Chapter One – Kaes
As long as I live, I will never forget the feeling of being fully clothed and also soaked through to my undergarments. The foul, swampy water we were currently marching through, packs over our heads, was just high enough to reach my dangly bits, and it gave me the boke.
If the feel of it was bad, the smell was ten times worse. There were outhouses that smelled nicer, and at least they didn’t have the irritating little flying things bounding about your face, trying to bite your eyeballs. In fact, I think I might have preferred to be stuck in an outhouse–even one after Uncle Han had been in it post Yule dinner.
I looked over to the rest of my companions to see if they were as off-put as I and found myself to be in good company. Uncle Han and Sir Lennon were both grunting away like stuck pigs, wading through the mud and likely straining muscles. Then there was Sif and her mother, Hulda, who were moving swifter than the rest of us, but still with a look like someone had broken wind. Sif had been warming my bed and a few other things since we left base camp and was pretty much the only good part of this miserable journey, save for the allowance I was being paid to be here–allowance which I spent on whisky, rum, and tequila.
Last but not least was Lennon’s errand boy, a physician called Doctor Asher Benson. He was a specky type with more interest in books than flirtations, and I found him droll, but harmless. He was particularly fun to goade, and once I discovered exactly how much amusement I could get out of teasing the poor chap, I was merciless.
Each night since Sif and I began polishing the porpoise, I would listen to the lad–who’d been unlucky enough to be assigned to room with me–grumble to himself as we raucously got it on. Indeed as his displeasure grew, I would become more and more extreme in my antics until, one night, Sif had stopped mid-coitus and asked if I was alright.
Yes, Ash had become rather irritated at my nighttime habits, and my daytime ones, and after nearly a month of traveling together, I was beginning to wonder if he truly despised me. I did have an inordinately obnoxious habit of taking a joke too far, rarely noting that I had done so until it was too late, and I had to well and truly commit.
I wandered through the murk and up next to him, who was carrying not only his pack but also Lennon’s and Uncle Han’s. I had only barely been rescued from doing the same by the young man’s superb manners. I had waited until just before Uncle Han was about to slip on his pack, and, lo and behold, the doctor offered first.
“I do hope that’s not too heavy for you,” I said with a charming grin, nudging my sludgy elbow into his side, knocking him slightly off balance. “Steady on, there.” Sif looked over, and a blush crept across her dark olive skin, her turquoise eyes batting at me. I gave her a wink, and she bit her lip.
I inched closer to Benson so that our hips were nearly touching and proceeded to attempt a vigorous hip thrust, knocking into Ash once more and eliciting a laugh on Sif’s part. Ash didn’t seem to find the same amusement she did, but his face kept the same placid expression it always seemed to bear.
“While I’m glad you two get along just as well in the daylight as you do after dark, could you please not be so reckless?” he asked, the tone bright despite the words. “I’m barely keeping breakfast down as it is without having a faceful of this… stuff.”
I chuckled to myself and took a dramatic step away from him. He was always so serious about everything. From the route we were taking, to the temperature of the dense parts of the forest, even down to where water sources would be found. It was like he wasn’t even trying to have a good time.
I–on the other hand–was trying to have a good time and could barely find a whisper of it. Spearing the clam with Sif was about as close as it got, and it was difficult to properly have a girl when you knew her mother was only next door.
“So, what are the girls like where you’re from, Benson? Have you got the mangy ones with the lovely jubblies or the lovely ones riddled with diseases and bones sticking about? Surely you’re not socializing in the circles where the truly beddable women roam.”
Ash’s serene expression flickered, but was back just as quickly. He finally glanced over toward me.
“I tend to socialize with the ones worth socializing with. The ones who enjoy a good book and a fine wine–perhaps some discourse over the latest discoveries in medicine and anatomy.” His eyes seemed to light up as he started to ramble on about some new procedure. I could feel my lids lowering, and I mock-yawned for effect.
“Ah–” I said, making eye contact with Sif again. “So the ones who’ve got dog faces then. Right-o.” I could feel him steaming beside me, and it took everything I had not to allow another giggle to cross my lips. “So, when you read books together… at what point do you just toss the buggers aside and throw up her skirts?”
I could swear you’d feel Ash’s blush from another continent, and I raised my eyebrows at him, turning to walk backward as he replied, his attempt to appear unaffected unmasked by the way his voice kicked up half an octave.
“I don’t usually talk about that sort of thing. I don’t think most people would like to know they’re being spoken of in such a way, do you?” I shrugged and looked over to my current bedmate, who appeared to be very much enjoying this conversation.
“Sif. You don’t mind that ol’ knobby knees here hears us hiding the sausage, do you?” Sif laughed loud enough that her mother turned and looked at her as if to understand what was so funny. She rambled something back in a tongue I didn’t know, and Hulda looked satisfied–for now.
“You are a very good… how do you say it… salami?” Sif asked, her gorgeous natural accent flowing through. I nearly threw myself into the stinking wetlands laughing so hard, and I grabbed onto Ash’s arm to keep myself upright.
“Hear that, Ash? Salami. Not sausage, not cucumber… salami.” I cupped Sif’s chin and placed a gentle kiss on her neck. “You’re exactly right, lovely; I have a fantastic salami. Ash wouldn’t know a good salami if it slid right up his–”
“Oh fuck off, will you–ah!”
With a sickening sound somewhere between a splash and a squelch, Ash pitched forward and was suddenly up to his chest in the muck. Somehow he’d managed to save the packs, but the look on his face showed that he didn’t think himself too lucky, and the blush that had previously blossomed across his cheeks was replaced with a greenish hue.
“Shit,” he grunted, gagging and struggling to right himself with his encumbered hands holding the packs out of the water, throwing me a look that showed he found me nearly as distasteful as the swampy mess he was covered in. “Do you think you could be useful for just one moment and help me? Or is that asking too much of you?”
I put my hand out to him, but when he went to grab it, I quickly withdrew it, relishing in the look on his face.
“I’ll help you up if you admit that you’re a virgin. A twenty-year-old virgin.”
Sif pinched my backside, and I turned to hear her say, “You’re a very naughty boy. Very rude.”
Ash glared daggers at me.
“What does it matter?” he asked through his teeth. “Just take the damn packs so I can stand up.” He gave a mighty gag, and after a moment where his eyes went wide, he swallowed deeply, keeping in whatever had been threatening to make a second appearance. I shook my head, Sif bestowing another pinch that quickly turned into a grope of my backside.
“Answer my question, and I’ll carry the packs until we reach the villa.”
If eyes could produce fire, his might have. He held my gaze for long enough that I thought he might live out the rest of his life stuck in the odiferous sludge. But then–
“Yes,” he said, so quietly I almost didn’t hear him. His head had bowed, and the rage was gone from his expression, replaced with a pitiful defeat.
For a moment, I felt sorry for him. Life had clearly not dealt him the hand I’d been granted. He was good-looking enough, but carried himself like an old beggar woman and spent more time with his nose in a book than between a lady’s thighs. Apparently–as I’d just learned–he never had spent any time there at all.
True to my word, I put out my hand, and I smiled softly at him in an attempt to nonverbally wave a white flag.
“Sorry, old chap. I tend to take things a bit far. I–”
“A bit far is an understatement,” Uncle Han said from about twenty feet behind us. I rolled my eyes, knowing he was right and lugging the young doctor to his feet. I took the packs just as I had promised and clapped him on the back, ignoring the filth.
“Yes, well… let me help you.”
If there was one thing I was good at, besides my salami habits, it was my magic–a gift I’d inherited from my uncle and one that I used for all the wrong reasons. It was impossible to beat someone at a hand of cards if they could simply magic them to be exactly what they needed.
Uncle Han, on the other hand, used his magic skill for the greater good of humanity. He was a retired officer of the SMF–Special Magic Forces–in the royal military. He and Doctor Lennon had met during the great continental war when they served. There had always been something a little funny about Han and Lennon’s relationship, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But the doctor had always been kind to me, and I’d known him all my life, leading me to believe I might not have been the only one in my family with an affinity for the rougher sex.
Staring now at Ash Benson, the sodden dope, I, too, utilized my gifts for good and waved my fingers, separating the sludge from him almost like it was unable to stick to his clothes. Telekinetically, I lifted the muck from each fiber of him, allowing it to fall softly with a wet noise back into the swampy terrain.
“There you are,” I said, shoving my hands into my pockets to reinforce the grip I had on the now four packs I carried. “Right as rain.” He gave me an unsteady look but nodded, turning away and beginning towards our destination once more.
I felt a firm hand on my shoulder and I turned my face to see my uncle giving me an approving look.
“That’s my boy. You really shouldn’t be so callous to him. Not everyone can handle your particular, peculiar, sense of humor.” He gave me a mischievous wink, one I’d inherited as surely as my magic, and waggled a finger at me in a mock scold. I chuckled at his false discipline and knew that he knew I wasn’t purposely being an ass. Acting like a cock was as inherent to me as breathing and it was purely through Han’s gentle reminders that I ever managed to reel it in at all.
Han had always accepted me for who I was, unlike my own father, and despite being an absolute social pariah among my male peers, he always found clandestine ways to manage my social life. I suspected heavily that Benson’s inclusion in this trip was intended for just such purposes.
“Thank you, Uncle,” I said, returning the shoulder pat and nodding in a silent understanding. “You remain a grounding force. I will try to befriend the doctor–or at least not annoy the piss out of him.” Han nodded in approval with an adoring smile that went ear to ear. It was times like these that I wish with my entire being he’d been my father rather than the one I’d had. But if he couldn’t be my father then “uncle” was a good second choice, and uncles let you get away with things a father never could.
Uncle Han fell back to walk beside Doctor Lennon once more, and I ran to catch up with Sif. But for a moment, just one, I felt glad to be sharing this experience with him. Even if it meant sharing it with the ever-annoyed Ash Benson, too.