THE GROTTO © Grace V. Robinette 2015
We crouch down in the shadows. That thar oil lamp on the altar don’t put out much light, the oil being so low in the bowl. That’s cos we got here early enough, before the silly girl got to refill it.
She keeps whimpering. Gets on your nerves, that whimpering. Capt’n orders her to be taken as far back as the grotto goes, then keep her quiet, mind, but not to kill her. Not yet. She’s still our bargaining chip.
Me, – Smerg – Capt’n wouldn’t let me have a go at the silly twit. All the other men used her. Why not me? Still, the Capt’n says I can use the Priestess; after ‘im, that is, ‘The twit would be too sloppy now, too slack to be much fun,’ he sez.
Priestess it is, then.
This priestess, she’s a patsy, a push-over, our sentry sez. She cares. And they only send a small troop to guard her; we’ve had our man a’watching, this past se’en-night.
‘Capt’n,’ I keep my voice a low growl. The footsteps sound a bit louder now, with the jingle of harness. That means swords. Belly prickers.
Light flickers coming down the passage. It’s them torches they carry. Our men knows better ’n to stir, to breathe even.
Cor, ain’t she a beauty! So tall. Got a good pair of knockers on her. Like to get my hands on ‘em.
Lookee all those gems she’s got a’round her neck. Ooh, Smerg, we’d love to grab us some of those emeralds, pearls, ‘em twinkly diamonds. Stash ‘em in our hidey-hole afore the Capt’n sees us!
Them gems. They’re just winkling and sparkling, a’calling, Come and get us!
Just you wait, my pretties, Smerg is a’coming!
Lookee how the priestess is a’standing in the grotto, with her guards behind her. We all hold our breath.
‘Something’s wrong,’ she’s said.
Too right, me beauty.
‘Yes,’ her Captain replied. His head swivels around. He hand-waves his men to crowd in around the priestess; they hold their torches out to light the grotto.
‘You’re so right, my pretty.’
The Capt’n’s voice booms. His voice – his roaring gale voice – sends echoes around the grotto. Eerie, gives one the shivers, it does. It’s really spooky in the dark. Gives me the jelly-spine making chill we love our prey to feel.
The Priestess and her poncy guards mutter amongst themselves as we ease out from between the rocks. Out into full view, where they can see how much they’re stuck, like rats trapped on a sinking ship!
Lookee them lookin’ round the grotto. They see us, see the torchlight glittering on our grinning teeth, our eyes, on our oiled muscles.
And a’shinning on our knives. This is how we like it!
‘I thought I smelled a rat,’ said the Priestess.
‘Never, me darling, not when I sweetened up for you.’
That’s our Capt’n, always got a quick answer.
‘Yes, I noticed the Attar of Roses is spilled,’ she sez.
Ooh, ain’t she the spunky one. We edge closer, let them get a feel for us.
Let them nerves quiver.
‘Where is my acolyte?’ the Priestess demands. ‘What have you done with her?’
‘Bring the girl out,’ the Capt’n orders. There is a stir at the farthest end of the grotto. Everyone, almost everyone watches as the acolyte, a trembling slip of a girl, hangs between two burley men. They drag her towards the altar. Her robes hang in rags, her face – and what we can see of her body through the gaps – is bloodied.
Yep. No fun left.
The Priestess turns back to the Capt’n.
‘You have been a bad boy, then, haven’t you?’ she says. Sweetly.
A bad boy? Something’s not right. She should be a shaking so hard her jewelled chains sound like bells.
‘Capt’n,’ I start.
‘Not now,’ he snarls. ‘A bad boy, is it?’ he says to her. ‘Try a bad man. Not like these poncy brats you got round you.’
Her guards reach for their swords, start to draw them. That’s more like it. We’ll swarm those pansies, three to one.
She’s touched her guard leader. He hand-waves his men down.
‘I came here to dance,’ she says.
Did she? Why is her acolyte looking so queer?
‘So dance,’ roars the Capt’n. We laugh. Now, this is good fun.
‘You can clap hands. Beat out the tempo.’ She turns to her guard. Why do they look so odd? ‘My men know the beat. Start!’ she demands.
Her men start clapping. Slow, easy to get into the swing of it.
The Priestess removes her cloak, uses it to cover her acolyte. She shakes out her gold chains. Cor, they do chime.
She starts to move. She really starts to move. Even when she’s standing in one spot all of her is moving!
‘Room. Back off, I need room,’ she orders her men. They slowly edge outwards, leave wider gaps. The clapping gets faster.
She sways, and shimmies. Her chains glitter, her gems beckon. She dances towards the Capt’n.
He swaggers up to her, and growls.
She touches her fingertips to his chest. ‘Not yet,’ she says, and laughs.
He laughs, and backs off.
The Priestess dances here and there, towards one of our men and back again. She’s a bloody tease, that’s what she is. The clapping gets even faster.
Each time she dances back towards the altar, our men go after her. I’m thinking, what is she up to?
Then she dances towards me. Away from me, then back to me. She’s looking at me, into my eyes, glancing over me body like she likes what she’s seeing. She dances, hips swaying, enticing. Stands there with those ripe, rounded hips shakin’ at me. Calling me.
I reach out to grab a’hold of ‘em rounded hips, to pull her towards me, grind meself into ‘er.
Capt’n growls. He yanks me back.
She laughs. She curves her arms up, twirls around, and calls out “Now!’
That bloody witch!
Capt’n roars. Bloodied froth bubbles at his lips. Men – our men, not ‘em pansies –fall around us. That witch keeps twirling. Me, I can’t move. One of those poncy guards plunges his sword into my chest. I watch beautiful rubies scintillate in the torch-light as they run down his blade. Watch as he twists his blade, pulls his sword out. He swipes me blood off his sword onto me breeches.
Me knees turn to jelly.
The grotto dims – then somehow warps, twists so that there is two of everything, and more.
That witch keeps chanting. The grotto fills with light.
More people appear. Somehows they float.
The guards are dragging bodies out of the grotto. Me mates hang arounds, watching with me as two of them poncy guards grab a’hold of me feet.
‘Hey. That’s my body. You lot leave it. I ain’t finished with it yet!’
A screeching echoes through the grotto. Shapes squirm their way out of the cracks in the grotto walls. Red, they is, with bulging bodies and pointed mouths filled with shark teeth. They swarm all over my crew mates, bite hold and drag them back into the crevices. Now they’re coming for me.
‘Help! Save me!’
One of ‘em light people comes. The red ones, them pulls back from ‘er.
‘You’ve got to save me from ‘em!’
‘What about the acolyte. What if she asked you to save her?’
‘She’s a wimin. Wimin don’t feel, they don’t think.’
‘But if she had asked you?’
‘Who listens to wimin anyhow?’
‘Perhaps you need to learn what it feels like.’ She turns to the red ones. ‘You can have him now.’
All I kin see is rows of jagged teeth a’coming for me.