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1 / DDDDD ZZZZZZ // D D AAAA RRR GGGG OOOO NN N Z I NN N EEEE || D D A A R R G O O N N N Z I N N N E || Volume 7 -=========================================================+|) D D AAAA RRR G GG O O N N N Z I N N N E || Issue 3 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 7, Issue 3 08/24/94 Cir 1075 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Archives at ftp.etext.org in pub/Zines/DargonZine -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ DAG Dafydd Editorial Kidnapped 1 Max Khaytsus Yule 21-23, 1014 Love an Adventure II Orny Liscomb Yuli 2, 1016 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Dafydd's Amber Glow by Dafydd Cyhoeddwr, Editor DargonZine Well, I don't write editorials very often any more but this is a special occaison - this is the last issue of DargonZine I will be Editor for. The electronic magazine will continue, though, once again under the capable guidance of its creator, Ornoth Liscomb, whom you may have noticed has returned to the project. The Dargon Project has always been his, even when he wasn't here - I was only ever a caretaker. Now that he has returned, and that he has time and energy to devote to it, we (all of the authors and myself) are turning control back to him. There may be some changes in the look of the 'zine, and with any luck it should come out a little more often, if not any more regularly. But the basic element of the 'zine - the stories - won't change much save to get better, perhaps, with Orny's input once again available to us all. Orny will, I'm sure, have much to say in the next issue to come out. Its been a fun 6 years, and I'm glad that DargonZine is still around for me to pass back to him. Enjoy, everyone! ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Kidnapped, Part 1 by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a. ) Kera's sword connected solidly with her opponent's shield, splintering a large chip from the edge. He stepped back, shaking his shield arm to relax the strained muscle from the force of the blow. Kera quickly closed the distance the retreat created and swung again, connecting with the battered shield once more. The wood groaned and splintered, revealing a crack through the shield's face. He took another step back and attacked Kera's shield, causing her to momentarily lose balance. She recovered, delivering a third blow to the shield. With a splintering sound, the shield broke and the man flung his arm down, shaking the remains of wood and leather to the ground. Kera took a step back and tried to unstrap her own shield. "Keep it," her opponent instructed, grasping his sword with both hands. "What about the code?" she took hold of the loose strap again. He swung at her and she dodged, dropping to one knee to avoid the blade. "You need to learn to fight, not respect." "Are you saying I don't know how to fight?" Kera's sword glanced off his legging, shaving a yellow spark. "That's right!" her opponent's sword came down hard across her own blade, breaking her grip on it and throwing the weapon to the ground. Sir Ariam Brand stepped back, sheathing his sword. "Get up. You talk too much. You're letting the conversation distract you." Kera stood up, removing her helmet. "Why the shield?" "You kept blocking," Kera explained her attack. "But at the end you ignored me. You fought my shield." "I thought I could get to you if you didn't have it." "And you killed my shield, but that left you tired and gave me a free arm. Get your sword." Kera picked up her blade. Sir Brand drew his sword and brought it down on Kera's right side. "You got down to avoid my blow. That saved you from dropping your sword." Kera brought her blade up to block the one pointed at her. "Here," Sir Brand indicated, tapping his sword against hers. "I'd force it into the ground and you'd either bend with it or drop it. You did the right thing by not parrying. But then you should have brought your sword in behind the shield and gotten up, instead of attacking me." "I shouldn't fight up," Kera repeated what she had heard so often. "That's right." "What about a feint?" Kera asked. "That was a feint. I swung left, you went right. I had a choice of your head, your shield or your sword." "All right," Kera got down on one knee. "I'm down, sword in, trying to get up. You still have a choice of head or shield." "Push forward as you get up," Sir Brand assumed his previous position. "I can't hit you if you're inside my reach." Kera got up, stepping forward. "Like this?" "Right. Now look, I lose my swing when we're this close. I have to step back. Now, be careful not to try this with opponents who are fighting with a stiletto or a short sword in their off hand. You'll have to get up by pushing away, then. It's not as effective, but you'd at least make them chase you down before they can hit you. Luckily, most people can't fight with two weapons." "Sir Keegan does, sometimes." "He was trained at it. Few people are." "Now come on, let's try that again and don't distract yourself by talking." "Yes, Sir," Kera prepared for the next match. "I'll need..." "Lady!" A young page called from the fenced edge of the Arena. "Go ahead," Sir Brand said. "I need to get a shield." Kera hurried over to the page. "I'm sorry to interrupt, ma'am, but the Baron wishes to see you right away." "All right," Kera said. "I'll be right there." The page left and she turned to Sir Brand, ready with a new practice shield. "Go ahead," he told her. "It's getting close to dinner. We'll continue tomorrow." "Thank you," Kera dropped her own shield on a bench and sheathed her sword. "I will be seeing you at dinner, my Lord. Good day." "Good day," the knight answered and she left. It had been just three days since Rien had left and two since the three regiments training at Valdasly Keep marched out the gates and down the road towards the village, on their way to the Royal Duchy. Few soldiers and knights remained at the Keep -- mostly guards and assistants to the Baron, who waited for word from Duke Glavenford. Rien would have gone with the troops, but Adrea's disappearance forced him to go to Sharks' Cove instead, where he was to meet Deven and look for her. Kera asked him to take her along, but he told her to stay and practice, insisting that going to war would be too dangerous for her. "When your training is complete..." she remembered his strong hand under her chin. "I fear for your safety." "Then what's the point of being your squire if you hide me behind stone walls?" "I want you to be the best that you can -- better than the soldiers who you'd have to face. I want you to have a better chance than they." "You make it so difficult," Kera whispered. "I'd rather not go looking for you as well as for Adrea," he insisted. "Take care." Kera embraced him, trying to burn the feeling of holding onto him into her mind. The stable attendant who held on to Rien's horse politely turned away. Rien put his arms around Kera, returning the embrace. "I have to go. I'm wasting time." "Be careful..." Kera muttered. "Don't make me come looking for you." "I won't," Rien laughed. "I won't abandon you, I promise." They broke the embrace and Rien mounted his horse, a tall slender animal the Baron had given him. "Take care of Kelsey." "I will." Kera bit her tongue to force back tears. Three days were not enough to get the tears to stop. She paused in the great hall, wiping her face and straightening her hair, not having had the chance to do so after the practice. Setting her jaw, Kera walked up to the door to the library and knocked. "Come," Baron Dower's voice sounded on the other side and she entered. The Baron stood over his desk, a large map before him, a stack of books, a bottle of ink and a straight edge nearby. The chandelier over the desk, as well as two heavy candelabras illuminated his work, casting a bright glow over the desk and the papers on it. "You sent for me, my Lord?" Kera asked. "Yes, please, sit down, Kera," he said, making measurements on the map on the table. He was always informal with her in private for some reason, just like he was with Rien. Kera sat down across from the desk, watching the Baron work. He looked tired, worn out. A distinct change from dinner the night before. Finishing with the measurements, he sat down as well. "Kera, I need you to do me a favor." He shifted and pushed a stack of books out of the way so they could see each other. "I received the message I was waiting for from Duke Glavenford at noon. He, although reluctantly, approved my plan to march on Gateway. I will be leaving to catch up to my troops tomorrow morning and I need you to do me a favor..." Kera started to answer, but the Baron did not stop. "...I want you to take Stefan to the Ducal Palace in Hawksbridge. Few guards will stay here after I go and I would feel much better knowing my son is safe." Kera kept looking at him after he stopped so abruptly, waiting for him to add something else. "Of course, my Lord," she caught herself. "Good," the Baron nodded. "Don't tell him what I told you. He doesn't know I'm going to war. I've told him we will be picking up men in Narragan to add to the standing troops." "Of course, Sir. What should I do after I deliver him?" "Do? You'll stay there. And you will continue your training in Hawksbridge." "What about Sir Keegan? How will he know where I am?" "I will leave word here. The servants and some guards will remain at the Keep -- I'm not abandoning it." "Yes, Sir." "Good." He picked up two letters from the desk and handed them to Kera. "This is your letter of introduction to the Duke and this is a letter for him. You and Stefan are to remain in Hawksbridge until sent for by myself or Rien. All my letters are marked with my seal, so watch for it. And having been with Rien for as long as you have, I'm sure the two of you have an established method of communications." Kera nodded, although she had no idea how she would recognize a message sent by Rien. "All right, then. Any questions?" "Just directions, Sir." He smiled, realizing he missed so simple a thing. "Take the forest road west. After you exit the canyon, it will join a larger road. Take the right branch, three days, and it will bring you into the city. There are signs along the way and, besides, Stefan has travelled it often since he was a baby. He'll give directions if you need them...and if you don't." Kera also smiled at that. "Go ahead and clean up for dinner," the Baron said, indicating the conversation was over. Taking the two letters, Kera left the library and headed upstairs to her room to get out of the armor and prepare for dinner. She knew Baron Dower had been waiting for word from the Duke about taking the available regiments to Gateway. He sent the message to Hawksbridge the same morning Rien left for Sharks' Cove and a three day turn around time was rather spectacular for what was normally a three day one way trip. In the morning she would take the Baron's son to the Ducal seat and the Baron would join his troops on the way to war, the same war Rien left for only days before. It scared her to think about the war, about the unchecked slaughter of people as the two sides fought over stretches of land no one would think about twice in time of peace. She leaned on the window sill, looking south towards the dark green forest stretching beyond the keep walls and the peaks of mountains on the other side of the valley, that the forest leaned against. Where was Rien? Somewhere in those mountains by now? When they left Sharks' Cove in late spring, they travelled as close to the mountains as they could, so she could see the snow in their peaks, present even in the summer. Kera ran her hand over her eye, trying to prevent its watering from becoming a tear. Summer snow was not unknown to Rien, but it was something she had never seen before and so simple a gesture as going a couple of days out of their way, meant a lot to her. Somewhere out there, in the mountains to the southwest, Rien made his way towards Sharks' Cove, to find out what happened to Adrea. And somewhere, not far behind him, marched three regiments of soldiers, heading for Gateway, to fight the Beinison army that no doubt outnumbered them four to one. Kiyan Kanne was with those troops, ready to become a hero. "In a way I'm glad I'm not going," Kera sighed. "I don't know how I would handle it." "First kill is a hard thing," Kiyan answered. "Then you become cold about taking a life." "I know," Kera said. "I've killed before..." Kiyan turned to face her. "I feel there's a past you're not telling me about," he commented and quickly looked away. "There's a past I'm trying to forget," Kera responded, slowly and cautiously. "...and I'm not quite ready to fight new opponents to the death just yet." "I'm glad you'll be here, where it's safe," Kiyan answered. "I'd be afraid for you if I knew you were there with the army...and that's one less person I'd have to out do to become a hero." An abrupt laugh slipped from Kera's lips. "You don't think I can do it?" "I think you're taking it too seriously." "Yeah?" "Yeah," she smiled. "It's a bit much to win a war singlehanded." "But's it's a goal to aim for." "It is that." Kiyan bent down, and pulling a fresh pale blue Iris from the lawn, handed it to Kera. "Hold on to this until I come back." "It'll..." He kissed her before she could respond and disappeared into the barracks. The next morning, the troops left at the crack of dawn. Kera ran her fingers over the still fresh Iris, standing on the window sill in a cup, wiping the moisture from her eyes off on the delicate petals. Each time it seemed that her problems were about to lessen their grip on her, something new would cause a conflict in her life. Something there was no way to predict and something that could not be avoided. Quickly changing into a clean set of clothes, Kera went down stairs. Life had to go on, no matter what challenges it would throw her way. "...grain ready for harvest, we're bowing to the damned Benosian army!" a deep voice declared as she entered the great hall. "Now, Clev, you know we have more uncommitted forces than Beinison," the Baron's calm voice answered. "We're fighting for our lands, with people who live on these lands. We'll take them back." "But before we take it back, we have to look at us as a country, at our losses, our morale, our..." Noticing Kera, he stopped and stood up. The other three men at the table did likewise, as has been done the past two nights, them being a small group and Kera being the only woman dining with them. "Please," she smiled, embarrassed. "You don't have to do this... I'm sorry I'm late." She took her seat on Sir Hardin's right, across from Sir Brand. The Baron sat at the head of the table, between his son and Sir Hardin. The men sat back down as a servant hurried to place a warm plate before Kera. "Looks like you'll escape having to practice with me," Sir Brand said to Kera. "I can't say I'm disappointed, my Lord," Kera answered. "You've been working me much harder than Sir Bonhan." "You have to understand Ariam is much more zealous," the Baron laughed. "He knows he has little time, so he wishes to see a marked improvement over the training you have received so far." The others at the table laughed. "This reminds me," Sir Hardin said thoughtfully. "I took a squire soon after I was knighted, a bright young lad. You might remember him, Rev -- Alaman Helvik. His father was your father's scribe..." "Yes, yes," the Baron nodded. "He was a frail little thing, but Lord Gregor said I must take him, as a favor to him and his father, and so I did." He paused to take a bite from a leg of mutton and wash it down with ale. "The boy was so zealous to learn to be a knight, he broke both arms when he fell off a horse the very first day. He became a scribe after that, just like his father..." The Baron chuckled over his food. "And it took you five years to select a new squire after that, one that wouldn't `break' on you." He paused and added in a more somber tone, "I always felt sorry for him over that. He wanted to be a knight so much, but he really wasn't made for it." "Then there was Albert Targ, who you took as your squire," Sir Hardin laughed. He turned to Stefan, the Baron's son, to tell the story. "A large lad, built like Sir Bonham, but much taller. Bigger than either your father or I were at the time. The lad lasted a whole week, then one morning I'm woken up by your father and he tells me Targ ran off. "Now, we entertained rather late the night before, so I tell him to stop bothering me and turn over..." "I drug him out of bed screaming and kicking," the Baron laughed. "...and he tells me his mother's best silverware is gone with that rogue!" Stefan looked at his father. "Silverware?" "Your grandmother's pride and joy -- her parents gave it to her for a wedding present -- a fine, almost pure alloy from Othuldane." Sir Hardin laughed. "So like two fools we dress and saddle up in the middle of the night to go look for a thief. Snow's hip deep, wolves are freezing in mid run and we're out there looking for a thief." "Did you find him?" the boy asked. "No," the Baron shook his head. "Spent a week in the cold, knowing we lost him, but afraid to come home. I knew how dearly my mother loved that silverware..." "So what happened?" The Baron looked at Sir Hardin and the knight nodded. "Well, we came back a week later and my father calls us to his study and says if we want to go wenching, the least we can do is leave him a message. He doesn't say a word about the silverware, so Clev and I keep quiet about it. "That evening, at dinner, the servants bring the roast on the silver platter. Turns out guests were expected earlier in the week and mother sent the dishes to the smithy to be polished." Sir Brand chuckled. "What punishment." "What about Albert Targ, father?" Stefan asked. "I worked the boy so hard, he ran back home to farm wheat and never looked back." Sir Hardin let out a hearty laugh. "So she could be leaving under worse circumstances," he warned Sir Brand. "Having broken things and stollen silverware?" Kera smiled. "You broke three shields in two days," Sir Brand reminded her. "That's a rather impressive number, considering they're made of oak." Kera blushed and hid her face behind a mug of ale, taking a log sip in the process. "Three oak shields?" the Baron asked. "Quite an accomplishment. How has your progress been?" The servants started replacing the empty dishes with desert. "All right, I suppose. I'm really not the one to judge my own skills, Sir." "Ariam?" "Quite fine, although she needs to learn to be more comfortable with the blade, learn the finesse of using the weapon. We made good progress on feints and breaking binds." "Pardon my bluntness, my Lord," Kera said, "but I feel perfectly comfortable with my weapon. It's fighting with someone more skilled that troubles me." "Troubles me, too, my girl," Sir Hardin muttered, "troubles me, too." "It is the only way to learn," Sir Brand insisted. "You have to stretch yourself so you may reach." "Talking about stretching," the Baron said, "I want you to leave for Hawksbridge as early as possible tomorrow -- right after breakfast, so act accordingly. And that goes for you as well, young man," he tuned to his son. "And stay out of trouble while I'm gone, understood? Do everything Kera tells you." "Yes, Sir," the boy answered. After dinner Kera went for a walk in the keep's courtyard, relaxing in the cool evening breeze. In the morning she would have to accept a new responsibility, perhaps the greatest one she was ever given. She considered how long she may have to remain in Hawksbridge and what she would need to take with her. It may be a short trip, or a very long one. But then Valdasly would be three days away, possibly less on Hasina, so she could always return. When she went back into the keep, Baron Dower stopped her in the great hall. "One last thing, Kera," he said. "I have one more thing to give you to take to Hawksbridge." She followed him to the library where he handed her a thick envelope, with a large wax seal holding it shut. "My will," he explained. "A duplicate will remain here in the keep, and I want you to give this one to the Duke's archivist. It is to be opened only on my verified death." "Sir..." "I'm not going to Gateway to die," he interrupted Kera. "I am going to save Baranur, but we must always be prepared. Give it to the archivist." "My prayers will be with you, Sir," she accepted the parchment. "Thank you, Kera. Good night." * * * In the morning Kera got up much earlier than any of the previous mornings and went for her daily run. She spent the last few days running in the meadow or up the canyon leading away from the forest, but on this, her last morning at Valdasly, she decided to run by Charnelwood, towards the village on the other side of the valley. It was still dark when she made it to the point where she and Rien had stopped on their very first run together. She paused there, at the edge of the road, looking into the forest. For the first time in her ten days in Valdasly, she could feel something from the forest. She took a few steps off the road, closer to the tree line, to see better into the darkness of trees. For an instant she though she could see a light in the distance, floating in the darkness between the trees. "Who are you?!" The sensation quickly faded, leaving an empty feeling and the giant towering trees menacingly standing over her. She hesitated a moment longer, then hurried back to the road and back to the keep itself. All the way back she could not help but wonder what it was that she sensed. Was the forest really alive, like Rien said? Could it really watch those who passed by it? Kera shrugged the chill that her thoughts had brought on. She was there, in the forest, saw its inhabitants. There were people living in those woods, people much like Rien, who took comfort in the seclusion the dense forest provided. It was light when Kera returned to the keep, the sun just high enough to shine its first beams over the top of the eastern range, bathing the valley in a comfortable yellow light. She ate a quick breakfast and packed what little she would be taking with her -- the sword, the bow Rien purchased for her, the armor Enneth made some months before and some clothes. Once packed and ready to go, Kera took her things to the stables and then called on the Baron in the library. "Come," Baron Dower's voice sounded after a long wait. Kera entered the room. The Baron sat behind his desk, maps no longer on the table. Before him sat Stefan and Sir Brand stood by the window. Kera greeted the men. "Are you ready?" the Baron asked. "Yes, your Lordship." "Good. Stefan, get your things. Meet us at the stables." "Yes, Sir," the boy got up and left the library. "Kera?" "Your Lordship?" "Any questions?" "No, Sir." "Any concerns?" She shook her head. "It's a great responsibility, Sir. I won't let you down." "Very good," he nodded. "Don't let Stefan boss you around. I warned him not to already. Take charge and follow your best judgement." "Yes, Sir." She wondered if he would say these things if he knew of her past in Dargon. The Baron turned to Sir Brand. "How soon are we going to be ready?" "As soon as you are, Sir. I saw to the horses myself and servants were readying the armor." "Will old Ealhfrit be ready?" "Your guess is as good as mine, my Lord," the knight laughed. "Check on him while I see Stefan off," the Baron stood up. "Yes, Sir." He made a few steps towards Kera. "I wanted to..." "I forgot about that," the Baron interrupted. "You two go on to the stables. I'll remind Ealhfrit. Wait for me." "What is it?" Kera asked the knight. "It's nothing serious," he answered as they left the library. "Just something to make things right. There was no opportunity before." He handed her a palm-sized box. "This is a chain of the order. Wear it around your neck so Knights of the Stone will know who you are." "What? What order? Knights of the Stone?" "I guess Sir Keegan had no time to explain the politics of knighthood to you. Knights in Baranur are broken into orders. Each order was started ages ago by various Houses of Baranur. The House of Arvalia, led by Duke Bargine, established the Order of the Knights of the Stone, in honor of his father, Duke Bayder the Second, also known as Bayder the Stone, for his charming personality. There are painting of them in the gallery upstairs. All squires of the order and all knighted by it wear the chain and pendant to show membership." Sir Brand reached inside his tunic and pulled his chain out as an example. "This may or may not help you in your journeys, but it will give you identity and a history...and it's a tradition." Kera opened the box and took a look at the chain. It was thin, of fine workmanship, with silver links and a stone tear. "I've never seen Sir Keegan wear anything like this," she commented. "I have," Sir Brand said. "It's your identity with us." "Thank you." They entered the stables and Kera double-checked the equipment on Hasina, as well as tack, harness and saddle, then did the same for Kelsey. "How soon will you be at Gateway?" she asked Sir Brand as she worked. "A month, I suppose. Maybe mid-Sy, if we're lucky." "What do you think you'll find?" "A war. I know we'll find a war." He fell silent as Stefan walked in, followed by the Baron. "Everything ready?" "Yes, my Lord." "I'm not ready," Stefan complained. He went to check his horse and Kera led the two thundersteeds out of the stables. "You're taking Kelsey also?" the Baron asked. "Sir Keegan asked me to keep an eye on her," Kera said. "Can't do it if she's here." Baron Dower chuckled. "Hope he keeps half as good an eye on the horse I gave him." "I'm sure he will, Sir." Stefan came out of the stables, leading his chestnut-brown stallion, with a white steak diagonally across the neck. "I guess I'm ready." "Stefan," the Baron addressed him, "I know you're practically a man, but I want you to listen to the Duke and to Kera and do what they say. I don't know how long I'll be in Narragan or where I'll go from there, but I will write you as often as I can." The boy embraced his father. "I'll make you proud." "I know you will," the Baron tousled his hair. "Would you like to ride Sir Keegan's horse?" Kera asked the boy when he was ready to go. Stefan looked at his father and the Baron nodded. "Yes." "Mount up, then!" Sir Brand took hold of Hasina's reins while Kera mounted her horse. "Thank you, Sir Brand," she told him. "And good luck in your mission." "Thank you, Kera," he handed the reins to her. The Baron helped his son mount Kelsey. "Remember to visit the crypt in Hawksbridge, Stefan. Lay flowers for you mother and tell her I wish I could come." "Yes, Sir," the boy promised. "And take care. Write often." The boy nodded somberly. The Baron walked over to Kera, putting one hand on Hasina's neck. "Take good care of Stefan." "I will, Sir. May Sevelin help you on your quest." "Sevelin?" the Baron asked, puzzled, "the god of magic?" "He helped me, Sir. I think he helps everybody." ReVell Dower released a hearty laugh. "Have a good journey!" Kera kicked Hasina into motion, followed by Stefan and Kelsey and Stefan's horse. The boy paused at the gates of the keep and waved to his father. The Baron waved back. * * * "My Lord?" Sir Brand asked as the Baron sighed. "I worry about my son, Ariam. I may never see him again..." "I worry about Kera, my Lord. She is a young woman, alone, charged with the protection of the boy. I hope her courage and skill remain untested." "Before he left, Rien told me about where she's from and how she lived," the Baron said. "I'm not worried about her courage. I'm worried I may not return to tell my son the truth of where I went..." "We must have hope, Sir." "I do. I hope Baranur wins this damn war. I hope this is as close as my son ever comes to being in one." The Baron turned away from the keep gates, realizing he will not be seeing his son any time soon. "Lord Ealhfrit is ready. Assemble the men. We'll leave in a bell." * * * Stefan Dower remained quiet for a very long time after he and Kera left Valdasly Keep. Kera watched his somber expression and wondered how to strike up a conversation to distract him, but could not think of what she should say. It was many years since she was fifteen and her worries were not of living in the Ducal Palace at that age. She was more worried of rotting under one. She had to be adult at that age, know what risks to take and how to take them. She had to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. And she had to steal to survive. "Kera?" Stefan caught up to her, having fallen a little behind as they rode. "Yes?" "Tell me the truth." "The truth?" she asked. "About what?" "My father. He's going to war, isn't he?" "Stefan... What gives you that idea?" "I know my father." "I'm not privileged to know some things," Kera tried to avoid the question. "But you're not saying `no'." "I'm..." She sighed. "He is, isn't he? Tell me. I won't turn back." "I promised I wouldn't say a word," she uttered. "But you're not denying that he's not going to Narragan?" "No, I'm not. He's doing what he feels right, what Duke Glavenford thinks is the right thing to do." Stefan sighed. "I wish he'd have told me the truth." "He loves you. He doesn't want you to worry." "I'm his son. I have to worry." "He'll come back in the fall, I'm sure," Kera said. "Don't worry yourself. Why don't you tell me about Hawksbridge instead? I've never been there." Stefan fell quiet for a while, giving Kelsey a chance to start falling back, but then caught up again. "I guess you're right -- there's no use worrying about what can't be helped. "Hawksbridge is pretty old. The castle was built about three hundred years ago, but the city is probably five hundred years old. It's in the plains on the other side of the mountains. It's very beautiful. On a clear day you can see all the way to the mountains..." Stefan thought for a moment. "The castle was built on the east bank of the river Ty, to protect the kingdom from the barbarians on this side...and from the evil spirits...." "Evil spirits?" The boy laughed. "The peasants say demons live in Charnelwood. No one ever goes there. It's a very dangerous place. I remember a few years ago some children from the village went into the forest and never returned. And no one went to look for them, either. Every one was afraid that the demons took them." "Do you believe they're real?" Kera asked. "The spirits? Of course! Everyone knows there are spirits there. They're older than Arvalia!" "Have you ever seen them?" Kera asked. She couldn't help but vent the urge to pull his leg. "No. They stay in Charnelwood." "Then if you've never seen one, how do you know they're real?" "Have you ever seen a Benosian?" "No," Kera shook her head. "Then how do you know they're real?" "Word of mouth?" "Well...?" Stefan answered, victoriously. "I guess I had that coming," Kera laughed. "But I'm sure the people living on the Beinison boarder will swear they've seen Benosians." * * * Shortly before sunset Kera and Stefan made their way to a small village in the mountains, at the crossroads where they were supposed to turn southeast. "I guess we're making good time, since we made it here before sundown," Kera commented. A stream ran on the north side of the crossroads and Kera dismounted Hasina, letting her quench her thirst. Stefan also dismounted and soon all three horses were in the middle of the stream. "There's a lake up that way," Stefan pointed north. "It's locked between mountains, about a league north of here. It's very hard to get to, but very beautiful. My father hunts there every summer. Every summer except this one..." "You two will go there, again. As soon as the war is over," Kera assured him. He nodded. "It's very quiet there, just birds and the beavers that dammed up the river... And north of that is a valley full of wild game." "Maybe if the Duke doesn't have a problem with it, someone can take you here this summer," Kera offered. "Maybe," Stefan agreed. "Is there an inn here?" "There's one down the road. It's not a very good one, but it's the only one in the village." "Then we'll have to make the most of it," Kera said. "Come on." They got their horses and walked down the road to the inn. "We need two rooms," Kera told the innkeeper once they were inside. "And we need stabling for three horses." "Are there three of you?" the man asked. "There are three horses. Two of us." "Kill someone on the way?" the man laughed. "Yes," Kera answered, annoyed at his nosiness and the stupid laugh. "Well, here you go. Two keys, two rooms, two Rounds." "Two Rounds," Kera placed two silver coins on the counter. "Do you serve dinner?" "Yes, we do." "Do you want to eat here?" she asked Stefan. "It's fifteen leagues to the next village," he answered. "And this is the only inn and tavern here." "All right, we'll eat here," she agreed and turned back to the innkeeper. "There are three horses outside. You can't miss them. I want them stabled, fed and brushed down." "That'll be another fifteen Bits, five a horse." Kera put another Round on the counter. "I expect to find them in VERY good shape tomorrow morning." "You'll find them in great shape, missy." Kera set her jaw, but did not answer the man. There was no need to pick a fight. They would only be staying here overnight. She and Stefan went upstairs to leave their things it their rooms, then came back to the common room downstairs to eat. It was dark outside by this time and the tavern was partially full, mostly populated by middle-aged men, drinking and laughing and complaining about their wives. "How about right here?" Kera indicated to an out of the way table by the wall. "Sure," Stefan agreed. He waited for Kera to select a chair, then helped her with it. "Stefan, I don't want you doing that again," Kera said after a moment's hesitation. "Why not?" he sat down across from her. "Because of your social rank and because of my goals for myself and...and because I'm not a cripple and can do it myself." "Then perhaps you should start addressing me correctly, too," he said caustically. "I don't think so," Kera answered in mocking serious tones and Stefan laughed. "I thought I'd be a gentleman and show some chivalry." "I appreciate the gesture -- it was very sweet -- but also inappropriate and it's something I'm not used to." "All right," Stefan agreed. "If you insist." "Forcibly, if I have to." A lanky wench came over to the table. "All right, you two, make it short. What do you want?" "You first," Stefan said and Kera decided not to argue with him again. "What have you got?" "Dinner special is five Bits. Chicken, duck or mutton. Turkey will cost you six, pheasant is seven. Ribs and beef are seven Bits, venison is nine. We have stew and soup, for three Bits a cup." "Turkey sounds good," Kera said. "Turkey," Stefan agreed. "Ale, mead, wine," the wench went on. "Milk?" she glanced at the Baron's son. "Milk," Kera said. Stefan looked at her and set his jaw. "Water." "Cost you the same," the wench warned. "Water," he repeated. "And bring us a bowl of fruit," Kera instructed. The serving girl left and Kera looked at Stefan. "Milk?" "Men don't drink milk." "You're one of those..." "I have to be in public," Stefan said. "And this past year father has been having me drink ale and mead at functions, as well. I am the next Baron, after all." "You can drink what ever you want once we get to Hawksbridge, but on the road stick to milk and water," Kera said. "Water. Men don't drink milk." "So I've heard." "Kera," Stefan said, "I told you about Hawksbridge. Would you tell me a little about Dargon?" "Dargon..." It seemed worlds away. "Dargon's a small place. I didn't think of it this way before, but I've seen a little of Baranur now. It's a beautiful city, if you stay in the right part of town and don't go outside after dark." She chuckled, remembering. "It's home. Dirt and misery and bandits -- I'm still from there." The serving girl came back, placing bread, cheese and milk and water on the table. "That'll be eighteen Bits as soon as I bring the rest of it," she warned. "The new part of the city is the most beautiful," Kera went on once they were left alone. "That's where Dargon Keep if built. It was built on top of some old ruins, so in some places the streets are very, very old. Some say a thousand or two thousand years old, but the town of Dargon is just over two centuries and the new part isn't even a hundred years old... "There's a port that spans the length of the beach, too. And during the summer the water..." "Kera," Stefan interrupted her, tilting his head to the side. Kera turned, just in time to see a large man sit down at the table by her. "Kid bothering you?" he asked. A second man sat on her other side. "We can make him go away." "Aw, look, milk," the first man said. Kera held her breath not to gag at the stench of liquor. "The boy's just having water," the other one said. "What, boy, ale? No milk? Or do you drink hers?" the man indicated to Kera. "I think that's quite enough," Kera stood up. "Aw, come on, spend the night with me," the drunk advanced on her. "What has he got that I don't?" "Manners." "Har, har," the drunk choked, backing Kera against the wall. "We're not interested," she warned. "Leave." "We're interested," the second man towered behind his companion. "So why don't you send the boy to bed and we'll find another one for you." Kera looked around. The other patrons had moved further back, the nearest few tables being abandoned with unfinished meals. Neither the innkeeper, nor the serving wench were anywhere to be seen. "I think you should go," Kera repeated. "We don't want any trouble." "Trouble?" the drunk laughed. "We don't want it either!" Kera drew her dragger and swung it across the man's gut. The blade skipped across the tough hauberk and bit into his arm, throwing a bloody streak across the wall. "Bitch!" Her fist, reinforced by the dagger hilt, impacted the man's stomach, making him double over and with a final swing, she planted the base of the hilt into the back of his head, making him drop. The second man stood stunned for a moment, then advanced towards her, fumbling with the dagger at his belt. "Leave 'er alone!" Stefan yelled, grabbing the water pitcher off the table and swinging it at the man. The wood vessel crashed against the drunk's head, splintering and spilling water. The man stumbled and fell as well. "Go, go," the innkeeper rushed up to them. He blotted the water and blood on the table. "Go, before they figure out what hit 'em. I'll have the meals sent up to your rooms." * * * Kera stretched in bed, savoring the warmth of the old blanket. The black of the night slowly dissolved into reddish hues, forming outlines of the furniture. Was it time to get up? She sat up, holding the blanket tightly around her shoulders. The night air was chilly, even colder than the drafty old castle she had been staying at. Outside something creaked, the sound of a rusty wheel joint turning. A whip snapped, followed by a "move it, you old nag." The whip snapped again. Was that a thud that woke her up a few moments before? Kera could not remember. She got up, with the blanket, and walked over to the window, to look out, but by the time she pushed the latched shutters open, the road past the stables was empty. "Damn." It was the middle of the night, the eastern sky showing no evidence of morning light. "Like I've got nothing better to do." She returned to the bed and fell on it in a tangle of blankets, but for some reason sleep had already left her for the night. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Love an Adventure Part Two by David/Orny Liscomb (b.c.k.a ) * This story is intended for mature readers, and * * may not be suitable for all audiences. Although this * * story was not written as erotica, it does contain * * explicit depictions of sex and other adult themes * * that some readers may find distasteful or morally * * offensive. * The afternoon sun was hot and bright overhead as Dale made his way across the hayfield outside Dargon. In the distance he could hear the voices of the people practicing at the archery range, but he was too busy thinking about the events of the day to pay much attention. Just this morning he'd been sitting, transcribing a history for his father, wishing something interesting would happen for a change. Now it seemed so far away! He had decided to go visit his friend, Simon the stew merchant, but the old sailor had told him something that Dale was only beginning to understand. He'd said that you didn't have to travel the world and rescue princesses in order to find adventure. Adventure was just doing something that you'd never done before, and the old seaman had insisted that there were plenty of interesting things to be experienced right in Dargon. Dale had been skeptical, but Simon had convinced him to try doing something small but new, like visit a fortune teller. So Dale had gone to see Zavut the seer, and it actually had been kind of fun. Zavut had told him that the young man's future included a new approach, new friends, overindulgence, and resolution. It didn't make a whole lot of sense, but it had been fun. As he left Zavut' booth, Dale spotted Erica, a girl he liked, listening to the music outside Jenzun's shop. In his newfound spirit of adventure, he had decided to talk to her. She invited him to go swimming with a bunch of friends at a nearby quarry, and although the quarry was off limits to kids, Dale told her he'd go. It had sounded like a grand adventure at the time, but now he wasn't quite so sure. He'd heard of kids getting hurt out at the quarry -- it really wasn't a safe place. And although the quarry sounded like a fun place to swim, he wondered what the kids who went out there did. Would someone dare him to jump into the water from one of the ledges? And the kids who went out to the quarry always hung around in their own little group. They seemed a little strange to Dale, and with each step he became more and more uncomfortable with the whole idea. But somehow he kept walking, and the path he was following eventually came through a stand of aspen and up to a clearing overlooking the quarry. "Dale!" Erica came bounding up to his side and hugged him. Dale didn't quite know how to respond. He looked helplessly over Erica's shoulder at the handful of other teens who were watching them with bemused expressions. Erica sure felt good in his arms, though! After several moments she broke the embrace and took him by the hand. "Isn't it beautiful?" Dale took in the area. The kids were sitting in a clearing, shaded by the aspens he had passed through. A little ways away was the lip of the quarry, and forty feet down, the lake that had filled it. Ledges from ten to seventy feet high surrounded the lake. A little further away Dale could see the current quarry that had been started when this one was abandoned. And between them stood an immense pile of broken granite blocks, some as big as a wagon! Erica followed his gaze. "That's the Chasm. It's full of half-cut stone that wasn't cut right." She turned him around. "Come on, I have to introduce you to everyone." They walked down into the clearing and joined the others. Dale felt a little uncomfortable. "You don't have to introduce me," he whispered. "I know most of these kids." Erica smiled at him, as if he understood nothing. "Yeah, but you don't know their *real* names! Everyone here has a secret name. When you've been here a few times, you'll get to make up your real name, too. And remember, I'm not Erica. I'm Paws. Straight?" Dale was even more confused. A dubious "Yeah..." One young woman was standing apart from the others, practicing with a hand-and-a-half sword that flashed silver in the bright sunlight. She was very dark-skinned, with black hair and beautiful dark brown eyes. Erica approached her first. "Dale, this is Windsong. She's an artist." She smiled warmly and Dale returned her greeting. The three of them walked over to where the others were sitting on the ground. A heavy-set boy that he knew was named Parker offered him a mug of liquid and a smile. "Hey, Dale. Drink up -- you'll be needing this later on!" Erica -- or, rather, Paws -- nodded. "This is Bearcub. He's harmless," she added as she exchanged a meaningful glance with the boy. Unfortunately, Dale wasn't privy to the message. He took a sip of the drink, which tasted like bitter apple cider. Next, Paws introduced Seagull, a smiling young man with long, dirty blond hair. Dale knew that Seagull was really an innkeeper's son, but no more than that. Next to him sat a boy that Dale knew from the classes his father, the scribe, had taught. Although Dale knew him as Baird, Paws introduced him as Webster. Dale sat down and quietly listened to the group chatter. Paws sat with him. After a few moments, Windsong piped up. "Hey, let's go down and crawl around the Chasm!" Everyone jumped up, and Paws helped Dale up. Just as they were about to leave, Paws scooped up Dale's half-full mug of cider from the ground and gave it to him. "Hey, boy. Finish this up before we go." Dale shrugged and drained it. The walk down to the Chasm was pleasant and warm. Walking behind Windsong, he noticed that she was limping, and occasionally leaning on Seagull for support. When he asked Paws what was wrong, she told him, "Windsong's stubborn as a cat. She was running home a fortnight ago and was run down by a man on horseback, and she refuses to see a healer." Hearing this, Windsong turned around and grinned in reply. After a short walk around the lake, they reached the Chasm. Huge granite blocks and boulders were piled forty feet high. Dale thought it looked like a great place for a rockslide; but Windsong, despite her injury, hobbled ahead of everyone else and leapt up onto the nearest block. "First one to the top gets the prize!" The others scrambled to follow. Hanging behind, Dale looked skeptically at Paws. "Is it really safe to be climbing around up there?" She smiled. "Yeah. We've never been able to move any of the rocks, and we've tried. They don't shift at all. We've even named some of the rocks and the caves underneath. Come on, I'll show you Fat Man's Misery..." Instead of climbing up the outside of the slag pile, as the others had done, Paws led Dale to a small crevasse between the stones and into the base of the pile itself. They crawled on hands and knees, and made their way slowly inward. Eventually, they came to a small open area, where they flopped against the wall and rested. "This," Paws said between deep breaths, "is the Cloak Room." The laughter of the others could be heard, but it sounded very distant. Dale was pretty worked up, but he didn't know whether he was scared or just excited. He tried not to think about the tons of rock balanced haphazardly just above his head. Despite his fatigue, he found Erica's heavy breathing very erotic, and tried to gather the nerve to kiss her. He wished he knew how to tell when a girl wanted to be kissed. It just wasn't fair that he had to make the first move! Even though he'd never told her, she somehow ought to know that he liked her! Dale waited too long, and the moment passed. Paws got up and disappeared into a tall but very thin fissure in the opposite wall. "Coming?" Dale sighed as he got up and wedged himself into the two foot wide opening. The crevasse was no more than twelve feet deep. Paws was waiting for him at the other end. "Well," he asked, "now what?" "Watch this!" Paws turned so that she was facing him and jumped straight up. At the top of her jump, she pushed her hands and feet outward against the walls, and stuck, suspended three feet above the floor. "Follow me." With that, she started making her way straight up, alternately moving hands and feet, but always staying wedged against the walls of the crevasse. By the time Dale had gotten himself properly wedged, she was already fifteen feet above him. "This is why we call it Fat Man's Misery!" he heard her call as he tried his best to keep up. Twenty feet up, he paused and looked down. This was really a great place! The rock was cold against the warmth of his scuffed hands, and he could feel its weight all around him. His leather boots couldn't get much purchase on the granite face, so he put most of his weight on his arms. Being a scribe's son, his arms weren't very strong, and they soon began to ache. His heart pounded in his chest in exhilaration. Paws' looked down at him. "It's easier if you scurry up -- if you stop, you won't get started again!" When she was about thirty feet above the floor, Dale saw someone's hand pull her up and onto a ledge out of sight. Then he saw her head poke out again. "How are you doing?" "I'm almost there." He pushed and clambered upward one more time, catching the hairy arm that was waiting to pull him up. Paws and Bearcub were standing on the ledge, and Dale could see sunlight on the boulders behind them. Dale got a bearhug. "Welcome to the Tower!" Dale just panted and grinned. He followed the others as they picked their way to the top of the slag heap. Everyone was sitting around, admiring the view of the two quarries: the old quarry that had filled in to form a small lake, and the new, active quarry on the other side. "So who won the race to the top?" Paws asked. "Bearcub did," Seagull snorted. "He jumped a span that I couldn't..." Dale wasn't surprised -- Bearcub was the biggest of the bunch, and hadn't had any trouble hauling him out of the crevasse moments earlier. He looked at Windsong expectantly. "So what's the prize?" No one answered for a second, and Dale got the feeling that he'd asked a bad question. Bearcub jumped in with, "It's a surprise." After another pause, Paws looked over at Dale. "Whew. That was a lot of work, and this sun is really hot." Then, addressing the group as a whole, "Anyone for a swim?" Everyone thought that was a wonderful idea, especially Dale, and they picked their way carefully down to the quarry's edge and back to where they had gathered before. As soon as they arrived at the campsite, everyone started removing their clothes. Dale hesitated, but followed suit, patently avoiding looking at anyone else. By the time he was done, everyone except he and Paws were lined up at the ledge overlooking the lake. Walking over to him, she said, "You sure take a long time getting undressed." He tried to keep from looking directly at her, but she caught him. "Why aren't you looking at me? You really are too modest, Dale. Don't you think I'm pretty?" Dale had been brought up to be polite, and that included not staring at women. But Paws wanted him to look, and seemed amused by his behavior. He fought with himself and looked. Her long burgundy hair flowed over her shoulders and down her front, partially obscuring her breasts. Between her legs was a small triangle of matching fur. Her hips were cocked to the side in an suggestive pose, and a hand idly twirled one lock of hair. Dale wasn't in much of a position to judge how pretty she was -- he just wanted to touch her! "Dost thou like what thou dost see?" she teased. "Yes. You're beautiful!" "So are you." Dale had forgotten his own nudity and blushed, subconsciously turning his shoulder toward her in modesty. Dale couldn't possibly think of himself as "beautiful", and it really embarrassed him. Paws giggled, then turned and bounded off toward the others. "Come on!" Everyone but Bearcub and Windsong were in the water when they got to the ledge. Dale noticed that Bearcub had considerably more body hair than he did, which made him kind of self-conscious. But Dale's eyes lingered on Windsong's dark skin and muscular frame. "I guess it's my turn," said Bearcub as he walked a few feet back from the ledge. Dale stood with the two women and watched as Bearcub ran up to the edge of the cliff and jumped off, landing in the water a second later with a big splash. Dale walked to the edge and looked down; the water was a good thirty-five feet below them. Apparently, being a quarry, it was deep enough to jump right in. He'd heard stories about kids who had gotten hurt jumping into the quarry. That was why the adults didn't let the kids go there. Even though most of the others had gone before him, Dale didn't like the idea very much. "Is this the only way to get in?" he asked. Windsong turned, looked him up and down appraisingly and smiled, which made Dale feel really self-conscious again. "No. After Paws dives in, we'll go down to the lowest ledge over the water. With my knee the way it is, the Evils," nodding toward the others, "won't let me jump in from anywhere else," she pouted. She made it sound like they were punishing her, rather than thinking of her safety. But after seeing her aggressive disregard for her injury at the Chasm, Dale figured he sided with 'the Evils'. They watched as Paws got a running start and dove in head first. Then Windsong leaned on Dale and they climbed down to a lower ledge. Dale really enjoyed the feeling of having Windsong's arm around him. And he was very aware of each time her naked breast brushed against him, although she didn't seem to notice it at all. When they got there, Dale wished that the trip had been considerably longer. And that he still had his breeches on! Fortunately, Windsong apparently hadn't noticed *that*, either. "Now, all you have to do is jump in. And keep your hands at your side." Dale stood at the edge and peered over. It was about twelve feet above the water. "Is it cold?" "It's beautiful!" Paws shouted to him from below. "Jump in!" Dale composed himself. He really wasn't very comfortable with heights, but he knew that he was a very good swimmer. He'd even done some diving off the docks, but they were usually not this high above the water. At least here he was directly over the water and wouldn't have to get a running start. He nervously took two steps and leapt out over the water. For a moment it seemed like he was suspended in air, then he began to fall. Time seemed to have slowed down, because he had the time to look around him and see Paws and Bearcub treading water below, and notice the blueness of the sky and the rugged cliffs of the quarry. He even heard the call of a gull over the rush of air about his ears. Surely he'd been falling much longer than Bearcub had taken when he jumped from the higher ledge! His feet slapped through the surface and his body drove deep into the water, tickled by a million little air bubbles as they rushed upward. As he kicked and struggled back to the surface, he thought he could hear Paws voice. He opened his eyes and looked up at the cliffs of the quarry and the woods around them from a completely new perspective. "That was great! Let's do it again!" Everyone laughed, and Paws showed him where to climb up the granite face to get to the ledge where she and the others had jumped from. Standing at the edge of the cliff, Dale could see that he'd have to get a running start in order to clear another ledge that jutted further out. He walked a few paces back from the edge and stood, ready to jump. His heart raced with excitement and a little fear. What if he slipped just as he jumped? What if he hit the water wrong? He couldn't even see where he was going to land! He willed himself to take the first step, and suddenly it was decided. He couldn't turn back now, lest he seriously hurt himself trying to stop. He took three more strides before he saw the lake suddenly open up beneath him. His bare foot felt every grain of gravel on rock as he leapt out and over the water. Again, he hung momentarily suspended above the lake. Then he plunged downward with his arms outstretched behind him like the wings of a gliding eagle before pulling them to his sides as he impacted the water. It took a long time before his body stopped sinking, and he had to swim quite a ways back to the surface. Dale continued jumping and diving from several different ledges. He had never had such a wonderful time! But everyone eventually tired of swimming, and they headed back up to the encampment. Following Paws, Dale carefully picked his way up the granite face. His skin tingled as the water evaporated from his nude body in the warm summer sun, and his eyes followed Paws' ample form just in front of him. Her hips swayed and he would occasionally see her naked breast bobbing as she climbed, her nipples very prominent after the cool swim. He felt compelled to touch her, to grab her and make love to her, but he tried to keep his desires hidden. Unfortunately, that wasn't so easy to do without breeches! Soon they reached the clearing where everyone had stripped before going down to swim. Before he could get to his clothes, Paws turned to face him, her deep brown eyes shining. "How did you like *that*?" Dale smiled, momentarily fancying that she was referring to the climb up. "That was really great. Especially the cliff jumping -- I'd never done anything like that before... Thanks for inviting me to come along." Dale had certainly had a wonderful adventure, and had lots to tell Simon the stew merchant next time he saw his old friend. Paws returned his smile and took his hand. "I've got another surprise for you, too. Come on!" She pulled him off towards the copse of aspen that stood nearby. "Um... Can I grab my clothes first?" "Dale! Don't be so modest. Isn't it better to feel the sun and wind on your skin?" She pirouetted in celebration, and Dale wondered at her. He envied her sensuality -- he might feel the same joy as she felt, but if he showed it like that, people would laugh at him. Dale let himself be led down a worn path that led around the top of the quarry and toward a small pile of cut stone he'd seen earlier. Paws led him past it, into another clearing that contained a mass of undergrowth. "Look for a plant with a big, orangey-red fruit. We want one of them -- don't take any more, straight?" They rummaged around the undergrowth for several minutes before they found a plant that had two reddish fruit. Paws sat down and offered him one, waiting for him to bite into it. The rind was soft, and the pulp red and juicy. As he bit into it, the red juice ran down his chin from both corners of his mouth. Paws laughed. "That's just the way you have to eat it. It's rather messy, but that's okay..." She bit into it, and Dale watched as the juice ran sensuously down her chin and dripped onto her naked chest. She slowly ran her tongue across her lips, and once again he found himself suppressing the desire to kiss her. Dale took another bite and savored the taste. It was sweet, yet had a certain bite to it. The juice was warm, and he could feel its heat spreading through his body as he swallowed. "It's warm!" he giggled. Paws laughed and nodded. He could see that it had the same effect on her; her face and chest were flushed a rosy pink. Dale took another lusty bite and juice squirted all over his hands and in his lap. "Ummm... So what *is* this, anyways?" Paws smiled and fell into his arms. "Nightfruit..." Dale's eyes opened wide. Nightfruit? Nightfruit was very rare, and was usually only given to newlyweds on their wedding night! Everyone knew that it was supposed to enhance desire. Dale could feel its warm surge building irresistibly. She'd tricked him! But, in a way, it had been in the back of his mind ever since he'd approached her earlier that afternoon at Jenzun's booth. And even though he was torn between joy and fear of what might happen, she felt so good in his arms... Erica watched quietly as these thoughts rushed through Dale's head. Then she reached up and kissed him; her soft, moist lips met his tenderly but irresistibly. They fell back into the undergrowth in each others' arms and began to make love. Dale's eyes closed as he focused on each moist kiss. However, he was troubled by the nagging sense of responsibility that his father had instilled in him. Was this the right thing to do? Weren't you supposed to wait until you were married? But he also had friends who bragged about having made love. But good boys didn't do these things. And he also knew girls who had children at his age... He suddenly broke off and sat up. "What's wrong?" Erica asked him. "Well, it's not right... I don't want to take the chance of becoming a father." Erica caressed his back and smiled. "Remember that drink I told you to finish? That wasn't just cider, dear. You won't be making anyone pregnant for two whole days..." She smiled conspiratorially. Dale still didn't feel quite right about going forward. He was still a little scared, even though he didn't know why. As he tried to sort through his indecision, Erica put her arms around him and began lightly caressing the nape of his neck. She brought her lips close to his ear. As she whispered to him, he could feel her warm breath on his neck. "Lover..." No one had ever used that name for him, and it sent a shiver of excitement down his spine. His resistance crumbled like a sand castle before the tide as Erica pushed him down, onto his back, and began raining kisses on his neck and chest. Her leg slid between his and began grinding against his crotch. He tried to match her motions with his hips as he stared unfocusedly up into the branches of the aspens above, lost in sensation. He caressed Erica's back, then her buttocks as she subtly guided his hands lower. His hands explored the soft warmth of her flesh as her lips and tongue traced the muscles of his chest. Her kisses made their way up his neck to his chin, then suddenly her lips found his, swarming over them urgently. With their lips locked, she sat up a little, supporting him as he followed. She rolled onto her back and Dale was free to take the active role. He began exploring her neck and shoulders with his lips. "Nibble..." she suggested, and he complied. Her hands pressed his lips into her neck, silently encouraging him to bite harder. As her excitement became more vocal, Dale found her reactions feeding his enthusiasm. She guided his lips to the base of her neck and lower. Dale could taste the sticky Nightfruit where it had dripped onto her chest. He stopped for a moment to admire her breasts before he began to kiss them. Her reaction was a breathless "Yesssss..." As he continued, he began to grind his leg against her crotch, as she had done earlier. Again, she responded enthusiastically, her breath coming in short gasps. Then she brought his hand to her crotch. He began massaging her maidenhair, and registered surprise at how bony her pubic mound was. Then she guided his hand lower. "Inside me..." she pleaded. Dale wasn't very comfortable with his knowledge of what he was supposed to do, but he managed to find his way around. He slid his middle finger inside her nether lips, as her hips bucked to meet him. Inside, it was warm and satiny-soft and very wet, and he felt her tugging at his finger. He closed his eyes and imagined what it would feel like to be inside her. Her hand found his manhood and began stroking it with long, forceful thrusts. He was completely lost in the sensations. Her closed eyes opened and he could see the desire in them. "Do you want me?" "Oh, yes!" was all he managed to get out. She pushed him back onto his back, and straddled him. Then she took his achingly erect manhood and guided it to her. She hovered over him an excruciating moment before impaling herself upon him. The sudden wet, satiny heat surrounding his manhood felt so incredibly good! Erica kept him all the way inside her just for a moment, then began to move back and forth. Dale had never felt so close to anyone before. His wide eyes locked with Erica's, communicating intense love. Dale kneaded her buttocks as they slapped against his thighs. Her womanhood grasped his member on each thrust, milking him. Suddenly, Dale knew that he was about to come, and a half second later his back arched in ecstasy as he exploded inside this beautiful woman. Their motions slowly subsided, and Erica slowly backed off Dale's spent manhood. It slipped out of her and fell limply onto his stomach with a very wet splat that Dale found horribly embarrassing. The two of them shared a smile over it, and Erica took Dale into her arms. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling, occasionally shivering with the intense memory of how delicious it felt to be inside a woman for the first time. He woke with his face nestled in the warmth of Erica's chest. He turned and looked up into her deep brown eyes as she greeted him. "Hello, lover. Have a nice nap?" Dale could hardly contain his emotion. "You're beautiful. Marry me?" She smiled in a bemused sort of way, then pinched his nipple so hard that he flinched. "You're so cute!" She drew his face back into her chest. "Here, have a tit." Apparently that was a 'No'. He buried his nose against her soft breast for a while more, then asked, "What about the others? Did they go back to town?" "They're still around. Come on, let's track them down!" Dale followed as Paws led him back toward the path. "There's Webster and Seagull," she pointed the couple out. Beneath a beech tree, the two men were locked in an embrace. Although he knew that it wasn't that uncommon, he'd never seen two men together. He didn't know quite how to react to it, but he felt a twinge in his loins as he watched. They walked on toward the campsite in silence. Dale was trying to figure out how he felt about what he'd seen. He knew how his father felt about men who loved one another, but if they were both happy, was any harm being done? Was it something he could see himself doing? That wasn't a very comfortable question! As if Simon's definition of adventure and making love to Erica hadn't given him enough to think about already! They walked on, hand in hand. He and Paws entered the clearing to find Bearcub giving Windsong a back rub. Dale noticed the discarded Nightfruit on the blanket beside the two, and noted the blush on their cheeks and chests. Paws held Dale's hand as they quietly approached. Dale again found himself admiring Windsong's nude body. She was very dark, with long, straight black hair and deep brown eyes. Her breasts were smaller than Paws', and shaped differently. Paws knelt down directly in front of Windsong, so that they were both kneeling, facing one another, nude. Their eyes locked, and Dale could see the feelings they shared -- these two women were in love with one another! As he stared in amazement, Paws moved forward and kissed Windsong on the lips, as gentle and loving a kiss as Dale had ever imagined. Dale was completely mesmerized by the scene before him. He stared as the two kissed each other deeply and passionately, their breasts touching as lightly as their lips. On one level, it really excited him, but on a deeper level he acknowledged that it was by far the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. His eyes remained riveted on Paws' full lips as they traced their way down Windsong's throat, to her cleavage, and fastened onto her succulent breast. Dale gaped, awestruck at the beauty of the scene. As he watched his lover working on Windsong's nipple, Dale whispered to no one in general, "That's so beautiful!" The artist's deep brown eyes flitted half-open and met Dale's wide-eyed stare. She smiled and squeezed his hand, then closed her eyes in concentration. Dale saw Bearcub come up behind Paws and begin massaging her breasts. Then the two kissed deeply before Bearcub joined Paws in nibbling and aggressively sucking Windsong's breasts. Dale would never have been so rough himself, but apparently it was okay, for Windsong thrashed her head quickly from side to side in ecstasy. Paws moved downward and traced Windsong's legs with her tongue, slowly settling on her womanhood. Dale watched as she licked around Windsong's blossom, and the dark woman writhed and moaned as if each loving caress were a lashing. Dale stared in wordless appreciation of the love and excitement that was being shared with him. Finally, grasping the hair of each of her lovers, Windsong exploded in a furious orgasm that left everyone spent and panting. And smiling. Paws stretched, kissed Bearcub, and then Dale. Her tongue darted inside his mouth, and he could smell and taste Windsong's womanhood on her. It was sweet and musky and heady, and struck a chord deep inside him. It was something Dale knew he'd never forget. Then Windsong leaned up and kissed Bearcub and Paws and then Dale. Before he knew it, Dale even got a kiss from Bearcub! It was both very similar to kissing a woman, and very different. He felt small next to the big man, which was a very different feeling. Their energy spent, the lovers all lay in a pile on the blanket. Dale didn't know why, but even the powerful scent of the women around him somehow left him feeling very safe and secure and loved. He'd never felt such a wonderful unity before. Dale had sat and reflected for a few minutes when Seagull and Webster arrived at the campsite. The newcomers all gathered around, and suddenly everyone was exchanging hugs and kisses of greeting with everyone else. "Thank goodness that's over with!" said Webster, giving Paws a hug. "I hate having to be on best behavior when guests are around!" Everyone laughed and sat down to talk. Windsong grabbed Dale and pulled him down next to her. With her arms around his neck, she commented, "I'm keeping this one!" in an authoritative tone. Although Dale couldn't make up his mind whether he felt embarrassed or proud, he certainly felt good. Dale posed his question to the group as a whole. "I don't understand. Do you act like this all the time?" Bearcub, sitting on the other side of Windsong, replied. "It's like this. We're kind of a family, like we're all married. We all care about each other, and we like making love to each other." "But isn't this kind of strange? How come you're not jealous of each other?" Bearcub responded, "What's strange to me is the idea that if I'm in love with Seagull, I can't be in love with Paws, too. Loving her doesn't reduce my love for him." That kind of made sense. Bearcub continued, "I'm not jealous of you, either, because Paws' affection for you isn't any threat to her relationship with me. In fact, I'm glad, because it's made you both happier, and I can share in that happiness." He glanced slyly at Paws. "You can't imagine how long she's been going on about you!" Dale looked at his lover, and she was blushing. Apparently it was true! Bearcub continued. "And we all had to encourage her to bring you out here. We did that because we knew it would make her happy, and we care about her." Dale struggled to keep up with the conversation and think about his own feelings. "But this isn't right -- you can't seriously live this way?" Seagull picked up the argument. "But if we lived like everyone else, we would all have to choose one husband or wife and reject the others, and no one would be happy. We really do love each other, and it's much easier this way." With a wry smile: "Although having several lovers can be just as much of a problem, too." "I never knew any of this existed. You don't act this way in the city..." "The only time we're free to show each other how we feel is when we're out here," added Webster. "So we come out here pretty often. Someday maybe we'll live in our own house or a farm outside Dargon." As the conversation continued, Dale's mind worked to keep up with the concepts and their implications. It sounded like they were very happy thinking of themselves as one big family. Dale thought to himself about whether or not he could live in such a group. Loving more than one person might not be so difficult, but could he give his lovers the same freedom? Would he ever be able to support and nurture a lover's love the way Bearcub had encouraged Paws? He sure had lots to think about! Although he certainly couldn't say that he loved all these people, he liked them and felt comfortable with them. But did he really care about these people? The idea was very appealing. But was that just because he was looking for excitement and adventure? Did *they* genuinely love one another, or were *they* just looking for excitement and adventure? To look at them, Dale thought it was the former. But the idea was so strange! He'd never thought there was any other road but for a man to marry a woman and have a family. In Dargon, men didn't love men, and there was no such thing as a group marriage. His father called such people "freaks". But Dale knew these kids; they weren't "freaks". Baird was one of the smartest kids he knew, and one of the students his father liked best! Surely his father didn't know this about Baird! Already today his father had been proven wrong about fortune tellers and the quarry. Could his father, a knowledgeable scribe to the Duke of Dargon, also have been wrong about this? And if so, what did that mean for all the other rules and principles his father had instilled in him? Although his father had undoubtedly meant well, did he now have to question everything his father had taught him? One thing was certain: Simon's simple statement about adventure had led Dale very far afield. Eventually, Paws took Dale aside and walked with him down the path. "You should head back to the city now. We have some things we need to talk about as a group." "Is one of them me?" Dale inquired. "Of course!" She gave him a quick but passionate kiss. "And I'm sure you've got plenty to think about, too!" "That's for sure." Dale sighed heavily. "I just wish I never had to leave." "Me, too." After a pause, Dale spoke again. "You know, this morning a friend told me that all I had to do to find adventure was do something I've never done before. After all the things that I've done today, I'm beginning to think he's right." They walked on for a moment before Paws responded. "My biggest adventure today was bringing you here. When we met at Jenzun's booth this morning, I knew that I wanted to bring you out here, but I almost missed it because I was afraid to take the chance. If you hadn't approached me, it never would have happened." Dale thought about that as she continued. "I believe that you should never deny yourself anything if you think you will regret that decision later. So many people go through life thinking that they'll be happy just as soon as winter is over, or their children are grown, or whatever, that they never enjoy today. They go through their whole lives waiting for tomorrows. Then, when they're old, they look back and realize that they've never spent a single day happy or content. I don't want to be like that. You only get one chance to enjoy today. I'm glad I took this chance." Paws stopped as they reached the end of the path, where the woods met the hayfields. In the distance, Dale looked upon the distant town from a very new perspective. "So, what do you think of our little family?" she asked, approaching him from behind and wrapping her arms about him. Dale smiled, but had no idea what to say. "It's hard to believe. It's so different. It really seems like a family. You're all so happy together, you know?" She took both his hands in hers. "Yeah. We try to give each other as much of ourselves as we can. We *are* a family. We all love one another very much." Then she frowned. "But the adults don't understand. When we first got together, it was Seagull and Bearcub and I: two men and a woman. When we told our parents, they laughed at us and told us to grow up. When we persisted, they just got angry. Seagull's parents eventually threw him out of the family. They can't see that there can be any other way other than one boy and one girl. We have to be kind of careful who knows about us." "That's why you use nicknames?" "Sort of. When we're in town, we act like Erica and Parker and Baird. Erica acts like everyone in Dargon expects Erica to act. Out here, I'm not Erica -- I'm Paws, and Paws is kind of a different person: the person I really want to be. Someday they won't be separate people." "I know what I want to be called, if I can be part of the group." Paws cocked her head in inquiry. "Sluice." She smiled. "Straight! But I should get back to the others." Then, with a very mischievous twinkle in her eye: "See you next time?" Dale sighed and smiled. "I love you." "And we love you." Dale turned and walked silently back toward Dargon, contemplating the day's events and the meaning of Paws' last statement. Dale made sure that he caught up with Simon Salamagundi the next morning. "Hey, Dale! So wassa fortune teller a good adventure?" Dale had forgotten all about the fortune teller! Simon had sent him there to prove to him that adventure could be found even in Dargon, if you were open to it and knew how to look. What was it the seer had told him he'd encounter? A new approach, new friends and new relationships, indulgence, and a favorable resolution. "Well, I guess you're right, Simon. There certainly does seem to be some adventure to be had in boring old Dargon, after all!" The old sailor gave him a gentle poke. "Good. No more talk about running off to faraway places?" "Nope," said Dale with a grin. "I think there's plenty to keep me occupied right here in Dargon." Simon would think that the trip to the fortune teller he'd suggested had done the trick. In a way it had, although there was much more to the story than that. And much more yet to tell. But this time it was Dale's turn to keep a secret. Love an Adventure Author's Comment by David/Orny Liscomb "Love an Adventure" is a story about growth. The protagonist, Dale, has several mind-expanding experiences and comes out a very different person on the other side. But as much as Dale grows, the story's unstated goals are the growth of DargonZine and you, its readers. "Love an Adventure" pushes the informal self-imposed boundaries that the Dargon Project authors have lived under since the project's inception in 1985. It is the first Dargon story to contain on-screen sex, which we have historically avoided. Probably more controversially, the story arguably contains positive depictions of drug use, dangerous behavior, bisexuality, polyamory, teen sex, group sex, casual sex, and raises serious questions about consentuality. It also does not portray the practice of "safe sex", which has become a necessity of modern life. It is far afield from what we've been comfortable writing to date. Like Dale, we are growing and trying new things. It was just a matter of time before sex and these other issues made their way into the "Dargoniverse" as the authors call it. It is my hope that this story will show that there is a legitimate place for sex in Dargon, or any form of literature, when it is dealt with maturely and in the pursuit of a valid literary goal. In "Love an Adventure", my literary goal is that the story will also help the reader grow. Even with its positive depiction of alternative lifestyles, the real purpose of the story is what Dale learns from Simon in the first half of the narrative. Adventures are for everyone, and happen every time you do something that you've never done before. You don't need to do anything special to find adventure, because it exists everywhere you go; you just need to be open to new experiences. Your results may not be as exotic as the adventures Dale has had, but then again they might, and I guarantee that you will grow as a person. I hope that it is obvious that "Love an Adventure" is something other than a pornographic heterosexual male fantasy masquerading as literature. It is intended to be a very personal statement about life, and a study of the protagonist's emotions as he comes to understand this philosophy and follow the fascinating places that it takes him. Future stories about this group are planned. Comments are very strongly encouraged, whether they be in agreement or disagreement, and whether they deal with adventure, the role of sex in DargonZine, polyamory, or whatever. You may contact the author directly at or you may send mail directly to the DargonZine writers' group at , where it will be echoed to all Dargon Project writers. I'd also like to thank the people who have (sometimes completely unknowingly) helped this story, and the bits of my own that show through, be written: Ailsa di Mipp, Ace, Dafydd, Lothie, Nodrog Cur-chaser, Recki, Max, Sonja, Amq, Lory, Claudia, Lauren, Ayse, Curwen, and the other Dargon Project writers. I hope both stories bring you as much pleasure as I experienced by participating in their writing. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 (C) Copyright August, 1994, DargonZine, Editor Dafydd . All rights revert to the authors. These stories may not be reproduced or redistributed (save in the case of reproducing the whole 'zine for further distribution) without the express permission of the author involved.

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