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It had been three weeks since having left London and the incident with MacRiordan, yet Anton could not let the issue subside. The captain finally decided to put into port for “refitting and some much deserved shore leave.” The French bosun knew it was more a leave for the ship from him, than for everyone to leave the ship. He had spent the waking hours of the trip pacing the decks, barking orders to the swabs and drilling the marines until those that could bleed bled. Even the normally jovial Jalid or his ever-present second, Gianni, could do nothing to change his dark mood for the better. As the Venetian islands came into view, Turlough announced that the Honor’s Folly would berth for two weeks, enough time to roll over the cargo onboard, refit the sail and trim, and check the hull for any damage or needed repairs. In that time, the crew were to enjoy themselves ashore, but he pointedly ordered “no run-ins with the local law or what passes for law in this place.” Anton knew this last bit was directed at him, but he did not care. All that mattered was he was half a world away from his quest for vengeance and it would be months, perhaps years, until he could return to Avalon. And by then the trail would be colder than he had found it.
“Will ye be goin’ ashore, then?” Jaime asked as the two of them checked the sail stowage and ratlines.
“Oui, as soon as this drudgery is over, mon petit,” Anton answered, slamming shut the locker and turning the key in the heavy lock. “Perhaps I can find something to distract me from this awful mood that has driven le capitan to port in such a place. You know his feelings toward politics and double-dealing.”
“It’s not just you that cap’n is worried about. Seems there some bad things rumbling from further south. We might be needed t’ fulfill part o’ our contract sooner’n he thought.”
Anton made a dismissive wave and pointed off towards the lower holds. “We had best make sure Auguste has locked the stores, or else Jalid will be off with some of the items to ‘turn a profit.'”
* / * * * \ *
“I still do ney understand what th’ skirt is for, ‘Ton,” Jaime complained for the fifth time that morning. She and Anton had been up with dawn, upon his insistence, to do some training of sorts. They had ridden out from the chateau the Frenchman purchased for the two weeks the Honor’s Folly was to be in port, apparently enough time for him to follow up on a new development in his private vendetta.
“You would not let the matter rest, you insisted on joining me on this, how did capitan put it… ‘fool’s errand?’ So if you want to be of help, you will look and act the part. The femmes here, they do not wear trousers,” Anton stated, reigning in his horse. They had arrived at a cluster of fallen columns, ruins of ancient Rome not doubt. The aged marble was arranged in a circle, surrounding large stairs which led to a lower circle. To Jaime it looked like a version of the player’s stages back in Avalon, but overgrown with flowering vines and thick moss in places. If it wasn’t for the notoriety of Venice, the site would be almost serene.
Anton dismounted and pulled a large bundle from the back of his horse. Jaime slid as best she could from her mount, not used to riding side-saddle in a skirt. She could have sworn the horse sniggered at her unfamiliarity as she landed quite unladylike on the ground. Anton glanced over and shook his head. This was going to be, most likely, the longest and hardest lesson he would give his protégé.
Jaime stood quickly and adjusted the skirt, noticing she had tore a slight rip in the hem when she fell from the saddle. There was nothing for it now, she’d just have one of the maidservants back at the chateau look at it. The house was fully staffed and supplied, something of a habit for Anton whenever he had an extended period in a port. The Frenchman was never without his creature comforts. And that was not necessarily a bad thing, as Jaime has spent the last three nights lounging in nigh-scalding baths and sleeping on the softest pillow bed she had the pleasure of sprawling across. Definitely an improvement over her quarters on the ship, she thought happily.
She followed Anton down one set of stairs, noticing how the tiers were arranged in shrinking circles, seats for the past Numans to watch a tragedy or here the rhetoric of a philosopher. Jalid would have enjoyed the place, he was always digging around ruins, though mostly for something to sell.
As they reached the bottom, Anton unrolled the bundle, revealing a set of three rapiers and two main gauche. He gestured for Jaime to approach and choose a single rapier.
“Ye woke me up at first light and had me put on a bloody skirt to drag me out in the wilds t’ teach me t’ fight? Lad, I can already do that, very well you might know.”
“No, as I’ve said, if you wish to aid me in what I must do, then you must look the part. Not only look it, but BE it,” he emphasized, catching her eyes canlı bahis with a piercing glare. The old Anton, the rambunctious, flirtatious, oft-annoying one, was not the man who stood before her now. This Anton was driven, bordering almost on maniacal. Whatever had happened in Charouse, whatever was eating him up inside, it was starting to show in his mannerisms. He had become coldly efficient, exacting nothing but perfection in the rapier drills onboard ship, letting nothing excuse poor technique.
“So… what am I t’ learn, maître?” Jaime asked, lowering her eyes in a mock bow and opening her stance with her rapier held to the right.
“Here, in this country, these principalities, there are only two kinds of women: wives and courtesans. No, a courtesan is not one of your country’s Jennies, though they do share some… ‘talents’ and activities, cher. As you are obviously not of sorcerous blood, you can not pass as a wife. Their strega, fate witches, would know that the moment you step into the palazzo. No, for you the façade will be as a courtesan, a free woman accompanying me at the ball.”
Jaime suddenly understood. When they had docked, she watched as drab women, dressed in black or dark shades, took stock of the incoming merchants from balconies high above. And there were other women, more boldly dressed, wearing masks and walking freely in public on the arm of a merchant or trailed by several young men each vying in some way for their attention.
“To be the part, you must be able to not only conversant on a number of topics, but you must be able to defend yourself if need be. And not in your usual manner of black powder and shot, belle. No, you must learn something of their blade style here, and you must learn to be ruthless. The Venetian are as passionate as my countrymen or the Spaniards, but where we French are tempered with grace (don’t snicker, cher, it is rude…) and the Spanish with passion, the Venetian are pitiless. They will seek any and every advantage to overcome you, to pull you into their Game. You must be as equally remorseless and quick-witted. Now, assume your defense, single blade, s’il vous plait?”
Jaime lifted her rapier in a salute, then settled into a broad defensive stance. Anton returned the salute, but then switched his sword to his left hand and took a high guard. Jaime’s confusion shown upon her face.
“The duelists of this country fight almost in the entirety left-handed. To counter, assume a lower guard, but point your blade towards my raised forearm. Parfait! If your opponent were to attack from this position, simply step back to your right and thrust into the wrist or elbow, like so.” With that, Anton suddenly stepped forward, thrusting the point of his rapier at Jaime’s throat. Reacting, she rotated away and struck back into his wrist. Anton dropped his attack to a lower line and snapped his blade up in a solid parry, the tip of Jaime’s blade just grazing his cuff.
“Bravo, little one! I see the drills onboard have helped your reactions!” He was grinning a bit, and those cold eyes warmed some. Anton had always be proud of how Jaime took to the art of the rapier. “Now, you assume the attack and I will show you another, deadlier, defense.”
She switched hands and raised her blade to the high guard he had just used, making sure her hand was positioned like he had been, the point aiming for his neck. Anton maintained the left hand, but stood with an open guard, an almost mocking, inviting, stance. They circled each other for a moment, Jaime gauging what the defense would be. Then she lunged forward, taking her shot when they were in midstep. Anton’s right hand snaked out, swatting aside her thrust as his left hand lifted his rapier up over hers and then slashed the tip towards her exposed upper arm. Jaime tried to twist out of the way, but her foot tangled in her skirt, ripping the hem and seam on the right side, and caused her to stumble. There was a lance of chill, then pain flashed up her arm. She spun away, lashing out instinctively with the knuckle bow of her sword, and felt it crack against something as Anton swore.
They were three paces apart by the end of the exchange, and it had taken less than a few seconds. Jaime looked at her arm and saw the thin slice through the cloth of her shirt. Blood was starting to slip from the cut, nothing extreme, but she had been blooded all the same. She rounded on Anton.
“WHAT THE BLEEDING PIT D’ YE THINK YE’RE DOIN’?! That fecking hurt!” she screamed, dropping the rapier and clutching at her wound. It was small, almost superficial, but it stung like she had been hit with a claymore.
Anton was grinning more now, and the bit of blood from his cracked nose only made it look more psychotic. Jaime stepped back as he began to laugh. He pulled a handkerchief from his boot cuff and dabbed his nose. Already the puffiness and bruising were subsiding. A benefit of the geas upon the Honor’s Folly. He offered the cloth to Jaime, bahis siteleri but she shook her head and reached down to tear a strip from her torn skirt. Anton made a tsking sound as she pulled a bit harder then intended and tore the right seam further up her leg, almost to her hip.
“Cher, I paid several hard-won guilders for that skirt, the least you could do would be to keep it in some state the servants could repair,” he jested, tossing the bloodied kerchief to the side. He stepped forward, moving to help Jaime apply the cloth strip as a makeshift bandage, but she batted his hands away.
The bleeding had all but stopped, yet the pain still throbbed some. Whatever strike Anton had down, it was more than likely intended to be worse if she hadn’t reacted and he hadn’t pulled back.
“What was that? It hurts worse’n a tattoo from Broddi,” she asked.
“A nerve strike. Jalid told me about them after he… “secured,” some writings from his homeland. They looked to be Cathayan.” Anton stepped back to his bundle and pulled out a bottle of dark red wine. He tossed the cork to the side as he took a deep drink, then offered the bottle to Jaime. “Have a care. It is sweet, this Chianti, but it has as much body as my beloved merlots.”
She took a long pull from of the wine, noting the sweetness but also tasting the strong fermentation. The Frenchman always seemed to know where to get the good spirits. Anton gestured for her to have a seat upon one of the benches, and he produced a small basket of fruit form his bundle, offering this to her as well as she sat. They spoke a bit on the application of the technique she just witnessed and of similar targets about the body. Not only was she to be ruthless, but she was to incapacitate her foe. It would be necessary to keep the illusion of a woman of no mean skill and a harder reputation.
* / * * * \ *
The sun was well past midday when they had taken another break from the sparring. Anton had removed his doublet, fighting only in his shirt which now sported several slashes that were not intended for fashion. Jaime’s skirt was definitely heading for the field kit, to be cut into strips for bandages upon her return to the ship. Anton had said he would provide a seamstress and gown for her to wear to the ball. Both duelists sat upon a mossed bench, slightly wearing from their constant exertion, but in good spirits as the training was well learned.
“You will do well if you must fight, mon petit. Your form is still impeccable, no small credit to your master,” Anton boasted, the warm grin finally reaching his eyes. He reached for a bottle of the chianti, only to find it empty like the three others around the circle. “Merde! Why is the wine always gone?”
“Because ye drink it like fish drink water, ‘Ton,” Jaime jested, smiling at her friend. It was good to see a long bout of sparring could bring out the mirth in him still. He wasn’t all gone.
“Well, I suppose since there isn’t any more to drink then, we should continue to train?” he asked, raising an eyebrow in query. “There is still more to learn, more you must know to fool the strega.”
Jaime stood and went to retrieve her rapier from where it lay on the ground. But as she moved away, she felt Anton stand behind her and place his hands on her shoulders. As he pulled her back to him, he spoke softly in her ear.
“No, mon cher, the next lesson is not with steel. To pass as who we are acting to be, we must be utterly comfortable with each other, more so than crewmates and sword brethren. Any breach, any hesitation, will be seen by the Venetian and all this will be for naught.” His hands slid down her arms as his lips whispered quietly against her ear. Warmth, either from the wine or his touch, spread down Jaime’s neck to her shoulders and down her arms after his hands. Her breath caught as his right hand slid down to the tear in her skirt, touching the soft skin of her thigh. “Ah see, there we would have been discovered, amour. There should be no surprise in our touch.”
With that, he lifted her hand to his cheek as he nestled his lips against the pulse of her neck, kissing lightly and breathing in her scent. Jaime’s head tilted away, allowing his lips more of her delicate skin to savor. She stroked his head, the stubble of his shore scalp tickling her palm. His left hand looped under her arm and around her waist, pulling her back into him and eliciting a sigh to escape her lips. His right hand trailed down her arm, back to her side and then down to her torn skirt. His fingers caressed across her skin, delving to the sensitive inner thigh above the knee. Slowly he stroked up, closer and closer to the aching warmth that had begun within her. But then he pulled his hand from under her skirt and traced it up along her stomach.
Anton opened his kiss more, grazing his teeth along the soft skin of her neck, bringing a moan unbidden from her throat. His left hand traveled up her side, then under the long locks bahis şirketleri of her sable hair, his fingers sliding into the sweet smelling tangle above her nape. Then suddenly his hand closed tight, pulling her hair as he bit down gently, but firmly, on her exposed shoulder. A sigh of surprise issued from Jaime as the jolt of pain washed over her and she pulled his head harder onto her, pressing her bottom into him as his tongue tickled her skin. His right hand cupped her breast through her shirt, squeezing meaningfully, teasing the nipple as it became aroused. Still gripping her hair, Anton pushed her head forward, to nip and kiss along her nape. Jaime flexed the fingers of her right hand, gently scratching his head as passion began to overcome her. Her left hand moved back, to his thigh, pulling him against her.
He removed his lips and tongue from the back of her neck and forcefully twisted her face to his, their mouths meeting in a carnal embrace, tongues sweeping together as their rapiers had moments before. Anton pinched her hardened nipple as they kissed, bringing another moan from within her. Jaime clutched his lips to hers, the lust now fully taking her. His right hand left her tortured breast to caress the other, and then it traveled back down to the rip in her skirt. This time he moved along her thigh to the inner part, stroking teasingly as he moved it up, further up. A sound of surprise came from Anton this time, as where he expected to meet some sort of undergarment, he only felt heated skin.
“You Highlanders never cease to surprise, mon petit,” he said breathlessly, breaking their kiss for a moment.
“All th’ best for when the mood takes us, ‘cher,'” she answered back, pulling his mouth to hers, wanting to feel his kiss, his desire.
Anton slid his hand along her cleft, feeling how wet she had become. As he stroked along her womanhood, Jaime moaned a bit more, grinding her hips down some and back against the bulge she felt behind her. He slipped a finger into her fold, relishing the wetness he found and the slight gasp it brought from her. The finger traced along those wet lips, coming to rest on the hard bud of her sex. Slowly he ground down on it, all the while pulling her hair and moving his mouth back to her neck. Jaime’s hand left Anton’s buttock where she had been grasping and slid it between them as best she could, rubbing his hardness. She gripped harder as he inserted a questing finger into her tightness, her legs involuntarily opening some to allow him unhindered access. A second finger followed and she ground down onto his hand.
Suddenly his hand was withdrawn, and he had stepped back from her, yet still held her hair in a tight grip. Turning her to face him, Jaime could see a cold fire in his eyes, but a fire nonetheless. With his freed right hand, Anton pulled the closure of his trousers, loosening the binding, allowing the telltale bulge to stand out further.
“On your knees, cher. Now,” he demanded, forcing her down a bit when she didn’t move. Jaime went to her knees, the soft mossy ground cushioning them. She knew what he wanted her to do, the look in his eyes told her to obey. She reached up, undid the rest of the bindings on the front of his trousers and pulled it open. Beneath was a soft broadcloth garment, which she pulled down as much as she could. His erection greeted her, standing brazenly before her. Jaime looked up to his eyes and coyly licked her lips with the tip of her tongue. Then she licked from the base of his cock to the head, never taking it fully into her mouth. Anton groaned throatily as her tongue twirled around the head. She repeated the pass several times before finally wrapping her hand around the shaft and taking the head into her mouth, her teeth lightly grazing the sensitive knob as she did. A sharp intake of breath from Anton told her this met with approval. Soon she was bobbing her head on his cock, her tongue swirling at the upstroke, her teeth grazing on the down. Her right hand wandered on its own, at times holding his thigh or buttock, others rubbing her hardened nipples or kneading her breasts when she caught him looking down. Then it slowly moved down to the tear in her skirt and flipped it open. Her fingers slid along her soaked labia, causing her to moan, which vibrated against Anton’s hard cock as she sucked him greedily. One finger teased and thrilled her aching clitoris, then two. Then the two fingers slipped up inside herself as her thumb pressed onto the bud. Curling her fingers in a ‘come-hither’ position, Jaime began to grind her hips as she felt release edging closer. Her mouth lapped lasciviously on Anton’s member, her moans of self-pleasure mingling with his groans of lust and exultation of her skill. She pumped her aching pussy more and soon she felt that familiar wash of heat, the beginning of the tingling as her orgasm neared.
Pain erupted across the back of her head, a startled yelp escaping her lips as Anton’s manhood left her wanting mouth. He was kneeling before her, his left hand still holding her hair and now his right hand holding fast the wrist of her right hand. He pulled her hand back, removing the fingers with a wet popping.
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