The Warrior From Batuk: Chapter 17

The Warrior from Batuk
by Aardvark

Men: can't be a slave with 'em, can't stay free without 'em. Ketrick rides to Batuk, or the death of a warrior. Help in desperate times comes from Wanda and a Forest girl from days gone by. The Librarian's troubles are revealed, and a long-dead queen provides a key to Tyra's future.


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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 17
 
 
The valley seemed brighter, just a little sharper than I was used to. I was too aware of myself, the way I was shaped, the cloth's texture against my skin. After four days without Ketrick, for the first time, I wondered if I wasn't making a mistake. He'd asked me if I'd need him, but I'd declined, and he'd taken me at my word. I would sit it out somehow, limit my appearances with men, stay inside my apartments if necessary.

What he was doing was too important to risk.

About a dozen trusted men and women passed through Tulem’s Gate each day. Of these, from what Thermin had told me, at least one entering and one leaving were spies, couriers to the spymaster in Batuk. Right now, across the valley Ketrick was hiding in a secluded spot by the final stretch of road leading out of the valley. From there, he observed those who passed through and recording the times and descriptions, a long, lonely watch.

In the meantime, Wanda watched the administrative wing through a window in the rear of my apartment with a small telescope concealed beneath a cloak. Comparing the list Ketrick made with those who entered the administration building, noting the times, and watching for activity in Thermin’s office, she could generally tell when someone was a likely visitor to the Spymaster.

With barely a week remaining before Tulem’s army left for Batuk I couldn't let my needs interfere — not until he was ready. But between the war hanging thick over everything like a muggy day, and watching the men at practice, the urges were closer than I liked.

That night, Scholar Jillian returned to tell me about Queen Prudence. The first Queen had been, as far as she knew, alone. Unpopular with the nobility, she'd held onto power for four years before she was poisoned. She told me more, some minor laws, a few reforms, but nothing helpful. She'd inspired Merton to love her — it was it was nearly impossible to believe that she hadn’t taken lovers, yet Jillian knew nothing of this. It was as if Tulem had wanted to forget her.

After a night of frustration came the morning of the fifth day. I took a stroll around the outside of the palace grounds with Wanda and three guards after breakfast, before making the drop point for the day attempting to re-channel desires determined to put my neck in a collar.

Concentrating on walking, and avoiding thoughts of twylls filling me, I didn’t see Ketrick when we passed by. Wanda told me she had seen him after we returned to my quarters.

“Mistress, Ketrick was the man by the street corner of the first turn. He appeared as a day laborer out to enjoy the air. I came within a few feet, although I dared not stop or speak.”

I imagining him above me. All I needed was to get word in the drop, and I would find a way to meet him. Kernul and Gherome wouldn't like me leaving the palace secretly, but I'd waited long enough.

“Did he say anything to you?”

“No, but he nodded while standing with his left foot forward. It was one of the arranged signals. It means ‘now,’ Mistress.”

“I see.” I lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. He was likely already on the road preparing. I would have no chance to see him now, and would have to tough the day out.

As usual, I went to the training fields in the afternoon, but this time rode to a particular unit. I found Nestor’s commander just outside his tent, waiting for me, a rugged man, well put together.

“Majesty, it’s an honor,” he said, pounding his chest in salute.

I leaned over the saddle and smiled. “Thank you, Commander, I need a man for a mission. He might be gone for a week. I have the exact man in mind, one of your men, Nestor.”

He didn't like losing a man on the eve of a battle, but I was the Queen. Nestor was summoned, and soon he arrived, sweating from practice and a trifle nervous about directly confronting his Queen.

“Five days ago, I exiled a guard from my old castle. I want to make sure he arrived where he said he was going. His route should have taken him through Fyr. From there, he probably boarded a boat heading towards his father’s city, Rudyer. You will leave Tulem tonight with two horses and ride south.” I went on to describe Malchor and Dana’s new appearance.

He stood there with his mouth open. “Majesty, I'll miss the fight! Rudyer is weeks away.”

“I doubt that you’d have to go that far. Verify that Malchor and his slave boarded a boat in Fyr. Failing that, you must ride to Jeffer and verify that he passed through there. If you're fortunate, you could be back in two days. If you return late, you may ride directly to Batuk to join your company.”

I could see that didn't like it, but he would do his duty. “Yes, Majesty. I'll leave now.”

“No. Get some sleep first. It's no use being in Fyr when everyone in bed. The weather is clear and the moon is strong enough; you can ride all night. Come by the palace at the tenth bell. Your horses and supplies will be ready.”

“Majesty.”

I measured him carefully. “This is important. Return to me with word of him and you'll be rewarded.”

That brought a smile and the same familiar boldness that I'd found attractive before, setting off a battle between my needs and conscience. Nestor -- I was determined to remember his name always — puffed out his chest and saluted. “Yes, Majesty.”

I left him and his commander with a small wave, and joined another company to watch their training. While I watched, I imagined horse dung falling like rain to cover the men. It helped a little, but eying men doing things only men do well was like holding raw meat before a wolf. I rode from the field in the late afternoon hot and breathing hard. My hands practically shook.

I'd never let it go this long before; all I knew was that I had to have a man very soon. We rode directly to the Queen’s Cup.

My appearance made a stir. The patrons had seen us coming and warned Mekor. The tavern owner was already bowing as I stepped inside. I gave the place a quick look as I flipped my hair back; with the exception of everyone inside bent over at the waist in my direction, everything was as I had remembered it.

“Majesty, it is an honor!”

“Thank you.” I motioned up with my hands to the customers. “Please, everyone, sit! I promise no one will be exiled today.”

“What's your pleasure, Majesty?” asked my former employer.

Oh, a couple of dominant men and about three hours in an alcove should do it.

“Just a quick drink of siolat before I return to the palace. There’s no reason to change my favorite tavern is there?”

Surprise changed quickly to joy. I imagined stacks of gold accumulating behind those avaricious eyes. A sovereign declaring her intent to frequent his establishment would be a tavern keeper’s dream.

I sipped my siolat with both hands on the cup to keep them from shaking. I didn't see “Baby,” but that didn't really matter. She was likely out on an errand or upstairs, as she didn't work in the tavern all day. The talk of the tavern would be me. She would hear and would make the arrangements. I would have my satisfaction tomorrow -- if I could hold out that long.

When I returned to my apartments, I could barely stand it. Wanda ran a cold bath for me, but it only helped for a short time. I pleasured myself, but it wasn’t enough. I needed a twyll in me; I needed to be dominated; I needed a man. I lay out on the bed, clutched a pillow to my face and bit down. Wanda slipped to my side, sat down, and placed a cool, damp cloth across my brow.

“Mistress, I worry for you,” she said softly. “Your needs are great.”

I reached for her hand and concentrated on calm, breathing in slow sync to my heartbeat until the tension became manageable.

“You know, I think I aware of that, Wanda.”

She bowed her head. A moment later, a tear fell on my hand.

I squeezed her hand. “Wanda, say what’s on your mind.”

“I don’t think you'll succeed, Mistress,” she blurted miserably. “I recognize the signs. In several hours, your needs will be impossible to hide to an experienced man.”

I was slipping; I could feel it. Only cold determination was keeping my feet from walking to a guard and demanding to be used like a slut.

“I might be tougher than you think.” I swing over the side and came to my feet. After washing my face twice with cold water, I walked the length of the apartment a few times, but even the slight friction of my thighs conveyed a message of waiting bliss — if only I gave in. I cursed my older brother for making me a serum girl!

Shortly before the tenth hour, I walked, carefully now, to the balcony and stepped to the side, away from the interior lights. The fresh night breeze welcomed me, cooling my fevered forehead and molding my shift to my body. The air was clear across the valley. Small fires in the villages made clusters, like flickering stars in a black sea. Torches illuminated the sides of the nearer castles, seen dimly through the trees. Noises of the city: distant laughter, horses passing ... and the smells of spicy foods wafted up from below. I took several deep breaths. It helped to clear my head and forget everything for a moment while I leaned back against the wall in the shadows to wait.

A single rider stopped at the northeast gate. I made out a tall man in riding leathers with the thick outline of a mail shirt under a riding cloak. Blond hair peeked under his helmet. The guards allowed through the gate, and the tenth hour chimed like an omen.

I waited longer until Nestor rode away leading a packhorse. He disappeared behind the palace walls, and I went inside, wanting to disgorge my last meal. The man was riding to his death, and I sent him there.

Worse, when I should have been honoring him with thoughts of his bravery and worthiness, and a prayer to him in the next world, I thought of his twyll, mounted between strong thighs, and how it would never please a woman again -- especially me. I wondered then if I had truly come too far, and doubts that I would survive until tomorrow afternoon forced its way through a crack in my mental armor.

An hour later the crack was a fissure. I sat as still as possible, thinking of anything to pass the time as Wanda applied cooling compresses. A chronometer showed the time to be always less than what I thought it was. At the twelfth hour I made a decision.

“Help me dress in mundane clothes. I have to leave here. I need a man too badly.”

It was perilous. Leaving the palace at midnight was an unlikely lark, and I could take no guards. At the very least, there would be talk. Wanda and I passed through the gate and walked around the palace block. My urges called me to the southwest, where I knew a dimly-lit tavern where a girl might be taken easily, and I would probably not be recognized. I was about to make the turn when Wanda hissed.

“Mistress, we're being followed!”

I wanted to scream. “Can we avoid them?” I'd already been thinking about the tavern and what was ahead, and my saer was wet. I knew better than to look around.

“There are two. I recognize one from Thermin’s office, although he’s in disguise. I don’t think we can slip them, Mistress, not with so few people on the streets.”

Of course. It would be have to be Thermin.

I stopped to look at the stars, unsure why, perhaps for some celestial guidance. “We'll walk around the palace grounds one more time. I have to think!”

A quarter-hour later we were nearly to the gate and no new ideas had penetrated my weary, man-fixated mind. “Are we still being followed?” I asked with small hope.

She stopped to brush an imaginary insect from her thigh, allowing her a brief look behind. “Yes, Mistress.”

“Very well.” I started the rest of the short trip back to the gate, my steps becoming stronger as my resolve grew. I showed the guards my circlet and they let us back in. I had no plan and had perhaps a few hours left -- I had waited too long.

Just outside the central building, Wanda grasped my arm when she saw my face. “Mistress! What do you intend?”

“I won’t give into the urges.” I gently detached her hand and continued my way past two burly guards with spears who snapped to attention when they saw me, and then I climbed the stairs. Once inside my quarters, I went straight to the wall opposite my bed. In gratitude for killing the King, the Borodins had repaired the shaft of the spear I’d transfixed King Bruno with, filling the deep gashes with gold, embossing the dark wood with intertwined silver threads, and polishing the steel head to a mirror finish. I lifted it over its brackets, and pulled it down. It would serve.

I would do this while I still had the willpower. If I were dead, Batuk could still be saved if Ketrick were successful. If I gave in to the urges, there would likely be questions put to me that Batuk could not afford to have answered. All I had to do was brace the spear against a corner, place the sharp point below my breasts and lean. It would be a quick death and less painful than shalimar.

Wanda went to her knees before me and wept. “Mistress, please do not do this!”

I gazed down at my slave, faithful for so long; I'd never appreciated her enough. “I have no choice. I can’t hold on. I’d be lost by the afternoon.”

“Mistress, you have a way to become other people for a time.”

“And what possible good would that do? I could pretend to be another woman, but she would feel the same urges.”

She took my arm. “Mistress, you must free me.”

I put my head in my hands, ashamed that I had nearly condemned her to be sold on the block in the palace square. “You're right. I’m not thinking clearly. I’ll write the papers, and a pass to leave Tulem if Ketrick doesn’t return.”

I went to my desk, wrote the documents in a shaky hand and stamped them with my seal. I handed them to her, tied a leather cord loosely around her wrists, and then untied it.

“I release you from bondage. Rise, free woman.”

Unlike Angel, who had attacked me immediately, she gave me a hug. It was her first taste of freedom in over a hundred years of slavery.

“Thank you, Tyra.”

“If Ketrick doesn’t return, I hope you find a fine master.” I replied, and gave her a final hug. “I’ll miss you.”

“Tyra, do not do this!” she wailed. “I might know a way.”

I was abruptly sick of it all. If I was to die, I wanted to do it now. It was demanding to maintain the right balance of will and concentration to thrust a spear through your own heart -- and yet, I considered, it could be worth a moment to explore an opportunity to live.

“If you know a way, then why didn’t you speak up before this?”

“This isn’t something a slave could help you with. I needed to be free. Please forgive me!” Then she slapped me. The blow rattled my jaw and had me seeing black dots. “I’m sorry, Tyra! I had to do it!” she exclaimed in anguish.

I held my chin, moving it from side to side, and vowed never to free a slave again. For the moment, thoughts of crossing my wrists to a man were driven out by anger. “Why did you strike me? Were you jealous of me too? Did I take too much time away from Ketrick?”

She shook her head rapidly. “Nothing like that! You were the third best master I’ve ever had. When you were a part of our stable, I thought of you as my friend.”

“You’re not angry?”

“Far from it. I’m trying to save you. I couldn’t do this as a slave, but I’m not a slave anymore. I think I know a way. If you can really become someone else, I believe I can save you.”

“I…” My mind reeled with visions of twylls and powerful men. I didn’t want to die, life was precious, but I had my duty. “Wanda, if you have a way, then tell me, but it has to work!” I collapsed on the bed, and shed a tear, gripping the linen in my fists. “I can’t be taken and questioned. If this doesn’t work, then it's over.”

She sat beside and stroked my hair as if I were a child. “Tyra. It won’t come to that; I swear it.”

I looked long into her eyes before I agreed. “What’s your plan?”

“You know of the thieves and brigands known as the forest girls, but most aren’t aware of the secrets they hold close. One captured forest girl was in a stable with me long ago. Her name was Fellina, and she was a serum girl…”

***

The room was dark and cool. I smelled the sweet/acrid odor of some burning plant. I had waited long before I asked my hand leader, Drusilla, for special dispensation, but my needs were great. I was fortunate to even be in Vanora’s Renegades, the serum girl tribe that dwelled deep in the Zell-Al forest. By all rights, I should have been a slave.

It had started well enough. My name had been Shaka Rasho, and I loved Chloe, a curly-haired beauty with an upturned nose and sly smile who had spurned my every advance, yet never quite so far as to discourage me. I should have known better. Our families had been close. It was better to steal a wench from a foreign city, yet she had always managed a teasing pose for me and a mocking turn of phrase, wild, maddening things that promised everything to a foolish man just learning himself. My mind, despite all that has happened to me since, retains the vision of her leaning against the railing in the sun-drenched balcony of her house in her thin cotton dress, the curves and recesses of her dark-brown body displayed brazenly in the desert breeze for all men who wished to look, and they all did.

I was a young warrior then, strong and quick, and many free girls had eyes for me, but Chloe was always uppermost in my mind. When her father and mother announced her betrothal to a man from another merchant family in nearby Taydek, my heart told me that I had to act or lose her forever.

I spent several nights filing away the securing bar to her window while her family was out of the city, filling the marks with colored clay. When they returned, the small remaining sliver of steel bent easily when I pushed. I crept inside, warrior fashion, making almost no sound. I gagged her first so that she could make no warning and, although she struggled, quickly secured her arms and legs. Putting her over my shoulder, I descended a knotted rope. Somehow, they knew I was coming, for her father brained me with a club when I reached the ground.

I woke up naked on a bed with a nasty-smelling substance under my nose. I wanted to cry out, but I had been gagged. My arms and legs were tied and secured to the four corners.

Her father was a powerfully built man. That morning he was dressed in his guild’s formal blue robe and his normal geniality was absent.

“Shaka,” he said coldly, “you tried to abduct my daughter. You did this knowing she was to be married. Doing so, you would have disgraced my daughter, our family, and the family of her betrothed. You have earned a special fate.” He stepped aside to reveal a man in a gray physicians robe and, worst of all, Chloe, who stared at me in wide-eyed horror.

He motioned to the physician, who prepared an injection. I thrashed on the bed, knowing what it was. I would have preferred to die, but I didn’t even have that choice; Chloe’s brother held my arm immobile, and the bonds to the bed were too strong. The sharp bite of the needle faded as its contents began to change me. My mind reeling with despair, I watched the woman of my heart, knowing my dearest dream was gone.

Chloe looked at my face, first in sadness; then her focus shifted lower, to my manhood. I cringed, already imagining it fading, growing smaller until it disappeared into my body to form a woman’s opening. I looked to the ceiling, willing my body to reject the serum’s instructions, to fight it, begging the Gods to make it a dream! I hung on for minutes, but the drug was too powerful. It fogged my mind and drained my will. I left my manhood behind, not with a yell, but with a sigh. The wet black eyes of my beloved were the last things I ever saw as a man.

I awoke in Chloe’s room on a small bed beside her own. She stood idly in her balcony, looking across the dry, wind-swept lands of our city, Ban-Lyn, her thin dress again molded to her body in the breeze, but her appearance was not as provocative as I remembered. My first thought was bitter; the serum had even stolen my lust for her.

“Chloe?” My voice was terribly sweet and girlish. The view to the window was partially obscured by two mounds and a smooth, featureless stomach and abdomen. I was still naked, but my bonds were gone. I was a serum girl, and I wanted to die. My family would be disgraced. I hadn’t even been left the body of my people. Instead of a warm deep brown to mahogany, my skin was pale, and soft brown hair covered my shoulders.

Chloe came at my call and sat beside me.

“My father insisted that I be here when you awakened, Shaka. I told him what I used to do to you by the window. He was furious. This is my punishment, to help you adjust to your womanhood. I will come to know you as a girl, and when I marry, this will be my memory of you.” She turned away for a moment to hide her tears. “I’m so sorry, Shaka! I had no idea you wanted me so much.”

I wanted to be brave, but the tears flowed like rain. She took me in her arms. To complete my humiliation, she was larger than me now, stronger, and we wept together.

A month later, after learning womanly matters and my new place in the world, they released me. As her father’s final punishment, I was forced to leave in Chloe’s dress; the very one she had teased me with. It clung to my slim body, revealing my disgrace in the slightest breeze. When I walked home and asked to enter, my family refused to recognize me. I cried at the door, begging them to forgive me, but my father had his guards chase me away with sticks.

Chloe’s father took pity on me and arranged a job washing clothes and cleaning pots in Taydek. For a former warrior, being forced to clean, and being looked down upon by other women, was hot spice in the wound. I stood it for as long as could, but when I saw my former love riding proudly at her husband’s side, I left the next day and headed north to the forests of Zell-Al, to become a forest girl. I would not be a washerwoman any longer, or be trapped as a slave in Chloe’s city when the slave urges struck.

I fought and won my place in Vanora’s Renegades with the fearlessness that comes when there are no other choices. My urges finally came a few months later during a raid. I was blooded that night with a captured man. We used men that way, to satisfy our urges, and usually held them for ransom, occasionally selling the more useless ones as serum girls to slavers, although we never could get a good price. It was a tough life, and I was not raised to be a bandit, but I was not born to slavery, either.

The last month had been especially difficult for us. A raid by a rival tribe had stolen and killed our men. Vanora’s Renegades were trapped within our urges, and our options were few. When I could stand it no longer, I asked for help. I was loath to do it; I had always thought the girls that did were weak, but I was losing my will.

Except for a single oil lamp and a candle, it was dark in the hut. The door open, bringing with it the dusk, then closed again. It was Drusilla. The raven-haired woman, half a head shorter than me, raised her nose and sniffed, then wafted the air in front of her face.

“Ai! Fellina, you waited long to call me. I can smell your scent from here.”

The way she smiled, it was a joke, but from where I was, lying naked on the bed, I didn’t think it was far off. If a man had been near, I might have submitted to him. It had happened sometimes to girls who tarried beyond their endurance. Such girls were inevitably sold. “I’m sorry, leader. I had hoped we would find more men before this.”

She pushed it to the side with a motion. “It doesn’t matter. I’m here now. These are hard times, Fellina, the times where each girl must pull together. You know the law?”

“Yes, Drusilla. I understand. I will obey the law.”

“And what does our law say about your leader, Fellina?”

“To obey, Drusilla.” I panted.

“And whom do you obey, Fellina?”

“You, Drusilla. I obey you.” I squirmed on the bed with an urge I could barely control. Her word as my leader was law, and the girl who disobeyed at these times was put out of the tribe.

“Yes, you will.”

I was taller and stronger, but she was my section leader. Her slim hands tied me to each corner until I lay helpless. She took off her clothes, climbed on the bed beside me, and flicking her raven hair behind her, lowered her mouth to just above mine. Her familiar black eyes burrowed into mine.

“For tonight, you belong to me,” she whispered, and kissed me.

Drusilla’s lips pressed softly against my own soft lips. Her small tongue flicked out and slowly moved under my lips, teasing them. It was not like a man and, despite my promise to obey, I resisted at first.

“Easy, Fellina. Let your body be your guide, not your head,” she said gently, her hand on my cheek. “Accept it and obey.”

I eased into her hand, resting against it. I remembered a time I flinched at a feminine touch. Like many, when I first came to the Renegades, I hated being called a girl, but the body didn’t let me forget. After a time you notice that everyone like you has breasts and a saer, and sits to pee, and you find different ways to judge your sisters, new ways of finding strength and showing compassion. I trusted her, my sister of the Renegades.

“I obey, Drusilla.”

Gradually I relaxed. It wasn’t the domination of the men I was used to, but it was insistent, and tied, I could not escape. The strange feel of her small mouth became just the extension of my section leader’s will. I lay back and accepted her. Serum girls were not made for love attraction with women, but my body knew who was in control, and bit by bit she wore me down.

How strange it is, to kiss a girl as a girl, how much softer and sweeter than a man. It wasn’t the hard domination, the mastery of a strength and male desire my body needed, but it was pleasant in a way. I kissed back.

Drusilla kissed me long enough to make sure I was enjoying myself, then freed her tongue for other places. She moved above me, and her slender fingers brushed the underside of my breasts. Again, it wasn’t like a man; her smaller hands were gentle, guiding my nerves to respond rather than making them. It was slower, but her persistence worked and I accepted her there as I had her lips. Her fingers slid around and over, touching my nipples, already swollen. I sighed at her tenderness. She rolled them, so softly; her lips descended to my breasts, and I gasped, nearly weeping at tiny flicks and feminine nips with her small teeth. I panted — and she was a woman!

She touched my cheek fondly as I would have comforted another girl in the tribe. “This is how to master a girl, Fellina. It doesn’t matter that you like men. I can please a hot girl in dire need, and dominate her through technique. You have no chance. This will go better and faster if you give in to me, Fellina. Submit to me and it will save you.”

She didn’t wait for an answer, just began again with a kiss. This time, knowing Drusilla’s sweet, soothing tongue, I gave myself to her. She took her time, warming me up moving down my body, touching me, kissing me in places rarely given attention by men until she was at my hot cleft. I raised my hips in anticipation, but she passed me by to linger sweetly in the soft flesh of my inner thighs. I turned my head and sighed in pure pleasure. My body exuded a sweet desire for gentleness I had never known, and I ached for Drusilla where only men had gone before.

She teased me until I shouted her name.

She rose, put a finger across my lips and smiled. “You always did scream. Just think of it. You will submit to me. Between your desperation and my skill, it will happen. You will find me the best kind of woman, strong, dominant, and capable of making you see your true nature.”

I could barely believe what I was hearing, yet a part of me found it very attractive. Any reluctance at being touched by a woman so intimately was over. I rejoiced at the possibility of belonging to another, but to a woman? “Drusilla?” I said in wonder, becoming ever more aroused at the thought.

She smiled. “You sense it, Fellina. The urge to submit is very strong.” She tied a gag in my mouth. “Submit to me.”

She bent lower to her task and my body, inflamed, had no will left. My slave and slut urges consumed me, and soon, I screamed through the gag. She paused to penetrate me with something firm and large, and teased my love button gently, expertly, with the tip of her finger.

I shuddered hard, and I would have howled had there not been a cloth in my mouth. The shuddering became nearly one and I lost control of my body. I discovered that I was bound, not only with leather cords, but with bonds of lust, the need to submit, and marvelous skill.

I wanted her more than I thought I could. She desired me, wanted to me to be hers. I wished to obey. With a sigh and a gasp, I gave in. The orgasms rolled one after another and I found myself at a place I’d never been before. I had seen my true self before with men; it was a place where no lies could be told, no deception tolerated. It was a place where I had to confront my female core that was only complete submitting to a dominant male.

Drusilla had brought me to a place of shared womanly passion. Softness against softness, breasts against breasts -- I’d never been as close to a woman as I did at that moment. I lay back in a languid daze, overwhelmed with joy. I was hers.

She untied my bonds. I wanted to please her as she had pleased me, but I had much to learn. I had no idea how to please women as a woman, but I willing.

“Batuk,” she said, the key for my release, as I reached for her. “Tyra, how do you feel? Are the urges satisfied?”

It took a moment to realize what we had done. I still desired her; the breasts that had pressed between mine, the mouth that worked magic.... “Wanda, how? By the Gods...”

She grinned. “It sounds like the Queen enjoyed herself tonight. Tyra, are your urges satisfied?”

I thought about it. “No. Maybe half. But I no longer need to submit to anyone.”

“Serum girls are made to love only men. This effect is never fully satisfactory.”

“How did you do it?”

“The forest girls found that they could use their authority as a substitute for male dominance, but it’s only a temporary solution. They’ve learned to please each other when necessary. It was easy for me because I’m a trained passion slave. I’ve had special training to please women who enjoy other women.”

I pulled her into my arms. “Thank you, Wanda.”

She smiled brilliantly, and brushed back my hair. “Tyra, it was my pleasure. I enjoyed that with you, even more than I thought I would.”

I rolled out of bed stretched my arms and legs. My body felt wonderfully normal again, and fully under my control. “Let’s get the bath ready, we both smell of sex.”

A huge grin lit up her face. “Like old times in Ketrick’s stable!”

I laughed. “Truth!”

The Queen’s private bath was large enough to clean several people at once. It once had additional uses during King Bruno’s reign. I splashed Wanda and she splashed me back. Both of us laughed, and I was ecstatic to be alive and free.

“Wanda, what happened to the real Fellina?”

“She stayed with the stable. I was sold before she was, but I remember she was happy. She had been a slave for almost a hundred years when I met her. She was a nice girl.”

Speaking with Wanda, even playing with her in the bath, seemed like the old days, but there was a difference, something I hadn’t felt for many months. “Wanda, you still look very attractive to me. It’s as if I were still in the fantasy.”

“That’s probably normal after what you went through. I’ve been accustomed to women since my training. I much prefer men, but depending on the woman, I can enjoy it that way, too. And I did enjoy it with you. For you, the effect should wear off in a few hours. Serum girls are made for men, after all.”

I took a chance and cupped her breast in my hand. Wanda’s eyes widened, but she responded well. Her skill was far greater than mine, but I knew her body from my time as Tyr. I knew something of the points to press, too.

“I’m willing if you are, but you might regret this later!” she said.

“I’ll worry about it then. You must have been frustrated when the fantasy ended. If you like, consider this a partial payment for saving my life.”

I swept her into my arms and smoothed back her rich black hair in a way I hadn’t done since I’d been transformed. It wasn’t the same, of course. I was a woman now, and the female in me would always need a man to be my complement. I had breasts, no twyll to tantalize her insides, and a need to be taken, but I wanted her. Flipping my hair back in the bath, I reached lower and my own slim fingers worked their own magic between Wanda’s thighs.

“Oh!” she gasped. “There is nothing to repay…”

I smothered another gasp with my own kiss. Her protests stopped quickly, and soon, an old pattern emerged, much changed to match my woman’s body and desires. In this we were alike, both natural slaves, and our bodies pressed together, each of us made for a man’s pleasure, soft but firm underneath, our arms slim and muscles smooth.

Together we reached the closest place women can have together. In the morning when we awoke, our arms wrapped around each other, the moment was gone. She was Wanda, again, not my lover, but I remembered.

I smiled when she opened her eyes. “I don’t regret it,” I said, kissing her on her forehead.

She touched my cheek. “Neither do I.”

I knew her, so I didn’t offer to free her. I burned her papers and she crossed her wrists to me before breakfast.

While we had slept, at some point along the main road, Ketrick had already killed Nestor, and had taken his place. Armed with what we knew about the spies in Batuk, he would do the rest. I would only know his effect, and possibly Batuk’s fate, in a few days.

***

After reviewing the troops that afternoon, I visited the Queen’s Cup, for my appointment with Angel. I brought Wanda with me, and my favorite guards, Gerhart and Zhok, neither known for his intelligence or powers of observation. Mekor met me at the door. I asked for a table where I could easily watch the rest of the room, and this was, of course, provided. As I sipped my siolat, I waited.

Baby made her appearance as she emerged from an alcove, adjusting her red slave tunic just behind a grinning workman. It was worse than I thought, and I almost spewed the drink with laughter.

She was recognizable as my twin, but one had to look hard. Besides the implants that raised her cheekbones subtly, tiny dots on her cheeks simulated the fair skin of an adolescent child. The side pigtails completed the picture, tied off with small red bows. She was the picture of a small girl with a very grown-up body. Her bottom was pink, an indicator of pinching and perhaps even playful spanking.

She would have hated that. For a slave who enjoyed men as well as any, she disliked being taken by surprise. The men must have figured this out, and several touched her pert bottom whenever she wasn’t looking, often to appreciative applause if she yelped. This gave her an aspect of frustrated cuteness, for despite being annoyed, her body betrayed her true self: deep down, she liked the attention.

I sighed under my breath. This was going to harder than I thought.

I watched her work the tables, picking up clues and watching for names. The Queen’s Cup had their regulars and I already knew most of them from my time there. I doubted that was important anyway -- a slave calls her man, Master. I closed my eyes and reached for that place within my head and created a fantasy. Afterwards, during a lull, I caught her eye. At the next opportunity, she went to the latrine. Wanda and I followed her in a short time later.

I locked the door as soon as we were inside, undressing and pulling dyes and coloring from pockets in my dress. “Angel, hurry up! We don’t have much time.”

The adolescent dream bowed to me. “Mistress, my master calls me Baby now,” she said sadly.

“All right then, Baby, Ketrick gave me permission to free you, did he not?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Very well, assume the position. I will free you now.” I gave her a warning glance. “And don’t get any ideas. I don’t have time for a fight.”

“I won’t, Mistress,” she replied, “my Master explained what would happen if I misbehaved.”

“Good.” I performed the short ceremony and she rose, free again.

I’d hidden a pair of towels under my skirts and the next fifteen minutes were a blur of activity, as we dyed, washed, and dried. Wanda applied the “cute” dots to my face in the same pattern and we exchanged clothes. I removed the false brand from Baby’s thigh and Wanda stamped my own. After putting the cheek pieces in, I looked at myself in the mirror. The twin ponytails made me look like the girl I had never been. I took a moment to get myself in the mood, turning girlishly from side to side as I’d seen Baby do, while Wanda briefed Baby on what to expect. I was almost ready to unlock the door when Baby took my arm.

“Tyra, you aren’t ready,” she said with a disturbing gleam in her eye, pointing to my pale hindquarters.

If this was a trap, I reminded myself, then I’d put myself in it. Regardless, I directed a finger her way. “Baby, don’t you dare enjoy this!”

“Tyra,” she cried, placing a hand to her face, “I would never!”

I had little choice. I bent over in my skimpy slave tunic to expose my posterior, and I gritted my teeth against every blow. Baby didn’t let up until she had spanked my tail into a fine rose.

Seething and rubbing my sore buttocks, I had to take more time to calm down. The mental switch would be hard enough without anger to complicate matters. I was about to unlock the door when Baby stopped me once again with a tap on my shoulder.

“Tyra, would you bow to me and call me ‘Your Majesty’ to get me in the mood?” she inquired.

“No!” I snarled, regretting it instantly, for it forced me once again to regain my equilibrium.

She pretended to be offended, but I ignored her. Taking a final deep breath, I reached for the calm center. As I passed through the door, I said the key word and became Baby.

***

Queen Dana left soon afterwards, and it was back to the men. If they wanted me to be a little girl, I would be one, but did they have to keep pinching my already sore bottom?

After being thoroughly used and spanked, the evening ended several hours later at the appointed hour when Ketrick had arranged that I return to the apartment. Mekor dismissed me with a final pat to my rear end. I left, returning to the empty rooms. I fell asleep holding a pillow to my chest, a soft, unsatisfying substitute.

I woke as myself the next morning. Sometime before noon, Baby and Wanda would return and switch with me again. “Her Majesty” would be sleeping in that morning and decline to attend breakfast and all other matters, which would have been a disaster otherwise.

I left for The Queen’s Cup as Baby just after making myself breakfast. It was a slow time in the tavern. Most men were at work and the main business wouldn’t pick up until lunch, and I served only one that morning.

The Queen arrived late that morning. I bowed to her as Mekor answered the door. There was time to wonder at her visit, so soon after the night before. Wanda passed me closely, and said, “Shaka” -- and I remembered.

Baby lifted a royal eye in my direction. I frowned back at her. She played me as a snobbish aristocrat. I ducked into the latrine and she followed a moment later.

“How did it go, Queen Baby?” I asked, as I went to the sink to dye my hair back to black.

“I thought it went quite well enough,” she sniffed haughtily. A corner of my mouth turned up. She still played the arrogant sovereign, but soon she would be cleaning tables and rubbing her hindquarters.

Wanda said, “Mistress, Librarian Merton came to the apartments yesterday late afternoon.”

I stopped rubbing the dye into my hair and stared. “Angel, you let him in? What happened?”

“He was just the Librarian! I thought he was going to give me some papers or a book or something. Once he was inside, he wanted to speak to me alone, so I ordered Wanda away. He wanted to talk about serum girls and Queen Prudence. I barely had any idea of who she was. I mostly said ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and I volunteered nothing while pretending to be ill. He was a strange man, and I think there’s something wrong with him. He looked at me like I was weird and left after a few minutes.”

Oh, Gods. "I should have mentioned him. Well, maybe there’s no harm done.”

We finished dressing and rubbed our hair dry enough to leave. Baby crossed her wrists to me in Ketrick’s name, I stamped her, and we left.

I had a siolat at the Queen’s Cup for appearance’s sake, and then went on to lunch at the palace, but I couldn’t get Merton out of my mind, and ordered a messenger to bring him to me.

I waited with Wanda in my quarters, pacing the width of the room close to the door. Merton arrived swiftly, bowing to me when the guards let him through.

“Your Majesty,” was all he said, but his tone was enough, and the pit of my stomach sank as if I’d swallowed a stone.

I showed him a chair, preferring to remain standing.

“You came here last night and I’m afraid my mind was elsewhere. I would like to have that conversation with you now, if you’re ready.”

“My concerns have changed, Your Majesty, although I am honored that you asked me back. May I explain?”

Reassured by his words, I motioned a willingness to continue. “By all means.”

“I am nothing if not discreet. My longevity at the Library and in the palace is based on complete neutrality and confidence. I speak to no one about anything to anyone. I’ve made a specialty of minding my own business.” He looked at me, waiting, apparently, for some comment.

“Minding your own business — there are worse traits, Merton,” I replied slowly.

He nodded once. “Your Majesty puts a polite face on it. I enjoy my life here. I research, read, and learn what I might. I love the truth, although I am sometimes prudent and stingy with it.” He smiled very slightly. “Lately, you may have noticed that I am ill.” He paused, then bowed his head. “So, you have seen. I suffer the early symptoms of Selyf-Digon, Your Majesty.”

I’d seen it before. A horror, it struck down the strongest, eating away at their flesh, wasting them away in mind and body. It was also a disease that only affected men.

“I suspected it when you asked about serum girls.”

“Yes. Until I’d spoken to you, I’d considered taking Ruk’s Serum as bad as dying, but you faced your fate bravely, and gave me hope that even losing my manhood and living my life as a slave would not be the end of my existence. But you do more than accept it; you fight it. After last night, I dared to hope that you have found a way to control your serum girl appetites. You see, I know it wasn’t you whom I met last night. The woman in your chambers had no idea who I was, but most telling, the real Queen Dana has a half-healed slice on her left palm and she did not.”

I wanted to kick myself. I had missed a detail, an important one.

“Your DNA twin is a siolat girl. The only possible reason for her to be here was for you to be in her place, to relieve the urges that cannot be ignored. After I left last night, I went to The Queen’s Cup, retiring to a quiet corner away from the main flow to watch. A free woman might be a fairly convincing slave for a short time, yet what I witnessed was not an act as far as I could tell. I saw a hot-blooded vixen; a superb slave used to a man’s touch. I would not have believed it was you save for the cut on your hand. And behold, the next day, you are here again, strong, commanding, and unaffected.

“You’ve found a way to separate your needs from who you are,” he said, opening his palms in peace. “I am your loyal subject. I do not threaten you, my Queen. Indeed, having spoken, I have nothing to threaten you with. I make no bargain. I understand your position and would give you something that may be helpful. If I’m right, I would beg a boon in return.”

I crossed my arms and leaned backwards against a pillar. If this was blackmail, it was too subtle for me to see it. “You intrigue me. Do continue.”

He pulled a small brown leather book from a tunic pocket, and held it up. “This is Queen Prudence’s diary. It may contain a way that you could safely remain Queen. I give it to you.” He placed it carefully on a small table by his chair.

“And what do you want in return?”

“I want a way to continue my life as best I can. I wish only to keep my ways in the Library, to study, to learn, and to be a scholar.”

“I can’t cure Selyf-Digon. The only way to save your life is to take Ruk’s Serum.”

He nodded his head gravely. “Yes, Majesty.”

I picked up the slim volume. “I’m fascinated with Queen Prudence’s short reign. Thank you, Merton. Come back tomorrow at this time.”

He pushed himself to his feet at the dismissal. “Queen Prudence was a fine woman, but she lacked ruthlessness. She would have liked you. I believe that she would have wanted you to have it.” He bowed and left.

I looked to Wanda, who had been standing motionless in the corner, as befitted a slave. “What do you think?”

“Mistress, I think you should read the diary.”

I began that night after supper. It was over fifty pages of closely-written prose on yellowed paper. Most were ordinary, daily events and old political battles, long lost to irrelevance, but certain entries were clear and vivid.

FT 955 10/2: I start this journal on the day of the husband’s passing exactly one month ago. He would have been a fine sovereign for our kingdom had he been given the chance. There are many who would have me abdicate: “A queen in Tulem? Absurd!” I almost agree, but while fate has taken from me, she has also given in return. If I accept her cruelest verdict, then I should not deny my destiny, as turbulent as it may be. I am, and will remain, Queen Prudence, daughter of Petrus and Brenda Giovanni.

FT 955 11/18: Another Borodin plot to kill a Giovanni lord came to light today. The reason: a sneer, a careless discourtesy. Upon such is murder based nowadays. Fortunately, all are not so craven. Lord Marcus told me of it. Of course, a plot, once discovered, is hard to prove, since all plots are thoughts and words until the deeds are done. The knaves will go free, but their names are known. I despise Borodins in general, but Marcus has proved his worth.

FT 956 9/2: It has been an entire year since my beloved was taken from me. Hints from both families to remarry have become suggestions, and are likely to be demands in the future. I've seen the selection, and none measure up. My husband was a man. These are opportunists who see the Queen as a curiosity that should, by nature’s laws, be fainting at the sight of a twyll. I reject them all, although I must allow them their due as lords. My position as Queen shall never be as secure as a king’s.

FT 957 3/26: Georgio is an arrogant bastard! He demanded that I marry him today. Although couched in obliquities, the meaning was clear: I either marry him or he withdraws support from the Giovannis. Perhaps as many as twenty would follow him. Once sworn, fealty is never withdrawn, yet he swears that the priests might declare an exception, that I am “unnatural” -- a healthy woman who willingly denies herself a mate. Worst of all, his politics, although disgraceful, might be efficacious. There are no precedents for a feminine sovereign in Tulem. The temple might, if properly lubricated with Giovanni gold, declare me unfit. My young librarian is my only ally. I must trust in him to find a way.

FT 957 10/7: The way is finally cleared. Even Georgio has seen the writing before his smug face. All it took was almost my entire yearly income, a sum the lords couldn’t match. High Priest Ral will issue an edict tomorrow, saving me forever from lords who would pledge their troth with one breath and steal everything with the next. I thank Merton for this. He is the dearest of friends.

FT 957 10/10: The edict was finally signed and written into Tulem law yesterday. I insisted that the priests’ edict be carved into a granite block and interred in the vault in the main temple, giving it the force of eternity. For what I paid the priests, they had no reason to deny me this. To ensure it survives any attempt from the lords to destroy it, it is hidden in plain sight. I mean to use it. My husband would not have denied me after a suitable mourning, and two years is long enough. I dare admit this only to myself, but ever since the likelihood of a man to share my bed rose from ardent dream to real possibility, I’ve been looking at men like treats in a sweetshop! Men: they can be demons from the deepest depths of Hades, or a rock to anchor a woman’s heart. Now, whom will I choose?

FT 958 1/3: The Lords have finally relented. They will object no longer to my right to have a consort. Their only proviso: to keep him a secret. They have neither law nor reason to justify it; it is merely a way to save face, but I will allow it if it will settle the matter. I chose Testor the merchant, to be my bedmate. He will enter my apartments every evening through a special stair at the east side of my chambers. Tomorrow is his first night, although I have been with him before -- after all, who would buy a prize steer without having the measure of him first?

FT 958 6/12: Testor’s funeral was a week ago. The evil men and women in this world who would kill a man for satisfying a queen have no legitimate place in it, and should be trod upon like vermin! I cannot relate my grief openly, so only in the pages of this journal will Testor find his final words. I loved him. He was a mundane, but if he were noble, I might have married him. With the greatest respect to my husband, here was a man who might have been his equal. He knew the risks and took them, asking for nothing except a place in my heart. I will find someone else, but I will not make the same mistake; whoever he is shall live with me openly, and any cowardly assassin will find the Queen’s guards reinforced and difficult protectors indeed.

FT 959 6/10: I will not put up with these delays any longer. Hawthor is a fine man, a superb bedmate and, although he would never ask it, I will declare my intent to be with him before the entire valley at the anniversary of my ascension. I have been a reasonable queen, as effective as many kings, and will have the same privileges as a man. Not unexpectedly, the lords and ladies of the valley are in high dudgeon. May they rot and fester. On that day, my word will be done and we will live together.

Queen Prudence was poisoned two weeks after her last entry.

I left my apartments late that night to stroll the Hall of Kings, and soon stood below the picture of the exception to the name, reading in her posture and face what I could only have guessed before.

Merton had shown me something I hadn’t dared look at too closely. I’d been very lucky, especially with Thermin watching me. I did not dare switch with Angel again.

When the urges struck again, I might use Wanda temporarily, but it was hardly a permanent solution. As matters stood, I would always be in danger. Yet, thanks to a long-dead queen, the solution might just be written in stone.
 
 

To Be Continued…

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Tension, as they say, swells and contracts. This is, as you may expect, the beginning of a new phase, and it will bust out soon. :) ~Aardvark



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