The rope seemed suddenly very thin as I crouched right on the edge there with merlons jutting up on either side, Sergeant Zander at my back and nothing ahead, absolutely nothing below me but the fall. It gripped as tight as a net, though, everywhere. And I trusted the sergeant’s knots as much as I trusted the man himself, implicitly, unquestioning.
I swiveled around in that narrow space to face him, but still didn’t quite dare to look him in the face. It was his hands I watched, those strong reliable hands paying out the rope as I reached one leg over the edge and then the other, as I took my weight on my elbows while my toes groped for a ledge to stand on.
And found one, because he was right, there were plenty of holds. The outer wall of any fortress is about strength, not smoothness. All this stone had been rough-cut and roughly laid; I could reach and stretch and grasp with confidence. Much of that confidence might be a gift from the sergeant, from his knotwork and his arms, his air of utter competence, but more came welling up from within. Apparently the answer to his first question was yes: I could climb.
Apparently I liked to. Something in me relished the challenge of it, even bare-assed to the mountain wind. I clung like a fly to that wall, while Sergeant Zander leaned out above me and called directions, “Your left leg, down and across, a little farther--yes, there, that should hold you. Your arm now, on the left again, that knob of stone you just barked your knee on, you can hold to that...”
He called less and less, though, and gave me more and more slack on the rope as I climbed down farther. It was confidence again, but the other way around; watching, he grew confident in me. The wall offered grip in all directions, and the kitten’s wails were all the guidance that I needed.
Little by little, I drew close to her. When she thought I was close enough, I didn’t even need to reach. She leaped, and twenty needle-sharp claws dug into my thigh. Then up over my ribs to my shoulder, eventually my scalp. She spread herself through my hair and clung tight, like some exquisite torture cap. Then she yelled again, like a command.
Obediently, I began to climb.
Sergeant Zander’s voice came down to me in a righteous bellow, “Don’t be a fool, boy, take her to the window there and let yourself in. The shutter’s open,” but I ignored him. Ignored his orders, at least. I couldn’t ignore the man himself; he filled my mind and soon my sight as well, a shadow overhead, winding the slack of the rope around his arm as I ascended.
At last I reached the embrasure. His fierce grip caught my shoulder and hoisted me through, back onto solid stone again. The traitor kitten abandoned me in a moment, jumping onto a merlon and calling imperiously until her mistress scooped her up. I barely noticed, though. My legs had a sudden tremble in them, as if the climb--or the drop--had taken more out of me than I’d realized.
Sergeant Zander had both hands on my body now, and just as well. Perhaps he’d meant to give me a lessoning shake, to teach me obedience; but I was shaking enough on my own account. He was all that held me upright.
“I told you to go to the window, little fool.”
“Yes, Master,” and then I’d have been alone in the shadows there, and the girl would have come for her kitten but you might not have come for me. I’d have had to unpick all these knots on my own; and see, there’s no strength left in my fingers. It would have taken me half the day and never felt as good as this, just leaning into you...
He didn’t hold me long; he wouldn’t indulge a slave that much. As soon as I was sure of my balance--or he was sure of it, rather--he made me hold on to the merlon rather than him, while he started to untie his knots. Which meant his hands went everywhere on my body, everywhere that mattered. Maybe I was imagining things, maybe I was only hopeful, but I thought they lingered, those hands of his. I thought they might have been brisker and more efficient, only they didn’t choose to be; they chose to take their time and stray a little. His palm slid flat across my shoulder blade; his thumb traced the line of my collarbone; his fingers seemed to cup my balls just for a moment as he tugged the rope out from my butt cleft.
It was all deft and delicate, a touch here and a touch there, while he made a big visible point of coiling up the rope. I don’t suppose young Callie noticed anything. Mistress Callie
I should have been calling her, of course, even in the privacy of my head. It’s too easy to let your tongue slip when your mind’s distracted--or when your body is, when a man is casually, delightfully playing with it--and a boy needs to be careful above all.
At least she didn’t talk to me; she didn’t give me the chance to be careless. When she’d done snuggling her rescued kitten, she did remember her manners. “Sergeant Zander?”
He turned instantly, forgetting quite about me--until he realized that I hadn’t remembered my own manners. Wise boys don’t loom over free young women. A snap of his fingers reminded me; I dropped obediently to my knees at his side, just handy for his hard hand to clip the back of my skull, a more stinging reminder.
She thanked him very prettily, and then didn’t seem to know what to do about me. I was only a tool that he had used in her service--but I was a living tool, and deserved some acknowledgment. If I were a dog, she’d have tugged my ears and called me a good boy; if I were a horse, she’d have slapped my neck and given me a carrot.
I was just a slave; she patted my cheek meaninglessly and turned away, crooning to her little cat again where it had snuggled in under her chin.
Sergeant Zander’s hand was on the back of my neck. Had it stayed there, after the slap? I wasn’t sure: only that it seemed to belong there, warm and firm and controlling. I leaned back into the pressure of it, just a touch: just enough for him to notice, because what was the point, else?
He laughed softly, gripped more tightly, gave me a little shake. “All right, lad. You did well. Next time, do what you’re told; we don’t like disobedience in High Hold, and that whipping post’s not for decoration. You, on the other hand”--his fingers hooking through my collar and tugging me to my feet--“you really are quite decorative, aren’t you?”
With no one watching now, his hands were rougher on my body and much more explicit. With no one watching, I had no reason to hide my own excitement--which was just as well, because there’s not much you can do when your cock is jutting out like a tree branch. His was at least decently contained within his trousers, though I could see the stiff bulge of it in outline.
Soon I could see a great deal more of it, as he pulled me through an archway into an empty chamber, kicked the door shut behind us and pressed me down onto my knees again.
In these shadows, in this privacy, I had no doubt what he wanted. It was in his breath, hard and rasping; in his hands, urgent suddenly, losing all their subtlety; in his cock above all, just a hand span from my face now, trapped in leather and all too obviously straining to be free.
My fingers were swift to loosen his laces, to let the great thick shaft spring out; my lips spread wide to engulf the head, to feel its blunt thrusting hurry in my mouth. I’d learned a lot in Amaranth, but Sergeant Zander gave me no time to indulge myself or him with tricks of teeth or tongue. His hands locked my head just where he wanted it; he ignored my own hands, where I was clutching impertinently at his trousers; his hips pumped quickly, and he came in a sharp hot spurt into my throat.
Then he did let me work my tongue a little, to lick him clean. So I had the taste of his cum and the taste of his skin in my mouth to take away with me, like two different flavors of a man, when he dropped the coiled rope around my neck again and said, “Run that back to the stable yard, and beg Master Colson for some work. Your chain-brothers will be hard at it by now, so you’ve some catching up to do.”
“Yes, Master.” I thought I’d been hard at it myself; he obviously thought I’d had an hour’s gift, a playtime.
He drew me to my feet, and then saw the little hesitation in me. “Can you find your own way back? This place is a warren, when you’re not used to it.”
I bit my lip, and nodded reluctantly. It wasn’t that which troubled me. Deep inside, an impossible question burned: will I see you again?
I couldn’t ask; it was unimaginable. And undetectable, apparently. Sometimes you just want a man to read your mind, and he just won’t. Sergeant Zander nodded a swift dismissal, slapped my butt to get me started, turned away.
* * *
Maybe I’m just an idiot slave boy who can’t pay attention, doesn’t watch his feet. Maybe I had got myself all turned around by the maze of passages, turrets and stairs, all the many levels of High Hold.
Maybe I was dizzy with a sudden desire, that little lethal bit too slow to say, No, Master, I can’t find my way alone, please show me
? Maybe I realized too late, and was too busy kicking myself to keep an eye on where my trotting feet might take me.
That’s what I thought, at least, when I realized--or when I finally admitted--that I was lost.
I really didn’t know how it had happened. I was scudding along the walkway with the rope’s weight around my neck, cool breeze on my skin, Sergeant Zander in my head and the tastes of him lingering in my mouth--and then suddenly it was like I walked in mist or smoke, in a dream world.
I really did think that I was dreaming. Maybe I’d dreamed it all, the slave pens in Amaranth and the wagon and High Hold? That almost seemed to make better sense. How else could I find myself here, naked and branded and wandering in a fog of bewilderment...?
Stairs and corridors, stone and wood, sudden views and sudden shadows: I went this way and that without ever making a choice, without ever really understanding what I did. It was like I wasn’t in control of my own body, even. People came and went around me, or at least were there and then not there. Some seemed to be speaking, perhaps to me, but I could make no sense of what they said.
So, yes: dreaming, then. I didn’t try to fight it. Who knew what world I might wake into? It might be worse than this. It might easily be worse than--
And then I woke. Or found myself back in my body, rather, shivering and sweating both at once, and staggering so that I had to lean against a wall just to hold me up.
“You, boy. What are you doing here?”