Rescue Ch. 07byJohnEvans©
Karina, Helga, Octavia, Cendri and Gedda had been riding for three days and Karina was miffed. It seemed that the group had broken into two cliques. She and Helga were in one and the other three in another. It was not that the others were disrespectful, in fact, they were overly polite, but they kept their distance from Karina and Helga.
"No, not between both of us," thought Karina. "There've been times when I've seen them laugh and joke with Helga. Why do they dislike me?"
Karina chafed and sweated under the padded cloth armor Tenan had stuffed her into when they had returned to the castle from the farm. The short sword he had forced her to wear banged against her thigh and Karina flushed with embarrassment as she remembered going with Tenan to see the castle's armorer.
"Milord, I've got nothing that'll fit over those...those..." The armorer's voice trailed off as he waved disgustingly at Karina's breasts.
"Well, there has to be something," remarked Tenan coolly.
Karina had been shocked. It was probably the first time her body had been regarded in disgust or distain. The only thing the armorer could modify in time for her departure was the padded armor. Even so, Karina had serious problems the next morning when she tried it on.
"Tenan, you can't be serious!" she gasped. "It doesn't fit. I'm squeezed into it and I can't breathe!"
"Lift your arms," commanded Tenan, standing beside the armorer. "Lower them; behind your back. Bring them out front. Swing your arms from side to side and twist at the waist. Excellent! A perfect fit. Now, we need greaves, bracers and a sword."
"What do you mean a perfect fit?" growled Karina after she and Tenan left the armory. "My breasts are squeezed so tight in this, I can hardly breathe. A sword! I'll be lucky if I don't stab myself with it!"
Tenan stopped in the courtyard and sighed. "It's the best protection I can give you in the limited time we have. If I could, I'd have a platoon of soldiers going with you. I know it's uncomfortable, all armor is. I'll trade you my plate, which I will wear, for what you have on now."
Karina thought of the massive suit of steel that Tenan habitually wore. She mentally compared it to what she had on and shuddered.
"Is it as bad as I think it is?" she asked him.
"Probably worse," answered Tenan with a straight face, "but after the first dozen or so times it saves your life, you feel naked without it. As for the sword, it's for appearances. People intent on trouble tend to shy away from other people who carry weapons. It's called increased life expectancy. Have Octavia teach you how to use it, if you want to learn."
Karina brought her thoughts back to the present. She looked ahead at Octavia, riding out front, and studied her. Karina, after a few moments, realized that Octavia's relaxed attitude was a sham. Her head turned nonchalantly to the left and right surveying the area. Her left hand controlled the reins to her horse, while her right hand lay close to her weapons. Without appearing to, Octavia was ready for anything that may happen.
Later that evening, Karina approached Octavia as she was unsaddling the horses. The other women were cooking or setting up camp.
"Octavia, I need your help," said Karina, removing the bit and bridle from the horse Octavia had taken the saddle off of.
"My help?" queried Octavia and Karina could still sense the gulf between them in those two words.
"Yes, on two things. First, have I done something to insult or offend you, Gedda and Cendri? If I have, I'd like to know what it is so I can correct it."
Octavia stood still for a moment and then sat down on a log. She indicted for Karina to sit down also.
"Karina, you haven't done anything wrong," said Octavia after Karina was sitting. "I've been with Per, I guess, ever since shortly after his exile. Cendri, Gedda and I have all shared adventures with him. If anything, we're scared of you."
"Scared of me?" repeated Karina incredulously.
Octavia smiled and said, "Each of us cares for Per. You're his mother. We've been walking on eggshells for fear of offending you. Plus, you're not exactly the image we all had of you."
"And what image did you have of me?" asked Karina with a smile. "Don't worry. I won't get offended."
"Someone older and not so pretty,' stated Octavia. "Per's not exactly handsome and Gar is...is..."
"Ugly to the bone?" supplied Karina laughingly.
"Yes," laughed Octavia. "It's hard reconciling the image I had created to the real person."
"Which do you prefer?"
"The real person," answered Octavia. "What is the second thing you need help with?"
"This damned sword my husband wanted me to wear!" cursed Karina. "I've no skill with it, but he thought it would help me avoid confrontations."
"Only with amateurs," said Octavia. "We noticed immediately that you didn't know how to use it."
"How did you know?" asked Karina curiously.
"The way it hangs. It's too low and the way you move when you are wearing it. You're also unused to the armor you're wearing."
"My breasts feel like they're being flattened into pancakes," admitted Karina. "I'm all sweaty and I itch!"
"As for your breasts, that's good. They won't move on you when you swing a weapon. As for uncomfortable, you should try mine," said Octavia, rapping on her molded steel breastplate. "Not only are my tits squeezed in tight, but there's that lovely cold, clammy sensation that only steel can produce on skin in the cold, dank morning. Top it off with the necessary padding underneath and it produces a wonderful smell of iron, sweat and oil."
Karina laughed out loud.
"C'mon," said Octavia, standing up. "Gedda's better with a short sword than I am. She also cheats, so be warned."
"Anything else I should know about her?" asked Karina.
"Yes," said Octavia, looking Karina dead in the eye. "Don't let her anywhere near cooking for us."
"I think I can help out in that department," said Karina.
The fencing lessons broke the ice and everyone became more at ease with each other. Karina had always thought of Gedda as a shy, demure girl, but reclassified that when Gedda took over her sword training.
"Sloppy! Pathetic! My great-great grandmother could do better and she's dead!" were the mildest remarks Karina got from her.
"Gods!" gasped Karina as she slumped to the ground after a long series of exercises and fencing. "I thought you were such a sweet girl."
"It's an act to put the rubes at ease," commented Gedda, who squatted down beside her. "It's easier to stick a knife into them if they are not defending themselves. Do the unexpected, like when you kicked Gar in the knee. He wasn't expecting it and it put him at a disadvantage."
"I would have broken my hand on his jaw," said Karina, still gulping for air.
"Okay, rest period's over," ordered Gedda, standing up. "On your feet!"
Over the next ten days, Karina's proficiency with the shortsword improved. Even Helga learned how to use her knives more efficiently. Octavia threw in some axe drills for Karina. At the end of that time, they were on a hill looking down on the city of Tectin as the sun sank below the horizon.
"This is the place!" announced Octavia excitedly in the fading sunlight. Everyone turned to stare at her. "I thought it was the next town over, but this is the place."
"What place?" asked Karina.
"Where the four priestesses of Aphrodite are," stated Octavia. "Should we see if they're still here?"
"That makes sense," said Karina. "It'll keep us from having to backtrack later."
The five of them rode down the hill and into the city. Octavia led the way through the narrow streets towards the Temple of Aphrodite. They were traversing a long courtyard with building on both sides when Octavia suddenly reined in and held up her hand for them to stop. The courtyard was barely lit by torchlight and no one was around. Karina tried to peer through the dark to see what Octavia had stopped for, but could not spot anything. It was then that a man dressed in black stepped out from his hiding place behind a fountain at the far end.
"Acute perceptions, I see," he said to Octavia.
"If you're here to rob us, we don't have much and what we do have wouldn't be worth the price you'd have to pay for it," said Octavia, drawing her sword.
Karina heard the rasp of ropes behind them and turned to see that a large rope net had been dragged across the street to block their retreat. Octavia did not take her eyes off the man.
"Octavia, there's a net up behind us," said Karina.
"Good bet there's one in front of us," said Octavia out of the side of her mouth. "We might still be able to bluff our way out of here."
"By now, you've seen the net," said the man in front of them. "We are not robbers. It was the good Lady Karina who sent us here on a wild goose chase through one of her servants. After we had searched around here for her son for a while, we realized that he was not here. We then received word that she was coming here. Maybe if we hold on to Lady Karina, her son would come to rescue her."
"Assassins!" hissed Karina and the man bowed to her. "The Overlord had the contract revoked!"
"Yes, he did," replied the man, "but our contracts are paid in full at the time of the commission and are only terminated by order of our Guildmaster or upon the death of the subject named in the contract. Since we don't seem to be able to find your son, maybe it's time we made him come to us."
"Dismount and draw your sword!" Octavia hissed to Karina. "You've no skill for fighting on horseback."
"Get her!" shouted the man.
Karina was shocked when Gedda, who had also dismounted, stabbed into the shadow of a building. Karina could have sworn that no one was there, but the shadow wriggled on the point of Gedda's sword and collapsed to the pavement as another man dressed in black. All of a sudden, there were twelve men coming out of the shadows of the courtyard and all of them had drawn swords.
Octavia kicked out of her saddle and sent her horse bolting off with a slap from the flat of her blade against its rump. Several assassins had to dive aside from the horse's stampede. Karina found herself face to face with one of the ones who had stayed on his feet.
Karina gritted her teeth and swung her sword at him. The man nonchalantly tried to parry her stroke, but was shocked when the force of it tore his sword out of his hands. Karina's training paid off as she recovered and lunged, shoving eight inches or so of her blade into his stomach. The man doubled over as Karina jerked her sword free only to stare at the blood dripping off it.
"Snap out of it!" yelled Octavia as she elbowed Karina aside and blocked a sword stroke aimed at Karina.
Karina now found herself facing two assassins alone. The two men lunged and slashed at Karina, forcing her back away from Octavia. Karina desperately parried and countered the men's moves, but could not stop being forced backwards. When her back hit against the wall of a building, the two men stopped and stepped away from her. Karina's eyes widened in fright as the leader stepped in between the two men.
"Go and help the others," he said. "I'll take care of this one."
The two men turned and ran towards the fight. Karina's face took on a look of determination and she started swinging and slashing at the leader. Barely moving, he countered and parried each stroke she made.
"Nice strength," he commented as if speaking about the weather. "If you had some skill behind it, you might even be dangerous."
Karina swung even more frantically, until the leader, finally tiring of the sport, parried her blade aside and hit her in the jaw with his fist. Karina crashed back against the wall and dropped her sword. Stars flashed in front of her eyes and she shook her head to dispel them. She looked bleary-eyed at the end of the courtyard and could have sworn she saw a horsewoman there. The woman was dressed in chainmail and carried a mace. With a touch of her fingers the rope net shimmered with a silver light and then disintegrated to dust. Karina slumped to the ground, her head swimming and her vision fuzzy, as the horsewoman charged forward striking right and left at the assassins.
What had been a losing battle suddenly changed as the assassins discovered how dangerous the women were. Now their numbers were equal.
Octavia, who had been staving off the attacks of three men, quickly eviscerated the remaining two after the horsewoman had bashed the third one in the head. One assassin ran towards the horsewoman, only to find out that her mount was a warhorse as it reared up and crushed him under its front hooves.
Cendri and Helga had both dispatched an assassin each in the initial rush. The horsewoman spun her horse around and charged through the three men that were fighting Cendri, bowling over two of them, while crushing the third's chest with her mace. Cendri quickly finished off the two on the ground as the horsewoman came about on the assassin holding onto Helga. Cendri turned and went to help Gedda with the two men she had been holding off.
The assassin was holding Helga with his sword across her neck, using her as a shield. He looked about him furiously trying to find a way out. The horsewoman rode up slowly and stopped.
"Release her," she ordered him.
"Go fuck yourself! She's my protection," spat out the man. "She'll...AAIIEEEEEE!!!"
The assassin screamed shrilly as Helga, who had slipped a knife into her hand, managed to get it between his legs. With a quick jerk upward, she castrated the man, who collapsed to the ground clutching his destroyed genitals. The horsewoman smiled down at Helga and nodded her approval. She, Helga, Octavia, Cendri and Gedda all converged on where the leader was standing. He had sheathed his sword and was standing apart from Karina.
"You could have run," commented the horsewoman.
"Not my style," replied the leader. "And you're not one to kill when there is no threat."
The horsewoman sighed, conceding his point. "Go tell your Guildmaster to honor the Overlord's request to nullify the contract. There are other forces at work here. Forces he does not want to be a part of."
"He won't respond to vague threats or dire predictions," stated the leader.
"How about this, if Per is killed by an assassin, every worshiper of Aphrodite will be ordered to make war upon your guild. That would be bad for business."
"That is a threat he may listen to," said the leader smiling. He turned and disappeared into the shadows.
Helga and Octavia rushed over to help Karina up to her feet. Cendri and Gedda went to collect the horses.
"Bring her to the Temple," said the horsewoman before she rode off.
"Who was that?" asked Karina as she got up.
"Someone we needed," said Octavia. "How badly are you hurt?"
"I'm fine, just shook up from when he hit me," said Karina. "Now what?"
"Now we get out of here," said Gedda, walking back with several horses. "And before we get a noisy patrol that wants to ask a lot of questions."
They mounted up and Octavia led them to the Temple of Aphrodite. The streets became more crowded the closer they got to the center of the city. As they approached the temple, Karina saw four beautiful women standing on the stone steps leading up to the entrance. They appeared to be waiting for them. One of the women was the horsewoman.
The other three women appeared to be around twenty to twenty-five. Each of them wore a spotless white dress with gold bracelets and necklaces. The horsewoman was closer to Karina's age with long braided blond hair and blue eyes. She had put on a crisp white robe over her chainmail.
"Hail, Karina, mother of Per," intoned the horsewoman. "I am Ivin, High Priestess of Aphrodite. Your arrival has been foretold to us."
"Um...thank you," stammered Karina, unsure of what to say by so formal a greeting.
Ivin remained straight-faced for only a second more and then broke out in a smile.
"I guess that is enough pomp and ceremony," she said lightly. "If I don't do it every now and then, the people will stop taking me seriously. Come inside. We have food and rooms ready for you."
"Thank you again. We...ouch!" cried out Karina. A stabbing pain shot through her arm as she swung out of her saddle.
"Are you alright?" asked Ivin. "You didn't appear hurt after the fight."
"Just sore muscles caused by a sadistic instructor," stated Karina, glaring quickly up at Gedda, who assumed an innocent look.
"Calla and Donna will put up your horses," said Ivin. "Andie and I will show you to your rooms."
"Go ahead," Octavia told Karina. "The sadistic instructor and I will help with the horses. Helga and Cendri can take up the saddlebags."
"I can carry my own bags, thank you very much," retorted Karina and then winched as a pain shot up her arm as she reached for them.
"Pardon me," said Ivin, who unlaced and slung Karina's saddlebags over her shoulder.
"Your robe!" exclaimed Helga, knowing the saddlebags to be muddy and smelling of horse sweat.
"Our purpose is to teach others about pleasure and love," said Ivin. "Don't confuse what happened earlier with what our purpose is. We had forgotten it once. Carrying this would have caused Karina pain. Something I can alleviate for the price of a little laundry scrubbing, dear."
"I'm sorry," apologized Karina. "This is Helga, Octavia, Cendri and Gedda."
"It is my pleasure to meet you all, although, I have met Octavia before. I trust you have forgiven me."
"I understand your Goddess has," said Octavia. "Could I not, especially after what you did for us tonight?"
"Forgiven for what?" Helga asked Ivin.
"Follow me," said Ivin, leading the way up the steps and inside the temple. The women who were not taking care of the horses followed her towards the residential. "There was a time when the four of us perverted our teachings. We thought only of our pleasure and our lust, not caring about our congregation. We captured slaves for our own amusements. One of the slaves was Per. With the help of his friends, he escaped. Our Goddess had told us to protect and help him. We disobeyed her and, with Per's help, taught us the error of our ways. We have been true to her ever since."
Ivin stopped in front of a door and said, "This is Karina's room. Your rooms are further down the hall. Andie will show you the way."
As the others left, Ivin opened the door and let Karina enter into an exquisite bedroom. A large bed dominated the far wall and the cherry-wood furniture gleamed as if freshly waxed. The windows looked out over a park and the vaulted ceiling had been painted to resemble the sky with clouds floating by.
"It's lovely," said Karina, with her breath taken away.
"There is a hot bath waiting for you next door," said Ivin. "Let me have your dirty clothes and I'll take them down to our laundress. I'll bring up your food when I come back."
"Please, don't go to any trouble for me," said Karina. "I can eat when everyone else does."
"They are being served in their rooms also," said Ivin with a smile. "It's no trouble."
"Will you join me then?"
"If you wish, I'd be honored. You can change in there." Ivin nodded towards the door to the bath.
Karina changed and handed out her clothing to Ivin. She then climbed into the bath. The water was hot, but not unbearable. Karina could feel her muscles unknot and relax. She realized that she had forgotten to ask Ivin when she would return with the food. Karina washed and got out of the tub. After combing out her wet hair, she wrapped it up in a towel. A cloth robe was hanging on a hook attached to the back of the door. She put it on and tied it at the waist with the sash. As she entered the bedroom Ivin opened the hallway door. She had changed out of her chainmail and was wearing one of the temple's white robes. A young man was standing behind her carrying a tray.