Ulric and Annabyxtorch©
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Anna asked.
Ulric nodded uncertainly, pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.
"That thing has been there for over a year," she pointed out. "Why go now?"
"I need to see it," he answered . "I need to understand it."
Brushing loose tresses of long blond hair back off her face she frowned: "The King has had dozens of his wisest philosophers studying it for an entire year. What can you hope to do?"
Ulric seemed to be considering how to respond and stalled a moment by busying himself with the packing of his belongings.
"The King's philosophers are a bit, um, narrow in their examinations," he said, his voice stuttering a little. "You have read their books. Everything they write and do is wrought with assumptions that they do not even bother checking. To them the world is nothing but the work of angels and demons. They will examine this thing – this Obelisk – with blinders over their eyes."
"First of all," Anna told him, "you'd best not let a philosopher hear you talk like that."
"Oh, indeed not."
"Secondly," she added. "You think that you can do better than they?"
"Certainly," Ulric said in a moment of confidence which quickly faded. "Well, maybe, at least. We'll see."
Anna sighed, shaking her head.
"Let me get my things."
"Yes, yes. I'm coming."
"Good. I'd hoped so. It's rather easier with you along."
"You mean you'd forget something important without me," she said. "Like food. Or clothing."
Ulric smiled and scratched his head as he looked aside.
"Yes. Something like that."
While Ulric could forget personal details like food and clothing as if they were dust off the side of his pants, Anna had to admit that he handled larger matters quite well. By the time he'd started packing and mentioned his journey to her, he had already secured a Writ from the King to travel to and investigate the Obelisk.
Without a Writ, they would have been stopped miles away from the thing. With the Writ, they travelled with a caravan in a horse drawn carriage.
That caravan had stopped for the night at a mountain pass. There was a small inn there, perfectly situated to look down upon the valley. The inn was under the maintenance of a pensioned veteran who kept the place for the pleasure of the King's approved travellers.
It was nothing fancy. It was, in fact, in a state of disrepair. The small tower that should have allowed the innkeeper to watch over the road in both directions was a mess of shattered wooden beams at its top.
The innkeeper was, regardless, well prepared. Seeing the sigils attached to Ulric's Writ, and knowing him to be the King's librarian by his clothing, he showed Ulric to the largest of the rooms. Anna, as his companion and clearly unmarried, was offered the second finest room.
"I'll be happy to share a room with my librarian," she had told the man with a smile. "Less trouble for you I imagine."
If any of the other travellers noticed that there were none of the usual decorations of marriage, they didn't feel it pertinent to point out. Anna's kindness meant, among other things, that every one of them would have at least a bed to him or herself and no one would be sleeping in a cot in the common room where they ate.
Ulric now sat in a very fine bed in that very large room, reading by candlelight.
"Do you really have to read your books now?" she asked as she unlaced the waist level ties on her dress.
He looked up as she breathed a sigh of relief.
"I'm looking for some indication of previous visits of this Obelisk," he told her. "There are various vague references to such things."
"And you couldn't read about this before?"
"I have spent the last year trying to find every historical record I can about this area," he said. "I've brought the best with me, but it's very slow."
"Slow?" she asked, wiggling out of her dress and laying it aside. "You taught me how to read. How can you be slow?"
"These are very old books," he explained. "Language changes. Even the way letters are written changes. The people who wrote this book -", he wrinkled his nose, "- had the most deplorable grammar."
She climbed up onto the bed, still wearing the off white shift that covered her from chest to knee, and took the book from his hands.
"Let's put the book down for now."
Ulric saw the look in her eyes.
"Now?" he asked. "I have much to -"
"Now," she insisted. "Once we're at whatever little enclave the philosophers have set up, we'll have the worst time being together."
"Prudes," Ulric remarked absently.
She pulled her shift over her head, stilling all thoughts in Ulric's head. No matter how many times he'd seen her do that, it always took his breath away. Such a gentle body with such fair skin. The flickering candle flames did wonderful things with the waves of shining yellow hair that spilled off her head and the patch of hair between her legs.
Closing her eyes, she put her hands on the headboard against which he rested, placing her chest near his mouth.
Ulric had yet to figure out why Anna stayed with him. He was certain he was a boring person. Such a quality had been mentioned to him by a great number of people. And Anna was certainly both beautiful and intelligent, which ought to have given her any number of choices – men with far greater means than a King's Librarian.
Whenever he asked, all she said was that he had taught her how to read, which seemed ridiculous to him. If she was able to learn to read, why not teach her? Why such action should be remarkable, he had no idea.
Nevertheless, he had taught her to read, and she had spent hours every day in the library pouring over any book she wished, occasionally asking him some question about this ancient word or that obsolete turn of speech. And somehow that led to this, a woman gently teasing his lips with first one, then the other of her tiny, pink nipples.
Ulric wasn't a particularly religious man. He supposed that there was probably some kind of thing that had made the world, but he doubted very much that such a being would have anything to do with the arcane rituals of the prudish philosophers who frequently tried to interfere in the affairs of the King's Library.
Anna, on the other hand, made him quite certain that some kind of deity existed and – furthermore – that he, Ulric, had done something wonderful for that deity. How else to explain the great deal of pleasure she gave him? It wasn't anything he could remember doing.
"How is my librarian today?" she asked as she pulled her breast away from his lips.
"Quite well," he replied with a breath.
She pushed aside the material of his night robe and murmured approvingly of the erection that sprouted toward her.
"And ready," she remarked.
"For you?" he said. "Always."
She moved her hips to rub against the head of his erection, greasing the tip with the fluids that leaked from between her lips.
"How long will we be with those philosophers?"
"I can't be sure," he said. "Though I think the object will be gone before winter."
"Winter? Last chance for a while, then?"
She closed her eyes and Ulric smiled. Anna always closed her eyes at the moment of penetration. He loved to watch the desperate look on her face when they first started to make love.
He felt her pushing down, felt the head of his erection ploughing past her warm, wet folds of skin. Down and down she went until she enveloped him completely.
"I'm going to miss this."
"Me, too," he said, blinking his eyes as the candles in the room flickered.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Candles," he muttered with a shake of his head.
She craned her head to look at the dresser behind her.
"There's no draft," she noted.
"No matter," he shrugged.
Candles weren't really important. Love making didn't really need light once two bodies had found each other.
Anna began rotating her hips, shifting him around, prodding at her insides.
"Oh, that's nice," she said.
The candles flickered again and Anna stopped.
"I saw that," she told him.
She shook her head and went back to her gyrations, speeding up.
"Feels so good," she murmured. "I'm going to miss this."
Ulric tensed his stomach, holding back his orgasm as best he could.
"Don't come," she warned through gritted teeth. "Bad timing."
'Bad timing' was the phrase she used to mean she was fertile. She'd started fascinating herself with biology textbooks from her first tentative steps into literacy. One of the first books she'd read taught her rather thoroughly about female anatomy and how, as the scholars had written, "to get a woman pregnant". Anna had reasoned that, if one wanted to avoid getting pregnant, one should do the opposite.
It was all about timing, she would tell him.
"I know," he grunted back, holding his breath.
If there was a draft coming through the room, neither of them could feel it. And yet as Anna approached orgasm, the light flickered madly, sometimes leaving them in complete darkness. It was as if a gale force wind was blowing through.
Anna twisted her hips, bending Ulric inside her almost to the point of pain, and a muffled cry issued from her lips.
She held that pose, her body frozen right up to the muscles of her face, for several seconds before her features softened.
"Oh, dear librarian," she sighed appreciatively, "you held on."
"You came quickly," he panted back to her.
She nodded and gently lifted her body away from him, unsheathing his manhood.
"That was unusual," she agreed. "Must have been the bumpy ride."
Turning her body, she lay on her side across his lap and took his erection in hand.
"By the time we go back home," she promised, "you'll be able to come inside me again. Until then -"
Her tongue met the tip of his erection, dancing along the underside. There had been books on this as well, if one knew where to look. Some of them had illustrations. None of them met with the approval of the philosophers.
"Oh, you're quick, too!" she exclaimed.
The candles were flickering again. Ulric took a moment to glance up at the dresser. Anna had been blocking his view, but now that she had lain down he could see them clearly.
Then light again.
The candles hadn't moved. Their flames were perfectly steady. Yet one moment the room was lit and next it was in complete darkness.
Ulric could pay it no more attention. Whether it was the bumpy ride or some particular technique that Anna was using, he was feeling as quick as she had been.
Semen spat out onto her sweet, pouting lips as she stroked at his pulsing member. She turned it against her neck.
"Because I never want any jewelry from you," she would tell him, on some occasions. "Give me these pearls about my neck."
A torrent of white fluid slid easily from the tip of his manhood, leaving streak after streak across her neck.
Ulric was barely able to remain conscious through to the end of his orgasm. He fell into a deep, uneasy sleep.
There were nightmares that night. That wasn't terribly new.
Nightmares had been happening lately. He was glad that Anna would be there when he woke up.
He was trapped in a dark, cold prison cell. There was a horrifying screech, the grating sound of metal scraping endlessly against metal, that permeated the entire length of the dream.
Crying for help.
As bad as the nightmare was, he could never wake from it. Even knowing that it wasn't real, he could only wait until it ended and hope it didn't happen more than once per night.
The nightmares were getting worse.
When he woke, it wasn't even sunrise.
Anna was still lying in his lap with her shift in a bunch about her neck. She had probably been wiping herself clean with it when she'd fallen asleep. That she was cold he could tell from the sharp projection of her nipples, faintly seen in the pale moonlight. He pulled the heaviest blanket over her naked body, causing her to stir a bit but not waken.
Then he fell asleep once more.
There were no more nightmares.
"Sorry we have to eat so crowded," the innkeeper remarked in the morning. "Ain' the same with the leaks coming through from the tower."
Half of the common room was blocked off, water still dripping down from a rainstorm two nights before.
"Is it likely to get fixed soon?" Ulric asked.
"Been that way for over a year," the innkeeper said while his wife doled out breakfast. "I was hopin' the King's carpenters might get out here, but now they're all busy with that infernal thing down in the valley."
"Doesn't matter," his wife admonished him. "We can still get you all well fed and on your way. And don't be calling that thing 'infernal'. Even the philosophers haven't made up their mind on that yet."
"I know demon-kind when I see it, woman," he lectured his wife.
His wife harumphed and turned on her heel towards the kitchen.
The innkeeper frowned at her back.
"Isn' right, y'see?" he told his guests. "Having the King's guests at the inn when it's in a state like this. Not proper."
"What happened to the tower?" Ulric asked, trying to be polite.
"'bout a year and a half ago," the innkeeper said. "Big storm came through and lightning hit us. Burned the wood off the tower before we even knew what was happening."
A portly man spoke up at this.
"No one's been by to fix it?" he asked. "There are plenty of us who could, no?"
"Not since that thing showed up," the innkeeper said, avoiding his preferred adjective with a deferential look towards the kitchen. "Came a few weeks after the storm and every engineer and carpenter come through here since is requisitioned to work for His Wisdom."
"And His Wisdom hasn't seen fit to send anyone your way?"
"I shall speak to him and see if I can get you any help."
"I'd appreciate that greatly, sir."
It was a faster ride down into the valley. The horses, though tired from their march up to the peak of the pass, made much better time going downhill.
By evening, they came around a curve in the road. From the windows on the side of the carriage, the passengers could see soldiers in the peaked hats and dark red jackets of the King's livery, all standing at attention. A guard captain, distinguishable from the others by the feather in his hat, came forward and waved them to a halt.
Around the front of the carriage and out of view of the windows, they heard him speak to the driver.
"Your Writ, sir."
"All in order, captain," the driver replied. There was a rustling of paper.
"Aye," the captain confirmed.
The captain came back around the side of the carriage and popped open the small door. His eyes scanned the passengers and paused at Anna.
"Sorry, ma'am", he said with pursed lips. "No women past the guard post."
Anna was taken aback for a moment, but shortly began to rear up indignantly.
"Pardon me, captain?" Ulric asked, trying to keep his voice steady as he put a gentle hand on Anna's forearm.
"Orders of His Wisdom, sir," he replied with a wince. "Begging your pardon, sir."
Ulric unfolded his personal Writ from the inside pocket of his jacket.
"This is from the King's hand," he told the captain. "It gives me permission to bring a companion of my choosing."
Anna tilted her head at Ulric. She'd known he had a Writ but it had never occurred to her to ask to see it. Had he intended to have her company all along?
"Aye, it does," the captain said, angling his head thoughtfully and scratching his head under the side of his hat. "Can't say as I know what to do, sir."
It was the chubby carpenter's chance to jump in.
"The King against a philosopher – even a great philosopher?" he wondered aloud.
"Aye, sir, seems easy enough, doesn't it?" the captain replied. "But His Wisdom seemed to think it was a matter of safety. Evil spirits and such, y'see. Not safe for folk so fair as your, um, companion, sir. Ejected the women out of the site just a few weeks back."
Ulric and Anna exchanged looks. His said, "See? They do need me." Hers said, "Yes, they do."
"What if you let me take it up with His Wisdom?" Ulric suggested. "I'll tell him that you made every attempt to stop me, but I insisted."
"Supposing that's the best, sir," the captain nodded gratefully and handed back Ulric's Writ. "Safe journey, sirs, madam."
"It must be 10 metres high," Ulric remarked.
"It is 12 metres, 45 centimetres high, near as the King's Engineers can tell," the philosopher remarked coldly. "But it – er – hovers sixty centimetres above the ground."
"Yes, yes it does."
Ulric got down on his hands and knees. The bottom of this rough, charcoal coloured thing they were calling the Obelisk tapered down to a generally circular cross section about half a meter in diameter at its lowest point. And, indeed, it hovered just off the ground. The bottom face, smoother than the rest, was a perfect black, as a man could never see in real life.
Even if I closed my eyes, Ulric thought, and buried my head in dirt, I will still see a hint of colour on the inside of my eyelids. Nothing could ever be as black as this.
The philosopher stood with a sardonic eyebrow raised. Such a man as him, in his fine, ankle length robes, would never be caught kneeling in the dirt.
"The question is," the philosopher asked, "what is the King's Librarian doing here?"
"I'd heard that nothing so far has been learned from the Obelisk," Ulric remarked. "So I came to see what knowledge I could apply."
The philosopher took a breath and rose up to his full height.
"Much has been learned," he said defiantly. "It is 12 metres, 45 centimetres tall. It hovers 60 centimetres above the ground. It widens out in it's middle to approximately three metres in size and tapers back down to a point at its top. Except for the bottommost part of it, every part we have touched is rough to the point that it could tear skin."
"Yes, yes," Ulric said, not even looking at the philosopher. "But how does it hover?"
He waved his hand in the space underneath the Obelisk.
Anna gave a start.
"Don't be doing that," she warned. "You're likely to knock the thing over."
"It's been here over a year," Ulric reminded her.
The philosopher merely pursed his lips. The leader of the Order of philosophers, His Wisdom Reginald, had not deigned to speak with Ulric. Apparently, the advent of Ulric's defying of his ban on feminine presences was something of a problem. Such had been made clear.
"What have you attempted?" Ulric asked.
"Water, fire, dust, cutting tools. That sort of thing."
The philosopher was aghast.
"We have attempted no such thing," he replied, raising his voice. "This may be a holy relic sent down from the heavens. You would defile it in such a manner?"
Ulric hummed noncommittally and the philosopher turned away in a huff.
"I don't think he's happy with you," Anna said.
"He wasn't going to be anyway," Ulric replied, frowning as he touched the underside of the Obelisk. "As long as I have my Writ, we're safe."
"As you long as you don't poke that thing and make it fall on your head."
"Safe from the philosophers, I meant."
He glanced over his shoulder at the departing minion.
"Imagine," he said. "They've been here an entire year and done nothing."
"They pray quite a bit."
Indeed, at a distance that Ulric would bet was at least 13 metres, there was a circular fence around the Obelisk. Outside of that were numerous prayer stands – places where philosophers could prostrate themselves and read their incantations.