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Fire and Brimstone

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The only reason Ondolemar knew her name was because it had recently been cleared.

The Silverbloods were holding an apology dinner for her, though that certainly wasn’t what they were calling it. Rather, they were “honoring” their guest for disposing of Madanach — which she wouldn’t have managed if they hadn’t wrongfully arrested her in the first place.

Most of anyone who was anyone had been invited except for him, and that was fine. He hadn’t much cared when they’d jailed her, and he didn’t much care now that they’d exonerated her. He didn’t miss the company of Thonar or his witless hulk of a brother, either. He did miss the company of his wine, though. Routinely, he ordered a crate of it from home, but the shipping of it always took far longer than the drinking of it, and it would be at least another week before it arrived. He supposed he could amble down to the inn and have some of that spiced wine; it wasn’t the stuff of Alinor, but neither was it the wretched swill that Nords called mead.

Outside, it was damp and chill — miserable as ever. Moss and mildew clung to the stone arches, and filth lingered in every crevice of the city. Ondolemar felt as though he were drowning every time he went out. The fog was crushing; it lay thick and almost palpable. Still, as he walked the empty streets in the dark, there was a nostalgia — something out of boyhood — that brought a smile to his lips. It felt like getting away with something.

The inn was nearly empty, which was a pleasant surprise. A handful of working men were gathered at the bar, but they wanted nothing to do with him, and the sentiment was mutual. Still, it bothered him that he even had to breathe the same air as those cretins. Just the same, he found a cozy chair by the fire and eventually, he got his spiced wine. He wished he had thought to bring a book though, as now he had nothing but his own thoughts for entertainment. Those, of late, were nothing but anxiety: First Emissary Elenwen was growing impatient with his efforts. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t trying, but these damnable Nords were proving sneakier than he’d anticipated. It was enough work just to root out the blasphemers from the rest.

“You look like you need a stronger drink.”

Ondolemar looked up, shaken from his uneasy contemplation by a young woman who had appeared in the seat beside his. He squinted at her, scrutinizing. Nord? No, too short and too handsome, though just as fair and broad. At any rate, she was well dressed and well groomed, and that was a welcome surprise.

“And who are you, exactly?” he demanded.

She smiled. “A connoisseur. Or at least, I like to think so.” She took more of a dainty gulp than a sip.

“Hardly,” he sniffed. “Compared to a person of my superior years and knowledge, what could you possibly know about it?”

“Well for one thing, I know that just half a glass of this Argonian Bloodwine — while exquisite — would knock a superiorly pompous windbag such as yourself on your ass.” She grinned.

Even just another moment with this...person was less than enticing, but his pride had been wounded. Indulging her, he ordered a glass for himself. It was warm and sweet, though it left a bitter splash on his tongue. It seeped in slowly, but the requisite buzz crashed in on him like an avalanche; his skin seemed to vibrate and his head became cloudy.

“You know,” he said after his fourth glass, “you’re right. This is rather titillating.”

“‘Titillating?’ My, you are pedantic, aren’t you.”

“And who are you to pass judgement, you...you…. Say, what are you, anyway?”

Huffing, she crossed her arms. “What a supremely tactless question! I’m a Breton, if you must know. On my mother’s side. Not raised in High Rock, though.” Realizing she was rambling, she trailed off into a mumble, almost as if to herself.

In his drunken stupor, he said, “Well you know, you’re quite pretty. For a mongrel.” She bristled at the slur, but he failed to notice. “What did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t.”

“Oh. Didn’t I ever ask?”

“No.” Her curtness was cold, but she had sunken into the plushness of her chair, slumped against the armrest, the firelight illuminating her face.

He hadn’t much noticed her face until now. It was soft, though she was square of jaw; her blonde hair was chopped unevenly into a bob. He became lost in the details of her — so much so, that he wasn’t paying attention to what she was saying. “I’m sorry, what was that?”

She scowled. “I was telling you that my name is Ari. And it’s good for you that you’re so handsome, because if you were unfortunate-looking, I wouldn’t tolerate this behavior. Then again,” she added, “I am very drunk.”

He sifted through his memory, because her name rang a bell. “Oh yes, you’re that one who killed the Forsworn ‘King’ — if you could call him as much. She had softened, and was nodding affirmation. “But aren’t you missing out on the haughtiest family in Markarth kissing your backside? A rare opportunity, indeed.” He chuckled darkly.

Ari rolled her eyes. “Believe me, of all the men in this city, I don’t want Thonar or Thongvor anywhere near my backside, as you put it.”

In the back of his mind, a retort was forming, but it got tangled in itself, and eventually the thought just fizzled out. Instead, he found himself lagging on the topic at hand: her backside. Idly, he considered her shape: she had wide shoulders and a full chest. Her hands managed to be pretty, the way she used them, and he wondered what they would feel like struggling to undo his clothes, fingers scrabbling against his skin. She was speaking, and he watched her lips, trying to imagine what they’d feel like on his neck…

“Alright, you two. You’re out for the night — unless you’re going to rent a room, that is. Bar’s closed!” The inn-keeper’s wife was flapping at them to leave.

Slowly, staggering, Ondolemar helped himself out of the chair. He offered Ari his hand, and she took it, though not for long. He meant to tease her, to ask if they weren’t going to get a room. But if she said yes, he wouldn’t know what to do, and he didn’t know that he would back out.

She departed with some salacious words and a wink, but it struck him as contrived, and he found he was disappointed.

The walk home was slow. It had begun to rain, and it was soaking his clothes until even his skin felt soggy. Rain so cold ought to have been sobering, but it only clogged his senses. His guard had taken their sleep, and at a snail’s pace, he followed suit. Pulling his boots off was a chore, and his sopping clothes had to be peeled off his body. Normally, he would have washed and oiled and completed any number of vain rituals, but he hadn’t the faculty or the fortitude for it. He fell asleep still drowned in his disjointed thoughts: firelight and the oppressing warmth of two bodies pressed together; effervescent laughter and low pangs of ecstasy undulating in disparate tandem.

Sleep took him in waves, but washed him up come the morning. Exhausted, he rolled over and nuzzled his pillow, ignoring the sunlight escaping through the gaps in his curtains. His memories remained ethereal and sublime, the actual and the imagined twisted together in a hopeless knot. He lingered on sleepy fantasies of soft skin and round hips, of gentle murmurs and hot breath. He was rutting against the bed when he woke enough to realize what he was doing and who had occupied his dreams. Embarrassed, even in his own company, he stood and went to his wash tub, filling it with cold water. He sat and scrubbed himself until he felt clean again, inside and out. Chastising himself for succumbing to the drink, he donned his official robes to remind himself of his place: here, ridding the world of blasphemy, not lusting after some mutt of a woman.





In her presence, he was consumed with fire from the inside out; in her absence, he smouldered like dying ashes in an unattended grate. She would disappear for weeks on end, and he would almost forget about her, returning to the routine of his life. Then she would appear from nowhere and the cycle would begin again.

This tiring string of events took an interesting turn in the middle of the most mundane chore, though. Ondolemar had received a cooly scathing letter from the Embassy regarding the shrine to Talos in the middle of the city, and its continued existence. It was no secret that no amount of locks, chains, or enchantments had kept the Nords out. Something needed to be done; he would speak with the Jarl immediately.

He knocked on the immense brass doors once. Twice. He paused, and knocked a third time. Neither confirmation nor denial of entry came. Frowning, Ondolemar glanced around: usually, guards were ever present, but there was no one to be seen. “Curious,” he muttered to himself. After another cautionary look, he let himself in.

The spacious room appeared vacant. The rush of water echoed loudly, bouncing off of the stone. The incessant chugging of machinery grated on him; he longed for the exquisite, ethereal thrum of the starlights of Alinor.

A loud crash broke his nostalgic reverie and scared him nearly half to death. Whipping around, he spotted a mound of broken porcelain: the remains of what had been a very pretty washbasin.

“Oh, damn it.”

That voice. “Ari?”

“Oh, damn it.” She appeared from behind a dresser, red-faced and scowling. “Justiciar.”

He examined her, trying to extrapolate what she’d been up to. “What are you doing in here?”

“Nothing.” She slinked down the steps and evaded him, keeping a clear distance. “And I’m bothering no one, so I’ll just be going now.”

Seizing her wrist, he pulled her into a vise-like grip. “You’ll be going nowhere until you explain yourself.”

She pulled her arm away, but he took it back, more forcefully, and they descended into a physical struggle. It ended with Ari pinned beneath him, her face pushed against the cold, stone wall. Ondolemar pressed against her: every curve of her caressed the front of him, and he blamed his heavy breathing on the altercation that had just taken place.

“Explain yourself,” he ordered.

“I told you,” she growled, “I’m not up to anything!”

“I find you in here — alone — probably rifling through the Jarl’s belongings, guards missing…” Bracing all of his weight against her, he reached into one of her pockets, where he found a tiny cache of smooth, polished stones. “Ah, how predictable, and disappointing.” He shoved her away.

“Are you going to put me in chains?” she demanded. “Seems a waste after I paid the guards to avoid that exact outcome.”

Ondolemar gazed a moment at the glittering gems in his hand, then back at Ari: pocket still turned out, blonde hair disheveled. It occurred to him that if not for his interference, she might never have been caught. “No. No, I don’t think I will. Keep your little trinkets,” he drawled, handing them back to her. “But I’m not without a price of my own.”

“Or I could run now, and save myself the trouble.”

“Or I could paralyze you where you stand.”

Ari blinked, weighing her odds. “If you’re into that kind of thing. So ah, what do you want from me, then?”

An uninvited vision of her naked breasts in his hands crossed his mind, but he dismissed it. “I have an errand that needs doing,” he said carefully. “And I could do it myself, but I think we’ll find your methods more suitable.”

“My ‘methods’?” Her skepticism returned. “You mean you want me to steal something?”

“You were going to anyway, weren’t you?” he challenged. When no argument was forthcoming, he continued. “I need to procure some evidence so that I may commence an arrest. Perhaps an entire inquisition,” he added hopefully, as if to himself.

“Excuse me, but evidence of what, exactly?”

“Talos worship. Markarth is rife with apostates, but the Jarl has been slow to act. I need you to root out those culpable, and bring me evidence of their heresy.”

Ari scrutinized him. “So, I would have to break and enter, most likely. Acquire evidence of Talos worship. And then simply bring it to you?”

“There will be money in it, of course.”

She appeared to be evaluating the prospect in her head, and he wondered if somehow even this job was too complicated for the human mind. But finally, she gave him an answer. “Pay me half upfront, or I won’t work with you.”

“Collateral. Clever,” he conceded. “Come with me; I don’t make a habit of keeping my funds on my person.”

Once they entered the foyer to his chambers, Ondolemar was overcome with nerves about the state of his accommodations: stacks of papers, items out of place… But she seemed neither to notice or care. She watched him, instead, and his ego swelled to twice its already considerable size.

He weighed some gold and tied it in a small purse before pushing it into her hand. “There. Three hundred septims, upfront.”

“What if I just take this money and run?”

He smiled. “I don’t think you will, though. Six hundred is better than three, and this should be easy money for you, shouldn’t it?”

After a while, she pocketed the money and turned to leave. “Don’t expect me back before tomorrow morning; burglary is a delicate operation. It takes time.”

Ondolemar watched her go, and once she was gone, he found it difficult to settle into his work. Unable to focus, he instead wondered when they would see one another again.






















His patience was running thin. A few hours was less than the blink of an eye, to an Altmer, but the more time that separated them, the more vulnerable he found he was to fantasy. During a meal, he’d left his plate mostly untouched, retiring to his quarters only to touch himself until he nearly passed out. Ari’s body was more generous than he was used to, and he could just die of the guilt he felt, imagining her in his hands.

That evening, he tried to get some desk work done, but became lost in his own imagination for almost an hour. He came around eventually, only to realize he’d dripped ink all over his half-finished work and that his cock was embarrassingly hard. He imagined her needy, desperate for him. And why shouldn’t she be? He, an impressive and supreme specimen of Mer could do — and had done — so much better than the likes of her. He had a string of lovers after all! A woman in every port, and a few others lined up in case those were busy. Alinor, Sunhold, Skywatch...Southpoint and Haven, too. Easily, he could have a lady here in Markarth, but he hadn’t the time or inclination. With Elenwen constantly breathing down his neck, he was hardly in the mood.

He fidgeted in his chair, imagining scenarios in which Ari got caught. Her mission disrupted, he envisioned her twisting out of punishment with feminine cunning. What would she offer the man who caught her in the act, he wondered? In his mind’s eye, Ondolemar pushed her against these other men, tangled her up with them, put her beneath them so that he might live vicariously. It was fine to enjoy a fantasy. It was fine to picture her naked, as long as he pushed her against some anonymous prop and not himself. She would be soft and warm, and he imagined how that soft heat might feel seeping through clothes… He very much liked the image of her getting to her knees, putting her mouth on a cock; of his — no, of another man’s mouth between her legs.

He was poisoned with her! He needed to lie down. Abandoning his work for the night, he disrobed and turned in, staving off any more fantasies. But his efforts were in vain, for soon his dreams too would come to plague him.

 

*            *            *

 

It was before sunup when Ari returned to him. In the quiet dark, he woke to the groan of the massive, metal doors lumbering open. Alarmed, he rose quickly and donned a robe, flames licking at the palms of his hands. When he saw it was only her, though, he released his focus and the fire faded into nothingness. Besides, between them, he figured he could take her in a contest of strength.

“Alright,” she announced, “I’ve come for my reward.” From a pocket, she pulled a string of amulets, a small likeness, and even a shrine in miniature. “Oh, and there’s this.” She unfolded a scrap of parchment and handed it to him. It detailed a plan to meet for worship in the coming week, among other, less relevant tidbits. At the bottom were signatures.

“How did you come by all of this?”

Smug, she smiled. “My ‘methods,’” she answered cryptically.

“Very well. Keep your secrets and hand it all over.”

Quickly, and with an astonishing lack of fuss, she stuffed the artifacts back into her pocket — which he couldn’t quite find on her person, lost in the cling of her armor. “You said I only had to bring it to you, not that it was forfeit.”

More offended than was entirely necessary, Ondolemar advanced on her. “How dare you! Have you any idea what you’re interfering with?”

Her face fell. “More than I know what to do with, really.”

“This is all very...very…” he stammered, flabbergasted. “Irregular. Now, turn in your findings! They are evidence in an official Thalmor investigation, as such, by retaining them you are preventing—!”

“Oh, stop, you do go on.” She plopped into a chair. “Listen: by no stretch of the imagination did I give you a raw deal. I outlined our terms and followed them to the letter. But since I am so magnanimous, here’s what I’m going to do.”

Ondolemar was unaccustomed to being condescended to, and he wasn’t going to take this abuse on his back. “You’re going to give me the evidence.”

“No, I won’t.” Her smile thinned as she strained to maintain it. “But I’m generously trying to offer you some form of recompense. Speaking of which…” She stared him down.

He was incensed. This puny Breton girl, making demands in his quarters, fully dressed while he puffed about in his bathrobe. It was undignified! It was inappropriate!

“Pay me, and I’ll leave.”

He snorted. “Even so, with the information you did give me, I will have all of these people arrested. Now that I know where and when they’ll be meeting —”

“And I’ve already made them aware of that possibility. I’m sure that by now, a change of plans is already being arranged.”

“You told them? And they just handed over their blasphemous paraphernalia so that some Breton lowlife could get her money’s worth?” he sneered.

“No. I warned them that you already knew of the meeting —”

“I knew no such thing!”

“—that you were planning an ambush. I said I would keep safe their belongings, and destroy the written contract if it was given to me.” She snatched the paper from his hands and shredded it in front of him.

Mostly, he was mortified, but he also admired her deceit. “You tricked me,” he snarled.

“No I didn’t! I set the terms, complied with them, and now you’re trying to get out of paying me!”

Grudgingly, Ondolemar pulled out a bag of coins and counted them out on a scale. He didn’t care what anyone thought of him, so long as no one thought him a liar. “There,” he huffed. “Your earnings.”

“Thank you.” She pocketed the coin and left.

He watched her go, and his anger simmered until it fermented into something more shameful. The tension in his gut transcended ire and passed into yearning. In his mind, he rewrote their argument, rearranging words and actions until he had Ari in his arms while he took his compensation. Not that she was unwilling — he wasn’t that kind of Mer. Her body responding to his, her mouth on his neck, her hands on her breasts while he filled her…

“Damn it,” Ondolemar murmured, overcome with lust and frustration. The worst of it was the tidal wave of guilt that washed over him, the underlying contempt he felt for her and for himself. She had seduced him or tricked him or put some kind of spell upon him...any excuse to avoid the very real possibility that perhaps a human woman could be just as attractive to him as any Merish girl.

Unable to resume his sleep, he penned a letter to the Embassy, explaining — in not as many true words — that his most recent operation had been sabotaged, and that even now, he was working toward a new strategy.











It was weeks before he saw her again, and in the interim, he’d almost managed to forget about her. But one balmy morning, he was robbed of the luxury.

She was close beside the court wizard’s protégé, Aicantar. Their pace was leisurely, and he could hear their voices bouncing softly off of the cold stone halls, but not their words. Ondolemar watched and waited, and when they parted ways, he approached.

“In good with Calcelmo’s lackie, are we?” he offered as a greeting. “And who’s curating for whom, I wonder. Did you find him a shiny new toy for his uncle’s museum, or did you pilfer something for yourself?”

“Why can’t it be both?” she said, but her posture betrayed the tension her tone was trying to hide. “If you must know, I was enjoying his company. He’s quite smart...and he can be funny, sometimes.”

“And he has access to all those valuables.”

“That he does. He’s also a good lay.”

Ondolemar’s brows shot upward. “Him? Really? He’s far too young.”

Appalled, Ari covered her mouth with her hand, her face reddening. “Oh my — oh god, really? Oh I’m going to be sick.”

“What? No! Stop jumping to conclusions! No no, not too young to — no. But too young to be any good, certainly.”

Ari’s revulsion hardened into cynicism. “And who’s old enough? Hm? You?”

“I have twice the experience of that whelp, at least.”

“And you’re probably twice as old, too,” she said, but the insult got lost between cultures. “Look,” she said, eyeing him. “We got off on the wrong foot.”

“You swindled me!” he hissed.

“I did the right thing!”

“You’re a thief! You don’t do the right thing!”

“Oh, and you’re the law, so you do?”

Ondolemar was keenly aware of the guards, slouched at every door. “Let’s speak somewhere else.”

“Yes, yes, the walls have ears,” she griped.

“No, but the guards do — idle ones, and I don’t relish the prospect of court gossip.”

“Fine.”

He led her into the keep proper, and into his chambers. He offered her a seat. A glass of wine. She declined and waited for him to pick up where they left off.

“That thing you said.” He poured himself a drink. “About me being…” he paused, and took a gulp. “About me being old enough. What did you mean by that?”

She rolled her eyes. “I meant that you’re a haughty narcissist.”

He scoffed.

“Or was it something else? Did you think I was being suggestive?” she asked, incredulous.

“I’d have to be an idiot not to,” he said, defensive. “I mean, surely you’re aware of this...this…” He struggled to get the word in his mouth.

“This what, exactly?”

“Even someone as dense as yourself can’t be ignorant of the attraction between us.”

“Attraction?”

He pursed his lips. “Your astonishment is insulting.”

She sat, wide-eyed, looking on at him in wonderment. “I suppose I just never caught that you were interested.”

“Mm. Well that is a reasonable assumption to make. I mean after all: look at you.”

Ari frowned. “Aren’t you charming.”

“No, I only meant —”

“I know exactly what you meant,” she said accusingly. “You meant to say that if anyone were to see us together, it would be reprehensible.”

“Now just —”

“No.” She stood, and he thought she was going to leave, but she was advancing on him. “I won’t listen. I won’t listen to you compare me to a dog. I am no mongrel, and to lie with me wouldn’t be the same.”

Sheepish, he couldn’t look her in the eye. “I wasn’t going to —”

“Yes, you were. I am beneath you, aren’t I? A lowly Breton thief. To whom you claim an attraction! In the same breath that you condemn me!.”

“You can’t begin to understand!” he protested. “If I were to give in —”

“Give in to me, like I’m some sort of vice?”

“If I were to give in to my own desires, it would be a sacrilege!” He rubbed at his temples, searching for the words to explain himself, to express all the frustration and disquiet that had been rotting within him since they’d met. “To bed you should be unthinkable, and yet…”

“And yet?” she crossed her arms.

“And yet, I cannot stop! Every time I escape your presence, you creep in on me, like a poisonous vine, strangling me! You’re in my dreams! You’re on my mind even in the light of day! Your hair, your eyes, the smell of you,” he groaned, “like sweat and cologne.”

“You do have an eye for detail, don’t you.”

“I’ve never been so utterly intoxicated.” His fist was clenched so hard around his glass, Ari wondered if it might break.

“You’re making a good try of it right now.”

“You witch, can’t you see how this might be for me? I’ve never so much as blinked at a human woman, and now —”

“Wait.” Ari shifted, her expression softening into curiosity. “You’ve never had —”

“No! Why would I have? Why, when I could have any merish woman from here to Alinor! And then along you came! You’ve ruined me!”

She smiled. “No I haven’t. Not yet.” She bit her lip, worrying it as though she were forming a plan of action. Then, without warning, she began removing her clothes. First came her cloak, which she folded haphazardly and tossed on the chair she had previously occupied. Then, her underbust, and a tunic after that. And another shirt beneath that one. She was down to leggings and boots when he found his voice to object.

“I’m so sorry, but, what are you doing?”

“Ruining you.”

He gawked. Mostly at her chest. But his eyes strayed when something hanging from her belt caught the morning light. It gleamed, obvious, now that it wasn’t tucked into so many folds of clothing. The light hit the blade just so that it was almost blinding.

No.”

“What?” She was genuinely puzzled for a moment, before she found what he was staring at. “Oh, please. You aren’t about to let a bit of religion come between you and and...well, coming.”

“I can’t,” he murmured. “I really can’t.”

Ari pushed into his space, leaning over him in his chair. “I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.” She crawled into his lap and he felt her amulet settle by one of his hands. She kissed him, and it was nothing like his fantasies. She wasn’t soft and pliant; she was compelling, pushing against him, grabbing at him. She tasted like sweet wine and another man, and she used her teeth.

Ondolemar tried to lead, as he was used to, but she was too demanding. When he finally stopped trying to grab the reins, he found he was enjoying himself. Her skin was soft, and so was her body; she had curves and rolls — nothing like the willowy, angular women he was accustomed to. She wasn’t delicate, and she barely responded to being treated as though she were. She didn’t seem to care for his gentle caresses or mild kisses.

Her breasts were large, and almost alien to him in their fullness. The way they moved, the way they felt beneath his hands...it was as novel as it was arousing. Her nipples were pink, and had to be coaxed to become pert, even in the cool air. She giggled while he played with them, gasping when he got it right, lightly pinching one between thumb and forefinger. In his travels, he had seen how human men would press their faces absurdly against a woman’s bosom; at the time, he had scoffed at that sort of salacious display, but now, with her tits naked in front of him, he suddenly saw the appeal. He put his mouth on her, sucking on one of her nipples and teasing it until she mewled. She forced his face up so that she could kiss him again, biting his lower lip.

Ondolemar pushed Ari from his lap, and he was pleased by how disappointed she looked. “Remove your pants,” he huffed, clumsily undoing his own robes. He didn’t shed them completely, only opened them up, revealing a long strip of golden skin. He took his own erection in one hand and ordered, “Prepare yourself for me.”

She pouted. “Don’t you want to?”

Ari.”

She sighed. “Very well.” She turned her back to him, but rather than simply kicking off her leggings, she took her time, slowly peeling them off, revealing herself a little at a time.

Ondolemar groaned when she bent over, showing him her wet cunt. She braced herself against his desk with one hand, and began rubbing herself with the other, and he could hear how wet she was. Her breath was coming in short bursts, and he could hear her trying to muffle herself.

“Don’t be quiet; no one can hear you through these walls.”

She was pink there, too, like a blush that faded along her thighs.

He was stroking himself, but not too much; he wanted to get inside her. He watched her put a single finger inside herself, listened to her whine. She got tired though, legs shaking, and got back in his lap. Ari writhed while he teased her with his cock; her nails dug into his shoulders as he got the tip of it wet.

“Can you take me?”

She struggled for a moment, perhaps wishing, perhaps calculating, before biting her lip and shaking her head. “No, I need more.”

“Well, if you want something done right…” He reached around, grabbing her ass, and then placing his hand over her cunt. She rubbed against him for a moment, but then he pushed two of his fingers into her. She froze, so he stopped, and waited.

After a moment of adjusting, she said, “Alright. Alright fuck me.”

He pumped his fingers inside her, moaning, loving the feel of her wet and warm around him. He kissed her abdomen, her breasts, playfully sucking on her nipples. She pushed back on his fingers, head thrown back, and then he felt her squeezing around him erratically. She cried out, and he realized she was coming. He allowed her to finish, watching with some awe, but when she was done, she collapsed in his arms.

He pulled her up and she complained.

“I’m going to fuck you now.”

“How do you want me?”

“On my bed, on your hands and knees.”

“I’m too tired,” she said, “take me on my stomach.”

“Fine.”

But the moment he was behind her, he pulled her up so that her face was pressed into his mattress. She protested, but not loudly. Slowly, he pushed his cock inside her, and fucked her in earnest. Her ass shook every time his hips pushed against her, and in the mirror on the far wall, he could see her breasts jiggle with every thrust. He kept a steady rhythm for as long as he could, but the sight was titillating.

“Gods, I’d love to feel you ride me,” he admitted aloud, for no reason he could identify. “Hold your hips while you bounce in my lap.

“How about my mouth on your cock?” she added. “Wanna’ fuck my mouth, Ondolemar? My face between your hands and my lips around you?” She was trying to sound tempting, but she lost her breath halfway through the sentence.

It was a disgusting suggestion, and he loved it.

“You could take your cock out right now and shove it in my mouth. Oh, god...”

She was coming again, squeezing his cock over and over, wetness running down her thighs. He fucked her through it, driven closer and closer by the sensation. His thrusts came harder and harder until she was crying for him, burying his name in his sheets over and over. His cock was soaked when he did pull out, but instead of taking her directions, he came on her, pushing her into the bed with one hand while stroking himself with the other.

She was still shuddering when he was finished.

He fell in a heap beside her, and quickly realized how uncomfortable he was: his clothes were drenched in sweat and he smelled like sex; come — hers and his — was drying on his hand. He winced, but was loathe to stand up anytime soon. His legs ached a bit and he was still catching his breath.

“Well that didn’t take long,” Ari said snidely, and yet she sounded no less sated.

“You didn’t seem to mind. And besides,” he argued, indignant, “you came first!”

“I did,” she agreed. “I guess there was something to that nonsense about your experience. Aicantar was fun,” she mused. “But he took forever. I came so many times that by the time he did, it was painful.”

Ondolemar laughed, loudly and with real mirth. “That’s the opposite problem most young mer have.”

“Is it?” she nudged him playfully with her elbow.

He hummed contentedly. Gods, he’d forgotten how fun sex could be. He hadn’t enjoyed himself with such abandon since he was a youth, rolling in the grass with some noble’s daughter or another. But Ari lacked the protocol, the pomp and expectation; she didn’t demand his coin or petty trifles, only his body, and that was just fine.

Still, there was the matter of her faith.

He reached over and grabbed the amulet of Talos from where she’d set it on the bedside table. The rest of her clothes were strewn about, but the amulet had stayed safely within reach, its leather cord wrapped neatly around it. He held it up for inspection, feeling the smooth resin under his thumb.

“Why do you wear this profanity, anyway?” he wondered softly. “Talos doesn’t belong to your people; he’s not your god.” He gazed back at Ari, and saw that she had curled into herself.

At first, she offered him only tense silence. Then, she sighed, and rolled away from him, onto her side. “He was my father’s god.”

Discomfort and remorse coiled in the pit of his stomach, dissolving the bliss that had permeated him only moments ago. “I’m…”

“Don’t.” She sat up and took her amulet back. “Don’t say things you don’t mean. You aren’t sorry. Don’t pretend to be.” She stood and began collecting her clothes, pulling them on carelessly. “We had a good time, but I know how you see me.”

He rested his head on folded arms and watched her; she moved like a scared animal. “I see a beautiful woman.”

“You see a blasphemer.”

“A beautiful blasphemer, then.”

She scowled. “How can you joke.”

“I have to,” he smiled. “I’ve just fucked a Breton. And if I’m blunt with you, I should like to do it again.”

She frowned at him, doing up her corset. “Do yourself a favor and don’t get your hopes up.”

“Oh, you’ll come back,” he called after her as she slipped out the door. He rolled onto his back and sighed, resigned. “You always do.”