Some of the palace guard fingered their weapons and looked sullen, but there were good reasons for standing still. The first was the pile of ash where the Master-At-Arms had stood, the second was Will Spearshaker's cries of mingled pain and relief as the moat cooled his hot armor. The third and fourth good reasons were the gleam in each of the dragon's eyes as her snout swung back and forth across their ranks in continued threat. Hal followed up his advantage.
"Two of you, get your cloaks off and give them to the girls."
Hal's hand pointed towards Caelia and Chelinde, huddled together in their nakedness and staring at their father's powdery remains gently blowing away in the wind. An upsetting sight, slightly softened by the fact that the Master-At-Arms had always been a total bastard to everyone who'd had the misfortune of knowing him, especially his own family. But before anybody could move a patch of air between the soldiers and Hal clouded over as though a tiny fog patch was forming there, no bigger than a man -- and forming into the ghostly outline of a man's figure.
An old man, a hunched man, a man with no hair above his ears and a white beard down to his belt, holding a long staff and wearing furs that belonged to no animal that had ever prowled in these mountains. Gaunt Gregory, Chief warlock to King Argud, somehow appearing to them all as a shadow of his real self. Instinctively, every soldier glanced at the castle, where the warlock had lived as long as any could remember, as homebound in his tower chamber as a miller's donkey tethered to a grinding stone.
There, on the nearest wall, was the hulking figure of the King, waving his arms in great excitement, and beside him stood the dwarfish figure of his warlock. They saw the smaller man lifting his staff, as tall as himself, and point it down towards the moat. At the same moment the warlock's apparition also raised its staff and pointed. At the place where both staffs were aimed was a head and flailing arms, the arms desperately struggling to support their owner's head above the filthy ooze of the moat. None of the witch's supernatural skills seemed to avail her now as she fought to keep her mouth and nose out of the squalid slime she was slowly sinking into.
Gaunt Gregory's words came not through Hal's ears, but like something felt in the twilight time between sleeping and waking, some message shining from snows on a mountain peak no mortal could scale: "Save her, boy, save her! The King commands it!"
Not only was Hal made aware of the warlock's appeal, so were the soldiers. They stared at him, then snapped to attention, as though the fools expected Hal to start drilling them. What orders did they think a bollock naked shitbucket emptier could give them? Yet suddenly he was doing exactly that.
"Who's senior rank leader?"
A gray mustached veteran clapped a hand to his cross-bow. "I am, boy."
Corporal Clint O'The East Wood would have died rather than take orders from Hal but that wasn't an option on offer. Subjects who failed both the King and the Chief warlock in important matters suffered far worse fates than simply ceasing to exist.
"Get that net. Use your swords to cut it apart. Tie three of the long lengths of rope together. Then give me one end with a loop in it. I'm going to try to walk out far enough on Josephine's tail to throw it to the witch. Keep hold of the other end and when the witch has hold of the loop, haul her in. You understand?"
"Aye, boy, aye."
It wasn't in the Corporal's training to throw a weapon onto the ground but he put down his crossbow with the greatest possible speed, pulled out his blade and went at the net as though it were a living enemy. Hal turned to Josephine, pointed at the witch, and then at the dragon's tail.
"Can I walk along your tail to help the woman?"
Josephine growled, then snorted, a hint of flames as insubstantial as the warlock's ghost flickering at her nozzles. The dragon was usually in a good humor, but apparently not where witches were concerned. Not witches who handled their broomsticks like a tipsy gipsy aloft on an unbroken colt, nor yet witches who treated anything on the wing as unfortunate flying objects. Josephine was still deeply in the grip of sky rage.
"Please, Josephine, the King and the Chief warlock have commanded me to help the witch. Can you help me?"
A sickly shade of green appeared on her skin: Hal understood her doubts only too well. The further he moved down her tail, the harder it would be for Josephine to support his weight on it.
"Well, the best you can do, my lady. And quickly!"
Her colors flickered and changed on her coat of scales again, and then she was backing her haunches over the edge of the moat, then her back legs, reluctance showing in every moment as she came into contact with the filth. Her tail she held as high as she could until she was half lying on the bank and half floating in the moat, and then she let it drop straight down on top of the partly dissolved turds floating in the scum. Hal noted with surprise the depths and intensity of the shades Josephine was now displaying: he couldn't imagine where a nice young female dragon had learnt so much bad language. Then his attention was broken by two men-at-arms running up to him with the looped end of a rope between them. With them was Corporal Clint.
"All ready, sir."
"Get your men to on the other end and to be ready to haul like carthorses. I need a man here at the moat's edge to put a turn of rope around one of the dragon's back spikes if you need her help in hauling the witch out."
"Aye, boy." Corporal Clint O'The East Wood turned and pointed to one of the soldiers. "You, when I shout, go ahead -- make my belay."
Hal grabbed the loop and stepped onto the base of Josephine's tail. Which was a big problem itself. The needle sharp spikes that ran down her back extended along her tail as well, gradually getting smaller but no blunter. Right here they were as long as dagger blades and he had to step between them with his toes pointed inward like a pigeon's. An uncomfortable position, rendered much more uncomfortable by the thought that if he slipped and fell astride the dragon's tail the spikes would instantly make sure that Caelia and Chelinde would not only be the first girls he'd ever fucked, they'd be the last ones as well.
"Fria and Odon, Fria and Odon, help me, please!"
He began moving. One step, two steps, three, with the slime of the moat lapping around his ankles, the dragon's scales becoming slippery underfoot. Exactly as they had both feared, the further along Josephine's tail he went, the harder it was for her to keep it up above the moat's surface.
Hal stopped to regain his swaying balance and stared slack jawed at what was happening out in the moat. For now the warlock's mirage was hovering directly in front of the witch, arm and staff outstretched above her.
Somehow he seemed to be supporting her because both her arms were raised above the mire, one pointing towards the castle and one towards Hal. And close to the castle wall her broomstick was rising again. Splintered and broken in the middle, the front half drooping down, its bundle of twigs mostly burnt off, spattered in filth, but still rising up into the air as lightly as a feather above a fireplace. The broomstick stopped at knee height above the moat and swung around as slowly as a rusty weathercock touched by a summer breeze.
Then, close to Hal, a great bubble of air burst amidst the floating scum, hard by where the witch's cat was still buried, the tom's tail marking its last resting place. Hal hoped so anyway, since it was his fist which had sent the feline familiar tumbling down into the deep shite, and the memory of its malevolent green eyes would haunt his nightmares for many nights to come. Yet even as he looked the thickly furred tail began to disappear into the moat as if it were a plant which was shrivelling instead of growing. Perhaps it meant the final destruction of the savage creature which had torn his flesh and nearly done much worse to his balls.
As the tail vanished more bubbles broke on the surface of the moat like farts from a carthorse's bum, each one releasing a tiny rainbow of color and smells which were far worse than any privy bucket Hal had ever emptied. Then a head appeared in amongst them and green eyes opened which turned towards Hal in pure hatred again. Yet this wasn't a cat which had surfaced, but a toad: a toad as big as the cat had been, a toad of brown and yellow, with masses of red tinged warts and spikes, an apparition so unlike anything in nature that one look was enough to know it as a perverse parody of anything the Gods had intended to live on earth.
Hal shivered in fear as he realized that nightmares were nothing compared to seeing a terrible enemy resurrected. The toad came swimming and slopping on its belly towards him, as near to being in its own element as any creature could be in this foul bog. It stopped about four paces from Hal and opened a mouth which seemed to be the ugliest part of the whole swollen monstrosity. A sack of living venom perched on a lake of poison, and a pair of emerald eyes looking at Hal with a promise of agonizing revenge. He longed to run home. But he could run nowhere from where he was and instead waited like a pig penned for slaughtering as a tongue as long and red as a scarlet tippet flicked through the air -- and stopped short of the loop of rope in Hal's hand. Again, the same thing happened. And this time the toad raised a webbed paw and pointed towards the witch.
Suddenly, and incredibly, Hal felt almost gratitude towards the hideous creature. Because now he knew what it wanted him to do. Much more importantly he knew what he might no longer have to do himself. As well as he could he threw the loop towards the toad, watching as it landed just short of the witch's creature. It went forward in one quick movement before picking up the rope in its mouth as carefully as a cat holding a kitten. Then it turned and began dragging the rope behind it as it paddled towards the witch. Hal paid out the slack, swaying on Josephine's trembling tail, still terrified but at least hopeful that he need go no further into this shit filled slough.
The remains of the broomstick reached the witch first, the upright handles on the broken front piece bent down towards her like a grazing deer's horns. At the same instant the dim figure of Gaunt Gregory disappeared, as if the two magics could not exist together. The witch began to sink again, her hands shot up over her mud choked hair and grasped the broom between the twigs and the break in the handle. Then the broomstick bobbed up and down in her desperate grip, as though it was floating on rippling water, but to no avail in lifting the witch from the clinging mud. A handhold on life she had, but nothing more. Unless her familiar could reach her with the rope. And, as big and strong as it was, the toad seemed to be struggling to pull out the ever increasing length of rope between it and Hal.
In desperation he hauled out yet more line from the hands of the soldier on the bank and took another step along Josephine's tail. The dragon groaned, a startling thing for somebody so used to her normal silence. Nothing could show more plainly how difficult it was for her to keep supporting him on her tail: it was as if Hal was trying to hold aloft a horseshoe on his little finger. He felt her trembling underfoot and the tail sink lower, so that he was up to his knees now in filth. But the toad had reached its mistress!
Hal thanked his Gods as he saw her take one hand off the broomstick in a hasty snatch at the rope and then lift up the dripping loop. With one deft movement she dropped it over her head and wriggled the free arm through it before seizing the broom again in a double handed hold. Then she removed her other hand, pulled down the free arm and slipped it up through the other side of the loop whilst grabbing at the broom again. The loop was safely under her arms and now they could act!
Hal waved to the Corporal and the soldier on the bank. A twirl of rope around one of Josephine's spikes and she was pulling on it, and so were the soldiers, stamping their feet into the turf as though they were trying to pull the castle walls down. The problem was that everybody was worried about the witch, not about Hal, and even Josephine moved so quickly he was left behind in the mire as her tail jerked forward. He lifted his feet clear of her spikes, then toppled sideways with a cry of despair and grabbed at the rope. It was certainly moving, moving too quickly, piling up waves of slime and shit into his face as he clung on to the slippery strands. The only recourse left to him was to roll onto his back and clutch the rope desperately to his chest, the back of his neck then taking the impact of the crusted filth.
A brief glimpse of the witch behind showed her in much the same situation, but at least luckier than him by being able to lift her upper body higher because the broomstick was travelling with her, still offering the woman as much support as it could. Not that anybody could have recognized her as a man, woman or demon, not with the slime plastered over her limbs, her face, and her hair -- and Hal was in no much better condition when the Corporal's men hauled him onto the bank. The expressions of their faces as they had to touch him showed that: not that he had any sympathy for their fastidiousness; they should try his privy bucket emptying job once in a while.
On the other hand he had every sympathy with the reluctance the soldiers showed in hauling the witch out of the midden. A dislike of scraping shit off somebody is one thing, getting up close and dirty to an enraged witch was akin to putting a muzzle on a mad dog. Worse, in fact, much worse. A mad dog might bite your balls off, but with a mad witch you might end up pissing out of your ear for the rest of your life. Which is an embarrassing place to carry your wedding tackle. But already the King was galloping out over the drawbridge on his white stallion and, whatever the witch might do, everybody else knew what Argud the Defiler would certainly do if his orders weren't carried out to the letter. So the soldiers helped the woman out onto the turf, where she shook them off her arms as easily as if they were playful puppies. Then she strode across the lumpy turf to Hal, the broomstick drifting after her at waist height and two steps behind.
Like a dutiful wife following her husband in a public place, Hal thought, a hurt wife yet silent and submissive in showing off her injuries. But there was nothing submissive about the hot coals glowing in the witch's eyes behind her mask of mud. And behind her and underneath the broomstick was that revoltingly ugly toad, hopping along in great leaps which almost reached the broomstick at their highest points. Hal's reckoning was that in about five seconds he was going to be transmuted into something just as revolting. Unless he was fated to mix his ashes with the Master-At-Arm's. How odd if he should die the way he was now, as naked as when he was born -- and never of any more importance to the world than a coney born in a burrow and eaten by a fox.
He looked around for the last time with mortal eyes and saw Chelinde and Caelia now wrapped in soldier's cloaks, and each staring at him with pity on their faces. Caelia waved at him, sadly, on this moment of parting. Perhaps it was some consolation that the girls seemed more upset about his fate than their father's.
So when the witch turned, plucked the broomstick from the air and then knelt down in front of Hal, holding it in front of her as if it were an offering to a Druid, every onlooker was stunned. Soldiers, girls, Corporal Clint and, most of all, Hal.
"Take it, Master. Take it, as I have promised the warlock."
She lifted her face, those hot eyes fanned into blue burning coals with anger: "Put your hand on this broomstick, you butt ugly little fucker, or I'll skin you alive!"
Hal instantly stretched out a trembling hand and touched one of the hand grips. It was like holding onto part of a water mill built over a raging torrent, the fierce energy of the rushing waters below passing through the structure for a bystander to feel. But before he could learn more he snatched his fingers away again as a shriek of anger was heard. Behind the King's magnificent stallion was an old donkey, the thin legs of Gaunt Gregory astride it, his even thinner voice cawing like a squabbling crow. Completely disregarding all the normal rules of the court he hacked at the donkey's side with his heels and rode past the King, limbs flailing and jerking in his haste like a scarecrow dancing with the wind, the long staff held out over his mount's big ears in a parody of a knight's lance.
"What, Morgana -- you break your oath given to another who has crossed the abyss between the worlds and returned? You dare to defy the Great Ones themselves?"
"I gave my word to you to yield my person and my powers to my rescuer. This boy was my rescuer and I have kept my word, you jumped up little shit of a half achieved adept. I have yielded all to him. Now go hence and lick your own mortal master's backside!"
Nobody present had ever heard or seen the like, a witch and a warlock squabbling like urchins over a wind fallen apple. And there wasn't one of the watchers who didn't wish to be many safe leagues away from the scene. But one at least had no intention of remaining a mere spectator. King Argud swung out of his saddle, dropping as lightly as a feather despite his huge bulk and large belly. He thrust the horse's reins into the hand of one of the soldiers, a man who blanched with fear as he realized that the strange events had lured him into a fatal error of lese majesty by not acknowledging his sovereign's presence until now. The soldier hastily dropped to his knee and bowed his head, an example followed equally quickly by all present save the two sorcerers, still bristling at each other.
"Come, Gregory, what's amiss here? You promised to tame this hawk for me. Yet she sits not quietly on your gauntlet."
There had once been a court jester unwise enough to make fun of the King's appearance by reddening his cheeks, puffing up his cheeks and somehow bulging his eyes so they seemed twice their normal size. The secret of how he'd managed that had died with him, in a unusual and distinctly revolting way, and since then nobody else had taken any gambles on finding King Argud in a good mood. Which was clever reckoning, because he never had any. The best that could be said for his temperament was that sometimes he managed to control his blood lust if there seemed to be a good enough reason -- but that was never more than a temporary deferment of his appetite for death and agony. Even the warlock acknowledged the monarch's worldly power and presence by awkwardly dismounting from the donkey and bowing low to the wearer of the crown.
But not so the witch. For all the scum and shit on her, she stood like a Queen, arms folded in open contempt of King Argud, warlock and soldiers. Hal's eyes moved towards the now abandoned donkey which seemed uninterested in anything but eating grass. Would he have a chance of escaping on it if trouble erupted? Odin alone knew what this business of the witch and her broomstick was all about but, irregardless, Josephine had killed the Master-At-Arms as the court official was getting ready to kill Hal for tupping his daughters. That was enough to have Hal impaled on a spike in the market place for as long as it took to die. Better to perish trying to run away than wait until the King got around to passing the death sentence. Let the magicians fight each other and then he and Josephine could flee behind a curtain of fire none would be able to pass. Left and right Hal glanced, awaiting his chance.
Then a sword tip touched his bare flank and Corporal Clint whispered: "You'll stay here, dirty Harry."
"Harry's not in this story -- Rowling would sue us to hell and gone. My name's Hal."
The King's impatient voice called out: "You said you could make her your slave, Gregory. What happened?"
The spindly legged little warlock was almost dancing with anger: "She promised to yield herself, body and soul, to whoever rescued her from the moat. But now she says it was the boy who rescued her and has pledged herself to him."
"What!" The bulging eyes swung towards a trembling Hal. "First the dragon and now the witch. The Gods are making a plaything of this shithouse emptier. But what I saw was that it was your help, Gregory, which aided the witch long enough to call forth her own magic to her aid. All the boy did was to pass her a rope and even in that he had help from the dragon and that ... that thing."
King Argud stretched out a boot towards the hunkered down toad, then jerked it back as a stream of steaming spit landed next to his toe, instantly turning a patch of green grass to brown stalks. The toad leered at him and noisily cleared its throat again.
"Threaten my familiar once more, mortal, just once more, and I will turn you inside out through your own arsehole." The witch's voice was low and sharp -- and to be believed. "Twas the rope which settled the matter and had it not reached me when it did I would surely have perished. And without the boy that rope would not have been there. So I proclaim him my rescuer and anyone who disagrees may call on the Great Ones for judgement."
The King looked at Gregory for his advice and the warlock bit his beard, then threw up his hands in frustration: "Your majesty, nobody calls on the Great Ones without taking great risks. Their judgements are not to be reckoned on in advance and Morgana has -- I have heard -- some influence with them. She is now pledged to the boy and he is a pledged subject of yours. Let us be content with that. Hal, stand up."
He did so, naked and frightened, and acutely aware of all the eyes regarding his skinny frame. Not to mention the Corporal's sword point almost pricking his backside. So this was where taking young girls for dragon rides had gotten him. Then he looked at the Master-At-Arm's daughters again and suddenly relaxed a little. To blame himself for wanting them was as pointless as blaming himself for wanting food -- he had a stomach and a prick, and both made demands on him that had to be satisfied.
"Hal, tell Morgana to kneel down in front of the King."
"Morgana!" Even he had heard of a witch with that name, a witch with a reputation that made fierce warriors huddle close to the fireplace on dark nights.
The warlock nodded in satisfaction: "Yes, the greatest witch of them all, Morgana le Fay. Your slave, Morgana le Fay. Now bid her kneel."
The witch still stood as proudly as ever, and her eyes fastened on Hal's with a strength of character he could never begin to match. Nor could he forget for an instant the pain he'd already felt from her magical powers and was still feeling from that damned cat's claw slash. The last thing in the world he wanted to do was to try to give her any orders. Then he saw the King's face and remembered the spike in the center of the market place. No, offending Morgana was the second last thing in the world that he wanted to do. What totally passed his understanding was why it should be expected that any witch who treated a warlock and a monarch with contempt would obey the lowest and least of all the King's subjects. But it seemed he had to try.
"Morgana! Morgana le Fay, I command you to kneel for the King."
Never before had any words of his been so attended to by so many people. Hal felt like an actor in a May Day festival, the one playing the part of a prince with a wooden crown as a prop. Yet though his words ended on a silly sounding squeak the witch did as she was told. Not only did she kneel, she knelt as a woman should, on both knees, then demurely lowered her head until it almost touched the grass. The King laughed and clapped his hands in satisfaction, releasing a great sigh of tension amongst the soldiers as they suddenly felt much safer. Safer, but greatly puzzled. They looked at Hal's soiled and scrawny body with questions on their lips. Yet none had so much need of asking them as Hal himself.
"Sire ... Sire Gregory."
The warlock beckoned him forward: "Give him a cloak, someone."
In an instant Hal had a fine woolen cloak to pull around himself, a cloak instantly ruined by the filth he was spreading on it. But that was a matter of little consequence right now. Gaunt Gregory looked at Hal, at the still prostrate witch, then back to the boy again. Then, incredibly, he smiled, revealing a row of rotten and yellowing stumps in lieu of teeth.
"Why, 'tis a simple thing, boy. Morgana here was nigh on drowning here in our moat and I made her promise on her witch's power to obey forever anyone who rescued her. I assisted her and so did you, and rather than give herself up to me she chose to yield to you. So now you will compel her to do whatever the King commands. You understand?"
Hal nodded: "Yes, sire ... I understand." But did the warlock understand? If he was telling the truth Hal could command both Josephine and Morgana. With luck he could break free with both and leave this kingdom forever. Or better yet ...
"Boy, look around you."
The King's voice was always a surprise to those hearing it for the first time, a high pitched tenor from such a bulk. But it was a small voice never used for small talk. Hal looked. Every man-at-arms had picked up his crossbow again and each one was aimed at him alone, from soldiers so widely spread out that Josephine could never burn them down all at once.
"Boy, understand me. I can kill you whenever I wish. The witch would be delighted to be free again and she'll soon teach your dragon to behave herself. So be a loyal subject and bid Morgana to do my bidding, and all will be fair weather between us. As a token of which, I order you to kneel beside Morgana to be declared a Duke before all present."
"To be ... " He must have misheard the King, but at least the gesture towards the ground was unmistakable. Hal knelt, and dared to do it on one knee, as the soldiers had done.
"When you arise, Hal O'TheShitbuckets, you will be Duke Merlinus. But before I raise you up I would know what happened between the witch and yourself. How came she to fall into our moat?"
Hal answered the King's question as well as he could. But, like Hal himself, the monarch had more questions to ask.
"So, she saw you tupping one of the Master-At-Arm's little beauties in the dragon's riding net. Why should she wish to interfere with that?"
"Your Majesty, I do not know."
"I can answer that," Gaunt Gregory said. "When mortals couple they sometimes reach a level of ecstasy which is a form of primitive magic. Since magics cannot exist side by side any practicing adept who comes close to an act of mortal tupping may find his or her spells much diminished and perhaps even completely cancelled by the tupping effect. Their magic becomes ... what shall I say?"
"Fucked up," the King suggested dryly.
The warlock bowed again: "Your Majesty has it in a nutshell. An excellent description -- I'm surprised nobody has thought of it before. Yes, I believe Morgana flew close to the dragon to examine it without having the slightest suspicion that a mortal male could be taking a mortal female in the riding net. By the time she realized her broomstick magics were being, as you say, fucked up, there was no time to flee before she must fall, so the only thing she could do was to frighten the pair into abandoning their act of passion."
King Argud chuckled: "Ha, boy, some rise by sin and some by virtue fall, but here was a great fall by a great witch because of your sinning. And were my Master-At-Arms still alive you might have smarted for your sins with his daughters." His voice paused as he looked long and carefully at the two sisters. "But a handsome pair of bolsters for any bed, I grant you, and since they wish for experience, I myself shall see they have as much as they can take."
He chuckled again and drew his sword. "Boy, have you heard anything of my plans for you and your dragon -- and for this witch?"
Hal couldn't stop himself from looking up in uncontrollable curiosity: "I know nothing of any plans, your Majesty."
"Then tonight you will learn more, because I'm going to make you an offer you'll have to peruse. For there are good reasons why I now proclaim you Duke Merlinus of this kingdom."
The tip of the sword tapped lightly on each of Hal's shoulders: "Arise, Duke Merlinus."
Hal stood up and waited for the King to finish off his joke by decapitating him with the huge sword. But it didn't happen. Instead the King drove the tip of the sword into the ground and rested his hands on the handle, which was still almost as high as Hal's head. The boy found himself staring at the incredibly fine stitching along the sides of the Monarch's deerskin gloves.
"Well, Duke Merlinus, you have bought the wickedest witch in the wide world with you as a dowry for your peerage, which is well to your credit. But you are still the dirtiest and vilest smelling peer that ever has stood before me. As for the mighty Morgana, she looks and smells like dogshit. Even your dragon has the stench of a midden about her. What's to be done with you all?"
Hal gulped: "There is a stream in the hills, not far away. Josephine can clean herself there, under the waterfall. I would be happy to go with there with her."
"Ho, my fine Duke, no doubt you would, but you won't. The dragon may go there and return presently. You, I have heard, have betimes bathed yourself in the drinking trough in the dragon's shed. You may do so now, and take your bitch witch with you. And we shall see if you are indeed fit to be a peer. For the two girls will wash both of you clean and afterwards you may finish your business with the one you were fucking before -- if you're man enough to do it with a squad of soldiers and a King watching you perform!"
Hal stared dumbfounded at the smile on the King's face.
"What's the matter, Duke Merlinus? Have you turned shy now you're a gentleman?"
Even the soldiers were giggling like schoolgirls. But they didn't know about the dragon sweat, and they didn't know that there was enough of it left in that drinking trough to set a whole village heaving and humping like a gang of Iceland warriors let loose in a nunnery.
Gaunt Gregory sneered at the filthy boy: "All your vigor gone already, Duke?"
Hal stood tongue tied. He could tell them, warn them -- but dragon sweat was his great secret and he wanted to keep it his own. But the alternative! Master of Morgana le Fay -- and in the grip of the storm lust that Dragon sweat brewed up. Odin alone knew what he might do, and should Morgana free herself afterwards she'd send him to hell for it. But afterwards, he might not care.
"Why no, Warlock," Hal suddenly found himself answering with a grin to match the King's. "All I ask is a favor. If I start chasing your donkey after I've finished with the girls, for Odin's sake, please have me shot."
King Argud bellowed with laughter and gave Hal a slap on the shoulder which almost sent him down on his knees again. "Why, my young Duke, perhaps you'll serve my needs better than I might have hoped. Let's put you to the test and see if your tupping can match your words."
Somehow Hal found the presence of mind to look for his garments amidst the torn remains of the riding net, only to be swiftly rebuked by his monarch.
"You no longer need those rags, Duke Merlinus. The cloak will suffice until you reach the palace and then we shall outfit you better."
Merlinus ... Merlinus? Why that name? True, the shitbucket family had a Tiberian name of Merdinus, now almost as forgotten as the long gone monks who'd bestowed it. A suitable name, since merdus was Tiberian for shit. But Merlinus -- was it because he was going to be allowed to fly with Josephine again, allowed to fly like a hawk? May the Gods make it so, for this seemed to be a day on which anything might happen.
But the sight of Morgana le Fay's luscious hips swaying ahead of him was enough to make his glowing hopes fade like the sun hidden by gathering storm clouds. The likes of her were for warlocks and knights and persons of royal blood. Now he seemed to be trapped between King and witch and as sure as cats ate mice, one or t'other would have his balls spit roasted ere long. Perhaps she'd laugh at his love making attempts so much that he'd fail, despite the dragon sweat. Perhaps the trough water had made it so weak by now that the power had completely gone and King, warlock, witch, soldiers and girls alike would jeer at his cock as it drooped like a melting candle. A boy's ending for all of his proud boasts of manhood, and with all the kingdom to hear and laugh about it afterwards.
He sidled over against Josephine, the Corporal close behind him at every step, Clint O'The East Wood's finger never leaving the trigger of his oversized magnum bolt crossbow. Hal desperately wanted to slip his hand underneath the dragon's wing to seek for a trace of sweat but there was no chance of doing it unobserved. Hal felt a sudden and unexpected anger burning inside him at being so closely guarded. Mayhap he'd teach these soldiers another lesson in dragon power before long.
"My lady, go and clean yourself. When you return I may wish you to warm the water in your trough for me again. If so, you must do it as hard as you can."
A twirling pattern of interrogation swirled around her neck, a question only he knew she was asking. In return, he winked when only she could see him: "Yes, Josephine, as hard as you can. Now fly -- and be back soon."
The dragon lurched forward, drove down her wings in a flurry of movement and swept upwards, her sails smacking against the air as though applauding herself for leaving the ground behind. Hal watched Josephine rise up into the afternoon sunlight with an aching heart. The ever alert corporal noticed Hal's sad expression.
"What's amiss, young Duke?"
The boy shrugged his shoulders: "Why, to see my dragon fly whilst I cannot leave the ground."
Clint O'The East Wood laughed: "Duke, how can a man want to fly? Do you want a nest with eggs to sit on as well?"
For the very first time Hal understood that he was closer to Josephine than he was to many of his own kind. Why, perhaps he was even closer to the witch as well. She might be evil incarnate but at least she was a flier too. Not that her broomstick seemed good for much just then, but perhaps it could be repaired and remagicked. If it could be ...
For a second Hal dreamed of learning how to fly a broomstick. To flash over rooftops and meadows, around trees and across lakes, screaming past gaggles of geese and flying so high that the mountains themselves crouched down beneath your feet. All the filth and cruelty and everyday battles of life left below as he explored the kingdom of the sky, a kingdom which over-arched and over-reached all earthly ones. A fine dream, especially for a shit smeared boy who owned nothing in the world but a borrowed cloak. And then he was back at the dragon's barn again.
For some reason everybody else hung back and let Hal walk in first, even though Josephine was only a faraway dot in the sky. Yet the caution which most other people showed in approaching a dragon's lair still seemed to be having its effect because only the girls walked in close behind him. Hal stepped into the sandpit and drew his toes through the still damp sand, then looked up, exchanging rueful looks with the sisters. How much had changed so quickly. Truth to tell, he was in no obvious position to complain. Dubbed a Duke, gaining a witch for a slave, praised by the King -- whatever the dangers to come, it was still far better treatment from the Gods than Caelia and Chelinde had received: orphaned, unprotected and lusted after by a King who treated his dogs far better than his women. Hal had never intended their misfortunate but it left a bitter taste in his mouth after the joy the girls had given him.
"What are we to do?" Chelinde asked him, looking suddenly grown up and serious.
"Why, only what we did before. But first you'd best serve as Morgana's hand maidens. There are two pieces of soap left. One for her, one for me."
"And afterwards? What we did before, Hal? With all these soldiers watching?"
"Aye, and the King too, lass -- tis a Royal Command performance."
The boy smiled and lifted his hand to chuck her under the chin, but paused as he saw the filth on his fingers and the momentarily revealed loathing in her eyes as she glanced to where the King was entering the barn.
"Be of good heart, girls. What matters who watches if we enjoy ourselves? And what I can do for you later, I promise I will do."
Hal went to the trough, splashed his fingers in it, pondered. The water was still warm -- or, at least, not cold. He filled both drinking buckets and set them down in the sandpit. Then he turned towards the witch and gulped.
For the first time since his one swift glimpse of her riding the broomstick he looked as a man at the magnificent shape underneath the clinging mud. Her breasts were pillows compared to Chelinde's dumplings, her unskirted legs promised delights beyond belief... he gulped again, and decided that perhaps the dragon sweat was still potent, even at a touch.
"Lie down on the straw, Morgana. On your back."
Her eyes glittering with repressed emotions, the witch obeyed.
"Take off your cloak, Chelinde. Spread it over her."
The girl's face was almost as angry as the witch's as she undid the throat cord, but she obeyed, her and her sister spreading the cloak over Morgana's body. Then Chelinde stood self-consciously, hands by her side and eyes downcast as she tried to ignore the soldiers lining each side of the barn, each of them grinning at her nakedness and with no threatening dragon around this time to distract them from studying it closely.
"Your cloak too, Caelia. Strip Morgana and then clean her with the water and the cloak, as well as you can. Mayhap some straw will help as well."
The King grinned but raised no objection at taking another look at the sisters in her raw state. Nor did he seem to mind that the girls were reaching underneath Hal's cloak to get at the witch's indecent attire. King Argud was a hunter and enjoyed the thrill of a drawn out chase. His soldiers also licked their lips as they saw the swaying tits and taut bottoms of the figures kneeling at either side of the cloak to fumble with Morgana's tight fitting leathers.
"Help them, witch," Hal ordered.
She looked at him, for a second only, and it was like being forehead to forehead with a mad bull. But her hands moved swiftly under the cloak, undoing the lashings which held her garments in place, then rolling from one side to another as she helped Caelia and Chelinde tug her jerkin over her arms. Hal would have liked to have kept watching but the desire to start removing the filth from his own body was even more compelling than staring at Morgana's movements underneath the cloak. So he took his cloak off, seized two handfuls of straw and began rubbing down his arms and legs.
Straw and sand and water, straw and sand and water, over and over, tickling and scraping and soothing his skin in turn as black rings of removed corruption spread around him. Then the King's voice boomed out in glee.
"Plenty of sand for her as well, girls, all over her tits. I want them as smooth as your arses."
As spoke several of the soldiers closest to the straw pile also dared to smile in approval. They looked as they were spellbound as they kept gaping at the straw. But when Hal looked himself at the wet cloak sticking to the now naked body below it he decided that the audience was literally bewitched. There were curves and hollows and a sheer symmetry of female shape underneath the damp wool that was more magical than anything a warlock could conjure up, be he the greatest adept ever. Chelinde and Caelia put their hands beneath the cloak again to rub Morgana's large tits, setting them shuddering and swaying around. The witch whimpered as he nipples were scoured and every soldier lucky enough to be able to see her instantly summoned up his blood and stiffened his sinews. In fact most of them were already more tightly cocked than their cross bows.
Hal grabbed his cloak and began wiping the traces of sand and wisps of straw from his skin. But his eyes stayed on the females, noting the increasingly coy way that even Morgana was glancing towards her watchers. Surely a witch couldn't be affected by the dragon sweat like any normal chit of a girl? But there hadn't been any dragons around since time out of mind and maybe witches knew no more about them than anybody else. Morgana had certainly badly underestimated Josephine's abilities in their aerial bitch fight. Maybe the sweat did work on her. Certainly she'd had enough of the treated water splashed and rubbed onto her body to give it every chance.
As for Caelia and Chelinde, just having their hands in the bucket seemed to be affecting them like piglets suckling on a barrel of mead. They were giggling at each now across Morgana's body and blatantly shaking their plumpers for the audience. The witch began twisting her legs and hips from side to side as the sisters scrubbed at her tits, her mouth open as she began moaning. Morgana's long fingers rose up to stroke the girl's arms as though encouraging them to hurt her more ... and Hal's own prick reared up like a stallion's in chase of a mare. He held the bundled wet cloak in front of him and rubbed it against his straining flesh as he decided what to do.
"Morgana, stand up. Chelinde, Caelia, hold the cloak around her."
The witch put her hands down beside her and sat up, got on her knees and stood, the sisters keeping the cloak up around the top of her swaying breasts, the damp fabric displaying the perfect contours of the unsupported flesh and the hard nipples, each one so big that his thumb and forefinger would scarcely encircle it. Her legs up and even beyond her knees were bare, showing off smooth thighs made in heaven for a man to slide his hand between and upwards.
"Go to the drinking trough. Step into it. Then take off the cloak and the girls will soap you. Everywhere."
She obeyed, still walking with infinite pride, head and shoulders above her escorts, the girls behind her holding onto the cloak as if they were train bearers, their eyes darting from one male spectator to another. But always returning to Hal -- and the King. His Majesty was breathing even more heavily than usual and he seemed fascinated by the display being unfolded in front of him.
There was scarcely a ripple in the water as Morgana entered it gracefully. Looking directly at Hal, she shrugged the cloak off her shoulders and let the maidens catch it. Without a stitch on, she stood before them with one hand flat by the side of her leg, the other one between her legs. And what might have been thought a protection of modesty took on a different meaning when the spectators saw that the fingers pressed over her patch of dark red hair were gently moving as she felt herself. She giggled at the open mouthed astonishment of the soldiers, lifted up both hands and held up her breasts for the spectator's eyes. Certainly Hal's felt as if they were popping out of his head as he watched her proudly displaying a body of perfect wantonness. Then Caelia and Chelinde began working their hands over Morgana, leaving trails of suds and pure white skin behind them in spreading patches.
Hal stumbled forward, stepped into the other end of the trough facing the witch and threw away his cloak, letting her see his rampant prick. Morgana smiled at him: "Shall the girls wash you now, Master?"
"One of them," he grunted.
He was grunting because Morgana's hand had reached forward and gently tweaked the tip of his cock. This was unbelievable, to have a woman like this in thrall of him, doing his every bidding. Then she moved back, holding her hands up behind her head for him to better see her body as Caelia continued soaping it and Chelinde rubbed her hands over Hal, soaping him quickly but thoroughly, arms, chest, back, legs and then rubbing her slippery palm up and down his shaft. Caelia laughed and applied her hands just as thoroughly to Morgana's pure white tits and the red flowers tipping them.
There was a vicious sounding twang and zip from nearby, and Hal glanced around to see that one of the soldiers had accidentally discharged his cross bow in his excitement, the bolt sticking out of the straw littered dirt floor two paces away. But nobody seemed to care, not the King, not even the Corporal. Nobody said or did anything as Morgana knelt down in the trough and put her hand with Chelinde's on the boy's throbbing tool. Together the two woman stroked it, and then Caelia joined them, her fingers tickling his balls. Hal called out in pleasure, his arms around each sister's shoulders and then something very large and fat plopped into the water between his legs and the kneeling witch. The toad sank out of sight, down below the foam covered water and Hal's toes curled up in readiness for a savage bite or sting.
It never came. What did come was a string of bubbles breaking between Morgana's opened thighs and her response, a wild cry with her eyes rolled back in apparent pain. Hal wondered why the toad was attacking its mistress. And then he realized what was really happening as Morgana bent forward, pushed Chelinde's hand aside and took him deeply into her mouth in one swift movement. There was a gasp and a stir around the barn as everybody saw four finger's length of the boy's cock disappear between the witch's scarlet lips and her cheeks contract with the effort of sucking off her master. And all saw how her body was quivering and jerking as though she was being eaten from below.
It was the King who responded first. He bellowed, unbuckled his sword belt, threw it aside and swayed forward like a bear untimely woken from winter sleep. He seized Chelinde first, from behind, kneading her plump round breasts in his huge fingers, squashing them up with only the stiff tips standing proud of the press. Caelia instantly bent forward to suck on her sister's nipples, sending Chelinde squirming and pressing her bare bottom against the King's crutch. He roared again, pushed her away and began tearing at the lacing in the front of his breeches The girls rushed back to him, wild eyed and their fingernails tearing at the cords with the same urgency. Out from behind their restraints came a cock that seemed as thick as Hal's wrist and almost as long as one of Corporal Clint's magnum sized bolts. Caelia still went down on her knees without hesitation to suckle on it as well as she could, her lips stretched out like an adder's swallowing a rat. Yet the King was watching the trough, not the girl at his feet.
"Fetch the witch out, boy, fetch her out! I'm going to give her a royal fucking!"
It would have meant death to argue with the monarch at any time. Right then was certainly not a good time to even think about hesitating. Even when Hal was getting ready to empty himself over Morgana's tongue: "Out, witch, out. The King wants you."
The King did indeed. He was already lying on his back and holding his cock steady for one hand as Chelinde and Caelia licked the shiny red length like cows at a salt lick. As Morgana stood up he beckoned her to come forward. She glanced at Hal, he nodded and she obeyed, trickles of water and foam running down her beautifully proportioned legs before she stood astride King Argud and squatted down, her arms behind her back on either side of his legs to take her weight as Caelia and Chelinde rubbed the head of the King's donkey dick against her cunt. Then she squealed and dropped down on top of it as if it might otherwise escape.
Her hips jerked up and down and she leaned forward on her arms again, with a girl on each side of her, and each girl holding onto one of Morgana's large tits, keeping the bags of flesh steady for the King to bite on. Morgana screeched again but Hal cared nothing for that in his need to finish what he'd begun with her. He stepped close to the writhing bodies, grabbed a tuft of Morgana's red hair and thrust his lance into her mouth again. She sucked on as eagerly as before but Hal hardly noticed. He was staring wide eyed at the trough as the water in it splashed over the wooden sides and something moved inside it, something standing up where the toad had been,
This was no toad though, nor was it a cat. It was something akin to a child, about as high as a grown man's waist, brown skinned, a bald head, large ears, green hued eyes which glittered like iced moss in sunlight, a squashed nose and lips which seemed more horn than flesh. The small though wide shouldered figure leapt over the side of the trough, landed as neatly as a cat and sprang forward.
One thing about the goblin which was definitely a prominent feature was the cock and balls it displayed, a cock ready for action and much larger than a normal one, for all the goblin's smaller size. It was more like a cock with a body attached than a body with a cock attached. But whatever the arrangement the body moved swiftly, the cock bobbing up and down as short but incredibly muscled legs carried it forward to where it wanted to be. Which was behind Morgana, the glittering eyes staring at her jerking buttocks as the goblin rubbed some wet soap around his massive prick. He slapped her ass lightly with both palms as if to let her know she was there, guided his overlarge shaft between Morgana's quivering crescents and then forced it deeply between them like a battering ram hammering at a castle gate. Air spurted around Hal's wet shaft as Morgana screamed out in passion and King Argud roared in satisfaction. He so busy sucking and chewing on Morgana's tits that Hal wondered if the Monarch had noticed that he was sharing his feast with uninvited guests.
Then the boy snorted with his own uncontrollable pleasure as he spurted into Morgana's mouth, setting her off spluttering and gagging as droplets of white fluid rolled down her chin. Chelinde put her arm across the top of Morgana's neck and began licking some of the liquid up like a kitten cleaning a platter of milk, a licking which ended with a passionate kiss between the two females. Then Caelia put a hand up to Hal's shrunken prick and began lapping at it with her tongue as if to clean it thoroughly. All three of them seemed out of their minds with lust and as soon as Morgana and Chelinde saw what Caelia was doing for Hal they joined in enthusiastically. The boy turned one way and another to let each of them have fair access to him.
It was, he thought, something which ought to make an entry in the Mead Brewer's Book of Records. One King, one goblin and one shitbucket emptier all fucking one witch at the same time, with a couple of hand maidens keeping things going. Not something you saw very often. The soldiers certainly didn't want to miss any second of the spectacle. A group of them were standing within arm's length of Hal, eyes and cocks bulging at what was going on. Hal grabbed both of the sisters by the hair, lifted them and pushed them towards Corporal Clint and his comrades.
"Go on, boys, help yourselves."
It wasn't really what he wanted to do but he needed a distraction to keep those crossbows off their aim. And it worked. Bows and swords and belts fell to the ground as the soldiers grabbed the girls and threw them on their backs on top of the straw pile, bedding them down in long term fucking positions. The rest of the guard saw what was happening and rushed to join the queue. The only thing which distracted them at all was a sound like a giant owl hooting, a sound coming from the goblin. Within seconds the sound was mixed with another yell of triumph from the King and long a drawn out yelp from Morgana. The trio of bodies collapsed in a tangle, the goblin and the King to lie undisturbed, but not Morgana. Clint O'The Eastwood grabbed her arm, lifted her up and then dropped her on the straw pile next to two hairy backsides jerking up and down on top of Chelinde and Caelia. Very quickly the Corporal's arse was on public display as well as he fucked Morgana with all the expertise of a seasoned campaigner and military trained rapist. The accumulated lust in the air could have been set off by a candle flame and nobody even noticed Josephine slithering back into the barn. The men were either fucked, fucking or anticipating a fuck, and the females -- well, the females were otherwise occupied. Dragon sweated out of their minds and getting drilled from all directions
So nobody saw the dragon enter: nobody who cared, anyway. And certainly nobody noticed Hal's nod towards the drinking trough, nor his wink to Josephine. The dragon bowed her head, put her snout into the water and snorted -- not once, not twice, not three, but four times. Hal grabbed a discarded sword, reversed it with his hands holding tightly to the scabbard, then ran around and up to the top of the straw pile. The corporal was gasping in satisfaction as he pumped his load into Morgana's cunt. He gasped even more loudly as Hal hit him behind the ear with the sword handle. Then Hal grabbed at the witch's hands to pull her out from underneath Clint O'The East Wood's stunned body.
"Come with me -- now."
"Come with me -- I order you."
One of the waiting soldiers stepped forward and raised his fist to punch Hal's face. There was a kind of thumping sound, water from the trough flew up and a bank of steam twice Hal's height rolled outwards as all the dragon spit in the trough mingled with the liquid and turned into hot vapor. Visibility within the barn became a few paces, then scarcely one or two. Hal began hauling the witch in the direction he knew the door was. He knew because he'd noted the draught beforehand and simply followed it. Or at least he would have if Morgana didn't seem to be taking so long to get up to speed.
"Move, you bitch!"
"Oh, Master, it's such fun ... "
"You stupid fucking woman, it's the dragon sweat in the water that's got us so excited. It's magic, we're spell bound, and we'll both be dead if we don't escape from the King. Run!"
Morgana's normal iron will seemed to emerge again as she began to understand what had happened to her. Hand in hand they ran out through the doorway, then stopped, panting. Hal had never known a day like it for exercise. And before he could make another move he was astonished to see the goblin come running out the steam filled door as well, the tip of his slack knob halfway to his knees and pulling Caelia alongside him by a long strand of her hair. But Hal's surprise at that was nothing compared to seeing Chelinde also emerging, squealing and jumping and being forced along by a series of hefty swipes on her bottom by Morgana's broomstick. Seeing the brush swinging through the air that way without a hand on it was even stranger than watching it just floating along. But this was no time for standing around and being curious.
"Get into the castle, quick." Hal urged Morgana. "Josephine is coming with us. If we can get the drawbridge raised now we'll be inside and the King and most of his soldiers will be outside. Then we'll have a chance to parley."
Morgana shook her head: "Better to tell the dragon to burn down the barn and have done with them all now."
"No! If they die I'm a Duke no longer. There'd be no witnesses. The King must sign my letters patent and proclaim them. Seize the castle and we can negotiate with him."
She nodded, still panting: "That warlock. He's not here. He could stop you."
Hal knew she was right. And if Gaunt Gregory wasn't here he had a bloody good idea of where he would be.
"Josephine, go to the castle. Put a fireball through an arrow slit in the top of the tower, Burn Gaunt Gregory's chamber right out."
"No ...No!" Morgana shook her head. "My magical supplies are destroyed or lost. I need his. I must go now, take him by surprise. My broom will almost support my weight, even though it's damaged. Let me ride it and hold onto one of the dragon's claws. She can lift me to the top of the tower and leave me there to deal with Gregory. Then the dragon can help you in the courtyard to get the drawbridge lifted up."
"So be it. Josephine, take Morgana up to the chamber's lookout platform."
Some of the dragon sweat tainted steam was drifting the dragon's barn: half a dozen warriors were now visible inside, each with his breeches around his knees and frantically jerking themselves off.
"Huh", Morgana snorted as she settled onto the broomstick. "I always said that the military were a load of wankers."
Then a giant figure came running out of the steam with a raised sword that glittered along its length in the afternoon sun. The King was as mad as hell, the dragon was spiraling upwards towing the unclad witch on her broomstick and a naked boy and two naked girls ran for their lives towards the castle with an equally naked goblin bounding along behind them.
Will Spearshaker was still sitting by the moat, stinking, scorched and sour at life as he watched what was occurring, but not with any great interest. You couldn't weave a good story out of happenings which seemed to make no sense at all. Which was about Hal's thinking as well, because now the moment had passed he had no idea at all why he'd hit Clint O'The East Wood and provoked the King's anger. But he had an idea of somebody who might have put a spell on him.