The summons at the door of their cottage was so abrupt, so fierce a demand, that it startled Lady Mariel Champlain. She jerked reflexively, burning her hand on the pot she'd been on the point of pulling from the cook fire. Whirling, she glanced fearfully at her father, wondering if he knew who it might be, or if he would deal with whomever it was. He had been drinking steadily for days now, though, and scarcely seemed to register the pounding, even when it came again.
Realizing that she would have to deal with whatever the situation was, she turned to look at the pot of thin stew and quickly moved it away from the fire, setting it on the hearth. It was all they had to eat and, regardless of what calamity might wait on the other side of the door, she couldn't bear to allow the little food it held to go to ruin while she was distracted.
Sucking the burn on the side of her palm, she set her spoon and the folded cloths aside and hurried to the door before whoever stood on the other side broke it down, fearful that it might be more creditors that she would have to try to fend off.
The setting sun dazzled her for several moments, making it difficult to make out the dark figure who stood upon the threshold. Slowly, her eyes focused upon him, however. A debilitating wave of shock went through her as her mind registered who, or rather what, he was.
A Trull--a demon soldier of the dark Lord Valdamer, the warlock who ruled Daeksould. Once they had been human, but the demons who inhabited their bodies had erased all traces of humanity from them beyond the human shell they inhabited. They were not evil so much as they were soulless creatures, without pity, without remorse, without emotion of any kind, but they were the minions of Lord Valdamer and they did as they were commanded without question.
As numb as if she had suddenly been frozen and separated from thought, emotion, and even physical feeling, she fell back instinctively as he stepped into the tiny cottage she had shared with her father since they had fallen upon hard times and lost all that they had once had.
Closing the door behind him, the Trull folded his arms over his broad, muscular chest, his stance wide, his back guarding the door as he glanced around at the stark furnishings. "I am here to see Lord Champlain."
Swallowing with an effort, unable to speak, Mariel glanced at her father again. He'd roused from his drunken stupor enough, she saw, to look around. The look of terror on his face mirrored what should have been her own, except that she could feel nothing at all. He seemed paralyzed by his fear, for he made no effort to rise. "I am Lord Champlain," he responded hoarsely.
The Trull nodded. Stepping forward, he grasped Mariel's arm. "I am Behsart, sent by Lord Valdamer to accept your offering. Is this the female?"
Weakness washed through Mariel as she stared at her father uncomprehendingly.
For perhaps a second, their eyes locked and then he looked away from her. "Aye."
Without a word, the Trull pulled a set of manacles from his belt. Fastening one to the wrist of the arm he held, he grasped her other arm and manacled it, as well. Pulling a bag from his belt, he tossed it to Lord Champlain. "Your pay for your offering."
The bag landed in her father's lap, jingling. He grabbed it up with shaking hands and pulled the tie from it, pouring the contents into his lap--a pile of golden coins.
Mariel was still staring at him blankly, in complete disbelief, when the Trull pulled on the chain attached to her manacles and turned toward the door once more. She stumbled as she was dragged across the threshold. Instinctively, she righted herself once more, struggling to keep pace with the man who led her away. As he tugged her through the gate that fronted the tiny yard, she glanced back at the cottage, still unable to accept that her father had sold her for coin, hoping that she would at least see denial in his face, concern, shame--but there was no sign of her father.
Catching her around her waist, the Trull lifted her up onto the black fire steed he had tied at the gate and climbed up behind her. Holding the prancing beast to a walk, he urged it along the road and through the streets of the village. Some of Mariel's numbness began to wear off as they rode. A flicker of thought here and there entered her mind.
She had been sold by her father as sacrifice to the demons the warlock Valdamer owed his powers to.
She was going to die. She had not even lived yet. She was only twenty. She had never been courted, never gone beyond the village, never wed--though she should have long since and would have if her father had not squandered their fortune. Now she would not get the chance of any kind of future at all.
She shied away from that thought.
Why had her father done it? Only for the coin?
Sickness welled inside of her. He had gambled away his fortune and now used her to rebuild it?
She had never felt her father loved her, but she would not have believed he felt so little that a bag of gold coins was worth more to him than her life. Surely, she had least had some value to him above that? If nothing else, she had cooked and cleaned for him.
She thrust the thought aside, unwilling to accept it, certain there must have been more to it than that. Perhaps they had demanded that he make sacrifice and the coin was something offered as recompense?
In any case, did it truly matter? For whatever reason he'd done it. He had not even warned her. He had allowed her to go about her chores with no notion that any moment a knock would fall upon the door and she would be told her life was over.
She found it nigh impossible to grasp that she was to be led away to her death without warning of any kind, without ever having done anything to deserve such a fate.
After a time, it occurred to her that they were many days ride from Valdamer Castle. She would not be sacrificed until they reached it. The Trull had said that. She might have a chance to live if she could only gather her wits about her.
She was still too stunned to do so. With the best will in the world, she could not seem to think beyond her father's betrayal. As she looked up and saw that the Trull was leading her to the Demon Temple, what little wit she'd gathered deserted her.
The priestesses of the temple were assembled on the piazza that fronted the temple, awaiting her. Mariel's heart began to hammer in her chest with fear as the Trull pulled the horse to a halt and dismounted by the steps. Four priestesses with mallets began to hammer at the two drums suspended on either side of the temple door as the Trull reined his horse to a halt at the foot of the temple. Pulling her from the saddle, the Trull wrapped the end of the chain connected to her manacles around one fist and began to ascend the stairs, towing her behind him.
She could walk, or she would be dragged.
She concentrated on keeping step with him, mindlessly counting the stone treads as they climbed--twenty, and they reached the piazza. The High Priestess stepped forward. Taking the chain from the Trull, she turned Mariel so that she was facing the village. Mariel saw that a crowd had gathered below, drawn by the summons of the drums.
"Behold--the bride of the Demon Sheenigan, the demon of many mouths!"
She nodded then to someone beyond Mariel's view. The priestesses surrounded Mariel, tearing at her clothes and ripping them from her body piece by piece. Within moments, she had been stripped completely bare for all to see. Catching her by her arms, the priestesses paraded her back and forth along the edge of the piazza so that all might see that the bride offered to the Demon Sheenigan was without flaw.
Numbly, she walked and turned at the priestesses command, still too numb to feel anything at all, even embarrassment at being displayed in such a way, wondering a little hysterically what they meant by "flawless." She was certainly no great beauty, but perhaps they only meant that she was not lame, not hunchbacked, not twisted or deformed in any way?
When the High Priestess had offered a prayer to the Demon Sheenigan, she was surrounded by the priestesses and led into the temple. Torches lit the stone corridor that she was led down into the heart of the temple itself. The procession halted when they reached a large room at the end. In the center of the room was a pool. Steps led down into the crystal clear water. Around the pool were several stone benches. At the end, taking up most of one entire wall, water spilled into it from a statue of the Demon Sheenigan himself. She swallowed uneasily as she stared at the nightmarish creature, wondering if it was only her imagination that he seemed to be staring down at her lasciviously.
Leading her to the 'purification' pool, the priestesses bathed her. When they were satisfied, she was taken from the pool again and made to lie down on a stone bench. Anointing her body with oils, they rubbed it into her skin from her neck down--her arms, her body, her legs--between her legs. Next, they took scrapers and worked them over her body, removing the hair from her entire body, until her flesh throbbed and burned with the abrasive scraping.
She lay still until her legs were grasped and parted. Unfortunately, they had apparently anticipated that she would be reluctant for them to touch her private parts. They held her, pried her legs apart and scraped the hair from her mound and between her legs.
When they had finished, they took her into the pool and bathed her again.