by Samuel Wolfe
An assassin is hired to kill a very important man...and falls for his wife.
Tonight there was hardly even standing room in the tavern. Drink flowed as fast as the barmaids could serve it. Having run out of what they’d cooked that morning, food was being made to order.
On stage, a young woman in a blouse, vest, trousers and fine boots danced passionately. Her dark brown hair held in a low ponytail swung wildly with her. A jaunty tune carried at a fast pace to emphasize her fluid movements.
Her song kept her audience captive. At its end, they cheered and clapped, some standing from their seats. She took a low gentleman’s bow before leaving the stage. The crowd parted to allow her access to the back room.
Shortly afterwards there was a knock on her door.
“Who is it?”
“Just the inn keeper’s wife. I’ve come with supper.” Came a woman’s reply.
When she opened it a crack, there was a homely woman in a light brown dress. She had a plate of food and a mug of ale. The singer opened the door further to gently take the offered meal. “Thank you. I appreciate it.” She reached for coin, but the woman waved payment away.
“With the business you’ve brought, we can spare a meal and a little ale. What should we call you, ma’am?”
“Oki-ven. Please, exclude pronouns. They are rude where I came from.” There was no affront in her voice; clearly, she was accustomed to pronouns being used anyway. “Would you wake me with the sunrise? I prefer to leave before the heat hits. I find myself unaccustomed to such temperatures.”
“You’re welcome to stay as long as you like. I wouldn’t charge you for the room, or food. I think my husband would make me charge you for extra drink, though.”
“You are very kind, madam. I get restless to stay in one place too long.” Oki went to close the door. Her hostess blocked it, however.
“I’ve never seen a woman dress like that. Your style of clothing is so unique.”
“I’m sure you’ve never seen one sing and dance as I do either. I have come from a long way.” Oki’s reply was entirely neutral.
“Why do you travel so?”
Oki shook her head. “I am very weary, and simply would like to eat and retire.”
“Forgive me.” She curtsied and allowed her guest to shut the door.
No sooner had Oki finished her meal and another knock came.
There she is. I was starting to wonder if she were going to make me wait all night.
Oki slipped her dagger into her hand before opening the door just enough to peek outside. One couldn’t be too safe. A woman in a vibrant blue dress and an adorned hat. Behind her was a brawny man in plate armor, staring stoically watched the crowded room. His hand rest on a cutlass.
“Leave your watchdog outside.” Oki backed away from the door, sliding her dagger up her sleeve.
With a gentle nod, she came inside. Her guard stood in front of the door as it shut, clearly blocking out curious eyes. As her guest sat neatly in a chair, Oki poured two glasses of wine. She offered it to her guest, taking a sip to prove it wasn’t poisoned.
“Thank you.” She took a sip herself, to show her trust.
“Let’s cut through the pleasantries, shall we? I find myself too weary to endure politics.” Oki leaned against the desk. “I take half up front – no exceptions. All details are important. I don’t care if your target is the High King, everything is important. From their favorite foods to the number of guards they keep in their throne room, I need anything you know.”
She set a heavy coin purse on the table next to Oki, who ignored it like it didn’t exist. “500 gold now, 500 gold when its done. The target is Ziir Alexander.”
When she didn’t go on, Oki did. “Forgive me, madam, but I am not from here. I do not know who that is.”
She brushed a loose lock of hair behind her ear before taking a sip of her wine. “Of course. Ziir is the equivalent of a Jarl from where you’re from, yes? Or a Lorde in other lands. He runs his land to the north of here. It contains a large growing city and two growing villages. He owns several mines, lumber mills and keeps his land well defended. He has thirty-five guards in his estate, employs around fifty Leon Knights and when the borders are threatened, he hires mercenaries.”
“Most in his position do. Are there any right now?”
“No, but when I left he was talking about hiring around twenty.”
“That’s a lot of swords at my throat should something happen, milady.” Oki replied thoughtfully. “What is your reason for wanting this powerful man gone? I do not take contracts for personal gain. It has never panned out well for me.”
She took a big gulp of wine. “He is my husband. We wed because neither of us has an interest in the opposite sex, and it offered great benefits to both of our families. I did not know I was signing on for a drunkard to wallow away our wealth.”
I see. Less about personal gain and more about survival. She’s about to lose her only means of a secure means of life she’s always known.
“Can you ask for it to be nullified?”
“If I had not a son, I could.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You two have coupled enough to have a child, with no interest in one another?”
“It was our duty.” The pain in her voice spoke volumes on its own.
“I’d need a layout of the castle and the land. If you can, I’d prefer a copy of their routine. Otherwise, I’ll have to do recon.”
“I don’t have access to that. Your best bet is to do recon from the inside.” There was a new look in her eyes. “And he isn’t looking to pay another bard.”
Oki raised an eyebrow. “I feel you have a proposition for how I get inside.”
Her grin became slightly predatory as her eyes wondered my body. “Yes, in fact. Being my personal bard and lover would give you far more freedom to move about the castle as you like.”
“Or a front-row seat to the headman’s ax.”
She scoffed, waving her hand away. “Both of us have our lovers, or we wouldn’t remain sane. Every one of his servants have serviced him. Daily. I happen to have let my last personal bard go. She was…unsatisfactory.”
“Backed out of the job?”
“No, she was only a bard. I did not think to hire one such as yourself until I heard in other parts of the land it was done. She just did not sing as often as I would have liked.” She shook her head. “In fact, I would not be here if I thought we would make it through the winter, with the way he drinks away our coin.”
“Very well.” Oki finally picked up the coin purse, feeling its weight. Yes, that should be the right amount.
With this much coin, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a few coins off. Still, I’ll count it myself and make sure that I’m not being jipped.
As she finished her wine, she rose to go for the door. Oki stopped her. “No, you will stay the night in here.”
She flushed deep red. “I am not in the mood.”
Oki shook her head. “We do not have to be together tonight; we only have to make them think we did.”
The look of affront on her face was priceless. “Is this how you wish to conduct the entire contract?”
It was Oki’s turn to smirk. “Oh, no, milady. I will take my pleasures in your bed. Consider it payment for the recon, if you will. I simply do not touch the unwilling and am too tired to enjoy you tonight.” Oki finished her wine in a single gulp. “You are welcome to share my bed; tis why I requested a large one.”
Then she kicked off her boots, undid her hair and lay down. Sliding her dagger beneath her pillow, she grasped it tight. It wasn’t long before her guest joined her. Oki drifted into a half-aware sleep, her hand still on her weapon.
Along the Way
When the inn keeper’s wife woke us, it was my company who answered the door.
“Oh my, aren’t you a fine catch?” Oki heard the inn keeper chuckle.
“What time is it?” She asked groggily.
“Dawn. Oki-ven wished to be awoken for early travel.”
“I see.” She whipped the sleep from her eyes. “Wake my accompany for me, if you would.”
She curtsied and left to do as she’d been asked.
“Oki-ven.” She turned the name on her tongue. “My name is Sofia. In public, I’d prefer you address me as a lady.”
“Very well.” Oki re-tied her hair, put on her boots and put her dagger in her bootstrap.
“You had a dagger under your pillow?”
“Being cautious has saved my life more than once.”
“I suppose that’s fair.” Sofia replied reluctantly as she brushed her hair and prepared for the day. “Travel with me in my carriage.” It came out as a question, though it’d been meant to sound like a command.
Oki grunted in answer. “My horse is high-spirited. She’s a war-bred beast, and I will not give her up.”
“She can be tied to the carriage.”
“Very well.” I came up behind her to give her hair a gentle tug. She gave a half-stifled moan. “I do believe we have unfinished business.”
“I believe so.” She puffed out.
Leon Knights rode powerful lions bred to be almost twice as large as a wild lion. The lion in the group went to the general, taking the lead. The females were ridden by his unit. A Pride was five-strong, a male and four females.
They were highly intelligent animals; intelligent enough to make their own decisions in combat, and to form a secular life-long bond with their knights. This made them a powerful pair; five of them was often enough to handle ten men.
Once she and her accompaniment of knights were ready, I helped her into the carriage before following her inside. This first ride was in awkward silence. Stilted conversations about politics or weather weren’t enough to break the silence. She clearly wasn’t sure how to begin this relationship she was trying to establish.
Very well. It seems its up to me to make it clear we’re lovers.
I just needed to figure out how. It was on the third day of travel after our lunch that I came up with the solution. Sitting right next to her, I met her eyes and began to sing.
“From the peaks of the mountains
To the depths of the sea,
I shall pursue you.
I cannot offer
Gemstones and castles,
But my hearth is as warm
As my heart is true.
From the peaks of the mountains
To the depths of the sea,
I shall love you.
I cannot offer
Men and horses
But my arm will be raised
In battle to defend you.
From the peaks of the mountains
To the depths of the sea,
I shall be yours.
I cannot offer
Fancy dresses and gourmet food,
But every day we live
Shall be for you.”
Sofia listened with her eyes closed and her lips parted. It took several seconds for her to come back from where the song had taken her. Finally, she opened her eyes and spoke softly. “Your voice is a gift from the gods themselves. That was marvelous.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it.” I replied as my hand slid up her dress to stroke her stockings. My other stroked the back of her neck ever-so-lightly. “Now I do believe it is time we became more acquainted with one another.”
Her cheeks flushed deep red. “My, right here? What if the knights hear us?”
“Let them have their fun as well. After all, Sofia, it can’t be all about work, can it?”
“This will be a new experience for you, then.” Oki replied smoothly, curling her fingers into the skin on her thigh. She slipped off her stocking, running her hand upward. “Naughty girl; you aren’t wearing your garter.”
Grabbing a fistful of hair, she jerked it, forcing her head backwards. Oki met her lips fiercely, receiving a passionate kiss in response. Sofia quickly relented her the lead, spreading her legs invitingly with a soft whimper.
Oki’s hand massaged her thighs, right below her burning need. Sofia gasped, her hips trying to thrust her closer. Gently biting Sofia’s lip, Oki sucked it into her mouth. Sofia let out a low moan, kissing her lover harder. She reached up to grope her own breast hungrily.
With a fierce growl, Oki broke away. Stradling her lover, she had Sofia pinned in half a second. “Your body is mine when I am touching you. Is that understood?”
Sofia nodded hastily, the lust almost masking the moment of fear that flashed in her vibrant green eyes.
“Is. That. Understood?” Oki’s lips were centimeters from hers.
“Yes ma’am.” She whispered huskily. “Please touch my breasts.”
When Oki lightly tapped her face, she noted that Sofia flinched. She didn’t like that.
I won’t slap her again.
Untying her dress, Oki jerked down the bodice roughly. A different gasp came from Sofia’s throat. Oki glanced up, noted the hint of fear in her eyes and decided not to do that again either. Sealing her lips on a tit, she nipped gently, swirling her tongue around it.
Relaxing entirely, Sofia let out a deep moan. “Thank you,” She purred out hungrily. Her hands released, she placed one on the back of Oki’s head hesitantly. The other ended up on Oki’s ass.
Oki began to tweak and pull at Sofia’s other nipple while her teeth, tongue and lips kept the one in her mouth hard as stone. Sofia’s hips rocked back and forth as she squirmed, gently pressing Oki’s head down while her other hand massaged her ass. She pressed her hips closer too, clearly wanting more contact. Oki’s other hand gently pulled at her lover’s hair, never tugging hard enough to hurt her.
To let Sofia know she was enjoying herself as well, Oki let out encouraging groans. It wasn’t long before Sofia’s moans could be heard outside their carriage.
“Please, Oki! Please touch me!”
Giving a sadistic laugh, Oki baited “Oh? Am I not touching you, Sofia?”
“Must I say it?” She whimpered.
“You will if you want it badly enough.” Oki laughed again as she gave Sofia’s nipple a sharp tug.
“I want you inside of me!” Sofia shouted through a moan. “Please ma’am!”
“Now, was that so hard?” Oki purred softly, pausing to remove her vest and blouse. Sofia stared at her smaller chest in heated desire.
She let out a low moan as Oki drove three fingers ruthlessly into her hot, hungry cunny. She thrust in and out relentlessly, strumming her clit like a lute. Sofia learned it was better to follow Oki’s pace.
In no time at all, Oki learned all her favorite places. Meanwhile she nipped and sucked at her neck while her free hand carried on playing with Sofia’s chest. Sofia came hard and suddenly, letting out a cry of bliss that caused the horses to spook.
Oki grinned like a cat eating cream to hear the knights’ loud remarks and cheers.
Never a cruel lover, she gently brought Sofia down, holding her and whispering, “That’s a good girl.” She stroked her hair, giving her small, soft kisses along her forehead.
Finally Sofia seemed to regain her senses. “Can…I touch you?” It was the tone in her voice that made Oki pull away to look at her.
Gently cupping her face, she forced the girl to meet her eyes. “Did I frighten you or hurt you, Sofia? Did you enjoy what we did?”
“I…I liked it.”
She tried looking away, but Oki wouldn’t let her. “You…it was a little frightening.”
Oki spoke with a gentleness most wouldn’t expect from her. “If I ever frighten you, hurt you or do something you dislike, stop me immediately. I want both of us to enjoy this and do not enjoy causing my lovers real pain. Do you understand?”
Confidence and relief flooded back into her gaze. She relaxed again with a nod. “Yes. If I’m not enjoying it, I should stop you.”
“Let’s use a code word. Sometimes, when we’re being rough, we don’t mean it when we say no or stop. What’s something you will remember in the heat of the moment?”
“Red. I used it with my last lover.” She gave me a look. “Though I was the one in charge.”
“Oh, I’m sure. It seems we have a sadistic masochist on our hands. That will serve our relationship just fine; I like to be hurt as well. Though, do not expect me to relinquish control.”
“I did not count on it. This is fine with me. It is…nice to give up control occasionally.”
“Now tell me…does Alexander hurt you?”
Sofia opened her mouth, shut it and turned away. Settling down next to her, Oki held her lover. That was all the answer she needed. This was now about more than the money.
Nobody deserves to be abused. Hurting her that way is his way of feeling powerful. He doesn’t even enjoy sex with a woman. That bastard will pay for hurting his wife.
Oki took it upon herself to sing to Sofia every day. In the carriage she sang love ballads. Out by the fire, she would sing historical recounts and mythological epics for the knights. They would cheer, deep in their drink, as Sofia listened with a happy smile.
She also took it upon herself to learn Sofia’s triggers when they were intimate. Sofia called color when she was slapped, no matter how hard. Her hair being pulled or being bitten to hard also stopped their lovemaking. Though she didn’t stop her, Oki learned that Sofia didn’t enjoy being degraded or humiliated, so ceased.
Not once during their two-week journey did Oki ask to be touched back. Sofia didn’t offer again, either. She had yet to do it when they came rolling up to the large city within the walls of a great estate. Unlike where Oki was born, they didn’t reside in castles. Instead, they lived in large manors.
Oki was expecting the fan fair running through the streets upon their arrival. As well as the surprise on everyone’s face when she stepped out with their lady. What she wasn’t expecting was the ten-year-old boy who sprinted out of the castle to throw himself into his mother’s arms.
Not only was a boy this old not to display such affections for his mother, but Oki was expecting a younger child.
“Mother, you are home!” He looked up with a beaming smile. Oki clenched her jaw at the sight of his black eye.
Sofia gave a sad smile, her fingers gently tracing beneath the bruised skin. “What on earth happened, Ethan?”
Ethan jerked out of his mother’s arms. “My pony spooked while I was riding him. Father said I should treat him with more respect.”
The pony or his father?
“Stay out of the stables until that heals. You’re lucky it was only a black eye.”
Indeed. A horse could kill a full-grown man, let alone a child.
“Can we go for a walk in the gardens?”
“I should say not! You are late for your lessons, young man! Be off with you, and stay out of the stables!”
“Yes ma’am.” Hanging his shoulders, he ran off inside. Hopefully to attend his lessons.
The master of servants, called the domo here, came outside to fetch our things. “Does the Mistress’s guest need a room?”
“Yes. Give her the room adjacent mine. She is my personal bard.”
The knowing look flashing through his eyes verified her story that they had many lovers separate from one another. “Yes, Mistress. What of her horse?”
“She’s a fiery thing.” Oki cut in. “Send an experienced hand to deal with her; and tell them to watch her hooves. She’s likely to put up a fuss. I do believe it is wise to stable her separate from any sensitive horses.”
“Very well, milady. I will send for the stable master to tend to her and pass on your warnings and suggestions. She will still be well cared for.”
He bowed low and began to unload the carriage.
“From Zenith, are you? Yes, I thought I recognized your accent.”
She’s got quite the ear to hear my accent. Between my travels and my own attempts to mask it, most don’t recognize it.
“Indeed, Lady Sofia.”
“Shall we? I do believe Alexander is expecting me.”
“While you are with Ziir Alexander, may I look around the estate? It has been a long time since I have been around such wealth.”
“Of course. When you are ready, ask any servant to show you to your quarters. Zen will make sure all servants are aware of you.”
And who I am to you, I’m sure. It will certainly make poking around easier.
She gave me a pleasant smile. “After supper, I would have you sing for me.”
“Always a pleasure.”
She went inside. My first recon would be around the estate. There were gates with guards patrolling. Along the paths Leon Knights strode confidently. I walked it with the casual purpose of a gentleman on a mission. Meanwhile I observed the Ziir’s defenses.
Their weapons, how they walked, when they intercepted one another, their interactions with one another, how long they stopped to talk, where they paced, where they stood – everything was watched with a studious eye. I was about to head inside when a Knight stopped and dismounted.
“I don’t recognize you.”
Oki calmly handed him her papers.
“Ordained Traveling Bard of Zenith. Oki-ven, House of Sigrid. Twenty-eight.” His eyebrows furrowed and he frowned. “Gender isn’t mentioned. Isn’t gender usually identified on traveling bard papers?”
“Gender is more fluid in Zenith.” Oki replied. “Ven is a gender-neutral term for the unwed nobility.”
“I do not use gender or pronounce to define myself. Thus, my style of dress. It is a blend of male and female style and cloth from my homeland.”
“I see. Forgive me…ven. You are Lady Sofia’s bard, yes?”
“I am sorry for the interruption.”
“You are only doing your job, good sir. Thank you for protecting such a special woman and her son.”
Clearly unsure what to say, he handed me back my papers, said a polite goodbye and mounted his Leon to be on his way. Giving a small triumphant smile, I headed inside. I explored the estate’s library, ballroom, drawing room, and throne room before a guard who had finally been following me asked for my papers as well.
He begged forgiveness the moment he read the name. I gave a similar reply that I had to the knight. Having lost my tail, I also explored the guest rooms and kitchen. The staff was delighted when I sang a commoner’s song called Red Joe. It was bloody and brutal – just what peasants wanted. It was a rowdy tune, perfect for the chaotic kitchens.
“Oh dear, it is almost supper time. I do believe I need to freshen up.”
“Paige, dear, show Oki-ven to her room. Take hot water for a bath and come back for some wine. I won’t have any word of you gawking at her, neither, do you hear?”
“Yes mum.” Even for the teen’s small stature, she carried the two buckets with balance and strength that showed her experience in the task.
The room was a large one with a lit hearth and a balcony with a view of the gardens. It had a double bed, an end table and a wardrobe. There was a desk with ink and a quill as well. This was quarters for nobility.
Someone did their research before contacting me. I approve.
Paige poured my bath. She disrobed me professionally, though her eyes roamed. Oki winked at her, making her cheeks blaze red. “You won’t tell, will you?”
“Wouldn’t want you to get in trouble for looking, would we?” Oki teased. “Go on now; I can bathe and dress myself. Don’t hurry with the wine – I won’t drink until after supper.”
She looked at me blankly.
“Call me Ven, not mum.”
“I will do my best, m- ven.”
“See? Not so hard.”
She gave a relieved smile before hurrying off.
After cleaning off the grime of travel, Oki took her time to brush out her hair and choose her clothing well. Her things having been put in her room already, she sifted through her clothing for something more charming. She chose a soft blue blouse with a deep brown vest and a gray scarf. She paired these with white leggings and an earthy brown pair of trousers. Unfortunately, her worn boots were her only pair. But they would do; she was only a bard, after all.
Grabbing her lute in case she would be expected to perform during supper, she left the room and asked to be shown to the dinning hall. Oki was surprised when Sofia waved her over to sit next to her.
“What is this?” A man at the head of the table asked. He was stronger than Oki had hoped, clearly having trained in the art of war at one point. His face was shaved, making him look younger than his years. Angular features with a slightly fading hairline, Oki placed him in his early thirties. “She’s a bard, Sofia. Have her eat with the other servants.”
“Non-sense. Oki-ven Sigrid is nobility. It would not do well to have her seated amongst the common rabble.”
“Nobility? A bard?”
“In Zenith, only the nobility can pursue education in history and mythology. There are very few of the poor who are literate there.”
Alexander dropped the subject, instead choosing to ignore me like my station was still beneath his. The bard pretended not to notice by ignoring him as well. Instead she told Sofia the story of the Battle of the Houses. It was Zenith’s only recorded civil war.
“So there are seven houses remaining?” Sofia asked at the end of the tale.
“Yes. Sigrid, Gale, Katana, Willow, Vayne, Viper and Wolf. They have divided Zenith evenly between them.”
“Aren’t those also the names of your deities?” The woman next to Oki had apparently been listening, just as rapt.
“Indeed. That is why they are named such. We take a patron god or goddess to guide our leaders.”
“Fascinating.” A third replied.
I seem to have gathered an audience.
It was then that she realized Alexander was glaring at her.
Someone doesn’t like to let others have the spotlight.
On the other hand, it was his third glass of ale in the past half hour. Oki doubted he’d be much conversation at this point anyway. That he was still aware was a testament to his tolerance. Their ale was too strong for her; she had yet to touch it.
“Well, I am quite finished.” Sofia said, pushing her plate aside. “Meet me in my room, Oki. I wish for you to sing for me.”
“Of course, Lady Sofia.” Oki stood after her, following her at a respectful distance.
When they came into Sofia’s room, she sat regally on her sofa. “What do you think of the estate?”
“Plenty of escape routes, though they are all well-guarded. I do not like how well-trained these men are. Leons are intelligent animals with better senses than their riders. Fooling them is more difficult than fooling the hounds some of the guards have.
If I were to need to escape, I would be hard pressed. I need to time the assassination when the guards and knights are distracted. Are there any celebrations coming up? Is Alexander planning any trips?”
“Taxes have already been done this year. There is no war going on, so the possibility of him leaving for war is very unlikely. With the borders being attacked, he may journey out to patrol them, but he won’t take a large regiment with him. He’ll take the mercenaries he hired. Just as I suspected; twenty of them.” She pondered the other half of the question. “The summer solstice celebration is coming up. The entire nation is celebrating, so he posts half the number of guards. The knights join in. None of them are on duty during the solstice. We do have important guests during the solstice, but he tends to get plastered early in the day.”
“It’s very likely I’ll poison his drink to kill him. Seeing as people will assume he is simply drunk, it will give me time to escape before an alarm is raised. I will need time to get my hands on the poison.”
“The solstice is a month away.”
Oki nodded. “Sounds suitable. By then I will know the guards and knights better and will have a better idea of the layout of the estate and city. Now, shall I sing?”
She gave a delighted smile. “I hoped you would.”
We must keep up pretenses, after all.
Pouring herself some wine, Oki took a sip to wet her mouth and throat. She decided on another love ballad.
“No matter how far
Away I go
My heart will
Always be yours.
No matter how many
Times we argue,
My heart will
Always be yours.
The joy I feel
When you are close-
By any woman-
No matter can ever
Make my heart
Beat any slower,
When you and I are
No matter how far
Away I go
My heart will
Always be yours.”
Sofia suddenly began to cry. Oki stood there awkwardly, staring at her. A split second later the bard moved to hold her. Sofia shook her head, whipping away her tears.
“I am sorry, Oki. I did not mean to startle you.”
“What inspired your tears, Sofia?” Oki asked quietly, taking her hand gently.
“It is the song the bard at our wedding sang.”
That explains a lot. I should have been more careful; it’s a common song at weddings.
“Forgive me; it was thoughtless of me to sing something so commonly sung at weddings.”
She shook her head. “No, it was beautiful. I love that song.”
“…it’s just hard, being married to Alexander. I understand. Truly, I didn’t intend to upset you.”
She gave a weak smile. “It is just that…I believed we would become good friends. Perhaps I would come to love him as a brother, and find…a woman who loved me so.”
“There is no reason why you could not find such a woman.” I tried to assure her. “You may not be able to marry her, but love does not need papers. It only needs time and two people who enjoy one another’s company.”
Sofia’s tears calmed. She sniffled. “You think so?”
“Sure. You are a very determined and intelligent woman. You knew I was nobility before you even hired me. It was you who came up with the way to get me inside. And I happen to know you are a very good, flexible lover.”
“I have yet to show you my skills in bed.” Sofia retorted.
“Only because you have not tried.”
“You have not given me permission.” Sofia replied with a slight flush to her cheeks.
Oki actually chuckled. “You were waiting for my permission?”
“Not only are you in charge in the bedroom, but you are not the only one who prefers a willing partner.”
“So that’s why. I thought you preferred to receive than to touch.”
“I rather enjoy giving women pleasure. It drives me insane that I have not been given permission.”
“You most certainly have that.”
Sofia leaned up to give her a slow, passionate kiss. Oki quickly took lead over the kiss. Sofia pulled her on top of her. Quickly stripping her out of her vest and blouse, she immediately went for her breasts. Oki let out an encouraging moan, switching to kiss and nip at her neck.
Sofia grabbed her hair to jerk her off, causing Oki to growl predatorily. Though it gave her lover pause, when she wasn’t corrected Sofia peppered her neck with powerful bites. Oki muttered in her native language – a word Sofia would have called crass had she paid it any attention.
Sensing the shift in her power, Sofia shoved a hand down Oki’s trousers to glide across her clit roughly. Oki murmured again in her own language, her eyes rolling back in her head. She followed Sofia’s pace this time, giving in. Sofia gave her lover a little nudge; Oki reluctantly pulled away.
She followed Sofia to the bed, letting the smaller woman lay her down. Sofia practically tore off the remainder of her clothes, throwing them behind her.
“Careful; those are from home.” Oki warned irritably.
“Sorry.” Sofia looked honestly chastised for only a moment.
Spreading Oki’s legs, Sofia dove between them, earning her a loud moan and another crass word. It was then that Oki grabbed her by the hair and took control, wrapping her legs around Sofia’s head and taking her pleasure with powerful thrusts. Sofia used tongue and lip and teeth, keeping up perfectly as she brought Oki to the peak.
Oki’s cries of pure ecstasy echoed into the halls. Out of nowhere guards burst in, swords drawn. Sofia screamed, covering Oki with a blanket.
“What in the Gods’ name are you idiots doing?!” Sofia shouted as Oki lay there, panting in both bliss and surprise.
Their cheeks stained red as they realized what was going on. “S-sorry milady. A-Alexander said she was an assassin…”
“Do you not think I would check her credentials before I brought her into my bed?!” Sofia picked up a wine glass and chucked it right for the closest man’s head.
He ducked a moment before it hit him; it shattered on the door frame, showering the men behind him in glass. They yelped, leaping out of the way before they could be seriously harmed. It made Oki laugh. Sofia gave her a charming smile.
“Yes, that was quite amusing, was it not my songbird?” She leaned down to kiss Oki.
Cringing, Oki stopped her. “Wash first.”
Laughing at her, she said “Very well.” Seeing the guards were still there, she shouted “GET OUT!”
“B-but the Ziir-“
They scrambled out of her chamber before she could throw another glass at them – or worse. She knew where Oki kept her dagger. Honestly, after this display Oki didn’t doubt she would have seized it next.
Sofia cleaned off her mouth with the bedcover. Oki seized her for a deep, passionate kiss. She bit her lip just hard enough that Sofia didn’t call red. Running her nails down Sofia’s back, she began to knead her breasts. She pinched and pulled at her tits.
Sofia added tongue. Oki pulled away. “No.”
“No, or red?”
“Not red, just no tongue.”
Sofia returned to their kissing without tongue, though it was still deep and fervent. Her fingers slipped inside Oki’s cunny; Oki quickly repaid the favor. Together they brought one another higher and higher, writhing and moaning. Oki came harder this time, a second before Sofia reached her peak. Their screams had to have made into the halls, but this time the guards were wise enough not to come in.
They held one another tightly as the pleasure coursed through, slowly easing one another down. Sofia laughed as Oki pet her, calling her a good girl again.
“Do you find it funny?”
“No. I find it comforting. I am laughing because it is so strange to find something like that comforting.”
“Most women who are in a submissive mind-set like to hear it.” Oki told her with a small smile. “I have found it reassures them that they are alright, despite what I just did to them.”
“And that it is okay to enjoy it?”
“Yes.” Oki replied seriously. “Many people enjoy it; men and women alike.”
“That is good to hear.”
Sofia started to drift off to sleep. When Oki started to pull away, she jerked awake. “Please stay.”
Oki blinked at her. She wasn’t used to staying after Sofia fell asleep. After a moment of hesitation, she nodded. “Very well. I will tonight.”
“Thank you.” Sofia drifted back off.
Oki found it a little harder to sleep, but her orgasms had exhausted her body. At last, it found her.
Shouting brought Oki to her feet. She realized she was both nude and unarmed only when she reached for her dagger. Alexander burst into the door to see Sofia sitting up with sleep in her eyes and Oki on her feet poised for a fight, utterly naked.
“What in the Gods’ name is going on in here?” Alexander shouted.
“You woke us after a very nice night.” Oki snapped, seizing her clothing to throw it on hastily. “What is all this shouting? Is the estate under attack, or are you upset that your breakfast is growing cold?”
Sofia reached for her own clothing, shielding her body from her husband in a way that Oki couldn’t dismiss.
“If you do not mind, Lord Alexander, you are upsetting my sweet Sofia. Do leave.”
“You cannot command me out of my wife’s room, noble blood or not!”
Oki stood rigidly between the two, meeting his gaze with fire in her eyes. “I do believe you are unclear on the rights of women in Zenith.”
“I’m very aware of where women sit there. Here they are beneath men.”
“I have diplomatic immunity from such things.” Oki’s voice was as cold as ice. “I dare you to lay one hand on me, Lord.”
Sofia scoffed. “Stop posturing, Alexander. She is not some cut-throat here to kill me. She is simply a very talented bard of noble blood whom I happen to be very fond of. If you would please leave so I may dress, I would very much appreciate it.”
“How would you know?”
“I checked her credentials. It’s rather easy to do, so long as you know who to ask. Besides, Symphony would never hire an assassin.”
He instantly cooled. “She was Symphony’s bard?”
“Is that not what I just said?” Sofia retorted stonily. “I went to see my sister. It so happens that Oki was getting restless. She is a traveling bard; they tend to get anxious being still.”
“And what made you think to bring her here?”
“We happen to have had several very good nights together. Especially at Symphony’s. My, Oki is a wildcat.”
Alexander blanched. “Say no more. I have no interest in your bed habits. Next time you bring a guest, do me the honor of sending a notice.”
“Why? You bring in random men for serving you in the same way. I have never before had to clear my lovers with you afore.”
“Do not pretend that bards from Zenith are not known assassins.”
“Not all are.” Oki stepped in smoothly. “I cannot even stand the sight of blood; I cannot count the number of times I have fainted from the smallest of cuts. It really is inconvenient.”
He looked doubtful before sighing and leaving without another word.
Good thing he didn’t try to test that. I’d hate to have to pretend to faint. Now that is tiresome.
Sofia dressed in a beautiful blue dress with purple trim. She brushed her hair, washed her hands and face and put on a matching hat and gloves before picking out a pair of shoes that went with the outfit. Oki waited patiently while she did so.
Sofia led the way out to the gardens, where a servant brought them breakfast. This is where Sofia surprised the bard. “I absolutely love being outside. It is so beautiful. That is why I had Alexander build a garden; when I first moved in, this was an empty space.”
“You like outside?”
“Yes. I adore it. When I was young, my mother would take us riding in the woods. She would point out all the different kinds of birds and animal tracks.”
“Your mother knew all that?”
“She was an excellent hunter, despite how little my father approved. She was a native.”
Sofia was quiet before asking “What about your family?”
Oki coughed on her tea. Once she recovered, she had to compose herself. She wasn’t accustomed to this. “My father was a bard. He taught me to love song and story. He taught me to read, write, history and mythology. My mother was a warlord. She taught me strategy, swordplay, human anatomy and finances. They couldn’t decide if I would be a warlord or a bard.”
Oki gave a thin-lined smile. “Because sons take their father’s career and daughters take their mothers. When I announced that I felt as if I were both genders, they were beside themselves. Normally this is not an issue; the title I did not choose would go to the next in line.”
“My mother could not conceive another child. My elder brother died before he left his crib. No matter how she tried to give him another child, she could not.”
“Have they sorted it out?”
“I became a bard, not having the stomach for open combat. But I used my mother’s training none-the-less, and she was satisfied with that. Mother adopted a young woman to take her position.”
“Do you two get along?”
“Very well. She is a brave and brilliant woman who leads our armies well. And she would have made my mother proud.”
“Your mother passed on?”
“Complications of the same illness that prevented her from childbearing. I…I was not there.” Oki cleared her throat. “What about your parents?”
“They are very happy monarchs. Though I do believe my eldest brother Erik will soon take the throne. Father has been feeling his age of late, and my mother’s health is in decline. I do my best to visit, but Alexander does not like them. He rarely allows it.”
“How cruel of him.”
A servant refilled their tea. They fell into a familiar silence. Oki soon found it oppressive and sang. This song was as old as the gods.
“Birdsong fills the air
With a pleasant song
Free of winter’s despair
With colors of spring’s declare.
The days grow warm
As the sun grows strong
Watch as the world does transform
Into a landscape of beauty
Tossed in the seasons’ storm.
Leaves turn red and gold
Falling from trees
As the winds blow in cold
And wolves separate
The weak and the old
Nights dominate the days
Snow falls endlessly
Prey submit to winter’s ways
Weak now are the sun’s
Life awaits warm
Sofia clapped this time, a smile on her face. Oki was surprised when she got an applause from the servants. She ignored them, accustomed to crowds far larger than this.
Ethan blazed out of the manor to fling himself on his mother, who grunted in surprise as he knocked over her tea. Servants scrambled to attend the mess with a ten-year-old in the way.
“Ethan! You right yourself this instant!” Sofia corrected sternly without raising her voice. Oki frowned, sitting back to observe.
Removing himself, he apologized to the servants without meaning it before turning to his mother. “Can we go for a walk, mother?”
“Now wait one moment, young man.” Oki spoke up before Sofia could. “These servants are cleaning up a mess you made, and you are not the least grateful for it.”
“It’s their job.”
“But they would not be cleaning a thing up if you had not been so inappropriate. What are you doing, racing out here as if this were a hunting trail? Slamming into your mother as if she were a rascal hound? You have yet to properly apologize to either of them.”
“You can’t tell me what to do.”
Sofia swatted her boy’s butt, making him whirl around with a look of surprised shame. “Do not speak to a lady like that. She is both nobility and a very special friend to your mother. Not to mention she is very right. You were behaving like a street rat, not like a Ziir’s son. Apologize properly to all of us.”
Realizing he’d screwed up, Ethan hung his head. “Sorry mother. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He turned to me and gave a humble bow. “Sorry Milady, for my unkind words.” Then he turned to the servants and said “I am sorry I made a mess. It looked wonderfully done beforehand, and it was reckless of me to run about.”
“There you are. Behaving like the heir.” Oki said with a nod. “Now, Ethan, do not take my words hard. It is your job to make your mother proud. How can you do so if you behave half your age? You are at an age where you should be refining your sword arm and sharpening your blade.”
He pondered what Oki had said before hesitantly speaking. “You are from far away?”
“Is that why you dress like that?”
“Very observant; you would do your mother proud if you would behave.”
“You think so?”
“With your mother’s sharp wit and with your father’s strength…you will be a wonderful Ziir one day. Only if you stop hiding under your mother’s skirt and stop shirking your duties.”
“Can you fight?”
“Will you show me how?”
Oki looked to Sofia, who shook her head.
“You have tutors for such things. I do believe here it is indecent for a woman to show a young boy how to fight. It would do you no credit. Go on now; attend your lessons, whatever they be this time of day.”
“Okay. Thank you, milady.”
Ethan walked off, practicing being regal instead of zealous. It made both women smile; Sofia chuckled. “Thank you. I have never seen anybody handle him like that.”
“Boys need a firmness. Then again, I have learned if you are too firm with them, they grow up hateful and jaded.”
“I am fearful his father will teach him wrong.”
“I can see that. Is that why you are so gentle?”
“Yes. Though I believe it is time to not baby him so. Too much and he will not be strong enough in his later years.”
“Finding a balance with children can be hard.”
Sofia smiled softly at Oki. “Yes, it is.”
They were quiet as they finished their meal. “I have duties to attend.”
“I believe I need a few things in town. Are horses permitted? I do detest walking.”
“Yes. Shall I see you at supper?”
“It will be my pleasure. Then perhaps I can sing for you later.”
“That would be marvelous.” Sofia openly kissed Oki’s lips in parting.
Oki pondered her pounding heart as she returned to her room. She changed into her traveling clothing; simple and undyed, it would resemble those in the slums.
Prepared, I headed for the stables unhindered. There, her painted mare nibbled on oats. She greeted Oki with a knicker, throwing her head eagerly. Patting her nose, Oki took her out of the stall, tacked her – Oki hadn’t bought anything fancy – and mounted.
It was time to explore the back alleys of this gilded city.