That was a close-run contest! It was neck and neck between Penelope & Alex and Eloise & Colin. (Sorry, Freddy, old thing.)
So, here is my exceedingly cunning plan. Since Penelope and Alex did win, fair and square (at least as of my last count this morning), I’m going to post their excerpt today. BUT, since it was so close, I’m going to post the Colin and Eloise excerpt tomorrow and announce a second winner then. Let’s call that Mini-Contest #7.
Today’s winner, randomly chosen, is… J, of comment #27. Congrats, J! Just email me and I’ll send along your hardcover Night Jasmine.
I’ll announce a second winner tomorrow, when I post the Eloise and Colin excerpt.
In the meantime, without further ado, I give you Penelope and Alex….
This scene takes place at the start of the journey from Calcutta to Hyderabad. Alex isn’t too happy about having Penelope along (or Freddy, for that matter) and has made the mistake of making that clear. You can imagine how Penelope reacts to that….
Breakers lay to one side, but on the other squatted a dense mass of thickly matted vegetation. Penelope thought she could see a tiger through the trees, its striped pelt a vivid amber against the hanging fronds of the trees.
“What is that?” she asked Captain Reid as he passed behind her.
“The island of Sangor,” he said briefly. After a moment, he added, “The island is sacred to Kali. Sangor has long been used as a ritual center for human sacrifice.”
Penelope could feel the Captain’s eyes on her, gauging the impact of his comment. He no doubt expected her to be spooked, to express womanly alarm, to demand his protection against the big, bad beasties who ate pretty little Englishwomen—or, even better, to demand that he turn around and take her back to the metropolitan protection of Calcutta posthaste, tide or no.
There was only one thing to be done.
“What kind of human sacrifices?” Penelope demanded, twisting around to look up at him.
It was marvelous watching Captain Reid’s discomfiture.
Blinking rapidly, he managed to effect a quick recovery. “In human sacrifices one generally sacrifices humans. I understand that that is the usual practice.”
Penelope rolled her eyes. “Yes, but how do they go about it? Do they burn them? Cut them up into little bits? Flay them alive?”
Captain Reid backed up a step. “I believe they generally fling them into the river.”
Penelope made a moue of disappointment. “That is fairly tame, I must say. If one is to have a blood sacrifice, I would hope there would at least be a bit more drama about it. Otherwise, it strikes me as a waste of a perfectly good human.”
A tiny glint of humor showed in Captain Reid’s steely eyes, clearly much against his own inclination. “If it makes you feel better, they do have a fair amount of ceremonial around the event. The devotees are robed in scarlet and draped in flowers. There are hymns and all that sort of thing.”
“Rather like Evensong,” commented Penelope, with an arch glance at Captain Reid.
“Only rather more fatal.” He had given up the battle against his better self; the glint expanded into a bona fide grin. It was a quirky sort of grin, pulling up one side of his mouth more than the other, but it was oddly engaging for all that.
He was really rather attractive when he wasn’t scowling at her.
“Why do they do it?” she asked.
“Why? For the same reason one petitions any deity; for riches, for health, for advancement. It is,” he added wryly, “rather amazing what a man will do for the hope of advancement.”
There was a self-mockery in his tone that suggested there was more than abstract philosophy at play.
Penelope wondered just what dubious measures Captain Reid might have been driven to in the interests of advancement.