Carnival and Masque

byTamLin01©

Portia slid her tongue along the underside of his shaft, trailing wetness, then slid it out just far enough to tickle the head with the tip of her tongue. He seemed to enjoy that, or at least be amused by it, so she did it again, sliding her tongue around the ridge and teasing the spot behind it. His flesh tasted divine, a sweet and holy sensation that she could not place. She lapped at him, eager for more of it, and she opened her mouth wider, pushing him to the entrance of her throat, even allowing his fingers to fold themselves in her hair and push down, feeding himself to her. She moaned, sending the vibrations up and down him. Her mouth watered. She tried to pull even more of the stranger in, but there was nothing more. She had the entirety of him now.

She heard, for a moment, footsteps on the stones behind her, and surprised voices, and even laughter, and opening her eyes for a moment she saw the stranger smile and wink, not at her but evidently at someone behind her. They were being watched. Perhaps there was even a crowd? She didn't care. She would not be interrupted. She slid her hands up his taut thighs and around back, gripping his hips and all but forcing him, with as much power as her tiny body could summon, to go faster as he rocked back and forth, in and out of her gaping mouth.

His climax took her by surprise. There was no indication, no verbalization, no change in his body language or breathing. All of a sudden there was a sensation of pressure being released and something wet and thick spreading across her tongue, filling her mouth. Portia's eyes snapped open, shocked, and for a second she had the urge to expel him, but she came to her senses and accepted it. The hot, wet flow spilled inside of her and she observed the gulping motion of her throat with a combination of fascination and horror. She imagined the stranger's seed mixing with the holy wine in her stomach. Is this the largesse of the gods too, she thought? And then she had to pull away because she was laughing, taken with a fit of merry madness.

The stranger pulled her up by her wrist, so fast that she nearly swooned again. She was gaping, red-faced, breathless. The stranger petted her like a kitten. "I hope you haven't worn yourself out already?" he said, "Come." He started to drag her along. She could barely keep one foot in front of the other. "There are people you should meet."

He pulled into a nearby prayer house, although by the sounds of things there was anything but prayer going on today. The statues and holy icons all had sheets and towels flung over their heads to symbolize gods' blindness to humanity's actions today, and there were many half-empty casks of wine scattered about, and in the dark corners of the room there were many undressed people doing very many things that made Portia's insides quiver even as her head throbbed. The stranger presented her hand, very cordially, to a woman who was there, standing apart from the others, observing. This woman was pale but vibrant, with golden hair and long, exquisitely formed limbs. Her lips were such a deep red that they were almost purple, like the grapes that make the sacred wine.

"I'd like you to meet my wife," said the stranger.

Portia's mouth fell open. "But you can't be here! Unmasked...you've seen each other!"

"So?" said the woman, still holding Portia's hand.

"It's a sin. It's monstrous!" Portia almost babbling now.

"According to whom?" said the stranger. Both of them towering over Portia. "This is our house. We will decide what is sacred and what is profane. Who will tell us that it's wrong? You?"

"I—I—" said Portia. She felt confused, her head throbbing.

"There, there," said the woman. They took her to a pew and sat her down. The woman began undressing Portia, who did not object. The feeling of her clothes gliding across her bare flesh was very gratifying. Her half-focused eyes fixated on three people in the corner who were very, very busy at something. Suddenly her vision was obscured by the stranger's wife, who leaned over Portia and kissed her with an open mouth. It was a fleeting thing, but Portia raised her head to chase after the woman's retreating lips. The stranger swooped in and caught Portia's face in one hand, turning it toward him and giving her a matching kiss.

"I sense that you're feeling in the spirit of the season," said the stranger's wife. Portia nodded, since speaking was too difficult in her state. She was aware of the stranger's hands on her hips, guiding her into a dark corner of the room, and of the strange woman walking in front of her, beckoning her along. Suddenly Portia was in the midst of a mass of people, half-glimpsed in the dark, a mass of writhing naked bodies and twining limbs. The stranger gave her a little push and almost sent her barreling into the midst of them, but someone (Portia had no idea who?) caught her and helped ease her down.

Portia lay on the cool floor tiles. A sea of flesh moved around her. She discovered another body pressed against hers, some anonymous woman lost in the drunken ecstasy of the moment, and when they came together (so soft, thought Portia) their lips joined in a long kiss. The nameless woman's hands moved across Portia, tracing the outline of her hips and her thighs, and Portia raked her fingers up the other woman's back, outlining in the curve of her spine. How remarkable, she thought, that this woman should be composed of all the same parts as I have, and yet we should look nothing alike. She set about testing the theory, examining, with her hot lips and soft hands, the various delicate parts of her unseen partner, tasting the slope of her neck and the angle of her shoulders, feeling the firmness and the ripeness of her breasts, testing the degree of her backside and the plane of her thighs. Portia anatomized the other woman one inch at a time, oblivious to their surroundings.

Suddenly hands tugged at Portia's hair, and she was turned to greet another kissing mouth, another pair of exploring hands. A woman again, by the feel of her. Portia accepted the attention without complaint. Then she was pulled in a different direction and the hard, lean body of a man lay against her, his kisses hard and insistent. Someone else was behind her now and she felt the distinct throb of an erection against her backside. Unseen hands pulled her hair, arching her neck and back, pressing her breasts forward into the waiting molestation of the man in front of her. One of the women insinuated herself into the group, kissing her way up the exposed flank of Portia's thigh as she was pressed between the two men. None of these strangers, though, was the golden-haired couple who had brought Portia here. This she knew, because now and then she caught sight of them elsewhere in the shadows, always watching her, sometimes together and sometimes individually. But eventually she was buried underneath the huddle of competing bodies and lost sight of them entirely.

There was no telling how long this went on before the others dropped away, exhausted, bored, drunk. By that time Portia was wrung-out and spent, but something about the burning ache of the wine she'd consumed wouldn't let her rest. People slept in two and threes on the floor around her and she picked her way between them. Finding one man still alert and at attention, she went to all fours in front of him and sucked his prick in the dark until he contributed to the growing communion in her body, and then he too fell away, uselessly slumbering. Portia groped her way across the floor, blind and helpless, until familiar hands found her. Her strange host and his equally strange wife, still here or perhaps returned from an absence, had come to retrieve her. They stood her up, cleaned her off as best they could, covered her with some bare semblance of modesty, and took her from the house.

"Have you been enjoying your rites today?" said the strange man.

"Mmm, yes..." Portia said.

"We have more for you," said the strange woman, as they bore her along between them. More, thought Portia? What else could there possibly be? The sun was getting low. Portia found her feet and began to walk of her own accord, staying between the couple, comfortable in their presence now, indeed, thirsty for it. She slipped an arm around each of their waists and accepted theirs in return. She became fascinated by the movement of their legs, particularly the way their ankles flexed. For some time she was so distracted by this that she didn't pay any attention to where they were going. Only when she saw the cathedral spires did her feet drag. "We're going there?" she said.

"Where else on this most sacred day?" said the woman.

"It's forbidden," said Portia.

"You say that so often," said the stranger. They approached the gilded gates.

"We can't get in," Portia insisted. "There's no one there." But no sooner did she say it than the gates creaked open. The stranger and his wife entered, greeted formally by whoever was doing the admitting. When Portia, after a moment's hesitation, followed, she was stunned to see Father Marlowe. Yes, Father Marlowe, in his robes and wearing his mask, against all custom and holy law, wearing a mask on Hallowmas. Portia gasped, as did he when he saw her.

"Portia!" he said. "But what are you doing here child? No, not you, not you of all—"

"I followed them," said Portia. "They insisted that—wait, how did you know me? How do you know my face?"

Father Marlowe seemed about to answer but the stranger gave him a dark look, and he bowed his head. "Well," he muttered, "you are here. There is nothing to be done about it now. Come along."

He took them into the cathedral. Portia was at a loss to keep up, and she had no idea what was going on. It wasn't just the wine now. In fact she felt almost completely sober again. The high arches of the cathedral, always so comforting to her, seemed sinister now. She tried to stay close to Father Marlowe, although in truth his presence was disturbing. How could a priest of all people dare to wear his mask today? And yet the strange couple did not seem bothered by it. Portia began to feel ill. Who were these people? How could they so casually stomach such sins? Even on Hallowmas there were lines that should never be crossed. But Father Marlowe made a sign for silence, and the eyes behind his mask seemed desperate and pleading.

To Portia's surprise, the sanctuary was full of lights and people. No, she realized, not people at all, but merely a line of dressing dummies wearing priest's robes and sacred golden masks in the likeness of bulls, a convocation of masks without faces behind them. Ceremonial torches burned on all sides and the smell of incense filled the air. What in the world was going on? Up to the altar they all went, but here Father Marlowe warned her back and made suppliant gestures to the couple.

"We greet you today, most holy and divine of personages," said Father Marlowe. "And we greet the witness you've brought." Portia started a little when she realized he was talking about her. "In your name, in your honor, shall we initiate the sacrifice?"

The stranger was about to speak but his wife cut him off: "Let her do it," she said. Again, Portia knew they were talking about her, and a hard feeling formed in the pit of her stomach, though she could not imagine what "it" could be. Father Marlowe paused for only a fraction of a second.

"Of course, my lady," he said.

He went to Portia. She stood face to face with the priest, and his eyes looked sad. Portia had no idea what was expected of her. He patted her hand once, reassuring her, and then he turned away and, to her horror, removed his mask, dropping it. Then he shed his robe as well, and for a moment Portia felt as if she were going blind, or perhaps that the world was going out of focus, and when the moment passed Father Marlowe was gone and where he had been, and indeed, still standing over the remains of his robes and mask, was a sacred white bull, lowing and snorting. It was huge and vibrant and alive. Sweat dappled its flanks in the torchlight, and when it turned to her its breath warmed her skin. Is it real, Portia thought, half wanting to touch it but half afraid to as well.

The stranger and his wife came to her, he guiding her forward and she placing a dagger in Portia's hand. The bull did not seem afraid. Indeed, it took a few steps toward her, a friendly gesture. Only when the act was already done did Portia realized that, in one swift motion, she had cut the bull's throat! Her hands had moved entirely of their own accord. She gasped and dropped the knife, but though a red stain spread across the great bull's white hide and its blood flowed over the tiled floor the animal did not cry out or stagger or fall. It remained calm, peaceful, letting its blood flow in streams, making no sign of pain. The stranger caught some of the blood in a sacred chalice. Portia shook her head. "What's going on?" she said, but the stranger hushed her.

Minutes passed and the stream of blood diminished to a dribble, but somehow the bull still lived. It shook its ears and flicked its tail, and that was all. The stranger put one bronzed hand on the bull's flank and his wife touched it on the forehead, and then the huge animal turned and trotted away, heading toward the altar, and then the world went out of focus again and the beast was gone, vanished, and if not for the blood on the floor Portia would not have believed it had been there in the first place. "What...what was that?" she said.

"A farewell to the flesh," said the stranger. "Now Hallowmas is done: The most sacred rite has been observed, and you are our witness."

"Not yet," said the woman. She took the blood-filled chalice and, from the altar, retrieved a flagon of wine, which she mixed with the blood in the cup. Then she presented the cup to Portia. "Drink." It was not a request. Portia gagged, shaking her head, but the woman pushed the cup forward. "Drink!" she said again. "It's important. It's the covenant."

"But why?" said Portia. "What does it mean? What's going on here? Who are you?"

"Don't you know?" said the stranger. "Isn't it obvious who we are? Haven't you said your prayers to us every day? And we heard them. Now, the covenant."

Portia began to cry. The woman pushed the cup to her lips, almost choking her, and she drank. It tasted bitter and it burned her throat, but she drank. The alcoholic haze overtook her again and she did not resist as the stranger carried her to the altar, laying her naked across it. The two stood over her, the man on one side, the woman on the other, hands joined. Portia saw the masks of the gods on the wall. Worse, she knew that they saw her. She wanted to cry out but no words came.

"Accept us back into the world now," said one of them (either the man or his wife, she could not tell which). "Accept us into your hearts, your minds, and your bodies."

Portia was burning up inside; her limbs were on fire.

"Accept us," said the man, kissing her.

"Accept us," repeated the woman, kissing her again. Portia's lips burned with divine fire. Her body was floating away, or perhaps was being consumed. The stranger, she realized, was on top of her now, taking her across the altar, right there in front of the eyes of the gods, and his wife was leaning over, presenting her breasts to Portia's mouth, and Portia's skin burned, and her body became lighter and lighter, until it seemed she was not there at all. In the midst of her delirium, she thought she saw the images of the gods remove their masks. She thought she saw the naked faces of the gods. And—how horrifying to realize!—she saw that the gods looked just like anyone else.

She couldn't bear it. So instead, she slept.

***

She woke the next day in her own home again. She did not remember returning. She did not remember anything after that moment on the altar. And how much of what happened before that was memory and how much simply a mad dream? She did not know. She thought she might never know.

She was sore all over and her hands were still stained with wine. Wine, and perhaps something else. She tried to wipe them on her bedclothes before realizing what she was doing. She dressed herself with aching limbs, pausing only briefly before putting her mask on. It settled against her face, and when she opened her eyes everything about the world seemed to make sense again. Yes, everything was all right.

She went to the east sitting room, where the family was already awake and waiting for her. Cassius embraced her, setting his brow against hers, while Octavia chattered with bright greetings and Alexander, at his books as always, gave her a nod. It was a beautiful day outside, and the entire city was rising to greet the open air and the bright sun. With Hallowmas come and gone they had their entire lives to get back to.

"Good morning, Mummy," said Octavia.

"Good morning, Mother," said Alexander.

"Good morning, darlings," said Portia. She frowned. Was there something wrong with her voice? It seemed to echo inside her mask. But no one else noticed. Cassius sat with her on a couch, talking about dinner with the count that evening. Portia found herself staring at Cassius' bare hands, comparing them to those of the stranger, and even to those of the stranger's wife.

The stranger...

She was seized with a kind of spasm, almost a seizure, at the memory of that bizarre, blasphemous couple. She wondered who they were, where they were today, what they were doing, and the thought set a ringing in her mind, as if the bells of every church had split. Cassius just kept talking: "Did you know," he said, "Father Marlowe died yesterday?"

"He did?" said Alexander.

"Oh yes. In his sleep, in the sanctuary, apparently. They found him this morning. Quite a thing, dying on a holy day. Seems appropriate. I wonder how we'll ever replace him? Anybody who came along would think he had always—"

Octavia noticed first; her screams alerted the others. They all started, then looked at Portia, and then cried out as well. Cassius tried to look away, but it was too late. Portia had taken her mask off. Right there, in front of everyone, she took it off and broke it into pieces, and now the pieces were sifting through her fingers, falling away, going to dust, and then even the dust was gone.

Octavia would not stop screaming. Eventually she took a needle from her mother's sewing basket and, in a fit, tried to blind herself, but Alexander stopped her. Not that it mattered hat they had seen could not be unseen. Portia looked at her husband and children with her naked face for the first time. "Accept us," she remembered the strangers saying the previous night. "Accept us," they'd said, again and again.

Cassius took her by her shoulders, shaking her, trying to get her to speak, trying to reason with her. Alexander shielded Octavia's eyes, hugging her, trying to comfort her. Portia said nothing. Minutes passed before Cassius could get her to say anything, and when she did all she said was: "Accept us. Accept us." He stared, helpless, horrified, not understanding. But Portia could not explain.

When she opened her eyes she did not see her family anymore. Without her mask on, she saw the faces of gods. And the gods saw her. And it was good.

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byTamLin01© 4 comments/ 30167 views/ 1 favorites

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