tagSci-Fi & FantasyShards of the One Pt. 01

Shards of the One Pt. 01

byGallowbrush©

BOOK ONE: AWAKENINGS

CHAPTER I

In which we are introduced to Bart, whose powers of oneiromancy are beginning to manifest, and an exceedingly obliging barmaid.

BARTHOLOMEW

Like a roiling sea, the tavern bucked and swelled with the uniquely elastic rhythm of the drunken crowd. In his corner, Bart faced the door and bore the considerable strain of not grimacing as it swung inward with the ingress of each dry-throated wayfarer. The nearest candelabra described lazy circles, masking and unmasking his sharp features with shadow. Vulpine, was Leopold's word. Of course. So many years down - and indeed, on- the road, Bart had come, grudgingly, to admire his brother's mastery of manners and diplomacy. How deftly he could combine compliment and insult. Leopold.

Bart, however, was masterful in his own ways. Even in the chaos of the crowded inn, others left him mostly to himself. Next to his glass and its latent ring of moisture, rested his dagger, unsheathed. He neither touched nor acknowledged the blade, nor did he affect the slightest air of menace. The other patrons, bumbling slightly too close to his table, caught the glint of its edge and returned the same wary glances with which he regarded the tavern generally. That was enough. The blade, as with the rest of his attire, was of fine quality, though simple in its design. He had retained the tastes, if not the trappings of his noble birth. Here, amongst mercantile travellers and country folk, he enjoyed relative anonymity. The pallid skin and sable hair, and the amber eyes with which all Blackwoods were blessed would have given him away instantly in his home county, but to these merry wanderers he was merely a handsome stranger.

Presently, he met the gaze of the barmaid making her way through the cheery fray. From his pouch he produced a single, rather greasy coin and proffered it, indicating in the same movement his emptied chalice. A lot could be inferred, Bart had long since discovered, as to such variables as profitability and the overall quality of an establishment from the glassware with which it's patrons were entrusted. The glasses at Three Forks Inn were of fine make, absent a single cloud or blemish - which fact had not escaped his notice. After all, there had been nothing else of any real interest to which to devote his attention. The backwater gossip and subsequent carousing had only made his loneliness the more apparent. He fingered the charm at his neck and wondered what dreams would come to him tonight. Lately, they had been increasingly vivid and violent, and he had ruminated at some length what they might possibly mean.

Presently, bearing before her a clear jug of the red wine he had demonstrated his proclivity toward, the barmaid returned. She was unmistakably pastoral in her bearing, though endearingly so. She wore a simple, dun-coloured serving dress and her hair, the colour of straw, lay against her shoulder in a neat braid. She was not beautiful, thought Bart, at least in any traditional sense. She was, however, a friendly-faced and comely girl, just shy of twenty by his reckoning. As she decanted the wine with immaculate, practiced form, he was afforded a view of her ample breasts surging against her bodice's lace. He grit his teeth slightly, suddenly aroused. Wordlessly, the maid turned away once more, palming the coin. Bart smiled, despite himself. Desire (or loneliness, or both) shot through him. He drew his woolen cloak, grey as soot, around his shoulder and took a long sip. At least the wine here was excellent.

*****

And so, the night, and several more cups, drained away. The tavern slowly grew quiet as the revelers retired upstairs, or braved the gathering storm, or else fell into hushed, hunched discussion of rural politics or The War. All this time, Bart had kept a hungry eye on the barmaid. He watched her lean her solid frame against the oak bar, resting her breasts on its cup-strewn surface. Her ass was not pert, like a plump city girl's, nor was it boyishly flat. It brought to mind the firmness of equine flanks- a thought that, to his own surprise, Bart did not find wholly discouraging.

The maid and barman had begun the necessary diminuendo of clearing up, and Bart relished the sweetness of what would likely be the last glass. Gathering his accoutrements, he made his way, with deliberate slowness, to the bar.

As he rested an elbow on the warm wood, he wondered whether this establishment offered services beyond a hot meal and soft bed. The barmaid, demurely, piped up :

"Everything to your liking, sir?"

"Certainly. Have you a room?"

"Yes, sir." She replied, somewhat nervously. "Will you be wanting the standard room, sir, or perhaps something more accomodating? Our suites... " She trailed off, noting his expression.

He weighed the options for the briefest of moments. A hot bath was an excellent idea.

"The latter, I should think." He met her eyes.

"Of course, sir. Here you are."

She presented him with a metal key, incised with a small 6. He took it from her hand, noting its softness. The barman busied himself stacking chairs.

"So." His hand, road-toughened, came to rest atop her own. A bashful grin flitted across his reddened face.

She met his eyes again, and blushed. Her eyes, brown and wide in an expression of earnest, were suddenly downcast. She had taken his meaning. Her reaction surprised him. She had understood the unspoken question, and yet she flushed with apparent shame. This girl was no common country whore, then.

"Sir," she began, softly. Gently, he slipped a handsome pile of coins under her downturned hand. At his touch, she seemed to soften.

"Will you... warm my bed tonight?" he asked.

It was clear that the gentle frankness with which he spoke pleased her. She gave a single nod.

"Sir... if... you will wait for me, in the room. You shan't be waiting long. I'll just. Sir."

He smiled, hoping to reassure her.

"Thank you." The stairs to the lodgings were sumptuously carpeted, and Bart felt slightly uncomfortable trudging up them in boots filthy with the day's ride. His room, too, appeared to be well worth the cost. A solid, double bed lay in one corner, next to a small table. On the other wall, a tin bath and a basin stood. The wine in his blood made his fingers clumsy as he stripped off cloak, jerkin and trousers. His boots, he arranged neatly at the foot of the bedpost. He made his way to the bed, which was richly quilted, and sat in just his breeches, eager.

*****

She was good to her word. Within a few minutes, the girl appeared in a dainty slip of white cotton, which clung to her large breasts and the mound of her sex. Carefully, she closed the door. Her eyes were shy, but unafraid. Like a leaf, the shift fell from her shoulder to the ground and pooled at her feet.

He gazed at her, again thrilled with desire. His cock sprung hard in an instant. She blushed at his noticing her noticing.

Her breasts were indeed full, a woman's, and in the chill air the brownish nipples stood erect. Now nude as she stood before him, he more charitably noted the charms of her form. Her decidedly feminine curves, the smoothness of her skin. The strength and suppleness of her limbs,her neck, her taut stomach.

Her cunt was unshaven, crowned in blondish fuzz. This only incensed his lust further, so accustomed had he become to the bare sexes of brothel harlots. This girl was no whore, he mused. And yet, with what practiced grace she knelt before him, affording him a delicious gaze down her spine to the muscled buttocks, pressed against her heels. It was almost endearing, the readiness and care with which she took him in her mouth, sliding his breeches simultaneously below his backside.

Her mouth was warm, her lips full and moistened. He felt her tongue gyrate against the base of his cock, and stiffened slightly. He took hold of her braid in one hand and gently tugged at her hair. At first, she flinched ever so slightly, but then she looked up at him and he felt as though her would come right then, staring into the sweet eyes of the very obliging taproom wench. She was tender with him, slowly, slowly taking him deeper into her mouth until his cock was slick with saliva. As the pleasure mounted in the base of his cock, he grasped at her braid more firmly. She responded immediately, sliding her lips over the length of him more and more rapidly. Bart gasped, and suddenly realised he'd been holding his breath. His was clearly not the first cock to grace her lips, but the thought bothered him not at all. He imagined, briefly, the lonesome barmaid fucking some pimpled knight now and then, or sucking the cock of some old merchant, too decrepit even to rut.

He sensed, somehow, her surprise that he had lasted so long. Doubtless what experience she had was with lusty wanderers too inebriated to offer much performance, or fat, itinerant pedlars who could barely keep from coming before she got her clothes off. The thought was equal parts amusing and depressing.

She took him in her hand, jerking his slippery cock whilst she took his balls, tentatively in her mouth. Her tongue was attentive and curious, a welcome change from the fierce impatience of a whore. She ran her eager tongue from the bottom of his shaft to its quivering tip. As she brought her lips once more over the head of his member, he shivered with ecstasy. The deliberate care of her movements thrilled him, the almost loving touch of her fingers against his thigh. Gently, she traced the scars that flecked his groin and waist as she began to bob again. Her warmth there, the wetness of her mouth, the feeling of her smooth skin and sweet-smelling hair against his crotch, the coolness of her palms, the ripple of her spine as she undulated rhythmically, the flashes here and there of muscle as she moved. He felt the urgent pressure of his seed about to burst forth.

Straightening on the bed's edge, he was momentarily unsure how she would react to his impending climax. She was certainly aware of it. Would she shrink back and have him shamefully explode over himself? No, she was too devoted a lover to shy from him. Would she gag, and spit his seed into the basin like the whores in Garrow did? Sensuously, as if to reassure him, she slowed her rhythmic movement, taking him deeper into her throat than before. He felt her lips against his pubic bone and grinned at the sucking, gasping, moaning noises she made. He stood and she slid backward deftly, returning his gaze. Her hands rested behind his legs, just below the curve of his buttocks, gripping him tenderly. He felt the spasms of climax roll over his body, and she gave the slightest nod of consent at his look of askance. Instantly, a fountain of come erupted from him, filling her wet mouth. She grinned and blushed again, but her sucking continued. His seed came in a torrent, starts and spurts of it spilling onto her tongue. Eventually, as the faintness came over him, she released him and swallowed deeply, his thick load stickying her gasping mouth.

The maid stepped delicately away and fixed her braid. Without a word, she turned from him and began to cross the room.

Prostrate, his cock still leaping and slick with post-orgasmic excitement, Bart cleared his throat and called urgently;

"Don't go."

"No..." This time she dispensed with "sir".

Again she faced him, her breasts round and pale as two lumps of cream, richly shadowed in the candlelight.

"Might you like a bath, sir?" Formality and composure momentarily regained.

A breathless "Yes" was all Bart could manage.

He fell backward and stared at the ceiling as the girl busied herself with heating the water. Against the frosted glass of the window the wind snapped and howled in unseen cracks. The talisman felt weighty on his heaving chest. In his periphery the maid, still nude, lifted a steaming kettle from the fireplace that warmed the far wall. Holding it in both hands she bent over the tub and Bart heard the soothing sound of warm water splashing on metal.

Steam issued forth and soon blanketed the room, so chill was the night air. Bart sat up, smoothing the bedspread absentmindedly, drinking in the handsome sight of the girl's buttocks, presenting over the bath. As she bent further, between her thighs he caught a glimpse of her lower lips, slightly parted. It was almost enough to make him hard again, even so soon. The girl tossed dried petals and salts into the water and dipped again to gauge its temperature. Satisfied, she dried her hand with a small towel that rested next to the sink, alongside toiletries and soaps. He saw that she had already gathered his undergarments and placed them in a smaller tub of foamy water that steamed away happily.

The girl, turning back toward him, clasped her hands across her sex, conscious again of her nudity. With a brief nod, she fixed her gaze on the floor. Bart stood slowly and strode toward the waiting bath. Shyly, the maid stepped aside and brushed at a loose strand of hair. Gingerly, he lowered one foot, and then the other, into the piping water. Dirt, long-ingrained, sluiced off the dry, pale skin of his feet and calves, forming an oily skein on the surface which swirled and eddied away. He let out a sigh of pleasure at the inviting warmth. Slowly, so slowly, he lowered his body an inch at a time into the water, bracing himself with both arms. The maid knelt next to the tub, which was large enough for him to extend and spread his legs and rest his back against the side. She produced a small cloth from the sill, and when he made no movement to obstruct her, she wet it carefully and gently sopped and scrubbed his chest. His torso, like the rest of his body she had come to some familiarity with, was largely hairless, his skin drawn tight and pallid over lean muscle.

The girl took great care to avoid irritating the numerous scars that flecked his chest and arms, some clearly recent, red-rimmed, and others hard to distinguish from the soft white flesh. Bart rolled his head back and let it rest on the edge of the tub. Diligently, the girl scrubbed clean every inch of him, gently massaging his arms, which he lifted obligingly, and the back of his neck. He leant forward and felt the roughness of the cloth, scraping away dirt and dead skin.

The firmness of her hand behind the flannel; the softness of her movements, stepping behind him; the warm, soapy water running in frequently-renewed rivulets across his shoulder; the occasional brush of her breath, silent, against his skin; the scents of the dried flowers and soap mingling in the steamy air.

He could sense her loneliness; it was the inverse of his own. He had traveled long and far, never stopping for long in any one town or city, always fleeing, always rushing headlong into some fresh misery. Her solitude was just as profound, though vastly different to that which he felt. he guessed she had probably never even left the hamlet of Three Forks. These strangers were all she ever saw of an outside world, these nights of passion, far-between and fleeting, all she had tasted of freedom and adventure. He felt a strange sense of pity and kinship come over him. He wondered what he could say, to soothe her somehow, as her touch had soothed him.

"That's... good." She made no indication that she'd heard. After a few moments, just as the rubbing began to chafe his skin a little, she let the cloth drop into the water. He heard her knees click as she stood, and a strange panic swept over him. He found he did not want her to leave.

He cleared his throat, but she only walked to the basin again, lifting a razor in a small bowl. So timid, and so soft were her movements that the razor did not make a sound against the ceramic bowl. She stopped and wordlessly awaited his approval. Her skin was flushed with pink blotches from the heat, her breasts rose and fell softly. He nodded assent, and she began to kneel again, hesitating and jerking slightly as she sought an agreeable angle. Her hand gripped the straight-razor without a tremor and he noted idly that her legs were as smooth and shear as silk, unmarked by a single cut or blemish.

"Please," he began, inclining his head at the water, "It will be easier." He did not shame her with "for you".

"Yes, sir...er, mister... " She trailed off. He hesitated, and then gave his true name.

"Blackwood. Bartholomew Blackwood". He could trust her. "And you?"

"I'm a serving-wench," she almost snapped. Downcast, she added, "... Sir". He frowned.

She stepped into the tub as gracefully as was possible with both hands occupied. Bart very nearly reached for them but felt he might startle her. If that razor tipped, he would probably lose his favourite organ. As she spread her legs to straddle the bath, she momentarily spread her sex half a metre from his face. It was neatly trimmed, and the large nub of her clitoris winked briefly as she moved. Careful of his groin, she knelt before him and delicately shaved his three-day stubble, foaming the blade diligently as she went. She stared intently at the sharpness of his jawline and worked meticulously, humming slightly as she became absorbed in her task. Bart smiled, then caught himself as she paused mid-stroke.

"Do you sing, girl?" he asked gently.

"A little, mister Blackwood. Country songs, mostly. Though we see our share of minstrels and I know a tune or two of theirs." She stopped herself, shy again.

"Would you sing something? Anything - anything you like. I'd like to hear it". She blushed a little and composed herself. Her bosom swelled and she begin to sing, with a pleasant, lilting voice:

O meet me, my love, at Silverport square

O ride your best horse, and wear your best gown

Wait for me, my love, with a rose in your hair

I'm but a few miles out of town

He felt drowsy, suddenly, and closed his eyes as she continued, drifting into a contented sleep.

But don't tarry long when you spy me there

Thundering south and over the hill

Be ready to ride; they are after me, dear,

Their hoofbeats echoing after me still

She leant closer to him and the vibration of her voice lulled him further to sleep. As her voice faded from his mind and his fatigue took hold, a vision came upon him. The dreams were more and more frequent lately and he was helpless to resist it. In it, he sat atop a horse, not his, heavily dressed in black armour, charging overland against a strong wind.

These strange visions were incredible in their clarity; he could smell the sweat of the poor, exhausted steed and felt the draining determination of the rider. The sounds of the horse's hooves against the earth, the trees alongside tossing in the howling wind, the dryness of the the rider's throat... it felt as real as waking. Suddenly, the horse rounded a corner and came clear of the woods. Despite the blur and darkness, the landscape seemed strangely familiar.

*****

The sound of the maid leaning back in the bath tore him from the dream as quickly as it had come upon him. More quietly, she sung the last verse of the song.

Listen, my love, for my end is near

With you were the brightest and best of my days

My time has come, but do not fear

My life and love are yours, always.

"'The Outlaw's Ballad', isn't it? A sombre song." He studied her face.

"Beautiful, though," she replied, a small smile appearing at the corners of her mouth.

"As was your rendition." Drowsily, he rubbed his cheek and discovered she had finished shaving his face. It certainly felt like good handiwork. Her smile widened as she noticed. She cleared her throat.

"Water's getting cold," she said.

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