The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 195

   

“Better a clyster than a blade up the arse!”

The doctor ignored these and similar vulgar observations, holding his blade upright in readiness. Roger shot a glance at Jamie, who was leaning against the wall, looking amused. Jamie raised one eyebrow and shrugged slightly.

“Try the feel of it,” Jamie’d said. Well, and he supposed a duel with a drunken midget was as good a test as any.

Roger raised his blade and fixed the doctor with a menacing look.

“En garde,” he said, and the knot of onlookers roared approval.

“Gardez vous,” replied the doctor promptly, and lunged. Roger spun on one heel and the doctor shot past, rapier pointed like a lance. Moore the smith leaped aside just in time to avoid being skewered for the second time, cursing fluently.

“What am I, a friggin’ target?” he shouted, shaking a fist.

Disregarding the near miss, the doctor regained his balance and charged back toward Roger, uttering shrill cries of self-encouragement.

It was rather like being attacked by a wasp, Roger thought. If you didn’t panic, you found it possible to follow the thing and bat it away. Perhaps the doctor was a decent swordsman when sober; in his current state, his frenzied thrusts and mad flurries were easily fended off—as long as Roger paid attention.

It occurred to him early on that he could end the contest at any time, merely by meeting the doctor’s slender rapier edge-on with his own much heavier weapon. He was beginning to enjoy himself, though, and was careful to parry with the flat of the broadsword.

Gradually everything disappeared from Roger’s view but the flashing point of the rapier; the shouts of the crowd faded to a bee-buzz, the dirt of the lane and the wall of the smithy were scarcely visible. He grazed his elbow on the wall, moved back, moved in a circle to gain more room, all without conscious thought.

The rapier beat on his wider blade, engaged, and screeched loose with a whinggg! of metal. Clang and click and the whish of empty air and the ringing beat that vibrated in his wristbones with every blow of the doctor’s sword.

Watch the stroke, follow it, bat it away. He had no idea what he was doing, but did it anyway. The sweat was running in his eyes; he shook his head to fling it away, nearly missed a low lunge toward his thigh, stopped it close, and flung the rapier back.

The doctor staggered, thrown off balance, and feral shouts of “Now! Take him! Stick him now!” rang in the dust-filled air. He saw the expanse of the doctor’s embroidered waistcoat, unguarded, filled with silken butterflies, and choked back the visceral urge to lunge for it.

Shaken by the intensity of the urge, he took a step back. The doctor, sensing weakness, leapt forward, bellowing, blade pointed. Roger took a half-step sideways, and the doctor shot past, grazing the hock of the draft horse in his path.

The horse emitted an outraged scream, and promptly sent swordsman and sword flying through the air, to crash against the front of the cobbler’s shop. The doctor fell to ground like a crushed fly, surrounded by lasts and scattered shoes.

Roger stood still, panting. His whole body was pulsing with every heartbeat, hot with the fighting. He wanted to go on, he wanted to laugh, he wanted to hit something. He wanted to get Brianna up against the nearest wall, and now.

Jamie gently lifted his hand and pried his fingers from the hilt of the sword. He hadn’t remembered he was holding it. His arm felt too light without it, as though it might fly up toward the sky, all by itself. His fingers were stiff from gripping so hard, and he flexed them automatically, feeling the tingle as the blood came back.

The blood was tingling everywhere. He hardly heard the laughter, the offers of drinks, or felt the blows of congratulation rained on his back.

“A clyster, a clyster, give him a clyster!” a gang of apprentices was chanting, following along as the doctor was borne off for first-aid in the nearest tavern. The horse’s owner was fussing solicitously over the big bay, who looked more bemused than injured.

“I suppose he’s won. After all, he drew first blood.”

Roger didn’t realize that he’d spoken until he heard his own voice, strangely calm in his ears.

“Will it do?” Jamie was looking at him in question, the sword held lightly on the palms of his hands.

Roger nodded. The lane was bright and filled with white dust; it gritted under his eyelids, between his teeth when he closed his mouth.

“Aye,” he said. “It will do.”

“Good,” said Jamie. “So will you,” he added casually, turning away to pay the smith.

PART EIGHT

A-Hunting We Will Go

89

THE MOONS OF JUPITER

Late November, 1771

FOR THE FOURTH TIME in as many minutes, Roger assured himself that it was not medically possible to die of sexual frustration. He doubted that it would even cause lasting damage. On the other hand, it wasn’t doing him any great good, either, in spite of his efforts to consider it as an exercise in building character.

He eased himself onto his back, careful of the rustling mattress, and stared at the ceiling. No good; from a crack at the edge of the oiled hide covering the window, early morning sun was streaming in across the bed, and from the corner of his eye, he could still see the pure golden haunches of his wife, lit as though spotlighted.

She was lying on her stomach, face buried in the pillow, and the linen sheet had slipped down past the swell of her buttocks, leaving her bare from her nape to the crack of her arse. She lay so close in the narrow bed that his leg touched hers, and the warmth of her breathing brushed his bare shoulder. His mouth was dry.

He closed his eyes. That didn’t help; he promptly started seeing images of the night before: Brianna by the dim light of a smothered fire, the flames of her hair sparking in the shadows, light gleaming sudden across the curve of a nak*d breast as she slipped the butter-soft linen from her shoulders.

Late as it was, tired as he was, he’d wanted her desperately. Someone else had wanted her more, though. He cracked an eyelid and raised himself just slightly, enough to see over Brianna’s tumbled red locks, to where the cradle stood against the wall, still in shadow. No sign of movement.

They had a long-standing agreement. He woke instantly when disturbed, she was groggy and maladroit. So when a siren shriek from the cradle jerked him into heart-pounding alertness, it was Roger who would rise, pick up the soggy, yowling bundle, and deal with the immediate necessities of hygiene. By the time he brought Jemmy to his mother, bucking and squirming in the search for sustenance, Brianna would have roused herself far enough to wriggle free of her gown, and would reach up for the child, drawing him down in warm dark to the murmuring, milky refuge of her body.

Now that Jem was older, he seldom woke at night, but when he did, with bellyache or nightmare, it took a lot longer to settle him back to sleep than it had when he was tiny. Roger had fallen back to sleep while Bree was still administering comfort, but woke when she turned in the narrow bed, her buttocks sliding past his thigh. The corn shucks under them crackled loudly with a noise like a thousand distant firecrackers, all going off down the length of his spine, waking him to full awareness of an urgent, nearly painful arousal.

He’d felt the pressure of her arse against him and narrowly restrained himself from rolling over and assaulting her from the rear. Small suckling noises from the other side of her body stopped him. Jem was still in their bed.

He’d lain still, listening, praying that she’d stay awake long enough to return the little bugger to his cradle; sometimes they fell asleep together, mother and child, and Roger would wake in the morning to the confusingly mingled scents of a beddable woman and baby pee. And then in the end, he’d fallen asleep himself, in spite of his discomfort, worn out from a day of felling logs on the mountainside.

He inhaled gently. No, she’d put him back. No scent in his bed now save Brianna’s, the earthy smell of woman-flesh, a faint, sweet cloud of sweat and slippery willingness.

She sighed in her sleep, murmured something incomprehensible, and turned her head on the pillow. There were blue smudges under her eyes; she’d been up late making jelly, up again twice more with the little bas—with the baby. How could he wake her, only to gratify his own base urges?

How could he not?

He gritted his teeth, torn between temptation, compassion, and the sure conviction that if he yielded to his inclinations, he would get precisely as far as the worst possible moment before an interruption from the vicinity of the cradle compelled him to stop.

Experience had been a harsh teacher, but the urgings of the flesh were louder than the voice of reason. He put out a stealthy hand and gently grasped the buttock nearest. It was cool and smooth and round as a gourd.

She made a small noise deep in her throat and stretched luxuriously. She arched her back, pushing her backside up in a way that convinced Roger that the course of wisdom was to fling back the quilt, roll on top of her, and achieve his goal in the ten seconds flat it was likely to take.

He got as far as flinging back the quilt. As he raised his head from the pillow, a round, pale object rose slowly into view over the rim of the cradle, like one of the moons of Jupiter. A pair of blue eyes regarded him with clinical dispassion.

“Oh, shit!” he said.

“Oh, chit!” Jemmy said, in happy mimicry. He clambered to his feet and stood, bouncing up and down as he gripped the edge of the cradle he was rapidly outgrowing, chanting “Chit-chit-chit-chit” in what he evidently thought was a song.

Brianna jerked into wakefulness, blinking through tangled locks.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Ah . . . something stung me.” Roger flipped the edge of the quilt discreetly back in place. “Must be a wasp in here.”

She stretched on her pillow, groaning and smoothing her hair out of her face with one hand, then picked up the cup from the table and took a drink; she always woke up thirsty.

Her eyes traveled over him, and a slow smile spread across her wide, soft mouth. “Yeah? Nasty sting you got there. Want me to rub it?” She put down the cup, rolled gracefully up onto an elbow, and reached out a hand.

“Ye’re a sadist,” Roger said, gritting his teeth. “No doubt about it. Ye must get it from your father.”

She laughed, took her hand off the quilt, and stood up, pulling her shift on over her head.

“MAMA! Chit, Mama!” Jemmy informed her, beaming, as she swung him up out of his cradle with a grunt of effort.

“You rat,” she said, affectionately. “You aren’t very popular with Daddy this morning. Your timing stinks.” She wrinkled her nose. “And not only your timing.”

“Depends on your perspective, I suppose.” Roger rolled onto his side, watching. “I imagine from his point of view, the timing was perfect.”

“Yeah.” Brianna gave him a raised brow. “Hence the new word, huh?”

“He’s heard it before,” Roger said dryly. “Many times.” He sat up, swinging his legs out of bed, and rubbed a hand through his hair and over his face.

“Well, all we have to do now is figure out how to get from the abstract to the concrete, huh?” She put Jemmy on his feet and knelt in front of him, kissing him on the nose, then unpinning his diaper. “Oh, yag. Is eighteen months too soon for toilet-training, do you think?”

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