Chapter Eight: Seeking Comfort in Dark Times

Disclaimer: I own neither the Forgotten Realms, nor the cover image.

NSFW Warning: Strong Sexual Content

Just as the full darkness of nightfall enclosed around them, Lystra and Belt made the gates of the Flaming Fist Fort. Despite seeing no sign of continued pursuit for the majority of their flight, they had not slowed their mounts, fearful that their foe may have some unseen trick up their sleeve. 

Cries arose from atop the palisade and the gates were swiftly opened, allowing the companions free access to the fort’s interior. Pulling up beside the central well in the fort’s courtyard, Lystra swiftly dismounted, striding to the well’s pulley so that she might draw Shadowflight some water whilst taking in her surroundings with a swift, cursory glance.

This was not her first time within the fort, having stopped at it several times since its construction to take on supplies and rest during her forays into the Sword Coast’s wilder lands. As such, the numerous wooden structures that comprised the garrison’s sleeping quarters, armory, and mess hall that hugged the outer palisade’s interior were familiar to her, as were many of the faces of the mercenaries who gazed upon her quizzically from their posts.

Less graceful, Duke Belt dismounted heavily beside her, his boots sending up a great splash upon contact with the muddy courtyard. Sloshing over to her side, he cast a less than friendly glare at their surroundings, his demeanor no more relaxed as it had been among the orcs.

“Kind of a shithole isn’t it,” he observed, hocking a wet lugey upon the well’s stonework before moving to help her heft the water-laden bucket from its depths.

“Not the courtesy one might expect from a Duke of Baldur’s Gate,” a voice spoke from behind them, and they turned to regard a tall, fair-skinned man with short-cropped black hair and a sharp, hawkish countenance who was flanked by two other sell-swords. All of their demeanors were relaxed and the hawkish man had a slightly bemused look on his face as he surveyed them.

“Knowing my station might lend some courtesy to your own tongue,” Belt growled back. “Now identify yourself so that I might inform Eltan by whom I was welcomed so poorly.”

A disinterested look was all the Duke’s remarks garnered him from the mercenary, who then swiveled his attentions to the Half-Elf Ranger who was then kneeling to offer the bucket of water to her slathering mount.

“Well met, Lystra,” he said, his tone much kinder as he addressed her. “It has been some time since you have crossed the threshold of my post. I must say that you left many a sore ego in your wake the last time, not to mention more than one empty purse.”

“I would have expected mercenaries to be better at dice,” she shrugged, rising to grasp his wrist. “Duke Belt, meet Captain Cederic Leomar, commander of this garrison. Thank you for taking us in, Captain, we have had quite the fortnight and I feel some time out of the rain will do us both some good.”

“Any day,” the Captain replied easily. “I do hope our rustic lodgings will not be too far below you, My Duke.”

“I would prefer a spot between your mother’s thighs but I suppose I will settle,” Belt shot back.

Though a muscle smarted in his jaw, the Mercenary Captain seemed to think better of provoking the Duke further, choosing to rather once more turn to Lystra.

“What put you in such a flight anyways?” He asked. 

“Have your men not been out on the roads?” She said, unable to fathom that he had not yet perceived the threat to their lands.

“We have been told to hold fast,” he replied. “Word from Baldur’s Gate came late in the night. All Flaming Fist garrisons are to hold position until further notice. No patrols are to be sent out, no escorts given.”

“That does not seem like Eltan to order such a thing,” Lystra said, a concerned glance exchanged between her and Belt.

“I suppose you wouldn’t know unless it was from the city that you have just ridden..”

“Know what?” Belt demanded.

“High Hall was attacked last night,” Captain Leomar replied ruefully. “Duke Eltan has been wounded and Commander Nors now leads the Flaming Fist…”

*                               *                              *                                      * 

Nightfall found Kivan escorting a small group of refugees who had lagged behind the main group, accompanied by two of the rearguard members who had been granted to him. First among them was a man of averaging height and build who was striding before the group, a sputtering torch held aloft in the gathering gloom. He wore a hauberk of well made, layered leather armor dyed a deep black in color, as well as a finely-crafted shortsword at one hip, and a curved dagger at the other. Though his skin was light in hue, he was deeply tanned and he sported a pitted scar in one of his cheeks, as well as a militaristic haircut. 

He was, or at least had been very recently, a blade for hire, the Ranger had deduced from his appearance. Though under whose banner he had served he could not tell due to the lacking of any insignia on his armor. The sinister look of his armaments, however, did not sit well in the Harper’s gut. 

When asked his name, he had replied Deter, and that had been the most Kivan had been able to glean from him as the duty they now pulled demanded nothing further.

The other of the rearguard who trudged nearer at hand was a young, Half-Elven woman he guessed to be no older than perhaps her mid-twenties, though the mixing of her lineage made guessing her age difficult. She had dark, freckled skin and a shock of curly brown hair, as well as large, chestnut eyes. She wore no armor, her dress and cloak made of wool and the bow she carried of willow. 

She had been slightly more forthcoming with her history when he had asked her, but only just. The name she had given him was Sparrow and she was an orphan. If he would hazard a guess he would assume her to be some form a self-taught Ranger in the making, and the favorable, if not pitying, way in which the other refugees spoke with her suggested she was a helpful sort whose past was known to them and for whom they thusly felt some community responsibility for.

The further three of the guard he had been granted were the Half-Elf, Lief, as well as his two oldest sons who could have been twins to Kivan’s eye, though he had been assured they were not, and who, furthermore, looked remarkably like their father. Their names were Nole and Lem. 

Lief and his sons Kivan had asked to stay at the rear of the main body of refugees, a task easier said than done as the hard trek had left them strung out in a long, disorderly line, from which more and more continuously trailed. Forcing the Ranger to tread further and further back to try and corral as many as he could.

With the coming of night, he knew that this task would become almost impossible, and yet he was determined to keep as many as he could.

‘I’m sorry, Jherek,’ he thought to himself, his sight passing over the haggard group he was encouraging onward. ‘But I cannot leave them out here to die, no matter how dire the mission.’

With this oath clear in his mind, he urged his charges on anew, hoping against hope to see the glistening waters of the Chionthar by dawn.

*                                *                           *                                      * 

“I really must protest, Milady, but my Lordship insisted that he wasn’t to be disturbed!” William Messalantir stammered, defiantly placing himself between Liia Jannath and the splintered door to Skye’s chambers, within which they believed Entar Silvershield to be secluded. 

Upon her appearance in the Audience Hall, and her beseechment of Commander Durham, who had informed her forthwith of Entar’s location, the Duchess had spared not a moment in setting out to speak with her counterpart. William Messalantir had hurried before them, succeeding in reaching the still blood-slickened landing before the doorway to the Duke’s missing daughter’s chambers just before the pair gained the top of the stair. 

Conveniently not having been addressed by the Lady, and thus possessing no requirement to accompany them, Jaryn had remained below in the Audience Hall. 

During their ascent, Adrian had further informed her of what had transpired within the keep the previous night, though he was quick to admit his limited knowledge on the topic as he had been escorting Entar when most of it had occurred. 

“Step aside, Captain,” Liia clucked dismissively upon their gaining the landing, moving to step past William, heedless of the blood upon the stonework. “This is the business of the Dukes, not their underlings.”

Rightfully assuming himself to be lumped into her definition, Adrian hung back, though he did not fully retreat lest the Silvershield prove further unyielding.

“I insist!” William gasped, proving further unyielding and blocking her anew. Though out of breath, his cheeks flushed with exertion, he yet stood his ground, his hand falling reflexively to the hilt of his blade.

“Stand down, Captain,” Adrian warned from the stairwell, as the Duchess’ nostrils flared. 

Luckily, they were spared any further unpleasantries by the muffled voice of Entar calling from within his daughter’s room.

“Let her in,” came the croaking command, so heavy with remorse and alien to the Duke’s normally authoritarian tone that both Adrian and William froze where they stood. Liia, however, was not so affected and brusquely brushed past the Silvershield Captain, gingerly picking her way through the debris of the door, before disappearing within.

Left upon the landing, Adrian and William exchanged a furtive glance before both inched forward, their earlier dispute momentarily forgotten in their desire to eavesdrop on their lords.

*                            *                                    *                            * 

“Entar?” Liia spoke cautiously as she crossed the splintered threshold of Skye’s chambers. Taking in the destruction within with but a glance, she honed in on the Paladin who stood, still dressed as he had been on the road, hovering at the foot of his daughter’s bed, staring sightlessly down upon it, something clutched to his chest.

He did not immediately respond, his head remaining lowered. 

“Entar,” she spoke more forcefully this time, stepping lightly over the detritus that cluttered the room’s floor, and approaching him, though she kept her distance, careful not to intrude on his mourning too swiftly.

She was surprised, when he finally lifted his gaze to hers, to find that his cheeks were dry of tears, though a deep sadness radiated from him and she felt her poise slip as that sadness cut deeply into her.

“I failed her,” Entar muttered, his sight unfocused despite looking her directly in the eye. “Just as I failed her mother…”

“The death of Lady Silvershield was not your doing, Entar,” she said sternly, careful to keep any further emotion from her voice. “Nor is the disappearance of your daughter.”

He blinked as she spoke and gazed at her as if seeing her for the first time. His gaze hardening, he looked away, dropping what it was he had held, a small doll in a blue dress, she saw, onto the bed’s disheveled sheets.

“I must pursue her,” he murmured, stepping from the bed and making to stride for the door, a movement she paused by laying a hand lightly upon his armored chest.

“You must see to the affairs of your city,” she replied, firmly and yet not unkindly. “We are, both of us, Dukes of this city, and this city has suffered in our absence. You are not the only father to mourn a lost child this night. We have a duty, Entar, a duty we have left in the unsure hands of a lesser man for too long.”

Entar looked down on her hand restraining him as she spoke, then plucked it from his chest once she had finished. Lifting her fingers to his lips, he kissed them gently before turning his gaze to lock with her’s.

“Perhaps I have neglected this city,” he allowed. “But I have neglected her far longer. I will not abandon her as I have her entire life. She is the only family I have left, Liia…”

“We swore oaths, Entar,” she insisted, moving to press herself against him. “Eltan, despite his many faults, is not delusional. He would not have summoned us hence if the threat were immaterial. And now here we stand, in the midst of proof of his words and you wish to charge away again? Pursue a trail already a day cold? Stay and help manage your city and I swear to you I will do all that is within my power to aid you in your search!”

“I cannot..” He began to say but she interrupted his words by pressing her lips forcefully against his.

Their kiss lasted for many moments and, when they broke apart, he gazed into her eyes, drinking in every emotion he saw therein. He should hate her, he knew, resent her for the part she had played in the events which led to them both departing the city. He knew in his heart though that the death of his wife was not on Liia’s hands. It was on his and his alone. Theirs had not been a marriage of love, after all, but one of titles and inheritance, with Skye being the unlucky product. His wife had done her duty, provided him an heir, but she had ever been an unhappy woman. This, coupled with his focus on the affairs of state within Baldur’s Gate, had ostracized their daughter. When his relationship with Liia had inevitably become known to his wife, she had taken her own life and Skye, having known of the affair for some time before, hated him for it. Soon thereafter both he and Liia had departed the city, he under the guise of taking his daughter to their country estate to mourn, and she to focus on her magical institute where she tutored the children of Waterdhavian noble families. Of course, Skye’s resentment of him had made their furlough short-lived and she had returned to the city. Wishing to grant her her space, he had not pursued, remaining in the country in the hope that none others would discover the true reason for his departure.

He had been a coward, he realized then, staring into Liia’s eyes. He had not only abandoned his daughter to her fate, but had driven away the woman he truly loved in the name of image. 

Bending to her lips once more, he kissed her deeply, wrapping his arms about her and crushing her to him. She returned the embrace, and the kiss, with enthusiasm, forcing her tongue into his mouth even as he peeled her robes from her shoulders. Baring her breasts, youthful and full as a young maids, he pushed her against the room’s central pillar, his mouth falling to a full and erect nipple. Gasping against the crown of his head, she gripped him to her, relishing the feel of his armored form against her, as well as the smells of sweat and horse upon him.

Allowing him to lift the hems of her robe, she lifted her legs to wrap about him as he unlatched his armor’s codpiece and freed his erect cock from his trousers, its length searing her thigh as it sought her sex, unbarred by undergarments. Insistently he entered her, and willfully she took him, every inch of him feeling at home within her. 

The air crackled with electricity about them as he thrust into her again and again, his gasping breath bathing her breasts and throat, her strangled, ecstatic cries cast towards the ceiling, her eyes shut tight against the overwhelming waves of pleasure that rocked her.

She soon felt his gauntleted hand tighten upon her thigh and knew he was reaching the peak of his arousal. Tightening her internal muscles, she egged him onwards, as eager to feel his seed spill within her as he was to spill it, and spill he did. With a deep, animalistic groan, he came, his cock pumping his load into her pining depths.

Not long after, Liia Jannath departed the chamber, straightening her robes as she did only to freeze midstep when she noticed Adrian Durham and William Messalantir staring at her from the top of the stair, the young Captain agog, the seasoned Commander disapproving. 

Passing over the young Silvershield, she narrowed her eyes at the Guard Commander. For a long moment they held one another’s gaze before she said, “you’re welcome,” her tone suggesting disdain for his judgement, before brushing past him, her poise intact.

Just as she disappeared down the stairs, the form of Entar Silvershield filled the doorway of the chamber. Spying his subordinates lurking near at hand, he paused.

“Do you not each have other duties to which you should be attending?” He pointedly asked.

Immediately, they both snapped to attention and saluted, before departing his presence, Adrian glancing back only briefly as he descended the stairs to see the Paladin had turned back towards his daughter’s chambers, his head bowed.

*                                 *                             *                                      *

“Trotter, we must stop,” Keira gasped, pulling up short to rest her weight against the trunk of a nearby tree, forcing her companions to stop to catch their own breath. 

They were now deep within Cloakwood, their flight having carried them far away from where Tiberius had fallen, sacrificing his life so that they might retain theirs. High above them, the moon hung in the heavens, not yet full but nearly so and casting a silvery glow through the dense canopy overhead, transforming their surroundings into a sort of miasma of hazy shadow and impenetrable darkness. 

“We cannot,” Rendrick insisted, clutching at a stitch in his side. Even as he said it, however, he knew that the point was moot, glancing over to Katarina and seeing the young woman doubled over, gasping for breath, her hair disheveled in the meagre light.

“We cannot know if any of them have followed our trail,” he continued. “We cannot allow ourselves to be caught or else…”

Or else Tiberius’ sacrifice would be pointless, he had meant to say but could not bring himself to speak the words. Seemingly reading his mind, Keira stepped close, gripping his shoulder and forcing her gaze to his, her breath hot on his face.

“All of that is moot if we are too tired to defend ourselves,” she reasoned. “Come, find us yet another of your wretched hollows for us to cower in where we can at least gain some semblance of respite.”

Though he could not see her clearly, he knew her to be offering him a wry look and so he relented, straightening himself and leading them onward at a more moderate pace, both he and the Mercenary Captain careful to keep Katarina between them at all times.

Not far from where they had paused, they stumbled across a shallow dell, the sides of which, composed mostly of rotting logs, were festooned with a myriad of small, green, phosphorescent mushrooms. Several massive trees dominated the perimeter, and it was amongst the roots of one that Trotter discovered their resting place for the night. It would be tight, muddy, and uncomfortable, but it would at least afford them safety from the outside world. 

Standing guard, he allowed the two women to slip within ahead of him, his keen gaze scanning their surroundings, before he lowered himself in beside them, sliding in behind Katarina, who was nestled against Keira’s chest, and wrapping himself around the young woman so that he and the Mercenary Captain were face-to-face, their eyes locked within the gloom of the hollow as the younger woman gently wept between them.

*                                                *                                      *                                *

After delivering his astonishing news in the courtyard, Captain Leomar had insisted Lystra and Belt see to their horses and themselves before joining him once more in the fort’s mess hall. After that, he had departed, and so they had reluctantly done as he bid, first seeing to it that their horses were stabled, brushed and fed, before entering the small guest housing the mercenaries had available in case they need play host to any travellers on the road. 

Despite the ample business the Tradeway saw, the guest housing amounted to little more than a single room with a singular bed, though a small divider was provided for privacy if one wished to use the copper pot that no doubt was meant to be the chamber’s lavatory. 

Despite having stayed there previously, Lystra cursed herself for not recalling the apartment’s layout.

“I’ll get my bedroll,” she said tersely, making to return the way she had come but finding Belt’s massive form blocking her way. 

“Oh shut up, I’ll let you have the bed,” he said gruffly, closing the door behind them and forcing his way past her. “Already brought my kit regardless so I may as well take the floor, lord or no.”

Taken aback by his sudden chivalry, however brusque it might be, she set her hands on her hips and fixed him with a quizzical glare.

“What’s up with you?” She asked. “Thought word of Eltan being wounded would ‘cause a stirring in your loins’.”

“Prove what you think of me wouldn’t it?”

“Well…yeah.”

Belt sighed, dropping his pack heavily at the foot of the bed before making his way to the chamber pot. His back to her, he began to relieve himself while she retained her stance, unabashed and awaiting a response to her original query.

“You remind me of some of the lasses I adventured with in years past,” he said without looking at her, focused on his stream. “Reminds me of shit I haven’t thought about in many a year, not since I became Duke Belt of Baldur’s Gate.”

“You still haven’t answered the question ‘Duke Belt of Baldur’s Gate’.”

He sighed anew, replacing his cock in his trousers before turning to regard her.

“Eltan’s a son of a bitch,” he shrugged. “But he’s a son of a bitch who’s got his shit in order. No way he went down easy, or without some major skulduggery being put into play.”

Disconcerted by his sudden vulnerability, she waived him away from the privy so that she might take her turn. Careful to ensure that his gaze was averted, she undid her own trousers and, sliding them down, squatted over the pot. Closing her eyes to await her own relief, she asked, “does this mean you are more willing to get back to Baldur’s Gate?”

“It does.”

She began to urinate, and opened her eyes to behold him staring right at her, his gaze curiously enamored, fixated upon the amber stream she was releasing. She said nothing and his gaze slowly lifted to meet hers. They held one another’s stares as she finished, his mouth ever so slightly agape, her interest ever so slightly piqued.

As she finished, she stood, breaking their fixation and pulling up her trousers whilst he too seemingly regained his sensibilities and looked away, clearing his throat uncomfortably.

“Apologies,” he mumbled, uttering a word she never thought she’d hear escape his lips. “In any case, the wounding of Eltan is distressing not for my fear for his person but my concern for what it means for the defense of Baldur’s Gate at large.”

“Indeed,” she murmured, just as there came a rough knocking upon the door.

“Enter, damn you,” Belt growled and the portal swung inward to emit a young sellsword clutching a bundle of cloth to her chest.

“The Captain sent these in case you were in need of dry linens,” she said, offering the bundle to the Duke.

“Aye, and aren’t you a comely little thing,” Belt crooned, sidling up to her, a twinkle in his eyes.

“Belt, leave her,” Lystra said exasperatedly, indicating the woman should deposit the clothing on the bed. The woman did so, before offering a coy smile to the Duke, and an irritated one at Lystra, before exiting.

“Bah, for a Ranger you really don’t know how to have a bit of fun, we could’ve shared her y’know,” he said.

“Yes, I know how desperate these frontier she-wolves are.”

“You speak as though you have experience.”

“A bit,” she admitted, moving towards the bundle and turning her nose up at the colors, though she admittedly was in need of dry clothing. Grabbing a tunic she thought fitting, she headed for the divider. 

“That one, for example, has been passed around this camp more than once, I assure you.”

“Tasted the local flavor, have you?” He cast her a lascivious glance over the screen at her.

“I have, admittedly, had a desperate night or two,” she replied, beginning to strip.

“Makes me wonder why you’ve acted so disdainfully towards me.”

“Maybe because you remind me a little too much of myself, my lord.”

“And not in a good way?”

“Most certainly not.”

He chuckled.

“Knew I liked you, Ranger Apprentice,” he muttered, beginning to strip himself.

Not an hour later, the sun having fully disappeared by then, plunging the world beyond the guttering torches of the fort into deepest darkness, Lystra and Belt made their way towards the mess hall, through the mercenary barracks so as not to expose their dry clothing, that consisted of tunics and trousers cast in Flaming Fist colors, to the rainfall outside. Their own clothing hung to dry by the fire in the traveler’s quarters. 

“Those colors suit you, Duke Belt,” Captain Leomar observed candidly upon their entry to the otherwise empty hall, the multitude of tables and benches being washed and cleared by low-ranking recruits, the garrison having recently broken their own fast. 

“They stink,” Belt replied coarsely as their host offered to pour them each a goblet of mead, an offer they both agreed to readily.

“So,” Cederic said, after they had all three settled in with their drinks, seated upon stools before the roaring hearth. “I unfortunately have very little else to inform you of. The missive I received was brief and to the point. Beyond the fact that Eltan had been wounded, and that Nors had subsequently taken command, it spoke only of a bounty on the head of one Kharne, the mastermind behind the attack.”

“Kharne?” Both Belt and Lystra uttered in unison, their equivalent shock clearly voiced in their tones.

“I take it that this name is known to you.”

“I’m surprised it isn’t to you as well,” Lystra admonished.

“I’m not,” Belt shrugged. “We did well to cover up his past actions against the city. Plus the adventurers who dismantled Xanthum’s guild assured us of his death, we saw no need to make his involvement widely known.”

“Oh no, don’t let people know that there is a dangerous mercenary potentially lurking in their midst,” was her scathing reply, accompanied by a prodigious eye roll.

“As I said, we thought him dead,” Belt grumbled. “Besides, d’you know how many mercenaries walk the streets of Baldur’s Gate every day? Last thing we needed at the time was everyone looking sideways at everyone else.”

“That is a surprisingly rational thought process,” Captain Leomar nodded, obviously not having had expecting such a thing possible from the man who sat before him.

“You listen here, laddie,” the Duke lowered his tone dangerously. “I’ve been leading adventuring companies and ruling cities since before you were but a squirmer in your pappy’s nutsack, so spare me your patronizing.”

“That was spoken poorly,” Cederic admitted, lifting his hands in an appealing nature. 

“Yes it was,” Belt nodded, standing with force enough to send his stool skidding across the floor. “Now, if you would assure us of your aid in getting us to the city gates on the morrow I will take that jug of mead and retire with my companion to our quarters…”

Lystra smirked at the Duke’s words and began to rise herself but plopped right back down onto her stool, her mirth quickly fading, at the Captain’s response.

“I can, unfortunately, assure you of no such thing, Duke Belt,” the sellsword said, careful to keep his tone polite but injecting enough firmness to assure them that he was not joking.

“Are you refusing to provide us escort? You are aware that he is a Duke of Baldur’s Gate right?” The Ranger asked, dumbfounded by the Captain’s response. 

“That is, unfortunately, exactly what I am saying,” Cederic confirmed. “The orders I have received were unconditional. We are not to send anyone forth from this position and, until I hear otherwise, that shall remain my ardent position.”

“Captain!” Lystra exclaimed as Belt retreated to retrieve his stool. “One caravan has already been ambushed on the watch of this garrison. I would think that you would be a little more mindful of current events than to send one of the leaders of the city you serve into possibly similar circumstances.”

“I do not serve Baldur’s Gate,” he reminded her. “I serve the Commander of the Flaming Fist Mercenary Company, and it was his direct order that this garrison remain exactly that, a garrison, not a ferry-service for wayward travellers.”

“Fucking mercenaries,” Belt grumbled, seating himself once more at Lystra’s side. “This is exactly why I don’t trust ‘em.”

“Well I am starting to fucking agree with you,” she nodded before doing a doubletake on the Duke, taken aback by their suddenly being in agreement, before rounding on Cederic anew.

“You and yours have been given guardianship of the lands beyond Baldur’s Gate, Captain,” she seethed. “Is that a duty you cast aside so easily?”

“I follow orders,” he shrugged, unphased by her apparent anger and disbelief. “You are welcome to resupply at our stores, but I am afraid that is the extent of the aid I can extend you.”

“We are wasting our breath here,” Belt assured her, glowering at the Captain before rising once again. 

“Come, Lystra,” he said, “we can leave at first light, ride hard for the city gates, let this bastard wallow in his shithole.”

The Ranger could only shake her head in reply, her glare firmly set upon the mercenary.

“Come,” Belt reiterated more gently, reaching over her to grasp the hefty jug of mead from its resting place beside the hearth, before laying a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

With an anguished growl, she did as he bid, rising and striding from the chamber in one motion.

“Made an enemy there, Captain,” Belt smirked and, when the mercenary narrowed his eyes, merely tipped him the jug of mead in a mock salute before striding in his companion’s wake.

*                              *                             *                                    *

It was nearing midnight, Rendrick knew, staring out of the small opening of the burrow in which he and his companions huddled. The small clearing beyond, bathed in a mixture of fluorescent green light from the fungi, as well as a meagre, silvery glow cast by the moon, was quiet. Despite this fact, he could not find rest, sure that he had seen a movement within the deeper shadows mere moments before. Whether or not Katarina or Keira yet slept, he knew not, so focused was he on the dell, and it was at that moment that his vigilance was rewarded.

Breaking off from a deep pool of darkness, a lone goblin crept into view, its spindly limbs moving methodically, its crooked nose bent skyward as it tested the air for scents unbelonging in the rotting dell. Soon enough another, and another of its kin materialized about it, each of them searching vigorously for any sign of they they pursued.

Reaching down, the Ranger began to slide his blade from its sheath, praying to both Silvanus and Mielikki that none of the creatures would discover their hiding place. 

Just as the steel of his sword began to crest the lip of its sheath, however, an iron grip clamped down on his wrist and he looked up, startled, to see the dim whites of Keira’s gaze boring into his.

Trying to convey his thoughts without speaking, he narrowed his own gaze and pushed against her restraint. Resolutely, she held fast, her own eyes narrowing to match his. For a long moment they wrestled against one another silently until Katarina stirred between them. 

Freezing, they both glanced down to see the Merchant Daughter lift a hand, pointing at the entrance to their burrow. Slowly, both of their gazes slid in the direction she indicated and they beheld the large, yellow eyes of a goblin peering in at them, its nostrils flaring as it tested the air within. For what seemed like eternity neither they nor the creature moved, they staring at it, it staring at them unseeing. All of a sudden, the goblin perked, its face lifting from the burrow, its large ears twitching. Then, as quickly as it had come, it was gone, scampering away out of sight, leaving the opening of their hollow, as well as the dell beyond, empty and quiet once more.

Both Trotter and Keira let out a collectively held breath, the Mercenary Captain’s grip relaxing on his wrist even as he slid his blade home once more in its sheath.

Snuggling closer in behind Katarina, he wrapped his arms about her as Keira did similarly from her front, encasing her in a cocoon of protection, even as he cast yet another fretful glance towards the opening of their burrow. 

Peering out once more at the quiet dell, he was distracted from his vigil by a subtle shifting by Katarina. Though he wasn’t immediately sure what it was she was doing, it soon became self-evident when he felt his hand being directed into the heat of her blouse to brush against the soft skin of her breast, the hardened summit of her nipple sliding against the calloused tips of his fingers.

Immediately, the younger woman responded with mewling pleasure and he reacted impulsively in kind, wrapping the entirety of his hand about the pliant mound, even as he perceived her nestle closer against the crook of Keira’s neck, her lips teasing against the older woman’s throat.

Keira sucked in her breath at the younger woman’s touch and there came a rustling as Katarina began to unlatch the buckles at the front of her leather jerkin, peeling it open and clawing at the blouse beneath.

Caught up in the divine feel of the young woman’s flawless skin beneath his rustic touch, as well as the reaction Keira was having beneath her administrations, Rendrick found himself reaching across with his other hand to slip the cloth from Katarina’s shoulder, baring its soft curve to him bringing his lips to bear against it.

Her gasping moans intensifying beneath the Ranger’s touch, she muffled herself against Keira’s chest, burying herself between the Sellsword’s bosoms and filling her mouth with the salted taste of the other woman’s skin.

Feeling Trotter hardening, the insistent pressing of his cock through their respective trousers against her ass, she reached back, making short work of the buttons of his trousers to free his searing manhood into her palm. 

His reaction was immediate and bestial as he gripped the waistband of her own trousers and pushed them down, the cold kiss of mud upon one of her ass cheeks, the scalding kiss of his cock upon her other. It was a reaction she had never expected from him, but one she welcomed wholeheartedly as she pushed her own hand down the front of Keira’s pants, her fingertips sliding against the burning, wet heat of the Mercenary Captain’s sex, even as the burning, wet heat of her own sex was tantalized by the weeping tip of Trotter’s cock.

Keira grabbed her face as her fingers entered her, lifting their lips to meet in a fervent kiss, even as Trotter entered her from behind, the thick girth of his cock stretching her wide, her moans mixing with Keira’s own within each other’s mouths as she slipped her fast-slickened digits in and out of the other woman’s pussy, just as the Ranger began to slowly thrust in and out of hers.

As the mud squelched and the moans and grunts rose from within the burrow, the goblins heard not a thing, distracted as they were by a distant and distracting sound, unheard by any but they, luring them ever deeper into the recesses of the forest.

*                                  *                                *                                     * 

“I don’t honestly know what you expected,” Belt said smugly as he reentered the traveller’s quarters to find Lystra’s ass on full display as she furiously pulled up her still soaking trousers, the ones gifted to her by the Flaming Fist cast disdainfully aside.

“What are you doing?” He asked, genuinely mystified by her actions.

“Getting the fuck out of here,” she shot back hotly, unconcerned by her nakedness, which was quickly covered, much to his dismay, by her pulling up her pants and fastening them with a furious flourish.

“Don’t be daft,” he argued, pulling a chair from the room’s small table upon which to recline and enjoy the show, lifting the jug of mead to his lips as he did. “Have you so soon forgotten the orcs we ambushed? And how they are, most assuredly, waiting for us out in that damned grass right now to make a stupid move like the very one you are suggesting?”

“I don’t care, Belt,” she hissed, whirling on him and, much to his surprise, pulling the Flaming Fist tunic up and over her head.

Standing before him, stripped to her waist, she placed her hands on hips, seemingly oblivious, or at least uncaring, of her nakedness as she fumed.

“I’ll tell you what, they’re less likely to expect us leaving right now than they are in the morning,” she wagged a finger at him, before reaching for her swordbelt to fasten it about her hips.

“You’re speaking nonsense,” he argued, trying hard to ignore the swaying of her breasts and focus on her flushed face. “We’ve been in the back-country for many a night now. When was it you set out from the city to find me? And me from Elturel? We’re due a night with the roof over our heads.”

“The city is in trouble, Belt!”

“And us getting ourselves killed on the road ain’t going to help ‘em much is it!?”

She paused amidst her tirade, considering his words.

“Come now,” he implored her, lifting the jug of mead. “Join me for a drink, and by the gods leave your clothes off, you’re much easier to look at without those pesky things in the way.”

Arching a brow at him, she glanced down at her naked breasts before lifting her gaze to his once more, a lascivious smirk playing about her lips.

“You really are a dirty bastard aren’t you,” she said, considering her sopping blouse before deciding against it, shrugging, and sauntering over to seat herself on the edge of the bed to accept the offered jug of mead from him. Taking a dip swig, the sweet liquor running over the sides of her mouth to splash upon her chest, running in rivulets between her tits, she lowered it, burping heartily, before offering it back to him.

“And you really are a Ranger of the wilds,” he smirked appreciatively, accepting back the jug whilst unabashedly admiring her physique.

“So why did you accept the mantle of Duke?” She asked, resting her chin in her hand. “Doesn’t seem like you really enjoy bearing the title.”

Nearly choking on the mead, he laughed aloud.

“What’re you talking about lass? I love it,” he proclaimed. “Duke Belt, got a good ring to it dunnit? Something to really get all those prissy noble-prick’s panties in a bunch.”

“So was it just to stick a thumb in the eye of rich-tits?” She asked, taking back the jug.

“Nay lass,” he smiled contentedly, rocking back in his chair, which groaned plaintively beneath him. “But that was, admittedly, a big part of it. I’ve run with a lot of adventuring parties, as you know. Always at the behest of some lordling or another, some damsel in distress. I never dreamed I’d be in a position to be the meting out quests or command, beyond the confines of my immediate company that is,” he accepted the jug back.

“Nay, but when the offer was extended I thought, perhaps foolishly, that now I could right the wrongs done to my ilk. Make the ones dressed in silks and satins respect the ones in chain and leather.”

He sighed, taking another deep swig of mead.

“I take it things haven’t gone as planned,” she said, watching him closely.

“Well I haven’t yet ended up face down in a gutter,” he chuckled mirthlessly, setting the jug down hard on his knee, his gaze keenly upon it before lifting it to hers, though not before taking in the virtues to her form once more.

“But no,” he shrugged. “Turns out, in the end, the title doesn’t matter so much as the breeding. Shits like Entar and Liia weren’t ever gonna accept the likes of me. They gotta deal with me, such is the beauty of our fair city, and the gods know I make it as difficult for them as I might but, in the end, the silks will always laud themselves over the leathers.”

“They can laud themselves all they like,” Lystra smirked, reaching for the mead and, snatching it off his knee, took a deep swig before pouring the remainder of the contents down her front, the thick, golden liquid spilling across her and soaking the bedsheets beneath her.

He rose as she did so, towering above her, as she gazed up at him hungrily.

“But it’s we in leathers who get to have all the fun,” she murmured huskily as he took a knee before her, bending down to press his tongue and lips against the slope of her stomach, his rough beard scratching her as she buried a hand in his curled locks, a gasp escaping her lips.

Surprisingly gently, he lapped at her flesh, kissing and sucking her navel before descending downward, her hands unbuckling her own belt before he reached it. 

With one of his massive hands, he pressed upon her chest, forcing her against the bed and fondling her slickened breasts, even as he popped the button of her trousers and pulled them down, her legs narrowing to aid in their descent, then widening for his attention.

He paused, hovering above the nest of curls concealing her sex, and she looked down, seeing that his eyes were there to meet her’s. He was expectant, almost begging, and she immediately knew what it was he wanted. Relaxing, she allowed a flow of urine to erupt from her, spilling upon his face, arching into his mouth, and soaking his beard.

Gladly he accepted her golden stream, before burying his face in her crotch, his tongue lapping hungrily within her pubic mound, teasing her clit as well as savoring whatever remnants there were of the fluid she had passed, fully committing himself to the nexus of her pleasure.

Deeply and primally she moaned, as he expertly navigated the crevices of her most intimate areas, his tongue even slipping down to tease about the exterior of her anus, sending her over the edge into arching, screaming ecstasy.

As she collapsed upon the bed from her orgasm, the Duke rose above her and she beheld, through heavily lidded eyes, his incredibly thick cock grasped with his hand.

“Might I return the favor?” He asked, her cum and piss glistening upon his face.

“Do as you will, my Lord,” she gasped, flattening herself as much as she might, offering to him the entirety of her body as he relinquished upon her the contents of his own bladder. The rich, golden tide splashed heartily upon her stomach, breasts and thighs.

“Do you want more?” He asked,breathing heavily, his cock now fully erect, proud and thick in his palm.

“Just fuck me,” she demanded. 

And so he did, his cock filling her as he entered without restraint. He fucked her like she was the sole reason for his trepidation and ire in return to the city, and she gladly reciprocated in kind.

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