DragonLord: Chapter 13

He followed Rien down the corridor.  The more enthusiastic of the brothers walked with them, waving his hands emphatically as he asked questions and then didn’t bother waiting for the answers.  Rien, however, seemed more amused than annoyed.  Had he not known better, he would have taken Rien for the elder of the two.  Rutger was now expounding on his own adventures, which seemed to involve having been chased across half the world by an improbable number of angry husbands.

Then again, he was related to Rien.  Perhaps pissing people off just ran in the family.

Rien opened a door, then gestured for Bastien to follow.  Rutger just went ahead and entered.  He hadn’t been sure what to expect, given the city itself and Rien’s own standing.  The first chamber was a simple sitting room.  It was clean, and a fire had been laid in the fireplace.  Furs were spread across the floor to serve as rugs, but rather fine tapestries hung from the walls.  Several weapons had also been mounted, and he realized he was looking at trophies.

After the door closed behind them, Rutger gave Bastien an appraising look before glancing at Rien.  “And you are absolutely going to have to tell me this story.”  He reached out a hand to touch Bastien’s hair.

Bastien caught his hand and twisted it away, stopping just short of the force needed to break the man’s wrist.  Rutger grunted, and Rien laughed.  “Careful, brother.  My dog has teeth.”

Rutger pulled his hand free of Bastien, and narrowed his eyes before chuckling.  “I see.”

“Within these chambers you may speak freely, Bast.”  Rien nodded to him.

“I think I made my point already.”  Bastien shrugged.

“I’d say I want one, but frankly I prefer all my bits remain attached.”  Rutger shook his head.  “I will let you settle in, brother.”  He hugged Rien again before leaving.

“Come.”  Rien waved him deeper into the chambers.  There were three bedrooms as well as another small chamber with a pallet, clearly intended for a servant.  Only one of the bedrooms was furnished.  The bed was massive and opulent, piled high with furs.  Various treasures, likely all stolen on raids, decorated the room.  Somewhat grudgingly he had to admit Rien had good taste in artwork, at least.  The view from the balcony made his head swim just a little, much to Rien’s amusement, as did the fact the man had his own library.

“Out of curiosity…”  Bastien picked up one of the books.  “Have you ever actually opened any of these?”

“I can read.”  Rien gave him a mock glare.  “And yes, though I’ve not read them all.  Many were already present when I claimed these quarters.”  He gestured for Bastien to follow him down the hall.  “I’ll have to acquire another servant.  I don’t even want to consider all the ways you’d come up with to spite me if I ordered you to keep these chambers clean.”

The next room was revealed to be a bath chamber, and even the Duke’s had not been quite so impressive.  The bath was a massive pool sunk into the floor.  He’d wager at its deepest it would come up to his chest.  It took him a moment to realize the water was being drawn up through pipes, and drained away via a similar mechanism.  A fire had been laid in some kind of trencher that heated a basin filled with water, creating steam.  He was trying to figure out why the steam didn’t flow into the living chambers when he realized it was likely related to how the water was heated in the first place.  “Magic?”

“Laid into the stone centuries ago.”  Rien nodded.  He waved a hand toward a stone bench.  “Lose the armor.  And the clothes.”

His body tensed, then he made himself nod before going over to obey the order.



DragonLord: Chapter 12

Rien stared a moment at the man kneeling in front of him, head bowed.  He reached down, and caught Bast by the chin, tilting his head up.  There was still anger in the man’s green eyes, but the defiance had been replaced by despair.  Rien shook his head, then let go of Bast’s chin.  “Stand up and turn around.”  The knight gave him a confused look, but obeyed.  Rien unfastened the knot binding the man’s wrists together, then gave Bast a small shove toward the log.  “You’ve already had your sleep.  Your turn for the watch.”

“Of course.”  Bast gave a jerky nod, then picked up his sword and shield before seating himself on the log.

He put his back to the fire as he laid down, but sleep eluded him.  Jurgen could still return.  It would be better for everyone if Jurgen returned.  There was also the possibility Sten was right, and dismissing Rutger was a mistake.  None had expected him to succeed, either.  Even he hadn’t, it was why he’d left Darodelf alone.  He’d only tried because to do otherwise would have shamed him.

If Jurgen didn’t return, then there were three contenders for the throne.  No one would have questioned Jurgen’s ascendancy, but they would splinter into factions trying to figure out who among those remaining would grant them the most power.  Lammert cared only for his ego, and Rutger for his pleasure.

Finally, he turned around and sat up.  “It’s a keystone.”

Bast’s head came up, and he gave Rien a confused look.  “What?”

“There were four of them, items that could unlock the crypt of the Dragon Lord.  An ancestor of mine, the one that united the Wilder clans centuries ago.  They were hidden away to stop anyone unworthy from claiming what lay within.”  Rien folded his legs up under him.  “My mother had a premonition.  The keystone would return to Darodelf with one destined unite the clans against the danger that is to come.”  He exhaled.  “I thought it nonsense, a simple quest by which she would chose her successor but…”

“There are wings on the heights.”  Bast slowly nodded.

“And for it to be creating the stir it is it must…”  Rien took a deep breath.  “Be a true dragon, not one of the wyverns your people oft mistake for dragons.”

“What would have happened if each of you had brought one back?”  Bast raised an eyebrow.

“Perhaps she hoped the four of us would stand together, as brothers should.”  Rien’s lips twisted into a bitter smile.

“So…”  Bast glanced at the bag, then back at Rien.  “You get that back to Darodelf, you rule the Wilders?”

“As if you didn’t have enough reason to murder me in my sleep.”  Rien nodded.  “But if I don’t take it back, then…”  He exhaled.  “Then if Sten is right, the one who murdered Jurgen will ascend to the throne.”

“Why tell me this?”  Bast lifted an eyebrow.

“You’re the only one here, and I dislike talking to myself.”

“If what you are saying is correct, then…”  Bast frowned, then met his eyes.  “Then you may be walking into a trap.”

“Thought crossed my mind.”

“Then…”  Various expressions settled on Bast’s face before he shook his head again.  “Then I recommend you stay up all night, fretting about it.  That will render you exhausted and undoubtedly get you killed, freeing me to take this keystone and the information you’ve just given me to my king.”

“What’s another word for asshole?”


“You’re a nonpareil.”  Rien shook his head before laying back down.  This time, sleep claimed him quickly.


DragonLord: Chapter 11

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.”



1 pound medium raw shrimp, shelled and deveined.

1 pound ground pork

1 can sliced water chestnuts

1/4 cup minced green onions

1/4 cup oyster sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 packet wonton wrappers

1 egg, lightly beaten

Cooking oil


Toss everything but the wrappers, egg, and cooking oil into a food processor and puree until blended.  Place a spoonful of the filling into the center of a wonton wrapper.  Brush the edges of the wrapper with egg, then fold in half to form a triangle and pinch the edges to seal.  Brush the two opposite corners with egg and fold in on each other, pressing to seal.

Heat the oil to about 350F.  Deep fry the wontons, five or so at a time, until golden brown.  Takes about 3 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on the paper towels.  Try to let them cool off a bit before eating them.

DragonLord: Chapter 10

“Annika wants me to punish you.”  Rien took another look at the bloodstains on the floor.  “She’s rather annoyed at how much work cleaning this room is going to be for her.”

“Then perhaps she should be more careful about who she lets her rooms too.”  Bast took the sip of healing potion as he’d been instructed.

“See, that’s what I told her.  I did, however, agree to punish you.”  And he had just the thing in mind.  Now what had he done with that parcel?  He retrieved it, then set it atop the small table.  “I got you some clothes.”  He shrugged.  “You can try them on in the morning.”  When Bast raised an eyebrow at him, Rien walked over to the door, shut it, locked it, and moved the chair in front of it again.  “Take off the ones you are currently wearing.”

“If I’m —” Bast started to shake his head.

“That’s an order, Bast.”  Their eyes met, and he noted that Bast’s were still full of anger and defiance.  Bast gave a frustrated growl, then began undoing the knotted rope that served him as a belt.  Rien watched Bast strip naked and toss the clothing aside.  He stood before Rien, wearing nothing but manacles, his body once again unmarked.  “Lay on the bed, face up.  That’s an order.”


DragonLord: Chapter 9

He was not the only collared individual in the tavern.  Others served their masters or knelt quietly until signaled.  Some of the slaves were themselves Wilders.  Bastien and Rien did draw some looks though.  Rien gave a slight tug of the chain as he led Bastien to a table.  He expected to be made to kneel near the wall, like the others who wore collars, but Rien indicated the chair to his left.  Bastien sat.

Someone took the chair across from Rien before the tavern maid could bring their food.  “Marinus.”  A dark-haired woman smiled across the table.  “Heard you were dead.”

“Don’t tell me you were fool enough to believe that, Annika.”  Despite his words, the nod Rien gave the woman seemed a gesture of respect.

“That someone killed you?”  She laughed.  “Who’d be fool enough to try?”

Bastien snorted.  Rien shot him an amused look.  “And how’d that work out for you?”

“Before or after the army of trolls?”  Bastien raised an eyebrow.

The woman, Annika, gave him a confused look.  Rien waved a hand.  “My knight.  I call him Bast.  He calls me all kinds of things.”  He tilted his head at the woman.  “What’s a fustilarian?”

“A low sort of man.  A scoundrel.”  She shrugged.  “Word reached you quickly.”

“Ran into Broos this morning.”  Rien nodded.  “And already spoke with Meine.”  He leaned forward.  “What news of my brothers?”

“Lammert returned a month previous, and Rutger is said to be on his way.”  Annika hesitated a moment.  “Jurgen has not returned, nor has there been any word.”

“Lammert was first, then?”  Rien wrinkled his nose as though he’d tasted something unpleasant.

“He returned in a rage, with only four of the fifty that accompanied him.”  Annika shook her head.  “Word is he’s trying to gather another force.”

Rien shrugged.  “I’ll be taking a room for the night.”

“I’ll get you the key.”  Annika rose as the maid brought their meals.

The stew smelled different than any he’d ever eaten before.  He found himself a bit relieved that he was being allowed to feed himself.  The meat was heavily spiced, enough to make him reach for the water.  Rien seemed to be savoring the stuff, a small smile on his face.

All around them, the talk seemed to be of the dragon sighting.  It wasn’t just that it was a dragon.  He heard the words omen and portent spoken multiple times.  The dragon clearly signified something to the Wilders.  And Rien’s mark was a stylized dragon.

Little was known of the Wilders.  Those who came over the border were raiders, not travelers or traders.  Actually, the Wilders did little trading at all with the people they considered ‘soft folk’, preferring instead to simply take what they wanted.  He knew they traded with Thatela to the north, but Thatela and Solsthriem were not on the best of terms most decades.  It didn’t help that Bastien himself had preferred different areas of study to reading about the Wilders.  In retrospect, he should have probably read at least a couple treatises about something other than their fighting styles.


DragonLord : Chapter 8

Assuming the man kept his word, of course.  Though fealty did have its own edges.  If the man broke his oath to Bastien, then it freed Bastien from his own obligations.  Bastien leaned forward to take the last bite from Rien’s hand.  Hopefully, the man got tired of this particular game soon.  Being hand fed was rather irritating.

Rien set the plate down, then gestured for Bastien to turn around.  Bastien obeyed, and felt the man unfasten the chain from one of the wrist manacles.  Bastien brought his hands around in front of him to rub his wrists.  They were abraded from his struggles of the last few days.  He glanced hopefully at the stream.  Words couldn’t really describe how badly he wanted to bath.

“Get down on your hands and knees.”  Rien’s voice sounded slightly amused.

His body tensed.  He was still sore from the previous evening.  Something told him that would not deter the man.  Bastien took a deep breath before bending forward to take the demanded position.  He stared at the ground, trying to control the urge to rise and go for Rien’s throat.

The touch of Rien’s hand on the welts sent a fresh surge of pain through him.  He pushed it away, unwilling to show the man a reaction.  “You are an interesting puzzle to me, Bast.”  Rien trailed a hand down Bastien’s back.  “I’ve never before encountered a slave that managed to be both obedient and unbroken.  I suppose this is a new experience for both of us.”  His hand moved back up Bastien’s back, fingers stroking the welts.  “I think I’ll give you a choice.  Would you prefer I take your ass…”  The man caught his hair and jerked his head back.  “Or your mouth?”

“Pribbling sheep-biter.  I’ll not play your game.”  Bastien shook his head.

“No?”  Rien smiled down at him.  “Well, as I imagine your ass is still sore…”  He moved in front of Bastien.  “I think I’ll put that wicked tongue of yours to better use.”  His other hand brushed knuckles down Bastien’s cheek.  “Open your mouth, Bast.”  Rien’s smile widened.  “That’s an order.”

He glared up at the man, saying a silent prayer that the sky would strike the Wilder down.  Then he grimaced, and opened his mouth.


DragonLord : Chapter 7

Knowing one’s fate and accepting it are two very different things.  Bastien let Rien drag him over to the log, and then was shoved roughly back to his knees.  Raising a hand against his liege lord was no longer an option, so when Rien unfastened the manacles Bastien just clenched his fists.  Rien gave him a strange look before stepping back in front of him.  “Give me your wrists, Bast.”

Slowly, he brought his arms around in front of him before offering his hands to Rien.  Rien quickly secured the chain between the manacles once more, then fastened the long chain to chain connecting his wrists.  The other end of the chain was tossed over a tree branch.  Rather than let Rien haul him to his feet, Bastien stood.  His wrists were brought over his head, though not enough to bring him off his feet.  The chain was fastened off, and then Rien reached out to touch his cheek.  He jerked away, and Rien laughed.

He began struggling again when Rien started undoing the knot on the front of the breeches, but without the rope belt Rien had no difficulty just tugging them down.  The big man unfastened the ankle cuffs and tossed the breeches aside.  Instead of refastening the chain between his ankles, Rien caught it and used it to haul his left leg over before fastening off the chain.  Swiftly, Rien fastened another chain to his right ankle and used it to force Bastien’s legs apart.  Bastien’s heels no longer quite touched the ground.

There was no give in the chains despite how he pulled against them.  Bound by metal and oath, he simply hung there, naked, as Rien walked around him.  The Wilder caught his chin, tilting Bastien’s head up to look at him.  Rien leaned in, and Bastien realized the man intended to kiss him.  He jerked away, back as far as the chains would allow.  Rien simply laughed, and unfastened the flogger from his belt.  “You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d almost think you wanted me to hurt you.”

“Privy-licking canker.”

“Address me as master.”

“Master privy-licking canker.”  Bastien glared.

Rien stepped behind him.  The first blow from the flogger was lighter than he’d expected, just barely a sting.  A glance over his shoulder resulted in Rien giving him a playful wink.  “Did you enjoy that, Bast?  Do you want more, or should I simply fuck you now?”

“I’ll not play your game, you corpulent imbecile.”

“Well, then…”  Rien drew back his arm.

The next blow sent a wash of fire across his back.


DragonLord: Chapter 6

He didn’t take them far, only a couple miles.  Just enough he could be sure the useless guards of the beacon wouldn’t find them.  Rien stopped his horse, and dismounted.  A glance over his shoulder revealed Bast had immediately sunk to his knees when they’d stopped.  Aside from the couple hours he’d caught while thrown over a horse, his knight hadn’t slept in days.  Nor had he eaten.

Rien dismounted, and walked over.  Instead of pouring the water into the man as he’d done the last few times, he simply handed over the canteen.  “We’ll make camp here.”

Bast nodded.  “How much longer until we reach…”  He frowned. “Where are you taking me?”

“Home.”  Rien shrugged.  “Darodelf.”  It had been a couple years.  By rights, he should have returned before the last job, but the raid had been too tempting to pass up.  He looked down at his knight.  And it had worked out well enough.  The sun was already starting to set; this was a good a time to make camp as any.

Despite how hungry his captive likely was, the man fell asleep leaning against a tree while Rien prepared the meal.  Rather than wake the man, he set aside some food and let him sleep.  It gave him time to think.  He’d taken the knight captive mostly to amuse himself.  A strong, pretty young warrior.  Break him on the trip, have a bit of fun, then present the tamed result as a gift.  That was before he’d realized exactly what kind of prize he had.

At the beacon Bast had saved his life.  An oath of fealty only a few seconds old, given by a man exhausted and starved.  Had Bast hesitated even a moment, the sword blow would have landed.  He’d dismissed the guards as a threat far too readily, caught up in his amusement of the situation.

The idea of giving Bast away now was laughable.  Even if he could transfer the man’s oath to another, he had no desire to do such a thing.  Taking Bast among his people was going to be interesting.


DragonLord: Chapter 5

Rien froze, staring down at the knight.  He knew, given time, he would succeed in breaking the young man.  The idea of Bast submitting to him willingly, however, was an enticing one.  “Explain.”

“The moment the warning drums carry the message, you have my oath of fealty.”

He had no idea what such an oath would entail, but based on how Bast had clearly struggled to make himself say the words it was no small thing.  “You will obey my commands?”  He frowned.  “You will make no attempt to escape?”


“And that’s making no escape starting this very moment?”

“Provided we are going to the closest beacon…”  Bast forced his fists to unclench.  “Yes.”

“Your fealty, to me, in exchange for letting you warn your people.”  He took another look at the young man.  Bast was a stubborn warrior, and he’d been unhesitatingly willing to lay down his life to give the Duke’s last surviving blood as great a chance at survival as possible.  For fealty.  If the man staring up at him gave an oath, it would be kept.

A heartbeat later, he dismounted.  Bast didn’t move when Rien walked toward him.  “And if I wanted proof of your word?”  He narrowed his eyes.  “Kneel.”  Bast obeyed, sinking to his knees in front of Rien.  With the possibility of scouts, he dared not give the order he really wanted.  There wasn’t time.  He settled for extending one of his legs.  “Kiss my boot.”  The sight of his prize obeying the order was…  Rien slowly smiled.  “If the beacon where I think, we’ve got a few miles to travel.”  He reached down to grab Bast’s collar.  “Address me as master.”

“Yes…”  There was still defiance and anger in Bast’s eyes.  He found that oddly pleasing.  “Master.”


DragonLord : Chapter 4

After his refusal in the morning, the bit was put back between his teeth.  Rien poured water down his throat before again pulling him after the horse.  At the first stop, some hours later, Bastien let himself fall into a sitting position.

Rien walked over to him, holding the canteen.  He let the man pour water into him without complaint or fuss.  That made Rien smile when he made the usual request.  “Address me as master.”

“No.”  The word was slurred by the bit in his mouth.

His captor shrugged, closed the canteen, and started to haul Bastien back to his feet.  Or he tried to, anyway.  Bastien didn’t budge.  When Rien grabbed his collar, Bastien let himself go limp.  “Get up, or I’ll drag you.”

“No, you won’t.”

Even with the bit, it was clear the man had understood him.  “Won’t I?”

“If you wanted me dead, you’d have already killed me.”  Playing the man’s game was going to end in Bastien losing.  Eventually, exhaustion and hunger would make him delirious enough to give in.  A couple more nights like the last two would likely manage it.  Some part of his mind was already trying to convince him to just give in and escape later.  Except his captor had already made his intentions toward Bastien clear.

“Tell you what, Bast…”  Rien shrugged.  “Address me as master, and we can stop here for the day.”

“Fuck you.”

“Bast, let’s be clear…”  Rien tousled his hair, making Bastien pull away.  “Anybody here gets fucked, it’s going to be you.”  He walked over to the pack horse and returned a moment later.

A chill went down him as he realized what Rien was carrying.


Chocolate Pound Cake

Ingredient American Sane Countries
Unsweetened cocoa 3 ½ tablespoons 21 grams
Water (boiling) 3 tablespoons 44 grams
Vanilla 1 ½ teaspoons 6 grams
3 eggs (large)
Cake flour (sifted) 1 ¼ cups 125 grams
Sugar ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons 175 grams
Baking Powder ¾ teaspoons 3.7 grams
Salt ¼ teaspoon pinch
Unsalted Butter (softened) 13 tablespoons 184 grams

Directions for Chocolate Pound Me In The Ass Cake:

Preheat oven to 350F / 175C.  Grease and flour an 8x4x2 ½ inch loaf pan or a 6 cup fluted tube (bundt) pan.

Whisk together the cocoa and water until smooth.  Allow to cool to room temperature, then lightly whisk the vanilla and eggs.

Combine the remaining dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds to blend.  Add half the chocolate mixture and the butter.  Mix on low until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Increase the speed to medium and beat for a minute.  Add the remaining chocolate mixture slowly in two batches, beating for 30 seconds after each addition.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, stopping when the pan fills to about a half inch from the top.  Bake 55 minutes in the loaf pan (checking for doneness at 50 minutes) or 45 minutes in the fluted pan (checking for doneness at 40 minutes).  Let the cake cool in the pan for ten minutes, then remove from pan.  Allow to cool completely before storing.

Dust with powdered sugar to serve.

Secure submissive’s hands behind their back, then permit them to eat bite sized pieces from your hand.

For Sale: Two Cats, Cheap

I went outside this morning and watered my garden. In doing so, I got my shoes wet. When I came in, instead of putting my shoes back in the closet I set them near the door so they could dry out, and left the wet socks atop them.
First cat got up and went to do her normal morning judgmental stares at the neighbors walking their dog. She saw items that seemed vaguely familiar to her, but in an unexpected location. After careful consideration, she went and got the other cat for a second opinion on this strange situation. The other cat came over to investigate. Other cat took one look at my shoes, decided they were invading alien monsters, and decided to have a complete mental breakdown that involved climbing up the curtains to hide in an elevated location.
The first cat, being a supportive and loving sister, decided that she wasn’t going to let the other cat go to crazy town alone. Immediately, she decided that the socks must die, and attacked. Her initial attack ripped thread out of the sock. She would have been content with that victory, only the thread tangled around her a little. Thus, when she started to walk away, the sock followed.
Not just followed. The clearly carnivorous sock chased after her with evil intent as she tried in vain to flee. Despite her panic, she knew the only possible thing to do in a situation like this is to start knocking over plants until that human they permit to live in their house saves her.
The curtains have been wounded and were in need of stitches. The sock did not survive. Neither did the newly potted spider plant. They will be mourned.

The Woods Chapter 8

The Woods: Chapter 9

She entered the bedchamber to find it empty.  Ileana frowned a moment before a sound in the garden drew her attention.  A smile came to her face as she looked out the window.  Keffer and Thomas were both stripped to loinclothes, sparring with quarterstaves.  Keffer was fey, stronger and faster than a mortal man, and he had a greater reach than Thomas.

And yet it was Keffer who was losing the match.  Thomas caught the satyr’s ankle with the staff, taking Keffer off his feet.  The butt end of Thomas’s staff stopped a couple inches above the satyr’s throat.  A killing blow, had Thomas intended it as such.  Her husband tossed the staff aside before offering her lover a hand back to his feet.

“Ileana.”  Keffer caught sight of her watching them.  “My apologies, I took the liberty of untying your pet when I realized he was awake.”  Thomas glared at him.  “I also fed him, watered him, and took him for a walk.”

“Then I beat him with a stick.”  Thomas rolled his eyes.

“Thrice.”  Keffer nodded, smiling.  “I thought I’d save bathing him for when you returned.”

“Hmmm…”  She extended a hand, running it down Thomas’s chest.  His body had just a trace of sweat, and there were a few bruises starting to form from the duel to add to the ones she’d left on him the previous evening.  Ileana gestured for them to follow her to the bath chamber.

Inside the steaming room, she directed Thomas to sit in one of the shallow pools.  Then she stripped off her robe before selecting a soap.  He smiled when she joined him in the pool, a smile that only widened when she sat down atop him, straddling his lap.  His arms went around her, caressing her as she began to wash him.  “You taste of woodsmoke.”  His voice was soft.

Ileana hesitated, then nodded.  “In two week’s time we will travel to my father’s castle.”

Thomas was silent for a moment before meeting her eyes.  “Where Nicolas dwells.”

“I hope that Nicolas will see reason, and speak with me.”  She ran a hand down his chest.  “Since you are…”  She shrugged.

“You intend to use me as a hostage.”  Thomas raised an eyebrow at her.

“If it stops Nicolas from engaging in hostilities, yes.”  She brushed his hair back.  “If he resists my reclamation of the castle, I will be forced to imprison him.”

“Let me speak with him.”  Thomas leaned back a little.

“I intend to.  But first, we must actually get inside the castle itself.  Otherwise Nicolas could hold it against us.”  She smiled at him.  “I’ve arranged a place of safety for his family.  Whatever does happen, they will not come to harm.”

“Thank you.”  He returned her smile.  “Nicolas is a good man, and a wise man.  He will listen.”

“I…”  Strange, how much had changed in just the past few days.  “I remember him fondly.”  She settled back a little in his lap.  “He visited our library, a few months before you and I were wed.”

“He brought you the silk.”  Thomas nodded.

“It…”  Her eyes widened.  “Then it really was from you?”

“Of course it was.”  Thomas blinked.  “Who did you…”  He tilted his head at her.

“I…”  She leaned in to kiss him again.  “After everything, I told myself you probably had some servant handle the letters.  But they were you.  It was always you.”

“There was never another, Ileana.”  His voice was soft.  “Even after…”  He bowed his head.


“Who could compare to the daughter of the wind?”  He ran his fingers through her hair.

Her own fingers tangled in his hair as she pulled him to her for another kiss.


The Woods Chapter 8

The Woods: Chapter 8

It took him a moment to realize Ileana had spoken.  She stood, then gestured.  “Clear the hall.”  There was grumbling, but everyone save Keffer obeyed the command.

Thomas remained where he was.  At this point, he wasn’t entirely sure he trusted his legs to hold him anyway.  He focused on controlling his breathing.  Keffer’s hand still rested on the small of his back.  “Ileana?”  Keffer shifted his position just slightly.  “Earlier you seemed rather enthusiastic about this performance.”

He didn’t dare raise his head to look up as she walked over to them.  At least the others were gone.  Whatever Ileana intended now, he would not have to endure their eyes while it happened.  She stood there, silently.  Then her hand touched his hair.  Her fingers seemed almost tender as they caressed him.  “Thomas, look at me.”

Only then did he lift his head, and stare up at her.  She was looking down at him, her face contemplative.  “You told the truth.”