Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017
“AVESTAR HAS TROOPS on both borders,” Gerard said, his deep-set brown eyes studying Avestine carefully as he leaned forward. His posture reflected hers like a mirror. “If we attack through the mountains, we disrupt his hold and keep him from planting himself on this side of the river. We can stop his expansion, and then we can drive him back. Besides, what makes you think he’ll come from the sea and not the river?”
“Because my brother’s lazy,” said Avestine. “He’s no soldier, but custom demands he stay with the army. That means camps along the river and a ride through the mountains. If he comes from the sea, he can travel faster and come from his ship. He’ll have more time in his residence and an easier ride.”
Gerard’s black-gloved hand spread across the lines on a map, as if with one hand he might subdue all he touched. “We should take the offensive, take the opportunity to disrupt his hold, not hold him back while he consolidates it. He must know we have the mountain passes thoroughly guarded, and if he tries to siege the city, he’ll be in for a long fight. No army has breached the granite walls of Avjakar in living memory.”
“He already cut off Illusion Bay,” said Avestine. “His next step will be to cut you off from Koledoon and the sea. My brother isn’t afraid of waste, and he has a lot to waste. If he’ll lose half his men through such a strategy, then he still has the other half, as well as what he wanted in the first place. No price is too high if he’s not the one paying it.”
“That strategy can’t last forever.”
“No, but it can last long enough to cost us our lives. I don’t care that he’ll get justice if I’m not the one to give it to him.”
“We have no doubt you know your brother well,” said Severesh. With a wave of his hand, he sent Gerard from the
room. When his warmaster had left and guards closed the door, Severesh joined his hands behind his back. “He’s a good general.”
“I can see that, Eldon.”
Severesh released a great sigh. “I have many questions. About my friend who’s gone. About his children, one who’s like a daughter to me and the other, an enemy.”
For Severesh, Avestine’s current companionship was a reminder of exciting days, when his life and his kingdom were new. He had grown close to the Architect’s family when they had come to the Trade Quarter those years ago. He had never much cared for the son, Avestar, but the daughter, Avestine, became as dear to him as if she were his own. The Architect indulged her, a daughter treated as the heir to the throne, though her gifts would attract her to Darklaw’s army rather than its politics.
He studied her from the other side of the table, distracted by how much of her father he saw in her. She had grown taller than most men. She was well-muscled and lean, but her skin was pocked with many scars and weather damage. Her cold blue eyes noticed everything, and no amount of pleasure seemed able to warm them. She kept her blonde hair in a simple queue, tied with a leather strap.
She had never been a beautiful girl, only an impressive warrior. Thirty-years ago, Severesh had joined her father in his ambitious plan to unite the Trade Quarter under Darklaw, and now, his daughter fought just as fiercely to keep it free.
“You haven’t told me what happened. Why your brother hunts you.”
Avestine crossed her arms over her chest. “There’s a bounty, you know.”
“I know that. What I don’t know is why. Treason? At Agate Bay?”
“He was destroying the villages on the coast.”
“He sacked many villages looking for Essanti, didn’t he?”
Avestine had turned away and now looked at him from the corners of her eyes. “I didn’t realize you were so well-informed. Have you also heard he’s been executing all the Essanti in Sahrdon? All those years collecting and breeding them and now he’s killing them.”
“I find it curious you should turn on him at Agate Bay. He killed your father two years before that. Why serve him for two years before deciding on revenge?”
“I never served my brother,” she snapped before reining in her anger. She set her hands on the table. “Look, Eldon, war became a game to him. He didn’t care about the army, about the men.”
Severesh straightened and sighed. “As I recall, they meant little to you when you carved Provincial Annulinia from the Demon Quarter.”
Avestine slapped the table. “I took the same risks they did. He doesn’t know what the men suffer.”
“When a company refused to impale villagers at Wolverwon, Avestar had them impaled instead.”
“No worse than you would have done to a rebellious company.” He scrutinized her.
“I wouldn’t have ordered a massacre in the first place.”
“But you did. In Marhash Province. You had a village burned for hiding grain. Shall I name more? You’ve told me what your brother did to his army and the villages of the Demon Quarter. Now tell me what he did to you.”
Severesh watched the muscles ripple across her jaw.
“What could he possibly do to me that my father didn’t?”
“I’ve always wondered what you were thinking when you watched my father break my arm after I lost the Silverside Tournament.”
“I thought I’d make sure you didn’t lose another. I got you a second trainer.”
“And the week I couldn’t walk?”
“I thought you had practiced too hard. Your determination to prove yourself knew no limits.”
“Or the months I couldn’t talk?”
“Your father said you had an accident branding your horse.”
She laughed. “Since when does an imperial daughter brand her own horse? I had a dozen slaves risking torture should a single animal sicken or throw a shoe. And how do you suppose I managed to be so clumsy as to thrust a hot iron down my own throat?”
Severesh wouldn’t meet her eyes. He looked away, shaking his head. “Your father was demanding. I never knew him to be cruel.”
“You never knew him. What did you think when he refused the concubines you offered? Did you think he had no interest in screwing?”
“He was a man of war.”
“Ah…” Avestine laughed again and leaned against the table. “You mean he wasn’t interested in gentler pleasures. Well, you’re right. There was nothing gentle about my father. It doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter what my brother did to me. It’s what he did to my daughter.”
Severesh was stunned. “Daughter?”
“She would be eleven. I would gladly have died if it meant he died, too, but I couldn’t leave her alone with him. I had her for a year before he took her away.”
Severesh tried to imagine Avestine as a mother and thought that perhaps her daughter had been fortunate with the fate granted her by Avestar.
“He told me she was alive, but I couldn’t find her. No one knew what happened to her. I believed him. I believed she was still alive because I had to. It took a year for me to accept I would never see her again.”
“He was always jealous of you.” Severesh felt suddenly weary and sat down. “So, you want my army. Does this mean you think they’re ready for war?” He wasn’t satisfied with her nod. “You do? You would take my men against your brother, despite the fever that’s claimed one of every twenty?”
“Fever has spread, but it’s passing. It’s always passing.”
“But not the Dark Quarter,” muttered Severesh with dismay. “Darklaw never seems to suffer such plagues, does it?”
“Arujan loves his people.”
“Sula doesn’t coddle us.” Severesh lowered his head and his stern gaze added to his point. “He tests us and tasks us. He makes us strong.”
Avestine dismissed his point with a grunt. “And weakens your battle lines. But you may be right. I’ve not been impressed with what I’ve seen of the soldiers my brother now commands. Darklaw is fat. Bullies. Mercenaries. They have more men, but our men are hungry.”
Admiration swelled in Severesh again. Avestine’s words were like those of her father. “How do you explain his success?”
“I can’t. I can’t understand it. He took Ureth Mourning. My shit-faced brother did what the greatest military mind couldn’t. My father tried for two years and couldn’t breach the walls.” She shook her head with frustration and licked her lips. “Tell me, will Gerard take his orders from me?”
“Gerard is my warmaster.” After a moment of silence, Severesh felt compelled to explain. “You have your father’s skill, but too much rein and I fear where you may drag us.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“If your brother advances, if we engage him, I will have Gerard take his orders from you. You have no title here, no authority. You understand?”
Near sunfall, in the residence Severesh had provided, Avestine stared across the table.
Kami was sullen. Her coarse black hair matted on her forehead, and her dark copper skin gleamed in the lamplight. She appeared to be sweating, but the room felt cool to Avestine.
Kami glanced up, her brown eyes like stone.
Avestine asked, “What do you want?”
Avestine’s eyes widened. “You hate whiskey.”
“No, I don’t.”
Servant girls were clearing away the square platters that held bones from dinner, and after they finished, Avestine went to a cabinet and returned with a bottle of whiskey and two ceramic cups. She filled the cups half-full, then set the bottle between them. She emptied her cup in one swallow. Kami finished hers the same way. As she watched Kami’s eyes glisten from the burn, Avestine wondered about her mood.
“Another?” Avestine asked, even as she refilled both their cups. She finished her second in the same way as the first. “You’re angry.”
“I’m not angry.” Kami turned a dark scowl on Avestine. She drank her second cup of whiskey and failed to hide its effects. She gasped and coughed. “You make me angry. When are we leaving? You don’t even mention it anymore.”
Avestine poured more whiskey and handed it to Kami, who slugged it down a little easier this time. “We’re not going back to Riverside.”
“We’re not going there, either.” Avestine’s heart began to race when she saw Kami’s nostrils flare. Kami was incendiary, her moods raw and strong. She was becoming on the outside what she had always been on the inside.
Avestine finished her third cup and licked her lips. “The only way you’ll see your home again is if we stop my brother. I’m training this army so we can do that.”
“You’ve nearly worn out the king’s patience.”
Avestine knew that was true, though Severesh’s affection remained genuine.
“I hear the servants talking about what you say to him.”
Though she hated to concern herself with the trivialities of manners, Avestine knew her plans relied on Severesh trusting her. “We’re just working out the details.” She also knew Kami was beginning to expand her gift. Without the proper discipline, she would continue to intrude upon thoughts she had no right to hear. “Fear’s clouding your judgment. That and the whiskey.”
Kami stood so clumsily her chair rocked and almost fell over. “You think the whole palace doesn’t know how you shout at the generals? Remember, I know what you’re capable of. I’ve seen your fury. I’ve seen you lose control.”
Avestine took hold of Kami’s shoulders to guide her back to her seat.
Kami shook her off. “Stop touching me.”
“I’m not touching you.” Avestine withdrew her hands and became aware of the rapid rise and fall of Kami’s chest. “Sit down.”
When Kami refused to move, Avestine pushed her and they fell to the floor. As Kami tried to twist away, Avestine held her, forcing her mouth against the softer one, tasting both resistance and desire, and believing desire would eventually win.
When Kami’s hands stopped pushing, Avestine took hold of her waist and pulled her to her feet. She nearly tore down the drapery that hung from a ceiling canopy in her haste to get into bed. She stripped off Kami’s clothes, following with her own. Kami’s small body was as soft and round as any woman’s, but her curves were generous in proportion to her height.
Avestine grew weak as Kami’s nipples hardened against her palms. She wanted Kami to wrap herself around her as she kissed that sensuous mouth that always resisted and always relented.
“You use that word a lot,” said Kami.
Avestine wondered briefly which word Kami meant before she realized she had not spoken. Kami shouldn’t be in her thoughts, but pointing that out would only re-ignite an undesirable fire when the current one consuming them both was more agreeable.
Avestine kissed every part she could reach, her lips rubbing against the soft face and small shoulders as she tried to satisfy her body’s hunger.
Kami massaged Avestine’s cheekbones and dragged her fingertips through the hawk-like eyebrows, while she kissed the strong throat and bit the damp skin.
The metallic clank of the door bolt startled them. “Ignore it,” Avestine whispered as she pulled more of Kami around her.
When the pounding continued, accompanied by Rook’s concerned voice, Avestine drew the covers over Kami and fumbled through a pile of clothes hung on the low bedpost. After dropping several to the floor, she wrapped a green robe around herself.
The suite of rooms was luxurious. Purple silk drapes framed green-glass windows. Under her feet, a bear fur and tapestries warmed the cool granite floor. The servants had drawn the heavy drapes and lit the room with a dozen oil lamps and candles, and the earthy smell of beeswax wafted about as smoke rose in sinuous curls.
The door guard let Rook enter the room after Avestine opened the door. His eyes methodically assessed every part of her. “Are you all right?” He closed the door, leaving the guard in the corridor.
His eyes returned from a quick exploration of the room. He glanced at the bed, but the drapery hid its contents. “She’s drunk.”
“She’s not your concern.”
“She may be angry tomorrow.”
“She’s always angry.”
“You’re taking advantage.”
Rook hesitated, his thoughts suggesting he could offer Avestine what she desired.
“I don’t trust her alone with you.”
“I can handle a girl.”
“She’s not just a girl.”
Avestine pushed Rook out the door and told her guard not to disturb her again. She locked the iron bolt and returned to Kami, who took Avestine’s face in her hands and complained in a whisper, “It’s bad. I can’t stop it.”
“I know,” Avestine whispered back, feeling suddenly tender. The sensation frightened her, and she wrapped Kami’s body around her again.
As Avestine’s tongue compulsively plunged into the heat of the young mouth, Kami caught and dragged her teeth across it, and then began to suck it. Avestine’s fingers groped between Kami’s legs, parting the curls and finding her clitoris, swollen and sensitive to touch.
Avestine sucked Kami’s earlobe and then moved down to chew the cord of her neck. When Kami began to writhe, Avestine whispered, “I want to eat you.”
“You can do anything you want.”
Avestine caught her breath at the unexpected offer.
“I was remembering you today,” muttered Kami. “When you came to Featherwood. When you were with Domna. I remember the things you said. Your voice. I liked it even as a child. It’s like smoke and fire. Sometimes, I imagine what you say to me.”
“You spend a lot of time imagining.”
“The sound of you. You’re full of dogs. Anger, lust. I doubt you know the difference.”
Avestine smiled. “Do you care? You’re as content to provoke as to pleasure me.” Avestine expected a smile in return, but Kami was looking into the past.
“You put Domna on her knees. You made her eat you.”
“Do you like it when I make you do things?” Avestine stripped the blanket away. She pulled Kami to the end of the bed, and spread her legs. She knelt on the floor, and Kami’s musk washed over her, through her, a current stirring her blood. Kami was a mess—a sloppy mess—and Avestine buried her face between her legs.
Kami crossed her arms over her face and began to rock her head back-and-forth. “Oh, yes, eat me,” she said, her voice sweet and needful. Her body stiffened, and she grew quiet, and then in a small voice she asked a question that Avestine didn’t quite hear.
Avestine had Kami’s clitoris in her mouth, and she swirled her tongue around it, then slid her tongue as deeply as she could into the inflamed slit. Everything was wet, and the unsteady sensation of boundlessness made Avestine feel fevered.
Kami whined and asked the question again, and this time Avestine understood.
Sitting back on her heels, Avestine rubbed Kami’s clitoris vigorously with her thumb. She reached and took Kami’s arm away from her face and watched as Kami strained for ecstasy. Kami’s teeth clenched, her eyes tightened, and skin flushed as spit gathered where breath hissed between her teeth.
Then Avestine answered, speaking with the fullness of voice she thought Kami craved. She said, “That’s my girl.”
She repeated the words as Kami’s rising whine erupted into a long, loud cry. What little control Kami had disappeared as pleasure coursed through her and she began to plead, “Fuck me. Fuck me. Fuck me.”
She moaned until the waves of release and the surfeit of whiskey left her exhausted.