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September scenario: SERPENT SISTERS

The tribute to the keeper of crossroads held in the torchlit heart of winter is our grandest feast. Or so ‘tis said, by them who are accustomed to speak and be obeyed.

This oft pronounced fact is utterly fallacious, of course. All men foster a dread of the dark, the unfathomable hole, the nameless abyss of nether teeth from whence they came and where they secretly know we can cast them, should they loosen our chains.

But it is not lady-night that they should tremble before; ‘tis in the rigor mortis of summer, when light and shadow grapple like two champion wrestlers, that the Good Goddess grows ravenous. Thus, on the first day of autumn each and every year we gather to devour human flesh in her honour.

Men, who believe they are the centre of all things, foolishly whisper that having cleansed the house from myrtle and expelled the Magistrate, with his dogs, boars, bucks, bulls and stallions from the stables and he-rats from the sewers, having ordered thirteen urns of Mount Etna wine, we salaciously savour prohibited organs.

I heard tales that on our feast nights we are mounted by the gladiators who fared most gloriously in the arena, chopping off their tongues after or during the act – the same punishment which would be visited upon any free-man who wilfully defiled the festival. That we impel ourselves upon the barbed cocks of tigers, wolves and lions smuggled in from the adjoining pans. My serving girls and spies swear that there are heated polemics in baths, barracks and the back stalls of senate on whether we retain our women-form, or might the Goddess transform us into wild beasts for the night and the gladiators into pythons come dawn.

But no matter which outlandish shape men attempt to cast us in, we always remain holes to be filled: yet another proof of their malformed imagination, boundless hubris and utter ignorance, most glaringly evident when tongues-hacking is considered.

One of my titles as high priestess is Serpents Sister. An odd name for the holiest of sacred Virgins, if you take a moment to ponder. But most men lack the patience to pay close attention to covert meanings, having consigned the mundane realms of life to women. And none dares to peer into the bleached leather sacks and ornate covered pots hauled into the Magistrate’s villa by seven Vestals precisely three hours before the sun sets on the expiring moon-year. Nor wonder at the girth and heft of the sheathed sacrificial blades I carry inside with my own hands.

No man, be he master of the house, magistrate, high priest, or the emperor himself, may be caught within thirty three steps from the villa after the ram horn announces that the summoning rite is about to commence: conducted by myself and the ostensibly virtuous wife of our ejected host. The other veiled members of the inner circle arrive in their litters three turns of the hourglass later, commanding the bearers to return in the morning.

In each and all seasons we are granted free rein to execute the penalty prescribed to any man trespassing upon the mysteries of the Good Goddess’s feast: his tongue shall be ripped out, so he may not speak of the rites, his knucklebones shattered so no account of them might be written, and molten galena poured into the blasphemous eyes that ravished the Goddess’s sacred mysteries.

But men are terribly fond of the chase, pawing the precious few things not theirs to possess. The more powerful the man, the stronger the lure of the singular thing forbidden to him.

When such a man is caught conspiring to behold our feast night, most oft preposterously disguised as a dancing girl or suchlike, we execute the sentence ourselves in the sanctity of the Goddess’ temple. Should the offender survive, he is banished from the city forever at the chime of midnight when Luna turns her face, bearing the mark of the serpent.

Or rather, this is what the empire entire erroneously believes. The truth of what is done with the invading peepers is only known and guarded by the Good Goddess’s innermost circle. Yet the citizens are not entirely mistaken about the uses of snakes.

Dare you chance my wrath?