Friday, October 17, 2008

Chapter Ten

Word Count: 3,859

At last, the sun began to sink behind the mountains, and Malik-Tor maneuvered them off the road to set up camp beside a stream. They had been riding steadily all day, taking breaks only to relieve themselves or to water the horses. They even ate on horseback. By this time, Syndra-Kai felt drained in body and mind, sliding off her horse and staring blankly as Malik instructed her to fetch firewood. She stumbled into the trees, filling her arms with dry wood from fallen branches that littered the area. Returning to camp, she dropped the firewood and sank to her knees in exhaustion.

Glancing around, she noted that Malik had already unsaddled the horses and hobbled them, piling their packs nearby. He was occupied with erecting their tent, a meager cover, but still needed shelter. He cast a glance at Syndra and felt no pity for her. They had not traveled so far that it would be impossible to turn back if she changed her mind.

“I don’t suppose you know how to start a fire?” he asked. She looked up at him, eyes glazed with exhaustion. She nodded, and he tossed a fire starting kit at her. She picked it up, moving mechanically, and began to arrange kindling and small sticks to start a fire.

She was irritated with Malik-Tor, he knew how tired she was, and then to assume she did not even know how to start a fire! It was the same principle as lighting a fire in a fireplace, just outdoors. She grinned with satisfaction when the fire took hold, pleased that she had not had to ask for his help. She knew there were many things she did not know about living in a rough camp, but she was not stupid.

Glancing in his direction, she hoped he had noticed her success, but he was ignoring her, setting up bedrolls inside the tent. She continued to feed the fire until it was a good-sized blaze.

“In one of those packs is a pot, go fetch some water and set it in the coals to boil,” Malik said.

His voice startled Syndra-Kai, but she did as she was told, fetching the pot and setting it to boil. She happened to glance at her reflection in the stream, and was horrified at her appearance. She returned to the stream to wash the dirt from her face, chest and arms. Feeling better, she contemplated washing the rest of her body. She had disrobed and was bathing when she heard Malik-Tor come up behind her.

Startled, she spun to face him, standing proudly and not bothering to hide her nudity. “Can I help you? I thought I might bathe while the water boiled. It has been a long day and I am filthy.” Her dusty rose nipples stood erect in the cool evening air, and her hair drifted lazily around her hips. The moon had risen and was peeking through the trees, casting a silvery hue to her skin. Even naked, she was the picture of royal dignity.

Malik leaned against a tree, taking in the sight before him. She learned quickly, he thought. Compared with her shyness of the night before, she was already wielding her body with authority, knowing it might rouse him. Luckily, he expected such an action on her part, and merely smiled politely at her.

“Not at all, I just came to advise you not to take too long. It gets cold at night, and I wouldn’t want the death of the future Empress to be on my hands.”

Syndra-Kai whirled, snatching at her clothing and pulling it on quickly, ruining the effect of her regal pose. He seemed unaffected by her display, indeed only somewhat amused at her efforts to challenge him with her nudity. Angered, she stomped back to the campsite and plopped down on the ground. Malik had set sausages to fry, and she could smell fried bread as well. Her mouth started to water and she forgot her irritation as she remembered her hunger instead.

A few minutes later, Malik emerged from the trees, his hair shining wetly. He had obviously taken some time to clean himself up as well. He turned to the fire and pulled out the sausages and bread, not flinching as he touched the hot pans. He made a plate for Syndra-Kai, adding an apple and some cheese, before feeding himself.

Syndra-Kai was surprised that he took the time to feed her first. When it suited him, his manners were always impeccable. She ate hungrily, and when Malik finished, she took his plate without asking and went to the stream to wash them before tucking them back into the packs. Her action surprised Malik, and he wondered what game she might be playing now.

Stifling a yawn, Syndra-Kai’s exhaustion caught up with her, and she headed for her bedroll, with a murmured, “Good-night.” She was asleep in an instant.

Malik listened to the sound of her even breathing and the night sounds that surrounded them. He hesitated to join her in the close proximity of the tent, but he had to give in to his own tiredness sometime. He had pushed them to the limit of endurance in his efforts to force Syndra-Kai to turn back to Lunatium, but her stubbornness had won out. Grudgingly, he had to admire her determination.

He crawled into the tent, wrapping himself in a blanket as he lay beside Syndra-Kai. In her unconscious state, she sensed his heat and scooted closer to him, her buttocks touching his thigh through the blanket as he lay on his back staring at the roof of the tent. He could smell her skin; even the rigors of their travels had not obliterated the sweet scent that was uniquely hers.

He found himself responding to her proximity, and he succumbed to the sweet torture that arose from not being able to slake his desires immediately. He let the memories of the night before (was it really only one day past since then?) wash over him, and he remembered her wanton submission to his touch. Her body had woken to the pleasures of the flesh beneath his own, and neither one of them would ever be the same.

Quashing his desire, he rolled onto his side, facing away from her and the temptation of her body. He adjusted himself, suppressing the urge to turn back over and plunge himself into her until he was satiated. There was no place in her life for him, and it would be foolishness to give in to desire when so much was at stake.

She had given him a mission of great importance, to show her the ways of her country in a way she could never experience from within the confines of the palace. He had to place that thought before all else. One day, she would be married to another, and he would be free to satisfy himself with any wench he desired. All the same, thoughts of Syndra-Kai disturbed his sleep throughout the night.

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

Syndra-Kai woke first the next morning, the sounds of birds in the trees startling her. She had never heard so many birds singing at one time. Birds heard in the city usually consisted of pigeons or the raucous calling of seagulls, neither of which was particularly melodious.

As she gave a cat-like stretch, she noticed something else that was peculiar. Sometime during the night, Malik had rolled towards her and thrown an arm around her waist. She smiled, arching back against him, and felt something entirely new as well.

He was aroused, though soundly asleep, and she could feel his manhood firmly pressed against her backside. He stirred in response to her movement against him, nuzzling his face into her hair and the curve of her neck, thrusting gently with his hips. She suppressed a giggle and experimentally stretched again, pushing back against his hardness. Her heart gave a little start as he pulled her closer, one hand claiming her breast. She realized she was fully aroused as well.

Her nipple stiffened as his hand closed around her breast, and she felt herself grow warm and wet between her legs. Still unlearned in the art of love, she was not sure what to do next. Malik was still soundly asleep, but she was now fully awake, and desperate to feel him thrusting between her thighs as he had done on the evening of her Initiation. She stifled a groan as Malik ground his hips against her again and she felt his arousal press between the cleft of her buttocks.

There were still blankets between them, so Syndra-Kai gently pried them free, careful not to wake Malik and ruin the moment. This left just the thin layers of their clothing between them, and Syndra grew more excited. She slipped a curious hand between them, to cup his urgent manhood and stroke it through the fabric. It excited her that she could rouse him like this, his body responding to hers naturally, with him blissfully unaware.

She explored his length; slowly stroking him and feeling him grow harder and press more urgently against her. His manhood seemed to take on a life of its own, thrusting forward at her touch. Malik-Tor let out a soft groan and pulled her closer. She took her hand away in order to feel his hips grind against hers, and gently tried to shift so she could face him.

Unfortunately, this action stirred Malik to wakefulness, and he blinked sleepily at her. Awareness struck him forcefully when he realized their positions and he processed the look of naked desire in her violet eyes. He bolted upright and jerked away from her, snatching his hand from her breast and tossing the blanket over his lap to cover his arousal.

She raised herself on an elbow and reached out a hand to touch his shoulder. “I desire you too, you know. It is just the two of us; should there be shame in what we feel?”

She yanked her shirt over her head, baring her breasts. He kept his head turned away, and she reached for his hand to bring it against her, the hard nipple in the center of his palm. She arched her back, pressing against his hand, and scooting closer to him at the same time.

Suddenly, he jerked away, tossing her shirt back at her. “Normally, I would agree with you, if you were any but the Princess of Lunatia. You and I are not meant to be, regardless of what desire might lie between us. You Chose me for one night only, Syndra-Kai, no more. That night is over, and you do not know what you play at.” He got up and left the tent, leaving Syndra-Kai alone.

She shuddered with the repressed desire that coursed through her body. Tears started in her eyes that she could not understand. He had rejected her, and the pain of that feeling overwhelmed her. She felt awful as she thought of how she had thrown herself at him like a common whore. Certainly not proper behavior for a Princess, as he had said. The idea brought her no comfort as she tried to soothe her wounded pride.

It was plain that he was determined to keep her at a distance. Perhaps he did not desire her at all; she knew the act of copulating could be accomplished without it. Her stirrings against his body that morning had roused him, but he only ran when he realized it was her doing the rousing. She felt more miserable than ever.

With an effort, she regained her composure, vowing that she would not throw herself at him like that ever again. No matter how she tried to look at it, Malik was correct. She had coerced him into this journey, and that was what she needed to focus on. She grew angry with herself for letting her own desires get in the way of what she was trying to accomplish.

She dressed herself and left the tent, dragging the blankets out with her, shaking them and rolling them back the way they had been the day before and securing them with leather ties. Malik had stoked the fire and was re-heating some of the bread from their previous meal and frying up the last of the sausages. He did not look at her but said, “We will eat and then pack everything back up. I will show you how to take down the tent.”

Syndra-Kai nodded, and accepted a cup of a strong brew she did not recognize. The taste was faintly bitter, but not unpleasant, and it perked up her spirits considerably. “What is this? I have never tasted it before,” Syndra asked.

“It is not considered a drink for the rich,” Malik-Tor said, plating the food and passing her one. “It is a drink called ‘Gak-Ke’. It is a roasted seed, ground and brewed like tea, which is what you are used to, I’m sure.”

Syndra sipped carefully, keeping her face still. Malik still had not met her eyes after their uncomfortable awakening. The hurt feelings she was trying to hide surged up to overwhelm her again, and she began to feel resentful towards Malik, though she was not sure why.

He ate quickly, taking the cooking items to the stream to clean up, and then packing them away. Syndra-Kai finished her own meal and followed suit. At last, the only thing left to do was to take down the tent and saddle the horses.

Malik demonstrated how to pull out the poles and take them apart, then shaking out the tent and wrapping the poles in the canvas. It appeared simple enough, and when Malik asked if she felt she could do it on her own, she nodded. He told her that from then on, it would be her responsibility to set up and take down the tent, in addition to other regular camp duties while he hunted or fished in the evenings to keep them stocked with meat.

With nothing left to do but mount their horses and continue on their way, Malik doused their fire, kicking dirt over the remains and scattering the ashes. They took a moment to relieve themselves before resuming their journey.

On the road once more, Syndra cast a quick look back, marveling at what little evidence of their passing they had left. Nothing to indicate the passion that had almost consumed her that morning. She pondered that thought, wondering if all passages in life were that brief, and how few of life’s moments had lasting results. She made a promise to herself then to make each moment of this journey count, and turned her mind towards her goals and the things she would ask Malik to find out as they traveled. She started a mental list to keep her mind from wandering down the more lustful path that had begun that morning.

Malik struggled with his own thoughts as he led the way towards the mountains. He thought of times where he had awoken in exactly the same way before, with other women. Women whose faces he could not even remember, let alone their names. Had she been anyone but who she was, he would not have hesitated to continue what had been started that morning. He had already crossed a line he should not have, when he took her that first night.

He could not place exactly what it was about Syndra-Kai that disturbed him so.
Visions of her violet eyes swam before him, shooting sparks in anger, twinkling with laughter. The feel of her hair as it fell around him while she kneeled over him, and as his fingers twined in it when he was cutting the silver beads from it. The sleek lines of her body, breasts jutting forward as he lathed them with his tongue, her golden skin covered in a sheen of sweat, glistening as she writhed beneath him.

It went beyond a physical attraction, which was undeniable. She had a quick mind, and she knew what she wanted. She had let nothing, not even her virginity or the ridiculous rules that applied to a Princess’ behavior stand in the way of what she desired to achieve. She was determined to learn what she must about her people, her true people, the common people, in order to serve them better as their Empress. She recognized that all was not well with her country, and she sought to fix it.

It was enough to make him laugh, because he had told his brother only a few days before that his intentions now that he was home were to help the Princess in any efforts she might make to improve the country. All he was doing now was attempting to thwart her efforts to do so. He vowed that from this point forward, he would show her every courtesy, and do his best to aid her in her quest. Now all he needed to do was focus on the task at hand and avoid situations like he had encountered that morning.

Feeling more settled in his role as Syndra’s guide, Malik motioned for her to ride beside him. As she pulled her horse even with him, he noted that she held her head proudly, though she nodded politely to him. He had seen enough examples of bruised egos to recognize the signs, and he sighed.

The sound of his sigh caught Syndra’s attention, and she met his eyes. His held a twinkle of laughter, and she quickly looked away. How dare he laugh at her! She would set him in his place soon enough, he was here to show her the countryside and ensure her safety; she need not be mooning about whether or not he liked her.

“How far would you say until we near one of the mines?” she asked haughtily.

Malik raised a brow at her, noting her icy tone. Very well, he would play along. Strictly business. “We should be climbing the mountains by nightfall, and we will camp then. If I remember correctly, there a series of five mines in the mountains, tracing the vein of silver through its center. The nearest is about a quarter of the way up the slope. There is a road leading there, but we need to go around it and climb above the mine itself if we wish to avoid notice. That should take a day of hiking itself. The horses will not make it on such steep slopes.”

Syndra nodded. “The same five mines have served Lunatia for centuries. The silver ore appears nearly endless, but the volume of silver traded lately had decreased. I need to know why that is.”

Malik considered this. Lunatia, the Empire of the Silver Crescent, gained its fame and fortune from the mountains they were preparing to climb. Silver appeared in minute amounts in the rest of the world, but the mountains of Lunatia overflowed with it. Long ago, the streams that flowed down the sides of the mountains held silver by the fistfuls, but as Lunatia became more powerful and the demand for silver in the world increased, it became necessary to open mines to tap the veins deep within the stony peaks. A reduction in the silver supply could have serious effects on Lunatia’s standing with the rest of the world.

The legend of Lunatia’s silver stated that once, a great star fell from the heavens, crashing into the world. When the dust settled, and the oceans reformed, Lunatia was born. Shaped like a crescent moon, Lunatia's mountain crests ran down the center of its length, heavy with the star’s remnants, the shiny metal called silver. Therefore, in addition to its rarity, the idea of the silver coming from the heavens increased its value, and Lunatia’s power.

The legend continued to tell of the first woman, who came from the sky with other falling stars. Upon meeting man, who rose from the earth, they joined, and their children became the people of Lunatia. Like the first woman and the stars in the sky, the Empresses of Lunatia were beacons of hope, protection, peace, and wisdom.

Malik-Tor did not know whether the story of the stars was true or not, but looking at Syndra-Kai, he was willing to believe that gifts from heaven were indeed possible. He never would have imagined finding a woman that intrigued him so, and he would never have met her had fate not intervened. He was an observer of life, never a participant. Being a part of her fate was a new experience for him.

He had imagined becoming one of her advisors, true, but in all likelihood, he probably would have taken off on one of his travels again had she not made him her Chosen one. Syndra-Kai possessed a sense of justice and fairness that he admired, but had never felt a need for in his own life. Lunatia was lucky to have her as its leader, but who was he? Just a guide along the way.

She had Chosen him because he viewed life in all its harshness, describing the things he saw without passing his own judgments. He would be able to tell her how things really were in the world; he had no need to be dishonest. So many around her were, he realized. She took great risks to travel like this with him, and his admiration for her grew to include her courage and her perception. Years of watching people had taught him about human nature, but Syndra-Kai possessed a natural gift for assessing people at a glance. He decided now might be a good time to be humble.

“Princess, I feel that I owe you an apology.” He did not look at her, but he could feel Syndra’s violet gaze boring into him.

“An apology for what?” she asked.

“I am sorry for not considering what risks you were making by deciding to take a journey like this. I have been entirely selfish in my actions, and so I apologize,” he said.

Syndra-Kai said nothing for a few moments. “I have also been considering a number of things you have said to me, and I am in agreement with you. I feel that I can learn what I need to know about my country in less than a year, as you say. Your services will not be required for long. I accept your apology, and would like to extend my own; I should have advised you of my intentions when we first met. It was wrong of me to take advantage of you when you were not in a strong position to negotiate.”

Malik-Tor nodded in acceptance of her apology, though her wounded pride leaked into her voice. She had managed to sound both gracious and disdainful. Malik shrugged. Now that they had reached a tentative truce, he felt more at ease, even if she felt less so. “Well, then, let’s continue on our way.”


underOvr said...

Hi Kestrel,

I saw a reply you posted about writing and thought I would stop in to see what you write about. I see I'm goona need more time than I have at the moment to get a feel for what you write about. I look forward to returning.

Kestrel said...

Thank you for stopping by! I hope you like what you read here, I do love input! :)