Rowan’s next day at the ministry was… tense. He strongly considered avoiding the place for the next several days, but that would probably make the situation worse. There was plenty of neglected work sitting around that could keep them busy enough to at least not have to speak much.
Or so he hoped.
Greenglass—Sophia, rather, was busy long before he arrived. The inbox that was overflowing just the day before sat empty and a towering stack of papers threatened to topple onto her.
The door always squeaked a bit when it opened. On most days it was nothing but a dull noise no louder than the ticking of the dwarven cabinet-clock as the pendulum swung back and forth. Today, however, it felt louder than two armoured jousters colliding with each other while a crowd screamed in the background. Sophia started at the sound, jolting upright but not turning to face him. This would be horribly awkward.
He made his way around the desk and took a quiet and delicate seat on the edge of his chair to not startle her. She was clearly aware of his presence but pointedly kept her head down and eyes focussed on her papers. Right. He was a professional diplomat of several years. All he had to do was smooth things over. A good greeting was the most important part of a conversation. He needed something polite but with a casual enough tone that it invited further discussion. Perhaps he could pretend that he wasn’t bothered by her joking about having sex sucking out his lifespan and they could at least laugh that he was so foolish. That would probably go over well. From there he could compliment her on the amount of work that was already done and then pivot into his apology. He just needed a suave line to catch her off-guard and take down the barriers she was putting up.
“Er… Good morning Ms. G- Sophia, I mean.”
He shuffled through his papers since he felt too guilty to try speaking to her again. Time-off requests from a few diplomats over winter, check. Sophia was awfully icy herself, but that glare she gave him really was something. No. No. He was thinking about it and if that happened every time she looked disgusted with him… Just work. It was time for work.
A letter informed them the new king of Mistheim was on his way for a meet-and-greet… He didn’t want to handle that one, so he was grateful his deputy did most of the heavy lifting. Though, hating something didn’t seem to stop her. She just spent so much time and effort to meet his eyes, work him with her tongue and even swallowed afterwards. Did that mean something or did she just know Rhiannon expected that kind of performance?
Damn it. An invoice from Dunmuir’s ambassador to Gisland needed to be checked, approved and sent off to Finance.
The awkward silence was broken by a knock on the office door.
“Delivery for a Minister Sir Rowan a’ Waterton, so on an’ so forth. Would ya mind openin’ the door? Hands are full.”
Even if Sophia—the name felt as strange in his mind as it did on his tongue—would have answered normally, she certainly wasn’t in the mood now. He jumped to his feet, gave an apologetic “I’ll get it,” to let her know that he didn’t want to trouble her, and ran to the door.
The deliverywoman on the other side was burly for her height. She was nearly a full head shorter than Rowan was, with her long ears poking just up to the height of his head. A rabbit? It was a good guess, but proven wrong when a donkey’s tail swatted the air behind her.
She shook the large wooden box she held for emphasis. “So, where ya want this, Sir-n’-whatever else it is now?”
“I… er…” He swung his gaze around the room, looking for anywhere inoffensive he could have a box sit temporarily and not aggravate Sophia any more than she already was. “Just by the door’s alright, I suppose.”
“Right-o.” The box hit the floor with a dull thud and the a- donkey woman pulled a slip of paper from out of a bag around her neck. “Now if I could have you sign here for receipt of delivery. Initial here, there too.”
“Could I ask who this is from, exactly?” Rowan glanced over the fine print of an agreement waiving his right to return the package.
“One Lord Conan Wearn, I understand.”
Odd. He should still theoretically be in the city. “Did he ship this some time ago, or…?”
“So I understand. Says he had some business and didn’t have the space in his baggage train on his side of the documents. Back side of your sheet there, if you care to look.”
“No, no. That’s alright.” The terms of the receipt weren’t ridiculous, so he signed them and handed the paper back. “Would you mind opening the crate for me, miss? I have no idea what he’s sent me.”
“‘Miss.’ Ha. Very polite sir, open in a jiffy.” She grinned and pulled a wand from her well-worn boot. It took a minute of waving and muttering incantations for her to do the job. But sure enough, the nails glowed a sputtering green and floated into a bag on her belt. She could keep them as a tip—Rowan hardly needed the coin or two a handful would bring, despite how his commoner’s conscience protested.
The porter slid the lid off of the crate and gave a whistle that made it obvious that every courier in Dunmuir was going to hear about this by the end of the month. Rowan couldn’t even blame her. This was ridiculous.
Conan’s crate was packed nearly to bursting with sex toys. Everything from the humble dildo through to advanced restraints that looked like they came straight from his dungeon. Leather, chains, ropes, gags of all shapes and many, many things he couldn’t even begin to divine the purpose of.
“Well, I’ll be leavin’ now, if that’s all, sir? Couple more deliveries an’ then back to the husband.” She tacked on the mention of her husband as though she was expecting him to use the contents of the box on her.
“N-uh- Hang on, I don’t think this is for me, actually. Is there a chance you swapped a couple packages somewhere along the line?” Rowan whispered desperately.
“‘Fraid not. Your name on the crate and you’ve signed off on accepting it now. You have fun today, eh?” She turned and left the room before there was time to argue. Before he closed the door, she locked eyes with a guard lazily patrolling the halls. She was certain to be the first person of many to know that Minister Rowan—yeah, the Gisland fella—you’re never gonna guess what just got delivered to ‘im…
There wasn’t any time to worry about that, however. The sound of shuffling from behind him was a foul portent that foretold the ruin of the rest of his morning. It was too late to conceal the box, flee or do any other permutation of damage control. He tried—unsuccessfully—to push down his embarrassment, then peered over his shoulder.
“I-I don’t know!”
“I knew you were in league with that… that degenerate Margrave, but this is going too far!” She balled her hands into fists.
“No, I didn’t-! He just sent this on his own! Do I look like I’d want any of this?”
“How should I know?! You certainly seemed to enjoy playing around with your weasel whore, so I assume you’re planning on chaining me to the desk to have your way with me AGAIN!”
“What was your plan? Under the desk with my mouth held open with one of those things—” She waved her hand at the box of toys. “Or did you plan to see how many of them you could use at once and just sit there touching yourself? I’m not sticking around for either, thank you!” She slammed the door on her way out.
…What was he even supposed to do with a crate of sex toys? It needed to go before any inconvenient opinions or accusations were made. Things were bad enough with Sophia and he didn’t want that situation to spread.
There was a knock at the door and Rowan scrambled to put the lid back onto the crate before he traumatised another person he needed to work with.
“Minister?” It was Arlene, judging from the impassive voice.
The maids were the last group he wanted to upset. He worked with his secretary every day and the Queen held the ultimate say in his fate, but neither of them dressed him, served him meals and took care of half a dozen critical tasks every day. Growing up as the son of an innkeeper gave Rowan a very clear knowledge of what a displeased servant could do to ruin his day. He wouldn’t risk the top maid spreading any information.
“Just a moment!”
Where? This had to be somewhere nobody would check. Leaving it by the door was out of the question, of course. Under the desk would leave it a little overly-connected to him personally and it was too big to put in a drawer somewhere. Er-
“Is everything alright in there, Minister?”
“Yes!” No time. The job couldn’t be perfect with the time pressure. Up? Up.
Rowan manhandled the crate onto a bookshelf and stacked a few papers on top for good measure. With any luck, that would discourage any curious eyes and the maids would just dust around it. It needed to be out, but that would have to wait. He was already suspicious enough.
He stepped out of his office with a nervous smile and shut the door behind him. “Good morning, Arlene! How are you? Fine I hope?”
She lifted an eyebrow at him. “I saw the Deputy Minister running the other direction. Is there anything you need one of the girls to clean up in there?”
“NO! No, no. Just a slight misunderstanding. She’s… reasonably upset about yesterday’s… well.”
“It was a well-deserved punishment and a better show.”
Rowan blinked a few times before he fully registered what he heard. Arlene’s posture and face hadn’t changed. She was the picture of a perfect maid with only the wispy hint of a smile, as though the statement was a well-established part of her duties.
“Y- er, I suppose. What was it you were here for, exactly? I’d hate to waylay you any longer.”
“Very kind, Minister. I’m here to collect you for the meeting Sir Adalard mentioned.”
The blood in Rowan’s veins turned to ice. This was certainly a meeting between spies. He didn’t know who he was speaking to and the Queen’s maid already knew? Images flashed through his mind. He would be led through the door and find that tall gryphon captain there to arrest him. Was Adalard already dead? If he drew a sword, even in panic, no doubt some witch could turn him into a pile of cinders before she even told him to drop it.
Perhaps this was just a test? He could play dumb. The only explicit mission for Gisland involved Cavallari and she was his alibi. She would use it to blackmail him. No doubt she was the type to have him lick her shoes clean every morning, but that was better than the alternative of being stuck in Traitors’ Grove. Bleeding sap every time a teenager had a bad day and a penknife to hand was rather unappealing. Could he throw away another agent’s life if he needed to, though? His good work would only buy him one request from the Queen, if he was lucky. Would it be ‘please merely exile this spy’ or ‘please keep this quiet for the sake of international relations’? Rowan could only hope it didn’t come to that.
Stiff upper lip. Neutral. Just match Arlene’s expression. “Oh? It completely slipped my mind. You said you’re taking me there?”
“It seems a bit silly to force you into shepherding me around, wouldn’t you say? If you tell me where I’m meeting my conversation partner, I can make my own way over.” This was the ultimate gauge of her suspicion. If she let him go, he might be able to signal his conversation partner to flee or at least not bring up any incriminating topics.
“Oh no. It’s no trouble at all.” The statement was kind but firm. She didn’t even tell him where they were going, so he had no opportunity to shake her off and beat her there. Was she always so… formidable?
“Absolutely. Follow me, please.”
Rowan’s mind bounced around wildly. Knowing he couldn’t panic outwardly only amplified the inward panic. Thoughts of home, of work, of Gisland and of Dunmuir came and went like roiling waves. The clean, whitewashed walls gave no visual reprieve and his guide’s measured steps resounded in the quiet of the morning halls. They made quite a bit of headway in Arlene’s chosen direction before a whale of reason breached the surface of his stormy thoughts. ‘Act normal,’ it managed before disappearing again.
Obviously. He needed to direct attention away from his less-than-subtle behaviour and yet worse obfuscation. “Sorry if I’m a little off today. I’m just not sure how to handle Miss… Sophia now. I ended up upsetting her accidentally.”
“Well, it all depends, doesn’t it?”
“You’re in charge. You shouldn’t need to prompt her now, but make sure that she knows her place. She certainly did yesterday.”
“I see.” He didn’t see. It was a small regret of his that he didn’t talk to Arlene more, but was this normal? “Confidence, you’re saying?”
“Yes. She’s been treated like a princess too long and it’s gotten to her head. You should hear the things she says to the maids.”
She did seem like the type to terrorise the unprepared. Even acts of kindness were shrouded in haughty commands and a superior sneer. Rowan could remember several tenants much like her from his time helping his mother run their inn. As a child, he was a prime target for the kind of dismissive superiority that washed-up sea captains, bureaucrats waylaid by storms, and egotistical tax collectors were prone to. Now that he thought of it, the way Sophia talked down to everyone and made one feel like a fool for being in her presence was very familiar.
The room he was led into was unassuming. It was little more than a small circle that existed mainly because of a decorative turret on the corner of the wing they were in, rather than some grand plan. A large chunk of the space was taken up by a sheet covering a hunched, lumpy shape—Rowan stared a few seconds before he convinced himself it was a pile of firewood and not an ambush.
Arlene set a pair of stacked chairs at the small table by the window, then beckoned Rowan to take a seat. Nothing was going actively wrong yet. He’d have to figure out how to warn the agent that they wouldn’t be able to speak openly, of course.
“Well, thank you Arlene. I’ll just wait here.”
“No thanks necessary.”
He straightened out his clothes and took a deep breath in. With any luck, it would be that man Balderic who he rescued from Ms. Cavallari. Rowan wouldn’t really know how to act if it was some retired assassin who questioned his loyalty. There were sure to be plenty of those around. Ugh.
“I can’t help but notice you’re staying here.”
“I know you’re a busy woman, so you really don’t have to stay on my account.”
“It’s no trouble, as I said.”
He faced her with his most diplomatic smile. Wide, docile eyes. Not too much tooth showing. Open shoulders, not too squared. “Really! We’ll likely be talking about some personal matters. Quite embarrassing.”
“Besides,” he continued when she continued staring into the middle distance, unmoved mentally or physically, “You know how men are. I’ll have to swagger to keep up with him and I might end up saying some things I don’t really mean! Bragging about conquests I haven’t made and so on.”
“You certainly have a few under your belt.”
“Yes, but I obviously don’t intend to sleep around, regardless of how lovely the ladies around me are. It’s just that the Queen is so insistent on it all, you know.”
“I wasn’t aware you thought I was lovely, Minister.”
“Of course you are! I’m sure you take great pains to keep yourself beautiful and it all pays off in my opinion.” Oh no. This felt like an argument with a brick wall with two decades of experience serving drunk customers at a busy tavern. All that was left was an appeal to her sense of decency. “I’d just like you to step out momentarily if you must stay, since I, er… I actually have a bit of a collection of certain personal… bedroom antiques that he’s bringing. I don’t exactly want to expose you to that.”
“A sex toy collection?”
“In as many words, I suppose.” His laugh came out shaky. “I’m just an art appreciator, but I don’t want you subjected to a situation where you’d wonder ‘oh, has Rowan put this lovely third century… plug inside of himself’ and whatnot. Not that I would, of course!” That was exactly the kind of thing someone who did would say and the loss of face stung. With luck, it would make him seem like a blithering idiot who blurted out his secret business instead of a spy unsuccessfully negotiating for a few moments of secrecy.
“Alright, I think that’s enough.” In a whirl of skirts, Arlene sat across from him. “Your meeting will be with me.”
“I’d love to talk as long as you want, but I really don’t want to keep the gentleman Adalard sent waiting. Could this please wait until-”
“I’m the one he sent, Minister.”
Rowan’s mind bolted away from him like a startled horse. Unfortunately, the unexpected news made the horse stumble, bounce off its face, spin far enough that it could regain its feet and gallop a few more steps before it twisted its ankle and went back down. He guarded his response as meticulously as the situation allowed. “I expected someone who, er… works for Gisland.”
This had to be bait. Drawing out a misstep this way would be his very first thought if he wanted to root out a traitor inside the palace. “A spy, sorry? I meant a messenger. I don’t know anything about-”
“Shall we discuss the dead drop you fell asleep in front of? I decided to let you use my cloak as a blanket when I came to collect the reports for Adalard.”
That was a guess. It couldn’t be anything else. Just a shot in the dark to make him confess his actual crimes once she gained his trust. He needed to get out, consider his options and most likely flee the city. He stood up and brushed off his pants as casually as he could with shaking hands. Coinpurse. Penknife. Journal. Prayer beads. Nothing forgotten at the table that would incriminate him or be missed. “I really don’t know what you mean, Arlene. Would you mind if I made a short trip to the bathroom before we continue?”
She took a dramatic breath before speaking in a crude south Gisland accent. “‘Dear A., I would like to thank ye for your trust in me and I wish ye good luck n’ good ‘ealth in the endeavours on your side. I’d like t’break this report inty several sub-points that I believe may be of some interest to you. First, a copy a’ the report I will be handin’ in to H.M. the Queen regarding an incident I cleared up regarding a number of lancers in open revolt at one’y the royal mines. Second, my first impressions of the Queen herself—’ Shall I go on, Minister? Perhaps you’d like the contents of the letter that told you to rescue Balderic?”
Rowan withered back into his chair from shock. Was she telling the truth? That sounded like his report down to the word, and the incident with Balderic wasn’t something she could have divined from a sealed letter.
“It was an excellent try, so I wouldn’t be upset that it didn’t work, Minister.”
“I… I don’t sound like that, do I?” Rowan was in a daze.
“Fortunately not quite so exaggerated. Shall we get to business?”
His body fought him like a rusty gate when he made the decision to nod.
“As I’m sure you’re aware, the change of Archduke will mean a change in tactics on our end. Franck wants you to take a more active role.”
“Like sabotage? You must know I’m not in a position to do that, not least of all because I don’t know anything about it.”
“It isn’t off the table, but no. Support is the only thing he’s interested in. Guarantees that certain groups would take Gisland’s side. Captain Gwen’s mercenaries owe you a debt, for example.”
“I… suppose they do.”
“That’s what we’ll be doing next week. There’s a group of wizards in the mountains to the northeast that are due for a visit. They’ve claimed they have information on how Gisland could create more mages for its military.”
“Alright.” If Rowan bent his mind in just the right way, he could see how that might be a good thing. If the military playing field was evened, it could discourage any one side from gaining the advantage it would need to feel confident going to war. Then it might spill over into more healers or geomancers for infrastructure. Important work, to be certain. “I can’t help but notice you said ‘we’.”
“Someone has to take you and not ask questions.” She brushed a lock of feathery hair out of her face and shot him a smile that failed to reach her eyes. “You should know the Queen by now. All I had to do was tell her you were taking me on a date.”
“Really? She’ll probably expect me to comment on how it went.”
“Then make up whatever you please. She enjoys your writing.”
“I, er… okay. Do you know if she would prefer to hear anything in particular, or…?”
Arlene crossed her legs. The small gesture was slow and nonchalant, not intended to send a particular message. He was almost too caught up in the graceful movement and what it revealed of her stockings to catch the equally casual statement that left her mouth. “How do you imagine yourself taking me?”
“If you took me on a date and I said yes to whatever you wanted afterward, what would you do to me? Press me against a window and take me from behind? You could push me down to my knees in an alley if you have a taste for rough fellatio now.”
“No, of course not! I would probably just take you to dinner and just sort of… see where the evening took us.”
“You just caught me off-guard a moment! I didn’t expect you to bring that up out of nowhere!” His cheeks burned hotter at the humiliation.
“I was only giving you a few suggestions. Would you prefer if I was the one pressing you against a window? I could reach around and-”
“No!” Did she have to be so graphic? The feeling of the cool panes of glass in his imagination made him shiver. “I guess I would just kiss you for a while while we got into the mood, touch you until you were ready, then, er…”
“Yes. Just the normal kind. You lay on your back and we face each other.” Any confession was made far more embarrassing when the woman you were fantasising about watched you with a dead-neutral expression. “Unless you want something else!”
In the made-up report? Why would it matter? He mentally chided himself for his uncertainty in front of Arlene—a woman who could still face him when their second interaction involved crawling out from under a table.
“I didn’t expect you to be a romantic, Minister.”
“Is- Is it too boring?”
“Appropriate enough for a first date. I hope you don’t plan to impregnate me. It’s rather hard to fake that.”
“I wouldn’t! I don’t feel like I’ve known you long enough and I wouldn’t want to leave a child behind when I leave the country! I know what it’s like to not have a father and I don’t want that to happen.”
“Well, it’s good we have the details sorted out, then.” A faint smirk crossed her features. “I suppose I should thank you for splattering your cum over my stomach in your imagination.”
Rowan broke. He couldn’t hold it in any more. “Do you have to put it like that? I’m trying to be serious here!”
“I’m sorry.” She sobered up immediately and uncrossed her legs. “The Queen teases people often enough that I’ve acquired a taste for it as well. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“That’s- No, I’m sorry. I hoped that you would speak openly and here I am shutting you down.”
“You don’t owe me an apology, Minister. I’ll endeavour to-”
“No, I really do-” Arlene gathered her breath for another apology as soon as he was done speaking. This was going nowhere and he wouldn’t be able to make her back down. “Let’s set that aside. Is there anything else I should know? I’m not even sure what I’m expected to do on the average day.”
“Nothing until someone tells you otherwise. You’re in a precarious position and Franck can’t afford to have you compromised.”
“Right. I just… Is there anything I should hold back when I report to the Queen or the bureaucracy?”
“Not unless it’s about Gisland’s agents or non-public movements. Someone will tell you if something like those documents on the old Minister of Magic need to be redacted or destroyed.”
“Ah. About those.”
“Are they not gone yet?”
“I just haven’t gotten a chance.”
“That’s fine. Ms. Greenglass has already handed in her conclusions on the part she took, so everyone involved is likely to forget the rest. You’re better off looking for an opening that won’t incriminate you.”
“I’d really like to re-emphasise the importance of not incriminating yourself. This is a bottom-priority mission.” She leaned forward with a serious look. “There’s only so much I can suppress, and if your intelligence work becomes public knowledge, even the Queen herself couldn’t save you.”
“I understand. This isn’t something I’m suited for, so I’ve just tried to do good work in the ministry.”
“Good. People are starting to trust you.”
The conversation ground to a halt how two-way information sessions often did. There was nothing else important to say, so both waited for the other to make some kind of closing remarks.
“You know,” Rowan said after some thought, “I never would have suspected you. Is that why you’re so insistent on professionalism?”
“A job worth doing is worth doing perfectly. My loyalty doesn’t come free with the purchase of my services, that’s all.” She stood and straightened her immaculate uniform. “Is there anything else?”
“Actually, er… Do you know where a man with a large crate of sex toys he doesn’t want could get rid of them? Unused, of course.”
Arlene stared at him for a moment, opened her mouth once and closed it again. “It wasn’t…? Excuse me. The Queen is the only person I can think of who would get any use out of a gift like that.”
Right. Well. Not getting caught would obviously be more complicated than ‘walk out with a large stack of documents in the middle of the day and hope for the best.’ That meant his next port of call was… the crate. Not that he wanted to avoid the Queen, mind. In fact, now that the major concern about any kind of sexual contact was gone, he was happy to get closer to her.
It was only that he didn’t want to bring in a large crate of sex toys, plop them down in the middle of the throne room and say ‘here you go.’ It was presumptuous, unpleasant and gave off entirely the wrong impression. Maybe he would just… have some lunch. He’d think about what he would do and maybe get a second opinion.
Tempting as it was to go all the way down the stairs and into town, the trip didn’t call to him. His head was spinning from his encounter with Arlene and he was too worried about the box to stray outside the palace. Usually lunch was delivered to the office for convenience, but that wouldn’t do. Even if he was interested in whether his deputy returned, he wasn’t eager to spend more time in the room he was practically locked in for weeks on end. Maybe he’d just stop by the kitchen and ask for a meal he could enjoy outside.
The good thing about the palace was that a series of circles was remarkably difficult to get lost in. Though Rowan didn’t know exactly where the door into the kitchen was, he knew that all he needed to do was go around the loop in the general direction of the kitchen and he’d eventually arrive. The downside, of course, was that there was a considerable amount of circumnavigation when you had a location in mind. Arlene slipped into a service entrance and would likely have a straight shot to wherever she was going in the servants’ passages, but he needed to make a quarter revolution of the ministries hall, go outside, move one building in, then search for the kitchen.
Not that it bothered him. It was a different direction than he usually took and that shifted his focus off his problems. In fact, he was a bit sad that the interest of his usual route between his suite and office was wearing thin. Even if the barrel-vaulting and trefoil-shaped arches were similar throughout the main buildings, there were a thousand little details when one wasn’t overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it all. Inscriptions from the reigns of the Queens who constructed each wing underpinned the subtle shift in style between them. The ancient door casing to enter Rhiannon’s tower favoured simple geometrics and vines, while later buildings moved on to hints of classical dwarven motifs, which were expanded upon and eventually done away with in other places. Rowan frequently mulled over whether the witches’ fondness for knot patterns was native or an outgrowth of Graniteslate’s meanders and waves.
Tara and Torsten were having a conversation in front of the ministry of infrastructure (the best example of what he considered a transitional style), so he sadly couldn’t stop and stare.
“So I tell ‘im, ‘oh, ya want a pushin’ match do ye?’ ‘Cept that in Dwarvish it’s got this pun, so it sounded like I might be apologisin’. Anyway, while he’s tryin’ ta figure out what I said, I knock him right on his ass. Looks up at me like he’s confused I could knock ‘im over!”
Tara cackled. “So did he know who y’were?”
“No! Silly bastard just thought I was some shepherd givin’ him side-eye!”
The fairy flitted enough to one side that she caught sight of Rowan. “Oh! How y’been? You just missed a hell of a story.”
“Fair enough,” he answered. “What about?”
Torsten shuffled his feet. “Ah, used to be an athlete back in the day. Helped pay for all the engineerin’ classes and livin’ in the middle of the city, but y’wouldn’t believe the kind of oddballs I met then.”
“Really? Where did you compete?”
“Χαλα- ah, Quartz. Right across the mountains from Dunmuir, but you’ve got to go down south, catch a boat in Sapphire, then do the song an’ dance of sailin’ up the strait to get around ‘em.”
“I’d never have guessed. You practically sound like you were raised here.”
“Started learnin’ the language decades back so I just had time ta get the accent right. Where’re ya off to?”
Maybe there was hope for Rowan’s accent after all. “Just off to get lunch. I want to get out of the office for today.”
“What, bein’ locked up in there for weeks was too much for ye?”
“Sure was for me!” Tara cut in. “After the sixth interview with Justice, I was ‘bout ready to hop out my window and forget to flap.”
Rowan scratched his chin. “…Sorry.”
“Ah, forget it. Near on every Queen’s had the Institute on their shit list. ‘S why nobody in their right mind actually wants to be Minister of Magic.”
“I am sorry though. I just didn’t want to look suspicious or have some grand plot be my fault, or… well.”
“Tell ya what. Lemme join this lunch you’re havin’ and it’s all water under the bridge.”
“I could use some non-stressful company.” Rowan held out his hand in the perfunctory, habitual way of most of his profession. A handshake was the way to make a verbal agreement slightly more concrete. Generally, however, his negotiating partners weren’t four handbreadths tall. What was wrong with him lately? The wedding wasn’t bad, but Sophia was annoyed with him, Rhiannon thought he was a fool and he was still reeling from the revelations that came from Arlene. Balance knew whether Ms. Cavallari was aware he wasn’t actually a crime boss.
She laughed and shook his index finger. “Settled. Comin’, Torsten?”
“Eh…” The dwarf glanced back toward his ministry’s door. “What the hell. Just a second.”
He peeked through the gap and barked his orders. “Headin’ out for a bit. You three start workin’ on that docks job. Surveys, notes from the last expansion, writin’ up questions for Naval, that kind o’ thing. Gregor, keep draftin’ that bridge. Anwyn. Hate t’ do this to ye, but Finance needs t’ see the proposal for the north highway repairs. Make sure she knows we already agreed to diggin’ the flood sloughs so we can’t back out now. The rest of ye know what to do.”
“Right, where are we goin’? The Lily?” Tara asked.
“I just planned to just ask the kitchen for something I could eat outside. If that’s alright with you.”
She glanced at Torsten, who shrugged. “Weather’s still nice.”
The service entrance to the kitchen was further back in the palace than Rowan had ever been. What he was used to was immaculately dressed, whitewashed stone and limestone floors that gave the halls an airy feel. Two turns off the main path left them in a far different area, however. Older. The masonry was cut from the dull grey-brown rock that gave Dun Peak its name and wasn’t so much distressed as resigned. The first few courses of blocks were stippled to cover up the dings from centuries of serving carts bumping into them or the abrasion from servants squeezing by, but even that was worn down to a dented kind of smoothness now.
It wasn’t long before the kitchen staff noticed three ministers milling around outside their door. After they took a moment to confer with each other, the chef’s assistants pushed a serving-maid out the door as a kind of ambassador. The poor girl had a wild look in her eyes and her wide beaver’s tail slapped nervously against her legs. “Can- I’m sorry. May I help you, Ministers?”
Rowan had no idea what his expression looked like. Was he still clenching his jaw from stress and glaring at the girl like she owed him money? He rethought a pat on her shoulder and settled for a kind tone. “You’re not in trouble. We were just hoping to eat lunch together and wanted to sort that out.”
“Oh.” Some colour came back to her face as her soul rejoined her body. “It’s no trouble at all, Ministers. We’re somewhat short-staffed, so I’ll have to help you alone, if that’s all right?”
“Oh, we could just take it ourselves and get out of your hair. You’re probably struggling to prepare everything on time.”
‘That sounds wonderful, but I’m not supposed to admit that or let you,’ said the sideways glance and lip-chewing. “Of course not, Sir. You’re our top priority,” said her mouth. Arlene trained them well.
“Are you sure? I planned on wandering around to look for somewhere to relax outside and I’d hate to waste your time.”
“Er- as in… outside outside?”
“Oh, just to be out of the way. There’s a stream on the west side of the grounds, isn’t there?”
The wide eyes returned and were joined by a more frantic tail-slapping. ‘Slapslap. Slapslap.’ was her preferred pattern. A little lacking in auditory interest for Rowan’s taste, but to each their own. “That’s the… the less-presentable side of the palace, Sir. It would take quite some time to get an appropriate table out that way.”
“That’s what I hoped for, actually. You’re trying to get the presentable side in order, aren’t you?”
“That’s true, but-”
“And don’t worry about the table, you’d just have to bring it back. We have our robes to sit on.”
The maid nearly fainted. He didn’t feel like he was being unreasonable. Just a quick picnic out on the lawn so the servants didn’t have to work around them. Tara and Torsten seemed a little confused at the reaction as well. “I… I suppose I’ll prepare a basket to take out then, shall I?”
“If you would. Sorry to impose.” He looked to his companions after she shuffled back into the kitchen. “I didn’t come off like a taskmaster, did I?”
“Er…no.” Torsten stroked his beard. “Strange, maybe. Doubt the gals’re used to people in our position askin’ for somethin’ so common. Not that I have a problem with it. Ate some o’ the best meals of my life on a field.”
Naturally, their gaze drifted to Tara. Hopefully he didn’t offend her. “What’re you lookin’ at me for? I lived in a tree ‘til I was ten and I ain’t startin’ to get prissy yet.”
A calm, confident voice drifted through the door to the kitchen. “Miss Cochlain, might I ask why you’re milling about the kitchen with a basket?”
“H-Head Maid! I’m sorry Ma’am, but several of the ministers came by asking for lunch. They’re waiting for me to bring them picnic fare.”
“Well get on with it, then. Which garden do they have their hearts set on? North is up to capacity, west is being set in order and Lucas is busy dealing with his dog and pony show in the south.”
“That’s the problem! They wanted to eat by the creek! A-and on the ground!”
“Minister Rowan, but Ministers Merrywing and Torsten were there as well.”
“And you let them?”
“I suggested it wasn’t a good idea but Minister Rowan was very insistent!”
“He is rarely insistent on anything aside from being a people-pleaser. Where-”
Rowan knew better than to stand in front of a service door into a kitchen that served hundreds, but Arlene happened to make eye contact before she even had a foot through the door. The sudden pallor of her face was the closest he could imagine her to cringing in pain.
She curtsied and the maid trailing behind followed suit. “If I might have a word with you, Ministers…?”
It wasn’t clear how much Torsten and Tara actually heard of the conversation in the kitchen, but it was enough to make broad gestures in his direction. “Er, of course.”
“I’ve heard an unsubstantiated rumour that a gathering of ministers planned to eat on the ground and I merely wanted to follow up in my role as the chief servant in the palace.”
“Well, that was my idea. We planned to eat somewhere fairly remote and didn’t want to pull anyone away from their normal duties.”
“Sir, the most important duty of every servant in this palace is to obey the whims of its important residents—the same way I’m sure you take your duties as nobility very seriously.”
The maid bowed her head, just in case Arlene could see people who were behind her.
“Naturally. But really, it doesn’t bother us any.”
“I’m sure it doesn’t, Sir.” She took a breath in and clasped her hands in front of her. “But I would hate for opinions to turn against servants who merely followed instructions. When a group of people—who by appointment are nobility at the level of a Duchess—are reduced to sitting on their jackets, well. It reflects poorly on people like Ms. Cochlain here first and foremost.”
“I suppose I didn’t think of it that way.”
“An understandable mistake, but it would put the common people at ease if you considered your position more.” It was no wonder she was livid. They’d just discussed why not incriminating himself was important and here he was drawing attention. “Minister Merrywing, what size would you prefer to take your lunch at?”
“Ah, I always feel bloated when I eat at man size n’ shrink down again right away. Wee please.”
“Very well, Minister. Ms. Cochlain?”
“Yes, Head Maid?”
“Be certain you seat the ministers upwind of the laundry. Corporal Barclay?”
A guard patrolling the halls behind Rowan turned her head. “Lady Chamberlain?”
“I need you to move something.”
“Er… right away. What is it?”
“A table and two chairs from storage. The maids who could lift them are elsewhere.”
“For now. Ms. Cochlain will direct you when you return.”
Corporal Barclay was around the corner before the conversation sunk in.
“You’re the palace chamberlain as well?” Rowan asked.
“…How many things are you in charge of?”
“I find my mood best when I don’t count.” He could hardly blame her for taking on extra responsibilities if she was a spy as well. The information she could pass on alone was staggering. Still, it had to be tiresome when head maid, chamberlain and queen’s maid were all full-time jobs. “Is there a wine we would prefer, Ministers?”
“We could just have wat-” Rowan changed his mind as her eyes narrowed. “-ever you suggest. Something that goes along with the food.”
“The guard with your table knows enough ice magic to cool the bottle for you. Ms. Cochlain will take care of the rest, as I’m afraid I have three other appointments in the next fifteen minutes.”
Rowan hated to admit it, but Arlene was right to make them change their plans. While heather and gorse were about the toughest vegetation on the lawn set aside for guests, this far off to the side was home to a variety of weeds. Golden-tipped thistles grew taller than their table and a shorter variety grew spiked heads that would be as pleasant to sit on as a morning star.
Once the worst of it was hacked down and they were seated, it was closer to the delightful escape he hoped it would be. Laundresses on the other side of the stream used the water for their work before it flowed down the mountain and joined the river, soldiers ran their drills in a dusty parade-ground and servants of all sorts milled around the simple, practical buildings many of them lived in.
The food was the kind of fare he wouldn’t bat an eye at—now, at least. A two-course meal delivered by a maid that included spiced meats, fine white bread and sweet biscuits for dessert was hardly what Rowan grew up on.
Torsten had a mouthful of savoury pie when he hummed and slapped the table. “Tara. Almost forgot to give ye my alibi sheet with all this lunch business.” He pulled an abused sheet of paper out of his belt, unfolded it and smoothed it out on the table in front of the fairy. “Hardly left the grindstone this week.”
“Oh, that’s fine. I didn’t expect to see Rowan today so I don’t have mine at all.”
Ah. That was Torsten’s schedule. Like the ones from Tara that Rowan scanned over quickly and mostly ignored. Nobody took those seriously, right?
“They’re a right pain, eh?” She cut a chunk of bread into manageable mouthfuls with a table knife and pored over Torsten’s paper. “Who do you give yours to, Rowan?”
The tingle in his stomach turned from hunger to a pit. It made sense that all the ministers would exchange schedules to cross-reference what each of them was doing before presenting it to the Queen. That the ad-hoc system missed him was the greatest boon someone in his position could ask for. “Oh, no idea. A messenger picks mine up, so I’ve been wondering if they’re worried I’ll talk whoever-it-is out of reporting on me.”
They laughed. Laughter was good, it meant they weren’t thinking too hard about it or asking follow-up questions.
“Speaking of, what have you been up to, Tara? I saw you’re meeting with that judiciary council more often lately.”
“Ah, tryin’ to deal with that whole damned Stowell situation.”
“The necromancer? Is she doing well?”
“Ha. No. Council’s got her up on a charge of forbidden research. Might revoke her dark magic licence, imprison her a few decades and destroy all her work.”
“Wait, what was she up to? I thought we saw everything.”
“Nah, we did. They’re just a little antsy about the whole bit with a zombie who remembers her past life. Soul magic, immortality and the L-word are all on the table.”
Torsten speared a piece of pork and waggled it at Tara. “Touch more serious than just a few years in jail if it’s that.”
“Well… It won’t be.”
As usual, Rowan felt two steps behind on anything outside his wheelhouse. “I’m… not familiar with what the L-word is.”
She beckoned him closer to whisper. “Liches. They ain’t gonna bring it up again so long as Stowell doesn’t say anythin’ about it though.”
“I’m not sure exactly what all that means, but I don’t know that she’s organised enough to even try to break the law.”
“That’s what I’m tellin’ ‘em! Based on the… report, I’ll call it, this was just a life-or-death situation and it happened by accident.”
“Might still get her on a minor charge though. Don’t know what the magic legals are like over here, but in Quartz they’d probably make the manslaughter analogy and it’d all be case law from there,” Torsten said.
The fairy groaned. “D’you know how much I hate bein’ the defence advocate and one of the judges? I’m just hopin’ they’ll leave it alone after the zombie’s gone.”
“Gone as in…?” Rowan asked.
“As in unburdened by a continued existence in the mortal realm.”
“Still, that seems a little strange.” Almost as strange as when a normal man finds himself advocating for a necromancer and the living dead. The only excuse he could shield himself with was that the zombie in question was one of his countrywomen. “It’s hardly her fault that this all happened to her.”
“Ah, still. She should already be dead by rights so there’s nothin’ to protect her from gettin’ destroyed at the Council’s pleasure.”
“They’re living, thinking beings, though.”
“I mean…” Tara scratched her chin and looked over to Torsten. “I don’t know. Never really gave it any thought.”
Why did he have to be so pushy? This was the same stupid instinct that made him step into danger because he was hung up on whether a situation was ‘right.’ Ending a war because he got persnickety about a clerical error was all fine and dandy, but this would hardly be the first conversation he ruined with it. Hopefully the friendship wouldn’t follow. “Sorry. It’s not like I know enough about the situation to have a meaningful opinion.”
“Forget it. It’s good to hear from someone who doesn’t have their head filled up with obscure 4-3 opinions issued by a panel from eight hundred years ago.”
“Well, it certainly puts my problems in perspective.”
“You dealin’ with somethin’ too?”
“It’s… really only important to me.”
“Aw, go on then.” Torsten teased. “If ye don’t I’ll start complainin’ about cobble maintenance an’ I’ll bet neither of ye want that.”
“It’s just an interpersonal problem.” His colleagues stared expectantly until he continued. “My deputy may be furious with me.”
“Don’t keep us on pins n’ needles, lad.”
“I er… The Queen found out how poorly we were getting along and decided to punish her.” He took a sip of his wine to hide his face. He’d keep it vague. No need for-
“What, she make her suck your dick or somethin’?”
It was good that Rowan was looking toward the brook. It would have been embarrassing to spit wine all over Torsten. More embarrassing.
“Oh, hit the nail on the head?”
“Nah,” Tara said, “I’ll bet she made her fork over her underwear to ‘im for a week.”
It wasn’t a week last time, and that one had very little to do with him other than being the executor of the punishment.
“Ah, naw. Knowin’ how much she bellyaches about him, it’d at least be havin’ her strip naked and wait on him and n’ foot.”
“Oh, maybe. Did I ever tell ya about these little bells she-”
“Regardless-!” Rowan adjusted his volume. “She was sort of on edge about that and then I got a delivery today that… may have made things worse.”
“What’d you manage to order that’d make it worse than that? Flowers with a ‘can ya do that again’ card?”
“I didn’t order anything, that’s the problem! I was sent a whole box of items I didn’t ask for, then she looked over my shoulder and saw it.”
“Are ya gonna play coy forever? You’re actin’ like we haven’t been around Rhinnie before.”
“…It was sex toys. A lot of them. She just walked out of the office after that and I think the porter started talking about it as soon as she left.”
Even the maid covered her mouth. Tara and Torsten, on the other hand, had no qualms about howling with laughter loud enough the laundresses started to stare.
“What’re ye even goin’ to do with those?” The dwarf wheezed.
“I don’t know! That’s why I’m stalling and trying to stay out of the office!”
“Ye tried givin’ ‘em to Rhinnie? ‘S about all I can think of aside from throwin’ the box into the river and hopin’ for the best.”
“You’re the second person to tell me that.”
Tara wiped the tears off her cheeks. “Ah, I bet she’d love it. Fancies ya already so ya might even get a show out of it.”
This was an excellent time to not tell them he was certain Rhiannon would be having sex with him if he came bearing gifts. A gentleman didn’t kiss and tell after all. Besides, she could execute all manner of nasty punishments if she didn’t care for discussion of how she was in the bedroom.
He veered the conversation away from the subject of women and they ended up talking a while longer about business. Torsten was preparing the roads for the spring’s lumber shipment from Giria, repairing bridges and all sorts of minutiae that the war interrupted. Tara complained about a number of rogue magicians and former soldiers who could toss fireballs doing so without consideration for time, place or occasion. They parted ways with the usual vague promises to meet again soon and the maid refused his assistance to carry the table back inside. There was nothing left to do but the evening’s business.
As much as Rowan wanted to get a third opinion in the hope for different advice, it was obvious what he needed to do. At least she would be done holding court by now. He returned to his (thankfully vacant) office and retrieved the box from its sloppy hiding-spot.
The crate was heavy and his arms burned after the first few hallways. Given how much the box jingled as Rowan trudged along, it must have been at least half metal, but he didn’t dare look inside again. What if something really did catch his fancy? If his lie about owning a collection of aesthetically appealing sex toys came true, he would have to take a very serious look at his life choices. The temptation wasn’t worth it.
The drowsy guard at the door to Rhiannon’s suite acknowledged him with a nod. “Afternoon, Minister.”
“Ah, hello.” This was his last chance to just drop off the crate and beat a hasty retreat without speaking to Rhiannon. But… He knew he wouldn’t get away with it for long and they were bound to talk at some point. “Would you mind knocking for me?”
“Not a problem. What’s in the box?”
“Do we have to talk about it?”
The guard smirked. “Not if you promise I’ll only hear good screams when you go in. Have to stop any potential assassins, you understand.”
“No, it’s… nothing she won’t like.”
She turned and slammed the heavy bronze knocker on the door twice. “Minister Sir Rowan of Waterton, so on and so forth,” she announced. “Congratulations on the promotion, by the way.”
“Er, thanks. It was a little impromptu.”
“We all saw it coming from a mile away. Head in, I’ll bet she expects you.”
Rowan shuffled through the door, still debating what he would open the conversation with. It would come to him. It always did.
Rhiannon sat sideways on a high-backed chair with her long, stockinged legs dangling over the arm. She spiritlessly flipped through a stack of papers without bothering to take off the long, dramatic gloves that matched the rest of her lingerie. “You can’t imagine how bored I’ve been today. Why do people give me all these reports?”
That answered itself, didn’t it? Whenever a matter was marked down as ‘Very Important Indeed’ or if someone had something that they felt some higher power should know about, they sent it to their regent. The latter was really nothing other than an admission that the sender didn’t know who was supposed to handle their request.
“And there’s this question that the Duchess of Glenkirk asked me about taxing ‘right of pannage’ on baronial land. She lost me at ‘of’, but if I just send back ‘put it back to how it was during my mother’s reign’, your sister will give me another talking-to. How did my mother tolerate all this pointless busywork?”
“Anyway, I’m ready to hear about how you ‘certainly did not’ finger yourself to the memory of taking Rowan’s dick and I’m sure you’re very upse…” Rhiannon’s gaze drifted up from the papers and over to Rowan as she trailed off. “Oh.”
The Queen launched into a frenzy of activity. The papers were thrown aside, she sat up straight in her chair, checked her gloves and stockings, smoothed down her hair, then threw one leg over the other in a suspiciously calculated way before she met Rowan’s eyes with a look of placid self-assurance.
“Rowan. You’re… early, is it? Was I expecting you?”
“I didn’t make an appointment. Should I come back later?”
“No! No, no. That’s fine. Sit down, I wanted some company.”
He set the box down most of the way behind his chair and hoped she would take the signal that he wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. “Busy day, Your Majesty?”
“Rhiannon. And yes, like you wouldn’t believe. It’s frustrating to need to manage so much.”
“There are several sayings about how heavy crowns are.”
“I do prefer tiaras for a reason. They don’t press down on my horns.”
“No, it’s a metaphor for-”
She scoffed. “A joke, Rowan. Not to disparage your excellent work ending the war, but I do miss when I only had an army to run.”
“Did you need help with anything? I help Tara now and then, so I do know my way around paperwork.”
“Don’t tempt me or I may take you up on that.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Let’s get off the subject. What’s in your box there?”
“Oh, erm…” Rowan idly ran his prayer beads through his fingers. “It’s a bit of a long story.”
The Queen leaned forward with a grin. “Is that a blush I see? Go on, I have all evening.”
He stumbled to find the right set of words that wouldn’t leave him looking like a fool or sex toy collector. “It’s… Well, Margrave Wearn, you see… I think he got the wrong idea about me and thought he found a kindred spirit, so he sent me some equipment.”
“If we’re still on the subject of sayings, there’s one about keeping a lady waiting, you know.”
Rowan slid the crate between them and pried off the lid once again. The contents bounced around enough on the way over that they were confronted with a layer of toys he didn’t see before. He had no idea what the long, slender something was that stuck out of the sea of shackles, plugs and other toys, but it possessed a certain charm with its delicate engravings and patin-
No. No, he wasn’t doing this. He looked away before anything else caught his eye. “I’m worried I may have traumatised Gree- Sophia when it came in.”
“Mhm.” Rhiannon picked up an abnormally large dildo and held it up to her eye like it was a plank of wood she was inspecting for bends. “Shall I take this delivery as a hint?”
Rowan froze up. That was technically true, but not in the ‘please-use-them-on-me-Your-Majesty’ way she probably thought. He would cut this off at the pass before he ended up with uncomfortable things put in uncomfortable places. “Y… yes. I wanted to ask if you would be interested in taking them off my hands. I wouldn’t know what to do with them anyway.”
“J-just to clarify, are you talking about-”
Shit. Shit shit shit. This wasn’t the mood he wanted her in if they were going to have sex. He was a diplomat. Wasn’t he supposed to be charming? The way he hurriedly dropped his belt and everything on it skidded over the floor certainly didn’t help his case. How a man could undress enticingly was beyond him, but he did his best to look dignified once he was naked.
She dropped the toy and stood. Every step she took toward him was an excuse to show off her long legs or sway her hips until she towered over him and laid a hand on the arm of his chair. “Let me be excruciatingly clear, Rowan. I am incapable of sucking out your soul, am not blackmailing you, am quite satisfied with the length of your penis and didn’t even mind the taste of your cum when I started unsubtly flirting with you months ago.” Rowan’s attempt to break eye contact was met with a finger that moved his chin back to face her. “I feel like having casual sex with you, since I now know you’re certainly capable. Do I not appeal to you?”
“No, you’re beautiful! I, er…” She was right. There wasn’t any reason for him to balk like this. So what was it?
More women probably came through Rhiannon’s bedroom in a week than he did in his entire lifetime. Just getting lucky a few times with girls in Dunmuir didn’t mean much when faced with the prospect of measuring up to someone who treated sex as an art that required daily practice. Would he measure up? This needed to be the best performance of his life or he’d lose every ounce of respect she had for him. He should have done some research or gotten advice or at least done some kind of image training. Rowan was stuck like a rat in a cage now and he was lucky to have put it off this long.
‘I suppose I owe it to you’ very nearly slipped out of his mouth. Idiot. That was not the way to impress the very attractive woman coming on to him. Turn on the charm—go.
He rested his hand on her hip and smiled. “I would love to.”
Her face lost its hard, impatient edge. “That’s what I like to hear.”
“Before we start, I’d just like to make sure I don’t get you pregnant…”
A chuckle. “Oh, you dog.”
“I’m perfectly happy with anal, so you don’t have to dance around the subject.”
That wasn’t what he meant at all. How could he put ‘I’m not ready to be a father’, ‘I’m worried about your political career’ and ‘I’ll be crucified by the public if they find out I got you pregnant’ into one smooth, coherent thought? “I don’t-”
“Is it giving or receiving you want?”
“Rea- giving! Give, please. Sorry.” He gritted his teeth as soon as the words left his mouth. What he should have said was something along the lines of: ‘Excuse me, sorry, but I think we’ve stumbled a bit here. I was trying to suggest that we should use a condom rather than just hoping. Also for future reference, I don’t have much interest in having things inserted into my anus, as hypocritical as that may sound right now.’ But of course he didn’t. Rhiannon had a pressure to her personality that kept him consistently off-balance and occasionally made him put his foot in his mouth.
“I apologise for being curt with you, Rowan.” She ran her finger along the underside of his dick and the smooth fabric of her glove felt like a soft, tickling breeze. “You gave me a nice show yesterday, but I’ve been waiting to fuck you since you first stumbled into my tent.”
“It’s not every day a Queen expresses interest in a commoner. I wasn’t sure what was a trap or my imag-” He flinched when she drizzled a cool stream of oil onto his shaft from a small bottle. “I-imagination.”
“We should accept each other’s apology and focus on having a good night, then.” Rhiannon put her hands on his shoulders and straddled his lap. The dominating position above him only seemed to emphasise her tall, graceful beauty when he was forced to look up to meet her shining yellow eyes.
“Right. Er…” He pushed himself higher, stretching to reach her lips. It would be a shame to have an awkward intimate encounter where he simply let the Queen do whatever she pleased to him. Rowan felt obliged to do the bare minimum for her, so he was surprised when his kiss was met with her gloved hand.
“I appreciate the gesture. Why don’t you line things up instead?”
“Are you sure? I could do something to make sure you’re ready. I mean-”
“Yes.” Rhiannon grabbed his wrist to guide him to her panties. The dark silk was already soaked through and her pussy drooled onto his hand when he pushed it aside.
Was that a ‘yes I’m sure,’ or a ‘yes, go ahead and warm me up?’ He ran a finger over her labia and her folds greedily sucked it in. That seemed like enough of a go-ahead to him.
A relieved sigh escaped her lips when he slid a finger in up to his knuckle and rested his thumb on her clit. Before he even moved, her pussy squeezed around the intrusion, as if to beckon him deeper.
Her hips rocked gently with the movement of his hand. Was this enough for her? Only one finger wasn’t likely to do much, considering how wet she was and how often she had sex. In fact, she wasn’t making a sound at all.
He glanced up to check his assumptions. Rhiannon wore a sort of half-smile, as if she was tolerating what he was doing and not much more.
What was he thinking? There were probably a dozen people a week that did this to her and he was unlikely to even rank in the top ten. Did he assume that something that would amuse some girl in a backwater town was going to be good enough for her? Idiot. His foolish hopes of giving her a night to remember evaporated when Rhiannon proved herself far more seductive than he was all over again.
It didn’t even seem premeditated when she pulled his hand away and licked it clean with a seductive smile.
“That’s not what we agreed to, you tease.”
Rhiannon put her arms around his neck and pressed herself against him. The gentle smell of her body mixed together with the scent of her spicy perfume beautifully and almost distracted him from his task again. The last thing he needed was to wear down her patience.
He pushed his tip past her invitingly wet lips and lined himself up with her tight back door. Was it supposed to be so unyielding? The oil from his dick smeared on the hole without gaining him access, but he wasn’t in the best of positions, either-
Without another word, she sank onto his cock with a sigh. Her ass resisted the intrusion at first, gripping his tip, then shaft as she pressed down. Suddenly though, it gave in and she dropped all the way to the base.
‘Hot’ was an understatement. As her insides settled around his girth, it felt more like a bed of coals that demanded movement to tolerate. Rhiannon, however, was in no rush. She rocked her hips in a lazy circle to adjust him to her satisfaction, leaving his dick desperate for more stimulation. “That’s more like it, wouldn’t you say?”
“It’s- you’re, er…” Amazing? That didn’t tell her much. How was he supposed to put things delicately? He never thought he would need the words to tell a woman that her ass felt like it was meant for him. As she shifted her weight up and down, her hole stayed tight enough that he couldn’t pull out if he wanted to.
Rhiannon gained momentum until her breasts bounced with each stroke. “That good?”
“B-better than I could have imagined.”
Her grin broadened and she slammed herself down to the hilt as a reward. “I’m glad to hear that.”
Only the sound of their breathing and the slapping of flesh filled the room as they continued. The barest flush of arousal coloured her pale features, but her breathing stayed steady as she bounced up and down without touching him. She could happily hold a conversation without any real disturbance and was really only looking at him because there was little else to do.
He held no expectation of being the best partner she ever had, of course. It was just that he didn’t know sex could feel so impersonal. Physically speaking, he didn’t know that anal would feel like she was trying to wring the cum out of him as if she could precisely control everything inside her. But… That Rhiannon didn’t fake any extra enjoyment made him insecure. This was the encounter of a lifetime for him and she was getting about as much enjoyment out of it as a nice cup of tea.
What could he do? If she didn’t want to be touched, the only thing left to him was rocking his hips to find the right pace for her.
Harder didn’t work well. When he tried to jam himself deeper, he ran up against the entire weight of the woman sitting on him. Exhaustion set in after a few strokes and the reaction was a tilted head and an amused smirk.
Grinding his hips in a circle didn’t go much better. No real reaction again—other than her reaching between her legs and running her fingers over her clit, down her labia and back again. It was impossible to say whether she was trying to give him a lesson on how to actually please a woman or just trying to get something out of the sex they were having. One of the important rules for a diplomat was to never beg, but…
“Mmm?” Her voice was hardly even breathy.
“It’s… It’s not as though I’m not enjoying this, but can I make this feel better for you?”
She slowed to a halt and ground her butt back and forth against his painfully hard dick. “What a gentleman. Are you sure you’re going to last?”
“I-I will!” He couldn’t live it down if an internationally-known beauty did nothing more than treat him like a living dildo. If he just sat still, he wouldn’t measure up to a fake.
“If you’re that certain.”
She lifted herself up painfully slowly, her ass gripping his cock to keep it inside. From her wry smile, there was no doubt she knew that she was pressing her chest into his face when she reached his tip. The smell of her cedar-and-spice perfume filled his nose as she lifted the last little way up and his dick fell free.
It wasn’t as if the room was cold, but compared to Rhinnon’s burning-hot insides, anything would feel cool.
The Queen winked at him and dismounted with the dainty grace of a silk ribbon floating away on a breeze. Every motion flowed into the next as she stood, turned and walked a few steps to the chair she sat in before.
But she wasn’t done. She ran her hands down her backside and down her stockinged legs, ending in a dramatic fold where her head didn’t rest far from her ankles. Rhiannon knew exactly how to direct his eyes wherever she wanted. That much was clear when he noticed that the movement was to remove her panties, not just entice him with her hypnotic movement.
The view it afforded was amazing. Her small, black goat’s tail flicked as if to draw his attention back to the gentle curve of her ass, the well-lubricated hole and her needy pussy beneath.
She only stayed in position long enough to titillate before she began to move again. In one swift spin on her heel, Rhiannon managed to turn, lift a leg free of her underwear and gently draped herself over the chair with her legs spread over its arms. Her panties dangled off one ankle like a flag guiding him between her legs.
“Not yet.” Her bra hit him in the face, expertly thrown as retribution for the joke. He thought it was good.
She rested her ankles on his shoulders and stared up at him with a pleased grin. “And contrary to popular opinion Rowan, women do enjoy a little dirty talk instead of having you silently pump away.”
“Oh, I… alright. Er…” It was all well and good to agree with her, but it was hard to come up with these things on the spot. “Are you ready for me, cutie?”
She bit her lip to stifle a laugh. “I am. Why don’t you go ahead, sweetie?”
The emphasis on ‘sweetie’ felt like being slapped with a damp sock. “…That may not have been my best work.”
“Neither was the pun. Now, are you going to f-aaaah.” Rowan slid his dick slid back into her ass without much resistance. He could at least perform physically if nothing else. “T-that’s the angle.”
It took a few strokes before he felt confident enough to speak again. “The only other thing I could think of was talking about pulling your tail or something. That was the better idea.”
“Hm. Not even the horns? Surely you’ve got other lines you’ve used on girls before.”
“It certainly didn’t feel right to say much to Sophia or Gwen and I was just negotiating with Diana.”
“Harder.” She began to tease her clit again, eyelids flickering when he slammed his hips against hers. “Is there anything that isn’t recent?”
“I had a girlfriend in Gisland who practically gave me a script, but it wasn’t anything but embarrassing.”
“And you thought ‘cutie’ would turn me on? Give one a shot.”
“Point taken.” He cleared his throat and leaned in. “I’m going to fuck your hot little ass so hard you won’t be able to stand.”
Her hole tightened against his base to challenge his words. Rowan was getting close, but the least he could do was show a little initiative. He sped up and shifted his hips around to find some kind of a weak spot. A pleased sigh left her and her fingers sped up when he angled his dick upward.
“What else? Compliment me.”
Every fibre of his being went into not stammering or flubbing his lines. Anything less than perfection wouldn’t satisfy her. “It’s no wonder everyone in your kingdom wants you with a body like that. I bet there isn’t a person in this palace who wouldn’t line up to see you naked.”
“Then why aren’t you touching me?”
Fair enough. Rowan slid his hands down her firm thighs, over her hips and up to her breasts. They were unbelievably soft—even a little squeeze made his fingers sink in. It was as if every part of her body cried out to be groped, fondled and fucked. Her face didn’t move when his thumb flicked over her nipple, but her ass suddenly twitched. Aha.
Squeezing them at the start of his thrust made her clamp around the tip of his cock, and pulling them at the end made her desperately hold on to his shaft as he pulled back.
“They’d be jealous I get to fuck their Queen and finish all over these.” To emphasise his point, Rowan squeezed his hands around Rhiannon’s bountiful breasts and evoked a body-length shudder. He could trace her reaction starting with her shoulders, then like lightning, it rolled down her body to where they were joined.
“K-keep going. More.” She turned her head away, staring off at some point behind him as her breathing became heavier.
“Or would Her Majesty like me to fill up her tight little hole?” All he could think of any more was finishing. The squeeze of her burning-hot insides, the dangerous pulsing in his cock, his anxiousness to please her and the smell of sweat and perfume melded into a single, intolerable experience.
“Harder. And I told you, Rhi-”
He slammed his cock in to the hilt and her reminder evaporated into a gasp. She wanted harder, didn’t she? He could give her harder. Every little tease, every occasion where she’d made his dick hard and left him to stew all came to a head. If she didn’t look at him and take him seriously, he would make her.
Her horns were perfect handles to wrench her head back to properly face him. Better. Rhiannon’s eyes went wide at the sudden display of dominance, then emptied of all thought when he leaned forward and used the last of his strength to pound her like a cheap whore.
For the first time since they started, she pulled away the hand teasing her pussy and used it to stifle her moaning. His entire world narrowed to just her eyes and the pulsing heat of her insides. The flicker of her long eyelashes, the widening of her squared pupils and the unwavering eye contact were all just more fuel to give her everything he had left.
He hilted himself once more and sprayed his seed deep inside her. Pump after pump pushed past her tight hole and flooded her ass until he was completely spent.
One hand fell back down to her breast to stimulate her a little more as he gave a few last limp thrusts. Her eyelids flickered and her body gave a few final trembles until he was too soft to stay in her.
Rowan stumbled back and caught sight of his handiwork. Rhiannon’s limp, sweaty body spilled out of the chair. Her arms and hair splayed limply around her, she was missing a shoe and her eyes tried and failed to focus on anything. He likely didn’t look much better, but the gravity of his actions dawned on him as he watched his seed drip out of her. The dirty talk was bad enough, but in what world was it okay to grab her horns without permission and force her to look at him while he came inside?
Rhiannon took another minute to catch her breath before she waved her hand. “I… ah… Brigid can escort you out.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Rowan’s head snapped around just in time to catch sight of a royal guard in her black underwear scoop up his clothes. There wasn’t a shred of doubt that she watched the whole thing. Her eyes sparkled with amusement as she grabbed his arm. “If you’ll follow me this way, Minister.”
As he was thrust outside, the hollow anxiety of the situation shattered his sense of urgency. He squatted down and sighed into his hands. Why was this happening to him? Things were just starting to look up.
“Minister Rowan?” It was one of the guards on the outside.
“Are you alright? You’re usually a lot more eager to get your clothes back on.”
“…You’ve already seen me naked anyway. How much more embarrassing could it get?”
“I suppose. Did she fuck you silly or something? You’re staring at the wall like it owes you money.”
“Or something.”1587 Views