Tuesday, March 12, 2013

One Place

I am consolidating my posts. Come find me HERE at my main blog.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

003 - 005 - Escape

Elyria awoke to the sound of rustling cloth and the shuffle of soft footsteps on thick carpet. What little light was in the pavilion was defused by the pale pink netting curtaining the bed in which she lay all alone. She was warm and nested in the down pillows below, over and around her. Her naked skin tingled against the smooth surface of the silk fabric covering the comforters and quilts. When she shifted her limbs she caught the faint fragrance of roses and lavender. If she did not suspect that something was very wrong with this group of beautiful people, she could easily allow herself to luxuriate in this mindless comfort. She continued to relax in bed, pretending to be asleep until she thought the tent was empty.

When she sensed she was alone, she raised herself up on her elbows. Her head swam in a massive wave of dizziness. She lay back down and turned to her side, curling up in a fetal position until the room stopped spinning. Whatever herbs they had put in the wine she had drunk last night were not sitting well with her body and head this morning. She wondered if it were still morning as she lay there waiting for equilibrium. She couldn’t tell the time of day from where she was.

This time she rolled over and up from her side, her movements slow and deliberate. The silk covers slid off of her body like water, pooling at her feet as she stood up. If she didn’t move her head fast, she was steady and clear headed. She parted the bed curtains and stepped into the room, which was warm and draft free. The large bathing tub had been removed and the carpets that were under the cooper container had been replaced with fresh rugs. There were no signs of an indentation or the water that had sloshed out while the women had been bathing.

There were no other people in the pavilion. Elyria could not find any clothing either. She wanted to dress and sneak out of the tent and down the mountain to the village where she could be sure of safe haven from these unwanted visitors to the mountains. Since she was intimately knowledgeable of the area she felt certain she could escape without notice and be away before they could figure out which path she had taken. Going naked would not be the way to leave and go unnoticed.

She would have to make do with what was at hand and there were plenty of things to choose from here. She would need to work fast before any of the slaves or their masters returned. She used her teeth to rip the seams on a silk comforter, making two large bolts of material. She tore a hole in the middle of one of the sheets of silk and draped it over her head. She tore strips from the second piece of material and used these to tie and wrap the material around her waist and pull the hem up so it did not drag the ground and trip her. While adjusting her makeshift gown, she heard the clang and jangle of metal just outside the tent entrance. She rushed to the bed, crawled under the piles of covers and held her breath.

She heard voices and movement muffled by the blankets over her head. The sounds got closer and she could make out the voice of a woman and of a girl. The netting around the bed shifted and one of the two stroked her hair from her forehead.

“The wine must have been too strong for her,” said the woman.

Elyria thought this was Silva.

“I think we will need to put fewer herbs in tonight’s cup, although the display was quite lovely last night.” Silva chuckled low and with little true mirth. “This one is a good distraction for the ladies.”

“It was good to be able to sleep in peace last night,” said the girl. Hers was a voice Elyria could not place.

“Do you think she would do for the men, too?”

“Only if the Mistress tires of her and I do not think that likely to occur anytime soon. There is something about this one that The Lady wishes to possess.”

Elyria tried to suppress the shivers beginning in the core of her being. Now, she was more determined than ever to escape immediately, if only these two would leave.

“Place the water pitcher on the table and leave her things on the stool. We must go see to the finish of the platters for the evening meal before The Lady returns. They should be back soon. It is almost full dark.”

“Should I wake the girl?”

“When we are done with the food, we’ll come back and get her ready. Come.”

Elyria held her breath for ten heartbeats. She dared wait no longer. She rose up, throwing off the covers. The slaves had left. She did not have much time. She looked for her things on the stool. Everything was there, cleaned and laundered. She took her makeshift dress from her body and threw it on the floor, covering herself with her own shift. Her knife was on the pile too along with its belt. She grabbed them, went to the back of the tent, placed her ear on the wall and listened. She did not hear anything. Using her knife, she stabbed the tent wall and cut down, making an opening large enough for her to step through.

The back of the pavilion faced the woods. A short open distance was between Elyria and the trees. She sprinted for the safety of the dark shadows. She ignored the stones and twigs that gouged her bare feet. She reached the first trees and then cut off to the left and the downhill slope. She ran without looking back, staying deep under the cover of the spruce, ducking low hung branches. She ran until the sharp pain in her side forced her to stop. She found a clump of bushes and sat down behind them, catching her breath. The sun had set behind the mountain peeks and any light shining up from below was blocked by the thick tree limbs. She took the time for her eyes to adjust to the low light. She would need to stay within the forest the whole way down the mountain to make sure she was not followed and caught.

Her breathing steady and her heart beat back to normal, Elyria stood to begin her slow decent down the mountain. She took her time, keeping her tread light and pausing to listen for sounds. She picked up a sturdy branch to use as an additional weapon. She not only feared the pilgrims from Alexandria, but the animals that roamed at night looking for food. She stopped to pluck some onion roots from the ground. A stick snapped behind her.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

003 - 004 - Bathing Beauty

Elyria turned to the slave and the woman nodded to her. Elyria lifted the glass to her lips and tipped it up draining the contents.

“My name is Silva.” The woman whispered in Elyria’s ear. Silva stroked Elyria’s hair.

“I will be your waiting woman,” she said. “Do as I tell you and it will be easier for you.” Silva braided Elyria’s hair and tied it to the top of her head. Silva left Elyria briefly with the drinking cup. When she returned the cup was once again full. Silva squatted in front of her and handed her the goblet.

“Look at me,” she said.

Elyria looked down into Silva’s eyes. Silva’s eyes were dark and heavy lidded and she looked back at Elyria with an expression of sincere desperation.

“Make things as easy as possible for all of us. Drink up again and you will be treated as a pampered pet. If you do not cooperate, the mistress will take it out on the rest of us and you saw how she treats anyone who displeases her.”

Elyria felt drowsy and her limbs felt heavy. Silva took Elyria’s feet in her hands and massaged them. When Elyria did not drink, Silva helped her lifted the cup to her mouth. Elyria thought about the young slave girl. She did not want anyone to suffer just because she would not drink the wine. She drank and Silva smiled at her.

The young slave girl return and she helped Silva stand Elyria up. Elyria had to lean on the girl. She felt very tired and dreamy. She stood docile as Silva took her dirty clothes from her body. She heard Rosalba and Rosalin giggle off to her right through a haze of rosy lights that added a beautiful glow to the low lights in the pavilion. Silva whispered in Elyria’s ear that the young slave girl was called Tonda and Tonda and Silva would help her into the waiting bath. Elyria floated between the two slave women, her toes kissing the warm soft carpets.

The stopped in front of Lady Pricilla’s chair, who put down a juicy piece of fruit she had been eating to brush her nails across Elyria’s flat belly. Goose bumps danced on Elyria’s skin and she moaned low in her throat as she slumped against her handlers. Her head rested on her left shoulder and from that angle she saw Rosalba and Rosalin rise up on their own from their cloudy perch, face each other and kiss, long and deep. Only far back in her hazy mind did Elyria wonder at the closeness of the sisters and she did not find it strange when they began to slip their gowns from their shoulders and let them cascade to the feather pillows under their feet. As she watched the sisters caress, she felt hands upon her own body, warm and soft and demanding. She dragged her eyes from the sensuous view of Rosalba and Rosalin in affectionate embrace to follow Lady Pricilla’s hands on her naked arms and waist and breasts. Elyria thought she might like to protest against this unusual treatment but she rather liked the feel of Lady Pricilla’s hands on her body.

“Get in the bath, my sweet,” said Lady Pricilla, “and we will join you.” She squeezed one of Elyria’s buttocks and gave her a little slap.

Tingles rose up Elyria’s legs and settled just below her belly button. Silva and Tonda helped her to the tub. Elyria could not climb into the bath. Her limbs were too heavy and did not respond to her. A male slave lifted her from her feet and slid her into the water. His hands were rough compared to Lady Pricilla’s and Elyria wanted that softness again. She wanted it so much that she whimpered. She almost wept when Lady Pricilla’s stepped into the water next to her. Elyria looked at Lady Pricilla like a starving man looks at a feast.

Lady Pricilla stood next to Elyria and allowed Elyria to look at her. Lady Pricilla scooped up some of the warm scented water and dribbled it upon her legs. Elyria licked her lips and her fingers itched. Rosalba and Rosalin stepped into the bath next to Lady Pricilla. They cupped water in their hands and smoothed it upon Lady Pricilla. She held out her hands to Elyria to lift her up to her. Elyria stood and fell into Lady Pricilla’s arms. Her wet naked body slipped and slid against Lady Pricilla. Lady Pricilla slipped her hands into Elyria’s hair, pulled her head towards her and placed her lips upon Elyria’s mouth, parting Elyria’s lips with the tip of her tongue. Her mouth became more demanding and she nipped at Elyria’s lower lip, sucking on it. Elyria’s skin was chilling from standing wet but parts of her were being warmed by small hands stroking her back and moving down her thighs while her mouth was on fire and hungry, moving on its power, following the lessons being given to her by Lady Pricilla. Her legs were weak and vibrated with a need she had never felt before. The feelings and urges in her body were so strong that she attempted to pull away from Lady Pricilla, but Rosalba and Rosalin kept stroking her and Silva placed another goblet in her hands. She drank in an attempt to quench her thirst but the wine only seemed to increase the heat between her legs.

Lady Pricilla and Rosalba and Rosalin lowered Elyria into the warm scented water, laying her over some sort of couch that she had not known was part of the bathing tub. A pillow was placed under her head. Every part of her skin was alive with sensation and the only thing that stopped it from being painful was the hands and their caresses. She wanted relief from the continuous ache so she closed her eyes and gave her body over to them.

Friday, January 04, 2008

003 - 003 - Pretty Web

Elyria stared at the girls with her mouth hanging opening, until they reached out to her in unison and wiggle their fingers at her, becoming her to them. Elyria did not move but she did not need to. The slaves carrying the girls moved to her, one on her left and one on her right. The girls wrapped their thin arms around her, their skin sliding over her like a soft breeze. The blond girl placed a hand on either side of Elyria’s face and gently brushed her full lips against Elyria’s mouth. She turned Elyria’s face to the brown curled girl who was her twin in every way but hair color. With the blond still holding Elyria’s head in her hands, the brown hair girl covered her sister’s hands and then she kissed Elyria. Her kiss was moist, with her lips parted. When she pulled back, she licked her own lips. Both girls smiled at Elyria while they stroked her cheeks and shoulders.

“You are already close friends,” said Lady Pricilla. “Come, my sweets.” Lady Pricilla led the way to the opening of the large tent. “We will bathe and dine and relax and Elyria will have the opportunity to get to know Rosalba and Rosalin.”

Lady Pricilla paused before the entrance to the pavilion. Two female slaves rushed forward and held back the flaps. She entered the tent. Her hand appeared at the tent entrance and Elyria was pushed forward to take Lady Pricilla’s hand. Elyria was drawn into a space lit in pale pink light. Oil lamps in pink glass jars flickered from tables dressed in silks in rainbow colors. The ground was covered with carpets so thick, Elyria’s feet left prints as if she were walking in grass covered in morning dew. A small cooper pot sat on a brazier with sweet steam drifting into the air. Elyria recognized apples and oranges and roses, but heavier, earthier scents were mixed in. The roof of the tent was held up by two poles and between them in the center of the tent was a large pallet that looked like a white cloud topped with pillows in jeweled reds and blues and greens. A sheer net in pale pink draped over the bed making a tent within the tent.

The two girls, Rosalba and Rosalin, (Elyria wasn’t sure which was which) were laid on the bed with great care. They sank into the pillows and arranged themselves into a pretty picture while the slaves propped up pillows behind them so they would not need to strain to sit up.

Off to the right of the bed was a large copper tub the size of a small lake. It was still being filled by slaves bringing in large buckets of hot water. Lady Pricilla went to the tub to check the temperature of the water. A girl no more than ten years old carrying a bucket of hot water to big and heavy for her size, stumbled, sloshing some water on the carpet near Lady Pricilla. Lady Pricilla back-handed the girl across the face leaving a large red welt on the girl’s left cheek. Her cheek began to bleed where it was cut by one of Lady Pricilla’s rings. The girl never shed a tear or spilled another drop of water. Rosalba and Rosalin giggled from their cozy perch. Lady Pricilla rinsed her hand off in the tub water.

“I should have you empty and refill the tub,” said Lady Pricilla to the girl. “But as we are all tired I will punish you later in some other way.” The girl stared at her feet, still holding the full bucket of water. “Go get another bucket of water for this one. It’s cold.” Lady Pricilla turned from the girl to sit in an armed chair cushioned with pillows. A stool was brought, her feet were raised, her shoes removed and her naked feet placed on the stool while a glass goblet was placed in her hand. She drank the contents in one breath and handed the glass back for more. It was taken and filled and brought back to her. She gestured in Elyria’s direction with her free hand.

A different young girl and an older woman approached Elyria. They guided her to a stool next to a table. The older woman handed Elyria a full goblet. Elyria sniffed at it and took a sip. She placed the glass on the table. The girl was removing Elyria’s shoes. The older woman picked up the glass of wine and handed it back to Elyria. While standing behind Elyria to pull all of her hair back, the woman leaned close to her and whispered in Elyria’s ear.

“Drink all of that wine and quickly,” she said. “You will need it very soon.”

Sunday, September 23, 2007

003 – 002 – Predator and Prey

“Lady Pricilla,” said Fendor, “I introduce to you the Keeper of the Shrine, Elyria the Healer, a free woman of the Celtic tribes of Noricum.” Fendor pulled Elyria closer to the Lady Pricilla as he recited this long list of Elyria’s dignity.

The Lady Pricilla stood straight and still in her fine colors. The material wafted in the slight breeze of the evening, highlighting with shadow her rounded breasts, hips and thighs. She looked at Elyria from head to foot and back again, moving her gaze with deliberation, lingering in certain areas of Elyria’s body. Vindicius whispered into Lady Pricilla’s ear. Lady Pricilla and Vindicius smiled, showing all of their white teeth.

Elyria shivered, she assumed because of the night shade but deep down she thought it because she felt like a lamb at auction.

“I am honored to meet you, Lady Elyria,” said Pricilla, “We will be spending much time together in our pursuit of spiritual growth and our journey to Everlasting Life.”

Elyria moved to speak but Fendor tightened his grip on her hand and pulled her back. Elyria smiled and kept quiet.

“Madam, I think it best you set up camp and rest from your journey,” said Fendor, “You are safe enough here.”

“I agree,” said Vindicius, “There will be plenty of time to explore now that you are arrived. Rest and we will all meet in a day to discuss matters.” Vindicius looked from Lady Pricilla to Elyria. “Perhaps the Lady Elyria,” Vindicius paused, “would care to stay in the tent of you and your women until we are all rested and refreshed.”

“Unfortunately, Elyria must return to her home where the people who need her may find her.” Fendor spoke for Elyria. She frowned at his presumption but she did not want to stay among these dazzling people who reminded her of insects. They were alien to her and she felt uncomfortable and in danger, so she did not attempt to argue with Fendor.

Vindicius smiled, flashing all of his teeth.

“We will send a slave to Elyria’s home to keep it and let anyone looking for her know where she may be found.” Vindicius turned to the Lady Pricilla. “We would consider it an honor, would we not, My Lady, to entertain the Keeper of the Shrine and a boon from her if she would consent.”

Pricilla looked directly into Elyria’s eyes. Elyria felt a heat begin in her loins and rise up her body and burn with intensity in her cheeks. She felt herself to be in mortal danger but could not explain why to herself or anyone else if they asked. She only knew she must try to get away from Pricilla, who was at this moment licking her lips, slowly and delicately.

“Madam, I would gladly comply on another day, but I am expected in the village on the morrow and if I do not arrive as expected, the men will be sent to search for me and I do not wish to inconvenience them unnecessarily.”

Elyria maintained eye contact for as long as she could and then dropped her gaze to the ground, blushing again, but continuing in her plea to leave.

“The town is expecting a supply of medicines that they have not been able to receive for the past moon turn because of the weather. I beg your understanding and forbearance.”

“You will stay.” Lady Pricilla said. She did not shout but her words carried to every person in the clearing.

She clapped her hands and the slaves moved in earnest, unpacking the crates on the wagons. A small village rose in the glade.

Lady Pricilla, Vindicius, Fendor and Elyria were four unmoving points, waiting. Elyria could feel the tension emanating from Fendor beside her. She was confused by his behavior. These were his people whom he had intended to bring here. His reluctance to allow her to stay with them was puzzling and added to her feeling of danger.

A large tent grew close to Lady Pricilla’s wagon. The slaves filled it with cushions and rugs and pillows. A chair was removed from Lady Pricilla’s traveling wagon and placed in the tent. Lady Pricilla moved forward and took Elyria’s hand.

“It is full dark now,” she said, “We will bathe you and feed you and hold you to our breast, so that you may pass a pleasurable night among new friends.”

Lady Pricilla guided Elyria to the pavilion. Slaves reached into the traveling wagon and lifted two small and almost identical girls from the draped transport. Each was cloaked in fabric that looked like water cascading over their lithe bodies. One possessed hair the color of ripened wheat in the sun and the other, curls of soft brown, like the grain in highly polished wood. Each lay in the arms of a male slave, awake, hands resting on their chests. Their large, round, doe-like eyes found Lady Pricilla.

“My little dolls,” said Lady Pricilla, “I have found you a new playmate.”

Sunday, July 09, 2006

003 - 001 - Unexpected Gift

“Those two men are not to be trusted.” Fendor said to the empty space left by Vindicius and Titus. “No matter what you may see in the future, Elyria, remember their behaviors to you now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I may say no more.” Fendor turned from the cave entrance and walked back to where Elyria sat. He took her hands in his and brought her to her feet.

“You must go back to your hut without being seen. Gather your belongings and retreat to the village on the lake.” He guided her to the mouth of the cavern. “Vindicius and I are already enemies. He believes you have aligned yourself with me, therefore, he counts you as his enemy, too.”

“I have a duty to this shrine and any visitors who wish to visit it.” She pulled from his hold. “I must stay and perform my duty as my oath requires.”

“Does your oath require that you die at the hands of men without honor?”

“If my death occurs in the service of my gods, then, yes, that is what is required of me.” She raised her chin in defiance and looked him in the eyes.

Fendor stood transfixed by her stare. Time seemed to slow and sound muted. He had visions of galloping into the western hills with Elyria in the saddle in front of him. He raised his hand, about to stroke her cheek, when the clank of metal and horses neighing disturbed the air. The sound of many voices soon followed.

“Stay here while I see what all of the noise means. Perhaps you could wash the blood and dirt from your face and arms.” Fendor left the cave assuming Elyria would obey his orders.

She, on the other hand, knew herself to be more than a simpering maid. She went to the pool that formed from water seeping through the crack in the cave walls. Splashing water on her face and neck, she scrubbed and rinsed until she thought most of it was gone. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves, and then followed Fendor out towards the commotion which seemed to come from the clearing where Fendor had left his horses.

She edged along the mountain slope that curved away from the entrance to the cave. Trees concealed the base of the wall and created a perfect hiding place to steal back to the clearing. Elyria, lost in her wonderings about the noise, ran into the back of Fendor, who had hunched down behind bushes along the clearing’s edge. He nearly fell over from the impact.

Both managed to stifle their cries. Fendor pulled Elyria down beside him, giving her a scowl as he did so. He pointed through the bushes to the space in front of them.

A great party of horses and men congregated in the clearing. In the center of the milling hoard, a fine sedan chair rested, draped in purples and reds. Gold threads sparkled in the last of the setting sun’s rays. On the ground around the majestic assemblage lay a pile of plain wool fabric, dusty and dirty from the road. Behind the chair sat an empty flatbed cart, ropes trailing on the ground around all four sides. Two great oxen were being unharnessed from the wagon. It seemed that the elegant traveling couch had been strapped to the wagon and covered in plain stuff to give the whole the appearance of a poor supply wagon.

Workers, men and women, wrapped only in cloth sheets and bare footed, toiled around the caravan: some rolling up ropes, others folding the coverings. These were placed on the empty wagon bed. While these people worked, five men on war horses fidgeted in their seats and the great beasts stomped their great hooves where they stood. Most had their backs to the wagons, searching the forests that surrounded them. The sedan chair remained still.

“It seems the party has arrived.” Fendor spoke close to Elyria’s ear. “I do not understand this turn of events.”

“Who…” Elyria began. Fendor held his hand over her mouth.

“Later. Now, we will move around to the front of the clearing and enter it directly, so that those warriors do not kill us in ignorance.”

They moved quietly past the bushes until they reached the path. Fendor rose up straight, and brushed himself off with his hands. Elyria rose beside him. She looked down at her plain chemise and smock, smudged with dirt, torn and freckled with twigs. There was not much help for her garments, so she did not even try to adjust their appearance. Besides, who would notice her in this throng of people and animals?

Fendor called out in a language unknown to Elyria. The men on horseback looked in their direction, hands on swords, but did not move forward in alarm. Fendor began walking into the clearing, and then stopped when he noticed Elyria did not follow. He stopped, held out his hand to her and waited for her to join him. She hesitated only a brief moment more. She moved up to him, took his hand and smiled up at him. Together, they entered the dell.

All eyes looked in their direction as they came closer to the equipment. People stopped their tasks and turned to face them. Fendor came to a halt when Vindicius rounded the edge of the conveyance. He touched the chair’s draperies with a possessive air. He put his face close to the hangings and whispered into them. He cocked his ear to listen to a reply that no one else heard. Vindicius snapped his fingers at two men dressed in brown tunics and sandals. They ran to his side, bowed at his quiet instructions, grasped the edges of the curtains and pulled them back.

The interior lay in shadows, but Elyria detected movement. She waited with held breath. Slowly, a dainty covered foot emerged followed by shimmering, flowing fabric in dramatic reds and blues. The fantastic array held at its top a head of massed brown ringlets, ribboned and bejeweled. This majestic vision stood straight and erect, chin pointed high.

Elyria gasped.

Great, deep brown eyes looked down a long, straight nose at her and lingered on Fendor’s hand on hers. She spoke to Vindicius, but Elyria did not hear the words. She suspected she would not have understood even if she had heard. Vindicius leaned towards the woman and had to tilt his head up to reply to her: she stood a half head taller than him.

The woman gazed at Elyria, but spoke to Fendor. To Elyria’s surprise the woman spoke and Elyria could understand her.

“Fendor, we are well met.”

Fendor bowed.

“Madam, you are well come, but unexpected at this time.”

“Our plans changed. We will discuss this later.”

“As you wish, madam.”

“Tell, me, Fendor, what gift do you bring? Who is this lovely little wild flower you deliver to me?”

Sunday, May 21, 2006

002 - 005 - The First Threats

Death must wait for her. She felt energy building in her stomach. Her tears of fear turned to tears of anger. She leaned forward, grabbed Fendor by the hips and bit into his side where the blood from her knife wound blossomed on his tunic. Fendor let out a yelp, wound the fingers of one hand into her hair and pulled her away from his body. He held her at arm’s length by her dirty and tangled black hair, his dagger at her throat.

“What in the name of all the gods are you doing?” He applied pressure to her neck. “Keep still or I will accidentally cut your head off.”

“Oh, like you mistakenly killed my puppies?” The tingling on her scalp from the roots straining in their foundations brought fresh tears to her eyes.

“I did not kill your wolf cubs and by accusing me, you will never figure out who really did.” Fendor stared her in the eyes. The lines around his eyes and mouth softened. He loosened his grip on Elyria’s hair but still kept his hand in place. He lowered his knife, tucking it in its sheath.

She reached up to scratch the itch on her scalp and came in contact with his hand. He laced his fingers into hers, bringing their arms down to their sides.

“I like animals. I liked your puppies.” He coughed and squeezed her hand. “I do not kill anything for no good reason.”

“But, you are the only one who came up here.”

“No, that’s not true, is it?”

Elyria let that sink in. Vindicius and Titus sneaked into the area without her knowledge. She knew less of them than she did of Fendor. The two of them had caused the hair on her arms to rise. She shivered now at the thought of them.

“Perhaps you are not responsible,” she said. She needed to center herself. She needed to calm her mind. She shocked herself by how quickly she strove for revenge. She promised herself she would remain calm and look for the truth.

“Why have you brought me in here?” She thought a change of direction might help.

“I don’t know how Vindicius and Titus got here. I don’t believe their arrival bodes well.”

“You obviously know each other.”

“I know them both very well and this is a knowledge I would gladly do without.” Fendor stroked Elyria’s wrist with his thumb. They had been holding hands all along. She pulled her hand away from his and smoothed down her chemise, just remembering how she must appear to him.

“Vindicius and I owe allegiance to the same good lady. He guides her soul on its path to its home with The Christ. He is her priest. Titus owes his allegiance to himself alone, but accepts special tasks from Vindicius for gold, thus chaining their souls to one another.” Fendor sat on the stone bench patting the spot next to him. Elyria hesitated briefly, but then decided she could trust him within limits. He had several opportunities to do away with her and he had not taken them.

“You do not like Vindicius.” She felt the heat of his body reach out to her. The warmth soothed her. Drafts of air flowed by them, damp and cold from the bowels of the earth. He removed his light cape from his shoulders and draped it around hers. It held the smell of wood smoke and pine.

“No, I do not. He professes a faith in a God that values peace and poverty and selfless duty to others. He acts like a god himself, taking to his person riches and the slavery of those he should help.” Fendor left his arm around Elyria. She moved closer to him. She fit into his side. He grimaced as she came in contact with the knife and teeth wound she had inflicted on him earlier. She touched the spot with her fingertips.

“I will clean this wound for you.”

“It is of no consequence.” Fendor gave a short, strangled laugh. “You should look to cleaning yourself up.” Fendor leaned closer to Elyria. “What is more important is determining why Vindicius has appeared here.” He jumped to his feet and began pacing the cave floor. “His orders charged him with organizing the pilgrimage at its origin. He cannot do so if he is here.” Fendor punctuated this by punching his fist into the cave wall. Dust showered down from the spot. He kept moving without pause.

“Perhaps your group has assembled and he came to find you.”

“He must have followed me, to be here, now, at this time.”

“He could have used the same source at the library you did and followed his own route here.”

“Yes, that is possible. He travels in more luxurious ways than me. I would not have seen him.” Fendor stopped in front of her. “I want to know why.”

“Can’t you ask him?”

“Yes and he will gladly answer me. But it will not be the truth. His answers, his words are deceptive. He sculpts creations to support his needs.”

A shadow crossed the mouth of the cave. Elyria caught it from the corner of her eye. She moved to stand, but Fendor held up a hand to stop her. He placed his finger over his lips to signal her silence. He cocked an ear in the direction of the entrance. They waited listening. They waited for several minutes. When she thought it must have been a cloud passing over head, she heard gravel shift just outside.

Fendor inched over to the edge of the opening, without so much as disturbing the air around him. When he stood by the entrance, he waited.

Elyria’s foot began to itch. Her nose tickled. She struggled to ignore her body’s treachery. She looked at the roof. She twitched her nose. She jumped when Fendor reached around the lip of the entry and pulled Titus into the cave, throwing him to the ground, face first. Fendor planted a foot on Titus’ back, holding him down.

Titus kicked his legs and flayed his arms, throwing dirt into the air but not succeeding his getting out of his trap. Fendor kept his boot on his back until Titus quit his struggles. Fendor rolled him over with his foot and placed it on Titus’ chest.

“What does one do with a sneak, with a snake?” Fendor shook his head at Titus. Elyria couldn’t take her eyes off of the oily and now dirty Titus. Spittle flew from his mouth as he struggled to speak. His cheeks glowed red against the pale white of his face.

“Must you always mishandle my servants?” Vindicius sauntered into their gathering. “Dear lady, be wary of this man’s temper. He lashes out on a whim.” He came over to Elyria and sat down. He took her hand in his own. Fendor glared at him.

“Sir, take care of your familiarity with me.” Elyria pulled from Vindicius’ touch. A scowl passed over his face, Elyria not even sure she had seen it.

“You did not so caution our friend.” His tongue poked out of the side of his mouth at her. He rose and took a regal stance. “The evils of the flesh will doom you to Hell. Satan lusts after young women who are weak and easily tempted.” He turned and left.

Titus used their shocked silence to crawl from the cave. Standing at the entrance, he looked over his shoulder at them and winked.

“There will come a reckoning for you both.”