The Wild Gods
© 2011 by Heather S. Ingemar
“Let go of me!” she shrieked, clawing at their arms. “I’ll not do it!”
The guards scowled, and continued bearing her closer to the gates of the labyrinth. The white walls of it rose high, almost disappearing into the dark grey clouds of the overcast sky. Green tree boughs peeked over the top edge, hinting at a heavy forest within.
“Take pride in your sacrifice, woman,” growled the heavyset guard. “It is an honor to be fed to the Gods of the Wild! Your family with be blessed with wealth for it.”
It was no consolation. She’d been sold like a common cow so her younger sister could wed the mayor’s son. As if no man would take her; at sixteen, she hadn’t felt ready to be a wife though a few had inquired. Her family, however, had been impatient, and when the offer came for Selene, Adelina hadn’t a choice. Her parents informed her at breakfast the next day, she would be sent to the mansion for the annual fertility sacrifice, and a scarce two hours later, Selene paraded about the house with the son’s ring sparkling on her finger. “Poor you,” Selene said, “like an animal to the slaughter. Tsk tsk. I’ll remind Father and Mother to think of their little cow.”
(Dog’s whelping mother! As if it were her own fault she could Change!)
Adelina had wanted to slap her. Pull her hair, claw out her eyes! But the guards knocked precisely at noon, and they hauled her out the door with only the clothes on her back.
They gave her no opportunity for escape. Gripping her arms so hard the flesh bruised dark and purple, they accompanied her to the tailor’s for a new gown, to the washroom, and then to the banquet hall, where the mayor held a feast in her honor.
She spat in the gravy. She knocked the vegetable platter out of the servant’s grasp. She stepped on the mayor’s wife’s dress, tearing it, and worst of all, she refused to eat.
Red-faced, the mayor informed her she would be sent as a sacrifice, be it in honor or disgrace.
Adelina thought disgrace sounded perfect in light of her family’s betrayal, and so she knocked the candelabra, and set the banquet table on fire. Watching the arrogant nobility scramble, hop-footing in their impractical shoes and tripping over their cloaks, was the highlight of her day.
“Take her now!” the mayor bellowed, double chins bouncing as he fanned frantically at the flames licking toward the wine bottle. “I want her dead before midnight, and may the maggots feast terribly on her black bones!”
She fought them the entire way, screaming, kicking, and punching whenever she got a chance. The Wild Gods (imprisoned in the maze long ago to protect the earth from their appetites) were known to eat anything in their labyrinth, leaving blackened bones as a token of their appreciation. Often, there was a lot of blood. Signs of struggle. If the Wild Gods were not pleased, they’d leave whole body parts untouched for the guards of the labyrinth to find.
Adelina would not become prey.
The wrought-iron gates rose inevitably in front of her, however, a reminder of the futility of choice. Whoever was thrown to the Wild Gods, became their meal. End of story.
Adelina resolved to survive, fouling the family name, just to spite her sister (dog’s whelping mother!).
“I hope the wealth they get rots them from the inside out,” she spat at the guard as they unlocked the gates. “I hope that ring corrodes the skin on Selene’s finger and she becomes a dog in bed!”
“Disgraceful,” muttered the guard with the key, as he pushed the creaking iron aside.
Adelina landed on her face in the mud, and the echo of slamming iron rang between her ears. On all fours in the dirt, she screamed until her throat was ragged and raw with rage. Her feet began to burn, and she threw herself upright, cursing at the guards. Adelina gasped as the feeling spread (she’d never gotten used to The Change), crawling up her legs and along her spine.
She screamed as she felt her bones break and reform in her legs, in her face. Her knees turned themselves backwards, settling into hocks. Her nose and jaw sprouted from her face, her ears grew long. Her skin itched as hair (glossy black, of course) sprang from pores on her head, shoulders, and legs. The guards stopped, turned to watch. Their stunned faces blurred as her vision shifted. Then the world snapped back into sharp focus, and the sudden wealth of smells and sounds surged through her senses. Adelina snorted, shaking her giant bovine head, and raked her two cloven hooves into the moist earth. She rubbed her hands together, still delicate as a lady’s, then spread them wide, a challenge. “I said, I’ll not be a sacrifice!”
The woman-cow, the Minotaur-girl, charged toward the gates.
The iron crumpled around her sturdy head like tin foil. Adelina bounded through to stop just outside the maze. She shook the destroyed gates from her head, pitched them aside. The guards stared, jaws hanging.
Then they ran.
Crying and yowling like little girls, the guards ran for the mayor’s mansion. “The gates, the gates!” they yelled at the tops of their voices. “She has broken the gates!”
Adelina laughed, swished her tail.
Something slithered up behind her, hissed in her ear. She held stock-still, listening to the rustle of grass and leaves of others approaching. Hesitantly, she turned to look.
The Wild Gods were arrayed on either side of her, each a different combination of man and animal. There were half-boars, half-birds, half-cats, all a strange synthesis of both forms. The slithering noise came from the python-man. He winked a giant red eye at her.
“Thanks, Sister,” he said. “Care to join us?”
Adelina thought she might.