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Gabriel fans out with wine. When Luzea Cedarbranch serves a kingly plate of roast beef to Uriel Antero che ventures to sing to hem:

"Born to rule Jelaket as king.

Yet queen-gentle hez words do ring.

Valiant like the yeng of old

Fair like a bust of purest gold."

King Uriel is shocked to silence at first, but then che laughs with self-recognition at Luzea's impromptu verse. Queen Aurra Firegem is less amused and growls Luzea's name. But this only serves as the trigger for a couplet directed at her from the playful Miz Cedarbranch.

"Who rules the city of my birth?

Aurra Firegem, Queen of mirth! "

This elicited laughter from everyone at the table except Aurra, who pointed directly at Luzea. "Tonight. Twelve lashes!"

Suddenly Gabriel burst into tears for hez friend. Luzea was shocked to silence.

Indeed, an embarrassed silence settled all around the council table. Surely the Queen must be joking, they thought. The whipping tree for such a small thing? Michael caught the queen's eye and slowly shook hyz head, letting her know as politely as possible hy forbade it.

In hyz mind King Metatron weighed the wisdom of publicly countermanding the queen's command. Hy would brook no dungeon-style cruelty by hyz guests. But the Queen's face remained stern and inscrutable. Luzea and Gabriel returned to the high niche overlooking the chamber.

Queen Aurra's surviving son Balthazar had been under a sort of punishment by exile that brought him to Rumbek. He had not taken a meal with his mother for all that time, so hy was not acquainted with Luzea Cedarbranch and hez "talent", although he certainly noted hez sex.

That Luzea was an ambi had naturally set the clockwork of Balthazar's mind in motion to find a way to be alone with hem. Now he saw a clear path to rescue his mother from her self-inflicted dilemma, and if by chance it also helped himself, well, that couldn't be helped.

He said, "My mother the Queen may not know it was a diversion of mine in Belen to contrive certain unusual forms of chastisement. Now a flogging is without a doubt a terrible thing, especially with a whipping tree, but I fear it is doled out far too frequently in heaven."

I feel that a flogging no longer has the desired lasting effect that it undoubtedly did in the days of yore. So by your leave, Mother, turn this slave nephil Luzea over to me for correction. I can assure you in all truthfulness that che will never forget the experience.

The queen knew exactly what Balthazar was up to and hid a smile behind her hand. It wasn't like he was going to come right out and ask her, before all the royals assembled there, "Mother may I be excused from this meal so I can go have sexual relations with your servant?"

Nevertheless, Queen Aurra realized her son was on to something. She was not blind. The entire Sala delegation had noticed how love-smitten Luzea had grown over Metatron's jen servant. What Balthazar had in mind would amount to a severe punishment of mind and body indeed.

Then I turn the ambi over to you, son. But let me caution you, if che is fit to return to work in less than a week I will deem your punishment far too lenient.

"You are too gracious to me, mother." The Baron tossed his napkin and pushed himself away from the table.

After Balthazar signed to the guards that Luzea should be brought along most of the other guests excused themselves as well, whether they were finished eating or not. Gabriel, free for a time, had a very good idea where Luzea was going, and knew of a second way to follow.

As the keeper of the sword Dragonthorn, Kari Antero was convinced that she had the power to bend the will of everyone around her, even the will of her father the King. At least, this is what her father constantly assured her, to his ultimate undoing.

Some time ago Kari had taken Demonstroke all the way to the city of Mastema to put it to the ultimate test. Now, while the Council had taken a short recess she dismissed the guards blocking her way to Kirodiel’s chamber and received yet one more confirmation of her invincible power of persuasion.

Joy was lounging sensuously inside the chamber like some exotic black cat. In fact, everything about her was black except her unnaturally pale white skin. Kari told her she was dismissed also. Joy left quickly without a word of protest.

“How did you get in here?” Kirodiel demanded angrily after witnessing his woman sent away abruptly like some common servant.

“It wasn’t very hard,” Kari said. “I’m very persuasive it turns out. Yet the last time we met, you had the stronger power, it seemed.”

“I don’t know what came over me then,” he said. “And Joy would certainly never understand if she discovered the truth of the matter. She has very unpleasant ways of making her displeasure known.”

“I came to see if your resolve to keep our secret has not withered.”

“You must be thinking of the requirement for strict sexual purity for every woman who is entrusted to guard the Dragonthorn blade.”

The penalty for losing my virginity is more terrible than any other punishment in the history of Barbelo.

“Yes indeed, Princess. I am given to understand that if you were discovered to be, ah, disqualified, you would be actually rendered immortal and buried alive in a coffin deep under the ice to suffer the horror of eternal claustrophobia for all eternity. A truly horrible fate to contemplate for any creature no matter what their crimes, and sufficiently horrible, in fact, that it has never been found necessary to measure it out. In a way I’m flattered that you risked that awful penalty for a single session in bed with me.”

“So what are your feelings on this matter, Lord Kirodiel?”

“I find that I still have no desire at all to reveal it to anyone, and even thinking about revealing it to another person causes me to be overcome with a very bad depression that grows worse and worse the closer I come to making my urge into an actuality.”

“It is a shame that it must be so, Lord Kirodiel. When last we met you said that I had a very lovely ass and could not keep your hands from caressing it.”

Kirodiel puckered his mouth in disgust. “Princess, right now I wouldn’t reach across your ass to grab a winning ticket in the Salem numbers racket. I resent very much that you have somehow wound this spell around me. Your secret is safe. So if that is all you want, then please leave.”

Kari pivoted on one foot and marched out of his chamber without a sound. When she was well out of earshot Kirodiel began to snicker. The effort it had taken not to laugh the entire time was almost too much for him!

“So that was the girl,” Joy said, emerging from behind a curtain. She had doubled back by secret ways and listened to almost the entire exchange. “What a stupid twit, my Lord! It’s a wonder you didn’t have done and unleash the dragon on Vaska the instant she came to you and gave her so-called virtue away.”

“It is not her virginity that controls the dragon,” he told Joy, “but the sword. I need only to manipulate her into breaking the sword and then you can take control of the beast yourself.”

“With the sword broken I will have no problem flying Demonstroke. But I need access to his holding pen, my Lord. There’s a limit to the range of my power.”

“My guards can get you in easily enough,” Kirodiel said. “But tell me, Joy, how is it you can make beasts do your bidding anyway?”

“My lord already knows Yeshua and Talishi have what they call the B’nei Elohim project going on the side. A little below gods we are, the saying goes, a little above humans. As I understand it, I cannot control any animal until Yeshua prepares it with some kind of bead in their brain, much as El Shaddai once prepared Samuel to receive his voice long ago in Palestine. Your dragon, however, has already been prepared by yourself, Lord. I will merely tap into that.”

“Good. Then we shall await the moment when Princess Kari breaks the sword. There must be no doubt in the mind of Talishi and all the assembled ladies and lords that what follows is entirely the fault of the princess.”

And though Joy had removed herself to the enemy camp, and served Mastema with her whole body and soul, it never at any time occurred to her to mention that Yeshua had discovered a way to manipulate time. The compulsion never to reveal this, directly or even indirectly, ran to the very inner core of the B’nei Elohim.

When Baron Bayard Firegem was alone with Luzea Cedarbranch in his chambers he commanded her to disrobe, but Luzea balked, saying:

The Queen would give me twelve whistling lashes I fear you more than a hundred slashes

“Nonsense, Luzea, I know you have seen the whipping tree do its work. It may be the tamest form of life native to Barbelo but it is nasty enough. Twelve lashes means at least two cracked ribs and maybe even some kidney damage. So remove that dress and let me see what I bought with my lies to my mother.”

Luzea slowly complied, but she was trembling. The baron commanded her to lie back on the bed so he could drink in the vision of her nude body. Luzea was lovely, he thought, with that untamed female scent he craved, but her purely animal fear took all the appeal out of what he wanted to do with her. As well mate with a captive hare.

The Baron sighed, and said, “You commoners are fortunate. You can do as you like but among the royal family of Sala we only allowed to take wife from among our peers, upon pain of exile. And when the Queen sets her mind to exile she has an option that is truly outlandish.”

Luzea sensed that he was relenting in his enthusiasm for “punishing” her and her trembling began to subside a little bit.

“Oh, but only if you knew how good you seem to me,” he lamented. “I’m a Gold Beard baron with a decidedly overwhelming preference for unspoiled women.”

My Lord endeavors not to let this show, But tell me does your mother the Queen know?”

“Yes, Luzea, she has known for a long time. My taste for commoner female flesh was overlooked as long as I kept things quiet and discreet. But the Queen is beginning to lose patience.”

There was a scratching sound in the ceiling above, and the Baron rolled to one edge of the bed just in time as a thin ceiling panel gave way. Aliwe Halil fell to the bed just then, landing on Luzea’s nude body amid many wooden splinters. One naked leg of Luzea curled around Aliwe almost instinctively with pleasure, a conditioned response from their many sweet nights together.

The Baron smiled, got fully dressed, and strode toward the door to leave them alone. “I do ask that you put my room back in order when you are done, ladies. I’ll tell the guards to give you an hour alone.”

Before he left he remembered something and turned to Luzea. “There’s still my mother’s wrath to allay. You will have to feign some kind of injury so horrible that you refuse to speak of it. I think that will satisfy her.” He looked at the two of them starting to squirm and tilted his head. “And that should be me there wrapped in your lovely arms and legs, young Luzea!” Then he closed the door.

Aliwe and Luzea had not been practicing lesbians for a very long. They were damn good at it.

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