Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017
AVESTINE ADMIRED THE nomadic people. They were tough, practical, and passionate. Especially the women. Mosit had a daughter who couldn’t keep her eyes off Gerard, which was obvious to nearly everyone, including Mosit, who had his daughter returned to tribal lands to protect her virtue.
Gerard seemed to be the only one unaware of her virtue, which made Avestine curious. Much about Gerard remained a mystery to her. She recognized that he had purposefully made himself invaluable to her, so she needed more control.
“I really have no interest in a tribal chieftain’s daughter,” explained Gerard later as they dined. “Marriage is not for me.”
Avestine stopped chewing a moment and looked up from her plate. “Marriage? Is that what you think I was talking about?”
Avestine laughed. “Screwing, man. I haven’t seen you near a woman since I’ve known you. Not healthy. Not for men.” She thought a moment. “Not for anyone.”
“Concubines are for princes.” Gerard’s dark visage lightened with amusement. “And princesses, I suppose, although you’re the first I’ve known with such an appetite.”
He peeled the meat from a bone and poked at it with his knife. “It’s hardly seemly for two creatures of the same sex to make use of the power of generation.”
“I weary of your circumspection, Gerard. You’re subtle, like a woman. An ugly woman, I might add. It wouldn’t bother me if you had something womanly to offer to make it worth my while to listen. Damn, but I thank Katan every time I get such pleasure without the ‘power of generation’! If you wish an heir, you better get busy screwing and forget this business of what’s seemly. If you’re saving it all for a wife, you’re going to be disappointed if you get some virtuous daughter of a nobleman. A virgin is the most useless thing in this world.”
One of Gerard’s eyebrows had been rising and now peaked in a dramatic arch. “And yet, I don’t believe I’ve seen you with anyone but Kami. Is she not respectable?”
Avestine laughed with her mouth full. The hint of collusion warmed the cool climate of her laughter. “Kami’s no cold biscuit. No way.” She burst out laughing. “More like screwing a storm.”
They ate in silence for a time before Avestine realized she never received an answer to her question. She watched Gerard eating and said, “Does it work?”
He frowned at her. “Does what work?”
“That thing between your legs.”
He looked at her with surprise, a drop of blood from the meat on his chin. She handed him a cloth.
He wiped his face and sat back. “Perfectly well.”
“Then why don’t you use it?”
“You’re assuming I don’t.”
“You’re a bit old for self-abuse, aren’t you?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
She knew he was a complicated man, and despite his careful manner, she had never felt threatened by him, never suspected he worked against her in any way. Yet, he still hid something. She leaned toward him. “Maybe you can show me.”
He straightened his shoulders. “There’s no reason to test me.”
“Is that what I’m doing?”
“I watch you do it all the time. You can disable a man’s courage quickly.”
“You flatter me.”
“You’re a predator, and I’ve watched you hunt.” Gerard swallowed a bite and sat back. “First, you crowd your prey, see if you can make him uncomfortable. If he moves, you follow to see if his discomfort was just some unthinking reaction. You make him look at you, make him aware of his own discomfort. You know he’s afraid, but you want him to know he’s afraid. When he sees his own fear, he fears you even more. He tries to bluff or bargain, but it’s too late. You take what you want. Is this not true?”
Avestine was smiling, pleased not simply with Gerard’s insight but his willingness to speak it. “Now let me tell you what I know about you. You don’t notice the women forever panting after you because you find nothing at all attractive in the softer sex. The only softness you seek is the childish down on a boy’s cheek. Is this not true?”
Gerard’s piercing expression had dulled.
“What I don’t know is how tender you like them. Before the change of voice or after the blossoming of hair in the private places?”
“What I prefer…” Gerard paused as Avestine leaned in. “…is a man like your Essanti.”
Avestine leaned back and then pushed herself away from the table. She coughed for no reason. She was sure Gerard’s outrageous admission was some ruse. “What in Arujan’s name would you do with my Essanti?”
“Things I would never do with a child.”
She thought of Rook, his corded arms, grizzled face, and gray hair. She looked at Gerard and considered his bearish weight and dark complexion. She found the notion of them in bed impossible. Even ridiculous. Perhaps intriguing. “Rook would never entertain the idea.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“Have you asked him?”
“Questions like that can get a man killed.”
“Would you like me to ask him?”
“I would like to discuss the plans for battle.”
She slapped the table. “I’m hardly in a mood now for strategy, Gerard.”
He held her stare for a while. He shook his head. “I’m not prepared to suffer through all that wet.”
She laughed. “Is that what you find so unappealing about women?”
He smiled wickedly. “I find many things unappealing about women.”
“Well, I could use one right now, and Kami’s gone.”
“Where did Rook take her?”
“Something Essanti do. Don’t care, as long as he does it fast.”
“I thought Essanti have been serving you all your life.”
“Mystical symbols. Tedious ritual. They have their own ways. I don’t interfere in their practices. Rook assured me he would return Kami better than before. More obedient. That would be nice.”
Avestine smiled and thought it a shame such a clever man had no interest in her bed.
He paused before continuing, “I received a report today from Hamran’s First that the Highland will be fielding three-hundred more horses.”
She waved away his change of subject. “Where do you suppose I could get a girl right now?”
“I’m sure I don’t know, Lady.”
“You call me that one more time, and I’ll cut out your tongue.”
“That’s what everyone calls you.”
“Yes, and like I said, don’t do it again.”
“Perhaps a girl would do you some good.”
“Say my name.”
“Avestine,” he repeated slowly, watching for her reaction.
She nodded with approval. “You don’t realize how few people can say it.”
“You don’t allow it.”
“That’s not true. Not true at all. It’s important that you call me by my name when we’re alone. You will always address me so.”
His eyes suggested understanding, although she knew that was impossible. For all the privileges Gerard might have shared, he could not fathom the burdens of a life so wholly duty-bound and managed by divine interventions that no one was able to know her as anything but their master.
“Well, I can’t be seen at a whorehouse without the risk of offending the chieftains.” Her displeasure registered in her flexing jaw. “I’m going to need a lot more whiskey.”
“Now that I can do something about.” When he returned with a bottle, Avestine took it from him and said, “So tell me about Hamran’s horses.”