I’m not going to say too much about this chapter. Only two details.
First, it’s over 10,000 words. BIG chapter.
Second, BACHELOR PARTY!
I’m investigating how I can put this into a printed format without setting it up for sale anywhere (and no, I will not go to a vanity press). If you’d be interested in a print version, let me know. I’ll do it strictly for cost plus shipping; this will fill my agreement with John not to make money on the thing but still get it into your hands.
I’ve left a comment block below here so you can tell me YES! (And I’ll have an idea of who to tell when it IS ready.)
Oh, yeah. Anyone figure out what the deep background of the cover is yet?
“What now, Chief?”
Mike rubbed his arms and chest with a towel. The workout he’d finished was long overdue and a welcome break from the post-mission stresses. He would have preferred another hour on the Nautilus but his joints were letting him know it was time to stop. The abuse from previous missions was making itself felt; he was sure he’d have to seek out Kurosawa and his needles. Thus his answer to Adams was perhaps a little gruffer than he’d intended.
“The first stones are back from the cutter,” he answered, dropping a bag on the desk.
Mike sighed down into the expensive executive chair, appreciating the extra support it provided. Definitely getting old.
“Stones? Oh, yeah, right. Good. Thanks.”
“That’s it? ‘Good. Thanks’? You know how hard it was to find a reputable gem cutter in this country? And to keep him from stealing them? I had cameras installed in his shop beforehand and proved they were being watched! Then I had to convince him that the chips and dust weren‘t a bonus for him to keep; you know how much even the scraps are worth? On top of which I‘ve had to babysit his sorry ass the entire time, and you know how much I hate babysitting!”
“I’m sure you got some of the Keldara to watch him, while you sat back and had a beer or two.”
“That’s not the point! The point is, I did you a favor and now it’s no big deal?”
“Ah. You want gratitude. Why didn’t you say so?”
Looking up from his terminal, Mike put on a cheesy fake smile.
“Thank you ever so much for putting yourself out on my behalf! I won’t ever forget this!”
“Ah, fuck it. You just better watch out. Your bachelor party’s coming up really soon.”
That was a threat.
“You and Daria, eh?”
He raised a single eyebrow. He’d seen Stasia do it to her charges, and it conveyed so much more than was said. It made the target think whatever they feared most and gave the impression you knew more than you really did.
JP didn’t blink. He‘d been before enough boards of review to have the routine down pat. Admit to nothing until necessary, and only the minimum then.
“Yep. Me and Daria.”
“And here you were complaining about Sivula getting married.”
“His case is different. I’m on short time, no wife or family back home, and I figure if I get out here and manage to get a position with you the odds are pretty good that Uncle Sam won’t be able to call me back into service.”
“How many years have you put in, JP?”
“If you don’t mind me asking, why are you still a captain?”
Mike steepled his fingers and leaned back as if considering the entire man, past, present, and future. Which, in a sense, he was.
“I was a mustang. Enlisted for four years, thinking it would be a good way to save up some money for college. Made sergeant, but didn’t really love it, y’know? I was planning to get out, and my CO knew it, so he made me an offer. It was tough to refuse the old man. He had a way with words, and I swear he could predict the future. Kinda miss the bastard, now.””
“Yeah. Came out a shiny new second john, didn’t know my ass from my elbow, but I’d signed for another six years. Got all gung-ho after 9/11, went to Ranger school, qualified, and then got assigned to the 75th. Worked my way up to commanding my company in between deployments and getting my hitch ’extended’ three times. “Needs of the service”, you know. Typical bullshit. So here I am.”
“So why get out? Why not go for field grade? I can make a few calls, pull a couple strings…?” He let the offer hang in the air.
“Mike, after so many years in the Big and Little Sandbox, I don’t need to prove my patriotism to anyone. I love my country and want to serve, but I’m over thirty now. I still want some kind of life. Kids, too, ones who know their daddy and have a single home, not just this year’s temporary quarters.”
“You think you’ll get more of one here?”
“I know you do weird shit out here that’s so black nobody, and I mean nobody, can talk about it. I also know you don’t take orders from anyone, just requests you think will help the country. That’s where I want to be. Then you have the beer, and all I have to say is, Oh My God. And, of course, Daria. She doesn’t want to leave here, she made it abundantly clear, so if I want her in my life, I have to share her place. Besides, I hear the pay ain‘t bad, either, given the bonuses you gave my men. And thank you; a bunch of ‘em really needed it, even if they didn‘t say anything about it.”
“Even if it means you’re stuck in a training slot?”
“What do you think Rangers do all day when we’re not deployed? Carve ’snake-eater’ tattoos into our arms? And does this mean you have a job for me?”
Mike explained about the Mountain Rams.
“They’re a ton of raw material, but I don’t honestly think they’re quite up to the standards of the Tigers of the Mountains. They’re locals, not Keldara, and those two have never mixed well. But they are by God willing and doing their best.”
“What are you looking at, then?”
“There’s a lot more of them, and we‘ve only got the first batch up to snuff,” Mike said. “Word’s gotten out and they’re tired of being sheep. I figure, if we can get them up to the standards of the Corps, there’s enough there to take the biggest burden off the Tigers. Plus, having a potent military force which is politically neutral but strongly in support of the legitimate government will go a long way towards stabilizing the country and dragging it up towards the first world.”
“You want the Rams to be the Army to the Tigers’ Rangers?”
“Something like that, or at least National Guard.”
“I can do that. Tough to turn sheep into soldiers, but I hear you have a good cadre going?”
“You won’t be alone. I have a Scottish sergeant and a few Gurkhas working with them, so I’ll want you to provide general direction, an officer they can look up to and call their own. Nielson‘s done his best, but he‘s got a bunch on his plate already. And you could bring Daria in. She‘d make a hell of an S-2 or -4.”
“Can do. Where will I slot into your command structure?”
“You’ll report to Colonel Nielson, then to me. You’re essentially an independent command; you’re going to have enough men.”
“Maybe I should have asked earlier, but just how many men am I looking at?”
“Right now, we’re projecting a force of 750.”
“Holy crap! That’s more like a battalion!”
“Yep. Which is why, for my purposes, you’re going to get your silver oak leaf. There’s a chicken in your future, too, but only after Neilson takes his medicine and accepts a star. Totally unofficial outside the Valley, but it’ll give you some pull with the troops. Think that‘ll suffice?”
“Captain to Light Colonel in one jump? That’ll do nicely.”
“Once your Rams shake down, we’ll have to nominate some officer candidates and train ‘em up, but that’s a problem for later.”
“You have an OCS?”
“No, that’s why it’s a problem for later.”
The planning meeting went on long into the night.
“What do you think?”
“I think you’re insane, but that’s nothing new,” said Kacey.
“Definitely. We’re helicopter pilots, not fixed-wing, and sure as hell not something like a Backfire!” added Tammy. “No matter how sexy it is!”
Mike had suggested his two pilots get some time in the Backfire before John and Chris – he couldn’t call them Hardesty and Watson, it sounded too much like a bad law firm that advertised late nights for personal injury claims – returned to their regular jobs. Hardesty wasn’t an issue; as long as Chatham didn’t need him back, he was perfectly willing, okay, overjoyed, to earn twice his usual pay playing with a supersonic bomber.
Mike’s mind briefly wandered to the stack of claims for broken windows from a nearby village. Again. Hardesty was having way too much fun.
Watson was a different story.
He’d been “shanghaied”, his words, by OSOL, and he was dammed if he was going to spend “any more time in a godforsaken third-world shithole of a country, no matter how good the beer!” than he had to. He was willing to finish familiarizing Hardesty, though with John’s extensive background it wouldn’t take long. And he flat-out refused to consider staying on longer, despite promises of bonuses and the comforts available in the Valley.
Mike had considered the benefits of having Pierson ‘advise’ Watson his time in Georgia was going to be extended. In the end he figured the misery the arrogant pilot would produce far outweighed any possible gains, and so had let Watson know he’d be able to depart as soon as Hardesty reported himself ready to pilot the Backfire solo.
At the rate things were going, it wouldn’t be more than another couple days. Unless they buzzed another town at full burners. He should never have let them borrow his copy of Top Gun. Dammit, it was a bomber-turned-transport, not a fucking fighter!
However, that was going to leave Mike with a big, expensive aircraft and zero trained pilots. Umarov had volunteered his pilots’ services, but, while they were competent enough in their SU-25 Frogfoots, he wasn’t about to trust them with his supersonic bomber on a regular basis. Hence his suggestion to Kacey and Tammy. He thought they’d be excited.
Boy was he wrong.
“It’s a totally different kind of flying.”
“Almost contradictory, in fact.”
“There’s different procedures and protocols to follow.”
“Different reactions to train.”
“And if we become proficient at flying Grez –“
“- We might lose our touch with the Hinds.”
“Dragon would get lonely if I didn’t let him feed occasionally!”
“And, if you’re going to take me out of Valkyrie, then, Sir, with respect? Fuck No!”
So it had gone, a verbal tennis match, with Mike the only spectator. Mike’s neck was weary from the constant back-and-forth nature of their argument, so he rested his head on his hand for a moment. Now the inner Marine was coming out of his pilots. He knew it was time to call a halt.
“What you’re saying is neither of you could fly her without giving up the choppers.”
They shared a glance, then Kacey’s pilot’s ego took over.
“We could fly her. Probably not well, certainly not up to her abilities. We each have some hours in fixed-wing aircraft. Much smaller, but the principles the same. We can get by, for short periods.”
“We just don’t want to transition out of our Hinds,” admitted Tammy.
“Why us?” asked Kacey.
“You’re the only pilots I have,” answered Mike, somewhat amused by the question.
“You mean, we’re the only rotary-wing pilots you have,” agreed Tammy. “Fixed-wing aircraft are far easier to learn how to fly than helicopters, though.”
“I’ll bet you could find a half-dozen volunteers among the Keldara without even trying!” offered the other Bobbsey twin, and the tennis match was back on.
“Let’s see, there’s Serena Mahona, she always wants to deadhead on training flights.”
“And Akilina Kulcyanov.”
“Who’s the little blonde?”
“The one that D’Allaird was sniffing around?”
“Yeah, until she gave him a black eye.” Tammy smirked. “He’s not going to equate ‘small and blonde’ with ‘stupid’ anymore, no matter how perky her tits are!”
“Lizaveta Shaynav. She’s got the reactions, for sure. And then there’s also –“
“Whoa! We’re talking a multi-million dollar, supersonic, converted and upgraded bomber here, not a farm tractor!” interrupted Mike.
“My point? Do you really think these girls are able to handle a fucking Tu-22M?”
“Did you think that any of these ‘girls’ would be able to run an Intel shop like Grez?”
“Or shoot like Katrina?”
“Or lay mortars like Jessia?”
“Or rewrite code like Creata?”
“Okay, okay, I give! What about men? Gonna have some bruised egos if you only select the girls for training.”
“What about them?” asked Tammy. “It’s been proven, over and over, women have better reaction times and can make better pilots than men. Besides, all the young men are in the Tigers. Don’t think many will give it up.”
“Ask anyways. Say you’re looking for volunteers. Then make a list and I’ll give it to John, with one condition.”
They looked at him warily before replying.
“What’s the condition?” asked Kacey.
“You two take some ‘refresher’ training. Once John returns to Chatham, unless they get a shitload of hours behind the stick, I want a more experienced, veteran hand available to fly with them.”
“Makes sense,” said Tammy. “You ought to include Chief D’Allaird as well. He’s got plenty of bootlegged hours.”
“And while we’re on the subject?”
Now Mike was wary.
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea for us to start training some of our crew chiefs how to fly the birds.”
“You’re not planning on leaving, are you?” Mike frowned.
“Hell no!” snapped Kacey. “The hours are good, the pay outstanding, and we get to blow shit up! How could life get any better than that?”
“Getting laid more often?” said Tammy. Kacey glared at her.
“Redundancy, for one,” said Tammy. “You don’t want to be down a chopper if either of us should come down with the flu, or break a leg, or…”
“I get the idea. Okay, good point, but not enough.”
“Which brings me to my second point,” continued Tammy. “If we train up more pilots, especially from among our crew chiefs who at least have some familiarity with the birds, we’ll effectively double our usefulness. Right now, at some point we simply have to stop and get some crew rest. God knows we’ve pushed right to it! If we have a relief pilot, even one we have to co- for, we’ll be able to increase our endurance considerably. You can‘t afford to have us end up like the girls in the Cave did this last op.”
“Okay, now you’re talking sense. I want you to start small at first, though. No more than one relief pilot from each of you. You know your chiefs; I’ll go with your recommendations. Is there anything else?”
“No, Kildar,” answered Kacey, and the two pilots beat a hasty retreat.
“Do you think he knows we’ve already started training?” asked Tammy when the heavy door had closed behind them.
“I sure as hell hope not! How many hours does Naida have now?”
“Forty-two, but she really wants to play with the guns.”
“I know; Naida is still griping about not being able to take out the Administrator’s Humvee.”
“Still? After all these months?”
“Yep. She says target practice just isn’t the same.”
They made their way to quarters. “What’s on the agenda tonight?” asked Kacey.
“Nothing much,” said Tammy. “Did you hear about Daria?”
“Yeah,” grinned Kacey. “She snagged him right out from under you!”
“Not quite under me, but close enough,” grimaced Tammy. “What about you?”
“The Chief asked me to drop by, help him plan the Kildar’s bachelor party. Said to bring the Marine playbook on nasty tricks.”
Tammy brightened. “Sounds interesting. Care if I come along?”
“Naah, I’m sure he won’t mind. If I give you the signal, you get scarce.”
“Why? You planning a bombing run on him? And who said I wouldn’t want in?”
Kacey shrugged. “Not planning on it, and no, I won’t share! Never ever worked out before!”
“And he’s a SEAL. Do you know if he likes ’em young, you think of that?”
“Hell, once a Marine, always a Marine. Adapt and overcome!”
“Do you know how difficult this was?”
Actually, what the Chief said came out more like, “D’yuh know ho’ diff’cult thish wa’?”
The bachelor party had begun, officially, only an hour ago, but it seemed Adams had started his celebration quite a bit earlier. Truth be told, so had Mike, though he wasn’t nearly as badly off.
His joints were warmed by a recent session with Kurosawa, while his belly had been warmed by two fingers’ of single malt that Bridgewater had claimed was over a hundred years old.
“Very fuckin’ diff’cult. But yer worth it, Ash-Boy!”
Mike was impressed. Instead of holding the party in the caravanserai, the subject of more than one nightmare the past week, the Chief had appropriated one of the emergency shelters. And except for Stella and the Ready Team, it seemed like the entire Valley had made an appearance.
A huge bonfire had been lit out front, casting flames thirty feet into the evening sky. A separate fire pit was laid with at least two steer butchered and grilling over the coals, casting their fragrant aroma far and wide. Turnips and parsnips, harvested after resting underground all winter, had been transformed into a savory hash. Fresh-baked bread had appeared as well.
Then the beer was brought out.
Not the slop they made for export.
Not the slightly better product they sold in the village.
Not even Mother Griffina’s brew, regarded as consistently the second-best among the Families.
No, this was all, all, Mother Lenka’s winter brew. Ten full barrels of dark ale, which made Mike wonder just how long Katrina had been planning her little ambush, and if the old witch really could see the future. Her brew was liquid gold, carefully hoarded and always in scarce supply. The dark ale was only made in times of great good fortune and prosperity, held for drinking on rare occasions. The last such, he’d heard, was the funeral of ten Keldara who’d died trying to rescue some of their own from slavers. It had been over twenty years ago.
Before his arrival, that was the last time Keldara had gone to the Halls, the last time the tun had received warriors. It happened early in the winter, and the bodies had awaited internment until the ground thawed enough for the burial. More than enough time for her to prepare her ale. But for her to provide ten barrels was simply unheard-of, impossible! Unless…
Overanalyzing again, he told himself firmly. No Gods talked to her, let her know the date…
Bowing to American traditions, Katrina was nowhere to be seen. In fact, there were very few women here at all, Mike realized with a start.
Jessia, with Andrew.
Daria, with JP, and those two were closer than a pair of horny teenagers. Cold water wouldn‘t do anything there except steam, and he doubted a crowbar would do any good either.
Stasia, with Jack. He noted the pairing with a wrench. Well, he had always insisted she was a free agent, and it seemed she had reconciled herself to his impending wedding in her own manner.
Then he saw Elena and Catrina. Their presence meant their freelance job was finally over. Maybe he’d be able to trade for some info. He’d need a couple new playmates in the Dungeon if Stasia was really moving on to Jack. They’d be happier than a rabbit in a lettuce patch over that tidbit. The marriage to Katrina, well, they could handle it. They knew about his dark side and would take turns when it got too heavy for him to keep inside any longer. They might even try to recruit Katrina. She’d more likely hold the lash than take it, though.
“Hey! When did you get back? And where’s the rest of the team?”
Bright smiles lit their faces as they bounced through the crowd towards him. The very little they weren’t wearing wouldn’t keep them warm.
“Mouse and God-boy are up at the serai. She said something about checking in on her feeds?”
“Shota and the Mules are showering; boy, do they need it! You know how rank it can get in a cargo plane for six hours?”
“They still played in the tournament but didn’t take time to shower up. Smelled worse than they do after a summer op, you know?”
“Yeah, I do, actually. What tournament? And Lasko? McKenzie?”
“I think they’ve both turned in,” answered Catrina, avoiding the first question and settling in on his right. Even through his pants Mike could feel that she didn’t have anything under her skirt.
“Mac said he wanted to get back to training tomorrow, see what the Gurkhas got into in his absence,” said Elena, on his left. She managed to wiggle into that side of his lap and, like her co-conspirator, was wearing nothing under her too-short skirt. His hand stroked her thigh absently. “And Lasko’s just old.”
“Not that old,” giggled Catrina. “Not much older than the Kildar, and younger than the Colonel. Remember that once? Wasn’t he surprised?”
“Oh yes!” giggled Elena. “That was fun, though he was pretty pissed about being late for his morning meeting.”
“Is there a story there?” asked Mike.
“Kildar! What happens on mission…” began Elena.
“…stays on mission,” finished Catrina. “But if you’re very nice to us, we might just show you what we mean,” she continued, tickling his ear with her finger. Elena, bolder than her sidekick with Mike’s hand on her leg, licked his other earlobe.
“This is your bachelor party,” purred Elena into the same ear. “I have read about your customs. This is your last ‘fling’, yes? We saw enough of them in Lunari to know about them, though we didn’t know why. It’s supposed to be a drunken debauch, yes?” She looked up at Catrina and winked.
“It was a loooong, boring flight home, and we thought of plenty to things to keep us…amused.” She wriggled her butt on his lap, putting pressure on him and getting even more of a rise. And she knew it, too.
Catrina took the glass from Mike’s free hand and took a long draught of the beer.
“Ohhh.” she practically moaned. “Do you know how hard it is for a woman to find a drink in Dubai? Let alone anything like this?”
“You have no idea,” she answered, draining the rest of the beer. “Get me another?” she asked winsomely.
Elena pouted when he stood, but they shielded him for the moment it took to adjust himself, swatting away their too-helpful hands. Some things a man has to do himself.
Somehow Mike found himself fetching drinks and first steaks off the oxen back to the two women, who attacked the beef as if they hadn’t eaten in days. Which, he reflected, they might not have. And yet they retained a girlishness about them which was totally at odds with how quickly the two ribeyes disappeared. Elena impishly licked a trickle of juice from Catrina’s lips and chin to tease their Kildar.
Elena only smiled. He felt his pants tighten again.
“So,” she said, sliding a hand under his shirt, “When does the fun begin?”
“Any time you want,” he answered. “But there’s a little matter of the other guests standing around.”
A bottle of eighteen-year-old single-barrel Elijah Craig appeared at Elena‘s shrill whistle, with three water glasses. They started doing shots, then doubles, then they started to measure it by fingers. With both women matching him drink-for-drink the bottle didn’t last long.
Neither did the second bottle. That bottle was different. Green, triangular glass. Glen something-or-other. Gold label, wax-sealed cork, and dusty as hell. How these two managed to get into Bridgewater’s whiskey vault, he didn’t know, and wasn’t sure he wanted to.
At one point, Mike was sure he saw the Chief, in full camo, low-crawling across the ground.
What the fuck was he doing?
It wasn’t a party for him unless he did something spectacularly stupid. When a certain almost-as-drunk Hind pilot reached down and grabbed his ear, Mike smiled. And when the same pilot dragged him off, begging for forgiveness, he had to laugh, remembering other, happier, simpler days.
Sometime the party moved gradually outside. Mike no longer had his chair-cum-throne by the double doors, where he could observe both inside and out. Rather, he was seated by the remains of the huge fire, near the roasting oxen, where the flames would neither singe his skin nor set the building alight.
The night was clear and surprisingly warm for the season. The slight chill served to encourage the girls to cuddle closer to him. They dispensed with the glasses and drank straight from the bottle, something which would have mortified Bridgewater. Fine. Mike wouldn’t tell him.
He traded whiskey-filled kisses with his two lap vixens until a sudden drum roll burst from the darkness, causing him to stop his playful teasing of the girls. The whiskey bottle stayed close.
As the rolling drums thrummed a steady rhythm, the spectators turned towards the darkness on the north side of the party, parting as if they’d been aware of the interruption and had practiced.
From either side, two teams, Yosif’s and Vil’s, emerged, dressed not as the modern warriors they had become, nor the peasants they had been, but in far older, more traditionally Georgian dress. This included red chokhas, flowing, loosely-cut robe-like blouses bearing bandoliers across their chests and elaborate decorations at the sleeves. Around their waists, all carried a mix of long knives and the favorite weapon of the Keldara, the axe.
Hoods down over their faces, they formed two lines facing each other.
“What is this?” asked Mike.
“It is the Khanjluri dance,” whispered Elena. “They will compete in pairs with their knives and their axes, trying to copy exactly the other’s moves. The first one to fail, withdraws, and is replaced by another from his side who attempts the same steps. It goes on until one side has used all of its dancers. Ooh, they’re starting!”
She bounced on his lap, and somehow her hand had pushed Mike to that side of his pants. She nestled it between her ass cheeks under her skirt.
Catrina pouted. She’d been playing with the outline of his cock for a few minutes and seemed to have other plans for it which had suddenly been derailed. Setting the bottle between his knees, he pulled them closer, sliding his hands up their ribs, eliciting giggles and wiggles and the familiar goosebumps that told Mike he was doing it right. Then he cupped a breast and began to idly tease their nipples as he focused on the dancers.
Yes, it looked like they were ready to begin.
There was a ’zzzzip’, followed by the ’snap’ of his button. Both went unnoticed as the crowd had turned to watch the dancers with growing excitement. Two hands met under his boxers and found what they sought, stroking him at the same pace as he did their nipples.
One way or another, this promised to be a good show. And the bottle was perfectly sized to hide what the girls were grasping, he noticed.
Nice touch. Wonder if they planned it.
Edvin Kulcyanov came out for Yosif’s team, while Karoly Makanee matched him from Vil. By unspoken agreement Edvin went first, with simple actions: tossing the knife from hand to hand, combined with a bit of dancing. Karoly mimicked it perfectly, then began his routine. Two blades blurred in his hands then launched into the air, caught precisely as the pommels came even with his palms. Edvin nearly managed it but mistimed his throw with his left hand. Rather than catch it blade-first he wisely let it drop.
The gudastviri and chonguri, the Georgian equivalents of bagpipes and guitar or mandolin, stopped playing when Edvin’s knife landed. Only the doli, the drum, continued to hold the beat while Edvin retreated back to his side to some mild ribbing after he‘d bent down to retrieve the blade. It seemed his pants were a size too small, and he‘d split them when he‘d swooped down. A tiny cousin of his came up, violating protocol, and kicked him in the shins for ruining her seamstress work.
The hands working him tightened and twisted, focusing him on the immediate and forgetting his other train of thought.
“You’re gonna pay, girls.”
“Hush, Kildar. There’s still more…dancing, to come. So, don’t you, yet.” Catrina added her giggle to Elena’s whisper.
Vugar was next. The music resumed and Karoly repeated his routine, which Vugar nailed. Then it was his turn to initiate.
Back and forth the two teams went. Neither could gain a decisive advantage over the other despite the increasing complexity and danger of the knife- and axe-handling. Finally, it was down to Yosif and Vil. Mike felt sure they’d earned these spots, rather than their teams ‘throwing’ their matches to force the finale. The dances had been complex as hell, the blades flashing in the firelight.
As had the dual handiwork of the two vixens in his lap. Soon it got to be too much, and Elena swooped down to take the tip of Mike into her mouth as Catrina maintained the rhythm. Mike’s last rational thought was he was glad they had moved into the semi-darkness, where nobody could see them against their fire-blindness. Then there was no more thinking.
He’d had to actually bite his tongue to keep from shouting in pleasure. He realized, later, with the music shrieking and the doli pounding as Vil led off with a spectacular display of axe-handling which left the gathered Keldara breathless nobody but the girls and himself noticed the byplay. The girls shared the Kildar‘s gift, blocking his view for a second, then chased it with ale from the barrel set near his chair.
Meanwhile, Yosif calmly matched Vil, move for move, blades blurring and flying around his head and arms, between his legs and around his waist. The girls didn’t let Mike relax either, one nibbling his ear and the other stroking him hard again. He was almost hypnotized by the combination of sensations, music, and flashes from the blades before him.
Then it was Yosif’s turn to make the challenge. Gathering his concentration, he raised his arms, axes in hand, until they were fully extended from him. Then, he raised the axes, so they balanced in his palms on their hafts and held them there.
One minute. Two. Three.
Finally, after almost four minutes, sweat streaming from his forehead, he grasped the handles and lowered them. Vil stepped forward and prepared for the simple-appearing challenge. The girls changed positions again, and now there were different hands on him.
Fine, he thought.
He let his hands drift down, under their skirts. As he thought, no underwear. He found instead moist and freshly shaved nexus, something none of the girls in his harem did. These two, though, from their lives in Lunari, had quickly learned that it made cleaning easier, and made them appear younger in the eyes of their clients; they’d continued the practice after their rescue.
Up the axes went, onto the palms. Vertically they stood, living symbols of the Keldara and their centuries-old warrior tradition.
Mike slid fingers down, searching, probing. He knew these girls well and knew just what they liked. There. His fingers moved in a quick, complex motion.
Both girls were trembling, shaking like jelly, clenching his shirt and moaning quietly against his neck. He didn’t relent.
Elena came first, biting his neck to muffle her scream. Then Catrina on the other side.
Thr – one wobbled.
Yosif was mobbed by his team members and carried off, out of the firelight.
“That was amazing,” said Mike, awed and exhausted.
“Amazing almost covers it,” murmured Catrina. “Oh, you meant the dance?”
She giggled. “I think it’s time for round two. Yes, Elena?”
“Just you wait,” purred Elena, nodding and unzipping his fly fully. “You haven’t seen amazing yet.”
“Elena, someone might see –”
“Not a word, Kildar. Now we give to you for all you have given to us,” she said. Then there was no more chance for talk as she took him into her mouth, leaning precariously from her perch on his leg. Mike found his hand steered behind and under her skirt by Catrina for support as she slipped off his lap. She took the bottle with her and adjusted her outfit.
Catrina then carefully masked any view of Elena from the crowd, performing a sensuous dance of her own before him with the green bottle. The light glinting off the glass caught the eyes of any who looked their way and distracted them from anything else. And she made sure that he saw everything of hers, too, while concealing it from the crowd. It may have shielded him from viewing the dance, not that he really gave a damn at the moment, but it certainly didn’t distract him.
If anything, the sight of Catrina undulating and writhing before him added to the sensations of Elena’s expert tongue and mouth teasing him. It wasn’t long before he released into her mouth; expertly, she caught every drop.
Taking a solid gulp of beer, Elena said, “That was just to take the edge off.”
“Well, the second edge.” She refilled the mug. “The first was just blowing off the foam,” and set action to words.
“Your harem have something special planned for you, by the way. We‘re just the warm-up act.”
“And we missed you, too,” said Catrina, kissing him as though she might not get the chance to do so again.
“Oh?” asked Mike, intrigued. It hadn’t been that long, had it? He thought. Maybe a month before his engagement? That would be when Katrina was making her plans, and making clear her plans for Mike, his bed, and sharing either. No wonder these two were taking this chance!
“Yes,” agreed Catrina. “But it will have to wait until later. There‘s more entertainment planned for you. You‘d best watch and clap a bit. We‘ll let you keep your hands free. For now.”
Elena pouted again as Mike slid his hand from under her ass. “Watch, now. Your girls have been practicing in secret for weeks, even before you left for your trip.”
Another team, Padrek’s, had taken the impromptu stage. Arminis stepped forward, and as the instruments began to play again, Tinata joined him, dressed in a gauzy green and yellow creation which barely concealed her ample breasts. A veil covered her flowing red hair. The two began a flirtatious dance with alluring looks and brief touches, growing more and more bold as the music played. As the dance seemed to reach a climax, Padrek broke in roughly, separating the pair.
Though it had none of the rawness of Catrina’s dance, Tinata’s dance had something sensual about it which drew everyone’s attention. Especially since it was one of the Kildar’s women dancing, in so daring a costume before everyone, and not simply for her master’s pleasure.
Now, Tinata stood to the side, chest heaving and blushing as she noticed all the eyes upon her for the first time. Reluctantly those eyes turned and watched as the two men, Arminis and Padrek, ‘fought’ over her, the stylized dance moves so emphatic Mike could almost see the knives flashing out.
Again the music built to a climax before Tinata stepped back in, tossing her veil between the two. Chastened, they withdrew to either side while Tinata performed a solo dance, ending with her picking up her veil and stalking off, with the haughtiness only a redhead could manage.
As soon as she faded into the darkness, Arminis and Padrek resumed their ‘fight’, with members of the team falling in to either side. With the separation between the two Mike noticed subtle differences in dress. This ‘battle’ went on for nearly ten minutes before Tinata returned, again tossing her veil between the combatants. She began to dance around the fringes of the group, sometimes singly, sometimes with a member of one faction or the other, working her way to the center where Arminis and Padrek awaited. They were so into the dance they were trading looks which promised death and mayhem. The ancient blood was certainly up, and he was glad no one had showed signs of being a berserker.
Finally she reached the center and began her final dances. She chose Padrek first, earning a fulminating glare from Arminis which went totally unnoticed. The pair were practically a single body, yet as they spun around Mike could see clearly between them; not even their palms touched. At last Tinata spun away from Padrek and into Arminis’ arms. They spun away as the tempo increased, leaving Padrek behind. Again, they moved as one, closer than she had been with Padrek but still untouched, until the music reached a crescendo then fell into a sudden silence. Both partners stepped away, the men anxiously awaiting her decision.
She swayed between the two for a moment, then fell back solidly against Arminis. His arms went around her waist and she half-turned her face to meet his for a kiss. Unnoticed by the pair, Padrek and his supporters stalked off into the night, followed closely by the rest of the team. Finally, as the music resumed quietly, Arminis and Tinata strolled away into the dark. Now where would they be going? He hoped she was going to deliver him to his wife, who’d administer what Hardesty would call ‘a good rogering’ as soon as they could find a dark corner.
As for Tinata… Well, she had her toys. And he’d have to find time for her later tonight. Unlike most of the harem, she never showed the slightest interest in any of the other girls, so he’d always made sure to give her a little extra attention.
“That was the Khevsuruli,” said Elena. “It is a courtship dance.”
“Really?” he couldn’t resist saying. “I never would have guessed. So, what’s next?” He used the bottle to conceal his rigidity from any passers-by.
“Now we drink more!” shouted Catrina to general applause. “Drink! Drink! The Kildar commands it! It’s a party!”
After that, Mike’s memory got a little hazy. He vaguely remembered Tinata joining them, and at one point he retained a very sharp image of Catrina licking Tinata’s neck, but very little else.
Adams made a long, rambling, mostly incoherent toast, ending with, “An’ I promise I won’ tell her why you’re really called Ass-Boy,” before collapsing.
Kacey looked down at the Chief, shrugged, and with the assistance of a Keldara, dragged him into a clearing where some were already dancing. Later, Mike noticed him propped by the door of the shelter, surely the work of some merciful soul, as Adams was beyond Vegas drunk.
A third bottle of whiskey appeared but quickly vanished into the crowd, so he turned to the ale. He could taste a definite difference. No tiger berry, but some different spices. He thought it would make a good variety for export, if he could persuade Mother Lenka.
A boombox appeared and popular western songs started playing. It was quite the mix, from rock and pop to slow tunes to goth. Mike even caught a few techno songs, which the younger crowd seemed to love. The guys with the instruments tried to play along whenever something local popped up, but soon gave up. The mix, excepting the goth, wasn’t anything Mike would have chosen, but it was intended to bring people together, give them something to slow dance to as well as being able to let loose if so inclined.
Many of the younger women took the opportunity to be as daring as they thought they could get away with, catching the eyes of the single men in the crowd. The three girls wiggling in his lap, meanwhile, kept rhythm to the music too. Each took a quick break to ‘find the bushes’, giggling upon their return and teasing him further. He was sure he’d been taken by each at least once, but couldn’t be sure when, or what order. His alcohol-soaked attention was being yanked in all directions by the girls, and the music, and other distractions. Not all of them pleasant.
He remembered Vanner coming over with a stack of paperwork.
“Needs to be done today,” he replied, shrugging.
Mike signed, even as someone was nibbling his neck.
Somehow Vanner kept a straight face through the entire pile before smirking, “Have a good night, Kildar.”
As soon as he walked off, Mike felt someone else fully engulf him and squeeze him with well-trained muscles. That had to be Tinata.
He came hard again. After he did, Tinata kissed him and dismounted, saying something about checking in at the clinic for something-or-other. Catrina took her chance and slammed down onto him before he could even begin to shrink, finally releasing fully and crying out into his chest. Then she managed to turn and guide him to another home while Elena pleasured her.
How the girls kept a straight face while people wandered by to wish him well, he didn’t know, and how the Keldara managed to remain selectively blind was another puzzle, but he didn’t waste much thought on it. Instead, he concentrated on hiding his ‘I’m getting laid right now!’ grin, a task that become more and more difficult as the night went on and the girls showed no sign of slowing, and neither did he.
Whatever Kurosawa put into the tea, he ought to market it, he’d make a fuckin’ fortune!
“It’s good to be king!” he said abruptly, drawing confused looks from some of the closer crowd.
Even Mother Lenka paid her complements, speaking to the girls in rapid Keldaran. The only word Mike caught was the borrowed ‘clinic’. Maybe they needed uppers to try to keep up with him? His ego was pleased with the thought.
Eventually the Keldara returned to their homes The smaller group made their weaving way up to the serai, Mike supported by the girls. They left the Chief, snoring, on the ground by the fire, his face treated with a permanent marker to look like tribal tattoos. He’d deal with it in the morning.
“Tol’ ya that messing with Marines was a dumb idea, Ass-boy!”
“Why do you call him that, Kildar? He doesn’t seem to do that more than the other.”
“How would you know, Catrina?”
She giggled. “We hear everything. Don’t we, Elena?”
“He does do some things you don’t, Kildar.”
“Don’t wanna know. I have some morals,” he said with as much righteous indignation he could manage. “There are some things even I won’t do. Ask him when he wakes up about the Philippines and the ‘Apple-Banana’ story.”
At the serai there was a brief debate as to where to reconvene. Elena and Catrina voted for Stasia’s dungeon, but were overruled by the rest of the harem, who had gradually drifted in, along with some of the Valkyries.
Eventually the party staggered out into the harem garden. Torches were lit around the perimeter and some of the hardier fruit trees were already blossoming. Surrounded by the perfume of a dozen beautiful women Mike was dizzier than he’d been on the long walk back up to the serai. To be honest the walk had done him good, and had allowed him to pass back to being just pleasantly buzzed instead of totally fucking drunk.
To Mike’s surprise, a buffet-style spread had been laid out by Mother Savina and Mother Griffina, while Kacey and Tammy took care of the booze. Finger foods, hot and cold, suitable for nibbling were arranged on two large tables: Soko (seasoned mushrooms), Satsivi (chicken in a walnut sauce), Boche Bread (coarse potato cakes with bacon fat), and then Mike saw the ‘American’ end: gigantic shrimp cocktails, mozzarella sticks, potato skins, sliders, and were those buffalo wings? That was something he’d missed on his recent travels, and he loaded a plate with them.
Big, meaty, juicy wings, lightly breaded and fried, tossed in a rich, buttery, hot sauce. Perfect! The gardens had just started producing peppers the previous year, after he and the Chief had explained their essential nature as a vital cooking ingredient and a virtual necessity for happiness.
Mother Griffina had, after much experimenting, been able to produce her own version of a hot sauce that used equal parts vinegar and vodka for a base. With aging, it got even better. The militia had created their own version of chili, though it was a test of manhood rather than good eats. The Chief had sampled it, pronounced it, ’mildly entertaining,’ and polished off his bowl.
And a second.
And a third.
That raised him to just below the level of godhood to the Keldara.
The other expatriates were digging into the state-side food with relish too, while the Keldara were more divided. Catrina, Daria, Elena, and others who had traveled outside the Valley were ranging the entire length of the tables, choosing the local and, to them, more ‘exotic’ foods. Others, like Jessia and Kseniya, stuck mostly to the foods they were familiar with.
Then there was Mouse. Somewhere along the line she had joined the gathering and was now stoking her ravenous fires with just about anything she could get close to her mouth. Mike guessed that the trip to Dubai hadn’t included much she considered ‘good’ food. She was making up for it now. Kurosawa, who held a soft spot for her, was acting as her personal servant for now. While Mike watched, he brought another plate of delicacies, stacked high, to add to the pile of six already teetering before her.
“Hey, Mouse, glad you came out of your hole!” said Mike.
“Hellofph!” She swallowed and tried again.
“Kildar,” she said around a mouthful of potato skins and Soko. “Thank you for the plane, especially on such short notice. Otryad appreciates it, too. Says he‘ll put it to good use, soon. You have friends who need to be moved from Russia, yes?”
In went more food.
Did she breathe?
“You’re welcome,” he answered, not entirely sure what she meant. The flight back? The Backfire? Who knew, with Mouse. Best just to go with it. “Where’s Evan?”
“God-boy? He’s tied up at the moment,” she said with just a hint of a smile.
“Well, tell him he’s missing a helluva party!” Mike leaned against a pear tree.
“I’m sure he knows, Kildar,” she answered vaguely. Picking up yet another heavily-laden plate, she said, “I have to get back and watch over him. See you later. Hiro, bring me a platter of the cheesy things, some sauce, and egg rolls, please? Thanks. All of them, if you can manage it.”
Still chewing, she walked off.
“Yeah, see you.” He shook his head. “Weird little critter.”
Now that they were more private, the girls somehow managed to be less inhibited. Someone brought out a MP3 player and hooked it to the speakers in the garden.
Speakers? When did that happen?
Soon enough completely non-traditional music was blasting the air: Lady Something, Black Eyed Peas, Britney Spears, Pink, Nickelback. In short, nothing Mike would’ve chosen. But the girls seemed to enjoy it, and it gave them enough of an excuse to get up and start dancing, sometimes with their chosen partner, often with each other. Mike simply sat and stared.
A soft body on his lap disturbed his thinking, and probably just as well. The alcohol was making him more introspective than usual, and this really wasn’t the right time for it. This, he wanted to enjoy.
A head nestled into the crook of his neck and a voice whispered to him alone.
“Dance with me, Kildar,” suggested Elena, tugging at his hand. “You can’t sit there all night.”
“I haven’t been sitting here all night,” he retorted with perfect logic. “I was down the hill earlier.”
“Silly man. Get up.”
Mike raised an eyebrow. “Again? I thought I’d done enough earlier.”
“No, I mean dance with me. Please.” The usual kittenish persona was put away; this was a serious Elena, one who rarely appeared and even less frequently in public.
“When you ask so nicely, how could I refuse?” He stood and allowed himself to be pulled away from his chair. He did the basic white boy dance. He’d tap a foot, sway back and forth, maybe a little hip spin for the more advanced. Meanwhile she writhed around him, hands busy on his body, breasts and groin pressing against him. She didn’t seem to care that she revealed to everyone that she wore nothing under her too-short skirt.
Soon he was aware of another body mirroring her movements; he half-turned and saw, as expected, Catrina. The pair had perfected their act during their months of slavery and saw no reason to break up a good partnership now. They managed to caress and kiss each other in passing, in time to the music, while never letting their bodies leave his for longer than it took to change places.
The other ‘partnered’ girls dragged their men out as well and began imitating the moves as best they could. The Valkyries joined the loose cluster around him first, followed by Mike’s harem girls. Random hands and fingers slipped along his neck, his chest, his groin.
After that his memories were hazy, at best.
“I’m sleeping until noon!” he remembered saying. Of course, it was four in the morning, so