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The Fool

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Day 39: Good raiding today – we took by surprise a village that foolishly thought itself well-hidden within a valley. Not much goods, but plenty of women and boys, which was just as well, as we were forced to abandon our previous captives when the Laxxens chased us from their borders. There was fierce competition for replacements, but I managed to snag a boy so tall that Haver had placed him among the men – Haver has always been something of a simpleton. I sighted the boy just before it was his turn, and pulled him off from the execution sword at the last moment. Was pleased afterwards with my cleverness – a grateful bed-slave is more likely to entertain.

As an extra bonus, it turned out the boy was a virgin – the fool told me this himself, thinking it would make a difference with me. It certainly did; I haven't had such a sweet bedding in years.

Day 40: We got safely over the border last night and are headed now toward the seaports – the people there are so busy guarding against pirates that it doesn't occur to them to turn their defenses landward. We expect to take plenty of gold and food there, enough to see us through the winter.

We paused to rest once we'd crossed the border, and I spent the day bedding my new boy in every position I could think of; I surprised myself by my inventiveness. The boy didn't struggle but he didn't help either; he just lay there limp. Something of a disappointment, that; I like my bed-slaves to be lively.

Haver, who's now regretting having passed up the opportunity to take the boy for himself, asked to have a turn with him. I told him he'd have to wait till tomorrow, when I'll be riding out with the other scouts to check the land ahead.

Day 41: Decided not to share the boy after all. It's been a while since I had a virgin, and I'd forgotten how exciting it can be to know that the field has never been plowed by anyone else.

All looks quiet ahead. We came across a few villages, but they'd evidently heard of us and made the correct assessment; the minute they saw horsemen on the horizon, they scattered, leaving the villages bare to us. We decided not to bother with any more of the small coinage, so we simply brought back some of the animals for slaughter. The new women captives fixed us a fine feast.

I missed most of it: that fool boy had run off while I was gone, and I spent half the evening fetching him back and punishing him. Wished afterwards the boy had had more sense; unlike Haver, I don't find bruised bodies exciting.

Day 42: Another quiet day spent resting up from the feast; I'd planned to spend the morning in bed with the boy, but found him curled up in a ball, sobbing. Don't know why; his bruises have already started to heal. I tried to cheer him by telling him that I'd decided not to share him with anyone, but that only made him sob louder. It may be that the boy is a half-wit.

Doesn't make any difference; his body is as lovely as ever. I just wish he'd stop lying limp when I take him.

Day 46: Several days spent in hard riding, as we discovered that the reason the villagers had scattered was in order to fetch their land's soldiers. Didn't have trouble escaping them; we have too much experience in making quick departures. But this has made for more breathless travel than we had anticipated, and we had to leave our food stores behind. We'll have to scout out new supplies to see us through to the coast.

Lots of fun each night in bed; the boy knows me well enough now that he'll do things without me needing to tell him. Don't think I've ever had a captive I enjoyed this much.

Day 47: I'm beginning to think I would have been better off picking a woman this time; Haver spotted the boy stealing a knife. I thought at first that the knife was for me, but when it came time for me to take it from him, the fool tried to put the knife through his own chest. Had to punish him for that too, just as his old bruises had healed.

Tried to talk sense into the boy afterwards, but he simply curled up in a ball and didn't respond.

Day 48: Fell asleep last night worrying about the boy – I've always had the tendency to become preoccupied with trivial matters – and woke up this morning certain that I knew the solution. I got permission from the others to stay behind from today's scouting, and then I spent the entire day pleasuring the boy in every manner I could think of – you would have thought he was an honorable bride I had paid good money for. I even said sweet things to him; I blush now to think of it.

Would you believe it? I came back from supper to find the boy curled up in a ball, sobbing once more. A waste of a good day I should have spent scouting.

Day 49: More scouting today; I left the boy behind with instructions to Haver to make sure the boy wasn't touched by anyone else left back at the camp; I've noticed that the boy's beauty hasn't gone unremarked by the others, and there's been talk of me being selfish for not sharing. The fact that I stayed back from scouting yesterday didn't help either. Truly, I don't think the boy appreciates how much I've sacrificed for him.

Got back from raiding to learn that that fool Haver had taken my instructions to mean that he was free to bed the boy himself. I tried to tell the boy that it was a misunderstanding, but he wouldn't listen. I ended up yelling at him.

Perhaps I should sell him; he would bring a good price.

Day 50: Got dragged out of bed before dawn with news that the boy had tried to hang himself. Don't know what to do about him, short of keeping him tied to our horse.

Day 56: Good news from the scouting yesterday; our way is clear to the ports, and no one ahead of us seems to know we're coming. If we move swiftly, we'll be able to catch them unawares.

I've decided to take yet another tack with the boy; I told him I'd resolved that I wouldn't bed him again. I also spread the word – making sure he witnessed this – that any man who touched him would receive notice of a death duel from me. A bit of a risk, that, but I think the other men have seen for themselves what trouble the boy is.

The boy said nothing about all this – gratitude doesn't seem to be in his vocabulary – but at least he didn't spend the evening sobbing. I figure a week should be sufficient time before he's relaxed enough that I can take him to bed again.

Day 59: More hard riding, but the results should be worth it. We've heard rumors that a ship recently brought much bounty to one of the ports.

Have decided to wait another week before bedding the boy; he still flinches when I help him onto our horse, though he has reached the point where he is willing to respond "yes" or "no" to me. It's hard to believe I'm glad for that. Never would have thought I'd put this much effort into taming a captive.

Haver has been something of a nuisance, asking why, if I'm not bedding the boy myself, I won't let others have their fair share. Almost makes me wish I lived a proper life, with my own private bedchamber.

Day 60: Discovered today that the boy isn't the biggest fool in my life; I came back from scouting early to find Haver humping the boy.

Don't know whether Haver thought the boy wouldn't tell me or whether he was simply desirous of showing off his blade skills. Won't ever know; I should have asked him before the duel.

Any other boy would have thrown himself gratefully into my arms; fortunately, I knew this one well enough not to get my hopes up. He did dress my wounds afterwards; it turns out that he's skilled in doctoring. I asked him where he'd learned his craft, and he told me that his father had been in charge of caring for the sick animals of the village. It was the first full sentence he's spoken to me, which I take as an encouraging sign. Shouldn't be long now before I can bring him back to my bed.

Day 62: Only two days' ride to the ports; all is well.

I decided yesterday that I've been a fool not to take advantage of whatever skills the boy has. It doesn't appear that he has many, aside from caring for animals, which isn't much use to us – other than the horses, live animals don't stay live long after arriving here. But the boy is able to extend his knowledge of animals to human wounds, so I set him to checking all of the wounded men and caring for them in whatever way needed.

He seemed happier afterwards; I don't know why it didn't occur to me before to give him some sort of task. Naturally, that's what's been bothering him most: having nothing to do during his days except to pleasure me. He's not well suited for a life as a bed-slave, I can see that now. Still, once he has become accustomed to our ways and been accepted by the others as a working member of our tribe, I've no doubt he'll invite me to share his bed. After all, he owes me a debt.

Day 63: Much excitement today about tomorrow's raid; we've decided to divide and hit both ports at once, so as to ensure that no one escapes. There was a bit of ill-humored grumbling over the fact that Haver is no longer here to lead the second raid, so I ended up having to volunteer for the task. It means I'll get less goods than the men I'm leading, but at least it put an end to the other men's talk about me. I'm becoming tired of their company.

Woke up early this morning to find the boy cuddled up against me; taking nothing for granted, I asked him why he was there. He told me he'd had an ill-omened dream. The most blatant excuse of a tease, but it may be that the boy truly doesn't know how enticing he is. Decided not to take any chances and asked him what the dream was about. He wouldn't tell me, so I sent him back to his bed. If he tries it again, I'll know not to bother with enquiries.

Day 75: Am very glad now that I took this boy along; my thrice-cursed companions were ready to abandon me as the nearest thing to a corpse till the boy came along and insisted that I be brought back from the raid. They knew his skills with doctoring, so they followed his advice.

Didn't have the strength till today to ask the boy why he'd come down to the port; I'd left him behind at our camp. He told me he'd grown worried about me. Wasn't surprised; he must think that, if I die, he'll end up in someone else's bed. I'm not inclined to worry about his motives for saving me, as he's done such a good job at doctoring me.

Found myself worrying about the boy's future, though; despite his doctoring skills, the others aren't inclined to treat him at his full worth. Would he in fact end up as someone's bed-slave if I died on a raid? Well, I have all winter to worry about this; our harvest from the port raids was plentiful, and we're headed back into the mountains.

Day 76: Woke up last night to find the boy lying beside me again, sobbing. Took me a couple of hours to find out what the trouble was. Turned out he'd been dreaming about the raid on his village; he told me everything he'd witnessed, and I refrained from pointing out that I'd been there myself.

Ended up glad that I'd killed Haver, though; it turns out that the man forced the boy to watch while he raped the boy's mother, then slit her throat. And Haver complained because I wouldn't share the boy with him! He would have had a captive of his own if he hadn't been so wasteful.

The boy still held hope that his father had survived; I had to disabuse him of this notion, as I'd supervised the execution of the village men myself. It took some time to convince him, even though I remembered the man that the boy described. He was silent after that; I decided not to press him. Went back to sleep with the boy curled up under my arm; a very pleasant feeling, if somewhat frustrating.

Day 80: We're nearly to the mountain country, and no sign of pursuit. This has been a good year.

I can see my winter isn't going to be peaceful, though; I woke up before dawn to find the boy kneeling naked beside me, fumbling with the fastenings of my trousers. I suppose that the certain news of his father's death finally impressed upon him that he is now utterly dependent on my good will for his survival.

Was tempted to let the boy have his way, but decided in the end that it wouldn't be a good idea to confuse him by changing his course yet again. So I told the boy not to be a fool and made him put his clothes back on; then I explained to him about my plan to get him accepted as a full member of our tribe.

Ended up telling him more than I'd intended, including the tale of how I first joined the tribe. He asked me whether I remembered my family, and I said I didn't; I was much younger than he was when I was captured. I don't even remember the man who first took me. I proved myself worthy of tribal status quickly, though, and I impressed upon the boy that he could do the same if he worked hard enough.

After all this time, I suppose nothing should surprise me about the boy, but it was still a shock to hear the boy say he didn't want to belong to the tribe. He called us "land pirates," which is the kindest name I've ever heard applied to us, but I managed to keep from laughing. Pointed out instead that he had no good alternatives now, and asked him whether he wanted to risk becoming a bed-slave again if I died. That shut him up.

Truly, the boy's the stubbornest person I've ever met. He reminds me of myself when I was young.

Day 81: Our conversation yesterday seems to have brought down all barriers between me and the boy; he no longer flinches when I touch him, and he came to my bed last night without bothering to make up excuses about ill-omened dreams. I ended up having to sleep on my side to hide what his presence did to me, but the cursed boy simply snuggled up against my back. Took me three hours to calm myself enough to get to sleep.

At least he's talking to me now. He told me about his early childhood, which was spent, not in the village where I met him, but with the Laxxens, living with his aunt and uncle while his parents searched out a place where the father could ply his trade. The boy's uncle has a large farm and used to let the boy help cure the sheep – apparently animal-doctoring runs in the family.

Was interested to learn that his relations live in such a prosperous dwelling, but decided not to tell the others. There are plenty of raiding opportunities elsewhere.

Day 82: Just a few more days, and we'll be at our home camp. It will be good to be back, though I'm getting tired of the jokes by the others about my "bride."

The boy's more intelligent than I'd thought. He spent today quizzing me about my work and asking me whether I'd ever thought of applying my skills to other trades. Found myself admitting that I'd considered at one time becoming a mercenary soldier. Whereupon the boy began to tell me about the glories of the Laxxen army and of how much need they had for good warriors.

Could have laughed at this transparent attempt to return to his relations, but was flattered that he would consider finding work for me, rather than trying to lure me to Laxxen through other devices. Truly, the boy has a generous streak.

Day 83: Spent all night awake, and it wasn't only because the boy was nestled up beside me again.

It isn't the first time I've been lured this way, of course; I imagine that every member of our tribe has considered at one time or another leaving for a respectable life. Trouble is, pasts are hard to erase; you can't be hired without telling the man hiring you what work you've done to qualify you for the new job. And I've spent too many years raiding the Laxxens to believe that my work here would be valued by them.

But the boy's relations continue to be on my mind. A prosperous family, the boy said, one likely to have some influence. If I were to return the boy to them, surely they'd be grateful enough to give me a letter of introduction to the Laxxen army. And it wouldn't mean giving up the boy: the Laxxen army camp is only a quarter day's ride from where the boy's relations live, so I could visit him on my free days.

I need to make up my mind before tomorrow, when we reach the mountain country.

Day 84: Managed to persuade the others that one last raid was in order before we reached home. The boy watched me giving this speech and kept casting disapproving looks at me. He even tried to argue with me when I told him he would accompany me on this raid. Fool; I felt like boxing his ears.

At least he took orders without question later; we managed to slip away neatly during the raid, and the others aren't likely to catch up with us, eager as they are to return home. Besides, I get the feeling that they'd just as soon be rid of me. Nothing has been the same since the boy came into my life.

Day 90: Had to tell the boy today that we were headed to the Laxxen land; he'd been wearing my ears out with questions. Was tempted to tell him the whole tale – I live in fear now that he'll try to slip away from me before we reach his aunt and uncle and will be captured by someone while travelling alone – but can't resist a vision of the look that will come onto his face when we ride up to his relations' farm. Just hope he won't think I've come there to raid.

Telling the boy turned out to be a good idea; he knows of a shortcut that will take us to the border quicker. It's getting colder now, and we curl up together each night for warmth, despite all of the accompanying difficulties on my side. It got so bad today that I had to send the boy for firewood while I pleasured myself, calling up thoughts of our early days. Turned out not to work, though; I was surprised at how distasteful the image of him lying limp had become. I tried to change the vision to one of him willingly offering his body, but that didn't work either. Ended up more frustrated than before.

Otherwise, a pleasant ride; I enjoy the boy's chatter.

Day 91: A ill-omened dream last night; I hope its meaning is symbolic rather than literal. I dreamt that I was dressed in the uniform of a Laxxen soldier and I came to visit the boy at his farm, bringing him a gift of herbs for his doctoring. He opened the door and saw me, and then he slammed the door shut and shouted at me to go away.

Didn't tell the boy about this; his own ill-omened dreams have only recently stopped.

Day 92: Had the same dream again, only from the boy's perspective: I heard a knock at the door and opened it, then found a raider at my doorstep, raping my mother.

The dream must be symbolic; it was Haver, not me, who raped the boy's mother.

Day 95: We're nearly at the border, and just in time; the first snows fell last night. Having no coinage with which to buy shelter, we spent the night huddled in each other's arms, unable to sleep. This time we were so close together that I couldn't hide my body's feeling for the boy, but I told him that it didn't matter: I planned to buy a bride once we were settled. This was a lie, but the boy seemed to accept it. He hasn't shown any signs of making plans to escape me once we reach the border; he asks no questions now about the future, but seems contented to trust me that all will be well. I find myself tempted to keep him with me; surely the Laxxen army would have need of a good doctor.

Day 96: Hard trouble today; not the boy's fault, though I felt like strangling him once I realized what we'd walked into.

Turns out that the shortcut the boy advised takes us straight through the southern tail of the Riit territory. My old tribe is known as the boldest raiding party in the world, but even we have always steered clear of the Riit: their skill at capturing invaders is well known.

I'm pleased to say that I managed to kill three of their men before I was taken. I did have some qualms afterwards, when I saw that they'd captured the boy as well; I'd hoped that he'd escape their attention and be able to make his way to his relations, perhaps arranging for a ransom on my behalf. Well, things never work out the way you'd planned them; I learned that long ago in my work.

We were brought before the chieftain of the Riit, who lived up to his reputation: he is truly the politest ruler alive. He said nothing about his dead warriors; he simply expressed his sorrow about my wounds and apologized for inconveniencing me by making me his prisoner. You would have thought he was addressing a high-born king rather than a man wearing the clothing of a mountain raider.

Don't think scaring him with threats would have worked; all the while we were talking, he was fingering one of the skulls that made up his throne. I tried reasoning with him instead, telling him truthfully that I was only passing through his land in order to return the boy to his relations. (The boy heard none of this, as he was being kept out of earshot; among the Riit's many courtesies is that they always allow the elder captives to break the news to the younger captives of their impending deaths.)

To my surprise, the chieftain showed no interest in our motives for crossing his border; it turned out that he simply desired our assistance in a religious matter. It seems that, at this time of year, the Riit gods decree that the first animal to pass over the border should be sacrificed to provide for life's warmth in the upcoming winter. Turns out that humans qualify for this privilege.

Well, we spent a good long afternoon arguing the matter through; the best I could do in the end was to convince him that his gods weren't so greedy as to require two sacrifices. The chieftain was even polite enough to let me choose who the sacrifice would be.

Easiest choice I ever made. The hard part was hiding the matter from the boy afterwards; I told him only that the Riit needed him to undergo a sacred rite in three days' time, after which they would be finished with us. Since this was no more than the truth, the boy accepted what I said.

Have to admit that I felt uneasy afterwards; I hate the thought of never seeing the boy again. Still, I know I made the right decision. And there's no point in terrifying the boy by telling him beforehand what's to happen; I can tell him just before he is taken away for the rite.

Day 97: Spent today securing supplies for the remainder of the journey; the chieftain was quite magnanimous. Would have ended up feeling kindly toward him if it hadn't been for the guards watching my every move. They refuse to speak in the presence of me and the boy, which is just as well, as the boy might otherwise learn from them what his rite will entail, but I did take the opportunity to ask the chieftain about the details of the ceremony.

Wished afterwards I hadn't; turns out that the ceremony lasts through the hours between moonpeak and dawn, and entails liberal use of fire and knives. I ended up feeling edgy for the rest of the day.

Day 98: Am finding it harder and harder to look at the boy; his innocence is heartbreaking. He spoke today of working beside me as a doctor in the battlefield; evidently he has abandoned his dream of living on a farm. Well, it's just as well that this has happened; at least it has rid me of my ill-omened dreams.

Doesn't stop me from aching when I look at him. I think he senses how troubled I am, for this evening he offered himself to me again. I wanted him more than any day since we met; never would have guessed I would have the strength to refuse him under such circumstances, much less have the strength to invite him afterwards into my bed, so that he could sleep without ill-omened dreams.

I'll need more strength than that when they come to take him away tomorrow.

Day 99: They arrived before I'd found the courage to tell him; I only had time to say that he should go with them, and all would be well. The fool believed me. It's a good thing I abandoned my plan to make him a member of the tribe; he would never have qualified for the work.

Have spent the time since then standing at the barred window, watching the glow at the camp's dark horizon, where I think the rite is taking place. I try not to think of fire and knives.

Day 100: The rite is completed; the chieftain came to tell me a short while ago. He said that I would have an hour to prepare myself before moonpeak; he is the politest executioner I have ever known.

Would just as soon have not had the hour; I've spent most of it thinking about fire and knives. I hope I don't make any noise; it will be hard enough for the boy when he discovers what has happened. The chieftain tells me that the boy accepted without question his sacred role as the child who is saved from death through a sacrifice; he has not yet guessed what the sacrifice is.

The chieftain assured me that the boy will be kept away from the ceremony and that the chieftain will personally escort the boy to his relations; the Riit are known for keeping their word, so I have no more worries about that. I hope that, by the time the boy reaches his new home, he'll have spent his grief for me. This is best; if things had gone as I'd planned, I'd have been a living reminder in the boy's life of all the pain he underwent. It's best that he forget me.

I can hear voices; they're coming for me now. It's odd: if I hadn't been such a fool as to choose the boy as my bed-slave, I'd still be with the tribe, planning next year's raids and bedding some boy or woman I'd taken as captive.

I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to thank the boy.