Friday, 16 October 2015

Chapter 5 - Sewing the Seed

Dusk departed the far northern lands of Alden Cross, with the shadow of night sweeping the mountainous range in deafening blackness. By the dim light of a simmering torch, Willow ran through the winding tunnel towards the cellar of the Lord’s Dalliance. As she reached the hidden stone wall, she doused her flame and listened intently to the far side. When no sound of scuff came from the wine cellar, she pushed in the pressure plate and slipped through. She crept up the stairs from the basement and could her first opportunity to blend in with the raucous guests that lingered drunkenly near the bar. Casually, she returned to her chamber, locking the door behind her. Before stripping her armour off, she found the wooden board she had loosened in the corner of the room and levered it up with her dagger. She carefully placed the vial of poison in the shadowed hole, next to the runic metal brand she had taken from the prison.
As she lifted her pendant over her head, she held it to her lips for a moment, inhaling deeply through her nose. She had infiltrated a watchtower guarded by more than one hundred men. She had walked right through the keep's front doors in plain sight, trusting in the magic from a vial and her own ability to go unnoticed. She had come face to face with the legendary Lord Commander, and she had kept strong to her task. It was pride that swelled her chest. Though his stare may have incited fear in her heart, it was but a drop in an ocean compared to the fear her Dark Prince incited in her soul. She served him, and while she served him, she would face anything he asked of her.

After changing from her armour, she found most of the group and called a meeting in her chamber. Although she looked for Pellius throughout the inn, no one had seen him return after their mission was completed within the forest. As they dragged the table from the corner and unfurled the parchment map of the tower, Willow looked to the others.
“You were successful?” she asked Garvana.
Though she was sure that they had been, for they had returned on time, she did not miss the fragile state they were in. She could hear Garvana's staggered chest wheezing, and saw strange bite marks on Mathias that had barely closed over.
“We were,” Garvana grunted.
Willow frowned, looking for more of an explanation. When none came, she sighed.
“And?” she said, “Are the captain and all of his rangers taken care of?”
“Dead,” Mathias snapped, “Yes. Clearly, or we wouldn’t be here.”
“And Pellius?”
“No idea,” he grouched, “Took off after we finished. Thought he’d be back here.”
Willow shook her head and began scribbling the details she could remember from each room she passed within the watchtower. She explained what she came across, focusing on the features of each room and its number of doors, windows, guards and weapon stashes. When she spoke of the Commander, she noted the sickening aura that radiated from him, yet downplayed the fear and terror he had made her feel. She hoped they didn't notice the way her voice spiked as she mentioned him.

It was an our later that Pellius returned, with a look of subtle defeat furrowing his brow. He explained that he had also tried to infiltrate the keep looking for information on its layout and weaponry. His solo mission had not been so successful. Willow couldn't help but smirk when he told her how he had lost his weapons within his first five minutes. She listened to his story, and watched the sweat form on his forehead as he spoke of his encounter with the commander. She took a little solace in the fact that Pellius, the strong and proud dark paladin, felt the same fear that she did.
As she listened, she filled in the map with the details he provided of the lower levels of the watchtower.
“This is good,” Willow commented, writing out a list of priorities for their siege upon the tower, “Very good.”
They designated tasks out for the next day, each of them to source more information from different avenues. As they said their goodnights, Willow wandered down the stairs to the bar, and struck up easy conversation once again with the innkeeper. Getting answers through flattery and friendly prodding was always the easiest way. The man was a major gossip, if anyone had the information she needed, it was him.

As the sun rose over the mountains on the following morning, Willow donned her adventuring gear, braided her hair into pigtails and dotted her cheeks with carmine. They had developed a rouse to inspect the tower’s main defences and the gatehouse itself. She was to play the part of an innocent faced noble, na├»ve and young seeking glory passed the infamous wall. She was always so convincing when she tried to look young and innocent, she had spent much of her life before her downfall acting the same part.
She met Pellius in the dining area, chuckling at his gruff mercenary outfit, and ushered him out the door. They strode up to the keep on horseback, with the task of information on the layout, defences and specific weaponry. Two guards stood at the front gates, watching their approach.
“I am the Lady Kathryn of House Fairholm of Matharyn,” she said proudly, “And I wish to pass through this tower and head into the northern lands.
“The north is no place for a noble lady such as yourself,” the guard frowned.
“Yes yes, so I’ve heard,” she said, rolling her eyes, “So many people with opinions on what is and isn't a place for this lady. Nevertheless, I wish to head north.”
The guard looked in questions over her shoulder to Pellius. Looking severely unimpressed, he simply shrugged.
“Madam, I do not think you understand what you're asking,” said the other guard, wide eyed, “The north is a savage place full of horrifying dangers!”
Willow cocked an eyebrow and smiled coldly.
“My dear soldier,” she said softly, “I do not believe it is your place to question what it is I do or do not understand. I wish to see the infamous north for myself. So fetch the captain and let us get things moving.”
The guards looked to one another; one shrugged and the other shook his head. After a short time, an unfortunate unattractive man clad in heavy steel armour, approached Willow with a face of clear annoyance. He looked her up and down and shook his head.
“So you want to enter the north,” snapped the captain, “Look mam, outside that wall is no joke, no pleasure cruise, no royal hunt. Its savage lands, bloodthirsty beasts and imminent death. What in the world could a child like you want with it?”
“Adventure captain!” Willow said, brightly wide eyed.
“There's plenty of sheep to chase south of the wall,” he grunted.
Willow raised her unimpressed eyebrows, “Maybe I like to chase really big sheep.”
Not a single muscle in the captain’s face moved, “They're called cows."
His lip pulled up in a hint of a smile as he chuffed at his own joke.
“Captain,” Willow said firmly, “I wish to head north. I thank you for your opinion and advice, but it is my decision. And I will be heading north.”
The captain stared into her eyes for a moment before his shoulders slumped slightly in defeat.
He looked behind her at Pellius, “And you're letting her do this?”
“Not my call,” Pellius replied curtly, “Family's paying me good gold to follow her around wherever she wants to gallivant.”
Scoffing in response, the captain simply shook his head and led them into the keep. She slid gracefully form her steed and guided it through the entryway. Looking around with inquisitive eyes, Willow took note of how many guards were stationed and where. She noted the large iron barred double doors on the southern side of the bridge, the twenty foot drawbridge on the northern side, the murder-holes in the gatehouse and large cast iron pots around the edge of the ten foot murder-hole in it's ceiling. She entered the gatehouse and stood in front of the large iron portcullis keeping her from the savage north. In perfect feigned anxiety and fright, she stared at the gate wide eyed, and looked through the murder holes.
“I-Is all this really n-necessary?” she stuttered.
“Of course it is,” the captain said sternly, “The evil terrors of the north could not be contained otherwise. Last chance, do you still wish to go?”
Willow faked flustered.
“Yes! Of course. B-but,” she stammered, “I've, i've... left my good boots behind! Yes! In the inn! I must go get them!”
She spun on her heel, pulling her horse with shaking hands, striding back towards the entry. She saw the captain and Pellius make eye contact, mirrored faces of annoyance and frustration. As they mounted their horses and continued towards the town, when she was sure they were out of earshot of the keep, Willow innocently batted her eyelids at Pellius.
“Oh, my dear captain,” she said patronisingly, “I think it's the evil terrors right under your nose that you need to be worrying about…”

As the twilight hours of dusk came and the group returned to the inn, they all had news to share. Willow and Pellius filled in the map with further details, drawing out the important pieces of weaponry they knew they’d have to disable. Mathais had spent his day listening in to news on the missing patrol. The priest of the tower had begun an investigation, suspecting foul play after evidence of a battle was found at the camp site. Garvana had been searching for information on the commander's late wife, and found only that it had been a decade since her demise. Willow was impressed when she heard Teelee talk of her day spent with Captain Mott's wife. She had not only found out about an affair with Captain Eddarly, but she had found out that once again they would meet for a secret rendezvous that night. They devised a plan to stir discontent in the captain ranks, forging an anonymous note with the details, waiting until the cover of night to deliver it.
Relaxing by the fireplace in the tavern, it was passed midnight when word came in rush from a band of soldiers. Mott had caught the pair in each others arms, and had issued a formal challenge of duel at the hour of dawn.

As they slept through the hours of night, Willow woke with a burning rush that seared down her body. She couldn't stop a moan from escaping as she forced herself up and the heat pulsed in fiery bliss. She tried to concentrate through the searing warmth; something was close, something with a strong connection to Asmodeus. She forced herself to ignore the burn so she could determine where it was coming from, but by the time she had narrowed it down to the rooms to the right of her, the feeling vanished. Breathing heavily, she laid her head down, waiting for the feeling to return. After an hour she felt her eyes drift close. It was a curiosity to be sure, but she smiled, basking in the residual warmth as she fell back into the lands of slumber.

As the sun rose over the mountains, Willow and the others stood with the crowd of townsfolk and watched the two men prepare to duel. Mott was a sturdy fierce man, solid in his defence as he waited for an opening. It did not take long, Mott was not there to simply teach the man a lesson. When his chance came, he lunged and cleave down his halberd deep into Eddarly's chest. As he slumped to the ground in a shower of scarlet, Mott pulled his bloodstained weapon free as the crowd cried out in horror. Duelling unto death, a crime punishable by beheading. A man resigned to his fate, he did not struggle as the guards in the crowd surrounded him and put him under arrest.
While the others went to watch the sentencing and explore more of the keep, Willow was struck with an idea. Three of the watch’s captains were now either dead or incarcerated. There was one last captain that they had to eliminate. She returned to the inn, and spoke to the innkeeper Bellum, the brother of Captain Sam Barhold. With a few sly hints and sighs of admiration, he winked and promised to introduce her to him next time he came in for a meal.
The others returned from the watchtower with the tragic news of Mott’s sentence. As they gathered around the table in Willow’s chamber, she was pleased with the decision to begin their assault and start sewing the seed of fear and angst into the ranks of the watchtower. Their first target was the rookery. With no quick way for the guards to call for reinforcements, they could take their time and thin out the defences, one by one.
They waited until dark, and together crept out into the tunnel, carrying a tray of meat laced with enough arsenic to poison hundreds of ravens. They followed the winding passage by torchlight, clad in armour, weapons strapped tight. As the stone wall into the vault scraped open, a sudden squeal had Willow’s head snap up. Bellum Barhold stood in front of her, two bottles of wine in hand, a face stricken with fright. Willow cursed as dove over the barrels, narrowing dodging the shatter of glass as he threw the bottle on impulse. She swiftly tumbled and landed on her feet, lunging in quickly with her dagger poised at the back of his neck.
“I'd suggest you stay calm,” she warned quietly, “And keep your voice down.”
“Y-yes, yes,” he said shakily, “I think I’ll do that.”
She pressed the dagger a little firmer on the back of his neck, “Calmly, quietly, inside the tunnel.”
With trembling hands held high, he fumbled into the tunnel with his hands up.
Willow sighed, looking to Pellius, “What are we going to do with him?”
“Do it!” Garvana said, staring fiercely at the dagger Willow was holding.
With a furrowing brow, Willow’s mind raced for a way out, for any other solution.
“Who are you people?!” Bellum stuttered loudly, “What are you planning?”
With an exhaled of frustration and anger, she grabbed his hair and held tight as she drove the dagger into the top of his spine, killing him as quickly and painlessly as she could. He fell forward as his body collapsed to the floor. She hissed out a breath, cursing viciously under her breath.
“It had to be done,” Pellius said sombrely.
“I know that!” Willow snapped, “It does not mean I am glad for it.”
He gave her a moment, as she continued to curse under her breath. Frustrating as it may have been, she understood that he needed to die. She saw no other way around it.
“Come along, my lady,” Pellius said gently, “We have much to do. There will be many sacrifices along our path, it is what must be done…”

Using the strange arcana of their circlets, they formed their frames to mirror the guards and servants. Willow took the lead, carrying the large tray of raw meat, passing guards on watch as she walked up the winding staircase towards the rookery. As she reached the door, the others hid as she knocked.
“What da ya want?” a voice grouched.
“I’ve got feed for the ravens,” Willow called, “Come on now, the trays heavy!”
“They’ve already got their dinner,” he barked.
“Come on Martin,” she sighed, “Commander’s orders. He’s worried some one might have tried to poison the birds, what with all this strange happenings around the keep.”
“Poison ya say?” he questioned worriedly, “Why’d they do a thing like that?”
“Martin!” Willow snapped, “I’ve spent the last hour carving this damn boar, my shift is done, my kids are waitin’. Just let me in!”
With muttered grumbling, she heard the sound of several locks being unlatched. As he opened the door, Willow smiled and handed him the tray. As the weight fell heavy in his hands, she slyly unsheathed her dagger and walked in the rookery passed him.
“Let me get the other tray,” she sighed, “Damn birds.”
As she strolled passed him, Pellius suddenly leaped from his hiding place, ploughing into the frail man and rushed him backwards into the room. Mathias dove from behind the pillar, lunging forward and piercing Martin's chest with the rapier. As a cry of pain and surprise escaped his mouth, Willow leaped in from the side and plunged her dagger deep into his windpipe. It was quick and efficient, and most importantly relatively quiet. They set up the poisoned meat for the ravens and quickly searched Martin's belongings, using his keys to lock in his corpse and the feasting birds. As the sound of a signal horn blew a short burst, signalling the change of the guard shifts, they quickly descended the stairs back towards the hidden tunnel. With their small objective completed, they made their return to the inn, sheltered by the cover of darkness and the warmth of success.

The dawn sun rose, as Willow woke with an uneasy stomach. They had made their first real offensive move, and it was one that would surely be noticed. She knew alone, she would be able to blend in to the crowds and remain unseen. But there was nothing subtle about the group. They would just have to take it one day at a time, and always keep their main objectives priority; opening the gates, killing the commander and firing the signal rocket.
She dressed and strapped her daggers to her thighs, before headed downstairs to pretend to wait for breakfast. The group had decided the best plan to deal with the innkeepers sudden disappearance would be to pretend to know nothing. Keep their stories simple and act as shocked as everyone else.
When the barmaid arrived for work and the front door was still locked, she ran off to fetch the guards. Minutes later, Father Donnigan and Captain Barhold arrived, flanked by four guards. The captain barged the door open with his shoulder, shattering the lock, flinging it from the frame. The father had a friendly but firm tone as he requested for all of the inn's patrons to gather and await questioning. One by one the group were called in for solitary interviews.
As Garvana was called into the office first, Willow watched on with a look of feigned concern and confusion. It was almost a genuine look. The masculine woman may of had a strange approach to her life and duty, but she had grown on Willow. She did not want her to be captured. She did not want any of the bound to get captured, for they were her only allies in this world, and she knew not if they were strong enough to withstand interrogation and keep their secrets hidden.
While she waited for her turn, Willow mused on the curiosity of the souls she was bound to. Garvana was an odd woman, to say the least. But she had a twisted sense of humour and a strange intensity Willow liked. Teelee was a quiet and spoilt child, that much was always apparent. But she seemed to have a brilliant mind hidden underneath the layers of her cossetted attitude. Pellius was charming, handsome and arrogant. All bad things for Willow, but so very much fun. And even Mathias had a certain charm himself. An old fashioned misogynistic gentleman, who clearly believed women were below him. He had that kicked puppy charm about him; been wronged by the world, the black sheep, the underdog. Willow did not want to see any of them captured. For they had formed a strange sort of bond, and also because rescuing them spelt more work for her later on.
Willow and Pellius had spoken briefly of a plan if they were to be questioned. A ruse of an affair, giving plenty of cause for a story that may have lacked a few clear facts or held a few mistakes. As they sat and waited for their turn, he made eye contact with Willow and cocked his eyebrow in question. The corner of Willow's mouth turned up in a smirk as she placed her hand high on his thigh in answer.
As Teelee was called in and Garvana was escorted back to her seat, Willow wanted to know what was asked, and what she had said. But the four guards were keeping a fairly close eye on them and she knew better than to risk it. When it was Pellius’ turn, Willow squeezed his upper thigh slightly digging her nails in before he stood, making sure he knew that she had understood his plan. After only a few minutes, that felt much longer, she saw the door open and watched Pellius stroll back to the table. They pointed to Mathias and ushered him inside the small chamber. Pellius sat down and leaned back in his chair, placing his hand on Willow's thigh, squeezing tightly.
The anticipation grew as Willow waited for herself to be beckoned forth, and as the old man strode out with his usual swagger, she forced herself not to roll her eyes at him. She scoffed in her head, there was something about him that blossomed an irrational need to act like a child. The guards escorted her into the office, and indicated for her to a seat against the wall.
“Sorry for the trouble,” Father Donnigan said sincerely, “But we need to ask you a few questions, miss...?”
Willow smiled gently.
“Fairholm,” she said sweetly, “Lady Kathryn Fairholm.”
The priest furrowed his brow, “Fairholm? Minor noble house of -”
“- Lendaryl, Matharyn Province, yes,” Willow answered for him.
“Ah yes,” he said, “I remember reading something about your family...”
Willow smiled, “Of my Father no doubt, Theodore Fairholm, works as a diplomat in the Lendaryl Mayor's office.”
“Ah, I see. Yes, Theodore,” the priest muttered, “Lands of wheat, yes?”
“Corn, Father,” Willow corrected.
“Ah yes. Corn,” he nodded, looking up from his note book, “The odd thing is I remember young Lady Kathryn was a beautiful thing of brown ashen hair...”
Willow gave him a wry smile, “Oh I’m sorry father, you must be mistaken. Our family tree has been laden with hair of aubrun for generations.”
She tried to sound helpful, “Perhaps you're thinking of the Fairmont's from Aberthall? I studied with their eldest, Lady Caitlyn, long brown hair. And I believe they grew wheat as well?”
Father Donnigan smiled, “Perhaps.”
“Alright Lady Fairholm,” he said, “When did you last see Mr Barhold, the innkeeper?”
Willow frowned, “Bellum? Why, yesterday lunchtime I suppose. Why is that? Is he alright?”
“That is what I’m here to find out Lady Fairholm,” he said, “You knew him on a first name basis? Can I ask what your relationship was with him?”
“It was a mutual love of fine wines,” she said truthfully, “Such a connoisseur, great selection, impressive taste. Oh my, I hope nothing has happened to him.”
“As do we all. And may I ask, how did he seem yesterday?”
“Just as normal, happy to take my gold and feed me wine,” she chuckled.
“I see,” he said humourlessly, “May I enquire as to what brought you into town?”
“Oh, adventure Father,” she said bright eyed, “I had planned on adventuring north of the wall, but alas, the solicitous captain I spoke with persuaded me otherwise.”
“Indeed,” he said, not looking up from his note book, “And you are adventuring alone?”
Willow chuckled again, “Of course not, Father. Johnston, my bodyguard, is with me ever vigilant.”
“Indeed,” he repeated, “And what were you doing last night?”
Willow feigned a look of fluster, “Late dinner, a bit of light reading.”
“And is that all?”
“Well... no... Father...” Willow forced a blush, “There was some.... other...”
“Other?” he queried.
She looked down at her hands and begun twirling her fingers, “A... visit, with Mr Johnston.”
The priest looked up from his book, “Please be more specific Lady Fairholm.”
“Father!” she said in indignation, “You would not ask a Lady to verbalise those activities, would you?”
“I do apologise Lady Fairholm,” he said genuinely, “But with the nature of the crimes we are investigating, I’m afraid I must insist.”
Willow hung her head and stuttered, “Yes Father. I-I went to him.. and... w-we lay together.”
“In his room, you say?” he said, without missing a beat.
Willow froze momentarily. A simple detail, but they had not covered such things.
“Yes Father,” she continued, her head bowed avoiding eye contact.
She figured Pellius would take the dominant road and make things on his terms. A sudden fear simmered in her stomach, she could only hope she was right.
“Thank you, child,” he said, “Oh, and one last question, did you two come into town alone?”
Willow looked up and quirked her head, “No, we followed a group of others here. As my father says, safety in numbers.”
“Specific names of the people in the group, Lady Fairholm?”
“Oh Father,” she said wide eyed and innocent, “I'm sorry, I just don’t remember the common rabble. Maybe one of two of the others staying here?”
“Very well,” he said dryly, “Well thank you Lady Fairholm, you may head back outside. We'll call you back if we need more information.”
Willow stood from her seat and shyly made her way out of the office. As she returned to her seat, Garvana was called upon again. She rose from her seat and returned to the office, looking determined and fearless. Willow was desperate to ask Pellius of his answer, but the watchful eye of the guards satyed her once again. A few moments later, Garvana was carried out of the room by Captain Barhold, gagged and bound. She struggled against her bonds, until she tied securely and placed behind the bar guarded by a soldier. Willow let out a gasp of shock and used the opportunity to huddle against Pellius.
She turned her faced to his neck and whispered, “Your room, right?”
He placed a comforting arm over her shoulder and squeezed.
“Yeah,” he said, “It'll be alright miss.”
Willow exhaled in relief. She frowned when Father Donnigan called for Teelee again. As she leant forward, they sat in silence while they waited. After only a few minutes, they walked Teelee out with her hands bound behind her back. As the priest and the captain closed up the office, Willow felt Pellius shift in his chair. She quickly laid a staying hand on his shoulder, squeezing firm. One of the guards looked at her questioningly, but she merely batted her eyelids in feigned worry and shock. As the guards dragged Garvana and Teelee out through the doors, the priest addressed the remaining guests.  
“You are free to go,” he said politely, “I thank you for your time and patience. I am afraid you will have to find other accommodation, for the Lord’s Dalliance will be closed until further notice.”
Willow stood up, and rushed over to Father Donniagan, placing a gentle hand on his wrist.
“But Father,” she pleaded, “We were told this was the only inn that would take travellers. Where will we stay? Surely I’m not to sleep in a tent?!”
She did not care for sleeping in a tent, but it really did not matter. The ruse of keeping up appearances did.
He looked at her with empathetic eyes, “No of course not my child, head to the Brassbell at your earliest convenience. I shall send word and have a room available for you.”
“Oh thank you father, thank you...”

She quickly scaled the stairs and collected her belongings from her chamber, being swift and quiet about retrieving the items from her hidden plank. She slid the brand down her corset and stuffed the poison vial in her slip, putting the pendant around her neck, slipping it in her shirt. She handed Pellius the rest of her gear at the top of the stairs, muffling a laugh at his unimpressed look as she slinked down to the dining area. They found the Brassbell with little trouble, an establishment of higher class than the last. The bellhop greeted them at the door and ushered them inside the grand waiting chamber. He told them that Father Donnigan had already sent word along and had arranged a few suitable rooms.
“We'll take two rooms for five nights,” Willow said politely, smiling at the luxurious interior of the parlour.
“A room is twenty gold a night, my lady,” said the bellhop, “Paid in advance, of course.”
“Twenty!” barked Pellius, in his mercenary accent, “We only need one room!”
Willow rolled her eyes and thought it over, it would be much easier to escape by night if need be, if they were in the same room.
“Fine,” she huffed, “We'll take the one room, thank you.”
The bellhop looked shocked.
“My Lady,” he whispered scandalously, “The rooms only have one bed, large as they may be.”
Willow raised her eyebrow.
“We'll take the one room,” she said sternly.
“Yes, my lady,” he replied with a bow.
After showing them to their chamber, and he bowed to them before turning for the door, Willow saw the corner of his mouth lift up in the smallest of smirks as he made eye contact with Pellius. Once alone, Willow searched the room for somewhere she could stash her forbidden items, as Pellius went in search of breakfast. After testing the wooden floorboards and wall panels, she found a loose pane in one of the cupboards, removing it to fashion a small hidden alcove. She quickly slid her pendant, the vial of poison, the brand into the drawer before sealing it closed.
It was close on midday by the time she had settled and Pellius returned with food. She sat in the window seat that faced the keep, as she picked at her poached eggs, half expecting to have an army of guards charging down the hill towards her at any point in time. Mathias visited their chamber after lunch, remaining vague about his whereabouts, declining their offer to stay together. They wasted the day away by going over the rescue mission. Arousing more suspicion now would only indicate to the guards that there are more conspirators. The brands on both Garvana's and Teelee's wrists would be enough to have them locked up and awaiting their return to Branderscar. It would be at best weeks before the inquisitors could arrive to escort them back to their fates. The three of them knew they would be more likely to be successful in rescuing their companions if they tried when the keep was weakened.

When the sun set on that first night, Willow stepped out of the bath and entered the living area dressed only in her nightgown, her long auburn hair wet and flowing down her back. As she sat in the window seat and looked up at the bright shine of the moon, she realised that she had never shared a bed with any other man than her husband. She could not help but think about the dead weight he used to be. He was such a fine specimen of manhood. Sculpted torso, chiselled features, handsome face. A righteous, virtuous, faithful man. And yet, she felt nothing for him. She never did. She spent years of her life trying to force the feelings, she truly and honestly tried to learn to love him. He gave her his heart in full, and she still did not feel a thing for him. Not for all his suffering, his sacrifice and duty. He was weak. Pathetic. Ruled by a sense of fairness and justice – he embodied everything she despised about the lands of Talingarde.
She watched Pellius in the reflection in the window, as he stripped his shirt over his head, she watched the muscles across his back flex and release. She watched him bend forward and unstrap his boots, his firm behind strong and thick as the muscles craned down the back of his thighs. She tore her eyes away, chastising herself for her deliciously inappropriate thoughts.
“I know little about you, Pellius,” she said quietly, “The curious and handsome man from the far lands of Cheliax.”
“Handsome?” he repeated, a sly grin on his lips.
“Do not be coy,” Willow chuckled, “You are more than aware you are handsome. Tell me of yourself, what are you doing in Talingarde?”
“My lady,” he frowned, a guarded expression coming over his face, “I do not wish to speak of it. You will forgive me if I wish to keep my secrets as my own.”
Willow’s eyebrow arched in intrigue.
“You do not trust me?” she asked, a smirk lifting her lips, “Then you are wiser than I gave you credit. We are bound together, this is true. Yet, none of us know more of each other than simple crimes and reasons of our capture.”
She looked to him, a peculiar gleam to her eye. A strange curiosity he indeed was. She could feel Asmodeus within him, she knew his connection to her Dark Prince was strong and true.
“We do not have any other allies in this country,” she said, “We are alone. We will have to learn to trust one another in time. Of all of our allies, I feel the most drawn to you. Perhaps I can show you a little of me, for you may be the only one of the bound who can understand it…”
She stood from the window seat, strolling to her pack and removed the small silk pouch. She sprinkled the crimson grains of dried blood so lightly along the floor that the shape she was making was barley perceivable. As she finished the fifth point on the inverted pentagram, she stood back, inhaling sharply as she unlaced and dropped her nightgown. The cold chill seeping through the windowpane feathered against her bare skin. She delicately stepped into the centre of the star and lowered herself into a kneel. The spark of excitement ran through her veins, the nerves and anxious trembles pulsed low in her stomach. She had been praying this way since she was old enough to first truly feel the Lord of the Nine, but she had never prayed this way under the eyes of someone else.
“Hail, Asmodeus,” she whispered, the first wave of heat lick her flesh, “Deliver me from chaos that I may serve you in eternity. Unmake the lies of my body and reshape my soul in your design.”
As her rasped chant continued, the waves of warmth began to burn and simmer. She repeated the words she seared into her brain, begging her Prince for the chance to serve him. By the sixth round, she was chanting in between aching whimpers. The seventh, her knees began to buckle and her hands began to shake. The eighth, her chest was heaving as tears welled in her eyes, the blissful agony of Hell’s fiery rapture overwhelming her senses.  As the ninth chant fell barely audible from her lips, she cried out through clenched teeth with the final wave of searing inferno swarming through her. The euphoric pain of her Infernal Prince’s touch blazed through her limbs, scorched it’s way through her chest and crushed her slender frame in it’s grip. Obediently, she held herself perfectly still while He settled in her veins, encompassing her in his profane and fiery wrath. It was only as his frightening grasp release, that she free her trembling exhale. On shaking and weathered legs she stood. She wiped away the grains with her foot, tenderly turning for the bed. She could feel the piercing gaze of Pellius’ sight, but she could not face questions or queries now. As she slid under the silken covers, she closed her eyes and willed sleep to take her quickly.

It would be Moonday that they would push their assault on Balentyne. They planned to meet early morning before the dawn, in the cellar of the Lord’s Dalliance, before making their way through the passage and into the tower.
Ealry Sunday evening, they ate and finished preparations for their tasks. Willow had snuck out earlier that day to steal a few bottles of wine from the cellar, sharing a few too many with Pellius over dinner. As she did every night, Willow bathed and dressed her hair with liquid myrrh cinnamon and cassia. The easy haze of warmed velvet wine settled well within her mind. As she watched Pellius change in the far corner of the bedchamber, his sharp physique and bare skin feeding her excitement, she felt the rapturous need for carnal pleasure. Slowly, she prowled towards him. Her long locks slicked along her back, her pale skin shimmering against the candlelight. She wore only the black laced slip, slim straps that draped the fabric loosely across her naked flesh beneath. As he heard her approach and tied his drawers around his waist, her turned to her, brow arched in question. She did not say a thing as she slowly sauntered towards him. She stared into his eyes, thrilled to see the mirrored spark of desire lit within his gaze. As she reached him, she traced her finger intimately slow, along his collarbone and upward along his neck. As she slid her fingers over his chin, she gently pulled his head downward. When he did not refuse or resist, the thundering need of lust overcame her senses. She lifted her head, bringing her lips to meet his, in a gentle and soft kiss. As her tongue slowly slipped between his lips to tenderly seek his, a wave of heat undulated through her limbs. Though the caress began as a leisurely exploration, he suddenly gripped her waist in a frightening embrace. He pulled her to him, crushing her small frame against his firm chest, his kiss deepening as his fingers latched through her hair. Their touch became almost desperate, teeth scraping against flesh, nails digging deep into each others skin. She ripped her mouth from him and rasped a panted breath. As he released her, she watched his eyes flash a fiery and fearsome scarlet. With a deep grin, she turned from him and slinked over to her bag, pulling free out a firm leather riding crop. As she had been strolling through the town that day, she had seen them in the window of a stable house, and been struck with the lecherous and sinful idea. As she walked on trembling legs, she knelt down and raised the crop up in both hands. She turned her head and looked deep within his curious and intense gaze.
“Will you help me pray?” she rasped, a tone tickled with mischief.
He prowled slowly to her, standing above her as his consuming gaze began to devour. She stared up through her eyelashes and shivered as he grabbed the crop by its handle and tested it with a loud lash to his hand. He grinned, disarming and sinful.

“This we give our Infernal Father, our obedience to him above all else...”

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