After the icy breath of Melia Ridge, the calmer clime of the flats does furnish some relief, Belesa thinks, but truthfully, it’s only a more subtle kind of threat. She’s sitting just outside their tent, catching the last light of the day to sew up a tear in one of Saxa’s dagger sheaths, and the wind tugging at her hair and clothes reminds her of the howling storm atop the mountain. Though the wide expanse of land surrounding their camp now is free of snow and biting frost, the air is forever filled with a dusty sort of chill. All the lines are harsh: rough stone and stark contours of hills in the distance. They might no longer be in immediate danger of dying from the cold, but it is winter still. Rome’s armies are waiting in the distance, and sometimes it seems to her like all the land is grim and unforgiving, repelling the slaves that have risen up against the ones who are masters of every foot of earth.
Somewhere, far away, there are lands not under the Roman hand of conquest. It seems too wild a thing to grasp on this skin-chilling, gritty plain.
In truth, Belesa has come to cherish harshness. This cold dusty ground and the ill-patched tent behind her are a far cry from her dominus’ lush olives groves, the vines greening on the hills and the balmy luxury of either villa or city estate; but here, there are no walls to cage her movement, no silken voice to command her and no hands upon her flesh that she does not herself invite.
Freedom is harsh, she’s learning every day; no blurry lines or softness to smudge the cutting truth of it: you may all die, soon, today, tomorrow. Belesa treasures every scrape and blow, because they follow in the wake of choices that, for the first time in her life, she has made only for herself.
Saxa finds her in the lengthening shadows of dusk, and frowns when she sees the sheath and needle in Belesa’s hands.
“What do you do?”
Belesa looks up, relishing the sight of her woman against the waning light: pale hair tossed about by the wind, lean and formidable and every inch a warrior.
“Your dagger sheath was ripped in skirmish with Roman scouts. I would not have blade slip through tear and cut cherished thighs.” She grins, eyeing said thighs, and deliberately swipes her tongue across her lips.
Saxa’s mouth quirks, but her brow still furrows. “I did not set task.”
Belesa shrugs, leaning down to bite off the thread she’s tied off, and surveys her handiwork.
“It was no hardship. My dominus had me care for his garb, when he was not shoving his cock inside of me. It is familiar work.”
She smooths her hand across the leather, then bends it this way and that, satisfied when the mended seam moves easily along.
Saxa’s fingers grip her wrist suddenly, slender and strong. “Belesa. You are no servant to me.” Her tongue still shapes Roman words awkwardly, but there is no mistaking the fierceness of her tone.
Belesa blinks up into her scowling face, a little stunned as usual by the sheer force she exudes. Then she smiles, turning her captured fingers up to caress the underside of Saxa’s forearm.
“It needed doing, and we all help as we can in this camp. I am no warrior, but my hands are strong. I chose task.”
I chose you. I choose you every day. She could not voice the astonishing truth of that, the marvellous, silly, sheer bliss of being able to. She could not express just how much that means, but there is a giddiness about the thought that brightens her, a spark that kindles her from inside, and she cannot help but beam at Saxa. “I chose,” she repeats, more softly, only to hear the words in her own voice; but perhaps there is some truth they can convey after all, because suddenly Saxa’s brow eases and she smiles.
Saxa is devastating when she smiles.
She tugs Belesa to her feet easily, her body close and hot against the creeping chill of evening. “I would place worthier task at your hands, if they so chose,” she murmurs, a glint in her blue eyes that ignites every fibre of Belesa’s being. She can barely catch her breath.
“Voice it,” she manages, “and see it done.” She flexes one hand inside of Saxa’s grip, sets the other on the narrow curve of her hip.
Saxa grins, and crowds her backwards. The tent flap falls closed behind them, shutting out the chill blow of the wind.
There is little that’s soft about Saxa. She’s all wiry strength and sleek angles, sharp blades of bones protruding where sinew and honed muscle barely cover. Even the parts that are fleshy in other women have a keen edge in Saxa. Her kisses are hot and demanding, soft lips moving with purpose and eager tongue thrusting slick inside Belesa’s mouth, down her jaw and the sensitive line of her throat. Her lean flanks twitch and flex under Belesa’s hands, too close to the sharp thrust of ribs to allow softness. Her buttocks are muscled and firm, clenching in Belesa’s hands; her nipples stand out hard and pointed, protecting the slight curve of vulnerable breasts. Belesa loves to lick and pluck at them, teasing them into slippery peaks, relishing the sounds that Saxa makes when she closes her mouth about one and sucks.
Their legs tangle and strain, wetness mingling on each other’s flesh. Saxa growls, driving a muscled thigh up between Belesa’s legs. It’s tantalisingly close against her soaking wet cunt, but not close enough. As they writhe together on the narrow camp cot, Saxa’s hands find Belesa’s breasts, and she cannot help but cry out as Saxa’s sword-formed calluses cup around sensitised flesh, plucking at taut nipples. Her belly ripples and her thighs drive hard against Saxa’s, seeking the slippery heat between. She feels soft, too smooth and pliant against Saxa’s rigid edges, but at the same time this is right – this is herself, as uncompromising in her ample, yielding flesh as Saxa is in her points and angles. Saxa pinches her nipples, just a little, just enough to make her gasp and roll her hips. She moans when Saxa’s deviously tilted hip bone hits her just there. She writhes and ruts on that sharp point and does not know herself, hearing her voice tearing through shattered restraint.
Like the grudging land and the harsh truth of winter surrounding them, Saxa is absent the soft comfort of lies. Saxa is taut and hard and ungiving angles under Belesa’s hands and mouth. She moves and undulates, her mouth forming curses in the strange, guttural language of her homeland, but she is always strong, even in passion. She strains against Belesa’s fluttering tongue, shouts when Belesa’s fingers slip inside and fuck her slick and swift and deep, moving in tandem with her busy tongue between her lips, but she does not give in, not yet. It’s a dance and a fight, like everything about Saxa is: she struggles her way sideways into pleasure, graceful but furious and fierce, and never quite relenting. It fires Belesa to new heights, her other hand busy between her own legs as her mouth grows wet with saliva and Saxa’s juices. She moulds her lips around Saxa’s swollen bud, sucks it in hard and works it with her tongue while thrusting three fingers rapidly inside the tight hot cunt beneath. Saxa shouts hoarsely, clenching around her fingers as she comes.
Belesa laughs, breathless and delighted, slumping back into sweat-damp furs. “I trust desire well satisfied,” she mocks, but Saxa does not believe in slowing down before the very end of battle. She rolls on top of Belesa, cheeks flushed and still breathing hard, blue eyes blazing. “Not before I’ve seen and heard your own heat drawn to close,” she says, low and husky. There is some unearthly power about Saxa’s eyes and voice, Belesa has often thought, some secret northern magic that leaves her spellbound at the force of it, and not entirely at ease. A slave most of her life, she’s come to revel in the knowledge of freedom, and even willing she does not yet take comfortably to being so entirely in thrall to another.
I would take up a sword for you, she thinks in the breathless dark aftermath after Saxa has fucked her to raw, screaming pleasure. I would follow you to the shores of the afterlife if I lost you, and make deals with the trickster Mercury to get you back.
She cannot say these things, not to Saxa, who would not understand, who is made up of things real and immediate, too far from the edge of divinity and myth; who would only laugh and kiss and fuck, and leave her anyway. But she can hold these thoughts to herself, in the close, fiery space that is the core of any free woman, and know that she will do them justice, as long and as far as breath leaves her able.
I’ll see you at the end of this madness, she promises to no one but herself and some imagined spectre of Saxa, a spectre that, unlike the raw hot truth of her, would smile gently, and nod, and maybe understand. I’ll take the thread of you and follow it, wherever it may lead.
The winds are rising outside as she falls asleep, but Belesa is content, wrapped around Saxa’s solid, unafraid warmth. Tonight, the winds can’t touch them, and tonight is all there is. In her last waking moment, she takes Saxa’s hand and holds it close.