/ /Author’s Note: This story, Terrible Company, is sprawling sword-and-sorcery fantasy satire with a diverse cast of characters. Over its many chapters, those characters will have interactions (both with each other and others) that cross many of the lines that exist between Lit genres. I have come to believe that breaking the story into those different categories, as best I can, is the best way to expose the most readers to parts of the story they might dig, and that they might then be encouraged to read on.
Each chapter is written as a self-contained episode, and although there are running gags that continue through the series that enrich the experience, they shouldn’t prevent one from starting anywhere in the series (including the final chapter) and enjoying it for what it is.
This chapter features:
Val, the female Orc Warrior/Fighter
Katsa, the female Human Arcanist
Mathilda, the female Dwarf Healer
Ayen, the male Half Elf Thief
Ivy, the female Human Bard
Ayen groaned as he peered around. The wall in front of him was sliding very quickly. And bouncing. He could see how a wall might slide, if there was some sort of secret passage that was in the process of revealing itself, but the bouncing seemed a bit much. His head hurt, and it wasn’t until he smelled the horse that he realized he was on a horse at all.
All his muscles ached and groaned as he tried to move, including his wrists and ankles although he was pretty sure those were joints and not muscles. He could hear conversations going on around him though the words were indistinct. Val and Mathilda and Katsa and another man. Lots of words. Words layered on top of words. The more he tried to make sense of it the more he realized it was two separate conversations happening simultaneously, and he could not figure out who was talking to whom or what about.
He was upside down. Or at least, halfway upside down. His wrists and ankles were bound, and he was strapped over the back of a horse. He tried moving around but every bit of struggle in his arms just tugged at his legs, implying they were bound together.
The conversation around him slowed to a stop and Ayen groaned louder.
“Oh good,” came a voice that set his teeth on edge. “You haven’t damaged him.” Fear put strength into his sluggish limbs, but the bindings were too tight to get free.
“A’course ‘e ain’t damaged,” Mathilda snarled. “Jus’ta bit sleepy is all on account’a wot we gave ‘im.”
“It should wear off completely in the next three hours,” Katsa said, though she sounded distracted.
“That’s wonderful news,” said the woman in husky tones. Eloquent in a way that Ayen would have been quite happy to never hear again in his life. The smokey, luxuriant cadence of a woman Ayen would have been happy to never see again in his life. “It’s almost a shame to wake him. He looks so peaceful.”
“Yeah,” Mathilda said slowly, ” well if ‘at’s all there is to i’, Ah think we’ll jus’ be on our way then.”
“Of course,” said the male voice, a man Ayen recognized as having followed him to Hayeston not so very long before. “If you’ll all just follow me this way, we’ll arrange for a suitable reward for his majesty’s safe return.”
“No no,” Mathilda said, backing away. ” ‘at won’t be necessary.”
“What?” the Arcanist squeaked.
“waaaaaaaay…” Ayen croaked. He couldn’t quite form the ‘t’ sound. “waaaaaay…”
“C’mon,” Mathilda said, pushing Katsa and Ivy. Ayen just managed to turn his head and look past his own arms as the rest of his friends walked away. It was tough to tell, strung upside down like he was, but it looked like the Bard was crying.
“What about the—”
“Keep the ‘orse,” Mathilda called, as they passed through the gates.
“Well don’t just stand there,” the deep woman’s voice said. “He’s your king. Cut him down.”
Two pairs of hands reached below him, carefully pulling the ropes away from the underside of the brown mare and taking knife to them. As soon as they were cut through, the guards grasped him by the shoulders. Ayen’s world spun as he slid over the top of the horse, and his feet swung weakly below him.
“Welcome home, my Lord.”
Queen Lisbeth stared up at him while a mixture of expressions, which Ayen had neither the capacity nor desire to parse, passed through her delicate Elven features. The Half-Elf recoiled, head retreating behind his shoulders, as she took another step closer. Her thin frame belied a strength and speed that exceeded his own, but that wasn’t what made her dangerous.
She reached up, fingers bent softly, to cup his cheek. Ayen tried to wiggle free, but his pathetic twisting did not dent the grip of the burly men to either side of him. The fact of his near-incapacitation did not halt his tuzla escort tired fight, which further served to draw the queen’s smile just that much wider.
“My Queen,” Ayen slurred, and though his body was sluggish his mind raced.
“Bring him,” she lilted. The guards said nothing as they dragged him out of the courtyard and into the castle.
The Queen was a radiant young woman of pure Elvish ancestry, and blessed with a face that seemed to have only yesterday entered into full adulthood. Her girlish figure and subtle curves could fool the casual observer, though her propensity for elaborate, staged events generally ruled out the possibility of a ‘casual observer’. It wasn’t until one looked her in the eye, and she looked back, that her two centuries of age were apparent.
Ayen tried repeatedly to get his feet under him, without success, as he was hauled down hallway after hallway. Dread built quickly in his chest when he started guessing where he was being taken. Up the main stairs and to the right, but not straight through into the north wing. Up two more flights of stairs. The deeper they went into the castle the more lavish the accoutrements. Opulence was a holdover aesthetic from Ayen’s father’s time on the throne, and Ayen noted no less than a dozen places where the overall effect had even been muted in his absence. His mother’s tastes were different, but no less eye-popping.
“In there,” Queen Lisbeth said, gesturing, as she continued on in a different direction. Ayen’s heart sank.
The Queen’s receiving room was the largest of the rooms in her personal chambers. Its decor had changed very little in the decades he’d been gone. His legs did little more than wiggle beneath him as he fought.
“Bind him tightly,” came her voice, from one of the neighboring rooms.
The two guards set him down in a chair and pulled his arms behind the back of it. He winced and grunted as his wrists were tied, to each other and the chair. The two men, of a size and height not dissimilar to Val, made short work of him and stepped aside.
“We can’t have him getting away again, now can we?”
Ayen looked over, noting that her voice was no longer coming through in echoes, and immediately regretted it. The first thing he noticed were her legs.
Queen Lisbeth had shed her outer layers. The lace undergarments she wore now were well-tailored and fit her to perfection, and Ayen was fairly sure she’d been wearing them underneath the whole time; it would have been just like her to flaunt her depravity under the noses of others. A pair of heeled slippers put a dangerous curve in her calves, and the measured steps she took across the marble floor gave the impression of a large cat stalking. Embarrassment had him turning his head, and he was shocked to see the same two members of the royal guards standing at either side of the main door. They were eyeing her openly.
“Try not to think about them,” Lisbeth purred.
“Buthey…” Ayen swallowed and wrestled his tongue under control. “But… they…”
She startled him by tucking her finger under his chin and drawing his head toward her. She had to bend forward to be at eye level with him, and Ayen swallowed hard at the display of flesh. The Queen was not a curvy woman by any means, but still managed to accentuate what she had with an absolute minimum of fabric.
“Things have changed while you’ve been gone, my Lord.”
She slid into his lap with fluid grace, and Ayen whined in dismay. No amount of rearing back put any actual distance between them. His eyes darted back at forth between staring at her and looking over her shoulders. The guards smirked, at each other and at him.
“Oh come now,” she said, wiggling her hips suggestively if perhaps a hair short of grinding against him. “I’ve come to understand you have a fondness for fucking in front of an audience.”
Ayen’s jaw fell.
“Yes, I know all about them.” She leaned in closer, settling both elbows on his shoulders. Her head weaved slowly, like a serpent. “All of them. I know all about your escapades. It’s been quite a bit of work making sure you didn’t leave any heirs in your wake.” Her perfect Elvish accent hadn’t shifted or softened, which made the unspoken suggestion so much more terrifying. “All those girls… and boys… In a way I almost envy you. I didn’t have the freedom to experiment before I was married off to your father.”
She sat up straight, curling her shoulders to push her firm, youthful breasts together and upward. The padded corset certainly helped.
“For decades, I did as I was told. Remained faithful while your father .” She leaned in close, angling to the side so that her left cheek brushed his. “Until you. You who were so like him. My eyes had never wandered until you came into your maturity.” She smiled as she bit her lip, bringing her voice down to a whisper. “All tuzla escort bayan of his best qualities, and yet, so like my own father that I couldn’t help but be drawn to you.”
Her arms came down, hands pressed against him. Mapping the curves of his chest.
“I know why you ran. I don’t blame you, but your return was inevitable. This,” she said, pressing her hands ever-so-slightly more firmly, “was inevitable, and I have dreamed of it every night.” The further down her hands slid, the wider her smile grew. “I have dreamed of having you back, my beautiful baby b—”
Lisbeth sat back with a smirk.
“I thought for sure that the naughty mommy routine would work,” she said, brushing her hand against his groin. His very soft, un-erect groin. “No reaction at all?”
“Mm-must be the drugs,” Ayen slurred, managing to raise one corner of his lips.
“If you had any idea what it was they’d given you,” she crooned, “I’m sure we could arrange to shorten the effectiveness.”
“Mmm…” Ayen licked his lips and blinked. “M-m-might be best to l-let it run its course.”
The Queen ran her tongue along the tips of her teeth, wet pink across pristine white pearls. Ayen could feel her weighing him. Judging him. Sorting him out.
“Let’s try a different approach. Ariessa?”
She slid from his lap with a smile that did nothing to ease the knot of tension in his middle, and swayed across the room. Rolling her hips and staring over her shoulder at him. Ayen thought it was a bad sign when the guards were already moving without needing to be ordered.
A door beside him creaked open briefly to admit one of her Majesty’s handmaidens. Ayen didn’t recognize her, but the house colors were impossible to mistake. Her eyes were downcast, and the blush in her cheeks was the only outward expression of any kind. She reminded him of a hundred different women he’d pursued during his decades of flight, with a lovely heart-shaped face, and he did not think that was a coincidence.
His throat tightened shut when he looked away from the girl to see that the guards had brought one of the new(er) tables away from the far wall and placed it in the middle of the room. The Queen gave him a smoldering look as she stood next to it. It was tall, coming up to just below her waist, but not as wide across as he would have expected of royal furniture. Its size was more suited to a cozy inn, where space was at a premium, than the personal chambers of a reigning Queen.
When she bent forward over it, running her tongue across her lips, Ayen understood its purpose a bit better. One guard moved behind her, loosening his belt with a sneer, while the other moved around in front of her. She wiggled her hips, issuing a soft coo when the guard behind her pushed her satin panties to the side and ran his fingers unceremoniously between the tops of her thighs. Ayen was so transfixed with morbid fascination that he almost didn’t notice the girl settling on her knees between his legs.
“Thank you for this gift, my Lord,” she whispered. Ayen tried to shift away from her but the chair was too heavy to do more than bounce a little, and she had his pants parted and his cock in hand within seconds. She made soft whimpers as her tongue ran circles around his head.
“Stooop,” Ayen groaned. “Stop!”
“We can gag you if we have to,” the Queen said, pausing for a moment to catch her breath after the guard behind her impaled her. She ran her hands along the edge of the table, testing to find the best placement for grip, as the second guard finally settled in front of her. “I’m going to enjoy breaking you, my boy. My beautiful baby boy.”
Ayen clenched his teeth, fighting against the implacable stimulation of the handmaiden’s tongue and denying that he was in any way enjoying himself with any fiber of his being.
Mathilda groaned as she sat up. Her mouth was an arid wasteland, and the swallowing and pressing of her tongue into her gums did nothing to alleviate the unpleasantness. She grunted, staring warily at the trees that passed them on either side, but there was an infirm pattern to their path that made her dizzy.
“Wa’er,” she croaked, pressing a hand to her forehead. “Wa’er”
Ivy appeared next to her, happily bouncing across the cart to grab one from the top of a pile of waterskins. She smiled and waited patiently as Mathilda drained it in a matter of seconds.
“Better?” she asked brightly.
Mathilda merely rubbed at her eyes. “Where are we?”
“We’re about two day’s ride outside of the capital.”
“Two days!?” Mathilda shouted incredulously. “Ah’ve been asleep fer two days?!”
“Oh no,” Ivy said reassuringly. “You’ve been unconscious for three.”
Mathilda sat up more fully, and her vision spun in protest. She had to press a hand over her eyes to slow the churning in her middle that was threatening escort tuzla to turn upward. “More,” she groaned, handing Ivy back the empty skin. It took more pauses to finish drinking down the second skin than the first, but still not very many. “Wha’appened?”
“I can’t listen to this,” Katsa said.
Mathilda lifted her head blearily just in time to see the Arcanist kick her horse into a light trot and ride ahead. When she turned back the other way, she saw Val at reins of their cart, driving. Ivy settled in next to her with a bright smile.
“We drew straws on who would fill you in,” she said, “and I won! What’s the last thing you remember?”
Mathilda squinted and frowned, driving her thumb into the pressure point in her temple to alleviate some of the tension. “Ah remember… leavin’ the castle, an… an tha’ ‘eadache.”
Ivy scratched her chin for a moment, and then her face lit up.
“This is perfect!” Katsa exclaimed. “Just perfect!”
Val set the unconscious Dwarf on the nearest bed in their shared room, and shook her head. “We’ve all been eating and drinking the same things. I don’t think she could be sick.”
Ivy scratched her chin in thought as she peered closely at Mathilda. “Do you think it’s a sign?”
“Oh definitely,” Katsa agreed enthusiastically. “Let’s consider the cosmos reaching out to us because there’s no way that’s not a waste of our time.”
“She might have a point.” The Warrior leaned against the wall, and the boards groaned under her considerable weight. “I mean, Tilly’s the one that’s always going on about how we’re a group now and we’re all supposed to stay together.”
“But it was her idea to turn him in,” the blonde replied, “and to skip out on the reward.”
“Yeah, better not leave that last part out.”
“Well we’re low on funds right now!”
“Actually,” Ivy said, still looking at the sleeping Dwarf, “we’re doing okay.”
“Great!” Katsa said brightly. “That was really helpful!”
Ivy smiled proudly. Being useful gave her a warm feeling deep down inside.
“Let’s assume for a second that this is her God doing this.” Val folded her arms tightly. “I mean, he’s been giving us hints not to separate for a while now.”
“Isn’t it weird that her God has a gender?” Ivy mused. “I mean, shouldn’t they be above male and female?”
“Maybe you could invent some pronouns and articles for Gods,” Katsa said, smiling brightly. “Like right now!”
“I’m on it,” Ivy said, nodding. She moved to sit on the bed beside Mathilda and absently fondled herself. The Maestro had lectured her often on the connection between the body and mind, and how stimulating one often led to stimulating the other.
“The branch,” the big Orc said, counting on her fingers. “The fire. The troll. The… the peacock.” Both of them looked at Mathilda momentarily and shivered. “We’re supposed to stay together.”
“Derr,” Ivy said, and then immediately shook her head.
“But it was her idea to turn him in!”
“Yeah, but what if she had other motives?”
“Duh,” the Bard said. “No, that means you.”
“And it’s pronounced ‘Doo’,” Val said.
Katsa sighed and clasped her hands together. “She hated him. She’s always hated him. She’s wanted him gone from day one.”
“And then, on the way here,” Val said, squinting in thought, “Tilly kept insisting she was fine even though she was clearly suffering. She was trying to hide that she was in pain… like she knew why it was happening to her and was… in denial?”
“Ugh!” The Arcanist scuffed one of her boots against a floorboard and shook her head. “What does this mean? Are we going to go into comas too? Is she going to…”
“Die,” Ivy said, looking up thoughtfully.
“We get it,” Val said tiredly. “You speak German.” She turned back to Katsa and furrowed her brow. “This is your fault, you know.”
“How was I supposed to know she knew another language?”
“Not…” Val shook her head, and pointed at the comatose Dwarf on the bed. “You went right along with her on sending Ayen back to that freakshow.”
“You got a creepy vibe from her too?”
“Yes,” the big Orc said. “Very creepy. The kind of creepy that looks you right in the eye and dares you to look away. Also, that was a very nice deflection.”
“Shut up,” Katsa said, glowering. “It wasn’t my idea to turn him in.”
“No, you just went along with it and provided the sedative.”
“What do you want? An apology?”
“Derr,” Ivy said, and then muttered, “No, I already said that.”
“Fine! I’m sorry! I should have known better!”
“And now that we’ve acknowledged that,” Val said haughtily, “we can move on to fixing this.”
“What is there to fix? I don’t know how to heal her.”
“We have to get Ayen back and hope that’s what caused this.”
Both of them were quiet for a moment.
“It’s gonna be hard breaking in there with just the two of us,” Katsa muttered.
“Why would Val not come?” Ivy said, re-joining the conversation. “I would think we’d need her.”