Give Me the Man Pt. 03byAlex De Kok©
Since every comment and email I've read from readers about part 2 of this opus asked for more, here goes! On your own head, be it - as I said with Part 2, you've only yourselves to blame! The story is still singularly unfinished, but I have ideas. We'll see how things go ...
The sun was tipping past noon when he entered the stretch of dense woodland which told him the trails would part soon. He was disappointed that he hadn't caught Leara and her mother, but reminded himself that they'd agreed to meet the following year to climb the Grey Tower together. He grinned. Something he'd look forward to. A lot.
On impulse he swung Shadow onto a faint trail through the trees, rougher than the main trail, not suitable for wagons, but one which he thought might lead him to his route home more quickly than riding to the main junction of the trails. On the thick leaf mulch beneath the trees the sound of Shadow's hooves was all but inaudible. A faint unease took him, and he listened carefully, reining Shadow to a halt. Something wasn't right, and then he realised - there was no birdsong. He strained to hear anything amiss, but apart from a faint hum from insects there was nothing. About to move on, he paused. A cry? Was it? He listened again. Yes! A cry. But what? Man or beast? He urged Shadow into a slow walk, alert, listening.
Another cry caught his ear. It sounded like a woman! Unconsciously he eased his new sword in its sheath. His saddle bow was in its case under his leg and he quickly drew it out, deftly stringing it. He drew an arrow from its sheath and nocked it. Shadow paused, nostrils flared, ears pricked. Ardan swung down and dropped to the ground, silent in the thick leaf mulch. Cautiously he tethered Shadow to a branch and moved forward, his bow set. A clearing opened ahead. He moved, silent, ready, concealing himself from any that might be waiting, peering out from cover, cautious. Movement caught his eye, and he watched, the anger rising in him.
There were five figures in the clearing, two women, three men. It took only a moment to recognise Leara and her mother. Alna was being held on her knees by one of the others, an unshaven and apparently unwashed individual in worn and tattered clothing. Alna's arms had been twisted behind her so that she could not move. Like her daughter she was dressed in riding breeches, boots and tunic. Leara had the undivided attention of the other two outlaws. One was behind her, holding her arms in a cruel lock. The other stood before her, a twisted grin on his face. As Ardan watched, the man reached out and grasped the neck of Leara's tunic in one filthy hand, the other squeezing her breast, his tongue flicking over his lips. She spat in his face and he tensed, his arm ready to rip her tunic from her but never completed the movement. Ardan's arrow entered his ear just as he was about to pull but it was his dead weight that jerked Leara from his companion's grasp, even as the tunic ripped.
The outlaw stared at the arrow through his companion's head, then whirled, his hand reaching for his sword, a movement never completed as Ardan's second arrow pierced his heart. He was dead when he reached the ground. A scuffle caught Ardan's attention and he whirled, ready. Alna had made the most of the diversion caused by Ardan's attack and had almost broken free from the third outlaw. As she tried to move away, he tripped her and she sprawled. The outlaw grabbed his belt knife and raised it.
"No," said Ardan, stepping clear of the trees, his bow ready. The outlaw paused, then turned and ran into the trees. "Are you all right?" Ardan asked urgently.
"I am," said Alna. "Leara?"
"I'm fine. Get him, Ardan!"
Ardan raced after the outlaw, but realised after a moment that he'd lost the trail. He paused, listening, then heard the thud of hurried hoofbeats as the outlaw spurred his horse into motion. Ardan burst from the trees just as the outlaw twisted into cover. He raised his bow, but lowered it again, frustrated. A quick glance showed him four other mounts, tethered, one of which he recognised as Leara's mare. A rustle behind him made him turn, bow ready, but it was Alna and Leara. Lea was holding the shreds of her tunic together with one hand.
"The other two outlaws?" he said.
"Both dead," said Alna. "One wasn't, the one you shot in the head. He is, now." She was calm, but Ardan recognised the strength of this Hinazi woman. She threw a bundle onto the ground. "This was all they had on them. Two belt pouches, a belt knife each. Poor pickings."
"I need a new tunic," said Leara. "Excuse me while I change." She moved to her mare and took a tunic from her saddlebag, throwing it over the saddle while she calmly stripped off the ripped tunic she was wearing. Ardan flushed and looked away as he realised he was staring at the lovely breasts she made no effort to conceal.
"Ardan," said Alna quietly. "Look at her, if you wish. She is Hinazi. No false shame or modesty."
He looked towards Leara again and she smiled at him as she drew the fresh tunic over her head. As she belted it he turned to Alna. "What happened?"
"We were looking for a place to stop, somewhere out of the sun. This glade is a natural halt, with the stream and the rocks to sit on; I've used it before, so I knew where to go. We were just dismounting and they came out of nowhere." Alna shook her head. "As a Hinazi I am ashamed to admit it, but they took us by surprise."
Leara came over to them. She took Ardan's free hand in her own. "Thank you," she said and stretched up to kiss him lightly on the lips.
He made a dismissive gesture. "I did only what any honest man would do."
Alna shook her head. "No, Ardan. You did only what any honest warrior would do. Your Guide training shows, and Lea and I owe you our lives."
"I'm glad I hurried. I was hoping to catch you before the trails split, to say goodbye." He gave them a wry smile. "I only took the side trail because I though I was too far behind."
"As well for us you did," said Alna. She paused. "When must you be home?"
"Not before Lastday next."
"Will you escort us home?" said Alna. She smiled. "There may be other outlaws."
"Gladly," said Ardan. "But for now, shall we move out of the trees? I'm used to open plains, where I can see someone coming."
"Of course. Your horse?"
"Back there. Stay here, I'll fetch him."
A few minutes later he rode Shadow into the glade. Alna and Leara were mounted, waiting. The two remaining outlaw horses were on a lead rope held by Alna. At his inquiring glance she smiled.
"They might not have amounted to much, but their taste in horses is good. Probably stolen."
"I don't think so, Mama. I can't see any brands." Leara was studying the outlaw horses.
"It matters little," said Alna. "Come on, let's get away from here."
A half-hour's ride had them well away from the wooded terrain, past the junction where the trails split. Ardan paid no attention to his road home as he followed the Alna and Leara into territory new to him. A mile or so further down the road Alna pulled off the main trail, towards a circle of rocks. "We can eat here," she said, pointing. "It's a natural fortress and no-one can approach without us seeing them."
The circle of rocks showed evidence of previous travellers, marks of fires, scratches on the rocks, and they ate in an almost holiday mood. Their escape from near-certain rape and probable torture, if not death, had made the women almost light-headed and they joked and teased with Ardan. Alna suddenly stopped.
"Goddess! I just remembered. You told us you were in Jalx for your Initiation, and you said it had taken place. Was it good?" she asked, a sly grin on her face.
Ardan flushed. "Umm," he managed.
"Tell!" demanded Leara.
"It was good."
"Good! Good! That's all you can say? It was good!" Alna shook her head in pretended frustration.
"It was very good." Ardan admitted, his flush fading.
"Ah. That's better. Now he admits it was very good." Alna reached out, touching his arm. "We tease you, Ardan, please take no offence."
"I don't. Yes, it was, very good."
"Did she keep her mask on?" Leara tried to mask her curiosity with an air of innocence.
"No." He smiled, remembering.
"What?" Alna sensed something. "There's something you're not telling us."
"She exchanged with another Handmaiden so as to take me."
"Do you know why?" Leara's curiosity was open now.
"I rescued her from an assault the previous evening. I think she wanted to thank me." Ardan smiled. "It certainly made for an intimate thank-you."
"Assault? What kind?" Alna too was curious.
"Rape, certainly. Perhaps robbery, although I don't think the Handmaidens even carry a purse."
"You stopped the assault? How?"
"I threw them in the river," Ardan said, grinning.
The women both laughed. "I can see why she might be grateful," said Alna.
Ardan shrugged, trying not to grin, a slight smile on his face. "She thanked me four times. I think she was very grateful."
Alna laughed, a hearty chortle which surprised Ardan. Leara's giggle was daintier, but no less heartfelt.
"No more than you deserved, I'm sure," said Alna, still laughing.
He shrugged, smiling.
Too soon, they were on the road again, alternately trotting and walking the horses. As the light was beginning to fade and the first of the moons just lifting over the distant mountains, they reached the roadhouse Alna and Leara had stayed at on their way in. Rock-built, stockaded, it was a little fortress in the foothills.
"Ardan! What brings you out here?" The well-known voice surprised him, here.
He turned, a smile on his face. "Hanna! Good to see you!" He laughed. "I could ask you the same question." He turned to Lea and Alna. "Ladies, may I present Guide Captain Hanna Fel, a friend and one of my teachers during my training. Hanna, the lady Alna Asolan and her daughter Leara."
Thirtyish, lean, an air of quiet competence about her, Fel bowed. "Your servant, ladies."
"Why are you here, Hanna?" said Ardan. "I thought you were still teaching."
"I was, but we had reports of outlaws operating around here. I was the most easily spared, so I came out with a dozen troopers to see what we could find." Fel frowned. "We've heard tell of a small band operating locally. You will need to travel warily." She looked up as someone approached. "Yes, trooper?"
A young woman in Guide uniform stepped forward. "Ma'am? These people, " she said, indicating Ardan and his companions, "these people came in with two saddled spare horses. You remember that track we saw of an outlaw's horse? The one with the barred shoe? That horse is one of them."
"Is it now? How did you come to have an outlaw's horse?" Fel's voice was mild, but there was a subtle tension there.
"He had no further need of it after Ardan killed him," said Alna lightly.
"Killed? What is this? Did they attack you?"
"They surprised my daughter and me, Captain Fel. I think they meant to rape and kill us. Ardan came up on us and killed two of them before they had a chance." Alna's voice was flat and level.
"I'm afraid the third one got away," said Ardan, with a rueful look.
Fel grinned. "Two out of three is good, Ardan. I'm proud of you."
"Ma'am?" It was the trooper again. "We could use those horses."
Fel nodded. "Ardan, those horses are yours, yours and the ladies', by right of capture. I need at least one, preferably two, as remounts for my troopers. I'm authorised to pay the going price for good horses. Are they good?"
"They're very good, ma'am," interrupted the trooper. "Sorry, ma'am, but they are."
Ardan looked at Alna. She nodded. "The going rate, Hanna. Half for me, half for the ladies," Ardan said, smiling at his friend.
Fel nodded, as Alna interrupted. "All for you, Ardan. You killed the outlaws and rescued me and Lea. I insist," she said as Ardan began to shake his head. "None for us, all for Ardan," she said to Fel, who nodded and bowed slightly. Alna gave a curt nod in return.
Ardan shrugged as Hanna turned to him again. He grinned at his friend. "Make sure you take the correct horses."
"We will. Ladies, Ardan, join me for dinner, if you would?" Fel smiled. "I'm not sure what it is, but the smells from the kitchen are quite delightful. But for now, if you'll excuse me?"
Ardan and the two women were on the road shortly after first light next morning, aiming to make Ansel Crossing by nightfall and the sun was just touching the mountain top as they paused for a moment on a rise.
"There, Ardan, our home." Alna gestured to the cluster of buildings below them, tucked against the mountain side.
"Which is yours?"
"The biggest," said Leara with a wry grin. "We never told you. Mama is headwoman."
Ardan was startled. "Why travel without an escort? Surely your people could provide one?"
"They could, Ardan, yes. But who would tend the crops and animals if I took able-bodied men and women away from their homes?" said Alna.
He nodded. "A valid point, Alna. I hate to think of the risk, though, particularly after your experiences."
"Which were on our way back." She held up her hand as he opened his mouth to protest. "We travelled with a larger group going to Jalx, which probably kept bandits away. We were lucky."
"Aye, Alna. The alternative for you and Lea does not bear thinking about."
"So let's not. Come on, I want to get down while there is still light."
There were calls of welcome as the three riders made their way to the Asolan home. Ardan was conscious that Alna was held in affectionate respect by the people. He was surprised by Lea and Alna's home, for it was almost a fortress. Built in a square, walled, with the buildings facing in, it would be a worthy foe who could gain access without injury. As they dismounted, a stable lass took their reins. As she was about to lead the horses away Leara stopped her. She turned to Ardan.
"Is there any special attention we need to give to Shadow?"
Ardan smiled. "No, no more than a good lad gives any horse." He smiled at the girl, scarce fourteen, he thought. "A little grain as a treat, perhaps."
"See to it, Mila," said Leara.
"Yes, Fral Lea."
"My bags," said Ardan.
"Will be brought to your room," said Alna. "You are our guest, Ardan. This way."
An hour later, he was bathed and dressed in clean clothing. There was a knock on the door, and Alna came in wearing a soft, loose robe. She smiled at him, but her face became serious.
"Ardan, we must talk."
"Of course." He gestured to a couch and they sat, Alna on the edge, hands clasped in her lap. "What is it, Alna? A problem of some sort?"
She looked up at him, smiling, and shook her head. A pause before she went on. "Ardan, Lea tells me you have made some study of Hinazi history and customs?"
"A little. The popular texts."
"Um, let me think. Hendal . . . Yalsen . . . Keln . . . and Asolan," he finished in a tone of surprise. "Any relation?"
"My late husband's grandfather." She smiled. "Ardan, you say you have studied the popular texts. Yalsen and Asolan are scarcely 'popular' texts."
"Our Guide training requires us to be familiar with the peoples of the areas we may have to serve. The recommended text is Hendal."
"True, that one is a popular text. Why the others?"
"Because I found the Hinazi culture fascinating and wanted to learn more."
"In your reading, no doubt you will have read of the Hinazi tradition to make someone who has rendered them a great service their guest, 'table and bed'. Do you know what that means?"
Ardan flushed. "The household honours the guest by supplying not only the meal and the bed, but a companion for the night."
"True." Alna smiled gravely. "We intend to honour you this way, Ardan."
He was startled. "But I did nothing any decent man wouldn't have done."
"True. But, Ardan, my dear, it was you who saved me and Lea, it was you who was there. You saved our lives and therefore, my dear Ardan, we honour you."
"I don't know what to say."
"When the time comes, the correct response is to stand, bow to your host, bow to your companion for the night, then sit and finish your meal." Alna smiled. "Just don't drink too much." She frowned. "What do you know about other Hinazi traditions, specifically that one which tells what happens when a young woman chooses the man to take her virginity?"
Ardan frowned. "If I remember rightly, the man must first satisfy the mother."
"That's it. These days, what usually happens is that the man and the girl's mother spend some time in a bedroom together. Whether they actually do anything or not is up to them. Frequently nothing happens except that the young man gets a lot of useful advice about the young lady he is about to deflower."
"Why are you telling me this?" Ardan asked, a faint hope lurking at the back of his mind.
"Lea and I have talked of little else except you since we got home. Lea is still virgin. She told me that she wishes you to be the one to relieve her of that state."
Ardan sat back, stunned. "I don't know what to say."
"'When in doubt say nothing' has always served me well. I commend it to you," Alna said, her tone dry.
He looked at her. "So are you telling me that you are here as the girl's - Leara's - mother, and that it is up to me to satisfy you?"
"Quite so, dear Ardan," Alna said, with a smile, reaching for his hand, her fingers twining with his. "Ardan, my dear, I am a widow. No man has touched me in four years." She smiled faintly. "Frankly, there have been none I wanted to share my bed. Until now, that is. I would like to uphold the tradition. Lea knows I am here and she knows how I feel. It's up to you, my dear. There will never be any word of censure if you do not touch me, nor will I say anything to Lea. I owe you my life."
"But I would have to look at myself in the mirror, Alna." Ardan took a deep breath. "I am yours to command."
Alna laughed softly. "In that case I command you to enjoy yourself as much as you can while pleasing an old lady by shafting her. We have an hour before the meal, although I would like a little time to change before we eat." She leaned towards him, her mouth ready for his kiss. Ardan took her in his arms, bending to her lips, warm, soft, trembling, her mouth opening beneath his, her tongue duelling with his, probing, exploring.
Gently, Alna broke the kiss. "I like to be touched," she whispered, loosening the front of her robe and moving back into his embrace. Again they kissed and then Ardan stood, lifting Alna and moving to the bed, laying her there. She smiled up at him as he let his fingers pull at the front of her robe, opening her to him. He kept his eyes on hers as he reached out, touching her breast, letting his hand cup the soft fullness, the nipple hard against his palm. There was a smile in her eyes as her hand covered his.
"Have you ever eaten a woman, Ardan?"
"No, not yet," he said, wondering suddenly what it would be like to taste this woman.
"Would you like to?"
"I think I would."
"I would like it, too," she murmured. She moved her legs apart, opening herself to him. "You'll be better placed between my legs."
Ardan quickly threw off his clothes, aware of her appraising, admiring, look as she saw his prick for the first time. He knelt on the bed between Alna's feet. She was open to him, legs wide apart. The pubic hair on her mound was darker than on her head, unexposed to the sun to lighten it. Her sex showed pinkly through it. He went forward onto his elbows, moving his head to lap between her legs. He could smell her, pungent, exciting, stimulating. His prick, already well on the way to full hardness, got a little stiffer. He leaned forwards, breathing deep, and extended his tongue, running it lightly up her slit, his tongue pointed, from the rose-brown pucker of her anus to the tip of her clitoris, just beginning to show.