“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

~*~Ecclesiastes 9:11~*~

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chapter Twenty, Part Two

           Pastor Simon’s prayer droned on and Elizabeth struggled to stay focused.  She had been forced to sit next to Benjamin during worship.  They sat in the front pew with the other betrothed couples.  Every member of this group wore a red rose pinned to his or her clothing.  The girls all sat with their eyes focused on the ground, the men with their eyes held high and proud of having a woman to control.  Elizabeth had only looked up once to see Jacqueline, Aimee, Sandra, Delia, and Morgan all sitting together on the other side of the church, but her hand had then been squeezed so hard by Benjamin that she had quickly returned her gaze to the floor.

            “Dutiful wives keep their eyes focused on the ground during worship and when addressing their husbands, Elizabeth,” he had hissed when he released her hand.  She then realized why every woman she had ever seen in the colony had not looked into her eyes.  “Don’t forget that.  I will not remind you again.”

            “Yes, Benjamin,” she had whispered.  He had nodded his approval of her obedience and then turned his attention back to Pastor Simon.

            “…Finally, Lord, please bless these betrothed couples in our presence, who today will make a vow to each other and be married for all eternity,” Pastor Simon droned.  Elizabeth felt her cheeks grow red.  “Lead these men to rule over their new wives as they expand our church family.  Show these girls the way and honor of marriage, for as is said in Second Corinthians chapter eleven, verse two: ‘For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.’  Let their transition into married life in the colony be smooth and let them follow your word.  Amen.”

            “Amen,” everyone repeated.

            After they were dismissed, Benjamin led Elizabeth out into the atrium.  It was only after he saw someone he wanted to talk to that he finally dropped her hand and she was able to go find Jacqueline.  It didn’t take long, because Jacqueline rushed over to her and gave her a huge hug.

            “I’m so proud of you, Elizabeth!  This is a great honor, you know!” she cried.

            “So I’ve heard,” Elizabeth whispered, but forced a smile anyway.  “You found my note this morning?”

            “Yes, I did.  The family found the note you left on the banister as well.”  Jacqueline paused here, took a good look at Elizabeth, who grunted.  “They were shocked to say the least and they wouldn’t stop questioning me about it.  But don’t worry, I didn’t tell them about your getting married.  I know you probably don’t want them to know about that, since you want them to just forget about you—it’ll be easier for them to forget about you if they can’t find you with your new name, right?”

            “Are you still going to be my Rose Angel?” Aimee, who had materialized at Jacqueline’s side along with Sandra, Morgan, and Delia, asked.

            “Of course, Aimee,” Elizabeth said.  “You will be driving to worship and youth meetings with Morgan and Kristin, though, but I’ll be there for you.  Nothing’s changing.  I’m just going to be married to Benjamin and living at the colony.”

            At that moment, Benjamin appeared at Elizabeth’s side and wrapped his arm around her shoulder, pulling her to his chest.  “Ah, I see you’re sharing the joyous news with your friends.  How sweet.”  He flashed a sugary sweet smile to the other girls, who returned the smile, but Elizabeth just stood as still as possible.  She knew if she tried to pull away from him, he would squeeze her shoulder harder.

            “Now, Benjamin, you know it’s bad luck for you to see the bride before the wedding.  I must take her to meet with the other betrothed girls and Pastor Simon for their own, special pre-wedding seminar this afternoon,” Sandra said, pulling Elizabeth away from Benjamin.

            “How silly of me,” Benjamin said with a harsh laugh.  “I suppose I will have to let you go, Elizabeth.  I look forward to seeing you at the altar tonight.”

            Elizabeth gave him a small smile and allowed herself to be led away from him by her friends.  “He saw me at worship, though,” she said to Sandra.

            “In the Children, it’s only considered bad luck if he sees you out of worship.  Rose weddings are always on Sunday evenings, so you two have to see each other in worship that morning anyway.  But you’re kept separate the rest of the day, until you meet at the altar.”

            “Oh,” was all Elizabeth could say.  She waved goodbye to the other girls as they left to go to the parking lot and followed Sandra back to the room in which all the girls had spent last night, and where all of their belongings were now stored until they were taken to their husbands’ cottages for the first time after the wedding tonight.

            The betrothed girls sat in a circle with their Rose Angels, Pastor Simon pacing along the outside.  The girls all held hands and stared straight ahead as Pastor Simon lectured on the duties of the wife.

            “Tonight you will be required to consummate your marriage.  This is your first step in continuing the Children.  It will be your honor to bear your husband’s children and bring them into the world to be baptized and raised in this church…” Pastor Simon said, striding around the circle.

            After what felt like several hours of hearing the rules and expectations of being a wife in the Children and reciting them back when asked, Elizabeth’s hands were numb, her feet had fallen asleep, and her eyes were so tired she was starting to see cross-eyed.  Finally, Pastor Simon said, “Well, now, I think that was a productive meeting, don’t you?”

            “Yes, Pastor Simon,” every girl intoned.

            “The ceremony is in an hour.  Your Rose Angels will assist you in preparing yourselves for the marriage altar.”

            With that, the girls all stood and the Rose Angels led their respective charges to different areas of the room.  Elizabeth dutifully followed Sandra, rubbing her eyes, and watched as Sandra produced out of a bag a long, white, modest dress.  She handed it to Elizabeth.

            “What is this?” Elizabeth asked.

            “Your wedding dress, of course!” Sandra cried.

            Elizabeth studied the dress closer.  It was a simple cotton dress and bore no frills.  There was a short line of white buttons down the front and the neck was high.  It took Elizabeth only a few moments to take off her old clothes and put on this dress.  The sleeves were long and the skirt almost touched the floor.  She looked around and noticed the other betrothed girls were wearing dresses that matched the one that she now wore.  Sandra gave her a pair of modest white shoes to wear with the dress.  She put Elizabeth’s old clothes into the bag that she had packed earlier that day.

            “Don’t worry about your bag,” Sandra said, although Elizabeth hadn’t expressed a single worry about the bag.  “Just before the ceremony, I will take it over to Benjamin’s cottage for you and it will be waiting for you after the ceremony.”

            Elizabeth nodded her understanding and fixed her scarf and braid.  “Will we all be getting married at the same time?” she asked, gesturing to the other girls.

            “Essentially, yes.  You will all in the sanctuary at the same time, if that’s what you mean.  You will say your vows separately, but, yes, you will be going through the ceremony at the same time.”

            After all the girls were deemed ready for the altar, the Rose Angels took the hands of their charges and led them down the hall to the sanctuary.  They stood in a line outside the doors and waited for Pastor Simon’s signal.  The men were lined up along the front of the church, Pastor Simon standing behind a small altar above them.  He waved the girls forward.  Each girl processed down the aisle with her Rose Angel, who handed her over to the man who would soon become her husband.  When Sandra handed Elizabeth over to Benjamin, he looked down at his future wife with that same hungry look she had seen in his eyes before.  Sandra walked over and joined the other Rose Angels in the front pew, while the betrothed couples lined up in front of Pastor Simon.

            Pastor Simon began, “Dearly beloved, as is said in Revelation, chapter nineteen, verses seven through nine: ‘Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.  And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.  And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.  And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.”

            “Amen,” everyone present said.

            “We are gathered here today, in the presence of God, to witness the marriage of these men and women before me.  It is a great honor to be married within the Children of the Rose and in participating in this ceremony you promise to spend eternity together as husband and wife.  Who gives these ladies to these men?”

            The Rose Angels stood together in their pew and recited, “As the Rose Angels of these girls, we do.”  They then sat down again.

            “Marriage is a blessed union before God and, thus, you will state your promises of loyalty to each other from this day forward.  Do not take the vows you will recite lightly—for if you break the vow, you have committed a grave sin.  When it is your turn, each man will lead his bride to the marriage altar for the exchange of vows.”

            One by one, each couple approached the altar in turn and exchanged their vows.  The girls stared dutifully at the floor as they promised to be true to their husband.  The men all gazed proudly at the top of their bride’s head.  At last, it was time for Benjamin to lead Elizabeth to the altar.  She let him lead her and, once at the altar, turned to face him, but kept her gaze down.  She listened closely as Pastor Simon repeated the same vows she had heard him say to the other couples.

            “Do you, Benjamin Karlisle, take Elizabeth McLancy to be your wife, before God and in the Children of the Rose; do you promise to lead her on the journey to Heaven and in this church, to cherish and keep her in sickness and health; and, forsaking all others, to be faithful only to her as long as you both shall live?”

            “I do,” Benjamin said gruffly.  Elizabeth could tell he was staring at the top of her head, just as the other men had done.

            “And do you, Elizabeth McLancy, take Benjamin Karlisle to be your husband, before God and in the Children of the Rose; do you promise to be to him a loyal and obedient wife, to cherish and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, to be faithful only to him as long as you both shall live?”

            Here, Elizabeth paused.  Benjamin squeezed her hands hard and she whispered, “I do.”

            They returned to their place in line and waited for the last couples to recite their vows.  After each couple had made their vows, Pastor Simon walked down the line, handing each person a ring.

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