Chapter 4 Part 6 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
Edmerka's brave front crumbled as the curse bore down on her. Thin threads of lust trickled into her, twining themselves together as the smoke had, until they formed binding ropes of arousal. She knew who among the Travelers wanted her, and how badly; they burned candle-bright to her, and to her shock, she wanted them with a passion just at the edges of her control. "I'd rather die," she sobbed. "I'd rather die than live my life out like this! Kill me!"
"Killing you seems a bit harsh for refusing to pay us," said the wall-eyed young man.
"Be quiet, son," said the Queen. "It's more than that, and you know it."
"What will happen to me? What will I do?" Edmerka sank to the ground, sobbing and clutching her knees. If she held on tight enough, she reasoned through the red and silver haze blanketing her mind, she wouldn't pull the nearest man to her, though her body ached for him.
She rocked back and forth and wailed, until the Traveler Queen took pity and said, "I cannot lift the curse, but I can ease it." Edmerka looked up in unwilling hope. "Give your maiden blood to my son, and I will make you forget who you are. It won't change anything, but perhaps remembering no other life will make this new one easier to bear."
The more she turned it over in her mind, the more Edmerka realized it was the only kindness she would get. "Very well, I agree," she said in a small voice. She let the Traveler Prince pull her gently to her feet. His mother licked a finger and traced a sigil on Edmerka's left hip, to her disgust; it glowed silver until the spit dried. The Queen's son led the Princess to his caravan as the Travelers hooted. To Edmerka's surprise, the Queen scolded them: "Hush! It's difficult enough for her."
Standing naked in the autumn chill left Edmerka grateful to be inside. The tiny caravan had the same barrel ceiling as the Queen's, and the same fold-out table. An elaborately carved and painted lintel framed a bigger bed built into the back atop low cabinets, a thick, surprisingly luxurious eiderdown covered the mattress. She sat down hard on it, sniveling, her arms crossed to hide her breasts; she felt his eyes, his hands, his breathing. The Princess kept her eyes on the floor. "Well?" she said.
"My name is Connin. I won't hurt you," he said.
She scoffed. "You won't hurt me. What do you think you're doing?"
"I think I'm doing you a kindness. Better I should do this than the first stranger you meet."
"You are a stranger!" she said.
He sat down on the bed next to her and coaxed her arms down. His passion swelled in her, and her breasts ached. "I am a stranger who won't beat you, or keep you in a brothel, or kill you," he said, his bad eye swiveling wildly. He slid a rough, thrilling hand up her thigh. "I'm a stranger who will take this one gift from your body and give you forgetfulness in return. I know you feel how much I want you--you're shivering."
"It's cold," she said, shifting on the bed.
"Then let me warm you."
Her pulse fluttered as his hand traced the curve of her hip. Fingers brushed her thick hair back over her shoulders, and traced feather-light along her collarbone. She wanted him to crush her in his strong hands, she wanted to strip his clothes away and lie skin to skin, she wanted to feel his mouth on her breasts--his desire had become hers. "How willing must I be?"
"Willing enough," he said.
"Then get it over with," she whimpered, squeezing her eyes tight. "Just be about it, get it over with!" She felt his hot breath on her face, and then he kissed her. No man had ever kissed her before; his lips were softer than she expected, and she leaned into him, his hands cradling her head.
"Your cheeks are on fire," Connin murmured between kisses. "They will burn through my palms."
"I'm so ashamed," she wept.
He pulled her closer, and moved his mouth to her neck. He bit her gently, and she moaned aloud as he sucked at her skin. "The only shame in your life is the way you've behaved until now," he said, pushing her down on his bed. "Perhaps this will teach you some overdue humility, but there's no shame in being enchanted, Edmerka."
"Don't call me by name!" she said. "Please, don't call me by name!"
Connin stopped her pleading with his tongue; it slid deliciously across the roof of her mouth. He covered her body with his, her nipples rubbing against the coarse linen of his tunic. She brushed them against him over and over, unable to fend off the impulse. He rolled briefly to one side, unfastened his leggings, and tugged his tunic over his head; his skin felt cool against her, and she pulled him to her, unwilling but desperate for whatever would end this burning. "What do you know about lying with a man?" he said.
"Nothing," she gasped. "I've never even seen a man's body."
"Give me your hand." He wrapped her fingers around his length. "That's what a man feels like." Edmerka clutched at it, thrilled and terrified at the hardness under the soft, loose skin. He licked and sucked at her nipples, and she cried out as each tug sent exquisite jolts through her body. He smelled of salty musk, dry wood, campfire smoke, and leather, his beard brushed the underside of her breasts: overwhelming, foreign maleness, all of it. She felt lascivious, helpless, and horribly alive. When his fingers slipped between her legs, she cried out in need and humiliation.
"Do you feel that? I do. You're dripping for me. Have you ever touched yourself there? No? Here." His thumb brushed against her clitoris, and suddenly all emotion and sensation condensed into that one little spot. He brushed it again as she clutched at him, at the coverlet, at the air. He chuckled low in his chest and latched onto her nipple, still stroking her. The sensation grew, and she cried out to Amma for help. "Don't be afraid," he whispered against her breast. "Give in."
"What's going to happen? I'm going to die!" Connin's thumb moved faster and faster, and he pushed a single finger into her; she screamed, thrashing in his arms. Blackness gathered at the corners of her eyes until it darkened her vision completely, then flashed into hot, hot white.
When sight returned, sweat covered her. She panted, limbs loose and trembling. "You're alive, never more," smiled Connin. "That is called spending, sweetheart." He centered himself between her legs, forcing them roughly apart, and she groaned in shame and anticipation. She had lost, she couldn't fight it, she didn't want it, she wanted it. "It will hurt, but only a moment." He pushed, breaking past her maidenhead before she completely realized he'd entered her.
He hadn't lied. She felt a sharp pain, but the unfamiliar, uncomfortable stretching faded horrifically into pleasure. "Mine, Princess. Just this once, you're mine," he whispered in her ear. "And then you'll be anyone's." He pinned her to the bed, thrusting deeply into her as she bucked and sobbed; he took her cries into his mouth.
She fought within herself as she struggled against him, but she could no longer tell between struggle and complicity; every attempt to fight resulted in pulling him closer, until she followed his every movement, her hips fixed to his. She cried out, "Please! Please!"
"Please, what, little wanton?"
"I don't know!" she sobbed.
She broke, and the spell drove an ecstatic pulse through her, stronger than before. The only thing she cared about was the man crushing her down onto the bed, plunging into her. As the pulse left her, so did consciousness; her war against the man and the curse had exhausted her.
Connin pounded into her for his final thrusts until he collapsed atop her limp body. He recovered his breath, and sat up. The princess lay sprawled on the bed, breathing deeply in unnatural sleep. He reached to a shelf above the bed in its alcove, and took up a tiny vial; he knelt between Edmerka's legs, and gently scraped her maiden blood into it, corked it, and replaced it on the shelf. He stroked her cheek tenderly, his wild eye calm for once. "I'm sorry, truly," he said, though she couldn't hear him. "But we cannot escape our fates. And you have given me a greater gift than you know."
He fastened his leggings, and jumped down from the caravan. "It's done," he told his mother.
"The horses are hitched," she answered. "Let's go."
The Travelers took the road leading away from the stepmother's family until they came to a fork. One side led back to King Frederik; the other led over the Leute River's western branch into Tremont. They crossed the river at a shallow ford and kept going until they were well inside Tremont's borders, stopping at a clearing near the only cottage for miles. There they left the Princess Edmerka, naked and sleeping in the moonlight.