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HomeFantasy StoriesTo Catch a Merchant Princess Ch. 05

To Catch a Merchant Princess Ch. 05

After coming to the aid of fellow travelers, Thakkor and Alicia give in to their emotions.

Reader discretion advised. 

The story you are about to read contains mature content that some may find offensive. By choosing to read this piece, you agree that you are 18 or older and do not object to content of a sexual nature. 




Alicia awakened to the sound of birds singing and the scent of flowers on the wind. Her eyes fluttered open and she smiled as she beheld Thakkor asleep in the bed next to her. Her cheeks warmed a little as she considered her thoughts – and dreams – about him.

Though she wanted nothing more than to snuggle up next to him, Alicia resisted. Whether she’d worked out her physical needs in her half-remembered dreams or simply had more willpower now that she’d rested, Alicia found the strength to slip out of the bed.

Thakkor stirred a little, smiling in his sleep. Alicia tiptoed across the thick canvas floor of the tent to go outside. The trees filtered the morning sunlight, but Alicia could see down the trail to tell that the sun was fully above the horizon. Not especially skilled in determining time, she had no idea what the hour might be. Her rumbling tummy suggested that it was time to break her fast.

A disturbing squawk caused Alicia to turn back to the trail leading out of the stand of trees. The blood drained from her face when she saw a vulture swoop down from the sky. Her eyes dropped to her blouse, still showing the rusty colored stains of spattered blood that she hadn’t been able to completely wash out before they set.

Alicia’s stomach churned again, and not with hunger this time.

The flap of the tent opened behind her, but the sound of Thakkor’s footfalls had subliminally registered in Alicia’s mind, so he didn’t startle her. "You okay?" he asked, seeing the direction of her gaze and the carrion bird.

"I suppose."

Thakkor put a hand on her shoulder and said, "You did what you had to do. They certainly would have killed us."

"It still feels wrong – wasteful and sad." Alicia sighed and shook her head.

"Don’t ever lose that, Alicia. Taking a life should never be a small thing, even when you don’t have a choice."

Alicia turned toward him, keenly aware of his touch. "Does it make you feel ill?"

"Sometimes. I’ve been attacked by starving highwaymen before, and I had to choke down bile the whole time I was fighting. I knew they were just trying to survive. I did my best to convince them that the cost was too high, but they were too desperate."

Alicia shuddered, prompting Thakkor to wrap his arm around her in comfort. The reason for her shudder changed almost immediately. "I feel like we should chase those evil birds away," she said as another landed.

"I buried them the best I could with nothing but one of their swords to work with. It should be enough to keep the vultures away, if nothing else. The vultures are just doing what comes naturally." Thakkor cleared his throat and let his arm fall to his side, looking as though he’d just realized where it was. "We should probably get going. Staying here and dwelling on it isn’t good for you."

Alicia nodded and gave him a slight grin. "There should be enough bread and dried meat for us to break our fast."

"Then we’ll get moving again. I’ll show you how to wear that sword. From what I saw last night, I’m going to feel a lot safer if you have it where you can get hold of it in a hurry. Someone teaching you?"

Alicia pulled back the flap of the tent, her smile widening from his praise. "Trell – Baroness Gwendoline’s Master of the Guard. He’s taught me to defend my person ever since my Father sent me to the court on my tenth birthday."

"He’s a damn good teacher. I’ve fought beside greenhorns that were earning a living with their blade and didn’t have half your ability," Thakkor said as he followed Alicia into the tent.

"You exaggerate," Alicia scoffed.

"Nope, you handled yourself well in that fight. You don’t look the type, either. That’s probably as dangerous as your blade."

Her cheeks warming, Alicia said, "Thank you," and opened the pantry cabinet to retrieve what would pass for breakfast.

A short while later, Alicia returned the magical tent to its tiny traveling form while Thakkor put out the fire. After breaking camp, Alicia belted on her acquired sword.

"Walk around a bit," Thakkor suggested.

Alicia’s brow furrowed as she walked. "I’m afraid it may drive me mad, bumping off of me with every step."

"You’ll get used to it before you know it. Try guiding it with your hand on the pommel for a while."

Alicia followed the suggestion and found it did keep the sword from slapping against her thigh.

Thakkor nodded and adjusted the two canteens hanging over his right shoulder. "There you go. Ready to head out?"

"Yes, let us go."

Thakkor led the way, pointedly taking a much narrower, winding trail out the opposite side of the woodlet to avoid the scene of the previous night’s battle. As Alicia stepped from the shadowed canopy of the trees, the true vastness of the plains dawned upon her.

The grasslands had looked endless to Alicia in the moonlit night. With the full light of the summer sun shining down, she felt as though she was on another world. Only the occasional hill or stand of trees broke the endless sea of swaying grasses. No matter which way she looked, the same scene greeted her.

Alicia’s fingers tightened around the hilt of her sword when something huge, hairy, and dangerous looking crested a small rise in the distance. "What is that?" she asked, nudging Thakkor.

"Buffalo. They’re nothing to worry about as long as we don’t do anything stupid like get in its way or torment it."

Alicia let her fingers relax and followed the buffalo with her eyes as she walked at Thakkor’s side. With his reassurance that the animal wasn’t a bloodthirsty monster, she decided that it was beautiful and majestic. "I have the finest education available, but I feel as though I know nothing out here."

Thakkor looked over, his smile making Alicia feel as though she would melt. "Learning’s something you just keep doing. I could show you how to find food, water, and shelter out here as we walk, if you’d like. It will help pass the time."

"I would like that very much," Alicia responded, her face once more adorned with a smile so wide that she felt strain in her cheeks.

Alicia’s education began immediately, with Thakkor pointing out a shrub decorated with pale, papery-looking husks. "That’s a ground cherry. Not bad eating, and the fruit inside those husks has quite a bit of water in it too." Thakkor plucked one of the fruits and brought it to Alicia.

After a brief examination of the grape-sized yellow fruit, Alicia popped it in her mouth. "It’s a little like a tomato with a bit of a pineapple taste."

"Pineapple?" Thakkor asked.

"It’s a tropical fruit about the size of one of the canteens you’re carrying. They look somewhat similar to pine cones."

"Looks like I’m going to get a bit of an education, too," Thakkor observed with a chuckle while looking deeply into Alicia’s eyes. Intent upon Alicia, he managed to tangle his boot in the foliage underfoot and had to hop on one foot to avoid crashing unceremoniously to the ground.

The pair shared a laugh and continued on their way.

**

Alicia patted her tummy, sighed, and leaned back against the maple tree behind her. The sound of the small river that sustained this oasis of the plains gurgling combined with her full tummy to make her eyes heavy. "That was wonderful."

"Not too bad." Thakkor agreed, rubbing an irritating puncture on his left palm. "Can’t say as I recommend wrestling catfish out of the water as opposed to fishing for them, though. Guess I paid enough attention to learn how to do it, though."

"Why do they call it noodling?"

Thakkor kicked at the pile of earth next to the fire pit he’d dug to cook the fish, burying the small fire to ensure it was well extinguished before he set out with Alicia again. "No idea. I thought that old man was a bit crazy when I saw him doing it. Now that I’ve tried it, I know he was crazy."

Alicia laughed, the sound carefree and content. Though she was dirty, weary, and far from home, Alicia felt exhilarated and alive.

Thakkor stood up with a grunt to shake and cinch his equipment back into position. "We should probably get moving again. I think that if we keep up this pace, we might just make it to within sight of the edge of the plains by nightfall. That should put us somewhere near the trade routes between the city of Sularan and Freeland. We’ll try to hook up with a caravan again."

Alicia stood a little reluctantly, wincing as a cockle-burr caught in her hair poked her neck. She tried to pull the prickly hitchhiker around to where she could see it, wondering how it had found its way into her hair in the first place, but met with little success.

"Let me get it," Thakkor offered.

Chills ran up Alicia’s spine as he moved in behind her and gently parted her blonde hair around the burr. Her eyes closed and she had to fight the urge to moan in contentment as he worked the sharp-spined seed from her hair.

"There we go," Thakkor declared triumphantly, tossing the cockle-burr to the bed of pine needles underfoot.

Alicia turned and said, "Thank you," keenly aware of the closeness of him to her.

"No problem," he responded, sounding a little distracted as he looked into her eyes. After a few blissful moments, a sharp nod of his head to the north broke the eye contact. "We should get going."

Alicia, on the verge of leaning closer and seeking his lips with her own, covered her embarrassment by turning in the direction Thakkor had nodded and agreeing, "Yes, of course." She closed one eye and winced a little at the edge of snippiness in her voice, evidence of her irritation with the interruption of the moment.

Only a few minutes away from the spot where they’d stopped to eat, Alicia heard a guttural voice. More sounds followed, punctuated by the sound of Thakkor’s sword hissing free of its scabbard. Her senses suddenly focused, Alicia smelled something awful on the breeze. The odor conjured up images of sweaty men wallowing in a garbage heap within Alicia’s mind.

"Goblins," Thakkor whispered to her. "The sound’s coming from over there. If we just keep going, we can try to get past them without getting noticed."

A pain-filled cry, suddenly silenced, changed that plan immediately.

"Son of a..." Thakkor cursed. "Alicia, I can’t just…"

Alicia drew her sword. "Neither can I. Someone is in trouble."

"Stay alert and stay close."

Alicia followed Thakkor’s lead, her eyes roving the trees around her while she remained aware of where she placed her feet. The harsh sound of goblin voices grew steadily louder as the pair negotiated the maze of maple, pawpaw, and undergrowth. When he bent his knees to edge forward in a crouch, Alicia mimicked him and paused to avoid running into him.

Alicia’s heart thundered in her chest as Thakkor gestured for her to move forward. He pointed through the undergrowth of saplings and bushes ahead to ask, "Can you see them?"

"Yes," Alicia whispered back, seeing two of the greenish-skinned monsters kicking something lying unseen on the ground.

"Just to the left of the bush. We’ll charge through there. I’ll take the one on the left. It looks like they just have clubs, but be careful."

Thakkor’s unspoken confidence in her ability to handle the other goblin added a swelling of pride to the mixture of anxious energy and fear roiling within Alicia.

Alicia slowly stood back up straight as Thakkor did so, alive with nervous energy. Thakkor mouthed, on three, and then raised one finger. A second, and finally a third finger popped up. With that, the pair burst through the branches and leaves with blades bared.

Alicia instantly knew they were in trouble. In addition to the two goblins they’d observed, three more stood off to the left, and two held a struggling woman on the right. One of the goblins tore open the woman’s dress at the neckline, baring her body just as it and its fellows noticed the intruders.

Alicia’s eyes hardened with anger. The lust of goblins for human and elven women was well known, and the actions of the monsters left little room for doubt that these planned to live up to their reputation.

Alicia slashed the goblin on the right before it could raise its club, tearing through filth-encrusted cloth, skin, and muscle. The goblin’s club fell to the ground as the creature gripped the belly wound. While the monster tried to push the entrails boiling from the wound back inside where they belonged, Alicia stabbed it in the throat.

At her side, Thakkor’s powerful slash nearly decapitated the other goblin, allowing him to turn on the other three goblins charging into the fray from his side.

The goblin that had torn open the dark-haired woman’s clothing turned toward Alicia with lust and hatred in its eyes, while the other maintained its grip on the prize. The goblin led with a rusty knife, moving with awful purpose toward Alicia.

A gurgling scream accompanied Thakkor’s next stab, taking the nearest goblin in the chest. The remaining goblins held back, wise enough to look for an opportunity instead of blindly attacking.

The would-be monstrous rapist sprang toward Alicia, knife held high and yellow claws splayed wide as it reached for Alicia’s blouse. The goblin barely managed to arrest its momentum and spin out of the way when Alicia responded with a diagonal slash aimed at the creature’s weapon. Her sword bit into the monster’s arm, drawing an angry line of blood.

The goblin screamed in pain and anger, lashing out with its claws. Alicia stepped back, but the monster managed to tear her blouse and dig into the smooth flesh of her abdomen below. The instinctive reaction left the monster off balance, and Alicia’s answering stab caught the goblin in the side, digging in deep.

With little skill and even less cooperative nature, the two goblins facing Thakkor soon made a mistake. The second he saw the opportunity, Thakkor exploited it. He darted forward, easily defeating a clumsy swing of the sickle the monster had appropriated for a weapon. His following stab impaled the goblin, penetrating far deeper than Thakkor had expected. The other goblin charged in, wielding a woodsman’s axe.

Thakkor’s muscles bulged as he utilized the goblin encumbering his sword as a weapon. With a loud growl of effort, he lifted his sword and twisted his body, sending the nearly-dead goblin hurtling toward the other.

The monsters collapsed into a heap, and the bottom creature managed to extradite itself just in time to see Thakkor’s sword come down.

Thakkor spun to see Alicia turn from her dying opponent toward the goblin holding the woman. He charged to Alicia’s side and hissed, "Shit," under his breath when the goblin put a knife to its raven-haired captive’s throat.

The goblin barked orders in its awful language, pulling back on the woman’s hair to bare her throat to its blade. The monster pulled the wide-eyed woman backwards as it continued to hiss and growl commands.

Thakkor circled toward the creature’s right, at a loss for what to do. With the pitted blade of the goblin’s hunting knife right against the woman’s throat, he dared not attack. He knew all too well that the monster probably planned to slash the woman as a distraction and run for its life, though.

Alicia faced the same conundrum, but a solution occurred to her in a flash of inspiration. Opening her mind to the dagger sheathed at her thigh, she called upon the magic housed there.

The goblin didn’t even have time to react to the blue-white bolt of magic streaking through Alicia’s skirt into its hand. Nerveless fingers dropped the knife, and a powerful hand fisted in its matted hair. Thakkor’s muscled chest filled its vision, and then the goblin was flying backwards.

The goblin slammed into a tree, cracked its head, and stumbled. When the monster fell, it landed across a large, downed branch. Twin cracks from the branch and the creature’s back rang out.

The branch proved the stronger.

With the goblin draped over the branch and certainly dead, Thakkor spun to Alicia and said, "Help her." The red-skinned plainswoman had fallen to her knees, nursing scratches on her back that the goblin had inflicted while trying to prevent its unwelcome flight into the tree.

He then jogged toward the plainsman on the ground. The man was badly bruised and cut, his breathing shallow, and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. The wounds were serious, and Thakkor wasn’t confident that the downed man would survive.

A frightened cry in an unfamiliar language caused Thakkor to glance back toward Alicia and the plainswoman. Alicia was attempting to pull the other woman’s doeskin dress back up over her breasts, but the woman lurched away to scramble toward Thakkor, calling out what he assumed was a name.

Alicia hurried to follow, and couldn’t miss the look of concern on Thakkor’s face. The plainswoman knelt next to the man, examining his wounds and calling out to him.

"Is he...?" Alicia asked.

"It’s not good," Thakkor answered, his tone grave.

The raven-haired woman let out a wail as her eyes welled up with tears, obviously having the same opinion of the downed man’s condition.

Alicia’s eyes widened as she remembered something from the wizard’s bag. Dropping her bloodstained sword, she tore open the bag and rummaged around for a green silk pouch within. When she found it, she pulled it free and opened the bag to reveal the vial within.

"Thakkor, can you sit him up?"

"What is it?" Thakkor asked, seeing the vial.

"A healing potion. If we can make him drink, it might save him."

Thakkor nodded and knelt down on the carpet of forest detritus next to the two plains natives. The woman looked at him with a combination of alarm and anger, moving to hover protectively over her barely breathing man.

Alicia hurried to kneel down next to the woman, holding out the vial. "Please, I don’t know if you can understand me, but this is magic. It can help. Please let us help him."

Thakkor closed his eyes and tried to remember a word that one of the plainsmen had said to him a few years back. Thinking he had it, he sounded out, "Nuh-woe-tee," and pointed at the vial Alicia held, praying that he’d said something close enough to medicine in the woman’s language for her to understand.

The woman hesitated, but then sat back and gestured, speaking quickly in her own tongue. Thakkor took that for permission and moved in behind the unconscious plainsman to lift him into a seated position.

Alicia brought the vial to the man’s parted lips and tipped it back. She let just a drop wash over his tongue at first, concerned about choking him. When his lips quivered, she added a second drop.

Though she wasn’t sure if she was imagining it, she thought the plainsman’s breathing seemed stronger. Encouraged, she poured just a bit more of the potion into his open mouth. When he swallowed, she tipped the vial more.

Shortly thereafter, the effects were unmistakable. The plainsman’s bruises faded and his breathing regulated. Behind his closed eyelids, his eyes twitched. Alicia emptied the vial and sat back, offering a silent prayer to the gods.

The red-skinned man’s lips moved, though Alicia couldn’t hear any words. The other woman either did hear, or simply understood what he had attempted to say, because she let out a cry of relief and leaned in close to say what Alicia assumed was his name again.

Over the next several minutes, the plainsman steadily recovered his wits, eventually able to sit up without Thakkor’s assistance. Thakkor and Alicia moved aside, feeling as though they were intruding as the couple sitting on the ground talked and touched each other affectionately.

"He looks okay now," Thakkor whispered, his eyes roving of their own volition to the bottom of Alicia’s breasts, exposed by the goblin’s claws ripping her blouse. He tore his eyes away as soon as he realized what he was doing.

Alicia noticed, but she didn’t feel uncomfortable, as she always did whenever a man admired her attributes. She looked back at the other couple to find the plainsman rising to his feet. After a few seconds to check his balance and a reassuring gesture to the woman at his side, he approached.

"I am called Redbear, in your tongue," the plainsman said, his words heavily accented, but quite understandable. "You have our thanks."

"Thakkor."

"And I am Alicia. We only did what anyone would have done."

Redbear shook his head, his long, dark hair swinging from side to side. "Not so. When we meet the white man, life is most often taken – not given. We owe you a life debt."

"Please, that is not necessary," Alicia countered. "We were glad to help."

The plainsman’s brow furrowed in thought. He then gestured for the woman to join him. She’d managed to make her doeskin dress decent again, though it would certainly need stitching to remain so for long. "We must return to our people. Where do you travel?"

Thakkor answered, "North, to Freeland."

Redbear smiled. "We make our camp to the north. I would gift you with aid in your journey."

"We are traveling a little light and ragged." Once again, Thakkor’s eyes found the tears in Alicia’s blouse, raising color in both his and her cheeks.

"Come, then," Redbear said with a nod of his head, and led the way.

**

Redbear managed to locate his bone knife and stone-headed hatchet, but his fine bow was unfortunately beyond saving. His wife had little trouble finding her antler knife, as it remained lodged in the chest of one of the three goblins the couple had felled before Thakkor and Alicia arrived.

Alicia located a healing salve within the wizard’s bag, which served to close the wounds she and the other woman had suffered from the goblin’s claws. Redbear showed no inclination to tend to the dead goblins, and cracked a smile when Thakkor suggested that nothing in its right mind would eat the odoriferous monsters anyway.

While walking away from the stand of pines, Redbear explained that the goblins had lain in wait, ambushing the couple as they returned from a religious pilgrimage related to their joining as husband and wife. This explained both how the obviously formidable couple had fallen to the goblins, and why the couple had journeyed without the rest of their tribe.

In the distance, the hills marking the edge of the plains appeared over the horizon. Still days away, the sharp contrast to the miles of almost perfectly flat land was not lost on Thakkor and Alicia.

As she walked – and attempted to keep her breasts inside her tattered blouse – Alicia marveled at her lack of fear in engaging and battling the goblins. The thought of the monsters cruelly attacking someone who was already down had spurred her into battle. The sight of the monsters intent upon raping the plainswoman had replaced every ounce of fear with angry determination.

Unlike the previous fights, circumstances had forced her to enter, Alicia felt no pangs of conscience about killing the goblins. Her sword now rode on her hip as though a part of her, and she was barely aware of it save for the sense of comfort and confidence it provided. She paced Thakkor and the couple of the plains without undue effort.

The sun moved from overhead toward the horizon, lengthening the shadows of the four travelers. Redbear let out a whooping call, announcing his approach to the campsite, composed of conical tipis.

Members of the tribe appeared wary of Thakkor and Alicia, but quickly warmed to the pair as Redbear offered a brief explanation. The women soon ushered Alicia and Redbear’s wife off to a tipi to provide them with decent clothing.

Though a world away from home, Alicia felt a sense of familiarity from the gathering of women. She settled in to enjoy the comradery, aided by a few women with limited knowledge of her language.

**

Thakkor naturally had to tell his part of the story, translated by Redbear. He accepted the thanks of the tribe, comprised mostly of family members. The chores of the day continued all the while, including the preparation of a celebratory feast.

"How do your people feel about magic?" Thakkor asked with a little trepidation once he had a chance to speak to Redbear alone.

"We believe there is good medicine and bad medicine."

Thakkor scratched his beard and asked, "What about a huge tent that springs up out of nowhere?"

Redbear smiled and answered, "I will prepare the people – and await this wonder."

"Your people don’t usually make camp this far north, do you?" Thakkor asked, noticing how permanent the settlement looked. From what he knew of the plains people, they were primarily hunter/gatherers. Redbear’s tribe was obviously cultivating corn, squash, and other vegetables. From the detritus of previous crops he could see in the soil, Thakkor knew that this wasn’t the first season of this camp.

"Since the coming of the Black One, our people must flee or face enslavement," Redbear explained, his voice tight with anger and resignation.

"Draxnog," Thakkor said with a nod of his head. "He won’t press his hand much up here. He knows he’s walking a tightrope with Freeland already."

"We risked much danger for our marital rites." Redbear sighed, staring longingly out into the vast plains.

"The world’s changing, and a lot of it isn’t good," Thakkor said, sympathizing with the pain of the proud warrior.

"And yet there is much of good to be found," Redbear said, his demeanor changing as he turned away from the sight of his ancestral homeland. He extended his hand to Thakkor.

Thakkor clasped the warrior’s hand, sharing a firm grip with a newfound friend.

Redbear turned and signaled for Thakkor to follow. "You have chosen a mate of fire and of beauty, as have I. We share much in spirit."

"We’re just traveling together by happenstance, we’re not together," Thakkor responded.

The plainsman glanced back with a grin and raised his eyebrows. "My eyes are keen, and they tell me a different tale."

"I wish." Thakkor chuckled. "The rich and powerful are fighting for her hand, I wouldn’t stand a chance."

"One must leave the safety of the camp to hunt, and even a failed hunt brings knowledge."

Thakkor glanced toward the tipi where the women had gone, easily discerning the meaning of the plainsman’s words. "You may have something there."

**

Alicia stepped out of the tipi in her new doeskin dress. In deference to her lesser tolerance for the heat of the sun-baked days, the women had modified her dress with a far shorter skirt, and more exposure of her chest and back. Even so, it covered her far better than the torn blouse that the women were attempting to repair. Her sword belt also emphasized her trim waist, and Alicia wished she had a mirror so she could see how it looked.

A moment later, she found her mirror in Thakkor’s eyes. He’d stopped in his tracks, his eyes wide and drinking her in.

Alicia blushed and toyed with one of the feathers in her golden locks. "What do you think?"

"Beautiful," he responded in a soft voice.

Redbear interrupted the moment by calling his guests to the feast.

The evening whirled by in almost a blur, beginning with the meal of venison and vegetables that Alicia ate far too much of. The evening’s celebration encompassed both gratitude for Thakkor and Alicia’s aid to Redbear and his wife, and the native couple’s joining.

The odd beer brewed by the people of the plains didn’t sit well with Alicia at first, but she drank it to avoid appearing rude. The strength of the brew soon overcame her qualms about the drink, however. A little tipsy, Alicia convinced Thakkor to join her in the dancing of the tribe. Already lightheaded from the drinking, she felt even more so from the admiration and attraction in Thakkor’s eyes.

In time, the celebration wound down. The people would need to rise early to begin the next day’s chores, and wisely didn’t stay up too late. Redbear and his wife had an even better reason to retire early, as they could now consummate their marriage.

Alicia summoned up her magical tent to the amazement of the tribe, and soon thereafter, only she and Thakkor remained outside.

"Do you want to take a bath?" Thakkor asked.

"Oh yes," Alicia replied. "I need to clear my head, and I’m all sweaty from dancing. I won’t take long."

"We probably should get in bed as soon as possible."

Alicia’s mind construed that suggestion in a far different manner than that which Thakkor had intended. Those thoughts carried with her as she slipped into her bath a few minutes later. She stroked her fingers over her labia with a slight frown, wishing she had a razor to clear the stubble prickling beneath her fingers.

Redbear and his wife didn’t help to cool the fires of desire within Alicia, either. The couple consummated their marriage enthusiastically, the sound of their pleasure mingling with others of the tribe sharing their marriage beds. Alicia quickly washed, unsure if she could resist surrendering to her own needs so long as she remained nude in the bath.

She found Thakkor wearing a slightly embarrassed grin when she emerged from the tent. "Not exactly shy, are they?" He said with a chuckle as one of the plainswomen erupted in a piercing cry of release.

"No, I should say not," Alicia agreed, her cheeks warm and her sex tingling.

"I’m just going to wash off the sweat and dust real quick. Then we can bunk down so we’ll be fresh in the morning."

Alicia nodded and stepped aside to let him in the tent. Though she fought the urge, she couldn’t keep her eyes away from the silhouette of him undressing. Once again, his manhood stood erect and proud in the shadow upon the wall. True to his word, he remained in the bath for only a couple of minutes, and then emerged – still hard – to dress.

Thakkor opened the tent flap to indicate that he’d finished bathing, and Alicia stepped back inside. Thakkor held her sword, which she’d not put back on after bathing. "This probably needs a touch of the stone to keep the edge. I’ll show you how," he said.

Thakkor sat down on the bed and unsheathed the sword, pulling a whetstone from a leather pocket in the sheathe at the same time. Alicia sat down right next to him, leaving just enough room for him to work. The urge to be close to him was simply beyond her ability to control.

Thakkor explained the angle and how to examine the blade. He then demonstrated, drawing the whetstone over the blade for several strokes. "It’s actually in pretty good shape. You want to try?"

Alicia nodded and held out her hands for the stone and sword. She placed the stone against the blade and asked, "Like this?"

"You’re a little too parallel to the blade," Thakkor instructed. He then guided her hand to the proper angle, sending a chill through Alicia that she barely kept from turning into a shiver.

"There you go. You’re taking to this better than I did when I was a downy-cheeked lad," Thakkor praised her as she worked the stone over the blade on her own. "You handled those goblins like a veteran, too."

"Thank you – and thank you for your confidence in me when we found the goblins."

"You’ve earned it," he responded dismissively. "When you’re in my line of work, a wise man doesn’t pay attention to anything except who he does or doesn’t want fighting at his back when things get ugly."

Alicia held the blade up to the light as Thakkor had told her, looking for nicks and dull spots. "Would you have me at your back, then?"

"Any time," Thakkor answered. He leaned over and examined the blade as well. "Looks good. We should probably hit the sack so we can get you closer to home tomorrow."

"What if I’m not sure I want to return home," Alicia softly said before she could think better of it.

"What do you mean?" Thakkor asked, taking the sword and sheathing it.

"I..." Alicia paused and sighed. "I feel like little more than another commodity in my father’s business when I’m home."

Thakkor suggested, "Maybe go stay with the Baroness – Gwen?"

Alicia shook her head. "In the end, it would be much the same. There, I would be Gwen’s friend. I want to be Alicia, not an extension of someone else."

"You’re talking about a tough road. You’re either going to have to stand up to your father, or strike out on your own."

"And you don’t believe I can do it," Alicia said, and looked away.

Thakkor cupped her chin in his hand and turned her eyes back to him. "That’s not it at all. I think you can do anything you set your mind to, and do it well. You’ve proved that time and time again since I met you. You’re a remarkable woman, Alicia."

The heartfelt tone of his voice and the genuine look of admiration in his blue eyes said far more than even his uplifting words. Impulse gripped Alicia. She cupped Thakkor’s bearded cheek in her hand, closed her eyes, leaned in, and kissed him.

Thakkor hesitated for a fraction of a second before he responded, but when he did, it was with a tender passion that took Alicia’s breath away. Though the kiss was soft and short, it felt as though it lasted a blissful eternity to Alicia.

As her lips and Thakkor’s parted, Alicia finally remembered to breathe. Her eyes remained closed, and she could still feel his lips against hers, his hand moving from her chin to her cheek. Her eyes fluttered open and she sighed, never wanting this moment to end.

"Alicia..." Thakkor began.

Tears welled up in Alicia’s eyes. "I understand. I am terribly sorry for–"

Thakkor cut off both her apology and her attempt to walk away from the bed. "Alicia, you have nothing to apologize for."

"I misunderstood your feelings toward me," she responded, unable to look him in the eyes.

"No, you didn’t."

Alicia hesitantly turned back to him and asked, "Then why?"

"I don’t want you to make a mistake that you’ll regret. I’m a simple man. I’ll never be able to give you palaces, jewels…"

"Can you give me love?" Alicia asked, her eyes filling once more. She sat down heavily on the bed, leaning into his muscular chest to weep, "Please..."

Thakkor surrendered, wrapping his arms around the sobbing woman. "That’s all I can promise," he said, close to her ear so she could hear.

Alicia looked up at him, dried her eyes and sniffled. "Do you mean it?"

"With all my heart, Alicia. I’ve never met a woman like you." This time, Thakkor took the initiative, and kissed her.

Alicia’s hands roamed over his back as he kissed her, his fingers caressing her hair. She felt as though she was hovering several inches above the bed, suspended on a cloud of bliss.

While Thakkor’s hands didn’t stray from Alicia’s back, face, and hair, Alicia explored his muscular body, her arousal taking control of her. His breaths grew deeper as she touched him, his kisses spiking into ardent desire whenever she caressed his abdomen and chest. During one particularly strong kiss, Alicia’s fingers strayed between his legs.

Thakkor groaned as Alicia’s fingers found his hard organ and she gasped.

"Alicia, are you sure that you’re ready to..."

"Do you want to make love to me?" She whispered while looking into his eyes, her fingers tracing the lines of his hardness beneath his coarse trousers.

"Gods – yes, Alicia," he replied, unwilling to lie to her, despite his misgivings about taking this step so soon after admitting his feelings to her – and himself.

"I want you to make love to me, Thakkor. I... I want you to be my first." Alicia lowered her gaze, her cheeks bright red.

Once again, he raised her eyes to his. "I don’t want to hurt you, Alicia."

"I know you won’t."

"If it’s your first time..."

"I know of the pain." Alicia glanced over at the pine table beside the bed and located her dagger lying there. Despite not having it on her person, she could still feel the magic within. Before she could change her mind, Alicia called upon the spell stored there that would lessen the pain of her deflowering. She felt warmth spread through her sex, and knew the spell had worked.

Alicia looked back into Thakkor’s eyes and began her other spell, which would tell her if she were fertile. He offered a quizzical raise of his eyebrows, but otherwise didn’t comment as he reached out to stroke his hand over her bare leg.

The sensation of his touch nearly made Alicia fumble her words, but she completed the spell. She looked down and placed her hand over her tummy and loins, revealing the blue glow she expected after having cast the spell so recently with the same effect.

"What spell is that?" Thakkor asked, curious.

"It tells me that I cannot become with child right now," Alicia answered, her arousal spiking with the knowledge.

"I was a little worried about that, too," he revealed, and leaned in to kiss her again.

This time, Thakkor’s hands found her bottom as they kissed. He caressed her doeskin-clad cheeks and let his fingers glide down her thighs to her bare leg. She started a little as his tongue slipped out to tickle her gums, but responded in kind when the initial shock changed into a warm glow of pleasure.

Alicia let out a little moan as Thakkor’s hand slid up her leg and beneath the fringed hem of her dress. She trembled as his strong fingers glided up her inner thigh to her panties. As if having a mind of its own, Alicia’s hand came to rest over his erection, her fingers curling around the hidden girth of the organ. She could feel it throbbing as she looked into his eyes. The smoldering desire in those blue orbs caused her heart to thunder in her ears.

Thakkor’s other hand crept beneath Alicia’s dress, joining the first in a gentle caress that came close – so close – to the aching need building in Alicia’s loins. She let out a gasp and squeezed him as he tugged the doeskin from beneath her bottom and bunched it up at her waist.

Alicia leaned back and tugged her arms into the sleeves of the dress, inviting Thakkor to remove it completely. The dress scraped her stiff nipples as he pulled it over her head, causing her back to arch from the sensation. He passed the dress to one hand and let it fall from his fingers to the canvas floor below.

"So beautiful," he murmured, and then cupped the firm globes in his hand, letting the weight of her breasts rest in his palm.

"Oh," Alicia whimpered as he slipped one hand behind her back, guiding her down to the mattress. She pulled on his shirt as she reclined, prompting him to discard it as soon as he lowered her to the mattress. He leaned over her, his eyes intent upon hers, and parted his lips. A soft, warbling moan passed her lips as his closed over the pink tip of her right nipple.

Alicia’s back arched, thrusting her breasts toward him as he suckled her bud, his tongue gliding over it in a slippery caress. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, feeling the steel of his muscles holding him over her. He released her nipple, leaving it glistening with his saliva, and engulfed the tingling bud’s twin.

"S-so wonderful," Alicia cooed, her body undulating beneath him.

He shifted his weight to one arm, reaching back with the other to tug loose the knot holding his trousers closed. Alicia let her left hand slide down his back to the loosened waist of his trousers, and wriggled her fingers beneath. Her hand moved lower, following the lines of his body, and she gasped as her fingertips found his naked manhood.

Thakkor groaned around her nipple, and then released it. "Your hands are so soft – like velvet," he whispered.

Alicia tried to wrap her hand around him, but the angle made it impossible. Thakkor’s muscles bunched as he levered up to his knees. He tugged down his trousers, and Alicia’s eyes widened in fascination tinged with fear.

As he shifted to slide his pants down off his legs, Alicia sat up, her eyes locked on his manhood. She wrapped her hand around it, her fingers barely touching around his girth.

"Gods, Alicia," he groaned as she stroked her hand on his shaft.

Fascinated by the texture and the throbbing, Alicia stroked a little faster, prompting another deep groan from him. A glistening drop, looking much like dew, welled up from the mushroom tip.

Her sex hot with need, Alicia felt as though she would suffocate if she didn’t remove her panties. She reluctantly released Thakkor’s erection and lay back, jerking down the damp cotton. The cool air kissed her nether lips, causing them to quiver.

Thakkor pulled her panties down from her knees, helping her to remove them. He then slipped his hand between her slightly parted thighs, covering her curl-trimmed sex in his hand.

Alicia shuddered from the touch, her thighs slipping farther apart as one of his fingers tickled her labia. She whimpered as first one, and then the other of his powerful hands nudged her knees apart and up, fully exposing her sex to his eyes.

A pair of short, convulsive breaths was all Alicia could manage as Thakkor put his palms down on the sheets and his head lowered into the V of her legs. Though she’d heard a few whispers about what she believed was about to happen, she was wholly unprepared for reality.

Alicia let out a sharp, high-pitched moan as Thakkor traced the tip of his tongue over her wet heat. The next stroke of his tongue parted her labia, causing her to gasp and her upper body to lurch from the intensity of the sensation.

Thakkor looked up into her eyes, his tongue wriggling over her folds. "You taste so sweet, Alicia," he said before lapping her again.

Alicia felt drunk, her head swimming from the feeling of his tongue seemingly touching every part of her at the same time. So different from her fingers, the slippery organ caused jolts of pleasure to shoot throughout her body. Her hips rocked up toward his mouth as she squeezed her breasts with her left hand. "Oh. D-don’t stop," she pleaded as a hot coil of ecstasy built in her loins.

Thakkor gave in to his desire, sucking her folds between his lips and encompassing the sheath protecting the center of her pleasure. Alicia yelped and trembled, squeezing her breast even harder while the fingers of her other hand fisted into the bedclothes.

Writhing from the ecstasy of Thakkor’s oral ministrations, Alicia’s breathing grew labored. Several times, she soared up toward her peak, only to have his beard tickle her and cool her fires just before she tumbled over the edge. His lips and tongue roved over her, hungry moans rumbling from his throat.

Lost in a fog of bliss, Alicia climbed toward her peak again. This time, just as she teetered in that perfect place of pleasure, Thakkor’s tongue darted beneath her hood and wrapped around the bud beneath. Alicia’s thighs clamped down hard on the sides of his head as her orgasm exploded into being without warning.

Alicia screamed, her back arched off the mattress and the sheets tented in her tightly closed fists. Her scream choked off as a second, even more powerful wave of climactic energy wracked her body and stole her breath. She trembled, her face and breasts flushed with heat, her mouth wide open and her eyes tightly closed. Finally, just as blackness threatened to overcome her, Alicia found her breath again. She sucked in a great gasp of air and collapsed to the bed, her left leg twitching uncontrollably.

Thakkor’s fingers touched her cheek, and Alicia forced her eyes open. "Are you okay?" He asked with concern in his eyes.

The almost painful pleasure of her orgasm now fading, Alicia smiled and nodded her head. The motion set off an aftershock, causing Alicia to snap her legs together and cry out, but the sensation rapidly settled into a blissfully warm afterglow.

Alicia opened her eyes again to see Thakkor looking down at her, smiling and still caressing her cheek. "Oh, thank you," she managed to say, long pauses between each word. "I’ve never felt anything so wonderful."

"And I’ve never tasted anything so sweet."

Alicia chuckled, feeling oddly silly in her post-orgasmic state. She raised her arm up and pulled Thakkor to her lips. She could taste her bittersweet juices as he kissed her, the tip of his erection brushing against her abdomen.

Thakkor settled in next to her when she opened her arms to hold him. For long minutes, the couple simply dwelt in the closeness of each other. Then, a feminine squeal and a masculine grunt of release broke the silence of the night. Alicia and Thakkor shared a chuckle and nuzzled even closer together.

Gradually, the feeling of Thakkor’s hardness pressed against her body stoked Alicia’s fires again. She felt the tingling of wetness flooding her sex, and her heart rate increased in anticipation. An aching void deep within Alicia begged for attention, the feeling growing stronger by the moment.

Thakkor must have sensed her ardor rising, because his hand moved between her legs to tease her folds. "Gods, Alicia – I want you."

The restrained passion in his voice pushed Alicia over the edge. "Make love to me, Thakkor."

Alicia’s eyes locked on his manhood as he sat up and moved toward the foot of the bed. Again, the teeth of fear clamped down on her. She wondered if her spell would be enough to counter the pain of his thick member penetrating her for the first time. After a moment or two of hesitation, Alicia parted her legs, the ache within her superceding her fear.

Thakkor walked forward on his knees, manhood twitching in anticipation. Alicia gasped as he pushed her knees out wider, and up toward her chest. The fingers of his left hand then curled around her thigh, while he pushed down on the flared tip of his phallus with his right thumb.

Alicia panted, able to see his erection edging ever closer to her needy sex. She sucked in a quavering gasp when the purple helmet pressed against her folds. It felt even more massive than it looked as Thakkor rubbed it up and down the parting of her lips, teasing her and wetting his tip in her juices.

When she felt the pressure increase, Alicia tensed for the pain that she knew was to come. She nearly balked and asked him to stop, but need for him swelled within her. She needed to be closer to him, to be one with him, to feel him deep inside her.

Alicia yelped from the sharp stab of pain. His girth stretched her nether lips wide, pushed through the tight resistance of her entrance, and tore through her maidenhead. Tears filled her eyes and her lower lip quivered as she half-sobbed, half-gasped through the agony of her deflowering.

Thakkor paused with little more than his tip buried in her virginal embrace. He winced, his heart breaking to see her in pain, tears rolling down her cheeks. At the same time, he throbbed and twitched from her walls clamping down on him. He stroked her inner thighs, doing his best to offer comfort to the beautiful woman lying beneath him.

The magic stole away Alicia’s pain after less than a second, though it felt as if an eternity to her. Some distant part of her mind wondered how a woman could possibly endure this without the aid of magic. As the searing agony evaporated, Alicia felt a new sensation – one far more pleasant. The feeling of fullness sent chills up and down her spine.

Alicia opened her eyes to see the concern in Thakkor’s features. With the pain now gone, the void in Alicia’s depths demanded attention. She dried the tears from her cheeks with her right hand and sensually breathed, "More."

Thakkor’s expression softened as he saw the pain vanish from her beautiful blue eyes, and desire took its place. He took a deep breath and increased the pressure, another inch slipping into her warm, wet canal.

Alicia groaned as he slowly penetrated her, feeling as though it was already in her belly, though she could still feel the nagging need in her depths. She looked down over her breasts, watching his erection vanish inside her until the curly blonde hairs on her mound mingled with the darker ones at the base of his shaft. Alicia threw her head back and moaned, "Ohh, yes!"

"Ah – Alicia – so good," Thakkor groaned as her walls rhythmically clenched down on him. He withdrew back to the tip, feeling her nether lips kiss the rim of his helmet, and then pushed back into her depths again. "Oh yes."

Alicia gasped from the hot friction of his withdrawal, and then groaned as he stretched her walls to the limit again. She reached between her legs as he pulled free once more to circle her fingertip over her hood with feather-light pressure. "So full," she breathed.

Feeling her resistance lessen somewhat, Thakkor thrust a little faster. Her wide-eyed look of ecstasy encouraged him, and he let his knees slip a little farther apart on the next thrust to penetrate her from a lower angle.

"Ah! Mmm!" Alicia cried out, her finger moving a little faster over her bud as she admired the play of Thakkor’s muscles.

Despite feeling the hot itch of an approaching climax far more quickly than he’d ever experienced it before, Thakkor felt no sense of urgency. He admired the beautiful woman beneath him, her breasts jiggling from his thrusts. Alicia’s vocalizations of pleasure grew louder by the second, and the finger rubbing the center of her pleasure blurred between her legs.

"Ah! Ah! Ah!" Alicia squealed as the deep, steady, powerful thrusts pushed her to the edge of ecstasy. The fingers of her free hand curled into the sheets, even as her ruddy-tinged juices spattered from the fast motion of the hand between her legs.

"Come for me, Alicia," Thakkor grunted, concerned that he couldn’t hold back the explosion of his seed for much longer.

Alicia breathed in staccato bursts, her mouth wide open in a silent scream. Just as she thought that she would surely die from the intensity of her pleasure, she reached her peak. Alicia screamed long and loud as an orgasm such as nothing she’d ever imagined gripped her. Her toes curled tight, and her bud throbbed powerfully beneath the fingers pressed hard over it.

Thakkor grunted from the nearly impossible squeeze of Alicia’s walls around him. "Yes," he hissed, and then gave in to his own needs, his erection slamming home with all the speed and power he could muster for a pair of strokes. On the next thrust of his hips, he let out a loud, growling scream and spurted his cream against the entrance of Alicia’s womb.

The couple writhed, twitched, and cried out, Thakkor’s pulsating manhood filling Alicia full. His strength flowed from him with his seed, and Thakkor fell forward onto his hands to hover over the still climaxing blonde below.

Another shockwave of ecstasy ripped through Alicia’s body, causing her to snap her arms and legs around Thakkor’s back, pulling him down to her. He lightly kissed her neck, his breathing labored.

"Oh, thank you," Alicia sighed, and then giggled when Thakkor gasped and jumped from her intimate muscles tightening around him, still buried deep inside her.

"Gods, Alicia," Thakkor groaned, rolling to his side.

Alicia maintained her grip, keeping him inside her as she let him settle into a more comfortable position. For long minutes, the couple simply looked into each other’s eyes, smiling and shivering in the afterglow of their orgasms. Finally, Alicia snuggled her head up against his broad chest and said, "I love you."

"I love you, Alicia," he responded wearily while stroking her hair.

"Do you mean it?"

"Aye," Thakkor responded. "You’re everything I’ve ever dreamed of – and more."

"As are you," Alicia agreed, her eyelids growing heavy. Not long afterward, she drifted off into a contented sleep.

**

Alicia awakened with a quiet moan. A slight twinge of pain from her sundered virginity had awakened her, her spell having worn off as she slept. The next sensation she noticed was the cold, wet spot beneath her hip. The scent of sex wafted from beneath the blanket.

Alicia moved a little closer to the warm, handsome man beneath the covers with her. He draped his arm over her in his sleep, drawing another moan from her. Outside, Alicia could hear the people of the tribe already hard at work on the day’s chores.

Thakkor slowly roused, and he hugged her even closer to him when he opened his eyes to see her smiling face. "Good morning, beautiful," he whispered.

"Good morning, love," Alicia responded.

"You okay?"

Alicia nodded. "A little sore, but it was worth it."

Thakkor let out a chuckling groan of agreement.

His morning erection twitched against Alicia’s leg, causing a mingled stab of pain and pleasure to rise up in her loins. Only the sounds of people moving about and talking just outside the tent kept Alicia from reaching down to touch him.

"I suppose we should get up," Thakkor said, also keenly aware of his hard flesh against her soft skin.

"I don’t want to," Alicia protested with a pretty pout, snuggling up closer to him.

"Neither do I."

Alicia looked into Thakkor’s eyes and asked, "Did you mean it?"

He knew exactly what she meant and answered, "Yes," punctuating it with a kiss on her forehead.

"Say it again?"

"I love you, Alicia."

Alicia sighed, the sound full of unmistakable contentment. "You are right – we should get up."

Thakkor stretched and threw back the covers. The subtle undercurrent of arousal Alicia had felt since awakening roared into a bonfire of desire when she saw his body in the full light of day. She laid a hand over his erection, drawing a quiet groan from him.

Both jumped when a voice called from outside. "We break our fast, if you will join us."

Alicia’s face turned bright red as she remembered that people were awake and going about the day’s business only a few feet away. Recognizing her embarrassment, Thakkor leaned over the edge of the bed to pick up her panties and dress. She accepted them with a shy smile and stood to dress as Thakkor located his own clothing.

Once they were both dressed, Thakkor wrapped his arms around Alicia and kissed her. He then took her hand and led her out of the tent.

The corners of Alicia’s mouth twitched upward into a smile as she beheld Redbear, wearing the same hints of wonder mixed with surprise on his face that adorned Thakkor’s. She wondered if she bore the demure expression of satisfaction that decorated the face of Redbear’s wife. Thakkor helped Alicia to sit where the tribe ate the morning meal, and then sat down next to her.

As everyone finished eating, Redbear signaled to a younger member of the tribe who appeared to be around twelve. He nodded and stood, as did an older man. A minute or so later, the two emerged from a tipi bearing several items, including a bow and quiver.

"I would gift you with these in thanks for coming to our aid," Redbear declared, taking the bow and quiver from the younger man and handing it to Thakkor.

"Haven’t had much practice with a bow, but I’ll wager that this one can split hairs without much help. Thank you, Redbear," Thakkor said with a nod of his head, and then examined the bow.

"We have prepared food, water, tinder, and other things that will aid you in your journey across the plains to your homeland."

The sound of a horse snorting caused both Thakkor and Alicia to turn. A young boy led two horses adorned with blankets across their backs and buffalo hide saddlebags. "These are even-tempered and strong. They will bear you well to your home," Redbear explained.

"Can you ride?" Thakkor asked Alicia.

"I have not done so often, but I know how. I’ve never tried without a saddle, though." She turned to Redbear and said, "Thank you. They’re beautiful."

Redbear smiled and then accepted two beaded talismans from his wife. "These will mark you as a friend of the people. If you need aid, it will be given. Always are you welcome to share my fire."

Thakkor and Alicia took the talismans, slipping them around their necks. "That goes both ways," Thakkor said, holding out his hand to the red-skinned warrior.

"You are welcome for as long as you wish to stay," Redbear finished as he clasped Thakkor’s hand.

Eager to begin her new life with Thakkor, Alicia knew that she had to make peace with her old life, first. She turned to Thakkor and said, "As much as I dread to do so, I must speak with my Father."

"I’ll be right there with you."

Redbear smiled and said, "May the spirits guide you and protect you. It is my wish that they will bring us together again in friendship."

"Same here, Redbear." Thakkor then put his arm around Alicia and asked, "Ready to ride for home?"

Alicia agreed with an enthusiastic nod and a smile. Shortly thereafter, she and Thakkor rode out to the northwest, a little unsteady on the saddle-less horses, but gaining in confidence by the moment.

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