Although Beltane Punch enhanced passion (aka horniness) it did not promote drowsiness, so we didn’t have to worry about falling asleep and ending up stuck in the Otherworld forever. Nonetheless, as it is written, all good things must end. And so a bruised, filthy, sore, totally sated pair of lovers made our way hand-in-hand back to the bonfire, which was burning considerably lower than when we had left the dance.
Our love-worn appearance didn’t make us stand out among the celebrants by any means. An occasional pair of weary villagers stumbled out of the woods, skirted the clearing, and disappeared down the path. Adeline was dancing alone in front of the fire, although the drums had long since gone silent. The last traces of her carefully coiffed veneer of civilization had been stripped away, leaving behind some wild woodland creature moving to a melody only she could hear. I wondered which part of the experience would change her the most: reconnecting with her father or celebrating Beltane in the manner of the old gods.
Only Nimue and George appeared untouched by the excesses of the evening. Perhaps Nimue’s lips were a touch swollen, but her gown was unsoiled and her hair neatly combed. Maybe that was the leading qualification to become high priestess: the ability to copulate for hours and still appear unmussed.
“How about another cup of punch, Sabrina darling?”
“Oh God, no thank you. Get behind me, Satan. Unless we can pour some in one of those empty wine bottles and take it with us. Put a shot in our morning coffee tomorrow. Or it’s probably already tomorrow, so maybe the day after. Or better yet: I could pour some in the coffeepot at Peckerwoods’. Wouldn’t that give the town something to talk about?”
Soon the last of the villagers were gone and it was down to just us, George, Adeline, and the Seven. Even JD wasn’t tied to his tree anymore. I patted my pocket to make sure that the boat key was still there, and slipped the Taser out of the backpack and stuck it in my belt.
George must have seen me, because he said something to Nimue and they strolled over to where we were standing.
“Your friend has been taken care of and is comfortable. Two of the priestesses were his consorts during the festivities. I daresay he enjoyed his Beltane far more than he expected at the beginning.”
Far more than I had expected him to enjoy it, for sure. “So, what happens to him?”
George and Nimue held an extended conversation before he answered. “When the last of the fire is extinguished, any who are still on the island will be here in our time for the rest of their lives.” He held up his palms, indicating himself as an example. “I’m damned lucky I didn’t accidently end up stuck here by mistake during one of my trips.” He spoke briefly to Nimue again. “Nimue promises that if you choose to return during Samhain, he will be kept away so as to cause you no further discomfort.”
“In my vision Nimue said, ‘Bring him to me,’” Sabrina interjected. “It didn’t sound exactly like she meant, ‘Oh, just drop him off on the island, we’ll take good care of him.’ So I did. Now I think I deserve to know what’s going to happen to him. You don’t have to patronize me. I’m a big girl—I can handle it.”
George translated for Nimue, who merely shrugged.
“The druids have long been unfairly condemned for the practice of human sacrifice. Human sacrifice here has always been so rare as to be practically non-existent. Part of the reason is that the old gods have no interest in the death of commoners. Only the blood of kings is worthy of them, and kings aren’t usually available. And of course, now that Arthur has granted favored religious status to the Christians, he would be forced to remove his protection from the island and expel us from his realm were we to suggest such a barbaric ritual.”
He glanced at Nimue before continuing. “But there is an ancient rite far older than the druids, used when the land is dying and desperate for redemption. A commoner is chosen and agrees to become the Sacred King. For a year he is treated as royalty with the best of food and drink, women at his beck and call, all the comforts and privileges that can be provided. And then at the end of the year, he is offered to the gods. Nimue hopes that by taking this desperate step, Wales can be reborn and Arthur will be around a few more years to protect us from the Saxons.”
Sabrina looked dubious. “But you said he has to agree. JD would never do that.”
“Actually, he already did. Perhaps he didn’t really believe what I explained to him. Perhaps the combination of the sacred drink and two young bare-breasted priestesses were more than he could resist. Or maybe he just lives in the moment, like many people do. This is now, that’s a year away. Well, if he somehow manages to escape to the life of a 6th century bandit, we won’t have a lot invested in him.”
“I’ll be damned. Wouldn’t Mama be surprised? She always predicted JD’d end up either in jail or dead alongside the highway without a damned thing to show for it, and maybe take me along with him. And now there’s a chance he might save King Arthur! Who’d have thunk it. Don’t think I’ll tell Mama, though.”
* * * * *
The Seven filed over to the circle to complete their part of the ritual. George and Adeline slipped off to spend the rest of their time together. Sabrina and I were left to our own devices by the dying bonfire.
I stood behind her with my arms around her, hands up under her top and resting on the warm skin of her belly, fingertips just below the waistband of her skirt. “You know, it probably will never be that good again.”
“Well, if you’re trying to talk me into one more little piece, forget it. I’m done, mister.” She moved one of my hands up until I was cupping her breast—her bra was safely in the backpack so she couldn’t be accused of littering—and pushed the other one down until I was just grazing the edge of her pubic hair. “We’ll just have to wait until tomorrow and then do some investigation.”
“Almost as good would still be pretty amazing.”
Sabrina answered that by turning her head far enough to kiss me. And then one thing led to another and what with the residual effects of the Beltane Punch I probably could have talked her into one more little piece if I’d had any interest. Except that by then the Seven had finished their ritual and it was time to go.