Tag Archives: high fantasy

Innocents, Part 1

This short serial takes place about 500 years before the start of Glamourhai.

Falthro examined the kneeling human the guards had brought before him. He detected no sign of the evil lurking in the man’s soul, but evil always conceals itself well. Two of his victims were missing. Two children whose mutilated bodies hadn’t been found and who might still be alive. Their families had petitioned for Falthro’s help. Another fae could have used his glamour to compel truth. Unfortunately, Falthro had…limitations…most fae didn’t. He would need to resort to other methods.

He seized the man’s chin, forcing his head up. The human was passive in his hands, but fire lurked in his eyes.

“Take him into the play room and prepare him for me.” His collared servants grabbed the prisoner and dragged him away. Falthro turned to the guards. “My page will show you to the kitchen. I will get the information you need as quickly as I can.”

“Yes m’lord.”

Falthro entered the glamourhame a few minutes later. The prisoner had been stripped, and hung from the ceiling by his wrists. His legs shackled to the floor, stretching his body painfully. Left there long enough, his own weight would suffocate him, and even a short stint could cripple him. Falthro wasn’t interested in coddling a child killer.

They would start slowly. “Do you know why you are here?”

“No.” Falthro tasted the lie in the curt answer. His whip flashed out, laying a searing line on the man’s face that stopped a half inch from his eye. Falthro smiled as the man jerked in the restraints and bit back a cry.

“That was one lie. For the next lie I will take your eye.” Falthro’s lip curled and he fought down his desire to spill blood. “Four children disappeared from Elm Grove. The guard found two bodies. You are a dead man for what you have done, but your death will be easier if you tell me where the others are.”

The prisoner said nothing, staring through Falthro as he struggled to breath. The lash this time wrapped itself around his neck. His eyes bulged out of his head as Falthro yanked the whip taut, cutting off his airflow. Falthro allowed him to jerk and struggle until his eyes began to glaze, than pulled the whip off of him. The man gasped and choked, tears streaming down his face. Falthro waited until he was quiet. “Where are they?”

The man sagged in the chains, chin dropping to his chest. To Falthro’s surprise he reeked of hopelessness and despair. The strength of the emotions seared Falthro’s glamour so badly that when the human spoke, Falthro couldn’t understand him. The fae lord placed the handle of his whip under the prisoner’s chin and lifted his head. “Repeat yourself.”

The fire in the prisoner’s eyes was gone, his gaze vacant. “You won’t believe me.”

Falthro stared at him. Something in the man’s emotions, his demeanor, made Falthro’s stomach twist. “Tell me. I will know if you speak the truth.”

“I can’t tell you where the kids are. I didn’t take them. Didn’t even know they were missing until the guards dragged me from my home.”

The strength of the man’s belief was a spike hammered into Falthro’s mind. Long experience allowed Falthro to block out the pain, but nothing could help face the horror filling him. He heard only his own silent scream. For the first time since childhood he came near to cursing Dannu. How had She allowed him to trap himself like this?

The man stared at Falthro. “You believe me?” the hope in his voice nearly broke Falthro.

Releasing the winch and lowing the man to the floor took only a moment. Falthro undid the shackles holding the man’s arms and one ankle, leaving the other ankle chained. “I will be back shortly.” Falthro grabbed a small chest with balms and bandages and shoved it at him. “Care for yourself.”


“You spoke the truth.” The flavor of it still lingered on Falthro’s tongue, taunting him with his own guilt. “You are innocent. I must deal with another matter, and then I will return.”

Nearly out the door Falthro stopped and turned back. “Do you know anything of what happened to those children?”


Falthro nodded and hurried down the hall.

The guards waited in the kitchen. Falthro ignored both the cook and her helper, approaching the guards with an expression schooled to regret. “The prisoner cannot tell us why all the bodies weren’t found together. I will speak with your town council and the presiding judge on this matter. They are to present themselves here as soon as possible.” He had questioned these two earlier—they believed the story they had told him. His answers would be found elsewhere.

He turned to leave and one of the guards said, “M’lord, we have orders to witness the prisoner’s execution.”

Falthro face them, as his expression hardened into a granite mask. “I swore to Dannu I would punish this man for the deaths of those children. You will go and leave the matter in my hands.”

They left.

Falthro allowed himself ten blessed minutes alone. Ten minutes where the emotions and thoughts surrounding him did not burn like fire through his mind, and he could just be. Ten minutes to grieve for the children he had failed. Ten torturous minutes to agonize over what he must now do. “Dannu, show me the way. Will you spare me the burden of more innocent blood? Will you release me of my oath?”

He hands trembled as he raised them to his face. The lack of Dannu’s presence was an empty ache. He gathered himself and left his sanctuary, returning to the glamourhame, and his victim.

When Falthro entered the room the man stood from a crouch. Falthro stopped and searched his memory for the human’s name—Dannel… Dannel’s face gleamed with a thin coating of one of the housekeeper’s creams, something to help the lash heal cleanly. He rattled the remaining ankle shackle, “If you believe I’m innocent, is this necessary?” He tried to sound relaxed, but Falthro tasted both hope and fear.

The fae shook his head, “Perhaps it is not, however I cannot permit you to leave.”

The flavor of fear grew stronger, and Dannel’s hands clenched. Still, the human managed a chuckle. “Well I’m definitely not returning to town any time soon.”

Falthro handed Dannel a loose robe and turned his back while the man shrugged the it on. “I was a fool, and I have done you great wrong. I am unable to make it right, or change what must happen. I can only tell you that I regret it. If it is with in my power both the true guilty party and those who wrongly brought you too this place will be punished.”

Dannel stared at him, wide eyed, “Lord Falthro, I won’t pretend this wasn’t one of the most horrific experiences of my life…expecting to be tortured to death for something I didn’t do…” He stopped, and when he spoke again his voice was a harsh whisper, “I was locked in my own mind, screaming in horror while my body carried me to my doom. You believe me.”

Falthro made himself face the plea in the man’s eye. “I am sorry. When the town first asked for my intervention, I swore to Dannu I would punish you for the deaths of those children. She accepted that oath.”

Life itself seemed to flow out of the young man’s face, a death of the spirit that was far worse than death of the body. “You can’t…you can’t, you know I am innocent. You know!”

“Yes.” Falthro forced himself to show no sign of his own pain as the man’s shock and horror ripped through his mind.

Frozen, Dannel stared about the shelves lining the glamourhame, at the many tools Falthro could use to tear him apart slowly. Killing by inches. “What kind of monster are you…”

“Not quite as much of one as you think.” Falthro allowed himself a small sigh. “I have prayed to Dannu to release me of my pledge, but she does not answer. I do no know why. I do not know why she accepted such an oath. I do have some discretion in how I fulfill it.”

“Discretion? Earlier you offered me an ‘easy death’ if I gave you information. Is that your ‘discretion’!”

Falthro took a deep breath. “Dannel, formerly of Elm Grove, falsely accused and falsely condemned. Your punishment may take three forms, I offer you a choice. You may be given an easy death, to fall asleep and not wake up. No pain, no suffering. If you prefer, I can castrate you, brand you and exile you from these lands. You will live, and you will have your freedom.”

“And the third choice?” The question tried to be a challenge, but the anger and despair behind it were all too clear.

“You may choose to become one of my slaves, bound to obey me by sigil. Once a week you will come to this room, and I will torture you to feed my glamour; no permanent harm will be done to you, but you will suffer greatly. The rest of the week you will have duties throughout my manor. Your needs will be supplied, and you will be able to witness what punishment I can craft for those who falsely accused and condemned you.”

Dannel was silent for a long moment, then asked. “And what is your punishment, Lord Falthro? What of my executioner?”

Falthro’s grim smile showed no hint of pain as the strength and rapid shifts in the human’s emotions made stars explode behind his eyes. “If you become my slave, your presence will be my punishment. If you stay, and only if you stay, you will learn why. Suffice to say I do not speak of anything so ephemeral as guilt or shame.”

Dannel looked skeptical, but allowed the question to drop. Taring at his hands, he asked,“Must I choose now?” ***give some emotional context here***

“No.” Falthro pulled a bell rope. “Rest the night. Sleep, as best you can.”

The door opened and one of Falthro’s servants entered. “My lord?”

“Escort Dannel to one of the guest rooms. Bring him anything he wishes.”

“Yes, lord.”

She bent and undid the shackle then gestured for Dannel to precede her from the room.

“I offer no apologies, for they are meaningless. You may speak with any of my people and explore the manor as you wish.” He summoned his glamour, imposing his will on the other’s mind. “You will not leave this building, nor seek to escape.” Dannel rocked on his heels as the force of the order went home. Falthro turned away. When the door closed, the ripping pain of using his glamour added to the agony of enduring Dannel’s emotions brought him to his knees.

Falthro stayed up through the night, praying. Dannu ignored him, responding to neither his pleas for absolution nor demands for an explanation. Finally, as dawn broke the east, he braced himself for the day to come.

Breakfast was an ordeal, but he was used to choking down food—both physical and spiritual—no matter how much he suffered. He was grimly certain that on this morning, Dannel’s suffering was far worse than his.

Almost as if the thought summoned him, Falthro’s personal servant escorted Dannel into the room. Before either could say anything Falthro asked, “Have you eaten?”

“No, Lord Falthro.” Dannel swallowed, hard.

His servant…was this one Beattie? No, Beattie had been the last one. Regardless, she knew his ways. She set a second plate on the table and filled it. Falthro pointed at it. “Eat. No matter how badly you feel, no matter what you face each day, unless you wish to die, you eat. Food is life, and not eating makes it that much more likely you will die.”

Dannel glared at him, but Falthro didn’t notice. The man’s emotions had lit a fire behind his eyes, a fire only partly eased by his servant’s soothing presence. He chose his people for that quality.

One bite at a time he forced himself to finish his pastry. When the last crumb was gone, he shoved his plate away. Across the table, Dannel half swallowed, half choked on, a mouthful of eggs. After a few more bites he set his fork down and met Falthro’s eyes.

“I can say nothing to sway you? No plea, no argument.”

Falthro looked away. “I cannot break my oath to Dannu. Not will not, cannot.” The last of Dannel’s hope died, but the man only nodded. “They say there is a special black stone fae are helpless against.”

Falthro sat back in his chair. The anger and hate pouring of Dannel told him where this was going. Something other emotion flickered behind them but subtleties were lost on the fae. “Starmetal. I have seen none since we came to this land.If you did manage to find any and use it against me, I would call it be justice.”

Dannel’s eyes widen. “Would you?”

“The crime you were accused of is so very heinous, no lesser punishment will fill the terms of my oath. And yet does that not make my crime against you just as heinous?” Falthro shrugged, “Note I do not say I would stand still while you plunged starmetal into my heart or any such dramatics. Only that if you managed to do so, I would call it justice.” Closing his eyes, Falthro saw the coming horror clearly. Dannel had choosen exile and to seek revenge, no matter what it cost him.

The taste of determination overwhelmed that of hate and anger. Determination and…respect? The slither of cloth broke the silence. He opened his eyes. Dannel knelt before him, hands fisted and face strangely calm.

“Lord Falthro, I doubt I will ever forgive what you do, but you have been honest with me. Of the choices you offer me…I will be your slave.”

Falthro gripped the table with trembling hands and whispered a prayer of thanks. The next several decades would be pain filled, but his hands would not bear more innocent blood. “So be it.”

For the first time in his long life, the fae lord bowed to a human.

The Dragon

Nia guides her horse around a twisted track in the mountains. Each step takes her farther from familiar territory and deeper into the lands of the dragons. It is a dangerous journey, but necessary. Coming around another turn, a valley suddenly opens up before her. The valley floor is a canvas of wild flowers, swathes of bright colors that delight the eye. The scent reaches even to the hills that formed the valley’s walls.

But Nia sees none of this. A glint of red in the air blinds her to the beauty spread before her. A dragon dancing through the air at the far end of the valley. The power and beauty bring tears to her eyes, and she releases a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. The last time she saw him, he had been barely able to walk, his scales tinged gray and edging towards black. She had been warned he would never fully recover, had dreaded what she would find. Now…

She allows the tears to spill freely as her horse picks his way down the rocky slope. Without warning, the dance ends. The dragon collapses, plummeting to the ground. A scream fills her throat as she pushes her horse as fast as she dares on the rocky slope.

The falling shape disappears behind a slight fold in the ground, followed immediately by a loud splash. She heaves a great sigh of relief, but doesn’t slow her horse. As she reaches the valley floor, the dragon reappears, climbing up the far side of the valley to a rocky ledge.


On a rise at the far end of the valley, Long is pleasantly exhausted. He had pushed himself that morning, flying high and far. The dive into the hidden lake had taken the last of his strength. Pleased with his recovery, he curls up on a ledge to rest. Just as his head touches the ground, he feels the quiver of approaching hoof beats. He stands, torn between hope and annoyance, and turns towards the sound.

Walking down the valley takes longer than flying, but he has already pushed himself too far today. His patience is hard pressed when he sees the figure riding towards him. He resists the urge to run, holding to a steady walk as she urges her horse to a canter.

When Long finally reaches her, he changes form, shrinking down to a human seeming, with coarse red hair and golden eyes. He goes to one knee and grins up at her.

Nia slides off her horse and grabs Long’s hands, pulling him up into an embrace. “Demons, I’ve missed you!”

He returns the hug and allows himself to rest his head on her shoulder. “Same. I’m sorry I wasn’t waiting for you. I must have lost track of time.”

“Not your fault. I’m early.”

They remain holding each other for long minutes. Finally, Nia steps back and looks Long over. His frame is gaunt, like a bear after long hibernation. New lines etch his face, and there is a weariness to him that is not masked by his joy at her arrival. “Let’s gather your things and hit the trail,” she says, hiding her worry, “There’s several hours of daylight yet, and I passed a good camping spot on my way in.”


To her surprise, he looks away. “I…I can try, Ma’am. I’m afraid I over did it flying. And—I’m still sleeping large parts of the day.”

Nia is disappointed, but understands. Nia makes a camp at the mouth of the cave where Long had made his temporary home. She hides her displeasure as Long makes no effort to help her, instead lying down and taking a short nap. When the camp is set, she watches him sleep; then decides that since they have time, she’s going to take advantage of it. She pulls out a rope and stake from the tent she decided not to bother pitching. With Long still asleep, she binds his wrists together with the rope and uses the stake to pin his arms to the ground above his head.

Long wakes as she pulls open the laces of his breeches and frees his shaft to reach for the sky. He groans and whimpers as her hands caress him. “Please, Ma’am, let me taste you.” She ignores him, using her hands and mouth to bring him right to the edge.

He quivers beneath her and she grins,”Don’t you dare cum.” Then immediately takes him in her mouth again, swirling her tongue around his head and playing her fingers up his shaft. “Yes, Ma’am” he bites out.

A few moments later she releases him and kneels over his head. He whimpers and strains to keep still, craving her hands on him but wanting desperately to reach up and claim her with his mouth. She reaches down and uses her fingers to pleasure herself, letting him watch and hunger as she teases her clit and thrusts her fingers deep inside herself.

She comes, long and hard, and collapses on top of him. “Do you still want to taste me?” she whispers in his ear..

“Please, Ma’am.” She allows him to suck on her fingers, slick with her juices. When he finishes, she releases his hands and helps him sit up. They make dinner together, then curl up and fall asleep in each others arms. As Nia falls asleep, his shaft pokes at her stomach, and she wishes that she had dared to use him as fully as she would have before his injury.


The next day they set out, Long walking while Nia rides. At first he keeps up easily, but overtime his energy sags. By noon he can’t push himself anymore. Nia is annoyed that he didn’t say something sooner, and annoyed with herself for not recognizing his weakness. She insists that they make camp early. Long fights depression, angry with himself for failing in something so basic. He feels even worse the next day when Nia puts him up on the horse.

The following week is a difficult one for both of them. Nia ends up doing most of the work of camp, taking care of Long as well as herself. She is very cautious in the things she asks him to do—asks, not orders, a difference he feels very strongly. Even worse is when he needs to tell her he can’t do something.

He is unaccustomed to riding. In its own way it is as tiring as walking, but when he needs to he can fall asleep in the saddle—and does so more than once.

At the first village they come to, Nia purchases a mule. Unlike Nia’s horse, the new beast isn’t used to the scent of a dragon, and doesn’t take well to Long as a rider. For several days their speed is reduced even further as Long needs to fight the best each morning to mount and gain control. It takes nearly a week to settle the beast down. Long tries not to think about the state of their coin purse. They had little money to begin with, and the mule took almost all of it.


A month after leaving the dragon’s valley they have an establish routine. Long wakes early and puts a porridge on the fire for breakfast. After they eat, he rests while Nia packs up the camp, saddles the mounts and gets them ready for the day. They ride out, moving at a slow and easy pace. After traveling half the day, they stop. Long rests again while Nia writes in her journal or carves. If Long is able to, they travel for several more hours after supper, otherwise they make camp and settle in for the night.


Nia is constantly watchful. More than once Long has tried to continue and ended up collapsing in the saddle. She hands down strict rules about what he should and shouldn’t do and just how hard he should push himself. Not wanting to push him herself, she hasn’t brought him to her bed since their first night together.


Long sleeps fitfully. He knows he is lucky to be alive, lucky that Nia was willing to wait for him,but he feels too strongly all he has lost. He can’t help wondering is Nia would be better off without him. She won’t release him—he knows her better than that. But he sees what his illness costs her.


The next day they are passing through a village when a messenger arrives. Bandits raided the next town, and they need help. Nia and Long know they need to respond, but the town is a full day’s ride away.


“You–” Nia starts.

“I’l–” Long cuts himself off.

Once they would needed no words. A glance, a nod, and they’d be off. Now there is a moment of silence.

“Follow as you can,” Nia finally says, “I’ll ride ahead and deal with this. With luck I’ll have it wrapped up by the time you arrive.”

“You shouldn’t face them alone.”

“And what good will you do anyone if you fall on your face getting out of the saddle?”

“I–” There is nothing he can say to that. And the truth burns like dragons-bane.

He says nothing as she gathers her things to ride out.

Nia hates leaving him behind. She isn’t fond of the idea of facing the bandits without him at her side, and she hates knowing she hurt him. But it’s the only answer. There is no way he can keep up in human form and…her thoughts skitter to a halt. Outside of battle, he stays in his human form—an old promise, and old rule, from when she first bound him to her. So long ago neither of them even thought of it any more. She had made an exception for while he healed, but the moment she had collected him, he had taken human form and stayed .

They were fools, idiots.

She turns back and pushes her horse into a trot. He is just leading his mule up to the mounting block when she pulls the reins out of his hands. Rebellion flashes in his eyes. She places a hand against his cheek and smiles. “Fly.”

It amuses her, the way his jaw drops. “Ma’am…Nia….”

“Fly ahead. You’ll have time to rest before I arrive.”

Finally he nods. “If that is what you want me to do.”

His odd response disturbs her, but she needs to hurry. “Yes,” she says, and still leading the mule, pushes her horse into a fast trot out of town.


Long soars above the forest. Nia is right, even a full day’s ride is only a few hours flight. The flight will wear him out, but with time to rest at the end he will be able to fight. Not like riding the same distance. She is, he assures himself, just being practical. But he is used to being restricted to the smaller form, and it feels like a betrayal, to shed his human skin and take to the skies, tracking Nia from above like choice prey. He is supposed to be hers, to serve her and care for her.

Disgusted with his own melancholy, and sure Nia would have some choice words for him is she could hear his thoughts, he puts his attention on flying, and tries to forget his disquiet.


Nia finds Long resting at a bend in the road outside of town. Being able to trade off the horse and mule had allowed her to make better time than she expected. Even knowing what is waiting for them, she is tempted to let him rest longer, but his eyes pop open at her approach, and before she can say anything he leads the mule to a convenient stump to mount.


The bandits are easy to find, and as always break quickly when one of the adventurers hunting them turns out to be a red dragon—even a young one. When the battle is over, Long collapses, leaving Nia to clean up on her own. They will get the traditional adventurer’s 10% of the goods the bandits stole, which to her experienced eye looks to be about what they had spent on the mule. So, no great profit, but at least they will get their reserve back.


She and Long need to have a long talk. They’d avoided discussing the future, the way his illness was impacting their adventuring. They haven’t talked about the way they are being pulled apart, how uncomfortable they both are with the changes in their lives. She sits down next to him, and builds up the fire. ”I should have done that,” he murmurs.


“What else is a crippled dragon good for?” he tries to make it a joke, but the hurt and bitterness and self-pity seep through. He shakes himself. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t–”

She kisses him. “You shouldn’t, I shouldn’t. We’ve both been under a strain lately. You’ve been so worried about letting me down…”

“You’ve been terrified of pushing me too hard…”

“I think it’s time we remember a few things. Put your hands behind your head.” She pulls out several sets of thongs and ties his hands together. A few moments later she had his fully bound.


“That’s ‘Ma’am’ unless you just want me to gag you…”

He swallows. “Yes Ma’am”

Pleased, she unlaces his pants and rips open his shirt, leaving him fully exposed. Then she pulled a hood over his head before going to prepare a few things.


Long squirms against the ties, and shivers as the wind teases his exposed shaft, reminding him that he is in the open where anyone can see…assuming anyone would walk down this rarely-traveled lane that leads only to a bandit’s hideout. He is tired and already hurting from the long day, and the ties cut into muscles that spasm randomly in the chill. He bites back a moan, and tries to listen for the sound of Ma’am’s footsteps.

He smells it first, a sharp astringent smell makes him whimper in the darkness under the hood. He feels her hand, warm and greasy, caress his shaft , and each touch leaves behind a warmth that quickly grows into the burning sensation he both loves and hates. She reaches further between his legs, and he gasps as she smears a great glob of the liniment about his hole. A few moments later something presses against his hole, entering him, filling him and bringing that hot burning sensation inside of him.

He moans and thrashes in his bonds. She just laughs. After that becomes a blur, Pleasure and pain mixed in ways he will never be able to sort out, her own moans and cries filling his ears as she uses him for her own pleasure, her own fulfillment. Then she was cumming, bucking against him, and he screams as she grinds herself against his abused flesh. She bends down over him and bites him hard on the side of his neck, breaking the skin and drawing blood. Marking him once again as her own.

They both sleep that night, better than they have since his injury.


Novel Excerpt

Hey all, a few folks know I’ve got a femdom themed fantasy novel I’ve been working on. I’m currently in edits and hope to be releasing the book in late October/early November. Because I’ve been buried in edits I’ve fallen behind on my short stories. So since the novel kept me from finishing a story this month, I thought I’d share the first 3000 odd words of the novel. I hope you enjoy.

Mattin filled the trader’s tankard before taking the empty plate back to the kitchen. His steps echoed in the inn’s near-empty common room. The dozen traders who would usually be breaking their fast of a summer morning had made themselves scarce the past few weeks.

His father glared at him as he started scrubbing the plate. “That’s Marta’s job.”

“Ah, let her be, Pop.” Three month’s ago Count Oeloff had claimed Losel, the blacksmith’s apprentice who’d been courting Marta. Losel was one of Oeloff’s slaves now – if he was still alive.

“Work is a better cure than idleness.” Bren had worked himself like a dog the past year, trying to forget the wife Oeloff had taken from him 20 years ago. Mattin had a few vague memories of his mother, Marta didn’t remember her at all. Bren took a swig from the bottle that he kept close at hand these days. “It’ll be over soon. One more time, he’ll come. One more woman he’ll claim. Then the tribute year will be over. Business will return to normal and we can forget for another ten years.”

Whatever Mattin might have said was forgotten as the sound of a horn rang through the inn. Father and son dropped what they were doing and ran to the front of the inn.

Mattin felt his heart plummet as he peered out the inn door. The coach filling the small in yard was drawn by a matched set of four, heads high and tails plumed, were just slowing to a halt. The coach they pulled was not painted black, the wood itself was darker than Mattin’s hair. It was decorated with gold filigree and sparkling gems. Emblazoned on the side was the sigil of Count Oeloff, lord of South Tarn.

Perched on top of the coach was a battered, one-eyed man wearing a leather and bronze collar. Mattin didn’t recognize him at first. Losel had been whole and hale when the Lord had claimed him a season ago. Now he was covered with scars. His single eye was dull and despairing.

Heart in his throat, Mattin backed away from the door. There was only one reason the fae lord would come to a tradesman’s inn. He had to warn Marta.

Turning, he ran for the back door of the inn.

The Maresday market in Trader Square was quieter than the full seven day market held every Sunsday, but White Oak was a large enough town (almost a city) that none of its markets were ever quiet. Even so, the usual boisterous noise of trading and gossip was subdued. No one met Mattin’s eyes as he pushed through the crowd. No one knew why he had come, and they didn’t want to know. Better to pretend that everybody one passed was about their normal errands. Better not ask questions when you might not like the answers. Mattin understood how they felt. He didn’t ask anyone if they’d seen Marta. Didn’t want anyone asking why he was looking. Didn’t want anyone to… He found her trading gossip and haggling at the chandler’s with Mistress Pors. As always, she was surrounded by a little coterie of friends and admirers. Mattin pushed through the crowd. “Marta! Marta!”

She smiled when she saw him. “Mattin! I’m sorry I left you to do the dishes today. Father wasn’t too angry, was he?”

The older she grew, the more she reminded Mattin of their mother. Especially when she smiled. His tongue froze. As long he didn’t say it, it wasn’t real, right? Just a dream.

“Mattin?” Marta put a hand on his shoulder as around them her friends began to pull back, as if they already knew what he would say.

“Marta…” He took a breath and just blurted it out. “Marta, the lord’s at the Inn.”

She froze. Before she could say anything Ared, who’d been hoping to take Losel’s place, pushed himself between the siblings. “He’s probably come for you, Mattin. Best get home and leave Marta out of this.” Marta gave Ared a little shove, but he didn’t budge. Mistress Pors, who everyone had been ignoring, shoved a package into Mattin’s hands. “Give that to Bren, boy,” the old woman said, “and tell him we’ll get drunk together later.” She blinked away the wetness in her eyes and turned to the rest of the little crowd. “One thing about Lord Oeloff, he’s predictable. He claimed a man three months ago. This time he’ll be claiming a woman. And Marta is the only woman at the inn since he claimed Polla, may she ride easy.” She shook herself and looked at Marta. “If he’s at Bren’s inn, girl, best be preparing yourself.”

Mattin nodded, “You need to run. We need to get you out of here. Maybe if we hurry…”

Marta laughed “Oh don’t be silly, Mattin. A Lord, looking for me! Of course I can’t run. And Mistress Pors, don’t worry! I’ve been ready for this for years. Oh, if only I had worn my blue dress this morning.”

“Marta!” Mattin begged.

“Please Mattin,” she patted his cheek, “I’ve never met a male yet I couldn’t twist around my little finger. Fae or no fae, Lord Oeloff won’t be any different. This time tomorrow I’ll be wearing silks and eating venison off of gold plates!”

Her beaus, one by one, slipped away. Mistress Pors sighed, “Wouldn’t do any good to run, anyway. It’s been tried before. But, girl, you aren’t the first to think so… I pray for you.”

Marta hurried through the cobblestone streets, Mattin following behind. When they reach the inn, the ebony coach was still sitting in the yard. Mattin watched as Marta stopped and fixed her hair, dusted off her skirt. “I knew I should have worn my blue dress today!”

“Marta, please!” He knew Mistress Pors was right. Running wouldn’t help. But what else could they do? “Don’t do this!”

She winked at him over her shoulder, “Mattin, you have never understood me. Wish me luck!” With that, she opened the door and stepped inside.

Mattin took a last shuddering glance at Losel, still perched on the coachman’s bench. Then followed her.

Inside, he saw what had to be Lord Oeloff seated on a sturdy chair by the fire. He had features that Mattin knew women would call handsome, with long brown hair the pulled back to reveal pointed ears. He wore leather polished to a high shine, and a tunic with an expensive, glossy look. Mattin’s father stood beside him, holding a flagon of what Mattin was certain was the inn’s finest ale. From the look on the Lord’s face it suited his palate about as well as horse piss.

Just ahead of Mattin, Marta swept toward the lord, dropping into a surprisingly graceful curtsy. “Greetings, Lord. I am Marta, Brensdaughter.”

The lord’s eyebrows rose on his brow, “Your father told me he did not expect you back for some hours.” The simple sentence was threaded with menace.

Marta looked up at the lord and smiled. “That is true Lord, but my brother saw you arrive and came to get me.”

“Clever boy.” Mattin froze under the piercing gaze and dropped his eyes to the floor. “Under the circumstances, I’ll forgive you leaving my horses to stand in the courtyard.”

For a moment Mattin couldn’t say anything, torn between relief and disgust at his own cowardice. He spoke, forcing words through gritted teeth, “Thank you, Lord.”

“Come here, girl.”

Still keeping his eyes on the floor, Mattin heard Marta’s footsteps approach the lord’s seat. He lets his eyes trace the grain of the oak floorboards, swept every morning and mopped weekly.

“You are not afraid.” Mattin shuddered at the hunger in the lord’s voice.

Marta cooed, “I am flattered at your interest, lord.”

Wood creaked as the lord stood. “Come, girl.” Mattin forced himself to look up, to see the tall fae stride towards the door. Mattin stayed where he was, half blocking the doorway. He saw his father’s frantic signal for him to move aside.

The lord was two steps away and glaring. Mattin spread his hands wide and was careful not to look in the lord’s eyes. “Please Lord, don’t—”

Terror gripped him. He shook like a leaf, unable to speak. The lord grew, filling his vision. The inn, his father, Marta, all fade into the background. There is only Lord Oeloff, and the terror the lord invoked.

“Kneel boy.” Mattin sank to his knees, unable to resist the crushing weight of the lord’s will. “Be silent.”

Suddenly, Bren was between him and the lord, kneeling, pleading, “Forgive my son, lord. He… he is a foolish boy and doesn’t understand the… the honor you do his sister. I beg you, lord.”

The lord was silent for a long moment. Mattin could only wait, fear freezing his breath. “Your taxes for the year are doubled, innkeep. See that your boy learns his place.” Then he swept out the door. Marta trailed behind, whispering a quiet goodbye.

Mattin watched her as long as he could, tears blurring her small form as she walked away.

Over an hour passed before Mattin was able to regain control of his body. The force of the lord’s command held him fast. After the lord left, the inn filled. Friends, patrons, family, stepping around him – and sometimes on him. He listened to his father explain, over and over again, what happened. Many expressed sympathy, concern or grief.

And they all spoke as if Marta were already dead.

When he was able to move again, he stood, legs still shaking, and approached his father.

Bren slapped the back of his son’s head, but smiled with teary eyes. “Damn fool boy. Nearly got yourself killed, and then where would I be?”

Mattin couldn’t help smiling in response, “Pop, what about Marta? What can we do?”

The inn fell silent. The constant small noises of eating, creaking benches, clinking cups, stopped. Mattin could feel everyone staring at him.

His father frowned and shook his head, “Nothing. You felt the lord’s power. Best accept it now. Your sister is dead. Mourn her and move on.”

Mattin stepped back, banging into one of the long tables. “No! We can’t just abandon her.”

The older man turned away and began wiping down the counter. “Only one of the fae can fight a fae.”

“You know what he’ll do to her!” Mattin found tears tracing their way down his cheeks. “You know…”

Bren stopped, both hands braced on the tables. His head hung low and his shoulders shook. “Go tend the stables, Mattin.”



A few hands reached out to touch his shoulder or pat his back as he walked past and out the door.

Marta couldn’t stop shaking her head as the inn door closed behind her. Trust Mattin to make a fool of himself. He was such a GOOD brother.

But her new life was upon her and she had no time for fools, even brotherly ones. She slipped her hand under her sash and palmed the star-metal knife fate had brought to her hands when she was a child. As she climbed into the coach behind Oeloff she brought it forward. When he sat, she squeezed herself in beside him and pressed the blade to his throat.

He chuckled, “Put the knife down, girl.”

The force of his command rolled past her like a ruffling wind. Inside, she exulted – the stories were true! “No.”

He stiffened under the blade and glared at her. “Drop the knife.” For a moment, she could see the glamour behind his words. A brightness that shined along his skin, making him the center of the world. But though she could see the power, it didn’t touch her.

She twitched the knife, his skin parted beneath the blade, “I hold starmetal, my lord.” She watched in delight as the blood drained from his face. He opened his mouth but before he could say anything she placed a finger across his lips. “Why don’t you signal your slave to drive on. Then we can talk.”

For a moment he did nothing. Then, he reached up and rapped on the top of the coach. The battered fool up top responded, and the carriage moved beneath them. “What do you want?”

Marta smiled, “A bargain.”

He sneered, “I don’t bargain with humans.”

Marta shrugged, “I doubt your household would object to finding your dead body. If you won’t bargain with me, i have no reason not to cut.” He tried to glare at her, it was rather amusing. The all powerful fae, reduced to blustering. The coach went over a pothole and the jarring bump threw her into Oeloff. The knife dug in and blood began to trickle down his throat. “I will skin him alive and make him sleep on salt!” Oeloff exclaimed. His hands moved to the cut, but froze when the knife shifted.

“An interesting idea. But have you considered sandpaper made with salt?”

Oeloff turned to her, and for the first time looked at her. “That is… a novel idea. You might almost be fae, girl.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Now, my bargain?”

She was surprised to see he looked excited as he leaned back against the seat. “Put that toy away, girl, and tell me what you have in mind.”

Mattin sat in the hay loft, trying to come up with a plan. His father could crumple and give up, but he wouldn’t. He would get Marta back, free her from the fae lord. If he could just figure out how.

He pushed aside visions of climbing over the walls of the lord’s manor – staging a daring raid on the heart of the tyrant’s home. In his imagination he slipped through the dark night, snuck into the depths of the lord’s horror-filled dungeon, and used a previously undiscovered skill at picking locks to free her and escape from the lord’s clutches. In reality, he knew if he tried any such thing he’d only get caught.

Confronting the lord directly wasn’t an option. His hands shook at the thought. The memory of the lord’s power, of being overcome and controlled like a puppet, terrified him. Even for Marta, he couldn’t face that again.

And even if he could, what good would it do?

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps from below. “Boy! I need my mules.”

Mattin clambered down the ladder, the old trader was standing in the doorway.

“Right away, sir.” Mattin led the mules out of their stalls and went to fetch their harness.

When he came back, the trader was just finished inspecting them. The man grunted, “Not bad, boy. You took care of your sister as well?”

Mattin growled and kicked the floor, “Not that it matters now.”

“Aye, your father has the right of it. No way to fight a fae straight up. Only another fae can do that.” Mattin turned on his heel and went back into the stable, fetching out the man’s cart.

They worked together in silence, hitching the mules. The strong animal scent was calming, an old friend from years of working in the stables. Mattin let the familiar aroma calm him and asked, “So I should just give up? Let my sister be tortured and killed?”

The old man snorted, “I wouldn’t be surprised if your sister manages to turn the tables on the lord. She wouldn’t be the first.”

“But you said—”

“I said a human couldn’t take a fae straight up. There’s more than one way of fighting back, boy.”

Mattin didn’t reply, just buckled the last straps of the harness in place and stepped back.

“If you are serious about saving your sister, head west to County Erida and strike a bargain with the lady Jahlene.” The trader swung up onto the cart’s bench, “She and Oeloff have hated each other for years.”

Startled, Mattin trotted alongside the cart as it pulled out of the courtyard, “But… I don’t have anything I can bargain with!”

The cart turned down the main thoroughfare and was soon lost in the crowd. Just before it disappeared from sight, the man called back, “You have yourself, don’t you?”

At first, Mattin didn’t understand the trader’s meaning. When he did his heart started to pound. Tapping his fingers against the side of his leg, he force himself to confront the idea. He could buy his sister’s life and safety, by selling his own. He had an answer – if he was brave enough to take it.

The stench of fear filled his nostrils – his own fear, not for Marta now, but for himself. If he followed the trader’s advise – if he offered himself as a slave to Countess n’Erida – then going by what happened to Lord Oeloff’s slaves, he’d be lucky if he died quickly. He had heard, from other traders, that not all fae were as bad as Oeloff. That many preferred to keep their slaves alive and healthy – if only so they didn’t need to keep training new ones.

And even if n’Erida was like Oeloff, could he just abandon Marta? He had been her protector since their mother died, was he to just abandon her now?

No. He took a bracing breath and turned towards the inn. Bren wouldn’t like it. It was a moment’s work to climb the old oak tree and shimmy though the window into the attic where he slept. He would be gone before his father knew what he planned. Hopefully, after she was free, Bren and Marta would be able to comfort each other.

In a short time, he had a change of clothes and his small store of coins bundled for the road. He’d wait until late, and then slip out once his father was in bed. It was best that way.


The baron, my husband, is dead. I am fighting to secure these lands and title in my own right as his widow. If you still feel as you once did, come to me now. I have need of you and your sword both.
With all my love,
Myrtle, Baroness Fireridge

Eryk folded up the well-worn letter and tucked it away in his jerkin. Six months ago Baron Balmont of Cliffside had invited him to swear fealty and become one of Balmont’s knights. For the bastard son of the hated Black Baron it was a chance to belong and a dream come true. He accepted the lord’s invitation without a moment’s hesitation. Three weeks later, Myrtle’s letter had reached him.

Three weeks.

From the tower, a bell rang the time. He stood and stretched, forcing his thoughts to more productive trails. He had a patrol to run. The border with the Cirisian Empire might be quiet, but it still needed watching.

A short time later, he and his detachment of men at arms rode out from the castle. One of several fortifications on the Baron’s lands, High Range Castle overlooked one of the few roads to cut through the mountains between the Westerlands and the Empire. The mountains were the main protection for the warring minor lords of the Westerlands against the ever-expanding Empire. The mountains -and the Empire’s knowledge that if attacked those feuding lords would band together until the intruder was driven out.

The trade caravan Eryk saw passing by as they exited the gates was the most common traffic on the road. Still they guarded, just in case.

The patrol was simple routine. When they stopped halfway through their circuit to water the horses, Eryk set sentries more by habit than need. Or so he thought.

Eryk was checking his saddle’s girth when he heard the first of several strange “thuds”. He whirled around, to see the men of his detachment falling off their horses without a sound. He had barely taken a step toward them when exhaustion swept over him, and the world went black.

Eryk woke to the movement of a horse under him. He came awake in an instant. His hands were tied to the saddle in front of him and there was a blindfold over his eyes. Straining his ears, he heard the quiet clomping of horses walking a forest trail. Too few horses. “Where are my men?” His voice was hoarse with disuse.

There was a long moment of silence, then, “Told you he’d beent alright. Long sleep never hurt none.” The voice was rough with the accent of a mountain peasant and full of good cheer. Eryk growled and pulled at the rope binding his hands. “No need to get excited. We left your men sleeping like babes. Even tethered the horses so theys wouldn’t get stepped on.”

Eryk started to ask how knew he was being told the truth, but stopped himself. Even if they were lying, there was nothing he could do until he was able to escape.

They rode through the afternoon and made camp in the evening. His guards were careful, and never gave him opportunity to get free. Nor did they answer any questions.

For three days and two long nights, he endured. By the middle of the first full day, he knew they had to have left Balmont’s land behind, but he no clue where they were. The long ride gave him plenty of time to think.

Magic was rare – very rare. He had only even heard of three mages in the Westerlands, but the way he and his men had collapsed had to be a spell. Someone very powerful or very rich had sent these men to capture him. There was no way this was an attack o the Baron. He didn’t know enough of the Baron’s secrets to be worth interrogating.

Years ago, the Black Baron had terrorized the northern Baronies. Even though he had been killed over two decades ago, there were still people who hated, and feared him. Eryk had spent a life time fighting to be accepted as himself and not the Black Baron’s child. Might someone have decided that with the father dead, they would have to take their revenge on the son?

It was not a comforting thought.

The third night they didn’t stop, but pushed on. Eyrk couldn’t tell exactly the sun set, but shortly after the frogs started singing, the horses moved onto a cobblestone road. A few hours later they passed through a guarded check point.
Soon after, the horse under him stopped, and his captors pulled him from the saddle. They led him into a building, and a tired voice told them to bring him upstairs.

Climbing those stairs, blind and with his hands bound, was slow and nasty. But they allowed him to move as best he could, rather than dragging him or carrying him. He was grateful for the small dignity.

A hand on his elbow guided him through the second floor until they stopped in a carpeted room that smelled of wood polish.

“You hain’t caused us trouble yet, sir. That change if I untie you?”

Unarmed against three men with swords, and god only knew how many guards stationed about this place, “I don’t think I’m ready to commit suicide today,” Eryk replied. He felt a tug at his wrists, and then the ropes fell to the floor.
“I’m told the lady’s spelled the room to keep you here. She don’t throw around magery much, but when she does it usually works.”

There was nothing to say to that so Eryk didn’t reply. A few moments later he heard a door close behind him.

He reached up and pulled the blindfold off. The room was faintly lit by a single candle, yet even that was painful to eyes that had been blind for days. Gently chafing wrists that had been rubbed raw, he tried to get a feel for where he was.

A wooden bed with a sturdy post at each corner dominated the room. It was covered with thick blankets, and larger than some wagons. The only other furniture was a small table and single chair. There was carpet underfoot, and while only one candle was lit, he could see two oil lamps hanging on the walls. All in all it was a room that wouldn’t have been unsuitable for a minor lord.

It was a ridiculous place to stick a captive, and made his revenge theory seem even more ludicrous than it was to begin with.

In the end, it didn’t matter. He had to get out of here and back to Baron Balmont. Unsurprisingly, the door was the only way in or out. A few minutes careful listening left him confident that no guard had been left on the door. Apparently they trusted their mage.

He turned the handle, and it moved easily under his hand. The door swung open, and could clearly see the empty hallways beyond. Either the men who brought him here were idiots – in which case he should have been able to escape days ago – or their mage was good enough might as well give up now.

Well, no one ever called him smart. He reached a hand through the door way, prepared to pull back at the first sign of danger.

His eyes rolled up in his head and he collapsed to the floor. Sound asleep.

He woke on the bed, with his hands and feet bound to the bed posts. This was starting to turn into a habit. One he didn’t like.

Standing at the foot of the bed was… Shock turned his blood cold in his veins. “Baroness Fireridge.”

“Eryk.” The passing years had only made her more beautiful. The lithesome girl he knew had turned into a full figured woman. Her hair had darkened to a deep sable that didn’t yet show any white.

He pulled against the ropes, but it was clear they weren’t coming loose anytime soon. A thousand questions flooded his mind, but he said nothing.

“I’m sorry the ropes are needed.” She shrugged. “Even if I knew you still loved me… well, I couldn’t risk pitting love against honor. Your honor would always win.”

In what world, he wondered, would he ever not love her? “Is this your notion of love?”

She shrugged and came to sit on the bed next to him. Looming over him.

“Balmont will be dead within the season. Five months ago he accepted an overture from the Cirisians. He would give them access to the Westerlands and help them conquer us and they would make him their puppet king.”

“What!” Surprise jerked him upright – or tried to. He wrenched his shoulder and collapsed back with a groan.

Myrtle murmured something and ran her hand along his arm. The pain faded, but he barely noticed. “If I thought your sword would have made one lick of difference in Balmont’s survival, I would have left you there. But the other lord’s are mobilizing now. And my own forces, of course, will join them.”

The Cirisian Empire had outlawed magery centuries ago. Myrtle’s life – and why didn’t he think of her when he realized a mage had helped capture him? – would be worth less than rock in the mountains if they conquered the Westerlands.

And the life of the bastard son of the Black Baron, who had taken service with Balmont mere weeks before he accepted the Empire’s overtures? That, Myrtle knew, would be worth even less. Her fellow lords would never believe he wasn’t the instigator of Balmont’s treachery.

She watched as he worked through the same logic. The same distrust he had faced throughout his life would be the ultimate cause of his death, even if he survived Baltron’s downfall. The old pain flickered across his features before he relaxed against the bed.

“Better dead than forsworn, Baroness.”

“Perhaps. But you aren’t forsworn.” She couldn’t help grinning. “You’re a captive. My captive. And anything that happens to Balmont while you are my prisoner is no reflection on your oath.”

She gave in to her desires, and allowed her hands to wander over his body. By the mulish expression on his face he wanted to argue with her. But he wouldn’t waste words, he’d just do everything he could to escape.

That was fine with her.

His eyes widened as her fingers unlaced his shirt and pulled it up. Of course, with his hands tied to the bed, it couldn’t come off. But it was out of her way.

“What are you doing?”

“My captive, Eryk.” She bent down and bit his exposed nipple. Hard. “When Balmont is dead you will be free of your oath. If you swear fealty to me, the other lords won’t be able to touch you. If you don’t, I’ll just keep you here. Either way.” She sat back and began unlacing her own dress, “You’re mine to do with as I wish.”

Eryk didn’t know if he was in heaven or hell. He watched, helpless as Myrtle slowly stripped off her gown, then her under garments. He knew that body better than his own, or he had 10 years ago. But still it captivated him. He pulled against the ropes, and tried to ignore his growing erection.

When she was finished, she began unlacing his hose. He kicked and squirmed under her hands, wondering why he fought so hard against something he desperately wanted. But not like this, the thought ghosted through his head, not when my life is sworn to another.

She straddled him then, setting his hard length against her cleft.

“Tell me you don’t want this, Eryk.” She leaned forward and her hair became a curtain cutting them both off from the world. “Here, where it’s just the two of us. Where you have no choice, because I’ve taken them all away. Tell me you don’t want this, and I’ll stop.”

He opened his mouth to tell her exactly that. But he couldn’t. Could lie to himself. Couldn’t lie to her. “I want this. And damn your eyes, Myrtle you know it.”

Her eyes gleamed and she seemed to sag against him. “I hoped, Eryk. I hoped.”

She sat back and pushed her against his length. But instead of taking him inside her, as he expected, she began to rub herself against him. Pleasuring herself while denying him.

He fought against the ropes binding him, and he truly didn’t know if he fought to escape or to take her for himself. And it didn’t matter.

She moaned deep in her throat, the soft sound driving him crazy. Her warm wetness caressed him without surrounding him, a sweet torment he’d never imagined.

She moved faster, eyes wide and face rapt. He wanted to beg, to plead. He bit his lip, refusing to make a sound.

He began to move his hips against her, trying to throw off his rhythm, to shift enough that-

His length slid inside her. She stilled. Her warmth engulfed him, but pleasure was in abeyance as she sat unmoving across his hips. “Naughty, Eryk. I wasn’t done yet.”

She squeezed and he gasped as pleasure shot through him. “Next time you interrupt me I’ll stop and leave you like this for the maid to clean up.”

“Damn you, Baroness!” he snarled.

She laughed, then, slowly, started moving. Instinct and desire overwhelmed him, and he moved with her, reveling in the feel of being inside her once again. Pleasure built filling them both. He couldn’t hold back and didn’t even try. He came, the shock and ecstasy ripping through him. She peaked a moment later and cried out, digging her hands into his chest.
They remained still for a long moment, each catching their breath.

Eryk wanted, desperately to reach out to her and take her in his arms. But he couldn’t. And if he could, if he was free… he didn’t want to think about it. Was grateful that he couldn’t make that choice.

As if she saw into his thoughts, she leaned close to whisper in his ear. “There is one question you needn’t torment yourself with, beloved. Killing me won’t undo the spell at the door. It will fade on it’s own if I don’t remove it. In five months or so.” He shuddered. The thought hadn’t occurred to him – yet.

After a moment, she lay down beside him. Curling up with her head on his shoulder, she was asleep almost instantly. After a few minutes he allowed himself to relax – what other choice did he have after all – and enjoy the feel of her beside him.
When he woke in the morning, the ropes binding him were gone. And so was she.

“The lady be asking if you’d like her to visit this evening.” Eryk looked up from his exercising to see Pawl leaning in the doorway. The old warrior had been the one who led Eryk’s capture. Since then, Pawl was always present whenever the maids came in to clean the room or bring Eryk food. Myrtle wasn’t taking any chances with Eryk getting his hands on a hostage.

“If you think I’m going to sit quietly and let you tie me up, you are crazier than the Baroness.”

Pawl chuckled, “Well, you could always try and stick your head out the door again. Beent a week since your last try. Starting to think you’re getting cozy in there.”

For two weeks Eryk had tried any number of desperate things to trick the mage ward into letting him through. He hadn’t been surprised when things like throwing a blanket over himself hadn’t worked. But he had to try. About half the time, he had woken up tied to the bed with Myrtle waiting – or on one memorable occasion not waiting – for him to awaken. Eventually, he ran out stupid ideas.

For the past week he’d been slowly chipping away at a section of the wall where it was hidden by the shadow of the bed. God only knew how long it would take to scratch his way through to the next room, but be damned if he wouldn’t try.

When he didn’t say anything further, Pawl closed the door, leaving him alone.

He’d had far to much time alone the past few weeks, and next to nothing to do. Most of the time he hadn’t been unconscious had been spent thinking.

He’d doubt his own honor before he doubted Myrtle’s honesty. But even if Balmont was selling out to Cirisia, that didn’t change his fealty. Yet there was nothing he could do. No way he could even send his lord a message of warning. He was literate – barely – but had nothing to write with or on. And even if he could convince a maid to carry a message, Pawl was always right there.

With nothing else to do, he lost himself in the effort of exercise. At the very least, whenever he managed to get out of this room he would be fit enough to do something with the opportunity!

He woke up and found he was sitting. Tied, this time, to a chair. He didn’t remember going to sleep, and he damn well hadn’t put an eyelash across that damn door.

At least, if he was in a chair, he could be reasonably certain Myrtle would be leaving his clothing alone this time. That was a good thing. Right, just keep trying to convince yourself, m’lad.

When he opened his eyes, he wasn’t surprised to find himself sitting at the table in the corner of his room. A second chair had been added and Myrtle sat with him. The table held plates of rather finer fare then he’d been receiving the past weeks, not that it did him any good with his hands tied behind his back.

“Baroness. So good of you to invite yourself.”

She just grinned at him. “You told Pawl you wouldn’t sit still for him to tie you. Not that you didn’t want me to come.”
It was so typically Myrtle he couldn’t help rolling his eyes. Her grin stretched wider.

Then she sobered. “No games tonight Eryk. I have news for you, if you wish it.” She speared a vegetable on her knife and offered it to him.

He leaned forward to take it.

“Balmont’s lands are overrun. He’s retreated into his central keep and the other lords have him under siege.” She took a bite herself while he struggled to swallow with a mouth suddenly gone dry. “I’ll being joining them tomorrow. I expect to see Balmont’s head off his shoulders by the end of the week.”

The vicious delight she obviously took in the prospect twisted his stomach. But he was honest enough to admit he would have felt the same way about any other lord who had cut a deal with the Cirisians. Damn it had Baron Balmont been that greedy? Or just that stupid?

He managed to swallow and cleared his throat.

“Baron Balmont is known for his siege-craft. You’ll need more than a week.” And if the Cirisian Empire found out, they might send troops through the mountains to help their erstwhile ally. Might.

“Your forget.” Myrtle offered him meat this time. He bit into it savagely. “Balmont won’t be fighting just warriors. And he won’t last long once I dry up his water source.”

Eryk felt himself blanch. Mages were so rare, and so valuable, that their skills were almost never used in warfare. What mage would risk themself in battle when they could command a king’s ransom making sure the crops prospered?

He swallowed the meat with difficulty. “I don’t suppose you have a drink you care to share with me? Or are all the baron’s loyal men going dry?”

She picked up a tankard and raised it in salute before taking a long drink. He closed his eyes and forced back rage and grief and something very like hate.

Gentle hands took his chin and tipped his head back. Soft lips pressed into his and for a moment he wondered what the hell she thought she was doing. Then she parted her lips, and ale flowed into his mouth. He took the liquid, letting it wash away the dryness of his mouth and throat, and his rage as well.

She released him but didn’t move, staring into his eyes for a long moment. “Why, Baroness?”

“I will share everything I have with you, if you will let me.”

“But I am to sit back and accept your part in destroying my lord, in slaughtering the men I served with and commanded?”
She sat down and applied herself to her food. She offered him nothing further, but then, he wasn’t sure if he would have accepted it.

So he watched her eat in silence. Damn it he knew, he KNEW she had no choice. But then, what choice did she think he had? He had given fealty.

She ate slowly and neatly, and didn’t look at him again. Once, he thought he saw a glitter of tears in her eyes, before she blinked them away.

“The castle you patrolled from was overrun with few casualties. Sleep spells, you may have noticed, are useful things. Though crafting them large enough to affect entire arrisons is hard enough I could only prepare a few.”

And the castle that guarded the invasion route of the Empire was important enough to spend one on. So most of the men he knew would have survived.

“Those who were captured and knew nothing of Balmont’s treachery will be released to seek new service. If you can tell me which ones are worth their salt, I might invite them to enter my service. After Balmont is dead, of course.” She met his gaze, her own eyes seemed to plead with him.

He looked away. “I can’t answer you, Baroness. And I’m not going to stop trying to escape, however futile it may be.”

“I know.” When he looked up, she held out another piece of meat for him. He leaned forward and took it gently between his lips. “And I’m not going relax the safeguards I’ve set on you. Hopefully… hopefully soon you will be able to answer me.”

The grin came back, like the sun shining on water. “What I’m going to do now is forget about this mess for a while, and enjoy a meal with an old friend. Care to join me?”

After a moment he nodded, “But you’d better not hog the turnips.”

The next time he asked for a drink, he was vaguely disappointed when she gave it to him from the tankard.

The next several days were spent in thought. Not, this time, of escape, but of the future. He had, he realized, accepted Baron Balmont’s death as inevitable. There was nothing he could do, with the whole might of the Westerlands, and the first mage to go to battle in three generations, arrayed against him.

At first he worried over his honor. There was no question of if he wanted to be free to offer his fealty to Myrtle. His fealty and, he knew, a great deal more. More which he fully expected she would accept. It wasn’t like she’d been at all shy in her affections over the past several weeks.

The mind boggled at putting Myrtle, Baroness Fireridge and “shy” in the same sentence.

But could he offer that fealty, in all honor, when she had prevented him from defending Baron Balmont, ripped him away from his duty?

On the third day he realized he was being ridiculous. He would have no such doubts if he were taken captive in battle, so why was he tormenting himself with them now?

Then, he began to plan.

When Pawl mentioned in passing that the Baroness had returned, five days after her departure. Eryk knew what he would do. He stuck his hand directly through the door, and caught a glimpse of Pawl’s smile before his eyes rolled back in his head.

He was a bit surprised to wake up in the chair rather then the bed. But Pawl clearly hadn’t shorted on the rope. Myrtle sat across from him, holding a goblet of something that smelled like sweet wine. He’d seen dead men that looked healthier. Whatever magic she had used to reach Balmont Keep, dry their wells and return in under a week hadn’t been without cost.
“Tell me.”

Myrtle smiled. It was a bitter thing. “It’s done. Balmont was killed when the walls were breached. I am hailed as hero by my fellow lords for ending the siege so quickly and offered Balmont’s lands in addition to my own.” She drank from the goblet and set it aside, “I told them to go to hell and left them to squabble over the scraps.”

Eryk couldn’t help grinning at her obvious distaste. Maybe there was more than one reason mages didn’t go to war.

She licked her lips, then spread her hands on the table between them. “I assume you wouldn’t have sent for me unless you had an answer?” Her eyes skittered about the room, looking everywhere but at him.

“Yes, Baroness. I will offer you my fealty. If-” her eyes snapped to him but the spreading grin froze at his pause, “if you swear that you will never again use magery on me unless I ask you too.”

Myrtle didn’t hesitate even a moment, “Never. My magic will never touch you again unless you wish it too.”

Now it was his turn to grin and leaned back against the chair, “Then will you please untie these damned ropes?”

She laughed and moved to stand behind him, using her belt knife to cut through the knots rather than picking them out. A waste of good rope, but he wasn’t complaining.

He stood, shaking out his arms. For the first time since he arrived here, he was able to look down on her. He’s forgotten how small she was, barely reaching his chin.

She looked up at him but before she could say anything, he sank a hand into her thick hair and yanked her head back. She stumbled against him and his other hand caught her wrists easily. “Eryk! What are you–” He silenced her with a deep kiss.

“I will give you my fealty, Baroness, but before I give you power over me again,” he released her hair, and let his free hand grab a breast that had dangled just out of his reach for far to long, “I am going to repay you for some of the torment you put me through these past weeks.

“As I believe you once said to me, Myrtle, if you want me to stop, say so now. Otherwise, I will do with you what I choose.”

She gave a breathless laugh, “I should have known better than to let my guard down before you were fully mine.”

“I am yours.” He picked her up and tossed her on the bed. Before she could move he climbed on top of her, pinning her with his weight and hands both. “But you are also mine.” He leaned forward and kissed her. “Yes or no, beloved.”

She laughed again, reaching to pull him down for a long kiss. “You need to ask?”

Author notes for Fealty