Narova the Skagit: Chapter 4
Content Warning: Contains a sexually explicit, NSFW scene.
Black Hand Ledger Entry— Jan 3 of the 12th Year After Old Empire
Successfully completed a Lullaby on the landed knight Elmar and a score of his men in the Olagathi barony. Eight-hundred gold pieces added to the treasury. All men died at Rog’s hand. Double-bladed axe. Izzy spiked their wine with poison, but apparently Rog was not patient enough to let it take effect.
Training the savage out of Narova has proved time consuming. Propriety, accents, and the rules of dice and card games seem to elude her entirely. She has a knack for alchemy and disguises, though, and grows more attractive every day. A pretty face will likely forgive her rude manner and foul language.
She is not ready for city work yet, but once she is, I will give her a Lullaby of her own.
Chapter Four: Bear Pelts and Steam Pipes
It was almost dark by the time I left Falen. No point in getting on the long road at that hour just to make camp a few leagues away from the warmth and the brandy inside the Holdfast. I headed to the Untouched barrack, which was down a long tunnel that would have been the middle finger, if you bought into the whole glove metaphor. And I guess somebody in the Black Hand had a sense of humor because the Untouched Barrack was a big fuck you to everyone who laid their head in it. The whole space was maybe twenty strides wide, thirty strides long. There were mattresses filled with moldy straw on one side, a table with one broken leg on the other. Some mismatched chairs. A big shelf of food and liquor on the east wall, a rack of our weapons on the west.
The only thing in the barrack worth a knight’s nut was the fireplace. It was an old Gonarvian furnace the size of a packhorse’s chest built right into the heart of the room. The chimney ran a hundred feet up through solid bedrock, and you could heat the place for a night with half a dozen logs.
It was a shithole, but it was a warm shithole.
All the other Untouched were there. Rog, Lizard, Mortimer, and Izzy. We all accepted our meager quarters happily because nobody believed they would be permanent. The Sleeper’s world is one of shadow and mystery—we bump up against spell books more frequently than the average citizen. And the life of a Touched Sleeper, especially in the Black Hand, does not involve anything resembling moldy straw beds.
Rog saw me first. He was hunched over by the furnace, polishing the head of a double-bladed axe.
“Ho, little one,” he said.
Rog called everyone ‘little one’ because he was the size of a giant. He had olive skin, a shaved head, and a black beard that ran down his massive belly. Rog was a moron by any standard—couldn’t read or do sums, couldn’t tell a lie without a thousand holes dripping out of it. I once saw him eat a squirrel’s legs and arms—bones and everything—because he got frustrated and impatient picking the meat off with a knife like a normal person. But he could tip a merchant’s wagon over by himself, cleave a man down the middle with an axe, and you could shoot him directly in the chest with crossbow bolt without killing him or even inconveniencing him all that much. I’d seen it.
Vexen used Rog for Lullabies that required more brute force than shadow hopping and deception.
I nodded at Rog and squatted near the furnace. Held my fingers out and let them soak up some heat. Lizard brought me a flask of brandy and they all moved a little closer, waiting for me to explain why two of us had ridden out and only I had ridden back.
“Ulnar’s dead.” I took a long drink of the brandy. “So’s everyone who had a hand in it.”
No need for revenging on this one, is what I meant. There isn’t anything dramatic like a blood pact between us Sleepers saying we need to revenge our fallen, but it’s bad for business to show weakness. Generally we’ll murder anyone who puts a brother or sister in the ground free of charge.
The people of Terranum all deal with death in different ways. Northerners cover them up in stony catacombs high up in the mountains and turn the day of their death into a morose pilgrimage. Southerns go the funeral pyre way—can’t leave a corpse to rot in all the damp heat—and dance like wild men around the flames, chanting strange songs and drinking their weight in ale. The bigger the fire, the bigger the man’s spirit, apparently.
But Sleeper’s are merchants of death. Treating the demise of our own like an unexpected tragedy would be ridiculous. We are the villains in most people’s stories. The bad men and women.
Izzy spit on the ground. She was a spindly, blond-haired girl with crooked teeth and a perfect nose. She brewed the strongest poisons this side of the Great Sea.
“Bastard had a little cock, anyway,” she muttered. “Won’t miss it none.”
“Me neither,” I said.
That was a lie. Ulnar’s cock had sent shudders through me every time we screwed. I’d remember the feeling of that pretty dick long after I’d forgotten his face and name and the warmth of his breath on my neck, waking me up at dawn for a quick fuck before a day of riding through the hinterlands.
“He overdrew his arrows, too,” Lizard chimed in, which was also a lie. I once saw Ulnar brain a knight through his visor from two hundred strides away. “Bad habit.”
We called him Lizard because he’d spent three years with a crew of Pargossian Whalers, who were infamous for bolting hundreds of scale piercings into the bodies of their shipmates. Lizard had shelves of them running over his eyebrows, down his neck, and covering his hands and forearms. I guess there’s not much to do on the open ocean when you’re waiting for a whale to blow, but I could never figure why they didn’t just suck each other’s cocks when they had some free time. Not everyone goes in for that, I guess.
Mortimer stayed quiet. He was repairing a chainmail jacket by candlelight, patiently working a gash of bent rings back into place. Mortimer and Ulnar had been friends. Real friends, I mean. Not just killers passing the time like the rest of us.
“Did he suffer?” Mortimer asked me softly.
I shook my head. Took another long swallow of brandy.
“Hm.” Mortimer took his jacket and left, probably heading to the forge or out into the wilds. He was like Ulnar in that way—the dark of the forest relaxed him. Gave him a place to bury the emotions we all work so hard to keep hidden.
Rog and Lizard moved off as well. Rog to get more food from the larder and Lizard to his bunk. He slept more than anyone else I’d ever met when we were safe in the Holdfast, but nobody ever gave him shit for it. He’d once chased a psychotic courier across a marsh on foot, not sleeping or stopping for an entire week. When he caught up with the man, he threw a spear through his heart, spun on his heels, and headed back the way he came.
That’s the story, anyway.
Izzy stayed where she was, grinding some herbs at a small table by candlelight. The corded muscles in her arms wound and unwound as she moved her wrist at a slow, steady rhythm and she stuck the tip of her tongue out of the corner of her mouth. I didn’t recognize the poison she was making, but a pinch of it was probably enough to kill a man. People like Izzy were the reason kings and dukes have people test their food before every meal.
“How’d you like the Barbaroy poison?” she asked me without looking up.
I snatched up a full flask of brandy and pulled a chair closer to Izzy and the fire. Izzy and I were a long way from being friends, but she knew more about poisons and alchemy than anyone else in the Holdfast. Before she was a Sleeper, Izzy was a vagabond woods witch, selling dirty potions that would still a baby in the womb or make an old man’s cock work again—illegal work that the Alchemy Guilds don’t perform. We Sleepers are all outcasts of one kind or another, bonded together by our dark intentions. The Skagit were always half exiled from Terranum’s society, such as it was. The Old Empire took us for cannibal savages and put bounties on Skagit scalps. Savages we may be, but I never ate a baby.
Anyway, I wanted more than Falen’s basics on potion making, so I’d turned to her when my training was finished. I respected her skill, and she respected my desire to get better at killing people. It was enough to keep us drinking together a little longer, at least.
“Strong,” I said. “Turned a man’s face black before he hit the floor.”
Izzy nodded, smiling a little. “Too much Nightshade.”
“I can follow a recipe, Izzy.”
“You used some of those darts you like, I’m guessing,” Izzy said. “Barbaroy works a lot faster when it’s in the blood instead of the food pouch.” She looked up at me and snatched the brandy from my hand. “Got to adjust for that violence in your bones.”
I wanted to point out a dead man is still dead, whether it’s done with a dart or a bowl of soup, but I wasn’t in the mood to debate battle tactics. I was a little drunk and my mind was stuck on Ulnar—making fun of his dick hadn’t made me feel better.
“When’d you and Ulnar first do it?” I asked. Maybe a little reminiscing between women would help.
She took a few long sips before answering. “After a job, same way it usually happens. We’d given this paranoid baron a Lullaby in his fortified stronghold. Tough job. I poisoned the sentries’ food so they had shits so bad they could barely keep a watch on the ramparts. Then Ulnar went in with a knife and climbing rope…came back ten minutes later with the baron’s head. A beautiful piece of killing. God that man had some sneak to him.”
I motioned for Izzy to keep going, licking my lips a little. I liked dirty stories.
Izzy smiled at that and seemed to understand. “We rode straight through the night, wading rivers and going over rock patches to hide our trail. At dawn we stopped at a way station and I rented out the attic of the barn for a couple silvers while Ulnar hid in the woods. He climbed up in through the window.” She breathed out heavily. “I guess even poisoners get a little wet from the notion of strong, dark-haired men climbing up into their bedrooms. He sat down and started checking over his weapons. I stared at him while I stripped down to nothing and starting touching myself. Didn’t take long for him to lose interest in the state of his dagger.”
I nodded, impressed and horny all at the same time. I drank more brandy.
“What about you?” Izzy asked.
“Woods,” I said. “We were getting drunk by the fire…kind of like you and I are right now, save for the roof over our heads. It started to rain and my oiled cloak was old and ragged, so Ulnar came over and we pressed up against each other under his. Didn’t take long for him to start pulling my shirt up and my pants down—he wound up fucking me from behind on a bed of pine needles. Smoke and rain everywhere. I must have come five times before he filled me up.”
“Gods, Narova,” Izzy said, smiling. “You’ve got a dirty mouth.”
“That’s a fact.”
We drank in silence for a few minutes. Killed the rest of the brandy and eyed each other’s mouths and faces and bodies.
“Want to fuck?” I asked Izzy.
She looked at me for a long time without responding. Then she stood up and straightened her tunic flat against her chest. “Let’s go down to the spring. I have to wash my hands first. Poisons, and all that.”
I nodded and stood as well. it’d be chilly, but I liked fucking outside.
I saw Lizard open one eye and as we passed his bunk, but there was nothing unusual about me and Izzy pairing off for a little pleasure. In general, the Sleeper guilds have dismal reputations in Terranum—infamous for our complete lack of honor and unquenchable thirsts for sex. The honor part is wrong. We have it, we just look at the thing in a different light from the knights and wizards and kings who got to write all the laws.
But the fucking is true. Trust me, if you murdered people for a living you’d be horny all the time, too. Men, women, I don’t distinguish. I don’t know if cunts and cocks will even exist in the afterlife, but I know I’ll be in it sooner rather than later, so I want to get my fill of flesh while it’s a guarantee.
We headed to the spring. The Touched members of the Black Hand had a private bathhouse deep in the bowels of the Holdfast. I’d never seen it. Wasn’t allowed near it, actually. The Touched used it for something related to the magic grafted to their bones and they kept the details a secret along with the comforts of their little spa.
If the magic less foot soldiers of the Black Hand wanted a bath, they had to go outside.
It was a wide pool almost, twice as large as our barrack that was hidden in a copse of trees a couple hundred strides from one of the Holdfast’s many secret exits. Izzy had grabbed a few bear pelts from a storage alcove on our way outside. She stopped before we reached the spring, uncovered an old Gonarvian steam pipe from the bed of pine needles, and placed the pelts over it.
“For the chill,” she explained. The steam pipes still drew warmth, even centuries after the last Gonarvian drew its last breath.
Izzy started unfastening the bone-buttons that held her roughspun tunic together. She had small tits and wiry body beneath.
“How do you like it?” she asked.
She looked at me like I’d told her I want to marry a prince one day, or that didn’t have an asshole.
“With women, I like it gentle,” I explained. “World’s full of enough violence and cock as it is.”
She smiled and shucked her pants off. “I can do gentle.”
Izzy waded out to her knees and then dove under the water—her pale body disappearing disappearing into the inky black of the spring and then reappearing again a few strides out in the deep. She twisted onto her back and made a few graceful strokes, eyes locked on the stars above.
“Get your ass in here, Narova,” she said.
I unstrapped my armor and removed the dirty pants and shirt I’d been wearing for weeks. Put them in a neat pile next to the bear pelts. Then I waded out into the frigid water and gasped.
“My cunt just shriveled inside itself,” I called out. Izzy giggled and splashed around a little—playful as an overpaid whore.
“Just a little longer,” she said. “Trust me, it’ll be worth it.”
I went in a little further and then I dove into the water. The cold made my ears burn and my fingers go numb, but when I came to the surface my face felt clean for the first time in a month. Oil and dirt from the road, blood from the murders. All gone to the dark water.
I crouched down to keep the cold off my wet body while Izzy finished whatever she was doing in the water. After a minute or so she came back, wading towards me. Her nipples were almost the exact same color as the rest of her pale skin—just a half shade darker, maybe. I liked it. The hair between her thighs was as blond as the hair on her head. She stopped above me and ran a hand along my jaw, then to the base of my skull.
“Come on,” she said. Then walked out of the spring and started laying down the bear pelts.
She laid two pelts down on the shoreline of the spring and then wrapped the last one over her shoulders so she looked like a shaman from the Skagit forests of my home—all she needed were some owl bones poked through her nose and nipples.
“Lay down,” Izzy said.
I couldn’t feel the ground below me, my feet were so cold. I laid so my back was against the warmed bear pelt, my ass and back and thighs turning to pins and needles.
“Ah,” I gasped without really meaning to, squirming and shivering around.
“Mmmm,” Izzy said. “See? Told you it was worth it.”
“I thought you meant the sex.”
“That’ll be worth it, too.”
She put her hand between her legs and started rubbing herself, keeping her eyes fixed on my naked body while I squirmed more and rubbed my tits, spread my thighs out so she had a good view of my cunt.
“This is what I did for Ulnar,” she said. “You like?”
“Yes,” I said, voice hoarse and rough.
She licked her lips, and then she lowered herself on top me, spreading the bear belt out like a bird spreading its wings. The weight and the warmth of her body felt good. Her heartbeat shuddered against my chest like a finger drum.
I ran my nails from her ass to her shoulder blades, grabbed a fistful of her hair and then kissed her. She tasted like juniper and brandy. I ran my tongue over her crooked teeth, trying my best to remember that feeling for later, when I was alone in the wilderness and the memory of another body would be the only company available.
Our legs intertwined so her cunt was rubbing against my thigh. She ground up against me for a few minutes, kissing my lips and face and neck and moaning in a soft little way that tightened the back of my throat. Her hands strayed to the scars on my back momentarily, but I moved them away and she took the hint. Izzy pulled the bear pelt over both our heads so there was only darkness and our own wetness in the world. Then she started moving down my body, I felt her warm mouth on the place where my collarbones met, on my left tit and then my right, on my belly and my hip bone. And then lower. I heard her breathe me in, then taste me.
After a few minutes she put her fingers inside of me and I started coming—long gentle pulses that made my toes curl and my face go hot.
She moved back up along my body and I kissed her long and hard, loving the taste of myself on her lips and tongue. I moved my hand between her thighs and slipped my fingers into her easily. She opened her mouth and held it a blade’s-width away from mine. We passed our breaths back and forth and after a few more minutes I felt her shudder against my fingers.
When it was over, she sprawled on top of me under the belts as our heartbeats returned to a normal rhythm.
“Satisfied?” she whispered.
“Yes,” I said. Stroked her hair a little. “There is something else, though.”
She sat up a little so she could see my eyes. Waited for me to tell her.
“How much do you know about hexes?”