The Warrior From Batuk: Chapter 10

The Warrior from Batuk
by Aardvark
The saga of Tyra, the warrior turned serum girl continues.

Tyra tells the Borodins about Batuk and is punished. The contents of the cylinder are revealed and a daring plot is hatched. The assassinations begin. The investigation gets too close. A life-changing event for Drago. The Lady of the castle visits Ketrick.


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The Legal Stuff: The Warrior from Batuk  © 2004, 2007 Aardvark
 
This work is the property of the author, and the author retains full copyright, in relation to printed material, whether on paper or electronically. Any adaptation of the whole or part of the material for broadcast by radio, TV, or for stage plays or film, is the right of the author unless negotiated through legal contract. Permission is granted for it to be copied and read by individuals, and for no other purpose. Any commercial use by anyone other than the author is strictly prohibited, and may only be posted to free sites with the express permission of the author.
 

This work is fictitious, and any similarities to any persons, alive or dead, are purely coincidental.

 
Photo Credit: 3.bp.blogspot.com


 
Chapter 10
 
 
Drago found me in the anteroom of the slave quarters a few hours later, pouting because I had been unjustly punished. Beneath my swollen face, though, I smiled. It had been worth it.

Drago raised my head. I looked up at him sorrowfully and sniffled.

He frowned. “Amelia, what happened?”

“Master, I have been punished for insolence, although I tried my best to answer their questions!”

“I’ll be the judge of that. Now, what happened?”

“Master, I accurately described the likely reaction of a Batuk citizen to the Borodin’s view of natural rulers and ruled, as they told me to. When I answered, Nikolai struck me.”

He placed his hand over his mouth and chin to suppress a grin. “And what did you answer, pretty Amelia?”

“I replied that a Batuk citizen would probably laugh, or use any number of colorful epithets.”

His right eyebrow rose slightly. “And in your zeal for accuracy, did you actually utter any of these obscenities?”

“I suppose, in the interest of completeness, I may have mentioned one or two.” I admitted.

“And that is when Nikolai struck you?”

“Yes, Master.”

He grinned. “Now that was insolence. Tell me the rest; you were struck twice.”

“Yes, Master. In a reply to a question, I stated that I doubted that the Borodins would ever be safe in Batuk. It is simply the truth, Master! Unless an armed escort went everywhere with them, or if they remained in the Fortress, there would always be the resentful resident with a crossbow or knife.” I touched my face tenderly. “Another struck me then. Did I speak wrongly?”

“No. They should have an idea of this already from our agents’ reports, but it’s different hearing threats, even indirectly, from a native, an example of the people they intend to rule.”

“It seemed to bother them, Master,” I offered, gently moving my chin back and forth.

“So it would seem, and I am not displeased. You were honest and direct, as I intended. Come, we will return to the castle.”

Safely back in Drago’s quarters, I retrieved the cylinder, relieved to get rid of it -- the ride back on the horse had been progressive torture -- and hid it under my mattress to open later. My saer recovered quickly, and that night, after Drago took me pleasantly but incompletely, I visited the guards to finish the job.

The next day, after I was fed in the slaves’ quarters, I opened the cylinder while Drago was still at breakfast. Inside were several objects tightly wrapped in a thin, strong line: a three-pronged hook, a tube about six inches long, a small bottle of some black substance, three long narrow poison throw darts with protective coverings, a many-times folded piece of paper, and the surprise, injector blow darts.

I read Ketrick’s instructions and laughed. The plan was at the same time clever and bold enough to be the work of a lunatic. He’d left the final details to me, but the gains to be made by being daring! I lay on my bed thinking about it, and settled on a course of action. When Drago returned, I saw a man confident in his power and future. I almost pitied him.

Most of the rest of the week, Drago took me with him almost everywhere he went, and I memorized names and everything I could of Drago’s life. Mostly, though, I just watched Drago.

After a fierce brolling one night, I cuddled up to him and sighed, “A slave might wish to be kept, Master.”

“Amelia, I will not keep you. Before Alanna and I are wed you will be sold.”

“Yes, Master. I’m sorry. I’m just a slave, but I will miss you. I will miss our conversations most of all. I may never find a master again who will permit me to speak my mind.”

“Yes,” he said amusedly, “and one who would allow you to visit the guards when you need to. Your next master should own a tavern or serve armies. One thing has always puzzled me. Why would Ketrick abduct you, a hot serum girl? Surely you were about to submit to any man who would have you?”

I was an opening to say what I’d wanted to say for days, and I took it. “I am only a serum girl slave now, best fit to serve many,” I acknowledged, “yet I found a way to remain a freewoman. I had hopes of staying free, but Ketrick wanted me. He grew tired of waiting for me to submit voluntarily, so he took possession.” I shrugged. “It's my fate to be a slave, Master, but it might have been otherwise.”

“It's your fate to sleep now, unless you require the guards’ twylls again.”

“Yes, Master.” I went to sleep satisfied. I had just planted a seed in his head, much as he had so recently planted his in my saer. Unlike his, mine had a chance of growing.

That afternoon, Drago took me to the palace for an appearance at court, the first I had seen of that room since my torture. We did not stay together. Alanna stood on the Borodin side of the room; my presence next to her betrothed would have added spice to an open wound. Instead, Drago chained my slave collar to an iron ring in the back of the audience chamber next to two other girls in blue tunics, Borodin slaves. Other than sideways glances to determine who was prettier, we ignored each other. Talking, of course, was out of the question.

The King had just seated himself, when a messenger burst through the door and rushed to Markus Borodin’s side. From my place in the very rear of the room, I heard harsh words and fury, but couldn’t make out what was said, and then shouts of “murder!”, “shame!”, and curses filled the room; women cried and shrieked, and furious stares crossed the aisle, mainly directed at Paolo Giovanni.

“Silence!” shouted the King, rising from the throne.

“Your Majesty, Ivan Borodin and his wife have been murdered!” Markus bellowed.

King Bruno’s anger turned to deadly calm. He pointed to the doors. “Seal the room,” he said.

Guards moved quickly and slammed the doors shut, locking them with a loud “snick!”

The King jerked his head to the side. “Markus, what’s going on?”

The head of the Borodins shouldered his way through to the aisle and walked stiffly towards the King, fists clenched and fighting for control.

Lord Markus made a perfunctory bow before beginning. “Majesty, I have just heard that Lord Ivan and his wife, Katerina, were murdered on the road. Their bodies were found in a ditch, both with their throats slit!”

King Bruno lowered his head, wincing in sympathy. “You have my sincere condolences. I’ll do everything in my power to find the killers.” The King located Niccolo Giovanni and waved him forward. Niccolo staggered forward, as stunned as Markus.

“Your Majesty, Markus,” he said in a quavering voice, “I have no idea who committed this foul deed or why. The Giovannis will cooperate fully in any investigation, of course.”

“I expect no less, Niccolo,” the King said. “No one leaves the room until we have statements from everyone. I'm assigning my Chief of Inspectors, Tam Polgher, to bring the murderer to justice.” He turned to a guard on his right. “Bring him here as soon as possible.” He spoke to the two lords. “Tam is mundane, but under the circumstances, that would be best. He is also very clever, I assure you.”

“I know of him. An excellent choice, your Majesty,” Niccolo said.

“I approve of anyone who finds my son’s murderer!” Markus declared.

The guard returned with a sharp-eyed man in the purple sash of the royal service. Short brown hair and a peculiar perpetual curiosity distinguished him from the aristocracy. He brought an assistant with him, a freewoman in a tan and gold dress with striking white hair and odd purple eyes. Tam spoke with King Bruno quietly; then proceeded. He didn’t have a powerful voice, but he compensated with the authority of the extremely competent.

“Lords and Ladies, remain where you are and do not attempt to communicate with one another. Each of you will be interviewed one at a time, then released. It’s vital that you don’t mention anything that happens within these walls to anyone. Even the investigation must remain a secret for the time being. I thank you all for your cooperation in this terrible time. Lord Niccolo, may I see you first, please?”

Three hours later, Drago entered a small room just outside the audience chamber. A few minutes later, he returned with Tam and led me inside to join my Master. I entered in full slave mode, proud that I was extremely attractive to anyone who preferred women.

“Sit down, Amelia,” Tam said, pointing to the chair in front of his own.

“Yes, Master.” I sat.

“You are the slave who resisted the torturer, are you not?” he asked, a strange question for a murder investigation, I thought.

“Yes, Master.”

“That was extraordinary. Explain why you resisted the torture and where you found the strength.”

“My former master, Ketrick, wanted me to testify for him. When he abducted me he disgraced my family and our friendship by bringing me to Tulem to testify for him. If he abducted me to dominate, that would be one thing, but if he abducted me just to testify for him, it was a dishonorable act. I resisted according to my conscience. As far as my strength to resist, Master, I was a warrior.” I didn’t like that question. It had nothing at all to do with where I was at the time of the murders.

He paused and just looked at me. “That is odd, but just barely possible. You and your former master were certainly fortunate that someone was there to refute Heydar’s statement, weren’t you?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Mm. Yes. Why did Ketrick come to Tulem, Amelia?”

“I think he just wanted to return to a familiar city, Master. Also, it was a good place to go to escape the wrath of my family.”

“Do you still think that Ketrick brought you here because he wanted to clear his name?”

I nodded. “Partly, but I think he desired me as well. His actions in the silks afterwards convinced me.”

He smiled. “I can see why. You are charming, spirited slave -- and yet he sold you in the end.” He moved closer. “That brand shows a steady hand. Did Ketrick give you that?”

I smiled. “Yes, Master. He brought me to a blacksmith and branded me the first night.” I was alarmed. This was false territory that Ketrick and I had never planned on needing much detail for. He asked many more questions about our relationship before he abducted me and the actual details of our faked abduction. As time went by, I found myself inventing more and more. The simple questions I thought I would face never came. My alarm turned to terror.

“Tam, I don’t see the point of this inquiry,” objected Drago impatiently. “My slave has been with me the entire time except for very brief periods. And even then I knew precisely where she was. There is no chance at all that she was involved in this.”

“No doubt, you are correct, Lord Drago. But I have often found it valuable to explore mysteries of all kinds; they so often unlock the answers to other questions. Your slave is remarkable. Her strength of character is quite unusual.” He grinned disarmingly. “I think we’re finished here, Lord Drago. You may go, and thank you for cooperating.”

When we left the room, I smiled and bowed my head respectfully, but my heart pounded like a hammer. He would only go through that level of detail if he had sniffed something rancid in my story. It might be just his curiosity, but it would be little trouble to ask Ketrick, or have someone ask him the same questions. When his answers didn’t match my on-the-spot creations, the rack would soon seem a pleasant interlude. Having experienced Tam’s thoroughness first hand, it was just a matter of time.

But how could I warn Ketrick? I was just a slave on a leash, and had no way to deliver a message. We mounted the horses and Drago led me away. By the time we left the palace gates, I was worried enough about it to make me sick. Ketrick wasn’t supposed to contact me for days. Tam might let a loose end wait because of the investigation, but my gut told me he wouldn’t.

We rode down the busy street, with me trailing behind as usual. An ugly distraction entered my view: a man pantomimed picking his nose, a startling sight where enforcers roamed the streets looking for customs and good taste violations. Then he put the offending finger in his mouth -- and winked at me! It had to be Ketrick. His cheekbones were higher and his hair was darker, but the eyes were the same. I pointed behind me to the side of my saddle away from the traffic.

He walked casually around, sped up to match us, and watched me, a healthy man appreciating a fine slave. I touched my collar as if it chafed and drew a sharp line across my throat. Then I spelled out “Tam Polgher” in Eagles hand script on my thigh. I turning my head enough to see him, and waited. He mouthed it back to me. I nodded very slightly then spelled “get notes.” He mouthed the full message and I nodded again. A moment later we were through the city's outer gate and on the road. Drago waved me forward.

He massaged my breast with his free hand and, despite my fears, my body responded. I sat straighter in the saddle, shook the hair on my back free, and enjoyed his desire. A new kind of tension replaced the old.

“Don’t worry, pretty Amelia, this is one time the Giovannis and Borodins agree. Whoever did this will be caught.”

“Yes Master.” With my breast being ministered to, it was easy to ignore things out of my control, after all, I had done what I could; now it was up to Ketrick -- but I managed.

Gods, I missed the action! It was what I’d trained for all my life. For that moment I remembered my life before, and with it came the old anger. The fingers teasing my nipple, the softness of my skin, the weight of my breasts, they felt right but were wrong; I should have been taller, stronger -- a man. The moment passed. My nipple hardened, and pleasure flowed through my body the only way it could now, making me soft, moist, and desiring his touch. Drago had used me too often and well to deny my attraction to him. It was a reassuring constant to a woman, however she came to be, who had decided that she enjoyed being beautiful.

Besides, I am a valuable part of this team. I can go places, do things that Ketrick cannot, and my role is not necessarily any less important.

I submitted to Drago for the last time that night, leaving him sleeping to visit the guards. After they used me, I thanked them and left, returning to Drago’s quarters. Once I knew Drago was still asleep, I crept slowly across the room to the window under the flickering night lamp in the corner, to where I'd set aside what I’d need. I unrolled the leather packet, and paid out the weighted end of the thin line through the window opening and placed the three-pronged hook on the other end over an iron crossbar in the window grid. Then I added my own touch: I wrapped the fingers of one of Drago’s black gloves around a lower bar on the outside.

That done, I took an empty injection dart and thrust it into the back of my shoulder. With the pain came the peace of commitment. I wasn't strong enough to wield a sword or to use a heavy spear as before, but once again I tasted the excitement before a battle; once again, I would soon be either victorious or dead. Rising to my feet, I looked down on Drago’s superb body. The female in me wanted him again, to feel his twyll inside me, his seed pounding against my inner walls in an affirmation of lust and life. A small voice from my natural slave heart also demanded that I pull out the dart in my back and return to my Master, that my place was in his collar — I squashed it like an insect.

I lowered myself carefully to my side of the bed, the side facing the window. The dart in my shoulder throbbed, and made movement awkward, but I persevered until I molded myself against him. He stirred in his sleep, but accepted my body, as I knew he would. Then I waited. I had to give Ketrick time to kill the guard patrolling outside.

It was time enough to reflect on how much I had changed. My breasts pressed pleasantly into his back; his slow breathing was a metronome, solid and comforting. The slave part of me would have been content with him if matters had been very different. I missed Drago in advance, and recited his praises in my head.

I judged the time right a few hours before daylight, and broke the silence with a scream. Drago thrashed awake and thrust me away.

“By the Gods, Amelia, what is it!”

I rolled off the bed, showing him the dart in my back. “Aiiee! Master, I have been shot! Ahh!” I pointed to the glove, dimly visible in the light of the lamp. “There is a man in the window. Get out, Master, get out!” I lurched to my feet with apparent difficulty, stumbling towards the window. “Master, I think I’m dying. Please save yourself!” I pleaded, panting heavily.

He could move quickly when he wanted to. With the bed backed against the wall, there was nowhere he could hide. I shuffled close to the window then yelped. “Master, I’ve been hit again!” I collapsed in the dark shadow of a couch and picked up the injection dart, already in the paper tube I had constructed earlier. I shifted sideways and blew hard, hitting him in the back just as he touched the door latch.

He bellowed in terror. He lurched against the door, opened it clumsily, and passed through. He yelled for the guards, then I heard him stumble and fall. The drug had acted as quickly as I had hoped, but now I had to move fast. I retrieved the glove from the window and returned it to the drawer. Next, I took the lamp, set the tube on fire in the fireplace and put the lamp back. With the last bit of evidence burning, I stabbed myself in my thigh with the remaining dart and collapsed to the floor, pretending to be unconscious in case the guards arrived faster than I thought they would. A few seconds later the drug took me and I wasn’t pretending anymore.

***

I awoke inside the infirmary, a collar hung loosely around my neck, the links of a restraining chain clinking when I moved my head. My mind was a fog, but I had thought this out beforehand. I would be expected to show surprise. I rose to my elbows and looked down. I squealed, and my hand went to my throat, shocked at my slightly deeper voice. I was naked. My skin was fair and I was leaner, even a little skinny. There was a needle bruise in my arm. I frowned; my breasts seemed slightly smaller. With the change in DNA, the slave brand on my thigh had vanished. I caught the figures of two men and a woman watching me from the side, and turned towards them.

“Amelia,” spoke the man in a tan uniform with the purple sash of an inspector. “What happened the night you were attacked in Lord Drago’s quarters?”

His voice was cold and frustrated. My first reaction to it was elation: he wasn’t Tam Polgher. I shook my head to clear it, causing long yellow hair to spill over my face. I’m a blonde again?

“Master, I was sleeping, when something sharp flew into my shoulder. I screamed and saw a man in the window. I warned my Master and ran to block the window until my Master could leave the room. I felt another pain around here,” I pointed to my thigh, “saw it was a dart, and then I collapsed. Please, Master, is my Master all right?” I shed a real tear for Drago. This was war, but he wasn’t really an evil man; his fate had been determined by expedience, not the clean justice of the battlefield.

The Inspector regarded me neutrally. “Just answer the questions, slave.”

“Yes, Master,” I replied, chastened.

“What did the man look like?”

I pursed my lips for a moment, pretended to think. “He had a black hood. He wore a black glove of peculiar design and he hung on a bar. The palms were strange. I didn’t see his face, but I saw his eyes; they were either brown or black — I think; the light wasn’t good.”

“They weren’t blue?”

“Master?” I shrugged helplessly. “I only had a quick glimpse. I don’t think they were blue.”

“You said the gloves were peculiar.”

I nodded. “I saw something similar in Batuk, Master. There are gloves designed for climbing, gloves with connected convex blocks of rough stone that, when squeezed together, can grip small diameter rope or line very hard, hard enough to climb. The glove I saw had two pieces of wood or stone in the palm.”

“How do you know this?”

“I was raised a warrior. I once saw such a pair; their use was explained to me.”

“Do you know who uses them most often?”

“Yes, Master, the Assassin’s Guild.”

He nodded. That assassins used climbing gloves was common knowledge; he would have suspected it from the evidence left behind. He asked me a few more questions about the sequence of events, but nothing remarkable, a very good sign. From the bruise in my arm, they had kept me unconscious until they were ready to see me. He and his assistant left me with Ovid, the castle’s physician. She reminded me something of Hana l’Lina, the scholar in Batuk, attractive rather than beautiful, and self-assured.

“How do you feeling this morning?” she asked me.

She had the type of smile that made me want to smile back. “Different, Mistress, but I feel fine. Could you tell me what happened to my Master?”

She shook her head. “It isn’t my place, but if you have the sense I think you do, you might guess.”

I sighed. “Yes, Mistress. Could you tell me how many days I’ve been here?”

“Five days.”

“Thank you.” Five days meant that Drago had been a serum girl for two days.

This body was slightly larger, and I had to fill it out. For the next three days, I ate an enormous quantity of food, and followed an exercise program to ensure that I would be pleasingly sleek, flexible, and healthy. I didn’t feel that different. I had gained two inches, my nose was aquiline, but it fit my higher cheekbones. I almost laughed when I saw myself for the first time; Ketrick’s choice of DNA would insult the Giovannis. I looked like a Borodin, and could have been Alanna’s cousin.

I needed a man. Since I'd awoken, the urges had been creeping up on me. Some of it was the thrill that events were proceeding our way, and relief that Tam wasn’t a danger anymore. Part of it was the exercises. Some were designed strictly to please men in the silks. Why else prescribe hundreds of pelvic rises a day with legs spread, serpentine motions wrapped around a pole suspended above me, or the internal squeezing of the ball? After several days, I had to touch myself at night just to sleep. The old pattern had returned with a vengeance.

Physician Ovid knew my misery for what it was, of course. I’d been complaining enough.

“I know your needs, Amelia; the urges are particularly strong in you. Unfortunately, your future hasn’t been determined.”

“But Mistress, the urges are too powerful. I don’t want to be whipped, but I don’t know if I can control it any longer. My Master ordered me to see the guards whenever I wasn’t satisfied. Unless I have a new Master, doesn’t that make it right that I see the guards immediately? Please, Mistress won’t you let me see them?” I fell to floor and wept.

I waited as Physician Ovid watched me writhe and squirm. In the end, she threw up her hands. “I’ll check your story with the guards.” She left muttering, reappearing a few minutes later. She went to a cabinet and opened a door at its base, removing a block and stamp pad similar to the one at The Slave’s Dream.

“I will permit this,” she said, holding up the stamp and warning me sternly with her finger, “but return here immediately after you finish with the guards.”

I leaped to my feet and wept with joy. “Thank you, Mistress!”

“Serum girls,” she chuckled, applying the mark quickly and blowing it dry. She motioned to the door with her head. “Go!”

I almost ran to the guard at the entrance. I knew him by name and twyll. The first sight of a man in days caused my legs to rub together. I began to explain my purpose there, but he stopped me.

“You are Amelia, the transformed slave we knew so well?” he asked unnecessarily. Ovid must have told him I was coming.

“Yes, Master.”

“Hmm,” he considered, watching me stir flagrantly under his scrutiny. “And you claim to be in heat?”

I laughed in complete exasperation. Would he never allow me inside? “Yes, Master! I am in heat! I am hot and very wet!” I wailed, causing a trio of passing noblewomen to frown.

He shrugged. “Very well.” He turned to allow me access and whispered, “I’m off-duty in two hours. I trust you will have a warm space for my spear?”

“Master, you may expect that your spear will be well cared for. It may, however, be bent when returned.”

He winked. “Excellent. It’s good to see you back, Amelia, even if you do look like a Borodin.”

Three hours later, I returned to the infirmary. I was slightly sore -- with my new body came new virginity -- but I could relax and think again. I worried about Drago; I had hoped to see her by this time. She was almost certainly having a worse time than I had: I'd been a warrior, but she had been a nobleman, a superior man. To an aristocrat, descending to become a serum girl, a short step from a slave, was unimaginable horror.

The next day in the early afternoon, a veiled Giovanni noblewoman appeared in the doorway. She paused at the threshold for a minute, watching me exercise. Her hair was glossy black and pinned up in a series of concentric circles a few inches high, the remainder falling over her back attractively; her eyes were dark and cold. She had dyed her hair and altered the color of her eyes, but I knew her. She was my genetic twin, after all.

I finished a set of squats and twists and was reaching for a cup of water when she entered. I bowed. “Good afternoon, Mistress,” I said, as I would have to any freewoman.

She took a deep breath that puffed the veil out, building her courage to speak. “Amelia, I am Drago,” she said in our shared voice.

I bowed immediately and waited.

“Straighten up, Amelia,” she said wearily.

“Oh, Mistress, I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to stop the dart.”

“These last days I’ve thought of little else except what happened in that room. You did what you could. I could have asked no more of any slave or warrior. May whoever did this to me rot in Hades, but you were not the cause.”

Some would have lashed out in spite. That she did not was a measure of the woman, and of the man she had been.

“Mistress, may I ask if you plan to sell me?”

Her eyes flashed. “It is well that you asked first. I would have struck you for the actual question.” She ripped the veil aside and glared. “It doesn’t matter if you look like me or not. You are still my slave.”

“I meant no offense, Mistress. I wanted to let you know, from loyalty to you, that I still have my uses.”

“That may be, but I will decide. I may put you on the slave block in the palace square -- or sell you to a pig farmer!”

“Yes, Mistress. Of course.”

She sighed, composing herself. “You told me once that you managed to stay free. You are a slut. You must have had a powerful libido as a man. I want to know how you did it.”

Thank the Gods. “I learned a way to fool myself into thinking that I had submitted to a man. It satisfied my slave urges and kept me free.”

“Ketrick abducted you and made you his slave.”

“The technique only lasts hours. I was unprepared when Ketrick stole me, else I would be a freewoman in Batuk right now.”

“Can you teach me this mind trick?”

“I think so, Mistress.”

Drago smiled, and if she had not been so grim, she would have been beautiful. “I’ll keep you for now. You may still have your uses.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

She pointed to my left thigh. “Is that a temporary mark?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Where is Physician Ovid? I will tattoo you now.”

Here, I thought, was an opportunity to use the organic dye Ketrick had put in the cylinder. With it the tattoo would fade in a week.

“I don’t know where Physician Ovid is. Sometimes she’s gone for hours.” That stretched the truth. She was probably at lunch, but I didn’t know it.

Drago shrugged and reconnected her veil. “Then I’ll come back for you this evening.”

“Mistress, if you’d like, I could stay here and bring the tattooing equipment to you as soon as she returns.”

She considered it. “Yes. Do that. I want you back in my quarters as soon as possible.” She pulled a piece of paper from a stack, wrote the instructions for Ovid and handed it to me. “Give this to Ovid when she returns.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

Ovid returned twenty minutes later. I gave her Drago’s instructions and left with what Drago wanted. I stopped in the hall outside of Drago’s quarters, and reached into an old crack on the stairs I had widened in the old mortar, and pulled out the organic dye bottle, switching it with the real dye before entering. Drago tattooed me immediately, anxious to mark me as different from her. It hurt, but nothing like when Tisa had branded me. I returned the equipment to Ovid and then came back.

When I returned, Drago was sitting on her bed cross-legged, gazing out the window with the kind of look that sees nothing. She issued no commands. I began to move away when she lifted her hand.

“How did you stand it? How does a man accept being a woman?” she asked bitterly.

“I accepted it because I had to, Mistress.” I watched her, waiting. She was between shock and tears. I moved slowly forward until I was well within her sight, almost in front of the window. “Mistress, do you have a sister or brother to talk about these things? I had my sister, Tisa.”

She glared at me, her dark eyes brimming with humiliation and resentment. She searched for reasons to punish me: Was I insolent? Did I stray into a private place without good reason? Was I disobedient? Was I disloyal? She sagged resignedly as she rejected each in turn. Pointing to a place beside her on the bed, she said, “Sit, Amelia. Tell me about your sister.”

I told her of the good things, of waking to her concern and acceptance, the lessons in womanhood, and, most especially, the fight with me to stay free, find a new life and ultimately to be happy. I couldn’t help shedding tears as I remembered us as we were.

Drago’s hand touched my arm tentatively as I wept. I wiped my tears away, and was not surprised to see a glimmer in her own eye. I remembered how fast the emotions had come to me.

“I have no one like that. As bad as it was for you in Batuk, the stigma is worse here. It’s been over a hundred years since a noble has taken Ruk’s Serum. The Giovannis and Borodins agreed long ago that death was a preferable option for vendettas; the faintest possibility that a commoner could be using an alcove girl who was their Lord the month before is an obscenity, and would damage the stability we have in the valley between the rulers and ruled.

“Some wish I would kill myself. I wanted to when I first awoke — like this. My father and brother were there. Their disgust for me was a stench in the air. But I remembered that you had overcome Vanora’s curse, at least to a degree. If it’s possible to live free, I would live.”

“Mistress, may I be honest about your chances to remain free and what it would require?”

She stared at me. “That is very direct for a slave,” she warned.

I bowed my head submissively. “Yes, but I would do you little good now if I were passive, merely waiting for specific orders to help.”

“Explain!” she snapped.

I looked into the face so much like my own, except for the fury. “Mistress,” I said gently, “at the risk of offending you further, you don’t need a slave to command. You need someone who understands what you are going through, and someone who cares about you. A slave who only does what she is ordered can’t really help you, but I would do much more if given the chance.”

She laughed hysterically. “Gods! How low you have brought me. My slave wants to be my friend.”

I stayed silent. If she wouldn’t accept me as a friend, I would likely have to kill her.

“You actually meant what you said,” she said in amazement.

“Mistress, as soon as the urges strike, without all the help I can give you, I think you’ll be a slave in a month. Naturally, it goes without saying that I will serve you in any capacity you desire.”

“Naturally,” she snorted. “And what 'advice' would you give me to help me stay free?”

“You haven’t fully accepted that you’re a woman. You should take a new name.”

“That sounds like the first step of many, but I see your point. Do you have a name already picked for me?” she asked sarcastically.

As a matter of fact, I had. “You look like a Dana to me. Strong, intelligent, and beautiful.”

“Dana Giovanni,” she said quietly. “A pretty name for a girl,” she said, making the words brittle. “A woman’s name -- and this ... beautiful…”

I gambled, staring her straight in the face and willing her to believe me. “You are a beautiful woman, Mistress. In time you will discover that it is not such a bad thing to be.”

Dana searched my face, gnashing her teeth as she warred with her deepest instincts. I expected to be struck, but she surprised me. “What's next?” she said.

“If you haven’t been shown already, you're going to have to learn all those things that women have to know and men don’t want to know.” She winced, but nodded her assent.

At the end of the evening we weren’t friends. She didn’t ask for insights or reminiscences, and I still treated her with the respect due my Mistress, but she looked me in the eye when she talked to me and considered my opinions. It was enough.

That night, while we slept, Ketrick killed Paolo with a crossbow as Paolo stood framed in the window of his quarters. The castle guards found a patch of worn turf beside a tree with a low branch that might have proved suitable for a brace. A pair of dogs that sniffed the spot for his scent died horribly, coughing blood and twitching uncontrollably. But these details I found out hours later.

I awoke with pounding at the door. “Lady Drago, open the door, your father is dead!” bellowed a deep voice partly out of breath.

I rolled from my bed and sped to Dana’s side, but she was already up in her nightgown. She attached her veil, slid the heavy bolt and pulled the door inward. “My father is dead?” she demanded in disbelief.

The taller of the two guards nodded. “Yes, Lady Drago. What are your instructions?”

“How did he die and what has been done so far?”

“A crossbow bolt at his window. We searched the grounds for an hour, but didn’t find anyone.”

“Pull back indoors, issue orders to stay away from windows and we will search at first light. Send messengers to all castles and bring back reports of all comings and goings last night and this morning. I want to know the names of all Borodins and Giovannis not accounted for. With my father dead, I expect even the Borodins will understand.”

They both bowed. “Yes, Lady Drago. It shall be done!” They left abruptly, pounding down the stairs.

She turned to me in tears, ripped off her veil and released her grief on my shoulder. I had to hold her from sinking to the floor.

“Why did you do it?” she shouted out the window into the darkness. “Why kill my father?” she screamed, staring at me. “He had done nothing. If they wished to punish my family for killing Ivan, why wasn’t I enough revenge?”

Having the answers to her questions didn’t help me.

“What will you do, Mistress?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know yet. Frankly, I’m surprised the guards came to me. They know I’m a serum girl. Perhaps they couldn’t find Marco -- not so unusual -- my brother is more interested in saers than command. I suppose he will take over in the morning.”

“Mistress, who is next in line for this castle? Is it you or Marco?”

“I am. My father was going to change the succession, but he never had the time. It’s not completely unheard of for a woman to rule; there have been women rulers; Tulem even had a queen once. But who would follow me, a serum girl?”

“The guards, for one. You have the right and the duty to rule here. In the absence of power, the one who commands is often the one who steps forward.” I shrugged. “I am but a humble slave, but is it possible that Marco would rather not rule this castle?”

Dana’s brown eyes crinkled in wry amusement. “You are anything but a humble slave. About Marco … I don’t know. Marco never told me he wanted to rule; the matter never come up. How can I rule men?” she cried. “I’m just a weak woman now, a natural slave!”

“Mistress, you’re still a noble with the right to rule here. I fear for you. If you turn away from this, you may regret it later.”

She closed her eyes and gradually her breathing slowed. “I was a nobleman and now I am a noblewoman. It will be very different looking up to men, but I will command and see what happens.” She nodded firmly. “Amelia, prepare a bath and my best ... dress -- and wake up the seamstress and bring her here; she has work to do.”

“Yes, Mistress.” I moved to obey.

That morning Dana and I walked to the main hall. She wore her finest silk dress with her green trim extended farther than ladies were normally permitted to wear. A white veil concealed her nervousness. She strode confidently on the thick green carpet, crossed a length of white marble and mounted the ancient oak chair of her dead father. Dana waited and called out to the first guard who entered.

“Jedha!”

Surprised, the wiry man jerked to a halt, and bowed stiffly, his long spear planted in the floor at his side. “Lady Drago, I’m very sorry for your loss, but you should not be sitting on the castle throne. Please leave the hall and return to your apartments where we might protect you.”

“On the contrary, Jedha,” she articulated clearly, “I should be exactly where I am. My name is now Dana, and I will rule here. Bring the Master of the Guards to me.”

Jedha was too smart to be involved in succession politics; he merely bowed again. “Yes, Lady Dana,” he replied, and departed in a hurry, eager to pass this problem to his superior.

Jedha returned with Captain Malchor, who arrived wearing his sword and mail. He spoke briefly to Jedha, who left the hall, and walked forward, stopping several feet away. “You may have the right, Lady Dana, but do you think this is wise?” he asked her, his tone making it clear that he did not.

“I must, Malchor. If I can’t rule this castle with honor, I will step down. Will you bend your knee to me, old friend?”

“If you can’t rule with honor, you won’t have to step down; you will be removed by force. This can only end badly.”

“I intend to surprise you all. Now, will you bend your knee to me?”

Malchor reluctantly lowered his right knee to the carpet and addressed her evenly. “I will serve you, Lady Dana, as I served your father.”

“Thank you. Please stay while I summon the others.”

“Of course.”

She summoned each in turn, the heads of the kitchen, Armory, Records, Finance and lastly, Urban, her father’s Chief of Staff, a man of average height with a thin mustache, nattily dressed in embroidered green. When confronted by the serum girl sitting in her father’s chair, already surrounded by department heads who had pledged their service, the castle’s second bent his knee, but smiled as if this was just a passing phase to be tolerated.

Whatever their private reservations, with their oaths, it was official. For the time being, Dana ruled the castle. She held breakfast in the hall later that morning, securing the high end of the great table, this time bringing me along, where I stood inconspicuously out of the way.

Most broke openly into stares at some point, unable to believe what they saw: their ruler was a serum girl. The women, at best, were ambivalent: they had respected Lord Drago, but not Lady Dana, a poseur elevated above the rest of them, who looked and dressed as they did, but had never been a girl, nor had gained a lady’s refinement. The lords alternated between amusement and affront. She had their grudging sympathy, but none believed that she would last.

Only Dana’s determination to make breakfast routine saved it from being tomb silent. She forced a discussion of ordinary matters with lords and ladies she had known as a man, and gradually a semblance of normalcy appeared. Conversations started, sputtered, and started again.

Paolo’s funeral was held that same day. The High Priest of Tulem, splendorous in a robe of red velour overlaid with heavenly symbols, arrived by black carriage in the sunny afternoon. Assistants in white robes and shaven heads had already paved the way to the heavens with an hour of ritual wailing and the burning of scented woods and herbs deemed pleasing to the nostrils of the Gods.

Dana took her place by the grave. The High Priest droned an invocation to the Gods and Overlords, performed a holy gesticulation, and finished by scattering gold dust over Paolo’s casket as it was lowered into the ground. Most of the fifty or so Giovannis wept, but beneath lay an undercurrent of rage. First, their Lord Drago had been disgraced, transformed, and now Paolo had been murdered. The perpetrators had not even been identified, much less caught. The few Borodins at the funeral, themselves furious over Lord Ivan and his wife’s murder, were treated with respect but no more.

When the first shovel of dirt entered the grave, the ceremony was over. I was most concerned with Marco. He was at the funeral, but had chosen to keep his distance from Dana. His expression when he looked at her was pensive.

The long day ended with a few routine documents to sign and decisions that could not wait another day. Dana and I returned to her quarters. I was the last one through, and closed the door and shot the bolt.

Dana tore off her veil and threw it on the bed. “I hate that thing. I wouldn’t even wear it if weren’t for the scandal of having the same DNA as my slave.”

“Yes, Mistress. I, also, had to wear the veil in Batuk.”

She looked my way sourly. “How do you feel now? Do you need to visit the guards?”

“Maybe tonight. I saw many good-looking, dominating men who could use me well. It brings out the slut in me.”

Dana dropped her mouth, aghast. “By the Gods, will I talk like that, too? Will I routinely speak of domination and being used well?”

“Perhaps, Mistress, but unlike a slave, you will decide when you will be dominated and used.”

She shook her head vigorously, trying to deny that it could ever happen to her, but all it really did was to swing her tail from side to side. She knew too much to pretend for long.

“When did you first feel the urges?” she asked in a low voice.

“Two weeks after the transformation. Mistress, please don’t take this wrong, but you will become feminine, enjoy men and eventually get the urges. There’s nothing anyone can do about it. Your libido is greater than average and the higher the libido in a man, the greater the needs in the serum girl -- and the faster they come.”

“I’m aware of that!” she snarled.

“I’m sorry, Mistress, of course you are.” I said, bowing my head. “What few know is that as your body changes you, there is a way of controlling its effects.”

“Explain.”

“I studied other serum girls and applied what I’d learned. Most who knew me before and afterwards said that I was still the same inside. I believe this to be true. Properly done, the Lady Dana who emerges will be similar in the ways that matter.”

“You have always been an unusually strong-willed slave,” she said, considering me. “I sometimes imagine the warrior you were. But in the end, you were broken to the collar.”

“Yes, Mistress. Ketrick forced me to his will before I could prepare.” I touched the tattoo on my thigh with my fingertips. “After I ignited in his arms and crossed my wrists, it was all over for me. My desire to be a freewoman departed like the stars at sunrise.”

“Before this happened, you were living free.”

“I was.”

“Amelia, you will teach me everything you know.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

Breakfast the next day was an improvement from the day before. Dana had earned some respect for her behavior at the table and at the funeral. As usual, I stayed with Dana through the day and watched from my place in the corner.

After breakfast, Dana brought me to Tulem to buy ingredients from a list I’d made up. Amidst certain herbs that were occasionally smoked, was a quantity of afkal leaf -- for pain, I told her, in case the process gave her a headache.

Late that afternoon came a knock at the door.

“Dana, this is Marco. I need to speak with you.”

Dana adjusted the veil on her face and opened the door, motioning him inside. “Welcome, Marco. I’ve been expecting you.”

“No doubt.” He sat in the seat she offered him, grinning not at all. “I’m going to have to get used to that name, ‘Lady Dana,’ ‘sister,' ‘Lady of the castle,'” he said, becoming progressively angrier. “What in Hades possessed you?” he shouted in her face.

“I believe I can rule well.” She waved her hand as he began to sputter. “I know your objections. You’re about to say that I’m a serum girl, that I will inevitably disgrace the family and become a slut and a slave. It’s possible, but not certain. If I fail, I will step down and leave Tulem.”

“As simple as that?” Marco scoffed. “You risk a great deal on an extremely unlikely outcome.”

“Let me ask you a question, brother. Did you really want to be the Lord of this castle?”

He snorted. “Of course not. I never even thought of it, and I’m still not enamored with the idea -- it looks too much like work. But let me be blunt. You rule on a technicality. You shouldn’t be gone and we would have mourned you honorably as one dead. Now we must worry about an almost certain scandal, affecting not only you, and this castle, but the entire aristocracy. Imagine a Lady of a castle, brolling servants, farmers, or actors! I’d need just cause to remove you now, but I’ll be watching for a hint of scandal.” He regarded her coolly, “At least you had the sense to veil yourself and change your appearance,” he acknowledged grudgingly.

“I’m not an idiot. And I hope you haven’t told anyone that my slave and I have the same DNA.”

“As far as I know, it’s just you, me, and Ovid. I give you fair warning. If you feel yourself failing, then leave as fast and go as far away as you can. You would not care for the alternative.”

When he left, she removed the veil and slid backwards into a chair. “Marco has a butcher’s delicacy sometimes, but he lets you know how you stand. I can’t fault him for his position. If our places were reversed, I’d likely be telling Marco to seek out a good master.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

She gazed up at me, nervous or scared, I thought. “I look to you as my hope, Amelia, the living example of what is possible.”

“Thank you, Mistress.”

“I ... I hate being weak,” she said, not meeting my eyes. “I don’t mind the ladies. If they don’t respect me or like me, at least they aren’t dangerous. It’s the men. Men are so much bigger and stronger than me now. Sometimes they look at me like a possible ... conquest, and if ... if they wanted to I couldn’t ... I couldn’t stop them.” She brought her hands to her face with a soft cry.

I’d seen this in her before. She would fight it, sometimes winning, and sometimes breaking into sobs. This time, she won, breathing away the tension in one long breath. “You went through the same thing, didn’t you?”

“Mistress, in the beginning, men were all muscle and threats. You adjust to it in time, like learning which streets are dangerous in a new city, until it becomes as natural as wearing a dress.”

“Adjust,” she said, biting her lip. “What was your name before you were collared?”

“Tyra.”

“A pretty name. That's what I’ll call you, Tyra. I think that I … I would prefer that you call me Dana when we’re alone.”

“Yes, Dana,” I said softly.

It was fear, not desire to be my friend that brought her close to me, I thought, but she needed me, trusted me. I lodged precious little satisfaction in that fact.

She reached up and wiped away a tear. “I saw myself in the mirror earlier today. I saw a pretty girl, and I liked what I saw. I’m not really Drago anymore. You told me that this would happen and not to fear it, and I don’t -- at least not so much.”

“There will be more changes. Please don’t fear any of them.”

“I won’t,” she said, making a solemn promise to herself, “although it’s unimaginable that I will come to like men.”

I lay awake that night. If I remained very quiet, I could hear her breathing. Dana was not the same as Drago. She'd retained the arrogance, but had a softer side now. I had liked Drago, but as long as he was prepared to lead men against my city, to kill my friends and family, I could kill him without a qualm. But Dana….

It didn't seem right that she should be involved in this war anymore. Dana wasn’t my friend; we were far from equals, but she trusted me. It wasn’t reasonable to see her this way. If she knew who I was she would have had me killed, but I still felt like a snake.

A week later:

“Tyra, I do not have weeks,” Dana said quietly after returning from dinner.

I eased next to her on the bed and took her hand, a gesture we had grown accustomed to by then. “I understand completely what you’re going through.”

She smiled ruefully. “Yes, you would. There was a man in the courtyard this afternoon who made me feel weak and strange, like I’d never felt before. It wasn’t just attraction this time. The feeling started at my breasts and spread downward. I…” She turned away in embarrassment.

“Were you wet, Dana? Was your skin sensitive, your nipples firm, and did you ache for his touch? Did you wonder how his lips would feel, and did you want his body pressed against yours; his arms around you?”

She blushed crimson. “Yes!”

“And was there anything else?”

“You know there was. Gods, Tyra. I wanted him to … I needed him ... needed him to force me, to ‘use me well’ as you are fond of saying. I imagined him without clothes, standing above me tall and firm, unyielding, hard in every way.”

“And did you want his twyll penetrating you, filling your emptiness, making you his?”

“Are you enjoying this?” she exclaimed, staring at me.

I'd hoped for this. Drago's libido had been almost as strong as mine, and, unlike me, Dana was around men all day; it was impossible to avoid them. “The urges are frightening at first, but managing them can be magnificent. As long as it wasn’t the cook or the tanner who brought them on, I understand.”

She produced a nervous laugh. “As a serum girl, it seems I have better taste. If you must know, it was my good friend, Captain Malchor.”

Malchor wasn’t as pretty as most of the dandies, but he had presence. With me to show her that it wasn’t hopeless, Dana had accepted her changes better than I had. She wasn’t like me, but then again, she had never been like me to begin with.

“You’re doing well with the mental exercises We’re ready to begin the process in earnest. I need only mix a few ingredients.” I held her hand. “My first time, I imagined that I was a slave who had just been captured. During the fantasy, I submitted to a master in a slave club. Oh, Dana, I felt wonderful afterwards!”

She shuddered. “Are you sure this will work?”

“I’m sure it varies from person to person, but you have a knack for it. I’ll guide you through it.” I squeezed her hand confidently. “I’m sure you have what it takes.”

“Naturally, I hope so, but I can’t imagine myself as a slave. The idea is disgusting.”

“When the urges hit you hard enough, you’ll find it appealing enough.”

“Tyra,” she said, suddenly frightened, “there are no slave clubs in Tulem. There might be a few dozen serum girls in the entire valley.”

I grimaced, although I knew it already. “That’s troublesome, but any dominant man would do. Of course, you’d have to trust him,” I mused. “Perhaps an honorable man from outside Tulem would do best, at least until you establish your right to the castle. Then you could find more permanent arrangements. Ketrick would be ideal. In all the time I’ve known him, he’s never broken a contract or his word. He is also the only one I know who has the stamina to handle a serum girl by himself. He satisfied me and two other slaves every night for some time.”

“An impressive feat, knowing you.”

“He is a wonderful master, superb at dominating women.”

Her cheeks burned bright red. “I -- I suppose that a man like that would be best.”

I went to see the guards that night. When I came back I heard Dana moan as she pleasured herself. I became aroused listening to it, possibly more so because she sounded exactly like me. I finally put a pillow over my head and fell asleep.

The next day was routine, but I recognized the signs in her, especially in the afternoon. That night after she returned, she tore off her veil and confronted me with the same wild look I had seen before in my own reflection.

“Do you know the worst of it? she said, pacing the room and waving her arms around. “I just saw my own brother as an attractive man. This afternoon I saw attractive men all over the castle. I even enjoyed watching a good-looking cook serve me lunch.” She shook her head in wonder. “I liked it; I liked looking at them. I imagined myself beneath them.”

“I think you’re ready. Fortunately, we can begin creating a fantasy for you as soon as we mark your thigh.”

“By the Gods, must this be?” she breathed. In Tulem, even a temporary mark was enough to collar a woman.

“It works best that way.”

“Very well. I’ll return with the temporary mark, ink and solvent from the infirmary. Apply the mark, and then guide me through. Verify that it works and release me with the word.”

I nodded. “Yes, Dana.”

She frowned. “Tyra, if I am to be a slave in the fantasy, you will have to act as me for the duration, otherwise you wouldn’t have the authority to keep me here. You’ll have to wear my clothes and I’ll need to put on a slave tunic. Can you do that?”

I put my hand under my chin and pondered fate. That she was the one to suggest switching clothes was a great stroke of luck. “It will be difficult, Dana, but I think so.”

“Good. I’ll be back soon.” She put on the veil and left.

She returned in a few minutes with the materials wrapped in a cloth. “Tyra, there are some empty bottles in the cabinet. Fill two of the small ones with the ink and solvent. We may need this later. And when you use the stamp, imprint the mark on a paper. You’ll need to make a stamp for later.”

“Yes, Dana. Of course.” I did as she ordered, then put on some of Dana’s clothes while she chose a blue tunic that revealed much. She examined herself in the mirror, frowning. She was beautiful in a slave tunic, but it was obviously wrong.

“I’ll have to take my hair down and put yours up for this to work I look like a Giovanni woman pretending to be a slave. You don’t look much better.”

It took a half-hour to pin-up my hair. Finally, she was satisfied. “You look much like my former betrothed,” she remarked.

“An advantage to being a serum girl, you won’t have to marry her now. Please, relax. I’m going to apply the mark now.” I pushed the stamp gently to her thigh and it was done. She looked down. When she saw herself marked, she stiffened. “Easy. The mark comes off with solvent.”

“I can feel it,” she said in shock. “I -- I don’t feel the same.”

I smoothed her hair gently to ease her fears. “It is frightening. The slave mark makes a serum girl submissive at first, but it fades. You’ll be fine. You can call me Mistress if it makes you relax. We both know the truth.”

“M -- Mistress. Mistress.” She sighed. “By the Gods, it does help.”

I lit the pipe with the herbs, with the afkal, the substance I hadn’t told her about, making up nearly all of it. “Here, it shouldn’t take long.”

When the drug had done its work, I talked her to the place where she could become a slave. It took longer than it had for me, but a half-hour later, she was ready.

“Dana, here is where you must choose the person you will be. Settle on her; choose her city, her name and family, and how she feels about them. Give her some emotions and character. Give her a history of how she was taken or abducted.”

“It would be easier to become someone I already knew than to invent someone.”

I thought about it, but I didn’t see anything wrong with it. In fact, it seemed to be a pretty good short cut. “Fine. Take on her name, her history and her character. Remember to tell her that I’m her Mistress, or she may be confused and go looking for her on her own.”

“I think I have her.”

“Can you feel her, Dana? Is she a part of you now, someone comfortable and familiar?”

“Yes, I can see her. She’s right here, so close I could step inside.”

“Excellent. The start will be ‘Priest’ and the end will be ‘Fortress.’ Can you remember that?”

“I believe I can remember two simple words.”

“Good.” I brought her to her feet and shook her until she came out of it. “Priest,” I said.

Her eyes changed slightly as she focused on me. The change in her demeanor was startling. She held her head high. She was a little off: a slave would have been unconsciously proud, but it was close.

“Mistress?” she said, concerned for me.

“I’m fine.” My hands shook the tiniest bit. I suddenly had a good idea who she patterned herself after. “Prepare some tea,” I said to keep her busy.

“Yes, Mistress,” she said, and went to the kitchen. I followed her in to watch. There, she had some trouble; she wasn’t sure where everything was, but she made do. She had a few problems: she wasn’t as graceful or as modest as a slave usually is in a slave tunic, but overall, she was convincing. She brought the tea in on a small platter and served me adequately.

“This is superb tea, Tyra.”

She smiled like the sun. “Thank you, Dana.”

I nearly cried. It isn’t often that a person sees themselves through another’s eyes. I liked this kind woman with quiet strength. I couldn’t dwell on it, though; there was still a test to perform. I pointed to a chair. “Sit, and tell me of your sister Tisa.”

“Tisa?”

“How did she help you stay free, Tyra?”

She gave me a close approximation of what I had told her. Some of the facts were wrong but the love I had for my sister shone on her face, a light in a dark room. This time I cried, missing her. She stopped and came to me.

“Please, Dana, everything will be all right,” she said confidently, holding my hand.

I had seen enough, perhaps more than enough. “Fortress.”

With a shift of her eyes, Tyra was once again Lady Dana, the ruler of the castle. She grinned, clenching her fist in victory. “I was you! By the Gods, I made tea for you and thought nothing of it.” She blinked tears of happiness. “I actually believe I have a chance. If we hurry, we can arrive in Tulem by early evening and discuss the arrangements with Ketrick. I must know if this works as soon as possible.”

“It works. The only question is how long you can sustain the fantasy. If it wears off in the middle, it can be an awful shock, and dangerous. For tonight it should be fine; merely tell Ketrick to stop if the fantasy ends with you still spread and pinioned.”

“I have no choice. I don’t want to spend another night moaning for a man. Do we need a new fantasy?”

“No, but I would have to be your mistress again at the end, ‘giving’ your use to Ketrick.”

She waved the matter away. “We’ll do it.”

We left a half-hour later with Dana leading me at a fast trot to the city gates. The sun had descended below the mountains in the west and Tulem was in shadow. By that time, most were at home eating supper, but men and women in evening garb thronged the streets, on their way to taverns, restaurants, and pubs. After tying the horses to a public hitch we walked towards The Queen’s Cup. This close to our destination and relief, with each handsome male who looked her over, Dana anticipated a little more. By the time we were in sight of our goal, she approached heat.
 
 

To Be Continued…

 
This is beginning to heat up again. With time running out, Ketrick and Tyra are going to pull out all the stops. Thanks for the comments, I love them. ~Aardvark



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