A Biker Fantasy Ch. 02byBandit1©
Late that night I lay holding Jessie in my arms, unable to sleep.
I had to admit that I was shaken by the incineration of the scout earlier.
Whoever had caused the man to burst into flames like that had deliberately waited until I was present before the demonstration.
This told me several things, none of which were at all comfortable to think about.
One, the object of the spell did not have to be in direct line of sight. Two, I was way too damn conspicuous. I had made no effort to conceal my face or my actions since I arrived in this world. And if someone was turning people into human torches, I was likely on the list of potential fireballs.
I eased out of bed and padded barefoot to the privy. I started at my reflection in the mirror for a long while, then sighed and fetched my scissors and razor from my duffle bag.
An hour later I emerged clean-shaven and with my hair cut short.
I hadn't felt this naked in years.
I dressed quietly and strapped on my gun belt.
Making my way downstairs, I heard voices coming from one of the rooms off the great hall.
Marcus, Ranal and Cassandra were sitting in a small parlor type room discussing the day's events. I paused outside the door and eavesdropped.
"What do we tell Bill about Merinel?" Marcus was asking.
"There is not much we can tell him," replied Cassandra. "We simply don't know enough about what she has been doing since she was banished."
"We should have slain her while we had the chance," growled Ranal. "She may be our daughter, but there is something dark and twisted in her soul."
Marcus sighed. "Is there nothing that can be done?"
"Unless someone slays her for us, no." Cassandra said.
"Maybe one of the new weapons can kill her." Marcus suggested.
"First someone would have to get within range," Ranal said. "But Merinel would detect and slay any one bearing such a weapon long before they could get close enough for a shot."
"But where did she learn such powerful magic?" Marcus asked.
There was silence for a long time, and then Cassandra spoke wearily. "The only place she could have learned such is among the hermit mages in the northern reaches."
Ranal laughed mirthlessly. "Aye, she would have been comely enough to gain entry among them."
"Enough chatter," Cassandra said with an air of finality. "We will talk again in the morning, and we can decide then what to tell Bill."
I had heard enough to make my decision. If anyone were going to take out this Merinel, I would have to be the one.
I made my way out to the stables where my Harley was stored.
I couldn't risk taking it out on this mission. It was unique on this world, and it was well known that I preferred riding it above all other forms of transport.
Likewise my gun I would have to leave behind.
I would take nothing that would immediately point to me as the outworlder that had wrought so much havoc on the mercenary armies.
And as much as it tore me up inside, I would have to leave Jessie and the twins home as well. We were too well known as a unit.
I left my gun belt hanging from the handlebars on the bike and dug out a pencil and paper from my pocket.
I left a brief note saying that I was gone for a few days on a scouting mission and left the note tucked into the holster beside the .45.
I left the house before dawn, slipping down the street, keeping to the shadows as much as possible.
In a poorly lit section of town I found a drunk sleeping in a gutter and switched clothing with him.
My plan was to pose as a wandering trader, and wearing clothes fit for the Kings court would not fit in with the role.
I found a dark and quiet doorway to wait until the vendors in the marketplace opened for business.
When sufficient foot traffic had appeared that I would not seem conspicuous, I emerged from the shadows and made my way among the stalls.
I purchased a sturdy pack and extra clothing. Then I bought things that I could trade along the way.
A couple of blocks away I found something that I had not even suspected existed on this world. A slave auction.
I watched the first few lots being sold, then as I was about to turn and leave, I saw a young catkin girl being lead up to the auction block. I stopped and listened as the auctioneer went into his spiel.
"Here we have a fine young specimen. A cat girl of a mere 20 summers. She has been trained as a clerk, but can be taught to do almost any other tasks that you might desire." He paused for breath, then stripped the cloak away from the shivering girl. I almost vomited on the pavement as I caught sight of the scars that crisscrossed her body. Large patches of fur had been burned away leaving puckered scar tissue in its place. I almost missed the auctioneer's next words. "Do I hear an opening bid on 5 silver?"
No one spoke up. "Despite her appearance, she is strong and healthy. Fit to work the fields or in the kitchens. Do I hear 4 silver?" He said.
"3 silver," I said, as I drew the hood of my cloak forward to conceal my face.
The auctioneer looked like he had bitten into a turd, but he had to acknowledge my bid. "Three silver from the gentleman in the back," he said. "Do I hear 4?"
At last he gestured me forward. I handed him the 3 silver bars and he handed me the chain that ran to the girls collar.
"Her cloak," I said as he started to turn back toward the next lot to be sold.
He grunted and kicked the ragged cloth to me without another glance.
I wrapped the cloak around the girl and lead her off through the crowd.
When we got back to where my pack was sitting, I handed it to her and watched her sling it over her shoulder. She winced as it bumped against her wounds, then she looked at me for further instructions.
I made my way to the main gates of the city with the girl close behind me, then continued on out onto the plains until we came to a grove of trees a few miles further.
"Set the pack down there," I pointed to a spot. "Then come here and remove your cloak."
For a second, I saw resignation in her eyes, then her face went blank and she did as she was told.
I took out my dagger and her eyes went wide with fear, but she didn't move at all as I extended the blade toward her neck.
Her face did show surprise when I cut the collar away instead of cutting her throat.
I tossed the ruined collar aside and took a step back.
She rubbed her throat where the collar had chafed sores into her skin as she watched me expressionlessly.
"What is your name?" I asked.
"My name is what my master pleases," she said too quickly.
"No," I said. "I want to know what name you were born with."
She ducked her head for a moment, and then met my eyes steadily. "Malla," she said at last.
"Well Malla," I said. "You are free now. You can do as you wish and go wherever you want."
The catkin girl stood there as motionless as a statue. "I have nowhere to go," she said simply.
"You can call me Luke," I said, taking a name from one of my favorite movies.
I dug into my belt pouch and took out one of the few items I had brought with me that could mark me as not of this world. A tube of antibiotic ointment.
Malla stood there and just trembled as I treated the sores on her neck. I turned her around and treated the wounds on her back.
I cursed silently but horribly the unknown monster that had left the deep whip welts and cuts on her body.
The burns were long healed and far beyond anything that I could do to help.
I made a mental note that when I returned from this mission, IF I returned from this mission, to hunt down her tormentor and give him a taste of his own medicine.
In the meantime, Malla would make a good addition to my cover as a wandering trader.
As I cooked supper, Malla asked for permission to use some of the cloth from my trade goods to make a dress. I told her to go ahead and use anything that she needed.
"I am traveling to the northern reaches on this leg of my trading," I told her as we ate supper. "If you would care to travel with me and help me, I will pay you well for your trouble and offer you what protection I can."
"You do not order this?" she asked curiously.
"As I said, you are free now,' I told her, " I cannot order you to do anything anymore. No one can." She ate in silence for a bit, then "Why did you purchase me if you were just going to free me and not use me?"
"Because I am a sentimental old fool," I grinned at her.
She cocked her head to one side and studied me for a long moment. "There is much that you are not telling me,"
"True enough," I agreed. "And much I will not tell you until after our journey's end."
"What I do not know, I cannot let slip or be forced to tell," she said.
Whatever hell she had been through, she still had her quick wits about her.
"The auctioneer said that you were trained as a clerk. Is this true?" I asked.
"I was so trained," she said warily.
"Then how did you end up being sold as a slave?" I asked. "Clerks are in high enough demand that I doubt that there would be much sense in training a slave to be one."
She touched one of the burn scars on her side, and then hung her head. "There was a fire where I worked. Someone set it deliberately. I tried to get my employer out, but the fire was too hot and I was burned too badly."
She shuddered, "When I woke up, I was in chains and the magistrate had declared that I was the one that had set the blaze and had merely been careless enough to get caught in the flames." Tears were streaming down her cheeks now. "I loved him you know, and he loved me," She met my eyes defiantly. "The magistrate took over all of my employers holdings and had me sold to a passing slave trader to be rid of me and my impertinent questions."
"So who was it that whipped you?" I asked.
She growled low in her throat. "That was the slavemaster. He wanted me sexually. I would have lain with him had he shown any kindness at all. But he preferred to hear my screams of pain as he took me."
That pretty much killed the conversation, so I carried the dishes to a nearby stream and washed them.
When I came back, Malla already had the blankets spread out on the ground and had padded the ground under them with grasses that she had gathered.
I noted that she had laid out two sleeping spaces. No matter, I was too damn tired to do anything but sleep anyway.
I woke up in the morning with Malla snuggled up to my back with her arm around my chest.
I slipped out of the blankets without waking her and moved off a short distance to some bushes to relieve the pressure on my bladder.
I had breakfast almost done when Malla stretched and sat up. "Good morning sleepyhead," I said cheerfully.
She looked around and saw that she was in my blankets and her ears went flat for a second. "I am sorry if I disturbed your sleep," she said.
"You can disturb me like that anytime," I laughed.
She busied herself by rolling up the blankets and stowing them while I finished preparing breakfast.
Malla kept looking at me out of the corner of her eye as she ate. Several times I thought that she was going to say something, but she just went on eating after a pause.
After the dishes were done, I loaded up the pack and shouldered it.
We left the grove of trees about midmorning and headed north.
After an hour or so, Malla took the pack and our pace picked up considerably.
The whole morning and afternoon Malla talked about her life before the fire and how she had been raised with the man who eventually became her employer and lover.
"Martin and I were happy," she told me at one point as we stopped for a rest about mid-afternoon. "We had planned to wed after the fall harvest. But the magistrate kept on trying to get Martin to sell his warehouses to him. Martin refused over and over again, but the magistrate would not give up. Martin's warehouses were almost the only businesses in our town that he didn't own. He just couldn't stand the thought of someone owning something that he couldn't have."
"Likely the magistrate either set the fire himself, or more likely had it done for him." I remarked.
Malla brooded for a while. "You are the only person who believes me," she said. "Why?"
"Because I have known men like that magistrate all my life," I said. "And every one of them I hated."
We moved on until dark.
We found a stone circle similar to those that I was becoming all too familiar with while there was still light enough to see by.
Malla set up camp while I placed coins, meat, salt and blood on the altar stone.
The evening meal was sparse, but neither of us was very hungry.
After the meal I crawled into the blankets while Malla went to kneel by the altar stone.
I woke up when she slipped under the blanket to cuddle up to my back, then I dropped off into a deep but far from dreamless sleep.
I dreamed that I was standing in a stone walled room somewhere in a fortress. There was a map on the table before me and a very beautiful woman was tracing out a route for me to follow.
When I woke up, I found myself clutching a parchment scroll.
I sat up and unrolled it.
It was the map from my dream.
I memorized the route just before the map dissolved into thin air.
I lay back down and pondered this for a while. Whatever Goddess held sway here, she was inclined to help and that was a huge plus for my mission.
I sat up again as something finally percolated through to my sleep befuddled brain.
There were mountains just to the north of us.
I recognized the mountains from the map. We were at least a hundred miles from where we had stopped for the night.
We also had company.
A dozen men clad in black plate mail rode past the stone circle, peering this way and that, but their gaze passed over us as if we weren't there.
I felt like I had been dipped into a vat of slime whenever I looked at them directly.
Definitely not friends.
When they had passed and rode off to the south, I woke Malla and we hurriedly packed our gear and moved out fast.
Several times after we left the stone circle we spotted parties of searchers in time to avoid them by ducking into the nearest grove of trees or behind some handy rocks.
Further down the road we came upon an overturned wagon surrounded by dead bodies.
An ancient looking mule grazing nearby hadn't been harmed.
Three men, two women and a half dozen children had been hacked and slashed to death.
The bodies hadn't been looted.
Whoever had done this wasn't interested in robbery, just slaughter.
The men had been armed with swords and daggers, but their weapons hadn't helped them at all.
Malla helped me right the wagon, then we buried the bodies on a nearby knoll.
As Malla repaired the reins I studied the signs looking for clues as to just what had happened here.
From the tracks, the wagon had come from the south. The attackers had come from the North.
Someone didn't want visitors up here.
We took the swords and other valuables from the bodies and then harnessed the mule to the wagon.
Just before sunset we came to a small village and set up camp just outside of town in some woods bordering a small river.
Malla and I ate a cold supper, not wanting to risk a fire.
When we retired for the night, Malla clung to me tightly and cried herself to sleep.
I lay awake far into the night thinking about Jessie and the rest of my new family.
Finally I dropped off into a fitful sleep punctuated by nightmares.
In the morning we entered the village ready to do some trading.
But at the sight of us, people hurried inside and bolted their doors securely.
We took the hint and moved on.
We passed though several more towns over the next few days with the same results, although thankfully we didn't see any more of those black armored riders.
Malla was proving to be a pleasant traveling companion, willing to help with the chores and snuggling close at night.
I'm not sure who made the first move, but by our third night together we were making love before going to sleep.
Malla needed the gentleness and affection and I needed the closeness after a day of traveling through a seemingly deserted countryside.
Finally the map in my head told me that I was getting close to my destination.
"This is as far as you go," I told Malla. "From here on in, it gets too dangerous for you to accompany me."
"Where you go, I go," said Malla stubbornly.
"No, I must go on alone," I said regretfully. "I might have a chance to survive this on my own, but not if I am worrying about you too."
She hung her head and her tears flowed freely. "I will wait for you at the shrine of the Goddess."
I drew her to me and kissed her. "When I return, I will take you home with me."
She looked into my eyes with a sudden hope. "And then?" she asked quietly.
"And then you will join my household," I said.
"She turned abruptly and climbed back into the wagon. "I will wait for you," she said. Then she turned the wagon around and headed off as fast as she could get the mule to move.
On my own again I faced north and began the final leg of my trip.
Merinel, here I come.