Kaska of Artane slowed his stallion to an easy amble. Prince Britar's fortress lay a full day away, and he'd ridden poor Warbringer hard this past month. He knew the Prince awaited the intelligence he'd gathered as a spy in neighboring Trovan, but laming his horse would serve no purpose.
Particularly with war on the horizon.
Besides, the last time Kaska had come this way, he'd had to battle the local brigands. Two fell to his blade before the rest fled, but that left five. And they might be in the mood for revenge. I don't care to ride headlong into an ambush.
"Whoreson bastards!" A woman's roar of fury brought Kaska's head up. He drew Warbringer to a prancing halt.
Swords clashed, interspaced with male taunts and laughter. The laughter had a distinctly ugly note. The woman swore again, an edge of grim desperation in her voice.
The thieves had found a new victim.
Kaska set his heels to Warbringer's flanks and thundered up the road toward the sound. Rounding the bend, he saw five men fighting a lone female traveler they'd managed to unhorse. He recognized the dented, rusted armor and unshaven faces; it was indeed the same band of thieves.
But their victim was no common woman. Her armor and sword marked her as a follower of the Maid of Light--a female warrior. She was tall for a woman, with a lithe, muscular build and pretty breasts barely contained by her intricately embossed breastplate. Long black hair swirled around her face as she spun and hacked at her tormentors with a slim sword designed for a woman's hand.
One of the brigands already lay dead at her feet, but four others remained, odds too great even for one of the legendary Battlemaids.
A grin of sheer, savage joy spread across Kaska's face. With a howl, he drew the blade sheathed across his back and kicked Warbringer into a thundering charge.
The nearest of the brigands whirled too late. Kaska took his head with a single stroke.
Another of the men jumped at him, hacking for his thigh with an axe, but Kaska spun Warbringer aside and thrust his blade into the thief's chest. The man tumbled off the lethal point, gurgling out his life.
Meanwhile, the third brigand fell to the Battlemaid's sword. His head tumbled from his shoulders.
The fourth man looked from Kaska to the thieves' would-be victim, calculated the odds, and took to his heels.
Kaska snatched a dagger from his thigh sheath and hurled it at the coward with an expert flip of his wrist. The man went down, the blade buried to the hilt between his shoulder blades.
Scarcely breathing hard, Kaska turned to the maid. "Are you well?"
"Well enough." She studied him, her dark eyes level. There was a sharp and elegant beauty to her face, with its broad, high cheekbones and square little chin. Her lush mouth could inspire a monk to carnal fantasies.
"My thanks, warrior," she said at last in a low, husky voice, pushing the long black hair out of her face. "There were too many of them for me to best alone." She considered him, appraising the width of his chest and the strength of his sword arm. Female appreciation lit her gaze, mixed with a warrior's caution.
She had reason for that caution, for he meant to challenge her himself. He worshiped the Dark One, and his god relished nothing as much as the moans of a defeated Battlemaid.
Imagining the tight grip of her virgin ass, Kaska felt his cock swell behind his loincloth. Give her time to rest, and then...
Of course, the maid might well kill him instead, but looking at her long legs and full, sweet breasts, Kaska thought it a chance well worth taking.
As he opened his mouth to warn her of his intent, all color left the Battlemaid's face. Her eyes rolled up. Kaska threw himself from Warbringer's back as she collapsed in a heap.
Two long strides carried him to the maid's side. Dropping to one knee on the dusty road, Kaska began an anxious examination. He found no wounds on the front of her body, so he rolled her onto her stomach.
The maid groaned and lifted her head. "Wha--"
"Seems one of your cur attackers landed a blow after all," he told her grimly. "There's a stab wound in your back just under your backplate, over your left hip."
"Aye," she said, letting her head fall. "One of them had a dagger."
"'Tis not deep, but it bleeds still," Kaska said. "I can treat it, if you permit."
"Aye," the maid said, breathing now in shallow pants. "My thanks."
Kaska nodded and rose to retrieve his pack of battlefield medicines from Warbringer. Well, he thought as he walked to his horse, I won't be challenging her any time soon. Not with that wound. Later, perhaps. When he'd examined her, he'd noticed she had a truly delicious ass.
He wanted it.