Authors: Jacquelyn Frank
“We weren't doing anything,” Dethan protested.
“You were grilling her for information. She is my guest, not a prisoner or a potential source of information.” Jaykun reached out a hand toward Jileana. She took it eagerly, and after pausing to stuff another piece of toast into her mouth and grabbing up one of the fruits, she let him guide her down from the table. “My lady, I believe I promised you an outing.”
“Did you?” she asked through a mouthful of food.
“For clothing,” he reminded her.
“Oh! You don't have to do that. I'm fine with thisâor I can go without it.”
Jaykun felt the stares of his brothers as he turned his back on them. “No. That is not wise,” he said to Jileana. He was still angry with his brothers, but in spite of it, her openness and innocence made him smile gently at her. She honestly saw no trouble in the idea of running around naked. If this were true of all of her people, he didn't imagine they would be hard to defeat in battleâ¦not if they went into the battle stark naked and unprotected.
“I think it would be much better if you had clothing,” he said with a careful smile.
“If you think so,” she said, her enthusiasm for his input amusing. “I shall defer to your judgment on this.”
“Very well, let's go shopping. I am told that it is a favored pastime for most women.”
“Well, if it is a favored pastime for most of your women, then I most certainly have to take part in it,” Jileana said eagerly.
Jaykun held out his arm and she took it. In her excitement, she squeezed him. It was like that the entire time they walked from the castle to the middle of the city, where there was a great bazaar in place. The bazaar was busy overall, but almost all the vendors were severely lacking in selections. The siege on the city had taken a massive toll on the businesses. But now that the siege was over, things should return to normal.
As it was, Jaykun did not venture out to the bazaar without an armed escort. He was of course not worried for himself, but Jileana was a stranger to these people just as much as he was and they might mistake her for a member of the invading forces, which might put her in danger. He would not have her harmed. The very idea of it turned his stomach sour. He told himself it was a concern he would feel for anyone he deemed vulnerable, but in truth, the feeling ran a bit deeper than that. He didn't know why and he didn't care to acknowledge or examine it.
So they were accompanied by guards as they walked through the bazaar. It seemed the only vendors who had not been too greatly affected by the war were the clothing and household goods vendors. They had their wares on ready display, the vendors themselves tidying up in the aftermath of the war. The booth Jaykun and Jileana approached was manned by a Krizan woman and her two small children. The children took one look at Jaykun and went darting behind the protection of their mother's skirts.
“Will you service us?” Jaykun asked directly. “This woman needs clothing.”
The Krizan woman took one look at Jileana and her already large eyes went wide. “B-but sh-she'sâ¦” the woman stammered.
“Will you service us?” Jaykun demanded. “I have gold and I know the business in this city has suffered. Are you so rich that you can afford to be prejudiced against us?”
“No, my lord,” she said at last, turning her attention on him. “I-I will give you whatever you need. Th-thank you, my lord, for choosing my shop. I-I need to feed my children and we have had so little to eat since the siege began.”
“I am sorry you have gone hungry,” he said sincerely. “But that is over with now. The battle is over, and you and your people will be treated as fairly as you treat us in return.”
“Yes, my lord,” she said with a weak smile. “That is much appreciated. Nowâ¦how can I help the young w-woman?”
“Whatever the latest in fashion is for a Krizan woman should be fine.”
“Oh, I like this!” Jileana said suddenly, dashing over to a mannequin with a dress of orange silk crepe on it. She fondled the fabric. “Oh! It feels so nice!”
“That is silk, my lady. The finest there is,” the shopkeeper said with a wan smile. She cautiously approached Jileana, her eyes shifting back to Jaykun often as she moved. It was to be expected, this kind of fear. He was one of the conquerors, after all. They had no idea what to expect from him. The one thing in his favor was that he had not allowed his men to pillage the city, stripping it of every valuable thing they could find. He paid his men well enough in gold and gave them opportunities to fight. He saw no purpose in raping a village once he conquered it. It would take much longer to get it back on its feet if he allowed that to happen. Besides, a slaughter of women and children and other nonmilitant types did no one any good.
“I love how it feels,” Jileana said. Then another brightly colored dress, this one in brilliant purple, caught her eye. Krizan women were not the prettiest women on the planet, but they seemed to like colorful fineryâplumage to make up for what their looks hindered. The dresses would fall to mid calf on a Krizan woman, but on Jileana, who was much taller, they would come to about her knee. There was something about the idea of being able to see her knees, perhaps flashes of her thighs, that made Jaykun go instantly hard for her. The reaction took him completely by surprise. Jileana was ignorant, laughing and coaxing the shopkeeper into relaxing. How was it she could do this to him? Make him forget where he was? Make him lose control over his body? He was a man in command of an empowered destiny. He held the lives of thousands of people in his hands. He controlled others; others did not control him.
Jileana then pulled the tunic up over her head in full view of the entire bazaar and let it fall to the ground. The shopkeeper gasped and Jaykun lunged forward, grabbing up the tunic and crowding her body, hiding her from view as best he could. Oblivious, Jileana was wriggling into the dress, letting it fall into place, all the while with a huge, bright smile on her face.
“Are you out of your mind?” he barked down at her. “Have you no shame?”
“About what?” she asked, genuinely clueless as to the source of his agitation.
“You can't just strip in public, Jileana!”
“Of course I can. I just did it. Weren't you watching?”
“I was! As was everyone else!”
“They've all seen a naked body before, silly. They have one of their own.”
She moved over to a long looking glass and viewed herself in the purple dress. Jaykun had to admit she wore it well. He had been right about it hitting just at the knees. The skirt was made of dozens of hanging kerchiefs, each falling freely from the waistband of the dress so that when Jileana moved, if she kicked her leg out far enough, they fell away completely and left her leg bared to mid thigh or a little higher. It was indecent in Jaykun's opinion.
“I'll take this one,” she said of course. “I do not have money, but we can barter for it. I could perhaps clean your home for you or watch your children. Perhaps I can teach them to read or write. I am a very good teacher. Or perhapsâ”
“I have gold,” Jaykun said with a sigh. “I said I would buy it.”
“Then I will owe you something in trade,” Jileana said with a smile. “Have you small children in need of teaching? Or perhaps you do not know how to read.”
“I know how to read!” Jaykun said. “Several languages!”
“Oh, that is good,” she said with a smile. “But I am certain we will figure something out.”
Jaykun released a pained sigh. “It's not necessary. I don't expect repayment.”
“Don't be silly. I am eating your food, sleeping in your bed, and now wearing your clothing. Or course there is repayment. Perhaps I could entertain you? You seem to like me naked, so I could strip and thenâ”
“It is a gift!” he said in a moment of inspiration before she could finish that thought aloud. Then again, he was incredibly curious as to where that thought would've ended up.
“A gift?” she asked, one of her arched brows lifting high. “But I have no gift to trade. Gifts are always exchanged. One gift for one gift. At least this is the way of my people.”
“A gift means you don't have to trade. You get a gift for no reason at all and expect nothing in return.”
“How odd,” she said, her eyes drifting over him from head to toe as she took in the measure of the concept. She smiled enigmatically then. “Very well, I accept your gift for no reason at all.”
“But this isn't the whole of my gift,” he said hastily. “The dressâ¦Well, you require undergarments and perhaps a nightgown.”
“What is a nightgown?” she asked curiously.
“You wear it to bed.”
She laughed. “Don't be silly. I'll be in your bed. It seems ridiculous to dress up when you will only be undressing me for sex a short while later.”
The shopkeeper gasped and fumbled behind her skirts as if she would cover the ears of her small children. It was a fruitless attempt since it was too late already and they had four ears between them and she had only the two hands.
Jaykun couldn't argue the point. It was the truth. He was already beginning to obsess about the next time he would be able to get the shameless wench into his bed. His lust for her was extraordinary and it only seemed to be growing. He had never experienced such an instant attraction. Usually he had to work up to the idea of taking a woman into his bed. This had come so easily for him. So heatedly. It should have burned itself out after one coupling. Something that burned this hot and fast should die an equally quick death, should it not?
Yes. It would, he thought. She would only be there for three days and nights. It was more than enough time for this to burn out. In fact, he rather doubted he would want her beyond the second night. He ought to have her out of his system good and proper by then.
It was justâ¦one coupling wasn't enough. It had been such a hurried affair. Something he had not had the proper amount of time to enjoy. Nor had he properly seen to her enjoyment. He was not a selfish lover. Not as a rule. He took his pleasure by giving pleasure to his partner. And the idea of making her writhe beneath him, of hearing her cry out, was an idea worth exploring.
To his shock, he was hard once again; just the thought of having her was able to give him sufficient stimulation. It simply amazed him.
“Very well,” he said, pausing to clear the roughness from his voice. “Another dress, then. Perhaps something a bit more conservative.”
hey found a second dress, but Jaykun would've hardly called it conservative. It had a sweetheart neckline, and the laces at the back of the gown pulled the waist in and accentuated the plumpness of Jileana's breasts until he felt that was all he could see of her. Those full, ripe breastsâ¦
“Good gods, I've become a lecher,” he muttered under his breath. It didn't help that she eschewed any sort of undergarment, insisting that the dresses were confining enough, thank you very much. If she must be clothed, then she must, but she wasn't going to strangle herself in clothing. Or so she said.
Once he had paid for both dresses, she led the way back toward the castle. She did, however, stop every two seconds to marvel over everything she saw. Like a child, she was attracted to bright colors, things that blew in the breeze, things that made noise or entertained. She spent a good half hour in a toy booth, playing with each and every children's toy she got her hands on. He ought to have hurried her alongâhe was wasting crucial time with herâbut he didn't have the heart to interrupt her pleasure. The truth was, she was a pleasure to watch. Her long, loose hair blew in the ocean breezes that came in off the water. The sun danced on her warm, dark skin and her shiny lips. Every time she smiled she flashed brilliant white teeth, and every time she laughed it was absolutely infectious. Every Krizan they encountered was guarded and nearly hostile at first, but by the time she left a booth, she seemed to have warmed them to her considerably.
“I should make you my ambassador,” he mused a bit later as they left the bazaar and headed up toward the castle. “You have that kind of charm about you, the kind that puts all parties instantly at ease.”
“Oh, I don't think that would be wise. The Krizans have no more trust for my people than they do for yours. And with good reason. The Krizans have long sought a means of getting to my people's home to destroy us.”
“Really? And where is your people's home?”
She smiled and took his hand in hers. “Come. I will show you.”
She pulled him after her so quickly he had to run to keep up with her. She took him into the castle and then ran all around it, taking every flight of stairs she could find. She didn't know the castle any better than he did, but she knew she wanted to go up. Eventually they burst out onto the castle's battlements. She pulled him to the ocean-facing side and pointed off toward the horizon.
“There,” she said, pointing to a dark gathering of storm clouds. It was clear that a violent storm was out in that part of the ocean.
“Where the storm is?” he asked as he peered over at it. He could see nothing. But if he looked to the left, he could see the small speck that was his next target, the Isle of Moroun. His eventual goal was to cross the ocean and head to the next continent, his newly acquired armada in tow, but first he would conquer Moroun.
“Yes. It is called Serenmitazahmiktubarinaty.”
“Say that again?” he said with an astounded laugh.
“You can call it Serenity if you cannot say the full of it. Serenmitazahmiktubarinaty is unique, the most beautiful island you would ever know. You'll never find its like anywhere else.”
“And yet we seem to have much more here than there. I can tell by your reactions to so many things.”
“What you have here is
â¦not more. I could show you things in my world I expect would have you just as wide with wonder as I find myself to be in your world.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps I should go to your world, meet with your leaders. We could discuss erecting temples to Weysa.”
“And if we do not agree you will try to conquer us?”
“Perhaps,” he said honestly.
“You would fail.”
“Do you have an army? An armada?”
“Serenity protects itself from outsiders like you. We have no need for anything else as far as that is concerned. However, my father is leader of our legion. The legion protects us against our other enemies. Enemies far different from you.”
“Let's just say you should be glad the world of men holds no appeal for them.”
“World of men? Is there any other kind of world?” he asked, a bit confused.
“Of course there is. You are well traveled; surely you have learned that there are many worlds out there.”
“You mean races, civilizations. Yes. There are many. But in the end, we are all human. We all have two legs, two arms. We all have males and females, and we all make children and make war upon one another. Your land and people are no different.”
“True, there are many similarities. But there are just as many dissimilarities.”
“If your world is so protected, so distant, how is it you come to be here?”
She gave him an enigmatic little smile. “There are ways if you know them. There are special times. And believe me when I tell you, my father would be very angry if he knew where I was right now. So too would my brothers. But I will worry about that when I return three days from now.” Her smile broadened. “Perhaps by then you will want to come with me. You cannot bring your army but you can come yourself. And maybe you can go before the empress of our people and perhaps she will erect a temple to your goddess. But I do not see many of our people worshipping your goddess. We worship the goddess of the land and oceans because that is what is known to us. Diathus protects her children, keeps us healthy and safe. We know no other gods.”
“You know of them.”
“Of course we do. But we are Diathus's children.” She gave him a bright smile. “Now come. I believe it is time for our meal. Then I must let you go to your brothers so you can carry on with your business of the day. I have already monopolized your morning.”
She was right. She had. The entire morning had gone by and he had not even realized it. His brothers were probably beside themselves wondering what had become of him. Still, they were more than capable of functioning without him and he was sure they had plenty to do, taking over this city and making it their own. So too did he. But he had promised her one meal a day and he was a man of his word.
He entered the main dining hall where the brothers' personal chefs were already laying out a meal for Jaykun and his chief aides. His brothers were there as well and suddenly he had the urge to take a more private meal with her. She would find herself lost amongst all these men. Amongst all the tasks and discussions that would no doubt be overshadowing the meal. Tomorrow he would see things done differently, but for now, he had no choice but to let it happen. As it was, his brothers would be champing at the bit for him to get on with the day's considerable business.
The looks they shot him as he entered the hall revealed as much. But he didn't really care. In his mind the morning had been well spent. Actually, it had been a really good morning, an easy one. And he had not enjoyed such for a very long time. His life was one of long, hard campaigns, one after another, eyes always set on the next goal. That morning his goals had been simple, not pressing or weighty. He realized he was grateful to her for it. It would notâ
notâlast of course, but it had been nice while it had been happening. He only wished he had appreciated it more.
He sat down at the head of the table, a position given to him by his brothers in deference to his rank over them. Dethan may be the eldest, but this was Jaykun's army and they wanted everyone to know it. The next available seat at the table was several places down on the left and Jaykun frowned. He hardly thought his promise of a meal with her consisted of her being out of comfortable speaking distance.
“Would everyone be so kind as to shift down,” he asked of those on the left. They all paused their conversations and actions as if they had been suddenly caught in amber. Then, slowly, everyone on the left, including his brother Garreth, stood up and shifted down one seat. Luckily, Garreth did so without verbal comment, but his discontent was obvious. What it boiled down to, however, was that Jaykun's word was law and it must be respected and obeyedâ¦and his brothers must be the first to set the example or there would be discontent and chaos in the ranks.
Jaykun held Jileana's chair for her as she sat. Once she was in front of her plate, he took his own seat, and realizing how hungry he was, he began to pile food onto his plate. However, neither him nor his brothers could keep up with Jileana. She was voracious, taking one of everything and then some. She didn't overstuff her mouth but instead seemed to savor every single bite.
“Oh, this is all so good! What do you call this? And this? Oh, and what about this?”
“We call it food. Do they starve you where you are from?”
She looked at Garreth and smiled in the face of his acerbic tone. “Hardly that. As I have said, it is different. I should like to bring knowledge of some of these things back with me. Can you tell me how this is made?” She held out a piece of bread.
“It's just bread. You've no bread?”
“No. And this is so warm and fluffy. It all but melts in my mouth. And yet it is chewy. Isn't it delightful?”
“Thrilling,” Garreth said with a sigh.
If he'd been closer, Jaykun would have kicked his brother under the table. But the truth was, Garreth was tired and missing his wife and child. He wanted to go home to them, and the longer it took Jaykun to get entrenched in this city, the longer Garreth and Dethan would stay by his side. Winter was coming and it would take several weeks overland at best before they got home. With ships, the time could be made considerably shorter. However, the ships in the harbor were run by Krizan crews, crews that were not to be trusted if this morning's incident was anything to go by. And most of the men who had crewed those ships had died in the battle.
As if Dethan were reading his mind, Dethan said, “Only half the armada is in dock. The other half is in the harbor or missing. We need to fetch the escaping ships.”
“They shouldn't get too far,” Garreth said. “They must have nothing but the barest of crews. I say we send several ships to run them down one by one. Bring them back to the harbor.”
“First we need to know how many we are talking about,” Jaykun said.
“Honestly, I thought there would be more missing,” Garreth mused.
“They simply didn't have the manpower to sail them after throwing all their men at us. Poor planning on the part of their ruler,” Jaykun said.
“The whole battle was executed poorly. This city should have lasted indefinitely in a siege against us. They had the ocean at their backs and could constantly resupply, keep from starving, and yet the shops are all but bare, the bazaar skin and bones,” Jaykun reported. “It shouldn't take too long to get it back into shape, but still, what was going on here? How had the finia thought to stand against us or save her people from us? How could such a poor leader be in such a powerful position?”
“How can you ask that? You have seen it yourselves time and again. These titles are inherited, not earned. The people follow a bloodline, not a leader. It's laughable.”
Garreth chuckled. “So says the man whose wife inherited her title and city,” he teased Dethan.
“Be that as it may,” Dethan said, grinning good-naturedly, “when it came down to it, the stronger leader prevailed. My wife is very powerful in her own right and in her love for her people. With me at her side, our city will not fall to any invading forces.”
“But you are not at her side,” Garreth pointed out quietly. “A battle could be won and lost while we are here so far away from our homes.”
“Easy, brother,” Jaykun soothed Garreth. “You'll be home soon enough. Within the next month. I guarantee it. With ships at our disposal, we'll cut the journey in half for Dethan and take at least a week off for you as well. I'll have you back at my sisters' sides before first frost. I vow this to you.”
“Then let us get to business,” Garreth said impatiently. “You're wasting timeâ¦allowing distraction.” Garreth didn't have to look at Jileana. They both knew who and what he was talking about.