tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Solitary Arrow Ch. 18

The Solitary Arrow Ch. 18

bymack_the_knife©

"Harlen, dammit, you've been propping up my bar for two weeks now." Tammer groused, drawing a greasy rag over the oaken top of his bar. "It's not doing you any favors."

The huntsman's head came up from regarding his Coghlandish rum and looked at his former mentor, and current friend with a bleary eye. "How long did you mourn Loskenaur's departure, Tammer?" Harlen snapped.

Tammer thought a moment, then sighed. "A few months." He said. "And sometimes, I still do." His face fell and he shuffled down the bar to another patron who seemed to have run out of ale.

It had, indeed, been two weeks since Harlen had returned, without Hyandai, from Windir. He moved like an automaton, like a piece of Tammer's ridiculous water clock, which dripped and splashed behind Harlen's back.

In those two weeks, he had not hunted, nor had he processed any of the pelts or skins that he was already working upon. He simply existed, for all intents and purposes. He would sleep late, then rise and do some minor chores to maintain the house and its small grounds, then he would make his daily pilgrimage to Tammer's bar, and there ensconce himself upon the leftmost of the bar stools and begin to get seriously drunk.

The routine alarmed Harlen's friends, which he had more than he thought. His willingness in the past to help those in need of help, and to drop his own projects to help others complete theirs had won him many people who saw him as a worthy neighbor and gentleman.

They all worried for him. He did not shave, he did not bathe daily, and he seemed to be cold and distant now, rather than friendly and approachable.

Trevir and Tammer noticed it the most, naturally, both being close to Harlen. Trevir even tried a few times to do what he could to help Harlen, though it only earned him rebuke and scolding from his mentor.

The lad had finally confided in Tammer that Harlen cried at night, and was seen looking out his bedroom window. Tammer simply nodded and told the lad to still his tongue over gossip like that, but he worried for the both of them.

One of the outcompanies had now returned, the one of which Wendy was a part. She came to the house, freshly changed from her uniform and back into one of the modest dresses favored by the women of Morrovale.

She walked the flagstones from the road to Harlen's door nervously. At her knock, Harlen answered the door.

Wendy managed to not gasp as he looked at her. His skin was pale and rather sickly-looking and his hair was tangled, uncombed yet this day, and his eyes were bloodshot.

"Wendy." Harlen said, a bit surprised, but not terribly demonstrative in his reaction.

The young woman smiled bravely. "Harlen, how fare you?" She said, immediately regretting the question as she suddenly realized what his condition must mean.

He turned and invited her in with a gesture, and she followed. The house was clean, probably, she thought; do to Trevir's diligence.

"Hyandai is no longer here, and may be a while in returning." Harlen said, looking at her and offering her a seat while he scooted the rocking chair over beside the long bench.

Taking a seat, Wendy looked at him. "I am so sorry." She said. "You miss her terribly already, I see."

Harlen chuckled. "It is like missing the air." He said. "It is not something I thought of when she and I began our relationship – How bad it would feel if it might end."

Wendy touched his hand. "It's not ended, is it?" She asked.

"No." Harlen said. "But there is a war in the elven lands, and she may well not come back, falling to the blades of traitors." His face twisted with an expression of hatred and rage.

A long moment passed, with Wendy covering her mouth and her eyes wide in horror. "Poor Hyandai, and poor you, too, Harlen." She said, again patting his hand gently.

A long moment passed, with her watching his eyes. "Should I leave?" Wendy asked.

Harlen chuckled bitterly. "It is your choice, Wendy. Believe it or no, Hyandai bade me to seek your company."

She blinked a moment. "Okay." She finally said.

"I don't expect anything of you." Harlen said, rising form his seat, making the rocking chair creak with his shifting off of it. "You may stay here, if you wish it, with or without being a companion to me."

She smiled gently. "Harlen." She said, standing herself and putting a small hand upon his neck. "I am involved with both Hyandai and you. I do not seek out either of you alone, as Hyandai said is a rule. But if you seek me, with her blessing, then it should be allowable."

Harlen nodded. "I leave it to you." He said. She could see a rather hollow look to his eyes, like someone was in there, but they wished to remain hidden.

She giggled. "Leave it to me? What do you wish?" She asked. "Harlen, I am still a whole person, and seek to only be with people who wish my company."

Harlen looked at her, his eyes gaining a little of the light of realization. "I wish you to stay." He said.

Her rather hurt expression changed quickly to a broad smile. "Then I will stay with you." She said.

He felt her hand on his neck shift to his cheek where its mate took up position opposite on his other cheek. She pulled him down and kissed him.

After a moment, he allowed himself to enjoy the kiss, then put his arms around her slender shoulders and held her tightly to him.

Wendy's tongue wormed into his mouth and petted his own, encouraging him to further deepen the kiss.

He did so, and their kiss quickly became more passionate. Harlen's defenses were down somewhat, through shock and surprise; first by Wendy's appearance, then by her acceptance of him alone. He felt her welcoming embrace of his body and the heat of her kiss, and it was good to feel wanted.

The young woman pulled away. "Before any further greetings, Harlen." She said, her blue eyes playfully sparkling. "You need a bath."

Harlen nodded. "I imagine I do." He said. "I will take one now."

He turned from her with a smile and made his way toward the bathing room. He opened the door and turned to tell her to make herself comfortable. She was right behind him, smiling.

A moment passed with him blinking at her.

"You don't mind company now, do you?" She asked.

Harlen gave her a lopsided grin. "Not at all." He said. Inside he felt a twinge of guilt toward what was happening and likely to happen soon after. Should he do these things? He had Hyandai's blessing, but was it given for the wrong reasons?

They entered the room and Harlen bolted the two doors, one leading out into the courtyard and the other back into the common room. He then took out a flint and steel and started the fire beneath the massive tub.

Wendy walked up to him, her hips swaying seductively. She was amazingly different when alone with someone she was comfortable with, not at all mousy.

Her hands lifted his tunic and she pulled it over his head, smiling at his broad chest and powerful arms. "You know, grandfather would be vexed if he knew of us." She said.

Harlen nodded. "Yet he will need to be told something, else word come to him another way and make him even angrier." Harlen said, seriously, and kicking off his high boots.

She unfastened his pants and slid them down his legs and took them off his feet as he lifted them. She looked over his body, touching him here and there with her fingertips, sending little thrills through him as she did so.

Wendy then regarded him curiously as he stood there, then he started slightly. He reached out and began to unbutton the blouse of her long dress. She watched his hands as he did so, smiling softly. The dress fell to the floor as he pushed the shoulders back and it slid down her body.

Her form was lithe, almost elven, he thought, as she stood before him nude. She had shaved her pubic hair off at some point, apparently very recently, judging by the smoothness of the skin. He thought a moment, and realized her hair had none of the blueishness it had before, it was now plain light brown hair, still pretty, but not nearly as, well, colorful.

She seemed to be waiting for something, and Harlen was not sure what it might be. "Is something wrong?" He asked.

She shook her head. "I was waiting to see what I was to do next." She said. "The water is surely not warm yet."

Harlen nodded at that. "Indeed, it's not." He said, reaching over the side and testing it with his fingertips. "Another ten minutes." He added, looking back at her fair skin and gently pointing breasts.

"Whether I'm clean or not, you certainly are." Harlen said, noting the recently washed look of her smooth skin.

She nodded as he walked toward her and put his hands upon her slender waist. Harlen pushed her gently to the smooth wall of the room, and she leaned back against the sanded and varnished wooden panels.

"What do you have in mind huntsman?" She asked playfully, looking up at him like an innocent waif.

He started to kiss his way down her, beginning at her tensed neck, then down her chest. He suckled one breast then the other, eliciting soft sighs as his tongue and lips moved over the dark, pointed tips.

Her fingers were playing in his hair as he kissed on downward, over her stomach and then onto her thigh, kissing, especially, the place where her thigh and body joined. Then he followed that slight valley to her middle, moving down over her shaved mound.

She helpfully moved her legs apart as he knelt before her and ran his hands around to palm the round lobes of her rump. Wendy gasped as he slid his tongue over her opening, and then into her some short ways, then out again and over her hooded clitoris.

The fingers in his hair twisted and entwined and pulled gently, forcing his face with more pressure against her groin.

As he began lapping more earnestly, he moved one shoulder up under her and nudged her thigh backward, then the other, she was almost sitting on him, her weight mostly resting on his broad shoulders.

Once she was used to this position, he began to stand. Her back, now slick with perspiration from the rapidly warming room, slid up the varnished wall smoothly as he lifted her up and up until he stood straight with her slouched against the wall before him. He continued to massage her opening with his tongue, and would pause to suck and flick his tongue across her clit for a few moments.

She began to wriggle in his grip, his hands now supporting her more practically at her waist. Soon, though, she found the angle she liked and simply began to move her pelvis around gently in a motion that amplified the sensations firing up her spine from his gentle lapping.

She giggled as she came, then smiled down at Harlen as he watched her. Her hands ran over his skull and her fingers through his long, dark hair.

"Wow." She said, as she grinned broadly. "That was something else." Wendy peered over her shoulder at the distant floor. "Eep!" She exclaimed. He felt her fingers tighten into his hair before he could begin lowering her to her feet.

After he had deposited her back on solid ground, she smiled up at him as he stood. "Sorry, I didn't realize I was up that high." She said. "I hope I didn't hurt you."

Harlen grinned and took her small hand into his. "No." He said. He began walking up the three stairs to the tub. "The water should be warm by now."

She followed him, with her arm extended to his hand. "Oh." She cooed. "I've heard about your tub. Grandpa told me about how you talked him out of the old storage keg that got the leaky board." She dipped her hand into the slightly steaming water.

Harlen climbed into the tub, using the little ladder sitting at one side, then helped Wendy climb over, lifting her the last part of the way to the sweet sound of her giggles.

She took up the large soap block and started lathering his hair and back as he stood facing away from her. "I wish Hyandai were here." She said, her voice wistful. "I truly wish to be with both of you."

Harlen nodded, she did not see the subtle shift in his expression, a sadness that came into it, just at the edges. He liked the feeling of Wendy's strong hands on his back as she massaged and washed his shoulders and spine, but he wished the hands were smaller still, and not quite so strong.

"Harlen, if you wish me to simply stay here, and nothing else happen, I can do so." She said, her voice small and quiet. "I do not wish to hurt you or Hyandai."

He looked over his shoulder at her. Her face was earnest, and somewhat sad, as was his own. Had Hyandai affected her so much in one night? He supposed it could be so, especially with the warmth in the young woman's mind of two lovers at one time. She probably felt very desired that two people wished to caress her, and invite her into their private moments.

"I don't know." Harlen said, his voice very low and quiet. "Perhaps we should wait for her to return."

Wendy nodded. "Then we will do so." She said, her face brightening greatly. "I wish for no strife between you two, or with me and Hyandai, or with you and I." She sighed. "I see now why it is not the normal way of things to have two lovers. It can grow quite complicated."

He turned in the water and regarded her, a wide smile spreading on his face. "That's easy for you to say, you already had a release this night." He chuckled and splashed water at her.

Wendy giggled at the attack of water and splashed him back, pushing herself to the far side of the tub and shrieking in delight as he pushed her under the water with one hand on top of her head.

They managed to finish bathing one another without any more aquatic assaults. They flirted openly, and even teased, but drew the line at actually doing anything more than superficially sexual.

Harlen watched the nubile woman dry off, smiling at him. "The wait shall make the receiving more welcome." She said as she scrubbed the towel on her head, drying her hair.

Harlen nodded, drying himself off and giving her a small kiss as he passed her to start closing the shutters that would starve the fire under the tub and snuff it out.

Wendy wrapped the large towel about herself and gathered up her clothes, and then his. "What sort of sleeping arrangements shall we follow?" She asked, her arms laden with their garments.

"I suppose we can sleep together." He said. "If you can manage to keep your hands off of all this." He said, theatrically posing like a classical Syrisian hero from some mistrel's reenactment play. "What will you tell your family?" Harlen asked. By family, she knew he meant Tammer.

She thought a moment. "I can simply say I am comforting a miserable friend." She said. "Grandpa said you've been drinking yourself blind almost every night since you returned from Windir." Her eyes held a small measure of irritation with his embarrassing performance.

Harlen had a sudden flash of insight regarding a major hazard of having two lovers, the ire of two annoyed women. He wrapped his towel about his waist and unlocked the back door to the bathing room and then led her up the stairs to the bedroom. She smiled at the huge four-posted bed.

"That's quite a bower." She commented, sitting on the edge. "Roomy enough for three, hmm?" Her grin was contagious, and he found himself unable to not smile at her pleasure. "Harlen, I assure you, being of good cheer is not easy for me, normally, even. And much less so with our lover's absence."

He realized how hard it probably was, and also why she was putting forth that effort, simply to make him less miserable. He looked in the mirror and saw that misery etched deeply in his face, making him look older than his twenty-three years.

"I'll try to not be so long of face." Harlen said, sitting beside her. "You merit a good portion of happiness by your company." He adopted his lopsided smile. "In days before, I would have been overjoyed to have such a beauty in my bedroom."

Her smile broadened. "Yet, Hyandai is more so?" She said. At the subtle shift in Harlen's expression, she added. "I know that is not what you meant." She slid closer to him and leaned her head on his shoulder. "Thank you for the compliment." She said, batting her eyelashes up at him. "I do like being told I'm pretty by a handsome man."

Harlen chuckled and kissed her forehead. "When I locate one, I'll tell him." He said.

Wendy got a look of mock shock on her face and punched him in the arm, but softly. "You stop that." She chided. "If you can compliment me and I accept it, you can do the same, barbarian."

They crawled up onto the bed and tossed their towels onto the chair. Wendy curled up against Harlen's side, resting her head on his shoulder. He petted her hair as she sighed at his chest, washing over him with her warm breath.

"She is coming back, isn't she?" Wendy asked; her soft voice tinged with worry.

Harlen continued stroking her long brown hair. "Yes." He said, closing his mind to any other option. "She's coming back." He hoped his voice had more confidence in it than his head did.

After a few minutes, she dozed off, in that way women seem able to do. He regarded her slumbering face. She really was very pretty, and looked so innocent while sleeping. He kept right on stroking her soft hair, though, afraid if he stopped she would awaken. What would he do if Hyandai did not return? Would he go after her? Would he move on to another woman, perhaps even Wendy? Would he simply wander off into the woods and disappear? He did not know. He hoped fervently he would not have to find out.

He kept himself company with these dark thoughts for a long while into the deepening night, before sleep crept up on him and carried him off, as well, even as he resented its lack of arrival.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Leave me!" Hyandai screamed at Ceriandel. "I will not see the healers. There are people in greater need of their time." She stood up unsteadily from her bed. "I will be well, it is simply the load being thrust upon my shoulders."

Ceriandel backed out of the room, a look of deep worry lining his face. "But . . .."

She turned again, her eyes blazing bronze. He backed on out and turned onto the catwalk, walking around the high bower of Hyandai's room.

Hyandai was not eating, and what she ate would not stay down. She was weakening fast, and given to fits of anger now. How much of it was due to the inner workings of her mind? She was being forced to ram her mind through channels foreign to her, channels laid down several years ago when she had touched the mind of Abian Centurian.

His name had been Verus, and he had been a good man, gratefully, else she might have been driven insane by trying to call up his mind out of her own. The effect it was having upon her, even now, was terrible.

She came out of the room, moving with a definite air of purpose. "Send for my aides." she told the handmaiden who waited outside her door as she passed, walking across the long catwalk between her room and the higher room that was her 'command post.'

She stood over the faintly glowing model of Embalis. It was an exquisite replica of the town, down to the tiniest feature. She leaned close, eying herself in the little room in the model.

That always made her smile.

The smile was short-lived, as most were these days. As the first aide came stumbling in, still pulling her tunic into place, it evaporated.

"The Warleader summons me?" She said, standing at something of attention and bowing her head. They had originally genuflected fully to her, but she had put a quick stop to the time-wasting formality for the nonce.

"Yes, Ealina." Hyandai said. "First thing in the morning, you will gather a work team of twenty and begin pulling down those homes there on the ground." She pointed to the map, where a row of small ground-bound homes was located. "Relocate the people to the guard barracks emptied by the traitors who have left us."

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