Stanley had gone with the team scouting northeast up the good road. Five day's travel had put them up into the mountains and in sight of a large stone fortress. The soldiers there had been relaxed, going about their duties properly, but with an attitude that completely lacked wariness.
"No enemies anywhere around." Matt Achley said, cracking his knuckles. The sergeant was leading the team of six privates that were doing the ordinary scouting. "Easy pickings."
Stanley wrinkled his nose and reached down to grab Dwarf Two. He sucked out the creature's power and focused it for a scan of the fort. "No magic, either."
The Sergeant licked his lips, "We could start right here, capture a nice strong fort, and sorte out from here."
"No local farms, though." Stanley pointed out. "We'd have to either find the nearest and hold them, or hold the road to the Gate."
"I've got two men checking that little road to the south. It's well maintained, may get a lot of traffic."
Stanley nodded and scratched his jaw. "We need to get up on one of those mountains and get a birds-eye view of everything around here."
Achley nodded, and studied the peaks. "That one looks like it would give us a view of the road through the mountains, as well as a good look to the north and west as well."
"Right." He frowned down at the little god. It wouldn't be able to climb. "I'll remain here, and see what your scouts find to the south."
May 25, 3494
"So, no one noticed a thing, at the Inn?" Stanley had already given his report to the Head and the Seniors. Denny was waiting to go in.
"Nah, apparently both their cooks were pregnant women, and they were both in labor." He licked his lips. "Good looking women, one of them had red hair down to her butt. I'll have to figure out how to get back there in a couple of months, see what her price is."
Stanley nodded. Priests didn't marry, so most of them kept women. Denny came from a rich family, and already owned two. They both shut up and listened as one of the other initiates started his report on the city to the southwest. They'd been here over a month; a quarter of the troops had crossed the gate and set up a permanent camp up a steep walled canyon. They called it Twin Columns, after the two vertical ends of the stony canyon walls. The narrow entrance between them made guarding the camp easy, and the little stream was sufficient for their needs.
Every week the common troops rotated through, taking the priests' reports and letting the whole company become familiar with the territory. From the talk he'd over heard, the troops on the far side had retreated to the west and set up a camp where they were unlikely to be spotted by anyone from Arrival who might be using the gate.
April 28, 3494
The Head Priest dismounted at the front door of the Inn, and handed his reins to Stanley. So did Senior Priest Hagood, and the grinning Denny and Keith.
Well it was actually a good idea, to not let their superiors go in without some backup. But he knew damn well that Denny and Keith had enjoyed making him the servant. And the Sergeant, and even worse, Dwarf Two, had seen it from concealment across the road. Damn it, he had a serious discipline problem brewing, and if he asked for help, or reassignment, he'd lose what thin grip he had on advancement.
He led the horses around to the stable, and scoped out the grounds, pretending he'd wanted to get a look at the rear of the building, and the barn. He brushed down the Head Priest's magnificent bay mare, and then his own, while the stable boy did the other three animals. He spotted where their tack was placed, and headed indoors, dodging around an old wreck of a Dun gelding on his way to the back door.
Inside, the Inn was warm and inviting, well lit. He was delighted to see that Denny and Keith had been relegated to a table at the back by the kitchen, and joined them. The Head Priest and the Senior Priest had glasses of glowing red wine before them. Keith and Denny had ale, and to his regret, the girl brought him a mug as well. Ah well, the view was well worth it. Hmm, this was clearly Denny's 'red hair down to her butt' girl. He'd left out the 'tall' and 'heavy breasted' from his description. Younger than Stanley expected, fresh faced and cheerful. Clearly the Inn's owner was a benevolent Master.
Their Superiors were putting on a good show. They'd had to hastily tailor clothing that matched the local styles, but the older men's was clearly of the finest material, and their rings and chains gleamed in the lantern light. The two of them shared the largest table, a polished round of warm red mahogany, placed before the fireplace with a respectful amount of space around it. Obviously the best table. A serving girl with a warm tan skin and silky brown wavy hair took a platter of fresh bread to them, and smiled at the Initiates as she passed by. Her breasts fill her bodice . . . very well.
Keith huffed out a breath. "She's damn near prettier than the red head."
An old man shuffled out of the kitchen door and walked behind the bar. He blinked around the room, empty but for the five of them, and then shuffled back into the kitchen.
A blonde girl even younger than the others, looking virginally innocent, brought them bread and a crock of butter. Another that could have been her twin walked out with soup for the head table.
Denny licked his lips. "I really like this place."
Stanley turned his head at a barely heard clatter outside the front door. The old man walked across and open the door. Through it, Stanley could see a matched foursome of creamy white horses, and the front edge of an ornate carriage. The driver hopped down, a tall handsome man who laughed and clapped the old man on the shoulder, before walking out of sight with him.
The stable boy appeared and stepped up to the driver's seat. The old man walked back in between two beautiful women. Gods! Didn't this world have any plain women?
Then the driver escorted in the Queen.
That was the impression Stanley got, a regal figure, impossibly young with exquisitely chiseled features, and an incredible figure in a sea foam green gown that brought out the deep green of her big dark lashed eyes. Stanley's mouth went dry, and his private parts all reported for duty.
The man sat her where the light shown on her rich golden hair and sparkled off diamonds in her delicate ears. She smiled as he sat down beside her. The other two, merely beautiful women sat themselves and eyed the Arbolians frankly.
The old man shuffled over to the open door and Stanley saw a pack of four ugly hounds looking in the door. They were all staring right at him, and as the door closed, Stanley rather thought they were all grinning. He heard the carriage drive off, and a few minutes later the clatter came from the rear of the tavern.
The redhead brought glasses and wine to the Queen's table, and one of the baby blondes brought bowls of soup to the Initiates.
The tan girl took plates of some sort of fish to the head table.
Keith leaned over and whispered, "They said to give us only the bread, soup and fowl courses. And this abominable ale."
"It's actually very good ale." Stanley murmured. "I'd like to see the kind of wine they serve if the ale's this good."
One of the blondes, balancing three plates of roast chicken, heard that. "Come down when your boss is abed and I'll give you a taste." She unloaded the chicken plates quickly and returned to the kitchen.
Denny elbowed him. "Oh, ho. Get you in trouble, that much scouting, youngster. You'd better let me do the wine tasting."
"I don't think she was inviting you. I think she wants me." Stanley tried to look smug and not make comparisons between the skinny blonde and the Queen. In fact he was trying hard to not look that direction at all. His bodily responses were more than a little embarrassing.
More courses came and went from the other two tables. And the wine flowed. Head Priest Menke was reputed to have a dozen women to service him at home, but he hadn't brought any on this military expedition. Not after the last debacle. Stanley wasn't a bit surprised to find him eyeing the Queen. The Senior Priest kept sneaking looks that direction as well.
Stanley occasionally used ordinary prostitutes, but not so frequently that he was feeling the lack. Or at least Stanley didn't think that was his problem. These gorgeous women just simply made him hungry. Unable to sit still he stepped out to the privy, for a moment. Walking back, the kitchen door opened suddenly and two black dogs bolted out. The red head, broom in hand, stared after them, muttering. ". . . dogs doing in the wine cellar . . ." she closed the door.
It was a beautiful night, crystal clear with a gibbous moon halfway up the sky. The coach stood in the yard, and the barn was dark. He spotted some horses out grazing on the hill, a breeding herd apparently. As he watched a darkish one mounted one of the pale ones, a sight which didn't help the state of his privates at all.
He walked back into the Inn, and the rosy glow of candles and lanterns. The Queen and her friends were giggling and eyeing their table. He gulped faintly. The blondes were out with new wine bottles for the two other tables He hoped the Uppers weren't going to get drunk, a wrong word could be disastrous. The red head walked in with three desserts and three half glasses of wine. "On the house." She winked and walked away with swaying hips emphasized by that long swinging hair.
Stanley flushed a bit embarrassed by the brazenness of her theft from her owner. In fact, offering herself for sex was theft too.
"Real Gods!" Denny cradled his glass of wine. "Taste this!"
Stanley tasted it. Fruity, oaken, smooth . . . all the terms rolled over and died of insufficiency. It was excellent.
He should speak to her about theft, especially theft of a vintage like this. He should speak to her Master. He rolled the wine around on his tongue and swallowed. He should gather up every penny he owned and see if he could afford five minutes with the Queen. He finished the wine slowly, and licked his lips.
Oh damn. The High Priest was going to beat him to it.
High Priest Andrew Menke, controller of the God of Death, walked over to the other table and looked the Queen up and down. She stiffened under his gaze. He turned to her Master.
"Exquisite. Just exquisite. How much for the whole night, exclusively?"
The Queen's eyes widened in disbelief, and her Master stood up seemingly slowly, twisting slightly as his right hand rose and closed and hit the High Priest square in the jaw.
The man exclaimed and grabbed his hand. The High Priest hit the floor with a thump and didn't move.
The Senior Priest leaped to his feet, hands moving to invoke a death spell, the Initiates leaped up knocking the chairs about and rushed to help. Four dogs burst in. Stanley tripped over a black one, fell flat and staggered to his feet and bumped the Senior Priest. And threw himself flat to avoid the misfired spell. He climbed back to his feet in time to see the dogs swarm the Senior, knocking him flat.
"Enough! Out, dogs." The Queen's Master was furious. He glared at the Arbolians, "And take your cur back to his kennel before I kill him."
The Queen was spending half her time glaring at the man on the ground, and the rest fluttering over her Master's injured hand.
He brushed off her fluttering, "Come along my beauty, reward me for my defense of your honor. " He scooped her up and strode out the front door. The dogs swirled after them and the door slammed.
The two women looked at each other, and burst into laughter. "Old Gods!" The darker blonde yelped. "How much?"
"He mistook her for a prostitute." The pale blonde wrapped her arms around her ribs and howled with laughter. "And Hell for her pimp." They headed, giggling, out the front door as the four serving girls came running in.