Today is the day! I thought giddily, The day I have been waiting for my entire life: The Zenith. The Zenith was only held on the solstices and you could only attend the one closest to your fourteenth birthday. I am lucky. My birthday is on December 21st, which is today, so I only have to wait for this evening.
The Zenith is a ceremony that is celebrated throughout the land. Our nation was even named after this event. The four legendary brothers of the land, known as the Dale Brothers, first celebrated it and started the tradition as their ancestors covered the land through time. Everyone is a descendant of one of the brothers since they were the very first humans to live in the land. At first only ogres, dragons, and elves lived here. Them and other unmentionable beasts.
I’m a descendant of Weston the third oldest brother. I live in the western part of the land, just like my father does. My mom lived here when she married Father but she has since passed on. Today I will get to go to The Zenith to Determine my destiny, to see what I can do, what I will become.
This Zenith is even more special this year. Only three people will be Determined from our village. Jared, Melissa, and me. Melissa said she already knows what she will be Determined. Her entire maternal family has been Determined the same future: Perfect role models to women around them, raise a humble family, be happy for as long as they might live. I hope her Determination is different just so that she is wrong about something for once.
Like me, Jared is less certain. His father is a blacksmith that was Determined as hardworking, strong, and softhearted. Jared is most of those as well but he is still uncertain of what to expect at the ceremony. I am too. I never knew what Mother was Determined. She died when I was a baby and Father never told me.
Aside from the common knowledge that the ceremony Determines who you are and what you could become, I do not know what happens. I heard rumors of magic being involved but Melissa said that those were just silly rumors to mess with children. And everyone knows that she is always right.
“Lynn? Where are you?” My brother, Peter, calls through the woods. “Lynn you’re going to make us late! Come out.”
I stand up off of the rock I had been sitting on. My deer hide leggings were moist from the snow and ice. “Over here, Pete!”
He turns his head in my direction. “Hey, remember what day it is? And how it is sort of important for you, specifically, to be there?” He rolls his eyes as my smile widens and I run over to him faster than a lightning strike.
“You better watch what you do there little miss,” he warned, “If anybody saw you running around like that they might mistake you for a boy. And in pants no less!”
I groan silently. My family often reminded me of how dishonoring it was for me to run around and act more like a boy than a girl. “It is important for you to know your place in society,” my father always says. “Women should be graceful and polite. Dresses are for women and pants are for men. Anyone who thinks or does any different ought to have some sense knocked into them!”
We walk home silently, Peter letting his words sink in. Usually, he didn’t care and is even a little understanding of why I hate being treated like a girl. But today is an important day and I need to be the girl that I am supposed to be.
I turn the knob of our back door, quiet as if I were hunting- another unladylike quality. One foot in front of the other I tip-toe to my room and throw a dress over my head, my leggings concealed under the many ruffled layers. The dress is lilac and looks good with my black hair and pale skin. I look into the mirror hanging on my wall and imagine that this is what Mother looked like. My lips are thin and colorless, blending with the rest of my face. My eyes are beautiful despite their lack of color. They are gray like Father’s and stick out against my light skin and dark hair. I’ve heard that I am pretty and that any man would want my hand, if it weren’t for the way act. That is, like a boy.
“Jocelynn, are you ready yet?” I hear Father’s voice in the hallway outside my room.
“Yes, Father,“ I reply while combing my fingers through my hair quickly. I pull on my sleeves twice to pull them down to my elbows. Father has already eased the door open before I get to it. “I am ready.”
I sit on a stage in one of the three seats. The whole village is spread out in front of me, watching me, as I watch them. The Zenith is supposed to last until midnight when the moon will be at it’s zenith.
“Welcome, people of The Gate,” started Henry Lars, the governor of our village, “to The Zenith! We have gathered together this winter solstice to witness the Determination of the three individuals seated before you: Melissa Laura Henrys,” he indicates to his daughter seated behind him with a flourish of his hand. “Jared Michael Roberts, and Jocelynn Lydia Edwards.”
The crowd activates into polite applause before Henry continued. He explains that starting with the oldest and ending with the youngest we would each take in turn a drink of the Elixir. That is a liquid that should help Determine us.
My stomach roils and turns. What if it doesn’t work on me? Is it possible for someone to be Undetermined? I lean over to ask Melissa but before I utter a word she stands up to be Determined.
She practically dances to the front of the stage, her frilly petticoat and golden hair bouncing around. Henry smiles down at her like a father would and hands her a beautiful crystal goblet. In it, I can make out a transparent fluid. Melissa is looking at it too. Her eyes get really big and bulbous as it suddenly flashes a deep but bright blue, almost like lightning. It does it again and again and everyone is staring at the cup with wide eyes and gaping mouths. I look around, turning my head from side to side, and realize that it has begun to snow. Miniscule ice droplets plummet from the monochromatic sky, getting bigger and softer and the minutes tick by. Each time a flake lands in the Elixir I can hear a faint ting, like a bell only softer, and the liquid flashes.
"Go on," Henry urges. His daughter glances at him one more time and then presses the frosty glass to her lips and swallows a small mouthful of the substance.
The air around the stage seemed to freeze. The breeze died out and the snowflakes lay suspended in the air, immobile. The second passes and everything is normal again. Did I imagine it? I do not believe so.
Melissa stands up straighter and announces, “People of The Gate, my Determination is complete! Like my mothers before me, I have been Determined a mother and a leader to women in need. I will lead you humbly and wisely!” She was right, once again.
She turns and struts proudly back to her seat. I notice that she seems to sit up taller than before. I do not have time to think about it though because Jared is called up to the front.
Henry hands Jared the crystal goblet. Jared does not take time to gaze and wonder at the magical concoction. He ignored the falling snowflakes and sparks of blue light. He moves it to his mouth and takes a sip. It was smaller than the gulp that Melissa drank and Jared did not seem to savor the Elixir like she did. In fact, he seemed more repulsed by it, like it left an unwanted aftertaste. Henry whispers something in Jared’s ear so that only he can hear, then stands up and waits expectantly.
“Villagers,” he began in a less formal introduction, “my Determination is finished as well. I have been Determined to be great, and strong- like my father. Bravery and overconfidence will change my life in an unknown way. After tonight I will never return the same.”
Groups in the crowd murmur and question their neighbors. Return? No one ever leaves the village they grew up in unless a woman is marrying outside of her own village or they are an ambassador to the Emperor. Jared had not mentioned that he was to become an ambassador, he hadn’t named his career at all. Melissa was to be a mother and a leader. What was Jared?
“Jocelynn?” I shake myself out of my stupor at the sound of the governor's voice. Jared is seated next to me again and the crowd has quieted.
I stand up as gracefully as I can and brush a few stray hairs from my face. Stumbling a little in my concealed boots I make my way to Henry. He hands me the goblet and I take it in both hands. It is beautiful. The crystal is transparent everywhere but has a frosty look on the edge where my mouth should go. But I do not drink it yet, instead I gaze at it, marveling at it’s goblet paragon.
A single, perfect snowflake touches the surface of the Elixir. Immediately, a streak of electric blue races through the fluid. More snowflakes cause this as I stand in place watching. Ting, ting, ting.
It is time, I think nervously. Slowly, I raise the jewel into the air in a toast to the stars. All eyes are on me and I know that it is time to drink, to be Determined. I lower it to my thin, pale lips and sip a small mouthful of the mystic Elixir.
Rebellion for the brave, friends for the willing. Danger for the stubborn, solutions for the wise. Determination courses in your veins, Zenite.
Those words echo in my head. What was that? I cannot see anything, the snow is too thick. I am still standing on the stage but a blizzard has formed around my body and I can’t see Henry anymore. My dark hair whips in my face and my dress sways back and forth furiously. I close my eyes to stop the stinging of the snow and ice hitting them. Goosebumps cover my arms and I shiver from the cold and terror of what is happening to me.
The snow goes away with a whoosh, leaving me standing on the wooden stage underneath a black blanket. I hear gasps before me and open my eyes. I stagger to to the right and Henry stops me from falling over. I blink again. Everything looks different, now it all appears in greater focus, like I have been living my whole life looking at blurry images.
Henry nudges me and whispers, “Ignore the crowd, give your speech quickly.” Speech? How can he expect me to give a speech when I can finally see? Does’nt he see it too? Doesn’t everyone see everything clearly now? They seemed as shocked as I did when I opened my eyes.
“Citizens of The Gate, my Determination is complete. I have been Determined brave and willing. New friends and dangers await me. But, my wisdom will overcome my stubbornness and help me through my life.” Is that what I was supposed to say? I don’t remember being Determined that. What I heard was similar but these words just came to me.
I turn around quickly and walk back to my seat. Everyone is staring at me! Did I say something wrong? I lean to my right and ask Jared this.
“Uh… no. Well, yeah. I mean no. Can you repeat the question?” He looks at me, confused. The emotion seems unfamiliar on his sure, handsome face.
“What is it? Everyone is staring at me! Jared?” He doesn’t seem to be listening to me anymore just gazing in my eyes. “Jared!”
“Let’s get out of here,“ he replies vaguely. Jared grabs my hand roughly and pulls me up. He waves and smiles at the crowd like everyone does after The Zenith. But wait, it isn’t midnight yet, is it? Yes, it is. Up in the sky I can see the pearly moon at it’s highest point in the sky.
Jared drags me all the way past the village and into the woods, higher up in the mountains. My boots slip on the ice and my dress is wet and muddy from the snow. “Slow down!” I gasp as I go sprawling on my hands and knees.
He stands in front of me panting for a minute. “Sorry. I just needed to talk to you,” he pauses for a breath, “alone.”
“You’re a Zenite,” he says simply. A Zenite, that’s what the voice called me during my Determination. I recall hearing in my head,Determination courses through your veins, Zenite.
I didn’t mention it during my speech. I decide to play dumb, “What’s that? I’ve never heard of a, uh… Zenite before.”
Jared gives me a dubious look, “You sure?” I can’t meet his eyes when I answer, “Yeah, pretty sure.”
“Liar,” he accuses me. Before I know what I am doing I am explaining that I heard it in my head during the ceremony. I just can’t stand a cute boy calling me a liar, especially when it is true. I look into his blue eyes and give him an apologetic glance. “But, I really do not know what it is.”
“No one really does,” he explained. “But you should probably keep it a secret. It could be dangerous as common knowledge.”
I laugh a little, “It was a secret for all of five minutes. How did you know anyway? I’ve never heard of a Zenite before tonight.”
He shrugs and says that he heard it during his Determination too. I wonder if he is a Zenite but he says that no, he isn’t- it was just mentioned. We stand there in the middle of the woods for awhile in silence. Then he leaves with a goodbye and I turn and walk in the direction of my house, leaving white footprints in the snow behind me.
I do not get very far before Jared stands before me again, panting and trying to tell me something. “There was one other thing that gave it away. Your eyes: they’re silver.” With that he swiveled back around and ran off into the night faster than I can catch him. I sprint the rest of the way home, not bothering to be quiet, rummage through my chiffonier until I find my small, ivory hand mirror.
True enough, my once gray eyes are gone. My iris is shiny and silver, like a mini moon.
This leaves no doubt: I am a Zenite. And I am determined to find out exactly what that means.