Sometime in the night she awoke, feeling hot and uncomfortable. The rain had stopped, but the humidity was oppressive as she crawled out from under Pendor's wing. She stood up and felt bones creak in places where she hadn't known she had places, much less bones. She wandered around, wondering when daylight was coming. She looked up and saw the approaching daylight, hours away, and sighed. As she walked, she kicked something; her knife, which she had dropped when she had shredded her clothes. She picked it up, looking at it closely for the first time. It was intricately engraved with a language that was unknown to her.
She was examining the knife under the residual light when she heard the voice, a high-pitched yet guttural sound. Wondering what it could be, she turned in the direction she'd heard it come from.
Hands wrapped around her shoulders, and a voice screamed in her ear, "The Knife points the way! The Knife is the sign! The Knife to The Key! The Key will be mine!"
Kitty struggled with her assailant, who felt light and hairy. She threw it against the ground, shouting "Pendor!"
"Help!" she screamed as hands scrabbled for her in the dark. The dragon rolled over and began to stand. She punched her assailant.
There was a loud "Oof!" as she was released. In the dark she saw a tall, stick-thin shape against the light of distant ringworld sectors, and it cast a glance at Pendor. "Mine!" it shrieked, screaming, running for the dragon. Kitty ran after it, trying to grab it as it leapt up onto Pendor. Kitty reacted with horror when she realized it was going for the splint. "Mine! Mine! Mine!" it shrieked more. Pendor screamed aloud as the cloth gave way and it pulled the staff free, twisting the wing as it did so. There was another, much louder CRACK! as it leapt off. Pendor howled in pain and fear. Kitty jumped for the creature, hauling it to the ground. "Bastard!" she shouted, punching it.
"Mine! Mine!" it shrieked in return, pushing her free and scrabbling to it's feet, running blindly into Pendor's head. The dragon, incoherent with pain, opened his mouth and bit down hard. There was a single, final shriek from the creature, and it died.
There was no answer except for monstrous waves of pain. Kitty took one look at the wing and her heart broke; there was blood and bone, showing through the wing. "Oh, god," she said. "Oh god, oh, god." She closed her eyes; she was going to be sick. "Please," she said, not sure to who or what. She walked over to the wing, her eyes blinded by tears. "Oh, god."
"This way, sir! I heard it over here!" She turned at the voice. startled, and waited. A horse was crossing the woods, followed by more. She seized the knife in her hand and shouted "Don't come any closer. Any one of you bastards tries to touch him and I'll kill you!"
"M'Lord," the rider of the lead horse shouted. "Over here."
Another horse rode up, this one ridden by a melMephit in a red robe and a light, mesh chainmail. "We heard the screams of an animal, M'Lady, and came to investigate."
"He's not an animal! He's my friend," tears welled in her eyes and she said, quieter, "and he's dying."
"Healer!" the Mephit shouted. "Attend to the creature."
"M'Lord?" A Tindal in the back replied. "I've no learning for dragons."
"Do what you can then." The order was direct, the voice commanding. The Mephit dismounted and made a visible show of leaving his swordsheath on the ground. He opened his arms wide and said, "We can help. Please."
Kitty's resolve wavered. She dropped the knife and dropped to her knees. "Please," she said, exhausted, crying. "Please, save him."
"We shall do what we can," the Mephit said, walking forward and crouching next to her in the wet grass. "What is your name, M'Lady?"
"Kitty... Kitty of The Hall."
The Mephit smiled at her and said, "Then we are kindred spirits, M'Lady. I am Aaden of Tleil, of late, Lord of Degranni. It is not a role I cherish."
Kitty looked at him; he was smiling, but behind those eyes she saw honest concern. One of the other riders walked over and said, "M'Lord, you should see this."
"Will you be well, Kitty?"
"I think so."
"Then excuse me; I have to attend."
"I'll come," she said, rising from the grass. Aaden nodded; the Uncia guard led them to where Pendor lay, by his head. The guard pointed to the remains of the creature that had attacked them. "Elahedrel, M'Lord."
Aaden turned to Kitty and said, "Your attacker was a Fell beast, a creature of seeking, Kitty. Do you know what he sought?"
Kitty shook her head. "When, when he first showed up he was after my knife, but he tried to run away with my staff."
"This staff?" Aaden asked, picking it up off the ground. Kitty nodded. "Did he say anything?" Aaden continued.
Kitty nodded and repeated what the Elahedrel had said. Aaden said "May I see your knife, M'Lady?"
Kitty nodded again and handed it to Aaden. He looked at it closely in the darkness. "Get me a light," he said to the guard. The guard returned with a small black bag. Aaden took it and dismissed him.
He opened the bag and removed a small, glowing ball. "Now then," he said, examining the knife more closely. After a few minutes he said, "Kitty, come with me."
He led her a distance away from both Pendor and the horses. "Do you know what you carry?" he asked.
She shook her head. "You are carrying the Sazknife. The forces of Luccas will do anything to get it. You are in great danger."
"Why do they want it?"
"I do not know. But what you have told me leads me to wonder. Do they want it, or do they know that she who carries it has something else, the thing they really seek?"
"My staff?" she asked.
"Aye. What disturbs me all the more is that I know not the why. Is this staff magical? It surely looks the part."
Kitty shrugged. "I don't know if it's magical. Lucas said it might be. It was given to me."
"By who, M'Lady?"
There was a slight hiss between Aaden's teeth. "Vatare' himself. I do not envy you, M'Lady. He has presented you with a burden, the purpose of which is unknown to us." He turned around for a moment and said "Mezlo! Attend to me!"
A short, unkempt Felinzi wearing dark robes and an beret with holes for his ears walked over. "Yeah?" he asked.
"Mezlo, I need you to sit still and advise me in a moment."
"Okay," the Felinzi replied.
"Kitty, I need to ask you a question, and I need you to answer me as honestly as you can. How do you feel about non-Humans?"
Kitty blinked and said, "What do you mean? I'm a Pendorian; I wouldn't be here if the Hall didn't think I belonged!"
"She speaks the truth, Lord Aaden. She is not a Luccan."
"Thank you, mage. You are dismissed." Mezlo bowed and wandered away. "Forgive me, Kitty. I had to be sure."
Kitty nodded. "The Luccas are all human?"
"To a one," Aaden said. "That is why I was suspect; you are human. Not all humans are Luccas, Kitty, but it is getting hard to tell them apart. The Luccas do not accept ought else."
"M'Lord," a voice interrupted.
"Healer," Aaden replied. "What news?"
"The dragon will live, Lord Aaden, and he will fly again. He must not move for several days, however. The Healer's Strength has become unconscious, M'Lord, and I fear for her; it was a task worthy of Gregor's strength, and he is not here to see it- she has certainly overextended." Aaden nodded. "I have men seeking proper splinting for the Dragon in the meantime, and for food. Looking at the beast, it will need food in great quantities. We may need to call on the Mage."
"Thank you, Healer. Tell the Sergeant that I shall require a constant watch of three. We shall stay here until the Dragon is ready to fly again."
"That is an order, Healer. The lady here has become extremely valuable to our cause, and as she was willing to protect its peaceful dying with her life, I do not think she would leave it in its healing." Kitty shook her head. "Therefore, we stay. Also, tell the Mage to prepare to call Castle Degranni; I shall need to speak to the Captain of the Guard."
"Yes sir," the Tindal replied.
"Come, Kitty. Let's us eat; you must be hungry, and we have fresh meat." Kitty nodded, dully.
The sergeant at arms, a tall Satryl name Ahamo, was busily setting a fire now that word had gotten to him that they would be staying a few days. "'Ere's the stew, M'Lord," he said with a grinding sort of voice.
"Thank you, Ahamo." Aaden passed a bowl to Kitty and took another for himself. "Are the guards set?"
"They are, Lord Aaden, they are. I'll be on the first watch. You can call me if y'need me." Ahamo walked away, muttering under his breath.
Kitty sat down next to the fire and brought the bowl to her lips, sipping it carefully, grabbing hold of a chunk of meat with her teeth and chewing slowly. "M'Lady," Aaden said quietly.
"Aaden, excuse me if I play out of character for a second, but I don't know why I'm here, what I'm doing, or what's going on. I walked the Hall less than a month ago. I feel so... so lost."
"I can understand some of that. As I said, I am a Tleil; I am the only Mephit in all of BackWater. I'm not sure I'm fully out of IS myself."
"IS?" Kitty asked.
"Incorporation Shock," Aaden replied. "The sudden realization that 'I am a person, not a thing.' Sometimes I am still a pre-programmed set of memories and ideas. But one thing Vatare' didn't put into me was BackWater; I came here because it was the fastest way to get away from everything I knew, to 'find myself.'"
Kitty laughed. "That's funny. Ken put me here for the same reason, to get away from what I was."
Aaden nodded. Kitty felt safe next to him, and in her exhaustion she leaned next to him, putting her head on his shoulder. "Kitty?" he said.
"Before you make assumptions, I have something to tell you. I am not physically attracted to your kind."
"Humans?" she asked.
"Females," Aaden replied.
Kitty rose with a start and said, "You're gay?"
Aaden laughed. "The word is entalie' in Pendorian. But yes. That much I know. I prefer my own sex to yours."
"I didn't mean- I'm sorry."
"I am not offended. True entalie' are more rare then true erolie', I am told. I could not have expected you to guess."
"No, no. I mean..." Kitty broke off, feeling uncomfortable. What had she meant by lying against him like that?
Aaden put his arm around her shoulders and said, "Kitty of the Hall, how old are you?"
"Seventeen," she answered.
"And I am but two. The ground is still wet, but not miserably so. Come, drag out what bedding you have and sleep by the fire. I have some matters to attend to."
Kitty nodded and rose, retrieving her blankets. "Kitty," Aaden said, "How did the dragon's wing break?"
"I... I don't know. He just suddenly got tired and couldn't fly anymore. And we just fell."
Aaden bit thoughtfully at the thin lower lip of his muzzle for a second. "May I ask a favor?"
"As long as I do not hurt your friend, may I ask the Mage to examine him and find out why he fell?"
Kitty returned the thoughtful look, then nodded. "If it'll help."
"It may. It is a mystery, at any rate."
Kitty lay down and bunched her light blanket under her head for a pillow. "Goodnight, Kitty."
Kitty nodded and fell asleep.
Aaden walked over to Mezlo, who was closely examining Pendor's good wing, a small opaque monocle in his left eye. "What have you found, Mage?"
"I have found out why the dragon lost flight, M'Lord, but an explanation of it would require that I leave character."
Aaden sighed and said, "People seem to be doing that a lot these days. Okay, Mezlo, give it to me straight."
"Well, Dragon's aren't terribly aerodynamic. Apparently, even though they qualify as a full Pendor race, they're at least partially cybernetic in their own right. When I leave BackWater, first thing I want to read is on Dragon reproduction."
"My guess is that Dragons are born with a trans-generational nanotech-level mechanism installed by the previous generation's mechanism in the womb. The mechanism builds an array of energy- scavenging Corran-field cascades."
"Millions of nanotech-sized gravitics generators." Mezlo nodded. "And they're solar powered." Mezlo nodded again. "Does this mean all dragons can't fly at night?"
"No, M'Lord. This dragon apparently had been flying all day; any store he had reserved had burned out immediately upon nightfall. Also, I can think of some science that could keep them airborne."
Aaden cursed under his breath. Kitty was asleep; it would have been useful to ask her how long she and Pendor had been airborne. "Very well, Mage, you have cleared one mystery. We have others. I must speak with The Captain."
"Yes, M'Lord. Come." Mezlo led Aaden back to where he had left his saddlebags and dragged out a small golden sphere. As the Mage muttered under his breath, Aaden could feel the air coming alive, could feel the breath stirring in his chest. He felt just a little jealous of the power Mages wielded, he admitted to himself, even when it was all illusory.
"It is ready; I am in touch with Mara, M'Lord. She has sent for the Captain."
"Thank you. Greeting, Mara."
The voice from the sphere said, "Good evening, M'Lord Degranni. How is your journey, that you wake me so late at night?" Aaden scowled slightly at her tone. Mara and he had had an encounter he would sooner forget; it had been that night he had realized his lust ran towards males.
Aaden bit back his feelings and proceeded to tell the entire tale to Mara in one long breath, trying to get out everything as fast as he could. The voice that came over next was masculine and soothing, and he relaxed when he realized it was Captain Gregor. "M'Lord, that is some tale. You have the Sazknife in your possession?"
"I do not, Gregor. I have left it with the lady; it is her burden."
"Now one we share. The Luccas have had a pogrom." A chill crept up Aaden's spine. "They burned a farmhouse on the edge of the Alliance territory. Seven dead. Although they burned, Mara tells me that the family was tortured before death. They did not 'touch' the family, however."
"Luccas," Aaden hissed. "What was the family?"
Aaden closed his eyes in pain, visions of young Lerea, a handsome boy-stallion who lived with his family at Degranni searing in his head. "Gregor, a reward for whoever knows of the animals that did this, and where they might be found."
"Aye, M'Lord. I have news that would interest you as well."
"I shall bring it to you personally. Tomorrow, at noon."
"We are three days from Degranni, Gregor. How do you propose to deliver it personally?"
"That shall be the news, M'Lord. Speed has come to Degranni."
The dawn spread slowly over the land, and Kitty awoke to the sounds of fighting. Looking up she saw two of Aaden's men practicing in a corner of the field, striking at each other with swords made of wood.
She turned over to see Sergeant Ahamo peering at her with a slight smile in his face. "So, you're awake?" he asked. Kitty nodded. "Here, Lord Aaden told me to feed you when you awoke. It's not sweet, but it will fill you."
Kitty nodded and took the bowl from Ahamo. It was a thick, almost pasty gruel, and she downed it quickly, thinking to herself that it tasted vaguely like a combination of Elmer's glue and wet cardboard. She smiled at the anachronism.
After attending to her body's other needs, Kitty walked over to Pendor. His eyes were still closed, but he seemed to be breathing evenly. "G'Morning," she said quietly, touching him on his head gently.
Is it good? he replied quietly, his eyes fluttering open. He smiled a gentle smile.
"Does it hurt?" she asked.
Yes, the dragon replied. But your friends have been kind.
"I'm glad you're okay. I was so worried about you last night."
You thought I was going to die.
"And that's not fair. You're only two days old, Pendor. It was no fair for you to be hurt like that yesterday."
I am learning, Kitty. He raised his head and nuzzled it against her shoulder. As I listen to the people around me, connections happen in my mind. Connections that teach me what I am, what you are, what is happening around me. I know this is called Incorporation Shock.
Kitty nodded. "I know. I heard that phrase for the first time last night."
Pendor's head turned so he could rest it's full length against her chest. I also know something else, Kitty. And I know it's embarrassing for you to tell me. But what you felt when you were riding me- that's called an orgasm, isn't it?
Kitty's face burned as she thought about the incident. She wanted to flee for a moment, then shook her head. She nodded. "Yes." Her tongue felt thick and dry as she said it. "I'm sorry."
"Because I used you. Because I felt too embarrassed to tell you. I don't know why."
You feel pleasure at riding with me. And they told me you were going to fight soldiers with that tiny knife of yours to protect me. Isn't that a kind of love?
"I don't know, Pendor. I just don't."
Do I frighten you?
Kitty couldn't answer for a moment, then finally nodded. It was all so clear to him, she realized. All so simple. Yet the words, "love," "lust," "friendship," had different meanings for her. As Shardik had been so fond of saying, they were tainted by Terra, Terran words. Inside, she wanted to hug Pendor and kiss him and tell him how she felt, but she couldn't.
Pendor looked at her. Kitty, I would never hurt you.
But you do, Kitty thought to herself. Just by being so direct, so honest.
Kitty, I have no reason to be dishonest with you. Would it stop hurting if I were? What could I be dishonest with you about?
Kitty looked up, horrified that he had heard her. She shook her head and said plaintively, "No, that would just hurt more." She shook her fists in frustration and said, "Pendor, I don't know if you can understand this. Please try. I... " DAMMIT! she thought. I can't say it. I've got to say it. "I love you."
She sighed, grateful to get it over with. "But I can't," immediately followed her words.
Why not? the dragon asked, his 'voice' sad.
Kitty took a step back. "Because I'm a human and you're a dragon and we just don't meet, anywhere. Because in so many ways both of us are less than a year old, and I've only known you for two days, and I don't know you."
What is there to know, Kitty? Pendor asked, confusion in his voice. All that I am is all that you've seen. I haven't had time to be anything else. His voice was full of pain. Kitty...
"Pendor, maybe what I feel is the kind of feeling I get when I get a new kitten, okay? Maybe it's because you're so simple, so direct."
Is that all I can be, then? Are we back to my being a pet?
"I don't know!" she shouted, running away from him into the woods, crying. In the back of her mind she heard him call, once, Kitty...
She stopped deep in the woods, and behind her she heard the crashing of footsteps. "M'Lady!" she heard along with the running. The voice was Aaden's.
"Over here," she said, her voice cracking slightly.
"M'Lady?" the voice said as Aaden appeared from behind a clump of trees. "Kitty?"
"Here," she said quietly. Aaden walked over to her, the heavy soles of his boots making loud crunching noises on the drying leaves. "What's the matter?" he asked quietly.
She shook her head. Unselfconsciously, Aaden dropped himself to the ground. "Here, sit down," he said.
"I'll get my pants wet," she said.
"It's not that damp," he replied. "Please?" he asked. She sat down.
"So," he said, "What was that all about?"
"Aaden, is it possible to love someone you can't have sex with?"
Aaden worked his jaw for a second, as if he were chewing on the thought, and replied, "I don't know. I imagine it would be very possible, though. Are we talking about you and...?"
Kitty nodded. "Why can't you have sex with him?" Aaden asked innocently.
"Are you kidding?" she asked. "Look at him!"
Aaden bit his lower lip again, a habit Kitty was beginning to find annoying. "Kitty, I am a gay mel. Now, from one standpoint, my body was designed. I'm the product of a gengineer's fantasy. Being a relatively competent gengineer, however, Shardik decided not to tamper too much with the functions evolution had created. So let's be honest for a second and say that, to be honest, no part of my anatomy is really designed to be penetrated, to experience the violence of even the tenderest of lovemakings, the way a part of yours is.
"Despite this little drawback, I, and Shardik, or so I've been told, like being on the receiving end, so to speak. You're a product of evolution, Kitty, not engineering. You're a Terran Human. Be honest with yourself. Your mind evolved to make you a better killing machine."
Kitty looked up at Aaden. "I don't understand."
"Natural selection prefers those that both feed themselves well and defend their territory and genetic right to evolve well. Humans are omnivorous. Your kind, Shardik's kind, evolved sentience because it would help them do what they eventually learned to do better than any other species on Earth. Kill. Trap. Attack and defend.
"What I'm getting at is that, despite this design intention, humans make music. They draw. They sing, they paint, and they fall in love. Your mind wasn't really created to do those things."
Kitty smiled and said, "And your body wasn't designed for some of the things you put it through, either, I suppose."
"Exactly," Aaden said, grinning.
"Except Ken would disagree with you," Kitty said.
"Would he?" Aaden asked. "How so?"
"Everything comes back to the desire to procreate. That's his claim. Music, Dance, Love. He told me people just do those to get laid."
Aaden laughed. "How crudely put! Still, I suppose it's possible. But that doesn't describe me, and it doesn't describe you. I only like males, Kitty. There's little chance of procreation there, M'Lady. And you've fallen in love with a Dragon."
"Maybe I'm just being protective."
"Does the why matter?" Aaden asked. "And as for sex, M'Lady, you've two hands, and he's quite a tongue. I don't see why you two couldn't have some interesting times together."
Kitty scowled at him, then laughed. "What the Hell," she said. "It was only a month ago I was willing to be turned into a Centaur."
Aaden laughed and said, "I'm glad that's a decision I shall never have to make. Come back with me?" Kitty nodded and Aaden led them back to the camp.
Pendor had lain his head down on the grass, eyes open. Kitty walked up alongside him and touched his shoulder, caressing his neck gently until she reached the ridge that ran along the top of his head, scratching. A little harder?
She smiled and increased her pressure, enjoying the attentions she was giving her Dragon friend. "Pendor?"
There was no answer. "I'm... I'm sorry."
Pendor turned his massive head towards her and said I know. You are a very silly person sometimes.
That reply made Kitty feel a little angry. "Silly?"
Kitty, you protected me. You were going to give your life for me. What is that except love?
The anger faded. She knelt down on the grass, noting to herself to ask someone how BackWater dealt with grass stains. She leaned over and draped her body along the length of his head and neck. "I don't know. Pendor, I... I think I love you."
I know I love you, Kitty Moran. You saved my life.
"No, the healer did tha-" she was broken off by the sound of enormous wings beating over head, of a huge, dark-green dragon shape flying by. It came closer, and Aaden's men were pulling out swords and preparing to deal with it if it was threatening. "Ho, Men!" she heard a voice from the Dragon, a voice she knew she'd heard before.
Another Dragon! Pendor nearly shouted. Hello!
There was a pause. My name is Pendor. Allegan's a pretty name! Kitty realized she couldn't 'hear' the other dragon's conversation, a fact she suddenly found very annoying. She wanted to know everything that was going on around 'her' dragon. She recognized the feeling as jealousy and began laughing. "Oh, my God," she said aloud.
"Kitty!" she heard Aaden's voice call her as the Dragon landed. "Come meet my Captain of the Guard." Kitty left Pendor with a kiss to his massive reptilian head and wandered over to where Aaden stood. Next to him was a massive, wiry human, tall, wearing white leather and a steel breastplate. "Kitty Moran, meet Gregor."
She reached out a hand. The captain bowed and kissed it. "A pleasure, M'Lady. I am Gregor, Aaden's Captain and man at arms." He turned to Aaden and said, "This is my news, M'lord. We have a dragonfriend at Degranni. Allegan, meet M'Lord Aaden, Master of Degranni."
Aaden bowed; the dragon seemed to. "A pleasure," Aaden said. Kitty wondered if he had 'heard' the dragon or not. "This is interesting news. What have we on the Luccans, Gregor?"
"Nothing M'lord. The people are frightened; they do not want to come out and admit to knowing anything."
"I am tired," Aaden admitted, "of this entire game. Tales of seduction and intrigue I admire; Mass murder, even simulated, is distasteful to me. And the idea that real individuals could be participating in such behavior revolts me."
"I know, M'Lord. It is unusual of the Gods to throw such trouble our way."
Aaden sighed heavily and then smiled. "Tell me, Gregor, how is Sufi?"
Gregor smiled and said, "His studies are doing well, M'lord. His swordplay is quick and will be deadly when needed, but with a bow the lad is simply amazing. I have never seen such an aim. And he speaks of you often. He truly misses his Lord and Love."
"Good. Can you tell him, Gregor, that I shall be a few more days in the field, awaiting Pendor's return to flight?"
"I shall, M'lord, although it shall make him most unhappy."
"As long as his studies do not suffer."
"Of course." Gregor saluted. Aaden returned the salute and watched as Gregor remounted Allegan and the two of them vaulted skyward.
"Healer!" Aaden shouted.
"Yes, M'Lord?" the Tindal asked as he came up from the campsite.
"How is the dragon progressing?"
"We are feeding the Healer's Strength as much as her stomach can handle; were it not for the immense demands being made of her she should grow fat and lazy. The dragon will be fit to practice in two days."
"Two days?" Kitty asked.
"Two day, M'lady. It is a monumental task."
The two days passed without much incident. Kitty practiced with a sword Sergeant Ahamo lent her, and she thought she was picking up the basics rather quickly, but not without picking up a few bruises along the way.
"Ready?" she asked Pendor.
Of course, he replied. I've been sitting for three days doing nothing.
"It was better than dying," Kitty replied.
I know. Thank you again. Kitty blushed. Pendor bunched his massive legs underneath him and with a lunge he was airborne. It's a little sore, he told her as he flew by, but it feels great to be airborne again!
She laughed. "What did he say?" Aaden asked. She relayed the message.
"Well, we did spend a lot of time here. Kitty, could he carry you and me to Castle Degranni?"
"Ask the healer," Kitty replied. "That's his call."
Aaden departed, returned a few minutes later. "The healer says it's okay, as long as we let the Dragon rest the second he feels tired."
"Sergeant!" Aaden ordered.
"Sergeant, you are to break camp in one hour and make for Degranni at best possible speed with your men. I will accompany the Dragon."
"Yes, M'Lord. Good speed to you, sir."
"And to you," Aaden replied.
Pendor landed and offered his back to Kitty and Aaden, and they clambered on. Kitty noted with some amusement that Aaden gripped her tightly; he was clearly more than a little frightened by the power and strength she had befriended. "Is it always like this?" he shouted over the wind.
She laughed aloud and said, "I like it, M'Lord. I find it thrilling!"
I know you do.
"Voyeur!" she shouted at the dragon. "But I love you anyway!"
Good! the dragon replied.
The flight lasted less than two hours following the road before they reached Degranni. Aaden instructed her to land in the courtyard directly outside the Castle walls.
A flurry of guards greeted them, surprised by the sudden appearance of a black dragon, then relieved to see Aaden was one of the riders. "Ho, Gregor!" he shouted.
"Ho, M'Lord Aaden!" Gregor replied. "And how have you been?"
"Wet, cold, and lonely, Captain. How is the Castle?"
"We await your return. I have been instructed to inform thee that no matters of court await thee."
"Good," Aaden replied, sliding off the Dragon's back. "Kitty, come with me. Gregor," he said, raising his voice, "Find bedding for another Dragon, if you please."
"I will endeavor, M'Lord."
"Excellent." He walked to the gates; Kitty followed. "M'Lord!" a voice rang out from a set of steps to their left. A young (in Kitty's eyes, very young) Uncia came bounding down the stairs four at a time with such rushed and unsteady steps that Kitty feared he would break a leg on the way down.
"Sufi!" Aaden shouted in reply as the Uncia reached the bottom step and ran blindly for him. They crashed together and Aaden swept the Uncia off his feet, into his arms, and kissed him on the muzzle, hard, running licks along the fur.
Kitty felt slightly embarrassed watching the display. She had never before watched two males kiss before; this was far more than an intellectual acceptance of homosexuality, and she found herself fascinated by it. She waited, a slight smile on her face, until Aaden dropped Sufi on the ground again and said, "Sufi, meet Kitty Moran."
"How do you do, M'Lady?"
"I am... well, thank you for asking."
"Come, come," Aaden said. "Let us retire. I, for one, am desperate for a real, hot meal, a bath, and sleep in a real bed."
"Only sleep, M'Lord?" Sufi asked with a disappointed tone.
"Perhaps other things may be in order. Come."
He led them through the inner gate and doorway, into a large hall filled with people in all manner of garb going about the business of managing life in a Castle. Aaden strolled into the center and called out "Pamles!"
"M'Lord?" A young femFelinzi came treading out of a large wooden door to the left.
"Pamles, would you find a room for the Lady Kitty?"
"Of course. If you would come with me, M'Lady."
Kitty nodded and followed.
Aaden smiled at Sufi and said, "Get me a meal from the kitchen, then join me in the Lord's Chambers."
Sufi grinned and said, "As fast as I can!"
"Not that fast, Lad," he replied, grabbing the youngster by the collar. "I will bathe first."
"Of course, of course!" Aaden released the Uncia. He shook his head slowly and smiled, walking towards his chambers.
He made his way to the upper curved hallway of the castle, where the residences were tucked away. His own, that of the Lord of the Castle, were the largest; he had three rooms of his own. The receiving room was the largest of the three rooms, replete with rare rugs and tapestries. The other two were supposed to have been the bedroom and the office, but he had converted the second room to suit Sufi's needs.
Once inside, he stripped off his clothing, tossing the leathers over a wooden rack set up to hold them. The air ruffling through his now-free fur itched painfully, and he indulged himself in a fit of scratching before making his way to the bathtub set in one corner of his bedroom. He opened the sluice set above it, allowing the tub to fill with unheated water, then filled a pail and placed it above the fire.
As he was waiting for the water to come to a boil, the door opened and Sufi padded in, carrying a tray quietly, but with an eager smile on his face. Aaden turned and nodded to him. Sufi's smile grew as he put down the tray and ran over, throwing his arms around Aaden and hugging him tightly.
"I did miss you."
"I know," Aaden replied. "I missed you as well." He reached up to scratch the Uncia's head; the response was a deep and joyous purr.
Sufi pulled away to look into Aaden's eyes. "You are unhappy."
Aaden smiled and said, "I could never hide anything from you, can I?"
"If M'lord would forgive me, I am grateful that the court intrigue never became too intriguing; you could never hide anything from anyone."
"Am I that bad?" Aaden asked.
Sufi nodded. Aaden pulled Sufi back into his lap, hugging him close. "Sufi, what are you like on the outside?"
"You mean, outside BackWater, M'lord? Not much different. I still look the same, if that's what you mean."
"The same youthful lad?" Aaden chuckled. "With your hormones raging every second."
"Indeed," Sufi laughed, pushing himself further into Aaden's embrace, snuggling as close as he could. "Why are you asking all these questions?"
"That's only two questions," Aaden said. "I'm just tired. I think... I think I've 'found myself,' and I don't believe BackWater does it for me. It's fun, but it's not what I want. And all the recent bloodshed makes me very sad."
"And you'd want me to come along?"
"Sufi, you were my chamberboy before Mara, and you have been my love for almost a year since. You have been special to me." He sighed. "I wouldn't want to lose you."
Sufi shrugged and said, "I shall make my own decisions, Lord of Degranni. I... I'm really happy in BackWater, M'lord. The adventure and the fun are part of it; I don't imagine I could have been your love if I hadn't started out as your catamite."
Aaden shivered. "Such an ugly word."
"But the truth. I cannot say I did not go willingly, but it is a truthful word."
Aaden hugged Sufi a little tighter, then yawned. "Are you tired, Sufi?"
"I could stand a nap, M'lord. I see you are tired. The road is long and brutal."
"Let me bathe first," Aaden said, retrieving the pail of water and pouring it into the bath. He trailed his hand through the warmed water and found it to his satisfaction. "Wash me," he ordered Sufi, handing him the box holding the soap powder.
"With pleasure, M'lord. In a moment." Sufi re-filled the pail with fresh water from the fount and replaced it in the fire. He returned, wet his paws in the bathwater, dusted them with soap and started on Aaden's broad chest, determined to get under the pelt to the flesh underneath. Aaden settled completely into the water, and Sufi gleefully stroked and massaged Aaden's shoulders and arms, working with strong, careful practice. "You're so very tight, M'lord."
"My muscles, or in other things?" Aaden asked.
"Both," Sufi replied, laughing. He leaned over and kissed Aaden gently, licking his muzzle and playing his tongue over the Mephit's.
Aaden lay in the water, going more and more limp as Sufi massaged the many days of the road out of him. "Sufi?" he asked. "I'm afraid I'm not going to be much fun, but I'm exhausted. I don't think I'm even hungry enough to eat what you have brought me."
"I understand, M'lord. I did not expect anything from you."
"Good," Aaden sighed.
"M'Lord? Do you plan on sleeping in the bath?"
"What?" Aaden asked, opening his eyes; it occurred to him that he had indeed been falling asleep. "No, no," he said quietly, standing up and stepping out if the tub. Sufi took the pail of warm water he had retrieved from the fire, Aaden assumed while he was sleeping in the tub, and ladled it out over his fur to rinse him. It was a slow and gentle ritual they had repeated many times in the past year, and the sensation of Sufi's hands scrubbing under his fur conspired with his exhaustion to put him to sleep standing up. The feeling of being wrapped up in the enormous towel Sufi used to dry him off afterwards was even more convincing.
"Come, M'Lord. To bed with you."
Aaden quietly obeyed, walking over to the huge bed and crawling in. He threw the covers off; it was a warm day out and he had enough fur on him. Sufi drew the curtains, darkening the room. The curtains were not very thick, and they gave a dark blood-red appearance to everything. He felt Sufi crawl in next to him, and as he lay on his back, Sufi lay atop of him, off to his left. He was amused to feel Sufi's paw find it's usual place atop his sex. He was equally amazed to feel his sex filling with blood. "Sufi, you're determined to get a roll out of me, aren't you?"
"M'Lord? You are tired. I'm sorry if my presence excites you. I'll leave if you wish."
"And let my back get cold?" Aaden said, chuckling. "Don't you dare. And don't stop."
"Yes, M'Lord," Sufi smiled. His paw was insistent on Aaden's sheath, and Aaden felt his cock harden swiftly. It was an odd sort of feeling, because he was so very tired, but there was no way he was going to fall unconscious with this erection. It had been eighteen days on the road, six days longer than planned, and that was a long time for him to go without Sufi's attentions.
Sufi stroked his cock slowly, bringing it to full hardness. Aaden sighed and tried to relax further, letting Sufi play as he would with him. Sufi's paw closed as well as it could around Aaden's cock; Aaden smiled at Sufi's original expression of surprise when Aaden had first taken him; never having had anything to compare himself to, Aaden had assumed his penis was of average size.
He felt a shifting of the bed, and opened his eyes to see Sufi straddling his waist. "I have waited nigh on a month for you, M'Lord."
"Are you sure, Sufi?"
"There is no pain anymore, M'Lord. Just pleasure." Sufi held Aaden's cock in place and pushed down onto it; his sphincter opened and Aaden felt his cock sink into the warmth of Sufi's body. "I oiled myself while you slept in the tub."
"How long was I asleep?"
"Just long enough for me to grab the pail of water and the oils." Sufi began stroking up and down; he was still not taking the full length of Aaden's cock, a fact Aaden was not surprised at. Sufi had one paw on Aaden's chest; the other was stroking his own penis. Aaden rose up for a second and tried to get Sufi's cock into his muzzle, but the best he could manage was merely the tip. He settled back. "I missed you so, M'Lord."
"I missed you as well, child," Aaden admitted. His pleasure was rising; he was surprised at how awake he felt sexually, since his body was craving unconsciousness. It would never happen, not until one of them gave up.
Sufi was determined that it be Aaden; Sufi was stroking himself much more slowly than usual, and Aaden saw that. Sufi stroked himself harder upon Aaden's flesh, now finally taking the entire length.
Aaden could see small quivers of pain in Sufi's face with every stroke, and he could feel the head of his sex hitting bottom. "Are you okay?"
"Fine, M'Lord," Sufi panted as he sped up even further. Aaden's frustrations rose as his body responded. "I want to make you happy."
"Just a little further, Lad," Aaden moaned. He began pushing his hips upwards with every thrust, meeting Sufi's buttocks on every stroke. He was going to climax before the boy did. He fought it to no avail; his orgasm, so long denied by the pressures of the road, exploded through him, a ripping shout of pleasure as his seed flooded Sufi's insides.
Sufi looked down at him and said, "How was that?"
"Fine, you wicked little cub," Aaden mumbled gently as Sufi pulled himself off Aaden's sex. The sensation made Aaden moan and close his eyes. They did not reopen as he sank down into unconsciousness.
Kitty found herself not quite so much tired as merely bewildered by the vast array of activities going on around her; the constant sounds of animals, the braying of horses, and the shouts and clashes of steel as Pendrii fought mock combats, preparing for real war. She watched as a Tindal, not known for their strength, wielding only a light rapier, repeatedly and quite handily defended himself against a Human weilding a much heavier sabre. "M'Lady?" a voice said behind her.
"Yes?" she asked, turning around. Behind her stood Pamles, a Felinzi wearing a heavily embroidered shrift and skirt, belted with a blue rope.
"I have been asked to show you your quarters. We have found a tent for your Dragon."
Kitty smiled. "He's not my Dragon. He belongs only to himself. Are my quarters near the tent?"
"No, M'Lady. Do you require that they be so?"
Kitty thought about it for a few seconds. "I don't require it, but if it's possible, I would very much appreciate it."
"Anything is possible, M'Lady. I'll see what I can arrange." She turned to leave.
As she left, Kitty wondered how anybody could stand being laced into clothes as tight as Pamles's appeared to be. She wandered about the Castle almost at random, coming upon the kitchen only after following the smell of fresh bread. "Hello?" she asked aloud.
"Greetings, Lady," said a beefy-looking Centaur who was standing next to a pot that looked just big enough to hold him. "I am Gelvilya. How can I help you?"
"I smelled food..."
"And you came looking for some, eh?" he asked, laughing. "The right place this is, trust me. I've some stew, but 'tis no doubt the bread that just came from m'oven that dragged your nose in here, the rest of ye' followin', right?"
Kitty laughed and nodded. "Here, M'Lady. Grab yon dish and bring it here." Kitty picked up the bowl, which was about a foot long, a third as wide and as deep, and brought it to Gelvilya. He took it from her, dropped down half a loaf of bread into it, tore the soft center out, ladled some stew from the pot into the depression made in the breadcrust, and dropped the bread back on top. "There, M'Lady, the household's finest stew. And there be mead, over on the counter. 'Tis truly some of the finest in the land, and they be m'bees, too." Kitty thanked him and asked for a spoon. "Over yon table. Grab any one."
She found a quiet table to eat, although she was busily shooing away flies much of the time. To her palette the bread was simply incredible, the stew equally so. She was surprised at how hungry she was, eating the entire meal so rapidly she worried afterwards about cramps. Still, it was the first real meal she had had in four days, and her need for it could not be denied.
She found after eating that she was growing tired. "That's silly," she said aloud. "It's not even dark yet." On the other hand, she wasn't yet used to Pendor's thirty-hour days. How long had she been awake? She had awakened around... dawn, she thought. She had been getting used to waking up about then. So that would make it about twelve hours she had been awake. "Maybe I do need a nap," she said. retrieving her pack and her staff, she went in search of Pamles.
Pamles found her first. "There you are, M'Lady. We've given you a serving quarter next to the stables; the Dragon is housed opposite it on the courtyard. You'd be just a step away from his tent."
"Thank you, Pamles."
"You're welcome, M'Lady. Would you care to see it now?"
"Yes, please," Kitty said, trying to get into the spirit of the accent and not really doing very well. She shook her head and followed the female feline out.
Pamles led her through a variety of passages towards the rear of the castle. To her left was a large stable, from which horses could occasionally be heard nickering. On the right, a huge and festive-looking tent had been erected. The flaps had been thrown closed, but she could hear snoring coming from within. She shook her head and said, "He's sleeping again."
"Seems to do a lot of that, M'Lady," the Felinzi offered. "Also seems to do a lot of eating. We were afeared that he'd spook the horses, but there's been no sign of that."
"That's good," Kitty said. "Where's my room?"
"Over here," Pamles replied. She led Kitty through a doorway and down a short hall. "Second door on the left; the first is storage for the tack."
"Pamles... I didn't move anybody getting this room, did I?"
"Oh, no, M'Lady. This is a spare; You're getting Sufi's old room."
"Aaden's..." she fumbled for a word to describe Sufi.
"Mate is appropriate, M'Lady. Yes, I had much the same trouble when I came to Degranni."
Kitty smiled and said, "Where are you from, Pamles?"
"In Life, or in BackWater?"
"Which is more important?"
"Well, when I came to BackWater I came to Kendre, where I was a... lady of Senn." She blushed gently. "But it was na' the life for me. I made my way out to Degranni 'for I wanted to live a clean life. Degranni's just a little farming castle, no big empires, and Lord Aaden is good to his folk. As was Lord Ijuf before him."
"And before that?"
"I was a techie at Tangent Arcology. I left when they canceled my project."
"Why did they do that?"
"Because with the invention of the SDisk system, Tangent To The Arc of The Ring starship facility was no longer needed."
Kitty nodded. "Are you bitter about that?"
"Bitter? No, merely bored. I was upset; I enjoyed the macroscopic scale of the thing. But I'm happy where I am. And there's a rumor that it may be built anyway. If it is, I'll go back."
Kitty nodded and walked through the open door Pamles offered. The room inside was well-appointed; the bed was big and covered in animal furs. "Will you be needing me for anything else, M'Lady?"
"No, that's quite all right. Thank you, Pamles, for both your help and your story."
"You're quite welcome, M'Lady," the Felinzi said as she closed the door.
Kitty sighed and stripped off her clothes. With nothing more than a perfunctory washing of her face, she fell down into the bed and was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow.
She awoke with a start, the unfamiliar smell of the bed and the sound of horses rousing her before she remembered where she was and eased back down. She did not at all feel tired, now; the adrenaline that had kicked in with her waking had erased any final sensation of fatigue. She cursed quietly and got out of bed.
A small oil lamp glowed against one wall. She didn't remember lighting it, and wondered if maybe Pamles had returned to do so. In any event, she appreciated the gesture and turned it up, giving the room even more light.
She took a better look around the room. There were a variety of drawing mounted to the wall, all done with charcoal, and all marked with a quen 'Silya' mark, the first initial of Sufi's name. "You're pretty good," she said to the drawings. They were of a variety of male figures, most of them in combat poses. She distinctly recognized one of them as Aaden. "And that one must be Gregor, the Captain," she said aloud.
She found the bathtub, and the pail. Having read a few gothic romances, she had a reasonable idea of how to go about making a bath, but the idea of struggling with the fire seemed like a lot of effort to her. She sighed and set about the kindling anyway, using the flame from the lamp and some light straw to start the fire.
She knew for a fact that baths were a privilege, not a necessity, in medieval stories, but this didn't stop her from going through the whole rigmarole. She was glad to finally sink into the heated water of the tub. With an efficient hand she scrubbed off as much dirt as she could. "God," she said quietly, "I'm an archeology project, one layer after another."
"I'm talking to myself again." Or maybe she just hoped Luke would answer her. The book had thus far been silent since she and Pendor had had their little accident four days ago.
With another exaggerated sigh she climbed out of the tub and looked herself over. Her body was clean again, and she felt better than she had in a few days; at least the bed hadn't been as lumpy as the one at the Inn.
With a little effort she dressed into one of the two changes of clothes she had found in her pack. She debated taking the pack with her, deciding against it finally; the less of a deal she made about it, the less likely anyone was to know it carried anything valuable. She strapped on her knife and took her staff; everybody seemed to know how valuable they were. She took her lantern.
The air outside was warm, but the humidity wasn't as bad as it had been the past couple of nights. She found it comforting. With a glance around to see if anybody else was about she walked over to the tent and found a space between two flaps. She found a hook on a tentpole and turned the light up a little. Inside, Pendor was rolled onto his back, and she found herself next to one of his legs, which was hanging lazily in the air.
Hi, she heard in her head again. What are you doing up at this hour?
"You sound like my mother," Kitty said.
Do I? the Dragon asked. I'm sorry. It just seems so late.
"Why are you awake?" Kitty asked.
I'm not sure, the Dragon admitted. I guess I slept all day. It wasn't a very long flight.
"No, but it was your first real flight since the accident. Wing okay?" she asked.
Feels a little strange.
She walked over to the previously wounded wing and felt along it's length. "The muscles are a little tight."
What does that mean?
"I'm not really sure. It always happen when you strain weak muscles a little bit. It's not serious, and the more you exercise the less it'll happen."
Can you do anything for it now? It hurts a little.
"Well, I could massage it. I don't know how effective that would be on a Dragon."
Could you try, please?
"Sure. Turn over." She suddenly realized how much of a production that simple command was going to generate. The Dragon shifted, trying to ease himself over without hitting a tent-pole and bringing the canvas down. "Just like that," Kitty said. "Comfortable?"
Sort of. I'm lying on my other wing.
"Is that uncomfortable?"
Not really. But it will get cold in a little bit.
"Okay. I'll try and make this quick." She reached up where the wing met body and pressed in with both hands, once again shaking her head. There was no way she was going to make any progress; his hide was too thick and there was simply too much of him for her to make any impact. She located the strained muscles under his body and decided to change tactics; with the balls of her palms she began striking against his body gently. "How's that?"
Feels good, the Dragon replied. More?
Kitty laughed and began pummeling Pendor's flank harder, feeling the knots give way slightly under her influence. "Better?" she asked.
Much the Dragon replied, flexing his wing slightly. He rolled over onto his back again, and as he did so Kitty noticed something caught between the Dragon's legs. At least, she thought it was something caught until she realized that what she was staring at was Pendor's erect penis. She blushed and turned away.
Something wrong? the Dragon asked.
"No, no," Kitty answered quickly, not sure if she should feel humor or shame and coughing with the effort of deciding.
Oh, the Dragon replied, I understand. I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do about it.
"No, it's okay," Kitty said. "I should get used to it; it's part of you, after all." She walked over to his head and kissed him under the chin. "I'm sorry."
Why? the Dragon asked.
She shrugged. "I don't know. I don't know what I'm apologizing for. Just think I should." She kept finding herself glancing up along the length of the Dragon's body, staring at the penis staring back at her. She finally made her decision. "Pendor?" she asked quietly.
Hmm? the Dragon responded.
"May I go and take a look at your... maleness?"
The Dragon raised its head and looked at her. I don't see why not. You're not going to hurt me, are you?
"I hope not," Kitty said.
Then feel free. Kitty smiled and walked around the Dragon's body again, careful not step on his outstretched wings. She walked up to where his legs hung in the air and stared at his penis. "It isn't that large," she whispered to herself. What was she saying? It was almost as big as her forearm!
She jumped up gently onto his belly, coming face-to-eye with the monstrous sexual organ of a Dragon. How does it look to you?
"Big," she answered.
You just said it wasn't that big.
"I meant in terms of how big you are. I was afraid you'd be much bigger." Kitty felt a blush cross her face. She couldn't believe she was talking about Pendor's sex as casually as she did his wings. But why should it make a difference? It was just another part of his body. Wasn't it?
She reached out and touched it gently; it was about the size of her arm and she found it fascinating. There was no way she was ever going to have any sort of lovemaking with this dragon in the traditional sense. But she wanted to make him feel good, to feel the pleasure he had given her every time they had flown together.
Under the lantern light, Pendor's sex was a dark brown color, covered in veins that pulsed silently under a thin layer of translucent skin. The sheath it came from was heavily scaled, and she couldn't see any obvious testes. "Well armored," she reflected quietly.
Under her fingertips she could feel its heat and its strength. It flexed slightly, and she giggled. What's funny? the Dragon asked.
"I don't know," Kitty admitted. "It just seems so strange, playing with your... cock, so casually like this."
I like the way your hand feels.
Kitty smiled and took tried to wrap her hand around as much of it as she could. It was huge, and her hand just barely covered half of it.
Pendor startled; Kitty grabbed ahold of his leg to keep from slipping off. Careful, he said.
"Shh..." Kitty said. She took his sex in her hand again and slowly began stroking it slowly. It was hardening under her hand, but it didn't grow at all. She had to hold on tight when he flexed the muscles in his groin. But she stroked him incessantly.
A feeling of power grew in her, and of pleasure. Kitty, what are you doing?
She smiled and thought as 'loudly' as she thought she could, I'm giving you a hand.
It feels wonderful.
You can hear me!
Yes.... The Dragon's 'voice' trailed off as she pulled faster on his sex. He groaned; she straddled his sheath with her legs and planted her bare feet against the hollows of his thighs. Every time a shudder ran through his body she found herself thrilled at the power she was exerting, even as the effort was becoming tiring.
Kitty... the Dragon seemed to say even as a deep rumble broke through his throat. So beautiful...
"Good," she said aloud, rubbing faster, giving him more friction. It was going to be a close thing; her arms were burning with exhaustion. The dragon shuddered hard, and every muscle in his body tensed. She ducked as his legs tightened, and then his sex surged in her hands, pulsing. She felt each pulse through her legs, her thighs. She closed her eyes and felt his orgasm roll through her head, feeling as good to her as the pain four days ago had been awful. It was a sweet, joyous feeling.
The dragon lay there, panting quietly, as Kitty slid off of him and went in search of a towel. She found one on a table in the corner of the tent, one meant to wash horses with, she noted. She returned and slowly wiped up the little rivulets of semen that had deliquesced and run down the sides of his body, collecting somewhat on his left wing.
Kitty... the Dragon spoke after a short while.
"Hmm?" Kitty asked. It was becoming impossible to keep her grin off her face.
Is that what you feel when we fly? That kind of pleasure?
She nodded. "Yup. That's how good it feels to fly with you."
I'm jealous, the Dragon said, the seriousness of his words betrayed by the obvious pleasure and humor radiating off of him. You can do that all the time.
"Women are like that, Pendor. A Fact of Life, so to speak."
It was wonderful, the Dragon said. And now I'm tired enough to go back to sleep.
"Me, too. I should have them bring a bed out here."
Not tonight, the Dragon said quietly. They're all asleep. Wait until tomorrow. Go sleep in your human bed. He raised his head and leaned close to her. She took his head in her hands and kissed his nose softly; he returned the favor, licking her cheek with his red tongue.
Goodnight Kitty, my sweet.