Book II The Agony of Ecstasy-01

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Image Source: Pinterest

Book II

Prologue

The trill of the alarm was like gloved fingers releasing a constricted throat.  A gasp of sudden awareness was replaced by silence intersticed with an infinite darkness. The constant susurration of the ship’s propulsion impellers drummed in the background as a rasping struggle for breath and orientation ensued. There came a frantic tap, tap, tapping of aggravated fingers searching for the snooze button on the nightstand. Soon, a desperate slap was followed by the clatter of the clock on the padded steel floor. The alarm surrendered.

Alexandra could not stop the moan of consciousness stripping away the fugue of dreams that tossed her body through the night and twisted her military issue sheets into untraceable knots. A dim, blue light winked on from the low ceiling like a cheap imitation of an early eastern sky rimmed by the Carpathian Mountains of a long abandoned home. 

No, it was more like the blue light of folding space her ship sailed through; endless, dark, sad, and lonely. Running her fingers through her hair, Alexandra moved from the bed to the ancient piano a step away. The wear polished wood felt cool against her nakedness. She flipped through the torn pages to a soft melody played in pianissimo, her favorite.

On this endless mission, Alexandra found that the piano let her leave all of her emotions on the keyboard, clearing her head for the bark of orders and concentration on the finest detail. Only after she played through the song three times was she ready to face another day of boring space travel. There was only artificial night and day managed by the ship to keep her human crew from becoming unbalanced. She wondered if the routine wasn’t working.

The delicious scent of coffee followed the sound of gurgling steam coming from the server cube. The cup was befitting a Battle Captain – gold rim atop a deep blue stripe on a cream background. Royal Sovereign Ship Wolfsbane III was emblazoned on the steaming cup in gold lettering.

The cabin light switched to a soft amber and forced the shadows to the edge of the curved outboard walls. Alexandra sat in her chair by a large oval portal. It sensed her presence and shifted from opaque to translucent. She looked at her reflected nakedness and held the coffee cupped in her hands on her lap. The warmth reminded the captain of her missing soul mate. 

Alexandra sipped slowly and watched as the ship threaded through astral bodies using the gravitational pull of each lifeless form to slingshot her ship through space. The vastness of the universe was breathless in its beauty and terrifying in its power to obliterate whatever it chose. Alexandra knew that the world ending power of her ship and it’s 5000 synth fighters was nothing to the event horizon of the smallest black hole. And that was where she was headed to search out and destroy her enemy. 

It made no sense to try it, to risk the ship to destroy an outpost of the Nihilist hiding there was a huge gamble. It must be quite important to someone in the Republic to have the Admiral pay her a visit prior to the battle. She looked forward to it. He was just what she needed.

After reading the ship’s log of events that took place while she was asleep and finding nothing worth the time to read, Captain Dragana took a sonic shower and got dressed.

“Synth 1, send the Air Boss to the bridge to meet with me. Tell her I want to go over the fleet battle readiness preparations.”

“Yes, Captain,”

Captain Dragana made her way to the control bridge and greeted the Synth crew manning all of the control stations that flew and fought the 2 kilometer long Battle Cruiser; one of the Republic’s finest machines of infinite destruction. 

A bosun whistle piped the Air Boss onto the Bridge. Dari sat down in her seat next to Alexandra.

“You don’t look your usual sunflower self, girl. What’s up?” Dari asked with feigned concern.

“It’s my time of century again,” Alexandra joked.

“Oooh, well don’t worry, in a week you can always borrow one of the Battle Synths to scratch your resurging itch.”

“I don’t want one of those beasts. Speaking of beasts, how is Marius coming along getting the Synths ready for the fight?” The Captain poked back.

“Don’t you get any funny ideas about my man,” Dari warned.

“You need a rest anyway, Alexandra continued. You can’t concentrate on getting all the fighter craft launched with him plugged into your backside. I’ll take him over for you.”

Dari poked her chest out and lifted her chin in a show of indignation. “You better grab your thumb and blow your tits up if you want Marius. He’s particular you know.”

Alexandra laughed and slapped her friend on the arm. “Don’t pick on my boobs.”

Both hardened warriors looked over at one of the female synths who seemed to be choking. They looked at each other and shrugged. Maybe her respiration synthesis was faulty.

“Synth 1,” 

“Yes, Captain.” answered the ship’s omnipotent personality.

“Send 37 to sickbay for cardio-pulmonary scan,” Alexandra ordered.

The coughing Synth departed the bridge hiding a smirk and another one took her place.

“Where were we?” Alexandra asked.

“You were complimenting me on my exceptional accomplishments while assigned to the Black Wolf carrier group aboard RSS Wolfsbane III,” Dari answered matter of factly before cutting a mischievous eye over at the ship’s captain.

“Ah, so I was. Gods below, I’ve become such a boring liar.”

Dari frowned. There was another insult in there somewhere she needed to ferret out.

“Are we ready to launch, Dari?” Alexandra’s tone was suddenly serious.

“As ready as we can ever be, Captain.”

“And Marius has the Synths ready to go?”

“Yes, Captain. We should go over the battle plan together to synchronize our forces with the Battle Group.” Dari offered.

“Agreed. Let’s go see Marius in the troop hold. I want to have everything nailed down tight before the Admiral translates in. He’ll be staying on the Wolfsbane as his flag ship during the battle.”

Dari smiled at her eternal friend and touched her hand. They entered battle together again. This was the first time they felt like they had the odds in their favor and finally, victory would be theirs. She knew Alexandra would be her best with the Admiral here with her.

The Captain and Air Boss left the deck with 30 pair of Synth eyes watching with devotion, ready to face the terrible destruction for their leaders they admired and respected.

***

Authors Note: Greetings dear readers. I thought I would introduce the prologues to The Agony of Ecstasy Book II and later, Book III to give you a broader picture of the story’s trajectory through time. In Book II our Revenants are now further transformed by their life experiences and seemingly unending conflict. Their relationships with each other are more solid with their immortal spirits bonded together for a binary purpose; love and war. Feel free to let me know exactly how you feel about all this in the comments below. I do listen and my feelings are never hurt. I’m weird like that.

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The Agony of Ecstasy-47

Love that is washed by tears will remain eternally pure and faithful

Khalil Gibran, Love Letters in the Sand
Image Source: Pinterest

She Who Dances With Knives

Scene 47

A single light in a cavernous gym caught the flash of edged steel. The trailing beam flickered as lightning in a dark sky.  Parted, stale air howled as the blades cut in great arcs and crossing circles. Alexandra grunted with every power move, hissed with the killing jabs into the torso of ghosts. Her feet swished, her loose pant leg popped like fireworks on Christmas day as kicks broke ribs and thighs. The coup de grace fell like a leopard on a hapless pig. Alexandra stood like a statue of the Huntress Diana in silence as still as the darkness was black.

A mist of sweat evaporated from Alexandra’s upturned head and neck. Her chest heaved to keep up with a pounding heart. The weight of her responsibility to Cezar and the people of Carpathia drove her nearly to exhaustion each day. I can’t fail my love for Cezar. She thought how he had searched for years for her and every day he looked, she had clawed her way to another day. Every assault on her dignity, every beating, every night of biting hunger brought her here each night.

It seemed to Alexandra that everything she had experienced led her to Cezar and Castle Razvan. The question of the terrifying visions played out in the streets and in her past finally answered, she was ready to turn all her anger and fury to those who had hunted her through time and ravaged her mind, body, and soul. “No longer,” she shouted into the darkness as the baleful light sparkled in droplets of ejected saliva and sweat.

***

After a long, hot shower, Alexandra dressed in her favorite mauve and black pajama’s and wrapped herself in a robe. She felt alone, having missed dinner once again with Cezar, the Count, and Countess. Her hunger could not be sated by food alone. She needed the coppery sweet blood of her enemies before she would ever sleep well again. Or, she smiled, the voracious love of her Viscount, which she preferred over everything, including sleep.

The kettle whistled it was time for her evening tea of soothing herbs and spice. With her tea steeping nicely, Alexandra moved to her private porch, set the tray down on her table and walked to the parapet. The stone was cold and gritty to the touch. The last of fall hurried across the twilight sky in black clouds bordered by a cerulean sky lit by the moon and early evening stars. It would be full again soon and Dari would take her place as the Wolfmaster. How their lives together would change, Alexandra didn’t know. She felt a pang of loss thinking their time together was over. They had been together for millenia. It was always Dari she saw last before evil transformed her back to Elysium to wait for rebirth and return to this never-ending battle.

“Just once, I would like to spend my life in love with Cezar and bring children to the world instead of myself in this endless cycle of suffering” Alexandra begged the waxing moon.

She heard the chant of an ancient Celtic woman she had fought alongside in a foggy dream of grays and shadows. She remembered her long red hair and fine features. She was too wise and beautiful to waste on the field of battle, but she was like Alexandra, a timeless soul that did not seek to survive and so she fought for her clan and not herself. They were slaughtered together that day. 

Aife had written her chant to bind Alexandra to Cezar in love and for eternity. She felt it in her heart more than ever before.

A Thousand Years

by Holly R. Hunter – House of Heart

Cover the sky with your hand.
The summit of your palm is the moon.
Your fingers are streams of stardust,
Sweeping through an ancient dune,
Or the slender branches of forked trees.
Glide them across the desert,
Over valleys, the soft and sediment.
I am every woman you have loved,
Their dynamic wings beat in me.
Recall my eyes as history,
You have lived there a thousand years.

“Aife, if you are out there. I am still in love.”

Alexandra paused in her reflection to look out over the darkness to take in the comfort there. She could feel the cold nightfall on her face and neck. It refreshed the tiredness that haunted her since the shooting. They will not win, they will not defeat me. They will feel my steel in their guts and my boot in their groin. She swore. The Revenant Alexandra had returned and Hell would soon have standing room only.

There came a disturbance in the currents of air. The night sounds reflected on the walls changed. Alexandra whipped around to confront whatever it was that stalked her and found herself locked into Cezar’s arms. She was soon conquered by his biting kiss on her neck. His hands moved over her waist to her sacrum where he pressed her against him. His warmth smothered Alexandra in delicious tingles of want and need.

“I missed you for dinner,” lips whispered in her ear like a wanton sub rosa filled with thick lust.

“Sorry love, I lost track of time again. Did you eat well?” She managed to utter through an escaping wave of pleasure.

“No. I did not eat. It would have spoiled my appetite for you,” he replied as hands slipped up her shirt and played gently with her breasts.

“Would you like to dine on me tonight?” Alexandra replied while offering more of her bare throat by slipping the robe off her shoulders.

“I thought you would never ask.” Cezar scooped up his Lady and brought her inside where the night sounds would play like soft music to the beat of feral Revenant love.

The Agony of Ecstasy-46

He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die

Alexandre Dumas
Peleş Castle (The Grand Hall), Sinaia, Romania
by Mark Elam Photography

The Winds of Change

Scene 46

The fireplace in the Grand Hall of Castle Razvan had burned 900 winters. One hundred years before the dungeons were dug and the first cornerstone put in place, the revetments of the fortress the castle was built on had been the place where the Count Razvan’s kinsmen had planned the defense of Carpathia. We fought all who entered with closed visor and raised sword. The Count Razvan felt the flames of the fireplace toast his tired back and legs. The crackle of fire warmed his ancient soul as well.

The Patriarch raised his eyes to the elaborate woodwork made from the trees off his lands with the hands of masters long dead. How would this ever be rebuilt in these days where hands have been tuned to keyboards and buttons that rendered every dream into a false reality. Only here in my Carpathia are hands still tied to the seasons and the soil for life, he thought to himself. 

Voices, like the trivial moans of ghosts, floated into the old count’s awareness. Echoes in the Great Hall brought every whisper to his ears. He waited with trained patience for his son and Marius to greet him. He drew away from the comfort of the fireplace to the unseen air currents that whispered every motion from each hallway that leads away to the rest of the castle. The footsteps and voices grew louder.

“Son, General, what news do you bring of our efforts to implement the Duchess’s plan?”

Cezar spoke first as was the protocol when addressing the old man. “The news is mixed, father. We have signed into law the reservation of many forested areas into natural parks with the intent of preserving our lands from outside exploitation. The Romanian parliament was eager to approve. There was some push back from the local and EU timber industry. They seemed to think it pointless to preserve old forests and the wildlife that depends on it.”

“How were you able to dissuade them from their protest?” The Count asked.

Marius did not hesitate to explain. “We discussed our differences in private, My Lord. They immediately saw things from our perspective and relented.”

Count Razvan chuckled and his eyes lit up with approval. “You are a first-class envoy Marius. What else should I know?”

“The Forest Service Minister would not see us and had prepared a scathing attack to deliver to the Parliament against us.” Cezar began.

The dark pupils of the Count’s eyes flashed a dangerous anger. His silver hair seemed to vibrate as his face reddened with the insult the Forest Minister had hurled in his face. “And,” he asked.

“The poor fellow was killed in an accident on the way to the Parliament with his report. A truck crushed him against the stone pillars of an overpass. Drivers these days take such terrible risks to gain a second of time on the roads. Ironically, the truck seemed registered to a German logging firm. The truck driver and passenger fled and haven’t been found. Probably, they were immigrants who feel afraid of our laws of retribution,” Marius informed the Count.

The smile returned and the Count relaxed, satisfied with his enemy’s fortuitous demise. “What happened to his report he carried?” 

“Destroyed when the Forest Minister’s car burned, My Lord,” Marius added.

“What’s next on the agenda?” The Lord of Castle Razvan asked, satisfied the problem with the Forest Minister was resolved.

Cezar continued his brief with a general outline of his and Alexandra’s intent. “The Duchess and I will begin meeting with the Jarls to get commitments for people, resources, and materials. It’s going to be a long preparation to secure our lands and I fear we may not have enough time if the EU moves before we are ready.”

“Marius, keep your contacts on alert for any signs the government or the EU assclowns are planning any unpleasant surprises. We need a plan for quick reaction as we work the larger strategy,” the Count ordered.

“Yes Sire,” Marius replied

“What about security for the Duchess? The Count asked Marius.

“A platoon of our shadow warriors will go to each location a week in advance and set up security and study the situation. Their presence will not be announced. A five man security team will operate in the open as decoys should anyone think to act a fool towards the Duchess,” Marius replied.

“The fools should fear the Duchess more than anyone,” Cezar said. A tinge of concern in his voice raised the old Count’s eyebrows. 

“Marius, thank you. That will be all. Before you go, tell me how Dari is doing.” Asked the Count.

“She is meeting her challenges and offering some of her own to her teachers,” Marius replied.

The Count offered a friendly chuckle of approval as the lines striking out beside his eyes deepened. “Thank you, Marius.”

Marius snapped to attention, executed an about-face, and left the Count and Viscount alone. 

“Son, what concerns you about the Duchess?”

“She is obsessed with regaining her strength and fighting skills, father. She is like a warrior possessed. Her muscles grow larger and stronger each passing week. I don’t know what to make of her. Since Dari left, she has spent most of her free time in the gym working out and practicing her fighting skills with the knives.”

“Do you fear she is less a woman because of her talents?” The Count asked.

Cesare heard the wisdom in his father’s question. What did he fear? “I fear she is preparing for the conflict I hope to avoid. Perhaps our love for one another will fade in the battle for our freedom from the EU.

“On the contrary son, her love grows deeper and her need more powerful. You must accept her as she is and nurture her desire. Support her effort in every way. Empower her to become the fighter she is destined and trained to be. It is her destiny.”

“How will I do that, father?”

“Be there for her. Don’t smother her or demand she does as you see fit. Let her fury and heart as a woman nurture the defense and wellbeing of her birthright and her people.”

The Count showed remarkable kindness to his son. He reached out and with a hand behind Cesare’s neck, embraced him with a rough playfulness. “I love you son. Your sister and you are all I hold on to. I have only one request.”

“Name it, father.”

“I want your sister’s induction into the Wolfmaster Guild to take place here at the castle. It will be a formal affair. The young woman with her, Vanya, she is to ascend to the Ropemaster position and I want to send a signal to our enemies, that the Dacians are forging their iron into swords to meet them at every point where they intend to subvert us. Can you see to it this is done?

“It is done, father.”

“Good. Now go to the Duchess and make your plans; one word of advice son.”

“What is that, father?”

“Always find time for love.”

The two men understood each other without words. Cezar left his father next to the fireplace rubbing his backside as the glowing coals worked their magic on the ancient Revenant’s aching joints and muscles.

The Agony of Ecstasy-45

… every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every last bit of the body has its secret, which brings happiness to the person who knows how to wake it.

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Image Source: Pinterest

the ties that bind

scene 45

The late October sun was bright, yet merciful. Everywhere the people of Carpathia were busy with the late harvest bringing in the last cut of hay and feed for the animals and their vegetables for canning and drying for winter. 

Ras cut hay and the women stacked it for drying, they carried the wood by the armloads. Corn, pumpkin, peas, and squash sat in bushel baskets in the barn waiting on them to process it all to winter over. So much work and the sense of urgency was felt by all. A single rain or freeze spelled doom if any hay or produce was lost to the weather.

Vanya and the others trudged down from the barn with another armful of cut firewood to stack on the back porch. “My back is going to break if Ras doesn’t slow down soon,” Vanya exclaimed.

“Not much chance of that,” Moira said between labored breaths. 

“I like emptying my thoughts and just let my body tend to its labor, Dari said. Right now, the only thing my body can attend to is my aching back and legs.”

Vanya dropped her armload on the porch deck and remained bent over, propping herself up with her hands gripping her knees. “That man has too much energy.”

“I know how to drain some of that energy so we can get some rest,” Moira quipped. The three women giggled like schoolmates as wood scattered on the floor.

***

Dusk settled in the mountains with a display of red and yellow light reflected in the clouds. It appeared like the far mountain was on fire. Ras finally put down his ax and the weary souls went to the house to straighten up the wood on the porch and start the cooking fire. 

After hot baths and a filling dinner, Ras offered massages to soothe tired muscles and relax frayed emotions. Moira went first while Dari and Vanya tried to concentrate on practicing their bindings. Moira’s sensuous moans coming from the tiny room where she practiced making her herbal potions and ink made them laugh under their breath and lose their concentration. 

Ras called for Vanya next as Moira emerged from the room with a glow in her cheeks and distant sleepiness in her eyes. She sat next to Dari in silence for a few moments as Dari regarded her with reserved anticipation.

“What on earth was Vanya doing with this rope? Her knots are a mess. Come, dear, let me untie you so you can see how it’s supposed to be done later.” Moira unwound the rope and knots from Dari in a somnolent mood.

“Why do we Dacians place so much importance on the rope binding. I understand that it is ritual and that there is a certain appeal that in our weakness can become an obsession. Aren’t there less insidious ways to pledge our loyalty?” Dari wanted to know.

“Insidious? You see this ritual from the heights of the privileged looking beneath them at the peasants and their bawdy games. Has no one explained the origins of the rope binding to you?”

“No. I only know how the ropes took my mother from me.” Moira’s rebuke stung Dari and the bindings around her thighs seemed only a connection to her lifelong grief.

“I’ll explain and hopefully, it will help you understand the sacrifices our mothers made for all of Carpathia.” Moira began her story after a moment of contemplation.

“From the earliest times, it is said that we Dacians descended from Ares, the Greek god of war. When Roman soldiers marched into our lands to claim all of Europe as subjects of Rome they learned a hard lesson about the Werewolves of Dacia and many Romans came here seeking glory only to die a violent death. 

During these centuries of war, many of our people and lands fell to the Romans and their allies. Our people were bound into slavery and used as beasts of burden. Women suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of Roman soldiers. It was during this time of bondage that the ropes became a symbol to us. Our bondage became the fuel for our revolution. It began to symbolize our strength which could not be bound. Ultimately, it became such a powerful reminder of our fight for self-rule and freedom that we use it as a symbol of our unbroken bonds with one another.”

“But how could this evolve into the obsession and loneliness that we face now?” Dari asked.

“We are always seeking pleasure and leisure from the difficulties of life and yet we are always ripe for pain. Pain and suffering is more a part of life than anything else. When the mind sees pain and pleasure as one, we are transformed by it. We become obsessed and drawn deeper into the web of bondage. 

If we look to the ropes to fulfill our lives we are ensnared in the sensations the rope leaves on our skin. The rope becomes the master, not the other way around.

Your inductance into the Wolfmaster Guild is your confirmation of devotion to the wolves and how you are willing to undergo the symbolic bondage for their well being. It is a rite of passage.

Do the wolves ever question their command to hunt or kill?” Moira asked rhetorically.

“No. They follow their nature and sacrifice themselves for the good of their pack.” Dari replied.

“And so do the Dacian People. Moira added. The price of our freedom and way of life in the mountains is high and the cost is growing ever higher while those willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the people is shrinking with every generation.”

Dari fell silent as she thought of what Moira told her. She had known and felt in the core of her being the truth of this sacrifice she and Vanya faced. 

Vanya emerged from the room and flashed a grin at Dari with a thumbs up as she went to their room to turn in for the night.

“Go ahead, My Lady. It’s your turn. Remember, your massage is all about you, not Ras. Take from it what you will,” Moira encouraged.

***

“It has been a rough day, My Lady. I hope this will restore your energy,” Ras said as he swept his hand toward the padded bench where Moira did her tattoos for her clients.

“Rough, but well worth it, don’t you think?” Dari replied as she sat on the bench.

“It was a productive day judging from our aches and pains,” Ras spoke in a soft tone to put Dari at ease. You can remove your clothes and slip under the blanket while I prepare. Let me know when you are ready. He turned his back and went to the cabinets at the far wall to wash his hands and gather the oils Moira had prepared for them earlier.

“I’m Ready,” Dari called to Ras as the blanket settled over her.

Warm hands spread across Dari’s back and pressed down into her sore muscles as the heel of Ras’ hands slid to her tailbone. His fingers traveled across her buttocks pressing in and kneading painful knots around the hip joints. Dari relaxed as the hands traveled back up to her shoulders, neck, and down again. Soon she was suspended in the foggy awareness that hovers just above sleep. She heard someone sigh as the hands worked her hamstrings, calves, and bottom of her feet. She wondered where the sound came from as the rising wave of pleasure swept up and over her again and again.

“Are you okay? Ras asked. I’ll hold the blanket up while you roll over and then I’ll work on the the front.” Dari managed to settle in on her back. Anticipation, nervous doubt lifted her heartbeat until those strong hands dove down between her breasts, over her stomach, across her hips and back up the sides and ribs. Soon Dari drifted in clouds as warm breezes rushed over her. What a way to end the day, was her last thought before she drifted away.

The Agony of Ecstasy-44

The secret of joy is the mastery of pain.

Anais Nin
Image Source: Zanabayne.com

the deeper well

scene 44

The sun eased past the pointing crowns of Carpathia’s evergreen trees casting easterly shadows. The west side of the barn up the hill was ablaze with light from a retreating sun causing the umber walls, faded red doors, and shutters to glow like a temple in full exaltation of the goddess Bendis, the Dacian goddess of the moon and forest. Rolf rested his chin on his paws, hidden in the crisscrossed shadows at the edge of the forest and watched the livestock feed on the lush grass.

The Witch of Carpathia led her Wolfmaster in Waiting to the kitchen table and summoned Vanya. “Vanya, come here girl. I want you to show My Lady how to make the basic knots. Take turns with each other starting with a chest piece. I will be back in one hour to see how you both have progressed.” Moira left the roommates to figure out how to work together. She made her way up the hill to the barn where she found Ras hard at work making a leather harness for Dari.

* * *

“I’ll get us a couple of hanks of rope. This is my favorite part, I think you’ll enjoy it too,” Vanya quipped as she stepped lively to fetch the bindings. Dari watched Ras’ rabbit come alive as she looked through an old reliquary for the right piece of rope. A red bundle slapped the floor as Vanya stood up holding a twist of manila hawser. She swept up the red line from the floor and sat on the bench facing Dari. 

“What do you like most about the ropes, My Lady?”

“Call me Dari. My Lady sounds too formal for this kind of work. Dari watched Vanya’s excitement with reserved interest. I’ve never indulged the ropes.”

“There is so much to learn. I never truly paid attention until I came here to study with Ras and Moira. It’s more than art to me, It’s a way of life. Nothing speaks of the human condition like suffering and yet we all seek a fleeting joy while ensuring we will know nothing but pain. The art of rope binding and the allure of giving myself to it has become a beautiful obsession for me.”

“Aren’t you concerned that it will dominate your life like it did my mother and Moira’s mother? This has been a lifelong burden for me to reconcile.” Dari spoke with disbelief that the rope binding could have any benefit other than physical constraint.

“I only heard the whispered rumors about your mother and what brought Moira here to become the Witch of Carpathia. I cannot judge them because I have felt the liberation that comes with the blending of pleasure with pain. I accept it. To me, an artful expression that becomes one’s life is essential to sustained joy. Perhaps it was not madness that took your mother from you but the lack of acceptance. I will become a rope master and you will become the Wolfmaster of House Razvan. People will fear us and our lives must be self-fulfilling or we too will perish from loneliness.”

Dari looked into the face of someone, something, she had never considered. In all her existence, the suffering of duty, devotion, and honor, of lost love and the violence of others joyfully exacted on her flesh throughout time had never varied. She sensed she was repeating the cycle again with Alexandra as they propelled themselves toward yet another conflict; one with odds against them she knew could never be overcome. She felt herself relent to Vanya’s vision. What will it change, if anything, she thought?

Here, I’ll show you my favorite chest piece. Always remember that your breathing is key to how you experience the session. Ras taught me how to judge a person’s breathing before the first knot is tied. That way, the ropes are tight but not too tight. The rigger must show intimacy without sexuality. This is something I have not mastered yet. I admit I have fallen in love with Ras and would give myself to him in any way he would take me. But, he doesn’t want me in that way. I try not to be the jealous lover but my feelings overwhelm me at times. I hope you will forgive me.

“There is nothing to forgive, Vanya. Desire is a compelling force we all must deal with in our lives. I’ve felt his allure myself. I suppose it is the test of our will we must conquer.”

Vanya held Dari’s felicitous regard and nodded. She had Dari stand and clasp her hands over her head and close her eyes. Dari felt Vanya place her hand between her shoulder blades.

“Breath normally now. Think of something you like.” 

Vanya’s other hand rested on Dari’s chest as she felt the rise and fall of Dari’s breath. “Are you ready to start?” She whispered close to Dari’s face.

“Yes.”

Vanya wound the red cordage around Dari’s chest just above the root of her breasts in slow pulls until two loops were completed. Dari jerked alert when her rigger twisted the line between her shoulder blades and snatched the rope tight into a knot.

“Are you okay? Vanya whispered against Dari’s neck sending a chill across her skin.

“Yes. It startled me when you tightened the rope.”

“This is the tantalizing part of the binding. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.

Vanya began winding the rope under Dari’s breasts and down her waist twining the manila rope into a diamond pattern inside the scarlet cordage and snatching it tight as she worked down to Dari’s hip line, constricting Dari’s breath. Dari struggled with the urge to panic. Vanya took a wide stance and wrapped her arm across Dari’s breasts while the hand full of line pressed on her belly.

“Lean the back of your head over my shoulder. Close your eyes. Breathe. Vanya held Dari close to her body supporting her weight.

“Does it hurt?”

Dari relaxed and the ropes seemed to loosen. Vanya’s concern for her comfort and support felt genuine. “No, I’m just light-headed,” Dari said.

“Do you want to continue? We are past the hard part.” Vanya encouraged Dari as she held her.

“Yes. Let’s do it,” Dari replied, as she lifted her head and steadied her stance. This wasn’t so bad after all. It seemed an odd way to discover the deeper aspects of Vanya’s personality. Maybe she misjudged her earlier. 

* * *

Sunlight powered through the cracks in the walls of the barn, like spotlights illuminating a broom polished floor. In the corner, Ras worked on the harness connecting the ends of black leather strips to wrought iron rings he had hammered out in his forge. Moira watched him for a moment, taking in his deft hands assembling another work of art. She knew he remembered Dari’s measurements by exploring her body with eyes and fingertips. Those sensual moments unfolded in the leather and iron with the same attention he had given Dari.

Ras looked up as Moira’s figure flashed in a beam of light. His intense gaze lifted the corners of her lips and narrowed the pupils of her eyes. His kindness and easy nature contrasted with the predatory scrutiny she witnessed each time he took her in his arms and slew her contrary moods with desire and remarkable knowledge of her yearning body. What would be wrong with him taking me now? She mused.

“Ras, I want to discuss a change in our plans. Do you have time? I can come back later if you are busy.”

“Oh, no. The harness is not misbehaving with my vision of it. It seems to will itself be made. What do you have, dear?”

“The girls. I want to shift things a bit. I feel like they are losing their focus on the reason for their presence here. The caprice of a woman’s heart is no mystery to you. It is not your touch, nor the binding of your lariat on their breasts or thighs they need so much as to understand the unutterable nature of life’s loops, binds, and bights that are taught here.”

“This is true, my love. Vanya is wonderfully compliant but I suspect her compliance is needy although her will is strong. And Dari, she is altogether different. She is not a candidate for the ropes. Her heart is lonely and easily gained. This new Wolfmaster is a deep well of passion. We must be careful with her.”

“Then we agree?” Moira asked.

“We do,” Ras replied, nodding his head.

“I want to try something to bring it all together.”

“What is that?” Ras asked.

“I want us to perform the Dance of Dacia together. I think this will show them the nuances and ritual of rope binding that the mechanics of knots could never demonstrate. They will have a different perspective of what they are participating in. When we are done, I want to call on Vanya to perform the same ceremony on Dari,” Moira explained.

“How will this refocus them on the truth of their training?” Ras queried.

“When they see the magic between us, they will seek it in their lives in the ways we guide them. Once they are bound to us through loyalty, Vanya becomes our contact with the dark underworld of our enemies. She is the spider that weaves the web to catch them. Dari is our voice in the House Razvan and with the Duchess. She can influence Brigadier Marius and the Duchess with what we tell her. No one will suspect us as the conduit to our enemy’s defeat.”

Ras laughed with a deep sound that vibrated in Moira’s chest. “You are the mastermind of subterfuge. No wonder I love you so much.” They sealed the plan with a long kiss while hands mapped Moira’s waist in a grip that sent a flood of warm sensation through her body. She reciprocated until the sounds of expressed desire drowned out the rasp of fingers clutching cloth.

Go to Scene 45