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By ANITRA LYNN McLEOD
APHRODISIA BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Anitra Lynn McLeod
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRecently shaved, bare-chested, and anointed with estal oil, Chur Zenge strode into the Harvest room wearing a pair of ceremonial leggings held together by a wide belt that also nestled a codpiece between his legs. His sharply shined boots boomed against the polished Onic Mountain tile, drowning out the sound of water dancing in the fountains. Garlands of autumn leaves in yellow, crimson, and brown contrasted streamers of flowers-meticulously crafted twines covered the lintels and mantels, flowing down to pool artfully on the floor and around bushels of fresh grains, fruits, and vegetables. Surfaces gleamed and each ceiling crystal glowed, bathing the entire room, even the portraits on the walls, with golden light. The stern faces of those who once held his office glared at Chur as if judging him and deeming him unworthy. Now he saw something else lurking behind their cruel painted eyes.
He sighed and adjusted his ceremonial sword. Whatever anticipation Chur had once felt was now gone after three seasons as the Harvester.
A massive sacrifice table took up the center of the room. White cloth draped the padded surface so the displays would be more pleasing and command his full attention. The closer he drew to the table, the more conflicting scents overwhelmedhim. He'd learned to breathe slowly, through his mouth, so as not to fall under the grip of the pheromone-laced air. Chur didn't know why anyone would want to entice him further as he had no choice but to perform his task. Such devices only agitated his mind and aggravated his primed body.
Following the ancient text of the ritual, Chur approached the north end of the table and considered his first harvest. A deep blue robe of silken astle swept over her supine body, and they had taken care to mold the fabric to her high, pointed breasts and down the length of her thighs. Glossy and rich, the sapphire fabric and her pale luminous flesh contrasted her thick black hair. Silver wire twisted through some strands and flowed back over the pillow that cradled her head. He idly wondered how many hours she had lain here motionless as her family members fussed over every detail before finally leaving her alone to wait.
After preening and posturing the virgin for hours, they left her to him, a man who saw her only as a duty, a ritual to perform, yet this woman had waited and suffered hours of preparation.
As his gaze met hers, he noticed someone had carefully applied tiny blue gemstones to each of her long lashes. When she opened or closed her eyes, the curtain of stones enhanced her wide azure gaze. While he appreciated the effort and the effect, he still felt nothing for the woman behind the elaborate decorations.
Lifting his battle-scarred hands, he cupped her knees and gently parted her thighs. As the fabric slid aside, he noticed a deep crimson edge appear on the sides of the robe, as if to draw his attention to the center of her legs. As if he needed help to find the place he sought. Stifling another sigh of irritation, he slid her forward, placing her left foot against the hilt of his sword and lifting her right foot to his shoulder until her leg was almost straight against his bare chest.
Chur spoke in an ancient tongue. He did not fully understand exactly what he said, as he learned the phrase by rote, but his paratanist had roughly translated, "By might of the blade I claim that which belongs to me."
The woman lifted her face and spoke in the same language, "I freely give myself to you." Her gaze held steady with his, but her delicate pink tongue made a nervous swipe against her crimson lips. Perhaps what unsettled her was the scar that ran from his right eye to the upper end of his lip, curling it into a bit of a sinister sneer. He would have smiled to reassure her, but since his previous attempts at friendliness seemed only to frighten the women more, he kept his face carefully neutral.
Chur lowered his hand and tilted the elaborate codpiece aside. His cock was hard and slick with estal oil from the ritualistic preparation. He pressed forward and entered her passage easily, as she too had been prepared with the fragrant and soothing oil. Derived from the rare white estal flower, found only in the highest slopes of the Onic Mountains, the oil eased his entry but also deadened any tactile sensation; he felt no pleasure, she felt no pain. After burying himself to the hilt, he pulled back, lowered her leg, and helped her from the table.
With bouncing steps and a delighted giggle, his harvest exited the room to seek her family, who would now shower her with gifts and a glorious feast. With the ritual complete, she could now bond with a mate, have children, own property-with one thrust of his penis he made her a fully recognized citizen.
His paratanist stepped from an alcove, ceremoniously cleansed his cock, and then applied more estal oil. Within a moment, Chur was ready for the next harvest.
Her skin was deep onyx, richer in texture than the most prized Onic timbers, and highlighted by cream-colored fabric that hugged every curve of her lush form. Her hair, dyed red-orange and teased across the pillow below her head, fanned out like the wing of an exotic bird. Tiny slits in the fabric over her large breasts exposed her dark brown nipples. Golden paint in curling filigrees decorated her stiff peaks. As he opened her thighs, he found the same careful detailing all along her ebony legs. Again, he wondered how long she had stayed still for such elaborate preparation when the ritual itself took only moments.
Chur spoke the words and she gave her answer in turn. He buried himself fully, stepped back, and helped her from the table. His paratanist cleansed and anointed him again, this time making sure the traces of gold paint were removed from his flesh and clothing.
For the Harvest, all Chur wore was a pair of coarse mondi fabric leggings with a large belt to hold his ceremonial sword and the codpiece, and thick boots designed to echo his steps. The booming sound of his boots was supposed to instill fear in men and anticipation in women. Chur didn't know whether they actually had that effect or not; he wore them because he had to.
In accordance with the ritual, his paratanist had shaved him clean of any hair, save for his eyebrows and lashes. Where his normally thick black hair covered his scars, the absence of body hair now cast the twisted white shapes in sharp relief against his bronzed skin. He could have them removed, as was the custom of most men, but as the Harvester, his scars practically defined his office. Chur had proved himself superior on the battlefield with the ancient weapons. He couldn't honestly say he wasn't proud of his scars, even the one that twisted his face, for the man who marred him died in the next instant. Chur killed the last Harvester in order to take his place.
An act he now deeply regretted.
As Chur went down the table from north to south, he tried not to let his frustration show. No matter how much attention had gone into offering up the virgins for harvest, he never found any that fully captured his attention. After three seasons and scores of women, he doubted that he would ever find his bondmate during the ritual. He now believed the prophecy to be a ploy to get a man to take an incredible risk; fight to the death to harvest every woman in the land and gain the pride of finding a bondmate. For what man would take such a challenge without the dangling prize of finding his true eternal love along the way?
Disillusioned, Chur continued with his duties despite this realization, for the only way to leave his appointed role was to die on the battlefield during a challenge, and he had not been challenged since he took office, or to retire to the arms of his hard-sought bondmate, which he had not found. Chur realized what the knowledge was behind the cruel painted eyes of his predecessors; they had eventually picked a woman and settled rather than die in battle. Chur refused to claim a woman at random, for he didn't know if she had already chosen someone else. Claiming such a woman as bondmate could cause untold heartache and could not be undone once claimed. He felt trapped and frustrated, betrayed by those who encouraged him to seek out the glory of the Harvester without mentioning the glitches in the flowery prose of the prophecy.
When he'd complained to his paratanist, his constant companion offered only that the prophecy was worded vaguely by intent, for what good is a prophecy clearly worded? "Clarity offers no interpretation. A prophecy is cryptic and poetic by design, not default." Such wisdom did not help, but he began to suspect the validity. After three seasons of questioning his ever-present companion, Chur began to understand the reality behind the myth of the Harvester.
The next virgin lay supine on the table, her body almost completely covered with an artful smatter of fall leaves. All he could see were her cold dark eyes. Her fathomless glare almost stilled him, but he cupped her knees and parted her thighs, causing the tumble of leaves to fall aside. She lifted her head and practically hissed her words before he spoke his.
His paratanist rushed forward, reminded the virgin of the ritual, covered her with the leaves, and backed away.
Chur stepped forward, parted her thighs, said the words, and the virgin answered correctly at the right time. He harvested her and helped her up. The sound of her running feet amidst the falling leaves conveyed her joy that the ritual was over and she could now move on. Chur imagined her bitter eyes glaring at the ceiling as her family attended her, placing every leaf just so. The virgin had held her tongue, suffering through the ritual to get the prize-total autonomy.
Crude, anachronistic, and downright barbaric, planet Diola clung to the 5,000-season-old ritual of the Harvest. Every autumn, a Harvester, one for all the lands, strode down the sacrifice table, north to south, to cast all the virgins of age into citizenship.
The bawdy tales about the luscious women, the glory of pleasure, and the ultimate securing of a bondmate had fascinated a bright-eyed, lusty young Chur. But now ... Chur looked down the seemingly endless expanse of table and sighed. Now, he knew, he was only a tool. There was no pleasure, no glory, and apparently no bondmate either.
Hours later, he reached the south end of the table, relieved the ritual was over for another season. He wished to return to his rooms, remove the estal oil, have his paratanist perform the very last of the ritual, and then sleep for a week. He had a season to consider his next move, but his paratanist cleansed and anointed him again.
"There is no other virgin to harvest."
"There is one more." His paratanist gracefully climbed up on the table, then arranged herself into a supine pose with her robe hastily thrown around her legs.
Chur gazed down at the figure swaddled in a beige mondi robe with a huge cowl hood. He'd never even wondered what sex his paratanist was, and now to discover his constant companion was not only a woman but also a virgin he must harvest shocked him immobile. She was the one who shaved his entire body, hardened his cock, and then gently smoothed the oil along the length. When the Harvest was over for another season, it was she who ...
Once he recovered, he said the first thing that came to mind. "You are not prepared."
"I have prepared myself with the oil."
He shook his head sharply side to side, then realized she could not see him. "I meant that you are not decorated."
After a dismissive sigh, she asked, "Do you need to see more gemstones, fine fabrics, exotic makeup, or smell more rich perfumes?" The hood of the robe hid her face and muffled her voice, but he realized her tone was lyrical, but deep, not overtly feminine, or masculine-no wonder he'd considered his paratanist sexless.
Chur reached to move the hood aside but stopped. Once a virgin was presented to him, he could touch only her knees to part them and her feet to place them against his body. According to the ritual, he shouldn't be talking with her at all once she placed herself on the sacrifice table unless he was uttering the sacred words. He wanted to see her face, know her name, and understand how she had become his companion. He had never asked how one became a paratanist, and once he completed the ritual she would be gone and he could never speak to her again. It seemed unfair that after three seasons when he could have asked her everything he would suddenly be unable to ask her anything.
His sense of duty overwhelmed his curiosity. He placed his battle-scarred hands on her knees and gently parted her thighs. The rough fabric of the bulky robe clung, keeping most of her legs covered. All he could see were her feet, dirty on the bottom from attending him, and her ankles, slender enough that he could capture both in one hand. If she had been properly prepared for him, the robe would have fallen away when her knees separated. Normally in this situation his paratanist would step forward and dart clever hands over the fabric, smoothing the robes to the proper place, but since she was the virgin ...
Chur didn't know what to do.
By the ritual, he couldn't touch any of her clothing, and he couldn't ask her what to do because she was no longer his guide and companion.
From under the cowl of the robe came a muffled chuckle.
Chur frowned. Was she enjoying this? Had she planned for this, knowing he would be confused and flummoxed? He decided that since she broke the rules by giggling, he'd break the rules by talking. Besides, there was no one here. No one would dare to interrupt the Harvest. He could keep her in this room for as long as he chose to do so.
"Tell me, my paratanist, what do I do when the virgin's robe will not part?"
Ever obedient and precise, she answered, "Your paratanist is supposed to fix the offering, but since I am also the virgin, I would say we are mired in a conundrum."
"I would say that unique circumstances call for unique solutions." Chur flipped the edge of the robe up, until most of her legs were exposed. She gasped and tried to pull her knees together. "Ah, ah, ah-you cannot move once I have placed you."
She relaxed and he took his time examining the curves of her legs. Her skin was so pale it was almost translucent, milky white and fragile. There were slight bruises on her knees, probably from the hardening ritual if not the meticulous shave, and a reddish brown scar, shaped like a crescent moon, centered on her inner right thigh.
He slid the robe up farther so he could see the color of hair between her legs. His cock twitched when he found her shaved clean. Not only was the estal oil wearing off because he could feel a painful throb in his shaft, but the umer he'd drunk to keep him aroused yet unable to achieve orgasm was also wearing off because his body ached with a strong need for release. Chur thought perhaps he should hurry and complete the ritual before he violated the most crucial rule of all.
Duty overwhelmed him. He slid her forward and placed her left foot on the hilt of his blade, and the right he lifted until her leg pressed against his bare chest. As he moved forward, she turned her head, causing the hood to fall away.
Chur stopped when he saw her face, for she was much older than the usual virgins were; she had to be at least five seasons older than he was.
Her hair was deep coco-brown with red and gold highlights, but he couldn't tell how long as the length was tucked into the robe. Her almond-shaped eyes were light jade with a starburst of deep indigo imbedded into the iris. Her nose was pert, tilted up at the end, and he immediately thought it was a truculent nose. Her upper lip was fuller than her bottom lip and a soft coral color. For some reason, he thought her nipples, still hidden under the robe, would be the same color. She wore no makeup, no perfumes, nothing to entice or attract, yet Chur felt utterly spellbound.
He fumbled for the words and had to repeat them as his voice cracked. When she flashed him an impish grin, he practically bellowed the words and waited breathlessly for her reply.
She said nothing. She held his gaze with a knowing that he could not continue until she uttered her words.
Excerpted from WICKED HARVEST by ANITRA LYNN McLEOD Copyright © 2009 by Anitra Lynn McLeod. Excerpted by permission.
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