by Christine Morgan

         "This is going to be such fun!" Natalia said as they descended the wide stone steps leading to the
Cathedral Cavern beneath the plateau village of On the High Place.
         Rick slipped his arm around her waist. "I hope you enjoy it."
         He couldn't help but marvel at his good fortune, to be on his way to a holy Dorianite festival with a
loving and lovely woman, his bride-to-be.
         Here, finally, was a mate who saw things as he did. None of Kellina's possessive jealousy. None of
Nikolia's aura of reserve and untouchability. A clean and pure desire instead of Raven's dark (albeit
intoxicating) passion. And mixed with a courage and sharp wit that would have been unthinkable in a
simple Stonebridge girl had he taken Jeffor's advice and remained home. Of all the other women he'd known
and loved, only Bevri had come close to the mixture that made Natalia perfect.
         Villagers and travellers gave the both of them appreciative looks as they came into the warm,
spacious temple of stone. Down here, sheltered from the winter weather above, the hot springs made the
caves almost tropical. At the guidance of some of their new acquaintances, they had dressed accordingly.
         Rick wore a maroon silk shirt that did little to conceal the width of his shoulders and the sculpted
muscles of his chest and arms. His cream-colored trousers clung to his long legs. His hair, clean and
shining, was tied back in a simple horsetail that dangled most of the way to his waist.
         He felt mildly self-conscious as local women pointed and stared. He knew he was tall, dark and
handsome, but that was Dorian's doing and not his own. As for his impressive build, well, anybody could do
the same with enough sword practice. It wasn't as if he was anything special.
         Natalia, on the other hand ... in her every step, her every movement, he could see Dorian's
generosity at work. She had inherited her mother's ivory skin and changeable, northern-sky eyes, not to
mention the glossy blue-black hair that would have fallen to below her hips if she hadn't twisted it into a
redoubled plait.
         Her father's legacy had finally come out as she had learned the ways of a warrior. Many times over
the course of her training, Rick had been amused to suddenly see Andre reflected in her mannerisms. And,
occasionally, in her language when she was displeased with her progress. He teased her about that,
wondering if the royal court knew that their precious princess even knew what those words meant.
         She had traded a pair of tabuk horns for some new clothes, clothes unsuited to the icy peaks of the
Chaos Mountains but perfectly appropriate in this warm cave. And, Rick was sure, perfectly appropriate to
wear to a Stonebridge summer festival when they returned home.
         Her long shirt was fine, snowy-white linen trimmed at the neck and sleeves and hem in frothy lace,
and was so thin that a bodice or vest should have been needed to preserve modesty. Natalia had opted to go
without, which left the ripe curves of her breasts clearly defined and visible. Her nipples, already tight with
anticipation and excitement, stood out in little pinpoints and made Rick feel somewhat delirious.
         She also wore a colorful skirt, purple and blue and silvery silk all woven together. It was drawn
high on one side, exposing shapely leg to well above the knee. A matching scarf tied off the braid in her
hair, and a pair of low blue slippers finished the outfit.
         Yes, by the gods, she was beautiful and strong and gutsy. All the things he'd admired in women, all
the things that he and Damon both had looked for ever since they met Raven and their lives had changed
forever. And best of all, Natalia was accompanying him to this festival, not that they might just share each
other's pleasure but that they might share each other's delight in the pleasures of others.
         He still shivered when he recalled that night with Sorcha. How he and Natalia had begun talking
about it, how he'd been tempted to lie and declare her the only woman he could ever want. But she had been
understanding, no, eager, to invite Sorcha to share their bed. Not grudgingly, as if she feared that she would
have to make allowances to keep him. Not angrily, planning to make him pay by witholding herself from
him. Openly, honestly, with a sincere and reverent wish to make all three of them happy.
         He hadn't wasted any time, but swiftly fetched Sorcha to their room. Natalia's only wish after
witnessing and enjoying their copupling had been that their wedding might be speeded along, that she too
could finally, fully experience the entirety of Dorian's Gift.
         Rick, too, was burning with readiness for their marriage bed. It was a testament to their willpower
that they had been able to refrain from taking that last, final step. But, he knew, the worse test would be the
weeks and months yet to come, when they had returned to Tarlak and were bound by the social niceties. In
Tarlak, they wouldn't be permitted to share a room, or even to spend time unchaperoned. For, in Tarlak, she
was their princess, Andre and Nikolia's "little snowflake," and such things simply weren't done.
         He firmly put those thoughts out of his mind. There would be time enough to worry about Tarlak
when they got to Tarlak. In the meantime, they were here.
         The Cathedral Cavern was not actually a cathedral, although it was certainly a cavern. The ceiling
soared, majestically adorned in rock formations and glittering crystals. The floor was a sea of smooth,
frozen ripples.
         At one end, several springs both hot and cold trickled down the walls and through a series of ponds
and basins before all ending in one large pool. Already, the shores of that stone lake were littered with
discarded clothes as people swam and played and caressed in the water.
         At the other end was the temple-area. Although it wasn't a true, official, Church temple, the cave
had the feel of a holy place about it, and nowhere more strongly than at that spot, where a magnificent
image of Dorian looked down kindly from the wall, Her eyes like many-hued jewels glittering with the
reflected glow of hundreds of candles.
         Candles lit the entire cave, filling it with the scents of berries and spice which had to compete with
the tempting aromas drifting from the banquet table. Roasts of meat, fresh-baked bread, a dozen kinds of
cheese, dwarven ale, imported Turan wine, sweet vetch pudding, custard pastries, mushrooms stuffed with
sausage and herbs, and many more treats were awaiting devouring.
         Low tables were stacked high with soft blankets, furs, cushion, and woven mats for the comfort of
the festival-goers. Several were already in use.
         Natalia gasped in surprise, this being her first sight of so many men and women entwined in so
many different ways. Rick glanced at her, and was thrilled to see only excitement in her eyes. Rising color
pinked her cheeks, and she leaned to press the whole length of her side and hip against him. He dropped the
arm around her waist to give her bottom a good squeeze.
         He looked about for his friends, half-expecting to see Damon behaving in a manner most
unbecoming to the Queen's Companion. Probably with Trish, the confectioner. Since the dam of his
Damonite single-mindedness had broken, he'd been wallowing in it happy as a pig in mud. But he wasn't
currently in attendance. Maybe he hadn't yet gotten over the Damonite thing about carrying on with an
audience. Or maybe he had decided to remain true to Quinlan.
         Trish was here, and if she was disappointed by Damon's failure to appear, it didn't show. She was
laughing merrily with several young people, all of them clearly having a fine time. Trish's uncle, Curley the
town mage, was seated on a barrel, a pint of ale in one hand and the other free to goose passing girls as he
enthralled some travellers with his stories.
         Taren wasn't here either, although that was no big shock. His faithfulness to Nuna went beyond the
bounds of all things normal. What he had to think about to keep his mind off women, Rick didn't even want
to begin to imagine. Even when Sorcha had all but thrown Mavis at him, Taren had kept his vows. It was
one thing when Nuna was around to threaten to turn him into something weird, but Nuna had been asleep in
her tree for more than a decade. Surely nobody would blame Taren if he faltered, just once. But he wasn't
going to now, evidently.
         Rick did see Jesse and Selvaine, and now knew for sure what he'd suspected for some time. The
princess, heir to Mithasfeld if Dame Quinlan was successful, and the one-time captain and son of Castle
White paladins, were lovers. And in love to boot, Rick could tell.
         Selvaine was a golden girl. Her hair was a darker blond than her mother's platinum locks, her eyes
were the same tawny brown of her father Hunter and her aunt Marion. She was much shorter than Natalia,
and because she'd been wearing heavy concealing garments to hide her identity most of the time they'd
known her, Rick had never really gotten a good look at her figure. Now, though, as she was clad in a
fluttery tunic more suited to one of Taren's nymph friends, he could see that she certainly was a ripe and
nubile lass of sixteen.
         Jesse seemed even more self-conscious than Rick felt, but for different reasons. He was bothered
by his scar, a quarter-inch wide white line which extended from just below his ear to his chin. Someone
under Dame Quinlan's command, possibly even that lady herself, had laid open the face of a young squire
during the fall of Castle White. It hadn't been given proper healing, and he would carry it with him to the
end of his days.
         The scar wasn't nearly as disfiguring as Jesse seemed to think. He was still a handsome young man,
with rich blond shoulder-length hair and direct blue eyes. His features were good, strong, determined. Years
in the silver mines and still more years working the river had hardened his body, which was already off to a
good start by his squire's training.
         "Maybe I should talk to him," Natalia murmured, as if she was reading Rick's mind. "In Tarlak, a
scar is the mark of a man."
         "Is that the saying in your village? Besides, to hear Dawn tell it, a beard is the mark of a man."
         "Well, that too," she laughed, laying her hand on his hairless cheek. "That's some people's opinion,
         "Maybe you should do more than talk to him," Rick suggested with a grin.
         "Mmm. Maybe." She sighed. "I'm only worried about offending someone. You know, because I
can't ... won't ..."
         "They'll understand," he assured her. "And if they don't, they're not letting Dorian guide them."
         "You're right, of course."
         "Any man here should be happy to do whatever you'd like. There are plenty of other women if they
want more. If someone doesn't accept that, give him a good kick."
         "Is that letting Dorian guide me?" she teased.
        "Not exactly."
         "So," she said as if they were strolling through the marketplace, "see anything you like?"
         He let his gaze sweep the room. "Oh, yes."
         The women of On the High Place were on the short side, and rugged as many of the mountain
people were. Some of them had an aristocratic beauty that bespoke Turan heritage, while others had the
wiry build of Crysians. They all conducted themselves with an openness that would have been unusual even
in an Orelarian village. Here in the Chaos Mountains, marriages involved many people, and there was no
such thing as adultery.
         Even more unusual was the number of dwarves in attendance. The village atop the plateau looked
as if it held a mere couple of hundred people, but the rocky bluff was honeycombed with caverns and
tunnels where hundreds more, human and dwarf alike, lived in very close harmony. Even co-mated
         Rick had visited more than a few dwarven settlements in his travels, and until now found them all
to be the same. Strict social structure, that "Elder races" arrogance that they shared with the elves although
the dwarves weren't quite so outspoken about it, and a general well-meaning disdain for impetuous short-
lived surface-dwelling longlegs. It had been the same in Kibrok Durva, in Kazdarak, in Volta, even in
Firehills despite the hill dwarves' protestations of being different from their mountain kin.
         Here in On the High Place, all those rules seemed suspended. The dwarves were friendly,
outgoing, free with their friendship and their secrets. They lived as neighbors, business partners, and even
co-mates with the humans. Those co-mate unions didn't seem to produce half-dwarves, at least as far as
Rick could tell. Although, with the general shortness of the humans, who could know?
         In his experience, though, he'd seen scant few of their females. There weren't many; according to
legend, when Reghar made the dwarves in the first place, He neglected to craft females, and it was only
because of the malign teasing of one sister and the benign assistance of another that He'd even bothered.
         Because of this, the dwarves tended to be protective and jealous of their women, often binding
them with severe social strictures. They weren't as bad as Rakvians, but then, nobody was as bad as
Rakvians when it came to that sort of thing.
         Therefore, it was a surprise to Rick to see dwarfwomen, and especially ones in various states of
undress, cavorting with dwarven and human males alike. He'd seen (and felt) naked elfmaids aplenty, and
had sampled beauties from a variety of nations and regions, but if someone had told him a few weeks ago
that he'd have the opportunity to get better acquainted with Reghar's rare jewels, he would have greeted this
with some disbelief.
         Still, here he was, and as he looked at them he saw that they were quite different from what he
would have expected. For one thing, they didn't all have beards. Some did, but these seemed to be the older
females, and the beards were fine and downy. They did all have long, thick hair where a man's sideburns
would be, and many of them had braided these and adorned them with gold beads or jewels.
         Their faces were broader and flatter, with thicker brows and more deep-set eyes, but there was a
rugged beauty about their features that made Rick think of a view of mountain peaks against the sky.
         Their coloration tended toward earth-tones, though here and there would be a blond. From
something Mokik had said a long time ago, Rick knew that golden hair was muchly admired.
         Evidence of their greater physical strength was apparent in their thick, densely-muscled limbs. The
smallest dwarven female looked capable of combatting the average human male, with a better-than-even
chance of winning. But, despite their sturdy, compact bodies, they were undeniably feminine.
         Rick and Natalia crossed to the more temple-like section of the room and stood before Dorian's
image. The sweet smells of candles and incense were all around them. The light touched Natalia and made
her glow as she gracefully knelt and bowed her head in prayer.
         He did the same, thanking the Great Mother for their victories against Hell's Army and the Nine,
for Her healing, for the new friends they'd made.
         He prayed for Dame Quinlan, that she might be successful in Argosa and that she and Damon
might even have some chance at happiness.
         He prayed for his son Mithas and hoped to reach him in time. Stones on the Hill was only two
weeks away, and they had found a guide to lead them there.
         He prayed for his daughters and grandchildren, his parents and friends. He prayed also for Raven
and Shade, and baby Obsidia, and thanked Dorian for letting Raven finally find true happiness, even if only
for a while, even if it hadn't been with him.
         When his silent communion was finished, he rose and lit a candle, swearing to honor Her this day
and always, and to do what he could to bring the true church back to Tura.
         Natalia joined him, touching flame to a candle of her own. Rick heard her whisper the names of
her parents and brothers, and promise to see them in a matter of months.
         Their devotions, at least of this nature, finished, they made their way to the banquet table. Rick
couldn't pass up the sweet vetch, a taste of home that had been his favorite as a child, but their appetite for
food soon turned to other things as they became involved in observing the activities of others.
         "Hello, handsome and beautiful," someone said. "Going to stand here watching all day, or are you
going to join the fun?"
         It was Deegie, the seamstress who had outfitted Natalia. She had gotten her voluptuous body into a
tight emerald-green tunic, left unlaced so far that her full breasts bulged into the V of the neckline.
 Her skin was the shade of almost-translucent white that was often found in redheads, so pale that
the veins could be seen tracing along beneath a smattering of freckles. Her red curls, much more carroty and
springy than Sorcha's auburn hair, were fluffed about her heart-shaped face.
         "There's just so much to see," Natalia replied, smiling.
         She and Deegie had hitten it off at once despite their many differences. Deegie, for instance, was
involved in a loose orbit of six co-mates and ten children all sharing the same house. Deegie was bouncy,
flippant, quick to laugh. She also had the expected firey temper, but hers was more like a spark landing on
the skin -- a sudden pop and a sting and then gone.
         "Like Trish's candy shop," Rick added. "Too many treats and not enough pennies!"
         Deegie brushed her breasts against his arm. "Oh? That looks like a full purse to me!"
         "Want to count my coins?"
         She deliberately let her eyes rove over his body. "Hmmm ... I think I can change a shilling!"
         "Yes," Natalia said, "but can you change a crown?" In a distinctly Turan gesture, she rubbed her
hand along Rick's thigh in such a way as to pull the fabric of his trousers taut over the swelling at his groin.
Brought on by the anticipation and sensually-charged atmosphere, he was already well-aroused.
         "Honeypot," Deegie laughed, stroking Natalia's arm, "give me two bells and he'll be lucky to
manage sixpence!"
         "Oh, yeah?" Rick grinned. "We'll see about that!" He gathered the redhead into his arms and
claimed a long kiss from her soft, ready lips. She was an enticing bundle, rounded in all the right places.
         "In two bells," Natalia predicted, "you, Deegie, will have gotten your year's wages and an extra
tuppence for Yuletide cheer!"
         "Is that so? Well, mayhap I should introduce you to my friend Iduna. She's a moneylender's
apprentice and needs to study ... foreign currency."
         "Rick's always interested in extending the hand of diplomacy," Natalia said. "It's just a matter of
where he puts it."
         He was proud and pleased at their clever banter, although mildly embarrassed to be the center of
their attention. He paused a moment to thank Dorian for letting him meet Natalia and letting her be all that
he ever hoped for. The goddess image on the far wall seemed to smile lovingly at him.
         "Iduna!" Deegie called. "I think I need your financial expertise over here!"
         A dwarven woman turned toward them, flinging her earth-brown tumble of hair out of her face.
She had eyes like diamond ore, dark yet glittery, and wore a topaz-colored velvet skirt and halter. She was a
striking beauty by any standard (except possibly elven), and Rick was even more intrigued.
         Natalia, a sly smile playing about her lips, glanced up at him. "Should I find Damon? Are you
going to need to borrow from the group fund?"
         He kissed her firmly. "I've got the group fund."
         She returned the kiss, darting her tongue into his mouth. "Don't spend all of it!"
         "I'll save a few farthings for you."
         "That's very good of you, Rick. A few farthings, eh?"
         "Well, a couple of pounds, then."
         "Better." She pushed him toward Deegie. "Have fun! I think I'm going to go ... talk ... to Jesse."
         He wasn't the only one to watch her cross the room, and by the way she carried herself, she knew
it. Many eyes were upon her, and she was loving it.
         "We don't often have visitors who see things our way," Deegie said, walking her fingers up his
chest. "Oh, sure, Paskaarni men will join us, but only if they are traveling without their wives or
sweethearts. And the Turans -- ha! Amazing, the things they believe!"
         "I've been all over the world," he said, turning his attention to the buxom young woman, "and I've
never seen anyplace quite like this. It's refreshing."
         "Well, Deegie, who is this?" Iduna asked, looking up at Rick.
         She was four, maybe four and a half feet tall, the top of her head coming to just above his waist.
But she was far from diminutive. No slightly-built elfmaid, no wispy fairy lass. Solid female, he thought,
taking in his fine view of her cleavage.
         "Iduna, this is Rick, a visitor and a warrior. Rick, may I introduce Iduna, apprentice to Roald the
         She held out a hand. "It is a pleasure to have the gift of your acquaintance," she said, with
emphasis on the words 'pleasure' and 'gift.'
         "Likewise!" He clasped it, pleasantly surprised at how warm and smooth her skin was. Her grip
was strong as a man's, her fingers stubby but well-shaped. "I didn't know many dwarves followed the faith
of Dorian."
         "I can't speak for my kinsfolk in distant lands, but we here have always worshipped both our
Creator-Father and His Sister. We females, especially. For don't we have reason? Without blessed Dorian,
we wouldn't be here! Our males would have to craft their sons of gold and iron, had Dorian not given them
females with forges better suited to childmaking."
         "And better suited to tempering iron rods," Deegie giggled.
         "Yes, that too." Iduna laughed, and drank deeply from a mug that was more of a thick bowl with a
handle. When she lowered it, a smudge of rich foam remained at her lip. Rick bent low and kissed it off in
one swift move, tasting hearty dwarven ale.
         "Not shy, I see," she remarked.
         "Never have been," he agreed.
         "Well, what would we like to do first?" Deegie asked, taking one of his arms while Iduna took the
other. "I was thinking a swim might be just the thing."
         "I'd love a swim!" Rick said, letting them lead him along.
         "Have you tried these springs yet?" Iduna asked. "They are rich in Reghar's sacred minerals,
cleansing the skin as well as the spirit. In another cavern, there is water is so blessed that even my kind can
stay afloat, while your kind can all but walk across the surface."
         He caught her scent, and suffered a pang of nostalgia, for it reminded him of roasting briar nuts.
Mr. Carter bringing back a huge sack of them from one of his visits to Briarglen (and oh, how they'd envied
him, the great traveler!), the Nut Festival, Curtis the blacksmith yelling about stick-man, good times, simple
times, times the world would be long before seeing again.
         Wide, natural stone steps descended into the spring-fed pool. Other couples and groups splashed
and played. Whatever apprehension Rick may have felt about his size being an impediment to sharing
pleasure with Iduna vanished as he got a glimpse of two healthy dwarven males laughing and tossing a
squealing girl back and forth. They were enormously endowed, disproportionate to their height, but far as
Rick could tell, nobdy was complaining.
         Deegie dipped a toe in the water. "Oh, good, it's nice and warm." She stripped off her tunic and
stretched, showing off her curvaceous figure. She was soft and cushiony, with a plump jiggling bottom and
a mound lightly covered in fine orange hair.
         "Yeah, a swim, definitely!" Rick said eagerly.
         "Here, let me help you." Deegie unbuttoned his shirt and peeled it off.
         "By the stones, he's hairless as a boy," Iduna said, reaching up to stroke his smooth chest. She
could just barely reach the discolored spot, remnant of a bruise, a souvenier of a joust with Andre.
         "But he's no boy," Deegie replied, her own hands running over his shoulders and arms. She
squeezed a bicep, and Rick flexed obligingly. "Look at that! He's strong as a stallion!"
         "That's not the only resemblance," Iduna noted. She undid his belt and lowered his trousers.
         His manhood sprang forth readily. He was stiff to the point of almost being in pain. Much as he
loved Natalia and much as he thrilled in their nights together, he yet ached to be fully buried within a
woman. Or two. Or many; the night was young.
         "Ooh," Deegie murmured. "Dorian, we thank You for Your bounty!" She caressed the length of
         Rick closed his eyes and sighed as the delightful sensations coursed through his body. He reached
blindly for Deegie, finding her large pillowy breasts by pure instinct.
         "I thought you wanted a swim," Iduna chuckled, and gave them a playful shove. Her great strength
and better leverage proved sufficient to topple them both into the pool.
         Rick surfaced, flinging back his hair in a shower of spray. The water was bath-warm and unusually
bouyant. It moved over him like silk and oil, faintly tingly. Deegie, sputtering, came up beside him. He
reached to steady her, and their skin slipped and slid excitingly. He pulled her into his arms.
         Iduna had removed her skirt and halter, and was descending into the pool. Deegie wiggled free of
Rick and doused the dwarfmaid. The two of them began splashing each other thoroughly. Rick watched for
a moment, then joined in. If there was one thing a Stonebridge boy could do, it was water-fight. He jetted
huge fans of water over the two women, until they teamed up and started soaking him.
         When that subsided, all of them laughing and breathless, Deegie paddled over to stand next to
Iduna, who had both feet firmly planted on the bottom.
         "Now, Rick, you tell us," Deegie said. "Whose are bigger?" She lifted the twin globes of her
breasts from the water and held them near Iduna's.
         "Yes, whose?" Iduna thrust her chest out.
         He was briefly dazzled by the two pairs of breasts glistening with water. It was a feast far better
than the one offered on the banquet table, and it was all he could do to keep from just diving in. Which set
was bigger? Did it matter?
         But the ladies had asked, and no knight worth his shield would refuse to cooperate with their
request. He held himself in check and moved closer, examining them both.
         Deegie's were great soft islands, floating on the water. The nipples were large and so pale they
almost blended with her white skin. Up close, he could trace the delicate path of her veins beneath the
freckles. He touched them, kneaded the flesh, hefted them like he was testing produce in the marketplace.
They were the sort of breasts a man could sandwich his rod between, something he longed to try soon as
this informal contest was finished.
         "Beautiful," he remarked. Deegie beamed.
         He turned his attention next to Iduna's. Round and firm as ripe melons, with no sagging or floating,
solid mountains capped with pebbly nipples the color of garnets. He rubbed his thumbs over those nipples
until they stood out in hard points.
         "I think Deegie's are a bit bigger, but these are magnificent."
         Iduna smiled proudly.
         Unable to resist any longer, he lowered his head and started licking and nuzzling, switching from
one woman to the other, engulfing his face in female flesh. Iduna, he noticed, was much warmer, as if
fevered, as if her body temperature was higher. He freed his mouth briefly to comment on it.
         "Coal burns hotter than wood," she replied matter-of-factly.
         "That's why they call it the forge," Deegie added. "Or so I've heard, from many a man!"
         "How is steel different from a man?" Iduna asked in a jesting tone.
         "Steel hardens as it cools!" a nearby dwarf male called over.
         Deegie reached below the water and found Rick's erection. "And a man hardens as he heats up!"
         The slippery-slick, tingly water turned her caress into something electric. When Iduna's sturdy
hands joined Deegie's, Rick groaned and buried his face in their ample breasts again. He felt their bottoms,
noting the same differences: Deegie's soft and bouncy, Iduna's rock-solid.
         "Pool's getting crowded," Deegie gasped. "Maybe we should move to somewhere else."
         Rick agreed. He waited until the two of them clambered out, enjoying the view of their water-shiny
bodies as they toweled off.
         He paused in his admiration of them to see how Natalia was doing, and found her sitting by Jesse.
        Selvaine was on his other side. Jesse's expression was almost comical, as he evidently could hardly believe
that he was holding a lovely royal princess in each arm.
         Natalia and Selvaine, ivory and gold. Natalia's long legs moved restlessly, her skirt shifted to show
a length of creamy thigh. Jesse, the soul of fairness, kissed first one woman and then the other.
         Deegie was holding out a towel. Rick emerged from the pool and dried himself vigorously,
wringing out his hair. By the time he was done, he saw that Selvaine had accepted an invitation to join two
handsome local youths in a romping game of strip tag, and Jesse had turned all of his attention to Natalia.
         Rick watched how she moved under his touch, and felt a surge of mingled desire and pride. He had
shown her how to unlock those feelings, the passion Dorian had given her. He had shown her what a man
liked, and she now used that knowledge to Jesse's benefit. She was confident and free, and while that was
going to be a difficult and scandalous thing in Tarlak, in Orelar it would be wonderful.
         He thanked Dorian again for Natalia, and silently vowed to make her as happy as she made him,
and devote his life to her and her children, whether they were his or not.
         Then, satisfied that she was enjoying herself, he grabbed Deegie from behind and hefted her off the
ground. His stiff organ rubbed against her back and buttocks. She laughed and squirmed against him, not
trying to get free, just increasing the tantalizing sensations.
         He shifted Deegie to one arm, feeling a bit like a Nordseen raider making off with all the tastiest
village girls, and attempted to sweep Iduna up in the other. Her feet didn't budge, he nearly threw his
shoulder out of joint, and almost dropped Deegie back in the pool.
         Iduna laughed and waved her finger at him. "Forgot, didn't you?"
         He had indeed. Despite her short stature, she weighed close to what he did himself. The legends
said that dwarven bones were laced with iron, and now he believed it.
         Still carrying Deegie, he let Iduna lead the way to a place where the cavern wall sloped to the floor
at a reclining, comfortable angle. Some previous revelers had left the spot padded with mats and blankets,
so it was an easy matter to deposit Deegie comfortably on the makeshift bed.
         The redhead rolled onto her back and stretched sinuously. She raised her arms to Rick and spread
her legs invitingly.
         Never one to refuse an invitation of that nature, Rick knelt and began caressing her inner thighs. As
he did so, Iduna stepped behind him and embraced him, pressing her body against his back and shoulders.
Deegie writhed on the blankets, almost a dance in slow motion. His fingers brushed her mound, combing
gently through the sparse hair, and moved lower to the gates of her pleasure. She rolled her hips, stroking
and squeezing her own breasts.
         Iduna reached around and grasped him with both hands. He shifted, laying half on his side, and ran
his tongue up Deegie's leg to her sweet center. Surprisingly sweet. He raised his head. She saw his
expression and giggled.
         "Before a festival, I always tuck a chocolate or other treat in there," she explained. "A little
offering to Dorian, if you will."
         He grinned hugely and dipped his head to her again. Yes, chocolate, she tasted of chocolate and
berries. Soon she was gasping, her hands in constant motion over her body, spreading her inner lips so that
his tongue could delve her depths.
         Iduna took just the tip of his rod in her mouth, then rained nibbling kisses along the length of it.
Her firm breasts pushed against his thighs. He groaned low in his throat.
         Deegie's hips rolled. Her head flung from side to side, her breath coming in ragged pants. She was
on the edge of a tremendous climax.
         As much as he was enjoying Iduna's teasing mouth, Rick gently nudged her away and rose to
position himself between Deegie's legs. She clasped his shoulders, trembling from the nearness of her
         "Oh, Dorian, yes! Fill me!"
         "Glad to," he said, and in one long smooth thrust drove into her. She couldn't take all of him, but
he was careful and only gave as much as she could.
         Her pealing cry echoed, mingling with the sounds of others' pleasures. She quivered beneath him
like a lute string. He began moving within her, quick but controlled, gritting his teeth against spending too
soon. But no sooner did he think of how long it had been since he'd spilled his seed inside a woman than the
sensation of irrevocable orgasm overtook him. He added his voice to Deegie's, calling out to Dorian.
         "Ooh," Deegie whimpered. Her arms fell limp to her sides. Her heels, which had been drumming
his buttocks, slid off. "Ooh, you are quite a man!"
         Now that he was no longer fully engorged, but still somewhat stiff, he slowly eased his entire rod
into her, eliciting another sigh from them both. He relaxed as much as he dared without crushing her, letting
his breathing and pulse return to normal. As he did so, he heard another voice, Natalia's low wordless cry.
Just the sound of that, knowing that she was finding as much pleasure as he was, caused him to begin to rise
         "Oh, no!" Deegie wailed in mock despair as she felt him begin to swell, turning wide bleary eyes to
him. "I think I need a rest!"
         "You deserve one." He nodded and withdrew, his rod slick with their mingled juices. His own
limbs were in that curious state of quivery leadenness, ready to collapse. He would have done so, but for the
impatient throbbing of his organ.
         "Hammer or anvil?" Iduna breathed hotly into his ear.
         "Which do you want to be? The hammer, or the anvil?"
         He understood. "Oh, I think this time I'd better be the anvil." He reclined on a sloped pile of rocks
covered with cushions, so that he was half-sitting and half-laying. Then, making sure he was braced and
ready, he wrapped his hands around Iduna's sturdy waist and hauled her bodily into his lap.
         She gasped at his strength and settled her bottom firmly onto his legs. His manhood stuck straight
up between her thighs, rubbing against her solid little mound which was covered with wiry, tightly-coiled
brown hair.
         "Here is the miner before the gold mine," she said, rolling her thumbs over the tip of his rod.
         He moaned at her touch. "And is this the gold mine?" he asked, spreadng her thick folds with his
fingers, feeling her heat and dampness. Her button, the center of her pleasure, was the size of an acorn. He
flicked it gently and felt her shudder.
         "It is," she replied, shifting until he was positioned at her opening.
         Rick thrust upward as Iduna came down, and cried out as he was engulfed. She was almost too hot,
volcanic. He fancied he could see the steam rising from their locked bodies, heat ripples blurring around
         He grasped her hips and held on as she began a slow, purposeful rocking. He could actually feel
the coolness of the air on his skin as his rod slid out, then renewed heat as they joined again. Had he not
taken the edge off his passion with his previous encounter with Deegie, he would not have lasted more than
a moment with Iduna. Even so, he knew he wouldn't last long.
         "Good prospecting," Iduna said hoarsely. "I think you're about to ... oh, yes! find the mother lode!"
Her steady rocking quickened into a rapid bounce, and then she stopped moving altogether as her insides
closed about him tight as an oiled fist, crushing him pleasurably.
         He uttered a cry of mingled surprise and delight as he felt that strong constriction surrounding his
rod. He could no longer move within her, but did not need to as the walls of her tunnel squeezed and
released rhythmically.
         A gruff voice spoke in his ear. "We call it the collapsing mine shaft."
         He managed to turn his head and found a dwarven male nearby, gold-bearded and handsome, with
a slender human woman snuggled at his side. She, a young and dark-haired beauty, gave Rick an inviting
smile as she massaged the dwarf's huge erection.
         "Don't distract him, Berego," Iduna said, eyes closed, head thrown back, motionless except for the
flexing of her inner muscles and the involuntary spasming of her own ongoing release.
         Rick felt his climax building. Iduna's juices, molten gold in her pleasure, drenched him. He drove
up far as he could, arching his back, and his voice rang again to the ceiling as he emptied himself into her.
         When it felt as if every last drop had been milked from his rod, he relaxed his taut body against the
cushions. Iduna's inner muscles eased, letting him slip from her. His skin there looked red from the heat and
the friction. He felt pleasantly abused.
         "Collapsing mine shaft," he muttered.
         Berego laughed. "And none are better at it than Iduna! You're a hardy miner, lad! I've known full-
blooded dwarf warriors who couldn't have outlasted you!"
         Iduna brushed back her fall of rich brown hair. "But I suppose you think you could."
         "Now, Iduna, you know Kepla wouldn't approve ..." Berego protested weakly, his coal-black eyes
hungrily sweeping over her figure.
         "Kepla is his wife," the brunette human explained to Rick. "She's not from here, and doesn't mind
Berego cavorting with human girls because she doesn't consider them competition."
         "Who's in competition?" Rick shrugged, somewhat strengthlessly. He felt like an empty wineskin,
drained, limp, and exhausted. "We're all here to honor Dorian, not outdo each other."
         "Well-said," Iduna remarked, turning as if by accident to better display herself to Berego.
         "And Kepla isn't here," the brunette murmured quietly.
         "Ah, Reghar, you made us of strong stuff," Berego said, "but not strong enough to resist such
temptation!" He glanced at Rick. "Trade you?"
         Rick looked at the brunette, who darted her pink tongue over her full lips. She had lips like Lisann,
he thought, and that stirred a variety of emotions in him. "Introduce me first?"
         "Relah, this is --" Berego looked to Iduna for help.
         "Rick," she supplied.
         "This is Rick. Rick, this is Relah, sister of my brother's co-mate."
         "Pleased to meet you," he said, and meant it. She was petite, slender, almost elfin in appearance
although clearly human. Her black hair was cut short, and was very straight and shiny. Her eyes were large
and brown. She was wearing nothing but a skirt tied sarong-like around her slim hips, leaving her small but
sweet breasts exposed.
         "So, is it a trade?"
         "Berego drives a hard bargain," Iduna said slyly.
         "It's fine with me, if Relah doesn't mind." Rick gave her his best smile and she immediately
disentangled herself from Berego's arm and crawled over to him.
         "That's that, then." Berego reached for Iduna. "Let's see if your fire needs stoking! Ah, the coals
are still glowing!"
         "I'll need a few minutes," Rick apologized as Relah stretched out beside him.
         "Take all the time you want. It's a festival. We have the entire night." She kissed him open-
mouthed, a flirty kiss that got his blood moving a little less sluggishly. "And watch ... Berego's been wanting
Iduna for years. Now that he's finally got his chance, it ought to be something!"
         He watched, one hand idly caressing the girl's slim body. She was right, it was something to
behold. Berego, playing the hammer to Iduna's anvil, had the rhythm of a blacksmith. Each hard pounding
thrust was counterpointed by a second, less-powerful one. Rick could almost hear the clanging of metal,
could almost feel the ground shake.
         He tore his attention away from the dwarves to search for Natalia, and saw her still with Jesse,
although the two of them seemed in a brief lull. Her head was pillowed on his leg, her lips curved in a
contented smile, lashes a smudge on her fair cheek as she rested. Jesse's hand lay upon her hair, fingers
combing through it. A third man, a handsome stranger with a wiry build and chestnut-colored hair, was
curled behind Natalia, his arm draped over her hip.
         To his surprise, Rick also saw Taren, his fully-dressed form unmissable in the room of mostly-
unclad bodies. He was exchanging friendly kisses with a few girls, keeping their playful hands at bay.
 Deegie inched over to press herself against Rick's other side. She was still flushed, but had gotten
her second wind. "Relah! Hello!"
         "Hi, Deegie!"
         To his astonishment, the two women leaned across his body and kissed each other, a wet,
unsisterly kiss. He vividly recalled the vision he'd had in Shadowdale, of the elven festival. The archbishop
himself had said it was all right, he reminded himself as Deegie familiarly stroked Relah's breasts. Nothing
wrong with two women enjoying each other, as long as they didn't exclusively stay with their own gender.
And nothing wrong with a man enjoying the sight. Which he surely did.
         Although he thought Iduna had worn him out, he felt a stirring at his groin. A woman on either side
of him, pleasuring each other without a shred of modesty. He slid a hand down each of their backs to cup
their buttocks.
         Deegie sighed against Relah's mouth and pushed her bottom against Rick's questing hand. He sent
his fingers to probe her yet-moist center.
         Relah, more lithe, decided to swing her leg over him so that he was presented with her pert bottom
and silky-furred mound. He leaned forward enough to slip his tongue along her pearly-pink folds. She
whimpered as he found her tiny button and circled it, then lapped long and slow. Her hips quivered.
         He was abruptly ready again, in a sudden rampaging fullness. Deegie turned her attention from
Relah's breasts to Rick's rod, sucking it deep into her mouth. He stifled his groan by burying his face
between Relah's legs.
         Deegie quit what she was doing much too soon, but Rick didn't protest because he then felt her
large cushiony breasts imprison his stiffness. He bumped his buttocks up and down, sliding his rod between
         Relah shifted, though not moving away from his tongue. At the top of his next stroke, he felt her
quick mouth take in the tip of his rod as it emerged from between Deegie's breasts. It soon became most
delicious torture.
         "Relah, stop," he heard Deegie say. "He'll spend too soon, and you've got to have him in you. It's
like being filled with light, Dorian's own light."
         Rick blushed and tried to argue, but Relah heeded Deegie's words and reversed herself so that she
was positioned above him. She seemed small and delicate, but if she was Berego's lover, Rick didn't doubt
that she could handle him. He seized her waist and impaled her, eliciting a throaty cry.
         Deegie remained stretched out between Rick's long legs, and used her mouth and hands on both of
them as they rocked and thrust. Rick sat up as much as he could, wrapping his arms around Relah's waist,
jouncing her up and down. He also managed to work one foot up against Deegie's mound, teasing her that
way until she clamped her thighs around his ankle and pumped her hips.
         Relah was gasping and shuddering, clutching his shoulders. Sitting up as he was, he could see the
image of Dorian behind her. The jewellike eyes held him captive. The world seemed to blink, and it was as
if he was inside the goddess Herself, surrounded by Her divine warmth.
         Deegie fell back, releasing them, once more exhausted by her pleasures. Relah clung to him,
beyond speaking, rising fast toward the heavens.
         He rolled with her and braced himself over her slender form. She raised her legs, twining them
around his waist. He withdrew all the way, and then sank back in, the new angle causing new friction that
pushed Relah into ecstacy. She became like a river below him, churning and turbulent.
         Rick looked up at the image, into the eyes of Dorian. His mind and body were awhirl with
pleasure. Relah could stand no more. She was gulping small sips of air, her pulse fluttering visibly in her
         With a final tender kiss, Rick eased out of her and let her curl up beside Deegie. He rose, aware of
many women watching him as he strode across the room, bronze skin shining in the candlelight, his rod
jutting out in front of him. A few of his admirers beckoned, but he did not stop until he had reached the
section of the cave directly in front of Dorian's image.
         She seemed to smile at him, and then it was as if unseen hands moved over his body. He knelt,
strengthless. When he closed his eyes, he saw or imagined angelic forms surrounding him. Unearthly beauty
and passion. He gave himself over to their caresses.
         Just when he found himself near the brink, the golden misty forms faded away. He looked
beseechingly up at the goddess
         A soft footstep nearby caught his attention. He glanced over and saw a pair of ivory-smooth legs,
well-honed by kaiila riding and swordplay. The legs knelt, bringing a fall of satin-black hair into view.
         Natalia reached down and stroked his hair back from his sweaty brow. Her eyes shone with love
and longing.
         For a long moment, they just looked at each other. Words couldn't describe, words weren't needed.
        He touched her cheek.
         She brushed her fingers over his lips. He nipped gently at them.
         "I love you," she whispered.
         He gathered her into his arms, still unable to speak. She gracefully lowered herself, leaving a trail
of kisses over his chest and stomach. Her touch, tangible and earthly, was every bit as delightful as the
unseen touches that had been pleasuring him moments before.
         Her lips parted and slid along him like silk.
         "Oh, yes," he gasped, losing his hands in the midnight of her hair. There before Dorian, Natalia
loved him with mouth and hands and lips and tongue, murmuring sounds of encouragement.
         "Oh, Natalia, oh, Dorian, yes!" His hips quickened, and Natalia timed her motions to match.
         "Aaaahhhh!" Rick cried, every muscle going rigid. His seed poured out of him. Golden flowers
seemed to bloom and burst behind his eyes. His cries trailed away to an echo and he felt himself begin to
shake from the reaction.
         Natalia raised her head. He lifted one trembling hand to touch her face again, and then fell against
her. Kneeling face to face, they supported each other, her arms warm and strong around him. He let his head
fall onto her shoulder.
         Her skin was so soft, marred only by the scars on her back where she'd been shot during the battle
in Argosa. Feeling those patches of roughness, he remembered how he'd nearly lost her, and emotion
tightened his grip.
         "I love you," he said fervently, kissing her. "More than anything!"
         "Likewise." She giggled, glancing back at Relah and Deegie. "You've left a trail of bodies in your
wake, my dear paladin. As usual. But this time, I don't think any of them object."
         He chuckled and kissed her again. "You've done pretty well yourself."
         "Thank you. I haven't had nearly as much practice as you."
         "You'll get all the practice you need, I promise."
         She winked at him and ran a hand down his back to his buttock. "Starting when?"
         Rick groaned and collapsed onto the floor. "Starting tomorrow!"
         Natalia fell down beside him. "Good! I don't think I could manage again tonight."
         "So, you had a nice time with Jesse?"
         She purred like a larl. "He has marvelous hands! He shouldn't be wasting them as a riverboat
         "I'm sure Selvaine will find plenty of other things for him to do with them."
         "I'm sure she will!" She stretched against him and sighed contentedly. "Tell me, Rick. Are all
festivals like this?"
         He rolled his head enough to see Iduna and Berego, still going at it with ground-shaking
enthusiasm. "Not exactly, but mostly."
         "And we're going to have festivals in Stonebridge?"
         "Count on it."
         "Hmm. I think we'll wind up spending a lot more time in Stonebridge than in Tarlak!"
         He found the energy to put his arms around her. "It doesn't matter. Wherever we're together, it will
be like a festival every day."

  *  *

Copyright 1995 by Christine Morgan