It was with a mix of emotions but primarily envy that Heather watched her sister stride ahead of her across the windswept open moor while chatting animatedly with the boy they'd met only the day before. Heather acknowledged that Fern was much the better looking of the two sisters—not just because she ascertained this herself but from the repeated observation that, given the choice, any boy in pursuit of a pretty girl invariably gravitated towards Fern and not at all to Heather.
Even now, several days' walk from their village in the West and loaded down with baggage, it was as if the sweat and exertion of their brisk trek over moorland, along the river banks and through the thick forest was suffered only by Heather—making her seem even more plain—while her sister was as fresh and pretty as she ever was. Fern waved her head to one side in her characteristic way so that her long brown hair fell over a bare shoulder while she smiled coquettishly at Fox, the young man they'd met the previous day at a village they passed through on their pilgrimage to the Great Temple of the Sun. How could someone of the same mother (but almost certainly of a different father) be so very unlike? While Heather was a girl whose bosom was less than ample, whose ankles were thick and whose face was flat and brutish, Fern had eyes that shone brightly even when the Sun was hidden behind clouds, a face that charmed every man who cast his eyes on her, and slender and shapely legs that prompted a man's ardour as she strode bare-foot over the grass and moss. Even the seasonal brown tan of her skin seemed so perfect whereas Heather's flesh tended towards only a freckly blistering as the Sun inexorably approached its annual zenith.
There were others besides Heather, Fern and Fox in the company of pilgrims that clambered up the moor burdened down by the wares they'd brought along with them from their homes in the West. These pilgrims were on the same expedition, loaded down with the produce of their villages to exchange with that of others who were also congregating from all across the land, from North, South and East as well as West, each and every one gathering with the intent to express gratitude to the Sun for his annual bounty and beneficence. It was principally to pay respect to the Sun that so many pilgrims massed at the Great Temple each year. Such an awe-inspiring and magnificent complex of shrines, of both stone and wood, would never have been raised merely to give people the opportunity to socialise and exchange wares. But opportunity it was and of which everyone took full advantage.
Neither Heather nor Fern had ever travelled before so far from their riverside village. Already there was much that was alien and mysterious about the world beyond. They'd walked across the Western lands, following a route marked out by tradition not so much to afford the shortest journey but to gather companions from other villages on the way. It fascinated Heather to discover how much custom and even language changed over distance. Those who lived furthest from Heather's home were the ones most difficult to understand. But however diverse the accent and the customs of dress and habit the sisters encountered as they wandered from village to village, sharing in the bounty of field, forest and river, it was Fern who attracted the most attention and the one most likely to be fucked by the dashing young men with their youthfully spare beards and their reliably excited erections. And it was always Heather who'd sit cross-legged, bare limbs and bare breasts, but alone dining on the last few roasted bones of aurochs or deer that few others were still concerned to eat.
Even now, as their company—swollen to five men and five women—marched onwards, it was always Fern the boys were eager to chat with and so keen to shoulder the burden of her deer-hide sack of tin and copper. Heather, meanwhile, had no one to share the weight of her baggage and had fewer fond memories of being fucked or buggered by the flickering flames of a great fire. She knew also that there was little likelihood of respite from the load she was carrying towards the Great Temple, because on her return she'd be weighed down with as much flint from the Eastern chalk lands as she could carry. It was a privilege indeed to be elected to represent her village at the Great Summer Gathering—an honour that might never be offered again—but Heather knew that it was only because her sister was so favoured that she was also on this pilgrimage, spared from labour in the field and meadow for two cycles of the summer Moon, to represent her village at the critical moment of the Sun's highest elevation in the firmament.
This wasn't a privilege of blood alone. In her village, as with all the villages in the West, only the mother's bloodline mattered. All else was as one under the watchful eye of the Sun, his wayward partner the Moon, and their many companions the Stars, whose constellations guide the fortunes of all men and women and the beasts of field, forest and sea. Although Heather envied her beautiful and charming sister, she'd been chosen because there was no one in the world she loved more than Fern, including all the boys who'd fucked her only after rolling off her sister's exhausted body. And Fern loved her too. Theirs was a pure love where sexual intimacy was no more appropriate than it would be with one's mother or with one's dog or goat. It was like the love they felt towards the Sun and the Moon and the Stars who they worshipped and which also gave comfort in the bleakest and hungriest days of winter, gave purpose to every waking moment and solace in the hours of sleep. So ardent was the sisters' love for one another that when Fern was elected to make the great spiritual journey far to the East, it was only natural that Heather should be her companion.
It was fortunate that there had been no step of their journey during which the sisters were unaccompanied. There were great evils in the world. Bears and wolves and lynx and aurochs for sure, but also malevolent spirits that lurked in the darkness of the night forests and prowled across the moors. But when a company of men and women, mostly young but also some who were old, wizened and balding, strode together singing songs of praise to the celestial bodies and emboldened by the righteousness and joy of their shared faith, what possible harm could the evil spirits cause? And it ensured as well that any predator, however fierce, kept a prudent distance knowing that the pilgrims were armed with flint-tipped spears and knives that would send them scampering back to their dens with their tails between their legs and bloody gashes across their hides.
"Look ahead!" said Hog, one of the men in their company. "Smoke! And lots of it. Surely, that must be the site of the Great Temple."
"What else could it be?" remarked Lynx, the oldest man in their company whose beard was as bushy as his head was bald.
"It could be a forest fire," warned Gorse, a woman of intermediate years. "I saw one once when I was but a child. It was fearsome and destructive, even though our village feasted for many days on the flesh of the aurochs and boar that had perished in the flames."
"It can only be friendly fire," said Lynx. "See how many plumes there are. A forest fire is one great black cloud of menace. These can only be the fires on which deer is roasting on spits and pilgrims are gathered together in honour of the Sun."
And so it was as Heather and her companions discovered for sure when they'd ascended the higher slopes of the moor and could see stretched ahead of them a wide vista of fires each attended by a company of pilgrims. There were many more people from villages across the known world than Heather believed could ever exist. Amongst the blazing fires and the attendant pilgrims was more shelter than could be found in any village. And this was in the form of countless scattered wooden, stone and earthen huts scattered about the plain and roughly the same number of paces apart. These had been constructed over many generations by the multitude of pilgrims who'd assembled, foreswearing conflict and war, caring not that in later years other pilgrims they'd never know, who might speak a tongue they couldn't understand, from hills and valleys far far away would take advantage of the product of their labour to shelter from the wind, the rain and the midday Sun.
"What do we do now?" asked Nettle, another girl in the company much the same age as Heather but still more attractive to the men than Heather could ever be.
"We seek a shelter for our own use and build a fire beside it," said Lynx. "And if all the shelters are taken then we approach a company of pilgrims who've arrived before us and implore them to allow us to share their shelter. That is how it's done here and how it's always been done. We are all as one under the same Sun and we are gathered for the same cause and in the same spirit."
"And that," said Gorse, although it didn't need to be said, "is to pay homage to the Sun and beseech him to provide for our village and for all villages in the West..."
"And beyond," said Fern excitedly, who was as generous as ever in sharing whatever bounty she had.
"And beyond," echoed Lynx piously.
.... There is more of this story ...