Rescue Ch. 17byJohnEvans©
"Praise the Gods!"
One spoke the words and the other six mud-splattered women echoed the sentiment. The seven women had traveled from Tectin to the Capitol of the Overlord and it had rained every day of their journey. Only now, at the top of a hill overlooking the glistening city below, did the sun come out to shine down upon them and their destination.
"I don't know about you," Karina said to the others, "but I'm ready for some hot food and a hot bath."
"Not necessarily in that order," said Cendri.
"What are we waiting around here for, then?" asked Octavia as she led the way down the hill followed by Lorilei.
They entered the Capitol through the south gate, which was one of the major thoroughfares of the city. The guards stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed as the seven beautiful women rode past them. Octavia led the others towards the center of the huge city.
"An inn or Melinar's place?" she asked, looking over her shoulder at Karina.
"An inn," replied Karina. "Let's get some rooms and then we'll head over to see Melinar and Nyran."
"Who's Melinar?" Karina heard Lorilei ask Octavia.
"A friend who is helping us, along with some others, to complete Karina's quest," supplied Octavia.
Lorilei's face took on a puzzled expression. She slowed her pony to drop back and ride along side of Karina.
"Karina, I've been meaning to ask you, what is this quest you're on?"
Karina sighed internally. She did not like or trust Lorilei, but she had to admit in the past wet and miserable week, Lorilei had pulled her own weight without complaint.
"My son is a half-ogre," she said a little reluctantly. "In less than a year, he may become a neccar...a subchief in the ogre language. There is a ceremony that is required by an ogre god for him to be elevated to that position. I have the honor of overseeing the ritual and making sure that everyone who needs to attend it, does attend it."
"Vorpak?" asked Lorilei with a touch of fright in her voice.
"No, not Vorpak," assured Karina. "You seemed well versed in ogre gods and their rituals."
"Not really," stated Lorilei. "In my business, you run across a lot of obscure gods and goddesses. Vorpak is the only ogre god I know of and I've only heard rumors of his rituals."
"Oh, torture, murder, drinking blood, eating the still beating heart of your victim...that sort of thing. Not my style at all, dearie."
Karina raised an eyebrow skeptically at Lorilei.
"Oh, come on, dearie," scoffed Lorilei. "I know you think I have evil intentions, but both good and evil come in degrees. One of Ivin's brainless priestesses could drop a silver coin in a beggar's bowl. She'd see it as a good deed. I'd say it's a waste of money. Anyway, dearie, suppose you did not give him a coin. Suppose you took him home, cleaned him up, and gave him a job. Now he's a productive member of society. Isn't that a greater good than the other? Do you see what I mean?"
"I know there are various degrees of good and evil," said Karina. "Evil is still evil and good is still good...whatever. The ritual I have to do is nothing like Vorpak's."
Which god is it and what is the ritual?" asked Lorilei.
"I can call for him if you like and you can ask him," suggested Karina sweetly.
Lorilei scowled and then broke out in a smile.
"No thanks," she said. "I'll forgo the introduction." Lorilei then turned serious. "Is Helga involved in the ritual?"
"No," replied Karina. "I'd like to keep it that way. Look, Lorilei, the god is Ahhspah, the ogre god of fertility. You can probably guess what the ritual entails."
Hmm, yes, I can," mused Lorilei. "I had to ask. Was his father any good?"
"I guess that would depend on your definition of raw sex with one of the strongest races in the world," answered Karina blithely. "Ah, we're here."
They had arrived at the inn where Karina had first met Per's companions. They secured their mounts to the hitching post and went inside.
"What can I do for you ladies?" asked the innkeeper as they walked in.
"Octavia! Karina!" shouted Pawl from the steps. "What are you doing here?"
"What are we...chopped liver?" griped Cendri. She then nudged Gedda. "You noticed who he spoke to first, didn't you?"
"Yeah, the ones with the biggest bazooms," answered Gedda in a stage whisper.
"They were the first through the door," explained Pawl defensively. He then blushed bright red as everyone took it the wrong way and laughed at his expense.
"Lovely Cendri and irresistible Gedda," commented Pawl as he came down the stairs. "It's so nice to see you filthy and pungent ladies again."
"Okay...okay," interrupted Octavia before more barbs could be thrown. "We can take a hint. Innkeeper! We need rooms and baths for seven."
"I'm sorry, mistress," replied the innkeeper. "All I have room for is three. The Soldier's Tavern has room, unless you want to double up."
Octavia looked at the others and asked, "How far away is the other tavern?"
"Not far, down to the corner and to the right," answered the innkeeper.
"Who goes and who stays?" asked Gedda.
"I would like to stay with Helga," said Lorilei. "While we are here, it would be good for her to go to the Thamurgical Library and learn to do some research."
"What's this?" asked Pawl. "Is Helga planning on becoming a magician? I'd be happy to assist if I can."
"Thank you, but I don't..." Lorilei started to say.
"I think it's a great idea," interrupted Ivin. "I understand Pawl has been studying there for some time and should be a great assistance to her."
"I'm sure his time is too valuable and we wouldn't want to impose," said Lorilei.
"No problem at all," replied Pawl with a smile. "I'd be happy to help."
"You're too kind," said Lorilei sarcastically with a smile.
"Glad to help," said Pawl, oblivious to her sarcasm.
"Where's Karlto?" asked Karina, changing the subject.
"He left early this morning to go see Melinar and Vail," answered Pawl. "He'll be back later this afternoon, unless you want to go over to Melinar's."
"Not until after I've bathed and eaten," stated Karina.
"Since Pawl is going to help Helga, why don't you, her, and Lorilei stay here," suggested Octavia. "The rest of us will go to the other tavern."
"Well, if we're going, let's get going," said Gedda. "I need a bath and I need it now!"
There were several chuckles as the group broke apart. Karina, Helga, and Lorilei headed upstairs to their rooms as the four other women left for the other tavern. Karina heaved a sigh of relief and delight as she entered her room and saw the large four-poster bed and the bronze bathtub. While she was waiting for her hot water to be brought up, Karina stripped out of her armor and cleaned her gear. She was almost finished when there was a knock on her door.
"Milady?" said a tentative voice on the other side of the door. "I'm here with the menservants and your water."
Karina already had her robe on and opened the door to admit the maid and the two men. The men were carrying large pails of steaming water that they poured into the tub and then left. The maid tested the temperature and added some cold water from a basin she had brought in.
"Perfect," said Karina, testing the water with her fingertips. "Thank you."
"Milady, a letter came for you," said the maid, pulling an envelope out of her smock. "The messenger is downstairs awaiting your reply. He said it could be verbal given your recent arrival."
"Who would know that I was here?" asked Karina to herself as she opened the envelope.
The envelope and paper was of the highest quality and the penmanship was superb. The letter read:
Lady Karina, I know you have just arrived from a long journey, but it is imperative that I meet with you. I would like to invite you to my villa for lunch. My messenger will return with your reply. If your answer is yes, my carriage will pick you up at the inn at midday. Sincerely, Lady Triarii
"Whew!" gasped Karina, taken aback.
It was both the invitation and the name at the bottom of the letter that had shocked Karina. She had, of course, met Lady Triarii at several functions, but had never traded any correspondence with her. Karina knew of the rumors that Lady Triarii was the Overlord's secret lover, and that she was also his closest confidant and advisor. Karina's mind whirled as she tried to think of why she had been asked to lunch and what she should do.
"Milady, the messenger?" reminded the maid, galvanizing Karina.
"Of course," said Karina. "Please tell him that I am honored to accept Lady Triarii's invitation. Is there someone here who can brush out and press my good traveling dress?"
"Yes, milady. Me mum two doors down can do it while you bathe."
"What's your name?" asked Karina as she pulled out her dark green dress and petticoat from her pack.
"Genese, milady," replied the maid as she began to take up the clothing. "I'll be back as soon as me mum is finished."
Karina looked at Genese as she folded the clothing over one arm. She looked to be around thirteen years old with bright curly red hair and green eyes. She was about average height, but with a very thin build. Karina looked again at Genese and revised her age to be about seventeen or eighteen. She noticed that although Genese's clothing was clean, it was old and had been repaired several times. Genese hurried out of the room and Karina heard her going down the stairs. She then slipped off her robe and stepped into the bathtub.
Karina knew she could only spare a couple of minutes to soak in the hot water. The wet rains had chilled her to the bone. It felt wonderful to lie back in the heated water and feel her muscles relax as they warmed up. Karina sighed in contentment, but then she remembered the invitation and began to wash her hair. She was still in the bath when there was a knock on her door.
"Yes?" called out Karina.
"Milady, it's me, Genese. Me mum has your clothes and my sister will bring them here when she is done."
"Thank you, Genese," replied Karina. "I'm still in the bath. I'll be out shortly."
"If I can come in, I can do your hair while you're still in the tub," suggested Genese.
"Please, come in then," said Karina, remembering back to when Helga used to do her hair that way.
Genese entered the room and shut the door. She set down a half-a-dozen hairpins and a wooden comb on the table before she picked up a towel.
"Hairpins?" asked Karina as Genese began drying Karina's long blond hair.
"You're going to see Lady Triarii and will need to look your best," replied Genese. "I borrowed these from me mum."
Something in Genese's tone told Karina that Genese had not asked her mother for permission. Karina also suspected that the small amount were all the hairpins that Genese's mother owned.
"Genese, in that chest, there is a small wooden inlaid box of hairpins and a hairbrush," said Karina. "I won't need your mother's."
Karina heard Genese sighed a breath of relief before she said, "Yes, milady. Since you have been traveling, I did not know if you had any with you."
Genese sat on a stool behind Karina. She dried, combed, and brushed Karina's hair as Karina relaxed in the hot water. Genese began to pin up Karina's long hair and fluff out parts of it. Karina, who had always worn it in a conventional style, prayed that it would not turn out too badly.
"There you go, milady," said Genese in a satisfied tone as she put in the last hairpin. "Here let me help you up."
Genese placed towels on the floor and, holding Karina's hair off her shoulders, helped her to step out of the tub. With one arm holding Karina's hair, Genese grabbed a towel and dried off her back and shoulders before letting it fall down.
"I can dry the rest of myself off," said Karina. "...unless my hairdo is too fragile."
"Oh, no, milady," said Genese. "It will stay in place. Look..." and Genese pointed to a mirror on the wall.
Karina, without stepping off the towels, slid over so she could see herself in the mirror. She was pleasantly pleased with the results. Genese had curled her bangs, and then had teased and pinned the rest of her hair to form a mane around Karina's face. The rest of Karina's hair fell in soft curls down her back.
"It's wonderful," said Karina, causing Genese to blush bright red. "Would you bring me over my stocking, corset, and underclothes?"
"Yes, milady," answered Genese.
Karina finished drying off and began to dress. She heard Genese gasp softly once when she plunked her huge breasts into the corset. When Karina looked up, she saw Genese laying out her shoes and guessed she was mistaken about the gasp. A timid knock sounded at the door.
"It's me, Tabitha," said a small voice from beyond the door.
Genese turned red and looked mortified. She said, "I'm sorry, milady. She's my younger sister and her manners sometimes slip."
Karina smiled and said, "Well, you'd better let her in then."
Genese crossed over to the door and partially opened it. Karina heard her whispering fast and furious to whoever was on the other side. She then opened the door all the way and admitted an eight-year-old version of herself. Tabitha was carrying Karina's dress and petticoats.
"I brung your clothing, milady," said Tabitha with a curtsey.
"Thank you, Tabitha," said Karina, bending over to be closer to Tabitha's level. "I'm sure your mother did a wonderful job."
Tabitha did not answer, but stared straight ahead. She seemed to be mesmerized by the mountains of flesh packed into Karina's corset.
"Are those...?" she started to say in a hushed tone.
"TABITHA!" yelled a now horrified Genese. "Lay those clothes on the bed and don't wrinkle them. Go home. I'm sure there are other chores mum needs help with."
Tabitha's ears turned red as she carefully placed the items she was carrying on the bed. With her eyes downcast and a mumbled goodbye, Tabitha curtsied and rushed out the door.
"Milady..." Genese said before she was stopped by Karina's upheld hand.
"It's alright, Genese," said Karina chuckling. "You can tell your sister they are real. They're both a blessing and a curse. Tabitha seems to be at that age to start wondering about such things. No doubt she wants breasts, but tell her she wants some just a little smaller than mine."
"Oh, no, milady, with large breasts she would look well fed," stated Genese.
Karina's brow crinkled in puzzlement at that statement and she opened her mouth to ask Genese what she meant. She then looked at Genese closely and closed her mouth. Genese's thinness did not look natural all of a sudden.
"Your mother needs to talk to her about such things," said Karina closing the subject. "Please, hand me my dress."
With Genese's help, Karina quickly dressed. The dress was free of stains and had been ironed smooth. Karina looked in the mirror and liked what she saw. She glanced down at the table and saw the six hairpins lying there that Genese had brought. Her inlaid box was next to them with about twenty or so hairpins still in it. Karina scooped up the six and put them in the box.
"A present for your mother," said Karina, holding out the box to Genese.
"I...I can't accept it," stammered Genese. "It's...it's too valuable gift."
"Nonsense," replied Karina. "It's just a simple wood inlaid box. I insist."
"Uh, she...she wouldn't be able to...to honor it," said Genese with a catch in her voice.
"Why is she lying?" thought Karina, who opened the box and said, "At least take the hairpins and three sauers for the work."
"The hairpins are welcomed, but three gold is too much," said Genese, suddenly apprehensive and fearful. "Please, please make it only two silvers and five coppers."
"Genese, sit down," said Karina firmly. "What is wrong? I've never met someone who wanted less money than what was offered. Tell the truth."
"The coach, milady!" cried Genese, looking around quickly before scurrying over to the window. "It must be here and it is! It's out front. You mustn't keep Lady Triarii waiting!"
"If I am late, it is because we haven't finished here yet," said Karina firmly. "Sit down."
Genese caught the look of steel in Karina's eyes. Her shoulders slumped in defeat and she sat down on the stool with her eyes staring at the floor.
"Me pop...he likes to go out drinking with his friends. Your box wouldn't be...wouldn't stay in the house long," said Genese forlornly.
"He'd sell it," stated Karina and Genese nodded her head. "He'd take the sauers, too."
"Yes, milady," said Genese in a whisper. "With gold, there'd be no hiding it. With silver and coppers, I could hide one silver, give him the other, and then let him find the coppers."
"And being well-fed means you're hiding money from him, doesn't it?" asked Karina, now understanding and with her eyes starting to blaze.
"Milady, please don't do anything," pleaded Genese. "We need his protection."
Karina said nothing. She emptied the hairpins out of the box and gave them to Genese. She then handed over the amount that Genese had requested. Karina picked up her cloak and turned to face Genese.
"Will you be here when I return?" she asked the girl.
"If you wish, milady."
Karina nodded and walked downstairs. A coachman in blue livery was sitting at an empty table and he had been watching the stairs. At Karina's appearance, he stood and walked over towards her.
"Lady Karina?" he asked with a bow. "I was sent by Lady Triarii."
"I hope I am not late," said Karina.
"No, Lady Karina," replied the coachman as he led the way outside. "In fact, you're a little bit early compared to others I've had to pick up. We'll arrive right on time."
The coachman opened the door for Karina and helped her inside. The coach was enclosed and had soft, padded leather seats. A pair of matched black horses drew the coach. The coachman climbed up to his seat on top and set forth down the street at an easy pace.
The coach wound through the city until it entered the district of a well-to-do neighborhood. It pulled into a private drive and went through a wrought iron gate. Karina, looking out her window, saw the fifteen-foot high gate and its attached walls surrounded a palatial villa. The coachman drew up in front of the entrance where another servant was waiting. The servant opened the door for Karina.
"Welcome, Lady Karina," said the servant pleasantly. "I am Dobbs, Lady Triarii's butler. Lady Triarii is waiting for you in the parlor. If you will follow me..."
Karina, now that she was out of the coach, got a close look at the villa. It first appeared that the villa was a set of boxes, one set haphazardly upon another, but on a second look, she could see the asymmetrical grace of the design. Corners jutted out to form terraces and graceful columns supported elaborate balconies.
Dobbs was walking towards a huge pair of marble griffon statues that flanked a domed stairway. The stone steps led upward between parts of the building until it opened into a courtyard. Three terraces surrounded the courtyard. Dobbs walked across the courtyard, skirting the central fountain. He opened a large double door for Karina and then led her down the main hallway. Halfway down the hall, he stopped and knocked on a door.
"Come in," was the reply to his knock.
"Milady, the Lady Karina," announced Dobbs, opening the door and standing aside for Karina.
Lady Triarii closed the book she had been reading and stood up. Compared to the other times Karina had met her, Lady Triarii was dressed simply, but fashionably in a long black skirt with a matching blouse. Even though she was in her early fifties, Lady Triarii was still a great beauty.
"Lady Karina, it is so good for you to come on such short notice," said Lady Triarii as she greeted Karina.
"It was my pleasure, Lady Triarii," replied Karina.
"I believe we have satisfied convention," said Lady Triarii with a smile. "Please call me Triarii."