A Tale Of Love

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*Previously published by Erotic SF under the pseudonym Anastasia C.

A Tale of Love by Kate Hill Let me remind you of a world awash in glorious blood, of dogs crying out in battle, of glistening swords and dented armor of silver mail... Let me remind you of the fever of war, of floating funeral pyres drifting on the midnight sea, the spirits of dead warriors rising to meet the smiling face of the moon mother... I still feel the warmth of your kiss, the taste of your blood when you rode home from untold sorrows and swept me into your granite embrace. I’d waited by the fire, night after night, alone in a home of rock , mud, and wood, forged by our hands. Each thread in every tapestry upon the wall was sewn with the memory of your touch, your words. The needle pierced the dyed blue fabric as longing pierced my heart each day of your absence. The brave must fight, they say. The warriors. That’s how they saw you, courageous, strong warrior. Your life was worth only the sharpness of your sword, the power of your cunning. You were much more, but only I could see it, feel it. How I felt it on the eve when you returned. . . *** Alana wrote the tale for her husband to combat her loneliness while he was away. She’d smiled at him, kissed him goodbye, and wished him luck. She’d pretended to grow hard to his duty, but inside she screamed. The woman in her continued silently, steadily with her work. As a healer, others depended on her. She wasn’t allowed the luxury of indulging her concern. Still, at night, by flickering candle flames, she dipped quill in ink and etched a tale of love, one she had lived countless times before and prayed she would live again. Then it ended. His sword of silver, set with a jewel the same dark, winter-night blue as his eyes, was returned to her, encrusted with blood and dirt. “They were outnumbered,” said the willowy boy in the King’s leather and silks who bowed before her, “but they held out until reinforcements came. He was a lion. The King remembered him with honors.” Alana nodded, tears frozen in her eyes. Remembered with honors, but only I will remember him with love... She comforted herself with the thought that such honors from the King would please him. In his way, he had loved her, but he had also loved the glory of battle. It was in his blood. Now it had his blood. Forever.

But did I have his heart? Inside, she cleaned his sword, sharpened it as she’d seen him do so many times, and placed it in the corner where it always rested when he was home. It made her feel safe, less anguished. On her table, the small one he’d made for her out of oak with the legs carved into the shape of cats’ feet, rested the crinkled parchment pages of her tale, a tale that meant nothing, since no one would ever read it. She had burned a page every night from the time the King’s herald had brought her Agos’ sword. The villagers noted her discomfort, but few offered condolences. She was the wife of a warrior. His death in battle should not be mourned, but celebrated. Only Micah, the eel-skinned old woman with crippled hands and feet, found humor in Agos’ death. “Look at you now,” the old woman taunted Alana. “Great healer. Revered by all for your skill and wisdom. Only such power could have enticed Agos to marry a small, dark-eyed, muddy-skinned rabbit like you. So smug you looked on your wedding day. So pleased. My daughter was beautiful, but Agos chose you over her. Now I’m glad of it. Her husband lives. My grandchildren are many, and look at you, wife of a great, dead—” “Silence, hag!” Alana snarled close to Micah’s moldy ear. “Else I’ll forget to leave the salve for your twisted limbs. See if your beautiful daughter can make it for you!” Micah chuckled, the sound of bark being scraped from a dead tree, but she didn’t speak again. In spite of her strong veneer, Alana sat by the cascade behind her empty house and cried. Micah’s cruel words were true. All Alana had ever possessed were deft hands and keen intelligence. Unlike the tall, pale-haired, gemstone-eyed inhabitants of her village, she was dark, her hair black as a doe’s hoofs, her eyes like molasses. She’d scarcely reached Agos’ shoulder in height, but he’d been one of the tallest, strongest men in the village. His physique had shamed even the King’s guards. Agos had been invited to enter the guard, after this last battle. He was needed. Needed... Alana sighed, wiping her smooth, round cheeks with her knuckles. She looked down at her hand. It was small but strong, the nails short, the skin roughened by constant washing and handling of herbs. She remembered the feeling of Agos’ chest beneath her palm. It was hard, the warm flesh over muscle marked with scars and dusted with soft, blond hairs. It was a good chest to rest her cheek against. It was a fine chest to clutch and rake with tense fingers when she straddled him naked, clasped his lean sides with her smooth, curved thighs, and wailed her climax to the forest outside their home. “I miss you, Agos,” she said aloud. An owl perched on the tree above her hooted in answer. Alana stood, brushing pebbles and dirt from her brown dress. “But I’m a healer, and little has changed for me. My soul is dead, but my hands are required.”

She walked inside, took up the heavy sword glistening in the firelight, and placed it at bottom of the trunk at the foot of their—her—bed. She took the last page of her tale from the desk, pressed a soft kiss to the dried ink, and tossed it into the flames. Why doesn’t it stop? She walked to the window and sighed. Dusk set in. Patches of gray sky shone through the treetops like dapples on a pony’s flanks. Alana’s hands strayed to her breasts and traced the firm, plump curves, her thumbs awakening her nipples beneath the rough fabric. Her body hungered, but her spirit was still too numb to eat... Then she heard it echoing through the well-trodden path in front of her house. Closer it came, louder, the slow, heavy plodding of hooves. Too heavy for a herald’s mount. Too heavy for one of the villager’s ponies. Draft horse, she told herself, though her heart pounded. A draft horse from someone playing a cruel joke. Maybe Micah put her daughter’s husband up to it. She stood immobile, save the frantic beating of her heart that blocked out the sound of the hooves and nearly stole her vision. The tall war stallion with a coat as red as blood turned down the root-strewn pathway. Mother of the gods! Alana’s fingers clutched the window frame, her nails splintering wood. The rider’s sinewy, leather-clad legs braced the saddle; gloved hands guided the reins. This is a dream. A fantasy. I’m becoming as mad as that old bitch Micah. Alana forced her legs to move, ordered her numb feet to walk to the door and open it. She stepped outside. Her breath caught in her throat. Her hand trembled on the edge of the door. The rider seemed to stop breathing as well. His wide-set, dark blue eyes fixed on hers with longing. A muscle flexed in his square jaw shadowed by several days’ growth of beard. He didn’t speak, yet she knew he had much to tell. “Agos?” Alana whispered. He dismounted, and she ran to him, ignoring the cold, rocky forest floor chaffing her bare feet. She forgot her shoes by the fire. She forgot everything except him. “Alana.” His voice was rough with emotion as he pulled her into his arms. His hold was too hard, but she didn’t care as she buried her face in his neck and inhaled the scent of horses, leather, sweat, steel: A warrior’s scent. “By the horns of the War God’s helmet, I’ve missed you,” he murmured into the soft, black waves of her hair. “You smell so good, like flowers and herbs.” He lowered her to the ground and took her face in his hands, his thumbs caressing her cheeks. “It’s been forever since I’ve touched something so soft.” “They told me you were dead. The King’s messenger brought me your sword.” He shook his head and silenced her with a kiss. It was chaste at first, a kiss of untainted

affection. Her arms slipped around his neck, and she traced the shape of his mouth with the tip of her tongue. A sound of pleasure rose from deep in his chest, and his tongue reached for hers, teasing it, stroking it. He explored every inch of her warm, wet mouth. She shivered, more from pleasure than cold. “You must be freezing.” He gathered her into his arms, against the warmth of his shaggy wool cloak. She covered his face with kisses as he stepped inside and kicked the door shut behind them. He lowered her to the bed. She tore at his clothes, but he clasped her hands in his and held them to his chest, his eyes intent. “You’ve taken a lover,” he stated. “No.” Her dark eyes widened. “Never.” “But you thought I was dead. It’s expected that a beautiful woman with the power to heal wouldn’t sleep alone.” “I have only one lover.” She lifted her chin, undecided if she was more hurt by the pain he struggled to conceal or by the sting of his accusation. “It was a hard battle. Many were lost. I was badly wounded when the King’s brother found me. He took my sword and left me with the knowledge that you’d taken a lover in my absence.” “And you believed him?” He shook his head. “The field was cleared, but I was left. A drifter found me and cared for me. Had it not been for him, I would have died, and still I don’t know his name. He never told me. I thought only of you and the possibility that another man might be...In the village, I passed the old woman, Micah. She laughed. Said I was strong in war and stupid in everything else. She said her daughter had watched you, seen you writing words of love to some other man.” “Words of love?” Alana’s brow furrowed then she laughed. “My story. The one I wrote for you.” He smiled faintly. “You wrote a story for me?” “When I learned of your death, I burned it. It was too painful...” He drew her into his arms and rested his cheek against the top of her head. For several moments neither moved. “The King’s brother is cousin to Micah.” Alana looked up at him. “She and her daughter are still furious about our marriage.” “Then they’re both insane. I never had any intention of marrying her. I’ve loved you since I was a boy.” “Love me?” Alana smiled softly and ran her fingertip over his jaw. “You never said that

before.” “Facing death makes a man think.” He untied his cloak and let it fall to the floor. His shirt, trousers, and boots followed. She tugged her dress over her head quickly, so she wouldn’t miss a glimpse of his nude body. Other than a slight loss of weight due to his injury, he was as she remembered. Muscles knotted his broad shoulders. Curling, honey-colored hairs sprinkled his powerful chest. Thin, white scars from old battles marked his flesh, and a pink, newer one ran across his pectorals. The blow that nearly killed him. His flat, hard stomach tapered to lean hips and well-muscled thighs, buttocks, and legs. Her eyes focused on his cock, already thick and long, though only partially aroused. She smiled wantonly and curled her small fist around the soft, smooth shaft as she touched her lips to the new scar on his chest. He closed his eyes and reached for her, his hands grasping her waist and pulling her close. She wore only a chemise of transparent cotton. His mouth covered one of her breasts, his tongue soaking the fabric as he teased her nipple to alertness. “Agos.” She was breathless. He grunted softly in reply, part man, part animal separated too long from his mate. The sensation of his tongue through the fabric drove her mad with desire. Her heart throbbed as he moved to her other breast while his callused hands lifted her chemise to her waist and stroked her legs. First he caressed the silky muscles of her outer thighs, then her clenching inner thighs. Moving higher, his touch became softer, until his fingers dipped into her pussy. She clutched his shoulders as his hand explored, rediscovering a body he’d loved so many times and had dreamed of for months. He placed his palm over her sex and kneaded gently, the motion causing her to sigh and turn to liquid in his arms. When she squirmed restlessly against him, he used one finger to trace tiny circles over her hard, aching clit. His finger teased. His tongue and teeth made passionate love to her ear, biting her lobe, caressing the delicate curve of bone and flesh. Her sighs turned to high-pitched moans of pleasure as he slowly, tenderly stroked her, pausing only to gather more wetness from her quivering slit. Suddenly her arms locked around his neck, her thighs clasped his hand, and she climaxed, gasping aloud. Before she completely recovered, he slipped his cock inside her hot, throbbing pussy. Supporting his weight on his forearms, his chest hair a rough caress against her breasts, he impaled her over and again with his thick, hard cock. He drove her higher, higher.... She forced her eyes open so she could see his face as his orgasm approached. It’s been so long . . . He tensed with pleasure. His lips parted as he murmured the endearments she’d longed to hear. A flush tinted his high cheekbones. His golden lashes flickered against his face, hiding the lust she knew floated on the surface of his eyes. In a moment of clarity between her first climax and the one soon approaching, she smiled and stroked tendrils of thick blond hair from his forehead. He’s home. . .

*** Let me remind you of a world where love overthrows falsehoods, where power is not only in the hand that heals or the hand that slays in battle. Let me tell you a tale of lovers who left behind a village of venomous lies and unworthy royals and traveled across plains of ice on a blood-red steed to create a kingdom of their own. The End