The sunset reflected on the freshly washed streets. Tanaquil’s skin tingled having been as freshly scrubbed as the streets. She pulled the mask down, hiding her face. The rites of Lupercalia could excuse a lot of bad behavior, but Tanaquil wanted to make it clear to the priests of Lupa that she sought a deeper purification than the baths afforded her.
She walked through the streets, her wolf mask both marking and hiding her. It was early for the rites. Most of the townspeople would stay at home, preferring to observe the festival in private. The British outpost was nothing like the roman villages she had become accustomed to at home. Back in Rome, the rites would have spilled into the streets with wine and orgies and scourging.
Here, the darkened streets were empty. But Drusilla had insisted that the rites of Lupercalia were different here in Britain, something about their priests that she wouldn’t or couldn’t articulate and Tanaquil didn’t understand. But she was curious enough to take to the streets to find them.
She paused, just outside of Drusilla’s house, listening. The sound of voices came from the edge of the village, and as she made her in that direction, she could smell the bonfire burning. She smiled behind her mask when she heard the voices raised in howls and cries. These were the sounds she expected at Lupercalia, well those and the crack of the scourge.
As she got closer, she slowed. There was something about the howls and cries that didn’t sound right, that didn’t sound the pleasures she associated with the rites at home. So, she watched in the shadows at the edge of the town. The bonfire cast a lurid glow over the scene, and the wolf masks the priests wore were stunning, so realistic that Tanaquil shivered at their snarling visages.
At least these savages had erected the purifying posts, thick wooden frames with restraints that dangled from the top bar. Restraints that would stretch a supplicant’s arms over her head, leaving her vulnerable to the lash. Tanaquil’s back twitched in anticipation, and her sex tingled, growing damp at the sight.
As she watched, one of the priests raised his head, the muzzle of his mask tipping up, looking very much like a wolf scenting the air. And his head swung in her direction, his eyes glinting in the fire.
Tanaquil felt her mouth grow dry and wondered if the man could see her in the shadows.
Then the priest raised his head again and howled.
Tanaquil shivered and took a step deeper in the shadows, thinking maybe she should return home or at least back to Drusilla’s. Then she felt the arms wrap around her and the scent of musk enveloped her.
She stifled a scream.
“A supplicant,” the voice growled in her ear.
A priest, she thought, it was only a priest holding her. But her heart continued to race, thudding in her chest. Maybe it was the musk or the soft brush of the fur the man wore, but that and the hot iron band of his arm around her waist was both exhilarating and terrifying.
He pushed her out of the shadows, toward the fire and the group of priests. They stopped their dancing and fell silent. Their eyes glittering behind their masks, the masks that looked so real to her.
“You seek punishment, purification?” The priest behind her continued to growl in her ear.
She swallowed her throat suddenly dry. Tanaquil nodded quickly, and the arm around her waist loosened its hold.
“Go, but do not run,” he growled, “They will get the wrong idea if you run.”
Tanaquil stumbled when he released her. She held her head up, forcing herself to take slow, measured steps. The fire warmed her skin, but it was the burning heat from the animal eyes of the priests that made her skin flush.
She reached the posts and turned her back to the priests, and slowly unclasped the pins that held her shift on. She let the fabric slide over her body and pool around her feet. She stepped out of it, realizing the none of the priests had made a sound.
She knelt and picked up her clothing and laid it to the side. Then she pulled the pins from her hair, letting the heavy, dark waves of it spill over her breasts. Then she stretched her arms to the manacles and waited.
Her skin prickled, knowing their eyes were on her – their eyes on her naked flesh. And then she realized that none of the villagers had been at the bonfire. She was naked and alone with the wolf priests.
A priest stepped up, locking the manacles in place. And she turned to look at him, wanting to see the humanity behind his mask. But she met his eyes, black and animal-like, and the mask… She shuddered.
The priest’s tongue lolled from the maw of the mask, and what she’d assumed were furs, was his bare flesh. Finally, Drusilla’s vague warnings made sense, and she was chained at their scouring post, at the mercy of men who were wolves.
The priest who’d brought her into the circle stepped before her. He, she noted, was wearing a mask, one not much different than her own.
“Supplicant,” he began, stepping around to stand before her. “You seek the mysteries of Lupa.”
Tanaquil nodded, grateful that her nipples stiffening with both fear and desire were covered by her unbound hair. “Yes, I seek purification.”
She could hear the priests gathering around her, their animal scent surrounding her. Their growls were the only response.
“Purification,” the priest finally repeated, “You seek the scourge.”
Tanaquil nodded again, her hair tickling her flesh with each movement.
He picked up a bowl, dipping a handful of herbs into it. He flicked the herbs at her, asperging her. The liquid, she realized, was wine. The droplets clung to her hair and dripped down her naked belly.
Then she felt the first fall of the lash. The leather strips of the lash seared her skin, and she yelped. The priests around her gave growling chuffs, that could have been laughter – but could have been an encouragement.
Tanaquil found she quickly didn’t care. The lash never ceased to fall, marking her back, her flanks, her buttocks, and thighs. She clung to the manacles, while the priest watched her.
The flogger stripped away her fear of the priests who were wolves. Each lash narrowed her awareness to her body and nothing else. She didn’t know when she started to cry. Until the priest, the human in the mask reached a hand out and wiped the tears from her face.
Her vision was blurred with her tears, but she watched him lick her tears from his fingers, and behind her, the wolves howled.
And then the flogging stopped, and Tanaquil panted, letting her arms take her weight, trusting the manacles to hold her up. She could feel her sweat dripping down her body, and her sex ached with need.
In Rome, she would know what to expect, but here at the edge of the empire, among real magic, she did not know what to expect.
Her squeal rang through the clearing, followed by her growl of pain as the saltwater settled onto her skin. She clenched her teeth, but this pain at least was a familiar reminder of home. The salt would cleanse the weals and help her skin heal after the scourging.
The priest grabbed her chin, turning her to meet his gaze. “You have been purged and are renewed, he said.”
She nodded slightly, feeling his grip tighten on her face.
“In Rome,” he growled, “How would this rite end?”
Tanaquil blushed under his gaze, “There would be celebratory rites,” she paused, feeling trapped in his gaze. “Carnal rites,” she answered.
And the priests growled behind her.
She would have twisted and tried to look at them, but the priest held her fast.
“They want you,” he said. “No woman has come to these rites in such a long time, and they want you to serve as Lupa for them.”
Tanaquil thought about the wolf-headed men and their clawed hands. She wondered if they would let her leave alive if she refused them.
“You can leave if you wish, I will lead you back to the village.” The priest said, “They will let you go.”
Tanaquil found her footing and stood up, and her back stung. Oh Drusilla, she thought, this is what you meant you warned me they would devour me. Yet, she shivered with fear when she thought about the wolves who were men, and her back burned from the flogging, but still, her sex ached with need.
“I will serve as their goddess this night,” she said, surprised at how sure her voice sounded.
And she felt the soft fur of a muzzle between her thighs, and the sharp brush of fangs against her flesh, before the impossible wet heat of a tongue tasted her sex.
And this time, Tanaquil howled.