Amazon Warrior #4:
The Will of the Gods
Copyright © 1985, 2010 by Sharon Green
The disagreement of males-and the anger of Mida
I awoke in the thick, enveloping darkness of the room, at first convinced there had been movement near me, after a moment allowing that the movement must have been Mehrayn's, tossing about upon the furs beside me. The male's sleep was uneasy, perhaps by cause of the words of disagreement he and I had spoken in the dwelling of Aysayn, he who was called Sigurr's Shadow.
It had been necessary to speak those words over and again, with Aysayn and Chaldrin as well as Mehrayn, and still the males refused to abandon their stand. I had, at last, refused to discuss the matter further, which had silenced the males yet had not moved them from their stubborn stance. Fool that I was, I had first spoken of the matter myself, therefore could blame no one else for the difficulty. Though reluctantly, I had known many males of late; I knew it was likely they would attempt to interfere with the doings of a warrior.
The darkness was cool and comfortable, bereft of the heat which would reappear with Mida's light. I lay upon the fur I shared with Mehrayn, feeling only comfort from its silky softness against my body, relieved that no intruding presence threatened. My sword and dagger were not far away, yet the continuing presence of much drink lay even nearer, in my head and body. Had it been necessary to defend against intruders I would have done so, yet not with all of my usual skill.
We had all of us drunk much of the drink called falar, that which was nearer unbrewed daru than the renth of city males, though none of the Sigurri males had had as much as I. As I was to depart with the new light, and alone, the males had insisted upon the sharing of falar, each cup, as they said, a prayer to Sigurr to watch over me upon my travels.
I had not told them that their god cared naught for this warrior save for her use, for the doing would have been idle. I had, instead, accepted each cup given me, baffled by the surprise of the males when I continued to accept them. Falar had more presence than renth, yet less than brewed daru, that which warriors drank. I had agreed to take as much of the falar as I was able; did they believe I would give my word and then be forsworn?
I sighed as I turned toward Mehrayn where he lay, seeing the deeper darkness of his back, able to see no more than the broadness of it, none of the corded muscle which rippled with his movement. So strange were males, these Sigurri even stranger. First it had been the males of Bellinard, a city to the north, then the males of Ranistard, even farther north. Ceralt and his Belsayah, Hannis and his Neelarhi, the male god Sigurr and his fighters, and now his Sigurri.
Bellinard had fallen to my sister clans of Midanna, whom I led as war leader; Ranistard held those of my own clan of Hosta and would fall in its turn when the Midanna were free to ride against it. Ceralt, by now surely healed, had returned to his Belsayah, and perhaps led the Neelarhi as well, in the absence of Hannis.
Sigurr dwelt among his fighters in undoubted pleasure, for I had raised his Sigurri to stand with the Midanna against the coming strangers, just as he had demanded. I had but one further thing to see to before I might return to my warriors who held Bellinard, a thing demanded of me by Mida herself. It was this thing which upset these Sigurri so greatly, yet in Mida's name I was unable to fathom the reason for such upset.
I, who am Jalav, was first war leader to the Hosta clan before my sisters were taken by the males of Ranistard. This capture was allowed by the goddess Mida so that I might lead the other nine clans of sister Midanna against Bellinard with none to say I favored one clan above the others. It was necessary that I do naught to free the Hosta, and though my soul writhed in agony at that lack of doing, I was not able to refuse the will of Mida.
Strangers came to our world who were enemies to Mida and Sigurr, and the goddess and god demanded that their warriors face these strangers and best them. Nearly all of the Hosta carried the quickened seed of males within them, and would therefore be unable to stand in battle with us. I planned to lead my warriors against the strangers and then see to the males of Ranistard, yet first the nine enemy clans of Midanna must join us.
Mehrayn stirred again as though in discomfort. That I rode with the new light to claim the war leadership of enemy Midanna had been an outrage to him, and he and Chaldrin had insisted on accompanying me, although I tried to convince them that they would be more burden than aid, that their lot among Midanna would be harsher than the lot of a female temple slave in their city, the lot of a female slave in Chaldrin's domain, the Caverns of the Doomed.
I had not mentioned my own fate were I to lead free males to the home tents of Midanna, therefore they did not know what would befall me. To say my life would be forfeit would be an understatement. These strange Sigurri accepted my warriorhood and my ability with weapons when other males did not, and yet insisted on standing with me where their presence would be a burden. Strange enough was the willingness of a male to stand beside a warrior, stranger still that he sought not to take from her those privileges which he demanded for himself.
Strangest of all, however, was the way they demanded to be allowed to add their blades to mine, as though I were brother to them or they sister to me. That I had freed Mehrayn from slavery in Bellinard and had fought beside Aysayn and Chaldrin in the Caverns of the Doomed did not seem ample reason for males to do as they did. All warriors know males as being beyond reason, and beyond gratitude as well. Aysayn and Mehrayn looked upon me as a messenger from their god, Chaldrin, as the sole being who had bested him at blades; these, perhaps, were the reasons for the behavior of the males, yet it still seemed odd.
"Why do you not sleep, wench?" Mehrayn's deep voice came suddenly, held low so as not to challenge the darkness. "Had I as much falar within me as you have within you, it would be feyd before I awoke."
"Falar is not like daru," said I, speaking as softly as he, my hand reaching to the dark shadow of his arm. "Had it been brewed daru I swallowed, I might well be insensible. Was I not sufficiently awake and aware during your devotions?"
"Indeed you were," said he, chuckling as he turned toward me. "With the removal of your life sign, your sufficiency is beyond question. You do not mean to deny me that sufficiency for a final time, I hope? I await the new light with thoughts of no other thing than my devotions."
"Dark Sigurr is surely pleased with your piety," said I, finding great pleasure at the touch of his hand upon my back, beneath my hair. "Mida, too, will be pleased that you no longer mean to impede her warrior. The home tents of Midanna would allow you no devotions, yet would you be used to the glory of Mida - again and again and again. The use you had at the hands of my warriors in Bellinard would be as naught in comparison."
"Were all Midanna as - sufficient as you, I would give myself to them with eager anticipation," he murmured, drawing me into his arms. "I will miss you sorely once you have gone, and more than that; already do I feel your absence. Will you join me upon my altar when the new light arrives, or do you mean to deny me a last taste of you?"
"Such a taste might be had now, here upon these furs, rather than with the new light upon your altar," I murmured, feeling the nearness of him begin to heat my blood. So broad and hard was the male, so warm to my hands which stroked his back, so alive to my bare body pressed to his. I, too, felt the gap his absence would bring, though I would not mind the emptiness when my life sign hung about my neck once more.
At one time my life sign was of wood, carved from the tree which had been marked as mine at birth, though the symbol of the hadat had been changed; Mida had touched it and made it like her Crystals, clear and light yet not easily broken; Sigurr had breathed into the crystal hadat, sending darkness swirling throughout its shape. In such a way was it shown that I rode for both goddess and god, and also was I given a great gift: with the life sign about my neck upon its thong, what wounds came to me in battle were not immediately felt, and were healed during no more than one darkness of sleep.
The gift was priceless to a warrior and war leader such as I, yet was there a thing I did not understand: with my life sign upon me I felt no desire for males. I had thought my lack of interest due to the use I had been put to by the dark god Sigurr, yet it had not been so. Though to me the time had been horror-filled agony, I had been told by Mida that Sigurr had been unexpectedly pleased. For what reason, then, would interest in males be taken from me?
It had surely not been Mida's doing, for her teachings council that one uninterested in males is a thing of pity; how are our clans to thrive and grow stronger if peopled by warriors who care naught for those who are able to give warriors new warrior lives? The doing was not beyond Sigurr, who would surely laugh soundlessly at whatever pain I was given due to a lack of interest, yet the reason seemed insufficient. It would not be -
"And yet, if I were to taste of you now, you would find yourself easily able to deny me come the new light," murmured Mehrayn, his lips to my hair, his words drawing me away from the distractions of thought. "I have no understanding of your dislike for use upon my altar, yet am I well aware of it. Perhaps it would be best if we were to abstain as once we did, so that your reluctance may be overcome at the proper time."
"Mehrayn, I do not mean to remain till the new light," I said, his body still as he heard my words. "The last of the darkness will do best to see me upon my way from this city, before those who dwell in it are up and about. A journey such as the one before me is best begun as soon as possible."
His motionlessness touched me more deeply than his flesh, for I knew well that I would now have no more of him. His flesh remained as warm as it had been, his great arms as tightly about me, yet would they soon be gone, withdrawn in male-seen insult.
"So soon?" he asked at last, and then, strangely, the arms I had expected to release me tightened the more. The breath was nearly taken from me with the abrupt constriction, and a small grunt escaped my throat, more from surprise than pain. My breasts were crushed against the broadness of his chest and I moved in silent protest, nearly wide-eyed at the strength he showed. So easily is a warrior able to forget the strength of males, yet recall it she must if she is to remain free and a warrior. Again I moved in protest, attempting to loose myself from the keren-like embrace, and at last Mehrayn perceived my difficulty.
"Have I hurt you, wench?" he asked, releasing me enough so that he could look at me. "It was not my intention to do you harm, yet the thought of losing you so quickly - the new light seems a great deal farther away than the end of this darkness. I suddenly find that my arms lack the strength to release you."
I breathed deeply as I continued to attempt to extricate myself. "The strength of your arms seems more than sufficient for any deed you may care to essay," I said. "Perhaps you could attempt to release me - else I seek the aid of another."
"Another?" asked Mehrayn, chuckling as his arms tightened some small amount. "There are no others about to ask, nor would any Sigurri attempt to stand against me in a situation such as this. Even Chaldrin, who has sworn himself to your safety, would not attempt to come between us. Should I find it impossible to release you, who would there be to stand for you?"
"Mehrayn forgets that I require no more than one to stand with me," I replied, pressing my dagger to his throat. Again his body grew motionless, this time for different reasons. "This blade was given me by Mida, and by cause of that has become my sister. Is it your desire to be kissed more deeply by my sister?"
"I had not realized you had brought your - sister to my furs," said he cautiously against the sharpened metal. "Never before this have you slept with a dagger so near to hand."
"Always do I sleep with a dagger near to hand," I replied, running my free palm slowly over his back. "Never before have I been free to do so in this city of males. Do you continue to consider abstinence?"
"Wench, I refuse to believe that you would use that blade on me," said he, remaining motionless. "We have come to mean too much to one another to cause each other harm. You will put that blade up and then we will pleasure ourselves, and come the new light we will leave together to see to those enemy wenches of yours. Aysayn will lead our legions out when the rites are done, and we will ride to meet them when our chore is completed."
"When our chore is completed," I echoed, once again annoyed. "So you insist that you will accompany me, do you? What of the agreement we came to?"
"I came to no agreement," said he. "It was you alone who refused the presence of those who would stand with you during your need. Once I rode from you and permitted you to ride from me; had Sigurr not moved those foul followers of the Oneness to attack my legion quickly, I well might have returned here rather than continue on to their city. The distress I felt apart from you was more than I was able to bear, Jalav, and I do not care to bear it again."
"Sooner would you bear what the Midanna would bring you," said I, disgusted. "You eagerly seek an unknown fate, forgetting that I cannot prevent it, for I stand in Mida's cause and not in that of a male! Perhaps you should have some small taste of that fate."
"Wench, you may not do this!" protested Mehrayn, yet he released me at the urging of my blade. Though he seemed sure I would not harm him, he knew well enough that I need not slay him to see my will done. And were I to wound him, he would not only not accompany me, neither would Aysayn permit him to accompany the Sigurri legions when they rode forth. His insistence on foolishness had angered me, so that I truly wished to wound him. In the darkness the male was unable to see my anger, yet he could sense it from the near growl in my voice - and be properly wary.
As Mehrayn put himself flat upon the furs, I followed, one hand to his shoulder as I knelt across the dark shadow of his body, the other hand a fist about the hilt of the dagger which touched his throat. It had been some time since I had last used a male so, yet I recalled the way of it. The male stirred faintly beneath me, clearly agitated, and I smiled into the surrounding darkness.
"You cared little for use of this sort as a captive in Bellinard," said I, my voice soft as I moved farther toward his thighs along his belly. "Were you captive to Midanna in their own home tents, you would know no other use. Never would you be permitted to take a warrior, only to serve her in her own chosen way. Jalav is a warrior and war leader, and has taken many males in this manner."
"Jalav has swallowed too great an amount of falar," said Mehrayn, sourly. "I am not a wench to be forced to the pleasure of a warrior, nor am I as deeply in need as in Bellinard. The war leader Jalav will receive from me no more than that which her esteemed enemies would receive - here or in their own home tents."
"You speak so by cause of never having tasted of the sthuvad drug," said I, moving myself to where his manhood lay. Indeed was he only partially aroused, not nearly enough for adequate use, yet did his flesh jump at the touch of mine, and begin somewhat to rise and harden. "In the presence of the sthuvad drug, a warrior may do with a male as she wishes, and the male may not deny her."
"I am the master of my own body," said Mehrayn, the words forced between clenched teeth. "It is not seemly for a man to be taken so, and I shall not allow it."
"And yet you deemed it seemly to take this warrior with your strength when she would have had none of you," I replied in a murmur, caressing his male-flesh with my female-flesh and causing him to continue to stir. "As that taking was to your liking, so is this taking to mine."
"Jalav, the sole taking to be thought upon is that you are taken with falar," said he, a faint heaviness having entered his tone. "When first I gave you my love you did indeed appear unwilling, yet was your body most willing. As you may see, mine is not the same, therefore must you release me and put up that dagger."
"I find little unwillingness in your body, male," said I with a soft laugh, pressing my breasts to his chest as I kissed at the flesh beneath the hair.
Red was that hair, like the hair upon his head though lighter, and had I been able to see him I would also have seen his sun-darkened skin, marked upon the left shoulder with the stroke in black which stood for Sigurr. At my kiss his great unwillingness stirred even more greatly, searching for the heat in which it might bask, and again I laughed.
"For one who is unwilling, your rod seems uncommonly active," said I.
"Never would I wish to see a rod used upon you, wench," said he, growling softly. "A length of leather would suffice for your hiding, which shall be yours should you continue with this - Ahhh!"
The breath flew from him as I succeeded in his capture and then, slowly, settled myself upon him. The male was far too used to having females many times each fey, and was therefore not difficult to bring to rigidity. Ah, Mida! The pleasure a warrior may find in the presence of a male of strength! I hummed along with the motion of my hips, and Mehrayn's great hands rose to my sides as he moaned.
"Perhaps - perhaps a brief time engaged so would not be too unseemly," he said haltingly, his hips rising to meet me. "There will yet be words between us on this matter, wench - at another time."
Again I laughed as I often did in the presence of the male, until I allowed the pleasure to take me. I kept the dagger firmly in my fist, carefully near the male's throat, yet did not threaten his safety, and we both felt great pleasure. After an endless time his hand was able to force the dagger entirely away from him, and he threw me to my back in the furs, his body quickly following. So abruptly did I become possessed rather than possessor that I gasped, yet the pleasure did not cease. With Mehrayn's lips to mine came the first of his vigorous pummeling, and my dagger was forgotten entirely.
I did not awaken till the first of Mida's light spread warmth and color through the room. Mehrayn lay deeply asleep beside me to my left, my dagger lay abandoned and forgotten to my right, and I, sluggard that I was, lay where I had been left when the pleasure was done. I had immediately slept, more deeply than was usual, showing that the falar had indeed affected me. Already was the fey advanced beyond my planned departure time, and I was as annoyed with myself as I had been at Mehrayn in the darkness. To take pleasure with a male is the right of a war leader and warrior, yet the will of Mida must come first.
I arose from the furs and quietly donned my breech, then placed my dagger in its leg bands. Best would be to be gone before Mehrayn's awakening, so that I need not listen to him beg again to accompany me. Although my hair seemed snarled and twisted its entire length, from crown to thighs, it would keep till I rode the forests toward the land of the Midanna. A heavy wooden comb was among the few possessions I had wrapped for the journey. Upon a platform by the wall was my bow and shafts, and the life sign I had carefully removed the darkness previous. I raised my swordbelt and sword from the furs beside the place I had slept, then turned toward the platform. It would be the work of no more than a moment to gather all I required, and then would I be -
"So you are prepared to depart," came Mehrayn's voice suddenly from where he lay. "And I may not halt you, for you move to the will of the gods. Am I permitted to wish it might be otherwise?"
"To wish the matter otherwise would be to disapprove of the doings of the gods," said I, looking down to where he lay in the furs. "Few males approve of the demands of Mida, yet in this endeavor the will of Sigurr joins hers. Do you mean to set yourself against the dark god, O Sword of Sigurr?"
"Do you need to mock me as well as leave me?" he growled, rising to stand before me. "Sigurr demands no more of women than their use upon his altar. It is from men alone that he demands strength and battle and wounds and early death, as it should be. That you are a warrior of uncommon skill is undeniable, Jalav; however I would still far prefer to stand for you rather than beside you, yet also, undeniably, I may not do so."
His hands rose to my arms and stroked me gently, and he smiled faintly as he looked down upon me.
"I will not believe that blessed Sigurr would look upon my thoughts as sacrilege, yet should he do so, so be it. I would still wish to prohibit you from riding from me into danger and battle."
"And yet you will not," said I, knowing the truth of this as I looked up into the warmth of his eyes. Again I marveled at this male, this Sigurri, who could have held me with his strength yet refused to do so, for he knew that I did as I must, just as he did. I knew he was possessed of warrior honor, which moved each of us to the path of right rather than that of personal pleasure.
"Yes, Sigurr take me for the fool I am, I will allow you," he murmured, sliding his palms beneath my hair and drawing me easily to the firm strength of his bare body. "I shall have your lips a final time and then I shall turn from you, and in a hand of feyd I shall follow after and find you. Once I have done so we will face the final battle together, and then - and then the will of the gods will have been seen to."
His lips lowered to mine and eagerly did I meet them, endlessly pleased that I need not discuss my thoughts after battle with the strangers was done. It was then that Mida wished me to lead the Midanna against the Sigurri, destroying them before they might do us the same, yet had I learned that the Sigurri were honorable far beyond the god they served, and would not attack those they had fought beside.
Should the matter come to it, I would give my life and soul to halt the intended attack, for the Midanna would not find it prudent to enter battle by the single clan against so large a force commanded by a single leader. Midanna and Sigurri would not raise blade to one another and I - I would find the peace I had come to long for, the peace that would not be mine while I lived. I let my swordbelt fall from my grasp and held Mehrayn as he held me, knowing that I would forget him once my soul thinned and melted into the final dark - yet somehow his strength and warmth would be eternally missed.
Our lips clung together in an attempt to prolong the moment, though it was impossible to prolong it forever. We parted at last and Mehrayn looked down upon me, his hand gently smoothing my hair.
"I shall help you gather your things and choose a kan," he said, with resolve. "Allow me a brief moment to cover myself, and then we may - "
A clear, deep ringing broke into his words, the summons from Sigurr that the time of devotions was at hand for all Sigurri. Mehrayn looked startled at the sound, and his tone became bitter.
"So I am not to be allowed even to see you off," he said, stroking my face. "Perhaps Sigurr was displeased with the words I spoke earlier after all, yet I refuse to withdraw them. I must go now to find a wench to take to my altar, yet my prayers will be for you rather than her, my Jalav. Go with Sigurr's blessing, and care for yourself till I am able to stand once more beside you."
His lips brushed mine briefly and then he was gone, to take up his black body cloth from where it lay upon the floor covering and begin to wrap it about himself. No, I will not share your devotions, I had told him in the darkness, and he, recalling my words, would go without argument to seek another. I found my swordbelt upon the floor at my feet, yet in Mida's name I could not pick it up. Never would I allow a male to deter me, and yet -
"Do you mean to send me to battle without a final blessing?" I asked, knowing how the male saw his devotions to Sigurr. "I had thought the male Mehrayn cared more for the war leader Jalav."
A wide, glad smile brightened him as his hands tore away the covering he had nearly replaced. His laughter rang out as he returned to me in an eyeblink, and then his arms were about me, hugging me close in great joy.
"Wench, I had not thought you would remain," he said, amused, as I eyed him warily, recalling the embrace I had received in the darkness. "No, I shall not crush you to me again - at least until I have you upon my altar. Come, the time flies before us."
Quickly then did he take me to that black, padded platform which was his altar to his god, turned to light the black candle which stood above it upon a ledge, and then returned to me with eyes shining as brightly as the flame. In a moment was my breech opened and pulled away and my dagger taken and thrown aside, and then was I lowered gently to the black platform, Mehrayn following to crouch above me.
"Sigurr, hear these words from one privileged to be known as your Sword," said the male, pressing his lips lightly to mine as his hands touched everywhere. "I ask that you guard this woman I have beneath me as you would guard one you looked upon as your own beloved, one for whom you would gladly give your own life that hers be spared. She rides to danger among those who are enemy to her; protect her and aid her in her attempts as your breath in her life sign restores health to her wounded body. Should this be done, I will never again ask a thing of you, for all I wish for in this life will be seen to."
"Mehrayn," I whispered, yet his lips stopped whatever words I would have spoken concerning his prayer. That he asked only for my well-being and not his own disturbed me, yet was I caught up in his devotions and unable to pursue the matter. The joy his body was able to bring to mine was a never-ending thing, and much did we revel in that joy till Mehrayn was no longer able to continue. For a long time the male continued to lie atop me and look down into my eyes.
"I do believe I detect a purr in the throat of my hadat," said he, clearly pleased. "To cause a hadat to purr, a man need only put her to her back and stroke her deep."
"True," said I with a smile, "and yet must a male be ever wary of her claws. The claws of a hadat are never long sheathed."
To prove the truth of my words I set my own claws to the flesh of his back and drew them gently down, and the male affected to cringe as though in pain.
"Ah, Sigurr, she wounds me!" he moaned, thrashing about so that his body touched mine at all points. "Surely she now shows her jealousy at my intention to take another wench to my altar. Once she has gone, though, how may I not take another wench? When she has returned to my side there will be no other, and yet while she is gone "
No longer was his tone light, his eye sparkling. Soberly did he gaze at me, and surely did I believe his words were incomprehensible. The light of the fey bathed his features in the glow of growing warmth, and of a sudden it came to me that I had not the time to puzzle out his meaning. My task awaited me, the task which had for too long been put off.
"And now she must be gone," said I, touching the serious lines of his face. "Release me, male, so that we may be about the duties which await us."
"Ah, yes, the duties which await us," said he with a sigh, yet he remained motionless. "We shall each of us see to our duties, and yet - you have not spoken of your feelings toward my taking another to my altar for devotions. Do you mean to blame me for obeying the word of my god?"
"For what reason would I do so strange a thing?" I asked, truly perplexed. "Were you pledged to follow me in servitude, then would your use be mine to keep or give to another. As you do not follow me, I have no more right to direct you in the matter than you have the right to direct me so. Though you are male you are, in a manner of speaking, a war leader; who is there below Mida who may say who a war leader takes to her sleeping leather?"
"Oh, indeed," said he, essaying a smile. "You may no more hold me at fault than I may hold - " His words stopped abruptly to be followed by an odd smile and strange expression. "You - mean to take another to your - sleeping leather during our parting?" he asked in a strange voice. "You are a war leader, and will therefore lie with another man?"
"Should the desire come to me," I agreed with a shrug, moving somewhat beneath him. "There will undoubtedly be many males among the home tents of the enemy Midanna, and once I have won their leadership the males will be eager to please. Mehrayn, you must release me now, for I cannot move past the bulk of you."
"Oh, indeed, release you," said he, at last beginning to rise from the altar. "The - males will be eager to please you, and yet by then I will have led my legions to rejoin you. There will be little need for you to seek another when I am there."
"The matter will be seen to in its own time," said I, relieved, as I rose from the platform. Much did I dislike all that belonged to Sigurr, although I had ignored the dislike for Mehrayn's sake. "It may perhaps be necessary that I honor one or more of the favorites of those who will follow me," said I, stretching my body. "I will then put aside my life sign and use the males gently, so that I do not cause them upset."
"I cannot conceive of a man alive who would find upset at your use," muttered Mehrayn, eyeing me where I stood. "Even those who willingly enslave themselves. And yet - I had forgotten about your life sign. With your life sign about your lovely throat, you will feel desire for none of them."
The thought seemed to please the male as he grinned and chuckled. Again was I perplexed, even as I retrieved and replaced my breech and dagger, and bent for my sword. Once it was belted about me, I saw that Mehrayn did likewise. Much would it have pleased me to wash the smell of a male from me before taking my leave, yet would the washing be more thorough when once I found a stream or lake in the forests through which I meant to ride.
I strode to the platform to find my life sign - and my fingers closed on air. Thinking I had mistaken the place, I looked about, yet nowhere was the life sign to be seen. In sudden upset I threw all things from the platform, the bow, the shafts, the flame-maker and comb I had prepared, yet all to no avail. The platform stood bare of all things - most especially my life sign.
"What occurs here, wench?" asked Mehrayn, halting beside me. "Do you mean to throw the whole room about now that you will no longer have the use of it?"
"My life sign," I said, immediately turning toward him. "Have you moved it elsewhere, male?"
"Not I," said he, with a frown. "Perhaps it has fallen behind the table."
Quickly then did he reach to the platform, lift it from where it stood and peer beneath, with no success. Clearly the life sign was no more beneath the platform than upon it. The male then began a slow, careful search among those things that I had thrown to the floor cloth, yet a thought had come to me that held me from joining his search.
In only one manner might the life sign have flown so completely from where it had been left, and in such a manner was I able to know of Mida's displeasure with me. As Mehrayn stood to look about himself in great frustration, I quietly walked to those things I had thrown to the floor cloth and began gathering them to me.
"The life sign is not there, wench," said Mehrayn, giving me no more than a glance as he continued to look about. "Surely must it have been left elsewhere in error, the two of us so taken with falar that we knew not what was done. First we shall search this entire room, and should we fail to find it we must return to Aysayn's apartment and search there as well."
"There is no need," said I, holding the things I would soon take to the forests with me, shaking my hair back from my arms. "No search will discover that which has been reclaimed by the one who gave it."
"What foolishness do you speak?" he asked, turning his look of displeasure from all about to me. "The life sign has merely been misplaced, not reclaimed. Would your Mida take from you the magic of her healing powers and Sigurr's upon the dawn of the fey you ride to battle at her bidding? Such a thing would be inconceivable."
"Patience is more often to be found in mortals than in goddesses," I replied, stringing my bow. "Perhaps it came to Mida that I would have little need of her magic healing when I concerned myself with no other thing than dallying with a male. I must now see to her task without the aid of her magic, and for this I may blame no one other than myself. I cannot say I knew no better."
The bile rose high in me at thought of my stupidity. When one surrounds oneself with males, one begins to think as they, a thing I had not known was possible. I now must return to the forest ways as quickly as possible, and hope to avoid any further disasters.
"Should one be at fault, that one is myself," said Mehrayn, his firm hand resting on my shoulder. "I cannot believe, however, that the life sign has been reclaimed, and will immediately begin my search to prove the contention. You may assist me or merely sit and await the results; I will not be proven wrong."
"Perhaps not," said I, showing no awareness of his hand on me. "I, however, have already been proven wrong, and have not the time to sit about in idle patience. Should you find the life sign, you may bring it after me when your legions are prepared to march."
"Bring it after - No!" exclaimed Mehrayn, turning me quickly by the shoulders and snatching away the newly strung bow. "You cannot ride to battle without the protection given you! Do you seek crippling or death?"
"Do you mean to say that the war leader Jalav has never before faced battle without protection?" I demanded. So great was my anger at this insult that my hand closed about the hilt of my sword. The male saw the effect of his words upon me, yet showed annoyance rather than contrition.
"Do not think to lure me from my stand with misdirection, wench," said he, in a tone of disapproval. "I know well enough that you have faced battle many times and had need of no protection other than your sword. Yet I would also know how many of those times you alone faced enemies without number? How many of those times was done what you are about to do? No mortal wench - or man - may face your task without the protection of the gods, and this you may not deny."
"My task is what I may not deny," I said, the insult diminishing somewhat, the stiffness remaining unchanged. "When taken as a slave in Bellinard, I faced enemies without number; when held with the Hosta by the males of Ranistard, I faced enemies without number; when captured by Ceralt and his Belsayah, I faced enemies without number; when sent as a slave to the Caverns of the Doomed, I faced enemies without number. Also did I walk the lines for Silla trash, as the scars upon me testify, yet did I survive to avenge the insult. Do not speak of what you know not of, male, and beware giving insult. Jalav does not care to swallow insult."
"Nor has she spoken, till now, of what service to the gods has entailed for her," said the male, his green eyes looking down upon me. "These Silla, who gave you such terrible wounds as to cause the scarring you wear - they are enemy Midanna, are they not? They stand among those who unknowingly await you, do they not?"
"They do not," I replied, turning from him to fetch the bow he had thrown aside. "Those Silla for whom I walked the lines have been sent to Mida's Blessed Realm, some by my sword, some by the swords of those who follow me. The balance of the Silla lay in capture to the males of Ranistard, beside my own Hosta. When the strangers have been seen to and Mida satisfied, the Hosta will be freed, and likely the Silla as well."
I straightened with the bow in my hand, and turned to face him squarely.
"Must we bare blades before I am able to continue on in Mida's service? I would regret the loss of you, male, yet the Hosta wait and the gods may not be denied."
"Indeed, denial is reserved to mortal men alone," said he, grimacing. "Should I attempt to stand in your path, I will be blown from it by those who may not be denied. I dislike being moved about so." He looked at his altar a moment, and then back at me. "Very well. As I am given no alternative, I shall see you upon your way. When your life sign is found, I shall follow after with it."
He came then to aid me in gathering the few things I would take to the forests, and another moment saw us moving toward the door which led from his chamber. Mehrayn put a hand to the door to open it, yet did he hesitate and then bend an odd look upon me.
"And who might this - Ceralt of the Belsayah be, in whose capture you were?" he asked, the oddness also a part of his tone. "No doubt a man of low character, who sought to give you no other thing than pain and shaming, a man whose life was well ended by the edge of your blade."
I, too, hesitated before the door, remembering Ceralt. As tall and broad as Mehrayn was Ceralt, with eyes nearly as light, yet was Ceralt dark of hair, and darker of skin despite Mehrayn's tanning. Many were the memories I had of Ceralt, not all of them unpleasant.
"Ceralt - was he who bought me as slave in Bellinard, he who claimed me as his own in Ranistard, he who found me after I had walked the lines for the Silla and lay near to death," said I, seeing each of these things against the wood of the door as I spoke of them. "It was he who was chosen by Mida to bring me to her, and for that reason was I given into his capture for the journey.
"Ceralt wished to make me his, and would not acknowledge my service to Mida, therefore was his life nearly forfeit at journey's end. I - bargained with Sigurr for his life and the lives of those others with whom we traveled, then left them and rode to raise the Sigurri. Ceralt was too gravely wounded to speak with, yet did I leave word with others that he was not to seek me again, therefore shall I never lay eyes upon him again."
"I see," said Mehrayn quietly. "You warned him away, therefore will he refrain from seeking you out. Merely by cause of the warning."
"Certainly," said I, understanding naught of his oddness. "Nearly was his life lost by cause of his insistences. No other than a fool would attempt the pursuit of that which has been denied him by the gods."
"The truth of your words cannot be denied," said Mehrayn, with a small, odd smile. "No other than a fool would do such a thing."
With such comment was the door then opened before me, so that I might walk through. I did so without hesitation, relieved that the conversation need no longer be continued. As a Sigurri male, Mehrayn did well in upholding the greater strangeness of all Sigurri.
The corridor we entered was carved from stone, thick candles illuminating the black of the walls, as well as the small platforms which stood here and there against those walls, and the silver sconces in which the candles themselves were held. Though other doors appeared at intervals in the black walls along the corridor, no other living being did we see till we descended to the level below.
Here were some few Sigurri males moving about their business, two slave females in red hip cloths and bare, red-tipped breasts who sought to take the dust from those things which stood about, and one slave female who bore a large wooden board laden with provender. When her eyes touched Mehrayn she halted and slipped to her knees, her head bending as far as possible above the board.
Light of hair and eye was the slave, of a similar coloring to Ilvin, the Hitta warrior who had wished to accompany me to the land of the Sigurri, yet no further did the similarity run. Had Ilvin been captured by males, I much doubted that she would have knelt so easily. Midanna warriors do not so easily acknowledge themselves slave.
"For whom is that tray intended, slave?" asked Mehrayn, pausing to look down at the female, until he seemed to understand. "Nearly had I forgotten! Both Aysayn and Chaldrin slept beneath my roof, so that they, too, might see you on your way. It will be the work of no more than a moment to fetch them, and then we may see to provisioning you. Aysayn undoubtedly sent for a tray in the belief that you were not yet prepared to depart. Await me here, wench, as I shall return in a moment."
The male turned then and rapidly retraced his steps in the direction from which we had come, leaving the slave where she knelt and a Midanna warrior in whom impatience flared with the strength of Mida's light at mid fey. I looked briefly about at those who hurried to and fro, saw none who seemed intent upon barring my way, slung my bow across my shoulders and added the case of shafts to my left, then purposely took my leave.
To one side of Mehrayn's dwelling stood a smaller dwelling called stables, that which housed the kand in Mehrayn's possession. No Sigurri was then about, and no sign that a kan had been prepared for me, though as expected, brought disappointment. The stone of the floor was unlittered with the stiff, yellow stall bedding, as though one had already been there to clear away the trailings of the fey previous, leaving my feet an easier path through the dwelling. I sought the kan I had brought from Bellinard, thinking it might be among those of Mehrayn and, surprisingly, there in the dimness to the back of the dwelling, so it was.
The beast turned its head to regard me as I slid in beside it, softly whickering to show its recognition. A glance about the enclosure showed its bridle hung upon the wall, within easy reach. It was the work of a moment to place it upon the beast, another moment to tie my small pack of belongings into its mane, and then did I back the beast from the enclosure and mount in a single, fluid jump.
My weight upon the yellow and brown kan and its release from confinement caused it to dance about in anticipation, as pleased as I at the prospect of departure, as eager as I to be shut of the cities and doings of males. I touched its sides with my heels and we danced forward, leaving the dimness for the growing light and warmth beyond.
There were few about to see me ride from the glittering black of Mehrayn's dwelling, those few heedless of me as they moved along upon errands of their own. Truly had Mida sent a glorious fey for my travel's beginning, one which would be all the more glorious once the forests had been reached. The road tended ever downward, for the city of the Sigurri was built level upon level, carved from the face of the mountain against which it had been built.
I rode past glittering black upon the fifth and fourth levels, yet the third and second brought more and more red-black dwellings to stand about the glittering black. The glittering dwellings of the higher levels were for those of higher station, those of lower level red-black for those of lower station. Much were males concerned with position in life, as though there was importance to be found in so foolish a male thing. What greater importance was there than to gain the position of war leader to warriors of worth during the glory of battle? Those who were Midanna were warriors all, yet even the Sigurri had those about who were other than warriors.
I looked about at those males of the lower levels who did not wear the black of Sigurr, those males who stood sweeping dust and dirt from before their odd-appearing dwellings, those males who saw to the kand of those from above who paused on their level, those males who did naught save stand about and converse idly with others like themselves.
For what reason were they permitted to remain in what was purportedly a city of warriors? They none of them wore weapons, these males who looked at me with unvoiced heat as I rode by, yet did they live among those who fought in the name of Sigurr. Much though I had tried, I could conceive of no use for these males, no reason for their presence; it remained one of the many male oddities.
The greatest number of those who were about were to be found upon the lowest level, as it had been when I had arrived at the city. Males in many colored body cloths, females in hip wraps which reached to their ankles, youths, babes, kand, wagons, noise, motion, stench. I urged my kan forward as quickly as possible through the mass, again feeling the illness to which I would never become accustomed.
The dwellings standing so close upon one another contrived to keep the bedlam within and multiplied beyond belief, each shouting voice the voice of ten, each presence the presence of ten, each odor the strength of ten. Bodies pressed close all about me and about each other, causing my kan to snort with displeasure, causing me to struggle to keep hand from sword hilt.
Much did I feel the need to lay all about me and clear a space within which one might breathe, yet was it a thing I might not do. Though the sweat beaded my brow and grew upon my body, though my seat upon my kan became less secure by cause of the moisture, still must I ride slowly forward with the flow. Those about me had not named themselves enemy to me; in honor I might cause them no harm.
It seemed as though half the fey had passed before the multitude thinned and the way carried me from the city. With none before me I allowed my kan his head, and quickly did his ever-lengthening stride take us farther and farther away. Truly were cities a thing of males, confining, violating, unreasoning and maddening.
The open countryside through which I rode was a gift from Mida in comparison, the occasional dwellings and toiling field-males notwithstanding. The muscles of my kan bunched over and again as the beast strove to increase its pace, and I tightened my knees and bent forward, encouraging it to an even greater pace.
Not long did I allow my mount to continue at full tilt, for there was a considerable journey before us. I slowed our plunge to an easy trot, freed my bow from about my shoulders, then looked more purposefully for food stuffs. There was a small hunger in me at that time, brought about by having fed thrice each fey as the males did, yet would I soon revert to the proper trail manner of only twice each fey. To be free of males was to be free to act as a warrior preferred, with none to insist upon another way, a supposedly superior way.
Abruptly I slowed the kan to a stop, slid from its back, placed my bow upon the stone of the way, and crouched with my arms about me. With head bowed I attempted to force the trembling from my body, much as my previous thoughts had attempted to force the trembling from my mind. Never before in my life as a warrior had I ridden forth without my life sign, the life sign which was the guardian of my soul.
I raised my head and breathed deeply of the sweet, silken air, warmed to perfection by the climbing light of the fey, lifting my face to the gentle breeze which whispered by. Once thought upon, the reason for my difficulty became clear; others might dismiss consideration of Mida's displeasure, yet Jalav was not among them. I had put aside the wishes of Mida and had paused to dally with males, therefore had my life sign been taken.
Was I then to be allowed the presence of those selfsame males, to allay the loss of the life sign? I laughed once, bitterly, knowing myself a fool. Never again would I be allowed the presence of Mehrayn, just as the presence of Ceralt had been denied me. My life and efforts were Mida's alone, and were I to forget the lesson, it would soon be recalled to me. I was to continue on as I was, without life sign and without accompaniment, and I was to prevail.
Failure would bring a greater loss than one single life alone, all those Midanna who followed me, all the Hosta lying in capture, those were the lives which would be forfeit should I fail. The other clans of Midanna would enter battle leaderless and would fall, leaving none to aid the Hosta at battle's end. So many lives looking to one, and the possessor of that one sat crouched upon the stone of a way, trembling from a punishment justly earned, bewailing the loss of males as though she were city slave-woman.
In full disgust I rose from the crouch, taking my bow with me, feeling the weight of the sword which hung at my side, the comfort of the presence of the dagger in my leg bands. It came to me then that my life sign had not been about my neck when I had faced Chaldrin for my freedom, nor had it been there during the battle in which I had stood with Aysayn and the other males. Mida alone had watched over her warrior, and now a task had been given me which I would see to - and after the task would there be opportunity to mourn the loss of those who were denied me. I caught up the reins of the grazing kan and mounted quickly, then continued on toward the forests which awaited me.
Large was the area cleared about the city by those of the city, yet was I able to make the forests not long after the light had reached its highest. A paslat had foolishly shown itself from the fields as I passed it, therefore I had already fed upon its flesh, raw and bloody and satisfying as cooked meat was not. The paslat had been small, the leavings less than that which had been swallowed, therefore had I left them behind me; the shaft which had caught the paslat had been retrieved to fly again, when hunger next touched me.
Well enough satisfied was this Midanna, save for the absence of a skin of water from which to drink. The blood of the paslat had bred something of a thirst in me, and therefore was my first desire upon entering the forests the seeking out of a stream. I would not pause to bathe till the city of the Sigurri lay far behind me, yet was there time enough to drink.
The smell of water was faint yet unmistakable beneath the green of the trees, calling to my mount as clearly as to myself. The heat of the fey lay upon both of us, causing the very air to waver in the occasional bright shafts falling through the trees. The stream appeared abruptly beyond a line of bushes, running happily above its bed of rock and stone, spreading into a pool at the point we met it.
I slid from my kan and bent to the clear blue gurgling below the bank, drank my fill, then stood and waited while my mount did the same. The undisturbed quiet of the forest filled me with great pleasure and a large measure of calm, both of which were welcome to one with many thoughts racing about within. I paced a step or two farther about the pool, considering it a pity I had not the time to bathe - then stopped with hand to sword and looked quickly about. There was sign at the pool, unexpected sign, and no longer did the forest seem serene.
A hunter must be one with her surroundings, and Midanna were hunters as well as warriors. Again I tested what little wind there was, read the lellin song with sharpened ear, sought narrow-eyed for unusual movement. I took hand from hilt and again examined the sign upon the ground. Two had stopped at the pool no more than a pace from where I stood, one having had a leather sack within which was thrust various herbs, some which healed, some which flavored provender.
The sack lay where it had been dropped, amid signs of a brief struggle, whereafter they who had knelt beside the pool to drink had been carried off. No indication of spilled blood marred the trail, therefore were those who had been carried off either taken alive or ended bloodlessly. The matter was no true concern of mine, yet is it wise to refrain from beginning a journey before being aware of that which may come behind. Again I looked about narrow-eyed, to be sure none awaited me unseen, then slowly followed the clear trail before me.
More deeply into the woods was I led, at one point seeing that those I followed had halted briefly for some unknowable reason. Still did the ground sign indicate a double burden for each, and neither had put aside that burden. My pace, though cautious, was faster than theirs; the sign quickly grew fresher and more recent, necessitating even greater caution.
When the birdsong all about stilled to occasional twittering and leaf-stirring I began to edge forward with no sounds of my own, quickly coming upon a point where words were to be heard, sounds alone with no meaning. Behind the word- sounds were whimperings and weepings in higher voices, confirming the tale the ground sign had given hint of: those who spoke were male, those who wept female. Another three paces took me to the very edge of a sizable clearing, wherein stood and lay more folk than I had anticipated. The thickened brush hid me easily from their eyes, yet were their words now wholly intelligible.
" Oneness surely provides for those in need," said one, a large, light-haired male wrapped in brown body cloth. He, like the other three males he spoke with, wore sword and dagger and no further coverings, and stood looking down with amusement upon the two Sigurri females lying bound at their feet. The females wore hip coverings, one in yellow, one in green, yet were their breasts as open to the air as mine, showing them to be free females of the lowest levels. They squirmed about in the leather which bound them wrist and ankle, unable to free themselves, anguished at their capture yet helpless to do other than weep.
"These two would have seen more adequately to our needs at the beginning of our hunt," said a second, a male with hair as red as Mehrayn's, casting an annoyed glance toward the largest knot of males in the clearing. "With the easing of their wounds, they begin to look upon our captures with an eye toward sharing. They seem unacquainted with the laws under which we live."
"And with their numbers greater than ours, it seems unlikely that we shall be able to adequately instruct them," said the first, sourly. "I, for one, however, having traveled so far with so little to show for it, have no intention of giving over that which is mine. Should they wish wenches of their own, they may hunt for them as we have."
"They claim the status of warriors, and therefore feel themselves exempt from the need to hunt," said a third, a male as light-haired as the first, whose tone was as sour as the other's. "By the blessing of the Serene Oneness, we now have wenches enough for ourselves; I will no more share mine than Ramsarn will share his. How do you mean to see to this, Gengan?"
"I know not," sighed the red-haired male, he who had been named Gengan. "Were it possible to take the wenches and depart unnoticed, I would do so immediately. And yet those warriors are cousins to us, far from their homes and wounded from the battle which was joined with those of the dark god's legions. May we in honor abandon them in their need, when they have done no more than look upon our wenches? How might we face the Serene Oneness in prayer, if we were to - "
"Ho, Gengan, bring them closer so that we may all see them," called a male from the scowled-upon knot, stepping forward with two others close upon his heels. A full five hands in number were these other males, all marked with wounds from recent battle, six of their number so badly taken that they lay unmoving upon pelts with others in attendance upon them. The four who had spoken not far from me turned toward the male who had shouted, little of friendliness to be seen in the movement.
"We will be pleased to share sight of our good fortune with you, Nobain," said this Gengan, an easy heartiness to be heard in his voice. "The Serene Oneness has smiled upon us and we now have six wenches, one for each man of our hunting pack. We six need never wench-hunt again."
"You are men to be envied, Gengan," returned the male called Nobain, a sleekness to his tone as he and the others watched the fetching of the new females. The two were lifted from where they lay and carried into the center of the clearing, where they were again placed upon the grass. The four males stepped back so that the others might see the females, and a murmur of appreciation arose from the larger set, all of whom wore body cloths of gray.
It had become clear that these were of the force which had done battle with Mehrayn and his males, a remnant which had run dishonorably. Sharply did my lip curl at thought of such cowardice, yet were these males, after all, with little else to be expected. All gray-clad males able to move rose to stand with the initial three, and much did their gazes show the heat of their desire.
"These newest are fully as pleasing to the eye as those others," said the male Nobain, stepping forward to look down upon the females before raising his gaze to the males who stood above their captives. "As the Serene Oneness has seen fit to bless you so, surely you will not refuse to share your good fortune with those less fortunate, eh, cousin? We seek no more than their use till we part, and then they will again be yours alone. So little a thing - "
"The laws forbid it!" snapped the male Ramsarn, the harshness of his words cutting across the speech of Nobain, his features twisted in fury. "No man may take the woman of another, save that the other allows it! You enter battle in the name of the Serene Oneness, man! Do his laws mean naught to you?"
"We enter battle in the name of the Serene Oneness so that you and those like you might be free to wench-hunt!" returned this Nobain, his face cold as his hand caressed the hilt of his sword. "The laws do indeed say that no man may simply take the use of another man's woman, therefore will we now have your freely given assent - else shall there be no living men to whom these wenches belong. What say you?"
Ramsarn stood with hands closed tight, fury in the gaze he sent to Nobain, restrained by the hand of Gengan upon his shoulder and the clear knowledge that he looked upon the promise of death. Again was I struck by the strangeness that there were among males those who were unfamiliar enough with the use of a sword that they dared not face others with a hilt in their hands, else their lives would be undeniably ended.
These males in colored body cloths must give over the use of their captured females to those in gray, for those in gray would easily best them. Greatly pleased was I that the dilemma of the hunting males was not mine to deal with, for yielding without battle was not countenanced by Midanna. As I had seen that which I had come to see I prepared to depart as silently as I had come - and then my gaze fell upon something I had not seen earlier.
At the beginning of the heated words between the males Ramsarn and Nobain, two other males in colored body clothes had stepped forward from where they had been, allowing an unobstructed view of those who lay upon the grass behind them. Clearly were they the previous captures of the hunting males whom I had paid no mind - till my gaze had slid across them and then been sharply pulled back.
One was a female of town males such as Islat, the town which had lain beneath the protection of the Hosta before the Hosta had been taken by the males of Ranistard. Small was the female, as small as the Sigurri females, also was she covered with cloth from neck to ankles, cloth which was soiled from long, hard use. Beside her lay a Midanna, one who continued to struggle against the leather which bound her, paying no heed to the snarls her struggles put in her long, pale hair.
Clearly was I able to see that warrior, yet even had I no more than a glimpse I would have known Ilvin, the Hitta warrior who had so strongly wished to accompany me on my journey to the city of the Sigurri. I had refused to permit her to accompany me, yet had she clearly disobeyed and followed without permission, now reaping what disobedience had brought her. She lay in the capture of males, the reason for which was surely to be found lying next to her.
Beside Ilvin lay the last of the captives, no longer struggling, yet not acquiescent. Two warriors of the Summa were they, one brown-haired, the other light-haired, yet not so light-haired as Ilvin. The blue of their clan coverings was not the blue of the Hitta, yet was it difficult to see this beneath the soiling of the coverings. Only with Ilvin beside them was it possible to know the difference easily, and the doubt was surely what had drawn the young Hitta warrior.
Had they been her clan sisters she could not have abandoned them in their capture, and her close approach to them had gotten her captured. The Summa and the town female had undoubtedly been taken by the hunting males in Midanna lands; Ilvin, hovering about the city of the Sigurri, awaiting my reappearance, had observed the arrival of the hunters and their captives, and then had been taken by them.
Shame undoubtedly lay heavy on the shoulders of Ilvin, for none of the males seemed harmed, as though she had been taken with naught of battle to speak of. That she had been taken by cause of the presence of Summa rather than sister Hitta must truly gall, for Summa and Hitta were blood enemies.
I sighed as I stood hidden among the forest greenery, trying to cool my blazing vexation. Though Ilvin had earned her present plight through disobedience, how was I, in honor, to leave her to it? And what of those Summa who lay beside her? Hosta, too, were blood enemies to the Summa and Jalav remained Hosta, yet was Jalav to claim the leadership of all Midanna.
How was I to stand before the enemy clans of Midanna with head held high, knowing I had consigned two of their number to slavery among males? The task set to my hand by Mida was clear, yet how was I to abandon my followers? The truth of it was that I could not, no matter that Mida would surely frown upon the added delay. Honorable goals may not be achieved through dishonorable means.
The males' doings now concerned me, therefore did I listen closely when the male Gengan stepped forward.
"There is little else we may do save agree," said he heatedly to the male Nobain. "You and your men may have use of our wenches, yet must you take care to cause them no harm. It must be clearly understood that they are ours, Nobain, and may not be kept beyond the time of our parting."
"Certainly not, Gengan, certainly not," returned the male Nobain, a wide grin of pleasure taking him as those others in gray chuckled aloud. "We have little use for wenches save in our furs, therefore shall they be returned to you at the time of our parting. Now shall we continue on our way, to put a greater distance between us and those demons of Sigurr. Should they discover us here, so near to their city, we will none of us have a use for wenches."
At his word the other males all turned from him, those in gray hurrying to obey, those of the smaller set reluctantly doing the same. There were opened packs to be closed, provender to be kept or thrown away, kand to be brought out, wounded to be mounted.
With great care I returned as I had come, reentering the forest and making for the stream where my kan had been left, frustrated that I was not able merely to step within the clearing and challenge the males. Their numbers were far too great for a single warrior to attempt, therefore was I able to do no more than skulk about, awaiting a moment when the three Midanna might be freed. That sat badly with me, yet it was all I might do.
My kan awaited me where I had left him, calmly cropping the grass beside the stream, my bow lying not far from where he stood. The herb-gathering bag dropped by the Sigurri females also lay where it had been left, and quickly did I take it up and empty it of what herbs had been gathered. The bag was a large one, and once carefully rinsed within the stream, it did well holding what water I would require on my new journey. In following the males I would have little time to seek out the ponds and streams of the forest, which the heat of the land would cause me to require. Best I carry water with me, and try instead to free my warriors.
No more than two hands of reckid passed before I was prepared to depart, yet were the males I followed no different from the balance of their ilk. Nearly a hin was it before all were mounted and away, the wounded tied to their kand, the captive females each ridden before a male in colored body cloth.
He who held Ilvin was the male Ramsarn, and much did the fury burn high within her that the male dared to fondle her breasts as they moved with their set through the trees. Her wrists pulled at the leather which bound her as she struggled, yet did her movement do no more than put a grin upon the face of the male touching her. Well punished for her disobedience would the warrior Ilvin be, and not soon prepared to repeat that disobedience.
The hind passed with little save movement to fill them, yet did I, at one point, find a pleasant distraction. Males in gray were sent out to hunt, and in that way became mine. One by one I put a shaft in each, paused only long enough to cut the shaft free, then continued on to the next till all five had been left for the children of the wild. In such a manner did I reduce the number of those to be faced, and also bring hunger to those who remained. That Midanna warriors rode with them mattered not; Midanna warriors would sooner hunger than take provender from their captors.
Darkness was perhaps a hin from settling when the males found a clearing to their liking and called a halt to the travels of the fey. The disappearance of the five males I had slain had been noted, yet more with annoyance than with apprehension. The male Nobain shouted his males about, filled with great anger, yet was his anger relieved in large part when a nilno bolted through the clearing in great fright, only to be brought down by the shafts of two of the males.
Their good fortune brought much laughter to them, yet I saw in this an indication of Mida's displeasure. The males would feed well despite my attempts to the contrary, retaining their strength and vigilance. Not soon would I find myself able to free my Midanna, and greatly did I chafe at the delay. The longer I kept from my task, the greater would grow the anger in Mida - yet it was not possible that I leave my present attempts.
When I returned to the clearing the males had chosen after seeing to my kan, the nilno had been skinned and set upon a large spit to roast. Two of the males in gray turned the spit, inattentively however. Silently I moved through the line of males guarding the camp, approached as near as I might, and then was able to see what held their attention. As the travels of the fey were done and the provender not yet ready, the males were amusing themselves with their captives.
The whimpers of the two Sigurri females and the town female reached me where I crouched at the edge of the clearing, no sound save struggle coming from the three Midanna. All six had been brought to the center of the clearing by gray-clad males, those in colored body cloths following sullenly after. The six captives struggled against the strength of the males who held them as they were brought before the male Nobain. He looked with great pleasure upon them, only turning as the male Gengan addressed him.
"Your word was given that no harm would come to our wenches," said Gengan, the others of his males stiffly astand at his back. "Is this the manner in which your word is kept, Nobain?"
"Indeed do I seek to keep, my word," said Nobain, grinning. "These wenches must serve a large number of men this darkness, therefore must they be prepared for sustained eagerness. You who use them first will have no more eagerness than those who use them last."
"Your words hold no meaning for us!" snapped Ramsarn, he who had held Ilvin before him. "If we are to use our wenches first, for what reason have they been brought before you? Are you so foolish as to think we shall perform here, for your edification and entertainment?"
"You need not tremble in fear at thought of lost privacy, man," Nobain replied laughingly, despite Ramsarn's anger. "I have had the wenches brought here so that they might be treated before your use of them. Such treatment will enhance the pleasure of your own use as well as ours, and as the wenches are yours, you men may do the honors."
"We would know what treatment you speak of," said Gengan, eyeing the small leather sack which was then being given to Nobain. "There are few enough wenches about in these parts, that to harm these would be "
"This sack contains a salve made from the bulb of the gimba plant," said Nobain, as he held the leather sack high. "When once these wenches have had it spread within them, they will desire no more than the use of men. This desire will last for hind, and will allow each of us their eager use without their tears of attempted refusal. Would you prefer instead that they be taken till they wept?"
The three city females seemed to know naught of the gimba plant, for city females also knew naught of the sthuvad drug used by warriors. From the Gimba plant was our sthuvad drug derived, that drug which made it possible to use a male captive over and over again without loss of strength. Never had I heard of a salve having been made from it, that might extend its use to females. My left hand closed about my sword while where I crouched, a gesture as useless as the anger which gripped me. One alone could do naught against so many, no more than remain in place and witness the degradation of sisters.
"My men will hold the wenches the while you men apply the salve," said Nobain to those in colored body cloths, his grin remaining strong. "Once they are beneath the sway of the salve, you may take them for use."
"You are generous to allow us the salving of our own wenches," said Gengan, sardonically. This generosity is unexpected. For what reason are you so eager to see us perform the task?"
"Why, man, merely for the reason that the wenches are yours," replied Nobain, with feigned innocence. "What other reason might there be? Take the salve now and apply it, for we others would have our turns as soon as may be."
"I think not," said Gengan, his decision joined grimly by the others. "We know not what you are about, Nobain, and we refuse to be gulled."
"I am merely about an attempt at having this salve applied," said Nobain. "As it must be applied, who is to do it if you will not?"
"We care not!" spat Ramsarn, as the males nodded with him. "Should you find the doing so necessary, you may do it!"
"An excellent suggestion!" said Nobain at once, great laughter having taken him. "As I have your freely given permission, I shall do that very thing. See to their positioning, men."
The males in gray who held the captives gave voice to laughter of their own, the while they prepared the captives they held as they were commanded. Gengan and Ramsarn and the others, filled so greatly with fury that their skin paled, allowed themselves to be put to one side with no further words, knowing they had indeed been gulled.
It had been in the mind of Nobain that they would not be permitted to touch their own captives, yet had he accomplished the doing without resort to sword threat. Their own suspicions had brought the males down, yet they saw the doing as other than their own. Now the male Nobain had other things of greater interest to occupy his attention.
Each of the captives had been put to her knees, wrists bound tightly behind, head bent to the ground by the fist tight in her hair. The male Nobain took himself first to the town female, clearly amused as he indicated that her long covering was to be raised. Whimpering quickly became protests of shock, yet was the town female unable to keep herself from being bared. The large hand of the male who held her stroked her bottom, causing her to voice agitated cries, and then did her cries sharpen to fear.
The male Nobain had also put a hand to her, first having put the fingers of that hand within the sack he held. With screams and weeping did she attempt to dislodge him from her body, over and again twisting herself about; he, with deep laughter, thrust yet farther into her, the hand of the other male aiding him in retaining his place. Slowly did he stroke about in her and as slowly withdrew, and then did he turn from her and look about himself.
With purposeful steps did he approach the Summa, gazing from one bared bottom to the other, deeply amused that no sound came from the females. Struggle there was aplenty yet no sound, even as they were touched, first the dark-haired warrior, then the light. Their bodies each twisted about with the effort to rid themselves of him, yet were they no more successful than the town female. Each was filled well with the contents of the leather sack, and then were the Sigurri females approached.
The clearing still rang with the screams of the two Sigurri females as the male Nobain at last reached Ilvin. The heat in his gaze was clear even in the fading light of the fey, and with much relish did he stroke his hand all about her, causing her to move in fury where she had been knelt. Her movement and fury caused greater amusement in the male, and much was she touched before his hand again dipped into the leather sack.
"You are truly to be congratulated, Ramsarn," said Nobain, as he delved deep within a furiously thrashing Ilvin. "This one has great spirit, so great that a man is challenged to tame her. Think you shall find it possible to master her?"
Bared teeth flashed briefly in the face of the male Ramsarn, the single forward step he had taken halted by the hand of Gengan upon his shoulder. Still were the males unwilling to face those who were gray-clad, even in the face of the laughter to be heard from Nobain.
"One such as she must be taught a proper fear of men," said Nobain, withdrawing from Ilvin and handing the leather sack to another. "Such teaching brings great amusement to one who does not himself fear the wench. For what reason have you not yet taught this wench to fear you, Ramsarn?"
"The wench has been mine less than one full fey," said the male Ramsarn, with a growl. "Should I wish her fear I shall have it, as easily as any other man!"
"The Serene Oneness teaches that we are to seek respect from our wenches, not fear," said the male Gengan cautiously, perhaps more to Ramsarn than Nobain. "Are we to liken ourselves to the followers of the beast god, those who will have naught save fearful service from their wenches? Are we not far better than they, in that we follow the teachings of one greater than their god?"
"Are we not men as they are, with hungers like theirs which must be fed?" returned Nobain, sharply. "As we follow the true god, who may say that our desires are not his? Does he not know our desires, does he not know our beliefs and needs? Were these desires, beliefs and needs contrary to his wishes, would we have been accepted to raise sword in his name? It is you who follow a false path, man, and we who truly know our god, as he knows us! No true man will have respect from his wench, when he may, instead, have her fear! Should he be able to have her fear."
Again did the gaze of Nobain fall upon the male Ramsarn, a male who seemed filled with less reason even than other males. With the eyes of the gray-clad male upon him his chin rose high, and sharply clear was the set of his jaw.
"I am able to have the fear of any wench," said Ramsarn, "even a wench such as that. I shall take her now, and teach her deep fear."
"She is not yet able to appreciate the lesson," said Nobain, a victorious glance at Gengan. At Ramsarn's words Gengan had left his former male's side, to stand stiffly silent with the others of his males, all stepping back from the male Ramsarn, who had chosen the stand of the gray-clad ones. "When once the salve has thrown her into a frenzy of need," said Nobain, "her fear will be deep and complete upon realizing that it is you she must look to for relief. Should you be uncertain, the place you must enter her is here."
Amid the loud, howling laughter of the gray-clad males, Nobain again put a hand to Ilvin, again causing her to throw herself about. Ramsarn, deeply shamed before his males, threw himself forward with hand to hilt, clearly intent upon battle. Deeply flushed was the face of Ramsarn as his sword began to clear his scabbard, foolish, mindless rage blinding his eyes to the doings of Nobain.
The second male had drawn at the first rushing steps of the other, and swiftly, before Ramsarn might raise his blade, leaped forward and cut the head from the first male. Deep red blood fountained into the deep red of the end of fey's light, and Ramsarn's body fell to Mida's sweet ground, soon to be one with it.
"The fool should have heeded the wisdom of your words, Gengan, and kept his blade sheathed," said Nobain, sparing no whit of attention for the other, deeply shocked male. "His unprovoked attack merely ended his life - and left this lovely wench unspoken for. I shall have to see to her myself."
The gray-clad males chuckled as Nobain wiped the smears from his sword upon the unmoving thigh of he who had been Ramsarn, then sheathed the weapon. Even I, who knew full well the lack of honor to be found among males, could scarcely credit the doings of the leader. Full clear had it been that the male Ramsarn could not have faced Nobain and been victorious; the youngest of my warriors would easily have fared better.
No more than slaughter had the action been, Nobain cravenly refusing to face the other male in honest battle even for the brief moment Ramsarn would have stood against him. I gazed upon this male called warrior with hand closed tight about sword hilt, nearly ill with the need to ask his life of Mida, yet was there Ilvin and the Summa to consider. Little pleasure would have come to me, were I given Nobain's life at the cost of Ilvin's.
In the moments I frothed in helpless rage, the craven Nobain had returned to Ilvin. Well was one able to see that it was she he had coveted, and for that reason had lured and slain the other male. Rarely did warriors bare blades over a male among the Midanna, for even a male who chose to follow a given warrior was shared among clan sisters when desire arose. Often had Midanna been called barbaric, yet never had I seen so barbaric a thing as two males at sword's point over a single female. The doing was entirely beyond reason, a thing to curl the lip of any warrior who witnessed it.
At a gesture from Nobain, Ilvin was straightened upon her knees and turned about, so that she might see the remains of the male who had first claimed her. Nobain watched closely as my warrior looked about in great anger, something of a smile turning his lips, and then did he take a single step forward.
"As you can see, wench," said he, "you have now become mine. Through battle prowess have I won you, and therefore shall you give me whatever pleasure I demand."
"Battle prowess," said Ilvin with a snort of disdain. "Ever have I seen greater battle prowess even among our warriors-to-be. Should you wish to prove battle prowess, face me instead - if you dare."
"You think to escape me by falling to my blade?" asked Nobain, greatly amused. "No, wench, you shall not escape my use, the use you will soon be in dire need of. When that need comes upon you, you will know me for your master; you will beg then, and pray I grant your pleading, yet perhaps I shall not. I may perhaps allow you to bear your need without relief, and only when it has passed put you to my use. You will then, perhaps, speak more respectfully to your master."
Again did Ilvin make a sound of contempt, yet had Nobain already turned from her to look upon those in colored body cloths. The males stood all in a clump, silent and unmoving as though they, too, had taken the edge of a blade. The touch of Nobain's gaze seemed to draw their attention, yet did they make no effort to speak before him. This he noted with a smile of satisfaction, then gestured to the others of the captive females.
"First use of those wenches is yours, I believe," said he, full pleased with the silent, fear-filled attention he had from those he so clearly looked down upon. "You will need to spend very few reckid upon them before you are able to take them to your furs, for the salve touches quickly. When once you have finished with them, you will then be responsible for the preparing of the nilno, which my men and I mean to partake of at the end of our - entertainment. Be very sure our provender is not allowed to burn."
Coarse laughter sounded about the clearing, low yet speaking well of the consternation felt by the hand of males in colored body cloths. Had they wished it, they might have drawn the blades hung at their sides, yet no other choice had they been given save, perhaps, to die.
Warriors, in their place, would have chosen the glory of death in battle much the sooner, yet these males had not the stuff of warriors within them. I knew not what use those males might be of in any manner save as the very slaves they emulated, yet was not surprised to learn that they would continue to be allowed the use of their captives. Males have a fondness for slaves, most especially ones which need not be faced before they might be chained.
The cheeks of the males in colored body cloths flushed as they slowly began making their way toward the captive females. They had been commanded to heat their respective females before the eyes of the gray-clad males, yet did they seem hesitant and unsure, as though they anticipated failure. Those who halted before the Summa seemed even further taken aback, for the two warriors looked upon them with deep contempt. He called Gengan had gone to the town female, who remained covered in cloth from neck to ankles, whimpering, yet had she begun to move about where she knelt, as though in growing discomfort beneath the cloth.
"No," she whispered, looking upward yet shrinking back where she knelt. "Gengan, you are a man of sensitivity and patience and understanding; you cannot mean to degrade me as those monsters ask! You must find a place of privacy for us as you have previously done, and there I will give you all you desire. You will not need to ask, not limit your appetites, nor even consider my wishes in the matter. I will be yours entirely!"
"So, you have previously begged her favors, eh, Gengan?" said Nobain, again bringing laughter to his males and the flush of shame to the victim of his words. "Have you never been told that a man requires naught of consent from a wench? Have you never been shown how easily the heat may be raised in the center of one such as she? Perhaps I speak idly, for perhaps you have not yet even had the bit. Have you tasted her?"
"She is now my woman, and I have done with her what a man ever does with his woman," replied Gengan, his speech stiff with insult. "That I have also acted as the Serene Oneness demands is no shame, rather is it an example you and your - warriors would do well to emulate. The pleasure brought a man thereby cannot be equaled."
"I do not doubt that such pleasure cannot be equaled," returned Nobain, still amused. "What man, used to far greater pleasure, would seek to lessen his enjoyment? There are those, I am told, who find unmatched bliss in constant denial, however. Is it possible, Gengan, that you are one such as that?"
"Blessed is he who seeks consent from his woman!" shouted the male Gengan, fists clenched and color high at the raucous laughter which surrounded him. "Should a woman be taken against her wishes, the Serene Oneness will frown upon the man's efforts and give him no response from her! You who have never had true response cannot know the unmatched quality of it!"
"I believe the quality you speak of consists entirely of whining, complaints and denial," said Nobain with a snort of derision, folding his arms as he looked upon the other male. "Already have you had the woman deny you, for you were to have warmed her, not merely approached her. The Serene Oneness sneers upon a male who fears to intrude upon the will of a use wench, and clearly do you show yourself to be one who has earned his disapproval. See now the doings of one who has been smiled upon."
A nod from Nobain brought a gray-clad male forth, one who was large and light-haired, and who smiled in anticipation. A wide hand in the chest of Gengan brusquely pushed the other male aside, and then was the gray-clad one astand before the town female. The female whimpered in fear and shook her head as she looked upward at this larger male, then did she attempt to cringe back when he crouched before her.
"I beg you not to touch me before all these men!" she blurted at once, her voice uneven and filled with great trembling. "You must take one of those others, instead, for they are shameless and far less than I. They are disgusting as well, and will surely squirm in great pleasure at your touch, which I shall not. You may do no more than force yourself upon me, which I shall accept if it is done in privacy. Surely you would prefer the use of a woman of quality in private, to her useless humiliation in public? It is clear there are few women of quality in this area; do you not covet the freely given use of one?"
The female looked anxiously upon the male, clearly believing she might barter her use, clearly caring naught for her sister captives, yet were her foolish hopes dashed when the male chuckled.
"There are no more than two qualities to be found in wenches," said he, reaching toward the cloth covering the legs of the female. "There are those wenches a man wishes to use, and those he does not. All else matters not in the least, no more than the wishes of the wench herself. So you have never squirmed in pleasure, eh, wench?"
"No, do not bare me so!" choked the female, attempting to back upon her knees, yet were her words as useless as her attempted movement. All within the clearing, the female captives as well as the males, watched with interest as the large, light-haired male raised the female's covering well above the center of her thighs, then put his hands to the fastenings of the upper part of her garment.
Amid many "Ohhh's!" of mortification were her breasts revealed, large and firm and scarcely a shame to be hidden beneath cloth. The oddness of town males was easily matched by their females; despite the fact that her sister captives were equally as bare-breasted, the female writhed and sobbed in humiliation with the thrusting back of the cloth covering her.
The male Gengan continued to stand with fists clenched, yet had his gaze been drawn to those breasts. When the hands of the light-haired male touched them, drawing a ragged gasp from the female as her flesh hardened, the male in colored body cloth wet his lips with his tongue and rubbed hard at his body with one hand, clearly unaware of the grimace which covered his face.
Slow moments passed as the town female suffered her breasts to be touched, her humiliation keen, yet not so keen that she was able to remain perfectly unmoving. When, at last, she was forced to shift where she knelt, her earlier discomfort increasing, the male who crouched before her took his hands from her breasts and grasped her thighs.
"You are a wench I care to use," said he, forcing her thighs wider before putting a hand to her. "First I will see you squirm, and then I will hear you beg."
Again coarse laughter sounded as the female gasped with widening eyes, her body greeting the intrusion of the male in a manner she had not expected. Much did it seem that she had intended to remain unmoving in her shaming, yet did she immediately begin twisting about in response to the touch upon her.
"No - do not - I cannot bear it!" she gasped, wide-eyed and bent nearly double above the hand between her thighs, her bound arms attempting to battle the leather which held her. "The fire - it burns so high - it grows from naught and consumes me - No! You may not do this! No!"
"I may not touch you so?" asked the male before her, greatly amused. "I may not tickle about your softness and rub awake the warmth? Very well, then, I shall cease."
With a final touch did the male then withdraw his hand from her, yet was the gesture scarcely the comfort expected by the female. Now her need had grown high, and quickly did it grow even greater. The female continued to move as though touched deeply by a male, her shock extended to disbelief.
"It will not cease!" she choked, writhing where she knelt, unaware of the laughter about her. "I cannot bear it as it is, and still it rises! I must be eased, I shall die if I am not eased! Please, I must be eased!"
"You squirm well for one who will not squirm," observed the male before her, again touching her breast. "You have squirmed, and now you must beg. Beg to be used, wench, beg to be used here, upon this very spot."
"I beg to be used!" screamed the female, seared to her soul by the flames rising within her, throwing her body about in mindless madness. "I beg to be used here, now, at once, I beg it! Please, I shall die if I am not used!"
The male's laughter came silent amid the screams of the female as he straightened from his crouch and reached to his body cloth, yet did a form suddenly appear from the lengthening shadows to thrust him aside as he had earlier thrust aside another. That other was Gengan, body cloth already opened, and swiftly did he fall upon, the town female, throw her to her back, and thrust deep within her. The screams of the female beat against the ears of all within hearing, a nerve-tearing sound in the desperation of it, yet was he who had been thrust aside unaffected by it.
The male's lips drew back in a snarl of rage, his fist clenched tight as his body moved toward the wildly pummeling Gengan; before he reached the other male, however, he first glanced toward his leader. Nobain showed deep satisfaction with the doings of Gengan, and disapproval for the anger of his male. Gengan was not to be halted in his doing, and though the male in gray grew angrier still, he made no further movement toward the other.
Much had I hoped that I might somehow find the males so deeply taken with their pleasure that they, too, might be taken, yet was the hope an idle one. All of the captives, the sneering Summa, proud Ilvin, the two Sigurri females, all were soon writhing to the urgings of the salve placed within them, the Sigurri screaming wildly, the Midanna softly moaning. Though Nobain had spoken of leaving Ilvin untouched in her need, he quickly found himself unable to deny the need of his own body amidst the use of the other captives.
Ilvin writhed slowly at his feet, eyes closed and body aflame, aware of naught save the agony she fought uselessly against, and the male was able to bear the sight of her no longer. Swiftly did he go to his knees above her, inflamed himself even more greatly with the touch of his hands to her body, and then was he preparing himself to enter her. I looked about, saw that those males not in possession of a captive remained alert to that which occurred about them, and abandoned the hope that I might somehow free my Midanna. Reluctantly yet with great relief, I left my place among the bushes and shadows and returned to where I had left my kan tethered.
A low whicker greeted my arrival, and I went to stroke my kan, at the same time attempting to still the wildly raging thoughts filling my head. My hand ached for the hilt of my sword, the need for spilling blood was a taste in my mouth which thickened my tongue, and calm was impossible. To be forced to leave my warriors as captives to males! To be unable to free them though I, myself, rode free and armed!
I turned from my kan and began stalking about, as helpless to halt the motion as to cease heaping abuse upon my own head. Upon learning that Midanna warriors were held captive to males, I had made the decision that I would see them freed; much good had the decision done them, as much as though I, too, were bound beside them.
Had I had even three or four warriors to stand with me, I would have attacked; to stand alone against such numbers would have meant certain death. Patience was necessary; I must await what came. Perhaps, should Mida desire strongly enough that I continue on with the task she had given me, the assistance of her aid might well be forthcoming. With Mida's aid my sword alone would suffice, and welcome indeed would be the sight of enemy blood upon its edges.
Although frustrated, I found a hunter's calm, enough so that I might return to my kan for a cut of the small matrig I had slain and skinned during the fey's ride. The greatest part of the heat had fled with Mida's light, leaving behind a pleasant cool breeze. I sat before the tree which stood nearest my kan, took a tasty mouthful of raw matrig, then leaned back to chew. Many of the words of the males had confused me ever since I had first begun traveling among males.
Both the male Nobain and the male Gengan had spoken of their god and yet, had they not called that god by the same name, one might easily have believed they discussed two entities rather than one. Each saw his god as being like unto himself, the one seeing diffidence and halting uncertainty, the other seeing aggression and impatient insistences. How it was possible for each to see so different a thing I knew not, nor even the why of their views differing so greatly from those of Ceralt and his brothers.
Those males, too, paid homage to that which was called the Serene Oneness, yet were Ceralt and his brothers unlike those who had once been Sigurri. Was he as Mida and Sigurr, this Serene Oneness, or in some manner entirely unlike them? Again and again was my path entwined with that of those who followed this Serene Oneness, males who brought pain to warriors both from without and within.
The lash and slave chains in Bellinard, capture and the lash in Ranistard, shaming and capture with Ceralt among his Belsayah - all more easily withstood than those feelings drawn forth by Ceralt and the memory of his arms. Wise indeed had Mida been to deny all males to her Midanna save those who were taken for use. Best would be to avoid them entirely, yet how was that possible when three Midanna now lay in the clutches of yet another set of them?
No more than a bite was left to the cut of matrig I held, therefore did I swallow down the urge to rid myself of it and swallow down the matrig as well. Little aid would I be to Ilvin and the Summa were I to become light-headed from lack of provender, and though I had been unable to keep them from the agony of unnatural use, there were many feyd of travel yet before the males. I was sure an opportunity would come to free the three Midanna. I rose to my feet and went to drink a bit of the water I carried, thinking only of the opportunity which would come, naught of that which was then being done to three bound warriors.