I was tired and hungry when I finally reached the little town in the valley that I had seen from some distance, walking down one of the hills that surrounded it, hoping to find a place where I could eat and rest; alms given me either out of charity or in return for what little I had to offer: my body, which, of course, I had no means to save from being taken for free, and my skills in making it provide pleasure, which, when I was lucky, were rewarded by a friendly word, a small gift, or a bowl of hot soup with some meat in it.
I had hoped for this, but I found my hopes disappointed in a curious way: there was no one around to take what I had, or to give what I needed; the town seemed to be empty, devoid of all its occupants.
I wandered through empty narrow streets, at first thinking that some disaster had struck, that the inhabitants had died of a strange disease or fled a mysterious danger, but I saw no signs of any disturbances, all seemed to be normal, doors and ground floor windows were locked, some windows at second of third floors were open, from some chimneys smoke was rising steadily into the calm blue spring sky ... no signs of any people, though ... and then I heard distant singing.
I followed the sound of the voices, feeling a strange urgency to reach their source as I hastened through the labyrinthine streets until, turning one more corner, I came to a huge square that was packed with people, all the town's inhabitants must have gathered here. The singing had stopped, and all was silent, no one talked, everybody looked straight ahead, towards the square's other end, in expectance of an event that I knew nothing about.
Slowly I moved through the crowd, in the direction in which everyone was looking, people making room for me to let me pass, until I had reached a point from were I could see what had to be a kind of sanctuary. As the square sloped down in that direction from here on, I could see it quite clearly over the crowd's heads.
There was a row of four pillars, made of white stone, maybe twelve feet high, some eight feet apart of each other, and in front of each pillar was a stone table, and upon each table lay an object: from left to right a large knife, a medium-sized knife, a small knife, and a sword.
And to each of the first three pillars a young woman was tied, naked, facing the congregation.
The lips of the three women were moving, but I could not hear them, maybe they were speaking silent prayers.
I found myself standing next to a man, who, different from the others who had just made room to let me pass, looked at me attentively. He was a handsome man, tall, strong, with an honest and knowing face. Before I could check my words, I asked him, whisperingly, "What is going on here?"
He showed no surprise, neither at my ignorance not at my daring to ask him. "Today is the day of our annual sacrifice."
"Sacrifice?" I asked.
"The first one will give a hand, the second one a breast, the third one an eye," he said.
I shuddered, but I also felt an unexpected fascination.
"When will they begin?" I asked, still whispering.
"When the fourth sacrifice comes forth," he said. "They cannot begin without her."
"The fourth sacrifice?"
"She will have to complete the offerings," he said. "She will give two hands, two breasts, two eyes. And, of course, she will give her life."
"Her life?" I replied, disingenuously.
"The sword will enter her twice, first from below, through her vagina, then from the front, through her navel," he said. "She will die slowly, and she will die in pain, to honor her obligation, and ours."
Horror and a strange foreboding made my knees weak.
"Who ... when... ?" I stammered.