"Do any of you actually know where this 'Mount Ararat' is?" Marcos asked. He was getting anxious to go somewhere – they'd been camping at that copse of woods for nearly a month.
Nobody spoke up, so naturally all eyes turned to Andreas, who at that time was busy squeezing the milky-white juice out of some kind of root he'd dug up. No one asked him what he was doing – they'd learned not to. Because he would tell you. At length.
But this time he only said, "Far, far away. But no – I don't know exactly where. We'd have to ask someone."
Julian asked, "Do we have time to get there before spring? Because if not, we'd have to wait another year if you're right about the breeding season."
"Yeah, well... Look: I don't know if I'm right about that, okay? All I have is second-hand information. And that's assuming that the guy I heard it from wasn't making it all up. He was a Dionysian, y'see, which is a nice way of saying that he was a drunk bastard."
"Then why do you believe him?"
"Because he seemed like a drunk bastard who'd been around. Hey – if you don't wanna go, that's fine with me. I don't either. If what we think we know turns out to be wrong, it'll be a waste of time, and if it's right, then there's a good chance we'll all be killed. Trust me – I'm all for not going."
"We're going," Julian said firmly, "Anyone that wants out doesn't have to go – but I'm going anyway. Killing dragons is what I do."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fine – Berdyansk is two days up the road. I figure we can hire a boat there, and hopefully the captain will know where to take us. We're going to have to leave a lot of things behind, you know... the wagon and horses, for example. And we're going to need to buy a lot of food. We might be living on a boat for a few weeks – I just don't know."
"On a boat? For weeks?" Stefan said excitedly, "That'll be fun! I've never been on a boat. Not on the sea, anyway."
"Me neither," both of the Romans added simultaneously.
"I have," Sera said, limping up to the fire where the men were seated, "And you're all going to be sick as dogs for the first three days. But you get used to it – it bothers some people more than others. And by the way, once we reach wherever it is we're going, we're going to need a wagon and horses again. This could get expensive."
"We have the money," Julian said, even though he was only guessing. If Andreas could afford to buy him an Arabian horse, then he assumed that he must be rich.
Andreas sighed dejectedly, still not quite able to believe that he hadn't run away with the whole purse yet. "Yeah. We do. Dammit."
"How's it look?" Sera asked as Andreas removed the bandages from her back.
"There's a little infection – but it's not spreading. The thistle-root seems to be taking care of it." He rinsed out a rag in wine-water and began gingerly wiping it across her wound.
But not gingerly enough. "Ow! Shit, Andreas!"
"This would be a lot easier if you'd let me do it when you're bathing, you know."
"Forget about it, Greek."
"I am a doctor..."
"I said forget it."
"Sera..." Andreas sighed heavily. The frustration of spending so much time with Sera, and fairly intimate time at that, was starting to wear on him. "...is there any chance I'll ever get to lie with you?"
Taken aback by the frankness of the question, Sera didn't know what to say for awhile. She was glad that Andreas was behind her and unable to see her face, because now that he'd brought it out in the open, she actually could imagine such a thing. She couldn't imagine how she could do it – what would her long-dead Heart Leo think? - but she could imagine it happening. Which was actually a little bit... shameful.
After another sigh, Andreas continued cleaning her wound. "Yeah, that's what I thought."
Sera waited for him to say more, but he didn't. "It's... it's not you, Andreas. It's me, all right? I had a Heart once, and he was killed. That was the end of my life too... in a way that's hard to explain. I can't... uh..."
"Don't worry about it, Sera."
"We'll find you a pretty young whore in Berdyansk. That'll make you-"
"I don't want a pretty young whore, Sera. I passed my 'pretty young whore' stage a long time ago – they don't interest me anymore. Like I said, don't worry about it, I didn't really think there was much of a chance anyway, especially now that I see how Fighters and Hearts are. Speaking of which – I'm sorry you lost your Heart, Sera. What was his name? Uh... it was a 'he', I assume..."
"Leo. His name was Leo."
"Ah. Well... I'm sorry about Leo then. Okay – you're all fixed up for the night. I think... I think I'll go for a walk. And I'll sleep in the wagon. Good night, Sera."
Andreas had been sleeping in the same tent – although not the same bed – with Sera ever since the dragon attack. Now, apparently, the situation was going to change, just as Sera had been complaining that it should.
She wondered why she wasn't happier about that.
Next day they began packing up the camp, intending to leave the following morning. They'd been there so long that there was lot to do in order to leave, but Sera said that she felt well enough to travel, to which Andreas finally agreed, and everyone was excited to get back on the road.
By this time, Julian had at least grown comfortable with kissing, sleeping with, and exchanging hand-jobs with Stefan. When doing so, he usually fantasized about sucking the boy's dick, but he wasn't ready to actually go that far yet. That was still "dirty". He didn't know, of course, that Stefan fantasized about exactly the same thing – and things even "dirtier" too.
But Stefan wasn't going to push it. At least they were comfortable being physically close now, which was a whole lot better than how things had been before. And besides – the hand-jobs were incredibly... well, incredible.
It all happened in the dark, though. Once, when Stefan asked if Julian wanted to go to the stream and bathe with him, the look of abject panic on the Fighter's face was so obvious that Stefan panicked too, and blurted out that he was "just kidding". No one bought it, though, and the Romans teased Julian about it mercilessly the rest of the day.
Next day they got a late start, but at least they were on the road again, thinking about the adventures that lay ahead. Especially the Romans. Marcos and Sabas hadn't actually fought anyone or anything for nearly a year now, and they were looking forward to a little blood-lust.
What they were going find would be a little different.
"She's getting away! Someone stop her!"
The distant shouts barely registered in Marcos' ears as he finished putting away the horses in the livery. The other travelers had already headed for the Inn to get them rooms, so he was alone in the barn, and besides, there was so much other noise and shouting going on outside that one more was hardly noticeable.
But when the half-naked girl ran in, panting for breath and white eyes wide against her black face, he made the connection. The broken chain dragging from her left ankle told him all he needed to know. A slave. An escaped slave. Black as night, it was going to be hard for her to hide in this town of mixed Caucasian and Asian races.
She was a pretty enough girl, if in a rather... muscular way, but Nubians weren't really his thing. Still, with looks like that, he knew that she was probably worth quite a lot. Not that he'd have bought her. The blackness was just too strange to deal with. Even her nipples were black, something Marcos had never seen before.
The slave didn't see him at first, concerned as she was about her followers, but when the horse whinnied, her eyes shot to – and fastened upon – him. She froze for just a second, and then looked around frantically for a weapon to use against him. She found a wooden pitchfork, and pointed it at him threateningly.
Which slightly amused Marcos. This slave girl wanted to fight him? Well, it'd be a short fight, that was for sure. Couldn't she see his sword and shield? Didn't she know what that meant? Just in case she hadn't figured it out, Marcos laid a hand on his sword-hilt, just to show her that it was there.
And she glanced at it, but then looked right back into his eyes, ready for battle. The shouts were getting closer now. She didn't have much time.
So she was still willing to fight him? Marcos was a little taken aback by that fact; most people ran from Roman Centurions. Only a very few men would even think about taking one on single-handed, unless they were drunk. And this was obviously no man. Marcos was fascinated in an abstract way that he wouldn't have been able to put into words.
He didn't feel sorry for her because she was a slave; slavery was just a part of life. Any time the Army won a battle, those not killed were sold as slaves, their families too, if they were there. He'd sold quite a few himself. Slaves were a spoil of war, one of the few perks of being a soldier. Although admittedly, being a soldier in the Roman Army wasn't all that far removed from slavery, in its own right.
The shouts of the people chasing her were heavily accented and obviously foreigners, so Marcos wasn't especially inclined to do them any favors. So what the hell. He tilted his head at the back of the stall in which he was standing.
She made no indication of understanding, so he did it again. And took his hand off his sword.
Her eyes narrowed and her forehead wrinkled. They could hear running footsteps now, along with shouts of "In here!" The girl's time was up.
Still carrying her pitchfork, she slid carefully past the fully-armored soldier, watching his eyes the entire time, and then squatted down in the far corner of the stall, behind the horse.
"Hey! You! Uh... Centurion, sir, I mean – did you see a Negress come through here just now?"
"Yours, was she? Yeah – went out the back."
Half a dozen oriental-looking men ran through the barn while he continued unbuckling the animal's bridle. Marcos hummed to himself innocently.
Fully five minutes later, the girl stood up again. Marcos glanced at her, and then continued right on doing what he was doing. She made a few steps, and then stopped, considering her situation and staring at him.
Marcos only shrugged, and when he'd finished his job, simply walked away, leaving her there. He'd given her a chance, but that was all he was going to do. Whether she eventually escaped or was re-captured was all the same to him. Her problem.
It was time for wine and wenches now.
Sabas got a room for himself and Marcos, Julian another (with some embarrassment) for himself and Stefan. There was only one room left, and the inn-keeper was looking at Sera and Andreas, expecting them to take it.
"I'll... just bunk with the Romans," Andreas said, leaving Sera with a room to herself. Sera nodded awkwardly and paid for it, unable to bring herself to thank Andreas because then she'd have to look at him, and she just couldn't do that, right then.
After dropping off their belongings in the rooms, they all met downstairs and took a table. They ordered ale all around – even for Stefan, who'd never had it before – and food was brought to them. Some kind of stew. There was no menu of culinary choices. They were a long way from Rome, or even Athens.
"All right," Andreas began the business, "Tomorrow morning, I'll see what we can get for the horses and wagon. We should probably keep the tack, though – no use buying it all over again."
"Always the Greek," Sabas chided.
"And don't you forget it. Sera, – you and Julian and Stefan can go down to the docks and find us a ship. Wear your dragon-fighting gear, maybe they'll fear you too much to gouge us on the price. Oh – and don't forget, we need someone who knows where Mt. Ararat is, or at least the closest port thereto."
"Got it," Julian replied. Sera nodded.
"What about me and Marcos?" Sabas asked.
"You and Marcos – where the hell is he, anyway? - will no doubt be lying unconscious in pools of vomit until noon. By that time I should be back, and you can help me carry supplies to the ship. And please try not to make any serious enemies tonight, guys. We're in a hurry and don't need any complications."
"We'll be perfect fucking citizens."
"Uh-huh. We'll see. Ah! Marcos – what took you so long?"
"Things to do, villages to plunder, women to rape, you know. This town has one inn, one livery, and three brothels. Let's eat and get to it, Sabas."
The effects of alcohol on the libido haven't changed since the first proto-hominid picked up the first half-fermented grape off the ground and ate it, and by the time they went up to their room, both Julian and Stefan were feeling it. Julian more so, because Stefan had discovered that he didn't like ale. He said it was awful – which it was – but at least it was wet.
Their room consisted of little more than a pad of goose-feathers on a rough-hewn timber frame, a single goose-feather pillow, and a whale-oil lamp. It was a luxury suite. The cheap rooms had straw mattresses on the floor and candles, and no pillows at all.
The lamp was the important part. Julian always waited until it was dark to take Stefan into his tent. That way he wouldn't be able to see him naked – or at least, not very well. He did that on purpose, afraid of what might happen if he were to see his Heart naked. But now, while not exactly 'drunk', he was at least too inebriated to remember his fears about loss of self-control. That's the most insidious thing about alcohol; it makes one forget - or not care - if one is drinking too much.
When Stefan took off his shirt, Julian stood there and watched him mind-frozen, gazing intently at the boy's chest and stomach, unable to tear his eyes off of him, and temporarily forgetful that he even should. But Stefan didn't notice as he hung shirt on a nail, and proceed towards the transfixed Fighter to help him out of his chain-mail. Julian continued to stare as Stefan nonchalantly stood on tip-toe and put his arms around his neck to un-clasp the armor, just as he'd done the first time they'd ever kissed - and then the disciplined and even stern dragon-Fighter simply lost it, flinging his arms around Stefan and lifting the boy off his feet, sucking at his mouth, then at his neck, and then hefting him higher, so he could kiss and suck Stefan's chest and nipples.
Sometimes, amongst couples, losing self-control becomes contagious. And so it was now. While Stefan hadn't been consciously horny before, he certainly was now. More than ever before. More even than those times he'd had to go off into the bushes to find relief. The fantasy that accompanied that relief was always the same, but this time it didn't need to be fantasy! By all the gods of the Greeks, the Romans, the Turks, and the pagans, this time it didn't!
"Put me down," Stefan said, trying to wiggle out of Julian's arms, but Julian wasn't paying attention just then.
"Ju... Julian! Let go! Let me go!" He finally managed to free one arm from Julian's embrace and pushed him away, the Fighter's hungry mouth still reaching for one more taste.
The volume of Stefan's scream broke Julian out of it, and he dropped the boy, startled, trying to remember what was going on, or even who it was that had screamed. He'd almost begun to remember that he should be ashamed – it was just dawning on his mind – when he realized that Stefan was pulling his breeches down, on his knees, his head waist-high. Momentarily panicked, Julian tried to back away.
But Stefan just kept right up with him, walking on his knees, now pulling down Julian's loin-cloth. Julian's back met the wall with a thud, and at the same time Stefan finally began to satisfy an ache he'd had since the age of twelve.
Julian, head bent down in blank-minded amazement, watched. Oh, sure, it felt good – oh gods did it feel good – but that wasn't what was so amazing. He'd never seen Stefan like this.
It was usually Stefan that initiated sex – such as it had been up to now – between them, that wasn't new. It was usually Stefan that kissed Julian, not the other way around. It was always Stefan's hand that found Julian's cock first. But this... this was different. And not just because of what the boy was doing, either.
Stefan was like an animal. A possessed animal. He sucked and slurped with total abandon, complete loss of self-consciousness, his eyes closed, his breath fast and hard through his nose, saliva running from the corners of his mouth. Before, there had always been give-and-take, even if it was just Stefan's face buried into Julian's shoulder as Julian stroked him, murmuring and kissing, letting him know how good it was. Not now. Now it was take. Take and take and take and TAKE! Right now, it wasn't Julian that Stefan wanted – it was just his cock. 'Just' his cock.
Julian could see that. Single-minded, all-encompassing, raw bare-boned pure fiery un-thinking animal LUST.
And it occurred to Julian: Stefan could feel that way? Too? It had never entered his mind that it might be so. Not Stefan. Stefan was too... good, pure, wonderful to ever have feelings like that. Like his own.
Yet – there he was, barely able to breath fast enough but still unwilling to take Julian's cock out of his mouth, his head twisting back and forth, up and down, both hands gripping his shaft as if it might get away otherwise.
If Stefan could feel that way... if Stefan knew lust like that... if Stefan could understand that kind of need... Then why the FUCK should Julian just stand there?
Julian grabbed a handful of Stefan's hair and pulled himself out of the boy's mouth -
"Wha- Julian? Wha-"
Then lifted him off his feet again, keeping him at arm's length, and carried him to the bed -
"J-Julian... Julian! No, no, let me-"
And threw him down onto the mattress, kneeling between his legs sticking out over the side -
"No – Julian! No, I want-"
And ripping Stefan's woolen breeches off, and the loin-cloth-
"N-no... no... I... I need-"
And doing exactly the same thing to him.
Almost an hour later, Stefan finally got to finish what he'd started. Since Julian had already come once from stroking himself while he sucked Stefan, it took a while. And since Stefan had come twice in Julian's mouth – he didn't mind at all. The animal-like lust was satiated now, yes – but that was okay. Maybe he didn't need the cock now – but he still loved it.