The Great Lady
Vera was dozing when she heard the lock tumble into place as Evander left for his morning run. She stretched, pointing her toes and flexing her arms until her body arched, each muscle delighting in the release. There was no hurry for her, no obligations to meet. She curled onto her side, reaching through the breath of space that separated her body from Sam’s, and traced his features with the barest brush of her finger. She followed the sweep of his brow downward stopping to caress the plateau of bronze skin along his sharp cheekbone. My darling man, she thought, my Familiar, he’s so beautiful. His full lips were parted and slack, too lush to resist.
Vera leaned in and licked at the cupid’s bow of his upper lip. Sam’s nose crinkled. He swatted at the sensation, his hand clumsy with sleep, and landed a glancing blow off his own chin. Vera giggled and moved back in to tease his lips with her tongue. She allowed her mouth to explore, venturing from his lips down and along the stubble on the blade of his jaw.
Sam groaned, a low rumble that started deep in his chest and ignited a flare of heat in Vera’s core. He reached for her and she slid into his arms, rolling until she was on top of him. His hands slid from her bare shoulders down to the curve of her ass and a shiver of excitement followed in the wake of his touch.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to let me sleep, huh?” he said.
“You’re smart, what do you think?”
Vera legs fell to either side of his hips. Her nether-lips parted, the wetness at her center painting his cock with her heat. The friction pulled a delicious growl from Vera. It was like the purr of a large cat, unrestrained and wild, a sound reserved for Sam and Evander.
The power borne of their devotion, the history and strength of it, was all part of their magic. The energy raised when they made love was often given in tribute to the elementals, goddesses, and gods on both sides of the Sacred Passage. It was their honor and pleasure to give of themselves, but the passion between them in these private moments was theirs, and their alone.
Vera pressed her hands down into the mattress on either side of Sam’s head and lifted herself up, moving forward, until her breasts hovered over his mouth. Sam’s tongue snaked out to tease at her nipple and she jerked his prize away. He whined.
“Hush,” she flicked his nose with a finger, “What’s your color, sweet boy?”
Sam thrust his hard prick against her, the head gliding over her clit, “Green.”
“That’s my pretty,” she crooned, caressing his cheek. She leaned upward once again and teased his lips with a taut nipple. “Suck it, puppy,” she commanded.
Sam went lax beneath her, suckling one breast and then the other, allowing himself to be moved and molded until he was seated with his back to their headboard. Vera knelt over him, carding her hands through his hair, the thick waves flowing between the fingers of one hand while she teased the pearl of her clit with the other.
“You’re so hard for me already aren’t you, my beautiful pet?” she panted, showering Sam with praise. Sam’s hips made an aborted thrust and the tip of his cock brushed against the opening to her womanhood.
The hand that was bathed in her own wetness shot up and grabbed his chin. “Don’t. Rush. Me. Puppy.”
Sam’s eyes turned downward. Vera tightened her grip before taking his mouth in a searing kiss. The sound of his whine filled her with delight. A beautiful pliancy came over Sam in those moments when he gave himself up and trusted his lovers to be the tether that allowed him to fly without floating away.
“I’m going to ride you, puppy, and if you come before I tell you to, I’m going to put this gorgeous cock in a cage for the rest of the day.” She squeezed her hand around his length, pressing her thumbnail into his slit just enough to sting. “Are we clear?”
“Crystal, my Queen,” Sam panted.
Vera chuckled and impaled herself on Sam’s cock.
Sam was dozing again when Vera slid out of bed and shrugged into his robe. Like Evander, Sam was tall but where her Guardian was broad, Sam was slender as a willow wand. The result was a robe that hugged Vera’s curves and dragged on the floor behind her, like a cape. It smelled of sandalwood and cinnamon and she stopped here and there in her unhurried morning routine to bring the wide collar to her face and bathe in his scent.
Vera reveled in the sumptuous lassitude of body and mind that followed her two spectacular orgasms. Her muscles were loose, free from the tension that accompanied her role as High Votaress. As Vera filled the tub with steaming water, she allowed her thoughts and recollections to come and go, one after the other, like clouds racing across the sky on a fall day. She added drops of neroli oil and rose to the water, the spicy-sweetness of the scent conjuring a vision of the climbing roses in the Temple Gardens. Their blooms always tempted her, even though she had plucked her fingers on their thorns time and again. When she was a girl, it was impossible to pass by those trellises of blazing scarlet and gold without stopping. Their fragrance always carried her back to the memory of the day she met Sam and Evander.
She slowed the current of her thoughts and held the vision still to examine it, turning it this way and that, like an archeologist unearthing a precious artifact.
Vera had been engaged in a war of wills with Sister Helia, her fastidious music tutor, when one of her grandmother’s attendants arrived with a summons. She was to direct herself to her grandmother’s Receiving Room with haste. Vera, headstrong in her youth, bristled at being hastened anywhere, and took the longest possible route to her destination. It led her through the Temple Gardens where she lingered by the rose trellises, ignoring the pleas of the attendant who had been sent to fetch her. She hovered, inspecting each bloom with care before plucking it and breaking off the thick thorns that grew along their stems. Bees hummed from flower to flower; their fat bodies dusted yellow with pollen made lazy arcs through the warm spring air. When the attendant started to fuss about her own hide, Vera abandoned her gardening. She liked the girl that her grandmother had sent and did not care to see her punished for something over which she had no control.
Vera swept into the Receiving Room with a cultivated air of carelessness. A gaggle of Elders stood along one side of the room, backs as straight as the thin lines of their mouths. Lady Petra sat on her throne, flanked by her Guardian and her Familiar. She was a slight woman, small-boned and quick like a hummingbird, with a whip-like tongue. Age had worn her down like a stone that is subject to the tides. Her skin had thinned and turned delicate as aged parchment and her eyes, once bright as the Aegean, had faded to a clouded, milky blue.
“You were to come to me with haste, not waste time traipsing through the gardens,” Lady Petra scolded. Age had deepened the light sweetness of her voice, but it had not lost any of its melody. The High Votaress’ expression softened when Vera danced up the dais steps and planted a kiss on her cheek. Vera delighted in the scent of honey and clover on her grandmother’s skin.
“Shame on you, Granny, forcing me to stay inside and torture a lute while you’re running around the apiary chasing bees.” Vera offered up the bouquet she had picked with a mischievous grin.
Lady Petra looked over the blooms. “You’re so much like your mother, she hated the lute, actually tossed one out a window.” A thread of wistfulness colored her words. “Threatened to send the tutor after it, if I didn’t find something else for her to play.”
“If I’d known that was the way to get out of playing that wretched thing, I would’ve done that years ago,” Vera answered with a laugh. She noted the scandalized frowns tugging at the mouths of the Elders who hovered around her grandmother’s periphery like so many squawking geese. Vera hated the way they fought for position and made a silent vow to abolish all the ancient courtly nonsense when she ascended to lead the Mound of Gaia.
It was a role she would be thrust into too soon. Jocasta, Lady Petra’s only daughter and Vera’s mother, was supposed to be next in line for the throne. One brilliant morning just days after Vera was born, Jocasta wandered into the hills and never returned. Lady Petra had mourned her loss while tending to the infant Vera’s needs. They had healed together. Lady Petra grieved for the daughter she had lost and Vera mourned for the mother that she never had a chance to know.
Lady Petra clasped Vera’s hand in her own and Vera could not ignore how fragile and thin the bones felt, like the slightest pressure would cause them to crack. It was irrefutable proof that the Great Lady’s power was fading. Vera’s heart clenched, a darkening sadness shading the bright beauty of the day.
Lady Petra read Vera’s thoughts and regarded her with compassion. “Don’t worry, child. I’ve a ways to go yet before I leave you,” she said, keeping her voice low.
Vera nodded, blinking back the prickling heat in her eyes that threatened to spill over into tears. With her pique forgotten, she knelt at her grandmother’s side, laying her head against Lady Petra’s knee.
“Now then, enough of this sadness, today is a happy day, my little woodlark.” Lady Petra tapped the top of Vera’s head and waved to the Receiving Room attendant. The young woman scurried out and returned with two boys in tow. They were led to the foot of the dais both offering a deep bow in deference to the High Votaress.
Vera knew the youths on sight, though she had never met them face-to-face. Evander, son of Tharros, was long-limbed and broad, with sun-kissed cheeks, and a mouth that was always on the verge of a smile. Samson had come from the Kardia, a pack of shapeshifters that had served the Order from the first day of Gaia’s reign. He was beautiful. His olive-bronzed skin glowed in the dim light and Vera longed to run her fingers through the waves of ebony hair that kissed his shoulders.
She had heard the two were inseparable. Where there was one, so went the other. She had also heard the rumors that the two were the incarnation of the warrior-lovers Achilles and Patroclus. It was a thrilling and romantic idea, two souls that had been fated to love each other throughout the tides of time. It came as no surprise that she would be bound to them, Guardian and Familiar. She looked at them side-by-side and imagined them locked in a passionate embrace, feasting on each other like starving men. It made her cheeks flush and a sweet ache began to burn at her center.
Lady Petra motioned for the boys to come forward while she spoke.“It is time you took a Familiar and a Guardian.”
Vera, Sam, and Evander were bonded together as magical companions in a joining ceremony that took place six months from the day they had met in Lady Petra’s Receiving Room. The love between them flourished, though Vera hid the romantic regard that grew for them both as time marched forward. She had refused to upset the balance of a relationship that had survived time and death.
Three years later, it was Lady Petra’s last wish that Vera open her eyes to the possibility of what the three of them could become together.
The High Votaress’ bedchamber was over-warmed. A fire burned in the hearth despite the sun that baked its heat into the Temple walls. Lady Petra was diminished, a husk of thinning hair and flesh so delicate that it bruised when subjected to anything but the most gentle touch. Vera entered, pausing for a moment just inside the doorway while her eyes adjusted to the low lighting. The windows carved into the stone were enchanted to keep the daylight at bay while letting the fresh breeze in to clean the sickness from the air.
Vera had grown into a young woman in the intervening years. Her mind was sharp as the obsidian blade she wore on her belt, which was a conceit to Evander’s rising concerns. Hearing of Lady Petra’s failing health, he worried that usurpers would try for the throne by taking Vera’s life.
That day her beauty was clouded by grief. There were deep smudges beneath her eyes and her full lips were chapped, bitten red with worry. A loose strand of hair escaped the haphazard plaiting she had done minutes earlier when she woke from a quick nap. She swept it out of her eyes, wiping away the tears that had spilled down her cheeks.
Lady Petra fussed and batted at Vera’s hand when she placed a cool cloth against the old woman’s forehead. “You don’t have to wait on me hand and foot, child.”
“Hush, Granny,” Vera soothed, “I’d rather be here than watching Evy and Sam make moon-eyes at each other all afternoon.”
“Child, you’re blind as a mole.”
“You can’t call me blind when there’s nothing to see.”
“I’ve been High Votaress for four hundred of our years. I know what love looks like.” The Great Lady struggled to sit. Vera placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and it pained her to see how little pressure it required to hold her grandmother at bay.
“Settle back or I’ll send for Sister Iola and you’ll be forced to listen to her complain about the new acolytes all afternoon,” Vera threatened. She took a deep breath before she continued. “I know they love me, but it’s nothing like what they feel for each other.”
The old woman laughed, a rasping dry thing that shook her bony shoulders and caused her to gasp for breath. “My little woodlark, you are simple-minded when it comes to love. I suppose it is my fault having entombed you with books and tutors-” Vera started to speak and Lady Petra silenced her with a look. Life burned in the depths of the old woman’s eyes and Vera saw her as she had been, a newly ascended Queen, the High Votaress at the peak of her power. “Listen, my girl, there is no force on this or any other earth that would separate those two young men from each other, or from you. You are simply too afraid to see it.”
“Tsk, do a dying woman a favor? Promise me you won’t be separated from your future for one-second longer than you have to be.”
A bitter-sweet smile stretched across Vera’s lips. That day had brought her so many lessons. She filled the kettle and set it on the stove, remembering the way Sam and Evander had taught her what pleasure could be wrung from her own flesh. Then later that same day she had learned the weight of sorrow which she could bear without breaking.
The Pronoe River raced in its banks, its surface a roiling torrent of murky brown water. The sky was smudged in shades of ash, like the remnants of a long dead fire, except where streaks of red from the rising sun painted the horizon.
Storms later. The thought sent tendrils of chill snaking down Vera’s spine. She looked out toward the riverside path, hoping Evander had the sense to be back from his run before the rain started.