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Black Pearl 02


The Black Pearl of Pharazionby Cobalt Jade ( 2: ShadowWe fought as one creature, the strange man and I, in that slice of non-being where you lose all sense of self and no stray scrap of emotion intrudes upon your soul. I have never found an experience as strong as battle, save for that which I experienced in Shezrine's palace much later. But I am getting ahead of myself.It may be anticlimactic of me to say that we dispatched the last two soldiers with little difficulty, but that is the truth. In the end five corpses lay sprawled around us. The farmer's son had since freed his parents and now retrieved his trousers from the dirt. He blushed at my glance, at once profoundly grateful and profoundly embarassed. A baby began to keen inside the house and the woman dashed inside. Luckily the family was none the worse for wear; a little bruised and shaken up but without serious injury.The farmer poked the nearest corpse with his boot. "They were the Queen's men," he said in a voice both fearful and relieved."And they meant to torture and kill you," I added, recognizing that as newly conquered peasants they had no recourse open to them. They could be in serious trouble with the Queen for being accomplices in the massacre. "We will help you dispose of the bodies," my new companion said. It was the first time he had spoken. I turned to get a good look at him.Beautiful. Not like a man of my own race, whose proud nose and muscular grace resemble those of black-complected panther, the king of our forest realm. No, this stranger was different. Lean, almost delicately so, but with a sinewy strength. He was lighter-skinned than the natives of this country, almost ivory, and his long, curly hair looked to be a dark brown. His clothes were stained with the yellow clay of the road and dark patches of blood which could have been either his own or another's. He wore a leather jerkin and I was surprised to see a fine growth of hair covered his arms and the little of his chest that was exposed. What strange race was he? The hair was unusual compared to the smooth skins of Pharazii men, but it fascinated me."No one knew they came here," the stranger continued. He had a compelling voice, soft and clear, yet resonant. "This was an unscheduled treat for them, and when they had finished, they had planned to be on their way again. No one will come to ask questions about their disappearance."By now I had my own questions to ask of the stranger, but realized this was not the most opportune time. In silence we stripped the corpses of useful items and piled the bodies into a cart, which was harnessed to two oxen to carry them far into fields. There we dumped them into a deep chasm in the earth, with dirt and stones piled after them. The labor was unpleasant and strenuous and it was dusk by the time we were back. The family offered to shelter us for the night and feed us, but their ambivalance was very evident. After all, they had abetted a major crime against the new state and they could be punished for it. The less they knew about us, too, the better. We said we had to be on our way and accepted some food to eat on the road instead. I called my horse back to me. He had performed well and I rubbed his nose for it. The stranger began to stuff the useful things he had appropriated from the corpses into my saddlebags...dried food, coins and the like. "Thank you," he said, with that direct yet opaque look he had fixed me with on the road."I should be thanking you," I said. His lean profile looked like an elegant carving in the half-light. "How did you come to be a prisoner of the Queen's men?""You're afraid I'm an outlaw, and may now slit your throat?" he said, with some grim humor."Not at all. An outlaw would have run to save his skin after being freed. They have no sense of honor, only self-preservation."He smiled tightly, ironically. "I have that too." I had expected a verbal sparring and was not disappointed. Well, he had his business, and I had mine. He dropped the last flask of lantern-oil in the saddlebag, buckled it tight, and said, "You have a horse, and I do not. Would you give me a ride to the next town?"I very much wanted to do so, to get to know this intriguing man better, but there might danger in it. "Are you a fugitive and likely to be apprehended, and get myself apprehended as well, for helping you?""Yes," he said in that direct way, with a childish innocence. I stared at him."But they will not find us if we keep off the roads. I am an experienced scout of this land, and I know places to hide, trails that not even the natives know. If you let me guide you, no one will find us. I will make it worth your while. I have friends in the next town who will reward you for it."He had saved my life, after all. It was the most I could do. "I accept the arrangement. But first, tell me your name, so I know who I deal with.""Shadow," he said."That's it just? Just Shadow?""Shadowstalk," he amended. "And yours?""Jozhande Tanimury, of Pharazion. I am a mercenary and swordswoman." I swung my body into the saddle and scooted forward so he could mount behind me. "Shadowstalk is hardly your real name," I said. "It is not," he admitted. I commanded my horse to a canter and we rode quickly off the farm, down the dirt road the family probably used to drive their goats and cattle to market. His arms went around my waist to steady himself. Despite my suspicions of him I thrilled to the touch. We might ride all night locked in such a position. "There is only person in this land who knows my true name.""And who is that?" "Deneir Mejdabian," he said. "The rightful king of Obn Dhregni, and my brother."The news was surprising to me, as Sebri Daxyr hadn't said anything about Queen Shezrine being a usurper. But the fast pace of my horse made it impossible for us to talk. We galloped across the stony fields, watched only by impassive scythe-horned cattle, and within a few minutes we were out of cultivated land and far from the main road. Shadow told me to ride towards a group of low, rocky hills that lay to the southeast."Will we reach them by nightfall?" I asked. "Even with the moons, it will be very hard to find a safe path.""Don't worry." Shadow was still gripping my hips, his intriguing scent a mixture of musk, maleness, and sweat overlaid with the summery tang of the herbal pomanders he probably kept in his clothes-chest. I felt him smile. I could not tell you how I knew, but I did. A second later he gave an ear-piercing howl.My horse whinnied in fear, his front legs leaving the ground. I swiftly brought him back under control. "You should have warned me before you did that!" I scolded."A battle-mount is afraid of wolves?""All horses fear wolves. It's in their blood." From far across the darkening plain came another howl, fainter and more distant. A wolf's howl.My horse grew twice as nervous and I had to discipline him yet again. That Shadow had contact with animals, and was perhaps a supernatural creature himself, made me nervous also. What had I gotten myself into? I jumped again as he lit a torch and threw it out into the darkness; it burned a graceful arc through the air, then stopped, suspended, hanging at the height of three feet above the ground, and began to bob back towards us. A wolf held the torch between his jaws, his white fangs visible in a toothy grin."A friend of yours?" I whispered. My horse whickered loudly, his ears held back."More than a friend. A brother." The wolf sat before us, eyes glittering like topaz, and he and Shadow shared a silent communication. Then the wolf turned and loped off across the plains, the banner of his tail bidding us to follow. "He will be our guide," Shadow said. I swallowed. Events were taking a very strange turn. We rode toward the hills, which were now featureless humps against the cobalt sky. The wolf jogged ahead of us, the torch lighting our way. He was a leggy maned wolf of the plains, an entirely different creature from the sociable gray wolves of my slim and rangy as the man who sat behind me, in whom I detected a distinct likeness. They both had the same bearing, the same dark mane...and, I sensed, the same ruthlessness should something cross them. We went into the hills, riding across boulder fields, through narrow crevices, and past tall stone columns like petrified giants. Our trail would have been blind to me even in full daylight. We could not see far because the light of the torch was limited, but several times I knew we traveled narrow ledges over substantial drops. Come day, I might have to blindfold my horse to lead him back. Up and up we went, and when finally we seemed to reach a crest, our guide vanished."We will be safe here," Shadow said. We were in a small hanging valley high up the side of a cliff. Around us grew wild sage, scrubby junipers, and bunches of dry, tough grass that would serve as fodder for the horse. Not rich food, but at least he would eat. We dismounted and I tied and tethered him. Shadow assured me our guardian was still near and would protect us from predators. "Weyhant roam these hills," he said. "They can be very dangerous."I shuddered. I did not want to encounter a weyhant."There are hot springs further up." He pointed at a series of steep stone steps that led between the boulders, twisting to ledges high above that I could barely see. "It's a good place to camp. This is desert land and it can get cold here at night. And I don't know about you, but my body would appreciate a soak, and probably your nose would appreciate it, as well." I grinned. Shadow hadn't smelled *that* bad, and truth to be told, I was very interested in seeing him naked. "Sounds like a good idea to me."We each took up a torch and piled outselves with supplies, then ascended into the darkness. I heard water trickling between the rocks and smelled the sharp tang of minerals. We soon came out onto a ledge. A series of steaming pools lay in broad, steplike terraces below us, each one fed by the pool above. The pools grew progressively cooler as they descended, with the overflow from the lowest pool forming the stream we had heard on the way up. We quickly made a fire by the highest pool, the source of the spring, and sat on the rocks to eat the food the farmer had given us. "So you are a brother to wolves, as well as to kings," I said conversationally. "Care to explain?"Shadow glanced briefly up at me, his dark, shaggy hair making him look as feral as the wolf. I saw the glint of his teeth as he bit into a piece of dried meat. "Both require a long story, gracious amazon, and I am very hungry.""And I am very curious."He chewed and swallowed, then took a long sip of the pewteroot tea I had brewed. "As long as Wolfmoon is in the sky, I can talk to the wolves. I can see what they see, and know what they know. It's that was given to me, long ago, by Lykaon, the wolf-god, and the god of justice. A useful gift, sometimes.""Hmm," I grunted. I flicked an eye towards Wolfmoon, which rode nearly overhead now. When full, the orange-red markings on its surface resembled a wolf leaping to attack, but it was in its crescent phase now. Sometimes, in the dry season usually, they took on the color of the blood, an omen of strife. The other moon, Poritrin, was halfway up the sky. "Would it have saved you from the Queen's men?""Probably not. The gift works only at night, and by then, I would have been in a cell somewhere." He grew quiet, then attacked his meat again. I realized how exhausted he was. He had had a narrow escape, and knew it."Tell me about your other brother, then. The rightful king."His eyes snapped up again. They were not amber like the wolf's but a hazel color, brown and green and gray all at once, with flecks of gold. "Can I trust you?"*Could he?* I had been going to join the Queen's mercenary troops, but I had discarded that idea back at the farm. "Yes. I'm only passing through these lands; I have no intention of going to Obn Dhregni. From the little I know of it, I'll make a wide pass."Shadow smiled without humor. A lopsided smile, as the left half of his jaw was colored a plummy shade of purple. "A wise choice. Queen Shezrine is a monster, and she rules a city of monsters. You could have been stripped naked and thrown into chains to be auctioned off as a novel bed-slave.""Oh, I doubt that." I flicked my sword with my finger, making the hard Pharazii steel ring true."Maybe not. But it has happened to countless others before you." He threw down his unfinished meal with a sigh. "What can I say about the Queen? She is a despot, a sorceress-tyrant who uses her powers to conquer and enslave. But not for the better. She spends all her time in depraved fantasies while her people starve and suffer hardship after hardship, and if they complain, well, they wind up on the auction block. Ten years she has ruled, and before her, her father Subbobor. He was the one who took the city from Gabrin Mejdabian, the rightful king, and killed all his kin...all but one boy, who managed to escape. He had friends among the Leopard Dukes who smuggled him into exile. Deneir is his grandson.""Does Shezrine know you and he exist?""She does, but we are weak, and she is strong. Over the years, we've learned to be stealthy. We have many spies in the city, even in her palace, and allies among the city's nobles as well. Shezrine is powerful, but she is not popular. One day, when the moment is right, we will all move to oust her.""Is that why you were captured?""Partly. I travel these lands, sometimes in disguise, sometimes not, to report the Queen's business back to my brother. Sometimes my men and I raid her caravans for goods we need, harassing her trade routes and freeing any slaves she transports. On this last trip, however, I was alone. I went into Bontatris as it burned to report on the battle. I was careless. And I got caught. The soldiers knew who I was. They intended to make of me a present to the Queen, and...I don't need to tell you the rest. She would have been very eager to hold me as a hostage against Deneir."How forthright he was in telling me this. I'd done him more of a turn than I'd thought. I threw another stick on the fire, drawing my cloak around my shoulders. "You do not resemble a native of this land. How is it you call Denier brother? Which side of your parentage differs?"Shadow stiffened, as if it was a obvious. "We share no parentage. But we *are* brothers in blood. We shared an oath, many years ago." He stood and began to pull off his clothes. "If you'll excuse me, I would like to soak a while. Will you be joining me?"No coyness, this. In most lands I had been in men and women do not bathe together or even see each naked outside of the marriage bed. But we were fellow travelers, and now fellow outlaws, and as with mercenaries in general, modesty does not matter where practicality is assumed. I nodded. "You'll be wanting a poultice for those ribs," I added, glancing at the portions of his body he uncovered. It was a carryover from my healer's training, begun and abandoned after I left the Akkidri and the village of my family. "You are a healer as well as a swordswoman?" he said disbelievingly, throwing his leather jerkin on a boulder."Yes, and a very knowledgable one." Shadow wriggled out of his breeches, and I found my assumptions true on two counts--one, that his wounds had not been treated; and two, that his cock and tautly muscled backside were magnificent. "Your poultices can wait. I can walk, and talk, and breathe; a few bruises won't kill me." He turned, the sketchy light of the fire defining his lean, graceful body even further, and settled into the pool with a series of little grunts, half pain, half pleasure. I handed him a bag of soapwart shavings so he could wash himself. "I paid ten darans for this in Ledoptra."He wet the bag and squeezed it, letting the fine suds run out through the mesh. "They cheated you. But it was worth it."I took off my clothes, laying them on the boulder beside his own. Shadow ignored me, trying to get as much of himself as clean as possible before I took the soap-bag away. His sure, swift gestures, reminiscent of sword thrusts and parries, intrigued me, tempered by the little winces he gave when he hit a bruise or scrape. He was a handsome man now that the dirt was gone, the firelight giving his light skin a burnished glow. Fine, dark hairs pelted his arms and chest, dwindling to a line that led down his belly to his navel, and thence to his cock...which was classically proportioned, neither too large nor too small. I felt my nipples grow hard and a tiny bead of moisture grew between my legs; but he remained ignorant of my scrutiny. It was just as well. I piled my braidlocks on top of my head, using two hairpins to keep them there, and slipped in to join him.I stretched out, luxuriating in the warmth. The springs were not the muddy, smelly ponds of my homeland, having instead floors of soft, clean sand and basins of stone edged with crystalized minerals. The olivine greens and ambers sparkled in the firelight like icy jewels. Shadow raised his eyes, and I thought I detected the same pleasure and surprise as he took in my flesh. He must have noticed my nipples; but then, we were traveling companions. One did not remark on the obvous as if we were empty-headed courtiers flirting at a party. I could guess his cock was getting hard, too. I could always tell, from the little shiftings of discomfort, the sighs of agitation.Shadow handed me the soap. I caught sight of an oddly-shaped white scar on his side. "What fell monster gave you that?""Human monsters," he said shortly."Oh?" I said, but he said nothing further. I sensed it was not something he wished to talk about. His defensiveness made me feel oddly shy, and I soaped myself rather more brusquely than I had planned. What was it about this mysterious, handsome man that so unnerved me?"It happened long ago," he said in some repentance for snapping. "It made who I am.""I thought the Wolf-God made you who you are.""He too. Look." He lifted his dark, damp hair to show me his shoulder, which had emblazoned on it a marvelous tattoo, a leaping wolf seen in profile, the same form that graced the moon. "Lykaon gave me this, after I agreed to serve him."I had seen stranger things on my journies than divine gifts that gave kinship to animals, yet the tattoo disturbed me. It spoke of great pain, and great loss, in spite of the artistry and ferocity in it; the expression on the wolf's face was just a little mournful, a little despairing, imprisoned by the crescent moon that circled it from behind.Shadow let his hair fall and scrutinized me in turn. "You have a fine set of scars as well, lady amazon."I lifted my leg to show him a pale line halfway between thigh and knee. "This I received in my first campaign, in Mitulmar during the Feud of the Perfume Merchants.""Interesting." His fingers stroked it lightly."And this I got from an unctious visp when I crossed the Minnisk Desert. Look close, and you can still see the imprints of the fangs.""A horrible wound. But it healed cleanly."I rose partway out of the pool so the water came only to my waist. "And this graze on my ribs came from a Arg-Farid spear. Fortunately, my mail deflected most of it."He was grinning by now, alert to the game that was being played. He grinned even more when he realized he would have to lift my breast to see its whole length. Which he did, almost decorously, and that was part of the game too, a mockery of courtiless."A close call, dear lady; had the angle been different, you might have a boy's torso now.""A close call indeed," I said lightly, enjoyed the feel of his hand. Though my body is lean my breasts are heavy, jutting out from my body like a pair of ebon gourds. "I had to wear my bambmorae in a sling until it healed.""What are bambmorae?"It was a Pharazii word that had no direct translation. "Breasts" was too neutral, "udders" too earthy. "Tits," I said at last, though perhaps that was too shrill."And they were none the worse, for that abuse?" he said, looking me in the eyes with a crooked smile on his face, his fingers stroking the stiff stem of my nipple."As you see for yourself," I said, my own voice betraying my desire, "they stand yet at attention.""Honorable to the last," he murmured, and engulfed the brave nipple, wounded yet still strong, in the warm suction of his mouth.Gods, that felt sweet. He gave a long, soft suck, one hand caressing my other breast, plying the nipple between his fingers in long, silky strokes. Wolfmoon smiled down on us. It had been a while since I had a lover. When I was flush with fresh gold I would find a like-minded partner and enjoy myself for a while, but in the heat of battle, or the tedium of camp life, there was no space for a lover or even any sexual thoughts at all. As a mercenary, I had learned to take my lovers where I could.And I was determined to take my pleasures now. I reached under the water as Shadow continued his bambmorae massage, finding the cleft of his strongly muscled thighs. His cock was ready for action, hard and slippery. I felt its length, its particular shape, and it stiffened even further in my hand, resting snugly in my palm like the hilt of my favorite sword. The stars burned above us, sparks set in ebon velvet. I stroked his shaft, purring in contentment. The soft, mineral-laden waters gave an extra lubrication. "Are you sure you feel up to this?"He kissed me, and the scent of man-musk mingled with cool wetness and warm rock, along with wild sage and resinous spice from the stunted pines. "Would I be *so*...and *so*...if I did not?"I laughed and gasped, very surprised at the final place his finger chose to rest. "That's as may be, but what of the splendid bruises on your ribs?""Damn the ribs," he said, and I vibrated on the tip of his finger, my breathing growing rapid so I forgot to attend to his cock. He slipped his finger in further, to the second joint, and the sudden, unbidden gyration of my hips sent a shaft of exquisite lust through my flesh and turned my brains to jelly."You're a delicious man," I managed to get out. "But tonight, I must ride."He found a comfortable position on the smooth rocks inside the pool and I mounted him. His cock slid easily into my sex. I gripped him hard but not cruelly, straddling his hips. He felt so good inside me, so warm and full of life and power, for all his mystery and evasive talk. He wound his fingers in my braids, discarding the hairpins, and pulled me close so our mouths could meet. I pumped my hips up and down, enjoying the smooth friction of his cock against my clit. My buttocks rose and fell in the steaming water, dark moons to the two pale ones that rode above. The contrasts of heat and cold stimulated me further, along the sensuous ripple of the waves across my skin. I threw my head and torso back. Shadow pinioned my wrists, keeping me upright. I couldn't escape, yet didn't want to. His face was full of anguished desire, but for what I could not tell. His dark eyes held more than a hint of madness. Rather than alarming me, it made me ride harder, my buttocks churning the water into foam. His back arched as he met my thrusts, and his groans took on the timbre of snarls. It made me even more aroused, so I rotated my hips, snapped them like a dancer. My nipples swung like heavy beads with my motions, now submerged, now puckering in the frigid air, and I had to touch them, or I would go mad. I tried to free my arms, but Shadow thought of it first. He grasped my nipples in his hands, pulling me forward to his mouth. I felt the hard pinch of teeth. The shock would have been painful at any other time, but now I moaned in excitement at the hard teasing he gave them with his lips and eager captive, sealed to him by the voracious thrusting of my sex. I reached between my legs to rub my clit as I jogged up and down. The tingling increased, and I knew within seconds I would come.My ecstasy approached pain, surpassed it, and I came last in a long groan, my thoughts spinning off like fireworks, the lovely spasms creating a veritable squall in the tiny pool. With a shout, Shadow came as well. I felt his semen spilling into me, each thrust a separate annihilation. The warm, milky liquid dispersed in the water, then disappeared, to be carried out in the outflow. I sighed deeply, resisting the urge to collapse against his ribcage. I treasured the feel of him inside me for a few seconds longer, then carefully slid my pelvis off his tired cock. "You fuck as well as you fight. I would hate to be your enemy," he said.I splashed him in mock anger, but I was secretly pleased. If his mind was as available to me as his cock, I might do nothing but. But I had no idea how he felt about the situation, whether it was a casual tumble or something that could lead to more, and I checked the rumblings of posessiveness I felt. "I'll treat your wounds now."He aimed a wet slap at my buttock as I climbed out of the pool. "What? No cuddling and small talk?"I grinned wickedly as I prepared my herbs. Contrary to what other females have told me, I've found men cherish it as much if not more than women. "That is for naive village girls. I have a job to do.""Help me out, at least?"I put down my mortar and pestle to lend him my arm. His injuries, or perhaps the hot water and exertion, had sapped him. I helped him over to the soft, tanned sheepskins I kept for sleeping on and wrapped a clean blanket around him. "You'd be wise not to exert yourself too much tomorrow. How far is this village of yours?""At the other end of the valley. We should reach it by nightfall, even if we get a late start." I added some hot water to magewort to make a paste, which I applied to the cuts that looked in danger of infection. I wrapped linen bandages around his limbs to keep it there. The pewteroot tea, which had been slowly brewing while we romped, was now strong enough to drink as an antibiotic. Shadow made a face as he tasted it, but downed the whole cup. As a scout and spy, he knew the dangers of sickening or even dying because of a minor injury."You have friends there who will take care of you? They will smuggle you back to your brother's lands to make your report?""Yes," he said, with an odd expression on his face, as if he wanted to ask me something. "You'll see for yourself, tomorrow, when we go."I dried myself off with my discarded clothes and lay next to him, drawing the clean blanket, and the heavy wool horse blankets, over us both. Shadow was right. It got very cold here at night.But, there were other ways to keep warm.


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