Journey to Carlinbythe_cardinal©
Author's note: I wrote a shorter version of this story around 1997 and posted it online, but it vanished. I'm glad to revisit this story and give it a permanent home at literotica.com. The story is set in a fantasy world that is hopefully consistent and lifelike. If you liked the story, please leave a comment. If you notice anything contrived, contradictory or unbelievably silly, contact me. I'm open to suggestions. Lastly, I would like to thank lillibet for proofreading and editorial assistance (and for still being useful).
A light drizzle came from an overcast sky. The horses' hooves made soggy noises in the muddy road that led through the tiny village. The two riders looked at the motley collection of dilapidated houses. Only one house was made of stone, but weeds grew from the cracks and seems.
"If this is Oak Grove, then what did they do with the oaks?" the first one, a tall man, said quietly.
His companion, a woman with long black hair, silently pointed at a stack of timber lying between two houses. Two men stood chatting near the stub of a tree; their axes standing upright. They lowered their voices when they noticed the two riders.
The tall man nodded in greeting. The men just stared.
"Over there," the woman said.
"That house? Do you recognize it still?" he asked her. He reigned in his horse as she dismounted.
"They put a new roof on it, but it's still the same."
She started to walk to the door and caught herself. Smiling nervously at him, she added: "I guess Fedya wizened up and had someone do it for him. He never could fix roofs, you know."
She slowly walked up to the door and knocked.
A moment later the door opened a few inches. There was no light inside, and all she could see was an eye peering suspiciously at her and her companion.
"What do you want?"
"I am Abigail of Briar's Veil. I am looking for Fedya."
"He ain't here."
Managing a weak smile, she added: "I-I was hoping you could tell me where he is. I'm an old friend and..."
The door was opened another two inches. The eye was accompanied by an unshaven face and brown curly hair. The man sized her up and scowled.
"He doesn't live here anymore," he replied curtly.
The woman stared at him until the man added: "That's all I know. Go away."
His eyes darted from her to the tall man, who was leaning on his saddle. It looked as if he were bored with the whole situation.
"But I just want to know..."
Curly stepped out, his hand on the knife on his belt. Not taking his eyes off the tall man, he started: "Are you hard of hearing, mongrel? Get off my property!"
The tall rider pulled his sword in one fluent motion.
Curly took a step back and swallowed.
The woman held her hand up and the rider waited.
"You got rid of him, didn't you," she said softly.
"No, he got the fever and died. I just took his house, alright? That's not against the law!"
The woman turned and mounted.
"Let's go, Ukko," she said evenly. She mounted her horse, turned and left.
Ukko looked at the man a moment longer, and then sheathed his sword without taking his eyes off of him.
Curly slowly moved his hand away from the knife.
"You have a nice day now, sir," Ukko sneered. Then he turned and set after his companion. He caught up with her outside the village.
"Never better," she replied grimly.
"Do you want to stay..."
Abigail spurred her horse into a gallop.
"Neither do I," he muttered, following suit.
* * *
At the edge of Keren's Forest they found a single stone wall, the last remainder of a small chapel dedicated to Koriel, the Watcher.
A good place to spend the night, Ukko decided.
They dismounted and unsaddled the horses. By unspoken agreement, Abigail tended to the horses while Ukko started to gather dry wood for a fire.
They ate the peppered meat rations and divided the five juicy pears between them.
"Sorry about your friend, Ears," he said.
Abigail unrolled her blanket and sighed.
"I know he got rid of Fedya. Probably burned his body before anyone could verify the story. But what can you do?"
She took a big bite out of a pear. The juice ran down her chin and neck and she hastily tried to catch it with her other hand. Something rustled in the undergrowth. Their eyes met.
"Don't worry about it," she said softly.
Ukko nodded and poked in the fire with a long stick. With a swift move he lobbed a burning branch into the bushes, which instantly caught fire.
At that moment two goblins, jumped out of the tree next to the wall and started wailing a battle cry. Several goblins jumped from the bushes, although screams suggested at least one must still be in there.
Ukko had jumped up and drawn his longsword before the branch had come down. He dropped to one knee and brought his weapon up in a defending arc, slicing up the arm of an goblin.
Abigail was circling two goblins and planted a dagger in another.
"Stupid humans always go here!" one goblin hissed at Ukko. "They think the big god Koriel watches, so they are safe!"
He parried two of Ukko's blows and continued: "Now die while Koriel wa -"
The goblin folded around Ukko's boot and slammed into the wall.
"Hold this," Ukko snarled to a wailing goblin and thrust his sword cleanly through its chest. He grabbed the goblin he'd just kicked and threw him into two others who were trying to slip away with the saddle bags.
Abigail was momentarily startled by the appearance of a screaming goblin whose arm was on fire. Another goblin dropped down from the tree and knocked her short sword out of her hand with a spiked club. She pushed the stinking creature against the tree and slid its throat with the dagger. Dark drops of blood sprayed over her face. The point of a dagger slid across the many metallic rivulets of the armor on her back. She dropped down on the ground and picked up her sword. Three goblins jumped on top her - one impaling himself on her dagger.
"Kill the female!" one behind her cried. She managed to kill another, but the third sat squarely one top of her and had its hands around her neck. They wrestled, rolling over until she hit the wall.
Gasping for air Abigail felt the strength draining from her arms. She stared at the ugly creature with its sour breath and its stinking rags for armor and focussed all her murderous rage. She grabbed the goblin's scrawny neck and started to beat its head against the wall. The goblin let go of her neck and died shortly after its skull was busted open on the uneven stone.
And then it was over.
Abigail leaned against the wall with one trembling, blood-soaked hand, trying to balance herself and steady her ragged breathing.
They stamped out burning bushes and dragged the dead bodies a ways into the forest and covered the goblins in dirt, so that other creatures would not be attracted by the smell of death. Only then they found time to check each other over.
"They cut you," Abigail remarked.
Ukko held out his arm as she took care of a cut that had started to bleed.
"There's some ban..."
Ukko cut her short by giving her the bandages. He gritted his teeth when she started to squeeze out the wound, and was glad she didn't see it. He studied her face as she wrapped the bandages around his arm, her lips pursed in concentration. Caked mud and blood freckles covered her cheeks and nose and her hair was a mess. And she never looked lovelier. He wondered briefly how he could put a smile back on her face.
"Your face is a mess," he told her.
She nodded absentmindedly.
"When isn't it?"
Ukko moved his arm about, making hacking and parrying movements. He nodded to himself, satisfied.
"Come here," he said. He poured water from his waterskin over a piece of cloth and started to clean her face. Abigail stood still, almost stoicly, as he gently wiped the dirt off her face. Her warm breath caressed his hand in little puffs, which was distracting. His mouth suddenly felt dry.
Her eyes never left his face.
"Thank you," she said softly.
Reluctantly, Ukko finished and withdrew.
"You're welcome. Anything else you want me to do?"
Abigail hesitated a moment and smiled crookedly.
Later, when Ukko had fallen asleep, Abigail sat at the fire, hugging her knees and watched him sleep. She wrapped her blanket around her and sighed.
* * *
The next night they camped at the edge of a lake not far from Oak Grove. As usual, Abigail fed and took care of the horses and Ukko prepared the evening meal.
He roasted the two rabbits they'd caught in their snares two days ago and filled their waterskins with fresh water from the lake. Making sure that their fire was not visible from across the lake he wondered why his companion had been so lost in thoughts the past couple of days. She was brooding over something. His gently prodding questions hadn't yielded any results yet. But at least her unwillingness to talk had given him ample opportunity to think.
After a somewhat rocky start they had warmed up to each other. Although he was the only one with whom she could spar, Ukko believed she would have chosen him as a sparring partner anyway, even if she'd had the choice. She never complained, to a fault. She preferred to solve the problem at hand herself rather than ask somebody else in the group for help. He admired the way she never laughed at other people's expense. She was very refreshing after experiencing the ladies of the big city who seemed so full of themselves and talked the entire evening and, if they could, after that.
"So what's eating you, Ears?" Ukko teased.
Abigail was not in the mood.
"Will you stop please calling me that?"
She led her mare down to the waterside where she could drink. Ukko shook his head and dug out his salt pouch from the saddlebags.
"Dinner's ready," he announced after a while.
They ate for the most part in silence. Sitting opposite her and having the advantage of added height Ukko watched Abigail eat. Her eyes focussing on the task at hand she gently tore off small pieces of meat with her mouth. From time to time she licked the dripping off her long, slender fingers. There was an unstudied elegance about her eating, the same unconscious grace applying to most other things she did.
"We should reach the Wren tomorrow. Do you want to cross it right away or wait a day?" Ukko inquired.
The flames gave her face and hands a fiery glow.
"Sure," she replied absentmindedly, concentrating on the meat and spitting a piece of bone into the fire.
"So do you want to wait?" he asked again.
"Well, we've still got four more days before we are expected in Carlin," she pointed out. "We're not in a hurry, are we?"
Her voice faded and she followed a couple of sparks that had leapt up from the blaze. Her eyes caught his.
"Course not," he smiled. "We can take as long as you like."
After dinner Ukko carved a large splinter of wood out of a branch and started picking his teeth with it, one of his favorite after-dinner activities. Abigail took a dirty rag and started cleaning the mechanism of her crossbow.
Ukko let out a modest burp.
An owl hooted nearby. A few crickets launched into a new recital. Cloud and King stood next to the old willow near the water, nuzzling. The lake's surface was smooth, reflecting the lights of Oak Grove on the other side. There were two hills between them and the nearest path and all was quiet.
At times like this, Ukko mused, the adventuring life wasn't so bad. Give or take a few goblins.
His eyes drifted back to Abigail and he smiled. Sweet Madairika, what a sight to behold, he thought.
She hooked her feet behind the wood of the bow, took the bowstring in her hands. Ukko looked at the play of her muscles of her arms as she started to draw the string back. Only the pursing of her lips betrayed the effort.
She caught him staring and frowned.
"You're so quiet," he said. "Ears," he added with a grin.
Abigail quickly nocked an arrow, aimed the bow at him and fired. Ukko heard the arrow hit the ground next to his shoulder.
He swallowed and said quietly: "Alright, I get the hint."
Abigail slowly lowered her bow and chuckled. Ukko glanced beside him to see what she had hit. Behind him lay a snake, its head pierced with her arrow. He released his breath in a long, slow sigh.
"Koriel guard me! I thought that was payback."
"Payback? With a single arrow? Keep dreaming!"
They both laughed.
"Hey, sorry. There was no time to warn you," she apologized.
"Do you think it was poisonous?"
Abigail picked up the snake and examined its head and teeth.
"Don't know this one. But it was about to give you a lovebite. Would've been a nasty wound in any case."
"Thanks, Abby," he said sincerely. "It's good to know you got my back."
She flashed a smile at him, more grateful that he had used her name than anything else. After a short inspection of the sight she put the bow and the cleaning rag away. She got up and walked down to the edge of the water.
In the light of the rising Eyes of Koriel she unfastened the buckles of her chainmail shirt. Ukko couldn't help but stare.
She took the shirt off and put it on a large boulder near the water. Her belt pouch and sheathed dagger were put on top of it. She managed to take her boots off without unceremoniously limping around on one foot. Then she slowly stripped her legs of the padded armor. She was now only dressed in a long shirt that used to be white but which had now reverted to a more neutral grey.
From not more than twenty feet away Ukko was mesmerized. From her long legs, muscled yet graceful, and the curve of her hips to the swell of her breasts and the outlines of her nipples, clearly visible through the shirt. She was breathtaking. He could hardly believe this was the same person who had drunk him under the table two weeks ago in Woolfson Bridge. He dreaded the moment she would step behind the horses and take off the shirt.
But she just turned her back to him and slowly lifted her shirt. In his mind's eye he envisioned them together, his hands at the small of her back while he... Ukko blinked his eyes to get rid of that train of thought. But he wondered why he'd never even considered trying to get her into bed with him.
A small voice inside him answered, because friends are too valuable to take advantage of. And you're not like Dlanor.
Abigail folded her shirt and bend down to put it on top of her armor, giving him a broad view of her butt, hips and the treasure, that lay between them.
If she were putting on a show for him, Ukko thought, it was definitely working. He had a raging hardon which started to become painful.
Abigail started taking off her pieces of jewelry, bending down each time to drop a piece in one of her boots.
Finally she stepped into the water and slowly waded towards the deeper parts of the lake, her hips and ass swaying. She looked over her shoulder.
"You're not going to let swim on my own, are you?" she called.
Ukko raised his hand in response. He gathered some branches and threw them on the fire. He unfastened his leather belt and thought about stalling. For a while he was distracted by loosening the straps of his jerkin and by the time he dropped his pants his erection had withered enough for him not to embarrass himself in case he was just imagining things. The water was cold enough to be refreshing and still warm enough for comfort.
"Did you ever do this when you were younger?" Abigail asked, treading water as he swam towards her.
"Come on, a farmboy like you? You never swam naked at night? Weren't there girls on your farm?"
"They worked me too hard. I was too tired to do anything at night."
He found out he could just touch the stones on the bottom with his toes. He found an elevated rock with a smooth surface and stood on it. They were just grinning stupidly at each other for a moment.
"Are you tired now?"
Ukko shook his head slowly at the loaded question.
She nearly tripped on his toes, lost her balance and regained it when he put his arms around her. Her arms slipped around his neck and her groin slowly rubbed against his, leaving little doubt about what she wanted. The warm, smooth skin of her back felt great under his wandering hands. His member hardened again and nuzzled her left thigh.
Still, there appeared something unsaid, so he stopped momentarily to face her.
"Wait. Why now, Abby?"
He was surprised to see a tear running down her cheek. She started to turn and let go of him, but he grabbed her wrists and made her look up again. When she spoke her voice was strained.
"Look, I don't want to sleep alone tonight. I can't. I'm afraid."
"Afraid? You think we'll see more goblins? Don't worry about them. Drop me in the Abyss, I don't think there's anybody in this entire Duchy who can get the drop on us."
"Ukko, you don't understand. There is a... a part of me that likes the pain and the blood and the killing. Sometimes, when things get close, something takes over and I find myself grabbing a goblin's head and smashing its skull against a wall, over and over and I enjoy it. And everytime it happens it kills a little bit of me inside. And it scares me to death."
Ukko felt uncomfortable with her confession. A man could go insane if he dwelt on all the blood that he'd shed at the point of his sword.
"Abby, what do you want me to say? They wanted to kill us, it was us or them."
"Don't let me sleep alone tonight," she said in a small voice. "I need to feel... alive. Just tonight."
Ukko realized he could as easily fall in love with this woman as he could slip off the rock they were standing on. He wasn't about to confuse the issue by saying so. He knew he wanted to possess this sensual being, to know what she would sound like in the heat of passion and to see the movements of her slender form and sleek feminine muscles, striving towards perfection in a rather different art than unarmed combat.
"Please?" she pleaded.
Ukko nodded, cradled her face and spoke softly.
"Abby, you don't need to beg with me. I am here for you."
She smiled in relief. Her hand moved downwards and tentatively ran her finger up his member.
"And rather prominently," she said slyly, the tension broken.
"Not so fast, woman!" Ukko laughed. He grabbed her buttocks, lifted her out of the water and flipped her over backwards. She surfaced gasping for air. In a low voice she growled: "Oh, now you're going to get it!"
"I'm soo scared!" he cooed.
He started a quick crawl to get some distance between them. She grabbed a foot and yanked him underwater. They both surfaced seconds later, facing each other.
Abigail splashed water in his face and smiled playfully.
Ukko liked to see that she enjoyed herself and was determined to keep her spirits up. She'd never smiled much, at least not as much as he would like. He splashed back and dove underwater. He encountered a smooth leg and pulled on it. They wrestled and tried to push the other down. When they hit the pebble-littered bottom, Abigail pulled him close. Ukko felt her soft lips caress his, reminding him of their plans for the night.
It was some time before they got tired of chasing each other and got out of the water.
They shared a blanket and lay down next to the fire to dry. When by mutual consent the course of events for this night had been decided upon, neither one of them was in a great hurry to consummate their desire. They both wanted to draw out the experience. For a while they were content to hold each other and stare into the flames of the fire.
Abigail smiled at him. He smiled back. It was infectious and she found she couldn't stop grinning. She stuck out her tongue at him and shook her head, spraying his face with drops of water. Ukko tickled her and she laughed hysterically. They kissed, softly. He stroked her face with surprising tenderness, slowly licking her right ear.