Tap. Tap. Tap. A withered hand forced the ink into Key's skin. The stylus pierced and then moved; pierced and then moved. The discomfort in his arm was nothing compared to the pain in his chest. He gazed down to watch the sky-colored ink bleed into his flesh. It formed a thick band around his right upper arm.
"How many have you placed, witch?"
"How many?" The old crone, Betta, chortled and spittle flew from her dry lips. "One cannot count the marriage binds I have placed. These crimped hands have sealed more unions than you can imagine, young one."
Key ruminated. He pictured the decrepit woman hammering ink into thousands of arms. Male with female. Female with male. Tonight, the blue band would be paired with the black scroll of his bond-mate's family name, marking his status forever. Tonight, he would lay with Kaya and seal the union. Tonight, a piece of his being would wither and die, lost forever to the mandates of convention.
"How did Kaya take it?"
Key felt a drop of perspiration roll slowly down the valley between his shoulder blades. It was sweltering, due to a fire blazing in the center of the tent. Blue-black smoke coiled up and out of the opening at the top of the structure and the flames cast shadow specters that writhed against the animal-skin walls.