tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Amazon's Pledge Ch. 01

The Amazon's Pledge Ch. 01

bySarahHawke©

1

The boat smelled of sweat and misery with just a hint of stale cheese. I had no idea why, since I knew for a fact that the captain had emptied the ship's larder in order to squeeze in a few more paying passengers. The trip east from Vorsalos to Highwind was only three days, after all, and nearly everyone around me seemed to have smuggled in a bit of bread or salted meat. Perhaps one of them was responsible for the pungent cloud assaulting my nostrils. I was tempted to conjure up a gust of wind to clear the air despite the fact that exposing myself as a sorcerer would almost certainly get me mugged. Or worse.

Grumbling under my breath, I flicked my eyes across the passenger deck for the hundredth time this morning. After two days locked inside this wooden box together, I should have been confident that none of these people were disguised Senosi Huntresses waiting to capture me. Growing up inside a city that treated sorcery like a plague had taught me to be cautious, however, and the Senosi were cunning and patient trackers. I wouldn't have been surprised if the Grand Inquisitrix had planted of her minions aboard every passenger ship departing Vorsalos.

Still, if there was a Huntress here, she had done one hell of a job with her disguise. The vast majority of women on this ship were mothers with young children, and the rest were too old or too feeble to be a mage-killer. The only exceptions were the two amazons huddled together in the corner a few yards away.

I turned and studied them. Like anyone else who had grown up on the Shattered Coast, I had heard plenty of stories about the warrior-women of Nol Krovos, a large island some five hundred miles away to the west. Some people claimed that men weren't allowed on the island at all, or that they were occasionally shipped in as "breeding stock" every few years before being dumped into the sea. I had long assumed that all those tales were preposterous flights of fancy from sex-starved Vorsalosian soldiers, but I didn't know for certain.

These particular women had largely kept to themselves. They were both on the young side—I would have been shocked if they were much older than twenty—and they looked almost exactly like I had pictured them from the stories: tall and athletic, with hardened red leather breastplates and matching leather skirts. I had no idea what the hell they could possibly be doing on a ship to Highwind, but every time I turned towards them my cock unwittingly stirred inside my trousers. I'd always had a weak spot for tough women, and once again I had to resist the urge to close my eyes and imagine what it would feel like to have their long, powerful legs wrapped around my waist...

By the gods, man, you really need to hire a whore when I get to Highwind.

I sighed and slumped back in my seat. As embarrassing as it was to admit, I hadn't been with a woman in over three months, and the loneliness was slowly driving me crazy. I occasionally went to sleep fantasizing about what the Senosi looked like under their tight leather armor, which was so fucked up it defied all basic sense and reason. Who in their right mind got hard thinking about the women who wanted to kill him?

Still, lust was probably a better vice than guilt, all things considered. My last lover had been thrown into the Inquisitrix's dungeon for the crime of helping me, after all, and I wished there were some way I could help her. I also wished she were here right now, preferably on her knees with her ruby lips wrapped my throbbing cock...

"Are you an apothecary?"

My eyes shot open and I nearly fell out of my seat. One of the amazon women was suddenly standing over me, her bright blue eyes glimmering in the dim light.

"I, uh..." I blubbered, clearing my throat. "What?"

She knelt down beside me. The sweet scent of her auburn hair—lilacs, perhaps?—flooded into my nose and made me forgot all about the mysterious stale cheese.

"You carry herbs in your pouch," she said, "and you have the look of an educated man."

My mouth went dry. Barely anyone had spoken to me during the trip so far, and I hadn't expected her of all people to buck the trend. "I, uh, no, I'm not an apothecary. I'm not much of anything, really."

Her brow furrowed. From a distance, I had found her passably attractive; in close, I realized she was downright gorgeous. Between her high cheekbones, her full lips, and her sinewy, athletic fame, she could have easily been mistaken for a statue of the war goddess. I had never been so attracted to a woman who could break me in half.

"Your eyes say differently," she said, studying me. I couldn't quite tell if she was sizing me up or planning to run me through. "You keep glancing towards my wounded sword-sister."

"I...well, I just wish I could help," I stuttered, clearing my throat again. In truth, I hadn't even realized that her partner was injured. "As far as I know there aren't any healers on this ship, but I'm sure there will be in Highwind."

"She will not survive that long," the amazon said gravely. "Hestiah's strength wanes by the hour, and at this rate I doubt she will live to see the setting of the sun tonight."

I swallowed so heavily I almost choked. I wasn't a master healer by any stretch of the imagination, but I knew enough tricks that I could probably keep this woman alive—assuming, of course, that I was willing to expose my true identity and be branded a pariah as a result. Keeping a low profile had been hard enough before a beautiful warrior-woman had started questioning me at point-blank range. Now half the people here were looking in our direction.

"I wish I could do something," I murmured. "I'm sorry. Really."

Her eyes returned to mine. A wave of guilt crashed over me, making me so nauseous I almost keeled over right there.

"You fear for your safety," the amazon said. "Your culture shuns sorcery, and you are worried about how the others will react."

I froze in place. How could she possibly...?

"Nol Krovos is a land steeped in magic," she went on. "I can sense it clinging to you, no matter how hard you try to conceal it."

I glanced about the cabin to make certain no one else had heard her words. "Look, I want to help," I whispered. "But this ship is filled with—"

"No harm will come to you while I stand at your side," she said, placing her hand on my cheek and staring me straight in the eye. "I have been trained from birth to serve and protect those with magic in their blood. You need not worry."

I let out a long, slow breath. Saying no to a beautiful woman was never easy; saying no to a beautiful woman whose lips were two inches from yours was essentially impossible. Especially when your cock was so hard it was on the verge of pressing against her leg.

"All right," I said, wondering if I had just willingly doomed myself to the gallows. "I'll see what I can do."

I started to stand up, but she unexpectedly placed her hands on my shoulders and held me in place. "Know this, sorcerer," she said. "If you save my sword-sister's life, I will pledge mine to yours."

"Uh," I mumbled. "What?"

"With the gods as my witness, I vow to serve and protect you from this moment until my death." She held me in place for several more seconds before she finally stood. "Now please, save her life if you can."

"I'll try," I promised. I stood from the wooden bench and shuffled across the row of passengers to where her friend was waiting. Her waning health was obvious once I drew close; her skin was incredibly pale, and her lips were almost purple. She eyed me warily as I approached.

"Je spadal, moshalim?" she asked in a strange tongue.

"Kosee terah," the amazon escorting me replied. She knelt down next to her wounded friend and glanced up to me again. "My name is Kaseya. This is Hestiah."

"Jorem," I said, forcing a nervous smile. "Jorem Farr. I'm afraid I can't promise anything. I'm not certain if I'll be able to help your friend here or not."

"All we can ask is that you try," Kaseya said. "The blood of the gods flows through your veins."

I snorted softly. "That's not how the people back home would describe it..."

I knelt over Hestiah and gently pulled open her bandages. There wasn't much blood; the chest wound she'd suffered had probably closed days ago, and they had obviously applied enough healing salves to mend the flesh. The problem was the infection beneath the skin.

"Where did you get this wound?" I asked, an anxious tingle crawling down my spine.

"We were attacked two days ago in Vorsalos," Kaseya said. "A woman in black leather fired a crossbow from the shadows. We do not know why."

"Black leather," I rasped. "Let me guess: she was also wearing a hood and a red scarf."

The amazons shared a confused glance. "Yes," Kaseya confirmed. "I managed to surprise her after her first shot. Our battle was brief, but I drove her back into the shadows." She frowned. "You know this woman?"

"Let's just say I'm intimately familiar with the group she represents," I said, resisting the urge to swear under my breath. I had no why one of the Senosi would attack a pair of amazons, but at this point almost nothing they did surprised me. The Inquisitrix effectively ruled Voralos at this point, and her personal assassins were growing bolder by the month.

"Can you help her?" Kaseya asked.

"I think so," I said, nodding. "These assassins typically coat their crossbow bolts with magical venom that prevents the blood from clotting. Even healing salves can't stop it—they can seal up the flesh, but victims continue to bleed internally until they die."

Kaseya scowled. "Despicable. What kind of enemy fights with so little regard for honor?"

"Most, in this part of the world," I replied mildly. "The good news is that I've dealt with this venom plenty of times before. Just give me a moment..."

I took a deep breath and reached out to the Aether. Its energy flowed through me like an invisible current, heightening my senses and unlocking a nearly infinite well of untapped power. My hands began to glow a soft green, and I heard several stifled gasps from nearby passengers. Magic might have been a common sight in Highwind and the rest of the Northern Reaches, but even the Academy wizards shunned or ignored true sorcerers. Channeling the Aether directly was dangerous, both to the channeler and to everyone around him. Most priestly and wizardly schools in the world taught their students to dilute the Aether's power through arcane formulae and long incantations. They feared the consequences of unconstrained magic—and with good reason. The Aether was essentially poison, after all; its currents slowly corrupted and decayed the physical body of anyone who channeled their power. Even the most meticulous, careful sorcerers rarely lived past middle age.

The Aether would invariably kill me someday, too. Though I had always assumed that the pitchforks and ropes would get me first.

"The toxin has run deep," I said, my eyes fluttering shut in concentration. "I can't remove it, but I should be able to neutralize it."

When I touched the wounded amazon's flesh, I could sense every ache and pain in her body just as if I were experiencing them myself. The sensations allowed me to narrow down the infected areas and target them with a surge of restorative energy. Once the poison had been purged, it was a trivial task to stop the bleeding and start the healing process.

I had learned this particular healing technique almost by accident as a child, and without it I never would have survived this long. Healing priests were rare and expensive in Vorsalos. Selling my services on the black market had been a reliable way to put food on the table.

"There," I breathed, reopening my eyes. Hestiah's skin had already regained a significant amount of its color. "It will take a few days to completely flush from your system, but I don't think there's any permanent damage. Just make sure you get some fresh food and water when we reach Highwind."

Hestiah smiled up at me, and her hand reached up and touched my cheek. "Thank you, moshalim. Kaseya was right about you—you do carry the blood of the gods."

"I'm just glad I could help," I told her, patting her hand before anxiously glancing around the ship. I suddenly wished I knew more about enchantment magic. Wiping the memories of all these passengers would be incredibly useful right about now...

"Maskari..." Kaseya breathed, touching my arm. The look in her eyes was so intense it actually made me uncomfortable.

"I don't know what that means, but you should probably keep your friend here company for a while," I said. The best thing for me to do right now was get out of everyone's sight. If there was a Senosi hiding on this ship...well, at least I would die after impressing a pair of gorgeous amazons. There were worse things to write on an epitaph.

I patted both women on the arm before I stood and scurried across the passenger deck. The faster I got out of sight, the less likely any of these people would accost me...or so I hoped. Besides, I hadn't visited the galley since yesterday, and even if this ship hadn't stocked much food, I knew for a fact the captain had squirreled away some grog.

Ten minutes later, I was loitering on the quarterdeck with a half-empty bottle of mysterious red liquor in my hand. The private cabins here had been reserved for passengers who'd paid triple for the ship, but thankfully no one had ordered me to leave yet. Half of these people were probably asleep, and the others were playing cards or whispering quietly to themselves.

I had just about finished the bottle when the deck door abruptly opened. Kaseya strode inside, her piercing blue eyes immediately latching onto mine. Strangely enough, she wasn't armed; she carried a folded red cloth in one hand and a leather pouch in the other.

"Maskari," she said. "You should not have run off."

"Uh, you might not want to leave your friend alone just yet," I said, wondering why in the abyss she had followed me. She had the same intense look on her face as before. "She will need more time to fully recover."

"Hestiah is strong," Kaseya said, approaching closer. "And I wish to complete the Maskari-Shan before we reach the city."

I shook my head. "I don't know what any of that means."

"I pledged my life to yours if you saved my sword-sister. You fulfilled your end of the bargain, now I must fulfill mine."

I took another sip from the bottle, trying to decide if this woman was crazy or serious. Or maybe both.

"Look, you don't need to pledge anything, sweetheart," I told her. "I appreciate the offer, but—"

"The pledge has already been made," Kaseya interrupted. She continued staring intently at me for a moment before she turned and peered into one of the nearby cabins. "We require privacy for the ritual. Come."

"I don't—"

Before I could finish, she pushed open the door to the nearest cabin. "My Maskari and I require this room."

The two well-dressed men playing cards inside practically jumped out of their seats. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"You may return to your game later," Kaseya repeated, stepping through the door. "Move, or be moved."

"Uh, let's not do anything hasty," I said, scrambling forward and touching her shoulder. "I'm sorry about all this, gentlemen, but she's not from around here. We can—"

"I will not ask again," Kaseya said. "Move."

My breath caught in my throat. Forget the Senosi Huntresses—at this rate, the captain would just pitch us into the sea himself...

The two men stood and snarled like they were about to argue, but apparently the feral glint in her eyes convinced them otherwise. They grabbed their cards and practically lunged out of the room, muttering under their breath but still cowering when they passed by the angry amazon.

"This cabin will suffice," Kaseya said once they were out of sight.

I glanced down at the empty wooden bench inside the cramped room. "I still don't understand what this is about."

"I will explain everything. Please, Maskari, have a seat."

Her expression had abruptly softened. I didn't see any trace of the anger or determination I had seen before. Now she looked almost...desperate.

"All right," I murmured, shuffling over to the bench. "But you'd better hope they don't go complain to the captain."

"If they do, we will make them regret it. An amazon warrior and her Maskari are more than a match for any of the dregs on this ship."

I watched in idle fascination as she unfolded her red cloth upon the floor in front of me. From the golden tassels and detailed embroidery, I assumed it was some kind of prayer rug. She more or less confirmed my theory when she sank down to her knees on it a second later.

"Moshalim salah, v'morth kraan Maskari," she whispered as if she were reciting some kind of incantation. She placed one hand on each of my thighs and closed her eyes as she repeated the incantation over and over.

A part of me wanted to stop her and ask for a translation, but another part—a rapidly-swelling part—was far more concerned about the proximity of her lips to the growing bulge in my trousers.

This is bad. This is really bad. She's trying to perform some kind of serious cultural ritual here, and my cock is about to burst out of my pants and slap her on the chin.

My throat went so dry I had to swallow three times before anything happened. The more her lips moved, the harder it became for me to resist imagining what it would feel like to slip my stiff member between them. The fact she was already on her knees just made the situation even more difficult...

Kaseya's eyes finally reopened when she finished her incantation. "The gods have blessed our union," she said. "We need merely complete the ritual."

"How?" I rasped.

"You must don your tan'hema." She reached into her leather pouch and produced a silver ring crowned by a small red gemstone. "The longer you wear it, the stronger our connection will become."

"Wait, this isn't some kind of marriage thing, is it?" I asked, frowning. "I mean, no offense, but we don't even—"

"Amazon warriors do not marry," Kaseya replied as if it were obvious. "Our duty to defend and serve our Maskari leaves little time for anything else."

"Uh...right," I murmured, taking the ring. I could feel the latent magical energy in the metal, and the tiny fraction of my brain still capable of basic reason pleaded with me to give the thing back and get the hell out of here. I didn't listen. I couldn't listen, not with her perfect lips and perfect cleavage and perfect everything hovering an inch above my cock.

"The tan'hema symbolizes your dominance," Kaseya said as I slipped the ring onto my finger. "The tan'ratha symbolizes my submission."

She reached back into her pouch and withdrew a golden, emerald-studded choker. Its magical aura was considerably stronger than the ring, and the metal was strangely warm when she laid it across my palms.

"Place it upon me, and I shall be yours," Kaseya said, stretching out her neck and lifting her long auburn ponytail out of the way.

I stared blankly at her flawless skin, dumbfounded, until she arched an inquisitive eyebrow at me.

"I, uh..." I took a deep breath and tried to swallow again. At this point, I was nearly convinced that this was all one big hallucination. But on the off chance it wasn't, I really needed to get my shit together...

"Are collars not a sign of submission in your culture?" Kaseya asked.

"They are, but..." I shook my head. "You are not my slave."

"No, but you are my Maskari."

"You keep using that term, but I have no idea what it means."

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