Magic Love

Magic Love is an unfinished story. Don't expect any kind of an ending to this one!

While it's not a finished story, this is an ADULT story. NC-17 rating! If adult language and explicit sex upsets you, don't read this one!

I started writing this back in 2006 and never got any farther than what you see here. I really don't know why, but I just lost interest in the plot. I think I actually started writing the story because of the name of the heroine. I did use that name in another unpublished story that also went unfinished for entirely different reasons.

By the way, this was never intended to be a short story...this is the beginning of a full-length novel and is more than 26,000 words long. There are books out there, particularly e-books, that are shorter than this unfinished story!


Copyright 2006-2011
All rights Reserved


Author's Note

I have used archaic units of measurement for distances and weight throughout this work. Interested readers should keep the following in mind:

1 Rod is about 5.5 yards (5 meters)
320 Rods are about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
1 Hand is about 4 inches (10 centimeters)
1 Stone is about 12.5 pounds (5.7 kilograms)

As an example, Iskadar is described as:

The man was big, at least a third of a rod tall. Standing more than a head above her, he outweighed her easily, probably around sixteen stones.

The translation is that he's 6' 7" (201 cm) and 200 pounds (91 KG). Yum!

Then again, who cares? :smile:

Just sit down with a cup of cocoa, maybe a Twinkie or two, and enjoy the story.

Keep Loving!

Melodee Aaron
Guatay, CA




Chapter 1
Winds of War

Chamirista sat beside the fire in the war camp sharpening her sword. The battle would begin tomorrow at first light. A veteran of two-dozen wars, she was no stranger to battle, killing, and death. She smiled to herself with the knowledge that the Empire's new rules of warfare made her job as a mercenary both easier and more profitable.

To stop wars between the forty-seven kingdoms of the Empire, the law prohibited standing armies. Instead, kings and princes now hired mercenaries to fight their wars. Nothing new, really. Chamirista worked for many royal houses in the past, fighting beside the ruler's own forces. Now, she and twenty thousand other hired killers would fight it out to settle some dispute between the two kings.

And she would make a tidy sum of gold in the process.

The cold steel of her short sword sang with a musical note as she worked the stone over the blade, honing it to razor sharpness. Repeated impacts to the bones and blades of her foes will dull the blade again by this time tomorrow.

The reverend came by the camp earlier. She wished he hadn't. In her line of work, Chamirista had little use for religion or faith beyond the tip of her sword or the reach of her halberd. The hell's fire and brimstone the preacher spouted unsettled some of the less experienced warriors. In this kind of war, if a fighter lost concentration, even for an instant, that meant certain death.

To make things worse, the cleric spewed some nonsense about the plains of Mindosia being haunted. The legends said the moon held a magical power to raise the dead. Not bringing them back to life, but the dead would walk again, seeking to feed on any living soul on the plains after dark. In the morning, about an hour before sunrise, the dead changed to clumps of bushes that dotted the plain.

She chuckled as she put her sword in its scabbard. She had less use for superstition than for religion.

Undossa came to sit beside the fire. He smiled at her. "Care to wager on who kills the most in the morning?"

"You know I always win those wagers." She fought beside Undossa several times, and he was a competent warrior, if a little reckless at times. She often caught him staring at her, though. His gaze sometimes made her uncomfortable.

"You do at that, but with all the gold I'll make, I can afford to lose a little."

They made this bet before every battle. They never wagered so much as to hurt their purse, but just enough to make it interesting. "Very well, I'll take your gold. Ten gold pieces says I'll kill half again as many as you by lunch."

He frowned. "So, if I kill twenty, you have to kill thirty to win?"

"At least thirty."

"I'll take that bet." His eyes locked to hers for a moment before fleeting down across her chest. They came to rest again on her mouth.

They shook hands on the agreement. She heard the laughter and celebration as the other warriors reveled. Most knew this might be their last night alive. She wiped off the sharpening stone on her leather harness and put it in the bag with the oil. "Why aren't you at the party, Undossa?"

"I'm just going there now, but I had to arrange our wager. Are you going?"

"No, I don't care for that sort of thing." She rarely went to the parties before a battle. The drinking and carousing made her lose focus. Besides, being one of only a tiny handful of female warriors in the Ilastian Empire, she either would end up spending the night with another warrior or satisfy herself sleeping with one of the whores brought in to entertain the men. She found neither prospect appealing.

"Suit yourself." He laughed, but it sounded forced. He stood from the fire. "I'm off to get drunk and laid."

"Mind yourself, and don't get laid low in the morning."

"And you mind yourself. See you for lunch, and bring your gold with you." He walked off toward the celebration.

* * * * *

"Commander Iskadar, they hold the high ground."

"I know." Iskadar hated the new rules for warfare. By the luck of a coin toss, his opponents held the high ground while his troops held the valley between two low hills. While the law prohibited use of a standing army, commanders in the service of the monarch still led the mercenary warriors who did the fighting. As Commander of King Lassast's troops, this was his problem now. "We can't change that, Chaduki, so we must find a way around the limitations."

"I'm not sure what that will be." Chaduki moved a few of the stones around on the map. "We may be able to flank them here to the right."

"Yes, that might work if we can divide their forces here and here." Iskadar pointed to the map. "Then we can take the north hill."

"Has the oracle said anything about the coming battle?"

"Nothing a simple soldier like me can understand." Iskadar laughed. "I hate to put too much faith in the seer."

Chaduki's eyes narrowed. "That's very near blasphemy."

"Perhaps it is, but this is war. I trust a strong arm wielding a sharp blade more than an old woman with a sack of chicken bones."

"But the men believe in the visions."

"You're living in the past. Our old professional soldiers believed, at least some of them did, but this is a new breed of warrior. The mercenaries believe only in gold and strength."

"I went to their camp earlier." Chaduki shook his head. "Drinking and debauchery is all I saw."

"That's true, but they are loyal. Once paid for, they stay bought."

"Maybe better than our regular troops."

"Perhaps." The standing army of King Lassast always had a high desertion rate, like the armies of most other kingdoms. "They will do their job and follow orders."

"When it suits their ideas of how the battle should go."

Iskadar laughed. "You must remember that many of these mercenaries have more experience in war than we. If they think we've made a mistake, they will do what they think best to win the battle."

Chaduki sighed. "You're right about that. Any other orders for tonight?"

"No, I think that will be all."

"Shall I send in your whore?"

Iskadar pondered. Lirtassa was entertaining. At nineteen, she was enthusiastic, and her cunt was tight. She'd been his whore for three years now, but the novelty started to wear thin last year. She wanted him to make her legitimate, and even hinted that he should marry her.

That would not go over well in court. The Commander of King Lassast's forces married to a common whore. If he played his cards right and thought with his head and not his prick, he could even hope to take the throne one day.

If the two princes were to have an accident.

"Yes, send her in."

* * * * *

The bugler's call woke her for breakfast. Chamirista ate quickly, and then prepared her equipment for the coming fight.

Belting her sword to her hip, she checked the straps for nicks that might tear, causing her to lose her weapon in the middle of the battle. She slipped on the heavy leather harness for the halberd, and clinched it snuggly to her back. The halberd felt good in her hands as she eased it into the sheath.

She picked up her shield. She came by the shield from her mother. Dead at the hands of King Hoolista's soldiers ten years ago, when Chamirista was only sixteen and green, the shield was the only thing she had of her mother's.

She smiled as she thought about the look on old Hoolista's face when a seventeen year old girl slipped a dagger between his ribs before he finished fucking her. The fool didn't know if he was coming or going.

She had nothing of her father's, neither property nor name. Her father was one of Hoolista's men, and he raped her mother. The problem was that twenty-two of Hoolista's men raped her mother again and again over a fortnight. Who could say whose seed made the baby?

Following in her mother's footsteps, Chamirista became one of only a few female warriors. She never regretted the choice. Except when she saw other, normal women, leading a life with a good man beside them.

The definition of a good man came hard in the world of war. All the men she fought beside were good warriors. Tough, strong, fearless, and loyal, many normal women saw them as good men to marry. They couldn't be more wrong.

These men weren't the marrying kind. If a woman could fuck and suck well enough, these men might stay around for a while. They might even skip a war or two to stay with her. Eventually, either the draw of battle or the scent of a younger, tighter cunt would pull them away. Usually much sooner than later.

She bedded more than a few of the men over the last nine years when her hands and the bulbous knob on the hilt of her dagger no longer satisfied her need for long, hard man-flesh to fill her pussy. For one night, just to scratch her itch, the warriors served their purpose. In the cold light of dawn, she walked away from them.

But she always wondered about something more than just fucking. She saw the women in love in the burned out villages as they walked with their men, mostly farmers, and she wondered about the look in their eyes.

The concept had no meaning to her, no place in her experience. She understood war, and killing, and dying. Chamirista even understood a little of the politics behind war.

She didn't understand love at all.

* * * * *

The battle unfolded around him as he watched. The plan he developed with Chaduki almost worked, but just as his troops moved to take the north hill, a mercenary in the employ of King Ilim led a counter assault and drove his men back. The spyglass told him nothing of the mystery warrior. Iskadar sent spies to learn more.

More than just one bold soldier turned the tables, too. The other men rallied around this person and they brought the battle to his soldiers. He suspected the brave man might be a professional soldier in the service of King Ilim, part of his standing army. If that was the case, the Arbiter would invoke penalties against the opponents.

Chaduki came to the observation platform. "Commander, one of the spies has returned, but he is badly injured. I think you should hear what he has to say."

"I can't leave now. Tell me."

"Begging your pardon, Commander, but you should hear this with your own ears."

He didn't have time for this. Chaduki had never been subject to fear or hysteria, but he looked shaken. The spy must know something important. "Very well."

He followed Chaduki to the medical tent. The spy had cuts and stab wounds all over his body, and the physician shook his head as he frowned. "There is no hope."

Iskadar shrugged. Just one less mercenary in the world. He sat down beside the spy. "Tell me what you learned."

The man coughed blood, and it foamed at the corners of his mouth. "Commander, the warrior you saw is her, the Angel of Death."

His heart beat a little faster. "Are you certain?"

"Yes, I have seen her before, in other wars. It's her."

The Angel of Death. A warrior woman as capable as any man, more so than most. She earned the name nine years ago when she posed as a common whore and bedded King Hoolista. She killed the King with a single dagger thrust, then killed five of his best guards while making her escape. Since then, she appeared in most wars fighting and killing like any man.

No one knew her name, and everyone called her simply the Angel of Death. Iskadar saw her once, about three years ago, from a distance. Young and pretty, she looked more like a lady of the court instead of a feared and ruthless killer. Long fiery red hair spilled down her back, and her breasts were large and firm. From his vantage point, she looked tall, maybe a head shorter than him, and well built. Trim and fit, her body had delightful curves not expected on warriors.

He remembered her ass the most, though. Tight and rounded, it moved when she walked. Even at a distance of six rods, the sight of her womanly ass made his cock stir in his pants.

He wondered what it would be like to bury his dick in her ass while pulling her against him by her hair.

Shaking himself from his fantasy, he wondered how King Ilim could afford her. Rumors spoke of her being among the top five highest paid mercenaries in the Empire.

"Did you learn anything else of value?"

The spy coughed again, a wet gurgling sound. He inhaled suddenly, and then fell limp on the pallet. The doctor covered the man's head.

Chaduki shook his head. "I never suspected Ilim would hire her."

"Nor did I." Iskadar thought for a moment. "Between her skill as a warrior, her experience, and her beauty, she can get the men behind her."

"I have heard that, too."

"We need to eliminate her from the war."

"You're thinking that Ilim spent so much for her that he had to save money on the other mercenaries."

"Exactly. Without her, half of his army is gone."

* * * * *

The heat and passion of battle coursed through her body as Chamirista dealt death in all directions. Her short sword in her left hand and her halberd in her right, the weapons dripped the blood of those foolish or brave enough to come within reach. Blood splattered her face, arms, and clothing as it gushed from her hapless enemies.

She parried a thrust from a big man with a long sword, and then the blade of her halberd met his neck. His head rolled down the slight rise she stood atop.

She heard Undossa call to her. "Angel! Behind you!"

She spun and dropped to her knees as she thrust her sword out and up. One of Lassast's warriors impaled himself on the blade as he rushed at her with his axe raised high.

She laughed as she kicked the lifeless body from her sword. "You can count that as a kill, Undossa!"

"I already have twelve! Thirteen now!"

"That's good. I have forty-one."

"Damn it! Are you cheating?" Undossa relieved an adversary of his right arm. "Fourteen!"

"I never cheat." She sliced across an attacker's stomach. "Forty-two."

The loud horn rang out across the plains of Mindosia signaling the end of the morning's fighting. The fighters made their way toward their respective camps.

Undossa dug in his purse for a moment. He handed her ten pieces of gold. "Just like always."

"I told you so, but I'll take your gold. It spends just as well as any other."

* * * * *

He recalled the wars of the past, before the law changed. Wars would last until no one remained standing. Or at least until the monarch lost his nerve and surrendered.

Now, there were rules to follow. Wars ran for a certain number of days, and, at the end of the allotted time, the side with the most points won. The Arbiter awarded points for the number of surviving soldiers, tactics, and other things. The Arbiter could also assess penalty points for violations of the rules.

The battles ran from one hour after dawn until one hour before dusk, and there was a two hour break in the middle of the day for lunch and to recover the dead and wounded from the field of battle. Iskadar saw several problems with this type of war.

First, it made war too civilized. Even as a soldier, he knew war should be a horror. It should turn the stomach of any civilized person. Schedules and rules made the process too formal, too proper.

Second, it turned war into a game. With rules and points and penalties, it reminded him of the games he played as a child. War should be chaotic.

Third, and most important, it removed the honor and glory from war. The people on the battlefield were mercenaries, hired soldiers available to the highest bidder. They had no tie to the cause or the kingdom. They had no vested interest in the outcome.

But the midday break let him arrange to kill the Angel of Death.

Creating disorganization and disheartening Ilim's troops, the loss of this one woman would have more impact on his enemy than the loss of a thousand men.

* * * * *

Glancing up at the sun, Chamirista guessed she had an hour before the ending of battle for the day. Her body count was now 157. It had been a good day.

She found herself left behind by the flowing tide of the fighting, and took the chance to get a drink and munch down a few dried figs. She watched her comrades as they pushed the attackers down the small hill.

Suddenly, a group of the enemy broke away from the main battle and charged up the hill towards her. She counted thirty-five men in the advancing wave.

No matter how brave a warrior might be, or how adept their skill in battle, there was a time to stand and fight and a time to run so you can live to fight another day. With thirty five men coming at her and her comrades 150 rods away, this was a time to run.

She turned and ran away from the battle, leading her attackers on a merry chase across the plain.

She covered a few hundred rods when a second group of the enemy appeared off to her right. She turned and trotted farther out onto the plains, leaving the fighting far behind her.

A third group of men came from behind a small rock outcropping and flanked her left side.

With nearly a hundred men around her, she had no choice other than to move even farther from the battle.

As she topped a low rise, she glanced to her left. The pursuing men had faded far behind her. Checking to her right, the warriors there had done the same. When she glanced behind her, the original attackers had stopped.

She slowed to a stop, her breath panting through her mouth. What was this all about? She had to be at least 800 rods from the battlefield now. She couldn't even hear the noise of the conflict.

Chamirista turned to look around when a burning pain slammed her chest, knocking her through the air to fall to the ground.

* * * * *

Iskadar lowered the weapon from his shoulder. The bolt struck the Angel of Death squarely in the chest, just between her full breasts. He saw her fly backward from the impact, then lie motionless on the ground.

He felt ambivalence about his actions. Such a beautiful woman. Through the sight of his crossbow, he saw her face clearly for the first time. Fair skin with a few freckles around her nose. Through the blood and dirt on her face, he could see the high cheekbones and the slight frown she wore.

Her eyes captured his attention, though. Bright green, like the emeralds worn by the ladies of the court, they burned with the fire of the fight. In the moments before he pulled the trigger, he saw the question in her remarkable eyes as she wondered what was going on around her. He wondered if she suspected a trap.

He handed the weapon to Chaduki. "That solves our problem."

"Are you certain she's dead?"

"If not, she will be by the time anyone finds her." He considered for a moment. "Take the men and get back before we're missed. I'm going to check."

"Yes, Commander."




Chapter 2
The Angel of Death

She opened her eyes and stared at the sky. The sun was very near the horizon. She moved her hands to her chest, and her fingers touched the bolt of a crossbow sticking from her body. She always thought it would hurt, but she felt only a dull aching in her chest. When she pulled her hands away and looked at them, there was little blood.

What was going on? She tried to sort out the questions in her mind.

Clearly, the attackers pursued her into a trap, a planned thing. They herded her far from the battlefield to this remote place where someone lay in wait with a crossbow. The goal was to kill her. No one else. Just her.

The crossbow was another question. The rules of combat prohibited crossbows, but here she was with a crossbow bolt in her chest. The Arbiter would assess a hefty penalty on Lassast's team for the use of such a weapon. If the Arbiter ever found out about this.

Maybe it made sense, but she wondered about her wound. Why didn't it hurt more? Why was she even alive to wonderer why it didn't hurt more?

Rule number one was not to move an injured person. Leave that for the physicians. Odds are, no doctor would come to her any time soon. She sat up so she could see her chest better.

The bolt hit the harness for her halberd, just where the straps crossed between her breasts. Deflected by the metal of the buckle, the bolt twisted and only just penetrated her skin. The impact still hit her hard.

Chamirista pulled the bolt from her chest and worked it carefully from the leather of the harness. Shrugging out of the harness and her blouse, she looked at the wound. Not much more than a deep scratch, she applied some of the herbs from her supplies to stave off infection. Pushing her breasts to the sides, she saw the bruising on her chest from the impact of the bolt.

As she rubbed liniment into the bruise to ease the ache, the motion of her palms over her breasts and the slight chill in the darkening air made her nipples harden. She chuckled thinking she needed a man to warm them with his mouth.

After putting her blouse on, she stood and looked around in the fading daylight. She could stay here for the night, and then rejoin the fray in the morning. Her first stop would be to see the Arbiter.

Wouldn't her would-be assassin be surprised to see her in the morning? She planned to find him, let there be no mistake about that. When she did, she'd enjoy watching him die on the end of her blade.

* * * * *

Undossa looked everywhere in the camp, but he couldn't find Angel. No one had seen her since the charge down the hill this afternoon, and the physicians didn't have her in the medical tent. They also hadn't put her body with the dead.

He knew Angel could take care of herself, better than he could take care of himself, but he worried about her. Undossa never shirked from the realities of life. He knew he loved her.

The idea made no sense, but that didn't change how he felt about her. He didn't even know her real name, but no one else did either. Since the first time he saw her three years ago, he knew he must have her.

Only a hand shorter than him, her body was the thing of dreams. Firm and shapely, with full breasts and curves all over, Angel stood in stark contrast to the whores who frequented the war camps. All of the whores, even those not with child, were heavy with a roundness to their body and sagging breasts.

Angel was a delight to watch. Her hips swayed slowly from side to side as she walked, and her ass flexed with the motion. Her legs moved with purpose and grace. In battle, her sparkling green eyes filled with passion and determination.

He wondered if part of her prowess in combat was because her eyes trapped her opponents. He found himself captured by her eyes more than one time over the years.

Over the last year, he found himself thinking more and more about Angel. When he fucked the whores, he imagined holding her in his arms, thrusting into her as she wrapped her long legs around him. When he pleasured himself, he saw her lips wrapped around his cock.

He broke free from his building fantasy.

She was spending the night on the plain. He shivered as the words of the reverend came back to him, telling of the horrors that haunt the darkness.

Undossa walked to the observation tower. Maybe he could see her fire out on the plain.

* * * * *

Before the light faded completely, she managed to gather enough wood to last the night. She applied her dagger to the flint and soon had a small fire burning. She needed to use care, however.

The plains of Mindosia were cold at night, and she had no blanket with her. Designed to keep her cool and not restrict her movements, her fighting clothes did little to keep her warm.

Her rations would last until tomorrow, so she ate her fill of the dried meat and fruit. Her water would also last. If she could stay warm, she would be all right.

The words of the cleric from this morning ran through her mind. His superstitious ramblings about ghosts and the living dead on the plains took on new meaning out here in the darkness.

In the eerie light of the full moon, she saw the shadows cast by the low bushes on the ground. As the light breeze blew, she thought some of them moved.

The hair on her neck stirred, standing erect as her senses probed the silent gloom. She slowly moved to grip the hilt of her sword.

A soft crunching sound of dirt underfoot came from her left. Chamirista moved only her eyes in the direction of the noise. She saw only the slow wavering of the shadows.

A figure of a man suddenly charged up the low hill at her. He screamed a battle cry as he neared, but she was ready for him. He swung his sword at her head, but she parried, easily knocking the sword aside. On the backstroke, she slashed across his thigh before rolling away to get to her feet.

The man still stood. In the flickering light of the fire, she saw the shimmer of the chain mail armor he wore. No mercenary wore chain mail. Most couldn't afford it, and those that could saw it as a weakness.

He made a mighty swing of his sword, and she ducked under the blade. Her sword had no chance to penetrate his armor, and she would never get to her halberd.

Chamirista did the only thing she could. She dropped her sword and charged at the man, her head down like a bull. The man was big, but not that much bigger than her. Maybe a head taller, but the chain mail would make him top heavy.

Her shoulder hit his chest and she heard the breath explode from his lungs as they fell to the ground clawing and scratching at each other. As they rolled in the dirt, she managed to draw her dagger. If she could reach his throat, this would all end here and now.

She managed to roll on top of him and lifted the dagger high in the air. His left hand grabbed her wrist and twisted. Pain shot up her arm to the shoulder, and her hand opened to drop the knife.

When Chamirista leaned to bite his hand, his right fist connected with the side of her head.

She fell from atop him, dazed, with colored lights exploding in her vision. The man struggled to his feet. She lunged for her sword, but he stepped toward her and stood with his foot on her right wrist. When she tried to roll left, he stepped over her body and put his other foot on her left wrist.

He stood over her, his legs spread wide as he stood on her wrists. He panted with the exertion of the fight, and his sandy blonde hair stuck to his face and neck with his sweat. In the dancing firelight, she could make out another fire in his blue eyes.

A small smile came to his lips. "We seem at an impasse."

"No. If you move, I'll kill you. You can't stand on me forever." The thrill of the fight made her nipples erect again.

"I can stand here until you fall asleep."

She bent her knees and drew them up toward her chest. Kicking up and out, Chamirista planted her feet in his groin.

The man's eyes bulged out of his head as every breath of air in him burst forth between his lips. He grabbed his balls with both hands as he staggered back a few steps before dropping to his knees. As he fell to his side, she heard a few whimpering sounds coming from his mouth.

She rolled and took up her sword. As she watched him clutching his nuts and trying to breathe, she chuckled a little. He offered no threat right now.

Placing the point of the sword against his neck, she stepped behind him and untied the straps for the chain mail shirt. It slid down his arms and from his shoulders with a metallic jingle, leaving his torso subject to her blade.

She moved away and sat down on a small boulder while he tried to catch his breath and get his balls to descend from his stomach to his sack.

* * * * *

Just when he thought he might have the upper hand, she went and kicked his balls into his throat.

It wasn't that good or original of a move she used. He should have seen it coming. Standing over her with his legs spread apart, her feet and legs were totally free.

But as he stared down at her, he couldn't look away from her green eyes. Yes, the rest of her caught his attention, too. The narrow strips of leather covering not much more of her breasts than the nipples made his mouth water with the longing to suck them. The skimpy short pants hid little of her body below the waist, and he wanted to taste her cunt. The red hair splayed out on the ground around her head like an explosion fueled his desire to feel it flow across his thighs as she swallowed his cock.

But the eyes grabbed him. He couldn't look away, no matter how hard he tried. His first look at her eyes through the sight of the crossbow had misled him. The green wasn't the color of emeralds. It was the color of the ocean, of deep water. Like deep water, her eyes concealed strong currents below the surface.

When she released the straps for his armor, he expected to feel the sting of her blade against his neck. In the last few instants of conscious thought, he expected to look back at his headless body as it danced around looking for the head rolling down the hill away from it.

Instead, the Angel of Death simply sat down on a rock and waited, a gentle smile on her face.

The pain in his groin and stomach eased a little, and he struggled to his knees. The pain became excruciating, and he vomited.

She tossed a canteen to the dirt in front of him. "Take a drink. It will help."

Her voice sounded almost musical. It fit the image of the girl, at least if she was clean. She was not much more than a girl. Perhaps four or five years younger than he, she would be at home in the court. Again, if properly washed and dressed.

As he sipped at the water, he wondered what it would be like to wash her.

She pointed at a rock to his right with her sword. "When you can, sit there. Who are you?"

He took a deep breath and the pain receded a little. "Does it matter? You're going to kill me anyway."

She shrugged. "It doesn't really matter, but I'll tell you who I think you are. You're one of Lassast's commanders. You lured me here to kill me, and decided to come gloat over my body." She leaned her head to one side. "Maybe you came here to fuck my dead body."

"No, that behavior is the province of common soldiers and mercenaries. Not of a commander."

"Maybe when you saw me alive, you decided to fuck me and then finish your task."

The thought had crossed his mind. "What difference does that make?"

"None at all."

"Then why don't you kill me now?"

"I'm curious why a commander would risk the penalties of using a crossbow to kill just one soldier."

He saw no reason to lie to her or even conceal the truth. He would be dead soon in any event. "I think you're key to the war. Without you, Ilim will lose."

She laughed, and his heart beat a little faster at the sound. "You flatter me to live longer."

"No, I flatter no one."

* * * * *

She watched him struggle to his feet and hobble to the boulder. He sat down hard, and his breath still came as a fast pant. He rubbed his balls from time to time.

The man was big, at least a third of a rod tall. Standing more than a head above her, he outweighed her easily, probably around sixteen stones.

She reached down to her pack and took out the dried figs. "Here." She tossed them to him. "At least you can have something in your stomach."

He took a few figs from the pouch. "Thank you." He stared at her as he chewed, and his eyes drifted over her body. "I expected you to kill me by now."

She wondered why she hadn't. She looked forward to finding the person who tried to kill her. "You don't look like a coward."

He frowned. "I'm no coward."

"Then why attack from ambush? If you are attacking a large group, ambush is one thing. Attacking one person from ambush is another matter."

"Your reputation tells me we need to take care."

"That may be wise. Do you have a name?"

"I am Iskadar." He paused. "No one seems to know your name."

"My name isn't important."

"I never expected the Angel of Death to be such a beautiful woman."

"You again try to flatter me."

"Not at all. Do you have a name?"

"I am Chamirista."

He swallowed before he looked away from her. "A lovely name for a lovely woman."

She considered him for a moment. "Are you still going to kill me?"

"No, I think not. At least not this way or in this place." He inhaled deeply. "Killing from ambush is cowardly. Perhaps if we meet on the field of battle."

"Very well." She lowered her sword. "I will trust your word as a soldier."

"You have my word of honor." He looked around at her small camp. "You plan to stay here for the night?"

"Yes. In the morning, I'll rejoin my company."

"Don't you fear the zombies the priests speak of?"

"Silly superstition to frighten children and weak-minded men."

"Perhaps you are right, but many brave men fear the night of Mindosia."

"They are fools."

He laughed. "I see you are not frightened."

"No. My blade can deal with the worst Mindosia can summon."

"I believe it can."

* * * * *

The Angel of Death had a name. Chamirista.

He could only barely force himself to look away from her eyes when she spoke. Even in the ruddy glow of the fire, the green sparks of light filled his mind.

She poured some water on a cloth and washed her face, and his heart quickened. With the grime and blood cleaned away, she was even more beautiful. The amazing eyes shown out at him from her fair face, and the freckles spangled her face like a myriad of tiny stars.

She pulled her blouse over her harness, hiding her breasts from his view, but he still saw them in his mind's eye. She huddled close to the fire.

He wore a leather undershirt to protect his skin from the chain mail, and he pulled it from his body. "Put this over you. It will keep you warm."

She caught the shirt when he tossed it to her. "Thank you." She spread the shirt over her legs, hiding their shape as well.

"You're welcome." He considered. "My camp is not far. Much closer than yours. We could walk there."

She smiled. "And surrender myself for capture? No, I think not." She leaned her head to the side again. "You may go if you wish."

"It was worth a try."

"I don't blame you for trying."

"In the morning, we will go our own ways, then."

She nodded. "Very well."

He watched her eyes. The anger and passion of battle both had faded. The girl looked only tired now. "You should sleep."

"I will. For now, I'm curious about how a commander lives."

"Not that differently from any soldier."

She laughed. "There must be more. Are you married?"

"No, not yet."

"Then you are betrothed."

"No, but my whore wishes differently."

She shrugged. "All whores dream of marriage."

"Maybe they do. What of you?"

"I'm not married, betrothed, nor do I wish to be."

"That's surprising. You're very pretty." He didn't mean to say that, and searched for a cover. "Most women around a battle camp are just whores."

She smiled, and his eyes locked on the full, red, moist lips. "My sword arm commands a higher price than my pussy."

* * * * *

Chamirista found herself relaxing with the man. He gave her his word of honor as a soldier, and she could trust that. A warrior, no matter the rank, was only worth as much as his word.

As he sat across the fire from her, she could see the strong muscles in his chest as he flexed his arms. The bulging biceps moved like boulders under his skin, and his blue eyes still traced the shape of her body. At least when he didn't gaze into her eyes or stare at her mouth.

Her nipples jutted against the straps of her harness. Maybe the cold caused it, but she knew it might be him.

She fought herself to stop staring at him. The sharp angles and lines of his face fascinated her. She longed to close her eyes and trace the lines with her fingers like a blind man feeling a statue.

She could smell the strange scent of the unfamiliar wood burning in the fire, but it mixed with the aroma of his body to create a pleasantly piquant smell that filled her nose. The combined odor made her mouth water, longing for the taste to match the scent.

He seemed young for a commander, only four or five years her elder. In some kingdoms, the commanders reached their rank by birthright. She didn't know about Lassast. If Iskadar earned his rank, he must be a fine soldier. Based on the fight earlier, he was a fine soldier.

He smiled. "I need to stretch my balls." He stood up and stretched his body, reaching high over his head for the stars.

A shiver rocked her body as she watched him. His arms flexed as the muscles bunched and writhed. The band-like sinew across his chest rippled in delightful ways as he worked his body in different directions.

Her eyes followed his hands as he rubbed his groin. His cock and balls made a large pouch in the front of his pants, and a wave of heat spread across her breasts as he arranged his package.

She licked her lips, hoping he didn't see, and forced her eyes away from him.

Suddenly, from the south, came a loud noise. An insistent roaring hum came from the distance, and a red glow appeared on the horizon.

She stared in the direction of the sound. "What is that?"

Iskadar stepped around the fire to stand beside her. "I don't know." He held his hand down to her.

When Chamirista gripped his hand to stand up, a tingle ran up her arm from her hand. She fought the urge to yank her hand away from him, and the tingling became pleasant. She stood up beside him.

He frowned into the distance. "I've never seen or heard anything like that."

"Nor have I."




Chapter 3
The Fireflies

She stood shoulder to shoulder with Iskadar as they watched the strange light draw closer. The red glow resolved into a swarm of red dots of light. Thousands of the dots filled the sky. Oddly, as the lights drew closer, the noise faded, the roar quieting to a hum.

Iskadar frowned. "Should we get our swords?"

"To fight fireflies?"

He nodded. "Good point."

As they watched, the fireflies settled to the ground far out across the plains. The red lights went out and the roar stopped. "What are those things?"

"I don't know, but they seem to have stopped."

She turned to look at him. His face outlined in profile by the full moon, Chamirista saw a familiar expression there. Resolute and determined, he evaluated a potential enemy for threats. She knew her face often looked the same way.

Again the urge to touch his face moved over her. She reached up, her hand trembling, and stroked the line of his jaw.

He twitched at the touch and spun quickly to face her. He stared into her eyes.

He moved suddenly, and he grasped her shoulders. Her arms hung limp at her sides when Iskadar pulled her face to his. His lips pressed against hers, and his tongue flicked across her mouth.

The strength of his arms encircled her shoulders as she moved to hug his back, pulling their bodies closer together. When she parted her lips, his tongue darted into her mouth and danced wildly about, touching her in places no man ever touched before.

Her hands ran over the hard muscles of his back as she hugged him, and the brawny hardness filled her mind with passion. His fingers traced the straps of her harness across her back.

The flavor of his sweat mixed in odd ways as the tastes from her mouth combined with the smells in her nose. The smoke of the fire blended with the heat of his skin to create a new sense, one that made her desires flare.

The leathern shirt had dropped to the ground when she stood, leaving the cheeks of her ass bare. His hands slipped down to cup her cheeks, pulling her hips against him. His cock raged against his pants as it pressed to her body. Wetness spread through her pussy as a burning longing filled her breasts.

The rough skin of his warrior's hands caressed her ass as he thrust against her. She reached up to run her hands over his head, and the long blonde hair slipped between her fingers as she tried to pull his mouth tighter to hers.

Iskadar pulled his mouth from hers suddenly, and she lunged at him, wanting to taste his lips again. He pulled the blouse over her head, and his fingers clutched at the buckle of her harness.

When the buckle released, the harness fell to the ground, leaving her breasts exposed to him. Her nipples jutted forward, hard and long, and he ran his fingers over them. When he pinched her nipples between his thumbs and fingers, she shook all over.

He leaned over and sucked her breasts into his mouth, his tongue flicking wildly over and around her nipples. She moaned with the pleasure.

Her fingers touched the wetness soaking her pants when she reached down to stroke her clit. He dropped to his knees and kissed her stomach. Pushing her hand aside, he pulled her pants down.

His tongue dashed between her thighs to flick teasingly across her clit. She shivered and grabbed his head to force his face against her dripping pussy.

He moved suddenly, sweeping her from her feet. He leaned her back onto the dirt and lifted her legs until her knees rested against her chest. Iskadar pressed his mouth to her cunt again, his tongue running deep into her. As he fucked her with his tongue, she moaned and writhed under him. "Yes! That's it!"

He grunted something, but the meaning was lost in the darting of his tongue inside her. His mouth moved, and he swirled his tongue around her clit as he sucked the swollen knob between his lips.

Her climax hit her like a mace blow, and she screamed into the silent darkness of the night. Her body thrashed as her back arched high in the air. As he licked and sucked her clit, she jerked in time to the delectable sensations.

As her tremors faded, he rose to his knees and unfastened his pants. She watched as his cock sprang from his pants, fully erect and nearly three hands long. He leaned forward and his hard dick filled her pussy, reaching points never touched by a man before.

His urgent thrusts scooted her ass on the dirt, and sweat dripped from his face to splash against hers. The salty flavor of his perspiration delighted her mouth as she licked her lips.

Iskadar's hips slammed to hers as he pulled his cock fully from her before diving quickly back to his deepest penetration. With each thrust, her hips flexed up to meet him, and his dick slipped over her secret places known only to her fingers and the hilt of her trusty dagger.

As her orgasm closed its velvet-mailed fist around her body again, he gave a mighty thrust and his steaming cum erupted into her like hot lava.

He threw his head back and howled like some wild beast as his body jerked and twitched. His cock throbbed as he pushed harder against her. He collapsed on top of her as her arms circled his broad shoulders.

They lie together for a time, his breath panting quickly against her face. The warmth of his body blended with the chill night air and sent shivers of cold, warmth, and passion through her.

He rolled from atop her and pulled the shirt and her blouse over her body. "You shouldn't get cold."

* * * * *

He rested beside her as his breathing and heartbeat slowed to something more normal. She cuddled up to his side, her hand resting gently over his stomach and her leg pulled up to place her knee on his hip. Her head lay on his shoulder and her hair spilled softly across his chest.

When he saw her alive, he fully intended to rape her before killing her, but things didn't work out that way. He puzzled over whom took who just now.

Their lovemaking was a shared thing, and he wondered about that. Lirtassa, and the whores before her, was passive, giving herself to him, but it was a matter of duty. Duty wasn't the right word, but it fit at least a little. Maybe job was a better fit. He didn't think Lirtassa ever climaxed. If Chamirista faked her orgasm, she did a better job than any woman he ever knew. And no woman in his experience ever cuddled up to him like this.

His experiences in the past hadn't prepared him for this.

The beautiful girl in his arms was one of the most feared and respected warriors in the Empire. She had killed thousands of men. She even bested him in a fight. And yet, here she was, cuddled against him like a little girl hugging her doll.

Something in his head told him he should speak to her. He didn't know what to say, though.

He decided to say something he already said before. "You're a very pretty girl."

She chuckled a little. "Thank you, but flattery will get you nothing."

"I don't mean to flatter. Speaking as a man, I find you very beautiful."

"Thank you. You are a handsome man."

"Now who is doing the flattery?"

"Sorry."

"No need for that." He glanced down and kissed her hair.

"I'm sorry I kicked you."

"Again, no need. I was trying to kill you." He thought for a moment, and he realized something. "I'm sorry for trying to kill you. Twice."

"This is war. We all do what we have to do." She fell silent for a second. "But your apology is accepted."

He held her for a time. "What do you suppose those lights and the noise were?"

"I don't know, but if you believe the clerics, that would be the living dead of Mindosia."

He hesitated. While many warriors believed the superstitions, few officers did. There must be an explanation that didn't need magic or undead to account for what they saw. "Do you believe that?"

"Not for an instant." She shrugged, and her hair tickled his chest as it moved. "Just insects of some kind."

As she spoke, she moved her fingers on his stomach. Her nails moved, drawing designs and pictures on his skin he couldn't comprehend. "You're right." The shivers her fingers created made his voice stick in his throat.

"There are those who say I'm always right."

* * * * *

They chatted for a while, and Iskadar faded off to sleep. His arm wrapped around her shoulder and it felt warm against her bare skin. Chamirista snuggled to his body as she sorted out her thoughts.

This man beside her tried to kill her. Not once, but twice. She believed he would have tried to rape her, too. There was no doubt that he was the enemy in this war. She looked forward to killing him earlier.

When he charged her, they fought for their lives. The only thing that stayed his hand from killing her then was his desire to force himself on her. What stayed her hand from killing him was far less clear.

She'd seen handsome men before. True, none with eyes quite as appealing as his. Most didn't have the perfect muscles and shape of Iskadar, but a few did. Very few had the sandy blonde hair spilling to touch their shoulders the way his did.

The gods knew she was no virgin. She fucked men before, too. But something was different when they lie together. His passions were as high as hers, and he took her. But there was a gentleness in his actions. She wondered what he would have done had she told him to stop.

She smiled to herself. She hoped he would have tried to stop and found himself unable.

The strange lights and sound bothered her, but not as much as she thought it should. Her mind was concerned with weightier matters now.

Despite his trying to kill her, she found the large man next to her attractive. She wanted him. She knew he wanted her, too.

She slipped her hand down his stomach and touched his limp cock. Even soft, his dick was big, filling her hand as she slowly stroked him.

Thinking about how he filled her cunt, first fucking her with his tongue and then his cock, made her desires flame again. She licked her lips tasting the musky flavor of his mouth in her imagination.

Moving her head from his shoulder, she rested her ear against his stomach. His steady breathing lifted and lowered her head, and she heard the rhythmic beating of his heart.

Chamirista flicked her tongue across the head of his cock. She tasted the flavor of her pussy lingering there, and her head swam as the sapor mixed with the salty tang of his cum. His cock stirred a little, swelling slightly in her fist.

She wrapped her lips around his cock and sucked. As she moved her mouth up and down his length, it grew in size. She longed to feel him fill her mouth the way he did her pussy, and pressed her head hard against his shaft.

The head of his dick slid deeply into her mouth, then pushed against the back of her tongue. Taking a breath, she swallowed, and his cock slipped far down her throat. Her head reeled as his cock, now fully erect, filled her mouth and throat. She moved her head quickly, sliding his shaft back and forth, taking him from just barely between her lips to completely down her throat.

He moaned and his body twitched. "Yes, Chamirista."

His hands gripped her head, and he pumped his hips to complement the motions of her head. With each downward stroke of her mouth and upward thrust of his hips, his cock ran down her throat

As she sucked his cock, he writhed under her. His moans became louder and more inarticulate. Just as his body tensed and his shaking reached a climax, she realized that with his dick down her throat, she couldn't taste his seed.

She pulled her head back, and the head of his cock slipped from between her lips. His come shot from his dick to splash against her lips and cheeks. Chamirista licked frantically to gather his come into her mouth, and then wrapped her lips around the head of his cock once more.

He screamed nonsense as his cum sprayed from his body. His body jerked and twitched as she sucked to drain the last drops of the salty fluid from him.

The flavors of his seed made her want more. The salty taste carried a sweet undertone, and the alchemy of his body blended the concoction together to a flavor that spoke directly to the pleasure centers in her mind.

His body fell limp to the ground as his cock softened in her mouth. She gave the pulsing head of his dick a final kiss before moving her head back to rest on his shoulder.

She smiled. "Sorry I woke you."

He managed a weak laugh. "Don't be."

* * * * *

She didn't remember how long they lie together before she fell asleep in his arms, but his sudden movement woke her.

She heard the roaring of the fireflies again. When she sat up beside him, he pointed out across the plain to the south. When she followed his pointing finger, she saw the red dots swarming in the distant sky.

He sighed. "They're back again."

"How long have you seen them?"

"Just a minute or so. They're moving east."

The swarm moved to the east a few hundred rods, and then settled to the ground. As before, the red lights went out and the sound stopped abruptly.

He stared into the darkness for a moment. "I've never heard of fireflies roaring before."

"No." She wondered what else the lights might be.

"I'll stand watch. Go back to sleep." He leaned to kiss her.

"No. The sound will wake us." She smiled. "Come back to bed with me."

Iskadar stared at her for a moment before he smiled. "You talked me into it."

* * * * *

Undossa woke at the call of the bugle.

Despite searching the camp last night, he didn't find Angel, and his foray to the observation tower found no fires out over the battlefield.

His heart felt heavy in his chest, and he feared the worst. He forced himself to eat something, knowing he would need his strength soon.

As he gathered his equipment, Undossa planned his day. Even though the battle moved far from the hill where he last saw Angel, he would go there first and search for signs of her. From there, he didn't know what he would do.

He feared what his search might find.

His dreams had been full of terrors. Finding her body, or only parts of her body, formed the core of most of his nightmares. The idea that Angel would die before he told her of his love for her sickened him.

When the horn signaled the start of combat, he trotted off for the hill where he saw her last.

* * * * *

Both accustomed to war as it was fought today they woke about an hour before dawn. After eating the last of her rations, they dressed and made ready to return to their respective camps.

Iskadar slipped his arms around her waist. "Chamirista, I'd like you to come back with me and surrender. You'll be safe there."

The same idea came to her in her dreams. She could be with him there. But duty and honor dictated otherwise. "I can't do that."

His smile looked sad. "I know, and I expected nothing less. I just want you to know that is what I would like you to do."

"You may not believe me, but I want to do that. I just can't."

"No more than I can come with you and surrender."

"Exactly."

"Promise me you'll be careful on the battlefield."

"I always am." The smile that came to her face felt easy and natural. "I'll be especially careful now. And you stay back where the commander belongs."

"I will." He hesitated a moment. "I think it might be best if we don't mention this night to anyone."

"As much as I want to do otherwise, I have to agree. I think public knowledge would bode badly for both of us." She had the urge to yell his name from the highest point she could find.

He nodded. "Yes." He stared into her eyes for a time. "When this is all over, can I see you again?"

Four more days remained in the war, assuming neither side surrendered or ran through their allotted ten thousand warriors. "I'd like that." She smiled. "I'd like that very much."

"So will I." He hugged her tightly to his chest. "You are a very special woman."

She blinked at the tears threatening in the corners of her eyes. "Thank you."

He kissed her forehead. "Watch your back."

"I will." She reached into her pack and pulled out the crossbow bolt. "I think this belongs to you."

His hand shook slightly as he took the arrow from her. "Yes, it does." He sighed, and then looked deep into her eyes. "A reminder of the biggest mistake I ever made."

He held her hands in his for a moment as he stared at her. Iskadar lifted her hands to his lips and kissed them softly.

Without another word, he turned and walked off towards King Lassast's camp.

She watched him until he disappeared around a rock outcrop. After brushing the tears from her face, she turned and walked toward the battlefield.

As she walked along, she couldn't help wondering about last night. The passion of sex was there, but so much was in the mix. She forgot completely about the war and that he was the enemy commander. She forgot about his attempts to kill her. In spite of everything, she trusted him.

It made no sense at all to her. Between her trust and the intense attraction she had to him, her thoughts couldn't connect to form coherent ideas.

The one thought that did form was that she wanted him. Not for just last night, and not for a few more nights after the war. She could see herself with him for a long time.

Maybe forever.




Chapter 4
Returns

Undossa wandered the area around the hill where Angel fought yesterday. He didn't find any sign of her, but at least he didn't find her body. Too many people had been in the area, and he couldn't pick up any tracks he could be certain were hers.

As he looked for something he could use in his search, his mind wandered.

He cursed himself for not telling her how he felt. With someone to love her and for her to love, she might give up war, staying behind where it's safe. Because of his silence, her blood now stained his hands.

The glint of something in the dirt caught his eye. It was only a buckle from a harness, and it didn't look like the ones Angel had made last year. The habit of saving anything that might be of use made him drop the buckle in his pack.

She could best any five men he knew in combat. Maybe even ten men. She also knew when to run away. She told him several times over the years there is no cowardice in running when the odds spell certain death. Given the chance, Angel would run rather than die making a hopeless stand.

He regretted never telling her, and he regretted never bedding her. In his dreams and fantasies, he imagined countless times how her body would feel in his arms. Her soft skin against his, her beautiful hair brushing over his face, and her wondrous eyes gazing into his all came back to him now.

He heard other men talk about lying with her. He forced himself to walk away. If he stayed, he would spill their blood. But he still heard them talk about her passion in bed. He saw red just thinking about her with another man.

A voice called to him. "Ho! Undossa!" Not just any voice. Angel's voice called out to him.

He turned and she walked up the hill towards him, a smile on her face. He ran to her.

With no thought, Undossa threw his arms around her shoulders and hugged her to his chest. "Angel! You're alive!"

She laughed as she pulled away from him. "It seems that way." She frowned as she looked around. "What are you doing here? Where is the battle?"

"The battle is a few hundred rods west." He paused, wondering what to say to her now that she stood before him. "I'm looking for you."

Her smile stirred him as she gazed into his eyes. "I thank you for that, but we should join the others."

"Wait." He took her arm in his hand. "Angel, there's something I want to say to you."

"What's that?"

"I've been worried you were dead."

She laughed again. "Not me. I just decided to stay put when the sun went down."

He took a deep breath. "I love you."

Her face went slack. "What?"

"I love you, and I have since I met you. Thinking I lost you made me know I should tell you this."

She blinked at him. "You don't mean that."

"Yes, I do." He grabbed her shoulders to pull her to his lips, but she spun quickly, dancing away from him.

* * * * *

As she moved away from Undossa's grasp, everything suddenly became clear to her. The way he looked at her sometimes. How he stared at her eyes and mouth. The reason why he never tried to bed her. All of these things now clearly pointed to his infatuation with her.

He didn't love her. She certainly didn't love him. He was a handsome man, and she often fantasized about him while she pleasured herself. She even wished sometimes he would come to her tent at night. But the gulf of difference between lust and love was huge. Even if she didn't know what love really is.

What Undossa felt was simple infatuation. Nothing more.

As she watched him, he at least didn't come after her. She thanked the gods for that. She would hate to coldcock her friend. She held her hand up to him. "We need to talk, but this is neither the time nor the place."

He frowned. "When would you suggest? We're alone here. I don't want you going into battle. Ever."

She sighed. This was wonderful. Now she had two men both wanting her to give up her career. Yesterday, she didn't have any. "We can talk here, then."

"I love you, and I want you." He shrugged. "I'll even marry you if that's what you want."

She didn't know how to handle this. Undossa was a good warrior and a great friend. She stood with him on the battlefield many times, and she couldn't ask for a better comrade. She liked him, as a friend, but she never felt love for him, at least not the kind he wanted.

She took a deep breath. "I'm not in love with you, though."

He only nodded. "I know it will take some time for your feelings to grow into love."

Maybe he didn't hear her. "Undossa, there are no feelings to grow into anything. You're my friend, a good friend, but that's all."

"For now."

Iskadar suddenly flashed into her mind. "And there's someone else."

Like most soldiers, Undossa stood with his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. She saw the muscles bunch and flex from his shoulder to his hand as his fingers caressed the pommel. "Who?"

"That doesn't matter." She watched him for a moment. He didn't relax. "What matters is that I can't return your feelings."

He nodded again. "For now."

* * * * *

Iskadar was close enough to the camp that he heard the noises of breakfast and men preparing for battle. As he walked, he casually twirled the crossbow bolt in his fingers like a baton. Trying to kill Chamirista was a mistake.

First, the Arbiter would impose a penalty of ten percent of his remaining troops, giving the points for their 'death' to Ilim's side.

Second, the idea that any one soldier in a battle involving twenty thousand soldiers actually made a difference was more than a little ludicrous. Yes, Chamirista was a fierce warrior. Yes, she was charismatic enough to rally the troops. But she couldn't overcome ten thousand to one odds.

Lastly, he wanted her. If she was dead, he couldn't have her.

He slipped the bolt into his pack as he neared the camp. The last thing he needs was for Chaduki to ask too many questions. He went to the command tent.

Chaduki looked up from the maps. "Commander! I feared for your safety."

"I decided to stay on the plain when darkness fell. Too easy to get lost out there in the dark."

"And the creatures didn't get you?" Chaduki smiled.

"No, they didn't."

"What of the Angel of Death?"

He considered several possible answers. "She must have crawled away. I didn't find her body."

"That's too bad. Hopefully she won't go to the Arbiter."

"I think she won't." Several more responses came to his mind. "She would see that as a weakness, like tattling on a bully at school."

"You may be right about that." Chaduki waved at the maps. "I estimate we're down by more than five hundred points right now."

What Chaduki didn't understand was that he didn't care. He wanted the war over so Chamirista would be safe and back in his arms again. "What did you plan?"

"We need a big maneuver to pick up points. I thought we can flank the south hill here and come up behind the enemy, catching them in a pincer."

"What makes you think we can take the south hill when we failed to take the north?"

Chaduki laughed. "If she's not dead someplace, then the woman is injured and won't be in today's battle."

As much as he hated the idea, Iskadar knew she would be in the middle of the battle. "Perhaps you're right."

* * * * *

She worried about Undossa. As they fought their way across the battlefield, he never moved more than a couple of rods from her, and he seemed distracted, always watching her. That kind of behavior ended many a warrior's life.

Lassast's men tried to flank the south hill. She smiled as she wondered whose idea it was. She knew Iskadar had little, if anything, to do with the plan because it was a bad plan and poorly executed.

When the enemy tried to drive a wedge through Ilim's men, they fell back a little. Before the pincher could even move, she led a small group through the middle of the fray and cut off the east arm of the pliers. Six hundred of the enemy lay dead before the lunch horn sounded.

Undossa sat down beside her with his plate. "I just heard one of the commanders saying he thinks we're better than a thousand points ahead now."

"That's good."

"Do you think Lassast will surrender?"

"I doubt it, at least not with more than three days remaining." She knew Iskadar wouldn't surrender. "Anything can happen."

He looked down into his plate for a moment. "I'm sorry about this morning."

They needed to talk about this, but she didn't know what to say to him. "Don't be sorry."

"I am. I wasn't lying or exaggerating, though."

"I know." She sighed. "Neither was I."

He nodded. "But that may change."

"I can't promise that."

"I understand." He chewed for a few moments. "You were with this other man last night, and that's why you decided to not come back to the camp."

She needed a cover story for her absence. This one just wasn't the story she planned. "Yes, I was."

"Is it someone I know?"

"Undossa, don't do this to yourself."

"What do you mean?"

She paused, gathering her thoughts. "I may not be able to return your feelings, but I know what you feel is real. All you're doing is making yourself crazy. You should forget about me as anything more than a friend."

He stared into her eyes. "I don't want to be your friend." He sighed. "I can't be just your friend."

"That's all I can be for you."

Undossa threw his plate to the ground. "Then maybe I should just get the fuck away from you!" He stood and walked away.

* * * * *

Iskadar sat alone in his tent as he ate lunch. He didn't have much of an appetite, though. He longed to eat more dried meat and figs, washing them down with plain warm water, as Chamirista sat beside him.

The battle went badly this morning, as he knew it would. Chaduki's plan had more holes than a leaky boat, and Chamirista took advantage of each and every one of them.

She developed a plan and carried it out in a matter of minutes, leaving six hundred of his men dead in her wake. On top of being an excellent soldier, she was a formidable commander.

He frowned. Did he, unconsciously, allow the plan to fail to protect her? Perhaps he hoped to hasten the end of the war. The idea troubled him deeply. While such actions would bring him together with her again sooner, it meant he turned his back on his duty to King Lassast.

He didn't agree with everything Lassast did, but he was the king.

It also meant he sent six hundred men to their death when a chance existed to spare them.

If he acted from selfish motivations, he couldn't change that. All he could do is redouble his efforts and attention and not do it again.

He chewed a bit of meat in the stew, and Chamirista's face floated before his eyes. He wanted to see her again. Not in three and half days when the madness on the battlefield ended, but now.

He still tasted her lips on his, sweet and moist. The feel of her skin against his body made his heart race and his cock stiffen. The smell of her pussy, fresh in spite of the battles she fought, filled his imagination, and his tongue flexed in his mouth with the desire to lick her.

Mostly, he wanted to hold her. Chamirista fit his arms perfectly, like the gods made her especially felicitous to his embrace.

Knocking at the door of his tent broke his reverie. "Enter."

Chaduki came inside. "Any orders for this afternoon, Commander?"

He thought for a moment. "Yes. Abandon the assault on the hill and fall back to hold what we have. No further assaults of any kind today while I consider what to do tomorrow."

Chaduki frowned. "That will cost us more points, and we can scarcely afford that."

"And we could afford that fiasco this morning?" He waved his hand. "You have your orders."

* * * * *

The actions of Lassast's troops puzzled her commanders, but not Chamirista. She saw Iskadar's hand all over the movements of the troops.

He pulled his men back to hold the ground they firmly controlled, giving up a few points in the process. He gave up far fewer points than he would have if he ran the men into the meat grinder waiting for them on the hillside. He would develop a new battle plan while his men waited in relative safety.

She held back, letting the others pursue the enemy back to their lines.

Undossa, never far from her all afternoon, approached and spoke to her for the first time since lunch. "I'm sorry I got angry, Angel."

"What I said made you angry, and I'm sorry it hurt you."

He smiled a little. "I'm tough." He hesitated for several moments, staring into her eyes. "I can't stop chasing you."

"I know." She chuckled a little. "It is kind of flattering that you can't."

"That's good, I suppose."

She turned to him. "You're a good man, Undossa. Your attention honors me. I just hate to see you wasting your time on me when I don't feel the way you want me to feel."

He smiled, and it looked genuine. "I can't say I'll find anyone to replace you in my heart."

"Good." She grinned at him. "You're supposed to pine away for the rest of your life and then die miserable and alone."

He laughed. "Maybe I will."

* * * * *

After the enemy fell back to holding the land they controlled, Angel said they should harass Lassast's troops. Parties, both small and large, charged the lines at random intervals, causing no end of nervousness among the enemy's men.

Undossa stayed within sight of Angel. He needed to protect her.

He didn't know who this mystery man was she stayed with last night, and he didn't know how to find out. It didn't matter, though.

Her words from today upset him and they hurt, but not too badly. She didn't understand things yet, including her own feelings for him, but soon, everything would be clear to her. She didn't know it yet, but she belonged to him.

She stood about ten rods away, and he saw a man break ranks from the enemy line to approach her. The man carried no weapon and held his hands on top of his head. When the warrior neared Angel, he knelt on the ground like he surrendered.

The two spoke to each other for a minute, then the man handed her something. He stood and trotted back to the line.

* * * * *

She smiled as the enemy warrior approached her, his hands on his head. This would be her ninth prisoner today. He dropped to his knees before her.

"Angel of Death, I yield and bring a message for you."

She frowned. "A message from who?"

"Commander Iskadar."

Why would he risk sending her message? Despite her questions and a concerns, her heart beat faster knowing he thought of her. She wondered if he thought about her as much as she thought of him today. "What is the message?"

"I don't know. He wrote it down for me to give you, still sealed with his signet." The man pulled an envelope from his belt and held it out to her.

She took the package. "Return to your camp." The man scampered away.

Her heart pounded as she clutched the message to her breasts, and she moved away from the lines and opened the sealed envelope.

Dearest Chamirista,

I long to see you again, and I cannot wait three more days for that to happen.

Meet me tonight, two hours after the battle ends. I have placed a tent on the plain not far from our camps.

I will wait for you there.

Please, come to me.

Iskadar

He had drawn a small map below his signature.

She swallowed hard against the rising desire in her. She wanted to see him, to feel his arms around her, but the risks were high. Being found together would cost them both their jobs and could cost one of them their life.

But she would risk everything to see him again.

* * * * *

He watched her as the cooks served dinner. Undossa didn't see her eat anything, but she made a point of moving around the area a good deal, talking to other warriors. Undossa had the feeling Angel tried to make herself visible.

He didn't ask her about the encounter with the enemy warrior, and she didn't bring it up.

She sat down beside him. "I didn't rest well last night out on the plain, so I think I'm going to bed early tonight."

She didn't look like she was going to bed. At least not to sleep. She had showered early, then spent some time in her tent. When she came out to dinner, she wore clothes he never suspected she even owned.

Her blouse fit her torso tightly, highlighting her feminine shape, and the neckline plunged far down between her breasts. The sleeves puffed out around her arms, and the cuffs were made of some kind of lace. In a soft eggshell color, the blouse matched well to her fair skin.

The pants she wore fit like a coat of oil on leather. Very tight, they hid nothing of the shape of her legs and ass, and the dark brown color made them look very soft and touchable.

And she did something with her hair he hadn't seen in the three years he known her. Combed back to spill down her blouse to her waist, she braided two small cords of hair to run from her temples and tie together at the back of her head. She tied a small blue ribbon at the junction of the braids.

His heart raced at the sight of her, but he managed to keep his hands to himself.

He forced a smile. "You look very pretty this evening." Most of the other men must agree because they all watched her.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Well, I'm for bed. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Angel."

She left the table, but her walk revealed no tiredness.

Undossa tried to force himself to remain at the table. Maybe he could get drunk and grab a couple of whores, and that would make him forget this nonsense.

Despite feeling like he stalked her, he left the table to follow Angel.




Chapter 5
Rendezvous

Chamirista made her way across the plain to the tent Iskadar located on the map he sent her. She carried a small torch to light her way, but she held it low so it would be harder to see from both camps.

She tried to walk, but she fought the urge to trot. She didn't always win. Her heart beat faster with each step toward the X-mark on the map, and she smiled as she anticipated the feel of his arms around her again.

Despite a full day of battle, lunch and a small dinner, and showering, she still tasted his lips and skin. Her imagination let her feel his hands moving over her body to touch her face, back, arms, breasts, and pussy again. The thoughts triggered a spreading warmth all through her.

The soft clinking of her sword against her boot was the only sound. She hesitated before strapping on the sword, but not long. She never went anywhere without it by her side. The last city guard who insisted she leave the sword at the gate had to pick his nose with a different finger now. She left him clutching his bleeding hand while his index finger wiggled in the dirt at his feet like a fat worm.

Unbidden, Iskadar's face come to her eyes. She could see him, just like he stood before her, and she saw the chiseled lines of his face. Firm and resolute, the urge to touch his face swept over her. She laughed at herself when her hand moved to touch the image in her mind.

The moon eased its way over the horizon and cast strange shadows from the low bushes as she crossed the scrub. She recalled watching the shifting images of the light just last night as Iskadar cuddled her to his chest.

She no more understood her feelings for him than she did those Undossa expressed for her earlier today. Or of love itself for that matter. Totally outside her experiences, she tried to find some meaning to it all.

She probably did it at some time in the past, but she couldn't remember cuddling to a man after sex for so long that she fell asleep in his arms. She knew no man ever willingly held her that long before.

Like all warriors, she kept her senses sharp and alert. Last night, the habit put her into overload. Even without heightening her senses, the bombardment of him on her was overwhelming. The tastes of his lips and skin when they kissed defied her ability to describe, even in her own mind. The sweetest wines and most savory foods paled in comparison.

The feel of his body made her reel even more than his tastes. The hard muscle under his skin delighted her fingertips as she moved them over his chest, back, and arms. When he lay on top of her while they made love, his firm pectorals rubbed over her breasts, the hard lines of his form flicking across her nipples as he thrust into her.

Despite the heat spreading across her breasts and through her pelvis, she shivered a little. The chill of the night had not yet settled across the plains.

She recalled how he moaned softly as they made love. He rarely spoke, but his moans said volumes to her. They weren't the grunts and groans of senseless lust, at least not to her ears, but rather the moans of focused passion. She chuckled a bit as she remembered that she seldom spoke to him. She could only wonder about his lack of words. She feared breaking the spell with speech.

Her mind threatened to careen out of control when she thought about the scent of the man she spent the night with. Spicy and pungent, the salt from his sweat gave a crisp aroma to the mix. Yet there was a sweetness to the smell, like the sweetly acidic dessert she tasted years ago in one of the southern kingdoms made from an orange fruit and the white meat of a large nut. The sweat and dirt of battle were on his skin, like on all warriors after a battle, and those smells were common. But his body somehow changed the smells into something different. The unique alchemy of Iskadar blended the scent into a compound more ambrosial than the finest spices and more valuable than gold.

She recalled how her mind ran wild with desire when she smelled his body, and how the scent drove her to want to taste him. His flavor made her want to touch him even more. When she touched him, she wanted to hear his moans. His moans made her want to smell him. A cycle began that pulled her ever farther into a world of passion and desire and pleasure.

Chamirista realized her pace had quickened to a trot as she daydreamed, and she forced herself to slow down to a walk. It wouldn't do to use up all her energy just getting to him.

* * * * *

Iskadar finished setting up the small tent and built a fire. Things seemed ready.

He had spoken to a few trusted men at the camp, and spread a few gold pieces around. He wouldn't be disturbed.

He had no way to know if Chamirista would meet him or not. He knew she received his message, and she survived the battles unharmed, but her mind and choices were mysteries to him. He prayed to the gods that she'd come, but the gods could be fickle, acting on their own agendas.

The fire caught and he put the pot of stew near the heat to warm. He stood and moved away from the light to watch the darkness in the direction of King Ilim's camp, hoping to catch a glimpse of her in the darkening twilight.

For the last hour, he'd found he couldn't sit still. When he sat down, he fidgeted with things. When he stood, he tended to pace. He stood shuffling his feet as he waited.

Her face floated out there in the darkness. He saw the flowing red hair, the breeze blowing it slowly around her head. The fair skin and freckles of her face lifted up into a broad smile. The small nose crinkled in delightful ways as she grinned, and laugh lines surrounded her mouth. Her lips, full and moist, pouted as he watched, and the remarkable green eyes sparkled like jewels in the darkness.

A twinge of desire fired through him like an arrow, and his cock stirred in his pants. Those eyes fascinated him. He lost count long ago of the women he knew. Between the whores and the women of the court looking to latch onto an up-and-coming commander, he saw many. But none had eyes like Chamirista.

Chamirista had many things other women from his past lacked. Her warrior's mind was the smallest of the lot. A fierce and formidable foe on the field of battle, she had a feminine tenderness, too. When she cuddled to him last night, he saw that clearly. Again, the image of a little girl with a doll came to his mind. He forced himself to remember that she'd killed far more men than he.

Her voice had changed as they lie together, too. Softer, more musical than before, it melted his heart. He heard her voice all day in his head. Now, he knew he could pick her voice out from a thousand others.

She was beautiful, of that there was no doubt. She was also a very capable warrior. History proved that. The other things he saw in her befuddled his ability to describe. His inability to express himself frustrated him. As a commander, he was an educated man. He could read and write better than many others in the court. He knew something of science and alchemy, even the darker sides, and yet, here he was, unable to string proper words together to say the things his mind knew.

Perhaps, he thought, men just aren't supposed to think about feelings. That's where the problem came in. He felt things for Chamirista he never even imagined before.

He never wanted to protect a whore, not even Lirtassa. He had to protect Chamirista.

He would never risk his position to see one of the hangers-on from the court, no matter how tight her pussy or how hard she could suck. And yet here he was, in the no-man's-land of the plain, meeting an enemy warrior.

He certainly wouldn't spend all day thinking about any of the women in his past. All day, Chamirista filled his thoughts, no matter what he did or who he talked to, she was there in his mind. He couldn't get her out of his consciousness, but he didn't try very hard. He liked her there.

A flicker of light caught his eye. Out across the plain, he saw the glint of a yellow flame like that from a torch. The light was still about two hundred rods away, but he watched for a moment. It moved towards him.

He smiled.

* * * * *

When she saw the light of the campfire, Chamirista fought the urge to sprint the last hundred rods; instead, she allowed herself to trot. She saw Iskadar outlined in the firelight, waiting for her.

When she reached him, she dropped her small pack on the ground and stood close to him.

A smile came to his face. "Thank you for coming."

"I had to come. I want to be with you."

He put his arms around her shoulders and pulled her to him. His lips pressed hard against hers, and his delectable flavor filled her mouth along with his tongue. Shivers fired through her body as his mouth moved over hers.

Her hands traced the hard muscles of his back, feeling like ridges of stone caught in the process of cooling from flowing lava to form ripples and sharp edges. His hands massaged her back and shoulders as he caressed her.

The clean scent of soap mixed with the spicy blend of his perspiration and body floated to her nose. Her tremors shook her like an earthquake, and she tried to move closer to him.

Iskadar moved slightly and nibbled at her hair and ear. His voice sounded like a whisper, and he panted a little. "You look wonderful tonight."

"Thank you." She wondered for a while what to wear. She packed her fighting clothes in the small bundle and settled on the tight blouse and pants. His compliment made her face warm.

She felt him stiffen in her arms. "You were followed."

Not reacting, she kept hugging him. "Where?"

"On the hilltop. Turn with me, and you can see his shadow in the moonlight." He turned a little, pulling her along with him, so she faced the hill.

Acting like they still shared an embrace, she looked toward the top of the low hill. There, among the shadows of the bushes and rocks, she saw the outline of a person crouched low to the ground.

* * * * *

Undossa followed Chamirista across the plain. She wasn't hard to follow. Even though she carried the torch low, he could see her easily as she moved with deliberate purpose. He managed to stay only a hundred rods or so behind her most of the way.

She paused a few times as she moved through the gathering gloom of the night. Once, he was close enough to see her holding a slip of paper. She looked at something in her other hand, like she checked a compass and map.

A pang of guilt at following her hit him. Actually, he was just protecting her, making sure she's safe. Actually, he rationalized a lot.

As he rounded a rock outcropping, he saw the light from a campfire. In the flickering light, he saw a small tent, and, when he used his spyglass, the figure of a man waited near the tent and fire.

He crawled to the top of a low hill and watched as she ran to the man. They embraced, and he could feel the passion of their kiss from his position ten rods away.

Undossa felt the fire of anger and hatred flaring in him. Anger at Chamirista for betraying his love and hatred of the man trying to take her from him. His hand flexed on the hilt of his sword, grasping the familiar and comforting shape that had dealt death at his command for so long.

The red haze of battle filled his mind and eyes. Flaming at the center of his vision stood the two lovers, cold and uncaring about anything beyond their mindless lust.

* * * * *

Iskadar's sword rested against the side of the tent, more than a rod away.

Chamirista sighed as she considered what to do. This must be someone from her camp. She whispered to him. "Take my sword. I have my dagger."

"No. I can reach my sword before he gets here."

"We need to go after him. If he carries word of us back to the camp..." She trailed off. They both know that would spell disaster.

They didn't get a chance to argue. The form on the hilltop stood suddenly and rushed down the hill toward them. He screamed a battle cry as he ran, and covered the ten rods quickly on the slope.

Iskadar reacted instantly, breaking away from her arms to dash to his sword. She spun and drew her sword, ready for the attacker long before he reached the area of the campfire's light.

Something familiar about the man's run made her hold her ground instead of advancing to meet him. Best to wait here by the light so she could see the attacker.

Iskadar skidded to a stop beside her, his shoulder touching hers as they waited to face the enemy. The warmth of his body next to hers as they prepared to fight as a team made her smile. Not the smile that comes from the joy of battle, but the smile of knowing that they formed a pair now.

As the figure came closer, she recognized him. "Undossa! Stop!"

Iskadar looked at her, his face a questioning stare.

Undossa swung his sword at Iskadar's head, and she flashed her sword up to block the blow. Sparks flew from the blades as they met with a loud crash.

Iskadar recovered, and stepped away.

Undossa parried, and then grabbed her arm, flinging her roughly to the ground. "Stay out of this, Angel!" He moved toward Iskadar.

Iskadar made a thrust that Undossa sidestepped easily.

She screamed from where she sat in the dirt. "No! Stop it!"

Iskadar backpedaled. "Do you know this man?"

"Yes! Don't hurt him!" She scrambled to her feet. "Undossa, stop!"

"Stay back! This scum of Lassast will be gone soon enough!" Undossa lunged, using skills she herself taught him.

Iskadar stayed remarkably calm, considering a man tried to kill him and his lover knew the man. "Sir, I urge you to lower your sword." He parried a swinging blow at his neck. "Chamirista asks I not harm you, and I want to honor that request, but you're leaving me little choice."

While Iskadar fell back to a purely defensive posture, Undossa was in full attack. "Fuck you! You'll learn to keep your filthy hands off Angel, but it will be the last lesson you learn in this life!"

She didn't know what to do. One of the men would be dead when this was over. She didn't want either of them hurt, let alone dead.

Chamirista dropped her sword to the ground, and she stepped between the two men.

Undossa grabbed her left arm to yank her to the side. "Move!"

Iskadar grabbed her right arm to do the same. "Get back!"

She pulled her arms free from the grip of both men. "If you're going to kill each other, you'll have to go through me to do it."

Iskadar took a step back and lowered the tip of his sword to touch the ground. "I won't harm you."

As she watched Undossa, she saw the trembling in his body. The large muscles in his neck, shoulders, and arms flexed with the passion of combat and his anger. His sword remained level with the earth under his feet, the tip tracing small circles in the air. His eyes held the same blindness she saw so many times in so many battles that she lost count.

She decided to take a risk. She reached out and gripped the blade of his sword and lifted the tip to her chest. "Undossa, either give me your sword or use it."

He stared at her, his breath panting through his mouth and nose like a horse that ran for too long. His eyes slowly cleared a little, and he swallowed. "I won't hurt you, Angel."

"Then give me your sword." She paused. "And your dagger."

His gaze flicked over her shoulder to Iskadar. "And leave myself unarmed against him?"

She held her hand out to the side. "Iskadar, give me your sword and dagger."

He put the weapons in her hand.

Undossa frowned for a moment, but he pulled his sword away from her chest. Turning the blade around, he put the hilt in her free hand. He then pulled the dagger from his hip and added it to the sword.

She smiled. "Now, let's all sit down. We need to talk."

Iskadar moved to walk beside her, but Undossa kept his distance from both. They sat around the campfire.

Iskadar pulled a pot away from the fire a little. "I think there is enough stew for three."

"Maybe later." She put the blades down next to the rock she sat on. "Undossa, I'm angry you followed me. This is none of your business. You could have died, or killed someone. Mostly it's none of your business." She smiled a little. "I'm also happy you followed me. That shows me how much you care about your friends."

"I told you, I don't want to be your friend."

She saw the frown on Iskadar's face, but she would address his issues soon enough. "I know, but I still can't be more than that."

Undossa nodded. "I remember." He gestured at Iskadar. "Who is this?"

"This is Iskadar, Commander of King Lassast's troops."

His eyes went wide. "Your secret lover is the enemy commander?"

"I guess that sums it up nicely, yes."

Undossa's laugh had a bitter sound to it. "This is very wrong, Angel."

"Maybe, maybe not, but I can't change that." Now came the hard part. "I need to ask you to say nothing about this."

"Our commander has to know about this." He gestured at Iskadar again. "He's using you to get our battle plans, and you know it."

"You know me better than that."

"I know you better than that, yes. But what do we know of him?"

"He hasn't asked me anything about the battle." She decided this was a very bad time to tell Undossa about Iskadar trying to kill her.

"Do you expect me to believe he's not seducing you to get an advantage in the war?"

"That's what I'm asking you to believe." She decided. "If we can't keep this quiet, I'm going to Lassast's camp to surrender myself."

* * * * *

Iskadar tried to hide his smile. This was the perfect solution. This man would not keep his mouth shut. Chamirista would have to surrender, and then she'd be safe. A twinge of desire ran through his body. He could have her confined to his quarters.

A small voice spoke in his head and told him how stupid that would be. If she learned of his thoughts, she would hate him. Battle was her life, and taking that away from her would leave her bitter and full of hate.

He pushed the thought from his mind.

As he watched and listened, it dawned on him that Undossa loved Chamirista. She pointedly avoided admitting any commitment of feeling for Undossa, however. He wondered what that meant.

Like many soldiers, the world existed only in black and white for Iskadar; there was no gray. She either had no feelings for Undossa, or she was trying to hide them.

The difference was very important.

* * * * *

Undossa stared at her for a long time. "You'll what?"

She already made this decision, in an instant. She had some doubts, yes, but they were minor. "You and I are mercenaries. We have no real interest in the outcome of this war." She shrugged. "I can't have you and Iskadar trying to kill each other, and I can't dismiss the things I feel. I'd rather walk away from this war than do either of those things."

He frowned. "What about the gold?"

"What about it? There'll be other wars and more gold."

"What about your duty and honor?"

"Undossa, we're mercenaries. Our duty is to the gold and our honor only goes as far as the gold lasts. If I took Ilim's gold and didn't do what I agreed to do, then I have a problem with honor. Since it costs him nothing, I only need give him his money's worth. In a word, nothing."

Suddenly, from the east, the roaring buzz she and Iskadar heard last night came across the plain. When she looked, the red fireflies swarmed in the distance. The two men followed her gaze.

Undossa's frown deepened. "What is that?"

"We don't know. Probably bugs."

"I've never seen bugs like that before." Iskadar turned to Undossa. "Have you?"

"No."

The swarm hovered high in the air for a time. It suddenly headed directly for their location. As she noticed last night, as the swarm neared, the sound faded a little. The dots resolved into individual points of red light, and they moved in patterns and groups.

Iskadar frowned. "I think you should return our swords."

She nodded and passed his sword and dagger to him. Chamirista turned to Undossa. "No more fighting."

His eyes never left the swarm of red dots. "Right now, the only fighting will be with those things." He hesitated. "For now."




Chapter 6
The Sondim

As the lights neared them, the two men kept trying to stand between her and the approaching lights.

She shoved them aside and stepped between the men. "I don't need you to protect me."

Iskadar chuckled nervously. "Need it or not, it's going to happen."

Undossa nodded. "He's right."

"Great." This was all she needed. They both wanted to protect her and would probably kill each other for the right to die for her.

The sound continued to fade as the lights came closer. Suddenly, the lights settled to the ground about fifteen rods away, and the sound cut off abruptly as the lights went out. Silence and darkness descended over the plain.

Undossa shifted his sword easily in his hand. "Now what?"

"I'm not sure." Iskadar stared into the darkness. "I'm open to suggestions."

She tried to see into the gloom in the direction the lights landed, but she saw nothing. Other than the crackling of the campfire, no sounds came to her ears. "I think going to check is a bad idea."

"You're right about that." Iskadar sighed. "I hate waiting."

A crunching sound of footsteps came through the darkness, and all three tensed. A man stepped into the dim light of the fire, and he stopped about two rods away and stared at them.

While he looked different from most men, the appearance of the stranger wasn't unpleasant. On the skinny side, he was very different from the heavier warriors she dealt with daily. He had muscles under his white skin, but they were not the muscles of a fighting man. His arms, legs, and fingers seemed longer than those on most men, but not shockingly so.

The most striking things about him were his eyes. They seemed to burn with a yellow flame, like a straw torch.

Overall, he had an attractive quality to him. Perhaps it was only his differences from other men.

The two men stepped forward a little and closed their shoulders in front of her.

Only Undossa carried a shield. He tucked the shield under his arm and pulled his short sword from the sheath with the freed hand. He handed it to Iskadar. "Here. You might need this."

"Thanks." Iskadar took the short sword in his left hand to supplement the long sword in his right. Undossa gripped his shield again.

She pulled her dagger and tried to wedge herself between the men again.

Undossa put his elbow against her chest. "Stay back, Angel."

The strange man smiled. "I mean you no harm, at least not now." His voice had a quality of the strange buzzing sound that accompanied the lights.

"Who are you?" Iskadar shifted the swords in his hands, getting a better grip. "More to the point, what are you?"

"I am called Undykast. I am the leader of the Sondim."

"Who or what are the Sondim?"

"My people."

Unless she intervened, this would take all night. She pushed her way between Undossa and Iskadar. "Undykast, I am Chamirista."

"Some people call you the Angel of Death."

"More than I would like, but you're right. What do you want?"

"I want to talk to you and your friends." He nodded toward Iskadar. "At least to this one in authority. Your other friend may stay."

She glanced at Iskadar, and he shrugged. When she looked at Undossa, he frowned for a moment before he also shrugged his shoulders.

"Very well." She thought for a moment. "Come closer and sit by the fire with us."

Undykast approached slowly. His walk made him seem to float as he moved. As he neared, she saw his eyes had same pupils as a cat's eye.

Iskadar frowned as the four sat down around the fire. "Can I offer you drink?"

Undykast laughed. "No, that would not be wise."

She watched as Iskadar and Undossa sat uncomfortably, still holding their weapons. The men placed her across the fire, farthest from Undykast. She spoke over the campfire. "What do you wish to talk about?"

"In short, why are you, and others like you, here on our plain?"

"We're here to fight a war."

Undykast nodded slowly. "Until three years ago, you fought your wars in the places where the people the war affect live. Now, you fight them here."

Iskadar nodded. "Yes, that's true. All wars between kingdoms are fought here on the plains of Mindosia."

"Why? We do not fight wars in your kingdoms."

Undossa's face looked puzzled. "Are you saying you live here? No one lives here."

"You are wrong. No men live here, but this is the homeland of the Sondim."

Iskadar frowned. "I wasn't directly involved, but the Empire studied the plains and found them deserted."

Undykast laughed, and the buzzing sound of his voice intensified. "They looked during the day, when we hide in the bushes and crevices of the rock. We are a nocturnal people."

Chamirista tried to imagine how she would feel if people fought wars in her yard, and she couldn't comprehend the anger and frustration it would bring. "I'm not sure what we can do to help."

Undykast shrugged. "I think you can do more than you know."

Undossa blurted, apparently unable to contain the questions in his mind any longer. "Are you the ghouls the reverend speaks of?"

"In a way, yes. We started the legends in hopes they would keep your kind away, but that seems to have failed."

A frown came to her face. "Just how much of the legends are true?"

Undykast shrugged. "Some. We feed on the dead left on the plains and, when we are lucky, the living."

Iskadar and Undossa reacted instantly, their swords coming up to point at Undykast as they moved closer to her.

Iskadar almost whispered. "We need to get out of here."

Undykast chuckled. "First, I told you I mean you no harm, and I keep my word. You are in no danger here. Second, if I want you dead, you cannot escape." He raised his hand. The buzzing sound came from out over the plain, and a red glow on the ground surrounded the small camp. "You see, we are numerous and have you contained."

Chamirista put her hands on the arms of Undossa and Iskadar. "We have no choice but to trust him."

Iskadar nodded, but Undossa looked troubled. He sighed. "I fear you're right, Angel." He sat down.

The light faded and the sound cut off as Undykast lowered his hand. "You have my word no harm will come to you this night."

"What do you hope to gain by this?" Iskadar shrugged. "We can't stop this war. We certainly can't stop future wars."

"We must tell someone and hope they can help. You are at least a start." Undykast grinned, revealing sharp pointed teeth. "You are the commander of one set of forces." He looked at her. "And you are the most respected warrior on the other side, maybe in the entire Empire. I think you are a good start."

Iskadar nodded. "You want us to stop this war and all future wars here on your plains?"

"Yes."

She shook her head. "That's a lot to ask of three warriors."

"I'm aware of that." Undykast sighed. "Humans have forgotten the gods, but the Sondim have not. We have faith that you will succeed where we have failed."

Iskadar frowned deeply. "We can't promise anything."

"I do not seek promises. I seek your best effort." He shrugged. "My people have grown impatient with the invasion of our home. Remember that, should we so choose, we can kill more than a hundred thousand humans in a single night. We can clear the plains now in a few hours."

She saw the thinly veiled threat coming. She knew, somehow, swords, axes, and any other weapon at her disposal offered no help against these creatures. "Why are you even giving us this chance, then?"

"Unlike you, we value life. We kill only for food, and then only non-sentient creatures when we can. Our experience watching your wars tells us you place little, if any, value on even the lives of your fellow humans." He shrugged again. "Of what value will your kind find us?"

"I see your point." Chamirista saw the horrors of war up close and personal many times. Even though her trade was in war and death, she didn't like it. There must be a way to avoid the death and destruction. "As Iskadar has said, all we can do is try."

"That is all I ask of you." A humming sound came from the plain. "I must go. If you wish to speak to me again, come to this place at sunset." He stood and walked quickly into the darkness.

The red glow started at the ground, and then rose into the air. As the glow moved away, the sound became louder.

* * * * *

They sat around the fire a long time before he decided to speak. Iskadar cleared his throat. "Did we just imagine that?"

Chamirista shook her head. "I don't think so."

"Imagined or not, it's damned strange." Undossa stuck his sword in the dirt and hung his shield on the hilt. "What he asks is impossible."

"Perhaps." Iskadar handed Undossa the short sword. "But what choice do we have?"

She shook her head again. "None that I can see."

Undossa stood suddenly. "All of this hoodoo aside, we have yet to settle why I am here."

He didn't need this distraction now and he had enough things distracting him from Chamirista already. "Let me make this as clear as I can for you. I don't know what Chamirista and I have might become, but I won't let you get in the way of that. You may be her friend, but I'll kill you if I have to."

Undossa squared his shoulders. "I don't think you can."

"Care to find out?"

Chamirista stood and stepped between them again. She was making a habit of that particularly dangerous behavior. "Both of you stop." She turned to Undossa. "My friend, I think you should return to the camp. I promise we'll talk tomorrow at lunch."

Iskadar saw him stare over her shoulder and into his eyes. Undossa's face looked cold and hard, like he might attack at any moment. The warrior sighed heavily. "All right, Angel. I'll go." Leveling the point of his sword at his chest, Undossa glared over Chamirista's shoulder. "But this is not over." He turned and walked off into the darkness in the direction of Ilim's camp.

* * * * *

She watched Undossa stomp away into the darkness knowing that one of these men would soon be dead. She hated the idea, but she saw no options just now. She had far too many other things on her mind.

Iskadar put his hands on her shoulders. "If I can avoid it, I won't kill him."

"I know. He's a good friend, but he thinks he's in love with me."

"That's what I thought from listening to him." He hesitated for a moment. "Do you love him?"

She turned to face him. His face looked clinical, like he asked the farrier what type of shoes would be best for his horse on cobblestones. His eyes betrayed him, though. Worry lines crinkled the skin around his eyes, and his gaze darted over her face, moving from one of her eyes to the other.

She slipped her arms around his neck. "No, I don't, and I never have. He's a friend, maybe the best I've ever had, and he's the one man I want standing next to me in a fight, but I don't love him."

He nodded. "All right." He glanced away from her face to look at the fire. "We should eat."

She watched him for a moment. Like her, Iskadar had a lot on his mind right now. Eating was his way of gaining some time to process his thoughts. "We should."

He moved the pot close to the fire again, and he gathered bowls and spoons. From his pack, he took out a small loaf of bread and used his dagger to cut it in half.

Iskadar handed her a bowl of stew and sat down beside her. "I can't remember if I said this before, but you look very pretty tonight."

"Not in those words, but thank you again." She dipped her bread in the stew. She smiled thinking the caterers for the war served the same food to warriors and officers on both sides of the line. War was good business.

"You're welcome." He chewed his meal for a moment. "What do you plan to do about the Sondim?"

"I'll try to talk the commander and tell him. Until this war is over, I can't do much else."

"Can you get Ilim's ear?"

"Maybe." She chuckled a little. "Don't get all crazy, but he likes me and thinks I'm pretty, too."

He laughed. "I won't. At least so long as he keeps his hands to himself."

"He always does." She thought for a moment. She knew most of the kings and princes in the Empire. "He's actually a good man. I think he cares about his people."

"That's good. Sadly, it's a bit rare, too." He sighed. "Lassast doesn't seem to care about anything other than his control of the throne and his lineage."

"I have that impression, too."

Iskadar didn't answer for several moments, staring out into the darkness. "What are you going to do about Undossa?"

"I'm not sure. All I can really do is talk to him and make sure he understands I care about him as a friend, but nothing more."

"What if he doesn't listen?"

She smiled. "I'll coldcock him."

"He's pretty big for that."

"Then I'll kick him."

Iskadar wiggled on his rock for a moment, a pained look flitting over his face. "That should do it."

"I think so." She sat her empty bowl beside her and watched as he finished eating. His arms flexed delightfully as he spooned the stew to his mouth, and every time his mouth opened to take a bite, her thoughts ran amok. A sudden image of him licking stew from her breasts flashed into her mind. Maybe a few of the vegetables placed in strategic spots. They didn't have nearly enough leftovers for that.

He sat his bowl on the ground. After staring at her for several moments, he sighed. "What are we doing?"

"What do you mean?"

"We should wait until after the war ends in three more days."

"I can't."

A smile came to his face. "I know the feeling."

He stood and walked the few steps to where she sat on a small boulder. Falling to his knees, he slipped his arms around her waist and hugged her to him. Iskadar pressed his lips to hers again, and she prayed there would be no more interruptions.

As his tongue played in her mouth, touching her cheeks and gums, his flavor swept through her once more. The delectable taste of his spicy alchemy easily overpowered the tastes of the stew, making her heart pound in her chest. Her pulse drummed in her ears, and her breath quickened and roared through her nose.

Her rapid breathing carried the aromatic scents of the night to her nose. Mixed with the sweetly salty smell of him were other scents, perhaps some night-blooming flower of the plain. The smoke from the small fire added a rough, rustic backdrop to the blend.

His hands moved over her back, squeezing and massaging her muscles as he kissed her. When his hands reached her waist, he slipped them under her blouse, and the heat of his fingers on the bare skin of her back made her shiver. The slight roughness of his hands made a wonderful blend of smooth and rugged textures as he held her.

When her hands slipped from around his neck to touch his chest, the pounding of his heart under her fingers made her tingle. Something spoke to her saying he wanted not just any woman. He wanted her.

He lifted her easily in his arms, like she weighed less than a feather. Still pressing his lips to hers, he carried her into the small tent and let her slowly to her feet. Despite her height, taller than many men, she had to look up to kiss Iskadar.

Several candles burned in the tent and cast flickering shadows as she fought the urge to wrap her legs around his waist to bring her face level with his. His mouth slipped from hers, and he kissed around her ear, flicking his tongue in and around her ear, she trembled to his touch. When his hands moved over her breasts, she couldn't stop the sighing moan that escaped her lips.

Iskadar's fingers worked gently at the buttons of her blouse, and then eased it back from her shoulders. His mouth moved across her chest, his tongue flitting across her hard nipples as she clutched his hair and pulled his face to her body.

She clawed at his shirt, and he shrugged out of it, his bare chest pressing to her stomach as he sucked her breasts. He again dropped to his knees, and kissed her torso, his lips and tongue sending quivers of passion and tickles through her. His hands ran up and down her legs, kneading the muscles through her tight pants. He gripped her ass and pulled her hard against him, his tongue darting into her navel making her twitch and giggle.

Iskadar tugged at her pants, unfastening the buttons and letting them fall to the ground. He leaned slightly and nibbled at the patch of red hair on her pussy, gently pulling with his teeth.

He stood suddenly and lifted her only to lie her on the cot and kneel before her. He plunged his tongue deep into her core, fucking her rapidly with his lips and tongue. Her body jerked as he licked over her clit, and a small scream of pleasure jumped from her throat. His hands moved, and he slowly rubbed her thighs. Gooseflesh crawled over her body as wave after wave of ardent shivers washed over her.

She gasped when his fingers darted into her pussy and his lips sucked her clit firmly into his mouth. Her body shook on the cot as his mouth and hands worked passionately.

The wet smacking of his mouth and the gentle squishing sound of his fingers in her soaked cunt filled her ears along with the thundering of her pulse. He nibbled gently at her clit, and Chamirista's orgasm slapped her hard. Her back arched from the cot, and her hands gripped his hair tightly and pulled his face harder against her pussy.

Her screams came as a nonsensical string of gibberish as she thrashed and writhed. His fingers and mouth slowed not one bit as her climax hit her again and again, sending heaves of pleasure over her.

She fell back onto the cot, twitching and jerking as his tongue fluttered around her clit. He stood up, and allowed his pants to fall to the ground. Her mouth watered as she imagined the taste of his hard cock, and she sat up. He stepped forward.

When she reached for his dick with her hands, he gently pushed her arms down. He smiled. "Let me."

Iskadar grasped his cock and pumped it a few times as he rubbed it against her lips. The glistening drops of pre-come on the tip lubricated her lips, and she licked it away, the salty sweetness thrilling her taste buds. As he passed the hard shaft of his dick over her cheeks, she flicked her tongue out to lick quickly at his balls. She almost giggled thinking how happy she is that she didn't kick him as hard as she could have.

He pulled away a little. "Open your mouth, Chamirista."

She opened her mouth, and he put his cock between her lips. Thrusting slowly and gently, he fucked her mouth as she swirled her tongue around his dick. She slipped from the cot to kneel before him.

Pulling his hand from his cock, she grasped the shaft and pumped it quickly as she held the head between her lips. Licking and sucking his dick, she longed for the taste of his cum.

He suddenly pulled away, his dick slipping from her mouth. He gripped her shoulders and pulled her to her feet. Lifting her in his arms, he lowered her onto his cock as she wrapped her legs around his waist.

His stiff cock slid deeply into her soaked pussy as their lips met again. The sweet taste of his mouth mixed on her tongue with the flavors of her cunt on his face to make a new compound that made her wild with desire.

As they bounced together with his cock buried in her cunt, their tongues moved against each other. He sucked and nibbled her tongue when she ran it into his mouth, and her breathing came fast and panting. His cock moved in and out of her, hitting points of pleasure she never knew existed. She shivered as he lifted and lowered her.

When the thundering waves of her climax hit her again, she couldn't scream because his tongue filled her mouth and his lips sealed hers. His body tensed and shook as Iskadar pressed her hips down hard against his cock. Throbbing and pulsing, his dick twitched and his cum exploded into her.

They jerked against each other as their orgasms receded. Their lips slowly parted, and he smiled at her. "All right?"

"Oh, yes." Her body trembled.

He lifted her from his cock, and cradled her in his arms for a moment, staring deeply into her eyes. Lowering her softly to the cot, he lie down beside her and put his arms around her shoulders.

He just stared at her for a long time before he spoke. "You are a special woman, Chamirista."

She snuggled closer into his arms. "I'm no more special of a woman than you are a special man."

"Perhaps." He paused for a time. "I still don't know what we're doing, but I know it's right."

"Not everyone will agree with that."

"No, but they don't matter." He hesitated. "Does it feel right to you?"

"Yes. Like you, I don't know why, but it does."

He nodded. "I want this war over."

"So do I." She wondered for a moment about how she felt about this man. She could easily fall for him. If she hadn't already done so. "Only three more days."

"Yes. I can no more wait three days to see you again than I could have waited four."

"We can meet here every evening."

"You would do that?"

"If you'll have me."

"Of course I'll have you." He hugged her. "I hoped you would agree to do that."

She thought for a moment. "There is something that I'm worried about, though."

His body stiffened a little. "What's that?"

"I'm trying hard to not give in, but I found myself tempted to do things to make the war end sooner." The impulses worried her. Despite what some people thought, mercenaries have a sense of duty and honor.

"I understand, because I've had similar thoughts." He fell silent for a minute. "I couldn't face myself if I gave in to those urges, but I worry about you being hurt."

"All I can say is that I'll be fine."

"I know, but I worry."

She sighed to herself. She never had a man really worry about her before. "I like that you worry, but you shouldn't."

"Yes, you can take care of yourself. I can't stop worrying about you, though."

"I know, and it doesn't bother me." She elbowed him playfully. "I worry about you, too."

"I'm not allowed anywhere near the battles."

"No, I mean if we're found out." He would, at best, lose his job.

He shrugged. "A small price to pay for having you in my arms."




Chapter 7
The Word

The battle from Lassast's men came fierce today, much more so than the first two days of the war. Chamirista smiled as she fought. She wondered if the men faced desperation with only three days left in the war, or if Iskadar developed a new plan. She believed the latter.

Lassast's forces fell back to tried and true methods of warfare. No big gutsy moves to gain points, and no do-or-die assaults. Simple combat, edging forward and gaining small bits of ground while exposing as few soldiers as possible to death.

While Iskadar wouldn't win a lot of points this way, he prevented Ilim's side from earning points as well. She and her comrades had to maintain a defensive posture at all times.

It seemed that on top of being gorgeous and a fantastic lover, Iskadar was a formidable commander. She smiled again thinking he was hers for the taking. Just as she was his.

By the time the horn for lunch sounded, she estimated Lassast's troops gained some four hundred of the points they were down. If they kept this up, by this time tomorrow the war will be even again. She couldn't allow that, even if her man commanded the enemy.

She saw Undossa and angled to meet him. "I promised you we'd talk today."

He wiped the blood from his sword. "Yes, you did." He avoided looking at her. "How has your morning been?"

"Only twenty-one so far."

He laughed. "Just seven for me."

They went through the meal line at the camp and found a place away from the others. She poked at her hash for a moment. "Thanks for not telling anyone about me and Iskadar."

"How do you know I haven't?"

"Because you're my friend."

He chuckled. "Maybe you know me too well. I haven't said anything, and I won't."

"Thanks." She watched him, and he avoided looking at her. "I'm sorry, I hope you know that. I just don't have the kind of feelings for you that you want me to have."

His fork shook as he lifted a bite to his mouth, and some of the hash fell back to the plate. "Are you saying you'll never have those feelings for me?"

She wondered about that. She'd known Undossa for more than three years, and he was a good man and a great warrior. The fact that he was still alive in spite of his sometimes reckless behavior also meant he was lucky. Skill and luck are interchangeable on the battlefield. "I'm not a seer, so I don't know what the future holds."

He nodded. "What about this man? Do you love him?"

"I don't know that, either. I've only known him two days." She laughed. "I don't believe in love at first sight."

"But you slept with him the night you met him."

"Yes, I did. Love at first sight doesn't happen. Lust does."

He ate a few bites. "You're going to meet him again tonight."

It wasn't a question, but she knew he expected an answer. "Yes, I am." Her feelings for Undossa ran through her mind, especially how she wondered why they never made love. The conversation—indeed the entire situation—might be very different if they had. She decided to ask. "Why have you never come to my bed?"

He stared at his plate as he moved the hash around with his fork. "You seem very selective about who you allow to join you."

"I am. I wouldn't have sent you away."

"Why are you telling me this?" He looked into her eyes for a moment. "Now that it's too late for me?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe I'm just trying to sooth my conscious." Maybe she was saying it wasn't too late. She wanted to slap herself. She made a commitment to Iskadar, even if a bit nebulous.

He looked away from her. "Is he good to you?"

"Very good."

"He better be." He ate for a moment. "When you were missing, I thought you were dead. I thought I lost you, and I guess I did." He looked into her eyes again. "At least in a way."

"Not really. I'm still here, and I'm still your friend."

He sighed. "You aren't even hearing me when I say I don't want to be your friend."

"Yes, I am. I just can't be more that that right now." She knew this hurt him, but she couldn't lie to him. "I don't know what might happen tomorrow or next week."

He sat his plate on the ground at his feet. "When you're done, let's go for a walk." He stood up.

"I'm done." She put her plate with his, and he reached his hand to help her stand. When his hand gripped hers, the familiar strength in his grip closed around her hand, but the tingling sensation was something new.

They walked along the small brook running beside the camp, and Undossa kicked small stones into the water. He didn't speak, and she couldn't think of anything to say.

After more than a quarter hour, he finally seemed to find some words. "Angel, I want you to know that I do love you."

She opened her mouth to reply, but he put his fingers on her lips. The touch made her shiver.

"No, let me finish. Maybe it doesn't make sense. Maybe I'm just seeing things, but I think you feel something for me, too. I know Iskadar is a good man, but he's not the right man for you." He smiled a little. "I am."

"What makes you so much better?"

He grabbed her arm and turned her to face him. Undossa pulled her to him and kissed her hard. As the soft hair of his beard tickled across her face, his tongue parted her lips and plunged into her mouth.

Her arms came up around his back and caressed the firm ridges of muscles broken only by the straps of his harness. Her mouth responded to him, her tongue fighting a brief duel with his as the flavor of his mouth flooded her senses.

His hands, calloused from holding his sword, gave an odd feeling of both rough and smooth against the skin of her back. She shivered in his arms as he squeezed her tightly against him.

Suddenly, Iskadar's face leapt to her mind, and she struggled for a moment before breaking free from Undossa's embrace. "No! I can't do this!"

He stepped towards her, his arms reaching for her again. He stopped and closed his eyes. His chest rose and fell quickly as he panted, and she saw sweat on his brow as he stood trembling. He spoke without opening his eyes. "I'm sorry, Angel."

She managed to catch her breath, but her heart pounded quickly in her chest. "So am I."

He opened his eyes and looked intently at her face. "I've put you in a very bad position."

She nodded. Her thoughts ran wild. She thought she might be falling for Iskadar, and that made the feelings running amok in her mind and heart for Undossa wrong. It took all her strength to break away from him, and she still trembled with the desire to kiss him again.

If she waited even an instant longer before prying her lips from his, she would now be ripping his clothes from him. The action would be even more wrong than the thoughts and fantasies now filling her head.

The simple fact was she wanted Undossa. If he came to her now, she knew her resistance would be purely token. If he grabbed her hair and took her, he would have his hands full stopping her from taking him first.

She licked her lips and his taste lingered there. She forced the sensations from her thoughts. "I put myself there just as much." He took a step towards her. "No! Please, stay there."

He stopped. "I'd never do anything to knowingly hurt you."

"I know. I just can't do this." Her pulse slowed a little, but she needed to get away from him before she did more stupid things.

"You may not believe me, but I do understand you." He sighed. "I'll leave you alone for now." He turned and walked back toward the camp.

* * * * *

Chaduki smiled as he walked into his tent. Iskadar wondered what the little weasel was so happy about.

"Commander, I estimate we have gained nearly four hundred points this morning."

"I think your estimates are accurate." He only poked at the hash the caterer served for lunch.

"By the way, I tried to find you last night. Lirtassa asked to see you, but I couldn't find you and no one saw you."

"I was around. Busy night, that's all."

Chaduki nodded. "Very well. Any new orders for this afternoon's battles?"

"No, just more of the same. If we can pick up another three hundred points, we're back in the game."

"Yes, sir." He paused for a moment. "Lirtassa would still like to see you."

He didn't want to see her, though. "Send her in."

"Right away." Chaduki left his tent.

He didn't want to talk to her, but he had little choice. If he suddenly shunned his whore, suspicions would arise. He believed Chaduki already had enough to go around now.

Lirtassa was a pretty girl, especially for a whore. Petite, nearly a head shorter than Chamirista, and with long brown hair and dark brown eyes, she was only nineteen, still just a girl. She'd been with him for three years, and always at least acted enthusiastic in bed.

She came through the door of the tent wearing the long lacey gowns she had a wont to wear much of the time. She smiled and came to sit on his lap. "My darling, I've missed you so much the last two nights. Where have you been?"

"Busy with battle plans is all. You should have stayed at home so you wouldn't be bored here."

"I'd rather be here with you. Even if I can only see you for a few minutes." She leaned to kiss him, but he turned his head to present his cheek to her lips. She leaned back. "What's wrong?"

"The war isn't going as I'd like."

"My poor darling." She hesitated for a moment. "I was putting your things away last night, and I found a crossbow arrow in your pack. I thought you couldn't use crossbows."

He sighed. "I just have it along for luck."

She frowned. "I see. What good does it do to leave your lucky arrow behind in your pack?"

"It doesn't matter. Chaduki said you wanted to see me. About what?"

"I just wanted to see you, that's all." She smiled. "Can't a girl want to see the man she loves?"

He could understand that. He could even understand a man wanting to see the girl he loves. Both situations explained why he didn't want to see Lirtassa just now. "I guess that's all right."

"I'll be glad when this war is over so you get back to normal." She pouted. "You know I don't like being ignored."

"Yes, I do." She would like it even less when the war was over. She might be young, but Lirtassa was no one's fool. She wouldn't fight or scream or cry when he told her about Chamirista. She will probably suggest that she stay on as his concubine. That won't go over well at all with Chamirista, and someone's throat will end up slit. Probably his.

The warning horn signally ten minutes before the afternoon battle sounded. She sighed. "I know you're very busy, so I'll leave you to your work." She pouted again. "What time will you be home?"

"I don't know. I have a lot to do, so don't wait for me." For some reason, lying to her left a bad taste in his mouth.

"Please, come home tonight." She smiled and the brown eyes sparkled. "I'll even give you a special treat." She kissed the end of his nose and left him alone.

He knew Lirtassa could offer no treat as special as the one Chamirista gave him just with her smiling green eyes.

* * * * *

She laughed to herself thinking Iskadar must be pulling his hair out about now. The afternoon's battle was going very differently from this morning.

As his troops held to a slow advance, she pulled a little impromptu maneuver and cut the advancing line into three parts. More than twenty score men lay dead in the wake of the gambit, and her comrades pushed the main body of Lassast's forces back some two hundred rods.

Her quick estimate said she gained back not only the four hundred or so points lost this morning, but probably picked up another two hundred more.

She glanced up at the sun. She had an appointment to meet with Commander Assista to tell him about the Sondim. She caught Undossa's eye and waved. He waved back and finished off his foe.

They walked side by side toward officer's country. He watched her for a moment. "Are you all right?"

"Yes. I have my composure back now." She took a deep breath. "Don't say you're sorry again. We're both at fault for what happened."

"Maybe." He paused. "What will we tell the commander?"

"I think the truth is best."

"He'll think we're crazy."

"He probably thinks that now."

He laughed. "Maybe he does. I think you'll need to talk to Ilim to get any attention, though."

"You may be right, but we'll work the chain of command for now."

"Right."

They reached officer's country and waited a few minutes as the guard announced them. When the guard returned and told them to go inside, they pushed through the door of the tent.

Commander Assista's tent looked about the same as any of the other nearly three thousand tents in the camp. Other than the small bar and the large map table.

Assista stood and offered her his hand. "Angel, good to see you. I've heard good things about your actions on the battlefield, and King Ilim and I agree we got our money's worth with you."

He should. Rumor had it Ilim was paying her nearly five times what he paid Assista to fight this war. "I'm just doing my job, Commander."

He laughed as he turned to Undossa. "Let me think..." He trailed off and stared for a moment. Assista was a fair to good commander, but he had great people skills. She never saw the man forget a name or date. "Undossa, right?"

"Yes, Sir. Good to meet you." Undossa shook the offered hand.

"And you." He waved at the chairs around the map table. "Please, have a seat and forgive the mess. We are, after all, in the middle of a war."

She sat down. "We don't want to take too much of your time, but something odd happened last night. I think you should know about it."

"Quite right. My aide said you had an encounter on the plains last evening, but he told me you were a little cryptic about exactly what."

"Yes, I suppose I was. This is something that, for now at least, needs to stay at the highest levels." She took a deep breath as she wondered just how crazy he would think her. "We met a people called the Sondim last night. They are the creatures in the legends the reverend tells."

Assista stared at her for a long time. "Are you saying the reverend is telling the truth? That his stories aren't some allegorical tale to frighten people to go to church?"

"Yes and no. While the legend contains a kernel of truth, the details are askew. They aren't human, and they feed on the dead left on the battlefield." She shrugged. "Their leader, Undykast, said they also will sometimes attack the living."

"This is a little fantastic, Angel." Assista chuckled. "If it were anyone else telling me this, I would have you tossed out of my tent and tell you to sleep it off."

"But it is me telling you this."

"Precisely." He frowned. "Why did this Undykast contact you?"

"The short version is that the Sondim live here on the plains and they want the wars to stop. We're fighting wars in their kitchen."

"Quite so!" He laughed. "That would upset me!" His eyes twinkled.

"Me as well."

"What does he expect you and I to do about this? We're just soldiers."

"I think he wants us to pass this along to the king."

"It's the Empire who made the choice to hold wars here, not Ilim. He can no more stop this than we can." His smile belied the seriousness of the situation.

She needed to impress Assista with the importance, but she didn't know how. "Undykast claims his people can kill everyone on the plains in a single night."

"Do you believe him?"

"Yes. Our weapons are of no use against them." She hesitated, gathering her thoughts. "He appeared to us almost like a human, but thin and gaunt. His eyes are yellow, and shaped like those of a cat. But the others with him traveled in a different form, looking like a swarm of red fireflies, and with a loud roaring sound in the air. It sounds strange, but as the swarm gets closer, the sound fades away."

"How long have we known each other, Angel?"

"About five years, maybe a little more."

"Quite so. In that time, I have never known you to be subject to hysterics or flights of fancy. That makes this even stranger." He paused. "Why were you and Undossa out on the plains after dark in the first place?"

"We were just out walking."

He smiled as he glanced between the two a few times. "I see." His gaze stopped on Undossa. "Did you see the same things as Angel?"

"Yes, I did. The only thing I can add is that I felt like Undykast was threatening us."

Assista smiled. "A thin man with the eyes of a cat who changes to a red firefly threatened you." He shook his head. "And yet you believe this is something that Ilim should know about."

She nodded her head. "Yes, I do."

"You'll forgive me if I don't dispatch riders with that message right away." He sighed. "I need to consider this before I trouble the king."

"I'm not sure how much time we have. I think Undossa is right, and the threat Undykast made was clear."

"All right." He smiled. "If this was anyone other than you, this conversation would have ended a long time ago."

* * * * *

Iskadar sat in his tent staring at the dispatch he'd written to King Lassast. He told about the encounter with Undykast and the Sondim, leaving out the part that he was with the Angel of Death when it happened. Otherwise, it was factual and to the point.

It also made him sound like a raving lunatic. He wondered if Chamirista talked to her commander yet. Maybe Assista thought she was as crazy as Lassast will think he is.

A soft knock came at his door. "Enter."

Lirtassa peeked inside. "Do you have a minute?"

He sighed. "Yes, come in."

She smiled brightly and came to sit on the edge of the table beside his papers. Her legs always did look much longer than they really were, and today is no exception. "I just wanted to see if I can convince to come home early tonight."

She leaned and tried to kiss him, but he turned his face away from her. Her lips brushed his cheek. "I have a lot to do. I'm sorry."

"Iskadar, what's wrong?"

When he looked up at her face, a single tear snaked its way down her cheek. "Nothing. I'm just very busy."

"It's more than that, and you know it as well as I do." She wiped at the tear. "Probably better than I do."

He felt a little guilty for keeping things from her. He didn't love her, not on any level, but she had been a good companion for three years. She was just a child, and maybe she really did care about him in some way. Lirtassa didn't deserve to be hurt. "It's nothing I can talk about right now. Maybe in a few days." At least that wasn't a lie.

She stared at him while two more tears escaped to run down her face, one from each eye. "There's someone else, isn't there?"

"What if there is? No matter how you slice things, you're my whore. Nothing more." He hated himself instantly and wanted the words back.

The tears ran freely now, and her little body shook as she sobbed. "I want to be more for you."

He didn't know what else to say to her. "Lirtassa, I'm sorry. That was hurtful. I promise we'll talk in a few days."

She nodded and stood up. She stopped at the door and turned to face him. "It didn't escape my notice that you didn't deny that there's someone else." She left him alone in his tent with the dispatch.

He stared at the closed door for several minutes before putting his seal on the dispatch and calling the guard to send it on its way to Lassast.

* * * * *

He couldn't remember Angel ever showering two days in a row before. She sat beside him at the table as he ate dinner and she picked at a slice of bread. Her hair was still wet and she dressed nicely again.

The feminine clothes shocked Undossa a little. Used to seeing her in her battle clothing, it would take some getting used to. Despite the fact that her battle clothing hid little of her body and shape, he liked the more feminine look, too. He just liked seeing her, and he was honest enough with himself to admit it.

She chuckled a little. "You were right. Assista thinks we're crazy."

"I know I'm crazy about you."

"Undossa—"

He cut her off. "Sorry. It's the truth, but not one you want to hear right now."

"Don't let anyone tell you a woman doesn't like knowing a man is crazy about her." She smiled at him.

"I'll keep that in mind." He hesitated, and then decided to go for broke. "What would I need to do for you to stay here with me tonight?"

"That's something you don't want to hear right now. There's nothing you can do to make me stay here tonight."

Maybe he needed a different tack on this. "I'm not really thinking of myself, but of you and Iskamesh."

"Iskadar."

"Right. You'll both lose your jobs if someone catches you. For you, there'll be other wars to make some gold, but he's in the service of the king. That will ruin his career."

She smiled. "Nice try."

"You can't blame a guy for trying."

"And I don't blame you." She glanced at the horizon where the sun slipped slowly into the landscape. "I should go."

"Can I walk you? At least part of the way?"

"No, but thank you." She stared at him for several moments. "You are such a special man." She leaned and took his cheeks in her hands. "Never change." She kissed his forehead and walked away.




Chapter 8
Conflict

As he walked across the plain towards their small campsite, Iskadar thought about the tangled web he had woven the past three days. He didn't tell that many direct lies, but he concealed the truth at nearly every turn with almost everyone he spoke to. He didn't like the half-truths or camouflaged meanings at all.

But when he thought about Chamirista, all the concerns faded in importance. Being with her, holding her in his arms, made all the lies and the risks worthwhile.

When he stepped around a clump of boulders, he saw her crouching in front of the tent. A thin trail of smoke floated up from the fire she worked with. He whistled, and she looked around. Chamirista stood and looked in his direction. Even from fifteen rods away, he saw her smile. She trotted towards him.

They met about halfway, and she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him hard. The scent of soap and jasmine filled his head. He didn't know if she wore jasmine perfume or if she just smelled like the flower from the distant western countries.

Her kiss thrilled his mouth as her unique taste filled him. Sweet and fresh, with a hint of the jasmine in the savory mix, her kisses made his mind fog with desire and distraction.

She pulled her lips from his and stared up into his eyes. "I'm so happy to see you." Her smile threatened to meet at the back of her head.

Her lips looked redder than normal this evening, and he wondered if it was just the light of the setting sun or if she painted her face tonight. Her cheeks looked rosier, too. The remarkable sea-green eyes pinned his soul like a collector pins a bug to a board. He knew the differences in her appearance had nothing to do with anything she did differently.

He saw her through different eyes tonight.

He kissed her forehead softly. "I've missed you today."

"How are you tonight?"

"Why are we making small talk in the middle of the plains?"

"Because if I don't talk, I'm going to chew your clothes off."

He laughed. "Let's get to the fire and have dinner."

"All right."

They walked holding hands to the camp. She kept tickling the palm of his hand with her fingers.

* * * * *

After he warmed their dinner, they sat close to one another and leaned against a boulder as they ate.

Iskadar laughed. "You made me look like a fool on the battlefield today."

"No, your plan was a good one, but your captains and men botched it. They got too far ahead of the rest of the troops, and I took advantage of that."

He nodded. "Yes, you're right about that. I even warned them to be careful."

"You can only do so much from the command towers."

"Not nearly as much as you did on the ground." He chewed a bite of the roast beef. "Have you even considered entering the service of a king?"

"I make more gold working for all the kings."

"True, but you would be a great captain or commander."

"Maybe if the right king asked me, I would serve him forever."

He laughed. "We'll see about that. Other than trouncing my men, how was your day?"

Despite her decision to say nothing, her heart wanted to tell him. "I need to tell you something." She swallowed. "I kissed Undossa today." She managed not to say more.

He paused. "Was that part of your plan for talking to him?"

"No, not really. We talked, and I told him how I feel about him. I'm not sure what happened, but we kissed for a few minutes."

He stared into the gathering darkness for a moment. "Are you about to give me bad news?"

"No, I'm not. It was wrong for me to kiss him, and I know that. I hope you can forgive me that indiscretion, because I want to be with you."

"There's nothing to forgive, Chamirista. I believe what you're telling me, but I accept the apology nonetheless."

Her heart felt lighter. She feared his reaction, but she couldn't keep that from him. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." He leaned and kissed her cheek. "How did Undossa take your talk?"

"Why are we talking about Undossa and not us?"

He laughed. "All right."

"I am happy to see you tonight. I've thought about you all day."

"I know that feeling well."

To the east, a red glow appeared on the horizon and the buzzing roar of the Sondim came to her ears. She frowned. "Did you send word to Lassast about the Sondim?"

"Yes. He'll have the dispatch in the morning. Did you talk to Assista?"

"For all the good it did. He thinks Undossa and I were drunk when we saw it."

The swarm came closer. "I imagine Lassast will think the same of me."

The swarm dropped to the ground about fifty rods away, and the noise stopped. She stared into the darkness, and soon the outline of Undykast walked towards them. Beside him she saw another figure.

As the pair neared, Chamirista made out the figure with Undykast was a female. Like him, she wore no clothing and was very skinny.

Undykast smiled, showing his pointy teeth. "Hello, my friends."

Iskadar held his right hand up in greeting. "Good evening, Undykast."

He indicated the woman with him. "This is my mate Frichirrasda. I fear she doesn't speak your language."

Chamirista stood. "Welcome, Frichirrasda. May we offer you food or drink?"

Undykast gave his buzzing laugh. "No, thank you. I saw you here, and I wanted to ask about your task."

"I spoke to my commander, and he is weighing contacting King Ilim. Iskadar sent word to King Lassast as well." She shrugged. "We don't hold much hope for any change, especially not this quickly. When this war is over in two days, I'll be able to speak to King Ilim myself."

Undykast looked at his mate and buzzed for several moments. She nodded.

He turned back to face them. "I understand change will take a little time."

"We appreciate your understanding." Iskadar smiled. "We're trying."

"That is all I ask of you." Frichirrasda made a buzzing sound, and he watched her for a time. "My mate asks a personal question. You need not answer. She asks if you are mates."

She didn't need to even think about her answer. "Yes, we are."

Iskadar slipped his arm around her shoulder. "She's right."

Undykast frowned. "What of the man Undossa?"

She swallowed. "He's my friend and comrade. Nothing more than that."

"I see." He buzzed at his mate for a moment. "Do you have—" He paused, his face wrinkled in thought. "I believe your word for younglings is children."

"No, we don't. Do you and Frichirrasda have younglings?" She pronounced the name carefully.

"Yes, we have four children." He nodded towards where the swarm of lights had settled. "They are with the others now, and they are a great joy to us."

Iskadar laughed. "I'd think four children would be a handful."

Undykast laughed and buzzed to the woman beside him. She laughed as well. "Yes, they can be difficult at times."

Chamirista smiled. "It seems that humans and Sondim are not that different."

"I think we are not very different, at least where it matters." He paused. "We must go soon."

Iskadar hesitated. "You said for us to meet you here at sundown, but Chamirista and I will meet here again tomorrow. I don't want you to waste your time if there's no news."

"Perhaps we need another signal." He thought for a moment. "If you have news, tie a red flag to your tent. If I see the flag, I will come to speak to you. If not, I will not disturb you."

* * * * *

Iskadar wondered what she thought as they sat in silence after Undykast and Frichirrasda left them. He watched her face as she stared at the receding red firefly lights.

She sighed. "Despite their threats, I like these people."

"They're just protecting their home and country, the same as any people will do when forced."

"Yes." She stared into the darkness. "Are we really mates?"

"I'm not sure what other word to use."

"You've become very important to me in the last few days." She paused for a long time, watching something in the night he couldn't see. "I never asked before, and I'm almost afraid to ask now. While you've said you're not married or betrothed, you surely have at least one woman waiting for you to return home."

"I won't deny several women at court are anxious for my return, but they're just hangers-on." He thought of Lirtassa. "My whore has other ideas, though."

She nodded. "She's here with you, isn't she?"

"Yes, she is."

"Are you sleeping with both of us?"

"No. I haven't been with her since the night before the war started."

Her face looked oddly stiff, almost like chiseled from stone. "Is that because you've been too tired?"

"No. I don't want to be with anyone except you."

In the flickering light of the campfire, he saw a small smile flit across her lips. "Really?"

"Yes."

When she turned to face him, she smiled fully. "You never actually answered me when I asked if we're really mates."

He realized he hadn't answered her. "Yes, I think we are."

As she stared at him, his heart sped up in his chest. Her eyes blazed with green fire as they tracked slowly over his face.

Despite his admission they were now mates, he knew the problems their relationship created. Beyond the simple fact they were enemies, there were more. The social gap between mercenary, no matter how well respected, and a king's commander was huge. People would never accept her in court. Opposition from the nobles would hurt his chances to take the throne.

Some of the so-called ladies of the court were both powerful and desperate. In their zeal to attach themselves to the man who would be king, they would hire assassins to kill Chamirista. The assassins would find that easier said than done, though. His own experience proved it was much easier to plan to kill her than to actually carry it out.

Maybe it would be best to end this now, before things got out of hand and they both say or do things they would regret.

He glanced down to form his words, looking away from the burning eyes. When he looked up again, the flames from her eyes grabbed him.

As he stared at her, all thoughts of problems and complications faded away. All he could see was her. She was all he could hear, touch, and taste. The slight breeze pushed her sweet scent into his nose.

Standing with her filling his senses, Iskadar knew nothing else held any importance for him. Only Chamirista mattered.