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Casting Off Convention (Pt. 1 of 2)

Already flying in the face of a societal norm, Christi discovers another she wants to cast off.
Christi flipped her dark ponytail back over her shoulder with a sigh, and leaned up against the side of the building, where she had been for quite some time. Wrinkling her nose and shaking her head a bit did nothing to chase away the smell of sweat and animals that hung over the wagon yard. She was drenched in sweat – her clothing starting to cling to her – and she was ready to give up for another day.

Closing her eyes for a moment, she tried to relax, and decided that she would stay for a bit longer. What little coin she had would only last a few days, even after leaving the inn for the hostel because it was cheaper. Giving up after days of rebuffing the advances of men who thought she would be easy to bed – a lone woman amongst so many men who lived by the sword – was out of the question.

The last job she had picked up – a long boring walk beside a slow moving wagon from here to the city of Freeland and back – hadn't paid much. It had been enough to prevent her from having to return home again, and allowed her to make another go at having a life of her own – but not by much.

She knew why she was rarely chosen by the various merchants, and never by the mercenary companies. Her father had told her right from the start that she was going to have a hard time making a living as a sellsword, because it was an endeavor dominated by men. Women were seen as people who needed protecting, not someone to offer protection. Even he had been skeptical at first, until he saw her skill when she trained with her brothers. When she had managed to score a point on him in a sparring match, which it had taken her over a year to convince him to undertake, she had won him over. Christi's father was a simple, practical man, and the grizzled old veteran knew skill when he saw it.

A whistle and a few words that she couldn't quite make out across the distance broke through Christi's musing. A pair of young men, also sellswords looking for work, stared in her direction and gestured for her to approach. One of them grabbed his crotch and yelled, "Come over here, and I'll give you some work!"

Christi put her hands behind her and pushed away from the building, causing her firm breasts to jut out and press against the sweat-soaked material of her shirt. She looked at the man who was gripping his crotch, her expression suggestive, and walked toward them.

Letting her hips sway, Christi watched the men eye her body as she sauntered toward them. She was toned and tanned from time out in the sun, and practicing to keep her fighting edge. She knew the effect her body had on men, and she played it for all it was worth. The two men laughed and started gesturing again.

Fools, she thought, stiffening her gait so her breasts would bounce a little more.

One of the men she was walking toward said, "That's right – come on over here. We'll give you plenty of work. You can polish our swords for us."

Christi reached them and let out a little purr. "So, you like what you see, do you? I suppose you want to get a good look between my legs, too?"

The man with the scar on his cheek chuckled and replied, "You get right to the point don't you?"

Christi smiled and simply said, "Yes, I do," before grabbing his shoulder and bringing her knee up hard into the man's stomach. He dropped immediately to his knees with a groan.

The other man spent too long gaping at his moaning buddy. Using the kneeling man's head for added balance, she snap kicked the second one in the knee. She didn't want asshole number two to feel left out. This one fell over backwards, and then curled up to moan in pain.

Christi looked down at them with a crooked grin and said, "I thought you might get a better view from down there, since you're closer."

Laughter burst from the other mercenaries, spreading as those who had seen what happened told those who had missed it. Christi walked between the two men, swaying her ass outrageously, and then headed toward a water barrel with a dipper hanging on the edge.

Christi filled the dipper and took a drink. She was in the process of dipping it again when another woman walked up to the barrel and chuckled. "Nice kick."

Christi propped a hip against the barrel and took another sip, appraising the woman who had spoken to her. She had on a sleeveless jerkin that revealed well-defined arms and legs – muscular but still feminine. Her breasts, as large as Christi's, strained against the blouse beneath the jerkin. The blouse was short, not meant to be tucked into her pants, and the bottom two buttons were open, revealing hints of her abdomen – the soft lines belying the muscles that certainly must be there.

Her hair was short, and so dark as to be almost black. She had a slightly square jaw and narrow eyes, giving her features an overall look that brought the word dangerous to Christi's mind. The smile the woman wore helped to soften that look, as did the sparkle in her eyes.

Nodding to acknowledge the statement, Christi took her drink and hung the dipper back on the barrel. With a grin, she replied, "Thanks. I'm always at my best working for a noble cause."

The woman laughed, throwing her head back as she did so. "I like that attitude. I guess you're looking for work too, huh?"

Christi nodded and sighed. "If I don't convince someone to hire my sword soon, I'm going to be back home trying to build up enough coin to try again in a year or two."

The woman snorted and nodded her head in understanding. "It's not easy for a woman, that's for sure. I just got fed up with the company I've been with for a year now, and decided to seek my fortune elsewhere. Rochelle Sornama."

"Christi Crimm."

"You any relation to Crimm the Grim?"

Christi smiled and replied, "That's my father."

Rochelle put her hands on her hips, inclining her head slightly, "That's a name that should serve you well. Crimm the Grim is a name everybody has heard."

With a shrug, Christi admitted, "I had to pull it out to get my last job, but I'm trying to stand on my own merits."

"If that kick is any indication of your skill, you have plenty of merit to stand on."

Christi sighed and stretched. "I think I'm going to give it up for the day, and celebrate with a nice stiff drink."

Rochelle glanced to the side and suggested, "I'd wait a bit if I were you," nodding in the direction she was looking.

Christi turned and saw a muscular man in well-appointed armor walking toward the wagon yard. He glanced at the men standing around hoping for work, and certainly appeared to be in the market.

"Let's go put ourselves on the block and see if he's buying," Rochelle declared, and walked toward the man. Christi adjusted her sword belt and followed.

As the pair approached, along with most of the men in the yard, Christi heard the man shout, "My name is Raptor, and I'm the Captain of the Blue Hawks. I just picked up a new job, and I'm a little short on manpower. I'll be forming a small company for this job, and those who prove themselves will find a place in the Hawks. I'm looking for men who have their own kits and weapons, and know how to use them. We'll be facing orcs, so I don't want any parade walkers. This isn't guard duty. You will be fighting – guaranteed."

Several of the men, obviously not liking the sound of the dangers, turned away and returned to lounging in the yard. Christi and Rochelle continued toward the smaller group now gathering in front of Raptor.

One of the men propped his foot on a wagon wheel and asked, "What's the pay?"

Raptor looked over at him. "You'll get a Freeland crown per day, with bonuses for those who prove they've earned it. If you let me know a way to find them, your pay will go to your next of kin if you get killed. I've got a healer in the company, so I don't lose many men, thanks to his prayers."

Christi let out a sound of surprise. Most mercenary bands didn't have clerics, and fewer still promised the pay of the fallen to their kin. The man sounded like a good employer, and it was an opportunity for a long-term arrangement.

Raptor was already pointing out men he had chosen when the two women approached. When his eyes fell on them he said, "Rochelle? I thought you were with Farthall and his dogs?"

Rochelle put her hands on her hips and responded, "We had a falling out."

"His loss. This is perfect, because the job is a rescue of a couple of women. The man with the coin will appreciate seeing some women along to protect their virtue." Nodding at Christi, he asked, "And who are you?"

Her intention to stand on her own merits be damned, Christi offered her full name, because the job sounded too good to pass up. "Christi Crimm."

"Kin to Crimm the Grim?"

Christi nodded and answered, "My father."

Turning back to Rochelle, Raptor asked, "You know her? Does she live up to old Grim's reputation?"

Rochelle put an arm over Christi's shoulder and replied, "We just met, but she's got a damn fine kick, and she's quick. If her old man let her come out here without protest, she's got something going for her."

Raptor snorted and nodded his head. "You're both in." He then turned and finished selecting the remainder of the men he would take with him. Once he had selected the members of the new company, he told them to get their kits and get back to him as quickly as possible.

Christi returned to the hostel to retrieve her pack and other weapons from the man who ran the place, made sure nothing was missing, and hurried back out to the yard with a smile on her face. She wouldn't be forced to return home any time soon with the pay from this job.

Once all the members of the new company returned, Raptor called out, "Let's move you dogs. We've got a bit of walking to do."

Rochelle laughed and shouted out, "And bitches?"

Raptor laughed with her and said, "I'll stick with dogs." He grabbed his crotch and added, "I like these where they are, Rochelle."

Christi fell into step with the company, glad to be on the road and employed.

****

"Damn women got no business out here. Should be sucking my prick or making me dinner."

Christi growled as she overheard the whispered comment from somewhere behind her.

Rochelle gave her a playful punch in the shoulder and advised, "Just ignore them. They're all green. Once you've saved their hides a couple of times, the ones with any sense will get over it. The rest won't last long, anyhow. There are a few that aren't joining in the muttering."

Christi blew out a blast of air from between her lips and responded, "The ones that aren't muttering are just trying to figure out how to get in my pants."

Rochelle laughed. "You are a smart girl. It does get better once you proven yourself, though. I've been there – remember?"

Turning to her, Christi asked, "How long have you been doing this?"

Rochelle answered, "Since I was fifteen. I got lucky and had the opportunity to prove my worth on what should have been a lazy caravan parade. I killed three bandits myself – standing on the board with a merchant who was sitting in a puddle of pee and screaming like a girl. Once we drove them off and got into town, he was busy telling anyone who would listen about how I saved his life. He had a big mouth, and he made my reputation in one day."

"I was sixteen the first time I went out with one of my brothers. There have been a couple of times I've seen trouble, but they've always decided the fight wasn't worth the prize and backed down without attacking," Christi confided.

"Sounds like you'll get a chance to draw your sword on this trip. You do know how to use it, don't you?"

Christi smiled and replied, "I can whip all five of my brothers, and father trained them."

"Good! Don't let me down Crimm. I've got faith in you." Rochelle looked up ahead and said, "Looks like we're about to meet our employer."

The company had just topped a rise, and when Christi looked, she saw a small encampment. A man dressed in fine looking leather armor paced back and forth at the front of the camp, and when he noticed the company approaching, he stopped to face the oncoming group.

Once the company was close, the man stepped forward at a brisk pace and stopped in front of Raptor. "We need to hurry. You trust these men to save my sisters?"

Raptor replied, "And women, I figured that might make you feel a little better about your sister's virtue, if we had some women along. The group is green, but I know some of them by reputation, and the lot of them look solid. They'll get the job done."

The man nodded and addressed the company, "My name is Cordain Garravan. My sisters were passing this way, returning home, and encountered a group of orcs. My sisters escaped into a series of caves, but were followed inside. My older sister can use magic, and thus has been able to hide them near a source of water and contact me. They have been hiding for two days, and my sister grows weak from lack of food. We must find them before she becomes too weary to maintain her magic."

Raptor then addressed the group as well, "You heard him. The caves are just over that hill there, and we're going in. We're going to have a fight right from the start, because the stinking orcs were smart enough to leave at least a couple guarding the cave entrance. Get geared up for battle, because we move in five minutes."

Raptor then moved to confer with Cordain and a pair of his men that he had chosen to keep with him for this job, while the new company adjusted gear to prepare for a fight. A man came around collecting packs, tents, and other items that would provide nothing but encumbrance, to store them in the camp while the company penetrated the caves.

Christi adjusted her sword belt and sheathed daggers one last time, then tightened the straps on the various parts of her leather armor. Rochelle donned a chain mail shirt, and she was shrugging her shoulders to get it to settle properly when the call came to move out.

Upon reaching the top of the hill, Raptor turned and told his new recruits, "There's no way to sneak up, so we're just going to walk right in there." Pointing out three men and his two proven lieutenants, he ordered, "You, you, and you, first in the caves with Cartan and Erris." Turning to Rochelle and Christi, he said, "You two stay close to Cordain. He can use that sword he carries, but you're the insurance for our pay. Keep him safe."

Christi and Rochelle nodded to indicate that they understood, and Raptor instructed the rest of the company, "Once we're inside, stay together and don't try to be a hero. Protect each other's backs, get the job done, and we'll all walk out alive to earn our pay."

A few battle cries erupted from the company and Raptor called, "Move out!"

They moved forward at a brisk pace, and saw one of the orcs just inside the cave entrance as they drew closer. Another appeared for a moment, and then turned to run off into the darkness beyond the range of Christi’s vision.

Christi had heard of the creatures, of course, but this was her first time to see one. The orc obviously possessed great strength, evidenced by its muscular form. A dark mop of unkempt hair topped a brutish face that sported long tusks. The creature wore a hodgepodge of cast-off armor, carried a rusty woodsman's axe in one hand, and a crude spear in the other.

Raptor ordered, "Shields up and ware."

The warning proved to be quite valid, because as soon as the first men were within the creature's long throwing range, it hurled a spear. One of Raptor's lieutenants caught the weapon on his shield, the loud clang echoing through the valley as the company continued toward the cave. The orc moved back into the darkness of the cave, hoping to utilize its ability to see in low light to good advantage against the human attackers.

That hoped-for advantage proved to be false when the two lieutenants entered the cave, each hurling a globe above his head that hovered and shone noon-bright light throughout the cave. Christi could hear screams of surprise and pain coming from several orcs as the bright light assaulted their eyes.

"That's handy," Rochelle grunted as she and Christi hurried to enter the cave to join the battle that they could already hear underway.

"My magic," Cordain explained, "The bright light will be to our advantage at first, although it may serve as a target later. We will need the light, and better something that may blind our foes as it reveals our location."

The three passed through the curtain of cool air into the cave a moment later, and Cordain leapt into the battle with a growl. Rochelle and Christi hurried to join him, a little surprised that he had jumped into the fray so quickly. Perhaps fifteen of the dangerous orcs lurked in the first large chamber of the cave. Christi could tell that the monsters were trying to flee, now that they realized that they were outnumbered.

Cordain stabbed a creature that managed to successfully defend against two of the other mercenaries, killing it as the two women reached his side. By the time Christi and Rochelle turned to seek other foes, the battle was over. Ten orcs lay dead in the chamber, and the rest had managed to turn and flee. Trails of blood leading into a passage that penetrated deeper into the cave revealed that not all of those that had escaped had done so unharmed.

Raptor called out, "Anybody wounded?"

Grunts and answers in the negative came to the Captain as the men gathered around him.

"Good. That's ten down. Even though the rest will be warned now, they'll be warned that a large, dangerous group is coming toward them. They may just flee, not thinking two women are worth the fight. Any who do remain are going to be cautious, and are going to try to attack from ambush. Check out any side passages carefully, watch out for large rocks, and anywhere one of the damn things could climb. Men with shields to the front, because they'll probably try to use our light as a target for spears."

Raptor walked over to Cordain and asked him, "You have a bearing on your sister?"

Cordain raised an amulet to his forehead for a moment, and then gestured off to the right, deeper under the earth. "That way. There is but one passage, so until we find a branch, we follow the only path."

"Move out!"

The walk through the passage leading into the earth was tense, but uneventful. At one point, the entire company had to proceed single file when the passage narrowed. It opened up immediately on the other side of the narrow place, and steadily loomed higher and wider in the bobbing magical lights.

"We'll reach another chamber soon," one of the men, who had shown some knowledge of caves on the walk quietly suggested. While the light would reveal the group, the twisting nature of the caverns meant that sound would reach unfriendly ears long before the light reached their eyes. The company remained quiet to reduce the amount of warning enemies might have of their approach.

Raptor passed the word to be ready, and most of those with shields moved to the forefront again. Another chamber opened up, as the man had predicted, only a short while later. When the company moved into it, they found it empty, save for the corpse of an orc injured in the original fight at the entrance.

Cordain raised his amulet to his forehead again, and when he dropped it back to his chest, he frowned. He pointed off to the right, where two passages that were nearly parallel led off in the direction where he sensed his sister.

"We'll take one and see if it starts going the wrong direction, and then come back to the other," Raptor decided.

Cordain shook his head and argued, "Time grows short. We split up. Send some of your men with me, and take the rest down the other, wider passage. Take that man, who seems to know caves, with you. If the path starts moving in that direction," he pointed to indicate the direction they had been moving through the original passage, "Backtrack and join us. We will do the same if I sense our path moves away from my sister."

Raptor rubbed his chin and said, "I don't like it. But, if you think we need to hurry?"

"I do," Cordain replied with concern in his voice.

"Erris, Crimm, Rochelle, and you three," Raptor said, indicating three of the men who had shown great skill in the entrance battle, "Go with Cordain. We'll send someone back if we find anything."

"We will do the same," Cordain responded.

Raptor nodded, and the two groups split up, Christi and Rochelle at Cordain’s side, following the shield bearing men down the narrow passage.

After only a few minutes, Cordain approached the men at the front and whispered, "Go inform Raptor. My sister is near. This is the correct passage."

Erris nodded and pointed at one of the men, silently instructing him to return through the passage and seek out the rest of the company.

The group could hear faint sounds somewhere down the passageway. They moved back around another bend in the passage, trying to prevent the light from revealing them until Raptor arrived with the rest of the men.

A distinct grunt sounded from ahead, prompting Cordain to immediately drop the amulet from his forehead, draw his sword, and run down the passage. Already on edge, Christi and Rochelle were on his heels a heartbeat after he started moving. The other men hesitated for a moment, and thus were behind when Cordain hurtled into another chamber, just as the sound of a woman's scream split the air.

Cordain yelled a battle cry and raised his sword aloft, summoning a bright light to replace the one that was lagging behind with the Lieutenant. Christi saw a dozen or so orcs in the chamber that the light revealed, approaching two women who cowered in an alcove along the wall.

The sound of Cordain's scream caused the orcs to turn, and the sudden burst of light blinded them. Christi cursed when she saw how many of the monsters were in the chamber. Cordain ran at full speed toward the orcs closest to his relatives, Christi and Rochelle hot on his heels.

Cordain reached the first orc and lashed out; ducking a spear thrust, and stabbed the creature before it could even pull its weapon back from the strike. Rochelle and Christi both turned their backs to him and each other, facing the oncoming monsters. Half of the creatures turned toward them, while the other half charged the rest of the men.

Cordain shouted a word of command, and an aura of faint blue light shone about the three for a moment. He shouted, "You need not fear hurled spears, rocks, or arrows now. My magic will protect us from those. It will block no other strike, however."

Neither woman had time to reply, because the orcs were upon them. Christi grunted as she deflected a chop from an iron-shod club, wielded by the orc in front of her. Her strength in battle was in her speed, and this situation did not play to it. The ring of the club against her steel rattled her arm painfully, even though she had angled the blade to deflect, and not block the strike. Christi slashed, forcing the orc with the club and another approaching with an axe to both dodge the strike. When both orcs flinched away, she took the opportunity to draw a dagger with her free hand.

Rochelle blocked the strike of a rusty sword from the orc in front of her, shoving the creature backward and slashing it across the belly beneath its tattered armor as it stumbled back. The creature fell, trying desperately to keep its insides where they belonged. Another creature approached, shoved its wounded comrade out of the way, and attacked, having no more success in penetrating Rochelle's guard with the spear it carried than the previous attacker. Instead, it lost the tip of the spear and a foot or so of the shaft to Rochelle's parry.

Cordain opened the throat of the creature he had stabbed when it dropped its weapon and reached down to clutch the wound. Having no other enemy in front of him, he glanced to the side and saw the orc with the broken spear within his range. Slashing out, he opened a wide wound in the creature's shoulder, causing the spear to fall from its fingers.

One of the creatures facing Christi looked down when the dying orc with the belly wound bumped against it. She didn't waste the opportunity, and hacked down at the creature's spear, forcing the weapon toward the floor while the orc was distracted. She then immediately stabbed upward into the creature's chest. The rapidly spreading dark stain on the creature's filthy tunic proved that her blow had hit deep.

A scream echoed through the chamber, and Christi saw one of the orcs approaching the two women in the alcove. Raising her dagger, she hurled it through the air. She hit her mark in the neck of the creature stalking the women. It gurgled and grabbed its throat, fountains of blood spurting from between its fingers with each beat of the monster's heart. She turned just in time to grab her sword with both hands and block an overhand swing from the club wielding orc. The strength of the blow forced her into Cordain's back and rattled her teeth. Cordain stood firm behind her, and she was able to regain her balance almost immediately.

Christi only caught the end of some chanted words when bolts of light streaked from the alcove and sizzled into the flesh of the orc that had just attacked her. It let out a scream and took a pair of stumbling steps backwards, smoke rising from its clothing where the magical missiles had struck. Christi wasted no time stepping forward to slash it in the weapon arm, forcing the creature to drop the club. She followed with a stab into the creature's heart.

Rochelle stabbed the final creature facing her, and the three defenders looked up to see the men approaching, all their foes having been dispatched as well. The sounds of fast-running feet also greeted them, and the clamor was immediately followed by the rest of the company bursting into the chamber with weapons drawn. They lowered their weapons when they saw the carnage.

Cordain dropped his bloody blade and hurried to his sisters. The older of the two was sitting against the wall, unconscious. The younger quietly wept and held her leg.

Kneeling down, Cordain asked, "Are you all right, Corrine?" He then reached over to check the other sister, finding her pulse strong and her breathing regular.

The young woman sniffled and replied, "My leg is broken. Is Celeste okay?"

He smiled and said, "She will be fine. That last spell must have drained her strength."

Raptor approached the three siblings from across the chamber, and Christi picked up Cordain's sword to wipe the blood from the blade, having already cleaned hers and slid it back into its sheath.

"You certainly do know how to use that sword. I'm assuming that is your dagger sticking out of that one's throat," Rochelle commented, nodding toward the orc lying near the alcove. "Nice throw."

"This fight didn't exactly suit me. I'm a lot better when I've got room to move. Having to stand my ground against enemies stronger than me isn't my idea of fun," Christi replied, holding up the sword she was cleaning to the light to examine it.

"Can't wait to see you in a fight where you're having fun then." Rochelle chuckled.

Raptor called out, "Cartan! Take a couple of men and go fetch Alaster. Have him bring some food with him too. Watch your ass, but hurry. I want the two ladies here tended to and able to get out of these caves as soon as possible. Anybody else injured?"

The members of the company all answered in the negative, any wounds they had sustained being minor. Already merging into a cohesive unit, some kept watch on the tunnels leading into the chamber, others made sure all the monsters were dead, and the rest cared for their equipment.

"Okay, keep your eyes and ears open, we may not have gotten them all. Damn fine work, you dogs, but no relaxing until we're out of here!"

The healing prayers of the cleric and a little food soon had the two sisters feeling well enough to walk. Raptor formed up the men with the former captives and Cordain in the center, flanked by Rochelle and Christi. A shouted order started the group moving back toward the cave exit.

Either the company had managed to kill all the orcs, or the creatures decided that a fight with the effective company of mercenaries was not conducive to a long life. The journey through the underground passages was uneventful, and the group soon smelled the change in the air that signaled that they were close to the entrance.

Stepping out into the sunlight a little later, Christi smiled, knowing that she had performed well in the caves. Rochelle had already complimented her, and so she knew she had proven the trust that the woman had shown in her. Raptor came to a halt once everyone exited the cave, drinking in the smell of the outside world and raising his face toward the sun.

Turning back to the assembled sellswords, he laughed and confessed, "I'm glad to be out of there. Truth to tell, I don't like close spaces. Now, you all can relax a bit. Everyone performed well, and unless I see something that changes my mind, I'm inclined to take on the lot of you into the Hawks."

Shouts and whoops of pleasure greeted that announcement.

Cordain talked quietly with his sisters, and after a nod, turned to Christi and Rochelle. "I am inclined to offer the two of you my gratitude, specifically. You reacted quickly, and fought well, even when I made a rash and foolish decision to charge into battle unannounced. Rest assured that you will receive additional compensation from me for what you have done, and I thank you. And now, I must go speak with Raptor."

With a respectful nod that bordered on a bow, Cordain turned and walked toward the Captain. At the same time, the sisters approached.

The older sister, Celeste, spoke first. "We would like to thank you as well – not only for saving us, but for protecting our dear brother, whom we love."

Christi nodded, getting a good look at the women for the first time. While the magical lights were bright, the color was unnatural. Both women had long, sandy-blonde hair, and they were well blessed with ample chests and full hips. The sisters were soft, obviously unused to physical labor or strenuous exercise. Christi assumed that they certainly turned heads with their curvaceous figures and ready smiles.

Rochelle returned those smiles and replied, "Just doing our job."

"Thanks for that magic. It gave me the break I needed to get out of a tough two-on-one situation," Christi said.

"You might not have been in such a difficult situation, had you not thrown that knife and prevented that monster from reaching us. So, the thanks still belongs to you," Celeste countered.

Christi laughed and relented. "Fair enough, then."

The younger sister, who Christi guessed was about her age spoke then. "I wanted to thank you, too. I thought my broken leg was going to bring us both to disaster. Will you please offer our thanks to the rest as well? I'm a little frightened to, because..."

"They're men?" Rochelle supplied, guessing where the young woman was going.

Corrine nodded, her face flushing with color.

"Smart girl," Rochelle chuckled.

A shout from Raptor broke up the conversation. "Gather 'round!"

The company moved close, and Raptor announced, "It looks like we're not quite done yet. Our employer wants us to escort him and his sisters back home. You'll all get your pay when we get there. It should take about two days to get him home, so that's two more crowns when you get there, plus your bonus. Try not to drink it all up the first night.” He laughed, and then continued, “Should be a nice lazy walk with no trouble, but I expect you all to be on guard, anyway. Let's get back to camp, strike it, then hit the road. Move out!"

****

The march proved to be exactly what they expected – a long lazy walk. Raptor set a slow pace, because he knew that the weakened sisters would have a hard time keeping up with the fit mercenaries if they marched at full speed.

The company followed a small stream – the water crystal clear and only a couple of feet deep. The shallow brook flowed from a tract of woods that steadily loomed larger in the eyes of the company as they approached. A cooler breeze stirred the hot summer air, making the journey far from an unpleasant one. Since they were earning pay as they traveled, it only buoyed their spirits more.

Corrine whispered to her sister for a moment once the woods was within a few more minutes of walking. When Corrine finished, Celeste nodded before turning to her brother and whispering in his ear as well. Cordain gave a short nod and said, "I will go speak with Raptor."

When he increased his pace to catch up with the Captain of the company, Christi asked Celeste, "Something wrong?"

Celeste shook her head and answered, "Nothing. We simply hope to bathe in the pool that feeds this stream before we continue on. I wish we had been able to retrieve our baggage, because we will be forced to put back on these soiled garments."

The dresses that the women wore were indeed filthy, and certainly smelled none too sweet. Only some creative pinning prevented Corrine's from becoming indecent. The sleeve had torn at the seam and would have revealed the swell of her breast, were the material not pinned closed.

Rochelle looked at Christi for a moment, and then said, "Some of your things might fit them, Christi, if you have anything to spare."

Christi shrugged, and then turned to the other pair of women. "I should have enough for you to get by, but it's not going to be anything you're accustomed to, I'll tell you that."

"If it is clean and not falling off of me, it will be an improvement," Corrine disputed. "The pins holding my dress together are pricking my bosom."

Celeste smiled and admitted, "We only dress as we do because of our caste. In this situation, I believe it will be acceptable for us to be a bit more daring. The two of you and our brother will protect us from unwanted advances, I'm sure."

Christi winked and teased, "What about wanted advances?"

Both sisters giggled and their cheeks flooded with color. Corrine exclaimed, "Don't talk so when Cordain can hear. I would die of embarrassment."

"I promise," Christi agreed, coming to a halt with the rest of the company just short of the trees. She could barely see sparkling hints of the pool that the sisters had mentioned through the thick foliage and undergrowth.

Raptor called out, "Our guests wish to bathe, and this spot is as good as any to make camp. You lot of stinking dogs could probably do with a good washing as well. You men follow me, and we'll start setting camp. Crimm, Rochelle – take the ladies to the pool."

The two mercenary women waved in acknowledgment of the order, and then led their wealthy counterparts toward the wood. The rest of the company moved a short distance away to set camp.

A barely visible, winding trail snaked from the entrance of the woods to the pool, which was spring fed, and just as clear as the stream the company had followed here. The pool was shallow on one end, gently sloping into a deeper spot. In the deep end of the pool, the water churned from the source beneath the surface. It looked like a perfect place for bathing.

Rochelle knelt down and dipped a hand into the water, but she immediately snatched it back. "Damn, that's cold."

Already removing her dress, Celeste explained, "We have bathed here before. It is quite shocking at first, but if you stay in the shallows near the edge, it is actually quite invigorating."

"If my smell wasn't turning my own nose, I'd skip a bath until we found a nice warm lake out in the sun, or a tub somewhere," Rochelle remarked as she loosened the straps on her armor.

Christi laughed as she took clothing out of her pack that she and the sisters could put on once they had bathed. She chose the most modest things she had for the sisters. "I'd rather have a nice warm lake in the sun too, but I'll take what I can get."

Having needed to remove only their dresses and underclothes, Celeste and her younger sibling were nude long before the two mercenaries could get out of their armor and the clothes beneath. Celeste held her dress at arm's length, wrinkling her nose. "If mother would not be cross with me, I would burn this." Tossing the garment over a rock, she turned to the two mercenaries. "You would bathe in the open, with so many men about?"

Rochelle shrugged and replied, "You normally don't get much allowance for modesty in our line of work. You just get used to it."

She then pulled off her blouse and revealed her breasts, which despite their size, sat high and proud, thanks to her musculature. Dark nipples and areolas blended with her tanned skin, the firm globes obviously having seen their share of sun. Christi finished removing her armor and turned to look when her comrade-in-arms spoke. The sight caused Christi to wonder just what had prompted the woman to be topless beneath the sun.

"I fear I would have to endure my smell, were I forced to bathe in view of any prying eyes," Corrine admitted.

Christi turned toward Corrine and her sister, both of whom were stepping into the pool now, and said, "Well, you're lucky you knew about this place. You won't have to worry about that here."

Both sisters had small nipples and large areolas on their somewhat pendulous breasts. Both women's labia were puffy, hiding the pink middles between them, with carefully manicured, closely cropped hair surrounding their sex.

"Let's get this over with. I'm already shivering," Rochelle declared as she stepped out of her pants. Her mound was shaved bare, save for a thin strip leading from her hood to just below her navel.

Christi felt a tingle run through her body, and closed her eyes tight for a second as she pulled off her blouse. She didn't know what caused her eyes to drift toward other women's bodies, but it disturbed her. Those thoughts were rapidly chased away by a twinge of embarrassment. She would be a stark contrast to the other women, with the wild tangle of dark hair between her legs.

The two sisters settled into the pool with a sigh and a shiver as Christi pulled off her pants. Rochelle simply strode into the pool and sat down with a sharp gasp, not wanting to prolong the experience by easing into the water. Christi did much the same, but as an effort to hide her untamed patch of hair as much as reluctance for the cold water of the pool.

Once she settled into the water, she realized her haste was useless. The water was so clear that every inch of the four women was visible, with only the ripples from their movement masking what lay beneath the surface.

As they bathed, Christi kept finding her eyes on the other women's bodies, no matter how hard she tried to avoid it. She was thankful that none of them seemed to notice, because she had no idea what she would have said if one of them had confronted her. She couldn't explain her actions, because she didn't remotely understand them, herself.

Shaking the thoughts out of her head, Christi turned all of her attention to scrubbing the grit off her body, and out of her hair.

All four women felt a great deal better once they were washed and in clean clothes. Celeste remarked that her brother would be completely scandalized when he saw how much skin the borrowed blouses and skirts revealed, even though the garments were quite modest by Christi's standards.

Cordain indeed looked stunned and uncomfortable when the four stepped out from the trees to walk toward the camp. He immediately encouraged the men setting up his large tent to hurry, so that his sisters would have somewhere to hide from prying eyes.

Christi and Rochelle went to help set the camp, and a couple of men took advantage of the pool, now that it was free. Very few of the other men decided to bathe when they heard how cold the water was, though. The sisters frustrated their brother by sitting outside the tent under the awning that spread out from its front door, claiming that the heat inside was stifling. Cordain made it his personal duty to stare down any man who even looked in the direction of the two young women.

Those who had drawn the duty started supper, and watch was set as night slowly crept upon the camp. The sunset that evening was particularly stunning, spreading warm bands of color all across the horizon. Christi appreciated the beauty of the event, but not as much as the two sisters, who were positively delighted.

As the camp prepared to bunk down, Cordain approached Christi and Rochelle, who were laying out their bedrolls in Rochelle's tent.

"I would appreciate it if you would share the tent with my sisters this evening. I have asked Raptor to excuse you both from the watch rotation so that you might watch over them," Cordain requested.

Christi raised an eyebrow and smiled, "Excused from the watch, and not being cooped up in this tent – I think I can live with that," she laughed. "What about you, though? Where are you going to sleep?"

Cordain smiled back and responded, "Your tent will not be nearly as confining for one, if I may use it?"

Rochelle laughed and replied, "Be my guest," making a gesture toward the tent.

Cordain nodded his acknowledgment and walked toward the wagon that carried his supplies. Christi and Rochelle picked up their bedrolls and walked toward the tent, where the two women sitting in front of it were yawning, and appeared to be prepared to enter the tent and bed down.

"Looks like we're bunking with you tonight," Rochelle announced when they reached the tent.

"I'm glad," admitted Corrine, "Some of those men were looking at me a lot. It felt good in a way, but it was somewhat disquieting as well."

Rochelle laughed and pointed at Christi. "I've seen how she deals with rude men. We'll be fine so long as she's around."

Celeste pulled back the tent flap and held it open, inviting the others in. Once they were inside, she said, "I will be taking a wagon and guards the next time I decide to travel. I have learned my lesson about traveling alone, and this is far superior to the small tent we slept in."

Christi dropped her bedroll, started to roll it out, and said, "Same here. Your brother didn't seem too put out, considering he's stuck with our tent."

Celeste pulled off her clothes, as did Corrine. The sisters’ bedrolls were already prepared, and they obviously had decided to sleep nude, since they didn't have any nightclothes to change into. Celeste responded, "Cordain brought this tent for us, actually. When he travels, he uses a tent much the same as yours."

Christi shrugged, purposely keeping her eyes locked on her bedroll as she straightened it. "Well, I'm not too proud to take the comfort, that's for sure."

Rochelle chuckled. "Me either," she agreed as she pulled off her clothing.

Christi fought her wandering eyes, and this time she won. She stripped down as well and settled into her bedroll, as did the other three women.

Keeping her eyes from wandering did nothing to prevent the disquieting thoughts from creeping into her mind, however. Even though she had consciously avoided looking at the other women, she was still thinking about them.

It took Christi a long time to quiet her mind enough to sleep, and she did so with an ample amount of wetness and a needful ache between her legs.

****

My bio contains timeline information for the fantasy stories that share this world. As the categories are currently defined, this story best fits in Sci-Fi&Fantasy in my opinion, but discussions on the forum lead me to believe that will soon change, so I'm avoiding the necessity to move a bunch of stories in the future.

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