During the next few days Bragg and the other galley slaves began to harden to the Princess’s strict routine. They rowed the ship, day and night, steadily to its first destination, a great Castle of the King-Emperor. Each day the hardest rowing pace was increased in tempo and duration. Each day, Scar drove them harder, without the slightest hint of mercy. They all became used to his belt and his discipline. He was, however, not cruel the way the overseers were in the Skull Squad. He knew how to drive his oarsmen by controlling their minds as much as their bodies. The men became used to rowing to exhaustion and then relaxing as the oar boys saw to their needs.
Although the Princess inspected them on the open deck, and hand fed Bragg dried fruit several times, she always chose other oarsmen to bring to her pleasure room at the stern. Bragg would watch her leading others to the door, and see them later with their silver bars in place. He wondered when his mistress would want him again.
Dale and he had not been permitted to speak a word to each other. They were, though, always together; they learned to communicate by facial gesture and shrugs. When they were belted into their sleep hammock, they were sometimes required to pleasure each other. Bragg would imagine his Princess at such times.
Soon the Lightening seemed to fly across the water each day. Soon they were maintaining the hardest pace nearly their entire shift at the oars. Twice Brag and Dale were among the few oarsmen without benches and once they were sent to scrub the ship’s decking under the watchful eyes of one of the Princess’s guards. Their mistress saw them there, and stopped Bragg, ordering him to stand. After the guard chained his wrists back, the Princess stroked and held the big Northerner, kissing him deeply with open mouth. The guard watched and Dale scrubbed while Donna Alexandra enjoyed the feeling of Bragg’s growing hardness. The Princess drew back and, laughing in her accustomed way, said, “Soon, my fine oarsman, soon I will have you again. But now, scrub.” She left and the guard released Bragg’s hands, putting him back to work.
The other time they were kept off the oar bench Scar took notice of them. They had been belted to the mast in the galley hull, with hands chained back. Scar had grown bored with driving the rowers with his strap. He ordered the drummer to beat an easier “rest pace” and turned to Dale, “Pounding oarsmen always makes me want to fuck. Since our Princess has had you, yes? I am sure you will want to know how to service me, too.” He unbelted Dale and turned him to face the mast, belting him to it again. Then he moved against the youth, roughly probing him with his rough hand. Dale looked to his friend and Bragg gazed back at him, as if to let him know that they were together, no matter what they had to bear.
Now Scar probed Dale with his mounting erection, guiding it against the youth with his hand. He pushed hard and the lad groaned aloud as he was entered. The overseer began to pump him against the mast, driving harder and harder. Scar squeezed him hard, grabbing the mast with one massive arm, the other gripping Bragg where he was belted to it. As his tempo increased his grip on Bragg increased until the Northerner could feel fingernails digging deeply into his flesh. Then overseer came, pushing harder against Dale, panting and nearly collapsing against him. He turned to Bragg.
Catching his breath, he spoke to Bragg, “You two are made to pleasure each other in the hammock. Maybe, someday, if you row very hard, I will allow you to have him this way too. Our mistress has used him; his body is a sacred place to us. You will have to work hard to deserve it.” Bragg stared back at Scar. “But for now let’s see how we can use you.”
He motioned for an oar boy who he grabbed around his waist, raising him backward to push his buttocks into Braggs face. “Eat this. Wet it.” Bragg complied, not knowing exactly what Scar intended. He reached under the oar boy and roughly grabbed Bragg’s manhood, stroking. Then the overseer dragged the boy down Bragg’s body to his hardening cock, roughly impaling the boy on it. Bragg was both horrified and excited by Scar’s action; the boy cried out and squirmed, but the overseer held him firmly and began moving him rhythmically, timed to the oars. Quickly Bragg exploded. Scar released the lad who dropped to the deck and scurried off. There was a bit of blood on Bragg’s still throbbing member, and Scar reached to squeeze and handle the slave’s glistening cockhead, as the big Northerner squirmed in his bonds. “Good. All the oar boys need to be loosened and taught to service the benches. If you behave, I will reward you like this again.” He left Bragg and Dale bound to the mast for the remainder of the rowing shift.
The ship reached the Port of the Castle San ‘Galdo after nine days of hard rowing. As they docked and the Princess disembarked, Scar proudly told the oarsmen, “You have crossed the Sea faster than any ship, four days faster. But I told our mistress that you will do better next time. Now we will wait her pleasure. Each day, we will row out of the bay and practice even faster rowing.”
The wedding of the Princess’s elder sister to the heir of a subject kingdom was a lengthy and festive affair. Even the galley slaves could see the garlands hung about the port, through the oar holes in the galley hull. Each day they would row out to sea to practice. They did not notice the people at the quays and shore who would stop to look at this quick ship glide by, accompanied by the distant drumming and “huh” sound of the oarsmen straining. Every day was spent in silence and endless toil.
One morning they did not put out to sea, although Bragg’s shift was kept chained to the benches. They could hear trumpets sounding, and the bells of the town’s churches and temples peeling joyfully.
Soon carts arrived at the Lightening and they could hear men moving about above them, loading things. Bragg thought it strange when baskets were brought to the galley deck and the oar boys were ordered to pass garlands of fresh flowers among the oarsmen, decorating them below decks even as the ship above them was being prepared to receive the royal couple.
Soon the ship had cast off and the oarsmen were bending to their task, rowing easily out to sea. After a time, their Princess and mistress came below to inspect them. She was in bright Court dress, a grand display of white and gold. Her feathered cap was circled with a small gold crown; her scabbard was studded with huge, brilliant topaz. Bragg could barely believe that such a creature could exist; this was surely not the lusty lady who could so easily bend them to her will.
The Princess noticed Bragg and his oarmate as she passed them; watched them pulling the oar together. She rested a smooth hand on the Northerner’s massive shoulder, “Ah, my handsome slave. I thought of you as I was feasting. Perhaps later you will be dessert to this long celebration.”
Donna Alexandra raised her voice for all to hear, “You will quickly row my royal sister and her new husband to the Isle D’Marga, where they will disembark. You have the high honor of having my Father, the King Emperor aboard. We will bring him farther, to a fortress of his in Italy, where some of his commanders are meeting. After waiting his decisions, there will be hard rowing to bring news to certain castles. You know what I want from you: Work, Obedience and Silence. Now is your time to prove your devotion. Your training has been for this test; to show the King how quickly this ship can move. Scar, quicken the pace! Maintain it thus!” The Princess turned to leave the oar deck as the overseer signaled the drummer. She could hear the snap of Scar’s belt as he began to drive the slaves; she could feel the ship lurch powerfully forward as it began to raise and skim across the sea.
Scar drove the galley slaves unmercifully for the remainder of their shift, and finally they were all allowed to stagger out to the caged deck while the second shift took over at the benches. After being cleaned and fed, the oarsmen were permitted to lay there, ankle cuffs chained to the deck. Dale and Bragg were next to each other, as always, with Dale resting his head on his big friend’s shoulder. The Princess, now dressed in the loose white tunic and breeches she preferred when aboard the ship, came over to them and knelt by them. She stroked both men’s chests and smiled. “You look so peaceful together. It pleases me that you are so close. If each of my galley slaves loved his oarmate as you each do, this ship would barely touch the water as it sped where I directed.” She unlocked the chain holding Bragg’s ankles, “Now my brawny man, I will have you. Stand.” Bragg obeyed.
His mistress slipped a hand between his legs, fondling his massive balls, and led him over to the midship end of the caged deck. Here, out of view of those above, was a sliding panel that opened to reveal an alcove, fitted for the Princess’s pleasure. There was another padded bench with chains, and more deck and ceiling chains. She fixed Bragg’s ankles to the deck chain and his wrists, together, over his head. These chains were set on a pulley with a wheel embedded in the wall to move them up or down. The ceiling had an opening in it large enough for arms. After seeing to it that Bragg was stretched taut, she kissed him fervently, demanding access to his warm mouth. Bragg’s sex had begun to respond as he was led to the alcove; now it was raising itself rigidly. The Princess turned the controls, raising the big youth up, to nibble and suck, first on his neck and shoulders, then on his chest and stomach. Finally, raising him higher, and sitting comfortably on a small bench, she moved to the oarsman’s erection, and began to suck it and stroke it. This she alternated with biting and suckling on the tender skin rippling over his slave’s hard mid section and waist, the tight musculature above and around his bulging thighs. With her fingers gripping Bragg’s firm buttocks, the Princess was lost in the aroma and taste of her galley slave.
Bragg felt completely under his mistress’s control. He could see Dale watching him. He wanted his friend to know that whatever this Princess took from him, he would give willingly. Donna Alexandra, however, now only noticed the erection throbbing before her. She alternately sucked and stroked it, repeatedly drawing sweet-tasting liquid from it, but not quite bringing the big slave to orgasm. She wished she could bottle this elixir, to have it with her at all times.
While sucking and enjoying her oarsman, she fantasized that with her several hundred galley slaves, if she could actually bottle their daily sperm, perhaps preserved in alcohol, she could have several bottles with her at all times. It was a waste to have them pleasure each other when, instead, the oar boys could “milk” the slaves when they were on this deck, and blend their fluids together. Yes, her slaves should not be permitted to always expend their juices on each other, when they could be collected for their Princess. In this way, her slaves world be even more completely hers, devoting their brawn, their manhood, their lives, to her and only her. She would at least have them begin collecting samples for experimentation.
She could feel her oarsman arch toward her as the slave’s orgasm built. She returned her concentration to the hot manhood waiting to explode in her throat, thinking that soon it would be time to use it in her private place. But this slave must be primed for that, a few times more. She pulled back to watch his organ throb before her, glistening and ready to release. She dug her fingers harder into the slave’s buttocks, sucked even harder, and Bragg discharged himself into his mistress. Spasm after spasm emitted the thick man-cream that the Princess craved. Bragg ground his erection into his Princess, draining himself completely, expelling every drop he had in him.
The Princess stood slowly, leaning against the spent slave, feeling his ragged breathing calming as she held the big man close. Eyes closed, she massaged her hands up the slave’s back, kneading the hard muscles stretched there. She bit and sucked the skin up the front of his body, until she reached the lips. These she forced open, demanding more and more.
Finally she released her slave’s wrists and ankles, but standing against her, continued to feel his hard body. She wrapped Bragg’s strong arms around herself, and the slave gripped his mistress, gazing down into the young Princess’s eyes with undeniable devotion. His legs apart, muscled feet on either side of Donna Alexandra, brawny arms around her, he nearly engulfed this mistress. The Princess’s mouth continued to explore his face and neck, with eyes lightly closing. “I know your love for me. Someday, perhaps, you will be permitted to give me even more... I want you deeply in me, but not yet...”
For a few minutes she luxuriated in her oarsman’s arms. Not wanting any slave to become too familiar, though, she chained Bragg’s arms back again. She walked the big man back to his place next to Dale where she chained him, caressed his cheek and left without a word. Then she chose another galley slave, a red haired youth even younger than Dale, brought him over to the alcove, pushed him, arms still pinned back, onto the bench, spreading his legs, and kneeling between them, to take her pleasure. Bragg watched for a few moments and then lay back, next to Dale, and closed his eyes.
The Princess’s Royal Sister and her new Husband were quickly rowed to a pleasure Isle, set in the azure sea. Then the galley slaves were put to the task of speeding the King to his meeting, across a long stretch of open water. Bragg did not see much of the Princess during those hard days and nights. Scar drove the oarsmen hard, telling them that their Princess and Mistress wanted them to show her Royal Father how rapidly they could cross the sea. The days and nights of the passage fused together under the enduring snap of the overseer’s belt. The Princess had instructed Scar to push the oarsmen to their limits and beyond, “We will only know how fast this ship can speed when the slaves are driven beyond endurance.”
They finally arrived at the vast Fortress of the King. The ship dallied there for several days. Other ships came and went, carrying officers to meet the King, carrying orders away from him. Even the Raptor and its dark Lord arrived briefly. The Lightening was rowed out daily for practice, and Bragg could see, and smell, the rest of the Skull Squad, lying just beyond the harbor.
Then the Princess returned to the ship and they sped away from the Fortress as quickly as they could. Donna Alexandra came below decks. For some time she silently watched the oarsmen struggling under Scar’s demands. She intently watched Bragg manning the oar with his mate. Bragg’s shift continued and the Princess left for the caged deck.
After the shifts changed, Donna Alexandra wandered about the open deck, hand feeding dried fruit to some of the oarsmen. She found Dale and Bragg chained on the deck. First she turned to Dale, gave him a treat, and began to fondle him. With one hand she freed the stiffening prick from its confines, stroking it to erection. She abruptly stopped, playfully smacked the youth hard on his bare behind. She then smiled at her other slave, “I see you’ve been cleaned and fed. Are you ready to please your Princess?” Bragg snapped back as he had been taught, “Aye Mistress!” Dale watched as he stood, taller than his mistress, and twice as large. “You will come below with me, and I shall demand more from you than ever before. If you fail to please me, you will no longer share an oar with your friend. Do you understand?” Bragg first looked to Dale, then back to the Princess, and slowly repeated. “Aye.” His legs were unchained, wrists pinned behind, and he was led to the door and spiral stairway below.
Once in the Princess’s private chamber, Bragg expected to be chained for his mistress’s pleasure. Instead the Princess turned to him and reached her arms around her slave, first hugging him, then releasing his hands from the waist chain. The Princess said huskily, “Hug me.” Bragg complied. “You will service me without chains and offer me everything you have. I want you on me and in me. You must show me that you are completely mine.”
Bragg gazed deeply into his mistress’s eyes and brought their lips together. They remained together for a long moment, Princess engulfed by her slave, surrounded by his brawny arms, seeking the fresh taste of his warm mouth. Then Bragg raised his mistress up, carrying the comely woman to the round divan.
Once he placed the Princess on the divan, he knelt upon it, untying her britches, pulling them off, to reveal her soft privacy. Then he moved between her spreading legs, at first gently touching her. He leaned forward and nuzzled her sex with his warm mouth, reaching his hands forward, fondling her firm young breasts.
Bragg tongue probed her, hard, then, with the Princess on the edge of orgasm, he would hold back. This he repeated many times.
Then he knew it was time to bring the Princess to orgasm quickly, as he knew his mistress wanted more from him. So he bore down hard on her clitoris, rapidly bringing her to throbbing climaxes, greedily draining every spasm of savory fluid from her. The Princess lay panting, spent, with her slave looming over her, steadying his own breath, nearly leering at her. Both understood what was next.
Bragg reached forward to squeeze her breasts and nipples, pressing against her, seeking her lips. He lingered against his mistress, pressing their hot mouths together. But then he pulled back, knelt back grinning. He reached between her legs, probing for her cleft. Once found, he probed harder, seeking the tight, moist hole. That found, he pushed her legs back, grabbing both hard around the ankles, and leaned forward, probing the spot with his tongue, wetting and penetrating it again and again. The Princess groaned and tried to move under the slave’s grip.
Now Bragg pushed her legs further back, and moved closely against her. He released one ankle and with that rough hand probed the wet, still tight hole, first with one finger, then two and three, until his squirming mistress was loose enough to receive his enormous erection. This he guided to the hole and resumed his position, gripping both ankles. He pushed, the Princess gasped, gritted her teeth, as the huge organ began to penetrate her.
Bragg knew that he could thrust hard once, entering her fully. But his mistress feared him, could not release that way, so he probed and pushed, working his way in, finally opening the Princess to her fullness. Finally impaling her deeply, he gripped his mistress firmly.
Then he began to pump himself deeply into his Princess, pushing hard, withdrawing nearly to his cockhead, then pushing in hard again. Over and over he repeated the deep probing, feeling his mistress’s breath rasping between pumps; climaxing over and over again. When Donna Alexandra gasped for him to stop, “Please, hold back just a bit....” the oarsman bore down harder, covering the Princess’s protests with his mouth, until she released all resistance to her slave’s mastery of her body. Briefly Bragg wondered that his Mistress would permit him this closeness, “Perhaps” he thought, “’tis not her time to conceive, or these Souther women are all witches an’ know the herbs to prevent it. ‘Twoud not be good for a Princess to conceive of a slave...”
Bragg knew his passion was peaking, that he could barely hold back, but he wanted to delay his orgasm, he wanted his mistress to beg for more. So, panting, he pulled back, withdrawing with an audible plop. He leaned back, gazing at the Princess, “Roll over, on your knees. I want you... like a... dog... Now!”
The mistress, eyes wide, obeyed. The galley slave gripped her hard about the waist with his callused hands, pushing his stiff cock quickly, deeply into her. Donna Alexandra wanted to cry out in pain or joy, or both, but she could just gasp for breath as her large slave began furiously pumping his erection harder and harder.
Bragg was not holding back any longer, and he groaned as he began to explode into his mistress. Thrusting even deeper, he spurted an enormous, hot load. Over and over he spurted more sperm into his Princess, finally collapsing completely onto her, crushing her against the divan.
Both lay there some time, panting, entangled. The Princess rolled herself over, under Bragg’s weight. The big slave lay fully upon her, not quite limp, but spent, eyes closed. Soon their breathing had eased, and they were there together, quietly breathing in unison, feeling their slowing heartbeats keeping pace with each other. The mistress had her arms around her brawny oarsman, was easily kneading the massive muscles of the man’s broad back. Neither wanted this feeling of closeness to end. Eventually they dozed off, and both fell into an exhausted sleep.
The Princess woke first, to the dead weight of her slightly snoring slave. She gazed at the specimen pining her to the divan, wondered at the perfection of his form, gently feeling muscles and skin with her hands and whole body.
The slave awoke to her touch, looking directly into his mistress’s eyes. The Princess returned the gaze; she touched the big man’s lips, first with her fingers then with her lips. After she pulled back from the galley slave’s eager response, lips and strong tongue pressing against her, she spoke, “You have pleased me well. Methinks I should reward you, with such rewards as a slave may have. You may speak.” “M’lady, let me but serve you here an’ labor at your oars... I am yours...” “Ah, well spoken, Northerner. You did not ask for your freedom, which I would not grant a galley slave. What you asked for is what you are compelled to do. Surely there is something within my power to grant, as a reward?” “Yes, M’lady. My oarmate, here, with us...” “Ah, yes, you love that lad. I know from watching you two. Yes, it would entertain me to have you two together again... Perhaps soon, I shall do so. And now you may say one last thing, before the Rule of Silence again... though your voice is fair and deep. P’haps I should devise chantries for my oarsman to sing while you labor. Would that please you?” “Oh, yes mistress. An’ one more ‘twould please...” The Princess could feel his slave’s hardness growing, and she smiled at the big man, pulling her legs apart under the oarsman’s weight.
Bragg grinned, moved close between the Princess’s legs, gripping under her buttocks with both callused hands, to raise her up a bit, to receive his throbbing hardness yet again. This time he entered his mistress easily, and rode her slowly, a long, long time, bringing her to orgasm over and over again. Much later, after a deep, shuddering orgasm, the slave was truly spend and exhausted. His mistress let him sleep there, on the divan.
The Princess took herself up to the slave deck, found this slave’s oarmate, asleep on the deck. She spoke briefly to the Overseer, telling him that the two oarsmen would be excused for one shift. She went to Dale, shook him gently awake, released his chain, and motioned him to follow. Dale was apprehensive at first, until he realized he was being taken to that room where Bragg had gone. The Princess’s arm on his shoulder was easy.
Once below, he was relieved to see Bragg asleep on the divan, with no chains. “You may sleep here with your mate. You will not be rowing this shift. When he awakens, let him know you two are to rest until I return; to prepare to service me.” “Aye!” Dale quickly lay down next to Bragg, who asleep, sensed his presence, rolled half onto him, and, wrapping him in one huge arm, nuzzled against him. The Princess smiled and left.
Bragg, as though still asleep and enthralled to his mistress, snuggled against his oar mate. The lad, luxuriating in the warmth, could not sleep, could not help but feel the big slave’s flaccid manhood, resting against him. After a few moments, he gently moved Bragg, turning so as to look fully at the man in all his masculine glory. In the hammocks they had occasionally been required to pleasure each other, taking the oar mate’s erection by mouth, bringing each other to release. That was a duty for which they would be punished if they failed to obey. This Dale understood. But here he felt desire. Here he wanted his friend the way his Princess wanted him. And so, he leaned to Bragg’s manhood and engulfed it in the warmth of his mouth.
After a few moments, the slave’s erection grew again, with Dale thinking, how many times did their mistress use him this day; how much power the man had to respond, even in sleep. He was dazed by the strong aromas and sea salty taste of the man’s preliminary juices. Then he withdrew his mouth, wanting so much more, turning from his friend, nuzzling his back side against Bragg.
What then happened seemed so natural. Bragg wrapped his arms around Dale, pushing his dripping erection forward, entering Dale. The younger slave gasped a bit, but held silent, wanting to receive his friend fully. Bragg grunted, “Ah, not my mistr’s... Ah, my friend. This what y’want?” Dale whispered, “For you, anything, everything...” And so, Bragg squeezed harder, pushing deeper into his oar mate’s recess. Pumping hard. The lad bore the weight and thrust of the bigger slave, felt the growing rigidity and excitement of his friend. Then, Bragg thrust deeper and harder, overcoming all remaining resistance, opening his friend completely to his lust. Pumping harder and quicker, the big slave’s erection grew thicker and harder, until, finally, the man could hold back no more and his engorged manhood gave up its seed, pumping deeply into his receptive oar mate. Bragg collapsed completely onto Dale, having released all he had, and was soon fast asleep. His friend too, deeply satisfied, found himself, at last, able to sleep.
Bragg awoke, still nuzzling Dale. His friend woke to his touch and they both wordlessly embraced. He spoke first, in a whisper, “Mistr’s said we won’t row this shift; should rest here ‘til she returns.” Brag responded, “’Tis near night. Our lady will p’haps sup an’ after come to us for pleasure... We have some time, alone.” They lay tight together, listening to the rapid “Huh!” of the rowers as they sped the ship into the night. Soon though, Bragg whispered to his friend, “We are unchained and must risk an escape. We’re at the stern. Out the window with yon tabletop; this galley ‘twould be leagues beyond us by morning. But, for ar’lady, who may enter at any time.” “We must await her, and seize her... gently. If she is here through the night... they will think she dallies with her slaves.” “Good plan, Dale. Then she cannot raise cry to find us. But I will not have her harmed. Would rather remain her slave than harm her. For you I seek freedom; for her, I only long to be her slave.”
Donna Alexandra found them lying close together, seemly asleep. She smiled, wanting all her slaves to be this close to each other. This was the way of the secret Rites of the Magdalene: the spiritual closeness that comes from physical closeness. Perhaps some day she would teach her slaves these mystic secrets; but for now, their closeness was like an initiation into the first levels of one of the Orders. She had endowed a nunnery of the Way; perhaps she should see to endowing a monastery of hidden Way for men; then her slaves could be used to pleasure the holy brothers; to achieve the highest such as these could accomplish... in service, always to their Mistress.
They did not notice her entering the chamber. Bragg startled when he felt the Princess’s smooth hand touching him and he looked up to his mistress, noticing the Guard standing by the door. “I have brought you food and drink. First I will chain you to this divan, then you will serve me. If you are pleasing, I will feed you. Now stretch back against the manacles.” The Princess’s gaze did not waiver from Bragg’s clear blue eyes. The slave snapped back, “Aye!” and began to stretch himself toward the chains. Dale looked confused, but began to follow his friend’s lead. The Princess nodded to the Guard who smiled, stepped back into the hall, and closed the door.
As quickly as the door was closed, Bragg covered the Princess’s mouth with one huge hand, held her body tight with the other. He whispered to Dale, “Strip her, make a gag!” Then to his mistress, “Twould not harm thee, dear Lady... Be still!” Shortly, they had the Princess gagged and chained naked to the divan.
Then working quickly and in silence, they removed the hinges from the chest in corner of the chamber, taking its large top to the window. Next, two uprights from the Princess’s chair were removed. Bragg took the food and drink and the Princess’s large white shirt, whispering low to Dale, “Our sail...” Then he came close to his mistress and kissed her through the gag. He whispered, “I would have been content to be your slave; part o’ me will be ever bound here for your pleasure... We thank thee for th’ chance o’ Freedom. We trust ourselves to th’ Sea. Know this my Princess, this is why your Empire can never defeat us: Freedom is worth greatest risk! P’haps I will seek thee in battle... My Princess! Remember me, I am Bragg of the Northlands...”
With that, the two galley slaves slipped out the window. Donna Alexandra heard the soft splash as they carefully entered the Sea. She could barely hear it over the “Huh!” of the rowers.
When her guard found her, she did not tell them what happened. Later she told Scar, loudly, so that the slaves could hear, that two oarsmen had failed to please her, and so they were being returned to the Skull Squad. She never spoke of Bragg to anyone, but offered herself more completely to the pleasures of her ship, and to the secret Rites of the Way of the Flesh.
Nearly six years had passed, and finally the King decided that the cost of the Northern War was just too great for the “hilly farmsteads and ice-swept town lands...” the Empire might gain there. The King of Bohemia hosted the Peace Conference, and the King and his Court attended in grand style.
They were introduced to the negotiating team of the new Northern Confederacy at a reception ball given by their host. Leading the peace delegation was the wily Lord Mayor of Hansea, the largest city-state in the Confederacy. With him were assorted politicians and generals.
The Princess paid little attention to these Northerners with whom she was shaking hands, one after the other. Even when one was introduced as “General Bragg Mortmer” she almost took no notice, until she saw the laughing blue eyes and massive build of the still youthful warrior planted before her. Her whole body trembled as their hands touched. The General smiled and simply said, “P’haps, my Lady, we can speak later...”
Later, among the swirl of uniforms and ball gowns, no one noticed the Princess and General meeting on a balcony, talking intently, and quietly. “I often hoped that you had survived... I imagined finding you and your... friend... on some small islet where the sea had stranded you. But now, you are a renowned General, and the victor in this long war. Tell me what transpired when you leapt from the Lightening.”
“Well, m’Lady, th’ Sea was kind to us. Some fisher folk saw your shirt—our makeshift sail—and found us. They struck off our chains an’ we worked with them a season. With some silver in our pockets, ‘twas simple to make way North and rejoin the Rebellion. Two years later Dale, my friend, left the Army. Now he has his own farm, a wife from our village, an’ three rompin’ little ones. I... I stayed with th’ War.” “Yes, and your War is over. What do you hope for now?” “Twenty years of peace ‘tween Empire an’ th’ North!”
“Have you... anyone?” “I left my heart on the Lightening, my Lady.” “Well, my ship still out-races all others, even the new many-sailed galleons. And ‘though we have had to return all our Northern prisoners, enough galley slaves remain to man my ship. Especially since my Cousin died in battle and the Skull Squad was disbanded...
“You. You were the one who killed him. Yes, I recall, he died by the hand of a General ‘Mor’mare!’ I congratulate you.” Bragg grinned broadly. “You still look so strong. I could find a place aboard for you...” “’Twould sail with you anywhere, my Princess.” “Good, if you are with me, I will guarantee Twenty Years of Peace with the North! It is agreed?” “Aye Mistress!” “Then, you will meet me, slave, in three months at the Sign of the Swaying Anchor, in the village of Dormere. I will be guised as a seafarer; you, a peasant. Do you understand?” “I am, Princess, yours to command.”