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eBook by Clare London
eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: Maen is a Gold Warrior, an elite defender of Aza City, respected by his fellow soldiers and favored by his imperious Mistress for services both in and out of the bedchamber. His loyalty and commitment are unwavering until he recruits Dax, a captivating and challenging Bronzeman who, despite his youth and inexperience, seduces Maen with his fierce hero worship. When they're captured by enemies of the City, Maen risks everything to save Dax: his position, his faith, and even his life. But he loses his lover to the rebels and upon his return to the City is stripped of his rank. In Aza, where a soldier's only lawful devotion is to the City and his Mistress's pleasure, the disgraced Maen is placed under the watchful guard of the arrogant Gold Warrior Zander and relegated to preparing a royal history for the new Queen. But his discoveries cast a new and shocking light on the past and threaten to stir revolution in both citizens and rebels. With the help of the lively and inquisitive scribe Kiel, Maen initiates a chain of events that will change their world forever--and offer him the chance to regain both his honor and his heart's desire.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2010, 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2011
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2 Reader Ratings:
The day was so much hotter than it should have been--it seemed that the climate grew more erratic every spring. Unless I was planning a campaign, I rarely listened to the ramblings of the Weather Weavers, but occasionally I would admit that they were right to complain about it. Today, the breast plate and leggings of my dress uniform were awkward on my body and my helmet was heavy. I could feel my long hair sticking to my scalp with sweat and the belt of my sword dragging painfully at my waist. But I'd worn all of this for many years--I, of all men, had no reason to complain.
Inside the Arena, the sanded floor had been brushed down and the stone steps prepared for today's event--the Choosing for Aza City. It was a very public venue and well-used. I could see how tired its decoration looked. The structure always remained dirty, despite regular scrubbing by hordes of cleaners. There was always substantial building work going on throughout the City and it proved difficult to keep buildings at their best. But I saw plenty of evidence of the attempts to make the Arena look glamorous for this occasion. Banners and note-boards had been hung from the pillars at the side, the flags of the Households of the City were flying proudly along the top wall, and there were plenty of facilities to feed, clean, and relieve the large number of visitors that flocked in today. This event had occurred annually for hundreds of years; there were few excuses for it to be less than spectacular.
Most of the Households had already arrived, settling with blankets and folded chairs, erecting the sun shades for the Mistresses, preparing some refreshments in case the public supplies were inadequate. Each Mistress was attended by a few of her Ladies and most of them also had the company of soldiers from their Guard. This had often seemed ludicrous to me, for what military danger would there be during a Choosing? The attention of everyone was surely on very different things! But it was a matter of prestige, as well. I'd always accompanied my Mistress, ever since I qualified as a Silver Captain under Bernos, the serving Gold Warrior of the time. Now I stood as a Gold Warrior myself--the highest honor there could be for a soldier, let alone a man.
The Mistresses were excited to meet each other, all gathered together, and high-pitched female chatter choked the air around us. It would get fiercer once the bidding began. Many of them only saw each other at these events, and although some were glad for this, others regretted it and regularly made plans to travel more to visit. Whatever their pleasure at seeing friends, however, their eyes still strayed frequently into the center of the Arena, to the ring where this year's candidates would soon appear. That was, after all, the main purpose of the day.
A couple of my Silver Captains stood at my Mistress's side. I watched them closely, for I was currently displeased with their lack of attention to her. She may have found them interesting in bed, but I demanded far more of them than a pleasing body. It was an honor to have been chosen for today's duty, and I expected them to have anticipated their Mistress's discomfort, standing for long hours at the side of the ring with an inadequate sun shield and nothing but cooled water when the serving children came past. She'd worn a thin, pale blue shift today, in deference to the weather, and a cloak in light fabric. Her badge of office was worn as a pendant around her neck. Her head was uncovered, her long dark hair caught loosely at the back of her neck with a brooch. She was no longer young, of course, like many of her favorite Ladies, but her skin was smooth, her hair glossy with aromatic oil, and her brown eyes very bright. She was a devoted follower of the Devotions to Life. In return, they repaid her with good health and delayed aging. That's how things were in the City; we all benefited in many ways from the Devotions.
Just about then, she caught my eye and raised her eyebrows. She was amused at my frustration with the men. I swear the woman should have been made Mistress of Magic, not of Exchequer! She had a wicked, sharp perception that many others underestimated.
"Leave them be, Maen," she murmured, leaning toward me from her position on the steps so that others wouldn't hear. "They are excited by this as well. It's an upheaval for them, this time of year. When I ask for something, they will be speedier than the hare to fetch it, never fear."
She'd used my personal name rather than my rank and that was often frowned on, socially, though I of course would not chastise her. It was a measure of the time that we had been together and the ease that we had between us personally--and also, perhaps, her sometimes worrying tendency to chafe at the more formal requirements of her position.
"Excitement is not part of their official duty, Mistress," I replied rather dryly. But maybe they overheard me. The blond Justes straightened his shoulders guiltily and snagged another cup of water from a passing refreshment tray.
My Mistress smiled, unconcerned. When Justes handed her the water with the appropriate greeting, and the brief but formal salute of palm to his heart, she caught at his fingertips for a little longer than necessary. His eyes flashed with passion and pride; he would be the one she took tonight, in all probability. She liked his combination of strength and soft skin--he had the flexibility of a gymnast and the reflexes of a cat. Or so the word had it in the barracks.
Mistress Luana was always interested in such things.
"The Choosing of the Bronzemen... don't you remember it yourself, Maen?" Her eyes met mine with an innocent expression that I knew to be false. I had been in her Household for all of my ten years of adult life; I thought that, by now, I should know her character well, both as a woman and as a Mistress. "Is that all too long ago, my grown-up Gold Warrior? Too long to remember yourself as a young, barely pubescent boy, desperate to impress, desperate to be Chosen by a good Mistress?"
"I remember," I said, determined to say no more unless she insisted.
"Or perhaps the memories are clearer from when you were first a Silver Captain yourself. One of our youngest to qualify, I believe. One of our finest athletes and also our most excellent swordsman, which is, indeed, still the case. You stood here, like Justes and... the other one." Her memory failed her, for she couldn't always remember the names of all the men she Called unless they became particular Favorites. "You watched all the young boys, all the potential Bronzemen, full of your professional criticism, questioning whether they would be a good crop that year."
"I wondered what Bernos would make of them," I said. "Whether they would make good soldiers."
She smiled. "Whether they would be good servants in many ways, Maen! Whatever Bernos--and those before him--may have recommended, I do not choose only on the basis of potential military skills. As I said, it's a difficult time for the Silvers. There will be a new batch of these gorgeous young things in the Household. My attention will be drawn away from the Silvers themselves, along with the other Ladies. There will be a time of some insecurity and frustration, until the positions have been re-established in the Household--"
"And in the Guard itself," I added. "For they will be soldiers, first and foremost." I took a risk, interrupting her. But she'd let me know many times that she would allow me to challenge her, to banter with her. I enjoyed it and, I believed, so did she.
She laughed softly, and Justes turned his head sharply to see if she called him, but she waved him back. She looked up into my face--for I was a good head taller than she--and she smiled purely for my benefit. "Did you never worry that I would tire of you, that each year I would prefer the new, soft, young bodies to your fiercely toned soldier's muscles? That you would languish in my indifference, with nothing but your barrack companions for physical relief? That my gifts would be given to others, now and for the foreseeable future?"
"I have never had any interest in gifts!" I said, a little too sharply. I felt Justes's eyes on me now, but he would never challenge me, his Commander, in public.
Mistress Luana's eyes softened. "I know, dear Gold Warrior. And that's partly why you have been my most frequent companion, ever since you were a callow Bronze with legs that seemed too slender to hold up your finely developing torso, and that bright copper hair that would never lie still, but with a sparkle of certainty in your eye that made my choice a very easy one that day. And your loyalty and devotion has remained constant all through your years as a Silver, hasn't it? As my most handsome and most decorated soldier, then as my most accomplished Gold, now in charge of those that followed you, and always, as a fine and enthusiastic visitor to my chambers."
"Mistress," I murmured, disconcerted. She shouldn't be talking this way; I wished the Choosing would begin on time today and distract her. This was the stuff that she murmured in bed at night, that she said to make me blush and shift in awkwardness as she both embarrassed and stimulated me, the stuff that would then make her laugh, and me along with her, as she drew me in closer and used me as she wished. She was a generous Mistress, for she had no need to make my time so enjoyable; I was entirely at her Call, like any man, regardless of my own desires. But I believed that was her way. She would be as selfless with all lovers, not just me. In return, I knew that my role must never be taken as exclusive, and that her comments were for the softness of the pillow, not for the purposes of my own pride.
But she made me smile in return. She made me hungry for her--many times--and so, in turn, I could satisfy her. It had been a very good ten years, since my own Choosing. I wondered how many other Gold Warriors could say the same.
"Mistress," announced the other Silver Captain, Orven. I frowned. His voice was pitched too harshly to be acceptably polite, and his stance and behavior were still below standard. It was likely I'd have him whipped later. There were many other Households represented here today, many other Guards; I wouldn't have any of my men disgrace the Mistress in any way. Those standards were why we were already respected throughout Aza City.
Orven coughed and amended his tone. "The Choosing is beginning. The Negotiators have entered the ring."
There was movement all round the Arena, some of the groups moving forward for a better view. The refreshment servants moved out into the aisles. There was the metallic clatter of soldiers shifting their swords into defensive position and the conversation of the Ladies quieted. The steps were a jumble of bright clothing and polished armor, simple but brilliantly colored jewelry, and badges of office glinting in the reflected sunlight. Some young woman laughed particularly loudly.
The senior Negotiator marched into the central ring and waved to the applause. His voice was amplified around the Arena through a voice trumpet, but most of the men who aspire to that role have a fine speaking voice of their own, and often rely on the projection of that alone to carry around the Arena. They are Chosen by, and for, the House of Trade; they would have been through Bronzeman training themselves though few progressed as far as Silver Captain before being taken aside for specialist Training in their future role.
I confess I barely listened to the opening speeches, the announcement of the Houses represented, the declaration of the number of young men to be viewed today, the more amusing stories told to flatter the Ladies and Mistresses and to lighten the mood even further. I only needed to know where the credits would be recorded, so that I could settle up and sign for any of my Mistress's procurements, and I'd make the arrangements for transport of the boys to her Household in the morning.
Of course, I stood at attention for the Confirmation of Life--to declare Good Wishes for the City and the Devotion to the Queen. Everyone did, whether or not the acolytes of the Household of Devotion were there to ensure we did. For those few communal moments there was a swell of mumbled voices around the Arena, soldiers with their palms at their hearts, Ladies with heads bowed slightly. It was a proud sight.
Then the proceedings started in earnest. Mistress Luana nodded her pleasure and gestured for us to move further to the front. She was a short, slight woman, and I knew of at least one year that she'd missed procuring a young boy who had caught her eye purely because the Mistress of Physic had stepped in front of her at the critical moment and made the successful bid. I also knew she'd taken her revenge a week later, when my intelligence had been able to tell her of a trip the Mistress of Physic was taking, leaving her Household unattended for three days. Mistress Luana created a spurious reason to visit the Physic Household and had availed herself of the young boy's attentions for the whole of two long nights. She was gone back to her own Household shortly before the Mistress of Physic returned, only to find that one of her new recruits had already been initiated!
It was the normal way of things, and my Mistress gained a good deal of amusement from it, as well as sexual satisfaction. All the boys were available to any Mistress from the time of their procurement, and it would also have been unthinkable rudeness to refuse a visiting Mistress the hospitality of any of the Bronzemen in the Household. There was plenty of this one-upmanship going around: the Mistresses enjoyed the sport, as well as the pleasures of their own Households.
But today, my Mistress had a prime position at the ringside and the attentions of all three of us to ensure that her desires were communicated to the Negotiator. The first hour was always the most frenzied, when the best of the youngsters were brought out on view. Today, the Negotiator called for them with a grandiose sweep of his arm and his signature sound--a mixture between a song and the caterwauling of kitchen cats--which he'd developed as his own particular style to engage and amuse the crowds. I knew this man, slightly--he'd Trained under a soldier who had once been a Silver Captain alongside me, by the name of Varden. After Varden had displeased my Mistress somehow, she had passed him across to the Household of Trade, and he'd prospered there. I heard he was being considered for promotion to Gold Warrior around the time of my own achievement; I had contacts with Captains in other Households, and there was a busy, informal channel of news that passed between us all. Then the information had ceased and I never heard any more about him. Some said that Varden's history at our Household had damned him, though I never really knew what his fault had been. Privately, I thought that he had deserved better luck in life: he was an excellent soldier and the closest I had to a friend. I hadn't been pleased to lose his company, though no one sought my opinion on it. Friendships were never a priority for soldiers; we weren't allowed the luxury of official Favorites, like the Ladies.
I was distracted away from my inappropriate thoughts by the boys filing out from the tower structure at the north end of the Arena. There were holding rooms there, and cleaning facilities, and a few Trade offices. The youths would have been brought from the Central City School on the previous day, cleaned up, and instructed one more time in how to behave. For some of them, it wouldn't be their first Choosing, but then that was all the more reason to be alert. There was a loud wave of noise and laughter and admiring cries from the spectators at their procession into the open Arena--a sign that the Choosing would be a rewarding one this year. The boys wore nothing but the cloths that folded around their narrow waists and between their legs. The Choosing is always held in the warm springtime, and the lack of restrictive, cumbersome clothing both kept the children calm and also allowed the best view of their bodies.
Then the formalities were carried out. The Negotiator passed down the line, calling out the lineage of each youth for the Mistresses to consider the worth and history of the boys' Households. This had a significant effect on the bidding. Some Households were respected throughout the whole of Aza City--their children were well-bred and much prized. Every child was branded with their mother's lineage at birth and carried that mark throughout their life. It included the Household mark, and only if they were passed to another Household would there be any further mark added to their birth brand. It wasn't an enviable thing, to have a trail of Household marks added to your brand--it implied you were a troublesome possession. There were more practical benefits from the branding process, as well. At Choosing time, the brand helped the Mistress to avoid any of her own offspring, which she was strictly forbidden to procure. The Choosing was established to be a process of free trade; family ties were never to be taken into account.
We could all imagine the disaster if a Mistress procured her own birth son, and was then unable to take him as a lover! It would make a mockery of the whole process. Every Bronzeman had to be available for the Mistress sexually--and most would be initiated by her over the first few weeks of their time in her Household. Only then would they be available for the Ladies as well.
The bidding had begun, a chaotic process of cries from the crowd and House banners waving frantically to catch the attention of the Negotiator. The boys were drawn to the side, one by one, and turned slowly for the viewing. Most looked bemused, as if their instruction hadn't prepared them for the reality of the Arena. It was a large structure, open to the air, with high pillared walls, and the numbers attending the event grew every year. The youths saw few soldiers when they were in the School, and they were protected from the numbers of adult citizens that thronged the City outside. This would be their first exposure to such a crowd. Some of them looked frightened at the sudden swell of noise, and the none-too-gentle handling of the Negotiator and his assistants. But, as always, some seemed to respond to the excitement, standing all the taller and almost basking in the glamour of it all.
As I did every year, I thought about the day that I might see one of my Mistress's sons in the ring, one that may have sprung from my own loins, though there were still a few years to go before any would be old enough to come to a Choosing. Boys were rarely taken before sixteen. I'd never confessed this curiosity, and never would. It was a shameful, private pride of my own, and I'd never admit it to anyone. But that wasn't to say I could repress it entirely. I looked around at the few Gold Warriors that had accompanied their Mistresses here today and wondered how many of them were thinking the same. It wasn't for us to know if we'd sired a son--if it had been our seed that had been fruitful. The child was always the property of the mother and joined the City's Central Nursery and School within days of its birth. The only connection a mother might have with her child, after its assisted birth, would be to see them procured by another Household within the City; hopefully it would be one that she admired. She would be thankful then that she had contributed a child that would be of service to Aza City overall.
Was I selfish in my thoughts? I'd always tried to be a devout citizen, all through my life, as taught by the School and then by my Trainer. And, of course, by my Mistress. Devotion to the City is everything--Service to the City is our Reward. That was one of the many phrases we learned over the years, one of the many Chants to express our loyalty to the City and to the Life.
I gazed back at the youths in the Arena. Any boy child who was not Chosen would be returned to the School. There were quite often a few that didn't meet standards, despite having been put forward for Choosing. Perhaps it was unfair in some years, when the rest of the boys might be unusually fine. But they each had three chances to be procured, attendance at three Choosings. Then, if unclaimed, they became a Remainder for the rest of their life. Remainders worked for the City, of course, but only a small proportion of them would ever be seen in a Household, and they would likely never be seen again by their birth mother. It was by no means a shameful fate, for most of the population was designated as Remainders. They had their own pleasures and achievements, I believed. That's what the Chants told us--Service to the City was the only way for us all, regardless of final career.
I knew it was quite likely that all the Mistress's sons would attend a Choosing at some stage; they were bred from those who had been Chosen themselves, of course, though I avoided any personal vanity in my own case. But this arrangement had stood for the many generations that our society had been established, ever since the first Colonization here and the Establishment of the Cities by the Four Queens. The process of Choosing usually produced very splendid specimens. It was considered fair that everyone had the opportunity to Choose their Bronzemen from a central resource; it enabled the strengthening of some Houses, both in bloodline and in military prowess. It also calmed any inappropriate loyalties that might conflict with the Devotion to the City. Yes, the system had been carefully planned and promoted by the Queens since the day our race came to this planet, and we were not the people to question that at any time.
I looked carefully over the boys today, for my own purposes. My Mistress would listen to my advice, though the decision was always hers. I looked for a strong body and a confidence in bearing, an awareness of growing limbs, and good co-ordination. Some would be my soldiers, the rest would be allocated out to the Household's other two Gold Warriors for Training. I was pleased that Mistress Luana often allowed me to make my own choice, after her procurement.
And she? Well, I knew that she looked for the same promise-- and then she also looked for those with blond or copper-colored hair, for I had been one myself, ten years ago. I knew that she liked a tall youngster, one with slender hips and limbs, like a young colt. She sought a look in their eyes of intelligence and wit, for she could see through the nervousness and the fear to the real potential of these boys. She wasn't only looking for a strong and loyal Guard, she was looking for the future breeding and prestige of her Household. The Household of the Exchequer already had a fine reputation and its boys commanded an excellent level of credit at the Choosings. She'd want to maintain that reputation.
When I looked across at her today and saw the shine in her eyes, I wanted to smile. For I knew she looked for fun, as well!
* * * *
Mistress Luana had eaten the snacks that the Remainder servants had brought around and was relaxing on a folding chair. She'd drunk plenty of wine--which she loved--and settled her account with the Negotiator. Many of the Mistresses had already left; some could afford more staff in their Household than others, of course. Mistress Luana was a member of the Queen's Central Council, so she had additional privileges and a wealthy supply of credit. She had already Chosen a fine selection of six. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality this year and was looking forward to the Training of the new Bronzemen.
"There's a sparkle in your eyes, Maen, that reminds me of the boy you were ten years ago," she called to me happily. Justes knelt at her side, passing the wine as she required it and reveling in the touch of her hand on his neck. I was more relaxed now; the honor of the Household didn't seem so critical as the day was wearing down and the arrangements were coming to an end.
"You've Chosen well, Mistress." I smiled. "As you always do. I will arrange the transport for them to the Household tomorrow."
"Sir." Orven moved hesitantly beside me. He looked very remorseful for his earlier inattention. For Life's sake, perhaps I wouldn't have him beaten. Perhaps I needed to make allowances for this being his first Choosing as a Silver; Mistress Luana told me occasionally that I was too harsh with my men. I was definitely guilty of that with Orven. Something about him had always sat uncomfortably with me and I found it difficult to trust his motives at all times. That was a dangerous weakness in a soldier of my Guard.
"Sir, there are still some boys in the ring."
I looked over at Mistress Luana, and she was looking back into the ring, too. It was as if they had forgotten a last batch of youngsters. The Negotiator's assistants looked flustered and embarrassed--a Choosing wasn't usually such a disjointed event. But they wouldn't have wanted to miss the chance of having these last few Chosen, having to wait another year to put them forward. There were low, angry discussions, out of earshot of most of the crowd; there was the sound of a harsh slap on someone's head. The dirt on the floor of the ring had been well and truly scuffed, the Negotiator's voice was a little hoarse, the sun, although lower now, still beaded sweat on everyone's brow. It had been a tiring day.
Then it seemed the decision had been made. The final boys were pushed forward and arranged for viewing. There were five of them on show, standing in a line, the matching sets of bare toes turned inward nervously, their hair glossy with their own sweat and the fresh washing. Two of them clenched their fists at their side, shaking a little; two others looked almost angry that they'd been left until last, when many of the best Households had already left the Arena. The fifth one stood a little way apart, a tall, white-blond boy with a broad shoulder span and pale skin. There was already the hint of good muscle definition on his chest and stomach. The cloth on his groin was a little greyer than the others, his hair a little less shining. But he stood steadily, his body well balanced, and he exuded an air of challenge that none of the others had, almost as if he were hostile to this whole event. I found that an unusual--and ungrateful--attitude.
But he was the only one who caught my eye.
"Maen," came the Mistress's voice at my ear. She sounded a little sly. "Maen, you seem almost shocked. You are entranced! Is it that blond child on the end?" I made some murmur of protest. I was merely interested in an uncommon specimen, I assured her. I listened to the lineage announcement and heard the ripple of scorn around the remaining audience. The fifth boy was a Remainder child, he had no Household lineage at all! It was a rare situation. The Remainder children were bred for the Utilities and other support functions within the City. It was a calculated program, controlled by the Mistresses and the Central Council, so as to protect their numbers and to match the available resources. All for the good of the City, of course. The male children could, theoretically, be considered at a Choosing, but the Remainders had largely withdrawn from the event in past years. They had not presumed to contribute specimens fine enough to be attractive. A Choosing wants only the best, only the strongest, only the most handsome.
This boy was all of those things! He had every right to be here at the Choosing--and a better right than any my Mistress had Chosen so far today. What was I thinking? That this boy was the best-looking candidate I had ever seen during the three years since I'd been promoted to Gold Warrior? That was exactly how I felt.
My pulse pounded in my head; my mouth was dry. He looked as bone-thin and immature and basically unformed as all the rest, but there was something about him that shouted to my senses, that alerted every intuition I had ever had. It was so strong that I almost imagined he could sense my stare, that he would look up and meet my eyes. But the Arena was wide and our position was still some way back. He continued to stare into the middle distance, his eyes a dark, fierce blue. He focused on none of us.
"Do you want him, Maen?" Mistress Luana asked. Her voice was steady now. She was serious.
"Yes, Mistress," I said, before I realized I was speaking aloud. "You must Choose him. For the Household."
She raised her eyebrows, probably at my insolence in presuming to tell her what to do. My past history with her didn't allow a complete disregard for protocol. "The decision is already made, Gold Warrior. He is mine. I bid while your eyes boggled and your tongue tried to lick life back into your dry lips. You know what a fondness I have for blonds." Her laugh was soft but somehow it didn't sound as carefree as before. I looked at her and couldn't read her expression. It was easy for people to see her slight, feminine beauty and forget her vibrantly sharp intelligence. I didn't want to be accused of that, myself.
"Settle with the Negotiator," she said, curtly. "Justes will see me back to my carriage." I nodded, wondering why my throat was so tight. It was from the dust and the heat, surely that was why. Then my Mistress seemed to relent a little, and her hand touched my hip as she turned to leave the Arena. "Come to me later, Maen," she murmured. "Come at midnight, I will have worn the Silver boy out by then." She looked up at me, her questioning eyes belying her vulgar jokes.
"Come to me tonight, Maen. I need you."
* * * *
I'd spent several hours registering the new Bronzemen and supervising the preparation of their quarters. The Silvers were dutiful, yet surly--perhaps Mistress Luana had been right when she said how unsettling it was for these ranks at Choosing time. I preferred to ignore such nonsense. They were professional soldiers, for Life's sake! They had no expectations of attention--they had only the respect of their Guard and their City to be earned. Most of all, they had all had their time as Bronzemen and that had now passed. I personally believed that the heady excitement of that time was well compensated by the benefits and maturity of a Silver Captain's status.
I knew that my beliefs were not shared by all--I was no fool. But I was a Devout citizen, and I knew the duty that was required, both of me and my men. While they were in my Guard they would abide by it. Or know my anger.
Surprisingly, Orven had worked particularly hard, so I praised him for it. He'd escaped my wrath after his attendance at the Choosing. He wasn't as well-built or as stocky as many of the other Silvers, and to be honest, he struggled during some of the Training to reach the same standards of physical fitness. But his musculature was developing well and his upper body strength had increased substantially. He had a gritty determination that carried him along even when his body was weakening. And his blade skills were within the top five best of my Guard.
But he wasn't popular in the barracks. Although I'd not give gossip any formal attention, I was aware of it. According to his fellow soldiers, Orven had alienated most of them with his arrogant and greedy behavior. I couldn't be concerned with such inappropriate things as popularity, of course, but I kept it in mind.
Otherwise, I received the usual commitment and quiet obedience from my best Silvers, including Fremer and Grien. I went back to my office, leaving them to conclude the work in the quarters and to disseminate the orders for the week ahead, including the duties for collecting, cleaning, and dressing the boys the next day. My Mistress would inform me of the allocation of the boys to their Trainers and I would brief the other Gold Warriors as required. My Guard was the largest and the strongest; although the other Gold Warriors did not officially report in to me, my Mistress often used me as the first point of authority.
There was a quiet cough by the door to my room and I looked up from the papers on my table. A Gold Warrior was allowed an office within the military block to carry out his administrative duties, though he must return to the main living quarters in off-duty time. I spent a lot of my time in that office. It wasn't a particularly comfortable room, being cramped and sparsely furnished, but I found it a quiet place. I had never been afraid of my own company. My Mistress had always understood this, for which I was grateful.
My visitor was Grien. "Busy time, eh, Maen?" He smiled broadly at me. He had a very friendly manner which often cheered me, though I was concerned that it would prevent him from being promoted to Gold Warrior. He worked well, and was very accomplished physically--he was our current champion in the spear and axe events. He was also an excellent wrestler and he beat me more and more easily as years went by. And he was a tall, attractive, dark-haired man. He'd always been Called very frequently by the Ladies and had been designated a Favorite by many of them. Even my Mistress spent longer with him when he was a Bronzeman than many of the others. I liked him, personally; I knew that wasn't of significance, but I couldn't deny that his assistance helped me to run the barracks more easily and pleasantly. Even if he sometimes lacked the gravitas that was needed to progress in the service of the City, I thought that would eventually come. When my Mistress looked at him, she'd smile gently but she didn't look as if she would trust him with her Household. I'd always believed that to be the most important part of our duty. But then I'd see him at work or share a joke and a drink with him, and I'd question that certainty.
I was delaying his Appraisal for these very reasons. I had some latitude in scheduling the periodic reports, but I couldn't stay it for much longer.
And now he was here, smiling at me with easy warmth. I pushed the papers aside and smiled in return. "Supper's ready?"
Grien lowered himself down into my one other chair and nodded. "Devotion in half an hour, then food." He moved gracefully for a grown man. He wore only the sleeveless vest that we have on under our armor, and the trousers made of soft, thick fabric, tucked into his boots. He'd removed his belt and he carried no arms, not even a knife. Grien could be an almost reluctant soldier; he fought with a ferocity that few matched, but when he was off duty he dropped the clothes and insignia of the military at the earliest opportunity. None of us had many personal clothes, for they were not required for City service, but Grien had the most of us all.
"It went well, I hear--the Choosing. That fool Justes has been boasting he's been Called by my Mistress, and it seems that a couple of the others have also been Called by the Ladies. Their lusts are high, in anticipation of the new Bronzemen. They need some reminder of the technical details, eh?" He smiled at his own crude wit, knowing he could be fairly relaxed in front of me; we were both soon to be off duty. "The rest of us on late shift are going into the City for a drink or two..."
"Or three," I said, though teasingly. Everyone knew Grien loved to drink.
"Or three," he agreed with a laugh. He peered at me, as if searching my expression, and his eyes suddenly clouded. His moods could change like that, very swiftly. "How many will it take, then?"
"What do you mean?"
His voice was low. "How many must I--or you--drink before you'll join me in the quarters tonight?"
I tensed, my hands suddenly tight on the side of the table. I knew this was an invitation beyond a casual drink with the men. This wasn't the first time Grien had asked, nor the first time I'd refused. Understand this: I wasn't offended--far from it! But it wasn't my wish tonight.
"You need some relaxation, Sir," he said, in the same low, vibrant voice. The title sounded mocking in his rich tone.
"I've been Called by my Mistress at midnight," I replied, quietly. "I can join you in town until then. After that, though, I have no idea when I'll be back in the quarters."
Grien bit at his lip and there was a slight flush on his face, though he wasn't usually a man to be embarrassed. "Of course. You are one of her Favorites. Though after tomorrow, she'll have new blood to entertain her for a while, eh?"
"Yes." I didn't want to say anything more. The air in the room felt tight with tension.
Grien stood up suddenly, his chair scraping across the floor. He stretched out his long, athletic limbs. He was a very attractive man, indeed, and he knew I was watching him. "She won't Call you forever, Maen. And there's no restriction on enjoying yourself with the rest of us, is there?"
He was right, of course. It was expected that the Silvers maintained their prime condition, and the development of a strong body often led to an equally healthy libido. It was important that they were able to enjoy whatever pleasures of the flesh they could. Therefore, if a Lady didn't Call you, there was no shame in coupling with the men of your Guard, your fellow soldiers, even the Golds. In fact, it was encouraged. The Silvers must be kept satisfied; it allowed them to concentrate all their mental energy on their military duty to the City.
Grien had moved over to the table, graceful like a feral cat, his movement almost predatory. He landed a hand either side of mine, the hard sound thumping on the wood, and his head bent down over mine. I could smell the freshness of cold water on his skin, from his wash after the day's work, the underlying muskiness on his vest of leather straps, the tang of metal from the armor he'd worn all day. On his breath, I could smell the ale that he must have already supped in the barracks kitchen. He always had allies there who would supply him in advance of a meal.
"Don't you feel the need any more, Maen?" he muttered. "Is that what it is, to be a Gold? You make the requisite Devotions, and in return, you're driven to avoid your natural desires, to repress your urges, to devote yourself to your paperwork instead?"
I leapt to my own feet, angry at his blasphemy. Too late, I realized my face was now very close to his, my furious breath dusting his cheek.
His eyes locked on mine, his expression a far more complex mix than mere anger. "Relax, Maen. I know what a model citizen you are. I just wish you'd loosen up a little. Show the man underneath the Warrior to someone other than our Mistress--someone else who could offer you the attention you need."
"You?" I said harshly.
His eyes flashed with fury, though I'd not meant it insultingly. There was a sudden movement of his upper body, his arm lifting toward me, reaching for my neck. Before I could move away, he'd gripped the hair at my nape, his fingers tangling in it, a forceful caress against the skin of my neck. His face was pale and far too close. I wasn't afraid of him; there was nothing he could do that would put me in danger, we both knew that. But that familiarity was the very thing that made me pause--that, and an instinctive reaction to drop my head back, baring my neck and pushing only a token resistance against his possessive grip. Then his heated breath was on my face and his mouth came down on mine. His thick tongue licked at my lips, asking for entrance between them.
I opened my mouth wider to protest, but when Grien's tongue thrust inside, I let it. In fact, I leaned farther in toward him, savoring the warmth and the strong sweetness that could only be found in a masculine mouth. I was vividly aware of the callused pads of his fingertips gripping at my flesh; I could feel the loose threads of his dark hair caught against our chins as we came together. My lips were crushed against his and the pulse in my neck throbbed painfully. My tongue slid across his, caressing the rough surface, teasing at the sensitive taste buds, seeking to plunge into his mouth in return.
He groaned. It woke me up from my erotic daydream.
I pulled away, perhaps a little more slowly than I should have done. His hand fell away from my head and we both pulled ourselves upright again.
"It's been too long, Maen," he whispered. His voice sounded ragged. He licked his lips, as if to savor the last warm drops of my saliva. "The passions are there, as always. I can taste them! They're so strong in you. I've always felt it, even now you're a Gold Warrior. You're doing yourself no good holding them in. You need relief as much as we all do--"
"As you do!" I snapped. My heart was beating too quickly for comfort; I had been caught unawares and for that I was angry with myself. The desire had shot through my body like the fastest arrow. The mere touch of his mouth had ignited something very deep and low inside me, something that threatened everything that kept me together. The passions that he spoke of--these were not something I liked to admit to anyone, apart from my Mistress. But I'd never been anything but honest, had I? My body liked the feel of Grien's body: the thick arms around mine; the strong, square jaw, rough with evening stubble, rasping under a questing tongue; the dark shadow of muscle across his body. It would be all too easy to fall in with him tonight, drink with him sitting tightly beside me in the crowded bar, fumble with him in the alleyways outside, then collapse, exhausted and drunk, on to his bed at the end of the night and let him strip me.
My imagination shied away from the further delights that I knew he'd offer me. I knew he was a good and intuitive lover. He was never too rough, and his coupling would be very satisfying.
But not tonight.
He was watching me regain control of myself, apparently fascinated at the passage of expressions on my face. "You are a strange enigma, Gold Warrior," he said slowly. "I think that I preferred you as a Silver. We all knew where we stood, then, eh? But you're right, I like coupling. I need it." There was no apology needed and he was a proud man; he'd not give one. He was a worthy Silver and I was proud to have him in my Guard.
This other matter between us--that was a different thing altogether.
"Find someone else," I said. My throat was uncomfortably tight again. "I'm not denying you that satisfaction, and it's not personal, Grien. Nor is it because of my Mistress. I just want no one at present. Find someone else...."
"It's you I want," he replied. He looked almost sorrowful. "But you know that, don't you?"
I could only stare at him. In the background we heard the clamor of footsteps and distant male voices--the thin, metallic clang of the supper gong. The rest of the Guard was moving toward the kitchen, eager and hungry. Tomorrow they'd be sharing rations with Bronzemen and there would be less food for a while, though of better quality, in honor of the new recruits, and eventually the cooks would balance their store cupboards again.
Someone shouted along the hallway and there was a loud, raucous laugh in reply. Grien's smile was slightly forced, as if it hurt him to support it. He twisted his lithe body, turning away as abruptly as he'd entered, and he left the room.
I stood for quite a while longer, my hands on the table, supporting myself still upright.
* * * *
My Mistress's rooms were on the south side of the Household. All of its buildings had been constructed around the central courtyard, but the Mistress's rooms and the barracks were at opposing corners. Between us were the stables and the servants' quarters, and various offices and guest rooms that were required for the business of the City.
There were Silver Captains along the corridor to her room, who saluted me as I walked the length. The corridor was wide but uncarpeted, and the walls were painted in a pale color to complement the stone blocks that formed the building itself. This Household was relatively new and had only been established in this location for the last four generations. It was always a problem to get raw materials from the harsh land around the City; the construction of any new center was a protracted, frustrating affair, and there was rarely any requirement for a Household to be anything other than functional. This was understood to be the Queen's own wish--an austere decoration was encouraged in any new structure. This best served the City's needs and prevented waste of its resources.
At least, this was the outward appearance.
I was saluted through into my Mistress's reception room, and I stood for a while while her Secretary called for her. I thought she must be alone. Most of the barracks were on rest shift tonight, as Grien had told me, and they had gone down into the City to celebrate the successful Choosing. So when Justes had returned from our Mistress's quarters about an hour ago, it had been to a quiet and relatively empty room. I'd heard his groan of relief as he fell on to his bunk, heard the clatter as he hauled off his boots, and fell exhausted back on to his thin bedding.
I'd smiled. My Mistress was lusty and well experienced in bedroom tactics. Justes was still young--he was overly enthusiastic in his response. Such a combination meant that he was easily tired as a lover. By the time I'd washed and left the barracks to take the same path, he was asleep on his bunk and snoring loudly, with his trousers still unfastened. I didn't envy him the ridicule his fellow soldiers would give him when they returned from town. None of them would care to be reminded that they'd been in the same situation themselves in the past.
One of my Mistress's Ladies came out from the inner rooms to greet me. There was always someone to attend to the Mistress at any hour of the day or night. The Lady looked me up and down as if to check my acceptability. This was unnecessary, for she knew me well and I was, after all, a Gold Warrior. But my status was lower than any woman of the Household, and I knew that. She had every right to examine me.
Not, however, the right to Call me to her bed, like she might any of the Silvers--not, at least, without my Mistress's permission. No Lady could; that was a privilege of my rank as Gold Warrior. And then I laughed at my false pride. It was unlikely that anyone would have Called me tonight, not with a barracks full of younger, stronger Silvers to choose from, and not when there was the prospect of a new intake of Bronzemen arriving tomorrow!
"Please enter," the Lady murmured. She stifled a yawn. It was a difficult duty, the midnight shift. I would have sympathized with her, but I knew that it would be socially unacceptable. It wasn't for a soldier to converse with a Lady unless requested.
The wine with supper had obviously been good, and my Mistress was more than a little flushed; she was dressed only in her blue silk robe, and that had slipped off her shoulder more than once. It was because of the relaxed way that she lay, stretched out on her bed.
The room was a luxurious contrast to the austere corridors outside. I believed that many of the Mistresses had created small palaces for themselves, as regards bedroom decoration, using the richest fabrics and the softest linens. It made for a more enjoyable night for many of us men--and it wasn't for us to question the way they might take advantage of their position. There were soft lamps on the walls of the room, casting mysterious shadows about the furniture. The paint on the walls was a deep red color and there were tapestries draped across the corners, bringing a certain warmth to the cold stone. The floor was carpeted--something not found in many places of the Household--and there was a room to the side that I knew held a private bathing area, with perfumed oil and creams, continuous hot water, and towels that were softer than the bed linen itself. Her bed was large enough for four people--and she had entertained that many, at times--and there were pillows, rather than the folded cloths that we used in the barracks.
I'd spent many comfortable hours here during my career.
My Mistress's long hair lay spread out on one of the pillows. She yawned widely, then waved her cup for me to refill. Drinking some more wine, she reached for me, tugging me down from my seated position on the edge of the bed beside her, and she kissed me with her tongue and her lips, her fingers at the sides of my freshly shaven face. This had been the pattern for the last hour. It hadn't been unpleasant, and our kisses were familiar and enjoyable, but neither had we consummated anything yet. I was still fully dressed, apart from shedding my boots and sword. I wondered why she'd Called me at all. Justes was maybe a little inexperienced, but I was sure that his enthusiasm would have been more than enough for her entertainment.
"You wonder why I Called you here, Maen, don't you?"
Uncanny, her perception! Or maybe I was too easy to read.
"Perhaps I just want to talk. Perhaps pretty blond Justes, the Silver boy, had sufficient energy to wear out my sexual appetite. Hush!" She smiled, catching my cynical look. "All right, perhaps that's not the truth. But I do want to talk, and tonight you are the best companion for that. It was a good Choosing, wasn't it?"
I nodded agreement. She had excellent judgment; for the whole ten years that she'd been in office here we'd had a fine Guard and had contributed many good children to the City. She pulled herself tipsily up on to her arm and gazed at me. "And the boy, Maen?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Now, soldier, I am slightly drunk and almost naked in your arms, and I allow you a freedom of speech that no one else has in my presence. But I am not stupid, nor will I ever be! Remember that you are a man and that I am your Mistress, and do not play verbal games with me."
I hastened to calm her, to apologize. I hadn't meant to be coy. I'd been caught unawares by her question and had genuinely wondered what boy she meant. Of course, now I knew.
She sighed; it seemed that her desire was speaking for her tonight. "He is beautiful, Maen. You know that for the truth. You saw it too, don't deny it! He'll be spectacular in uniform and he promises great strength and vitality. Will that please you, for your military standards?"
"He's a Remainder. I don't know what traits he may bring with him that are incompatible with life in the Household."
"They have all been raised in the Central School," she protested. "That's the whole purpose--to offer the Life and the Schooling to all children, regardless of their final status. It is an absence of discrimination. It's what the Devotion demands of us."
"I know." I should tread carefully; she herself had said she wasn't to be regarded as stupid. "But even in the School, I believe that the Remainders keep together and the Household children find and bind to their own. It's more than just the brand. There's some characteristic that they recognize in each other. That's why it's so rare to find a pure Remainder at the Choosing--"
"--and, in return, why the children of Household lineage find it so traumatic if they are never Chosen, if they have to consign themselves to being a Remainder." She nodded in agreement with me, her eyes troubled, and I was privately surprised at the extent of her understanding. "They do not mix so easily, moving between the worlds. A citizen of the City is not quite as generic as we are led to believe."
"I'm sure the boy won't be a problem, Mistress."
"And you will Train him well, won't you, Gold Warrior?" she murmured. Her hand stroked almost aimlessly along my bare arm.
"If he's in my Guard, I will." I smiled. I knew the answer to that one already.
"And you know that he is," she laughed. "You deserve each other. I want to see the sparks that will fly! Something about him made me question whether he'll be eager to assume the honor of Bronzeman or whether he'll be more of a challenge for you. But keep him away from your rapacious Silvers, for he's mine until he's qualified. All for me and my favored Ladies."
She laughed softly and rolled on to her back, the flimsy silk robe slipping away completely now from her fine body. Her breasts were pale and had grown fuller with every child she had borne. They rippled now, like soft, shallow pools of flesh. I could take one in my hands, like a frothing cup of warm ale, and bring my lips to it to taste. She always liked that caress.
I needed no reminder about the sexual exclusivity of Bronzemen; I knew the Rules as well as she. The young men could only couple with the Mistress and the Ladies until they were fully Trained and passed as Silver Captains. At their Bronzeman time, they were at their finest and their most fertile--they were needed purely for breeding and for the intensive training that would make them some of the best men in the City. But when they were Silver, then they'd be available to all. They were stronger then and more emotionally stable; they could enjoy all kinds of additional pleasure, for the Silvers were the mainstay of the military and were to be indulged to a large extent. Didn't I know that well enough? I ran a garrison of them. I understood them. I'd been one myself.
My Mistress's voice broke in on my musings. "Do you wonder about your own sons, Maen? At the Choosings? Did that boy make you wish for that, in some way?"
"No--" I stuttered, afraid to expose my thoughts to this woman, who seemed already to know them. Sometimes our conversations filled me with a nervousness that I barely understood and I had to trust that Mistress Luana would not harm me deliberately. "His bearing was nothing like a son's, even though he's still so young. Believe me, I've never sought anything like that from the Bronzemen; I've never sought that wish at all. I think of my own personal contribution to the City, I admit. But I don't know if I have ever sired any child of yours or anyone else's--"
"No, you don't," she said, sharply now. "And I may never tell you. You're not allowed to have any connection. You have no rights over the fruit of your seed at all. Though maybe in those years to come, when any child of your seed will be ready for the Choosing... maybe then I will tell you."
"You don't have to," I hastened to say. After all, it was set clearly in the Rules. "Such rights have no value for the service of the City."
"No they don't, you're right." Her gaze was dark and unfathomable to me. "Don't repeat my own Devotions back to me, Gold Warrior. You're not the person for that!"
I flushed. I prepared to leave, but she grasped at my arm as I sat up from the bed.
"Hush, Maen, you're not usually so sensitive to my taunts! You cannot go and leave me untouched, can you?" Her expression was a mixture of amusement and some coyness. She pulled herself upright, brushing her hair back over her shoulders and leaving the robe behind her on the bed, a pool of shining fabric at her hips. She knew the power of her naked beauty, the seductive smell of her perfume and her cushioned flesh. She had bathed for me--she always did, between lovers. But I was flattered, for it was a courtesy that some Mistresses saw no need for. I felt the familiar tremor in my body; I felt the smile of anticipation that came to my face, unbidden.
She lifted a hand to my face and stroked my cheek. "You know that we're promised a visit from the Royal Household soon?"
"The Queen herself?" I was startled.
"Maybe not." Mistress Luana let a frown creep across her brow. "Likely she'll only send that daughter of hers, Seleste. I'll need your support should that visit happen, Maen." The eyes that caught mine were unclouded by drink. We both knew the importance of the news. It was a rare honor, to receive the Queen's Household. And yet, sometimes, not such an honor.
And then my Mistress seemed to relax again. "And so, Gold Warrior, where were we? My breasts are hot, and the skin tight and hungry for your special massage...." I started to apologize for my inattention, but, rather to my surprise, she pulled me down on to the bed on top of her quite suddenly and kissed the words away. She gave the small, throaty moan that showed she was aroused. "Enough of the dreams of the young, Maen. I admit that, tomorrow, I'll allow my desires to get completely out of hand, and I'll survive on nothing but honey wine and soft, virginal flesh, for two weeks at least, I think. Will you ensure that the food trays are left at my door at regular intervals?"
I was laughing already, even as she slipped open the cords of my shirt and ran her fingers through the soft hair on my chest. I shrugged the garment off my shoulders and saw her eyes run greedily over the muscles of my torso. "You'll handle your responsibilities as well as you always do, Mistress," I teased. "All I ask is that you leave me sufficient to create a soldier or two, after you've taken your own satisfaction."
She laughed, pleased at the compliment. "But tonight, Maen, it's just us! My favorite Warrior and his most splendid, gorgeous body." I smiled. She had a garrison of those, surely, from Bronze to Gold, and I was nothing more special than the others. Her words were to please me, I was sure--and that gratuitous kindness was only one of the reasons that I thought her the best Mistress in the City. "And we know what we like, Maen, I think, because our bodies have coupled for years. There's a special, more mature satisfaction to that, isn't there?"
"I think so." I laughed, and I had to confess that she made me feel rather immature--it was a skill of hers. Her lips caressed my neck, and she had a habit of tickling at the brand on my inner arm, which distracted me from the attention I should be giving her. I bore a servant's version of her own brand, that of the Exchequer. The mark of coins in an elegant oval; the mark of privilege. "But how am I to know, Mistress? I'm a Gold Warrior now. I'm not expected to have the pure beauty of the Bronzemen, nor do I have the sexual prowess of the Silvers. I can only offer you companionship and protection, and my loyalty and commitment to managing your men of the Household. This time of my life isn't meant to be one full of lust and tumbling in sheets and hour after hour of Ladies' satisfaction--"
I paused. I wondered if I'd been too outspoken. But that was how I understood the role of the Gold Warrior; wasn't that the truth? We were rarely Called to our Mistress or her Ladies. At this time of our careers, our sexuality took a naturally calming path. We had our Guard to nurture and control, we had lives full of bureaucracy and organization and the planning for military games, and there was always the threat of potential conflict. We were the ones that a Mistress might choose as a companion at a games event or at a formal banquet. Our role was to be an agreeable, sensible, reliable support to the Household. We had no need of a raging libido, which could only likely be assuaged by our own Silvers. They had aspirations elsewhere, with Mistresses to petition and fellow Silvers to spar with, in bed and out.
I did wonder at my own libido. I wondered at my feverish response to Grien, earlier this evening. I looked at the naked woman lying under me, and I wondered why I still felt the same fire and regard for her that I had as a Bronzeman. The stab of desire was in my chest and sinking lower still....
The conflict inside me was disturbing.
Mistress Luana also looked disturbed and I was afraid that I'd upset her somehow. "You are not a typical Gold Warrior, Maen." Her voice was soft and had the seductive comfort of her pillow talk. "You're still rich in everything, everything you brought to me as a raw, delicious Bronzeman. Not many still have the hunger at your age, at your position, I agree. But I like that in you."
"What else is there for a Gold Warrior, then?" I asked, softly. "Am I a changeling in your Household? What possible need do you have for me...?"
"You're fishing for kind words, soldier!" she protested, but she was smiling and her eyes were fevered. Her breathing had become shallower, as my chest leaned gently against her breasts, as I brushed the tight nubs of her nipples and nudged them erect. "It's not your place to question. You serve us and we allow whatever we think appropriate."
"For the service of the City..." I murmured into her ear. I licked carefully at the pale, dimpled flesh of the lobe, lapping at the tiny holes, left empty after she'd removed her formal jewelry. She whimpered softly.
"I'm glad you are in my Guard, boy."
"I can be in many more places, Mistress... I can give you everything I have. It's all yours to command...." My hand was between her thighs, gentle but firm. I knew where I was needed tonight.
She gasped as I slid a confident finger between her lips and then inside her. She was damp and very hot. I was glad that I pleased her. My other hand slipped under her small, tight buttocks, stroking at the soft, puckered flesh between them, teasing at the nerve endings that I knew excited her. "Ahh... yes, I can feel what you have to give, Maen!" she laughed, her breath hitching as I stroked at her. "I can feel it very strongly, that great column of hot flesh, pressing against my poor, soft thighs. Please remove those trousers and give it some air! Move closer, between my legs, oh yes...."
We laughed some more as I dropped my trousers on the floor and wriggled on the bed to get us both comfortable. We enjoyed this teasing, bantering intimacy; this was often the way we spent our coupling nights. The robe got tangled on my feet and she gracefully moved sideways to give my larger body some more space. Then she spent some time reminding herself of my body, as if she'd not seen it for months, as if she needed to touch every rib and trace every line of muscle down my legs in case I'd changed.
As if I would, for her. I knew my duty.
And then, when my skin ached for her and I dropped my lips to her breast, to suckle like a true supplicant should, her words shivered into a sometimes incoherent murmur of delight. "Which is better, Maen?" I rubbed the pad of my thumb on her swelling clitoris, drawing out both her bud and her gasping need. "The softness of a woman or the strength of a man?"
"In battle?" I teased. "In the games? In the mines and the fields?"
"May Life spit on you!" she groaned, a rather coarse expletive that I'd rarely heard outside of the barracks. Inevitably, one of my own men would have taught it to her. Her hips arched up from the bed and her thighs shuddered with the tension. "In bed, you know I mean in bed! You'll soothe yourself with your magnificent Silver Captains when I'm amusing myself with the Bronzemen. You'll have to, for there'll be no Calling for Golds when the young men arrive. Not even you, ahhh--" Her sobs were wrenched out of her as my fingers twisted inside her and pressed at that single, sensitive spot that made her hands tighten on my shoulders and her eyes roll up into her head. "Tell me how it feels, to take another man as strong as you!"
I shook my head gently, my lips still wet on her body. "Another time," I said. "There's no one as beautiful as you, Mistress. No one better than you." Even as she dismissed the words as flattery, she loved to hear them. "What do you want, Mistress?" I murmured. "How...?"
"Nothing unusual." She groaned, impatient for me now. She had no shame in admitting her desires and she had few inhibitions. She was a very lively and rewarding lover. "Not tonight. No outrageous gymnastics, nothing worthy of the stories told by your Captains or the strenuous achievements of my early evening Silver boy!" She could feel my laughter reverberating against her body; she'd imagine my wondering just how thoroughly she'd worn Justes out. "Maen, I just want your splendid body against mine and your hard member inside me. I want to feel your skin and hear your soft grunts of pleasure--"
I caught my breath, the fierce impatience rising in me now.
"Enter me, Maen." Her voice was more like a moan. "Now!"
"Mistress." I rolled over her, taking my weight on my strong shoulders. Her legs parted around my hips and I pressed firmly into her. I felt the groan burst out of me--she was always so warm, always so consuming.
Her body rocked gently with my thrusts and she clutched tightly to my arms, pressing herself up against the front of my body. I felt the beginnings of sweat between us, making our movements slicker, and I heard the wet slither of our flesh. "I want something that we will both enjoy," she gasped. "And when I climax, you can kiss away my tears."
"Tears?" I was instantly concerned, but her lips were on my face, and her fingers were tugging at my single gold earring, the badge of my rank.
"Closer, Maen--" We were both too hot to concentrate on words now. I could feel her heart hammering in her chest. Her teeth bared a little, and they nipped at my shoulder as her head pressed against me. We were both close to climax, though the foreplay had been no more intense than other times. Our minds, I thought. It's our minds that dictate the desperation tonight. I felt shaken, a little shocked.
She cried out, her body trembling underneath me even as I kissed her neck and pulled her thighs tighter around me. "Let me hear you, Maen," she whispered. "Didn't I say I needed you tonight?"
I had no control over the cry that was dragged out from my mouth--its source came from deep within my body, from my very groin, hurtling up through my chest and forcing its way past my heart without a care. It was the time that no Mistress could control, either, and I could feel her eyes on me--bright, fierce, hungry--as my climax shuddered through me and into her. It robbed my arms of their strength and my eyes of their sight, and I fell to the bed beside her, spent.