tagSci-Fi & FantasyTies That Bind

Ties That Bind


At some unseen signal, the lights in the theater dimmed. It was not a magical effect, simply that of well-concealed attendants narrowing the apertures in crystal and brass lanterns, but the diminishing glow and the way soft shadows settled across the audience might as well have been a trick of sorcery, it worked so well.

Appreciative and anticipatory murmurs rippled through the room. Faces that had been turned toward one another, sometimes leaning close in whispered conversation, now looked to the stage. There, spilling from above, was a clear column of light the color of moonlight filtered through pale amber. Its backsplash illuminated the texture of the thick velvet draperies.

The music began low, drifting as if from a great distance on the vagaries of a mild summer breeze. It curled and coiled like smoke, teasingly, wisps of it swelling louder and then withdrawing. Some few in the audience, mostly those for whom this was their first attendance, looked around for the orchestra and found nothing. Others, those who'd been here before, smiled knowingly.

The drapes undulated and parted, and Kyralivanata Ro'Sallin, whose given name meant "gift of the enchantress," stepped into that column of silvery-amber light. She stood, swaying gently in time with the music that seemed to emanate from thin air. Her eyes were closed, her head tipped back.

A general sigh arose, a breathy susurration issuing helplessly from every throat. For some, mostly men, it was a sound of yearning. For others, primarily women, it was one of wistful envy.

Both were well-deserved. The woman standing in that fall of light, light which did not merely shine upon her but seemed to caress her, to adore her, was tall and graceful, slender yet shapely. A gown as black as if it had been cut whole from the fabric of the night clung snugly to her figure, flowed around her long legs.

Above its strapless bodice, her bare neck and shoulders were the color of cream. A strand of round-cut diamonds circled her slim throat, another strand like a pendant hanging in sparkles and glints to a finial stone shaped like a teardrop. This last stone held a hint of color, a blush of green that recalled – even to the minds of those who had only ever imagined such a place – the forests of the Emerin.

Gloves of satin climbed her fair and supple arms. Matching slippers were on her feet. Her legs, of which nearly all of one could be seen through the high slit in her gown as she moved, were encased in stockings of silk so sheer it recalled gossamer and spiderwebs.

Crowning all of this beauty was a face at once youthful and worldly-wise. Her elven features were fine and flawless, from the rounding of her pert chin to the tips of her elegantly-tapered ears. Many observing her were human, but even the handsomest or most lovely of them despaired and thought themselves plain when they compared themselves to Kyra.

Most striking of all, her hair. It fell in waves to the curve of her hips, and its color was like a handful of polished rubies set aflame. Scarlet and red and gold, woven with strands of the metallic hues only seen in the elven people, it was hair that shimmered as if with inner light of its own.

The music soared, and at its symphonic height, Kyra Ro'Sallin opened her eyes. Another wave of murmurs swept the room at the sight of those eyes. They were large and heartbreakingly tilted, both winsome and sly beneath brows of fine fire-gold. The irises were vivid wintergreen, their gaze clear and direct. Everyone upon whom that gaze fell experienced a tingling rush of connection, an instant of personal and deeply private bonding with the magnificent woman upon the stage. Those whom her eyes passed over felt bereft, even if they did not consciously notice it.

She held them in her spell even before she began to sing. Once that happened, once her voice poured forth pure and deep, a voice like spring water, like a clear autumn night, a motionless enthrallment claimed the room.

In the luxurious box reserved for the establishment's owner – who was at the moment down on stage lost in the melodies of an Emerinian ballad – sat a lone man. A glass of blue-violet Morvalan wine was at his elbow, and he sipped at it with mingled pleasure and gratitude at being once more among the trappings of civilization. This might not be Perras Peliani, but it was close … and the odds of getting Morvalan wine were better here anyway. The best of both worlds, as it were. If one could overlook the presence of the humans, as prevalent and irksome but unavoidable as aphids.

He was still quite young by the standards of his people, although he'd completed his schooling and had operated, for a time, a quite successful medical practice. His eyes, though, told of age beyond his years. They were steel-blue, the Reyes eyes that came to him from his mother's side of the family, and contrasted nicely with his dark hair and fair skin. Those eyes spoke of things that few living people had seen, wonders and horrors both.

Tavelorn Ilhedrion took some measure of pride in knowing that with all he'd seen, and all he'd done, he remained in his right mind. What he'd experienced would have shocked many an Emerinian elf into numbed insanity, and yet he had persevered. Even seasoned soldiers might have been shaken to the bone had they been faced with the trials he'd overcome.

He relaxed into the embrace of his chair, relishing the sensations of being clean and comfortable again almost as much as he relished the taste of the wine, or the sweet sounds of Kyra's soaring voice.

His dark hair had been neatly trimmed and styled, still in the short military fashion although he had never been a soldier, a style he chose out of reverence to his uncle. His clothing was in darker hues and sterner cuts than the Emerinans favored, but not quite so strictly functional and severe as the Morvalan. A mixture, a blending. Just as he was. Just as he hoped to bring about, by helping to blend the best of their two societies.

Below, Kyra finished her song on a flourish. The music, directed by her spell, held that final triumphant note for a long, emotional moment, and then faded away into a whisper. Applause shook the room as the lights came up. People stood, clapping fervently. Tears glistened on many faces, mostly those who were hearing Kyra for the first time.

She inclined her head in a gesture as gracious as any he'd ever seen made by his grandmother. As if that were some signal, the doors at the rear of the room swung silently open, and the audience began trickling out to the terrace.

Tavelorn waited until the crush had ebbed, not wanting to be pressed in among the humans. True, these were the better ones, not the stinking and dirty peasants of the lower Rings, but the blunt plainness of their features, the ridiculous rounded nubs of their ears, and the broad thickness of their bodies never failed to hamper his appetite. Kyra was at the center of an admiring knot of people, most of them human and pitifully eager for a moment of her time, an instant of notice. Her laughter at the inane witticism by a portly man in a brown brocade doublet was as intoxicating as her singing. Tavelorn came up behind her, and stood there for a moment, watching the play of her hair across her shoulders.

"Lo esaya, Vali Ro'Sallin," he murmured.

She turned to him. "Why, Tavelorn! What a surprise!"

Had he surprised her? He might never know, for she wouldn't let on. Her eyes, pale jade, danced and danced. She touched his elbow lightly with one gloved hand, leaned forward to brush a kiss on his cheek. It was chaste and proper, soft as a butterfly's wing, but as she withdrew, she puffed a teasing breath against his ear and he suppressed a shiver.

"I'm on again soon. Why don't you join me after? A late supper in my rooms?"

"I'll be there."

Kyra kissed him on the cheek again, a more lingering kiss this time. "Have you arranged for a room?" she whispered into his ear.


"Would it trouble you unduly if I had Joretta send someone to bring your things upstairs?"

"Not at all." He slid his hand along the side of her neck, and while it was hidden by the lush fall of her hair, ran his thumb slowly over her earlobe. For an instant, he caught himself imagining how she'd look in diamond earrings to match the necklace she wore, a touch of Morvalan wickedness, and suffered a sudden pang of sharp desire.

"I'll see you soon," she promised.

The second half of her performance was as enchanting as the first, though livelier. Rather than ballads and long, slow Emerinian songs, she did a variety of Northlands ones, and somehow lent an elven air to those rustic, country-simple tunes. He found it perhaps not quite as pleasant as before, but Kyra could have made orc-music sound good.

When the show ended and the doors opened again, people began filing out. Tavelorn waited until most of them had gone, waited a while more to be sure that he would not run into Virine Fistrel, and made his way upstairs. He stopped by his room and found that his personal belongings had already been moved.

The topmost floors were accessible only to preferred clients of the Lord's Retreat. The truly wealthy or powerful could retire here, where secluded lounges and card-parlors and libraries awaited their pleasure. Nearly any elf of reasonable means would quickly be welcomed into that elite group.

The door to Kyra's sitting room was ajar. Tavelorn let himself in, swallowed up by velvety shadows and flickering candlelight. A supper for two had been set up on the small round table by the bay window. Few places in Thanis could boast such a view. The Rings of the city, outlined in lanterns, descended toward the river. The Tower of the Archmage could not be seen from this side of the building, but its ever-present soft rainbow glow danced at the edges of the windows like the ice-lights of the north.

"Would you pour the wine?" called Kyra's voice from her bedroom.

"Of course." He did so, noting that it was one of his favorites of the Morvalan vintages.

Delicious aromas rose from the covered dishes. He saw his bags piled by the sofa, his cloak and his sword Discordant hanging from the coat-pegs.

"Mmm, I'm starved," Kyra said. She came into the room belting a seafoam-green satin wrapper around herself. She hadn't removed her necklace, or her stockings, he saw.

He met her midway, taking her in his arms. Beneath cool satin, her flesh was warm, and the shape of her body at once exciting and familiar. Their kiss now was not a polite buss on the cheek but a deep, searching, hungry one. Her fingers combed through short dark hair and stroked, with a feather-light touch, the outer rims of his ears.

"I've missed you," he said as they broke apart.

She laid her head on his shoulder and sighed. "I've missed you, too."

He held out her chair and she slid lithely into it, the wrapper falling away to reveal one leg to mid-thigh, to pearly stocking-top. She began lifting covers off the dishes. Pheasant in cream sauce, steamed baby vegetables with a pat of butter melting in golden streams, bite-sized spicy meat pies. He ate with good appetite, but in truth most of his hunger was not for food. The toe of her stockinged foot touching his shin beneath the table.

"Are you finished?" she asked, setting aside her fork.

"I wouldn't want to overindulge. At the table, anyway."

"Excellent decision. It's gotten quite late, and we'll have much to do if we're going to be ready to leave tomorrow. We should adjourn to the other room."

He rose and held her chair again. She stepped lightly into his embrace, and when he put his arms around her she reached behind with surprising strength, braceleting his wrists and holding them there. Her quick inhalations pressed her bosom rhythmically against his chest, and her eyes gazing up into his were both starry and mischievous. He'd seen her in many moods, but never quite like this, and wasn't sure what to make of it.

"Let's get you out of all these cumbersome clothes," she whispered, bending her head to nip at his collar. Her tongue flicked out, catlike, to the hollow at the base of his throat. As she released his hands, he reached for her again but she twisted smoothly away and waved her finger at him, chidingly. "First things first, Tavelorn."

"Aren't we the minx tonight," he said, but obligingly began undoing the buttons of his maroon doublet, with its black and silver trim and its almost-Morvalan angles of cut.

"You don't know the half of it," she said. The finger that had been chidingly waving at him now curled into a beckoning come-along.

She led him into her bedroom, which was a place of dark soft fabrics and soothing lines and airy, open space. He observed that the coverlet, which was of silkmole fur so cunningly sewn that it might have been made from one huge pelt rather than dozens of tiny ones, was folded neatly to the foot of the bed. An expanse of silk, deep blue in the light but inky black in the shadows, awaited them. Darker striations lay upon the pillows, and even with his keen elvensight he couldn't quite tell what they were.

Kyra settled herself into an overstuffed chair, crossing her long legs. Her wrap fell away clear to the hip, showing him stockings and the fine silver clasps of her garters, and the belt of black lace that held them in place.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Take off those clothes and lie down," she said. Some other dark striations lay across the arm of the chair, but these she picked up and he was able to identify them as the gloves she'd worn during her performance. She began drawing them slowly on.

Not without a twinge of apprehension – this mood was one he'd neither seen nor imagined – he did as she bade and undressed. It felt strange to do it while she sat there and watched him and said nothing, pulling on those gloves and smoothing them up her slender arms.

"There," she said. "In the center of the bed."

He sat upon it, the silk of the sheets a cool whisper on his bare skin, and slid to the center. The things draped over the pillows were kidskin straps, each ending in a cuff like a belt. His apprehension became worry, but underlying it was a prickle of excitement. He wondered if she'd been spending too much time in the company of Lady Charlotte Payne while he'd been away, Lady Payne whose brothels were known for catering to all manner of unorthodox tastes.

"Lie back," Kyra said, a low whisper but a command nonetheless.

It occurred to Tavelorn, for what felt like the first time, to ask himself how much he really trusted this woman. She was beautiful and elegant and wealthy and cultured, but she had her darker side. Her dangerous side. And not in the same way as Kai Tilanne, whose aura of danger was born of her faith and her office.

Did he trust her?

He looked at her, the brightest image in the dimly-lit room. She let the wrapper fall from her shoulders and stood there in stockings, garter belt, diamond necklace, elbow gloves, and nothing else. His throat went dry with wanting, and suddenly it didn't matter if he trusted her or not. He'd do what she wished. Who could do otherwise?

More cool silk enfolded him as he reclined onto the pillows. Kyra came to the side of the bed and grasped his forearm, affixing the cuff to his wrist so that his arm was held out to the side and up above his head. She did not lean over him to do the other but walked leisurely around, giving him ample time to study the sway and form of her body.

Once he was secured, she stepped back and watched in amusement as he pulled testingly at the bonds. He was not as muscular as, say, King Wyndrel, but he was no weakling either, and was confident that he could break free with effort. If he had to. Which he didn't think he would.

"Someone's been a very naughty boy," Kyra said. She bent over him, hair falling like the red velvet curtains of an opera house to tickle at his chest.

"Whatever will you do to me?" he asked in a murmur.

With a swiftness he hadn't known she possessed, she bound a satin blindfold over his eyes. In utter darkness, he could only listen through ears that had grown even more preternaturally sensitive. He heard the rustle and whisking of her movements, her stockings brushing together as she walked away from the bed. He heard his own breathing, a bit rapid, and the same could be said for his drumming pulse. He stirred, testing the bonds again, and the rasp of the straps over the silk was very loud.

From the other room came the sounds of glass clinking, or liquid pouring. He remembered there had been perhaps half a glass left in the wine bottle. And yes, his other senses were heightened too, making up for the loss of the use of his eyes. He could smell it, the rich violet fragrance of the wine.

She was coming back. He heard her light tread, detected the breeze of the air moving in front of her by the way the fine hairs on his skin reacted.

Liquid dribbled onto his chest. He gasped, tensing against the straps.

Wine. Trickling onto him, from the glass she held tipped some inches above. And then the warm, moist pressure of her tongue as she lapped up each of the droplets.

"Kyra …" How strained his voice sounded to his own ears!

"Shhh," she said.

A fingertip, sheathed in black velvet, touched his lips to silence him. That finger withdrew as he tried to kiss it, tried to draw it into his mouth. It moved to his chin, then traced the line of his jaw up toward his earlobe. He turned his head to the side, giving her freer access.

But in the moment before she would have touched that sensitive flesh, she lifted her hand away. Brought it to his lips again. Repeated the process on the other side of his head. Again, stopped a hair's breadth from his ear.

She touched his brow, skated three fingers lightly down his face, soft velvet skipping over the blindfold and down his cheeks, to his lips again. His chin. His neck. Collarbones. That first hand was joined by its sister and velvet-covered palms spread like warm flowers on his chest, slid out to his shoulders.

"I doubt you had time to visit the spa," she said.

"I didn't," he said huskily.

Her hands exerted more pressure, massaging, kneading their way over his shoulders and upper arms. Then down, over his chest again. Her hair brushed him in wispy tendrils. He felt one stocking-clad thigh against his. Her fingers, tickling pleasantly down his ribs. To his waist. Lower.

Tavelorn was very aware how his body had responded to the erotically charged atmosphere. He strove toward Kyra, wanting to meet her, aching for her. It was too soon, of course, they were elves and did not rush things. But it had been so long since he'd been with her, so long since he'd been with any woman, and if there was one thing about the pace of life outside of the Emerin, it was that some pleasures need not always be delayed.

She passed over that most needful part of him and began working her way in languid massage down his legs. Velvet fingers, velvet palms, on his thighs, his knees, all the way to his feet. There, kneeling at the foot of the bed, she began the process in reverse, moving back up but caressing him this time with lips and tongue and gentle little nips of her pearl-white teeth. Her hair trailed after like a banner, and occasionally he felt the cold hard touch of diamonds as her necklace came into contact with him.

He heard himself moaning, helpless beneath her careful attentions. Although he could not see her face, he knew by some inner eye that she wore a cat-in-the-cream smile of pride and passion.

Her mouth finally reached his and claimed it, insistently parting his lips, their breath mingling as she probed within his mouth. Tongues fenced like dueling blades. Tavelorn strained up from the mattress, his wrists chafing with a peculiarly delightful tension in the cuffs. He would slide his arms around her waist and pull her down atop him …

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