He glanced at the length of chain, then shook his head. As much as he enjoyed the sight of Bast in chains, there was too great a chance of ambush. “No tent. We may need to break camp quickly.”
Bast nodded, then simply loosened the girths on the saddles rather than remove them from the horses. “How far?”
“At the current pace, fifteen days.” Cutting through the woods was slower, but more direct. “Get a fire going, but keep it small.” He started gathering some additional wood, piling it for Bast, then began preparing the evening meal. “At our destination, certain behaviors will be expected of you. You’re to walk to my left, at least a pace behind. You’ll not speak unless spoken to, or you obtain permission. You’re my property, though, which means none touch you without my permission.”
“Understood.” Bast gave him a sharp nod.
When the food was done, he gestured for Bast to kneel. The man looked down at his own hands before simply raising an eyebrow. Rien chuckled. “Kneel, Bast.”
“Recreant poltroon.” Bast rolled his eyes, but obeyed, kneeling at his left.
Rien offered him the first morsel before taking a bite for himself. “Most slaves would be wiggling with delight to be hand fed by their masters. It’s a sign the slave is held in high esteem, deserving of affection and attention.”
“Most slaves likely don’t spend the entirety of the meal wondering how much effort is actually required to bite their master’s fingers off.” Bast accepted the next bite.
“Any slave who did have gall to bite would have their hide removed with a scourge, unless they were blessed to have a particularly kind-hearted master.”
“Or served a madman.”
“Also true.” Rien laughed. “Then again, most slaves wouldn’t command a price equal to four good horses, let alone a dozen.” He reached over and ruffled Bast’s hair. “I’ll take first watch.”
The first attack came the second night. Bastien hadn’t been asleep long when he heard the shout, and rolled up with his sword in hand in time to block a blow that had been aimed at him. Rien was laying too with his massive axe, and Bastien moved in to cover the man’s back. He caught a blow on his shield, then ran his blade through the attacker’s abdomen. Three more came at him. “Down.” Rien’s voice said.
Immediately Bastien dropped to one knee. The axe passed over his head as Rien’s swing slashed open all three men. He spun to the side and came up to meet the men charging out of the woods. He batted the first to the side with his shield, the slashed open the throat of the second. “Left.” Rien shifted in response to the word, and Bastien skewered the man coming in behind Rien.
A few heartbeats later, a dozen men were strewn about the camp, dead or dying. “Well, that was fun.” Rien laid his axe on his shoulder.
He caught a flash of movement from the corner of his eye, then raised his shield just in time to stop a crossbow bolt that would have taken Rien in the throat. “It was.” Bastien nodded. “Shall we do it again tomorrow?”
“We really should.” Rien started in the direction of the man frantically trying to reload.
After nearly two weeks of travel and five more attacks, Rien couldn’t help but note he and Bast were working together fairly well. The knight’s concentrated on defense, leaving him able to focus his axe and greater strength on offense. He glanced over at where Bast was doing some field repairs to his armor. Once they were home, he’d have a new set made for the man. “That move you did, where you knocked the guy down then practically took his head off with your shield…” He gestured to indicate the motions. “That was good, I liked that one.” He let out a low whistle. “I mean, did you see the blood spray?”
“Perfidious caitiff. Speaking of things that were a mess to clean up…” Bast just shook his head. “I’m fairly confident that last one was already dead. Cutting off other leg was overkill.”
Rien snorted. “There’s no such thing as overkill.” He frowned. “So what was the score on that last one?”
“You’re…” Bast blinked and shook his head. “Keeping score?”
“You’re not?” Rien stared at him. “You were the high score on two of the last fights, I was the high score on three. But…” He looked around. “I think this one might have been a tie, which means I win.”
“I congratulate you on your distinguished victory.” Bast finished repairing the strap, then gave his breastplate a critical look before setting it aside.
“Then you won’t mind me claiming my prize.” Rien grinned, then pointed at the bedroll. “Get on your knees.”
“Address me as master.”
Bast gritted his teeth. “Master, I’m not sure this is the best time for you to be…” He glared. “Distracted.”
He walked over to where Bast was sitting, and caught hold of the man’s head. His fingers tangled in Bast’s hair. “I’ve been wanting to put that tongue of yours to good use for days now.” He gave Bast a shove toward the bedroll. “Get on your knees. That’s an order.” A growling sound escaped Bast, but he obeyed the command. Rien caught him by the hair with one hand as he unfastened the front of his breeches with the other. “I don’t want to feel any teeth, Bast.”
“Then I suggest you find another activity to amuse you.” Bast starred daggers up at him. “Pusillanimous dastard.”
“You saying you’d rather bend over and grab your ankles?” Rien raised an eyebrow.
“Timorous lou —” Bast was cut off by Rien backhanding him across the face, knocking him to the ground.
“I know…” Rien put his foot on Bast’s arm, pinning the man to the ground. “What timorous means.”
His vision was slightly blurry, and he could hear a ringing in his ears. Bastien spat out a mouthful of blood. Rien’s foot on his arm stopped just barely shy of the pressure needed to break the bone, and the man’s face bore a disturbing calm. Given how the man had reacted upon being called craven, perhaps calling him variations on that particular term for the past few days hadn’t been one of his brighter ideas. “Then perhaps you aren’t as dense as I credited you.”
“You’re on thin ice, Bast. I suggest you watch your mouth.” Rien narrowed his eyes.
“Or what? You’ll murder my friends? Clap me in irons? Flog me? Rape me?” Bastien stared up at him. “Worthless, degenerate, contemptible, cretino —” Rien grabbed him by the hair, yanking him upright again. Bastien spat out another mouthful of blood. “Feeble-minded, nebbish, skunk-heart —”
Rien hit him again, but caught him before he could fall. He slammed Bastien’s back into a tree and held him in place. “Or I’ll just beat you until —”
“Beat a man you know can’t defend himself against you?” Bastien spat again. “By chains or oaths? And you claim to be something other than a milksop?”
He fell to his knees when Rien dropped him, and coughed before spitting out another mouth of blood. He heard movement, then glanced up in time to see Rien holding a healing potion out to him. “Drink it.” Rien tilted his head. “That’s an order, Bast.”
Bastien drank the potion, letting it do its work. Rien’s second blow had all but knocked some of his teeth loose. He watched Rien cut two saplings and quickly strip them of leaves and branches. As soon as the man was done, he tossed one to Bastien. Bastien caught it. “What —”
“Simple.” Rien shrugged. “You win, we part ways here. You go back to your people, released from your oath to me.” He twirled the makeshift quarterstaff. “You lose…” He smirked as he set the butt of the staff on the ground. “Then you learn to like playing my games.”
Slowly, he rose, testing the balance of the staff in his hands. He met Rien’s eyes. “I’m going to kill you.”
“Oh, Bast…” Rien’s laughter was low. “I have no doubt you’ll try.”
He had strength and reach on his opponent, but it became clear in the first few seconds this was not going to be as easy a match as he thought. Rien took a step back, reevaluating his opponent. Bast’s movements were controlled, precise, and it was clear he was not unfamiliar with the staff as a weapon. They circled each other warily.
Rien sent a jab, only to have it deflected by Bast’s staff. Before he could follow by twisting and bringing the other end back at Bast, his opponent shifted to deliver a kick. Rien shifted just enough to take it on the thigh rather than in the groin. “So that’s how you play?” Rien narrowed his eyes.
Bast just smirked in response before twisting to bring a flurry of attacks that drove Rien back several paces. Instead of deflecting the last blow, Rien caught Bast’s staff on his and pushed it back at the smaller man, creating himself an opening. He lunged, forcing Bast to twist into a retreat. He started to come in for the follow up blow only to find that even off balance Bast was able to anticipate the movement and dodge out of the way. The butt end of Bast’s staff dealt Rien a glancing blow to the side, making him grunt.
Grudgingly, Rien had to admit that his current opponent was quite likely the best he’d ever faced. Bast didn’t bother with taunts, or perhaps he’d already said all he’d had to say. The other man had managed to tag him with his weapon three times now, and he hadn’t managed to strike Bast once. Then again, when it came right down to it, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to hit a man more than once.
The next time Bast came in for an attack Rien lunged again, putting all his strength behind the blow. Bast moved to deflect rather than block, but even that wasn’t enough. The other man’s staff broke in half. “It’s…” He was starting to offer the other man a chance to surrender.
It was then he realized that his earlier evaluation of the knight had been correct. Bast was not a man who surrendered. He shifted his grip on the broken halves of the staff and launched another flurry of attacks. Blocking one of the sticks resulted in Bast simply shifting to hit him with the other. If anything, breaking the staff had given the other man a tactical advantage.
Growling, Rien shifted his own tactics, using both his own greater range and the greater range of the staff to prevent Bast from closing. The first time he tried going back on the offensive, however, Bast just waited for him to swing, then closed while he tried to recover his weapon for another blow.
A slight chill went through him when he realized he was losing. Bast was using his own size and leverage against him. Rien started to retreat a pace, then changed his mind. Bast might be more skilled, but his earlier observation was also still true. All he really needed to do was hit Bast once, while the other man was going to have to wear him down. Rien deflected one of Bast’s sticks with the quarterstaff, letting go of it with one hand. When Bast came in with the other stick, Rien blocked it with his forearm. He grunted at the impact and acknowledged his arm was probably just a little bit broken by the maneuver.
Then he charged into the opening he’d created. He slammed into Bast with the power of a charging horse, taking the smaller man off his feet and smashing him into a tree. Bast hit, and went limp.
He woke to once again find his wrists secured behind his back. Rien was sitting on the other side of the small fire, watching him. The big man stirred the fire, then set the stick down. “Only one man ever beat me in a fight. They called Jurgen the Stone Dragon, and he hit like the mountains were behind him. No other ever came close…” He gave a small shake of his head. “Until you.”
“You won.” Bastien tugged at the manacles. “You need not rub that in.”
“Wasn’t intending to.” Rien rolled his shoulder. “I expected that fight to be over in a few seconds. I’d smack you around for a bit of foreplay, then shove my cock down your throat. A bit of fun to end a good day.” He glanced at where his staff and the remains of Bastien’s were laying. “You know, we call your kind soft folk. I’m thinking maybe we need to reevaluate that a little.”
“Were it not for the fact we’d have to march through the passes, we’d have dealt with your raiders a century ago.” He tested the restraints again as he sat up. The manacles hadn’t been secured with the chain, but with a small piece of rope tied with a simple knot. Freeing himself wouldn’t take long, but he doubted he’d be given the opportunity. “Binding me is not necessary.”
“Wasn’t sure what kind of mood you were going to wake in. Worried I cracked that thick skull of yours.” Rien rose and walked over to him. His fingers brushed through Bastien’s hair. “Get on your knees, Bast.”
Bastien bowed his head. Then he obeyed the order.