Chapter 1: Hunter
Logan sat and waited in the foyer of the great hall, fingering the white silk he wore draped around his body and trying to quell his fears. He had been raised for this, after all, and shouldn’t be feeling fear now that he was on the brink of becoming a priest of the moon. But the ritual to become a priest mingled with the hunter’s ritual in the yearly hunting rites, and this year it was his turn to be hunted.
Acolytes like him were kept sheltered inside their entire lives and he had never been outside that he could remember, but now he was expected to not only go outside, but go in the middle of the night at the summer solstice and try to outlast the hunters who had trained in these woods for as long as he had been kept inside. The longer he led them on the hunt, the greater the power of the ritual when he was finally caught. He was afraid of being outside, and the hunt, but it was what happened when he was caught that really terrified him.
A command from the priests in the great hall brought Logan to his feet and the guards, fellow acolytes, allowed him into the room. Logan walked slowly, eyeing the hunters who were gathered on either side of him as he made his way to the front of the room. These were the men who would be hunting him. They were his age but they were much larger, with rippling muscles visible under the furs that they wore. Some were scarred from battle already.
One hunter at the front of the group had three pure white fox pellets hanging from his belt and Logan knew that was a sign of great prestige. White foxes were incredibly intelligent and hard to trap, and they only surrendered their fur to those they considered worthy foes. To all others, they ripped their own coats to shreds rather than give up their pelts. The hunter was slightly taller than the others and when Logan met his ice-blue gaze, he shivered.
But before he could examine the hunter further, the older men at the front of the room were hustling Logan forward, past the young hunters, until he was on the dais with the priests. The priests held his arms and turned him to face the hunters.
“Here is your prize,” they intoned. “You have until the sun rises to catch this man.”
The hunters were silent and there was a predatory look in all of their eyes. Logan gulped, frightened by their intensity. Whichever of them caught him first would also claim his body in ways that Logan was frightened to think about, but it was all for the blessing of the gods and it would confirm him as a priest of the moon. All of the other priests had gone through this ritual and survived, and now it was his turn.
The hunters too would not be considered men until they participated in the hunting ritual, and the one who caught Logan would be the leader of this age group and have the potential to become the leader of all hunters. Logan looked at the man with the white pelts and the ice-blue eyes and wondered what it would be like to be caught by him. He was muscular, like the others, but his face was fair and without blemish and his lips were smooth and looked inviting. He carried himself with a confident grace that few of the other hunters had and Logan suspected that the white foxes had been pleased to give their pelts to such a fine hunter.
All of the hunters were dismissed from the room, to wait in another chamber until Logan had a fair head start. His fears were beginning to mount as the priests with him began placing holy dye on his pure white robes, the same white he had worn all his life. But after tonight he would not be pure enough to wear white, and these dyes were the beginning of that change. After anointing his robes, one of the priests spread paint over his face in thick lines across his cheeks, then a single line down the center of his forehead and down his nose. Not a word was spoken and Logan was too frightened to make a sound.
The priests did start talking, then, but in a strange language he didn’t understand, the language they used in chants that was not taught to acolytes but only to priests. One of them flicked water at him, then the chanting was finished. The youngest priest took his arm and led him to the exit to the building, the gateway to the outdoors.
“Follow your heart and the moon,” the priest said. “Your heart will guide you away from the hunters and the moon will guide you through the forest safely.”
As far as advice went, Logan had received better. But it was still better than nothing, and he nodded his head in thanks. Then the doors creaked open, and he was gently but firmly shoved outside. The doors closed behind him. He was outside.
The texture of the ground against his bare feet was strange and as he stepped forward into the forest he quickly learned that the ground was uneven, like the cobblestones inside, but unlike the cobblestones there were small branches and thorns that stung and ripped his feet. It was incredibly uncomfortable, but he pressed on, knowing he had to get away from the monastery before the hunters were released. He could survive the discomfort and perhaps in time he wouldn’t even notice it.
The branches snagged at his clothing until he learned to walk and keep his robes close to his body, something he had never needed to do indoors. He was learning how to exist outdoors, but slowly. He knew the hunters would be released soon and he could still see the light of the monastery behind him. He broke into a run, letting his heart guide his steps and trusting the moon to illuminate any dangers.
He had been running for what seemed like ages before he heard the snap of a twig that didn’t come from him. A hunter? Perhaps. He changed direction and ran faster, hoping to evade the hunter. He couldn’t help but glance over his shoulder and to his shock, he saw an enormous bear instead. His heart thudded against his ears and he gasped for breath even as his feet kept moving. The moon hadn’t shown him that obstacle; only his hearing had prevented him from being a bear’s snack.
Soon he heard sounds of branches cracking everywhere and each one made him flinch as he was never sure whether it was a hunter or a monster. He fled each sound, ignoring the pain in his feet and sprinting through the forest, trusting his heart to prevent him from running in circles because he had lost his sense of direction long ago. He ran and ran until the moon was starting to set and he knew the sun would be rising in a matter of hours. He was exhausted, thirsty, and hungry. He paused by a tree and listened for the sound of water. Perhaps he could get a drink. There was a trickling sound nearby and he raced towards it.
He slowed as he reached the small stream. There were footprints by it. A hunter had been here, perhaps was still here. But he was so thirsty. He edged forward, and nothing happened. Reassured, he leaned over the stream and scooped a mouthful of water, then another. He had just drunk his fill when two arms wrapped around him and pinned him. A hunter!
Logan didn’t make any sound, not wanting to draw more hunters, but he kicked back against the hunter and tried to fight against those powerful arms. The hunter evaded his moves deftly and spun him around until Logan was staring directly into two ice-blue eyes. Some of his resolve to fight withered, but he wasn’t going to give up yet. He tried to knee the hunter but the man laughed and blocked him, then hauled Logan away from the stream and pinned him to the ground.
“I’ve caught you,” the hunter said. “Admit it and submit to me.”
Logan blushed. When he was caught and couldn’t escape, he was supposed to acknowledge his capture and give himself freely to the hunter. He was pleased that this hunter was the one who had caught him, but he was embarrassed at having to say the words out loud. He wondered if the hunter had taken lovers before. Acolytes were required to remain virgins, but hunters didn’t have that rule. Would Logan be able to live up to the hunter’s standards?
“I am caught,” he whispered so quietly the hunter had to lean closer to hear him. “I submit to you freely.”
A smile spread across the hunter’s face and he leaned down to kiss Logan chastely on the lips.
“I wanted to be the one to catch you,” he said. “Ever since I saw you tonight. You are so lovely and fair.”
Logan’s blush deepened. “I wanted you to catch me,” he admitted.
The hunter laughed, then began pulling Logan’s robes apart.
“We must hurry before the sun rises. You led a good hunt; the moon will bless this union.”
Logan nodded, allowing the hunter to strip him of the dyed cloth until he lay naked beneath the hunter. The earth was soft underneath him, the grass soft. Then the hunter pulled at his clothes and Logan saw that his body was painted with color just as Logan’s face was, although it smeared slightly as the clothes were removed. But it wasn’t the colors that entranced Logan, it was what lay beneath.
The hunter was beautiful in all the ways Logan had dreamed of: muscular, powerful, yet not overpowering. Broad shoulders with a tapered waist, and a firm belly that demanded that Logan stroke it. He did, gently, and the hunter grinned. Below that belly was a thatch of dark hair over a penis that was hardening rapidly and swelling. It was beautiful as well, a dark cream with a pinkish head. Logan knew he was growing hard as well and he knew that the hunter could see his arousal. The hunter ran a hand along Logan’s body and Logan’s breath stuttered.