Monday, February 19, 2018
You can read a super-steamy excerpt from my new novel The Seven Seductions on Janine Ashbless' Blue Monday blog, here.
Thursday, February 1, 2018
Haunted by a demon’s prophecy…
Gretchen grows up dreading the destiny she cannot escape—not even within the walls of a convent—the lustful longings of the otherworldly creature she knows only as The Nameless One.
Uncanny things have always had a way of happening ever since her older sister read aloud from a book of black magic, unwittingly awakening the demon. But now, after having become Sister Mary Chastity, Gretchen must struggle with the stirrings of her own long-buried desires, the undeniable yearnings that overpower her flesh, and the guilt that inevitably follows when memory intrudes upon the present and dark secrets come back to confound her.
On “holy retreat” in a vacation house by the shores of a lake in the Great North Woods, Mary Chastity meets Magic, a handsome, carefree young artist who tests her vows even as he speaks to something deep within her heart. Can this beautiful boy help her to face her fears—or is he part of the future The Nameless One has foreseen for her all along? Is Magic the key to Mary Chastity’s salvation—or nothing less than the incubus itself in human guise?
All is ultimately revealed when past and present converge, and Mary Chastity is forced to confront her demons in a blazing finale that takes her to the very depths of Hell and back! Literary paranormal erotic romance (HFN) from Terrance Aldon Shaw.
THE SEVEN SEDUCTIONS
It was easy enough to find the spot where the birthday party had been. Dozens of footprints remained, undisturbed in the soft sand, tracks of myriad comings and goings crossed and recrossed, a thousand shallow indentations disrupting the gentle roll of the terrain. The beach seemed all the more deserted now, strewn with the evidence of people so recently having had their fun. The driftwood logs the boys had dragged up from the shore were still arranged, a semicircle of rough-hewn pews around the fire pit, the sticks they had improvised for hotdog skewers poking out from the middle, half-burned, a wheel of broken spokes. The necks of empty beer bottles stuck out above the sand, planted there like so many seedlings, while, half-collapsed, the crepe paper banner lay forlorn, a listless, dying thing, shivering with the slightest motion of the breeze.
She built a fire around a sheaf of tinder, the hotdog sticks halved and re-halved along with the wadded remnants of the birthday banner. Once it was all well ablaze, she set to work, laying driftwood over the top, one log at a time, careful not to smother the kindling.
Doesn’t have to be a neat pile. Not for this. Just make sure you don’t leave anything off…
The damp wood belched a sour white smoke as it whined and hissed. From time to time a spark would explode with a startling crack, spit out like an angry four-letter word. Mary Chastity used a stick to draw a broad circle in the sand, moving right-to-left as she recited:
“Now to thee, goddess, mother, maid, and crone,
Protection grant for me and all mine own.
Abide with me on this propitious night
And round me draw a ring of power and light
To guard me from the evil demons do
That this, my making, may be pure and true.”
Not that she believed in them, but the words had been her mother’s once, and what harm could they do?
Protection invoked, however skeptically, she sat cross-legged a little ways to one side of the fire as she dug in the sand, scooping up loose fistfuls to form a pair of shallow trenches. Mary Chastity took the silver crucifix from around her neck, kissed the corpus in a gesture long-born of habit, and dropped it into the hole on the left. She buried the switchblade like a suicide, without ceremony, on the right. The Schwarzbuch lay open before her on the ground, still stubbornly keeping its secrets as she read:
Come, Nameless One, in this enchanted hour
And fill me with thy flame of darkest power…
The words tumbled through her mind, though she was careful not to form them on her lips. It was enough merely to imagine. Her intent, unspoken, would suffice.
From forth the brooding air and troubled dust
I conjure thee with all thy fearsome lust.
The smoke from the fire had grown thick, still more harsh and pungent as it spread out to merge with the mist forming above the surface of the water. Soon, the horizons disappeared, enshrouded in all directions as beneath a white funeral pall. And still she read:
I call thee forth from shadow and from mist
At this the hour of our appointed tryst.
Come now from lightning and from lowering cloud
To lift the bridal veil and rend the shroud…
She paused to listen. Nothing yet. Only the dull complaint of the burning logs, the low whistle of the wood, breathing its last against the onslaught of the flames.
Come unto me with all thy dark desire
And gather me to thyself ere need require.
She hesitated over the next couplet. That the creature was already close she had no doubt, nor that it would soon be with her. Yet to complete the spell would be to unlock a door, which, once open, could never be closed again. Mary Chastity drew a deep breath and read aloud:
“With groans of ruttish lust and seething sighs
In words Infernal thus I bid thee rise…”
She heard it then, a soft moaning somewhere off in the woods, the baleful howling of a wolf. No, a dog. Several dogs. More; a whole pack of bloodhounds on the scent, coming on through the fog with the voices of their masters rising hoarse and high above the din, shouting for someone lost or escaped. Calling out a name.
“Gretchen! Gretchen!” The voices were all around her in the mist. “Gretchuuunnnn!” the syllables torturously prolonged as desperation grew. “GREEETCHEN! GRETCHUUUN!” The seekers drew close—so unnervingly near that Mary Chastity imagined them reaching out to grab her. Then, just as swiftly, they seemed to move off again, voices receding into the inscrutable distance. In the deafening seconds of stillness that followed, Mary Chastity felt her own heart’s frantic hammering against the inner wall of her chest, a booming dirge pounded out on a deep bass drum, sending tremors through the earth in broad rippling circles as if to wake the dead.
Something was stirring in the water out towards the middle of the lake. She sensed it, somewhere off to her right, even before the sound had reached her; a frenzied thrashing on the surface, the water suddenly broken, boiling, churning, alive. Ominous whitecaps rolled into shore, and with them the commotion of a teeming exodus, things emerging en masse like a billion lost souls from the sea. They came wading in, moaning and lamenting, voices tortured, inarticulate, an infernal chorus, unmistakably male.
Mary Chastity stood as they approached, a shambling phalanx of naked men emerging from the mist. Their faceless forms were half-rotted, twisted, grotesque, hair and flesh sodden like seaweed with the fetid slime of watery entombment. Still, here and there, a glimpse of something horrifically familiar; a ring-pierced nipple, a scar, a blenched tattoo, riddles written on flesh like ghostly runic script on faded vellum. The revenants came, lurching and shuffling, gathering around her less in menace than in brutal supplication.
“Uhhgghh…” She closed her eyes, choking back her disgust as they touched her, a single hand at first, cold and frail against her overheated skin, then another, and another, curious, almost methodical in their explorations. The gauzy wrap was whisked away as fingers traced the sensitive column of her neck, the charmed space between jaw and collarbone, her upper arms, the back of her shoulders. And lower still, descending with growing eagerness till, all inhibition cast aside, they claimed her with clammy open palms, brazen, ravenous, famished for life too-long denied.
They spun her around roughly, her body buffeted like flotsam on a dithering tide, shoved from hand to hand as each took their turn to grope and squeeze and paw. By now she was naked above the waist, worked out of her dress with a thousand random tugs and pulls. They manhandled her in slow motion, her bottom, her breasts, the sanctum of her inner thighs, all smeared with an oily putrescent glop as they crowded in, fumbling and fondling, a writhing communion of the damned absorbing her into itself.
“Help!” she cried out though she knew no help would come. “Help!” the words barked out in sharp staccato sobs. “Help!” And again, a strangled husking “Help!” as they pushed her to her knees, down into a vortex of seething flesh. Through hooded eyes she saw them all around her, a waving wheat field of half-inflated cocks, quivering like heavy seed pods about to burst, blushing, erubescent, glinting with the dubious moisture of quickening arousal. A few made fleeting contact as the circle tightened, brushing randomly across her shoulders and through her hair. She felt them then, organs of all shapes and sizes, stiffening as they pressed at the sides of her face, her ears, her cheeks, her chin, her lips, blindly probing and thrusting, seeking out her weakness.
And more, closing in wherever she tried to turn, merciless, hungry things all driven by the same brainless need. Unbending now like low-hanging branches, countless cocks battering her upper body; some brushing and slapping her across the face, others wriggling and squirming wormlike through her cleavage and over the swell of her breasts. She slumped to hands and knees, weak with the struggle to hold her loathing in check, to keep her mind above the maddening fray even as her head sank beneath its surface.
Terror breeding indecision, Mary Chastity tried to crawl away, first on all fours, then on her belly, dragging herself through the sand like some hunted forest creature scuttling far beneath the swaying canopy of cocks. To the shoreline—No! Towards the fire! Must stay close to the fire!—she made her way through a jungle of foul-smelling flesh, hanging half-decomposed, withered foliage from the trunks of rotting trees. Past shrunken hips and emaciated thighs, knees unnaturally protruding, withered calves and ankles, bones jutting out at gruesome angles from yawning unhealed wounds.
Have to make it! Have to… But stay inside the circle no matter what. Musn’t get turned around. Mustn’t forget where I left—Yes! There was a visible parting in the forest, a tenuous pathway opened up ahead of her, and the fire a short way beyond. If I can just get to it, everything will be—
“No!” Someone had seized her by the hair, and she was being dragged back into the thick of the crowd. “God, no!” They held her by her wrists and ankles as they lifted her, waist-high above the ground, limbs splayed out like a cross in the form of an X. No! the cry echoed within as they tore her skirt away. God, please! Her head lolled back, unsupported, so that she was unable to see, only feel, and guess, and picture as uncertainty fed her fear. As something insinuated itself between her legs—something abominable, repulsive, yet far-too familiar, like the tenuous memory of a nightmare—the head of a long slender cock slip-sliding with greasy ease against the soft line of her labia, nudging her wet walls aside as it found its way forward, filling her like white-hot steel.
Three fleshly suitors do I see…
She knew this cock, if not the face of its owner, remembered unmistakably the smooth metal ring behind the ridge of the glans, the way it scraped at her soft inner places with every unexpected surge—every slow excruciating withdrawal—when her virginity had been taken that night as she slept, though afterwards she had dismissed it as a dream.
Three loathsome lovers will there be…
“Oh!” She yelped as a second cock was crammed in alongside the first. This one was unmistakable; more substantial in weight and girth though less in length, like a massive tree root burrowing through wet soil. The two members moved in awkward concert, thrusting and reciprocating as if vying for dominance, pushing her to the brink of endurance where yet another cock was shoved into her mouth, open wide in wonderment and horror.
She knew this one best of all. A balky iron club wrapped in velvet, it strained the hinges of her jaw, filling her till she could scarcely breathe. Just as it had been that distant morning when she knelt before it, awestruck, like some pagan postulant before a great stone idol, worshipping with her lips until the god had anointed her with his unruly gift, initiating her into his cult of mysteries with a burst of sacred jism.
Thus, ravished by all, you shall flee…
Something cool and smooth like sculpted glass sought entry from below. But that was a dream… Real enough, the fourth member circled the bashful rim of her nether opening before impaling her there, filling her last hung’ring hole. Holy God! It chafed against the others, creating an eerie friction through the thin walls of her core, and she imagined them together, fused by some fearsome intelligence, slowly merging into one impossibly potent mass.
…and find your way at last to me… Mary Chastity heard the demon’s thought in her head. The revenants had heard it, too, for they halted in mid-stroke, suddenly uncertain. But only for a moment. The pace resumed, more deliberately as, one by one, they pulled back inside her, waiting, waiting, waiting as if for permission before pushing forward together as one. A single earth-shattering thrust. And again. And again. Once, twice, three times, groaning soldiers throwing the last of their strength against an unbreachable wall. They came like the confluence of roaring rivers, flowing into the hollow interstices of her being, boiling away her will. What cursed mongrel might be born of such unholy fusion? Uncaring now, she screamed with all her failing strength, screamed and screamed again, a single word of farewell and of welcome, all she had been at last abandoned to the void.
The sky itself seemed to answer. A growl of thunder heralded a shift in the atmosphere, a change in the air, as if she and everything around her had suddenly found themselves transported into the cloistered eye of a storm. A gray ceiling of cloud hung stiflingly low overhead, spread out in all directions to where a ruddy incandescence defined the meager encircling horizon like the steady glow of a furnace. She could hear the low lament of distant wind, its lonesome drone accompanied from time to time by brooding peels of thunder, far, far off, resounding dully across that blasted hellscape.
“…my slave for all eternity!” The voice came, no longer as a thought; not a whisper or a hiss, but something out of the thunder itself, full-throated, deep, clear, and commanding. “Enough! This one is mine!” The revenants disengaged clumsily, whimpering in mournful terror as they fled to the edge of the circle, randomly fading and phasing in and out of certainty beyond its limits, at last disintegrating altogether into flaccid swarms of dust.
Panting, naked, exhausted from her ordeal, Mary Chastity crouched at the demon’s feet. Her body glistened with the vile residue of the revenants’ embrace, their own unholy chrism, a hundred soiled handprints adorning her from shoulder to calf like a hideous birthmark. She shivered, acutely mindful of her isolation, her vulnerability; the uncanny sense, simultaneously thrilling and repulsive, of the creature’s searing gaze upon her skin, his hungry appraisal of her like a spider savoring the terror of its meal.
A hulking form loomed up before her in the sickly twilight. Close, so very close that she need only have opened her mouth to gauge its substance, a fearsome phallic monolith. The thing appeared to mutate as she watched, indistinct like a subliminal illusion, never altogether there at once, suggestions of shape revealed in blinks and flashes at the shifting margins of shadows in the firelight. Mary Chastity thrilled at the thought of the whole, for if those transient, fragmentary hints were suddenly to be assembled like so many pieces of a puzzle in her mind… Her eyes flitted upward, following the blurry outline of the shaft to its root, the place where it protruded from beneath the sheer cleft of a tautly sculpted stomach. How? How could this be? Up and up, she took it in by increments, the muscled body of a perfect human male, limbs beautifully formed, chest and shoulders broad and strong. Up and up with growing excitement, yet still she could not see his face—could not as yet perceive the whole of him for all her torrid curiosity.
“Show yourself,” she cried. “I want to see you!”
“Slave!” A hand, beautiful and swift, swept down to capture the sides of her face in its pitiless grip. “Even now, you have yet to learn your place!”
“Uhhhh…” She blurted out the compressed semblance of a protest, unable to breathe or break free. “Uhh… uhh…”
“Who are you?” The demon pushed her away abruptly. “Speak!” He held her by the shoulders, tight, at arm’s length as she fought for breath again.
“I… I’m Gretchen—Mary Chastity I mean. Or Chaz… some of the time I’m Chaz. I’m not sure anymore.”
“Who are you?”
“Does it matter now?”
“Who are you?”
“Who do you want me to be?”
“Hmm.” The monster considered for a moment. “And who am I?”
“You are… The Nameless One.”
“Who am I?”
“You are Lust.” She spoke meekly as if reciting from the catechism. “You are Urge. Desire Unrequited. Need Never Fulfilled. You are the Fear that comes like a shadow attending them all. You are the Longing that haunts the darkest corner of a maiden’s heart. The Beast that fills the night with weeping and with screams.”
“Who am I?”
“You…” Mary Chastity leaned forward with a sultry sigh as she touched her lips to the head of his cock. “You are my Master.”
Sunday, January 28, 2018
Hard to say what’s more fun: discovering a fantastic new (to me) writer, or telling everyone who’ll listen about this fantastic writer they simply must read. Author Emily L. Byrne puts me in this happy conundrum with Desire, her recent collection of eleven finely-wrought f/f erotic romance tales.
Byrne offers readers a dizzying diversity of setting, vibrantly evocative, sharply-focused, and practically always unforgettable. From the tourist-choked thoroughfares of Viva Las Vegas (with its hot-to-trot Elvis drag kings) to the revolutionary Nicaragua of A Night in Estelí, the churches and art galleries of Florence in A Room with a View, and the wintry cityscape of Minneapolis in the hauntingly surreal Cherrybridge and Spoon. Nearly as dazzling and varied as her settings, Byrne seems to traverse disparate genres with the breezy nonchalance of a master, whether it be sci-fi (Diplomacy), sword and sorcery (Heart’s Thief), espionage (The Old Spies Club), realist mainstream (Summer Stock), or contemporary romance with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure (The Goddess Within).
But it’s her characters who truly make these stories stand out, from the lonely police detective in The Further Adventures of Miss Scarlet, to the environmental activist falling madly in love with the female park ranger in the delightful Treehugger; the once-burned (literally) in-love starship commander in Diplomacy, the empathic burglar in Heart’s Thief, the bewildered goddess-for-a day of The Goddess Within, or the young American activist stealing a dangerous moment of passion with an itinerant journalist in A Night in Estelí.
Emily L. Byrne is a fantastic writer—one you simply must read! Desire is enthusiastically recommended.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
With The Prison of the Angels, the final installment in her Book of the Watchers trilogy, Janine Ashbless brings this epic erotic-romance saga to a conclusion with a bang of near-apocalyptic intensity. And how could it be otherwise, given what we’ve come to expect thus far in the series?
I’m not sure I can give too much away here without dropping spoilers—everything in this story is essential, and Ashbless never wastes a word. But, to review: in Cover Him with Darkness, Milja frees the fallen angel Azazel from his imprisonment. In the superb middle-installment, In Bonds of the Earth, Azazel sets in motion his plan to free his fellow rebel angels from their ancient prisons, setting up a cosmic showdown with the powers of Heaven. In The Prison of the Angels, the scary feathered beasts come home to roost, the consequences of choices made must at last be faced, the price of love and freedom paid regardless of the cost. Yet, as always, Ashbless ties it all together with such style, such flare, conveying a sense of inevitability—of ineluctable right-ness—with the plot’s every twist and turn, it’s hard to imagine all hell breaking loose in any other way, Or near half so excitingly, for that matter! Of course, throughout, the sex is wicked hot, and it is sex, after all, desire and lust, that have driven this story from the beginning, and ultimately created the critical mass from which it draws its power.
But it would be wrong to dismiss this story as just another facile fast-paced sex-action-adventure franchise—though it certainly is fast-paced and often sexy as hell! What I have always admired about Ashbless is her ability to tell riveting erotic stories in a way that recognizes and honors her readers’ intelligence and curiosity, not to mention their willingness to look up the occasional word if they need to. The essential story is never weighed down by excessive literary vocabulary—the author’s voice, or need to prove how smart they are, overwhelming the narrative—but words are used correctly, precisely, and always with thoughtfulness and care. Big ideas are woven into the fabric of the tale with seamless craft to seem as natural a part of the whole as the action-packed set pieces and steamy bedroom scenes.
And—wow!—do I ever love the way Ashbless employs mythology in her stories, perhaps the true hallmark of her style. It doesn’t matter that we largely no longer believe in Zeus or Apollo, Thor and Loki, or the creation mythos of the Hebrew Bible; all these stories—always essentially metaphors—have outlived literal credulity; yet all are still exciting, still thought-provoking, brimming with narrative possibility. The thing Ashbless shows us about myth is that it is malleable; it can be molded and reformed, melded and spliced to suit any time and place. The fascinating angelology in this series comprises far more than the traditional (and rather staid) Judeo-Christian roster; but shows how different cultures may have interpreted the same archetypes in different ways. The Norse trickster god, Loki, becomes the tempter of Genesis, the fallen serpent-angel Samyaza; the Archangel Michael assumes the form of something out of Native American myth… It all makes for a wonderful, engaging, multi-layered story that touches the mind as well as the heart, yet is always fun to read!
Perhaps, the author is speaking directly to her readers through the character of Pemenuel, the angel of the written word, when she describes the power of story in this passage from The Prison of the Angels:
“The humans have done something remarkable. Something we could not. They have created new worlds. Worlds where decisions are made for good or evil, where hearts are broken and won, where hope is found and innocence lost. I have been to these worlds. They are real realms of the spirit.”
“Books?” said Azazel with contempt. “Just words!”
“No. They are places that the human spirit goes to be reborn. Landscapes and people that they recognize, just as they recognize their own homes. Places as real as your memory…”
In The Prison of the Angels, as in the books that preceded it, Janine Ashbless has created an extraordinary new world, a “real realm of the spirit” that is a sheer pleasure to visit.
Sunday, January 7, 2018
Cold and Raw
by Terrance Aldon Shaw
England, circa 1640
Winter had come early to the north. Sharp winds drove the snow across the ground in swirling motes like spreading tendrils of smoke. Thus, all was grey in that cheerless chill an hour past the dawn, when a traveler came riding upon a dappled mare.
The lone wanderer bore himself with an untroubled air, his countenance confident, his gaze intent. He was a stranger to that country, though clad in fur and leather, sporting a rakish capotain over the white hood he wore against the cold. It was no roundhead’s hat, for the red-gold tail feather of a game pheasant streamed bravely from the brim, proud as a knight’s pennant. And draped around his shoulders, a voluminous cope, which hung about his lean frame like a dowdy bell, hems fringed with the softest sable above a pair of well-heeled boots, newly-blacked.
At the crossroads he dismounted. A tangled copse of oak and ash stood hard by; the branches of the trees, forlorn of leaves, appeared as flayed fingers, frozen in a skeletal rigor, stretching upward to indict the pallid sky. Enshaded there beneath the trees, the tumble-down ruin of an ancient hermitage could be seen, the tiny hut, long-abandoned by its monkish tenant, o’erwhelmed by wind-piled heaps of errant thatch and desiccated moss.
Such bleak, desert country. How could ordinary mortal souls eke out wage and rent in so forlorn a wilderness? Surely some grim northern god had hollowed out these dales only to raise up mountains in cheerier climes. The air seemed to grow even more chill at the thought. The mare stamped her hooves, neighing brazenly as if to curse the cold, while, drawing brim and cowl close to ward off the wind, her master paced a short way here and there in pensive expectation.
Soon, upon the keening gale there came the sound of grumbling cartwheels and straining bridle ropes, the merry jingle of harness bells, and the trumpeting whinny of a dray horse, hooves falling heavily in the snow as the great beast struggled with its load. Some crofter on his way to market, the stranger guessed.
Or, mayhap, more pleasant company.
He spied the girl from afar, as if through a lacy scrim, a dark figure against the undulating whiteness. She came on foot, leading the tall-shouldered workhorse through the deepening drifts. In another moment, she was gone from view, disappeared behind the crest of a knough where the track plunged down into a shallow vale.
“What sport shall we enjoy upon this chilly market day,” the traveler jested with his mount. “What fools these farmers to send their juicy daughters to town like stock to the block.”
He licked his lips. The lass had attained the summit with her lumbering charge, and soon would be upon him.
What then, he wondered; how much parley need there be between them? In every pious country lass, he knew, there dwelt a wanton wench, longing to gambol and sport like a ewe in rut. And who better to play the ram’s part in such a game than he? In the end the maid need only be shown her heart’s delight.
A simple glimmer would suffice.
He stepped into the road, veiling his bonnet low with a broad flourish, as small folk might imagine befits a man of breeding.
“Good morrow,” said he. “How come ye this way so early?”
The girl returned a graceful bow. She was tall, long-limbed and lithe as a willow, clad in a homely woolen habit beneath a hooded cloak, her face, surpassing fair, framed like a high-born lady’s portrait between the flaring fringes of the hood. A wayward strand of bonny wheat-gold hair glinted upon her winsome brow, and her glistering eyes, bluer than the deepest azure, shone brightly in that morning’s gloom. His mouth began to water at the sight.
“A good day to you, sir.” Her voice like a well-tuned fiddle comprised a dulcet, lilting melody above a droning northern brogue. “I’m to the next market town, there to sell a load o’ barley for my father.”
“Truly? Your sire would send you forth unescorted on such an errand—even on so wild and inclement a morn as this?”
“He trusts me well enough, sir,” she spoke with no small hint of pride, “elsewise I should never have been away from the croft so early. I’d’ve stayed safe at home with my sisters, gathered by the ingle-side all snug and warm. But it’s like my jolly old pa says: this barley won’t be sellin’ itself afore some poor fool takes it into his head to brew it into beer, now will it? And I can get a good price in the town, what with the snows come on so soon, and fodder bein’ scarce.”
“You seem a canny lass.” The stranger smiled crookedly. “May I know your name?”
“Margery,” she answered, “but there’s some as call me Meg.”
“And how old are you, my sweet, pretty Meg?”
“Eight and ten this Lammas last.” A rosy bloom was on her cheek. “And—” she hesitated.
“What is it, child?”
“If it please you, m’lord—if I may be so bold—might I know your name as well? For I’ve never met a fine gentleman before.”
“Men have known me by many names,” the stranger said. “Can you not guess?”
“Oh sir, I could not—I’d never dare to try for fear of gettin’ it wrong. Pray, tell it me?”
“Soon,” said he, “ere the time be full. But tell me true, fair lass, have you a man of your own? Does a husband wait for you at home, or, mayhap, some secret lover in the town?”
There was a wistful air in her voice as she replied.
“I . . . I had a sweetheart once; the blacksmith’s son, gone for a soldier these three years past, afightin’ in the wars. And I only inquired of your name just now as I thought you might be him returned. For, begging your pardon, sir, you look much as he did on the day he left—though however that could be I’m sure I do not know.”
“Indeed,” said the stranger, “and were the two of you to be wed?”
“Aye,” she answered bitterly, “but my folks had nowt and less to put up for the bride’s portion, and his father refused—said even a blacksmith’s boy could do better than some poor crofter’s whelp. We took it hard, sir, me and him, it near to broke my heart. He begged me to run off with him, and well I would’ve if only I’d been able. But in the end I could’na bring myself to go; not with my ma feelin’ poorly, and them five silly sisters o’ mine needing some’un to look after ‘em, nor my dear old pa with the farm to tend. So my handsome boy put his mark on the roll, claimed his thirty shillings-worth o’ bounty and marched away with the regiment. Oh sir! I wept for sorrow on that day.”
“And was he a comely one, this youth of yours?”
“Truly, m’lord! The most handsomest boy I ever did see. Tall and straight as an oak, with dark eyes as could make me melt on a day fair starved as this ‘un. His hair was black as a raven’s wing, and thick and wild as heather—how I loved to stroke it whenever he’d let me—”
“And what of his cock?” said the traveler. “Was that a pretty thing to stroke as well? Did it strike hard in that hot little forge between your legs ere it softened in the fire?”
“Sir!” she cried, “I am a maiden still!” But the stranger could see that her protest was half-hearted at best, for her blue eyes shone far too blithely, belying the feigned piety of her words. Wantonness had already cast its fleeting shadow upon her countenance, her cheeks flushed, less from the sting of shame than from the rising heat of a secret fire.
“Mercy, sweet Meg,” said he, “I meant naught by it. Yet so lovely a lass ought surely know something of the world.” Boldly then, the stranger touched her gloved hand. “Will you not tarry with me for an hour, that I might teach you?”
“Please sir! The day draws on and I must be agate.” Her voice quavered, though she did not take away her hand. “Pardon, m’lord, that is, I must needs be on my way ‘afore the storm come on so heavy that Old Hector here’ll be hard-put to set one foot in front o’ t’other.”
“Nay, bonny one, bide with me awhile, for I’m of a mind to help you in your troubles.”
“How do you mean, sir?”
“Here,” said he, tugging aside his cape to display a leathern pout, gravid with coin. “Twenty pounds lie fairly in this purse.”
The maiden gasped at the mention of the sum, eyes growing wide, as if she had never beheld such a sight before in her life.
“Seek no buyer in the town,” said the traveler, “for I’ll take all thy barley here and now.”
“Twenty pounds and a fairer bargain was never struck.” He dandled the purse in his palm till the gold within began to sing, “What say you, pretty Meg?”
He doffed a glove to offer her his hand. Cautiously, the girl did the same. Yet ere the bargain had been clasped, the stranger seized her tightly about the wrist and would not let her go.
“Twenty more shall purchase delight,” he whispered, “for it’s thine own fair person I most dearly desire. Twenty pounds for thy barley, and another score if thou would’st lie with me till daybreak on the morrow.”
“This I cannot—I would not—do, sir!” she cried. “Not if twenty pound should buy the globe! D’you think I’d so dishonor my kin, be they e’er so poor, for a doxy’s wage?”
“Why? Think of it, my pretty Meg. Consider all that twenty pounds could purchase. Surely, t’would suffice for dowr’; enough to see thee well-betrothed to some worthy freeholder’s son, a fine wedding with meat and ale for all thy kin, and bread to see ‘em o’er the winter, too. ‘Tis yours, I swear, every last crown and farthing, if only thou would’st stay with me tonight, lie with me with a right good will, and gang home in the morning, a wealthy woman. What say you, lovely lass?”
“You’ve not taken my meaning, sir,” said Meg. “Aye, the price you’ve named for the barley’s more than fair, better’n any bargain I might strike at market this morning, and if you truly be in earnest, I’d be a fool to turn up my nose at such an askin’.”
“‘Tis my company you mean to have for cheap.”
“I would not offend thee, Meg.”
“Gold might ease offense,” she said. “Yet would you leave me rich and ruined?”
“Nay—” he began to protest.
“I mean, sir, that twenty pound seems hardly fair cosiderin’ all the risk you’d have me take.”
“You are a shrewd and wily siren, I’ll be bound,” the stranger sighed impatiently. “Forty pounds, then.”
“One hundred pound,” the maid spoke up boldly now, “and not a double-Guinea less.”
“I ken now why your father sent you out to sell that barley in his stead. Are your sisters half so clever altogether? How like you fifty Guineas?”
“What am I then,” she sniffed, “some galty sow?” Ninety pound!”
“You have the advantage of me,” said the stranger, “and well you know it. Sixty Guineas!”
“Do you think to slight me, sir? Or do you take me for a fool? Eighty pound and five Guineas beside!”
“For that I ought to have a taste,” said he, “or, leastwise, a look at what I would purchase so dearly. Come! Lift your skirts for me, wench! Seventy pounds!”
“And now you take me for a common bawd? Eighty Guineas!”
“You are anything but common, fair nymph. Yet, still...seventy Guineas and no more!”
“Mayhap some other lad shall have my barley.” She tossed her head proudly. “Eighty Guineas, and no less!”
“Suppose we divide the difference?” The traveler shook his purse again. “What say you to five and seventy?”
Meg made no reply at once.
“Very well then,” he said, “five and seventy Guineas it is, and let there be an end to it.” The stranger stepped forward and kissed the maiden full upon her blushing lips, quickly, before she could name some other sum. “Perhaps another ten if you truly please me. What say you, Meg?”
“Done,” she replied, “though the Devil take me for an ass.”
“‘Tisn’t the devil’ll be taking that lovely arse o’ yours,” the stranger said, goosing her there with a playful swat. “Come, Meg, let’s tether the horses, for I’m impatient to see what my gold has bought me.”
* * *
They found a place to the lee of the gale among the barren trees within the circle of the copse, and there the horses were hobbled in amiable companionship close beside one another. The tiny hermitage, though long bereft of habitation, was stoutly built of good gray fieldstone, mortared once with mud and wattle, now petrified in winter’s deathly grasp. The eremite’s cell within was dry enough, though hardly wider than the span of a youngling’s outstretched arms. Meg set about building a fire in the tiny hearth—scarce more than a shallow niche set into the side of the wall—kindling a meager blaze of old thatch and ash twig, as the traveler spread his fur-lined cope upon the earthen floor. The robe was broad enough to stretch from one wall to the other, making a cozy bed on which the two of them might lie.
“Anon, sweet Meg!” He whispered low, and laid his hands upon her shoulders. “Show me all thy treasures!”
She turned from the fire to face him, whence it was she whose mouth began to water, for there before her stood a dashing youth with dark, flowing locks, strong and straight of limb, though seeming to grow taller still within that little room. An unruly whorl of coarse black hair peeked from beneath the linen tunic he wore for an undershirt, his chest rugged, broad, and tautly muscled. A ruddy brownish beard, well trimmed after the fashion of some gallant outlaw, grew thickly on his chin, the color setting off his twinkling nut-brown eyes—a pleasingly handsome visage withal.
Without a word, he took her in hand, and so pushed back her hood to uncover the crowning glory of her tresses—done up loosely in a shimmering rope of rich spun gold, which seemed to illumine the narrow chamber like a hundred lambent candles. His curious fingers brushed her burning cheek, her strong-set mouth, the tender place beneath her ear, and soon, the knotted cowhide thong that held her cloak in place. She unclasped it for him with a simple flourish, giggling at his clumsiness even as she opened the breach. The homely roughspun beneath was warm, yet ne’er so warm nor half so inviting as that which lay within.
He caressed her bonny bosom—her breasts uncleaved and covered still within their woolen prison—not a little impatient to loosen the garment so that he might warm his hands against the fire of her untried flesh.
“Nay! Hold, good sir,” she chided playfully. “Would you taste the beer ‘afore it’s brewed?”
Boldly she grasped his stiffening cod, and gently did she squeeze, until the trunk sprang from the root to flower, adamant against her trembling hand. “Ah me!” she sighed as she fell to her knees, and so the clever lass unlaced his leathern breeches, eager to cherish the new-found toy within. Yet, bringing it forth, the girl at first seemed but to feign and feint, drawing it coyly towards her lips, only to bob her head away again, still coming closer with each teasing motion, till, weilding it like a pen, she traced a cunning map in the charmed space just beyond her pouted lips.
The stranger braced his hands against the narrow walls to either side, threw back his head, and mouthed a silent orison to gods unknown. And then, with soft endearing sighs, as if in answer to his prayer, Meg lightly kissed the crown; kissed it thrice ere drawing her lolling tongue along his length, laving it as kye their calflings in the spring. And thus her ardor, so long restrained, grew with each lingering stroke, till she was of a mind to swallow him whole, post and stones together.
“You are a wonder, Meg,” he sighed, “a pearl of great price, in truth!”
Still intent upon her task, the girl raised her eyes to fix him with a gaze of fulsome desire—and so the sight caused the youth to spend with a groaning shudder. Ahhhh!” he cried, pouring forth so copious a flood as soon o’erflowed his lover’s lips. Yet his pleasure was no greater than her own, for she gamely swallowed his salty porridge in a single greedy gulp, as e’re there played a catlike smile upon her milk-stained mouth.
“And now,” said he, his composure recovered, “unveil thyself to me! Be rid of all this tiresome attire. I’d see thee naked as Eve before Shame came into the world.”
Soon enough the habit fell about her feet, and soon enough she stood before him clad only in a humble shift of bride-white cambric, falling loose about her shapely shoulders, with naught but a simple drawstring to uphold her waning modesty. She stared back at him, as if in proud defiance to the last, slowly, slowly, letting the shift slip down across her blushing bosom. Her breasts were firm and fair, round and plump with swelling teats as straight and stiff as joiner’s pegs. He longed to take them between his teeth, yet not before he had beheld the curve of her waist, graceful as an hourglass, her haughty rump, so fine and pert, with nary a wen to cloud her creamy skin. And then, at last, the young man gazed upon the blooming swell of honey-hued thatch between her thighs, ripe for the harvest, glistening with the dew of wakening ardor.
His mouth agape in fervid wonder, the youth marveled at the miraculous perfection of her nakedness. Still he stood and silently he gazed, as if in meditation, till, so it seemed, eternity itself might hold its breath.
“Sir?” said Meg, breaking the spell at last.
“Upon thy back,” his voice was husky ere he bid the girl lie down. Then, reaching to the floor, he drew the feather from the brim of his capotain, so carelessly tossed aside in his earlier haste. “Behold!” he knelt before her, brushing her nipples ever so lightly, drawing the feather’s soft tip across her flesh. Down, he traced the ghostly roseline twixt her rolling breasts; down o’er the plain of her belly, and further still, thence to the verdent hummock below, there to seek the petals of her lovely maiden-flower, the juicy furrow of her lips.
“Oh sir!” Meg panted out her passion in a shallow gasp, caught between an awful dread and rapt anticipation. “Oh!” she moaned, arching her middle to meet the feather’s fleeting kiss. More slowly and more lightly still, the stranger turned it in his hand to draw it gently up again, until she wept in amorous agony, sighing with the all-consuming need of it.
“Take me!” she begged him. “Oh, take me, sir! Now, elsewise I’ll surely burn for the wanting!”
He made no reply; only bowed his head between her thighs, the better to devour. His tongue was a ravenous serpent, delving the moisty crevice of her cunny.
“Saints and angels!” she cried. “Is this heaven?”
“Bide awhile and see,” he murmured, drawing his nose up along the tight cranny of her folds until it came to rest against the pearled nub of flesh at the summit. He pressed it firmly, as if to try its readiness before he began to hum. The low rumble of the note sent gentle shivers through her loins at first, yet soon it echoed through the whole of her body like a choir of pealing bells.
And then, more wonderful than all that had come before, he forged a tune upon her cunt, a melody so eloquent and strange as might warm the heart and break it all at once. The tune rose along a graceful gamut, long and short notes ascending the string from re to re before it dropped down again, below whence it began. It was that falling note that moved her most mightily, as if the ground had given out beneath her feet. And so she trembled as he sang:
Cold and raw the north did blow
Bleak in the morning early . . .
She held her breath as, bravely, the tune rose up again:
All the fields lay covered in snow
Damned by winter, yearly . . .
The music entered her through the selfsame wards her lover might soon unlock. And when she thought she could bear the bliss of it no longer, the tune abruptly ceased, not on the expected note, but on the open string above, as if the spirit of a question had been left to float upon the air. The handsome stranger pulled himself up, beard sodden with the nectar of her sex, yet ever gazing warmly upon her. Bereft of his kisses, like that strange unfullfiled melody, abandoned to a sweet despair, the maiden moaned, and begged him presently to take her.
And most ready was she ere he did. thrusting his stout prod deep into her cunny with such eager force as took her breath away. Easily he moved within her, for, in truth, her joy was like unto a flood, her bartered virtue given without complaint, nor pain, nor blood, nor aught but bliss. And when it was done, she beamed. a new-made woman, well-pleased, swearing it was she who’d had the best of their bargain.
Thus happily they rolled together all that day and long into the night, swiving with right lusty cheer. Sometimes Meg would crouch on hands and knees before him, so he might play the stallion to her mare. Other times, the youth might pantomime a jockey, bestriding her back, her golden hair spread out like a silken saddle cloth as he made sport upon it, harrowing her tresses with the horn of his cock, his ticklish cod, well satisfied, in tow. And more than once, the lass took on the man’s part, mounting him most wantonly to churn his adamant prod until he groaned and roared, his roving hands reaching about to fondle her bouncing rump, or up again to palm her jostling orbs.
Later, as the dark of night came on, they lay snugly together, their naked bodies swaddled tightly in the languorous warmth of his cape. He gathered her easily to himself, his brawny chest against her smooth back, his prowess buried deep within the labyrinth of her folds. Yet a little while before the dawn, she turned about to face him, rousing him from slumber with a lingering kiss, full as much of questioning as unspoken ardor.
“‘Tis time I be on my way, sir,” she whispered. “Yet ‘afore I go, mayhap we might...once more again...if only for remembrance’ sake?”
“Who’s had their will with whom tonight?” he laughed, rolling the girl onto her back.
“One thing, only m’lord?” She looked up at him plaintively. “Since now you’ve had your sport with me, mayhap we’ve gotten a young kid together. I thank ye most kindly for the gold, though I’ve little doubt you’ll be gone ere nine month end.”
“What would you have of me, Meg?” He spoke not unkindly.
“Please, m’lord, yester morn you said you’d answer my question ere the time be ripe. So now I’m askin’, for the sake of the bairn, will you not tell to me your name? Else, what’ll the poor thing do for a father?”
“Very well, then, if you would truly know, my comely Meg.” He kissed her up and down as he spoke, first upon one ear and then the other, her jaw, her neck, the bewitching roundel of flesh where throat meets collarbone, slowly moving from breast to breast, and the soft lips below and above, by which time the girl had begun to moan like a storied princess under some dark enchanter’s spell.
“William, men most oft’ have called me,” said he, “be it one way or another. A few would brand me outlaw and dub me Willan the Wanderer, Billy the Rover Boy or Dark-Eyed Bill the Pirate, for in truth, I have no home. In my journeys, I’ve known many women, and they, too, have their names for me. There’s some as call me Charming Billy and pine for my return; others Sweet William, or sometimes Handsome Will. And there are learned men in the king’s high court who’ve known me as Erwilian. I’ve traveled far and wide throughout this land and many lands beyond the sea beside, and everywhere I’m called by a different name, each one as soon forgotten as the last when e’er I take my leave. Yet know, darling Meg, that I would choose thee for my queen, but for the curse that follows me wheresoever I go.”
“And what of me?” A tear fell from her lovely eye. “Shall I forget thee, too? Oh my heart! ‘Tis too cruel a thing to bear!”
“Nay, sweet love.” He dried her bonny cheek. “Methinks you’ll remember me well like as not, so long as you recall the song I’ve left with you tonight.”
“That I can surely do, m’lord!” Meg smiled brightly as she took him to herself, guiding him in with an easy grace. And as he moved within her ever so gently, the two of them began to sing.
# # #
NOTES ON COLD AND RAW
The text of the Scottish ballad The Famer’s Daughter (or Cold and Raw as it is most commonly known from its opening line) first appeared in print in the 1651 edition of Tom D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge Melancholy, set to the popular fiddle tune known as Stingo—or later, simply Barley Oil (due, no doubt, to its inextricable association with the words of the ballad). The great English composer Henry Purcell used this melody in the sixth movement of his 1692 birthday ode for Queen Mary, Love’s Goddess Sure Was Blind (May her bless’d example chase...) as the ballad was a particular favorite of the queen’s (reportedly much to Purcell’s great chagrin). The tune was later employed with a new set of words by John Gay in The Beggar’s Opera (1726) (Act I, scene IV: If any wench Venus’ girdle wear . . . (Air III)) The original ballad is also sometimes known as The Girl Who Sold Her Barley. [To hear the song, click here, and, for an instrumental version, here.]
In D’Urfey’s 1651 telling of the tale, a traveler comes upon a lovely farmer’s daughter on her way to the next market town in order to sell a load of barley. The stranger, who also narrates the tale, wastes no time in propositioning the young maiden:
In this purse, sweet soul, says I
Twenty pounds lie fairly.
Seek no further one to buy
For I’ll take all thy barley.
Twenty more shall purchase delight,
Thy person I love so dearly
If thou would’st stay with me all night
And gang home in the morning early.
The girl protests, scandalized less by the stranger’s forwardness than his treating her like a common bawd:
If twenty pounds should buy the globe
This I would not do, sir;
Nor were my kin as poor as Job
I’d never raise ‘em so, sir . . .
At this point her argument assumes a more practical tone:
For if tonight I prove your friend
We’d get a young kid together,
And you’d be gone ere nine-month end,
And what should I do for a father?
The stranger—a clumsy seducer at best—is forced to admit that he is a married man of “fifteen years and longer”:
Or else I’d choose thee for my queen
And tie the knot much stronger.
The girl admonishes him to return home to his wife, and goes on her way.
So far, so dull. The ballad is less rustic sex romp than roundhead morality play. The traveler is portrayed as a faithless degenerate, while the upright farmer’s daughter is a high-horse-riding scold. What little real titilation there is derives from the stranger’s propositioning of the supposedly sheltered, innocent country lass, though, in the end, propriety is maintained, and Commonwealth-era sensibility bruised but mostly unoffended. Thus, the story’s prurient potential is left almost completely unmined, though clearly ripe with all sorts of juicy openings for 21st-century eroticists to explore.
The ballad provides the basic outline for the beginning of my story. I have freely embellished and expanded the narrative, inventing details such as the abandoned hermitage and the pheasant feather, as well as new plot points including the scene where the girl haggles with the traveler over the price of her virtue, all adding up to what I hope will be a sufficiently steamy denouement. I have also slipped in a few references and added the odd detail, borrowed from other folk songs of the broader period including Seventeen Come Sunday, Charming Billy, The Dark-Eyed Sailor, Just As the Sun Was Rising, Early in the Springtime, and Erwilian The Royal Forester.