Sacrifice Ch. 02bypandarus©
Caliope awoke very slowly and to a terrible aching sensation. Her whole body felt stiff and heavy and when she shifted to rise she felt a wince inducing pain between her thighs. She struggled to a sitting position, her vision still bleary with sleep. She groped for bed side table fruitlessly and was about to call for a servant when her hand encountered fur and she realized she was sleeping on a pile of skins and pillows instead of her linen bed. Caliope managed to blink herself into surprised wakefulness and her memory returned in a rush as she checked her surroundings. The stone walls and floor, the skins, and finally a telling stain beneath her served as efficient reminders of where she was and what had happened to her.
The creature, Thelios he had called himself, was gone. She poked at the dried reddish patch on one of the skins and blushed. That would explain the soreness. She groaned herself onto her feet and made her way to a washing bowl she spotted on a small table in the corner. She dampened a cloth and carefully surveying the damage. Her thighs were streaked lightly with diluted blood and the folds of her sex were sore to the touch...or rather, more so. She ached badly enough that she found herself walking rather slowly as she moved to collect her things.
Her clothes were still in a pile on the floor, and therefore still damp, and not particularly wearable. She picked up one of the unmarked skins and held it in front of her as she tried the door that she assumed led to the hall. It was unlocked and she poked out her head, spotting the servant Demitri walking away from her down the hall.
"Demitri" she hissed after him. He stopped and turned, arching one dark brow at her.
"I need help." He turned and walked towards her, raising both brows as he spotted her hide covered form hiding behind the door.
"I have no clothes." She explained, not quite able to cover the plaintive quality of her voice. His face twitched into a smirk.
"Got rough did he?"
"No," she said with a sigh, "my dress is wet, I can't wear it." He nodded and fingered his chin for a moment.
"Come with me."
"I can't." She pointed to the hide and he waved her off.
"Just wrap it around you. I won't look too hard." he turned and walked off down the hall. She hesitated a moment and followed with another sigh, it was that or nudity. He led her a fair ways into the tunnel before pausing at a locked room and letting her in. She entered and looked around in amazement. The room was stuffed full of all sorts of wonderful things. Tapestries, urns and vases, handsome chests likely filled with treasures, cloth, plates and bowls, gold and marble statues and ornaments. She ran her fingers over a small golden likeness of Apollo who stood looking gallant with his bow drawn back and aimed high, as if he would shoot down the sun itself. She thought of the nearly empty rooms she'd seen and wondered why more of these lovely things weren't on display.
"In that chest there," Demitri said pointing to a box in the far corner, "you'll find clothing. Something might fit you."
He threw something at her that she caught it one handed at the last moment, pressing it to her stomached to keep it from slipping. It was a key.
"Lock up when you're done."
She nodded and turned to the chest, finding it full of all sorts of clothing. Some were for men, though much of it seemed to be for women, and most of those were either very elegant or suggestively minimalist. There were only one or two pieces that seemed reasonable to work in. She took both but looked longingly at the other clothes. One of the reasonable pieces fit well and the other could be made to fit when double belted so she took both. She also gave into temptation and claimed an elegant deep blue dress made of a heavy rich fabric, telling herself it might be appropriate when entertaining his lordship, if that was indeed to be her role. This same argument applied to two of the more revealing dresses she also chose...though with slightly different connotations.
She locked up tucking the key into a fold of her new simple white dress. The stone was frigid on her bare feet and she recalled taking off her sandals in the bath room. They were still there, though the bath had been drained, and everything else tidied up.
What next? She thought looking back toward the room where she'd spent the night. She wasn't sure how she felt about the whole situation...let alone what she should do about it. Mostly she was just confused, and completely out of her element. It was not a place she enjoyed being.
Last night had been strange and unexpected, and she knew she should have felt some how used or unclean. He was, after all a monster...yet there was nothing really monstrous about him, except his size...which was apparently nominal, and his unusual coloring, which had little bearing on her circumstances. At least in so far as she was concerned. So she felt nothing. Well perhaps not nothing, she admitted hesitantly...but compared to her previous trepidation, she felt rather calm, normal even. Well...normal might be a relative term in this case. Still, she wasn't going to complain. It wouldn't do her much good if she did.
She gazed back into the drained bath and was drawn back into a remembrance of the evenings events, particularly her own aggression. She remembered his horns, how she'd caressed them. What must he think of her? Yet...they held a strange earthy appeal. Was that wrong of her to think so? She had to admit, after last night she found herself thinking of him in a distinctly new light. He had done things to her, made her feel things she did not know were possible. She sighed heavily resting her head on uplifted knees. She had much to consider.
The girls! She'd been so distracted she'd forgotten.
"Selfish girl," she chided, getting to her feet and ignoring the slight ache. They must be terrified by now. She still had the key so she could go talk to them, let them know everything was alright. She checked the hall, it was empty. She had a vague sense of where she was going, the direction and the general distance down the hall, but she wasn't entirely sure which door it was. Luckily it wasn't far and the second door she knocked on got a response when she hailed them.
"Hello?" A soft voice called from the other side. She unlocked the door and slid in, closing it carefully behind her.
"I can't stay long," she began looking around to check that they were all still there and all in more or less one piece. They were. "I came to tell you not to worry, that we won't be hurt, and certainly not killed or eaten." A few looked vaguely relieved, but most looked confused or suspicious.
"How do you know, asked the angry girl from before who'd been so certain they would die.
"And you believe them?"
"Yes. I think he only wants slaves."
"Who, that nasty man?"
"No the master, or...er, the giant."
"Slaves for what?" Asked another girl.
"Well, for the obvious reason..." she remembered they'd only seen him as a giant, "he can change his shape, you know. Become smaller if he wills it."
"Why young women though?" And this from the angry girl. Calliope had hoped that she'd at least figure that out on her own.
"Well," she started patiently, "he's male, we're female...don't any of your fathers have a young attractive slave around that you mother despises?" She saw the light go on in a few faces, but frowning confusion was still the norm. She sighed. "Sex, he wants sex."
The reaction was one of general horror, even the angry girl looked ashen. "I'd rather die, whispered one girl reverently.
"Really?" Calliope looked at her with open disbelief.
"Yes! Than be touched by that creature!"
"But...he's...he can be very pleasant." Now it was their turn to look incredulous.
"We thought you were dead." She turned and saw the doe eyed girl looking at her. "How did you get out?"
"I didn't. I mean I just stayed in the cave when you were taken back." Her eyes turned into plates.
"Alone! With the giant?"
"What did he do?"
"Ah, well, ignored me, at first. But he was polite enough in answering my questions once I got his attention."
"And he said he wanted...you know?"
"No, he said he wouldn't kill us...the other things I figured out on my own." She had to admit she was hesitant to make any further admissions considering their initial reaction to the thought. Thankfully no one asked. No one said anything at all.
"It's not so bad...I imagine..." She muttered. This was not going to work she decided despondently. All he could do was give it a shot and see. One or two of them looked slightly less horrified than the others, they might be amenable, she thought.
God, what was she thinking? Was she so eager to throw them in his way? 'Better them than you then? She asked herself, more than a little disgusted. It wasn't her business helping him...though she did want to make it easier for the women if she could...what a disaster.
"I have to go," she sighed "please, don't worry, things aren't so bad, and I'm sure you wouldn't Really want to die. Just, be calm and patient, things will work out, I'm sure." She turned away from the forlorn looks and slipped back into the hall, leaning heavily against the door. She hadn't expected them to be happy, but less appalled would have been nice. So much for being the bearer of good news. She jumped at the sound of a throat being cleared.
"All done your little speech?" She pursed her lips tightly at him and Demitri grinned in response. "Didn't go so well eh? Well maybe public speaking isn't your calling." he motioned for her to move and she noticed he carried a platter of food. She stepped aside and opened the door for him and closed it behind. She imagined them watching him with silent suspicious eyes. He joined her again momentarily and took her by the elbow, dragging her back to the kitchen with him and plopped her onto a stool in front of what looked like her breakfast. She shifted uncomfortably in the stool. He chuckled at her.
"Want a cushion?"
"Yes." She admitted grudgingly in a soft voice. He left and returned with one of the pillows from the dining room. She shoved it under her with a violent primness that could only have been learned from her mother.
"Eat up, you had a rough night." He winked at her and pushed the plate towards her.
"You get noisy." She felt the colour drain from her face. If he heard her, then surely the others must have as well. But didn't they say they thought she was dead?
"Was it that bad?" She whispered into her meal.
"It sounded like you were being tortured, either that or having a really good time. Any way, old what's his name hasn't been so chipper since he took out the Myrian navy. His words not mine."
"That's what I asked."
"'Exactly' was all he said."
"Indeed. So, good work." She felt a disturbing pang of pride.
"Stop, you'll give me a big head." she muttered into her food. He laughed again.
"No that's your job lady." She smiled at her plate and shook her own head.
"You could have just told them everything." He said after a moment, looking at her thoughtfully. She appraised him. Beneath his constant shadow of a beard he actually had a rather pleasant face, perhaps in his early forties, and his rather penetrating grey eyes were softer than normal, the faint lines around his eyes crinkling with amusement.
"They would have stoned me. Did you hear their reaction?"
"Absolutely. Women are vicious protectors of the status quo."
"I've never heard it put that way before. I always just think, judging bitches." She half choked on her food, and let out a coughing laugh.
"That too. Listen, do you have any brushes for cleaning? "He pointed to a set of shelves behind him,
"It was also messy." He winced and she shrugged. "Not my fault, I was an innocent bystander...but I'd like to get them clean nonetheless."
"Really? I don't have to?" He looked surprised.
"You shouldn't have to."
"You're the only one who thinks so. But I'm glad you do. Help yourself." He cleaned up the plates and she took what she needed and headed for the creek with her load. Inside everything was dimly lit and it was near impossible to tell the time, but outside the sun was bright and high, illuminating the jade grass brilliantly. The air was fresh and clear and she paused to appreciate the raw beauty of the place, the broken shoreline, and windswept pastures.
She dumped her laundry, including the damp dress at the creek and settled herself into her work. By the time she was done she had a thin layer of sweat covering her skin. She hung everything out on branches to let them dry and air properly and removed her own clothes, laying them out on a small boulder by the water. The water was cold, but refreshing, and soothed the parts of her that were still tender. The ache was slowly ebbing away and the combination of the cool water moving over her skin and the heat caused by her memories of the previous night, memories that were insidiously slipping their way into her mind, were replacing that ache with tingling warmth instead.
She was considering turning her body up stream to sooth this new sort of 'ache' when a strange vibration ran through the ground beneath her. It happened again, and repeated itself, growing stronger until it felt as though it were directly beneath her before disappearing completely. She rose from the creek and wrung the water from her hair. As she reached for her clothes she felt the eyes on her again, and this time when she turned she was sure there was someone there. She called out nervously, and to her relief Thelios emerge silently from the trees.
She was not insensible to the irony of that relief. Habit made her cover herself and her pulse raced. He was looking directly at her and gave her a small smile, but strode towards the water, leaning down and splashing it over himself. She pulled her clothes back on and sat on a nearby rock watching him. A number of ewes and lambs stumbled out of the trees behind him also looking for water.
"Whose sheep are those?"
"Really?" She didn't see him as a shepherd.
"Yes, really. What did you think I was doing all day?"
She shrugged. She hadn't really thought about it, her mind had been otherwise occupied.
"Terrorizing a small village?"
He gave her a sharp look and she made a valiant attempt to bite back her grin until he smirked first, causing her to lose the fight.
"Did you console the others yet?" He asked washing his arms. Her heart sunk a little.
"Attempted." He looked back at the water.
"I see. What did you tell them?"
"The truth...more or less." He gave her a sly smile.
"How much less?"
"I didn't think examples were necessary." He chuckled slightly, but it sounded humourless.
"And they reacted badly. Let me guess, they'd rather die?" Had he already spoken to Demitiri? She was going to say no, but he looked at her, seriously this time. "And don't lie, it wouldn't become you." She closed her mouth and looked at her hands.
"Maybe if I sent you one at dinner, tonight, one of the less skittish ones, then they'd see...they'd believe me. I think they just have trouble believing me you see." He stood straight and came to stand over her looking like silver again in the sun. She resisted the urge to touch him, to test if he was real.
"Somehow I don't think that will help. But do what you must. Keep in mind though, I will hold you responsible for the results." Her stomach twisted.
"You said no death right?" she reminded him, worrying the cloth under her fingers. He touched her face lightly and she blinked.
"Don't be silly. I'll merely take my frustrations out on you instead. I'm sure you'll survive the second time as well as you did the first." The cold in her stomach melted, and her legs went with it.
"One can only hope my lord." He released her face and looked around at the strange hanging garden she'd created.
"I'll be in shortly; there are a few more I have to collect." He gestured to the sheep. "Let Demitri know." She nodded her compliance and stood as he strode away, her knees wobbly and her face still prickling from where he'd touched her.
She still hadn't decided what to do about the other girls when dinner rolled around, so she thought she'd let Demitri decide for her.
"The fair one then." He said rinsing the wine residue from one of the jugs.
"Any particular reason why?"
"Looks better? I don't know. You said pick." She'd given him a choice of three girls she thought were least likely to cry or break down in a fit of panic. She nodded, good enough reason. "Any reason you won't pick?" She shrugged and picked at the olives.
"I feel like I'm prostituting them." He grinned at her evilly.
"Easier if I prostitute them for you?" She watched an olive roll off the plate and stopped it with her finger.
"Do you think he'll like her?" She was very pretty she thought, remembering the girl from the ride. She'd thought she was pretty then too, more than the majority of them, and far more than herself.
"Depends. Hard to judge any mans taste, least of all one as odd and particular as the master. Why? Worried he'll take it out on you if he's mad? He won't you know, men that big don't need to beat up on women. Not when there's plenty of men out there who are more satisfying." He grinned and winked at her. She smiled back. He was turning out to be a surprisingly friendly fellow, brusque and impatient perhaps, but by no means cruel or as miserable as he initially seemed.
"No, I've been informed already of my... culpability...I just wonder if he'll like her, that is if she manages to stay calm enough."
"No, I knew none of you would do, too weepy...present company excluded, don't know what's wrong with you. They'll all need to be coddled and he doesn't have it in him."
"There's nothing wrong with me!" she defended.
"Sure you're a deviant." She could feel the blood rising to her face.
"I am not. Just because I choose to be pragmatic and make the best of..." He was laughing at her and she stopped. "Don't laugh at me. This whole situation is very difficult for me."
"Girl you've got one rare set of balls on you. Chiding your captors." He was still mocking her.
"Well maybe they deserve it. Is she there yet?" Her mind flitted back to the dining room.
"Not yet, just going to get her...want to come?"
"Whatever you want."
"What do you think would be easier on her?"
"How should I know." She decided to go with him, and motioned him forward. She waited outside while he went in and picked her out. She heard wailing and winced, thankfully the girl in question looked stunned, but wasn't yet in tears. Calliope smiled encouragingly and took her hands in hers giving them a squeeze.
"He wants to meet you...all of you. It's alright, there's nothing to be afraid of." The girl looked between the two of them questioningly.
"He's just having supper now," she started leading her by the hand towards the dinning room, and felt guilty as hell looking into that terrified face. "He's really very nice, there's nothing to be afraid of."
"But you said he wanted..." Calliope winced inwardly. Perhaps she should have kept that to herself.
"It's more of a theory really, he never mentioned anything specifically." Well it wasn't totally a lie, but she was glad the girl had her back to Demitri who rolled his eyes. She shot him a look and put an arm around the girls shoulder, pausing at the door. She took the girls hands in hers again. "Just breath and stay calm, there's nothing to be afraid of. Really. Just be yourself and pretend it's just like any other meeting you've had. Alright?" She nodded, but Calliope had a feeling it wasn't the tiniest bit alright.