tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Solitary Arrow Ch. 21

The Solitary Arrow Ch. 21

bymack_the_knife©

Harlen awoke with a start, realizing that he was alone in the bed. He sat up, casting his eyes about searching the darkened room for Hyandai. When his eyes fell upon his beloved, standing in a long, flowing gown of rich blue silk, they stopped and widened.

Hyandai radiated beauty and affection toward him. She was just standing from a small desk in the corner of her room. A miniature calyondo shone light down upon the desk from a wooden stand. She had been writing.

"Harlen, all is well," Hyandai murmured to him in a soothing tone. She crossed the floor, seeming to float without moving her feet in the long gown. "Why the panic, beloved?" asked Hyandai.

He turned and let his feet touch the floor. "I don't know," replied Harlen. "It just seemed something was wrong, and I wanted to be sure you were safe."

Her lips parted in a wide smile. "Of course I am safe," she said, soothing him. "You and your fellow men of Morrovale have made us all safe for now." Hyandai held out a leather cup to him. "Drink some of this. It will calm you. I understand humans take a while to soothe their nerves after a battle."

"And elves don't?" asked Harlen, then took a long sip from the cup. He felt something cool, but with the slight burn of alcohol sliding down his throat, leaving a fruity aftertaste.

Hyandai grinned. "Of course we do," she replied. "But I have an excellent lover who soothed my nerves quite well, and with admirable enthusiasm, I might add." She sat upon the bed and touched his chest. "Your heart still races," she observed.

He smiled. "That's not battle-worry," replied Harlen. "That's you." He stroked her silken hair, unbound on her cheek. The strands of his own hairs mingled with hers there causing an interesting mixture of texture and color, where she had magically transferred their locks to one another.

She nuzzled toward that contact. "It is me?" asked Hyandai. "I cause such distress in your heart?"

"You cause such excitement," replied Harlen. "If distress I would gladly endure daily, forever."

Hyandai's face grew very solemn. "Then we must care for your health carefully, else we might cause your early demise," she said, feeling his brow with a slender hand, as if checking for fever.

Harlen chuckled and grabbed her about her tiny waist and lifted her to his lap, where she curled tidily against him, kissing his neck and chin, cooing.

There was a light rap upon her chamber's door, then it opened, and Wendy peered in. "So, you two are awake," she observed. She was holding some cloth folded in her arms, stepping through the doorway. "I bear gifts from the folk of Embalis for Harlen, the hero!" declared Wendy, unfurling one piece of the cloth with a flourish.

It was a silken tunic, of a deep green hue, with silver trim about the hem, throat, and cuffs. "What's this?" asked Harlen, still sitting with his pleasant burden upon his lap.

The elven maiden reached out and took it gently, then looked at it. "It is something to wear for the festivities tonight," she said. "And you will be marked as a 'taken' man, I see." She smiled at Wendy. "And where is your gown, soldier of Morrovale?" she asked.

The petite human handed Hyandai the matching pants that went with Harlen's new tunic. She then unfurled a third cloth bundle; a long blue gown, identical to Hyandai's, of shimmering evening blue silk, with the slimmest of silver trim about the collar, hem, and cuffs.

"You are marked?" asked Hyandai.

Wendy gave an embarrassed smile. "In a manner, yes," she said, eyeing the couple. "Until you two tire of my company, I doubt I will be seeking a lover."

Hyandai's eyes grew soft and she uncurled from Harlen's lap, embracing the young woman. She kissed her, gentle at first, then with more passion. "Do not deny yourself for our benefit," she murmured into the girl's thick, dark hair. "We would never ask it of you."

Wendy took on a look of thoughtfulness. "And give up two lovers for one?" she scoffed. "I think not. No, you will have to send me away." She adopted the air of a petulant child, crossing her arms and sticking out her lower lip.

Hyandai giggled at this display, and kissed the distended lip. "You are not going to be sent away, and I think we will all have to speak long on this matter," she announced. "But, tonight, we will feast and revel in our victory. Tomorrow, we will mourn the passing of the fallen, and give honor to their spirits."

"Do I have no say in this?" asked Harlen, eyeing the two lovely women dubiously. "Or am I simply outvoted?"

Hyandai adopted a conspiratorial tone and tilted her head toward Wendy. "He has just heard of being claimed by two of the prettiest women in Morrovale. Yet, he wishes to discuss terms?"

His dubious expression cracked within seconds. "Not so much terms, as privileges," said Harlen. "I would know whence I stand."

"You, Harlen, are betrothed," explained Wendy, "to the Lady Hyandai." She gave a playful and graceful wave toward Hyandai, who bowed with a flourish.

"However," Hyandai interrupted, "WE have a girlfriend." She pointed to Wendy, who also lowered her trunk in a playful bow and flashed a broad smile.

Harlen smiled, but retained a somewhat confused expression. "And if something happens?" he asked. "Such as, perhaps, a child?"

Wendy blinked a moment, but Hyandai stepped in helpfully. "Such a blessing would be most welcome," she said, "would it not?"

Harlen and Wendy both rather gaped a moment, then Wendy spoke first. "I love both of you. As you suspected, Hyandai, I longed for Harlen long ago," she said, "and would now, were he available to me." Her brow wrinkled with thought. "I also love you, now, Hyandai," she added, "and would not wish to lose either of you. Of course, I wish to bear children one day, and would not mind that day being soon." She smiled sheepishly at Harlen. "One willing."

Hyandai smiled. "This is foreign to you two, is it not?" she asked. "Perhaps I ask too much, oddity, in our relations." She sat in the chair again. "Or too soon, at the least," she concluded.

There was a long pause while the three took counsel with their individual thoughts. Then Wendy spoke. "What is the elven way of it?" she asked.

"When an elven couple has one that is melethan, or dual-natured, as I am," said Hyandai. "They often take in a third partner of a compatible nature as a ledet'saerunim. A 'third lover.'" She looked at Wendy, then at Harlen. "The ledet'saerunim is a full member of the partnership, at that point, and there is a ceremony among the three." She smiled wanly. "It is a binding thing, like a marriage, well, I guess it IS marriage."

Harlen had risen while she spoke, listening with alert ears, while also donning his new finery. "Do they work out?" he asked.

Hyandai smiled. "Of course," she said. "They simply take a bit more effort, as there are three egos at play." She looked at the two. "My question is this: Would your people in Morrovale accept such a union?"

"The church, no," said Harlen, "the people, yes, conditionally."

Wendy nodded agreement. "There are some nonstandard 'arrangements' in Morrovale already, and they are accepted," she said. "The people, I suppose, were exposed to such three-way relationships in the past." Wendy chuckled. "Probably by elves, come to think of it." Again, she looked at Hyandai. "The third is euphemistically called a handmaiden."

Harlen chuckled. "You mean that those aren't really handmaidens?" he asked.

Eyes wide, Wendy regarded him. "You are joking?" she asked.

"Yes," replied Harlen, "I am. I simply wonder if you are able to live with such a title?"

"If being a 'handmaiden' is what it takes to retain my two newfound lovers," said Wendy, "then a 'handmaiden' I shall be. At least then the rumors of my being a lesbian will be laid to rest." Her face grew somewhat sour. "Or so some men have been saying since I returned from Ghant and did not immediately accept their advances."

Hyandai giggled. "By confirming you are melethan?" she asked.

Wendy placed a series of gentle kisses upon the elf's neck, at the same time, she ran one slim hand down Hyandai's belly toward the joining of her long legs. "Somehow that will only make men more interested in me, rather than scare them off," she said, laying her head upon Hyandai's shoulder.

Harlen's eyes widened at her forwardness. "I can see why," he said in a soft voice, his organ stirring in his pants.

Wendy and Hyandai both looked at him with half-lidded eyes. The two looked more like sisters than Hyandai and Loskenhaur did, in reality.

"So, Harlen, would you accept me as 'handmaiden' and ledet'saerunim?" asked Wendy.

A moment passed while he thought. "I would be foolish not to," he concluded. "As Hyandai pointed out, you two ARE the most beautiful women Morrovale has to offer, and impressive, even without that beauty."

Hyandai reached out, took his hand, and pulled him toward them and they embraced each with one arm about the other two. "Then we will do so," she said. "It is good to have a plan."

Wendy pulled back. "I need to dress for the festivities," she said with sudden worry. "They will begin soon, and we've spent the time babbling." Her chain mail hauberk was shed almost in an instant as she began disrobing in a flurry of activity. It was amazing how much clothing someone going to war tended to wear, Harlen noted, watching her shed layer after layer of armor, padding, vambraces, grieves, and clothes.

At last, though, she was nude, and Hyandai gasped at her shaven privates. "When did you start that?" she asked, smiling.

"The day after you and Harlen and I met," said Wendy, looking down at where Hyandai's focus was.

Hyandai nodded. "Interesting," she observed.

Wendy slithered into the form-fitting silk gown and ran her hands over it, settling the garment into place over her slender body. She wriggled in a sultry manner.

"Wow," she said, "this thing really shows a girl off." She peered down over her slender body and at how it hugged every curve and sank into any low areas. Her prominent lower abdomen was displayed very sensually.

Hyandai clucked at her. "Well, you are slightly more, well, formed, than an elven lady of your years," she said, trying in vain to put a sound of jealousy in her voice, it sounded rather more like desire.

Harlen blinked at the two of them. "I'd be happy to hold the arm of either of you," he said, sitting and admiring their long forms covered in clinging silk.

Elven fingers flitted through Wendy's hair, untangling knots that the battle had wrought upon the girl's dark tresses. Within a few brief minutes, Hyandai had woven her hair into long braids that ran around the curve of Wendy's skull and formed long, slender ropes down the back of her neck.

Wendy giggled. "By the One, you're quick with those fingers!" she exclaimed, looking at herself in a hand mirror.

Hyandai kissed her bared neck. "You have no idea." She said in a deeper tone, with some small measure of menace to it, then she looked up at Wendy with deep green eyes.

They groomed themselves for a short while; preparing to go forth to face the music they heard drifting up from below. Soon, they were ready, and Harlen opened the door and watched the two appealing visions in blue silk float past. They preceded him down the narrow stair to the ground, with Wendy hugging the inner side of the staircase where it spiraled down the thick tree's trunk. From the rather short-breathed way she sighed upon reaching the ground, Harlen realized how much effort it must have cost her to even come up the tree to them.

At the base, he stood confused for a moment while the women sorted themselves to either side of him and took his arms. "But how will I drink?" asked Harlen, looking with concern down at his two occupied arms.

"Very little," said Hyandai. "You need to keep your wits about you, you shall have great demands put upon you this night." She winked across his chest at Wendy, who raised her eyebrows and brought her head up and down, like an elven head bow.

Harlen made a slight whimpering sound while they manhandled him and aimed him for the festivities, a glowing area toward the center of the village.

They arrived at the edge of the gathering at the same time the music was changing. The dance area cleared, and the music settled into something that was meant to be heard and appreciated, but not danced to. People milled about the tables, laden with a huge supply of foodstuffs, elven delicacies, Harlen assumed, and even many varieties of Morrovalian fare, like a rather ostentatious roast boar on a bed of sliced apples.

In normal circumstances, elven folk were not overt carnivores, most often, they consumed their limited meat intake in stews, and less often, pies. However, after the fever of battle and the strong emotions of the day, the boar was showing much sign of depletion. Many elves were seen with chunks of the meat upon their platters, just as often as the humans at the gathering.

Despite their best efforts, different people seemed to contrive to split the trio up, engaging them in cross-purpose conversations and random interactions of newcomers and outgoing participants. Harlen soon found himself facing Tammer and the Lord of Embalis, Ircandann.

"Master Tammer here has informed me that he has gotten, already, over two dozen requests from various huntsmen to stay and study our ways," said Ircandann, smiling. "I suppose, it may be high time that the training of rangers recommenced."

Harlen chuckled. "I imagine that a majority of those 'volunteers' were also single males," he said.

Ircandann blinked a couple of times. "Yes, I believe most of them were," he said, then paused again. "Ah," he sighed. "I see." He leaned in close to the two humans and, in a confidential tone said, "That will not be so bad, either, then, for truthfully, we have not nearly as many men, after the battle, as women." He stood upright again. "While not a mournful first thought, a leader must also think of the pragmatic points."

Tammer smiled. "Why do you think I volunteered, back in my day?" he said. "Nothing like young women to attract young men."

"So long as they are not thought opportunistic." Harlen said, looking at Lord Ircandann with appraising eyes.

Lord Ircandann's expression bordered on shock. "Never!" he said with certainty. "They are heroes to the people of Embalis. They have risked their very lives to protect ours." He shook his head. "It is reasonable that they should wish to feel welcome in a town that would not exist if not for their actions." He smiled. "I am certain the people of Embalis share my feelings in this."

Ircandann pointed to Harlen's left with his chin. Following the lord's gaze, he saw Regas, one of the more eligible bachelor huntsmen standing nearby, with three young elven ladies speaking to him in a tight knot.

Harlen nodded. "I see," he said. He caught sight of Hyandai for the first time in several minutes. She was conversing with her sister and two other elven women, who were giggling while Loskenhaur was busy blushing and covering her eyes. Harlen smiled and waved when she looked up and caught sight of him.

Hyandai, for her part, made a very subtle gesture to his left. He looked that direction to see Wendy, standing alone. It seemed that the elven lads were frightened of the human women, unlike the human males' fascination with elven women. He glanced back at Hyandai, and was rewarded with a look of undeniable clarity informing him to go to Wendy, now.

A dutiful mate, to both women, no less, Harlen went to Wendy's side. He slipped an arm around her and kissed her smooth shoulder. "Hello, beautiful lady," he said, placing much softness into his voice.

She smiled up at him. "I'm okay, Harlen," she said. "Don't let me interfere with the revelries."

"You cannot," said Harlen, his expression earnest. "That would imply that you could, in some way, diminish a good thing." He shook his head.

Wendy pressed into him and put one hand upon his encircling arm. "Hyandai certainly has taught you smooth words," she said with an appreciative sigh. "I cannot wait to hear them in elven."

"Probably not too long," ventured Harlen, "before you can do just that." He looked around the crowd. "I've been learning quite a lot of elven from Hyandai."

A slow nod from Wendy was his reply. "I wish to learn it, as well," she said. "It's a lovely language."

"Are you really happy with the 'handmaiden' arrangement?" asked Wendy.

Harlen blinked at her, having, himself, for once, been caught flatfooted by a non sequitur.

"Why wouldn't I be?" he asked. "I mean it when I say you two are the most desirable women in the land."

Wendy chuckled. "That would make me a distant number two of the top two, then," she murmured. "Hyandai is gorgeous."

"Bullshit!" spat Harlen. "You're extremely pretty. Hell, had I known you were in town, I would have come to see you right off, even if Tammer had tried to bribe me away." Harlen let out a low laugh. "I thought, when I was fourteen, that my heart would break in two when you left."

He paused a long moment. "It rather peeves me a bit, actually," said Harlen, "that there is not a bit more difference in the looks of you two, Hyandai and you. A bit of variety, if you will."

She giggled at that. "Well, I have round ears," offered Wendy, "and a bigger bu . . . "

Wendy was interrupted by Tammer mounting a table and ringing a small bell. The old ranger reached into his pocket and pulled out that odd glowing green stone that Harlen had seen before the battle. He held it to his throat and began speaking.

"People of Embalis!" pronounced Tammer. "Hear me. This day, a glorious day, where an old alliance of men and elves has been tried once again, and has been shown to amount to more than the sum of its parts." He was turning to take in the gathered folk about him, revolving in a slow circle. "I have been asked to give leave to allow some portion of the company of Rangers of Morrovale to stay in Embalis, for manifold reasons. This I have the authority to do, but only for a year and a day, as stipulated by the old agreements."

Harlen felt Hyandai's hand upon his arm. He turned to look at her smiling face.

"Fifty volunteers have offered to stay, and I feel that is a manageable number that the duke will not be too wroth to surrender," continued Tammer. "However, it is necessary for the people of Embalis to provide them with training in exchange for the time they sacrifice from their professions."

"Among other, less tangible, benefits," said Hyandai, in a low stage whisper at Harlen's elbow. Harlen put his arm around his betrothed and pulled her to him.

"Shush," murmured Harlen, pulling Hyandai close, "you'll ruin his moment."

Hyandai whispered into his ear. "The elves are eager to have them, Harlen, let them not fool you," she whispered. "There is already a bit of hen squabbling going on between some of the women over the fifty that are staying."

"Did so many men die?" asked Harlen in a low voice.

"Not quite," replied Hyandai. "Those men are heroes right now; a very desirable commodity. There will be elf-lads unaccompanied to bed tonight, though, admittedly, not many. The fool Isolationists forced many more people into the Warwolf camp, though. Most of them would now be either dead or displaced, were it not for human assistance. It rather drives the point home."

Harlen thought a moment. "And a Warwolf precept is the intermingling of human and elven bloodlines and cultures," he said, his eyes widening in recognition.

"Exactly," said Hyandai, with a smile.

"Why do I feel I may have been manipulated?" accused Harlen, his eyes gaining a small measure of real suspicion.

"No, beloved," replied Hyandai, stroking his arm. "You have not been used. Perhaps I was, but given the outcome, I resent it not."

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