*a sequel to A Dragon in Winter. Fair warning: adult content.
Áfastr is, indeed, a long way from home. He's survived many a storm, flurry, and blizzard, of water, snow, and even ice. But this is his first time in a sandstorm.
Long separated from his brother, Afvaldr, and regretting the decision to not switch his horse out for a local dromedary, Áfastr sits nearly defeated on a small slope comprised of sand. He feels the loose earth beneath him shifting, but he doesn't care. With his back to the wind and wrapped in local garb that offers his body some protection from the storm - he's thankful that he agreed to that, at least - he holds a torn parchment in his hand.
Oh, lover, my lover... your presence; missed
remember, our last kiss? I cried; realized bliss
as sweat replaced the scent of perfumed mist
and our hearts collided between the touch of hips
He can't see the words, of course, for the sand and dust blot out the sun, and the constant barrage of rock and mineral particles encourages him to keep his eyes closed. But it's no matter; Áfastr's long since memorized the poem Kolfrosta gave to him the day their quest forced their paths to split. Though, in Áfastr's opinion, it's not a particularly good poem, it is unforgettable. For even stronger in his memory - if such a thing were possible - is what the poem is about.
It happened over two months ago, when they were still in the Hellenes. Líknvé had arranged for an audience with the Attican Ecclesia, an audience that Áfastr and his brother were not allowed to attend, despite their purported Hellenic ancestry. Not that it mattered, for neither brother spoke the language. That Líknvé did might have been a surprise, but the old woman's revelations had ceased to surprise him long before they passed the Dinarides Mountains on their way to the Hellenes.
Kolfrosta, however, was allowed to attend. Though she did not, to Áfastr's knowledge, speak the language either, Líknvé was resolute in her determination to teach Kolfrosta everything she knew. It was obvious to Áfastr that the old woman was grooming a protégé, though doing so without the permission of Kolfrosta's father was a severe breach of Northmen protocol. Líknvé's attitude that it was okay since Kolfrosta's father was not around to object offended Áfastr greatly, but it was not the place for a 24-year old Northman hunter to rebuke the actions of an adviser to his King.
So, Áfastr and Afvaldr waited in quarters provided to each of them by the Hellenes. Áfastr's preference was to share a room with his brother, for Áfastr was uneasy with being a stranger in a strange land, but their hosts wouldn't allow it. The Hellenes, too, were leery of their strange guests and felt that segregation would provide better security for all parties by eliminating as many misunderstandings as possible. Never one to dwell on being at the whim of others, Áfastr quickly fell asleep.
Just before dawn, he was awakened by Hellene slaves bringing breakfast and local attire. To his surprise, Kolfrosta, dressed in a red peplos, accompanied them. Though Áfastr had previously joked that Hellenic garments reminded him of cheap drapery, he was overwhelmed with the realization that he'd never seen Kolfrosta so... exquisitely beautiful.
Kolfrosta easily noticed Áfastr's attention and partially hid her smile. "What is it?" she asked. To Áfastr, her tone was that of Líknvé's: playful, yet subversively manipulative. The old woman had been training her well. Before he could answer, Kolfrosta continued. "You should put those on," she said, pointing to the Hellenic clothes.
"Why?" His own tone caused Áfastr to wince. It was immature and lacking thought. Kolfrosta's new grin might have angered him, but he was still half-entranced by her beauty. The red of the peplos was a striking and complementary contrast to her black hair and slightly bronzed skin. He always remembered her with pale skin, however, though her skin took to the southern sun much more readily than his own.
"Líknvé convinced the Hellenes to help us," Kolfrosta replied, more seriously. "They know a lot more about these creatures than we do, and guides are being summoned to take us to the Abyss."
Though Áfastr had no idea what the Abyss was, he knew he didn't like the sound of it. Kolfrosta sensed his momentary fear and waited for the slaves to leave. When they did, she picked up the garments left for Áfastr and motioned for him to follow her.
"Where are you going?" Áfastr hadn't noticed her gesture.
"To my room. It's more secure and less-likely to be eavesdropped." Áfastr watched Kolfrosta's body carefully as she exited. She paused in the doorway, nodded to a Hellene guard, and gave Áfastr enough time to enjoy her silhouette. "Come on," she finally said, "we're wasting the morning."
There was something in Kolfrosta's voice that spurred Áfastr's compliance.
The first thing Áfastr noticed about Kolfrosta's quarters was that they were much more elaborate than his. Where he had a simple room with a small window, Kolfrosta had multi-chambered quarters that not only offered expansive views of the city, but a balcony overlooking the square below.
The second thing he noticed was the odor.
"What's that smell?" he asked, as Kolfrosta worked her way into the bed chamber, placing his clothes on a small table near the bed.
She turned and smiled. "The bed's been perfumed with herbs and spices. Cinnamon, myrrh, aloe. It's some custom they have."
Wanting to ask why - for it seemed more a cooking pot than a bed - he instead asked, "Cinnamon?"
She approached him, moving slowly, her eyes on his. "A rare spice. From an island world far to the east."
Áfastr was about to admit that the odor was rather pleasant, but Kolfrosta's inexplicable disrobing and her sudden kiss froze him in place.
Kolfrosta alternated between aggressive and submissive, and Áfastr was taken aback by the shifting. It took mere seconds to maneuver Áfastr to the bed and remove his clothing. Initially, Áfastr didn't know what to do, but Kolfrosta's aggressiveness was more than enough to disguise Áfastr's indecision and the confusion only made the situation more exciting. There was a hint of embarrassment from both of them. Áfastr was a virgin, and he was under the impression that Kolfrosta was, as well, but as she took him into her mouth, he began to doubt that. Encroached anger burst and dissipated at the softness of Kolfrosta's lips and the tip of her tongue before Áfastr had a chance to protest. A gentle suction removed any thought of resistance from Áfastr's mind. Oddly enough, he kept his eyes mostly closed, preferring to imagine Kolfrosta still wearing the red peplos instead of gazing upon her nude form. Perhaps it was because he was unsure any of this was really happening, or perhaps the scent of sex among cinnamon was stronger when voluntarily blind. Whatever the reason, he was in his own paradise. And with the very woman he desired to be in it with.
As the morning progressed, Áfastr experienced many sensations that he, up until then, had only imagined. The dry-wet of Kolfrosta's mouth, both on his own lips and his phallic heartbeat; the smooth thrust into her vagina and the gentle pull out as she flexed invisible pelvic muscles; the sensation of acidic fluids down his erection and into his mouth; the ticklish and arousing caress of erect nipples brushing his torso. There was some brief discomfort, when Kolfrosta, still mounting him, turned around and faced away. As she leaned forward, bending part of him downward with her, she commanded him to penetrate her with a thumb. Were Áfastr sound of mind at that moment, he'd have refused, but she played his body and desires like a Hellenic minstrel played a lyre.
He learned, very quickly, that he preferred to be on top. While on top, he learned that he preferred Kolfrosta to be flat on her stomach. He didn't know if it was the soft impact of her buttocks against his pelvis, or the fact that she turned her head and looked back upon him as if he were some sort of god, but the position was undeniably the most arousing to him.
Whatever the case, when the act was over and Áfastr and Kolfrosta embraced, covered in the dust of perfume and the moisture of sweat, he decided to ask Kolfrosta to betroth him.
He had not been ready for her response.
*continued in The Storms of Dust, Part II