Bewildering Stories

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I Get My Caresses
from the Blood of My Victims

by Rachel Parsons

Table of Contents

part 1 of 4

I killed a man today. I don’t know why, but I did. Not that I’m a virgin to killing. I’m not a virgin to anything. Graymulkin managed to take that away from me when she cursed me to being naked. Naked, I was abandoned by my fiancé, Farrell of New Dyved. Abandoned I had to sell my body to men. That led to my humiliation; which led to my father’s rage, the war between New Fairy and New Dyved, and that led to me killing many, many men. I started with Farrell.

So, no, I’m not a virgin. And no virgin, being pure, could do what I am doing now. I am taking the head from the man I killed and placing it, as dictated by ritual, into the crucible of pain. The crucible of pain brings the soul back from its wanderings in the Otherworld, and will allow me to interrogate him. Find out why he was where he was, and why I had to kill him.

I used to enjoy using the crucible of pain, especially against my enemies. Men who die in battle go to Valhalla; coming back to the world of the living is, for them, like a descent into hell. Hence it is called the crucible of pain. I used to enjoy it, as I used to hate men. As a prostitute, men have cruelly used me; I cannot even enjoy sex with a man, the abuse was so bad. So any way to inflict pain on men is the nearest thing to an orgasm I can experience.

But I weary of inflicting pain; I try to be a good queen, and that means kindness. If it weren’t for my friends who mend me with their love, though, I would be the very embodiment of a pain goddess.

But this man’s pain would be necessary. Even those hell-bound find the crucible horrible. But maybe his pain would alleviate my guilt; maybe I could tell his family that I was sorry he was dead; maybe offer them compensation. Whatever they lacked, as queen, I could give it to them. Everything but their son or husband or lover back.

I could reanimate him of course, but that would make him a creature for my pleasure, not a living man. And I would be breaking my vow to Ereshkigal, the queen of the dead, if I did so. I vowed I would only use necromancy in time of war, so she could resume her reign over the dead, without my interference. I suppose using the crucible would be breaking that vow, too. But in a small way compared to reanimation.

Arianrhod, my friend who is a witch, is regarded by men to be the most beautiful woman in New Gwynedd. Although that is mainly speculation on the men’s part. Unlike me, she gets to hide her beauty, and she gets to choose whom to display it to. So men vie to see that beauty. Mine, they simply leer at or, because of conscience, pretend to ignore. She was helping me in the ritual, although she, like most witches, is afraid of the death arts.

“I don’t like this, Rhiannon. Not one little bit. If I weren’t your friend, I wouldn’t be anywhere near here.”

I patted her on the shoulder, kissed her temple. “I know, Arianrhod, and I do love you for it.”

“If you had only been watching where you were shooting.”

“Yeah, well, I was cold. It hurt my aim.”

“You should be used to that.”

“Let’s not bicker, Arianrhod. Here, help me anoint the eyes.”

It had started out as a fun morning. A morning I was taking off, as in the afternoon I would be receiving Perthesileia, queen of the land of the women. Perthesileia was a woman I have never met, but always admired, and I did not want to be tense for our meeting. I was also practicing for a hunt; she was a great huntress and I wanted to impress her with my hunting abilities.

There were the six of us. Arianrhod, Goewyn, the second most beautiful woman in New Gwynedd, Branwen, who her lover Matholuch had cured of insanity, Rosalyn, my chief lady-in-waiting, Zusanna, my bodyguard and I were out on a hunt. If it strikes you as strange that I would take servants on a hunt, to be equal to the ladies, then you don’t know my relationships with Rosalyn and Zusanna. They both had been prostitutes, as I had been, being naked and abandoned, and Rosalyn one day came crawling, battered, beaten to a bloody pulp, and naked, to the gates of Caer Rhiannon after I had resumed by rightful place in the world. I had to take her in. And Zusanna? She had offered her services as my bodyguard, as lupa of a werewolf pack. Once you earn the loyalty of a lycanthrope you’d be a fool not to use it. They are both more than friends to me, so although they are not noble, they are welcome (as far as I am concerned) to play with us who are.

All the noblewomen, and Rosalyn, were in swordswomen outfits. Thick leather pants, vests, and thick cotton blouses to protect their delicate skin form insect bites and scrapes from trees. If that sounds bitchy and envious, it is. They also had their quivers full of arrows. I didn’t even have that, although I had Rhonda, another of my ladies-in-waiting, carry my quiver and I had gotten quite good about grabbing an arrow from her, notching it and letting it fly, besting at least Goewyn’s and Branwen’s best time. Rosalyn, although not noble born, is the best archer of us all. I couldn’t beat her time even if I wasn’t handicapped.

I was naked and so was Zusanna, although she was in lupine form to help smell out our prey, and when you’re all furry, no one thinks of you as naked. So, as usual, I was the only sunshine girl around, but these were my friends, and, except for the obvious inconveniences that attend being naked in a forest, I wasn’t very self-conscious about it. Not as self-conscious as I am when someone who hasn’t heard of my curse comes across me and treats me like I was still in my former profession. That is why I cannot go outside the demesne alone. That would be courting rape, abduction, and being sold back into prostitution. My father and friends would track me down, and pay the ransom, but in the meantime I would be back as a slave to men. And that must not happen again. Never again.

“I spot one,” Zusanna said with her nose. She suddenly bolted from our group at what seemed hypersonic speed. We followed, clumsily on two feet. I lagged behind the others. Boots help your progress when you are stepping on tree limbs, sharp rocks, and the bodies of scurrying scorpions.

It was a buck. The biggest buck I had ever seen. It was surrounded by Zusanna’s pack. She had called them. They roam freely in my grounds; they provide me with their preternatural protection; I provide them with enough game that some of them have grown fat.

We aimed; our arrows flew. But something spooked the buck. Even surrounded by wild wolves (and equally wild women), he bolted before the arrows hit. He charged so fast that even the lycanthropes, startled, couldn’t fasten on to him. They whined their disappointment.

As did Branwen. “Goddess-damn it! That looked like dinner for a week.”

“Since when have you missed a meal?” I said, my eyes glinting. Branwen wasn’t fat, but she had been insane during the entire time of my prostitution. Coming back to clarity, see sees me naked and beautiful, and so instantly goes on a diet. She gave me a dirty look.

“There’s plenty of game,” Rosalyn said. “Rhiannon, this is such good sport. Thank you for bringing me along.”

But that brought to my mind similar sport that the lords of Dyved would do. Only it would involve taking a prostitute, stripping her, and making her run into the woods on their grounds. Preferably in freezing weather. Then she’d be chased down by the lords’ dogs, cornered or treed like an animal, to await the lords. They would shoot her like we were going to shoot a buck. They had already had their way with her the night before, so they hadn’t wasted her femininity and this way they wouldn’t have to pay her.

In Dyved, when I was Ferrell’s pampered fiancée, I had been oh so very amused when I had heard of that sport. Never dreaming that one day I would be the kind of woman who might be called on to provide that kind of entertainment. I guess Alcippe, when she made me perform obscenely for the lords and ladies of Ferrell’s court, to ensure he would never have me back, has done me a favor. I no longer laugh at those who are less fortunate than I am. I know their pain, for I have been the lowest of the low. It makes me a better queen.

But it may have been these dour thoughts, of my humiliation, of the war against New Dyved and their offworld allies, the Terrans, to avenge that, which mis-guided my aim. I was cold, shivering in the early morning dew, but that doesn’t usually affect my aim, although I have blamed my mis-judgment on that to Arianrhod. After the buck had left, I saw movement to the left of us. I raised my hand to shush the howling lupines and the bitching women. Rhonda handed me an arrow. I notched it, took aim at the motion, and was rewarded by a cry of pain.

“That sounded like a man,” Arianrhod said. We rushed in the direction of my kill; the other women’s swords and jewelry jingling to the tramp of their boots. We arrived and saw him.

He was naked, and had a perfectly formed male body. Muscular, but slender, he was what men call wiry. His ears, short, round things, revealed him to be a Terran. My arrow had gotten him right through the heart; I had aimed at the leg I had seen. Arianrhod crouched over him, her hands doing figure eights down his body.

“Is he?” I whispered.

“He is. You killed him Rhiannon.”

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons

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