Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ritual Passion by Emma Wildes

Richard Terrance stumbled and almost fell. Jerked upright by unseen hands and propelled forward, his low curse echoed through the cool night. His booted feet crunched through crisp leaves and all around him he could hear the eerie sighing of the wind through the trees, soft as a whisper.

What the devil is going on?

He tested the bonds around his wrists once again, trying to free his bound hands, but whichever of his captors had tied the knot had done a surprisingly effective job. The blindfold, too, stayed firmly in place and he didn't have the slightest notion where he was being led. "Look," he said once more, trying to control the simmering anger in his voice, "I--"

"Quiet. You have been told the price." The response was both authoritative and implacable, the voice definitely female.

He sure as hell had. He closed his mouth, the bizarre situation making him feel like he'd fallen into some bad dream. However much he wanted to demand an explanation for being summarily ambushed, tied up, and apparently abducted, he felt positively ill at the incredible notion of being castrated. Just the possibility of the threat being sincere made him reluctant to say another word.

From somewhere the low sound of singing came, the sound growing louder with each step as he was prodded forward. Something brushed his cheek, the earthy fragrance making him realize he'd undoubtedly barely avoided a low hanging branch. It didn't take honed deductive powers to discern there were many voices chanting in a language he had never heard before, because as they got closer, he could also feel people lightly touching him and the warmth of bodies as he was pushed through the crowd.

Women. All of them, he guessed, for if there had been men available, surely they would have been sent to kidnap him. Instead he'd been in the act of undressing for bed when the door of his room had burst open. He'd been taken by surprise, his astonishment over having a dozen oddly robed figures pour through the doorway, making him waste valuable time, trying to demand an explanation for the invasion rather than defend himself.

It was a little humiliating, in truth, to be tied up by a band of marauding females, but apparently that was the case.

"Stop."

He obeyed the command promptly, mostly because the rope tied around his wrists was jerked with insistent force. Standing there, he could smell the fecund scent of damp earth and forest, and hear the odd melodic cadence of the voices around him, wondering wildly just what the bloody hell came next. He felt someone fumbling with his blindfold in a mixture of relief and intense curiosity, blinking as it slid away.

A full moon had risen earlier hung over the dark tops of the trees, illuminating a large clearing. Richard could see there were a fair number of robed figures, probably sixty or seventy, standing in a semicircle. The group that had abducted him still stood guard, effectively hemming him in, though the tallest of them barely reached his shoulder. Directly in front of him sat a low stone structure at the top of a small platform, the symbols carved into the front unreadable even with the brilliant moonlight. Shallow steps led up to it, the entire thing maybe four feet high.

It looked, he realized grimly, for the first time feeling a real glimmer of fear, like an ancient altar. With his hands tied behind his back he probably wouldn't get far, but trying to escape seemed like a good option suddenly. The whole gathering seemed intently focused on his presence, and he could feel their interested stares.

One of the women surrounding him broke away and walked to the steps, turning to face the crowd. Raising her arms, she spoke and the chanting stopped with uncanny abruptness. Her hood concealed her face too much for him to actually see her features clearly, but she was roundly built, he could tell even in her shapeless garb. She spoke some words in a sing song voice, none of which he understood, and the group responded in kind. Then in very clear English, she commanded, "Bring her."