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When Eliza is captured by the Barbarians, her life is turned upside-down. She is presented as a gift to the Barbarian King to be his whore; she refuses to let him take her. Can the king talk his way into her bed? Can Eliza resist this man’s impossible beauty?

(A/N: This story has some themes of rape and violence, but in no way do I condone either of these acts.

2nd A/N: For those who have already read this, you should re-read the first few chapters as some things have changed.

Barbaric
“The barbarians are coming!”
At that moment, my heart stops. I look up from where I am sitting next to the boudoir in the manor to the oval-shaped window. No, I think to myself. This can’t be happening.

The barbarians rarely ever raided the northwestern villages, but when they did, they left the streets bloodied and the houses bare. And if they were feeling especially evil, they’d even take a maiden back to their king as a gift.

I am dressed in a beautiful red silk dress, ready to go to the town square to meet with the man that I’d been courting for about a month. Rumor had said that Sir Cordell was going to ask for my hand in marriage. And of course, I was to accept his offer. Cordell is the wealthiest noble in the village with the most to offer me.

He’d told me his stories of how he and his men would ride out to conquer the barbarians and kill their king to capture the Silvertongue and rid the kingdom of any future barbarian attacks. I had asked him what the Silvertongue was on our ride to the meadows, the ones that he took me on our first time alone together.

“A Silvertongue is an object that knows all the world’s languages, whether they be secret, or well known,” Cordell had said to me. “The Silvertongue will help us to decipher the book of Azazel. Anyone who can decipher the book of Azazel is said to bathe in riches and achieve world domination with his men. I shall marry you, Elizabella, and then we shall rule the world as the greatest King and Queen anyone has ever known.”

“My lady!” the maidservant calls. “We must evacuate out the back door immediately! Your father has been killed and your mother captured.”

My face goes pale and I can feel the knot in my stomach tighten. “Killed…? Captured?” Before I can properly respond, the sound of battle cries and splintering wood downstairs echoes out and breaks me from my stunned trance.

Michelle, my maid, grabs my hand and tugs me down the hallway. I struggle to keep up with having the burden of a heavy silk dress, tripping over my skirts every so often as I am being yanked hurriedly down the stairs.

A cry in the distance is followed by the sound of a gruesome squishing sound of a barbarian spear going through the flesh of an innocent villager. At the bottom of the steps lays my other handmaiden, surrounded by a pool of blood with a knife in her stomach.

Michelle sobs loudly, but I quickly hush her, pushing her out the back door. The sound of crashing can be heard as barbarians are seen invading my kitchens and smashing my mother’s prized fine china.

It’s ridiculously hot on this particular summer month, the smell of death and blood lingering in the sticky air. It’s complete chaos out on the roads. The square is littered with dead bodies, screaming women and children, and debris from wrecked bazaars and merchant stands.

I absently wonder where Cordell is, and if he’s safe. I wonder if my father died quickly and painlessly and if my mother is still alive and well. “My lady, please!” Michelle tugs on my pale white hand, pulling me farther into the forest to escape the hoard of barbarians that ambushes my quiet little village of Bellechester.

Barbarians usually dressed in animal skins and wore the bones of humans in bracelets or necklaces. They grew their hair out long and ran with wolves, fighting on foot instead of horseback, and with khopesh swords and daggers instead of iron swords.

As Michelle pulls me deeper into the depths of the lush green forest, I can see life as I knew it slowly fading away before my reluctant eyes. Tears form where tears weren’t welcome and I soon find myself crying like a child. It’s all happening so fast; my mother is captured, my father is dead, my house is wrecked and my riches are gone. It is a slap in the face that was gifted from reality, and I am only a tiny speck on the face of the earth, running away into the forbidden wilderness with my lowly maidservant as my only companion left.

I choke on my tears. Michelle turns around to make sure that I didn’t hurt myself. I hadn’t hurt myself on the outside, but I’m hurting a lot on the inside.

Wolves howling in the background distract me from my woe for a split second, causing me to stumble over a prominent root protruding from the ground. I fall, pulling my maidservant down with me.

“Are you alright, my lady?” Michelle’s voice comes out in a rushed whisper. My heart’s beating faster than it ever beat before, and I can hear the sound of twigs cracking under rough, bare feet nearing us.

“Shh,” I whisper, wiping my tears with a shaky hand. “I can hear them. They’re close—you know what they do when they find women hiding.”

The maid’s eyes widen. “I feel as if I am too afraid to ask,” Michelle whimpered.

Hidden in the brush, I peer through the leaves to look at my surroundings. The sound of barking wolves can still be heard, but the footsteps have gone deeper into the forest than we have. “They take them as sex slaves. I thought you knew.”

A crunch of a twig and the swift rustling of leaves makes Michelle yelp and shake uncontrollably. “We can’t be captured, my lady. We must run!”

“No!” I growl while pulling her back to the ground as she leans back on her haunches, readying to dart out into the forest. “We cannot risk that. We cannot outrun the barbarians, so I say that our best chance of survival and escape are to sit and wait them out. Wait ’till they clear the area.”

Michelle groans. “I’m afraid,” she whispered. “I don’t want to be their slave.”

I don’t tell her about the other stories I’d heard about the barbarians, like how they would sell their slave to other men to bed after they grew tired of their own, how they would rape a slave if she did not submit willingly, and how sometimes barbarians would put their women on display in horrid public events.

I’m determined to get us out alive and free, and I’m determined to find Cordell again. I want to see his red-brown hair, bright green eyes and sunny smile. I want to hear him laugh and feel his rose-petal lips on my skin when he kisses my hand politely.

“Three Horses!” A voice calls in the distance. They speak in a language that I do not understand. Michelle and I crouch back into the leaves more, hiding our bodies from barbarian eyes.

“Paleface trinket,” one slurs, holding up a silver necklace. I refrain myself from gasping, my hand flying to my neck where my mother’s necklace should have been. It must have come off when I fell, and now it was going to be stolen by those beasts.

“Drinks of Waterfall,” the other says. “Paleface…close.”

The bone chains on their necks, arms and feet jingle as they crouch closer to where we hide. I bite my lip and I see Michelle panicking, muttering silent prayers with her eyes glued firmly shut.

I decided to pray as well, bowing my head and letting my curtain of chestnut hair cover my face. I had thought that they’d gone, but I’m terribly wrong. A curious hand feels around through the brush where we are hiding.

I stay as still as possible to try and avoid contact with the rough hand and cease my noise, hopelessly thinking that perhaps they’d leave if they didn’t hear or feel anything. But I’m wrong again.

Michelle shrieks like a pig being butchered to death when the rough hand grabs a fistful of her black hair and tugs her up by the soft strands. The barbarians laugh and as the one called Drinks of Waterfall pushes my maid to the other one named Three Horses. Three Horses grabs Michelle and ties her flailing hands with rope as Drinks of Waterfall holds her arms down.

My maidservant is gagged and slung over Three Horses’ shoulder. I slink down into the brush as Drinks of Waterfall nears again. He sees me. I know he sees me. He reaches down, winding his fingers into my soft chestnut locks of hair, yanking so harshly that I feel my scalp begin to bleed.

I squeal in pain, grasping at the barbarian’s hands. Three Horses looks back and grins, muttering something to his colleague. It was probably praise and approval for my capture.

I put up a fight as Drinks of Waterfall tries to tie my hands with leather strips of rope. The barbarian growls in frustration when I hit him hard in the stomach, then laughs at me when I whimper in pain from the wrist-ropes being too tight.

“Let us go!” I hiss at him through my teeth. I kick at Drinks Of Waterfall as he slings me over his broad, copper-toned shoulder. He doesn’t listen to me—but what do I expect? He’s a filthy barbarian. And barbarians show no mercy to palefaces.

I struggle as he carries me through the woods like I’m a mere sack of flour, ignoring the profanities I spew from my mouth, ignoring the cries, and ignoring the pleas.

“You’re an animal!” I scream, kicking my feet hard against his chest. Drinks of Waterfall growls viciously, raising his hand to my bottom and smacking it down hard on the silk-covered skin.

I yelp out in shock and anger. I struggle even harder. “You beast!” I scream. “You’ll rot in Hell for this!” He whips me down from his shoulder and carries me baby style in one arm as he fishes a rag out of his leather satchel he carries on his shoulder.

The rag is brown, but it has a strange white substance on it. The barbarian stuffs it inside of my mouth against my will. I manage to bite his finger as he does so, and it draws blood. But the white substance on the rag was making me feel drowsy and like I was full of jelly and no bones. My eyes fluttered shut as the barbarian cussed and wiped his bleeding finger on my beautiful red silk dress.

I hate him…I hate him…

0o0o0o0o

When I awaken, the smell of cooking meat holds my interest. I lift my head off of the warm shoulder that I’d been slobbering all over and my eyes flicker open. Music was playing, meat was cooking, and women dressed in animal skins were weaving baskets and tending to little naked babies running wild all over the ground.

I wrap my arms around the person carrying me as my eyes slip shut again. It’s hard to keep them open and I still feel so weak. I don’t know where I am, and I don’t remember much of where I was before I went to sleep.

My eyes flutter open and really look at my surroundings. Stone buildings, tents, and strange wooden houses attract my attention. I see the same women weaving a basket while her naked, copper-skinned baby boy ran naked around the fire, in which another woman roasted meat over.

“Michelle,” I mumble, finally coming to. I look up, frightened. Where am I? The last I remember was the forest, hiding from the barbarians.

I look at the body that is carrying me. The broad copper shoulders, long black hair weaved into a fuzzy braid that reached his hips. I look at the side of his serene features. It’s Drinks of Waterfall.

I’m horrified instantly and begin to struggle as I see Three Horses carrying a passed out Michelle on his shoulders. “No fight,” Drinks of Waterfall hisses at me. “Almost there.”

My heart pounds inside of my chest. There’s no use in struggling because I already know that I won’t escape Drinks of Waterfall’s arms; and even if I did, I’d quickly be caught. I was, after all, in a barbarian kingdom. I was surrounded and I was an outcast.

My tears had dried on my face and I resorted to whimpering helplessly in the arms of the monstrous man after I had no tears left for me to let out. I had sworn not to be caught; I could not be a sex slave.

I was promised to Cordell, and that was something that I intended to keep in my heart and in my mind. We neared a huge stone castle-like building with a drawbridge over a freshwater river running through the barbarian kingdom.

Children swim in it, women wash clothes in it, and men drink and fish from it. He carries me right over it, following Three Horses with Michelle. The hall that we walk into is bustling with wealthier barbarians, ones with jewels strung around their necks instead of bones. They laughed, sitting at long rows of tables, stuffing fried legs of chickens into their greedy mouths and picking up food with their dirty hands.

As soon as the men saw Three Horses and Drinks of Waterfall, they begin to cheer loudly. “Woman! More woman!” one shouts and stands on the table, raising his cup of beer to the sky. I watch as the brown liquid sloshes in his cup and trickles down his arm.

Disgusting. Every single one of them.

I hear crying and look in front of me to see Michelle weeping on Three Horses’ shoulders. She’d woken up and realized her surroundings. It made me yearn for her. I buried my face in Drinks of Waterfall’s shoulder, trying to hide from the sexual comments and calls.

Three Horses lifts Michelle’s skirts and bares her bottom to the crowd. She screams and kicks her legs, tears of embarrassment and shame clouding up her big brown eyes. “Stop! Stop it!”

Drinks of Waterfall laughs—hard—and follows Three Horses up the great stone staircase and into the very first room on the right. There are tons and tons of girls in the large room, some pale-faced civilians and some of Barbarian descent. He dumps me onto the floor next to a quivering girl in the corner and unties me. I scramble away from him instantly, cowering next to Michelle, who had also been untied by Three Horses.

They mumble something in their language to each other, and then they burst into laughter. The expression on Three Horses’ face almost makes me want to laugh in disgust, but I’m afraid of what he’ll do to me. The rest of the girls in the room look absolutely terrified.

The barbarians walk out of the room and lock the door behind them. I shoot Michelle a look. One of the civilian girls with honey-golden hair stands on her feet and walks over to my maid and I. “Another raid, I’m guessing,” she frowns. “It’s a shame. You seem like important ladies. Where were you from?”

I clear my throat and lick my dry lips. “Bellechester.”

The blonde beauty gapes. “I didn’t know they expanded over to the northwestern villages. I’m from a tiny northeastern village called York. They like attacking over there. There’s a lot of wealth in those parts, and quite frankly, I don’t know why I wasn’t captured earlier. My father was one of the wealthiest men living in York.”

She sits down in front of me, lifting her animal skin dress over her knees. She points at my dress. “You look like you met the same fate, huh?”

I frown, looking at down at myself. My red silk dress is no longer shiny and pretty; it was ripped and muddy. I groan. “Yeah. They led a raid on the worst day possible.”

She extends her hand. “Hi, you two. I’m Cassandra.”

I shake Cassandra’s hand first. “Elizabella.”

Michelle shakes Cassandra’s hand second. “I’m Elizabella’s maid, Michelle.”

“Nice to meet you,” the blonde says. “These are the ladies of the harem.” She begins to point to some of the girls. “That’s Evalyn, Katalina, Jane, Sulpicia, Athenodora, Didyme, Ivona, Arlena, and Camellia. There’s more, but they’re probably out with men right now.”

She says it so nonchalantly, like being with a barbarian man is a way of life.

“It’s a way of life,” Evalyn murmurs, sliding her frail body up beside Cassandra’s. Evalyn has short, shoulder length brown hair and sharp features. “We’ve been here for two years. Sometimes being a harem girl isn’t so bad…but in the beginning, we all start out with bruises.”

I gasp in horror. “They rape you?”

Cassandra shrugs. “More like take us when they feel like it. It’s their custom to have women to bed when they feel the need—warriors get more than commoners, though. If a warrior wants to marry a harem girl, she cannot refuse.”

My face reddens and I shake my head. “There’s no way I’m sleeping around with a billion different beasts. I’ve promised myself to a man in my village!”

“He’s probably dead,” Evalyn comments softly. “Barbarians kill all the men they see in the villages.”

A wave of nausea sweeps over me and I find myself doubled over and clutching my stomach. “I won’t do it.”

“Oh no!” Cassandra cries. “It’s horribly insulting when a harem girl turns down a man. It’s like a barbarian taboo. But don’t worry—we’ll do our best to teach you our customs. You have such a pretty face, and I’d hate to see it bruised.”

The girls all scramble back to their dirty corners as the door opens and Three Horses stepped in with two different men. Drinks of Waterfall is absent that time.

They looked around the room. Three Horses points to me and then Michelle and the men nod in approval. Three Horses’ hand gestures to the array of other women and the men go and pick their girls. The biggest, burliest one picks the smallest, frailest girl in the room. I think that Cassandra said her name was Ivona.

And the lankier, kinder looking one takes the most curvaceous woman, Didyme. Didyme is not a paleface like Cassandra and I are. The girls stand in the doorway with their men. Three Horses speaks to the men and glances over at me while speaking several times during his chat.

“Tiger Claw,” Three Horses comments while staring at me, and the men laugh. “Dances With Wolves and Tiger Claw?”

The other two men nodded vigilantly. They seemed to be agreeing very strongly on something. Cassandra scoots towards me. “He’s just named you Tiger Claw after your spirit. It seems that you injured Drinks of Waterfall pretty badly. He says you’ve got heart and spirit.”

I smile at the fact that I hurt my barbarian captor but as they speak more about this other character, the dancing wolf guy, I become more intrigued. “Who’s Dancing Wolf?” I ask her.

Cassandra snorts and her bright green eyes dart to where the men are standing and discussing. “You mean Dances With Wolves? That’s the most important figure—you really ought to know him, Elizabella.”

I stare at her. “Alright. Well, who is he?”

“The Barbarian King,” she whispers. “His name is Dances With Wolves. I think that Three Horses is thinking of…oh, my.”

“What?” I hiss. “What is it? What are they saying?”

Cassandra ignores me. “I’ve only ever been with Dances With Wolves once. He was beautiful, but he had a temper like a bull that was trapped in a red room.”

“Oh,” I whisper. “Cassandra, what do they speak of—”

“Cass,” Three Horses croons. “Come. Ku zo nan. Wannan mutum yanã son ya kwanta ka dab da Ivona.”

She gets up from her position and goes to the burlier man, clinging to his arm and purring seductively at him. I am left sitting on the ground next to Michelle, completely flabbergasted. I do not know their language and the fact that Cassandra is so willing happens to disgust me.

Three Horses looks up at me and walks over to where I am sitting. Michelle cowers back; the barbarian sneers at her before grabbing my arm and yanking me to my feet. “You to come wit’ me.”

My eyes widen as he pulls me along. I dig my bare heel into the stone floor and yank us both to a stop. Three Horses looks annoyed. “You speak the Common Tongue?”

“Not enough time to sit chat, farar fata karuwa.” Three Horses hisses at me “He waits for you. You be lucky to serve him.”

My eyes widen and fire runs through my veins. I yank my arm out of his grasp. He turns around in surprise and anger. “I refuse! I will not go!”

The girls in the room all gasp and everything falls silent. Before I can register, Three Horses has hit me across the face. I double over in shock and pain, clutching at my lip, which has been split open. Blood drips down to my chin.

“You do not speak wit’ me like ‘dat,” he booms. “You do not speak like ‘dat wit’ your master. You kariya, you be lucky I not your master!”

I’m so dizzy from the force of his blow that I weakly follow as he grabs my arm and pulls me down the hallway. They are dark, hot, and long. I cannot see where I am going. Torches illuminate the stone walls, allowing me to see the cobwebs and blood splatters on the brick.

This place is my worst nightmare, this place is my Hell.

There’s a big room across the hall, guarded by two grand doors. From under the doors, I can see the faint flickering light of a fire and hear the soft clink of wine glasses and jewels.

Three Horses knocks on the door and mumbles something else in their language to whoever was inside. A deep, smooth bass voice rumbles from inside. Three Horses pushes open the door and throws me on the ground.

I gasp, bringing my hands out before me to break my fall. A huge animal skin chair sits before the fire. I cannot see my new master’s face. I can only see his giant, bronzed arm, tattooed and muscled.

Three Horses walks around the front and begins to speak with his master. “I ‘tought she might please you,” he says. They laugh, and Three Horses shows the superior the bag of items they had collected from my house. Intricate china plates, pots, jewels, gold, and fine silver cups. I growl in disgust.

“Out wit’ you,” the one in the chair says, and Three Horses is already on his way out of the door. I am still laying on the floor. I have not the strength to scramble away, but my eyes and heart are still those of a tiger and they still rage with fire.

He stands up from his chair to his towering height of almost seven feet tall and looks down at me. It’s dark and I can’t see his face, or how disgusted he might be with me. I push myself up to my knees and look away from him. “‘Dey call you Tiger Claw,” he whispers. “You know why?” I shake my head, still refusing to look at him.

“‘Dey t’ink you strong.” The Barbarian finishes. “Strong man need strong woman.”

I hear his thundering footsteps near me. He fists his hand into my hair, and I wince, waiting for the painful yank. But it never comes. He gently turns my head towards his.

My eyes widen and I gasp. He’s the most beautiful specimen of man I’ve ever seen. His long hair is thickly braided and hangs down to his hips. His eyes are black and his eyelashes are thick black as well, making his face look darker. He has full russet lips, a cleft in his prominent chin, and defined cheekbones that make his manly face look perfectly contoured in the firelight.

His huge finger finds my lip and touches the blood there. “How you do ‘dis?” he asks me. I’m so startled that I can’t find my words. I glance towards the door. “Three Horses?”

I nod, and he grits his teeth. “Bastard should beat his own whores,” he grumbles as he yanks me up by my arm.

I stand in front of him weakly, uncomfortable in my dirty red dress. He stands back and looks at me. He slips off his fur vest, revealing a huge muscled chest and abs so prominent that they looked like they could grate cheese. I refrain myself from fainting at this man’s sheer beauty.

Suddenly, he raises his hand and tears off a strip of my red silk dress. I shriek and back away from him. “What do you think you are doing?” I hiss at him horror. He cocks his head, not quite understanding. His hands go around to his waist to untie the breechcloth that hid his manhood from my eyes.

“No!” I put my hands up to cease his movement. I stumbled back to where the barbarian’s bed was and gripped the fur covers.

He looks at me like I have three heads growing out of my neck. “No?” he asks in confusion. “No?”

His hands fall away from his breechcloth as he narrows his eyes and sucks his lip into his mouth. My heart is pounding. He comes at me quickly and I scream, trying to jump away, but I am too slow.

He wrestles me to the bed, lifting my skirts and struggling his way through my undergarments. “Be still!” he booms.

There are tears in my eyes as he inserts a finger inside of me. He makes a noise, like he had been contemplating something for days and just now found the answer to his question. He takes his finger out of me and pops it into his mouth, separating those sweet russet lips and swirling his juice-coated finger into his mouth.

I stay still and silent, completely taken aback by what he is doing. Flames spark down near my groin as I watch as he looks into my eyes and greedily sucks my nectar off of his finger like it was some sort of fine wine. It was the most erotic thing I had ever experienced in my entire life.

He took his finger out of his mouth and rested his hand next to my head. “Virgin,” he whispers before laughing deeply. He steps away from me, still laughing. He throws a pile of furs in her direction, taking a sip of his wine glass. “Dress yourself, budurwa. I shall not bed you tonight.”

He sits back down in his chair. My heart pounds faster and faster. This was my reality. Here I was in a barbarian castle, sitting indecently in the corner of a barbarian’s room in a torn red dress as his whore.

I can’t do this.

I won’t do this.

Bruise
The next morning I wake up in a comfortable, warm bed. I don’t remember how I got here or how I got changed into the animal skin bedclothes. I open my eyes and look around. I’m still in his room. Did he take advantage of me during the night? I wait for the painful ache between my legs to come, but it doesn’t.

I’m relieved.

As I throw the bearskin covers off of my body, I notice how scantily dressed I am. The cloth doesn’t do much to hide my breasts or shield my legs. I understand that it’s hot where we are, but to dress like this is a complete disgrace. If my father ever saw me like this, he’d surely roll in his grave.

A loud knock on the door causes me to jump. He strides into the room, wearing nothing but bearskin pants and a deerskin breechcloth. He wears bones around his neck and has feathers weaved into his long braid. On his face are red patterns and black lines as if someone had painted on him.

I look down at his hands to see what he carries in his hand. It’s a dress made out of sheer gold material. He looks at me expectantly, holding out the dress. I slide slowly out of the bed and hesitantly take it into my hands. He turns away as soon as it’s in my hands and sits down in his chair.

Am I to change in front of him? I walk back into the corner of the room and slowly slip off my top. He throws a glance in my direction while drinking his wine, his black eyes roaming over my pale skin. I squeak in disapproval; he chuckles and turns back towards his wine.

“You insecure,” he croons in his smooth bass. “I am no stranger to the woman’s body.”

My eyes widen and I can feel my cheeks flush. As soon as my top is off, I slip on the dress. It’s beautiful but awfully revealing. Two strips of gold material cover my breasts and the sheer skirt does not do much to hide my legs. If it weren’t for the gold undergarment, he would have had me walking around half naked.

He looks at me when I’m finished. “First meal starts soon,” he grunts. His beautiful eyes roam up and down my body. I cross my arms over my chest and he chuckles again. “Budurwa.”

I look at him, blushing. I do not even know this man’s name, and yet he wishes me to bed him. “What do you call yourself?”

He sips his wine, his eyes darting from hers to the wall every so often. “Is not your place to be askin’ ‘dat.”

I feel as if I’ve been punched right in my gut. Back in Bellechester, I was treated with such respect. Men would come round, throwing their names at me so I’d remember them and maybe want to court them. But now, here, I felt like the dirt on the sole of someone’s feet, a burden.

I put my hands on my hips and frown at him. “You sit here, expecting me to be your whore, and you don’t even have the common decency to tell me your name?” I hiss. “That’s just grand.”

His eyebrows rise at my comment, his black eyes flickering with mirth. “You test me,” he says. “Three Horses was right. Strong woman, you are.”

He stands up from where he was seated in his big bearskin chair. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a long, golden chain. It is the most beautiful piece of jewellery I’ve ever seen. He slips it over my head and then pushes a lock of my chestnut hair out of my eyes. “A gift?” I ask.

He nods and the corner of his mouth tugs up slightly. “Na’am, Tiger Claw. A gift from Dances With Wolves.”

My mouth falls open slightly. I remember the story that Cassandra told me in the harem, about the barbarian king, Dances With Wolves and his raging temper. I am almost afraid to lift my eyes to his, but I do anyway. He is here, he is tangible, and he is standing right in front of me.

“Your name,” I whisper. “It’s…it’s Dances With Wolves?”

He proudly nods.

I swallow the lump in my throat. “You…you’re the barbarian king?”

“Yes,” he begins, picking up his goblet of wine and sipping the red liquid, all the while keeping his eyes on her. “I am the king. But if you wish to, you may call me Abigor. ”

I blink. “Abigor? That’s a commoner’s name.”

He shrugs his shoulders. “We are all given commoner’s names at birth, as well as our barbaric names, as your kind would call it. For instance, Three Horses’ commoner’s name is Daniel, and Drinks of Waterfall has Tristan. The barbaric names are what we prefer to be called, because ‘de name describes us. Tristan’s father was a heavy drinker, so when he was born he was given ‘de pure name of Drinks of Waterfall, to rid ‘is family name of drinkin’. And Daniel was sold by ‘is father as a child for three horses, thus ‘de name Three Horses came about.”

My mouth drops open. “I had no idea.”

Abigor sighs and sets his goblet down on the cherry wood table. “But,” he begins. “If you call me my common name in public, or anyone else, there will be consequences.”

He turns on his heel to leave. “Wait!” I call. “I’m Elizabella, not Tiger Claw.”

Abigor doesn’t look amused. “We must leave.”

I fold my arms tighter over my chest and follow him down the long, dark hallways until I can hear the sound of chatter and clinking of plates in the dining hall. I watch as Abigor steps into the dining hall first.

The room goes silent. He opens his arms and smiles, and the cheering starts up again. He takes his place at the end of the table, and the food is instantly passed to him. I peer into the bright dining hall from the dark corridor I’m in. Some of the harem girls were sitting on their man’s laps and feeding them sensually, but I don’t see Michelle, Cassandra, or Evalyn.

I step into the light slightly. Men can see me now, and some hoot to try to call me over to them. Abigor turns around slowly, glancing at me. “Eat,” he says to me, nodding his head towards the seat near his. It’s empty.

I walk around the table slowly, trying my best to hide my embarrassment as the men holler at me rudely. Suddenly, a man takes my seat. I give him an angry look before glancing back at Abigor. He does not pay attention. One of the harem girls is sitting in his lap and feeding him.

I do not know this man. He suddenly pulls me onto his lap, gesturing for me to eat. I do not squeal, for this must be the custom of a barbarian. On the china plate, which looked a lot like my mother’s stolen plates, are some fried potatoes and sausages. I pick up the fork and stab at one of the potatoes.

The man’s lap is uncomfortable and he shifts every so often, his fingers groping at my thighs. I try not to mind it. “Feed me,” he says. I shiver as I lift one of the sausage links up to his lips shakily. He takes a bite off the end, locking eyes with me and growling in approval.

I’m disgusted. I turn away and eat the rest of my potatoes. “Again,” he tells me. I ignore him, eating at my own food. He has hands, and he can feed himself if he wishes to.

The man becomes agitated. Suddenly, he grabs me and spreads my legs apart, jamming his finger into my wetness without warning or reason. I scream, standing up instantly. I backhanded him as hard as I could.

The room falls silent as the man curses and spits out a bit of blood from his lip. I can’t believe that I just slapped a barbarian across the face. He looks up at me with hatred and lunges at me, grabbing me by the neck and begins to choke me.

I gasp for air that is nonexistent as his fingers tighten around my oesophagus and choke, my eyes becoming wide, my cheeks flushing bright red. No one says anything.

“How dare you disrespect me in my own house, you kariya!” he booms, his fingers going tighter on my neck if that was even possible. He lifts me off the ground.

I look at Abigor, waiting for him to say something. But he says nothing, looking away into the corner.

He drops me and I collapse to the ground, the sound of my ragged breath echoing throughout the hall. I’m humiliated. I’m hurt. My pride is gone. He laughs at my pain.

I force myself to my feet, the world going dizzy around me, and rush out of the hall. Abigor rubs his temples and groans. I don’t stop when he says to stop. I’m crying so hard that I can’t focus on anything else but the pain in my neck and the salty tears coating my cheeks.

I faintly remember where the harem was located, my bare feet slapping on the cold stone floors as I rush to the comfort of Michelle and Cassandra’s arms. I see the big wooden door, the first one to the right of the stone staircase.

I burst into the room and into the unyielding arms of Tristan, or Drinks of Waterfall. I gasp and wipe my eyes quickly before he could see that I was crying. He sets me back on my feet before taking a good look at me. “You cry,” he states.

I push past him and run straight into Michelle’s arms. “Oh, my lady!” she gasps, stroking my hair softly.

“We must escape!” I cry to her and she shakes her sadly.

“There’s no escaping now. I’ve been taken as the mistress of Drinks of Waterfall…and he won’t let me out of his sight.” Michelle quietly explains.

I freeze, glancing behind me. He is waiting in the doorway for her expectantly. He wears a satisfied, grin on his lips, looking me up and down. I turn back to Michelle. “And you’re alright with this?”

She rolls up her sleeve to reveal a line of dark purple bruises on her smooth skin. “I have to be, my lady.” I’m horrified. She rolls down her sleeve, blushing in shame.

“Who did this to you?” I hiss.

Michelle hugs me again. “I don’t want you to worry about me,” she whispers. “It’s my job to worry about you.”

I slump against her. “I hate him. Oh God, I hate him so much, Michelle. He let him choke me in front of everyone and said and did nothing to stop it.” I’m sobbing now.

“Elle,” a smooth bass croons.

Michelle sighs and kisses my cheeks. “He calls me,” she whispers in my ear. “You are strong. Stronger than I…keep your head up always, my lady.”

She pulls away from me and joins Tristan at the doorway. He places a kiss on her temple and walks her out the door, his hand placed firmly on her backside. I feel sick to my stomach. The other ladies look at me.

I recognize Evalyn as she bounces over to me. “Elizabella, right?” she asks. I nod and lower my eyes to the ground. She gasps, the sharp intake of breath startling me. “Who did that to you?”

I realize she’s talking about the handprint-shaped bruises now forming on my neck. “I was choked,” I explain sullenly. “Plain and simple.”

Evalyn bites her lip. “Oh honey,” she whispers. “That must hurt like a kariya. Was it your master that did that to you?”

I shake my head. “No, it was another. But my master said nothing in my defence.”

Evalyn pulls me over to where her cot was and sat me down it. She has a wooden bowl filled with an odd violet coloured cream. She swipes some of the cream onto her two fingers and held it up to Eliza. “This will help the bruising,” she tells me. I tilt my head and let her lather some of the cream on. “I use it sometimes.”

I laugh humorlessly. “I’m sure it comes in handy.”

Evalyn shrugs. “Not unless you’re careful, respectful and obedient, not really. The barbarians don’t hurt unless they need to…or unless it’s a ceremony.”

“Bullshit,” I spit hatefully, my eyes narrowing.

She sighs and tilts my head again to get better access to the bruises. “Elizabella…who is your master?”

I almost say Abigor out of spite, but I’d rather not have him coming to me and choking me as well. “His name is Dances With Wolves,” I say.

All of the harem girls gasp, stopping whatever they were doing to look right at me. Evalyn walks around in front of me to look at me in confusion. “Dances With Wolves? The king? Oh, Gods. He doesn’t take whores often…and certainly not mistresses. I think only two girls have been with him in this entire room…Cassandra and Athenodora.”

A frail, beautiful blonde girl steps forward and smiles bashfully. Evalyn introduces her as Athenodora. Her hair reaches her hips and her black lashes are the longest I’ve yet to see.

Evalyn gulps before looking back at me. “How has he treated you? Has he bed you yet?”

My face reddens. “I refused him.”

Everyone gasps, including sweet little Athenodora, who looks no more than 16. “And what did he do?” she asks me. “Was he very angry at you?”

I shake my head. “No. He let me sleep.”

Everyone gasps again. Athenodora covers her mouth, her blue eyes widening in shock. “That’s amazing. How did you persuade him?” Another woman, Sulpicia, asks me.

My face reddens in embarrassment as I recall the memory of him doing things to me last night on his bed. “I cried, and he found out that I was a virgin.”

Athenodora frowns. “Well, that didn’t stop him from taking my virginity!” she pouts. Then her pretty pink lips curl up into a honey-sweet smile. “But I wouldn’t have given myself up to a finer man. He was an excellent lover.”

The girls come and gather around Athenodora. “Tell us about him,” Evalyn gushes. “He is the most handsome man on the face of this planet. I would die if I was in his arms, even just for a moment.”

I frown at all of this good talk about Abigor. He is horrid, and there’s no way I’d change my mind. Sex meant nothing to me since I’ve never had sex before. But I sit and listen to Athenodora’s stories anyway.

She blushes and flips her hair out of her eyes. “He had such a mouth on him. Ooh, it was enough to make me lose it without him even touching me at all, I swear.” The harem girls squeal and fan themselves.

“I love a dirty talker,” Sulpicia moans.

Athenodora continues. “He’s got the longest fingers and the cleverest tongue. And oh my, his cock was simply—”

“Stop!” I cry out. “I don’t want to hear any more.” My face is red and my nose is scrunched up in disgust.

The blonde girl shakes her head. “You just don’t understand how lucky you are, Elizabella.”

I fold my arms over my chest. “If this is luck, then I’m done for.”

Evalyn pops up from where she sits on the ground. “Look at me! And then look at yourself. You’re wearing gold silk and jewels, and I am wearing an animal skin dress. If that is not luck, I do not know what luck is.”

I’m still in denial. I walk over to one of the mirrors and inspect myself. I still refuse to believe that I am lucky. Luck to me would be having had made it out of the raid with a tangible house, parents, and my Cordell.

0o0o0o0o

I stay in the harem for the rest of the afternoon, only travelling with Evalyn for meals to bring back to the rest of the girls. Athenodora says that Abigor was looking for me secretly throughout the day. I can’t avoid him forever, for my bedroom is also his.

The cream that Evalyn had given me had really helped to heal the bruises and take the pain away, but the colour and handprint are still pretty visible. It’s about eight o’ clock at night when I foolishly decide to take a step outside of the harem. Abigor waits for me there, a frown on his face and his eyes a storm.

I gasp in surprise, but I don’t run. He grabs me by the arm and pedals me down the hallway. I don’t refuse him or struggle. He thrusts me into his room, shutting the doors behind us. He spits out a streak of curses in his language, tugging at his braid impatiently.

“Fuck,” he swears. “I been lookin’ for you all damn day. Where you been?”

I don’t answer him. Instead, I look away and turn my back to him. That doesn’t fly very well with the barbarian king. A strong hand grips my shoulder and yanks me back around to face him. I bare my teeth at him.

He points an accusing finger at me. “Don’t you do ‘dat at me, Elizabella. When I talk to you, you best answer me!”

He tries to grab me again, but I move out of the way faster. “Don’t touch me! Oh, don’t you dare.” I begin to cry against my will. “You watched me today be humiliated in front of your whole table! You said nothing!”

Abigor’s voice raises an octave. “You disrespect him! You deserved it!”

I can’t believe my ears. How did I deserve to be choked and humiliated? Is he serious? “God, he stuck his fingers inside of me against my will, and I disrespected him? That’s…that’s…oh!” I’m so mad that I can’t find the right words to express myself. I tug at my hair roughly.

“You’re a harem girl, a whore. My people don’t defend our whores. That shames my title! I’m the king!” he yells.

That fuels my fire towards him. Tears stung in my eyes. “If I shame your title, why did you dress me up and haul me down to your breakfast table?” I hiss. My fingers clutch at the gold necklace around my neck. I snap it off of my neck and throw it at him. This surprises him, for he wasn’t expecting me to throw the jewels at him. “Why did you try to fuck me if I’m just dirt on the bottom of your feet?” Another strip of gold lace comes off. “I didn’t want to be here!”

His face crumbles as he walks forwards. I pound him relentlessly with my fists. He wrestles me back, stopping my nails from clawing at my skin. “Elizabella,” he whispers. “Stop it. You’re hurtin’ yourself.”

I sob silently, resting my head against his chest. He’s warm, and his arms comfort me. But I realize who he is, and I push him, my palms hitting him hard in the chest. He stumbles back in shock. “Don’t touch me,” I say again. “I’m not your whore.”

Abigor grits his teeth. “The one who choked you was my brother.”

I turn away from him, my arms folded and my head bent. Tears run silently down my cheeks. I wonder if he can see the bruises on my neck.

“I could not stop him,” he whispers. “Our people, for centuries, have believed that if you start a fight with your own brother, a long sword fight must begin. And long sword fights usually result in death. And my brother has wanted my throne for years.”

I don’t answer him. I wouldn’t care if he died. He sits down in the big chair near the fireplace and stares into the burning logs. I walk slowly away into the corner and sit on Abigor’s bed.

He lifts his goblet of wine to his lips. “Are you hurt badly?” he asks me. I do not answer him. He sighs. “Come here.”

His voice is so powerful and superior that I find myself subconsciously moving to sit by him. He looks down at me with blazing, heated eyes. His long, heated fingers brush my hair out of the way to reveal the handprint-shaped bruises imprinted on my skin.

He looks away in disgust at what his brother did to me. “Should heal quick,” he mumbles. The muscles in his jaw tense as I look at him. “Elizabella,” he begins. “I shall not…make you bed me tonight.”

My heart flutters. He gets up from where he sits in his chair and gulps the rest of the wine down his throat. He slips off his pants, leaving only his breechcloth. His legs are defined and muscular; he’s visually a work of art.

“But,” he interjects. “You will bed me tomorrow. Men have appetites that are meant to be fulfilled. Rumor has it, Elizabella, that ‘de harem has told you of my talents, hmm?”

I blush, and my mind forgets completely what I was angry with him about. “I don’t know what you speak of.”

His lips tug up at the corners. “I know a liar when I see one.” Abigor turns and climbs into his bed, waiting expectantly for me to join him. “Come to bed. We should sleep.”

I’m reluctant to join him in bed. I undress from my silk and make him turn away before I put on my nightwear. Once I’m finished, he lifts the covers for me to climb in. I’m wary.

I slide to the very edge of the bed, my feet hanging off the edge. I’m still angry with him. I’m still hurt from what he’d said about me, basically telling me that I was nothing to him, and he wouldn’t tell his brother to stop choking me because it would have spoiled his crown.

When he says goodnight, I do not say it back. He licks his finger and pinches the fire on the candle out. I close my eyes and try to get comfortable. But it’s near impossible.

I’m in a foreign land, in a foreign bed with a foreign man that wants me in an utterly foreign way.

Raid
“Sit here with me,” Cordell whispers softly. I feel the passing breeze kissing my neck as it wanders by and the smell of sweet wildflowers it carries with it. I sit by him in the meadow, my knees hugged to my chest.

His reddish-brown hair gleams in the sunlight and I can faintly see the freckles on his pale cheeks illuminating with the sun’s presence. He looks like a spring tiger lily. I smile and wrinkle my nose at him. “This place is beautiful. How come I’ve never been here before?”

Cordell looks up towards the clouds. His horse, which is tied to the nearest tree whinnies softly. “I’m not sure. As a child, I always used to come up here for some peace of mind. Majestic, isn’t it?”

I nod breathlessly. “More than majestic,” I agree. The whippoorwills and the nightingales sing in the trees, the common loons calling their mysterious call from the lakes deeper into the surrounding forest. Woodpeckers drill into the bark of trees, the clunking noise echoing in my ears.

“Elizabella,” he says. I pull my attention from the authentic bird noises and the quiet rustle of the trees to focus on the wonderful man sitting beside me. “One day you will be mine. Promise me, Elizabella, that you will save yourself for me. Wait for me. Because I will always come for you, no matter what.”

My heart flutters with joy. “Okay. I promise you.” He grasps my hand and plants a warm kiss on my skin.

He smiles a honey sweet smile, one that spreads over his face slower than the thickest molasses. “That’s good. I think about our future life together all the time. You and me in the countryside, living in a big old wooden house built by yours truly, a farm in the back, and little bare-bottomed babies running wild around the living room. Can you see it?”

I giggle like a little girl and bat my eyelashes at him. “That sounds absolutely wonderful. And yes, I can see it.” I say bashfully. I can’t help but picture the scene myself. Little redheaded girls with big green eyes and pretty faces freckled like a robin’s egg, and big strong brunette boys with her brown eyes and Cordell’s sweet smile.

He smiles and lays his folded hands on his knees, puffing out his chest proudly. “Alright. Then it’s settled. You and me?”

I nod. “You and me.”

.~.~.~.~.

My heart is pounding as I depart from my dream. My mouth falls into a frown as I realize that I’m not in Cordell’s bed, but in his bed, in his lands. But I’m comfortable, I’m so comfortable, and I don’t want to get up. My eyes flicker open slightly, taking in my surroundings. A heavy tanned arm is draped across my body, and my legs are entwined with another pair of long, hot legs.

My eyes widen in realization. I’m lying closer to a man than I ever had before, he wasn’t even Cordell. Abigor still sleeps soundly. I don’t want to wake him, so I try to slip out of his grasp quietly. I lift his arm off of me and set it on his side. I pull my right leg out of his. He stirs quietly.

I silently curse and try my left leg. I’ve almost got it free when a huge hand wraps around my neck, a gigantic thumb threatening to push on my pulse point. “Where you goin’?” he asks.

This angers me. The bruise on my neck still hurts from his brother’s assault yesterday. “Let me go,” I hiss. “I’m trying to get up.”

His grip tightens. “Lay back down,” he instructs in a firm voice. “I don’ wanna get up yet.”

Shivers crawl up my spine. My fingers try to peel his off of my skin. “You don’t need me to sleep,” I say. I struggle to get out of his grasp, but he’s unrelenting. “Use a pillow, Abigor.”

He brings me closer and buries his nose in my hair. “Stay,” he whispers. “We got a long day ahead of us. I wanna sleep as long as I can.”

I’m somewhat comfortable in his warm arms, despite the fact that it’s like lying in a soft bed with a steaming hot rock. My fingers trace a pattern on his hand. “What do you mean that we’ve got a long day ahead of us?”

His hot breath on my neck gives me gooseflesh all over my body. “The raid parties are goin’ out,” he whispers huskily. “I got to oversee it in an hour.”

I don’t say anything, for I fear that saying something insulting while in his arms could mean something dangerous for me. It’s a wise choice, not saying anything. His warm hand caresses the smooth skin over my hip and his fingertips skirt over my thigh. I tense up almost immediately.

He kisses a bruise on my shoulder as his fingers trail down towards my womanhood. I clench my legs together and roll away from him. “Don’t,” I whisper. I try to stand but he just pulls me closer to his body.

“What are you so afraid of?” he asks me. “I told you I wouldn’t rape you. I…I not like my men. I take a woman when she begs me to take her, to fuck her so hard and fast that her vision goes blurry and her voice is shot for days.”

Heat flares in my southern regions, my eyes as wide as saucers as I listen to him. Abigor’s huge hands settle on the soft swell of my hips and he grinds his erection into my backside. I find myself gasping before I can even register it. “But I—”

“I won’t take you unless you ask me to,” he confirms, somewhat soothing my worries. “And I don’ t’ink you’ll get a better offer than dat. But Elizabella, my Tiger Claw, I doubt you’ll be able to stay away from me for long.”

I shudder as he rolls away onto his back, his arms coming up to shield his eyes. I’m frozen in my position. I don’t know what to think, or what to say. I look down and see his breechcloth lying on the floor.

My eyes flicker back to his huge, beautiful body lying beneath the sheets—I realize that he is naked under the covers and that he was flesh to flesh against me, completely aroused.

He looks at me from under his arm, his long black lashes hiding his mischievous brown eyes. “You like what you see?” I realize that I’m staring straight at the appendage straining against the silky sheets.

I gasp quickly and look away, redness instantly painting my cheeks. He chuckles smoothly and slides out of bed. He throws the covers off of his glorious naked body and strides over to his wardrobe.

I can’t help but stare as I see him walk in front of me, his muscled ass cheeks flexing with each step. I feel like I want to swoon. But I remember who this man is and I instantly shake the thought out of my head.

I follow subtly behind him. I don’t have a wardrobe of my own, and I’m relying on Abigor to give me something to wear. He notices me lingering awkwardly and realizes why I’m doing it. “I should pro’ly tell you ‘dat your clothes are in ‘de other wardrobe over ‘dere.”

Something about his accent makes me shiver. I look over to the wardrobe in the corner of the large room. I hadn’t noticed it before. I open the big wooden doors. I’m blown away by how many dresses are stuffed into the little closet. Reds, blues, greens, yellows, pinks, oranges, and an abundance of other beautiful colours.

I glance over at Abigor, changing in the corner. He slips on a red breechcloth with a brown leather waist covering. He then dips two fingers into a wooden paint bowl, spreading paint all over his naked chest. I look in the closet for a red dress. I feel somehow connected with my master and can’t help myself when I think about matching him.

I select a red silk dress from the wardrobe and begin to change behind the wardrobe door. There’s a cracked mirror beside the door, and I look at myself to make sure I appear alright.

The silk accents my supple, womanly curves perfectly, adding just the right amount of concealment needed for my satisfaction and comfort. I see Abigor staring at me, mirth in his eyes. My face reddens and I seethe at him. “You wearin’ it wrong,” he mumbles in his thick, husky accent. “Here, lemme help you.”

I decide whether or not I should let him help me. “Don’t look at my chest,” I warn him. He takes the silk off of my shoulders, keeping his eyes down as he wrapped the red silk tightly around my bare breasts. As soon as they’re covered, he looks up, walking around me all the while winding the silk around my body.

By the time he’s finished, I look and feel like an exotic princess. The way he wrapped me boosted my breasts and made them look awfully perky and ‘up for grabs’. He comes back with red jewels on another golden chain and hands it to me. It’s more beautiful than the gorgeous one I wore yesterday.

“Where did you get this?” I ask him. He merely shrugs his shoulders, painting on his body more. I examine the jewels for a moment more before I decide to put them around my neck. I sweep my long chestnut curls forward and then back. I feel dirty after not having had a bath in a few days. Perhaps I’d ask for one later.

He brings the paint bowl over to me. “I paint you,” he murmurs, holding out the bowl. I look at the liquid inside of the bowl and cringe. It’s red and thick looking.

“Is it berry juice?” I ask.

Abigor snorts. “Pig’s blood.”

I hold back the vomit threatening to come up the back of my throat. “I’m not putting pig’s blood on me,” I say defiantly. “That’s…that’s gross.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Do you know how petty you sound?” he asks, somewhat amused. “We always wear red on the days of the raids. And as my mistress, you’re to honour my title by wearing pig’s blood on your face.”

I suddenly feel guilty about wearing red and wish that I could change out of my clothes. Stupid girl, why did you have to want to colour coordinate with him? “How can you send raid parties out and be proud of what you do? You steal, you pillage and plunder, and you kill. You kidnap, you take slaves. You ruin lives!” Abigor is listening to me intently as if he actually cares about what I am saying. “I’m not wearing the pig’s blood.”

He gets mad this time, his face reddening as he clenches his fists at his side and grits his teeth. “You are wearing the blood.”

I put my hands on my hips and stare at him defiantly. “I do not approve! I will not support this.”

“I do not care if you support or not!” he booms angrily. I jump in shock; I’ve offended him greatly. “You could have been raped, and you could have and should have been beaten for your defiance! But alas, you have not! I could take this all away right now and be your worst nightmare, Elizabella. Hold. Your. Tongue.”

My face pales instantly and I feel my stomach churn in fear. I believe him. I stop acting like a child and sit down in the chair. I nod breathlessly. As he calms, I watch the fire go right out of his big brown eyes to watch as the soothing waves roll in.

He dips two fingers into the blood and begins to paint on my face. I let him. I close my eyes as he swirls his wet fingers over my smooth skin, streaking both my cheeks with three stripes of blood and dots above my eyes.

“Done,” he whispers softly, the same smile tugging at the corner of his reluctant lips. “You look like a barbarian now.”

I’m not proud of that, but I’m really glad that he’s not angry anymore. Cassandra had told me of his temper, and I’d foolishly almost pushed him right over the edge. I insulted everything he lived for.

The barbarians are a life of crime. They are born of blood and death, sacrifice and fault. I stand as he opens the door to the hallway. I follow him outside, hearing the bustle of soldiers in red cloths and blood acting as body paint rush down the hallway with spears, knives and khopesh swords in their hands.

He leads me to the grand hall, where his throne sits. It’s a great golden throne with animal skins thrown over it and spears jutting from the back of it, skewering dead bear heads like a meat ka-bob.

I cringe when I see their glassy eyes staring at me. Abigor sits down on his throne and nods to the tiny pillow next to his throne. Am I supposed to sit there? He gives me a serious look that tells me that I shouldn’t argue.

I sit down on the red velvet pillow and watch as the men silence immediately in Abigor’s presence. I scan the crowds. I see Abigor’s brother and instantly fuel my hatred towards him. Abigor had told me his brother’s name, Iron Coyote or his commoner’s name, William, and of his actions.

Iron Coyote’s whores always came out of his bedroom bruised and bloody, and he is always greedy with the lust for Abigor’s throne and fortune. I glare at him. He points at the bruises on my neck, bringing it to the attention of another barbarian warrior. They laugh heartily. I curse them mentally.

Abigor gives them a death stare. Iron Coyote and his colleague quiet down. He stands, the blood on his body dripping through the deep ridges in his abdominal muscles. Then he does something I do not expect. He roars like a lion, and his men join him in calling. He raises a special spear laying next to his throne and raises it into the air. The spear is drenched with dark red blood. That doesn’t look like pig’s blood.

Abigor speaks in his language to the crowd of rowdy barbarians. I do not catch where he is leading the raid, but I feel the slightest disgust towards Abigor as he talks to the crowd of riled up warriors ready to shed blood and steal.

He is so animated when he speaks. I read his movements instead of his lips. He moves his hands in the formation of the sun, waves of an ocean, and flexes his inhumanly large bicep muscles to show strength. I can’t help but ogle. Athenodora was right about one thing with Abigor—he was a fine man indeed.

I know when his speech is over. The men all chant the same words three times in a row, “Za mu yi yãki, mu rayu ma yau da dare!” before they rush out of the grand hall and out of the castle.

Abigor gets up from his throne and follows slowly behind his men. He casts a glance over his shoulder and gives me an intense gaze. “Ku zo,” he says. “Come. Follow me outside.”

I get up from my position on the pillow and start after him slowly. He holds the door open for me surprisingly and leads me out into the unbearable hot day. The roads have been kicked with extra dust from all of the barefooted men running around with large wolves that acted as pets.

The barbarians took wild wolves to their raids to make it easier for them. The wolves would attack anyone they saw and get a free meal. I stand beside Abigor, feeling slightly ashamed to be the king’s mistress.

“Ku zo,” he says again, nodding his head to the small stable behind the castle. Inside there are horses whinnying and whining loudly. I’ve lots of experience with horses for my father ran a farm and I would ride my favourite horse Pansy out into the meadows sometimes.

He walks into the stables, inspecting the horses until he finds one. It is a strong palomino blonde horse. I’m in love with the horse immediately. I reach out my hand, and the horse puts its soft nose into my palm. I giggle softly.

“Yours,” he tells me. I look at him incredulously. Is he serious? He smiles and nods, like he’s reading my mind. “Named Rana Fashe. Daybreak.”

“Rana Fashe, Daybreak,” I repeat. He smiles slightly and rests his muscled arms on the pen of my new horse’s pen.

He points at a strong black stallion in the next stall. “Mine,” he says. “Name is Tsakar dare. In your language, his name is Midnight.”

I’m fascinated. I had no idea that the barbarians favoured horses. They usually liked to walk barefoot to places or ride their oxen in their fields. It was stupid of me to think that they didn’t ride horses, but I just had never seen them raid villages on the backs of horses.

I purse my lips before looking back up at him. “Do we get to ride them?” I ask him. There’s a certain glint in his eyes that tells me yes, you do get to. I’m excited. This is the first nice thing Abigor’s done for me since I’d gotten here, not mentioning the fact that he let sex go for two days in a row.

He starts to walk out of the stables. I’m confused. “Abi—uh, I mean Dances With Wolves, wait!”

Abigor turns around to look at me, his black eyes digging deep beneath my clothes. “Yes?” His voice is so smooth and deep; it gives me shivers.

I shift in my place and moisten my dry lips with my tongue. I point to his body paintings. “I thought…aren’t you going to take um…Tsakar dare out for the raid?” My voice is shaky. I throw a glance back to the black stallion huffing impatiently.

He simply looks at me and says, “Someone must run the kingdom.” Then he turns on his heel and leaves me alone in the stables. My shoulders slump slightly. I pat my new horse’s nose before following after him.

Abigor is far ahead and he does not slow down for me to catch up to him. I stand in front of the stables and watch him enter his great stone castle. He hadn’t beckoned me after him or anything.

I narrow my eyes. Fine, if he does not care about my whereabouts, why should it matter if I took Daybreak out for a first ride? I run back to the stables where my horse is waiting patiently in her pen, and let her out. I grab the reins on the horse’s back and lead her out into the sunshine.

The horse is eager to be ridden, I can tell. I hoist myself up onto her back and speed out into the forest.

0o0o0o0o

The meadow about two miles from the castle is the most beautiful meadow I’ve ever seen. Wildflowers are littered around the grass like the gods dumped a full handful of mixed flower seeds over the little section.

I steer Daybreak over to a tree and hop off of her back, tying the reins loosely to a branch so she wouldn’t run away. I’ve never ridden a more coordinated horse. The birds sing in the trees, the gentle breeze kissing my naked shoulders. It blows the soft red silk of my skirt back, and I feel a cooling breeze cool off my hot legs.

I’ve never been so at ease. I’ve probably been away from the castle for a half hour. I wonder if Abigor’s looking for me by now. I don’t know, and I shouldn’t care. I bend down and pick up a beautiful wild poppy, smelling it.

I then put it in my hair, just like I used to do when I was a child. I bound across the meadow, feeling the soft flowers at my ankles until I hit the treeline. I peer ahead. I can’t see anything but green.

It’s beautiful.

As I turn to check on Daybreak, I hear a cry far out in the distance. I want to investigate. I unleash Daybreak from her post at the tree and steer her forward into the trees.

We go down a hill and across a small bubbling creek before I hear the cry again. In the distance, I see a village. Then as I urge the horse forward, I hear more and more cries of villagers…and then the cries of barbarians.

My eyes widen as I see the sight unfolding before me. Barbarians are burning houses and ransacking villagers of their wealth, carrying them in heavy sacks thrown across their backs.

One raises a spear and goes charging at a young woman trying to escape into the forest with her keepsake and handmaiden. He chases her until she falls to the ground, the bag of keepsakes spilling over the grass. I want to cry when I see the spear pierce the skin above her heart.

The handmaiden is also killed, and the keepsake bag is rummaged and stolen from the deceased. I look away, back to the centre of the village. One man has a noose around his neck and is being dragged to a wooden idol in the centre of a village. One barbarian throws one side of the rope over the idol’s arm and yanks.

The man is hung and then laughed at. My heart fills with anguish, sadness and fury. The houses burn down. Money and jewels are stolen. Lives are taken, and maidens are raped before their dying mothers.

I hear one barbarian unleash his wolf on a man and his child. The man struggles to defend his child, but the wolf gets in a good bite, and the child dies instantly. The man fights off the wolf, but eventually, the animal’s strong jaws lock around his neck and tears.

Tears sting my eyes. I slap the reins on my horse and turn back into the meadow. I hadn’t seen the gist of what had happened that day. I heard my house being ransacked, I saw a man speared, and I ran off into the forest before anything worse could happen.

As I turn around, I see Abigor sitting on his strong black stallion, a cold look on his face. I’m afraid to move, but my horse slowly canters forwards. I can tell that he’s angry with me. I wipe away my tears and try to compose myself.

He digs his heels into his horse’s belly and gallops full speed ahead until he reaches me. “What ‘de fuck do you t’ink you’re doing?” he booms, his eyes filled to the brim with blood red wrath. “You try to escape!”

I’m angry with him. I hear the screaming in the background. “No, I wasn’t trying to escape,” I cry back at him angrily. “I was taking my horse out for a ride. It didn’t look like you cared, did you?”

His face turns bright red. “How dare you! Ya kamata in ya buga muku mummunan hali!” Now he’s screaming in his barbaric language, ranting as his horse circles mine.

Now I begin to cry against my will. I’m so angry that I can’t help myself. “I should have run away! You’re a horrible human being. You’re no king! You’re a slaughterer, a beast!” I dig my heels into the horse’s belly and run ahead. He speeds after me.

“And you’re no mistress either, you won’t even fuck me!” he spits. “That’s what whores ‘supposed to do, huh? ‘Dey fuck ‘de man, not piss ‘de man off! Dakiki kariya ya kamata kazaunaa indakuka kasance. Shinabin da kukeaka ce! Kana iya an ji masa rauni.”

I make Daybreak run faster ahead. Finally, Abigor gives up and lets me speed ahead. Tears blind my eyes as Daybreak gallops faster. I’m so angry I feel uncontrollable. I want Michelle. I want to sob in her arms, and I want her to tell me that everything will be alright.

But will it be?

0o0o0o0o

I find Abigor to be so angry when we come back in from our little quarrel out in the meadows. I hide away in the harem during lunch and a little bit after 3 o’ clock. I sit in the bathtub behind a curtain, the dark room lit by luminous and fragrant candles.

I sigh and lean my head against the lip of the wooden bathtub. Michelle comes up behind me, dressed in brilliant green silk and emerald jewels. She has been taken as Drinks of Waterfall’s mistress. “Have you not pleased your master? Just this evening I saw him taking Camellia into his chambers.”

I feel angry and almost betrayed that Abigor made love to another woman, but I remember that he’s a barbarian and that’s what they do. I shrug my shoulders and wash the red blood off of my skin. I do not mind Michelle in here. She has helped give me baths countless times before, but now I feel like it really isn’t right.

We are equals now, in this utterly foreign land.

She kneels near the tub and dips her finger into the hot water. “You did not answer me, my lady.”

I grimace and shake my head, my wet hand gripping hers. “I’m no longer ‘my lady’ to you, Michelle. Call me Elizabella.”

Michelle opens her big brown eyes in shock. “I—I am not your equal. I am your handmaiden—”

“Not here,” I cut her off quickly. “And never will you be my handmaiden again. You are a friend…my closest friend.” She smiles tenderly at me, blushing a bright red colour. I sink deeper into the bathwater and sigh.

She looks behind the curtain for anyone listening or watching. “He told me his commoner’s name,” Michelle whispers to me. I’m interested. I lean forward in the tub, wanting to hear the name. “It’s Tristan. But God save us all, Elizabella, if he finds out about me telling you that.”

I press my lips into a straight, tight line and nod. “Your secret is safe with me,” I chuckle. “He told me his name was Abigor. I’m not supposed to tell you that either, but I don’t care.”

Michelle furrows her brow. “He is not pleased with you? Or are you not pleased with him?”

I shrug. “It can go both ways, really,” I explain, the hot water licking at my shoulders. “I ran off with the new horse he gave me to have a ride and get some fresh air for a half hour, and he got awfully upset with me. But I saw the village he led his men on and I became…sick, almost. It was appalling, Michelle. The slaughter, the blood, the fire, and the death.”

Her eyes widened as she pulled up a stool and listened for more. “That’s horrible!” she exclaims. Her eyes are full of fear and upset. I don’t blame myself for putting it there. I blame Abigor and his barbarian pack of brutes.

I lick my lips, mirth sparkling in my eyes. “I told him he was no king, and that he was a slaughterer. He didn’t enjoy hearing that, I’ll tell you that. I was afraid he’d strike me, but I rode ahead and he hasn’t bothered me since.”

I stand from the bath and Michelle hands me a towel to dry myself with. She helps my silky golden robes onto me before leading me out of the bathing area. The women gather around Camellia, one of the younger girls in the harem. She is bruised and weakened.

Suddenly, I remember what Michelle told me. Camellia had gone into Abigor’s room to satisfy his sexual needs. I’m horrified. I storm out of the room.

0o0o0o0o

He is so angry that he does not speak to me that night. I lay in bed long after he had gone to sleep. My fingers run over the blunt edge of the curved blade. I’m drowsy and tired, and I can even tell myself that I’m not in the right mindset.

I slowly sit up, making sure that I do not rouse him from his sleep. I press the silver blade to his neck. My heart’s pounding in my chest. He does not wake. I climb into his lap, pressing the blade harder to his neck.

“Do it.” The voice startles me. It’s soft, but I do not expect it. He does not open his eyes, and he does not move. His lips merely move again. “Do it. Slit my throat. Do it.” I stall, my heart clambering ridiculously against my ribs. I can’t move. He cracks his eyes open a little bit and slides his hands up my arms. “I said do it.”

I stare down him under heavy-lidded eyes. “You are not afraid?” I ask softly. The candles are the only light in the large room.

He chuckles and gets comfortable under the blade. “Everyone dies, zaki da budurwar. Whether it be now or sixty years from now, whether it be by your blade or old age. It all happens.”

My lip trembles. “If I don’t kill you, you’ll just kill more innocent people.”

He blinks. “Yes.” I’m startled by his answer. I am the one with the blade, and his life is (possibly) in danger. I press the tip into his jugular vein, careful not to split any skin. “I won’t lie to you, Tiger Claw. I steal, I kill, I beat, and I fuck…but I do not lie.”

I imagine the kingdom without Abigor. Then his brother, Will, would take the throne, and me as his mistress. I cringe. I pull the blade away and slump into his body. The blade clatters to the floor.

Warm, large arms wrap around my waist and pull me closer. Hot lips are near my ear. Tears sting in my eyes and fall slowly down my cheeks. “I do not deserve your kindness,” I sniffle quietly.

“No,” he agrees. “You don’t. But you still gon’ get it.”

I pull back to look at him, my eyes watery. “I just attempted to kill you.”

His hand comes up to stroke my cheek, pushing the hair out of my eyes, and his lips pulled up into a smug grin. “S’nothin’. You not the first one to try and kill me, Tiger Claw. But I’m glad that ‘dis time it was you.”

He lays me back down next to him. I’m at ease, but I know I’m not completely off the hook. My cold fingers find his warm hand and I begin to trace the patterns of his palm. He grasps my hand and squeezes tightly.

“Sleep, soyayya,” he says.

I close my eyes.

I sleep, never letting go of his hand.

Deal
When I wake up, he’s dressed and sitting in his big bearskin chair by the unlit fireplace. It’s sort of cold that morning. He’s a complete blanket-hog and leaves me with barely anything to cover up with. Maybe it’s because his body’s so big, I contemplate.

He’s got an old sack lying by his feet. Abigor’s long black hair falls, unbraided, around his shoulders. It’s silky and black, just like the midnight sky. He knows I’m awake. He pulls a blue sapphire necklace out of the sack and holds it up. “You like ‘dis?” he asks.

Abigor casts a sideways glance at me. I nod quickly and clear my throat. “It’s beautiful,” I murmur, gripping the sheets beneath the soft linen sheets beneath me. He tosses it over to me, and then focuses his attention back to the bag.

I examine the jewels. They sparkle in the sweet morning light filtering through the windows in Abigor’s room. They’re absolutely gorgeous. I wonder if he bought them for me.

I slide out of bed, only clad in my nightgown, and approach him slowly. He notices my presence but does not stop his rummaging. “Good morning, then,” he grounds out in his deep, husky voice.

Nodding, I go to sit by his chair. I jerk my head towards the bag sitting beside his feet. “Where’d you get those?” I ask him curiously. “Did you buy them all?”

He merely chuckles and shakes his head. “I am the king. I do not buy,” he snaps as if I’m supposed to know that.

I frown and look into the bag. There are jewels and gold and other valuable items. I lick my dry lips. “Then where did you get them all?” I ask, slightly annoyed that he still hasn’t answered me.

“Raid,” he replies. “Everything here is a result of raiding, stealing, and pillaging.”

I gape, looking around the room. There are paintings, tall wardrobes, and jewels littered around the room. “Everything?” I ask, my voice barely a whisper. I can’t believe that everything here had been stolen from villagers.

He’d apparently done a lot of stealing, that was for sure.

Abigor gets up from his seat. “Yes.” He carries the bag over to a desk and displays it to her eyes. “Everything.” The jewels are dumped out onto the wooden countertop and feebly toyed with.

I stand by him. I can’t believe how beautiful his hair is. I reach out, my mind unable to think and/or process what I’m exactly doing, and stroke the soft black strands. He jumps slightly and turns his head. “Don’t touch,” he growls at me.

I reel back in surprise, snatching my hand away. I blink uncomfortably. “I’m…I’m sorry. I just wanted to braid it.”

He turns around, his nostrils flaring and his eyes trying to search for hidden words in the wood. The muscles in his jaw tense as his fingers grip the sides of his chair. “You want to braid ‘de hair?” he asks softly.

I nod, even though he can’t see me. “Yes. You…have beautiful hair.” My hands itch at my sides. I wonder if he’ll let me braid it. The practice of braiding a barbarian man’s hair was very sacred; the longer the hair of the barbarian, the greater the warrior.

He stiffly nods his head as he relaxes. “Alright.”

I blink. I don’t know if I’ve heard him right, or if I’m just hallucinating or dreaming. But I’m not. I touch his hair, his long glorious black hair, and separate it into three pieces. I’m in awe. The men in my kingdom had short hair or greasy hair tied back into little ponytails behind their heads.

When I begin to braid, a question enters my mind. “Abigor, do you know what the Silvertongue is?” I ask him. Cordell had told me that the barbarians were in possession of the Silvertongue and that was why he wanted to travel there, to decipher the Book of Azazel with it and gain world domination.

I can tell he wasn’t expecting the question to come up. He drops the jewel he was inspecting in shock. “How you know about ‘dat, kadan daya?” he asks me.

I twist his hair tightly, nervous about answering. I think of my words, and how to say them carefully. “Um, well…there was this man back in my village that always used to talk about the Silvertongue and the Book of Azazel. He said that the Silvertongue was here, in the barbarian kingdoms. He said that you were the one that possessed it.”

Abigor is tense again, the subject making him uncomfortable. “The Book of Azazel is a force to be reckoned wit’,” he growls. “Not good, Elizabella. Not good.”

I continue to braid his hair. He clenches a chain so tightly in his hand that one of the golden loops bends right in his hands. “Is it true that you really have the Silvertongue with you?” I ask him. “Or were they all bluffing when they said that?”

It takes him a moment to answer me. “Of course I have the Silvertongue with me,” he whispers. He nods towards a small wooden box hidden in the corner of the room, under concealment of a few books. “In ‘dere. But don’t you ever touch it, you hear? S’dangerous.”

I’m nearing the end of his braid. “Okay,” I say. “Do you have something to tie with?”

He digs into his pocket and pulls out a strip of leather. I tie the end of the braid and let it fall onto his muscled back. I notice the whip marks on his skin. My eyes widen as I run my fingers across them, pink fleshly scars from years ago. “Good gods,” I whisper. “What happened to you?”

He sweeps his braid forward and waits a moment before answering me. “Discipline happened to me,” he says to me. “My father whipped me when I was young.”

How come I’ve never noticed this? I run my fingertips across his back softly and slowly, trying not to hurt him. He shudders at my touch. “Does that feel good?” I ask him, a tad humorous with my demeanour.

He does not say anything to me, so I automatically assume that he likes it. My fingers run over a scar. “Spirits, woman, your hands are like magic,” he moans softly, tilting his head and enjoying my touch. “No masseuse does what you do.”

I pull my hands back and his head slumps. “If you not gon’ fuck me, the least you can do is ‘dat,” he grumbles, insisting that I touch him again.

I laugh. “Point taken,” I say. But before I can really start working his muscles beneath my fingers, the door bursts open and there stands Three Horses in the doorway.

I snatch my hands away and jump back from where Abigor was sitting. Three Horses clears his throat and his eyes jump to his king. “Your brother got hurt during ‘de raid,” he says.

Abigor grits his teeth, he’s clearly pissed off about being interrupted. “How injured?” he asks.

“A long gash on his arm,” Three Horses replies. “He’s in a lot of pain.”

Abigor rolls his eyes. I suppress a giggle. “Stupid bastard,” he growls. “Where is he now?”

Three Horses nods his head down the hallway. “In his corridor, my king. I told him you would come.”

He narrows his eyes at the man standing in the doorway. “You told him…alright. Get out, I’ll be there in a moment.”

Three Horses nods his head and departs the room, shutting the door behind him. I walk forward, peering down at Abigor. “Iron Coyote?” I question.

Abigor firmly nods, tugging at his braid. “I should just start callin’ him ‘de stupid bastard,” he hisses at no one in particular. “Always foolish, always greedy.”

I pull up a wooden chair and sit next to Abigor at the desk. “Did you have to look after him a lot when you were young?” I ask. “Was he a pain then too?”

The beautiful man in front of my laughs humorlessly. “He was the one takin’ care of me, Tiger Claw,” he remarks. “I’m his younger brother.”

I gape. Back in my kingdom, the older child always inherits the throne before the younger child. They always automatically have the privileges and the rights. But the rule only worked for males, and not females; meaning if a man had an older sister, he would take the throne before she did.

I blink and tilt my head. “How…how does this work?” I question. “Usually the older brother gets the throne first, correct?”

He shakes his head, glancing at me through his peripherals. “Not here, it doesn’t work like ‘dat. Before my father died, he said that I was the more suitable successor. My brother has frequent outbursts of anger that can result in a lot of people getting hurt. He also has a habit of…drinkin’ a lot.”

“So he just agreed to give the throne over to you?” I ask.

Abigor shook his head, his lips tugging up in a sly smirk. “No, o’ course not. He had a fit, an’ challenged me to a long sword fight. My brother wanted me dead. My father said that I should accept—he had faith that I’d win the fight. We fought, and I won, coming out of the battle with only a few cuts.”

I’m confused. My eyebrows scrunch together and I bite my lip in contemplation. “But Iron Coyote, your brother…he’s still alive.”

“Good observation, Tiger Claw,” he chuckles. “I had mercy on his rotten soul and spared him, just so he could watch me ascend the throne and see the dissatisfaction in his eyes. Just seeing ‘de look on his face the day of my crownin’ was better ‘den sex.”

I laugh in shock, my eyes widening. “That’s awfully mean,” I drawl softly. “But funny. Quite funny.”

He gets up and heads to the door. I follow him eagerly, wanting to see the man that assaulted me beaten and bloody in his bed. “Go back to the harem,” he instructs before turning down the hall.

I stop in my tracks. “Don’t you wish my company?”

Abigor stops walking for a moment. “My brother does not wish your company.”

I’m flabbergasted. “What? Why?” I shriek. “He’s the one who assaulted me! I didn’t stick my fingers up his private parts!”

I expect him to roll his eyes at me and continue on, but he does the exact opposite. A small smile creeps onto his face as sweet as honey in the summertime, and he throws his head back, a deep laugh bursting from the cobwebbed and dusty catacombs of his throat.

I’ve never heard him laugh so loud. The maidservants and slave-men all do a double-take when they hear him laughing, their mouths like O’s and their eyes bugging out of their heads.

His big hand lands on my shoulder and steers me around. “Go to the harem,” he laughs, the creases of his big brown eyes crinkling with amusement. “And leave me alone.”

I’m happy to oblige, a blush rising slowly in my cheeks just like the sun in the morning. I cast my eyes down to the floor and stumble down the hallway to the harem, just like he told me to.

0o0o0o0o

“He did what?”

“Laughed!” I reply to Athenodora. “He laughed so loud that I’m pretty sure the whole castle heard it. I’ve never heard him laugh so loud before.”

Evalyn shuffles forward and sits in our circle. “Okay, so we’ve never even heard him laugh before. Dances With Wolves doesn’t laugh, dammit. Ever. For him, that’s…like…out of line!”

Michelle finishes Sulpicia’s braid before scooting into our circle. “Even Drinks of Waterfall doesn’t laugh. And I consider us to be pretty close.”

I frown at her. “That’s because you lay with him,” I interject. “He only likes you for what you’ve got.”

Cassandra shrugs her shoulders. “So what?” she says. “That’s what they all want. I consider myself to be pretty close with Three Horses sometimes. He can be so tender during sex. Aren’t you giving Dances With Wolves the bits?”

My eyes widen. I don’t want to make him feel embarrassed that he hasn’t gotten into my pants yet, but I’m also kind of proud that I’ve stood my ground for this long without having him seduce or rape me. “Y-yes. Of course.”

Cassandra rolls her big green doe eyes at me, her brown lashes fluttering. “Oh, I know a liar when I see one. You still look like a virgin. But what I want to know is…”

“How you stayed virgin for all this time!” Athenodora interjects. “Tell. Dances With Wolves usually gets down to business, no time for playing around. Puts it in, jams it for a while, gets her off first, then blows his load.”

I grimace at the mental picture put into my head by the little blonde twig in front of me. The ladies “ooh” and “aww” in front of me, saying how considerate he was, and how men usually didn’t get the woman off at all.

Michelle blinks and rolls her lips, tapping her long fingernails on the cold, stone floor. “Drinks of Waterfall is a good lover,” she remarks. “He knows how to please a woman.”

Cassandra gets a little defensive. She narrows her eyes at Michelle. “That’s because he’s fucked many. You’re nothing special, and don’t expect anything more than fucking from him. I should also know that he’s a good bedmate.”

Michelle gasps, looking down at the floor. I chew my lip anxiously. That was a little bit too harsh. “What she means to say,” Evalyn cuts in. “Is that she just doesn’t want you becoming too attached to him. I’m pretty sure Drinks of Waterfall has taken all of us and sampled us a few times. He’s asked us all back more than once, and yes, he has his favourites. But they’re barbarians, and they don’t want attachment or marriage just yet. Especially not the king’s guard, which he’s a part of.”

My friend nods her head, and I can see her eyes bubbling up with tears. I remind myself not to become too attached to Abigor, either. He’s probably sampled the whole entire kingdom. He’s the goddamn king, and he can have any woman he wants.

The door bursts open and in comes Arlena, a frail girl with bright blue eyes and light strawberry blonde curls. Her mouth is bloody and her cheekbone was badly bruised.

I gasp as everyone rushes to her aid. My eyes flicker to the doorway, where Iron Coyote stands, bloody bandages on his arm, which was cradled in a leather sling. He casts me a glance, and I instantly feel repulsed. He grins. “Someone needs to teach that whore how to suck cock,” he grinds out. “Nipped me.”

Before I can stop myself, I scream out, “Good.” I’m seething and all I see is red. “Someone needs to teach you a goddamn lesson on how to be fucking human!”

He’s no longer laughing. He’s angry, clearly pissed. “Who’s gonna teach me, princess? You? I’ll fuck you for sure.”

The whole room is silent as we argue. Arlena hides behind my body, clearly afraid of the ignorant prince. “Your brother will teach you, just like he always has!”

His eyes widen as he staggers forward, vengeful and pissed. “Wulakanci ne karuwa!” he cries. “How dare you speak to a royal in such a manner!”

He’s so close to hitting me when Abigor yanks him away and backhands his older brother across the face. “Fuck, get a hold of yourself! I tol’ you to stay in the goddamn bed and stay away from ‘de whores!”

Iron Coyote scowls at me and spits in my direction. “Put a leash on your kariya, brother…or I will. And she won’t like it.”

Abigor scowls right back at his brother. “You won’t touch what’s mine. Ever.”

And they’re out of the room. Cassandra bounds over to me and grabs me by the collar of my necklace. “Foolish!” she gasps. Then she smiles, laughing breathlessly. “You should have gotten your ass beaten.”

“Could have,” Evalyn interjects. “But didn’t. I think our king here is a bit taken with you, miss Elizabella.”

I can feel the heat rushing to my cheeks again. There’s no doubt in my mind that I believe what Evalyn says. I mean for the gods’ sakes, I had braided his hair. That was a worshipped practice!

We all turn our attention back to Arlena. Evalyn is like the harem doctor, always making up little potions and serums to heal the beaten and bloodied girls that crawl like scared puppies back into our little harem haven.

She brings over the same purplish potion that she had used on my neck bruises and a bowl of greenish liquid. She sits before Arlena, dabbing her fingers into the thick violet cream and spreads it in patches over her blackened bruises.

Arlena winces as Evalyn moves on to the green liquid. She cleans the violet cream off of her fingers with an old rag and dips them into the greenish liquid. The redhead seems to clench her teeth and tense her muscles when Evalyn touches her bloodied lip with the liquid.

She cries out in pain, but Evalyn hushes her. “Calm yourself, Cece. It’ll be over in just a few seconds.”

And she is right. Evalyn removes her fingers and Arlena’s lip is rapidly healing before our eyes. “How do you do that?” I find myself asking. Never had I seen a remedy like that practised back in my little village, not even on our yearly visits to the kingdom.

Evalyn grins. “It’s the waraka leaf, Elizabella. That literally translates into ‘the healing leaf.’ It only grows in the barbarian territories, so that’s probably why this seems so new to you. I’ve been studying the plant life around here for quite some time. It’s interesting. Word has it that Dances With Wolves is thinking about maybe naming me the castle healer. Exciting, isn’t it?”

I blink and chew on my lip. “What did you do for a living before you were…um, before you…”

“Before I became a whore?” she asks. I cringe at her word choice because that’s not how I would have put it at all. She shrugs her shoulders. “In my village, I was a healer and a part-time midwife. I worked with my grandmother and my sister Annabel. We collected herbs from the forests and made healing potions…”

My eyes widen. “Oh. That’s quite interesting.”

Soon, Arlena is all better and chatting happily with the rest of the harem.

0o0o0o0o

“Don’t do ‘dat,” he scolds me as my fingers scratch at my skin. It’s an annoying habit of mine that comes about when I’m nervous, angry or upset. I look down at my arm and I’m slightly surprised to see that I had drawn a little bit of blood.

I feel the sting almost as soon as I pull my fingernail away. The warm, bright red blood trickles down my arm in a little stream. “I’m sorry,” I say mindlessly. “It’s a habit of mine.”

He inhales on the little wooden pipe and then lets the smoke float out from his lips. “Break it ‘den,” he tells me firmly. He tosses me a wet rag that lay in a bowl on the counter and I wipe away the blood subtly.

It’s around eleven o’clock in the morning and he had called me in here for company about fifteen minutes ago. He smokes his pipe and drinks his wine as he lounges on the stone floor, back pressed up against the wall.

I sit near him. He tells me that I amuse him more than the other whores and that he liked having me all to himself even though he didn’t get to fuck me. It was kind of a compliment, and I liked being complimented.

Abigor gazes at me from under heavy-lidded eyes and smirks. “I like you,” he remarks. “You try to kill me.”

I heave out a surprised huff of laughter and furrow my brows. “I don’t see how that makes any sense at all. I tried to kill you. You should really hate me, you know.”

He purses his lips and shakes his head. “I can’t hate you, Tiger Claw. You’re ‘de strongest woman I ever met.” He draws smoke from his pipe and lets it curl of out of his lips like a smoke-dragon.

I blush bright red. “If that’s a compliment, then…then thank you. You’re not a pompous arrogant prick like your other men are. You’re so much different.”

He chuckles softly as he sets down his pipe to fetch his goblet of wine. “I know,” he simply says. “And gods, I can’t wait to fuck you. I’ve never done a budurwa.”

I frown at him and show my teeth at him. “You know what? I actually take back what I said about you.”

“Relax!” he laughs. “I was just jokin’ wit’ you.”

I can feel myself relax as I let out a little breathy noise that passes for laughter. I slump against the wall too. “Cruel, King Abigor. Quite cruel…” I grab the pipe and inhale the smoke, trying to see if I could curl smoke out of my lips just like he did.

But instead, I do the opposite. I choke on the smoke, nearly killing myself and giving Abigor a heart attack. “You inhaled,” he laughs. “Stupid.”

I laugh in shock, my eyes widening. “You are positively cruel.” I give him back the pipe, still coughing. He offers his wine, but I turn it down. I was never big on wine. I fan myself with my hand. The heat of the outdoors flowing through the open window makes my hair frizz up and my skin feel sticky. “It’s scorching hot in here!”

“Got a lot warmer in here when you walked in,” he says in his deep, smooth voice. I gasp softly as my head snaps towards his. At first, I assume he’s joking, but the look on his face says otherwise. He smiles sweeter and slower than molasses.

This man must have had years and years of education in the art of seducing whores. But I’m not a whore, I’m a civilized woman educated in the arts of courtship and kindness, which the barbarian people obviously lack. “That was a good one,” I tell him, nodding my head.

He looks out past me, staring the marks on the door. “There’s gon’ be a festival tonight. I want you to come an’ stand by me.”

I blink, watching him intently with interested eyes as he draws smoke from his pipe again. “You…you want me to come to the festival tonight…and stand by you?”

He nods his head. “S’ a shagali festival. Big fire, dancin’, loud music, and rituals. We have one every damina, or as your kind call it, summer.”

I tap my blunt fingernails on the stone floor. “So you want me to come to your shaggly?”

He laughs. “Sha-ga-li,” he breaks it down for me.

“Shagali,” I repeat. “Festival.” He nods and smiles.

“I should teach you Hausa,” he says.

I furrow my eyebrows at him. “Hausa?” I ask. “What’s that?”

He lets smoke curl out from his lips, smiling slowly. His eyes glow with youth and mischief. “That’s actually what we originally go by. But you palefaces jus’ keep callin’ us barbarians so much that it kinda stuck wit’ us.”

My face reddens and I choke back laughter. “Oh, I didn’t know. So you go by Hausa?” I ask him.

He shrugs his massive shoulders, setting the pipe down and drinking from his goblet. “I do, but ‘de men took on ‘de likin’ of barbarian.”

I sigh. “I never knew.” He licks the excess wine droplets off of his full russet lips and makes a noise so deep in his chest that makes my heart flutter, sending a burst of heat down to my lady parts. I try to shake it off by taking my mind somewhere else. “So you’re going to teach me your language?”

He nods. “If you want.”

I nod right back at him. “I want.”

He holds up his goblet and shows me the contents. “Giya. Wine. Now you repeat it back to me.”

“Giya,” I say, testing it out on my tongue.

He nods his head, his braid falling forward over his broad and toned shoulder. “Good. Now…” Abigor points to his eyes. “Idanu. Eyes.”

“Idanu. Eyes.”

It goes on like that for a little bit longer. Hair is gashi, chair is kujera, hands are hannayen, smoke is shan taba, legs are kafafu and arms are makamai. He makes a deal with me at that moment. He promises to tell me a new word each day when we wake and teach me some of the words as long as I promise not to get on his nerves as much anymore and to never run away again.

I agree to his terms.

He smirks as he stands from his position on the floor. I gape like a Venus flytrap trying to catch bugs on a hot summer afternoon as he unties his breechcloth, baring his muscled and firm backside to my unyielding eyes.

I wonder what he’s doing. Will he take me? He does not, I find out, when he strolls to one of the doors in his room, opening it and revealing a large, dark bathroom, illuminated by scented candles and beautiful decorations.

He turns his torso around so he can look at me. I do not see his genitals. “I’m going to get clean before ‘de shagali. You’re very welcome to join me, Eliz’bella.”

I feel my face heat up like a pot of water over a raging cooking fire. I look away from his beautiful being to the cold, hard ground. He shrugs and sighs. “If you change your mind, I’ll leave ‘de door unlocked for you. Feel free to surprise me.”

I gasp and look up. I can faintly see his satisfied smile and his wink, but he’s already mostly disappeared into the bathroom, his braid flicking behind him like a horse’s tail. That man.

It’s sinful the way this man’s seducing me. He’s making me want him for all of the wrong reasons I should want a man for. And to be truthful, I’ve never wanted a man as much as I want Abigor at this moment.

Shagali
He comes out of the bathroom fully naked and still dripping wet, soapy water trickling through his defined abdominal muscles like they were deep trenches.

I’m lounging on his bed, my skirt hiked up my leg completely, baring my milky white skin to his hungry eyes. I was looking at a book with interesting pictures that told me a little bit about the barbarian/Hausa history.

His eyes are like an animal in mating season, a male seeing his female perfectly in reach, and in heat. Abigor bounds over to me in three graceful, yet manly steps and grips me by the neck, pressing me to the sheets forcefully.

At first I’m scared that he doesn’t like that I was reading his book without his permission and is going to choke me, but then I realize that he’s smirking, his grip on my neck lessening quickly.

“What are you doin’,” he whispers softly in my ear. “Loungin’ on my bed like ‘dat. Lookin’ so…so fuckable.”

I want to gasp, but the wind has been locked out of my lungs as his heavy, naked body pins mine to the bed. I begin to struggle, but he mistakes my attempt at escaping his arms as passion.

He groans loudly, his head collapsing against his chest. “Ungh. Eliz’bella…” His voice makes my body betray my mind; I’m aroused. His erection is pressing into me, and I realize that I must have pressed my pelvis into him.

He looks up into my eyes, his big brown orbs blazing with lust. “You want me.” Oh, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted him…well, I definitely wanted something, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it exactly.

Suddenly, I become overcome with panic. I shove at his shoulders, prying his arms off of my body. “Stop!” I squeal weakly. He instantly releases me, stepping back, the lust bleeding out of his eyes like water on paint.

“I hurt you?” he asks me.

The look on his face makes my heart ache. He’s confused, and both upset and angry with himself. I don’t think I can bear to tell him that he was scaring me, or that he’s hurt me.

I hold up the old book and wave it before his eyes. “You were, um…crushing the book, that’s all. You didn’t hurt me.”

Relief floods his face. “Goddamn book,” he curses, taking the ancient work and tossing it to the other corner of the room. He gestures with his hands roughly. “I told you I won’t do nuttin’ ’till you’re ready. I wan’ you beggin’ for it.”

I blush a deep shade of red. He’s cracked me like a nutshell. “I know. And I really respect you for that. It just makes me think about how shaming it might be to have a whore and to be pushed away every single time. You’re the king, and you don’t even get to lay with a woman.”

He shrugs his shoulders, his long, unbraided black hair spilling like a waterfall down his back. He grabs a brown deerskin breechcloth and ties it around his waist. “I don’ care. Each whore in ‘dat harem is too easy to get. You make it a challenge. I like challenge. Kings live for challenges in life.”

My mouth opens and closes like a fish out of water. I can’t believe that he just said that. I want to hug him, and I find myself subconsciously leaning forward. And then gravity gives me a huge push and I fall into his arms, gripping his biceps before going down.

He takes it like I’ve tripped, but I know that it’s much, much more than a simple act of clumsiness. His arms seem to comfort me. Abigor lifts me up to my feet and steadies me. “You alright?”

I nod breathlessly. I constantly tell myself that I should oppose his touch, but I don’t feel like it’s such an issue anymore. “Thank you.”

He sits down in his big chair by the unlit fireplace. “Why?” he asks me. “Why are you so afraid of sex and making love? I think you’d know by now ‘dat I would never hurt you. B’cause if I wanted to hurt you I sure as hell would have done it already.”

I nod my head and I can tell that he’s telling me the truth. But the real question was: do I tell him the truth? Or do I lie? “Back in my kingdom, there was a man that I thought I was in love with.” I tell him the truth. “I promised myself to him. He said he’d find me no matter what, and that he’d always come for me.”

Abigor stares out into the day, his jaw set tight and his eyes hardened. “Tell me more,” he demands quietly. “What did he promise you?”

Now I feel a little nervous. “He told me that he would build a house on the countryside and give me lots of little children, we’d be peacefully secluded and…together, in love, never a worry in our minds..”

He does not say anything for a very long time, staring at the stone pattern on the floor. He is thinking. I shift in my place. “I can never give you that,” he finally says softly. “Never a house on the countryside, never a peacefully secluded life, and there will always be worries, no matter what.”

I look down at the floor. I wish that I’d never said anything. “Abigor, I…”

“Don’t,” he cuts me off quickly. “I don’t care about your lover from ‘de other village. You’re here, not there, and you’re mine and not his. This is a land of no promises, no exceptions. You belong to me, Eliz’bella. End of story.”

I understand that, but I hate the way that he’s put it. I fold my arms. “You make me sound like a piece of property, Abigor.” I scold him.

He turns and growls at me. “Don’t you start wit’ me,” he hisses. He hands his goblet at me. “Go,” he says dismissively. “Get me some more wine.”

Now I’m getting angry. “Haven’t you had enough?”

He pinches the bridge of his nose, trying to calm himself. “No, Eliz’bell…remember the deal? Abide by it, and I beg you, which I should not have to, for some more wine.”

I narrow my eyes at him before sighing in surrender and take the goblet out of my room and down to the kitchen. How could such a tender moment turn into an angry one?

0o0o0o0o

It’s dark and hot outside where Abigor has decided to hold the shagali. There is a huge bonfire in the middle, roaring like a dragon and popping sparks into the night air. His throne is carried outside by four men and set beside the fireplace. Apparently Abigor had instructed for my mock “throne” to be made as well, and out of strong wood and draped with bearskins.

Abigor had given me a complete barbarian make over. The silks that I wear tonight are blue. Apparently, on the days of the raids they wear red, and on festivals, they wear blue, representing the rain.

My silk wraps around my breasts and leaves my torso exposed and uncovered. The skirt is long but scandalously sheer. He had painted my face, arms and legs, and given me sapphire jewels to wear on my neck, wrists and ankles. Then a crown twisted of a thick vine entwined with a blue-jewelled chain.

Apparently I looked beautiful, since half the men couldn’t hush their cat calls and suggestive comments towards me too silent. A lot of them got the evil eye from Abigor.

And that is where I sit now. In my wooden throne next to Abigor’s jewel encrusted gold one, watching the fire, listening to barbarians play unfamiliar instruments as my harem friends dance around the fire.

I look around in the dark. I see Michelle sitting on Drinks of Waterfall’s lap, kissing his cheeks tenderly as he rubbed his hands on her arms and over the humble swells of her breasts. I grimace.

She is not the same anymore. She enjoys being here with her barbarian master and serving his manly needs every night. I push my long, soft chestnut hair out of my eyes and fix the vine and jewel headband acting as a crown atop my hair.

The harem girls are dressed in different colors of silks, none of them blue. Evalyn is in pink, Cassandra is in violet, Ivona is in yellow, Arlena is in green, Athenodora is in red, Sulpicia is in orange and Didyme is in silver, Katalina is in a honey-golden silk, and the others are in different colours. They all look beautiful, but what they are doing completely shames their title.

A man suddenly grabs Didyme and proceeds to bend her over and fuck her right in front of everyone. Didyme cries out in shock and pain at the man’s force. The crowd cheers. I gasp and glance up at Abigor in horror.

He nods. “Normal,” he says. “You do not have a festival without at least one fuck or a few fights.”

The man finishes with Didyme and throws her back into the circle. The other harem girls kiss her cheeks and dance with her, like she is the center of attention. And Didyme smiles like a giddy young girl that had just kissed her first boy. Abigor leans over to tell me something else. “‘De first woman to get fucked at a festival is said to receive good fortune,” he tells me. “It is a blessed tradition.”

“More like a horrid tradition,” I mutter under my breath. He does not hear me say it though, and I am thankful.

The stringed instruments pick up and the drums bang loudly, sending vibrations through each of our bodies at the shagali. The harem girls twirl all at the same time when the drum hits the hardest, and they each go out to the crowds, choosing a man to dance sensually with.

I see Michelle dancing with Drinks of Waterfall. He places his hands on her hips and brings her in close. I’m suddenly jealous. I see Abigor drinking his wine with this sullen look on his face. My decision is unanimous and quick. I stand and make my way in front of him. “Do you always sit here like a bum?” I ask him jokingly.

He’s surprised and looks around to see if anyone’s listening. “Sit down,” he growls at me. “Don’t make a fool of yourself in front of the men.”

I sigh and grab his hand. The music is catchy and all I want to do is try and dance with him. “Please?” I ask him. “All I want to do is dance with you, and for you to dance with me.”

He waves his hand at me. “I’m the king,Eliz’bella.”

I put my hands on my hips defiantly. “Kings can dance, too.” Suddenly, I begin to sway in time with the music, my hips lifting and dropping with each drum beat. “Can’t they? Or are kings too cowardly to show off their crazy dancing skills?” People watch with curiosity. Some of the whores back at my home put on a show for the men in bars, moving their hips sensually just like I’m doing right now.

Abigor’s face is red, but his eyes are lustful. He wants me, and he wants to dance with me. That’s what I want—that reaction from him is spot on. He’s reluctant, so I dance even more sensually. He rubs his stubbly chin with his big hand and chuckles.

“Come on, O’ Mighty King of mine. Dance with your fine lady on this humble night, and look yonder into the twilight to see your youth once more.” I say in a dreamy sort of voice, twirling around in the air. He’s smiling, but he’s still reluctant.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see his brother staring at me with an evil look on his face. I become uncomfortable, but I’m so close to getting him off of his seat that I don’t stop dancing. I try to focus on luring him out, but Iron Coyote’s devilish eyes burn into my skin, and I can suddenly feel how much he wants me, and how much he’s willing to take me.

Abigor notices the distress on my face and glances to the left, where his brother stands, admiring my body from afar. He shoots up from where he sits and scowls at his brother, who doesn’t notice him until he grabs me by the arms and whisks me off into the crowds.

People are quickly noticing Abigor’s movement from the throne to me, and I can tell they’re surprised. He leans over and whispers into my ear. “I don’ like ‘de way he looks at you,” he says to me.

I shake my head quickly. “I don’t either. You think I like being stared at like I’m a piece of meat? I thought your brother hated me anyways.”

Abigor glares over my shoulder at his brother. I yelp as his hands slide down to my backside and he grips me there, hard. I want to push him away, but I know he’s making a territorial statement to his brother. “No,” he says. “He wants everyt’ing I have, Eliz’bella. He wants my throne, my title, my jewels, and my Tiger Claw.”

I break away from him and twirl myself on his arm. He gives me an odd look. “And what was that?” he asks me. “That ain’t been done before anywhere ‘ere.”

The drums speed up and I move my hips faster, twirling all around him. He has trouble keeping up with me. “Some ladies back in my village taught me how to do it. It’s called a twirl, or at least that’s what I call it.”

“Tvirl,” he mispronounces the word.

I giggle and correct him. “No, no, no. T-wi-rl.” I sound it out for him. By the way I’m acting, I feel as if I’ve had too many wines before I came out to dance. While I had filled Abigor’s goblet up with wine in the kitchen, I decided to experiment myself.

And I had found that wine was very good and that I had been missing out on a lot by disliking the bitter taste. But my tastebuds had developed, and I was grateful for that. “You ‘de one teachin’ how to say words, hmm?” he asks me, his eyebrows raised. “‘Dat how it works now, little one?”

My foot catches on a rock and I go spiralling into the dark. But he catches me before I hit the ground, spinning me onto my back so that I’m facing him. My lips are millimetres away from his and I can feel the attraction like a magnet, pulling us together.

But yet again, we don’t kiss. The sound of Iron Coyote’s voice makes me jump. I stand back up. “Havin’ fun wit’ your whore, little brother?” he asks. I scowl at him, but he doesn’t see since Abigor quickly shoves me behind him.

“Who are you to interrupt us?” Abigor hisses. “Couldn’t you see ‘dat we were in ‘de middle of somet’in?”

“The fuckin’ prince of the barbarians,” Iron Coyote smugly replies.

Abigor scoffs. “And who am I, older brother? ‘Dat’s right, the goddamn King of the ‘de barbarians.”

Iron Coyote’s face drops and he scowls at his brother. “Only ’cause our father insisted it is so. Old man was a goddamn fool leavin’ you in charge wit’ our kingdom. You’re a flop of a ruler.”

I can’t believe that I’m hearing him say that to the king of the barbarians. It’s unbelievable. “I wouldn’t start on that. Kanabugukowaneawa dayada rana ba! No one has once suggested you king instead of me.”

Ivona bursts out of the crowds and latches onto Iron Coyote’s arm. She kisses his skin and he grins at her. He pulls her in front of him and cups a hand over her womanhood. She turns her head shamelessly and kisses his neck.

“‘Dis is a whore,” he announces, grinning like a mad fool. “I’m sure you ain’t even fucked ‘dat one yet. Get to it, kadan dan’uwan, because if you don’t want to fuck her, I be happy to take her.”

Abigor seethes at his brother, grasping my arm. “Dauki karuwa da kuma tafi, ku bugu wawa!” he hisses. “Leave my sight. Here you go again, spoilin’ somethin’ that we supposed to be havin’ a good time at.”

0o0o0o0o

I’m back in my chair. The dance hadn’t lasted long due to Iron Coyote’s rude interruption. I want to rip each follicle of hair out of his head slowly and painfully. Abigor stares dully out at the crackling fire, sipping at his fifth goblet of wine. Does he never tire of the drink?

I watch as Arlena is taken before the public eye and jostled about like a rag doll. I look away, for it’s not something I’d ever approve of or enjoy watching. I feel sorry for her, and I believe that I realize my luck, sitting upon a nice throne next to the most beautiful man in all of the land.

I see another man break out of the crowd and land a powerful punch to the other man’s jaw, the one that was having sex with Arlena. I watch Abigor sit up in his seat, leaning forward with interest.

Before I can realize it, I turn my head back and the two men are battling viciously. The one with the longer hair swings and hits the shorter haired one, knocking him to the ground.

The shorter haired barbarian quickly scrambles to his feet, kicking up dirt around the fire. The crowd forms a circle around them, watching and betting on who would win the fight. Blood trickles down his face. The shorthaired one looks awfully younger than the older, longhaired one.

“Tell me something,” I beg him. He gives me a look before sighing.

“Black Bear,” Abigor whispers to me. He points to the younger, short haired one. “Shymal is the commoner’s name. Very gentle, most likely the gentlest out of all of us.”

I glance at the longer haired one. “And what about the older one? What it is his name?”

“Grey Hawk,” he replies. “Or Alcott. He is a strong, stubborn man. He can be cruel…but yet again, all of us can be.”

I find myself routing for the one named Black Bear. He looks about seventeen or eighteen years old, his sweaty, damp black hair kissing his shoulders. He has blue markings and tattoos on his body as well.

Grey Hawk’s long hair is not as long as Abigor’s but reaches his middle back. Grey Hawk has many more tribal tattoos than Black Bear, but I suppose it’s because Grey Hawk’s been around longer than he has. I suspect he’s four years older than me, about twenty-four years old.

Black Bear’s nose is spouting blood like a spigot and his lip is red and puffy. Grey Hawk has less damage on him, a few scratches on his arms, and a busted lip. The older man lands a fatal blow to Black Bear, and he’s down on the ground with a sickening crack. He struggles on the ground.

I begin to panic in my seat. “He’ll die!” I find myself crying out. My fingers grip the sides of my throne, watching intently.

Black Bear is still on the ground. Grey Hawk steps over him and prepares to land the final blow. But the younger one is clever and knocks his heavy body into Grey Hawk’s leg. The older one tumbles to the ground. Black Bear grabs a fairly large stick on the ground laying close to him and presses it against Grey Hawk’s neck in one quick motion.

“Yi biyayya! Yi biyayya!” Black Bear screams. Grey Hawk is very red in the face and flustered as he struggles under Black Bear’s pressure and the force of the stick. I can tell that Black Bear is screaming for Grey Hawk to submit and yield.

Grey Hawk’s hand hits the dirt floor three times. The crowd roars in approval, pounding their feet on the logs and cheering Black Bear’s name. Arlena gets up from her place on the ground and goes to Black Bear’s side. He pulls her in close and kisses her cheeks.

As for the loser, Grey Hawk is shamed for losing a fight and gets his hair cut off a few inches. Four for losing the fight, and two more for losing to a minor. He looks pissed off in the process, gripping the fallen locks of thick black hair in his hands.

Punishment for loss.

I glance over at Abigor and see his long hair reaching his hips. It’s very clear to me that he’s not lost a fight in a very long time. In the end, Black Bear gets the woman and the credit and Grey Hawk is left for dust.

Now that the fight is over, people begin to dance, drink, and eat again. I find my thin stomach grumbling. I hadn’t eaten in a while even though food was endless in the barbarian castle. I stand and go to the table of food.

There are meats beyond belief, and there’s nothing but meat. Chicken legs and wings, pork slabs, ham cuts, turkey drumsticks, and chunks of beef resting on plates, flies buzzing hungrily around it all. They’re all hot and cooked.

But out of the corner of my eye, I see a lone piece of green fruit sitting on a white plate at the end of the table. I can tell that there were once more than one of those strange fruits on the platter, but all were taken.

I’m not really big on eating the meat with the extra flies on it, so I make my way down to the table. As a reach out to grab it, another hand beats me to it. I look up to see a tall, beautiful barbarian woman in front of me, biting into the light green fruit. The end looked like a star.

I reel back in shock. Her hair is cut short near her ears and her big, wild eyes are filled with resentment. She smiles sarcastically at me, tilting her head. “Dakiki,” she mutters.

I turn slowly, not wanting a fight with this strong woman. She spits on the ground, a chunk of fruit coming with it. I cringe at it and begin to walk away. “Tiger Claw, no?”

Apparently Tiger Claw was the universal name that the barbarians used to call me, and not just Abigor and Three Horses. I turn back around and nod my head slowly. The burly girl looks me up and down, her long russet legs bared and silky. She does not look like the harem girls.

She wears a short deerskin skirt with a flimsy top that showed her toned stomach. She is very tall, wearing moccasins and a ruby around her neck. “Yes,” I reply.

The young woman uses her short fingernails to grip into the flesh of the fruit and her fingertips to break it in half. Juice spurts out at me, but I don’t flinch. “Y-You take,” she stutters. By the way, she speaks, I can tell that she has not spoken the Common Tongue for long and was not very good at it.

I hesitantly take the fruit and lift it to my lips. The taste is similar to an apple’s and a pear’s tastes both combined into one. It’s quite good, I decide. I nod my head up at her. “Thank you,” I whisper.

She looks down at me, unsmiling. “No,” is all she can manage to say. I look up at her in confusion.

I furrow my eyebrows and swallow a bite of fruit. “What do you mean?”

“Na gode,” she tells me. “T’ank you be na gode.”

My eyes widen in understanding. “Na gode,” I repeat. “That means thank you?”

She nods. And then walks away.

I’m left standing at the table, wondering what just happened here. I see her across the fire, standing next to Black Bear and rubbing his muscled chest. She says something to him in Hausa that I do not understand and he laughs, kissing her on the cheek. She pushes him hard and smiles.

Now that’s the meaning of tough love, I think. I grab a turkey drumstick off the table for Abigor. If he doesn’t want it, I’ll eat it. I don’t particularly care.

He’s watching as another fight breaks loose in the crowds. I sit down in my throne and hand him the turkey drumstick. He jumps when I shove it in front of his nose, and then gives me a cold look. But he takes it anyways, tearing into it viciously with his teeth.

I smirk. And before I know it, the fight is over. The loser gets 5 inches cut from his hair and the winner gets a whore for the night and a higher status title as well as a longer window for their hair to grow before their next fight.

0o0o0o0o

He is angry tonight. He is drunk. After the shagali, he came onto me hard and fast. He wanted me badly, and I was too scared to give him what he wanted. I ended up slapping him and he ended up shoving me outside of his door while he fucked Athenodora inside. I sat and listened to his throaty, husky moans and her high pitched squeals of pleasure as she was thrown about in the waves of ecstasy.

I’ve been out in the dark, hot hallway for about an hour. I suppose that he fell asleep with her and completely forgot about me outside of the door. He told me that if I ran off to the harem, I would be punished. He did not tell me how I would be punished, but I was not prepared to find out.

The sound of crickets, owls and night frogs is the only thing I hear. I lean against the wooden door, my legs hugged to my chest and my hair covering the sides of my face. I feel tired, but my mind is alert.

And then I hear it; a drunken laugh, and a pair of stumbling feet down the hallway. I stand and press my back against the door. The torches in the hallway light the way a little bit, well enough for me to see the figure of a barbarian man to emerge.

My heart pounds. “Karuwa,” I hear him say. I’ve been around long enough to know what I’m being called, and that karuwa means ‘whore.’ I’m suddenly very afraid. This man is not Abigor, and he will most certainly have his way with me without my consent.

I do not recognize this man. He is tall, but his face is one I have never seen before. It is not Three Horses, Drinks of Waterfall, Iron Coyote, Black Bear, or Grey Hawk. I’m as still as a statue, completely frozen in time.

My eyes are like a deer’s right before the arrow plummets through soft skin. My hands shake at my sides. I fear that if I make any noise, he will strike me. I try the doorknob behind me. Abigor has locked the door.

He reaches out and grabs me. I squeal, but his mouth encloses mine. He tastes of strong alcohol and drink. My nails claw at his skin, but he does not move away. Instead, he presses on, callused fingertips rubbing at my skin and pulling my skirts up. When I scream, he backhands me.

I feel myself beginning to faint. But before I do, I see the doorknob rattling viciously as the man attempts to drag my limp body down the hallway. And before the world goes dark, I see Abigor standing there with wrath in his eyes and hellfire pumping through his veins.

Heart
When I open my eyes, I do not recognize where I am. Warm water surrounds me and I’m leaning up against a hot, and hard chest. I’m not fully with it but I can tell that I’m in a bathtub. But with whom? That’s the greater question.

The bathwater is tinged slightly red. I groan. My bones ache and my mouth is sore. The last thing I remember before I blacked out is that man trying to rape me. But did it happen? My eyes snap open and I abruptly upright.

The cold air hits my naked skin—naked. I turn around and see him sitting there, a startled look on his face. He, too, is naked. I’m horrified. How did my clothes come off? What did he do to me? He’s seen my body, me in my most vulnerable state.

I slide away from him quickly, to the other end of the bath and cover myself with my hands. “What did you do?” I ask him softly, too afraid to look him in the eye.

He does not jump to answer right away, and that worries me. Tears stung at my eyes. It’s obvious he went against his word. Blood is everywhere. My blood. “Relax, you are still budurwa,” he says. “Do you not remember what happened?”

It is early in the morning, but still very dark outside. My wet hair sticks to my face as I frantically try to assess the situation. “No,” I tell him. “I don’t. But what I want to know is why I’m in the bathtub naked with you. And why you’re covered in…in blood.”

He looks down at himself. He’s caked in it. He grits his teeth and looks away. “You are mine,” he snarls, glaring at me from his peripherals. “I thought I made that pretty damn clear.” That still does not answer my question.

I narrow my eyes at him. “That has nothing to do with anything,” I tell him. “Absolutely nothing.”

“No,” Abigor interjects, his voice raising an octave. “That has everything to do with it!” The force and vibration of his voice ripple the water and tears through my skin. His eyes are furious. He is fuming.

I shrink back into the bath water, his tone of voice rattling my bones. I want to cry, but I don’t want to show him my weakness. I want to be strong, but his hard eyes knock me right back into being afraid. The candlelight flickers in the dark room. He lifts an arm. It is slashed, right across his tribal tattoo. I gasp and reel back in horror.

He nods towards a cloth on lying on the floor near the bathtub. At first, I’m confused, but as I see the blood soaking through the rag, I get a gut-wrenching feeling. “What…what is that? Oh gods, Abigor, please tell me it’s not.”

Abigor looks at me dead on, his gaze steely and brazen. “It is.”

I’m horrified. But I should have known. Tears came anyways. He’s a barbarian, of horrible ways and traditions. I want out—I don’t want to be here anymore. “How could you do that?”

His eyes widen in shock. He leans forward, hellfire in his eyes. “Do you not remember what he tried to do you?”

Suddenly, the memories come running back. Me, standing with my back pressed up against Abigor’s door in the night. Me, scared to death. Him, down the hallway, staggering like an idiot. Him, everywhere on me. I stare down at the bathwater in horror.

As soon as he’s satisfied with my reaction, he leans back in the bathtub and looks at me. “Yes, I killed him. I cut his heart out with my knife and wrapped it in that cloth for you—I wanted you to see it, gruesome as it is… And I will show it off to all of my people, letting them know that if they come close to you again, that is their fate.”

I’m frozen. The words just do not come. My mouth opens and closes, but nothing comes out of it. My heart slows. His face is stricken with pain. He licks his dry lips and caresses my knee. I jerk away from him.

He sighs, his heavy chest rising and falling slowly. “Did he hurt you badly?” Abigor asks me. I shrug my shoulders. His head drops, wisps of hair falling into his eyes. “I know it’s my fault. I threw you out jus’ to fuck.”

“No,” I interject. “It was my fault. I refused you.”

“And I was a drunken fool to begin with,” he tells me, shaking his head. “I should’a listened to you when you said I’d had enough wine to drink.”

I stare at the long gash on his arm. It still bleeds into the water. “He hurt you,” I murmur.

He slightly smirks. “But I kill him.”

Now’s not a time for laughs. “Let me see it,” I say. Suddenly my nakedness and fear are gone as he slowly and tentatively inches towards me, his face blank, but his eyes curious. I examine the gash. It was curved like it was made by one of the barbarian khopesh swords. I grimace. “It’ll get infected if we don’t treat it soon,” I tell him.

I look up at him and meet his blazing eyes as they burn holes through my skin. “You are beautiful,” he murmurs. His free hand reaches up towards my face and strokes my cheek, pushing my wet hair behind my ear. His hand cradles my cheek.

The lull of crickets and night frogs is the only other sound we can hear, besides the blazing hearth and the beating of two hearts as one. “I am plain,” I whisper, with a little smile.

He shakes his head. “No,” he tells me. “Any man who makes that claim will lose his tongue. Your father must have been a magnificent thief, little one. He stole all the stars from the sky and put them in your eyes.”

I look at him and blush. “My father was no thief. You, my king, are the greatest thief of them all.” He smiles at me smugly, then cringes when the hot water laps onto his wound.

I look up at him. “I should bandage it now,” I say. He nods and waits for me to get out of the tub. “Close your eyes.”

“Why?” he asks. “I am no stranger to the female body. And now I am no stranger to yours.”

I swear that my face can’t get any redder, but it does. I know that he’s right. So I stand up right in front of him and exit the tub. I can tell he definitely wasn’t expecting that by the flustered and lustful look on his face. I grab the towel before I can take too long of a look at my naked backside.

0o0o0o0o0o

“Alright. That should do it,” I say as I finish wrapping up his arm. He’s sitting on the bed, watching my every move as I float around his grand bedroom. “How does it feel?” I ask him.

He moves his arm around in circles. “Stiff,” is his final verdict. “But hurt? Ba. No. You are good healer.” He reaches out and grabs me by the hem of my nightgown. It is still night and I am still tired.

Abigor pulls me between his legs and presses me against his tall torso. Even while sitting, he towers over me. His tongue darts out to moisten his dry lips. I gulp. I want to pull his mind off of the lust that he is feeling at that moment. “Do you want me to—”

“Kiss me,” he cuts me off abruptly, his eyes staring deeply into mine. “I protected you. I defended your honour. You should kiss me.”

It was all true. I’d only ever kissed a man once, and that was with young Lord Cordell, and it was merely a peck on the lips before I ran away with glee. “And…this would be your reward for saving your lady?” I question softly.

He smiles and hugs me closer to his body. “So you know you are mine,” he says warmly. “I like ‘dat. A lot.” His big hand slides slowly over my nightgown, touching my back and my neck, spreading warmth down my spine.

His fingers curl around my neck and gently pull me forward. I’m scared, but I’m ready. I’ve been fortunate enough not to bed him for a while, and kissing me has most likely been on his number one checklist spot for a while now.

When my lips touch Abigor’s, I feel the warmth, the passion, and the lust bleeding out of him and into me. As he presses me to his chest, I can feel his heart thump loudly in tune with mine beneath his breast. With his teeth he gently urges my mouth open, nipping at my bottom lip tenderly before dipping his tongue into my mouth for a tentative taste.

And I do the last the thing I ever expect to do. I moan loudly; the way that his tongue is rubbing against mine makes the inner sex appeal inside of me blossom like a flower in the springtime. As he hears my moan, he deepens the kiss, which I didn’t think was possible, and grabs my backside, squeezing me in his large hands.

He grabs the underside of one of my thighs and swings my leg over his hip, and then he follows with the other one. I’m surprised with my reaction. I hook my feet together around his back, pulling myself closer. His warm hands slide from my knees all the way to the insides of my thighs, caressing the soft ivory skin there.

When he cups me there, I buck up in surprise, trying to get his hand away from such a forbidden place. But as his fingers start to work magic, I find myself giving into the foreign sensation. “Yes,” he whispers. “Oh, soyayya. Give in to me. Give in to what you want.”

I bury my face into his shoulder as he peppers gentle kisses down my bared neck and touches me in that special place that makes me feel so good. “Oh, what is it?” I ask him, my lips mashed to the side of his broad, muscled shoulder.

He chuckles deeply, his smooth baritone bass gliding through my ears like a piece of music. I shudder. “It is your passion, the lust that you have been so selfishly keeping from me for too long,” he says.

I want to kiss him again. The wine that I had overloaded on before bed was starting to kick in. I felt dizzy with lust and passion, whereas my normal-self would have been backing away into the corner. I lift my head back up, and before I can even request, his lips are on mine, moving in perfect sync and suckling tenderly. My insides turn to jelly almost immediately.

I break away, a strand of saliva still connecting our swollen lips together. My eyes are heavy-lidded and his breathing is laboured. “Let me finish you,” he says.

I shake my head, blinking my eyes slowly. “I-I don’t understand what you mean.”

He gives me another kiss. “Then I shall be your teacher.” He reaches out and touches my lips. “Lips. Lebe.” Then he kisses the spot above my breasts. “Breasts. Kiraza.”

“Lebe,” I reply. “Kiraza.”

Then he touches me there again, hard and fast. I fall off an unseen cliff, crying out into his shoulder. “Pleasure,” he gasps, his voice husky. “Dadi.”

“Dadi,” I whisper softly. “Dadi. You touched me. I’ve never been touched like that before.”

He cradles me in his arms. “You have never been touched in many ways, budurwa. But prepare yourself little one, for I am known for my skill in the bedroom. I shall treat you well.”

I look into his eyes. And for once, I don’t see him as a filthy barbarian king that steals, kills and rapes. I see him as a teacher, a friend, a brother…a lover. “I trust you,” I say. And I really do mean it.

0o0o0o0o

We sit by the fire in the night, sipping a glass of wine and sitting by the fire. The open window blows cold air into the room, so the fire blazing inside of the stone hearth does us both some good. He sits in his chair while I sit on the floor, back pressed up against the wall.

The firelight flickers off of his beautiful being, casting shadows along the perfect contoured edges of his face. “Tell me a story,” I beg of him. The crickets croon loudly in the night, making me feel peaceful, quiet and at ease. I have forgotten the events of the earlier night.

He lifts the goblet to his lips and takes a small sip. I watch his Adam’s apple bob as the liquid slides down his throat. “What would you like to know?”

“I don’t know,” I whisper and shrug my shoulders softly. “Anything, really. Something to pass the time here. I don’t know if I wish to sleep just yet.”

He leans back against the furs of his seat. “Very well. I shall tell you of my family.” He lights his pipe with a match and slips it between his lips. I draw my knees to my chest and rest my chin atop them. “I had three other siblings. Iron Coyote, then my twin sisters Gentle Raven and Snow Lion. I am the youngest.”

I listen to him intently, my head cocked to the side with interest. “I did not know of your sisters.”

He leans against the armrest of the chair. “Snow Lion, or as we call her by her Commoner’s name Mairwen, is married off to the one you know as Three Horses. They have a family and Snow Lion is under his name now. Gentle Raven, Lavanya, died when I was five, and she was 7. I s’pose it was some kind of common illness gone rogue.”

I bite my lip and lower my head a little. “I’m sorry.”

He shrugs. “My mother died the same way when I was seven, my only other sister Snow Lion was nine, and Iron Coyote was twelve. That was thirteen years ago. My father didn’t raise us. We were raised by house-maids but were punished by my father. He’d whip us when we did somethin’ wrong. When my brother was whipped, he’d sit there an’ cry like an infant bein’ slaughtered. I’d sit and take it surprisingly well for a young boy, five years younger than my brother. My father took notice of that.”

I look up at him in the darkness, admiring how the firelight danced off of his skin so perfectly. “You have many scars on your back,” I remark. “Were you punished often?”

He nods, drawing from his pipe a long curl of smoke, then let it fall out of his lips like a smoky waterfall. “I deserved it most of the time—stealin’ from the kitchens, gettin’ into fights with other kids, and breakin’ valuables.”

I can’t contain my laughter. “But aren’t you brought up to steal?” I ask him. “That’s what you do. You steal, you fight, and you break. I don’t understand why your father punished you for that.”

He looks at me in the eye, his lips pursed. “I was touchin’ things, I guess, that was already rightfully stolen. I was a hell of a troublemaker when I was a boy. My father admired my fighting skills most of the time, but when I nearly killed the butcher’s son for slapping my lil’ eight-year-old girlfriend, he kind o’ snapped on me.”

My mouth drops open. “Well, how’d you almost kill him?”

He closes his eyes for a moment as if trying to rekindle the memories of that particular day. “First, I choked him. Then I brought out my new khopesh, the one that my father gave to me on my eight birthday to practice with, and cut a long gash on his arm. I was about to slice his neck open, but the boy’s dad, the butcher, came out and chased me away with a hot iron skewer before I could deliver the blow. I got thirty lashes that night after the butcher went and complained. My father was in a rage.”

I find myself biting my nails when he finishes his story. “Do you still know that little girl?”

“I used to be in love with her,” Abigor tells me. “White Fawn was her name. We were together until our fifteenth summer. She married another against my will. I willed her to stay with me, and I could marry her. But her father had already sold her. Her husband beat her when she went wrong and showed her no love. When she was pregnant, he beat her for not movin’ fast enough, for bein’ ugly in his eyes, and for throwin’ up regularly in the mornings and making the bathrooms smell. And when she gave birth, it killed her. The child was a stillborn as well.”

I feel tears at the corners of my eyes. I can tell that it kills him to talk about her. “And what of the husband?”

“I wanted to kill him,” he bit out. “But I couldn’t. Because he was my brother.”

I reel back in horror. “Your brother married your first love?” I ask him in shock. He nods. I suck my bottom lip into my mouth and chew on it softly with my teeth. I can only imagine the pain.

“And,” he begins, settling the little glass goblet of wine back on the wooden table beside his chair. “That’s why I don’t want you anywhere near my brother. If you see him, turn your back and come to my side. He won’ hurt you by my side. He wouldn’t dare. I not gonna lose you too, Tiger Claw.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “But I’m nothing but a whore to you. You don’t love me.”

He opens and closes his mouth like a fish thrown out of the water. “I-I…um, well. I feel very…strongly obligated to protect you. Don’ know why. Just do.”

I sigh and lean back against the wall. “So I’m no different than the other whores in the harem, like Cassandra or…perhaps Athenodora?” I watch him thickly swallow as he leans back in his chair. I smirk. “You seemed to be enjoying Athenodora quite a lot last night.”

His face turns red in the darkness of the morning, but I can still see the colour of his cheeks. “I tol’ you I was sorry about ‘dat,” he tells me stiffly. “I shouldn’t have done that. But the real point to it is that you’re different than the other whores. I tol’ you b’fore that I t’ought you were a challenge. The others are common lust. What I had with White Fawn was…love, I t’ink. Stupid, young love.”

I stretch my legs out on the cold floor. “And with me…it’s just a desire of the flesh?” I ask.

Abigor looks at me, contemplating things inside of his face. He’s having a mental battle. “With you, Tiger Claw?” He clears his throat. “Both. I want you, but I also want you safe…in my arms. It’s where you belong.”

I’m surprised by what I hear, and what he tells me—how I belong in his arms, how he wishes me safe, how he wants me. “I don’t…”

He cuts me off before I can say more. “You do.”

I look down at my bare feet, my legs are hidden beneath the white cotton of my nightgown. I do not look up at him when I speak. “You killed a man for me,” I say, my voice breaking the deadly silence. “I never thought…”

He shakes his head, his hair falling into his eyes. It’s wet, soft, and unbraided. Strands of black cover half of his face and I can only see one of his beautifully intense eyes staring back at me. It spills over his chest and down to his hips. “No, never,” he says in sarcasm. “I’m the king of the barbarians. And I’m the nastiest fucker of em’ all.”

I’m silent as I stand, letting the chilly breeze float through the window blow my nightgown forward. “Not by what you’ve told me,” I object. “You had a rough childhood.”

He watches my every movement as I walk to the counter to pour myself a glass of wine. Abigor waits as I pour the red liquid into my goblet. “Weakness,” he growls. “You’re a weakness. I can’t say no to you. If you were any other person, I’d have fucked you by now. Tell me somethin’—why are you so enticing?”

I take a sip of my wine. “You tell me,” I retort. “I don’t entice myself.”

He smirks, winking at me. “You’re all fire. Fire and fire usually don’t balance each other out, but in this case, I think we’ll manage. Our fire will spread.”

I blush, my cheeks burning bright. I lift the goblet to my lips against and gulp down the rest. I hurriedly pour myself some more.

“Come sit,” Abigor tells me, gesturing his lap. “Warm me with that fire o’ yours.”

I bring over my goblet. I’m hesitant to sit on his lap. “I’m fine, really—”

“Sit, or I’m making you sit.”

I sit on the edge of his knee tentatively. Almost instantly, his bulky arms wrap around my torso and he tugs me roughly back against him. I almost choke on my drink, my arms and legs flailing. I’m lucky I didn’t spill my wine.

I can feel his lips against my ear. He seductively nips my lobe. I’m uncomfortable, despite his warm skin and soothing pine scent. “You’re wicked,” he murmurs in my ear, his deep bass vibrating through my canals. “Take a little an’ you turn away. You drivin’ me insane.”

He kisses my neck and I hiss, jerking forward, rubbing the tender spot. “I hurt you?” he questions. I point to the hand-shaped bruises on my neck.

“No, your brother. He choked me hard, remember?”

He grimaces and leans forward, pushing away my hair to examine the bruises. “They are healing. But not completely gone, yet.” He kisses my neck, his lips much softer this time. He decides it’s not enough for him. He roughly turns my face towards his and crashes my lips down onto his.

I gasp, my eyes widening. It wasn’t something that I was expecting to happen. When I pull away, his eyes are heavy-lidded and his lips are swollen. He towers over me, his chin barely skimming the top of my forehead.

I splay my palm against his chest, shifting in his lap. “A heart for a heart,” I whisper to him, blinking in the soft orange firelight. “Is that the game of a king?”

He shrugs his shoulders. “Perhaps we should get some sleep now.” He grabs the wine goblet out of my hand and sets it down on the table. Then he picks me up off of his lap and settles me into bed, laying his heavy body close next to mine.

I splay myself out on the pillow, my hair in my eyes. The fire still burns. He slips off his breechcloth and climbs into the bed, naked. He keeps to his side of the bed with the only thing touching me being his gentle but rough, callused fingers stroking my cheek.

I turn my head slightly to look at him. “Goodnight,” I whisper. He nods and rolls over onto his side.

My eyes are drifting shut when I hear him speak again. “A zuciya ga zuciya,” he whispers in his deep, husky voice. My eyes peel slowly back open and a slow, honey-sweet smile paints over my face slower than molasses.

And I don’t even need to ask him to know what that means.

Claim
He still sleeps when I awaken. I lean over him slightly, watching him as he sleeps soundly; the gentle rise and fall of his chest, his soft and laboured breathing.

Suddenly, his hand flies up from beneath the covers and grabs me by the neck. I choke, my eyes widening. He doesn’t fully see my face since it’s still dark in the early morning. His eyes blaze in the darkness, but as soon as I reach my hand out and touch his hot cheek, his realizes whom he’s choking.

Abigor drops his hands, a look of sheer disgust on his face when he sees what he’s done. I collapse to the bed coughing and grabbing at my neck. “Fuck,” he curses. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

I look up at him through the curtain of hair hiding my face, my brows crunched together. When I see the worried look on his face, I soften. “No, it was my fault. I startled you when you were sleeping.”

He sits up and reaches for me. I unconsciously flinch when he touches me, pouring salt onto his wounds even further. He pulls away, his black hair framing his face. “I got to always be alert. I don’ know if it’s someone tryna kill me or not.”

I nod my head, trying to get oxygen down my dented air canal. “That’s fine, it’s okay. I just…I don’t know.”

He frowns, rubbing his forehead with his sweaty palm. I have already dressed in emerald green silks today. These silks bare my back and drape loosely over my chest and legs. It’s beautiful. I’m adorned with an emerald necklace as well.

Abigor takes one look at me and scratches the back of his head. “I haven’t seen ‘dat one in years,” he murmurs. I’m puzzled, and he can see it on my face. “That was Gentle Raven’s favourite one to wear.”

I gasp and clutch at the silks. “Oh, I had no idea! I’ll take it off straightaway—”

He holds up his hand. “Leave it on,” he tells me. Then he smiles slowly. “I like it better on you, anyway.”

0o0o0o0o

I step into the dining hall. I shoot Abigor a sideways glance and he nods at me in an assuring way. He wears a brown breechcloth woven with green lines. He strides into the hall and the whole table rises, cheering for their king. He grins widely, lifting his hands and allowing the praise to be heard.

He gestures for me to follow him. I slowly creep behind him, keeping my head down and my shoulders slouched. Abigor shoots me a look and I instantly straighten up. He does not like it when I slouch like a scared little girl.

I square my shoulders and tip my chin upwards. The men cast their glances at me before dropping their eyes back down to their plates as they sit. I really don’t feel like sitting on Iron Coyote’s lap again, so I stick as close to Abigor’s side as possible.

He nods towards a chair right next to him. He gives the man occupying the seat a nasty look. “Move.” The man picks up his plate and dashes out of the seat like he’d just seen a ghost.

I take the seat as he passes a plate of onion fried potatoes, eggs, and grizzly looking fried sausage links to me, then a full glass of goat’s milk. “That was cruel,” I tell him.

Abigor gives me a look, chewing on the end of a sausage link. “You want a seat or not?” he says somewhat rudely. I close my mouth and look at the plate. The food is steaming, and I’m very hungry.

“Where are the forks?” I question him. He gestures to the plate, picking up a potato piece with his fingers and popping it into his mouth. I frown and touch the food. It’s too hot and I burn the tip of my finger. I yelp and yank my finger away quickly. I find myself grumbling to nobody but myself only a moment later. “Out of all the stealing you do, you couldn’t steal a single fork?”

He hears me and grunts out his laughter. His lips quirk up at the edges and he shakes his head slowly. “All fire,” he murmurs. “Tsarki wuta.” Then he leans over to Drinks of Waterfall, who is sitting right next to him. “Shin ba ta wani abu abu?” (Pure fire. Isn’t she something else?)

Drinks of Waterfall chuckles deeply and nods his head. “Ta na kamar wuta daga farko. Michelle bã kõme ba ne irin ta. Ita shiru da kuma jin kunya, amma tana da fasaha a dakin kwana.” (She was fire from the start. Michelle is nothing like her. She’s quiet and shy, but she has skill in the bedroom.)

He nods his head and laughs loudly. “Haka ne, dole ne ka son mace wanda ya san yadda za su gama da ku.” (Yes, you must like a woman who knows how to finish you.)

Drinks of Waterfall smirks widely and nods his head. “Ta na da hanyoyin da karuwa, amma ba zan iya ganin ta ba a matsayin karami kasancewarsa ya fi I.” He picks up an egg with his fingers and swallows it whole. “Babu karuwa da mine ya taka bi da ni da yadda mutum ke girmamawa a matsayin ta ba ni. Ina sha’awan cewa … don haka sai na bi ta da kyau a samu.” (She has method and skill of a whore, but I cannot see her as a lesser being than I. No slut of mine has ever treated me with as much respect as she gives me. I admire that…so I treat her well in return.)

Abigor nods his head slowly. “Tiger kambori ne wuta, amma ta amuses da ni kwarai.” He looks at me and chuckles. “Ta na da ta’aziyya zuwa da kewaye.” (Tiger Claw is fire, but she amuses me greatly. She’s a comfort to be around.)

I have no idea what they’re saying, but I know that Drinks of Waterfall is talking about Michelle. Abigor turns back to me and looks at my full plate. I stare at him. “Eat,” he tells me sternly. I look back down to my plate and pick at a potato.

A second later, I find myself choking on bits of potato as his fingertips skirt across my thigh. He gives me a certain look that tells me to be quiet and not make a sound. I’m afraid that if I don’t obey he’ll be pissed. But I don’t want to make a scene either.

I shakily pick up my drink as Abigor moves his chair closer to mine. His hands are hot on my thighs; they feel like they’ve been roasting over a hotplate for hours. I choke on my goat’s milk when a long finger strokes up between my folds. I make a little noise, slightly slamming my glass down on the table and clenching my thighs tightly together.

It’s a reaction of mine that comes with being touched. But clenching my thighs together traps his hand there, right at my heat. His eyes widen slightly at first, but then they become heavy-lidded with lust and a slow smile spreads across his face. Drinks of Waterfall looks at him funny, then glances over towards me.

I do my best to keep a straight face. But as his finger slides upwards, I lose my cool. My face turns bright red and my head slumps down a little as I squeeze my eyes tightly shut. Abigor’s completely calm and collective at the head of the table. No one even suspects anything’s going on.

He’s touching me with one hand under the table and eating with the other. He chats in Hausa to the other barbarians, laughing and shooting me seductive little side glances. I clench my thighs again when he tries to insert a finger inside of me.

Using his hand, he jerks his arm and roughly forces my thighs open. He jams a finger into me, hooking it perfectly and running it along my sweet spot. I cry out in pleasure rather loudly and stand up abruptly. I’ve frightened myself. The whole table is looking at me. Abigor’s face is red—he’s laughing—and he brings the finger that he’d inserted up into his mouth before sucking on it delicately.

I look away before I can become too flustered and smile meekly. “I spilt a little milk on my lap,” I tell the whole entire table of about sixty men.

Abigor sits up in his seat a little, grabbing a piece of meat off of his plate and popping it in his mouth. “Ta ya zubar da madara,” he translates for me. They all nod and resume eating. I’m horrified with myself, and my reaction to his evil doings. Trying to do that at the breakfast table is completely sinful.

After I’ve finished eating, I walk off into the other direction and out of the hall. Abigor calls out for me to wait for him, but I don’t. I’m halfway into the west wing corridor when a heavy hand lands on my shoulder.

“T’ought I said to wait, huh?” he grumbles.

I fold my arms. “Why’d you have to touch me there in the morning? You made a complete fool of me in front of your most-trusted warriors.”

“No,” he corrects me. “You made a fool of yourself. A woman that don’t know how to conceal her pleasure is a woman deemed inexperienced. But luckily for you, soyayya, I plan to fix ‘dat for you.”

I gape at him. “You are such a barbarian!”

He laughs. I don’t realize that the term meaning to insult him is actually what he is. “Yes. The king of them, if you not already noticed that.” His hair sweeps over his shoulders when he leans forward to nuzzle my cheek with his nose. “But I know how to pleasure you like a god.”

I close my eyes tightly and take a deep breath in through my nose. “I am absolutely mortified—”

“I need my hair braided,” he blurts out, cutting me off in mid-rant. “I won’t ask you ’cause you already a little singed. I’ll get one of the other girls to do it for me.”

He pecks me on the cheek.

Then leaves with a hard-on.

0o0o0o0o

I’m sitting here in the corner of the harem, pouting with my arms folded over my chest. When he said that he’d get one of the other girls to do it for him, he wasn’t kidding; and he didn’t mean maids. He meant the whores.

One sat on his lap, placing tender kisses on his neck while another fed him green grapes right off the vine and another fanned him, keeping him cool in the hot weather with a giant leaf. Cassandra was the one braiding his hair. Needless to say, I was jealous.

Michelle lay on her old cot near the back of the room, absently braiding her own hair while looking at a drawing of a barbarian man. To get my mind off of Abigor having fun with his ladies, I get up off of Evalyn’s cot and make my way over to her.

She looks up as I sit down, smiling brightly. “Elizabella,” she greets. “I feel like I’ve not spoken with you in a millennium. How have you been managing?”

I cast a glance back at Abigor. Camellia moves sensually in front of Abigor, baring her behind to him. He reaches out and gropes her. She bends over almost instantly, peering back at him through a curtain of black hair.

I huff a heated, “Fine” back at her. She weakly smiles and nods, letting the braid she’d been weaving fall out of her hair. “How are things with Drinks of Waterfall?”

“Who?”

I give her a look. “Your master,” I say.

“Oh!” she exclaims. “I almost didn’t recognize the name. I don’t call him Drinks Of Waterfall. He’s given me the privilege of calling him by his commoner’s name, Tristan. It’s easier for me to say. Especially in our love-making sessions.” Michelle giggles at the last line. I want to roll my eyes, but I refrain.

I can’t help but look back at Abigor. I notice that he has not smiled once while with those girls. Sulpicia offers a green grape. He takes it between his teeth, sensually rolling it in his tongue. Her eyes flutter and she smiles seductively.

I turn back to Michelle, even angrier than I was before. I pick up the sheet of papyrus lying on her bed and examine the charcoal strokes on it. It was a perfect picture of Drinks of Waterfall. I look up at her. The girl’s got her lip pinned between her teeth as she looks up at me. “Did you draw this?” I question.

She nods her head quickly. “Do you like it? I drew the picture while I was in his room. He was drinking his wine in silence, so I took advantage of the time. He’s just so beautiful, Elizabella. I couldn’t resist.”

The charcoal strokes show the definition of his high cheekbones and the gentleness in his almond-shaped chocolate eyes. How his hair hangs in his eyes and falls out of his braid, how his full russet lips look when he smiles, and how he has a slight dimple in his chin.

She shifts in her seat. “I’m debating on whether or not I should show it to him. I’m afraid he won’t like it…afraid he’ll think me odd for drawing it. I do not know the customs here.”

I set the drawing back down on her cot and nod my head. “Well, he ought to be called a fool if he doesn’t like it.” I smile at her and she smiles brightly back at me.

“Thank you,” she whispers. “You’ve really put my mind at ease.” Michelle picks up her drawing and folds it in half. When I look back at him, I find him staring right back at him.

He nods at me and beckons me to come over. I slide off of the cot and walk slowly over to him, my green silks kissing my thighs. “Get me some wine,” he tells me. I frown. I had stupidly thought that he summoned me over to have me tend to him.

But no, he only wishes me to fetch him some wine. I nod my head solemnly, turning my back and heading out the harem door to the kitchens. My head slumps forward and the corners of my lips droop into a frown. I drag my feet all the way to the kitchen. Anyone can see that I am upset, but no one asks.

In the kitchen, I see a familiar face. It is Black Bear, the young man that had defeated Grey Hawk at the shagali. He is alone, sipping from a glass of red wine at the counter. I stare at him for a moment, frozen in my place. Either he does not notice my presence or he just does not wish to acknowledge it.

I walk to the cupboards and fetch a cup from the shelf. When I look back at him, I find him to be staring straight at me. I jump and gasp, my hand flying to my fluttering heart.

Black Bear does not laugh like Abigor would have. Instead, he reels back, mirroring the shock. He squints his eyes at me. He opens his mouth to speak, but he closes it right back up a moment later. I point to the glass of wine in his hand, and then to my cup. I almost do not notice how much my hand is shaking.

“Giya?” he asks me. I think giya is the word they use for wine. I nod my head. He goes to the door next to the crates of potatoes, carrots and green beans. It is the door to the ice-room, where the cold wine is stored along with other foods and drink.

He walks into the room, looking for the glass container of wine. He holds it up when he spots it. “Na same shi,” he announces. “Da giya.”

I set Abigor’s goblet down on the countertop as Black Bear places the large class container of wine into my hands. The wine is cold, and it momentarily numbs my fingers. I set it on the counter next to Abigor’s goblet and tug out the cork in the top. He is still standing there, watching me with his tender black eyes while he sips his own wine.

I tip the glass over and the red liquid pours into the cup until it is full. I sigh as I push the cork back into the top of the glass container. I meekly look at him and smile shyly. “Na gode,” I whisper.

His eyes widen. He stands up straight after having been leaning against a crate of carrots and nods his head. “Na’am.” He swallows a large lump in his throat. “Ana jin harshena?”

I have no idea what he’s just said. And apparently, he knows that since the completely perturbed look on my face gives me away completely. I struggle to get my words out. “I…I do not…” I make frustrated gestures with my hands. “No speak. Ba tare da.”

This time he chuckles, but only a little. “Ah. You only know the basic words, is that right?”

My mouth drops and I swear that my surprise and fluster can’t get any worse than it already has. “You speak the Common Tongue as well?” I question.

He nods his head, his short braid sliding over his bared shoulders. He is well-defined, but lacks muscle mass, unlike Abigor. “I s’pose all of us are taught the common tongue from a young age. We need to know the words of the people that we invade.”

I shake my head. “Language. Not words.”

He nods his head. “As you can see, I’m still learning your…your…langawidge. That how you say it?”

I laugh. “Yes. It is close enough.”

“Me haka ke faruwa?” (What the fuck is going on?)

The loud booming voice is enough to prick up hairs on the back of my neck. I instantly whirl around. Abigor’s standing in the doorway, fuming mad and glaring daggers at innocent young Black Bear.

The younger boy cowers slightly and backs slowly away from me. Then Abigor turns his terrifyingly powerful gaze onto me. “I t’ought I tol’ you to get me the wine!” he booms. His hair is braided and it spills around his waist.

I hold up the wine. My grip is so shaky that the red liquid inside of the glass graciously licks the sides of the goblet. “I-I did.”

“Took you goddamn forever,” he spits at me. I flinch back at the force of his words.

I go from being scared to being annoyed. “I was only gone for a minute.”

“Babu,” he hisses. “Longer than a minute.” Then he turns to Black Bear, cursing at him and puffing up his chest and making crude gestures with his hands. It looks to me like a territorial statement.

And then the next thing I know, I hear a sickening crack and I see Black Bear writhing on the ground with his hands cupped over his nose. Blood drips through his fingers and he squirms to try to get away from Abigor.

Abigor grabs Black Bear by the neck and prepares to deliver another blow, but I cry out, stopping him right in his tracks. “Stop! Stop hurting him. He did not touch me!”

He doesn’t even spare a glance towards me when I say it. He only stalls his fist, holding it mere inches from Black Bear’s face. The younger boy frantically looks at me and then looks back to Abigor in fear.

I go to him and lay a comforting hand on his heated shoulder. He looks back at me, his eyes animalistic and primal. “Please don’t hit him,” I whisper. “I promise, I absolutely promise you, that nothing happened. He only showed me where the wine was so I could pour some for you.”

He releases his hold on Black Bear and lets the boy drop to the ground in fear. His big hand comes up and runs his warm fingers down my skin. “You are not hurt then?”

I shake my head. “I never was.”

Black Bear races out of the room with his wine like a scared little boy. Abigor completely ignores him, looking at his hands, which are stained with the younger man’s blood. “I t’ink it’s time.”

I furrow my eyebrows together. “Time for what?”

“For the claim speech.”

0o0o0o0o

He throws the bloody muscular organ down onto the floor. It lands in a ‘squish’ sort of sound, blood splattering everywhere. The crowd of nearly 200 men being to chatter in disgust, wondering whose heart lay on the floor there.

I sit on the pillow and try not to retch from the sight of the heart of a deceased man lying limply on the stone floors. It was a much prettier sight wrapped in the cloth. When Abigor begins to speak, I do not understand what he says. But my clever mind can infer.

“Wannan shi ne zuciyar mutum,” he says, pointing at the red organ on the stone floor, leaking blood onto the floor. “An tsage daga kirji da mutum ya yi kokari ya sa hannunsa a kan wata mace. Kuma wãne ne mace? Ita Tiger kambori, na mace daga karfe mulkokin Bellechester.” (This is the heart of a man. It was torn from the chest of a man that tried to lay his hands on a woman. And who is the woman? She is Tiger Claw, my woman from the iron kingdom of Bellechester.)

The men in the room are silent, eyes widened, mouths shut, ears listening. Abigor continues with wrath in his eyes. “Ban yi imani da cewa na yi ya bayyana a fili cewa Tiger kambori ne mine. Na da’awar da su kamar yadda kaina, kuma wannan shi zai sa ta gaba daya kashe iyaka zuwa gare ku, al’aurar mata-ji yunwa bastards.” (I do not believe that I have made it clear that Tiger Claw is mine. I have claimed her as my own, and that makes her completely off limits to you cunt-hungry bastards.)

I watch him as he steps down from his place at his throne and kicks the heart on the floor a few feet. He laughs menacingly. “Za ka iya ba shãfe ta ba tare da izinin ta, za ka iya magana ba mata, na iya ko kalle ta ba tare da izini na! Na yi tofi a kan maza da cewa suna da hadama kamar yadda ya dauki wani mutum mace a matsayin nasa. Idan ba ka so ka kawo karshen sama da ciwon zuciyar ka a kasa a can, sai na shawara ka zauna bãya. Na stomp a kan zukãtan mutanen da suka sa hannu a kan mace! (You may not touch her without my permission, you may not speak to her, and you may not even look at her without my permission! I spit on the men that are so greedy as to take another man’s woman as his own. Unless you want to end up having your heart on the floor there, I advise you to stay away. I stomp on the hearts of men who lay a hand on my woman!)

His boot comes down heart on the floor. I look away as spurts of blood rocket out of the veins and openings in the muscular organ. “Idan ka sosai kamar yadda ya zo kusa da ita, zan sa sharar gida a gare ka! Zan kone ka innards kuma ka ciyar da dabbobin ka, mount kanka a kan wani gidan kamar boar ta, da kuma jefa ka fita zuwa cikin laka ga acid da ruwa a wanke kan ka Rotting jiki.” (If you so much as come near her, I will lay waste to you! I will burn your innards and feed them to your animals, mount your head on a post like a boar’s, and throw you out into the mud for the acid rain to wash over your rotting flesh.)

He picks up the crushed heart and throws it into the crowd. The men shuffle to get out of the way. “Kada a goge maganata kashe sauki. Duk da yake ina gane cewa wannan gargadi, dole ne ka gane cewa wannan ma barazana. Kada ka yi kuskure a gare ni, da na maza,” he rants. “Na yi alkawari wadannan sakamakon a kanku!” (Do not wipe my words off easily. While I realize that this is a warning, you must realize that this is also a threat. Do not mistake me, my men. I promise these results to you!)

My heart is pounding and I find myself feeling ill and sweaty. He is done with his rant now. He summons one of his servants over to throw away the body part and clean up the floor. He walks back over to me and shows me the quick flick of his wrist. “Up,” he says.

I stand and follow him out the door. As I leave, the men shuffle out of the way so quickly, acting as if I have an extremely contagious disease that could kill them instantly. I don’t know what Abigor’s said to them, but his ‘claim’ speech was quite a passionate and angry one.

I race to his side. None of the men will look at me. I tap his arm. “Abigor.” He does not answer. His face is red and he looks quite flustered and upset. “Abigor!”

He raises his hand as if he wants to slap me, but he stalls. “What did I tell you about calling me my commoner’s name in public?”

My eyes are as wide as saucers and my lip is quivering. “I…I’m sorry.”

His shoulders slump and his head ducks down into his hands. His thumbs rub his temples in circular motions. “No…no, it’s alright. Just remember next time, yes?”

I nod my head. He curls a huge, bulky arm around my waist and pulls me along down the hallway. I lean into his embrace comfortably. “What did you tell them? I couldn’t follow along.”

He stares ahead, the corners of his lips fighting the urge to quirk up into a smile. “Just somethin’ that needed to be said. That’s all.”

I frown, looking up at him. “Tell me.”

“No.”

“I demand you to tell me—”

“You do not demand,” he snaps. “I demand. And I demand that you ask no more questions.”

Now he’s only made me even more curious as to what he’s been talking about. As soon as we’re in his private chambers, I feel slightly more comfortable about being with him. I sit on his bed while he sits in his favourite chair, smoking his pipe. “I want you to teach me more,” I say. “Please.”

Abigor glances at me out of his peripheral vision. “Woman. Mace.”

I nod my head. “Mace. How do you say, ‘I am a woman’ in your language?”

“Ni mace.”

I stand from my seat and point to myself. “Ni…mace.”

He nods his head. “Heart. Zu—”

“Zuciya,” I blurt.

He looks at me in minor shock and smiles softly. “You learn quick.”

I shrug my shoulders. “A zuciya ga zuciya.”

He silences at my line. He knows what it means. “Thief,” he continues. “Is barawo.”

“And how do you say ‘you are’?”

“Kai ne.”

“Kai ne barawo,” I tell him. “Ni mace. Ni…Tiger Kambori.”

He smiles widely this time. “You shall be speaking fluently in no time. Most people say that Hausa is a difficult language for correct pronunciation, but you seem like a natural.”

I shrug my shoulders. “Because I’ve you to help me with it. What better teacher is there than the king of the barbarians?”

He leans his chin into the palm of his hand, letting the pipe in his other hand die down a little. “Na’am.”

“And that means yes,” I tell him matter-of-factly like he doesn’t already know that.

“How about I quiz you?” he questions. I nod my head quickly in agreement. I’d love to test my knowledge. “Mace.”

“Mace. Woman,” I reply.

“Barawo.”

“Barawo. Thief.”

“Hannayen.”

“Oh!” I exclaim. “This one is hands. It even kind of sounds like hands.”

He nods his head. “Good. And zuciya?”

This word is my absolute favourite word of all. “Zuciya,” I reply. “Is heart.”

“Giya.”

“Giya. Wine.”

“Alright,” he says, sitting up in his chair. “I’ve got another one. I want you to guess it.”

I nod my head. “Very well. Tell me.”

“Tawa.”

I bite my lip in confusion. “Oh, but this could be any word in the world,” I complain weakly. “Give me a hint at least.”

He nods his head. “It rhymes with the word for giya.”

Giya means wine. He wants me to find a word that rhymes with wine. Vine, swine, fine, line, whine, pine, dine, shine, shrine, sign, twine. And then a word pops into my mind quickly. I look up at him. A storm is brewing in the shadowy depths of Abigor’s eyes. “Is the word mine?”

“Na’am.”

I fold my legs over one another. “And how do you say, yours?”

“Naku.”

I tuck a tendril of hair behind my ear. “I see,” I whisper. “Naku da tawa?”

He lifts the pipe slowly back up to his lips, taking a long drawl of the smoke. He keeps his eyes on mine the whole time. He yanks the pipe away from his mouth as a dragon of smoke comes curling out from his lips. His eyelids flutter shut. “Na’am.”

Sin
Abigor had said to me that he needed to tend to some royal business. The royal business is also known as preparing for the next raid. The barbarians are relentless. He told me to go to the harem and stay there until further notice. He told me he doesn’t like the idea of having me running rogue around the castle where the other men lounge around.

But I was quite fine with going to the harem. I had a few questions that I figured that some of the harem girls would understand and answer for me. When I walk into the room, I notice it’s mostly empty. Cassandra sits on her cot, lazily staring out one of the large windows in the side of the wall. It is placed high, probably designed to keep the whores from escaping the harem.

Sulpicia, Didyme, Athenodora, Evalyn and Ivona are gone from the harem. Even Michelle is gone. Cassandra sits up from her place at the cot. “Hello,” she greets softly. “I haven’t seen your face in quite some time.”

I blush and clasp my hands behind my back. “Nor have I seen you,” I reply quietly. I look around the room. “I suppose it’s a busy day since no one’s here.”

Cassandra nods her head, her blonde curls bouncing. “Oh, yes. The men have been very hands-on lately. I haven’t gotten a break since…well, since fifteen minutes ago when Three Horses dumped me back in here.”

I sit down on the edge of her cot. She moves over and makes room for me. “I thought Three Horses had a wife,” I whisper. “Isn’t she the king’s older sister?”

“Snow Lion?” Cassandra questions. I nod my head. “Oh,” she laughs. “Snow Lion is very pregnant right now and Three Horses has been selfishly deprived of cunt for a while since her bits are hurting.”

I find myself frowning. Three Horses should be by his wife’s side, comforting her and helping her through the painful pregnancy. He should not be in the arms of another woman while she’s lying in bed in pain.

“Quite honestly,” Cassandra begins. “I believe that he should be at home, by her side instead of fucking me here but men do whatever they wish to and fuck whomever they please. His wife is almost certainly ready to pop any moment now.”

“Oh my,” I reply. “Who’s there with her?”

Cassandra shrugs her shoulders. “Probably some midwives and close female friends. Men aren’t allowed into the birthing rooms.”

I cock my head to the side in confusion. “I’m not quite sure I follow. Men are not allowed to see their children birthed?”

Cassandra laughs, her green eyes flashing with mirth. “No, silly,” she laughs. The way she goes about it makes me feel like a complete idiot. “Men in this kingdom have never witnessed the birth of their children. It’s always been a custom…and I’m sure men would not want to see that anyways.”

I frown again. “Men back in my kingdom would be at their wife’s bedside, comforting her through the process. I suppose it’s horrid not having your lover there with you.”

“Correction,” Cassandra interjects. “It’s not horrid, it’s the barbarian way.”

I tap my fingers on the cot, chewing my lip softly. A question has been inside of my mind for a while now and I don’t quite know how to ask it. I know that we are in a harem, the girls are bedded often and most times quite quickly. “And what happens to a woman if she becomes impregnated?” I question.

Cassandra leans against the back of her pillow, leaning her head against the stone wall. She looks at me from under her blondish-brown lashes. “Do you know how many men have illegitimate sons and daughters? About every single one of the king’s warriors have at least one or two. The women birth the children and then care for them on their own. That, or they leave them.”

I scoot closer to her on the cot, my brow furrowed. “What do you mean? The mothers leave their children?”

She sighs. “You cannot expect much more from these people,” she explains to me. “They know not of the customs and the so-called humane things from back in our kingdom.”

I’m disgusted, and all I want is to rid my mind of it all. I find myself already longing for him. “Tell me all you know about our king.”

Cassandra leans over to Evalyn’s little sunny haven where her cot and her lush healing plants were kept and plucks a ripe, red berry off of one of the vines. “He’s hard,” she simply says, popping the fruit into her mouth and letting the colour bleed onto her pale lips. “He’s a very difficult person to deal with in general.”

Hard doesn’t quite match my mind’s image of Abigor when I think of him. I think of him as kind, gentle and…well, different from the others. “Expand on that,” I tell her.

She pops another berry into her mouth, offering the extra one she had to me. I turn her offer away. She clears her throat before beginning to speak again. “Well, whenever I tried to…you know, get it up, it would take me like forever. I’d have to be really, really naughty for him to want me. And god, he wouldn’t take me unless I begged.”

My eyes widen. He doesn’t have a problem getting erections when he’s with me, and I don’t even have to do anything to make him aroused. He just…does. “Tell me more.”

Cassandra sighs. “He’s a good lover. He’s smooth and fluid in the bed, and I’ll have to say Elizabella, that he’s the most attractive man I’ve ever had the duty of bedding. No man back in my kingdom could have even come close to his beauty. But he sure does have a flaring temper. He rarely has bursts of rage, but when he gets angry, he lashes out instantly like a wildfire and burns everything around him. He’s nothing like Iron Coyote. Dances With Wolves is strong.”

This time I take the berry she offers me. I bite into it and the sweet and bitter taste floods my mouth. “I have another thing to ask. What is a claim speech?”

She gasps loudly and the berry that she was holding falls out of her palm and onto her sheets. “Why? Has someone made a claim speech on you? Elizabella, tell me. You must tell me now.”

I hold up my hand to cease her chatter. “Alright! But you must tell me what a claim speech is first so that I might tell you whether or not the someone has made a claim speech on me.”

Cassandra sighs. “It’s really rarely ever done, so I doubt it could be…the real thing. Anyways, it’s when a man chooses his woman and gathers his peers and all men that could pertain to Eliza in a room and claims his love, protection and ownership over the woman. Usually, the speech is passionate but often mistaken for angry and forceful with words. She is his, and to all others, she is referred to as his claimed mate.”

I cock my head to the side. “Claimed Mate?”

“Yes,” she gestures roughly with her hands. “It’s called a claimed mate because once he claims her as his own, she can love no other. These people religiously follow their beliefs, and how they once ran as brothers amongst wolves in ancient times. And once a wolf claims his mate, their together for life. So the elders made up a rule that if a man wanted and loved a woman enough to claim her, he could make her his claimed mate. And they’d be together forever. Most men do not. But the tradition is not yet dead; some still do.”

What she has just described really sounds like my earlier half of the day. Abigor’s speech was angry. He kept glancing back at me and I knew that he was talking about me. And the heart of that man that tried to rape me, still lying on the floor, was still a reminder.

I swallow thickly and take a drink out of Cassandra’s glass. Suddenly, Evalyn and two other girls burst in through the door. Evalyn is elated and her hair is dishevelled. “Sannu, ladies!” she squeals.

Ivona lumbers after her, her lip split but a smile still on her face. Evalyn welcomes her over to her healing station with the plants, water, and healing creams and potions. She slops some yellowish cream over Ivona’s split lip and kisses her cheek. “It should be good as new in no time at all,” Evalyn tells her. “I understand that Iron Coyote can be rough.”

The sleek woman smiles softly. She is beautiful, with soft curves and a friendly glance and smile. She is foreign and exotic and I have never seen someone quite like her. “Iron Coyote loves me,” she stubbornly replies. “And I will unconditionally love him back.”

I frown. How could someone as beautiful and kind as Ivona love a beast like him? “He doesn’t deserve your love,” Sulpicia says for me. “If he beats you, he deserves no woman’s love.”

Ivona flops down on her cot. “Oh, but rough sex is what really gets him going. I’d do anything for him.”

“And that’s what makes you a fool,” Arlena chimes in. The other harem girls laugh at Ivona’s scowl.

She immediately lashes out. “You ought to just admit that you’re just jealous because Iron Coyote’s never shown any interest in you at all—”

Arlena throws her hands up in the air. “Yes! As if I would want that man’s dirty cock stuffed up my most sensitive parts with his brutal hands around my neck. You are a half-wit for not seeing it!”

They both lunge at each other, but Arlena is yanked away by Sulpicia, and Ivona by Evalyn. Cassandra stands up on her cot. “Do you both even realize what you’re fighting about? We shouldn’t waste our time and friendship on a man. Especially not Iron Coyote.”

Ivona stamps her foot on the ground like a little, spoiled child. “You are—”

“Hush,” Cassandra growls. “No more out of you. I haven’t got time for arguments about how innocent our prince is; we all know he’s the exact opposite of an angel. It’s just that you don’t see that yet.”

Sulpicia snorts, staring at her blunt fingernails while lounging on her cot next to Arlena. “She’ll see it soon enough.”

Ivona yanks Evalyn’s hands off of her and storms off to her cot to pout. Cassandra sits back down and grabs back the glass of water that I’d been holding stiffly. “That’s mine,” she hisses at me before smiling triumphantly. “You’re too easy, Elizabella.”

Evalyn looks up from where she stood at her plant table, her spectacles shining brightly in the sun. “Who’s been eating my berries?” she demands. Cassandra smiles, revealing glossy red-stained lips. Evalyn shakes her head in disappointment. “I should have known. They could have been poisonous, Cassandra. You’re quite lucky.”

She scoffs at Evalyn. “And why would you have poisonous berries on display in the harem?”

Evalyn narrows her eyes at Cassandra from beneath the rim of her glasses. “You never know what I might need for my concoctions.”

The blonde drapes herself across my lap, spilling a little bit of water on her sheets. “Just tell me if the damn things are poisonous, will you?” Cassandra’s hair tickles my thighs. She looks up at me and smiles, her tiny fingers beginning to toy with the silk that I wear. “I like this fabric.”

Evalyn sets another pot on top of her worktable. “No,” she announces to Cassandra. “The berries weren’t poisonous. But if you try eating my ingredients again, I’ll be sure to put the poisonous ones out on display.”

Cassandra ignores her. “So,” she begins. “You never even told me about the claim speech and all of that mumbo-jumbo. What’s the deal?”

The door opens behind me, distracting me from Cassandra’s chatter. It’s him. The blonde girl instantly peels herself off of my lap and sits up straight. He looks straight at me and cocks his head out the door.

I stand up. I know that he means for me to follow him.

0o0o0o0o

He’s brought the dinner into his room that night. It’s dark outside and I’m hungry, but I’m also confused. Abigor’s sitting at the table in the far right corner of his room with his face illuminated only by the fire.

I slowly walk to join him there, staring down at the plate of simmered, smoked meats and bread dipped in some kind of sauce. There’s a goblet of wine in front of me. I look up at him and he just stares, waiting for me to sit.

He picks up a chicken leg and bites into it. He looks at me again. My eyes fly down to my plate. My fingers skirt over the piece of bread and I lift it up to my mouth, taking a small bite of it. It’s not bad.

When I look back to him, I find him staring straight at me again. My face grows red in the firelight. “You have not spoken to me in over an hour,” he says between bites of chicken. “What’s the matter?”

I swallow the bread and sigh, brushing my hair behind my ear. “I want to know about that speech,” I tell him. “I’m curious about it and you’ve given me nothing whatsoever.”

He picks up his wine and takes a large gulp. “‘Cause it ain’t somethin’ I feel that I need to explain right now,” he protests, his voice husky and deep. It vibrates through my ears, filling the quiet room, overpowering the soft crackle and pop of the fire.

I frown and prod at my food with the tip of my finger. “Na riga ya sani,” I tell him. “Amma ni ina son ka ka gaya mani da kanka.” (I already know. But I wanted you to tell me yourself.)

He looks up at me, the chicken in his hand falling back onto the plate. “Who taught you?” I shrug my shoulders, refusing to tell him a thing. He grits his teeth, shaking his head and sighing. “Who told you?”

I groan loudly, my head falling backwards. “Oh, it doesn’t matter who told me! It was you that didn’t tell me.” I push away from the table and go to stand by the fire. He’s after me as soon as I step foot in front of the fire. He comes up and stands behind me, his heavy hands resting on my shoulders.

I flinch away from his touch. “What makes you think that I am yours?” I hiss at him. “I have known you for not even a month. Yet you’re claiming me as your forever mate, your…your claimed mate and you didn’t even tell me?”

When I turn around to stare at him, I find that his features are solid and unmoving and that he is cold. “You are mine,” he hisses right back at me. “Remember taka? You even said it yourself, little one.”

“How am I yours when you don’t even love me?” I ask him, my voice level raising an octave. “You only care about fucking me.”

He looks at me like I’ve just grown another set of eyes on my forehead. “No,” he manages to spit out. “Not true!”

I tug at the ends of my hair in exasperation. “Yes, it is true. I guarantee that once you fucked me you’d be done with me and leave me for the others. I’m just a challenge.” Tears stung in my eyes because I know it’s true. “I’m just a toy and you’re a child that will play with me while I’m interesting and new, but once I’m used you’ll just throw me away.”

“Never,” he hisses. “I’d never.”

I don’t listen to him. “No, that’s just how you are.”

“Then why’d I make that speech, huh? If I didn’t want you for the rest of my life, why did I claim you?” His voice is louder than mine and cuts me off during mid-rant. His bulky arms encircle me, picking me up off of my feet as he carries me over to the bed. I struggle, but I’m pitifully weak against his strong hold on me.

He throws me down on the bed, pinning my arms above my head and rolling his hips onto me. I gasp. “Let me up, Abigor!”

He just stares down at me with dark, black eyes. His hair spills over his shoulders and frames my face like a curtain. All I can see is him; I’m trapped, his eyes scanning me like a predator does its prey. “No,” he replies thickly, confident and tough. “I don’t t’ink you realize the extent of my want, my need for you.”

He ducks his head down and kisses me softly on the side of my neck. I try to pull myself away from him but he keeps me right where I am. He presses hot, open-mouthed kisses over my collarbone, one hand keeping my own hands pinned to the bed and one hand resting on the side of my stomach.

“I don’t understand it,” I explain to him. “I don’t understand what a claimed mate is.” Even though I had just heard the explanation from Cassandra, I want to hear it from his mouth.

He stares at me from under his thick black lashes. “Means that you are mine for all eternity. I chose you because you are different from the rest. I told you that I’d wait for you. I’ve never done that for any woman before. I take them, and like you said, I throw them away like a child does a toy. But not you, never you. And I never knew why I felt like ‘dis towards you ’till I went an’ asked the elders and they tol’ me that it was, in fact, somethin’ different.”

He lets me pull one of my hands out of his grasp to reach up and trace my fingertips over the contoured lines of his prominent cheekbones. He leans his face into my palm. “I’m glad it was you,” I tell him. He looks a little confused, so I go into more depth. “I mean, I wouldn’t want to have been kidnapped or held hostage by anyone else.”

He chuckles, the ends of his lips slowly stretching into a smile as sweet and soft as the springtime. “That’s good. I couldn’t ask for a better prisoner.”

Abigor rolls off of me and onto the bed beside me, laying his palms flat across his muscled abdomen. “How we always end up like this, huh? Mad and then okay. I can’t ever stay angry wit’ you. Dunno why.”

I prop myself up on my elbow. “Yana da … saboda … um, ni mai kyau.” (It is…because…um, I am good.)

He looks at me astonishment before breaking into a smile. “How did you learn so quickly?”

I lean my cheek against my palm. “It’s called, a lot of free time in Abigor’s room with books.”

“You want to learn,” he states. “That’s something different.”

“Yes,” I agree. “While I’ve got nothing else better to do while you lock me away in my tower for hours, I snoop and read your books.”

He doesn’t at all seem bothered by the fact that I go through his books while he’s away talking about the raids with his men. “You like to read?” he questions.

I nod my head. “Yes,” I say again. “I’ve always loved reading.”

“Book,” he says in a gruff voice. “Liffatin. Can you repeat that back to me?”

“Liffatin,” I repeat. “That’s a beautiful word. You know, back in my kingdom there was a little shop called a library and it harboured many, many books. Some were sad, some were happy, some were full of action and tales of courageous princes and princesses, fictional tales of fire-breathing dragons and faeries and demons. A book is where imagination takes flight.”

He seems interested in what I have to say. “They are kept at…library?” he questions. I nod my head. He looks back up at the ceiling. “Don’t have no library. But I got books. Parchment scrolls.”

I curl up into a ball on Abigor’s bed, nestling my head against the soft pillows whilst he stretches out like a young lion in tall, dry grass. “Interesting.”

0o0o0o0o

I’ve not yet finished my dinner. He’s lying in bed waiting for me to join him there. I can’t help but think that he feels more love than he’s actually shown me. I’d never been shown such gentleness from a man back in my kingdom—and the ironic thing about Abigor was that he was the king of the barbarians. And gentle was the exact opposite of a barbarian…supposedly.

“I want to be your teacher,” he says. I turn around and face him, mindlessly chewing on a piece of chicken. He narrows his eyes slightly. “I want to be the one to show you. I want to show you how to touch a man properly.”

I glance at him. “And when did you lose your virtue?”

He pauses before answering. “Twelve.”

I choke on the wine gliding smoothly down my throat. “Twelve? And how old was the whore?”

Abigor starts to smile a wickedly mischievous smile. “Anna was 27 at the time.” The look of disgust on my face makes him throw his head back onto his pillow and laugh a great, loud, hearty laugh. My eyes pop with amusement. “But on a more serious note, you’re a complete budurwa; virgin even to your own pleasure.”

I shake my head and try to explain. “Where I am from, women and girls are not taught of their pleasures until they are married. The pleasure was forbidden, especially for women. If a young girl was caught doing away with herself, she’d be beaten.”

The look of repulsion on his face tells me that he obviously does not agree with the rules back in my kingdom. “Your people act like pleasure is a sin.”

I nod my head. “Oh, but it is a sin.”

He laughs, drumming his long fingers on the wooden bedpost. “Then I have sinned, and sinned, and I will continue to sin.” Abigor looks at me to see my expression, to tell what I am thinking. My face is tinged red with a soft blush that has crept up on me when I was least expecting it. “What? It’s not like you don’t know that I touch myself. I found myself to be doing it more often when you tease me like this.”

I turn away from, trying to swallow the thick lump in my throat. He sits up from his lounging position against the downy silk pillows and moves to sit beside me. “Does this make me less appealing to you, Tiger Claw?” he asks, brushing a wisp of chestnut hair behind my ear. “Does the thought of blood, and sex, and sin repulse you?”

When his warm hand comes down on my bare knee, I pick it up and cradle it in my lap. I absently looked down at it, chewing my lip in thought. “No,” is my conclusion. I glance up at him and I find that he appears to be a little relieved. “A man without blood and sin on his hands is a man that has not lived.”

He slips a finger under my chin and turns my face towards his slowly. His eyes are full of passion and want. But beneath the tough and possessive demeanour, he’s so much more. He’s sweet, caring, and all he wants is someone to stand by his side- and the person he wants is apparently me.

So when he kisses me, I do not pull away or resist him in any manner. It pleases him. He swipes his tongue across my bottom lip before smacking one more kiss, sealing the deal, before leaning back against the bed. “I’ll always wait for you…no matter how long it may take. But I doubt you’ll be able to stay away from my charm.”

“Well, I…”

“You can’t resist me forever, Elizabella,” he tells me, his eyes locked on the ceiling. “This level of lust for someone has crossed the line between bearable and unbearable. Between resistant and irresistible.”

I blink my eyes stupidly at him. He pats the place beside him. “Come,” he orders. “And sleep.”

0o0o0o0o

I wake up in the middle of the night, a cold gust of air hitting my naked back. The back of my nightgown must have been unlaced somehow. I sit up in bed slowly, making sure not to wake him up.

Except for the fact that he was not there beside me.

I don’t quite know why, but my heart begins to race, and my eyes search for him frantically in the dark. Where would he be in the middle of the night? Does he leave all of the time?

I push the covers off of me and slide out of the bed. The fire is nearly dead, but I can still see around in the room. Abigor is not in the room. The door is cracked open slightly, but the hallway is pitch black. Where could he have gone?

I grab one of the scented wax candles off of Abigor’s jewel table and bring it to the dying fire. I thrust it into the embers, trying to get it to light. But the fire’s bright glow sinks into the logs before a spark can touch the tip of the candle. “No!” I hiss softly in the night.

Before I know it, I’m surrounded by darkness. I sigh somewhat loudly, my great whoosh of breath coming down onto the tip of the candle and igniting a nearly-dead spark that has graced me with its presence.

I hold it up into the night. It flickers and sways on the tip of the candle, duly illuminating areas around it. It is better than nothing. I make my way to the door, careful not to trip over anything and make a loud ruckus.

The door creaks when I push it open. I clench my eyes shut and sigh; any loud noises could give me away. Once the door is pushed wide enough open for me to slip out of it, I dart down the darkened hallway.

I turn a corner, my bare feet slapping gently against the cold stone floors. And finally, at the end of a long, empty hallway, I see a door cracked open with a great firelight emitting from it. I walk slowly. I still do not know if he is there, or if he is alone and wanting my company.

I’m at the door. Both my mind and heart are racing, my hand shaking as it reaches out to push the wooden door. He is laying on the couch by a great stone fireplace. My eyes widen at the sight of books and books lined up on dusty wooden shelves.

His back is to me; I cannot see his face or what he is doing. I presume him to be sleeping. His head lays on the armrest of the couch and one arm hangs off of the edge. His eyes are shut.

My heart beats faster as I creep forwards and examine him. He’s breathing heavily for someone who sleeps, and it interests me. And then I notice something that hadn’t been noticed before. His breechcloth lay on the floor beside the place where I stand.

Leaning forward, I can a chest who muscled contours are sketched in flickering shadows. He is not sleeping. My mind begs me to look away, but my eyes stay locked on the scene before me.

His hand runs up a long column of hard, swollen flesh to fondle the tip before his fingers skate back down in a dragging stroke. Heat rises into my cheeks and bursts like summer fire-works, spreading the lustful embers throughout my body.

He opened his mouth to taking shaking breaths, his lips trembling as his hand worked at his manhood ferociously. There he was, in his most vulnerable state. I slowly crept backwards until I was behind the safety and comfort of the door.

The sound of slick flesh against his hand couldn’t be heard before I’d stepped into the room, but it now seemed to be magnified in the hollow of my ear. And he moaned, no more than a quiet, wispy sound carried on the wind, but it sounded like a scream.

His hair spills over the edge of the couch’s armrest as he lays his head back, eyes squeezed tightly shut, forehead lined with beads of sweat. He pants quietly over lax, sensual lips. The rough, physically-inclined king of the barbarians can’t look more vulnerable, stripped of his weapons and his possessive and inhumane conduct right down to the flesh.

Abigor’s skin is tough and thick, thick enough to keep it all in; even the gentleness I know that he harbours. It is a glimpse below many layers of that thick, impenetrable skin to the artless yearning of a lonely soul seeking comfort and personal pleasure at his own expense.

His movements speed up, fingers pulling at the base of his cock, then swirling back up to the tip, which was already leaking from the immense pleasure he was giving himself.

My womanly parts are slammed with heat as they tug at the end of my white flannel nightgown. And for the first time ever, I touch myself with the intention of seeking pleasure and delivering it upon myself.

Faster he goes, the muscles in his chest and abdomen twitching and bulging as he lifts his pelvis to meet his hand. “Fuck,” the crude word falls from his lips softly. I’m entranced by the way his hand moves up and down that beautiful, tall column of flesh, the way his face contorts in pleasure in the firelight.

My fingers work at myself quickly, amazed by the feeling that it gives me. “Na mace,” he moans. “Eliz’bella.” I refrain from gasping, but I know well enough to know that he’s thinking of me while in the midst of doing that sinfully, sinfully seductive thing.

I moan quietly and lean my head against the wall, letting myself go. I hear him grunt, then cry out a sticky white fluid pours all over his chest. I turn away before he can realize I’m there and rush back down the hallway.

I lay in bed waiting for him to return. I face the wall so that he may not see my face and wrap myself in bed sheets. The door opens softly a moment later. I can see him out of my peripherals, wiping himself down and sliding into bed, completely naked.

Guilt wracks my body. I shouldn’t have been looking upon him, and I shouldn’t have touched myself. But it felt so good to feel like that, to feel…sinful.

Wet
(A/N: The middle is for mature audiences only, read at your own discretion)

I meekly begin to dress in front of him. His wandering eyes roam my body like a starved beast that has not feasted in a year. The red silks are what he’s chosen for me to wear, along with some pretty golden chains.

He ties his breechcloth around his waist and steps out into the sunlight. My face reddens instantly when I realize that he’s looking straight at me. After last night, I’ve not spoken a single audible word to him. The way he stares makes me feel heated and weak.

But he only shakes his head and smiles, like he knows something I don’t and he’s getting a huge kick out of my squeamish behaviour. I don’t like it. He goes around behind me to help me pin up the silk around my back. I let him do so without fidgeting or flinching when his warm fingertips skirt across my skin. I sweep up my hair and he pins the soft, mango-coloured silk up with a shiny golden pin.

He pulls on his deerskin pants then as I go about fixing my unruly curls, which are particularly tightly spiralled in the morning time. Sitting down at Abigor’s table, the one with the great mirror propped up against the wall, I take my thick hair into my hand and I begin to braid it back tightly so it’s out of my face. I tie the end of my braid with a piece of string.

I frown once I realize that a piece of my hair has come loose and hangs out of my braid oddly. I reach for one of the golden pins on the desk, but my clumsy hand knocks it off the desk. I foolishly dive for it with the belief that I could have caught it before it hit the ground, but instead, I tumble out of my chair and to the floor with a thump.

When I look up, he’s right there to see if I’m all right. When I look up, I’m face to face with the body part that had sweetly and sinfully haunted my dreams last night. He is not yet aroused, but, even in his calm state, the man is still impressive. “Gods, woman,” he says. “You are clumsy, like an infant.”

Abigor grabs my arm and helps me to my feet slowly. I’ve got the pin tightly in my hand, but my grip loosens when I see his face. I have seen his face countless times and realized his sheer beauty, but I don’t think it has truly yet occurred to me that I am lucky; he is a man of splendour and handsomeness and masculinity. The deep cleft in his chin and the way his cheekbones are contoured adds to it.

I am still wobbly, like a newborn calf. I nearly face plant into him when my foot catches on the end of my discarded nightgown, the one that I’d carelessly thrown into the corner only a few moments before. He catches me like he always does. Burying his nose in my hair, he intakes my scent through his nostrils.

“Mmm,” he murmurs. “You wear new fragrances?”

I’m not quite sure what he means at first. But as soon as I see the mischief in his eyes and the way his lips are curled smugly. “Um…oh,” I place my palms flat on his chest and push away from him. The wetness between my legs only intensifies. “You get away from me.”

He only laughs, pulling me closer towards him. He plants a kiss below my ear before pulling my earlobe between his teeth and nibbling gently. “I’m ready when you are, little one. Kawai kuke bukatar tambaya.” (You only need to ask.)

I huff and go back to sit at the table. Looking into the mirror, I pin back the unruly curl and secure it into place. He goes to the table, where a bowl of red paints lays and slops some markings over his copper skin.

I look over at him as I’m placing the crystal headdress over my braid. “Raid today?” I ask him.

0o0o0o0o

Breakfast goes on normally without him touching me from underneath the table. He left me eating while he talked on with his men. I know the language, but not well enough to be able to understand slang and full sentences of it.

Now we are at the stables, getting ready to ride out to some secret place on the backs of our horses. I remember my Rana Fashe, Daybreak, and eagerly mount her. He has already mounted his black stallion Tsakar Dare, or Midnight, and is riding out ahead of me.

The day is bleak and the clouds aren’t quite visible, but it is unforgivably scorching hot outside. I lightly nudge Rana Fashe into a canter before galloping to catch up with Abigor and his horse. He sits proudly upon his horse, gazing out into the tree line with that same egotistical look on his face.

“Where are we going?” I ask him. His men are watching us from behind the corner of the castle, interested in what we’re doing and where we’re going. I see Iron Coyote sneering at me from behind a tree. He makes a kiss at me, and I glare right back at him.

Abigor just ignores his brother as well as the other onlookers, riding out into the day. “You’ll just have to see when we get there,” he remarks. I frown and ride on ahead. “Why do you ride fast when you don’t even know where you are going?”

I look over at him in wonder. “Well…perhaps I am urging you to move faster. The eyes of your men are unyielding; they look upon us both with a certain unwelcome watchfulness.”

With this, Abigor turns around and yells something at his men that’s pretty much unintelligible to me. They jump a few feet into the air before turning on their heels and running off. I laugh; they look like a bunch of scared children that just got caught in the act of stealing a biscuit.

He turns and looks at me, nodding his head towards the door. “Okay. Let’s go.” He digs his heels into Tsakar Dare’s black belly and speeds the horse off into the woods.

“H-hey!” I call. I nudge Rana Fashe’s belly with the tip of my leather shoe and off she runs into the distance, taking me with her. I hang onto the reins tightly as she gallops into the trees, jumping over fallen trees and skillfully dodging the great thorny bushes growing in the middle of the forest. My horse follows Abigor’s great black horse.

The wind runs its fingers through my hair and kisses my cheeks with a light breeze that refreshes me greatly in the hot weather. Abigor’s horse runs fast, and with that, it makes him look stealthy, strong, and nimble. For once, I consider that I might be lucky to have him as a master.

But he’s a thief, I think. Why do I feel this way about him?

As soon as we reach a certain point in the forest, he gets off his horse. I start to slip out of my saddle as well, but he holds up a hand to stop me. “No, stay on.” He grabs the reins of Tsakar Dare then walks over and grabs Rana Fashe’s reins. My horse whinnies and bucks, but the look she’s given by Abigor instantly makes her calm down. He looks up at me and says, “Close your eyes until I say to open them.”

“Why can’t I just—”

“Do as I say.” The voice is so dominating over my whiny, submissive tone. I silence and close my eyes. He pulls my horse through the forest. I sit blindly on Rana Fashe’s saddle, rocking with her movements.

We walk like this for a few minutes before my horse stops in her tracks. “Can I open them now?” I ask eagerly. I don’t hear anything but rustling at first. My eyes fly open instantly and I’m staring straight at him. He’s taking his hair out of his braid, with his back facing to me.

He nods his head. “Yes.” There’s a single feather strung in his long black hair; it’s a beautiful red one, probably plucked from the backside of a cardinal bird. I take a look at my surroundings. I’m blown away.

My mouth falls open at the sight. A giant waterfall surrounded by trees and wildflowers and weeds sprouting out of rocks like little bursts of happiness. Birds sing in the trees loudly, the music of locusts and cicadas ring in my ears. “This is beautiful!” I cry.

He smiles a slight smile, the corner of his mouth peaking up at the end. “This is my secret place in the woods,” he says. “I found it and I claimed it. See the trees?” I look around at some of the trees by the waterfall. They had claw marks in them as well as a bit of animal blood splattered on it.

Abigor places his heavy hands on my wide set hips and lifts me down from my horse. I stand there arranging myself as he ties the reins of the horses to a tree branch. The grass is tall; it’s almost to my knees.

He turns away from me and starts towards the great pool of water that sits below the waterfall. I start to follow him, but then I instantly stop. He reaches around his back and unties his breechcloth and slips out of his pants, throwing them into the tall grass.

Mystified but intrigued, I watch him as he takes a running start before diving gracefully into the water. He emerges a moment later, shaking his hair out aggressively, like a dog. He smiles and chuckles softly. “Water good.”

“The water is good,” I correct him. He gives me a look before mumbling something in Hausa right back at me—it’s probably insulting to my culture, but I’m used to his rudeness by now. I stand back a few feet, sitting on a rock so the cold water doesn’t splash at me.

He watches me from in the water. “Come in,” he suggests. “An’ swim wit’ me.” I shake my head and rub my arms.

“No,” I tell him.

He frowns. “Come in,” he says a little louder, and with a little more force.

“No,” I tell him in a sterner tone. “I don’t swim. And it’s not proper for a lady to be swimming with a male, especially in his naked form. Back where I come from, people would talk generously about this if they caught us.”

He sneers at me, lifting his upper lip in disgust. “Fuck pro-per, you in Barbarian country now. There ain’t no rules here unless I say so. Come in.” I shake my head again, moving back on the rock. He sighs and swims out into the pond. “Guess I’ll just have fun all by myself.”

I don’t say anything. I just watch as he moves around in the water with surprising agility, his muscles rippling with each inch he swims. I sigh and lay back on the warm, flat rock that I’m currently sitting on.

Looking straight up, I see white puffy clouds rolling and tumbling over themselves in a clear, cerulean sky. Trees overflowed with fresh green leaves sway with the passing breeze that runs through the forest with youthful dexterity.

I don’t hear Abigor splashing around in the water, his breath or even feel his presence. I sit up abruptly and look around. He’s gone. He’s not out of the water, but it in—and he must be drowning.

I don’t know how to swim but I can’t risk him dying at my hands, so I strip myself of my silks as fast as I can and go to the water’s edge in a panic. “Oh, fuck me…Abigor!” I swear that my heart’s never pounded faster. I look around in the water, searching for a heavy body floating near the bottom of the clear water. But I see absolutely nothing.

Suddenly, I feel a wet, large hand on my arm, tugging me in. And before I can even register what’s happening, I’m plunging beneath crystal clear waters. I emerge, screaming, with my hair stuck to my face.

And when I see him, I pound on him as if he’s a punching bag. “You scared the absolute hell out of me! Oh, I hate you Abigor, I hate you…”

He fends my blows off with a cocky smile. I slip on a patch of mud and go under the water again. I cry out in shock before slipping into the water a little more. “I can’t swim!” I panic.

He hoists me up into his arms and holds me there securely until I’ve calmed myself down a little. “Shh,” he says. “I’ve got you. I’m not gonna let you drown.” I hang onto him like he’s a rope suspending me over a cliff.

I glare up at him. “Why would you do that? I thought you were hurt. I was getting ready to jump in there and almost kill myself trying to save your backside, which, might I add, was perfectly fine.”

He looks down at me in an amused manner. “It got you in, didn’t it?”

I gasp. “You’re absolutely evil!”

He smirks and starts to walk around in the water while carrying me in his arms. “The water’s nice. Wouldn’t have got you in any other way.”

My mouth drops open slightly. “That’s because I don’t know how to swim!” I cry. “I could drown. Women back where I live aren’t taught how to swim. It’s not proper.”

He corrects me. “Was not proper. But like I said before, fuck it. You’re not in Bellechester anymore, little one. Lay back into the water. Feel the water on your skin.”

I lay back into the water, wetting my braid as well as the crystals on it. I’m in nothing but skimpy scraps of underclothes that I opted to wear under my red silks. I’d never been in anything but bathwater my entire life, and the feeling of floating on top of cold, refreshing water was completely new and sensational.

I sigh and grab at his arms; he helps me sit up in his arms, droplets of cool water running down my cheeks and catching on my long eyelashes. “It’s cold in here,” I tell him. He looks down for some reason and then nods back at me.

“Yeah,” he says with another cocky, arrogant smile. “I can definitely tell.”

Suddenly, I look down at my chest. My nipples were straining against the material that contained them. “Oh…” My face grows extremely red, and I don’t even know what to say to insult him, so I say the first thing that comes to my mind. “Sorry.”

He looks a little taken aback. “Sorry? Why are you sorry for something like that? It’s…natural. S’beautiful. I think it’s…” He leans in close to my ear and whispers, “Erotic. Besides Eliz’bella, I’m more naked than you are.”

I find myself shuddering, more from his tone dripping with sex than the cold water. I slide out of his arms and deeper into the water, covering my chest with my hands and the water. He nods his head towards the waterfall. “C’mon,” he says. “I’ve got something I want to show you. A secret hiding place for just you and me.”

He pulls me towards the rocks and the waterfall. Then he lets go of my hand and jumps up onto one of the rocks in all of his naked glory, and slips behind the great fall of water. My eyes widen. He calls my name, a loud echoing sound only magnified by cave walls and water. I follow him into the back, ducking behind the great falling of water to reach the cave behind it.

Abigor’s already started the fire back there, sitting there watching me with his knees crossed. “Ku zo nan,” he says. “Sit with me.”

I walk over to him and sit next to him by the fire. He’s got a dead squirrel in his hand. I reel back in horror. “Where did you find that?” I ask him.

He looks around the cave. “Here,” he says matter-of-factly. “Where else?”

I grimace. “You don’t know how long it’s been dead for.”

He chuckles humorlessly. “Yes, I do. And it’s been dead for about a minute now.”

My eyes widen and I shake my head. “You are truly what they say you are…a merciless barbarian.”

He shrugs his massive shoulders. “Should live up to my title,” he tells me. “I kill for means of survival.”

I don’t watch when he pulls out his dagger and digs the blade into the squirrel’s belly. “And your men…I suppose they kill for fun?”

Again he only shrugs his shoulders. “I know what they’re capable of. But I’m not there to say whether or not they can kill someone or not. That’s where my brother comes in.”

I gasp in shock. “What are you talking about? Is that why you don’t participate in raids?”

He nods his head and I hear a crack when he cuts the feet off of the squirrel. “My brother would have definitely tried to slit my throat if he didn’t have something to do with the kingdom. My father gave me the spot of King, so he repaid my brother with being in charge of running the raid parties and troops. But I oversee them first.”

“But the killing,” I murmur. “That was at his hands?”

Abigor nods. “I honestly wouldn’t expect any less from him. He is mugun mutum, a no good soul. There’s nothing I can do about his lust for blood.”

I shake my head violently. “No…no, that’s absolute crap. You’re the king, you should have every privilege, every last word! You need to get your brother in control. He’s the one that’s killing so many men, he’s even merciless to the women and children.”

He nods. “I’ll try.”

“Please do,” I whisper.

He nods again. “For you.”

I look up at him and swallow the lump that had been residing in my throat. I touch his tattooed bicep with the tips of my fingers. “Thank you.” He doesn’t answer. Instead, he skewers the skinned squirrel on a stick and thrusts it over the fire. I grimace. “That’s ugly.”

He laughs. “It is, isn’t it? It won’t be so ugly when we cut ‘im up and eat ‘im.”

I scoot a little closer to the fire, pleased with the warmth that it gives me. “I honestly have to say that I’ve never tried squirrel.”

“It’s good,” he tells me. “But small. Like snack, not meal.”

I watch it cook in the fire with interest. “Why are you so kind to me?” I ask out of the blue. I’m feeling particularly brazen today.

He looks over at me through his peripherals. “Do I have a reason not to be?” he asks me. I don’t know what to say to that, so I just settle for saying nothing. “You are a good companion. Loyal. Trustworthy. Strong. Strong man needs strong woman to bear strong children.”

I’m confused by the sentence. What does he mean by ‘strong man needs strong woman to bear strong children’? Does he wish for me to have his children? I don’t question it right away. Maybe he means something else. It’s possible. “You’re very comfortable in your skin, aren’t you?”

I watch as he moves around freely, naked as the day he was born without a trace of embarrassment. “Yes,” he confirms. “Naked is natural. There is nothing wrong with skin. It’s our bodies, and I do not believe we should have to hide them. Shame is not real; it is a mere product of our imaginations. We do not have to feel shame, so I do not.”

As he pulls the cooked squirrel off of the fire, I think about what he’s said. It’s true; we come into this world naked, and natural. We don’t need clothes or jewels to cover up what we have. “Could you help me take this off?” I ask him.

He’s hunched over the squirrel, separating the meat into chunks with his blade. “Take off what?” Abigor asks, not even bothering to look over at me.

I take a deep breath. Am I really ready to go through with this? “My top.” Yes, I am. He turns around quickly, gazing at me with a bewildered look in his eyes.

He leans back on his haunches, opening and closing his mouth like a fish out of the sea. “You…” he points to me. “Want me…” Then he points to himself. “To take your top off?”

I nod slowly, my face burning brightly in the dark of the cave. “I suppose, yes.”

His lips slowly spread into a honey-sweet smile, widening his mouth and creating little dimples in his cheeks. “Well fuck me, I wasn’t expectin’ that. C’mere, little one.”

I crawl closer to him and turn around, lifting my hair so he can see where to release the pin that held the cloth together. With a little click, the fabric falls down my waist, freeing my breasts. I stay there, not knowing what to expect next.

But I feel his hot chest pressing against my back, his chin resting in the crook of my neck. His hands slide down my collarbones and gently cup my breasts. He lets out a sigh of relief, turning his head slightly so that he can kiss my neck. “You are truly what they call a natural beauty,” he murmurs.

His thumb runs over my left nipple, making it pebble up instantly. I lean my head back against his shoulder and sigh in contentment. “What is this?”

“I won’t be entirely sure unless you describe how you feel to me right now.”

I gulp and lay a hand over Abigor’s hand, which gently cups my breast. “Heat, swirling rapidly in my stomach; a sweet, pounding sensation in my loins. It’s dizzying.”

He takes one of his hands off of my breasts and cups my chin in his hand, roughly turning my face to his. “It’s your newly discovered pleasure,” he says. Then he dives, his lips crashing into mine, his tongue plunging into my mouth.

His free hand skirts down my stomach and over the cloth that covers my crotch area. And when he touches me there, I react unexpectedly. I turn my head and place a hot, open-mouthed kiss on Abigor’s jaw, urging him on completely.

“You like that, don’t you?” he murmurs heatedly in my ear. I nod breathlessly. “It’s your clit. Your jin dadin tabo, pleasure spot. Think of a mouth down there.”

I shake my head. “That’s unheard of,” I say. “No one would kiss me down there.”

He chuckles, his fingers moving faster on my jin dadin tabo. “You have much to learn,” he says. “Because I would kiss you down there.”

My pleasure is building my lower regions and something’s happening that I’ve never felt before. I struggle to get my words out. “B-but my mother always said you lay there and let the man have his way with you, nothing more than that. Not for love or for pleasure, but for duty of…uh, reproducing an heir.”

His hand slips below the cloth I have on, and touches me there, inserting a finger into my most vulnerable place. “Do you know what I think about that, Eliz’bella?” He crooks his finger and presses down hard on a spot that makes me cry out from the immense pleasure it gives me. “I think it’s shit.”

He removes his hand much to my dismay and turns me around, pressing me to the cold, stony cave floor. He cradles my head in one hand, his other hand slithering back into my bottoms. He pumps his finger in and out of me.

I close my eyes, lost in the throes of pleasure. He smacks a kiss on my lips. “Open your eyes,” he tells me. I try to open them but it’s so hard. “Look me in the eyes. I want to see your face when your release comes.”

I’m not quite sure what he means but all I want right now is it please him. I look him straight in the eyes. I faintly remember one of my married friends back in my kingdom saying something about looking in the eyes during lovemaking sessions.

“Love comes in through the eyes,” Mary Smithe had said to me. “So you must search them until you find it.”

His fingers pump faster and faster, an erotic squelching sound echoing in the cave. “Oh God,” I moan loudly, trying to keep my eyes on his the whole time. He gives a lopsided grin, his eyes blackening with lust.

“You’re close, love. It’s building higher and higher…” he says huskily. My eyes roll back into my head slightly as I cry out in pleasure. “C’mon,” he whispers, leaning over and kissing the corner of my mouth. “Let it go. I got you.”

I take a deep breath before blowing apart at the seams, my muscles contracting wonderfully in my southern region. “Fuck!” he curses, and I feel something wet against my stomach.

I look down through heavy-lidded eyes and strands of white fluid sitting above my navel. His hands brace my head, caging me in. His head is bowed, his eyes are tightly shut, and he’s breathing heavily.

I cautiously reach up to wipe a bead of sweat off of his forehead. His eyes fly open, grabbing my hand instinctively. He gives me a shocked look, like he wasn’t expecting his own reaction, and then kisses my fingers tenderly, sucking my middle finger into his mouth. With his free hand, he rubs his ejaculation into my skin like it’s a prized lotion.

Outside, we hear thunder rumble and rain begin to fall. He curses softly, reaching over and grabbing a bite of the squirrel before diminishing the fire and crawling to peek through the space between the water and rock. “It’s gonna be seconds before it pours,” he says. “We gotta go now. This place floods easily.”

I grab my breast cloth and wrap it around myself, pinning it sloppily in the back. I adjust my bottoms before running out from behind the waterfall in pursuit of Abigor. He grabs my hand and pulls me across the water and into the grass. Just like he said, it begins to rain—hard.

In seconds, the dirt becomes mud, very slippery and gooey mud. As he runs to his horse, being the clumsy woman I am, I slip in the mud. “Shit, ‘Eliza, you alright?” he calls.

I’m laughing so hard I can barely contain myself. I’m half naked, covered in mud and laying in the middle of a field in the woods with a naked man. People back home would be horrified, but I’m laughing because I find that it doesn’t bother me anymore.

He comes running over to me, careful not to slip in the mud, but he does anyway. He lands on his ass next to me, beginning to curse up a storm at his own clumsiness. “Fuck this fucking ass mud, I’ll fucking kill…what the hell’s the matter with you?”

I’m laughing so hard I can’t breathe. Seeing the great king of the barbarians slip in the mud next to me was too much to bear. He leans closer to me. I lay on my back, my braid and crystal headdress slopped in the mud. My hand is cupped over my mouth, trying to encase my horrific laughter.

“Are you…are you laughing?” he asks. At first, I can tell he doesn’t find it at all funny, but with hearing my ridiculous, thick laughter, he too begins to laugh. “Shit…’Eliza…”

He’s laughing and his speech slurs a little, saying my name as ‘Eliza’ instead of Elizabella. He’s struggling with my name so much, that I just say, “Just call me Eliza!”

He stands up and grabs my arm, pulling me with him. “Get your ass up, ‘de rain’s peltin’ me like…fuckin’ shit, let’s go.”

We run to our horses and get the hell out of there. When we get back to the castle, he takes me in through a secret door so no one would see us in this muddy state. “That was the most fun I’ve had a while,” I admit to him.

“The pleasuring part, or the mud part?” he asks with a mirthful look in his eyes.

I pause, pursing my lips. “Both.”

He checks the corner to make sure that no one’s coming before darting into his room, dragging me with him. “Now,” he begins softly. “We’ve got to wash this mud off.”

Payback
He’s in the bathtub, sitting and watching me. Mud cakes his chest and his arms. He looks at me expectantly. “Aren’t you getting in?” he asks me.

I shift nervously in my place. “Can’t I have my own bath?” I question.

He gives me a look. “Your own bath? Are you being serious?” When I nod my head he frowns. “I’ve seen you naked. I’ve touched your breasts and gave you pleasure with my fingers, and you don’t want to bathe with me?”

I don’t know what to say anymore. I fold my arms and shift in place. “Abigor…”

“No,” he cuts me off. “I’ll give you a choice. Either you bathe with me or you go to bed with my caked onto your skin.” He leans back against the lip of the tub and closes his eyes. “I think the choice is simple, really. It’s big enough for the both of us.”

Abigor doesn’t open his eyes for a few moments. I stand there in shock before acting. I reach around back and unclip the cloth that covers my breasts and slips down my bottoms. I sit in the very back of the tub, making sure that I’m not sitting on any of his body parts. His legs are so long that his foot nearly touches my stomach.

Slowly, I see the tip of his erection standing up in the water. He’s aroused. I clear my throat. “Can I have the soap?” I ask him. He reaches over and grabs a wooden bowl off of a table and hands it to me. I dip my fingers into the yellow substance and put it into my hair. It smells like honey.

I work it into my hair with my fingers, rinsing with a bucket of water. “Don’t get water on the floor,” he scolds me like a child when little drops of water splatter onto the stone floors.

I scowl back at him. “If you would have let me have my own bath, I would have been able to contain the water.” He shrugs and leans back against the tub once more. His erection only gets bigger.

“You are nothing but fire,” he murmurs softly, glancing at me from under heavy-lidded eyes. “We balance each other out perfectly.”

I look at him expectantly. “Aren’t you going to wash as well?”

He doesn’t answer right away. “My muscles are sore,” he whispers. “I think I’m just going to relax for a little…and enjoy the view.”

I frown at him and grab one of the sponges sitting on the wooden bath supply table. “Turn around.”

This makes him more alert. “Eliza, you know that—”

I shake my head, ceasing his chatter. “Oh hush, I know. You’ve seen my chest already. I just want to wash your back for you.”

He licks his lips before nodding and sitting up. Water runs down the crevices between his abs and pecks. “Oh. Okay.” He turns and shifts in the bathtub, baring his back to me. He pulls his hair forward so that I have room to wash. I dip the sponge into the wooden bowl of honey-scented soap and press it to his skin.

The bubbles create a thick lather across the long, ugly scars across his skin. I rub the sponge around on his skin, my free hand gently massaging the scars. He tilts his head back in pleasure. And suddenly, I feel a stronger pull towards him. I pity him for being whipped as a child, pity him for losing his first love to his older brother, pity him for being lonely and loveless.

My nail gently scrapes across one of the scars and he shudders. “Did I hurt you?” I ask him, my voice no louder than the song of a passing breeze. He shakes his head. I experimentally do it again, and I receive the same reaction as before. “It feels good?”

He nods his head. “Your touch does strange things to me, wanda nake kauna,” he tells me. “I don’t let people touch my scars.” I rinse off his back with a bucket of warm bathwater. They are numerous, fleshy and pink.

I gently press my lips to one of the scars. “But you let me touch them,” I say quietly. He leans back into my touch, one of his hands reaching around back to touch my bare thigh. “Only me?”

Abigor nods his head absently. “Yes. Only you.” He ducks his head and looks into the water, sucking his bottom lip into his mouth. “Mafi za a kyama, ina rantsuwa da scars. Kai ne ba … kuma ina mamaki dalilin da ya sa haka shi ne.” (Most would be disgusted by my scars. You are not…and I wonder why that is so.)

He turns around in the tub to look at me, wondering if I understood what he’s said. I do. I shake my head in disbelief. “A scars nuna karfin zuciya da kuma jimiri ne daga matasa shekaru. Ban ce muku ya kamata a masanan basu ji dadin a gare su.” (The scars show bravery and endurance from a young age. I don’t think you should be disappointed in them.)

He purses his lips. “Ni ba na jin kunyar abin da na kai a kan fata. Sai na fada muku, kafin. Kawai wani sabon abu fiye da abin da zan kasance, shi ke nan.” (I am not ashamed of what I bear on my skin. I told you that before. It’s just something different than what I’m used to, that’s all.)

Abigor lifts a hand and strokes his warm thumb down my nipple. I shudder beneath his touch. “Kana iya da wani mace da kake so. Me ya sa ka zabi ni?” (You could have any woman you want. Why do you choose me?)

His hand strokes my arm softly. He looks at me straight in the eye. “Ina kuma son wani abu daban-daban. Sai kawai don haka ya faru da kai.” (I wanted something different. It just so happened to be you.)

“Amma ku ne kawai so in ya sami damar fuck da ni, ni dama? Wani abu m saboda wadanda sauran kulle girls aka zama m.” (But you only want me to be able to fuck me, am I right? Something exotic because those other harem girls were becoming boring.)

He looks at me like I’ve just insulted everything he lived for. He is about to say something nasty, but he stops himself from doing so. “Na sanya soyayya ne kawai sau daya a rayuwa baki daya.” (I’ve only made love once in my entire life.)

I laugh when he says it, leaning forward in the water. “Ina zaton ka ce duk abin da ka kasance daga makaryata amma.” (I thought you said that you were everything but a liar.)

He frowns at me. “Alloli a sama, mace. Ni ba zan kwance a gare ka!” (Gods above, woman. I am not lying to you!)

Now I’m a little agitated. “Me game da Athenodora? Kuma Cassandra? Sun shaida wa daji da labaru. Ka ba fucked su?” (What about Athenodora? And Cassandra? They tell wild stories. You have not fucked them?)

“Of course I have!” he exclaims loudly in the Common Tongue.

I cock my head and look at him like he is crazy. “I do not think you understand—”

“No,” he cuts me off quickly. “You are the one that does not understand.” He pushes me back against the edge of the tub, his knee sliding between mine and rubbing against my clit. “Do you understand, Eliza?”

I bite my lip to refrain from moaning. “No, I d-don’t. Explain to me then.”

He leans down close to my ear. “I have fucked many, I will not deny. But fucking is something completely different than making love. Fucking is rough.” He grabs my jaw roughly with his hand and plunges his mouth into mine, pulling at my lip with his teeth. He releases my lip from his teeth and goes about kissing me gentler. “Making love is tender. I only ever made love to White Fawn.”

He peppers my face with kisses and moves his knee against me in circular motions. I panted into his mouth and his tongue flickers out and licks my lips greedily before diving in in order to tango with my own tongue.

I nod my head slightly. “I understand now.” My hand reaches up to him and I grab his cock in my grip. His eyes widen and he gasps loudly. I pump my hand along his shaft smoothly. “There were a lot of things that I never understood before I came over here. And a lot of things that I still need to understand and be taught.”

His head ducks and his eyes squeezed tightly shut. “Oh, ya Allah na.” He bucks up into my hand. “How did you learn to pleasure a man like this?” His husky whisper lingers in my ear.

Each stroke of my hand drags fire through his body, and I can see it with the way his face contorts in such pleasure when I do so. “From you,” I say. His eyes snap to mine with a lustful look so fierce that it physically shakes me. “I watched you that one night.”

“Na san shi,” he whispers, his mouth agape and his eyes peeled wide open. I tug on his cock a little harder and this time his moan echoes out into the silence, throwing his head back with pleasure. “Oh, fuck!”

I stroke a little harder, looking into his eyes while I do so. He thrusts into my hand, his hips rocking rhythmically. I kiss the bottom of his jaw softly before mustering up the courage to ask him something else. “Can I taste it?”

He looks down at me again with a flustered look on his face. “Who are you, woman?” he asks with a smile. He leans back in the tub, his cock standing straight up.

I nod my head. “I think this ought to be our second class.”

He nods right back at me. He doesn’t seem to mind at all that this will be our second session. His hand lands on his own cock and strokes gently up and down. “Lean down,” he instructs. “Suck on it. Hard.”

I lean down in the water, coming face to face to the appendage that had haunted me so much. But an eager Abigor fed his erect member into my mouth. He tasted salty and musky, but it’s not unpleasant.

His shaft is long and somewhat thick, but not too monstrously thick. Thick veins curl up the shaft to the sensitive head. I grip the base of his cock and tentatively lick the head. He spreads his thighs wider in the bathtub, a hand cradling around the back of my neck to pull my mouth onto his cock even further.

I go about licking his cock like it’s a delicacy of some sort. He makes grunts of appreciation and pleasure, thrusting into my mouth. He wants me down further and further, but I don’t know how much more I can do without choking. I’m completely new at this. I never thought of kissing someone’s genitals before Abigor.

Sex is completely different now that I’ve found Abigor. He teaches me that it’s so much more than boring old vanilla, the ‘get-in, get-out’ kind of sex. It can be rainbow sherbet and all kinds of interesting and new.

I try to keep his cock pretty wet with my tongue, licking it and passing my tongue over the top of him. He grunts as he shoves himself into me, his head tilted back in ecstasy. “Gods, Eliza…” he whispers. “So good.” The feeling of satisfying another makes me completely aroused. To see him in such a vulnerable, beautiful state with his legs spread and his most precious body-part in my mouth, eyes shut and mouth echoing moans of pleasure

His balls bunch up as he prepares to explode into my mouth. I don’t want to swallow so I back up and jack him with my hand. His hand grips the edge of the wooden tub with his knuckles turning white. He’s muttering his appreciation, eyes shut tightly.

He swells up and then jets white ribbons of semen all over my face. I really wasn’t expecting it to go all over my face, so I scrunch up my nose and shut my eyes, leaning back in shock. He sits straight up and kisses at my face, licking the cum off of my cheeks.

“Oh m’love, you were so amazing…” he murmurs, his hands cradling my face tenderly. It seems like he can’t get enough of me. The rest of the ejaculation is rubbed into my skin softly. He buries his nose in my hair. I’m still shocked that I even did that. “You even smell like me now,” he chuckles softly.

I lean back in the tub. “Now what?”

“Now what,” he repeats back, a great Cheshire smile painting itself onto his face. “I kiss you down there and return the favour.”

I shudder with lust but look away quickly. “I don’t think I’m ready for that just yet,” I whisper softly. He looks a little bit disappointed at first, but the smile is painted back on quickly.

He nods his head in comprehension. “Alright, I understand. Take your time,” he murmurs softly. “Tonight was amazing. I gave you pleasure with my fingers, and you gave me pleasure with your mouth. You let your guard down. That’s a huge step for us, Eliza.”

I nod my head. “I know.”

He slips his finger under my chin and kisses it. “I’ll have you begging for me to kiss you down there one day. And it will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.”

The offer is quite tempting, but I really don’t think I’m ready. “I could go get us some wine,” I offer myself. He nods his head. I slip on my nightgown and the red silk robe. He stands in the bath, wraps a towel around his waist and follows me into his bedroom.

0o0o0o0o

Black Bear is there, in the kitchen again. When he sees me he smiles initially but then checks for Abigor. “Sannu,” I greet. “Za mu sake haduwa a cikin wannan wuri.” (Hello. We meet again in the same place.)

He gives me a look. “Er, sannu. Mafi yawan kawo canji game da kai, ba?” (Er, hello. Much has changed about you, no?)

I nod and take the crystal vase full of wine and pour some in Abigor’s goblet for him. “Na’am, na koyi yadda za ka yi magana da harshe. Yanzu za mu iya magana ba tare da shamaki da harshen … da za mu iya magana game da ruwan inabi.” I laugh. (Yes, I have learned to speak your tongue. Now we can speak without the language barrier…we can talk about wine.)

Black Bear takes his glass, gulping uncomfortably before darting away.

I gasp. “Ku yi jira!” I cry after him. “Kada ka bar haka nan da sannu.” (Wait! Do not leave so soon.)

He whirls around with fire in his eyes. “Ba na neman wata fashe hanci, Tiger Kambori,” he hisses at me. “Idan sarki catches da mu, na ass za a skinned. Ba naku. Nice magana da kai.” (I don’t want another broken nose, Tiger Claw. If the king catches us, my ass will be skinned. Not yours. Nice talking to you.)

With that, Black Bear turns with his harsh words and strides out of the room. He’s made it pretty clear to me to stay away from him. I sigh and rub my temples with the pads of my thumbs. Abigor’s possession and dominance over me have scared most everyone from me. In some cases, it’s a good thing but in other cases it makes me feel like a poison.

When I feel a semi-rough touch on my arm, I automatically assume it’s Abigor, coming down to see to me because I’ve taken ‘too long to get the wine’ yet again. But when I turn around, it is not his smirking face that I see. It’s Iron Coyote’s.

I gasp in shock and reel back in horror. “Don’t you touch me,” I scold him. “Don’t you dare.”

He mock-pouts. “You are not happy to see me,” he says. “I could change that in an instant. I smell how aroused you are, Tiger Claw. I could smell it from five doors down.”

I suddenly realize that the arousal he smells was the arousal that came about when I pleasured Abigor in the bathtub. My eyes widen and I take the two glasses into my hand, preparing to march out of the kitchen.

He puts his arm out to stop me, the force of his hand knocking some of the wine out of the full goblets. It splatters in red blotches onto the floor. Iron Coyote makes me put the wine back down on the table before grabbing my hands in his tightly.

Wine drips down my fingers. I struggle in his grasp, but he is too strong for me. The barbarian prince had spent a great deal of time building his muscular strength up, but he would never match Abigor’s stamina. He takes my finger into his mouth and twirls his tongue around the tip.

I shriek in disgust and pull away instantly, slapping him across the face. He stumbles towards the counter, grabbing onto one of the cabinets to steady himself. Instead of screaming a loud ‘how dare you’ sort of speech onto me, he laughs stupidly and stumbles forwards. “You are a ball of fire; my brother was right. I bet he enjoys fucking your pretty little ass.”

Squinting my eyes at him, I notice the way his lids droop and how clumsily he stumbles around the room. I groan in disgust. “You’re drunk,” I state, watching as he grabs Abigor’s goblet and takes a long gulp of wine.

He holds the goblet up into the air, a trail of red liquid dribbling down his lips. “Drunk and proud,” he announces. I snatch the goblet out of his hand and move it far away from him.

Iron Coyote reaches out for me. I try to sidestep him, but I’m too slow. He gathers me into his arms and buries his face in my neck. “Oh, brother gets everythin’. Got ‘de throne, father’s love, ‘de jewels, ‘de credit…” He pulls back and looks me in the eye. “An’ he got you.”

I try to push him away from me but his grip is relentless. I start yelling when I see him beginning to untie his breechcloth and free his cock. I know he will rape me. “Stop! Iron Coyote, stop it!”

He does not listen to me. Instead, he keeps on mumbling. He jacks himself with his head lying against my breast and his free hand keeping mine firmly locked in place. His body is too heavy for me to even move. “It ain’t fair,” he moans. “I should get some too.”

When I realize that pushing him away won’t help, I decide to take a different approach. “What about Ivona? She loves you.”

He looks up into my eyes and laughs. On his breath, I smell various types of fine wines, brandies, and beers. He has been drinking for a while. “I don’ love her,” Iron Coyote replies. “I’m tired of her. I want you.”

His free hand lets go of my cock and before I can scream, he’s opened my robe and stuck his hand up my skirts. His fingers stroke me there, and I scream so loud that he has no choice but to shut me up with his lips. Using a gut reaction, I grab his lip with my teeth.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” he begins to murmur. But I bite down—hard—and draw blood. He screams, pushing away from me and cradling his lip in his fingers. Blood spurts down his chin and trickles down his bare chest. “You kariya!”

And before I can move, he backhands me and I land on the cold floor. I don’t fall to the ground right away so he does it again, this time using his other hand. I see black, but the spots slowly fade away. I spit out blood from my lip, pushing myself off of the ground. There’s a newly-forming bruise on my cheek and my jaw aches like the seven hells.

I hear Abigor’s voice over my dizziness and I hear him and his brother fighting away about me. I don’t know who is winning the fight, but I can only hope it is Abigor. I blink out of the blurriness and see Abigor holding a knife to Iron Coyote’s throat.

“If you ever touch her again, I cut you so bad that no one will ever look at your face again without vomiting in horror, you disgusting piece of shit.” Abigor seethes through angry teeth.

Iron Coyote glances over at me. “Keep your bitch on a leash, Abigor. She came onto me!”

Abigor looks over at me sitting on the floor. I spit out a little bit of blood before glaring lethally at Iron Coyote. “You liar! He lies, my king. He does!”

Agitated with the whole situation, he turns back to his older brother. “If she came onto you, why is your lip bleeding and why is she over there beaten?”

“Your dirty whore nearly bit my lip clean off! She deserved every ounce of pain she received…ah!” He cries out when the tip of Abigor’s dagger pierces the skin on his neck.

He ignores me when I call his name, his eyes focused on Iron Coyote. “Touch her and I’ll kill you. Breathe her name and I’ll kill you. Look at her and I’ll kill you!” Abigor rants. “I’ll cut out your heart just like I did Felix’s and serve it to her on a golden dinner plate.”

He pushes Iron Coyote out of the way and his older brother scurries down the hallway. “Ivona!” his booming voice echoes outs down the hallway.

Abigor wipes his nose before dropping the knife and rushing to my side. “Oh Gods,” he whispers, examining my bloody nose and split lip. He touches a tender bruise on my cheek and I curl back in pain. His eyes are pools of sorrow and pity for what his brother has done to me. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve known better than to let you down here without me.”

He presses his forehead to mine and kisses the space between my eyebrows. “I’m so sorry that this has happened to you,” he murmurs. “Won’t you say anything?”

I look up at him, desperately trying to catch my breath. I don’t know what to say to him, so I just say the first thing that’s on my mind. “Wine,” I whisper. “He drank your wine.”

He smiles slightly, not sure if it’s the time for laughs. “Let’s go back up to the room.”

0o0o0o0o

“Oh Gods, I’m choking,” I say, feeling the blood run down the back of my throat. I lean back against a pillow with a white handkerchief pressed to my nose. It’s not broken, just bloody. And it hurts.

“Tilt your head forward,” he instructs. I hold the bloody handkerchief to my nose having been unable to stop the bleeding for over fifteen minutes. I cough some more when some of the blood drips down the back of my throat.

I look at him funny. “Why? That’ll just make it come out more.”

He sits at the edge of the bed and watches me with worried eyes. “Exactly. The blood needs to go somewhere, honey.” I look up at him in shock. Honey? That was such a name to be called, a name you’d call your beloved, not your personal whore. “Do you want it running down the back of your throat or onto the cloth?”

I cough violently again before sitting up and leaning my head into the cloth. The blood practically drains into the cloth.

“Good,” he praises. “Leaning back can make the blood go to your windpipes or line your stomach. Then you’d retch. Trust me, I’ve had a lot of experience with bloody noses.”

I believe him. The excess blood that had been running down my throat before now threatens to come back up my throat. I cough again, the blood dripping from my split lip spraying outwards, some of the droplets landing on his bare chest. “I’m sorry!” I quickly exclaim, almost forgetting who he is.

I reach out and wipe the blood from his skin before he can complain about its presence. He nods. “You’re okay. Hold your nose just before your bridge to clot the blood. It should stop within five minutes or so.”

I nod my head and do exactly what he tells me to do. “Thank you,” I murmur. “For taking care of me.”

Fifteen minutes earlier, he’d set about stripping me naked with no intention of using me in a sexual way but examining almost every inch of my ivory skin for bruises. Then he gave me a red silk robe to wear again and set me on the bed, giving me ice in a thin pouch of animal skin. I was to lay back against the pillows with it on my head. Apparently hitting the stone floor with your head hurts after a while…a lot.

The corner of Abigor’s mouth pricks up into that beautifully handsome smile of his. “You’re welcome, honey.” There was that name again. It made her womanly bits flare with heat and lust. “I want to say thank you for biting my brother. Let’s just say I’ve been looking for a good excuse to pound his ass for a while now…but I’m sorry you got hurt in the midst of it. He’s one cunt-hungry bastard, and he sure does want everything I’ve got.”

I nod my head. “Including me.”

He frowns at that. “I know. Including you.”

I try to bring more light into the conversation. “But he said I almost bit his lip off at least,” I giggle softly like a child. “I got even.”

“Yes,” he says as he crawls up to where I sit near the pillows. “You paid him back like a true Hausa woman.”

I lift the cloth away from my nose and examine it. There’s dry blood, only dry, and no fresh blood. “I think it’s stopped now,” I say. “Where do I put this?”

He nods towards the fire. “Just throw it in there. I don’t want it, and those stains will be hell for the maids to wash out.”

“Alright,” I say. I toss it into the fire. It lands short so I scamper out of bed and toss it into the fire the rest of the way. I stand there and watch it shrivel up and burn while being licked by the bright orange flames

I hear his body shift on the bed with the way the frames squeak. “Come back to me,” he pleads. “It has been a long day.”

I turn around and go to my place in the bed, lifting the heavy covers before settling down beneath them. Abigor glances over at me through the firelight. I glance right back at him and slowly smile.

He breathes softly. “Gobe ina ganin zan sumbace ka.” (Tomorrow I think I shall kiss you.)

I furrow my eyebrows. “Sumbace ni? Ka riga ka aikata wannan.” (Kiss me? You have already done this.)

“Ina so in sumbace ka wani wuri daban-daban. Wata ila ka lebe da farko, amma sai watakila wani wuri dabam.” He murmurs. “Kokari ya tsammani inda zan sumbace ka gaba.” (I want to kiss you somewhere different. Perhaps your lips first, but then maybe somewhere else. Attempt to guess where I will kiss you next.)

I’m suddenly intrigued. “Na kiraza?” I question. (My breasts?)

“Babu,” he replies, shaking his head. “Sake gwadawa.” (No, try again.)

“Na kafafu.” (My legs.)

“Babu.”

“Na ciki?” (My stomach?)

“Ba kome, zan gaya maka,” he laughs. “Zan je ka sumbace zaki da al’aurar mata.” (Okay I’ll tell you, I’m going to kiss your sweet cunt.)

I gasp and flop back against the pillows. I should have known but…but hearing that word on his lips and the look in his eyes when he told me what he was going to do to me makes me shiver. “Mmm.”

He laughs softly. “I can already smell your arousal.”

My cheeks burn bright red in the darks. “Oh.”

“It’ll serve as a bit of payback for what you did for me today.”

I try to keep myself under control. “Oh.”

He leans over and captures my lips. I’ve been wanting him for so long that I wrap my arms around his neck and deepen the kiss even further. He dips his tongue into my mouth ever so slowly, flicking at the edges of my teeth and stroking my own tongue with a lazy sort of rhythm. “That sound good to you, honey?”

I don’t know where my words have gone, but I certainly can’t find them anymore. “Uh-huh.”

He gives me one last kiss, his tongue lingering in my mouth before pulling away with a strand of saliva stuck to his full russet lips. “Payback.”

Kiss
When I wake, he’s not in the room. The space beside me is empty and cold, the sheets peeled back from where his body had imprinted on the bed. I yawn and throw the covers off of my body. The bruises on my face ache, as well as my jaw and my nose. My lip is still sore, but a scab has formed on it overnight.

My curls are unruly, but I have no intention of taming them this morning. I go to the wardrobe and pick a beautiful blue silk with purple and orange floral prints on it.

Once I am dressed, I walk to the door and take a small peek out into the hallway. The hallways are mostly barren, except for a lone maid in rags collecting laundry in a wicker basket placed at the doorways.

“Excuse me,” I call. The maid looks up from collecting her laundry and takes a few small steps towards me. She notices that I’m in Abigor’s room and then takes a few small steps back. “Do you know where the king is?”

By the look on the maid’s face, I presume she does not know the Common Tongue. She points a delicate finger down the hallway. “Sister…ill. His sister having baby.”

Suddenly, I remember what Cassandra told me that Three Horses’ wife is ready to pop out a child at any moment. Abigor hadn’t talked to me personally about it, and I’d gradually forgotten about it. I hear an ear-splitting scream echo down the hallway and nod at the maid to give my thanks.

I scurry down the hallway, trying not to trip over my skirts as I rush into the little, hot hallway that people crowded around. Daniel was there with his head banging against the doorway, listening to every one of his wife’s pain-filled shrieks with a sympathetic look in his eyes.

Drinks of Waterfall and Michelle are there, sitting together in chairs near the back. Iron Coyote sits in a corner with his arm around Ivona’s tiny shoulders, a totally bored expression on his face. Black Bear is there with his sister Radiant Moon, or as her commoner’s name, Accalia. Grey Hawk is there with Arlena.

I see Abigor standing in the corner of the room with sweat beading on his forehead; he’s obviously worried about his favourite sister. He doesn’t see me when I try and catch his attention, turning into the corner and rubbing his temples in an attempt to relieve the stress he feels.

I meekly make my way over to Michelle, who turns and hugs me tightly. “Oh, I’ve missed you.” I smile at her. Drinks of Waterfall leans over and gives us both a wary look.

“Elle,” he croons. “Wannan shi ne wani lokaci domin kauna.” (This is no time for affection.)

She nods and shuts her mouth almost instantly. Then she leans close to my ear. “They say the child kills her,” Michelle tells me. “They don’t know if she’ll make it out alive.”

“That’s horrible,” I whisper back to her. “I would hate to have that happen.”

A tall man waltzes into the room with Camellia at his side. I’ve never seen him before. Michelle cuts me off before I can ask his name. “That’s White Fire Sun, or Quil. He mostly likes to keep to himself, but I know him because he’s Tristan’s good friend. He’s claimed Camellia as his own and now she doesn’t live in the harem anymore.”

White Fire Sun looks kind but mischievous. The way he nibbles on Camellia’s earlobe when she’s least expecting it, causing her to laugh out loud and receive scornful looks from Abigor and Three Horses.

When Abigor catches sight of me, he rushes over to my side. He speaks in the Common Tongue so that most of his men will not understand him. “Why are you here?” he questions. “I thought you slept.”

I ignore his bad grammar and shake my head. “I woke up when I realized you weren’t there. I came to look for you when I was informed by a maid that you were here as your sister gave birth. I wanted to come and…support you.”

At this, he softens and takes the chair beside me. His eyes are moist. “Snow Lion’s always been a sickly woman. Never strong, always weak. Even though she was my older sister, I always looked after her. She caught the same disease my mother and sister did, but she survived. It made her weak after.”

I don’t know what to say or how to comfort him. I lean my head onto his shoulder. He does not move. Another one of Snow Lion’s pained screams drags out long this time. Everyone goes quiet, listening for the sound of a baby’s squeal.

And the squeal comes not a moment later. Three Horses looks relieved and so does Abigor. The midwife comes out a second later. “A yaro ne mi mace,” she says. (The child is a female.)

Three Horses isn’t so much worried about the baby’s gender. “Kuma abin da na uwargida ta? Ko da ta ke nan?” (And what of my wife? Is she all right?)

One by one, we all file in to congratulate Three Horses and Snow Lion on their new baby. Abigor and I are last. He tells her how much he loves her and how he’s very glad that she’s okay.

Snow Lion points a shaky finger at me. “Wane ne ta?” she asks her brother. He tells her my Hausa name and my commoner’s name. “Ku bar mu, dan’uwansa. Zan mayar da ita zuwa gare ka a wani lokaci.” (Who is she? Leave us, brother. I shall return her to you in a moment.)

Abigor nods before turning to me. “She wishes to speak with you in private,” he says. His voice is no longer soft, but hard and masculine. “I’ll be waiting for you outside the door.” He and Three Horses depart the room.

I swallow a thick lump in my throat and beg Abigor with my eyes to have him stay. I do not know this woman, nor do I know what she will say. As far as she knows, I’m just his monthly whore.

She looks me up and down and nods her head. “Dress is beau-ti-ful.” She sounds out the word. “Flower patterns are my most favourite.”

I nod my thanks. She returns her attention to her baby.

“Tiger Claw,” she muses, holding her child in her arms. “Name interests me. My brother gave you it for a reason, though.”

The baby fusses, so Snow Lion pulls down her shirt and lets the babe suckle upon her breast with no shame in her eyes. My face burns bright red. “I…I suppose so, yes.”

She smiles at me weakly before brushing some of the black hair on the baby’s forehead with her fingers. “I not seen my brother so happy with a woman before.” She looks up at me expectantly. “My brother is hard, like nut that just don’t wanna crack. But you crack him, though it is slow.”

I kneel by Snow Lion’s bedside. She looks at me with her soft brown eyes. I do not know what to say, so I say nothing at all and just settle with smiling and nodding.

She coughs. “Drink is on table. Get for me, Tiger Claw?”

At first, I don’t understand what she’s trying to say because her common tongue is so faulty, but I put two and two together. “Your glass of water?” I ask. She nods and holds her throat.

“Na’am,” she says. “I have thirst.” I hand her the glass of water and she gulps it down. She nods in thanks. “Abigor never loves. Only ever loved a girl named White Fawn. My older brother took her away from him and he never forgave himself for letting Iron Coyote do so.”

I nod my head sadly. “It’s a horrid story. He told me once, I believe. It’s a shame she died in childbirth.”

Snow Lion nods her head and smiles softly. “He would not tell you White Fawn’s story if he did not intend to keep you. I heard about the mate claiming. I was surprised, I will tell you just that.”

I lick my dry lips and look at Snow Lion’s beautiful, but pale, face. “He’s only known me for two months now. I am still not sure what a claimed mate is. One of the harem girls told me all about what came about with a man mate claiming and making the claim speech, but I never got the true understanding of it.”

She smiles slowly like molasses, the warm light filtering through the window kissing her face. “I not gonna tell you, Tiger Kambori. I gonna leave that to him to show you what it means.”

I sense that she’s done speaking with me when she goes back to tending to her newborn child. I open the door to Three Horses, who gives me a respectful nod before going in to see his wife and daughter.

Abigor nods to me to beckon me over to him. I feebly comply, walking out into the emptied room and into his arms. “What did she say to you?” he questions me. I smile begin to tug him down the hallway. “Well? Tell me.”

I don’t really answer him. “Your sister’s a beauty, and a kind one at that,” I say to him. “She told me great things about you.”

This makes him intrigued. “What sort of things did she say?” He is desperate to know what his sister had said to me, and I like holding it over him.

I grasp his arm. “All good things.” He looks a little relieved. “You need not worry yourself about it.”

He drops the subject once he realizes that he won’t get anything out of me. He looks down at what I wear. “You look beautiful,” he comments. “That silk was crafted by Snow Lion for herself before she got pregnant. She gave it to me to store it away. She said you could have it if you wanted it.”

My eyes widen. When I walked into the room with Abigor, Snow Lion had complimented me on the silks. Now I feel even luckier to have the silk in my possession.

We travel to the breakfast hall, where men chatter loudly, drinking ale and stuffing their greedy mouths with breakfast meats. Abigor takes his seat at the end of the table, and I take the empty chair to his left.

The cheering only gets louder once Abigor has gotten here. They pass the bowls of food up to him and look at me expectantly. Then I realize that I am to dish out his food for me. Blushing bright red at this new custom that I did not know of, I stab a slab of ham onto his plate, then eggs and fried potatoes with onion.

He strokes my arm softly without making a sound. He’s different in public, I tell myself. I grab the pitcher and fill his glass with goat’s milk before sitting back down in my seat again. The man beside me is Black Bear, so I feel comfortable eating without him turning his lustful eyes upon me.

But Will takes his place at to the right of Abigor, and directly across from me at the table. His smouldering eyes twist my stomach into knots after what he did to me in the kitchen. I go to pour myself another glass of goat’s milk but the pitcher that I used for Abigor’s glass is empty.

The next one is right next to Black Bear, and I find myself breaking into a sweat trying to figure out how to ask him. Last time we spoke he made it clear that he didn’t want anything to do with me after Abigor wrongfully assaulted him.

I tap him on the bicep lightly, right over the tattoo that Abigor and all his men wore. He flinches at my touch before looking at me with widened brown eyes. He looks at me expectantly. I almost forget what I’m about to ask him. “Could you please pass me the milk?” I ask.

Black Bear shoots a look up to Abigor, who is busy talking with White Fire Sun and Drinks of Waterfall. He nods curtly and grabs the pitcher of milk off of the table and passes it to me. “There.” He nods to it.

I nod my head. “I see it. Thank you,” I smile up at him, and his eyes flash with youth and friendliness. Then he quickly looks away. I notice Abigor eyeing him up suspiciously. I lay my hand on his and smile weakly.

This is exactly the reason why Black Bear refuses to talk to me. I pick at my potatoes in complete silence while the others talk and talk about topics a woman’s not fit to listen in on. But alas, I am one of the three women at this breakfast table. All the ladies at the harem ate wherever they wanted this morning, but they could not eat in here. Michelle is with Drinks of Waterfall, and Camellia is with White Fire Sun.

I can tell that Michelle is undeniably happy with Drinks of Waterfall. She has the occasional bruise or two on her arms, but nothing serious as compared to when we first started out.

“The life here has promises of something of so much more value. Back at Bellechester, I still would have been a maid; cleaning houses and going about in my own peasant way. But here, they do not know me as a peasant. They see me as the woman of Drinks Of Waterfall, the brave warrior of many battles…and thus I am respected.” I remember what Michelle had said about her views in Bellechester versus her views here.

I see her across the table, minding her own business as well. Drinks Of Waterfall had claimed her a few days ago, but she hadn’t told me. She keeps her head down and focuses on prodding her eggs with her fork.

Drinks Of Waterfall laughs with Abigor, his laugh making Michelle smile softly down at her plate. I wonder how she does it. He does not speak a lick of the Common Tongue, and Michelle’s not very good with the barbarian language.

I wonder what their sex life is like as well. Michelle’s not big on bragging, unlike some of the other girls in the harem. I jump when I feel fingers on the insides of my thighs. Instantly I know it’s Abigor.

He still laughs with White Fire Sun and Drinks Of Waterfall likes nothing has even happened. I clench my thighs together before his fingers can skirt across my wetness. At breakfast, again? I whimper a little, catching Black Bear’s attention.

He casts a glance over his shoulder at me in suspicion. I smile weakly at him. Abigor shoots me a side glance, one that is full of mischief and seduction. I retaliate by moving my chair in closer to the table and reaching and landing a hand right over his obvious erection.

He grunts a struggled, “Fuck,” before continuing talking. I can’t help but laugh, tears sparkling in my eyes. White Fire Sun asks him if he’s okay and Abigor nods with his pleasure-pain. I stop laughing when I see Grey Hawk, Black Bear and Iron Coyote’s eyes suspiciously on me.

I eat my sausage while his hand grips my thigh tighter. I grab his hand with my free hand and move it off my thigh. “Dances With Wolves,” I whisper, shaking his arm to grab his attention. He turns to me after I’ve disturbed his chat. “May I be excused? I’ve finished my breakfast.”

He looks down at my empty plate then nods his head. “Go. No wanderin’ the halls, back to the room.”

I nod my head and exit the dining hall. I know what he plans to do with me after he’s finished with his breakfast.

0o0o0o0o

I’m sitting in his great bearskin chair when he waltzes into the room just a little after breakfast. I instantly fly up from where I’m at and my eyes plead my apology. He doesn’t like people sitting in his chair, but I thought that since he was gone it would just be different.

I wasn’t planning on being caught, but alas, I am. He doesn’t seem that angry, just a little annoyed. “That’s my chair,” he whispers. “Not Eliza’s chair, or anyone else’s.”

I nod my head quickly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

He holds up his hand to silence me. “I should punish you,” he comments. My eyes widen. This is completely unlike Abigor, to punish me. He stalks towards me, his hand jetting out into the open and tearing away my silk top.

I gasp and clutch at my now naked breasts. He reaches forward and then snatches my bottoms away while my hands are busy with covering my breasts. I cry out in shock, my eyes widening in disbelief. Will he rape me? Will he go back on his word that he promised to keep for so long?

Now I’m completely naked and vulnerable. He charges me, and like a scared little doe, I run. His eyes blacken with lust. “You should know never to run from a wolf.” I instantly understand the line, since the Hausa symbol is the wolf and it’s the most respected animal in the kingdom.

I try to dart towards the bed but he grabs me and gathers me into his arms, throwing me onto the chair that I had previously been sitting on. I struggle but his arms keep me down. “You wanted to sit on the chair so bad, so sit on it.”

My eyes sparkle with fright as he begins to undress. This is it, I think. He’s going back on his word. I’ve denied him too long and now he will rape me. He slips off his pants but he leaves his breechcloth on.

Abigor lets me go. I sit with my knees drawn to my chest and my feet crossed. And then it happens. The towering man drops to his knees in an act of pure submission, his eyes glazed over with lust. “I want to kiss you. You must tell me where to kiss you.”

My eyes widen. I say the first thing that comes to mind. “My lips.”

He obliges, leaning forward and capturing my lips in a kiss full of need and want. His tongue delves between my lips, feverishly licking at my own tongue. He tastes of mint and mulled wine and it makes my knees weak with lust.

Abigor makes a dive for my lips again, sliding the tip of his tongue into my mouth, gently beginning to move it against mine. His strokes become deeper and harder but not rough or rushed. We alternate between deep and shallow, using only lips from time to time. Abigor grazes his teeth against my lips, provoking a soft moan from my mouth. He pulls away slightly, breaking away with a strand of saliva connecting our moist lips together..

He licks my saliva off of his lips slowly and sensually, never breaking eye contact with me. “Give me a different place.”

I gulp and nod my head. “Kiss my breasts.”

He nods swiftly, then ducks his head down, his mouth latching onto one of my nipples, taking it into his warm, hot mouth and swirling the pink bud around his tongue. He licks it a few more times before retreating to my other breast.

He sucks my nipple into his mouth, tugging softly with his lips before licking over the little pink bud. He bites it, eliciting a surprised moan out of me. His hands roam over my body as he kisses down further.

“Your stomach?” he asks. I nod my head, completely flustered. His hands reach up to grab my breasts in his hands, the soft ivory globes fitting perfectly in his large hands. He peppers his kisses all over my stomach, dipping his tongue into my navel before moving down to kiss the space just below it.

I shut my eyes tightly as my most intimate place flares with heat and pounds with sensation. Wetness begins to paint my thighs. I bite my lip to encase my moan but Abigor doesn’t like that. He smacks a kiss on my thigh, grabbing my attention instantly. “Let me hear your moans.”

He moves back up to kiss my breasts again when I begin to touch them with lust. He kisses them, squeezes them, and licks them. “Oh, please…” I moan, a lot louder than I would have ever wanted to.

He smiles his slow, molasses smile, the corners of his mouth reaching his ears. “Tell me what you want. Where you want me to kiss you,” he murmurs.

Truth is, I don’t know what I want. But the heat in my southern regions is getting unbearable and all I want to do is have him touch it. And the idea of his lips pressing against my cleft makes the heat grow worse. Without saying a word, I nod my head downwards a little.

He gets the memo instantly. He lowers his face down so that his lips are only a few mere inches from it. “I’ll show you how good this feels,” he murmurs. Then his tongue darts out from beneath his lips and licks a stripe up my folds.

My eyes fly open and I try to sit up, clenching my thighs together on his head. It essentially traps his head between my legs. He laughs a deep, sexy laugh and forces my thighs apart with his hand. “Let me see you,” he whispers huskily.

And he dives again, locking his lips on my clit and suckling it into my mouth. He tongues it and swirls the little bud in his mouth. “You don’t find this sickening?” I ask between laboured breaths.

He pulls back momentarily. “No, hell no. From the minute I first saw you, I knew I wanted to taste your most intimate place, feel your nectar on my tongue when you shuddered around me.”

I gasp loudly when he flattens his tongue and licks me from the bottom to the top a few times. The feeling of a slimy appendage probing sweet, tender places makes me moan louder than I ever had before. I throw my head back in pleasure.

He ducks down a little bit further to my virginal entrance, dipping his tongue in and out of the little hole before latching back onto my clit and moaning, sending sweet vibrations through my body.

I reach down between my legs and grab a handful of his hair, yanking him closer to me if it’s even possible. He sucks my skin into his mouth, releasing it with a soft pop before spitting on me and rubbing it in with his fingers.

“Oh!” I don’t even recognize my voice when I cry out.

“Fuck yes,” he growls before diving back into me. His licks and nips and sucks are bringing me to that beautiful edge again. My hips begin to automatically rock against his mouth, meeting each swipe that his tongue makes on my genitals.

I wrap my legs around his head and he grabs my waist tighter as he licks and sucks at me. When I fall, he’s there to catch me, and every moan and droplet of womanly nectar I spill. Even after I’ve come down from my pleasure high, he’s still greedily licking away at me. I hold his face in my hands and pull him up my body.

He kisses my lips and I taste myself on his tongue. He pulls back, resting his forehead on mine. “How was it?” he asks softly.

I shake my head, my chest heaving with each heavy laden breath I take. “You don’t even know how good that felt,” I sigh, laughing a little. He runs his calloused hand over my breast, kissing the underside of my jaw.

“Good.”

I sit up and begin to dress again. “How did you learn to do that? Is that what barbarian men do to their women?”

He shakes his head, leaning back on his haunches, his sweaty, glistening chest gleaming in the sunlight that pours through the open window. His hair is tousled thanks to my hands weaving in and out of it, pulling him closer and pushing him. “Not usually,” he says. “I normally don’t do it to my whores. She’s got to be special if I decide to kiss her down there.”

I can feel my face reddening like a ripened tomato. “I am…special?”

He just winks at me, and suddenly I know.

Topaz
It’s been about one week since Snow Lion had her baby. I frequently had gone to see her, and I still do. She is good company, and it pleases Abigor to know that I have a lovely bond with his only, and most favourite, sister. But each day that I go to her, she gets paler and her voice, softer.

Snow Lion is getting weaker and weaker. She has an infection and is in diminishing shape. Abigor’s been doing badly with facing that truth. He’s been drinking a lot and worrying himself beyond belief. Three Horses is also worried about his wife but he still sees Cassandra on a regular basis. He does not deserve Snow Lion.

Abigor had told me before that ever since Snow had caught the same disease that his mother and other sister had, she’d never fully recovered the right way. The doctors constantly fret over Snow Lion, even though she’s convinced she’ll be all right.

They say it’s really a slim chance.

I pour Abigor yet another glass of wine. He’s been taking his sister’s illness very hard and has been drinking up a frenzy to try and get his mind off of it. Taking the glass over to him, I see him staring absently into the fire. When night rolls around, it’s cold and can be blustery, even though the days are as hot as the sun.

He takes the glass and downs it in one gulp before handing it back to me. He hasn’t cried once, but the wrinkles in his forehead and the biting of his lip is telling me that he wants to but refuses to do so in front of me. That would be a sign of weakness, and god forbid Abigor shows me his weakness.

Snow Lion has been coughing up blood. Her nightgowns are stained with it. After the delivery of the child, she had to be stitched up. The castle medics went about trying to do their bests, but it failed. The wound infected and spread through her body like a prairie fire.

It has taken Abigor all his might not to storm down there and kill the medics where they stand. He crushes his face into his hand, his eyes blazing in the firelight. I dare not say more.

“Did you hear anything else about my sister?” he asks me softly. His voice comes out husky, but wobbly. He turns his head to look at me, black eyes searching for mine.

I shake my head and look down. “She’s a strong woman,” I tell him, trying my hardest to be of comfort to him. “She’ll make it through. She’ll make it.”

He laughs humorlessly before replying back to me in a cocky, arrogant tone. “She’s been fucking weak ever since she was a kid,” he retorts. I jump at his harsh tone. “Face the facts, ‘Eliza. She’s…”

I shake my head. “Don’t do this to yourself, Abigor. There’s no way of knowing.”

He looks away from abruptly, only to bury his face in his hands and grab at his hair. “Don’t do this to myself? Right. My sister’s dying. You telling me that she’s not going to die only burns my wounds even more.”

My heart is hammering in my chest. I take a deep breath, leaning my back against the bedpost. “She needs you to be strong for her,” I whisper. “If she saw you like this, upset and already preparing her deathbed for her, she’d be terribly shaken and upset.”

His fingers tug at the roots of his thick black hair. “Like she already doesn’t know that she’s going to die…” he groans softly.

My nails dig into my skin. “Oh, I’m not saying that, Abigor. Even if she knows, she wouldn’t want to see you broken for her. I know if I were dying, I wouldn’t want to see my family members distressed and upset like this. It would only make me more afraid of the unseen and the unknown. I’d want them…to be strong for me, hold my hand and smile, assuring me that everything’s gonna be alright before I ascended to a greater place.”

He still does not cry. He stands from his chair and turns to face me, all in his near seven-foot glory. As he comes to stand close to me, his towering body sways and he nearly collapses. His hand reaches out and braces his body against the bedpost, trapping me near him.

“Eliza…” he whispers. “Who do I have to lean on?”

I rest my hand on his blazing hot peck and swallow thickly. “You have me,” I say gently. “I’ll do all I can to be there for you, Abigor.”

He leans down a little, taking my face into his hand. “I need you.” That’s all he says. His eyes blaze with lust as they look down upon me. His breath smells of heavy wine and whiskey and he can’t even stand upright.

“I think you should lay down for a little while,” I tell him, grabbing his bicep and steadying him on his feet.

“No,” he groans. “I want you, Eliza. Will you not give me this?”

I grimace at his grief-stricken tone of voice. I shake my head slowly. “You’re drunk, my king. This is not the kind of support you need right now.”

When I try to move away, he grabs me roughly and yanks me back to him. “It’s all the support I need,” he growls.

I look him in the eye and gulp again. The muscles in his jaw tense and bunch together when he grits his teeth, nervously and anxiously awaiting my answer. “No,” I whisper. “I want you to lay down and gather your thoughts.”

“Oh, fuck me!” He pushes me away so hard that I tumble backwards, landing hard on the floor and cracking my head against the wardrobe. “You deny me even when I need you most. “What a lousy bed thrall you are.”

The venom in his voice surprises me. I want to cry, but I realize that he’s hurting badly. I hang my head a little and bite my lip. I can feel blood trickling down my forehead. “I’m sorry.”

His face softens a little at the sight of my blood. He reaches out to me before quickly snatching his hand away as if the air was poison. “You are to stay here at all times,” he hisses. “You shall not speak to another person, you shall not even look at another person. If I come back to see you gone, there will be no end to my wrath.”

Then he goes, slamming the door behind him. I slump against the wall. I think it’s best to treat the wound before it festers and infects.

0o0o0o0o

I’ve been locked in my darkening room for over an hour. I’ve lit a sweet, vanilla smelling candle to help me to see in the darkness I wonder where he is because it is night and it is not like him to wander about in the odd hours. It is not like him to go to sleep past nine o’ clock either. He loves his rest.

I wear a wet cloth over the wound on my forehead, my curly hair swept up into a maid’s bun. I have become utterly bored due to the fact that over the course of that hour, I have gone about with my candle in hand, reading through every book Abigor has left in the bedroom, exploring every nook and cranny, and just about documenting every particle of dust in the room.

I’m desperate to free myself from this dark and desolate hole. I stand on my feet, still a bit wobbly and dizzy from where I’d hit my head. I make my way over to his desk with my little stub of a candle that has been melted down over the long, treacherous hour, where all his belongings and jewels from the raids sit. I see the little wooden box that holds the Silvertongue, and the ruby and emerald necklaces were thrown into a pile on the other side of it.

I look for a key, anything that could help me. I sift through various parchment scrolls, and jewels, and trinkets from commoner’s houses with no such luck of finding that sweet golden key that would liberate me from these bounds. I collapse into the chair that sits beneath the desk, my head slinging forwards into my ready hands.

My fingers comb through my curls in distress until they hit the messy bun that I wove sloppily while trying to get my hair out of my face so that I could properly treat my wound. They feel the pins that hold my hair there and suddenly I have an idea.

I tug a pin from my hair, holding it in front of my age. I narrow my eyes at it, glancing at the door handle, and then back at the pin. A light bulb seems to illuminate in my mind. I hurriedly tug the rest of the pins out of my hair, letting my mane of tightly wound corkscrew curls fall around my heart-shaped face.

I choose one trusty pin out of the pile on Abigor’s desk and rush to the door with my candle. I shove it into the little keyhole and work it around in odd angles, pushing and turning at different intervals. Just when I start to think that my plan may not work, I hear a little ‘click’ and from my mouth emits a satisfied sound.

I turn the handle of the door, glancing around in the hallway for any maids, servants or lustful warriors lurking the darkened corridors. I see no one. I drop the pin on the floor and touch my hammering heart to make sure that I really want to go through with this. Abigor’s warning was very clear that if he came back to find me gone, I would be severely punished.

Just down the hallway, I hear a loud cry. It is a woman’s cry, and she sounds like she’s in pain. My ears pick up the noise and instantly I am intrigued. Why does she scream so? Is she being raped?

I shut Abigor’s door behind me, holding up the candle to see around me before tiptoeing down the hallway as quietly as humanly possible. As I walk the corridors, my nightgown dragging upon the dirty floors, the screams get louder with the echoes bouncing exuberantly off of the stone walls.

As I walk, I notice that this hallway must be off limits. There are no windows, except for a small, round hole that is very much so out of anyone’s reach. There are not many rooms, but there are many closed doors, creating an even darker hallway, the only light being from the window high above.

It casts a beam of pale moonlight upon me in the darkness. The cries get louder as I near a slightly ajar door. With my curiosity nearly bubbling over, I use two gentle fingers to push open the door and look inside.

It’s also dark, the only light being a dim fire crackling in the corner. I can’t see the two people on the bed, but I can guess what they’re doing. The woman’s cries were ones of pleasure and not pain. Silky white legs tangle in longer, copper-toned legs.

I can see the shadow on the wall when he thrusts into her, grabbing fistfuls of her long hair and yanking her head back. “You want me?” The question is almost inaudible due to its gruffness.

The breathy answer sounds a moment later. “Oh yes, I want you. Fuck me harder, please!”

I hear him slamming into her at a frenzied pace. Her mewls and cries of pleasure echo throughout the hallway. “Oh, Gods…” I hear the man say. He pushes her down harder, slapping her face.

“Oh do it again,” the woman cries out. “How I love the pain!” So he does it again, causing her head to whip to one side. He grabs her legs and wraps them around his waist to get closer to her. He pounds into her, dragging fire through every single one of her veins.

Suddenly the man slows his pace and tugs the woman upwards so that she’s sitting in his lap with his chest against her back. His long black hair spills down his back as he unloads himself into her body. And then something happens that I do not expect. “Oh my king,” she whimpers. “You are powerful, all mighty.”

My eyes widen and I weakly refrain from gasping once I saw that the man that was with the harem girl was none other than Abigor. My eyes are wet with unshed tears. I don’t know why I want to cry. He was never mine.

He pushes her off of him. The woman, I now recognize as Athenodora. He makes his way off of the bed to get his breechcloth. I quickly run down the corridor with my candle in hand, desperate to get out of sight. I blow out the candle’s light as I rush into a corner so that he doesn’t see me.

Just when I think I’m done for, he strides right past our room and down the hallway. He probably wishes to see Snow Lion. I take the opportunity to dart back to the room.

0o0o0o0o

Another hour later, I find myself still awake and just staring blankly at a wall when Abigor comes in. I’m beyond past the point of being upset, and now I’m frankly irked by the fact that when I rejected him, he used Athenodora to be his punching bag. Not that I wanted to be his punching bag, either.

“How do you feel?” I ask through gritted teeth. He just stands there at the door, staring into the fire. “Did you get your fix from some other woman?”

He still says nothing. That bothers me more than him retorting something mean right back at me. His face is passive and I can’t read a single emotion off of it. His fists clench and unclench at his side.

I frown, looking down at my hands briefly before snapping my eyes back up to his. “Well, say something—”

“Mysister’sdead.” The words come out in a jumble.

“What?” I cock my head to the side in confusion. I’m almost afraid that I heard something that I didn’t want to hear.

He takes a deep breath before repeating it slower this time. “My sister’s…dead.” I did.

I stand up from my chair immediately. My mouth hangs slack and my arms are stretched at my sides. “Abigor, I…”

He holds up his hand. “Don’t,” he hisses maliciously at me. “I don’t want your pity. Just leave me alone.” Then he strides over to his desk and sits down at it, unlocking a large silver box and dropping a pretty necklace into it. It’s an orange topaz necklace, one that I recognize that Snow Lion had had on when I first spoke to her. There were three others of the same necklace in the box.

Then he hands me a new necklace, gesturing for me to put it on. Not knowing what to do, I oblige and slip the topaz necklace over my head. Shaking hands grab the box and dump out all of the necklaces across the table.

“When I was four, my father raided a jeweller’s bazaar out on the countryside and brought back these necklaces,” he whispers. “There were five necklaces. I kept one and gave the other four to my sisters, White Fawn and mother. It was perfect for them because the orange topaz looked like fire…and the women of my family were all forged of fire and strength.”

I look down at my necklace. It is beautiful, a golden swirl of metal keeping the beautiful translucent jewel in place. I look back at him. He’s still sifting through the necklaces.

He sighs. “Over the years, I’ve gradually gotten them returned. First Gentle Raven’s…then my mother’s and White Fawn’s, and now Snow Lion’s. I thought foolishly that a part of their souls would be kept in the topaz even after they left the tangible world, that I could keep them with me still.” He buries his head in his hands. “I lose everyone that I love.”

I still clutch the little jewel around my neck like it is my lifeline. Tears sparkle in my eyes. “I’m so sorry,” I whisper. “If you want to cry, I’ll…”

He whips around with fire in his eyes. “You want me to cry. You asked me that same question earlier, even when my sister was alive. Do you want me to feel more pain than I already have?”

I jump a little at his tone of voice. I breathe a sigh. “Sometimes it’s best to let it all go.”

His face is twisted in agony. “What would you know about losing someone?” he murmurs accusingly.

I gasp in shock at his words. “My whole family’s dead thanks to your men,” I hiss at him. “I know everything there is to know about losing people that are close to you!”

And then my own tears come, pouring down my cheeks when I least expect it. I do not move to cover them in shame or look away. Instead, my brown eyes lock with his steely black ones.

He embraces me in his arms, burying his nose in my neck. He inhales my scent deep through his nostrils and tries to gather his thoughts, but he does not cry. For some odd reason, Abigor still is adamant about keeping his emotion concealed beneath his thick skin.

He shakes with his sadness. I reach down to wrap him in my arms and pull him close. “Never leave me,” he mumbles. “You must promise to never leave me.”

My voice is shaky from crying and falters a little. “I…I promise. Know that I w-will never l-leave you.”

He picks me up into his arms and goes to the bed and lays me down beside him. My face is on his breast and his chin rests on my head while he tries to gather his thoughts. “Why does it feel so empty? Can you answer me that, my tigress?” he murmurs softly.

“When you lose someone very close to you, it can be very hard to recover,” I tell him.

“Menene zai cika komai na sarari, to ku?” he asks me quietly. (What will fill my empty space, then?)

I look up at him slowly and lick my lips. He looks down at me, tucking his chin a little. “Zan idan ka so shi.” (I will if you wish it.)

His hand curls around my neck and touches the jewel resting there. “Kada a kai wannan kashe…ba har sai mutuwa ta sassa da mu.” (Never take this off…not until death parts us.)

I nod my head slowly. “Okay. I…how do you say promise in your language?”

“Alkawari.”

“Okay. Na yi alkawari.” (I promise.)

He buries his face in my neck. “I am so sorry about earlier. It was a rash decision. The whore meant nothing to me, I just needed…something. I’m glad you refused me.”

I find myself smiling instantly. Why was I ever mad at him for that again? I’ve never been so forgiving before, and the idea of it is so foreign that it shakes me. “Think nothing of it. You were hurting, that’s all.”

He kisses my cheek before he gives a sigh. “You must promise me just one more thing,” he whispers to me, brushing a wisp of my curly brown hair out of my eyes.

I nod my head in return. “Anything you wish.”

“This emptiness…” he murmurs, his voice contemplating. “I never want to feel it again.”

I breathe against his chest, wiping my eyes with the corner of his finger. “Then you never shall.”

0o0o0o0o

I sit still the next morning as he lathers blue and white paintings onto my skin. Blue is the colour for peace and the white is the colour for mourning and wishing the deceased off to the afterlife. I stand, wearing my white silks and sapphire jewels. The topaz still remains around my neck. I have made a promise to never take it off, and I plan to keep my promise intact.

He leads me out the door, beckoning me to follow him. Today is the day of the funeral. Abigor has not said one word to me all morning, and I don’t pressure him. I know how hard this must be. We walk down the hallway and to the outside of the castle. Snow Lion is positively beautiful, dressed in white robes adorned with blue ribbons and jewels. She wears her crown on her head, like the true princess she was.

I can see the pain in Abigor’s eyes as they roam over his deceased sister’s body, lying peacefully in the open coffin filled to the brim with white and blue flower petals. Iron Coyote stands near him, his face as hard as a rock but sadness in his eyes. They lift the coffin onto the long boat and settle it into the water.

Snow Lion’s maids and servants cry for the loss. Everyone in the castle knew that she was a gentle and kind woman to all. Three Horses, now widowed, cries for his dead wife. The child that they had is nowhere to be found. A servant walks to up to Abigor and hands him the torch, lit with fire. His face contorts with sadness and pain.

He looks down at me for something. I don’t know what to do. If I were in his place, I would be feeling the exact same way. Instead of looking away, I wipe the tears from my eyes and nod slowly. He steps forward with the torch and slowly makes his way over to his sister’s still body. Three Horses follows him. He leans down and kisses her head, and Three Horses does the same.

Then Abigor touches the torch to the edge of the boat, watching as it lights up with the bright orange flame. He grits his teeth together harshly before dipping the torch into the water and nudging the burning boat out into the water with the tip of his toe.

He returns to my side almost immediately. I lean against his arm and he lets me into his embrace. The boat burns out on the water, lifting Snow Lion’s spirit all the way up to the afterlife. I am used to going to burials back home, but this funeral is so much more symbolic. Instead of hiding one’s body away beneath the earth for an eternity, these people believe that by burning the deceased, their ashes will rise up into the sky to be once again whole in their afterlife.

He is shaking violently now. Suddenly, Abigor turns on his heel and strides into the castle. I chase him inside, calling out his name relentlessly but he still does not stop to wait for me. People begin to file inside once the boat begins to sink and Snow Lion’s body turns to ashes. Petals and ashes scattered in the wind.

I go in after him, wanting to comfort him and hold him in my arms. He paces the length of his bedroom, clutching his head in his hands. “What do I do?” he murmurs. “She’s gone. She’s really gone now, ‘Eliza.”

I gulp. “I want you to understand that she’ll always be with you in your heart,” I tell him, laying a palm over his heated chest. “She’s never left you. Neither did Gentle Raven, your mother, or White Fawn.”

Seeing Abigor’s hardened features make me realize that he still hasn’t cried over the loss of his last female family member. He looks at me. “I haven’t cried in such a long time. You’re right,” he mumbles. “You must think me insensitive.” He gives a humourless laugh. “I am.”

Just witnessing the pain laced through his voice, and the evident agony in his steel brown eyes, my eyes begin to become wet once more with tears. I sniff rather loudly when a tear comes rumbling down my cheek. “You’re not insensitive,” I whisper to him. “You’ve no time to cry. People are always counting you to be the strong one. But you don’t have to be anymore. Not in here, Abigor. In here you cry all you want, and I’ll hold you until my arms fall off.

Abigor looks at me with bewilderment before shutting his eyes and collapsing to his knees. His arms reach out and pull me in, mashing his face into my stomach and hugging me close. And then it happens. The tears come rolling down his face and he inhales the much-needed breath of air. My arms instantly fly around him and gather him closer to my body.

“Oh Gods,” he cries. His hands clutch at my white silks and tear them from my body. I do not cry or stop him from doing so. I stay in my place, holding him and letting him strip me naked. I know he will not try to take me.

Once his breechcloth comes off, I realize the symbolism of being naked against him. He wants to be as close to me as possible, and me allowing him to do so has calmed him greatly. I sit on his lap and his head just lies limply on my chest as he cries.

I cradle him in my arms. He has been so neglected. His mother died when he was young, and the last mother figure in his life, his sister Snow Lion, has now gone off to join the other ladies of his family. He was whipped mercilessly by his father, taunted and tormented by his older brother after what happened to White Fawn, and left a gold throne to sit and grin and bear it after the life of hell he’d spent living. He has no woman to lean on but me, and I’m determined to be there.

His burning hands roam my backside, tugging me even closer yet. He explores the soft skin of my breasts and thighs, just revelling in grandeur from the touch. He kisses the necklace on my neck. “You are the last one,” he tells me. “If I lose you…I wouldn’t know how to go on.”

I kiss his temple, my hand stroking his long hair comfortingly. “Then you shall never lose me.” He looks up into my eyes, his brown orbs searching mine. I gulp and swallow the thick bubble of air that had been building in my throat. I nod my head. “My friend, the one I told you about before, said not to commit yourself to a man unless you really love him.”

He leans his head back against the chair and settles me on his lap. I can feel his cock hardening against my thigh. “And…do you love me, little one?”

I take a deep breath before nodding my head quickly. “Oh yes. I love you,” I tell him.

A broken smile spreads across his face. “Alright then. I…I love you as well.” His hands settle on the soft swell of my hips. “What else did your wise friend say?”

My hands reach up to cradle his face in my hands. “She told me that…after you decided you love the man, you can decide to give yourself to him.” I’m afraid. My heart is pounding. But just by looking at this man, I know that there is nothing to be afraid of. “Yes, my love, I’m giving myself to you.”

He shakes his head and strokes a finger down my cheek. “No. No, you don’t have to do this just because I’m hurting.”

I press my body into his. “I’m not. You said, ‘when I’m ready.’ I’m ready now, Abigor. Make love to me.”

Question
(A/N: The end is for mature audiences only, read at your own discretion)

I gulp and swallow the thick bubble of air that had been building in my throat. I nod my head. “My friend, the one I told you about before, said not to commit yourself to a man unless you really love him.”

He leans his head back against the chair and settles me on his lap. I can feel his cock hardening against my thigh. “And…do you love me, little one?”

I take a deep breath before nodding my head quickly. “Oh yes. I love you,” I tell him.

A broken smile spreads across his face. “Alright then. I…I love you as well.” His hands settle on the soft swell of my hips. “What else did your wise friend say?”

My hands reach up to cradle his face in my hands. “She told me that…after you decided you love the man, you can decide to give yourself to him.” I’m afraid. My heart is pounding. But just by looking at this man, I know that there is nothing to be afraid of. “Yes, my love, I’m giving myself to you.”

He shakes his head and strokes a finger down my cheek. “No. No, you don’t have to do this just because I’m hurting.”

I press my body into his. “I’m not. You said, ‘when I’m ready.’ I’m ready now, Abigor. Make love to me.”

“Eliza. Eliza!”

Suddenly I gasp, my eyes flying open and I’m jolting in his lap. He looks confused by my actions, but I too am confused. Did I really just say that to him? I can’t tell. Oh, I must have been dreaming. I must have been. He called my name. Perhaps I zoned out. I think I did.

But the thing is, it all felt so real. It didn’t seem like I was dreaming, but I apparently was…because I don’t remember telling him I ever loved him or wanted to make love to him, or seeing the look on his face when I told him to ‘go on ahead.’

What did my tiny daydream truly mean? It must have meant something. In my daydream, I was so positive about what I wanted—him. I don’t think that I could have ever been that brazen.

“What’s the matter? I called your name several times and you still didn’t hear me.” He says to me. I shake my head. It’s nothing. I’m honestly confused. Do I love him? Does he love me too? Or is it just another product of my imagination? Do I want him like he wants me?

I lean back in his lap. In my dizzy mindset only a few moments before, I brushed something off that was not meant to be brushed so easily off. “When you left in a hurry last night…you went and saw another woman.”

Almost immediately I see the guilt shining in his eyes. “I was drunk. I told you I was sorry.” I sigh and climb off of his lap. He looks distraught by the action and reaches to pull me back. I lunge out of the way and start to put my silks back on. I don’t mean to hurt him. I only want to cover myself.

I shrug my shoulders, slipping the breast cloth and genital cloth on before wrapping the silks around my body. “I didn’t really address it before because I didn’t want to fight again. But it still does hurt…seeing you with her.”

His face pales. “You…you saw me with her?”

At first, I do not know if I want to start this conversation, but I find myself nodding before I can stop myself. “I went to look for you after being locked in the room for several hours…and I just saw something I wasn’t supposed to see.”

His shoulders droop and he sighs, his tone laden with guilt and culpability. “I don’t desire her like I desire you. With Athenodora, it’s just a desire of the flesh.”

I find myself frowning at him. “You desire my flesh too. You’ve told me that one on countless occasions.”

He glances up at me, noticing the bit of humour laced in my tone. “But with you,” he begins, reaching forwards from his chair and grasping my hands tightly in his. “It’s both. I desire your flesh as much as I desire your respect and your love. I truly had no right.”

I squeeze his hand into mine before dropping it back to his side as I pin my white silks into place with a blue pin. I sigh softly. “You get to have your way with any woman you like while I’m stuck in here, not allowed to speak to any man without your permission.”

Now he’s frowning. “I have a reason for that. Do you want to end up getting raped, Elizabella? I’ve saved you from that fate twice. My men cannot be trusted.”

What he says is true, I cannot deny that fact. I am truly grateful for his protection, and I was also truly grateful for his protection at those times of my need. I exhale and nod my head. “But what of Black Bear? You wrongfully attacked him and now he’s deathly afraid of me because of you. I don’t like being feared.” I blush a little, smiling at his bewildered expression. I don’t think he finds it so funny.

He grits his teeth, his jaw crunching together. “I am always feared.” He leans forward in his great, bearskin chair, and naked as the day he was born. “I am the ruthless king of the barbarian tribes of the western wilds. No man does not go to bed without having at least one nightmare about me.”

I look up at him with interest. “It is your own fault. If you did not steal from the innocent kingdoms, perhaps they would not hate and fear you. Mayhap…they would learn to love you if you provided them with a protection of some sort. I suppose you could make an ally.”

He stands with a humourless laugh and ties his breechcloth around his waist. “Allies? I have no tolerance for other leaders who call my people barbarians and spit on our names. I can understand how you feel about this matter, but I have known nothing else. I was born of blood and theft.”

I move closer towards him. “Then let them know you are a good man. Let them know that you are a great king. I’ve seen it first hand. You’ve made me…change my mind about you.”

He smiles at my last comment, but then his attitude changes and he humorlessly snorts. “I’ve got a thousand year reputation. Makes no difference whether I change now. I am still a beast in their eyes, and I shall at least uphold it.”

“Abigor—”

He holds his hand up and shakes his head. “Don’t.” Then he tosses some dirty clothes into a basket and tosses it to me. “I have to go to a meeting. Do the laundry out by the river, and then put it back here when you are done. I should be finished with the meeting in a little over an hour.”

I give him a look. “Am I your maid now? You found use in me while I was comforting you, but now you treat me like a slave, telling me to off and do your dirty laundry.”

“You are not a maid,” he insists, huffing like a child that’s explained something over and over again. “But I’ve treated you like a princess for a very long time. It’s time you do work. Even the harem girls work. Every woman in my kingdom works. And don’t spit that ‘my kingdom does not do that’ back at me because I’m tired of you comparing measly Bellechester to my land.”

I huff at him and pick up the basket. “I’ve no problem with doing the laundry,” I tell him. “And I’ve no problem with upholding my womanly duties. I demand to not be ordered around.”

He looks at me in shock at first but then breaks into a slow smile. “You are just like my mother; fiery, fierce, strong. I will be back soon.”

Before I can shoot something back at him, he captures my lips. And all negative thoughts and feelings melt away in the passion. He breaks away from our kiss, and I follow him out the door without a sound, the basket of clothes tucked firmly under my arm.

We part in the hallway. He goes off towards the War Tactics and Strategies room and I go off towards the back of the castle, where the maids and servants walk out to take care of the gardens, the animals, and the clothes.

The river is where all women, title and all, go to wash their clothes or get a drink. The sun beats down on me, showering me with heat as my bare feet pad through the dry grass and dirt until I reach the river, to the shaded part of the forest. The other ladies are there doing laundry as well.

I kneel by Michelle, who is also washing clothes for Drinks of Waterfall. “Hello!” She greets me with a pleasant smile and a warm hug. “I haven’t seen you in a while. How have you been?”

“Well,” I reply. “But Abigor’s been distraught over the loss of his sister. I can’t blame him. She was a good, and kind woman.”

Michelle nods and pulls a dark green tunic out of the river, lays it into a flat stone and scrubs a bar of soap onto it. She looks up at me and smiles. “Your necklace is very pretty. Did Abigor give it to you?”

My hand goes around the topaz sitting on my neck. I nod my head. I take out a pair of deerskin pants and dip them in the river. “Mind if I use your soap?”

Michelle shakes her head. “No, not at all.”

I scrub the pants with the soap, lathering it in bubbles. Michelle dips another shirt into the water next to me. “You know, I’ve heard much about that necklace.”

I look over at her with interest. “And what did you hear?”

“That it is the trophy necklace,” Michelle replies. “Any woman who is lucky enough to get the topaz necklace is said to be very important to our king.”

I breathe in and out very slowly. “Is that so?”

She nods her head. “Very so.” She wipes the sweat off of her forehead and sighs. “I’ve been out here for an hour. Tristan has a lot of clothes.”

I smile weakly. “Does he?”

Michelle nods her head. “I suppose it’s better to have me clean his clothes than to have him be dirty.” She clutches at her stomach briefly before leaning back down to pull another shirt out of the water.

I cast a side-glance towards her. “Are you all right?” I ask her. She looks pale in the sunlight, and incredibly weak.

She nods her head. “Oh yes. I’m very much okay.” I nod my head, not asking any more questions. Soon I find myself through half the basket of clothes with sweat on my back and fatigue rising.

I reach up to wipe my forehead. Beside me, Michelle groans and clutches at her stomach. I frown at her. “You’re not telling me something. Are you going to faint? You look pale.”

She shakes her head. She squeezes a bundle of clothes and wrings the water out of them. “Elizabella, you must promise me that you will not tell a soul about what I am about to tell you.”

This startles me. I sit back on my haunches and throw the clean clothes into the basket behind me. “Alright. I promise.”

She sighs and grabs my hand. “I…I am with child.”

I gasp rather loudly, causing Michelle to clamp a hand over my mouth. “Shh, my lady! You are much too loud.”

I move her hand from my mouth. “And does he know?”

Michelle nods her head slowly. “Of course he knows. He sees every inch of my body, takes notice of every little thing…including when I missed my second month of virtue blood.”

I’m anxious to know. “And…what did he say?”

She looks to the ground. “He was…he was nonchalant. It was like he almost didn’t care. Oh Elizabella, I was terrified of what he’d say. If he’d stop loving me, or just throw me back into the harem. But he didn’t, and that was what surprised me the most!”

I’ve heard terrible stories of women being thrown back to the harem when a man unintentionally made a woman pregnant. She would have to fend for herself with no support from the child’s father, and the child would grow up without a father figure in his life. No, that isn’t what I want to happen to Michelle or me.

I look down at her stomach. It protrudes a little, but not too much. “How far along are you?” I ask her. “You don’t look very big.”

“Evalyn said that I was about three months into the pregnancy,” Michelle explains. “She said that I probably got pregnant around the time that we first got here.”

I nod my head. It’s probably guaranteed that I would be pregnant too if I’d allowed Abigor to take me when he wanted to. I lick my dry lips. “I wish you the best pregnancy. I’ll pray to the Gods that Drinks Of Waterfall keeps you by his side…though I already know that he will.”

She blushes and nods her head. She picks up her wicker basket and holds it in her arms. “Well, I ought to take this laundry inside. It was nice talking to you again, Elizabella. I wish you the best of luck with Dances With Wolves.”

I nod my head and smile back at her. I finish washing Abigor’s close, and then I begin to haul the heavy basket up the great grass hill to hang them on the clothesline. I set down the basket and hang the clothes on the twine rope that hangs across a few trees. I reach up to hand a white shirt onto the line when a heavy body collides into mine, knocking me to the ground.

I hear a gasp, and then I look up. It’s Black Bear. “Na tuba,” he gruffly manages out, offering a shaking hand (I’m sorry). I take it and stand up from where I was on the ground. I wipe the dirt off of my dress and look up at him.

“Daidai de mana, da kuwa hadari,” I say with a small smile. I look him up and down. “Ka yi kama kana cikin sauri.” (It’s all right, it was just an accident. You look like you’re in a hurry.)

He nods his head. “Raye-Raye Da Wolves ba ya so in yi magana da kai. A gaskiya ma, sai ya ce zai kasha mu idan mun yi magana da kai,” he says matter-of-factly. Then he folds his arms over his chest. “Kuma… kamar kana so in aka kasha su.” (Dances With Wolves doesn’t want me to speak to you. In fact, he says he will kill us if we speak to you. And…it seems like you want me to get killed.)

I frown at him, my fists clenching at my side. “Ina ne kawai da abokantaka! Ka sani, kai ne mutum na fari na sadu a nan abin da ya ba kokarin fyade da ni.” (I’m only being friendly! You know, you’re the first man I’ve met here that hasn’t tried to rape me.)

This changes him slightly. “Me ya sa kake so ka zama abokai da ni? Mace ke ba ya so ya zama aboki na da sai dai idan tana son wani abu daga gare ni.” (Why do you want to be friends with me? A woman’s never wanted to be my friend before unless she wanted something from me.)

I frown, placing my hands on my hips. “Ina so kawai ka dogara,” I explain. “Na yi maka alkawari ba za ta mutu idan kana da irin kawai a gare ni…da kai ne.” (I only want your trust. I promise you won’t die if you’re only being kind to me…which you are.)

His brows furrow together. “Mu ne abokai?” (We are friends?)

I nod my head. “Na’am. Mu ne abokai.” (Yes. We are friends.)

A distant shouting causes him to jump in his place. He gives me a look of kindness before he leaves. I finish hanging the clothes on the clothesline.

0o0o0o0o

I sit with my wine in my hand, sipping it graciously from time to time. It’s midday and Abigor’s sleeping naked in his bed. He’s locked the door, so I have no possible way of getting out to do something actually productive.

He looks so peaceful when he sleeps. His hair is fanned out on the pillows around him. His muscles bunch and jump when he jerks in his sleep slightly. Things are running about my mind since I’ve nothing to do but sit there, drink, and think about some things. They are questions that I find unanswered.

I want to ask why he showed me such kindness on the first night we met while the other men treated me like scum, dirt on the bottoms of the soles of their feet. I want to ask why he told me to go sit on his brother’s lap only to be fondled and choked in front of the whole entire dining table, why he said nothing until I confronted him.

I want to ask him why he showed concern for me until my nails found my skin, and why his face fell like rain from heavy clouds when I began to cry over it.

I want to ask why he would cut out his own soldier’s heart for the lowly whore that was supposed to be pleasing him but wasn’t…why he found it easier to hold his fist to his own brother’s face instead of letting Iron Coyote rape me.

I want to ask Michelle when she fell in love with Drinks of Waterfall and if she knew, or really could have known her own heart before he gave her his. Instead, I lean back in the chair and let the wind blow in from the window, hoping that it would whisper to me the answers he never says.

I sip more of my wine, my dizzy spell intensifying. I want to ask all the characters in the books I’ve read if the hero ever got bored of his lover once evil vanquished and rode off into the sunset alone, without looking back.

I want to ask him why he has any right to scale the perimeters of the steps I took while locked up in my tower when it was he, himself who put me there. I want to ask him why he has any right to make me feel this way when he was the one that trapped me with his kind smile and gentle touch.

I want to ask him if the wine has the power to reveal the hearts of boys and men and if it could tell me as much as the scars on his back or the look in his eyes when he speaks so gloriously of the ones he’s lost.

I want to ask him why he made the claim speech with my rapist’s heart in his hand only to turn around and fuck another woman…why he even cares about a mousy young commoner girl that’s supposed to be a whore, out there for everybody to sample like a sweet dessert served up on a golden plate.

I want to ask him why he gave me the topaz necklace (the great trophy) when he could have given it to any other woman in the world (or the many eligible beauties lusting after him) instead of me.

But instead, I sit back and continue to call him a barbarian, a bandit, and thief. And when he asks me what he’s stolen, it’s never the truth. I always have some feeble list that goes on and on about his wrong-doings, the jewels, the furniture, the paintings, and the lives he’s stolen…but I’ve forgotten the most important thing.

What truly makes him a thief is that he’s stolen something of mine. Something so guarded and kept away that one would have to be a true mastermind to steal it.

My heart.

And with that, I decided that I love Abigor, ruthless king of the barbarians, great thief of kingdoms far and wide, and slayer of men. I touch the topaz sitting around my neck. It is the great trophy, the one that I have long awaited.

He stirs in his bed. “Love…Eliza,” he mumbles in his sleep. I gasp, my hand flying over my fluttering heart. There’s my answer. He does love me. And in my daydream earlier in the morning, I remember what my married friend Mrs Smythe told me about love. She said not to commit myself to a man unless I truly loved him.

Do I love Dances With Wolves, the great king?

Yes. I do.

And I after I decided I loved that man? She said that I would be able to fully give myself to him, body and soul. I stand from my seat and take off my clothes until I am as naked as the day I was born.

Abigor’s tossing and turning in his sleep. He tosses and turns so much that he sits completely upright in the bed, having had woken himself up. His eyes catch the sight of my body as the terrified brown colour melts into a molten black, one that’s filled to the brim with lust.

“What are you doing?” he breathes softly, hands roaming over linen sheets to unsheathe himself from beneath the covers of his bed.

What am I doing? “I’ve made a decision,” I tell him. “It’s about you and me.”

His teeth grit together and he clutches the blankets tighter. “Do not tempt me, vixen,” he warns. “You don’t want to take that step, but yet you stand there before me in all your womanly glory looking so utterly… within reach.”

I nod my head, my curls tumbling and bouncing about my shoulders. “That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about. I think I do want to take that step. You said that you wouldn’t touch me unless I was truly ready. I’m ready now.”

He gets out of bed, revealing to me the obvious erection beneath his breechcloth. “Are you?” he asks softly, temptingly. I nod my head and place one hand on his chiselled stomach, right above the head of his erection. With a quick and startled intake of breath, he looks down at me with his lustful eyes. He leans down close to my ear, his lips grazing my cheek. “Because once I start, I cannot will myself to stop.”

I tilt my head back, allowing him to kiss along the arch of my neck. “You will make love to me,” I state, my voice husky with wanting. My southern regions flare dangerously and I desperately feel the need to press myself up against his hard body. “You will not fuck another woman, and you will not see another whore. I shall not…tolerate it.”

I moan when his warm hand finds my breasts and squeezes them softly. “Good girl,” his deep bass rumbles in my ear. “Claim me as your own as I have claimed you. Give me your body as I will give you mine.”

I squeeze my eyes tightly shut. His lips take mine, his tongue plunging into mine, delving into crevices unknown before. My hands roam down his back and dig into his muscled buttocks, slamming his pelvic region into mine. I’m a virgin, but I know what I want, and where I want it.

The pleasure-pain swirling in my veins is getting almost unbearable. I want to be filled, impaled, and have the sense of being whole again. We make our way over to the bed and he throws me onto the covers with a fierce passion he’s never displayed before. It’s nothing compared to how rough he was with Athenodora, but the animalistic look in his eye scares me a little.

“I’m here, my tigress.” Abigor’s deep, smooth bass flows through my ears like sweet honey. He slips a hand between our bodies and touches me where my want is most prominent. I throw my head back and cry out.

“Oh please!”

He brings his fingers up to his mouth and sucks the nectar off of them. His lips glistened with my wetness. He’s tasted me again. “You are so wet,” he murmurs, diving back down to kiss my neck. He lifts his knee between my legs to momentarily satisfy the ache. “So ready for me.”

My wetness paints his knee as I writhe against him. Soft skin against hard muscles. Heavy breathing, partially lidded eyes, lips all over. “Oh, Abigor.”

His erection stands so tall that it almost hits his stomach. It is impressive when soft, but when excited it is even more impressive if that is even possible. He jerks himself a few times, never breaking eye contact with me. “Think of the pleasure I shall bring you,” he whispers to me. “Think of me inside of you, dragging fire throughout your veins, making you call out my name so sweetly. Are you?”

His knee moves again, touching against a very heated spot. I cry out again, my back arching, thrusting my breasts into the air. He grabs them, his lips kissing the nipples before leaning back again. “Yes!” I cry out. “I am; I am thinking of it.”

His hands grab my waist more firmly and he pulls me against him tightly, letting his cock touch my mound for the very first time. It sends electric shocks through both of our bodies. “And are you ready for me?” he asks, his voice laden with lust and need and desire.

“My mother always said it would hurt,” I whisper.

Abigor looks at my face and slowly nods his head. “It will hurt for a few seconds, but I promise you, my love, I will make you feel so good.”

I smile and reach up to grab his face in my hands. “And you will make love to me?”

He nods so surely. “I will make love to you until the sun shines no longer and the stars and moon are riding high into the sky.”

I find his hand slithering its way over to grab mine. He holds my hand as he positions his cock at my virgin entrance, his body shaking with anticipation. He looks into my eyes, reaching down and grabbing the back of my neck with his free hand.

I’m afraid, but I know that I want this as much as he does. I glance down as the tip of his cock pushes through the tight hole. He fights to keep his control. My eyes are wild. “No,” he scolds me, tilting my head up to his. “Look at me. Only me.”

I look at him, only him, and take a deep breath.

“Good,” he whispers. “Never take your eyes from mine. Know that love comes in from the eyes. Know that I already love you, Tiger Claw.”

I nod my head. “And I you, Dances With Wolves.”

And that is all the encouragement he needs.

Prey
(A/N: The beginning is for mature audiences only, read at your own discretion)

I feel the tearing inside of me as he pushes through my virginal barrier and sheathes himself in me until the tip of his cock hits my cervix. I cry out in shock and try to bury my face in his shoulder. He keeps his hand under my chin, his eyes never off of my mine. “Look at me, Elizabella. Look at me until the pain washes away.” I look into his eyes.

It’s done. I’m no longer a virgin because…because I gave my virginity to the one I love. Abigor. I shift uncomfortably beneath him for a few seconds, getting adjusted to the pain of having him sheathed so largely in somewhere so small and tight. I can tell his restraint is faulty and his resolve is quickly shattering the more I shift around in his arms.

As the pain fades away, I experimentally thrust my hips up a little. He gasps and his eyes, the ones he’d promised not to close, slam shut. “Ohhh Gods.” I’d really never heard him moan like that before and, needless to say, it excites me. I give him the ‘go ahead’ look and he begins slowly thrusting in and out of my body, his elbows on either side of my head.

He is so tall that when he pushes all the way into me, my face almost meets the top of his torso. I wrap my arms around his body and welcome him in. Soon my silenced whimpers of pain turn into vocal moans of pleasure as his cock rubs up against some unknown place so tenderly and so sweetly.

My nails digging into the tough, scarred skin on his back urges him faster. His hips rise faster and his manhood slams into my body with stamina. He’s breathing heavy as his hands grip my slender waist. I’m moaning with each stroke of pleasure he brings me.

The pain is completely gone, nowhere to be found. The sensation of being so full with his cock inside of me is foreign but breathtaking. I lay there beneath him, my hand in his hand and his eyes locked on mine.

Like a falcon, he swoops down to capture my lips in a kiss raging with passion and want. He draws my hands up above my head and pins them there with his forearm, rhythmically thrusting into me while keeping his lips locked on mine. With his free hand, he massages my breast, flicking a thumb over my nipple to watch it pebble up in the warm bedroom.

I bury my face in his neck, brushing away his long and glorious silky black hair to kiss his pulse point. I lift my hips to meet his thrusts and the upward position makes his manhood hit a certain place that makes me cry out and shudder in his arms.

I clench around his cock, making him roar in pleasure and throw his head back, slamming into me harder. It feels so good. He promised he would make it feel good, and it most certainly does.

He’s mumbling sweet things in my ear, dirty things. “Such a good girl,” he mumbles softly, his teeth catching my earlobe and sucking it into his mouth. The quick strokes drag fire through my veins and make my body surge with some unknown force of pleasure.

“Oh harder,” I moan. He’s taking it gently because of me being his budurwa, and his wanting to take it slow to savour the moment, but it’s driving me insane. “Please!”

He cannot deny me my request. He is like an animal with the way he forces himself into me so passionately. I try to prop myself up on my elbows to give myself some ground, but with each thrust into me, he brings the air into my lungs then knocks it right back out.

I throw my head back against the pillows and grasp the sheets so tightly until my knuckles turn white. His breathing is getting heavier. “I love you,” I whisper to him. “Gods, how I love you.”

Abigor’s tongue plunges into my mouth, his hands resting on my face. “Ina son ki sosai,” he murmurs. “Kar ka taba mantawa.” (I love you so much. Never forget that.)

As he plunges into me, I feel my climax building. It feels like all the times he’s pleasured me, whether it be with his fingers or his lips. But this time the sensation is so much more powerful and strong.

When I come, the sensation of being so full makes me want to see white. I cry out in sheer pleasure. It doesn’t take him long to follow. But as I’m coming down from my pleasure-high, the thing that surprises me the most is him.

Sweat drips from his forehead and his muscles fidget. He looks so manly and strong and beautiful, but he’s never pulled out of my body. There’s a huge possibility that I could get pregnant.

When he finally does pull out, my virginity blood and white ribbons of cum paint my thighs. “Oh ‘Eliza,” he moans, shifting onto his back next to me and cupping my face in his hands, bringing my lips to his again.

We kiss passionately before he pulls away, breathing heavily. “You were amazing. Better than any woman I’ve ever had before.”

I know it’s probably a lie since he’s had many whores before, but I’m not worried about that now. I nestle my head against his shoulder and press my naked body up against his. His skin is hot and comforting. He places a hand possessively on my bottom, squeezing softly.

My finger lazily traces the patterns of his stomach. “How’s your niece?” I ask him.

He shrugs his massive shoulders. “Fine, I suppose. Cries all the time though.”

I chuckle softly at his naivety. “She’s a child, of course, she will cry.” He gives me a distasteful look that makes me laugh. “Be kind to her, she will rule the kingdom one day.”

He shakes his head. “Not unless I have children…or if my brother has children.”

I nod my head, my fingers wrapped in the sheets. “Has one of your whores ever gotten pregnant…from one of your little rendezvous?”

He looks deep in thought for a moment. “No. No one has.”

I look and feel a little sceptical. “If you don’t pull out when your release comes, someone was bound to get pregnant. What if you have a child and you don’t know?”

“I don’t,” he quickly retorts. “I have always believed that you cannot conceive a child from fucking a woman.”

I give him a look. “That’s how all children are—”

“No,” he cuts me off sharply. “Children are conceived from making love…only making love. That’s what my mother told me…that I was conceived in love and love only.”

It’s a nice thing to think. I shake my head and sigh. “Not all children are conceived of love. Some from rape, some from careless mistakes, and accidents.”

He gives me a stern look. “Maybe that’s true,” he begins, shrugging his big shoulders. “But my children will be conceived of love.” Then he gives me this look that renders me speechless for a few seconds. His brown eyes burn into my skin. He gulps, his fingers skirting across the skin of my bare stomach.

I try my best to ignore the action and cock my head to the side. “And do you?”

He looks down at me. “Do I what?”

“Want children,” I begin. “Do you want them?”

It’s a question I’ve been wondering for a while. He breathes out. “Of course I do. Someday I want to marry and have children…hopefully many of them.” He laughs. “I can kind of see it. Little tan, naked boys running wild around the village, sweet girls clinging to my leg…it’s always been there, just waiting to become a reality.”

I don’t press him on the arising question of whom he’ll marry and have children with. I know that there’s a chance it might not be me and I don’t want to spoil our tender moment. “I think that when the time comes when you do have children…you’ll be a great father.”

He thanks me with a hot, wet kiss pressed to my temple. “Is that so? Well, I think you’ll become a great mother and wife one day.”

The only thing is, I don’t want to marry someone if it’s not him. I know of my silly fantasies, the ones I had with Cordell and living out in the countryside and birthing his children…now that fantasy seems like a distant memory even though it was only four months ago.

I can’t even comprehend myself with Cordell anymore. His freckled face and shiny auburn hair are now fading away into the back of mind as if he had never existed. Abigor has been in my life, for what it seems like forever.

I sigh, preparing to ask the question. “And how have you been holding up?”

At first, he doesn’t answer, but then takes a long sigh and shrugs his shoulders. “I still miss her. I always will…but having you here takes a lot of that pain away. Makes it somewhat bearable, if at all.”

I smile to myself. “I’m glad that I can be the one to take your pain away, then.” He smiles rather shyly at me, stroking a fingertip down my cheek.

0o0o0o0o0o

We’re having another shagali tonight in mourning/celebration of Snow Lion’s departure from earth’s soil to the mighty heavens. We are still dressed in our blue and white colours from before.

Outside behind the castle, held near the villages is where we throw our festival. Bright lights and torches light the surroundings in the dark. Blue and white petals are thrown everywhere on the ground. Men and woman come from everywhere to make it in time for our festival.

There is food beyond compare and belief that every villager has taken the time to graciously prepare and donate, and decorations of maidens in white and other wooden sculptures are everywhere.

As for the music, there are drums and funny, little stringed instruments and flutes that the musicians are playing in the corner. The shagali music combined with nature’s music makes it ever so pleasing to the ear.

Abigor had his men craft a beautiful wooden throne for me, one almost as equal to his in beauty. It’s a change since last time we had a shagali. I had to sit on a fancy pillow chained to Abigor’s own throne. I wear my topaz necklace around my neck under the white silk, upholding to the promise made earlier in the day. He wears his breechcloth and nothing else, whereas he would usually wear his deerskin pants with them.

Blue and white streaks of paint decorate his long and muscled torso. I was given the privilege of re-painting them on after the marks from earlier got smudged from earlier ‘activities.’

Michelle is dressed in her beautiful light blue dress laced with white ribbons. Drinks of Waterfall has given her a beautiful light blue topaz stone to go with the dress. Her belly protrudes slightly, but he doesn’t seem at all ashamed of her. Instead, he holds her close to his body, his big hands resting on her stomach at random intervals. He kisses her neck and she smiles.

They are in love, and they are going to have a baby. He will ask her to marry him and she will have his noble little son. She has everything I have ever wanted before in my life.

I look to my right, to Abigor, who sits in his throne, glancing over the dancing crowd of people. He looks bored, and more importantly, upset. I reach over to grasp his hand in mine. He jumps at first, but once he realizes what I’m doing, he squeezes my hand harder and gives me a sweet smile.

“Wine?” I ask him. He nods his head softly. I push myself out of my seat, the junction of my thighs aching from the activity it had experienced earlier. A young lady from the crowds, a girl of about four or five grabs my hand and hugs my hand to her chest.

“Sarauniya! Sarauniya,” she exclaims, nuzzling her cheek against my forearm. I look back to Abigor. I’ve never heard that word in all my time of being here.

“Queen,” he replies. “It means queen.”

The little girl points to Abigor. “Sarki!”

I look to Abigor. “King,” he tells me. “Sarauniya is queen. Sarki is king.”

My jaw drops. This little girl thinks that I am Abigor’s queen. “Ba,” I shake my head, trying to explain to this sweet child. “Ni ba Sarauniyar.” (No, I am not the queen.)

The little girl points to Abigor again. He smiles in amusement. “Ya—ya son ka. Sarauniya! Kai ne.” (He—he love you. Queen! You are.)

Suddenly a woman rushes out from the crowds and grabs the little girl’s arm. The woman, who seems to be the child’s mother, scolds the little girl before shoving her behind her and standing up to face, her face bright red.

“My…my lady. I so sorry for ‘dat. My child not gonna bother you no more.” The young woman says. When I hear her bad grammar, I realize how good Abigor’s common tongue has gotten, and I’m thankful for that. It can be difficult to understand her with her thick accent, but I credit her for trying.

“Please, don’t fuss over it. You truly have a sweet child.” I smile at her and tap her nose with my finger. The child bursts into a fit of laughter. The woman looks so relieved.

Her hands shake as she brushes the wrinkles of her shirt down. “C-can I get you anyt’in to eat or drink?”

This woman seems honored to talk to me. I’m so confused. Only a month ago, I was still a whore, shamed and ridiculed by everyone. Now that I’ve committed myself to Abigor, I’ve had a child come up to me and call me his queen and a woman ask me if there’s anything she could get me, like she was obliged to ask me such a thing..

I lick my dry lips and nod my head. “Dances With Wolves and I would like some wine, if you could manage.”

The woman’s face lights up instantly. “Oh yes! I get you wine. Sit, sit, I bring to you.”

I sit down in my chair, completely blown away. Abigor’s lounging comfortably in his chair, not seeming like anything’s out of the ordinary. I nudge him and ask him if he saw what just happened. He simply replies, “Of course I did. They’re not stupid, Eliza. They notice when their king has a lady. There’s always a chance the lady could be a queen. So they get on her good side before it happens so they’ll be favored later.”

Me? A queen? I’d never considered such a thing before in my entire life. I look at him with this sudden urge. I’m in front of everyone, so when I do this, everyone will see it.

I stand up and make my way over to his throne. I bend down, ignoring his questioning glance, and pull his neck forwards, crashing his lips onto mine. He pulls away at first, hearing the music and festivity stop. They are on edge after what I’ve done. The king has never been kissed in public before and such things were reserved for the bedroom.

I know I’ve made a risky choice. But as I stand there, with Abigor looking in surprise at me, my heart begins to beat faster. What if he doesn’t kiss me back? What if he tells me to go back to my seat?

He doesn’t.

Instead, he grabs my face in his strong, calloused hands, pulling me into his lap and tilting my head over the edge of the armrest of his throne. And he kisses my lips softly.

The mob of people cheer and clap loudly. It is a first for him, since he has never publicly kissed a woman. Of course his men and his brother have done so, but he is the king and it is in their culture to have the king’s sexual life out of the eye of the public.

The young woman and her child return with the wine. As I sit back in my seat, the young woman gives her glass to me, and then nods her head towards Abigor’s direction. He does not smile, only nods at her. Her face turns bright red again and she continually nods at us both again.

Then she nudges the child with the second cup of wine over towards Abigor. She smiles and wobbles over to where Abigor sits at his throne. She raises the glass in her shaky hands, wine licking the sides of the cup. “Giya ga sarki.” (Wine for king.)

At first he only stares at her in interest. The child’s smile falls slightly, as she must be feeling intimidated by her king’s steely gaze. I nudge his arm. He looks over at me in interest. I nod my head, as if telling him to take the wine and be kind to her.

I know he’s not very good with children, only because he doesn’t quite know how to act with them. He was always the youngest child in his family so he never had experience. He wants his own children, but needs to learn a little first.

He plasters on a smile when I signal him to and takes the cup. “Na gode sosai,” he says to her (Thank you very much). The little girl’s smile instantly comes back and she runs to her mother in excitement that the king had just spoken to her and smiled at her.

Suddenly someone starts to chant in the Hausa language. I realize that it’s Three Horses. The drums and flutes play in tune to his chanting. The people around the giant fire in the middle of the shagali move away so Three Horses, with his headdress of jewels, sticks and feathers, can dance around the fire.

One by one, the soldiers of Abigor’s army join. First Iron Coyote, then Grey Hawk, then Drinks of Waterfall, White Fire Sun, and Black Bear. They dance around the fire, mimicking Three Horses. I’ve never seen something so curious as this practice before. I’ve seen them dance before, but never so ritually in a dance.

In this case, a funeral.

Suddenly, Abigor stands up beside me when the men are all quiet and lets out a loud chant for his sister, walking down from his throne to join all the dancing. The other men let him into their circle proudly.

I’ve never watched someone so powerful or graceful in my life. His dancing is so spot on. I seem to be in a trance when I watch him dance. I never take my eyes off of him as he lifts his hands to the heavens, a look of sadness in his eyes.

I know he’s talking to his sister. I know he’s telling her he misses her, and telling the rest of his deceased family members he misses them too. Probably White Fawn too. They all start chanting in unison again, dancing and twirling around the fire while the drums, flutes and stringed instruments play.

When the music stops, the people cheer loudly and Abigor returns to his seat. He doesn’t look at me at first, only takes his wine and takes a long swig of it. “That was beautiful,” I tell him.

He nods his head in my direction. Women, not whores, but women, come closer to dance around the fire. The music starts up again and they begin to elegantly weave their way in and out of circles, making motions with their hands symbolically.

This culture is so exotic and lovely. I sip my wine while sitting beside Abigor. As I’m watching the dancers, I don’t seem to notice the oncoming fight that’s raging between two of the peasant men. Didyme is being fought over by two men whose names betray me. I do not know their faces, perhaps because they are not of Abigor’s warrior men.

They are fighting wildly with their swords with curved blades, the clang of metal-to-metal echoing throughout the area. This is supposed to be a funeral for Snow Lion, yet there is fighting. I look over to Abigor in shock. He just sits and smiles, satisfied with what’s going on.

I desperately look back to the situation. The first man has tripped the second man by using his own foot to trip him and set the man backwards onto his bottom. And before I can call for Abigor to make him stop them both from fighting, the first one plunges his sword into the man’s stomach, the curved blade ripping out intestines.

The crowd claps and cheers as the man raises his bloody sword high into the air. He throws the severed piece of intestine into the fire and watches as the flame burns and ignites higher than it had before. Then the first man kneels down to cut off the other man’s fairly long braid, staggering over to Abigor and placing the severed hair at his feet.

Then he looks to me, ignoring the horrified look on his face and places the bloody sword at my feet. I don’t want the sword. It is not honorable to kill a man. I look over at the dead body and then to Abigor that’s nodding to the man.

“Hand me the sword, Tiger Claw.” At first I don’t hear him because I’m so shocked by what I had just witnessed. He repeats the command, and this time I follow. I reach down and shakily pick up the blood-drenched sword, holding it by the hilt. It’s so heavy that I find myself having to stand to fully support its weight.

Blood runs onto my hands and drips onto my white silk dress. I hand the sword to Abigor. The peasant man gets down on his knees. Abigor does the unthinkable. Abigor knights him, makes him one of his warriors.

His name is revealed to be Little Sea, or his commoner’s name, Collin. I feel sick to my stomach. As Little Sea stands and has the crowds of people around him cheering for him, I stand from my chair and race into the castle.

I’m in the castle, racing up the stairs when I feel a strong hand on my shoulder. He whips me around and gives me a confused look. “What are you doing?” he hisses at me. “The festival’s not over. You need to come back.”

I pull myself out of his grasp. “Abigor, I feel sick!” I reply, racing to the bath hall where the chamber pots sat. He follows me there while I huddle over an empty chamber pot.

He puts his hand on my shoulder and massages lightly. “Why?”

I look back at him, my face feeling green but fire in my eyes. “Why? I just witnessed the actual gutting of a human being while he was alive at your own sister’s funeral. I had to pick up that awful weapon, which might I add, covered me in blood!” I show him my bloodstained hands. He grimaces as some blood drips onto the floors.

I breathe in and out slowly, trying to reign in my temper. “And then you knighted him, like killing somebody was a good thing!”

“It is our culture—”

“Oh stop with that!” I cry. “It is something to kill a man in war. But to kill a man for fun? I don’t care if it’s your culture, it’s still horrid!”

He looks taken aback. “They brought themselves into the fight, knowing the consequences. I make them warriors when they succeed, and if they don’t, it’s the afterlife for them.”

I grip the sides of the chamber pot, blood dripping from my fingers. I don’t think I’m going to throw up anymore, but my stomach still isn’t right. Abigor hands me a deerskin rag to wipe my bloody hands on. “Thank you,” I whisper. Then I look up at him and lick my dry lips. “I can’t go back. I’ve got blood on my dress, I look like I’ve turned permanently green and my stomach’s still not right. You don’t have to stay with me. I don’t want to ruin your shagali because of this. You can lock me in the room, and I promise I’ll stay out of trouble.”

He shakes his head and chuckles. “You didn’t ruin the shagali. The pity party was boring me anyways. I respect you, Eliza. I’ll tell my brother that he can run the festival in my place. I’m sure he’ll have a hell of a time doing that…sitting in my throne and bringing his whore onto his lap.”

I blush at him calling Ivona his whore. He cups my face in his hands. “I can’t get rid of you, can I?” I jokingly ask. He laughs heartily before taking my lips in his.

“Not that easily,” he replies, his lip curling up into a sexy, yet malevolent smile. He presses his lips close to my ear. “You’re my prey, my tigress. Prey should never run from their predator.”

I push him back a little until my lips are close to his ear this time. “I’m a tiger. You’re a wolf. Think about who’s really the predator and who’s really the prey.”

He looks surprised with my answer, but pleased with me as well. “Shall we go back to our room?”

I take the hand he offers and hoist myself up onto my feet, following him down the dark corridor and into our bedroom.

Blood
“No…you have to pick up your chest a little. Puff it out like you’re trying to prove a point to someone. Great!” I’m praising him with a smile on my face, clapping my hands like an excited little girl.

Ever since we left the shagali, I’ve been teaching Abigor a little about my culture, and some of the dances. I told him of the countless balls we’ve had, the masquerades and the traditional styles of dancing. I told him of the masquerade balls, where people would dress up as characters from stories, wearing extravagant costumes and masks to really portray the said character. I told him that the royalty would throw balls regularly, and nobles would sometimes throw them as well. I even told him of a ball my family held.

I step forward, pressing my hands onto his and then I step right back to where I was. I spin gracefully a few times, with the help of one of his abnormally large fingers. I then lift my skirts a little higher, showing my foot dancing upon the stone floors. I move my hips rather sensually–almost copying the movements I’d seen the other ladies of the harem demonstrate during the shagali. I clap to my right, then to my left, and then I stand there, almost breathless, and wait for him.

He looks amused, thinking that I’d forgotten my own part. I give him a look, telling him with my ‘telepathic abilities’ to remember that the next part was his and not mine. “Oh.” His huge hands wrap around my waist and lift me into the air. He makes me feel weightless as I stretch my arms above my head and tilt my head towards the sky.

Abigor turns in a circle then places me back on my feet. “Your dances are strange,” he whispers to me. We circle each other like predators stalking their prey. He remembers the very last part, the one with our hands weaving in and out of each other’s like the wind weaves through trees. “I’ve never done something so queer before.”

“I could say the same about your dances,” I retort softly, leaping away from him and then circling him again. He captures me and spins me once more on his arm. “But they are beautiful nonetheless.”

I pull away from him and step back a little. He waits for my instruction, black slash of an eyebrow quirked upwards while his devious eye burns holes through my skin. “From the beginning?” he asks me.

I quietly nod my head.

“We don’t have music, but just…just imagine something in your head. Something very beautiful and inspiring.” We start our dance again, weaving in and out of each other. I imagine the most beautiful piece of music beginning to play, blasting inside of my head. When I begin to move, his eyes follow me with frightening accuracy, full russet lips tugged up at the corner.

He never looks away. Every touch, every glance, sends fire throughout my body, spreading like some sort of rare and extremely contagious disease. Something as simple as teaching him to dance the way my people did means so much more with the way he treats it. His eyes, his lips, and his touch all drive me to the cliff of insanity and want. Abigor lifts me into the air; heated hands on the sides of my waist grip me tightly, making me feel like a feather on the passing breeze once again.

And he lowers me slowly down, his hot breath on my breasts and neck as he holds me so close to his heavy body. He holds me above the ground for a moment, our foreheads resting together. He smells like pine forests, mint and man. Abigor is like living, breathing sex on legs. He can make a simple dance move, a lift that is meant to be chaste and pure, into something seductive and enticing.

When my toes finally feel the rough surface of the room floor, I let out the breath that I’d been selfishly holding in. He looks me straight in the eye with such a passion and lust that I blush a deep crimson and look away—it’s just an instinct.

He breathes out, the muscles in his chest rippling from the action. “Tell me something.” His voice rumbles deeply in his chest, sending vibrations through my body. I lick my lips and nod my head. “Do you regret making love to me?”

It’s a question so surprising that it renders me speechless for a few seconds. My mouth is open, but Abigor is waiting for an answer. Finally, my words fail me no longer. My chest heaves with the heavy breaths I take. “I will never regret making love to you.” His shoulders slump in relief. I shake my head in disbelief. “Why would you ask that?”

He stands his ground at first and then begins to dance again. I have no choice but to follow his footsteps. We touch hands and he spins me around on his finger. Then we clasp our hands together and he moves me back around the room. “I am a fast learner, no?”

I nod my head and smile. I can tell he’s avoiding my question. “Yes, a very fast one indeed.” He takes me dancing throughout the whole entire bedroom. “But you still haven’t answered my question,” I complain to him.

He steps away from me and pinches the bridge of his nose. “I was only making sure,” he explains to me. Abigor looks rather agitated and probably wishes me to drop the subject. “That’s all. That’s why I asked you.”

I frown at him and place my hands on my hips. “I think that you’re—” I’m cut off as a pair of hot lips comes crashing down onto mine. The words I was meaning to say are lost in his passion.

And as he pulls away from our kiss, unscathed but visibly shaken, I finally realize. He wants to make sure I still want him; that he was gentle enough with me to make me want to be with him again, to have a new connection in place of the ones he’s lost. He wants me to fill the empty holes his family has left in his heart, and with my talented hand, to stitch them closed with specially made patches from my own heart.

I nod my head at him.

The night is as peaceful as it is long. The shagali drags on while we are in our rooms, stripped nearly naked except for skimpy nightclothes. I wander onto his balcony and listen to the music, gazing out at the darkened night sky, lightening only by the bright moon and twinkling stars. I hadn’t noticed the balcony before and I feel at peace with feeling the warm, summer breeze on my skin and hearing the beautiful music.

He joins me at my side, saying nothing when I greet him. His long hair tumbles over his shoulders and sways in the breeze. A flickering bug passes my way and I instinctively reach out to catch it. I open my fingers slightly to see the luminous insect glowing in my hand.

I nudge him with my elbow. “Look,” I say. I show him the bug and he looks at it with interest. His eyes flash in warning and reach out to inspect it.

“Let it go,” he hisses at me, obviously concerned for my health and well-being. He seems to be repulsed by the creature sitting peacefully inside of my palm. “Don’t touch that vile thing.”

I heave out a huff of surprised laughter at his sudden reaction to the insect in my hands. “Abigor, calm down.” I chide him with a soft smile. “It’s only a firefly. Do you know what they are? Have you ever seen one of them?”

He contemplates something inside his mind. “Fire…fly.” He repeats the word, looking into my hands at the glowing bug again. “I’ve seen them out in the fields plenty of times, but never once did I think they were actual…creatures. My people always thought that these glowing little orbs were either a piece of the sun that broke away while it set low beneath the valleys and mountains or souls from those passed into the afterlife. But it was a taboo to catch one of them.”

“Really?” I laugh. I remember the fond memories that I had when I was just a little girl back in Bellechester. How I would dance around with Michelle and the other little ladies of my house in the darkness of the night. “Where I come from, they are only bugs that serve as fun when caught. I used to take glass jars and catch them, and my friends and I would put them into the jar. We’d keep them in there and watch them as they’d light up and fade, then light up again. They were absolutely brilliant.”

Another flickering bug comes whizzing by the side of Abigor’s face. He reaches out and captures it in his hands. “Interesting,” he murmurs. I let my own firefly go only a moment after, and he follows me. The two bugs fly off together into the night sky, flashing their little lights into the darkness.

Then he turns towards me with a conflicted look in his eye, like he is mentally debating with himself on whether or not to ask me this question. He decides with a long sigh. “Elizabella…would you like to see one of my most prized possessions? Something so worshipped that only the king and his men have them?”

The way he describes this mystery possession interests me fully. I nod my head. He leads me out of the room and down his long dark hallway. We travel down three fleets of steps until we meet a little wooden door, where we travel down one winding staircase to the base level of the castle.

There is a little crossing with three pathways branching off of it, the dark corridors illuminated only by torches. He explains that the dungeons are to the right, the private library is straight on ahead and the ‘prized possession’ room would be left. There is an unlit torch lying against the wall. He takes it, lights it, and then leads me on down the left pathway.

It is a little unnerving being down in the base level of the castle, where I’d never dared venture before. It is dark, cobwebs lining the ceilings and pesky rats crawling through holes in the stone walls. I wonder if Abigor has any prisoners staying in the dungeons right now, and if the person who guards the dungeon room whips and tortures their prisoners.

When I look back, I can see no sign of Abigor in the dark hallway. I can see only the shadows of a torch. I pick up my skirts and rush after him; I would hate to be lost down here with the rats and the spiders. When I finally do catch up to him, I wrap my around his bulky bicep and smile up at him.

He satisfies me with a little quirk of his full lips. When at last we arrive at our destination, he mounts his torch on the wall. And suddenly I see. I gasp and jump nearly a foot in the air. Locked behind giant iron bars are wolves-huge wolves that are nothing like the skinny little wolves that supposedly used to ‘terrorize’ the villages back at Bellechester.

The wolves are mostly sleeping or resting, but one instantly pops up at the intrusion. It is a big russet wolf almost as tall as I am. The wolf sees Abigor and sticks its snout through the bars to be pet. He strokes the wolf’s nose momentarily before turning back to me. Me, who’s still in awe.

“This is Mayaki, or Warrior, in your language. He’s my wolf and he leads this pack as the alpha. I sometimes take him into battle with me. He is vicious and proves to be an essential asset.” Abigor explains to me. Then he points to a sleek female wolf laying in the corner. “That is Mayaki’s mate. She used to be Snow Lion’s animal. She named her Fure…Blossom. Blossom had pups three days ago.”

Fure lies on the cold ground with a litter of three pups huddled close to her side. One wolf is grey like his mother, one is brownish-red like her father, and the third is completely white. The third pup has an odd looking mark on his back, and it almost looks like a scar. While Abigor prepares a slice of meat for his own wolf, I look at the pups. Despite his mother’s whining, the white pup stalks forward on wobbly legs and joins his father at the bars of the cage.

The russet wolf huffs at him before turning his attention back to Abigor as the alpha wolf’s own master throws some raw deer meat through the bars. Mayaki scampers away towards the meat, tearing it to shreds. Fure whines again, inching forward to ask her mate for some of the meat for her and her pups.

But the little white wolf pup at the bars doesn’t move an inch. The little one’s grey eyes seem to draw me in until something possesses me to crouch down to my knees and stick my finger through the bar. The wolf jumps back in shock at first before slowly inching closer and sniffing my finger in curiosity. Then a warm pink tongue flickers out and touches my flesh.

I huff a small breath of laughter as the wolf pup leans his head into my hands lovingly. When I look up, I can see everyone staring at me, even Abigor. All of the wolves are awake and interested in this phenomenon. “There it is,” Abigor murmurs with a little quirk of his lips.

I furrow my brows. I pull my hand away and stand up. “What are you talking about?” I ask him. The wolf paws at the bars of the cage, tilting his head to chew at the iron. I can’t help but smile at the pup’s silly antics.

“The connection. He’s yours if you’ll have him.” Abigor explains to me.

I can’t believe that he’s giving me one of his ‘prized possessions.’ I’d seem some of the men use their wolves in raids, letting them tear people apart, but I’d never imagined that I would be the caretaker of one of these vicious beasts.

But the thing is, as I looked at the little wolf, I saw everything but vicious. “You’ve been so generous towards me,” I say. I look up at Abigor’s stoic features and smile in appreciation. “I’ll have him. Thank you.”

“And the name of the pup?” Abigor asks.

“Scar.”

0o0o0o0o

The next morning, I’m sitting at Abigor’s side in the wagon we’re taking into the village. He insisted so strongly that I come with him to see his people that I just gave in to his charm. When we finally arrive in the little village of Sanko, the people rush to greet their king. Abigor’s brought along Drinks of Waterfall, Three Horses, and Grey Hawk for extra protection if his back is turned.

I made sure that I looked especially presentable if I were to be shown on the arm of the barbarian king. I had picked out a beautifully coloured silk that was like the warm sunset sky; a mixture of strawberry and sweet mango. I wear my topaz around my neck proudly. As I step out onto the grassy ground, the people look at me with interest. Suddenly I find my confidence growing slighter with all of those judging eyes landing on me.

He strokes his finger down my cheek and forces me to look up at him. It’s as if he’s telling me not to worry about all of the eyes. As he walks through the crowd, leading me, the people begin to bow down to the ground. I’m not sure if they’re bowing to me as well, or only to him. The guards travel behind us, their eyes searching the path.

After we walk on ahead, life in Sanko seemingly continues normally on. There are people out on the streets trying to sell me their items, whether they are jewels, clothing and silks, or exotic foods. “Cho-co-lat!” One woman calls. “Try ‘de cho-co-lat for free, my lady! It is a new, sweet delicacy!”

I stop in interest when the middle-aged woman shows me her pot of a warm brown substance. She nods her head encouragingly at me. She dips a clean spoon into the chocolate and hands it to me. I look at it. It’s lumpy and brown and warm. If this is supposed to be a sweet delicacy, I should trust this lady.

I lift the spoon and taste the chocolate. My eyes fly open almost instantly once I realize that said chocolate was not disgusting, but quite the contrary. “This…this is amazing!” I praise her. “Did you come up with this treat yourself?”

When the woman nods her head, I throw my hands into the air in both surprise and satisfaction. I tug Abigor over to where I’m standing and force him to try the chocolate. His eyes widen similarly to how mine had and he smiles instantly. “I love it,” he states. “Never have I tasted something so great.”

I follow him around the little village, exploring the various bazaars. Little children stare and point at me, but it does not faze me. I come to a little fruit bazaar. The seller has exotic fruits lined up on a table for display. He is in the back unloading more crates of the fruit. I’m mesmerized by how shiny and red the apples are.

But as my curiosity gets ahead of me, my finger touches one of the apples and it tumbles off of the table. I watch blankly as it tumbles across the dirt road. The wheels in my brain finally begin to turn as I rush after it and snatch it up into my hands. “Got you!” I exclaim.

Suddenly, I hear a loud cry behind me. “Hey!” The man is shaking his fist at me, his face reddened. “A daina! Ba za ka iya sata cewa kaga tuffi!” Before I know it, he’s rushing at me with a menacing look in his eyes. (Stop! You can’t steal that apple!)

He grabs my hand with a force that I’ve never felt before; shaking me violently. My words come out slurred due to my fright. “Ni ba a…ba ni kuma sata! Kaga tuffa fadi a kashe daga cikin cart da nake kawai—” (I was not…I was not stealing! The apple fell off of the cart and I was only-)

To my surprise, my words are cut off when he backhands me powerfully. I accidentally bite into my cheek on accident, blood dripping from my mouth and over my lips. My skin stings worse than touching boiling water. I fight my tears as he yanks me back up to look at him. “Makaryaci! Datti makaryaci!” he screams. I don’t know where Abigor’s gone but this is definitely causing a scene. Crowds gather around in shock. (Liar! Dirty liar!)

When he forces me to my knees, an act of forceful submission, I push away from him. “Ka san ni waye?” I scream. “Shin, ba ka san cewa ayyukan nuna wadanda mutum fata ga mutuwa?” (Do you know who I am? Do you know that your actions portray those of a man wishing for death?)

This obviously enrages him. He shoves me back forcefully until my head hits the ground—hard. “Ban damu da suka kai, karuwa,” he begins to circle me like a predator. “Sata daga gare nio shi ne wata babbar kuskure!” (I do not care who you are, slut. Stealing from me was a very big mistake!)

“No, touching my woman was a very big mistake,” a deep, angry voice echoes from behind me. I’m relieved. I know it’s him. Three Horses helps me up and pulls me away from where they prepare to fight. “As was calling her a ‘karuwa’ and blaming her for something she obviously did not do.”

The man foams at the mouth. He is very ugly with all the anger he holds within his muscular frame. “Why do you trust her? She is a whore from the Common Lands! She could be betraying you at this very moment, telling all your secrets to the men back in Bellechester.”

I start to scream back at him in disgust, but Three Horses clamps a hand over my mouth and forces me to relax. Abigor’s face is expressionless but in his eyes is a fury burning so bright that one would think he only had fury in his bones instead of love. “You test me, Kicking Bull. It is not very wise of you.”

My eyebrows pull together. He knows this man, this angry Kicking Bull? The older man’s anger still does not fade, even after he found out that he assaulted the king’s woman. He laughs humorlessly, throwing his hands up in the air. “You believe the whore over me. Where is your strength? Has the bitch fucked it out of you already?”

I struggle against Three Horses’ grip. “How dare you speak of me that way! I will have you killed!” My eyes are filling with fire. I do not know where the words came from, I just vomited them out.

Kicking Bull’s eyes glaze over me with sick humour. “You are foreign whore. You do not command Kicking Bull with that mouth. But I will give you something else to do with your mouth!”

The crowd gasps. I am astonished at his persistence. It is like he wants to be killed. “The next time you speak to me in that manner will be the last time you have a tongue,” I seethe at him menacingly. “I give you my word.” I am a little woman, but my fury does not prevail.

Abigor smiles. “She how she is fierce? She is Tiger Claw, and she will command you. The next time you speak suggestively of my woman, will indeed, be the last time you have your tongue.”

Kicking Bull does the unexpected, and he spits on Abigor’s feet. My king’s eyes dilate with his rage but he still manages to keep it cool. “A king who takes orders from his slave-whore is no king at all!” He brings out his weapon, his mighty khopesh sword and points it at Abigor. I gasp and struggle against Three Horses.

The man puts his lips close to my ear while trying to restrain me. “Ya sarki za ta kula da shi,” he begins. “Kana bukatar ka damu.” (Our king will take care of him. You need not worry.)

I trust Three Horses, but the situation looks grim with Kicking Bull’s blade pointed at Abigor’s exposed chest. When he takes a step forwards, Kicking Bull panics and lashes out at the air with his sword. The blade catches on Abigor’s muscled arm, slicing right through the tribal tattoo on his bicep. I gasp in shock; I never thought someone could be so brazen when faced with his or her angry king.

“I will not burn your body and set it afloat upon the Barbarian Sea. No, I will not give you such honour. You will not be buried, nor will you have an inch of privacy in your last filthy, dying moments. The rain will turn to acid and wash away your rotting flesh until you are nothing but bones!” Abigor’s eyes are wild with fury. “Maggots will crawl through your heart and eat your unseeing eyes without mercy! You will not see the light of day after I am done mutilating you, you pitiful excuse for a man!”

Drinks of Waterfall is throwing him a sword, and before I know it, Kicking Bull and Dances With Wolves are locked in battle. He dodges many swipes of Kicking Bull’s blade, but one clever swipe has my king’s sword lying close to my feet and has him on the ground. “I always knew your brother was right for the throne. You are too soft. You cannot kill me, Dances With Wolves.”

A devilish look appears in Abigor’s steely eyes. “Oh, but I already have.” With a sharp kick to Kicking Bull’s shin has the bone easily broken and has him tumbling to the ground in agony. Abigor pulls the hidden dagger he had in his bearskin belt and plunges it into Kicking Bull’s stomach without any traces of mercy toward the man.

I clasp a hand over my mouth and press my back against Three Horses for support. Abigor crawls on top of Kicking Bull’s body and wraps his massive hands around the other man’s thick neck. It’s safe to say that I’ve never seen Abigor so angry or so powerful. He is choking Kicking Bull. The older man’s legs flail and he coughs up blood due to the stab wound in his stomach. Abigor pulls him by the neck upwards and smashes his head harder against the ground.

“Remember the name!” he screams. “The name of the man who killed you. Dances With Wolves, your almighty king! And remember the name of the woman you died for. My woman, my Tiger Claw.”

And in one last breath, Kicking Bull’s soul rockets out of his body, leaving him lying limply on the sand—just another empty shell. Abigor leans back on his haunches and kicks the dead man away. Blood covers him and he looks completely animalistic. He doesn’t even look human. But when he looks at me, I feel some kind of reassurance that the man I grew to love is still in there and is still okay and waiting for me.

Without a word, he scoops me up into his arms and carries me back towards the wagon. The townspeople stare in shock at what had just so brilliantly unfolded in front of them. They prepare to rid the streets of Kicking Bull’s dead body and wash the streets with the holy water to rid the village of the reek of death.

He sits me next to him on the wagon and impatiently waits for his men to get into the back of the wagon. Then he slaps the reins down hard on the horses and the wagon missiles towards the capital city, where the great barbarian castle sits. “You’re bleeding,” I whisper to him, my fingers gently skirting over where the wound spits dark red blood.

Abigor nods his head. “Yes. I’m aware,” he murmurs. I turn my head out towards the scenic countryside and the trees and the people on the sides of the Great River stopping to point and stare at us. And I think that we must be quite a sight to see since Abigor is covered in another man’s blood.

I exhale slowly, my curly hair whipping about my face as we race on through the trees. “And you killed for me.”

He still does not turn to look at me. I think it might be for other reasons than that he’s steering the horses and doesn’t want to veer off of the road. He draws in a shaky breath. “I would do anything for you.”

I believe him now more than ever.

0o0o0o0o

It is almost dark when we get back to the castle. He’s opted not to visit the castle medic for his bleeding. Instead, he’s let it bleed on for almost a half hour, the blood staining his chest. It dries, and new, wet blood drenches his chest again. He’s been oddly silent ever since our encounter with Kicking Bull. He sits in his great bearskin chair and stares into the fire before him.

I haven’t said anything, but I’m afraid that I’ll change that. But as I continue to say nothing, his condition only worsens. “Does it hurt badly?” I ask him softly. My voice seems to startle him over the quiet whisper of the wind and soft crackle of the warm fire.

He shrugs his shoulders, causing more blood to drip down his forearm. “Please Eliza…do not.”

I shake my head and exhale in frustration. “But I don’t understand-!” I’m whining like a child now.

“I don’t want it cleaned,” he repeats a little firmly. “I don’t want to keep telling you this, please. Don’t make me explain.”

The image of the blood rolling down his skin makes me stomach churn unpleasantly. “It will fester and infect if you do not let me treat it properly.” My voice is firm and on the outskirts of being angry. I am frustrated. “Do you want to end up dead as well?”

He sighs in an act of what seems like submission. I grab the bandages and wet wipes. I fill a porcelain bowl with water and dip a warm rag into it. Then I press it to his skin. He does not move a muscle as if it does not cause him pain.

I look up at him. He still does not look at me. “Why won’t you look at me?” I whisper to him softly. “It seemed like…what happened today changed you in some way. I don’t understand.”

He shakes his head slowly, eyes still locked on the fire as if it soothed him. “I do not understand either.”

I use some of the liquid-medicine that Evalyn gave me for wounds once. “This is probably going to sting.” I pour the liquid on his wound. He only winces a little at the pain whereas any normal person would have been outright screaming. But he is not normal; he never was and he never will be.

I sigh and wrap a few layers of bandages around his arm. Tiny droplets of blood soak through the white cloth, but I tie it tightly around his ridiculously large muscles.

“I knew him,” he managed out. “Ever since I was a child. He was a friend of my brother’s and always saw me as unworthy. Whatever I did, whatever I tried to prove, it was never good enough. Today it was just another test…but he pushed me too far and I snapped.” He finally looks up at me and sees my split lip and runs his thumb over it. “He hit you and it drove me insane to know that he hurt you.

“Next thing I knew my dagger was in his belly and my hands were around his throat. And I was screaming at him. Screaming at him to remember—remember this day, my name, and remember all the times that he’d belittled me and stomped me into the floor. It was like proving something to him.”

He cradles his head in his hands and groans. I throw my arms around him and hold him tight. Right now he just needs to be assured that he’s not a beast and it’s exactly what I intend to do. “You were protecting me. It was self-defence. He pointed the sword’s tip at you first.”

He does not cry. I know he will not cry because crying shows weakness and he only showed me his weakness once. I already know that he does not intend to show me it again. He thinks that I need him to be his rock, but the roles have lately been reversed. And here I am again, on another dark and chilly night, holding him in my arms.

“It was not your fault,” I say.”

“I know,” is all he murmurs back. “If anything ever happened to you…I’d die. I can’t lose you, Eliza. Tell me that I won’t lose you.”

I gulp and rub my cheek against his. “You won’t lose me.”

He leans back in his chair and I sit back on my knees. He leans his face into his hands, his pointer finger curled around his lip. “You’re the only thing I have left. The only sanity, the only reality. I think that if you were gone, I’d go completely mad.”

He takes shaky breaths. “Hey,” I murmur softly. I climb into his lap and he buries his face in my neck, smelling my skin. My scent makes him calmer, as I’d found out. “You won’t lose me. I’m here—right here, with you, right now. I’m not going anywhere.”

Abigor’s warm hands find my backside and he takes a cheek in both of his hands. He firmly presses me to his muscular body. Hard meets soft and he moans into my hair. “Eliza, I need you.”

“I know,” I whisper it back to him, my lips finding his jaw.

He growls and turns my head towards his. He captures my lips, softly moving his against mine. His breathing his heavy as his hands explore and ravage my skin. Abigor’s tongue slips through my lips and he encourages me to suck on it. He tastes of mulled wine and it’s dizzying. He moans into my mouth, dragging his tongue across my open lips before dipping it inside again.

He moves his head and kisses a trail on my neck, hotter and hotter and more passionate yet. I cradle his head in my hands, feeling as his lips kiss my heated flesh. It feels so good.

“So you do not think me a monster?” he asks between his tender kisses.

I moan when he touches a tender place on my neck, throwing my head back. I decide my answer long before I tell him.

“A man whose hands are not stained with blood and sin has not lived.” I tell him. He pulls back to look at me. His steely eyes have turned to soft brown once more, and that calm and loving man is back to me. I smile at him and stroke my palm down his cheek. “You are no monster to me, Dances With Wolves. You will never be.”

War
After a vigorous round of passionate, intense lovemaking we’re lying side by side on his bed. It felt better this time than last time since I was no longer a virgin when we first started. When he kissed me down there again, my vision went white. Then he drilled himself into me, his lustful and throaty moans echoing in my ears.

He’d whispered sinful things to me, things that I’d never repeat. But his words made my flesh feel ten times hotter than it was. The way his hands perfectly held my breasts and the way his lips felt on my neck…and how amazing it felt to be completely filled to the brim by him as he released his load into my body, having him shudder and whisper sweet things to me over my lips.

I’m lying on his arm and he pulls me closer to his body. We are not married, but I feel like we are. With the way he so valiantly defends me against other men…mate claimed me, and how he calls me his woman all makes me feel like I’ve been taken, and taken for good. He talks so brilliantly of a wife and his future children and I can’t help but want to be a part of that fantasy.

He turns his face towards mine and kisses my cheek. “Now you’re a fast learner,” he murmurs with a hint of humour in his tone. It makes me smile. He always makes me smile.

“Who better to learn from than the king?” I ask, kissing him back on the side of his muscular peck. “You taught me everything I knew. When I came here I was just a burdurwa, and you vowed so strongly to change that. You panted after me like a mutt during mating season.”

He chuckles because he knows it’s true. “Watch that pretty little mouth of yours,” he mockingly scolds me. “It got you in enough trouble today.” Then he pauses and turns to look at me in bewilderment. “A…a mutt? Really, Elizabella? Is that how you see your king?”

When I don’t say anything, he rolls onto my naked body and digs his fingers into my ribs. A scream of laughter rips through me. “Please, I beg you-!” I’m dying of laughter, my head was thrown back as he digs into my sides with his long, nimble fingers. The look of amusement is clear on his face as he sits back a little to refrain from crushing me under his huge, naked body.

My deep, hearty laughter echoes throughout the room. “What do you beg of me?” he asks. His tickling is merciless. He is, after all, the king of the barbarians; mercy is and never was an option.

My voice is seemingly gone, laughter replacing it. I cannot get out a word. I’m gasping, almost like I’m choking. He stops momentarily. “To stop the scandalous venturing with those fingers of yours, you beast!” I gasp out. He laughs, but he does not stop.

I manage to get a hold around his waist with my legs and try my hardest to flip him around. I manage to succeed in making myself the one that holds the upper hand over him and wrap my legs around his neck. His face turns red a little with my creamy white thighs slowly suffocating him. But he doesn’t seem to be in distress. In fact, he looks pleased.

Before I can realize that I’m sitting on top of him naked and choking him with my legs, he grabs my bottom in his hands and pushes my most feminine place onto his mouth and gives me a firm swipe of his tongue. My eyes widen and I fall over his head, my arms reaching out to brace me on the pillows.

I try to get up, but his arms have come up around my thighs and he’s got me locked in place. The teasing licks and his hot tongue doing wonders down there are almost more than I can handle. “Abigor! I yield!”

His lips wrap around my clit and he gives a firm suck, shaking his head back and forth quickly as if to say that it wasn’t good enough. I’m so close that I can already see the stars in my eyes. “I shall never ever call you a mutt again, I promise you!”

And when he moans against me, my release has never been more powerful. He slaps my naked cheeks as I’m getting off of him and tumbling to the other side of the king-sized bed. “You taste like me,” he states. “I would sup on our tastes combined for the rest of my life if I had the choice to.”

My face turns bright red as I sit on the edge of his bed. I spot my clothes lying in a pile on the floor in disarray. I push myself to get off the bed and pick up the clothes. I redress in front of him. It seems that my embarrassment of my body has been completely reduced due to his constant reminders that I’m the most beautiful woman he’s ever been with…and if my knowledge does not fail me, he’s been with a whole lot.

While I’m slipping on my breast cloth, there comes a loud and urgent knock at the door. “Na Sarki,” the voice comes. I recognize the voice almost instantly. It is Black Bear. “Mutanen bukatar yin magana da kai kan al’amarin game da sabon yaki fara a arewa!” (My King, the men need to speak with you about a matter concerning the new war starting in the north!)

Abigor instantly throws off the covers and ties his breechcloth around his waist, and slips on his deerskin pants. He does not bother with braiding his hair. Once my silks are pinned tightly together, I rush after him. His face is bright red and the distress is obvious on his face.

We rush down the hallways until we reach the ‘special’ room. The room where they talk about the raids and strategies. I follow him inside only to be given a look by several of the men, including Iron Coyote. “No women allowed inside,” he hisses at me, forcing me backwards by puffing out his muscled chest and shoving it into my face. “This information is confidential.”

I look at Abigor momentarily. “Go,” he whispers. I nod my head, respecting his opinion, and his opinion only. I take my leave, heading down to the harem to see if Michelle is there.

0o0o0o0o

JACOB’S POV

I sit down at the end of the table and look at the model of the four kingdoms we’d built. It is like a game of four corners. Here we sit, in my great kingdom of Stauckana (or Barbarian Country as the common folk have a habit of referring to it as) in the very south, protected by a thick forest to the right of our castle, Castle Rock, called the Forest of Thieves and the Jungle of Bones to the left of us. It is where the men dispose of the dead bodies, and the great wolves have a habit of picking at the carcasses there, leaving numerous bones in their tracks. I know the forests like I know the back of my hand.

In the north, there is my Tiger Claw’s kingdom of Bellechester. Called the iron kingdom, their fat old king sits his lazy ass upon an iron throne. The most abundant element in Bellechester is without a doubt their metals. The “Forked Sword” is the most desirable sword in all of the four kingdoms. It has three times the strength of a normal sword and cuts the three times deeper. The iron kingdom is also fond of using their three-pronged tridents, wielded out of the strongest iron to skewer three men at once.

In the east lies the land of Pateros, where fairly odd customs take place. Protected by the Vibrant Mountains, the people of Pateros are ruled by a queen instead of a king. The people there have taken to calling it the “Vibrant Queendom” instead of a kingdom. They are obsessed with colours, and each noble family would be dressed in all one colour. The queen’s family favours the greens, and thus they never wear any other colour except greens. The noble families would all take on a colour, and the peasants who did not have a colour of their own would wear a dull coloured brown for the rest of their lives if they were lucky enough to marry into a colour-wearing family.

In the west lies Seattle, a kingdom revolved completely around the religion of their so-called moon princess and moon prince. They believe that the moon is their rightful ruler (which is complete rubbish) and so everything in the “Moonlit Kingdom” has to do with, of course, the moon. On their flag, they have the moon and the stars, and they paint pictures of moons and wear blue all the time. They are nature-centric as well, because of their belief that if mankind ruins the earth, their precious moon gods would come down and destroy us all.

I crack my knuckles and lay my elbows on the table. “Now…” I begin, my tone authorizing and king-like. “What is all this talk of a new war? I thought we just ended one.”

For years, we’d been fighting with the “bitch queen” of Pateros because my prized dolt of a brother enjoyed raiding there the most because he liked the jewels and the colours the most out of any kingdoms. We won the war against Pateros and successfully got ourselves a whole new loot of colourful items to decorate the stone palace with.

Iron Coyote steps forward and points to Bellechester. “In the iron kingdom, King Phillip has married off his daughter, Princess Sera, to the bitch queen’s weakling son in Pateros. Queen Amelie has made herself a new ally with King Phillip’s kingdom by marrying Titus off to Sera. They are planning to join their forces and attack Stauckana.”

I shrug my shoulders and light my tobacco roll from a candle. Leaning back in my chair, I put it into my mouth and take a long drawl of smoke, letting the rest fall from my open lips. “And we are worried why? We have defeated Pateros before and we can defeat them again.”

Drinks of Waterfall shakes his head. “But this time it is Pateros and Bellechester combined. We’ve never fought against Bellechester before. We don’t know their fighting technique or what kind of weapons they have. They could be lending their possibly advanced weapons to Pateros.”

I lean forward in my chair and rake my eyes over the map and look at the models. “When are they planning to strike? Do you at least know of that?” I look up at my brother just in time to see him nod.

“They need three or four months to prepare for their supplies.” Iron Coyote says to me. “Then I can only assume that they’d be attacking. The bitch-queen and the king both have no idea that we have knowledge of their alliance and plans to attack.”

I nod my head and stick my cigar back into my mouth. “Good. That’s how it should be.” I place my hands on the map and place the model ship in the Barbarian Sea. The sea effectively stretches around the Vibrant Mountains, making us virtually invisible to the eye of Pateros until it’s too late. “We can send the navy to attack and slow them down. I’m not so worried about Pateros as much as I am Bellechester. Drinks of Waterfall is right. We do not know what these foreign men are fully capable of, even though we’ve raided there countless times.”

Most of the kingdoms don’t have a standing chance against us. We have a population of over 450,000 whereas Bellechester has around 300,000, Seattle with 250,000 and Pateros with only 200,000. I scratch my chin, ignoring the stubble growing there. When combined, Bellechester and Seattle would have around 500,000 men, and the gods only know how many soldiers could be taken from that glorious number. This battle would definitely take a toll on us both.

Grey Hawk rubs his temples. “I need you to think of who would know the fighting tactics back at Bellechester. Either that, or we send someone to spy.”

I frown at that suggestion and instantly wave it off. “We look nothing like the people from Bellechester or Pateros. Someone would get captured or killed. Not worth risking at all,” I say. “Because then they’d know we knew of their plan. It is best if we catch them off guard, with their walls down.”

“We’ve abducted the whores from various kingdoms! Cassandra and Evalyn are from Pateros and Athenodora and Camellia are from Seattle.” White Fire Sun points out.

Suddenly, Drinks of Waterfall jumps out of his seat. “Elle of the Moon is from Bellechester!” he exclaims. “She was only a maid, but I’m sure she can help.”

As soon as he says something about his pregnant bed thrall, it instantly grabs my attention and draws me back to the only thing that I truly hold dear. Her. “So was Elizabella. She was courting a nobleman, I’m sure she’ll know more than Elle.” The men in the room both look at each other in interest. I impatiently slam my fist on the table, shaking the maps and models lying there. “Well don’t just stand there, goddamnit, get my woman!”

Three Horses and Black Bear both rush out of the room to fetch Tiger Claw and one of the women from Pateros. They’re only gone for a short while before the door bursts open and the two women walk in. I see my woman and instantly I feel my heart light up.

Her beautiful, shiny curls hang down her back, accenting her heart-shaped face. Long black lashes frame pretty doe eyes as she looks around the room. I try not to drool as I see her chew on her full pink lips in nervousness, hugging her arms below her breasts. The nervous action only makes her womanly parts easier for me to see.

Those full, round globes instantly catch my attention. She rocks back and forth slightly on the balls of her feet and I feel like I’m in a trance when I find that I can’t rip my eyes away from her bouncing breasts. My eyes travel downwards over the flat plane of her stomach, and to those full, child-bearing hips. I can already feel my cock hardening inside of my pants and pressing against my breechcloth.

I readjust myself in my seat and snap myself out of my trance. I offer her to sit on my lap. Eliza looks at my lap hesitantly before going to sit down. Cassandra follows after Three Horses and sits in the seat beside him. “Why am I here?” Eliza is the first to ask, for she is the only woman that is daring enough to.

I look at her. “There is a war raging. Your kingdom has made an alliance with Pateros through the marriage of Princess Sera to Prince Titus. With their armies joined together, they plan to attack us.”

I can see her eyes widen significantly as she gasps. “That’s…that’s horrible! Why would they…?”

“Probably because they got tired of us stealing their goods and them not being able to do a thing about it,” snickers Iron Coyote. I shoot my brother a glare at the same time Eliza does. He laughs again.

I turn her face towards mine and kiss her nose. “We have twice, maybe three times as many men as those kingdoms do…alone. But together, they might easily match us. We have a good chance of winning, but we’ll have an even better chance if you help us.”

Eliza’s face turns from worry to surprise in only a few seconds. “You wish me…a woman, to help you with the war?” She looks caught in her thoughts.

I nod my head. “You courted Cordell, you told me of the man. Did he never speak to you of the wars and their tactics? No strategies?”

She flinches a little when I mention Cordell. She thinks he is dead because Iron Coyote killed him in cold blood. To be quite frank, we wouldn’t know if we killed someone’s lover or brother or father. We don’t write down or keep track of those who we kill—those that stand in the way of what we want.

Her tongue darts out to lick her lips. I can tell she’s having a mental battle with herself. She is on our side…right? “Well,” she begins. “I actually do remember some things. I think they might help you.”

Drinks Of Waterfall places his elbows on the table as he leans forward. “Then please, Tiger Claw, do tell us. This could be the factor to help us—the factor that could win the war for us.”

Eliza takes in a deep breath and nods her head. “I will tell you. My lord Cordell spoke gloriously of these pieces of machinery called cannons.”

I point at Little Sea. “Cannons. Get a piece of papyrus and ink and write that down.” The man nods and follows my orders. “Now tell us what the cannons can do, little one.”

“The cannons are like long stone tunnels with only one side open; the top side. They sit on a pair of wheels and that’s how the men are able to move it. It is incredibly heavy and large. It is able to move in any direction, whether it is east, northeast…south…any way you want. Then there is the object called the cannonball that you shoot out at the enemy. The cannon gets ignited with fire and…off it goes. Quite interesting really.” Eliza gushes it all out to us, spilling every bean in the bag while Little Sea takes notes on the papyrus.

“Then there is contraption called a catapult. It is used for hurling stones of fireballs out at the enemy, or over tall walls. It is like a tall wooden stick with little bowl attached to the end of it in which you would put your stone. You would wind it back with a rope of some sort and then…let it go. It also sits on a set of wheels for keeping it steady and for easy movement.”

I’d never heard of these devices before in my entire life. The way of war was with arrows and spears and sharp metal objects to hurl at people. But she’s not finished. “Oh! I remember that Cordell said once that the king had ordered to cannonballs to be chained together. They can take out crowds of soldiers, and easily tear down walls. It is certainly a sight to see, and a gruesome one at that.”

I lean back in my chair, satisfied with the results. “Little Sea, have you documented the weapons and their uses? What they look like?” I ask him. The young man nods and shows me his notes. I stick my cigar back in my mouth and let smoke fall from my lips. Eliza looks back at me, her pretty eyes roaming my half naked body. “I want these devices made. I want every blacksmith, silversmith, every craftsmen to help create these cannons and catapults. It will be done in one month.”

The men look around in the room as if they doubt the skills of the craftsmen. Cassandra looks at me from across the table. She blushes and smiles at me, an obvious invitation if I would only accept it. I look away. I will not mount her, for her whorish ways disgust me. She is spoilt goods, having been willingly passed around to the other men. She takes pride in being a whore, unlike Elizabella, who fought so strongly for her free will.

Before Elizabella, I’d never cared for the feelings of a harem girl. I would mount her like a hound does his bitch and then dispose of her, not caring if she was hurt of if I impregnated her. I had lived up to the name of “Barbarian King” in my younger years, before she arrived. But I find myself to be slowly changing as the days pass by. Every morning I wake up with her fragile body next to mine in the bed, I feel a bit of the blackness of my heart being chipped away by her chisel.

I don’t know why Three Horses had insisted upon bringing Cassandra. I already know the tactics of Pateros. Her steamy gaze is only making me sick, and the way her clothes accent her curves and show off her erect nipples makes me want to do some pretty horrible things to her. The beast is still inside of me, gnawing at the cages Eliza had put up. He wants to be let out, and he wants to seriously hurt Cassandra.

She fucked Three Horses while my sister was dying. It only makes the hate worse.

I look away. “Take the prints to the craftsmen, post them everywhere. Let the people know of the war and how they must contribute. We will draft every boy and man and teach them how to fight. Brother, you will lead camps and troops and teach said people. Let them know of the consequences of espionage and treason, for I have heads mounted on my walls before and I will do so again.”

I can see the fright in Elizabella’s eyes as I say that. It makes me feel slightly ashamed, but right now I have to be a king to my people and prepare them for the worst-case scenario. I stroke my fingertips down her arm and feel her relax beneath me.

When I look up, I see the men staring at me as if they don’t know what to do without my command. “Leave me,” I growl. They all scurry out of the room like frightened field mice after seeing a hawk scouring the area. All except for my brother, who is eyeing up my woman like she is the mouse and he is the hawk.

I bare my teeth at him and he backs off, lingering out of the room casually. She gets up off of my lap and looks at me. “I have never liked war,” she murmurs softly. “They result in massacres. Blood bathes the street, corpses litter the forests, and the smell of death lingers in the air for weeks.”

I too, hate wars. I use my hands to work out a kink in my jaw. It fixes itself with a satisfying ‘pop’ and she cringes at the sound. “We all die, Elizabella. The gods of this world can be merciful, but when your time comes, you must accept that fact. The greatest death a man can know is while in battle, fighting for his country.”

“But I don’t understand,” she whispers to me, clutching my hands in hers. I look away from her face as she draws herself closer. She will never understand the ways of war, but never will anyone. “Why not just make peace with one another?”

This statement draws my eyes back to her face. “Peace? I have never known peace. The only peace I have is when I am with you. If it’s war they want, it’s war they’ll get.”

0o0o0o0o

BELLA’S POV

I claim that I despise war, but yet I still gave away precious information from my kingdom. Where does my loyalty lie? With my brothers and sisters back home, or will the beasts that raided my home and stole me away from my lifestyle? Ask me five months ago what I thought about the barbarians and I would have told you they were a damned race, a merciless species that deserved to burn in the four fires of hell for all the wrong they’d done us and other kingdoms.

Ask me five months ago about what I thought of their king—I would have said that the king of the barbarians would be the devil himself. Ask me today and I will tell you that the king of the barbarians is my lover and I will do anything for him. His kindness has changed me, but the ways of his brooding men still have not changed the minds of the other kingdoms.

The only way to stop the war was if they would stop raiding, but unfortunately that was out of the question. Raiding, stealing and killing are all they know. I feed Scar the piece of meat in my hand and welcome the pup into my lap. The little runt of the litter was mine, and I plan on treating him like an alpha.

I hear footsteps behind me. I look back to see Abigor approaching me. The pup yaps at him before cowering away as his huge body sits beside me in the grass. “I want to thank you for the information you delivered us today. It will help us in ways I never imagined possible.”

I smile at him and nod my head. His long hair blows in the breeze, the feathers and beads kissing his skin. He is truly a beautiful sight. My hair is braided, and the crystal headdress I wear is breathtaking. Scar settles in my lap and snuggles his head into the crook of my arm.

I look out at the hills and the trees, staring straight into the Forest of Thieves. Another gust of wind comes along and blows some of the leaves from the trees. I find myself shivering. The summer days have quickly passed and we are already halfway into the autumn season. He notices me shivering and sheds his animal fur cloak and puts it around my shoulders.

The fur instantly warms me and I sigh. I move my body closer to his and rest my head on his shoulders. “Thank you.” I whisper. Another gust of chilly wind blows and I find myself shivering and huddling against Abigor even more. “Are you not cold?”

He shakes his head. “I run a hot body temperature. It’s in my genes.” It’s true, at least. As I’m huddling close to him, I’m warming up with each passing second. Suddenly, Scar’s head perks up and he darts off of my lap.

“Scar!” I cry out, making a move to run after him. Abigor stops me and I watch as the wolf pup goes running up the hill in pursuit of something I can’t see. “He’s running away,” I tell Abigor.

Abigor sighs and looks down at me. “He’s coming back. He will always come back. Have patience with him.” Moments later, Scar returns, just as Abigor had said. But what he carries in his mouth interests me more.

As the pup nears me, I see the lifeless hare lying in his jaws. “He caught a hare,” I whisper. Scar drops the dead animal at my feet. I cringe. Abigor takes it and pats the wolf on his head. “I’ll give this to the cooks tonight. You can eat it in your stew.”

I make a face. “I’m not so sure I want to.”

He laughs and gets up. “Come on. I may not be cold, but the wind is really picking up now. That cloak will only do you good for so long.” I pick up Scar in my arms and follow him inside Castle Rock.

Another gust of wind blows through the trees and nearly snatches the fur cloak right off of my back. I turn and look back towards the trees. They whisper of things unbeknownst to man, and it makes me uneasy. I chew my chapped lips before turning back around.

Winter is coming. War is coming.

Truth
Since autumn has finally come, the daylight hours are shorter and night is longer and colder. The sky is almost completely dark when the cooks have the dinner finished. Abigor, staying true to his word, put the special rabbit meat in his soup and in mine. I’ve never tasted a better stew.

The servants have lit the giant hearth at the end of the table, closest to Abigor’s seat, in order to keep the great stone castle warm. The people sitting at the table talk rather quietly today. Perhaps it is because they are tired; the lighting almost lulls me to sleep, when in truth it could only be maybe six or seven o’ clock outside.

I gave Abigor his cloak back and dressed more appropriate for the heating conditions in the castle. Some of the maids had come in and replaced the clothes more suited for summer with the ones more suited for the autumn and winter months. The clothes are mostly animal skins and soft furs instead of beautifully coloured and festive silks.

I lift the spoon to my lips again and slurp down the stew as the fire warms my chilled skin. Michelle sits next to me, keeping her head down as she eats her loaf of bread. Her belly protrudes more and more, almost hitting the edge of the table. I touch the side of her arm, causing her to jump slightly before looking up at me. That warm smile I used to know so well comes flooding back onto her face.

“How are you?” I whisper to her over the soft chatter of the men and women at the table. “I feel like we’ve not spoken to each other in some time.”

She shrugs her shoulders before reaching out for her wine glass. “I’ve been feeling all right except for the occasional fits of sickness and retching in the morn.”

I play with the vegetables in my stew by prodding them with the tip of my metal spoon. My curls fall out of my bun and into my eyes when I lean forwards, slouching my shoulders. “Tristan…what does he say of the child?” I question her. “Is he still rather nonchalant, or does he…?”

Michelle looks up at me through the curtain of satin chocolate hair and smiles tenderly at me. “He is no longer nonchalant. He seems…excited about this. Elizabella, you see…he says he finds no use for me anymore as a harem girl.”

My face pales as I swallow a bit of carrot. Oh no. This was exactly what I didn’t want to happen. He is going to throw her away and just take the child! I take a deep breath before replying. “I see…then what use does he have for you?”

She takes a sip of her wine, leaning back in her chair. “He says he finds no use for me anymore as a harem girl because he really prefers having a wife. Someone who will provide him with…love and loyalty and children. Elizabella, he’s asked me if I’d be his wife.”

I look at Drinks Of Waterfall from across the table, chatting with Three Horses, Abigor and Grey Hawk. I’m rather relieved that he is not throwing her away, and a mysteriously large weight has been seemingly lifted from my delicate shoulders. He slams his fist down on the table, demanding for a taste of the rabbit stew that sits near Abigor as they are the leftovers from what I could not eat. “He asked you?”

Michelle giggles a little. “Well, not asked, really. It was more like demanding I’d be his wife, but I was more than happy to say yes. He is the love of my life. I’ve never felt like this before.” She takes a bite out of her bread. “It’s rather rare to have a man marry his harem girl, but Tristan’s decided that I’m clean because I was a virgin when he first mounted me. It’s rare, but not completely nonexistent.”

I pick up my spoon and begin eating again. Looking at Abigor from where I sit, I can feel something odd electrocute my heart with powerful volts. He smiles, the slight dimples in his cheeks becoming more prominent with the wider his grin gets. Those white teeth, the deep, handsome dimple in his chin, and his hearty masculine laughter all make me want to melt where I sit.

I wonder why he has not asked for my hand after making love to me, taking my virginity, and proving his undeniable love for me in many different ways. Am I truly wife material to him, or am I just a loyal companion he takes pride in dressing up and fucking? I admit to myself that I’m not ready to find the truth in that question just yet.

The dim firelight in the room barely lights the table as the night falls darker and darker yet. I lean back in my seat and pull the wolf fur coat tighter around my arms. The deerskin dress that I wear is somewhat warm, but it could be warmer yet.

I hold my wine in my hand and take a sip. Michelle leans back with me. Drinks of Waterfall is a kind man though his appearance puts one off. He catches sight of his soon-to-be wife and smiles warmly at her. Abigor pushes his bowl away from him as he finishes his stew. I too am no longer hungry. I look at him expectantly, but he only stays in his seat.

“I have to discuss some things with the men before I retire to the chambers,” he says to me. I’m a little shocked but I know that the war is most important right now. “You may roam the halls for a little, but stay out of trouble. I won’t be able to rescue you this time.”

When he winks at me, I know he means well. I smile brightly back at him before brushing some crumbs off of my skirt and standing up. Just as I am about to request that Michelle come with me, Drinks of Waterfall orders her to stay with him. I sigh, scratch the idea, and wander off into the chilly hallways.

There are many places in this castle that I’ve never ventured through. I decide I will leave the dark, and cold base level to the morning times and explore the upstairs, where our chambers are.

I climb the flight of stairs that lead to our corridor, passing the harem room to the right. Evalyn is working away at her plants and mixing things in little pots, Cassandra is asleep, Athenodora is trying to knit herself a new blanket, and Ivona is reading a book. Evalyn catches sight of me and gives me a little wave before turning back to her concoction.

I wander further down the hallway, into the deep dark corridors. I do not know what becomes of things there, and I’m not willing to find out. The wind screams as it whips around the castle walls, causing some of the floorboards to creak. My feet, which are only protected by a thin layer of deerskin, feel like blocks of ice.

Torches line the stonewalls, illuminating the ground before me, but doing very little to keep warmth. I feel like I should be afraid, but I’m surprisingly very calm. I clutch at my arms and pull the fur cloak tighter. At the end of the hallway, I see two great doors. They are dusty and they look like they have not been touched in millennia.

Curiosity gets the better of me and I stalk forward to turn the golden knobs of the door. They give way and the door pushes open with a terrifyingly loud creak. But what the two doors hide is so much more amazing.

It is a library. Books line the walls, and a great swirling staircase leads up to the second floor of it. Two large windows let the moonlight in as the torches do not lead on into the library. I shut one door behind me, leaving the other open in case the doors were to lock behind me.

The place is huge and mysterious. My people had called the barbarians an unintelligent race with no interest whatsoever in edification; an unclean, uneducated species. But judging by the books and paintings hung on the walls, these people do not live up to the stereotypes from Bellechester.

My fingers scrape across the spines of the books, a thick layer of dust coming off onto my skin. These books and parchment scrolls and paintings haven’t been touched in years. I wonder why no one’s been in here for such a long time. I wonder why it’s been sealed off in the dark corner of an even longer and darker corridor.

I pull one of the books off of the shelves and look at the title. It is a very old book, with writing barely legible. I must test my skills of reading Hausa. “The Origins” is what the title says. I open the first page and begin to read.

It happened long ago that Q’waeti journeyed all over the land setting the people aright and instructing the people that would come in the future how they should act. Q’waeti instructed the people how to build houses. One day Q’waeti came upon Beaver. Beaver was sharpening his stone knife and Beaver was very stingy. Q’waeti asked what Beaver was doing, whereupon Beaver said: “I am sharpening my knife in order to kill Q’waeti.” Then Q’waeti took what Beaver was sharpening and stuck it on Beaver’s tail. Then he said: “You shall always have this stuck to your tail, and live in the water. You will just slap the water with your tail and dive when the people come.”

Then one day he came upon Deer. Deer was sharpening his shell knife, thereupon Q’waeti asked Deer what he was sharpening it for. Whereupon Deer said: “I am going to kill Q’waeti.” Then Q’waeti seized the shell that Deer was sharpening and stuck it on Deer’s ears. He said: “When you see people you shall run frightened and stop, and look back.” Then Q’waeti went on his way.

Not long afterwards he reached Q’wayi’t’soxk’a River. But he did not find any people. Then Q’waeti spit on his hands and rubbed them. Doing this he rubbed off the human dead skin into the water. Thereupon many people appeared. Then Q’waeti said to the people whom he had made: “You shall dwell here,” said he. “Your name shall be Queets.”

Then Q’waeti reached the Hoh people. He saw that these people walked on their hands carrying their smelt nets between their legs. At that time all the Hoh people walked on their hands. They were called the Upside Down people. Since that time the Upside Down people were known as the first people who had existed. Then Q’waeti turned right side up the ones who walked on their hands. “You shall use your feet to walk,” said Q’waeti to the former Upside Down people. “Go and fish. You shall catch much fish when you fish.” Ever since then there is much smelt at Hoh.

Then Q’waeti went on and reached the Hausa land. He saw two wolves. There were no people here. Then Q’waeti transformed the wolves into people. Then he instructed the people saying: “The common man will have only one wife. Only a chief may have four or more wives. For this reason, you Hausa shall be brave because you come from wolves,” said Q’waeti. “In every manner, you shall be strong.”

I close the book and pull out a different book. It is red in colour and the ink is thick and blue. “The Child Eater” is the title. I lean against the bookshelf and open it up.

Here lived once a big woman named Dask’iya. She was an evil woman who stole innocent children from their loving families and takes them to Yaq’ilis creek (Dry River in Barbarian country). She gathers the children together by the river in a cave. Here, Dask’iya would cook the children. She built a large fire on stones and tended to it with rocks and sticks she found in the forest. Dask’iya would broil the children on her special fire. But before Dask’iya would broil them, she would put gum into their eyes so that they could not see anything.

One day she stole many children and took them out to the creek. Then she heated the stones in which she was going to use to broil the children and feast upon them. The children were standing around the fire with the gum covering their eyes, cowering in fear. Many nightmares had come to them about the Child Eater and now it was really happening to them. One older girl–afraid but daring–warmed her hands in order to melt the gum that was stuck to her eyes while Dask’iya danced and sang around the fire. “The fire is getting hot,” she sang merrily. “The rocks are almost ready!”

The young girl finally melted the gum and opened her eyes. Dask’iya hadn’t noticed the little girl and continued on singing and dancing around the fire. When Dask’iya was in front of the little girl, she pushed Dask’iya into the fire. The little girl watched as Dask’iya burned quickly because there was nothing but gum in the fire, and listened to the agonizing screams of the woman

After Dask’iya burned completely, the girl warmed her shaking hands once more and melted the gum off of all of the other children’s’ eyes. All of the boys and girls opened their eyes again and ran back home to tell the story of the little girl’s triumph in killing the Child Eater.

I slam the book shut when I hear footsteps coming closer towards me. Suddenly I feel a strong hand on my arm, yanking me upwards. “What do you think you’re doing?” I don’t recognize his voice as Abigor’s. I’m terrified and afraid.

When I look into the eyes of the person that had attacked me, I see that it is Iron Coyote. When he notices the terrified expression on my face, he laughs evilly. I don’t say anything; I’m still in shock.

“Didn’t the king tell you not to come into the private family library?” he hisses at me, his black eyes narrowing.

I push away from him, getting his filthy hands off of my flesh. “Don’t touch me, beast,” I hiss at him. “What are you doing up here?”

Amusement mixed with anger flash in his eyes. “I could ask you the same exact thing.”

Iron Coyote was supposed to be at the meeting with Abigor. After all, he is one of Abigor’s men. I try to leave, but he pushes me against one of the bookshelves and pins my arms above my head. “Let me go!” I scream at him.

He sighs and tilts his head as if contemplating whether or not he should let me go. “Hmm, let me think. No!” He laughs when I growl at him. “So, whose side are you really on, Tiger Claw?”

When his face draws closer to mine, I struggle more. “Is this some kind of sick joke?”

He’s so close to me that I can feel his lips turn upwards into a smile on my skin. “I am afraid not.”

I decide not to provoke him. He’s got the upper hand on me and Abigor can’t protect me while he’s at the other end of the castle. “I am on your side. Why do you think I gave you the information about Bellechester if I was not?”

He chuckles slow and deep. “Because quite frankly, little one, I don’t trust you.”

I almost want to laugh. He doesn’t trust me. This has to be a joke. “Fuck you,” I tell him. I’ve never been one to curse, but this time my feelings just cried out for some form of expression.

He smiles wide, the sides of his cheeks pulling up greatly. “Maybe I’ll let you if you behave and be a good little girl.” Then he thrusts his pelvis against my core. I can’t help myself when I begin to scream and beat him with my wrists.

Iron Coyote wrestles me back towards the bookcase again. “You bastard,” I hiss at him. “You can rot in hell for all I care!”

He laughs and thrusts himself against me one more time. “Then you’re coming with me, darling Eliza. If I find out that you’re a goddamned spy or selling us out, I will personally end you, despite the pleas of my brother.” The look on my face makes him throw his head back and laugh again. That’s when I find my perfect opportunity to hurt him.

My fist darts out and hits that long stretch of neck muscles, causing him to go down in an instant. My blow knocks the breath out of his body. He writhes on the floor, trying desperately to suck in some air. My eyes blazed with fury as I see him there flopping around like a fish. “You…*cough* kariya!” he chokes out.

He’s trying to get up and it finally occurs to me that I should probably run. At least now that I know I didn’t kill him. I turn on my heel and dart down the hall, my cloak flying off in the process. I don’t have time to stop and turn and grab it, since Iron Coyote’s hot on my heels.

I turn a corner and hide behind a little divot in the wall, watching as he darts down the hall past me, muttering curses along the way. I can protect myself without Abigor’s help…at least this time, I could. Once Iron Coyote is out of sight, I creep back to get my cloak and then scurry back to my room.

0o0o0o0o

Since I’d been able to escape from Iron Coyote, I’ve been feeling a little bit more confident about my keeping. Abigor doesn’t come back until really late when it’s darker than dark outside and awfully cold. I’m huddled by the fire, trying to keep warm while drinking a cup of warm tea.

He sits on his chair and reaches out to touch my head. “How did you fare without me?” he asks. I shrug my shoulders and take another sip.

“Fine.” That’s all I choose to say. I don’t want to say anything about his brother and I because I’m afraid he’ll feel burdened by me and will never let me roam the halls alone again because of the nagging fear of his brother coming to claim me. I know that I can protect myself.

He shrugs off his animal skin pants and shirt. “And what did you explore tonight?” he asks me. His clothes land near my person as he strips down into something more comfortable.

Iron Coyote had said it was a private library and I don’t know if Abigor will become angry with me for venturing there. Yet again, he hadn’t told me it was off-limits to me. “A library,” I finally say. “I read about some old Hausa legends and one about a vicious child-eater. I forget her name…I believe it starts with a D, though.”

His brows raise and the corner of his lips juts up. “Dask’iya?” he questions.

I nod my head. “Yes, that’s it.”

“My father used to read me those stories when I was a young boy,” he whispers, reaching for a glass of wine. “He said that if I misbehaved or failed to please his wishes, Dask’iya would come after me and broil the flesh from my bones.”

I make a face at him. “That’s a horrid threat.”

He laughs a little. “Yes, I suppose. But it made me work much harder.” He pauses, seeing the distressed look on my face. “Er…Elizabella?”

“Yes?”

“You are…on our side, correct?”

I sigh. “By our side you mean your side, don’t you?” I look up at him. He looks a little shocked but interested in what I have to say. “If I am to be your mistress, I have no choice in sides. But if I am to be your love, then I must choose sides based on what my heart tells me I should do.”

Abigor swallows thickly and looks at me in wonder. “And…what does your heart tell you that you should do?”

I tear my eyes away from the fire and look back at him in the seat that he sits upon. “My heart tells me that I should choose my love.”

“And you love me?”

“Of course I love you,” I reply with a smile. I kiss his hand when he reaches out to touch me again.

0o0o0o0o

CORDELL’S POV

I can’t help it. I still love her. The last time ever I saw her face was days before the barbarians struck my lover’s village and I rode out of town to attend to some businesses with King Phillip. My father Blake had always been close friends with the king, and before his death, I was merely looked upon as an “unworthy.” But now since I am the heir to all of my father’s riches, the king calls upon me regularly to help him with certain matters.

From time to time I find myself still thinking of her beautiful freckled face, wild curls framing a heart-shaped face and big, pretty doe eyes. No woman in the whole entire kingdom could have matched her beauty. The last sighting of my precious Elizabella was told by a house servant. He said that two barbarian warriors were carrying off my Elizabella and one of the housemaids into the forest.

And that was entirely five months ago.

So I went to King Phillip and demanded part of his army come help land an attack on the Stauckana Barbarians so I could win back my woman. He denied me at first, but I thought up a different strategy. I told him of how the barbarians harboured the Silvertongue charm, the one that could help us decipher the Book of Azazel.

The Book of Azazel—everyone knows the story. It is the book with a mysterious unknown language that can only be deciphered with the help of the Silvertongue. Only then would King Phillip…or me…gain world domination.

If I gained world domination, I would snatch Elizabella out of the thieving barbarian’s greasy mitts and then spit in his face. I would imprison every single barbarian and treat them as slaves, making them work in fields and whipping them whenever I fancied to. I would make them pay for all of the destruction and pain that damned race has caused.

When I finally convinced King Phillip of these strategies, he gave his daughter, Princess Sera, to the neighbouring kingdom (or queendom) of Pateros. The sickly son of the queen, Prince Titus would marry Princess Sera and form an alliance. Then, with our combined armies, we would attack Stauckana and defeat them.

We have artillery that they have never seen before—cannons and catapults and our famous three-pronged sword. We have our champion fighter, a real-life giant named Brom who can snap the necks of men like a child can pick grass from the dirt. Their arrows, spears and torches of fire will do them no good when they are fighting this war.

I kick another log into the fire to keep it going. The night grows colder and more bitter as winter draws near. “Cordell,” my young sister Cordelia Mason speaks. “Why do you keep the windows open? You will catch a cold and wither like a flower shrouded in darkness.”

She shuts them and draws the curtains over them. She lets out a distressed sigh and rubs her arms. “I shan’t catch a cold, sweet sister,” I whisper. “Hearing the whipping wind whistle delicately through the trees reminds me of her voice.”

Cordelia looks at me momentarily before groaning and joining me on the long couch. “Why do you still think of the wench, brother?” she asks me. “If barbarians carried her off then she is either dead or being mounted like a hound does his bitch at this very moment.”

I cringe, finding that I don’t like how Cordelia says such things. “I don’t want to hear those words come out of your mouth ever again,” I growl at her. “Elizabella is alive and she is well. She has promised herself to me.”

My sister laughs humorlessly. “Do you still think she has kept her promise?”

I don’t know what to say. My mouth hangs slack until I realize that I’m doing so and shut it. “Of course I think she kept her—”

“Even with all of those men there? They must have already raped her, brother. They keep those women and slaves there just for the purpose of mounting them.” Cordelia says matter-of-factly.

I refuse to believe that all my hard work has gone to waste just because my sister believes that my one true love is a whore and would not fight to keep her virtue for me. “She has kept her promise!” I boom at her, fed up by all of the negativity.

Cordelia jumps a little, her beautiful red hair falling into her eyes. “And what if she hasn’t?”

My fists clench at my sides. “I will drive my dagger through the man that has taken it from her. I will watch as his eyes scream of death and blood bubbles from his unyielding lips. Yes, that is what I shall do.” I see Cordelia’s eyes shining with mirth and amusement. It bothers me. Everything she says and does bothers me tonight. “Get out.” I say to her.

She looks surprised., but she still hasn’t moved an inch from where she was sitting. “Oh Cordell, you know I was only trying to—”

I cock my head and look at her like she is a dog with three heads. “Are you daft, woman? Or are you just stupid? I said get out!”

Cordelia huffs and picks up her skirt. She pompously points her nose towards the sky and rushes past me. “Well I’m quite sorry that you can’t handle the truth when it’s laid out before you as clear as day!”

Betroth
(A/N: The beginning is for mature audiences only, read at your own discretion)

I stand behind him in the chilly morning breeze, my fingers entwined in his hair, weaving it into a braid for him. It seems like forever since I’d touched those glorious, silky black stands. It’s unseasonably cold this morning, but Abigor insists on having the windows left open. The people are up early this morning as well, for I can hear them bustling about the villages.

I tie the end of Abigor’s braid with a strip of cowhide leather and let it fall down his back. He turns around slightly and flashes me a brilliant white smile. “Thank you,” he says in that deep, husky accent that I’ve come to treasure. I nod my head and smile at him. He wears a fur vest that shows teasing glimpses of his bronze, muscled chest and deerskin pants that will keep his bulky legs warm.

I am wearing spotted deerskin pants with fluffy sheepskin boots to warm my feet. I also wear a cosy deerskin top, with my hair intricately braided on either side of my head. He looks at me intently for one moment before giving a small smile. “You look beautiful.”

I find that my face reddens when he compliments me. He’s complimented me so many times before, but the look in his eyes makes sparks fly down to my core. “Do you…like the clothes?”

He pulls me closer, a smirk showing on his lips. His hands find my ass and he squeezes me hard. My pelvis instinctively juts forward and my skin touches his lips. “It’s not the clothes I like, ‘Eliza.”

His fingers dip below the waistband of my pants and pull them down a little further, his lips exploring further. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest, and the heat pulsating in my core. I take a deep breath to get a grip on myself. “That feels nice,” I muse to myself, kind of oblivious to his presence. He chuckles against me.

“Let’s take ’em off, then.” With a sharp yank, my pants lay at my ankles. I eagerly step out of them, his hands spanning my hips. He takes one hand off of my hips to touch my hot mound, slipping one of his fingers through the moistened cleft.

I lean my head against his chest as he moves over to sit in his bearskin chair by the fire. He unties his breechcloth and lets his cock hang out, standing tall and weeping at the tip. I draw in a shaky breath. He sees my hesitation and nudges me on. “Go ahead. Touch me, honey.”

Almost instantly, my hand juts out and I grasp his cock tightly, revelling in the texture of the smooth, hot column of flesh. As soon as my thumb slides over the spongey, wet head, he inserts a finger inside of me and presses down hard on that certain spot that makes me feel so good. I cry out and press myself against him.

JACOB’S POV

Her walls clench around my finger as I pump it in and out of her tight channel. My eyes blacken with lust, feeling her draped over my body, moaning softly in my ear as I do my best to pleasure her. The men aren’t usually keen on pleasuring their women, but I find that I like doing it more than any of them ever had and ever will.

Her tiny, white hand strokes up and down my cock, dragging fire through my veins with each little moan and jerk of her hand. I buck up into her hand, trying to feel her more, take her in more. She pulls back, curls framing her beautiful face. She’s out of breath. I can see it in her eyes, she’s close.

I can’t help but bite my lip at the sight. A burst of pleasure-pain goes through me as the scene before me unfolds. “Tell me how much you like it,” I whisper softly, my voice husky with lust. “C’mon, honey, tell me.”

She lets out a loud moan as her walls continue to tighten around me. “Oh, I like it a lot.” All of the sudden, I make a quick decision. I remove my hand from her heat and she collapses and groans in reaction to the loss of my touch. It makes me feel fucking amazing when I know I can do that to her.

There’s no one in the room, so I decide that I wanna submit to her and get down on my knees. She backs up, rubbing her thighs together while trying to get some friction down there. “What are you doing?” she asks me, her voice feathery and breathy.

I don’t answer her right away. I wrap my arms around her waist and stand up with her in my arms, taking those steps to my bed. I throw her down on the bed sheets and spread her legs wide open. I don’t even hesitate to ask her what she wants, I just dive right in.

When I kiss her there and hear that sweet moan, I can instantly feel myself becoming more and more aroused. “You’re so wet,” I moan out loud, tasting her juices on my tongue. She cries out when I press my whole mouth onto those sweet, pink lips and suck them into my mouth, flashing my tongue out between them when she bucks up against me. “Oh, fuck.” I slap her ass and watch the spot there turns bright red. Her breathing speeds up as I lap my tongue over her clit, feeling her thighs clench around my head.

“That’s it,” I moan against her. “Cum for me.”

I can tell that she likes when I talk that way to her because as soon as I told her to, she cries out loudly, her pleasure coming crashing down on her. Wetness coats my lips and I taste her sweet, nectar on my tongue, licking her and sucking her to revel in it all.

She’s my woman. I’m the one to make her cum, and I’ll be the only one. She lays against the pillows, her chest heaving with the breaths that she takes. “Gods above, Abigor…” she whispers.

I crawl up her body, my cock resting against her wet cleft. “Taste yourself on my tongue,” I instruct her before dipping my head and kissing her lips, slipping my tongue into her mouth. She grasps at my ass, pulling me forward. I don’t resist her touch. She rubs our genitals together, the friction becoming worse. I throw my head back and moan loudly. “Gods, I want to fuck you. You gonna let me?”

She bucks her hips against me again, grinding her wetness against my hard erection. “Please. Please, I’m going to let you.”

I pull back to look at her. “Mmm. I like you begging.”

0o0o0o0o

ELIZA’S POV

After our passionate round of lovemaking, I’ve dressed again and am sitting by the fire to warm myself up before going out into the open. I have my bread in my hand and a piece of chocolate in the other. My appetite lately has been rather unruly.

He looks at me from where he’s sitting in his seat. I’m sprawled on the floor with bits of chocolate melting in my hand. “Want some?” I ask him. He shakes his head, leaning back in the chair. I take it as an invitation to eat the rest, and I hurriedly do before he decides to change my mind.

Abigor bursts out laughing at my slob behaviour, throwing his head back and shaking his head. My face heats up instantly and I grab the handkerchief, wiping at the corners of my mouth. “Don’t you keep laughing at me like that,” I mock-scold him. ”

“Oh Eliza, you don’t even know it, do you?”

I look back at him with interest, raising one eyebrow in confusion. “What don’t I know, huh?”

“That you’re pregnant.”

It catches me off guard and his words seem to physically push me backwards. “I beg your pardon?” I ask. My heart begins to pound in my chest, blood rushing all the way up to my ears and turning my face a shade of pink. What is he talking about? How would he know if I was pregnant?

He points to my deerskin shirt expectantly and then points to the ground. “Take that off, Elizabella.”

My eyes widen. Is he angry with me now? “But—”

“Just do as I say.”

Heart pounding and mind racing, I draw the shirt up over my head, revealing my naked chest to him. He’s fighting the urge to touch me, I can see it in his eyes when I look down at him. “I don’t understand what this is for,” I whisper over the crackle of the fireplace and the voice of the wind. “I am not with child.”

He frowns and looks up at me. “When did you last bleed then?” he asks me. I furrow my brows and begin to think. I count the months before gaping at him. “It’s been two months now, Tiger Claw. Did you really think that I fail to notice the changes in your body when I have seen every inch of it?”

My eyes widen and I clutch at my stomach, needing to sit down in the chair. The concern on his face is evident as mine begins to pale considerably. The horrible stories of men discarding their women because she was pregnant are certainly not rare in this kingdom. I’m worried, and as the words rush out, I can’t really stop them. “I am so sorry. Please, my king, you must forgive me.”

He looks at me like I’ve just uttered the words of the devil. “What are you mumbling? Do not apologize to me!” He moves closer towards me, kneeling on the floor near my chair. “I wanted you pregnant. It is why I did not pull out when my release came.”

He places a hand on my breast and squeezes lightly. I hiss at him and bat his hand away pettily. “That hurts,” I say weakly. He smirks to himself.

“Another sign. Breast tenderness is always a factor. Remember that I was with my sister throughout her pregnancy.” Abigor tells me. I clutch my shirt to my chest and slide my hand over my belly.

“Well…why? Why did you choose to impregnate me?” I am curious to ask, looking up at him with my eyes sparkling with wonder.

This question would have made any man squirm nervously in his seat, but not Abigor. He looks me dead on with an expression that shows he’s not ashamed of what he did—he’s proud of himself. “Because I wanted you to have my children. Plain and simple.”

Me. He wanted me to have his children so he purposefully didn’t pull out. One one hand I’m relieved that he planned it, but on the other hand, this makes me kind of angry. “So I am stuck with your illegitimate child all my life? This child shall be looked down upon just because of my title. What if I wanted to get married someday after your escapades with me were finished? You will marry another woman, make her your queen, and you will leave me behind so that I may taste your dust as you pedal down the road with her!”

His face reddens at my words; he seems rather upset about my theories. “You will never marry, Elizabella.” Abigor’s voice is firm and authoritative and I can’t help it—I begin to cry, the tears streaming down my cheeks.

“So that’s it?” I cry. I’m blinded by my anger and can’t really control what comes out of my mouth—or what I say to the king. “You wish to keep me as your mistress for the rest of my lowly life?” My bad habit comes around again. I’d been so good about not scratching myself because I hadn’t been unhappy or stressed in a very long time, but alas, my nails find my skin and draw blood.

His eyes widen and he wrestles my arms to my side, growling when my blood drips onto his hands. “You didn’t let me finish!” he roars at me. I instantly quiet down. “You will never marry, Elizabella…you will never marry anyone but me. And that child in your stomach will be my heir!”

The pain from scratching my skin comes as blood rolls down my arms, but I don’t acknowledge it. He is clutching my hands, kneeling at my sides, submitting to me. Yes…me. I remember what Cassandra said on my first day in Stauckana.

“If a warrior wants to marry a harem girl, she cannot refuse.”

But this was him demanding my hand, my heart, and my body. This was him securing my hopes and dreams of creating a family with a loving husband and naked little boys and sweet girls—but it is just a little different from how I’d originally dreamt it. And he waits for my answer on pins and needles, hoping for the best.

I swallow the lump in my throat. “Is this some kind of sick joke? Because if it is, then I shall never forgive you for it.”

He lets out a relieved huff of laughter, leaning back on his haunches. “It is no joke. You are my love. I already told you that I cannot live without you. I have already claimed you, mate claimed you…and now I have my son in your stomach.” He tugs away the shirt and slithers his unnaturally hot hand over my belly. The warmth is soothing. “I shall marry you, and make you my queen.”

I stare at him, unable to comprehend his actions. Abigor wraps his free hand around my neck and pulls my head towards his, lips colliding with mine. Our lips move in sync together with a passion that could move mountains, the little fantasy lingering there until he pulls away and kisses down my neck, through the valley of my breasts and all the way down until he reaches my navel.

I bite my lip and fight the urge to moan when his tongue dips into my belly button, swirling around the little indentation before planting a kiss directly beside it. I gasp when his arms suddenly rise up from their place on my knees and wrap around my waist. He holds me tightly, his head against my stomach. He listens to the sound of my breathing as I gently stroke his hair.

“I shall announce it tonight. You shall become my wife before the end of the week.” His voice vibrates against me. “We shall have a grand wedding, and then the whole world will know you are mine.”

0o0o0o0o

The word of Dances With Wolves’ betrothal to me has spread like wildfire all over the kingdom. Men and women have been coming up to me and they kiss my hand as if I were already a royal. The treatment has been larger than life for me. Abigor has ordered that my chair is situated next to his at the end of the table. When the servants said that the previous queen’s dining throne had been ruined with the ages, he’d ordered a newer, more splendid one to be built in his soon-to-be-new wife’s honour.

At breakfast, Iron Coyote has ordered the harem girls to come down and entertain the men at the table. Abigor didn’t object, but I figured it wouldn’t bother me as long as none of them danced provocatively for him. I sit at the edge of the table, watching Cassandra, Athenodora, Arlena and Katalina twirl around the room in their fancy silks. Ivona sits on Iron Coyote’s lap, feeding him grapes right from the vine.

He wears a golden collar that covers a good part of his neck. I narrow my eyes at it. “What is that thing that he wears around his neck?” I ask Abigor, leaning towards him. In return, he snorts and shakes his head.

“An injury,” Abigor says to me. “Supposedly it’s badly bruised, but he’s too ashamed to show anyone but his whore. Ivona was the one that told me.” I look back at Iron Coyote with my eyes widened. Bruised?

“Was it…” I lick my lips. “Fist-sized?”

He nods his head. “Think so. Why?”

My face turns unbearably red and I bite my lip to keep myself from laughing. “No reason at all.”

The moment that my bowl of soup is placed in front of me, I grab my spoon and dig in. The savoury taste of the rabbit is almost more than my taste buds can handle. “I haven’t said anything about the pregnancy yet,” Abigor whispers to me. “I don’t want to announce the news just yet.”

I shrug my shoulders. “Well, alright. I won’t say anything if you don’t. Just tell me when, okay?”

He nods and picks up his wooden spoon and dips it into his stew. The musicians in the background start playing on their drums and flutes and stringed instruments, creating a lovely piece of music to listen to while chatting and eating at the dinner table.

Drinks of Waterfall has also publicly announced his marriage to Michelle as well, successfully earning her a ticket out of the harem and into his headquarters as a warrior’s wife. Their child would come soon, and that child would be well looked after due to his mother and father’s titles.

The warmth inside the huge room circulates as the men light yet another fire to keep the cold of the oncoming winter out. Some of my tight fitted clothes prove to be no longer wearable now that I am eating much more to feed the child growing inside of my belly. Abigor has ordered new clothes to be made for me from the seamstresses.

Everyone has noticed the grand ring that I have on my finger. It was his mother’s, a beautiful yellow-orange topaz stone sitting atop a shining golden band. The ring matches my symbolic necklace. As I chew a carrot from the soup, I look over at my soon-to-be husband.

He chews on the rabbit, his powerful jaw muscles crushing the meat between his strong, white teeth. His silky black braid hands down his back, a few wisps of hair framing his beautifully unearthly face. Those intense black eyes stare forward across the room, jet black eyelashes making him look somewhat ‘pretty’ while never taking his sheer masculinity away from him.

Abigor, Dances With Wolves, will be my husband, and I will be his queen. The child inside me will be the prince. I would have outright laughed if one of the local “witches” in my village predicted my future from her crystal ball saying that I would one day willingly marry the barbarian king.

When I look at him again, he catches me and enchants me with a small smile. “What is it?” he asks softly.

I tilt my head to the side. “It’s nothing. You’re just…I don’t know. You’re sort of beautiful,” I say, completely dazzled by his irresistible charm.

He snorts. “That’s not what I was looking for, but…thank you, my love.” Abigor winks at me, his eyes growing lustful. ‘My love’. That was definitely the first time he’d called me that, actually meaning something.

My heart speeds up and I turn back to my stew so that he won’t see the dark red blush painting my cheeks. He squints in the firelight before grinning again. He’s seen it anyways.

“You, Tiger Claw, are most beautiful. Do not hide your blush from me. I see all. I am Dances With Wolves, your mighty king and husband.” Husband. That’s the keyword that I’d never thought I’d hear come out of his mouth…at least when he was speaking to me. He slips a finger under my chin and pulls my face up so that my eyes connect with his. “Kiss me.” It is not a request. It is a command.

I lean closer to him, kissing his lips tenderly with my own. As I am about to pull away, he grabs my face tighter and pulls me back in for a more satisfying kiss, one with plenty of tongue and saliva and passion. He tastes of wine and rabbit stew. I pull away finally, laughter dying on my lips.

It doesn’t take long to notice the stares from the people at the table around us. Some smile, some blush and some look away in embarrassment from being caught. Abigor just keeps eating his soup, his abnormally hot hand resting on mine. He has no sense of embarrassment. He only takes pride in the things he has conquered. And he has, undoubtedly, conquered me.

“Na yi ta na da kyau, na’am,” Abigor speaks up in his native tongue. It sounds so rough and manly when he says the words. “Amma idan wani daga gare ku kiyaye staring a inda zan mace kamar cewa, shi ke tabbace yake cewa ba za ka so a sakamakon. (I realize she is a beauty, yes. But if any of you keep staring at my woman like that, it’s guaranteed that you won’t like the consequences.)

I hear a few gasps as people look away from me instantly. My eyes widen and I look at Abigor. He keeps his eyes locked on his stew, but squeezes my hand tightly to acknowledge me. The kitchen servants enter the room with more plates of food. There are bread and wine on the carts. The set the trays all the way down the long table and then scurry away to stand at the doorway.

Abigor pours himself a glass of wine and takes a slice of bread. Then he stands, immediately silencing every mouth in the room. “Ina so in ba da shawara a maku yabo na sabuwar matarsa .” He says. (I would like to propose a toast to my new wife.)

The people grab their slices of bread and their wine almost instantly. I look around and do the same. I don’t want to feel like the outcast.

He looks down and smiles at me. “To mai girma sabon zamanin mulkin, to nake kauna, Sarauniya, da kuma na da karfi dan hawa, a ciki.” (To a new great reign, to my beautiful queen, and to my son riding in her stomach.)

My eyes widen and I instantly gasp. Everyone begins to cheer at the table, shouting their congratulations to me. I thought he just said that he was going to wait! Abigor shoots me a satisfied look that says, ‘Well, I lied.’

He grabs my hand and stands me up with him, turning me to the side and smoothing his hand over my swelling stomach. I can feel my face reddening, but I know he’s only showing me off. The people stomp twice before ripping their bread in half, dipping it into the wine and sinking their teeth into it. “A maku yabo!” they all cry out. It means a toast.

I sit back down in my seat, gulping down my nervousness. “What happened to waiting? And telling me so I wouldn’t look like a complete fool?”

He grabs me again and kisses me in a frenzy of lust and passion, trying to wipe my mind from my annoyance. It works for the most part. “I felt like saying it. You’re mine in every way possible, and it’s kind of hard for me not to flaunt you.”

That comment makes me laugh. I shake my head at him. “You’re relentless.”

He shrugs his shoulders. “And you love it.”

Skin
I sit in my chair near the fire, watching Michelle and the other palace ladies knit blankets as a recreational activity. Winter’s been progressing faster and it’s our duty to knit blankets and. It’s about four o’ clock, but it’s darkening quickly. I haven’t heard from the men since dinner, and Abigor’s been in meetings a lot of the afternoon to talk about the war.

The artillery project is coming along well. Cannons are being built, as well as catapults. And they’re being tested in the secluded forests surrounding the back of Castle Rock. Abigor is pleased with how they are working and he is even more sure that our chances of winning the war have gone up.

I look up from my knitting as I hear heavy footsteps enter the room. It’s Abigor, and three of his other men. He looks directly at me. “We are going hunting in the Forest of Thieves. Now that it is getting colder, the caribou and the deer are migrating down further to find more food.”

I nod my head and toy with the skirt over my legs. “Okay. Will you be back before dark?” I ask him. He glances out of the window at the setting sun and the darkening sky.

“I shall be back before dark. I shall bring home dinner.” He smiles at me and strokes a hot fingertip down my cheek. I lean into his cheek and kiss his wrist. “Will you wait for me?”

He grins at me, revealing those perfect, straight teeth. “I will always wait for you,” I say to him, laughing at his impishness. “Now get going, you oaf. Catch us some dinner.”

Abigor plants a kiss on my cheek and rubs my growing stomach. “I will bring something for our son.”

Three Horses says something to Abigor about the time, and he nods his head, pulling away from me. I wave to him as he leaves. Drinks Of Waterfall kisses Michelle tenderly and then quickly follows after Abigor.

“You certainly do have the king wrapped around your pinky finger,” Arlena comments with a clever smile playing on her pink lips. She is Grey Hawk’s woman, lavished with jewels and has her face painted with makeup. She smells of fancy oils and creams that only the “noble women” have the privilege of wearing. “I think we can all safely agree that the king has never let his guard down as when he is with you.”

I blush, looking down at the wine red scarf I’m knitting. “He is kind,” I say to them all. When I look up, I can see Ivona frowning at me. She’s developed a certain dislike towards me ever since she could see Iron Coyote’s attraction towards me. The jealousy gleams green in her eyes and makes her face twist into an ugly expression.

She huffs before returning to her knitting. Michelle, with her stomach protruding as she is in her fifth month of pregnancy, is having trouble seeing the item she is knitting below her. Drinks Of Waterfall has had their wedding already in the privacy of the local church. Abigor had given him permission to wed her and he wanted to do it without all of the fuss of a large, grand wedding. They invited no one except the priest to marry them. They never take their eyes off of each other.

They are truly the deepest in love.

Unlike Drinks of Waterfall, Abigor plans to have his wedding be known to every soul on the continent. Everyone will know that he is marrying me, and everyone will see my hand in his on our wedding day. To him, it is the grandest claim speech a man can have; and now everyone will know that I am his and he is mine.

Michelle wears the little silver band around her finger quite proudly. It shines in the firelight, occasionally clinking against her sewing needle when she manoeuvres it around the yarn.

“Has Dances With Wolves made many preparations for the wedding?” Camellia asks me under the curtain of her long black hair. She bites a string in two with her sharp white teeth. Camellia is White Fire Sun’s woman. White Fire sun is much older than her but loves her the same. He has seen about twenty-six summers whereas she has seen only seventeen.

I nod my head, my eyes instinctively widening. “There is not a peasant in the village that is not preparing a gift for us; that is what the king said to me.” I laugh a little. “It’s odd, being looked up to as a queen when I wear no crown upon my head.”

The women all nod, their heads bobbing as they knit ferociously. “You are respected as a queen before you wear the crown because you carry the king’s child in your stomach,” Ivona says, her voice a little standoffish and harsh, saying it in such a way as if it is the only reason why I am respected.

Arlena shoots Ivona a warning glare before turning back to me with a smile stretched on her face. “You wear the prized topaz. Everyone knows the story of the topaz, and every woman in the entire kingdom has had hopes and dreams at some point of being the individual that could wear said jewel around her neck.” She blushes in the firelight, clutching her scarf to her heart. “Even I have had the dreams, Tiger Claw.”

This conversation has quickly become awkward for me as I finally realize how many women truly pant over Abigor and dream of being the diamond in his eye. I resort to saying nothing, just looking down to see my handiwork. The scarf is almost finished.

A gust of freezing cold wind blows in through the open window next to us. We all shiver, resulting in Michelle jumping up and waddling over to shut it. “This winter wind is merciless,” Arlena grumbles, rubbing her shoulders in discomfort. “All this talk of war is making me rather unsettled.”

The ladies all nod their heads in agreement. “I am afraid for Iron Coyote’s life. He is the one to lead the armies into battle, and the enemies always want to take down the captains first,” Ivona whines to the group, but no one seems to care. They have all been at the brunt of the aggressive prince’s wrath and have no positive feelings towards him.

Camellia nods. “All of our men will be joining the war. There is an equal risk that we might lose our lovers.” She chews her lip and looks down at her knees. “Nobody likes a war. But if it’s necessary, then I suppose we must prepare ourselves the best we can for the worst.”

I frown. All this talk of war makes me feel quite sullen. Michelle is cradling her stomach as she tries to focus on her knitting but I can see that she’s trying to hide the fact that she’s feeling rather ill. “I think I shall retire…to my room.” She says, her voice strained a little.

As the ladies resume talking about how terrifying and real the war is, I decide to follow Michelle to escape back to my own chambers. She hears me scurrying behind her and stops to talk to me. “I heard about your baby and Abigor’s marriage proposal. Congratulations to you, Elizabella.”

I blush in the darkness and nod my head. “Thank you. And how has your pregnancy been?”

“Rocky,” Michelle replies. “I must get up at ungodly hours of the morning to retch into the chamber pots due to my nausea. Tristan feels horrid because there’s nothing he can do, but it’s okay. All I need from him is support and I’m getting plenty of that from him. He is so loving.”

We begin to walk down the dark hallways, our dresses dragging against the cold tile of the floor. “Abigor? Likewise. When we first came here he was superior, intimidating, and cold towards me…now he treats me as if I am his exact equal. Can you believe it, Michelle? Me, the queen of the Barbarian country.”

She chuckles lightly. “And me, a lowly peasant maid turned high-class, wealthy wife of a nobleman. I would never have thought that those words would appear in my title.” We both laugh at our little revelation.

We kiss each other goodbye on the cheek as we part separate ways down two different hallways. One I reach Abigor’s room, I collapse on the bed, burying my face in the pillows. I’m exhausted and the war has tired me even more.

Without planning it, I fall into a deep sleep just before dinner.

0o0o0o0o

I wake to the sound of rustling in the corner of my room. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see a huge grey figure moving around beside me. It looks like a giant wolf. I gasp and scatter to the end of my bed. As soon as I do this, it catches his attention and he turns around.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he laughs a little at my wide-eyed expression. “I am home now, honey.”

I nod my head before trailing my eyes upwards onto the pelt he wears on his back. Surely it is not a wolf because of the sheer size…but by the look of the face, it cannot be a bear either. “What in the name of Azazel do you wear upon your head and back?”

“Ah.” He reaches up behind himself and pulls the animal skin cloak off of his pack. The animal is fully intact, with the head eyes and teeth very existent. The paws and the claws hand at its side. “A giant wolf from northern territories. Tried to attack us, and Iron Coyote drove a spear through its belly before I could stop him.”

I look at the dead animal with fascination. “It is a beautiful wolf.” He nods his head and lays it down on his chair.

“Black Bear is quite victorious this evening. He, himself, caught a bear that just happened to be black. He says it is a gift from the gods.” Abigor chuckles and shakes his head. “We caught three deer and two caribou for tonight’s supper.”

I move to sit at the edge of the bed, pulling my warm shawl over my shoulders. I look down at my feet, my hair spilling in front of my eyes. “You provide well for us,” I whisper.

He grins before turning around to strip naked out of wet, snow-filled boots and breechcloth. As he bends down slightly, his black hair sweeps off to the side and reveals another bloody gash along his scar-covered back. I gasp and jump to my feet.

He jumps slightly before turning around to look at me with a confused look in his eyes. My shawl falls to the ground and the strap of my silk dress slides down my shoulder. I’m gazing at his glorious naked body, the valleys between his copper muscles, the tautness of his backside. “I see you are enjoying the view.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m enjoying the view. I have to inhale to grasp hold of my breath again and tell him what I truly mean to tell him and stop looking like I want sex from him. “You…you’re bleeding.”

His amusement falls away as concern takes over. “Where?”

I point a shaky finger. It’s rather deep and blood gushes from the wound. “On your back,” I say. “How do you not feel that, Abigor?”

I walk to him, touching my fingers to his skin. When our skin meets, I’m the one to pull away first. My fingertip sizzles. His eyes widen as he reaches out, grabbing my hand in order to inspect the wound. There is a bright red patch on the tip of my finger and it stings. He’s burned me, and the expression on his face shows how clearly horrified he is.

I see some cloth in the corner and I rush to pick it up. I press it to the wound and watch as the white colour of the rag quickly fades into a deep crimson. “Your temperature is raging,” I say to him, trying to stop the bleeding from his wound. “And this wound is so big that even the tallest giant would have felt it! How do you work? I do not understand.”

His face is red and steam rolls off of his skin. “It’s okay.”

I want to laugh. “It’s okay?!” I toss the bloodied rag into the laundry basket and pick up a new, clean one to dab at his wound with. “This isn’t okay. You need to go to the medic, or the healer and—”

Abigor moves away from me and retreats towards the bed. “Just leave it alone,” he murmurs, his naked body glistening with sweat.

I shake my head violently. “You can’t leave it alone, Abigor! You could die from the amount of blood you’re losing and, at this rate, you’ll be dead before dinner!”

He whirls around, his sweet brown eyes no longer pleading with me—his eyes have turned black and his face is menacing. “I said just leave it alone!” The force of his voice physically shoves me back a few steps.

My mouth falls open in shock, chills raising up my spine. He’s shaking with all of the anger he feels. Every breath he takes his massive shoulders vibrate. I’m petrified. “What’s going on with you? I’m so worried. Please…”

My begging seems to trigger something inside of him. Instantly his face falls and those dark black eyes fall to sweet chocolate once more. “Gods, I’m sorry. I lost my temper…I haven’t lost my temper in months. Please go down to dinner and wait for me there. I’ll deal with the wound on my own and I’ll meet you down at the dinner table.”

My breathing is rapid and my heart beats uncontrollably in my chest. This is the first time I’ve ever been afraid of the Barbarian King. I turn around slowly and make my way over to the door. As soon as I place my hand on the doorknob, he clears his throat.

“Know I love you more than anything,” he whispers brokenly. “I didn’t mean to snap at you like that.”

I turn my head so that he’s only visible through my peripheral vision. “I know. I love you too.” And I slip out of the room, the events from just a few seconds ago still haunting my mind.

0o0o0o0o

It is a half hour into the dinner service when Abigor finally arrives. I know that it is him when everyone stops talking and I hear the squeaking of chairs as people stand. He silently makes his way over to his place next to me. When he sits, he nods at everyone else to tell them that it’s okay to proceed to eat.

He leans over and kisses me on the cheek. His temperature is back to normal and he, himself, seems to be back to normal. I turn my head and smile at him, stroking a finger down his cheek. He’s got a white cloth bandage on his back and the bleeding has stopped altogether.

“Are you alright?” he asks me. He seems to notice my uneasiness and silence and it’s making him anxious. “Please.” He gulps a little.

I nod my head and smile reassuringly at him. “I’m okay. But what I want to know is if you…” I trail off, realizing the touchy subject that’s being brought up again. I gulp and shake my head. “Never mind.”

“No, I know.” Abigor rips into caribou meat with his teeth. “You shouldn’t worry. It’s just another scar.” Then he laughs darkly. “Like I don’t already have enough.”

I lick my lips and use my fork to spear one of the long, green beans drenched in delectable sauce. I don’t necessarily know what to say to that sort of remark; with him joking about the numerous times his father had whipped him.

I finish eating my dinner quickly but I stay by Abigor’s side as he is still eating. With his permission, people start to leave the table. Black Bear and his sister Radiant Moon come and sit near us. Black Bear looks a little detached but Radiant Moon is very interested in talking to me.

“I am coming to your wedding,” she says to me with a bright smile on her face. “You have big, beautiful cake and decor…decorations like lights. I makin’ your wedding dress, Tiger Claw. Gonna be beautiful.”

I smile at her and nod my head. “I can’t wait to see it. I’m sure it’s quite lovely.”

“Lovely, yes,” she repeats it back to me. “‘De wedding will be ‘de best anyone ever seen in Stauckana.”

I see Black Bear pick up his animal cloak and drape it over his shoulders. He looks proud of his catch and wears a slight grin on his face. Radiant Moon notices me staring at her brother. “I suppose he is proud of his catch,” I say to her, a bit of humour laced through my voice.

“Oh yes.” Radiant Moon says. “He talks ’bout you all ‘de time. He says you are his first female friend. ‘Sides me, o’ course.”

Black Bear looks into the mirror with a powerful look in his eyes. He is obviously proud of his catch and that he wears his victory on his back. I excuse myself from the table to go and greet him. At first, he doesn’t notice me as he’s admiring himself in front of the great mirror like a fascinated child. I poke the fur and he nearly jumps out of his own skin. I have broken him from his trance.

“You have caught quite the animal,” I tell him, stroking the smooth fur of the deceased bear. He looks at me with uneasiness in his eyes before glancing towards Abigor, who isn’t even paying attention. “It is all right,” I whisper. “We are friends, remember?”

He swallows thickly before cracking a small smile. “Yes. I remember.” He takes the pelt off and places it over my shoulders. “You look…cold.” His assumption is true, but I could never accept this gift.

I shake my head and pull the pelt off of my back. “You are Black Bear. This was your calling. I could never have this.” I smile at him a little. He shrugs, placing the pelt back onto his back.

We stand in silence for a few moments. He looks at his feet as if he does not know what to say. “You will come to the wedding, right?” I ask him.

He still doesn’t look at me. “Everyone comes to wedding,” he whispers in his thick accent.

I roll my eyes slightly. “I’m not worried about everyone. I’m worried about you, and if you’re going to come.”

Black Bear whips around on the heel of his foot and comes face to face with me. “Why?”

“Because we’re friends,” I murmur. “I thought we already went over this.”

“Oh, I forgot,” he says sarcastically. “You only tol’ me a hun’red time.” I let out a huff of surprised laughter. He even cracks a smile at me. I turn back to go to the table. He reaches out and grabs me by the shoulders. When we lock eyes, he nods his head. “O’ course I be ‘dere.”

I smile in thanks at him and return to Abigor’s side. He’s giving Black Bear the death glare but the younger boy is too chipper to even notice the angry king. “Are you done?” he asks me gruffly.

I furrow my eyebrows together and look at him funny. “Done what?”

“Stringing that boy along,” he growls. “I see how he looks at you. You’re mine.”‘

I move closer to him and stroke a finger down his heated cheek. He looks down at me from under his thick black lashes and can’t help but smile at me. “I thought I’ve proved countless times to you that I’m yours,” I say softly to him, my tiny finger tracing the outline of his jaw.

He kisses my nose, calmer now. “I’m a jealous fucker, I know,” he sighs, kissing the tip of my finger. “Soon enough the whole world will know that you are mine.”

“In two days,” I whisper to him.

He nods. “Two days.”

Bond
(A/N: The middle is for mature audiences only, read at your own discretion)

Wedding bells ring out into the distance as the gates of Castle Rock are opened to the public. I’ve never been so nervous in all my life. Abigor and I haven’t seen each other all day because in Barbarian country it’s a custom for the bride not to see the groom. Radiant Moon brings the dress she’s been working on for me to see in the afternoon.

It is absolutely beautiful, but if my father saw me wearing it he’d most likely roll in his grave. The brassiere undergarment is entirely made of crystal and winds around my breast like a celestial vine, connecting in the middle with a few dangling diamonds. The bottom half is rather skimpy, a rhinestone belt connecting to a white pair of silky underwear, bedazzled with gems as well.

Radiant Moon has me lift my arms up as she places somewhat transparent white silk over my shoulders and winds it around my body loosely. It does a lot more than I expected to cover me up. Then she adds a long train to the silk that I have to pick up to be able to walk with. She places a beautiful crystal anklet upon my foot, the gems stretching from my ankle all the way down to my toes.

She uses a pink cream to put on my lips and have them look glossy and rose-like. As for my hair, Radiant Moon crafts it into a long braid that hangs halfway down my back. Then out of a case, she plucks two beautiful earrings and hangs them on my earlobes. Stepping back to look at her creation, Radiant Moon realizes she is very satisfied with herself.

I hear a knock on my door. Radiant Moon steps away from me momentarily to open the door. In comes her brother Black Bear, wearing a smile on his face. “People are everywhere,” he says in his deep husky voice. The younger man smiles. “‘Dey have come to see ‘dere new queen.”

Radiant Moon tugs on my silks a little as I step down from the pedestal she had me standing on. “Perfect,” I hear her say. “You look like a clam’s finest pearl.”

I laugh, not knowing if being a pearl is a compliment or not. Black Bear will be the one to walk me down the aisle. Abigor said that I’d needed a male escort to walk me down the aisle to him. He’d offered to give me one of his most trusted men but I politely refused because I’d already known of the perfect man to do the honour.

Black Bear takes my hand and I go to look at myself in front of the mirror. “You look very beaut’ful,” he whispers in his deep accent. “Are you ready to get marry?”

“Married,” I correct him and he smiles slightly. I take his warm, calloused hands in mine. “Yes, I am.” For Black Bear, it’s very symbolic. He is giving away his only female friend to his king to have forever.

Black Bear leads me out of the room and into the hallway. Light pours in through open windows as we walk down the stone path, the sound of chatter getting louder gradually. I begin to shake a little. “Nervous?” he asks me, looking at my shaking arm.

“No,” I whisper. “Excited. And maybe a little nervous.”

He chuckles and leads me outside where the wedding is held. Not everyone could fit inside Castle Rock, and everyone from Stauckana travelled far and wide to see this wedding happen.

The sound of drums is starting up to signal my arrival. Ahead of me, there are two, great wooden doors with golden handles. Just beyond those doors is Abigor, waiting for me, waiting to be married to me. I clench Black Bear harder. He grunts in discomfort but makes no move to separate us.

We finally are standing in touching distance of those doors. And with one magnificent push, they swing open, revealing the swarms of commoners and nobles on the sides, anxiously peering around each other to see the king’s wife to be and what I’m wearing.

The deep, majestic sounds of the drums echo through my ears as my feet touch the cold ground. Everyone cheers me on loudly. At the end of the long path I see Abigor, his bangs pulled back and his long hair flowing around his waist in the wind. He wears only a breechcloth but his men have painted him with many symbols and tattoos, reaching from his legs to his face. In his hair sits the golden crown.

Abigor has told me once that he’d never smiled purposefully in public, and that the people of his villages thought he was a loveless man because of it. But once he sees me dressed in white, and clad head to toe in sparkling crystals, the corners of his lips tug up and a slip of pearly white teeth is shown to the public eye.

As I walk down the aisle, people throw petals of flowers where my feet touch the grass. Abigor looks upon me as I near him, smiling in the wake of my presence. One of the Elders has been chosen to marry us, a close friend of Abigor’s father, and Black Bear’s own father.

Black Bear hands me off to Abigor, who holds my hands in his own. The drumming stops as the old man prepares to say something. “Mu tara a nan yau, ya shaida wa shiga na wani mutum da wata mace, ta hanyar aure shaidu. A yau za mu duba mu mai girma, Sarkin aure da kyau Tiger Claw kuma Ya tabbatar da ita wa sarauniya.” (We gather here today to witness the joining of a man and a woman through marital bonds. Today we shall see our great king marry the beautiful Tiger Claw and make her his queen.)

The old man places his hands on our shoulders. “Ta hanyar lokacin farin ciki da kuma bakin ciki, nan biyu za su kasance tare. Ta hanyar ruwan sama da kuma dusar kankara, ta hanyar kankara da wuta, ta hanyar cuta da kiwon lafiya … kome ba za su iya karya su rababbe. Babu abin da za su iya raba da dangantaka da soyayya. Shin, wani rai son su tsaya da kuma ki da wannan aure?” (Through thick and thin, these two will remain together. Through rain and snow, through ice and fire, through sickness and health…nothing will be able to break them apart. Nothing will be able to sever the ties of their love. Does any soul wish to stand and object this marriage?)

The Elder waits for any objections. The crowds of people are silent and stand still like wooden logs. I shoot a glance over to Black Bear, whose head is down and fingers clutch at the skin on his wrists. More Elders come under the tent in which we are standing under with berry paints.

Black Bear’s father paints my face with red paint in the shape of two stripes along my cheekbone. Abigor dips his thumb in the paint made from blackberries and makes two identical stripes on the other side of my face. Another Elder takes my hand and dips it into a bowl of red paint. He tells me to put my hand on Abigor’s chest.

I look up at the man I love. I take my hand and place it on his bronze, muscled peck. The imprint of my hand is left over his heart. The Elder acknowledges Abigor to say his own vows.

“I, Raye-Raye da Wolves, babban sarki na Stauckana mutane, mulki da nisa da wide daga Barbarian Sea ga gefuna da wannan m datti kasar, kai ka as my daya kadai. Kai ne ta bugu, kana da zuciyata in hannunka. Ina jingina my love zuwa gare ka har abada.” He says to me. All of the women in the crowd “aww” and coo at his speech. (I, Dances With Wolves, great king of the Stauckana people, ruling far and wide from the Barbarian Sea to the edges of this endless dirt land, take you as my one and only. You are my claimed mate, you have my heart in your hand. I pledge my love to you forever.)

I wet my dry lips with my tongue and take his hand in mine, spreading berry paint on his fingers. He doesn’t seem to mind. “Kuma ina, m noblewoman daga mulkin Bellechester, kai ka as my daya kadai. Za ka, kuma, ka rike zuciyata a hannunka. Ka nuna mini yadda za a yi karfi da kuma yaki na soyayya … kuma na jingina wannan unyielding soyayya a cikin zuciyata zuwa gare ku. Ina da gaske girmama su zama matarka da kuma sarauniya.” (And I, feeble noblewoman from the kingdom of Bellechester, take you as my one and only. You, too, hold my heart in your hand. You have shown me how to be strong and fight for a love…and I pledge this unyielding love in my heart to you. I am truly honoured to be your wife and queen.)

The drums start up again, beating low and sending vibrations through my body. It’s like a heartbeat in tune with mine, how it’s racing and anticipating the moment my lips will touch his. The Elders begin to chant, throwing some sort of powder over our heads to officially seal the deal. They sing and they throw their heads back, telling the gods to forever bond us together.

The crown that I am to wear is revealed to my eyes. It is a great, tall crystal headdress that matches my own wedding outfit. Rows of crystal stick straight up in the air, and even more dangle from those. It’s truly the most beautiful thing. I bend down to let the Elder place the crown on my head.

I stand up straight and I look into his eyes, seeing the true happiness that harbours there. And I can’t help myself when I lean forward and kiss him on the lips, longing to feel that satisfying sensation that he always brings me when his kisses reach me. The music stops abruptly and so does the chanting. Black Bear’s father raises his hands up. “Har abada bauta!” he cries out.

“Har abada bauta!” the crowd screams in response, throwing wildflower petals up into the air like it’s snowfall. (Forever bonded!)

Down the dirt path we walk, the crystals on my head dangling. I’m laughing, he’s trying not to grin in front of the people. But the moment we’re inside of the castle, he pushes me up against the wall and captures my lips, laughter in his eyes. “We’re married,” I whisper to him.

“You’re mine,” he whispers back to me, his hot breath on my neck. Already I feel like these wedding clothes need to come off and we need to take a trip to the bedroom. He senses my eagerness and kisses the bridge of my nose. “Mm, we’ll have plenty of time for that later.”

We sit down at the end of the great table in the dining hall, allowing the invited guests in the wedding party to come in and feast with us before throwing our marital shagali outside for the public to see.

“Try the chicken,” Michelle whispers to me. “And…and put the squash and duck sauce combined all over it, it’s really quite magnificent.” She stuffs her face full of chicken and her odd sauce creation. Her pregnancy cravings are getting the best of her tonight.

Surprisingly I have no urges to eat chicken with duck and squash sauce on it. I lay a hand on my swelling belly and take a sip of my water. Abigor is dining next to me, laughing and throwing toasts here and there with his men.

To the food!

To the wine!

To the unborn child!

To the Queen!

All unsettling thoughts of the war drift away in the breeze of the open windows. It’s quite cold out, but the fires used for cooking up the meats and other foods warm the atmosphere and push the colder bits of it away.

My plate consists of rabbit meat and chicken, fried potatoes with sweet butter, a cooked tomato with ground beef in the middle and quail’s eggs. Michelle groans again in delight. “And the frog legs,” she cries. “Try them too!” I watch in disgust as she lowers a cooked, slimy green frog’s leg into her mouth. I cringe.

Using my fork, I stab at my tomato and tear a chunk off of it. It’s very good. The cooks in Castle Rock are not to be underestimated. Abigor looks at me from the corner of his eye in a lustful sort of way. I blush under firelight and turn back to my plate. “Hey,” he whispers, dipping two fingers in a red pasty sauce. “Open up and try this.”

I open my mouth and he inserts two fingers covered in the sauce. I suck it off of his fingers, twirling my tongue around them. His eyes flutter and darken with the action that’s not meant to be erotic. I pull his fingers out of my mouth with a pop. “That’s good,” I mumble. “What is it?”

“Tomato sauce,” he replies. “It’s new. The cook accidentally massacred a tomato, but it turned out to be a great new invention.”

I nod my head and take the little platter of sauce from him. “Well, it’s brilliant.” I take a wooden spoon and plop some of the red sauce over my rabbit meat. “I mean, I already love tomatoes.”

He gulps and swallows thickly. “Do…do you want to try some more?”

I narrow my eyes at him, a smile spreading like jelly over my lips. “Why, husband, I think we should stall that act for later,” I say in a deeper voice than my normal tone. He shivers a little but shoots the lustful action right back at me.

His hot hand lands on my thigh and squeezes playfully while locking dark eyes with me, a smirk playing on his devious, beautiful lips. “If that is what you wish, wife.”

“I do, husband.”

I don’t think I could ever get tired of calling him my husband.

He laughs heartily next to me before turning back to his food and pouring some tomato sauce over his own chicken. “Little vixen,” he murmurs in his deep, husky bass. This time I am the one that is shivering.

It’s a struggle for me to finish the rest of my food. I eat my quail’s eggs and finish the rabbit and tomato sauce. I finish mangling my fried potatoes and give the rest of my chicken to a hungry Michelle who is desperate to have something more to pour her odd sauce creations upon.

I look up from the end of the table to see Grey Hawk kissing Arlena very passionately. My heart jumps into my throat as he caresses her lips with his tongue before delving it inside of her mouth. Heat flares in my southern regions.

I glance over at Abigor, who is also looking directly at me. “Shall we leave the table, my love?” he asks me so softly that only I would be the one to hear it.

“Oh Gods,” I moan softly. “I can’t take it anymore.”

0o0o0o0o

Hand in hand, we bolt out of the dining hall for a quick fuck to satisfy our raging appetites. He presses me against the wall in a dark corridor, his hands desperately tearing at my silks. “No!” I whisper harshly. “I still have to look presentable for the shagali, and so do you.”

He groans, but spreads my legs and reaches under the layers of silk and crystal to feel my wetness against his calloused fingertips. I moan when he inserts a finger inside of me. I can’t see him very well but I sure can feel him. “Oh, fuck. You’re wet for me, aren’t you?” I breathlessly nod against him as he teases me, drawing his finger in and out of my entrance. He grabs a leg and hoists it over his waist. “Dirty girl,” he practically purrs at me. “You’re so ready for me.”

“Oh yes!” I can’t help my breathless reply. “Just…please. I need you now, fuck me.” I press myself against his chiselled body. He removes his finger from my heat, spreading my juices onto his lips.

“Taste yourself,” he commands, going to kiss me. When he mentions that I taste like honey, I know that it’s a sincere fact. His tongue flickers in and out of my mouth as he removes his hard member from his pants and rubs the head against my sweet spot. “Tell me how you want me,” he growls.

I grip his shoulders as he teases me more. I throw my head back against the wall. “Fast. Satisfying…and hard.” On my command, he slides into the tight, slick channel. He shakes with his pleasure, collapsing against me momentarily to gather himself together.

He nibbles at my earlobe, his hot breath puffing on my neck. “You feel so good,” he murmurs, slowing pulling out of my body and then pushing himself back in. “So tight…wrapped around my cock.”

I can’t take his teasing anymore. “Oh Gods,” I whimper against him. “Please, no more teasing! I want you to fuck me like an animal. Now.”

He’s never been one to deny a woman her needs. With one pump, he’s fully sheathed inside of me, hands grasping my shoulders for support. He quickens his pace, panting heavily against my collarbone, trying to encase his moans. I kiss his forehead as he hoists me up, my legs instinctively wrapping around his waist so I’m clinging to him like a sloth does a branch.

Beads of sweat cling to his muscular, bronze body as he pumps sensually in and out of me. The first wave of pleasure hits me as I cling to him, holding on for dear life. He follows soon after, unable to hold himself back any longer. “You will be the death of me,” he growls breathlessly in my ear. He kisses the corner of my mouth before letting me down so I can fix my silks.

He gives me a cloth to wipe away his ejaculation painting my thighs before going back out into the open. We hold hands and just try to make it look like we didn’t just romp around in the dark. I fix my crystal headdress and paint a smile on my lips.

0o0o0o0o

“You smell good…” is his remark as I sit down next to him with a few grapes in my hand. I trace a pattern on his wrist with my nail as he bends and sniffs my hair. I pop a grape into my mouth and look around the shagali. I have never seen more people crowded in a place at one time. People dance to fiddle, flute and drum music, people eat, and people sing.

I see Black Bear dancing with a young girl about his age, smiling tenderly at her and spinning her around. Grey Hawk is kissing Arlena again, and Drinks of Waterfall is resting his chin atop of Michelle’s head as she rests against his hard body.

A small child adorned with silks is carried over by a young wetnurse. “My king…I do not know if you have seen your niece yet.”

Abigor sits up in his chair a little. I look at the small, black-haired child, realizing that she is the daughter of Three Horses and Snow Lion. He nods his head and leans over the child. The baby claps and reaches for a few strands of his hair, tugging them nearly out of the roots. I can’t help but laugh as Abigor lets out a little cry of annoyance and pain.

“Might I hold her?” I ask the wetnurse, sitting forward on my throne. The young woman’s face flushes bright red as she curtsies and brings the child to me. I hold her in my arms and smile at her. “Her name?”

“Forest Lily,” the nursemaid replies.

I look down at the peaceful child in my arms. She is beautiful and delicate, just like her mother. Forest Lily grips my finger and pulls it into her mouth, suckling gently. I wonder what it will be like when I have my own baby in my arms, mouth latched onto my breast, tiny hands grasping at my skin.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Abigor looking at me with interest. He watches how I care for the child gently, acting as if I am her own mother. Once I hand the child back to the wetnurse, Abigor touches my belly. “You will become a great mother to our son.”

Suddenly, Radiant Moon appears in front of us both. “Iya ni tambayar sarki a dance, na Sarauniya?” (Might I ask the king for a dance, my queen?)

I look at Abigor and smile. He doesn’t seem like he wants to dance with his close family friend, but I nod anyways. “Of course you may.”

Radiant Moon ignores the groan from Abigor and pulls him out to the crowd. I sit on my throne and watch him as he tries not to look too incredibly bored. “Would you like to dance wit’ me?” a deep voice asks softly.

I turn my head to see Black Bear standing sheepishly by the side of my throne. I smile at him. “Yes.” I take the outstretched hand he’s offered to me and stand up with him. A sunny grin spreads over his baby-faced features.

It confuses me a little, with his face looking so young, but his body so tall and…buff. This kid’s a warrior that kills people and wrecks things, but with me he’s just a sweet guy. “I saw you dancing with a pretty girl,” I comment.

Instantly his face goes red as we begin to dance to the music. “I’m dancin’ wit’ one right now,” he says, trying to distract me. I laugh softly and shake my head.

“Her name, Black Bear,” I demand playfully.

He swallows thickly before answering me in a small voice. “Laughs In The Sun.”

That’s a beautiful name, perfect to go along with a beautiful girl. I nudge his shoulder. “You are old enough to marry, no?”

He pulls me closer to him to avoid bumping into another couple. “Don’t mean I t’ink ’bout it,” he tells me. “I don’ really know what I want. I jus’ go wit’ ‘de flow of t’ings.”

I nod my head and grasp his hand a little tighter as we move to the beat of the music. “Any news on the war?” I whisper to him.

He shrugs. “Not much since last time. Bellechester made ‘dere alliance wit’ Pateros and they are still coming up with battle techniques. But we’ve made cannons an’ cat’pults and I t’ink ‘dat the odds of ‘dem winnin’ are slim to none.”

As the night sky darkens and stars begin to rise higher into the sky, the winter begins to come back around. A cold gust of wind causes both of us to shiver. Some of the servants go around and begin lighting torches so we can see. Black Bear and I dance close to a fire for the sole purpose of keeping me warm.

“Do you ever get afraid of what might happen when the war comes?” I whisper the question, looking out past his shoulder at Abigor, who has broken away from Radiant Moon and is talking with Iron Coyote.

Black Bear nods. “All ‘de time. You ain’t never got no way of predictin’ the outcomes. People die all ‘de time, Tiger Claw. But when people die for a purpose it’s a lot diff’rent. Imagine all the stars in the sky. Those are all souls that have passed on to ‘de afterlife.”

I chew my lip and look up at the stars. “Are you going to fight in the war?” I ask him.

“Of course,” he replies. “The king has given me ‘de honour of protectin’ ‘de kingdom.”

I could never imagine counting all of the stars in the sky, or how many human lives are taken with wars and raids. “And are you afraid of dying?”

He shrugs his shoulders and sighs. “Ever’one dies.” He looks down at me and locks eyes with me. “Dyin’ in battle would be a most honourable death.”

This makes me a little angry. He is not afraid to die and would be honoured to be speared on a forked sword in battle. “And what of the people who love you? Your sister, your family, and god forbid you have a wife and children. They would miss you.”

“Life…takes its course,” Black Bear replies nonchalantly.

I pull away from him and stamp my foot on the ground like a petty child. “Then I command you not to be killed in battle. I am your Queen now, and you must listen to me.”

He stands still and looks at me with a certain interest, his jaw hanging slack. I press my lips into a firm line before walking away to join my husband’s side.

0o0o0o0o

I am sitting back on my throne next to Abigor, clutching his hand tightly. I have been acting like a mute ever since my conflicting opinions with Black Bear. My mind runs rogue with all of the talk of war. He notices my distress and moves a tendril of hair behind my ear. “What troubles you?” he asks me.

I shake my head, not willing to talk about it. But he only moves closer with a frown painted onto his lips. He will not drop this.

“Tell me,” he insists.

I sigh and jerk my head towards him. “Are you afraid to die?” I ask him, my eyes wide and searching for an answer.

He shifts in his place a little, crunching his brows together. “What brings this up?”

“Just answer the question,” I whimper, biting my lip.

Abigor leans back in his chair and looks up at the stars. “Everyone will die at some point in their life. There’s no way to predict death…but no, I suppose I’m not. But if I had to choose one way to die, it would be in battle—”

“But why?” I ask, cutting him off. My eyes are wide and glistening with tears. “You would rather die at the hands of an enemy’s sword than in bed, comfortable, holding hands with your lover.”

He blinks at me, his lips unmoving. I can’t look at his beautiful face anymore. I bury my head in my hands and rub at my temples with my fingers. “Gods, I’m so afraid…” I whisper. “This war is so close and no one even seems to care.”

He still says nothing. This bothers me.

“You know, I’ve lived there all my life, except for these past five months with you. They are a cunning people. They’ve always attacked when their enemies least expect it, and it always ends in a massacre. You can’t just sit there and tell me you don’t care about the war and that you’re not afraid of dying because, goddamnit they could be outside of those goddamn walls just waiting for the perfect time to strike! I’m afraid, everyone’s afraid! I don’t want to live if you’re dead!” I’m ranting before I even know it myself.

He licks his lip, leaning his chin into his palm. “Are you finished?”

I open my mouth to say something, but I close it. I look down at the ground and blush a deep red colour. I can’t believe I just went off on him like that. “Y-Yes.”

He hooks a finger under my chin and turns my face towards his. “I am afraid. But I will never show it because I’m supposed to be the strong, brave person that all of the afraid villagers will look to. Beyond those walls is dirt, and sea, and grass. No common white folk from your iron kingdom. You must know, Elizabella, that I will always protect you no matter what. I would take an arrow through the heart one hundred times before I’d watch you die.”

The look in his eyes makes me believe him. With the pad of his thumb, he wipes away all of my tears and kisses the tip of my nose. “I love you so much,” I murmur softly. “I don’t know what I’d do without you anymore.”

“And I you,” he whispers. “Now wipe that worry off of your beautiful face and go and have some fun. Drink some wine, laugh a little, and brush off the side effects of the oncoming war. I’m always nearby. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

Crux
I’m leaning against him on the couch situated near the fire, my head resting on his shoulder as my eyes scroll through the pages of a book. As I sit up a little bit, I feel like I’ve just been punched in the stomach…but from the inside. I gasp in shock and put the book aside.

He’d just been dozing off a little, but my loud gasp causes him to jolt awake. “What?” he asks me groggily. “What’s the matter?” I don’t even know. I touch my stomach just as I’m ‘punched’ again. I realize that it’s my baby, kicking in my stomach.

I let out a breathy laugh and take Abigor’s hand, lifting his hand off of his lap where it is resting. “Feel my stomach,” I tell him. His hot, huge hand settles over my protruding little belly just in time to feel the baby kick his hand.

He sits up a little. “Is that…” Without my answer, he puts his hand on my stomach again. The baby kicks even harder this time, somewhat knocking the breath out of me. The child is stronger than I thought unborn children could be.

I nod my head at him. “The baby.” I finish for him. He looks up at me, a look of pride in his eyes. He rests his lips against my temple as his hand makes circular motions over my stomach.

“He’s strong,” Abigor comments with a clever grin. “I’ve always known that our baby would be strong.”

I raise my eyebrows and smile at him. “How did you know I would be the one bearing your children?” I ask him. “You could have been having babies with a foreign princess.”

He pulls me closer to his chest and strokes a thumb down the side of my cheek. “I’ve always known it’d be you,” is all he says to me. And that’s all I need to hear.

As the baby settles down inside of me, I catch a glimpse of the first snowfall of the winter season. I gasp and run to the window. “Look, it’s snowing.” Big, white flakes float down from fat clouds in the sky. He joins me at the window and watches as the green grass slowly turns white as a blanket of fluffy snow covers it. He frowns and shakes his head, turning away from the window. I frown. “What’s the matter?”

He grits his teeth. “I hate winter and snow and the cold.” He goes to sit in his great bearskin chair by the fire, grabbing a glass of wine to numb the pain of past memories. He drinks it down quickly.

I stand by the window, looking at him as he soothes himself with the red drink. “Tell me why you don’t like winter then,” I ask him, grasping his arm. “I have always thought that winter was a majestic season. Everything becomes white and the ground sparkles in the sun like it’s made of pure crystal.”

He is staring into the fire, the glass of wine in his hand. “Winter is when everything dies. There are no leaves on the trees, the warm air has disappeared and the animals seem to run for cover. Winter leaves everything dead.”

“But…” I twiddle my thumbs awkwardly. “But everything grows back in the springtime.”

He reaches over for his pipe and lights it with a spark from the fireplace. “My mother died in the winter. So did my sister and White Fawn. Ten years before was when we attacked Pateros. We lost many men that winter.” He inhales on the pipe and then he pulls away, smoking curling from his lips. “Winter only brings death.”

I decide that it’s best for me to pull the animal skin curtain over the window to spare Abigor the agony of watching the snow blanket the grass. I’d always thought of winter as something beautiful, but this new enlightenment makes me rethink everything.

When I go to him, he opens his arms and pulls me close to his body. I revel in his scent, smoke, pine and wine. His hands roam over my body, trying to feel the deepest connection with me without taking my clothes off and just cuddling flesh to flesh.

With my height, I’m easily tucked underneath his chin. I listen to the rise and fall of his breath as he calms down slowly. His skin is very hot, but as I hold him tighter it begins to cool down a little. It’s like I’m meat being cooked on a stove. I look up at him. He is staring at the fire with his dark eyes as if he’s trying to speak to it.

I climb out of his lap to fetch myself a glass of wine. He stands abruptly from his seat and darts out of the room and down the hallway. My brows furrow together as I take my wine glass and peer after him. I decide not to call him. He seemed tense and maybe he’s going for a walk to clear his thoughts.

0o0o0o0o

Michelle and I are outside in the snow. Scar is running around like a rabid animal, trying to capture each little snowflake inside of his powerful jaws. The small wolf pup that I’d first seen had grown to a frighteningly large size. But to my wolf, I am like the alpha female—his mother.

Michelle is about six months pregnant whereas I am four and barely showing. I take a peach, one grown in the indoor garden in the castle, and break it in half, dropping the pit into the snow. I give the other half of the peach to Michelle, who takes it and greedily stuffs it into her mouth.

I’m freezing out here, but I love to watch the snow. My heavy animal skin cloak draped over a warm cotton dress. I even wear cow leather boots to warm my feet. My ring is on my finger and my crown is on my head. Standing next to Michelle makes me feel different. She is my friend, and we have both come so far from somewhat wealth to endless riches.

Scar brings back a small rodent and sits at my feet, beginning to pull it apart and eat it up. I put the peach to my lips and bite into the sweet flesh of the fruit, tasting juice pour into my mouth. It makes my fingers and lips sticky.

“How are you feeling?” I ask Michelle when I notice that she’s holding her stomach. She brings my hand closer to feel her child kick her stomach. The outline of a tiny foot presses against her sheer dress.

“The baby’s been quite active and demanding,” she confesses. “I can’t seem to stop eating.” She points at the other half of the peach that I’m holding in my hand. “Are you finished with that?” I hand her the peach and she downs it almost instantly.

I can’t help but laugh at the starved look in her eyes. “If you’re still hungry, you can ask Scar if he wants to share.” We both look at the young wolf, whose head pricked up at the mention of his name. Rodent blood is on his white muzzle and the gory sight makes us both shiver.

“No thank you,” Michelle replies to me, grimacing. “I actually don’t think I’m hungry anymore. That gory mess of a rat isn’t too appetizing to me.”

From behind us, a young servant boy scuttles out into the snow with scraps of leftover food to feed the wild wolves lurking in the forests beyond. The Hausa people feel strongly connected to the wolf and serve them like they are their makers. After all, legend tells of them being descended from wolves.

Scar watches him as he bounds out into the open snow with the bucket of scraps in his hand. A half eaten chicken leg falls out of the bucket and he scurries after it with an open mouth, laying down in the snow to devour and chew on it. We watch the boy trudging through light snowfall, bringing the bucket closer to the forest’s edge.

Michelle and I turn back to each other. “It’s getting rather chilly. We ought to head back inside before we catch a cold,” I say to her, stuffing my hands under my armpits to warm my numbed fingers.

She’s about to agree when we hear an ear-splitting scream echo in the distance. Our heads whip towards the woods, where the young servant boy stumbles around with an arrow protruding from his back. He’s trying to run, but the arrow’s preventing him from doing so.

Scar stands up on all four legs and begins to growl. Michelle and I are so stunned that we don’t move, we don’t say anything. He begins to run towards us, but another arrow whizzes out of the forest and spears him right through the heart. He coughs up blood before planting face first in the snow.

Michelle screams and tears stream down her face as she panics upon seeing the boy die. I clamp a hand over her mouth and we both run into the door behind us. Her hysterical crying eventually attracts the attention of many servants and even Drinks of Waterfall. He picks up his wife and cradles her in his arms, whispering soothing words into her ear in his native language.

Abigor comes around the corner with his eyes ablaze. “Eliza! What’s going on?” he asks me. My eyes are watery with tears and my heart pounds faster than a horse can run. I’ve never been so shaken in all my life.

I point a shaky finger at the door we’d rushed in at. “At…attack,” I manage to get out. “A servant boy went out to throw away the scraps and he was shot with arrows right in front of our eyes!”

Abigor’s eyebrows furrow immediately as he pushes me behind him and opens the door. There, Scar sits growling in the snow, covered in blood. I gasp. He must be hurt. But then as we look further, there’s a man lying dead in the snow, mauled pretty badly.

I realize that it’s not Scar’s blood in which the wolf’s covered in; it’s the man’s. Abigor bends down to look at the seal on his armour and growls loudly. “Bellechester,” he spits. “Fuck. Fuck! Get inside. Now.”

I usher Scar inside and the white animal clings to my side. He still growls, but when I pet his head he licks my fingers, smearing blood onto my fingertips. I cringe. Abigor’s gone to his quarters with his men to discuss things and I’m completely alone in the hallway except for a small maid that looks to be about fourteen years old.

She offers me a tissue to wipe the blood off of my fingers. I thank her silently and make my way down the hall.

0o0o0o0o

ABIGOR’S POV

“I want fifty men patrolling the forests tonight,” I growl at my brother in the Strategy and Tactics room. “I can’t believe the guard let that motherfucker slip past and kill one of the servant boys. There has to be more. One Bellechesterman isn’t foolish enough just to cross into barbarian territory without a reason to risk his head.”

Iron Coyote gives a list to one of the servant boys in the room and the kid runs out faster than lightning to assemble the search troops. “Maybe it’s a trap,” he says to me. “I’ve seen things like this before, little brother. He could have been the bait, provoking the big fish into shallow, dangerous waters. I don’t want to send the troops out unless you’re sure. Are you?”

I rub my hand over the stubble forming on my chin and lips. “Then what do you suggest?” I ask him with a growl because I’m not sure. I’m not really sure at all, but I’m sure that my kingdom needs to be safe and out of harm. I’m really not in the mood for his ‘I know more than you do because I’m older and better and should have had the crown’ shit.

He walks around the table to Ivona, who sits curled up in the chair. I’d protested her presence but my brother wanted her there more than I was willing to argue over. He takes a draw from his pipe, smoke tumbling from his lips. “Guerilla. Warfare.” He says the two words like they’re gold on his tongue. “I say we disguise the men to hide in the brush and wait for soldiers to come by, or wait until they see the fire from camp.”

“What brush?” I question. “It’s winter. Everything’s gone except sticks and trees and snow.”

Iron Coyote rolls his eyes. “Then they’ll wear the white coats. Stop worrying so much about this. You’re being petulant—”

“Petulant?” I want to hang him by his long hair and let his scalp slowly peel off to see if he had any brain at all. “Do you remember what happened in the last war? Our father died! He died, you fucking pathetic shit!”

My brother grabs me by the necklace around my neck. “Don’t you think I know that?” he growls at me. “And maybe I’m wishing you’ll die too so I can finally get what I deserve.”

I rear back and punch him square in the face. He hits the ground hard. I see red; I’m like a bull charging at an enemy. Ivona screams when she sees the blood pour from Iron Coyote’s nose. I shoot her a wild look that immediately shuts her up.

“I should kill you,” I growl deep in my chest. How fucking dare he start this when the enemy’s practically on our doorstep! I can’t believe he such a thing to me. He wishes I’d die? I’d always known it was in the back of his mind but to say it out loud was uncalled for, and dare I say it? Hurtful.

He spits out the blood from his mouth and wipes the excess on the back of his hand while struggling to stand up. He laughs darkly. “What’s holding you back?” he points to the dagger on the belt attached to my breechcloth.

“But I won’t kill you,” I finish. “I’ll let someone else do the honours. I hope you ride into battle with your head held so fucking high that the enemy’s sword chops it off. I hope that they take your head back to their kingdom, mount it on a fucking post, and dance and chant around it, saying that they just killed the prince of the barbarians. Hell, I’d dance with them!”

Ivona dabs at my brother’s nose with a tissue. He bats her away like she’s a pesky fly. “No. I know what’s holding you back. You’re afraid you’d lose and I’d get the crown, and make every product of your nightmares come true. You’re afraid that I’d be greater than you, and hmm…maybe I’d even take your bitch too.”

I pounce on him again, enraged by his comments. I beat the hell out of him, watching his head snap back and forth. He’s not fighting me on purpose. “Yes…” he mumbles. “Each hit takes me one step closer to the crown.”

I beat him one last time, finally knocking him into unconsciousness. I stand up, my body shaking. I see my older brother’s crippled body and I spit on him, disgusted by his presence on my floors. I don’t have time for this shit.

My body is still shaking uncontrollably. My skin heats up like a fire, smoke rolling off of my biceps. This sort of thing has been happening more and more often, and it scares me to know that something might be wrong with me. I’m sick, and the anger that builds inside of me each and every day is just fueling that fire.

I make my way down the hall to Three Horses, who is sending out the troops now. Normally I would send my brother to take care of this, but since that bastard’s lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood, I have to. Three Horses looks up at me and nods in acknowledgement.

“I just sent fifty men into the Forest of Thieves to take care of business. They’ll look until dark and then the midnight guard will keep watch until sunrise.” Three Horses tells me, leaning against the wall. “Do you know where your brother is? I have to discuss a few things with him.”

I can feel myself heat up again. I stand against the cool wall to breath the freezing air in through my pores. “He’s lying in a puddle right now. Anything you have to say, I can tell him later.” I say it nonchalantly. Three Horses looks at me like I’ve just grown a second head out of my right shoulder.

Without questioning (which is a smart decision for him), he nods and gives me the parchment scrolls to look at. They are maps, and red paint points out where the men had sighted both Pateros and Bellechester soldiers. They would look for camps along those areas and follow the dry river a little ways down.

I give the papers back to Three Horses and make my way down the hall. I need to see Eliza. I need her.

When I finally get back to our room, I find her in the bathing quarters, rubbing soap over her soft skin. My mouth begins to water. Her long brown curls frame her heart-shaped face. Big pink lips, innocent brown doe eyes, and a perfectly sloped button nose are only one part of her that makes her perfect. There’s her body, her breasts, which I can easily fit in the palm of my hand, her belly protruding with my child, and a supple backside to top it all off.

I strip off my clothes and instantly join her. The warm water soothes my skin and washes Iron Coyote’s blood off of my knuckles. She smiles and makes more room for me in the tub. “Hello,” she drawls softly. I shudder at the sound of her angelic voice.

She brings her knees up to her breasts and rests her chin on them. “What’s the matter?” I ask her, nodding at her legs. “Why are you hiding from me?”

She gasps a little, looking down at her now concealed body. “Oh. I didn’t mean to cover up like that.” She lowers her legs a little, leaning her elbow onto the lip of the tub. I see those taut pink nipples perk up from the cold air that hits them. “I’m just…worried. Abigor, I just saw someone getting killed before my eyes. I scared for my life.”

I frown at this. “You don’t have to be afraid for your life. I’ll always protect you, no matter what.” My hand reaches out and plays upon her thigh. “Told you that before.”

She cups her chin in her hand and rubs her hand down her wet neck. “But you weren’t there. You didn’t even know that I was outside. I just went out with Michelle, bringing Scar out for some fresh air. What happens when you’re not there for me?” she whimpers.

I can’t ever see myself being far away from her. I knew she was outside from word of the maids that saw her, but what I didn’t know was that there would be an attack on one of my servant boys. She’s got a point, a scary point, but a point nonetheless. I won’t always be able to be there.

For once in my life, I don’t know what to say. What if there comes a day where I can’t save her? I could be injured or trapped or taken hostage or gods forbid, dead. Losing her is something I can’t bear to think of. Losing her and not being able to do a goddamn thing is even worse.

ELIZA’S POV

He crawls forwards towards me until he’s lingering over me in all his naked glory. His black hair spills across his gorgeous face. I stroke a hand down his hot cheek, over the sharp ridges of his prominent cheekbones into the little dimple on his chin. High cheekbones, strong jaw, full lips—in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have created a more perfect example of male beauty.

His hands brace himself up on the lip of the tub. I get comfortable under his heavy body, every inch of his skin pressed against my body. He makes sure not to apply too much pressure to my stomach to avoid hurting the baby. The bathing room is hot from his body heat and the steaming hot bath water. I nuzzle against him and listen to the rise and fall of his body heat. His lips are on my forehead.

Outside the wind whips and screams with its freezing agony. “I just want to get away from the war for a little,” he whispers to me, his muscles bunching as he tenses up. “I know they’re out there but I feel as if I am in denial.”

I run my hands over the small of his back and cuddle against him, the bath water. He slips into a corner beside to me and we just hold each other for a moment. “You’ve got the world on your shoulders. So many responsibilities to uphold. Many eyes look to you for guidance. But sometimes you just have to relax and let your troubles drift away in the wind.”

He bends down and kisses my lips with passion, his lips latching onto my lower lip and sucking it into my mouth. I tilt my head back a little, sighing in contentment. I, too, am afraid of the war. I’d just seen a man get killed right before my eyes and saw the aftermath of a wolf attack.

And now that I’m living in Stauckana, married to the king, hell, ruling Stauckana, I’m on the other side. I was very sociable back in Bellechester and most young gentlemen knew my name when it came up. What would they think of me when they realized that I am now the queen of the barbarians? Would they be disgusted? Would they kill me?

The thought makes me shudder. But I also know that I have Abigor and he will protect me. As will Black Bear and the other king’s guard. I suppose that sometimes I forget I am queen. I hope and I pray that the men do not find anything in the woods. I don’t want the war to happen, let alone start.

“We will get through this,” he whispers to me, recognizing my tenseness. He grabs my hand and kisses my wet fingers. “And we’ll do it together.”

I slowly lay my head down on his shoulder, gazing out the window at the snow falling like heavy raindrops on the ground. Gods, I hope everything will be alright.

This war will toll its bell, and it will make sure that everyone hears it.

Snow
Word has gotten around the castle that my husband has beaten his own brother to a pulp. Iron Coyote was wounded severely by Abigor’s raging fists and now walks around the castle with bandages on his face and bruises all over his chest. I am not upset by Iron Coyote’s injuries for I loathe him with a passion; it just surprises me with how much brute force Abigor inflicted on him.

Before now, I’d never thought of Abigor as a severely violent man. But this war has shone a different light upon him. A more animalistic, barbaric light. In public, he is hard as a stone and seemingly cold and anxious. But in our warm, four-walled bedchambers he is loving and soft and calm.

Last night, the men assembled and searched through the Forest of Thieves. They found a group of fifteen soldiers from the kingdom of Bellechester camped out by a small creek. They lit a fire and attracted just about everything to them—even the wolves. Before the barbarians could lead another devastating attack, the Bellechestermen were all dead, mauled by the pack of wolves. The ancestors had taken our side that night.

One was found wandering the forest, alone and injured. Three Horses ended him quickly. In the campsite, they found plans and strategies they were carrying over to Pateros. The Bellechestermen were spies, planning to peer into Stauckana for a few moments before leaving to cross through the Vibrant Mountains on a hidden path.

Up until last night, this hidden path in Pateros remained unknown to the kingdom of Stauckana. They call it the “Black Path.” It leads down so deep through the Vibrant Mountains that not a flicker of light is to be seen. It is a dirt path, and the bones of dead animals that had gotten trapped are aplenty.

The men are getting ready for battle. Word has travelled down through Seattle, the Moonlit Kingdom, that the marriage has been sealed between Prince Titus and Princess Sera and the troops have been formed. They are said to be marching at this very moment in time.

But the march to Stauckana from Bellechester and Pateros will take days through decent weather. With this snow we’ve had the grounds are deep and trudging an army through six inches of crunching crystal will tire men easily. The rivers and lakes have frozen over, trees have become perfectly crystallized. Since the ocean has not frozen over, there is a fair chance that Pateros may try to cross the Barbarian Sea to the Jungle of Bones and cut into Stauckana that way.

But Abigor assures me that the Barbarian Sea in the wintertime is very harsh and no commander in their right minds would send their naval fleet to fight into that kind of weather.

I pull my shawl tighter over me as I walk through one of the unheated corridors. The fur boots on my feet do well to shield my skin from the harsh winter kiss. I meet Abigor in our chambers, turning the cold golden handle to the doors.

He’s huddled by the fire in his bearskin chair, an empty wine glass dangling from his fingers. I rush to his side, but I realize that he’s only sleeping. He’s so peaceful when he sleeps. It’s like all of his fears and responsibilities float away as soon as his eyelids close.

I bend down and kiss the corner of his mouth. It startles him awake, his hand instinctively going around my throat. I am careful not to scream or push away from him. Once he realizes who I am, his grip on my throat is instantly released and I am being pulled into his lap. “I am sorry,” he whispers. “I thought it was someone else.”

“No, I understand,” I reply softly, nuzzling my cheek against his chest. “There’s a lot going on right now. The responsibilities of kings are heightened at the times of war.”

He buries his face between my breasts as if he’s trying to hide from the world. “I’m glad I have a queen to comfort me. I don’t know what I’d do if I was alone right now. Probably drink my problems away…but honestly, I’m glad that Drinks Of Waterfall captured you that day. And I’m glad that Three Horses took you to my room when I requested a new sex slave. I’m glad that you refused me…and I’m glad that we fell in love.”

His hand smoothes over the swell of my stomach as I nuzzle closer to him. What he says makes me feel like a goddess. “I’m glad we fell in love too.”

Our love was kind of like the sun and the moon falling in love. Two polar opposites had attracted each other to the point where separation was an impossible option. An impossible love that had become an addiction and a possibility after all. He is my sun, and I am his moon.

0o0o0o0o

“I don’t want you outside,” Abigor tells me sternly while shrugging on his light armour to put underneath his fur skins. He is trekking outside to lead some of his men into the forest. He’s told me before that part of being a barbarian king was participating. Unlike the previous king I had lived under (King Phillip of Bellechester), he does not sit around all day and point his fingers here and there, directing his army from the comfort of his bedchambers.

I’d begged him to stay with me for the fear of Abigor getting hurt constantly haunts my dreams and thoughts. He’d refused me with a kiss and instructions to help him put on his armor. I make sure that there are no holes in which an arrow can miss his armor and scrape his scarred skin. “Then I won’t go outside,” I reply to him softly. “I wish you’d do the same.”

He sighs and slips his finger under my chin. “I’ve told you before, my love. A king’s job is to lead his people, and I will lead my people to victory.” His thumb runs over my bottom lip as he bends down to kiss me. I let his tongue invade my mouth, succumbing to his passion. “I will return.”

I break away from his warm embrace, clutching my fur shawl tighter around my shoulders. The crystal headdress on my head jingles from the sudden abrupt movement. My long, unruly curls frame my face, hiding certain emotions from his eyes. “And if you do not?” I whisper. Nasty, vile images flood my mind of him on the battlefield and my vision becomes blurred with my tears.

His huge arms wrap around my frail body from behind and my back is pressed up against his metal armour. I still feel his warmth. His lips are on my cheek, kissing me in attempt to calm my fears. “I will always return to you,” he whispers in my ear. “Never doubt that.”

When he asks me why I am so afraid and if I doubt his sheer strength the sadness fades as a little chuckle escapes my lips. He smirks; his reward is my smile and seeing some of his light. When he asks me if I doubt him, I shake my head. “I do not doubt you. I shan’t doubt you. Ever.”

I hear the bustle of soldiers shuffling down the hallways. Suddenly, the walls of Castle Rock shake and the sound of screams can be heard throughout the kingdom. I scream as the force of the mysterious quake shakes the earth and knocks me off of my feet. He runs to the window and peers out. One of the villages burns as frantic men, women and children run from their flaming homes and shops. “Bastards!” he hisses.

I rush to my feet before he sees me sprawled on the floor and scared out of my mind. I don’t want him to see my weakness. I’d always shown him my stronger side, but I really, truly am afraid. He looks at me instantly, eyes raking over my face. He’s asking for my blessing.

And I give it to him with my nod. In two steps he is in front of me, kissing me so passionately that it makes my knees buckle. He walks away before I can long for more of him. “I will return,” he shouts at me over the screaming and the rumbling, pointing his finger at my heart. “I will find you.”

I nod my head as I watch him rush down the hallway. I hear him screaming about the catapults and the cannons. He wants to strike back. I struggle to walk over the shaking ground as another fireball from the kingdom of Bellechester hits another kingdom. I’m crying before I can even register it.

I hate war. I hate death.

I’m walking down the hallway, dodging soldiers in uniform, their bodies painted red and cloaked in protective armor and skins. My arms wrap around myself. I try to imagine them as Abigor’s arms, telling me that it’s going to be all right—that this war is just a play fight between two feuding countries and that it would be over the next day. But I know he will not say it. This war will not be over in just a day. There is no way to predict its ending.

I rush into the harem room, a room I hadn’t entered in ages. The girls all lay on their cots with their blankets pulled up to their chins. When I enter, some sit up to greet me. “Elizabella—I mean, my queen.” Evalyn greets me, her short hair sticking in wild directions as she throws the blankets off of her body. “Here. Come take cover from this bombing.”

She sits me on an empty cot and then goes back to her own. She sits, leaning against the cold stone wall with her knees pulled up to her chest. I pull the furs over my legs and lean against the wall too, trying to somehow block out the screaming of panicked villagers and the shaking of the ground as men charge off into battle and shoot balls of fire and brick at each other.

I rub my hands over my stomach, feeling my baby kick. The baby knows that something is going on. Ivona is crying softly in the corner of the room with her head buried in her arms. Camellia looks extremely distressed and Arlena knits to try and persuade herself to not cry.

I know not where Michelle is. Evalyn moves closer to me and looks at me. “Are you afraid, my queen?” she asks me, her brown eyes wet with tears. She shakes in the cold room.

“You may call me Elizabella,” I whisper to her. “And yes. I am afraid. Afraid of what will happen to Stauckana and all her men.”

“Why? You only care about your king. My love is at the front of that line, fighting for you.” Ivona hisses at me. “My prince means more to me than your king ever will mean to you.”

I have the urge to stand and slap her across the face. The father to my child, my husband, the man I love with every bit of my heart, is out there fighting right alongside Iron Coyote and she has the dignity to sit there and insult me. “How dare you?” I whisper. Another loud crash is heard somewhere far away in the kingdom. The walls shake and bits of stone fall from the walls.

Ivona wails loudly. “You don’t understand!” she screams at me with fire in his eyes. “You are just a whore from that lowly kingdom Bellechester!”

I can’t hold myself back. I jump off of the bed and dart across the shaking floor to grab her. Another quake hits the castle and all of the harem girls scream in terror, both at my wrath and at the shaking ground. I push her to the ground and Ivona screams. I’m so angry that I can’t contain myself. She screams as her nose smacks into the cold ground and bleeds out.

My hand winds into her hair and tugs the black strands by the roots. “You will never say that again!” I scream at her. “I love him! I love him more than you could ever—”

I’m yanked away by Evalyn and Cassandra, who try to calm me down. Arlena and Camellia just watch Ivona cry on the floor, holding an old rag to her nose to stop the bleeding. They give her a disgusted look.

This war is making me go mad. I rush out of the room and down the hallway, tears running down my cheeks. “I can’t do it,” I cry softly. Abigor is gone. Black Bear is gone. The war is raging. Bellechester will try and assassinate me, I know it. They are known for their exotic poisons and skilled assassins. My baby kicks inside of my stomach. I cradle my growing belly in my hands and lean against the wall in the hallway.

I’m tired.

I’m so tired.

0o0o0o0o

3 DAYS LATER

There has been no word from Abigor. I go to sleep every night with a cold, empty bed. I long to feel his lips on mine, feel his warmth. The prince and the king have split their army into two halves; Iron Coyote camps in the Forest of Thieves with his men, and my husband takes refuge in the Jungle of Bones with the other half of the army.

I mostly keep to myself. My meals are brought to me by servants and I eat all my meals in the safety of our chambers—the chambers that I had once despised. I sit in Abigor’s bearskin chair by the fire with a goblet of wine in my hand. I need the drink of dull my senses and calm me. Even though the servants bring me my food, I don’t feel hungry. I barely even eat.

I read scriptures of ancient Hausa history at night while sitting by the fire. I sleep longer in the mornings and care not to talk to anyone. I don’t even talk to Michelle, who is desperate to get into my mind and know what I am thinking. I don’t care to talk about it at all.

I don’t cry anymore. At night, I step out onto my snowy balcony in nothing but my silk robes, barely hiding my naked body in the outdoors. I pray to the moon gods to help my lover come back to me alive. The cold air bites at my skin and the freezing snow on my bare feet would be unbearably painful to anyone in their right mind…but my pain is numbed by my wine and my aching heart.

A bitter gust of winter wind blows my way and pushes me back a few feet. The moon gods are telling me to go inside before I catch a cold and kill myself. I step into the fire-heated room. Coming inside of the warm bedroom from a blustery outdoors is like I’m walking into a volcano. The sensations are thrilling. It makes me feel again.

I close the balcony doors behind me and shed my silk robe, letting it fall to the ground. I unwind my hair from the tight bun I’d had it up into and let my curls fall into tight spirals down my back.

I look at my naked body in the mirror. I smooth my hand over my stomach. My baby is growing faster and faster. He will be the king that rules the world one day, only to bend his knee to the gods.

I slip on my thick cotton nightgown and slide beneath my numerous bed covers. Even with all these blankets, I still don’t feel safe and secure. I lay my head on the pillow and close my eyes. I’m hoping that the morning will bring a better day…and even bring Abigor back home to me.

0o0o0o0o

In the morning when I wake, it is midday. I have slept in and the servants have no even bothered to wake me up. I do not blame them. I have been irritable in the mornings and they’ve done themselves a favour by choosing not to bother with me. One of the servant girls has dropped off a platter of vanilla biscuits along with a goblet of milk for an early morning snack just in case I had woken hungry.

I dress in my deerskin pelt and put on my protective slippers that encase my feet in fluffy warmth. I’m feeling rather put down by all of this talk of war. I can’t seem to focus and blood rushes through my head, giving me a pounding headache. I rub my temples with my cool fingers and exit my room.

In the hallway, I notice that it’s oddly quiet for the middle of the day. I look around the castle and make my way down the hallways in search of someone. Someone to talk to, someone to reassure me that my kingdom’s still safe and Abigor’s still alive and well…but there’s not a soul in sight.

I make my way down to Michelle’s room. Drinks of Waterfall is also gone away with the war and she’s been feeling blue lately, just like I have been. When I knock on her door, there is no answer. I push it open and find sunlight streaming in through her window. The bed is made, and not an item in her room is misplaced or in disarray.

I’m confused. I go to the window and look outside. The trees are bare sticks with their branches like knives sticking out at odd angles. The sun shines down on the snow and makes it sparkle like crystals blanketing the frozen grass. All I can hear is the desolate whisper of the wind the creak of wooden floorboards.

I rush out of the room, its silence unsettling to me. I’m not looking when I run into Ivona. Her eyes are as wide as saucers. “They’re home,” she says to me. “They’ve come back, my Queen!”

I tilt my head. “Who?” And then it occurs to me what she’s talking about. “And they’re okay?” I exclaim excitedly.

Ivona nods her head vigorously. “Abigor requests your presence at once. He’s outside by the door at the west wing!”

I push past her and bound down the hallway. I almost kill myself with falling over those steps, but I have no time to stop what I’m doing. I’m almost there to see him. I push the heavy door open and step out into the desolate world. It is quiet, white, and freezing.

I hear the door slam shut behind me. I gasp, turning back to see that the door’s been latched and Ivona’s gone. Why has she left me? Suddenly an arrow whizzes past my head and plants itself into the wooden door behind me. I gasp, ducking down. Suddenly I’m being pushed into the snow by two large hands.

I don’t know what’s happening. When I look back, I see Black Bear looking down at me with worry in his eyes. Protruding from his stomach is an arrow. I’m screaming in horror. He doesn’t seem to know that he’s been hit. “Get up,” he tells me. “I need you to run!”

More arrows whiz past us, barely missing my neck. “I’m not leaving you here!” I cry to him, tugging at his arm. He tries to run with me, but the wound in his stomach makes it close to impossible to do so. He pulls away from me, the fatigue and pain evident on his face. I cry even harder.

“I cannot…I cannot go, my queen.” His breathing is ragged as blood drips down his torso. “Please. Go! I love you too much to see you die here with me.”

“You’re not going to die, Black Bear!” I’m blinded by my tears. My heart is pounding as he pushes me away when the second arrow hits him in the chest. He falls to his knees in front of me, blood streaming down his stomach.

He tells me with his eyes that he’s not afraid—that this is just a procedure of war and that he’d gladly give his life for mine any day. And he gifts me with one last beautiful smile, only a smile a best friend could give, and falls back into the snow as that fateful arrow takes his heart from where he placed it into my hands.

I faintly remember screaming his name as foreign arms pull me into the forest against my will. The darkness closes in before I can think anymore.

Hell
When I wake up, I’m surrounded by warmth. I’m laying on warm furs and blankets, and the smell of cooking meat is in the air. I stretch my arms out and open my eyes. I gasp at what I see. It’s a tent, with the symbol of Bellechester painted all over it. Someone’s armour lays mere inches from me.

Suddenly, the tent flap opens and a burly black haired man peeks in. He sees me with my eyes wide open in distress. “She’s awake,” he calls out to the people outside of the tent. There’s shuffling before the black-haired one gets pushed out of the way by a taller man. He crawls into the tent and shuts the flap behind him. I can’t really see his face. I scuttle back towards the back of the tent to get as far away from him as possible.

“Don’t touch me,” I hiss at him when he reaches out a hand. The man chuckles lightly. My brows furrow together with my confusion as some of the sunlight shines on this man’s face. He has pale skin, with green eyes and red hair that I’d recognize anywhere. The breath escapes from my lungs.

“You’re still the same after all of these months,” he whispers to me, flashing me a brilliant white smile. “Wow. I cannot believe I’ve finally found you. I’ve searched far and wide and the gods have led me back to you once more.”

“E-Cordell?” my voice trembles as I squint my eyes in the dull-lighted tent. He nods his head once.

“Elizabella. Are you well? Did those wretched creatures hurt you?” he asks me. I shake my head slowly, my heart racing. “You know, you’re quite lucky that I got there in time to shoot that barbarian scum with my arrows. He was about to strangle you!”

Suddenly, an awful realization comes to my mind: Cordell was the one that was shooting at Black Bear. Cordell was the person who killed my best friend. I begin to cry softly, burying my head in my fur sleeves. He scoots closer to me, wrapping an arm around me.

“I know,” he says. “It’s okay. I’m here now. You don’t have to worry about those Barbarians anymore. One down, plenty more to go.”

I push him away from me. He doesn’t understand. Cordell looks surprised at my actions. “Stop it.” I murmur. I’m wiping my eyes with my sleeve as I look towards the flap of the tent. My ankles are tied with ropes just in case I tried to get away.

After seeing my belly protruding from my dress, Cordell’s face goes bright red. “El…Elizabella,” he murmurs. “Are you with child?” I don’t quite hear him at first. All I know is that I’m upset and I don’t want to be here.

I start murmuring things softly in Hausa, trying to soothe myself with the words of Abigor’s ancestors. Cordell’s soft mood quickly darkens into a much scarier one. He slams his fists down on the ground, rattling the objects around me. “Goddamnit, Elizabella. Answer me! Are you with child? Were you raped?”

My hands instantly come up to cover my stomach. “Raped? No. Never. Pregnant? Yes.” My short and choppy answers seem to displease him. His face turns red and he begins to shake a little.

“You…you gave yourself to another man?” he says, completely astonished, through gritted teeth. “After you sat there with me and promised yourself to me?”

I chuckle humorlessly and shake my head. “That was months ago, Cordell.” My hand lifts from its place on my stomach to brush a curl of hair out of my eyes. It reveals the beautiful ring on my finger.

Now he’s shaking uncontrollably. “You…married?” he half shrieks at me. I move away from him into the corner as he grips the edge of his chain mail so hard that I think that it might break under the pressure. “Who is he?”

I don’t answer him. I look into the corner of the tent at the Bellechester symbol, trying desperately to look strong even though I feel weaker than ever. “He is Dances With Wolves,” I say to Cordell. I see the look of astonishment on his face. I can see how he’s piecing together the expensive animal furs, and the beautiful jewellery I wear on my body, as well as the topaz that hangs around my neck and the ring that adorns my finger. “The king.”

His face is red and he says not one word for several moments. He just stares at me in shock and resentment. Finally, after a painful silence, Cordell opens his mouth. “Well…” he begins softly. “You really are the Queen of Whores, aren’t you?”

I growl at him. He lunges forwards and tackles me to the ground, pressing all of his weight against my pregnant stomach. I scream and bat at him with my hands for I fear that he’ll crush my child. “Get off of me!” I shriek at him. He wrestles my hands to the ground and makes me be still.

“I want what I came for, you lowly bitch. I want you.” He yanks down my pants and presses his hand over my cloth there. “Does that Barbarian shit touch you like this?” he taunts me. I scream, struggling. “I should rape you. You’re worthless.”

With all my rage, I spit in his face. This only makes him more ravenous and ferocious. His fist connects with my face and I instantly know that a bruise will be planted on my face. “You promised me your heart!” he cries at me. Cordell bends back and begins to unbuckle his pants, all the while keeping me pinned to the ground. He goes to push himself inside of me when my knee comes up and hits him in his most sensitive area. He doubles over in agonizing pain, which gives me an opportunity to escape.

I scramble out of the tent and into the fluffy snow with a bruised cheek and a bloody lip. The men all stop and stare as I fall to the ground at one of their feet. The man looks slightly concerned with my state of well-being as Cordell comes rushing out of the tent. He raises his hand to hit me again but the man catches his fist. “Let her be, Mason. You’ve already taught her a lesson.”

Cordell yanks himself out of the man’s grip and storms around the fire. “No one is to feed her! No one is to talk to her! Keep her tied up like a bitch, because that’s exactly what she is.”

The men drag me over to a tree where they tie me to the trunk with ropes. I fight, but I tire after five minutes. It’s cold, I’m hurt, and I’m missing Abigor and Black Bear. I see Cordell giving me a look of death before he turns on his heel and strides pompously back into his tent.

Throughout the course of the evening, I sit against my tree and watch the men talk battle plans and feast upon a dinner that makes my mouth water beyond belief. Constantly Abigor is on my mind. The demons of winter come that night as the men are getting ready to head into their tents for the night.

One throws me a blanket and I greedily snatch it up into my hands, trying to salvage all of the warmth from it. The fire is put out as the last of the men are retreating into their tents for the night. I see Cordell standing by the dying embers. He looks menacing and crazed.

I look away from his face and into the desolate forest surrounding me. He speaks up then. “Don’t worry, Elizabella. You won’t die in the cold tonight,” he whispers. I still refuse to look at him. “The gods have spoken to me, and we have decided to use you and your betrayal to our advantage. Tomorrow we shall travel to where your husband is stationed. If I can’t have you, I’d rather pursue my dream of world domination.”

This catches my attention. I turn my head towards him and narrow my eyes. “You don’t know where he is,” I hiss at him. Cordell just throws his head back, laughing heartily like I’d just said the grandest thing in the world.

“Oh-ho-ho, but I do,” Cordell says, his laugh humourless. “If he truly loves you and your unborn Barbarian brat, he won’t refuse the offer I give him.”

My face heats up in anger despite the raging cold of the outdoors. “And what offer will you put on your golden platter before my king?” I say through gritted teeth.

He runs a hand through his knotted auburn hair. “Suppose you’ll just have to wait and see, hmm?” He wipes his hands on his jacket. “Have fun out here in the freezing cold, love. And try to look presentable for tomorrow.”

I watch him as he retreats back to his tent. “The gods favour the fortunate brave. I do not know why they favour you.” I whisper, the wind carrying the saying to his ears.

Cordell turns around slowly. “Because they know it is my destiny to destroy any enemy that blocks my path to glory,” he says to me. “They know it is my destiny to conquer your new home, burn Castle Rock, and have the head of your bastard husband mounted on a post in front of the Iron Castle. I will be known as the King of the Universe.”

I shake my head at him. He knows nothing of the gods. “The gods shan’t give their throne up for you,” I say to him. The sky is darkening, thick black clouds rolling over the incandescent moon. “What makes you think that they will make you the ruler of the universe?”

With three long strides, he is kneeling in front of me. His fingers clutch my jaw tightly. I sit completely still for I know that if I try anything that he will overpower me in a heartbeat. “I will be loved. I will be king. And it’s a pity you won’t be at my side to see it happen. I’m afraid I’ll just have to trample over you since you insist on standing in the path of a raging bull.”

He then lets me go and crawls into his tent for the night. I lean my head against the tree’s trunk and try to salvage all of the warmth from my thickly layered furs and the thin, ratty blanket that was thrown to me by one of the soldiers.

I close my eyes and imagine Abigor’s warm arms wrapped around my shivering, frail body. I pray the gods keep me and my unborn child safe and warm through the night.

0o0o0o0o

I am sitting on the bed, watching him from a few feet away. He sits like a true ruler in his bearskin chair, his head leaned back against the soft fur pelt. He stares into the fire, hearing it crackle and pop in the night air. In his hand is a goblet of wine.

It is a summer night, one of the most beautiful in the whole entire season. I am naked on our bed. I have become increasingly comfortable in my skin with Abigor’s reassurances that I am the most beautiful woman that he’s ever seen. He made love to me beneath the sunset, as he does every night. He even let me take the lead that night. He enjoyed it better when I took charge.

I peer at him through my thick curtain of curly brown hair. He looks over at me and smiles widely. “Tiger Claw,” he whispers. “Ku zo gare ni, masoyi.” (Come to me, my love.)

I oblige, sliding off of the silk sheets to pad across the stone floor to him. I stand in front of him. His eyes roam all over my body, mimicking what his hands want to do to me. His hands suddenly rest on my very pregnant stomach. I lean forward as he presses his lips to my skin.

“My child,” he whispers. “He will be the prince that conquers the world. Everyone shall love him. Everyone shall respect him. Every knee shall be bent in his presence. And you, my love. You will be the queen that every soul remembers.”

Suddenly, our fire is reduced to black ash like someone blew a candle’s flame out and we’re in the forest. I’m in my silk nightgown, lying in the snow before a large gate, made out of iron. I see Abigor standing on the other side of it. Snowflakes fall on my face.

I look up at the sky before turning my head towards his. “I’m so cold,” I whisper. My lips are blue, my fingertips numb.

He curls his fingers around the cold metal bars and nods his head. “I know.” I move in the snow, my tears forming like crystals on my cheeks.

“Why won’t you come to me?” I ask. I can’t get up. I’m stuck in this weathered snow and it holds me there. I reach out to him. “Please…I’m so cold.”

He rests his head against the bars and shakes his head. “I can’t.” That’s all he says. I sigh sadly and look up at the sky. The snow is falling harder now. It’s covering me. When I look back at the gates, Abigor’s outline is fading. I can’t seem him as well anymore.

“Where are you going?” I ask him. His outline flickers on and off. “Please don’t leave me.”

He looks up at me with sadness in his eyes. “I can’t stay.”

I shake my head, fighting the urge to cry. “But you can’t leave me.”

“I have to,” he replies. ” But…I will return. I will find you. Somehow.”

I reach out my hand. His arm is long enough to fit through the bars. His fingertips grace mine with warmth. I hold onto him so tight. “I love you.”

“And I you,” comes his husky whisper.

I move my frozen limbs in the snow. I cringe and cry out in pain. “I…I can’t move. It hurts so badly.”

His big brown eyes stare into mine. “Don’t give up.”

His outline flickers again. He’s going to leave soon. The snow is slowly burying me. I can no longer see my feet. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see a tall, dark figure creeping behind Abigor. I try to warn him, but my mouth his frozen and I can’t seem to work my tongue.

He’s looking down at the snow, his hand clenching mine tightly. My eyes widen and my breathing speeds up. The snow is slowly covering my face. The dark figure raises a sword. I cry out for him to move, but my hand has frozen him to the gates.

The sword comes down hard on him, beheading my lover. I want to scream, I want to cry. But as the last of the snow fall from the desolate sky, my eyes are covered from the horrid sight of my king’s glassy brown eyes staring at me from where he laid in the snow.

I’m falling, tumbling through a snow vortex, only to land on a ground covered in ash. It is the capital city of Stauckana, where Castle Rock is located it. The houses are burned down. Smoke tumbles out from the windows and creates a thick fog in my atmosphere. I’m wearing my torn red silk dress from the first day I came to Stauckana.

There are still flames burning away at the grass and little sparks sizzling in the dirt ground. I see the toys of small children lying black and charcoal-like on the ground. I begin to cry as I pick up a small cloth doll.

There are the unfortunate people that are lying on the ground, burnt to a crisp in the fireball raid. It is truly a massacre. I step over a fallen log and trip on my ripped rags. I see the young child lying next to her mother, her hand stretched out as if she were reaching for something.

The doll.

Sobbing, I place it into her hand before standing up to see the catastrophe unfolding around me. I’m running, running so fast that the tears on my face are flying off of my cheeks.

A rip in time suddenly creates a doorway for me to go through. Desperate to escape the hell that became all too real, I dart through it. I’m in a palace. I collapse to my knees, relieved that I’m back in Stauckana. Castle Rock hasn’t been burned down.

But as I look around, I notice that this castle is certainly not Castle Rock. It’s the Iron Castle. I’m dressed in a huge black dress, the typical mourning attire in Bellechester. I stand and run into one of the rooms, desperate to find the way out of this place.

I open the door to Cordell, sitting at the end of a long table with a golden crown on his head. “Pleasure to have you join,” he says loudly and somewhat rudely. “It only took you forever to get here. Do sit down.”

I don’t want to sit down, but my legs suddenly become wobbly and I have no choice. The door slams shut behind me, inevitably trapping me inside with him. I want to cry, but I have no tears left. There is a wine glass in front of me, and a plate of food. It looks delicious and my mouth waters. It seems like I’ve not eaten in a year.

I look up at Cordell. “Eat. You seem hungry,” he says. “I had it prepared specially for you.”

Without words, I dive into my food. Cordell watches with a sick sort of humour as he leans back in his chair, sipping his wine. Suddenly, I begin to cough uncontrollably. The food has been poisoned. I should have known.

As I drift into the silent darkness, I can see Cordell’s triumphant look. “You…you won’t win.” I cough. “I-I won’t…let…you.”

He comes over as I tumble onto the floor, clutching my neck and gasping for breath. “Oh but Elizabella,” he murmurs sweetly. “I already have.”

And darkness closes in on me.

I wake up in a fright, tears streaming down my face. It is night and the moon is shining brightly. I have only slept for a couple of hours. The owls call at night. The world around me is quiet, and cold, and cruel.

I know the dream wasn’t real but it could easily become a reality. I curl against the tree, trying to get warm again but I’m not having much luck. I just want to fall asleep and bury this nightmare that I’m living six feet under.

The hellish nightmare gave me insight on what could happen if Cordell really did succeed. The gods are warning me of an outcome so disastrous that even they want to stop it. I know that I can’t let him win.

I can’t give up. I can’t stop fighting. For when an opponent stops fighting, for even a second, it gives the other a chance to find a weak spot and run you through. He told me before. He will return. He will find me.

Beast
I can feel his lips skirting across my neck, his hot breath behind my ear. His hands roam over my skin, and suddenly I’m lost in his touch. “I try to concentrate, but all thoughts of sanity drift away the moment you touch me like that,” I whisper to him in the darkness and security of our room.

The fire is the only light we see. Sometimes I can’t sleep in the middle of the night, and he’s found that he doesn’t sleep well without me in his arms. The flames lick at the logs of wood, sending sparks up into the air. “I am assuming you cannot sleep,” he replies softly. His voice is husky from slumber and gives me goosebumps all over my arms. “And if you’re not by my side, neither can I. What is keeping you from your dreams?” he asks me, tucking a curl behind my ear.

I show him the records I’d gotten from the library. “They are about your mother and father. Their love story.” I whisper to him. He becomes sullen as he looks away from me. I look down at the records in embarrassment and begin to roll them up. He places a hand over mine.

“Do not.” Abigor looks me in the eyes. He is so beautiful. His chocolate eyes shine like honey in the firelight, his dark eyelashes framing them. “My mother and father’s love story is the traditional love story. Man and woman meet, man and woman fall in love, man and woman marry. But you and I…you and I will have our legacy written on the walls of Castle Rock forever.”

I place my hand on his hot cheek, my fingers tracing a pattern over his powerful jaw and into the dimple on his chin. He leans into my touch, savouring the feeling of my skin on his. “Most think me to be a monster,” he tells me. “But yet you treat me like a saint. Your heart is full of love.”

I prop myself up on my elbow, the strap of my nightgown falling down my shoulder. “And yours is not?”

“It wasn’t before you came along,” Abigor murmurs. “I used to share this bed with no one, suffer through the cold winter nights alone. I used to fuck a whore every day, feeling nothing but primal lust, beastliness. You, Eliza, make me feel human. You help me to forget my past.”

I nuzzle close to him and hear his heart beating. He makes me feel like the most beautiful creature to step foot on the planet. He rolls over onto his back, pulling me with him. I’m straddling his waist, looking deep into those passionate pools of chocolate.

He presses his hot lips to mine. I part my lips, allowing him entrance into my mouth. Our tongues rub together as we attempt to get as close as possible to him. He tastes like mulled wine and mint leaves. He moans into my mouth. “It’s been too long.”

I nod my head. “I don’t ever want to leave you again. I don’t feel safe unless you’re nearby.”

He nuzzles his nose into my neck. “Then I shall always be nearby, so that you may always feel safe.”

0o0o0o0o

After sitting around tied to that barren tree in the early hours of the morning, Cordell had checked up on me to make sure I wasn’t dead or dying. Kind of him, no? He brought me into his tent and started a small fire to warm my numbing fingers and toes.

I stare at him as he sits in his chair and inspects the riches that he’d stolen from one of the Hausa villages he’d burned to the ground. It is a ruby necklace. “Isn’t it lovely, Elizabella? I would have given it to you but due to the circumstances…” He drops the ruby necklace back into his sack.

I look at him with disgust. “The gods give you riches yet you kill for more,” I say. He looks at up me and dangles a sapphire before me. Right now I’d rather be in the freezing cold than sitting here with him, tied up. He was such a good man. This idea of the Silvertongue and deciphering the book of Azazel has driven him to the verge of madness.

I remember back in Bellechester when we’d sit in the meadows of beautiful wildflowers separating civilization from thick thorn jungles. How he’d smile at me and kiss my hand, flaunting me around the town like I was the most precious jewel. It’s crazy how people can change. Now he’s a monster. He tried to rape me, kill me…!

“The gods favour me. They’ll give me what I want—”

“Want, want, want. Everybody wants something. Seattle wants peace. Pateros wants a naval war. What, exactly, do you want Mason?” I spit at him, my eyes narrowing.

He looks taken aback by my words. His emerald eyes shone with anger. “You know, I’m quite surprised you still have a tongue. If you were my wife and you spoke to me like that, you wouldn’t have one anymore. But I suppose your husband’s rather stupid—after all, his brain is the size of a pea,” he snorts.

My face reddens. “My husband kills with grace. He has more agility than a gazelle, faster reflexes than those of a cheetah. And when he kills you with said grace, you shall look up from the pits of hell and admire his tactics even then.”

Cordell snorts again, shaking his head in disbelief. “You entertain me.”

I glare at him in the darkness of the tent as he rummages through his sack of jewels. “Words can deceive. Hearts can deceive. But the eyes…those we can trust. And trust me when I say that you will be as good as dead when you fall into the hands of my husband.”

“Bite. Your. Tongue!” Cordell grumbles through gritted teeth. “Or I’ll take it upon myself to cut your tongue out at this very moment!”

I look away from him. I can’t stand the sight of him. “Someone will win this war, Cordell.”

“Yes, I agree.” He laughs at me, no humour in his tone.

“It will be the side worthy of having a win.”

“Right again.”

“It will be the Hausas.”

“Very doubtful.”

0o0o0o0o

It takes me a few minutes when I wake up to truly understand why the trees are racing past me, and why my bed smells like an animal. When I finally realize that I’m on the back of a running horse, my eyes fly open as my mouth emits a gasp that startles the rider.

My hands and feet are bound together and I’m tied to the horse so tightly that I wouldn’t fall off if the mount took a tricky turn or jump. Snow is fresh on this ground, so I know that we’re far from where the camp was. I don’t say anything when the horse begins to slow down.

There are other men on horseback, their armour gleaming in the bright sunlight, their breath rolling from their lips like puffs of dragon smoke. The bitter winter cold bites at my cheeks and nose, making the normal porcelain white skin turn a rather odd shade of scarlet.

The pounding of horse hooves against the ground echoes in my head, their strong legs powering through the light snow that would normally slow them down quite a bit. But these horses are on a mission; they are on their way to get a job done. And in the back of my mind, I believe I know what that job will be.

I raise my head and look in front of us to see the commander of these riders, and I see Cordell. He leads them to where my husband had been deemed safe. He will lead them to their deaths, and drag them all throughout hell.

My head pounds, my body aches. I’m not well. A night out in the cold had taken a toll on my body, and like Cordell said, did not kill me. But it did quite a number on my health. My eyes slowly shut and the brilliant white world before me slowly fades to dust.

0o0o0o0o

I awaken again to the cold snow filling my animal skin boots as I’m dragged along. I am too weak to move. My eyes flicker open as I’m stood up onto my feet. My vision is blurry and I’m not really sure what’s going on. Something cool runs along my neck. It’s a blade, but it’s the sort of blade that teases.

It doesn’t slice.

I stand up against a man with a blade held to my neck. I float closer and closer to reality. So close I can almost touch it. And then I see him stand up from his throne. My heart beats a little bit faster. That piece of me that I’d been lacking for so long finally feels full again.

In the camp, there are little tents and tepees, aside from his chambers, which is made out of wood and animal skins. There are fires going on, melting metals in cauldrons into arrow and spearheads, and cooking foods.

He shouts something and it jolts me back to life. I can see him, in all of his beautiful glory. His hair in a thick braid hanging down his back, his youthful and handsome face turned towards mine. Those sweet brown eyes are full of anger and worry.

My numb fingers curl around the man’s wrist where he holds the blade. “Let go or I’ll cut your damn throat.” I don’t touch him again. Abigor takes a step forward, and the men all point their swords at me.

Oh, gods.

Abigor’s face turns red as he faces Cordell. “You tread dangerous grounds, Bellechesterman.” His deep bass ripples through the crisp, cold air. Cordell smirks but says nothing. He looks back at me. “Let my wife go.”

“Ah,” Cordell says. “And this is where our conflict shall begin. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Sir Cordell Masen, commander of the southwest troops. Your wife here promised me something. And once someone makes a promise, they should have to keep it, no?”

Abigor doesn’t like the games that Cordell plays, and it’s clear on his face. “What are you getting at?” he growls, trying to hold himself together.

Cordell walks over to me and strokes the side of my face. I want to turn and bite him but I remember the presence of the knife on my neck. “She promised to marry me, and father my children. But she lied and fucked you instead, becoming Queen of the Whores.”

“How dare you disrespect my wife!” Abigor booms, his accent layering on thick to the threatening words. His whole body begins to shake. It has been happening more and more often. “I could kill you!”

“Ah, ah.” Cordell clucks. “You might want to drag your footsteps lightly across this fragile bridge, my King. For if you take one step wrong, your wife could be the one to pay for it.”

The guards, which I recognize as Drinks Of Waterfall and Three Horses, grab Abigor’s arms and whisper things into his ears. He seems to calm down just a little bit. “Very well, Bellechesterman. Let us hear your offer.”

Cordell steps away from me, his boots crunching powdery snow beneath them. “I will give you back your wife if…you gallantly gift me the Silvertongue.” He smirks, shifting his weight to his other leg in the snow.

Abigor doesn’t need much time to react. He gives out orders in Hausa to get the things he needs. The men bustle around until Abigor holds a small wooden box in his hand. He opens it, pulling out the beautiful silver chain that he’d identified as the Silvertongue to me before.

Cordell’s eyes widen as he reaches out for it, but Abigor snatches it away before he can have it. “My wife,” He growls menacingly.

Mason rolls his eyes and glances back at the two men holding me in place. “Let the bitch go,” he instructs his men stiffly.

The knife is removed from my neck and I collapse to my knees with fatigue. That is when all hell breaks loose. The barbarians pull out their khopesh swords, expertly hid in their heavy animal fur coats, and start slashing away at the unprepared Bellechesterman.

I stare at the ivory snow, which is quickly becoming stained with red. “Seize him!” I hear my brave husband boom. Drinks Of Waterfall and Three Horses grab Cordell by his arms and force him to his knees in front of Abigor.

As I try to push up onto my knees, I can barely even recognize my husband. His eyes are black and he looks more menacing than ever. At his height of nearly seven feet, and his muscle mass like the mass of a walking mountain, he is the epitome of a god—an angry one at that.

“This isn’t fair!” Cordell cries, terror evident in his eyes. “You made a deal!”

“You should know the barbarians,” Abigor says with menace laced throughout his tone. “We never play fair.” He picks up the cauldron of bubbling silver and holds it high above his head. “Za ka so da Silvertongue, zan ba ka da Silvertongue!” (You want the Silvertongue, I’ll give you the Silvertongue!”

I look away as Abigor pours molten silver down Cordell’s screaming mouth, then using his khopesh to cut out his tongue. He holds the bloody, silver-covered tongue high up into the air as Cordell’s lifeless body plummets into the earth. “Tsoro ni! Ku bi ni! Tare za mu kashe mutanen a cikin bakin karfe kara, fyade da mata, enslave ‘ya’yansu!” he screams. “Za mu san kõme ba na jinkai.” The Hausas scream with him. (Fear me! Follow me! Together we will kill the men in iron suits, rape their women, enslave their children! We will know nothing of mercy.)

As I struggle to my feet, I can see the bodies of lifeless Bellechesterman soldiers littered everywhere. I make eye contact with him and the look on his face shows pure relief. “Ku zo gare ni, ni mace.” (Come to me, my woman.)

I smile because I know that everything’s going to be okay now. I’m safe as long as I’m with Abigor. I scramble to my feet, holding my large stomach in my hands. Suddenly, I hear a cry of anger and pain floods my system.

I’d been whipped.

One single Bellechesterman wanted his vengeance. The barbed leather raked across my back, my smooth skin quickly becoming mangled and bloody. I cry out in pain.

I’m bleeding. I’m bleeding everywhere. I don’t see when the man gets killed. I don’t see the look of horror and pain evident on Abigor’s features. I hear bones snap and skin rip and suddenly I feel sick to my stomach.

I can see Three Horses scuttling towards me, pulling me out of the way and to safety. I don’t understand. I hear growling behind me. I turn my head towards the sound. And I find myself looking into the eyes of an enormous wolf.

Howl
When I come to, I am laying on a bed that smells like him. Abigor. But the last that I remember is that barbed whip stripping the skin from my back. I sit up too quickly and the pain instantly hits me. The furs on my top half are gone and I am naked except for the white bandages that dress the wounds on my back.

I see the door to Abigor’s warm cabin open and Three Horses steps inside. He is red in the face and his eyes are wild. “Sarauniya,” he whispers. “How do you feel?” It is quiet and cold—I assume that it must be nighttime.

“How long have I been asleep?” I ask him, rubbing a hand over my growing stomach. I try to sit up straight to relieve myself from my back pain, but it only does a little.

Three Horses nears me. “A few hours. It is midnight.”

I try to swing my legs over the side of his bed but I’m so sore. Three Horses rushes over to help me up from my place on the bed. I tear my memory apart trying to remember what happened before I fell into that deep sleep.

An eye. I can remember a huge brown eye staring at from me, a long snout and huge white fangs shown from pulled up lips. I can see a wolf. And that’s when I recall what happened before I was here.

“My husband,” I whisper. “Three Horses, where is Dances With Wolves?”

This is when the warrior’s face turns pale as he looks towards the door. My skin turns an inhumanly shade of white as I begin to feel rather nauseous. “We…work with him. He’s healthy but…unhealthy in a way. I t’ink you might want to come take a look for yourself.”

Three Horses fetches my heavy animal fur cloak and drapes it over my shoulders. Wrapping a hand around my waist, he stabilizes me and helps me walk out the door. Instantly, the cold blast of wind hits me and stings my once warm and rosy skin. In the distance, I can hear the howling of a wolf ring in my ears. My heart beats faster as we trudge through the snow. I’m trying to keep up with Three Horses but my back hurts so bad. Finally we near where the warriors are trying to keep a beast at bay. My beast.

When I see him, my heart stops. I gasp and fall back from my place. He thrashes in the ropes he’s tied it. The warriors try to calm him and lower him to the ground with said ropes, but it’s only making him angrier.

His eyes are yellow, primal. His fangs are sharp and purely white, dripping with blood. He stands taller than any wolf I’d ever seen in my life. His eyes rise to meet mine as he lets out a horrific howl that curdles my blood.

0o0o0o0o

ABIGOR’S POV

She sees me. She’s disgusted with me. What I’ve become. I can’t look at her beautiful face. I can’t bear to see the disappointment and horror in her eyes. I stop fighting the warriors and settle down in the snow. I can see the beads of sweat forming on Drinks of Waterfall’s face as he loosens his hold on the rope.

I’d been fighting long enough. Three Horses whispers something to Eliza. She licks her lips and steps forward. “Na soyayya…kuna har yanzu a wurin?” comes her sweet, honey-toned voice. “Ina bukatar mu san idan mutum shi ne har yanzu a ciki..” (My love…are you still there? I need to know if the man is still inside.)

I lift my head slightly at the sound of her footsteps drawing closer. I breathe out of my huge, flaring nostrils and watch as my breath curls away in the crisp air like fire smoke. How do I answer her? I cannot speak. I cannot communicate. I am a beast.

She inches her hand closer to my pelt. I’m calm now. I shove my nose into her palm and lean my giant head into her arms. How I’d longed to be touched by her, held by her. I can smell the infant growing in her swelling stomach, I can smell the blood from the wounds on her back.

I growl in remembrance of that wretched Bellechesterman scum that whipped her. This startles her and she jumps up, trying to scramble away. I whimper and inch closer to her on my paws. Once she realizes that I’m not being aggressive towards her, she throws herself at me and wraps her arms around my thick neck, her tiny fingers grabbing at my pelt.

“Don allah,” she whimpers, her bottom lip quivering. “Don allah, ina bukatan miji na baya.” My eyes feel watery as I stare out into the distance at the bright moon aglow in the sky and the Vibrant Mountains off in the horizon. (Please. Please, I need my husband back.)

She’s weeping now. “Ya mai girma da dukan iko wolf, bã ku canza konkoma karãtunsa fãtun a gare ni?” Somewhere deep in my body, I can feel something stirring inside of me. I need to be human again. I need to be there for her. (Oh great and all-powerful wolf, will you not change your skins for me?)

As this something stirs, I can feel the most excruciating pain in my life come back to haunt me. My bones are breaking, shrinking smaller. My skin is splitting, my fur falling away as human skin takes the place of it. My wolf howl is cut off as my fangs are back to human teeth and human lips form a human scream rather than a howl.

And here I am, standing naked as day before my wife and my warriors. My shoulders heave up and down—that whole process was physically exhausting. “A-Abi—” I don’t even give her time to finish.

In one step I am by her side, clutching her frail body to mine, burying my nose into the collar of her neck. And she’s hugging me back. “I almost lost you,” I sob into her shoulder. The memories of the knife to her neck, the whip stripping the porcelain skin from her back.

“And I almost lost you,” she sobs right back to me. “I didn’t know if you could ever change back.” She pulls away to look at me. I’m naked and not having seen my body in weeks makes a faint blush return to her cheeks. How I’d missed that blush of hers. “You are not cold?” she asks.

No. I am not. In fact, I feel comfortable in this weather. I don’t say anything about my temperature. “Come with me, kyakkyawa. There is much to explain.” (Beauty.)

I ignore the gaping mouths of my men and trudge to my cabin like I wasn’t a wolf just a few seconds ago.

0o0o0o0o

ELIZA’S POV

“Everything I’ve ever been told, everything I’ve ever read…it’s all been true. It all makes sense now!” He paces the length of the room, naked as the day he was born. He still hasn’t bothered to put any clothes on, but it’s not like I care. “Before…before you were captured, those random fits of rage were unexplainable and I knew not what was going on with my body. But now…”

“You are a wolf,” I finish for him, my voice feathery and breathy. “Just like in the tales your father told. Like the ones I’d read in the library.”

“Shapeshifter,” he corrects me. “Hausa Shapeshifter. The last one of our kind.” My mouth falls open slightly as I smooth my hand over my stomach. He catches the small gesture and his eyes widen. “I…”

“Do you think our baby will be a shapeshifter?” I whisper to him.

He walks closer towards me. “It will be hard to say,” he replies. “There’s really no telling.”

“But now that you know it’s in your blood, it…it must be in our baby’s.” I nod my head at him. “It has to be.”

“Wait,” he says, coming over to sit next to me on the bed. “It skipped over my grandfather and my father. The last time a shapeshifter was documented was three generations ago, with my great-grandfather. Ephraim, or Mighty Claw. It’s possible that this shapeshifting bloodline could be passed to our child.”

I lean back against the wall for a split second but sit right back up due to the wound. “Ouch,” I murmured, rubbing my back softly. His eyes widen and he inspects the bloody bandages doing poorly to heal my wound.

His heated fingers skirt across my cold skin. “How are you feeling?” he murmurs. “Does it still hurt?”

I shake my head and stare at the fire crackling before the both of us. “Not as bad as before. I think you scared the pain out of me, quite honestly.” The corner of his lips pulls up slightly and I lean over and kiss his tattooed bicep since I’m not tall enough to reach his cheek.

“How did you even get here? I assumed you were safe in Castle Rock. I even left Black Bear to guard the perimeters so you weren’t completely alone. I know of your fondness for him.” Abigor says.

At his words, I look away and down at my feet. It brings back the painful memories of my good friend and the horrendous act of betrayal that landed me here. “Black Bear has died,” I murmur, tears forming at the corners of my eyes.

He gives me a funny look to see if I jest, but the look of pure sadness in my eyes shows him that I do not. He stands up from my bedside with fury in his eyes. “One of my best warriors? How?”

I struggle to say the word. “Arrow.”

His face turns bright red. “Tell me how he died. You seem to know something that I obviously don’t.”

“Black Bear gave his life to save me. An archer from Bellechester was taking shots, and he pushed me out of the way before one pierced me. He was shot three times before he died and I was taken away.” I sniffle a little. Reliving the memories is definitely not something I wish to do, but it’s something I must do. The king must know the truth.

“And why,” he muses. “Were you outside? I thought I told you to remain inside Castle Rock at all times.”

I narrow my eyes while looking into the fire. “You should have told Ivona that.”

“Iv…Ivona?” He cocks his head, his long black hair flowing over his shoulders. “What in Azazel’s name does Ivona have to do with anything?”

I stand up to feel less inferior to him as he towers over me. “She’s the one who locked me outside after falsely alarming me that you were home.” I look him straight in the eye so he can tell I’m not lying to him.

“My brother’s whore…” he whispers, his eyes widening. “…did this to you? Got us into this whole mess?”

I nod my head. “I’ve no reason to lie about this. She told me you were home so I went out the special door she told me to, and then closed it right behind me in the middle of a snowstorm. That’s when the archer started to aim.”

Abigor stares at me, his eyes full of despair. “Ivona tried to kill you,” he murmurs softly, his voice barely even audible. “And in doing so, has killed one of my best warriors. She shall feel the wrath of a king.”

He begins to shake a little, just like he used to before he shifted. I don’t want him to turn back into a wolf so I stand—a little too quickly (as I feel the pain on my back)—and try to comfort him. “But I’m here now, and I’m okay. I’m safe here with you.”

He raises his hands and tugs at the roots of his hair, his mind in obvious distress. “It does not matter! What would have happened if that palefale you once called your lover did not take you to me and in fact killed you? Or if Black Bear did not push you out of the way? You’d be dead! Buried beneath the ground! And I’d be alone, yet again!”

He begins to curse and pace around the room again. I stare at him in shock, his lean muscles bunching up and then loosening as he tenses and relaxes. The feelings of shock and anger and fright swell up into him until he’s fighting to hold back his tears. “You can’t leave me!”

I rush to him and grab his face in my hands, bringing his face down to mine. “You didn’t. You didn’t lose me, and you won’t lose me.” I can’t stand when he’s upset. It makes me feel upset too.

He finally forces back his tears, gulping down his sadness. The wetness at the corners of his eyes is evidence of how he’s feeling. “I’d die,” he murmurs. “I’d die without you.”

All I want to do is make him feel better. My hands slither up his arms, over the lithe muscles in his neck and to his face. I tilt his face down towards mine so that he’s looking at me. “Kiss me.”

He looks deeply into my eyes as if he’s searching for something. He slowly lowers his mouth to mine, savouring the taste of my lips upon his. Our lips begin to move together, his tongue slipping into my mouth on timed intervals. It makes my knees weak.

He places his hand on my neck and tips my chin back with his thumb, allowing him access to the sweet spots on my porcelain skin. He kisses them and I moan in pleasure. His fingers run through my hair, entangling themselves in my curls. “How I’ve missed your touch,” I whisper between kisses.

Abigor’s breathing becomes heavier and more laboured the more we touch and kiss. “Stop this,” he says suddenly, pulling away. I’m left in shock, wondering if I’d done something wrong. He turns his head so I can only see the profile of his face. “Or…I might be tempted to ravish you.”

I stand there with sweat clinging to my skin, my chest heaving from not catching enough breath between dizzying kisses. “I want you to ravish me.”

He goes over to the bed by the wall of the cabin and lays down on it. He obviously wants me too, with the way that his cock stands proudly up against his belly. But he quickly conceals said want with a blanket. “You are hurt, and you are pregnant. Come lay with me tonight, and I may consider ravishing you tomorrow.”

I make my way over to where he lays on his bed and sit down next to his resting form. I slowly shift to lie on my back, trying to find an angle where it won’t irritate my wound. We both look up at the top of the cabin. He entwines his fingers in mine and brings my knuckles to his lips. “I promise you that Ivona will feel my wrath. This will not be left unsaid.”

I want that woman to burn in the pits of hell for what she’s done. She’s the reason that Black Bear died, that I was captured and almost killed, and that Abigor phased. “What do we do tomorrow?” I ask him.

He sighs. “We go back to Castle Rock.”

I turn my head to look at him, my eyes wide. “But what of your expedition…? You surely mustn’t call it off to take me back home.”

“I am not calling it off,” he tells me. “Three Horses shall take command of my army and lead them into battle. I am taking you home in the early hours of the morning. I will deal with Ivona and I will make sure you are safe. War has no place for a woman…a woman as delicate and precious as you.”

The cabin’s wooden walls creak as the wind tries to blow it down with all of the force it could muster. I cling to my husband. I’m not ready to let go of him quite yet. That day was very eventful and something we both need is sleep to put our minds at rest.

But tomorrow still lies ahead. Tomorrow we must journey miles back to the safety of Castle Rock if we aren’t attacked on the way there. Each day is a struggle, but we shall take it one step at a time.

I turn my head to look him in the eyes. The corner of his mouth tugs up in the corner. He is so beautiful. “Why do you look at me so?”

“Because you are the epitome of youth and beauty,” he replies. I nuzzle my nose against his and press my lips against his. I lay my head on his shoulder and sigh. He covers my body with the blanket and my hand skirts down his waist until it lays on his pelvic bone. “Sleep,” he whispers. “I think we both need it after today.”

I wordlessly agree, clinging tightly to him as I drift into peaceful blackness.

Betrayal
In the early hours of the morning, we headed off into the horizon to begin our journey back home. We took our two horses, Daybreak and Midnight and loaded them with supplies we’d need for the trek.

It’s been about an hour into our ride back to the castle through secret routes only Abigor would know of, using them as shortcuts. I keep my furs wrapped tightly around my body and urge my horse on through the terrible cold of the winter. I’ve never been so miserable in my entire life.

Abigor constantly looks back at me to see if I’m still hanging on, and like the stubborn woman I am, I always remain determined, even through this weather. It shan’t disarm me of my strength. He scopes out the surroundings before waving me on as his horse gallops down a hidden pathway in the forest. It’s surrounded by thick pine and the snow is not as deep as compared to when we’re out in the vast fields that once had abundant plant life.

“Can you believe how dead this forest is?” I say, my voice echoing out in the quiet area, my voice cutting sharply through the crisp air. He turns around and shushes me. I nod my head quickly, forgetting myself. The enemy could be anywhere. They could strike at any time. And what an opportunity to capture the queen and the king of Stauckana?

As we travel through the small pathway, he answers me. “Winter kills all. I despise the demons of the cold.” He looks back at me through his peripherals and sighs. “Winter and I have had long histories.”

My horse huffs loudly beneath me. I smooth a hand along her smooth, warm neck and scratch behind her ear. “Good girl. Keep going. Only a little more to go…right?” I look up at Abigor, who has turned back around. His long animal skin cloak hangs down over the sides of his great black steed and blows in the wind.

I remember some of the surroundings around me but not all of them. I remember when I’d rode off into the forest on this very same horse and saw the barbarians massacring a nearby village in a raid. We’re close to him.

My mouth doesn’t seem to want to shut as I ask a question that renders my husband into a shocked state. “Why do you raid if you know that it causes problems with other lands? Is it greed?”

After a few moments of stunned silence, my husband finally lets out a growl. “Greed,” he whispers. “My people have had long histories with the surrounding kingdoms. Centuries ago, Stauckana was no more than a small tribe in the south that had a castle the size of a nobleman’s house and no riches. The three kingdoms stomped all over us like we were the scum of the earth.”

My eyes widen as I’m listening to him. He leads me further and further into the shortcut path.

“Scum of the earth, we wanted to be no more. Slowly, we assembled groups that the king named raid parties to go into small villages around us and steal from them in retaliation. Slowly, our population grew from stealing small things like food and measly gems to please our king. Then came your kingdom. We’d not bothered them but they sought us out. And so it was the Battle of Red Dirt; they massacred us on our own soil, killed our king, took the riches we had, and stomped back out with a triumph to parade in their villages. For at least a century we were a weak people. No army, no navy, no home to call our own.” Abigor stops to catch his breath. I exhale as I realize I’d been holding my breath the whole time. I want him to continue his story.

“Then came a new king. He was the Strong Wolf of the South, or so the people called him. He was said to have the strength of ten men and determination of a hungry animal. We built our empire back up while those foolish royals had their backs turned, unaware of what was happening around them until it was too late. We raided Bellechester and slew their king like they did ours, took all their jewels and brought it back to the south. We named our land Stauckana, and then took back what was ours from other kingdoms who took advantage of the Battle of Red Dirt to swoop in and weaken us further,” Abigor explains.

I am silent. “I…I never knew that was the reason behind raiding. I had no idea-! That is why my people thought your people were savages because you defended yourselves and retaliated and kept your pride… Oh, why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Abigor shrugs his shoulders. “I didn’t want it to affect your views of me. You fell in love with me knowing that I am the ‘king of the savages.’ But every single one of the kingdoms has seemed to forget about our hardships for years upon years and their views of us have just taken over the truth. And you’re probably wondering why I still order raids. I don’t know. There hasn’t been a big war in years until now. It was to maintain power over the other three kingdoms.”

“If it’s what you think is right, I shan’t question you on it,” I tell him, twisting my hands in the reins of my horse. He looks back at me with a blank expression on his face.

“I am my father’s son. I am reckless, I am a fool, I am a beast. But one thing that I will never be is a tyrant. I will lead my people to victory. I will lead battles if necessary. And…if it’s what you desire, I will minimize my raiding.” Abigor whispers. “I’d do anything if it made you happy. I know how this war has taken a toll on you.”

I know he’s referring to the traumatizing experience with Cordell. But he’s killed Cordell and my conflict is supposedly over, for now…or at least I think it is. “What do we do when we return home?” I ask him, digging my heels into Daybreak’s soft underbelly to make her catch up with Abigor’s horse.

I see his jaw tense up. “First, we’ll walk into Castle Rock and rid our bodies of this cold. Then…I don’t know what you’re doing, but I’m jailing Ivona until my brother gets back to decide what to do with her.”

Another gust of freezing cold wind blows in my face. I close my eyes as snowflakes catch on my eyelashes. Tiny sharp crystals sting my face and colour my cheeks a scarlet red. I wipe my face with the sleeve of my animal fur coat. “Will you kill her then?” I ask him.

He snorts humorlessly. “Yes. She will die. But how is what I need to talk to my brother about. I know that Iron Coyote will be hesitant with me killing his whore, but she’s gone either way.” He looks over at me with his brown eyes blackening. “Almost losing you was unacceptable.”

Suddenly I feel nauseous at the thought of us being separated. I’m also sure that my child isn’t helping my nausea with all of the activity he’s doing inside of me. I can feel my baby’s kicks constantly. “Oh,” I say when the baby kicks me right on my bladder.

Abigor steers his horse right next to mine so that we’re within arms reach of each other. He smoothes a hand on my belly right in time to feel the child kick. “He’s already strong.”

“Your child,” I chuckle softly. “Of course he’d be strong.”

I don’t really know if my baby’s a boy but Abigor’s been calling the child by said gender ever since I found out that I was pregnant. He just seems to know, somewhere deep down in his gut, that this child’s a boy. A prince.

“How far away are we now?” I ask him as another freezing cold gust of wind blows through the stick thin trees and nips at me again.

He looks around at our surroundings, searching for some sort of landmark. “About five miles,” he whispers. “But there’s a small village very nearby. We can rest there for a little while and receive food and drink from the villagers.”

I nod my head. “Okay. Which way?” I ask.

He points off into the distance. “Just over that hill should be the town Thunder Bird,” he replies. “Let’s go.”

Our horses break into a gallop, swerving through trees until we reach our destination. Abigor and I easily manoeuvre our mounts down the hill until we see the sets of little wooden houses and curls of smoke leading from a lone fire by a larger house. It’s unusually desolate.

“Shin wada a nan?” he calls out loudly. His voice splits through the air and echoes in the emptiness of the forest. He dismounts his horse and walks around. He walks around through the snow and looks for any signs of life. “Kar a ji tsoro. Yana da na, sarki. Raye-Raye da wolves.” (Is anyone there? Do not be afraid. It is I, the king. Dances With Wolves.)

Still no answer. “It doesn’t look like anyone’s here,” I whisper. I slide down from my horse and tie her reins to a small post to keep her from wandering off. I look up when I hear Abigor gasp quietly. He looks down at a small puddle of red that he’s accidentally stepped into. Then he opens the door of the cabin, only to turn away from it a second later.

“Don’t look,” he warns me, but it’s too late. My interest has peaked and I look anyways like the curious creature I am.

My eyes widen. I see a man and woman, skewered together with a sharp spear. I see the type of spearhead it is—Bellechester. But then I see a shiny teal cloth lying on the ground—Pateros. They must have done this together, as allies.

The smell of rotting flesh hits me as Abigor’s closing the door. He looks deeply upset and saddened. “How did they get this close? My armies have been pushing north and dominating.” His fingers tug at the roots of his hair. “Thunder Bird was once prosperous little trading post for travellers through the Forest of Thieves. Now look at it…burnt, people slaughtered.”

I cover my mouth with my hands and lean against my horse. “You’re trying your best,” I whisper to him. “You can’t be in 10,000 places at once. You’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

Abigor’s boots crunch in the snow as he inspects the other cabins for any signs of life. But no one is alive; they have all been slain in the attack. He sees a small child’s cloth doll lying burnt on the ground. He rubs the stubble on his chin as he looks at it before bending to pick it up.

I study his face for his reaction but he’s completely blank. He sighs, his shoulders slumping. He murmurs something that I can’t hear before thrusting the doll away into the brush. He can’t stand to look at it anymore.

“Oh Abigor,” I murmur. “You can’t blame—”

I’m cut off as I suddenly can hear twigs snapping behind me. I look around and see a huge white beast emerging from the forest with blood smeared all over the muzzle. My heart stops as Abigor sees the creature and whips out his sword, ready to slay it.

But as I see the beast look up into my eyes, something inside of my head clicks. Just before Abigor gets close enough with his sword, I scream out for him to stop. He halts his movements as the beast creeps forward on his front paws towards me. “Eliza, it will kill you if I don’t do something!”

I ignore Abigor’s pleas as I cock my head while looking at the white beast. “Because he’s my wolf. It’s Scar.”

Once I say his name, his ears perk up and his tail begins to wag. But what completely blows my mind is how big he has gotten. I pet the young wolf’s head as he comes submissively over to me, still wagging his tail. I suppose it’s quite plausible for him to have grown this large in the time that I had been gone.

Abigor sheathes his sword and walks over to the wolf. “He’s fully grown,” he says. “I didn’t recognize him.”

“Well, it’s a good thing that I did, then,” I reply to him. “He’s truly a magnificent beast. But he will never match you,” I smile.

Abigor’s lips quirk up into a half smile. He’s still not thrilled about being a shapeshifter, but he’s glad his questions have been answered. He mounts his steed again. “We must go now. I cannot be here anymore. This stench of death is disabling.”

I climb onto my horse. Scar follows us, running alongside my horse’s long strides in the snow. I can only wonder why his muzzle is bloody. He is just doing what he does best; protecting.

0o0o0o0o

When we finally return to Castle Rock, it is midday. The sun beats down on the white snow, reflecting it up into our eyes. Even though the sun shines, it is still mercilessly freezing cold. Abigor knows the secret entrance to the castle so he takes me that way, instead of entering through the front gates. He doesn’t want the whole world to know that we have returned home. That would cause a ruckus in the villages, and that would draw the attention of Bellechester and Pateros.

We dock the horses in the stables before travelling on foot through the door that leads to the heart of the castle. The first thing that hits me once I am inside is the heat. It is so hot inside, compared to the cold I’d been surviving in for about a week. Scar runs alongside me until we get to the grand hall; there he turns and stalks down another hallway.

It’s so quiet and empty except for servants and maids bustling around the castle, keeping the stone fortress warm and comfortable. It’s almost too quiet. I know something’s up, and apparently so does Abigor. Down the hallway, we can see a young maid scurry out of one of the rooms with dirty laundry in a basket. Abigor calls out for her to stop. The maid nearly has a heart attack when she turns round to see the King of Stauckana demanding her attention.

“Ni gida yanzu, yarinya. Gaya mani abin da ya faru a lokacin da ta iznin.” Abigor spits out quickly in his mother tongue. (I am home now, girl. Tell me what has happened during my leave.)

The maid bows her head and curtseys weakly before standing up to face my husband. “Ban san za ka dawo don haka nan da nan. Na sarki, da dan uwa ya mayar da. Sai ya ce da ka aiko shi gida don duba a kan sansani, da kuma gudanar da abubuwa na xan wani lokaci. Ya ke an jeruwar bias mana a kusa da…har ma a zaune a kan kursiyin.” (I did not expect you to return so soon. My king, your brother has returned as well. He says that you sent him home to check on the castle, and run things for a while. He’s been ordering us around…and even sitting on your throne.)

Abigor’s eyes widen as he gasps silently, taken aback by what the maid is telling him. “Ina ya yanzu, maid?” he demands. (Where is he now, maid?)

“Na karshe na ga of shi ne lokacin da yake faruwa a sama zuwa ga harem,” the maid replies, pointing a small finger at the great staircase that leads up to the harem room where I once called home. “Amma ina tsoro cewa shi ne awa daya da suka wuce, na sarki.” (The last I saw him was when he was going up to the harem, but I am afraid that that was an hour ago, my king.)

Right now Abigor is seething. “Oh, I know exactly where my brother is.” And then he takes off up the stairs, each fall of his foot against the wood making a loud thump through the quiet castle. He is calling his name loudly, rousing the harem girls from their slumber and stirring the interests of other castle workers.

“BROTHER!”

0o0o0o0o

ABIGOR’S POV

My heavy footfall rouses the men at peace in this castle but I do not care. I am on a mission and that is to find my brother. My brother that has betrayed me, and the whore that had tried to kill the only light I had left in this wretched world.

The faster I walk, the closer I near to the dark corridor in which my brother’s bedroom lies. My hair whips around my face as I come to stand in front of his door. I know he’s inside. I can hear that whore moaning his name. And like the fool he is, he never locks his door.

I bust down the door without even turning the knob, bursting into his room. She’s sitting on his cock, thrusting up and down on him. Dirty. That’s all I can think about. “Bastard!” I scream loudly, grabbing Ivona by the hair and yanking him off of his weeping cock and throwing her onto the floor.

He’s more stunned than angry that I’d walked on him. He shouts and stands up, not caring to hide his male genitalia from my eyes. “What in Azazel’s name are you doing—”

I don’t give him time to finish. My fist cracks into his head, snapping it to the side. He falls back onto his bed. “I told you to lead them into Pateros! Because of you, the villages on the outskirts of Stauckana were slaughtered!”

He holds his nose, watching as blood pours out of it. He’s laughing, an evil menacing laugh. My eyes widen and a look of disgust crosses my features. “You do not tell me what to do,” Iron Coyote replies. “I am the rightful heir. I will tell you-!”

He stands up to face me, taking a swing at me. I duck and effortlessly miss his fist. I shove him hard backwards, smacking him against the wall. “Reckless!” I scream. “They’ve gotten through our kingdom’s walls! We could lose this war! Our father…” I beat him with my fists, but he fights back against me extremely well. He’s the only person who could match me. He lands a blow into my stomach, and then another to the side of my face. I feel the pain radiating through me as I fade in and out of a short dizzy spell.

He stands and spits down on me. “Fuck you! Fuck our father! Fuck the rituals…let us duel, brother. Let me take what is mine!”

Behind me, Ivona’s screaming for us both to stop. That kariya. She too will pay. But I disregard her for the moment, glaring up at my older sibling as I stand on my feet.

Months ago, I was afraid to duel. I would have put up with all of my brother’s taunting and irritable, angry presence. Months ago, I would have tried to make peace with him, despite his harsh remarks about wanting me dead so he could have what he wanted. Yes, that’s what I would have done.

But….months ago I was not a shapeshifter.

“Let us duel,” I agree, nodding my head. Blood dribbles down my chin from my split lip, and I hastily wiped it away with my calloused fingers. “I will let you take what is rightfully yours. Death.”

My brother laughs humorlessly, going to a naked Ivona who confides in him for warmth, protection and comfort. Not for long, I think. “The throne is mine. It has always been mine. Our father was a fool…a failure! He was wrong to trust you!”

I do not respond to that. I turn my back darkly and smile rather evilly because I already know the outcome of this duel. “When I kill you, I will mount your head on a post in front of the castle walls as a warning to those who do not know the extent of my wrath towards those who betray me.” Then I turn around to look at the naked woman who is trying to hide behind my brother. “And when I kill her, I will mount her head right next to yours. That way you can both burn in hell for the rest of eternity.”

Sleep
“Please,” I groan. “I don’t want you getting hurt. Don’t duel. You’re the king, can’t you just throw him in jail?”

Abigor grumbles. “No.”

I pace the length of our bedroom as he sharpens his khopesh sword with a special stone. The snow has stopped falling for the time being, leaving a fresh blanket of white powder covering the grass.

I sigh, my shoulders slumping. “This is something that has to be done, isn’t it?” I murmur softly, peering at him through my curtain of curly brown hair.

He runs the stone along the sword once more with a clean swipe. “I put it off for far too long,” he admits. “I duelled him once, and I won. I didn’t kill him though, and that was my mistake. My greatest mistake.”

Abigor holds the sword up into the sunlight and the newly sharpened sword sparkles brilliantly. He inspects it, running his finger softly down the sharp side. He shows me his thumb with a grin. “Barely even touched it.” Blood spills from the cut, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He sucks it into his mouth and deems it healed.

I stand by the fireplace and wrap my animal skin shawl tighter around my arms. “And this time you plan to kill him?” I question, staring at him with this large knot in my chest. It tightens when he nods.

“You shall deal with him no longer,” he says. “This time has been delayed, and now the time is here. It is upon us at this very hour.”

The crackling of the fire becomes louder as one of the logs falls from its place farther back in the hearth. I breathe out rather loudly, my hands clutching at the shawl. “You must…you must promise me something.”

He looks up at me with those beautiful eyes of his. I stare at his gloriously handsome face, gulping, as the knot in my chest grows tighter. “Anything,” he replies with that deep, husky accent.

My nails find my skin and I scratch, hard. “You must promise…to be safe.” He nods his head.

“Of course,” he agrees.

I can feel a little bit of blood trickle down my arm. He doesn’t notice…yet. “You must also promise to return to me. Never to leave me.”

At this he sets down his khopesh and stands up to look at me. “Where is this coming from? I will win. I will return to you, like always.”

“Just…” I don’t know what how to say it. “Please. Promise.”

Abigor notices the blood on my arm and frowns at me. He grips my hands and forces them to my side. “Stop that,” he scolds me. “I hate it when you hurt yourself like that.”

My face burns red with embarrassment as I turn away and look towards the floor.

He gives me a sympathetic look and turns my face back to his with the tip of his finger. “I…promise.” He pulls me closer and kisses my temple with his burning hot lips. “Remember my secret. I am powerful.”

And then he pulls away and picks up his khopesh again. He opens the door and stares into the hallway. “Are you going to come?” he asks me.

I sigh and slowly begin to walk forward. He wraps an arm around my shoulders and steers me down the hallway.

0o0o0o0o

Iron Coyote is about as tall as Abigor, maybe an inch or so shorter. His muscles ripple beneath his copper skin as he stalks around the king with his khopesh sword in his hand. He is a true beast, his eyes with fire inside of them. He is green with greed. Greed for blood, fortune, royalty. Greed for everything he never had but was supposed to have had.

Dances With Wolves is taller. Maybe he is an inch or so, but he is much larger in muscle mass. Whereas Iron Coyote is tall and lean, my husband has bicep muscles that look like they could crush a skull if he flexed them. And those muscles ripple all the way down his abdomen, leading beneath his breechcloth and animal skin pants. He, too, unsheathes his khopesh.

His beautiful black hair gleams in the sunlight, giving off a bluish tint. We are outside. I am watching beside the maid that gave Abigor the information before. My heart pounds in my chest. I know that he is completely capable of killing Iron Coyote. But my question is whether or not he’ll be injured in the process.

He bares his teeth at Iron Coyote; he is a true beast. His eyes are ablaze with the intent to kill, his tongue ready to taste the blood that will make him gloriously triumphant. His strong fingers grip the golden handle of his sword. I know that the outcome of this duel will be as kind as the tip of a dagger.

I am prepared, but I am scared. “Do you want to back down?” Iron Coyote questions him, twirling his sword casually in his hand. He has that same wretched smile on his face and his brows are pulled up-like he’s amused by all that’s going on.

“Never again,” Abigor snarls, his lip pulled back over his teeth like some sort of rabid animal. My heart begins to soar into action with the first clash of metal against metal.

Iron Coyote’s blows are continually blocked and met by Abigor’s. Abigor’s shoulders feet are wide and he is balanced as he quickly weaves his sword through the air. He slashes down with great force but Iron Coyote misses the blow—luckily for him.

Abigor ducks underneath a swing of Iron Coyote’s blade and swerves to slash at his back. The older man turns around to meet his sword before receiving a metal kiss on his back. Swerving in and out of swords, carefully missing each fatal blow with precision. They had both been taught by one of the best swordsmen in the barbarian country, or so it seems.

No armour. No protection. Just luck, and pure skill. They are dancing with death, tangoing with the undertaker. Skirting along the edge of a jagged cliffside.

My heart is beating faster and faster. I’m afraid for my husband’s life. I look away, hoping to find solace in the trees. But the tears at the corners of my eyes grow larger and threaten to tumble down my face. I touch the topaz on my neck. He wouldn’t leave me.

Abigor plants his foot in Iron Coyote’s stomach and sends him spiralling backwards. But somehow, that wretched bastard manages to stay on his feet. And they are back at it again, engaged in a sword fight like never before. Before Iron Coyote, I thought there was no man who could match Abigor’s stamina.

But when I think about it again, I conclude that they were taught by the same person—their father, the previous barbarian king. Yes, I think. That’s it. That’s why.

With his other hand, Abigor lashes out at Iron Coyote and lands a punch in the middle of his face, blood pouring from his nostrils. With a quick swipe, Abigor gets a small gash running across his brother’s right peck.

Iron Coyote’s cry of outrage echoes throughout the crisp, calm air as the clank of metal on metal sounds out again. He is pushing Abigor back through the snow, each blow of his sword coming down harder and harder until Abigor’s grip loosens on the golden handle of his sword and it drops to the snow.

Iron Coyote kicks Abigor square in his chest, landing him backwards into the same snow. And before I know it, the tip of his sword is at Abigor’s throat. But he is hesitating. I cry out in shock. Abigor’s sword is nowhere near him, maybe a yard away in the snow. Iron Coyote slashes the side of his face with the sword, leaving an ugly gash running along Abigor’s cheekbone.

The world seems to stop when the blade presses into Abigor’s neck. Time seems to slow down, the snowflakes floating past my eyelashes moving a millimetre per minute.

“It is over, Brother,” Iron Coyote whispers. “I have won. The kingdom is mine. Your wife is mine. The riches, all of the things that were rightfully mine, are mine once more.”

Abigor says nothing. Blood drips down his cheek and onto his neck. Iron Coyote laughs and fake-pouts at his younger brother. “Here you are once more, little brother. Beneath me. And you will always be beneath me. You will be beneath the dirt for the rest of eternity when I am finished with you.” Iron Coyote’s lips curl into a malicious smile. “Any last words, Dances With Wolves, the great king no more?”

He lays back in the snow. At this point, the tears come pouring down my face and I cover my mouth to encase my gasp of horror. He is submitting. He is accepting the fact that he is going to be killed. “It is not over,” I stop my sobbing to hear what Abigor says, just one last time. “…until I say it is over.”

And before I can realize what he’s doing, the dagger is already in Iron Coyote’s chest. Oh, my clever, cunning lover! I stop my sobbing as Abigor scrambles out from beneath his older brother and away from his reach. “And it is over now, Brother,” Abigor growls, both pain and anger in his eyes.

It hurts him to kill his blood, but it was a step that was necessary. Ivona screams bloody-murder, collapsing to the ground in tears. It is ignored.

He comes to me. He is walking my way with a longing look in his eyes. What a battle. He needs to rest after that. When he stops dead in his tracks, I frown at him. “Come,” I say. “Be in my arms.”

I can tell that something is wrong by the look on his face. When I look further, I can see the tip of a sword protruding through Abigor’s stomach. He reaches around him and grabs the hilt of the sword, which is in Iron Coyote’s weak hands.

Oh no. No, no, no.

He pulls the sword out of his stomach and grabs it out of his brother’s hands. In one clean swipe, Iron Coyote’s head lays at his feet, glassy eyes staring off into the blackness of winter.

My breath seems to be caught in my throat as he drops the sword to the ground, his brother’s blood covering his hands. I’m shaking. I’m shaking not because I’m cold, but because I’m terrified. “You’re okay. You’re not hurt,” I try to tell him, but it’s more for my reassurance that he is. He’s hurt. And he’s hurt badly.

The tears start coming again. “Please,” I beg him. “Just say something!”

He looks dead on into my eyes, his beautiful face crumpled in pain and anguish. “I will never…stop loving you.” And then he collapses on the ground, my nightmares coming to life.

0o0o0o0o

Three days. Three days and fourteen hours is the time I’ve been away from Abigor. Sitting in my room, screaming, horrified, trying to make the pain go away. I’ve noticed a change in the castle. Once lively in the summer, the castle hallways are filled with death and despair. Heavily pregnant, I find it hard to make my way around the castle, so I usually stay confined to my bedchambers.

Tonight, however, I decide that I can’t sleep in the bed that feels so empty without him by my side. I cradle my stomach in my hands as I hoist my legs over the edge of the bed. My long white nightgown hits the cold floors as I begin to walk over to the door.

My heart is empty, no longer full of the love that once consumed me. He is gone. The weight of the world is now on my shoulders. The door moans softly as I open it into the dark hallway. Grabbing one of the candles, I navigate my way down the corridor.

His room is not far from mine. I float down the hallway like a ghost, my bare feet touching those freezing cold floors. I feel like I’m in a thick haze, a nebulous cloud hanging over my head.

My fingers touch the cold golden knob that leads to the room that he’s in. The room is dark, but the curtains have been drawn back from the windows, letting a pale slip of blue moonlight filter through. It hits my skin, and I squint in the dim light before turning towards the bed.

He’s so still, so peaceful. I sit by him and skirt my fingers across his chest. The wound on his stomach is wrapped, blackberry-coloured blood leaking through it at a slow pace. The healers have stopped his bleeding.

I know what they’d all told me. “He won’t make it,” they said.

“I give him a few more hours.”

“He’s not going to wake up.”

“It’s been three days.”

“It’s hopeless.”

“Let go.”

Dances With Wolves, the mighty king of the southern wild, slayer of men, thief far and wide…would never give up on me. So why should I choose to give up on him? It’s not fair.

I splay my palm against his chest and sigh. “Please,” I murmur. “Don’t leave me like this. Wake up. Open your eyes.”

Abigor’s chest rises and falls slowly—too slowly. His heartbeat is so faint that I can barely even hear it. Maybe they’re right. Maybe he really is going to die.

Tears fall from my eyes as I collapse over his chest, burying my hands in his hair. “It’s not fair!” I cry out. “You promised me! You promised me you wouldn’t leave!”

I don’t think I’ve ever reached such a low point. My lover has left me, I’m pregnant, and the kingdom is slowly falling to ruin. I should have never let him leave. What a fool I am.

I lift my head up and stare at his beautiful face. His eyes are shut and he seems lifeless. I run my fingers along the contoured edge of his jaw and up his strong cheekbones.

Tears run down my face my fingers skirt over his soft lips. I long to kiss him just one last time before I return to my chambers. I close my eyes and lower my lips to his.

His lips are cold when they are usually burning hot. My heart breaks as I let out a saddened whimper. I bury my face in his hair, cheek to cheek against him. “Come back to me. We need you.”

I entwine my fingers into his and let myself lay there. I’m not going back to my bedchambers. I’m staying here, by his side…because it’s where I belong.

I close my eyes, drifting away.

I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve fallen asleep but the sky seems a little bit brighter. I snuggle further against Abigor’s chest. He’s so warm.

“Warm?” I repeat to myself as I prop myself up on my elbow. His chest rises and falls higher than it usually did, and his heart beats faster. A soft squeeze reminds me that I’d never let go of his hand.

He held my hand. “Abigor,” I whisper. When I receive no response, I realize that he’s slowly—but surely—coming back to me. I’m overjoyed. He just needs more time to heal.

I nestle back against him again and sigh in relief. “I’m not leaving you. Ever.”

I receive another squeeze. I smile against his chest. He was always one to keep his promises.

Awaken
Something beneath me shifts, stirring me from my dreamless sleep. I groan softly with my grogginess and snuggle deeper beneath the blankets. It’s light out; I can faintly see it filtering through the curtains. When it moves again, I realize that Abigor is stirring. I sit straight up on the bed and stare at him, my hair fanning out around me in wild spiral curls.

My brown eyes are wide as I stare at him. His chest is rising and falling like normal and his skin is hot to the touch once more. Slowly, his eyelids flutter as he takes his first look around in three days.

“You’re awake,” I breathlessly say, clinging to him tightly. He seems shocked that I’m doing this but eventually his arms wrap around my body. I pull back from him with a smile on my face. “How are you feeling? Does anything hurt?” I gently touch the gash on his face that had to be stitched by the healers. “This cut?”

His eyes widen as his own fingers skirt across the stitched skin, like he didn’t know it was there. This silence kills me. He looks down at his naked torso, bandaged over the wound in the side of his midsection.

I touch his tattooed bicep, winning his attention. He looks into my eyes intently, a pale look on his face. “Won’t you say anything?” I plead with him. “You see, I’ve been so worried. You’ve been sleeping for days now. Three days and four nights to be exact.”

“Three…days?” he asks, his voice husky and rough.

There we go. I nod my head and brush some of his hair out of his face. He seems to not remember anything. “Yes,” I whisper. He sits up abruptly, completely ignoring his wounds.

“My brother?” he says in a panicked voice. “Dead? I wasn’t dreaming?”

“Yes,” I nod my head. “You killed him. Decapitated him. I had the guards dispose of the body, but I kept the head like you desired.”

He breathes through his nose and looks down at the floor. “And what of his whore?”

“Dungeons,” I whisper. “I left her for you.”

He looks up at me, his big brown eyes sparkling. “You’re acting like a true queen. If I were to die, you’d be successful in running the kingdom.”

My face pales instantly, even though I know that he’s only jesting with me. “I would never be able to run the kingdom without you by my side. I was already scared enough when you weren’t waking up.”

He leans forward and rests his head on my shoulder. He’s so big and tall that it causes him to hunch a considerable amount. Abigor places two big hands on my swelling stomach and feels the baby moving around inside of me. I’m six months pregnant and getting bigger.

“I…love you.” He whispers softly to me. “Always.”

“Can you stand?” I whisper to him, sliding off of the silky sheets and onto the floor. “I should probably clean your wounds and replace the bandages. The maids left the items on the table.”

He slides out of bed with ease and comes to stand beside me at the table. Carefully, I finger the edge of the bandage and undo it, watching as it falls around him. As I go for the water to clean it with, I notice something.

“Hmm. Was it on the other side?” I say, noticing that there’s no wound on his right side. I check the other side, my eyes growing wide. “Where did it go?” I ask.

I saw him get stabbed in the stomach, on his right side. It was there. I saw it with my own eyes. I look up at him in shock. He seems nonchalant about the missing wound. “I healed,” he simply said.

“But…but it’s impossible to heal in three days! That wound was deeply punctured, I-I…” I skirt my fingers over the smooth skin that was once jagged and bloody.

I look up at him in shock, only to reel back in even more shock. His skin is rejecting the stitching thread as the skin knits back together like it was never sliced apart.

“I heal,” he says softly. “That’s why I woke up. No normal human being would have been able to survive that attack. I remember it clear as day, Tiger Claw…the sword was deep in my stomach.”

His wound is fully healed by the time he’s done speaking. “It’s because you’re the last shapeshifter,” I ask him. “Isn’t it?”

He reaches behind me and grabs one of the beautiful, curved daggers from the table and runs the blade across his flesh. I cry out in shock but as soon as the skin splits, it knits back together again.

He whistles a little. “I guess it’s going to be hard to kill me, eh?” he pokes at me. I frown at him. After three days of hell without him, I’m not really in the mood to be joking about Abigor’s near death experience. He notices me pouting and wraps me in his strong arms.

I succumb to his warmth and bury my face in his chest. I’ve missed his embrace far too much. I sigh as he bends down and kisses my temple. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere for a long time. You’ll be stuck with me for good now.”

I look up at him with a relieved look in my eyes. He smiles down at me, making my heart melt. Gods, how lucky am I? “And you’re stuck with me,” I reply with a little humour in my tone. I’m giving in a little bit. I can’t help it if he makes me feel happy.

“Sweet, sweet torture…” he murmurs, his hands roaming down my back and over the curve of my hips. “With you…forever.”

We kiss briefly, my heart fluttering my chest. He pulls away only to plant more kisses all over my face. “Three days without kissing you,” he mumbles between kisses. “I must make up for the loss.”

I laugh when his lips touch the side of my neck–a ticklish feeling. “Stop that,” I giggle.

He pulls away finally with a large smile on his face. “I should probably go alert my people that I’m alive.”

I smirk at him. “Yes, you should.”

0o0o0o0o

Pretty soon, the whole palace knows that the king is alive and that the prince is dead, his head to be mounted on the entrance gates of Castle Rock. I am visiting some friends at the harem while Abigor, with Three Horses, plans out what to do with the troops fighting the Bellechestermen and Paterosians in the north.

Cassandra hugs me and chats up a storm to me. Evalyn makes me a delicious drink of cocoa beans and sugar, and Athenodora weaved me a scarf to wear. They are all happy to see me.

“Oh, I can’t believe it. I’m so glad that king’s alive and that you’re okay. I was so worried when you were taken!” Athenodora gushes to me, her big blue eyes sparkling. Her golden mane fans out around her as she rushes to my side.

Cassandra sits up on her cot and nods her head. “And that bitch Ivona had it coming for her. Have you decided what her fate will be?”

I shake my head. “I have not decided,” I say to her. All of the harem girls come crowding around me to hear the stories. “But Abigor has. She will be decapitated and her head will be mounted right next to Iron Coyote’s.”

Evalyn’s eyes widen as she comes closer to me with a hot cup of the sweet cocoa drink. “What a punishment,” she says, handing me the cup. “But a well deserved one at that.”

Didyme sweeps her long black hair over her voluptuous hips. “But you, my Sarauniya…how do you feel? Is the baby well?”

I nod my head. “Yes, very.” They touch my stomach and feel my baby moving inside of me. Gasps echoed throughout the room.

“Strong child!”

“So precious.”

“Mighty, just like the king.”

“Amazing!”

I am heavily pregnant. There is about one more month to go before I give birth to my child. I look around, noticing something that I hadn’t noticed before. “Michelle? Where is she?”

I had almost forgotten my best friend, who was pregnant at the time of my leave. She usually hung out around the harem and talked to the other ladies since her husband was out fighting, but she is nowhere in sight.

Evalyn steps forward a little, brushing her short brown hair behind her ear. “She’s resting. She had her baby when you were gone,” the small woman explains. “I delivered the baby myself. Pretty little girl.”

I gasp and stand up. “Which room is she in, Evalyn?” I ask. I must see her.

“I’ll lead you,” the pixie-like woman says. She darts out the room before I can say another word.

I turn back towards the harem and wave. “We’ll talk soon,” I say to them all.

“Goodbye, my lady!” they all chant, waving farewell to me.

I dart out of the door and run after Evalyn, who is already halfway down the hallway. The woman is surprisingly fast. She waits for me at a small door at the end of the hallway, her hand stilling on the golden knob.

“Elle,” Evalyn calls to her through the door. “Are you decent, love?” I listen closely to her my friend’s groggy reply.

“Yes, Evalyn.”

She twists the doorknob and opens it but Michelle can’t see me. “I’ve got a visitor for you and your baby,” Evalyn says with a smile. I step into the light so Michelle can see me.

She squeals with excitement. “Oh, Eliza! You’re back! Oh, thank the gods above!” Looking at her, I can see how frail she is. Her black hair is braided back and her skin is pale. She has lost a significant amount of weight, and her arms look like sticks.

As I near the bed, she grabs my arm and pulls me in for a hug. “I was so worried about you,” she wails. “I hope I never have to go through that again. Almost losing the king, and you…”

I kiss her cold cheek. “And I’m glad you’re feeling better,” I say. “Though words can’t express how sorry I am for not being here for you when you had your child.”

Michelle smiles tenderly. “I know…but you couldn’t help being kidnapped by those beasts. I had Evalyn too.” Evalyn smiles from the doorway.

I stand back and look around the cosy little room. “And the baby? Where is the beautiful little lady?”

Michelle nods over at a little crib in the corner. Evalyn rushes to pick up the child when she lets out a little whimper. My best friend holds out her arms for her baby.

The child coos as she latches onto her mother’s breast. “What is her name?” I ask, stroking the soft black hair on the little girl’s head.

“Red Flower,” she says. “Rose will be her common name. I just thought it would be perfect since red is the colour of love, and she was conceived entirely of love.”

I smile at that. “Beautiful name for a beautiful little girl,” I comment, cradling my own stomach when my own baby kicks me.

Michelle notices this and smiles at me. “You are due soon as well,” she comments. “Soon my Red Flower will have a friend.”

I laugh tenderly. “Yes, I suppose so.”

0o0o0o0o

ABIGOR’S POV

“What do you have to say for yourself?” I ask her. The cold chambers of the dungeons are unsettling but I wouldn’t have it any other way for the prisoners. I hold up the torch to peer at her through the bars.

She’s curled up in a ball on the ground, shivering and sobbing quietly. I glare at her, but I laugh at her pain. “So…how does it feel? Alone and powerless.”

“Fuck you,” she manages to spit out at me through her hiccupping sobs. “I hate you. You’re barbaric.”

“Well,” I set the torch on the wall before curling my fingers around the bars of the dungeon cell. I give her a sinister smile. “I suppose I am barbaric. After all, I am the king of the barbarians.”

She sobs even louder because she knows that her beloved prince, my brother, is gone now that I’d killed him. All chances that she had were completely wiped off of the board now that my brother was permanently six feet under the earth.

“I wish you died,” she wails. “It’s not fair. You stole Iron Coyote’s throne. It was his destiny!”

I don’t feel any remorse or mercy towards her. “You’re right,” I hiss at her. “I did steal Iron Coyote’s throne. I’m the best of the best, the greatest thief you’ll ever meet. But the throne was always up for grabs. Someone could come along and kill me right now, thus stealing my throne. But it won’t happen. Do you know why?”

She looks at me from under her curtain of black hair, tears streaming down for her. She won’t ask, but I don’t need anything to come out of her mouth.

“Because I have a secret,” I whisper menacingly. She shrinks back against the cell, a terrified look in her eyes. My chuckle is deep. “A dark secret.”

Ivona buries her face in her hands and hisses at me to “get away from her.”

I quiet down and lean against the cold steel bars, gazing at the stone floor. The shadows play across them and I can almost see my shadow morphing into that of a wolf’s. I am a true monster, a beast.

“Do you miss him?” I grind out from between my teeth.

She growls at me. “What kind of question is that?”

“Answer it,” I demand with a snarl, looking back at her with flames in my eyes. “Now.”

Her eyes widen and she looks away to avoid meeting my hellish gaze. “Every moment.”

I lean my head back, feeling my hair kiss my scarred back. “You’ll be with him soon again,” I whisper.

She lets out another loud wail and curls into a ball. “So it is true,” she screams. “You will behead me!”

I turn towards her, rattling the bars of the cell violently. “You did not think you would receive punishment for endangering the only thing I hold dear to me? She almost died! You will die, you wretched kariya and your severed, bloody head will be mounted right next to your lovers on the gates of Castle Rock. It will serve as a warning to all—never betray me, because your fate would be theirs!”

She is wailing in fear, sadness, and anguish. “Oh, please…”

I can feel my other form biting at the inside of my skin with the angrier I get. Steam rolls off of my body in white clouds as I turn away from her. I’m shaking. I try to calm myself down. “Enjoy your last few hours on earth, Ivona. Get a good night’s sleep.”

And I walk away, never turning to look back.

Barbarians do not forgive.

Wolves do not forgive.

I do not forgive.

0o0o0o0o

ELIZA’S POV

Abigor does not wait until his men come home from the war to behead Ivona. He holds a trial in front of his people in the freezing cold, forcing the whore to her knees and condemning her to the eternal flame for the catastrophe she caused.

I sit in the snow, listening to Ivona’s terrified screams as they lay her down on the chopping block. Abigor assures her that she won’t feel a thing as long as she didn’t move.

Ivona’s last, bloodcurdling scream echoes in my ears before the loud chop and squishing sound is heard throughout the square. I watch as Three Horses goes forward and holds up the severed head by the silky black hair and shows it to the crowds. They all roar with excitement; at last, the woman was dead.

Abigor smears her blood over his chest and the crowd roars even louder. I feel sick to my stomach as I get back into the carriage, wrapping myself in a fur blanket. I will remember that scream forever.

I hated Ivona, and she got exactly what was coming to her. She got exactly what she deserved. I rub my hands together as I lean against the side of the carriage.

So I wait for him to come back. When he finally does sit in the carriage, he is wearing his animal skin cloak. I look up at him and he looks down at me, gulping. He pulls me into his arms and kisses the top of my head.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers to me.

“For what?” I ask him, puzzled.

He sighs. “That you had to see me like that. I went ballistic. I saw red.”

I nuzzle my head against him and stroke his rigid jaw with my cold fingertips. He leans into my touch. “I have seen worse. Nothing you do will ever make me think less of you. You just continually prove and prove your love to me.”

He smiles a half smile, the sides of his lip pulling up and creating creases at the corners of his mouth. He’s beautiful; the dimple in his chin, his perfectly sculpted nose, rigid and prominent cheekbones, and dark eyelashes framing chocolate eyes. “I’d do anything and everything for you,” he whispers into my ear, his lips grazing my neck as his hand roams over my stomach.

I snuggle against his warmth. His supernatural heat makes me warm from the freezing cold. “Let’s go home,” I say.

The carriage begins to move a second later. “It’s over now,” his deep bass croons. “The white man got his silvertongue and his ticket to the flame; my brother and Ivona will also be joining him there with a little souvenir to leave behind on the gates.”

I chuckle at his little joke. “Yes, but it is not over yet. The war still rages. Black Bear is still dead and the men still fight.”

“Peace will come upon us,” he assures me. “I promise you.”

I lean forward to kiss his lips when my stomach cramps up. He closes his eyes, waiting for my lips to touch his. But I hiss in pain, shrinking away from him. Abigor’s eyes widen and he looks at me, grabbing my hand in worry.

My baby kicks and moves around for a few moments, making it quite a painful experience. I whimper in pain, doubling over and wrapping my arms around my belly. “Tell me what is wrong,” he pleads with me. The cramping slowly begins to fade away and I can finally catch my breath.

“I don’t really know,” I reply. “The baby. It just really hurt for a moment.”

He gulps and his face pales a little. “Monitor it. Tell me if it happens again.”

I furrow my brows together. “Why do you look so anxious? The baby just kicked something, I suppose.”

“No,” Abigor replies. “Just please listen to me. Your time is near.”

I look down at my stomach as my baby kicks me again. I take a deep breath. “But I am only six and a half months along,” I say. “It cannot be so soon.”

Abigor’s face is still pale. “That is my baby in your stomach, Tiger Claw. I’m a wolf. I’ve read the legends countless times. My great great grandfather documented his third wife having a child at six months since the children have rapid growth.”

My swollen stomach stretches out before me. “Okay,” I whisper. “I promise to monitor it.” He kisses my temple as we are being led back to the castle through the snow.

Weakness
Just like he had promised, Iron Coyote and Ivona’s heads were on the entrance gates to Castle Rock. Their cloudy eyes stared out into the distance at nothing forevermore. A crowd had gathered at the gates for a short time in the middle of the day when Abigor had the servants mount the heads.

People stared in shock as the heads of the prince and his whore stared down at them. The snow had stopped since we’d arrived back home after Ivona’s beheading. Abigor threw the rotting bodies of the prince and the whore to his wolves. Scar even got a taste of damnable flesh.

In Hausa society, the custom, after a good person, or royal died, they would set them on a boat, light it aflame, and push it out into the great, yet menacing waves of the Barbarian Sea. “Not worthy,” he kept murmuring to himself as the servants lugged the rotting bodies of the two deceased out into the open cold of winter. He was upset, he was angry and confused. Abigor was so disgusted with the both of them that he did not even burn their bodies—he did not set Iron Coyote’s body to the Barbarian Sea.

Instead, he stands there staring at the wolves tearing apart their bodies with a blank expression on his face. I’m not able to look upon the feasting without the persisting urge to retch so instead I turn and I look at him. He looks emotionless, his empty eyes staring down at the bodies. I am about to say something to him when he just turns around and walks into the castle.

I follow him, eager to escape the cruel cold. The crown on my head jingles as I trudge through the snow to keep up with him. He’s making me wear my crown all of the time now. He even had it modified so that the topaz from my necklace would be in my crown.

He too wears his crown. He wants everyone to know who’s in charge…who’s boss. I wrap my arms under my belly to prevent the child from weighing me down. My skin feels so stretched out that it almost hurts, but not enough to cause persisting pain. Abigor is right; I am close.

The cramps have been coming more and more since the two days since the carriage ride home. Abigor’s been fussing over me constantly, freaking himself out about the baby’s arrival. He’s never calm around me—always jumpy, thinking that the baby would pop out of me right then and there. Constantly nagging me about laying down when my cramps came, monitoring me when I roam the halls, telling the maids and servants to keep a watchful eye on me.

It might be irking, but I sympathize with him. He lost his sister to the battle of childbirth. He’s lost everyone he’s ever loved. It’s hard to think that I’m all he has left. Me, and the baby in my stomach.

His mother and younger sister perished with a disease, his father died in battle, White Fawn and Snow Lion died in childbirth, and he’d just killed his last living relative: Iron Coyote.

I understand him. And I love him, so I’m more than willing to comply with his rules. He’s given Evalyn the job of monitoring me since she’s been unofficially upgraded from “whore” to “midwife-healer” in the time that Abigor and I were away. Evalyn isn’t bad company at all. She chatters to me about new concoctions she’s making and occasionally we sit with Michelle and little Red Flower.

Evalyn braids my hair, keeping me company while Abigor oversees the war happening in the Battle Tactics room with Three Horses, Little Sea, and some other men. The troops have dominated the northeast region against Pateros and are slowly picking off Bellechestermen like grapes off of a vine.

We are winning this war, but not without a price. About a quarter of our massive army has been killed off in what has been named “The Vengeance War.” No vengeance has been sought from the barbarian country through the Paterosians and Bellechestermen. They were losing their Vengeance War.

Michelle had been crying earlier, wondering if Drinks of Waterfall was all right. Abigor appointed him to lead a platoon into battle against the Bellechestermen, and the army had been hit the hardest there. Abigor hadn’t received word from Drinks of Waterfall for a couple of days and Michelle was distraught.

“Drinks of Waterfall fine,” Abigor had told the weeping woman. He’d grown a soft spot for his right-hand man’s wife and my dearest friend. “You should not worry. He is my greatest warrior.”

Evalyn finishes my braid and ties the end with a small piece of twine. She then wraps the braid around my hair and pins it into place with small jewel pins from the kingdom of Seattle. She then places my crown on my head and nods her head in approval. “I love it, my Queen.”

She hands me a small mirror and I hold it up, looking at my hair. It’s intricately braided, and wisps of my glossy chestnut curls hang out around my face. “I love it as well,” I say with a small chuckle. “You should be named my personal braider,” I joke.

“Well,” Evalyn says. “Anything’s better than being a whore.” She meant it as a joke, but I hear what she’s saying. When I first came here, the men were so disrespectful towards me. Even though I no longer have to endure that kind of humiliation, my friends still have to.

“Once this war is resolved, I’m going to talk to Abigor about the harem,” I say to her. Evalyn just laughs her tinkling laughter.

“And say what? Abigor, before he met you, was a lover of whores. He’d fuck every night. He took pride in his harem, holding beauties from far and wide.” Evalyn tells me.

This upsets me. “But to put you all on display for the eyes of cunt-hungry men…do you not find it shaming?”

“Of course I do,” the pixie replies. “But think of Abigor will think. You can try, but I doubt that the harem will be removed.”

I frown and chew on my lip. “A lot of things have changed since I came,” I say to her. “Abigor’s softer. A lot of the conflicts that we faced both faced when I first came to Stauckana are now gone. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.”

Evalyn sighs and gives me a sympathetic little smile as if she knows something I don’t. “I’m still not holding my hopes.”

I’m a little bit disappointed that she doesn’t believe me, but when one has been living this way for so long I suppose it’s hard to think that things could change. I look out the great open window to see the fields and fields of barren trees and frozen grounds glistening with crystal snow in the sun.

Winter of 1321. One of the harshest and desolate winters I’d ever experienced. I cradle my heavily pregnant stomach and stand up, my back cracking loudly. “Oh gods,” I whisper as another wave of pain ripples through me. “Evalyn, is it supposed to hurt this badly?”

The woman sighs. “Unfortunately yes. The gods have not ruled in favour of the women during pregnancy. All they gave us were methods to soothe the pain.” She pulls out a small vile of green liquid and shows it to me. “I gave this to Michelle when she went into labour and it helped her a lot. Do you want half a dose now?”

I wave her off, holding my stomach again. Nausea permeates through me and I squeeze my eyes shut until it passes. “I think I’ll need all of it when I actually go into labour,” I say to her. “Let us just pray that the elixir works.”

I begin to walk out of the small room when I run into a flustered Abigor. “Where you been?” he says, grabbing my hand tightly and squeezing me against his body. “I was so worried when I saw that you weren’t in the harem with Cassandra anymore.”

He buries his nose in my hair and inhales my pheromones. His skin is extremely hot to the touch. “Ow,” I groan and pull away from him slightly. Another wave of pain electrocutes through my body. I double over from the pain. This time it’s bad.

When I thought that the previous contractions (as Evalyn told me they were) were painful, they were nothing compared to the one that I just felt. On a scale from 1 to 10, the pain was no doubt a 9 or a 10.

I feel suddenly faint and the ground seems to be getting closer and closer. Abigor catches me before I can hit the ground. I feel something wet running down my legs as the pain grows worse and worse. I scream. I can’t help it, and I don’t care who hears me. It’s just so bad.

Evalyn rushes over and frantically gives me a checkup. I’m slowly fading in and out of darkness. “Her time,” is all I can hear her say before I float away into the darkness.

0o0o0o0o

I don’t remember much of how I got into this room but I remember the searing pain between my legs as Abigor carried me away. I fade in and out of consciousness with Evalyn pleading with to push and Abigor looking extremely distressed, clutching my hand like it was a rope suspending him over a pit of angry lions.

The horrid pain comes when I give one large push and Evalyn is finally coaxing the baby from my body. I let out a spine-tingling, blood-curdling scream as the infant is finally out of me.

I see blackness for a few moments. When I come to again, I can see Abigor holding a screaming child in his arms, his eyes wide in and his face resemble those of a shocked man’s. And a new father’s. He breaks into a smile and sighs in a relief only a moment later.

Evalyn sees me and she strokes the side of my face. “Sleep, my Sarauniya. You have been through a long ordeal. I shall tend to the child until you wake.”

I don’t question. I slip into sleep as soon as my eyelids shut.

0o0o0o0o

I wake up in my room, feeling a little better with the sun filtering through the curtains and warming my bed sheets. I still ache everywhere and my throat feels sore since I’d been screaming from the pain. I look around the room, only to see Abigor drinking wine in his great bearskin chair by the roaring fire.

I sit up on the bed a little too quickly and groan. He hears me rustling and nearly drops his wine. He throws the goblet to the side before rushing to my side with a worried look on his face. “You are okay?” he asks me, wrapping me up in his arms.

I hug him right back, burying my face in his shoulder. “I was so worried about you, Tiger Claw.” He’s whispering to me, his unnatural strength threatening to crush my petite and especially fragile frame.

“Abigor,” I whimper. He loosens his grip a little, placing a tender kiss on my temple. He lies back on the pillows and I follow him, nestling into the crook of his arm. He smells like cinder smoke and fresh, sweet mint.

“So strong,” I hear him murmur. “You didn’t…succumb to the pain.” He looks down at the floor, gulping. I know that what he means to say is: “You didn’t…die. And I’m so thankful that you’re alive.”

I skirt my fingers along his structured jawbone and kiss the dimple in his chin. “Stop stressing, please…” I murmur, my throat still scratchy. “I’m here, by your side, and I’m not going anywhere.”

He turns his head to look at me, his deep chocolate eyes burning hot holes into mine. “You don’ know how good that feels to hear that from you.” He dips his head to capture my lips in a kiss of passion. Abigor’s kisses are always filled with love and the utmost care. His tongue strokes over mine as he forces my mouth wider open. I melt into his touch, savouring the way he tastes like mulled wine.

We break apart a moment later. “The baby?” I ask him with furrowed brows. He nods his head.

“The baby’s well,” he whispers, wiping a tendril of sweaty curls from my forehead and tucking it gently behind my ear. “You gave birth to a healthy boy. It is a great honour in Hausa society for a wife to give birth to a boy as their first child.”

“And where is he then?” I sit up a little too fast, but I ignore the pain in my stomach. “I wish to see my child.”

“Shh,” he murmurs, pushing me to lay back down. “You need time to heal. I’ll tell Evalyn to bring the baby to you.”

As he walks out into the hallway to notify a maid, I sit back against the pillows and try and imagine what my child will look like. Evalyn is in my doorway with a little bundle in her arms when I look up. She smiles at me.

“Your new baby, Sarauniya,” She whispers. I stretch out my arms, eager to hold my child for the first time in forever. She sets the little bundle down in my arms.

When I look at him, my breath is taken away. A full head of dark black hair, tan skin, and big brown eyes. And a smile. A toothless smile that takes my breath away. I kiss him on the forehead. “Beautiful,” is all I can manage out.

I never believed that I’d ever give birth to a prince, but I have. And I am the king’s queen, and I will give him as many sons and daughters as he desires.

“What do we call him?” Abigor asks softly, coming over to sit beside me and our child. “First a common name…and then a barbarian one.” He smirks at me.

I smile right back at him. I am not ashamed to be called the Queen of the Barbarians. I am not ashamed and I never will be. “I have always liked Noah for a little boy’s name. What do you think?”

He seems to process it over in his head. “N-No-ah.” He rolls it around on his tongue. “Your names from Bellechester are peculiar,” he chuckles. “But…I like No-ah.”

I grin at him. “Then Noah it is. You must give him the proper barbarian name, my king.”

“His name shall be Kerkeci Kambori. Wolf Claw.”

I love the name. He’s mixed our names together: Dances with Wolves and Tiger Claw since our love has mixed to create our son. “Strong like his mother, Tiger Claw. Powerful and brave just like his father.” He looks down at the tiny child lying in my arms. “One day he will be a fierce warrior, ruling all of the continent Bertol, and dominating kingdoms far and wide. He will sit on the great throne of Stauckana. He will be the greatest king the world has known.”

I look up at him, and how I can see the excitement in his eyes as he speaks so gloriously of his son. “You, my love, are the greatest king I have ever known and I will ever know.”

He looks down at me and strokes the side of my face. “My soyayya a gare ku, bã zã su gushe bugun jini saboda haka karfi, ta hanyar jiki.” He whispers to me. “Ka bã ni rai kuma. Ka bã ni da.” (My love for you will never cease to pulse so strongly through my body. You have given me life again. You have given me a son.)

Noah gurgles below us and starts to cry. “He is most likely hungry, Sarauniya,” Evalyn says to me. “Feed him upon your breast.”

I nod my head and unclip the side of my nightgown, letting the child latch onto my nipple. I’ve never felt such a strong connection with a child—my child. The only connection I’d felt stronger was with Abigor.

The fact that I gave birth to his child is thrilling and I take great pride in my body’s work. “We will win this war,” I whisper, looking far out into the distance at the great barren trees swaying in the distance. “And we will live a long, peaceful life.”

0o0o0o0o

Abigor draws his troops out of Bellechester after they had dominated the kingdom. Drinks of Waterfall returns, but not without a price. He has lost his arm in the fight, reducing his once great mass of muscle bulk down to a short stump.

They give him a tattoo of high honour so that people will know that Drinks Of Waterfall gave his arm for a great reason. He sees his child and his wife for the first time in a month and breaks down into tears.

I have never seen him so vulnerable.

Three Horses returns home unscathed, and as does White Fire Sun and Grey Hawk. They return to their wives and celebrate the victories in the north. Pateros, however, is still putting up a fight. Queen Amelie has put her son, Prince Titus on the throne with his new wife and he has been pointing his fingers here and there, directing the Navy when there were no sea battles declared.

Abigor retaliated by sending 1,000 some fleets of naval ships to meet the Paterosian army on the Barbarian Sea.

It has been about a week or so since I had my child. I call him by Wolf Claw, since I know it pleases Abigor. He claims that Wolf Claw is the name fit for a warrior and that our son is nothing less than a warrior.

Since has wolf blood running through his veins, Wolf Claw has been growing more rapidly than other children. He is a calm child, rather content with sitting in my arms and watching the world go on around him. He is also fascinated with the king and queens’ thrones in the throne room.

With bright eyes, he looks at the skewered bear heads positioned above Abigor’s throne and the intricate designs and sparkling crystals on mine. He is already adopting the ways of a little prince.

The people have brought gifts for the new prince, blessing him and wishing him a life of comfort and fortune. My back has healed, and my pregnancy wounds are as well, making it easier for me to make my way around.

Abigor comes into the throne room after me, standing with his hands on his hips and looking at our thrones. “You have been in here for quite the long time,” he whispers with a little quirk of his lips.

“Well, your son is quite captivated by it. Especially your throne,” I comment, stroking Wolf Claw’s soft black hair.

“Tell him he cannot have my throne quite yet,” Abigor chuckles. “He has much to learn from his father.”

I smile at him. He says those words with such pride. “Would you like to hold him?” I ask. Abigor hasn’t held our son since his birth. He turns to face me, looking down at the small child resting in my arms.

I hand Wolf Claw up to Abigor. My husband looks completely shocked at how truly tiny our child is. Such a large, muscular beast of a man holding a sweet little baby is a sight to see. A weakness is Wolf Claw to Dances With Wolves.

I walk behind him, my head coming up to the middle of his back. I kiss his scars, skirting my fingers across his hot, smooth skin. He turns his head and dips down to kiss the crown of my forehead. “Thank you,” he whispers.

Chuckling, I look up at him. “For what?”

“Everything,” he replies. “I couldn’t imagine my world without you. I don’t think I could have done it.”

He holds up Wolf Claw and smiles at him. Mimicking his father, the baby smiles back at him. He laughs, kissing the child’s cheek before handing him back to me. “I must go to the Battle Tactics room. I need to know how my naval fleets are doing, and the messenger should be here soon.”

I nod my head, clutching the child to my breast. “Alright.”

“Ina suka mutu, idan ta kasance ba a gare ku.” Abigor says. “My nauyi dã crushed ni gaba daya.”

I frown, puzzled by this sentence. I know most of the language, but I do not know this phrase. “What…what does it mean?” I ask, catching Abigor’s wrist.

He turns around and faces me. “I shall not tell you,” he says. His fingers brush across my collarbone and over the topaz necklace he gave me. “Our hears will speak for us.”

“A zuciya ga zuciya?”

He grins. “Na’am. Koyaushe.”

Messenger
(A/N: The beginning is for mature audiences only, read at your own discretion)

Drinks Of Waterfall tends to his wounded shoulder (the one with no arm attached) while holding Red Flower in his good arm. She watches with big brown eyes as her father rubs at the stitches holding his skin together. Michelle watches him with slight sadness as he still hasn’t gotten over the fact that his arm was gone and it wasn’t coming back, leaving a mangled stump in its wake.

But when she kisses said stump, he smiles at her and returns a kiss to her forehead. I look down at Wolf Claw, in my own arms. He is still intensely staring at Red Flower; he’s been staring at her for a while now. It’s been a month since I had him.

The Vengeance War was reaching its bloody end, both sides of the fight slowly getting tired of doing what they were meant to do—fight. Last night I urged Abigor to accept the treaty that Pateros offered up, dragging a reluctant Bellechester along with them.

Though the barbarians were dominating the northern and eastern kingdoms, the soldier count was getting dangerously lower and lower every day.

The document, made by Prince Titus of Pateros, stated that the fighting would stop only if the raiding and stealing would stop. And if the raiding and stealing stopped, then they would offer to peacefully trade with our kingdom. Abigor at first refused, claiming that since they started the war and threatened me, that they would feel his wrath until they had only one soldier left, no matter how many lives it took.

Eventually, he realized that if the fighting went on, more of his valuable men would be sacrificed because of the greed that his line had always harboured. He sent back an approval letter with a messenger, saying that Prince Titus would be allowed to send his and King Phillip of Bellechester’ approval letters back to his kingdom with a messenger and that the treaty would be able to end the Vengeance War.

Sitting in the dining hall on a blustery winter night, the walls around us are brightly illuminated with torches and roaring hearths. I prod at my chicken meat lazily with a shiny golden fork while Abigor literally wolfs down all of his food, having the servants bring him more for his fourth helping of chicken, potatoes, and beans.

As we wrap up our meal, I notice a chance in Abigor’s demeanour. He is no longer angry and demanding like he used to be. Now that his conflicts are gone, he seems peaceful. He has his family and he’s happy. Happy, for the first time in years, he’d said to me.

Happy, I feel, for being the one that could give him that vital part of his life back.

Wolf Claw is whining in front of me, his fingers submerged in my potatoes. I sigh and wipe his little fingers off with a handkerchief and smile. “Always hungry,” I say. “Just like your father.”

Abigor hears me and smiles tenderly. “Someday he will be just like his father. I can see me in everything he does.”

Wolf Claw grins and laughs. I look up at him, a little smile playing on my lips. The doors of the dining hall abruptly open and in comes Abigor’s messenger. The scrawny young boy bows in his king and queen’s presence.

Abigor nods at him to come forth. The boy scrambles to his feet and holds a white letter out in front of him, marked with a teal coloured seal. “Ubangijina! A wasika daga Prince na Pateros.” (My lord! A letter from the Prince of Pateros.)

Quickly, with his eyebrows furrowed together, Abigor wipes his greasy hands on his handkerchief. He then takes the smooth white parchment from out of the messenger’s hand and looks at it.

The shiny teal seal. He looks up at me. I nod encouragingly at him, hugging my baby closer to my chest. Abigor opens it, his eyes scanning over the sheet of parchment before breaking out into a slow, satisfied smile. “The war has ended,” he announces. “We have won! They have surrendered!”

The whole room breaks out into a loud sort of chaos—a chaos of excitement. Brothers, sons, and fathers would be sent back home to their families. They’d live to see peace again.

The letter was dropped as Abigor hugged Drinks of Waterfall and Three Horses, so I took the opportunity and read it.

Sarki Raye-Raye Da Wolves,

I come to you with this treaty to be able to negotiate terms. I am Prince Titus Auerelis of Pateros. My mother is Queen Amelie Ophelia, and my wife, Princess Sera of the iron kingdom, Bellechester. Since this Vengeance War has started, the well-being of my kingdom and Bellechester has been at an all-time low. Food is scarce since the first rations go to the army, poverty is more prominent than ever, and to put my people through more fighting when they are losing would be cruel punishment.

I, along with King Phillip of Bellechester, propose to you that this war draw its bloody doors closed and bury itself six feet under the ground. Being young, I only know what my mother has told me of the barbarians. You have stolen from our kingdoms for millennia, taking everything and anything that you wanted from us. And being two strong kingdoms, we retaliated and stood up for ourselves.

Seeing the casualty numbers rising each and every day, King Phillip and I have conversed and come to terms with a treaty that offers something to the both of us in exchange for the termination of the war since we are not blind, and we can clearly see the outcome of this war will not be in favor of our side.

We propose that the war shall end if barbarian raid parties you send out shall be no more. You must cease to steal, kill, and plunder our innocent villages. In exchange for your mercy, we shall agree to trade with you. We shall trade fine silks and jewels and foods if you shall accept such an offer.

We hope that our kingdoms can someday unite and form a strong alliance.

Prince Titus and King Phillip

I fold up the letter and look up at Abigor with tears in my eyes. The day has come. Oh, glorious day! Abigor takes Wolf Claw from my arms and throws him into the air, laughing at kissing our son’s chubby red cheeks.

“Tonight,” he announces. “We have a shagali!”

0o0o0o0o

Evalyn takes care of Wolf Claw for me while Abigor and I get ready for our shagali in the bedroom. I strip off my heavy furs until I am naked as the day I was born. He stands beside me, equally as naked.

In the mirror before us, I can see my back, lashed with a fleshy pink scar. And I see his back, decorated with the same kinds of scars. “See us,” I chuckle softly. “We look alike now.”

He turns to see what I speak of. Seeing the scar on my back being compared to his, he frowns. “Is not funny,” he grumbles. “I am sorry you have that. I do not want you to look like me.”

“No,” I whisper, coming up behind him and pressing my body into his. “This scar is a part of who I am now. I am not ashamed of it. The gods work in mysterious ways…you should know that out of bad things come many good things.”

He turns and looks at me, his deep chocolate eyes searching mine. “What is it about you,” he murmurs, staring deep into my eyes like he’s trying to see straight through me. “You could revive a flower shrouded in darkness for a century with just one word, one touch of your hand.”

“And what is it about you,” I reply. “With one stare you could make an army tremble in fear…with one stare, you could make a simple noblewoman go against her customs, betray her kingdom and fall in love.”

He suddenly grabs my jaw, crashing his lips down onto mine. I sink into his arms, letting his lips devour mine. His tongue slides along my lips, delving inside of my mouth as I open them to grant his entrance.

He grasps me harder, pushing me back towards the bed. I land on the pillows, laughing as his lips latch onto my neck and bite down hard. I use all my strength to roll us both over so that I’m on top. Normally he’d take me from his position up top, but I felt as if I wanted to be the one pleasuring him tonight. For his victory, of course.

Abigor’s eyes grow blacker and blacker with lust as I sit on his abdomen, his member standing up against my backside. He bucks up into me impatiently. “Let me,” I murmur. “Let me.”

Slowly, I slide myself onto his hard shaft, moaning at the feeling of his pulsating membrane lodged deep inside of me. We’ve not fucked much since I had Wolf Claw because of the pain but the pain was completely gone now.

Replaced with great pleasure, I ride the waves of ecstasy on top of him. He growls, grabbing my arms and pinning them behind my back as he bucks rapidly up into me, forcing me forward so he can kiss my mouth.

I love it when he’s rough with me; it shows me how much he wants me and craves my body. He kisses lower, his lips latching onto my nipple. I cry out and force myself back onto his cock. He lets go of my nipple and slams his head into the pillows, letting out a monstrous roar of pleasure.

“Oh fuck!” he cries out. “Ka al’aurar mata ji kyau sosai.”

Abigor’s mumbling things in Hausa and I’m too wrapped up in pleasure to understand what he’s saying. I can feel my climax coming as I ride him harder and faster. “Please,” I find myself whimpering softly.

By the look on his face, and the sweat beads forming above his brow and running down the deep crevices of his muscles, he’s close too. He’s got his eyes shut tightly in pleasure, focusing on getting himself over the cliff.

I lean down and stroke his cheek with my fingers, wanting him to look me in the eyes when he cums with me. He does open his eyes, sitting up quickly and pulling me into his lap hard. That intense eye contact is enough to push me over the edge, and my release brings him with me.

He hugs me tightly to his body, panting from the previous sexual activity. “I’ll never stop cherishing the way your body feels against mine,” he whispers.

“And I’ll never forget the way you feel when you’re inside of me,” I reply to him, kissing the corner of his mouth. He is so beautiful, his long black hair fanned out around his face and his full lips trembling.

And he looks at me like I am an angel that flew down from the heavens to make love to him for just one night. But no, I am just a noblewoman who went against her customs, betrayed her kingdom, and fell deeply in love with a barbarian king.

I slide from his lap, running my fingers along the silks that lay on the corner of the bed for me to wear. He looks disappointed that I’ve left him. “Come now,” I chuckle. “I’d stay with you in that position forever if we could, but we’ve got a shagali to host. We cannot keep our guests waiting for too much longer.”

So he sits on the bed, a sweaty, beautiful, muscular beast of a man and watches me dress. He licks his lips like an animal eyeing up his prey. I only laugh at him and continue to pin my silks in place.

I bite one of the pins in my mouth and try to pin my top cloth to the bottom one but I’m not having much luck. I don’t even have to ask him to help me because he’s already by my side. He pins the silks in place, skirting his warm fingers across my skin.

I pin up my curls into a thick twist and place my crystal crown overtop of my head. Abigor smiles at me. He then kisses the scar running across my back. “If you say this scar is part of you, then I will love every part of you.”

He makes me glow with every word he says. My blush spreads from my cheeks all the way up to the very tips of my ears. He gets dressed beside me, slipping on his red silks over his beautiful copper legs. “Are you ready?” he asks me once he’s fully dressed.

I nod my head. “Ready.”

0o0o0o0o

For the first time in many years, Castle Rock is open to all of the public for the shagali that celebrates the end of the Vengeance War. Since it is winter (though the blustery beast is nearly at its death bed), we are forced to bring the villagers inside to keep them from turning to ice. Food is set out on the tables and fires roast in stone hearths all around the place.

People are everywhere; I can barely see anything. The shagali is held in the largest room in the castle, one specifically used for hosting shagalis and parties. Our thrones were put on a high platform and I sit next to Abigor as people file in, eating, dancing and drinking.

I hold Wolf Claw in my arms. Like always, the child is wide-eyed as he looks around the room with curiosity. “Many people,” I tell him. “It is much too crowded in this room, is it not?” He looks up at me and smiles as if he knows what I am saying.

I can see Abigor staring at us from the corner of his eye, smiling. I reach my hand out and grasp his tightly. He squeezes me tightly back, the tattooed muscles in his arms bunching up. “Do not wander off,” he tells me. “With all of these people, I fear the sea of people will swallow you whole.”

“You would not be able to find me in the said sea of people,” I joke with him.

“No,” he says. “That is where you are wrong. All I would have to do would be is to look out and find the most beautiful woman. It would be as easy as finding a sun in a room of moons.”

He always knows what to say to me. Again, I turn bright red in the face. He snickers. He loves it when I blush; he loves making me blush. He thinks it very attractive.

I see Michelle and Drinks Of Waterfall making their way up the platform to see us. Red Flower is crying in her arms. I sit upon my throne, hugging Wolf Claw a little tighter to my body. “Sarki,” she says in greeting. “Sarauniya. We wanted to pay our visits.”

Abigor nods at them both. I watch as Michelle’s baby squirms in her arms, crying. “What is the matter?” I ask.

Michelle sighs. “I don’t quite know. I’ve already fed her, changed her…oh, I’ve tried everything. And I cannot find Evalyn. I don’t know what else to do.”

“Bring her closer,” I instruct. While Michelle climbs the steps towards me, Drinks Of Waterfall separates himself from her side and goes to talk to Abigor. They laugh and converse in Hausa. Michelle props up Red Flower so that she’s able to see us both.

Once the baby’s big brown eyes meet Wolf Claw’s, the crying instantly stops. She looks confused, yet utterly fascinated. My baby reaches out his hand and tries to touch her, but he hits her in the face with his tiny fist on accident. “Gentle,” I chide. But instead of crying some more, Red Flower only laughs.

Wolf Claw breaks out into a tiny smile, turning around to touch my own face. I kiss his soft palm. Michelle and I both look over at our husbands, only to find that they are both looking back at us. “They have a strong connection,” Abigor says. “Already.”

I smile and hug Wolf Claw tighter to me. A servant brings us all a glass of wine, and Abigor stands up to make a toast.

“‘Yan’uwa. ‘Ya’yan. Ubanninsu, da ‘ya’ya mata, mãtan aure. Muna tattara a nan a wannan zauren yau bikin. Zuwa idi a tunawa da yakin da muke yi nasara a kan. Mu, a wannan sosai lokacin a lokacin, an kawo gida ‘ya’yan La Tura. Jini, za a zubar da bã kõwa ba. La Tura riqe da zamanin, kuma har abada za ta kasance ta! (Brothers. Sons. Fathers, daughters, wives. We are gathered here in this hall today to celebrate. To feast in commemoration of the war that we had victory over. We, at this very moment in time, are bringing home the sons of Stauckana. Blood shall be spilt no more. Stauckana holds the reigns, and forever shall it be so!)

“Maku yabo ga dana kuma mãtãta. Zai girma ya zama babban m sarki, daya braver fiye da ko da ni ne. Zai yi sarauta mulkokin zuwa yanzu da kuma m, ya mamaye cikin garũruwa zuwa gabas da yamma da kuma kudu … shi Wolf Kambori. Kuma ni Raye-Raye Da Wolves, sarki cewa bayar da ɗana, nan gaba, Sarkin, da wannan ƙasa, tare da wannan ikon. (Toast to my son and my wife. He will grow up to be a valiant king, one braver than even I am. He will rule kingdoms far and wide, he dominates the lands to the east and the west and the south… he is Wolf Claw. And I am Dances With Wolves, the king that provided my son, future king, with this land, with this power.)

“Tãyar da ku gilashi, abokaina, ku sha ruwan inabi. Sha jinin abokan gābanmu kuma bari daukaka gudu ta hanyar jikinmu, yada kamar wildfire. Bari mu wanka a cikin rabo!” (Raise your glass, my friends, and drink the wine. Drink the blood of our enemies and let glory run through our bodies, spreading like wildfire. Let us bathe in our triumph!)

Everyone in the hall stands from their places and chants, “Mu yi yãƙi, kuma munã rãyuwa yau da dare!” I remember the phrase from the first raid I’d ever been to. The original phrase was ‘za mu yi yãƙi, mu rayu ma yau da dare’ which translated into: ‘we will fight, we live tonight.’

But this phrase was different. It easily translated to: ‘We have fought, and we shall live tonight.’

The music started up again, blaring loudly in the grand hall. People danced and laughed and clashed their drinks together. Long live the King and Queen, and their little prince.

It is night. The shagali has ended a little over an hour ago, and I have just finished putting Wolf Claw to sleep. He was tired, so I kissed his little red cheeks and laid him to rest in his cradle. I wear a long deerskin shawl over the silks since most of the fires had been put out after the shagali ended. It was like an oven.

But now, thanks to the winter, the corridors were cold. I walk the lonely hall, my hair hanging around my face, the hanging crystal on my crown jingling with each step I take. I can see him waiting for me at the end of the hallway, standing in the doorway to our chambers. He gives me a lopsided smile, his long hair kissing his hips.

I smile back at him, coming into the light and out of the dark shadows of the night. He shuts the door behind me and comes to join me at the fire. He sits down on his bearskin chair and I sit right next to him in a fine leather seat. “I have everything I want,” he says softly, smiling into the crackling fire before us.

Scarlet sparks rise up into the air and pop like tiny firecrackers. I look up at him, seeing the shadows from the fire cast off of his handsome, contoured face. “What now?”

He sighs and leans back in his chair, making himself comfortable with the animal fur. “I don’t know.”

“Well…” I begin softly. “We do what we know how to do.”

“And what is that?” he questions.

“We love,” I reply.

He nods his head. “Ah. Yes.”

I touch the topaz hanging around my neck and bring it to my lips, kissing it tenderly. “Can you believe how far we’ve come?” I ask, looking down at my gemstone. He sighs again and shifts in his chair.

“I never thought I’d be here, right now, with you,” Abigor admits.

“I never thought I’d be a queen.”

“I’d never thought I could hold so much love for a single person.”

“And I never knew I had it in me either,” I say truthfully. “I’d always had this picture of what I wanted in life. A husband and many children, living out in the countryside peacefully, in love, and secluded from life. But it was the wrong picture. Back then I didn’t know what I wanted, let alone needed.”

He turns to look at me. “And what did you need?”

I look him right back in the eyes. “You.”

He leans back in the chair and grips the armrests tightly. “I never let anyone in like I let you in,” he tells me quietly. “How did you do it? How did you pick the lock on my latches and force them open?”

I look away from him and stare into the fire. “Because you let me.” Outside the wind howls. The fire flickers in front of me, making the dark room grow even darker. “Because you wanted me to.”

In a quiet voice that was barely even audible, “Because I needed you to.”

My mouth forms an ‘O’ and my eyes widen. I close my mouth quickly after that so he doesn’t see. But he does. “I know,” he says. “I’m stripping my hard skin and showing you the soft. I’ve never been able to do that before.”

“You’re the king,” I say. “If you show your soft skin to your people and your men, you’re afraid they will unleash their daggers and stab said skin. But I am your wife, and all that I will do to that soft skin is kiss it and cherish it.”

He closes his eyes, relaxed and relieved from my words. I find that it makes me the happiest when I bring him such peace. He deserves his relaxation and peace; it’s been nonstop for months already. I drink my wine and lean back in my leather seat.

Oh, to think of all of the questions that I’d had…

Why did he show me such kindness when I’d arrived?

Why did it make him upset to see me cry if I was just a piece of property, a whore?

Why did he cut out his own soldier’s heart for the whore that was supposed to pleasing him but wasn’t?

Why he found it easier to punch his own brother’s face instead of letting him rape me?

Why he locked me away from the world for my safety?

Why he made the claim speech, why he ‘mate claimed’ me?

Why he gave me, yes me, the prized topaz necklace?

Why he waited for me?

Why he made love to me like it was his last day on earth when he’d claimed that he didn’t make love?

Why he killed Kicking Bull?

Cordell?

Iron Coyote?

Ivona?

Why he almost gave his life for me?

I’m roused from my thoughts when I see him from the corner of my eye. He’s looking at me, smiling. “All those questions,” he whispers like he’d just been reading my thoughts like an open book laid out before him. “All those questions that you’ve got swimming around in your head because I know that they’re there-they all have one answer. Can you guess it?”

“I’ve got something in mind,” I say.

“Because I love you,” says the mighty king of the barbarians. “That’s the one and only answer. Can you accept it, Tiger Claw?”

I nod my head. “I can.”

0o0o0o0o0o

In the early hours of the morning, we stand in the wintery realm of the outdoors. Staring at the blank rolling hills, everything stained with white. I am wrapped in thick furs with Wolf Claw cradled to my chest, keeping him as warm as I possibly can. He is falling asleep against me. I stare into the distance once more, breathing out into the crisp air. My hot breath curls into the sky like a puff of dragon smoke.

He trots up next to me in the form of a giant wolf. He is so large that his massive shoulders come up to the very top of my head. I look at him, stroking my hand across his pelt. He turns his head and places his muzzle near my shoulder.

His eyes look so primal but I know that he’s still in there, seeing me as I am right now. The sound of heavy footfall in the distance causes me to snap out of my trance and look ahead. I see one single warrior standing on top of the great white hill. Abigor’s ears perk up instantly.

The warrior waves the red flag. It’s ours. And row by row, the warriors march down the hill. They are cold and they are freezing, but they are home. They are tired and weak, but they are home. They are sick and they are dying, but they are home. They are bloody but triumphant, and they are home.

Abigor lifts his head to the sky and lets out a loud howl. It echoes through the forest and will live in the shells of our ears for the rest of our lives. I feel the tear slip down my cheek, one that crystallizes before it hits the ground.

I look at Abigor and he looks at me. So this is where it ends? I think.

No, he seems to say. This is the only the beginning.

I know now that we can overcome any conflict. We’d just overcome the hardest one yet, and we’d still managed to hoist ourselves over those rocky cliffs of trouble, run across the dying badlands of war and avoid the malicious grasp of Death.

I look him in the eyes and he nods his head at me.

Because even if the whole world was on fire, we’d just kiss in front of the flame.

A Map of Where Each Kingdom Is
Bellechester: North; To the left of the Iron Castle is the Thicket of Thorns, a thick jungle of long spiky thorns, virtually inhabitable except for a few creatures adapted to life there. To the right, miles away, is the Moonlit Ocean. Scattered forests in between the ocean and the castle. Rulers are King Phillip, Queen Eliza, Prince Charles and Princess Sera.

Seattle: West; The closest major forest is located southeast of them, Forest of Thieves, Stauckana territory. The moonlit ocean is northwest of them, but very close. They have a naval fleet there. Rulers are King Senon, Queen Aleris, Princess Muriel, Princess Naria, and Prince Illune.

Stauckana: South; Castle Rock stands between Forest of Thieves to the left of it, and the Jungle of Bones to the right. The dry river runs through this kingdom and is a major water source; the dry river also runs into the Barbarian Sea. They have a major naval fleet. Rulers are King Abigor (Sarki Dances with Wolves), Queen Elizabella (Sarauniya Elizabella), Prince William (Iron Coyote). The king and the queen have no descendants yet.

Pateros: East; Vibrant Queendom, ruled by Queen Amelie, her husband King Alexander, Prince Titus and Princess Myra. Their castle is hidden away in the Vibrant Mountains, all around them. A major part of Pateros is their northern lights. The Barbarian Sea runs past Pateros and into part of the mountainside. Southwest is the Jungle of Bones.

Hausa Dictionary
Ku zo- Come

Ku zo nan- Come here

Farar fata karuwa- White slut/whore

Kariya- Bitch

Budurwa- Virgin

Na’am- Yes

Rana fashe- Daybreak

Tsakar dare- Midnight

Ya kamata in ya buga mku mum mun an hali- I should hit you for your terrible attitude

Dakiki kariya, ya kamata kazaunaa indakuka kasance. Shinabin da kuke aka ce! Kana iya an ji masa rauni- Stupid bitch, you should have stayed where you were. Do what you are told! You could have been hurt.

Zaki da budurwar- Sweet girl

Soyayya (Soy-a-ya)- Love

Kadan daya- Little one

Wulakanci ne karuwa- Disgraceful whore

Waraka- Healing

Shagli- Festival

Damina- Summer

Giya- Wine

Idanu- Eyes

Gashi- Hair

Kujera- Chair

Hannayen- Hands

Shan taba- Smoke

Kafafu- Legs

Makami- Arms

Kanabugukoweawa dayada rana ba.- You are drunk every hour of the day.

Kadan dan’uwan- Little brother

Dauki Karuwa Da kuma tafi, kubagawa.- Take the whore and go, you fool.

Yi biyaya- Submit

Dakiki- Stupid

Na gode- Thank you

Karuwa- Whore

Ba/Babu- No

Lebe- Lips

Kiraya- Breasts

Dadi- Pleasure

A zuciya ga zuciya- A heart for a heart

Ya zubar da madara- She spilt milk

Ana jin hares hena?- Do you speak the language?

Mace- Woman

Ni mace- I am a woman

Zuciya- Heart

Barawo- Thief

Kai ne- You are

Kai ne barawo.- You are a thief.

Tawa- Mine

Naku- Yours

Naku da tawa- Yours and mine

Mugun mutum- Evil man

Jin dadin tabo- Pleasure spot

Ya Allah na- Gods

Wanda nake kauna- My love

Ko Yaushe- Always

Ina suka mutu idan ya kasance ba a gare ku.- I’d die if it were not for you.


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