The Avenger of Nitara

The rocky crags at the base of the mountains were cool to her touch and were a welcome relief from the hot rays of the sun.  Morana turned to look back down the slope of rocks broken from those crags by the freezing of the snows that covered the land of Anatalia every winter.  It was summer now, but the sun did not heat the rock quickly.  It would be nearly the time when the leaves of the forest blazed with reds, oranges, and yellows before the small cave where she sat became warm enough to not cause her to feel chilled.  When the snows fell again, that same warmth would be welcome.

She had been here many times, having found the narrow opening under the overhanging rock on one of her secret trips from the village of Nitara when she was but a girl of twelve.  Her mother had scolded her one morning for forgetting to feed the hens and gather their eggs.  Morana had then done those tasks, but when she finished, ran from the village and up through the forest.  Her intent was to never return, for such works the mind of a child.

As the sun rose higher over the forest, Morana had walked through the trees that shielded her from the rays that would soon sear the earth.  When the yellow orb was high overhead, she reached the jumble of crags and broken rock at the base of the mountain.  After walking a bit more, she discovered the opening.  It seemed large at the time, for Morana was just then developing the curves of a woman and was quite small for her age.

She looked inside the opening and saw nothing, for the sunlight only reached inside a small distance.  Morana did not enter the cave that day, for she knew there were wolves in the forest that might call the cave their home.  Instead, she sat outside and thought of her future.

She had not thought for long when her stomach reminded her it had been some time since her breakfast of oats and cream.  It was then she realized the folly of her plan to never return to the village.  With a sigh, she started back down the slopes of the forest toward Nitara.  She would be scolded again for running away, but she would have food to eat and a bed upon which to sleep.

Over the next seven years, Morana matured from a slender girl into a woman.  She was still small in stature, but now her full breasts and wider hips spoke of the ripe woman beneath the rough woven dress that was the accepted garment for women.  She matured mentally as well, and performed her daily tasks that the family might have food to eat and a clean home in which to live.  Only one vestige of the girl remained – her love of the cave at the foot of the mountains.

Over the years, Morana had retreated to her cave when she needed a place to be alone.  She had first brought candles to light the interior, and having discovered no animals living inside, brought other things to make it more comfortable.  

Today as she eased her body through the narrow opening she stepped on the wooly hides of sheep.  She found her flint and steel in the dark as well as the supply of fluffy bark from the cottonwood trees that grew near the village.  A short while later a small fire blazed in the circle of stones near the opening.  From this fire, Morana lit several candles and placed them in small nooks around the cave.

She had come here often, sometimes to just escape the noise of the village, but other times to think.  As her body matured, the boys who had been playmates had begun to see her differently.  Her mother had explained the reasons for this change, and Morana had been taken aback by the knowledge that one day, a man would penetrate her body with his organ and plant a child in her womb.  She did not believe she would enjoy such a thing, and especially not when her mother explained that the first time there would be pain.

Morana had retreated to her cave to contemplate this new knowledge and had resolved such a thing would never happen to her.  On this day she was there to contemplate another such thing.  One of the boys she had grown up with had asked her father if he might begin seeing her.

It wasn’t that she did not like Sord, for she did.  She just could not bring herself to welcome what she was certain would be the inevitable outcome.  They would marry and on that night, Sord would spread her slender thighs wide, guide his manhood to her entrance, pierce her maidenhead, and make her a woman.  In a month or less, she would be with child.

She thought of her mother. She had sometimes heard the creaking of their bed and knew her father was stroking his manhood in her mother’s portal.  She would hear the low moans her mother made, and sometime later, the quiet cry she made as her father groaned.  Surely such a thing was painful or else her mother would not make such sounds.

The sun was low in the sky when Morana blew out her candles.  The small fire had burned itself out sometime before, but Morana felt the ashes to make certain they were cold before leaving the cave.  She had not yet decided if she would welcome Sord’s advances or if she would shun them.  She would have to talk with her mother again and ask her why she made the sounds on some nights.

As she looked over the treetops toward Nitara, a chill ran down her back.  From the direction of her village, she saw thick clouds of smoke wafting toward the sky.  She quickened her pace and reached the village just before the sun dropped into the trees.

There was no village left.  Every house and every other structure lay in smoking ruins.  As she walked closer, she saw the bodies of the men and boys of the town.  Each had been slashed by a sword or run through by an arrow.  She found her father outside the house that had been their home.  He lay there with an arrow in his chest and his lifeless eyes stared at the sky.  Just inside what had been the door, she saw an arm protruding from the ashes.  The copper bracelet her father had given her mother told her the worst.

Stunned and unable to believe, Morana walked through the village.  She found no one alive, not man, woman or child.  No sheep, goats, cattle or horses grazed in the pastures.  They all lay still on the grass with blood stains on their throats..  The village smelled of burnt wood and death.  Morana numbly made her way back to what had been her home, sat down beside her father’s body, and let the grief in her heart come to the surface.

She wept until the sun’s rays were only the twilight of evening before standing again, but the tears of grief had been replaced by the tears of rage.  She did not know who was responsible for the massacre of her family and the other villagers, but she would find out one day and they would pay a like price.  She gave no thought to the fact she was but a small woman.  The goddess Dumene would make her quest possible, for Dumene was the Goddess of Morana’s birth month as well as the protector of the innocent and the avenger of injustice.  Morana looked to the sky and prayed to Dumene for guidance and help.

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The four men had ridden for hours and were tired, but pleased with themselves.  They had no gold or silver in the bags that hung from their saddles, but riches had not been their quest.  Their purpose that day had been to secure the village of Hanro for the King of Enzach.  The village was very small – only six families - hence their number, and the farmers had no idea of how to defend themselves.  The battle had really been no battle at all.  The few men who had not fallen clutching the arrows in their bodies had died from the slashing swords of the four as they rode through the village.

The women of the village had cowered in the houses as the four finished with the men.  Only one, a young woman with two children behind her had stood to face them.  She looked ripe for the taking, but the four were not about to face the jabs of the hay fork she held.  An arrow through her heart ended the threat.  The two children were likewise silenced.  The four then went from house to house.  When they left, the women’s faces stared with vacant eyes at the sky, their naked bodies a testimony to the animalistic minds of the four horsemen.

As they sat around their campfire, the four jested about their exploits of the day.

“Dugh, you owe me a draught of wine when we return.  Did I not cast the first arrow and did it not find its mark?”

“Yes, but you did not wait for my command to loose arrows.  You lose the wager and instead owe me that draught.”

“But if you remember, I did allow you first pleasures with that red-haired beauty after I killed her husband.  She had no children so she would have been tighter than the hag I got.  Is that not worth at least a half draught?”

The man called Dugh laughed.

“She may have been childless, but she was as loose as the oldest whore in Corly.  No, not even a half draught.”

Another of the three chuckled.

“Dugh, the problem was not the woman.  It was that worm you call your cock.  I have heard the whores say they can not tell when or even if you have stuck them.”

The fourth soldier laughed.

“I have heard the same.  They say even sucking on your cock does not make it grow much larger.  I believe you owe us all a draught for complaining so.”

Dugh grumbled and then grew silent.  As their fire died to embers, the four passed a goatskin of wine amongst themselves until they fell on their blankets in a drunken slumber.

Had they been awake, they still would not have seen the silent approach of the lone person who had stalked them throughout the day.  As slowly as the snail makes its way over the rocks of the stream, and as close to the earth as the belly of the viper, the form moved toward the four.

The soldier called Dugh was the first to die.  His eyes flew open when the hand clamped over his mouth.  It was the last movement he was to make.  The long dagger entered just under his ribs and slashed his heart into ribbons.  The hand remained over his mouth until the last sigh of breath left his body.

The second met his end in a like manner and expired just as quietly.  The third lay on his belly.  He woke to a knee in his back and gurgled out his life as the dagger slashed his throat.  The sound woke the fourth, but he barely had time to rise to a sitting position.  The force of a foot thrust him back upon the ground.  He felt the agony of the dagger sliding under his ribs and then the feeling of everything becoming black.  With one last convulsion, he sighed out his final breath.

The figure stood then and stirred the embers of the fire.  When a small flame appeared, a few small twigs fed the flame.  Small branches caught fire then and the flickering light lit the scene as the figure pulled off the leather helmet and shook out long tresses of auburn hair.

Morana pulled off the leather tunic and tossed it to the side.  The gore would never wash out but she had others.  She inspected the tight leather trousers after removing them.  She saw no blood or other evidence of the attack and pulled them back on over her rounded hips.

Her bare full breasts swayed gently as she searched each body for anything that might be of use or value.  She found three coins in one vest but tossed them into the fire.  Coins were of no use in her quest.  She then removed that of their leather clothing that was not soiled, for it was from such a source she made her own garments.  As a last action, she took a twig, dipped it in each man’s blood, and drew the sign of Dumene, a circle with three vertical lines, on his forehead.  It was her way of marking the men that Dumene might know of their sins when they arrived in the land of the Gods.

Morana had grinned when she pulled the trousers from the man she’d heard addressed as “Dugh”.  His organ was indeed very small.  She had no doubts it would be difficult to feel him inside her, though she had never experienced such a thing.  Since that day in the ruins of her village, she had lived alone.  At first, she lived in her cave, but soon began her search for the men who had ravaged her village.

She had discovered their identity a month later.  She had been walking to another village of which she knew, a small village known as Broghly, in search of food.  As was her practice, she had kept to the fields of ripening grain or the trees that lined the rough path.  The dress she wore was of a color that blended well into both and would hide her from any watching eyes though she was close enough to see the road.

She was in the fields that adjoined the village when she heard clop-clop of approaching horses.  After hiding behind a stack of oats that had been cut and shocked and were drying, she peered around the side.

There were six soldiers on horses and they were armed with swords and bows.  As the men stopped at the entrance to the village and knocked arrows to their bows, Morna saw the wolf’s head skin that was sewn to each man’s helmet.  The man in front who appeared to lead the group shouted, “For King Sador”, and spurred his horse into a gallop.

Morana could only watch in horror as the six killed every man in the village.  Only one, a tall man who carried an axe, stood fast as the six approached.  He threw the axe just before an arrow pierced his chest, but the axe flew true.  One of the six fell from his horse and lay still with the axe stuck in his forehead.

When the slaughter of the men was complete, the soldiers went from house to house.  Morana covered her ears against the screams and could not bear to watch until the last scream was silenced.  When she looked up again, the five had left the fallen soldier behind and were riding on down the rough path.

She waited until the sun was nearly below the trees before venturing into the village.  She did not want to go there, but she needed food and clothing.  Her dress had been ripped up the right side to the waist that day, and her bared right thigh had been scratched by the undergrowth of the forest as she walked.

Morana found the same death and burnt remains she’d seen in Nitara.  After finding a small pot just inside one of the burned houses, she went to the field and picked a shock of oats from one of the stacks there.  It was difficult to keep all of the small grains as she rubbed the stalks through her hands, but she soon had enough in the small pot to sate her hunger.  The stream that ran beside the village furnished water to make a porridge and she sat the pot on the burning embers of one of the house foundations to cook.

The soldier who had been killed yielded many things Morana needed.  Except for a small amount of blood on his leather tunic, it was undamaged.  His trousers were also unharmed except for the dust of the village street.  Both would be too large for her, but she could cut them to fit.

In his belt was an empty pouch, his sword, and a long dagger in a sheath.  The quiver of arrows lay under him and his bow lay a short distance from where he fell.  Once Morana had the man’s clothes off and the quiver of arrows over her back, she picked up the dagger and bow.  She lifted the sword then, but decided it was too heavy for her to use well and dropped it in the dirt.  

After eating her porridge, Morana went back to the oat stack in the field.  She covered herself and her new possessions with shocks to protect her against the chill of the night and to hide herself from anyone who might travel the path to Broghly.  When the sun set, all that could be seen from the path was a stack of oats that would never be threshed.

The next morning and after a breakfast of more oats, Morana used the dagger to cut the man’s clothing into a size that would fit her.  She cut the remaining leather into thin cords and laced the parts together.  When she finished, she pulled on the trousers and tunic and was pleased at the fit as well as by the freedom of movement they would allow.

In places, her skin showed through the laced seams, and the cut of the man’s tunic was not large enough to let her close the front all the way over her chest.  She let the lacings hang loose in order for the front to fit around her breasts, and wondered if her mother would have scolded her for baring so much of the creamy mounds and the cleavage between them.

The dagger went into the belt she’d shortened to fit her slender waist.  The bow and quiver of arrows she slung over her shoulder.  Before leaving the ruins of the village, Morana threshed her pot full of oats and then poured the grain into the pouch she’d taken from the man’s belt.

Morana turned so the morning sun was on her right and began walking.  She chose that path because she knew something of King Sador and the palace at Corly in the kingdom of Enzach.  Her knowledge was just gossip related by traders who passed through the village, but several had told the same tale.

The former King of Enzach, King Rogan, had been a kindly man content to rule Enzach and not invade the surrounding kingdoms.  His wife, Jumea, bore him two sons to continue the family’s rule over Enzach – Sador and Udor.  In the natural course of things, Sador would take the throne as he was the elder of Udor by two years.  Should something befall Sador, the throne would pass to Udor.   

At the age of twenty Sador was a small man with blonde hair, close-set icy blue eyes and a misshapen nose that made his face look cruel.  His nature was also cruel.  He would beat any horse that did not instantly respond to the reins and his favorite pastime was killing deer and wild boar for sport and leaving them where they fell.

At the age of eighteen, Udor was a strapping young man, tall and handsome with the black hair of his mother and the penetrating grey eyes of his father.  He also had the kind mentality of both.  Udor treated the servants more as friends and was easily their favorite of the two sons.

King Rodan was uneasy that Sador should one day inherit the throne, for he believed his cruel ways would only become worse once he had the power of a king.  When Sador beat a young servant girl nearly to death for not coming to his bed as he had ordered, King Rodan made the decision that Sador would never be king.  He wrote a secret decree to that effect and placed the sealed document in the care of the Captain of the Palace Guard with the instructions it should be opened only upon his death.  King Rodan then took Sador aside and informed him of the document, saying he would rescind the decree if Sador changed his ways.

Sador had only smiled and said he could change the need for the decree.  A few days later he went off with Udor to hunt a wild boar for the upcoming celebration of Udor’s birth.

Late that day, Sador galloped his horse into the palace courtyard alone.  He burst into tears as he told King Rodan of the results of the hunt.  They had stalked a boar and killed it.  Udor was gutting the boar when they were attacked by a large pack of wolves.  As Sador’s boar spear had broken when he killed the boar, he had no weapon and climbed a tree to escape the attack.  Udor faced the snarling pack with his spear and attempted to fend them off.

Sador said Udor fought bravely, but there were too many wolves.  The pack circled him and then attacked all at once.  Udor went down under the slashing fangs and was ripped to shreds.  After the pack of wolves had devoured part of Udor and the boar, they left, but carried off what remained of both.  Sador had waited until the shadows grew long before coming down from his tree and returning to the palace.

The king asked Sador why the wolves did not also attack the horses.  Sador explained they had made the final stalk on foot and had left the horses tied some ways away.  He had left Udor’s horse when he fled because he feared for his life should the wolves return.

King Rodan sent a party of guards to the place Sador directed.  They returned with Udor’s horse and boar spear and told of seeing a place on the ground covered by blood and entrails though the remains were only bits and pieces and could not be identified as boar or human.

King Rodan was beside himself with grief, but also suspicious of Sador.  Wolves sometimes carried off parts of their prey to feed the young in the den, but he had never seen a pack large enough to carry off the remains of both a boar and a man.  He retired to the royal bedchamber after dinner to contemplate what he should do.

In the middle of the night, the Queen summoned the chambermaid and asked that she fetch the healer for the King was very ill.  The healer came and examined the king, but could find no ailment other than an aching belly.  He prescribed honey mixed with wine.  The queen was able to get the king to swallow a small amount, but with no improvement.  By morning, he was dead.

Sador summoned the Captain of the Palace Guard that very morning and demanded the document King Rodan had given him.  Since Udor was dead, and also because Sador had held a dagger to his throat until he did so, the Captain complied.  After reading the document to ensure it was the correct one, Sador burned it in the fire in the palace dining room.

Rumors circulated amongst the servants that Sador had poisoned the King and had likely killed Udor as well.  Their suspicions increased when the Queen succumbed to the same ache in the belly a week later.  Sador heard of these rumors through the Captain of the Palace Guard.  His instructions to the Captain were clear and simple.  He was to kill every servant in the palace.  Should he resist doing so, Sador would remove him from command and order the Captain be drawn and quartered on the palace courtyard.

From that day forward, no more rumors circulated about King Sador, and none of the Guards dared to oppose his orders.  At first, a few who could not stomach the barbarity of the servant’s murders left the Palace Guard for other lands, but Sador sent men to find then, kill them, and bring their heads back to the barracks of the Palace Guard.  There they were displayed on pikes imbedded in the ground.  The desertions ended.

Sador then set about expanding his kingdom.  He formed a special company of the Palace Guard from men who, as the traders explained, were as rogue wolves who kill for sport rather than just to eat.  Indeed, said the traders, the emblem of the company was the head skin of a wolf attached to their leather helmets.  

That company was sent to the adjoining lands to conquer territory and claim it for Enzach.  To Sador, conquering territory meant the land was wiped of all evidence of prior habitation.  They were to leave no person or animal alive nor any structure standing.  How they accomplished these tasks was left to their own choosing.  Because of the type of men Sador chose to fill the ranks of the Wolf Company, the methods used were always horrific.

The soldiers who sacked Broghly had left the city in the same state as Morana had found Nitara.  If not the same group, they were part of the Wolf Company of the Palace Guards the traders had described, for their leather helmets did have the wolf’s head skin.  Morana’s intent was to make them pay a dear price for such barbarity though she did not yet know how.  

She reasoned there would be more of them razing villages on the edges of Enzach, and since it lay to the north, so did her path.  She followed no road, for she wished to pick the time and place for her vengeance.  Instead, she walked the forests and fields where she would not be seen.

As Morana walked, she practiced with the bow, and in a week was able to bring down rabbits with half her shots.  She welcomed this food source as she had eaten nearly all the oats she’d threshed at Broghly. The ground here was rocky, too rocky to plow, so there were no villages and no fields or gardens from which she might find food.

It was in such a rocky place she encountered the first group of the Palace Guards.  There were three preparing their encampment for the night.  Morana crept unseen into a thick stand of bushes and lay down to listen and watch.

The Guardsmen prepared an evening meal over their fire, and placed their blankets around the fire once they had eaten.  One produced a goatskin bag, took a long swallow from the wooden spout, and then belched and said “would that I had me a willing wench to poke tonight.  That would complete a fine afternoon of battle, a good meal, and this good wine.”

The man in the center of the group laughed.

“Namid, the only wench willing to bed you would have teats like a doe goat and a hole wide enough to accept your foot.”

Namid chuckled.

“That could be true, but a wench like that would be better than pounding away with my fist as you two do every morning.”

He passed the goatskin to the middle man who drank a long draught and then passed it on.  The goatskin made the rounds of the three as they talked until they yawned and lay down on the blankets they had placed near the fire.

Morana had become more and more enraged as she listened to their conversation.  They had just raided and burned the house of a hunter of furs.  They bragged about how easily he was killed and how it was unfortunate they had to kill his wife before taking their pleasures with her.  

That they would die tonight, Morana was certain.  She just did not know how to do such a thing.  As she lay in the bushes watching, she saw each man remove his leather shirt and lay it beside him.  All he wore then was his trousers and a simple linen undershirt.  If her bow could send an arrow through the hide of a rabbit, surely it could do the same to a linen shirt.

She waited until the men were asleep and then crept closer.  The fire still flamed and those flames lit the sleeping men.  Morana knocked an arrow, prayed to Dumene to steady her hands, and aimed it at the chest of the man nearest her.  

The men had drunk enough wine the twang of the bowstring did not waken them, nor did the cry of the man she had aimed at.  Because of the shallow angle, the arrow entered just under the man’s ribs and pierced his heart.  He doubled over to clutch his chest and died as Morana was knocking the second arrow.  Though she aimed at the same place on the second man, her arrow flew high and struck him in the throat.  He gasped, then gurgled and after a few moments, lay still again.  Morana knocked a third arrow and took aim.

The third man stirred at the gurgling next to him and then sat up.  Morana’s shot was wide and plunged into the ground at the man’s side.  He looked at the arrow, then at his two companions, then jumped up and started to run.  Morana’s fourth arrow struck him in the back and he fell to the ground.  She pulled the dagger from her belt and ran to where he had fallen.  As she had seen the men of her village do when they slaughtered a goat, she made one quick cut with the dagger at the side of his neck.  After a few moments, he stopped moving.

Thinking there might be more of the Palace Guard in the area, Morana went back to her stand of bushes.  She watched the camp until the sky turned the gray of very early morning.  No other guardsmen had come to the camp, so she walked to where the men had piled their belongings.

She took the men’s clothing to make more for herself, and found the sacks of dried meat and grain they carried.  She also collected their quivers of arrows and their bows as well as the daggers and the belts that carried them.  After trying on the leather helmets and finding one that fit, she ripped the wolf’s head skin from the top and threw it in the fire.  She then untied the horses the men had ridden and set them free with a slap on the rump.  Morana had no use for a horse.  She knew a horse would neigh if another approached and give away her position.  She picked up her trophies and had taken only a few steps when she remembered she had not made the sign of Dumene.  After marking the men and then taking up her new possessions, Morana continued to walk north.

It was after midday when she came across the next camping site.  It was deserted, but that it had been used recently was evidenced by the fresh ashes of the fire.  She continued walking and found several other camps.  There could be only one reason for so many camping sites in the area.  The Wolf Company would have stopped at these sites on their way to and from Corly.  Morana began to climb from the foothills into the mountains to find a place to watch the area unseen.

A short way into the foothills she discovered a passage through the rock.  She would have missed the entrance had she not been looking carefully for firm footing, for the ground was a loose collection of weather-rounded rocks that tended to shift when she stepped.  The way looked easier around a large boulder so she took that path.  Behind the boulder she found the opening in the rock.

The passage was narrow, so narrow it would barely be passable by a horse and only then if the rider dismounted.  When she looked up, Morana could see the reason for the passage.  It had once been the gap between two huge rock slabs.  Over time, the base upon which the slabs sat had eroded and the two had fallen inward creating a sloping roof.  At the very top, Morana could see sunlight where the slabs had not completely closed together.  

At first she thought the passage might lead to a cave.  A cave would have been welcome for she did not like sleeping in the open.  It would be too easy for someone to surprise her when she slept.  She had walked a few steps when the corridor turned to her right.  She followed it and a few steps later walked out into a small valley inside the mountains.

From the far side of the valley, a small stream flowed from the rock wall, meandered across the level valley floor, and then plunged over a rock face and thence into a small pool.  At the end of the pool, the stream narrowed again and then poured through another opening in the rock.  Near that small waterfall was an outcropping in the rock that formed a sort of roof over the area below.  The rest of the valley was tall grass with a small forest of trees at one end.

Morana sat down on the fine sand floor under the overhang to think.  If she was not already inside the lands of Enzach, she soon would be.  With so many campsites in the area, it would be difficult to elude any of the Palace Guard who passed through unless she had a secure hiding place.  If she remained here, she could climb the peaks during the day and watch for small groups coming from or returning to Corly.  

If she saw any, she could walk from the valley to their camping site as night drew near, wreak her vengeance, and then return.  The rocky path would make tracking her movements difficult at best, so she could sleep without worry of discovery.  That night, she spread a blanket under the overhang and slept until the rays of the morning sun warmed her face.

As the days passed, Morana found and killed several men in the dress she’d come to recognize as the uniform of the Wolf Company of the Palace Guards.  As always, she took from them what she could use and left them where they had fallen after marking them with the sign of Dumene.  She knew they were found, for she had observed this happen on several occasions from her hidden watching place half-way up the mountain.

Many groups of the Wolf Company traveled through the area on their way to and from Corly.  If it had been only a day since she had taken her vengeance on one of the smaller groups, Guardsmen who intended to use that particular campsite were greeted by the open eyes of the fallen.  Morana was very careful to not leave any sign of her presence other than the bodies with the sign of Dumene and missing clothing and equipment.  To the Guardsmen, it was as if their fellow soldiers had been slain by a spirit that left no sign in coming or going.

If more than two days had passed, the scavengers of the forest would have cleared away the remains, and the guardsmen would find only a fire, a cooking pot, and perhaps some equipment Morana did not want.

They would often scour the area for some sign of the attacker, but were always unsuccessful. A few did begin to search the foothills, but finding the rocks held no sign, quickly returned.  They would then speed away as fast as their horses could gallop. She was curious as to their speed of leaving until she waited in hiding beside the camp of two guardsmen one night.

They had finished eating and were sitting beside the fire talking.  The shorter of the two asked why they were spending the night in such a cursed place.  The taller of the two laughed.

“You, my friend, have been listening too much to the stories of cowards and old women.  I do not believe there is such a thing as a spirit who kills and then leaves the sign of a Goddess on the victims.  I have never seen this with my own eyes, and will not believe until I do so.”

“But I heard from another man he has seen it.  The men were either killed by our own arrows or were cut to ribbons.  He said parts of them were missing as well, and that the spirit must have eaten them.”

The taller man chuckled.

“Yes, I have heard the tales.  I do not believe them either.  A spirit would not need to feed, and a man would not eat another man’s manhood nor his sack.  It must have been animals. That is just the wild imagination of the teller of such tales.  Go to sleep.  We will reach Corly tomorrow.  You will be in more danger of losing that twig you call a cock to one of the whores there than you are here.”

That night, the two joined the other members of their evil company in the land of the Gods.  Morana prayed Dumene would see her sign on their foreheads and deal with them as would be appropriate.

Over the months, several other small groups went to sleep near Morana’s hidden valley only to wake in the land of the Gods.  Morana felt no more for these men than if they had been the rabbits she killed with her arrows.  They were not truly men, she reasoned, for a man would not kill another unless threatened and he would never kill women and children.  They were worse than the wolves that had furnished their headpieces.

Her sleeping area was stacked with daggers, bows, and quivers of arrows from the fallen guardsmen.  Rolled into tight bundles were their leather trousers and tunics.  During the day, Morana fashioned more garments for herself for it was usual that she was soiled by the gore of those she sent to Dumene and she refused to wear clothing that reeked of such filth.

Morana was also sometimes soiled, and before finding the hidden valley had cleaned herself as best she could with leaves and the occasional bath in a convenient stream.  Once she had taken up residence in the hidden valley, she bathed daily in the pool near the overhang.

It was both a pleasure and a shock to wade into the small pool the first time, for the water was very cool.  Morana had walked to the middle of the pool where the water came up to her slender waist and then dropped to her knees to immerse her head.  After staying so for as long as she could hold her breath, she burst from the water and threw back her head to clear her hair from her face.  Her long, auburn tresses threw a cascade of droplets in an arc as they swept through the air to land on her bare back
.
She had no soap with which to wash so she used her hands to scrub her skin.  That first time she noticed an odd thing had happened.  While her nipples had at times become somewhat larger and firmer, after her immersion in the pool, they became longer and very taut.  Her touch send a tingle to her belly that she’d not felt before.  Another such touch resulted in another tingle in her belly and also an odd sensation between her thighs.

Morana waded to shallower water then to continue bathing.  When she touched the soft lips and crinkled hair between her thighs again, she caught her breath at the sensation that shot to her core.  The sensation was very pleasant, so she continued to stroke the soft petals between her thighs.  One finger slipped between those petals and Morana gasped at the feeling that raced to her flat belly.  She continued to stroke that fingertip through the slippery wetness and closed her eyes.  The sensations were so intense as to be nearly overpowering, and became more so when she found her entrance and pushed the finger gently in.

As the feeling of tension began to cause her knees to shake, Morana’s other hand went to her breast and stroked the rigid nipple.  She gasped, then stroked the swollen nub again.

Before she realized what was happening, Morana thrust her hips out with a jerk and felt the tightening in her body increase to the point she began to shake.  Then, she felt a wonderful feeling sweep her body from head to toe as the tension was suddenly released.  She cried out as another wave of feelings caused her knees to buckle.  A third shook her as she fell to her knees in the water.

A few moments later, Morana left the pool to let the warmth of the sun dry her body.  She thought of her cry when the tension was released.  It was the same cry she’d heard her mother make on the nights she’d heard the creaking of the bed on which her mother and father slept.  Could it be from the same cause?  If that were so, perhaps her mother was not in pain as she’d thought.  Perhaps her mother was experiencing the same release of tension.  Morana smiled.  Were that so, being penetrated by a man’s organ might be a very wonderful thing, a thing she would enjoy greatly.

As her body dried in the sunshine, Morana combed her long auburn hair with her fingers to dry it as well.  She wished for a proper comb, but had not found one in any of the effects of the men who fell to her arrows or had their hearts or throats slashed by her dagger.  Such was no surprise to her, for all the men had long greasy hair that always looked as if it was never washed or combed.  

She thought again of the pleasures she’d discovered in the pool.  In the coming days, she would enjoy those pleasures each time she bathed, and each time she though of how it might feel with a man giving her those pleasures.  She might  enjoy a man now that she knew of what pleasures he might stir in her body, but not any of these men.  Their heavy beards and greasy hair turned her stomach at the thought of being touched by any of them.

After two afternoons of watching from her hiding place up the mountainside, Morana saw a lone Guardsman stop at one of the campsites.  He tied his black horse to a tree and then made a fire.  Morana watched as he cooked his evening meal, ate, and then spread his blankets on the ground.  As the sun dipped low over the trees, she quietly made her way back to her hidden valley, slung on a quiver of arrows and a bow, and then made her way back to the entrance.

She could see his large body lying under the blanket and aimed for the place where his chest would be.  She let the arrow fly and was pleased when it pierced the blanket, made a thunk sound as it was stopped by the man’s body, and then vibrated slightly.  The man would be dead soon.  Morana waited and watched for some sign of movement, but after seeing none, pulled her dagger and approached.

When she was a step away from the man, she stopped her silent approach and watched again for any movement that might indicate he still breathed.  There was none, so Morana sheathed her dagger, took another step, then grasped the blanket and threw it back.

She was aghast at seeing not a man but only a large leather bag and two logs.  She turned to run, but was stopped by a strong arm around her waist and a hand clamped over her mouth.  The man’s voice was a chuckle.

“I thought to capture the spirit of Dumene.  Instead I have caught only a man.”

As Morana struggled against the suffocating grip around her middle, the man chuckled again.

“Ah, but what sort of man is this with such a slender waist and such soft hips.”

Morana felt the hand leave her mouth and feel downward.  The man chuckled again.

“No man would have such large teats.  I think I have captured Dumene herself.  Let me have a look at you, Goddess.”

Morana spat out the words.

“I am not Dumene.”

“I would see this killer of the Palace Guard to know for myself.”

He placed one hand on her shoulder and then turned Morana around as he released the grip on her waist.  Her eyes glowed with hatred in the firelight and the man laughed.

“You are but a young girl.”

Morana reached for the dagger in her belt and raised it to strike at the man’s throat.  He stopped her stroke with a crushing grip on her wrist, and laughed again as Morana cried out and dropped the dagger.

“Yes, only a young girl, but one with the temper of a badger.  Tell me, girl, why do you wish to kill me, not that you ever could.”

“You killed my family.”

“Oh, and where would I have done such a thing?”

“In the village of Nitara.”

“Hmm…I do not recall ever visiting a village by that name.  How do you know I was there.”

“It may not have been you, but you are part of the Wolf Company of the Palace Guard that was. I will kill you all and send you to Dumene for punishment.”

The man’s gleaming white teeth flashed through his heavy black beard as he grinned.

“You would kill us all?  There are over a thousand.  How could you hope to do such a thing.”

Morana glared at him and thrust out her chest.

“With my bow and my dagger.  I have killed many already.”

The man chuckled.

“So I have heard.  How do you know I am of the Wolf Company?”

“You wear the wolf’s head on your helmet, and you stopped here on your way to Corly as they do.”

The man slightly eased his grip on Morana’s wrist.

“Girl, what is your name?”

“I am Morana.”

“Morana, I am not a part of that group of animals who are the Wolf Company, nor am I a part of any Palace Guard.  I stopped here in hopes of finding the man who was ridding the countryside of their ilk.  I thought I might find an ally for my quest.”

“I do not believe you.  You tricked me by putting a sack and logs under your blanket.  You are trying to do the same now.”

The man smiled.

“A very logical thought for a young girl, but it is a false one.  Were I to release you, could you stop your efforts to kill me long enough to listen to my explanation?  If you are not satisfied, I will give you back your dagger and you may try again.  I assure you the attempt will not be successful, but you may try.”

Morana felt his grip on her wrist and shoulder relax again and was confused.  If he was part of the Wolf Company, surely he would have killed her by now, or from what she had heard of their conversations, probably done worse before killing her.  If he spoke the truth though, why did he dress in the uniform of the Wolf Company and why was he going to Corly?  No man from any village outside the land of Enzach would ever venture there except a trader.  A trader would have a wagon and would dress much as the people of the villages.

Perhaps he was just toying with her before throwing her to the ground, violating her body and then killing her.  Doing so would seem to fit the past practices of the Wolf Company.  Still, in her current situation, she had little choice.  The man was much stronger than she, and could easily overpower her.  If she was loose, she might be able to run away.  She looked into the man’s eyes.

“I will listen, but only if you give my dagger to me first.”

The man chuckled as he released Morana’s shoulder, bent down, and picked up the dagger.  He flipped it in the air, caught it by the blade and handed her the handle, then released his grip on her wrist.

“Here is your dagger, my little vixen.  Take care you do not try to use it before I finish.  Sit down.”

Morana sat down on the blanket, but held her dagger at the ready.  The man smiled.

“I am called Fadal, and I am from Langill, a village that was sacked by the those you call the Wolf Company.  I survived only because I was away hunting a wolf that had killed two sheep during the night before.  When I returned, I found nothing but ashes and the dead.  I knew of the Wolf Company of the Palace Guards and their actions from a trader who passed through.  The destruction of my village could have been caused by no other, and I resolved to take my revenge in any way possible.  I knew to do so, I would have to look like one of their own.  They would not suspect a man dressed as they dress.

I found two of the scum camped one night and killed them both.  I then donned the clothing of the largest, took his horse, and left them to the wolves.  After that, I found others and was welcomed into their ranks, for they are many, and none know all by face or name.  If the group was small enough, I would end their lives.  If not, I would stay the night and listen to their tales, then saying I was on another mission, leave them the next morning.  It was in this way I learned of the ‘Spirit of Dumene”, as they call you.  Most are very fearful of you.

“My goal is not to kill all the Palace Guards.  I have heard from the Guardsmen I camped with that only the Wolf Company of the Palace Guard is responsible for the sacking of villages.  The others are in Corly and only doing their duty to avoid being put to death by King Sador.  My goal instead is to remove King Sador from his throne.  Such will be a difficult thing to accomplish without assistance.  I had hoped this ‘Spirit of Dumene’ might be the assistance I require.  That is why I did not end your life as soon as you approached.

“That is my tale for now.  If you are satisfied I am not of that murdering hoard, we can speak further of my plan.  If not…”

Fadal held his arms outstretched.

“You may do your best.”

Morana thought more about the way Fadal had told his story than the story itself.  As she had listened to the conversations of the other guardsmen, she had come to know them as men crude in speech as well as in actions.  Fadal spoke as one accustomed to being polite and truthful, just as had the men of her village.

He also had smiled at her as he spoke.  She had never seen such a smile from any of the others.  Fadal’s smile was friendly, not the leering grin she’d seen so often.  True, his heavy beard and greasy hair was the same as the others, but for some reason she could not fathom, Morana found his smile to be entrancing.

She looked again at Fadal.

“You say I could not kill all the Wolf Company.  How would you manage to kill King Sador?  He will surely have many of them to protect himself.”

“I spoke with one of the true Palace Guards when he deserted.  He rode through my village and stopped to buy food.  He told of many of the true Palace Guards, including their Captain, who wish to end Sador’s reign.  Unfortunately, their Captain fears for his life and will not lead them to do so.  I would lead them to take the palace.  Once we hold the palace, King Sador would be ours to do with as we wish.”

“Why would you think the Palace Guard would follow you?  You are just a village farmer.”

Fadal smiled.

“I am not a farmer.  I once held rank in the true Palace Guard, but was injured by a fall from a horse.   Since I could not perform my duties, I was thrown out of the ranks to fend for myself.  It was through the kindness of a trader and his wife I made my way to Langill.  I remained there after my injury healed because I heard of the transfer to the throne of Sador.  He was a cruel child, a cruel man, and I had no doubt, a cruel king.  I should have remained in Langill had the village not been razed for I wanted no part of such a kingdom.

“I know most of the true Palace Guard.  Their Captain is a good man, but he is weak and afraid to lead them.  They will follow me.”

“Why would you need the help of another then?”

“I need a way by which to meet with the true Palace Guard.  They hate the Wolf Company and would not speak to one were he to approach them without a reason.  I need such a reason to speak with one or two that they may convey my plan to the others.  Once they recognize me, they will do so.  If I brought him the man who had killed so many of his Wolf Company, King Sador would place that man under the control of the true Palace Guard until he could carry out the execution.  I would deliver that man to them and speak with them when I did so.”

Morana questioned that logic.

“But surely King Sador would order the man to be immediately killed.”

“No, he would not.  Executions are carried out when the sun is high overhead that all of Corly may watch.  I would arrive after that time.  He would be forced to wait until the next day.

“The situation is now different.  He knows of you, though not of your sex, and you have spurred him to madness beyond his usual state.  He has no doubt planned the death of the man responsible.  Once he learns you are a woman, he will want your death to be especially slow and in view of the people of Corly that no one might attempt such a thing again. I have heard he is not very quick of thought. It will take him a day or two to decide upon a fitting method of execution.  That will be enough time to rally the true Palace Guard and end his reign.

“What if you should fail?”

“There is no reason to think I shall fail.”

“You would fail if I do not go with you.”

Fadal chuckled.

“It would seem you have only two choices – go with me willingly, or go with me as a prisoner.  I would rather you choose the former.”

Morana thought for several moments.  She had tired of killing men even though she felt no sorrow at their deaths and would continue until no more crossed her path or she was herself killed.  She had promised Dumene to do so.

Her hidden valley was a safe refuge for now, but eventually she would probably be discovered.  Discovery would mean she must flee if she was able, but most probably she would be killed.

Fadal seemed very confident.  Only a mad man would attempt such a thing as he planned unless that man knew he would succeed.  Fadal did not seem mad.  His reason for that confidence seemed weak to her, but if the plan worked, she could return to life as a woman.  She was not certain what that life would be, but it would be happier than the life she now led.  She turned to Fadal.

“I would hear all of your plan before I choose.”

It was near daylight by then, so lest they be seen, Morana led Fadal to the opening in the rock and then into her hidden valley.  He was amazed at the sight, and further amazed at the collection of daggers and other arms she had taken from the men she killed.

“Do you mean to start an army of your own with all these bows and arrows?”

Morana shrugged.

“I do not know how to make them, so I take them when I can.”

“I see you prefer the dagger over the sword.  Most men would choose the opposite.  The dagger is a close-quarters weapon.”

“The swords of the Palace Guard are too heavy for me to use well.  I find it easier to use the dagger even if being so close turns my stomach.  Men of the Wolf Company do not seem to wash often and they smell.  Now, tell me all of your plan and what I must do.”

The morning sun of the following day had just peeked over the trees when they rode toward Corly.  Morana rode in front of Fadal and her hands were tied to his saddle.  He said it was the way of transporting a prisoner when only one horse was available.  Morana thought it more likely it was a way for Fadal to feel her hips pressing into his belly, for so they were.

The feeling was not unpleasant as she had first imagined.  She found herself enjoying the feel of his hard muscles against her back and his belly against her hips.  She also was aware of another feeling, the same feeling she had when washing herself in the pool in the valley.  She willed that feeling to go away, but the brush of her breasts against the inside her leather tunic with every step of the horse stiffened her nipples and the feeling was only heightened.

The sun passed it’s highest point of travel and was dropping slowly toward the west when they neared the city gate.  The sentry in his station above the gate challenged Fadal.

“Hold that horse.  What is your business in Corly?”

Fadal smiled.

“Do you not recognize one of your own?  I am Fadal, of the Wolf Company of the Palace Guard, and I have brought King Sador a prize.  This woman prisoner is the assassin who has been killing our men.”

“Ah”, said the guard.  “The King will be pleased.  Turn her over to me and I will see she is taken to him.”

Fadal let his hand fall to the handle of the sword at his side.  As he had anticipated, the guard would take Morana to the king and upset his plans.  Though he smiled at the guard, there was no mistaking the meaning of his words.

“I think it better I do it myself.  You might possibly forget my name, and I do wish it to be known I was her captor.  Capturing such a prize will mean another step in rank for me.  Of course, if you would rather challenge me, I will oblige.  You will no doubt have a very nice funeral.”

The guard’s eyes opened wide and he said nothing for a few moments.  Then, he smiled a forced smile.

“I see what you mean, Guardsman Fadal.  You may pass.”

The guard left his station, and a few moments later the gate swung open.  Fadal clucked to the horse and rode through.  

Morana was somewhat bewildered by the number of people walking about the numerous shops and homes inside the wall around the city.  Never in her life had she seen so many people in one place.  There also seemed to be Palace Guards everywhere.  She began to shake with fear, but Fadal’s voice calmed her a little.

“Do not fear anything here, Morana.  I will see to your safety, though it might not seem so at first.  Just do as we planned.  All things will be put right within one or two days.”

Fadal did not ride to the palace Morana saw in the distance.  Instead, he rode to a long building near the wall around the city.  When he approached that building another of the Palace Guard spoke to him with a harsh voice..  

“I see by your helmet you are of the Wolf Company.  Your barracks is further down.  Be off with you.”

Fadal’s voice was soft enough only Morana could have heard what he said.

“I know this man, and I believe it will be possible to change our plan.  Use that pretty little head if you are asked a question.  They do not know who you are, and it will be best if they remain uninformed.”

Fadal then stopped the horse and chuckled.

“Merlone, do you remember teaching a young boy to shoot the bow?  You laughed when he scraped his arm with the bowstring and said a girl could to better.”

As the man approached, his mouth fell open.

“It can not be.”

Fadal chuckled again.

“It can be and it is.  Is Idole still a menber of the Palace Guard?”

“Yes, he is.  He is inside the barracks.”

“Run and fetch him then.”

The guard ran back inside the barracks and returned moments later with another man in the uniform of the Palace Guard.  The second man stared at Fadal for several moments, then smiled.

“Merlone told me a tale I could not believe.  You do put on a good show, but I know it is just that, a good show.”

Fadal laughed.

“Just as you knew the truth when I put that scar on your backside with my sword?”

Idole gasped.

“So, it is true.”

Fadal’s voice became stern then.

“Yes, it is true, and we have much to discuss.  First, I must see to the safety of this woman, for King Sador will have her killed once he knows she is here and the guard at the gate will tell him soon, I expect.  Can you find a safe hiding place for her?”

Idole whispered something to Merlone, and then both men nodded.  Merlone walked away as Fadal untied Morana’s wrists and then helped her down from the horse. Idole led them to a small building behind the barracks.  

The inside was filled with sacks of grain, and the cured hams of wild boar hung from the beams of the ceiling.  

“We will hide her, but first she must have a change of clothes.  Merlone has gone to get those.”

When Merlone came back, he had a red dress tied in a bundle under one arm and a pair of slippers in his other hand.

“I told Jacone the girl’s height was the same as hers and she gave me this dress and these slippers.  Jacone is somewhat fuller through the middle so the dress may be a bit large, but she will look like just another whore and no one will suspect.”

Morana gasped.

“You are making me a concubine?”

Fadal laughed.

“Where would you be safer?  The Palace Guard protect their whores from everyone.”

“You will be safe”, said Merlone.  “I told Jacone you were a girl I purchased from a trader from the south and were not to be used by anyone except myself.  Jacone is the mistress of the brothel.  She will make sure you are not bothered.  You must change now.”

The three men left Morana alone to change.  It felt strange to put on a dress again after spending so many months dressed as a man.  The dress was also somewhat embarrassing.  This Jacone woman was rather full in the bust and the result was the already revealing neckline fell low on her chest, low enough a good bit of the separation between her breasts was revealed.

It also felt strange when she walked out of the building because all three men were staring at her.  She felt the warmth of blushing on her bared chest.

 Fadal chuckled.

“I might have to challenge your claim to her once our business is finished.”

Merlone smiled.

“It seemed to be a good way to make sure she is not placed in danger.  As you brought her with you, I know she is yours.  We must get her to the brothel now before she is seen.”

******************************************

Morana had expected to see men and women together in the brothel for that is how her mother described such a place.  Instead, there were only women.  Merlone had introduced her to Jacone and reminded the woman Morana was not to be touched by anyone else.  Jacone, a plump woman who had the same lines in her face Morana remembered her mother having, smiled.

“She will remain untouched as you wish, Merlone.  I shall put her in my own room.  No man would dare go there unless I invited him, and I shall invite none.”

Jacone led Morana to a separate room in the building and ushered her inside.  Morana could only stare at the fine furnishings, carpets, and draperies.  They were lavish beyond anything she had ever imagined could exist.  She stopped staring and turned at Jacone’s voice.

“Where are you from, girl?  Merlone said you were from the south, but did not give a city or town.”

Morana thought quickly and hoped her lie would pass as the truth.

“That is because I lived in no city or town.  My father was a trapper of furs and we lived in the forest. He and my mother died two years ago.  I do not know why other than they began to cough one day and died the next.  The trader found me and took me away.  I did not wish to go with him, but he forced me.”

“And this trader did not touch you?”

“No.  He said I would fetch a higher price if I was untouched by a man.  He found other women in the cities and towns we passed through to satisfy his needs.”

Jacone smiled.

“Were you one of my girls, I would demand a high price even if you were not untouched.  You are quite beautiful.  Merlone is fortunate to have found such a woman.  Perhaps one day you will become his wife, no?”

“I have not thought about that, for I do not know him well at all.  Is he a kind man?”

Jacone smiled.

“Yes, child, he is.  Were I younger, I would be attempting to attract more of his attention than his evening trips to see me.  Alas, such will probably not be.  Well, I must prepare for this evening.  Once they have had their fill of food and wine, the guardsmen will come and want a woman.  I will bring you a meal when my cook has prepared it, and you will sleep in my bed tonight.  Do not be alarmed when I join you later.  I do not view women as does a man.“

Jacone’s voice then turned serious.

“Do not venture outside this door no matter what you hear.  Men leave their brains with the dregs at the bottom of the wine skins and would spread your legs in a heartbeat no matter what you or I said.”

Morana sat and looked about the room until Jacone brought a bowl of stew of wild boar.  She ate the stew, then because the exertions and stress of the day had tired her, she undressed and slipped under the blanket of the bed.  In a few heartbeats she was asleep.


She awoke the next morning, and when she stretched, her arm bumped into Jacone’s leg.  The woman was sitting up in the bed, and at the touch, turned to look at Morana.

“Ah, you are awake.  Did you sleep well?”

“Yes, I did.  You have a wonderful bed.  Everything in this room is wonderful.  I have never seen such before.”

Jacone chuckled.

“I have certain talents Merlone thinks are worth such things.  He brings me gifts from his travels around the kingdom as thanks for my use of those talents.  I fear you will receive Merlone’s gifts now.  He did not visit me last night.”

“He usually does?”

“Yes, every night unless he is away on some venture.  Something must be happening for him to stay in the barracks.  There were only a handful of men here last night, and they were all men who just joined the Palace Guard.  Perhaps they go on a quest of some sort or other.  We will know soon enough.  I will see if the cook has our breakfast prepared.  Perhaps she knows something as well.”

Jacone rose, dressed, and then left the room.  Morana also dressed and then sat down to wait for Jacone’s return.  Her wait was not long.

Jacone rushed into the room.  

“Get dressed, girl.  Oh…you already are.  Come.  There is fighting in the streets and it is no longer safe here.”

Jacone nearly dragged Morana out of the brothel, such was her haste.  Morana followed because she did not know what to think.  Fadal had assured her she would be safe if she stayed in the brothel but now she was running through the streets where anyone might see her.  She was still wondering when they reached the barracks she had left the night before.

Merlone had been watching for them, and took Morana by the arm.

“Come with me.  I have six men in the barracks who will die before allowing either of you to be harmed.  You will be safe here until the battle has ended.”

Morana asked who was fighting.

Merlone grinned.

“The Palace Guard are fighting the Wolf Company and will soon take the palace.  King Sador will be arrested then and the new king will take his place.”

“What new king”, Jacone asked.  “There were but two sons born to King Rodan, and Udor is dead.”

Merlone’s grin became even larger..

“Udor lives. He came here yesterday with Morana.  Even as we speak, he leads the Palace Guard to overthrow King Sador.  I will come for you when it is finished.”

**************************************

The throng of people gathered in the courtyard parted to let Merlone, Morana, and Jacone pass.  As they neared the palace, Morana saw a raised platform with a beam over the center.  Heavy ropes hung from the beam.  She stopped and pulled on Merlone’s arm.

“There are so many people.  Is someone to be hanged?”

Merlone laughed.

“Not today, Morana.  Today, the gallows serves as a stage for King Udor.  He wishes you to be with him.”

When Merlone urged Morana to climb the steps of the platform, a tall man with black hair came to help her.  At first, she did not take his offered hand for she did not recognize him.  He smiled.

“You do not know me?  All I have done is remove my beard and trim my hair.”

“Fadal?”

“Yes.  I am the man you know as Fadal.  It was necessary to deceive you for a while.  Since we were successful, such is no longer necessary.  I am Udor, the new King of Enzach.  Come now.  I must speak to my people.”

When Morana walked onto the platform she saw three other men standing there.  One she recognized as Idole.  He stood with another in the uniform of the Palace guard.  The man between them was short with blonde hair and a crooked nose.  He wore only a nightdress, his hands were tied behind his back, and his eyes flicked back and forth at the crowd and then at Udor.  Idole held a dagger to that man’s throat.

Udor stepped forward and held up his hand to silence the murmuring crowd.

“People of Corly, on this day I and the Palace Guard have released Enzach from the rule of this miserable excuse for a king.  He was never a good man and became only more cruel upon assuming the throne.  I know this because I am his brother, Udor.  That I am truly Udor has been confirmed by Idole, Merlone, and all of the Palace Guard who knew me.”

The Palace Guard who surrounded the platform nodded.  The crowd buzzed with talk which Udor allowed to continue for a while.  He held up his hand then.

“ You heard of my death at the jaws of wolves.  The only wolf involved was my brother Sador.  As you can see, his attempt to kill me was not successful.  I have returned to Corly to end Sador’s reign over you.  This would not have been possible without the help of the Palace Guard and …“

He beckoned Morana to come to his side.

“And this young woman.  Her name is Morana, though you may know her as ‘the Spirit of Dumene’.  A braver woman I have never met.  She is the mysterious person who killed so many of the Wolf Company.  She also risked her life to gain my entrance into Corly that I might rally the Palace Guards against the Wolf Company.  I shall be in her debt always.

There was more nodding of heads and low talk.  Udor held up his hands again.

“On this day I have made several decrees.  I shall relate those decrees to you now.

“From this day forth there will be no more executions of people who only speak their minds.  I would encourage you to speak your thoughts that I might become as good a king as was my father, King Rodan.

“From this day forth, there will be no further attempts to expand the kingdom.  We shall defend our borders if necessary, but be content with what we have.  Many areas are as yet unexplored and uninhabited.  It shall be the duty of the Palace Guard to explore the land.  It shall be my responsibility to further settlement of these areas once they are explored.  In this manner the kingdom will prosper as never before.

“ From this day forth, the Wolf Company is disbanded.  No longer will they take the lives of people who only wished to make a life for themselves and their families.  Tomorrow, I will send emissaries to the kings of the lands sacked by Wolf Company to make peace and reparations.

“The last matters that need deciding today are the fate of Sador and of the Wolf Company that remain alive.

“My decision regarding Wolf Company is that every man shall be stripped of everything he owns including his clothing, and then banished from Enzach.  Perhaps they will learn what it means to lose everything but themselves as did both I and Morana.  It is also my decree that should any return, they will be hunted like the beasts they are and once killed, left for the wolves and ravens.

There were a few cheers from the crowd, and those cheers quickly became an uproar of the same.  Udor raised his hands again and continued to speak once the din had ceased.

“Sador presents a problem for me, for he is my brother.  Under his reign, even a much lesser offence against the kingdom would result in death, but I cannot kill my own brother even though he tried to kill me.  I believe he also killed our father and mother, for King Rodan was too strong a man to die overnight and my mother was younger and just as strong.  I have no proof of this however, so I must take his word that he is innocent.

“I have thought long and hard about his fate once deposed, and have come to a decision.  Morana showed me a small valley in the mountains to the south of Corly.  There is but one entrance and that through a gap in solid rock.  The mountains that surround this valley are much too steep for even a goat to climb.  

“In the valley is water and land that would grow grain and vegetables if tilled and planted.  Sador shall be taken to that valley along with one buck and three doe goats, and with the seeds of grain and vegetables and farming tools.  As it is late in the year, he will also be supplied with enough food to last until crops may be harvested.  Once he is there, the entrance will be closed using rock and mortar sufficient to seal the entire length against entrance or exit.  Sador shall live, but he shall live alone and work for his own survival.  In this way he may learn to appreciate the lives he snuffed out.

I leave you now to attend to the business of King of Enzach.  Rejoice in this day, for it means freedom from a cruel ruler and the beginning of a happier life.”

As the crowd began to disperse, Udor turned to Idole.

“Is all ready?”

“Yes, King Udor.  The goats and supplies are on their way.  Culim and I will take Sador there.  The masons are loading their sacks of mortar and tools.  They will arrive shortly after we do.  By nightfall, Sador will be imprisoned in the valley.  The masons will complete the filling of the entrance in another three or four days.  I will have two men stationed at the entrance until it is sealed.”

“Good.  See to it Sador is not injured during the trip, for there are many who wish him harm.  I want him to be fit and healthy that he might learn how the people in the villages lived before he ended their lives.”

“Highness, do you wish to say anything to Sador before we leave?’

“No.  I never want to hear or see anything of him again.”

Udor turned to Mordone.

“Mordone, would you escort Jacone back to the brothel?  I have business to discuss with Morana.”

“Yes, King Udor.  It is as good as done.”

Udor grinned.

“While you are there, you might explain to Jacone what transpired last night.  I believe she would enjoy hearing that.”

Udor winked at Mordone.

“Take the rest of today and the night if need be.”

As Mordone left the platform, King Udor turned to Morana.

“Morana, would you do me the honor of dining with me tonight?  I have many things to explain to you.”

Morana gasped.

“Fadal…I mean, King Udor, I am but a simple farm girl.  I cannot dine with a King.”

Udor chuckled.

“Well, right now you look more like a whore than a farm girl, but I am certain the seamstresses of the palace can convert you into at least a passable woman of my court.  Shall we go to the palace that they may take the appropriate measurements and begin?  You may wish to attend to other woman’s things as well.  I will assign a chambermaid to you.  All you need do is ask and she will bring or do whatever you require.”

**************************************

Morana followed Ibana, her assigned chambermaid, down the long hall and into the huge dining room.  Her mind was still whirling at all that had happened since she had entered the palace.

Udor and she had been met by four women who curtsied and asked what they might do for them.  Udor smiled.

“This is Morana.  She is not as she looks.  Take her and dress her as you would a lady of the King’s court.  Ibana, you shall be her chambermaid.  Give to her whatever she asks as well as what you believe her to need.”

The four women curtsied again as Udor turned, then took Morana by the arms and escorted down the hallway.

While she stood naked and embarrassed, the oldest woman measured her body and then brought samples of cloth and asked Morana to choose.  Morana marveled at the softness of the cloth and at the bright colors.  She selected one of green, and the woman complimented her.

“Green will go well with your hair, m’lady.  You have a good eye for color.”

Morana had barely time to realize she’d been addressed as a lady before Ibana took her by the hand.

“M’lady, you must be tired from your travels.  Perhaps a hot bath would revive you?

Morana had never bathed in such luxury.  At her parents home, bathing was done from a wooden bucket filled with warm water.  When she traveled the countryside, her baths were in the cool waters of a stream.  As she eased into the massive stone tub full of steaming water, the tingles that raced through her body caused the tensions of the past months to begin leaving her.  Ibana then handed her a white cake of soap that smelled of flowers.

“M’lady, I understand this was a favorite of King Udor’s mother.  I thought you might like it as well.”

Morana did like the soap.  It left her skin smooth and feeling fresh, not dry and rough as had the soap her mother had made.  She wondered if it was customary when Ibana said she would wash Morana’s hair.  Once Ibana began to do so, Morana sighed at the feeling of the woman’s fingers on her scalp.  When she finished her bath, Ibana wrapped her in a thick towel and then combed her hair until the auburn tresses were dry and fell in waves about her shoulders.

Morana had never seen such a dress as the older woman brought to the room, much less ever thought of wearing such a garment.  The bodice fit as if it were her own skin.  The seemingly endless pleats of the skirt flowed over her hips and reached nearly to the floor.  The green slippers matched the dress and felt as comfortable as wearing no slippers at all.

The older woman eyed Morana from every angle and then smiled.

“M’lady, you are a woman to please any king’s eye.”


Udor sat at one end of a huge table when Ibana showed Morana through the door.  He stood and smiled.

“I knew they would change you.  I did not anticipate they would present me with such a beautiful woman.  Please, sit down at my side that we may talk over our meal.”

The food was excellent, but though Morana ate, she was more aware of their conversation than the taste of the roasted fowl, tender vegetables, fine bread, and sweet wine.  

Udor began by explaining his supposed death.

“We were hunting wild boar.  I had speared one but not killed it, and had followed it to the edge of a low cliff.  I feared it would plunge over the edge and we would have to begin again.  With dagger in hand to end its life, I approached.  When I was upon the boar, Sador laughed that this would be the last boar I would kill.  I then felt a sharp pain as his spear pierced my side.  When I doubled over in pain, I lost my balance and fell headlong over the edge.  

“The spear had mostly just ripped my leather vest, though it left a long gash in my skin.  Because it was not imbedded, the spear fell away as I went over the edge.  I lay there at the bottom not moving because the fall had taken my breath.  I could feel the warmth of my blood flowing from the wound, though it did not seem to be much.

“Lazy man that Sador is, he did not bother to scale the cliff to confirm my death.  I heard him muttering about ridding himself of his only challenge to the throne as he tied the boar to his saddle with a rope and dragged it away.  After that, I heard nothing.  I waited for a long time before rising and climbing from the bottom.  Sador was nowhere to be seen, nor was my own horse.

:As I lay at the bottom, I had wondered that he would try to kill me, but I knew the reason.  Father had told me of his secret decree and that Sador had only smiled at that knowledge.  Sador had planned to kill me and then kill father to ensure he achieved the throne.  Going back to challenge him would do no good.  He would simply find another way to kill me.

“Instead, I bandaged my wound as best I could and struck out for the village I spoke to you about.  One of the Palace Guards who trained me with the dagger had grown to manhood there and the village was near by.  That man was the deserter I told you about.  We met on the road to the village as he was fleeing Corly, and he carried me the rest of the way.  It was through the care of his mother I recovered from my wound.

“He told me of my father’s death and of Sador’s assumption of the throne.  I knew what type of king Sador would become, and vowed that someday I would depose him.  I stayed at the village only because I was not yet well enough for the fight I was certain such would require.

“The Wolf Company did indeed raze the village even though it was inside Enzach.  Sador had so ordered to punish my friend for deserting and to punish the village for hiding him.  I did not know the reason until I spoke with one group of the Wolf Company one night.  That conversation spurred me to action.

“The rest you already know.  I had no idea you were a woman, but once I discovered your sex, I was more certain than ever my plan would be successful.  Only I and my father knew of Sador’s hatred for women who refuse to be submissive to a man.  He would ponder your death at great length and that would give me the time I required.

“My plan did change when Merdone and Idole recognized me.  I realized I did not need to put you in further danger then.  As I told you it would, everything worked out well.”

Marona smiled.

“I am not certain I enjoyed being placed in a brothel, but the result was as you said it would be.  What will you do now that you are King?”

Udor’s face was serious and his mouth a firm line.

“First, I must determine which of the court and Palace Guard were in agreement with my brother.  Enzach must be rid of them and replacements appointed.  The Captain of the Palace Guard was seen riding out of Corly as soon as the battle began.  He will be the first I replace, probably with Idone with Merlone as his second in command.”

“And then?”

“I will right the wrongs my brother caused as much as I am able.  I wish to be the enemy of no kingdom and such is not the case right now.”

“I think that will be a difficult task.”

“Yes, it will be.  I will require assistance to do so.”

Udor smiled at Morana.

“Perhaps you would be interested in being that assistance.”

Morana smiled.

“King Udor, as I told you before, I am but a simple farm girl.”

“Yes, you told me.  I do not believe a simple farm girl would be so brave as the woman I stopped from killing me, nor would she become such a beautiful woman with only a change of dress.  Such would be the woman I would want as my queen.”

Udor put his hand on Morana’s.

“Perhaps you would be more interested in that position in my court?”

Morana was taken aback by that question.

“You would take me for your wife?  How could you make such a decision?  How could I make the decision to accept?  I hardly know you as Fadal.  I know nothing of you as King Udor.”

Udor smiled.

“Fadal and Udor are the same person.  They think the same and they act the same.  Udor merely has a title that makes people listen to his words.  You did not need a title to listen to me in your valley and agree to help me.  I do not see why you would think a title should make any difference between us now.  

“As for my decision, it is enough that you are both beautiful and strong of will, for any good queen should have such attributes.  The feelings for you I developed so quickly over the past days only proved to me I would want no other.  I could not tell you this before the battle, but I do so now.  I would indeed have you as my wife and my Queen, but only if you do so willingly.  I do hope you would do so, for I think I may never find another woman like you again.”

The wedding was not as lavish as King Udor would have liked.  Morana said she would be embarrassed enough by being in the company of so many people.  Indeed, people from all over the lands of Enzach traveled to Corly to witness the event.  They marveled at the white dress Morana wore and praised her beauty.  After they had made their vows to each other and to the Gods, Udor and Morana presided over a feast such as had not been seen since King Rodan was crowned.  As dusk settled over the city, Udor led Morana to the royal bedroom.

He smiled as he took her into his arms.

“How does it feel to be a queen?”

“It feels as if I am in a dream that will end as soon as I wake.”

Udor chuckled.

“It is no dream, Morana.  You are now Queen Morana of Enzach and my wife.  I believe I find the thought of Morana the wife more exciting than the thought of Morana the Queen.”

“My king, I will do my best to be both.”

Udor smiled.

“Morana, a wife does not address her husband as king, at least not in the privacy of their bedroom.  Udor, the man, is your husband.  I have no doubts you will be a good queen, just I have no doubts you will be a good wife.

He undressed her then.  When Morana stood before him, bare and smiling, he kissed her gently on the lips.  Morana put her arms around his neck, opened her mouth, and let her feelings take her away.  When Udor pulled back, she remained with her eyes closed and savored the new sensations of the kiss.

Udor undressed then, and led her to the huge bed.  He saw the apprehension in her eyes and understood her fears.  His father had explained to him that a girl’s first time is a special time for her, a time of both discovery of pleasures and of the pain that is inevitable.  He hoped the sharp stab that swept away the girl and birthed the woman would be eased by the pleasures he would give them both before and after.

Morana sighed at his touch to her firm breasts, and inhaled sharply when his fingertips brushed her nipples.  It felt as when she touched herself, but much stronger.  His lips nibbling all around her nipple beds caused her to moan.  Even at her own touch she had never experienced such a feeling.

His hands traced every curve of her body and left her tingling in anticipation of what she knew would come.  His lips on hers sent her mind reeling with desire for that which she had at first rejected, then decided might be enjoyable.  Now, she craved each touch of his tongue to her lips, each caress to her ripe body, and the feeling of his chest and legs against hers.

Udor smiled to himself at Morana’s response to his touch.  He had desired her since he’d held her by the waist that first time in the forest.  He knew then she could never be something he called his own.  She was much too spirited to submit so and he had been attracted by that spirit.  Tonight, he saw that spirit in her response to his caresses and kisses.  

Her small hand found the back of his neck when he nibbled her nipples, and her quiet little moans she already made promised the spirited girl would become a woman who loved with abandon and with every fiber of her body.  He stroked the curve of her hip and felt her press her mound into his thigh.  Yes, she was a treasure as a girl.  She would be a dream as a woman.

Morana felt his hand on her belly and then the cautious caress to her mound.  The sensations caused her to moan again and to lift her hips.  She was not conscious of these actions.  She could only lie there as he stirred her body to a higher and then yet higher state of need.  She was aware of a dampness between her thighs, a dampness that became a flow of wet warmth when he opened her lips and lightly stroked the soft, rippled lips inside.  

She gasped when his fingertip penetrated her entrance, and then winced when her maidenhead was stretched by his knuckle.  He withdrew his finger then, and stroked upwards over her soft folds.  Morana moaned, then gasped again when his finger gently rubbed beside the small button at the top of her lips.  Her hips rocked up into his hand, and the sensation that seared through her core made her body arch.

Udor was struggling with the desire to mount Morana, thrust his rigid manhood through her wet lips and burst the guardian of her sex, but he resisted.  He wanted that action to happen when Morana was at the precipice.  Carefully, he excited her with slow strokes to her swelling lips and the soft skin that covered the center of her pleasure.

She was beginning to pant now, and he knew he would not have to wait long.  Gently he entered her with a finger again and felt her open slightly.  He knew she would still be too small to accept his girth, but understood that as she became aroused, her body would ready her for that first thrust.  Her panting breaths, her hand on his side, and slippery/sticky feeling on his fingertip told him she was nearly there.  He opened her thighs and knelt between them.

Morana felt the firm but smooth head of his organ between her lips and caught her breath.  This would be the time of pain of which her mother had spoken.  She tensed and prepared herself for the sharp jab her mother had described as Udor pressed gently at her entrance.  He did not continue as she thought he might.  He only withdrew slightly and then pressed in again.  As he did so, Morana felt his fingertip push back the fold of skin at the top of her lips and then brush the soft tip of the bit of flesh that extended.

She gasped at that touch, and as Udor continued to gently stroke that shining pink pearl, she became lost in the sensations.  Her body tensed again, but this time the tension was not from fear.  It was the tension caused by his slow, gentle caress.  She groaned as her back arched upwards, then arched still higher.  Her panting breaths came faster, then faster still.  At her core, the waves of sensation crashed together as waves on a shore.  She wrapped her arms and legs around Udor as the strongest wave yet raced through her body.

A second wave of sensations raced from her toes to her belly.  That wave made Morana cry out and rock her hips.  She felt the pain as Udor’s organ split her maidenhead and then plunged deep inside her body.  A third wave was both pleasure and pain, and left her gasping for breath.  She felt Udor’s shaft throb as he groaned and stroked in and out of her rapidly.

Udor rested his weight on his hands while he regained his breath.  Beneath him, Morana’s body still moved though he could see the pain in her face.  He withdrew from her body and then eased down beside her.  He kissed Morana, then pulled back and smiled.

“Was it as you thought it would be?”

Morana caressed his cheek and smiled.

“No.  There was pain, but other feelings as well, feelings I know I want to feel again…many, many times.  I did not know it could be this way.”

Udor chuckled.

“I think you will not have to concern yourself with feeling this way again.  It is more likely you will be concerned with keeping me away that you may rest. “

Morana snuggled closer, and Udor felt the twinges of arousal when her breasts rolled against his chest.  Morana kissed him, then stroked his back.

“I will never keep you away, Udor, but perhaps we could wait a day or so before the next time.  I believe I may be a little sore after becoming a woman.”

Udor stroked her flank.

“I am sorry for causing you pain, but there was no other way.”

Morana stroked his arm.

“The pleasures I felt were worth a slight pain that will not happen again.”

Udor lived up to his word to the people.  The Palace Guard made forays into the unexplored territories of Enzach and opened them for settlement.  Udor offered land, animals, and seed to those who would settle there and begin farming. In a few short years, new villages grew up in those territories and began trading with the villages both in Enzach as well as the surrounding kingdoms.

Morana proved to be a Queen fitting for such a good king.  She was not content to live in the luxury of the palace and while away the time by hosting feasts for the people of the court.  Instead, she assisted Udor in improving the lives of the people of the villages.  

As a girl, she had seen many women struggle through the pain of childbirth without assistance.   As Queen Morana, she established a school for midwives, and saw to it that each village was supplied with this skill.  Fewer women lost their lives and the lives of their children during childbirth, and those children became more settlers for the newly opened lands.

Morana herself bore three children for Udor, one boy and two girls.  Udor took special care to teach his son, Endor, in the ways of being a proper king.  Morana taught her daughters the ways of a proper lady as well as the ways of a proper wife.  They taught both son and daughters to respect all people of all kingdoms.

And so the years passed in Enzach.  Udor was pleased with what he had done for the people.  Morana was likewise pleased.  

As they lay in bed one night, Udor whispered to Morana, “Do you remember our first night together?”

Morana chuckled.

“A woman does not forget her first night with her husband, Udor.  It is too special to forget.”

Udor cupped Morana’s breast.  They had become fuller and heavier after nursing three children and he loved touching them.

“A man does not forget either.  I remember as clearly as if it were last night.  It was a wonderful night, was it not.”
 
Morana giggled quietly

“Well, not quite so wonderful as the nights that followed, but still wonderful.  Once you opened me, the nights became much more enjoyable.”

Udor tweaked Morana’s nipple, then traced down her belly to her mound.  Morana stroked his back.

“If you continue with your touching, you will make me catch fire.”

Udor slipped his finger through the hair on Morana’s mound and stroked her full lips.  

Morana moaned.

“Your touch has lit the tinder.  Will you kindle the flames into a burning fire?”

Udor slipped a fingertip between Morana’s soft lips and then chuckled.

“I fear the kindling may not burn.  It appears to be somewhat wet.”

Morana caught her breath and clutched his arm when he found the small bump at the top of her lips and stroked gently.

“Mmm…yes, it is wet, but were you to stir it about with your poker, I believe it will burn as hot as ever.”

“I could do so with pleasure.  Should I do this stirring quickly or slowly?”

“Slowly at first, then more quickly as the heat of the flames increases.”

Udor knelt between Morana’s upraised thighs.  He entered her a short way and began to stroke, then chuckled.

“Already I feel the heat.”

Morana moaned.

“”Twill become much hotter if you do the stirring deeply.”

Udor sank into her depths until their bodies were pressed tightly together.

“Is this the way?”

“Mmm…yes.  Stir me until you can stir no more.”

And he did.

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