He was going to study this time. Honestly.
The curtains were drawn, casting the room into dimness relieved only by the
single glow of the enchanted lamp on his desk. His books were laid out neatly, his notes
were in order, and there would be no distractions.
Even if his roommate returned to the suite they shared, which he wasn’t supposed
to do until late, Harry had posted a sign on his bedroom door instructing that he not be
disturbed for anything short of Cataclysm.
Diplomacy in the Modern Era. Fully three inches thick and heavy enough that
should he drop it on his feet, he’d never need snowshoes again. Not that he needed
snowshoes now, here in temperate Pandathaway. Three solid inches of diplomacy.
“Dorian wept,” Harry muttered, opening the tome to the marked page. He began
reading about shifting alliances and disputes in the provinces of Kyrios Entys within the
last hundred years.
He was doing all right, some of the information actually sinking in, the direction
that his theme paper might go beginning to formulate in his head, when he turned a page
and found himself staring at a depiction of the Treaty of Ordropolis, which had involved a
double marriage, the son and daughter of one monarch to the daughter and son of another.
The two brides were shown in traditional Entysan garb, which veiled them from
khol-outlined eyes to chin, but left their breasts bare. Their skirts hung very low on their
sweetly-rounded hips, and were of a sheer material that revealed their legs and even
hinted that they were wearing nothing beneath.
The artist had captured the scene in exquisite detail. Lingering, some might note,
too much on the nubile girls (fourteen and sixteen, the caption read) and far less so on the
more elaborate outfits of their grooms and fathers.
Looking at the inked images, Harry could practically smell their lotus blossom
perfume, hear the soft jangle of the bells on their earrings. He ran a finger down the page
and instead of vellum, imagined that he felt the satiny warmth of olive-toned skin.
A prominent discomfort had arisen beneath the desk.
Study, he reminded himself.
His glance fell upon one of the grooms, whose dark hair fell over his forehead in a
wavy lock, whose foxlike features were not all that different from those Harry saw in the
mirror every day. Easy to picture himself in that man’s place, lucky recipient of a lush
young bride. There was a suggestion of a glint in the man’s eyes, a suggestion that the
artist had caught him thinking not of the holy vows he was supposedly swearing but of
the delights that would be awaiting him in his marital chamber.
Harry slid into a daydream so vivid that he could detect the smoky tang of
incense, the strumming of sitars. In a marble-columned room, a round bed draped with an
Entysan tigerskin beckoned ... his hands unfastened a veil and showed him the lush lips of
his new wife, crimsoned and parted and beckoning ...
Someone knocked on the door to the outer suite, jarring Harry from his daydream.
He jumped and almost blushed, before realizing that he was safe and alone in his room
and not in class ... not like last time ...
Another knock, louder. Harry shook his head briskly and turned to the next page.
Trade negotiations. Good. Dull as dirt. Just the thing to get his mind back on his studies.
The outer door opened.
“Cray’s not here!” Harry called, exasperated.
“Avast ye, Harry-me-lad!” a rolling voice returned merrily. “Where are ye
“Howie?” He shoved his chair back, caught the rear legs on the edge of the carpet
and almost went over, then hurried to his door. “Howie, by the gods!”
They stared at each other across the sitting room, and burst out laughing in unison.
“You look --”
“Ye look --”
“What’s come of ye, cuz, ye’re dressed like a jester!”
“What’s come of me? Look at you!”
Howie wore buff-colored pants, big black boots with downturned cuffs, and a
maroon greatcoat over a white ruffled shirt. His hair, black as Harry’s but not nearly so
well-groomed, was tied back with a colorful scarf of red and gold, his face was half-
covered with a curly beard, and a silver hoop was seated firmly in one earlobe.
“Nice legs,” Howie remarked snidely.
Harry looked down and grimaced at the royal blue tights and goldenrod-hued
tunic, complete with crown-wearing dragon stitched on the left breast. “All right, all right,
maybe I do look like a jester. But it’s the school uniform.”
“Aye, I canna scarce believe it! To find ye here ... ‘tis a sorry shame, cuz.”
“Tell me about it!” Harry beckoned, and they retreated into his room. Where, with
the door not only closed but locked this time, he dared to lift a floorboard and retrieve a
flagon of wine from the space beneath. “If I’d known you were coming, I’d have gotten
“Nay, I’ve had rum aplenty to suit me,” Howie laughed. “For a while, betimes. So
what are ye doin’ here? When I’d heard ye’d gone to a prep school, I thought m’ears be
“They’re still trying to convince me the Academy is right for me,” Harry said,
pouring them each wine in blue ceramic mugs with the school logo on the side in gold
paint. “My father’s still got it in his head that I’ll follow in his footsteps.”
“Arr, when’s the man goin’ to learn? Is he thinkin’ that yer magical talent’ll just
sprout like chest hair as ye get older?”
“Maybe, I don’t know. All I know is I’m stuck here, and it’s driving me mad,
Howie, it really is.”
“Ye should have come to sea with me. In fact, why don’t ye? Strap on yer sword,
grab yer money, and let’s go! The Pursuivant’s a fine ship.” He puffed up and hooked his
thumbs behind the lapels of his greatcoat. “And ye’re lookin’ at her second mate.”
“That’s great news! Second mate, already!”
“Aye, while ye’re whilin’ away yer days in this monk’s cell!”
“Monk’s cell is right! I swear, Howie ... that’s what’s the worst about it! Do you
remember my birthday?”
“When I took ye to the brothel? Aye, that I do.”
“Ever since, it’s all I can think about.”
“The brothel or the wench?”
“Women. Girls. Romps in the sheets. Can’t keep my mind on anything else.” He
chuckled ruefully. “It’s gotten so bad that I sometimes wonder if Diana put a lust spell on
me as a prank last time I was home!”
“Ahhh, Diana!” Howie caressed the name. “She’s growin’ up right comely, that
“Don’t get your hopes up, or anything else for that matter, cuz. She’d just as soon
lightning bolt you as look at you.”
“That may be. But yer sister dinna seem the type to cast that sort of spell on ye or
anyone.” He drank deeply, then added, “More’s the pity!”
“I don’t know whether I’m lucky or damned that they keep us separate for classes.
It’s bad enough seeing them on the campus and at meals; if they were right in the
classrooms, my grades would be even worse than they are. As it is, I start listening to the
teachers and the next thing you know, my mind’s a thousand miles away in a Symbyan
“Be that why ye’ve the window shut on such a bonny spring day?”
Howie pulled back the curtain and looked down on the triangular yard. Harry’s
dorm was on one point, the other boys’ dorm was another, and the girls’ dorm was the
third. Each was on a hill, with paths sloping down to meet at Student Square in the center.
Student Square, a large ivy-covered brick building with white shutters and trim, housed
the dining hall, bookstore, a few shops, and the lounge.
The day was bright and sunny, still weeks away from the sweltering summer yet
to come, and as the afternoon waned, the yard was full of students on their way back from
classes. Royal blue and goldenrod as far as the eye could see, the females in blouses and
mid-shin skirts instead of tunic and tights.
“I thought it would help me keep my mind on my books. For all the good it did.”
Harry flipped back to the Entysan picture and Howie whistled appreciatively.
“It gets worse and worse,” Harry continued. “The other day, I was in economics
Howie interrupted with a noise of disgust. “Economics! Gods save ye, cuz!”
“-- and I was looking out the window, not really paying attention, and then the
Headmistress of Girls went by ... oh, Howie, you should see her ... she must be over
thirty, and she dresses as demure as can be, hair in a bun, spectacles, spinster-clothes with
their high collars and all ...but I was watching her cross the yard, and it was really windy,
and a gust caught her skirt and threw it clear to her waist.”
“Aye?” Howie grinned.
“Aye, and she had on stocking-belts as red as a succubus’ nipples and no knickers
at all, a pert and trimmed little bush between the most luscious pair of thighs you’ve ever
clapped an eye to ... I nearly burst right out of these damn tights! Thank the gods that they
make us wear such long tunics, or I never would have made it back to my room!”
“Gilwan’s mighty horn! Why don’t ye go out and get a piece, lad? Ye’re not six
blocks from Madame Delorria’s!”
“I know! From the library cupola, you can see Madame Delorria’s! But we have to
get a permission pass to leave campus, and have it stamped when we get back, and the
bastards Truthsay us to find out where we went!”
“And ye put up with this? Sneak out some night!”
“Oh, it gets better, my friend, it gets better. When we enroll, each of us gets a tidy
little tracking spell put on, that will alert them if we try to leave without a pass.”
Howie groaned. “If I’d known, I’d’ve smuggled ye in a wench or two! And I
suppose they’ve got ye Geased so’s ye canna boff any o’ those bits o’ crumpet yonder.”
He jerked his head toward the girls’ dorm.
“No, actually, they haven’t done that. But we’re not allowed to have visitors of the
opposite sex in our rooms, and there’s precious few other places to go.” Harry scowled
bitterly. “And the rules are stricter for some than for others. My roommate, Cray -- short
for Crayton -- has girls in his room whenever he pleases, and no one says a word about it.
They turn a blind eye because he’s the school’s star grassball player --”
Howie made that noise of disgust again. “Arse-grabbin’ snots, the lot o’ them!”
“But me? The times I’ve tried, I’ve no sooner gotten a hand even close to Dorian’s
Garden when the Headmaster will have one of his ‘inspections.’ Now all the girls know
they’re dogging me, and steer clear to save themselves the demerits.”
“Doggin’ ye? Dinna get paranoid on me, Harry ... mayhap ye’ve just had a run o’
“Or mayhap the fact that my grandmother is on the Board of Directors has
something to do with it.”
“Och, blood-spattered hell!” Howie spat. “And the old bat’s still bound to keep ye
well under her thumb, is that it?”
“Bad enough that I’m a disappointment as a mage, but gods forbid I should do
something to tarnish the Ethelbald name!”
“Ye’ve got to take the wheel o’ yer own life! Ye’re never goin’ to be what they
want to make ye, so all ye’re doin’ is makin’ yerself crazy tryin’ to please. When it’s plain
they dinna give a tinker’s shit about ye.”
“I know, I know.” He drained his wine and poured another. “But I keep hoping
that if I stick it out long enough, maybe this diplomat thing will work out. And then I’d be
able to get away. Able to travel, see the world, meet kings and emperors and sultans --”
“And their daughters.”
“And their daughters,” Harry agreed. “I’d be free.”
“Ye could do that now. All ye have to do is get yerself one o’ those passes, tell
them ye’re going to run some errands in the marketplace, and neglect to mention that the
marketplace is in Dalanar or Ellia or Rakvi! A ship and the open sea, what more d’ye
Harry sighed. “But it wouldn’t be the same, going as a common sailor or even a
ship’s captain, as it would be going as the Pandathan Ambassador. If I’m ever going to be
that, I can’t afford to burn my family bridges. And if I left school, if I ran away, my
grandmother would make me wish I’d gotten Calaan mad at me.”
“Here be my prescriptions. First off, ye’ve got to get a good fuck or two. Clears
the mind. Then ye’ve got to decide which is more important to ye. Yer freedom and self-
respect, or playing kissy-bum with yer grandmother for the rest o’ yer bleedin’ life!”
“Good advice. Wish I could take it. But I told you. Every girl on campus knows
that the Headmaster is keeping a close eye on me.”
“Though yer spring break was comin’ up. Ye’ll just have to spend it with me.
We’ll tour the brothels and taverns until yer balls are so drained that ye’ll not be able to
get it up until Yuletide!”
“Oh, gods, I wish!” Harry said fervently. “But I’ve already got plans.”
“And by the sour tone o’ yer voice, I’ll warrant they’re not plans o’ yer own
“No. One of my aunt Pigeon’s old friends has invited the family out to spend two
weeks at her estate. Dad can’t go because of the Council, but Mom is taking me and
Diana. Two weeks with my uncle Charles, the most boring man in the world, and the sons
vying to dethrone him! I’ll probably hear more about economics on my break than I did in
the entire last semester of classes.”
“Ye’re doomed, lad. Still, maybe it’ll take yer mind off women.” Howie paused,
thinking. “Or ye could have yer frolics with the servant girls. Ye’ve done that before.”
“My luck, they’ll all be white-haired Dalnari grannies and crones with noses like
“Ye know what they say about cats at night.”
“I’m not that desperate.”
“Ye will be, if ye keep dating yer hand.”
“And having to listen to Cray rattle his headboard with one beauty after another.
It’s a wonder he has the strength left to play grassball!”
“How’d ye get roomed with the likes o’ him?”
“Lunari only knows.” Harry rolled his eyes. “Grandmother probably arranged it on
purpose just to get me.”
A floorboard creaked stealthily in the outer room, but before either of them could
react, Harry’s door was flung open and the Headmaster stood there, glowering at them
with his pinched yellow-brown eyes.
“Mister Ethelbald! Duh-rinking!”
Harry belatedly tried to shove the flagon behind his back. Howie snatched it from
him and turned belligerently to face the old man.
“This be mine, and I’ll thank ye to knock! Pah! A school, ye’d think people could
learn some bloody manners!”
“Howie, don’t!” Harry winced.
“Yours, is it? I doubt that. I doubt it most strenuously.”
“Is this the sort of guest your family would approve of, Mister Ethelbald?”
“He is family,” Harry pointed out. “My cousin.”
“Oh is that so? A black sheep and a blacker sheep. Most interesting.” He rubbed
his hands together with a sound like lizard skin. “Well, this cousin of yours needs to be
on his way now, else I’ll be forced to take steps.”
Howie looked ready to take steps of his own, but Harry waved him down. “Of
course, Headmaster. Howie, you’d better go.”
“Ye’re beaten, then, cuz.” His expression of saddened disappointment cut Harry
to the quick. “They’ve got ye for sure, and ye’ll be suckin’ their bilgewater forever. But if
ye change yer mind, ye know where I’ll be.” He bit his forefinger insolently at the
blustering Headmaster and strolled out past him, the flagon of wine tucked under his arm.
Harry wistfully watched him go, then took a deep breath and waited for his
* * * * *
The supper hour had come and gone, but Harry
hadn’t noticed. Now, as he finally
pushed himself away from his desk, with the actual contents of the entire four chapters
he’d been supposed to read burning in his memory, he was ready to write his paper.
But it only took a glimpse down the hill to show him that the lights were off in the
dining hall. The lounge was open; he could even hear the music and see the shadows of
dancers moving past the windows. There, he could at least get a bowl of stew, but it
would also mean being surrounded by distracting girls. If he was going to get his paper
done, he’d better just stay put.
Luckily, he was prepared for such an eventuality. He went home for the weekend
twice a month, and his mother always sent him back with a care package. It was getting
down to the dregs now, but he was still able to scrounge up a quick meal of not-quite-
stale bread, cheese, and meat so thoroughly preserved that it would probably outlast him.
Two more demerits. He didn’t want to think about what his total was, but he
consoled himself with the knowledge that at the end of the semester, only a few days
away, his slate would be wiped clean and he could come back and start fresh after spring
break. He was still a few demerits away from more severe disciplinary action.
He finished his meal, washed up, and stretched the kinks and knots out of his
back. Then he did a few practice lunges and ripostes, reflecting that even if he was getting
nothing else out of school, his fencing was already improved. Too bad there wasn’t a
prosperous living to be made as a duelist.
Fed, limbered, and more relaxed, Harry sat back down and started working. He
whispered to himself as he did; talking came so much more naturally than writing! If only
he were allowed to present his homework orally!
He was on the third page and just getting warmed up when he heard a key rattle in
the outer door.
Cray was back early, probably sneaking in another girl. He could look forward to
another concert of giggles and moans, the Creaking Bed Duet.
Even though it was barely above a conspirator’s whisper, Harry recognized the
voice. Sherla, Cray’s most recent conquest. He summoned up a vision of her -- rich
golden hair, heart-shaped face, lovely legs.
It would be rude not to answer, even though she sure wasn’t looking for him.
Harry opened his bedroom door.
“Hello, Sherla ... Cray’s not home.”
The moment he saw her, he knew something was wrong. She was too tense, even
for a girl who’d just snuck into one of the boys’ dorms alone. And her big blue eyes were
Plus, as he spoke, she jumped and ‘guilt’ screamed across her features.
“I ... I ... didn’t think anybody was here,” Sherla said, inching back out the door.
Harry frowned. “I thought you and Cray were going to the new illusion-show over
at the Academy tonight.”
Emotion brought a pink tinge to her cheeks. “He stood me up.”
He gaped at her. “Why? Cray, miss a date?”
“Oh, I’m sure he kept his other date.” She bit off the words sharply.
Uh-oh. He’d always expected this would happen sooner or later. At any given
time, Cray had from three to six girls on the string, and each of them thought she was his
one-and-only. Amazing, the things a fellow could get away with when he had bronzed
good looks and a build like a marble statue.
He could have covered it up. Could have convinced her. Cray would have owed
But why? Cray was a strutting self-important bastard of the purest ray serene, and
would never acknowledge, let alone repay, any debt to Harry.
In that case ...
“Oh, that’s right,” Harry said easily, with a wide winning smile. “Tonight was
“Loresa! I knew it! That rotten no-good --”
“Shh!” He motioned at the open door. “The Headmaster’s already been at me once
today; if he finds you in here, he’ll bite my head off and spit it into the harbor.”
Sherla shrugged angrily. “I passed him in the hall. He knew I was coming to
Cray’s room. It didn’t matter.”
“Of course.” His mouth went sour as curdled milk.
“Loresa. What does he see in her?”
Harry made it look like he was in the know but choosing not to say.
“What? You have to tell me, Harry!”
“Sherla, he’s my roommate, I don’t want to get involved. I mean, sure, I hear
things from time to time, and he’s always talking about his various girlfriends --” He
widened his eyes at what sounded like a slip.
She closed the door behind her and came toward him. “Various girlfriends. What
kind of things does he say?”
“I ... I’ve said too much already.” He backed toward his room.
“Please! I have to know!”
“About Loresa, at least ...” He cast about in his mind ... what was it about Loresa?
She was another blonde, Cray was limited in his tastes, but ... “She’s kind of got a
reputation. I guess Cray thinks there are things she’ll do that ... that you won’t.”
“Like what?” she demanded.
All the nights he’d listened to them through the walls ... but there had been
something, hadn’t there? He distinctly remembered ...
“Something he always begs you to do.”
Her mouth dropped open and she covered it with one hand. “And Loresa does?
Oh! Oh, that slut, that tramp, that trollop!”
Now Harry was really wondering! All he’d heard were Cray’s whining pleas of
“come on, Sherla, just once, we can stop if you don’t like it.”
“Plus,” he ventured onward, remembering another difference between the girls.
“She’s ... no, never mind.”
“She’s what? What? Please, you have to tell me!”
“Why? Sherla, I’m sorry he stood you up, but what good does it do to get wound
up about it? It’s just the way he is. None of his other girls are upset.”
“How many does he have?”
“Gods, I am really making a mess of this!” Harry feigned being distraught, ran a
hand through his hair. “I just figured all of you knew, and none of you minded. I had no
“Four, I think.”
“Four!” She held onto the back of a chair for support. “Four! But he told me ... he
gave me his spare key!” Held up beseechingly.
“His brother’s a locksmith,” Harry said. “He’s got a drawerful of spare keys.”
Her fist curled around it so hard he bet she’d be seeing the reddened imprint there
tomorrow, then she hurled it against the wall to Cray’s room. “That snake! He lied to me!
Well, it’s for the last time! I am through with him!”
“I’m really sorry.” He hung his head and looked miserable. “I always thought you
were the prettiest one. Smartest. Nicest. Too good for him. A shame he couldn’t see how
special you were. That he’d let you get away just because of a set of --”
“A set of what?”
He couldn’t meet her eyes, abashedly motioned toward her bosom. Saw the
realization dawn on her just what feature Loresa had that was superior to hers.
“But she’s huge! Freakishly so! She looks like a great big milk cow! And the way
she wears her blouses ... she tailors them to be too tight, you know!”
Oh, he knew, every male on campus knew.
“So that’s it,” Sherla fumed. “A pair of melons and a ready mouth and he’ll go
Aha, Harry thought. That’s what he was begging for.
“But if you suspected he was out with someone else,” he ventured, “why did you
come looking for him?”
That scream of guilt crossed her face again, and she pulled a short-bladed knife
and a paint-pen from her skirt pocket. “I was going to ...”
“Trash his room?” Harry’s eyebrows climbed in astonishment.
“Getting back at him like that won’t help.”
“He’ll laugh. He’ll say, ‘look how upset I got her.’ I’ve seen it before,” he
admitted. “There’s got to be a better way.” How he did love a good gamble ... now it was
time to see if this one would pay off.
Sherla bowed her head, then looked up at him, and in his mind Harry heard the
tumble of gold coins -- jackpot! “Do you think Loresa’s are better than mine?”
He laughed with a hint of embarrassment. “I ... I wouldn’t know. I mean, hers are
right out there for all the world to see, but otherwise, those blouses they give you girls
kind of leave everything to the imagination.”
“Oh.” She slipped the top button, and Harry stared in an incredulity that was only
partly feigned. Another button. And another. Now the upper swells of her breasts were
visible, and the beginning of her cleavage.
“Um, Sherla ...?”
“I asked you a question, Harry.” A fourth, then a fifth, and she paused to untuck
the hem of her blouse from her waistband. The fabric yawed open as she moved, giving
him an eyeful of luscious flesh nestled within a pale blue silken chemise.
He cleared his throat. “I ... I can see enough now to be sure of one thing. They’re
beautiful. You’re beautiful.”
She let the blouse fall from her shoulders. Her eyes were blue and cold, the eyes
of revenge, exactly as he’d hoped.
“Better than Loresa’s?”
“Like you said, hers are too big. But, um ... you really shouldn’t be ... um ... doing
“I may not be known as a campus cocksman like Cray, but I am only human.” He
coughed and averted his gaze, tugged at his tunic as if trying to cover the swelling there,
drawing her attention to it precisely as planned. “I can’t help ... reacting.”
“Are you scared of me, Harry?”
“No, scared, nah, not me.” He produced a shaky laugh.
“Are you my friend?”
“Of course I am!”
“Then you’ll help me?”
“Help you what? Trash Cray’s room? No, I can’t, I --”
“No, you’re right. That won’t do. But I still need help. He made me feel so bad, so
terrible, worthless. I need to know if I’m pretty.”
“You are,” he assured her in complete honesty.
She stepped toward him, reaching for the ties that held her chemise closed in
front. “I need to feel good about myself.”
He stammered, watching avidly as she bared herself to the waist. He hadn’t been
lying, her breasts were beautiful. This was going better than his wildest hopes, but how
far did he dare to push it? A single misstep would be catastrophic.
“I’d like to help,” he said, swallowing so that his throat clicked audibly. “But what
... what can I do?”
“Touch me,” she invited, almost pleaded. “Make me feel pretty.”
Harry started to oblige, then stopped as if struck by a sudden thought. “You’re not
using me to get revenge on Cray, are you?”
“Certainly not!” she lied, and he inwardly smiled in satisfaction.
“Because I wouldn’t want to do that to him,” he said. “We may not be the best of
friends, but he is my roommate. I ... I wouldn’t want you to feel like you were getting
back at him through me. Or even ... doing anything you don’t want to because it might
He saw the light rise in her eyes, but she said, “This isn’t about Cray.” She took
his wrists and pulled him toward her.
“Ah, Dorian,” he murmured, letting himself be pulled, letting her guide his hands
to cup the twin globes of her breasts.
Her back arched and she uttered a little gasping sigh as he gently brushed his
thumbs across her nipples. He let the reluctant-adolescent act fall away and sought her
lips in a compelling kiss.
Sherla’s mouth opened in surprise and he thrust his tongue into it before she could
voice a protest. One of his hands stole around to the small of her back to hold her against
him, the other massaged her breasts more urgently. Hers fluttered by his elbows as if she
wasn’t sure what to do with them.
He sensed her startled indecision, her sudden worry that she had gone too far and
gotten more than she bargained for, but then her body shivered and she pressed herself to
him with a low moan. The previously undecided hands encircled his neck.
Their kiss broke and he moved to her jawline, her earlobe, finding the sensitive
spots and nibbling at them.
“Oh ... oh ... Harry, what ...?”
“So beautiful,” he whispered, inching down to her collarbone, then further.
Her fingers curled in his hair, tightening, as if to stop his progress, but
halfheartedly. When he reached the tip of her breast and drew it gently into his mouth,
even that token protest stopped and she held his head as if she might never let go.
The uniform skirt was secured by a series of small clasps. Harry undid them so
deftly and without ceasing any of his other activities that Sherla didn’t notice what was
happening until the skirt puddled to the floor and left her in knickers, stockings, and belt.
No succubus-red here; the school colors of blue and gold continued even to these
Harry knelt with fencer’s grace, sinking slowly so that his lips could kiss a path
from breasts to navel -- a dart of his tongue there made her giggle through her moans -- to
the upper edge of her knickers. They were pale blue and sheer, fitting snug against her
hips and lower belly, puffing out over a mound cushioned by a lush patch of dark blonde
This, he could tell, was something she hadn’t counted on. Fully prepared to do
what she must to avenge the slights dished up by Cray, but she hadn’t considered the
prospect of her own arousal. He read it in the rosy flush on her pale skin, the taut points
of her nipples, the sweet perfume of her musk.
The complexity of women’s underclothes could confound many a man, but Harry
divested her of them with ease.
“Sit down,” he urged.
She did so, moving like one in a dream, on the narrow couch. Her eyes, meeting
his, were swimming with surprised longing.
“You ... I never thought you would ...”
“Shh.” He parted her knees and knelt between them, running his tongue along her
“What are you doing?” she breathed.
He paused and raised his gaze back to hers. “Didn’t Cray ever ...?”
“Kiss you here.” His hand settled lightly on her mound, the hair crisp and soft
beneath his palm.
She shook her head slowly. “I’ve heard some of the other girls talk about that, but
I never believed them. But he ... he wanted me to ...”
“Let me kiss you here. Please. You don’t have to do anything for me unless you
want to, just let me do this for you.”
“You’re ... so different now!”
His fingers moved lower, finding damp heat. “Will you let me?”
By way of answer, she let her head fall against the back of the couch and her legs
relax apart. He bent and breathed of her scent, then opened her folds with his thumbs and
brought his tongue to her tender center.
She exhaled in a long sighing, “Ooohhhhhh,” that contained a world of wonder.
He kept on, gently lapping as he inserted two fingers deep into her channel to probe and
Soon Sherla’s fingernails were scratching convulsively at the cushion, her breath
heaved and her hips writhed, but the few cries she made were the low and muffled ones
of a girl accustomed to the risk of being caught.
When the final treasure of Dorian’s Gift was finally hers, she trembled all over
and her inner flesh clasped at his fingers in a way that made his heartbeat race even faster.
He pillowed his head on her thigh and waited with a smile -- a rather smug smile,
he had to admit -- as she rode out the waves.
“Oh by the gods,” she panted. “That was ... oh!”
“Thank you for letting me,” he said. “Did it help?”
“Help?” She blinked, then remembered. “Yes. Very much. I’ve never felt
“You’ve never been prettier.”
It was the truth, nothing was lovelier than a woman in the afterglow of rapture,
unless maybe it was a woman on the very fringe of reaching it.
He made sure she saw the passion warming his eyes. Now was when she should --
“But what about you? That can’t have done much for you.”
“On the contrary, it gave me a great deal of satisfaction.”
“Don’t you want more?”
He chuckled self-deprecatingly. “I wouldn’t refuse, but I don’t want you to feel as
if I expect it.”
“I want to,” she declared as if she had just convinced herself of it. “Let me return
the favor, Harry, please.”
He let some of his confidence fall away, replacing it with a bit more of the unsure
youth routine. “You mean ... you can’t mean ...?”
“I do mean that.”
“If you’re sure ...”
“I am.” She unlaced the collar of his tunic. “But you’ll have to help me take this
silly thing off; I’ve never been able to do it very well.”
“Happy to oblige!” He shed the tunic as she slid onto the floor beside him.
“I never noticed before how nicely made you are,” she said, skimming her hands
over his chest and stomach.
He refrained from remarking about how girls like her were too busy swooning
over the behemoth-sized grassball players to pay any attention to other sports, only
shrugged as if he was a little embarrassed and enjoyed her caress. The bulge in his tights
was straining its outline unmistakably against the thin fabric.
“No, I never did notice,” Sherla murmured as she ran one fingertip along the rigid
length. “Lay back, Harry, let me get you out of these tights before you split them.”
He complied most readily, stretched out on the rug as she knelt over him with her
hair swinging in golden waves around her breasts. She rolled the tights down and off.
His rod, freed from confinement, sprang up stiffly from its thick black nest. Sherla
took hold of it, and began to rub with excruciatingly pleasurable skill. Cray might have
found her lacking in some respects, but Harry’d often heard him boasting that what she
could do with her hands alone would put a high-priced whore to shame.
The sensations swirled through him and he had to struggle not to give in to them.
So long since anyone but himself had touched him there, and his body was in a frenzy,
but he didn’t want it over too soon. Wanted to savor it, make it last, because gods knew
when he’d get another chance!
Sherla bent down with her face twisted into a little grimace, as if braced for
something foul but determined, for her revenge, to carry it out. Her lips brushed the tip,
her tongue flicked out for a quick sampling taste. Then a longer one. He groaned
helplessly as smooth, warm, wet pressure slid over-under-around the head.
He saw it in her eyes. Her new awareness of two things -- that it wasn’t at all what
she’d expected, and that he was utterly in her power. Then a cunning glint that told him
she was going to apply herself to this task as she’d never applied herself to anything
before, that she was going to do her all to make it something that Harry would never
forget ... and by extension, strike back at Cray because he would never experience it
Oh, and she did. The practiced expertise of her hands was quickly adapted, and
Harry nearly had to put a pillow over his face to stifle his cries as Sherla proceeded to
give him the best mouthplay of his life.
Not even thinking of economics could forestall the inevitable for long. He held
onto her head as it bobbed up and down, his muscles tensing, his jaw clenched, a ribbon
of fire winding through his body to collect in his loins ...
A key in the lock.
What he’d subconsciously been waiting for this entire time. They could have gone
to his room, he could have coaxed her to, but he hadn’t. A daredevil trait, some might say
suicidal, because he wanted Cray to catch them in this act of all acts.
The door opened and Cray was there, one arm looped around Loresa so that his
fingers were hidden inside her gaping blouse. They were both drunken and laughing and
shushing each other, and just as their expressions were blasted into shock, Harry quit
trying to hold back.
Sherla hadn’t heard, hadn’t seen. She started as the first jet of his fluid filled her
mouth, then redoubled her efforts, throat working smoothly as she drained him of what
felt like a year’s worth of pent-up passion.
Harry couldn’t keep from crying out this time, so he made sure it was not loud but
incredibly intense, the sort of soul-wrenching end-of-the-world cry that would make any
red-blooded male wonder what in the name of the gods a woman could do to make a man
sound like that, like he was dying from sheer ecstasy and was happy to go.
In that instant as his limbs were slowly melting to quaking masses of jelly and
sparks seemed to race along every nerve, Harry figured that this was worth the beating he
was probably about to get. Take that, Crayton Oakwood IV, you stone-brained son of a
Sherla raised her head and ran her tongue across her lips, power and pride and
accomplishment all shining from her like rays of light.
Cray made a noise, somewhere between a rooster getting its neck wrung and a
teakettle reaching the boiling point. His face was so clogged with blood that Harry
wouldn’t have been surprised to see his head explode.
Hearing that noise, Sherla turned, and saw, and froze.
Harry sat up. All he really wanted to do was lay there a while longer basking in
the relief and contentment of the moment, but he reasoned that his skull being about the
same size as a grassball and conveniently there on the floor might make Cray try to kick it
through the window for a home-team goal.
Loresa, no fool, ducked out from under Cray’s arm and sidled down the hall. Cray
didn’t even notice her leaving, his gaze fixed in disbelieving rage on Sherla.
Somehow, Harry thought, I doubt this is quite how Dorian intends for us to make
use of her Gift ...
* * * * *
“Fighting with your roommate, eh?” Harold Ethelbald
Senior said, arching his
iron-grey brows as he studied the sheet of parchment.
“Is that all it says?” Harry reached, but his grandfather whisked the sheet away
with a quickness that belied his age.
“What else might it say?”
“Nothing about ... girls?”
“You had girls in your room?”
“Let me see that! Come on, Grandfather, please!”
This time the older man relented, and Harry read over what the Headmaster had
written. No mention of Sherla or Loresa or the reason that he and Cray had managed to
turn their entire fourth-floor suite into a shambles and land themselves in the campus
“That ratty old whoreson,” Harry grumbled. “Wasn’t about to get Cray in any
“Why don’t you tell me what really happened?” The steel in Harold Senior’s eyes
made it not really a request.
“Are you going to tell Grandmother?”
“Pfffff, boy! Do you think I’ll need to? This nonsense --” he thwacked the
parchment with a limber finger, “-- might go in your records, but you can bet your
backside that she’ll have even more details than you give to me, all that before we get
“But if this is the official report,” Harry said, “then I only earned ten demerits.”
“Only, he says.”
“Rather than the fifteen it would have been for having a girl in the room. Which
means I won’t get expelled from school.”
“The way you’re carrying on, my boy, it looks to me like you’re trying for it!”
Harry chewed the ball of his thumb. “Not intentionally ...”
“No, but you’ve got a self-destructive streak in you.” He snorted. “Must be one of
those things that skips a generation; your father’s as straight an arrow as they come.
Which means your sons will be too, but you’d better watch out for your grandsons!”
“But could you blame me? I have never liked it here. Look at me, Grandfather.
You know I’m not Academy material. I’ll never sit on the Council like they want. Diana’s
got the talent, so why do they keep after me?”
“Maybe you should ask them.”
“I have,” he said glumly. “I don’t even think they know. But if they let me out of
their sight for a single minute, they think I’ll wind up the most notorious scoundrel in all
“That you’ll take after me, in other words,” the old man laughed. “Chin up, boy.
You’ll have to eat a plateful of grief for today’s escapades, but like you said, you didn’t
get expelled. So you haven’t thoroughly disgraced the family. They won’t be too hard on
you. Besides, you look like you’ve been run over by an ale wagon, so they might even
take pity on you.”
Harry just looked at him, knowing full well that his grandmother didn’t take pity
on a living thing. She didn’t go out of her way to kick starving orphans, but by now they
knew enough to scramble out of her path when they saw her coming.
“How’s the other fellow look?” Harold Senior asked. “Has he got a shiner to
“Two,” Harry said proudly. “Cray may be fast on the grassball field, but his idea
of a punch is a roundhouse that makes the air whistle. All I had to do was step aside and
he’d pull himself halfway around in a circle. Then I’d pop him. He called them ‘sissy
punches,’ until I broke his nose.”
“That’s my boy!” he cheered, then hushed as the school nurse -- a dour old
drayhorse whose lumpy potato figure and gargoyle face had instantly squashed any
budding daydreams Harry might have harbored about attentive bedside care -- scowled
menacingly at him. “Now, then, how’d you get into it with him anyway?”
Harry sighed and ‘fessed up, doing his best to make it sound like what it appeared
to be: Cray’s jilted girlfriend seeking to get back at him by throwing herself at his all-too-
human roommate. He didn’t go into detail, either about precisely what Cray walked in on
or how he had manipu -- no, encouraged, subtly encouraged, that was a better term --
Sherla into anything.
And he’d been right; in the end, their encounter had been more than worth it. He’d
soon forget the crunch of Cray’s fist when his one lucky blow had connected, but the
memory of her mouth would follow him the rest of his days.
“Damn me, but I wish I were young again,” his grandfather chuckled. “Not that
I’d trade my life with my family for anything, you understand.”
Harry didn’t understand; the man sitting before him had been married to Charlotte
Ethelbald (nee Sinclair) for better than fifty years, and there were probably men
condemned to a life sentence in the deepest prison pit in Pandathaway who, given a full
explanation and a chance to meet the lady in question, wouldn’t trade with him.
“How come you came instead of Grandmother?” he asked.
“I was home when the message got there.” Harold Senior shrugged. “Down in my
workshop, you know. She was off at one of those charity suppers, to raise money for
something or another. Involved with a lot of causes, is your grandma. Thought I’d better
take care of this myself, because if they pulled her away from it or your father away from
his enchantings, you’d be in even hotter water than you already are.”
“But you tell them that I scolded you so fierce that you think you’re going to have
blisters, have you got that? Probably won’t make them be any easier on you, but miracles
happen now and again.”
“He can go now,” the nurse informed Harold Senior. “Poultices and some
willowbark are in this bag; here’s a list of local chemists, herbalists, and alchemists if he
needs anything stronger.”
“What, no healing spells?”
She sniffed. “Our policy is to reserve magical healing for serious injuries.”
“In other words,” Harry said, “they think I deserve it and they’re going to let me
suffer. I bet Cray’s not getting a bagful of poultices and being showed the door. Big game
this tenthday, after all.”
The nurse chilled him with a look, then turned to his grandfather. “If you wish to
pursue further treatment on your own, that’s up to you.”
“Might just,” Harold Senior said. “Come along, boy. You didn’t get expelled but
you did earn yourself a three-day suspension, so that means the semester’s over.”
“What?” Harry grabbed the parchment again, read the rest, and with a
monumental effort of will was able to avoid cursing his heart out. When that battle
passed, he shook his head wearily (the motion causing a hitherto unsuspected herd of tiny
pains to stampede over him) and sighed. “Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about
finishing that paper.”
His grandfather eyed him craftily. “Think so?”
He thought about it and grudgingly admitted, “No. Suspended or not, they’ll want
me to hand in all my assignments.”
Harold Senior slapped his own knees and stood up. “Come on, then. Let’s get
your things together and see you home.”
* * * * *
The next two weeks seemed stretched out before
Harry like a prisoner on a torture
He began the holiday squashed into a coach with his mother and sister, aunt and
uncle, and one of their sons (the other son, Aeric, being the youngest, had to ride up with
Squashed into a coach, his cousin Chas' elbow digging into his ribs, the swaying
motion making his lunch churn gruesomely in his stomach, sweltering despite the cooling
spell the driver had cast.
And it was only going to get worse from here.
“This will be so nice,” Joanna Ethelbald said, smiling at her children. “It’s been
too long since we’ve visited the country.”
Diana glanced up from her book and returned the smile. “Yes, Mother.”
“Don’t you agree, Harry?” she hinted.
“Yes, Mother.” His reply was far more hollow than Diana’s.
“It will be good to see Rheda again,” Aunt Pigeon said. “And so good of her
husband to welcome us!”
“How long have they been married now?” Joanna asked.
Harry looked out the window and listened with half an ear to their discussion of
Anson Byrtwold, the Southern Barony horse breeder. Man was said to have one of the
finest stables in western Andur, but he attributed his success to the fact that his estate was
located several miles from the nearest town with all of its distractions.
Harry could ride, but it was something he saw more as a necessary transportation
evil than something to be pursued for fun.
He already knew how it was going to go. His mother and aunt and his aunt’s old
chum would cloister themselves in the tea room and get tiddly on apricot cordial,
munching petite triangular sandwiches, talking about old times and new gossip and the
latest developments in Pandathaway’s famous chapter-plays. Lord Byrtwold and Uncle
Charles would fall naturally into discussions of business, with the cousins joining in,
because while both of them might be younger than Harry, they’d been born as old misers.
That would leave Harry with only Diana for company, and anyone who took
Theoretical Applications of Enchantment Magics to read on the trip was not going to be
When they’d been younger, his little sister had been a pesky nuisance always
wanting to tag along and tattle when he and Howie were up to mischief. Recently, as their
father realized that Harry was showing no signs of turning into a dedicated mage, he’d
devoted more of his attention to Diana, and she in turn had seen that there was one area in
which she could outshine her big brother.
He wouldn’t even have his own schoolwork to help pass the time. Under
Grandmother’s eagle-eyes, he had completed his paper, taken three tests, and delivered a
presentation. All was in order for him to return to classes at the end of the break, albeit in
a different room. And wasn’t it so terribly convenient that the only other room open in the
entire dorm was the one just two doors down from the Headmaster’s own quarters?
Trapped. Howie was right. Oh, sure, in his own way Howie was just as bad as the
rest of the family, trying to push Harry into being and doing what he wanted Harry to be
and do; in that respect, Howie wasn’t all that unlike Grandmother. But at least the things
Howie suggested were exciting, adventuresome. Things suited for a hot-blooded young
He smothered a sigh. Here they were in the Southern Barony, where if the tales
were true the young women pranced along the beaches in skintight knickers and a grin,
their tanned bodies glistening beneath a coating of sun-oil. But he wouldn’t be seeing any
of that, oh, gods no, perish the thought!
Mother and Aunt Pigeon were still talking about the wedding. What Harry
recalled most clearly about that big stuffy affair were itchy clothes, a droning ceremony,
sharp pinches on his arm whenever he fidgeted or was on the verge of falling asleep, and
getting bullied by the groom’s son from his first marriage.
“And of course Othelia will be there,” Aunt Pigeon said. “Do you remember her,
Diana? Oh, you two were so darling in your matching flower girl dresses!”
Harry hid a yawn behind his hand and tried to think. Othelia? Ah, yes, the bride’s
daughter from her first marriage. Diana’s age. Wasn’t that a treat? Even Diana, the
bookworm, would have someone to talk to. Or maybe if Harry’s luck was really in, the
Byrtwold boy would be there too, ready to give Harry another orc-burn.
No, that was all in the past. Drefan Byrtwold was a couple of years older than
Harry, which meant that anyplace in Andur except for ‘civilized’ Pandathaway, he’d be
considered an adult. Harry considered himself a fairly good observer of behavior, and
could not think of a single instance in which he’d seen one grown man give another an
They stayed at an inn that night, and either the dinner of chicken-in-cream sauce
or the way Mother and Aunt Pigeon gushed over how charming the place was made
Harry’s already unsettled stomach cramp up on him mercilessly.
He retired to the room he had to share with his cousins without even a backward
glance at the serving girls, even though one of them had been well worth a second or third
The next day was better, bringing a smoother road and a cool wind washing in
from the ocean. Harry’s appetite improved, though his spirits remained low.
Soon the road left the beach and curved up into the higher country, a land of
grassy plateaus and stands of cottonwood trees. Weathered old posts and the remains of
rambling stone walls rose among wildflowers like remnants from some fabulous,
forgotten society. The hint of seaspray on the air was weaker, elusive.
Byrtwold’s estate was unimaginatively named The Cottonwoods. It was set far
back at the end of a long meadow, the road running straight up the center to the covered
porch. Fences lined the road, and dozens of horses tossed their maned heads curiously,
nickering to their brethren pulling the coach as they went by.
“Aren’t they lovely!” Diana gasped. Like many girls of her station, she’d gone
through a phase in which she’d been fascinated with horses, but never so severely as
some of her silly young friends.
The house was spacious and unpretentious. It lacked the columns and fountains so
popular in Pandathan architecture. The walls were thick to keep out the heat and the
windows were wide to catch the breeze.
To one side of the house, a massive tree stood alone and covered with blossoms
just beginning to give way to fruit. A swing suitable for two people hung from one of its
sturdy lower branches, and Harry spotted a brindle cat sprawled across the seat.
The coach creaked to a halt, and the Ethelbalds clambered gratefully out. The
front doors -- two of them, painted white and inset with ovals of stained glass that showed
a rising sun and a crescent moon -- opened and a host of servants came out. They
swarmed around the coach, unloading the trunks and baggage strapped to the top.
“Ludmilla!” a woman’s voice called.
It took Harry a moment to remember that Ludmilla was his aunt’s given name;
he’d never heard Uncle Charles call her anything but Pigeon.
“Rheda!” his aunt responded, hurrying toward the steps as the woman came down.
Harry knew he was staring, but no one was looking at him, so that was all right.
He’d assumed that a friend of his aunt and mother would look like his aunt and
mother, the same small dumpling-plumpish matronly type. Reading spectacles suspended
by a beaded chain, prone to fancy chocolates and chapter-plays and needlepoint, that sort
Rheda Byrtwold was worlds away from that. He’d seen her once before at her
wedding, but his only impression then of the bride had been someone dressed up as a
giant pastry, with sleeves poofed out to here and a skirt that four people could hide
beneath, the whole ensemble topped with layers and layers of cloudy veil.
Now he could see, and he liked what he saw.
Her hour-glass figure was sheathed in apple-green silk dotted with white silk
flowers. The neckline plunged dangerously low but modesty was given a nod by way of a
lace-trimmed flounce. The dress was sleeveless, her arms bare and tanned from shoulder
to the dainty white lace gloves. Her hair was light brown feathered with grey, swept up in
a lace snood in the back.
She wore the broadest-brimmed hat Harry had ever seen, which not only shaded
her face but cast an eclipsing shadow on the ground. It was held side-slanted on her head
with a ribbon. and burdened with fake fruit -- green apples for the most part -- and doves
so lifelike they seemed about to chirp and flap their wings.
He recovered from his momentary stunned state as their striking hostess moved to
greet first his mother, then Uncle Charles.
In every case, her greeting was the same: catching up both hands in those dainty
gloves, leaning forward to peck the cheek, and a dazzling smile and, “Welcome to The
“Goodness me, is this little Diana? Where does the time go? Such a fine young
lady! And ... Joanna, this can’t be your son! Why, it seems like only yesterday that he was
playing tin soldiers on the staircase! Come here, Harry, let me have a look at you!”
Her eyes were as apple-green as her gown, and twinkling with exuberance. Harry
returned her smile as warmly as he could.
“Thank you for inviting us, madam,” he said as she grasped his hands.
“A handsome, well-spoken gentleman; Joanna, you must be very proud!” She
leaned forward to kiss his cheek, but as the brim of her hat obscured their faces from the
rest, planted it on his mouth instead. A quick but searing-hot kiss, finishing with a flick of
her tongue against his lower lip.
She stepped back, and Harry was astounded but didn’t show it, bowed to her and
watched intently as she moved on to his cousins. Neither of them got such a reception,
and when she turned away from them, he thought that her gaze shifted back to him for too
long a moment.
Rheda went back to his mother and aunt, and started telling them all about the
house as she ushered them up the steps and through the front doors. The rest trailed after.
Harry brought up the rear, alternately wishing he’d worn looser trousers and speculating
that these two weeks might be much more interesting than he’d first expected.
* * * * *
The pace of life was slower here in the Southern
Barony. During the hottest part
of the afternoon, activity slowed to a crawl and the day fell silent but for the sleepy drone
Harry spent that first afternoon on the porch, with a tall glass of lemonade close at
hand and a book open but unread on his lap. Even reading seemed like too much of an
effort. It was nicer just to sit in the shade while the heat-shimmers made quicksilver
patterns on the horizon, and the horses drifted across the meadow like mirages.
The book also helped conceal his erection. There was one part of his body that
didn’t care about relaxing in the drowsy heat. That part wanted to do something much
A few yards from him, Rheda and his mother, aunt, and sister were seated around
a white wicker table with lemonade glasses of their own. The three older women were
trying lackadaisically to teach Diana a card game. Harry was too far away to hear the
rules, but close enough to admire the curve of Rheda’s neck as she fanned herself.
She knew he was watching her. He was certain of it. The sly sidelong glances she
kept tossing his way, the pink tip of her tongue coming out to wet her lips, the way she’d
turn her body to make her abundant breasts press against the silk of her gown and outline
them so clearly she might as well have been wearing nothing but a sheen of apple-green
He didn’t know what to make of it. She was old enough to be his mother, for
Dorian’s sake, far older than the girls’ dorm Headmistress whose stocking-belts had so
captivated him, but that didn’t seem to matter. On the contrary. It intrigued him all the
more. What might a woman of her age and experience be able to teach him?
The very thought made a nerve that seemed to run through the core of his body
thrum like a lute string. His forehead was shiny with sweat that couldn’t all be attributed
to the weather.
A beautiful, voluptuous older woman flirting with him. He certainly wasn’t
complaining, but he was wondering like mad. Why? Was she genuinely interested, or
merely having fun teasing him, or was there some more sinister aspect? Had she, for
instance, been put up to it by his grandmother as a test?
Whichever it was, he wasn’t about to make a fool of himself by acting on his
impulses. It was her game; he’d be more than happy to play along until he figured out
what the rules were.
As the sun dropped toward the sea, it turned to a scarlet ball and streaks spread
across the sky. Blood of the gods.
Once the fiery orb slipped from sight, the air cooled and the wind stirred and the
land seemed to come to life again. A ripple of renewed energy swept through the house.
The servants bustled about, the horses capered in the fields and ran with their necks
arched and tails streaming behind them like flags.
Dinner was served as a buffet, few hot dishes but a marvelous selection of cold
cuts, salads, and chilled desserts. A thin and reedy girl sang in a thin and reedy voice,
accompanied by a piper and a harpist.
Uncle Charles and his sons appeared from the depths of the house, arguing over
ledgers. Chas was supposed to be a partner in the family business soon, Aeric felt that he
should be one as well despite his lack of years, and just listening to them was almost
enough to put Harry right to sleep.
Midway through the meal, Anson Byrtwold and his son arrived. The horse-lord, as
he liked to be called, was a blocky, bow-legged man who looked as if he would be far
more at home in a saddle than walking the earth. He was jovial and loud, prone to
slapping people heartily on the back without realizing that his work-hardened strength
made them stagger.
Drefan, a slope-browed troglodyte as a boy, had only changed in that he’d gained
six inches in height and was now a slope-browed troglodyte of a man, sullen and
unhandsome, communicating rarely and then only in grunts or monosyllabic replies when
asked a direct question. The only one of the guests he seemed inclined to pay any
attention to was Diana, following her every move with his piggy eyes.
Anson and Rheda brimmed with lively conversation, and soon even got Uncle
Charles and the cousins talking about something besides his business. Harry was bemused
and astonished, and found himself thinking about what his grandfather had said. Straight
arrows, skipping a generation? Obviously, Harold Senior didn’t spend much time around
his other grandsons!
When everyone had finished eating, Anson led them all into his pride and joy, the
game room. Harry had never heard that the Southern Barony people were such
inexhaustible card-sharks, or known that there were so many games to be played.
He had trouble concentrating on his cards when they all took seats at the big table,
though, because Rheda had contrived to be seated next to him. Apple blossom perfume,
her throaty giggle, the occasional touch of her foot against his as she shifted in her chair
... good thing this wasn’t a glass-topped table, because he had no book to put over his lap
Good thing indeed ... four rounds later, as Drefan was ploddingly but with great
burning concentration dealing out the cards, Harry felt Rheda’s palm settle onto his leg.
He didn’t jump, didn’t bleat in surprise, didn’t betray his reaction in any way
except for a virtually unnoticeable quaver in his voice as he was regaling Mother and
Aunt Pigeon with a funny anecdote from the Thespians Club at school.
Her hand rested where it was for a moment, then squeezed gently. He glanced
casually in her direction but she seemed to be listening intently to his story, smiling
Harry kept talking, elaborating, drawing it out, making them laugh. As he did,
Rheda slid her hand up his thigh, then curled down and in until her fingertips were at the
inseam of his trousers.
By now, Harry had completely forgotten what had actually happened at the
Thespian Club that day and was making up his story out of whole cloth. As he was the
center of attention and using both of his hands to gesticulate and emphasize, there was no
way he could subtly get one of his down there to either move hers away (was he insane?)
or move it where he so throbbingly wished it to be.
The pressure lifted and he inwardly groaned in mixed disappointment and relief.
But then, balancing on pearl-enameled fingernails, her hand walked like a small animal
up and up, treading lightly over the buttons of his fly.
He paused for a much-needed gulp of icy lemonade and continued his story,
which was winding toward its climax ... now there was a word ...
Tap ... tap ... tap ... on his buttons ... like harpsichord keys or a little girl playing
hopscotch. Not unfastening, just pushing down briefly on each one as if counting them.
Then with a suddenness that made him pinch the side of his tongue between his teeth so
as not to gasp, she gripped his rod firmly through the cloth.
He concluded his story, which by now bore no resemblance to anything that his
friends in the Thespian Club would recognize, and everyone laughed. Mother and Aunt
Pigeon started applauding, and Harry could have screamed because if they all did, Rheda
would have to as well, which would mean she’d need to take her hand away, and he
didn’t want her to do that, not ever! Unless it was only to replace it with something else,
with her fabulously pouting mouth, perhaps.
But she didn’t, and the applause died off quickly as Drefan passed out the last of
the cards and the focus returned to the game.
Harry picked up his cards and tried not to let his hands tremble. He looked blankly
at them, unable to tell the suits apart, conscious only of her fondling him, slowly and
somehow thoughtfully, as if she was attempting to measure the length and girth and shape
of him by touch alone.
Then, agonizingly, damnably, it was her turn to bet. She let go of him and went on
with the game. Harry lost quite badly that round.
He recovered his wits enough to do better in subsequent rounds, and by the time
they were done, he had subsided to a half-hard state, which, thanks to the flickering
gaslamps the Byrtwolds used instead of steady and unforgiving Continual Lights, would
be easy enough to conceal long enough to get to his room.
They all said their goodnights, made plans for a more formal dinner the next
evening to celebrate Rheda’s daughter Othelia’s return from her paternal grandparents’
house, and parted ways to their rooms.
Harry closed his door but did not throw the bolt. Each of the guest rooms had two
beds, and he wasn’t sure whether it was luck or someone’s purposeful planning that he
had ended up in a room by himself. He was hoping for purposeful planning, but he’d
settle for luck; either way, he was in here alone and would it be out of the question to
think that maybe, just maybe, he might be visited in the night?
The moment he let himself imagine, his erection came back full-force and raging.
He didn’t want to seek his own relief, because what if she did come in and he wasn’t
ready? But suppose she didn’t come in; gods help him, he’d never get to sleep!
He stripped and washed and contemplated putting on the long shirt and loose
pants that were his usual night attire, then decided against it. The night was too warm,
even with the breeze blowing in the open window.
Nude, he lay down and pulled the sheet over himself. Below his waist was a
protrubance that, covered in the pristine white cotton, looked like a tree branch buried in
a snowbank. The soft fabric was woven with a texture that chafed enticingly.
He rolled over, but that was no good; now the source of his distraction was pinned
beneath his body and the bed, and if he rocked just a little, thrusting against the mattress,
and envisioned someone beneath him ...
He rolled again, this time onto his side with his face toward the window. There.
She had groped him right there in the game room.
He buried a strangled groan in the pillow.
Think about something else!
She had kissed him on the mouth, darted her tongue against his lips --
Something besides that!
He saw her in his mind as vividly as he had that afternoon, fanning herself, tiny
beads of perspiration rolling down her neck and into the dark valley of her cleavage ...
Scent of apple blossoms ... breathing it in, fragrant and intoxicating ...
The click of the doorlatch lifting sounded loud as a whipcrack.
Harry’s breath caught in his lungs. He lay with his eyes wide open and staring at
the window, listening to the faint creak of hinges, the thump of a door being carefully
closed, the brush of feet on the rug crossing the room.
If it’s Mother coming to say goodnight, I will lose my mind, Harry thought.
But the scent of apple blossoms was stronger now, and he knew it wasn’t from the
Dear gods, he couldn’t move! His body was locked, frozen.
He sensed someone leaning over him, and then warm air blew in his ear, a breath
that carried the shape of his name in a whisper.
His glibness had deserted him; “Mmm?” was all he could manage.
The sheet was raised, letting in a draft. Then the draft was gone and Rheda’s
satiny plush curves were pressed against him. She pulled the sheet up to cover them both,
snuggling against him so that her breasts were plumply crushed against his back and his
buttocks were up against her hips and mound. Her legs molded themselves along his and
they lay together nestled like spoons.
“You are a very handsome and desirable young man, Harry,” she murmured in his
ear, working her arm between his arm and body so that she could twine her fingers
through the hair of his chest. “Are you a very experienced young man?”
“I’ve been with a few girls,” he said, keeping his voice low.
“I’d like for you to fuck me.”
The coarse word from a friend of his aunt and mother was joltingly arousing. His
rod lurched like a stallion at the reins.
“I’d like that too --” understatement of the Age! “-- but ... your husband?”
“What Anson doesn’t know won’t hurt him, but if you don’t want to risk it, I
He took hold of her wrist and brought her hand down. “I’ll risk damned near
Her fingers wrapped around him unobstructed by cloth. He was already seeping
droplets of clear liquid, making the head of his member slick, moistening the slow firm
pumping of her hand as it moved persuasively.
“The moment I saw you, I knew I had to have this,” she purred, emphasizing with
a squeeze. “I knew you were just the man I’ve been looking for.”
“When I saw you ...” it was a chore to form coherent words, “... I ... you ...”
“I wasn’t what you expected?” she giggled, and lapped her tongue along the rim
of his ear.
“Not at all what I expected.”
“You thought I’d be just like your aunt.”
“Aren’t you glad to be wrong?”
“Be on your back for me, my darling young Harry.”
He turned and she crawled atop him, and they kissed with hungry open mouths
and fencing tongues. He stroked the sleek line of her back from shoulderblades to full
firm bottom, thinking ramblingly of silk and apple blossoms and balmy southern
She shifted, and the tip of his rod was surrounded in heat.
“Now,” she sighed. “Inside me. I want you inside me.”
Her hips lowered as his rose urgently, one deep stroke immersing him fully. She
was already well-oiled by her own passion and moaned rapturously. Harry clutched her
buttocks and pulled her down as she rocked, soon finding that she liked it best when he
timed short hard thrusts to match her downward movements.
Release came in a sudden and overpowering frenzy. There was no chance of
delaying his pleasure this time; Rheda rode him relentlessly as her inner flesh contracted
around him, milking his seed, wringing from him such a shattering climax that his eyes
seemed to bulge in their sockets and a thunderous rush drowned his ears and for several
moments he lost all sense of himself and floated in a close and enveloping darkness.
He wasn’t sure how long he was lost, but soon sensation returned and he gradually
realized that they were still locked together, his softening length still buried within her,
their bodies and the bedclothes soaked.
Rheda raised her head from his shoulder and kissed him lingeringly. He returned
it as best he was able, which was rather weakly, and smiled up at her.
“I wish I could curl up beside you and sleep in your arms,” she whispered.
“That’d be nice.” His voice reminded him of a falling leaf, seesawing lazily down
through the air.
“And wake you in the morning to go again,” she added, licking her lips.
“But tomorrow, I may have another request for you.”
“I will be happy to be of service,” he said. “Any service you might require.”
“Good. You’ll be perfect for the task I have in mind.”
She kissed him again, and tucked the sheet back around him as she left the bed.
There was a crumpled robe on the floor and she put it on, not that it concealed much, as it
looked to be spun of moonlight and mist.
Harry watched as long as he was able, until she slipped out the door and vanished
like a ghost. Then, with a silent message of thanks to the gods, he plummeted into a
* * * * *
When he went downstairs the next morning, he
was half-convinced that everyone
would know, they would just see it all over him no matter how carefully composed he
kept his features.
They’d be horrified, disgusted, his mother would weep and wail and wonder how
on earth she had raised such a vile and despicable son. Maybe Anson Byrtwold would call
him out, or, more likely, the horse-lord would take after him with an axe.
He walked into the sunlit dining room with some trepidation, and found only
cheery greetings from Mother and Aunt Pigeon. They were the only ones in attendance,
poring over a book of dressmakers’ designs.
“Good morning, sleepy-head!” his mother trilled. “We weren’t sure if we’d see
you before lunch.”
“Nothing like the country for a good night’s rest,” Aunt Pigeon said. “Here,
Joanna, what do you think of this one? With a three-quarter sleeve, maybe, and a fuller
“Did I miss breakfast? Where is everyone?”
“There are some muffins and fruit on the sideboard, dear. I think, Pidge, that I like
this one better, though I’d do away with that ghastly collar.”
“Anson took Charles and the boys out to the foreman’s office, on the west end of
the ranch,” Pigeon said. “Rheda is showing Diana around the gallery; Diana was
interested in her collection of Glantrian ceramics.”
“And what are you two lovely ladies up to?” He selected a chocolate-swirl muffin
and leaned over to look at the design book.
“Rheda’s seamstress is coming tomorrow to measure Othelia for some summer
frocks,” his mother explained. “We thought it might be fun to have some Southern
Barony styles to take back to the city.”
“This one would be very flattering on you, Mother,” Harry said, tapping one of the
pictures. “In a nice soft pink, nothing too bright, and the trim in cream. It would be
perfect with that shawl you have, the one sewn with the tulips.”
“He’s right, Joanna!”
“Harry’s always had an eye for fashion,” his mother proudly replied. “Oh, it
makes his father tear his hair out sometimes, the money this boy would spend on clothes
if he could get away with it, but I have to admit, he dresses much more nicely than any of
“If only I could get my two to care about how they dress! They’re as bad as
Charles, I swear; they get out of bed and put on the first things they see in the wardrobe
whether they match or not. Their minds are always on business.”
“So Othelia’s coming back today?” Harry started to sit, found a binder of fabric
swatches on the chair, and moved it. “I know I must have met her at the wedding, but I
can hardly remember what she looked like.”
“I remember,” his mother said dolefully. “The poor child! I almost didn’t let
Diana be a flower girl, because I was so worried she’d outshine little Othelia.”
“Yes, she was a bundle of sticks, wasn’t she?” Aunt Pigeon clucked as she shook
her head. “And that hair, my word!”
Mother nodded. “Like she’d been struck by lightning. They’d tried to control it
with a bow, but all through the ceremony, strands would keep coming loose. Still, a very
“Very sweet,” Pigeon agreed.
“Was she the one that knocked over the punchbowl?” Harry asked, a fragment of
memory coming back to him.
“I’d forgotten that!” His mother rolled her eyes skyward. “And it couldn’t be just
any punchbowl; it was one of the magical ones they’d rented. Why it wasn’t
Shatterproofed, I’ll never know.”
Aunt Pigeon took the binder of swatches and began flipping through. “How about
“Too greenish,” Harry said promptly. “It wouldn’t work with your skin tone at all.
You’d want something with a richer shade ... more like this one.”
“Oh, Harry, I don’t know, it’s awfully bold.”
“For a whole gown, maybe,” he allowed, sliding the design book over. “But if you
had something like this, you could use the blue for the panels here and here, and these
parts in another fabric. A subdued flower print, maybe, or one of the new patterned silks.”
She considered it, and tittered as she turned to his mother. “Joanna, you’re
wasting this boy having him trained for the Academy; you should get him his own shop!
The richest women in Andur would be flocking to him!”
They both laughed then, and Harry half-heartedly joined in, because it was such a
rollickingly good joke, an Ethelbald in the clothiers’ business? Unforgivable!
Inexcusable! Wouldn’t matter if he was a merchant-baron and a Guildmaster, with a
thousand employees and a fortune so vast it would make the Emperor blanch. He would
still be -- gasp! -- a craftsman!
He finished his muffin, dabbed his lips with a napkin, and stood. “I think I’ll go
see what Diana’s up to. Glantrian ceramics? Sounds interesting.”
“It’s just a light lunch on the back terrace today,” his mother reminded him.
“Dinner will be early, and Rheda’s promised us entertainment after.”
Harry hid a grin, last night’s entertainment still very fresh in his mind. “Thank
He left them with their design books, though it seemed likely that they were both
going to take his suggestions. Maybe his tastes did occasionally run to the extravagant --
he would give his eyeteeth for a cloak of purple estincloth, say, or a dragonsuede jacket,
but he knew that if he dared broach either matter with his father, Harold the Second
would age twenty years right in front of him.
The gallery was a long room on the second floor, overlooking a narrow balcony
over the porch. Its floor was gleaming hardwood in an intricate herringbone, the walls
covered in understated tan flocked paper. The shelves and glass-fronted caged were of
rosewood, and contained Glantrian pieces ranging from antique cosmetic pots to
painstakingly detailed sculptures and figurines.
Diana and Rheda were at the far end, in front of a shelf holding a dozen or more
jars. Each was about a handspan in height and painted with colorful coats-of-arms; the
lids were carved from semi-precious stones into the shapes of people or animals.
They heard him come in. Rheda, in a lemon-yellow dress with off-the-shoulder
puffed sleeves, turned and smiled at him. “And here’s your brother! Sleep well, Harry?”
“Harry, come and look!” Diana beckoned. “These are actual Glantrian death-jars!”
“Death jars?” he echoed, wrinkling his nose.
“Lady Byrtwold was just telling me how they’re used ... each Glantrian household
has one, and when a member of the family dies, before they’re entombed, the closest
relative severs the right forefinger of the corpse!” Her eyes were wide with morbid
fascination. “Then they wrap it in twine and keep it over the fireplace for ten days, right
there in the house, Harry, can you imagine? And then, when it’s dried, they put it in the
jar with the others, and keep using the same jar until there are ten fingers inside!”
“That’s positively ... C’laani,” Harry said.
“No it isn’t,” Diana said seriously. “It’s not like the use the fingers to summon up
the spirits of their relatives, or as if the fingers creep about at night to strangle people.
“It’s gruesome. If one of our parents died, would you want to do that?”
“We’re not Glantrian,” she said as if that was that.
Rheda picked up one of the jars and objects clattered inside. Harry could all-too-
easily envision the dry brown twiglike contents. He saw that the lid was sealed in place
with a thick coating of wax. She held it so he could see the back, where the names and
dates of the deceased were listed neatly.
“The ones we have are all over a hundred years old,” she said. “This one is the
oldest; it dates back almost four centuries.”
“Isn’t it incredible?” Diana reached, then hesitated. “May I?”
“Help yourself, just don’t open them.” She winked. “Some say that the last thing
they do after sealing the jar is put a curse on it!”
Serious, studious Diana wasn’t impressed. “I’m not detecting any enchantments.”
Harry had given up trying to spook her with ghost stories years ago, but he added
with a sly grin, “There are more kinds of magic than can be explained in Pandathaway,
“Nothing cannot be explained.”
“The stories from Krudanga --”
“Oh, stop it, Harry, next you’ll be telling me about Grandfather and the Bee
Rheda laughed, and it was smoky and deep and sent a pleasant tingle down
Harry’s spine. It was nothing at all like the girlish giggles of his mother and aunt. “I don’t
think your brother much cares for this part of the collection. I’ll show him our prize. This
way, Harry, I’ll introduce you to King Calvin.”
“I didn’t think Glantri had ever been a kingdom,” Harry said, accompanying her to
the other end of the room. “Just independent principalities that have been at war with
each other since they discovered they had neighbors.”
Diana remained where she was, carefully taking down one jar after another to read
the writing on the back. It disturbed Harry a little, made him wonder if his innocent-
looking sister was leaning toward a degree in necromancy. He could just see her as one of
Master Aravan’s terrified and overworked apprentices.
“Quite true,” Rheda said, coming to a halt before the crowning glory of the
collection. It was on a marble pillar draped with black velvet, and cordoned off with
brass-topped posts and heavy gold bellpull ropes. “This is King Calvin the First, Unifier
The statue had been broken on an angle, so Calvin was missing his right arm --
the set of his shoulder suggested that it had been upraised, possibly with the short cavalry
saber so popular in Glantri -- and his chest and belly were split at a diagonal. But his
upper torso, left arm to the elbow (this one made Harry surmise that it had been
outstretched to hold reins), and his head were all intact.
“Never heard of him,” Harry said.
“I’d be more surprised if you had.”
He twitched as she idly reached behind him and patted his rear. With a small,
impish smile, she left her hand where it was as she spoke.
“Calvin here was the prince of House Chimera. He had a large army and larger
dreams, and set out to conquer all of his neighbors.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Do
you remember agreeing to do a favor for me?”
Her hand was still on his backside. Across the room, Diana was engrossed with
the death-jars, and Harry realized that Rheda had positioned them so that the pillar
blocked them from the waist down so that her actions would be hidden even if Diana
“I remember,” he murmured.
“He was remarkably successful,” she continued loudly. “So much so, in fact, that
soon he had taken over all but one principality.” Whispering again: “Your grandmother
warned me about you.”
“What did she say?” He almost forgot to keep his voice low, so added in a more
normal speaking tone, “What happened then?”
“It was winter, and Glantri gets very muddy in the winter. To pass the time,
Calvin started making arrangements for his coronation. He commissioned his crown, his
new castle, and of course several statues of himself in heroic poses.” Whisper: “She told
me you were a lecherous young rakehell, overly charming, and the only course of study
that really interested you was the bedroom arts.”
He huffed disparagingly, which applied to both Calvin’s presumptive pride and
Grandmother’s fairly accurate assessment.
“Then Calvin led his armies onto the field ...” She paused, or would seem to from
a distance as she whispered, “She wanted to warn me so that I could protect my servant
“And he lost?” Harry asked, adding, “I’ll just bet she did.”
“Oh, he lost. He was trounced, chased halfway to the sea, and then cut down.
With Calvin dead, the conquered princes or their heirs demanded that everything he’d left
behind be destroyed. His flags were burned, his statues smashed.”
Diana stepped out onto the balcony, and Harry dared speak normally.
“She never lets up. But ... if she told you all that ... why ...?”
“Because, dear Harry, it was the best news I could have heard! Your
grandmother’s error was the same as yours -- she assumed that I would be just like Joanna
and Pigeon. A fussy, slightly daffy middle-aged lady.”
“I’ve never been more glad to be proved wrong,” Harry said.
“Yes, it was wonderful news. Anson is an excellent provider, but his appetite has
diminished while mine has increased. A healthy, lusty young man paying me a visit ...
how could I resist such a gift? And I thought it might also provide the solution to another
problem. That’s the favor I’d like to ask of you, Harry.”
“What is it? I’m at your service, completely.”
“It’s my daughter.”
“Yes, Othelia. She’s nearly Diana’s age, and I’m worried about her. When a girl is
a little girl, no one pays her any mind. But when she starts to become a woman, things
“And as she’s returning today, with Grandmother’s warning well in mind --” he
“Simply put, I want you to bed her.”
His brows rose sharply. “Excuse me?”
“It’s only a matter of time before someone does. I’d much rather have Othelia
taken into womanhood enjoyably than rudely poked by a rancher or one of the servants,
or even, gods help us, that slackjawed stepson of mine.”
It wasn’t often that Harry was struck speechless, and on the few occasions he was,
it never lasted long. “Gods, am I hearing this?”
“You’re young, handsome, experienced, and the sample I had last night tells me
that you’ll be an instructive and considerate lover to my Othelia. You won’t be using her
for your own selfish pleasure.”
“But ... sorry, this is all a little strange! Being asked to stay away from someone’s
daughter, that I could understand!”
“Think of it as a good deed. In olden days, the Dorianites used to make sure that
all virgins were properly initiated, but times have changed and now we just have to make
Harry stared into the white marble orbs of King Calvin the First, but the long-
dead Glantrian’s expression of purposefully regal arrogance wasn’t helpful.
His thoughts flashed back to what his mother and Aunt Pigeon had been saying.
Now he could call up a mental image of Othelia as she’d been at that wedding, a homely,
scrawny, gamin-faced child with an uncontrollable mass of hair so tightly curled it looked
kinked and frizzed. All knees and elbows and lines and angles, nary a curve to be seen.
He’d always prided himself on seeing beauty in many different types of women.
His tastes were not limited to a certain sort, not like Cray’s consuming interest in only
blondes. He had acquaintances who were drawn irresistibly to specific features like legs
or breasts or bottoms, but Harry himself couldn’t be classified by those means. Simply
put, he liked beauty, in all its myriad forms.
His memory of Othelia, therefore, didn’t much encourage him. He opened his
mouth to suggest that her mother might be worrying needlessly, then closed it partly out
of politeness and partly out of his knowledge that some men wouldn’t care whether a
woman were plain or homely or downright revolting so long as there was a receptacle
they could fill. Drefan Byrtwold was probably one of those.
Rheda was watching him with impatience-tinged amusement. “If it’s taking you
this long to make up your mind, perhaps your grandmother was wrong about you after all.
I didn’t think I’d have to talk you into it.”
How could he tell her that it wasn’t any moral reservation that had him stumped,
but the worry over whether or not he’d be able to go through with it once he got a look at
her? Howie’s adage about cats at night clanged in his brain like a bell. With the lights out,
did it matter? An offer like this surely didn’t come along often in a man’s life. Turn down
the chance to bed a virgin with her mother’s full knowledge and permission? He’d be
crazy to refuse!
“I’d be honored to do this favor for you,” he said as modestly as he could manage.
She leaned close to kiss him, brushing her breasts against his chest. “Thank you.”
“Though I’m not sure how I should go about it,” he admitted. “Flirting with her in
front of my family --”
“Oh, goodness, Harry, there’s no need for that. You don’t have to seduce her!
Leave all the arrangements to me.”
He goggled at her. “I don’t think I’m following ...”
“I’ll explain everything to Othelia. Then, when the time is right ... one of Anson’s
mares is due to foal soon and he and Drefan usually spend the night in the stable when
that happens ... I’ll bring you to her room.”
“You mean ... just go to her, no romancing, no courting, just go to her in the night
and ... and ...”
“And fuck her,” Rheda said bluntly. “If it would make you more comfortable, I
“Ah ... no ... I don’t think that would help, honestly. It’s going to be odd enough
without having her mother sitting there watching! For Othelia as well as for me. We’ll
muddle through somehow.”
“You’re such a darling, Harry! Just promise me you’ll be as kind and gentle as
“You have my word.”
* * * * *
What have I gotten myself into? Harry
wondered bleakly as he stood on the porch
with the others and watched the coach rolling up the road leaving a plume of dust rising
in its wake.
Was it his imagination, or was Diana giving him a suspicious look? She’d been
out on the balcony during most of his conversation with Rheda, so she couldn’t have
heard. Could she? He supposed it was even within the range of possibility that his
intelligent little sister had made use of one of her handy spells. There were a host of them
that dealt with such things, weren’t there?
If she did know something, Diana wasn’t saying.
The coach came to a stop, and the same swarm of servants rushed out to begin
unloading six months’ worth of luggage. Like the Entysan goddess of the underworld, she
spent half of the year with her mother and the other half elsewhere, not the Abyss in this
case but at the home of her father’s parents. According to Rheda, the lady and gentleman
were of advanced years and doted on their only living grandchild. In the interest of
securing a tidy inheritance for her daughter by keeping in their good graces, Rheda was
quite agreeable to the arrangement.
The footman opened the door and Othelia emerged, blinking, into the daylight.
Harry breathed a silent sigh of relief. No raving beauty, perhaps, but she wasn’t
the walking scarecrow that he’d privately been dreading to meet.
Othelia was as tanned as the beach-prancing girls of Harry’s fond daydreams, but
there the resemblance ended. Slim, almost boyishly so, she moved with an energetic
awkwardness that reminded him of broken punchbowls.
Her wild ash-brown hair had been ruthlessly tamed into a thick braid that fell to
the small of her back, though several snaky tendrils had come free to blow around her
face. She brushed them back with quick birdlike flicks of her fingers; the hair would
cooperate and then rebel the instant she forgot about it.
The elder Ethelbald women rustled disapprovingly as they took in Othelia’s outfit.
Close-fitting cotton trousers of faded blue-grey showed every inch of her long coltish
legs, and when she embraced her mother, Harry noted that the trousers clung sweetly to
her narrow hips and small but shapely bottom. Her white blouse was knotted above her
navel, exposing the indent of her midriff.
Introductions were made, and when Rheda brought her to meet him, Harry found
himself looking into a pair of clear and alert but rather naive dark brown eyes. Her voice
was very soft, low, the sort that would infuriate schoolteachers no end and have them
always asking her to speak up, please!
He smiled, trying to let his interest be known to her while not making it obvious
to anyone else, and she returned a tentative grin that was quick as a lightning-flash, there
and gone but while it was there, just for the briefest of instants, it brought about an
amazing shift in her features that turned her moderate prettiness into something much
Harry was beginning to feel considerably better about this whole thing. Also a
little bit like a selfish cad -- Rheda thought he was doing her a favor, when he suspected
that it would turn out to be the opposite -- but who was he to correct a lady? That would
They all went into the house, Rheda talking Othelia’s ear off and confirming for
the bemused Harry how come the girl never seemed to speak above that low-pitched
Dinner was a large and festive gathering. In addition to their houseguests, Anson
Byrtwold had also invited the ranch foreman and his wife, the local healer and her
husband, and two other couples from neighboring houses (though here in the high country
of the Southern Barony, a ‘neighbor’ was anyone whose chimney-smoke could be seen
from the property, as opposed to densely crowded Pandathaway.
Throughout the meal, Harry observed Othelia as surreptitiously as possible. It
gave him a peculiarly thrilling sense of power to know, not just wonder or hope or wish,
but know that although they were strangers to each other, he would be in bed with her,
possibly before the week was out. On the heels of that came another rush of power, this
one stemming from the slinking and lewd business of bedding both mother and daughter
within the same span of days.
She hadn’t quite outgrown her childhood clumsiness. Her posture was one of
always awaiting the next crash of shattering glass, her movements a conflict like that of
someone trying to control a frisky horse that didn’t mean any harm but just couldn’t
The promised after-dinner entertainment turned out to be a comedic troupe,
including a juggler, a clownish tumbler, and a pair of men performing skits and telling
jokes just off-color enough to send the ladies into scarlet-faced fits of laughter.
At one point, Harry spotted Rheda leading Othelia from the room. They were gone
a goodly while, and when they came back, the girl was wide-eyed and stunned. When she
saw Harry looking at her, she jerked and her elbow struck a vase; it tottered and almost
plunged to the floor but she saw it and averted the mishap.
When the entertainment was over, Anson suggested they return to the dining room
for dessert, and following that, anyone bold enough could join him in the game room for
a few rounds of cards.
Othelia slipped outside, and on impulse Harry decided to follow. If he was going
to rid the girl of her virginity, he reasoned, it might not be a bad idea to at least talk to her
He found her by letting his ears guide him to the squeaking ropes of the swing.
She coasted back and forth in shallow arcs, in and out of the tree’s spreading shadow.
She saw him and pushed her feet against the ground, stopping the swing. By the
set of her body, he suspected she was inches away from bolting like a skittish pony.
“Hi,” he said as mildly as he could.
“Hi,” she murmured in that low voice, and it occurred to him how well-suited
such a voice would be for pillow-talk.
“Would you mind if I sat down?”
She scooted over as far as the arm of the swing allowed, and he settled onto the
other end, allowing that distance in the middle.
There was no point in dithering about. “Your mother told you, didn’t she?”
Othelia swallowed hard and nodded.
“Do you ... I mean ... if you don’t want to, we don’t have to. I’d certainly
understand. We only met today, we don’t know anything about each other. Your mother
believes she has your best interests in mind, but it’s really up to you.”
“She explained it all.” He had to strain to hear her. “She knows what’s best.”
“What about you? What do you want?”
One shoulder hopped in an endearing shrug. “It does have to happen sooner or
later. Might as well be planned out. Some places, people are married to someone they
haven’t ever met, with no say in it.”
Harry slid closer. “No, Othelia, that’s just it ... you do have a say.”
“So did you, and you didn’t refuse.” Her eyes met his directly for the first time
since their introduction.
He chuckled a little. “Not many men would. We’re a self-centered breed. The
chance at being with a pretty girl isn’t something we could easily turn down. But because
I agreed when your mother asked me doesn’t mean anything if you don’t want to. I would
never do anything against your will.”
She sighed. “I suppose I’ll go along. I know she cares, thinks she’s doing what’s
right, and she probably is. You seem nice enough. I’m just nervous. I’ve been kissed by a
couple of boys, but that’s all.”
“That’s a good place to start.” He slid all the way over to her, and as she turned to
look at him, he cupped her face between his palms. He could feel tension shaking through
her, but she closed her eyes and didn’t try to draw away as he lowered his lips to hers.
He made sure that first kiss was everything it needed to be -- tender enough not to
frighten her, passionate enough to let her know he desired her, long enough to let her
overcome her initial surprise, short enough to leave her wanting more.
“I’ll go back to the house now,” he said, and left her sitting breathlessly on the
* * * * *
On the surface, a pool might look placid and
peaceful, while strong or even
dangerous currents are coiling in the depths.
That was how the next five days at The Cottonwoods passed. Outwardly, a
relaxing time of lazy spring days and evenings in the game room. But to Harry, immersed
as he was, the currents pulled with irresistible force.
It was nothing like the maddening urge that he’d mentioned to Howie. There was
no element of frustration to it, only a building anticipation between himself and Othelia.
Every time they were in the same room, he felt it become stronger, more electric,
like the heat lightning that flashed on the horizon at the end of humid afternoons.
Whenever their eyes met, a spark jumped, and on the infrequent occasions that they had
reason to touch, a miniature thunderbolt seemed to leap between their skins.
Not even Rheda’s late-night visits to his room could affect that anticipation. She
was a tremendously skilled and knowledgeable lover, secure enough in herself to pursue
her own pleasure with a vigor that dizzied him.
One night, she bade him sit still on a chair at the end of the bed and watch as she
caressed herself to a quaking climax. He nearly dug fingermarks into the arms of the chair
to keep himself from leaping at her. Then she switched places with him and it was her
turn to watch. It was nothing like when he did the same thing in his bed at school; having
an audience was first hotly embarrassing and then wildly erotic.
Several times, he sat down to begin a letter to Howie, but those attempts always
wound up crumpled and cast into the kitchen stove. Howie wouldn’t believe a word of it.
Harry sometimes wasn’t sure he believed it himself and he was living it!
No one else seemed to have any idea, except possibly Diana. He never quite had
the nerve to approach her and ask, but he was sure she suspected something.
The seamstress and a bevy of assistants arrived, and the house became a
whirlwind of measurements and cloth and pinning up hems and cutting and stitching. The
foreman and Uncle Charles came up with several ways to improve the running of the
ranch, and spent many an hour cloistered with Anson Byrtwold. Chas developed an
obsession with playing darts and the thunk of his throws could be heard from the game
room at all hours of the day. Aeric struck up a friendship with the foreman’s son and was
venturing out into what he called ‘the wilderness’ for the first time in his life.
The time passed quickly, and one evening as they were partaking of another buffet
on the terrace -- the shrimp salad surpassed any Pandathan restaurant -- one of the ranch
hands hurried in to announce to Anson that his prize mare, Phantom, was ready to drop
Harry looked at Rheda, whose eyes were sparkling as she gave him a barely-
perceptible nod. Othelia sensed the change in the room and knocked over Diana’s glass of
lemonade, then spilled a dish of olives as she tried to mop it up.
At last, dinner was over. There were no card games, not with Anson and Drefan
off in the stables. Diana retired to a quiet corner of the parlor to study, everyone else
found quiet pursuits to occupy them until bedtime.
Harry feigned great weariness, though he had never felt less like sleeping in his
life. He went to his room and began the long wait, horribly sure that the foal would be
born in record time and Anson would come back, thereby ruining all the plans.
Much later, when he was beginning to think that the entire household, Rheda and
Othelia included, had fallen asleep, he heard a soft step in the hall outside.
Rheda was there, wrapped in her moon-mist robe, but instead of coming in and
bolting the door behind her, she summoned him with a gesture.
“Are you sure about this?” he asked in a hush as she led him into the hall.
“I am, and she is. Aren’t you?”
“She likes you. That will make it easier for her. Remember your promise.”
“I wouldn’t forget.”
Now he knew how she had gotten to and from his room so many unnoticed times.
His door was directly across from a swiveling panel.
“Formerly the housekeeper’s stair,” she informed him in a whisper.
They emerged in the upstairs hall. Rheda, holding his hand as if he were a little
boy needing to be crossed on the streetcorner, walked him to a closed door. She tapped
softly, then opened it. Harry followed her inside.
The room was that of a child on the cusp of young adulthood. A few toys,
treasured ones, were arrayed on a bench in front of the window.
Othelia was standing in the middle of the room, hands folded demurely before her.
In her thin sleeveless nightgown and bare feet, she looked even younger than she was.
Her hair was unbraided and surrounded her in a crinkly nimbus.
“My little girl,” Rheda said lovingly, kissing the girl on the cheek. “After tonight,
you’ll be all grown up. Harry will take such good care of you, my darling.”
They embraced, then Rheda hurried from the room in a billow of sheer cloth and
was gone. The door clicked shut.
Harry threw the bolt and turned to Othelia. She had her head shyly down, but he
could see that she was sneaking glances at him. The robe he wore was indigo cotton as
thin as her nightgown and far shorter, ending just above his knees. The belt was loosely
tied, leaving most of his chest bare.
A long moment passed in which he openly looked at her and she kept sneaking
those glances. He moved closer.
“Do we kiss first?”
“I’d like that.”
She raised her head and he took her carefully into his arms, letting their bodies
press together as he kissed her. He could feel the nubs of her breasts against his chest,
small and sweet like a pair of nestled doves.
Her hands crept up to his shoulders, curious but tentative, as if she feared that he
was going to push her away. He did not, of course, and they rested lightly there while he
continued to kiss her, coaxing her lips apart that he might delve his tongue into her
mouth. She tasted of peppermint and cool breezes.
Othelia backed up with a puzzled expression, and peeked down. Harry realized
that an urgent part of him was protruding from the overlapping flaps of the robe, and she
had felt its prod against her belly.
“It’s all right,” he said, bringing her hand down to touch it. “This beast is easily
tamed; he only wishes to bring you pleasure.”
She stroked him as she might stroke the nose of a foal. “Your skin here is so soft,”
“As is yours ... especially here.” He pulled a string and the bodice of her
nightgown came unlaced, letting him slip his hand inside to cradle a breast.
She gasped and her grip tightened instinctively, eliciting a groan from him. As she
worriedly started to let go, he shook his head.
“You didn’t hurt me. Don’t worry about that. It felt good.”
“That ... that feels good too. What you’re doing.”
Her nightgown fell from her shoulders and bunched around her waist, and Harry
cupped both breasts while bending to kiss her again. Her caress along his rod became
bolder, making him swell and stiffen with greater arousal.
“The bed,” he said against her mouth. “Let’s lie down.”
As she headed for the bed, he stopped her long enough to free the cloth caught
around her hips. It crumpled to the floor. She sat on the edge, then leaned back until she
was fully reclined. Some of her nervousness had returned, causing her to curl one arm
across her breasts and drape the other over the fine silken hair between her legs.
Harry stretched out on his side, half-raised on one elbow. He covered her with
kisses, lips and cheeks and eyelids and chin and the tip of her nose, then lower still,
teasing the sensitive spot beneath her ear, the side of her neck, the base of her throat,
lower and lower until her arm fell away and gave him access to her bosom. He nuzzled
and suckled, attending to each side with loving thoroughness.
“Do you like that?” he asked.
She hitched in a breath and nodded.
“If I should do something that you don’t like, tell me. Or if there’s something I’m
not doing that you want me to, tell me that as well.”
Her cheeks were blushed pink, but she nodded again.
He bent to her breasts again, and caressed her ribs, her stomach, the mild flare of
her hip. She was much more relaxed, her legs no longer held protectively together.
“I’m going to put my hand here now,” he told her, and did so, just resting it there,
his palm molded to the contour of the mild rise of her mound.
“That feels nice,” she whispered.
“It can feel even nicer. Part your legs a bit more.”
She did, and he pushed his fingers through the silky hair to rub with aching
gentleness along her furrow, kissing her at the same time and muffling her low moan with
his mouth. She shifted her hips and he felt the firm little bud, the nubbin of Dorian’s
Jewel; Othelia moaned again as it came into contact with his hand.
He went very carefully there, not wanting to be too direct with his touch and send
her over the line into discomfort. He spread his first and second fingers so that they were
to either side of the bud, and rubbed even more slowly. His fingertips found her opening,
“It will hurt, won’t it?” she asked between shuddering breaths.
“It might, but I’ll try to make it as painless as possible.” He moved down the bed
and started kissing and nibbling at the delicate flesh of her inner thighs. “First, though,
I’m going to put my mouth here, where my fingers were. That won’t hurt at all.”
Her brows knit as if she doubted him, until he began running his tongue over her
cleft in long licks and swirls. Her hips bucked helplessly and the sound that came from
her throat was the loudest he’d yet heard her utter. He’d been able to put his own burning
desire aside to focus on her, but the noises of her cresting pleasure nearly did him in.
“Othelia ... it’s time.”
She was panting, making feeble clutching gestures with her hands. Harry took that
as a sign of agreement and positioned himself, the tip of his rod poised at the opening to
her channel. She was wet with his saliva and her own secretions, easing his passage as he
drove slowly into her.
The tightness was overwhelming, close and hot, surrounding him, seeming to pull
and suck hungrily at his stiffness. Othelia gasped and mewled, clinging to him, and he
wanted to plunge all the way in, but there was the barrier, blocking his way.
“Be brave, Othelia, be brave for me, and it’ll be over in an instant, just a brief hurt
and then sweetness, only sweetness, I promise.”
He drew back a little and then thrust hard, sealing her lips with a kiss as she cried
out, and then he was buried fully within her, holding still, absolutely still but for the
involuntary throbs and flexes of his rod, every ounce of willpower he possessed going
toward holding still and not moving, not moving no matter how much he might wish to,
how he yearned to withdraw and then sink back into her, that re-entry that was so
unbelievably fine, but he didn’t, he held still, kissing her, kissing the sudden tears that
had sprung to the corners of her eyes, kissing her until she started to move beneath him,
hips rising and falling like the tide, so he did withdraw, and sank back in, and it was ... it
They cried out together this time but with no pain, only pleasure, and Harry
rushed headlong toward the precipice and over, pouring himself into her dark and secret
chambers, and her eyes flew wide open as she called out, “Oh! Oh! Oh!” and convulsed
in his arms with her first climax thundering through her veins and then she was sobbing
joyously and had ahold of him by the sides of the head so she could rain kisses all over
his face, sobbing and laughing.
Eventually, reluctantly, Harry disentangled himself from her and lay down beside
her, and wondered briefly if they had wakened the whole house, but the only one whose
room was close enough to hear was her mother, and Rheda would be anything but
outraged if she had heard her daughter’s passionate outbursts.
Othelia rolled her head on the pillow and smiled at him; already, her eyelids were
drooping sleepily. Harry leaned over and kissed her on the lips, smiling in return.
It seemed like far too much effort to get up and find his way back to his room. He
pulled the sheet over them, and drifted off with his arm laying across her waist.
His last thought before sleep claimed him with its velvety blackness was that if
this was what getting suspended from school could do for him, he’d pick fights with his
roommate any day.
* * * * *