Forbidden Words

Forbidden Words


Ann Marie Olson

Story 2000 Ann Marie Olson


      "This is the third time in as many months you've come up short, Master Sergeant renSime Dorityan." the young lord tapped her stylus against the wax tablet. "One more and I'm going to have to put you on report."
      "I can pay for it." he narrowed his eyes at her, momentarily forgetting he wasn't supposed to be speaking like a lord. Fortunately she either didn't notice or care and Dorityan simply kicked himself for his lapse. "Meanin' m'lord if there be some kinda problem, I can but not fix it." he exaggerated the speech patterns of a renSime. Dorityan hated the way it sounded, but knew if even once, someone who mattered caught his slip, he would be dead within hours.
      Sharm Lord Avilan's tremendous gift of well over five year's base selyn use when he was a young and brash private had quietly multiplied under Dorityan's watchful eye for over thirty years. Now, if only Dorityan weren't a renSime it would be a small fortune. As it was, the only thing he ever got out of all that selyn was a large quantity of highly dangerous bad habits.
      "I'll take him." lord Triana's whining soprano bit at his ears.
      This is not what I want. he leaned against the desk. "But, m'lord. Iffn' its no differ'nt to ye, ye'r busy." Dorityan chose his words carefully.
      "No, Triana. I think Dorityan should at least suffer some consequence for his wrongdoing." lord Ilyra tapped the stylus again. It was almost as annoying a habit as some people had of chewing on their tentacles, almost. "I'll give him to lord Galina."
      "No, no. Don't be doin' nothing like that." Dorityan put as much fear and shock into his nager as he could. "I don't want to be messin' with her."
      Lord Ilyra chuckled darkly. "Perfect. Through the door on your right, Master Seargent Dorityan."
      Lord Triana's eyes narrowed and Dorityan didn't have to fake the fear he felt under her gaze. "At your will, my lord." he bowed from the waist.
      "Of course." lord Triana said, not even bothering to complete the formula. "Next time, renSime Dorityan, don't even both to show up if you're going to be early."
      "No, no, of course not." his voice shook. "At your will, my lords." he scurried off to the indicated door before he could get into any more trouble.
      Smoothing the wrinkles out of her long skirts, lord Galina stood. It had been a very long day. With lord Triana watching the desk, all she had gotten was the losers and failures of Sergei. Admittedly, she wasn't a very good lord, but renSime after renSime had come through the door scowling and angry. Stretching, she let her abused tentacles reach for the tiled ceiling.
      One of the light panels in the corner was dimmed. Hopefully Ilyra will be in here tomorrow. Galina thought, knowing nothing she could say would get it replaced. At least the renSimes left in a better mood than they arrived. She straightened out one edge of the cream blanket which had come out from under the cushion on the lounge in the corner.
      Consulting her time sense, Galina realized it was almost time to quit for the day. Only emergency staff ever stayed past official dusk and it was already quarter to six. Close enough. she sat back down at her desk and slid a book out from its hiding place beneath the pencil drawer.
      Laboriously picking her way through the High Simelan, Galina soon found herself nodding agreement with the author. Indeed, what would it be like for everyone to be able to follow their dreams? What would it be like for people to be free, everyone, not just a handful of highly lucky people who were born with the right genes? Galina slipped one of her dorsals between the pages and leaned back in her chair.
      In her imagination, Galina saw herself holding hands with her lover, walking alongside the Moskva river. The breeze was cool and tinged with the first frost of the year. They laughed together as their son chased the ducks into the water, throwing handfuls of stale bread at the birds. There were other couples out in the slanting, golden rays of the sun. They were of all kinds. Lord or ordinary, beautiful or not, only the looks of love on their faces for their partners were the same.
      With a sigh, Galina ran her fingers through her coarse black hair and opened her eyes.
      "Iffn you read too mucha that there trash, ye'll rot yer brains." Dorityan's grin almost made his eyes disappear into the dark creases of his face. Galina gasped in horrified shock and slammed the book on her dorsal.
      "Ow!" she opened it again and gingery retracted the digit. It was already throbbing with pain.
      "I'm sorry." Dorityan came around the desk and gently kissed it. "I didn't mean to scare you." his deep brown eyes held true remorse.
      "I'll be all right." she turned her face away shyly. Quite well she knew, hers was a face which held little fascination for men of any variety. His touch on her tentacle though was more than a bit distracting. She pulled it away. Nervously, she plucked at the heavy grey wool of her skirt. It was pilling and worn in places. She covered one of the tiny tears in the fabric with a fold, exposing two more. "What are you doing here again, so soon." Galina had not meant to count the days since the last time she had zlinned the fascinating renSime, but still knew it had only been twenty four days.
      "I came up short again." he sat on the edge of the desk, looking down at her. The white bands on his forearms from where his bracers protected them from the sun were stark in contrast with the deep tan of his upper arms.
      Reminded of her duty, Galina held out her hands to him.
      "I think I would rather some place more comfortable, if you don't mind." it almost seemed as if he let one eye droop into a wink. Galina truly had no idea what he wanted of her. When they had first met, Dorityan seemed like any other renSime; coarse, abrasive, pig ignorant and about as smart as a tree stump.
      That had been over three years ago and the only thing he had relented on was his abuse of Russian. "How many other people know you can speak like a lord?"
      "Obviously none." his hand was warm in hers as he brought her to her feet.
      "How so?" she let him lead her across the room, as if he were the lord and she the renSime.
      "My lord." he nodded for her to take her place on the chair at the side of the lounge. The hard wood of the edge of the seat bit into the back of her thighs.
      Dorityan was not about to answer Galina's question. If she knew the hold she had on him, there was no way she could refuse to turn him in. As it was, only her ignorance had saved both of them. Or perhaps it was time to tell her, "If anyone else knew, I would be dead." He looked straight into her mahogany eyes, trying to glean her reaction from her looks and not her nager. More years ago than he wanted to think of, Dorityan learned the folly of trusting his Sime senses around a lord.
      Galina's eyes went wide and startled with the information. "They wouldn't." she gasped.
      Internally, Dorityan breathed a sigh of relief. She seemed entirely too honest to let in on all of it, but at least in this she would be safe. Galina was so very young and innocent. Cautiously, he let himself stroke the side of her face. "Indeed they would, my lord." his hand quivered as she failed to pull away. Her skin was even softer than he had imagined it would be, even stretched taut across her high cheekbones with her nervousness.
      "Why?" her hand came up and rested over his. Dorityan had to sit. His heart was pounding with the simple contact, so different from the impersonal grasp for transfer.
      "Because renSimes are not supposed to be able to speak Russian correctly." Dorityan let his field twine with hers. The forbidden pleasure was like molten honey, sweeter and richer than anything else in the world. Her distraction by their speech hid his actions beneath her confusion. Before she could catch him at, he focused on a lose thread at the edge of the brightly colored quilt at the foot of the lounge to distract himself.
      "You are also older than almost all the other renSimes." she rubbed her face against his hand.
      He wanted to ask, 'Do you mind?' but figured flirting was the farthest thing from her thoughts. "True." Dorityan sighed as he thought of all the youngsters he had watched come into the ranks, marry, produce children and then die before their fortieth birthday. Most of them dead by 'accident', he couldn't help but grimace. "Please don't tell anyone."
      "I would never have thought to." her eyes didn't shift away from his a millimeter.
      Safe he knew.
      "Have you ever thought of retiring?" her hand traced down over his arm. Unaccountably her fingertips snagged on the openings to his dorsal sheaths and Dorityan realized she had never in her life caressed another Sime. Galina pulled back her hand as if burned and turned her face away from his touch.
      "RenSimes don't live long past retirement." he let her lean away from him. The words were more true than she probably wanted to know. More than one of his old friends had died shortly after retirement, due to 'transfer difficulties'. Dorityan had no desire to risk it. "Besides, I like my work." which was true enough as far as it went. He could be doing far worse things to be earning his monthly selyn. I'd much rather sell my strong right arm than sell my selyn. he pitied the way Galina had to whore her spirit to earn her keep. At least I had a choice in the matter.
      "Lets get on with it, shall we?" he asked simply, not wishing to intrude any more than he had to on what little privacy Galina did have in her life.
      After Dorityan's surprising caress, his callous approach to transfer made all her tentacles want to retreat. The one she had injured still throbbed, particularly crammed inside its sheath with her reluctance to simply treat Dorityan like any other renSime. "I think I would like a few moments to get myself settled, if you don't mind?" Galina knew Dorityan was not anywhere near attrition. Only renSimes who were on the breeding schedule were allowed to go so far into need.
      "Not at all, my lass." he grinned, not at all showing the need obvious from the state of his roniplin glands. "Take your time, if you wish." his hand came to rest on her knee. His fingers were browned by the sun. At some time his left forefinger had been broken and set awry. It gave his hand even more character than the lines of scars and heavy calluses from training. She rested her hand on his, feeling the deep lines on his knuckles catch at her soft skin. "Ye like te touch, don't ye?"
      This time she didn't pull away. "Don't you?" she dared to ask.
      "Not te many lords be wantin' to tech a renSime." his wry grin twisted at the lines around his mouth. "We're not to be puttin us over us selves."
      "Don't, Dorityan." her mind hurt. "Please." she caught his eyes. He looked away first. His short hair was greyed at the temples, streaking back to the black stubble over his ears. Even in this he had style, not simply content with shaving it every month to an even length.
      His laughter was so rough it felt as if it would tear her skin. "I am a renSime, Galina." the corner of his mouth turned down. "Did you expect anything else?"
      "No" she grimaced, not sure now of what she had wanted. "I prefer it when you speak to me normally, though."
      He snorted in disgust. "What is normal, lass?" his dorsals stroked over her tentacle sheathes.
      "Not this." she pulled away suddenly. Her stomach had contracted with the obscene gesture. Having another Sime's tentacles on her arms so intimately was vile. Or at least that is what Galina told herself. A chill washed over her arms, making her shiver.
      "Yer cold." Dorityan pulled a shawl off the back of the lounge and draped it over her shoulders gently. Her chill had nothing to do with the temperature, but still she didn't refuse it. Galina tucked the ends of the woven drape into the waistband of her skirt. The tasseled fringe tickled the inside of her elbows. "Better?"
      How could she say no? Galina tried to smile at Dorityan. "I'm supposed to be the one taking care of you, Dorityan." Galina tried too get this appointment back on track.
      "Then let me cosset you, lass. I'm an old renSime who don't know no better." his smile took the sting from his grammar. "Yer too pretty fer me to give up the chance."
      "You flatter me, Dorityan." she twisted one of the soft tassels between two of her ventrals.
      "If ye'll let me." he chuckled softly. "Yer well worth flattering."
      "And flattery is all it is." she tried to sound stern and disapproving. Even her instructors had told her that her greatest strength was in keeping people at nager's reach. "I'm far from beautiful."
      "Not with hair the color of a raven's wing and eyes as dark as the wood of my spear." his hand beneath her chin made her look at him again. There was no way a renSime could lie to her, but even still she had a hard time believing him. "Yer blushes outshine the crimson dawn in fall against the pale cast of yer moon lit face." A shiver went up her spine at Dorityan's honeyed words. No one had ever spoken such sweet words to her, not even her partner, sharm lord Racinda. "I can feel your pulse flutter beneath my fingertips, no matter how hard you hold your field against me."
      "Stop it!" she pulled back, aghast at her own reaction.
      "At your will, my lord." he held out his hands to her, again all proper and subservient renSime. His twining tentacles, however were not regulation. They danced and beckoned to her, promising her something she had no name for but could almost zlin at the edge of her mind.
      "Don't tease." she clenched her hands to her chest. Those strong hands, reaching for her, turned palm down in utter submission.
      "I don't." he said simply, letting his handling tentacles retract. "Your choice, my lord."
      Dorityan gave up. It isn't working. In the past he had gotten a few of the younger lords to relax enough with his teasing they at least would treat the occasion as something more than a simple chore. Why did Pyotr have to drop the round bale on his foot this week? he whined at fate. Normally Dorityan hated having to come in for transfer early, but he couldn't let any of his troopers take the selyn hit for excessive augmentation when he himself could well afford it.
      Normally he could smooth out a small shortage by simply going closer to hard need than the schedule called for, but the 200 kilo bale of hay had not been going to remove itself from Pyotr's foot without help. He sighed, "Come on wit ye, lets be gettin this over wit." He didn't even want to have her remember his overtures now. Dorityan would never take selyn from Galina again if he could help it, much less anything else.
      "Do you really want to be so abrupt?" Galina reversed course so rapidly Dorityan stumbled.
      "No" slipped out before he could stop it. Ye'd think I were still sixteen. he grumbled to himself. "I meant to say, I am at your will, m'lord Galina."
      "Of course you are?" One of her dark eyebrows raised. "Although now I don't know how much of a hurry I am in."
      Dorityan felt his heart sink into his feet. This was not what he wanted. Retrieving his hands, he carefully checked to be certain he was not showing the need eating at him. While a renSime couldn't consciously control himself to the degree a lord could, Dorityan certainly did not wish to appear out of control. It was very much like trying to draw a picture of someone he had only zlinned, but with age came experience. Dorityan had plenty of age, at least in his own opinion. "I have work to do this evening." he thought of having to sort his socks.
      "How did you end up short three months running?" she reached out for him this time. Insects crawled up his arms as Dorityan resisted pulling away, or perhaps it was simply how light her touch was.
      "Various disasters." he shrugged, not at all wanting to talk about it. "Nothing to bother a lord about."
      "You aren't a bother, Dorityan."
      He snorted. "Come on, m'lord."
      "So be it." Galina shook her head, probably quite glad to be rid of him. The resulting transfer was as dull and bland as so many of them had been. Admittedly Galina didn't knock him around, but still it was about as exciting as the sock sorting with which he had begged off her company.
      It was so bad, Dorityan hardly even felt emotionally let down afterwards, even with his decision not to see Galina again. He had been so very lonely, for so many years, it probably should have stung horribly to have to withdraw again into his indifferent shell but all Dorityan felt was numb.
      "Thank you, my lord Galina. At your will and by the will of Sergei, my arm and my heart are at thy service." he bowed his head in subservience to Galina as the personal representative of the Sergei Demense at this very moment. He knelt at her feet.
      The cool stone bit into his knees as his weight came to rest. Her hand rested on the back of neck in a caress Dorityan would have given anything to press back against. Delicate long fingers caressed the sensitive nape of his neck, forcing him to concentrate on the slightly larger bit of sand digging in under his left kneecap lest his field respond to Galina's touch. "Be well and do your best, Master Sargent renSime Dorityan Sergei." Galina's soft lips brushed the short hairs at the base of Dorityan's skull.
      Pain blinded him momentarily as he drove his fingers and tentacles into the muscles of his thighs. The pain was good. It distracted him. What Dorityan wanted was wrong. He wanted Galina and he had known it since he met her. Finally the door closed behind her. Shaking, he let his muscles relax. As the pain faded from his legs, the bands around his heart clamped down with the force of a vice.
      Her heart shaped face and pale skin haunted his vision. Panting with the efforts of his denial, Dorityan finally managed to rise to his feet. Looking around, Dorityan noticed the book Galina had forgotten on the table. Peace and Freedom, he finally noted the title. With a wry grin he opened it and flipped through the crudely bound pages. His own handwriting glared back at him from across the gulf of years. Dorityan had written the thing over twenty years ago, when he had been young and headstrong, still dreaming of changing the world. Now his own words mocked him and chided him for the callow child he had been.
      Possession of such a book would have been the iron tipped lash and twenty four hours of attrition for lord Galina if she had gotten caught in possession of it. Merely being able to read it, much less write it would have been death by the Hunt for Dorityan if anyone had known of either.


      In a panic, Galina ran back to the transfer room. I forgot the shenned book! her heart pounded. She had almost made it back to her tiny cubicle immediately above the sharm when she remembered it. Praying no one would find it before she could hide it, she hit her highest level of augmentation as she raced down the dimly lit hall. True dusk was hardly more than an hour later than official sunset this evening and the last fading rays of the sun glimmered in the dust motes from the rushes strewn on the floor.
      They made it slick beneath her smooth soled boots. The door to the reception area opened too fast for her to stop. With a crash, she collided with the heavy oak. Stars drifted before her eyes as she finally managed to look up into Dorityan's startled eyes. He winked quickly and offered her a hand. The grin on his face and the lilt to his nager told her exactly what the wink meant.
      Galina squeezed his calloused hand as he lifted her to her feet.
      "If'n yer gonna be flittin through the hall liken' ye just did, yer not gonna be makin' yer month a'tall." his tentacle slid briefly across the back of her hand before he released it.
      "I don't want you to tell me such things." she snarled, embarrassed at having acted the idiot.
      "At your will, my lord Galina." his face and field went cold and remote. It was like he had put up a steel wall between them. Dorityan bowed formally.
      "Be well and do your best, renSime Dorityan." Galina tried to put her apology into her words for fear he was not zlinning. He straightened, but still had his eyes lowered. "Come now, Dorityan. I am sorry for snapping at you."
      "You don't not got to be apologizing to no renSime, m'lord." he looked up and his eyes blazed in fury.
      With a gasp, Galina stepped back and clenched her hands together behind herself. She shook her head no. Heart pounding again, this time for no reason she could tell, Galina simply stared at him, wishing she knew what to say.
      "Don't you be messin' yer head wit it." Dorityan grimaced and turned away.
      Of its own accord, Galina found her hand reaching out to catch Dorityan by the shoulder. Her thumb slid down inside his tunic and she felt the cool slickness of heavy scar tissue. "What happened to you?" she asked, knowing no normal punishment would have left such extensive damage.
      "Not a thing for ye to be thinkin about, m'lord." he shrugged off her touch. A flare of remembered pain burned her hand before it slipped off his shoulder.
      "Why didn't you get it healed properly?" she blocked his escape.
      "Ye are the nosy one." he snorted, his dark eyes returning to their normal rich brown from the black of his anger. "Let's just be leavin' it at my gettin' in the way of a bear."
      "If you wish." she wished she could help. Gently she turned him around by the shoulders. He relented, his muscles and nager screaming for her to leave him alone. Unwilling submission to orders had every muscle in his body trembling. Slowly, she extended her laterals and let her hands trace over Dorityan's back. "These are whip scars." she hissed, recognizing what had caused the damage. In some places, almost a cent deep, there were gouges taken out of the muscles of his back. His field twisted around the damaged nerves from his shoulders all the way down to his buttocks. It was so faint she would have never noticed it if she hadn't been zlinning for it, but it was there.
      "Yes" he tipped his head back. Dorityan's tentacles twined around his fingers, wrapping them so tightly they whitened with the pressure. "Happy?"
      "Of course not." she rested her hand on his neck, caressing the taut cords with her fingers and thumb. One of her dorsals reached up and ran through his soft, short hair.
      "But now ye know." he shivered under her touch, field flaring with shame and fear.
      "You've never done anything to deserve a beating like this." Galina was almost close enough now to feel the heat rising off his body. "You wouldn't be the Master Sargent if you did." since the Master Sargent position was only given to a renSime with a perfect record.
      "As I but told ye, got in the way of'n a bear." a trickle of sweat made Galina's thumb slick against Dorityan's neck. "Ye be done wit me, m'lord?" his heard beat so fast Galina could almost feel it in her own chest.
      "Certainly, Dorityan."
      With shaking hands, Dorityan pulled the pipe from his tunic pocket. It took him three tries before he got it packed to his satisfaction. Finally he got it lit and drawing correctly. The thick, heavy smoke bit at his throat. The sweet, musty scent was heavenly as he inhaled the rich drug. Blowing a perfectly round smoke ring, he looked up at the ceiling. One of the tiles was cracked and faded.
      Finally it hit and Dorityan sighed in relief. The remembered pain from the time he had been nearly beaten to death faded back into the past where it belonged. He clamped the stem of his pipe between his teeth and made his way back to the barracks.
      The practice yard was empty but for the few hardy souls waiting to practice their night combat. The last light of the sun faded from the snow remaining in the lee of the high stone walls. Letting himself zlin, he sat on a bench at the edge of the yard. Often Dorityan wondered if any of the youngsters were his, or his grandchildren now.
      Old Sharm Lord Sergei had bred two fine sons and a daughter by Dorityan out of his beloved wife Tanya. A single tear tracked down his face at the memory of his beautiful Tanya. She had been as blond haired and blue eyed as any lord. With a ready laugh and smile that never seemed to leave her face. Even when the sharm guards had come for their children on their second birthday.
      Even when her heart had failed her, only days after her thirtieth birthday, she had had one last smile for him. Tanya had told him, "Take care of Sergei for me." and died in his arms. He had wanted to howl with the loss, but the memory of her last wish had kept him going long enough to be able to finally understand. Certainly Tanya had loved him, but to her, Sergei was all. At one time, Dorityan had been so dedicated. His experience with the rogue Inducted, Ikanir, had opened a crack for him to question what he had always known to be right, long before Tanya had died. After her death, Dorityan had stopped fighting fate and simply waited to die.
      At last, only a few years ago, he had met another beautiful young woman. Again, a woman totally dedicated to Sergei. This time though, his heart had chosen wrong.
      The heat of the burning hemp was fading as his pipe had gone out from neglect. Absently, Dorityan lit it again, watching the new youngster trying to manage to catch the old Corporal Pyotr in the dark. A grin reached his face as Pyotr lured the lass right into the rock hard snowbank. Her swearing at this result almost turned the ice to steam.
      Dorityan only realized he had laughed out loud, when she turned to him. His teeth closed on the pipe stem with a clack as he finally, clearly, zlinned her nager. She had the exact same, light on snowfield feel, as Tanya. Blue-grey smoke drifted towards the stars overhead as he sat, stunned. Finally he turned his attention away, focusing on the new main office for Sergei. The lights were still on. I can't do this anymore.
      A faint trickle of light spilled out into the hallway through the partially open door. Dorityan nodded to Ivan and Anata, flicking a tentacle at the bit of lint marring the breast of Anata's vest. She blushed furiously and brushed it off. "Better." he whispered under his breath. Holding his head high, he took a deep breath and entered Sharm Lord Sergei's office.
      After closing the door behind himself, he set himself at parade rest, waiting for permission to speak. The scratching of his Lord's quill pen was shockingly loud, even over the hiss and pop of the fire on the hearth. "At ease Master Seargent Dorityan." Sharm Lord Diomid looked askance at his bare arms. "There is a problem in the barracks?"
      "No, my Lord Sergei." a trickle of sweat ran down his face as he looked at Sharm Lord Diomid's bracelets. They glimmered in the overhead lights, a promise of harm if he even thought of trying to get his tentacles on those forearms. Once in his life, Dorityan had transfer from a Sharm Lord, although he hadn't known it at the time, and it was an experience he could never forget. "I wish to report a crime." his choice of words was damning enough as he knelt before the desk.
      "I see." his Lord's voice dropped so low Dorityan could feel it through his knees on the floor. In utter submission, he splayed his hands and tentacles on the smooth surface of the desk. The air shifted as Sharm Lord Sergei stood, sending a shiver up Dorityan's spine as the breeze brushed his exposed laterals. For an instant his stomach clenched as he couldn't help but think of Sharm Lord Diomid crushing the far too delicate organs against the oak desk. "And what is the extent of the crime?" frighteningly enough, Sharm Lord Diomid did not allow him to pull at least his laterals back.
      The wording sent a shock of terror through him. Now there was no turning back. "The crimes are many in number." he spoke in High Simelan, damning himself beyond all redemption. Continuing, he listed the books he had written, shifting to Low Simelan to prove his error there. Perhaps if I tell him everything, he will not pull my involvement with Galina from my mind.
      Galina jumped to her feet. The stone was cold beneath them. Before she knew it, two of the renSime guards had opened the door. Without even waiting for her to grab a robe, they prodded her out the door. A single trickle of sweat, or possibly blood, traced down her back from where they prodded her with their spears. Naked, she shivered in the draft coming down the hallway.
      Once, she slipped on the rushes and now she knew the wetness tracing down her back was blood. The fire along her shoulder blade from the ten cent long cut reminded her how very sharp the renSime's spears were. Without even giving her a chance to catch her breath, she was shoved into a brightly lit room.
      Unable to see, she zlinned. A thousand staring eyes looked at her from a field of cool mist. He said it was hidden. her pulse raced in panic. Only one person she had ever zlinned had a field with eyes, Sharm Lord Diomid!
      "And just what was hidden, lord Galina?" Sharm Lord Diomid's deep baritone wrenched Dorityan back from the horror of seeing Galina brought before them a prisoner. Crimson blood traced down her back from almost ten cuts and nicks on the smooth skin of her back. With the cry of a trapped animal, Galina scurried backwards, heedless of the damage she was taking from the razor sharp spears of the guards. Damn it all to hell. Dorityan cursed as he realized Sharm Lord Sergei must have plucked Galina's complicity from Dorityan's mind without even a breath of physical contact. He hadn't even known Sharm Lord Diomid had called for her, but obviously he had simply commanded the guards at the door to do it mentally. Dorityan himself had felt the touch of Sharm Lord Sergei's mind, both the old one and the new, many times and knew quite well the strength of the line.
      Both Ivan and Anata were trying to keep the flat of their blades against her skin, but her struggles drove the edges deep into her skin. "I did it." Dorityan waved the guards back. Automatically, they stood back, flanking the door. Galina huddled against it, sobbing.
      "Dorityan is no longer your Master Seargent." the Sharm Lord stood again behind his desk, looking far too formidable for Dorityan's taste, despite his lack of height. Although hearing the fact he no longer held any rank crushed Dorityan's spirit like nothing else could. All his life he had been loyal to Sergei, in deed, if not in thought and word. The salty taste of his own blood filled his mouth as he bit at his lip, trying not to break down with the breaking of his heart. "Bring her to me." the four words did what even his self imposed disgrace could not.
      "No!" he withdrew his exposed tentacles and stood between Galina and the Sharm Lord. Sheer terror tried to drive him to his knees. The Sharm Lord's focused attention did. Despite the hammer blow of the Sharm Lord's field between his eyes, Dorityan looked up into the blue grey eyes of his ex-liege lord and snarled in one last act of defiance.
      Galina saw Dorityan collapse completely under the weight of Sharm Lord Diomid's displeasure at Dorityan's defiance. He tried to defend me. she felt her own field stall in shock. Then she zlinned Dorityan, even through Sharm Lord Diomid's unbearably heavy field and threw herself on Dorityan's form. Already Selyn circulation had stopped in his body. His heart slowed and faltered.
      Throwing herself into the fray, she called to Dorityan with her heart and mind. Thinking of his so sweet and kind teasing of her, she reached for his spirit. Why had she never before noted how very handsome he was, with his kind face and full lips, now still beneath her own? Life finally returned as she poured Selyn through him, trying to match Dorityan's normal rhythms. Unthinkingly, she caressed his arms with her tentacles, this time not caring how perverse it must have seemed for one Sime to be caressing another. His tentacles were beautiful as they came out to twine with hers.
      The soft skin covering them was like velvet, so much like hers and so unlike, with the knife sharpness of a renSime's touch. With a sob of release, she wrapped him in her field, holding him safe from the Sharm Lord as best she could, no matter how poor that best may have been.
      "You love each other." the disgust was plain in the Sharm Lord's voice. "Out" he dismissed the guards, but before they could leave, "Send for Lord and Ruler Vayer and Sharm Lord Fatima, if you would. Lord Fatima is welcome as well."
      Dorityan screamed as fire laced through his brain, tracing through every shadow and corridor of his mind. Fears, loves and treason were all exposed to the alien ripping through his head. Agony even greater than his beating at Ikanir's hands tried to rip his soul from his body. "Enough" he heard a man's silken tenor say with more than a trace of disgust.
      Panting, Dorityan fell back against the surprisingly soft cushions beneath him. He blinked the stinging sweat from his eyes and tried to look around. The room was a dark blur, even to zlinning. A crushing headache made him retch. Smooth, long fingered hands held him up. His stomach emptied itself into a basin provided for the purpose. Grateful for even the small favor of not disgracing himself in this one last way, he tried to raise his hand to touch his benefactor. It shook and trembled like the last aspen leaves of fall. "Easy" the same soft voice told him.
      Startled, he looked up into the most exquisite silver eyes he had ever seen. The man had a long, slender face with almost inhumanly high cheekbones, a knife sharp nose like the prow of a ship and a fine, pointed chin all framed in long white blond hair. He turned and with a voice like the crack of a whip, "You don't have to torture the man."
      "He's earned death by the Hunt at least twenty times over, Nashen." a very tall, very large man with silvered hair down to the floor and heavily lined features said. Ice blue eyes turned to him and Dorityan whimpered in absolute terror. Sharm Lord Arkay was the man his nurses had all told him would get him if he were bad. Now Dorityan knew he didn't stand a chance. "As has lord Galina."
      "No" Sharm Lord Diomid put his hand on Sharm Lord Arkay's shoulder. "We will not Hunt Galina. She did nothing wrong."
      "No?" the old terror of renSimes turned to Sharm Lord Sergei. "The book was hers."
      "That is not enough for a Hunt." a tall, black haired and surprisingly bearded man turned to him.
      "Lord Vayer." Dorityan cried out, reaching for him. "Don't Hunt her." he begged for Galina's life. "Take me, but don't Hunt her." he was willing to be run to death from now to eternity if only it would save Galina from a similar fate. "She didn't know how wrong she was."
      In horror, Dorityan watched as Sharm Lord Arkay reached forth his hand, "She will know."
      "Don't do it, Arkay." the silver eyed man turned to the old Sharm Lord. "Let her keep her innocence."
      "As you wish, Alamir." surprisingly, Sharm Lord Arkay dropped his hand from Galina, cowering in fear. "You will ..."
      "No, this is my place." Lord Vayer took lord Galina in a deceptively delicate grasp. But it must have been excruciatingly painful from the way her face turned even paler. Veins stood out stark beneath her fair skin. "Will you submit willingly, or will you be Hunted alongside Dorityan."
      "No" Dorityan lept to his feet, despite the fact it made his head feel like it was going to fall off. "Don't kill her. Do anything you like to me, but don't kill her."
      "No, Dorityan, please." her eyes were like two bottomless holes in her face. "I'll take the punishment for you."
      Lord Vayer closed his eyes and sighed. "I can't do it."
      "You have to." Sharm Lord Arkay's bracelets rang down onto his wrists. The pain of it made Dorityan's knees give way again. "We have to keep discipline in Russia."
      "By killing these two? Neither is violent, nor has either one killed. And, I would guess, even Dorityan's crimes were not such that anyone else was harmed as a result of them, true?" the silver haired man's arms were around him, holding him close.
      "I won't lie. No, nothing Dorityan has done has harmed another directly. Even his treasonous writings were all in High Simelan." Sharm Lord Arkay's expression actually softened. "What would you have me do? We can not let Dorityan have access to the renSime cadre again."
      "I'll take him with me, as my own personal guard. Let her stay here."
      "What am I supposed to do with her?" Sharm Lord Sergei glared at Galina. "I don't dare let her get close to the renSimes again now that she knows they are people like us, Lord Fatima."
      "Has that hurt anyone so far?" the man behind him, who must obviously be Lord Fatima, asked plainly.
      "Not yet, but it will." Sharm Lord Diomid pulled Galina to her feet roughly.
      "Don't be so rough with her, Diomid." Lord Fatima gently pulled Galina into his embrace with Dorityan. "As long as they continue to be discrete, I think Fatima can manage them. She has advantages in keeping her children in line."
      Dorityan felt Galina shiver against him. Tentatively at first, then with Lord Fatima's encouragement, he wrapped his arms around her for the first time. As if he had come home, she fitted against him so very perfectly.
      Sharm Lord Diomid threw his hands in the air, making his bracelets jangle madly. "Whatever you want, Nashen. It isn't like I can say no to you anymore than I can to Kirina. And I am certainly no ogre to want to Hunt people."
      "We can't just let them go free, Nashen." Lord Vayer's eyes darkened. "Both of them have committed high treason. They have to be punished."
      "No, let Fatima try to manage them first." Nashen's presence was as warm and supporting as any Dorityan had ever felt. He wondered again why someone, the ruler of an entire Demense, was going to such effort for the two of them. "I can not see love punished, Dorityan. It is not my way, nor the way of Fatima." he spoke for Dorityan's ears alone. "Besides, if you make a public spectacle of this indiscretion, then you will have to tell why we are having a Hunt after so many years without. The trial will cause more harm than the crimes."
      "True enough." Lord Vayer sighed heavily. "I have never called for a Hunt."
      "I have, too many times." Sharm Lord Arkay's eyes greyed. "Thank you for the reminders, Nashen. I had not wished to return to those days. As Dorityan's treason only came to light after his confession, I think that finding the three books he had written and placing them under our control will be enough. Although if, somehow, we see an increase in the level of unrest we will have to rethink our position."
      "If we do have problems, perhaps Dorityan may be the only one to be able to defuse them." Lord Nashen's voice sounded almost amused. "It would be clever to have a tool to use against Maryam's demagoguery. Besides, if nothing else I would absolutely love to have a renSime who doesn't murder Russian every time he opens his mouth." Lord Nashen's soft chuckle was one of the most wonderful things Dorityan had ever heard in his life.
      "I am entirely at your will, both in word and deed, my Lord Fatima." Dorityan said with an honesty he had not known since that day over thirty years before.


      The morning breeze cut through Galina's lightweight tunic and shirt like a knife. Only her heavy woolen skirts saved her from having to augment to keep from freezing. For a moment, she simply watched as Dorityan took his place at the head of the Sergei renSime cadre one last time. The paired flags of Russia and Sergei stirred restlessly on their standards, the heavy red and white silk rustling in the shifting air.
      Dorityan himself was a splendid figure of a man, no matter how much Galina might have wanted to deny it. Heavier, with age and life long hard work, than any other Sime Galina had ever seen, his broad shoulders seemed to strain at the seams of his well worn shirt beneath his uniform vest. She tried to imagine what he would look like in the black of Fatima rather than the white of Sergei, and couldn't manage it.
      "I would like to present to you, your new Master Seargent, formerly Seargent renSime Khristov Sergei." Diomid raised his hands over the still troops. "Master Seargent renSime Dorityan Sergei has chosen to retire to Fatima, to live out his life in peace." The word mir or 'peace', seemed ominously foreshadowing. "We are all pleased at his long service to Sergei and Russia as a whole. He served Sharm Lord Vanya Sergei from the moment he left his schooling. He served through Lord and Ruler Vayer's regency of Sergei with all the honor anyone could wish. He has been our servant and stood by our side as steadfastly as our Mother could ever wish. He was present at the birth of the Azov Hegemony and may he live to serve in peace through its glory." Sharm Lord Sergei completed his remarks in this seemingly interminable ceremony. His horse stamped his iron shod hooves impatiently on the flagstones, striking sparks from them, seemingly in emphasis.
      Lord Fatima came to the fore, his much higher tenor seeming almost childish after Sharm Lord Diomid's heavy baritone. "Master Seargent renSime Dorityan Sergei spent his life in honorable service of Sergei and his country, now let us honor him in his new role as Chief of Staff in Camera for Fatima!" Which was simply a fancy term for a special agent directly bound to the head of a Demense, although even Galina wouldn't have known of that if she had not been present when the combined heads of Sergei and Fatima had decided on it. When Lord Fatima let his hand rest on Dorityan's shoulder and nodded to the troops, they cheered as loudly as anyone could wish.
      The noise startled Lord Fatima's mare, and she began to sidle. Dorityan easily rested his hand on her neck, calming her instantly. The gesture caused the cheers to grow. Even from here, Galina could see the tears sparkle in Dorityan's eyes as he handed his spear to the new Master Seargent Khristov. She could almost feel the silky smooth wood slide beneath her own fingers and tentacles as Dorityan passed on his badge of authority.
      Now the cheers were silent as Dorityan looked over what had been his troops. "I been honored and glad te lead ye for over ten years. Ye will always be the pride of our mat', Rodina, and hope fer our future. Guard our father, Sergei, and love him wit all yer heart. He'll not be leavin' ye nor be shunnin' ye as long as yer faith and hope guard him wit yer arm and steel. Be well and do yer best!"
      "At Her will and the will of Sharm Lord Diomid!" the troops called back in final tribute to their beloved leader. Galina could hear more than a few voices crack in the ranks at the sudden change in the normally smooth procession of their lives. Or perhaps the swell of emotion was simply for the loss of a man they had known so intimately for so very long.
      She could see Dorityan's hand clench and release on air, as if missing the feel of his spear, which he had carried for so long. It would be returned to him, as it was only symbolic to have given it to Khristov, but for now its absence made Dorityan almost seem alone in the world, despite the nearness of his new liege and the ranks of troops arrayed before him.
      Now the tears he had held back came to the fore. The now almost black wood of the shaft of his spear blurred and he thought he could feel its comforting weight in his hand. For a moment the sun cleared the clouds, striking off the blade, turning it into a brilliant echo of the sun itself. Dorityan took a deep breath and got control of himself again. He looked over the ranks of those who had been his family to see Galina's face, a burning brand beneath her sweep of raven's wing hair.
      His vision cleared and he could see his own sadness reflected in the faces of the people facing him. They were all so much younger, even Khristov. Perhaps it was time to move on Dorityan now understood why so few renSime guards who retired lived much beyond the event. Lord Fatima's hand resting on his shoulder felt so very right it astonished Dorityan. It was as if he were truly happy to have Dorityan, not simply as a way to keep a problem from exploding beyond control.
      "I am happy to have you, Dorityan." Lord Fatima's voice was pitched to reach Dorityan's ears alone, but still it held a warmth Dorityan had never thought to hear from one of the great nobles he had spent his life serving in near silence. "Truly, Fatima is different. Give her a chance."
      As the new Master Seargent renSime Khristov gave his first commands, reforming the square to paired lines, the noise allowed Dorityan to respond in relative security, "I am entirely at your will and command, my Lord Fatima."
      "You have no idea what music it is to my ears to hear you speak, renSime Dorityan. Thank you." there was a slight chuckle to Lord Fatima's tone and Dorityan looked up at him out of the corner of his eye. Suppressed laughter made his silver eyes almost as bright as sunlight off polished metal.
      "Then I will please your ears with my honeyed words as best my poor tongue may manage." he spoke in High Simelan, knowing full well the rhythms and cadence were as perfect as only thousands of hours of practice could create. The old sharm lord who had taught him the language had been a freeholder and true bastard, most likely of Kirov, who had been expelled from his Demense for illicit poetry and unnamed for his refusal to no longer write the words of his heart.
      "If only you were noble, Dorityan." Lord Fatima's hand caressed his hair, as one would caress a hound or a cat. Dorityan was used to it, but still between the words and the gesture he couldn't turn his mind from wrenching pain they evoked before it reflected in his nager. "I'm sorry, Dorityan. I didn't mean to offend."
      "My Lord need not deny himself for the sake of this small one. I am at your will and at your command, both in my innermost heart and my outermost hand, my Lord Fatima." the ritual words of the Way of the Rus calmed him in their familiarity if nothing else. What he had truly wished to say was to rail at the injustice of being born with a mind yet denied all use of it by his body. Yet justice was not the way of the world and fate was not to be denied.
      "When we are alone, Dorityan, I would prefer it if you speak your mind. It is not the Way of Peace to deny your humanity despite my possession of your body." Lord Fatima's silver eyes seemed to bore right through Dorityan before he turned away. "You can ride, I would guess?"
      "Yes, my Lord." he bowed his head away from the intimacy of their prior conversation.
      To say that Galina was terrified would have been the understatement of the Azov Hegemony. If only I had Dorityan here with me. she knew he would not truly be able to do anything physical to help, but his presence often calmed her when nothing else would. She smoothed her skirts nervously, twining her tentacles in their folds. The rich black wool was perfect, with not a snag or a stain to be found, but still her fears placed flaws in it invisible to human eyes.
      "Come in." she blinked in surprise at the timid knock on the door. Usually renSimes simply entered, not even announcing their arrival at all. A tall, dark haired woman peered around the doorframe, not afraid, but simply curious. "Come on." Galina couldn't help but smile. She set her public field to simple acceptance and welcome.
      "Pleased to be meetin' ye, m'lord." the renSime's voice quavered with the hardest need Galina had ever zlinned in a renSime. "Me name's Inara, m'lord." her arms still held the deep imprints of bracers, outlining her roniplin glands in angry red against the white of the skin of her forearms.
      "Please be seated, Inara." Galina rose to her feet, nodding towards the lounge against the wall. "I'm afraid I'm new here and I don't know what you would prefer."
      "I'd be wantin' to hurry a bit. Me mate's gonna be wantin me when he's done wit lord Kharin." her shiver of suppressed desire smoothed away under Galina's easy shift to the first stages of promise. The words sank in then and Galina had a hard time maintaining her composure. They sent me half of a mating pair as my first transfer! The level of trust in her abilities shown by such a thing was enormous. When renSimes were allowed to produce children they were given transfer by the best lords in a Demense. Never before had Galina been given such responsibility.
      Galina remembered Dorityan's attempt to draw out his last transfer. "Come here, my lass." she went to the lounge and leaned against the headboard. "I'll be wantin' to please you, little one." she exaggerated the drawl of a renGen, letting the first thrill of Gen desire show through the simple promise she had begun with. Inara's eyes widened and darkened.
      "Oh ye are a pretty one." Inara purred, stalking across the floor. "Don't ye be afraid." the dark pit of need snapped into clear focus to Galina's senses. She let a shiver of her own fear of failure color her public field, drawing Inara's instincts to the fore.
      With the ease of a cat, Inara slipped onto the lounge, coming to rest on Galina's lap. As if it were a ray of sun peeking through overcast, Galina let her promise focus over Inara a little bit at a time. The tentativeness of the gesture teased a growl from Inara's throat.
      Easily, Galina let her own show drive Inara's body into healing itself, driving the renSime even harder into need. As the darkness peaked, their tentacles intertwined and with a brilliant flash of light and heat, Inara grasped the Gen she thought she held and pulled the life into her.
      The very sharp sweetness of life renewed coursed through both of them. For a long moment, Galina simply held the renSime, caressing her arms with her own tentacles, sharing the aftermath of the exquisite transfer. For while Galina certainly enjoyed her own personal transfers, there was something so ineffably wonderful about being able to pleasure the renSimes she served with such ease.
      Dorityan couldn't help but gape in awe. From the thick wool covers on the bed to the fine glass pen across the rich cream parchment on the desk, there was not one implement or piece of furniture which was not of the finest the Demense could provide.
      "Will this be suitable? I am afraid I can not let you continue in the barracks." Lord Fatima's voice held that edge of humor which Dorityan was coming to learn was a normal part of the man's outlook on life.
      "This is part of the Fatima suite." he finally managed to stutter out past his shock, entirely forgetting who he was talking with.
      "Indeed. Our rooms are through that door." Lord Fatima pointed to the brass bound oak portal. "I'm afraid there is no lock, on either side, but then Fatima has always trusted her Chief when she has had one."
      "Then Fatima," he almost stumbled over the name, "has had this sort of thing happen before?"
      "Yes." Lord Fatima smiled. "We are stricter than the other Demense with our renSimes and Gens, but at least once or twice a generation we get one like you. You'll be expected to learn Arabic as well as the languages you already command. You do know Low Simelan and sharm Gen, do you not?"
      "My Low Simelan is not as good as it could be, my Lord." the promise of continued learning was sweeter than any drug Dorityan had ever indulged, almost drowning out his desire for Galina's presence to share his good fortune. "My sharm Gen is passable, although I have had rare opportunity to practice the dialect." it often sounded much like the Russian the renSimes spoke, but the intonations and written form were wildly different.
      "You'll be getting the chance to practice, at least the written form. I expect I will not have to encourage you to study the works of your predecessors and hopefully add to them." he waved at the wealth of books lining one wall of the room. Dorityan had certainly heard of the great libraries of Kirov and Fatima, but he couldn't imagine they could hold more than the over fifty volumes in the bookcases facing him. "If you wish, with a suitable escort and garments, you may select works from the sharm library."
      His jaw dropped. "There are more?" Dorityan stared at Lord Fatima.
      "This is only a tiny fraction of the works Fatima has garnered over the years." Lord Fatima laughed out loud. "You must feel as if you have been thrown through a looking glass. I'll expect you ready to get to work at exactly half an hour past noon. Until then, please try to remember the real world does exist outside of dusty old books." and with that, he let himself out before Dorityan could recover his wits to hold the door for him.
      Galina was exhausted. Not only had she started her day with such an auspicious beginning as not one, but two fertility transfers, but had also assisted in a changeover and had actually given first transfer to the new renSime. For at least ten minutes after all the excitement was over, she simply sat on the edge of her desk and stared at the floor.
      After pulling herself together, she struggled to her feet. One more thing she walked out of her office and went to the reception desk. "Could you please tell me where my assigned rooms are?" Galina gave a rather worn smile to the hook nosed older lord sorting out a stack of transfer assignments.
      "It'll be no problem." he sorted through another pile of wax tablets. "Here it is." he pulled, "Special assignments." his long, dark finger ran down the list coming to the end, then his field rang with shock. "Oh my, I am sorry, my lord Galina. I didn't know."
      "Didn't know what?" she rested her hip on the edge of the desk and looked at the writing. Much to her surprise it was not in Cyrillic or Simelan script, but some unknown alphabet which seemed to be mostly made up of long squiggles with occasional dots and lines going up and down through it.
      Rather than answering her, the hawk faced man gestured her towards the door. His command to the renSime guards was as unintelligible as the script, but the guard bowed hastily and extended her tentacles for approval.
      At least the gesture was familiar, "Be well, renSime guard." Galina delicately stroked her field over the renSime's tentacles in acceptance of the respect given by the gesture.
      "At yer will, m'lord." she bowed again and stood aside for Galina to leave the room. Galina had to assume the renSime would show her the way from behind, as that seemed to be the only option available. With deft nudges from the guard's field, they made their way through the maze of the town house, gradually proceeding both up and to the east. If I weren't Sime, I'd be horribly lost. she looked around at the tapestries and mosaics on the wall. Strangely enough, they all looked like they were decorated with the odd script on the tablets she had seen.
      A cold breeze wafted down the hallway before Galina realized how far up they had come. The black clad guards looked more than normally threatening stationed at the next door. The guard following her indicated the door they stood before and Galina had to force herself not to turn and question the renSime. Rather she simply walked through the opened door.
      The door closed behind her. Before she could wave up the lights, Dorityan's quicksilver field shot through the darkness. Her heart raced. This is it. the smooth wood was warm against the palms of her hands.
      "If you wish to leave, I will not stop you." the now faint lights made Dorityan's sun darkened skin look almost black. "You did not have to stand up for me, my lord Galina." his voice trembled as if he were holding back some emotion she dared not zlin for fear of actually knowing what Dorityan felt.
      "I did." she set one foot in front of the other, forcing herself to move away from the security of possible escape. "I ..." she shook her head, her mouth unable to form the words.
      The silvery feel of Dorityan stilled and quieted. Galina knew it was impossible for a renSime to consciously control their field, but it seemed Dorityan had some way of at least shielding his innermost thoughts and feelings. "What is it, my lord?"
      "Why are you so formal, Dorityan?" she drank in his heavy features, imprinting them on her mind in case he decided to send her away. The silver traces at his temples seemed to almost glow in the near darkness, reflecting the lights of his nager.
      "I could ask you the same thing," he paused for long enough she could hear her pulse pound in her own ears, "Galina." Hearing her bare name on Dorityan's tongue sent a shock of thrilled recognition through her soul.
      "I did not know your bare name was so formal." daringly, she stroked her fingers over the back of his hand.
      "At one time, there were those who called me Dori." he smiled wryly. "It has been many years," his field darkened in obvious sorrow, "but still I hold fond memories of that time."
      "Who was it who called you Dori?" Galina could feel the heat rising from his body. The scents of leather and sweat were faint, overlain by many things Galina could not recognize.
      "Those I shared my youth with, and Tanya." his voice caught on the name. At her unspoken question, "She was my wife."
      "I'm so very sorry, Dori." there was little more she could say. "I can tell you loved her."
      "And still do, Galina." he sighed heavily, closing his eyes for a moment. "Tanya has been gone for long over a decade, but I do still care for her and will till the day I die."
      "Then why did you try to save me?" she felt excluded by his contemplation of his wife.
      "Because love for one does not diminish love for another, Galina." his words froze her in her tracks. The quote from Mikhail Chernoye reminded her of how very different Dorityan was from other renSimes. Even most of the nobility were not conversant with the controversial poet, condemned and damned for his treason to the state by his own forbidden words.


      Waking to find a warm, smooth body in his arms was so unfamiliar at this point in his life, Dorityan snorted in surprise. Finally his horrible headache had receded, although he knew if he were under any additional stress it would return in unholy fury. Galina woke almost as suddenly as he had, uncomfortably clenching her tentacles around his arms.
      "Easy, lass." he tried to shift her grip to a more suitable position.
      "Sorry, Dori." she relaxed her hold, now slowly stroking his forearms. This was far more than comfortable and he sighed at the warm touch.
      "Tis all right. Ye didn't know." his words slurred back to the dialect of his childhood in his relaxation at her touch. "Ye feel delightful, m'lass." he nuzzled her neck. Thick dark hair tickled his nose, reminding him of their physical differences, but at the moment he simply enjoyed her warmth and closeness.
      "You would think I would know better." her bitterness was so strong Dorityan could taste it at the back of his throat.
      "Not if ye've not been wit another Sime." he let his tentacles twine with hers. Dorityan had never known anything else. To him the very idea of intimate contact with the opposite larity was not even a concept he could entertain.
      "They feel so different than in transfer." her bitterness receded, to be replaced with a shyness almost as palpable. "Softer and more welcoming."
      "There's no desperation now." the velvet of her tentacles against his own was almost enough to make a lie of his words. "We have time. Relax here for a while." he stroked his cheek against her soft neck.
      "I would love to."
      For the last time this evening, Dorityan yanked his tentacles back into his bracers. In addition to the disorientation caused by the steel inlay on the sides of his new bracers, the fit on them was not quite perfect. His laterals hit the padded stops again as they tried to escape their torment and he hissed in pain.
      "What is it, Dorityan?" Lord Fatima rested his hand on the slick, hard leather.
      Unable to quite suppress a yelp, Dorityan did manage to not pull his arm away, although the effort caused stars to appear in his eyes. "It will pass, my Lord." he did not wish to complain of such a minor thing. While the other renSimes on the docks worked bare armed, his status as a guard and protector did not allow Dorityan any such luxury. His old bracers had fit well enough he could forget their presence for most of the time, but the new black ones were rubbing him raw even though it was not the last week of the month. "I think if I shim them better, they'll not rub so much."
      "No, Dori." somehow Lord Fatima had wheedled his nickname out of him within hours of their working together to keep the cleaning of the warehouses running smoothly for the opening of the trading season. "Give." the voice of command was unmistakable.
      "At your will." he bowed his head respectfully. Lord Fatima's manner was such that Dorityan couldn't even think of truly denying him anything he asked for. They stood under an overhang and Dorityan offered his forearms in their bracers for inspection.
      Surprisingly, Lord Fatima slid his tentacles into the catches and slipped them off. Dorityan could remove them himself, but it was an effort that usually took at least fifteen minutes to achieve. As the cool, damp air hit the open sores where the misfitting leather had bitten into the soft skin around his tentacle sheathes, he couldn't help but whimper in pain.
      "By the ..." Lord Fatima bit off his oath. "Dori, don't hide things like this from me. Do you understand me?" his eyes were dark with a concern Dorityan had never thought to see from one of the nobles he had worked with, sometimes on a daily basis. Even Karola, when she had been ascended, never had returned for him and held no care like this.
      "I understand you, my Lord. But I have to wear them for my work." he bit his lip over the protest as soon as it was uttered. "I mean, I will adjust them to get them to fit, my Lord." The cool misting rain felt exquisite as it drifted in under the awning. His tentacles stretched and twined in the damp mist, even his laterals.
      "No, Dori." Lord Fatima caught his chin and forced him to look up. "I will have proper ones made for you. Where did you find these?"
      "They are a standard size eight, my Lord." unfortunately Dori was almost an eight and a half, which was not a standard issue size. He had to shim them to get them to fit, and there hadn't been time to do a proper job. "I found them in the armory, where the extras were kept."
      "Very good thinking, not to wish to disturb the armorer. However, I don't want you injured for the lack of proper equipment." his words bit into Dorityan with a shame he never thought he could feel again. Wanting to please the tall, slender Lord Fatima had become a very important thing to Dorityan. "Tomorrow, you'll go bare. I don't think anyone is going to attack me in my own offices. I'll be going into seclusion by the end of the week. After that, the armorer should have a pair of custom bracers ready for your inspection."
      Dorityan gasped in shock. Only lords had custom fitted bracers. Although he had to ask, "When I put in the requisition, which style should they be in?" He didn't dare ask for the open design of a lord's bracers.
      A grin spread across Lord Fatima's face. "You would probably try to lie to me if you were to say you would be content with closed bracers."
      "Lord Fatima." Dorityan blurted out. "I wouldn't ask for open ones."
      "I know. That is why I will be putting in the request myself for open ones." Lord Fatima gave him one of those soft chuckles. "I do not think you would ever be a danger to a Gen or yourself in them."
      The level of trust this implied was astonishing. The reason combative renSimes wore closed bracers was so they could not kill. Closed bracers could not be gotten out of easily, and were designed such that only the handling tentacles could be exposed. "My heart and soul are at your will, Lord Fatima." Dorityan slid his wrists under Lord Fatima's hands.
      "As long as it is your choice." Lord Fatima's long fingers traced over the angry, weeping red sores on his arms, encouraging them to heal with unnatural speed. Soon all that was left was thin, tender, but healed skin.
      "It is." being given a choice, was what Dorityan had desired all his life.
      Galina paced the length of the room. Dori was only a day behind her now in his cycle. Sharm lord Famir had been quite delightful yesterday, if too young to be able to truly consummate the transfer, leaving Galina in a rather uncomfortable state. Now, as she waited for Dori to return with Lord Fatima Galina wondered if she had done the right thing.
      The heavy oak chair creaked under even her slight weight as she threw herself into its embrace. You are an idiot Galina wasn't sure if she was referring to her own nervousness, or Dori's insistence on working up to the last minute. "If anything happened to him on the docks ..." she fretted, pulling at a loose thread on the padded arm of the chair.
      "Lord Fatima was there, as were two lords." his voice startled her from the doorway. It was far tighter than Galina had ever heard it before. Deep lines etched themselves even further into his already weather darkened skin, forming grooves around his eyes and mouth that looked as if they would reach the bones beneath. "But it is good to hear you were concerned." dark circles beneath his eyes made them look even more remote than his usual reserve. "I am sorry if I sound distant, Galina. It is simply the stresses of need. If I am too much trouble I will go to one of your companions."
      "No, don't go." she stood, smoothing the wrinkles from her deep blue dressing gown. Being a lord, Galina had been in seclusion after her transfer with Famir. For a moment, her eyes flashed on Dorityan's new bracers. It wasn't the fact they were black, but rather the way he held them open which seemed so very wrong. Ruthlessly she repressed her quiver of fear before it could show in her public field. "Let me help you out of those." she held out her hands to him.
      "If you wish." his smile did not reach his eyes, although Galina could zlin his attempt.
      "I've not done this much." she dropped her eyes shyly. "I was never classified as having the potential to justify expanding my training as a fighter." Dori's skin was silky smooth near his tentacle sheathes compared to the rough callouses where the bracers normally rested againt his forearms. Although running her own tentacles in and amongst his to release the catches, seemed far more intimate than even the nights they had spent sleeping together. "You're farther into need than you should be, Dorityan." Galina tried to get some distance between them again.
      "It is as Lord Fatima wills." he said softly, as if he were speaking of a God and not a man. The resonance of unquestioning obedience in the words was shocking. Almost as shocking as how far into need he was when Galina finally zlinned its depths. He was even deeper than the few fertility transfers she had given. "Did he want you to go this far?" she let her public field shift to showing her concern and caring.
      "Yes" Dori said simply, letting his head rock back. "This feels so very good, Galina. Better than words could ever portray. I think you don't know what it is to live for years with having true need withheld."
      "There are times when I wish I didn't know." she reacted to his words with a start of fear. "How can you like the cold emptiness of need?"
      "Because it is only from the depths of need one can feel the true warmth of life, Galina." he looked down at her, eyes pitch black as he saw purely with his Sime senses and not with his eyes. "I have felt this fewer than a dozen times in my life, where I could truly indulge the sensations. Let me savor it." his voice held completely unexpected pleading.
      "What do you wish, Dorityan?" Galina was completely befuddled and confused by this point. There were depths to him she feared she would never reach.
      "I would have you, Galina." this time the smile did reach his darkened eyes. "I would have you as the heart of pine tastes the sweetness of winter's fire."
      Galina could barely understand the words as Dorityan gave them their poetic cadence, but their sheer beauty stilled her breath. Her body responded as if she truly were Gen, with the deepest, richest desire to give she had ever zlinned, either perceiving or displaying. As if a single star glimmered across a winter's meadow, Dorityan's life slowly receeded before the voracious darkness of need.
      "Come to me, my sweet mistress." his words could have as well been to Lady Death as to her. "I would dance with thee through night's mockery."
      Silently, Galina allowed herself to be swept up into Dorityan's arms. As if an invisible orchestra were playing in the background, he led her through the intricate steps of the latest pairs dance with a grace and ease she would have never imagined. He was so very good at it, Galina thought for a brief moment she could actually hear the musicians in the background. Finally the last measures came, and she looked up into Dorityan's dark eyes in wonder.
      They paused together after the final step. Galina could feel Dorityan's heart race beneath her hand on his back. As if it were the most natural thing in the world, he leaned down as if to kiss her.
      "No!" she shouted, pulling away. It was all too much. She wanted to taste his lips and yet her fear of becoming too close won. It is unnatural she clenched her will over her desire for Dorityan's touch. When they had been merely sleeping together, Galina could separate herself from her longing to have more of Dorityan than the touch of his hands. But now, if they were both post, she knew there would be no turning back.
      Dorityan knew he should not go out in his current state, but had to get away to think. Galina's rejection at the final moment chiseled deep groves into his bones with the harshness of its blade. Unthinkingly, he grabbed his bracers from their hook near the door. Slipping them on, he hurried down to the courtyard. The shadows near the foregate protected him from possibly curious passerby.
      Need clenched at his gut with talons of midnight dark steel. The unfamiliar sensation wrenched at his self control. I will not hunt. Dorityan well knew the foolishness of even trying to lay his laterals on a Gen of any sort. Besides, it was not a Gen he wanted. His eyes wandered up to the blind eyes of darkened windows facing the yard. A messenger in Azov green clattered up to the main doors of the Fatima town house.
      His horse was sweat streaked and panting, despite the coolness of the air. A stableman came to lead the trembling animal away when the yard exploded into a fury of yipping and calling people. They rushed for the open door.
      The doorman fell beneath their feet as Dorityan ran towards them. A bright flare of sheer pain and shock shattered the ambient above and beyond the pure tumult of the raiders' high emotions. Unable to zlin for the blinding of his Sime senses, Dorityan withdrew into the real world. As he bolted through the door, he tripped over the still body of the doorman. Coming back to his feet he looked back momentarily to confirm the poor lad's death.
      Damn he ran down the hall, trying to trace the progress of the raiders. Doors slammed down the hallway. The sharm! Careless for how far into attrition it would take him, Dorityan bolted for the passthrough to the blast doors.
      Laterals extended through his open bracers, Dorityan zlinned the lack of steel between himself and the sharm. Even the secondary doors were still open. "Close the damned doors!" he screamed, trying to prod the guards into some sort of reasonable action beyond merely saving their own lives. None of them listened. With one final burst of speed, Dorityan slammed into the last set. They swung shut before the force of his body. The green Mir banner toppled from its standard.
      Taking up the steel rod, Dorityan let the heavy green and gold cloth slide to the floor. Steel skirled down its length as he deflected a sword blow meant for his heart. The butt end struck home, however, dropping Dorityan's assailant.
      Blinded by fury, Dorityan felled opponent after opponent, heedless of the death surrounding himself. Finally there was only one left standing.
      "I'll kill you if it's the last thing I do." blue eyes glared from behind the noseguard of an old fashioned bone and wood helm. Her arms were bare.
      Shen! Dorityan backpedaled, realizing this was no Sime he faced.
      "Yes, little one." sweet promise teased the need within him, overwhelming the stink of death surrounding him. "I can give you your wildest dreams." the voice purred.
      "NO!" he screamed. Ribs cracked beneath Dorityan's wild blow. Pain sheeted through the ambient, firing his desperate desire for transfer. "I WILL not!" he pulled his tentacles back, locking his laterals to his arms with his own bracers.
      Falling on the Gen's still form, Dorityan forced himself to pull his strike. There was another shock of pain, then the Gen was still between his knees. Panting, Dorityan felt the sticky wetness of blood seep through his woolen pants. The smells finally reached his awareness, and his stomach clenched, despite his not having eaten for the past two days.
      Struggling with himself, Dorityan didn't hear or see the rest of the guard contingent arrive. All he knew was the warm life he held beneath his own hands. Hissing, he leaped back, trying to get away from the temptation.
      "Easy, Dori." Lord Fatima caught him. One of the other guards lunged for the unconscious Gen. With a snap, she stopped dead, frozen in place.
      "Don't do that." Sharm Lord Arkay's deep voice rumbled.
      The guard shook her head and backed away from the carnage. "Everyone out of here." Dorityan straightened out of Lord Fatima's arms. "This is no place for renSimes." except the dead he noted the fallen guards sadly. The raiders had managed to down over five of Fatima's best guards here, and heaven only knew how many more they had taken on the way in.
      Slowly, Dorityan looked around, noting all the raiders had been Gen. They didn't stand a chance Dorityan snorted, setting aside the standard he had been using as a makeshift quarterstaff. "I am sorry if I damaged it beyond repair." he wiped his hands on his pants again. They were still sticky, and Dorityan did not want to look and see with what.
      "I think the one I took was the leader. She should still be alive." his voice quavered despite all Dorityan could do to still it. "At least I tried not to murder her."
      "She'll come around as soon as I let her, Dorityan." Sharm Lord Arkay's voice held the deepest respect Dorityan had ever heard and he dared look the man full in the face. "You are to be commended for your quick thinking and extraordinary control. Thank you, renSime Dorityan." the manner of address made him flinch involuntarily. It was as if this were something only lords could deal with.
      "Most renSimes don't have your experience, Dorityan." Sharm Lord Arkay told him. A shiver ran up Dorityan's spine at the memory of the last time he had met Sharm Lord Fatima's eyes and he turned away. Without the even slight support of the contact between them, Dorityan's knees buckled.
      "I'm sorry." his voice cracked. "My Lords." he couldn't seem to rise again. His body felt as numb as if he had slept in a snow bank all night, yet he was not shivering. It was as if ice had taken the place of his blood.
      "Damn. His body is shutting down with shock." Sharm Lord Arkay's voice came from far farther away than Dorityan remembered him standing. "I can't do it, Nashen."
      "I can." the wonderful tenor of his liege responded. "But I would rather it were Galina."
      "No, NO!" Dorityan shouted, trying to scurry away. "Not her."
      "Then would you have me?" the question was so out of place Dorityan could only gape. Of course he would take the best Lord the in the Demense. "We are not so formal at Fatima as to assume you would wish to have transfer with the head of the Demense."
      "I do." he managed to look into his Lord's silver eyes. They held a welcome even Galina couldn't match. With a gentle cry of homecoming, Dorityan reached for Lord Fatima's hands. This is my home he thought as his laterals seated. With the brightest flash of selyn Dorityan had ever zlinned, life filled the darkness of need within him, as fast and as hot as he could have ever imagined.
      As sweet as the finest of apples and honey, Lord Fatima's lips softened beneath his own in a gentle kiss. There was no lust behind it, but merely homecoming and welcome.


      Being post and having escaped the gentle hands of Lady Death yet again, was making Dorityan's body more than slightly unruly. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to concentrate on how horrible his surroundings were. It was not working with Lord Fatima's so very alive hands stroking his arms. Normally Dorityan had absolutely no interest in other males, but at the moment his hormones were screaming for any possible escape.
      "I do not wish to give offense, my Lord, but I am quite afraid I will do so if you continue as you are." his voice sounded strangled even to his own ears. The fact this was the person he had just accepted transfer from was some help, but not as much as he would have wished.
      "Do you wish to return to your rooms, Dori?" Lord Fatima stepped back slowly.
      "No" he shook his head. "I'll be all right in a few. I would wish to help out as much here as I possibly can."
      "Then tell us what happened." Sharm Lord Arkay seemed to understand the trap Dorityan was held in.
      Concentrating firmly on the events of the evening, Dorityan told them everything he had seen. From the Azov messenger arriving on the exhausted Trakh gelding to his near kill of the raider's leader. "I refused to kill her."
      "And you did right. It would not have been successful." the Sharm Lord's deep voice held an edge of bitterness. "She would have killed you if she could have convinced you to make contact with your laterals. I'm surprised she didn't try to tempt you.
      "She did." Dorityan shivered at the memory of how very sweet her field had been.
      "I am truly impressed, Dorityan." his ice blue eyes held an edge of amusement, overlain with a great sorrow. "She could not have refrained from killing any more than I could."
      "Oh" Dorityan stepped back towards Lord Fatima. "Well, I don't think I would have even thought to try to touch you, my Lord." he bowed his head respectfully.
      "There are times when that does get tiresome, Dorityan." he stepped forward, towering over Dorityan, although Dorityan knew he was not a short man. Between the two Lords Fatima he felt decidedly undertall. Before he could move away, Sharm Lord Arkay's hand landed on his shoulder. A wash of cool, living fog wrapped around him for an instant and Dorityan moaned at the sensuous pleasure of the contact.
      "I don't think I would be refusing such a thing if it were offered again." he gasped as the sensation receded. "You do feel wonderful."
      "I would agree with you." Lord Fatima chuckled. "Lets get this all cleaned up, shall we? Please go ask for sharm lords Galin, Hamir and Torev, if you would, Chief Dorityan."
      "At your will, my Lord Fatima."
      Galina couldn't bring herself to leave. He'll be back. she promised herself. "Why did I back away?" she told the pillow she had hugged to her chest. Finally when she couldn't stand the waiting anymore and the visions of Dorityan hurt, lost or simply overwhelmed with need grew too strong, she stood up. After setting the pillow in the chair, as if it were a small child in her care, she stripped off her dressing robe and headed for the closet. The first warning she had of the door being open was a cold draft twining about her legs.
      Turning, she saw Dorityan standing in the doorway. His eyes were wide and dark as he stared at her for a brief moment. For some reason she placed the robe in front of herself. He swallowed heavily and blinked, before turning away. Blushing furiously, "I have to take a shower." he scurried across the room with none of his normal grace.
      An overpowering wave of pure lust spiked through his nager, which from its strength and his reaction, clearly indicated he was as post as Galina had ever zlinned. "Who was it?" she snapped, jumping between him and the door to the bathroom, dropping her robe in her haste.
      "Some raiders breached the defenses." his voice shook. Now she could smell the stomach turning stench of old blood and saw the stains on his breeches.
      "Are you all right?" her throat tightened in fear he had been harmed, making her squeak like a little girl.
      "I'm fine." he gasped, backing away from her. "Fine."
      "Then why are you so upset?" she stepped forward, wanting to touch him to be sure. As she reached for him, he skittered backwards, holding his hands in front of him.
      "I'm not." his voice cracked. His tentacles twined with his fingers hard enough to whiten them. "I'm fine."
      The total absence of his normal silver tongue scared Galina. "Hold still." she tried to grab his face so she could look into his eyes. As she touched his jaw, his skin burned under her hand and she drew away, startled.
      "I have to get in there." he bolted too quickly for her to catch him again.
      "No you don't." she tore after him before he could close the door. "You were injured."
      "I wasn't." he backed away towards the deep sunken tub. "I'm fine."
      "Not if you keep saying that." she stomped her foot in annoyance. "You normally use at least twenty words to say good morning."
      His eyes flickered up towards her face. She could see the sweat beading on his brow. "I'm fine." he backed up until his heels pressed against the black and silver marble tiles of the bath. "Let me get a shower and I'll tell you what happened."
      This sounded slightly more like the Dorityan she knew, but still she could zlin the darkness of pain edge his nager. "You are hurt." she could almost feel the ache in her own body. "Let me help you." she stepped forward again.
      With a resounding crash, Dorityan fell backwards. Only his speed as a renSime saved him from a nasty crack on the head, although it seemed his behind was nowhere near as lucky. "Now I know you've hurt yourself." she glared at him for all this silliness. "What in shen is wrong with you?" she snarled then covered her mouth with her hand. Embarrassed at the way the horrid oath had slipped out, she turned away momentarily.
      There was a scrabble in the bathtub and by the time she turned around again he was standing, looking aghast.
      "I'm sorry." she ducked her head. "I've always had a foul mouth when I wasn't careful." she blushed furiously. He looked so ridiculous standing in the tub, fully clothed with his hands held in front of himself again, she giggled at the sight.
      Now he really looked offended. "What are you laughing at? And why don't you put on some clothes?"
      This was too much. Galina laughed. "I was going to ask you why don't you take off yours? They look rather uncomfortable." She finally figured out why his hands were in such an awkward position and grinned even more broadly. No wonder he lost his glib tongue.
      His jaw dropped and he stared at her in blank incomprehension. Although it was absolutely impossible to tell if his pupils were dilated properly. With a wave she upped the lights. They pinned and then dilated to their widest expanse. Black eyed, he simply licked his lips. Dorityan's appreciation of her body was obvious to even a rock at this point. Not that hers was any less extreme, simply less noticeable.
      Casually she slipped a towel off the rail and wrapped it around her body.
      "Thank you." he breathed. "I do appreciate it. Now may I take a shower?" his eyebrow arched.
      "You don't have to ask me permission. Although as it seems you might well have taken a blow to the head I am afraid I'll have to keep an eye on you." she smiled wickedly.
      "No." he pointed towards the door. "Out."
      The regression to monosyllables tickled Galina into another laugh. She let the towel slip a few cents, watching his eyes follow the black cotton cloth with avid interest. Dorityan scowled. "We are not hand fasted and I am not going to take advantage of your state. Now get out of here!" he barked.
      "Then what were you planning on earlier, Dori?" the towel slid another centimeter lower.
      "I simply wished for a kiss, my lady." he stepped out of the tub with as much hauteur as a sixty year old sharm lord. "That was all."
      "Are you sure?" she purred, allowing her scant garment to reveal the edge of one aureole.
      "Cover yourself, Galina." he snapped, turning around.
      "We've been sleeping together for over three weeks, Dori." she pulled it up anyway.
      "Neither of us were post." he slipped his bracers off and hung them on a hook beside the cabinet on the wall. "Now we both are." Dorityan struggled with his boots, biting off more than a few unintelligible curses.
      "Let me help with those." she knelt in front of him. The wayward towel decided gravity was its best friend at that particular moment. It pooled about her feet as she leaned forward to grasp Dorityan's heel. Shrugging, she simply tried to pull the footwear loose. It was like trying to undress a statue. "If you wouldn't mind helping." she groused.
      What he said sounded vaguely affirmative, although what language it was in was anyone's best guess. From the vulgarity of it, it sounded like English. Or at least she assumed it was affirmative, as now Dorityan at least didn't resist the removal of his boots.
      In the process, Galina realized she had gotten a rather vile combination of boot polish and dried blood on her hands. "Yuck." she scraped them together, only succeeding in spreading it around. A stray lock of hair tickled her nose, and before she could stop herself, she brushed it away. The acrid smell of polish and the sickly sweet smell of dead animal assaulted her nose before she realized she had only managed to get the stuff on her face.
      "Yer but makin' it werse." he drawled, the first signs of his normal amusement at the world returning. "I'm but thinkin' I'm gonna' be havin' te be cleanin' them afore I go te duty temorrow."
      "You are not coming to bed like you are, either, Dorityan." she snarled, frustrated that now he was amused.
      "I'll be sleepin' on the lounge, m'lass." his dark eyes were soft with respect. This was not what Galina wanted.
      "No you won't." she waved her dirty, smelly finger in his face. "Did yer nurse be techin' ye to not be good te a lady?"
      Dorityan blinked, startled speechless. "Certainly not, my raven winged beauty." he slipped into High Simelan as if he were born to it. "If it is truly your desire to have such an elderly and worn specimen as myself to rest beside you, far be it from myself to deny you the scant pleasures of your wishes."
      "My wish is for you to forgive me for being a silly chit earlier in the evening." she rested her hand on his knee. "I am sorry for being an idiot."
      "I pushed ye too fast." he shook his head. A smile traced his lips, lighting those glorious dark eyes with soft amusement. "I am sorry for trying to get ye te my bed afore the 'fasting, although I had not honestly meant it fer tenight."
      "Then I am even more sorry I pulled away." she slowly crawled up Dorityan's front, and gently kissed him on the lips. For a brief moment, he simply sat there. Then with a deep moan, his lips softened beneath hers. The buttons and decorations of the breast of his tunic were cool and hard against her chest as his arms gathered her in closer.
      "Shower." Dorityan tried to force his arms to release her smooth body. They didn't seem to want to work. Her warm, lithe body molded to his own as she slid into his lap. Without a stitch of clothes on, he couldn't help but think of how very beautifully her fair skin contrasted with the black wool of his uniform.
      "Only if you promise not to sleep on the couch." her fingers worked their way into his tunic. This was totally unfair. Dorityan's skin itched with wanting to be clean.
      "I'll not be takin' yer maidenhead m'lady. No matter how much ye may want it." he was not going to ruin this poor girl with his own depraved desires.
      "Too late, by many years, Dori." she chuckled softly, strangely enough not seeming at all embarrassed about it.
      Stunned, he leaned back. "Who were the backguard who ruined se fine a lass as yerself?" He quivered with anger at anyone having taken advantage of Galina and then leaving her.
      "It wasn't like that at all Dori." she protested. "He was a sweet young man."
      "Then why did he not marry you?" he scowled, now desperately afraid he had stolen her from mate and house.
      "Because we were simply friends." her brows knitted. "We were both far too young to marry. I know renSimes marry far younger and more often than lords, but I don't understand."
      "Ye mean ye didn't wait to find yer love before ye slept with a man?" he felt his whole body shake with the unnaturalness of it all. Of course he knew the nobility had different mores and standards in such things. Acting as personal guard for two generations of Sergei had long since disabused him of the notion of sexual faithfulness among them. But this was Galina, his own love, in his arms speaking so blithely of simply bedding someone for pleasure outside of a committed relationship.
      "No," she stopped. Dorityan could almost hear the words, 'of course not', although she did not say them. He took a deep breath and focused on Galina. She looked so dreadfully confused. Tentatively, he pulled her closer again. When she didn't resist, he rested his chin on her head. For a long while he held her on his lap, trying to sort out his thoughts despite her warm presence in his arms.
      His sigh ruffled her thick, black hair. "Lets take our showers and get everything sorted out. I can't think straight while I am so filthy."
      "At least that way I get to see your body when I am in a state to appreciate it." she completely misinterpreted Dorityan's words.
      "I had meant for us to take separate showers." he couldn't help but watch her hands with avid fascination as they slid his tunic off. When she reached for the lacing on his breeches though, it was too much. He stood up.
      Galina yelped. Before she could hit the cold floor, Dorityan caught her under the arms. This was not a good position for his hands. His thumbs slid down across her soft flesh before he could catch himself. "Hmmmm, feels good." her back arched. Refusing to drop her again, he set Galina firmly on her feet.
      Blushing furiously, he slipped his shirt from the waist of his pants and slid it over his head. When the black wool cleared his face, he looked down to see Galina staring intently at his chest. "Ye had been a mite more shy earlier." he almost wished she were again.
      "I decided it didn't matter what larity you were." her warm hand pressed over his heart. It felt as if she had pressed a brand to his skin, he was so incredibly aware of her touch. Dorityan's breath hissed through his teeth at the pleasure of it.
      "I'm not going to be able to sleep with ye like an unchanged child, tenight, Galina." he warned her one last time.
      "I know." her breath was as warm and sweet as the winds of heaven against his chest as she nestled against him again.
      Dorityan managed one small victory. He did get his shower, alone. Now he waited. The seconds inched by like hours. He prayed for Lord Fatima to call him from the fate in store for him. It wasn't as if he didn't want Galina, far from it. He wanted her like no one else since Tanya. His very body and soul ached for wanting to please her.
      But not like two beasts of the fields! he snarled inside his mind. Only untamed animals rutted at the whims of the seasons and their bodies. With a growl, he threw off the bedclothes and reached for a robe.
      "No, Dori." Galina stood, backlit in the doorway to the bathroom. Steam swirled around her, forming a halo of light and mist. "I would at least see you once." her voice held resignation.
      Slowly, he stood, raising his eyes to hers gradually. Thou art so very beautiful, my love. Fair beyond words of heaven's angels. he wished he were the hands of the mist surrounding her.
      "You are so exquisitely beautiful, Dorityan." she could not see his scars or his age thickened body for her fascination.
      "I would not force you to lie, my love." his hand clenched in the wool of the dressing gown, forcing himself not to cover the evidence of his desires.
      "I would not lie about such a thing." Galina waved the lights up to the faint glow of dawn before sunbreak. "Nor would I have to looking at you." Her eyes were wide and dark in the low light. "But I will not force myself on you with a trick. If you wish to sleep alone, I certainly have no right to force you to do otherwise."
      "I ..." he was going to say he did prefer to sleep alone, and then he saw a single tear spill down her face. "No, come to me, Galina." he held out his arms to her. "Thou art certainly too fair for my poor will to resist your charms 'till morn, yet half a world part us."


      Galina stretched, feeling every muscle and nerve revel in their satiation. The morning sun pooled and trickled over the bedding. Even through her closed eyelids, she could still see Dorityan's exquisite body next to her.
      Rolling over, she reached for him and found nothing!
      It couldn't be. She opened her eyes. The imprint of his weight remained in the thick, soft featherbed. Her heart pounded. As she rose up on her elbow, a thin sheet of parchment drifted towards the floor. It fluttered from side to side, like a boat adrift on the river without a rudder. Hastily she grabbed it as it tried to slither under the bedframe.
      Her thumb smudged the soft charcoal marks. "I could not bear to wake thee, light of my heart. Forgive my hasty exit as the Firebird forgave her unruly suitor. I will ask thy lord for thy hand. Please be willing to consider my suit as I love thee beyond all measure. Dorityan."
      "That arrogant, conniving, heavy handed ..." her curses trailed off into muttering about the impossibility of the man. "How dare he think one night, one night without even the grace to wake with me, gives him the idea I would marry him." she stormed towards the door leading towards the Fatima suite. Never before had she dared to knock on it, but this morning there was no holding her back.
      "Get back in there you idiot renSime!" Lord Fatima's voice was shriller than even her own and Galina stopped in utter astonishment. Blinking, she stood stock still as Dorityan came through the now open door, in mid air. With the grace of a cat, he managed to land on his feet, but still he turned back to the doorway.
      "She's right there, Dorityan." Lord Fatima came through the door, not wearing a great deal besides his long silver hair and a scowl fit to frighten small children. Galina wanted to cheer. Her grin seemed to rub off on Lord Fatima, as he winked at her when Dori turned to her. Dorityan's fiddling around, as he tried not to turn his back on Lord Fatima and still look at Galina was ridiculous. He almost tripped over one of the loose rugs on the hard wood floor, only saving himself from a fall by wild flailing of his arms.
      Arkay snorted, crossing his arms over his chest. He leaned against the doorframe. "You didn't even manage to get your tunic buttoned correctly, Dorityan." For a moment, all Galina could do was stare at the absolutely gorgeous Sharm Lord. Dressed, Sharm Lord Arkay was not anywhere near as spectacular, she noted absently. "And you, are drooling, Galina." he winked.
      Dori was trying to unbutton his tunic. When he finally managed the task, he began to rebutton it. This time it was two holes off. Galina snickered. He stuck his tongue out at her. "That was last night, lover." she grinned, thinking of his deftness in said department.
      "Oh Gods." he sat on the floor. "What did I ever do to deserve this?" Dorityan rubbed his temples with his tentacles.
      "Tried to go on duty while you are still in seclusion." Lord Fatima's sense of humor still held its edge. "Now, if you show up before tomorrow morning for duty, I won't be so kind as to return you to Galina with your clothes still on."
      "What?!" he squeaked and then clutched his throat. "I mean, at your will, my Lord."
      "Foolishness, Dorityan." Arkay clucked. "You are in no condition to stand duty. I'm surprised you managed to get your trousers on." his pointed look was embarrassing even to Galina. "Be well and do your best, I'm sure lord Galina will enjoy it." the grin on his face could only be described as a smirk.
      "Ease off, Arkay." Lord Fatima glared at his partner. "Seriously, Dorityan. With you going all the way into hard need before transfer, I don't expect you to be able to think straight right after, or right before, for that much matter, transfer."
      "But ... but ..." Dorityan struggled to his feet. Galina slid under his arm, wrapping hers around his back. He looked down at her, completely befuddled.
      "If I had been thinking straight myself yesterday, I would have sent you away." as he stood with his Sharm Lord the last imbalance in the fields eased. When they were together, Galina noted they meshed perfectly. Dori seemed to notice it as well, and relaxed against her.
      "I would, then, but like to ask for lord Galina's hand in marriage, my Lord Fatima." he kissed the top of her head.
      "Wait one minute, Dori." she protested, sliding out of his embrace. "Don't I have any say in the matter?"
      "Well, I thought, after last night, well, I thought you would of course ..." he sputtered.
      "Of course nothing, Dorityan." she glared up into his dark eyes. "I am my own person renSime Dorityan. Just because we had a wonderful time last night, doesn't give you ownership."
      "I didn't think it did." he straightened up self-consciously. Now smoothly, he rebuttoned his tunic, this time getting it straight. "I thought you loved me."
      "You sound like a bad stage play." she snapped, trying to figure out why now, of all times, he was going on like this. Last night had been bad enough, but now, in front of the Lords Fatima it was intolerable. "Give it all some time."
      "But if you got pregnant, I don't want our child to be born without a father." his face was so red it outshone the morning sun.
      "Dori," Lord Fatima took a deep breath, but looked straight at Galina, "renSimes are not cross fertile with lords." His sharp look was a reminder. Thinking of the horrid images of deformed and still born children Galina had seen when the subject had come up in her schooling, she shivered in atavistic fear. She never wanted to deal with a monster like that. Nodding her head, Galina thanked him silently for the reminder.
      Although when she looked up, she saw Dorityan's teeth bared in fury. His quicksilver field struck out in uncontrollable rage. "You lie, my Lord Fatima." he snarled.
      "No, Dori." he closed his eyes sadly. "I do not." he looked directly into Dorityan's eyes. "Perhaps in the times of the histories, there were cases where a few, very few, healthy offspring were born of such crosses, but no longer."
      "He's telling the truth, Dorityan. I have seen the results of such attempts." she swallowed heavily, trying to drive the images from her mind. "Much as I would love to bear your child, I'm afraid it is not to be."
      "Then I can not wed you, my love." he tried to stalk out the door again.
      "No you don't." she barred it and leaned against it. "You are not walking out on me again." Lord Fatima's snicker didn't help. "Now, take off your clothes."
      "Galina" he yelped. "I can't."
      "Your hands aren't broken." she glared at him. "Do it." This time Sharm Lord Arkay snickered as well. Dori turned to the two in the doorway. Galina grabbed his tunic by the shoulders. "If you don't unbutton this, I'm going to rip it off."
      The speed with which he undid the buttons again and unlaced his tunic was incredible. Soon she had him as bare as the rest of the people in the room. "Now, you aren't going anywhere but back to bed." His blushes reached from his nape to his heels as he took to them and dove into the bed.
      Surprisingly enough, Lord Fatima could whistle and did so as he retrieved Dorityan's clothes from the floor. "I'll keep these until this evening, lord Galina." and while the tune was not familiar, from Sharm Lord Arkay's grin it was probably rather bawdy.
      "Good idea." she curtseyed to the two Lords Fatima. "Now I think Dorityan and I have a few things to discuss."
      "But that is my last clean uniform." Dori protested from under the blankets.
      "That was my intent." she slid under the coverlet with him.
      "But we aren't married." his voice was muffled.
      "So" she stroked his hip. "Hasn't stopped us yet, despite your attempts otherwise." The door clicked shut behind the Lords Fatima. "You can stop hiding now, although neither Lord nor Sharm Lord Fatima give a damn about clothes." her frustration with this foolishness had only been exacerbated by Lord Fatima's reminder. "Both of them were wearing little more than their hair."
      "In their cases it is certainly enough to cover them properly." he bundled the sheet up under his chin as he sat up warily.
      "Dorityan." she felt tears choke her. "If you don't stop this nonsense, I'm going to be furious with you."
      "What nonsense?" he covered her up as well.
      "There is no one else here but you and I, and you still try to cover me up." she yanked the blankets onto the floor. "Is there something wrong with my body?"
      "It is arousing." he stuck his nose in the air, refusing to look in her direction.
      "What a look." she grumbled. "You act and sound as if there were something wrong with being aroused at the sight of me."
      "It's shameful." he covered his face with his hands.
      "Look at me Dori." she pleaded. "I know my face is not beautiful, nor my voice or my words, but at least my body is young and healthy."
      Dorityan forgot all about his discomfiture. "Oh, love. I'm sorry if my fretting led ye te believe ye were less than exquisite in my eyes." he took her slender body in his arms. He knew it was wrong, his upbringing and his past could let him think no other, but her form and soul were such he could not help himself. "If ye do not feel I am an imposition or a ravisher of yer innocence, I shall simply have te still my trepidations." there were times when he could not help but slur some of his words and it irritated him beyond all measure.
      Her cheerful laugh did not help any. "Oh, Dori. I love the way you speak when you're not trying to impress anyone."
      "I would impress you if anyone, though my slender graces would allow such a thing." he shifted back to High Simelan to remove the annoying burr from his tongue.
      "You know I can't understand half of what you say, when you talk to me like that." her eyes were bright with laughter. "Not that I am complaining, mind you. I find it far sweeter than the finest mead." Galina's tongue and field wrapped around the rhythmic cadences with a delicacy to make Dorityan gasp. "Not very good at it, am I?" her black hair covered her reddened cheeks, tracing them with shadows of blackest night.
      "Thy words art as fair as thy glowing countenance." he teased her gently with his play on glow, as if it were the ruddy embers of a dying fire.
      "Ye be flatterin' me, luv o'me light." her renGen drawl rang with the beauty of the maidens locked behind the steel doors of the sharm as her glance and her nager wrapped him the warmest mist imaginable. He drank both in, eyes and laterals questing for her very spirit. "I be thinkin' ye be likin' such words from meself." the lilting song teased the threads of desire into a blanket surrounding them with ruby light. Speechless, Dorityan simply caressed her joyous face. Her fine, white skin glowed with health and life. "Kiss me ye fool, I would have yer hand and heart as mine te hold 'till winter's warmth thaws the steppes and summer's chill frees the Ice Maiden from her doom."
      He groaned, crushing her against him, kissing her soft lips till no force on earth could part them again. "I love you, my Galina." he looked into her dark eyes, praying she would not reject him again. Her harsh words refusing his suit had stung like a lance to his heart.
      "Then, pray do, my beloved Dorityan." she begged of him. Torn, his hand shook. "Don't refuse me, please." the echo of his own thoughts ripped through him like lightning.
      "I can not refuse thee, my love. I would but fuse thee and me to become one whole." he tried to put his fears and his desires into mere words, no matter how faint an echo they could only be of his true feelings.
      "As our love be true, what need have we of simple words to bind us?" her light held no shadows but the purest light of the noonday sun.
      "Ye win, my love." he smiled, knowing when he had been beaten. "And what shall be my forfeit?"
      "Warm me and hold me, as the stallion does his mare." her hand traced through the thick, greying hair upon his chest.
      "This stallion be far past his prime." he regretted the difference in their ages with a viper's sting at the reminder.
      "Not my beautiful burgundy one." her hand slid down and around his thickened waist. "His age is as that of the fruit of the vine, not the water of the spring."
      "Ye've been readin' my books." he chuckled softly, recognizing the reference.
      "So I have." she grinned. "Want to know what else I've been reading?" and she proceeded to show him in exacting detail what she had learned from no book but simply her own joy and love of life.
      Dorityan knew he had a silly grin on his face, but seemed entirely unable to do anything about it. Lord Fatima laughed out loud the moment he presented himself for duty and he quickly checked his dressing. There was nothing amiss.
      "Sharm Lord Arkay will be joining us today as we trace the origin of the messenger. I'm afraid he died yesterday, without recovering enough of a mind for Arkay to be able to sift through it without possibly injuring the man further." he grimaced, mood shifting even faster than Dorityan was used to from the man.
      "I didn't want to harm him for fear he truly was of Azov." Sharm Lord Arkay's sleeves were so long they reached the tips of his fingers. "We will be going outside, and I have no desire to be stared at." he looked at Dorityan cautiously. Then he slid one of them back and Dorityan was reminded of the reason for the Sharm Lord's reticence.
      "You have nothing to fear from me in that regard." Dorityan held out his own hands, showing the many scars he himself carried.
      "I know Dorityan. I've seen your back." his ice blue eyes showed respect and understanding. "But there are those who would turn away from such as you and I." Even Sharm Lord Arkay's normally overwhelming field was quiet and still.
      "Do you wish other attendants?" Dorityan tried to remember who in Fatima he knew and would trust at his back.
      "No, I've seen you fight." Lord Fatima winked. "Among the three of us we could take a small army."
      "Let us hope it doesn't come to that." a shiver crawled up Dorityan's spine.


      Arkay's focused attention was eerily familiar. It's not the way he examined me. Dorityan zlinned the Sharm Lord probably more intently than he really should have.
      "RenSime Dorityan." Sharm Lord Fatima reared back, his field spiraling around him. Overcome by curiosity, Dorityan allowed his laterals out to investigate his hypothesis. The dark storm clouds danced with deadly lightning. Tendrils of electrical fire twined with the sense of a great winged figure arising out of the mist. Its eyes were familiar.
      "You are Sharm Lord Diomid's kin." at his words, the winged figure blazed into light. Unable to zlin, Dorityan shook his head. Why did I do that? he wondered at his foolhardiness in forgetting just who and what Sharm Lord Arkay was. Kneeling in abject apology, "I am so very sorry, my Lord Fatima. I am afraid I forgot myself." Dorityan's heart was in his mirror polished boots. As he looked down he could see the two of them exchange a startled glance. The trick of looking for reflections in his boots was a long standing one for Dorityan.
      "As I am certain your indiscretions was a result of my own favorite flaw, I certainly can't be unforgiving." Sharm Lord Arkay chuckled. "However, I would prefer you to keep your curiosity within bounds when we are in public."
      The correction stung all the worse for the fact it was so kindly given. Never before had Dorityan done such a thing. "It will not happen again, Sharm Lord Arkay Fatima." he vowed.
      "I would appreciate it if you would come and share your insights with us some evening you are free however, Dorityan." Sharm Lord Arkay's stunning offer loosened yet another part of Dorityan's armor to fall away into dust. "It would be good to speak with another of my own age." he smiled wryly.
      "Dorityan is the same age as Karola and myself." One of Lord Fatima's eyebrows arched like a jumping fish at his surprise.
      "Only in years." the proffered hand was as heavy and scarred as his own, although as Dorityan took it, Sharm Lord Arkay's grasp almost swallowed his own dark fingers whole. For the first time in his life, when he was fully healthy, Dorityan touched a Gen of any variety. Even though Dorityan was high field, the overwhelming potential of the second most powerful Sharm Lord in Russia almost washed away Dorityan's mind. He could feel every single bracelet on Sharm Lord Arkay's heavy wrist, threatening Dorityan's very life with their metallic clamor. As Sharm Lord Arkay raised him to his feet, they slid along the Sharm Lord's arm, brushing over the sensitized nerves.
      His breath rasped in his throat as he stood, blinded by the sensations washing over him. Sharm Lord Arkay slowly released his hand. As only their fingertips touched, Dorityan clasped them for a brief instant. Actinic fire ripped through his body and mind. By force of will, Dorityan made his knees support him and looked into Arkay's ice blue eyes. "You are so very wonderful, Sharm Lord Arkay."
      "He's my partner you're flirting with, Dori." Lord Fatima's field came between them, breaking off the final contact. "And you are quite correct."
      Dorityan hadn't meant the words flirtatiously and flushed at the comment. "I meant it quite literally. I would never dream of coming between you two."
      "I know, or I never would have allowed it." Sharm Lord Arkay settled his bracelets down about his wrists again. "Let us be off."
      The clatter of horses' hooves on the cobbles faded to the dull thudding of steel biting into the soft earth of the newly greening spring turf. Sunlight flashed off a hidden stream. The steady movement of their mounts tried to lull Dorityan into a sense of complacency.
      The silence surrounding them grew. There is something wrong Dorityan looked for the raucous mockers who would not be deterred by the party's calm passing. His field must have given his concern away for both Lords Fatima stopped and turned to him. A dark clad figure crashed through the bushes behind them. This time zlinning, he spotted the discrepancy immediately. "Gen" he hissed, kneeing his horse forward.
      Lord Fatima's mare spooked. She backed away from Dorityan, straight for the intruder."Mira, no!" Sharm Lord Arkay barked. The mare bucked, almost unseating her rider. The stranger leaped forward, grasping for Lord Fatima. Lightning crackled through the air. The mare bolted, leaving Lord Fatima behind.
      Now there were three people on top of Lord Fatima. Sharm Lord Arkay backed away, trying to get room to maneuver.
      Heedless of the risk to himself, Dorityan vaulted from his horse's back. With a backhanded swipe, his armored wrist cracked the skull of a filthy, unshaven renSime. Pain shattered the ambient as the creature fell across Lord Fatima. A blond female looked over Dorityan's shoulder, her mouth open in a silent scream. Blood burst out of her mouth, turning black as Dorityan looked at it.
      The unconcious renSime across Lord Fatima was thrown into the bushes. Before he could see it, Lord Fatima had grabbed the remaining person, a Gen this time. "No!" Dorityan shouted, placing his hands over Nashen's bracers. They snapped shut as Nashen's laterals retreated instinctively from the danger. The stink of burning flesh and hair reached Dorityan's nose. His hands burned and clenched against his will on Nashen's bracers.
      The alien drew back his fist. Dorityan stared the Gen in the eyes, trying to will against hope the blow would never land. His hands were trapped. The stranger slumped with a crunch of bones collasing under their own weight.
      "Don't kill that one." Dorityan hissed against the pain of his burns as Sharm Lord Arkay turned his attention to the unconcious renSime. "Try to find out what happened." his vision blurred as he struggled against unconciousness himself. "Scan his mind for clues." blackness took him.
      The ordinary people of Fatima were certainly different. Galina couldn't help but blink in astonishment at the young renGen holding out his hands to her. "Well, if yer gonna be thet way about it." the ink stains stood out in stark contrast to the young man's startlingly fair skin. Most of the Fatima children, as she had found they preferred to be called, were dark haired and eyed.
      "I didn't mean to insult you." she tried to cover for her gaffe.
      "Then why fer did ye come onte me like a hunk o' meat?" he sat on the edge of the desk with a thump.
      "Because I thought you would want to get back to what ever it was you were doing before I interrupted." someone, somewhere had said the Fatima renGens were timid compared to the others. Galina really wished she could find whoever that was and give them a good drubbing. "I am sorry if I am unfamiliar with your customs."
      "Thas all righ'. I fergot as well." he grinned, showing a fine set of brilliantly white teeth. "Come along wit ye, lassie. I'll be showin ye how things be done about our lady Fatima." his voice held a wheedle Galina recognized from many other young men hoping to get under her skirts.
      "Na Domi, don't ye be thinking yer gonna bed the lord." a voice came through the cracked open door. Galina gasped as she realized she had forgotten to close it behind them. "Na then lassie, Domi there tries this wit ever' new un. I made sure te door was opened jest a mite to ketch an ear on ye. Yer jest his latest try affer his girl done kicked him up te stairs fer fun."
      After unmangling that last sentence, Galina chuckled at the image of someone playing cat and mouse with an ex-lover on the sharm stairs, of which there were always many. "I'll keep it in mind, Lissen." she eyed the now furiously blushing young Domi. "Your name isn't Fatima." she slid around the desk, her skirts swishing in hushed echoes of her internal laughter.
      "Nah, me nurse at Maryam done traded me off as a 'maker." only his nager let Galina in on the last word as an elision of 'troublemaker'.
      "They done do that te all the Faithful, Domi. Don't be gevin' her none o' yer 'talk." Lissen chided, leaning against the doorframe. "Ye be good fer the lord, an mebbe she'll be comin' back more'n oncet or twice."
      "I'll be gevin her a likkin te be comin' back." he grinned wickedly. There was absolutely no hidden fear in his nager. Only a sharp, almost painful desire to give up his selyn. None of the renGens Galina had ever zlinned before were like this. With a heavy lidded smile, Domi slithered up to her like a giant cat. Galina almost stepped away from him. Not even the sharm lords she had known were so aggressive. "Fatima be hidin' us fer fear we be teasin' the 'Simes. Na don't ye be thinkin' we're se skerry, m'lord." his voice dropped to a rumbling purr.
      Other than its scantness, Domi's nager was a glorious sunset in crimson and orange splashed across the dark cover on the lounge. "Ye are a pretty one, m'lad." she trilled back, getting into the spirit of the moment.
      His head fell back and he leaned against the desk. "Ye are a lord worthy of our Lady Fatima." he sighed, clenching the darkened wood in his hands. His nager had flared with all the promise of a sharm lord ten times Domi's strength. "I'll be servin' ye at yer feet if'n ye keep on like thet." he looked straight at her, eyes midnight dark with the strength of his desires.
      Letting her tentacles out, he moaned, staring at them as if he would devour them. Even high field, Domi's lust made Galina's arms ache with wanting more of him than an impersonal stripping. Without a moment's hesitation, he slid to the floor, kneeling at her feet. Her tentacles slid through his short, soft hair. As her hand slid down the side of his face, he captured one of her dorsals in his mouth.
      Lissen chuckled from the doorway. "I be seeing Domi's sweet ways be havin' their way wit ye." The reminder of who and what she was brought Galina back from the edge of insanity.
      "Thenk ye, Lissen." she glanced back over her shoulder.
      "Na charge. I'll be wantin ye in a few days." her wicked grin was a faint echo of Domi's.
      Recalled to her duty, she simply let Domi have his way with her tentacles. It felt so very sweet, having his cool tongue slide over her overheated ventral. Delicately, she let a dorsal slide around behind his ear. Domi's face was like the rising moon, haloed in the gold of his nager and hair. His thrumming purr slid up her arms like a sun warmed fur cover.
      As she tried to draw him to his feet, instead he wrapped his arms around her and carried her to the lounge, sliding up the entire length of her body in the process. This is going a bit far. she would have squirmed loose, but for fear of being dropped. "Na te worry, m'lord. I'll not be droppin' ye or harmin' ye. Jes let me love ye as best as I may fer this brief time."
      Lissen was still watching from the doorway, without a hair's breath of concern. She nodded slightly, as if to say everything was all right. Like shen it is! Galina wanted to say, but for Domi's smooth lips against her own. But still he did not force himself on her, despite the thrumming promise showing in his field and hands. Their kiss stayed as light as the fall of a snowflake, without a trace of coercion. It was so very gentle and sweet, she finally let her lips part against his.
      He hummed, sliding his hands up her arms. His fingers slid over her tentacle sheathes with the delicacy of a butterfly coming to rest. The touch was so reminiscent of Dorityan she felt a brief twitch of disorientation. "Yer so wonderfully warm." he came to rest on her lap. His body was so hot with his desires, he almost burned her thighs.
      As her tentacles twined about his wrists, he pulled back, seating them hard. "Yes!" he shouted, voice harsh and breathy. "Take me." Domi pleaded. Galina almost forgot to set her public field to need, but when she did, his promise outshone the day bright lights over head. With the flick of a finger, she dimmed them to near night.
      His entire body quivered as he rested his weight against her. Nipping his way up her neck, she shared his need to give. Finally their lips met, slick and sweet now with roniplin. She tasted him, letting her darkness open beneath his questing warmth. As she grasped him, Domi held back for that brief, critical moment. A snarl rose unbidden in her throat. For all the play acting before, she wanted him at this instant like no other.
      Selyn flared as he overwhelmed her reserve. Hot and quick, almost before she could set herself, he gave his soul to her keeping. With the sweetest rasp of pleasure, she drew him out. Now teasing at him, he pushed the selyn into her until, sated, he came to rest. Her nerves sang with Domi's, as he breathed his fulfillment against her lips with a tender kiss. "Ye are one fer Fatima, m'lord." his hands slid up her arms and around her shoulders until he could give her a tight hug.
      She returned it with interest and a laugh. "Ye are a delightful lad and I hope te be seein' ye in a month."
      He gave her a quick wink. "Ye sure ye don't want te be doin' anythen else?" He teased.
      "Get on wit ye, m'lad. There be other lasses fer ye." she ruffled his short hair.
      "But none se fine as yerself." he pouted, grinning all the while. "Thank you, my lord Galina. You were wonderful." the drawl slipped from his words as if it never had been.
      "Oh you are a bad one, Domi." she laughed. "No wonder Maryam sent you packing."
      "I hope you like it here, lord Galina. Ye are a delightful lass." he stood and kissed the back of her hand. She traced his temple with her tentacles. "Tasty, too." Domi stood fully. "I'll be lettin' meself out, don't ye be botherin' yer head for a bit. We'll take care offen our newest lord." and with that he did.
      It was good thing Domi let himself out, Galina didn't think she could stand at the moment. That was the wildest collection she had ever done. They sure do things differently here. she thought of the mechanical collections she had taken from some of the Sergei Gens. They were as different as Dorityan from every other renSime she had ever known. Perhaps this can be a home for both of us. she leaned back against the soft lounge for a bit to collect her scattered wits.
      "It seems you're trying to make a habit of this." Lord Karola's voice held a gentle amusement.
      "If it be but the way I kin be makin ye be talkin wit me, I'll be gettin' meself hert more offin." Dorityan drawled broadly. Lord Karola grimaced, but Lord Fatima turned so green for a moment Dorityan thought he was going to vomit.
      "Please, Dori." Lord Fatima clenched the back of the chair. "Save my stomach if you would." He looked at Karola pointedly. "I don't care. You have earned your freedom, Dorityan."
      "If I had wanted it, I could have bought it years ago." he relented to Lord Fatima's pained expression. Lord Karola jumped off the bed with a startled yelp.
      "You speak Russian." her violet eyes were huge. "Oh, Dori." she gathered him into a big hug. "That's wonderful." Dorityan was so surprised at her response, he almost forgot to hug her back. The years had been kind to the woman he had called friend as a child. Despite having born nine children, including both the most powerful Lord and Sharm Lord alive, Lord Karola hardly looked almost half her true age. "What were you doing, almost getting fried, with these two?"
      "We were coming to ask you and Sharm Lord Azov a few questions." he tried to scoot himself into a sitting position. Before he could move, he felt Arkay's presence surround him. Again that ineffable sensation of tamed thunderclouds enveloped him as Arkay lifted him and set up some pillows for him to lean upon. "I am not a cripple." he blurted out, although with the lack of control over his tongue today, he might as well be. Even though his hands felt as if he had stuck them in a meat grinder. A cold sweat prickled all over his body. Looking down, he saw them both wrapped in soft gauze and lamb's wool.
      "You will write again." Sharm Lord Arkay stilled his nascent panic. "For longer than you would have without this incident. Why didn't you tell anyone you were sick?" For an instant Dorityan could have sworn a lightning bolt struck the floor and he cringed away from its fury before he realized it was merely Sharm Lord Arkay's manner of punctuation.
      Still eyeing the tile which should have been smouldering and cracked, "Because I didn't know, my Lord Fatima."
      "You didn't know you had both lung cancer and heart disease?" Arkay's eyes were wide with shock. "How could you not know?"
      "I just thought I was getting old." Dorityan cringed. Although now that Arkay had brought it up, other than his hands, Dorityan felt better than he had in years. A grin spread across his face. "Now that you mention it though, I do suppose you are right. I never thought about it as anything other than age." He shrugged, looking at Arkay again. "My thanks are more boundless than the diamonds strewn above and the endless sapphires of the river's lengths."
      Sharm Lord Arkay's eyes darkened and his nager spiraled in sharp edged glory. "Oh my, you do have a way with words, Dorityan."
      Sharm Lord Avilan, who had just entered the room, stopped and stared. Dorityan ducked his head shyly. "He's a renSime!" honey gold fire laced his hands.
      "Stop it, Avilan." Lord Karola's field quashed the blaze. "He is a freedman."
      "No, I am Lord Fatima's." Dorityan couldn't let there be any misunderstanding.
      "You are mine of your own free will, Dorityan. No longer bound to the Demense by any chains not of your choosing." the Arabic was sensuous and warm. "Be as free as you wish."
      "I wish to be yours, servant of God, through the daughter of His prophet." Dorityan replied in the same tongue.
      "As you chose, we are all servants of God." Lord Fatima's voice rang with triumph. Both Lords Azov simply looked confused. Nashen explained, "It is a private matter to Fatima. Simply let us say Dorityan is no longer bound to the restrictions placed on normal renSimes." Arkay's eyes twinkled with private amusement.
      "As thou art ours, we are thine, Dorityan." Arkay added in Arabic. "He saved Nashen's life today. It would be ill met to persecute his offering of thanks, afterwards." Then he snorted, "The flowery language is infectious, Dori."
      The use of his nickname made Dorityan grin. "Why do you think I do it so much? I absolutely adore the cadences and song of High Simelan."
      "Obviously, as you were willing to face the Hunt for it." Lord Fatima sat beside him on the bed.
      "I was willing to face the Hunt for a life not worth living without a future, my Lord Fatima."


      Galina was exhausted. Trying to stretch her tentacles one last time, they simply slithered out like a pile of overcooked noodles. As this was exactly what they felt like, Galina was not overly surprised. Only eight? she consulted the record tablet on the desk and matched it against her own internal feel for the amount of selyn she had collected. It didn't tally.
      Confused, she replayed as much of the day in her mind as she could. All eight had been renGens, unable to produce enough selyn to satisfy even the least of the lords. Her brows knitted. She scowled at the pale amber colored wax almost hard enough to melt it. There were only eight entries, no matter how much she stared. Although as she looked at the numbers she had actually inscribed, they added up to her stores plus what she had started with in the morning.
      Its already an hour past official dusk? she had to look at the watch buried in the side drawer of the desk. The timepiece matched her internal time sense, its light face already past the horizon. What happened? she sat in the chair, thinking things over.
      Each transfer had taken almost an hour, on average. Far longer than her work at Sergei. She shook her head, Then I should have no where near the selyn. Normally she took at least fifteen or twenty collections a day. Gingerly, she stood and peered out of the door.
      "Yer still here." Italya cocked her head. "Iffen ye still have the go, there be a bit of a lats up in the pen."
      "If ye'll be tellin me how come I have so much selyn?" she asked, grinning. The renGen's cheerfulness was infectious, and Galina felt better already.
      "Cause we childer o' Fatima do it right." Italya winked, stroking her own dark furred arms. The gesture startled Galina slightly. It was so incredibly obscene. "Na m'lord, there be no one here but ye and me. Na one te be bothered if we aren't."
      "True enough." Galina laughed, zlinning Italya gently. The woman preened, obviously understanding what Galina was doing from her expression. She was still quite low field, but still her nager thrummed with pleasure at the attention. "Are all the Fatima Gens so enthusiastic?" she began walking towards the door.
      "Yup." she rested her hand on Galina's shoulder. "We Gens are Allah's gift to mankind, making life a joy and worth living for those who care for us." Her dropping of dialect was a shock until Galina noted the sing song tone, as if Italya were reciting a creed or belief taught to her from the cradle. "We'd be poor people indeed iffen we were te be so hard as te not give freely. 'Sides, we all be likin' te get the new one. 'Ticularly as ye be se sweet yerself."
      Their soft shoes made few sounds as they walked down the sand strewn corridors. Bright murals, again of the script Galina now knew as Arabic painted the walls a riot of color. Her ability to read the language was poor, but she recognized a few of the phrases as praise of God. She traced one line as it spiraled and twined with others. "Is all your art work like this." she tried to mouth a few of the strange words.
      "Yes, m'lord. It is not fer us te be makin' things thet look like they be alive." Itanya corrected her pronunciation of the now familiar phrase as she said it. "'Tis the work of te evil one te me makin' an idol."
      "Ins'Allah." Galina said in Arabic. "What does that mean?"
      "'At the will of Allah.' is the meanin' o' te words." Italya smiled. "Although it often be meanin' many things. From an askin' for help te a prayer fer mercy. But the phrase ye had said earlier, 'la ilaha illa Llah' and 'Muhammadun rasulu'Llah'; 'There is no God but God' and 'Muhammad is His messenger' are the first pillar of Islam called the Shahada are the words te be used to take the True Faith."
      "Italya!" an older, quite heavyset Gen drew himself up to his full height. "She is an Infidel." His accent was so thick Galina could barely understand the man.
      "Na Infidel was e'er teched by kepin' hush." but Italya ducked her head, looking away from the scowling man.
      "I asked, renGen." Galina drew her mark in the sand with her rank. "Italya was kind enough to tell me. Now if you would, we would like to zlin the prisoner."
      "She's not fit te be seen." he fingered the keys on their heavy iron ring, making them jingle and clank. "At least not by the likes of you."
      "I am the best judge of that. Open the half door and let me try to talk with her." her words were stung out of her by the renGen's arrogance. Normally only the destructively insane or criminals awaiting execution were ever locked up like this. The barred, remaining, top half of the door would be little protection to Galina if the prisoner tried to field slam her.
      But when the jailer opened the top part of the door, the prisoner seemed to be content to quietly walk up to them. Someone had obviously been kind enough to leave the woman with the means to clean herself up, and while her skin was weather roughened and dark circles beneath her eyes gave evidence of recent hardship, her hair was shiny with past care and her eyes shone with uncommonly good health for a raider. "What have they done with my slaves?" she shook the bars.
      Galina backed up a step, staring. Her throat tightened with fear. The prisoner licked her lips as she saw Galina's tentacles reach out towards her. Danger! instinctively, Galina put her arms around the two renGens, managing to hide in their scant fields. Although the prisoner's nager was not the only danger. She had spoken in mangled, if comprehendible, High Simelan.
      "We've been having numerous, repeated raids on our stores in the outlying districts and even attacks on the workers in the fields." Lord Karola sighed. "I'm afraid your raiders must have stolen some clothes, and possibly even the horse from us."
      "That's what I thought. No Azov renSime would attack Fatima." Lord Nashen leaned on the back of the chair he was draped over. "And the Gen raider had the field strength of a Sharm Lord."
      "Some of them have even been nests." Sharm Lord Azov stabbed his embroidery with an emphasis as if he wished it were a person.
      "Nests?" Dorityan was unfamiliar with the term.
      "A single Gen with a coterie of renSimes, or sometimes even a low powered lord or two." he bit off the end of the thread with his sharp teeth and began threading another needle. "They use the Simes as weapons and to get their thrills. We haven't had many come into Moskva in ages."
      "Not since the fall of most of the Demense." Sharm Lord Arkay looked and zlinned worried. "What I want to know, is why are they showing up now?"
      "I would like to know where they are coming from." Dorityan wished he could scratch his healing hands. They itched furiously. Although the itching did keep his mind off his worry for how Galina would take it when she heard he had been injured.
      "The West." Sharm Lord Azov pointed with his needle before beginning another silver leaf on the tree he was embroidering into existence on the thick, green kador across his lap.
      "Oh hell." Lord Fatima bowed his head. "I wish Valentine were still with us."
      "As do I, my Alamir." Sharm Lord Arkay said with a heavy sigh. "Although at the moment, Kir might have been of more use."
      "I miss him dreadfully." Lord Fatima stroked Sharm Lord Arkay's hand on his thigh. "I miss both of them."
      "Enough of this maudlin sighing and weeping." even though Dorityan could tell Lord Karola's words were more an attempt to distract than true chiding. "We all miss them." she said finally.
      "I know, Karola." Sharm Lord Arkay rested his chin on Lord Nashen's shoulder. "But he was my son and while I have others ..."
      "He will always have a special place in your heart." Sharm Lord Avilan's field wrapped around all five of them in the room.
      "Not te be meaning to intrude, but what is it that Valentine and Kir would have been able te tell ye?" Dorityan felt himself on the edge of tears from the level of grief in the air, and he had hardly ever even seen either Lord or Sharm Lord Kirov.
      "If there was something causing the rise of unrest in the nests and unallied tribes to our west." Lord Fatima stroked the side of Arkay's face gently, wiping away the tears of his partner.
      "Are they the only people in Russia who would know?" Dorityan rubbed at the bindings on his hands with his tentacles.
      "Stop that." Lord Karola snapped and Dorityan felt as if his tentacles had been locked in amber. "If you won't let us heal you for fear of going off cycle with Galina, then don't scratch." her field rubbed at the itches, stilling them momentarily.
      "Go ahead and heal him. We will all be doing a lot of augmenting in the near future." lord Galina's face was white and drawn as she entered the room. She hardly even glanced at the bandages on Dorityan's hands and he felt his heart stop for a moment. Everyone in the room turned and looked at her. "I talked with the raider Dorityan knocked out. She speaks an unusual dialect of High Simelan."
      "Go on." the chair beneath the Lords Fatima creaked as Arkay spoke.
      "She said there were waves of renSimes coming from the west, as if someone had struck a hornet's nest and the wasps were streaming from the broken hive." Galina's voice shook. "If we don't do something, they will wash over Russia as if we weren't even here."
      "We will defend our mother yet again." Dorityan vowed. "With our spears and with our hearts." he repeated his oath of allegiance. "She will not fall but over the bodies of all the renSimes in Russia."
      The morning air was crisp, rising from the earth to the sun in tendrils of mist. His horse's muscles shifted smoothly between Dorityan's knees. The black Trakh mare Lord Nivanya Kirov had loaned him was the most magnificent animal Dorityan had ever ridden.
      "Do you like her?" the red head's grin was infectious. Lord Nivanya ran a freckled hand through her wealth of long, still curled hair. She was a tiny woman, barely up to Dorityan's chin when standing on the ground, but the undisputed head of the most powerful Demense in Russia. Her mate, Sharm Lord Ilyan cantered up on one of his father's, Sharm Lord Arkay's, silver bay stallions.
      The most powerful Sharm Lord in all of Russia laughed like the young man he was, "From the look on his face, he's downright smitten." Sharm Lord Ilyan's mount curvetted and danced with impatience.
      "Smitten with my love." he looked into lord Galina's mahogany dark eyes. He took her hand and kissed the back of it. With the threat to Russia, all concerns for their illicit affair had been overwhelmed by external events.
      "You flatter me again, Dorityan." her eyes flicked to their rear.
      "They can't see anything but my paying my respects to a lord." Dorityan had a great deal of practice in such things. "I would not disturb their peace on the morn of battle for anything, even the most beautiful woman in the world." her hand was soft and smooth in his own. The pale traces of scar tissue from his burns stood out in stark contrast with his dark skin, but with Arkay's healing, there had been nothing but the most superficial nerve damage at all.
      "I certainly hope you're taking notes, Ilyan." Lord Nivanya twitted her mate.
      "No one is a better love than my Dorityan." she said and Dori certainly hoped she hadn't meant to use the term for sexual congress rather than the more poetic nuance of spiritual love. Nivanya blushed almost as red as her hair. Ilyan crowed delightedly. "What did I say?" Galina yelped.
      "That my staff was as smooth and as silken inside you as the wand of the Gods." he whispered, putting things as delicately as he could by quoting a quite erotic poem Mikhail Chernoye had written on a whim one day. Dorityan was not going to tell her she had just said he was a great lay.
      "Ack!" she blushed redder than Nivanya's tunic, hiding her face in her hands. "I didn't?" she whispered back.
      "Well, not quite so gently." he bit at his lip. "Actually you said that no one was better in bed than I was." he stroked her arm
      "Children, we are working here." Sharm Lord Arkay's arrival with Lord Nashen only made Galina's embarrassment worse. Fortunately, they were still staging the ranked troops of Sergei and Kirov. Maryam had weaseled out again, as she often did unless under direct attack. It had been decided Fatima would be held by Sharm Lord Darya as Tzer was ready to change over by the end of summer and they didn't wish to take the risk of leaving him alone. Azov had already taken the brunt of the attacks, and also would be held in reserve, under Lord Valtanir and Sharm Lord Alexandrya.
      "Then lets get to it." Lord Vayer wore a circlet of hammered gold in his black hair. It was shocking to realize how much strength was gathered here with these few people. "I would have you speak first, Dorityan. You know the best words with which to encourage your men." the respect in his midnight dark eyes was frightening.
      "We are all yours." Dorityan lifted his chin.
      "Then say that." Lord Vayer's eyes and nager held nothing but sincerity.
      Dorityan looked out over the ranks with a sense of pride. Close to one thousand renSimes stood before him. Support troops, sharm lords, Inducted Gens and a frighteningly large contingent of almost one hundred renGens were arrayed behind them.
      "We fight not to take the lands of our neighbors, nor to crush opposition to our will, nor to take one single unit of selyn which is not ours." Dorityan raised his hand, letting his own belief in what he was saying shine clear in his words. "We fight to preserve those who stand behind us."
      He could clearly zlin every single renSime focus on the cluster of Gens in their shielding kadors behind them. "We are the protectors of those who give us life." his voice carried to the farthest ear, as he had been taught to speak so many years ago. "Do not think you are expendable. Every single one of you, renGen, renSime and noble is a child of Rodina. She is all our mother, and no mother can stand to see her children slaughtered.
      "Swarms of terrorized people have been driven into our midst. Their lands lie outside our boundaries. Their ways are not ours. Their life is not ours to plunder. As they are children of their mothers, as we are children of Rodina, we shall defend all children from the horror rushing down upon us.
      "Aliens from the West have flooded the forests and marshes of our farthest reach. The West, where people kill to continue walking. People who are so afraid of the power of their brother or sister they kill them at establishment." An angry hiss rose from the ranks, silent to all but zlinning. "These walking dead have come east, towards Russia, driving all before them.
      "We shall lay the aliens to rest, watering the soil with their blood and freeing those trapped between. Our anger is not with the tribes we are bound to by treaty and blood, but with the usurpers who ravage and pillage the earth and her children in search of death to feed their ravening need." A razor edged wind arose from the fury of the troops at anyone who would do such a thing. At that very moment, Dorityan was prouder than he had ever been to be a child of Rodina and servant of the Demenses. "We shall not kill them, for to return their acts upon their bodies would be to sink ourselves in dishonor and infamy for all eternity." Dorityan let his hand caress the shaft of his lance, the smooth wood as silken beneath his finger and tentacle tips as Galina's skin.
      "Our spears shall keep their pollution from our souls. Our will shall keep their hatred from our hearts. Our glory shall keep their destruction from our home." he raised his spear over his head. "To Rodina, our mother, our protector, and our life!"
      "To Rodina!" came the battle cry, in unison, from every single throat, both before him and behind.


      Galina stared in wonder as yet another small band of the forest peoples were escorted toward the infirmary. Most of the people who had come to them were scared witless, with only rumors of the depredations in the west. Although far too many of them for Galina's comfort knew too much of the aliens threatening to overrun everything in their path.
      The nests, usually a single Gen with an entourage of Simes, were desperately grateful to be allowed to stay together. Sometimes a bachelor band of half a dozen Gens with no Simes arrived as well. Their total numbers had almost doubled in the weeks since they had left Russian territory. Counting in her mind, Galina realized that even with the additions, they were still over twenty percent in selyn production over demand. She truly hoped they would not require that buffer when they finally met their opposition.
      A flare rose from the back of the encampment where the infirmary was kept safe. With the call for a staff meeting, she handed over her guard responsibility to the elderly sharm lord who came to replace her on watch. "All seems quiet, but for the faint whiff of smoke I got from the north west an hour ago."
      "I'll keep an eye on it." he looked towards the mountains surrounding what could only be their destination. The largest group of Westerners within any practical distance of Moskva was Warsaw, and it was still close to a week away.
      Galina kneed her mare into a canter. Her silky smooth gaits were absolutely exquisite and almost worth the hassle of her occasionally rather obnoxious sense of humor. Circling the camp, she watched as the renSimes sat and prepared their armor and weapons. A few had even gone so far as to fit out extra shafts with spare spear heads in preparation for a long distance volley. Good idea she noted the idea to bring it up at the meeting.
      Slowing her mare to a walk, Galina threaded her way through the street neat paths between the four man tents. Not allowing for pairs on expedition was probably for the best, although many of the renSimes were probably not letting the close quarters slow them down too much. All the renSimes were on a three week schedule, and the lack of release was beginning to show in some of their attitudes.
      One particularly egregious offender, a woman who had refused early transfer by bolting into the forest was being given ten lashes with the barbed whip. Galina cringed internally as the razor sharp hooks tore into the woman's back. That is a very nasty way to get to go all the way into attrition before transfer. she hoped the example would help other remember this was not an acceptable form of behavior. If she had simply pleaded her case before a panel of lords, she most likely would have been given an exemption and been allowed to do some of the heavy lifting requiring augmentation in the morning while breaking camp.
      After stepping off her mare, she handed the reins to a waiting renGen. Even behind the veil over his eyes, she could zlin his pleasure at being allowed outside. Not all of the renGens who had come with them had fared so well. Many of them retreated into the large tents provided for them, afraid of the openness of being above. She pushed the door flap aside and ducked into the command tent. Every one else was already there, standing around the copy of the ancient map the Veiled had come up with.
      "We want a tie breaker." Lord Vayer leaned up against the map table, between Galina and it.
      "Shouldn't you get someone who knows more about strategy and tactics?" Galina gulped, feeling as if everyone present were staring down on her.
      "No, actually." Sharm Lord Arkay stood next to Vayer, the familial resemblance painfully obvious with the stresses everyone was under. Lord Vayer more than most. Without his Sharm Lord present, he was having the hardest time of this expedition. "We require someone who is very familiar with the mind set of the renSimes along with us."
      "Then you should ask Dorityan." she fingered the fringe on the end of her belt nervously. The tiny bells woven into the ends of the tassel clicked together, almost as her nerves were doing.
      "I can't be objective enough, Galina." to her eyes, Dorityan looked more at home with the ranking Lords of the Demenses than he ever had anywhere else. "I am too close to them."
      "And I'm not?" she held out her arms. "I serve them in transfer."
      "What a beautiful way to put something truly extraordinary." Dorityan's wry grin tugged at her heart, as it always did. She couldn't help but duck her head and smile back. "You are the best lord working with both us and the renGens. You care about the people you serve." Her blushes deepened and Galina clenched the little bells till the metal dug into her palms.
      "All of us lords do." she demurred.
      "Some more than others, m'lass." The affectionate term from Sharm Lord Arkay startled Galina so much she backed up a step, neatly ending up sitting on a camp chair.
      "I meant to do that." she grinned, gingerly feeling beneath her to make sure she was squarely seated on the chair. Everyone chuckled and some of the tension was broken. With that, people began sitting around her, forming a circle with Vayer on one side of her and Arkay on the other. "I'm not entirely sure I want to be between you two." Galina made an exaggerated flick of terror with her field. The fights between the two men were legendary, even down in the sharms.
      "We don't hit innocent bystanders." Lord Vayer put a hand on her knee. It was the first time Galina had felt Vayer's touch so closely, as if he were looking it her very soul. Dorityan's hand on her shoulder tightened momentarily.
      "What about the time you clobbered Diomid with a cream pastry." Lord Nashen put an arm around his mate.
      "Or the time Kirina got in the way of the snowball." Vayer looked at his father with an impish grin.
      "I meant to hit her." although Sharm Lord Arkay didn't even bother trying to hide the fact he was lying through his nager. "Enough already." he smiled at his sons. "The problem we have is this; the attacks on our formation are getting heavier with every kilometer we press west. I want to stay and build fortifications. We have already suffered over twenty casualties in the last week."
      "How many of those are from fighting, and how many simply from training." Dorityan asked behind her. Although there was no curiosity to him, so Galina simply figured this was something she should hear from the source.
      Arkay continued. "That's just it, we are losing manpower, primarily to training."
      "Which is why I have said we should press through to Warsaw as fast as we can safely manage." Vayer rested his chin on his hand, looking up at her. At the moment he looked nothing like the leader of all Russia, but to her mind his presence was a well of light and heat, brighter than any sun. "I think the renSimes are getting agitated with the pace. They have to move faster than we are."
      "But the renGens can't." Sharm Lord Arkay sighed. "There is only so fast the wagons can move."
      "Then leave them behind." Lord Vayer glared at his father. This position was getting less and less healthy to be in by the moment.
      "Not a good idea." Daringly, Galina placed her hand over Dorityan's. "Is there any way the renGens could keep up if we let the renSimes go all the way into hard need before transfer?" she thought of the unfortunate renSime being whipped for such a desire.
      "Yes, have the renSimes load and unload the wagons under augmentation. It will add at least two more hours of travel into every day. But we won't have enough selyn to last us very long at that pace." he added cautiously.
      "How long?" she asked.
      "Long enough to get us to Warsaw." Lord Vayer said hotly.
      "But if we have no reserves when we get there, what if there is a fight?" Sharm Lord Arkay snapped out.
      "We'll worry about that when the time comes." Lord Vayer was not backing down.
      "Stop it, both of you." Galina broke in, amusing Lord Nashen no end from the spirals of good humor in his field. "What's so funny." she turned on him.
      "Zlin those two." Dorityan smirked, also quite amused. Galina did and gave both men a good swat with her field.
      "Quit playing, both of you."
      "I was actually quite serious in my points though." Lord Vayer sighed. "We have to do something. The renSimes can't tolerate a long running fight like we are dealing with. If we keep having to deal with these small, picayune attacks while trudging our way west, they won't be good for much if there is a major set piece battle."
      "He's right." Dorityan murmured in her ear. "RenSimes can't cope with long, drawn out endeavors. We are too 'now' oriented. What happened yesterday or tomorrow is of little account to us beyond the exigencies of need."
      "Not all of you." she looked up and smiled as his woebegone expression.
      "But almost all." he insisted. "Particularly the younger ones like we have with us."
      "What if we can get to Warsaw with a decent safety margin, at least 10%." she zlinned the gathered Lords cautiously. Normally Lords did not take transfer from renGens, for fear of teaching them to kill, but this was a special circumstance, and Lords did have the best control over their abilities for transfer.
      "It won't work, Galina. I've run the numbers at least ten times. I'll do it again if you want, but I don't think it will change anything." Lord Nashen grimaced, looking at his inkstained hands and tentacles.
      "Were they calculated for Fatima style collections?" she grinned at her liege.
      "They were calculated from the already gathered selyn." he trailed off and stared at her. "What do you mean by Fatima 'style'?"
      "There is more than one way to collect selyn?" Dorityan's curiosity was almost as sharp as Sharm Lord Arkay's and given he was fairly low field and a renSime on top of it, his curiosity must have been eating him alive.
      Everyone was staring at her. Amazed, Galina realized no one else would have ever had the chance to compare the two. She blushed and ducked her head.
      "Come now, lass. Be tellin' us yer thinkin'." Lord Nivanya's mimicry of a renGen was so spot on Galina almost fell off her chair.
      "Fatima renGens give up their selyn with a certain, well, panache." she bit at her lower lip, looking through her lashes shyly. "They bring a great deal more enthusiasm to it than Sergei renGens, at least. They end up giving two to three times the selyn I could get from the Sergei renGens."
      Lord Nashen blinked in surprise. "I didn't know that. You mean other renGens don't enjoy contact with the lords."
      "If they do, its more like if one gets aroused accidentally while washing one's arms." her blushes must have been red enough to confuse a fire eater. "Not a thing to dwell on. Fatima renGens tend to wallow in the experience."
      "But how do we keep them content once they know there can be more?" but Sharm Lord Ilyan eyed both Lord Vayer and lord Galina herself with an amused expression.
      "Most of them will probably make their wishes quite well known to any lord who collects their selyn." Galina remembered Domi with great fondness. "It's rather hard to resist, actually." her tentacles twined with Dorityan's.
      "You did what with whom?" his whisper was aghast under the chatter of the others discussing the possibility.
      "I didn't bed him." lord Galina was surprised at Dorityan's vehemence. "Anyway, why do you worry about it?" she meant her words completely literally.
      "You are mine." his fingers tightened on her shoulder with bruising force.
      "Dori!" she was shocked at his reaction. "Who I bed is none of your business, not that I would want anyone else."
      'None of your business' rang through Dorityan's mind again and again, drowning out all other thoughts. He wanted to plead and beg her not to ever do such a thing. As he opened his mouth to do so, Lord Vayer caught his eye.
      *Not if you value her love.* the sending blew shards of glass through his confused thoughts. It always hurt, to one extent or another, when a Lord or Sharm Lord spoke directly to his mind, but this time the meaning hurt as much as the action. The warmth and affection lord Galina held for him was brutally obvious through her touch. Dorityan couldn't believe she had just said such a cruel thing.
      Lord Vayer shook his head sadly, grimacing. Dorityan could almost read his thoughts without a sending. 'This is why we don't allow renSimes close contact with us.' the unspoken rebuke was even harsher coming from Lord Vayer, who never, by thought or deed, had ever implied renSimes were any less human than anyone else.
      Galina stroked his hand with her cheek. It was wet. He could feel her lip quiver as she tried to hold back further tears. "If you wish ..." her voice cracked.
      "No, love. I want you the way you are." he vowed he would never, ever again bring up the topic. If he didn't know about it, he wouldn't be hurt by it. He brushed her tears away and kissed the top of her head. "I love you, Galina and want you to be happy." If it meant giving her up, then so be it.
      As he knew they must, the Lords decided to speed up the march. Even Sharm Lord Arkay, once he had been assured they would have enough reserve seemed more content with hurrying to get to the bottom of this whole mess. The column was horribly exposed to attack while filing through the rise to the pass, and Dorityan could only pray the Lords knew what they were doing with their over watch of the now huge combined forces.
      Now almost hourly they ran into someone fleeing what must be horrible carnage from the nearby mountain range. The two Sharm Lords, Arkay and his son Ilyan, willing to test strange renSimes were looking horribly haggard. For every single renSime who obeyed the command for obedience, under penalty of death for failure, five still attacked despite knowing full well they would die in the attempt to strip selyn from either Sharm Lord.
      At the end of the day, in a huge clearing at the top of the pass, they bivouacked the troops, hopefully for the last time. Dorityan walked through the city of tents, checking in with his countrymen to be sure none of them he knew had tried to put off some necessary thing for fear of being thought ridiculous.
      As he walked between two of the tents near the embankment and ditch surrounding the came, he zlinned a robed figure sulking about in the shadows. He started to call an alarm, and then thought differently of it. The person looked familiar.
      Carefully looking towards the rocky slope of the pass, Dorityan walked closely enough to the embankment, the rather tall, large man was trapped between him and the stony ground. The figure stumbled and Dorityan bit back a sob. "To me, Arkay." he held out his hand.
      "I can't." Arkay's light eyes shone from the firelight reflected in under his cowl. "I don't trust myself. Not after today." His voice was shaking with the most awful loathing Dorityan had ever heard. Dorityan's own stomach was churning with self-hatred in sympathy with Arkay's own, even through the double robes the Sharm Lord was wearing.
      "I trust you." he stood before Arkay, man to man, and reached up his hands. Arkay bowed his head, the cowl of his robe covering his features in shadow. His field however, reflected off Dorityan's own, casting midnight shadows across Dorityan's heart. However the darkness was not Dorityan's fear, and he knew what he had to do.
      "Don't." Arkay's whole body shook. "I killed today. I killed over twenty men and women." he looked towards the gates of the encampment, over Dorityan's head. "I never thought I would have to kill again."
      Rather than replying in words, Dorityan simply took Arkay's face in his hands. Horrible, nauseating pain ripped through him. Not the pain of any attack, but simply Arkay's own, transmitted through the simple contact. "Where is Nashen?" he murmured, wishing he knew what to do.
      "He sent me out to you." A corner of Arkay's mouth turned up in what could almost be called a smile. "He said you would know what to do, and he was right, as always."
      "Is that any way to talk about me, Arkay?" Lord Nashen appeared out of the shadows. He wasn't there a moment ago Dorityan jumped, startled, but not taking his hands from Arkay. Slowly, he removed one hand and gently took Arkay's heavy, work worn and stiffened hand in his own.
      As if he had been doing it since change over, Dorityan let his handling tentacles wrap around Arkay's wrist in absolute trust the Sharm Lord would not harm him. Then he took Arkay's other wrist in his tentacles.
      "Don't do this Dori." Arkay's eyes were wide with fear. "I could kill you so very, very easily."
      "You won't." Dorityan knew and let his laterals brush Arkay's wrists. He had absolutely no desire for transfer from him, but still the gesture, was one of absolute trust and faith in Arkay's ability to control his instincts as simply the feel of a Sime's laterals against his wrists could cause Arkay to kill him between one heartbeat and the next.
      Sharm Lord Arkay's hands shook as he let them lie on Dorityan's wrists. They were cool and pleasant, but nothing more. Dorityan could zlin Arkay's field form great feathered wings behind him. Smiling at the image of an angel, Dorityan stood on his toes slightly and pressed his lips to Arkay's.
      The older man groaned deep in his throat, as if in a mixture of pain and pleasure. Relaxing, Dorityan leaned against Arkay's overwhelming strength of will. As if he were a child again, cradled in his nurse's arms, he trusted Arkay not to harm him with all his heart and soul at risk.
      Wings wrapped around him, drawing Dorityan into a hug with Arkay's nager and arms. "Thank you, Dori." Arkay's cheek brushed his temple. "I don't know how I can ever repay you for tonight."
      "Keep us all alive tomorrow." he hugged Arkay back as tightly as he could. The solidity of him was almost more intoxicating than his field.
      "Now there you are on shaky ground, Dori." Lord Nashen chuckled in that so soft way he had of laughing at the world. "You may certainly fondle his nager, as it makes him feel very good, but you may not fondle his body." As Dorityan currently had his hands slid all the way up Arkay's robes and into them, he almost jumped back until he realized Nashen was making a point as well as teasing him.
      "I would not fondle your mate's body, I am simply appreciating his magnificent splendor with my fingertips." Dorityan let his hands caress Arkay's arms one last time. The heavy muscling felt very odd, and not at all to his taste compared to a Sime. Even the character of Arkay's field was not really one to tempt him in any way.
      "I am disappointed in you renSime Dorityan." this time Arkay's words did startle him enough to make him stiffen. "You had none of your flowery prose to praise my aging charms."
      "Your incredible splendor is so far beyond my modest way with words I had no wish to offend by merely comparing you to the beauty of the heavenly host or the glory of the love of the most merciful." Dorityan chuckled, "Besides, my words are nothing next to the love for you in Nashen's eyes." he spoke plainly, underscoring the simple truth with straightforwardness.
      "You shame me with your understanding, Dorityan." Arkay held him close for another long moment, but Dorityan could tell he was looking at Nashen.
      Dorityan slipped out of Arkay's robe and left the two of them as alone as they could be in a camp full of people.


      Rels Farris swore as his pen ran out of ink. "Will nothing work right in this shenned place!" it snapped in two as he broke it in his frustration. Ink spattered all over the transfer rolls. Hastily, he tried to blot the worst of it up with a paper towel. Legible enough he looked at the list of mostly crossed out names.
      He knew full well it had been the connivance of that witch who had banished him out here. I should have made sure that man was truly junct. although he had no idea how he had mistaken the unusual signature he had known the man had carried since his fiasco with the Distect.
      Now there was a problem. Probably where the witch ran to. he pulled another of the pens from the desk drawer. Almost as bad as the shenned natives out here on the edge of the world. As soon as high speed ocean travel had become a practical form of mass transportation the Techton had sent their 'best and brightest' to free Europe from the kill.
      "But the shenned idiots refuse to do what's good for them." Rels swore again. How anyone could refuse the benefits of being freed of the kill was completely beyond him. As soon as the Techton representatives had arrived in the heavily forested regions in the center of the continent, they had been harassed and some of them even murdered by the barbarians. These people didn't seem to want to not kill.
      Rels glared at his Donor. "And what do you want?" the woman's fear was painfully zlinnable, forcing him to try to keep his own field from vibrating into a state in sympathy. Not only had the barbarians refused to cooperate, he had to constantly fight down entran from only being able to serve the handful of renSimes in his own contingent.
      "There's an army coming down the pass." her eyes were wide with panic.
      "You're exaggerating, Lana." he snorted in disgust and tried to return to his work, not that there was much of it. For the last three months people had been fleeing the city like selyn from an open wound. Good riddance he figured. "Get out of here." shenned fool he added silently. "I'll come zlin in a bit."
      "You have to come now, hajene." her dancing from foot to foot was driving Rels crazy. "We have to run!" she looked as if bolting were the first thing she had thought of.
      "All right, but you are interrupting the scheduling." he tried to make it sound important, eternally grateful Gens couldn't zlin. Even a renSime would have been able to tell he was lying about how critical his work was.
      With a resigned sigh, he let Lana put his white and black cape over his shoulders. Even in the middle of summer, this place was still chill in the mornings to him, it was so far north. Although the almost constant light was even more of an irritation to him. He covered them as the sun, already high in the sky, burned down through the thick air. The humidity and insects of the river basin were about to drive him crazy, particularly after the dry heat of Rialite.
      "So where are they?" he scowled, wishing he hadn't let Lana put the garment over his shoulders. Now he was too warm. Wiping his forehead he squinted off into the distance, not wanting to expend the energy to try to zlin so far.
      Her fear was a knife along his nerves, and for the first time he shivered. Maybe there is something wrong. the first crack in Rels' armor appeared. Everyone was staring to the eastern rim of the Warsaw basin. Then he saw and zlinned well over two thousand people coming down into the valley. Close to half of them in sharp lines, metallic glints over their heads in four perfect rows. Wagons and draft animals following them. And arrayed, before and aft, light cavalry the likes of which no one had ever seen before. They were mounted on scrubby, short legged animals, but their smooth articulation was enough to chill even Rels' blood.
      Now the fear reached him in full force. Looking around, he noticed people running back and forth in the courtyard of the manor house they had claimed from now absent owners. "Stop it, all of you!" he shouted, trying to get some semblance of order. "They aren't burning or destroying anything." he didn't want to add the tag, 'yet'.
      Fearfully, he looked east again and saw seven people arrayed before the troops. Even at this range, Rels could zlin the most frightening thing yet. Five of those seven threw off more power than even the few filthy gypsies he had had the misfortune to encounter. An evil smile crossed his face before he could hold it in. This is how I shall get my revenge for my disgrace. for Rels knew, there would be many people who would love to take advantage of the sort of power those five represented, and none of them were Techton.
      The host was spread behind him. Dorityan shivered momentarily as he saw the destruction of generations of patient labor arrayed before them. He had read Sharm Lord Kir's accounts of her youth in this city. Most of it had been horrific beyond words, but the descriptions of the fertile orchards and fields surrounding Warsaw had been exquisitely beautiful. Now there were only charred stumps and barren earth as far as the eye could see. Even the great river through the city looked silted and unnavigable, despite the few dingy scows plying the waterway. "They will be starving within a generation, if they are not now." Dorityan murmured under his breath.
      "Now, from the looks of it." Sharm Lord Arkay's field darkened. There were a few hardy souls trying to scavenge what they could from the wreckage, but when they looked up, none of them had sense to their eyes or fields. Their clothes were a shroud of rags falling from skeletons bared by a lack of flesh.
      Lord Vayer hissed in shock. "Those are renGens," his black stallion bridled as the man stiffened, "not slaves."
      "This is the work of the evil one." Lord Nashen stroked his mare's neck. "If only we had known." he sighed, attention turned to his mare to hide his feelings. Although they were painfully obvious, even to Dorityan.
      The steady, snick, snick of the drums kept the same tempo, as they came down the long slope towards the valley floor. A plume of dust rose into the still air, heading straight towards them. Dorityan raised his hand, calling for a halt. From the speed of the cloud nearing them, whoever it was, was riding far too fast. His hand jerked the reins, causing his own mare to rear slightly. "That is no horse." he felt his heart pound in fear.
      "No, it isn't." Lord Vayer's eyes narrowed and he placed himself at the front of the array. The Lords Kirov and Fatima fell behind him, ready for battle. "Go to the rear, Galina."
      "At your will." she looked momentarily to Dorityan.
      He blew her a kiss, "Be well, my love." He put his heart into his eyes. If this was the last time they were to zlin each other, he didn't want her to remember him as a coward. Despite everything, she pressed her mare to his and gave him a deep loving kiss.
      "I love you, Dorityan. Don't do anything stupid." her smile was brighter than the sun, despite her fear.
      "I love you, Galina." he caressed her face. "Now get out of here so you can do your job." for if it came to a fight, she would be far too busy in the infirmary to worry about him. Without another word, she set her mare into a canter, circling the host to come through the opening in the center to join the support staff.
      "I'm glad Darya isn't here." Lord Vayer whispered and the staff joined in a rather strained laugh. Sharm Lord Darya was a wonderful administrator, mother and person, but her combat skills were not very good.
      Unlike most channels, Rels was quite glad for his safe position in the back. "Now, you know everyone speaks Simelan. So just go out there and act like you are the leader." he told the renSime sitting next to him in the back seat of the heavy car. Another rut in the road jolted them again and he swore. "Are you finding every hole in the road?" he cursed at the driver, yet another renSime. His Donor tried to settle Rels' unruffled nerves. "Why are you being so pushy?" he complained at her. She never could get anything right.
      "I thought you might be nervous at facing such a group of people." her short hair fell into her eyes again. Rels thought he should probably have told her to get it cut to at least try to make her look more presentable. Finally they came to a stop. It had been far longer than he had planned on.
      "Why are we all the way out here?" he snapped at the driver.
      "Because they stopped as soon as we left the city." the driver's knuckles were white on the steering wheel. Looking to see what the renSime was staring at, Rels got his first good look at the aliens. It was like something out of a historical drama. As if in a trance, he got out of the car, flanked by the renSime and his Donor.
      "The Simes are wearing retainers!" Lana gulped, her automatic sympathy making Rels' nervousness even worse.
      "Stop that." he hissed in English, certain the barbarians couldn't know a civilized language. He couldn't zlin any discomfort from the horrible things wrapped around the wrists of every single one of the troops in front of him. They stood impassive in the summer sun, as if waiting for orders. RenSimes don't act like that. Rels' zlinned the almost single nager created by the renSimes. The lead barbarian even had a beard. Rels grimaced at the disgusting lack of hygiene. Reluctantly he looked up at the leader's hairy face. A gold band, crudely made, circled his head. He wore black, decorated with all kinds of ornate magical symbolism. A shiver ran up Rels' spine as he noted even this Sime had retainers on, metal ones from the flash of light striking over where his laterals were covered. He even wore a sword. Another shiver threatened Rels' composure.
      With a sigh of leather, the six people dismounted. From the front rank, the two center troopers came forward and took the horses reins. Lana's field twined in a sensual appreciation.
      "What was that for?" Rels hissed as the renSime, Jorj, stepped forward.
      "The horses." the little fool had a silly look on her face.
      "Keep your nager on business." Rels snapped. He could not see any appreciation for the large, smelly, stupid animals. Give him a good, reliable piece of machinery every day.
      "Yes, hajene." she was still looking at the creatures. What a waste of time. Rels grimaced.
      "Pay attention to the barbarians." he pointed with a tentacle. The only Gens he could see were the two, very large ones standing with what had to be their channels. One was obviously quite old, if still very physically capable from the look of him standing with an extraordinarily tall channel. The other was much, much younger, standing with a tiny woman who had flaming red hair, and it zlinned, a temper to match. The two Gens wore robes, the old one's were black and the young one's were an eye searing crimson. Their channels were dressed in the same colors, but wearing boots, pants and long tunics over loose shirts. The other channel in black was also wearing a sword.
      Rels' wrists were beginning to hurt from looking at the horrible retainers on the Simes. One or two at a time would have been bearable, but to see so many of them bound like that was awful. Jorj was being an idiot, as usual, and hadn't done as Rels had asked. Marking him down for later punishment for his disobedience to orders, Rels stepped forward.
      "Would you like to make yourselves more comfortable before we begin?" he pointed to the retainers with a tentacle.
      There was a long, surprised gabble among the foreigners. They aren't speaking Simelan! Rels almost fainted.
      Dorityan didn't stop to think, but caught the foreign emissary before he could hit the ground. The man's sharm lord scurried forward and twisted the fields in such a way, Dorityan almost fainted himself. The woman's touch was like cold molasses, thick and cloying. Even her field held the sickly sweet cloying taste of the sweetener. He met her eyes and suddenly felt very sorry for her. She was doing the best she could, with no training and no inherent skills to teach her to work the fields.
      "He'll be all right." Dorityan hoped. "My name is Chief renSime Dorityan Fatima."
      "Mine is Donor Second Order Lana ambrav Itahnine and this is Second Order Channel Rels Ferris." a flash of shame burned through the sugary feel of her field as she bit off something else she was going to say. Dorityan had no idea what the titles meant, but their implication was obvious enough from zlinning. "RenSime Jorj was supposed to be the one to talk with you."
      "Shut up." the man she was trying to comfort snapped out in an almost unintelligible dialect of English. Dorityan focused on the only decoration on the man's single garment to keep from letting on he could understand the words. Already he did not like the arrogance or attitude of this Rels at all. "Don't let them know we are trying to trick them."
      Fear wrapped Dorityan in an icy shroud and he saw Lana's eyes widen in terror of the starved looking Sime. "I will let you speak with your, Channel," he tried to pronounce the term correctly, "without my interference." It seemed most of the message had made it through, when her field softened into gratitude. Dorityan placed the Sime into her care and stepped back to his Lords. He caught Vayer's eyes, Beware, he plans treachery. Lord Vayer's eyes flickered to the woman. She cares, too much. he could sense all five great ones listening in on his thoughts. The others are sheep who will follow a strong shepherd. he added wryly. I would not trust them for anything. it seemed there were far worse things than being a renSime in Russia. The lack of sense of self he zlinned of the renSimes was almost frightening. They were simply creatures who did as their lord bade.
      "The Sime has Southerner's Syndrome." Sharm Lord Arkay told them all, carefully in Russian. It seemed it was not the language itself which had set off the strange people, but rather its existence at all.
      "He is old for one with the disease." Lord Vayer noted. "I'm surprised he recovered from the shock at all, in that case."
      "Particularly with that sharm lord at his side." Dorityan couldn't help but grimace. "I would not wish for her touch, and I am renSime." he knew his distaste was obvious and did nothing to try to hide it. "Perhaps Galina would know what to do."
      Sharm Lord Arkay's eyes went blank for a moment. "I sent for her. We have to have someone who can both talk with these people without killing the man and who can possibly find out what treachery they plan. I couldn't get within touching range of him without stopping his heart."
      "I can, obviously." Dorityan bowed his head. "I'll do it. I don't think anyone else here could."
      "Do you think they might take it as an insult?" Lord Fatima rested his hand on his sword hilt.
      "I don't really care, at this point, as long as they stop driving people into our territory." Lord Vayer echoed Lord Fatima's gesture. "What do you think would happen if they did not go back?"
      "I don't know, despite how open they are nagerically, I couldn't read them that deeply. For all the man has Southerner's, his nageric control is almost as good as the least of the sharm lord's." Dorityan shrugged. "His sensitivity seems to be very high though, when his disease does not cloud his judgement."
      "That is all part of the syndrome. Extremely high sensitivity coupled with extraordinary reactivity to field gradients, no matter whether the sufferer is zlinning or not." Sharm Lord Arkay made Dorityan shiver with fear of such a living hell. The only thing which was a true comfort to him sometimes was being able to retreat completely out of the world of selyn. To not have that escape was a particularly painful death sentence.
      "Thank you for telling me what to expect. May I have something of yours, Lord Fatima, to help me focus so I do not betray my thoughts?" he looked up into Lord Nashen's silver eyes. He gasped though as the great Lord slipped one of the platinum rings from his ear.
      "I would have you wear this in remembrance of your duty to your heart." there was nothing of amusement and a great deal of joy in Nashen's eyes as Dorityan accepted the jewelry. It was only the work of seconds to put it in place and heal the hole around it.
      "I accept your charge, my Lord Fatima." he bowed his head respectfully.
      Galina slid from her mare, handing her over to the waiting guard holding the other mares. Trying not to look as if she were in as much of a hurry as she felt, she strode over to Sharm Lord Arkay. "What is your will, my Lord?" his message had been unusually terse.
      "First, do not speak High Simelan unless you wish to be overheard. Second, it seems, only you and Dorityan are suitable to speak with the foreigners. The man has Southerner's Syndrome and would not be able to tolerate close contact with any of the rest of us." Sharm Lord Arkay was unusually terse. "We will have to listen in closely to your conversation."
      She couldn't help but wrinkle her nose at the requirement. It didn't hurt her to let a Sharm Lord listen in on her mind, but she was always afraid she couldn't control her thoughts well enough and might inadvertently offend.
      "I never am offended by someone's private thoughts, little one. There is a usually good reason for them to be private. Only your actions will ever earn my wrath." Sharm Lord Arkay was far sweeter with her than he had ever been before and she looked at Dorityan in question. A glimmer of silver shone from his ear and she was startled to see him wearing jewelry. Something had gone between him and the Lords Fatima last night and now Galina wondered what it had been.
      Dorityan offered her his arm, and she delicately wrapped her fingers around his bracer. The gesture brought out her sense of being Gen to his Sime and she let her public field reflect her feelings. A delicate tendril of silvery laughter trickled through her mind. In her thoughts only, she stuck out her tongue at Lord Nashen and was rewarded with a bright flash of good humor.
      "I hope you are feeling better." Dorityan spoke in High Simelan, without any of his usual ornamentation. His free hand reached up to touch his new earring for a moment. It was an unusual gesture, one very like his usual very business like demeanor in public. "We did not mean to cause you harm." his nager was a slick and undisclosing as a Lords.
      "Your new lord here does not have horrible things on her arms." the way Dorityan's mind translated the last word was as confusing as it had been before.
      Gently removing Galina's hand from his bracer, Dorityan showed him the armor. The man called Rels studied the hardened, steel reinforced leather. Making sure he did not let the sides gape at all, Dorityan let his tentacles twine through the half releases and emerge around his hands. "They are for protection." he explained, turning his wrist.
      "Those must be painful." the poor little sharm lord shivered again. "How can you stand to have your tentacles trapped like that?"
      "They aren't." he spoke in tentacle talk as well as verbal High Simelan. "I feel dangerously exposed without them." This was a good, relatively non-sensitive topic to try to draw these two out with. Galina's tentacles twined with his, almost distracting him from the point of the discussion. "Would you like to touch?" he offered his free hand to the sharm lord.
      Her hand stretched forward, but before she could make contact the man grabbed her wrist. The gesture was so possessive, Dorityan wanted to slap him. "He's a strange renSime. He might try to kill you." the odious man said in English, still secure in thinking Dorityan didn't understand the language. The charge was so ridiculous though, Dorityan almost gave the game away by laughing. "What's so funny?" suspicion was rife in the man's field.
      "One of the words you used, 'strange', can mean many things in our tongue." Dorityan made himself smile with both his field and his face. Never before had all the time he had spent hiding his true feelings been so very useful.
      "It was the only word I understood." Galina added her own, false, sense of amusement. "It zlins wrongly." her High Simelan was still not great, but it seemed the foreigners understood her.
      The sharm lord shook off the man's grasp, and let her fingertips touch Dorityan's. He brushed her nails lightly with the very ends of his dorsals. Her curiosity was so sharp, Dorityan's amusement now overspilled his control. "We are people like you." he let his admiration for the sharm lord color his own nager.
      "She's only a Gen." the awful man said. This time it was too much and Galina struck out at him with a field blow. It was as light as a feather, but still the man rocked beneath it as if Sharm Lord Arkay had delivered one of his better efforts.
      "Don't speak of a sharm lord like that." she snapped.
      "A what?" he gasped, clenching his arms to his gut. His face was dead white beneath his swarthy skin, giving him a grey cast.
      "Come here, pretty one." Galina murmured, holding out her hand. "We can do far better for you than that creature." Fortunately she forgot to cast her words in High Simelan and the only effect was to make Rels glare at her. His tentacles lashed around his wrists, as if he had been threatened. Lana's eyes widened though with the way Galina had set her field, as if she were a lord the exact same power as her. Then Dorityan zlinned again. They are a pair. fear rose in his throat. Galina was not showing her public field, but her private one.
      She's trying to steal my Donor. Rels wanted to pull Lana away from the barbarians. When the renSime's tentacles had slid out from his retainers Rels had been momentarily intrigued by the devices, but as it seemed the laterals were still trapped, he soon lost interest. But having Lana be so entranced by the man was frightening. Normally Lana was so timid as to be annoying. For her to want to touch someone she didn't know very well was shocking.
      When the woman, who it seemed didn't even have the brains to speak clearly, challenged Rels for Lana, he was incensed. The renSime fingered his ear again, and then set Lana's hand over the woman's. "You go too far!" he shouted, pulling Lana back by her shoulders. The pain of the aborted contact was nothing compared to what happened next. The heavens opened up, smashing Rels to the ground in a blaze of fury. The last thing he remembered was seeing a snarl of pure hate on the foreign woman's face.
      "I'm so sorry." Galina tried to show her horrible regret for having accidentally hit out at the strange man. "I simply couldn't stand aside and watch him maul you."
      Dorityan was being very quiet, as if he were holding back on them.
      "He wasn't. He's my assigned Channel." the woman grimaced. "By the way, my name is Lana and his is Rels. I hope you are not offended by him."
      "Not at all." she lied.
      "I am." Dorityan's dark eyes blazed. "He was rude to you. I won't apologize for being offended by bad manners." There was more to Dorityan's upset than simple offense at someone's manners though. "You are not 'merely' a Gen." He looked at Galina though with all the sorrows of the world in his eyes. "You are Galina's match." his voice choked.
      "It can't be." Lana stared at her, as if she had grown another four tentacles on her forehead.
      "Even if it is, I am bound to Dorityan." Galina tried to plead with her lover silently.
      "Not formally." Dorityan turned away and waved to Sharm Lord Arkay. "Come here with Lord Fatima at your side. Together you might be calm enough you don't harm Rels any further."
      "Good thinking." Lord Nashen said, kneeling at his mate's side as Arkay focused his attention on the fallen man. Galina refused categorically to label him a lord, despite the fact he had both a public and private field. By the time Galina looked for Dorityan again, he had gone.


      Dorityan gave the orders for the troops to bivouac. Even with this new development, he did not trust the natives one bit. By the level of destruction in the valley, whatever was driving the Westerners from their homes was a force to be reckoned with.
      Soon he had all three groups, allies, renSimes and support troops safely behind even broader moats and watchtowers than usual. "Are you sure this is necessary." Lord Vayer, who had followed him about like a bright angel all morning, asked for his ears alone.
      "Even if it is not necessary for defense, it is necessary for the troops to be busy, m'Lord." he told Lord Vayer. "They came into this valley ready for a fight, and without something to keep them otherwise occupied, they will fight amongst themselves, as their blood is up."
      "I am also thinking you wish to distract yourself, Dori." Lord Vayer's voice was even softer. Dorityan turned and looked into his ruler's face.
      "True, my Lord." he fingered the ring of platinum through his earlobe. It had already become a familiar gesture; a comforting reminder of someone's unshakable trust. "The new sharm lord, Lana, is Galina's match." for some reason, walking the edge of the camp made almost anyone seem approachable.
      "But not her mate. Not if Galina doesn't want it."
      "How could anyone not want their match, my Lord Vayer?" Dorityan leaned against one of the hastily erected posts, soon to become part of a parapet, if they could find the wood. "If I had any taste at all for Gens, I certainly would not pass up the chance. Besides, if Galina were to give up her chance at a match, I would never be able to live with myself."
      "Your sense of honor and love does your Mother proud." Vayer simply stood before him as yet another man. "And Allah will shower blessings about you for your generosity."
      "But not the blessing of children." Dorityan sighed. "I sired three, and know nothing of what happened to them."
      "True. Although you are free to allow Galina to bear to another and raise the children as your own." Lord Vayer was also looking towards the denuded countryside, as if to give their discussion the appearance of merely a debate over the relative merits of various forms of defense.
      The words would have stung if Dorityan's heart were not so numb. "I would she could bear mine."
      "Think a moment, Dorityan. Even if she did bear you a healthy child, not likely, but possible, do you think you could give them up on their second birthday?" Lord Vayer turned to him for a moment. "I know I couldn't."
      "Neither could I, now." Dorityan clenched at the rough wood. "I was so young when my children were born. I didn't know any different."
      "Which is why renSimes have their families so young." Lord Vayer sighed. "I usually hate it, but then I look at this and don't regret our way at all." he waved his hand toward the destruction of the once green, fertile valley. "Perhaps there is not paradise this side of death, but I think our crimes towards our fellows are far smaller than this."
      "Even thought I might have been Hunted for my forbidden words, I think you are right, my Lord Vayer." last year Dorityan would not have said as much, but now, after having seen for himself, the price paid by those who held power in the Demenses, Dorityan no longer rebelled against his fate.
      "I wouldn't call for your death for mere words right, Dori." Vayer's near hand was rough with callous as he stroked Dori's cheek. "I read your books." he grinned at Dorityan's startle. "All you ever called for was freedom, and I can not condemn a slave for desiring to be free."
      "RenSimes are not slaves." Dorityan protested. "We serve willingly, for selyn."
      "Now you do." Lord Vayer's words held so many shades of meaning, as Dorityan was picking through them, he hardly noticed his Lord's departure.
      Galina was ready to throw the odious man named Rels through the tent wall. They had almost buried him in selyn insulation and now he was complaining about it itching. "Come with me, Lana." she pleaded, hating the way Rels abused her.
      "I have to keep my sharm lord at my side." he placed his arms on top of the blankets again, opening himself up to Galina's irritation. At least he stopped calling her a renGen, but his casual grab for her arms was sickening. It was as if she didn't have a mind of her own. "You don't have to keep showing need." his almost black eyes glared at Galina. "Lana isn't injured."
      "Yes she is." Galina muttered under her breath in Russian, seeing the pain of far too many casual insults on the woman's face, although none of it showed in her nager. "Where in hell is Dori?" she could almost cry for missing his solidity at her side. He would know what to do. she looked toward the tent flap again. As he didn't walk through them, she turned back to her problem with a sigh. "Is there anything I can get you two?" she hoped her High Simelan was getting through, often it seemed it didn't, although some of that could well be Rels' obnoxiousness.
      "Let us out of here and you'll never see us again." he finally snarled.
      "I don't think so, m'lord." Sharm Lord Arkay's voice was heavy with disapproval. If it had been Galina who had taken the brunt of Arkay's displeasure, she would have been quaking in her boots. Although Rels seemed completely oblivious to almost everything in the realm of the purely physical. It was as if he lived in the world of selyn alone, like some sort of blind and deaf cripple. And while Galina could happily zlin the beauty of the Lords Fatima working together as one person nagerically for hours, she was not going to miss most of what was going on in the world for her pleasures. "You will be staying with us until we know what has happened to drive so many of your countrymen into our lands. If you had been willing to take salt and bread with us, your status would have been different." Arkay's eyes blazed with a cold fury Galina had never seen before. Although Lana had wanted to accept their hospitality, Rels had barred her.
      "I told you." Rels sat up, spilling the blankets from his hollow chest. Never before had Galina seen such a sorry specimen of a man. He was like sticks held together by skin. A boogeyman from the swamps come to frighten children. "I'm probably allergic."
      "I'm not." Lana said softly, almost inaudibly.
      Rels' voice rasped out a question, harsh like the raven he resembled. *He asked if Lana were going to go native.* Arkay's silent translation was a true blessing. Without him to give Galina the meanings behind Rels' dropping into a language she didn't understand, she would have been hopelessly lost. *She wishes she could* Arkay's field twined out towards Lana from its binding to Nashen.
      A fierce protectiveness came over Galina at the threat to the woman, even more than from Rels and she wondered at herself. *As you are matched, it would be surprising if you could easily tolerate another approaching her.* Arkay's mental tone held an amused understanding. Rels shrank back from the tendril as if it were poison and hid within Lana's field. "We would keep her safe while you return to your capital." Lord Nashen's sweet tenor held even more than his normal level of amusement, as if he had one of his plans in motion.
      "I told you before, it isn't mine. I am only the Techton representative." fortunately Rels' covered his scrawny chest before Galina could get too disgusted at the sight. "The Techton has come to free these people from the kill." the sweep of his hand would have hit Lana in the face if she hadn't ducked. "We will stop the kill, no matter what." and that seemed to sum up Rels' entire life and thoughts.
      "Then return, as I would assume you have some way to contact your fellows, and tell them to stop pressing east." however Sharm Lord Arkay's ire was rising by the moment. "We will stop you if you continue east." he leaned forward and light began to trace over his hands. Galina gulped, looking to Lord Nashen for support.
      "We will control you, as we have taken over the world." either the man was an fool or simply stupid. Galina was betting on both.
      "As you have taken over this valley?" Lord Vayer walked into the tent. For a moment, Galina thought he had brought Dori with him, but it was simply a shadow falling from the tent flap.
      "Yes, since we have taken over, no Sime has killed." Rels lied through his nager.
      "Rels, you might be the representative of your government, but you are a fool. We will have no treat with fools. Get out of our tents and prepare for us to take the city." Lord Vayer pointed towards the door. Galina had to turn her face to the side so as not to see Rels pull his coverall over his emaciated body. A ripple of nausea rose from all three of other Rus in the tent as well, and at least she was not alone. As he grabbed Lana's wrist however, all hell broke loose.
      "No" Dorityan came through the tent flap and dug his fingers into Rels' wrist. With a yelp of pain, he let go of the sharm lord. "You are leaving in disgrace. She is our guest." his dark eyes were as hard as the shaft of his spear, held loosely in his free hand.
      "Not yet." Sharm Lord Arkay pointed to the untaken bread and salt.
      Lana turned her pain ridden grey eyes to Galina. "It is your choice." Galina's voice quivered with her body. She knew what she wanted, but didn't dare try to sway the sharm lord simply for her own desires. She opened her hand and gestured towards the hospitality offering.
      "They'll poison you. They're barbarians." Arkay's translations of Rels' outbursts had become automatic.
      "His treatment of her is barbaric." someone muttered under their breath and Galina was not sure who it was.
      "I'll die without you. There isn't another Donor capable of handling a Ferris within a hundred miles." now Rels was blubbering, and this was even worse. Galina focused her entire mind on her love for Dorityan, hoping the example would sway Lana to their way of thinking. We have to acquire all the intelligence we can gather. she lied to herself.
      His dark eyes closed and he shook his head. Instead he flicked his chin toward Lana.
      Galina couldn't. Instead, she opened her heart to both of them, easily showing both her love for Dori and her concern for Lana together. Rels turned white again, clutching his arms to his chest. "You can't." his voice was choked. "You can't take her like this. She's mine."
      "I am no one's." Lana showed the first flare of spirit any of them had sensed. A nageric cheer shattered the ambient. Her eyes widened in surprise. Please the prayer rose from Galina's mind unbidden. She met Lana's eyes. With a single step, Lana moved towards the bread and salt.
      "Take, eat and treat with us. You shall be as our sister." Lord Vayer himself took a small piece of the bread, sprinkled salt over it and ate it.
      In silence, Lana echoed his gestures. Her mouth and throat seemed to be dry with nerves. Vayer took the glass of water, and after taking a small sip, handed it to her. She drank heavily, gulping at the sweet water as if she were dying of thirst.
      "Out" Sharm Lord Arkay pointed towards the door. Dorityan's spear came between Rels and the rest of them.
      "You'll hear from us, trust me on this." Rels glared over the sharp blade.
      "I hope to." Sharm Lord Arkay's wings mantled over his head and Rels stepped back towards the door flap. "Now, run dog, and tell your masters we come with our spears sharp and our banners flying."
      Taking the city came as an anticlimax after the long march. Dorityan hooked his knee over his saddle bow and rested his chin on his hand. The beautifully trained mare simply stood, despite all the excitement going on around her. Cheers rose from the throats of the troops.
      He caught Vayer's last words, "Now all within are yours. Remember, a kill is not worth your life. Every single renGen you bring to us, alive and healthy, is worth your freedom." Dorityan snorted, nine out of ten who took freeholder status from Vayer's generosity would be right back in ranks within a month for their selyn. "Every killer you bring in chains is worth a year's choice." Although the offer of a year's choice of transfer partners was intriguing, even more than freedom. It seemed many of the troopers thought so as well from their piqued interest. Choice meant they could even ask for a sharm lord if they so desired.
      Dorityan straightened up and stood beside his Lord. "The quartermaster will be keeping the records until the sun goes below the horizon tomorrow. The city is yours to do with as you will!" he clasped Lord Vayer's hand in his and raised them together. "To Rodina!" The final battle plan had called for completely plundering Warsaw. With such a profitable location totally open for repopulation it would become a sink for escapees from the Techton.
      "To Rodina!" the renSimes shouted in unison at the top of their lungs, and then broke ranks with Vayer's release command. They flowed around the two of them like a river would wrap around a stone. Many of them were already augmenting, trusting in their luck in finding loot to pay for the early transfer.
      "Good thing they never thought to join together to try to fight us." Sharm Lord Arkay tapped the map in front of him. "We would have taken heavy casualties or even been repulsed from the city." The after battle debriefing was not the most exciting thing in the world, but it was far better, to Dorityan's way of thinking, than joining the wild revelry after the first day of looting. The scritch of a fire starter made Dorityan jump. He looked up to see Arkay lighting a pipe.
      "Do you really have to indulge in that thing?" Lord Nashen grimaced. The sweet scent lacked the muskiness of the hemp Dorityan was used to. He sniffed, trying to figure out the sharp, tang underlying the sweetness. His hand went to the pipe in his vest pocket.
      "Would you like some?" Sharm Lord Arkay asked with an amused grin, gesturing with his amber pipestem, darkened by many years of use.
      Dorityan pulled out his pipe. Hurriedly cleaning it thoroughly of the residue of the heavy, resinous hemp he usually preferred, he asked, "Please?"
      "Not two of them." Nashen opened the door flap of the tent as wide as it would go. The sounds of off-pitch singing suddenly blasted through the tent. Ignoring the clamor, Dorityan filled the bowl of his pipe with the almost black mixture Arkay had been smoking. He lit it. The bite of pepper combined with a tang of cherries and a rich, dark sweetness. It washed over his tongue like a lover's caress.
      There was no hit, like that of hemp, but simply a pleasant burr of soft fur caressing his nerves. "This is wonderful." Dorityan finally placed the origin. Tobacco was definitely a luxury few renSimes ever had access to, and this tobacco had come from near the black sea, where the soil was still rich enough to give it a dark bite unlike any other. He blew a grey smoke ring towards the canvas overhead. "Thank you, my Lord Arkay." he purred, letting the delicious sensations ring on his nager by concentrating on them.
      "Your reaction is payment enough, my friend." Arkay's voice and field was warmer than Dorityan had ever sensed it. He zlinned Nashen surreptitiously and had to cover a grin with his hand. The two of them were now far enough apart physically even Dorityan could tell they were coming up on their seclusion in a few days. "As I was saying..." but his hot look at his mate had nothing to do with warfare, and everything to do with another sort of exchange all together.
      Master Seargent Khristov Sergei eyed the tall brick building judiciously. They had cleaned out the support buildings flanking it easily, but there were people in the main structure. He waved the man leading four, rather sorry looking horses burdened with various odds and ends, back to the encampment. "Those'n be worth more te ye as Gen food then packers." he shouted to the hopeful looking private.
      "But thet be better'n nothin'." he shouted back with a wave. "Already get me walkin' papers. Now I be wantin' m'stake."
      Smart lad. Khristov tried to think of some way to keep him in ranks. "Ye get yerself a lass, yet?"
      "Been waitin' fer me rocker, I have." he tugged at the lead rope of one balky animal. "Get on wit ye, ye mule's get."
      Khristov chuckled. "There'll be thet rocker only if'n ye stey." he reminded the lad.
      "Then mebbe I won't be se quick te be on me own." the private snorted. "'Sides, ne lass werth her 'price be gonna wanten a lad but recent made 'holder." The wink he gave spoke volumes and made Khristov laugh. Finally the reluctant mare gave in to the young man's tugging and decided it would be better to obey than have to listen to all his curses.
      Returning his attention to the recalcitrant building, Khristov waved forward a squad of his men. Bright teeth shone through soot darkened skin. "I'm thinkin' there's mebbe killers 'hind that door."
      "Nah, Master Sergent. Most likely more o' them there runners." one woman sniffed. They aren't worth the hasstle of digging them out. for there was no bounty on the few, odd, people who were neither killers or renGens. And as there had been no turncoats, renSimes who killed in the heat of the moment and were turned over for the reward, so far in his unit, Khristov wasn't so sure about dealing with any more of the runners. Although this building looks quite rich. he eyed the glass windows.
      "Even if there only be runners in there, mebbe there be somthin' else worth our while." he suggested, knowing full well on a plunder like this, he was only one of the grunts. If he got too high handed his troops would never trust him again.
      "Ye get yerself a lats up, there, Khristov?" Only one person though, could use his bare name. He zlinned back over his shoulder to sense Chief Dorityan step down from the big black mare he had been riding during this campaign.
      "Net at all, Chief." he turned, giving a half salute before he caught the gesture.
      "I brought ye a door opener." Dorityan grinned, waving at the pair of men standing behind him, still mounted. Khristov gaped as he saw the black and silver of high ranking Fatima Lords. The silver bay stallion could only be Sharm Lord Fatima's prized mount.
      The silver haired Lord Fatima dismounted gracefully and gave his partner a hand down from his sidesaddle. "If you would stand back, Master Seargent." Lord Fatima's silver eyes shone, despite the heavy overcast of the morning.
      "At your will, my Lord." he bowed and backed away from the door. For a moment, Khristov thought he saw a grin cross Lord Fatima's face.
      "Be well and do your duty, Master Seargent Sergei." and with that there was a blinding crack of lightning. The door shattered into a splinters, raining bits of wood down all over the courtyard.
      Thanks be to all the gods for bracers he prayed as a knife sharp piece actually dug into the heavy leather of his armor. It came loose with a pop, and Khristov grumbled about having to refinish the Gen enameled onto the leather surface.
      "Good thing it was only a bit of artwork." Sharm Lord Arkay looked at the damage in passing, with what Khristov could have sworn was a wink.


      Heart pounding in panic, Rels tried to stack yet another bookcase against the door. A great thunderclap shook the building to the very foundations. He looked out the windows. There was no rain, no reason for thunder. The bookcase tumbled, spilling its contents all over the floor.
      The calling of the barbarians neared. He looked out the window. There was only one man carrying a bundle back toward the gates of the courtyard. Rels recognized the silver candelabra from down stairs sticking out the top. They broke in he would have sworn nothing short of a train could have bashed in the barricaded doors. Finally realizing his situation was hopeless, he grabbed phone. Holding it to his ear, he dialed as fast as he could.
      One ring, two rings ... "Hello?"
      The door vanished in another crash of thunder. Instead of answering, he coughed.
      "Is there someone on the line?" a woman's voice asked, as he dropped the handpiece. The glass of the window was smooth and cool behind his hands. The window ledge bit into his thighs. "Hello!?" he could hear.
      The huge, old, Gen grabbed it, looking at it curiously until Rels thought about how he was holding it upside down.
      "Hello." the man said in a parody of the operator. His eyes unfocused momentarily and Rels felt a shooting pain stab from his eyes to the back of his scalp, as if someone had driven spikes through his brain. "This is Warsaw District." There was a long pause; long enough for Rels to realize the Gen was speaking almost completely unaccented Simelan, unlike his earlier mangling of the language. The glass shivered under his weight. It popped, a line tracing across his buttocks.
      "No, I think we will not let you take a flying lesson yet, Rels." The very tall Sime was suddenly standing in front of him, grabbing the front of his coverall in a surprisingly strong fist.
      "No, there is no problem." the Gen said calmly. "You will not be hearing back from this district again." he chuckled with an evil glee Rels had never heard anyone ever use before. "Your channel, you call them, will be sent back to you. In pieces if you do not accede to our demands, or perhaps if we simply wish to." The barbarian looked at him and yet another of those pains blinded him, making his knees sag. "Certainly." he held out the mouthpiece of the phone.
      "Get me out of here. These people are crazy. They are taking everything and everyone out of the city. Help me!" he shouted, forgetting all about dignity.
      "As you can hear he is quite healthy. Now, when can we expect to meet with your representative?"
      Dorityan was sickened by the mass executions in the town square. He knew they were necessary, but hated the necessity none the less. As he turned his face away, he saw Galina and Lana holding each other as if they were lovers and not simply matched. The cold emptiness in his heart, though, could not be as easily denied as the horror of the murder of hundreds of people. All the criminals were condemned by their acts and would be dead within a year no matter what were done to try to save them. Galina, he had given up of his own free will.
      Turning back to the spectacle, he saw renGens, now properly fed and garbed, throw dung and stones at the killers. All but a handful of female renSimes, late in pregnancy, were to go to the breakers and then the fires. There was no time, and certainly not the manpower to give any of them the decency of a simple kill. It would destroy the only two Sharm Lords with the force.
      He wished Simes were not so hard to kill. Even beheading one was dangerous, as their headless bodies would try to kill anyone within reach. One of the younger renSimes fell out of ranks and vomited on the cobblestones. It started a chain reaction, and soon there were close to a dozen who had to back away. Forcing the troops to watch was grotesque, but like so many other things in life, necessary.
      Holding up a hand, he barred an overzealous Seargent from forcing the sickened troopers back into line. Soon all but one had returned to their places. Dorityan swallowed heavily and walked his mare over to the lass. Dismounting, his boot heels clicked on the stones. The stench hit him like a hammer, and even he almost lost his last meal over it. Slowly, he brushed the back of her clammy neck. Bloodshot blue eyes turned to him, filled with the horror of such brutality.
      "How can we do this, Chief?" she wiped her hand across her mouth. He handed her a kerchief.
      "Because without it, there would be no cost and we would have more killing." he let his fingers rub at the tight knots in her neck.
      "It isn't right to kill for killing." she straightened, looking him in the eyes.
      "We are not killing them. It would be more merciful to do so." he ran his fingers through the short, soft hair over her temples. "What we are doing is saving them the agony of death by attrition."
      "By chaining them like beasts, breaking their necks and then burning them to death?" she turned away and heaved again.
      "Better the Hunt?" he asked, shivering himself at the cracks coming from behind him, as if a giant were stomping across the forest floor.
      "At least with the Hunt there is a chance to survive." her head hung low.
      "No, it is a false hope." he put his arm around his shoulders. "The only chance for a killer is death, whether fast or slow. The Hunt is one of the slowest ways to die."
      "How do you know?" she growled, "My grandfather was Hunted. Sharm Lord Katrina had a tapestry of it made. Or at least someone who looked enough like me in the face to be my grandfather. It was said she released him at the end of it."
      "I was there. She did. He died of it." Sharm Lord Arkay's voice ripped through them both. "Enough, youngster. Mind your orders and never kill and this will never happen to you." he pointed with a hand like Lord Death's to the pyre stacked with still breathing bodies.
      For an instant Dorityan hated the old Sharm Lord, then he zlinned what he did not show the private, the horror eating at him from his past. "Be well and do your best, Private." Arkay's face was whiter than Dorityan had ever seen it. He didn't even wait, but stepped onto his stallion, easily wrapping his knee around the leaping head.
      As soon as the young woman returned to ranks with a thoughtful look on her face, Dorityan mounted his own horse with a flash of augmentation. At first he ambled through the open space left between the troops, but as soon as he cleared their senses, he brushed his mount with his spurs. She leaped across the cobbles, as if he had knifed her to the bone. Even over his mare's clatter, he could hear the quick hoof beats of Arkay's stallion. The Sharm Lord was heading due north, the quickest way out of the city. His mare was no where near as fast as the Arkay's pride and joy, but still in a tail chase she did quite a fine job.
      Soon they had cleared the clustered buildings, and were free of the confining streets. Here Dorityan could see the hoof prints of Arkay's stallion dug deeply into the turf.
      Dorityan almost ran right over Arkay's horse's heels. He pulled up as suddenly as he could, and almost flew over his mare's black head as she stopped immediately. However he did not avoid running into the front of his own saddle. Pain doubled him over her neck and he clutched himself, desperate not to fall like some sort of youth. What an incredibly stupid thing to do.
      "Indeed." the amusement in Arkay's voice was too much. Dorityan tried to growl and it came out as a squeak. "Here I was feeling sorry for myself and you show up, as you so often do and manage to distract me from my self pity."
      "Some people train their horses too well." Dorityan croaked. Arkay's hands were gentle under his arms and he gave up and let himself slide into the man's embrace. The Sharm Lord was almost as high field as he ever got. All that selyn went straight to Dorityan's brain. His body healed almost instantly, intent on the life holding him in the brightest regard imaginable. "Arkay, I don't think I can trust myself." the world dissolved into shifting selyn patterns, blinding and deafening him to all else.
      Arkay heard the warning barely in time. He locked Dorityan's body into unconsciousness with a thought. The stresses the old renSime had been under had been brutal and he shouldn't have to deal with this on top of it. Sadly, he stroked Dorityan's silvered hair. For a moment, he debated taking Dorityan back immediately, then he noted the plume of greasy smoke beginning to rise from the center of the city. "This is as good an excuse as any." although in reality, Dorityan was certainly not wanting for excuses.
      How many of his troops had he seen broken and burned over the years? Arkay wondered, looking at the deep groves worn into the man's face. It was no wonder most renSime guards were dead by their early forties, with no families to support them and the ever present threat of death looming over them. Arkay figured it was only Dorityan's illicit interests and knowledge which had kept him alive so long. Other renSimes did not have it so bad, but then they never had to face the temptation of working near Gens of any variety and had far more free time to form close bonds with other renSimes. Some of the Fatima renSimes were quite elderly, but then all the children of Fatima had a family of sorts, and never dealt with any Gens but Sharm Lords.
      Long before he would have guessed, another rider came up. He blinked in surprise. It was Galina with Lana behind her. "What are you two doing here?" he whispered so as not to wake Dorityan, who was slowly coming around. It was always best to let them wake slowly, if there was time. Particularly when he had put them under so quickly.
      Galina took the hint as she threw her leg over her mare's neck and slid to the ground silently. Although Lana almost fell off as she didn't wait for Galina to catch her and they barely avoided tumbling to the ground in a heap. The young sharm lord wasn't even an adult, they had found out shortly after getting rid of that Rels creature. Thankfully, Galina had taken over the chore of shepherding Lana about and making sure she didn't get into too much trouble.
      Of course it also helped that Lana had only tried to demur once when handed a kador.
      "And just what do you expect me to do with this?" only Lana's training as a Donor allowed her to still the wild beating of her heart. Alone with these strange people, she felt herself more valued though than she ever had before. She fingered the incredibly heavy fabric. It was far softer to the touch than she would have ever guessed, but it looked warm.
      "Put it on." the tallest channel gave her a grin. Now that hajene Rels was gone, everyone seemed far more relaxed as well. His elfin looks only made his easy smile more attractive. Although from the way he stuck to the large Donor, they were obviously a transfer pair. The black haired man with the gold band on his head, like some sort of fantastic prince out of a fairy tale let out a burst of that other language they all spoke.
      "He's just teasing you. Hajene Nashen does that to people he likes." the young channel told her, in rather poor Simelan. Lana had always thought all Simes spoke Simelan, but it seemed in some places not all of them did it with the same ease. "Now, would you be liking help?" she tripped over the verb, and muttered something unintelligible.
      The big Donor laughed, "Would you like one of us to help you put on the kador?"
      "Why do you want me to wear this thing so much?" she tried to put her curiosity into her nager, feeling for how these people worked the fields. It was odd, almost as if none of the Simes were zlinning except in short controlled bursts. A sharp tug rocked her sense of self again. It was almost as if she could actually feel the fields shifting. Tentatively, she tried to step into the place she felt would least disturb anyone.
      There was a flurry of motion, she thought, and then blinked. No one had moved, at least not physically. This was setting her teeth on edge, as if no one cared what the gradients were or even tried to smooth them out. "That is why, Lana." Galina told her, stroking her elbow softly. "Try it." she cocked her head, as if asking a question.
      Gingerly she shook it out. It was black, like the one the large Donor was wearing, although no where near as fancy. "I'm afraid all we could come up with was Donor Atyana's spare. It is at least clean."
      "Hush, Arkay." Nashen said, and another of those shifts pummeled her.
      Maybe this would be a good idea. she looked for a place to set it down so she could get out of her uniform.
      "Let me." Dorityan took if from her. "I think you might wish Donor Arkay's help with some of the fastenings." he pointed with a tentacle towards the large Donor.
      "Although I might have some under things a bit more appropriate than your coverall." the black haired gentleman turned towards a trunk in the corner of the room.
      "You just want to get your tentacles on her, Vayer." Arkay grinned, taking the kador from Dorityan. "Thank you, Dori. If you would prefer, I think some food would be in order. We aren't going to want to attack until that fool gets a chance to get as many people out of the way as possible. It's going to be bloody enough as is, and I don't want the butcher's bill to be any higher than necessary on either side." The reminder of the potential for violence from these people was stunning.
      Vayer looked at her, as if looking into her soul. She had worked around a few powerful channels, but his dark blue eyes seemed to look through her with far more acuity than zlinning could give. Flushing under the intent gaze, she lowered her eyes.
      "Thank you for sending Dori away." Galina said shyly. "RenSimes are rather body modest and he would have been rather uncomfortable if you had gotten undressed in front of him with all these other people here." she explained under her breath.
      The pants and shirt Vayer had given her were smooth as silk. Then she looked closely and noticed that was exactly what they were. Hurriedly she slipped off her shoes. Almost tearing it off, she stepped out of her coveralls. "I think we should feed her first." Vayer looked at her critically, and she felt her blushes deepen. "Do you have problems with underdraw?" he asked as if it were an everyday occurrence.
      "No" she stammered, letting him work his nimble fingers and tentacles through the laces once she had slipped the garments on. She would have snarled them for sure if she had tried to tie them up so quickly. "Why do you ask?"
      "You are too thin." he snorted.
      "Now Vayer, just because you like women like Darya." Nashen put his hand on the younger channel's shoulder familiarly.
      "And you don't." Vayer quipped back. This seemed like a long standing discussion.
      "Donor Darya is the mother of their children and she is rather, um, plump." Galina grinned. The statement stunned Lana to the core. What have I gotten myself into the middle of? she asked herself. Despite the obvious anatomical impossibility, she would have guessed Nashen and Vayer to be family. Hadn't there been some mention of them sharing the same last name? she rummaged through her memories and realized the only thing she could remember was Vayer and Arkay sharing the name Fatima. Now those two did look like kin.
      "It will all be clear soon enough, little one." Arkay's rumbling chuckle reassured her. "Hajene Nashen and Sectuib Vayer each have a single child out of Donor Darya. She has another child by Donor Diomid. I am Vayer's father and Nashen's Alahin." the last was dreadfully confusing. "Alahin is an Arabic loan word for the Gen half of a match-mate pair, Alamir is for the Sime half. Donor Ilyan, is my only other living son and Hajene Nivanya is his mate, you will most likely meet them later. Both Vayer and Ilyan are out of hajene Karola, the mate and wife of my beloved Donor Avilan."
      "I hope you all will excuse me if I forget any of this." her eyes crossed in confusion. They seemed so very close, as if they were all intimate family, even Galina. Although trying to make heads or tails of what Arkay had said was only making her more befuddled. Children out of who? she tried to imagine what sort of relationship Arkay had with Avilan if Arkay was in an orhuen with Nashen and Karola was married to Avilan. She tried sorting them on her fingers, only to get even more confused.
      "We will only expect you to be letter perfect with your genealogies by tomorrow." Nashen grinned and this time Lana didn't imagine it. A backwash, like the heat from an oven swept over her, from Arkay's mimed blow at his mate. From the looks on their faces, it was all in fun, but it rocked her back on her heels. Hurriedly, she ducked into the garment they called a kador. With a great deal of struggle, she finally got the thing over her head and generally arranged around her body.
      A silence like she had hardly known since childhood settled on her. She sighed in relief before she could stop it.
      "Yes, it is nice not to have to worry all the time about your field." Arkay grinned. "If you were to go out, you would put on the veil and hood, but in here you don't have to."
      Tentatively, she tried to figure out how they worked, managing to get everything tangled up horribly. Galina easily sorted it all out, placing the hood over her head and then hooking the veil across her face. As she had thought, it was warm, but so wonderfully quiet. Before she could duck away, Galina placed a soft kiss on her brow.
      It was at that very moment Dorityan returned with a number of other people carrying trays of food.


      Dorityan turned to see the light shining off the inlet. He couldn't stand to see Galina and Lana so close. The sun turned the dark grey waters pewter, bringing tears to his eyes. Or at least that was as good a reason as any. Now the shock of the moment was gone, he could simply enjoy being held in Arkay's embrace, with no requirement for taking him.
      "Are you all right?" Galina was speaking High Simelan all the time now. She has certainly improved with practice. he remembered laughing with her as she tried to better her skills in the language.
      "I'm as well as may be, my lord." although he didn't really want to, he stood on his own two feet. Arkay's stallion was eyeing the two mares, particularly Galina's.
      "None of that." Arkay reminded his horse with a gentle tap on the reins. "We are working, my lad." the horse looked out over the water in disdain. "And you will look at me when I am speaking to you." He straightened, catching the horse's eye. One black tipped ear twitched in Arkay's direction. "Yes, you." and this time the stallion dropped his head.
      "As we were saying, I think Dorityan should go back with you, Galina." Arkay acted as if nothing at all unusual had happened. "That is if you think Lana could manage his Trakh herself."
      "If she is well trained." Lana flashed her nager reaching out to take the black mare's reins. Dorityan flinched with how much Galina now reflected Lana's feel.
      "Too well trained." Dorityan forced a smile. "Her stop is quite good." he chuckled to make himself believe it had all been a silly mistake.
      "Although if you do not feel comfortable astride, you are certainly welcome to ride back behind me." Arkay was picking up on something. Dorityan looked at the two women closely.
      "I would feel better about it." Lana narrowed her eyes at him. "Although are you sure he isn't going to get all rambunctious?"
      "He'd better not." Arkay glared at his horse again, who had been sniffing the air appreciatively. "You, my lad, are going to get in trouble. Neither of the ladies are in season." The horse sighed one last time, reached up and gave Arkay a lick from chin to forehead. "Kika!" he fought between outrage and amusement. "I swear you are the most random of your line, so far." Kika did not look at all abashed and Dorityan couldn't help but laugh. Actually Kika looked rather smug, if at arms reach away from Arkay.
      "Let me guess, he's Mira's sire." Galina gave her mare with a rather annoyed look.
      "Yes." Arkay said simply. "Although it seems he gives his get his sense of humor as well as his good looks and gaits. One of these days I'm going to get the knife and cut your brains off." he threatened, not at all meaning it by his nager.
      "I think I'll stick with my Trakhs and not deal with the Tekes." Dorityan felt horses were for transportation and not talking to.
      "I never knew horses could have a sense of humor." Lana boldly walked forward to pet Kika, still holding Dorityan's mare's reins.
      "Don't do that, Lana." Arkay said when she reached for Kika's face. His horse flipped his head back and then sidled towards the Trakh. Lana yelped. The Trakh mare spooked, pulling free. "Stop." Arkay said and all three horses froze. Dorityan quietly picked up his reins from where they had dropped in the dirt.
      "It's all right, G'ina." he whispered, not wanting everyone to know he had renamed his mare after his lover. "Come here, sweetheart." he stroked the soft hair of her neck. It was a black as her namesake's, and the reminder stung. "I think I can get back to camp safely." he sighed, wanting to lean against G'ina's neck for a while.
      "I think Lana should go back with Arkay." Galina gave a gentle shove with her field. As usual, Lana automatically responded, and then, also as usual, her brows knitted in confusion. "Please." her asking only made the stinging in Dorityan's eyes worse. He bowed his head and rested it on G'ina's silken neck. He could almost hear Galina's scorn, even if it didn't show in her public field. I must have looked like a right idiot, unable to stay behind and watch the executions.
      Galina gave a sigh of relief as Sharm Lord Arkay escorted the young sharm lord back to camp. The young woman had been wearing on her nerves like no one ever had before. It wasn't as if she didn't want her company, how could she not when their fields intertwined like they were made for each other, but her attitudes and mind were something entirely different.
      When they had come up, she had felt horrible. For the past few days, Galina had hardly had the time to say more than good morning and good night to her lover. Now he was hurt and wouldn't even talk about it. Stiffly, he addressed the reins. "Dori, please tell me what's wrong." it felt so good to speak Russian again she almost drooled as her jaw relaxed with the familiar sounds.
      "Are you having a good time with sharm lord Lana?" his voice was still strained and harsh.
      "As good a time as I can have without you." as her hand touched his shoulder he flinched, clenching his mare's mane in his hands. "I miss you Dori." she had no idea why he had been avoiding her. "Have I done something to drive you away?"
      "You should be with your own kind." he mumbled. "Not with a mere renSime. You should be with your mate."
      "You are my mate." she swung him around by the shoulders, hurt by his dismissal.
      "Lana is your match." his dark eyes turned to the side. "I'm no one."
      "You are my love, Dori." she wanted to be able to cry with the frustrations of the last days on his shoulder and he kept pushing her away. "Have I done something to make you think I don't love you anymore?"
      "You have been spending all your time with Lana." he looked at her for a brief instant, then pulled away. "As it should be." he murmured.
      "No Dori." she put her arms around his wonderful, warm body. "She may do things for me nagerically, but I can't talk with her. She doesn't make me think. She doesn't make me laugh."
      "Are you saying I'm funny." his shoulders shook.
      "When you want to be." she licked the back of his neck gently. It tasted of salt and his so very unique scent. "I like it."
      "I'm not a sharm lord. I can't give you transfer." he shivered in her arms at the caress.
      "So?" she held him tighter. "Transfer isn't love, my sweet. It may give me life, but it doesn't automatically give joy to that life."
      "If you had transfer with Lana it would." he protested. "You don't know what she is like."
      "I've spent the last three days with her." she couldn't keep the growl out of her voice. "If I have to listen to her whine about cruelty and unfairness one more time I may slap her one."
      "The world isn't fair. We all know that." Dori turned in her grasp.
      "She doesn't." simply talking with Dori like this was a relief.
      "And sometimes, well, it seems we have to do cruel things to prevent later hardship." his words were rote, but the belief behind them was unfeigned.
      "I know that and you know that, but she can't accept it." her frustrations were spilling out before she could stop them. Dorityan didn't want one more hassle on top of everything else. "To her the world will be good and kind if only she works hard enough at it."
      Dori snorted, a sound with all the dark humor she knew he could muster. "Are you sure she is an adult?" the deep lines around his mouth twitched into a grin. A bright light came into his eyes as he smiled down at her.
      "She's a child. An established child!" she stomped her foot, not acting a whole lot better than the woman she was complaining about, but it felt so good to talk. "Tzer has more sense in his little finger than that chit. Even Aliana has more sense."
      "Now you exaggerate, my love." his warmth felt so good, even hazy heat of the summer's day. "Lord Vayer's daughter, Aliana, is a wild one, true, but she does have the sense to come in out of the rain." he chided, finally stroking her back with his strong hands.
      "Lana doesn't." she sighed. "I swear she would drown in a snow storm."
      "That's bad, Galina." his deep chuckle made the tension run out of her like water from a cracked jug. His attention, now that she finally had it, soothed away all the knots in her mind.
      "I don't know how you do it, my love." she purred, relaxing into his strong arms. For a moment she remembered that scrawny lord they had fished out of the city and snickered under her breath.
      "What has made my beloved laugh?" his sweet breath mussed her hair. "I know for certain it was not her foolish lover whom she hast so deftly snared in her finest charms."
      "Did you get a chance to see Rels?" she lipped at his sun warmed ear.
      "Certainly. I did talk with him like you did." he purred softly at her touch.
      "I mean really look at him." she chuckled. "He was thinner than your spear." her double entendre must have caught him off guard, for his nager rippled with the crimson of dismay before he laughed. "The wooden one, silly."
      "I know you couldn't have been speaking of the other." he nipped her back, gently. The teasing sent a shiver of delight through her and she opened her field to him. "Although at the moment the only thing likely to be hard is the lance in my saddle scabbard."
      "Not your hands upon my body?" for truthfully that was all she was thinking about. Anymore she didn't much care for the cool softness of Gens, but would much rather have Dori's strength and toughness.
      "Aye, m'lass. That I can not but be helpin' givin' te ye." his burr returned with a vengeance and she almost fainted right then and there, it was so incredible.
      "My Dori." she grasped him will all the strength in her arms, despite her week knees.
      "Fer as long as ye'll be havin' me and me not be bein' a bother te ye." he held her back, almost stilling her breath. Although the creak of her abused ribs could almost be heard. Wordlessly, she wrapped her very spirit around him. "Thet feels like the north wind come south to warm her delightful soul."
      "I would warm my heart at yer hearth till the moon still in his path and fire chills the stones of the earth, Dorityan."
      "I plan on keepin' ye te that, me lass."
      Less than two days out from transfer, Dorityan had never felt so good. They were finally going home. All in all, it had been a brief campaign, now all they were waiting for was someone to pick up their runners. He smiled to himself at the unconscious use of the trooper's term for the members of the foreign organization called the Techton. It wasn't that they were particularly cowardly, well, maybe again it was.
      "Now, tell me again what it is your, ahem, government stands for?" Vayer looked bored out of his mind, but Rels seemed oblivious. Then, to put it bluntly, Rels seemed oblivious to everything but selyn. Admittedly, some very young Simes could be focused entirely on their next transfer to the point of disregarding the real world, but then the first time they got knocked around by a horse, they soon forgot such foolishness.
      "We stand for the abolition of the kill." the light of a fanatic shone through Rels' gaunt features. As soon as Dorityan had seen the Sime again, he couldn't help but snicker. This set both Vayer and his brother off. When Nivanya had looked curious, one of them must have filled her in, for her laughter was far less than flattering. Rels, as usual, simply spouted off about how barbaric these fools were, and how they had to be taught to respect people with more experience. The gales of laughter this provoked, practically knocked the heavy command tent down around their ears.
      His whetstone slid along the edge of his spear blade. The sharpened steel had been thinned slightly over the years, with repeated sharpening, much like himself, Dorityan figured. Every time his wrist moved near the edge, Rels flinched nagerically. "If you don't stop acting like a ninny, I'll show you how sharp this thing is." he flipped it around so it was pointed at Rels' throat. The gesture was purely automatic, a way of making his point.
      A loud clatter announced Rels falling backwards in his chair, trying to get away. Barely in time, did Dorityan get his weapon out of the way. "Pain causes Simes to kill. You are all juncts. How can you keep from killing your friends?" His whining was really annoying. Dori wondered if he asked nicely, if someone would simply bury this creature.
      Ilyan shook his head no, although from his clenched hands, it seemed he harbored similar thoughts. How Dorityan wished Nashen and Arkay were here, but they were in seclusion for the next six hours at least. A scritching announced an unofficial visitor.
      "Yes?" Vayer offered Rels a hand up. The lord looked at it with a shudder.
      "Are you all right?" Lana's breathy question was almost more annoying than her whining. "Let me help you up."
      "As long as you haven't let them warp you." he crossed his arms across his chest. That looks far more uncomfortable than my bracers. Dorityan inspected the work he had done on his spear.
      "Only Galina and Arkay have touched me." she looked at Dorityan. "No one else would."
      Only because you act like we are intent on rape if we so much as offer you the slightest physical contact. Dorityan grimaced. Even though for some bizarre reason she didn't act like that with women. RenSimes certainly didn't ever make same sex pairings, it was considered unnatural, but the nobility did all the time. The close bonding they formed between the larities overrode consideration of gender. Although rarely did they bond between members of the same larity. The runners, Dorityan smiled again at the term, seemed to think the only thing important in a pairing was gender.
      "What about him?" Rels sideways glance at him crawled over Dorityan's nerves.
      "He's just a renSime." she tossed off, as if it were nothing.
      "They are who we are here to save." he grumbled. "Have you tried talking to any of the others?"
      "They all run away and point me to one of their leaders. It is as if they don't speak Simelan at all." she shook her head in bewilderment.
      Because they don't, you foolish girl. Dorityan was very glad none of the runners could hear thoughts.
      "What about the other Gens?" he got to his feet and dusted his hands off, as if the rugs on the floor had not been beaten out that morning.
      "They are worse. It is as if they are afraid of being outside at all." she acted like his servant, straightening out his unruly hair. It was lank and greasy, as the idiot had been afraid to use any of the offered bathing facilities for fear of his allergies. It wasn't as if they didn't have healers who could help him with such a problem if it did bother him so much. Thats because they are, silly girl. All three of the other Russians in the tent were grinning from ear to ear at Dorityan's acerbic, silent comments. You would be too if you had never been out under the open sky in your entire life.
      Nivanya had to hide her mouth behind her hand and cough to hide her laugh at that one.
      "Insofar as how we avoid killing, the same way a leopard or a tiger does, by training and discipline." Vayer looked like a great cat himself, lounging over the chair as if he owned it. "All three of us have killed." his look did not include Dorityan of course. "It was certainly not an experience I would like to repeat."
      "Me neither." Nivanya shuddered. "It was certainly not deliberate." her green eyes darkened with sorrow and Ilyan tightened his arm around her shoulders, holding her close.
      "If I never had to kill again, I would certainly choose not to." Ilyan stroked Nivanya's upper arm. When his bracelets jangled, Rels had the temerity to glare at them, but wisely said nothing despite his twining his tentacles in stress. "But when it comes to a choice between a slow tormented death and a quick one, I certainly would not wish the former on any but my worst enemy."
      "Better a chance at life, I would say." His self righteousness was almost worse than Lana's whining. "If we learn to give good enough Channel's transfer, we can keep a junct renSime alive for almost a year."
      "Excuse me." Dorityan hurried for his tent. 'Alive for almost a year." rang in his mind, again and again. Finally running under augmentation, he made it, barely.
      A damp washcloth brushed his brow. In shame and embarrassment for his lack of control, he turned his face away, not wanting his benefactor to be drawn into his own problems. "I'll be all right." the remembered smugness, as if Rels were boasting rose in his thoughts again, made his stomach clench. Dorityan had never had the strongest stomach before transfer, and Rels' boasting hit his deepest fears.
      To be condemned to that living death out of pride. he wanted to weep for the poor people trapped in such a horror, but couldn't for the need cramping his arms.
      "We will be having nothing to do with them, Dorityan." Arkay's gentle voice and touch were a balm unlike any other.
      "We have all decided, all the Lords who are here." Nashen told him, almost in his ear and he realized who had cared for him in his illness. "The Techton will not be taking Rodina. If Rels is any example of their leadership, then we may have a fight on our hands, but none of us wish to condemn our people to the living death he represents."
      "A living death is a good way to describe it." his voice was harsh and shaking with emotion. No doubt his nager was in even worse form. Trying not to be ill again from the smell of his own sickness, Dorityan leaned back, sitting on his heels. "No one, ever, deserves to die of transfer sickness." which could well mean anything, but the worst truly was to have killed and not be able to find a bond mate in time. At least the other forms of transfer sickness were not necessarily lethal. To be condemned is one thing. To be tortured is another.
      His stomach contracted again and he gagged over his own thoughts. Pain stripped his dignity from him. Shaking and cold, even in the warm summer day, he shivered at cruelty of anyone who could boast of torturing other people to death.
      "Katrina would torture for her own pleasures, but even she did not do so ... so ... well, heartlessly." Arkay's field, now blessedly low twined about the three of them. "She did not torment them even more by telling her victims it was for their own good."
      "It should be burned from the face of the earth." Dorityan hissed, letting his emotions change to pure hatred. The bare anger felt good, burning away the feeling of helplessness to save the poor souls ridden by so cruel a master.
      "We can not, Dori." Nashen's blue-white field crackled with his own unique signature. "We would have come west to save the poor renGens here if we could have."
      "Are you saying they are too strong for our Mother?" he let Nashen hand him a glass of water. Dorityan rinsed his mouth out, unable to drink any of it.
      "Drink, Dori." the nickname on Arkay's tongue did what even Nashen's kindness could not, and he drank, forcing the liquid through his tight and sore throat. "And yes, that is what we are saying. Rodina can not face the armed might of an entire continent."
      "But they are cowards and weaklings." but still Dorityan knew the truth of Arkay's words.
      "Still, there are far more of them than of us. In the open, they would slaughter us by strength of sheer numbers, much less their more advanced technology." he worried at the end of his long, bulky silver braid. It had loose strands and much of it looked ready to fall apart.
      "We can build better machines, faster. Against a forced citizenry, our will would prevail." he knew he was quoting someone, but couldn't place it at the moment.
      "You are quoting yourself, Dorityan." Arkay's eyes were the blue of the moon on a snow lit meadow. Now he remembered, and felt his face grow hot. "Yes, you had said a revolt would be successful as no forced troops could stand against one united by a common will."
      "I was right in concept, but not application." he grinned wryly, realizing he had been tied and hoisted with his own words.


      Galina hurried to the tent she shared with Dorityan. She hadn't been there for almost a week, trying to keep track of that little runner, as she now thought of Lana. The guards had called for her, somehow getting the word across the city of tents, Dorityan was ill.
      As she entered, the smell of sickness assaulted her nose. "Dori." she pushed Nashen out of the way, forgetting entirely about rank or precedence. "What is wrong, my beloved?" for Arkay and Nashen to have been dragged out of seclusion, it must be something horrible. "Sweetheart." she tried to pull him into her lap, failing miserably because he was so much larger than her.
      "I'll be all right." he looked and zlinned horribly drawn.
      "Since he thinks he can lie to me; what happened?" she turned to Nashen, almost snarling in her desperation to find out.
      "Easy lass, easy." Arkay reached out his hand. His bracelets settled around his wrist bone. The now familiar sensation was almost a comfort, it being something known in this world turned upside down.
      "We were about to come off seclusion, as it was. When we found out Dorityan was ill, we came to try to heal him." Nashen spoke softly, almost as if he did not wish to disturb matters further.
      "I'm not that kind of ill, beloved." his dark eyes held almost a hint of amusement. "Something Rels said set my stomach off so close to transfer."
      Her confusion must have been almost painfully obvious. "Rels was boasting of how long this Techton of his could keep someone who had killed alive without their having a suitable partner." Arkay's light eyes bore into her and she could feel him mind slide between herself and her emotions like a pane of stone glass. For this she was incredibly grateful. Without that, she might very well have joined her lover. The idea was stomach churning enough as it stood. She swallowed heavily and tried to put her thanks into her filed. "Indeed, I also find it monstrous." Arkay nodded his head, releasing her mind.
      With a sigh, she found that now the shock of it was over, Galina could cope a bit better with the concept, but then perhaps the time she had spend with Lana also helped. "Lana is not as bad, but her ideas towards her fellow humans are similarly warped." she stroked Dorityan's back. His tunic was damp with sweat, and the rank smell of it made her nose twitch. Looking around, she found a clean shirt and began to pull his clothes off.
      "You don't have to do that." he protested, batting at her hands. Nashen snickered softly. "What is so amusing, my Lord?" he mumbled through his shirt as Galina deftly stripped it off his body.
      Having forgotten entirely Nashen's rank until Dori reminded her, "I'm sorry, my Lord." Her hands never stopped their work, however. "I didn't mean to push you aside so rudely."
      "No, you meant to push me aside less rudely." he said and Arkay chuckled. "It is fine. We are not in public, little one."
      "You, my love, have to eat better." she scowled at the ribs showing through Dori's skin. Normally Simes had two or three showing, but he had dropped enough weight even his muscles had begun to atrophy, showing more than they should. His squirming as she deftly slid his pants off was not helping.
      "There are other people here." he tried to grab her hands to keep his pants up.
      "I don't care. You are going into the bath." she tickled his flank, making him let go. "After Lana's smelly body, I'm not going to let you get away without washing." By this time both Arkay and Nashen were laughing.
      Dorityan tried to cover himself with his hands.
      "You look like you are going to fondle yourself in a way entirely inconsistent with your state of need." Arkay grinned, tickling at Dorityan's groin in a very lewd gesture. Not still in seclusion, but boy are they both post. Galina noted. Dorityan scowled and grabbed a rather threadbare robe. This worked a lot better.
      "I'll be right back." he stuck his nose in the air and stalked off.
      The wonderful steam rising off the huge communal tub was only a memory. The thing was a pain to set up in a mobile camp, but Dorityan was always glad they brought it with them on long campaigns. Clean, well fed, and with Galina's field around him, Dorityan felt better than he had since they left Moskva. Now if only they could get rid of their unwanted guests and go home. He sighed and rubbed his newly shaven chin against Galina's thick, black hair. It smelled so sweet, he realized she must have taken the time and excuse for a good bath as well.
      "What are you thinking of?" she asked, stroking his arms so seductively he almost forgot what it was he had been contemplating.
      "Um ..." he twined his tentacles with hers. "I had been thinking about how glad I was we bring that monstrous tub with us on campaign, despite how hard it is to move and set up." he lipped at her hair, wanting to feel its silkiness with his lips.
      "I would guess now you are thinking of something entirely different." as her tentacles rubbed over the callouses on his wrists he had to stifle a groan. "As I thought." her voice dropped, wrapping him in silk velvet.
      "Transfer is still over forty hours away." and that was if he took his full twenty eight.
      "You have been ill." she teased at him, driving him deeper into the world of light and selyn. "You have also been augmenting."
      "And you, my love are trying to seduce me." he didn't protest very hard. It was so given that a renSime could not judge their own state of need, it was a cliche.
      "We are alone, my love, for the first time in far too long." she licked one of her own dorsals and then stroked it over his hot, swollen roniplin glands. The coolness of it fired them even more. The dim, silvery light of the westerning sun through light panel on the roof was replaced by the glorious heat and shimmer of Galina's promise. Then it stopped, frozen.
      "What in hell do you want?" the whip crack of her anger almost shattered Dorityan's nager. Holding onto mind and sanity, he finally realized she wasn't talking to him. Someone said something he couldn't comprehend. "Four hours, no less, maybe five." she snarled at the intruder. "Now, out!"
      "Who was that?" he tried to pull himself together. Business came first, even with his arms and his chest aching for the interruption.
      "The other runners have arrived." she murmured, returning to her gentle teasing.
      "We can't make them wait." he tried to pull away and her tentacles lashed around his wrists with a grip of steel. Maybe we can. he relented to her insistence.
      Mikal Tegue ambrav Kaon stalked back and forth, pacing the length of the tent. He had to duck his head at each end, but at least he was still moving. This whole situation had been a disaster from the start, and now this. "You mean to tell me you prodded these people into pillaging the entire valley?" he waved his hand toward the ruined countryside.
      "I did nothing of the sort." Rels, not a person he had ever much liked before and liked even less now, scowled. "They decided it on their own."
      "But they were willing to talk with us until ..." Lana's strange black robes gave her words a strength they had never held before. It was intriguing how much he focused on them now that her body was not visible, only her eyes.
      "Shut up." Rels snapped, turning on her. "It isn't important."
      Mikal let his scorn twist his field. "Let the woman speak, Ferris." he commanded, backing his order with the weight of his annoyance.
      "They were willing to talk until Rels got upset about my touching one of them." her voice was almost inaudible. Stunned, Mikal would have never guessed this shy young Donor would have been so forward. "I wanted to see how their bracers worked. He, Dorityan, wouldn't have hurt me."
      "Not if anything you say about how they deal with junct renSimes is true." he shivered again, carefully keeping this to himself. Mikal was not entirely certain these foreigners had the wrong idea, although the blood bath in Warsaw was frightening. Thousands dead and many captured, was not a comforting thought. He had seen the prisoners' camp outside the walls. Gens everywhere, many of them being cared for by their fellows, and many more cared for by these aliens. "Although I would like to speak with some of the Gens they captured before I make a final decision."
      "It won't do any good." Rels snorted. "None of them speak Simelan, of course."
      "Then how do these people talk with them?" he glared down at the channel.
      "Only three of their leaders do, Vayer, Arkay and Ilyan." the list Rels gave was surprising. Mikal had met both Vayer and Ilyan. They had the look of family. Or at least more the look of family than the others.
      "I haven't seen Arkay yet." he tried to remember if he might have seen him in passing.
      "He's in what they call 'seclusion'." Rels snorted in disgust. "Shenned barbarians."
      One of Mikal's eyebrows rose. "Seclusion?"
      "When the channels and the Donors here have transfer, they do so in private." Lana informed him quietly.
      "Go on." he thought there had to be more to it than this, for even Rels to be so annoyed.
      "They lock themselves up for hours." Rels glared at his Donor. "I refused."
      Idiot Mikal thought. The idea sounded delightful to him. "I take it you had transfer here while you were waiting for me to arrive?"
      "Yes" he snarled at Galina again. "She said she wanted to try to make up for my so-called bungling by giving transfer to one of their channels, so I had to put up with one of their Donors." Rels' shudder was visibly obvious. Although Lana's eyes turned dreamy for a moment and Mikal had to hide his amusement. "The female tried to kiss me." he spat.
      "Before or afterwards?" Mikal tried not to chuckle at Rels' look of disgust.
      "Yes" his mouth twisted in disgust. "It was awful. First she refused to let me control the transfer until that Gen, Arkay, told her to. Then she pawed me. It was almost like she wanted me to be post before transfer."
      He gulped in a deep breath. "Then when it was over, she ..." his tentacles twined around his arms. "Then she asked if I wanted her. It was horrible, disgusting."
      "Was she pretty?" Mikal couldn't understand the fool.
      "What does that have to do with it?" Rels snarled. "She was just a Donor."
      Now Mikal knew why these people wanted nothing to do with them. "How incredibly rude."
      "What does that have to do with anything?" Rels turned to him. "These people are barbarians. They don't know anything about manners. Anyway, manners don't stop people from killing, only ..."
      He didn't want to hear yet another lecture. "How many kills have you seen from these people?"
      "Only their enemies, and then only in self defense." Lana whispered.
      "Thank you." he told her. "If there is some place you would rather be, Lana, ask?"
      "I should be with my channel, after abandoning him." she looked towards the door, however.
      "You should." Rels growled.
      "Actually, I am going to send Rels back to Nivet. He has caused enough damage as it stands." Mikal came to his decision. "I have been given the freedom to see if I can rescue this situation, and I can't do it with him around. If you wish to stay, you are welcome to." he held up his hand to tell her to hold her reply for a moment. "I'm going to see if I can go with them when they leave. For a long time, if necessary. This is why they didn't send a channel with me." He didn't like having to leave the Techton without a Donor of his strength, but they could afford even less losing another city. One of the things which had taken him so long to arrive, was the debate over how to deal with their loss when the reports had come in.
      The first thought had been to send another channel/Donor pair, but Mikal had nixed the idea. A channel could not function without a Donor for them; he could well survive without it. Finally sense had prevailed, and he had been given the obligation to treat with these people on his own. After seeing their lifestyle first hand, he wondered if he truly had anything these people wanted. No treaty would survive if only one side had to give things up.
      Although looking around at the incredible wealth of goods, Mikal wondered if he might not be better dealing for Kaon and not the Techton as a whole.
      "You are close to my size, and other things." the rather elderly Donor looked him over as if he were zlinning. For all Mikal knew he was. "You can wear one of my kadors." There was something the man had left unsaid, which seemed to be rather amusing to everyone else present. The person they had been waiting on, surprisingly, was a greying renSime named Dorityan. All the other leaders he had met were there, as well as a very tall, silver haired Lord named Nashen.
      When Mikal realized how poor Rels information had been by the fact he hadn't even gotten peoples' titles right, he had thrown out almost everything the man had said. Gingerly, he took the garment Nashen returned with. It was an exquisite piece of workmanship, far finer than anything even Zaor produced. This had not been machine made. "This is magnificent." he breathed, stroking the soft, heavy cloth. Although it did not seem as stiff as the one Lana wore.
      "Avilan says it is not very good. But then he is a perfectionist." Arkay smiled at Mikal and his transfer partner, Nashen, stroked the man's arm possessively. Mikal felt his eyes narrow in speculation before he could stop them. "Yes, we are both matched and mated." and then he surprised Mikal even more by giving the other man a deep, very obviously sexual, kiss. No one else seemed to think this at all unusual and he tried to stop his own disquiet at the sight. "Do you not share your bed with your transfer partner?" Arkay said when they broke off their kiss, lips darkened by the contact and still looking at his partner.
      "No. We are not allowed to." he couldn't help the surge of jealousy at the question. Uncomfortable, he tried to think of a way to get out of this situation.
      "Then this must seem strange to you." Nashen's voice was actually a very clear, high, tenor unlike his partner's deep baritone.
      "It is." he realized that lying would be a very poor way to try to patch up relations. "Particularly when the partners are the same gender."
      "Ah." Vayer tipped his head. "I had wondered why Lana and Rels were so upset with our lovebirds here."
      "Hush, Vayer." Arkay chuckled. "RenSimes also don't much care for open displays of affection between members of the same gender."
      "I have gotten used to it." Dorityan was looking towards his partner, a channel. From their closeness, they were lovers if not married, which was even more astonishing.
      "You are not a typical renSime." Nashen flicked a tentacle at the man. This explained why he was included in their conference. Although Mikal had also noted none of the other renSimes normally spoke Simelan. "Here are some underclothes, if you wish to remove your coveralls." the channel looked at them in dismay. Compared to the finery surrounding him, Mikal could well understand the man's distaste. The issued garments certainly held none of the beauty of even the uniform Dorityan wore or the rather plain clothes Galina wore. "Arkay and I have been paired for a few years." His infatuated smile was that of a new relationship though. "His children have a tendency to still tease us about it."
      "Oh, because you should not be acting like a married pair of renSimes after a dozen years." Dorityan quipped and everyone stopped silent, staring at him. Even Galina's mouth dropped open. There was a bright twinkle in his deep-set, dark eyes. Mikal got it first and laughed heartily. Of course channels and Donors wouldn't be as likely to form such deep bonds of affection as renSimes. At least from his own experience they rarely had the opportunity.
      "Actually it is that renSimes expect us nobility to be decadent and frivolous in our loves." Vayer shot back.
      "Of course we do." Dorityan grinned. "When are you going to marry Darya?" His grin showed a great deal of fang. This was getting a bit sharp and Mikal wasn't sure he wanted to be in the middle of it.
      "When I don't trust her to come back to me." out of nowhere a thin bladed knife appeared in Vayer's hand. Studiously he began cleaning his nails with it. "As I don't think she will stray, why do I have to bond her?"
      The appearance of a weapon made Mikal want to stop this whole thing right now. He took a deep breath ... and then let it out. These people's politics are none of my business.
      "You win, my Lord." Dorityan laughed, looking at Vayer's knife. "You don't have to threaten me with steel."
      "I was simply trimming a snag." he held his hand up in front of his face, examining his fingernails. Now Mikal could see faint lines crossing over between the man's tentacle sheathes and his breath hissed between his teeth in shock.
      "Yes?" Vayer looked at him. The beard was almost as startling as the man's dark, dark blue eyes. Mikal had never really known anyone who willingly wore a beard or a mustache, and it was definitely odd. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the bindings on the man's forearms. "Oh." he grinned. "If you people have a problem with bracers, then you probably would not be comfortable with anything on someone's forearms. Correct?"
      Nodding, he still looked at Vayer's arms.
      "Although if you keep staring like that, you will make me blush."
      "I want to see you blush, Vayer." Nashen quipped, sending the room into gales of laughter. "Keep ogling, Mikhail."
      It took almost a second to realize Nashen had mangled his name. Then he blushed furiously, moving his gaze to the clothes he held. "I didn't mean to ogle you, Lord Vayer." he really didn't. Flirting was not what he was here for. Even though, from the feel of him, Vayer would not be an unacceptable transfer partner. Afterwards would be another matter, the burning of his face worsened. Why am I acting like a teenager? he wondered at his so strong response to these people.
      *Because you have found your home?* the voice was inside his head. Stung he looked up and straight into Vayer's midnight eyes. The man nodded, acknowledging the message. He stood, with a grace that was unbelievable to behold. Sime, certainly, Mikal noted, his heart pounding. Sleek, heavy, muscle slid beneath his skin though, giving him a sense of power no channel Mikal had ever seen before display.
      "Let me help you with your new clothes." Vayer's voice dropped to a sensuous purr. He knew this channel had killed, was junct, but the attraction was undeniable. His mouth watered at the very thought of touching this seductive Sime.
      "If you'll let me touch?" he looked at the wrappings on Vayer's arms, trying to distract himself from the heat running through his own.
      "You can do more than touch, if you wish." Vayer ran one of his hands through his long, black hair. The gesture was so reminiscent of a woman flirting with a man, Mikal hesitated. Confused, he turned his face away. "I didn't mean to come on so strong, Mikhail." Vayer sighed. "I'm sorry. My mate had to stay at home and I've had to deal with splice-transfers since we left Moskva."
      His head whipped back, meeting Vayer's eyes again. "You don't flirt with every stranger you meet?"
      "Far from it." Vayer chuckled. "Only beautiful ones who light the room with their starry promise."
      "And how many of those have you met?" he licked his lips nervously, not sure of how this would be taken.
      "Only one." Vayer said simply, brushing his hand over Mikal's face. The contact was fleeting, but the hot strength implied with the touch sent a shiver up his spine. Easily, he caught Vayer's wrist. "You don't wish to be touched?"
      "Not in public." he flicked his eyes to the other people in the room.
      "This is family, Mikhail." his voice was still soft. "And I am still a week out from transfer. Do you not flirt in front of your family?"
      "Not if I can help it." he smiled, trying to still his wildly pounding pulse. If he is a week out, then he must be a fairly high first Mikal tried to stop his strengthened desire to have this channel. Never before had Mikal had to make such decisions on his own. When he had taken this assignment, he had thought he would have to do without. Now, faced with the problem of dealing with making his own arrangements for transfer, he didn't know what to do. "They tend to tease me about it."
      "I can understand that." Vayer turned to Arkay and made a shooing gesture.
      "We can wait until you are done." Arkay chuckled.
      "Flirting or getting him into proper clothes?" Vayer teased right back.
      "You flirt too much in front of two couples who are post and we'll not be getting to work this evening." Nashen's eyes tracking over Mikal's body were far from innocuous.
      "Then I think it would be best if I changed in private." Mikal was glad for the excuse. A week to learn to cope. he thought he could manage.


      Vayer's seduction of the young, foreign, Sharm Lord was a stroke of genius. Dorityan caught a glimpse of the two of them riding side by side at the head of the column behind Arkay and Nashen. That first night they had talked through to dawn. Each side had spent hours trying to find some way they could co-exist peacefully. Finally Mikhail had decided it would not be hashed out in only a few days.
      "Come now." he settled back into Vayer's arms. Dorityan could still see the fine lines of tension around the man's mouth and eyes, but they were fading slowly as he became accustomed to the situation. Mikhail almost looked enough like one of Sergei's get to surprise all of them. This made it very difficult to remember at times he was as alien as Lana and Rels, who, quite thankfully, were hiding away with Mikhail's escort. "This is not all going to be settled in an evening."
      "Then you are willing to come back to Moskva with us?" Dorityan asked, not yet sure of Mikhail's motivations. There were many, many things hidden in the man's nager, for all his relative youth. He looked at Vayer, clearly displaying his worries at the forefront of his mind.
      Vayer nodded in agreement. "We can not stay any longer. The only thing we were waiting for was for the Techton to retrieve their strays. If they had stayed in this valley, they would not have survived the winter."
      "Only because you destroyed it." the burst of anger was one of the few clearly truthful things Mikhail said. "If you had left well enough alone ..."
      "If we hadn't come in here, your pressure would have driven so many desperate people into our lands we would have been swamped." Nashen's emotions were running hot with his too recent transfer. "We won't allow your Techton to destroy our way of life, even by accident."
      Mikhail ran his hand through his renSime short, blond, hair. "We don't want to destroy a people who don't kill."
      "But we do kill." Arkay grimaced. "We don't like to do it, but we don't allow people to die of the torments of hell. Rels was ready to destroy us for it."
      "Rels is no good example of the Techton." Mikhail's nager went as hard and slick as diamond. "The people who lived here before the Techton killed Gens to survive."
      "They did so after the Techton arrived as well. We would have lost half our troops to the kill if they weren't so well trained." Vayer snarled. "Much less all the poor renGens we rescued from what you call 'pens'."
      "We don't want to force an entire generation of renSimes to die of disjunction crisis." Mikhail's eyes held a compassion Dorityan was quite surprised to see. "The pen Gens don't have much left in the way of minds. They have been so drugged and mistreated they are barely human. It isn't fair to the renSimes who come to the Techton."
      "We don't let them die of transfer sickness either, Mikhail." Ilyan added.
      "No, you murder them." Mikhail almost shouted. "How does that make you any better than the ones who kill to live?"
      "Because we don't leave them to die of the torments of hell." Dorityan snapped right back. "I, myself, would rather be broken and burned than left to die of what you call disjunction crisis." The smooth, technical term for one of the greatest agonies known to man at least gave it some distance. "By giving them a clean death, we at least don't torture them."
      "Burning them to death isn't torture?" Mikhail gasped, his eyes wide with shock.
      "No, not after breaking their necks, and certainly not compared to almost a year in hell before death by attrition." Galina added. "We can't let them suffer for their culture's mistakes. Besides, if it is truly an accident, well, then the usual method of execution is the kill."
      "You murdered an entire city." Mikhail shouted. Dorityan was very, very glad the guards outside could not understand a word any of them had said. "You slaughtered thousands of people."
      "Yes" Vayer said simply. "And we would do it again to defend Rodina."
      "You are barbarians." the man's agony was clearly evident. "What human is so valuable to justify genocide?"
      "Rodina is no single human. She is our mother." Nivanya said softly. "That is what we call, what you might term, our central goddess. Even that isn't quite it."
      "Rodina is the personification of what makes us Russian." Dorityan said, thinking back to all the times the priests of the Way of the Rus had driven it into him. "She is our Mother and our benefactor. We are obliged to defend her to the best of our abilities."
      Mikhail sat, stunned. "I am not entirely sure who is the barbarian."
      Dorityan was, and it was not the Rus.
      Riding herd on the renGens they had rescued from Warsaw was not a job Galina would have wished on anyone, much less herself. "Get those children under control." she shouted, pointing with her nager to a group of determined youngsters trying to slip out of the renSime cordon. It was nerve racking to say the least. Trying to keep a group of renGens under control with only renSimes was technically impossible.
      Finally Dorityan rode up to check on everything. "Master Seargent Khristov!" he called out with a volume that was deafening to stand near. The person in question cantered up to them.
      "Yes, Chief Dorityan." he bowed his head respectfully.
      "Get yer sorry ass in gear and get them troopers to back off. We haven't gotten a kill yet, and we're gonna keep it thet way." he hissed under his breath. "Master Seargent Gyordi Kirov has had two. Sergei ain't gonna have none."
      "Not after ye promised 'em Arkay's kiss, yer not." the Master Seargent muttered under his breath.
      "And not after I promised all of 'em their choice for a month if they did it." he towered over the Master Seargent. "Be remem'brin to use te Sime as well as te Gen, m'lad." Although Galina had to hide a grin over the dismay Kirina was going to show when she found out Dorityan's deal.
      "Aye, Chief." he turned his mount away. A spate of orders went around the cordon and soon the renGens loosened from their tight huddle and began to stride along more easily.
      "I would have never thought to loosen the guards. I was about to tighten it." Galina told him softly.
      "Not a good idea. These renGens don't know our ways. They are still scared silly they're going to be killed. Get too much of that going, say by crowding them with renSimes and we will have a kill on our hands. We're far enough out from Warsaw, none of them are likely to be trying to head back now."
      "Good thing I have you to do my thinking for me." she grinned, resting her hand on his bracer.
      "Now, now, m'lord." he chuckled, as formal as he always was in public. "Don't ye be thinkin' I'll be doin' all yer mindin' for ye. Just ye don't know what's what."
      "Ain't that te truth." Sharm Lord Mikhail's Russian had come on like a runaway carriage. Unfortunately, he had learned it from the renSime contingent.
      "I weren't but not be talkin' wit ye, m'Lord." he bowed his head respectfully, giving Mikhail a hidden grin at the same time. Unlike the other Sharm Lords, Mikhail couldn't read his field very well and Dorityan had to give all kinds of visual cues to the man.
      "Ouch, Dori." Vayer gave him a pained look. "I would have no idea what that sentence meant if I couldn't zlin."
      "I'd not be havin' no ideas a'tall." Mikhail managed.
      "Ye be soundin' like a renSime wit but a few words and ne mindin' te way of it." Dorityan grinned at the man.
      "I think I'm going to be ill." Vayer clutched at his reins, making his black chomp at the bits in protest. "Sorry, Chernye." he stroked the sleek neck. "You really should learn to speak Russian correctly, Mikhail."
      "I'm not?" at least this came out clearly. "Te guards been techen' me." he said proudly.
      Dorityan closed his eyes and sighed. "No, Mikhail. The dialect the renSime guards speak is quite different from that the nobility speak."
      "I'm thinkin' I can but hear it." his concentration was obvious, if relatively ineffective. He sighed and shifted back into High Simelan, "It isn't very good, is it?" His wry grin was infectious.
      "No, it isn't." Galina laughed. "Probably the only person who is truly fluent in all the languages and dialects we speak is Dori."
      "Why is that?" he asked, shifting back to Russian, this time managing to speak clearly.
      "Because I was corrupted at a young age by too much selyn and a far to curious nature." Dorityan spoke softly, not wishing to be overheard. "If Lord Fatima hadn't rescued me from the Hunt, I would be dead now."
      "The Hunt?" he asked, curiosity blinding anyone nearby.
      "The Hunt, capitalized, is the hunting of a rogue Sime." Dorityan sighed, rubbing the backs of his hands with his tentacles. "For high treason, which education is in a renSime, willful killing, or aggravated murder, the Lords can call for a Hunt rather than a simply kill of the offender. It is not pleasant."
      Galina twined her tentacles with her mate, trying to reassure him. She didn't like to think of how close both of them had come to the Hunt.
      "That is barbaric." Mikhail shuddered in revulsion, making all the renSimes near them shy away.
      "It is safe." Vayer grimaced, grabbing the fields with his overwhelming strength. "We can't afford to have the renSimes revolt against our rule."
      "He's right, Mikhail." Dorityan backed up his ruler. "When I was a youngster, I didn't see that the controls on the renSimes were for our own good. I was young and headstrong; thinking if I could only make them, the nobility, see how we wished to be free, all would be right with the world. Now, with age and experience, I know we are not equal."
      "All people are equal." Mikhail protested loudly.
      "Quietly, Mikhail." Vayer stroked the Sharm Lord's hand. "We are not private here." Although in High Simelan they were almost private.
      "No, all people are not equal." Dorityan sighed sadly. "I only learned that after I wrote my books. Writing is also a crime punishable by the Hunt for a renSime."
      "How can you now support such repression?" Mikhail shrank away from all of them.
      "Because it makes them happy." Dorityan nodded towards the other renSimes. "They don't know what they are missing. What more could they want?"
      "Freedom." Mikhail insisted.
      "They are free from the specters of attrition and starvation." Dorityan pointed out. "That was what took me so long to learn. They don't want freedom to run their lives. They want freedom from the bad things that could happen to them." The sorrow in his field cut through Galina like a knife, though, despite his brave words.
      "You don't like it though." Mikhail must have picked up on some of it.
      "I am not like them." he sighed, blinking away tears. "I wanted freedom to choose, unlike my fellows. They would not take it if handed to them."
      "You have become wise with age, my friend." Nashen's arrival startled all four of them. "I am quite proud of my Chief."
      "I would have been a fool not to, my Lord." he turned to face the tall Lord of Fatima. "And while it is often said renSimes are foolish, I had no desire to be like my fellows in that way either."
      "Do you regret your forbidden words, my Dorityan?" Sharm Lord Arkay asked.
      "I only regret I did not come to your attention sooner, my Lord." Dorityan held out his hands to the man, offering himself in utter subservience. "I am your tool to command, as you and your Lord wish."
      "And that is why we control our people the way we do." Vayer blessed the domination by his hands over theirs.