The moon would be full in two days, turning from a crescent in the sky to a blinding white orb that cast eerie shadows on the ground. In older days they referred to it as a Beltane Moon, the beginning of Spring and the rebirth of life. A time for new beginnings.
Esme had been born under a Beltane Moon, her cries breaking the peaceful silence of a calm and quiet night. She’d been told most of her life that it sounded more like a song than the squalling of a newborn, her parents repeating this tale anytime she sang, when they’d been around to tell such stories.
They were gone now, and no longer could a flowery story about the night of her birth soothe her. To a child, the night of the Beltane Moon was fascinating, a time to bask in the bright light of the moon and play games in the dark. But to those old enough for the Dedication, the light of the moon brought only fear of the coming dawn.
“Esme, you’re still nineteen. You don’t turn twenty for two days. They can’t take you.”
A skinny arm wrapped itself around hers and squeezed tightly. Aria was only a year younger, still a little naïve about how things would work during the ceremony. This scared Esme more than anything, for tomorrow she would be taken and her little sister would be left alone. The older women in the village, those married or not up for Dedication, promised they would keep her safe, but that promise would be kept only if it remained easy.
Though, in reality, the truth was that the two of them would never be safe. Even if their parents were alive, the pact would still stand, the arrangement would have been made, and eventually both of them would have been offered up as a sacrifice.
A Dedication, she corrected herself. If she was caught referring to herself or the other girls as sacrifices, there would be punishment.
The group of Elders who lorded over her village had strict rules for them all. Women were punished for any criticism of them, marriage was forbidden unless they authorized it. When they did, they often claimed a “Lord’s Right” with the bride and brought her back to her new husband naked and used. This meant most couples had relationships in secret, forming bonds and families without any celebration or announcements to avoid drawing the ire of their rulers.
This was all Esme and her sister had known until six years earlier, when an attack from the Skepna had laid waste to her village. The beastly creatures burned fields of crops and slaughtered livestock. Convoys carrying supplies were pillaged, those traveling with them kidnapped or killed. Her village barricaded its walls from attacks but people were still massacred in droves. All hope seemed lost.
That was until a full moon arose in the sky and brought with it a tribe of fearsome warriors. The Kavari of Magilin: battle hardened, God-like barbarians who lived atop towering mountains. They fought with the Skepna and eventually drove them back, saving the villages from the onslaught. The timing of their arrival made them look like saviors, but soon they learned the Kavari had not come as saviors, nor were the monstrous Skepna entirely responsible for the women and men who’d gone missing over the last few months. Many who had been feared dead were actually alive, the men taken by the warriors as servants, while the women were taken for a darker purpose: to serve the Kavari as pleasure servants, and to be bred to rebuild their tribe.
The warriors had come to the village not because they heard the terrified cries of humans under attack, but because they wanted to conquer the area for themselves.
The village rose up in revolt, urged on by the Elders, who were furious at the idea of losing the women they’d been using for their own pleasure slaves. As humans and Kavari warriors battled, the Skepna returned for another onslaught, which only made matters worse. The village was consumed with screams and wails, the once silent air alive with angry shouts and barbaric cries. To shield them from danger, Esme’s parents hid Aria and her in a shed where they sheltered all night. Aria had shaken like a leaf and cried quietly, while Esme kept her own tears to herself while they waited for the battle to end.
When the sun arose the next morning, Esme and Aria emerged to find a man and a woman lying dead in the plaza. Their mother and father, both killed as they fled for safety. Their deaths made them both orphans.
In the aftermath, the Kavari agreed to protect her village from the Skepna, but in return the three villages would give ten crates of ore, grain, and textiles respectively, along with five women selected by Kavari procurers. Two of the women would be Maidens, virgin women selected to serve Kavari Masters. The other three were women who’d already been taken by a human man, women the Kavari called Paramours. If the offerings of ore, grain, or textiles equaled less than the ten crates demanded, two additional women would be taken to make up the difference.
That first year, six women were spirited away from the life they had always known. Never to be seen or heard from again, taken as bed servants by this tribe of domineering warriors. The Kavari treated each annual gifting as a sacrament to be celebrated. The women were “Dedications”, not conscripted slaves. They were gifts the villages gave in thanks for continued protection. Because of the Kavari warriors, she and the others who lived in her village could finally be free.
But Esme only saw captivity any way she looked.
While Aria clung to her arm on one side, Esme’s friend Daya stood on the other, her beautiful face twisted in a sour expression.
“If we let them take us, we’re trading one form of subjugation for another,” she grumbled, watching a group of men haul heavy crates of ore over to the Kavari wagon waiting to collect them.
Esme let out a heavy sigh, staring up at the moon hovering halfway up the sky. Tomorrow was the ceremony, the last night the moon would be in her waxing phase. The following dawn would bring her twentieth birthday, as well as a new life as a Kavari bed servant. What a way to celebrate, she thought.
“Esme, you have to consider the options,” Daya pressed, her own spot in the procurement line making her more defiant than usual. “If we stay, it’s only a matter of time before we’re selected by them. If not now, then in a year or two.”
“You might have a chance of escaping that fate,” Esme pointed out, trying not to sound bitter. “Your father is an Elder. He could find you a husband and Kavari don’t conscript married women.”
“It would most likely be someone two or three times my age,” she muttered. “I’d be a ‘gift’ to some other man to curry favor. And if I don’t get married, I’ll end up someone’s mistress or become a whore for a troop of Kavari soldiers to—”
Beside her, Aria shuddered, but Esme had stopped hiding the truth from her. She’d tried to for a while when Aria was young, but after tomorrow her sister would be on her own. She had to learn the brutal truth of life if she was to protect herself.
Daya pressed on with her thoughts. “In the North, there are rumors of other villages that have sprung up.’
“If we run, we are bound to be killed in the woods by monsters or worse,” Esme countered.
“It’s better than letting this happen,” Daya snapped, gesturing to the group of Kavari soldiers who had come to check on the supplies. “And what about Ari, Esme? What about her in two years when she turns of age?”
“Don’t you act like I’m not thinking about her,” Esme snarled, pushing her dark hair out of her face and rounding on Daya. “If we get caught by Skepna, we’d be slaughtered. If we get captured by men who’ve managed to survive outside the borders, you realize what they’ll do before they haul us right back to the village.”
“And the Kavari are any better?” she argued. “I don’t think the Skepna are as big a threat as the Kavari want us to believe. I think—”
She cut herself off as the sound of footsteps on grass approached. They moved off the path they’d been standing on to make way for two Elders walking past, three miners behind them hauling crates of bronze, iron, silver, and gold. The boxes glimmered in the dying sunlight, reminding Esme vaguely of the pendant around her neck, the last gift her mother had given her before she was murdered.
She placed her fingers gently to her throat, touching the charm as she watched the miners stack a larger cart with supplies, two Kavari knights standing beside them watching. The larger of the two looked in her direction, a high-ranking Warrior named Lavan. He was enormous, his hulking, muscular figure dwarfing the large miners he stood over. Lavan smiled and she shuddered, averting her eyes to look back at Aria and Daya, though she could sense his gaze. She could always sense his gaze.
“How can you accept this?” Daya asked. She glanced behind Esme at the Kavari soldier and scowled. “That brute has been watching you since he was stationed here over a year ago. There could be fifteen other Maidens up for Dedication and he would still suggest you to the procurer.”
Aria whimpered beside her and squeezed Esme’s bicep with her tiny hands. “Esme, please. You have to run. I can’t stand to think about it, you being taken by them and made into—”
“I will be fine. No matter what happens, I will be fine.”
“But nothing,” Esme murmured, turning and taking her sister by the shoulders. “You have to trust me, okay?”
“I trust you, Esme. It’s them I don’t.”
“Aria,” she said firmly. “I’m going to be fine. I know what I’m doing. Now, can you please go back to the shelter and start getting ready for bed? It’s almost curfew; I’m not going to be out much longer either.”
Her sister let out a very teenage sigh, but nodded, returning the small smile Daya gave her before walking off. Esme started after her, watching her long auburn hair shimmer in the moonlight. They had similar faces, but that was the only comparison anyone could make about the two of them. Esme was dark haired with violet colored eyes, Aria red-haired with bright blue eyes. She took after their father, Esme after their mother.
“You’re giving up and it makes me sick,” Daya muttered once she was certain Aria was out of sight. “You’ll be gone and those bastards—”
“I’m not giving up,” Esme replied in a low voice. “But what you are talking about is crazy.”
“It won’t be crazy if we plan,” Daya pressed. “That idiot who guards the west side of the village is asleep as soon as the moon is at its peak, sooner if we slip a little lavender into his mead. As soon as he’s out, we can—”
“Are you insane?” Esme snapped, widening her eyes at Daya, who glared at her with a petulant expression. “Have you forgotten what happened to Jacelyn? Do you remember what they did?”
At this Daya fell silent, lowering her eyes to the ground. Esme knew she was recalling the memory, which would forever be etched into their minds like all the other public chastenings they’d seen. Jacelyn had made a break for it the night before dedication a year ago, but two Kavari soldiers caught her after returning from patrols. She’d been dragged back to the village and tossed onto the podium in the village square first thing in the morning, the soldiers proclaiming her a traitor who must be punished for breaking Kavari law. They’d stripped her naked and strapped her to a stockade. One guard had taken his belt off, and after speaking with her in hushed tones proceeded to take the leather strap to her bare backside until it turned bright red.
It was horrible to watch, but the worst part was not Jacelyn’s whimpers, nor the way she broke down and confessed her betrayal in quiet sobs. The worst part was how the crowd grew more and more riled up while watching Jacelyn’s body respond to the brutality, some laughing darkly when she’d begged for mercy, which the two Kavari granted her in the quarters they’d built to house their troops. It was right next to the women’s shelter Esme’s was in, and she would never forget hearing Jacelyn cry out through the entire night, hating herself for how she’d had to put her hand between her own legs to stifle the obscene fantasies that flooded her thoughts.
The following morning they left with Jacelyn before the procurement even took place. Rumor was she’d been taken to the Kavari village in the mountains and given to a high-ranking officer and his squadron, though no one had seen her again to confirm this. No human who left their village ever returned. If the Kavari wanted you, they would take you and keep you. There was no escape.
“There’s no sense in trying to run while we’re down here or trying to flee once they take us up the mountain. We’d only be punished,” Esme murmured to Daya, turning away when she happened to catch Lavan staring at her again. Daya shook her head, expression fierce as she whisper-snarled at Esme.
“Kavari murdered your parents, Esme. How can you forget that?”
“I haven’t forgotten it,” Esme hissed, thinking of the ornate dagger that had been found next to her father’s blood-covered body. “But getting myself lashed with a belt will not bring them back. It won’t help Aria, and it won’t help me get revenge.”
Daya groaned, exasperated by Esme’s apparent resignation. “You are stronger than this. Smarter than this. Matron Evra taught you to read! Up on the mountain, do you think they’ll allow that? While they’re violating you in all manner of ways, do you think they’ll let you peruse a book?”
Esme sighed and looked down at her own feet. She wasn’t sure what the Kavari would allow because she’d only heard rumors about their predilections and stories of what they did with their offerings upon their arrival. Maidens kept tied up on a bed, taken whenever a Kavari felt like it and bred like animals.
The thought made her shudder, her nearly twenty-year-old body still untouched by hands other than her own. Esme swallowed and looked over her shoulder, stomach clenching when she saw Lavan lick his lips before turning back to the cart of ore and ordering the miners to fit as much as they could onto it. His eyes met her for the briefest of moments, the unique amber ovals flashing back at her in the pale moonlight. The eyes of Kavari men were beautiful in a way, and out of all the soldiers Lavan was by far the most handsome. But the debauchery in his expression made her feel nothing but fear.
Worse than his eyes, however, and worse than the lascivious looks he’d graced her with over the last year or so, was the thought of being forever in the dark about the truth, being unable to investigate for herself.
Instead of hiding in the village or fleeing, Esme wanted to climb the mountain and be allowed into the Kavari city. She wanted to find the Kavari records, for they kept meticulous notes on their victories and ceremonies. She knew she could find the record of that night, when her mother laid strangled and her father bloody from a slit throat, the humans accusing the Kavari of murder and Kavari soldiers declaring them casualties of human foolishness. If she found it, she would know the truth, and then she could seek revenge on whoever destroyed her life.
She would turn twenty in two days’ time, Lavan having already ensured she would be included in the ceremony, despite her being just shy of the age. He’d smiled while telling her that earlier in the day. Esme had held her head high. As much as the idea of being dedicated to Kavari war lords frightened her, she knew it might be the only chance she’d ever have to exact revenge.
And once she was in the city, that’s what she planned to do.
The moon was almost full. It wouldn’t be long now. The magic that gave them their size, stamina, and enhanced physical abilities was tied to the moon cycles. To renew strength, one must battle and succeed. To renew their stamina, it must be used to exhaustion. And to renew virility, it was essential to subdue a woman to satisfy their needs.
But as of now, the moon’s full glory was hidden, much like human clothing hid treasures from Lavan’s eyes.
The village men seemed not mind it as much, but it drove each and every Kavari mad. Back in Magilin, the Kavari stronghold high in the mountains, women were treated as the beautiful creatures they were. They were clothed in silk gowns that pushed the soft mounds of their breasts together, their skirt fluttering around their legs and hips. The bottoms of the gowns were his favorite part, skirts with silky strips of fabric that barely covered them. When women walked, their legs, hips, and ass were often visible. Sometimes their Masters kept the women completely naked. He loved it either way: clothed in silk, covered in lacy underclothes, or naked and waiting to be touched or taken. It was no wonder many women offered to the Kavari had swollen bellies within months of their dedication. Just thinking about it made Lavan’s cock ache for attention.
It had been nearly two years since he’d touched a woman, and now the simple brush of fabric sometimes made him hard.
“Are you ready to be home?” Lieutenant Troy asked.
Lavan nodded before folding his arms over his chest. “Yes, I am ready. It will be good to see the white walls of the city again. I want to be closer to the sun and out of these thick trees.”
He could see it when he closed his eyes: the high ivory walls and golden gates of Magilin. Blue roofs on the houses, lush gardens, and orchards filled with fruit. Altars in every yard to honor the Sun God and Moon Goddess, places for them to absorb the sunlight and the powers it gave them.
Troy nodded when Lavan smiled at him, and the pair watched two Elders shut the Eastern Gate. The Elders were chuckling loudly as they headed into the small building that served as both pub and town hall. His Lieutenant observed them curiously while Lavan sighed, thinking he too would like a pint of mead, along with a warm, curvy, feminine body to sit on his lap.
“Are they really under threat here?” Troy asked. “I’ve seen one Skepna while I’ve been here and a few shots from a bow were enough to scare it off.”
“The threat is real,” Lavan murmured. “Skepna will steal or maim the women here, and we need them. Plus, they aren’t mindless beasts. They’re conniving and manipulative, much like the Elders of this village. I know they’ve been talking with each other, making plans to fight us off with the help of the Skepna. They think those monsters will allow them to be free.”
“Is that why Master Quade sent you? To watch for human traitors and—”
“You’ve a lot to learn about subtlety,” Lavan scolded, looking around to make sure their conversation was unheard, the Lieutenant quelling under his stern gaze. Troy would make a good Master one day, but right now he remained boyish to a fault; too eager to know more or to indulge his own devices.
He and Lieutenant Orzo both. Orzo was a Lieutenant for Master Draven’s house, a close friend of Troy and the leader of Draven’s first battalion. Both men were still young, and while they were loyal, they lacked any subtlety. Lavan had been forced to chastise them several times over the last six moons they’d been stationed in this village. They’d stared too long at human Maidens, and he’d scolded them for taking one to the edge of the forest and presenting their cocks to her, the girl mouthing and working them with her hands at their demand.
They were lucky that had been the extent of it. Riding a maid before conscription was highly frowned upon. Though Lavan couldn’t say he hadn’t imagined it. Quade, the head of his house, joked in letters that Lavan’s cock might shrivel up from lack of use.
But Lavan knew patience would reward him, and when he was finally able to have a Maiden, it would be that much sweeter.
He and Quade had known each since their early days as knights. Lavan showed prowess with a double-handed broadsword, wielding one in each hand during a battle. After seeing that, Quade had personally requested Lavan for his guard. He and Viggo, who was Quade’s closest friend, welcomed him into their house like a brother.
Lavan had been to Esme’s village because he disapproved of how the other Kavari Lords had handled their relationship since the conquest. He felt a great deal of grief as a Master for what had happened during the more brutal battles. A few women and children had gotten hurt, and their scribe Jayson had been killed on the final night of the uprising. Scribes weren’t warriors. Many carried a sword, but few knew how to use it. Jayson had been in Esme’s village for an early procurement census when he was killed.
Grief ate at Lavan when he thought about it. Jayson had been a close friend, a partner to them. They shared a house and horses, women and worries, only for him to end up dead at the hand of humans they were trying to protect. They knew this thanks to the presence of bright red human blood on the wound in Jayson’s back.
Quade, Lavan, and Viggo promised each other they would solve this crime someday and change the way future conquests were handled. They wanted to make things better for other Kavari and ensure something that horrible never happened to a scribe or soldier again. The three of them had spent the last six years denying themselves certain pleasures in return for strengthening Kavari hold over the villages that provided grain and leather. Their restraint enabled Quade to maneuver the three of them through military rank quickly, Quade becoming a Master just four years after they permanently quelled the uprising. They’d been rewarded for securing two additional Maidens for the King, and six Paramours for other Kavari Masters and their squads.
Now Quade, Lavan, and Viggo were in charge of two battalions of eight soldiers each, and their own personal guard numbering ten additional men. Each man in their unit had been strictly tested for loyalty above all else. When they felt assured their soldiers were in line with Quade’s long-term goals, the men were rewarded with three women to share, as Kavari share everything with those they trusted. Troy and Othos, the leader of Quade’s second battalion and head of their personal guard, were to receive two women for their squad this dedication. If they proved their continuing loyalty in the coming years, they would be given a Maiden as well.
But before that, Quade decided it was time he, Lavan, and Viggo claimed a Maiden for themselves. They’d worked tirelessly for Kavari interests before and during the conquest. It was past time they were rewarded for their efforts. Quade requested the youngest Maiden eligible for their house. This would give them time to train the girl and ensure her submission. The three of them wanted to be able to enjoy her fully and gain her full devotion before they filled her with child.
Lavan had the perfect woman in mind. She was walking by him right now, a nighttime stroll from her friend’s house to the communal shelter she stayed in.
Esme was beautiful, a standout amidst all the other Maidens in the village. Dark, thick hair the color of the mahogany trees that grew on the mountains, a soft oval face with full lips and beautiful violet eyes. She boasted breasts that would fill his large hands, and a curvy ass he could grip as he rode her furiously. Her thighs were strong from the daily walks around the village, and Lavan couldn’t wait to push them apart to thrust his hips between them. He had heard her sing during ceremonies, and often fantasized about how her lovely voice would sound calling out his name.
He often found himself wishing she would speak smartly toward him, or peek outside the village borders. Take a few steps into the woods and give him reason to take her to the podium, allowing a glimpse of her glorious pale ass before he turned it pink with his hands. But she never broke a single rule, probably trying to set an example for her younger sister. She was demure, sweet, and gentle with people of the village. She consoled others when they needed an ear and helped tend to the children, who loved it when she sang to them.
She was the ideal offering. Quade would love her submissiveness and Viggo would delight in making her squirm while he teased her. Lavan could only imagine how glorious she would be when brought to climax the first time. He imagined her wide-eyed innocent expression enrapturing them all, and smiled.
His eyes turned toward where she stood, and Esme tried to avoid his gaze while her cheeks turned pink. Lavan stood taller, the hardness of his cock clearly visible through his trousers. Human men could hide it, their lengths proportional to their bodies, but Kavari men were large in all ways. His cock was so large he needed to grip it with both hands to stroke it properly. There was no way to hide his arousal and Lavan didn’t even try. He wanted her to see what she did to him. To know what she had to look forward to once she was dedicated into Quade’s service. A gift for the three of them to share as they saw fit.
Esme turned away and stalked off to the building where she slept, acting as though the silent exchange they’d had enraged her. He chuckled, curious if there was a fire under that quiet softness. The idea intrigued him since he had no fear of playing with fire.
Troy caught him gazing across the village square and chuckled. “I don’t know how you do it, Master. I would have taken that girl every way I could have by now.”
He grinned while Troy snickered at his somewhat uncomfortable state of arousal. He’d have to find a spot to tend to himself in a bit. It would be a little less than two days and his dreams of riding the girl would come to fruition. Taking a Maiden for the first time was a sacred act, and something he’d dreamed of since he was old enough to learn such things.
That day would be the beginning of her training. The girl would be taught to fully submit, trained to spread her legs whenever they asked, whether it be to pleasure herself or to take them between her thighs. She would be disciplined until she obeyed the rules of her house, learning not only to love her men, but to love the pleasure they gave her.
“I’ve never been to a Procurement,” Orzo mused. “Will it really begin at dawn? I’m on shift all night and don’t want to be up that early.”
“The women’s roles will begin at dawn. I will be present for their examinations, but the ceremony itself isn’t until the evening. The Examiner likes to be thorough in his work and I plan to help him,” Lavan explained.
Orzo nodded. “If we stop on the way back, I’d like to ease my aches on the woman Draven chose for us. He selected the one who acts scared to look at me.”
“Yes, her and the one who bowed before me after I caught her walking in the woods to collect nuts for roasting. She offered herself willingly; she’ll be a good match for our Squadron,” Lavan said.
“She offered herself and you didn’t take her?” Orzo asked.
Lavan chuckled. “I didn’t fuck her, but she took care of me with her mouth and allowed me to keep her in that tie I like all night rather than face a public chastening.”
Troy and Orzo both grinned, the latter rubbing his hands together excitedly. “I hope she’s as compliant for us, but I don’t mind getting my palms warm if she needs a reminder of who she belongs to.”
Lavan grinned, thinking about Esme’s hips and the perfectly shaped ass attached to them. His own palms tingled, and he imagined touching her soft, pale skin before it was turned a nice shade of pink by either his, Viggo’s, or Quade’s hands, or by their belts if she got smart or rebellious. Perhaps they could turn her ass red by the constant pounding of their hips when they rode her the first time.
He would find out soon enough, but tonight he wanted to rest, for tomorrow was one day closer to being home and having a Maiden to tend to.