by Murín Piper
Touched by Fire actually came about while I was working on a longer piece with a similar theme; I’m a history geek, and virginity as a kink is one of my soft spots, so this won’t be the last time you see a story about Vestal Virgins from me, I promise.
While researching certain aspects of the order, especially the terms specific to their lives, I came across this wonderful word, “Nefas.” Aside from the fact that I was researching for erotic writing, that lit up my interests like nobody’s business. Things so forbidden that they had their own umbrella term. I suppose it’s akin to when I hear the word taboo in our culture, it just draws me in. Nefas, aside from being an alluring word itself, is actually a legal term. That’s the charge you would be arrested on and in quite a few cases would end up meeting a less than pleasant fate for that reason. All that power in one word.
I was getting off track with my research. Yes, I had wanted to know what would happen if a Vestal Virgin broke their vows in more intricate detail than the standard “dig a hole in the ground, seal them in and wish them luck” sort of way, but I had somehow gone from that to looking at some of the cases charged under this law. Most of them were pretty similar: a woman got it on with someone she shouldn’t, she suffered because of it, and history repeats itself over and over.
I was almost drowning in so many versions of the same story when suddenly one entry stood out. Three names, all Vestalis at the same time, with so much scandal. And that’s all there was to the story; how shocking it was that not one, not even two but three vestal virgins had been led astray, with strong hints that it had actually been one of the Virgins doing the leading. That was all I had, some names, some dates and a yearning for a story.
The unfortunate bit about history is, if it’s lost, it’s lost forever—but the brilliant thing about fiction is that when you reach real life’s open ended cliff hanger full of plot holes, you can fill them how you like. I knew it wasn’t a plotline I could weave into my existing arc so I set aside the bigger story for a while and focused in on these girls in their own right, which was a lovely change of pace. I already knew how the dynamics would be; a natural leader, a follower and the new initiate, but they each brought their own stories into this little idea as I explored it. I had to restrain myself before I built a whole new novel around them, but as a short story it gave me a chance to dip my toes into their world and, much like history, still leave their stories open.
Anthologies which include this story: