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Saena, City of the Kingdom of Stilyra- Mid Winter 15 years AR

  Jon woke up with a groan and drug his dry tongue across the inside of his mouth. He looked around and spotted a pitcher of water at the other side of the room they’d rented the night before. He got up and drank straight from the pitcher to get rid of his dry mouth before sitting on the foot of the bed to rub his eyes and laid back down.

  He looked over from his lower position in the bed and saw Tira’s bare stomach and equally bare breasts, he eyed her faint tan lines and light pink nipples. He was still a virgin but they’d gone a little further the night before. The past three night’s in fact had been a fun blur.

  During the day they went to the bathhouse, shopped, and wandered around. At night they drank or went to watch a play in the strange inn outside the city. It was different but a fun place to go. Even if the Innkeep was a little crazy, she was nice but crazy. I mean, what kind of Innkeep threatened to hit their own customers with a frying pan? Aethred said it was because the Innkeep shared the same name as his sister but well... Still he liked the place and would definitely go back there next time he was in the area. The young proprietor didn’t care one bit he was a noble and treated him like any other customer, that alone was worth it.

  At night, they’d all drink together, the Badgers of the Dain and the Chosen of Lindum… They’d talked the mages into signing up at the adventurers guild, Willow told them it was easy coin. Somehow, Jaesmin and Cara even ended up on both teams, which was apparently acceptable. It didn’t work with their team name, but that didn’t matter.

  They were also joined by some of the knights and Rangers who were waiting just like Jon and his friends. They were told to sit and wait while Ser Erik, Lady Kyanna, and Ser Afgheir, representing the Legions, dealt with the Duke and organizers of the arena.

  They even had the Fae come to drink. Who surprisingly liked drinking and dancing. The previous night there had been 10 walking or flying around with thimbles. They even paid themselves but Jon had no idea where they got the coin but it was only a half dozen copper to get enough for all of them, two mugs being enough for the small beings. Tira made a noise at his side as she rolled onto her back.

  Jon propped himself up on his elbow and started running his hand up Tira’s stomach, stopping just below her breasts before going back down. They were beyond the awkwardness of touching but he kept his hands off the goods, it didn’t feel right with her being asleep. His gentle petting caused her to stir, so he grinned and started tickling softly.

  “Stop it, I gotta pee,” Tira mumbled and started smacking her mouth. Jon laughed and tickled a second more before he got up to get the pitcher of water. They’d spent a few nights drinking heavily and after a few rounds, she didn’t heed his advice to drink water between mugs of mead. In short, she was more hungover than he was.

  She took the water and moistened her dry mouth before giving him a peck on the cheek and getting up to stretch her back and run her fingers through her long red hair. He needed to go too but he’d walk down with her. He got up and she turned to hug him with another kiss. Now that she was awake his hand went a little higher, he squeezed her breast softly before she swatted it away.

  “Pee then food. You can do that tonight,” She said with a smirk. He turned a little red and bit his lip but started getting dressed. He actually wouldn’t be able to do anything with her that night, not without convincing Andrew and Aethred to sleep out in the snow.

  Today was their last day in Saena, at least for a while. They’d made their preparations for the trip and would get their supplies to build up his lands in Ederath. Well, Aethred, Gertrude, and her daughters would handle that. The group, mainly Erin, collectively decided Aethred would be responsible for getting enough tents, clothing, food, and supplies for the new slaves. To make sure he didn’t waste any more money, the blunt northern woman would accompany him.

  They made it downstairs and out the door to the public latrines that could be found throughout the city. They split as they entered with Jon heading to the men’s side and Tira heading into the women’s with a cloth pad in hand. It was one of the various reasons things hadn’t gone further the night before.

  “Ready to go, boy?” someone asked while Jon stood taking care of his business. He looked over to see he’d missed Afgheir as he walked in. The man was seated over one of the other holes, unpleasant sounds coming from him. Jon decided right there, if he ever built something like Saena’s sewers and public utilities in his lands, the latrines would at least have walls and a half-door... even a bush in the Dain gave more privacy.

  “Yes, Ser. Aethred got the last of the supplies yesterday?” Jon responded while looking ahead and giving it a shake.

  “You really have that little twat take care, ugh... of it?” Jon tried to ignore Afgheir’s grunt as he walked over to a barrel of cleanish water to rinse his hands, giving it a cast of [purify] first and making sure not to look towards the grunting knight. Afgheir had started treating Jon a little differently after fighting the drake, even more so after the battle, and yet again after Jon had gained his title. Granted he was technically higher nobility than Afgheir, so the last one was at least expected. Though, he treated Jon more like a young peer than a superior. He was fine with that, except for the current familiarity but he’d have an issue listening to a man poop even if he wasn’t a noble.

  “Yeah… It was Erin’s idea. She wasn’t too happy when he told us what he did at the market,” Jon said, thinking of Aethred’s stunt at the slave market. The dwarves had turned out to be prospectors and miners while the halflings were tinkerers. The issue was, they were forced into their line of work because of stereotypes and sucked at their jobs, hence the reason they were being sold. Jon didn’t know this until after Erin started questioning Aethred about his declaration of Jon owning a ‘gaggle of midgets’. Aethred hadn’t even asked them their trade before negotiating to buy them.

  “Haha, heard bout that from Finn. If nothin’ else, maybe they’ll head home after they’re freed and the Kingdom of Dow or whatever village the halflings are from will send a reward,” Afgheir signaled for Jon to wait as he wiped his ass and continued when his pants were back up. Jon didn’t want to disrespect his mentor but why here of all places? “Got that map drawn out for ya. Not as good as what you can get in Lindum though. It’s been a few years since I’ve been up that way.” Which probably meant a decade or two from the perspective of a three-century old lycan.

  Jon nodded and followed Afgheir out, Tira was already waiting on him. She gave Afgheir a wave which made the man smile politely as he greeted her. They followed Afgheir to his inn and got the map, Jon studied it. It wasn’t very detailed and had been scratched on a piece of parchment with charcoal but it did help.

  For one, he now knew the basic layout. He knew he’d own the coastline from the border with the northern tribes to a little more than halfway to the border to the Elvan. He also already knew that his land extended along the flat coastal area and halfway through a line of hills that made up a bumpy ridgeline. But now he knew the rough location of the small rivers and even a few ponds, lakes, and known cave systems. There were even a few small islands marked down just offshore and after asking, Afgheir confirmed they were his as well.

  “So we going?” Tira asked as she looked at the map while holding his arm.

  “Yup, we’re meeting outside the north gate at nine bells. Get a move on,” Afgheir said as they left his room. Jon rolled up the map and looked over at Tira.

  “Ready to go to Ederath?”

**********

  Sunada had been on edge ever since she left their little refuge. She’d been dispatched to find the nearest settlement and present gifts. It was decided that she would go, as a female would be less threatening to their new neighbors than a male and with her beauty, they may be more inclined to help. It was a slight dishonor but her father told her that there is no dishonor in ensuring the survival of others. So she left with a gift of goods that they could spare, a small escort, and a warning of the monsters that tormented the east.

  She was told they were on the mainland but was shocked to see the tall wolflike beings at the first village they came across. They left to find another settlement immediately, deciding that warning the locals would be in their best interest but at the next settlement, there was more there as well. They didn’t want to lead the monsters back to camp so they moved south to what was marked on her map as a different kingdom. Maybe this land had fallen but surely others were holding the monsters at bay and could get her people out before the monsters found them.

  That was how they ended up getting attacked in the forest by a group of humans. Only her handmaiden, two of her escort, and herself survived. They were drug through the woods by the roughly dressed humans and sold to a far better dressed one, she'd seen them exchange coins. He forced them to march further south after branding them and sampling her body... She reached her hand down the back of her neck to a place where they’d shaved off her fur and burned her flesh, not wanting to think of the other part.

  The sound of chains moving made her jump and she stared at the door. The humans and other races around her got up from the ground, some of them smiling widely. She didn’t speak their language and they didn’t speak hers, so all she could do was think that they were happy for a reason she didn’t understand. She hoped that it was a good thing and applied to her as well, but the young man she realized was her new master consorted with monsters. Particularly a red-haired woman that could turn back and forth at ease. She didn’t realize the monsters could hide as humans and spent the first night terrified one of the humans around her was a monster in disguise. Nothing attacked her that night, nor the next when she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer and fell asleep. She wished the others hadn’t already been sold, they could have taken turns watching and she wanted to hear a voice she could understand.

  An older blond human came up and looked down at her as she sat in the corner. She assumed this was the head slave or some sort of personal servant as she was the one who yelled at the other slaves to get them to do things. The woman was yelling at Sunada now and it wasn’t hard to realize she was supposed to stand up too.

  When the doors opened she shielded her eyes from the light with her hand. Her master and a few others, including his pet monster with red hair like Sunada's fur, walked inside and said a few things. A few of the slaves cheered when he finished and some of them looked even happier. They all walked outside to find a convoy of wagons half laden with supplies and crates filled with thick cloaks and boots of various sizes. Most looked used but she shivered and looked down at her bare feet. Boots meant for humans wouldn’t fit her and her sandals would have been worthless, even if she still had them.

  The monster woman walked up to her and started talking while pointing at the ground. Sunada moved to kneel but she was stopped, the monster wanted something else. She could only think of one thing and shook as she slowly sat down in the snow. She closed her eyes and laid back while spreading her legs, not once did she stop shaking despite trying to.

  She heard the monster say something and after a moment felt a smack on her leg at the same time she heard the voice of the head slave. They must be preparing her for their master. Another smack, harder this time caused her to open her teary eyes and look.

  The monster and the head slave were looking down at her. Even across race and culture, she could see pity in the head slaves eye and anger in the monsters. They exchanged words a moment before looking back at her. The monster's angst didn’t seem to be directed at her and its eyes too went to pity after it let out a sigh.

  The monster knelt down and gently lifted her leg while the head slave started wrapping her feet in thick, warm cloth. They soon finished both and the monster, which looked like a human woman, extended her hand. After a bit of hesitation, Sunada took it and was helped to her now warmer feet. The monster gently rubbed her shoulder a moment and turned to walk away.

  She found herself contemplating on the two surprises that had found her. The first was seeing pity in the eyes of a monster and gentle compassion while they wrapped her feet. The second was when she realized, they weren’t dropping off goods for the slaves, some crawled on the wagons and a few of her master's companions climbed onto large carriages. They were leaving.

  “Where are we going?” she asked aloud, the first time she’d spoken in the presence of anyone there. More than a few turned to look at her curiously.

**********

  “Did you recognize that language?” Erin asked the group, who were once again congregating in and on the men’s caravan. This time they were tempting fate and had three on top. At least it was three of the lightest, being Erin, Tira, and Aethred. A series of answers showed that no one had any idea what the fox-woman said.

  “When we stop we can ask the old man,” Willow said, it would be their best option. Afgheir spoke multiple languages, though he wasn’t fluent in all of them. The legion worked off common but only in commands, there were other languages spoken on the mainland.

  Andrew walked up from behind and climbed aboard,” I’m thinkin’ her name’s Sunada and she’s Inari.”

  “Why would you think that?” Aethred asked, sitting on the edge of the porch roof.

  “Pointin’ at the others saying ‘human’, ‘dwarf, and ‘Elvanni’ then pointed at her. She said a bunch o’ words and bowed. Thinkin’ she were trying to introduce herself with too many words at first. She knew it too ‘cause she did something funny with her ears and said 'Inari' while pointing at herself. Did the same thing ta get her name. Pointed to myself an’ sayin’ 'Andrew', the others did the same and she said 'Sunada',” Andrew explained. Everyone looked at him with surprise. Not that he wasn’t smart enough to think of that, it was just…

  “We’re so fucking dumb,” Erin groaned from the roof. It was just that no one else had thought to simply try to talk to her.

  “Should I go talk to her?” Aethred asked, looking down again.

  “Aethred, she’s been raped. If you’re goi-" Erin's voice came from above.

  “I’m not trying anything! She’s got some big funbags but I’m not into fur,” He protested, “Who else is going to go? If Jon goes and he sees a woman with red fur, he’s gonna get fucking horn- oww.”

  “Oi, you’re sittin’ up there with his sister and his lass. Not smart… which one was it?” Willow laughed at Aethred’s lack of judgment.

  “Both!” Tira and Erin answered for him in unison.

  “Just talk with her tonight when we make camp, or have one of the others do it,” Karli chimed in softly from her usual spot. The others being the slaves. Jon thought about it but it gave him a bit of a headache.

  “I’ll talk, bring old man and a map,” Tira volunteered, “Jon can come with.”

  That night that’s exactly what they did, they got Afgheir and decided to bring Andrew as well, considering he was the first one to speak to her. Some of the slaves came forward and managed to learn a few other things. They managed to figure out that she came from the west. A place either called Soga or Tsuda Tal'kuko. Maybe both if one was a country and the other a city. They also figured out her last name was Takana.

  When they approached her she was down on both knees by one of the campfires eating. Jon watched her, her movements were slow and purposeful. She’d only place a small bit of food in her mouth at a time and would lower her bowl to her lap while she chewed. She was also, weirdly enough, using two sticks to pick up her rations instead of a pronged fork or just using her fingers.

  When she noticed them she quickly and smoothly put down her bowl and sticks before turning to face them and prostrated herself in the snow.

  “Woah, woah, you don't-” he stopped himself, she wouldn't understand. Andrew walked forward and gently put his hand on her shoulder, pulling slightly and she lifted up.

  “Jon... Tira... Afgheir,” Andrew pointed to each of them in turn before repeating it. She repeated it too in a strange accent. She mainly focused on Tira and seemed confused.

  “Sunada Takana,” She said while pointing to herself. Jon smiled at her and she raised her ears straight up on top of her head after a moment but dropped them to her head and started shuffling back.

  “What’s gotten into her?” Afgheir asked the obvious question. Andrew knelt by her side and she stared at him, she shifted he ears again and looked down for a second, “Expressive ears on that one. Think that’s part of how the lass speaks?”

  After she raised her head she slowly reached for Andrew’s face and pulled his lips apart before giving a sigh of relief and turning her attention to the rest of them.

  “Ooooh,” All four let out at the same time.

  “She not like lycans?” Tira asked, looking concerned and slightly heartbroken.

  “She probably has no idea what a lycan is. Lycan,” Jon said and pointed at himself before pointing at her, “Inari?”

  She repeated the gesture in reverse before confirming who was lycan and who was human. After she sighed and lowered her ears and head again. They just watched and slowly took a seat with the food they’d brought with them. Well enough away from her, except Andrew.

  “Lycan?” she bared her teeth and claws and acted like she was biting and slashing at something, “Raah!”

  “Pfft, hahaha,” Afgheir broke out laughing while everyone looked on, “That fucking explains it. She’s never heard of a lycan but she’s heard of those mangy-fucks.”

  “Let me try,” Tira said and crawled forward on all fours, like a human imitating a lycan's four-legged stance. Jon pinched the bridge of his nose. If they were trying to convince Sunada that lycan’s were, in fact, NOT monsters, that probably didn’t help. She moved closer and sat down again and pointed to herself, “Inari? No! Elvanni, No! Tira? Yes! Lycan? Yes!” she then pointed at Sunada, “Lycan? no. Elvanni? no. Sunada? Yes! Inari, yes!”

  Sunada seemed to understand what was going on, she repeated the exercise but included Andrew, getting it right. Then she did it in her language, with ‘hoi’ being yes and ‘ki’ being no.

  “Lycan?” Tira scooted back and shifted into her lycan form, causing Sunada to look on with fear in her eyes as Tira bared her teeth and growled but stopped abruptly and said calmly, “No…. Werewolf?” she did the same thing again, “Yes!”

  Jon watched as understanding dawned on Sunada. She repeated the routine and her actions were confirmed in her language. When she was done, Jon couldn’t help but smile. That is until she prostrated herself and buried her snout in the snow while somehow managing to speak rapidly in her own language.

  “Not bad lass!” Afgheir said with a nod, “Boy, mind getting her back up? That’s making even me fucking uncomfortable.”

**********

  Dishonor! She just brought dishonor onto herself, her clan, her father, the Empire itself! They're not the monsters! They're people!

  “Please forgive this one. I bring only dishonor and shame! This is my dishonor to bear, please do not forsake my people for my foolish actions. I Sunada Takana shall bear any burden to recompense in the name of the Emperor! I swear it or shall my life be forfeit. May his Eminence know of my shame, so that he may bring honor and understanding between our peoples should I fail to do so,” She continued even as the human Andrew tried to get her to sit back up. She saw their faces when he pulled harder. They were embarrassed by her actions! She already knew that they didn’t like bowing, they’d stopped her from doing it multiple times already. She quickly shot up, it was fast enough that Andrew jumped. Now up, she continued to ramble on, “I bring yet more shame to myself and my clan. I must apologize for my actions and swear that I shall learn your customs so that I may show honor amongst you in your way. This is the duty of diplomacy. If I fail then I shall exile mys-”

  The one named Tira was holding her maw shut with one hand, Sunada had nearly bitten her tongue it happened so fast. When she let go, Sunada almost went on another tirade about causing offense again but stopped. Mainly because she was just informed that doing so was wrong but also because Tira was handing her a bowl of cooked stew. She took it and watched as the mons- the woman sat down and they all smiled and started eating. She wasn’t sure if this was just eating or if this was one of their customs but she started eating again just the same while studying them.

  When an even taller lycan man and an... Elvanni woman walked up, the group quickly stood while the one named Afgheir put his fist over his heart and bowed his head briefly and started talking when he looked back up, he pointed to her and she thought he must be explaining what was happening.

  Then she realized to her horror that she was still sitting. She moved to prostrate prostrated herself to the man that was obviously even her master's superior. After a moment she realized what she was doing and shot to her feet, Andrew had been bending over to get her to stand and fell backward when she stood. She dropped her ears in shame to acknowledge Andrew and then mimicked the same gesture Afgheir did.

  The leader bowed his head lightly with a human smile in her direction, as did the Elvanni. The woman didn’t do anything, which meant she was the man’s equal… or she had already completed their customs considering how relaxed the others were.

AARRROOWWWWOO!

  The sound pierced the night and Sunada jumped, she did a second time as the lycans all turned into their more monstrous forms and looked to the west. All except her master, he didn’t turn into a monster and actually ran in the opposite direction of where they were facing. As the lycans and Elvanni ran to the sound, he jumped up onto one of the caravans.

  ‘Is he running away?’ She couldn’t help but think.

  A minute later he jumped back out with a large ax in his hand and ran after them. Realizing he was arming himself she lowered her ears in shame and hesitated a moment before she went to follow.

  She needed to learn more about these people! As she ran she saw more lycans running past her quickly. She’d seen the first run on two legs but most of the ones passing her now sprinted as fast as a horse on four! Many were unarmored and some were even unarmed as far as she could tell. More than one said something to her as they passed. She didn’t understand what they were saying but most repeated the same word within the rest.

  “Trolls?” She didn’t know what that was but she soon found out as she approached the scene of a battle. Dozens of monstrous, naked beings that were vaguely humanoid were in the sparse trees. Each stood even taller than the lycans and with skin that looked like stone in the failing light. They were swinging heavy branches and throwing boulders at the charging lycans. The tallest of them was twice as tall as the tallest lycan but despite the difference in size, strength and reach, the lycans fought.

  She watched as her master dodged a rock and darted in, swinging his ax backward and driving the steel spike into the back of its knee before jumping away as the monster fell. Tira was climbing another's back with an ax in her mouth and took it out to start chopping down on the monster’s neck, it was too distracted by the others to grab for her.

  Sunada then shouted out in despair as she saw Afgheir get hit by a swinging tree trunk, he flew through the air and landed twenty paces away. She thought him dead but he got up slowly and started yelling at the one that had hit him. All the while making strange gestures with one hand and holding his ribs with another.

  Even the human Andrew was there, moving constantly and loosing arrow after arrow. A few missed and most harmlessly bounced off the monster's thick skin. Another of his arrows flew through the air and pierced the monster's eye and it roared in pain before its legs were cut and its head caved in with a massive hammer.

  She heard something beside her and saw the short male that had bought her for her master, he was carrying a strange bow and lifted it to his shoulder. She reached out and touched his arm, he looked.

  “Yes!” she said pointing to her eye with one hand and the monsters with the other. She then gestured to her entire body while still pointing at the trolls, “No!”

  He nodded and pointed to one eye while still holding his weapon up, “yes!”

  She wasn’t sure if he understood until he fired two arrows without even reloading. The first one skipped off a monster's forehead and the second pierced its neck. She watched as he reloaded it, fascinated by the powerful foreign weapon she’d never even heard described.

AWOWOO-

  Another howl let out, it was only then that she realized it was a lycan that had made that noise, not the trolls. The one that howled this time was cut off as he was pushed into the ground and a troll chopped down with another tree trunk.

  The lycans nearby switched and attacked the monster with a ferocity that scared her, even now that she knew they were people and not monsters. She looked back at the lycan that lay on the ground, expecting to see him get up. He didn’t, he was back to looking like a human. She moved down the line of Elvanni that was using normal bows to fight.

  Her eyes never left the lycan that lay there, wouldn’t he get back up like Afgheir? When the monster that hit him fell, one of the lycans grabbed him and ran back with the man over his shoulder. She followed and gasped when she saw. Three lycans and two Elvanni lay dead, their bodies crushed. The lycan that had brought the dead back placed a weapon into the dead man's hand and bowed his head only a moment before standing tall and running back into the fight.

**********

  The next day she managed to mime writing and they provided her with a charcoal stick and some parchment, they even let her ride in the wagon so she could write.

  “Let me see. How to describe them with honor or rather, how to describe how they approach it. They’re obviously honorable people but view it and uphold it differently than Inari,” she said to herself, normally she’d keep her musing about honor internal but no one could understand her and the people around her seemed more open about what they were thinking. Or at least she thought so, “Hmmm, well. First and foremost they are kind and are not lacking in compassion, and even show it to a person whom they’d never seen the likes of before. They’re also fearless in battle and rather than send the slave warriors. They fought themselves to protect the slaves against a formidable foe, even dying to protect those that would be considered lower. Which is a form of honor as father said. Then the way they treat their dead, they ensure their dead are armed and burn them afterward but the way they do that… the way they looked into the flames or sat and spoke to it… that must be how they send their dead to the afterlife. A ritual...”

  She continued on as Andrew sat next to her, watching her write. She wasn’t writing verbatim, rather trying to collect her thoughts as she wrote a detailed account of what she had witnessed of them. Ensuring that it encompassed their bravery and system of honor. To her it seemed that they showed honor by fighting to protect others and through a ritualized funeral for those that died in battle… she’d have to see how they treated their dead that didn’t die in battle first but even then she couldn’t imagine every lycan walking up to place their heart over their chest and bow their head to every dead person. Even their leader did it, he treated the dead as greater than himself, thus showing respect for the fallen.

  She looked at Andrew and put her ears up in a smile, she felt far better that day. She didn't worry about her fate as much, she was still a slave but she was enslaved by honor-bound people. That and the risk of the 'monsters' finding the refuge wasn't a problem anymore.

  She continued smiling and then realized her mistake when he looked at her confused. She dropped her ears in shame for forgetting she was dealing with an unknown people. After, she raised her ears again bared her teeth in a more lycan smile. It felt wrong and awkward to do that but she’d seen how they didn’t mind when they did it to each other.

  The plan worked as he smiled back. He then took his own piece of charcoal and drew the position of her ears before he slowly wrote in a sloppy foreign script on a different piece of parchment. It already had her ears in a shameful position but that was blank. He continued to write and occasionally stopped to cross out a group of characters and writing the same thing, though with a character added, removed, or rearranged.

  When he looked back and realized she was watching, he seemed embarrassed. She nodded and smiled, both lycan and Inari, ‘Everyone makes spelling errors,’ she thought and decided to help him out. She started miming emotions and displaying the corresponding positioning of her ears. He observed each one and took notes. He was studying her while she was studying them.

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Bjorne

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