M. Mathias: Through the Wildwood

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M. Mathias Through the Wildwood
  • Название:
    Through the Wildwood
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  • Жанр:
    Фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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M. R. Mathias


Through the Wildwood



CHAPTER ONE

On an old barrel keg

in the shade I sat

with a pint of watered ale

and a skinny old cat.

— Parydon Cobbles

Vanx Malic swallowed the last bit of mulled wine from the goblet the duchess handed him. He was as hard as Wildermont steel and she was purring loudly. Her hands were roaming his tan, shirtless chest with increasing desperation. Her lithe body was barely covered by a sheer gown that was stretched so tightly around her that her huge, dark nipples threatened to burst through the fabric. Vanx wiped the grease from the hearty slab of roast boar he’d just eaten on his sleeve, and then he clamped his hand on the curve of her ass. Even with only a trio of lavender-scented candles burning in the small but opulent chamber, the air had grown hot and steamy. The sweet, musky smell of her sex permeated the room. He was eager to taste her. Vanx hoped the innkeeper could hold his lips shut as tightly as he held his purse. His fleeting concern over the duke’s wrath was quickly wiped away as the hot, tickling breath of the man’s wife found his ear.

“You filled your belly, Vanx Malic,” the duchess whispered. The warmth of her words heated his blood. “Now I want you to fill me.” More purring as her hand slid around the bulge in his leather britches. “Now get up and fill me!” her voice grew suddenly harder, the purring sound more of a growl. She squeezed his member so hard it ached.

“Get up, Vanx!” she yelled. “Get up, you filthy dog, and fill me up!”

Vanx blinked open his eyes and saw the menacing maw of a haulkatten in his face. Startled, he scrambled backward to get away from its toothy feline grin. The chains that bound his legs and wrists quickly pulled taut and the driver’s whip snapped across his shoulder. The searing pain served to wipe away the dream in which he’d been lost. He nearly pissed himself. Even from half a hundred miles away the Duchess of Highlake’s enchantments had a healthy hold on his mind. Every time he slept, she was there. He hadn’t seen her in weeks, save for through the shuttered cell door of Duke Martin’s dungeon, and still she haunted his every idle thought. She was the loveliest of bed partners, talented, with a huge, round-

“CRACK!” The whip sent her away from his head again.

“I said fill up my skins you fargin’ dog!” Amden Gore, the big, dark-skinned, foul-breathed slave driver ordered. He was a personal friend of Duke Martin’s and showed Vanx little mercy with his lashes. Only the fact that Amden could get a healthy purse for a well-built young male kept him from driving Vanx to his death.

The haulkatten the slaver was riding twisted its head back down to growl at Vanx. It showed yellow teeth set in jaws that could remove an arm or a leg with a single snap.

Wincing from the sting of the new stripes on his skin, Vanx scowled at the draft horse-sized cat and gathered up the water skins he’d been using for a pillow. He’d been sent ahead of the caravan to fill them and had fallen asleep at the stream’s edge. He was exhausted, as were the rest of the caravan’s members. The long trek out of the mountains had been a week of skirting cliff-sided trails, and then two days and a night of nonstop downhill stumbling. Those riding the backs of the heavily laden haulkattens weren’t so bad off, but the three slaves and Vanx, along with the half-dozen other foot travelers, were all at the point of collapse.

There were also eight caravan guards, every one of them a heavily-armored, overweight slob. They were led by a man called Captain Moyle. Vanx had no choice but to respect the captain because he continually used his dullard men in such a way that they actually protected the group.

The guards were all on horseback and earlier in the day those horses reached their limits. Now, after coming down through the last of the higher hills on foot, leading their mounts, the guards had exhausted themselves, too.

Captain Moyle called a halt and the group began to set up camp not far from where Amden Gore was harassing Vanx. Vanx noticed that the sun had moved over to the far side of the horizon. He must have slept a good while, not enough to completely revive his mind and body from the last few days of travel, but enough to feel better.

Of Amden’s small herd of slaves, he was the one who was being worked the most. Well, maybe Matty, the heavy-breasted, one-handed pickpocket was working a bit harder in the haulers’ tents at night. After failing at her first choice of trades, and losing an appendage, she was now earning favor and coin with her body.

The other two slaves, an old drunkard who’d run over a wealthy merchant’s son with his wagon, and a younger man who’d attacked a woman who refused his advances, were both too thin to be of much use for anything. The Duke of Highlake had literally worked them to the bone. Useless now, he’d given them and the one-handed whore to Amden to sell at the market in Andwyn.

Vanx couldn’t be outright killed for sleeping with the duke’s wife; the progressive new King of Parydon had passed laws against using the chopping block, save for the punishment of the most heinous crimes. To the duke’s disgrace, his wife had admitted openly to not only being willing, but to actually encouraging the week of nocturnal rendezvous she and Vanx enjoyed.

Vanx was an accomplished bard and had been employed at the inn. Since he was no vagabond rapist he could only be charged with adultery. He was put in chains immediately. The duke had planned to keep Vanx around and work him to death, but through a family connection, the duchess made a healthy bid on his ownership. The duke found out about his wife’s deceit and decided that he wanted Vanx out of his sight, or more accurately out of his wife’s sight. He sold Vanx to Amden for next to nothing. Obviously Amden hoped to fatten his purse at the slave market, and knew he had to restrain himself when punishing Vanx. Vanx knew this, too, and continually pushed his luck, thus, the afternoon nap.

Vanx was no fool; far from it. He was young and looked even younger by human standards. As far as he knew, no one realized that he wasn’t completely human, so the fact that he had lived for fifty-two years was lost on almost everyone he met. In truth, he was half-Zythian and half-human. The normally pointed ears and almond-shaped eyes of his mother’s line were softened by the human influence of his father. He had the look of a young man in his early twenties. His shoulder-length shock of dirty blond hair, his brilliant sea-green eyes, and his rugged, yet symmetrical, face served to intrigue nearly every human woman he met. His tall, well-muscled build was another reason they flocked to him. In the two short years he’d been away from the Isle of Zyth, where he was born and raised by his mother’s people, his appearance caused him no small amount of grief.

Vanx filled the skins, as ordered, and then studied the layout of the camp on his way back into it. The captain was having his men set up on the high sides of the narrow ravine they were now blocking. The high side of the camp was most likely to be attacked by rock trolls, or the ever-territorial hill giants. The low side of the camp was where the slaves were pitching their tattered shelter. Vanx knew that if caravan bandits came, they would come from the low side. The haulers and their big, ore-laden haulkattens, the horses, and the foot travelers were all setting up camp in between. They would be relatively safe, surrounded by living and natural barriers on all sides.

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