It was dark. Not the usual dark of a rural English night atop some isolated, tree-free hill, but an intense dark that made Jared unable to see even a few feet in front of him, and he could not help but be nervous. His Black Pilgrimage was not going that well and he had to finally admit to himself that he was lost. His brown hair – like his out-of-place urban clothes and shoes, and even his face – was covered in drying mud.
At least the night was mild, and he bumbled on as best he could for a few minutes in the hope of reaching the top of the hill. It should have been Black Rhadley Hill, but he had lost both his map and torch in the tumble caused by falling over something, somewhere, some time ago. It seemed like hours since he had passed through that dense copse of his fall but it was only thirty minutes. Thirty minutes which had seen him stumble into a stream, trip over twice, and stand still at least seven times in the hope of hearing something, anything, which might give him some indication of which direction to go.
Then, he really was at the top of the hill, able once again to see the stars in the sky, and make out dim shapes ahead and beyond. There was even a faint yellowish glow on the distant horizon which he took to be Shrewsbury town, and, pleased that the strange darkness had gone, he sat down on the damp grass. He thought – but only for a moment – about Lars and his sudden disappearance, for there was a faint light, down toward one side of the hill and he set off, hoping it was a Farm or a cottage.
It was neither. Instead, and nearer than he thought, it was a butane lamp, and it stood on the edge of a field beside a small tent. Jared waited by the old wooden field gate for a long time, watching, listening. But all he could hear was the slight breeze in the nearby trees, and all he could see was a young woman sitting outside the tent, reading, oblivious to the many moths that swirled around the lamp. Her long blonde hair was plaited in a single plait – a style Jared had assumed was long out of fashion.
Then, obviously aware of his presence, she turned toward him as he lurked in the shadows and said a friendly “Hello!”
Awkwardly, Jared climbed over the gate. “Hi.”
“Lovely night,” she said, as if they had met many times before.
“Traveled far?” She smiled, and something about her – maybe her round, cheerful face – made him feel quite calm and relaxed in her presence, and he sat down on the grass near her tent.
“Not really.” For some reason she seemed familiar, and it was several seconds before he realized where he had seen a young woman, with hair like hers, and with a youthful, lively face like hers. It was a photograph in a book about National Socialist Germany and it showed members of the BDM. She was about the same age as the young woman in the photograph as well, perhaps between eighteen and twenty years old, and thus seven or so years younger than him.
“Be Dawn, soon,” the young woman said, and put down her book.
“I suppose so.” He tried to see what the book was, and failed.
“I’m Hester, by the way.”
“You not camping, then?”
“Just out for a walk. I got lost.”
“Easy to do, round here. Bit off the beaten track. Would you like some tea?”
“Well – ” he began.
“It’s no trouble, really.” From the covered porch of her tent she extracted a camping stove, two small aluminium camping kettles, and two mugs. “This one, ” she said holding out one of the kettles, “is my teapot!”
Jared was impressed, and while she waited for the water to boil she chatted, as a friend might, about the weather, the old man she had met yesterday who gave her permission to camp in his field, her trip, last month, to Germany, and by the time the tea was prepared, and drunk, Jared was quite content – more than content – to just sit and listen. Occasionally, he would say a few words, but mostly he smiled while she chatted and the light of lamp faded as its fuel was expended. But it did not matter, for the Dawn, opportunistically it seemed, replaced it. And with the light of Dawn he realized that not only was the young woman dressed all in olive-green, but also that her rucksack and tent were olive-green. She seemed like she belonged to a distant, more, gentle past, with her walking breeks, and her woolen shirt, although the shirt emphasized, rather than detracted from, her fulsome breasts.
“Time to get ready,” she suddenly said, “it’s a long walk back to catch my train.”
“You heading for Church Stretton, then?” he asked as she stood up to begin to pack away her gear.
“So am I,” he lied, desirous of her company. Suddenly, his Black Pilgrimage did not seem important.
“London?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, surprised. “How did you know?”
“Just a guess,” she smiled.
It did not take her long to pack and – after another mug of tea – Jared, trying to be gallant, offered to carry her rucksack. Her acceptance of his offer pleased him – for the first two miles. After that, he was struggling, and tried not to show it as they walked paths and country lanes through the beautiful rural landscape and under the pleasant warm Sun of early June. He was glad when she suggested they stop by the foot of the Long Mynd for yet another brew of tea. But, after that, his torment got much worse, for the road up to the flat plateau of the heather-covered Mynd was steep, his feet were blistered and the rucksack straps had rubbed part of his shoulders raw. But he managed to keep smiling as they trundled on and she talked of her studies, her college in Oxford, her dreams of traveling around the world. Several cars passed them as they descended down the steepness that was the Burway with its glorious views of South Shropshire: the old hill fort of Caer Caradoc; the prehistoric remains of a volcano known as The Lawley; the ancient settlement and earth circle – as old as Stonehenge – atop Bodbury Hill.
The small town of Stretton was busy, with both people and cars, and Jared was wonderfully relieved when, after many hours of walking, they reached the Railway Station. The one bench – over the open footbridge – was occupied by three young men in modern casual clothing drinking from cans of beers, and such was Jared’s tiredness that he sat on the platform leaning against the fence while the young woman stood beside him.
“The train won’t be long,” she said to him. “Are you changing at Hereford, too?”
“Yes.” The three young men were staring at the young woman, and then at him, and he turned away. Her could hear the men talking among themselves, although he could not make out the words, but their laughter, their looks directed at the young woman, made him nervous, so nervous that when their train arrived, he suggested he and Hester go to the front of the train.
“No. I’m sure this will be alright,” she said.
Jared was not surprised when the men followed, and sat in seats three rows behind, but he was surprised when – over an half an hour into the journey – Hester excused herself, saying she needed to go to the lavatory. Jared felt he should escort her, but he was trembling, his mouth was dry, and all he could say was, “OK.”
She smiled at him, and left. The three men got up and followed and as they passed where he sat Jared made a half-hearted attempt to rise from his seat, but the look from one of the men was enough to dissuade him, and he slunk back into his heat, staring out of the window. But after less than two minutes, he could bear it no longer and – still trembling – he got up.
Whatever he expected, it was not the scene that greeted him in the narrow corridor that housed the train’s small lavatory between the vestibules of its two carriages. The three men lay on the dirty, stained, floor of the corridor, slumped in various postures of unconsciousness, with Hester standing near them.
“Drunk too much beer, I suppose,” she said, with a charming and disarming smile. “This is our stop, I believe.” As the train slowed, she collected her heavy rucksack, and it was a somewhat dazed Jared who followed her out of the train onto the platform of Hereford Station.
They spent their short wait sitting on a wooden bench on the Station platform while Jared answered Hester’s questions about his interests and past. Not that he was forthcoming about his involvement with the dark path he had chosen to follow over a year ago. Instead, he spoke then and on their shared train journey of his interest in computing, and regaled her for most of the time about that subject. For him, the time of that journey past quickly, and she was preparing to take her leave as the train approached Oxford when he blurted out: “Can I see you again?”
“Would you like to?” she smiled.
Quickly, he wrote his address and telephone number on a page torn from her notebook, and sadly watched her descend from the train and walk toward the Station exit, hoping that she would turn round and look at him. She did, and smiled, and this image of her lasted until his own journey of another hour was over.
The city days passed slowly for him after that, and even his return to his work as a Night Porter in a small central London hotel did not please him, and he was thinking of her on that wyrdfull night when a young man with a pierced nose and lip walked to the hotel reception desk, and, brandishing a gun, demanded money.
“There is no money here,” Jared said, his voice trembling.
“Then down on your knees, or I’ll kill you!”
Jared did as the man said, and by the time he had the courage to move and creep to look over the top of the desk, the man was gone. Relieved, he was surprised when his own mobile telephone rang.
“Hello?” In his haste and nervousness he almost dropped his telephone.
“Jared? It’s Hester. Can you meet me?”
“Of course!” Suddenly, his world did not look so bleak.
She named a place – not far – and a time – half an hour, and it only took Jared an instant to forsake his job for the pleasure a meeting with her would afford. The meeting place was a street corner of shops and offices, and only a few cars passed in the humid heat of the sodium-lit city night as he waited. Then, nearly half an hour beyond the appointed time, a black taxi cab stopped. Hester opened the door for him and he had hardly stepped inside when her skillful blow rendered him unconscious.
Jared awoke to find himself seated in and strapped to a chair in a large vaulted cellar, lit by subdued bluish light, although a few feet in front of him a perfect circle of bright white light had been projected onto the stone floor. Faintly, as if from an adjoining room, he could hear what sounded to him like Arabic music. Several people were present in the cellar, but the subdued light made them indistinct, mere shadows.
“Let this Sunedrion begin,” a male voice said. There was something familiar about the voice, and Jared was trying to recall where he had heard it before when the shock of seeing Hester walk into the circle of light erased all his thoughts.
Barefoot, she was dressed only in a long purple robe fastened in two places in such a way that most of her breasts and her pubic hair were exposed. Her long blonde hair had been loosely tied at the back of her head by a purple band so that many strands of hair fell around her face and ears. This, combined with her red lipstick, her painted nails, her exotic perfume, overwhelmed Jared more than finding himself tied to a chair in some cellar.
“Do you accuse him?” the male voice said.
“Yes,” Hester replied, “I accuse him.”
“I accuse him of cowardice in the face of the enemy. I accuse him of submitting to the decadent and the ignoble. I accuse him of betraying the dark quest he swore with an oath to undertake, whatever befell him.”
“And if found guilty,” the male voice said, “what penalty would you, our Mistress of Earth, impose?”
“Opfer!” she shouted with joy in her voice, and there was a faint hissing sibilation emanating from the indistinct shadows.
“Do you deny the charges?” the male voice demanded.
“What?” Jared said.
“Do you have anything to say in your defence?” the male voice asked.
It was then, only then, that Jared understood. “I failed the tests, didn’t I?” he said to Hester.
“Yes!” Her smile was not one of kindness.
“So you admit,” the male voice said, “the charges?”
“This is another test, right?” Jared said, trying to laugh.
“We await your answer.”
“OK. So I failed. Big deal. I was wrong. It won’t happen again. You’ve made your point.”
“Opfer!” Hester shouted.
There was a faint hissing sibilation emanating from the indistinct shadows, after which the male voice spoke again. “It is decided. It is as you wish. He shall be your opfer.”
“Agios O Baphomet!” Hester chanted.
“Agios O Baphomet!” came the sibilating reply.
“Wait – ” Jared began to say, but two tall men with the gait, build, dress and looks of professional bouncers came to hold his arms while Hester untied him. Then, they forced him to his feet and she kissed him, briefly and on his lips, before the two men led him away.
He was taken to a large windowless room somewhere nearby and still underground, furnished only with a bed and lit with the same subdued bluish light. There was a metal door, the top of which was formed of a steel grille. Jared sat on the bed and waited. All he could hear was the faint music he had heard earlier, and all he could think of was that this was some new kind of test.
It was not long before Hester – accompanied by the two tall men – came to see him, although it seemed a long time to him.
“You have a choice,” she said through the steel grille, still barefoot and still dressed in her robe. “We will give you a sporting chance, so you can freely go from this place, knowing that sometime, maybe soon, maybe not, we will seek you out and, one way or another, bring your causal life to an end as has been decreed. It could be weeks, months, a year; maybe more. Or – or, you could stay here, willingly, for seven days, during which time, for seven nights, I shall be yours. You should know that it is my time to conceive, and that our child would be raised among us according to our ancient ways, as you yourself would be revered.” She smiled, then. “I shall return, at Dawn, when you can tell me what you have decided.”
He did not sleep, and the large gourmet meal, the fine wine, he had been given he left untouched. He had no idea of the time, and spent an hour or so pacing up and down between the walls of his cell, trying to work out what was going on. Of course, he smiled to himself, several times during the hours of that night – or what he assumed was the night – he would not really be an opfer. This was just another test. But what was the right thing to do? Pretend to accept his fate, and make love to the beautiful, sexy, Hester? Or opt to go, and possibly never see her again?
Then, with her guards, she was there, still clad in her robe, watching him. “Have you decided?” she asked.
“Yes. I’ll stay.”
She smiled, this time quite kindly. “Gather round, all you here.” And there were indistinct shapes that seemed to haunt the shadowed spaces beyond Jared’s cell. “Witness that he, named Jared, has agreed of his own free will to be our opfer. Thus shall I for seven nights be his bride before our deed of sacrifice is done.”
She unfastened her robe and let it fall to the floor. One of her guards unlocked the door and she came toward him, naked, as a lover might, smiling, enticing. Jared did not see, not hear, the door being locked, as he did not see nor hear the guards move away to leave them alone in the blue, subdued, light.
Her passion of hours exhausted him, and she left him sleeping, dreaming, happy, content. He awoke alone to find fresh food, new wine, and he ate and drank, and waited, dreaming, happy, content. Then she was with him again, soft, gentle, passionate, shouting in her ecstasy. Then as the hours quickly, slowly, passed, she was gone, and he ate and drank the gourmet food, the fine wine, and waited, happy, dreaming, content.
Soon, he had lost count of the days, the nights, and weary but pleased, waited as he had waited. But she did not arrive. He fell asleep, to be awakened by the guards who carried him out from his cell through a sinew of dark corridors to the dark chamber of his accusers. But there was a not quite elliptical altar there, swathed in reddish light, and an ellipse of indistinct robed figures hugging the shadowed darkness beyond that swathe of light. And there was music, the subdued strange music of his past seven days and nights.
Bound by leather thongs, he lay naked and helpless upon the altar, while, out of the darkness beyond, a beautiful Hester in a crimson robe approached him, holding a curved, sharp-bladed knife.
She circled around Jared, saying: “Before you – we were.
After you – we shall be, again.
Before us – They who are never named.
After us – They will be, waiting.”
Then she turned toward the shadows. “What is it that you seek?” she chanted.
“It is the protection and milk
Of your breasts that I seek, ” a voice replied.
Hester, as Mistress of Earth, moved toward Jared, revealing her breasts, before laughing and moving out from the ellipse of reddish light toward the shadows.
“I put my kisses at your feet,” a male voice said,
“And kneel before you who crushes
Your enemies and who washes
In a basin full of their blood.
I lift up my eyes to gaze
Upon your beauty of body:
You who are the daughter and a Gate
To our Dark Gods.
I lift up my voice to stand
Before you my sister
And offer my body so that
My mage’s seed may feed
Your virgin flesh.”
Hester laughed and her two guards raised her until she lay upon Jared. Then she was arousing him with her hand and he did not, could not, resist as she guided his erection into her warm, moist cleft.
“Kiss me,” she said as she slowly moved upon him, ” and I shall make you
As an eagle to its prey.
Touch me and I shall make you
As a strong sword that severs
And stains my Earth with blood.
Taste me and I shall make you
As a seed of corn which grows
Toward the sun, and never dies.
Plough me and plant me
With your seed and I shall make you
As a Gate that opens to our gods!”
Then, as Jared’s body spasmed in his ecstasy, she intoned the last part of the rite.
“So you have sown and from your seeding
Gifts may come if you obedient heed
These words I speak.”
The guards came, then, to lift her from the altar, and she circled around Jared, before speaking to the shadows, beyond.
“I know you, my children, you are dark
Yet none of you is as dark
Or as deadly
I know you and the thoughts
Within all your hearts: yet
Not one of you is as hateful
Or as loving as I.
With a glance I can strike
She smiled, and twirled around, three times. “No guilt shall bind you, no thought restrict! Feast then and enjoy the ecstasy of this life: but ever remember I am the wind that snatches your soul!”
Jared tried to turn to see her, but she swiftly slashed his neck with her knife, and it was not long before the fountain of his life, his spurting blood, ceased to flow.
“Agios O Baphomet!” Hester cried, in triumph. With bloodstained hands and face, she went to kiss every member of her Temple reserving her last, and most passionate kiss, for Lars.
“So it has been, so it is, and so shall it be again,” she said, before leading Lars up, toward the light of day, leaving her guards to do their work of cleaning and disposal.