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controlled the tents and the hearth, except in time of war, when everyone fought. The women were the
scouts, the leaders, the war captains. For political reasons her mother had betrothed Deoce to a
nobleman from another clan. She was on her way to be married when her party was ambushed by the
slavers.
At first I was greatly upset when told of the impending wedding. But Deoce quickly put my mind at rest
when she explained that the "nobleman" was a boy of less than six years, and since she had been in the
company of strange men for so long without proper chaperoning, there was no chance she would be
considered suitable marriage material. However, my self-concern turned to anguish for her when I heard
this.
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Deoce chuckled when she learned the reason for my dismay. "It only means now I won't have to marry
a little boy," she said. "In my own clan it is not so important to be a virgin. It is only important to ... other
people. People like"-she shuddered-"the slavers. They were going to sell me as a harvest sacrifice." She
gave me a grim smile. "If I were not a virgin, at least I would have had a better chance of staying alive."
She looked at me, thoughtful. I wondered what was going on in her mind. Then she sighed. "In some
ways," she said, "it was easier when our ... words ... were fewer."
"In what way?" I asked. But she just shook her head and said, "Never mind." Despite my question, I
knew her meaning. If anything, I had become an overly courtly suitor since that day on the embankment
when I tested her with a kiss. Our newfound ease in speech drew me much closer to her than mere lust
would have. As we sat chatting, I realized we had become fast friends. We became even faster friends a
bit later, when she quizzed me about her journey and I felt enough trust to tell her the nature of my
mission.
"The Far Kingdoms?" she cried when I named our goal. "Do you really mean to find them?" Her eyes
were so full of enthusiasm and awe, I was gladder than ever I had chosen such a course.
"The gods willing," I said.
"I am sure they must be," she said, "or you would not have come so far already. Among the Salcae it is
said that once our people, and the people of the rest of the world, are joined to the Far Kingdoms, all
violence will end. No more banditry, or war."
"No more war?" I laughed. "Now that is a pretty thought. But, I fear, my lovely Deoce, war is a
permanent affliction, and has nothing to do with the dark forces that are said to be battling the enlightened
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folk of the Far Kingdoms. Sorcery it may be. Evil sorcery, at that. But killing is the nature of all things. It
does not need help from the forces of the dark."
Her answer was a wave of a hand to the spring that bubbled up from the roots of a large tree. Beneath
that tree, a hyena fled, howling mock fear before the onslaught of a fat young monkey. "It is not so here,"
she said. I had no rebuttal.
Then, out of nowhere, she said, "I must see this for myself. I will go with you."
"That is not possible," I said, alarmed.
"What do you propose to do with me?" Deoce asked. It was a sensible question I had avoided for some
time. "You cannot send me back to Salcae. You cannot turn back-not when you are so
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close; so there is no way I can join a trading caravan, for there is no such thing in this desolate land. You
can only go forward. It seems reasonable, then, that you supply me with weapons-I am a skilled warrior,
as all women are in Salcae-and let me travel with you as a companion, rather than another burdensome
bit of baggage."
Once again I was left without rebuttal. I laughed, and she started to take offense, until I explained she
reminded me of my own sister, Rali, who had a soldier's way of striking at the plain truth of the matter.
"You would like my sister," I said.
"I am sure I will," I thought I heard her say, but she spoke so low, I wasn't certain. "Pardon?" I said.
She opened her mouth to answer, then shook her head. "Oh, Amalric," she said, "are the men of Orissa
all like you?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Enough," she cried. "What does a woman have to do to collect that kiss you promised?"
With that she flung herself on me. She was small, but her weight carried me back to the ground, and her
mouth crushed against mine. I was momentarily startled, but only momentarily, as eager female flesh
squirmed against my own, and the fire I had kept damped so long exploded. We dragged at each other's
clothing until there was nothing between us. I rolled on top of her, her legs splayed wide, hips thrusting to
meet me, and I plunged into her like a wild man. I felt resistance, heard her groan in what I thought was
pain, and I tried to pull back. But her hands gripped my buttocks and pulled me into her harder. The
resistance gave way, and madness overtook me again, and I rode her on and on, our hips slamming
together, our mouths and hands going at one another like a fury.
We made love all that night. In the morning we bathed, devoured a quick breakfast, then crept far away
from our companions, where we made love until exhaustion overtook us. As the days went by our
passion only intensified, as did our love. And there was no longer a question that she would accompany
us on our journey. I tell you now, if I were a Master Evocator I would cast a spell so powerful it would
take me back to those days with Deoce in the peaceful wilderness of that mysterious crater. I would live
there with her until the end of our appointed time in this world.
I don't know how many more days we lingered, for I was too bemused with Deoce to keep count. But
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when it ended, something
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precious was lost that I have never been able to find in all my long life.
It was just after the hunting period, when all the creatures reverted to their normal natures and ate. We
had scrupulously kept our part of the bargain during our stay in the crater. That day we had taken two
antelope and a few fish. We roasted and ate with gusto and set the remaining meat out on drying racks.
Janos and I were sprawled on a bank, basking in the last sunlight, contented after our meal. Cassini was
restringing his bow. One of the antelope had fallen to his arrow, to his enormous satisfaction. It was odd
that an Evocator should take such delight in the things common men must do to win their daily
sustenance, but Cassini strutted after a kill as if he were the most manly of hunters.
I heard Deoce give a delighted cry and raised myself up on my elbow. She was standing beneath a
sprawling fruit tree pointing up into its branches. "Look at the monkey," she called. "It's marvelous." [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]