tagSci-Fi & FantasyVale of the Hist

Vale of the Hist


"There, My Princess," said Sir Arrack, pointing ahead with one gauntleted hand. "Yonder hill is the meeting place."

Princess Rhialla looked at the crest of the high, broad hill half a mile distant. She saw no movement there.

"How far is the Hist village from here?" she asked. She was pleased to note the firmness of her voice, despite the anxiety which clawed at her belly.

"About three hours' ride on horseback, Princess," said Sir Arrack. "Though of course the Hist have no horses."

"Then let us go forward, Sir Arrack, and win my dear sister's release."

"Yes, Princess."

Rhialla urged her little mare to a trot, and her escort followed. Sir Arrack rode by her side on his enormous warhorse, while five mounted men-at-arms, hand-picked, followed in formation.

They had traveled all morning, down from the mountain keep where the last Human king reigned from a crumbling stronghold, ruling a populace of fewer than one thousand souls. Twenty years earlier, this vale had been a part of her father's kingdom. Then had come the reptilian Hist, mankind's implacable foe. Intelligent and cunning, they arose from the steaming jungles far to the south and fell upon the lands of men without fear or mercy. They slaughtered tens of thousands of men -- warriors and farmers, blind old men, and boys too young to lift a sword. But women were captured and enslaved, put to whatever uses the Hist required.

As young girls, Rhialla and her older sister, the Princess Brianna, had heard endless rumors of what life must be like for the "Hist-thrall" -- slaves of the Hist. Then one day, a woman was found wandering naked and dazed near the human settlement; she had been captured by the Hist and spent six weeks in their clutches before managing to escape. When she had been nursed back to some semblance of health, the woman told her tale to the King; little Rhialla, eager to hear all the details, hid herself behind a tapestry in the throne room and heard all.

Unable to sleep that night, she told Brianna the woman's story. From then on, the two sisters would stay up late many nights in their little room in the Keep, terrifying and tittilating each other as they imagined being captured by the Hist and used in unspeakable ways for many weeks until, invariably, they were rescued by a heroic knight.

Now those stories had come true, for Princess Brianna at least. She had disappeared during an evening ride with Malweather Urksom, a young nobleman who was eager to take her hand in marriage (and the throne that would go with it once her father the King passed away). They had evidently ridden too far down the mountain and encountered a Hist foraging party. Urksom was discovered the next day, his body torn to pieces and partially devoured; Brianna's clothing was strewn across the rocky ground.

Overwhelmed with grief, King Remnin had sent an envoy to the Hist, humbly requesting a parlay to discuss terms for the release of his adored daughter. The Hist, ever inscrutable, had agreed to a meeting. Princess Rhialla, worried in equal measure over the health of both her father and her sister, volunteered to lead the negotiation.

Sir Arrack, Captain of the King's Guard, insisted that he be allowed to accompany the Princess. Rhialla had long suspected the noble knight was deeply, if quietly, in love with her; sure enough, Sir Arrack had secured from King Remnin a promise that if both Brianna and Rhialla were returned safely, Sir Arrack would be given Princess Rhialla's hand in marriage.

That would be an unprecendented reward for a mere knight -- but in truth there were very few men of noble blood left in King Remnin's realm. As it was, only the elderly Lord Flajalist was of sufficiently high birth to be a potential mate for Princess Brianna; given a choice between Sir Arrack and the half-senile Lord Flajalist, Rhialla would have picked the gallant knight without a second thought.

The little party of humans cantered up the hillside in silence; the sun was halfway to noon now, but the air was still brisk with morning chill. The valley they were in had once been called Springsong Vale, and had been the jewel of her father's realm. Rhialla herself had never before seen tbe valley, now called the Vale of the Hist; she had been raised in the mountain fastnesses where humankind now eked out its existence, in the high altitudes where the reptilian Hist loathed to go.

Sir Arrack was old enough to remember this place, however. He was approaching thirty, more than ten years older than she. He had been a young squire of ten when the Hist first came to this verdant valley and took it from the Humans. Rhialla looked at his face, creased now with twenty years of sorrow and hardship, and felt a pang of homesickness. She did not love Sir Arrack, not exactly, but she did admire and respect him; he would be a devoted and loyal husband.

They reached the crest of the hill and halted. The hilltop stretched nearly level for thirty yards ahead of them. No one awaited them there.

"Are we early, Sir Arrack?" asked Rhialla.

"Perhaps, My Princess. By your leave, we shall wait a few minutes."

"Yes, of course."

The seven humans waited in silence for many minutes. Princess Rhialla was growing alarmed. She had imagined the possible outcomes of this meeting -- success, failure, even betrayal and ambush -- but never did she suppose the Hist would simply fail to appear.

"Listen," said Sir Arrack. "Someone approaches."

Rhialla strained her ears, but for several seconds heard nothing. Then she made out the scuff of bare feet on rocks, and the panting of heavy breath. Suddenly a figure appeared over the crest of the hill just ahead of them. A human, it seemed. Female.

She approached with shoulders hunched and back bowed, naked but for a heavily rusted iron collar. She scampered forward several feet at a time, whimpering incessantly, stopping frequently to glance about. Fifteen feet short of Rhialla's steed she halted abruptly and dropped to her haunches, wringing her hands anxiously.

The girl had no doubt been an exquisite specimen at one time, but was now gaunt and underfed, her ribs and hipbones protruding, limbs lank and angular. Her vast grey eyes were shadowed and hollow, high cheekbones too prominent above the sunken cheeks.

She licked her chapped lips and spoke in a voice so small and tremulous that Rhialla could scarce understand: "The human female Glisten is sent forth to announce the impending presence of her glorious Masters." She cast another glance over her shoulder, grimacing fearfully.

Rhialla gazed at the pitiful girl with compassion. Glisten's hair was matted and tangled, its color indeterminate; it appeared to be black, but it may have been brightest flaxen and merely crusted with weeks or months of dirt.

At pains to put the girl at ease, Rhialla said awkwardly, "You have a very pretty name, Glisten."

Breathless, she awaited the girl's response. Glisten, who had been staring resolutely at the hooves of Rhialla's horse, turned her head away as if disconcerted by the compliment. She licked her lips again and stopped wringing her hands together, instead gripped both her breasts tightly, fingers clutching deep in the soft flesh. Her breasts were full and pendulous, despite the stark leanness of her body, and Rhialla thought sadly of the beautiful woman this girl might have become had she not been so cruelly enslaved.

Glisten pulled vehemently at her breasts, raking her clawed fingers repeatedly through them. Rhialla cringed, her own breasts aching at the sight of such self-abuse. At length Glisten gasped almost regretfully, "Mistress is most kind!" she groaned. "Pretty mistress!" She wrung her breasts without mercy, the muscles of her lanky arms bulging with effort.

"Stop that!" cried Rhialla, in a torment of pity. She dismounted and moved toward the pathetic girl, one arm outstretched; but Glisten immediately scampered away from her on all fours, puling vehemently.

"Rhialla!" called Sir Arrack sharply. "Leave it!"

Rhialla stopped short and turned on the knight, glowering. "You forget your place, Sir!"

"Forgive me, Princess," Sir Arrack said, abashed. "But you well know that any Hist-thrall who has been more than six months in collar can never be restored to humanity. And that one" -- he gestured dismissively toward Glisten, now cowering in the shadow of a boulder twenty feet away -- "has worn that collar for many years, I'll wager."

"But there must be something we can do for her!"

"The touch of the Hist infects their brains, Princess, and leaves them forever unclean." Sir Arrack gazed impassively at Glisten, his thin lips curled contemptuously; Rhialla realized with a shudder that he did not see a human being in the poor slavegirl -- an instrument of the Hist he saw, and nothing more.

Rhialla spared another ruefull glance at Glisten, then returned to her horse. As she settled back in the saddle a second figure appeared beyond Glisten; another naked human female, in much the same state as Glisten. She advanced with curiously bestial stride, bent far forward, using her hands as she loped along in the semblance of a four-legged gait. Tangled, dirt-brown hair hung like a filthy curtain in front of her face, but Rhialla glimpsed the pale features beneath -- hollow, fearful eyes, a badly crooked nose, and a generous mouth set in a grimace which bared her missing upper front teeth. Seeing the small party of mounted humans the girl halted suddenly, knees bent and palms flat against the rocky ground.

"She is more wretched even than Glisten!" cried Rhialla, horrified. The girl's body was trembling visibly, but whether from exertion or fear Rhialla could not be sure.

Rhialla's horse snorted fiercely and stamped at the ground, threatening to rear. The Princess tightened the reins and stroked the mare's neck soothingly.

"It is the Hist," said Sir Arrack, struggling to control his own horse. "They are near."

Rhialla's throat constricted, and for the first time in her life she felt real fear. She forced herself to sit straight and still as she waited, though her heart was pounding wildly in her chest.

"Do not fret, My Princess," said Sir Arrack, his voice strong and assured. "All will be well."

Good Sir Arrack, so brave and true! She let herself be calmed by his words, and even turned her head to give him one of the fleeting smiles he professed to crave. But the knight's eyes were fixed on the road ahead, his gauntleted hand gripping the hilt of his longsword.

Rhialla heard the sound of bells from the road, and the crack of a whip. Then appeared a trio of human females, heads clean-shaven except for topknots growing from the crown of each. Their faces were uniformly haggard, deeply lined with exhaustion, the eyes staring fixedly, incognizant. From their breasts hung dented iron bells, which clanged discordantly as the girls trotted steadily up the road.

Their bodies were trussed in leather straps by which they were harnessed to a low four-wheeled chariot. The two slave girls in the road scattered as the ponygirls charged forward at the demand of their driver's whip. They rapidly bore down on Rhialla and her escort, galloping heedlessly at them.

Alarmed, Rhialla was about to command her guards to clear the road and let the vehicle pass, when without warning all three ponygirls' heads jerked backward as their driver pulled viciously on the reins. They groaned piteously through their bits and staggered to a halt ten feet in front of Rhialla.

The Princess stared at them with revulsion, listening to their labored breathing. They were panting, wheezing with the effort to fill their lungs, chests straining against the relentless constriction of the harness straps. Their legs were trembling violently, their bodies bathed in sweat which steamed in the cool morning air. Saliva foamed their lips, and long strands of spittle dangled from their chins. Each of them bore a curious mark on her forehead -- an undulate symbol, circumscribed.

"They have been branded," observed Sir Arrack, also noting the marks.

Something stirred deep within Princess Rhialla, something primal and disturbing. She could not take her eyes from the branded ponies who had once been human women like herself, but were now merely the property of brutish creatures who used them without regard.

"Like beasts," Rhialla murmured, her hand at her throat. Even as she watched, one of the harnessed girls began to relieve herself, a golden stream of piss erupting from between her legs and striking the ground forcefully.

Rhialla stared, aghast. The girl showed no concern, no sense of shame whatever as she emptied her bladder in front of them; she did not attempt to move her feet to avoid the spreading puddle. When she was done she stood motionless, indifferent to the last rivulets of urine coursing down her thighs.

A hissing, croaking sound suddenly rose from the four-wheeled vehicle, and a sinister shape loomed upward, as if uncoiling itself. Its body was slender, no wider than Rhialla's own, with glistening black scales; high up on the body a pair of short stocky arms emerged, little more than half as long as a man's. It held in one of its clawlike hands a long black lash, in the other the ponygirls' reins.

A foot or more above the arms sat the wedge-shaped head. The eyes, round and black as midnight, regarded her unblinkingly, lifeless and cold. The wide, rigid jaw opened a fraction, and a long forked tongue flickered.

Rhialla waited, lightheaded with fear; she felt her horse trembling beneath her, tossing its head in agitation. The Hist had drawn itself nearly erect, and its head was now level with Rhialla's own. Its body swayed sinuously, hypnotically, and Rhialla forced herself to look away.

Instead, she looked at the ponygirls, found herself staring at the central pony's topknot. It was bound upright in a stiff leather thong, rising ten inches from the crown of the girl's head and terminating in a tuft of blonde. It was vaguely phallic and somehow, impossibly, arousing.

Rhialla swallowed audibly, squirmed in her saddle. She longed desperately to turn her horse around and gallop pell-mell back to the safety of her father's castle. But she could not let herself surrender to her fear; she must gain her sister's freedom, whatever the cost.

She looked again at the Hist, still swaying slightly, its tongue flickering every few moments. Screwing up her courage, she addressed the monstrous reptile with a voice which quavered only slightly: "I bring you greetings from Remnin, King of Humankind."

The Hist turned its head far to one side and opened its wide jaws, emitted a series of hisses and croaks. Glisten sprang immediately to her feet and hastened forward, whimpering anxiously. She dropped to hands and knees beside the chariot, staring fixedly at the ground. Rhialla saw now that the girl had been branded like the ponygirls, but on her right buttock rather than her forehead.

"Glisten hears and obeys, Master!" the slavegirl said.

The Hist spoke again, its language all sibilance and eructation.

"Yes, Master!" cried Glisten. "Instantly, Master!"

She turned to the humans, even looked up for a moment into Rhialla's face; her expression was despairing, her face creased with sorrows the Princess could not dream of. Glisten bowed her head deferentially and announced, "The mighty Hist Broodmaster honors you with His presence." Then she fell silent, eyeing the armored knights uneasily.

Rhialla remembered the advice of her father, who had warned her not to be goaded by the arrogance and antagonism of the Hist.

"King Remnin has received word that His daughter the Princess Brianna is in the hands of the Hist," she said. "He respectfully requests that she be returned to Him, in exchange for goods of suitable value."

The Hist spoke again, and Glisten translated with notable reticence, stumbling over her words: "His August Magnificence...the Hist Broodmaster...acknowledges that the...the human slut named 'Brianna' currently resides naked and obedient in a Hist cage."

"Then she is alive?" asked Rhialla, unable to contain her excitement. "And unharmed?"

The Hist responded at some length and Glisten cringed visibly at what she heard. Wringing her hands together, she glanced again at Rhialla, her visage a rictus of anxiety. "The Broodmaster," she said, and paused. Then, "The Broodmaster finds Himself vastly intrigued by the slut Brianna, and ... and feels that no riches may be sufficient to replace her." She licked her lips anxiously and seemed to contemplate a further statement, but said nothing more. After several seconds, the Hist addressed her with additional hisses and croaks, more vehement than before. It raised the lash and cracked it several times across the girl's back.

Glisten flinched violently and clutched her heaving breasts, pulled convulsivley at them with her clawed fingers as she was beaten. "As Master commands!" she sobbed. "Glisten hears! Glisten obeys!"

The lizard ceased lashing the girl; its tongue flickered more rapidly, but its soulless eyes were as dispassionate as ever. Glisten, sobbing and gasping, said hurriedly, "The exalted Broodmaster demands to know the name of the insolent human slut who addresses Him with such unseemly informality!"

Rhialla's cheeks burned at these words, and she could not bring herself to look into the cold reptilian eyes which now regarded her intently. "My name is Princess Rhialla," she said, with more deference than she cared to hear in her voice. "I am King Remnin's younger daughter."

The Hist made its reply, and this time Glisten translated dutifully if still reluctantly. "The illustrious Broodmaster compliments the slut on her exquisite beauty, but expresses displeasure at the clothes obscuring the charms of her body."

Rhialla blushed more deeply, and heard Sir Arrack mutter angrily. Her mind raced, her emotions seemed to swirl dizzyingly in her stomach. She should have been outraged, she supposed, but she felt only confusion and diffidence; did the Broodmaster intend to insult her, or had it offered a genuine compliment? She suspected the slavegirl Glisten would have been overjoyed to receive similar praise from her Master, and that thought alone left Rhialla absurdly gratified.

"I appreciate the Esteemed Broodmaster's ... flattery," she said. "I humbly request that he bring my sister forth, so that I may see her."

The Broodmaster turned and issued a sharp call, a whistle ending in a cough. From beyond the edge of the hill a lash cracked, and breast bells rang. A single ponygirl appeared, flanked by a pair of Hist, one of whom wielded the lash which cracked against the little pony's backside.

The two reptiles advanced on short stocky legs, little longer than their arms. Their scales, like the Broodmaster's, were black, with bands of crimson. They each stood seven feet high, their tails extending another five feet behind them.

The pony was harnessed to a tiny iron cage on four wheels, no more than three feet on each side and only two feet high; inside it, naked and trembling, crouched Brianna.

"You keep her locked in that tiny cage?!" cried Rhialla, horrified.

The Broodmaster spoke shortly, gesturing at the cage, and Glisten relayed his words: "The indomitable Broodmaster has treated the slut Brianna with special care. A cage of that size is normally used to transport up to five human sluts at once."

Rhialla could not bring herself to respond. She stared at her poor sister, her long lovely body folded within the confines of the miniscule prison. Brianna gripped the bars of the cage, staring forward listlessly, as if in shock.

Rhialla looked back at the Broodmaster, blinking the tears angrily from her eyes. "What are your demands?" she asked curtly.

The Broodmaster coughed several times, and Rhialla realized suddenly that it was laughing. "What do the humans bring to barter with?" it asked, through Glisten.

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