hadi replied. "Of course you can. All women have magic in their blood. What has upset you so today?"
With the ease of long practice, Madeline did not tell Hadi that she was not upset. For where would that conversation lead?
"My mother called," Madeline said. "She and Father are spending Christmas in Europe. They'll miss the party."
"My poor neglected Madeline," Hadi said. "They barely realize you are there, do they?"
Hadi held her close and reassured her of his family's love and welcome, of his anger toward her mother, of the home she had with him, of the place she had in his heart.
"Shhh," Madeline said at last. She pressed against him. "Enough talking." And then she kissed him.
He pulled her to the bedroom.
It was deep into the night, the time when everyone is truly alone, when Madeline crawled out of bed and went to the kitchen.
Madeline pulled open drawers and cabinets with slow caution, keeping as silent as the night that surrounded the little pool of light in her kitchen. She gathered together the components for the rite and laid them out on the counter. Once she was ready, she lit two waiting tapers and clicked off the electric lighting. When the rite began, she would have her power as long as the tapers burned. She took a deep breath, and once again she remembered the night Father had brought her to the cellar.
"This is the blood rite of love," Father had said. "It is one of the most important magics you will ever learn."
"Why?" Madeline had asked.
"Because everyone must have love," Father had replied. "I used this rite on your mother."
"But Mother was in love with you," Madeline had said.
"Of course she was," Father had said. "It wouldn't have worked, otherwise. That is the first thing you need for the rite, Madeline. A man's true love. The next thing you need is blood. But it cannot be asked for, nor can it be taken."
Madeline stood in her kitchen and shook the stained fibers out of their bag. She placed them in the bottom of a small iron cauldron.
"Goddess of the heart, god of blood, recognize my offering as true," Madeline whispered, starting the rite. The flames of the two candles flared with a light so bright it seared Madeline's vision, and she covered her face. When the glow subsided, she put her hands down to see each flame docile again, but one burned the color of a ruby, and the other burned a poisonous green.
Madeline opened a tiny vial and emptied it into the cauldron. "The mixed fluids of lovemaking are the next element," she remembered Father saying. "To seal yourself to him, and him to you."
The candles started to smoke. The smoke shimmered in the scarce light of the candles, sometimes crimson, sometimes orange. The room filled with a glowing red-orange haze.
"Next the waters of a pond in spring," Father had said. "Filled with lush living things. Though ripples may mar the surface, the water is always calm and steady beneath." Madeline poured half a jar of water from a small mountain lake into the cauldron. Fire rose up from the cauldron in a flash, and then was gone so quickly it might never have been save for the slow roil of ripples it cast through the shining haze.
"The heart of a gelded horse, for loyalty and faithfulness beyond the fleeting needs of the moment." The bloody heart landed in the cauldron with a squelch, and calming turquoise vapor wafted up, veining the red-orange smoke.
"Ground carnelian next," Father's voice rang in Madeline's ears. "Do you remember what we use carnelian for?"
"It stimulates passion and desire," Madeline had answered, two decades ago. She added the powder to the mix, and tiny sparks of light rose and spread to hang in the room like miniature stars.
"Sand is the last element. Sand to blur the eyes to faults and failings, distracting the mind from the unflattering details." Madeline poured in soft, dusty beach sand. A wind arose and turned the hanging smoke into a crimsony sea, energies swirling together to crash silently across the length of the room and break on the walls like shoals, mixing the elements of the rite into one vibrating ocean of true magic. It shifted like tides, waiting for the benediction of Madeline's blood to release the potential it held into reality. Madeline brought up the knife and poised her left hand to be cut and opened her mouth to say the last word of the rite, when the bedroom door opened with a hard crash, flung against the opposite wall.
Hadi stood in the doorway, surrounded by purple flaming energies. Madeline nearly cut herself in astonishment, but managed to hold the knife steady. She stared at her boyfriend, mouth hung open. The purple glow settled into the semblance of a flowing cape fastened around his neck, blown about by the wind of the blood rite, and into a purple crackling staff of power, which he took in his right hand. He glared at Madeline, eyes lit like coals by the orange-red sea crashing above them.
"Hadi," she whispered, and the magic of the blood rite heard her, and rang like chimes as it crashed against the walls in acknowledgement.
"Madeline," Hadi said. His voice was strong and cut through the clanging of the magic. "What evil curse do you raise against me?"
"Curse?" Madeline said. "I know no curses. I made a love spell, for us. How did you even wake to feel it? Who are you?"
"You conjured with sand," he said. "My people have lived on the sands for centuries, and you cannot use it against us."
He sagged a little then against the doorframe, and his imperial tone and countenance broke in grief. "Madeline," he said. "I loved you."
"You love me," Madeline said. "And I love you. It is a simple rite of lovers, binding me to you, and you to me, no more."
"You had my bonds of love," Hadi said. "There is no reason to-" He cut his words short to peer at her through the semi-dark, looking at her closely, and then he raised his free hand to the storming ocean above. He caught a mini-star and pulled it dripping from the red-orange energy, and tasted it, licking the edge then putting the whole star in his mouth.
"I know you," he said. "You are a scion of Atlantis!"
Madeline leaned hard against the kitchen counter as her knees threatened to drop her to the floor. "You know of my people?"
"I am magi," Hadi said. "We remember things that the world has forgotten. And we know Atlantis; our histories tell of our own war with that nation thousands of lifetimes ago. And the peace that they settled, after."
"You are the ones we fought," Madeline said, dizzy with surprise and alarm. "So long ago that our histories no longer contain names of people or places."
"The magi remember," Hadi repeated. "We remember what you Atlantians became. Lovers of peace, but at any cost.
"I know about your blood rites," he went on. "I do not want your manufactured peace between us. Our love is strong and true, Madeline. We can prevail against anything, together."
"Even against ourselves?" Madeline asked. "My father taught me about love. Without the blood rite, love is work. Love can be pain, and the joy can be but moments out of years."
"It is worth nothing without striving," Hadi said.
"You would honestly trade in a life of perfect comfort, union, and peace for a life of struggle and misunderstanding and doubts?" Madeline said.
"I would," Hadi said. "A thousand times, I would."
Madeline looked at him, standing proud as a desert prince and bathed in the amethyst power of his ancestors, beautiful and strong and vain as the moon.
She loved him all the more. Through her father she was the heir to a people that loved life fiercely. She did not want to let the bliss her parents shared pass her by.
"I love you, Hadi," she said. He smiled. She slashed her palm with the waiting knife, and cast the blood into the cauldron below.
The crimson sea came apart, separating into two equal parts, still shot through with turquoise veins and tiny stars. One rushed to Hadi, quenching his purple mystic fire before swallowing him whole. The second part enveloped Madeline, and the energies settled in her like joy.
The candles, one flame red, one flame green, winked out. The room was perfectly dark and still.
"Madeline?" Hadi's voice, though soft and polite, rang out loudly against the early-morning silence. "Come back to bed, lovely."
Amanda Lam is in the first stages of recovering from a day job and working as a full-time fiction writer. She finds it slightly scary and terribly exciting. She has wonderfully dear friends who call and check up on her, a supportive husband and family, and a cat who couldn't care less. Her fiction has also appeared in MYTHOLOG and Amazing Journeys Magazine, and she is starting her first forays into novel writing this year.
Visit her website: http://www.veldt.org/amandalam/
Published by permission of the author.