* * *
Each of her memories involving her mother also featured Queen Zholine's latest acquisitions
lounging on cushions beside the golden throne. The Silver Masks, the noble and wealthy women of her
mother's court, were always attended by slaves and fought to outdo each other in the beauty, strength, and
docility of their property.
The sight of slaves had not ended at the palace gates. The streets of fair Argosa were filled with
slaves. The household slaves of merchant women, lowly state slaves in their plain collars and tunics of grey,
galley slaves in ragged loincloths with whip-scarred backs, wretched mine slaves with hands ruined from
digging, wherever one looked one was greeted by the sight of chained and collared men. In the great arena,
the women of Tura cheered and wagered as splendid gladiators fought and sometimes died on the hot sands.
Of all the slaves, the gladiators were the most fierce. Sometimes the men would be pitted against
exotic beasts, and on rare occasions women that had been condemned of crimes would be sent to the arena
in a life-or death battle against the men. Such women usually died, torn apart by the men who seemed to
relish the chance to strike back at the Turan women in some small way.
As Bevri and her sisters reached maturity, they were permitted use of any of the palace slaves, with
the exception of the ones in their mother's most private pleasure gardens. Those were the truly valuable
ones, often gifts from Silver Masks seeking favor from the queen, and though they ranged in appearance
from fair-skinned Crysian to dark Symbyan, they were each in their own way breathtakingly handsome.
The life of a princess was easy. Bevri and her sisters were given every indulgence. The finest
clothes and jewels adorned their bodies, the most sumptuous foods were presented, and an array of
entertainments were constantly available. There were rivalries among the sisters, of course. All were
beautiful, though like the slaves in their mother's chambers, they differed widely in appearance, and each
sought to outdo the others in beauty. Most times, this would consist of spending hours before a mirror and
more hours at the tailor's, but it occasionally involved making oneself look better by making one's sisters
look worse. Bevri recalled all too well the time her sister Tethrite had, in a fit of jealousy, caught her while
she was sleeping and chopped off her hair. There was little love lost between any of the princesses, but they
had all shared one thing. They were Turan, destined someday to wear a mask of silver. And one of them
would wear the cherished mask of gold.
Now, that had changed for Bevrianna. Not long after her fifteenth birthday, when she'd been
showered with gifts not least among which was a pair of pleasure slaves from her mother, she had met
someone that had changed her life. The someone had been Selvaine.
The existance of Turan dissidents was often speculated around court, and the division in the church
was well-known and becoming worse. In Argosa, it was maintained that Dorian wore the Golden Mask
among the gods, and was attended by her harem of slaves who made the sun rise and the tides change for
her pleasure. But in the north regions, word was spreading that men were Dorian's children as well, not
meant to serve abjectly but to be equal. To share pleasure instead of provide it at the whim of a mistress.
Such notions were regarded with amusement at first. Some men were free, true. The sons of
wealthy women were often bartered as Free Companions. The lot of a Free Companion was different from
that of a slave. Companions were free, by definition, and held status. A woman's Companion was
responsible for the household, the discipline of slaves, and the raising of her children. Free men in Tura
tended to be smaller and weaker than their collared counterparts, so they needed the authority of the whip to
maintain order. But to treat a man as an equal? Preposterous, laughed the Silver Masks.
So it may have seemed, but there had been those who took it very seriously. The church split, and
some of the finest warrior-women in Tura took up training as paladins in Dorian's true will. That was how
Bevri had first seen Selvaine.
Formerly the captain of the Argosan Royal Guard, Selvaine had taken leave from her post to give a
crippling injury time to heal. It was feared that her arm, badly broken in a slave revolt, would never fully
recover. She had elected to use the time to visit Venna and some of the isolated countryside. In her travels,
she discovered the true church. The priestesses were able to mend her arm fully, and at the same time taught
her their ways. Instead of returning to the Royal Guard, Selvaine had become a paladin.
Her return to Argosa had been a scandal and a shock that was talked about to this day. In the very
Chamber of the Golden Mask, she confronted the entire court and told them of what she had learned. She
showed them her arm, as sound as ever, and challenged the false priestesses to have done as good a job in
their healing if they truly worked the will of Dorian. She had been magnificent, arrayed all in silvery mail
with a blinding white surcoat and the golden symbol of Dorian that seemed to glow more brilliantly than
even the queen's own mask.
As the queen, in her rage at such defiance, had been about to have Selvaine arrested and executed,
the paladin had lifted a whistle to her lips and sounded a signal. A winged horse of dazzling white purity
had flown through one of the wide windows, and Selvaine had made her escape.
The memory of it had preyed on Bevrianna. The longer she thought on it, the more convinced she
became that Selvaine had been right and the rest of Tura was wrong. She had been careful not to voice such
an opinion around her sisters, all of whom could not believe the outright audacity of the woman to challenge
the church and speak so scathingly to the queen. But even that had only served to impress Bevri more. Since
childhood, she had been unable to resist acting on impulse, and her quick tongue had sometimes earned her
a scolding. Seeing someone deliver such a verbal assault and get away with it had only increased her
admiration. Not once had she paused to take offense at Selvaine's words herself.
As easily as changing her gown, she cast off her Turan beliefs and vowed to do as Selvaine had
done. Her only drawback was in not knowing how to begin. It was by great fortune, or Dorian's grace, that
she was present one day as her mother and a Silver Mask were discussing a problem on the Silver Mask's
land. The problem, the lady claimed, was an armored woman in one of the small towns, filling the heads of
the locals with foolish ideas about equality. Bevri had instantly known that it was Selvaine, and ran away
from home that very night.
She left on a riding hawk that had been a gift from her mother for her twelfth birthday, taking with
her only some clothes, a sword, and a bag of money and jewelry. The guards did not contest her passage, for
she was a princess and wore a Silver Mask.
Unknown to her at the time, of course, because in her impulsiveness she had left without hearing
the rest of the conversation, a group of warhawk-mounted Royal Guard had been dispatched to the village.
Her arrival in the middle of a battle had surprised them all, as had her revelation of her identity and status,
but the greatest shock to both paladin and Guardswomen had come when she immediately joined Selvaine.
Though she was no expert with the blade, she was not unskilled and her presence turned the fight in
Selvaine's favor. The Royal Guard were vanquished, though enough escaped to ensure that word of Bevri's
treachery would soon be reaching her mother's ears. She had set her feet on another path, with no turning
Selvaine had gladly accepted her as a squire, and it was only then that Bevri learned how decadent
and false her life had been. The long hours of training, the vows and isolation, the lessons, the prayers,
transformed her the rest of the way from a spoiled princess into a true servant of Dorian. She wanted
nothing more than to see all of Tura change as she had done, to see men free and the Silver and Golden
Masks melted down.
* * *
Venna passed beneath them. Like Argosa, the buildings were primarily cylinders of a variety of
heights and widths, joined by slender bridges and painted with the colorful glazes that were a specialty of
the Crafters. Sunk deep in her memories, Bevri now realized that they had flown twenty miles already.
Twenty miles from the place where one of Dorian's swords was sheathed in slaver's irons.
When she had first seen the caravan, she had just set her jaw and determined to ignore it. Yes, the
paladins of Castle White hoped to someday end slavery, but they realized they could not do this by
attacking every slave caravan and every slave owner. They would have to wade through a sea of bodies to
win that way. So they had to remain resigned to witnessing certain indignities and atrocities, building up
their strength and helping the attitudes of women and men alike to change.
So it was that she had been able to land and lead Skyfire to water and only clench her fists around
each other instead of the hilt of her sword. The men had been tattered and bedraggled as they usually were
from making the long overland journey from the squalid pit of Zereth. Still, they were far healthier than
their seagoing brothers, who spent weeks or months packed closely into the holds of ships where lack of
fresh air and decent food took a toll on their health. These men, though unshaven and grimy, were bronzed
and strong from their march.
She was aware that many of them were staring at her. Some of their stares were weighted with
hatred, not specifically of her but of all Turan women. Others regarded her with the lust of men not
accustomed to going long without women, for many of them came from places where women were subject
to the desires of men. But some watched her in shock and awe. It was to these that she finally turned her
Three in particular of the coffle of twenty-so were unusual. One, not particularly tall but having
arms and shoulders the envy of an oarsman, was unusual because he seemed completely unaffected by the
weight of his chains, just taking a moment to enjoy the sun and the clean water in which they were being
permitted to wash. Another had one eye hidden by a patch, an unusual thing to find in a market where
wholeness was expected and perfection was ideal, and he seemed almost to withdraw in distaste from the
bristling beard that covered half his face. The last one was the one most awed, and as she looked at him he
came forward as far as his chains would allow. He knelt in the long grass.
The first thing she noticed about him was that he was beardless, though clearly not of Symbyan or
Sayran descent. The second was his eyes, the exact shade of green as the emeralds that studded the holy
chalices of Castle White. She then began to notice his handsomeness, the sort that would make him worthy
of a cushion in a very wealthy woman's garden if not the queen's herself, the even white teeth, the fall of
straight black hair that spilled to the middle of his back. It was the sort of hair that made a woman wonder
what it would look like spread out over a pillow, or if properly combed it would feel as silky as it looked.
She passed over the rough collar with barely a glance, because it was clear he wore it in body only. But she
kept being drawn back to those eyes, and found herself moving toward him despite Selvaine's warning.
Most of the other slaves muttered fearfully and drew back, but the other two she'd noticed knelt
beside the black-haired one. Caravan guards edged closer, hands on weapons, and she let her own hand fall
to the hilt of her sword.
They spoke to her, the three of them, and though their command of her language was terrible, she
was able to learn that they were not pagans, not like the sun-and-wind-worshipping Crysians or the
ancestor-worshipping Symbyans, or the godless folk of Zereth. They were Dorianites, followers of the true
church. And the black-haired one was a squire like herself, who hoped to someday be worthy of serving
Dorian as one of Her paladins.
The woman in charge of the caravan interrupted, promising punishment if her cargo did not
immediately behave. With a defiance that Bevri admired, they heeded her not the slighest and only asked
that Bevri and Selvaine not endanger themselves on their account. At least, that was what she believed they
Selvaine would not permit her to buy them, even for the scant moments it would take to set them
free, for they had sworn vows to own no slaves. And they could not take them by steel, though she was
confident that a few dozen guards were no match for a paladin and a near-paladin. They could do nothing
except leave. But that would not suffice for Bevrianna. One had upon her sword and the other upon her holy
symbol, she swore to those three men that she would see them free. She heard Selvaine's sigh as she did so,
and realized too late she had made another of those impulsive vows that she was supposed to be trying to
avoid. But it was too late. The words were out, and she was obliged to keep them. She would see those men
The caravan mistress, a hard-faced and bitter woman, urged them go and Selvaine agreed. As she
mounted Skyfire, Bevri gazed back at the black-haired one. When he met her eyes, he did not do so as a
slave or even a prisoner, but as a free man. And as a free man that found her beautiful. It sent a flush of
sudden and surprising feeling through her.
Her unexpected passion had lasted until they were airborne, and then it gave way to the anger and
frustration. She should have done something! How was she going to keep her vow? They would be in
Venna soon, prepared for the block, and sold. Possibly, even probably, they would all be purchased by
different women. As well-muscled as they were, she supposed they might end up in the arena, but if they
continued to be defiant, they would go to the mines. There were few galley slaves in Venna, far from the
sea, but there was an abundance of mines, both silver and gem. If they did get sent to the mines, she would
never be able to find them, and even if she did my some miracle learn which mine they were in, there was
no way to escape from those deep tunnels. Slaves worked the mines until they died.
She stayed in a morose silence all the way back to Castle White. Selvaine encouraged her to go to
confession and prayer, and she did, but even as she knelt in the dark and confessed her anger, she felt it still
stirring in her heart. She stood for hours in the grand chapel, staring at the ceremonial chalice and thinking
of deep green eyes. More than her anger, she felt an aching loss. On some primitive level, she had seen a
kinship, a recognition, in his eyes. They were meant for more than a passing encounter by the side of a
The days passed with no cessation of her emotions. Finally, when it was clear that she could no
longer concentrate on her studies, she decided that she had to do something. She was certain that she had
waited too long. They would have been more than a week in Venna. By now, they had found their way to
the kitchens or couches of three different mistresses. But she had sworn a vow, and if she did not do
something, she would never have peace of mind.
She left Castle White much as she'd left her mother's palace, under cover of darkness. She felt a
sense of rightness and purpose fill her as she flew through the warm summer night. She reached Venna in
the pre-dawn and took three things from her saddlebag. These three things she'd never thought to need or
want again, and had merely saved them because she wasn't sure what else to do with them. One was a long
robe of shimmering silver. She donned it, pleased to see that it concealed her armor quite effectively.
The next item was a short stick of some strange substance, dangling from a cord. She held it for a
moment, decided it felt wrong in her hand, and threw it into a stream. There was a flash, a sizzle, and a puff
of smoke that smelled like the sky after a lightning strike, and the gnomish-crafted device sank.
The last object was a mask, of purest silver, fashioned as all the masks were into the visage of a
stern but beautiful woman. According to Turan history, the face was that of Tura's first queen.
She had grown used to wind in her face, and hated the constriction of the mask. The crystal-
covered eyeholes gave a good field of vision, but everything seen through them seemed oddly curved.
Skyfire tossed her head and snorted. Bevri agreed. She did not liek being adorned as a Turan
anymore. As a little girl, she'd eagerly awaited the day she would be old enough to have her very own mask.
But now she loathed it, and would have traded it in an instant for her white-plumed helm. The disguise was
necessary if she hoped to walk in Venna unnoticed.
She sent Skyfire off, knowing she could instantly summon the winged horse over a distance of
many miles with the whistle that rested on a strong cord around her neck. On foot, she entered Venna as the
gates first opened.
She discovered through some questioning and bribery that the men she sought were to be sold as a
lot in the popular Midyear's auction. She did not dare go to the slave house to preview them, for she knew
that her impulsiveness would lead her to do something. Further, if they somehow recognized her, it might
give them hope that could prove false if she was discovered. She was still without a plan, unable to but them
because of her other vow, but at least if she went to the auction she would be able to find out who purchased
them. She did not know if she would be able to stand seeing them sold, but it was the only way.
The auction was a theatric affair, as the big ones always were. Some of the slaves came to the
block clad in barbaric costumes, but these were always swiftly ripped away by the auctioneer because only a
fool bought a clothed slave. Oftentimes, even the collars were removed so that potential buyers could see
that the merchandise was unblemished.
She sat in the darkened auction hall, surrounded by women that cheered and leered and hooted and
whistled as men were paraded before them for their viewing pleasure. The crowd was in a fine mood. Bids
ran high. Only a few men were whipped. One, a massive red-haired brute, attacked the auctioneer and had
to be beaten to the stage. It took four guards to hold him down long enough for him to be fitted with the
weighted slave yoke, similar to that used by oxen in the fields. Its purpose was not to carry or pull, however.
It was designed to weight the slave so that he could barely move. Still, the man continued to struggle and
spit curses. A woman representing the arena bought him, promising the crowd that they had only seen his
first fight and next time he would be on the sands.
She noticed an unusual group of women in the crowd. One was wearing a concealing blindfold,
wincing each time the hall was rocked by loud cheers. One was dressed in the garb of a huntress, laughing
merrily but without the malice that tended to underscore the emotions of all Turan women watching foreign
men being sold into bondage. The third, though, sent a chill up Bevri's spine just by the sight of her. She
was clad all in black, with an elaborate design painted on her face. When she turned her head, Bevri saw
that it was a bird, captured in flight in shades of blue and black, with golden eyes that matched the woman's
own. She sat in silence, tense as a drawn bow. The huntress called out a time or two, but was always outbid.
The other two did not bid at all.
The auctioneer announced a trio of slaves being sold as a lot, and Bevri swiftly returned her
attention to the stage. She expected to see them shuffle sullenly out, or be thrown snarling and cursing. But
her jaw dropped behind her mask as they came eagerly onto the block, heads high, smiling. The black-
haired one came onstage with an acrobatic maneuver that left him kneeling before the audience, skin golden
and gleaming, every muscle sculpted perfectly.
The crowd screamed in delight. Bevri sat, stunned, as they presented themselves. They teased, they
joked, they drove the price into the hundreds. Every woman in the hall wanted to own them, especially the
black-haired one who moved like a dancer and promised to move even better in the furs.
At first, she could not believe it. Had they fallen so far so quickly? What terrible thing had
happened to break their wills and turn them into slaves frantic to please? The bids climbed higher, passing a
thousand, and she finally understood.
They were trying to price themselves into a wealthy household, where the chances of escape would
be much better than from the mines or the arena. She admired their ingenuity, but also despaired because
she knew, as they did not, how vigorously new slaves were guarded, trained, and broken. It was not
uncommon for an acquisition to spend the first several weeks in a cage, poorly fed and regularly beaten.
The thought of that happening to those men, the ones she'd sworn to see free, wracked her heart.
The bids were slowing now, in the fifteen hundred range. One of the bidders was an ice-cold
noblewoman that Bevri knew by reputation as one of the most brutal women in all of Tura. She placed a bid
of sixteen-five, and crossed her arms imperiously as if daring anyone to contest her.
"Two thousand," a voice called. It was the woman in black.
The crowd fell silent. No other bets. Bevri held her breath, praying to Dorian to somehow spare
them from becoming the property of that fearsome woman. But not even the noblewoman was willing to bid
so high. The auctioneer raised a hand, then clenched the fingers as if grasping a handful of coins.
They were sold. Bevri stared hopelessly as they were led from the stage. The three of them peered
into the audience, trying to see who had bought them, but the block was well-lit and the hall was darkened,
so they could not make out anything more than shapes in the shadows.
The sale continued, but Bevri had had enough. She slipped from her seat and quietly made her way
to the lobby. She had to find out who that woman was. She wasn't masked, so she wasn't noble. And she
couldn't be a merchant or crafter, because members of those trades proudly wore their colors and insignia.
She had the lithe body of a warrior, and Bevri was certain she had glimpsed a sword at her side, but she was
obviously not a member of any city guard company. Her best guess was either mercenary or adventurer.
Yes, that made sense. Either way, she would be likely to stay at one of the inns.
She wandered the marketplace for a while, idly waving away merchants that sought to sell her the
latest in leather goods or fine Crysian ivory. Once, she witnessed a man being publicly whipped, a slave that
had dared to steal a sweet from a confentioner's. Her fists clenched, but they were thankfully hidden in the
deep pockets of her robes.
A small cafe near the slave house offered a rooftop patio, and she stopped there for a goblet of
chilled juice while she waited for the auction to be over. At last, her vigil was rewarded by the sight of
women streaming out of the doors. She waited until most of them had gone, knowing that those who had
made purchases would be lingering to pick up their new slaves. Finally, she saw a figure in black.
It was the same woman, and she was indeed armed, not just with a sword but a slim black bow of
elegant and foreign design. The huntress carried a more ordinary bow and a long skinning knife. The blind
woman walked with them, not being led but finding her own way with the help of a staff. And behind them,
leashed, collared ...
They all looked stunned. By now, they had certainly realized that their mistress was no soft
noblewoman with escapable gardens. The finality of their fate must be settling in, leaving them pale and
shaken with dread. The one with the patch shook his head slowly and continually in disbelief.
Thank Dorian they hadn't been branded. She was assuming so, at least, for they now wore simple
loose tunics and trousers that would have concealed any marks. They had not been long enough, nor did
they walk with the painful gait of fresh-branded slaves. Of course, the woman in black looked the sort to
have her own brand custom-designed, so that any man she owned would never be able to forget who his
first mistress had been no matter how many times he might be re-sold. It would only be a matter of time,
Bevri was certain, before the hot iron would find their skin. She had seen men get branded before, heard
their screams, smelt their charred skin.
Her head swam. She realized she was clutching the railing of the patio and swaying dizzily.
And after the branding ... she had no doubts which man would be the first ordered to the furs of
their new mistress in a dark perversion of Dorian's Gift. The thought of the black-haired man chained to the
iron ring at the foot of the couch filled Bevri with anger. He would feel the kiss of the leather if he failed to
please. He would be beaten, broken, forced to obey.
She hastily threw down some coins to pay for her juice and fled the cafe. They were an easy group
to follow, and in her mask she was not afraid of being recognized. She trailed them all the way to the
Riverview Inn, one of the finer in Venna. Clearly, the woman in black had not spent all of her money at the
They entered the inn, and Bevri did not follow. She knew that the Riverview would be laid out like
most Turan inns, with a large central pool surrounded by a ring of raised platforms where the patrons could
relax and be pampered and massaged by either their own slaves or the inn's. If they desired more privacy, a
door from the platform led into a secluded bedroom, and each bedroom then opened onto a tiny walled
garden. She did not follow because she knew that she would be unable to hold back if she had to see the
men being forced to wait hand and foot on their cruel mistress.
Knowing that her imagination would probably provide her with even worse scenes than reality, she
went to a smaller establishment that was more like a boarding house, where the small private rooms were
located on the upper floors and there were few common areas. As soon as the door was closed and locked
behind her, she pulled off the hated mask and robes and knelt beside the bed to pray. She begged Dorian to
help the three men, to give them the strength to see them through their ordeal.
When she at last looked up from her prayers, she realized that it was full dark. Her knees were
stiff, and her stomach growled. She rose and stretched, wincing at the protest of her muscles. Instead of
arraying herself once more in the outfit of a Turan and going out into the streets in search of food, she
climbed into bed. Her dreams were peaceful and happy ones of her early days at Castle White.
She woke with the rising sun, spent an hour in prayer, and did as much of her morning exercises as
the limited space would allow. After a quick wash, not wanting to risk the public bath houses where she
stood the remote but deadly chance of being recognized as the renegade princess, she dressed and headed
for the Riverview.
In due time, the woman in black appeared. The huntress was not with her, but the blind woman and
the three slaves were. To Bevri's surprise, they walked behind her without benefit of a leash. At this, her
heart sank. Had they been broken so soon? She scanned them all for the telltale marks of the Kiss of the
Mistress, but their lips were all uncut, unbruised.
She followed them, at a more discreet distance this time because she somehow knew that the
woman in black would react swiftly and fatally in a confrontation. She did not intend to attack in the middle
of downtown Venna. The guards were everywhere, and she did not want either the slaves or the poor
helpless blind woman to be hurt in the fight.
They went to the marketplace, where the woman in black purchased clothes for the men. She chose
green for the broad-shouldered one, black for the one in the eyepatch, and maroon for the dark-haired one.
Her next stop surprised Bevri so much that she nearly got run over by a cart as she stood staring. Few
women ever armed slaves, especially when they were so new to the collar. Her unease deepened. The
woman in black evidently felt so secure and confident in her discipline that the thought of her own possible
danger never gave her pause. And none of the men, given weapons to carry, so much as hinted that they
might think of attacking their mistress.
Her only hope was a hawk strike. It was an old Turan custom, from the days when more men had
been free and most slaves were taken from enemy cities by right of capture. But strong as Skyfire was, she
could not carry off all three at once. She would have to strike for one, and hopefully free the other two later.
As for which to take first, there was hardly a question.
She hastily left the city, hoping that the woman in black would continue her shopping for a while.
Once beyond sight of the guards on the walls, she whistled for Skyfire. Since she was going to be breaking
the law anyway, she decided to be honest about it and exchanged her mask and robes for her helm and
The sight of a winged horse flying boldly over the city created a sensation, and some alarm from
the guards. She knew that within moments of sighting her, they would be readying the war hawks for flight
and coming after her. She did not intend to give them enough time.
Dorian's kind sight was upon her, for she spotted them almost at once. She readied the wide strap
of strong but soft leather, a capture loop. They were luckily on one of the highest bridges. She would not
have to worry about coming up too fast and slamming into the underside of another of the slim arches, and
if the weight was a surprise for Skyfire, they would be able to dip to give her a chance to get used to it. A
further blessing was that the bridge was close to the outer wall.
She swept low across the bridge, a flurry of wings and motion, and dropped the loop with a quick
but heartfelt prayer. It fell as if the hands of an angel guided it and pulled tight around her target. Skyfire
surged upward, yanking him off the bridge. He made a startled exclamation in his own language. The other
men called out, and Bevri was aware of the woman in black whirling and putting an arrow to the string. She
moved as fast as a leopard. Bevri added a silent wish that her armor would prove thick enough, though
chainmail was not the best defense against bowshot at close range.
The anticipated burst of pain between her shoulderblades never came, nor did she see an arrow
streak past. She thanked the gods for her good fortune, whatever the cause, and urged Skyfire toward the
open plains beyond the city.
She called down to reassure her passenger. "It's all right. We'll be to safety soon, and you'll be free
He stared up at her, recognizing her at once. When those deep green eyes met hers, such a jolt
went through her that she nearly dropped the reins. He was gripping the strap, trying to climb up.
She reached down and offered him a hand, and together they managed to get him seated behind
her. His arms went trustingly around her. More that fearful, he seemed exhilerated by the flight.
War hawks rose to block their way. Bevri released her safety harness and passed the reins to Rick,
who had shouted an introduction over the rushing wind. She drew her sword and stood in the saddle, a move
that made Selvaine crazy.
The airborne battle was over much quicker than it seemed in retrospect. The shrieking of hawks
filled the air. Blades clashed, crossbow bolts whizzed through the air, her steel sheared through a hawk's
wing. She had somehow lost her riding lance. The whole while, Rick had handled the reins as skillfully as
one born to it. When she finally dropped back into her seat, spattered with blood and her hair straggling
from beneath her helm, he gave her a tight hug and laughed victoriously in her ear.
They circled around and landed in a stand of woods, where Rick told her something that made her
want to both laugh and cry. The woman in black was a friend of his, and beloved of the man in the
eyepatch. She and the blind woman had come on foot, all the way from Zereth, to save their friends from the
collar. Bevri had, in all well-meaning, accidentally rescued him from his rescuer.
She never would have believed it. The woman, Raven, was a Damonite from the same homeland as
Rick and the others. For all of her life, she had heard that foreign women were weak and opressed, but this
Raven could have easily passed for Turan born and raised.
She decided to laugh, and promised to apologize to Raven. She even offered to return Rick, but
when he heard of Castle White and the paladins, he asked to accompany her. She was not at all displeased
by the idea, but the first thing she had to do was get him out of that collar. They flew the rest of the way to
the castle, which earned its name both for the white stone from which it was constructed and the purity of
faith of the residents therein.
* * *
"These are the baths,"
she said, pushing open the heavy door. It smelled damp despite their best
efforts to keep it aired out, but the privilege of having hot, warm, or cold baths available at any time of the
day made the slight inconvenience worthwhile. "And I certainly need one," she added, brushing at the dried
blood that was flaked across her face and clothes.
He gazed around the room. She went to one of the benches along the walls and started disrobing,
listening to the laughter and splashes from the pools. Late afternoons saw the highest use of the baths,
before the cool of the evening set in and after lessons were concluded for the day.
Rick was staring at the bathers, mouth hanging slightly open. It occurred to Bevri that perhaps
people weren't so free with their bodies in his homeland as Turans were, and that he might be embarrassed.
But she quickly realized that his shock was more appreciative than mortified, and he simply didn't know
where to look first.
A spirited game of net-ball was going on in the cold pool, mostly involving the younger women. In
the warm pool, other women swam or lounged. Nobody was currently using the hot pool, from which steam
rose in lazy clouds. Several other women were stretched out on towels or benches, all unabashedly naked
even when they noticed a man in the room.
Bevri pulled her chemise over her head, and when she could see again she saw that Rick was now
looking at her. He swallowed, and seemed to be perspiring more than the humidity of the room would
normally produce. She folded the thin silk garment and placed it on the pile of clothes, feeling his eyes stay
with her as she moved.
"Is anybody allowed to get a bath?" he asked in halting Turan.
"If you want. I usually start with a dip in the hot pool, then move to the warm one." She smiled at
him. "But you can't take a bath with your clothes on."
"Huh?" He looked down at himself. "Oh. Um ..."
"Oh, go ahead," she laughed. "Dorian's Eyes, you wouldn't be showing anything we haven't seen
before." But even as she said it, she realized that she was partly wrong. She'd seen plenty of slaves
unclothed, but this was a free man. A sudden blush stained her cheeks, but he didn't see it because he was
pulling off his shirt. Up close, his chest was finely sculpted and smooth, marred only by a fist-sized bruise.
"What happened?" she asked, touching the bruise lightly. "You're hurt. Was it in the fight with the
war hawks?" Dorian, but his skin was pleasant to the touch!
"No," he said, struggling for words. "It happened in a tournament. I unhorsed the other one, but he
gave me this to remember him by. It doesn't seem to go away. And it hurts when rain is coming."
"Does it hurt when I touch it?" She ran her fingers over it.
He closed his eyes. She felt his heartbeat quicken. "No," he said again. "It doesn't hurt."
Her touch was more of a caress than a healer's examination, and she reluctantly took her hand
away. He opened his eyes, looking at her with such intensity that she was flustered and dropped hers. When
she did, she found herself looking instead at his waist, and below, where evidence of his reaction pushed out
the fabric of his trousers. She caught herself thinking that he was a large man in more than height, and felt
her face flame anew.
They simultaneously turned away from each other, both overwhelmed. Bevri hurried to the pool
and dove in. The water was deliciously hot, slipping over her skin, making her hair stream back as she
glided through it. Swimming had never felt so sensual before. She should have jumped into the cold pool.
She surfaced just in time to see Rick dive in. He had the finest legs she'd seen in a long time. He
swam well, cutting swiftly through the water with those long arms of his. He came up beside her, flipping
back his hair to hang in a sleek river down his back. He flashed her a dazzling white grin and she had to
fight back an urge to kiss him.
They swam together for a while, until the hot water was too much for them. By then, the
netballgame was over and most of the women were getting out and drying off to prepare for dinner. The two
of them moved to the warm pool.
As she swam leisurely, he came up suddenly from behind and dunked her. Sputtering, she rounded
on him and sent a sheet of water across his face. He retaliated, so she kicked his feet out from under him.
They splashed back and forth, splashing and dunking each other, until he simply tackled her and pulled
them both underwater.
The water turned their skin to satin, rubbing against each other. In the course of their struggles, he
squeezed her firmly against him. He was standing in the deeper end of the pool, holding her up. She gripped
his shoulders and her leg became wedged between his, so that the smooth column of his rod was pressed
against her thigh.
Sweet Dorian, how good he felt in her arms! He must have realized it at the same moment, for all
of a sudden their playful spirits turned to arousal. Neither of them dared to move. Slowly, breath
quickening, she raised her head. He lowered his, their lips just inches apart. All she would have to do was
shift her legs, wrap them around his waist, and she knew that he would sink into her with complete ease.
The door thumped open.
Startled, he let go of her. Her surprised gasp took in a mouthful of water as her head dipped under.
She kicked to the surface, coughing.
A pair of youg girls stood in the doorway. They were pages, too young yet to be squires or
Initiates, and they were cupping their hands over their mouths as if to catch their merry giggles.
"Excuse us," they chorused. One added, "We were supposed to be announcing dinnertime, but I'm
sure it's no rush."
The other grabbed her by the elbow and they scurried into the corridor. Before the door shut
behind them, their peals of laughter echoed in the humid chamber.
Bevri smoothed back her soaking hair. "Are you hungry?" she asked, trying to regain her
composure. She was not embarrassed, but was slightly alarmed by what had just nearly happened, by what
she had almost done and wanted to do so very badly.
Dorian did not object to Her paladins enjoying Her Gifts. No one at Castle White was sworn to
chastity except for those who were undergoing their year-long period of abstinence that they might better
appreciate the pleasures of physical love. But even the rest remained celibate, more out of enforced lack of
opportunity than chance. None of them would make use of a slave, and there were few free men at the
castle. Those that were, mostly farmers and herdsmen, rarely lacked for company among the working class
women, but their lack of status intimidated them when dealing with one of the clergy or knighthood.
Rick, as a knight and paladin candidate himself, was a perfect choice. But Bevri was afraid that he
might mistake her advances, might feel that he owed it to her for freeing him. She had not hawk-struck for
him, freed him, and brought him here to be her grateful prize. If he was as sincere in his desires as she was,
then they could take a bit more time to get to know one another. It had only been half a day since she'd
carried him off.
The mood had been broken. He felt it too, and they hastily emerged from the pool to dry and dress
and make their way to the grand hall for the evening's feast.
* * *
She lay in her bed
watching the moat cast ripples of reflected moonlight onto the sloped stone
ceiling. The window was open to catch the night breeze, but since Castle White had been built with the
awareness that it would likely someday fall under attack, the window was quite small.
Her bed was comfortable, a good cotton mattress stuffed with sweet rushes from the marshlands to
the north. The sheets were plain linen, and the blanket, which tonight still lay folded on the chest at the foot
of the bed, was fluffy wool. Instead of the narrow cots one generally expected a squire to sleep in, the beds
in the Squire's Wing were almost big enough for two, if the two were not adverse to being cozy. The rooms
themselves were tiny, seeming to be little more than monastic cells until compared with one of the true
monastic cells in the deeper sections of the castle. The rooms where the squires slept were adequately
furnished and private. Upon becoming paladins, they would be moved to larger quarters.
Bevri sighed and fluffed her pillow, then lay down again in hopes that this would be the proper
adjustment necessary to help her fall asleep. But she lay as before, feeling restless all over. It did not take
much to realize what had put her into this state.
She was in need. The episode in the baths had fanned the fires of her passion to a blaze, the heat of
which had not cooled much throughout dinner as she'd sat beside Rick, their knees occasionally bumping,
their hands sometimes touching as they reached for the same piece of fruit or bread. One of the few men in a
room otherwise entirely populated by lovely women, he was quite aware of the attention he was getting and
clearly enjoying it. His bold smile flashed often and brilliantly, and his voice provided a deeper
counterpoint to their higher tones. His difficulty with the language was more charming than irritating,
mostly because he knew he spoke poorly and passed it off with jokes. It was clear he was already a favorite
among the paladins.
He told them of lands they'd never visited, of places they'd only heard of. When he haltingly
described how Chenbar of Zereth, the Highlord and Rick's own grandfather, had condemned him to slavery,
Bevri was not the only one to scowl angrily. His description of his homeland, Orelar, sounded much
different from the tales on which Turans were raised.
Rick displayed a hearty appetite for good food and strong ale. He would have been well-fed on his
march, to keep his strength up, but the fare would have been plain and repetetive. And his capacity for ale
was staggering. He confessed that ale had been one of the things he had missed the most on the long march.
Few of the paladins could match his pace, yet despite the amount he drank, he seemed not to get drunk.
The longer she watched him, the more she wanted him. For the first time in her life, she found
herself wondering what it would be like to give pleasure to a man, to share, instead of taking and
demanding. She wanted to know what he liked, to use her hands and mouth on him not just to force him into
arousal but to delight him.
Bevri became aware that she was the object of intense scrutiny from Selvaine and the higher
members of the church and order. She would be recieving a lecture later for her impulsive actions, a lecture
fully well-deserved. She had not directly disobeyed any orders, and thus felt fairly secure that her discipline
would be light. Whatever it was, she would undertake it gladly.
After the meal came the time for evening prayers. She noticed that Rick listened carefully, and at
one point he explained to her in a whisper that in his travels, he had encountered many different variants of
Dorianism and was relieved to finally find one that seemed so close to the religion with which he was
familiar. As they left the chapel, she asked him to explain and he told her about Rakvi, where men and
women were both often kept as slaves and women were so subject to the wills of their husbands and male
relatives that they did not even have the freedom to dress as they liked or walk where it pleased them.
She showed him to his room, a duplicate to her own except that it lacked the few personal effects
she chose to keep. She yearned to kiss him goodnight, partly in hopes that such a kiss would turn out to be a
good morning kiss instead, but she hesitated. He, too, seemed to be wishing for more than a fond goodnight,
but similarly hesitated. The door had closed between them as a woeful barrier.
And so it was that she had come to be lying alone in her bed. Her body felt out of sorts, at once
languid yet tingling. Her breasts felt full, ripe, ready for the firm touch of a man's hands. Her pulse buzzed
faintly in her ears. Her loins and lower belly throbbed in a way that was not entirely unpleasant, an
She tried to think of other things, tried to concentrate on her training regime or her lessons, but all
she could think of was Rick. She considered pleasuring herself, so that she could gain release and get some
sleep, but the idea left her unsatisfied. Dorian didn't mind, although pleasure was meant to be shared. But
she somehow knew that it would not be enough. She needed to feel a man inside her, filling her. Not just
any man. She needed Rick.
She got out of bed and started go to him, even going so far as to don a light silken wrapper. Yet as
she reached for the doorhandle, she realized that he must be peacefully asleep, the first time he'd slept in a
bed in months. Sighing, she crawled back in bed and buried her face in the pillow. She would sleep! And in
time, she did. But even sleep could not distract her, for she dreamt of Rick.
She awoke with the dawn, feeling refreshed and still needful. Her morning exercises calmed her,
and a splash of cold water helped even more. She dressed in a simple white tunic and brushed her hair loose
over her shoulders. On bare feet, she padded down the curved corridor to Rick's door and knocked softly.
"Come in," he called, obviously awake.
Bevri opened the door a bit and saw that he was still in bed, the sheets pulled up to just above his
chest. Against the pristine white linen, his skin was a pure deep bronze. His hair fanned over the pillow just
as she'd imagined. He smiled when he saw her. "Good morning," he said, and meant it.
"I just came around to see if you were up yet," she said. She immediately wished she'd chosen
other words, for a quick involuntary glance showed that while he might still be in bed, part of him was,
He stifled a cough, leaving her no doubt that he, too caught the reference.
Hastily, blushing, the words stumbling over each other, she rattled something about morning
prayers and breakfast. He invited her in, and for a while she sat on the edge of the bed, careful not to touch
him and very sure that he slept as bare as she did.
He had a few questions about the castle, and about herself, which she was glad to answer. It helped
take her mind off the fact that she was in the bedchamber of a nude man that she desired utterly.
The bells chimed elsewhere in the castle, sounding the call to breakfast. She reluctantly stood and
took a deep breath, conscious of him watching the way her breasts rose and fell beneath the thin fabric.
"If you'd like, we can get some other clothes for you," she offered, handing him the maroon outfit
he'd been wearing on the high bridge of Venna. "I doubt we have anything on hand for someone as --" she
started to say "big" but caught herself in time "-- tall as you, but the tailors are most skilled and quick."
"That would be great," he said. She tried to avert her eyes as he flung back the covers and started
putting on his trousers, but kept sneaking looks despite her good intentions.
He donned his shirt and was fastening the buttons, when he suddenly looked up and caught her
admiring him. He grinned. "What?"
"I -- nothing," she said, putting one hand at the base of her throat. She felt her pulse fluttering like
a captive butterfly.
"Go on, what?"
"I was just wondering something," she confessed, cursing her fair skin that she knew was betraying
her by turning rosy pink.
"Oh, yeah?" He moved closer. His voice lowered to a near-whisper. "What were you wondering?"
Oh, Dorian. Well, why not? she thought. "I was wondering what you'd do if I did this," she said,
and stepped close to him. She pulled his head down to meet her upturned face and kissed him with as much
passion as she dared.
He moaned softly, deep in his throat, and his arms tightened around her. When she finally drew
back her head, he gave her a lopsided smile. "Did you think I'd run?"
"I don't know. All that I do know is that I want you desperately."
"Bevri --" she loved the way he said her name "-- I want you too. I did from the minute I first saw
you. It's been such a long time ... I was trying to last a year, you know, to become a paladin, but you're too
"Your year ..." she began, dismayed. "I don't want to disrupt --"
He half-crushed her against his chest, taking her chin in his hand. "Some other year," he
murmured, and kissed her again. As he did so, he turned and kicked shut the door that she'd left ajar.
They more or less fell onto the bed, not wanting to break their kiss. His large, strong hands could
nearly encircle her waist, but they slid down and cupped her buttocks, holding her hips firmly against him.
The iron rod of his passion throbbed between them. His tongue probed her mouth and she responded with
artful thrusts and parries of her own. Her hands could not remain still but roamed over him, marveling at the
smooth yet solid feel of his muscles.
The hem of her tunic rode up to the edge of her lacy undergarments. The neckline was low and
draped, not meant for such combats of love, for it slipped off her shoulder and revealed a pale breast. She
gently urged his head down to it, and cried aloud when he sucked hungrily at the nipple. Her fists clenched
in his silky hair.
Somehow, she got his arms free of his shirt without either of them letting go of the other. She left a
trail of kisses from his mouth to his jaw, and along the jawbone to the side of his neck. It was his turn to
urge her onward, and she gladly nibbled at his ear, nuzzled at the tender place where his pulse beat. She slid
even further down, delighting in the scent and taste of his skin. When she reached the bruise, she kissed it
lovingly. Never had she so thoroughly explored a man, nor enjoyed it in such a way.
"Oh, yes," he gasped. Her hand found the large bulge below his waist and rubbed at it, gentle but
firm. He fell back, only releasing his clutching grasp of the sheets long enough to help her strip off his
The skin around his groin was only a few shades lighter than his sun-darkened limbs, and seemed
lighter still in contrast with the thick patch of black hair at the base of his manhood. He was one of the
biggest men she'd ever touched, so perfectly shaped that Dorian Herself might have molded him with Her
own knowing hands. As Bevri caressed and squeezed and stroked him, Rick uttered several words in his
own language that she guessed by their tone were some sort of fervent prayer.
Never had she known that there could be such joy in giving pleasure to a man! His low cries
excited her more than any show of obediance could have. She kissed the swollen head of his shaft, then ran
her tongue from base to tip in one broad stroke. He thrashed, rolling his head from side to side, moaning her
She repeated the motion, but this time when she reached the end she swiftly engulfed as much of
his length as she could in her mouth. His hips jerked, his hands seized the sides of her head. She sucked
deeply, still using her hands on what could not fit in her mouth. He might spend, but Bevri's faith in Dorian
was strong and she knew she would not have to wait long for him to be ready again.
"Wait," he said, the word all but torn from him on a ragged breath.
She released him, rising up on an elbow to see what was the matter. He sat up and kissed her, then
removed her tunic so hastily that he nearly shredded it. Under the circumstances, she didn't mind. He paused
then, drinking in the sight of her body, now clad in nothing but her golden holy symbol and a thin scrap of
lace. That garment he removed with exquisite care, sliding it slowly down over her hips and legs.
He kissed the bottom of her foot, making her squirm and giggle softly. Holding her leg aloft, he
began kissing his way over her slender ankle and up her leg. The higher he got, the less it tickled and the
more inflamed her passions became. Then there was a brief tickling again, as his warm breath stirred the
silky hair between her legs. She spread her thighs, arching her back. But instead of stopping, he withdrew
and started over from the other foot.
"Rick! Ah, gods!" she gasped. She felt his lips curve in a smile against her leg. It was her turn to
writhe against the tangled sheets as he worked his way back up. This time, when he reached the center of
her desire, he did not torment her as before but ran his tongue along the folds, seeking and unerringly
finding the small button that made her fling her arm across her mouth to stifle her cries.
He did not cease until Bevri's entire body shuddered in release, and then instead of stopping
completely he shifted his place on the bed so their heads were at opposite ends, presenting her with his
manhood and burying his head once more between her thighs. She sucked at him urgently at first, then
slowed and matched the rhythm of his actions. Soon, they were so perfectly matched in pace that it was as if
they were one being, with one heart and mind and soul all focused on the same fulfillment.
She could finally wait no longer for the complete act, and neither could he. She rolled onto her
back and he covered her body with his own. She had never been with a man in this fashion, never lain
beneath him. It was the way of a free man with a woman, the way a slave was never allowed. The thought of
what was about to happen, the thought that a free man was about to enter her body, sent her passions
spiraling to a height she had never known in all her life. It was so intense that her nerves exploded in climax
just as the head of his shaft parted her folds. This time she could not muffle her cries, nor did she even think
of it. He pushed inward with exquisite slowness, gritting his teeth to restrain his own passions as her body
continued to leap helplessly. When he had fully entered her, he did not even move but simply held her,
waiting for the tremors to subside.
At last she could breathe again, could think, could speak. But she could not think of anything to
say, no words that would describe what had just happened. Nothing had ever been like that. She tried to tell
him so, but her voice shook so that he could barely understand her. He kissed her, showering kisses on her
lips, her cheeks, her eyelids, and between kisses he breathed Dorian's name in awe. He was still huge and
rigid inside her, so she gripped his buttocks and raised her hips to him. He started moving in a slow rocking
motion, a slow and steady rocking that nevertheless rapidly brought her to the brink again. She clutched at
him wildly, sobbed his name, locked her ankles behind the small of his back so that he plunged even deeper.
He could not hold back, moving faster and faster, thrusting into her and matching her cries with his own.
She felt him spend, felt her insides flooded with his seed just as she climaxed for the third time. He
collapsed atop her, heavy, so heavy and large, but she did not mind the weight and pulled him even closer,
crushing herself into the mattress. For a long time, neither of them could move or speak.
After the intensity of their shared passion, she was almost surprised at the tenderness of his kiss.
"Thank you, Dorian," she said.
"Yes, thank you," he echoed.
She twined his hair around her fingers. "You are unbelievable."
"So are you." He chuckled softly.
"I was wondering something," he said slyly, teasing her.
"Why didn't you say something before I got dressed? It would have saved some time."
She laughed, and he joined her. They lay side by side, still exhausted, letting the cool air wash over
Dorian bless me, Bevrianna thought. I could fall in love with this man. But even as she thought it,
she knew it was too late. She already had.
* * *