The Lady of the Forge


It spurred him on, tore from him the last vestiges of restraint to which he had been barely able to cling. He wanted it to last, knew it couldn't, knew that if it did it might be more than either of them could survive. And so he let go gladly, emptying himself into her, and at the height of it thought for an instant that he had tried to hold on too long, that it was too much, that this would be how he died, how they both died, together.

This was the light of which she had spoken … the white light at the end of all things … and they had reached it as one.

Then the light became darkness, and the darkness became a gradual return to sensation, and only when he regained consciousness did Karandis realize he had lost it in the first place. Not died, but lost consciousness …

"Audra?" he asked in sudden concern.

She lay beneath him, eyes closed, and still … so still. But even as his heart seemed to stop dead in his chest, she uttered a soft moan and her eyelids fluttered open.

"I thought I'd lost you," he said.

"Never," she murmured.

"No. Never." He pressed his forehead to hers, and kissed the bridge of her nose. "Never."

A faint smile seemed all the movement she could manage. "Mmm. What … what was that?"

"Wonderful." He paused, then added, "Dangerous. Everything."

"Not to mention … payback for all those times I've interrupted your morning exercises?"

"I have a better idea now of why you have to." He nuzzled her ear. "If it's like that …"

"Nothing has ever been like that." Her gaze shifted over his shoulder, and the faint smile widened. She reached up, her hand moving with the dreamlike drifting of a sleepwalker, and brushed her fingertips over the ivory hilt of the sword.

"I was … in a hurry," he said, the knowledge that he was still almost entirely dressed finally recurring to him.

It was followed by the recollection that she had not been alone in her workroom, and he had not been alone when he came to visit her. He saw the same half-amused, unrepentant knowledge twinkle in her eyes.

"Do you think we shocked them terribly?" she asked.

"Probably." He couldn't withhold a grin. "Rodenveld was with me."

"Oh, dear gods, the poor thane!"

He disentangled himself, rose from her, and spared a moment's thought to be thankful once again for the magical accident that had fused metal with her bones. He no longer had to worry about harming her … and a good thing, too, judging by today.

The room was empty. Hastily vacated, by the look of the strewn tools, overturned buckets and coal scuttles, and upended stools. Karandis supposed he might have done some of that himself – he had no clear recollection of how he had gotten across the cluttered, crowded room.

He helped Audra restore some semblance of modesty, at least as much as could be restored with both of them still steeped in the lingering sated rush of their tempestuous encounter. Her eyes had a half-lidded, sated smolder that made him want to take her straight back to their room and spend the rest of the day in bed, leisurely exploring the familiar contours of her body and coaxing new heights of passion from her.

"Shall I ask Shaearl to mend this?" he asked, holding up a handful of fastenings he had picked up from the floor.

"And make him wonder how it got damaged?"

"You think he wouldn't guess?"

"I think he would."

"Might get a reaction out of him."

"Don't count on it. Here." She took the bits of metal and shaped them together to repair the front of her vest. "It'll hold long enough to get me back to the room, provided you can keep yourself from –"

"No promises."

They went to the door, and out into the hall. The guard, looking very much like someone trying to refrain from smirking, was still at his post.

"The smiths took an early lunch?" Audra asked in all politeness.

"Yes, Lady." Beneath his full brown beard, the guard's lips twitched.

Karandis was glad it hadn't been Lathrop stationed outside of the smithy. He wasn't sure how many more shocks the thane's young aid could take before he experienced a complete nervous collapse. The ocean voyages, the public executions … Lathrop had been on a knife's edge even before Rae had ended up in his bed one drunken, giddy night.

"And Rodenveld?" he asked the guard.

The guard faked a cough into his hand to cover a laugh. "The … the thane, Sir, suddenly recalled an urgent matter he needed to discuss with his new thana."

"Did he?" Karandis didn't even try to refrain, but smirked broadly. Rodenveld was only a few days married, and had gone to his marriage bed all but entirely ignorant in the ways of women. "Well. I'll catch up with him later." He slid an arm around Audra's waist and they set off down the hall.

"Do you think," she said, "that this time it'll be Galurva's turn to be surprised?"

"It's only fair, after what she did to him on their wedding night. He never knew what hit him."

Audra sighed, and leaned her head against his shoulder as they walked. "I know the feeling, handsome. Believe me."

"So do I, my Lady of the Forge. So do I."


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