Ex–Commander Stefan Johanssen gripped the armrests tightly with his withered hands and resisted the urge to try and ease his position in the big chair, trying to ignore the knots of hardness pressing into his aching back. At his age there were no longer any comfortable positions, and it was futile to search for them. Certainly, there were means to dull such pains, but they dulled the mind also, and he refused to waste the little time he had left.
Instead he smiled around at the restive half–circle of naked boys as they sprawled on the floor, their velvet flesh comfortably intertwined like a litter of puppies. The only light in the room came from the firepit, the flickering tongues of flame shading their smooth bodies in cinnamon, copper and gold. Their wide eyes were fixed on him, glittering in their hopeful, expectant faces. Behind them heraldic beasts shimmered on the walls, ascending into darkness.
“So?” he said.
“I want an old story!” It was, predictably, little Pipi who spoke up, secure in his indulgence as the youngest.
“Shh!” Marri hissed, elbowing his little brother. “They’re all old, silly! That’s why he’s telling them!”
“Well, dragons then,” Pipi said. “Can we have one with dragons?”
This brought groans from the rest of the boys, and complaints that dragons were too babyish.
“A riddle story!” Karl said, grinning. “I pro— mph!” The rest of what he said proved unintelligible as the lean, blond boy sitting next to him tipped Karl backward and kissed him soundly, to the accompaniment of wolf–whistles from the others.
“Told you I would,” Bjorn said softly, as he broke the kiss.
Karl’s grin widened. “Why d’you think I said it?” He stroked his hand down Bjorn’s stomach.
“Stop it, you two!” Marri leaned over and poked Bjorn in one kidney. “We can watch you two horny trolls fuck any time.” He looked up at the old man. “I’m sorry, Commander. I’ll keep them quiet.”
“Well, that alone will be enough to get this session enshrined in legend,” Commander Johanssen said. He looked down at the dark–haired boy curled on a cushion nearest the foot of his chair. “Yes, Rigi?”
“Perhaps,” the boy said, ducking his head and sounding as shy as he always did in company: “The white dragon? Not your ship,” he added, blushing, “— I mean the saga.”
The Dragon was no longer his ship, but the Commander refused to allow any acknowledgment into his face or his voice, knowing that Rigi would feel it a rebuke. The boy was affectionate and smart, but sensitive as a faun.
“Ah, yes, of course — a good suggestion as always, Rigi!” Commander Johanssen smiled as Rigi blushed crimson to the tips of his ears. He drew a deep breath. “So:
“Once upon a time, a band of our brave forefathers on the Vijk found themselves deep in enemy territory… ”
The warriors clustered round the table in the smoky reek leaned closer as the captive screamed, arching feebly, drumming his withered old legs on the scarred wood. Ignoring all his men, Jarl Otto Redthumb leaned back on the bench and let out a ferocious beer–fueled belch as he looked around the newly captured hut.
Yes, hut. The locals might call it a hall, but he wouldn’t dignify it with the name. Compared to his father’s fine hall back home in Sweden, this was a mere hovel. Crowded to capacity with those not on duty: the men not interested in the crow–priest’s secrets were sat or sprawled, dicing, drinking or maintaining equipment.
A few in the corner, half–dressed, wrestled with a woman too ugly to be worth selling, and Storri was sprawled as usual over a naked, scrawny peasant boy, his hips thrusting vigorously. Idly, Otto wondered if Storri would take the Seaxan brat to wife: Hengi, Storri’s last oar–wife was now a husky young man. Hengi had his own admirers, both here and at home, for many of those who Viked together on the Way preferred muscle, hair, and a man’s portion to the smoothness of a boy.
The gape–mouthed, bulging–eyed little midden–rat writhing beneath the lusty warrior looked to be just a half–starved bag of bones, but Storri had a good eye for boy–flesh, and several boys that Otto would have rejected had blossomed into very sellable bed–mates on little more than a few months’ food and exercise — of all kinds.
Otto couldn’t understand it: with land this rich the country should be strong; with hale warriors and fine houses. But these Seaxans were fools: giving their land and their gold to the black crows to hoard, so their churches grew ever richer, while starving their men into weakness.
Though not all of them were weak! Otto grinned and raised his ale horn to the memory of the tough band they’d fought earlier in the day. Good fighters, he owned as he swilled the malty brew thoughtfully, and good armor and weapons too: the sort you’d expect surrounding a king. Yet their gear had been plain. They’d fought like true Drengr — in truth that was why his band was here, pulled too deep into the Estseaxe by the joy of battle. It mattered not: they’d overnight here in this dunghill of a village and then retreat to their longships tomorrow, herding their new slaves.
“Leave that mewling priest be, Ravi,” Otto said as the old man whimpered pleas through his broken teeth. “I tell you, he’s not saying anything new. All the silver they had, we’ve got.”
“And little enough it was! He’s saying something!” Ravi said. “What, you dunghill cock?” His knife moved and the priest cried out again, his voice both shrill and hoarse.
Otto cocked his head, listening to the fresh babble of the local Seaxan dialect. His facility with this tongue was one reason he commanded this band. He shook his head. “Just pleading,” he said. “Oh, and the curses of his three gods to follow you to the cold of Hel for stealing from his church.”
“There must be more!” Ravi growled. “Why fight so, else? They were desperate to keep us from here!”
“Well, he’ll not tell us more. Send him to the shades and take your pleasure elsewhere — I’m tired of his noise.”
Ravi gave Otto a long look, then shrugged; twisted the priest’s head and stabbed him efficiently behind the ear. The body arched once and then slumped again, limbs twitching.
Seeing that the entertainment was over, the watching men began to drift back to other pursuits: those picked for later sentry duty wrapping themselves in their cloaks ready for sleep; others settling down to dicing, drinking or sex–play.
“I still say he knew more,” Ravi said, his blue stare a challenge. “We should have taken him back to the ships.”
“You had squeezed all from him: he had nothing more. If you had kept him whole, still I would have refused,” Otto said, returning Ravi’s stare.
His command here wasn’t absolute; more a matter of general agreement that his useful skills and good battle sense made him best fit to lead. Yes, the purpose of the raid was to gain wealth — but to live to spend it too. Ravi was too greedy.
“Black crows make poor slaves,” Otto said. “They’re lazy and weak, having never worked in their lives before. Besides, you know Ragnar’s orders: it’s bitches we’re taking today. They’re the ones that get the good prices from the Musselmen.”
“And a fine chance of fun with any of them! All locked up tighter than a midwinter fjord, the rest older than your grandmother!” Ravi scowled as he wiped his bloodied dagger on good black cloth that had once been clothing.
“Well, take your turn at the ugly ones then. I’m going outside for a piss.” Otto rose easily to his feet despite the heavy mail he wore, and reached unthinking for the haft of his axe, Shield Smasher, where it leaned against the bench. He sheathed it across his back while his other hand checked his short–sword and dagger were both where they should be. No warrior lost track of his equipment.
He glanced around at the others in the hut, grunted approval and strode out into the cold, frosted night. Sentries were posted around the camp’s perimeter, but even as he pulled the plank door closed behind him, habit moved him aside from the lit doorway, surprisingly soft footed for so large a man.
Otto felt wrongness prickle at his skin: from somewhere in the shadows he was watched, and with malice. He glanced around casually but couldn’t identify whatever it was that had alerted him. His best chance now was not to reveal his knowledge.
He took a casual couple of paces towards the midden, although his mind was now far from the call of nature that had brought him out here into the frosty night.
There! In the shadow on the far side of the midden: where it heaped against the hut wall. Otto took a sidling half–pace towards the shadowed wrongness; reached down as though to the fastenings of his breeches and, using his body as a shield, slipped his dagger out of its sheath.
He struck left–handed into the shadow, using the dagger–strike as a feint even as he reached over his shoulder for Shield–Smasher. A trained fighter would move to take his undefended side, moving into the open where Shield–Smasher would take him down, but his adversary leaped directly toward him across the dung–heap: wild–eyed, the glitter of a belt–knife in his small, pale hand.
Otto reversed the knife and cuffed the boy hard over the ear, sending him sprawling into the midden. He sheathed his axe and stepped forward, jerking his head aside as the boy stabbed upward for his face; acknowledging the fight in those pale eyes and respecting it even as he grabbed a handful of wheat–blond hair.
The boy hissed in pain and fury, striking now at Otto’s arm, now at his side, but the child’s small table knife he held just skidded on the Viking’s plated leather armor. Otto rapped the back of the boy’s hand with his reversed dagger, making him cry out and drop his weapon.
Otto curled his arm around the struggling boy and pulled him close. At once he knew his captive was different from the other villagers: this was no priest–ridden peasant starveling. The boy was slim and well–muscled from an active life: were it not for his smaller Seaxan frame, the boy could almost be from his village back home. He glanced over his shoulder as one of the sentries approached.
“Bindings, Logmarr!” Otto said. “Then stir about and check for sign of other intruders.” He glanced at the doorway behind Logmarr, where already a couple of his companions had emerged, armed and alert. “Check the perimeter, then the slaves!” he ordered.
“He’s not crossed our circle, by the Raven!” Logmarr said, handing Otto a bunch of leather laces.
“We’ll take no chances.” Otto twisted the boy about and dumped him face–first on the midden, where he pinned him with a broad, mail–clad knee and expertly tied his hands. “There was something about today I mislike. The other huts are prepared?”
“Yes. We can fire them in an instant if we need the light.” Logmarr looked about. “But I will check.”
“Good. Check all you see fit, and report back. I’ll interrogate the prisoner there.” Otto indicated the nearest deserted hut with a jerk of his head. “First, I have something more to do.”
“Tell me and I’ll do it in your stead!”
Otto grinned, pulling the bindings tight on his captive’s wrists, a mailed knee still pushing the boy face–first into the midden. “You’d be a strange man if you could, Logmarr! I need to piss!”
Otto stood, looking down at his slender blond captive as he dropped the last of his armor on top of the heap, leaving himself in just his woolen undertunic and hose. In other questionings he had used the fear engendered by his huge, mailed form and the display of the means of sudden death and lingering pain to good effect. But as hostage or bed–slave, the value of the boy lay in his whole, unmarked skin. Otto judged the boy too quick to be long gulled by threats never pressed home. Although no other intruders had been found, it was still a risk; but one he was willing to take. No warrior drew back from danger, and his captive intrigued him.
The boy stank. Unsurprising, given where he’d been hiding; it was possible that the small amount of Otto’s piss that had trickled down over him had even cleaned him somewhat. He sprawled now amidst the fouled rushes on the small hut’s floor, his thin face half red–gold in the flickering light of the newly kindled fire pit. As Otto drew his dagger again the boy tensed, swallowing, but his mouth clamped into a narrow, stubborn line.
“Lie still,” Otto said, and then slit the side of the prisoner’s slimy cotte. Good material, he noted, though plain. A shame to waste such fine goods, but in his experience the Seaxe were strangely alarmed by nakedness, and it weakened them. The firm young flesh he revealed was a silken invitation, but the stench of ordure and rotting vegetation was not, and he grasped the vile, sodden cloth and pulled, roughly rolling the boy over.
Oh yes, great beauty. Not just smooth skin and slender, rounded muscle, but the fire of the boy’s spirit in his hot eyes. No churl, this boy.
The dun–colored hose were in equally poor state: slimed and stinking. Otto put his knee on the boy’s back; snicked through the hose–ties and snapped his dagger back into its sheath.
“No!” the boy shouted in good Seaxan, as Otto gripped his hose and pulled. “You shall not use me thus!”
It was already a temptation, stinking as the boy was. His small, creamy nether cheeks were smooth and firm; his legs coltish and yet well muscled from riding. His privities were hairless: a smooth finger of boy–flesh and neat, undescended orbs. Otto felt his own flesh respond, hardening.
“Be quiet, boy,” Otto replied in the same, educated tongue. “Or you’ll get none clean to cover you later. I’ll not have you stinking while I talk to you.”
No peasant this boy, Otto was sure. “Your name,” he demanded, his voice abrupt; and part of him approved of the thin, stubborn line into which the boy compressed his lips. “Don’t be a fool,” he told the boy, then strode to the hide–covered doorway where two buckets of water stood. He smiled to himself as he heard the soft movement behind him and crouched as he turned, first upending the bucket and dousing the naked boy in freezing water and then hooking his feet from under him, letting him thud heavily to the beaten earth floor, unable to break his fall with his hands still tied behind his back.
“If you mean to be silent, be silent,” Otto told the small, gasping form writhing amidst the rushes. “If you have not the skill, be sudden. And think it through — what would you have done in the cold outside, naked, and with your hands tied so?”
“I don’t care!” the boy shouted, his narrow chest heaving.
“Then you are a fool,” Otto said. “And worse than a fool if you lead others into your foolishness.” He approved the flush that brought to the boy’s cheek. He placed the empty bucket out of temptation’s reach. “Now. We have made a beginning. Would you be clean?”
The boy watched him with lowered brows and narrowed gaze, still half curled on the floor, already beginning to shiver. Finally he nodded, a wary movement of his head, his eyes fixed on Otto. “I will clean myself.”
Otto laughed. “Another time, doubtless. Freeing the hands of a spirited boy would be the act of a fool — unless he gave his word. But for that I must have your name.”
“And I yours!” the boy retorted, tossing his head like a spirited horse. Otto guessed the gesture would normally flick his hair back from his face. Now, the wet, wheat–colored strands just clung to his cheek and neck. Well cut, Otto noted. And longer than convenient for working in the fields.
“Hah!” Otto slapped his knee. “You are right: I am Jarl Otto Sigvardrsson, called the red–thumb.” He exhibited his left hand, where his long, yellow thumbnail hooked down to a blunt point.
The boy could still get paler, it seemed. His odd, blue–gray eyes widened, and he licked at his lips as though they were suddenly dry. Doubtless he’d heard many fireside tales of the Wolf raiders, that the Seaxan mis–called Vikings — and few were more ruthless than the red–thumb who blinded captives who displeased him.
Otto leaned closer, using the moment. “And yours? No? Then we must make shift.” He picked up the remaining wooden pail and the handful of leaves that lay beside.
“Had we but a sauna,” Otto lamented, as he carried the pail closer to the fire and set it down, “then you could get truly clean — but you Seaxan know them not, I think.”
The boy stirred as Otto cleared the path between himself and the door and then sank back again.
“A sensible, intelligent boy,” Otto said. “Who knows a good match, hm?” He crossed to his captive and helped him to his feet. Even chilled and wet, the boy’s firm flesh was exciting under his hand. “Far warmer by the fire than outside,” he said.
The boy was now truly shivering. Otto was careful to stand close enough that his captive could sense not only his body heat, but the oar and weapon–trained bulk and strength of his big, muscular body through the rough wool he wore. “Come,” he said. “You will not burden your father, but you have a play–name perhaps, for now?”
The boy looked up at him, blue–gray eyes huge in his narrow, intelligent face; his good, white teeth biting at his pink lower lip. “Artos,” he said.
“Ah!” Otto guided him to the fire. “The boar, eh? For your birth, or your ferocity?”
Artos jerked his shoulder out from beneath Otto’s hand. “You mock!” he said, his eyes darkening like a stormy sea.
“A lad of eight summers, who would attack a man grown and armed, with only a small knife? A dangerous person to mock.”
“I’m eleven!” Artos stopped, coloring at the admission, and Otto hid his satisfaction.
To know his age so nicely: to the very year, was indeed the mark of a high house. Himself, having been born in the year of the wolf winter, he could sit and reckon it close, but many another of his companions had only the most general idea of their age, one year and the next being much the same.
Otto shrugged. “My argument still holds, I think.” He pressed the boy down, next the fire, and sat himself beside the pail and the heap of soapwort leaves. He took a handful, dipped them in the water and squeezed and crushed them until the milky sap ran forth.
“I regret that a play–name is not strong enough for an oath,” Otto said. In truth, the thought of sliding his hands across that smooth, taut flesh was threatening to push out all other considerations. The boy was such a beauty! Matters of ransom aside, the Musselmen would pay high for a boy like this — and unlike females, a trained bed–boy was worth even more.
Artos watched him, wary and too proud to acknowledge the cold of the water as Otto rubbed the soapwort leaves back and forth over his milk–pale chest. The plant sap foamed and trickled, and at first Otto made his movements brisk, noting how the boy was used to being bathed by servants, and raising his estimation of rank still higher.
The boy relaxed a little under the brisk scrubbing, and Otto encouraged him to kneel closer to the fire as he turned attention to the boy’s back. It was difficult with his captive’s hands still tied, and Otto allowed the brisk lathering to slow into something altogether more intimate.
Artos tensed when Otto washed the boy’s nether cheeks, and Otto was careful to have his other arm firm about his captive as he massaged those firm little snow globes. The boy struggled as he washed between, massaging the slick soapwort over that pink little pucker.
“You would not!” Artos gasped, squirming. “My father —” he stopped.
“Yes?” Otto said. “Your father? Now we come to it: are you high–born, with a fat ransom, or is your only value here?” He pressed his finger hard against the tight–clenched little button, feeling the boy shivering in his arm’s tight grip.
Artos shook his head. “I, I have no sire,” he whispered, his mouth clamping shut again, after, into that thin, bitter line.
Otto made the sign against bad luck, the boy still held, wet but warmer now, against his side. “Don’t tempt the gods with careless words, boy. They have a cruel humor.”
Artos turned his head to gaze up at Otto over his milk–white shoulder. “On my oath I wish my father no harm! But the wedding vows were spoken after I was born.”
“But he acknowledges you?” Otto spoke before he remembered the strange ways of the Church–slaves. Back home, it made little matter when a child was born: blood called to blood. Even without kinship, if a child was recognized, he became as a son to the man who stood before the hall and spoke the words.
“Ah,” Otto said as the boy remained silent. He recalled the strange crow–priests’ term now. “A bastard.”
Artos flinched, and for a moment Otto saw bright, hot anger flare up in the boy’s gray eyes and then sink down again until they appeared as cold ash. “The house cannot descend through me,” Artos said. “I have no place with him, not at his hearth nor in his battle line.” The boy swallowed down on something more, and Otto couldn’t hear it.
Otto shivered: here was a deep wound. This child is thinking of dying, he thought. “Your father does not claim you? Then he is a fool!”
“You keep your tongue from him!” the boy shouted.
Otto laughed. A fine boy! In truth, perhaps he should probe this “bastardy” thing deeper, but at base he didn’t care about the stupidities of the church–crows and what they believed. Himself, he believed in the Gods, but all the cruel and violent tales he had heard made him fervently hope they would stay far from his own life. “So,” he said, his hand still on those firm nether cheeks, “mister useless–for–ransom may yet find another path, yes?” He rubbed his fingers over the boy’s rosy, tight–folded pucker with unmistakable meaning.
“No!” Artos exclaimed. “It is a sin for one man to use another so!” He shifted his delightful bottom, trying to twitch Otto’s hand away, but the big man laughed and began using both hands to massage that lovely firm, taut flesh.
“Ah, your death–Church frowns upon other ways, but in truth to become another’s leman is no bad thing,” Otto said, as he slid one brawny arm tighter around the boy’s narrow waist. The boy was firm and well–fleshed, like a good hound. Already he ached and hungered to sheathe his hard weapon in the bright, sweet flesh of this trembling young pup.
“Listen well,” Otto said. “I’ve taken bigger and stronger virgins than you, and I’ll tell you lad — if you fight me, you’ll lose, and you’ll get hurt.”
“I’ll not go mewling softly to surrender,” Artos said, through his teeth. “Bastard I am, but trained too, and you’ll not escape without my mark on you!”
“Ah, Drengr!” Otto growled in high satisfaction, rubbing his big, sword callused hand over the boy’s narrow waist and up along his arm. “I knew from your muscles, boy. Hah!” He slapped his captive on the shoulder. “I would not demand your surrender so soon — what fighter would you then be? No, I’d not put the shame on you, lad. But tell me,” he said, staring down into those fine, fierce, sea gray eyes — an eagle’s eyes could see no further, he’d take an oath on it. “Did they teach you weapons only, or the management of the battlefield too?”
“A little,” Artos admitted. “Enough to understand what I could be commanded to do.” Otto saw the boy’s lips turn in as though he held words back, unsaid, damming them within himself. His face said they tasted bitter as gall.
“Then the first thing we teach our warriors, our Drengr, is to choose your battles,” Otto said. “Where the chance of success is poor, learn to husband your resources, and your men: do not waste them.”
Those sea–gray eyes opened wide. “But what else is there, except surrender or noble fight?”
Otto suppressed a sigh at the ox–witted Seaxan–ness of the boy’s words. “A fighting withdrawal! A feint, of misdirection perhaps, or feigned weakness to draw them out of position. In our fight you are not disarmed: still you have your weapons, boy — use them!”
Artos stared up at him, his milky brows creased in puzzlement.
Otto saw the boy’s gaze take in his, Otto’s, oar–trained and battle–hardened muscles and the long, ridged upward curve of his big, still hard weapon, and then flick to his own limp little boy–length. He guffawed.
“No, Artos!” he said — although perhaps his guest was right: used well and subtly that lean beauty could become a boy’s most formidable weapon. He cuffed the boy’s ear, but not hard. “What is a warrior’s best weapon? Ever sheathed, and ever ready?”
“A sword!” Artos said at once, his eyes glowing. Otto raised his brows and the boy continued eagerly: “Not drawn for an unworthy opponent, but you clear peasants from the way with it, sheathed.”
“Huh — and have you never heard of one taken in battle — by another man? But I am unfair not to speak it clear.” Otto cleared his throat and formally recited the riddle in full: “Given by woman and taken by no man: ever sheathed yet ever ready, what weapon am I?”
“Oh, a riddle! Is it hands then? Gloves sheathe them, and yet still they may be used.”
“No, not hands. Think, boy, don’t guess! Speak only when you’re sure!” He eased down his hose, allowing his thick, hard weapon out. He grinned and stripped out of his woolen tunic.
“So,” Otto said, his hands straying over the boy’s sweet flanks. “You yet refuse me your name?” He was the captor: he had rights. If the whelp refused the safe–harbor of ransom, then he could expect other, rougher usage.
The look from those gray eyes chilled him and inflamed him in equal measure: he’d seen its like over numberless shield–rims. It was the only answer he got, other than the increased pulse jolting in the boy’s neck.
“So be it,” Otto said. He grabbed the boy about his waist one handed, while with the other he rubbed the greasy soapwort over the length of his hardness. Artos struggled, arching his body and then throwing his head back, trying to head–butt Otto, disadvantaged by his hands still bound behind his back. Otto dodged the clumsy blow and hauled the boy closer, only to discover it a feint: Artos’s hands clawed at the muscles of his belly, tugging at the hair there.
“Well done, boy!” Otto said, grinning as he nudged the broad tip of his cock against the boy’s slickened pucker. He pushed.
Artos grunted; then clamped his mouth shut, only the thinnest whine escaping from his taut throat. A fine warrior spirit, Otto thought, pushing hard and steadily. He felt the boy’s ring–muscle give a little, and maintained the pressure: steadily, to give the flesh time to adapt, as the gods made it so to do.
He felt the muscle give again, and Artos squeaked through gritted teeth as Otto felt the blunt head of his manhood penetrate the boy, pressing up through gripping tightness into tighter heat.
Otto was ready when his cock–head popped inside the boy; he held back. Waited as Artos gasped explosively for breath.
“Good!” Otto said. “Taken like a little warrior!” Artos whipped his head round and Otto smiled into the boy’s startled eyes.
“Yet,” Artos gasped, “you, use me, like a, girl!”
“Hah!” Otto held his captive close against him while with the other hand he stroked the smooth, small muscles of the boy’s arms. “Are these, that know the way of weapons — aye, and more besides! Are these the muscles of a girl?” His fingers brushed the leather cords about the boy’s slender wrists. “Would I fear the anger of a needlewoman, and keep her bound so?”
Artos looked uncertain, staring back over his shoulder. “You would not take my oath!”
“You would not give a false name. You are not as the churchlings who speak like the dove, and strike like the serpent.”
“Of course not!” The gray eyes flared up at him at the touch upon the boy’s honor. His little ring gripped Otto’s cock the tighter.
“So, then — we fight!” Otto said. “Until I finish in you, or you solve the riddle — you speak only once, understand? Or until you surrender your name.”
“Never!” Artos shouted, and Otto gripped the boy’s shoulder.
“I expected no other answer!
Otto laughed as Artos struggled, indignant, oblivious to how the motions were working his tight little bottom deeper onto the thick, hard man–cock. “Hush,” he said, stroking the boy’s smooth nether cheek as he pushed his aching, hard cock deeper into that pink, straining little ring. “You never even thought it, I know. You are not false, Artos, where you give your heart.”
The boy looked away. “Uh!,” he said, grunting softly as Otto worked more hard meat inside him. “You speak me soft — ah! — yet with this act you make me outcast.”
“Not from us!” Otto said, stroking the soft skin of the boy’s chest with his big, oar–callused palm. Truly the boy was a wonder: so neat, and compact; his hot little hole gripping, massaging — and yielding. “We do not hoard secrets like coin, and the pleasures of boys and men together we knew of old — and learned again from the Musselmen, and more beside.”
“Auh! Pleasure!” The boy gasped and shifted his little rear; obviously uncomfortable with the huge hard cock being forced inside his tight hole, yet refusing the indignity of futile protest. “Augh!”
“Yes, it hurts — you are a good, tight Seaxan boy,” Otto grunted. He had barely half his length inside the gripping, slick heat of the lad’s tightness, and against the tip of his cock could feel what the Musselmen called the Inner Gate of Paradise, resisting his further invasion. Time was, he would have battered through that gate like an invading army, but Saleem had shown him a new thing. To have this lad as eager as Saleem’s had been — no, better! For some of Saleem’s boys had been too meek for his taste: too biddable and eager in their hunger to feel a man’s rod thrusting deep in their nethers.
Not that biddability was a problem for his little fighter, Artos! Otto smiled down and saw his own, fierce grin returned. “Take it, my little fighting–boar!” he said, pushing in and out of that slick, tight heat. Yes!
Otto drew back, and pushed in again, the slick soapwort easing his way as he drove deeper into the heat between the boy’s firm little cheeks. He could see Artos gritting his teeth, feel the boy squeezing down on his thick cock: too innocent to realize he was just increasing the man’s pleasure. His little passage was tight all the way in, not just the small ring of clenching boy–muscle he gripped with. Otto longed to thrust, to use his cock as a battering ram against that other, inner gate, but mastered himself, as a man should.
Nevertheless he moved strongly within the boy, even though he saw as he looked down that less than half of his gleaming, hard manhood was being buried in the pale vee between the curves of those lovely snow–cheeks.
Artos struggled, twitching his head back and arching his taut, slender body like a salmon on the spear. Otto could feel small fingers gripping at his stomach hair and pulling; felt a heel thud against his calf. Plainly the boy was trained in wrestling; his sweat–slick boy–muscles tensed like bowstrings; the nether cheek in Otto’s hand felt hard as an unripe fruit, his ring gripping tighter.
Otto felt his captive twist beneath him, spreading his legs. Half disappointed at so early a surrender, Otto pushed, using his oar–strengthened back muscles to work his cock strongly back and forth in that tight, teasing little passage, eliciting a little gasp.
Then Artos twisted and pushed; unbalancing them both. Otto felt his spirit soar as he recognized the move and realized that the earlier spreading was no surrender, but strategy: had the boy his hands free, he must have escaped. He felt the boy stiffen in fear as Artos realized he couldn’t break his fall.
Mayhap in his innocence the boy hadn’t thought of the damage a man’s cock could do, slammed into his gut wrongly in the fall; nonetheless the move had served Artos well. He yelped as Otto hastily twisted his hips, unsheathing himself from the boy’s tightness, and they landed hard, the boy still face down beneath him.
Otto felt his lips twist into a grin as he hooked a leg–lock around the lad’s slim thigh and made quick to hold him down using raw power and weight.
At once Artos turned his head, looking back over his shoulder to fix him with a bright, wolf–gray eye. Otto’s band had met courage before, on this day: the big man’s muscles still ached with the pleasurable memory of that hard fight. He saw it again, now, and misliked using the boy and disregarding that fierce honor: it had an unlucky feel.
“I would take a fighting–oath, from you, boy!” Otto said. “I will free your hands, if, win or lose, you will let me tie them again after.”
“You will tie them!” The boy pounced on the word. “You! So if I kill you, what then?”
Otto bared his teeth in a grin. “If I cannot tie you, then you are free — with clothes, horse and a good weapon — aye, even Shield–Smasher if you name it! But my men will accept only my word.”
The boy paled, and his visible eye seemed to pale too, the dark dot at the center shrinking down. “But the dead cannot speak!”
Otto shivered, feeling himself pinned by that single eye — too like the All–father’s came the sudden thought; he chilled at the sudden intrusion of the Warrior’s God, who twisted oaths and was not known for kindness or mercy. Even the warmth of the naked boy beneath him seemed to lessen.
Here was the source of the day’s strangeness, no error: the reason for the Seaxan Drengr here: protecting this pawn of the Fates. Otto felt the stinking cold of their regard settle onto him; the form of the world changing to the ice and cold rime of Hel as their iron fingers knotted the threads of his fate and the boy’s together.
“So you have another riddle,” Otto managed, cursing himself for getting involved with a Gods–touched child. “Think!” he said. He would have cut off his own hand sooner than this, but a warrior, a Drengr did not draw back from danger.
“Think.” The word echoed as if it were spoken in a cave, and faded.
The boy’s eye seemed first ice, then gray. It blinked. “Maiming!” he cried. His voice was high as a gull’s, and his breath was sweet. He twisted his slick little body slightly in Otto’s grip, staring up full into the man’s face.
“Good! So you will take this oath?” Otto said, foreknowing the answer.
Artos’s teeth flashed white. “Yes!” He said, his eyes sparkling and his cheeks flushed. “If, when our battle ends, you cannot tie my hands then I am freed, with clothes and a sword!”
“—And our battle ends, when?”
“When you finish, or when I guess the riddle of the weapon!” Artos said, his little face glowing. The Pawn of the Fates was gone; wisping away like a blacksmith’s sweat off hot–forged iron, leaving just an excited boy, and like all boys wholly engaged at the prospect of a game.
Otto smoothed his hands down over the boy’s smooth back, compassing his slender, slow–flexing ribcage; his taut, slender waist; his narrow, boy’s hips, until he cupped the heat of those sweat–slicked, smooth little snow–globes once again in the palms of his hands. “Agreed!” he said.
He slid one arm around Artos’s hips; with his other hand he reached to his pile of clothes and drew his belt knife. The razor edge slit the leather bindings at a single cut. At once Otto flipped the knife; caught it by its point and then threw it to thunnk into a door post where it was easy to recover, and most importantly, out of the boy’s reach.
Artos’s arm flashed out out to brace himself, but Otto was equally fast, reaching around to lock the boy’s arm.
“You made a mistake, boy!” Otto said, crushing his slender opponent beneath his weight. “Oh, not this baby’s move — with your oath! Name it!”
“Guh— wah?” Artos’s voice came muffled, and when Otto moved back, his little face was a picture of astonishment.
“Name it!” Otto said, genuinely angry at the boy’s foolishness as he spread smooth–slender thighs apart roughly with his knees. “If you win to freedom, what do you carry?”
“Clothes and a sword!” Artos gasped, still short of breath.
“And what did I offer?” Otto gripped the boy’s hair and stared down into his wide eyes.
“I—, I can’t remember!”
“Clothes, a horse, and your choice of weapon!” He lined his cock up with the boy’s ass again and shoved. “Is this eagerness to throw away advantage; this foolishness the reason your father recognizes you not?”
“I — augh!” Artos yelped as the man’s thick cock forced its way inside him again. “I’m sorry!”
Otto restrained himself from shoving roughly home; he was so vexed he could strike the boy. He mastered his anger, looking down to where he was pushing his cock slowly up into that angry, stretched little ring.
Artos whimpered, seemingly accepting this as punishment, as Otto began a slow, back and forth movement between his tight, snow–white little mounds, introducing more and more with each thrust until he was bumping his cock–head firmly against that still–clenched inner gate once again.
“That’s it, my tight little Seaxan,” Otto murmured. The boy was so narrow within, and his teasing, hot flesh so slick he could soon finish in him like this, though he longed to coax open those inner gates and find the boy–jewel within that Saleem had shown him: the place that when massaged by a man’s hardness could make a boy coo with pleasure.
“You feel me in you,” he said. “Filling your tight, warm little nethers with my hard meat. You have not long before I spend, so think.”
“Over filling, rather!” Artos gasped, shifting his hips, and once again Otto had to hold himself back from the urge to storm home, thrusting the whole of his aching hard length though Artos’s wide–stretched little gate, until both of his orbs were slapping against those smooth thighs and he was wholly sheathed within his slender captive.
Otto craned his head down. “You must think!” he hissed into the pale shell of the boy’s ear as he pumped steadily. “Think or lose! Surrender or fight!” He grinned, a fierce surge of exaltation as he saw Artos set his small jaw. “That’s my good little fighter,” he said. “Good boy!”
Artos convulsed. “I — I’m not!” he said. “I’m a cuh–coward! I didn’t want to, but they made me! They made me!”
Otto paused, startled to see tears running down the boy’s cheeks.
“They were mine!” Artos sobbed. “My men and they made me hide, and that old priest said it was God’s will, and I’d be forsworn for even thinking of fighting, but I did think about it, and so they died!”
“Huh!” Otto gritted his teeth. It was an evil thing that priest had done, putting death–guilt upon the boy. He was glad now the churchling had died hard.
“Nothing of the sort!” Otto leaned on one arm, and with the other gripped the boy’s jaw. He turned Artos’s head and stared down at his captive, willing him to believe. “They fought hard, your men: aye, and now I know why they gave it up so glad, fighting for you. I tell you boy: I looked in their eyes as they died, and they died the good death in love and friendship for you. They could have won — they should have won: with one of them taking you and the rest slowing us down and leading us astray. But they fought like Seaxan — with their hearts and their will, yes! But not with their wits!
“That’s why we won. That’s why we of the Vik always beat you of the Seaxe. Not because we are better fighters, but better warriors: Drengr. We use the land; we trust our men. We know our tasks and we keep the great from the small and do not confuse them, as your men did.” Otto saw the boy looking thoughtful and loosened his wrestler’s holds, relaxing in the warrior’s way: still wary. He felt the boy relax too, beneath him.
“They died well? With honor? My wishing, it didn’t —”
“The good death, I swear it. If ever I saw men I would meet again in the Gods’ hall, in Valhalla, I saw them this day.” He stroked his hand along the boy’s arm; a firm stroke having tenderness within. He moved his hard meat slowly back and forth within the warm tightness of the boy’s little bottom. “Are you thinking you have lost, or do you fight still, using what you have? You can still win free.”
“Not by maiming you — I was a fool to fight my strength against yours!” Artos said. “Yet you say I still can win?”
“Perhaps,” Otto said, “if you use your little wit?” It was a torturous pleasure, moving so slowly within the boy’s warmth, even half–sheathed as he was, but the pleasure of a man was the greater the more the delay, as all knew. And there was the joy of the wager, too: knowing he could spend, now — shooting his seed into that slick, teasing tightness — and end it, and yet wanting the boy’s victory too. The core of Drengr was control. Could he pit his control against the boy’s intelligence and win even as he lost?
He slid out, his cock twitching in involuntary spasms as the head eased through the boy’s tight ring. “Here, roll over, on your back,” Otto said. He smiled. “If strength against strength is not your answer, then why not be comfortable?
Artos snorted. “A strange comfort, with your weapon so hard and full–stretching my nether hole!” But he rolled over, obedient, and Otto forced down the surge of triumphant joy, busying himself with arranging the soft folds of his woolen jerkin beneath that pale, sinewy back, for the boy’s ease.
Otto knelt over him. “Lift your legs, so,” he said, smiling at the lovely sight revealed as Artos obeyed. His ring, sweet and red as a ripe fruit glistening in a dish of snow; his boy’s weapon like a little eel above its eggs. The boy’s legs felt warm and smooth in his hands as he lifted them, admiring the smooth bow Artos’s slender body formed; the sleek curves of his firm muscles. Otto reached out; squeezed the sludgy pile of soapwort and then slicked the boy’s pale valley again, slipping two fingers easily inside the soft, stretched ring. “For your comfort,” he said, smiling as Artos’s eyebrows climbed.
“So the purpose is not to hurt?”
“No indeed,” Otto said. “Good for me, all ways, but if you are pleasured too — that is better. It merely hurts as your sword practice did sometimes: because now you must learn fast.”
“Oh,” Artos said, shifting his hips as Otto’s fingers slid deeper inside him, massaging. “But the priests–”
“—Are wrong.” Otto moved his head, abruptly, dismissing them. “Now,” he said, slipping his fingers out of Artos’s soft–slick ass, “be ready.”
Otto was glad of the respite: the boy’s submission excited him as much as the anticipation of stretching that hot tightness a little more. The boy was wide–eyed and suddenly nervous, eying the broad, glistening ridges of Otto’s hard, upward–curving cock with evident alarm.
“Oh. You’ve never seen a man’s prick before? Don’t worry — they’re all different, and all the same,” Otto said, shifting the boy’s legs onto his shoulders and positioning himself.
“They’ll all be hard, and all wanting to do this,” Otto said, pushing up into the boy’s ring.
“Uh!” Artos gasped. “But you said — you said I could still win!”
“The riddle,” Otto said, easing his hard cock further into that slick–gripping warmth. “Your wit,” he said, and bit his tongue. He leaned down, fucking that tightness a little harder, excited by the knowledge that with the boy’s legs over his shoulders, he was positioning Artos for the deepest fucking possible — if he could just open that little gate!
Otto leaned down and kissed Artos’s smooth neck, his salt skin sweet and white as new parchment, and as soft. He felt the boy’s tightness squeeze his hard, needy cock as he tongued the muscle and cords, kissing that slender neck. He moved upward, hunching awkwardly to kiss along the boy’s jaw and then tilting his face up to kiss the sweet red lips of his open, gasping mouth.
Otto felt the boy stiffen — none of the Seaxe seemed to know mouth–kissing — and knew Artos would try to close his mouth. He tried to ignore the way the boy’s hot–slick nethers massaged his aching rod, focusing instead on little kisses and tugs at the boy’s jaw, keeping his mouth open and once again the boy submitted. Just like every Seaxan boy he’d ever kissed, Artos learned readily enough; first resisting, then submitting to pleasure as Otto kissed and stroked the boy’s narrow pink–red lips, invading his sweet mouth; stroking the boy’s tongue with his own.
Artos gasped and gurgled beneath him as Otto steadily pumped his tight, gripping little passage. The boy’s gate felt a little softer, more receptive as he relaxed, and Otto maintained the distraction: kissing and nibbling; stroking the boy’s lean chest and stomach.
Now it came. Otto judged the moment and pushed: feeling the resistance with the head of his cock. Less smooth than Saleem would have managed, but he was out of time. Besides, his fighter boy was stronger than those harem weaklings, and a little pain added spice.
He pushed hard; an unstoppable, irresistible hardness burrowing into that blood–hot, narrow tunnel. Artos whimpered, gripping, and then surrendered, shivering as Otto pushed the last of his aching meat into the boy’s tight–stretched passage. “Yes!” he grunted as his balls slapped against his little captive’s ass. “Squeeze that hardness inside you, boy!”
Otto tried to slow down, but he’d been waiting for too long. He felt his hips bucking of their own accord as he fucked that clenching little hole. “Uh! Uh!” he grunted, steady as a rowing stroke, feeling his hard cock throbbing with increasing urgency; his balls tightening; muscles spasming —
The boy was gasping something — he let it pass, concentrating instead on the rising urgency of his need as he fucked the entire, knotty length of his hardness in and out of the boy’s hot passage, faster and faster, slapping his hairy loins against the boy’s smooth cheeks, gasping from the effort of holding back the gush of cum along his cock until he could hold it no more. He shuddered, then fell on the boy, hauling at Artos’s shoulders and curling his hips to shove every possible hair’s breadth of his aching cock inside that slick, gripping little hole as he gasped, teeth gritted and eyes screwed shut; his cock twitched and then throbbed strongly as he began squirting his juices deep within.
“Uhhh, uhhh.” Otto felt his breathing slacken. “What, what were you saying, boy?”
Artos looked up at him, and then away. “The answer,” he said. “To the riddle.”
“Oh. Which is?” Otto pushed himself up, sliding his cock out of the boy.
Artos hunched a small shoulder. “Our wits: given at birth, and so by a woman; ever sheathed within us yet always used; taken at death, or by fever — but certainly by no man.” His mouth twisted. “But I am too late: you finished.”
Otto looked down at the boy. Perhaps Artos had spoken before Otto spent: he was sure the boy thought so. Himself, he thought not; but it was as close as any rowing race. More, he judged the boy expected him to deny his win, and his freedom. That was a thought that would fester. Otto felt a chill, as of pointed steel, at the back of his neck at the thought of one gods–touched bearing him ill will. He stood up. Artos lay looking up at him, his white legs spread, a thin trickle oozing from his reddened ring.
“Get up,” Otto said, his resolve hardening. “I think you spoke as I finished: we have both won, or perhaps both lost.” He saw the boy draw breath to speak and held up his hand. The idea came to him clearly as though he’d always known what he would say.
“I will honor the agreement. If you choose we will give you clothing, a sword and will either leave you here or give you safe passage with us to the coast until you choose to return to your former place.
“Or, you may choose to become my leman: no captive, but my oar–wife. Vik with me, and learn the way of the Drengr. When your summers number fifteen, I will speak the words in my father’s hall that will make you my son.”
The silence stretched. Finally Artos said: “Your son?”
“My son: you will have all rights, as will your children. Not some shadow–son or second–best. We do not waste good men. Well?” Otto found himself sweating under the boy’s cool regard.
Artos sank to his knees and offered up his wrists. It was no surrender, Otto knew.
The old man sank back in his chair and looked around the circle of gleaming, firelit eyes.
“And that,” he said, “was how Artos, the White Dragon, came to join the Vik.”
“Did he really kill all the English, and drive out the Black Church?”
“No, Rigi. You know better than that. He defeated the East, the West and the Middle Seaxe, and many other tribes. He unified this island, Gruneland, and the intermarriage of those peoples and good, Swedish and Danish immigrants became the English.”
Rigi bent his head, looking down at the floor, but his dimples suggested he was teasing again.
The door opposite him hushed open, and Councilor Tigris stood there, in her formal robes of state. “Come along, boys,” she said as the heraldic emblems faded, and the curved, green–tinted wall turned transparent. Obediently the naked boys stood and turned to face her, all but Rigi, who remained seated on his little cushion, a small smile playing about his lips.
Lights gleamed in through the tinted glass of the big, curved geodesic window beyond the fire pit to his right, and the old man looked out, across the shimmering silver scarf of the Thames, his eyes reading the stars, just as his forefathers had. There she was, right on schedule as demanded by celestial mechanics; his very last link with the ISS White Dragon: the Saladin; a floating, light encrusted candy drop, drifting above the soaring, spangled towers of New Stockholm, outbound for Port Valhalla, Mars. Near the end of her outward voyage she’d cross Dragon’s inbound track from the Jovian colonies, just before orbital insertion.
He wouldn’t see her reach Mars this time: some time in the next — his eyes flicked up and left as he checked his retinal display — yes, ninety–three days before MOI, probability approached certainty that some tiny protein within him would fold this way instead of that way and the medical AI whose webbing feeds were making his back such a symphony of pain would no longer be able to halt the runaway cascade of death.
He looked back at Councilor Tigris.
“Commander,” she murmured and raised a hand in formal salute before her pale face warmed with an unfamiliar smile. “Stefan.” From a Gestalt, her consciousness fragmented among so many cortical feeds, it was an emotional tribute equivalent to a standing ovation. She turned, following the boys out.
The moment he heard the door iris closed, Rigi bounded to his feet; his smile, as always now they were alone, seeming three sizes too large for his little face. The world seemed to shimmer as the boy pushed through the interface of the MediBubble, and then he was climbing onto the old man’s lap, his smooth, silky skin warm and comforting beneath Stefan’s hands.
“Aunt Tee’s just said we’re prob’ly only gonna cuddle,” Rigi said, pouting. “’S not fair! I bet MAI could give you a shot!”
Commander Stefan Johanssen (Rtrd), stroked his great–to–the–sixth grandson’s back and smiled. “We’ll see, Rigi,” he said. “Meanwhile, would you like another story?”