Peace

Turn off all the noise

For nothing matters anymore

Save the Master’s will

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Returning

I am struggling to learn French.  Here is my first attempt at a poem written in French.

je ne pouvais pas dormir
je suis monté au château
il a un oubliette
je suis né là
quand il a fermé la porte
je l’ai attendu
il m’a aidé
il m’a creé
j’ai oublié pourquoi je suis parti
je veux retourner

Patreon – The Island

Mark was perfect.  Or nearly, anyway.  He had luscious black hair that contrasted beautifully with his deep blue eyes.  Several years of wrestling, surfing, and rock climbing had given him a wonderful musculature beneath skin that remained pale no matter how much time he spent outdoors.  It was the Irish in him.

He was even a decent guy.  Even though Reggie rarely said yes, Mark generally made an effort to invite him along when going to a concert or other event.  And when Reggie did go, Mark shut down his friends when they tried giving Reggie shit.  Sometimes he’d even take Reggie out, just the two of them, playing the big brother.  The man really only had two glaring flaws.  The first is that he was straight.

Reggie glanced at the door to his room before turning his attention back to the screen.  Mark was in the shower, water dripping from his body as he shook his head under the stream of water.  Mark was straight, and it really wasn’t wise to have a giant crush on his stepbrother.  If the hidden cameras in Mark’s room were found, he’d have a lot of unpleasant explaining to do.

Fortunately, Mark didn’t have a lot of interest in tech.  He supported Reggie’s interest, even showing up to cheer him on at the robot wars.  Reggie turned the feed off as soon as Mark was dressed.  A few minutes later, Mark knocked on the door before sticking his head in.  “Hey, Reggie, I’m heading downtown.  Want to come?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind.”  Reggie reached for his laptop case.  “Could use some out of the house time.”

(more…)

Truth and Shadows

She took a deep breath, then checked her tape recorder again and did another mic check.  Everything was still in working order.  And just in case it wasn’t, she still had her notebook.  Though the guards had insisted she use a felt tipped pin instead of anything that could be used as a weapon.  That made her even more nervous.  What the hell was she doing here?

The job advertisement was something she would have passed by, had she not still been flying a little high from her little adventure under the pier.  She’d almost called him up when she realized she’d forgotten to give him back his handcuffs.  They’d been sitting on her desk when she’d fired off the resume.

Diana Valerio, intrepid girl reporter.  Ace reporter.  Oh god, there were footsteps coming down the hall.  She set the pen back down and pasted a friendly smile on her face.  Somehow, she managed to keep it on as the guards set about securing the prisoner to the other chair.  Unlike hers, it had been bolted to the floor.  The man they were shackling to it looked every inch the stereotype of a scary black man.  He was well over six feet in height, with pounds of prison muscle packed onto this frame.  A scar ran down the left side of his face, from hairline to jaw, and she was surprised to see he still had the eye.  She could see tattoos visible on his neck as well as on his clean-shaven head, and from the looks of things his nose had been broken several times.

His hands were secured behind his back with heavy duty manacles, and his ankles were also fastened to the chair.  The guards didn’t stop there.  They also put leather straps on his legs and chest to keep him firmly fastened in place.  She found herself hoping he didn’t get an itchy nose.  Then she found herself hoping the restraints weren’t actually necessary.

As soon as the guards left the room, she took a deep breath.  “Mr. Viteri, thank you for agreeing to my request for an interview.”

“Ma’am.”  He inclined his head in her direction.  He shrugged.  “Guy in the cell next to me owes me ten cigarettes.”  His voice was surprisingly soft and pleasant, with a bit of a drawl.

“Um…”  She tilted her head.  “May I ask why?”

“Told him I was going to be talking to a woman named Diana today.  He bet me you’d be more Amanda Waller than Wonder Woman.”

“I hope he pays up.”  She smiled.  “Is that why you agreed to an interview?”  Her new boss hadn’t expected her to actually get the interview.  The man before her had turned away dozens already.  Given the man’s predilections, she was fairly confident her looks weren’t why he

“Forty requests this month.  But yours started with a please and ended with a thank you.”  He shrugged again.  “I am a southern boy, ma’am.  Good manners go a long way.”

“I will keep that in mind.”  She nodded.

“You also pointed out that you hadn’t read the books already written about my case.  Just the trial notes.  Said you wanted to get my side of the story without risking their influencing your views.”  He smiled.  “That’s the part that got you the interview, ma’am.  Reporters should have an open mind.”

“Thank you, Mr. Viteri.”  She took a deep breath.  “Would you like to start?”

“I’ve got some time.”  He winked at her.

“Alright then…”  This time the smile was genuinely friendly.  She’d been worried he was going to be hostile or confrontational.  This might go well.  “Shall we start in high school?”

“Rather not.”  He shook his head.  “High school set the scene, but it isn’t really where things got started.”

“Your lawyer cited bullying…”

“Ma’am, I think the fact that I’m in here kinda suggests he wasn’t a great lawyer.”

“Fair point.  So set the scene for me.”  The tape recorder was running, but she picked up the pen anyway.

“I was bullied in high school.  Skinny, broke, nerdy, black, and gay.”  He nodded.  “Pretty much the absolute lowest you could get in Bailey.  I skipped a few grades on account of the nerdy, or things might have been different.”  He glanced down at himself.  “I was kind of a late bloomer.”

“I see.”

“Thing is, that’s a common story.  You can walk down the street and run into a dozen people with the same one.  High school had good parts and…”  He looked up at her.  “It bother you if I cuss?”

“I want your words, Mr. Viteri.”

“High school had good parts and shit parts, and on the whole, it didn’t bother me too much.  But like I said, it sets the scene.  I got bullied particularly hard by a bunch at the top.  You know the names.”

She looked down at her notes.  “Timothy Bradford, Elliot Mercer, Arlo Velin…”  She looked back up at him.  “Paden and Tobias Grady.”  She didn’t miss the slight flicker across his eyes at the last name.

“High school is the time in your life when you’re still figuring out who and what you are.  Where you start making your first real decisions.  But it doesn’t define you.  That part comes a little bit later.  So, uh…”  He chuckled a little.

“Mr Viteri?”  She raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry, it’s just…”  He took a deep breath.  “You asked where my story starts and uh…”  He shrugged, making the shackles rattle a little.  “Hope you’ll forgive me for not being able to resist, but uh…”  He smiled.  “It really did begin on a dark and stormy night…”

(more…)

Primitive: Chapter 13

Christophe followed Lykos down the small hill to the stream.  There was a source of water in the caves, but it didn’t have fish.  Lykos kept the leash short, only a few feet, but there was an additional coil of chain in his hand.  His wrist and ankle cuffs, however, weren’t secured together, allowing in freedom of movement otherwise.  Lykos rarely bothered with those chains anymore, but he never removed the leash.  It was no longer even fastened to the collar by a lock.  Lykos had used his power to seal the links to create a ten-foot length of unbroken chain permanently attached to the collar, though longer lengths were often attached.

He sat on a rock, enjoying the sun as Lykos gave the stream one of his critical looks.  “Overhunting.  Fish too small.”  Lykos glared at the water, then sniffed it and wrinkled his nose.  “Fertilizer run off.  Shameful.”

“They’ve been trying to pass laws about the runoff problems, but the corn industry has a powerful lobby.”  Christophe lay back on the rock.  Lykos had secured the leash, giving him about a twenty-foot radius to move around in.  But with living half naked in a cool cave most of the time, the sun felt good and he saw no need to move from where he currently was.  Off in the distance he saw a helicopter heading west.

“Lobbyists.  Should all be drawn and quartered.”  Lykos shook his head as he waded into the river.

“Can’t really argue with that.”  He lifted himself up to rest a hand on his head.  Watching Lykos catch fish with his bare hands remained fascinating.  The man had attempted to teach him and Christophe had even managed it once, but Lykos made it look far easier than it actually was.  Within a few minutes, several fish were on the bank.

Cleaning the fish and game, however, remained his task.  He was getting better at it.  Lykos had caned his feet twice before he’d gotten the hang of properly butchering a deer.  He’d wondered at why the man had brought back so much before realizing that the leaves were falling.  Lykos was stocking up for winter.  “You like chickens?”

It took him a moment to realize Lykos had asked him a question.  “I like chicken.”

“Not chicken.  Chickens.”  Lykos gestured for him to grab the fish.  “I think I steal some.  Eggs.  Meat.  Build little coop.”  He shook his head.  “Cow too big.  Goats better.”

“You…”  He picked up the fish.  “You talk like you intend to stay in the caves forever.”

“Good place.  Secure.”  Lykos nodded.  He frowned when he looked at Christophe, and a couple expressions crossed his face.  “You don’t want to live in cave forever.”

I want you to let me go.  He didn’t say the words aloud.  “I kind of miss television sometimes.  And uh…”  He rubbed the back of his neck.

“Lonely.”  Lykos gave him a look that was surprisingly sympathetic.

“A little.”  He watched Lykos unfasten his leash from the tree for the trip back.

“Perhaps…”  Lykos hesitated before he started back toward the cave.  “We can go north.  Canada.  Find small town where no one will look for us.”

“That uh…”  Christophe nodded.  “Yeah.”

(more…)

Primitive: Chapter 12

His fingers found the marks on the collar.  Lykos had added a rune, ensuring the collar did not merely mark Christophe as a possession, but Lykos’s possession.  He slid his fingers a bit further and found the seam, then took his hand away when he heard Lykos stir.  Lykos gave him a slight frown.  “You wake early.”

“I…”  He hesitated.  “I was thinking about my mother.  By now she probably knows I’m…”  He exhaled.

Then he felt Lykos’s hand on his shoulder.  “Can get phone, go where there is signal.  You call, tell her you are alive.”

He smiled.  “You’d let me?”

“I have no grudge against your mother.”  Lykos nodded.

(more…)

Primitive: Chapter 11

He woke up with his Christophe in his arms.  The young man slept quietly, his face peaceful.  Lykos traced a finger along the collar.  It was a fairly spartan thing.  He should put a rune on it, make it clear Christophe was his and…  He frowned.  And there were few left who could even read such things.  Still, he would put the mark on anyway.  His Christophe had earned it.  He leaned over and kissed the young man’s shoulder.

Christophe stirred, blinking up at him.  “It’s morning?”

“Yes.”  Lykos sat up.  “I will make your chain longer before I go.  You can sleep more, if want.”

“I can make you breakfast.”  Christophe sat up, blinking bleary eyes.  He glanced at the cave entrance.  “It isn’t light out yet.”

Lykos caught Christophe’s chin and gently kissed his lips.  “Go back to sleep, my Christophe.  I will see you well into the night.”  He pushed Christophe back onto the bed, and the young man resisted only a moment before laying back down.  Then he put the cover over him before fixing the chain.  Christophe was asleep again before he’d finished.  Lykos smiled, and left the cave.

(more…)

Primitive: Chapter 10

Guerin looked up at the man who’d entered Darin’s office.  He’d been expecting a scientist, not someone built like a linebacker.  Guerin nodded.  “Thank you for coming, Mr. Wōtan.”

“A pleasure.”  Mr. Wōtan accepted Guerin’s handshake.  “I was told there was a sighting.  Would it be possible to speak with the witnesses?”

“I’m afraid it would not.”  Darin stood, and also shook Mr. Wōtan’s hand.  “Given the delicacy of the matter, the situation had to be contained.”

Mr. Wōtan nodded.  “I see.”

“What can you tell us about this creature?”  Darin folded his arms.  “Is he an extraterrestrial?”

“Quite the opposite, really.”  Mr. Wōtan’s spoke with an accent that sounded Russian.  It put Guerin slightly on edge.  “I would require access to the samples you took to confirm, but if I am correct…”  He shrugged.  “Then you may be better off thinking of him as primordial rather than extraterrestrial.”

“You mean what?” Guerin blinked.  “He’s some kind of Neanderthal throwback?”

“That is one way to put it.”  Mr. Wōtan set his briefcase on the table.

“Mr. Wotan…”  Guerin narrowed his eyes.  “That thing has my son.”

“I am aware of the situation.”  Mr. Wōtan gave Guerin a sympathetic look.  “However, if he was going to kill the boy he would have done it already.  Mr. Darin says that the creature took the boy to bait you into a trap?”

“Christophe confirmed it when the thing let me talk to him.”  Guerin swallowed.  He could still hear Christophe’s bitten back cry of pain.  “This thing needs to be neutralized.”

“Contained.”  Mr. Wōtan’s voice was firm and calm.

“It’s —”

“Captain Guerin, I cannot stress this enough, and I have the backing of your superiors on the matter.”  Mr. Wōtan met his eyes.  “The creature is to be taken alive.”

“You have any idea how many people it’s already killed?”  Guerin glared at him.  “This thing, Li-cost or —”

“Lykos.”

“What?”  Guerin blinked.

“His name…”  Mr. Wōtan smiled.  “Is Lykos.”

(more…)

Primitive: Chapter 9

The cot Lykos had set up for him was surprisingly comfortable.  Lykos had purchased a pad, and folded a couple blankets atop that.  Despite the fact that his hands had been shackled behind his back and his ankles secured together, he’d have passed a pleasant night if he hadn’t been dreading the events to come with the dawn.  Lykos had gone deeper into the cave before sunrise.  Christophe’s leash was fastened to the old track, meaning he couldn’t have followed even if his hands and legs had been freed.

He heard a sound and his stomach sank a little.  Lifting his head meant he could see the shine of Lykos’s eyes as the man returned.  Lykos had taken no light source with him into the dark.  He didn’t appear to need one, though he left a lantern in the cave that sheltered them for Christophe’s benefit.  He’d also left a flashlight next to the cot.

Lykos had brought with him what looked to be two pieces of metal railroad track.  He also brought several other pieces of metal back with him.  As Christophe watched, Lykos set to work.  The dwarf used his finger to slice one of the track pieces in half, moving through hardened steel as easily as a hot knife moved through butter.  Christophe half expected to see the metal glowing, but however Lykos worked the material didn’t seem to involve heat.  He swallowed.  “How do you do that?”

“How do you move your hand through water?”  Lykos glanced over his shoulder at him.

“Water is a liquid.  Not a solid.”  Christophe sat up.  “The basic state properties are different.  I couldn’t move my hand through ice.”

“Ah.  Science.”  Lykos nodded.  Then he shrugged.  “Don’t think this is science.”  He set one of the bars atop the longer one to make a cross-shape, then used his fingers to smooth the metal and join the pieces.  He then added small circles of metal to each of the ends of the arms of the…

Christophe’s eyes widened.  The arms of the cross.  Lykos was making a steel cross.  “Lykos —”

“It not yet dawn.”  Lykos glanced over his shoulder.  “You beg already?”

“You intend to kill me.”  Christophe shook his head.

“Kill?”  Lykos shook his head.  “No.  Young, healthy.  Can live days on cross.  Perhaps a week or more, if give you water.”

His body was started to shake a little.  He clenched his fists to try to make the shaking stop.  “I need a word.”

“Word?”  Lykos blinked, then turned back to him.  “What word?”

“So, you know the begging is real and not just reflex.  Give me a word.  I won’t mean anything I say except that word.”  He dragged his eyes from the cross to meet Lykos’s.  “Please, master.”

The nod Lykos gave him was one of approval.  “Two words.  Give you pause to think.  Snow White.”

“Okay.”  He drew in on himself, and took several deep breaths before watching Lykos finish his work.

(more…)

Primitive: Chapter 6

He returned to find Christophe once again attempting to escape.  The young man had actually managed to get one of his wrists free of the chains, though his skin was bloody from the effort.  He was frantically working at the other when Lykos stepped into view.  Christophe immediately banged his head against the tree limb and uttered a few mild curses.  “I didn’t run.”

“Obey letter of law.  Hope to escape punish.”  Lykos nodded.  “Teach you that in military?”

“You didn’t tell me to leave the chains alone.”  Christophe tried to give him a defiant look, but the slight cringe in his body language ruined the effect.

“If had removed chains, would you have stayed put?”  Lykos raised an eyebrow.

Christophe glared at him.  Then he summoned up a little bit of nerve.  “No.”

Lykos patted him on the head.  “Good boy.  Honesty is best policy.  Had lied, would have put hot rocks on your feet.”  Christophe paled at the threat.  “You need bandages.  No more damaging self.  You damage self, I punish.  Understand?”  He moved in to undo the lock from Christophe’s other wrist.

“I understand.”  Christophe accepted the first aid kit Lykos handed him, and started cleaning up the abrasions on his wrists.

After watching for a moment, Lykos went back to what he’d brought with him.  He set the pieces of bar stock down, and saw Christophe jump slightly at the clanging sound they’d made.  The bags he brought over and set near his captive.  “Brought sandals.  You may wear.  Feet too soft for hard ground.”  He saw the brief hopeful look.  “Also, lotion for skin, to stop sun from burning.”  The hopeful look faded when Christophe realized clothes weren’t included.  His chest and the front of his thighs were lightly scratched from being pressed against the bark of the tree, and he’d not managed to fully escape getting some scratches on his genitals.

The young man used the first aid kit on the worst of the scratches without being told.  Lykos gave him an approving nod.  Then he took some of the leftover venison and set it on the cutting board he’d bought.  The pot he hung over the fire and added water to before going back to the bag.  He took out a couple potatoes, celery, and carrots, then set them by the roast.  Then he offered Christophe a knife, hilt first.  Cautiously, Christophe took it, then looked at the food.  “Dinner?”

“Yes.  Make.”  He waited a moment as Christophe considered the knife, then nodded when Christophe clearly realized attacking would be stupid.  Lykos went back to the lengths of metal he’d brought as Christophe began chopping ingredients and adding them to the pot.

(more…)

Primitive: Chapter 4

His captive hadn’t spoken during the last couple miles, but he was starting to flag again.  Despite Lykos intending to continue their trek overland, it was clear Christophe was unable to handle such a journey.  At least, not without assistance and better gear.  Lykos glanced over his shoulder, and Christophe visibly flinched when Lykos’s eyes landed on him.  He lost his footing and fell, grunting in pain when he landed.  Lykos sighed, then walked back toward him.

“Get up.”  He gave a tug of the leash.

Christophe was panting.  He tried to get up again, then winced and cried out.  Lykos sniffed.  He could scent blood.  With another tired sigh, he reached down and grabbed the young man by the front of the shirt and hauled him over to a rock.  He tossed more than set Christophe onto it, then crouched to look at the damage.  The young man’s pants were torn near his left knee, and blood was starting to show through the cloth.  “I can’t keep going.”  Christophe’s voice bordered on a whimper.

He rolled his eyes, then tore the pant leg further to examine the wound.  A jagged shard of rock was still embedded in it.  Christophe yelped as Lykos yanked it out.  He turned the rock over in his hand, then shrugged and tossed it over his shoulder.  The wound was bleeding freely now.  “Leg is not broken.”  Lykos shook his head.  “Get up.”

“It hurts.”  Christophe shook his head.  “I’m losing blood.”

“Soft.”  Lykos shook his head, then looked at the wound again.  It was deep, and it was possible Christophe could lose enough blood to damage him if it wasn’t treated soon.  And perhaps more importantly, the wound may fester or scar.  Neither suited him.  He pulled the knife out.

“What are you doing?”  Christophe cringed away.  When Lykos brought the knife toward him, Christophe started frantically shaking his head.  “Don’t.  Please. I can walk.  I just need a banda—”

Lykos sliced the meat of his own palm, near the thumb.  He let the blood well up, then reached over to put his bloody hand over Christophe’s wound.  Christophe tried to pull away, and Lykos used his other hand to yank the chain, pulling Christophe back into position.  “No move.”

“What…”  Christophe’s face was pale.

“Shut up.”  Lykos gave an irritated grunt.  He focused, feeling the wound as the blood worked.  Then he took his hand away, and held it up for Christophe to see.  The wound on his palm was gone.  “See…”  Lykos gestured at the blood-covered but healed skin of Christophe’s leg, then stood.  He patted Christophe’s cheek with the formerly wounded hand.  “I am kind to you.”

(more…)

The Duchess: Chapter 14 (The End)

“Ruarc.”  Gian rushed up and threw his arms around Ruarc’s neck.  “You’re safe.  You’re safe.”

He held Gian to him tightly.  “I was worried about you.”

“About me?”  Gian shook his head.  “You’re the one who…”  Gian trailed off, then pulled back.  “Why is the Stone Dragon naked?”

“That’s…”  Ruarc started to open his mouth, then sighed.

“Because the more Draaks you involve in a situation…”  Markus went over to one of the horses and started checking the saddle.  “The less sense that situation is going to make.”

“Wait just a damn minute…”  Jurgen turned toward him.  “How is any of this our fault?  I seem to recall the only reason I’m involved at all is you asked for my help.”

“Yes, well…”  Markus took a deep breath, then another one.  “Thank you, Jurgen.”  There was a coughing sound from the direction of Lammert.  Markus took another deep breath.  “He looks smug right now, doesn’t he?”

“Yep.”  Jurgen nodded.

“We’re about to get another told you so, aren’t we?”

“Yep.”  Jurgen nodded again.

“I thought I was very clear in my directions.  They were simple.  There were, in fact, only two of them.”  Lammert stalked toward where an ebony skinned woman and the gold-skinned man from earlier were waiting with horses.  “Cut through the woods, and if you see a Manisarian woman steer clear.”

Jurgen blinked.  “Wait —”

“Two directions.  Two steps.  But did you listen?”  Lammert started shaking his head.

“Hey now…”  Markus turned toward Lammert.

“The two of you can somehow manage to govern, but can either of you follow simple directions?”

“Liam.”  Jurgen folded his arms.

“Did you two even listen?”

“Liam.”  Markus pointed toward Gian.

“What really was so hard about those instructions?”  Lammert glared in their direction.

“Liam.”  Jurgen also started pointing at Gian.

“Did you just see a woman and all sense fly from your heads?”

“Liam.”  Markus kept pointing at Gian.

“Were they too complicated?”

“Liam.”  Jurgen raised his voice and pointed at Gian again.

“Too long?  Too comple— ”

“Liam.”  The ebony skinned woman touched Lammert’s shoulder and he stopped.  She pointed at Gian.

Lammert glanced at her, then turned to look at Gian.  Gian glanced at Ruarc uncertainly before looking back at Lammert.  Lamemrt stared at Gian for a few more seconds, then turned back toward Jurgen and Markus.  “I see how you may have misunderstood.”

“Can I hurt him?”  Markus turned toward Jurgen.

“If anyone hurts him…”  Jurgen ran a hand down his face.  “It’s going to be me.”

(more…)

The Duchess: Chapter 12

Durante couldn’t help but stare at the man pacing the cell.  He’d heard legends of the Stone Dragon, and had to admit that some of them may well be true.  The man was taller and even more muscular than Ruarc.  The second man was smaller, though of similar age.  He too, was a handsome man, with short blond hair and a warrior’s build.  According to the jailer, Ruarc had kept Jurgen Draak in line by threatening that they’d shoot the other man first.

“You want to play.”  Vitalia’s voice purred in his ear.

“Some games are too dangerous even for me…”  Durante turned to smile at her.  “Though I do admit to a certain temptation.”

“He’s unarmed and unarmored.”  Vitalia shrugged.  “How dangerous could he be?”

“He once torn a troll’s arm off and used said arm to beat another troll to death.”  Durante chuckled.  “Looking at him, I can believe it.”  He hesitated a moment.

“The Dragon Queen may pay well for the return of her heir.”  Madzia’s voice was quiet.

“More likely she’d send a horde down on us.”  Vitalia shook her head.  “We are too near their border.”

“They say she once spent a year torturing one of her husbands to death.”  Durante glanced at Vitalia.

“I like her already.”  Vitalia smiled, then returned her gaze to the pacing man.  “We can always tell the king we were simply interrogating him to learn if there were others near.”  She flicked her eyes to the blond man.  “And tell our draconic guest that any failure on his part to cooperate will result in his friend bearing the brunt of said interrogation.”

“An interesting notion.”  Durante’s smile widened.

“Let us sleep on it.”  She shrugged.  “Ruarc is occupied.  I’ll send for Gian to entertain us.”  She headed up the stairs.

He followed.

(more…)

The Duchess: Chapter 11

Vitalia accepted a glass of wine from a tray brought by a servant, and smiled.  Madzia had found her early in the visit and whispered to her that Lord Liam of Bohm was in attendance.  It seemed as good an opportunity as any to dispense with agents and make the purchase.  Things weren’t going exactly as she planned, but she found herself enjoying the company anyway.  She’d expected Lord Liam to be a Solsthriem lordling, all prim and proper.  The man in front of her was of Jolusth, tall and handsome in a tunic that covered only one shoulder.  His other shoulder was bare, the better to show off the tattoo that decorated it.  The servant who accompanied him was a tiny, golden skinned exotic with unusually shaped eyes.  She’d never quite seen the like before.

“How is it you’ve acquired lands in both Solsthriem and Thatela?”  She raised an eyebrow.

“It behooves one to range far.”  His accent was a soft drawl.  Despite her lands bordering theirs, she’d rarely had the chance to talk with one.  Lord Liam was delightfully tall, though slenderer than her husband.  “I have interests spanning the world.”

“Your people aren’t known to be merchants.”  She sipped at her wine.

“My people are often underestimated.”  He took a sip from his own glass.  “But pray tell, what interest do you hold…”  He frowned as his servant stumbled a little, spilling from the tray he carried.  Liam barked something in another language.  The servant bowed his head low and hurried off to replace the spilled items.  “Manisar’s training routines seem problematic.”  He glanced at her, then inclined his head.  “Forgive me, duchess.  I know the purchase of slaves is not legal in your lands.”

“Tis a shame.  Servants are well and good but so difficult to train properly.”  She raised her glass in his direction before sending another look in the direction of the servant.  She’d really never seen anything quite like him before.  “I admire your taste.”

“Is that why you wish to acquire my property?”  He smiled at her.

“I think…”  She gave Lord Liam a contemplative smile.  He was a handsome man, and clearly someone not adverse to more unconventional pursuits.  “I have acquired a member of the family that used to hold it.  I wish to acquire the property as well, to ensure there are no…”  She shrugged.  “Behavioral issues.”

Lord Liam laughed.  “Duchess, you have expensive tastes.  I am curious if this acquisition of yours is worth such a grand price?”

“To be fair, there are also the vineyards.”  She took a sip of the wine, peering at him from the rim of the glass.  “Wine and sex do seem natural bedfellows.”

“Perhaps you intend to arouse my curiosity?”  He raised an eyebrow.  “I would be interested in seeing this…”  He chuckled.  “Acquisition of yours.  Perhaps an arrangement can be made?”

She smiled, imagining the look on Ruarc’s face when she ordered him to service a barbarian lord.  “You could accompany me back to my estate, judge for yourself?”  She allowed his servant to refill her glass.  “Then we could come to our bargain.  I’m sure, after experiencing my hospitality, you’d be willing to bargain.”

“You offer an interesting enticement.”  Lord Liam nodded.  “I think there may be business at your estate that could draw my interest.”  He rolled his eyes.  “And one is often led to wonder why one leaves important work to their agents.  Especially when it seems they oft have trouble listening to the simplest of instructions.”

“It does give one an excuse to use a flogger.”  She batted her eyes at him.

“You require an excuse?”  His grin became mischievous.

“Lord Liam, I think you and I could become friends.”  Vitalia laughed.

“The future does tend to play out in the oddest of ways.”

(more…)

The Duchess: Chapter 10

She ran her hand down Ruarc’s cheek, and was pleased to feel no stubble.  The fact that he kept himself well-groomed pleased her.  Gian had taken to tying Ruarc’s hair back for him, and she found she liked the way it looked.  He knelt before her obediently, awaiting her command.  She’d ridden him for nearly an hour that morning, and his body showed some of the effects.  The saddle tended to leave abrasions, and there were light scratches along his legs and torso from stray branches.  “When I return, I am going to have the craftsman rethink some of the straps.”  She frowned as she examined the small blisters that had formed were the straps went over his shoulders.

“Thank you, my lady.”  Ruarc hesitated a moment, then gave a small twitch of his shoulder.  “It would help my balance, I think, if the saddle sat either a little higher or a little lower.  It tends to slide a bit where it is.”

“I see.”  She smiled.  “I would prefer a steady, longer ride.”  She caressed his face with the back of her knuckles.  “Something to consider when I return.”

A shadow crossed his face, gone almost before she noticed it.  “Will I be accompanying you?”

Vitalia narrowed her eyes.  He’d been complicit in Gian’s recent poor behavior.  She was reasonably confident that Gian hadn’t smuggled any letters out for him, but the fact that he had accessed information without her permission made her wary of taking him anywhere he may be able to make contact.  “I think not.”  She tilted her head at him, then caught his chin.  “You’ll not be permitted to write this month.”  His face darkened slightly.  “Nor will you be permitted to write again until I say otherwise.  You attempted to subvert my authority, husband.  That is not acceptable.”

“I apologize, Mistress.”

Mistress.  He’d never called her that before.  For that matter, Gian had stopped using the term as well, adopting Ruarc’s habitual address of calling her ‘my lady’.  When had that occurred?  “You’ve been a good boy for me, Ruarc.  I am willing to be merciful over this lapse.  But my forgiveness goes only so far.”

“I understand, Mistress.”  He lowered his eyes submissively.

“Good boy.”  She leaned forward to kiss his forehead.

(more…)