Author: Paul aka Darth Pacula
Willow's mouth worked silently as she struggled for words, any words. It didn't matter what she said, so long as she broke the silence. But where words normally came so easily to her, spilling into her agile mind in a linguistic waterfall, the sight of Tara's naked body and what she had said drove them clean out of Willow's mind.
"Mistress?" Tara inquired again, softly, always softly.
The sound of the blonde's voice finally jolted Willow into action, even if it wasn't up to her normal standards. "Wuh?" she mumbled incoherently.
"Mistress?" repeated Tara. "Shall I ..."
"What? No!" blurted Willow, finally managing to force her slack mouth closed with a shake of her head. Her eyes started to drift downwards of their own accord, and Willow had to force them back upwards. She had no problem with the female form, indeed she counted herself a connoisseur of the beauty of a womans curves. But to ogle the blonde in such a fashion made Willow feel ... soiled, as if she were no better than Tara's former owner.
"Do I displease you, mistress?" Tara asked, an undercurrent of anxiety tinging her otherwise bland and inoffensive tone.
Willow was conflicted over her reaction to that. On one hand, she was glad just to detect any emotion beyond blind acceptance. But on the other, it disturbed her to have that much effect on what was effectively a total stranger with no more than a couple of words.
"No, of course you don't!" Willow awkwardly insisted. "You're a ..." Willow winced, realizing that she'd almost been about to praise the blonde as if she were a pet rather than another person. "You don't need to worry about pleasing me, Tara. You don't need to worry about pleasing anyone anymore. You're not a slave, you're free!"
Willow stomped one foot on the deck in a fit of pique, and immediately regretted doing so. She always felt that it made her look like a spoiled brat. "Don't call me that! I'm not your mistress!"
Pausing, Willow waited for Tara to reply.
And waited some more.
When it finally became clear that Tara wasn't going to reply, Willow rolled her eyes in exasperation. It seemed that if Tara couldn't call her 'mistress', she wasn't going to call her anything at all. Rolling her eyes proved to be a bad idea, as they came to rest on a significantly lower portion of the blonde's anatomy. Willow's cheeks burned, and she forcibly yanked her eyes back up.
"Can you ... ah, put some clothes back on?" she asked, blushing like a virgin bride, and hating it every minute. "Please?"
"As you instruct, mis...." replied Tara, bobbing her head obediently. Turning slightly, she bent to retrieve her dress from the deck. At that moment, the Wild Rose rolled as she crested a large swell, and the sudden shift in balance sent Tara staggering. Without pausing to think, Willow darted to the blonde's side, catching the other woman before she could hit the floor. The deck of the Wild Rose pitched back in the other direction as it shuddered its way down through the back end of the wave, throwing Tara's body hard against her rescuer.
For several moments, all Willow could think about was the yielding softness of Tara's body pressed against her. The sound of her own heartbeat was like thunder in Willow's ears, and she could feel Tara's heart likewise thundering, like that of a rabbit a hairsbreadth from the ravenous jaws of a wolf.
Willow looked downwards, and found herself drowning helplessly in the limpid azure pools of Tara's eyes. She couldn't move, she couldn't think, she couldn't even breathe. Her mind was awash in a haze of static, and the rush of blood through her veins was all she could hear.
It was only when she realized that Tara was trembling that Willow regained any semblance of control. She let go of the blonde as if she'd been burnt, and leapt backwards. Because Tara hadn't been trembling from cold, or desire ... she was trembling from fear.
Sick to the stomach at the idea that she might be a figure of fear to Tara, even inadvertently, Willow spun around and fled to the door, nearly running. She paused, the door half open.
"You get dressed, okay?," she babbled over her shoulder, afraid to turn around or look Tara in the eye. "I ... I'll find somewhere for you to sleep."
Willow vanished through the door, leaving Tara all alone, her bundled up dress clutched against her chest.
Willow's first port of call was Xander's cabin, which, as usual, was a complete mess. There were more of his possessions scattered around the small room than there were in his open sea chest. Xander himself was sprawled face down in his narrow bunk, half naked and snoring mightily.
Kicking the nearest leg of his bunk, Willow swore when her efforts didn't even break her first mate's rhythm, and gave it up as a lost cause. She'd have to stab Xander in the buttocks to get him to wake up now.
She strode down the passageway, the rapid tap-tap-tap of her boot heels against the deck betraying her anxiety. Without stopping to knock, Willow barged through a second door into an even smaller cabin, as sparsely appointed as Xander's had been messy.
Mockery looked up from the poignard he was obsessively sharpening while slumped in the hammock he had in place of a bunk. He arched his brow inquisitively. "Cap'n?"
Willow half turned, and started to pace, even though she could barely take three strides before meeting the opposite wall. "Mock, I need you to find a bunk for the girl ... for Tara."
Surprised, Mockery frowned. "I imagined that she'd be bunking with ye, Cap'n. Is there something amiss?"
"Just find her a berth, Mockery!" snapped Willow, still pacing, her every motion stark with tension.
"Fair 'nough," he genially replied, not taking offense at the brusqueness of the redhead's tone. "Where do ye propose I put her then, Cap'n? In the cargo hold? In with the crew?!"
That pulled Willow up short, and her mouth worked soundlessly as she floundered helplessly for an answer. The Wild Rose's hold wasn't suitable accommodation for anyone, and she would never put a traumatized woman like Tara in with her crew. She trusted her men to do their job, but they were smugglers; rogues and scoundrels without fail. Not suitable company for Tara.
Mockery took pity on his captain and rolled out of his hammock, scarlet-stained teeth flashing in a broad grin. "I'll put her up in here, Cap'n, and bunk with the crew myself. Good enough for ye?"
Whatever reaction Mockery might have expected from Willow, it wasn't what he got. Instead, Willow started pacing again, head bowed and gnawing anxiously at one finger knuckle. Frowning, Mockery sheathed his poignard and tossed the weapon onto his hammock.
"Cap'n, what's bothering ye?" he tactlessly grunted.
Head jerking up so fast that it set her hair braids rattling, Willow blinked guiltily at her second mate. "Nothin'," she blindly blurted. "S'all smooth seas."
Mockery wasn't fooled in the least, and didn't bother to hide his skepticism; in fact it was openly displayed on his tattooed face. "Aye, is that so? Then why do ye be as calm as a cat stuffed inna sack with a snake, eh?"
Willow's words came spilling out like water escaping from a broken dam, in an all consuming wave. "Because she's afraid of me!"
Rren slammed the door as hard as he could, the slap of oak on oak echoing through the halls of his manor. In a fit of rage, he yanked the door back open and slammed it shut again, then stomped over to his desk, which he kicked in a fit of pique. All that he gained for his efforts was a sore toe and the accompanying string of oaths it produced.
The door eased open, and another man's head poked cautiously through. Finding Rren momentarily occupied with rubbing his injured toe, the nervous-looking man scurried in, and bobbed his blond head in a hurried obeisance.
Finally noticing his lackey's presence, Rren rounded on the smaller man in a fury. "What is it, Drew!? I gave orders that I wasn't to be disturbed!"
Drew flinched in the face of his employer's wrath, and when he replied, his voice squeaked nervously. "I ... you ... there ... er ... outside ... um ..." he stammered.
"Make sense, you imbecile!" barked Rren, one hand raised in a threatening gesture.
Gulping, Drew gathered his scattered thoughts and tried again. His voice was only marginally less squeaky. "Your guest, sire ... he's here."
"Guest?" Rren repeated blankly, his brow furrowing. "What guest?"
"I believe that would be me," stated a third voice, and Rren spun to find two figures standing in the open doorway.
The speaker was a slender rake of a man, with ebony skin that dramatically set off the gleam of a mouthful of gold teeth. Ruby earrings studded his earlobes, and a chain of silver links laid a bejeweled amulet against his chest. His garb, a doublet of blood-red velvet with leggings of midnight blue, was fine enough to put Rren's own to shame.
His companion cut a very different sight. Clad in leather trews and a jerkin and cloak of somber colors, they instinctualy kept to the shadows, but even that concealment couldn't hide the generous swell of her bosom, or the feminine shape of her body. Her face was totally cast in darkness however.
Rren blanched, and immediately attempted to conceal that reaction by puffing up with bravado. If the dark-skinned man or his companion noticed, they didn't show it.
"Master Trick ..." Rren began, running one hand through his pomaded hair before offering it in a handshake as an afterthought. "You ... you're earlier than I expected. I'm afraid I'm not quite prepared for your arrival as such."
"Yes, I gathered as much," replied the man named Trick, sauntering foppishly into the room and pointedly ignoring Rren's offered hand. Instead, he waved his own limb languidly, the froth of lace spilling from tight sleeves swaying with the movement. Bright eyes rolled in his dark face. "If we might speak alone ..."
Rren glared at Drew, and jerked his head dismissively towards the exit. The sycophant quickly scurried out, and Trick's female companion shut the door behind him and waited a few moments, ear cocked, before nodding.
"Our joint masters require your services again, Master Rren," continued Trick. "Our agent is expected to arrive in five days hence. I trust you will have everything prepared to his satisfaction once more?"
"Of ... of course, milord. Everything will be as his lordship desires."
"Good to hear, my lad," acknowledged Trick idly, turning to leave. He paused, and turned back. "Oh, and be sure to have that same strumpet ready for his pleasure. You know, that blonde girl of yours? He took quite a fancy to her after last time."
Rren flinched. "Aaah ..."
Trick froze in mid stride at the sound of Rren's voice, and turned with exacting, glacial speed. "Aaah? Is there a problem, Master Rren?" His voice was calm and quiet, silk over murderous steel, and it sent a shiver down Rren's spine. As Trick stepped closer, there was little evidence of his earlier foppish behavior.
Fighting the urge to back away, Rren babbled an hurried explanation. "It's the girl; I don't have her anymore!"
Trick stopped his advance, eyebrow's arching. Then he laughed outright, a callous and cruel sound. "You finally killed this one too? It's a shame; I hear she was a damn fine ride ..."
"She's not ..." Rren began to correct, but then thought better of it. But the damage was already done.
"She's not ... what, Rren?" said Trick in a voice like oiled steel. "Please tell me you weren't stupid enough to sell her, boy!"
"No ... not sell exactly ..." Rren sullenly muttered, clenching his legs tightly to prevent them from trembling.
"No?" purred Trick. "Then what, exactly?"
"She was stolen!" Rren snapped through clenched teeth. "Some thieving bitch cheated me! She cheated and stole my gods-damned slave!"
The unblinking gaze that Trick turned upon Rren was cold and leaden, reptilian, and Rren flinched beneath its weight. "What?" he whined.
Crossing the room in three quick strides, Trick grabbed Rren by the jaw and drove him up against the wall. His words were delivered with biting snaps of his golden teeth. "Are you really that stupid, you misbegotten wretch?"
"What?" Rren sniveled, eyes wide with fear. "She's just a slave ..."
With his free hand, Trick slapped Rren, hard. "She was our agent's bedmate, you imbecile! When men have spent their lusts, they are wont to talk. And we do not know of what he may have boasted."
With every word Trick spoke, Rren's eyes grew wider, and his stomach fell further.
"Find the girl, Rren," ordered Trick, driving his index finger into Rren's chest to punctuate each word. "Find her and either bring her back, or silence her ... permanently." He slapped Rren again, against the other cheek this time, before stalking back over to the exit. As his companion opened the door for him, Trick turned back to deliver one final command.
"Be sure to put those with her in an early grave. And don't fail me, Rren .... or the next female company you enjoy will be that of my fair maid Faith."
A pair of dark eyes gleamed from the shadows cast by a concealing hood, and Rren gulped.
The pair exited Rren's palatial manor at a casual, strolling pace. At all times, Faith kept one pace behind, and another to the side, close enough that they could communicate in private, yet far enough away to display the proper amount of deference.
"I fear we cannot trust Master Rren to accomplish this task I have set him," murmured Trick, sidestepping a steaming pile of fresh animal excrement. "I fear that acting as our liaison in this matter is the limit of his talents."
"Master?" said Faith in reply, that single word carrying both question and the threat of single-minded violence.
"No, my beautiful, deadly girl, not yet. Sheathe your claws, for now. We will give this buffoon a moon to extract himself from this pickle into which he has placed himself. But I want you to set out yourself, as soon as possible. If he fails, as I fully expect him too, it will fall to you to silence this slave."
A golden smile spread slowly in the darkness. "But one way or another, I fear Master Rren has outlived his usefulness..."