Sufferance Ch. 04byEtaski©
Author's Notes: This story is erotic fantasy written by Etaski. I reserve the right to be listed as the author of this story, wherever it is posted. If found posted anywhere except Literotica.com with this note attached, this story is posted without my permission. © Etaski 2012
This story is continued.
And I was serious about there being more story crammed in with the sex. ;)
The Grand Hall could fit two thousand Drow comfortably, which was probably about half our population... if one didn't count the various Draegloth breeds and all non-Drow slaves, servants, traders, craftmakers, and miscreants that crawled over the City.
At this festival there would be only a fraction of that capacity: several representatives from the Priesthood and their attendants, some from each of the current Twenty-Three Houses (the number was not static), *their* attendants, and a handful of wizards from the Tower.
The magicians' purposes were mostly maintenance of various cantrips in the Grant Hall and being available to our Queen and Priestesses. One never did really know when they would need a mage. I knew I'd be watching them, too, in case I got lucky enough to find one of them familiar.
The Bred Consorts would either be attending their current Matrons, or presented by the Priestesses when the time came. Their total number was only half that of the Red Sisters; there literally were not enough to give each House even one, and it was not uncommon that the Houses with the highest current status would have two or three.
Each "virgin" Consort (which only meant that he'd not served a Matron an official term yet; the Priestesses would not present an untried male) would prove his ability and virility atop one of Lolth's altar prior to being sent with his new Mistress at the end of the ball. This assumed there were any virgins this season. Any of those being "swapped" would also have to prove they were still capable after their previous service, with the Valsharess taking careful, magical note of their health as evidence of their treatment.
It was for that ritual that Curgia had prepared herself and her fertility, anticipating she be the one from her House to test a Consort. It would not be her, of course, but another of her sisters tonight. I wondered if she would even show her face now?
Musicians, artisans, performers, soldiers and servants abounded, swelling the number of bodies present four-fold at least, although still only eight Red Sisters would be visible to ensure the peace. That was still expected to be plenty, although four more would remain unseen with the explicit priority to protect the Valsharess and Priestesses, should any threat make itself known. Almost a quarter of us attended this ball, which did demonstrate its importance to our traditions, such as it was, even though it was not a particularly taxing assignment.
Essentially, I was to be among those to prowl the grounds as a bright visual cue, reminding the guests to behave. If they did not behave, the Red Sisters were to make public examples of them.
Given the stories I remembered, but had never witnessed, it was not difficult to understand why it only took a visual cue to keep the inter-political disturbances at a minimum for one party. As a Noble I had always allowed for some exaggeration, but still, being given to the Red Sisters for punishment—private or public—had never sounded like a risk worth any reward. If the Priestesses had the power to bless or damn someone in the name of Lolth, then the Red Sisters had the power to desecrate and destroy to the point where it wouldn't matter what the Priestesses had thought to do.
Such a punishment had not been necessary in public for at least the length of my young life. The last victim was from before my time; all I knew was that their House did not exist anymore.
In spite of what I'd suggested to Gaelan about having fun tonight, we wouldn't be able to stand near each other often or take any cooperative activities as we had only slightly overlapping stations and areas to watch, as well as be seen. The eight of us would trade areas every half hour so as not to give the impression that we were hemmed to one plot while coverage would still be constant.
I'd taken my first position to the side and closest to the door as the guests and representatives arrived in due fashion in their fine, flowing dress and artful decorations and masks. The "costume" part was very loosely interpreted with stylized props or headdresses that implied something in addition to being Noble, mostly with coloring to take best advantage of candle and torchlight or glowing lichen. No Noble Drow would truly try to dress as anything other than what they were. Why should they?
It came back to me as the Grand Hall began to fill that before, I'd found the social rituals to be fairly boring unless I either became engrossed in a plot or managed to seduce an interesting male from another House. Otherwise, I would have been just as happy to skip them. Since that was often not an option, it was also why I had gone looking for trouble or challenge.
I never thought I was entirely alone in that outlook, though there was also the fact that the higher up one's status was, the more they tended to oppress those wishing to overturn the boulder. They were happy where they were, more or less, and wanted it to remain in power as long as possible.
My former House was the Thirteenth House, somewhat below the middle but threatening to slide further thanks to a Matron who seemed to run out of steam, a First Daughter obsessed with Priestess rituals, a stupid, short-sighted Second Daughter as heir after the death of the first, and a smarter, more determined Third Daughter who could not be the favored one—because she was ultimately incapable of performing the one duty that was non-negotiable in being a Matron: bearing children.
Perhaps House Thalluen had slipped further since Mother had sent me away. I didn't know.
I realized that a representative from House Thalluen would be here tonight. Curiously, it did not have the shocking impact one might have expected; I hadn't given it any thought until now. The challenges presented by the Sisters had dwarfed anything back at my birthplace, and I felt no longing for it anymore. The last time I'd had any contact at all was a brief visit home after a decade at Court which had not ended well. That had been more than five years ago. It was only natural curiosity that I wondered whether I would know the one they sent.
I made my assigned rounds, observed more gestures and leans to whisper than I ever had before, now not having to engage myself. I saw faces I recognized but they would quickly avert their gaze if I came near them. Three betrayed their shock at recognizing me but quickly covered it up.
I had to admit that was enjoyable though I kept my face like stone; before now the intimidation would not have been there, for they were several Houses higher in status than I had been. Now, it was all due to the uniform.
Well, that and what wearing the uniform spoke of my training and "appetites" for certain kinds of torture.
I spotted Curgia after a time; she had indeed shown up to the ball tonight. Knowing what I knew, I could detect the strain at the corners of her smiling mouth and saw the misery in her eyes as she made her own kind of rounds, bartering and hinting with various members, indirectly comparing agendas. More than once her hand touched her abdomen, but it wasn't in proud anticipation. From the way she was drinking the fermented spirits, no one would expect her to be carrying. Of course, it had only been a few days; everything she felt had to be only the ghost in her anxious mind of what she knew was to come.
I had plenty of warning and time to shift out of line of sight when I at last saw the representative from my former House; it was fortunate, because I was genuinely surprised. The Matron herself had arrived, and immediately I could see why. She had somehow managed another pregnancy very recently; she was making sure all could see the round bump beneath her draped elegance.
The red leather of my glove softened the tips of my fingers as they dug into my palm. Actually seeing her, and seeing her pregnant, I felt more reaction in my chest. It was plain our Mother was just replacing us, all of us, and at first I truly hated her. A spiteful thought crossed my mind, of making sure the new babe, if a girl, did not reach adulthood...
Given another moment to reconsider, however, I had to ask what else could Mother do? What would I do in her place? She would never have me returned to her; I knew that and so did she. Red Sisters never returned to their Houses. Plus she was showing the good sense to pass on giving the future of House Thalluen to Kaltra the Incompetent. At least she was still capable of bearing young, unlike her Third born had been.
Had been. I could conceive now, though, thanks to the Priestesses...but only when it would offer me no benefit at all. Had I been fertile upon my blood sister's death, Mother might have considered me seriously as the Thalluendara, the chosen Heir in spite of the birth order. I would not have remained Thalluensareci.
And my life would be very different right now.
I refocused and continued on my rounds; I made no special effort to be visible to the Matron of Thalluen, but it was inevitable in the Grand Hall with the light and the bright red of my leathers. I'd not been looking at her when she first caught sight, I figured, because when our eyes did meet, she did not blink.
Instead she smiled slightly, showing what could be a guarded measure of pride in her classical copper eyes, though she soon looked away like all the rest. I approached her anyway, getting within several paces as Nobles around her became aware of me and stiffened, parting for me or taking a deliberate step away from Matron Thalluen. None gave away whether they caught the likeness between us, though I'd have thought only the blind would miss it.
"You honor Lolth's festival with your presence, Matron," I said, looking meaningfully at her swollen belly.
I knew Mother would be dissecting my words and my tone, trying to decide if I meant a threat to her unborn. I didn't; it was another grudge that would do me no good at all. I let her see the lack of menace.
Finally she nodded, some of the tension leaving her shoulders. "Our humble thanks, Red Sister. That was our most faithful wish. Bless and keep the Valsharess, Defender."
I nodded and continued on.
There it was. The last acknowledgement there may ever be between us. I belonged nowhere but with the Red Sisters, my new family just as they had said, and Gaelan closer to a true sister than that baby would ever be. If my former House ever drew the attention of the Red Sisters, I knew I would be one of those chosen to deal with it—as a test of loyalty, no doubt—but for the time being, I could let it all go. I might as well.
I had plenty of time to watch everyone three times over and the freedom to move among them without obstruction or delays. Of course I noticed the Noble male counterparts on the arms of the named guests, and a quiet pang of longing was present but also...I noted that they appeared in a new light to me. It seemed to have been so long since I'd been around them that, now being surrounded, they moved differently, smiled differently than before.
My plainest thought was that it was more obvious which males actually had more will and sway over their Matrons or Mistresses. Not all of them stood by handsomely, with interest only for what gifts and compliments could be offered them. Some may be using what favor they could garner toward less tangible ends.
Before I would have laughed at the thought, but it was there, I was quite sure. Moreso with this than with Kerse's eye contact with at me through the spy wall. I just hadn't cared to see it before. All I had been hunting before for were ones who wanted to play, or those few who wanted to fight against their status, overtly rebellious and ready to be dominated. They had been particularly delicious.
But how could they not learn subtlety over time, the same way a Daughter could? They couldn't all be like the subservient Consorts or the—
My eyes landed on a trio of wizards who'd been talking with each other nearer to the musicians who were playing their strings and air pipes. As one they saw me and two looked away immediately while I could have sworn the third had given me an inviting look.
Perhaps some of them could just enjoy danger and challenge nearly as much as a female.
I didn't break stride as I changed course to approach them; the two cautious individuals did not look happy, but the one with playful, rust-colored eyes was surprised. I supposed he expected I'd ignore his bedroom gaze.
No. I actually wanted a closer look at these three. And if one wanted to play, I would take the opening at least to learn his name. For later. I still wanted to find that one bitter wizard in a Tower with a population only somewhat more than the Red Sisters. One possibility might be to persuade a brother wizard to give him up.
At the same time, the mental image of this particular wizard willingly disrobing and stretching out underneath me, offering me a cock at full attention.... I groaned inwardly.
I took a moment to note the modest, full robes they wore. The material was uncharacteristically thick for most Drow, and it partially obscured their shape. They favored the darker shakes of blue, though I didn't miss the not-just-decorative threads of purple and gold mixed in at the hems; ultimately owned and directed by the Valsharess and the Priestesses.
The one flirting with me had a subtle swath of brown draped over one shoulder as well; it meant he was connected to the army and therefore probably a battle mage. The other two had no such marks, and so were probably Tower researchers.
I reflected that "my" wizard had been naked at the time his invisibility spell was just beginning to wear off; I had no idea what his specialty was, if he had one. Whatever of that, though, I was reasonably sure the battle mage was not the one I sought. My nose would tell me for sure once I got close enough.
"Red Sister, you honor us," he said, betraying no nervousness. "Is there some urgent service for which you need one of us? We will assist and gladly."
His tone withheld any suggestion, and he was not leering; he could have been legitimately asking whether I needed a scribe to pen and deliver a message, or someone to relight one of the magic candles that had gone out in the chandelier above. Yet I could have asked instead that he take my arm to go somewhere more privately, and he'd have done it without blink.
The other two, however, looked a little green around the edges, clearly desperate to hope that the double entendre was not accepted. It appealed to my hunter's side; the reluctant could be so much fun when I knew they had to submit sooner or later. But that was not my purpose here.
I tried to decide whether or not to take the direct method of answering my question, which might give my wizard advance warning if none of these three were who I sought. I knew they gossiped about others as much as any Drow clique. However, it would also depend how many within the Tower knew the details of Red Sister initiation, and whether my wizard was paranoid enough to have let others know one of the Sisters might try to find him. My guess was "not many" on the former, but "likely" on the other.
I decided I could do a mix of direct and indirect; I had my opening, after all.
I took a step closer to the battle mage and leaned slowly.
"Don't move," I warned in a low purr, and brought my nose and mouth to brush exceedingly lightly against his smooth throat. I heard him drawn in air, excited. Meanwhile I concentrated on his scent. New, fragrant and attractive but definitely not one I'd smelled before. I moved back and took a step to sample the second one immediately after; his scent was bitter-tinged with fear and had sweet undertones. He probably drank a lot of hot, seasoned drinks. Not my cup of taze, so to speak, but he was also one I had never smelled before.
The other two shuffled just a little bit as the third one went stiff for his turn; also bitter-tinged, but this time was more savory. And new.
None of them were "my" wizard.
I leaned back and stepped back, smiling without showing teeth; only the battle mage would meet my eyes but he looked a little baffled (and probably annoyed at the other two receiving equal attention).
"Very nice, I'll wager you can think under pressure," I complimented the battle mage, gesturing to his brown sash.
It worked beautifully. He beamed.
"Three skirmishes, no casualties thanks to me, Red Sister."
I nodded, surveying the room again periodically as we poke. I was still on assignment. "Against what?"
He had the grace to clear his throat in playful humility; he wasn't going to overplay his worth at first meeting. "Small bands of raiders with a few troublesome gnomes, Red Sister. But I will be ready for more challenging work when the time comes."
Very well done; he sounded almost devoted. "And your name, mage?"
"Callitro, Sister," he answered, and did not ask for mine.
"You talk to many Red Sisters, Callitro?"
I quirked my brow and my smile. "Do you 'not talk' with many Red Sisters, Callitro?"
He laughed, understanding my meaning. "Alas. Only admiration thus far, Sister. "
Possibility must have been shining in his mind just as it was in mine; mutually beneficial relationships had their place but I was still wary of them. It came down to total knowledge; if he knew more of Red Sisters than I knew of wizards, it would ultimately work in his favor, not mine. On the other hand, if he knew very little and I learned more of the Tower, then he would be worth the risk.
I also found myself wondering why I hadn't taken a pregnancy-prevention draught before the party? Surely I had other orifices to use, but it had been a while since male cream graced my inner thighs...
I still scanned the room as I stood near the wizards; it was a given that at least one Red Sister would note me in the swirling crowd and probably understood my motivation. A few Nobles would have noticed, too, but they wouldn't know why. The Priestesses weren't yet present with the Consorts, and the Valsharess was sitting as she had been, receiving one bow after another. Who knew what all She saw?
I had stopped by the wizards, talked to them, and it was known. I couldn't leave without something in exchange for that.
"Thus far..." I echoed the wizard's last words with a suggestive gaze, all in the eyes as I kept my expression placid.
Callitro maintained eye contact for three full seconds before looking down, a perfectly timed and proper signal of interest, despite the primal desire I knew was there; I could sense the heat coming off his skin.
My old self would have found an empty chamber or secluded bit of garden right now; my new self could not abandon her post. Nor did I know whether I could meet him after the worship ball.
I reached up to barely touch his upper arm. "Come."
He seemed to forget his gaping companions as he took a few steps to the side with me; not so easy to hear casual conversation when standing closer to the music.
"Do you receive visitors?" I asked in his ear and he shivered slightly before learning back.
The burnt-orange of Callitro's eyes locked on mine again and for longer than technically proper; it finally occurred to me that he was fascinated by the color. He was not the first.
He was also not slow in the head.
"No, no casual visitors but...make an order for me by name," he murmured. "Something you need; a potion, a tool, an enchanted weapon. Send it through Phaelus, my Head Mage, I've seen him talk with the Sisters. You may check my progress as you see fit. I have my own small quarter."