tagNonHumanA Strange Alliance

A Strange Alliance

byEclectic_Morsel©

Author's note: trying something completely new here. I hope it works. More extreme and perhaps more interesting than my other work - non con elements, non human, future chapters in the offing; feedback welcome.

*****

The only warning I had of the attack was a muffled birdcall from ahead, answered by one to my left. It sounded like no bird I knew, and yet the call was familiar. The word "ambush" flashed through my brain as I whipped both knives out of the bandolier. It all happened too quickly to parse. A man in grey and green stepped from the trees in front of me, crossbow poised. A hand gripped my shoulder from behind and spun me. I let the momentum he gave me swing me around and brought a knife sweeping up into his gut while the other found his throat, conscious all the while of the crossbow aimed at my back. Why hadn't he fired? They must want me alive. It was a messy kill, completely unworthy of me even in such a situation. Blood sprayed against my grey clothes as my assailant fell. Another man stepped into the breach, warier than the first. He dodged my kick and sent a fist crashing into my jaw. That would bruise. While I staggered, momentarily off balance, his large hands gripped my wrists, attempting to force the knives from my hands. His strength was too much. The bones in my right wrist ground together and the blade dropped to the forest floor. A knee to the groin left him reeling with a curse, but this man had discipline. He used the moment to retrieve my fallen knife, and now we were both so armed. Our blades came together in a screech as he blocked my slash toward his throat. Hard hazel eyes looked into mine as we grappled. I slid my blade back and circled, ready to kill or be killed. I could take him; I knew it and he knew it. The crossbowman still seemed unwilling to fire. There must only be the three of them, or another would have already moved in behind me.

My assailant smiled coldly. "Let's end this. Give yourself up to stay conscious. My man over there is hesitating because his bolts are poisoned. I'd rather have you alive, but I'll take you dead if you force my hand." Inwardly I cursed, but straightened from my fighting stance, still on my guard. I moved to the side of the game trail and put my back to a tree so I couldn't be approached from behind. Somehow I'd never expected poison. There were certain guidelines for honorable combat even forest outlaws followed. The odds had been good; in general I could take down a few more men than this on my own. Because I was female and slight of frame, they always underestimated me. Not this time. I moved my focus to the man who'd fought me and lived. I preferred not to look at the body on the ground, still gushing blood in slow pulses.

He was tall and well built, layered with the lean muscles of a fighter. The way he carried himself said swordsman, but wisely he carried his sword strapped securely in a back sheath where it could be drawn over the shoulder, rather than banging along at his waist. It would be of little use when fighting in such close proximity as the dense forest undergrowth anyway. I noted a light crossbow hanging from his belt, next to where he'd tucked my knives. He sized me up the same way, and looked unimpressed with what he saw. His eyes dipped to his fallen comrade, still bleeding on the ground between us.

"Garven, rope," he barked to his companion. The other unslung a coil of rope from his shoulder and tossed it to the man. "I'm going to tie your hands," he said to me. "Then we'll talk." He gave a nod toward the first crossbowman emphasizing that I'd best cooperate. I brought my wrists out in front of me, preferring to be bound that way. I knew from experience it was easier to escape with your hands bound in front than behind. Easier on the shoulders too. I complied.

The big man stepped around the body and moved in close, looking down at me sharply. I held my body taut, resisting the urge to spin into action. Survive now to escape later. Once my hands were secured, he put a finger under my chin and tilted my face up, perusing it. Every instinct told me to break his nose with my face. My instincts were clearly wrong this time. As I scowled up at him, recognition sparked in his gaze. He leaned in a little, inhaled, and his brow wrinkled, then smoothed.

"I'm Mor, and I run my crew through this part of the Forest. You're in our territory looking positively delicious," he told me, clearly relishing my discomfort. A small sharp smile played along his lips, for all that his hazel eyes were cold. "Garven, you may go. Take the body," Mor added.

The two of them disappeared into the western woods, Garven carrying the still dripping corpse with apparent ease. My anxiety spiked. I was in Mor's hands now - quite literally, as his callused fingers reached out and gripped my upper arms tightly. I could feel where handling a sword had roughened his skin. Mor's face was all seriousness, straight brows lowered under military cut black hair. Some unnamed emotion darkened his eyes, and he gave me a slight shake, emphasizing my total and complete helplessness in this moment.

"I'd like to know what the Huntress is doing out here in the forest. The Beasts had an agreement with you." Ah, so he was a Beast then. His brutish strength and ability to sneak up on me made so much more sense. I simply cocked my head, waiting for more. There was a buzzing in my brain, pieces falling into place one after the next.

At the best of times, the Beasts had an uneasy truce with the royals of family Mulraine. They acknowledged the sovereignty of the king, but kept themselves apart, supplying fighters for the army when called upon, but otherwise self governing for the most part. When the Beasts stepped out of line, whether as a group or as individuals, it was up to the Hunter and his men to bring them down - or as I'd been taught, to bring them to justice. My uncle was legend among the Beasts, a scary bedtime story, and his brutal, stealthy and at times dishonorable tactics had won him no friends either in the Forest or in the Court. I was trained from childhood to be his successor. I didn't recall ever having met Mor in person before, and that could be a boon to me. I was, myself, a legend among the Hunter's forces; an observer, kept in reserve and cloaked in mystery. I seldom moved among the men I'd one day command. It was enough to my uncle that I fought with precision, understood command, and knew to a nicety how to manipulate, trap, and kill the Beasts of the Forest. My face was known to few but I had a striking resemblance to my uncle, that miserable bastard who raised me. That must be how Mor recognized me, I mused. The hatred of the Beasts for my family ran deep. I tried to mask a shudder, knowing my end would probably be drawn out and slow.

I had, in fact, reached out to the Beast Lord not long since, by message sealed with my signet. Mor was currently turning my bound hands in his grip to get a look at the signet ring, so it seemed likely he'd seen the message himself. I'd long been repulsed by my uncle's tactics and wished for a détente between our forces and the Beasts. In my message I'd suggested a truce and meeting; as a sign of good faith until the appointed meeting took place, I'd kill no Beasts. I wondered if self defense would count. I looked up and met Mor's eyes as he loomed before me, too close for comfort.

"If you knew about the agreement and the meeting, you know I'm not a danger to you. These -" I lifted my bound hands toward him, "these are not needed."

Mor tipped my chin up again with one callused finger, his eyes for some reason focusing on my lips before skating away. His thumb brushed my jaw and then retreated. "You're not a danger to me either way. But trust only goes so far, Huntress. You will stay bound." What do you know, this man had steel in him. And arrogance aplenty. It rankled that he felt so free to touch and manipulate my body. I was a prisoner and an enemy, not some lady of the night. Maybe he was really hard up for some uncomplicated sex. The way he was looking at me telegraphed wary interest that left me feeling distinctly off balance. I tried to imagine what I must look like to him, wearing leggings and shirt in nondescript grey, a weathered bandolier crossing my shoulders and a pack at my waist. My chestnut hair was tightly bound back into a braid. It was my one beauty, I thought, long and glossy and definitely impractical in a fight. I didn't really need beauty to hunt Beasts, but sometimes I needed to remind myself I was a woman, not just a predator. "In my camp, you will keep your hood up. None of my men need know who you are or why you are with us," Mor continued, fixing me with a long look. "You will stay in my tent except when necessary." Humiliating, but it wouldn't be for long.

"I accede," I told him. "I need to speak with the Beast Lord in any case. It can take place now or it can be at the time I've chosen. Make it happen." For some inexplicable cause or another, my chilly assertion of authority made him crack a grin - the first human expression to cross his stony face thus far. I was kind of offended, but kept the scowl off my face. Mor's big hand came toward my head in a swift and startling move, and I flinched away, expecting a slap. His startled eyes met mine before he turned his face away. He was just reaching over to pull my hood up. I flushed as he gripped my shoulder with more force than necessary and marched me in what I assumed was the direction of his camp. How embarrassing to have betrayed fear, even as a captive. But there was something about Mor that spoke to me on a primal level, telling me to flee.

Hooded and bound, I was ushered through a large clearing in the forest. Fit fighting men (or as I now realized, Beasts) surrounded me, going about their business. A few greeted Mor as he strolled at my side, controlling my direction with an overly firm grip on my upper arm. No one appeared particularly curious as to my identity or why Mor was inexorably steering me toward his tent. It was fully apparent that he was part of upper management here. Hulking Beast warriors showed him their necks submissively as he strolled by. Outside the tent I presumed to be his, two Beast warriors stood guard. Aside from their presence, the structure looked much like all the tents surrounding it. I estimated that at four men to a tent, the clearing encampment held roughly eighty beasts, making it by far the largest mobile force of Beasts my uncle had tracked so far. It was likely the Beast Lord moved with this group as well. I hoped I could meet with him soon and clear up this mess. My bound hands were already beginning to prickle from restricted blood flow.

Mor thrust me through the tent flap and followed close behind. I saw another rope in his hands and figured he knew more about me and my training than he'd let on. Either that or he was paranoid and not fooled by my small frame. He'd truss me up even more. Gods damn the man. Rough hands grabbed my shoulders and he was in my personal space again, a hot and hungry look in his eye. I knew from my training that it would do me no good to resist him in such close quarters. If he even partially transformed to Beast, one swipe of those claws could gut me. My best bet was persuasion. My mind spun out a few scenarios for me but my tongue couldn't follow through. I was too distracted by Mor's masculine scent and his nearness as he knelt in front of me, tying my feet together to a tent pole. Was he listening to my heartbeat? Lore said the Beasts could hear and smell far better than any mere human. I thought his hands lingered on my ankles and the unsettling heat of his skin snapped me out of my indecision.

"Mor," I said, my voice remarkably steady, "It seems as though you've been privy to my recent message to the Beasts. Under my uncle, the Hunters have been brutal and inhumane." Mor growled his agreement, still kneeling before me but now with his eyes fixed on my face. A green sheen rolled across his eyes and vanished, terrifying me utterly. It was a sign that the Beast was close to the surface. "I'm here in this forest because I believe my message was intercepted by my uncle's troops before being passed on to you. There is a kill order for me that has been passed on to the Hunter's commanders, though not to the underlings, as yet. I'm here trying to avoid the Hunter and his men until the meeting with the Beast Lord. I'm genuine in my desire to work with the Beasts. Can't you smell if I'm lying?"

I knew he couldn't smell a lie, but it was always best to conceal the extent of one's ignorance or knowledge when captive in an enemy camp. Mor made a low noise in his throat, considering. He stood, towering over me, a shadowy shape in the dimness of the tent. His hand came up to my face and this time I didn't flinch, merely sucked in a shallow breath and held it. I felt his hot skin against mine as he brushed his hand over my head, lowering my hood. He brought my chin up and forced me to meet his eyes. He could see my face, but to me Mor was just a silhouette. It was disconcerting, to say the least. For a few moments the only sound between us was my rapidly beating heart. A moment later Mor seemed to realize that his fingers still rested against my cheek, his thumb almost brushing my lower lip. He dropped his hand and I exhaled.

"I must consider. I'll be back shortly. Stay where you are," he added with a certain irony, confident in his knots. The tent flap opened and shut and he was gone.

After Mor left, I busied myself with the prospect of escape. It seemed that Mor hadn't restrained prisoners in a tent before, because freeing my feet was embarrassingly easy. I simply leveraged my body against the tent pole until it lifted slightly from the ground and slid the knotted rope forward beneath it. That did nothing for the problem of my bound hands and feet, but at least I had some mobility. In the limited light seeping in, I could see a wooden chest across the room from me. I maneuvered my way over to it, silently cursing my own ineptitude in being captured by this pigheaded Beast. Why wouldn't he understand that an alliance with me would be a good thing for the Beasts of the Forest? I had an in with the Queen, and I bet I could get the Beasts at least the same rights as human citizens. Certainly there was no need to cull their young every few years as was my uncle's horrifying habit. I just needed help in removing him and his cultic order of Hunters to clear the field for my reforms.

At length I reached the wooden chest and collapsed to my knees, working the lock with nearly numb fingers and eventually with my teeth. Praise the goddess, it was a simple enough catch and I was able to spring it in minutes. It was too dark to see much inside the chest but I fumbled around briefly, hoping for a cache of weapons at best, or shaving supplies at worst. My luck held and I found a razor hidden beneath some cloths, probably my stubborn Beast's underclothes. Holding it between my teeth, I made short work of the ties around my hands, and then freed my feet. I stretched and bit back a groan as feeling gradually returned to my fingers.

An hour at least had passed since Mor left me in the tent. Freed from my bonds, I rubbed my wrists and ankles and considered my options. Killing the door guards and breaking free was an impossibility if I wanted to work with the Beasts on good terms in the future. Remaining passively bound had been out of the question for me as the Huntress, but I found I was by no means averse to staying in Mor's tent for the time being. For one thing, it smelled wonderful, like cedar trees and clean male and leather. Additionally, I had the opportunity to snoop. I made my way over to the makeshift desk and struck a light to the lamp there. A soft glow lit the chamber and I took it in anew. Though the exterior of the tent was identical to the twelve other structures in the camp, this one was spacious and single occupancy. I guess Mor was special. I began methodically going through desk drawers, scanning documents and placing things back exactly as I found them. Papers on troop movements, sightings of the Hunters; this guy had it all. I paused a moment, taken aback by the sudden sight of my own handwriting. For the eyes of the Beast Lord only, read my communiqué. I lifted the remains of my signet seal with a fingernail. Once I had all the pieces to this puzzle, I felt like such a fool. I already knew the Beast Lord, Daramor Marqen, preferred simple accommodations, lived amongst his men, and spent a good deal of time in the field. I had just never encountered him face to face until today.

This new information put an entirely different complexion on our encounter. It suggested Mor was undecided about the sincerity of my offer, and small blame to him. However, being in his camp was a boon to me. My uncle would need several squadrons of crack troops to reach me here. For the moment, I was safe. From what I'd gathered of Mor, he'd be unlikely to kill me out of hand, and I could work on getting him to trust me. The end goal, eliminating my uncle and revamping the Order of Hunters completely, was one Mor would surely get on board with over time.

Before I had time to fully visualize a plan for my stay in the Beast Lord's camp, the tent flap swung open and Mor was in the space like a storm walking in. I'd have to play it by ear; not the worst approach, as my instincts were usually good. As Mor registered my unbound state, I looked him over again, not to scan for threats, but in sheer carnal appreciation. There was not an ounce of fat on his body. One heavily muscled arm came up to lean against the tent pole he'd tied me to. I all but licked my lips. As the Huntress, I didn't get a lot of intimacy; occasional liaisons discreetly carried out were all I had time for, and they by no means satisfied me. Clearly I had an itch that needed scratching.

I tilted my head to the side, observing him more closely. Mor's eyes, usually sharp, travelled between the pole and me in a slightly unfocused manner. And was that... yes, the smell of strong drink wafted toward me. It would appear that Daramor Marquen, Lord of the Free Beasts, was drunk. I giggled and his eyes snapped up, then snagged on my lips as they'd done several times before. If alcohol worked on Beast senses anything like it did on humans, I was in luck. I happened to know the scent of this particular brew, and it was deadly strong. His inhibitions would be low, and whatever the discipline had held him back before would be melting away.

Mor moved toward me with a predatory stride. "You got away. We can't have that," he mumbled, as huge hands came out to encircle my wrists. A large rough thumb found the spot where my heartbeat skipped beneath the skin. It lingered, then moved on, stroking small circles against the sensitive skin. He inhaled. I'd expected quick action and a return to my restraints, but Mor seemed far more interested in watching his thumb move across my skin. Mor had come over to tie me up but instead had become completely captivated by the scent and feel of me. I'd have laughed if it wouldn't have broken the lamplit spell of the moment. Not to mention I was all but incoherent with arousal. That callused thumb was working magic against my wrist, and I had to wonder what it would feel like over a nipple... Whoever Mor had gone to consult with really wanted this alliance to thrive. He'd gotten Mor drunk and sent him back, knowing the Beast Lord would be impaired, and thus impaired, would offer me insult and give me an edge in our future negotiations. Shrewd. My body hummed in anticipation; I'd finally get that itch scratched, and scratched well. In that instant I had no complaints. Then my mind started to work again.

That's if Mor kept his human shape. I didn't know much about Beast mating practices, but I wondered if I would survive a mating with a Beast in his forest form. A frisson of fear ran down my spine and I bowed back so I could meet Mor's eyes where he towered over me. A sheen of amber rolled across them and my fear doubled, snuffing my arousal like a candle. I knew that once in forest form, a Beast mating would be swift, intense, and unstoppable. But I hadn't bothered to learn if it was necessarily always carried out in Beast shape. Why hadn't this scenario occurred to me? Maybe because I'd always controlled every aspect of past sexual encounters, and being at anyone's mercy sexually wouldn't have crossed my mind. Having sex with a Beast of the Forest couldn't have been further from my radar back when I was learning lore from my wicked uncle. Mor leaned in, his breath fanning my neck, and sniffed, once, twice. "Scared," he observed, and I stiffened. Just because he could smell it was no reason to call me out on it. "Rude," I told him mildly, and tapped his nose with my forefinger, trying for bravado I did not feel. "Bad Beast Lord."

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