Authors: Laura Gill
Gods forbid that this foreigner should get a child on her. All the other Sacred Kings she’d lain with had managed to plant a seed in her womb. It probably wouldn’t be any different with this man. Ariadne chewed her lip at the thought.
As she ascended the Grand Staircase to the Sanctuary of the Great Mother, she passed a gauntlet of priestesses and servant women eager to touch her robe and bare breasts. They sought her blessing. They offered up prayers for her increase. Whether or not she wanted another child had nothing to do with it.
Within, a wooden screen obscured the altar and the blood drying upon the horns of consecration. Braziers threw flickering light and shadows onto the walls. Sweet myrtle and saffron scented the linens of the bed set up in the middle of the floor. Ariadne’s most senior attendants removed her jewels, unpinned her hair, and guided her to the bed.
When they withdrew, she realized how cold the night was; the braziers exuded more shadows and oily smoke than light or heat. Ariadne drew the sheepskin coverlet up to her chin, then, realizing what an undignified picture she presented, cast it back. Her breath misted the air. She shivered and rued her inability to hug her knees to her chest and cover her breasts.
She just wanted this night to be over.
Outside the door, she heard the coming bridal procession as a cacophony of flutes and drums, punctuated by good-natured laughter.
was approaching. She sucked in a quavering breath. Each time she did this, it felt like the first time. Then she heard the High Priest’s voice: “Sacred King, go into your Bride.”
Another heartbeat and he would be with her.
The door creaked open then closed again, admitting a lone figure. It was the man, the foreigner, wearing a pristine white tunic. After the combat, he’d observed his own masculine rites: pouring the libation of sacred blood over the horns of consecration at several shrines within the palace, then again in the fallow fields below Knossos before undergoing purification in the lustral basin near the Western Court. Earlier that evening, he’d sat beside her at the bridal banquet, where she’d tried very hard to ignore him. At least he hadn’t drunk too much, or tried to engage her in conversation.
Ariadne took a deep, steadying breath. Custom dictated that the Sacred King remain waiting upon the threshold until the High Priestess invited him in. She’d let him stand there all night if she could.
Raising her hands, she took another breath and welcomed him according to the ritual formula. “Hyakinthos, Adonis, Kerkyon. Sacred King, Priest-King, Year-King, my Bridegroom, will you come into me?”
“Ariadne,” he said.
His voice with its slight accent, uttering her name ever so softly, broke her concentration.
That was the absolute last thing she expected him to say. What gall! “You are addressing the Great Goddess. I am Rea.” She drew herself up stiffly. “I am—”
“No, you’re not.” As the unbidden words came, his gaze, which should have been respectfully lowered, boldly met hers. “Under the paint and finery, you are Ariadne.”
She knew he didn’t mean the fertility goddess for whom she’d been named. He meant her, the woman. Who did this uncouth Achaean think he was, addressing her so intimately? “You forget yourself,” she said coldly.
Smiling, he took the initiative and climbed onto the bed. He casually dropped his sandals on the floor. “I am a man,” he stated, “and you are a woman. That’s all I need to know.”
Then he touched her naked foot. She jumped, starting to jerk it back, but to her shock and frustration he maintained his grip. Unable to wrest herself free, she could only watch as he drew her foot into his lap. Too near his maleness for her liking. “I am Taranos, son of Kretheus, prince of Tiryns.”
“You told me your name this afternoon. Why are you telling me again?”
Thumbs dug into the pressure points of her arches, making her gasp. “I’m telling you now because you will forget. I intend to tell you several more times tonight, by the way.”
Good Goddess, but the massage did feel wonderful. “I do not—”
“What was the last Sacred King’s name?”
“And the one before him?”
Would you stop interrupting me?
Ariadne tried to utter a name, to silence his inane questioning, only to realize she didn’t know. “I have forgotten.”
“You bore him a child, didn’t you?”
Indignant, Ariadne finally managed to jerk her foot away. She crossed her arms over her breasts, as much to keep warm as to shield her body from his gaze. “After tonight, I don’t have to have anything more to do with you.”
Taranos merely chuckled. “Then let’s get through tonight first, and you can change your mind later.”
“I suppose you think I’m just going to lie here and spread my legs so you can climb on top of me?”
“Isn’t that what you did with that boy Pelinos—and the one whose name you don’t remember?” Taranos laughed, a full-throated laugh she found puzzling. What in the world did this man find so amusing? “I assure you I didn’t come all this way just to stick my cock inside you. Now…” He produced a square of linen, which he handed her. “Wipe that paint off your lips so I can kiss you.”
Ariadne held the cloth limply in her hand. “No one kisses the Great Mother!”
“You’re an obstinate woman!” Swearing under his breath, Taranos took the cloth and roughly smeared it across her mouth before she could pull away. “Don’t tell me you’ve never been kissed by a man!”
Pelinos had fastened his mouth on hers, even tried to thrust his tongue inside—disgusting! “Then I won’t,” she said.
A large, rough hand cupped her cheek, the thumb smearing the red sun painted there. “Just close your eyes and—”
kissed before! I know what to do.”
“You obviously haven’t been kissed by a real man.”
Ariadne shook her head to dislodge his hand. “A real man won’t be kissing me tonight, either.”
“You’re a beast, Achaean.”
Grinning, he replied, “Why, you hardly know me!”
“I saw what you did this afternoon.”
Comprehension illuminated his gaze. “Ah, but I imagine you’ve seen men die before—in the Bull Dance, in ritual combat—and this certainly isn’t the first time you’ve seen the new Sacred King cut off the head of the old.”
“You toyed with Pelinos. It was unnecessary.”
“Did you care for him?”
“No, but—” She bit off her reply, knowing nothing she said at this point would make any difference.
Taranos caught the slip, quirked an eyebrow, yet he didn’t comment on it. “I gave him a good death. Had I just walked up to him and plunged my dagger into his breast, or grasped him on the first pass and snapped his neck, I would have dishonored him. No, I let him die like a man—and helped bury him like one, too. I don’t suppose you ever visit the tombs where the Sacred Kings are buried.”
Suddenly ashamed, not understanding why she should feel thus, Ariadne didn’t answer.
In the ensuing silence, Taranos licked his thumb and forefinger and rubbed them over her left nipple. Startled, Ariadne cried out at the rude gesture. With a chuckle, Taranos drew his hand away. His fingers came away henna-stained. “Ah, it’s just as I thought.”
Her nipple throbbed. “What?”
“Like pomegranate seeds. I wonder: do they taste as sweet?”
Heat suffused her cheeks. “Certainly you don’t intend to…”
With his next gesture, she had her answer. Taranos leaned forward. She leaned back, but not far enough. His tongue touched her nipple, lapping gently at the tip. Ariadne could scarcely believe what he was doing or what he did next. His lips closed over the bud, exerting a subtle, exquisite suction, and to her dismay she found she rather liked it.
Her hands came up and started to twine in his hair, started to pull him closer. Yet she dropped her hands the second she realized what she was doing. No, she wasn’t going to do this. Instead, she delivered a short, sharp slap to his temple and shoved him away. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m sucking your nipples. You liked it.” A mischievous grin spread across his face. “So did I.”
Ariadne reached around to undo the ties of her flounced skirt. “This has gone on long enough.”
Taranos helped her with the garment, lifting it away and dropping it to the floor near his sandals. Ariadne loosened the girdle, but left it on. Taranos reached out to cup her breast and caress it before moving up to her collarbone then her cheek. “You might be more comfortable lying down.”
The last thing Ariadne wanted was to lie down with this stranger and spread her legs. Yet the rite demanded her submission, required that she receive her consort. So she lay down and pulled up the sheepskin coverlet. “It’s cold.”
Taranos gave her a knowing look. Off came his tunic, baring the muscular, compact body she had noticed that afternoon, then he was under the sheepskin with her, his naked thigh pressing against hers. Ariadne flushed and stiffened in shock as he rolled onto his side to face her, his prominent erection hotly nudging her.
Leaning over her, he touched his lips to hers. “Relax, Ariadne.” His breath mingled with hers. “It doesn’t have to be unpleasant.”
So he said. “If you’re ready...”
Moving her legs apart, she drew a deep breath. She tried to settle the fluttering in her stomach, to ease the tension in her pelvis, for no amount of oil would keep penetration from hurting unless she relaxed.
By now, he should have climbed on top of her and thrust inside. By now, he should have been done. In fact, Ariadne would have preferred it. Partners who tried to engage her, who pinched her nipples or pushed a rough finger inside her, only made the process more uncomfortable. “Just get it over with.”
Taranos hovered over her, delivering light kisses. His hand, fingertips roughened by calluses, stroked her shoulder. “What are you afraid of?”
“Nothing,” she hissed. “Just stop trying to seduce me—and don’t stick your tongue in my mouth.”
His laughter rippled through his entire body. “I’ll take you as I please, and when I do, you’ll like it.”
Infuriating, insufferable brute! She’d give the priests a thorough tongue-lashing in the morning. How dare they burden her with this man! “Is that a threat?”
“No, it’s a promise.”
“I don’t want—”
“I heard you the first time, Ariadne.” Taranos drew back and propped his head on the heel of his palm so he could recline. “I might be a foreigner, but that doesn’t make me an idiot or a savage. We have similar rites in Tiryns and Mycenae. I know that as High Priestess your only lovers are the Sacred Kings, and that’s a sport reserved for young men—boys. And boys know absolutely nothing about making love. They know where to stick their cocks, and that’s about all.
“Believe me, when you’re a twenty-year-old prince full of yourself, thinking you know everything there is to know about fighting and fucking, and a sacred prostitute in Byblos—a woman old enough to be your mother—pushes you off her and tells you you’re nothing but a clumsy oaf who doesn’t know what to do with his spear, you learn very quickly. Let me tell you this now, Ariadne: however many years you’ve been High Priestess, you’ve been fucked by boys, not real men.”
Ariadne couldn’t have caredcould care less about some painted whore in Canaan or hearing about his sexual exploits. “If you know so much, then get it over with.”
Chuckling, Taranos dropped a kiss on her temple. “Being an arrogant young prince, I demanded the prostitute show me everything there was to know about pleasing a woman.”
an arrogant prince.”