The Corn Maiden is a Captive of the Skull Stomper (Excerpt from Taboo)


The Skull Stomper's tent was more like a large hut. A tall tree trunk for a central beam allowed for a large radius, and other, smaller posts held up the stretched hide so that there was enough room to walk upright inside the tent without ducking. Furs on one side of the tent provided ample bedding, which left the other side of the tent for a curious, shallow flat bowl filled with a finger depth of water. Beside it was a woman’s hair comb.

“Do you know what that is?” he asked the Corn Maiden.

She shook her head.

He studied her again, searching for something. “It’s a looking bowl. You can brush your hair, admire your lovely complexion.”

“Ah,” she said. She sat down on the furs, before the looking bowl, though she didn’t glance down at it. “You wish me to beautify myself before you sleep with me?”

He seated himself on the bed furs, near enough to her that she could feel the heat from his body.

“May I comb your hair?” he asked.

She glanced at him contemptuously for this foolish question. As if he did not have a whole army to let him do with her as he liked. He arched his eyebrow, seemingly aware what she was thinking. He picked up the comb and began to tease it through her long hair. To her surprise, his touch as he brushed her hair felt gentle, even soothing. His hands touched at her brow, the back of her neck, her shoulders, the small of her back as he drew the comb down her hair.

“You don’t seem frightened that I brought you to my bed. Does the idea of sleeping with a powerful man excite you?”

She found that suggestion repulsive.

“I don’t like you,” she said firmly. “Hertio also gave me a hair comb.”  He hadn’t combed her hair like this, though. Warmth radiated down her whole body in response to the warrior's touch, a sensation more delicious and strange than mere magic. She didn’t say that out loud. “He wanted me to beautify myself before I came to his bed. I did not like him to touch me, so I threw his comb back at him. He said he could force me whether I liked it or not. But then your army came, and he forgot.”

“Ah,” said the Skull Stomper. “So that’s why good Hertio was so eager to sacrifice you out of his ‘friendship’ for Danumoro. Poor Danu. Did he know what Hertio tried to do to you?”

“No. It would have upset him.”

“You obviously love Danu,” said the Skull Stomper. “You sacrificed yourself to save him. Why didn’t you agree to marry him?”

“I did what I did because it was the right thing to do,” she said. She didn’t know why, but she wanted to explain some more. “I’ve never loved anyone.”

“And no man has ever loved you.”

“Many said they did.”

“I’ll bet,” he laughed. “But none could ever even see you, so how could they love you?”

“But you can see me?” she asked scornfully.

“Only well enough to know I cannot see you at all,” he said. Was that bittersweet regret in his voice another ploy? There was so much about people, especially about what passed between men and women, which she couldn’t fathom.

“I know you’re not mine to possess, Corn Maiden,” he said, even more sadly. “I didn’t bring you here to force you.”

She turned around to look him in the face. “Then why did you bring me here?”

He still held the tresses of her hair in his hands. Her hair wrapped around her body like a rope because of the way she had twisted. He didn’t let go.

“I hoped it would not be force,” he said quietly.

“Then you were a fool.”

“Yes.” He let her hair sift out of his fingers. “Obviously.”

He rose and turned away from her, his embarrassment so painful that even she could feel it. She refused to pity him. What had he thought? Did he think she would forget the cage just because he had brought her to his tent?

“May I go back to the cage now?” she asked.

“No. You will sleep on my furs tonight.”

“You said—”

“You will sleep unmolested.”

“What’s the point?”

The Skull Stomper smiled. “I may be a fool when dealing with women, but I am wise when dealing with men. The others will know that you spent the night in my tent. They will think what they think, and respect me more for it. And,” he expelled a breath, “they will leave you alone, even when I am not there to watch over you.”

“Until you deliver me to the Bone Whistler and he kills me.”

“One thing I have learned,” said the Skull Stomper, “is to eat whenever there is food, for there might be no more food to come; and to sleep wherever there is a bed, for there might be sleepless days ahead. So sleep now, pretty Corn Maiden. You never know what tomorrow will bring. Sleep as best you can.”

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Or buy Taboo here.