Table of Contents ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The Herakian Chronicles
Stories and Serials
PAUL EDMUND NORMAN
Cormac stepped out into the cold night, where Maire awaited him.
'Come,' he said, simply, and they started off down the hill. The going got worse the further down they went, until they were ploughing through a good foot of snow. Occasionally they heard the howls of vetghan, quite close, though they never saw them, and were never in any danger. Towards dawn, Cormac thought that he saw the low-slung outline of a snow-silth, and drew his sword, but the animal, if indeed he ever saw it, and it was not the snow playing tricks with his eyesight, must have eaten quite recently, and slunk off into the greying dawn.
With the dawn the snows stopped. They had travelled well past the pass which he and Shaffeek had blocked, and down into the valley. Here the snow lay two and three feet deep in drifts, and the track to the city was all but obscured, though here and there a hedge indicated where it might have been. But the city itself was perfectly visible, dark grey and tall, with ornate towers blackened by smoke and soot, the whole appearing to have been frozen in time by the winter storms. They passed through a deserted village, a group of thatched huts with a pallisaded surround, seeing only a few keseken pecking desperately through the snow covering for seed, and in one hut there was evidence of pigs. But there were no humans, no cattle, no sign that the village had ever been inhabited. Cormac shivered, wondering at the power of Connacht to force the people inside the city walls simply because his army was on the march.
To the west of the city, and a good mile or so outside it, was the garrison, a pallisaded collection of flat-rooved huts and tents. As they came to within a few hundred yards of the garrison, they heard noises, the unmistakable sounds of human civilisation. Faint at first, but gathering in strength the nearer they came and with the elevation of the watery sun, the noises betokened the drilling of soldiers within a flattened piece of ground. Here, too, though it was frozen over, there was evidence of a river, possibly as much as twenty feet across, with drifts of snow heaped along either bank. The river flowed right into the garrison, and another, man-made channel cut right alongside it had the familiar stench of an open sewer.
'We should avoid going past the garrison,' Cormac said. 'If it is to be believed that I am Reyniksen, I do not yet want to get caught up in the business of drilling and parading. I need time in the city to do my spying, to find out what Connacht will do next.'
'And to find Caraleen,' Maire muttered, staring moodily at her boots. Cormac shrugged his shoulders.
'I did not want to bring you out of the caves,' he said. 'I wanted Shaffeek to keep you. But he threatened to kill you. For the time being you will be safer with me.'
'Until you can find someone to buy me.'
'That was not my intention.'
'You said you did not want me because of the woman Caraleen.'
'I am not much older than you.....'
'I have twenty-two summers.'
'Then you are older than me. I have no experience in these matters.'
'It is quite simple. Shaffeek gave you to me. You can do what you like with me. You can keep me as your slave, you can sell me, you can rent me out to anyone.....'
He stopped, abruptly, and grasped her by the arm, turning her to face him.
'If you belong to me,' he said, slowly and deliberately, 'then walk behind me, not beside me, and keep quiet unless I give you leave to speak. Nod your head if you understand.'
Maire nodded her head sullenly and fell into step behind him. They passed unchallenged into the city, entering through the enormous wooden gates. Nobody attempted to remove Cormac's sword, and he wondered at the laxity of the city and the ease with which they had entered it.
It was past dawn, and the city was coming to life. Market traders were setting up their stalls to sell fruit and vegetables, bread and meat, freshly slaughtered at one of the abbattoirs within the city gates. Everywhere they looked there were people going about their business. A small military presence was evident, but it was remarkably unobtrusive. By now Cormac had had time to study the architecture and found it impressive and ornate, the towered buildings tall and imposing, with richly carved ornamentation and crenellated bulbous tops. He had never been a city such as this, and spent most of his time gazing skywards at the buildings.
'What is the name of the city, Maire?' he asked.
'Is it the principal city of Koriss?'
'Yes,' she replied, not without sarcasm.
'We shall find somewhere to stay, and somewhere to eat.'
'There is a tavern over there,' she cried, pointing excitedly. They entered the tavern to find it half-filled with people who paid them little attention. Cormac walked to the counter.
'Do you have lodgings for me and the woman?'
'Aye, for how long?'
'Not long. Why do you ask?'
'You are a soldier, aren't you?'
'What if I am?'
'The militia are under orders to strike camp tomorrow at daybreak. I imagine you want a room for the night so that you can say goodbye to your girlfriend?'
It was on the tip of Cormac's tongue to protest, but he decided against it.
'Yes, that's right, just the one night!' he said, slapping the counter and grinning. 'How much for the room and a meal, and some sulce?'
'A silver coin.'
'I have only a gold coin.'
'I will give you change.'
Cormac nodded, and handed over his coin, the one that Shaffeek had given him.
'Through the back and up the stairs to the fourth floor. The last room on the right.'
'Is there a key?'
'You won't be disturbed, boy!' the landlord said with a laugh. Cormac turned to Maire.
'Through there!' he barked, slapping her on the rump. She glared at him, but fortunately no-one observed this, and they were soon settled in the room they had been given for the night.
'What now?' she asked.
'Remove your clothing.'
'Remove your clothing. If someone brings food or drink, they must think that we are.....'
Angrily she removed her tunic and lay on the couch, stark naked. When he still paid her no attention, she sat up, scowling.
'Well?' she demanded.
'What is it?'
'Surely you are going to join me on the couch?'
'Do you think that is wise? You are not my woman.'
'Shaffeek gave me to you!' she cried.
'But we both know that he did not mean for me to have you in that sense. Imagine what might happen to us when we returned to the caves.'
'You saw for yourself. Shaffeek gave me to you. Besides, how can you ignore me?'
Cormac threw back his head, laughing.
'That is it, isn't it! You cannot understand why I pay you no attention, why I do not remark on your beauty, why I can keep my hands off you! Ah, the vanity of women!'
'You arrogant little shit!' she cried, throwing herself at him, tearing at his clothing, but he held her by the wrists, and at arms' length, and it was evident that he found her beautiful, and desirable.
'Be quiet and leave me to think,' he told her.
'I am cold!' she muttered, throwing herself back onto the couch.
'Get under the furs,' he directed her. 'And be quiet. I need to think.'
After a while food and sulce was brought by a timid female slave, and they made a good meal. With the sulce, Maire's mood softened, and she started to cajole him again into joining her in the furs, but again he declined, and her temper flared up again. Now she climbed off the couch and stood before him, her hands on her hips, her head back in defiance.
'Am I your property or not?' she demanded. He, sitting cross-legged on the floor, gazed up at her.
'Then use me!'
'I choose not to.'
'You cannot treat me like this!'
Cormac stood up, his patience tried. He walked all round her, studying her from every angle. Finally he sat on the edge of the couch, told her to put on her tunic, and directed her to sit by him. This she did, rubbing her body against his, and he put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her to him, and brushing her lips with his. Then, suddenly, he turned her round and threw her onto her stomach, holding both of her wrists easily behind her back so that she could not move. He bent his head to hers and whispered in her ear.
'I told you to leave me alone, and you would not. You want me to notice you, to find you attractive, and I have made it clear tha I do. But I do not want to have you, not today, not now, not right now, not this minute. I came to Mercat to discover what Connacht's plans are, and I intend to do just that. Now, whatever plans you might have had for seducing me, you will have to put on hold, for there is no time to be lost. If that does not suit you, I am sorry, but that is the way of it. If you do not leave me alone to think and to plan my course of action, then I will beat you, and do not think that I could not do it! Do you understand?'
Maire, her face buried in the furs, hardly able to breathe, nodded her head frantically, and at last he released her.
For a time, neither spoke. Then Cormac stretched himself out next to her on the couch and closed his eyes.
'You are attractive to me, Maire,' he said in a half whisper. She turned to stare at him uncomprehendingly.
'I never claimed to be your woman.'
'I know that.'
'Then if I am your property, what is to stop you having me? I am, after all, only a slave.'
'I told you, I do not think that Shaffeek meant to give you to me. I believe he wants you for himself.'
'I do not understand.'
'He will come after us. He will come after you.'
Maire sat up, shaking her head.
'No, you do not know him! He hates me for what I am! He hates me. He does not want me!'
'Nevertheless, he will come for you.'
'He will never enter the city!'
'I think you are wrong. I think he would go to the ends of Heraklion for you.'
'If he does, will you give me to him?'
'Is that what you want?'
She did not answer, but instead lowered her eyes to the furs.
'You see. I am right. You want him, and he wants you.'
'But he is not here!' she whispered, reaching out and touching his bare arm.
Cormac turned to look at her, raising himself on one elbow, appraising her curves, and her beautiful face.
'I would like nothing better, Maire.'
'I am yours,' she whispered. 'Shaffeek does not want me. He gave me to you.'
'You may be mine, but you are not my lover. You may cook, and wash for me.'
Tears ran down her face. Her grip on his arm tightened slightly. With her other hand, she carefully undid the fastening of her tunic and removed it, sitting up. Now he could hardly avoid the delightful curves of her breasts and the swell of her belly. He swallowed hard, thinking about Shaffeek and his certainty that the bandit leader wanted Maire for himself. But he had given her to him..... He reached for her, cupping her breast with his hand, and felt the nipple stiffen beneath his fingers. Her eyes closed, and she sank back into the furs. He moved his hand down over the swell of her stomach, and into the soft hairs at her groin, feeling her wet to his touch. She groaned.
Her hands went to his clothing, finding him erect and ready, and she smiled to herself, seeing that his eyes were closing with the ecstasy of her touch. She raised her knees, putting the soles of her feet flat against the couch, and opened her legs to accommodate him. Cormac had a final moment of doubt, then satisfied himself that she was his, she had been given to him fairly, to do with whatever he wished, and this was what he wished to do with her.
He moved into her, and sensed a small shudder on her part as she accepted him, giving way to his bold entry. Her hands went to his neck, to his back, pulling him into her, and he began to move inside her, slowly, softly, savouring the sweetness of her body and the way its curves moulded to his own. Already there was moisture between their bellies as they met. Her legs flattened involuntarily, stiffening, and then her feet locked around his calves as he began to move faster inside her.
She tossed her head from side to side and began to moan in a language he did not recognise, not Herakian, and he frowned, for on all of Herakian a common tongue is spoken, albeit with various dialects, but the language is basically the same. Her eyes were closed, and her nostrils dilated as her breathing became more agitated. Finally, before he had spent himself inside her, she arched her back, thrusting herself hard onto him again and again, and then they floated on the sea of orgasm he had wrought within her, and they collapsed together, their bodies locked in an embrace so sweet, so sensational, he had never believed such a thing possible.
'Ay!' he muttered thickly. 'That was something!'
'Tell me now that you do not want me, you do not want me for your lover!' she chided him. He moved off the sticky wetness of her and lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. Through the open window they could see the larger of the two Herakian moons rising over the eastern mountains.
Cormac rolled off the couch and pulled on his clothing. He gazed down at Maire, whose eyes were closing with the exhaustion of orgasm.
'Still,' he muttered, 'it was not bad, was it?' He bent his lips to her forehead and walked to the door.
'I am going out to see what is happening in the city. I will be back shortly.'
She made no reply, and he closed the door quietly behind him. Downstairs, within the tavern, the evening drinking session was in full swing. There were no empty tables, and in the corner a group of musicians were beating out an insistent and urgent rhythm on a variety of stringed and skinned instruments. As Cormac walked through the throng, dancing girls entered the room from behind the bead curtains which heralded the kitchen quarters. He threw a bronze coin onto the counter and asked for chilled sulce, which was served to him by the landlord.
'Left her bruised and battered, have you?'
Cormac met the landlord's gaze showing no emotion.
'It is none of your business.'
The landlord shrugged his burly shoulders. Though he was a big man, he was not so tall as Cormac, who dwarfed most of those in the tavern.
'You'll be moving out with the militia at dawn, then?' the landlord continued.
'I have not yet received my orders.'
'It's no secret where you're going. Down to the coast and across to Walfen, in numbers this time, not just a couple of you like last time. Reyniksen was lucky to get back to Koriss from all accounts.'
Cormac nodded, and found himself wishing to avoid further conversation about Reyniksen. He moved through the crowd and found a table with just one other occupant, a man wearing a hooded cloak.
'May I buy you sulce?' the man asked. Cormac glowered at him, raising his beaker to indicate that he already had a drink, but the man persisted.
'Have some. It may be the last you get for some time. The road to the coast is blocked by heavy snow, and the seas are rough. You'll not feel like drinking on the high seas!'
'What is your interest in me?' Cormac demanded cautiously.
'I have no interest in you. I have a large carafe of sulce here and I am incapable of drinking it alone.'
'I do not want your sulce.'
'I want nothing in return.'
'It makes no odds. I have a drink. I am going out in a moment to see if I can get to receive my orders for tomorrow.'
'I can give you your orders now,' the man said quietly. 'You are Reyniksen, are you not?'
Cormac stiffened, knowing not how to reply for the best.
'What if I am?'
'You wear his tunic. I recognise it. It is quite distinct from the other mercenaries.'
'What if I am Reyniksen. What gives you jurisdiction over me?'
'I control the mercenaries.'
'Dundas. Emeric Dundas. Here is my authority.' The man drew back his cloak and produced an insignia crafted from bronze, and inscribed with the seal of Connacht. Cormac examined it briefly, and nodded his acceptance.
'Well, what are my orders?' He glanced around the tavern to make sure that the others were not listening to his conversation with Emeric Dundas.
'You will leave the city with me and four other men tomorrow at dawn. We are to clear the route for the militia to the coast, and when we reach the coast we are to make ready the boats to take them across to Walfen.'
Cormac nodded, realising that there may be an opportunity to sabotage the boats once they got there. Emeric Dundas continued.
'We will take the first boat across to Walfen, and establish a base camp there, near to where the garrison was sacked. That way, when the militia cross in the other boats, they will be able to rest, have a meal, and continue on down south to Perpanis. Mostly we will be acting undercover of darkness.'
'Very well. Where do we meet?'
'Here is as good a place as any. Be here at dawn. Bring only your sword and any other weapon you are profficient with.'
'Now you will drink my sulce.'
Cormac nodded, draining his beaker and holding it out for Emeric Dundas to fill from his carafe.
'And now we will watch the dancing girls. Your own woman can wait.'
'She is asleep, I believe.'
'You know who she is, of course?'
Cormac's eyes betrayed nothing of the danger he felt at Emeric Dundas' words.
'I do not know what you mean. She is my property.'
'Of course! I meant only that you should be careful, for if I have recognised her, others will too.'
'Maybe you do not know with whom you have been sleeping.'
'I know her name.'
'I know her name too, and I warn you, Reyniksen, that the game you are playing is a dangerous one.'???
'I do not know what you are talking about.'
Emeric Dundas threw back his hood to reveal a closely shaven head and a growth of grey stubble about his face. His cheek bore traces of a scar running from below his eye to his mouth, and there was a lump missing from his left ear.
'Reyniksen, the woman you are with is Maire. She used to be consort to Connacht. So long as you are aware.'
Cormac made no reply. Emeric Dundas drained his own beaker and poured himself another generous measure of sulce.
'More?' he said, but Cormac had had enough.
'I want a clear head for tomorrow.'
'You will need it. There are freedom fighters everywhere. They will seize any opportunity to sabotage the invasion of Walfen. We must be on our guard at all times.'
'That has never been a problem to me.'
'I am glad to hear it.' Cormac stood up as one of the dancing girls approached, dancing in and out of the tables, deftly avoiding the clutching hands of some of the bolder customers of the tavern.
'I will meet you here tomorrow at dawn.'
'Have your eyes and ears open at all times.'
Cormac nodded and threaded his way through the tables to the back staircase. Back in his room, Maire was still sleeping. He lay beside her on the couch, and put his arm across her back and under her breast, feeling the inviting swell of the warm, naked flesh. Abruptly she awoke, turning to face him.
'What did you find out?' she breathed.
'I am a mercenary. I go with Emeric Dundas to clear the route to the coast, then to assist with the preparation of the boats. Then we cross and make camp in readiness for the militia to follow.'
'A mercenary?' Maire whispered, seizing on his first words. 'Reyniksen was not a mercenary! He was regular militia!'
'I thought as much.'
'You will have to be on your guard. It could be a trap.'
'Emeric Dundas is aware of your identity.'
'He warned me that you were consort to Connacht.'
'How could he have known such a thing?'
'He recognised you.'
'That is not possible!'
'He sat in the corner. He wore a cloak with a hood. He has extremely short hair and a stubbly beard, with a scar from his eye to his mouth.'
'Your description means nothing to me.'
'Nevertheless, he knows you.'
'And you, it seems.'
'No, he never professed to know me. He merely told me that he was in charge of the mercenaries, and gave me my orders for the morrow.'
'What will you do?'
'I have but two choices. I can either leave the tavern before dawn and find some other way of fighting against Connacht, or I can go along with Emeric Dundas' belief that I am Reyniksen, and maybe find some way to sabotage the boats they intend to use to cross the sea to Walfen.'
'Which do you think you will do?'
His hands were already pulling her towards him. He covered her mouth with his in a long kiss, and when he released her, was satisfied to feel her nipples hard against his chest again.
'I think I have too much to do to think about leaving before dawn,' he said, chuckling. She moaned softly as he touched her, and then raised her leg, putting it around his waist so that he could again enter her and have her. Twice more he had her during the course of the night. As the first rays of the bright yellow dawn broke through the small window, he left the couch and put on his clothing, buckling his sword around his waist. Maire came to him, naked, as he opened the door, and pulled his face down to hers, covering it with kisses.
'Be careful, Cormac of Walfen!' she breathed.
'What will you do while I am gone?'
'I will find work as a serving girl or as a dancer. Do not worry about me.'
He held her at arms' length, observing the sweet beauty of her face and her figure, then opened the door and was gone.
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