Amletaine

byBrazenFellow©

Lurching heavily from the crest of a wave, the canvas of the vessel's sails banged angrily in the wind when a stay gave way and a cursing sailor hauled himself up, hand over hand, the rope nets that constituted the futtock shrouds. Gaining the topmast, he watched a team of sailors secure the broken line, splicing it expertly as each motion of the ship's hull in the sea was magnified fivefold on the mast. The mast creaked. This abovedecks drama played out unknown to the passengers belowdecks, though the mast's creak echoed throughout the hull, competing with the sound of the foam-flecked waves thumping solidly against the bow, then cresting the prow.

The unfamiliar noise of the mast creaking in the wind of the squall distracted her. Turning, thinking it another opponent, she felt the capstan bar tugged out of her hands as a lean-muscled leg slammed into the back of her knee. Andrea would have shouted save for the female hand that covered her mouth before her lips had a chance to part, and the fingers of her other hand pressing against the center of her neck, stilling the vocal cords quite effectively. Her harsh voice grated in Andrea's ear: "Have some respect!" Andrea thrashed, catching the priestess in the ribs with one elbow as the ship crested another wave, throwing the women off balance. Rolling free of her grasp, Andrea rose to her knees.

"Fuck your respect!" She spat, missing the priestess's face. Glancing from side to side, she saw nothing else to yield as a weapon and stepped behind a table to put space between herself and Gabrielle, the priestess. Andrea realized suddenly the meaning of Gabrielle's name: devoted to god, and the thought flashed across her mind that it was simply a moniker the priestess used. Gabrielle threw herself across the table at the recalcitrant young woman, while Andrea had been expecting her to rush around one side and pin her against the bulkhead. Surprised, Andrea reacted with the sort of violent instinct that had made her first lover a skilled warrior, seizing the priestess by the hair and slamming her head into the table. Gabrielle lay stunned and bleeding. She rushed around the table herself, intending to storm the stairs and throw herself off the ship. What did they expect? That she would welcome being abducted in the dark of night and spirited to some foreboding shore, carried blindfolded and trussed onto a ship that stank of fear and seawater, and then to submit to that god-awful ritual? Like fuck I will she thought, before a man in a dark green cloak coolly extended the capstan bar he'd taken from her earlier into her solar plexus. The hardwood club impacted her solidly between and below her breasts, driving the air from Andrea's body.

For any but another priestess to lay hands on a Priestess of Amletaine brought the most outstanding bad luck to those who did, and so the Northerner hadn't touched Andrea while she struggled with Gabrielle, out of fear of touching the priestess accidentally. Like most, the Northerner was a superstitious man. Once Andrea had effectively freed herself of the priestess, however, she had brought herself to the battle-wizened man's attentions. Andrea dropped to her knees and the Northerner simply slung his cloak off one shoulder, wrapping her torso tightly in it to immobilize her arms, and eased her roughly to the deck. One heavily booted foot rested on the small of her back and the teak decking was unyielding as the weight of her body pressed her breasts against it. The weatherproofed wool of the cloak Andrea found herself secured in when her wits returned did little to cushion her. Gabrielle's voice was harsh, a rapidly swelling cut on her cheek marring the cruel perfection of her high, pale-skinned cheekbones. "Behave yourself. Veikko, beat her if she tries it again."

The Northerner nodded assent. From forwards in the passenger compartments, Andrea heard an abrupt moan, clearly pained, and then a gasp she couldn't decipher the sensation or emotion behind as the mast creaked again. She shrugged, trying to loosen her arms, stopping when Veikko's boot pressed her firmly into the deck. The small of her back ached, the hobnailed heel of the Northerner's boots exquisitely uncomfortable. Gabrielle left.

After an hour, a man brought Veikko a plate. From the guttural, oddly accented exchange, the man's name seemed to be Hittavainen. So Veikko wouldn't have to lift his boot from Andrea's back, Hittavainen brought him a chair from the table the obstinate young woman had sheltered behind earlier. "Kiitos, Hitta." Hittavainen left.

"Veikko?"

The Northerner bent forward over his plate and regarded Andrea with a raised eyebrow.

"May I roll over?" Her response was him lifting his foot from her. She rolled over and sighed deeply, happy to be breathing deeply again for the briefest of moments before grunting in pain. Veikko eased his chair closer to her and pinned her between chair legs and the thick leather of his knee-high boots. "Keep breathing. The pain will pass." Andrea smiled weakly in return. "Thanks... kiitos?"

Veikko nodded. "Kiitos," he confirmed. "You speak well. Where did you learn my mothertongue?" Before Andrea could respond, the door swung open. Gabrielle stood in the hatchway with fire in her eyes.

"Your little display encouraged another of your sister acolytes to rebel. She threw herself off the ship."

"Good for her."

"Don't be flippant. It isn't the end of your life."

Andrea held her tongue. What if she knew what she was losing? Andrea bit her tongue, not trusting herself to stay silent. The young woman - three days into her second decade, as was the custom - was known in her village as a firebrand. Practical people from the North East, farmers and woodsmen. Her aunt had caught her masturbating one winter day when the girl was but nineteen and rebuked her sharply, to put it politely, with the birchwood cane she carried. Never loved by Andrea, her aunt had succeeded only in combining the thoughts of sexual pleasure and antagonizing her aunt, practically ensuring that when the black-haired partisan strolled into her village and took an interest in Andrea, it would go far further than was allowed in Amletaine's society. Fearsome with his dagger and even more skilled with the axe hanging from his belt, he had been questioned by no man when Andrea simply abandoned her home one dark night. Four days later he settled in the forest nearby, and a farmer trading grain for meat with the partisan was shocked to see his friend's missing daughter laying nude in the partisan's bedroll, a content, sated smile fixed on her sleeping face. The partisan, her first and only lover, had simply laid his hand on the wooden haft of his dagger and shook his head slowly. The farmer nodded, shaking hands with the partisan as the deal was done, two deer for a winter's grain. His life for his silence, though that deal remained unspoken. The mast creaked again.

Gabrielle left once more as soon as she recognized that Andrea would say no more. Veikko knelt beside her. "Where did you learn my mothertongue?"

"A partisan came to my village. I went with him, for a way." She paused, not having used this language for months, welcoming the feel of once-familiar words on her tongue and the accompanying memories of her time in the forest with the man who'd made her his woman. "I..." she stopped, suddenly realizing she had no more to say. She shrugged again and found Veikko's strong hands pinning her firmly to the deck, though gently. "If I take my cloak back, will you fight me? Your partisan taught you that, I saw, when Gabrielle came across the table at you. Tell me you'll be calm and I'll let you up."

She nodded, and Veikko was true to his word, lifting the girl by the shoulders and unwrapping her from the cloak that bound her tightly. She sat on the deck, Veikko crouching beside her. "The partisan. Your first?" Andrea simply nodded, the colour draining from her face as she realized her secret was that obvious. No acolyte had become a Priestess of Amletaine's Temple without losing her virginity in the Ritual, those who had been discovered to have lain with a man before were exiled. Exile was death, simply, in the bleak landscape of the North, as the women were taught none of the survival skills in their home that were the cornerstone of the men's knowledge. Veikko rolled her onto her side without warning. "Lift your arm." Andrea, knowing what was coming, could do nothing more than mutely comply. Then the linen of her shirt was up, exposing her right breast to the cool, salty and stale air belowdecks. Her nipple hardened involuntarily. She knew Veikko wouldn't find what he was looking for, the tattoos on her right side denoting her marriage date. Veikko kept her shirt up, holding her in place. His hand cupped her breast. She jerked, recoiling from his touch and ending up trapped between his hand and his boots. She whispered: "No. Please?"

He touched her anyways, a surprisingly gentle caress, waiting until the goosebumps on her skin faded under the warmth of his touch and the nipple stood erect from arousal, however unwilling Andrea may be. She closed her eyes. He switched to her other breast, performing the same actions until her left nipple stood in the same condition as its partner on the right, then pulled her shirt back down. She opened her eyes, watching him uncertainly. Andrea's cheeks flushed slightly with the heat of arousal, conflicting with the nervous roiling sensation buried in her stomach. She was surprised to see Veikko smiling in what she took to be reassurance, his eyes kind. For the first time she noticed his black hair. "It's okay. I will help you, for your partisan lover. Does he still live?"

Andrea nodded again. "Why are you so set against this?" Veikko asked.

"Have you been with a woman?" Andrea's retort came instantaneously. Veikko smiled, baring even teeth.

"Several. Do you know of your other spot, inside?" Andrea shook her head. "It differs from the talikheuta," Veikko said, giving it the name she had last heard from her own lips as the partisan had kissed her ready labia that first night, and then her clitoris directly, at her begging insistence, "and is not hard to find. Priestesses use it. You're not long for the Temple, are you?"

"You mean I won't stay long?"

Veikko nodded. Andrea spoke again; "You're right. I won't. So why do this to me? What's so wrong about it?" The Northerner wrapped his cloak about her shoulders to keep her warm, then settled on his chair and tore a piece of sweetened bread into crude halves. He handed the larger of the two pieces to her. "Eat." She complied, suddenly aware of how hungry she was, feeling she could trust this strange Northerner with her secret. He continued.

"I don't know why. I'm no priestess, and I've never deigned to ask one. You agree that you've a problem now?"

"I don't see how I could say otherwise," she answered.

"Go through with the Ritual," Veikko advised. "I'll take you. Show you this other spot. Make you safe. Then you're free to go. Back to your partisan." Andrea didn't ask why, simply shuddered at the thought of losing her - oh, how much will that hurt? Please let it be painless. Please.

Even as she wished this, she knew it was not likely. There had to be some sort of balance to the indescribable pleasure it brought. Slowly, mulling through her options as the partisan had taught her, she nodded her assent. Then a question sprang to mind. "Why?"

"I'm going to let you up in a moment, and take you to your room. Promise me not to fight and that you'll bow to the priestess."

"I will not bow to that bitch."

"Fine. I'll make you." Andrea, suddenly realizing how helpless she was against Veikko's easy strength, left this point of contention alone. "Why?" She asked again.

Veikko got to his feet, reached down, and lifted her easily. He slung his cloak over his shoulder, leaving the plate of half-eaten food where it was and taking her wrists in one powerful hand. Andrea thought it best to go with him meekly, allowing the Northerner to steer her by her wrists as the helmsman did the great ship with constant, insistent pressure on the great wheel mounted on the quarterdeck. Gabrielle came down the far gangway towards them. Veikko waited, and when Andrea remained obstinately upright pressed a hand into her upper back, pressing her down into a bow. Gabrielle nodded regally at Veikko.

"Kiitos, Veikko."

"Priestess," the Northerner acknowledged.

"She does well with you now. Did you beat her?"

"No, Priestess. We simply talked. I will take her, for the Ritual."

Gabrielle paused her step, about to sweep on past the pair when the oddity of Veikko's words struck her. "If she chooses you, of course, Veikko."

"Of course, Priestess. I think she will." Gabrielle watched Andrea for a moment, who squeezed her eyes shut to keep burning tears of shame hidden from this bitch-priestess Gabrielle. The priestess nodded curtly. "You are a persuasive conversationalist, Veikko. An uncommon thing for a Northerner." Veikko smiled, as if the insult did not sting at his pride. The Western Priestess of Amletaine carried on past them. Andrea found herself in her room shortly thereafter, Veikko's parting words centered in her mind before she fell into a fitful sleep. Remember to pick me. I'm your best chance, acolyte.

--

Jarred awake by the sudden clattering of the chain rode through the hawsepipe, the acolytes unrolled themselves from their blankets. The night chill was still present in the shared accommodations, so many rewrapped themselves once they'd sat up on their rough plank cots. All retained that sense of unease that had permeated the cabin since the Priestess had announced they would soon be at their destination, though like the vast majority of the population none knew where that destination was. A bell clanged, and Andrea assumed that in the predawn gloom that meant it was time for breakfast. She made her way to the galley with a gaggle of other acolytes only to find the five cooks still in the midst of preparing breakfast. While some of the acolytes returned to their quarters, a few others wandered the ship. Andrea wandered the corridors and gangways, smiling awkwardly or blushing slightly when the crew stood to one side and bowed their heads until she'd passed.

A voice boomed from behind her: "Make a hole!" and instinctively she stepped to one side. A pair of sailors, a stretcher between them, carried a third with a badly broken leg below to the ship's surgeon. The wounded sailor winked at her as he was carried past, grimacing as the stretcher bumped against the bulkhead further down the corridor. She glanced into cabins and compartments as she passed through, seeing the minutiae of shipboard life. A sailor swung in his hammock, darning his socks. One of the ship's officers ate at his desk, reading intently from a novel and when Andrea meekly inquired if breakfast was served he nodded irritably, suddenly standing and bowing slightly once he realized an acolyte had asked the question. As always, Andrea blushed. She came to a ladder and rose to the deck. A score of Northerners stood watching the sun rise, most honing the edges of their weapons, all talking quietly in their native tongue. A breeze shifted the ship's boats in their davits and reminded Andrea she'd left the ship's cloak she'd been given at the foot of her cot. She breathed the fresh air and felt goosebumps rise on her skin in its cool caress. Her nipples hardened of their own accord, and she walked to the bow. Past the bowsprit was the dark shadow of land, ghostly smoke rising from a handful of chimneys and soft light bleeding through thin curtains that hung in the windows of a few houses facing the quays of a small harbour filled with boats dwarfed by the vessel she stood aboard.

Only a few minutes later, Andrea was aboard one of the ship's boats as it neared the quays. From this angle, she could see that the quays were designed to accommodate craft with considerably more freeboard. Her hurried breakfast felt like a brick in her stomach and didn't get any more comfortable when the boat bumped hard against the quay's rope-matted sides. A rope ladder hung nearby and one of the sailors reached for it, pulling the ship's boat in along the quay and holding it in place while the oarsmen rested and the acolytes disembarked. Andrea clambered awkwardly onto the quay's deck and looked up to find Gabrielle staring down at her.

"Go wait at the end with the others."

Andrea didn't see any point in disobeying and meekly followed those ahead of her to the end of the quay. She glanced over her shoulder and saw a half-dozen other boats bobbing in the water as they approached, carrying a mixture of Northerners, the last of the acolytes, two other priestesses, and a handful of affluent men from the West. Hittavainen fingered the sheathed axe hanging from his belt, striding along beside Veikko. The villagers had shuttered their windows and shut their doors firmly, having seen this procession of confused girls, wealthy mainlanders with wolfish grins, dark looking Northerners and imperious priestesses many times before, so many times as to arouse no curiosity. Andrea clumped together with another few of the other apprehensive girls who had some small inkling of what might happen based on rumour and the cynicism their lives had happened to instil in them. The other girls were naïve in the extreme, sexually unaware and blissfully ignorant as was sadly all too common in Amletaine's society. The mechanism behind the selections was simple; it was a geographical quota, the same for all regions in Amletaine so the simple-minded villagers and townspeople who made up the majority of the population did not feel that one region was being favoured over another in terms of the number of opportunities it had to curry favours with the gods. These opportunities were of course the acolytes. The Temple itself selected them and spirited them away for similar reasons, partially so that no one family could be blessed with having a daughter publicly selected as an acolyte, but primarily to maintain some of the mythos the Temple relied upon to maintain its authority.

Hittavainen scratched at the side of his jaw before speaking.

"Not many gentry here Veikko. We'll get to stand in the line today." Veikko, who had done his own count of the gentry as they had first boarded the ship, had come to the same conclusion and was glowering as he reflected on the inequities of Amletaine's society. Sexual repression was the norm; with sexual liberation came a diversion of energies the Temple could put to work for its own benefit, though the way this was justified to the peasants was that those who indulged in sex for any reason other than procreation were doomed to the afterlife of two rivers - put simply, hell - and would lack the energy for such essential tasks as tending to the harvest. That their energies could be spent more productively than labouring on intricately decorated, massive temples was never mentioned. Those who partook of casual sex were unlikely to see a harvest anyways. As with most other things that their religious masters disapproved of for reasons of manipulation and power-mongering, to partake of casual sex was to bring a host of curses down upon one's own head. Veikko suspected that some of these apparent curses were simply the work of priestesses instilling fear in the peasantry.

This was a thought shared by most of the other partisans, who had fought to carve out a niche in the barely-hospitable northern reaches of Amletaine, because the gentry and the closely affiliated Temple would not allow them the pleasure of settling anywhere with more productive soils or less inclement weather. The truce terms had required that the partisans be allowed to reintegrate with society to any degree they wished, and as the gentry and most particularly the Priestesses of Amletaine's Temple were terrified of being subjected to further savagely conducted raids, this was permitted. In time the partisan's lack of superstition and blatant disregard for the Temple had pushed away the superstitious fears that had shrouded the practical nature of the Northerners in general, and soon it became evident to the gentry that the Northerners were an effective paramilitary force, as they would unhesitatingly do things that were sure to shock the remainder of Amletaine's population. This was particularly useful when branches of Amletaine's Temple tried to break away from the central authority and establish their own little fiefdoms, as at that point even the sons of the gentry and their associated men-at-arms couldn't be relied upon to restore order, out of fear of exposing themselves to the wrath of the gods. "That we will, Hitta." Veikko forced himself to sound cheerful. "Looking forward to this?"

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